Genetic change, cultural coherency, and social structure

A stupid commenter (SC) below keeps opining that the high frequency of R1a across South Asia is due to non-paternity events (NPE). I’m not quite sure SC knows what NPE is. It is, “when someone who is presumed to be an individual’s father is not in fact the biological father.” The hypothesis presented seems to be that outside of the Northwest of the subcontinent, the high frequency of R1a among non-Brahmin populations is a function of cuckoldry.

I think this is a stupid hypothesis for several reasons.

  1. Star phylogenies tend to extend outside of their core sociocultural group (e.g., R1b in Basques)
  2. NPE events outside of ethnicity seem rare given how endogamous South Asian jatis are.
  3. NPE in Eurasian societies seem to be 1-3%.
  4. There isn’t autosomal variation in ancestry within South Asia jatis usually. E.g., autosomally Tamil Brahmins or Chamars don’t vary much. This is in contrast with Mexican Americans or African Americans, who show a great deal of biogeographic variation in ancestry because they are a recently admixed population.

But, in the interests of making lemonade out of SC’s lemon, it’s interesting to observe other cases of disjunction between genome-wide ancestry and Y chromosomes. For example, let’s look at the Hui, Chinese-speaking Muslims.

The most likely origin of these Muslims is during the Yuan dynasty. So about 750 years ago. They were probably originally Central Asian, and so a mix of West and East Eurasian. Around 40% West Eurasian Y chromosomes from the beginning is not totally unreasonable if Islamicized Turks were a substantial proportion of the Muslims. If 5% of their total genome is West Eurasian, it’s probably reasonable to assume that 10% of their total genome derives from Muslims, if the original Muslims about half West Eurasian and half East Eurasian in ancestry.

750 years is 30 generations. My back of the envelope calculations suggests that 7.75% exogamy with Han Chinese per generation would result in a 50% West Eurasian population become a 5% West Eurasian population.  Another way to frame this is about ~90% of the ancestry of the original founding group has been replaced. But what about the Y chromosomes? Even assuming 100% West Eurasian Y chromosomes, the decrease has not been of similar magnitude.

The answer is simple: the dilution could have been mostly female-mediated. China is a patrilineal society, and Central Asian Muslims are also patrilineal. Though there are exceptions (there is a Hui branch of the Kong family due to one of the descendants marrying a Muslim woman and converting to Islam), it seems reasonable to infer most of the gene-flow into the Muslim community was through women. And, women do not have Y chromosomes, and so do not replace that lineage, though they do contribute to the total genome.

This is not an isolated case. There are populations around Lake Chad which carry ~1% Eurasian autosomal ancestry, but with Y chromosomal fractions of R1b, which is Eurasian, on the order of ~20%.

The opposite case can also occur. Because of male-biased European gene-flow to Latin America, populations such as in Argentina can have a very high fraction of indigenous mtDNA, passed from mothers to their offspring, despite the total genome being mostly European.

Which brings us back to South Asia. Though R1a is associated with “upper caste” populations, the reality is that it is widely distributed in South Asia. Including tribal groups such as the Chenchus and Bhils.

The Chenchus are an interesting case. The only groups nearby with high frequencies of R1a would be South Indian Brahmins, who are genetically very distinct. In fact, Brahmins from the four southernmost states of the peninsula are very similar in their proportions of distinct biogeographic components. And, there is not much inter-individual variation. The Chenchus, in contrast, seem to be typical ASI-shifted tribal people from South India.

In an NPE model the ~25% R1a ancestry is due the fathering of sons by Brahmin males, who were raised by their Chenchu mothers as Chenchu (and presumably raised by Chenche males as their own sons). The problem is that then ~12.5% of the ancestry of Chenchu should be Brahmin. This introduces a noticeable steppe shift, and though 12.5% is a small fraction, one should be able to detect it. Additionally, if the R1a entered the population through introgression every generation, there should be variation in ancestry among the Chenchus as a function of biogeography.

I simply don’t see this in the data for the Chenchu. What could explain their high fraction of R1a?

There are two things to consider. First, these marginalized groups often have low effective population sizes due to extreme endogamy. This means the power of drift at a single locus, such as the Y, is strong in these groups. It is not unreasonable to posit some groups, such as the Chenchu, would drift to a higher frequency.

