Indian History Carnival–71: Persian Ramayanas, Cantonments,Alakzandar Hadarli sahib, Medieval Deccan, Koh-i-noor, World Wars, Anthropology

Battle at Lanka, Ramayana, by Sahib Din. Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of Lanka. Udaipur, 1649-1653
Battle at Lanka, Ramayana, by Sahib Din. Battle between the armies of Rama and the King of Lanka. Udaipur, 1649-1653
  1. Rana Safvi writes about the Persian Ramayanas which number around 23. Some of these were translated from Sanskrit and others from Awadhi.

    The Ramayana of Masih is a true exposition of our composite culture – innumerable words and allusions related to the Quran and Iranian literature have been used to enrich this masnawi and to lend colour to the story. Sanskrit and Hindi words sanyaasi, darshan, jharoka, rasta and paan have been assimilated to enrich Indo-Persian literature. This assimilation was indispensable for the Persian language to serve as a mirror reflecting our sentiments and environment. His Ramayana was in the style of a Persian masnavi and not in the tradition of Valmiki’s division into cantos or kandas. Masih was targeted by fanatic Muslims for writing the Ramayana and had to justify his stance in the beginning of the book under the heading Dar Mazammat-e-Hussad (Condemning the jealous).

  2. Erica Wald understands the British Empire through the space of the cantonment in 19th century India

    The visible presence of a European corps of soldiers was thought to be essential to the maintenance of empire. From the daily drill and parade to his imposing uniform, the European soldier’s importance was as much symbolic as physical. However, medical and military observers attacked these same men for their supposedly wanton and ‘inferior’ behaviour, and display of dangerous tendencies which openly threatened not only military security, but broader imperial discipline.

  3. A painting of the court of Nawab ‘Abd al-Rahman of Jhajjar of 1852 shows a young European officer seated next to the Nawab. Malini Roy decodes his Persian name — Alakzandar Hadarli sahib — and tells his story

    Alexander Heatherly Azad was in fact well known in Delhi poetical circles under his pen-name Azad as a pupil of ‘Arif and he took part in the musha’iras arranged by Bahadur Shah Zafar and the princes. He is mentioned in Farhatullah Beg’s Dehli ki akhri shama, translated by Akhtar Qamber as The Last Musha’irah of Delhi, as sitting among the 40 poets gathered in the courtyard of a great house for a night of poetry presided over by Mirza Fakhr al-Din, Bahadur Shah Zafar’s favourite son and, under the name Ramz, a fine poet in his own right. Azad was ‘one of the great poets of the Urdu language’ (Saksena 1941, pp. 73-4).

  4. At 3 Quarks Daily, Gautam Pemmaraju writes about a trip to Medieval Deccan

    The rich, complex synthesis of the arts, culture, mysticism, shared sentiments, and indeed, of serendipitous winds passing through the open doors of history and influence, are more than amply evident at Ibrahim Rauza, the mausoleum of the medieval sultan of the Bahmani succession state of Bijapur, Ibrahim Adil Shah II. From the striking domed entrance gateway, the serene lawns, to the two structures upon a plinth (the tomb and the adjacent mosque), all fecund with the intense intermingling of a staggering range of ideas, Ibrahim Rauza is truly, a feast for the eyes.

  5. The Virtual Victorian has a post which tells the story of Duleep Singh, Queen Victoria and the Koh-i-noor

    But Victoria’s advisors would never consent to giving the diamond to Duleep. They would not relinquish any part of their Indian territories. They knew what the diamond symbolised and, dreading another Mutiny, Duleep was followed by British spies and eventually exposed as a traitor for consorting with various dissidents; mainly those Russians and Irish men with whom he had been making plans to march an army on the Punjab by route of Russia and Afghanistan. In response Duleep was exiled from England as well as India. He was forced to live out the rest of his life on the European continent, where he died at the age of 55 in a Parisian hotel.

  6. Sidin Sunny Vadukut writes about two frequently ignored episodes in Indian history: the Japanese occupation of Andamans and Indian participation in the First World War.

    At least 75% of Indian people I speak to have no idea the Japanese occupied the Andamans. And even fewer know how brutal the three-year long occupation was. The only book I have been able to source on this is Jayant Dasgupta’s Japanese in Andaman & Nicobar Islands: Red Sun over Black Water. It is a very short book that does little more than push the door ajar on a fascinating chapter of Indian history. The period deserves much greater coverage and analysis. I am not exactly sure why it remains ignored. Perhaps because it happened at the fringe of an irrelevant theatre of war and had very little participation from the countries that dominate popular WW2 historiography.

  7. Dr. S Gregory has a write up on Anthropology and anthropological teaching in Kerala. 2013 marks the 25th year and he has a history.

    The department had also taken initiatives, under the guidance of Prof Rajendran, Archaeologist and UGC Research Scientist (Kerala Univeristy), in the identification of certain archaeological finds in the region. Notable among these include the following: 1) Visited the site at Karaaltheruvu at Kodiyeri near Thalassery and identified the archaeological finds such as pots, skeletal remains and iron pieces from the laterite dome at the site as belonging to the megalithic culture and added to the collection of the Department Museum (2011); 2) Visited the site at Cheruparamba near Panoor and identified a Megalithic Urn Burial which also contained small bowels, skeletal remains and iron pieces, and were later transferred to the Department Museum. The Megalithic urn burial was dug out by a team of M.A. Anthropology students and Transferred from the Site to the Department Museum (2011); 3) Identification of a laterite Dome at Melathiyadam of Cheruthayam Panchayath, Kannur District as belonging to Megalithic culture during the field tour undertaken in the Department in April 2013; 4) Identification of a megalithic lateriet dome at Antholimala near Kodiyeri, in Thalasseri Municipality during a field trip undertaken in June 2013

The next carnival will be up on Dec 15th. If you have a link, leave it in the comment.

