Saturday South Asian Questions

  • Is there such a thing about a Deccan Culture? I don’t necessarily mean the “Dakhini” culture but an intermediate geo-cultural zone between North & South India.
  • As a corollary it’s a bit interesting that the “Dakhini” culture didn’t emerge as a binding agent quite in the same way as the Delhite-Hindustani one.
  • In the spirit of this thread about differences between North & South Karnataka; I was looking at the 50 state proposal in India. Does India need more states?
  • I was shocked to learn about “Gandhinagar“, which is the new capital of Gujarat. I do remember there was controversy to change the name of Ahmedabad but it seemed done and dusted.
  • My personal view is that it seems churlish and rather offensive to make a “Saffron” sister city to Ahmedabad but my view is that once again we must be grateful to QeA for avoiding cultural (if not physical) extinction.
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Book Review: India’s Wars. A Military History 1947-1971

 

India’s wars by Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam is a history of the wars (external wars, not counter-insurgencies) fought by the Indian army from 1947 to 1971. It is a pretty good summary, but does have it’s weaknesses.

The book starts with a bit of the “pre-history” of the Indian army. Interestingly Subramaniam chooses to highlight two distinct streams that he believes should get credit for the internal culture and ethos of the Indian army. One is obvious: the British Indian army, which was the parent organization that was split (unequally) between Pakistan and India to create the Indian army. The second is an angle that would not have been included by an official observer/author in 1950, but that has obviously grown since then to the point that a Pucca Air Marshal gives it near-equal billing in his book: i.e. the armies of the Marhattas and the Sikhs. I think this reflects contemporary politics and cultural arguments in India more than it reflects the reality of the Indian army from 1947 to 1971, but will be happy to be corrected by people who have better direct knowledge of the Indian army in that period. Anyway, the author gives a quick and very brief account of the British Indian army. The origins and growth of that force are dealt with very quickly and summarily, but there is more details about developments closer to 1947. This is not a book that is heavy on relevant numerical data (i.e. this is not the sort of book where you get tables showing “The caste/religious/ethnic composition of the British Indian army from X to 1947”) and this is a weakness that persists throughout the book; the author is not big on tables or data. Perhaps as someone who grew up with some of that history, I did not find it detailed or insightful enough, but most readers may not mind this omission too much. And even if you are a British Indian army brat, the sections on the origins of the Royal Indian Air Force and the Royal Indian Navy are likely to add to your knowledge. Incidentally, many of the early aviators in the Indian air force seem to have Bengali surnames; the author does not comment on this, but I wonder if anyone has more information about this. If you do, please add in the comments section.

Continue reading “Book Review: India’s Wars. A Military History 1947-1971”

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Between the saffron and scimitar

On my other weblog I have a post, On The Instrumental Uses Of Arabic Science, which reflects on the role that the idea of science, the Islamic world, and cultural myopia, play in our deployment of particular historical facts and dynamics. That is, an idea, a concept, does not exist on an island but is embedded in a cultural environment. Several different contexts.

My father is a professional scientist, and a Muslim who lives in the West. In our house there was always a copy of The Bible, the Qu’ran and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge. To those not convinced about the beliefs of Islam, as I never was, it was not a convincing book. But it played a particular role in my father’s life of the mind as both a Muslim and a scientist. Its arguments were less important in their detail than that a French scientist had written a book showing that Islam and science were compatible and that in fact, the Koran had prefigured scientific truths.

The intellectual achievements of medieval Islam, particularly the phase focused around the House of Wisdom, are a real thing in and of themselves. But more often they exist as tools for the implicit or explicit agendas of particular peoples with ends which are separate and distinct from an understanding of the past on its own terms.

For many Muslims, this period defines what Islam could have been. Should have been. More traditionalist Muslims will have a relatively understated take, and perhaps attribute the passing of this period due to external forces (e.g., the collapse of central authority by the end of the 9th century). More progressive Muslims will make a bolder claim, that Islam, that Muslims, made the wrong decisions internally (al-Ghazali often emerges as a villain).

