Stories from Inscriptions: Profound Real-life Tales from Hindu Cultural History

Stories from Inscriptions

One of the interesting stories mentioned in Sandeep Balakrishna’s Stories From Inscriptions: Profound Real-life Tales from Hindu Cultural History comes from a village called Hebbale near Hassan in Karnataka. The story is about the contribution Hebbale made to our sacred tradition of pilgrimages.

This contribution was unique because it was done when Turkish invaders enforced jizya. According to a contemporary of Jehangir, the purpose of imposing jizya on kafirs is their humiliation. The humiliation was amplified by putting a pilgrim tax, and the one enforced on pilgrims going to Kashi and Prayag was the highest. According to a copper inscription from 1279 CE, king Vira Narasimha offered the land revenues of 645 varahas from Hebbale to pilgrims to Varanasi. Among those, 402 varahas were jizya to the Turkish tax collector. The remaining was for the maintenance of Sri Visweshwara temple. 

What makes this story interesting is this: Vira Narasimha was an adherent of the Jaina philosophy. So why would a Jaina Hoysala king pay jizya on behalf of Hindu pilgrims from Karnataka visiting Varanasi? 

Sandeep’s book is a collection of 15 such stories based on inscriptions. These stories were previously unknown except to scholars. This book is meant for the general audience and is written in the style of popular narrative history. The purpose is to introduce incidents from our past as narrated by kings, businessmen, bards, and warriors in their own words. These stories come from Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu and span a timeline from the 9th century CE up to the 17th century CE.

The stories are organized by various themes mentioned at the beginning of each story. For example, one story is about a wealthy merchant Hatia, who purchased three marketplaces. The revenue from these marketplaces was provided as a permanent endowment to three deities at a temple complex. This story reveals political, social, and economic conditions during that time. History was boring in school because we were taught random dates, wars, and the number of trees planted by various kings. The book goes beyond that and gives us context into the country’s state at that time.

This book does three things. First, it shows how Bharat was unified as a civilization state. Second, it refutes many narratives about how uncultured and backward we were till the invaders and colonizers civilized us. Finally, it reveals many aspects of our culture we were unaware of.

Civilization State

Why did Vira Narasimha fund pilgrimages to Kashi and Prayag.? The answer is simple: Vira Narasimha understood Bharat as a civilization nation. Pilgrimages united the nation, and visit to a holy place was a religious duty. Even before modern transportation systems arrived, people traveled long distances for this purpose. Vira Narasimha’s grant covered payments to the staff of the Sri Visveshwara Temple, its maintenance, and various sevas. Apart from the Kashi pilgrims hailing from Narasimha’s dominions, his grant money was primarily used by strangers in a city he would never meet. It was his dharma, and he performed it.

It was not just Kashi and Prayag that were pilgrimage destinations. Inscriptions in Gujarat at the Bhillamāladeva temple mention visitors from Madurai, Ramanathapuram, Tirunelveli, Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli, Ceylon, Orissa, Vengi, Jodhpur, Alwar, Bharatpur, Gujarat, and Malava. Diffusion of culture occurred due to business relations as well. For example, when there was a dispute between Karnataka-desa and Maratha-desa, it was resolved by a businessman from Kerala. Due to this, a temple was built in the Hoysala style architecture by the descendants of a Malayali businessman.

This book is a gem because it bluntly refutes narratives like “Indians had no sense of history.” Instead, evidence from these inscriptions reveals “an extraordinarily intricate system of administration and governance, a robust military machinery, a Dharma-based jurisprudence, a well-oiled and stable social order and a sprawling economic system bursting with material abundance. Moreover, there was a high degree of administrative sophistication where priority was placed on the human element.”

These fundamental values that united the country are seen in all these inscriptions. We see a world in which truth, dharma, compassion, sacrifice, loyalty, and heroism are admired. We see “donating cows is extolled, temple-building is revered, learning and scholarship are prized and patronized, reverence and respect for women are held paramount, people who die while protecting the honor of women are commemorated with tombstones, valor and death in battle are celebrated, delivering justice based on Dharmic precedents are hailed, composing, singing, and discoursing on our sacred literature are venerated, works of public welfare are supported and praised, and even the most minor act of piety is explicitly recognized and eulogized.”

This richness was not limited to culture. I learned a lot about the maturity of village administration. Our villages provided civilizational sustenance and cultural preservation while the country was being invaded and looted. Village administrations were autonomous entities responsible for managing all aspects of the village. They could administer justice; they had well-defined courts of justice in which the central ruling authority rarely interfered. In return, they deposited annual revenues to the king and prevented anarchy. Annual elections prevented monopolies and concentration of power. Every transaction was written down to the last detail and publicly ratified through voice and in writing.

INdia that is Bharat
India that is Bharat

In his book, India, that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution, J Sai Deepak defines the word ‘Coloniality’. This is the process by which the colonizer advances the goal through complete domination of the culture and worldview of the colonized society. This is what the British did to us. Even after they left, Communist party members masquerading as historians used the same ideas, rules, and tools to “civilize” us. This is how we get narratives like Buddhism and Jainism were rebellions against ‘Brahminical hegemony’ or India was not a nation until the British showed up. To understand our past, we must replace the colonial lens with an indigenous lens. This book is a perfect example of that.

These inscriptions enhance our understanding of the vibrancy of our culture and traditions. Despite enormous challenges posed by invaders and colonizers, we survived the invasion of our lands, relentless pressure to abandon our religion, enslavement, and brutal violence. The historical writings gathered in this collection provide abundant evidence of the philosophical roots that built and sustained our civilization and the values that this philosophy birthed and were upheld by our people.

Khilafat, Swami Shraddhanand and Gandhi

Photo by Ishant Mishra on Unsplash

In 1915, Mohandas Gandhi relocated to India after spending 20 years in South Africa. It took him just four years to move from the status of a foreigner to the Independence movement’s leader. In this ascendancy, he surpassed leaders like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Lokmanya Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, Aurobindo Ghose, Abdul Kalam Azad, and Annie Besant. Gandhi achieved this feat by propping up the Khilafat movement and putting that at the same level as the non-cooperation movement for Indian independence.

Two interesting episodes related to Khilafat are mentioned in Vikram Sampath’s Savarkar: Echoes from a forgotten past. The person common in both episodes is Swami Shraddhanand, a disciple of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj. Swami Dayanand Saraswati used a process called shuddi to reconvert Hindus back to the fold. After his passing away, this gained momentum under Swami Shraddhanand, who conducted shuddi ceremonies in Punjab and northern India. Vinayak Savarkar used the same shuddhi ceremony in the Andaman jail.

Savarkar by Vikram Sampath

Coming back to Khilafat, Bipin Chandra Pal and Annie Beasant had the foresight to see the trouble this would bring. Lala Lajpat Rai wrote, ‘Indian Muslims are more pan-Islamic and exclusive than the Muslims of any other country of the globe, and that fact alone makes the creation of a united India more difficult than would otherwise be. ‘ Even Jinnah opposed the Khilafat agitation initially.

Despite this, Gandhi would not change his mind. Seeing the energy around the Khilafat movement, Gandhi argued that if Hindus and Muslims united for satyagraha, there would be victory. So, in 1920, he promised Swaraj to the Ali brothers – Muhammad and Shaukat. These were people with a known track record of fomenting trouble.

In the Calcutta session in September 1920, Swami Shraddhanand was on the stage with Shaukat Ali. He heard Shaukat Ali tell a few others in his company the following. “Mahatma Gandhi is a shrewd bania. You do not understand his real object. By putting you under discipline, he is preparing you for guerilla warfare. He is not such an out and out non-violencist[sic] as you all suppose. “

Swami Shraddhanand tried to warn Gandhi that his motives were being misrepresented, but they were not taken seriously.

