Podcast Updates

I have taken the morning off after a particularly intense week at work so I thought I would catch up at BP.

I’ll be doing three monthly podcasts (that’s the idea).

One is a monthly Indian Linguistics podcast, the other is on Indian Politics and finally the last on Indian History.

I simply use India as a shorthand for anything between the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and the Indian Ocean.

As an aside what is the eastern mountain range that defines Akhand Bharat, I’m trying to figure out if the Himalaya (or some subsidiary range) slopes south into the Burmese-Bangladeshi border. Something like the Chittagong Hill Tracts and Cox’s Bazaar, which delineate some sort of civilization border.

Our next podcast is going to be on “Were the Mughals good for India.”


One thing that I’m proud of in my podcasts, I can check my biases as a moderator. I have the ability (if I say so myself) of jumping all over the spectrum and I suspect that has to do with the fact that, like most Baha’is, temporal questions don’t vex me much. Even my linguistic jingoism is more concerned about the status that Persian, Arabic & Urdu would have in a New World Order.

So please do recommend anyone/everyone for a fair panel.



33 thoughts on “Podcast Updates”

  1. I mean it’s pretty much just an aesthetics question. The Mughals were an extractive regime that did absolutely nothing to better the lives of ordinary Indians…but that was par for the course back then, so they aren’t singularly malicious.

    So it comes down to aesthetics. If you’re a liberal or Islamist, you’ll like them. If you’re not, you won’t.

    1. What’s more interesting is that liberals have had a long historiographical project to “indigenize” the Mughals, but it seems to be backfiring spectacularly in the popular sphere!

      1. “What’s more interesting is that liberals have had a long historiographical project to “indigenize” the Mughals, but it seems to be backfiring spectacularly in the popular sphere!”

        It’s not surprising. Western liberals now claim that temple destruction by Muslim rulers is actually the hallmark of how Indian they are. Hindus had a rich tradition of temple destruction and Muslims reluctantly followed the lead of the Hindus to prove how deeply Indian they are. Things like Gyanvapi mosque are great symbols of subcontinental syncretism and the desire for Muslim rulers to assimilate.

        Because of this, Aurangzeb in particular is the best Muslim ruler so eager to assimilate and follow the Hindus. All streets in India should be named after him.

        Also although they were imitating a rich Hindu tradition please note that Hinduism didn’t exist until 1871 census.

        1. What else are “Western-liberals” supposed to make of records that depict Hindus destroying Buddhist temples and desecrating rival Hindu temples? What are they supposed to make of Muslim rulers flatly stating they are conquering India in part to emulate the examples of earlier Hindu conquerors?

          Nobody argues that the Mughals should be celebrated in India (this is a Hinduvata strawman). Simply that the Mughals should be treated with an even-hand. If they are condemned due to their violent actions, so to, should Hindu kingdoms be condemned for similar actions.

          1. “What else are “Western-liberals” supposed to make of records that depict Hindus destroying Buddhist temples and desecrating rival Hindu temples?”

            – The Hindu practice Hindu temple desecration being referred to by liberals as being the inspiration for Muslim rulers is qualitatively different from what Muslim rulers did.
            – Some Hindu kings, when conquering another kingdom, would purportedly take the idol in the main temple of the conquered kingdom and transport the idol back to their own main temple. They would either build an additional temple or an extension of the temple to install the idol or include it in the existing temple structure. They would then worship it and hire priests to do whatever rituals were necessary.
            – This is different from destroying a temple and using the rubble to build a mosque. This is different from destroying the idol and using its pieces to build the footpath to the mosque. This is different from using the idols as weights for selling meat. This is different from simply destroying the idol.

            “What are they supposed to make of Muslim rulers flatly stating they are conquering India in part to emulate the examples of earlier Hindu conquerors?”

            On numerous occasions, Muslim rulers flatly state in their autobiographies and biographies that they destroyed temples out of religious zeal. What did Western liberals do? They trotted out all the excuses:
            – These statements are contained in a literary tradition known for embellishments.
            – The facts on the ground suggest that the temple destruction was more due to [insert your favorite reason; politics, economics, etc.]

            Yet when much fewer references are made in re emulating Hindu tradition, immediately they want to latch on to it as the literal truth.

            “Nobody argues that the Mughals should be celebrated in India (this is a Hinduvata strawman). Simply that the Mughals should be treated with an even-hand. If they are condemned due to their violent actions, so to, should Hindu kingdoms be condemned for similar actions.”

            Many do argue that the Mughals should be celebrated. I don’t have a problem with that, they did many great things, too. And I agree, our assessment of different kingdoms should be even-handed.