A modernist, perhaps Whiggish, take would be that the 9th century of Islam was a “false dawn.” Illustrative of the acidic power of rationality, but an instance when it receded in the face of faith (the Mutazilites often become heroes in these tales). A more multiculturalist and contemporary progressive Western take would likely emphasize that Islamic cultural production was just as ingenious as that of the West, and its diminishment was due to the suffocating effect of colonialism.

But there are even more exotic takes one could propose. The shift from the Umayyads in Damascus to the Abbasids in Baghdad was a shift of the Islamic world from the west to the east. The prominence of Iranian culture during the latter period was palpable. The Caliph al-Mamun was half Iranian, and almost moved the capital of the Abbasids to Merv in Khorasan. The Barmakid family were ethnically Iranian, but also originally hereditary Buddhists. The historian of Central Asia, Christopher Beckwith, has alluded to an “Indian period” of Islamic civilization when the influence from Dharmic religion and Indian culture was strong. For example, Beckwith and others have argued that the madrassa system derives from that of Central Asian viharas.

But ultimately this post and this blog is not about Classical Islamic civilization and history. Rather, I want to pivot to the discussion of Islam and India.

This blog now gets in the range of the same amount of traffic as my other weblog. But a major difference is the source of traffic. About two times as many visitors to this weblog come from the USA as India. So Americans are dominant. But, on my other weblog, 15 times as many visitors come from the USA as India. Additionally, since this is a group weblog, I’m pretty liberal about comments, and so this weblog receives between 10 to 100 times as many comments as my other weblog. Obviously, since most people in the world are stupid, many of the comments are stupid. I try to ignore that.

Rather, let me focus on the “hot-button” issue of Islam and India, and how it impacts people here. In the comments of this weblog. Let’s divide the comment(ers) into two stylized camps. Or actually, one person and another camp. The person is commenter Kabir, who has taken it upon himself to defend the honor of Indo-Islamic civilization. On the face of it, that’s not a major problem, but he tends to take extreme offense and demand linguistic and topical policing that’s frankly rather obnoxious (this tendency extends beyond Islam, as he is a living personification of Syme). He’s a bully without the whip. Kabir is somewhat annoying, but I can honestly always just delete his comments. He’s one person.

Continue reading “Between the saffron and scimitar”

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Land of Devis and Ma-Jananis

There are few things that trigger me more into blood-pumping fury than when somebody claims how superior South Asian culture is in respecting women and blah blah family values. By South Asia, I mean India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. I do not want to take space venting my fury here because I primarily want to post the following Guardian article. However, I must write a few lines.

These words need not be said because they are generally well understood by all knowledgable people. South Asia has the world’s worst reputation of treating women. It has worst reputation of violence to women, disrespect to women, sexual objectification of women and just every-day, every hour awkward behaavior to women. It has such bad reputation that whenever a foreign girl, white, black, East Asian, latina, expresses interest in visiting South Asia, all South Asian friends immediately discourage her. Female stewards in international flights specially watch out for South Asian men for perverted behavior. And so on and on. In sum, South Asia has the shittiest culture for women. We can debate till cows come home whether Islam, Hinduism, Muslim occupation, British colonialism etc are to blame for this but there is no escaping what it is now.

Finally South Asia is home to the world’s largest industry of making utterly fake paens, hommages to women. Cue a Karan Zohar movie theme.

Nearly 40% of female suicides occur in India

Study indicates early marriage, male violence and patriarchal culture are to blame

Nearly two in every five women in the world who kill themselves are Indian, according to a Lancet study published this week that says the country’s suicides rates constitute a public health crisis.

The rate of Indian women who die by suicide has fallen since 1990, but not as fast as elsewhere in the world, and now represents 36.6% of global female suicide deaths, the report in the UK medical journal found.

Indian women who died by suicide were more likely to be married, to be from more developed states and, by a large margin, aged below 35.

“It shows girls in India are in serious trouble,” said Poonam Muttreja, the executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a public health group.

She and other specialists blamed the trend on early marriage – one-fifth of Indian women still marry before the age of 15 – along with male violence against women and other symptoms of a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture.

The suicide rate among Indian women was three times higher than what might be predicted for a country with similar geography and socio-economic indicators, the researchers said.

“Our social norms are very regressive,” Muttreja said. “In the village, a girl is called her father’s daughter, then she is her husband’s wife, and when she has a son, she is her son’s mother.”