The second dynamic is the one alluded to above: the Chenchu descend from a compound of groups, and a core paternal lineage of R1a bearers was assimilated into a larger population. I see the expansion of R1a across South Asia as greatly synchronous with the development of the ethnolinguistic landscape we see around us. Tribal groups such as the Chenchu are not primal, but part of an ethnolinguistic tapestry which crystallized in the period after the fall of the IVC and the reemergence of India into history in the 6th century BCE.

Note: Will delete dumb comments

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36 Replies to “Genetic change, cultural coherency, and social structure”

  1. Is it possible to figure out how long it took for the steppe people and their close descendants (R1a1a carriers) to spread from Khyber to Kanyakumari for a star phylogeny to manifest itself? (I’m assuming that most of the ancestors of the Chenchus were local to the deep south for millennia prior to the admixture events)

    1 century or so?

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    1. A close analogy in historical times would be Arabs. From prophet Mohammed to within 100 years they had spread and mixed – or Arab males had mixed with – wide range of races in West Asi, North Afrca and Afrika. So much so that Arab population and arabic speakers form a wide arc now. From genetics angle, i don’t know whether the Arab spread had been mapped.

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  2. re: arabs. muhammad’s Y is known. so yes, it’s been looked at. also look at xtians vs muslims in places like lebanon. similar, but subtle differences.

    Is it possible to figure out how long it took for the steppe people and their close descendants (R1a1a carriers) to spread from Khyber to Kanyakumari for a star phylogeny to manifest itself

    whole-genome sequencing. even then intervals will be nontrivial

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  3. I am not taking side in this debate, but offering a different perspective.

    In Rajasthan, Rajput landlords had a tradition of taking lower caste women in their household as mistresses. Being very tight ass in caste matters, Rajputs would never allow the offsprings of these women to be counted as fellow Rajputs. So these children usually melted back into the castes of their mothers.

    This is of course *not* NPE. NPE is defined around cuckoldry. However this is one explanation of R1a seeping into tribal and lower castes.

    Often times, when the numbers of these mixed offsprings reached a critical mass, they would even form their own caste. Refer – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravana_Rajputs

    In Mewar region, Rajput males had a tradition of taking Bhil women as mistresses, giving rise to a subcaste of Bhils in that region. In fact the close association of Sisodia Rajputs with the Bhil tribes go back to the days of the founder of their dynasty Bappa Rawal.

    In essence I am suggesting is that gene flow from castes with political power* to tribal/lower castes was probably more common than the surface reading of rules against caste intermarriage would suggest.

    *I am deliberately not using word high caste here, because Brahmins with zero political power probably had zero access lower caste women, at least in Rajasthan.

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        1. Much of its post Independence narrative and mostly post 90s, with the rise of OBC’s political power. Since now power is more contested , there is this narrative within the UCs (and Brahmins in general) since we dont have power now, that means we didnt have power ever.

          A good example is Marathas confederacy, it becomes Brahminical (peshwai) when its suits both its detractors and its champions. And can also become an example for anti – Brahminical for either sides.

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          1. Sayids have rarely had political power (only Sayyid entity currently is Jordan); doesn’t mean they didn’t carry immense social prestige not so much as Brahmins

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          2. @Saurav

            I am not contesting the fact that Brahmins did wield political power during the heydays of Maratha empire. However, in the overall timespan of Indian history, it was for a very brief duration.

            Do you recall any other examples of Brahmins wielding sustained *military* power in any time and place in India?

            In fact one other commenter in this blog noted the same fact before. The whole Brahmin bashing and Brahmin adulation doesn’t seem compatible with their real importance in pre-modern era. My guess is that Brahmins were generally considered high caste and respected, but that was all there is to it.

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          3. Does political power only flows from who the guy at the top is? That would then negate that Brahmans had political power in Marathas confederacy since the guy at the top was always a Maratha. We are not talking about the binary here then. BTW there have been de facto brahmins powers in India but we don’t recognize them as such. Because we recognize them through regional/dynastic lens. That’s all right.

            I agree most of the brahmin bashing is a more subtle way of criticism of Hinduism only. But we need not go the other way and do the whole “generally considered high caste and respected, but that was all there is to it.” There was much more to it.

