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Essays – varnam https://varnam.nationalinterest.in A Blog on Indian History Thu, 31 Dec 2015 15:15:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.25 In Pragati: Book Review – Operation Red Lotus by Parag Tope https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2011/02/in-pragati-book-review-operation-red-lotus-by-parag-tope/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2011/02/in-pragati-book-review-operation-red-lotus-by-parag-tope/#comments Fri, 04 Feb 2011 07:31:01 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2979 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

In late 1856, some strange practices began to surface in parts of north India. Red lotus flowers were circulated in garrisons which housed the Native Infantry. The subedar would line up the troops and then hand a flower to the first soldier, who would hold it and pass it down the line. The last one […]

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In late 1856, some strange practices began to surface in parts of north India. Red lotus flowers were circulated in garrisons which housed the Native Infantry. The subedar would line up the troops and then hand a flower to the first soldier, who would hold it and pass it down the line. The last one would leave the station with the flower. Elsewhere, a runner took a bundle of chapatis to a village and handed it to the chief or sentry, with instructions to send the chapatis on to the next village under English rule. In the midst of these lotus and chapati incidents, the soldiers’ slogan would change from “everything will become red” to “everything has become red.” Other unusual events included the announcement of an important yagya in Mathura (which never took place), and the habit begun by many women of offering their rolling pins to the river Ganga.

These signs were noticed by the British—Benjamin Disraeli even raised the question of the travelling chapatis in Parliament—but were dismissed as Indian superstitions.

These abnormal occurrences, ignored by almost every historical narrative on the 1857 uprising, assume significance when seen in the light of an important question: How did the Indian troops travel over a million miles, in the early months of the war, without a supply line? In a regular war, there were three camp followers for each soldier, but once the soldiers mutinied in 1857, who fed them? Case in point: How did the 17th Native Infantry march 140km from Azamgarh to Faizabad in just five days?

The answer may seem straightforward: The villagers fed the soldiers. However, there was an intricate strategy underlying the initiative. To feed thousands of soldiers, each village (comprising of a few hundred people) needed an approximate count. The count was provided by the lotus flowers, while the chapatis and the rolling pins were the means used to confirm the commitment of the villagers. The Mathura yagya was a ruse to facilitate the travel of priests who doubled as spies.

Thus, the Anglo-Indian War of 1857 was initiated by leaders who planned the war, conducted internal and external reconnaissance, and recruited soldiers—with the help of civilians.

Parag Tope’s Operation Red Lotus—through the analysis of instances such as the use of red lotuses and chapatis—fills the gaps and corrects the myths about the events of 1857. Relying on eyewitness accounts written in Marathi and letters in Urdu and Bundeli, Mr Tope, a fourth-generation descendent of Tatya Tope, sheds new light on the momentous event. Add to it his analysis of troop movements, supply lines, and logistics—and the tale of the 1857 Anglo-Indian War comes to life in hitherto untold, dramatic fashion.

The triad of freedoms

The leaders who spearheaded the 1857 operation included Nana Saheb, his Diwan, Tatya Tope, Begum Hazrat Mahal, and the Nawab of Banda. In 1858, Sitaram Baba, a priest in Nana Saheb’s court was arrested by the British. Baba confessed that the conspiracy had been initiated by Baija Bai Shinde two decades earlier, and that the real planning had started three years before. He also revealed information about the runners who had gone to each regiment, and the connection between the lotuses and chapatis. Letters, translated for the first time in this book, reveal that Tatya Tope was aware of military movements, logistics and provisions.

“It is important to note that the rising was neither planned nor stimulated by any patriotic move”, wrote Gregory Fremont-Barnes in Indian Mutiny 1857-58 (2007). What Fremont-Barnes and many other Indian historians often fail to mention is that the leaders of the 1857 revolt had a clear vision for the future. After the uprising’s initial success, Bahadur Shah Zafar made a proclamation, read by his grandson in Azamgarh. The proclamation promised a triad of invaluable freedoms: Political, personal and economic.

The crony-capitalist state run by the British East India Company had destroyed the free market system in India. Heavy taxation was the norm, while prices were enforced with the threat of punishment. Manufacturing capabilities were crippled, and the agricultural sector lost the ability to shield the country from the threat of famines. Due to India’s asymmetrical role in the global network, even as the country’s share in the world’s GDP fell from 25 percent to 12, Britain’s share doubled.

On the social front, William Bentinck’s educational policy, based on Macaulay’s Minute, destroyed the private education system that had previously created a society more literate than that of Britain. In a letter to his father, Macaulay claimed that if the new education policy was implemented, there would not be a single idolater left in Bengal.

Even the legal framework was skewed—Indians wanted freedom from missionaries who were working with the Government, and laws which favoured Christians.

By promising the triad of freedoms, the leaders were not advocating a novel or revolutionary idea. They were reverting to the foundations of the Indian polity, which not only guaranteed political, social and economic freedom, but kept them separate as well. In other words, the ruler did not act as a trader, but created an environment suitable for trade.

Fractional Freedom

Mr Tope argues that although the initial uprising was brilliantly planned and co-ordinated, the war was lost due to two reasons. Firstly, the British used their women and children as human shields, which resulted in gory incidents such as the Siege of Cawnpore. Secondly, they resorted to the use of extreme brutality—leaving aside their usual pretences to civilised behaviour—citing the case of Cawnpore (Kanpur).

Recognising the supply lines for the soldiers, British officials attacked those villages through which the chapatis were passed. A law was passed to allow the hanging of even those whose guilt was doubtful. British troops under Havelock and Neill did a death march, killing women, children, infants and the elderly. Sepoys were ritually stripped of their caste by having pork and beef stuffed down their throats before execution.

In books such as The Great Indian Mutiny (1964) by Richard Collier, or The Last Mughal (2008) by William Dalrymple, the British officials’ use of violence is regarded as a reaction to the carnage that took place in Kanpur. However, Mr Tope points out that the government’s brutality was unleashed even before that. British historians recorded that “guilty” villages were “cleared” so that India could be saved from anarchy.

In 1857, the strategy of violent repression was used by the British to secure time to redeploy troops from other countries to India. It was during this time that Tatya’s tenacity became evident. After establishing a command centre in Kalpi, he set up factories for producing ammunition, guns and cannons.

Despite the prospect of imminent defeat, Tatya worked to raise an army, and inspire civilians. When the British took over Delhi, the battle ground was moved to central India. When Rani Laxmibai, who grew up with Tatya, was held under siege, he created a diversion to help the Rani escape. Following the Jhansi massacre, the Indian chieftains who supported Tatya backed down, but he came up with a new strategy—to raise rebellions in regions where the spirit of freedom was strong.

The battles are explained with numerous maps, painstakingly plotted with English and Indian troop movements—a useful tool to interpret the events, and grasp the thinking behind the strategy. The maps, coupled with the detailed narrative and critical analysis, provide a valuable resource to better appreciate the holistic nature of the 1857 uprising.

Upon realising that the 1857 war had ignited the desire for total freedom, Queen Victoria dissolved the East India Company and transferred all powers to the Crown. In her proclamation, she did not give India political or economic freedom, but made an important concession: The English would no longer interfere with the native religions. Even Fremont-Barnes’ apologia acknowledges that successive viceroys took greater heed of India’s religious sensitivities. It was an important victory, writes Mr Tope, for it prevented large scale British settlement in India, and stemmed the destruction of Indian traditions.

The fight continues

Nevertheless, the signature elements of the 1857 uprising—secret messages, planning, and mass murders—were repeated again. In 1932, freedom fighters were warned of danger by Hindu women, who blew on conch shells when they spotted a policeman—the sound was relayed for miles by a network of women.

Madhusree Mukerjee records instances of a different nature in her Churchill’s Secret War (2010). During World War II, when the Japanese army reached Indian borders, Leopold Amery, secretary of state for India, wondered if it was necessary to revive ruthless punishments of 1857 to prevent a possible uprising. Winston Churchill’s policies, argues Ms Mukerjee, resulted in a famine in which three million Indians perished. Mr Tope describes the events of February 19, 1946, when 78 ships, going from Karachi to Chittagong, changed their name from HMIS (His Majesty’s Indian Ships) to INNS (Indian National Naval Ships) in a co-ordinated move.

Coming back to 1857: Why is it that Baija Bai Shinde’s 20-year conspiracy, Nana Saheb’s planning or Tatya’s Tope’s contribution do not feature prominently in our history books? This probably has to do with the historiography of the event. In the official version written a century later by Surendra Nath Sen, the 1857 War was seen as a spontaneous uprising by “conspirators”. Historian R C Majumdar questioned if it could even be called a “war” since India was not a nation, while Marxist historians connected the revolt to peasant uprisings in Bengal.

