Last Will of Guru Gobind and Emperor Aurangzeb

From @parikramah ‘s blog, some comments on the last will and testament of Guru Gobind and Emperor Aurangzeb.  (I am mostly interested in the two wills and posted those here.. if you are interested in the dharmic vs adharmic discussion you can to to the link above for the full post)

Fatehnamah – A Tale of two Wills

Guru Gobind had earlier written in the Zafarnama

چه ها شد که چون بچگان کشته چار
که باقی بماند است پیچیده مار
che ha shod keh chon bachegaan koshteh chaar
keh baaqi bemaand ast peycheedeh maar

“What happened that you have killed four children (my sons, the sahibzadas)? For the coiled snake (in the form of my Khalsa) still remains…”

It is interesting that the Ten Gurus of Sikhism spanned an epoch of India’s recent history that coincided with the Moghal dynasty. Guru Nanak was imprisoned by the invader Babur, the first Moghal. And Guru Gobind Singh faced off with Aurangzeb, who died rather pathetically shortly thereafter. The Last Guru was called Sacha Patshah (The True Emperor) by Indians at that time, while Aurangzeb isn’t.

It is just 24 verses, the Guru boldly declares the facts of time, and is still advising and admonishing Aurangzeb. Its remarkable that, having just escaped against overwhelming odds from a siege and assassination attempt, the Guru was able to write – in verse no less! – to his persecutor and the murderer of his father and sons, with words of wisdom and warning. He was still willing to meet with the old Moghal and accept his apologies. There can be no doubt who is Guru here.

به نام خداوند تیغ و تبر
خداوند تیر و سنان سپر
be naam e khodaavand e tegh o tabar / khodaavand e teer o sanaan o separ!

1. In the Name of the Lord of the sword and shield! Lord of arrow, battleaxe and spear!

خداوند مردان جنگ آزما
خداوند اسپان پا در هوا
khodaavand e mardaan e jang-aazmaa / khodaavand e aspaan paa dar havaa!

2. Lord of those men that try the test of battle! Lord of their horses that fly through the air!

همان کو ترا پادشاهی بداد
بما دولت دین پناهی بداد
hamaan koo toraa paadshaahi bedaad / bemaa dowlat e deen-panaahi bedaad!

3. The same Lord that granted you a material kingdom, To me He entrusted the protection of the Dharma.

ترا ترک تازی با مکر و ریا
مرا چاره سازی با صدق و صفا
toraa Tork-Taazi ba makr o riyaa / maraa chaareh-saazi ba sedq o safaa!

4. Whereas you engaged in plunder by deceit and hypocrisy, To me was left the responsibility of creating the Way of truth and purity!

[Note: The word Tork-Taazi, which literally means “Turk-Arab” in Farsi, but is a term used to mean plunder and vandalism, pillage and rape in that language.]

نه زیبد ترا نام اورنگزیب
ز اورنگزیبان نه یابد فریب
na zeebad toraa naam e Aurangzeb / ze aurangzeebaan na yaabad fareeb!

5. The name “Aurangzeb” does not befit you, Since one doesn’t find fraud in that which is supposed to bring “honor to the throne”!

تسبیحات از شجه و رشته بیش
کزان دانه سازی وزان دام خویش
tasbeehat az shojeh o reshteye beesh / kazaan daaneh saazi vazaan daam e kheesh!

6. Your rosary is nothing more than tangled beads and thread, With every movement of your beads you only expand your snare of entanglements!

[Note: Here the Guru is referring to the test of sanity of will and purpose. It is an inferred fact that Aurangzeb would have not been able to experience any peace and bliss in his tasbeeh (japa), even if he carried one wherever he went. He may have clung to it for a sense of security, but there was no immediate experience of bliss in it, nor any clarity and ability gained from it. For Aurangzeb, the Holy Name was a co-dependency. For the Guru, it was a relationship based on pan-determinism.

A dharmaarthic system should foster pan-determinism between individual contributors, not co-dependency on or between elites and subjects.]

تو خاک پدر را با کردار زشت
با خون برادر بدادی سرشت
to khaak e pedar ra ba kerdaar e zesht / ba khoon e baraadar bedaadi seresht!

7. Your nature and disposition is from your grisly deeds, Moulded by the dust of your father and the blood of your brothers.

وزان خانه خام کردی بنا
برای در دولت خویش را
vazaan khaaneye khaam kardi banaa / baraaye dar e dowlat e kheesh ra!

8. And from that (by imprisoning your father and murdering your brothers) you have laid a weak foundation for your kingdom.