At the annual session of the Congress in Nagpur in 1920, Gandhi consolidated his position. Muslims stood by Gandhi. They turned up in such large numbers that it looked like a Muslim session. Maulanas recited verses referring to jihad and the killing of kafirs. Again when Swami Shraddhanand told this to Gandhi, he said they were referring to the British and not Hindus.

Swami Shraddhanand on a 1970 stamp of India

Sometime after May 1921, the British government intercepted a telegram sent to the Amir of Afghanistan urging him to invade India and not make peace with the British. This was allegedly written by Muhammad Ali, but Muhammad Ali claimed that he did not know Persian or Arabic. At Motilal Nehru’s house, Swami Shraddhanand met Muhammad Ali. Ali took him aside and handed over a piece of paper which was the draft of the telegram intercepted by the British. According to Swami Shraddhanand, the handwriting was Gandhi’s.

Gandhi reached Anand Bhavan the next day, and Swami Shraddhanand asked him about the letter. Gandhi said he does not remember sending such a telegram. What is suspicious about this statement is that Gandhi himself had made the following statement earlier, ‘I would in a sense, certainly assist the Amir of Afghanistan, if he waged war against the British Government.’

In January 1921, Gandhi said that Hindu sadhus have to sacrifice their all for the sake of Khilafat. According to him, every Hindu had a duty to save Islam from danger. Six months before this, he had warned that if Hindus did not help Muhammadans during their time of trouble, their own slavery was a certainty.

Look what happened later that year. The Amir of Afghanistan did not invade India. Also, India did not achieve Swaraj by Gandhi’s promised date to the Ali brothers. The Hindus of Malabar paid the price for that unholy alliance with their lives.

The Vedic Homeland

Scheme of Indo-European language dispersal from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the widely held Kurgan hypothesis By Joshua Jonathan (via Wikipedia)

In The Wonder That Was India, A L Basham presented a dramatic picture of the decline of the Harappan civilization. According to him, from 3000 BCE, invaders were present in the region. After conquering the outlying villages, they moved on Mohenjo-daro. The people of Mohenjo-Daro fled but were cut down by the invaders; the discovered skeletons proved this invasion. Basham concluded that the Indus cities fell to barbarians “who triumphed not only through greater military prowess, but also because they were equipped with better weapons, and had learned to make full use of the swift and terror-striking beats of the steppes.” Sir R [[Mortimer Wheeler]] claimed these horse-riding invaders were none other than Aryans. Their war-god Indra destroyed the forts and citadels at Harappa.

According to the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), Basham’s invaders were Indo-European speakers on a global invasion tour from Central Asia. Before the invaders split up into Vedic Aryans and Iranians, they had developed a joint culture in Central Asia, hence the similarity in Rig Veda and Avesta. Once they left Central Asia, the Indians and Iranians parted ways. The above map shows the scheme of Indo-European language dispersal.

In a previous article, based on Shrikant G. Talageri’s excellent book, The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence, we saw that the common culture was not developed in Central Asia. We also saw that during the Middle and Late periods of Rigveda, the proto-Iranians were settled in western parts of Punjab and Afghanistan. They continuously interacted with the Vedic Aryans, and the joint Indo-Iranian culture developed.

Rig Veda and Avesta – Chronology of development

This begs the question. Where did the Vedic Aryans live before they met the Iranians or people of the Anu/Anava tribe? Did they come from Central Asia, or did they come from the Eastern parts of India? Again for this article, I will be once again using Shrikant G. Talageri ‘s The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence.

Basics

Two important concepts will help understand the details. The first is related to the chronological ordering of the mandalas of Rig Veda. The second is the geography around the rivers of Punjab.

The Rig Veda Samhita consists of 10 mandalas, numbered 1 to 10. This does not mean that mandala 1 was the first and 10 the last. The chronological ordering of the books is as follows:
– Early Books: 6, 3, 7
– Middle Books: 4,2
– Late Books: 5,1, 8-10
Order of Vedic Books

Coming to the region’s geography, this is the map to remember. This shows some important rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, and Indus.

These are rivers mentioned in Rig Veda. Displaying great familiarity with the Indian North-West, the nadistuti sukta lists nineteen rivers from the Ganga to the Kurram sequentially from East to West. According to the Vedic tradition, Sarasvati flowed between the Yamuna and Sutlej, a location mentioned in other texts.

Shri. Talageri divides this area into three regions.

  1. Region East of Saraswati (Haryana and West UP)
  2. Region West of Indus (Afghanistan, South Central Asia, North West Pakistan)
  3. Region between Indus and Saraswati (North Pakistan, Punjab)

Strong evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory comes from the above two basic concepts augmented with the names of rivers, lakes, places, mountains, and animals. There is also a big clue in nadistuti sukta. See the direction in which the rivers are named. That has great significance for what we are about to discover.

Evidence from Rivers

The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence

According to AIT, the joint Indo-Iranian culture is pre-Rigvedic. This culture was developed in Central Asia before the Indians and Iranians took different exits on the Aryan Invasion freeway. But in another article, we saw that the joint culture was not pre-Rigvedic, but Late Rigvedic. Now, if the Vedic culture did not develop in Central Asia, where did it originate?

From both Rigveda and Avesta, we know the regions they are familiar with. The Avesta knows the land from Afghanistan and south Central Asia to Punjab. The Rig Veda knows the area from Western Uttar Pradesh to eastern and southern Afghanistan. So, if you draw a Venn diagram, the place familiar to both the Vedic people and Iranians is the land from Punjab to Afghanistan.

Now it gets interesting. Geographical data in the Early and Middle books of Rigveda show that the Vedic Aryans lived in the interior of India, to the East of Sarasvati. The Early Books (Books 6, 3, 7) of Rig Veda don’t show familiarity with the Western region. The earliest book, Book 6, does not reference the Central or Western rivers but mentions Ganga. The next book, Book 3, refers to the two easternmost rivers of the five rivers of Punjab.

The last book in the Early Books, Book 7, refers to the third from the east of the five rivers of Punjab. This is in reference to the pivotal Battle of Ten Kings. The non-Vedic enemies are people living to the West of the fourth river (Asikni).

Two exciting pieces come out of this analysis. First, these Early Books do not use the words sapta sindhu. Second, the enemies of the Vedic people are mentioned as those who live West of the fourth river in Punjab. The Vedic attitude towards northwest and western areas is suspicion and hostility. These lands are treated as mleccha or barbarian lands; their social and religious practices are strongly disapproved. These are not considered areas that fit a visit by orthodox Brahmins. This is also reflected in later texts: In Ramayana, the good queen Kausalya is from the east and the bad queen Kaikeyi is from the northwest; in Mahabharata, Kunti is from the east, while Gandhari is from the northwest.

We see familiarity with the Western landscape as we move from the Early Books to the newer ones. The Middle Books (4, 2) show familiarity with the Western region. This is the first time three Western rivers appear (Book 4). Also, the word sapta-sindhu shows up for the first time. Finally, when it comes to the Late Books, they too refer to sapta-sindhu.

The Eastern region, the land East of Sarasvati, was known to the Vedic Aryans of the Early, Middle, and Late Books. At the same time, the Western region is unknown to the Early books, but newly familiar to the Middle Books. Three Western rivers appear in the first book among the Middle Books (Book 4), and the same rivers are known in the first book of the Late Books.

