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.

Sanskrit Notes: Why Siddhanta Kaumudi?

(This article requires basic understanding of Samskritam grammar)

Siddhanta Kaumudi

When it comes to Samskritam grammar, the definitive books are Panini’s Ashtadhyayi and Dhatupaatah. Then why do we have so many other books like vartikas, bhashyas and kaumudis. What gap do they address? Specifically, what does a book like Siddhanta Kaumudi adress? To understand that we need to start with the basics and go down in a systematic way.

Let’s start with a simple sentence

गृहतः कार्यालयं गच्छति

When you see this sentence and have no clue about Sanskrit, you will know that, this sentence is made up of three words.

It can split once again by separating the प्रकृति: and प्रत्यय as follows. In each section, the first word is the प्रकृति: and the second, the प्रत्यय

Can this be split even further, like how we can split NaCl into Sodium and Chlorine and then into atoms and other sub-atomic particles? How far can we split the words in Samskritam and what is the end beyond which we cannot split further? In Samskritam, that root is called a धातु. There are approximately around 2000 धातु and 480 प्रत्यय. All the known words are formed by a combination of these.

Samskritam grammar is essentially a reverse engineering of the rules of the spoken language. The language came first and then the grammar. If you are a grammarian, and want to construct the rules of the language, there are two ways of doing it.

  • List the rule for each word. This obviously does not scale. The real world example would like calling the name of each student in the school and asking them to come into the class.
  • Come up with generalized rules which apply to a broad category. Come up with exceptions to those rules. The general rule could be, everyone enter the class and the exception could be – except Rahul. This makes the encoding of the rules simpler and easier to remember.

Samskritam grammar is essentially a reverse engineering of the rules of the spoken language. The language came first and then the grammar. If you are a grammarian, and want to construct the rules of the language, there are two ways of doing it.

  • List the rule for each word. This obviously does not scale. The real world example would like calling the name of each student in the school and asking them to come into the class.
  • Come up with generalized rules which apply to a broad category. Come up with exceptions to those rules. The general rule could be, everyone enter the class and the exception could be – except Rahul. This makes the encoding of the rules simpler and easier to remember.

Panini demonstrated that with just less than 4000 sutras, he could come up with all the rules for all the words in Samskritam. This was possible only because the approach he took was the second one.

Panini’s two books cover this

  • Dhatupatah – covers all the dhatu and their meaning
  • Ashtadhyayi – covers all the प्रत्यय, (Chapters 3, 4, and 5)

The Ashtadhyayi consists of 8 chapters and they cover the following topics

  • 1, 2 – संज्ञा, परिभाषा, समासः, कारकं
  • 3,4,5 – प्रत्ययाः
  • 6, 7, 8 – संधिः, प्रत्ययानां योजनम्

Among the Sanskrit grammarians, the most famous are Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali. Katyayana wrote vartikas (explanatory texts) and Patanjali wrote mahabhashyam (great commentary). The books they wrote are succinct and does not contain examples of the rules. This makes it hard for a student who try to study the grammar.

Then came a second set of books called व्रित्तिग्रन्धा: These books have more details about the sutra, like how to split it, the meaning of these words, examples, clarification of doubts, etc. Among these the famous are काशिकवृत्तिः and प्रथमावृत्तिः These texts follow the same order as the sutras in Ashtadhyayi.

This becomes a problem if you are interested in one topic like समासः. The sutras for these are not together and hence a student following the original texts or the व्रित्तिग्रन्धा: will have to collate the related sutras and figure it out.

To address this issues, there came a type of text called the प्रक्रियाग्रन्धा: These are organized according to topics with everything related to संधिः in one place and everything related to समासः in one place. Famous in this category are रूपावतारः, प्रक्रियाकौमुदि. But these books had some issues and caused confusion. Then Bhattoji Dikshit wrote सिद्धान्तकौमुदि fixing all the issues among the previous books. He explained all the sutras, in the style of प्रक्रियाग्रन्धा:and corrected the issues with the previous books.

(Based on the lecture by Tilak Rao. If you are interested in learning Siddhanta Kaumudi, here is the playlist)

The Dangerous Navjot Singh Sidhu

There are two types of narratives on India by Urban Naxals. One is that India was never a nation. It was an assortment of princely states that was glued together by the British. This new secular, socialist India had nothing to do with the India of the past. But now that such an India exists, the second type does not want to acknowledge it’s existence. They want this nation to be subsumed under the identity of South Asia. The ulterior motive for both these groups is to deny the spiritual unity behind this nation which has survived to this day.