من اکنون با افضال پرش اکال
کنم ز آب آهن چنان برشگال
man aknoon ba afzaal e Purush e Akaal / konam ze aab e aahan chonaan barshgaal

9. “Now by the grace of the Eternal Oversoul (Akaal Purush), I have made the water of steel (Amrit for my warriors) which will fall upon you like a torrent.”

که هرگز از آن چاردیوار شوم
نشانی نماند بر این پاک بوم
ke hargiz az aan chaardeevaar e shoom / neshaani namaanad bar een paak boom!

10. And with this torrent your sinister castle will vanish from this holy land without a trace!

ز کوه دکن تشنه کام آمدی
ز میوار هم تلخ جام آمدی
ze kooh e dakkan teshneh-kaam aamadi / ze mewaar ham talkh e jaam aamadi

11. You came thirsty (defeated) from the mountains of Deccan; the Rajputs of Mewar have also made you drink the bitter cup (of defeat).

[Note: Throughout the ten-generation span of the Gurus, they took a pan-Indic view in terms of political and social mobilization, and even the panj-piare came from all parts and strata of society. In ideological and spiritual terms, they took a global view, as Guru Nanak did.]

بر این سو چون اکنون نگاهت رود
که آن تلخی و تشنگی ات رود
bar een soo chon aknoon negaahat ravad / ke aan talkhi o teshnegee at ravad

12. Now you are casting your sight towards this side (the Punjab). Here also your thirst will remain unquenched.

چنان آتش زیر نعلت نهم
ز پنجاب آبت نه خوردن دهم
chonaan aatash e zeer n’al at naham / ze panjaab aabat na khordan daham

13. I will put fire under your feet when you come to the Punjab and I will not let you even drink water here.

چه شد گر شغال با مکر و ریا
همین کشت دو بچه شیر را ؟
che shod gar shaghaal ba makr o riyaa / hameen kosht do bacheye sher ra?

14. What is so great if a jackal kills two cubs of a tiger by deceit and cunning?

چون شیر ژیان زنده ماند همی
ز تو انتقام ستاند همی
chon sher e zhiyaan zendeh maanad hamee / ze to enteqaam setaanad hamee!

15. Since that formidable tiger is still alive, he will definitely extract revenge on you!

نه دیگر گرایم با نام خدا ات
که دیدم خدا و کلام خدا ات
na deegar garaayam ba naam e khodaat / ke deedam khodaa va kalaam e khodaat!

16. I no longer trust you or your ‘God’ since I have now seen your ‘God’ as well as his Word.

با سوگند تو اعتبار نه ماند
مرا جز با شمشیر کار نه ماند
ba saugand e to e’tebaar na maanad / maraa joz ba shamsheer kaar na maanad

17. I do not trust your oaths any more and now there is no other way for me except to take up the sword.

توی گرگ باران کشیده اگر
نهم نیز شیر ظ دام بدر
tuye gorg e baaraan kesheedeh agar / naham neez sher ze daam bedar

18. If you are an old fox, I, too, will keep my tigers out of your snare.

اگر باز گفت و شنیدت با ماست
نمایم ترا جاده پاک و راست
agar baaz goft o shoneedat ba maast / namaayam toraa jaadeye paak o raast

19. If you come to me for detailed and frank talks, I shall show you the path of purity and truthfulness.

به میدان دو لشکر صف آرایی شوند
ز دوری به هم آشکارا شوند
be maidaan do lashkar saf-araee shavand / ze doori be ham aashkaaraa shavand

20. Let the forces from both sides array in the battlefield at such a distance that they are visible to each other.

میان هر دو ماند دو فرسنگ راه
جون آراسته گردد این رزمگاه
miyaan e har do maanad do farsang e raah / chon aaraasteh gardad een razm-gaah

21. The battle field should be arranged decoratively in such a manner that both the forces should be separated by a reasonable distance (of two furlongs).

از آن پس در آن ارصه کارزار
من آیم به نزد تو با دو سوار
az aan pas dar aan arseye kaarzaar / man aayam be nazd e to ba do savaar

22. Then I will advance in the battle field for combat with your forces along with two of my riders.

تو از ناز و نعمت ثمر خورده
ز جنگی جوانان نه بر خورده
to az naaz o ne’mat samar khordeh / ze jangi javaanaan na bar khordeh

23. So far you have been enjoying the fruits of a cosy and comfortable life but haven’t yet collided with fierce warriors (in the battle field).