Other evidence from nature

Besides the evidence from the rivers, there is evidence from nature that rules out Afghanistan or Central Asia as the Vedic homeland. The Vedic rishis lived in a land of monsoon storms and mountains. They worshiped Indra as the most important god. The monsoon land stops after Punjab; hence, it could not have been composed in Afghanistan. The animals mentioned in Rig Veda are spotted deer, buffalo, bison, peacock, and elephant. It’s not like elephants were stampeding in Kabul during that time like in the opening scene of Lion King.

Trees provide some fascinating evidence. There is mention of khadira, and simsapa, which are used in the manufacture of the body of a chariot, kimsuka and salmali used in the manufacture of wheels, and aratu used in the manufacture of the axle. If you compare this with the Egyptians, the raw material for the chariots came from the Caucuses. We don’t say that the Egyptians came from the Caucuses because they used imported wood. If Vedic Aryans came from the Caucuses, they too would have used the same wood that should be known to them. Instead, they used Indian trees. If they rode their chariots into India as per Basham, would they have used Indian trees?

Rice and wheat are popular cereals in India, depending on which part of India you are from. Rig Vedic Aryans do not show any familiarity with wheat. At the same time, they are familiar with three preparations of rice. If the invasion route was through a wheat-producing area, why doesn’t the Rigveda mention that? This shows that the Vedic tradition took root before wheat consumption started in North India. In a later period, in contrast to the use of rice, wheat is treated with disdain. Among Brahmins, during death, when they are required to abstain from food, rice is forbidden, but not wheat.

A change in our mental model

The Lost River by Michel Danino

Before reading this book, my mental model was different. In Michel Danino’s The Lost River, it was clear that Sarasvati was the most important river for the Vedic Aryans. In forty-five hymns, the rishis praised Sarasvati; for them, she was ‘great among the great, the most impetuous of rivers,’ ‘limitless, unbroken, swift-moving, and ‘surpasses in majesty and might all other waters.’ Once Saraswati dried up after 1900 BCE, people migrated to different regions, including the Ganges Valley.

Now with this internal evidence from Rig Veda, it is clear that the story is different. Vedic Aryans during the period of Early and Middle Books did not live in Central Asia or Afghanistan but in the interior of India. Specifically to the East of Saraswati. Also, they were familiar with Ganga. From there, they progressively moved Westward. This is why the nadistuti sukta lists rivers from East to West.

Also, the Early and Middle Books of Rigveda represent a period older than the period of joint development of the Indo-Iranian culture. Moreover, this joint development happened in a region between Punjab and Afghanistan and not Central Asia.

Bharat – A Civilization State

Bharat during Mahabharata times https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7651e.ct000605/

Recently the Member of Parliament from Wayanad, Kerala, stated that India is just a union of states. The mischievous subtext is that India is not a single nation but a collection of various nations like Europe. It also implies that the country is an artificial construct with nothing unifying the various states and territories.

This is not a new allegation. The MP from Wayanad had some illustrious predecessors. John Stratchley (some British dude) said, “The first and most essential thing to learn about India — that there is not and never was an India .” Winston Churchill (the British dude responsible for the Bengal genocide) said, “India is a geographical term. It is no more a nation than the equator.”

India, that is Bharat

India was a nation in ways these people could never fathom. The concept of Bharat has been alive for many millennia and has culturally united this land. Ancient Hindus understood this. They made pilgrimages to various holy places around Bharat. Students understood this. They traveled around to get the best education. Saints understood this. Adi Shankara established various mutts are four corners of Bharat. Besides them, our grammarians understood this and united the country with Samskritam.

In this article, we will look at evidence of these. I will be relying on the narratives of some historians you would have never heard of, like Har Bilas Sarda, Radha Kumud Mookerji, and R. C. Majumdar. I picked the summary of their arguments from J Sai Deepak’s excellent book India, that is Bharat: Coloniality, Civilisation, Constitution. I will also rely on what my Samskritam teachers taught me about Paninian grammar.

Bharat as a civilization state

Going to Triveni Sangam

A few years back, I went from Kerala to participate in the Kumbh Mela. I was among the millions of Indians walking along the banks of Ganga and Yamuna for the holy bath. Our boat to the Triveni Sangam had people from Rajasthan and Bengal. Though we were from three corners of the country, we all had the same reverence for Ganga and Yamuna and faith that the Saraswati met the other rivers at the Sangam.

There are two aspects here. The first is that people across the land venerated the geography of Bharat. Rivers, mountains, hills — all have a sacred story and are remembered in hymns and prayers. The nation itself is revered as a mother. This is quite different from how the West views nature.

The second: people traveled across the land for pilgrimages. Visit to a holy place was a religious duty. Even before modern transportation systems arrived, people traveled long distances for this purpose. The lack of physical comforts did not stop anyone. During these long trips, pilgrims took breaks, creating a network of numerous sacred spots. These pilgrims did not think of the country as different nations but as a unified cultural entity extending from the Himalayas to the oceans. This combination of nature and faith generated patriotism and cultural unity, of which the Kumbh Mela is a perfect example.

These pilgrimage spots were centers of higher learning as well. Think of Benares, Nalanda, Mathura, Takshashila, Ujjain, Prayag, Kanchi, Madhura, and Nawadwaip. Students from all over Bharat went to study at these places. With pilgrimage spots and learning centers unifying this land, it is no wonder that Chaitanya and Adi Shankara traveled from one end of Bharat to another. If there was no cultural unity, establishing four mutts at the four corners of Bharat would not make sense.

These indicate that the people of Bharat had an expanded geographical consciousness irrespective of the political boundary of the kingdom they lived in. There was a civilizational oneness despite the diversity, and this unity existed before the invaders and colonizers showed up. This unity exists even now. Thus Adi Shankara was not limited in his Malayali identity but had geographical consciousness to treat Bharat as one cultural unit.

Unification through Samskritam grammar

Panini’s Ashtadyayi

There is the story of a child who went to the gurukul and found the going quite hard. He wanted to quit. So the father told him, “Even if you don’t study a lot, please study vyākaraṇam. Else, instead of saying swajana (my people), you might say shva-jana (dog) or instead of saying sakalam (everything), you might say shakalam (part)”. Pronunciation and intonation are important; else, the meaning will be unintended and sometimes the exact opposite.

Among the six Vedangas, vyākaraṇa or grammar, is considered the most important by Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashyam. Among the grammarians, Panini is the most famous for many reasons:

1. He organized Samskritam using brilliant techniques with four thousand sutras. Just look at the concept of pratyahara, an elegant and impressive in-memory language compression technique.

2. He incorporated the works of other Shakalya, Sphotaka, Senaka, and other grammarians into his work.

3. He did not just mention how words are formed but also their meaning and relation.

Due to Panini, vyakarana-darshana became an important field of study.

But beyond these, there are two crucial points where Panini shined.

 Panini’s grammar has sutras for both Vedic Samskritam and non-Vedic Samskritam. For example, the plural form of देवः is देवाः in Samskritam, while it’s देवासः in Vedic Samskritam. Panini’s grammar has a sutra to address this. In Samskritam, there is a word called jahāra, whereas, in the Vedic texts, it’s used as jabhāra. If no grammar specified the rules, someone reading this could assume it as a typo and rewrite the word. Due to this guardrail, the Vedas remain like a tape recording from millennia back. This is why we say vyākaraṇam protects the Vedas.