This reluctance to deviate from the colonial narrative 150 years after the war and 60 years after obtaining political freedom is a telling sign about the state of historical study in India.

India’s proclamation of independence six decades ago has to be contrasted with the triad of freedoms promised in the Azamgarh proclamation. To the leaders of the newly independent polity, Indian traditions of the past did not guide the future. Their socialist mindset led to state control over education and restricted economic freedom, with the state itself becoming a trader—all of which had disastrous consequences.

Looking back, we know what our leaders tried to build and failed, but as well, what they knocked down.

(This version appeared in the February 2011 edition of Pragati)

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In Pragati: An Outdated Syllabus https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/10/in-pragati-an-outdated-syllabus/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/10/in-pragati-an-outdated-syllabus/#comments Sun, 31 Oct 2010 20:45:00 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2897 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

(Photo: Justin Gaurav Murgai) (a shorter and sweeter version of this article appeared in the Nov 2010 issue of Pragati) Recently M. Night Shyamalan kicked off a race row with his latest movie The Last Airbender (2010). In the TV series, the characters, Aang, Katara, Sokka are Asian, but in the movie, they were portrayed by white […]

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(Photo: Justin Gaurav Murgai)

(a shorter and sweeter version of this article appeared in the Nov 2010 issue of Pragati)

Recently M. Night Shyamalan kicked off a race row with his latest movie The Last Airbender (2010). In the TV series, the characters, Aang, Katara, Sokka are Asian, but in the movie, they were portrayed by white actors; the casting call specifically asked for Caucasian actors. Shyamalan was accused of “whitewashing” and “racebending.” Another movie which attracted similar attention was Walt Disney’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) where actor Jake Gyllenhaal played an Iranian Prince. But in this case, most Iranians were pleased that a fair skinned actor played the role because it accurately represented how “Aryan” Iranians looked before Islam was forcibly imposed.

In Iran, the external Aryan ancestry is a non-issue, but in India it is a matter of angry controversy. The fact that it is a source of controversy in India has been bothering scholars in Western universities. In his course, History of Iran to the Safavid Period, Prof. Richard W. Bulliet, an Iranian specialist at Columbia University ridicules the people who oppose Aryan invasion theory and tells students that Indians believe that proponents of the Aryan Invasion Theory are members of CIA who want to portray India as a wimpish state; he specifically mentions members of BJP as belonging to this group.

In the first lecture he mentions the similarities between Old Iranian and Vedic and their relation to the Indo-European languages. For him, this similarity indicates invasion, and this invasion theory is supported not just by philologists, but also by archaeologists and historians. This Grand Canyon wide gap between scholarly consensus and what is being taught in American universities is not surprising. Last Fall, in a course titled  History of India, at University of California, Los Angeles, Prof. Vinay Lal lectured about rejected 19th century racist concepts like “subdued snub-nosed and dark skinned people known as the Dasas” and how forts and citadels were attacked by the invading Aryans.

These professors are wrong — about the Aryan Invasion Theory, about race, about the people who dispute it and the reason they dispute it. Though nationalism and sometimes Hindu nationalism is blamed, the reason why Indians are suspicious of colonial theories will become obvious as we look at an example where “scientific” European minds applied pseudoscience and divided the Indian population.

First, let us look at the Aryan Invasion Theory. In his book The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (2004), Prof. Edwin Bryant who looks at both sides of the Aryan debate concludes that, “there is general consensus among South Asian archaeologists that, as far as archaeological record is concerned, clear, unambiguous evidence of invading or immigrating Aryans themselves is nowhere to be found either in central Asia or in the Indian subcontinent.” Romila Thapar writes in Early India: From the origins to the AD 1300 (1995), that, “The theory of an Aryan invasion no longer has credence.”

Second, when it is mentioned that only members of the BJP are against the Invasion Theory, it is incorrect. Edwin Bryant is not an Indian; Romila Thapar is an antagonist of Hindu Nationalists. Truth is the casualty when he says that opponents of Aryan Invasion Theory have been ignoring archaeological evidence for Prof. Bryant’s survey shows that it is the lack of archaeological evidence, among other things, which prompted many historians to re-think. Instead of the invasion theory, many scholars now believe in a migration theory.

Finally, Prof. Bulliet says that opponents of the invasion might take refuge in the writings of his colleague Edward Said, the author of the seminal book Orientalism. On this point, he is absolutely right. It was the colonial historian who gave us the concept of race. 19th century Europe was the center of racial studies; scientists measured the volume of the skull for various races and found that the white race was the largest and hence of superior intellect.

From 1891, the British official, Herbert H. Risley defined 2378 castes as belonging to 43 races on the basis of their nasal index. Also, Indo-European, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman linguistic groups were identified as different races with Indo-European speakers or Aryans at the top of the tree. Based on this mythology, the skeletons found in Mohenjo-daro were classified as belonging to various races, mostly non-Aryan.  Coming to the Vedic texts, a racial interpretation was assigned to various passages. The dark skinned and nose-less Dasyu was considered of a different race than the fair and high-nosed Aryan. This racial identification was objected to by Indian scholars like Srinivas Iyengar as early as 1914, but such dissenting voices were not the ones writing history.

Following World War II, Western anthropologists realized that race cannot be scientifically defined, based on cranial size or nasal index. According to Prof. Kenneth A. R. Kennedy, who has studied the Harappan skeletal remains extensively, “Biological anthropologists remain unable to lend support to any of the theories concerning an Aryan biological or demographic entity.” According to Prof. Gregory Possehl, an anthropological archaeologist at the University of Pennyslvania, “Race as it was used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has been totally discredited as a useful concept in human biology.” Thus there is nothing to distinguish the invaders from the natives; in short, there is no Aryan or Dravidian race.

A century after Indian scholars raised objections, Western scholars are realizing that the racial interpretation was based on over reading soft evidence; it was a consequence of the 19th century racial insanity that ruled Europe. In 1999, Hans Hock reexamined the supposedly racial Vedic material and found them either to be mistranslated or open to alternative non-racial interpretations. Among multiple interpretations, the racial one was preferred because it favoured colonialism. Still the Professor at UCLA still talks about the snub-nosed Dasyus, even though Indian scholars have interpreted that the Vedic word means one devoid of speech, not nose.

Over the years, historians have accepted that various language groups are just that — language labels — and does not map to racial identity. In the 11th Neelan Thiruchelvam Memorial Lecture given in Colombo on Aug 1, 2010, Prof Romila Thapar made this very clear. According to her the notion of separate Aryan and Dravidian racial identities has no basis in history. According to Prof. Thomas Trautmann, “That the racial theory of Indian civilization still lingers is a matter of faith. Is it not time we did away with it?” But even in the last general elections, the Dravidar Kazhagam party leader exhorted his followers to reject “Aryan” candidates.

It is such non-benign theories and their consequences that has caused Indian scholars to view Western theories with suspicion. Prof.  Edwin Bryant writes, “I argue that although there are doubtlessly nationalistic and in some quarters, communal agendas lurking behind some of this scholarship, a principal feature is anti-colonial/imperial.” Thus the issue is not what members of BJP believe or do not believe; the issue is what is the latest scholarly consensus and why is it not being taught to students. Maybe the Prince of Persia can investigate if the CIA is involved.


References:

  1. Michel Danino, The Indus-Sarasvati Civilization and its Bearing on the Aryan Question
  2. Michel Danino, Genetics and the Aryan Debate, Purtattva, Bulletin of the Indian Archaeological Society No. 36 (2005- 06): 146-154.
  3. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).
  4. History of Iran to the Safavid Period, Columbia University (Podcast, Lecture 1)

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Takshashila: 2 Kings & a King Maker https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/04/takshashila-2-kings-a-king-maker-2/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/04/takshashila-2-kings-a-king-maker-2/#comments Tue, 20 Apr 2010 13:00:15 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2731 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

(The glorious battle of Alexander, King of Macedon, and Porus, King of India. Russian lubok via Wikipedia) In early 327 BCE, half of Alexander’s army marched through the Khyber Pass and reached the shores of Indus. After subduing the hill tribes, Alexander and rest of the army joined them in 326 BCE at Ohind at […]

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(The glorious battle of Alexander, King of Macedon, and Porus, King of India. Russian lubok via Wikipedia)

In early 327 BCE, half of Alexander’s army marched through the Khyber Pass and reached the shores of Indus. After subduing the hill tribes, Alexander and rest of the army joined them in 326 BCE at Ohind at the border of Takshashila — a large and prosperous city between Indus and Jhelum. Alexander’s activities, mostly invasion, produced different reactions from three people — two kings (Ambhi & Porus) and a king maker (Chanakya).