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    1. In Rajasthan, Rajput landlords had a tradition of taking lower caste women in their household as mistresses. Being very tight ass in caste matters, Rajputs would never allow the offsprings of these women to be counted as fellow Rajputs.

      That scenario is repeated all over the world. Upper class/caste rich/poor.

      So Rajuput has a boy child off the house servant.
      The boy child goes back to his caste village.
      Also a good possibility the Rajput father gives money to son (and mother), so they are more well off compared to other villagers.
      Son grows up marries a woman of his village/caste.
      Has children, more progeny that survive because they are well off.
      The sons (and their sons) carry the Rajput Y-DNA, but as they keep marrying within the village not steppe or whatever shifted.

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    2. In essence I am suggesting is that gene flow from castes with political power* to tribal/lower castes was probably more common than the surface reading of rules against caste intermarriage would suggest.

      to some extent we need to go case by case. i think this is clearly the case in some cases. in other cases, very marginal groups seem to be pretty well endogamous. why the difference? again, you’d have to look at individual cases….

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  4. “The Chenchus are an interesting case. The only groups nearby with high frequencies of R1a would be South Indian Brahmins, who are genetically very distinct.”

    60 Indian Telugus and 55 Sri Lankan Tamils in the UK have the same r1a1 frequency as Chenchus (27%). I doubt they are mainly brahmin. Where did this enrichment come from?

    Maybe from the Sanskritisation process in Andhra during the Mauryan times (from 300 BC)?

    And Sinhalese genetic substratum for SL Tamils?

    Tamil Nadu Brahmins average 42% r1a1 (sample size 135) in the 2012 Arunkumar paper.

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    1. 60 Indian Telugus and 55 Sri Lankan Tamils in the UK have the same r1a1 frequency as Chenchus (27%). I doubt they are mainly brahmin. Where did this enrichment come from?

      Do you have a reference to that, a paper?

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        1. Thanks Karan,

          I wonder what the Sinhalese and Tamil will think of this Y-DNA R1a %

          Sinhalese (39 ) 12.8%
          Sinhalese ( 87) 23.0%
          Sri Lankan Tamils (UK) (55) 27.3%

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  5. “The problem is that then ~12.5% of the ancestry of Chenchu should be Brahmin. This introduces a noticeable steppe shift, and though 12.5% is a small fraction, one should be able to detect it. Additionally, if the R1a entered the population through introgression every generation, there should be variation in ancestry among the Chenchus as a function of biogeography.”

    Suppose Southern Brahmins are 8% Sintashta.

    12.5% * 8% = 1 % Sintashta in Chenchu

    The point is Chenchus have a small Steppe signal and it’s entirely possible that came from upper castes in their region.

    “Additionally, if the R1a entered the population through introgression every generation, there should be variation in ancestry among the Chenchus as a function of biogeography.

    I simply don’t see this in the data for the Chenchu. What could explain their high fraction of R1a?”

    How many Chenchu samples do you have? Have you ever looked at the variation as a function of Geography? Probably not,.

    “NPE events outside of ethnicity seem rare given how endogamous South Asian jatis are.”

    NPE is extramarital, so endogamy means little.

    “NPE in Eurasian societies seem to be 1-3%.”

    1-3% in a single generation – that’s big. The studies don’t look into introgression of uniparental markers over multiple generations.

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    1. 1-3% in a single generation – that’s big. The studies don’t look into introgression of uniparental markers over multiple generations.

      you are on thin ice, because of your stupidity. actually rare surname/Y chromosomes is how this work began in the early 2000s (sykes work). stupid either lying or lying through stupidity or i’m going to just trash your comments (thank god you are concise tho).

      you can say 1-3% is big. or not. there is variance.

      How many Chenchu samples do you have? Have you ever looked at the variation as a function of Geography? Probably not,.

      4. reich has 6.

      there are fewer than 100,000 chenchu in AP. variation in function of geography???

      The point is Chenchus have a small Steppe signal and it’s entirely possible that came from upper castes in their region.

      we don’t have the power to distinguish models. i gave the reason i think the NPE model is false.

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  6. Sayids have rarely had political power (only Sayyid entity currently is Jordan)

    not sure this is true. eg fatimids. but anyway, the monarchy of morocco also claims sayyid descent.