            I don’t hate the Mughals or anything like that. I admire a lot of what they did. But I feel like some liberals are being motivated by politics to revise their actual history. It wasn’t all rainbows and syncretism.

          2. Hoju,

            You conveniently ignored ignored the reports of “thousands” of Buddhist temples being destroyed by Hindus before Islam. There are some indications that many Hindu temples in the North are built on the ruins of old Buddhist temples.

            You are also misrepresenting Hindu desecration of rival Hindu temples. These episodes often involved massacring the temple Brahmans, sacking the complex, and stealing the idol, which was decried by the local populace. Less often, but certainly still occurring, Hindu invaders would destroy the temple and the idol.

            This mirrors the Muslim practice, of usually sacking, but occasionally destroying the temple and idol. And yes “liberals” largely chalk it up to political contexts, because virtually all temples destroyed by Muslims (and Hindus) were done so when rival states were at war. Virtually no temples were destroyed within the domains of these kingdoms by their own rulers.

            Its clear some of the descriptions of Hindu persecution, whether written by Muslims or Hindus, are over-exaggerated for effect. Just as it is clear that the descriptions of Buddhist persecutions by Hindus is likely over-exaggerated. “Liberals” acknowledge both, just as they acknowledge that religious zealotry was a factor in such persecution, but not necessarily the major one.

    2. The Mughals were an extractive regime that did absolutely nothing to better the lives of ordinary Indians…but that was par for the course back then, so they aren’t singularly malicious.

      Sri Lanka seems to be an exception to extraction by the rulers. Sri Lanka has no magnificent palaces, even the Buddhist temples are not overwhelmingly huge like South Indian temples.

      Even the largest dagoba, the Jetawnarama Dagoba (400 feet high, same as second pyramid in Giza) is surrounded by small buildings.

      The biggest achievement for a King was to build a reservoir (tank). There are 30,000 of them in the “Dry Zone” of Sri Lanka.

      The Largest is Parakrama Samudara (22.6 km2; 8.7 sq mi Max. depth‎: ‎12.7 m; 42 ft). That was created in the 11th century by joining three older tanks/reservoirs.

      To repeat a quote from the foreword of Ananda Coomraswamy’s , Medieval Sinhalese Art (1907) which also applies to the concept of building Tanks/Lakes for the all citizens. Thats in contrast to building huge palaces for the Kings.

      Medieval Sinhalese Art was the art for whom husbandry was the most honorable of all occupations, amongst whom a landless person was a nobody, and whose ploughmen spoke as elegantly as a courtiers.

      It was the art of a people who whose Kings were “one with the with the religion and the people” -perhaps one of the most significant phrase in the whole of that magnificent chronicle, the Mahavamsa from which I have so often quoted.

      1. In general, I stay away from here because every minute on this place is taking away my own time but….

        First, tanks are also a feature in TN, Andhra and Karnataka. This is because the monsoon season is short. In the wet region of SL, there are not too many tanks, but tanks as a feature of the dry lands have a 2400 year history.

        The reason that the South Indian temples are large compared to Buddhist temples is, both, the multiple gods, and the central nature of temples to villages and towns. There are several Buddhist temples that have transitioned to Hindu that are not geographically large but economically huge. It should not be assumed that the large size of the temples means economically strong. Just that they serve as the cultural center, bus stop for the town, shopping areas around, etc.

        Even then it is not easy to assume that the large size of temples means no tanks. Often Indian history notes that building temples and tanks is an activity associated with growth periods. Conversely, in rural decay periods, tanks are ignored, failed to get desolated and sand gets stolen for construction. The southern states have not only temples but more tanks than srilanka. This is not an indicator of religion or secularism

        1. Hi Vijay
          Yes, I too have become lazy and futzing around on the net instead of working outdoors.

          A cursory image search of tanks in Tamil Nadu and comparison with Tanks in Sri Lanka show scale.



          I think tanks in TN mean, large ponds associated (owned ?) with Temples.

          In contrast Tanks in SL are large reservoirs, the last built in the 1150 or so ParakaramaBahu I. Not really built, joined 5 older tanks/reservoirs
          A run of the mill less than average size tank/reservoir near my place is 1km x 500m.

          Not a single tank/reservoir is owned by a temple even in historical times. Neither are they really religious places. Irrigation et and use by people.

          Now the huge tank/reservoir is maintained by the govt. Smaller ones maintained by Village committee overseen by the Irrigation dept.

          The largest tank in TN is Kaveripakkam. It gets water supply directly from the Palar River through the Palar anicut constructed in 1858. King Nandhivarma III supposedly built this tank during his regime (AD. 846-869).

