The Sintashta horses!

The origins and spread of domestic horses from the Western Eurasian steppes:

Domestication of horses fundamentally transformed long-range mobility and warfare1. However, modern domesticated breeds do not descend from the earliest domestic horse lineage associated with archaeological evidence of bridling, milking and corralling…at Botai, Central Asia around 3500 BC3. Other longstanding candidate regions for horse domestication, such as Iberia5 and Anatolia6, have also recently been challenged. Thus, the genetic, geographic and temporal origins of modern domestic horses have remained unknown. Here we pinpoint the Western Eurasian steppes, especially the lower Volga-Don region, as the homeland of modern domestic horses. Furthermore, we map the population changes accompanying domestication from 273 ancient horse genomes. This reveals that modern domestic horses ultimately replaced almost all other local populations as they expanded rapidly across Eurasia from about 2000 BC, synchronously with equestrian material culture, including Sintashta spoke-wheeled chariots. We find that equestrianism involved strong selection for critical locomotor and behavioural adaptations at the GSDMC and ZFPM1 genes. Our results reject the commonly held association7 between horseback riding and the massive expansion of Yamnaya steppe pastoralists into Europe around 3000 BC driving the spread of Indo-European languages. This contrasts with the scenario in Asia where Indo-Iranian languages, chariots and horses spread together, following the early second millennium BC Sintashta culture.

The paper is open access. Basically the Sintashta seem to have triggered the equine revolution across Eurasia.

Thanu Padmanabhan, A Noted Indian Physcist Passed Away Last Month

“Professor Ajit Kembhavi, former IUCAA director, who worked along with Prof Padmanabhan for the past more than 30 years, said, “He was an outstanding physicist, astronomer and scholar. He has written a series of highly acclaimed and technical books on different aspects of Theoretical Astrophysics and Theoretical Physics. It is a great loss to the astronomical community.” “

“This is one of the saddest days in the history of IUCAA, Pune and the Indian scientific community today. Professor Thanu Padmanabhan Padma Shri passed away this morning as a result of a cardiac arrest. Padmanabhan known as Paddy to us all, leaves behind his wife and daughter, innumerable friends, admirers, colleagues, teachers and his monumental legacy of research and textbooks.” said IUCAA director Prof Somak Raychaudhury.

Why the Aryan debate matters and why it should NOT

One of the earliest depictions of Rigvedic deities – Indra and Surya from Bhaja Caves near Lonavla.

A year after my blog post on the topic of the Aryan invasion, I am revisiting the topic on Brownpundits, not as a query into the historical question but as a question of identity and politics.

The Aryan debate touches a variety of political faultlines in India and hence is not going to be settled anytime soon I presume, yet intellectually I think it is a non-sequitur for most of the alleged issues around which the issue is discussed. Those issues being (not necessarily in order of importance)

  • Western colonialism and racism and its converse in India. (Identity)
  • The Jati-Varna system and its legacy in India
  • Dravidian nationalism
  • Islam and Christianity in Modern India.
  • Love for native antiquity and religious dogma.

My primary issue with the politics around this issue is that it clearly prevents intelligent and passionate people interested in the topic from pursuing it clear-headedly (Not that researchers don’t get illogically attached to their theories in face of overwhelming evidence). Perhaps the example of Colin Renfrew (Anatolian farmer hypothesis) accepting the Kurgan hypothesis (Marija Gimbutas) after the ancient DNA work came out is an outlier but it is still good to know such examples.

As far as the politics go, it’s fair to state that it’s the Hindutvadis who are at the vanguard of pushback against AIT/AMT (however it’s important to note that there are notable exceptions, and not all Hindutvavadis are invested in this debate). Also some non-Hindutvavadi (especially traditional Hindus and Indians with nativist anti-colonial mindset) are also invested in this debate.

Identity: Western colonialism and racism and its converse in India.

The genesis of the Aryan invasion theory was in the racist notions of white and European superiority – “White horse warriors who spoke a form a proto Sanskrit arrived in the subcontinent and subjugated the dark, stubby-nosed natives of India” (in process civilizing them). The extrapolation of this being – what the British colonizers were doing was just the latest upgrade of civilization being uploaded in the lands of relapsed natives. But then the stunning finds of the IVC began poking holes in this simplistic racist take. Though initially Indra was accused of the destruction of the IVC, later developments in the field acquitted him. However, it is important to note that as migrations became unpopular in global academia for the spread of cultures (post the Nazi Aryan theories), the Aryan migration theory remained mainstream in Indian academia (though the initial racist and simplistic narratives were rejected even by eminent Secular/Marxist historians).