به میدان بیا خود با تیغ و تبر
مکن خلق خلاق زیر و زبر
be maidaan biyaa khod ba tegh o tabar / makon khalq e khalaaq zir o zebar

24. Now come into the battle field with your weapons and stop tormenting the people who are the creation of the Lord.

According to internal Moghal reports, Aurangzeb was old and senile by this time. He had been a fratricidal bigot who acted on the encouragement of a jealous priesthood hardened by ethnic and theological differences. Apparently, he could not tell the difference between Dharma and Adharma, and so his sense of duty was imbued with this lack of ethical discrimination. He dies in the hope of redemption, and had even apologized and invited the Guru to come see him on his deathbed. Here is his last will and testament (link):

“Praise to be God and blessing on those servants [of Him] who have become sanctified and have given satisfaction [to Him]. I have some [instructions to leave as my] last will and testament:

FIRST – on behalf of this sinner sunk in iniquity [i.e. myself] cover [with an offering of cloth and capital] the holy tomb of Hasan (on him be peace), because those who are drowned in the ocean of sin have no other protection except seeking refuge with that Portal of Mercy and Forgiveness.

SECOND – Four Rupees and two annas, out of the price of the caps sewn by me, are with Aia Bega, the mahaldar. Take the amount and spend it on the shroud of this helpness creature. Three hundred and five Rupees, from the wages of copying the Quran, are in my purse for personal expense. Distribute them to the faqirs on the day of my death.

THIRD – Take the remaining necessaries [of my funeral] from the agent of Prince Alijah; as he is the nearest heir among my sons, and on him lies the responsibility for the lawful or unlawful [practices at my funeral]; this helpless person (i.e. Aurangzeb) is not answerable for them, because the dead are in the hands of the survivors.

FOURTH – Bury this wanderer in the Valley of Deviation from the Right Path with his head bare, because every ruined sinner who is conducted bare-headed before the Grand Emperor (i.e. God), is sure to be an object of mercy.

FIFTH – Cover the top of the coffin on my bier with the coarse white cloth gazi. Avoid the spreading of a canopy and uncanonical innovations like [processions of] musicians and the celebration of the Prophet’s Nativity (maulud)

SIXTH – It is proper for the ruler of the kingdom (i.e. my heir) to treat kindly the helpless servants who in the train of this shameless creature [Aurangzeb] have been roving in the deserts and wilderness [of the Deccan]. Even if any manifest fault is committed by them, give them in return for it gracious forgiveness and benign overlooking [of the fault].

[SEVENTH, EIGHT, NINTH – His assessment of the Irani, Turani, and the Saiyid nobles and his advice how to treat them keeping in mind their qualities and weaknesses.]

TENTH – As far as possible the ruler of a kingdom should not spare himself from moving about; he should avoid staying in one place, which outwardly gives him repose but in effect brings on a thousand calamities and troubles.

ELEVENTH – Never trust your sons, nor treat them during your lifetime in an intimate manner, because, if the Emperor Shah Jahan had not treated Dara Shukoh in this manner, his affairs would not have come to such a sorry pass. Ever keep in view the saying, ‘The words of a king are barren’.

TWELFTH – The main pillar of government is to be well informed in the news of the kingdom. Negligence for a single moment becomes the cause of disgrace for long years. The escape of the wretch Shiva took place through [my] carelessness, and I have to labour hard [against the Marathas] to the end of my life, [as the result of it].

Twelve is blessed [among numbers]. I have concluded with twelve directions. (Verse).
“If you learn [the lesson], a kiss on your wisdom.

If you neglect it, then alas! alas!”

Ahkam-i-Alamgir, (Eng. Tr. J.N. Sarkar, Text in Ir. Ms. 8b-10a).

There is another will of Aurangzeb in India Office Library MS.1344 p.49b (Sarkar, Aurangzeb, Vol.V, 201). Its chief interest lies in the suggested method of partitioning the empire among his three surviving sons.

Continue reading “Last Will of Guru Gobind and Emperor Aurangzeb”

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The Origins of the Neolithic in the Indian subcontinent

Last week was a good one for all those who had been waiting endlessly for the Rakhigarhi aDNA paper to see the light of day and also for the pre-print ‘The Genomic Formation of South & Central Asia’ to come out in a peer-reviewed journal.

Unfortunately, the talk around both these papers has quickly degenerated to only figuring out whether these papers support an Aryan Migration or whether they do not.

However, the combined data that has come out from these two papers is a treasure trove of information and this data has enormous implications for a lot of other theories of South Asian prehistory.

I wish to focus one post for each of these important discoveries starting with the important discovery about the antiquity of IVC ancestral population in South Asia and its implication for origins of farming in the region.