          Another big difference most of these are inter connected and fed from perrenial rivers thru ancient canals.
          eg Anuradhapura exists because of Nachaduwa, Nuwara Wewa, Tissa Wewa and Basawak Kulama Tanks which are all fed by the Kala Oya (River) thru the Jaya Ganga/Yodha Ela Canal

          Have a look at the google map to get an idea of the density of tanks.

  2. You should bring in Audrey Truschke, she’s a big fan of the Mughals (especially Aurangzeb) and represents the standard Western liberal view of the Mughals very well.

  3. H. M. Brough’s comment is spot-on.

    pre-modern regimes were rent extracting machines, though they did encourage economies of scale on occasion by bringing peace.

    1. Razib: “pre-modern regimes were rent extracting machines, though they did encourage economies of scale on occasion by bringing peace.”

      This is conventional wisdom from academic historians. I disagree. Ancient societies also focused on product development, process innovation and knowledge creation. {Total factor productivity}

  4. To me the issue isn’t the degree of extraction and all. It s like saying the native Indians should be thankful to the white man since they made their land the most powerful nation of last century by colonizing it.

    That had the British would have been a bit less extractive we should consider them “Indian”. By fighting over degrees of extraction we have already conceded the first point whether Mughals ( strange that there is no debate on whether sultanates were Indians or not ) are Indians or not.

    Frankly Mughals will not be considered Indians because Indians are majority non Muslims while will be considered as one of their own in Pakistan because they are Muslim ( even thought balochistan and Pashtun areas never had much of Mughal rule). Personally for me any kingdom which was not ethnically among the subcontinent”s ethnicity is not indian.

    1. “any kingdom which was not ethnically among the subcontinent”s ethnicity is not indian.”

      So by this standard the Mughals after Akbar were Indian, as they spoke Indian languages, and were genetically Indian due to frequent intermarriage with Rajput women.

      1. Then why shouldn’t sulatanate be considered Indian on that parameter. Even they intermarried with the locals. The same folks who make this argument about Mughals don’t make this argument for pre Mughals sultanates. Why ? Isn’t it strange they start and end with Mughals. Surely the argument can’t be that they were not indian since they were bad rulers

        Also on ethnicity why don’t the rajputs clans in Rajasthan who supposedly this Mughals were part of claim Mughals as their own ? Surely to be part of such illustratis empire be of great claim. But why do I hear only embarrassment from these rajput houses. Surely this defamation of Mughals should rile them up. But I don’t see anything not hear anything.

        The only people who claim Mughals as half rajputs are people who aren’t rajputs themselves. Strange ain’t it ?

        1. You are projecting your own views onto people who don’t hold them. People (like me) absolutely do argue that the Sultanate era produced ethnically “Indian” Muslim kingdoms.

          Regarding Rajput and Mughals, you are confused. Mughals marrying Rajput women didn’t make their children part of a Rajput tribe, as a child takes on their father’s tribe, and the Rajputs were seen as low-class compared to the Turco-Persian elite, so no Mughal would ever claim that designation. I’m just saying such unions produced genetically “Indian” Mughals, not proper Rajputs.

          Also, the Rajput disdain for intermarrying with Mughals is a modern phenomenon. Before the British, Rajputs considered it an honor to be joined in marriage with the Mughals, and thus elevated amongst the nobility of the kingdom. The exception of course, were when these brides were taken as part of a forced peace after a Rajput kingdom was conquered.

        2. “Then why shouldn’t sulatanate be considered Indian on that parameter.”

          What do you mean? They consider all of them to be Indian. Even Ghazni became completely Indian the moment he emulated the rich Hindu tradition of temple destruction.

    2. There’s no reason to be “thankful to the White man.” Colonialism may provide a GDP per capita boost (for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s better than the counterfactual), but colonialism cannot be separated from its coercion and condescension, and that’s the end of the story.

  5. I think the later Mughals Shahjahan onwards are pretty much Indian.

    Indian Islam has been able to somewhat resist Indianization due to a strong meme complex (around issues like conversion, apostasy, innovation, arabic as the holy language etc).

    The once blurred lines between the religions are becoming more clearly demarcated.

    The trend is for Indian Muslims to follow a more pure form of Islam than the syncretic Sufi stuff.

    The trend for Indian Hindus is to identify as broadly Hindu and follow a mishmash pan indian Hindu identity.

    Two identity ships attempting to set sail in opposite directions but held together by ancient chains of shared history, ethnicity, jalebis and cricket.

  6. There seems to be a belief that identity is a matter of genetics, that Mughals became “Indian” as soon as Akbar took a Rajput wife.