Rejection of the AMT based on the circumstances of its genesis still remains a major reason for the rejection of AMT by Indians. The sentiment behind it being “No white men from outside civilized us”. However, it needs no pointing that in the academic chronology of Indian history, the Pre-Aryan IVC is the major Copper-Bronze age civilization known to us. As we discover more about pre Iron age peninsular India, we find the Stone-Chalcolithic age in the geographic region of India went far beyond the IVC and north Copper hoard sites. At this point, it is fair to assert that Rice cultivation developed somewhat independently in the region East of Punjab. Even basic ancient Indian books like Ancient India by Upinder Singh and India’s Ancient Past by RS Sharma have good length devoted to non-IVC pre-Iron age India.

No white men from outside civilized us” seems settled but its converse is commonplace in nativist Indian circles these days. The term Indus valley “civilization” is only used for the 2600bce to 1900bce Urban period, yet the web is replete with articles that push back the dates of “civilization” in IVC sites (as back as 8000 BCE), particularly Rakhigarhi which incidentally falls in modern India. This need for everything good happened in Ancient India first manifests itself in badly researched and tenous articles like this one – My response to it – here.

I see this need to find Ancient Indian examples for political or scientific advances without robust data to be the mirror to the Racist colonial theories.

Varna divisions and Dravidian faultlines:

Some critiques of the AIT/AMT take umbrage to the instrumental use of AIT/AMT by Brahmins/Kshatriyas to justify the Varna system and also by Dalit/Bahujan activists to “Smash” Brahmanism and thus by proxy Hinduism. The annual Durga-Mahishasur controversy and the Vaman-Bali Onam flamewars keep the controversy in the news.

The Eurasian-like ancestry (ANI ancestry) in India (Both Steppe pastoralist and IVC-like) is mostly correlated with the Varna status. The somewhat ethnic nature of the Varna hierarchy is unpalatable for modern Hindus to digest. However, it is important to note that such ethnic divisions in classes are commonplace around the world. While it is fair to assume in pre-modern times the interactions which led to the great mixing of the Indian subcontinent (2000BCE to 0AD) had violence and exploitation cooked into them, the reasons also could be explained without the worst subjugation imaginable.

Anyways it’s a fool’s errand to indulge in finding conclusive evidence in pre-literate history, I would argue that the question of Aryan Migration is irrelevant to this oppressor-oppressed narratives. From outsiders’ accounts, native sources as well as genetics, I think it is fair to conclude that after initial intermixing, a group of people who happened to have a higher proportion of certain ancestry (genetic/ cultural) dominated another set of people – either organically or systemically. Razib Khan makes this point very succinctly in his substack.

However, to this uncomfortable conclusion, it does not matter whether the ancient Arya expanded from the Kazakh steppes or the Punjab region or even Anatolia for that matter. The boundaries of Aryavarta in the subcontinent were themselves always expanding into their margins, and only after the complete expansion does the notion of Sacred geography become important; not before. Politically this point will be made either honestly or dishonestly by westerners and political opponents of Hinduism (not just Hindutva) – but there is space for a nuanced counter without indulging in ad-hoc denial which logically may be irrelevant. Even the most dogmatic adherents of sacred geography have to reflect that there was a time the geography wasn’t sacred.

Dravidian nationalism:

While most of the points made in the above passage are relevant to the question of Dravidian nationalism, its (Dravidian nationalism) basis is shakier than the Varna ethnic division. This point is made wonderfully by Razib khan here. Most probably IVC exodus had begun before the arrival of Steppe pastoralists (Arya in my opinion), so at best the pre-history can fit a model of subjugation of peninsular natives (AASI adjacent) by the farmers and pastoralists who left the collapsing IVC southwards. As mentioned before, it is a mug’s game to impose oppression Olympics on pre-history, but if it has to be done then the one mentioned in the previous line makes more sense than the Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy. The model that two elite cultures were interacting, integrating, subjugating, and co-opting natives – one in the north and one in the south while interacting with each other along the periphery seems to be the parsimonious explanation. In the mood of speculation, I would add that there was another elite culture in the mix – which Michael Witzel now calls – Kubhā-Vipāś substrate (which he earlier called Para-Munda) – corresponding to the remnants of the IVC in the North. 

Islam and Christianity:

Arguably this remains the biggest reason Hindutva remains politically opposed to AMT. The initial framing of Hindutva by Savarkar and Golwalkar made use of the insider-outsider analogy. While Savarkar saw no dissonance between his framing of Hindutva and Aryan migration, it was the religiously dogmatic and un-intellectual-ish Golwalkar whose framing of Hindutva rested on Hindus being native to the subcontinent since the beginning of time. Armed with the AIT/AMT the opponents of Hindutva have attacked this particular point scornfully in Golwalkar’s framing as a slam-dunk. Examples of this being this particularly transparent framing by Shoaib Daniyal. (given that he knows linguistics and must know that Rigvedic Sanskrit was most probably spoken in India around the same time).

However, this point shouldn’t matter for the intellectual foundation of native Indian thought (Hindutva ++) because.