The graphical extract given above is quite self-explanatory. But let us also quote from the paper itself to re-inforce what the graphical extract implies :-

The Iranian-related ancestry in the IVC derives from a lineage leading to early Iranian farmers, herders, and hunter gatherers before their ancestors separated, contradicting the hypothesis that the shared ancestry between early Iranians and South Asians reflects a large-scale spread of western Iranian farmers east. Instead, sampled ancient genomes from the Iranian plateau and IVC descend from different groups of hunter-gatherers who began farming without being connected by substantial movement of people.

They elaborate on what the implications of this finding is –

Our evidence that the Iranian-related ancestry in the IVC Cline diverged from lineages leading to ancient Iranian hunter-gatherers, herders, and farmers prior to their ancestors’ separation places constraints on the spread of Iranian-related ancestry across the combined region of the Iranian plateau and South Asia, where it is represented in all ancient and modern genomic data sampled to date. The Belt Cave individual dates to 10,000 BCE, definitively before the advent of farming anywhere in Iran, which implies that the split leading to the Iranian-related component in the IVC Cline predates the advent of farming there as well…Thus, the Iranian-related ancestry in the IVC Cline descends from a different group of hunter-gatherers from the ancestors of the earliest known farmers or herders in the western Iranian plateau.

So the paper on the Rakhigarhi aDNA sample makes it abundantly clear that the geneticists find the Iran farmer/herder related ancestry in the IVC people to have split up from the actual Iranian farmers/herders atleast before 12,000 years ago. This is well before the origin of farming on the Iranian plateau. Therefore, the clear implication of this is that the Iranian Neolithic Farmers did not contribute ancestry to the ancestors of the Harappans but that the ancestors of Harappans and the early Iranian farmers/herders descend from a common ancestral source that existed more than 12 kya.

What was the place of origin of that ancestral source ? We do not know that as yet so to assume that it is coming from Iran, as some are doing, is not borne out by evidence. It may well have originated in South Asia before moving into Iran.

I have written at length on this topic at my blog.

Infact, the deep pre-Neolithic origins of Iran N like ancestry in South Asians was already becoming apparent that as early as 2011 when this major paper on South Asian populations made the following observation –

… regardless of where this component was from (the Caucasus, Near East, Indus Valley, or Central Asia), its spread to other regions must have occurred well before our detection limits at 12,500 years.

Even before this, in 2004, when a paper, by this very same Estonian team, on mtDNA lineages shared between Iran & South Asia had come out, it was already noted that the spread of shard mtDNA lineages between the two regions was quite old.

This separation between the South Asian & Iranian farmer/herder ancestry not just dates to before 12 kya but it likely dates to the very end of the Last Glacial Maximum, somewhere around 18-17 kya.

Figure 1

The above graphic shows the early split of mtDNA U7 across Eurasia. One can quite clearly see that the oldest splits seem to be between Iranian plateau & South Asia. This pattern is also observable for other shared mtDNA & y-dna lineages shared between these 2 regions. For more on this please refer to my blog.

Therefore, the Rakhigarhi provides one more line of evidence to re-inforce what was already evident from many previous studies on modern DNA, that the major portion of the shared ancestry between the Iranian plateau and South Asia was not brought into South Asia from Iran by the Iranian farmers but had separated from the ancestors of Iranian farmers/herders well before 12,000 years ago. With this Rakhigarhi paper getting such widespread coverage, one can only hope that from now on this fact will become known to much more people than it had been previously.

South Asian Neolithic

Since it has now become clear that there was no migration of early Iranian farmers into South Asia, so it has begun to be argued that farming must have been adopted by local NW hunter gatherers of South Asia through spread of ldeas from the fertile crescent.

While this is certainly plausible, it rests on the premise that farming began independently only once in the Fertile Crescent and it spread from there to everywhere else.

This is however not so straightforward. There are similarities at Mehrgarh with the Neolithic sites of the Eastern Fertile Crescent or the Iranian Neolithic but not with the Levant or Anatolian Neolithic. The archaeologist who discovered the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh and carried out decades of excavation over there, J F Jarrige, had this to say

The similarities noticed between Neolithic sites from the eastern border of Mesopotamia to the western margins of the Indus valley are highly significant. A sort of cultural continuum between sites sharing a rather similar geographical context marked with an also rather similar pattern of evolution and transformation becomes more and more evident. But the Neolithic of Mehrgarh displays enough original features to imply an earlier local background which has so far not been documented. Nevertheless the cultural dynamism shown by the inhabitants of Mehrgarh as early as level I of Period I indicate that the Neolithic of Balochistan cannot be interpreted as the “”backwater” of the Neolithic culture of the Near East. (link)

So indeed there are cultural similarities between the South Asian Neolithic and the West Iranian Neolithic and we know that the early farmers of both these regions were also separated from a common ancestor but the genetic evidence makes it clear that the common ancestor likely lived at the end of LGM aroynd 18 kya rather than the beginning of Neolithic around 9-8 kya.