Muttreja said research carried out by her organisation had shown that 62% of surveyed women believed it was legitimate for their husbands to beat them.

The researchers speculated the link between suicide and marriage was due to the burdens of youth motherhood, the low social status afforded to wives in some households, the lack of financial independence and exposure to domestic violence.

“The disproportionately high suicide deaths in India are a public health crisis,” the authors, who are mostly affiliated with Indian public health research groups, said.

Around one in four men in the world who die by suicide are Indian, roughly the same proportion as in 1990, the study said.

Suicide was also the leading cause of death for young people of both genders but was worse for women.

The study noted that suicide had recently been decriminalised, so there was a possibility the true rate could be even higher but hidden by families and doctors for fear of stigma or police interference.

  • https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/13/nearly-two-out-of-five-women-who-commit-suicide-are-indian

 

 

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The Muslim intrusion into India was probably inevitable

Taking after Edward Gibbon it is often stated in some histories that the Islamicization of Europe was probably prevented by the defeat of the Muslim armies coming up from Spain by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours.

This is probably wrong for several reasons. First, with hindsight, it seems clear that people like to anchor on salient contingent events which seem plausible bifurcations in our timeline. This is a cognitive bias. The fact is that sally north of the Pyrenees into Francia was probably simply a probing raid, not the precursor to a full-scale invasion. At least that is the impression given by the Muslim textual records, which barely mention this battle (in contrast to the second Siege of Constantinople, which had occurred a few decades earlier). A raid is not a campaign.

Additionally, Muslim armies and corsairs operated north of the Pyrenees and in what became southern France for several centuries after 732. The defeat at the Battle of Tours was simply another battle in the gradual rollback of Islamic depredations in the Western Mediterranean. Perhaps more important was the shift of the world-wide Islamic polity eastward with the emergence of the Abbasids in 750, and the detachment of western Muslim domains from Abbasid authority (a renegade Umayyad even reigned in Spain!).

Finally, limits of supply-lines and ecological constraints probably meant that a protracted campaign in Europe would have met difficulties that were less relevant for North Africa and Spain. The conquest of North Africa and Spain occurred in less than a generation (the conquest of the Maghreb was an opportunity opened during a period of tumult in Byzantium in the late 7th century) and were still recent when the Battle of Tours occurred. Additionally, ecologically North Africa and much of Spain were familiar to the Arabs, and in the latter case Berbers. This is not the case with Francia and much of Northern Europe. It is not well known, but Arab armies sallied north of the Caucasus into the territory of the Khazars for several centuries, but ultimately failed in permanent conquests, probably in part due to lack of preparation and experience with harsh cold (the lack of fitness of Arab armies for the harsh winters is noted in the texts).

Remember that the conquest of much of the more frigid regions of peripheral Europe occurred under the Ottoman Turks, who were culturally an Inner Asian people from Siberia.

Which brings us to India and the beginning of widescale Muslim intrusions under Mahmud of Ghazni. I immediately pointed out below that the true conquest, as opposed to raiding, did not occur until the late 12th century. But, to be honest, I think this is a minor detail, and the fact is that Muslim incursions were inevitable, and probably like to succeed to some extent, no matter the outcome of a particular battle.

The key here is less about Islam, and more about the period between 500 AD and 1500 AD, and what you see across Eurasia in terms of the balance of power between mobile people from Inner Asia, and the agricultural civilizations. In books as distinct as War! What Is It Good For? and Strange Parallels the authors observe that in the period after 500 AD, until the rise of “gunpowder empires”, pastoralists from the Inner Asian steppe were dominant, destructive, and overwhelming military forces (the Mongol conquests were the apotheosis, but not exceptional).

In Strange Parallels, the author reminds us that only a few societies among the Eurasian oikoumene polities avoided major shocks from pastoralists. Mainland Southeast Asia, Japan, and the far west of Europe were insulated from their depredations by and large.* The reason for this was almost certainly geography: Japan was separated by a sea from the mainland, while Southeast Asia and Western Europe were ecologically difficult for pastoralists to penetrate as well as distant. In “mainland Europe” the settlement of the Hungarian basin by repeated groups of steppe pastoralists, beginning with the Scythians and ending with the Magyars, is partly a function of the fact that its broad flat expanses were the westernmost suitable pastorage for large herds of horses typical on the Eurasian steppe.