  • One of the most common points made by AMT skeptics is that the Rigveda doesn’t clearly remember some older homeland. This point alone is enough to deny the Hinduism is foreign to the subcontinent argument. Firstly what we understand as Hinduism today is far different from the religion of the Rigvedic Aryans. Hinduism cannot at the same time be a British invention as well as imposed 3 thousand years ago by invading Aryans.
  • On the contrary viz. Turkic invaders who became rulers of the North and Central subcontinent were evidently aware of their foreign stock. Before most of the north Indian dynasties could go native, they were replaced by newer invaders for centuries. The Portuguese who violently brought Christianity to the coasts of India were equally sure of who they were and who they were not. As with the Parsis, Cochim Jews and British.
  • As I have argued before, current Hindu-Muslim faultlines have less to do with what the medieval invaders did and more what the Pakistan movement achieved and how Muslim intransigence and Hindutva consolidation have progressed since independence. This is a contested opinion and I plan to handle it sometime later in a separate post.
  • While Aryas and Medieval invasions remain contested and debated hotly, the dozen or so invaders who invaded post the Vedic period (barring Alexander) are not even footnotes in the discourse of the day. This brings me to the more important differentiation – data becomes sparse we go back and wrt to the Aryan migration we are truly holding at straws for building our narratives.                    Ex – the alleged anti-idolatry sentiment in the Rigvedic Aryans (wrt to some smashed Proto-linga from old Indus sites) is so flimsy and incomparable to the medieval invaders (more importantly the iconoclasm of the later kind remains as relevant today as it did in the medieval time)

Ideally in a modern democracy, all citizens have equal rights no matter whose ancestors came into the geographical entity when, but some framings of Hindu Rashtra (not all) make Muslims and Christians lesser citizens. While this yardstick continues to be used, arguments and rebuttals on this dubious point will continue (but it need not be).

Issues with academic chronology:

Unlike most states who have founding myths in historic times (barring China, Egypt, and Iran I guess), the foundations of the Indian civilizational state go back well into the Bronze-Iron age. The historic timeline of Agriculture (till IVC) 3500BCE -> IVC (2000BCE) -> Vedic period (1500-700 BCE) -> MahaJanapada period (700-300 BCE) are at odds with most chronologies popular among Hindus (even Jains for that matter). While the absolutely ludicrous timelines presented by Nilesh Oak have widespread support, it is far beyond my ability to address them. However, the academic dating of Indian history makes the Rigveda a 3500-year-old text at most, the events of Mahabharata (if they really occurred) as a 3000-3500 -year-old event. I guess Hindu traditionists (not necessarily Hindutvavadis) cannot digest the inconsistencies of traditions with academic history. While this appears to be an insoluble issue, I think like scientific oriented Christians and Jews who no longer hold the Book of Genesis as a historical text, Hindus can also look at their traditions from a rational lens (though currently where the truly scientific lens differentiates from the colonial lens is contested). However, this is easier said than done as the parallels between Creationism and Indian traditions (especially Itihasa) are unfair (as especially young-earth Creationism is way easier to dismiss).

In most of the above points, the Aryan debate remains irrelevant to the political narratives if one faces them with intellectual honesty, maybe except in the case of timelines. Ex: Brits whose self-conception goes back to the Magna Carta at most, don’t care whether Romans invaded and occupied Celtic Britain. Neither do they care about the Viking invasions or Norman conquests (as much). Unfortunately, Indian self-conception as a civilizational state goes back further than the Muslim invasions. Hence to counter the inconvenient history, the pre-historic events attested in one of the earliest texts of human history remain contested. Also the “we are a 5000-year-old civilization” drum cannot be beaten endlessly if Rigveda is dated to 3500 years ago – the date is irrelevant – the idea of the antiquity of ancient texts is not. It is the notion of eternal or Sanathan Dharma that trumps considerations, whose genesis is lost in the mist of time.


This essay is not an attempt to convince the ideologically dogmatic about the intellectual irrelevance of the debate but to convince those who try to be intellectually honest on both sides to rethink the linkages of politics to this debate.

Also, the AIT/AMT debate is not politically used against Jainism and Buddhism – whose texts also had the Arya-Mleccha distinction. Indra continues to be a Buddhist/Jain deity even outside the subcontinent.

Major Amin’s Review: 1965, A Western Sunrise. by Shiv Kunal Varma

1965 – A Western Sunrise -Indias War with Pakistan by Shiv Kunal Verma Reviewed by Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

September 2021

  • DOI:
  • 13140/RG.2.2.21404.00645
  • This is a very interesting new addition to books on 1965 war. The writer gives very interesting background details to each relevant person or subject , though these did not interest this scribe as a military reviewer. Overall, a good effort but it does contain several errors:

The authors assertion on page-43 that 6 Infantry brigade was an independent brigade is not correct as this brigade was a part of 8 Division.

On page.99 the writers assertion that 19 Baluch (Special Services Group or SSG) was formed with 7/10 Baluch as nucleus is TOTALLY INCORRECT . 7/10 was renumbered 15 Baluch while 17/10 Baluch was later renumbered 19 Baluch or the SSG.