It is not quite clear how the early South Asian & Iranian farmers interact or relate to each other during this Neolithic phase but it is quite clear that the early Iranian farmer was significantly different than the nearby farmers of the Levant & Anatolia both genetically and even culturally while he has much more in common with his much distant eastern cousins. Might not this imply that the origins of these Iranian farmers lay to the east close to its South Asian cousins ?

Jarrige provides several lines of evidence that suggest that the Neolithic in South Asia developed independently of West Asian input.

Lorenzo Costantini has shown that the plant assemblage of Period I is dominated by naked six row barley which accounts for more than 90% of the so far recorded seeds and imprints. He has also pointed out the sphaerococcoid form of the naked-barley grains with a short compact spike with shortened internodes and small rounded seeds. According to him, such characteristics in the aceramic Neolithic levels can be ascribed to probably cultivated but perhaps not fully domesticated plants. Domestic hulled six-row barley (H. vulgare, subsp. vulgare) and wild and domestic hulled two-row barley (H. vulgare subsp. spontaneum and H. vulgare subsp. distichum) have also been recorded, but in much smaller quantities. According to Zohary quoted by R.H. Meadow, the distribution of wild barley extends today to the head of the Bolan Pass. It is therefore likely that local wild barleys could have been brought under cultivation in the Mehrgarh area.

The main crop at Mehrgarh was barley by far and we see that there is enough evidence to suggest its local domestication from nearby wild varieties.

There is also genetic evidence to suggest two independent centers of barley domestication.

There has long been speculation that barley was domesticated more than once. We use differences in haplotype frequency among geographic regions at multiple loci to infer at least two domestications of barley; one within the Fertile Crescent and a second 1,500–3,000 km farther east. The Fertile Crescent domestication contributed the majority of diversity in European and American cultivars, whereas the second domestication contributed most of the diversity in barley from Central Asia to the Far East.

It is abundantly clear that the barley used by South Asian Neolithic farmers fits in very well with this second domestication scenario.

Jarrige also notes,

The presence of bones of relatively small subadult and adult animals in the trash deposits of the early levels confirms, according to R.H. Meadow, the domestic status of at least some of the goats. Meadow has also clearly shown that “” though in the course of Period I at Mehrgarh, the remains of sheep and cattle became to increasingly dominate the faunal assemblages of the successive strata, at the same time, the animal represented grew smaller in body size”. By the end of Period I, cattle bones amount for over 50% of the faunal remains. Osteological studies as well as clay figurines indicate that zebu cattle (Bos indicus) is well attested in Period I and became most probably the dominant form (Fig. 12). Mehrgarh provides us therefore with a clear evidence of an indigenous domestication of the South Asian zebu. We know today that Bos indicus and Bos Taurus, the non-humped bull from the Middle-East, have a different genetic origin. Therefore the assumption that farming economy was introduced full-fledged from Near-East to South Asia needs to be questioned.

The archaeological & genetic evidence therefore clearly implies a local domestication of indigenous cattle just as is the case with the domestication of barley. Even the goats and sheep were likely domesticated from local wild populations of the same. We may bear in mind that the Iranian Neolithic farmers were essentially goat herders and did not have cattle for a long period before it eventually came in from the Anatolian-Levant region. So they couldn’t possibly bring in the know-how or cattle domestication to South Asia.

With such an abundance of evidence at our disposal it becomes clear that the origins of Neolithic economy in South Asia can be attributed to local South Asian Hunter Gatherers, deeply related to Iranian farmers/herders, who started it by indigenous domestication of barley and cattle from local wild ancestors. So the only question that remains is whether the Neolithic technological knowledge came in from the Fertile Crescent.

That is difficult to answer, but we may end here by noting that in the case of the Near Eastern Neolithic, the transition from hunting gathering phase to the farming phase brought about an admixture of Iranian Farmer like admixture in the local Anatolian HGs. 

Fig. 2

In the above figure a, AHG is Anatolian HG while AAF is Anatolian Aceramic Farmer. We see from this graphic that, with a transition from AHG to AAF, we see that there is an influx of admixture into AAF which brings it slightly closer to Iranian Farmer & CHG ancestry. In contrast no such admixture is seen in South Asian farmers.

So might this indicate that the Neolithic technology spread from East to West ? Future research will surely shed more light on it but it should be clear to everyone that South Asia most likely was an independent and major center of Neolithic transition and deriving its origin from the Fertile Crescent looks rather unconvincing.

We may also look afresh at the question of origins of Central Asian Neolithic and whether it derived from Iranian Neolithic or South Asian Neolithic.