Why does this matter? If not for this protection, a naughty Samskritam professor at Harvard could declare that the rishis made a typo in the Vedas. He could declare that the Harvard version of Vedas will fix this, and anyone who does not follow that is anti-minority and a Hindu nationalist. I am not kidding about this. Here is a case where the Vedas were misinterpreted to support the Aryan Invasion Theory. The preservation of personal names in Rig Veda has helped us understand how the various tribes migrated, giving a radically different view of the ancient world. Now, Panini could have left the Vedic Samskritam alone. That was language from a distant past. Instead, he saw a cultural continuity from the past use of language to his present. 

Panini was aware of Samskritam used in different parts of India and their variations. So, he integrated all the variations into this grammar. If he just cared about his political boundary, he could have ignored the regional usage at a distant place. But he did not. He had the geographical consciousness to see that all these lands were part of one unified cultural unit. The political boundaries have changed in various ways since the time of Panini. However, the land of Bharata still has the same name and culture since those times.

Finally

The British treated Bharat as a collection of countries in a Eurocentric way. But that view does not work for India because we did not operate on European concepts of nation and state. India bounded by the majestic mountains and vast oceans was designated by one name – Bharat. The geography was marked out by nature itself. If you think of the concept of nation as a monochromatic picture, India is a civilization drawn with a dazzling array of colors. In this civilization state, there was cultural unity within a federation of creeds. Each of them had the freedom to preserve their special features and enrich the central culture.

By parroting old British propaganda, the Member of Parliament from Wayanad is just following the path of his great-grand father who wrote The Discovery of India which discovered India, but not Bharat.

Still crawling at Kucha Kurrichhan

Sardar Udham Movie Poster (fair use)

Sardar Udham, one of the most heartbreaking movies made on Jallianwala Bagh, was not sent to the Oscars.

Explaining why Sardar Udham was not selected, Indraadip Dasgupta, one of the jury members, told Times Of India, “Sardar Udham is a little lengthy and harps on the Jallianwala Bagh incident. It is an honest effort to make a lavish film on an unsung hero of the Indian freedom struggle. But in the process, it again projects our hatred towards the British. In this era of globalization, it is not fair to hold on to this hatred.”

Sardar Udham shows hatred towards British, jury on not sending film to Oscars. Fans are furious

Among the British atrocities in Punjab, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre is the most infamous. I recently read the book The Case that Shook the Empire, which lists many more of these atrocities.

Let’s go through some of them.

The British unleashed terror in Punjab as part of meeting the army recruitment quota for World War I.

The committee also recorded that men were captured forcibly and marched off for enlistment. Raids took place at night and men were forcibly seized and removed. Their hands were tied together and they were stripped in the presence of their families and made to bend over thorns when they were whipped. Additionally, women were stripped naked and made to sit on bramble bushes and thorn bushes in the hot sun until their men who had been hiding agreed to be recruited. In some instances, the women were made to sit with bramble between their legs overnight. Old men, too, had inhuman punishment meted out to them – they were made to sit ‘bare buttocks’ on thorns in order to force their sons to enlist.

The Case that Shook the Empire

In April 1919, Marcella Sherwood, a Church of England missionary, was allegedly attacked by a crowd as she cycled down a narrow lane. She had shut the schools and sent the kids home. While cycling through a street called Kucha Kurrichhan, she was caught by a mob, pulled to the ground by her hair, stripped naked, beaten, kicked, and left for dead. The father of one of her students rescued her by talking her to Gobindgarh Fort.

Reginald Dyer, the butcher of Jallianwala Bagh, met Miss Sherwood and ordered that every Indian man using that street must crawl its length of 150 to 200 yards on his hands and knees. Dyer explained his rationale for the order, “Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu God and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too… It is a small point, but in fact “crawling order” is a misnomer; the order was to go down on all fours in an attitude well understood by natives of India in relation to holy places.”

Indians forced to crawl up Kucha Kurrichhan where Miss Sherwood was assaulted in 1919 (Image via Wikipedia)
Indians forced to crawl up Kucha Kurrichhan where Miss Sherwood was assaulted in 1919 (Image via Wikipedia)

Many houses were alongside the street, and residents had to crawl to get their daily chores done. No one was exempt — the old, sick, the weak; everyone had to crawl. Of course, the crawl had to be perfect as well. If anyone lifted their bellies or turned to get relief from pain, the police would push them down with rifle butts. In his mercy, Reginald Dyer kept the order only from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., they were free to move about normally, except they would violate the night curfew and get shot.

On top of this, Reginald Dyer also ordered that any Indian who came within lathi-length of a British policeman be flogged. To facilitate the punishment, a flogging booth was built. Six boys were caught and given 30 lashes. When one of the boys, Sundar Singh, lost consciousness after the fourth lash, he was doused with water, and the lashing continued. He lost consciousness again, but he was lashed till the count of 30.

The next one was the salaam order. On seeing that the people of Gujranwala did not show respect to the British, a special order was issued. If the salute did not meet the expected standards, severe punishment was melted out. If the salaam was not performed by mistake, the turban was taken off his head, tied around the neck, and dragged to a military camp to be flogged. One person was even made to kiss the boots of an officer.

If they did not get an opportunity to torture, they spent their time humiliating people. Lawyers were made to work as coolies as punishment for protesting against the Rowlatt Act. The lawyers were humiliated in front of people who held them in esteem. A 75-year-old lawyer Kanhya Lal was made to carry furniture and patrol the city in the hot sun.

Immediately after Jallianwala Bagh, the administrator of Gujranwala asked for assistance. When he was told that troops could not be sent immediately, guess what was done – a bombing of the civilian population. Military bombers flew over the city and dropped bombs on random targets. A total of 12 people were killed and 24 injured in the bombing raid. The justification for the bombing of school children and farmers – “It was done to have a sort of moral effect”

The movie Udham Singh exposes only one of the atrocities committed by the British. There was no end to slaughter and torture, and the action was close to genocidal. Much of our forgotten history needs to be told, like Operation Red Lotus, Kashmir Files, etc. The old adage goes, “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The characters of the past and the stories we tell ourselves about them shape our present and future.

There is another kind of self-censorship in the world. The country which lectures the world on freedom, democracy, and minority rights censors itself to please China. Why would American film studios voluntarily run a Chinese Ministry of Truth in Hollywood.? Money.

But accessing those Chinese screens required the approval of Chinese censors, so studio chiefs in Los Angeles started to think like Ministry of Propaganda apparatchiks in Beijing. They scrubbed scripts of any scene, image, or line that might anger officials, avoiding at all costs the “three T’s” (Tibet, Taiwan, Tiananmen) or flashpoints like ghosts (too spiritual), time travel (too ahistoric), or homosexuality (too immoral). Behind-the-scenes changes became common: Red Dawn was only released after editing out a Chinese antagonist; World War Z was revised to cut implications that a zombie pandemic had originated in China; and Bohemian Rhapsody shoved Freddie Mercury back in the closet before Queen fans in China could see his story.

‘Top Gun’ Tells The Whole Story of China and Hollywood

When Avatar made $200 million in China, it was evident to Hollywood that crawling in front of Chinese censors could make them rich. So they have been doing that since.

Now, India does not need to please the British. They did not even ask for censoring the movie. For all these years after independence, we learned more about our invaders than our heroes. It was history written by the victors. When it’s time for us to tell our stories, it’s shocking that enslaved minds still exist after seven decades of independence. The British have left, but Indraadip Dasgupta is still crawling on all fours at Kucha Kurrichhan.

Book Review: The Case That Shook the Empire

The Case That Shook the Empire: One Man’s Fight for the Truth about the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre by Raghu Palat and Pushpa Palat, Bloomsbury India; 1st edition (August 23, 2019), ‎ 162 pages

Who in their right mind would think that an Indian would get justice in the British legal system.? Between a person responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and a person arguing against the atrocities, whom would the so-called British legal system side with? Would the British system turn a blind eye to one of their own who had committed an unforgivable crime?