On page.106 and 107 the authors undue praise of then Brigadier Harbaksh Singh’s advance towards Muzaffarabad in the 1948 Kashmir war is highly disputable as per both Pakistani and Indian accounts. eg Pakistani official history published in 1970 stated that on reaching Tithwal, which was defended by a weak infantry company, Brigadier Harbaksh Singh ordered a two day halt and thus lost a golden chance to change history and possibly threaten Muzaffarabad. In these two days Pakistan Army reinforced Tithwal with a brigade. Colonel Achutan Singh of Indian Army in a recent article published in Indian Defence Review analysed in detail Harbaksh Singhs incompetent siting of Indian defences of the Chunj position as a result of which Indian Army lost they key Chunj ridge and was pushed on defensive at Tithwal and driven out of Pir Sahaba Ridge. Incidentally the Pakistani success in the attack on Chunj was thanks to the role played by Major Sloan, a British officer who managed to transport a medium gun over the river using a pulley, and who later died in action and was buried with full military honors in Pakistan. Continue reading Major Amin’s Review: 1965, A Western Sunrise. by Shiv Kunal Varma

The Plagues of Justinian and Amwas: The 200 years long series of plagues and pestilence and the conquest of Muslims over Rome and Persia

Part 1:


During Umar bin Khattab’s caliphal rule, early Muslims experienced a sum of disasters which convinced them that the Day of Judgement is upon them.

During the last 1400 years, every generation of Muslims have had at least some groups and/or leaders who assured others that the Day of Judgement is imminent, yet the force of this conviction of impending apocalypse was perhaps never stronger than in the year 639 of Common Era (18 of Hijri).

The primary reason for this certitude was prophet Muhammad’s two hadeeths: 1) The prophet Muhammad, holding out his middle and index fingers, said, “My advent and the Hour (of Judgement) are like this (or like these),” namely, the period between his lifetime and the Day of Judgement is like the distance between his two fingers, i.e., very short ( 2) During the Ghazwa of Tabuk while he was sitting in a leather tent, the prophet said, “Count six signs that indicate the approach of the Hour: my death, the conquest of Jerusalem, a plague that will afflict you (and kill you in great numbers) as the plague that afflicts sheep, the increase of wealth to such an extent that even if one is given one hundred Dinars, he will not be satisfied; then an affliction which no Arab house will escape, and then a truce between you and Bani Al-Asfar (i.e. the Byzantines) who will betray you and attack you under eighty flags. Under each flag will be twelve thousand soldiers.” (

The prophet died in the year 632 CE, Muslims conquered Jeurasalem in 638 CE, and during the same year the regions of Levant and Arabia experienced such a severe famine that according to historian Ibn Abi Hajala, the sand of the Arabian peninsula turned black and thousands died due to hunger. He adds that caliph Umar’s body turned so weak that companions feared his death was upon him, and that in the Muslim chronicles the year 638 CE (17 of Hijri) was recalled as the Year of Ashes.

Since historically plagues have often followed famines, it is no surprise that soon after the famine a series of plagues began appearing in many Middle Eastern cities. In the Levantine city of Amwas (Emmaus Nicopolis), where Muslim army had been camping, the plague spread with such swiftness that according to several Muslim historians within a few days more than 25,000 Muslim soldiers died, including several prominent companions of the prophet. (Note: the figure of 25,000 shouldn’t be taken literally, as pre-modern historians often meant by such numbers to signify a large amount of people; there was of course no way to count the specific number of bodies.)

The most prominent among these companions was Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, who is among the ten companions preordained by the prophet to be one of his companions in paradise. Abu Ubaidah was appointed by caliph Umar the head of Muslim army in Syria replacing Khalid Bin Waleed, and under his competent leadership Muslim army won a series of battles, moving from Jerusalem to Beirut to Damascus with lightening speed. Umar had even said that if Abu Ubaidah had stayed alive, he’d have been the one appointed as the third caliph. But after Abu Ubaidah’s unfortunate death during the infamous Plague of Amwas, Umar conferred the governorship of Damascus on the competent shoulders of Muadh ibn Jabal. But soon after even he died, along with his son Abdul Rehman and his two wives. The prophet had said about Muadh that he will lead all Muslim scholars into the gates of paradise. The person who replaced him was Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan but soon plague took his life too. The fourth person to be appointed the governor of Damascus was Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan who was fortunate enough to survive the plague and thirty years later announced the beginning of his own caliphate and in doing so launched the Umayyad caliphate that continued for next hundred years.