 

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The Sintashta were swarthy

One of the things that I’ve always been curious about is why some Indian populations are not fairer in complexion if they had so much steppe. The logic here is that the “most steppe population” are peoples such as the Lithuanians, and these are very fair-skinned groups. If, for example, North Indian Brahmins were ~30% steppe, and these steppe people looked like Lithuanians, wouldn’t we see more blondes in northern India?

I’ve posted on this before, but after today’s conversation with Vagheesh, I checked the data on his Sintashta samples on the Hiris-Plex pigmentation panel. Pigmentation prediction in ancient populations are pretty sketchy…but the Sintashta are actually not that different from many modern Northeast Europeans.

Spot-checking some major loci where Europeans are very distinct,  such as KITLG, OCA2-HERC2, and SLC45A2, it is clear to me that the Sintashta were much more darkly complected than modern Northern Europeans.

To give a concrete example, rs16891982 in SLC45A2 is at 2% minor allele frequency in British 1000 Genomes samples (3% in Tuscans, 18% in Spaniards). The minor allele frequency is 12.5% in 64 Sintashta chromosomes.

The derived SNP associated with blonde hair in Northern Europeans, and found at about 20% frequency in those populations, was found in none of the 32 calls where that position was returned.

I doubt the Sintashta were very dark. Rather, their pigmentation was probably more in the range of Southern Europeans like Sardinians if I had to bet.

(one of the implications here is that the results which indicate strong selection for lighter complexion in Northern Europeans into historical times are probably detecting something real)

Continue reading “The Sintashta were swarthy”

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Browncast Episode 66, ancient India and DNA with Vagheesh Narasimhan

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsyniTunesSpotify,  and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. I am toying with the idea of doing a patron Youtube Livestream chat, if people are interested, in the next few weeks.

Would appreciate more positive reviews!

This show is an interview with Vagheesh Narasimhan. The two papers are freely available at his website. Many of the papers mentioned are at the Reich lab website (free). We do mention a Southeast Asia ancient DNA paper that is from the Willerslev group.

I do recommend The Horse The Wheel and Language. It’s a little out of date but take it seriously, not literally.

Kushal Mehra’s interview with Niraj Rai worth a listen.

An article on the reception to the research within India.

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Kushal Mehra interviews Niraj Rai


Definitely watchable, and Kushal actually lets Niraj talk at length! Though the Hindi sections are Greek to me.

On the whole Rai and I agree on the genetic data. But there are disagreements that I have on interpretations of the words like “invasion.” I had long imagined the genetic and cultural impact of Aryans to be somewhere between the Anglo-Saxon and Vandals. In the former case, there was a large impact (though most of the genomes of modern Britons date to the pre-German Britons!). In the latter case, we have a historical record of a literal invasion, a folk-wandering of Vandals (along with a rump of the Alans) into North Africa. But the genetic and long-term cultural impact was minimal.

Finally, there is a lot of discussion about the R1a paper that Indian researchers have been working on for years showing lots of diversity within South Asia, and supposed basal lineages. This paper has been talked about for many years, so I’ll believe its publication is imminent when it is published.

Note: talking to Vageesh in 30 minutes.

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Calvinism, atheism, and Hinduism


A journalist associated with NPR made some prejudiced comments about Hinduism, and she is probably going to get in trouble. By the name, her background is that of a South Asian Muslim.

One of my immediate reactions is that this sort of comment about Hinduism is very common among South Asian Muslims. Growing up people would joke about Hindus drinking piss and obsessing over cow dung all the time. This is a widespread private comment, and this woman’s mask just dropped in public.

But, there is another aspect that emerged in discussion with a Hindu reader of this blog: the Muslims making these sort of jokes were not the very pious, but the more liberal and secular sort. Extremely religious Muslims did not talk about Hinduism in jocular terms, because they feared Hinduism.

This actually goes back something foundational in the Abrahamic religions, and that is the Hebrew suspicion and fear of foreign gods. Note that in the Hebrew Bible the Israelites repeatedly turned away from Jehovah, and sacrificed to the gods of the Canaanites. These religions and cults were tempting. The original Hebrews were clearly henotheistic, not monotheistic in a deep metaphysical sense. They did not reject the existence of other gods but were devoted to a particular god, their own tribal god.

In the Greco-Roman period, Jewish and Christian thought took the next step: they demonized the gods who were not their God. When I say they demonized the gods who were not their God, I mean demonized in a literal sense. The early Christians believed that the pagans worshipped demons, who were deceiving humans as to their true nature. These religions were not false religions because people worshipped the non-existent, but because they worshipped evil or deceptive beings who were not the true God.

