Open Thread – 10/17/2020

By Razib Khan 157 Comments

The thread is open. Three new podcasts this week in case you aren’t subscribed. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with things and I just can’t be bothere with detailed show notes.

As I mentioned before I’m recording interviews for a new podcast I’m starting up separate from the others I run. I’m just throwing them on Patreon for now. Today I recorded an interview with the author of 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Looking at the tracks…he’s a very good talker!

I really recommend the book, it’s pretty well written. He also talks about his follow-up book, in terms of when we can expect and what it’s about.

Also, I may start trashing stupid comments now and then. Just to keep you guys “honest.”

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Tibeto-Burmans, Munda, and Bengalis

By Razib Khan 5 Comments


I’m pretty sure I posted this Chaubey lab work as a preprint, but it’s now a published paper. For those who can’t understand the table, it illustrates a big difference between Tibeto-Burmans and Munda. The samples from Bangladesh look to be generic Bangladeshis, the 10% frequency for O2a seems to match the other data I’ve seen for East Bengalis.

This confirms that the East Asian admixture into Bengalis was not Munda. And, the Tibeto-Burmans of the nTibeortheast have no assimilated Munda ancestry. I think it does lend more credence to the idea that the Munda arrived in the Indian subcontinent across the Bay of Bengal, landing in Odisha, rather than from the northeast.

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Scale – In Satyagraha, Societies, and Statecraft

By The Emissary Leave a comment

One writer who caused an evolution of my thought is the fiery Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His brash yet precise style, swashbuckling smashing of intellectuals, and ancestral Mediterranean insights provided an alternative thought diet in a world that force-feeds the same message to me on television, social media, and amongst my friends here in a buffet of American coastal elites. From the jest of randomness, the beauty of black swans, the advancement of antifragility, and piercing skin in the game, Taleb created a dancing sequence of jabs and hooks to create a battle-hardened mentality to approach the world and knowledge.

One of the biggest yet most nuanced lessons I learned from Taleb was that of scale – how inputs yield outputs differently, depending on size and magnitude. An easy example of this common-sense concept is the difficulty in enforcing an exercise and diet regimen for oneself versus one’s entire family versus one’s entire community and so on. Trying to do good things is easier and possibly more effective in the long run when done on a smaller scale.

It’s one thing to change oneself on an individual level, another to create a visible shift in societies, and another to execute proper governance accounting for different groups along with the externalities and the headaches that come along with policies.

The Search for Truth

Satyagraha or the holding of truth paved the road in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence. Inspired by the ahimsa of Hinduism and Jainism, Gandhi brought his own interpretation taking an ancient concept to new frontiers.

The principles of satyagraha:

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Truth
  3. Not stealing
  4. Non-possession (not the same as poverty)
  5. Body-labor or bread-labor
  6. Control of desires
  7. Fearlessness
  8. Equal respect for all religions
  9. Economic strategy such as boycott of imported goods (swadeshi)

Admirable qualities that built the legend of the Mahatma, the great soul. Selflessness at its apex captured the hearts of Indians across the subcontinent in a mass non-violent movement at such a scale that it has no parallels in world history before or since. While an individual taking on satyagraha is highly laudable, expanding it to society proved a double-edged sword.

With the British reeled from a cataclysmic World War at home and a cracking crown jewel in the Raj, their leaders eventually acquiesced to the rightful demands of an independent India. Truth had met victory in the eyes of the Mahatma’s disciples, but this satyagraha would now face a much older foe that had made its home in the subcontinent over centuries.

Jinnah and Gandhi Prior To Their Falling Out Early On In The Indian Independence Movement

Naiveté crept into a population until it was maimed by the madness of a maniac with Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s call of “Direct Action” severing the dreams of Gandhi and millions of other Indians for a united India. What Gandhi and his ideological descendants, Gandhians, got wrong is how values apply at scale. Stunningly noble principles for individuals could not be forced upon a people who were facing a polar opposite ideology filled with aggressive malice and cultivated by despicable men to match.

“Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence.” —Mahatma Gandhi, Birla Mandir, New Delhi, on April 6, 1947; Partition Would Occur 4 Months Later

The beauty of satyagraha was smeared with the ugliness of Islamism and this duality incarnated by way of a bloody partition. An assassin would cite the suicidal idealism of Gandhi as the gunpowder to his fatal and fateful bullet that transformed a man into a martyr and Gandhi into a god. The last breath of Gandhi permeated throughout Indian politics since.

Forsaking looking at others’ faults and focusing on your own to improve are great actions on an individual level. Trying to apply this mentality at a large scale is impossible and can be disastrous. Gandhi’s goal to apply the kindness and tolerance that he practiced throughout his life at a larger level provides a testament to the dangers of this ruinously beautiful ideal.

Primus Inter Pares

While I may have been harsh on Gandhi, his satyagraha was a very inspirational movement that achieved its primary aim (with the help of several violently resisting Indians of course, too) and would echo in the minds of different generations and geographies. Its failures would only truly come to fore when reciprocity broke down as scale increased and satyagraha faced the sinister.

A communal concoction that had been boiling for centuries spilled over once again just as Gandhi tried to ease the concerns of an ambitious Jinnah and company who were decided in their choice to break India. What went so wrong here?

Good behavior scales badly. Bad behavior scales goodly.

An essential lesson to impart here is that the kindness that we should all so admire shouldn’t be extended frivolously in the world at large scales. Strive to be exceedingly kind to all the individuals in your life, but expect less of a return as familiarity decreases and quantity increases. The world of geopolitics and governance is witness to how might towers over magnanimity as scale maximizes. And it is here where we need to examine a powerful chapter across world history for the past several decades – social justice.

