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Tag Archives | Indian History

Challenging the Secular Censorship

While the current tendency is to portray anyone who questions the Western/Marxist portrayal of Hinduism as a bigot, the picture is much complex, writes Jakob De Roover

A climate of implicit censorship has long dominated this field. Not quite as spectacular as the rise of ‘Hindu’ censorship, this is not the stuff of juicy journalism. But this kind of censoring is as harmful: it also moulds people’s minds in particular ways; it constrains their speech; it compels them to show compliance to certain dogmas in their writings; and, for the unlucky few, it may even end their careers. The difficulty is to identify the modus operandi of this form of censorship. Much like racism, it is only in certain blatant cases that one can say with certainty that it has occurred. Nonetheless, we have to try and circumscribe this obstacle standing in the way of a much-needed rejuvenation of the study of India. [How Free Are We?]

Arun Shourie’s Eminent Historians documents such activities of censorship which was quite common and some of them were quite explicit. A prime example is a state circular from the Communist ruled state of West Bengal which censors the atrocities committed by Muslim invaders.

Jakob then documents the role played by Hindu-Americans in tackling this biased scholarship.

There is a cold war going on between the ‘Hindu-Americans’ (and a few academic sympathisers) and the mainstream scholars of Hinduism. Academics no longer fear being called ‘commies’, ‘reds’ or even ‘heathens’, but now ‘Hindutva’ has taken the place of such labels in the study of India. If one makes positive noises about the contributions of Indian culture to humanity, one runs the risk of being associated with ‘Hindu nationalism’ or with the NRI professionals who aggressively challenge the doyens of Hinduism studies. [How Free Are We?]

In fact in one of his recent lectures at UCLA on British India, the instructor (1,2,3,4) briefly mentions about the folks in Silicon Valley who hold some crazy ideas; as always the lunatic fringe is chosen to make generalizations. So more power to those  who challenge shoddy scholarship.

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The Queen and Vedic Sacrifice

In one of the Naneghat caves — located in the Western ghats — there are some life size sculptures of few people whose major features have been destroyed. But from the inscriptions we know these members of the Satavahana dynasty (200 B.C.E – 220 C.E): the king Simuta Satavahana, queen Nayanika/Naganika, prince Bhayala, maharathi Tranakayira, prince Haku-Sri, and prince Satavahana[1]

In the same cave there is another inscription which is in three parts: invocation to Brahmin deities, biographical details of an a queen, list of Vedic sacrifices and the donations given. The queen is mentioned as a daughter, as a wife, and as a mother; she was well acquainted with initiation ceremonies, vows and sacrifices. She also performed or was responsible for twenty sacrifices including the Rajasuya and Asvamedha[2].

Women performing Vedic sacrifices? But didn’t we just learn from UCLA 9A course that according to the Manusmriti women were not allowed to listen to the Vedas? If you go by the UCLA chronology, the Manusmriti was compiled during the Satavahana period. So what is the explanation?

Since the original inscriptions are partially destroyed, it is hard to figure out the exact details, but they have not been damaged so bad that we cannot reconstruct what might have happened. According to one interpretation, the queen must have performed those sacrifices in the company of her husband. This agrees with what we see in the Athirathram ceremony even now. But then according to another epigrapher, she performed all the sacrifices as a wife, except the last three which she performed through a priest. In fact she herself gave the sacrificial free of cows. The explanation then was, even though women could not perform Vedic  sacrifices, it was not applicable to women who ruled as regents or ruled without their husband[2].

Now there is no mention of the name of the queen who performed these sacrifices. So how can we assume that it was Naganika and not some one from a local family? One clue is that these sacrifices were expensive affairs. There may not have been many families who could afford it. Among the sculptures on the wall, Naganika is the only woman; she is also the only Satavahana queen to be featured on coins. This indicates that she was unlike any other queen of that dynasty and the majority opinion is that the queen who performed the Vedic sacrifice is Naganika[2].

Now independent of the identity of the person who did the sacrifice, it is obvious that a woman performed the sacrifice and inscribed it for posterity. Was this an isolated incident? Maybe. But it is important that to know that the inscription was carefully written with details of the sacrifice and the donations paid. The queen also made sure that it was written not in Sanskrit, but in Prakrit, so that common people would know about it[2].

So what about the rules in Manusmriti? Here is a better explanation.