Indian History Carnival–70: Atheism,Islamic Jihad, Zero, Tulsi Das, Genizah collection, Syud Hossain

  1. Koenraad Elst has a paper on Atheism in Indian philosophy. He explains that Hinduism had a powerful premodern tradition of atheism, but it was superseded by theism

    Few people realize (and many Hindus will be startled if not angry to hear us assert it) that the karma doctrine is inherently linked with atheism, even in its vulgar moralistic version. Because the world is deemed inherently just, with a certain type of deeds automatically leading to a certain type of experiences, there is no need for a Father in heaven to dispense justice. In history, the most atheistic schools, especially Jainism, have had the most radical and uncompromising conception of karma. You are deemed stuck with your own karmic record, you have to work it off yourself and bear all the consequences yourself for any karma you incur further. No other being, whether human or divine, can relieve you of even the smallest quantity of karma. By contrast, in theistic Hinduism, lip-service is paid to the notion of karma, but in fact it is very watered down. People pray to a divine being for the diminution of karma, somewhat like Catholics can buy indulgences to be freed from so many years of purgatory.

  2. Secular African has a blog post about India before the coming of Islam. The post has an excerpt from M. A. Khan’s Islamic Jihad: A Legacy of Forced Conversion, Imperialism and Slavery.

    Further evidence of the contrast between the Hindu and Muslim codes of war comes from Ferishtah’s narration of Deccan Sultan Muhammad Shah’s attack against King Krishna Ray of Vijaynagar kingdom in 1366. Muhammad Shah had vowed to slaughter 100,000 infidels in the attack and ‘the massacre of the unbelievers was renewed in so relentless a manner that pregnant women and children at the breast even did not escape the sword,’ records Ferishtah.485 The Muslim army in a treacherous surprise-attack put Krishna Ray on the flight and 10,000 of his soldiers were slain. Muhammad Shah’s ‘thirst for vengeance being still unsatisfied, he commanded the inhabitants of every place around Vijaynagar to be massacred,’ records Ferishtah.

  3. Why did Indians invent the number zero and not the Chinese or Babylonians? Alex Bellos visited Gwalior to find out.

    For George Gheverghese Joseph, a maths historian at the University of Manchester, the invention of zero happened when an unknown Indian mathematician about two thousand years realized that “this philosophical and cultural concept would also be useful in a mathematical sense.” Renu Jain, professor of mathematics at Jiwaji University in Gwalior, was my guide at the temple. She agreed that Indian ideas of spiritual nothingness led to mathematical zero. “Zero denotes nothing. But in India it was derived from the concept of shunya. Shunya means a sort of salvation,” she said. “When all our desires are nullified, then we go to nirvana or shunya or total salvation.” In the modern world it is common to see religion and science as always in conflict. Yet in ancient India, one cannot untangle mathematics and mysticism.

  4. Sunil Deepak has a review of Manas ka Hans, a bio-fiction about Tulsi Das written by Amrit Lal Nagar.

    [While Tulsi was writing Ram Charit Manas] Ever since the platform for worshiping Rama was built in the mosque and people could visit it, the people of Ayodhaya were happier. The soldiers of the mosque behaved less harshly. The anger between Hindus and Muslims had reduced. Even though some conservative Muslims were against this decision of Akbar, but they did not have any power. Tulsidas, every day, before starting writing, used to visit the Rama’s statue on the platform inside the mosque. (p. 301) Thus, Tulsi’s views about Babri mosque in Nagar’s book ask for the possibility of praying to Ram but they are also about living in harmony and friendship with Muslims and respecting the mosque. Nagar’s Tulsi is happy to worship Rama in the courtyard of the mosque and looks at it as a place of the worship to the “infinite formless God”.

  5. In 1896, Cambridge bought a huge archive of documents from a synagogue in Cairo. There is one fragment in that which is written in Devanagari script, but no one seems to be able to figure out what it says. Here is the blog post which mentions and here are some additional images.
  6. Maddy writes about Syud Hossain, the man who fought for Indian independence from United States

    Hossain continued to thunder in the lecture halls – he said in one meeting “Indians are not trusted with arms and yet hundreds of thousands of Indians are systematically taken across the seas to various parts of the world to fight nationalists not yet brought to the same state of servitude as themselves and to help to reduce them to that state. And he pushed even harder for independence “India is changing and changing very rapidly. The spirit of self-assertion and self-confidence manifested either in platform or in silent plans of works no doubt reveals the dawn of a new era in India”.

Thanks to all the contributors for the links. The next carnival will be up on Nov 15th. Please leave a links as comments to this post.

Indian History Carnival-69: 1258 CE, Aurangzeb, Singphos, Ganesh Utsav,

  1. In 1258, the Mongols reached Baghdad, a large volcanic eruption happened somewhere and Europe was devastated. All these had consequences for a place called Calicut in Kerala. Maddy writes

    In summary, the events in the Middle East of course was a reason for the emergence and resulting maintenance of the trade links with Calicut. The Periyar floods that occurred around the same time resulted in the necessity of the move of trading ports northward from Muziris to a more stable area geographically and politically, thus resulting in the choice of Calicut. As this was happening, I would come to the conjecture that the worrisome situation in Europe and the Middle East owing to the 1258 volcanic eruption, resulted in increased export volumes and profitability, speeding up the maritime passages and numbers, which at one time were forays by smaller groups of Jewish traders like Abraham ben Yiju.As you can imagine, Europe was in recovery mode – coming out of the horrible effects of the 1258 dry fog. This recovery needed larger amounts of spices, not just as a possible cure for pestilence but also to enhance preservation of smaller supplies of meat.