When the British conquered India, they had to come with a narrative to justify the barbarism and the looting. They knew that if they held on to India, they would be a first rate power and the loss of it would make them look like a glorified Belgium. They came up with multiple explanations.

The first said: Don’t be guilty of being an invader. Indians have been invaded for ages, usually through the Khyber Pass. We innovated and invaded through the sea. India is a wounded civilization and land of defeat. The second argued there is nothing in common among these people. These people are foreigners to each other. ” A ‘Native of Calcutta,’ argued Sir John Strachey, a formidable provincial governor in Victorian India, was ‘more of a foreigner to the hardy races on the frontiers of Northern India than an Englishman’ could be”

Now comes Navjot Sidhu, Minister of Local Government, Tourism, Cultural Affairs, and Museums of Punjab.

Speaking at the seventh Khushwant Singh Literature Fest in Kasauli, Sidhu, in an attempt to highlight the cultural closeness between Punjab and Pakistan, said, “If I go to Tamil Nadu, I don’t understand the language. Not that I don’t like the food, but I can’t take it for long. That culture is totally different. But if I travel to Pakistan there is no such difficulty. The language is the same…everything there is just amazing.”

Technically it is correct. I feel the same going from Kerala to Punjab. The difference is that Malayalis are not sending terrorists to Punjab. They are not trying to wage a war against their neighboring states. There is a lot in common between Tamil Nadu and Punjab. It takes effort to see that commonality. When an Indian minister fails to see the difference between the two Punjab’s, he is playing straight into the arms of the enemy. If Sir John Strachey was alive, he would have felt proud of Sidhu.