References:

  1. Upinder Singh, A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, 1st ed. (Prentice Hall, 2009). 
  2. Kirit K. Shah, The Problem of Identity: Women in Early Indian Inscriptions(Oxford University Press, USA, 2002).
  3. Thanks to Michel Danino for this comment.
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Battle of Rasil


Prophet Muhammed died in 632 C.E. Just twelve years later, a Hindu king was defeated by Muslim armies, thus changing the history of the Indian subcontinent. The name of this Hindu king — Chach of Alor — is not often heard. So let us go to modern day Baluchistan, where currently the  natives are fighting “colonial exploitation, denial and violation of human rights.”

During the time of Muhammed’s death, the regions of Makran and Sindh belonged to India culturally and politically; Muslims knew the area as the frontier of al-Hind. Though the tendency is to consider Indus as the Western border of India, people from Pliny the Elder  (23 – 79 C.E) to  Nicolo de Conti (1385 – 1469) thought that it was Gedrosia or Makran.

At this time Harsha (590 – 647 C.E.) was the ruler of Northern India; the Gupta empire had come to end following the invasion of the White Huns. While Harsha ruled over the Gangetic plain, Punjab, Gujarat, Bengal and Orissa, the other side of the modern border was ruled by the Hindu Rai dynasty with the capital in Alor (modern day Sukkur).

Founded by Rai Dewaji in 485 C.E, just a decade after Rome fell to the Visigoths, the Rai kingdom extended  all way from Kashmir to Makran and from the mountains of Kurdan to Karachi. Within this empire some parts of Makran was controlled by Persians and Indians alternatively. 

Makran was barren then, as it is now. According to Caliph Uthman, “water is scanty, dates are bad, robbers are bold; a small army would be lost there, a large army would starve”; two emperors, Alexander and Cyrus, would agree. Though mostly barren, there were few fertile areas like the Kij Valley and Buleda which had date palms and orchards. The region was important strategically since one of the major trade routes from India to Persia ran through this region; the other route was through Kabul valley.

The Chinese traveler Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) visited the region during the time of the Rai dynasty. Makran at that time had a large Buddhist population; there were towns like Armabil which were ruled by Buddhists who were originally agents of the Rais.  Xuanzang saw 80 Buddhist convents with 5000 monks, several hundred Deva temples and one temple of ‘Maheswara Deva’ which was richly adorned. 

Sindh too was part of al-Hind. This was a time when the Buddhist influence was strong, but was in the decline due to rise of Hinduism and the influence of the Gupta empire. By this time, according to  Xuanzang , Buddhism in Sindh was in decline and Takshashila was in ruins. There was a Brahmin migration to Sindh and many cities were founded by them. Buddhists and Brahmins blended in a unique way without any dispute which the Arab invaders could exploit.

The Rai dynasty which ruled for 137 years ended with the death of Rai Sahasi II in 622 C.E. It is following the death of Rai Sahasi that events get interesting. When the King was about to die, the Queen Suhandi conspired with the Brahmin minister Chach and imprisoned all the rivals to  the throne. Chach became the viceroy and this started the Brahmin dynasty. The first thing that Chach did when he came to power was to put guards on the road of Makran.

Meanwhile in Arabia,  following the death of Muhammed, the Rashidun Caliphate, comprising the first four caliphs in Islam’s history was formed. Abu Bakr became the first  Khalifa Rasul Allah (Successor of the Messenger of God) and in 634 C.E. he was succeed by Caliph Umar. It was during Umar’s time that the Arabs entered Makran resulting in the Battle of Rasil.

Chach of Alor, the king of Sindh concentrated huge armies from Sindh and Balochistan to halt the advance of Muslims. Suhail was reinforced by Usman ibn Abi Al Aas from Persepolis, and Hakam ibn Amr from Busra, the combined forces defeated Chach of Alor at a pitch Battle of Rasil, who retreated to the eastern bank of River Indus. Further east from Indus River laid Sindh, which was domain of Rai kingdom. Umar, after knowing that sindh was a poor and relatively barran land, disapproved Suhail’s proposal to cross Indus River.For the time being, Umar declared the Indus River, a natural barrier, to be the eastern most frontier of his domain. This campaign came to an end in mid 644. [Battle of Rasil]

The defeated Chach was pushed back to the Indus river. When the Caliph was asked for permission to go furthur to Sindh, he refused permission. He asked the soldiers to sell the elephants they had captured and take the money. The next caliph, Uthman, also  denied permission to conquer Sindh, which eventually happened during the caliphate of Muawiya. 