  2. The Asian and African studies blog takes a look at depictions of Aurangzeb painted during his lifetime from 1619-1707

    Aurangzeb left northern India for the Deccan in 1681, never to return. An increasingly orthodox Muslim, he re-instated the poll-tax levied on non-Muslims, revived the power of Muslim clerics, and fostered a political and social divide based on religion. The last portrait of Aurangzeb pictures the devout Muslim ruler in profile, with a downward gaze at a manuscript held in his hands, most likely to be the Qur’an. Dressed in stark white garments, his appearance is in sharp contrast to the golden radiance of the halo, the floral patterned bolster and the luxurious carpet hung on the window ledge. For Aurangzeb, there was no greater personal accomplishment than to memorise every verse and chapter of the Qur’an. Having committed to memory the entire text, he wrote two copies of the Qur’an in perfect calligraphy. This style of portraiture, featuring Aurangzeb in his old age and hunched over a manuscript, was commonly produced and suggests that artists felt that this was the most appropriate type of pictorial format to depict the elderly ruler.

  3. Ranjit Singh writes that it was not Robert Bruce who discovered tea in Assam, but the Singphos

    Robert Bruce is the Englishman who is credited with discovery of tea in Assam in the year 1823. But the Singphos, who were the a major tribe of Upper Burma and their territory once extended from Arunachal into Assam, beyond Jorhat, and covered large tracts in northern Burma, smirk at this statement. They contend that they had been drinking and using the tea plants in the food seven centuries earlier than 1823. . Griffith also noticed that tea leaves were eaten as a vegetable food prepared in mustard oil and garlic. A similar salad recipe in Burma, called ‘Letpet’, promised marital bliss. Here the leaves were boiled for several months for fermentation. The resuscitated leaves were chopped and mixed with oil, garlic, fried shrimps, fruits and dried coconut and served to newly wed

  4. Mohini writes about Ganesh Utsav of the Peshwas

    Ganesh Utsav was not held in the Shaniwarwada after the murder of Narayanrao Peshwa in1773. It was restarted by Nana Phadnis and Sakharam Bapu Bokil, the two able administrators of the Peshwa in 1778 at Fort Purandhar as the next Peshwa, Sawai Madhavrao was living there. He was 4years old. After Sawai Mahavrao came back to Shaniwarwada, between the period 1760 to 1791, the Utsav was celebrated on an enormous scale with great pomp and splendour. There were 526 dancers, 185 singers, 732 folk artists, play actors who came from all over India to perform on the 10 days of the festival. The estimated cost coming to around Rs. 4358

The next carnival will be up on Oct 15th. Please send your nominations by e-mail or by leaving a comment.

Indian History Carnival-68: Linguistics, Perumals, Peacock Throne, Cotton Textiles, Wazir Khanam

 A map showing the approximate present-day distribution of the Indo-European branches
A map showing the approximate present-day distribution of the Indo-European branches
  1. Giacomo Benedetti writes about Indo-European linguistic theories, specifically some issues he finds in the Indo-Iranian branch

    It seems that the average linguist is not aware of the problems of this theory and generations of linguists did not find anything strange in the fact that ‘Indo-Iranians’ have transformed every e and o without exception into a, which is also not very useful for distinguishing words. The only justification that I can imagine for such an incredible theory is that the substrate language did not know e and o, like Classical Arabic. But this would imply that the Indo-Iranians were practically unmixed with the original Indo-European speakers and we also wonder why did they develop those sounds later in every Indo-Iranian language. And how is it possible that no Indo-Iranian dialect preserved them?

  2. Calicut Heritage has a post on Prof M.G.S.Narayanan’s book Perumals of Kerala (which was his Ph.D thesis) and the information it reveals

    He marshals arguments based on sound epigraphical evidence to disprove the existing accounts of a hundred years’ war between Cheras and Cholas which led to the disintegration of the Chera dynasty and the rise of smaller principalities. He re-examines and re-interprets the Keralolpatti chronicle which was once accepted as history and then rejected as nonsense. He discovers sufficient epigraphical and other evidence to support “the Keralolpatti legend about the last Perumal’s partition of Kerala and conversion to Islam. However, there is a vital change regarding the date of this event – the popularly accepted date was 825 AD but the new date is 1122-24 AD. The ‘Partition of Kerala’ is found to be the transformation of districts of the Chera kingdom into independent principalities”. (page 20)

  3. Maddy has the fascinating tale of Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne and some theories on where it might be now

    Nevertheless inconsistencies in the various accounts about what actually happened to the peacock throne during the last days of the Moghuls, keep people guessing and researching. Perhaps someday some more of those jewels as listed and detailed by Tavernier will be found in NE Iran, or perhaps in Tehran or Afghanistan. Still it will be difficult to find out what actually happened to the throne that cost twice the Taj Mahal. As for the people who sat on it, the curse of the throne ensured that almost all of them died violent or horrible deaths. It is like someone said, vanity kills!!

  4. Kazuo Kobayashi explains how the demand for Indian cotton textiles among Africans underpinned the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century.

    European merchants bartered with local brokers along the African coast for slaves and other African products. They had to barter with highly desirable goods since discerning African brokers were known to reject the goods that Europeans brought across. The list of commodities imported from Europe into Africa included textiles, iron, brass, military goods, cowrie shells, beads, and alcoholic beverages. Indian cotton textiles comprised a large proportion of the imports. In the case of Anglo-African trade, piece goods of Indian cottons were the most important trades in exchange for African slaves, making up 30 per cent of the total export value in the mid-eighteenth century.