After a 30 day rest, Alexander crossed the Indus into “the country of Indians” and on the other side he was met by an army in battle formation. This was highly unexpected. The king of Takshashila, Ambhi or Oomphis, had sent word that he would not oppose Alexander and would fight on his side. When it looked as if Ambhi had reneged on his promise, Alexander ordered his army to get ready.

Ambhi rode up alone towards the Greeks and he was met by Alexander who too rode up alone. Realizing that what came from Alexander’s mouth was all Greek, interpreters were summoned. Ambhi explained that he had come to put both his army and the kingdom at Alexander’s disposal. He also gifted elephants, large sheep and 3000 bulls to Alexander prompting the Greek to ask Ambhi if he as into husbandry. A satrap — Philip of Machatas — was appointed to govern.

Enjoying Ambhi’s hospitality, Alexander sent word to the neighboring kings to meet him and pay tribute. While few did, one king stayed away: Porus, who was not going to follow Ambhi’s foot steps. When Alexander’s envoy met Porus and asked him to meet the emperor and pay tribute, Porus replied that he would definitely come to meet the emperor, but with an army. Thus in the spring of 326 BCE the two armies met on the banks of Jhelum.

We only have the Greek account of the battle and hence the exaggeration has to be discounted. 20,000 infantry and 3000 cavalry of Porus was killed. All his chariots were destroyed, his generals were killed, so were two of his sons. According to the Greek historians — Diodorus, Arrian, Plutarch — the Greek losses were not so high. But still Porus was praised: “his courage matched his body vigor”, “he exhibited great talent in battle performing deeds not only of a general but also of a valiant soldier.” This battle, Battle of the Hydaspes, was immortalized by Western painters like André Castaigne ,Charles Le Brun and artists in Russia.

Finally the two met. In the meeting Alexander asked Porus how he wished to be treated and Porus replied, “As befits a king”. This reply under adverse conditions impressed Alexander and he returned Porus back to the throne and turned him into an ally.

So was Ambhi a traitor for aligning with a foreigner? In his book India: A History John Keay mentions that though Porus surrendered only after giving Alexander a good fight, calling Ambhi  who surrendered without a fight a traitor is  harsh judgement. An argument is that there was no concept of India as a nation and if a king like Ambhi took help from Alexander to be safe against attacks by Porus, can he be blamed?

That argument would have held, if not for the efforts of Chanakya, who saw the cultural unity among the various kingdoms. As a teacher in Takshashila, he saw students — brahmin youth, princes, sons of rich merchants — come from far away places along the uttarapatha to learn the Vedas, arts (archery, hunting, elephant lore, political economy) law, medicine, and military science. This tradition went back to Buddha’s time. Jotipala, the son of a Brahmin priest in the court of the King of Benares returned after graduating in archery and military science and was appointed the commander-in-chief. Jivika, Bimbisara’s physician who cured Buddha, learned medicine in Takshashila. Prasenajit, the king of Kosala, who too was associated with Buddha was educated in Takshashila.

Chanakya wanted to convert this cultural unity into political unity against the invader. For him, kingdoms of Ambhi and Porus, had to unite against the foreigner. He condemned foreign rule as exploitation; for the foreigner the conquered country was not his own, but a place to tax and extract wealth. He also realized that the reason Alexander was able to advance was because there was no united front: there was no leadership or pooling of resources. Alexander was able to exploit this division and was stopped only by a mutiny in his camp.

One of the first activities of Chanakya and his protegé Chandragupta was to organize resistance against the Greeks satrapies. We know this because of the writings of Justin, who was describing the return of Seleucus Nicator, an officer of Alexander  to India to expand the Greek kingdom.

Justin identified the leader of the rebellion as  Sandrocottus or Chandragupta Maurya.

There were six satrapies: three on the West of Indus and three on the East. Following Alexander’s departure, the satrapies he established started collapsing. At the same time, under the leadership of Chandragupta, a war was declared. The satraps Philip and Nicanor were assassinated and by 323 BCE, India was free of Greeks.

References:

  1. Abraham Eraly, Gem in the Lotus: The Seeding of Indian Civilisation, 2005.
  2. A. Dani, Historic City of Taxila (Bernan Press(PA), 1986).
  3. Radhakumud Mookerji, Chandragupta Maurya and his times, 3rd ed. (Motilal Banarsidass, 1960).
  4. John Keay, India: A History (Grove Press, 2001). 

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The Forgotten American Ice Trade https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/04/the-forgotten-american-ice-trade/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/04/the-forgotten-american-ice-trade/#comments Mon, 12 Apr 2010 14:00:49 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2723 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

In the winter of 1846 – 47, Henry David Thoreau looked out of his small self-built house in Walden and saw a hundred Irishmen with their American bosses cutting ice slabs from the pond. On a good day, he noted, a thousand tonnes were carted away. These ice slabs went not just to New Orleans and […]

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In the winter of 1846 – 47, Henry David Thoreau looked out of his small self-built house in Walden and saw a hundred Irishmen with their American bosses cutting ice slabs from the pond. On a good day, he noted, a thousand tonnes were carted away. These ice slabs went not just to New Orleans and Charleston, but also to Madras, Bombay and Calcutta. Thoreau was amused: here he was sitting in America reading the Bhagavad Gita and the water from his well was being taken to the land of the Ganges.

A Business Opportunity

In 1831, a Boston businessman named Frederic Tudor, who wanted to make money without physical effort, came up with an idea. He would speculate on coffee prices; coffee consumption in United States was increasing and prices were going up at the rate of 20 to 30 percent. What could go wrong?

Within three years, this speculation would put him deep in debt of more than $210,000. He did not know that in 1833 when he met Samuel Austin, a Boston merchant. Austin’s ships regularly went from Boston to Calcutta, but on the trip to Calcutta it did not carry cargo, but empty ballast. Austin wanted to know if Tudor wanted to ship American Ice at a low freight rate.

If there was one person in United States who had the expertise to export ice to the opposite side of the globe, it was Tudor. He had  invented the ice trade in 1806 by exporting ice, cut from frozen lakes in Massachusetts, to the French colony of Martinique. At that time he had faced ridicule — from his father, relatives, and other Boston merchants — but ignoring them he proceeded. No merchant was willing to carry his cargo, but he overcame that by buying a brig for $4000. Inventing various techniques required for the safe transportation of ice, he delivered ice not just to Martinique, but also to Havana, New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah.

He was driven by the belief that once a person in the tropics had tasted cool water, that person would never drink tepid water. And he was right. But he did not make a profit till 1810. He was even arrested and jailed a few times for being in debt. Even two decades later, though he was exporting ice to Southern states, Cuba and West Indies, he was not rich; he made enough to live comfortably. It was then that he decided to diversify and indulge in coffee speculation.

But shipping ice to India was an offer he could not refuse. Especially with the low freight cost.

To Calcutta

Within a week of meeting Austin, Tudor and another business partner William Rogers were thinking of logistics. Tudor himself was involved fixing the Calcutta ship — a vessel with two square-rigged masts named Tuscany — which had the ability to transport 180 tonnes of ice. Ice was cut and transported from the lakes near the Boston harbor. The question was how much of that ice would survive the trip past the two tropics and the equator.

There was no fool-proof way of preventing ice from melting; it could just be slowed. Over two decades Tudor had perfected techniques for insulating ice in ships and building safe ice houses. Previously ice used to be cut in a haphazard manner, but now it was cut in uniform rectangular blocks which helped in efficient storage and shipping.

On May 12, 1833, under the captaincy of Littlefield, the Tuscany set sail for Calcutta. Tudor did not go on the ship, but instead had William Rogers as his agent. During this long journey, the crew took bath using sea water, ate dinner of pea soup, goose and cranberry sauce and plum pudding. For meat they carried pigs, goat, geese and chickens which were slaughtered as needed. This was supplemented with shark caught from the sea. When a ship passed by, they sent messages to family members.

Finally the Tuscany reached the Gangetic delta in September 1833 to great reception. There was a reason for this enthusiasm: they were finally getting rid of the Hooghly slush which was the ice equivalent. To make Hooghly slush, boiled water was poured in earthenware and placed in shallow pits filled with straw. The cool air froze the surface creating a thin film of ice. These pots were then collected and stored in pits for sale during summer. This Hooghly slush was expensive and it was slush. The slush was available for six weeks at a rate of 4 pence per pound and now pure Boston ice was available all year around for three pence a pound.