In the centuries after 500 AD, most of the major civilizations of Eurasia were impacted by migrations of nomads seeking greener pastures. In China, the northern half of the country was occupied by various groups of Turkic origin between the Han and Sui-Tang. The southern half the country maintained local rule, in part because of the difficulty of penetration by pastoralists of the Yangzi basin. In the Near East, Persia was buffeted by both Inner Asians from the north, and Arabs from the southwest. The Arabs conquered Persia and severely diminished Byzantium. Like China, the persistence of part of Byzantium is probably due to geography: Constantinople occupied a strong position on the other side of Bosporus and could be provisioned by sea when encircled. The Persian heartland was much more exposed to the Arab advance (in contrast, the conquest of Turan took many centuries).

Which brings us to India. The pastoralist eruptions that impacted Persia also affected India. But, the initial impacts were of more political than cultural relevance. Groups like the Huna were absorbed into the South Asian cultural matrix.

The arrival of the Turks and Afghans after 1000 AD was different. These people, now Muslims, were not absorbed into the South Asian cultural matrix. The reason is obvious: with Islam, they had their own high culture, one which was assimilative insofar as native converts could be somewhat integrated into the ruling class, and unassimilable from the perspective of native elites due to its ideological and ritual predelictions.

There is here a contrast to the Mongols who conquered China in the 13th century, and the Manchus who conquered it in the 17th century.

First, the raw numbers of Mongols and Manchus in comparison to Chinese was probably far less than the potential mobile Muslim populations which might have settled in India. In fact, Mongols who migrated west were eventually all assimilated into the Turkic or Persian cultural context due to the force of numbers (though they often retained genealogical awareness of part Mongol origins, as the Hazara and Timurids both did despite a Persian and Turkic cultural background).

Second, neither the Mongols or Manchus brought a hegemonic and oppositional high culture. The Mongols were predominantly shamanists, though a minority were Eastern Christians (Kubilai Khan’s mother was a member of the Church of the East, as was the norm among her tribe of Turks), and some were Muslims (the mass conversion of the Mongols to Buddhism occurred in the 16th century, prior to which they dabbled in Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, as well as their dominant shamanism). The Manchus generally favored shamanism, or, as was the norm among northern border peoples in China, a form of Buddhism. Neither of these prevented assimilation to the Chinese substrate, a major problem for the Manchus over the centuries (like Mongol ancestry, in today’s China “Manchu” national origin is more a matter of genealogy than culture, as the Manchu language is now moribund, only a few thousand out of millions of Manchu speak it).

In regard to India I want to pinpoint a few key issues:

  1. Starting around 1000 AD the whole zone of pastoralist western Inner Asia began to adopt Islam as its standard religious ideology. To a great extent, West Asian Muslim societies were captured by Inner Asians, and they served Inner Asian aims and goals. Societies such as Egypt were ruled for a thousand years by Inner Asians, who created a Mamluk system which depended upon continuous migration and recruitment from Inner Asia.
  2. India was arguably more “exposed” to this culture than China due to geography. While Inner Asians adjacent to Muslim West Asia adopted Islam, those nearest to China tended to be shamanist or Buddhist (Magyars and Bulgars adopted Western and Eastern Christianity respectively).
  3. Mobile Inner Asians, of any religion, were “natural” soldiers (though to be fair, it seems a consistent pattern that Inner Asians, such as Mongols, who were shamanist were less “civilized” and often better soldiers than those who converted to “higher religions”). In the period between 500 AD and 1500 AD mobile mounted warriors had major advantages in continuous warfare against settled peoples. The main way that settled societies held the pastoralists in check was through bribery or co-option, or both. The Byzantines and Chinese deployed both, elevating frontier peoples with mobile fighting skill to their ruling castes, as well as paying nomadic groups tribute. By and large West Asian Muslim societies co-opted and were conquered by Turks (or their Caucasian federates).
  4. India was subject to the same dynamic as West Asian societies: pastoralists from Inner Asia continuously migrated into the subcontinent for opportunities of exploitation and domination down to the early colonial period. Each wave of migrants was more “raw,” and brought alien and alienated sensibilities, to the subcontinent.