There are still Christians who hold to the old ways. Some evangelical Protestants believe they are in a spiritual “war” with devils who are all around us. Which brings me to Calvinism. There is a line of argumentation that John Calvin and his heirs “rationalized” Christianity to such an extent that they drained the demons and supernatural from the universe. They were atheists and materialists except for the exception of their one God and his retinue.  This was a sharp break with the older Christian tradition, whereby the gods of other religions were false gods, but real gods (after a fashion).

I don’t know what I think about this argument, though it seems plausible. But, the sort of Muslim who makes fun of Hindus has been shaped by this way of thinking. They do not fear Hinduism. They do not think that Hindus believe in anything real. Their gods are no-gods. In contrast, many devout Muslims believe Hindus worship devils.

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Questions for Vagheesh

In ~48 hours I will be recording a podcast with Vagheesh Narasimhan, first author of The formation of human populations in South and Central Asia, and the second author of An Ancient Harappan Genome Lacks Ancestry from Steppe Pastoralists or Iranian Farmers. We’ll have lots to talk about but open to taking questions from readers as well.

As per usual I’ll be posting it for patrons first.

(I’m also recording a podcast with ex-academic Justin Murphy)

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Chandrayaan 2; if at first you don’t succeed..

… try, try again

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is the crown jewel of India’s applied science and engineering institutions, having developed reliable satellite launching capabilities as well the ability to pull off “first world” space missions of great complexity and ingenuity. After a string of recent successes, including the innovative Mangalyaan mission to Mars, the agency planned to land on the South polar region of the moon and use a locally developed rover (Pragyan) to explore the lunar surface and carry out various experiments. This mission (Chandrayaan 2) was initially conceived as a joint mission with Russia and was approved by the UPA govt led by Dr Manmohan Singh in 2008. The Russians later dropped out of the project (they were mainly responsible for developing the landing vehicle that would travel from the orbiter in lunar orbit down to the lunar surface), so ISRO decided to go ahead with the mission on their own. Given ISRO’s recent successes and the rising tide of Indian Nationalism (and the generally science-illiterate level of Indian media) the mission generated intense hype within India, but with very little communication to the general public of the extremely difficult technical challenges that have to be overcome to successfully land a vehicle on the moon (and the significant risk of failure, even in the best run missions).

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Unfortunately, the Vikram Lander did run into trouble and appears to have crashed onto the moon after something went wrong in the last stages of its descent to the lunar surface. Given the complexity of the technological challenges (first and foremost, the fact that it is too far from the earth to be controlled by ground engineers on earth, it has to do the job autonomously) this is not a totally unexpected outcome (per my technology-literate fellow blogger @kaeshour the probability of success was 40%). As the saying goes, “space is hard” , failures unfortunately happen with some regularity and have happened in every space program. Still, it was heartbreaking to see the disappointment on the face of the ISRO scientists as the lander lost contact with the earth and a nation of over a billion people faced deep disappointment after tremendous hype had been built up around the mission. (as an aside, the mission is far from a complete failure. The lunar orbiter is in orbit around the moon, conducting experiments as intended and will continue to do so for many years. It remains to be seen if anything is still functional on the lander)

ISRO itself is a very professional organization and will no doubt continue its stellar work, but even the hype around the mission does not have to end in disappointment and disillusionment. Instead it is likely that the last minute loss will itself become a vehicle for “soft power” phenomena including everything from a greater interest in science and engineering to a paradoxical renewal of national pride and unity (e.g. someone on my twitter feed described the video of PM Modi hugging a weeping ISRO chairman as a boost to Indian asabiya; I can see why that may be so). The loss was followed by messages of support and appreciation for the fact that India could conceive, create and almost successfully carry out a mission of such complexity and difficulty (the exception being the science minister of Pakistan, who managed to set new records of boorishness and idiocy in his twitter feed)

Be that as it may, the topic of the Indian space program always brings up a few recurrent critical memes, and this setback may see a few of those resurface as well. One is the question of whether a poor country such as India should be spending money on a space program. The other is a relatively new one: that the “Hindu Nationalist” government of Narendra Modi uses space achievements as a means to boost “toxic nationalism”. As is usually the case, the two memes have merged in some cases to create what one may call the “New York Times style guide to writing about the Indian space program” (though to be fair in its latest article the NYT has managed to soften the “poor Indians wasting money on space” theme and devoted only one sentence to Mr Modi’s “muscular nationalism”). How valid are these criticisms?

The first one can be broken down into questions: 1. What good is a space program? and 2. How much should country X spend on a space program?