Meanwhile, during the year 639, according to several hadeeths and Arab historians, caliph Umar traveled with two military battalions towards Syria, but when he reached the borderland region of Sargh, he met Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, Yazid ibn abi Sufyan, and Shurahbil ibn Hasana, all three of them had traveled down there from the garrison town of Amwas to inform him that a plague had spread at a brisk pace along the cities of Syria and he’d be better off returning back to Medina with his soldiers. According to the famous 9th century Arab historian Abu Jafar ibn Yazid al-Tabari, the caliph first consulted the early migrant ‘Muhajirun’ Muslims of Makkah and then the Medinans, but both groups differed. One said that it’s not wise to return after heading out to fight in the service of God, and the other said that it is a caliph’s duty to protect his soldiers and thus it is logical to return. Then Umar sought the view of those Makkans who had converted to Islam after its conquest by the Muslims. They were quick to suggest that the army should immediately head back. “This time, no two men among them disagreed, but they all said, ‘Return (to Medina) with the men; this is an affliction that may bring about our ruin.’”

Next morning, as narrated in The History of al-Tabari Volume XIII (Trans. Gautier H. A. Juynboll), when Umar got ready to leave, Abu Ubaydah said to him, “Are you fleeing from God’s providence?” “Yes,” Umar replied, “I flee from one divine ordinance to another. Don’t you see? Suppose a man goes down into a riverbed with two slopes, one fertile, the other barren, does the one who grazes his animals on the infertile slope not do so according to God’s ordinance, and does the one who grazes his animals on the fertile one not do so according to God’s ordinance?” Umar went on, “If somebody other than you had said this, Abu Ubaydah, . . . ,” (presumably Umar meant he’d have punished him). Then he went with him to a spot away from the people. While the men were thus busily readying themselves to depart, suddenly Abd al-Rahman bin Awf appeared on the scene. He had been following at a distance and had not been present yesterday. He exclaimed, “What on earth is the matter with the men?” So he was told. Then he said, “I know something about this which is relevant.” Umar said, “In our eyes you are a truthful and honest man,- what can you tell us?” Abd al-Rahman said, “I heard the Messenger of God say: ‘When it comes to your notice that there is a pestilence in a certain country, do not go near it, and if it breaks out while you are in it, do not flee from it then.’ Therefore, Abd al-Rahman concluded, “nothing should make you leave this place except those words.” Umar exclaimed, “God be praised, so leave, all you men!” Then he departed with them. (

What follows after the departure of caliph Umar is narrated by Al-Tabari in these words:

“According to Ibn Humayd—Salamah—Muhammad b. Ishaq— Aban b. Salih—Shahr b. Hawshab al-Ash’ari—someone from his clan who, after his father had died, was left behind to take care of his mother and was an eyewitness of the plague of Amwas, (in other words Shahr’s stepfather), “When the disease became widespread, Abu Ubaydah stood up among his men and delivered the following speech, “Men, this sickness is a mercy from your Lord, a request from your Prophet Muhammad and it has caused the death of the pious who died before you; I, Abu Ubaydah, ask God that He assign to me my share thereof.” Suddenly he suffered (an acute attack of) the disease, as a result of which he died. Muadh ibn Jabal was appointed as his successor over the people. He went on: Then, after that, (Muadh) delivered a speech in which he said, “Truly, men, this sickness constitutes a mercy from your Lord, a request from your Prophet and it has caused the death of the pious who died before you; I, Muadh, ask God that He assign thereof a share to my family.” Then his son, Abd al-Rahman bin Muadh, suffered (a sudden attack of) the plague as a result of which he died. Then Muadh stood up and prayed for a share of the disease for himself, after which it smote him. Indeed, I saw him looking at his palm, then he kissed the back of his hand and said, “I prefer not to have anything of this world (together) with what (I have) in you (i.e. my hand).” When he had died, Amr bin al-‘As was made his successor over the people. Amr stood up to address the people and said,” “Men, when this sickness strikes, it spreads like wildfire, so let us run away from it to the mountains.” Then Abu Wathilah al-Hudhali said, “by God, you are known to us as a liar. While you were still no better than the donkey I sit on, I had already become a Companion of the Prophet.” But, he went on, “by God, this time I will not reject what you say. I swear by God, we should not stay here!” Then he departed and the people went with him and scattered in all directions. Eventually God took the plague away from them. He went on: News of this opinion of Amr bin al-‘As reached Umar bin al-Khattab and, by God, he did not raise objections to it.”

In fact, Umar appointed Amr bin al-‘As head of the Muslim army in Egypt, and he famously led the Muslim conquest of Egypt within the next five years.