Ayodhya: Marxist Mischief

“The Ram temple is to a Hindu, what Mecca and Medina are to a Muslim. A Muslim cannot imagine both these places under the control of another religion. Muslims should feel the pain of a Hindu, whose religious places are under the control another religion, even though they live in a Hindu-majority country. Hindus believe Babri Masjid is Ram Janmabhoomi. This place has nothing to do with Prophet Muhammad. It relates only to Babar. So why should there be such a fight over this place?”
That was Archaeological Survey of India archaeologist K K Muhammed speaking to Indians which included SIMI supporters in Oman before 1992. He continued:
“When the Al-Aqsa Mosque or Bayt al-Muqaddas was taken over by the Jews, we Muslims of Kerala, met at our local mosque. We cried and prayed to Allah to return Bayt al-Muqaddas back to us. The pain that a Muslim felt when he lost Bayt al-Muqaddas, is the pain that a Hindu feels now. I am not talking about the modern, educated Hindus. I am talking about those Hindus, who in the freezing cold of North India, walk without shirt or shoes, just to have a glimpse of Rama. We should understand their pain and suffering.”
The crowd was silent. “After Independence, a separate country was created for Muslims. After that, India could have become a Hindu nation. But Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad did not do that. That shows their high level of thinking. For this, the man who walked in just a dhoti had to sacrifice his life.”
“Imagine if India was a Muslim majority country. Would it have been secular? No. If Hindus were given a separate country, the Muslim majority would not have declared India to be secular. This is the greatness of Hinduism. This is their tolerance. That is something we should understand and respect. If, instead of Hindus, India had some other religion as the majority religion, what would have been the state of Muslims? We should understand all this and make the right moves and only then a nation will become secular. This reverse thinking is required.”
Then someone asked. “If we return three sites back to Hindus, won’t they ask for more?”
Muhammed replied, “We are talking about compromise here. If such a thing happens, Hindus themselves will oppose it. Bajrang Dal, VHP, Ram Sena, such militant organizations don’t have support among Hindus”
The above speech and Muhammed’s role in the archaeology and politics of Ayodhya is mentioned in his autobiography ഞാനെന്ന ഭാരതീയൻ (Me, the Indian). His teacher at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) was Prof. Irfan Habib and besides learning history, Muhammed was also able to learn about the politics of historiography.
When the above meeting was over, some youngsters took Muhammed to a room and asked why he did not mention all of this to Syed Shahabuddin.
In fact Muhammed had mentioned this to Syed Shahabuddin. While working in Patna as an archaeologist, Muhammed had to deal with a BJP MP Jawahar Prasad, who wanted to expand a temple in an archaeological site. At that time, it was a BJP government at the center.Though it was risky opposing an MP belonging to that party, feeling the need to oppose what was not right, Muhammed fought against this move and succeeded. This won a commendation from Syed Shahabuddin and a subsequent meeting. When Muhammed bought up compromising on Ayodhya, Shahabuddin did not agree.
During this period there was confusion regarding the Ayodhya issue. Was the masjid really built over the Ram temple? Or were the Hindus making it up?
Muhammed writes that Marxist historians like S. Gopal, Romila Thapar, Bipin Chandra decided to lend their support to the Muslim extremists; they questioned the historicity of Ramayana; they wrote that there was no mention of the demolition of the temple till the 19th century; they started arguing that Ayodhya was a Buddhist-Jain center. The others of this group were Suraj Bhan (the only archaeologist), R. S. Sharma, Akhtar Ali, and D N Jha.
All of them testified as part of various government committees. The Babri Masjid Action Committee’s meetings were held under the leadership of Indian Council of Historical Research’s chairman, Irfan Habib. Prof. MGS Narayanan opposed this, but that had no impact. Muhammed believes that Irfan Habib did not want a solution to the Ayodhya problem. Anyone at ICHR who advocated reconciliation would be branded as a communalist following a familiar pattern.
But was there any need for this confusion? Muhammed did not think so. He knew because he was inside the Masjid in 1976 – 1977 as a student conducting studies under Prof. B. B. Lal. Then he saw 14 pillars of the temples which were made of Black Basalt. The base of these pillars had the 11th century style poorna kalasam, one of the eight symbols of prosperity. When they excavated the sides and the back of the Masjid, they found bricks which were the foundations of these pillars. On the basis of this, Muhammed was sure that a temple definitely existed. At that time, one one thought this would turn controversial.
Muhammed writes, he knows there were moderate Muslims who were willing to compromise and hand over the temple to the Hindus in the 1990s. Vishwa Hindu Parishad had taken a hard stance and some Muslim leaders thought if they returned the Masjid back, then VHP would not have any more issues to raise. That’s when Marxists got in the fray.
When historians and archaeologists formed two groups and were screaming at each other, Muhammed made the claim that he had seen evidence of the temple inside the mosque.This was published in all the Kerala editions of the Indian Express. Some congratulated him for speaking out. Some threatened him.
The Director General of ASI, MC Joshi asked Muhammed, how he could make a public statement on a controversial topic without permission, a crime for which he could be suspended.
Muhammed replied लोकसंग्रहमेवापि सम्पश्यन्कर्तुमर्हसि from the Gita (3.20)
RC, Tripathi, who was the Joint Secretary angrily asked, if Muhammed was teaching Sanskrit to an Allahabad Brahmin like him, to which he replied स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेय: (3.35)
Tripathi calmed down and said, “there is lot of pressure to take action against you”. Muhammed said, he was aware, but he felt obliged to tell the truth. He got transferred to Goa instead of getting suspended.
Once Babri Masjid was demolished, evidence overflowed. The most important one was the Vishnu-Hari plaque. It had Sanskrit written in nagari script of the 11th century which proclaimed that the temple was dedicated to Vishnu who killed Bali and Ravana. YD Sharma and KM Srivastava during an 1992 study found murtis of various avatars of Vishnu and also of Shiva and Parvati dating to the Kushan period (100 – 300 CE). In 2003, the Allahabad High Court ordered an excavation and during that period, they found more than 50 platforms made of bricks. Finally, a total of 263 artifacts were found.
Based on this evidence Archaeological Survey of India concluded that there was indeed a temple below the mosque. Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court also came to the same conclusion.
What is interesting is how the Marxist historians behaved after the report came out. They started flip flopping. Muhammed says that the people who participated in the excavation as part of the Babri Masjid Action Committee were not archaeologists. Some of them had technical knowledge of archaeology, but no field experience. None of them were a match for the head, Dr. B R Mani.
Muhammed writes that while these historians created the narrative, the propaganda was disseminated by publications like Times of India which decided to publish these one sided accounts. Due to this, any chance of Muslims handing over Ayodhya over to Hindus was scuttled. Muhammed blames Marxist historians for destroying Hindu-Muslim unity in the country and making the country pay a big price for it.