Q1 is easy to answer. A space program is not some sort of purely symbolic act of “conspicuous consumption”. Space is now an industry worth 100s of billions of dollars, with vast applications in communications, mapping, scientific research, military use, entertainment, etc. It is not like a statue or a monument whose only worth comes from its symbolism (and even that is something all human societies do, as an essential component of “soft power” and the building of group identity, etc). There is no question about the fact that earth orbit applications are now a routine part of our economic and scientific life, so there can be no question about the fact that someone needs to have a space program, though everyone may not be in a position to participate. Further out (the moon, mars, the sun, and beyond) the question becomes a little trickier, but quite apart from spinoff engineering applications (not trivial in itself), the purely scientific merit of these efforts is considerable. There is a very real (but very hard to quantify and analyze) human urge to know, to explore, to do what has never been done. It is this urge that has led humans from the African savannah  to the moon and beyond and whatever some naysayers may say about it, it is a part of human nature, and it not a trivial part. Nerds across the world will not need convincing on this account, but it extends beyond the nerdsphere and is really a part of all of us and I see no reason to deny it.

Q2 is trickier, but the first thing to keep in mind is that nation states are aggregate entities and a large country with many poor people still possesses far more resources at govt level than a small country with rich people. Pakistan has a space program, but Lichtenstein does not, even though on a per capita basis Lichtendstein is orders of magnitude richer than Pakistan. Costa Rica is better off than Brazil, but Brazil has a space program and Costa Rica does not. This is natural and perfectly expected. India is a country with far too many poor people, but it is also a HUGE country, with a 2.5 trillion dollar economy. It can afford a space program. How much it should spend on that program is open to debate, but it is hard to say that it spends too much at this time. People will go further and say the most ridiculous things about this; i remember reading an article somewhere many years ago where the writer asked if 10,000 (or whatever) engineers and scientists at ISRO would not be better employed building toilets in a country with so much open defecation. This is so silly it does not need to be discussed much further (anyone who seriously thinks the engineers of ISRO could be sent to build toilets in Indian villages, and that this would be a good use of their talents, is not someone you want to waste time debating; leaving aside the fact that building these toilets is already a huge project in India and does not need help form ISRO), but we can agree that how much gets spend on ISRO is a valid debate. My own view is that it is, if anything, not enough, but others can have different opinions. Whatever opinion they have, it would be useful to look at this not in isolation as “ISRO vs Toilets” but as just one component in a huge Indian national budget, in which huge chunks are wasted on items much less useful (practically and symbolically) than ISRO.

The criticism that space projects are a way to promote “jingoistic nationalism” may have some merit to it, but not much. We can (I hope) agree on the everyday usefulness of the broader space program, but high risk moonshots and trips to Mars have less immediate practical returns; so it can be argued that the scientific research projects (which are sometimes of no immediate economic benefit) should be left to richer nations to pursue. But there is a huge “soft power” aspect of this and the most important returns may not be the jingoistic nationalism ones (though these obviously exist as well). In a country like India, these events play a huge (but hard to quantify?) role in promoting scientific literacy, the image of working women,  a culture of engineering excellence, innovation and creativity. That alone would be worth the price of such a mission (in this case, under 200 million dollars, i.e. 2-3 Rafale aircraft?). But coming to the nationalism issue, what is really being said here is that the writer does not approve of this particular nationalism. I doubt if even one Marxist-Leninist in the world failed to feel pride and joy at the launch of Sputnik. I am confident that none of them wrote op-eds asking why Russia is investing billions in space when so many of their own citizens cannot even afford their own one room apartment. The question is really about whether the writer likes the Modi govt (or India as a whole) or not. Now there are good reasons to be critical of the BJP govt in India, but my point is that 1. this is about India, Indian science and Indian pride and does not have to be about the Modi govt. 2. The “soft power” benefits of this particular project (science awareness and ambitions in India, higher standards for Indian engineering, science, organization and institutions) are more than just “muscular nationalism”. 3. “Muscular nationalism” itself is a feature of this world of nation states. Russia, America, China, Pakistan, everyone does it. The hippie in me is wary of all of them, but no more wary of the Indian variety than any other. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. People who do not criticize Russian, Chinese, American or XYZ space programs being used as nationalist symbols should apply the same standards to India, nothing more, nothing less. That means those who are critical of ALL these programs (and such people exist and are frequently sincere and well meaning people) should carry on, everyone else can shut up.

Personally, I think it was a great effort and much of it succeeded (that orbiter is still going around the moon, and will be for years to come); unfortunately the lander failed, but such things happen. Better luck next time..

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One and the same be your resolve, and be your minds of one accord.
United be the thoughts of all, that all may happily agree. (Rig Veda, last mantra)

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