In discussions with individuals of South Asian origin, there is some exploration of the possibility that Indians, Hindus, were naturally a less vigorous and martial people than Muslims. That Islam was a muscular and masculine ideology, while Hinduism was feminine and passive (Hindu nationalism then emerging through some dialectical process as a superior synthesis; muscular, masculine, and Hindu).

I believe that this analysis suffers mostly from the issue of confounds. In the period after 1000 AD with the exception of the Mongols under Genghis Khan, the Inner Asian intruders were all Muslim because they were drawn from the broad zone of Inner Asia where Islam was the dominant high culture. The reality is that after 1000 AD Iranian speaking peoples also were dominated by numerically smaller groups of Inner Asians. Reza Shah in the 20th century was the first major ethnic Iranian founder of a dynasty to dominate most of Iran since the Buyids and Samanids.

The difference between Iran and India is that the former eventually became majority Muslim, while the latter remained majority non-Muslim. Iran’s relative pliability can even be seen in sect, as the Turco-Kurdish Safavids forcibly converted the Persians from their predominant practice of Sunni Islam to Twelver Shia Islam in the 16th century. But of course, demographics is an important variable here. There were probably always an order of magnitude more Indians than Iranians. In Turan Turkic languages became dominant, and in Iran proper, they remain a substantial minority. In India, Turkic languages never took hold, presumably because the numbers were never sufficient. An analogy here might be made with Egypt, where the Mamluk caste drawn from non-Arabs eventually Arabicized in language and identity.

As a follow-up to my post, India as a hydra against Islam, I will suggest then a two things:

  1. India is not comparable to West Asia because it is a more robust civilization with more demographic heft. Like parts of Europe it “absorbed” the Islamic demographic impact without being totally captured. The difference here is not qualitative, but quantitative. There were so many more Indians than Iranians that erosion of indigenous culture took much longer and was never complete.
  2. Unlike parts of Europe which absorbed the Inner Asian shock, such as Russia, India never managed to reorganize and turn the tide. To some extent, the Russians adopted Inner Asian tactics with their Cossack bridges (some of the Cossacks were assimilated Muslim Tatars).

But, the emergence of the Maratha in the 18th century and the Sikh Empire in the 19th century, illustrate that a South Asian counter-reaction was occurring eventually. The reality is that this period saw the decline of Inner Asian military superiority because of mass mobilization of infantry with shock weapons (guns, artillery), which were finally decentering mounted warriors after nearly 1,500 years of supremacy. Though the later Mughals relied on cadres of Inner Asians, they were fundamentally a “gunpowder empire”, and the logic of mass mobilization means that it is unlikely that in the long term a culturally alienated elite could have persisted. The French republican armies’ defeats of rival powers showed European nation-states the power and necessity of mass mobilization.

Several years ago an Indian American friend of Hindu nationalist sympathies expressed to me the opinion that if it weren’t for the arrival of the British, the Marthas might have spearheaded the emergence of a new Indo-centric polity. At the time I was skeptical because Indians lacked access to horses, which gave Inner Asians an advantage. But now seeing the logic of massed infantry with guns, it does seem that the Inner Asian, and therefore Muslim, the advantage would eventually have given away to the force of numbers.

Of course, we’ll never get to see how history would have turned out. The British had different plans.

Note: This post was inspired by my reading of Imperial China 900-1800.

Addendum: I won’t tolerate stupid comments on this post in the beginning. Please understand that if I delete I think your comment was stupid. Perhaps you are smart, so try harder!

* The Mongol directed invasions of Japan, Burma, and Java, were arguably less a function of steppe pastoralism, than the militaristic Yuan co-opting and projecting the force capabilities of the Chinese state system.

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The Kashmiri who failed India

This is the abridged version – based on Auriel Stein’s reading – of the early verses of book VII of Kalhana’s Rajatarangini with some supplementary commentary/detail enrichment. The referenced text describes the fated final battle between Mahmud of Ghazni and the (Hindu) Shahis of Udhbandhapura (modern day Hund, in the Swabi district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) under Trilochanapal from the Kashmiri POV. Kashmiri feudals played a major role in this battle, and one of their own, Tunga, a Khakha Rajput from Poonch was specifically responsible for losing the initiative and the battle. This resulted in the complete destruction of the Shahis and ultimately opened the way for Ghaznavid (and many more) Turkic incursions into India proper.