The newspaper India Gazette, argued that ice should be declared duty free. It also argued that the permission should be given to unload the cargo at night. The article had effect; the Board of Customs, Salt and Opium made ice duty free and allowed it to be unloaded during the cool night. The land for the ice house was donated by the Governor General and people took out a subscription to build an ice house.William Bentinck, the man who got promoted to Governor General of India due to the bad job he did during the Vellore rebellion presented William Rogers with a silver cup acknowledging the enterprise; Kipling wove American Ice into one of his stories in the Second Jungle Book.

Debt

By 1834, Tudor realized that he had a debt of $210,000 due to the coffee speculation and the ice trade to India had to work. He reached an agreement with creditors which would allow him to be a free man and return to ice trade. After falling out with his partners — Austin and Rogers — Tudor sent another ship with 150 tons of ice, 359 barrels of apples, a new agent and a letter to William Bentinck asking for a monopoly in the Calcutta trade.  The ship reached Calcutta after 163 days with just two tons of ice and 359 barrels of rotten apples. It seemed as if the end was near, but what saved him was the letter to Bentinck and the enthusiasm of the British community in Calcutta.

The interest shown by the British community can be seen in the communication between the President of the American Ice Committee of Calcutta and Frederic Tudor. The rotten fruit was mentioned and the Committee suggested that he avoid shipping them. Tudor did not agree; he replied that small quantities could be shipped if the fruit was maintained between 32 and 40 degrees. He wanted to ship Spanish grapes and pears as well.

The Committee then expressed interest in expanding the ice house so that there would be year long supply. A town hall meeting was convened for discussing techniques for building an effective ice house.Some suggested that the cistern be made of iron, instead of wood. Another wanted a bigger wooden cistern with wooden wall around in which air would be trapped while someone else suggested a brick wall instead of a wooden wall. The committee finally ended by adopting the resolution that the ice house had to be expanded and the public would pay for the expense.

Ice was not just used for cooling water, but also as a palliative for those with fevers and stomach disorders. Occasionally there were ice famines — when the ships were delayed or ships went to California due to the Gold rush. During those times the quantity each person could buy was reduced and if he needed more, he had to get a doctor’s certificate. In 1850 when Bombay had no ice, the Telegraph and Courier suggested that there should be an agitation. By 1860, ice was no longer considered a luxury and chilled alcoholic beverages was common.

Ice Melts

The favorable transport conditions and British support rewarded Tudor’s entrepreneurship. Over a period of 20 years, Tudor made a profit of $220,000 just from Calcutta and paid off his debt.  Finally when he got out of debt in 1849, he acknowledged the help of the British community of Calcutta, Madras and Bombay and their help in building a “fine fireproof building unconditionally”, though he was helped by trade to the Southern states as well.

He sold ice to both Bombay and Madras, but he had a monopoly in Calcutta. The peak years for the ‘crystal blocks of Yankee coldness’ were between 1840 and 1870. During the American civil war, the Tudor Ice Company could not ship to the southern ports, but there was a growth in trade to India. Tudor died a millionaire in 1864 due to the real estate he owned in the major shipping ports. For example, he owned land in Howrah across the Hooghly river. Business continued even after Tudor’s death; between 1864 and 1866, the company made a profit of $377,000.

In 1878, The Bengal Ice Company, the first artificial ice maker in India, was formed and the decline of the American Ice business started. There were other factors too like less severe winters and the commercial decline of Boston harbor. The artificial ice sold for a price much less than the American ice and by 1882 the business came to an end. The ice houses at Calcutta and Bombay no longer exist but the one in Madras, built in 1841,  still does as a testimony to a forgotten trade.

Notes

  1. Thanks to Maddy for sending Reference 2. His post on this topic is a must read.
  2. Images from Wikipedia

References:

  1. Gavin Weightman, The Frozen Water Trade: A True Story (Hyperion, 2004).
  2. D. G Dickason, The Nineteenth-Century Indo-American Ice Trade: An Hyperborean Epic, Modern Asian Studies 25, no. 1 (1991): 53 – 89.
  3. History 174C, Lecture of 02-09-10, History of British India, UCLA
  4. Captains of industry: A book for young Americans, Volume 1 By James Parton
  5. Report of the Record commissioners, Volume 5 By Boston (Mass.). Registry Dept, Boston (Mass.). Record Commissioners
  6. Calcutta, old and new: a historical & descriptive handbook to the city By Sir Evan Cotton

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Gama's Eastern Christians https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/03/gamas-eastern-christians/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/03/gamas-eastern-christians/#comments Mon, 29 Mar 2010 13:00:17 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2705 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

An iconic scene during the Portuguese arrival in Malabar in 1498 is when the ex-convict Joao Nunes stepped into land and met two Moors from Tunis. The Moors greeted the ex-convict, “The Devil take you! What bought you here.” He replied, “We came to seek Christians and spices”. While the Portuguese search for a direct […]

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An iconic scene during the Portuguese arrival in Malabar in 1498 is when the ex-convict Joao Nunes stepped into land and met two Moors from Tunis. The Moors greeted the ex-convict, “The Devil take you! What bought you here.” He replied, “We came to seek Christians and spices”.

While the Portuguese search for a direct trade route to India bypassing the Muslims is well known, less mentioned is this search for Christians. They searched for the Eastern Christians in Africa and India and interestingly found them everywhere they looked. They also encountered Muslims; encounters which did not go well. The joyous news of the discovery of Eastern Christians was duly reported to Dom Manuel.

Vasco da Gama’s king, Dom Manuel, over a period had developed a messianic streak, due to the death of a large number of people who had preceded him. He believed that he was chosen by the Holy Spirit to confront the powerful. He wanted to take over the Holy Land and destroy Mecca to claim the title — the Emperor of the East. But he could not do it alone: to attack the Egyptian Mamluks, for instance, he needed help and for this the lost Christian kingdoms of Asia could become useful.

To understand this Portuguese obsession with finding Eastern Christians, we need to go along with Vasco da Gama on his first Voyage to Malabar and experience his encounters with people of other faiths.

In Search of Christians

(Prester John)

After navigating the Cape, the fleet reached Mozambique Island in March 1498 where men belonging to the “sect of Mohammed” told them that Eastern Christians lived on a nearby island. The other half of the island where the Christians lived was populated by Moors and there were constant battles among them. Then they were told that Prester John — the mythical Christian king — lived nearby in the interior and he could be reached by a camel trip. Though they were happy to hear about Prester John, they did not attempt to visit him.

During a conversation, the Sultan of Mozambique asked Nicolau Coelho, one of the captains in Gama’s fleet, about Turkey and their religious books. Then Coelho realized that the Sultan had assumed them to be Turks and not Christians. The Portuguese wanted to conceal their identity since they did not know how the reaction would be. Hence for celebrating mass, they would go off to an island.

That did not work very well and the Sultan came to know who they were. By then a rumor spread that the Portuguese would be killed. They fled, but like in a cartoon film, the wind bought them back to Mozambique. Surprisingly the Sultan did not want to kill them but wanted to befriend them. He sent a sharif and his young son aboard.

The relation between the Portuguese and the Muslims took another U turn. A search for fresh water resulted in an irritated Gama who fired bombards around — at the people who were guarding the fresh water, at the main settlement — and left. After a brief search for the Christian island, they left for Mombasa, where the pilots who were from Mozambique assured them that they would be well treated by the Christians.

But the promised red carpet welcome in Mombasa did not happen. A large number of people tried to board Gama’s ship which he disallowed; he even prevented two people who said they were Christians since he did not believe them. Finally two expendable convicts, like  Joao Nunes, were sent on shore. They went to some Christian homes where they saw some books mentioning the Holy Spirit. Then again the relation turned sour: from Portuguese accounts, it was Christians against Muslim dogs. They also reported that Christian merchants were being held prisoners by the Muslim king.

After Mozambique Island and Mombasa, the next stop was Malindi in Kenya where Gama had heard that there were Christian ships in the port and he could get Christian pilots. There were indeed four ships in the harbor. They had some “Indian Christians” too – people who worshipped Christian icons, but did not eat beef. This delusion continued in Kerala: every non-Muslim was considered to be a Christian; every unfamiliar icon was a Christian one.

For them Calicut was inhabited by Christians: Christians who wore tufts on their head. On their way to meet the Zamorin Manivikraman Raja, they stopped by a “church”. In front of this “church” which was built of stones and tiles, there was a bronze pillar with a bird carved on the top. Inside was a small image of “Our Lady”. The priest who wore a thread over his shoulder gave them holy water and ash which the Portuguese assumed to be a deviant Eastern custom.