    This is BS and both sides know it. If the Mughals thought of themselves as Indians they would have married their daughters to Rajputs. Nor is identity purely a matter of religion. Mughals didn’t marry their daughters to dark Indians whether they converted or not until much later.

    The claim that Mughals became “Indian” later – arguably some time after Aurangzeb became dear to God – is a reasonable one. It is worth researching when Mughal princesses stopped marrying into foreign pedigreed Muslims. In any case the Mughals were slapped around so much in the eighteenth century their foreign pretensions no longer impressed anyone.

    1. Identity is the result of a myriad of factors, genetics being one.

      Its true there were few (if any) Mughal daughters wed to Rajputs. But then, the same was true of Brahman daughters and most lower-caste Indian males (also true for skin color). Are Brahmans therefore not Indian?

      The Mughals were Indian after Akbar. They spoke Indian languages, were Indian by blood, were born in and considered India to be their home.

      1. “But then, the same was true of Brahman daughters and most lower-caste Indian males (also true for skin color). Are Brahmans therefore not Indian?”

        I thought the story was that caste endogamy became rigid around 1,500 – 2,000 years ago, after about 1,500 – 2,000 years of heavy intermixing. How many centuries did the Mughal elites mix with the locals before they stopped doing so?

      2. If the Brahmins were looking down on (other) Indians and marrying their daughters selectively, to, say the Chinese, then yes, their Indian credentials would have to be questioned.
        Replace Chinese by Persians, Turks and sundry other foreigners and that is what the early Mughals were doing.

  7. The mughals were the emperors of hindustan, not the entire indo-sphere. Within hindustan, I’d imagine they were good for some and less so for others, and that may not map to religious affiliation. keeping in mind that all possible counterfactuals are not reasonable to consider, one way of thinking about the quality of mughal governance would be to measure it by a specific development parameter, like agricultural productivity or industrailization. I’m biased towards the idea that development has a long gestation period, such that cultural and economic momentum from the 17th century can impact outcomes in the 19th century and onwards. We have a lot of data from the mughal period on land revenue, agricultural output, government debt and even exports, so I’d say there is a basis of evaluating performance.
    Some people have concerns about the cultural or spiritual dimension of political subjugation (if thats what it was), thats a lot harder to evaluate naturally, given that we can’t even arrive at a consensus on whether aurangzeb was indian or not. From a deccan perspective it seems that the tughluqs, lodis, and mughals if anything raised the political prestige of the north. I wonder what greater dignity would have been achieved by rajputs, khatris, kayasthas, and the baniyas without their muslim patrons and the pax mughalia.

  8. I read somewhere that the pre-Mughal Indian sultanates recognised and sought the authority of the Baghdad and Cairo caliphates, which the Mughals from Akbar onwards did not. I’m not sure about the significance of this, though.

  9. It has no significance. The Andalusian arabs too did the same from time to time, does not mean they weren’t arabs

    1. The Andalusian arabs too did the same from time to time, does not mean they weren’t arabs

      Thats about as much similarity as Rumanians and English, both being Europeans.

  10. I think it is silly and pointless to debate whether Mughals were more or less Indian. Indians as a socially constructed identity will change, wax and wane with times. This debate will be endless. far more important is to establish empirical facts (or more solidly grounded conjectures) about regimes and eras, about economic and social systems.

    Mugals were very extractive. British were too. People keep saying how rich India has been for thousands of years but this wealth was massively inequally distributed and mainly due to sheer demographic numbers. My region of Bengal has been known as one of the most economically productive region since the Roman Empire era. Basically begal have been the export dynamo like Germany, China now for thousands of years. But you hardly see any relics left by that massive gain in wealth for thousands of years. The artisans lived in the same mud huts and ate the same food for two thousand years. Even before the British came, the Bengal clothing industry was not very productive because artisans did not want to produce more. The more they produced the more the regimes extracted. So they just kept on their subsistence work for generations.

    1. Is it really pointless to discuss whether and how Indian the Mughals were ? I am not so sure.

  11. I think when Xerxes asks if mughals were good for India, he really is asking if the entire Islamic period was good for India. After all the Turko Afghan dynasties of sultanate period and the Mughals are just the same people for folks on both sides of arguments. (For Hindu Right, they were all Mlecchas/Yavanas, and for Islamists/Pak-nationalists, they were all ghazis ushering in a Islamic golden age.) So what he really is asking is that what if Islamic polities would not have been able to establish themselves in India, and instead a Hindu empire, or smaller Hindu states would have arose in India.
    Economically I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. I fully agree that all medieval states were rentier states where a tiny power elite lived off the toil of illiterate population living at malthusian margins.
    However, it is the character and historical trajectory of this power elite that would have shaped the character of modern India. In fact I believe it would have shaped the nature of Hinduism itself. Hinduism would have emerged as an imperialistic and legalistic religion, just like Islam. We have evidence of this because even during the brief period of Maratha empire, the obscure dharmashastras were starting to get dusted off and being pored over for the guidance for laws of the state. Hinduism instead took a character of fatalist and devotional spirituality after getting disinherited from power.