  5. India Ink blog has an interview with literary critic and novelist Shamsur Rahman Faruqi who has written a 984-page fictional account about the life and times of Wazir Khanam, the mother of the famed Urdu poet Daag Dehalvi

    I didn’t do any systematic, formal research. As I wrote, I did consult a few books when I needed to verify some particular detail, dates mostly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the novel had always existed in my head as an amorphous, identity-less entity. Facts, memories, impressions — and of course my reading before I’d began to compose the novel — it was all there — a chaos, especially because I didn’t have anything like an idea to write a novel with Wazir Khanam as the chief character.

  6. The next issue of History Carnival will be up on September 15th. Please e-mail your nominations to @gmail. Please make sure they are blog entries and not newspaper articles.

Indian History Carnival-67: Tantra, Malayalam Calendar, Sakuntala, Ḥāfiẓ of Shiraz, Huzur Paga

  1. Koenraad Elst has a review of Tantra Illuminated. The Philosophy, History and Practice of a Timeless Tradition (Anusara Press, The Woodlands TX, 2012) by Christopher D. Wallis

    A necessary explanation here is that Tantra has nothing to do with the Kāma Sūtra and very little with sexuality. (And to the extent it has, it teaches intercourse with retention of semen, so what most men look for in the sex act is the one thing to be avoided.) Of course, New Age channels and the internet are full of disinformation on the matter, and for some more time we will have to live with the Western conception of Tantra as related to sex. Sometimes workshop on Tantra are announced by teachers unconnected with the legitimate tradition: “If you feel like testing them, you can ask them what Tantra [scripture] they are drawing on (…) and which Tantric mantra they use in their daily sādhana [regular spiritual practice].” (p.432) But at least this gives the writer the opportunity to unchain his devils against the internet, an endless source of false claims about Indian religions.

  2. The Malayalam calendar starts in the year 824 CE and Maddy writes about various theories on why that was the first year

    According to late Historian M.S. Jayaprakash the launch of Kollavarsham marked the complete transition of Kerala from the Dravidian-Buddhist tradition to the Aryan-Vedic system. According to him, Kollavarsham also marked the political transition of the land from the reign of Perumals to a caste-based rule. The commencement of Kollavarsham was in fact the declaration of a political and cultural change in Kerala. He also opines that the Kollavarsham declaration was made by two separate sessions of almanac experts and mathematicians held simultaneously at two places known by the same name Kollam – one the present headquarters of the southern district and the other one near Kozhikode in the north. So that is another train of thinking about the reasons for a new system, we need to get into. The implementation still follows the earlier theories. In conclusion, one can assume that the rather unique solar, current calendar was developed by the immigrants moving in from the North, perhaps the Namboothiri’s who settled down in Malabar and later in Quilon, and then the calendar got a little bit adjusted to what we know as the Kollam calendar. This has some traction due to the fact the calendar was first established in Malabar and a month later in Quilon, though it does not explain it satisfactorily. Nevertheless, due to the fact that it is also called Kolamba era, it is somehow more associated with Kurakkeni Kollam. But these are all assumptions based on obscure documents and you can perhaps imagine that with more research on the Buddhist – Jainist past of Kerala more facts will slowly come to light including the Sankaracharya aspects and you may even see the conclusions of Dr Jayaprakash gaining more credence.

  3. Fëanor writes about the world wide popularity of Abhijñānaśākuntalam in an illustrated post

    Others have been fascinated with Kalidasa’ tale of the unfortunate Sakuntala. Nikolai Karamzin, the great Russian historian, translated the tale into his language, claiming that it was a literature for the world. Here he was joining the likes of Goethe, Schelling, Herder, William Jones and de Chézy, in celebrating the great poem. Indeed, Abhijñānaśākuntalam was incredibly popular – nearly 10% of all works translated from Indian literature into Russian between 1792-1965 were of it! [2] It’s not just the Hungarians who were inspired by Sakuntala. Camille Claudel sculpted the remarkable ‘Çacountala’ or ‘L’Abandon ou Vertumne et Pomone’ between 1886 and 1905. It received much attention, and was kept in storage for several years. Claudel, of course, was channelling her own passion for Auguste Rodin. From Çacountala, she made subsequent variations, one of which is this lovely Vertumnus and Pomona:

  4. Asian and African studies blog writes about a manuscript of Dīvān by the Persian lyric poet Ḥāfiẓ of Shiraz.

    In the painting, it may be that the seemingly righteous are represented by the two figures seated to the right (our left) of the faqīh, one of whom seems to be remonstrating with him. Possibly they have brought the miscreants before him in the expectation of having them sentenced to the ḥadd punishment (in other words, a severe beating) for drunkenness. Imagine their surprise at having the moral tables turned upon them by the representative of Sacred Law! Meanwhile, in the foreground two figures struggle to hold up or resuscitate a beardless young man whom they may have been introducing to corrupt practices. There are no signs of spiritual ecstasy, or of spiritual practices of any kind. That the opposite is the case is amply shown in the figure on the far right, possibly the brother of the one on the left. His turban has unravelled in picturesque style. What is more, he is quite unmistakably throwing up on the floor of the madrasa courtyard.

  5. Mohini writes about Huzur Paga or the Royal Stables of the Marathas

    The horses used in the campaigns were mostly procured from auctions and were gifted or looted from the losers of the battles. These were thoroughbreds. The Arabian Horse, The Neela (pure white), and the Panchakalyan (one with White hoofs). The other horses were used for purposes such as, pulling carriages, or carts or short rides to nearby destinations for personal reasons. These were mostly indigenous. Some of the Peshwa’s had their own favourite horse and had even named them. Nanasaheb Peshwa had a horse called ‘Varu’, and Madhavrao Peshwa had ‘Matvali’. The Huzur cavalry, at any given time housed about 2000 horses these were kept in ‘Paga’s’ in and around Pune, Chas (Close to Chakan), Kavadi and Pimpalwandi villages.

