Indian History Carnival – 41: Vasco da Gama, Universal Hinduism, Ravi Varma, Babylon

The boy who wanted to kill Vasco da Gama
Poster of Urumi or The Boy Who Wanted to Kill Vasco da Gama (from Wikipedia)
  1. Koenraad Elst has a review of David Frawley’s Universal Hinduism (Voice of India, Delhi 2010),
  2. In Universal Hinduism (Voice of India, Delhi 2010), American scholar and Hindu convert David Frawley sets out to clear up this confusion. He takes the reader through the basic data that set Hinduism apart from the others, and specific Hindu schools from one another and from Buddhism. He also discusses what it has in common with the world’s eliminated and surviving Pagan religions, and sometimes with forms of Islam and Christianity too. In his typical kindly style, he gives every practice and every belief its due, but keeps his focus on the potential of Sanatana Dharma to heal modern society as well as to lead man to enlightenment.

  3. Anuraag mentions an Indian woman who ran an inn in Babylon in the 5th century BCE.
  4. Kish was the site of another intriguing find. A bronze chariot rein ring, which probably seems related to the African giraffe or a species of deer from Iran. Called Sivathere of Kish, it has been object of many studies – an unknown hoofed mammal of the Middle East. Initially thought to be related to the Sivatherium – a large, short-necked giraffid, originally described for S. giganteus from the Siwalik Hills of India.

  5. A major motion picture which is running to packed houses in Kerala is Santosh Sivan’s Urumi, set in the period when Vasco da Gama made his third voyage to India. The movie, it turns out, is not historical, but belongs to a category called alternate history. Arun Mohan writes about the historical inaccuracies in the movie.
  6. Likewise, the scriptwriters weren’t much aware of that, Guns and cannons were part of Kerala even when Portuguese first came to Kozhikode in 1498. Guns and cannons were introduced to Kerala, through Arab traders and Chinese. However the difference was, we had gun technology of 13th or 14th century even in 16th century as most of rulers didn’t invest much in improving new gunpowder technology. Rather focus and attention was developing on Kalaripayittu. In the movie, we are made to believe, Chirakkal Princess doesn’t know what to say for Gun and calls it as Thee Thuppi! Whereas the word Pirangi and Thokku etc were much in Malayalam dictionary even in 14th century. So why to use the word Thuppakki? In 1502, Zamorins had fired more than 1200 cannons against Portuguese ships. However the Portuguese had better range, more firing power and manuveourability which our cannons didn’t have that time.

  7. The event which sets the movie Urumi in motion is the massacre of 300 Muslims who were returning back from the Hajj. Maddy writes about the less mentioned violent streak of Vasco da Gama
  8. The meeting of the Portuguese armada and the pilgrim ship resulted in an event that can perhaps be called one of the cruelest actions in history, though it has been glossed over by people of that time and many years thereafter. Upon seeing the Meri, The Portuguese ships fired warning shots, but the pilgrim ship did not retaliate even though it had artillery. The ship was loaded with very rich people and 10 of the richest Muslims of Calicut were on board, led by Jauhar Al Faquih. Gama proceeded to negotiate with this man, who first offered money & spices, which was refused by Gama. He then offered Gama one of his wives, his nephew as ransom and offered to load 4 Portuguese ships with spices. These discussions went on for 5 days. He also offered to arrange friendship between Gama and the new Zamorin. Gama refused and demanded all the wealth on the ship. The proud Al Faquih responded by asking Gama to ask for it himself as he had taken over command of the ship. Gama did that and obtained much money and jewels and in return first provided five boats of food items. He then disarmed the ship and boarded it, ordering his men to set fire to various parts of the ship and after it had caught fire, sailed away. The valiant pilgrims somehow put out the fire, but seeing this, the Gama came back to finish it off.

  9. Sriram writes about how Ravi Varma made a name in Madras, based on Rupika Chawla’s book Raja Ravi Varma, Painter of Colonial India
  10. Ravi Varma became known to the citizens of Madras in 1874 when he entered his Nair Woman at her Toilette for display at the Fine Art Exhibition in the city. He was awarded a gold medal for this work and four years later, he arrived in the city, this time to attend the next Fine Art Exhibition where his Shakuntala Patralekhan (Shakuntala writing a letter) won a gold medal. The painting was also acquired by the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, who was then Governor of the Presidency. Buckingham was evidently very impressed with Ravi Varma’s work for two years later, he sat for a portrait of himself by the artist. He was now to be amazed by the speed with which Ravi Varma worked and noted “though he had given no less than 18 sittings to an eminent continental artist, he had not produced half so faithful a likeness as the Indian artist had done”.

If you find interesting blog posts on India history, please send it to @gmail or as a tweet to @varnam_blog. The next carnival will be up on June 15th.
Thanks: kupamanduka

Noisy Epics

The other day Amit at Digital Inspiration had a post about iSerenity, which “offers a relaxing web-based environment with soothing sounds and images designed to reduce stress and calm nerves.” If this site was available to ancient Babylonians and Sumerians, Western civilization would have got different myths.
The Babylonian epic Enuma Elis describes the reason for a major conflict – noise. Apsu, one of the primeval gods cannot sleep since his offsprings are making noise. So he has a simple solution: kill his noisy offsprings. The dossier containing this plan gets leaked and one of the offsprings, Ea, comes up with a brilliant solution: kill the person who is complaining. The offsprings win and Apsu gets killed.
Before the Enuma Elis, the Sumerians had a epic called Atra-Hasis. In this epic, the gods want to destroy humans because they have become noisy and the gods can’t get sleep. They try various tricks – plague, famine, and, drought; nothing works. The gods then take the draconian step of unleashing a flood. Again the dossier containing the plan gets leaked to Atra-Hasis by one of the gods, Enki. Thus Atra-Hasis builds a boat, carries animals and survives the flood which lasted seven days.
The Enuma Elis are Atra Hasis are important for their creation myths as well. In Enuma Elis, the creation of humans is a minor plot device. They were created by one of the gods, Marduk, to free gods from hard labor and this was the final act of creation. Atra-Hasis too explains how humans were created – from clay and wisdom. All these literary tropes, including that of a man surving the flood, were adopted by later near east religions.
References: MMW2 (Lecture 3), Enuma Elis , Atra-Hasis, Creation Stories of the Middle East By Ewa Wasilewska