It is vital to give the Sargh and Plague of Amwas accounts in detail here because during the next several centuries Muslims were beset with an interminable series of plagues and pestilence, and this Sargh debate, along with three germane hadeeths, were rehashed each time by Muslim scholars in their dogged debates about how to countenance these plagues. One of those hadeeths was mentioned above by Abd al-Rahman bin Awf, and the second one is included in Sahih Bukhari according to which the prophet said, “‘No Adwa (i.e. no contagious disease); nor (any evil omen in the month of) Safar; nor Hama (a bird used to foretell future) exists.’ A bedouin asked, ‘O Allah’s Messenger! What about the camels which, when on the sand (desert) look like deers, but when a mangy camel mixes with them they all get infected with mange?’ On that Allah’s Apostle said, ‘Then who conveyed the (mange) disease to the first (mangy) camel?’” (

And according to the third hadeeth, “Narrated Aisha (the wife of the Prophet): I asked Allah’s Messenger about the plague. He told me that it was a Punishment sent by Allah on whom he wished, and Allah made it a source of mercy for the believers, for if one in the time of an epidemic plague stays in his country patiently hoping for Allah’s Reward and believing that nothing will befall him except what Allah has written for him, he will get the reward of a martyr.” (

Thus keeping in mind the judgements of prophet’s companions at Sargh, and the three aforementioned hadeeths, Muslim scholars and jurists have had three foremost opinions on plagues and pestilence: 1) that all plagues and pestilence are a gift from God to believers but God’s wrath for unbelievers, and that a Muslim who dies due to a plague is a martyr, 2) that a Muslim should neither enter a plague-infested region nor escape from it, and 3) that there is no truth to contagion, all disease and deaths are directly from God.

(Side note: I’ve got to mention here Lawrence Conrad’s excellent paper, Umar at Sargh: The Evolution of an Umayyad Tradition of Flight from the Plague. Conrad is the preeminent historian of plague and medicine in the medieval Muslim world, and in this paper he scrutinizes the evolutionary nature of the seven riwayaats of the Umar at Sargh narrative and convincingly concludes that it’s an invention of 9th century Arab historians involved in debate over the nature of plagues, that there is no doubt Muslim army was stuck with a major plague and that many prominent companions died including Abu Ubaidah, but it is doubtful if Umar had ever led an expedition towards Syria (since no rowayaat properly explains the nature of the expedition), and that even if he had taken an expedition, the debates are certainly invented. He argues that each of the seven riwayaats of the epidsode has bits added to it for literary and rhetorical purposes, and that in this case the riwayaats were adopted by later muhaddiths.

He writes, “The Umar at Sargh tradition provides a valuable example of how an account that in its earliest extant form simply seeks to report Umar’s journey and the reason for its failure, could be so elaborately revised and altered as to lose almost all contact with its original basis (insofar as we have access to this stage of the process) by the time it reached its fully developed form. Specifically, it illustrates how a sophisticated Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad could evolve from what had earlier been a simple historical khabar.” He adds, “it bears notice, however, that the Umar at Sargh materials do not support the commonly asserted position that the genre of akhbar originated from that of hadith, indeed, they illustrate development in precisely the opposite direction.” Later, “the actual journey is henceforth reduced to the role of a frame story that provides the setting for an effort to address major doctrinal and theological issues that had not drawn the attention of earlier tradents. Specifically, the tradition now raises the problem that as all things – including plague – come from God, flight from stricken places and prudent cautionary measures against the epidemic would seem at least to reflect deficient faith, or even comprise defiance of the will of God. The advice of three groups of Muslims neatly sets the stage, an altercation between Umar and Abu Ubayda, soon to fall victim to the Plague Amwas, poses the issue of divine will, and a solution is found in Umar’s parable of the herdsman in the wadi. The tradition of the Prophet, however, lacks the authority to settle the matter, and rather only introduces the problem. In this and all subsequent versions, the Qur’anic motif of consultation with the Companions proves to be crucial.” And finally, “If it seems reasonable to concede that Umar ibn al-Khattab actually did undertake a journey that was terminated prematurely by the outbreak of plague in Syria, the fact remains that even the later tradents, creative in so many other ways, were at a loss as to what to make of this journey. Only the last version, heavily embroidered in all respects, goes so far as to say that Umar was ‘on a campaign’ (ghaziyan), but which campaign? Such lack of differentiation is in itself suspect, and no other source knows of any military expedition led personally by Umar, to Syria or anywhere else.”)

All of this gets infinitely more fascinating once we expand our field of vision in both space and time from Hijaz and Syria to the greater Middle East and the Mediterranean world and from merely the 630s to the entire 6th and 7th centuries and beyond. Because around 150 years before the year 639, Christians of the Byzantine Middle East and Persia had convinced themselves that the world is about to end. (Hence, the thesis of many scholars, Stephen J. Shoemaker prominent among them, that Islam was a natural, though uniquely Arab, product of the greater Mediterranean zeitgeist of the Late Antique 6th and 7th centuries, and that the prophet Muhammad and early Muslims were motivated by their belief in an imminent apocalypse.) There were several reasons for this belief among 6th century Christians: 1) Using dates given in Bible, Christian clergy figured that the world will not age beyond 6000 years, and by calculating the ages of prophets they estimated that the age of the world had already reached 6000 years during the sixth century. 2) Christian Bible’s Book of Revelation had prophesied that right before the second coming of Jesus, the world will be enveloped in a series of wars, famines, plagues, and earthquakes. And sixth century had indeed been a long century of quite literal darkness enveloping the Mediterranean world and beyond, ushering with it several episodes of plagues, famines, earthquakes, a Late Antiquity version of climate change, indeed a “Global Cooling,” and to top it all, a century long tug of wars between the Roman/Byzantine empire and the Persian empire. These endless calamities had hollowed out both these grand old empires, politically and financially, to such an extent that a new group of warriors were able to emerge from Arabia and in quick succession topple both.