Chach of Alor had a natural death in 671 C.E.

References & Notes:

  1. Andre Wink, Al Hind: The Making of the Indo Islamic World, Vol. 1, Early Medieval India and the Expansion of Islam, 7th-11th Centuries, 2nd ed. (Brill Academic Publishers, 1990).
  2. Gobind Khushalani, Chachnamah Retold : An Account Of The Arab Conquest Of Sindh (Bibliophile South Asia, 2006).
  3. Wikipedia entries for Battle of Rasil, and Umar
  4. The year Chach took office is in dispute. According to one source it is 643 C.E. while according to one translation of Chachnama, it was 622 C.E.
  5. Image via Wikipedia
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Secrets of M458

Various Y chromosome haplogroups correlate with continental boundaries, except for one – R1a. The R1a is spread over a huge area from South Asia to Central East Europe to South Siberia. It also covers a large number of language groups like Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Finno-Ugric, Dravidian and Turkic. This combination means only one thing: the R1a can give us clues about the Indo-European homeland. But the R1a is not helpful in finding the Indo-European homeland because we still don’t know where it originated. Some say it originated in North India; others, Eastern Europe near Ukraine[2].

Since R1a is spread over a vast region, it often associated with one version of AMT: the Kurgan hypothesis. According to the theory which argues for the homeland in the Caucasus, Indo-Europeans mounted their horses and imposed their culture in Old Europe. These violent people changed history in the fifth and fourth millennium BCE and eventually arrived in India[1].

This theory had its own share of criticism. For example, just because the horse was domesticated in steppes does not mean that they fought on horsebacks; there is no linguistic evidence for it. Also when linguists compared the flora, fauna and technology of Kurgan culture with the reconstructions in PIE, there were discrepancies. Does the reconstructed word for horse mean a domesticated horse or a wild one? We don’t know[1].

Now a new R1a marker named the M458 has been found which has been helpful, not in finding the origins of the Indo-European homeland, but where it could not have come from. The M458 originated between 10, 000 to 7000 years back in Eastern Europe and is related to a number of Central and East European farming cultures. This marker, which is from the Kurgan area, does not extend eastward beyond the Ural Mountains and southward beyond Turkey[2].

Since the origin and spread of this marker coincides with the transformation of foragers to farmers, could those Neolithic farmers have spread from Eastern Europe to India like in the Anatolian hypothesis? An alternative to the Kurgan hypothesis, the Anatolian hypothesis states that Indo-Europeans were not aggressive people, but sedentery agriculturalists who spread along with the spread of farming techniques. Here the date is not the fourth of fifth millennium BCE, but the seventh[1].

The new paper says that there is no trace of the M458 marker, which peaks among Finno-Ugric and Slavic speakers, in India. This means that male genes did not flow from East Europe to India since 7000 – 5000 years back or that Indo-Europeans did not come from the following locations in Europe or these[2].

References:

  1. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).
  2. Peter A Underhill et al., “Separating the post-Glacial coancestry of European and Asian Y chromosomes within haplogroup R1a,” Eur J Hum Genet (November 4, 2009), http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ejhg.2009.194.
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Deforestation in India: 73,000 years back


(Image from Journey of Man)

A new study reveals that the volcanic eruption of Mt. Toba in Sumatra, 74,000 years back, deforested Central India.

The volcano ejected an estimated 800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, leaving a crater (now the world’s largest volcanic lake) that is 100 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. Ash from the event has been found in India, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea.

The bright ash reflected sunlight off the landscape, and volcanic sulfur aerosols impeded solar radiation for six years, initiating an “Instant Ice Age” that — according to evidence in ice cores taken in Greenland — lasted about 1,800 years. [Supervolcano Eruption In Sumatra Deforested India 73,000 Years Ago]

Temperature dropped by 16 degrees; there was an Ice Age; there was population reduction among the earliest arrivals in India from Africa. The deforestation in turn caused a behavior change in human beings.

But did it exterminate Indians or the entire humanity? According to a paper published two years back, we know that few people of Jwalapuram in Andhra Pradesh survived. Stone blades and other tools  as well red ochre used in cave paintings were found both above and below the ash layer indicating that whoever lived at that time survived and there was technological continuity. Following Mt. Toba the Indian subcontinent was repopulated again by new migrants from the North-West as well as from the North East.

See Also: Environmental Impact of the 73 ka Toba Super-eruption in South Asia

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