When he finally met Manivikraman Raja, Gama was asked for the reason for his visit and he spun a tall tale. Gama said Dom Manuel was quite rich with enough gold and silver that he did not need anything. Gama had come searching for Christian kings and he was desperate to find one since his life depended on it.

The Muslim problem resurfaced again: After the meeting the Zamorin asked Gama if he wanted to spend the night in a Christian house or a Muslim one. Gama wanted neither, but due to the monsoons he had to settle down in a Muslim house. Few days later, Gama met the Zamorin again and gave him copies of a letter: one letter was in Portuguese, which no one could read and the other was in Arabic. Gama did not want a Muslim to read the Arabic letter and demanded a Christian. They found an Arabic speaking Christian, but he could not read. Finally the Muslims had to read it.

By the end of May tensions again rose between the Portuguese, Muslims, and the authorities in Calicut. The Portuguese suspected that the Muslims in the court were against them. The locals suspected that the Portuguese would flee without paying the port duties of 600 ashrafis. Muslim merchants would spit when the Portuguese went by. One night, fearing an attack, the Portuguese took turns keeping watch. Then like the incident in Mozambique Island, the attack never happened.

But once again tensions rose regarding the port duties: One of the Portuguese crew men, Diogo Dias, was detained and his goods captured. On hearing this Gama wondered how  a Christian King — the Zamorin — could show such dog like behavior. Maybe the merchants of Mecca had influenced him. Once again, like in Mozambique Island, a rumor spread that Vasco da Gama would be killed.

That issue was also resolved without bloodshed even though there was hostage taking and threats of beheading by the Portuguese. Around 28th August, Gama’s fleet left and due to slow winds reached the South Kanara Coast where the fishermen whom they met were ‘Christians’. By the 19th September, they reached some islands near Goa. Only after one of the natives assured them that he was a Christian only then did they set foot on the land.

The Story Spreads

(Vasco da Gama)

Following Gama’s return to Lisbon, his ex cathedra pronouncements of the East spread in Europe. In a letter written by a Florentine merchant it is mentioned that Malindi was populated by Christians and Gama had found the fabled Christian kings of the East. India had a large Christian population as well. While Eastern myths created the imaginary Prester John, the story of Gama’s Eastern Christians fed into that myth and created new ones.

One of the passengers on Gama’s ship was a Jew — Gaspar da Gama — who provided details of the Christian kings and the size of the armies. According to Gaspar, in  areas which did not have Christian kings, the Moors ruled over Christians. This Jew had lived in India for more than two decades and why would he come up with this false representation of India.? The Gujarati pilot who helped Gama and the Tunisian Muslim who came along  with Gama knew India very well. Still why would this myth persist that India had Christian kings?

One probable reason is that the Portuguese were unfamiliar with Hindus. In their world there were Muslims and Jews. For them anyone who was not a Muslim was by default a Christian even though they did not celebrate mass or worshiped strange looking gods or had unseen customs.  People like Gaspar da Gama went along with this myth for a while.

Then one day Gaspar himself burst the bubble.

When the story of Calicut came out from the mouth of Gaspar, it must have created quite a commotion in diplomatic and ecclesiastical circles. Our Florentine investor could be seen to quickly correct himself in his subsequent letter, quoting none other than Gaspar himself: He says that in those countries there are many gentiles, that is idolators, and only a few Christians, that the supposed Chruches and belfries are in reality temples of idolators and that the pictures within them are those of idols and not of saints. To me this seems more probable than saying that there are Christians but no divine ministrations, no priests and no sacrificial mass. He does not believe that there are any Christians of account other than some so called Jacobites and those of the PresterJohn, who is far from Calicut on this side of the gulf of Arabia. [How Calicut Remained ‘Christian’ for Three Years]

But the clarification did not matter for Dom Manuel continued to believe that the Zamorin was an imperfect Christian. The next voyage in 1500, led by Pedro Cabral, carried a letter to the Zamorin containing eschatological references. There were also priests on board to teach the true faith to the people of India.

This Portuguese experience of India — that Indians were deviant Christians — did not die soon and persisted among Europeans till the 19th century. Charles Grant, the man who invented the word “Hindooism”  thought Brahmins were the descendants of Noah and were blessed in the Garden of Eden. These Brahmins who once held belief in a rational Supreme Being, had now fallen from grace into the ignorant ways of polytheism and idolatry. Jean-Antoine Dubois, a French-Catholic missionary, who spent time in Pondicherry, Madras Presidency and Mysore from 1792 to 1823 argued that Brahmins were descendants of Magog’s father Japheth. Many Indologists of the 19th century, who came up with the Aryan race theory, too worked within this Biblical framework.

Notes and References:

  1. Sanjay Subrahmanyam, The Career and Legend of Vasco da Gama (Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  2. Alvaro Velho and Joao de Sa, A journal of the first voyage of Vasco da Gama, 1497-1499 (Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1898).
  3. Most of these accounts come from Portuguese sources and hence it is just one side of the story.
  4. Thanks to Maddy for general enlightenment about this story.
  5. Images from Wikipedia

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The Indian Spy in Kashgar – Part 3/3 https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/02/the-indian-spy-in-kashgar-part-33/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/02/the-indian-spy-in-kashgar-part-33/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2010 13:39:04 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2649 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

(Another sketch by Robert Shaw in 1868) (Read Part 1, Part 2) The Kashgar Drama The first man to reach Kashgar was Robert Shaw. Stocked with gifts and firearms, he went to meet Yakub Beg. Beg smiled and received him and exchanged pleasantries in Persian. Shaw explained that he was not part of British Government […]

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Kashgar by Robert Shaw

(Another sketch by Robert Shaw in 1868)

(Read Part 1, Part 2)

The Kashgar Drama

The first man to reach Kashgar was Robert Shaw. Stocked with gifts and firearms, he went to meet Yakub Beg. Beg smiled and received him and exchanged pleasantries in Persian. Shaw explained that he was not part of British Government and just wanted to sell Indian tea in the empire. Beg was impressed with the gifts and dismissed Shaw saying they would talk details three days later.

That night Shaw probably dreamt of his tea business taking off. What could go wrong? The king had no relations with the Chinese or the Russians. The only hope  for Beg was to ally with the British and what better way to grow that relation than to allow a British trader to operate in Kashgar. But soon Shaw’s movements were restricted and he was confined to his quarters.He could have visitors and from them he knew what was going on. But Shaw realized that the third day meeting with Beg was not going to happen.

When Mirza arrived a month after Shaw, he was taken to see the lieutenant or jemadar of Yakub Beg, mainly to see what gifts he had bought. Mirza was pleasantly surprised that jemadar was none other than Nubbi Buksh,  the Sikh gunner. Originally from Sialkot, Buksh left Punjab — and according to some sources based on Mirza’s suggestion — towards Central Asia. Through Ladakh, he reached Kokand and served the Khan for a decade where he came into contact with the young Yakub Beg. When Yakub Beg took over Kashgar, Nubbi Buksh joined him.

Though Mirza was quite happy to see Nubbi Buksh, Buksh behaved with indifference and hostility. First he refused to recognize Mirza. Later when he did recognize him, he was suspicious of Mirza’s cover story as a trader. Buksh then opened Mirza’s luggage and took whatever he fancied. He also put Mirza in a house and entrusted some Afghans to keep an eye on him.

The next day he was taken to meet Yakub Beg. Beg, who was seated on a carpet with three chiefs received him graciously. After asking him a few questions, Beg asked him to have breakfast with other chiefs.In later meetings  Beg asked him about Hindustan, Badakshan and Afghanistan. Mirza made observations on Beg’s army, noted that the route towards Russia was well fortified, and even gathered information on the nearest Russian fort.

Also by then George Hayward arrived and traded house arrest in Yarkand for a house arrest in Kashgar.For three months, Shaw or Hayward never heard from Beg and court officials never gave an explanation for the silence. Beg’s chiefs asked Mirza if he knew the Englishmen and Mirza replied he did not. But soon MIrza realized that he too was under house arrest.

Desperate, Mirza decided to  establish a contact with the Englishmen. He sent a note to Shaw mentioning he had come from India and wanted a watch. He said his watch was broken and needed one to perform astronomical observations. Shaw, who also was under house arrest knew that Hayward had arrived, but was surprised by the letter he received from Mirza. He did not know who in India sent him. Maybe there was no Mirza and it was Yakub Beg’s idea to trap him. To be safe, Shaw replied that he had no watch to spare. Though he refused to entertain this unknown Mirza, Shaw exchanged notes with Hayward.