The next carnival will be up on August 15th. Please send any nominations to @gmail

Indian History Carnival–66: Dara Shikoh, Casa Da India, Gopikabhai, Prince William

  1. Dara Shikoh, the eldest son of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, was assassinated by his younger brother Aurangzeb in August 1659. Upanishad Ganga had two episodes (1, 2) about this Mughal prince who translated the Upanishads into Persian. The Mughal India blog has an album presented by him to his wife Nadira Banu Begam.
  2. On Nov 1, 1755 Lisbon woke up to an earthquake which registered 9.0 on the Richter scale. The city which was built over 250 years using plundered wealth was brought down in 10 minutes. One famous building was Casa Da India which controlled the Indian trade. Maddy writes  how that building was destroyed.

    Well, if one had done a trip to medieval Lisbon and got through to the commercial and political heart of the city on the banks of the Tagus, or the Palace square – Terreiro de Paco, you would have noticed the large palace or Paco da Riberia to the left of the square, a handsome building designed by architect Terzi, remarkable for its grandeur, tapestries and riches therein. An extension of the original building actually housed the Casa da India where all the goods from Malabar were destined to and which the king standing on his balcony could watch being loaded or unloaded, with a lot of reassurance. The pepper that came from the vines near the hills, dried and blackened in the sun, carried over to Calicut, fought over by the many people eager to trade it to the white man, passed hands finally and found its way to the hulls of the ocean going ships belonging to the Portuguese and vying for valuable space with other spices, articles of plunder and sometimes even slaves. These articles were the ones being unloaded and taken to the building they called Casa Da India.

  3. Continuing her series on the Peshwa women, Mohini writes about Gopikabhai who was married to Nanasaheb

    As Nanasaheb’s Governance grew so did Gopikabai’s stature. She made sure that everyone knew of her position as the Peshwa’s wife and paid her due respect. She travelled to Dhawalpur, Malva and Prayag between 1740 and 1741. She only returned to Pune after knowing that she was with child. Vishwasrao was born to her on the 22nd June 1742. As Gopikabai could read and write Marathi, she would send out letters to the nearby fiefdoms and get news from around Pune. Gopikabai would also sit into meetings with Nanasaheb and would more often than not actively participate in the discussions. Nanasaheb could not tolerate this interference. According to him these things were beyond the ambit of a woman and she should stick to household duties. To put a stop to this meddling, he kept her away from learning the Modi script and so Gopikabai could not know of the dealings and documents which were sent in the Modi script. Furthermore Nanasaheb did not make any administrative decisions on Gopikabai’s advice.

  4. Something that is hitting the roof in Britain is Prince William’s Indian ancestry. In case you missed the news, lucky you. Razib Khan writes on this

    Observe the large variance in ancestry of Diana’s two third cousins presumably derived from Eliza Kewark (though there is always the chance that these segments come from different South Asian ancestors, the typically South Asian mtDNA match across the two reduces the probability of that being the answer in this case). Beyond eight generations the chance of a genetic segment being passed from an ancestor down to a descendant is small. Diana’s cousins are seven generations down from Eliza Kewark, so it isn’t totally implausible that a segment should get passed down. But William at eight is at the boundary, and he may carry no segments (in fact, Diana may have carried no segments). Of course I did note that their mtDNA is likely to be passed down, because there is no element of chance in that. You have your mother’s mtDNA. But one can debate whether mtDNA, which is not present in the nucleus, really counts as ancestry. I believe that heritable genetic material is heritable genetic material. Assuming the lines of descent are as they are recorded I accept that we know for a fact that William likely has South Asian mtDNA. But we most certainly do not know if he has any South Asian autosomal DNA.

The next carnival will be up on July 15th. Please send your nominations to @gmail before that date.

Indian History Carnival-65: India Studies, Harappa, Satavahanas, Radhabhai Saheb Peshwa, Kochi Jews

Entrance to the Synagogue in Kochi (Photo by author)
Entrance to the Synagogue in Kochi (Photo by author)
  1. Koenraad Elst has a review of S N Balagangadhara’s book Reconceptualizing India Studies

    The most acute case of “Orientalism” in the Saidian sense in precisely Nehruvian secularism, the consensus viewpoint shared by most established academics and media. Thus, about caste, “Nehru used Orientalist descriptions of the Indian society of his day and made their facts his own.” (p.74) Citing as example a Western India-watcher, Balu notes that the latter “is not accounting for the Indian caste system by using the notion of fossilized coalitions in India; he is trying to establish the truth of Nehru’s observations (that is, the truth of the Orientalist descriptions of India)”, because the social sciences “where uncontested, (…) presuppose the truth of the Orientalist descriptions of non-Western cultures.” (p.74) That is the problem of the existing “South Asia Studies” in a nutshell. It underscores the need for more serious comparative studies, a field in which Balu has been a pioneer.

  2. Carnival contributor Fëanor has some Indus gossip

    Well, it turns out that there may have been some amount of brutality in the Indus cities too. Skulls were caved in, noses were broken. One can’t be entirely surprised – a purely non-violent society on such a large scale sounds like a pipe-dream. According to [1], out of eighteen skulls studied from the later Harappan period (1900-1700 BC), nearly half had suffered heavy trauma. More interestingly, they report that the prevalence and patterning of cranial injuries, combined with striking differences in mortuary treatment and demography among the three burial areas indicate interpersonal violence in Harappan society was structured along lines of gender and community membership. To wit, the farther you lived from the city centre (or, possibly if your remains were found outside the city sewers), the likelier you were to have had a more violent death. Furthermore, the Harappan culture appears to have become more violent over time, with women being more affected in the later periods.