The answer is obvious now, as it was in 1924.

This book is about a defamation case filed by Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab during Jallianwala Bagh, against Chettur Sankaran Nair, a former Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. The trial lasted five-and-a-half weeks in London. There was nothing that indicated that this would be a fair trial. The judge was a racist who saw nothing wrong in Jallianwala Bagh, and the jury agreed with him.

English juries always sided with their own, even when they were murderers. The narrative that O’Dwyer’s actions saved the empire found acceptance. The media was no different from the legal system. London Times applauded the decision, stating that it was a decisive verdict and an assertion of the will of the English people to protect India.

The person who was dragged into the court by Michael O’Dwyer was Chettur Sankaran Nair, a former Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council, a former President of the Indian National Congress, and a retired Judge of the Madras High Court. Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, described Nair “as an impossible person… He shouts at the top of his voice and refuses to listen to anything when one argues, and is absolutely uncompromising.” Also, as a Nair, he did not believe in Gandhi’s non-violence. Warriors by nature, Nairs were taught to retaliate when attacked. “I draw the line when asked to turn the other cheek to my enemy. If someone were to smite me on my cheek, I would chop his head off,” Nair once said.

There is more to like about him. He did not believe in Gandhi’s cuckoo plan for Khilafat, which he thought was impractical. And he was absolutely right, as that plan was purely for Gandhi’s ascendance into leadership than helping anyone. The Arabs or Egyptians did not want to be ruled by a Turkish Caliph. Come to think of it, even the Turks did not wish to a caliph. They were the ones who got rid of him and converted to a secular democracy. The Ottoman Empire was broken up, and some of the lands were under French control. There was no way a few petitions would cause France and Britain to sit and undo the damage they did. None of this mattered to Gandhi. He went so far as to suggest that Indian swaraj activity could be postponed if Khilafat ask could be advanced. Thus from a Swaraj, which meant self-rule for India, it got converted overnight to support an imaginary Caliphate in faraway Turkey.

Mr. Nair’s sharp personality is revealed through various anecdotes. Once Lady O’Dwyer was annoyed by Mr. Nair’s reaction to her pet. “Nair rudely and rather cruelly replied that this was because, while the English were nearer to dogs in their evolution, Indians had in their 5,000-year history moved further away.” Directly quoted individual voices are the yeast that allows history to rise. When he resigned from the Viceroy’s council, he was asked to suggest a replacement. He pointed to the turbaned, red- and gold-liveried peon standing ramrod straight by the giant doorway. His reasoning is, “He is tall. He is handsome. He wears his livery well and he will say yes to whatever you say. Altogether he will make an ideal Member of Council.”

Despite all this, he believed that an Indian could get an impartial hearing at an English court.

Indians forced to crawl up the street where Miss Sherwood was assaulted in 1919 (Image via Wikipedia)

Michael O’Dwyer was everything you would expect from a British overlord. He followed the Macaulay doctrine of contempt for Indian culture and constant reiteration of Western superiority. He believed that God had ordained Great Britain to govern the world. He also believed that British authority would be weakened if higher posts were given to Indians. He was intolerant of the growing wave of nationalism in India. He believed that India was won by the sword and must forever be preserved by force. On self-government, he proclaimed,” ‘India would not be fit for self-government much before doomsday.” Chettur Sankaran Nair was born in 1857, the year of the First War of Independence. Michael O’Dwyer and Reginald Dyer did everything to prevent anything like 1857 from re-occurring.

The book gives context to Jallianwala Bagh; it was not violence in isolation. We often speak of how Indian soldiers were all around the world during World War I. More than one million Indian soldiers were deployed during World War I, serving in the Indian Army as part of Britain’s imperial war effort. These men fought in France and Belgium, Egypt and East Africa, Gallipoli, Palestine, and Mesopotamia. What is not mentioned is how they were recruited. It’s not like a Punjabi farmer felt a sudden urge to go to Mesopotamia to defend his oppressor.

On failing to meet the recruitment targets, O’Dwyer took it upon himself to meet the goals and deployed new techniques. He did that by battering away at the darkest corners of people’s souls.

The committee also recorded men being captured forcibly and marched off for enlistment. Raids took place at night, and men were forcibly seized and removed. Their hands were tied together, and they were stripped in the presence of their families and made to bend over thorns when they were whipped. Additionally, women were stripped naked and made to sit on bramble bushes and thorn bushes in the hot sun until their men who had been hiding agreed to be recruited. In some instances, the women were made to sit with bramble between their legs overnight. Old men, too, had inhuman punishment meted out to them – they were made to sit ‘bare buttocks’ on thorns to force their sons to enlist.

Right now, we all know about what happened at Jallianwala Bagh. It’s mentioned in our history books, and many movies have depicted it. However, it was not so in 1924. Due to the draconian press rules, the atrocities in Punjab were not known around the world.

The book argues that there were some positive outcomes even though he lost the case. The court case between Nair and Michael O’Dwyer resulted in the whole world knowing about British atrocities (for which not a single British Prime Minister has apologized). It boosted the nationalist cause and a case of an Indian role in the administration of India(What an idea). No surprise on who did not send a note of encouragement or sympathy to this case – the Congress. For his efforts, there is a plaque honoring Sir Nair in the museum at Jallianwala Bagh, just outside the Golden Temple.

The book is short (162 pages). The author duo has written it in a vivid accessible style, which is how history books should be written. Together with a strong opening, setting the events of 1919 in their historical place, the reader is left with a history of British rule in Punjab from the Anglo-Afghan wars to the time of Jallianwala Bagh. Previously, I heard about Chettur Sankaran Nair from Maddy’s blog, but this book was a more detailed introduction.

The Katapayadi Number System

By Image: http://collections.lacma.org/sites/default/files/remote_images/piction/ma-31973398-O3.jpg Gallery: http://collections.lacma.org/node/171573 archive copy, Public Domain, Link

What’s common between the first verse of Mahabharata and the last verse of Mēlputtūr Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭatiri’s Narayaneeyam written in 1586 CE.?

The first verse of adi parva reads

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरॊत्तमम देवीं सरस्वतीं चैव ततॊ जयम उदीरयेत

(” Om ! Having bowed to Narãyana and Nara, the most exalted male being, and also to the Goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya be uttered)

Mēlputtūr Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭatiri’s Narayaneeyam ends with the words ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam. This wishes long life, health, and happiness to the readers of his devotional poem.

The words jayam and ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam have two properties.

  1. Both have proper meanings in the context of the sentence used (as in, they are not gibberish words.) This matters as we go into the details.
  2. The second property is not well known. Both those words encode a number that has a deeper meaning.

In this system of encoding, jaya represents 18 and ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam 17,12,210. Counting those many days from Kali Yuga, gives the date as 8th December 1586, the completion date of Narayaneeyam.

This article looks at this style of representing numbers using meaningful words.

Katapayadi Number System

Process-wise, the encoding is simple. Each Samskritam consonant is given a number. Hence the algorithm is as simple as reading it from right to left.

jaya
81
encoding of jaya in katapayadi system

The letter ja is assigned the number 8 and ya, 1. Reading from right to left, it becomes 18.

Why did Vyasa pick on the number 18 and encode it as jaya? Why did he call Mahābhārata as jaya. Mahābhārata has 18 parvas. Gita has 18 chapters. The war was fought for 18 days. There were 18 akshauhini’s in the war. Thus jaya was not a random selection.