Beg on his part was worried about the Russians who were right near his border. The Russians, for whom the Crimea war had not gone well, were worried that if provoked Beg would take British help and escalate the situation.  At the same time Russia did not want to formally recognize Yakub Beg; they did not want to offend the Chinese. Just before Mirza, Shaw and Hayward arrived in Kashgar, Beg had sent his nephew as an emissary to Russia to understand their position.

While Beg was waiting for news from Russia, the three captives spent their time not knowing what would happen to them. They probably would have thought about the German explorer Adolf Schlagintweit who visited Kashgar in 1857 with his brother Hermann and Rudolph. While the brothers returned, Adolph stayed back to explore which turned out to be a bad idea; Wali Khan who had taken over Kashgar caught him and had him executed. Wali Khan himself was later arrested and poisoned by Yakub Beg.

Months passed. When Beg realized that Russians would not recognize him he then decided to throw his dice in the Great Game by siding with the British. On April 5th, he summoned Robert Shaw, called him his brother, praised the Queen, and asked for his help with the British. Shaw for his part again mentioned that he was a private citizen and not with the Government, but such minor details did not matter. Beg wanted to send an envoy to India and Shaw agreed to help him with that. By then it was clear that he would be set free, but he did not know what would happen to Mirza  or Hayward. He heard a rumor that Hayward was to be held hostage; he also got a note from Hayward about this.

Shaw told Beg’s officials that it would not look good, if he sent an envoy to India while he held another Englishman a hostage. Shaw just wanted Hayward to be freed and Beg agreed. Shaw left on April 9th and Hayward on the 13th.  When he came to know that both Englishmen had left Mirza thought that he would perish in this Beg eats Khan world. Mirza appealed to Beg directly skipping Nubbi Buksh and Yakub Beg let him go with appropriate gifts.

On June 7, 1869, Mirza left Kashgar and reached Yarkand where he met three hundred people on their way to Mecca. From Yarkand he went over the Karakorum and reached  Leh in August and from there to the GTS HQ in Dehra Dun.

Mirza’s return was a triumph; another bead in the rosary of his life. Using his wits, he had overcome great difficulties, cheated death a few times, and was able to conceal his identity and accomplish the task he had been sent to do. He surveyed 2179 miles among which 1042 miles – from Kabul to Kashgar — which was not surveyed before. He confirmed the path from Kabul to Yarkand which was verified to be accurate. His work put Kashgar and Yarkand in the right locations in the map for the first time and corrected those made by Jesuits and other travelers.

While Shaw, Hayward, and Nubbi Buksh reached Kashgar from Ladakh, Mirza started his trip from Afghanistan.  This was intentional so that Mirza could collect intelligence on the Afghan army and its battles outside Kabul. Mirza was praised for his professional skill and endurance by the RGS and though the work was done clandestinely, the results were published in the journals of the Royal Geographical Society.

Both Shaw and Hayward,  thought to be dead, were received as heroes. They supplied the British with political and commercial intelligence about Kashgar and Yarkand. Since Shaw and Hayward had traveled back and forth from Kashgar, they thought that the Russians could invade Kashgar and then India through Ladakh dragging machinery through 18,000 feet. But the War Office disagreed with this observation, but agreed that the path was vulnerable.

The End

George Hayward, the inveritable travel bunny made new plans; he wanted to explore the Pamirs. The Government tried to dissuade him, but Hayward was quite stubborn. The experiences of the past — because they were experiences of the past — did not guide him. He left in the summer of 1870 with few servants from Srinagar and reached Yasin in the Hindu Kush where he met the chief Mir Wali whom he knew from an earlier visit. But this time he had an argument with the chief and the furniture in his life got rearranged; he was killed by a single stroke of the sword. His body was found three months later by an Indian Sepoy.

In 1872 Montgomerie sent Mirza on another expedition to Bokhara. After passing Herat, he reached Maimana, but on the road from Maimana to Bokhara he was murdered by his guide.

Yakub Beg died in 1877 and various reasons — poisoning, suicide, stroke — have been mentioned as probable causes. After his death Kashgaria was conquered by the Chinese.

The Viceroy — Lord Mayo — thought the better way to deal with Kashgar was to make it an ally or a buffer state and he sent a diplomatic mission to Kashgar. Robert Shaw was only happy to join but never was able to make a market for tea in Central Asia. He died at the age of 39 in 1879 in Burma where he had been appointed a British resident.

Postscript: Kamla Bhatt has an interview with Jules Stewart, the author of Spying For The Raj: The Pundits And The Mapping of the Himalayas

References

  1. Royal Geographical Society (Great Britain), Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and monthly record of geography (Edward Stanford, 1871).
  2. Robert Johnson, Spying for empire (Greenhill Books, 2006).
  3. Derek J. Waller, The Pundits (University Press of Kentucky, 2004).
  4. Richard Bernstein, Ultimate Journey: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment (Vintage, 2002).
  5. Peter Hopkirk, The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha International, 1992).
  6. Sir Thomas Edward Gordon, The roof of the world (Edmonston and Douglas, 1876).
  7. Mishi Saran, Chasing the Monk’s Shadow (Penguin Global, 2005).
  8. All images from Wikipedia

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The Indian Spy in Kashgar – Part 2/3 https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/02/the-indian-spy-in-kashgar-part-23/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/02/the-indian-spy-in-kashgar-part-23/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2010 13:38:38 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2648 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

(Approach to Yarkand. A sketch by Robert Shaw) (Read Part 1) In December 1868, Mirza left Badakshan towards Kashgar. The winter travel was not easy on him or his porters or the animals. Some days both the men and animals suffered from shortness of breath which made them slow and insensible. Once they walked for […]

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Path to Yarkand

(Approach to Yarkand. A sketch by Robert Shaw)

(Read Part 1)

In December 1868, Mirza left Badakshan towards Kashgar. The winter travel was not easy on him or his porters or the animals. Some days both the men and animals suffered from shortness of breath which made them slow and insensible. Once they walked for 9 miles and found that fresh snow had erased previous tracks leaving them stranded. That night they had to sleep in the snow.

Many centuries earlier the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang had a similar experience with his retinue and dozen people died in the cold. In his travelogue, the monk wrote about the steep and dangerous roads, the cold and biting wind, as well as the fierce dragons that molest travelers. The precaution, he suggested, was not to wear red garments or carry loud-sounding calabashes.

If the snow storm did not get Mirza, robbers could have. Near Kulm-Tashkurgan, they were attacked by bandits who wounded two members of Mirza’s group and stole some of their goods. He also could have been discovered as a spy. In Fayzabad one of his men ho did not want to travel in the intense cold denounced him as an infidel and spy. Mirza had to shut him up with a bribe.

In Kulm-Tashkurgan a man who looked European joined Mirza. Thinking that he was a European Mirza almost told him the truth, but then the man spoke  perfect Persian and Mirza kept quiet. Once when a Kirgiz man saw him use the compass and was suspicious Mirza escaped by suggesting that he was just trying to point it to Mecca.

Mirza soon reached the point where the Amu Darya split into two branches. One John Wood from the British Navy had come this far in 1838. Since Wood had explored the northern route, Mirza took the uncharted southern route.  Crossing the Pamirs he reached the Tashkurgan fort.

From this point everyone would treat the stranger as a suspect. It started with the Governor of  Tashkurgan fort who wanted to inspect Mirza’s goods to verify his credentials.  Mirza was able to get past that by offering some gifts, but still the Governor would not let him travel alone; he was to travel under the Governor’s escort to the nearby Kashgar.

In January, he resumed his march to Kashgar. He reached there in February and probably was relieved to see shops selling bread, hot tea and sour milk. It was much better than eating frozen meat in inhospitable locales. Even the landscape was refreshing with orchards of fruit trees and mulberry groves.

The city which was built between the two branches of the Kazul river was fortified with watch towers at regular intervals and had  houses made of sun burned bricks and flat roofs. It had quite a few mosques too. The residents resembled a Benneton Ad: among the 16,000 families were Turks, Tajiks, Afghans, Kashmiris and Hindustanis. Though it was banned, the people ate opium, sang and danced. The women were required to wear a black or white burqa and show only their eyes.

Yakub Beg
Yakub BegKashgar then was ruled by Yakub Beg. Beg had started as a servant of the Khan of Khokhan — some accounts call him a dancing boy — and rose to be the Governor of Ak-Musjid. As Governor, he allowed the Russians to settle there without the knowledge of the Khan and probably by taking a bribe. He then fled to Bokara in Uzbekistan and lay low for three years till he gained favor with the new Khan.  The new Khan sent him to help in driving the Chinese out of Kashgar and other oases which he did. By then the Khan had developed his own problems with the Russians. Since there was no one to chaperon Beg, he went rogue and declared independence.