Symbolography in Indus seals

(This is a guest post by Rekha Rao, the author of Symbolography in Indus seals)
Symbolography in Indus Seals by Rekha RaoIndus civilisation has evinced keen interest amongst scholars from various disciplines in their pursuit to unfold many aspects of this wonderful civilisation, which is one of the oldest. Though many aspects of the civilisation have been well addressed, decoding of Indus seals remained as an enigma even as of date. This has remained controversial, as there is no uniformity or logic in its interpretation. The prominence of the mythical one horned bull that can be seen in many seals, occupying almost seventy-five percent of seal area, with differing signs between seals, does indicate it is beyond what has been understood till date. This research is focused on, (1) Understanding the symbols of the script that are inscribed, (2) The interpretation of seals depicting activity, and (3) Demystifying the curiosity in answering prominent questions that arise when one examines the seals with an open mind such as:

  1. Why seals have a single horn bull?
  2. Why some are double horned humped bull and some non-humped ones?
  3. Why the single horned bull is in front of a manger and not the double horned humped bull?
  4. Why the manger has different design patterns and, supported on a slender pedestal?
  5. Why the decorations on the neck, nature of tail of the bull is different in each seal?
  6. Why the bull in each seal is associated with different symbols?
  7. Do these seals are a part of a continuum or is it explicit?
  8. Why the seals are small in size 2 by 2 inches?

In an endeavour to find answers to these questions, the research work had to cross several domains until such time the connectivity got established.
A convincing analysis of the riddles associated with the single horned bull, the manger structure, and the symbols used in the Indus seals have been attempted with a holistic approach. The single horned bull has been proved here to be a concept of Hotṛ priest with strong correlation with Vedic hymns has been established. The structure of manger has the depiction of chandas-the metre and the pattern of repetitions involved. Each seal appeared to have information on one particular aspect of the Vedic contents and the Yajña.
This book also answers the enquiries like

  1. Which class of people made use of these seals?
  2. What was the intention behind the issue of seals?

The seals are portrayed on a two-inch stone piece. It was probably with the idea of easy handling, transporting, and storing as reference document. It was like a ready reference material for the students involved in Vedic studies and practitioners of Vedic rituals. Probably, it was also planned to avoid the probable mistakes during recitation and ritual procedures at a time when script was non-existent, while the literary activity was at its peak and the multiple chapters of each Veda was voluminous for memorisation.
With the aid of a seal as reference, a man who had undergone his initiation in the Veda Śikśha could get the information like, for which ritual the sequence of Mantra is to be recited, and which tone and metre had to be adopted. The hymns to deities were in different metres, had to be recited meticulously according to the prescription of the Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, and the associated Brāhmaṇa text teachings. Different food offerings were to be made as each deity had its own preferred food and it was indicated as symbols. Seals were meant only for a specific class of educated lot and not for commoners. The frame structure in a seal shows a big square in which smaller squares are engraved to indicate about the specific metre chosen. These frames are like sample piece demonstration of metre that is to be followed by the sequence of hymns of similar pattern in a series while reciting for a Yajña. This gives a logical point for why the square frame in front of the single horned bull has smaller units in varying numbers and it matches with the squares adopted as Pada while dealing with the literary aspect of Vedic metre.
The understanding of seals reveal that India is the only country or probably one of the countries which has an unbroken pattern of traditions maintained for over 3000 years. The advancements in the field of science have not influenced this part of social heritage. The Somayajña performed in 2011 in Kerala, called Panjal Atirātram had performed the Pravargya fire ritual following the Vedic pattern, and it was amazing to find a seal that also depicted this Pravargya ritual in the seals. The royal and Somayajña are rare now for neither the royal families exist nor the Soma plant. However, the domestic or Gṛhya rituals like Śrāddha Karmas (death rituals) and the Ṣoḍaśa Saṁskāra (social observances) are very much alive and observed by every family in India.
Every religion, born or adopted in a country leaves its imprint among the followers and especially the death rituals are unique to every religion. Even to this day Hindus are very much the followers of Vedic rituals, the Yajña, the same Vedic Mantras are recited in the same metre that existed then. The death rituals, the Śrāddha – post death rituals also mostly the same as depicted in seals, and is definitely the unique pattern that does not exist in any other part of the world. The imprints of Vedic practises are practised only in India.
Of the 165 seals that are analysed in this book,I showcase the analysis of a seal which depicts the conceptualised picture of pitr in sraddha related seals.
Representation of Pitṛ in seals
The concept of superhuman status of God / deity and the lower form of Preta and spirits and the still lower class of demons all emerged on the karma theory or the actions performed in human status. All three – the deity, the Pitṛ, and the demons, had to be in human form that was mandatory to perform actions, the good actions of Satchetana of positive nature were promoted to deity status. Moreover, the wicked and bad ones who ate human flesh were demons, like Vṛtta, Vāla, etc. Ṛgveda 5.20.1 has many hymns with this theory.
In the Indus seals the Preta – the bodies after death are depicted differently from the dead persons after one year and entering into Pitṛ Loka. After death, Pitṛ were offered food in the Śrāddha rituals, and later were invited to consume Soma juice.
Ṛgveda 10.15.6, about fathers’ quotes about their posture also:
“Bowing your bended knees and seated southwards, accept this sacrifice of ours with favour.
May they fathers worthy of Soma, invited to their favourite oblations Laid on sacred grass come neigh and listen.”