  3. At CRI, Dr Kiran Kumar Karlapu writes about the The Andhra Satavahanas

    The emperors of the empire were known for their peculiar custom of matronymics. Gautamiputra and Vasisthiputra were among the rulers of this line who consciously decided to be identified for posterity through their matrilineal heritage than anything else. Romila Thapar in her book is deliberately vague as to the importance of this practice and its allusion towards a matrilineal and probably matriarchal practice among the Satavahanas. Even though inheritance to the throne was certainly patriarchal, this matronymic idea is unique to the Satavahanas. It should also remembered that the two major inscriptions of their period were on the orders of the royal queens (Nasik Inscription by Gautami Balasri and Nanaghat inscription of Naganika) and these are the major sources of information for us about the Satavahana Empire.

  4. Mohini has started a series on dynamic Maratha women. This time she writes about Radhabhai Saheb Peshwa

    When Bajirao 1 and Chimaji Appa were out on their campaigns, it was Radhabai who looked after the affairs of the state in their absence. They had to send detailed reports to her about their campaigns. In 1721 Bajirao1 was to conduct a political meeting with the Nizam of Hyderabad. Radhabai had given him sound advice, whether to meet the Nizam, on what terms, where and when to meet him etc. In 1735 Radhabai decided to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi (Varanasi ). To leave Pune and Shaniwarwada and to embark on this long journey was fraught with danger. Her well wishers were sceptical about this as the Marathas had many enemies on the way. The atmosphere was not conducive for a pilgrimage. Radhabai was a determined person, very proud and self respecting. She had immense faith in her sons Bajirao and Chimaji Appa. Radhabai had proclaimed, ” My Baji is so revered in Hindustan that no one would dare to harm me.”

  5. Relics of Cranganore has some 19th century photos of the Jews of Cochin

    The image was analysed from all the angles; their dress, facial features, background. Few had given a convincing answer but we have to go further more to get a clear idea about this picture. This image which could be considered as one of the most oldest photograph of cochin Jews, but they were not wearing a cochini style costume (which is seen any where in the existing images or photographs) and this image gives a feel of Baghdadi Jewish family (After seeing the Sassoon family photo, Pune/Bombay); if we head forward with that, the possibilities of the family being Bagdadi – it would be from Sassoon clan.

That’s all for this month. The next carnival will be up on June 16th. In the mean time if you have any posts for the next carnival, please send it to varnam dot blog @gmail.

Indian History Carnival-64: Charles Dellon, Jai Singh, Sir William Jones, Jallianwalla Bagh

  1. Maddy has an introductory post about Charles Dellon, a French Catholic physician who traveled to India in the 17th century. He was captured by the Goan Inquisition and also made interesting observations about Kerala

    He is surprised that the Malabar Nair lady does not use perfumes and uses just coconut oil for the hair, not even adorning flowers unlike the women of Surat. He is mystified that North Malabar men eat animals like boar, but never a rabbit. The elephant amazes him, with its intelligence and he testifies to the same with a couple of interesting stories. Some of the aspects of his account especially the guard/escort systems provided by the Nairs, excommunication and outcastes, the Zamorin’s chief lieutenant etc. have been hardly mentioned in such detail by other writers so I will perhaps cover them later in a more factual essay. In fact he mentions that the Nairs of 1670, were sharp shooters carrying both muskets and the ball making molds, firing them with the rifle butt on the cheek, unlike Europeans who kept the butt on the shoulder. They had other arms too like the six foot bow and arrows, scimitars and lances. But then again, according to Dellon, even though courageous, the Nair’s never maintained order while marching, and were not structured or disciplined during combat. He spends a few paragraphs on the Moplah’s and states clearly that a tenth of the proceeds of their piratical endeavors were submitted to the prince of the land.

  2. Mughal India blog has an illustrated post explaining how Jai Singh’s observatory in Jaipur worked

    The observatories in Delhi and Jaipur consist of a number of masonry instruments grouped together in enclosures, usually referred to as Jantar Mantar. These were to some extent inspired by instruments developed in Samarkand by Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), and doubtless Jai Singh hoped to see continued there further work of that kind. By far the most interesting of them is the large sextant enclosed in a chamber in which the sun’s light is admitted through small holes in a brass sheet. At noon the disk of the sun is projected, as in a pinhole camera, onto the scale of the sextant. Since a scale was inscribed on the sextant it was possible not only to examine the disk of the sun, but to determine in this way the true altitude of the sun on any day.

  3. Kathy Lazenbatt, Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society, recently presented some of the botanical drawings of Sir William Jones and his wife Lady Anna Maria Jones.

    The letters of Sir William Jones show that he first developed an interest in botany shortly after arriving in India when he was convalescing after an illness. His doctor had suggested that Jones undertake some gentle activity such as examining plants and lent him a copy of a work by Linnaeus. This soon developed into a pastime which husband and wife could enjoy together, with Sir William examing and describing the plants and Lady Anna Maria illustrating them. Watercolour painting and sketching were considered very suitable leisure activities for English ladies at that time.

  4. On 13th of April, 1919, the British empire murdered Indians at Jallianwalla Bagh. Abhinav Agarwal writes about the event and the aftermath.

    So, while Gandhiji’s reaction to the massacre “appears to be somewhat mysterious”, “The great poet Rabindranath Tagore relinquished his Knighthood as a measure of protest”, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya “patiently collected the details of the tragic incident”, and the 92 leading questions that he tried to place in the Central Legislative Council were disallowed by the Viceroy. It is a sad commentary on how heroes are treated in this world, that the British government had to intervene to provide immunity to the heroes of these murders. The Government brought out a Bill of Indemnity “for protecting the civil and military officials in the Punjab from consequences of their action.”