Here is the full table of the consonant to number assignment.

1234567890
ka क കkha ख ഖ
ga ग ഗ
gha घ ഘ
nga ङ ങ
ca च ച
cha छ ഛ
ja ज ജ
jha झ ഝ
nya ञ ഞ
ṭa ट ട
ṭha ठ ഠ
ḍa ड ഡ
ḍha ढ ഢ
ṇa ण ണ
ta त ത
tha थ
da द ദ
dha ध ധ
na न ന
pa प പ
pha फ ഫ
ba ब ബ
bha भ ഭ
ma म മ
ya य യ
ra र ര
la ल ല
va व വ
śha श ശ
sha ष ഷ
sa स സ
ha ह ഹ
katapayadi table

Look at the letters which represent the number 1. ka, ta, pa, ya gives it the name katapayadi (adi in Samskritam means beginning). Vowels meant 0, and vowels followed by a consonant had no value. In the case of compound letters, the value of the last letter was used.

In its land of origin, Kerala, it was known by a different name Paralpperu where paral means seashell and peru name” (astronomical calculations were done using seashells).

Here is another example. The year 2010 is expressed as natanara.

This is because

LetterValue
na0
ta1
na0
ra2

If you read this backward, you get 2010. An important point is that the letters are not chosen randomly. They mean something. In this case, natanara means “a man (nara) who is an actor ( nata)”. Since there are many possible letters for each number, the mathematician can create a meaningful word from the numbers.

Similarly, ayur- ̄arogya-saukhyam represents 17,12,210 to represent the date of 8 December 1586. Why was the epoch chosen as the beginning of Kali Yuga? It was the popular way of dating events called the Kali-ahargana. Kali-yuga started at sunrise on Friday, 18 February 3102 BCE, and computing the number of days from then was common in planetary calculations.

The fact that Bhaṭṭatiri used this system is not surprising. He was a student of Achyuta Pisharati, a member of the Hindu school of Mathematics from Kerala. This is also an example where it was used in non-scientific work.

Thus the katapayadi system allows the author to represent large numbers using easy-to-remember words. It also has the flexibility to let the author pick an appropriate word for the context and one that fits the meter if it’s a poem.

During the time of Aryabhatta, there were at least three methods of writing numbers. Mathematicians like Varahamihira and Bhaskaracharya used a system called the bhoot samkhya. Aryabhatta, though, invented his own system, which was a new contribution.(The Aryabhata Number System)

Katapayadi number system was primarily used by Hindu mathematicians and astronomers in Kerala. The fact that numbers can be converted to meaningful words that can be strung together helped Malayali mathematicians perform complicated calculations from memory. They computed eclipses, memorized the calculations using words, and committed to memory. This way, there was no dependency on books or tables. This system of memorization was prevalent till around 100 years back.

The book Moonwalking with Einstein talks about various techniques used by the ancients to memorize data. One of the techniques was called memory palace. The katapayadi system looks simpler as the data to commit to memory is that table.

Origins and Spread

If you ask, who started this number system, there are many answers. It’s possible that Vararuchi wrote them in Candra-vakyas in the fourth century. Aryabahata I, who lived 100 years after, was aware of it. It was then popularized in 683 CE in Kerala by Haridatta. ́Sankaranarayana ( 825–900 CE) mentions this name in his commentary on the Laghubhaskarıya of Bhaskara I. Subhash Kak argues that the the system is much older

Though the system originated in Kerala, it spread around India. Though it was well known in the northern part of India, it was not widely used. It spread from Kerala to Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. That came due to their contact with Nilakanta Somayaji, another mathematician from the Madhava school. In Karnataka, Jains used it in their writing. Orissa has manuscripts that show usage of this system. Aryabhata II used this in the 10th century with some modifications. Bhaskara II used both Bhootsamkya system and Katapayadi system in his works.

This system was not used just in astronomy and mathematics but also in classifying music. For example, the 72 ragas were classified by musicologist Muddu Venkata Makki using the first two letters to indicate the serial number of the Melakartharagam. Thus Kanakangı shows the serial number 1, Rupavatı 12, Sanmukhapriya 56, or Rasikapriya 72.

You are too late if you think this system would help write something like Da Vinci Code. The National-Treasure-in-India script was done a few hundred years back. Ramacandra Vajapeyin, who lived in Uttar Pradesh, used this technique to forecast a dispute or war victory. His brother wrote a text to draw magic squares for therapeutic purposes.

Forgotten Mathematicians

I learned about the Hindu school of Mathematics (as opposed to the Jain school) from Kerala by reading A Passage to Infinity by George Gheverghese Joseph. Though there were few mathematicians in Kerala in the 9th, 12th, and 13th centuries, what is today called the Kerala School started with Madhava, who came from near modern-day Irinjalakuda. His achievements were phenomenal; they included calculating the exact position of the moon and what is now known as the Gregory series for the arctangent, Leibniz series for the pi and Newton power series for sine and cosine with great accuracy.

Some of these techniques were forgotten, but thanks to a renewed interest in Samskritam, there is a revival of knowledge. This whole article was triggered when I read the first chapter of my Samskrita Bharati book on sandhis which mentioned the katapayadi system.

Postscript

  1. If are you curious to know why Mahābhārata was called jaya, then read this article.

References:

  1. Vijayalekshmy M. “‘KATAPAYADI’ SYSTEM — A CONTRIBUTION OF MEDIEVAL KERALA TO ASTRONOMY AND MATHEMATICS.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress, vol. 69, 2008, pp. 442–46, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44147207. Accessed 7 May 2022.
  2. Anusha, R., et al. “Coding the Encoded: Automatic Decryption of KaTapayAdi and AryabhaTa’s Systems of Numeration.” Current Science, vol. 112, no. 3, 2017, pp. 588–91, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24912445. Accessed 7 May 2022.
  3. Kak, Subhash. “INDIAN BINARY NUMBERS AND THE KAṬAPAYĀDI NOTATION.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 81, no. 1/4, 2000, pp. 269–72, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41694622. Accessed 7 May 2022.
  4. Iyer, P. R. Chidambara. “REVELATIONS OF THE FIRST STANZA OF THE MAHĀBHĀRATA.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 27, no. 1/2, 1946, pp. 83–101, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41784867. Accessed 7 May 2022.
  5. A. V. Raman, “The Katapayadi formula and the modern hashing technique,” in IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 49-52, Oct.-Dec. 1997, doi: 10.1109/85.627900.

Refuting AIT using Personal Names from Rig Veda and Avesta


Scheme of Indo-European language dispersal from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the widely held Kurgan hypothesis By Joshua Jonathan (via Wikipedia)

There are many similarities between Avesta,  the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism, and Rig Veda. Words are similar, like haoma (soma), daha(dasa), hepta (sapta), hindu (sindhu), and Ahura (Asura). Despite that, some of the words have reversed interpretations. For example, in Old Iranian, Ahura Mazdāh is the chief of the pantheon, and the daēuuas are considered demons or fallen gods. In contrast, the Vedic tradition considers devas as gods and asuras the demons.

The commonality of words suggests that these two cultures had a common origin and such an explanation comes from the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT). The above map shows the scheme of Indo-European language dispersal. After spending time in Central Asia, a group went West and another to the East. The Westerners became Zoroastrians, and those who reached India became the Vedic people. Before the split, they spent time together in Central Asia, where the common culture developed.

According to Indian Marxist historians, Indo-European speakers had Central Asia as their habitat, and gradually over many centuries, they branched out in search of fresh pastures. According to them, these central Asian migrants wrote the  Avesta in Iran and Rig-Veda in India. They argue that people who migrated to India were dissidents of the Old Iranian; hence you find a significant reversal of meaning in concepts common to both Avesta and Rig-Veda.