Though he was a man of simple manners, Beg was suspicious of everyone; he had spies around in his country.  Always armed, he was afraid of being murdered. He was generous and divided his spoils among his followers and also  fed a large number of people after daily prayers. He was a strict Muslim; He prayed five time a day also mandated that everyone do so. He also kept away from wine, women and opium.

The region was divided among his friends and relatives and no accounts were kept. So long as Beg got his share, he did not bother them. Quite a few people went for the Hajj hoping that they would be less bothered by the officials due to their title. Some went for the Hajj and absconded.

The Englishmen

Around the time Mirza reached Kashgar, unknown to him two other Englishmen had reached there with different motives.

Robert Shaw was a tea planter who lived in the Himalayan foot hills. He had moved to India at the age of 20 after ill health prevented him from joining the Army. From traders who had been to Kashgar, he knew that Indian tea could have a market there since the Chinese were kicked out. British officials were prohibited from traveling beyond the borders, but since Shaw was a private citizen, he decided to look for new markets in Kashgar.

Shaw left Leh on September 20, 1868 with a caravan. But following him was another Englishman, an ex-army officer named George Hayward whose goal was to explore the passes between Ladakh and Kashgar as well as the source of Amu Darya for the Royal Geographical Society. Hayward knew about the travel ban, but did not care and disguised himself as a Pathan and left.

As Shaw was traveling, he got news of Hayward. Shaw had invested much into his business trip and did not want another Englishman jeopardizing it. So he sent a note to Hayward asking him to turn back. But Hayward was not a man to turn back. Finally they met over a camp fire and Hayward decided to give Shaw a two-week start to Kashgar. They did not part as friends and they did not part as enemies.

Shaw reached Yarkand and soon was joined by Hayward; the smart Hayward told the border guards at Yarkand that he was part of Shaw’s caravan. But in Yarkand, they ignored each other, but kept an eye on each other as well. Keeping an eye on both of them were the authorities at Yarkand, who were waiting for instructions from Kashgar. When Shaw finally left Yarkand and reached Kashgar on Jan 4th 1869, he was the first Englishman to do so; he reached before Mirza.

Now that all the actors had arrived, it was time for the Kashgar drama to start

(To be continued)

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The Indian Spy in Kashgar – Part 1/3 https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/02/the-indian-spy-in-kashgar-part-1/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2010/02/the-indian-spy-in-kashgar-part-1/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2010 13:00:46 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2646 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

Around the 1860s, when Thomas Montgomerie of the Royal Engineers noticed that Indians traveled freely from Ladakh to Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan (modern Xinjiang), he came up with the idea of sending some of them with concealed surveying equipment. He hired and trained Indians in the art of surveying and sent them outside the borders […]

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Around the 1860s, when Thomas Montgomerie of the Royal Engineers noticed that Indians traveled freely from Ladakh to Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan (modern Xinjiang), he came up with the idea of sending some of them with concealed surveying equipment. He hired and trained Indians in the art of surveying and sent them outside the borders to gather topographical data clandestinely. Publicly called “pundits” or “native explorers”, they were designated as spies in secret files.

During Montgomerie’s time, this region was part of the Great Game — the strategic rivalry  between the British and the Russians for supremacy in Central Asia — and one episode involved an Indian spy, a British tea merchant, an Uzbek dancing boy turned King and a British explorer-adventurer.  The spy, the merchant and the explorer reached Kashgar in Western China through different routes with different motives, but ended up as captives of a paranoid and wily king. Their fate would depend on how Russia would play in the Great Game.

It was a time when everyone suspected everyone else. It was the time of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

The Great Game

In 1800, there was a big geographical  buffer between Russia and India, but over the next sixty years that buffer almost vanished. Following the Russo-Persian War (1826-1828), Russia became a dominant player in the region and after the two Sikh wars much of the Afghan territory came under the British. The Russians soon moved against the Khanates at Khiva and Bokhara and by 1853 they were near Kokhand (Uzbekistan).

As the buffer narrowed, the British were worried that the Russians would invade India. This was not a misplaced worry since Napoleon and Czar  Alexander discussed  a plan for land invasion of India when they met in 1807. But then in the immortal words of ABBA, “My my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender.” Following Napoleon’s death, the Russians never followed on with the plan, but the British feared that even if the Russians did not invade, they could create trouble in the neighborhood.

Hence there was an urgent need to map the routes outside the Indian border, especially those passes through which the Russians could arrive. British knew where Yarkand and Kashgar were, but nothing more than that. These places, which saw heavy traffic during the zenith of the Silk Road, were now like Radiator Springs. The mountains on one side and the Taklamakan desert on the other side now isolated this place that the British had almost no political, commercial or military intelligence; a Great Blank in the Great Game.

To rectify this situation, the British could not send their spies to this region; it would provoke the Russians. Also it was not safe. If an Englishman was harmed, the British could not retaliate. That is when Montgomerie, who had spent a decade surveying Kashmir, came up with his brilliant plan  to send Indian travelers trained as surveyors. Even if the travelers were caught, the British had deniability.

Mirza

It was hard to get a good spy. Montgomerie had once sent a trained Pathan to Chitral. What Montgomerie did not know was there was blood feud in the family and the Pathan was killed. In 1865 one Pundit  Munphool went to Badakshan (northeastern Afghanistan and southeastern Tajikistan)  and returned alive to submit a report. But he was not a  trained surveyor and without precise information, maps could not be made.

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The Indus Script – Analysis https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2009/11/the-indus-script-analysis/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2009/11/the-indus-script-analysis/#comments Fri, 13 Nov 2009 03:02:08 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2523 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

(A letter in cuneiform sent to King of Lagash) Read Part 1, Part 2. There are two points the Dravidian camp and the Indo-Aryan camp agree on: the signs are mostly written from right to left and they are logo-syllabic. Bryan Wells was able to decipher the script as Dravidian and even read words from […]

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(A letter in cuneiform sent to King of Lagash)

Read Part 1, Part 2.

There are two points the Dravidian camp and the Indo-Aryan camp agree on: the signs are mostly written from right to left and they are logo-syllabic. Bryan Wells was able to decipher the script as Dravidian and even read words from it. Subhash Kak has not deciphered the script, but has shown that it bears similarities to Brahmi script and the language could be an Indo-Aryan one like Prakrit. If we had lengthy sentences in Indus script, we could validate both these claims with confidence.

When it comes to the decipherments, the literature is overwhelmingly in favor of Dravidian, proto-Dravidian or early Kannada-Tamil.  This comes not just from Indian scholars, but also Soviet and Finnish groups which have worked on this problem.Compared to this the Indo-Aryan angle has very little support; most books don’t even mention this possibility.

But is the Dravidian case rock solid? Assume for a moment that Dravidian or proto-Dravidian was spoken by the Harappans, when they lived in the urban settings. Now if Indo-Aryans forced these people — people who lived in well planned cities —  to move to South India, what happened to their urbaneness.? There is not a single Harappan site in any of the South Indian states dating to that period or for that matter any later period. Thus if Dravidians did indeed move from Indus valley to South India, they would have moved from an advanced Bronze Age culture backwards to a Neolithic culture[2][5].  This parallels another explanation where the urban residents of BMAC became pastoral cattle breeders by the time they reached Indus Valley.

What about the Dravidian substratum in Indo-European? This concept has been challenged in the past two decades.  Initially it was thought that there were 500 such words, then it became 380, then 100 and according to one study, it is just one – mayura. There are others who think that there is not even a single loan word from Dravidian and others who think the loan words are from para-Munda[5].

Even if there are loan words, it is in later mandalas of Rg Veda and hence irrelevant to the debate[5]. Also some of the linguistic features which were supposed to have come from Dravidian were found in other Indo-European languages, which had no contact with Dravidian. The corollary is that it is the  Indo-Aryan language which influenced Dravidian. Even if there are similar features, they could come from two languages co-existing rather than one superimposing over the other[2].

Then there is the mystery of Brahui – a Dravidian language spoken in parts of Baluchistan. The assumption is that these were Dravidians who did not move to South India. But it turns out that Brahui was not present in the region during the Indus valley period, but arrived later, probably after the Islamic invasion of India.  Also look at the river names in the region: they all have Indo-Aryan names and not Dravidian ones. In fact there is evidence — from genetic studies and archaeobotany —which suggests a peninsular origin for Dravidians[5]. So how could the Indus Valley people be speaking Dravidian?