    Architecturally i don’t think India is any poorer because of Islamic rule, because Islamic rule evidently left a massive architectural footprint behind. However, Hindu states were not lacking in energy either when it came to building grand structures. Of course architecture would have evolved as per Hindu themes. It is not far fetched to assume that a temple complex as majestic as Angkor Wat would have emerged in the plains or plateaus of India. Just the ruins of Hampi or the Martanda temple in Kashmir are enough to convince me what could have come into existence instead.
    Indian sciences certainly suffered under the Islamic rule. India had a rich tradition of mathematics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_mathematics), which seems to have come to an abrupt end around 12th century.
    Literature – this is where I believe Hindu age emerges decidedly superior over Islamic age – rich theme and broad canvass of classical Sanskrit dramas can be breathtaking and awe-inspiring. And I am not talking about the cliched Ramayana or Mahabharata. Even lesser know literary works like Mricchakatikam or Mudrarakshasa are stunningly impactful and engrossing. All these seem to have come to an end at the onset of Islamic age, and in its place all we have is various “namas”- just a dry record of emperors’ court life.
    So overall, I do believe overall impact of Islamic rule in India was decidedly negative.
    PS – I know I sound strongly Hindu Right wing. I don’t care if I do.
    PS – India would have fallen to Turko-Afghans and Mughals anyway. Indian armies relied on individual valor instead of organized warfare. Turko-mongol horse archers were destined to subjugate Indian armies composed of unorganized hordes of infantry and unwieldy elephants.

    1. Hindu/Buddhist India had what were probably the best international universities of their time, attracted students from around Asia and an institutionalised tradition of secular scholarship.
      Islamic India beheaded people for writing heterodox treatises, has no scientific achievements and created no institutions of learning. The contest isn’t even close.
      To cement this distinction, it was barely a generation after the demise of the last vestiges of the Mughal empire that “Hindu” scientists were turning out science at an international level. To date the one Nobel Laureate Muslim South Asia produced is vilified by what should be his natural constituency for the crime of heterodoxy.

      It is comical to hear Indthings speaking of the centuries it will take for Hindu society to lose its superstitions when “scientists” in his preferred South Asian country are conducting research on the application of djinns to solve the energy crisis.

  12. Re: Andalusia

    Andalusia in the original semantics means ‘The Land of Lusitanians’ or The Lusatian Krayina. Today’s Extramadura east of Portugal was in ancient times called Serbia than Luzice and Lusitania, as well as the whole southern Spain, which is still called Andalusia. The confirmation is given by the Arabic writer of Massoud who reports that in Andalusia live Serbs (9-10th century) as well as ancient writers who also say that the Luzicki Serbs lived in Portugal and Spain (Diodor, Strabon, Pliny). Luzicki Serbs were for centuries subjected to genocides by Germans, in 1941, there were 500.000 Serbs in Germany, Hitler killed 90% and now there is about 60.000 Lusitanian Serbs in Germany.

    Many Serbian toponyms in Spain – Cordoba (Sordoba), Carmona (Sarmona), Carteja (Sarteya), Sevilla (Sibilia). In the past, it was common for the nobility to be named by the place of birth. Thus, the father of Katarina the Great, who was the Prussian admiral, had a family name from the region of Serbiste (=Zerbst) as well as two sons Barbarossa: Federico de Serbia and Filipe de Serbia (Catalan history). A city that is considered Miguel Serbantes’ place of birth is called Veles. There are also the mountain Veles and the Veles River (Rio de Veles). Veles is the old Serbian god and its name has hundreds of Spanish settlements today. The name of the place now is Veles-Malaga. In the Planet maps, the name of the region is Cabrilla (Sabria). The place in which Serbantes was born, has the meaning: from Serbia (i.e. Michael from Serbia). After the development of the Castilian (not Spanish) language, this settlement was named Cabrilla (Sabria), still written with Serbian S. Cabrilla is Sabria or Serbia.

    There is nearby the second place that is also called Serbia, which in the Castilian language was named Carihuela (Sarihuela, today Torremolinos) also with Serbian S.

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