Evidence from Personal Names

The Rig Veda and The Avesta: The Final Evidence

While this is the view AIT presents, what evidence do we get from the sacred texts themselves.? In this post, I will lean on the arguments laid out by Shrikant G. Talageri in his book Rig Veda and The Avesta: The final evidence. Spoiler alert: His text analysis does not support the AIT picture.

Shri. Talageri uses many data points to argue against AIT, but in this post, I want to summarize one of his arguments based on an analysis of personal names. Personal names identify society in time; just look at the change in names from your grandparent’s time to yours. Similarly, you see interesting patterns when you look at personal names used in Rig Veda and Avesta. It definitely shows a shared cultural environment.

If you were constructing a mental model in your mind based on the AIT dispersal, the above picture would make sense, right? This is because the personal names, developed in the common period, then carried over to both the sacred texts. Hence the commonality.

The examination of the books reveals something different. The commonality of Avesta is not with the entire Rig Vedic corpus; it’s only with certain books. Shri. Talageri looks at the personal names mentioned in all the books in Rig Veda and Avesta and concludes that the commonality is with the late books of the Rig Veda.

When we say the commonality of Avesta is with the late books of Rig Veda, it implies there is a temporal ordering of the 10 books. The Rig Veda Samhita consists of 10 mandalas, numbered 1 to 10. It does not mean that mandala 1 was the first and 10, the last. The chronological ordering of the books is as follows:

  • Early Books: 6, 3, 7
  • Middle Books: 4,2
  • Late Books: 5,1, 8-10

Coming back to Shri. Talageri’s argument, he noticed that in the Early Books, names with basic prefixes were common and these prefixes were simple. For example

  • Su (Good) – Das
  • Deva (divine) -sravas
  • Puru (many) – panthas
  • Viswa (every) – mitra

These names found in the Early Books of Rig Veda are also found in Avesta. This might indicate the common origin theory very well. But, these names are found in the Middle and Late books of Rig Veda.

As we move in time and come to the Middle Books, there are four Rig Vedic personalities like Turviti, Gotama, Trita, and Krsanu referred to in Avesta. When we come to the Late period, there is a flood of names common to Rig Veda and Avesta. These are complex names with both prefixes and suffixes. In the book, Talageri lists about 4 pages worth of common names. Compare that with just four names in the prior period. There are just five hymns in the Early and Middle books that have common names. When it comes to the late books, there are 326 hymns

If the common period occurred before the Aryans and Iranians parted ways, then the Early Books of Avesta and Rig Veda should have common elements. Also, as these cultures evolved over time, the common elements should diminish. But, the data shows that Avesta evolved during the period of the Late Books of Rig Veda. It shows that the common culture of Rig Veda and Avesta occurred during the period of the late books, and Rig Veda books of the Early and Middle periods predate the Avesta.

We need to update our mental model to the above diagram.

The Final Sequence

Now that we have all the pieces let’s understand what happened. Among the ancient tribes of India, the Puru/Paurava are identified with the Rig Vedic Aryans. Around 3000 BCE, they lived around and to the east of the river Saraswati (See In Pragati: Book Review – The Lost River by Michel Danino). The proto-Iranians are identified with the Anu/Anava tribe. They were originally the inhabitants of north India of the Kashmir region during the pre-Rig Vedic period. During the later part of the Early Rig Vedic period, the conflicts during Sudas’ time forced them to migrate Westward. During the middle and late periods of Rig Veda, the proto-Iranians were settled in most western parts of Punjab and Afghanistan. They had continuous interaction with the Vedic Aryans, and the Avesta was composed.

Rig Veda and Avesta: The final evidence is filled with evidence against the Aryan Invasion Theory with some original research. This argument based on personal names is just one chapter of this book. Other evidence against AIT comes from the geography of Rig Veda, the internal chronology of Rig Veda, and the absolute chronology of Rig Veda. By analyzing textual data, Shri. Talageri shows common culture across Rig Veda, Avesta, and the Mittanis.

Demolishing the Aryan Invasion Theory in 1912

(Saraswati river via Wikipedia)

The Aryan Invasion Theory and its first cousin twice removed, the Aryan Migration Theory, are dominant theories that explain the peopling of India. Many folks wishfully think this theory has been debunked. Still, sadly that’s what’s being taught in universities and repeated in books. The Indian National Congress has more MPs in the Lok Sabha than the people fighting against AIT.

While browsing some papers, I came across this paper by Srinivas Iyengar from Madras University, published in 1912, which attacks the Aryan Invasion Theory. Mr. Iyengar lived during a time when some of these theories were constructed and he decided to tackle them. This article will look at Mr. Iyengar’s arguments and how he calls out selection bias.

He says

Emotion plays a large part in the manufacture of history, and any theory that soothes the vanity of a people is straightway elevated to the rank of a fact ; so today a scientific examination of the bases of the theory of a superior Aryan race is resented more in India than anywhere else in the world

Comparative study of languages started with the observation that the languages of India and Europe were related. Hence, there had to be a parent language from which all the European and Indian languages descended. This imaginary language was called Proto-Indo-European (PIE). At some point, India was considered to be the PIE homeland, but later it was moved to various places in Europe. Either way, we are considered to be a slice of that pie.

Mr. Iyengar mentions two points made by the invasionistas and refutes them.

The first invasion point is based on a significant body part – the nose. Foundational research on this was done 20 years before Mr. Iyengar wrote this paper. According to the British dude (the name does not matter) who did this research, the Aryans had a long head, a straight, finely cut nose, a symmetrically narrow face, a well-developed forehead, and a high facial angle. The purest form of the nose was in Punjab, where the Aryans first showed up. As you went down South, the nasal purity went down. (Rajnikanth’s nose was inferior compared to Manmohan Singh’s). This happened because when Aryans arrived, the previous occupants with their inferior noses retreated to the South.

The British dude who did this nasal science defined 2378 castes as 43 races based on 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 various races, primarily non-Aryan.

Mr. Iyengar asks: Wasn’t there many more invasions? Didn’t the Mughals, Persians, Greeks, and Huns all show up in India at some point after the supposed AIT event? What nasal standards did they bring? When the British genius measured people’s noses in the 1890s, around 4000 years had elapsed since the imaginary invasion.

This outdated theory was still taught at UCLA as recently as 2010.

The next piece of evidence for the invasion came from the Rig Vedic mantras. The composers called themselves Aryans and referred to another tribe they fought as Dasayus or Dasa.

In the scriptures, the battles were local and not invasions. The Aryans do not speak of displacing local tribes who were their predecessors. The Aryans have no memory of a distant homeland (“I miss the rhubarb pie of the Baltic”), nor do they have any memory of their trip (“Remember when Barack took the wrong turn at Qaemshahr and fell into the Caspian Sea”)

They remember living a settled life in the Punjab valley in towns and villages, tending to their cattle. The Dasayus were another tribe living similarly. The problem was that they both had two distinct ways of life.

The Aryans were fire worshipers, and the Dasayus were not. The Dasayus did not worship Indra or offer oblations to Agni. The Aryans loved soma and raided Dasayu territory to get it to provide as oblations to their gods. They had high respect for soma and considered Dasayu oblations to their gods as worthless. When the Aryans offered their sacrifices, they chanted verses from their scriptures, which the Dasayus did not. All of these led to violent disagreements.