    Do you recall any other examples of Brahmins wielding sustained *military* power in any time and place in India?

    there are conflicts of dynastic origins in record/memory. so hard to say cuz of that. e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sena_dynasty#Origins https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gupta_Empire#Origin

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    1. “Sayids have rarely had political power (only Sayyid entity currently is Jordan)”

      I am with Razib on this. Sayyid and Sayyida have considerable respect and influence. Among Bengalis (don’t want to get into whether they are really Sayyid or Sayyida), Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis.

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    1. Are you sure that these were Brahman Dynasties i.e. they were Kulin Brahmins or did they raise their status to Brahmans later e.g. Shivaji ? If most these dynasties happen to be of later trend then should they be called ‘Brahman dynasties’ ?

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        1. http://velivada.com/2018/06/06/shivaji-maharaj-only-king-who-had-two-coronation/

          https://www.sabhlokcity.com/2013/08/shivajis-humiliation-by-brahmins-was-as-abominable-as-humiliation-by-aurangzeb/

          The same is true about Kayastha community who themselves raised their status while Brahmans kept trying to keep them down {Even Ambedkar has written about Kayasthas a lot as oppressed as well as opressors}.

          Regarding Kayastha fighting for social status –
          https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/001946461004700406 {Behind Paywall}

          http://www.academia.edu/37364681/From_the_Lekhaka_to_the_Kayastha_Scribes_in_Early_Historic_Court_and_Society_200_BCE_-_200_CE_

          The process of emulating Brahmans has been termed as ‘Brahmanization’ but in sociology we notice this social behavior of emulating elites everywhere {for e.g. Use of well known celebs for advertising} & is known as ‘Elite Theory’.

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          1. So coronation = raising status to Brahmin ?
            That Shivaji had trouble getting an “official” Brahmin to officiate at his coronation ceremony is wellknown (ironically the same Brahmins had no trouble placing their seal of approval on Muslim rulers).
            Perhaps you are unclear what coronation is.

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  7. “Are you sure that these were Brahman Dynasties i.e. they were Kulin Brahmins ”

    Are bhai, did the kings perform the whole brahmin act to the T ? No ,i am not sure how “pure” Brahmans they were. or if they did “Brahmin” things or not.

    Second thing pretty sure almost no caste has “uplifted” themselves to brahmins. Save brahmins, almost all castes have moved up /down, so your Shivaji example is not accurate. Shivaji moved up to max to Kshartiya lineage , rare but not totally unheard of ( Rajputs themselves became Kshatriya the same way) .

    The Bhumihar in Bihar are still agitating to become “Brahmins” and still not allowed in, so forget medieval times.

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    1. Saurav, there are many examples of Jatis (whose ancestry was Avarna, Shudra, Vaishya or Kshatriya) becoming Brahmins.

      And many cases of Brahmins becoming Kshatriya or Vaishya.

      Until the modern era (say post 600 AD) there was a stigma associated with Brahmins making money in business or being involved in politics, judicial systems, governance and war fighting. Let alone being a pursuer of sense pleasures such as playboy activities or having nice things. Being a Brahmin meant living a life in poverty. And many Brahmins wanted out. Many Brahmins preferred to live the good life in another Varna.

      Jatis moved all over the place with respect with respect to Varna.

      It is very unclear where many Jatis fit into the varna system. There are probably over 10,000 Jatis. It is very confusing.

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    2. // Are bhai, did the kings perform the whole brahmin act to the T ? //

      I am not asking if these kings perform brahmin act to T but if you are not interested in Kings changing their Varnas or Jatis to claim higher ‘Religious’ status then does that not contradict your position of Brahmans dynasties ?

      As we see groups changing their Varna & Caste status, Kings changing their Varna Jatis etc. hence the question arises what does one mean when one uses the term ‘Brahman Dynasties’ ?

      Also kings being able to change their status using Brahmans highlights who ruled the kingdoms & unlike the religious text here we find Kings constantly taking contradictory positions {sometimes they went with religious advices & contradicted them in others} to the religious hierarchy we are presented with i.e. Brahmans, Kshatriya, Vaishya & Shudra.