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Why India looks West not East

Razib asks the important question as to why India doesn’t look toward China. I can think of 3 reasons why:

(1.) The Sindhis of HK are deeply linked into the Chinese marketplace. Some of them speak excellent Cantonese/Mandarin however the Sindhis follow a generic Americanised TKC template rather than anything local. They speak to each other in English and when they do marry/interact with Chinese in personal matters most of the time it is in English. The Sindhi diaspora are an excellent barometer of where India will go. They have sufficient ties to the Motherland, open-minded (moreso than the Gujarati and Punjabi communities in the UK) and they dance between their their Karachi-esque hubs; Dubai, HK & London. Mumbai of course is their global capital post 1947.

As an aside it’s astonishing how Sindhis try to replicate Sindh/Karachi abroad and for some Dubai hits that sweet spot. I’ll expand on this in a later post.

(2.) I was looking at the facebook post of an old contact of mine. He’s related to Saif through the Bhopali line (and I think he has connections to the Hyderbadi families; the surname is sufficiently militaristic). At any rate he posted this on his profile:

Image may contain: 1 person, riding a horse, horse, text and outdoor

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling

The Headmaster of Doon is of Coloniser Stock. It’s difficult to move away from the West when all of your great institutions remain captive. Pakistan had an English headmaster who was lauded for not leaving so both countries are to some extent mentally colonised.

After the jump is my treat to BP reader; no prizes for guessing what point 3 is going to be all about..

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Thoughts on Section 377

I don’t usually like to type out posts on my cell but I’ll make an exception this time.

I first came to know about this on Karan Johar’s Instagram Feed then all the celebs followed.

India and Pakistan are going off on different trajectories. I do generally applaud the Indian model but does one have to be Western to be wealthy?

As a personal aside I’m generally in favour of licentiousness but I find the perennial identity wars in the West to be tiresome. It’s probably a side effect of the intense loneliness that liberal hyper capitalism brings about.

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The Roots of Indo-Iranian cultural genesis

Here is my take on the significance of South Asian aDNA from Eastern Iran and Central Asia during the Bronze Age –

The Chalcolithic contacts between South Asia and regions immediately to its East & North i.e. Eastern Iranian cultures such as Jiroft or Halil Rud (from sites such as Jiroft & Konar Sandal) & Helmand (Shahr-i-Sokhta) as well as Central Asia (from sites such as Geoksiur or Sarazm) are not so well documented. This is an unfortunate lacunae that needs to be filled up in the near future because the Chalcolithic appears to be a critical phase where the communication channels within this vast region are likely to have become more intensified leading to a process of urbanism and continuing well upto the downfall of these urban civilizations.

Nevertheless, there are some tantalising and very important clues for this period that can have larger repurcussions as more research is done but I will come to that later.

Let me first point out the archaeological and genetic evidence we have for the 3rd millenium BC.

First let us note the evidence of interaction between the Helmand civilization (exemplified by sites such as Shahr-i-Sokhta & Mundigak)

A series of artefacts found at Shahr-i Sokhta and nearby sites (Iranian Seistan) that were presumably imported from Baluchistan and the Indus domain are discussed, together with finds from the French excavations at Mundigak (Kandahar, Afghanistan) that might have the same origin. Other artefacts and the involved technologies bear witness to the local adaptation of south-eastern manufactures and practices in the protohistoric Sistan culture. While the objects datable to the first centuries of the 3rd millennium BCE fall in the so called “domestic universe” and reflect common household activities, in the centuries that follow we see a shift to the sharing of luxury objects and activities concerning the display of a superior social status; but this might be fruit of a general transformation of the archaeological record of Shahr-i Sokhta and its formation processes.

The above is part of the abstract from this paper –

https://www.harappa.com/sites/default/files/pdf/Indus-helmand2.pdf Continue reading “The Roots of Indo-Iranian cultural genesis”

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