How did the Aryans get these traditions which are different from the Dasayus? Were they bought by the invading Aryans along with their language? Considering this, Mr. Iyengar writes that no Indo-Germanic history seems to have reached India. The Indo-Germanic god, Dyaus, is not acknowledged as a god in the Vedic pantheon. Mitra is familiar to Vedas and Avesta but is not an important god. Indra is a minor god in Avesta. The prominence of the Vedic gods is purely an Indian development. A striking fact is that so few Aryan gods came to India. Even if some tribe came from outside, it was thoroughly Indianized like Curry Pizza.

Finally, Mr. Iyengar writes that the so-called Aryan conquest definitely was not the substitution of the white man for the dark-skinned one.

When all is said, there may still remain in the minds of some the feeling of doubt how a cult or a speech can travel by itself. The fire cult and the speech of the Aryas must have come to India in the wake of a peaceful overflow of people from the uplands of Central Asia into the plains of India, or been the result of a peace-intercourse between the Indian people and foreigners. But theories cannot be built on metaphors, and there is absolutely no evidence at present to guide to a solution of the problem

Mr. Iyengar did not write about this, but here is some interesting trade information. Long distance trade between the Indus-Saraswati people and rest of the world is not intriguing at all as there has been plenty of evidence for commodities from India appearing in far away places, even further back in in time. In Dhuwelia, a seasonal hunting site in Eastern Jordan, archaeologists found cotton thread embedded in lime-plaster dating to the fourth millennium BCE. Cotton is not native to Arabia. That particular species could have come from only one place in the world: Baluchistan, where it has been cultivated since the fifth millennium.

Queen Puabi, who lived in Iraq during the Mature Harappan period (2600 – 1900 BCE)  had Harappan carnelian beads in her tomb. Following her, Sargon of Akkad (2334 – 2279 BCE) boasted about ships from Meluhha, primarily identified with this Indus region), docked in the bay. This suggests that ships from the Indus region journeyed all the way to Iraq about 5000 years back. If Indus-Saraswati people journeyed around the world before the Aryan Invasion, in what language did they speak to Queen Puabi?  

To suggest that people can move only in one direction is plainly ignoring the trading culture of the Indus people. The existences of an Indus trading colony in Mesopotamia and the ancient trading hubs is nothing to sniff at.

References:

  • Iyengar, P. T. Srinivas. “THE MYTH OF THE ARYAN INVASION OF INDIA.” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol. 60, no. 3113, 1912, pp. 841–846. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41340228. Accessed 13 Sept. 2021.

Also read:

Are all ancient memories true?

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

Recently, a stone circle created during the Neolithic period was discovered near Wales in England. It has a diameter of 110 meters just like the more famous stone circle. The Welshian stone circle is also aligned on the midsummer solstice sunrise, just like Stonehenge. This similarity between the two circles proved a century-old theory that the original circle was created in Wales, dismantled, and dragged over to Wiltshire, where it stands now.

This incident was mentioned in an Anglo-Saxon myth recorded about 900 years back. The myth spoke of the wizard Merlin leading men to Ireland to capture a magical stone circle called the Giants’ Dance and rebuilding it in England as a memorial to the dead. Since it’s not kosher to trust “myths”, it was not taken seriously. This discovery shows that the “myth” had a kernel of truth.

Myths endure because there is some truth to them. They boil down some human experience to its core, making it easy to repeat and transmit. There is the tendency to think of ancient texts as either history or fiction with nothing in between. Usually, these texts blend stories, history, magic, supernatural elements, theology, etc. If historians and archaeologists had an open mind to peel through the layers of exaggeration and investigate, they might make discoveries that otherwise would have taken a lot of time.

Another example would be the discovery of the river Sarasvati. Displaying great familiarity with the Indian North-West, the nadistuti sukta lists nineteen rivers from the Ganga to the Kurram sequentially from East to West. According to the Vedic tradition, Sarasvati flowed between the Yamuna and Sutlej, a location mentioned in other texts.

When British explorers visited the region between Yamuna and Sutlej, instead of “mother of waters”, they found seasonal streams like Ghaggar, Sarsuti, Markanda, and Chautang. Synthesizing tradition, the Vedic texts, and the accounts of surveyors, geologists, administrators, and army officers, scholars identified the Ghaggar, Sarsuti, Markanda, and other small tributaries as part of the Rig Vedic Sarasvati. Historians like M. L. Bhargava, B.C.Law, H.C. Raychaudhuri, A.D. Pusalker, and D.C. Sirkar, along with many Western scholars, concurred.

Then, all ancient memories are not the same. Some are manufactured to rationalize a power grab or establish an earlier date of arrival, or rationalize conquest. They exist to create a truth.

A famous one is the Western mythology of Francisco Pizarro as a larger-than-life hero. According to this narrative, he was responsible for single-handedly conquering Peru with a small army. Conveniently left out was the fact that Pizarro was helped by a large army of native American allies and the battle was not between the Spaniards and Incas but between two Inca groups.

Another one is the Pocahontas-James Smith mythology, immortalized by the Disney movie. According to the popular narrative, Smith was about to be executed. As they were about to strike, Pocahantas threw herself on James Smith, and he is spared. According to a discussion in BBC’s In Our Time, this incident never happened. Pocahontas, who lived nearby, visited the colony often. Her age was around 10, making it unlikely that she threw herself to save a 30-year-old Smith. In a narrative written by James Smith in 1608, this incident is never mentioned. In another version written in 1624, seven years after Pocahontas died, this incident appears. Not just that, in his voyages, there seems to be a pattern; James Smith is saved by maidens three other times as well.

A popular one in Kerala is about the conversion of King Cheraman Perumal. Once a king — a Perumal, no less — was walking on the balcony of his palace when he spotted the moon splitting into two and joining back again. From a few Arab visitors, the king learned that Prophet Muhammad was behind this miracle. The king abdicated the throne, divvied up the kingdom, and set sail to Mecca to meet this man. He met the Prophet, converted to Islam, and lived in Arabia for a while. To spread the religion in his homeland, the converted Perumal returned to Kerala but died somewhere along the way. What does not smell right is that the mosque he established dates before the first mosques in Iraq (639 CE),  Syria (715 CE),  Egypt (642 CE), and Tunisia (670 CE), thus making it the oldest mosque after the first mosques in Saudi Arabia. Imagine this – a newly forming religion setups a mosque where it’s born, and the next one is in Kerala. There is a lot of evidence to show that this narrative is false.

Another one is the myth of St. Thomas. The myth says that a disciple of Christ left Jerusalem and came all way to Kerala to establish churches. According to Pope Benedict, St. Thomas went only as far as Western India. According to Romila Thapar, there is no historical evidence to the claim that he was martyred in Mylapore. According to her, the first coming of Christians is associated with the migration of Persian Christians led by Thomas Cana around 345 CE.

How do you know which ones to trust? If you pay attention to who benefits, you can get a clue. Brutal conquests required a mythological origin to erase the reality of a violent origin. The Pocahontas myth — the affair between a Native American and a White settler — gave imperialism a human face. This military and economic success required a foundational narrative, powered by literary conceit to justify land grabbing and the subsequent loot.

Sometimes, the absence of facts causes myths to be created. It could be to insert themselves into ancient antiquity like Cheraman Perumal’s myth. Considering the trade relations between Kerala and the Western world, it’s quite possible that someone went to Arabia and got converted. Elevating it to an elite gives respectability.

Fortunately, each of these can be verified. The ancients were not writing objective history for 21st-century historians. If the texts present a consistent tale, which agrees with archaeology, geology, and local tradition, it cannot be brushed away. The truth of ancient history is indifferent to our wishes, our politics, our religion.