We welcome contributions to the carnival, if they satisfy the following rules

  1. The entry must be a blog post and not a newspaper article
  2. It should have a connection to India
  3. The e-mail should have “Carnival” in the subject line, else it will escape my filter.

Please send your nominations by e-mail to @gmail. The next carnival will be up on May 15th.

Indian History Carnival–63: Ramayana, Shiva Linga, Koya Pakki, Mughal Map, Gowramma

Ramayana Fresco, Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok
Ramayana Fresco, Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok (via Wikipedia)
  1. Daljit Nagra is writing a version of Ramayana drawing based on all available English versions. In this post, he writes about a particular version he came across

    One of the most striking written versions I came across in my research is the one commissioned by Rana Jagat Singh of Mewar, which has survived since the 17th century. An illustrated manuscript in seven books, Jagat Singh’s Ramayana was commissioned in 1649 and has been separated for over 150 years: five of the books have been in the British Library since 1844 and the other two books have been in Mumbai and Udaipur. Now the British Library has digitised their holdings and all that remains of the work is to be reunited online.
    The Jagat Singh Ramayana is not only packed full of remarkable paintings – images that help us visualise an ancient imagination from the viewpoint of 17th-century Indians – it is also dazzlingly multicultural. Commissioned by a Sikh, this Sanskrit text owes a debt to a Hindu storyteller, and was illustrated by a Muslim. Most of the manuscript has also spent a large part of its life in the west. The internet is the rightful home for such a great text. The Ramayana is one of the greatest stories ever written, visualised or heard. As such it should be available to the world.

  2. Since Shiva Rathri was just over, it is a good time to look into the iconography of the Shivalingam at Gudimallam

    For starters it is the most controversial of subjects in Hindu Iconography and being very much the amateur i am treading a precarious line here, but then what is so special about this form that has seen its spread across the nook and corner of not only India but deep into South East Asia – in central Vietnam, into Cambodia – and that too as early as the 6th and 7th Centuries ? Cannot believe it… Standing a full 4 feet tall, holding the pride of place among exhibits, the massive stone pillar is an awe inspiring site. On closer scrutiny, it is not any stone pillar but a Shiva linga and this is no Indian Museum – this is at the Museum of Vietnamese History, Hochi Minh city, Vietnam and is a local find. Fu Nan period, 6th C CE.

  3. After bringing us the tale of Joao Da Cruz, Maddy has the fascinating story of Koya Pakki, who played a major role in the relation between Cochin, Calicut and the Portuguese.

    So we see that the shaming of Cabral and the murder of Aires Correa by the Arabs of Calicut had disastrous effects, and resulted in Vasco da Gama coming again- we studied the massacre of the Meri. Koya Pakki as we saw, survived the attack at Calicut in 1500, moved farther to Cannanore and came back as a friend of Portugal, sometimes also as an emissary of the Zamorin as is stated in some books. In fact it is also likely that he may have just carried a commission of the Zamorin to Lisbon in 1515, though not travelling as a formal emissary of the Zamorin, if I read the story right. It is also clear that it was Koya Pakki who assisted the Portuguese in moving their sights to Cochin and Cannanore, thus isolating Calicut from later Portuguese trade. Finally we saw his involvement in the last scene of the play, supporting the Portuguese flight from the Calicut fort and earning punishment from the Zamorin. So that was Pakki, yet again a small fry in the big story, but the person who was key to many an act.

  4. The British Library has two 18th century Mughal maps which show the route from Delhi to Khandahar.  Mughal India blog writes

    It is possible, however, that the British Library maps were based on an earlier model since their details complement rather than duplicate the printed account. They include references to the residence of Maharaja Amar Singh who ruled Patiala from 1748 to 1782, and “the late Burhan al-Mulk”, the first Nawab of Oudh, who died in 1739, besides frequent mention of ruined serais (‘travel-lodges’) which were probably destroyed in the disturbances from the mid to late 18th century. Unlike the memoir, both maps extend the route as far as Kandahar.

  5. The Virtual Victorian has a post about two members of Indian royalty who went to England, got converted and whom Queen Victoria tried to engage in matrimony.

    With both of the young Indians having converted to Christianity, and with any offspring they might then produce most likely to be Christians themselves, Victoria saw it as her mission to join the pair in matrimony – hoping that this might be the start of the spreading of the Christian faith throughout the whole of the India. However, there is a saying that man may plan but God unplans, and even the plans of a Queen may fail when it comes to matters of matchmaking. Whether or not Gowramma was attracted to Duleep (she was known to be an atrocious flirt, even making eyes at the Prince of Wales, and then discovered in an affair with one of her guardian’s stable boys) the handsome young prince was not convinced to wed his fellow Indian.

We welcome contributions to the carnival, if they satisfy the following rules

  1. The entry must be a blog post and not a newspaper article
  2. It should have a connection to India
  3. The e-mail should have “Carnival” in the subject line, else it will escape my filter.

Please send your nominations by e-mail to @gmail. The next carnival will be up on April 15th.

Indian History Carnival–62: Indo-Europeans, Muchunti Mosque, Joao Da Cruz, Christoph Clavius

Muchundi Mosque (via Wikipedia)
Muchundi Mosque (via Wikipedia)
  1. At his blog at Discover, Razib Khan presents his hypothesis for West Asian migration to India
  2. Second, Reich agrees that the ANI (West Eurasian, “Ancestral North India”) admixture into the India population exhibits at least two admixture events. There were hints of this in the original 2009 paper, and looking more closely at the South Asian data others have suggested this more explicitly. This seems the best explanation for why non-Brahmin upper castes in South India do exhibit distance on the ANI-ASI cline from lower castes, but without clear connection to many ancestral components with a “northern” affinity present at non-trivial levels in Indo-European speaking groups and South Indian Brahmins (or those groups which have admixed with Brahmins, such as Nairs).