The Pitṛ are always depicted in a sitting posture on the tree with the weight on one leg. The arms are outstretched and the fingers are depicted as bifurcated in two parts. The Pretātma was believed to be having bondage with the humans for the first twelve days after death. When the emotional bondage shredded they were called Pitṛ. Pitṛ, who have endured the journey to the upper world are depicted in human form, in a specific sitting posture on the branch of silk cotton tree. They are depicted with bifurcated hand structure and extra-long arms that are stretched. Many Ṛgveda verses say how Pitṛ can reach the offerings offered to them by their sons, and collect the essence of Piṇḍa from their abode. They were also offered the Soma juice, a favourite of Pitṛ.

All seals with Pitṛ are depicted sitting on the branch of the tree, are presented in human form with extra-long stretched arms with hands in Pitṛtīrtha. It is the way of mane’s hand, where the part of the hand between the thumb and the forefinger is parted, a hand gesture through which water is offered for the Pitṛ. The rituals related to Pitṛ –the Pitṛyajña was a sort of energy exchange at two levels. Many seals reveal about the history of Ṛgvedic beliefs and ritual practises regarding death and worship of ancestors.
The topic of Yajña, the hymns, its metre, the accessories used and preparation of Yajña arena are oceanic in contents. The research work narrated in this book is the understanding of each symbol, and what it communicates when presented in a series. This new interpretation provides a logical continuity and helps to read the Yajñic rituals that are depicted in the seal with some amount of coherency.
An attempt is made here to know the three major classifications of Yajña, followed by its seven groups called Saṁstha and correlated with the seals. Over 160 seals has been analysed in the C section of this book. The reading of many more seals can be interpreted with the help of the 260-symbol analysis provided in the Section B of this book.
This book is an independent research in understanding what the seal communicates, may prove as the first step in this new approach of understanding Indus seals.

Out of India, to Australia

Australia was populated by modern humans around 47,000 years ago. Then, 4000 years back, the dingo reached Australia suggesting another movement of people which bought changes in language and tools. There were studies which showed that the Aboriginal Australians descended from populations in India and Sri Lanka in the time frame (1300 – 13,000 years back), but were these the people who took the dingo to Australia?
Two pieces of evidence suggested that it was so

  1. There is definitely an Indian component in Aboriginal Australian genes
  2. Analysis of the Y chromosome lineage found that the common ancestor lived around 5000 years back, to the time of Indus-Saraswati civilization.

A new study reveals that the divergence time between Australians and Indians occurred not 5000 years back, but around 54,000 years back.

Image source: Deep Roots for Aboriginal Australian Y Chromosomes by Bergstrom et al.

To understand this, one has to look at the journey of man from Africa. The path of the initial migrants was from Africa via the Middle East through India to rest of the world including Europe and Australia. A great visualization for this movement can be seen at the Bradshaw Foundation.
via the Bradshaw Foundation

The paper concludes

Here, we sequence 13 Aboriginal Australian Y chromosomes to re-investigate their divergence times from Y chromosomes in other continents, including a comparison of Aboriginal Australian and South Asian haplogroup C chromosomes. We find divergence times dating back to 50 kya, thus excluding the Y chromosome as providing evidence for recent gene flow from India into Australia [Deep Roots for Aboriginal Australian Y Chromosomes]


Five ancestral components of India

According to a new paper, India did not have just two ancestral components, but five. Here is the summary