      More than Brahmins of religious courts the Babas or Yogis or Gurus have had more religious impact on the ground & these people came from diverse backgrounds unlike the limbo we keep hearing about Brahmins. The Court Brahmins & Brahmins with Temples were ‘Elites’ among Brahmins rest all lived their lives among people. Hence we find 2 strands of Brahmin thought one where everything has to be maintained in accordance to the law & nature and other where everything can be challenged to prove that nothing is profane & everything is sacred – Aka Esoteric practices of Tantra, folk Hinduism etc.

      I concede that I was not exactly sure of the raised status of Shivaji & so me calling his status as Brahman {I was thinking along these lines – I should have mentioned him raising his status so that he can become twice born & become eligible for ‘Moksha’ as this state also gets referred as ‘Brahman’ – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moksha} is not exactly correct but the point still stands that can these dynasties where Kings constantly changed their beliefs among various Hindu strands & Saramana beliefs, changed their Jati/Varna status, should they be termed as ‘Brahmin Dynasties’ ? The real problem in doing this is that it muddies the ground realities of those periods & presents Brahmins with even greater power then they actually had.

      Brahmins themselves have had lot of infighting so the social status was gained by multiple – Social functions & not by Brahmins claims per say, we can compare it to modern parties on Birthday or on shifting house or Kitty’s parties etc. For e.g. In movie Hindi medium you can see the similar pattern of behavior.

      Point is Brahmins had the say as ‘administrators’ {in matter of religion or in royal courts} when they agreed to the demands of Large communities of the region & they never controlled all communities to their whims & wishes especially Kshatriyas {Hence their desire to be like Kshatriyas can be seen in the form of invention of God ‘Parshuram’} & various tribes {who loved their autonomy & did not wanted to be controlled by the state thus they being termed ‘Outcasts’ or ‘Rakshas’ etc}.

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      1. @ Saurav & Arjun

        // So coronation = raising status to Brahmin ? //

        Coronation as a means of mobilization of the King as well as community into the religious upper Varna categories.

        Read my last reply to understand the process i am talking about.

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        1. Deep, that claim is highly speculative. Given that the majority of sovereign rulers of the time were Muslim you might as well say Shivaji aspired to be a Muslim.
          It seems more likely he was trying to distinguish himself from the run of the mill feudal warlord of the time. It is also possible he was trying to seal his status as “the protector of cows and Brahmins”.

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          1. So what will explain the Manufactured lineages in Hindu epigraphs of earlier periods ? It is a process which has been ever present & has been noted by historians. It was because of these manufactured lineages the Hindu texts have been found to be unreliable & thus does not completely corroborate the lineages found in other sources esp. of Saramans & also show lineages with no traceable evidences.
            E.g. –
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satavahana_dynasty#List_of_rulers

            Both sources have their own problems thus mixing & matching along with epigraphical sources is the way forward.

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            // He must have obviously been influenced by Muslim culture.. //

            There does not seem to be anything to indicate that, he was more interested in ‘sovereign rule’ than anything else.

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            Regarding Islam & Hindu influences – {They both influenced each other but mostly in negative way, their could have been positive influences if they would have meet on equal footing via trade routes, like other periods, regions & earlier religions & without the desire of Muslim ruler’s desire to convert all people to Islam}

            How Hindu-Muslim interaction happened, For e.g. –
            https://scroll.in/article/761493/how-the-mughals-used-sanskrit-to-become-the-rulers-of-india

            Similar process of equating king as avatar {similar to Rama} thus gaining authority to rule via Gods.

            It was about management of communities to keep their prejudices from turning into wars & complete destruction. So these intermediate people with access to royal authorities tried to preserve the Indian heritage & their ‘diplomacy’ has worked as we can see how much of stuff has survived in India compared to other regions where Islam took over but ‘reservation of differenciation’ has also resulted in fragmentation of public into Caste, creed or other such identities.

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            // Deep, that claim is highly speculative. Given that the majority of sovereign rulers of the time were Muslim you might as well say Shivaji aspired to be a Muslim. //

            Historiography is in equal parts facts & speculative imagination.

            https://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/i-write-what-i-think-is-right-give-my-evidence-take-it-or-leave-it-historian-romila-thapar-ians-interview-118030500324_1.html

            https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/gEiq0KunnBtBMBHoQsGJrN/The-many-worlds-and-wonders-of-Indian-history.html

            He could have simply became Muslim since as you say he had all the resources & access to do that yet he did not did so instead he used his power against the Brahmins of his region by inviting Brahmin from another region to beat the Brahmins of his region at their own game.