(It’s a four part series. The first part deals with the Plague of Amwas and, briefly, its impact on debates about plagues among medieval Muslim scholars, and historicity of the Plague of Amwas tradition. Second part expands to the Justinian Plague (the most fun part). Third one on the 6th century Byzantine Persian wars and the rise of Islam. Fourth part on the 4 major plagues during the Umayyad period given in Muslim historical traditions and, briefly, the rise of Abbasids.)

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History of al-Tabari: The Conquest of Iraq, SouthWestern Persia, and Egypt Vol XIII (Trans. Gautier H. A. Juynboll)

Arabic Plague Chronologies and Treatises Social and Historical Factors in the Formation of a Literary Genre, Lawrence I. Conrad

TA ‘UN AND W’ABA: Conceptions of Plague and Pestilence in Early Islam, Lawrence I. Conrad

The Comparative Communal Responses to the Black Death in Muslim and Christian Societies by Michael W. Dols

Epidemic disease in central Syria in the late sixth century: Some new insights from the verse of Hassān ibn Thābit, Lawrence I. Conrad

Abraha and Muḥammad: Some Observations Apropos of Chronology and Literary “topoi” in the Early Arabic Historical Tradition, Lawrence I. Conrad

Life and Afterlife of the First Plague Pandemic, Lester K. Little

Historians and Epidemics: Simple Questions, Complex Answers, Jo N. Hays

‘For Whom Does the Writer Write?’: The First Bubonic Plague Pandemic According to Syriac Sources, Michael G. Morony

Justinianic Plague in Syria and the Archaeological Evidence, Hugh N. Kennedy

Crime and Punishment: The Plague in the Byzantine Empire, 541–749, Dionysios Stathakopoulos

Bubonic Plague in Byzantium: The Evidence of Non-Literary Sources, Peter Sarris

Procopius and the Sixth Century, Averil Cameron

When Numbers Don’t Count: Changing Perspectives on the Justinianic Plague, Monica H. Green

Rejecting Catastrophe: The Case of the Justinianic Plague, Lee Mordechai, Merle Eisenberg

Ancient Yersinia pestis genomes from across Western Europe reveal early diversification during the First Pandemic (541–750), Marcel Keller and others

The Political and Social Role of Khurasan under Abbasid Rule 747-820, Elton L. Daniel

Incentivize India to move forward and not backward : Incentivize Intercaste marriages

India is going down the path of endless conflict over dividing people and how much of the slice of pie should be given to each of them for their backwardness. It was fair to provide sc/st with reservations. Beyond that, it has come to be about pressure tactics being applied by politically dominant communities to assert themselves. There is also an unprincipled policy by various govts to offer sops to different communities including forward communities and other religious communities. This violates basic principles of govt being impartial .

One must instead incentivize what one intends to see much more than to reinforce the social structures and those who are politically invested in supporting it.

Govt should remove 10% quota it has offered to general community. Breaching the 50% quota by govt was politically expedient for elections but now has led to repercussions of it going much further. It was clear then and now that this is how it would evolve. It was a terrible move by the govt to go against the supreme court directive of offering quotas beyond 50%. The congress party has already claimed that it intends to bring reservations in pvt sector as well.

Govt can instead restructure its quota policy, it should instead be given to people of ICM background , also govt should encourage ICM at district level with promises of economic loans, houses and other sops and aim for 15 % quotas for ICM at every district. It could tailor the already prevalent quotas to obc and sc/st and add the provision that even among them, those with ICM will be preferred over others.

Govt should also increase and reserve seats at the panchayat level and in politics for 25 % additional seats to be created and offered to people of ICM background as first preference. As Indian population has increased significantly, govt should take advantage of this to tailor new constituencies . Govt in power should take this once in a generation opportunity due to its majority to achieve this.

This can be creatively implemented to ensure a political constituency that shall propel Indians forward rather than backward. You should create the constituency that shall take you forward.

Browncast: Omar Ali on Pakistan, Myths and Realities

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this podcast we reverse positions and guest blogger Maneesh Taneja interviewed me (Omar Ali) instead of the other way round. We talk about the usual stuff, the ideology of Pakistan,  partition, why the army rules Pakistan, how the India-Pakistan thing is likely to evolve, and suchlike. Just a casual conversation.