India, occupying the center stage of Paleolithic and Neolithic migrations, has been underrepresented in genome-wide studies of variation. Systematic analysis of genome-wide data, using multiple robust statistical methods, on (i) 367 unrelated individuals drawn from 18 mainland and 2 island (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) populations selected to represent geographic, linguistic, and ethnic diversities, and (ii) individuals from populations represented in the Human Genome Diversity Panel (HGDP), reveal four major ancestries in mainland India. This contrasts with an earlier inference of two ancestries based on limited population sampling. A distinct ancestry of the populations of Andaman archipelago was identified and found to be coancestral to Oceanic populations. Analysis of ancestral haplotype blocks revealed that extant mainland populations (i) admixed widely irrespective of ancestry, although admixtures between populations was not always symmetric, and (ii) this practice was rapidly replaced by endogamy about 70 generations ago, among upper castes and Indo-European speakers predominantly. This estimated time coincides with the historical period of formulation and adoption of sociocultural norms restricting intermarriage in large social strata. A similar replacement observed among tribal populations was temporally less uniform.

On Madhavan of Sangamagrama

A while back, I wrote on Kerala Astronomers and Eurocentrism. In that article, I wrote about the Kerala School of Mathematics as well and provided a number of references at the end. One of the books I referred was The Crest of the Peacock: Non-European Roots of Mathematics by Dr. George Gheverghese Joseph. The Telegraph had an interview with him in which he expanded on this topic and talks about Madhava in detail.

His works laid the foundations of the Kerala school of mathematics which flourished between AD 1,300 and 1,700. But he was only part of the wider Indian school founded by Aryabhata who wrote the masterpiece Aryabhateeyam in AD 499. There are still differences over Aryabhata’s birthplace, whether it was in the north or the south of the country. Madhava’s contribution was his work on the infinite series. Though Newton and Leibniz are credited with the discovery of calculus, the fact is one of its critical strands had been developed in Kerala more than two centuries before that. The West has now recognised this and accordingly renamed certain results relating to the trigonometric series, previously known as the Newton, Gregory and Leibniz series, as the Madhava-Newton, Madhava-Gregory and the Madhava-Leibniz series, respectively.
The irony is that we still don’t know much about Madhava, the man himself. An eminent mathematician from Oxford, Marcus Du Sautoy, recently made a series of television programmes on the history of mathematics. I was consulted on those programmes relating to the history of Indian mathematics, including the remarkable work in Kerala. He was particularly interested in finding the physical location of Madhava and his main disciples to add some footage of film. When he asked me I was clueless and somewhat embarrassed. But now I’m told that he hailed from Sangamagrama, a medieval town in present-day Irinjalakuda in Thrissur district. It is a shame that there is no memorial plaque at the place which would certainly attract maths tourists.[Restoring India’s calculus crown]

In a personal email, Michel Danino notes that Dr. George G. Joseph isn’t the only scholar to have worked on the Kerala School of mathematics; recent contributors to the field include the late Prof. K.V. Sarma, Dr. C.K. Raju, Dr. M.D. Srinivas, Dr. M.S. Sriram and Dr. K. Ramasubramanian, among others.

Volcanoes: Mount Sinabung, Toba, Hasan Dağı, Pompeii


Mount Sinabung, Indonesia
Mount Sinabung, Indonesia

The above picture shows Mount Sinabung in  Indonesia’s North Sumatra province which has been erupting since last September. The Atlantic has 30 stunning photos of the January eruptions which show in detail the damage a volcano can cause and how it impacts human and animal life. Around 74,000 years back, there was a major volcanic explosion in Indonesia which caused a nuclear winter and a massive reduction in population. Though the destruction it caused was significant, people in Jwalapuram in Andhra Pradesh survived.
Though no one drew pictures of that eruption, one has been found of another one which happened in 6900 BCE, in the Hasan Dağı twin-peaks volcano located 130 km northeast of Çatalhöyük. A contemporary site to Mehrgarh, Çatalhöyük is one of the best preserved Neolithic settlements.
Rendering of a wall painting discovered at Shrine 14 during the original excavations of Çatalhöyük by British archaeologist James Mellaart in the 1960s and said to depict Hasan Dagi erupting. Image: John Swogger (Flickr, used under a CC BY-NC 3.0)