            // It seems more likely he was trying to distinguish himself from the run of the mill feudal warlord of the time. It is also possible he was trying to seal his status as “the protector of cows and Brahmins”. //

            I know about RSS politics & have recently came to know about Marathi saying which equates to “the protector of cows and Brahmins” which is again a right wing muddling of facts to appropriate Shivaji & he certainly was not interested in protecting Brahmins & cows but instead he was interested in maintaining his control {Like most other royals of that period}.

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            I am not speculating anything instead i am trying to show that Hindus did not change their way of interacting with royals with arrival of Islamic rulers instead they diplomatically tried to preserve Indic culture {Academicians want to present it as syncretism i see it as pragmatism of those people & that’s why my way always differs from both right & left wing interpretations of Indic history}.

            Also their ways of interacting with ‘foreign’ remained the same like not enforcing any change rather letting the things be till the situation started to change {with focus on conversion & identity & religious beliefs} & they had to forge Hindu identity & issues alongside it to challenge the royal power.

            Hindu Identity –
            https://www.academia.edu/2399492/Doxography_and_Boundary-Formation_in_Late_Medieval_India

            Note ‘Quote’ –
            By the late medieval period, of course, Buddhism was virtually non-existent in India, and Jainism hardly a threat. It would therefore seem that the need to unify âstika doctrines would have been less urgent, not more. So why should the late-medievals have been more concerned with defining the boundaries of the âstikas than their predecessors?

            https://www.academia.edu/35568138/Pollock_and_Weber_preprint
            Same paper behind paywall – https://mws.quotus.org/article/MWS/2017/2/6

            Note ‘Quote’ –
            Was Pirenne correct to claim that “without Mohammad there would have been no Charlemagne” (p. 489) ? In the case of Europe he concludes that the earliest vernacularization (of English, under King Alfred) owed nothing to pressure or examples from Islamic states whether in Spain, North Africa, or the Middle East, but that in other cases (French, Occitan, Castilian; later Magyar) this was or may well have been a significant factor. In the South Asian case, he is reduced, within the space of three pages (pp. 491 – 4), to calling multiple times for more research, especially on the interactions between Sanskrit, vernacular, and Muslim and non-Muslim genres. It is striking that in LGWM Pollock is much more cautious about ascribing vernacularization in the subcontinent to the impact of Islam as a political force than he was in his analysis of the Ramayana as a political tract (Pollock 1993a: esp. 286–7).

            Also Cow politics first became an issue during Islamic period, for more read The Myth Of the Holy Cow by D.N. Jha.

            We can keep bringing multiple things & keep interlinking them but if we truly to make any new breakthroughs we need to mix & match ideas from all sides without labeling the ideas as right or left.

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  8. My understanding is that in order to carry out a coronation, priests had to create/verify a formal Kshatriya lineage for Shivaji.

    The Peshwas are an interesting case study. Balaji Vishwanath (Bhatt) was a Konkanastha Brahmin who gained prominence as astute negotiator and advisor. He was eventually elevated to the role of Peshwa (~ Prime Minister). It is said that Balaji Vishwanath was no warrior and was uncomfortable riding on a horse.

    His sons – Baji Rao and Chimaji Appa however turned out very differently. Both were trained in arms and Baji Rao is regarded as one of the best cavalry generals of his time. He is believed to have led Maratha armies from the front. The Peshwai became hereditary from Baji Rao onwards. All Peshwas from then onwards tried to mould themselves as warrior-Prime Ministers.

    But the important thing is that the Peshwas kept their (Konkanastha) Brahmin caste affiliation. This change of “role”, e.g. Brahmins as warriors, may have been possible in the Maharashtra of the 17th-19th centuries as the Marathi speaking people seem to developed an identity centered around the concept of “Swaraj” and in opposition to “Turki” dominance. If you were a good warrior, your caste affiliation was secondary. Perhaps I am romanticizing the milieu.

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