  1. I said at around the 40 minute mark that the Indian army at partition was around 50% Muslim. That is not correct (thanks to @genionomist for pointing this out on twitter). It was about 33% Muslim, 33% Sikh and 33% Hindu.
  2. I said Pakistan officially teaches pride in the Indus valley civilization and then jumps to Mohammed Bin Qasim. I forgot to mention that we DO own the Gandhara civilization, but we present it as Buddhist, almost never as Hindu or generically “Indian”. In that sense, it is used to buttress the assertion that Pakistan was never really too “Indian”. And I did not get into this, but left-liberal types who reject or question the Two Nation theory then insist on a very sharp and black and white British 19th Century type vision of evil Aryans invading “our real people”, the heroic Dravidians. Win some, lose some 😉

I promised in the podcast that I would also post links to some articles and books I believe may be relevant. So here goes:

  1. Pakistan, Myths and Consequences. My article in “Pragati” about the ideology of Pakistan and its consequences for Pakistan can be found here. 
  2. Podcast with Venkat Dhulipala can be found here. 
  3. A link to Venkat Dhulipala’s book “creating a new Medina“, which I think is an excellent introduction to how Pakistan was imagined by many (not all) of its creators.
  4. Abdul Majeed Abid on the Objectives resolution, adopted by the Pakistani constituent assembly as the basis for a future constitution of Pakistan, can be found here. 
  5. Martial Race Theory, myths and consequences. This article by Major Amin sheds light on the genesis of the Pakistan army and its self image.
  6. Our fellow blogger “the emissary” views on India’s Islam. 
  7. Dr Hamid Hussain’s summary of the Kashmir problem is here.

Kashmiris are just generic North Indians, and there is no difference between Pandits and Muslim Kashmiris

Since people ask me this I have to post this now and then. We have genetic data. So in short order

1) Kashmiris are like other people in the Northwest of India. They are not enriched in steppe ancestry, at least compared to many Punjabis or Brahmins from the Gangetic plain

2) There is no genetic difference I can see between Pandits and Kashmiri Muslims, indicating to me that one distinctive aspect of the Vale of Kashmir in comparison to the rest of the Indian subcontinent is that it does not exhibit the jati-varna structure common across the subcontinent

3) Some researchers and genetic genealogists have found some Tibetan admixture at low levels among Kashmiri Muslims and Pandits

4) It is probably correct that elite Muslims have low levels of Central Asian and Iranian ancestry, though that’s harder to detect than Tibetan background

Academic freedom, Hinduism, and the end of the age

Under fire from Hindu nationalist groups, U.S.-based scholars of South Asia worry about academic freedom:

We are at a tipping point,” said Rohit Chopra, one of the conference organizers and a professor of communication at Santa Clara University. He said the issue went beyond the conference. “It’s about the principles of freedom of expression, academic freedom and of a university being a space where people can speak for the most vulnerable.”

The online conference, Dismantling Global Hindutva, included panels on the hierarchical caste system, Islamophobia and differences between Hinduism the religion and Hindutva the majoritarian ideology. The event was co-sponsored by departments of more than 40 American universities, including Harvard and Columbia.

The whole piece is a mishmash. First, let’s stipulate that many Hindu activists are unsophisticated, illiberal, and nasty pieces of work. But someone like Suhag Sukhkla is none of those things. So the article focuses more on the former than the latter because the former is sensationalistic. Yet, many of the reported threats are credible to me because I myself have received various forms of these invectives from 15-year-old masturbaters in India on Twitter (though a little surprised adults behave like this too). But beneath the bluster and thuggishness, there’s a legitimate grievance. Imagine an academic conference on Islam that spotlighted its hierarchical gender system, religious dominionism, and the differences between Islam as a culture and Islam as a religion. Such a conference wouldn’t happen because academics would fear Muslim outrage and violence, and, they see Muslims as subalterns and marginal, and so above criticism.

The first issue illustrates why many Indians and Hindus are behaving like this: they’ve seen the heckler’s veto work on weak-spined academics before. They’ve seen it work for Muslims, and they’ve seen it work for left-wing activists. When Charles Murray was physically attacked at Middlebury it got results. Murray really can’t speak in public anymore at such venues because the cost of security would be prohibitive. The second issue is that academics don’t really believe in freedom of expression anymore, they believe in critiquing the powerful. They’re activists. Ideologues. What the Hindus are doing is turning the master’s tools against the master when they leverage identity politics and their status as people of color. The academics, who don’t really believe in freedom of expression, respond with most gusto when they try and smear Hindus by connecting them with Nazism and argue for their hegemonic status vis-a-vis Muslims in the subcontinent. It’s all who/whom here.

I believe in dispassionate analysis and Epoche. Many Hindu activists and believers are wrong on many things. And I tell them so when I think this. But I don’t do this because I want to “deconstruct Hinduism.” I don’t really care that much about Hinduism, or Islam, or any religion. I want to know what’s true. When humanities scholars gave up on the truth, they gave up on the high ground from which they could defend their viewpoints as part of free speech. This is the world they created. You told people that truth is subordinate is power. Your enemies now seek power to force you to speak their truth.