Conclusion

It is not just the Indus script which has not been undeciphered: no one knows to read Linear A, Etruscan, Phaistos disk and rongorongo. Also as many such decipherments are going on there is an even fundamental debate going on: do the signs encode a linguistic system?  Statistical analysis can show that the Indus signs have structure – a known fact. But can it prove anything beyond that?

What could put an end to the debate on the language of the Harappans would be the discovery few seals with longer text. But is there a possibility of finding such an object? Consider this: It is not as if the entire region of Harappa — which is much bigger than any of the ancient civilizations — has been excavated. There were some excavations from 1930 – 1940 and then from 1986 onwards. There is still a large area to be excavated.

Another discovery which could put an end to this debate is the discovery of a bi-lingual seal. Since Harappans were trading with the hubs of the ancient world and spoke a different language than the rest of the world, there is the possibility of finding such a seal. Such a Rosetta stone could be found not just in India but also in Iran or Iraq or Bahrain. There is a good chance of finding such a seal near Basra in Iraq; that story is for another post.

References:

  1. Bryan. Wells, “An introduction to Indus writing /–by Bryan Wells.” (Ann Arbor, Mich. :UMI,, 2001), ScientificCommons.
  2. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).
  3. Kamil V. Zvelebil, “Decipherments of the Indus Script,” in The Aryan Debate edited by Thomas R. Trautmann (Oxford University Press, USA), 254 – 271.
  4. Jane Mcintosh, A Peaceful Realm : The Rise And Fall of the Indus Civilization (Basic Books, 2001).
  5. Michel Danino, “A Dravido-Harappan Connection? The issue of Methodology.,” Indus Civilization and Tamil Language (2009): 70 – 81.
  6. Subhash C. Kak, “A FREQUENCY – ANALYSIS – OF – THE – INDUS – SCRIPT,” Cryptologia 12, no. 3 (1988): 129.
  7. Subhash C. Kak, “INDUS – AND – BRAHMI – FURTHER – CONNECTIONS” Cryptologia 14, no. 2 (1990): 169.
  8. Subhash C. Kak, “AN – INDUS-SARASVATI SIGNBOARD,” Cryptologia 20, no. 3 (1996): 275.

(Images via Wikipedia)

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The Indus Script – Decipherments https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2009/11/the-indus-script-decipherments/ https://varnam.nationalinterest.in/2009/11/the-indus-script-decipherments/#comments Wed, 11 Nov 2009 03:46:07 +0000 http://varnam.nationalinterest.in/?p=2519 Warning: Use of undefined constant get_post_type - assumed 'get_post_type' (this will throw an Error in a future version of PHP) in /nfs/c03/h01/mnt/56080/domains/varnam.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/plugins/yet-another-related-posts-plugin/classes/YARPP_Core.php on line 1467

(Asokan inscription in Brahmi) Read Part 1 When say “deciphering the Indus script” there are two aspects to it. The first is the structural analysis which looks at the signs which are used the most, the relationship between the signs etc and the second is assigning various sounds to the symbols to attempt a reading. […]

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(Asokan inscription in Brahmi)

Read Part 1

When say “deciphering the Indus script” there are two aspects to it. The first is the structural analysis which looks at the signs which are used the most, the relationship between the signs etc and the second is assigning various sounds to the symbols to attempt a reading.

Dravidian

In 1968, the Russian linguist Yuri  Knorozov who assisted in the Battle of Berlin and later decoded the Mayan script found internal structures in the Indus seals using software analysis. Based on that he read the text as proto-Dravidian. One of the signs in the Indus script is that of a man carrying a stick. This for Knorozov  represented the posture of Yama or Bhairava hence he thought it was one of the predecessors of one of such gods. He also read the script and one such reading is ‘[day of the [god] -guardian honored leader, lightning of the cloud worthy hero’. The criticism of Knorozov is that while his analysis was useful, the reading was pure guess work[1].

But how did Dravidians, who currently live in the four Southern states, end up in the Indus Valley? According to one version, Proto-Dravidian speakers moved into the Indus Valley from Iran some time between 6500 and 3000 B.C.E. These people, who derived Proto-Dravidian from Proto-Elamite-Dravidian, developed the Indus culture over a period of 2000 – 4000 years[1]. When the Indo-Aryans arrived, sometime after the collapse of the Indus Valley, Dravidian was the dominant language.

When Dravidian was replaced by the Indo-Aryan language in Harappa, the Dravidian language did not just disappear. Instead, it left some words — a substratum — in the Indo-Aryan language, which a linguist can identify. Thus it is obvious that the language spoken by the Harappans was indeed Dravidian.

The work of Yuri  Knorozov, and by the Finnish group led by Asko Parpola  was continued by Bryan Wells who used structural analysis to identify syntactic units. This identification helped in finding out words at the subject-object-verb level. This structure was similar to Dravidian. Once that was done certain features of the language —- old Tamil names end with “an” and female names with “al” —-was used to map the symbols[1].

Now comes the tricky part. There is a symbol which looks like a fish but there are many words to describe a fish: one to describe fish generically and some to describe various species. Which one do you pick? Even among the various Dravidian deciphers there is no agreement on the reading. For example, what looks like a crown to one researcher looks like a mountain to another and a tent to the third.

Indo-Aryan version

When Indo-Aryan is mentioned as a possible language, it is shot down based on ‘chronological incongruity’. Remember how the horse evidence before 1500 B.C.E is suspect because horses were bought by the Indo-Aryans when they arrived in the subcontinent after 1500 B.C.E. According to similar logic, Sanskrit cannot be the language of Harappa since Indo-Aryans arrived only after the decline of Harappa. Due to this most books don’t even mention this possibility[4].

Such circular reasoning  to exclude Indo-European as a possibility has not prevented researchers from pursuing this angle. In 1934, G. R Hunter concluded that Brahmi was derived from Indus script. According to Hunter even scripts like Sabaean and Phonecian were derived from the Indus. John E Mitchiner looked at the one particular feature of the Indus script — the case endings — and concluded that it could not be Elamite or Dravidian, but only Indo-European[6].

Taking this further, Subhash Kak did a mathematical analysis of the Indus script and the oldest Indian script – Brahmi. When a table containing the ten most commonly occurring Sanskrit phonemes (from ten thousand words), was compared to the ten most commonly occurring Indus symbols and there was a convincing similarity, even though Brahmi was a millennium after the Indus script.  Surprisingly some of the characters, like the fish, looked similar too[6].

There are three possibilities here: (a) the similarity is random (b) scribes who used Brahmi used Indus signs without knowing how they read and (c) Brahmi was derived consciously from the Indus script. But when the probability of this happening by chance was computed, it was found to be quite low. Also among the ten most common signs of Indus and Brahmi there is striking similarity between four of five signs[6].

Kak also sees a particular Prakrit feature in the Indus script which is not found in Elamite and Dravidian. This particular feature — the gentive case marker — is used to specify ownership which could mean that the seals were used for trading purposes[2][6]. Frequency analysis of the Indus script found that one of the signs is a representation of the numeral 5. The Nagari script, used since 8 CE, also uses the same sign; in Brahmi, this sign means ‘pa’ – the first letter of ‘pancha’. Brahmi inscriptions found in Sohagaura on copper plates and caskets in Batthiprolu shows various compound signs, like in the Indus[7].

(To be continued)

References:

  1. Bryan. Wells, “An introduction to Indus writing /–by Bryan Wells.” (Ann Arbor, Mich. :UMI,, 2001), ScientificCommons.
  2. Edwin Bryant, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate (Oxford University Press, USA, 2004).
  3. Kamil V. Zvelebil, “Decipherments of the Indus Script,” in The Aryan Debate edited by Thomas R. Trautmann (Oxford University Press, USA), 254 – 271.
  4. Jane Mcintosh, A Peaceful Realm : The Rise And Fall of the Indus Civilization (Basic Books, 2001).
  5. Michel Danino, “A Dravido-Harappan Connection? The issue of Methodology.,” Indus Civilization and Tamil Language (2009): 70 – 81.
  6. Subhash C. Kak, “A FREQUENCY – ANALYSIS – OF – THE – INDUS – SCRIPT,” Cryptologia 12, no. 3 (1988): 129.
  7. Subhash C. Kak, “INDUS – AND – BRAHMI – FURTHER – CONNECTIONS” Cryptologia 14, no. 2 (1990): 169.
  8. Subhash C. Kak, “AN – INDUS-SARASVATI SIGNBOARD,” Cryptologia 20, no. 3 (1996): 275.

(Images via Wikipedia)

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