    The hypothesis I prefer is that there was an initial wave of West Asian agriculturalists who arrived in the Indian subcontinent <10,000 years B.P., and admixed with the ASI (“Ancestral South Indian”) substrate. Then, there was at least one further substantial demographic wave of West Eurasians, probably bringing the Indo-European languages. This population had more northern affinities (though not exclusively; the Basque vs. non-Basque difference in European seems to be a West Asian element), which explains the subsidiary minor explicitly European-like element found in many upper caste populations, and to a lesser extent Indo-European speaking South Asians generally. Finally, I do suspect that some groups in the Northwest, such as Jatts, were shaped by later migrations.

  3. Giacomo Benedetti has a post on a similar theme of Indo-Iranians, Aryan invasion etc. and writes

    I have the impression that the Aryan Invasionism follows the same method as Creationism. The supporters of the Indo-Iranian invasion from the European steppes of Central and South Asia have no sacred text to defend, although sometimes they use the Vedas or the Avesta with biased (often racial) interpretations. They have a sort of preconceived faith, maybe based on a secret, obstinate Eurocentrism: Europeans must be the conquerors of the Indo-European world, and not the conquered or colonized, they must be the origin of the change, not the recipients.So, they already firmly believe that the Indo-Aryans must have arrived there in the 2nd millennium BC, and so we have to find, in one way or another, the facts able to support that dogma. I think that we should rather start from the archaeological facts, and build a theory from there, seeing if we find a harmony with linguistics and textual traditions, and also genetics. Someone could object (with Nietzsche) that there are no facts, only interpretations, particularly in the realm of prehistoric archaeology, but still, there are worse and better interpretations. The evolution and connections of material cultures can give a reliable picture, which can be mirrored by the linguistic and textual tradition.

  4. One of the oldest mosques in Calicut is called Muchunti Mosque because it may have been found by a person named Muchiyan. But shouldn’t it be Muchanti (junction) mosque.? Calicut Heritage investigates

    Sure enough we found an alternative possibility on the streets of faraway Penang in Malyasia. On Pitt Street to be exact, named by the British after the Prime Minister, William Pitt, the Younger. The street is now called Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, after a mosque built by a South Indian Captain of a ship. Down the street one finds the Tamil area of Chulia Street, formerly called Muchanti (junction). A little away from this junction on the Penang Road, we come across a notable Malabar monument, in Kampung Malabar (the Malabar colony), named after a faith healer from Calicut named Syed Mustafa Idris Koya. The entire Penang Road is known in Tamil locally as Ezhu Muchanti (the junction of seven roads). Muchanti in Tamil means a junction and perhaps meant the same in 13th century Malayalam, too. Muchunti Palli in Calicut is also situated on a junction where three paths meet. Did Muchanti Palli become Muchunti Palli in due course?

  5. Maddy revises his earlier tale of Joao Da Cruz or John of the Cross with some new information. If you have not read this story of the Nair boy who went to Lisbon, met King Manuel, converted to Christianity, and became responsible for the conversion of the Paravas in Tuticorin, you should

    It was on such a tense day in Tuticorin during 1534, when as usual, a Parava woman went out to sell her home made Paniyarams. As it appears from the texts of Teixeira, a Muslim insulted her and the lady promptly went home and complained to her husband. The enraged man went out and a fight ensured with the Muslim, during which the Muslim cut off an earlobe of the Parava, a great insult indeed for they wore large ornaments on their ears which extended down to their shoulders. So the honor of the entire community was compromised, as Schurhammer reports. The two groups went at each other’s throats and a great many were killed. The Muslims of neighboring towns joined the fracas and the Paravas were systematically decimated (in fact a bounty of 5 fanams per head were initially paid to the mercenaries, but as the heads piled up, this was reduced to one fanam). The Paravas had nowhere to go and were in a dire situation with no hope (A little exaggeration can be seen in these accounts – since the Muslims needed the Parava to eventually go out to sea and continue with their business and pay them the taxes).It was into this mess that the indebted Joa Da Cruz strayed. The Paravas talked to him and explained their desperate plight. Seeing an opportunity to redeem himself, Da Cruz suggested that they convert and get allied to the Portuguese to save themselves. The Paravas, seeing no other alternative, agreed.

  6. Mughal India blog writes about knowledge circulated during Aurangzeb’s time

    Clavius’ work, which responded to and was inspired by Arabic mathematicians and scientists in Latin translation, here a generation after its publication is translated back into Arabic to be read, presumably by elites at the court of Aurangzeb, where the work’s translator and his son were courtiers. This translation demonstrates the complexity of knowledge flows – that they were synchronic as well as diachronic, and also involved a process not just of translation, but of re-translation, re-interpretation and development as they travelled. Furthermore, the inscriptions taken in tandem, one in English made by an East India official, the other in Arabic by a Mughal courtier, open the possibility that already in Aurangzeb’s reign, Mughal elites travelled to Europe perhaps to study. In the case of Mu‘tamid Khan, the translator of this text, he mastered the technical idiom of geometry and mathematics in Latin, and then translated it into an equally complex scholarly language, Arabic. Not an uncommon intellectual feat at the Mughal court, this process of scientific translation remains to be studied in depth. It is also possible that the presence of the Jesuits at Goa had an influence on the production of this translation, but firm evidence remains to be found.

  7. The next Carnival will be up on March 15th. If you have any blog links, please send it to