Though the interpretation that this was a depiction of a volcanic eruption was controversial, new studies have shown that the the painting was drawn during the time of the eruption and the artists may have witnessed the event.
Now if you want to experience a volcanic eruption in 3D, all you need is wait for the upcoming disaster-adventure movie, Pompeii

Indian History Carnival–72: Linguistics, Yaadhum,Soubise, Ahmed Khan, Robert Smith

  1. Geo Currents has a post on the Vexatious History of Indo-European Studies. Part II of this post looks at how Indo-European linguistics was misused by various ideologues

    As “race science” gained strength in late 19th century Europe, it faced a major obstacle in Indo-European philology. European racial theorists maintained a stark separation between the so-called Caucasian[1] peoples of Europe and environs and the darker-skinned inhabitants of South Asia, yet the philologists argued that Europeans and northern Indians stemmed from the same stock. Some of the early efforts to mesh the new racial ideas with linguistic findings were rather strained. The popular American writer Charles Morris, for example, argued in 1888 that races are divided on the basis of both language and physical type, which generally but not always coincide; he further contended that “the Aryan is one of these linguistic races” (p. 5) that had lost its original physical essence. The general tendency was to emphasize ever more strongly this supposed loss of “purity,” and thus for physical type to trump linguistic commonality

  2. Baradwaj Rangan writes about Yaadhum, a documentary on the identity of Tamil Muslims.

    Yaadhum is some sort of road movie, and Anwar’s stops along the way illuminate various aspects of Islam in the South and even Goa. He goes to Chola country, establishing the presences of Muslims through an inscription that refers to “Ahmed the Turk.” He goes to Kayalpattinam, which belonged to the Pandyas, and finds an almost 1000-year-old mosque to which additions have been made at different times. He narrates the history of the Tamil Muslims of Pulicat, most of whom are boat builders. He goes to Calicut, home of the Mapilla Muslims. Prof. MGS Narayanan, Director General, Centre for Heritage Studies, Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Govt. of Kerala, talks about a law which is supposed to have been passed by the Zamorin that at least one member of the fishermen families in Calicut must get converted to Islam so that there will be enough people to support naval warfare against the Portuguese who wanted to conquer Malabar in the 16th century. (Hindus were generally reluctant to go to sea.)

  3. How does a slave from West Indies end up in West Bengal in 1777?  Carnival contributor Fëanor has that story

    He racked up large debts which the Duchess continued to pay off. He maintained a house in town, was a favourite of Garrick, and appeared at theatre vastly perfumed. ‘I smell Soubise!’ would go the cry amongst the punters when he appeared. He was caricatured in the popular press (one print by Austin showed him squaring off against the Duchess in a public fencing match), and even had portraits sketched by Gainsborough. In 1777, following an accusation of rape, he either escaped or was exiled to Bengal. As a skilled equestrian, he was able to found a riding school in Old Calcutta. He also taught fencing, and for a time sold books, possibly the first reported African British bookseller.

  4. Blake Smith writes about Ahmed Khan who was stuck in Marseilles on his way to London in 1792. He was off to London to sue British traders in Bombay for not paying back the loans.

    Ahmed did not speak French—yet—but he did speak Persian, then the language of diplomacy, poetry, and prestige throughout the Subcontinent. So did Pierre Ruffin, the French government’s official translator of ‘Oriental’ languages, which, at the time, meant Arabic and Persian. Ruffin, who had survived the fall of his former employers, had been in office for over a decade. His moment of glory had come in 1788, when an embassy from Tipu Sultan, ruler of the southern Indian state of Mysore, arrived in Paris to seal an alliance against Britain.

  5. Malini Roy has a post on Robert Smith, who was one of the British soldier artists who lived in India in the 19th century

    Smith’s view of Allahabad, for instance, focuses on a strange looking hybrid of a building, which is referred to by Lord Moira in his journal entry for 27 September 1814: ‘A mosque of rather elegant structure stands on the esplanade beyond the glacis. When we obtained possession of Allahabad, the proprietary right in the mosque was considered as transferred by the former Government to ours; and from some temporary exigency, the building was filled with stores. These being subsequently removed, much injury, through wantonness or neglect, was suffered by the edifice; and upon some crude suggestion, our Government had directed it to be pulled down. … The Moslems now implored that the building might be regarded as a monument of piety, and be spared. I have ordered that it shall be cleansed and repaired, and then delivered over to the petitioners’

The next carnival will be up on Jan 15th. Please leave your links as comments to this post or via e-mail.