Inspired By Gandhi’s Non-Violent Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Marched For Civil Rights and To End Segregation

Social justice has yielded some of the greatest moments in politics as policies such as apartheid and segregation were thrown into the abyss, while reservations in India helped lower castes climb out of the abyss. Tangible benefits were born through simple and actionable policies and goals.

Today, however, social justice movements have been plagued by vague goals and a lack of dynamic leadership. Faceless protests descend into rioting at an alarming rate with politicians taking advantage of the chaos and righteous movements thwarted by themselves. No Gandhi’s, no Dr. King’s, no Mandela’s lead the wave of change today. The absence of these emissaries who create a dialogue between the masses and politicians means that when social justice is applied at scale, it descends into disarray with vultures disguised as politicians picking and prodding at a soon to be carcass of a movement. Justice has inherent danger when applied at scale and needs the right leaders and values to guide it properly.

On the flip side, there are also the potential horrors of hyper-local justice such as in the panchayat system of rural India, where a clan of elders decides the fate of the accused, sometimes with cruel and Hammurabi style punishments. We are seeing this hyper-local eye for an eye type justice now extrapolate to larger scales amongst many intelligentsia and political leaders, a notion that would lead to disastrous strife if the scale continues to ramp up.

Virtualism

Bruno Maçães, a prominent political analyst and now part-time philosopher, proposes that America is entering a period where fantasy supersedes reality. The digital world at your fingertips is shaped by the hand of technology. What you see and consume on your timeline is a lens with a distorted scale of the world. What is anecdote becomes amplified into annals as the speed of the extreme races past the mundane on the information superhighway.

THE SPREAD OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY HAVE BLURRED THE LINE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY

Outrage oscillates the Overton Window wildly as technology’s reality distortion field melds our perception. This pendulum pushes our politics in an increasingly divisive direction as upstart politicians wield clout and clicks on social media steering agendas into fantastical territories that are disconnected from realities and history. Technology and social media have brought notions of the past closer to us than ever as rabid battles over who oppressed who pan out in the digital theatre of war.

Elite consensus is upended by guerrilla historians, sometimes erroneously but many times rightfully. These intellectual insurgents zoom out and in on specific instances to promote their perspective, occasionally out-of-context but every so often right on the money. The thin selection of stories published by establishments has given way to an explosion of untold chapters bypassing traditional media and academia, all with the help of technology.

Protests Have Quickly Descended Into Riots Across The US As No Leader Stands On The Same Platform As The Giants of the Past

However, this has directly lead to an exacerbation of the application of justice. Crimes of the past are scaled out to include those in the present. Justice morphs into its fraternal twin, revenge. Now, I don’t believe it’s right to silence the discussion of the horrors of the past as that is essential to reconciliation. However, this discussion must be joined with efforts to bring real justice – opportunity and truth – to those who have been oppressed and not extend the hatred of the past to the descendants of oppressors in the present. Funny enough, the answer to opportunity may lie in economics (whether welfare reform, access to capital, ease of business, tackling inequalities, etc…) rather than culture wars.

Today’s society values performatives over pragmatism. In the quest to fight historical injustices, we can’t ask for revenge that spirals into a wheel of fire. We should remember the great effort to organize mass non-violent movements such as satyagraha and civil rights in an era today where the embers of violence quickly follow the gasoline rhetoric of many of our politicians and “activists.” For only great men, great women, and great movements transcend the limits of scale and sculpt our tomorrow.

This is a repost from The EmissaryPlease visit the blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits!

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    Last year marked the 280th anniversary of Nadir Shah's invasion of the city of Delhi - an event as catastrophic as the invasion of the city by Timur in 1398. It is worth reflecting on this remarkable event in early 18th century - an episode that underscores the perils of…
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Run up to the Kashmir War of 1947-48, Pakistani POV

By Omar Ali 3 Comments

From Major Amin.

  • There was duplicity on Pakistan side in not agreeing to simple formula proposed by Lord Mountbatten that Muslim majority states join Pakistan and non-Muslim majority states join India-Thus Pakistan was unrealistically hoping to get Hyderabad Deccan , Jodhpur ,Bikaner and Junagadh–
  • Thus technically and legally Maharaja of Kashmir’s joining India was legitimate
  • Nehru’s agreement to plebiscite in Kashmir was the most stupid blunder of the whole
  • Ideally Kashmir should be demilitarized and made independent after a plebiscite but this is not acceptable to Pakistan, India or China.

Also for general interest an extract from my book HISTORY OF PAKISTAN ARMY VOLUME ONE

History is made by those who seize fleeting opportunities in the critical time span in any particular situation and relentlessly execute their plans without second thoughts, subduing inner fears, overcoming procrastination and vacillation, and above all by those who are propelled by the burning desire to defeat the enemy rather than any halfhearted judiciousness and timidity. Ninety years of loyalism and too much of constitutionalism had however made the Muslims of 1947 slow in taking the initiative and too much obsessed with consequences of every situation. This attitude was excellent as long as the British were the rulers, but not for a crisis situation, in which geography, time and space, alignment of communications and weather temporarily favored Pakistan, in case initiative and boldness was exercised and simple but audacious plans were executed in the shortest possible time! Today, it is fashionable to blame the Indians, Mountbatten, Gracey etc. as far as the 1947-48 War is concerned. A dispassionate study of the events of 1947-48 clearly proves that victory was closer in 1947 than ever again as far as the Pakistan Army was concerned. Opportunities were lost because very few people who mattered at any level apart from Mr. Jinnah, Brigadier Akbar Khan and some others were really interested in doing anything! Continue reading “Run up to the Kashmir War of 1947-48, Pakistani POV”

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Reflections on Nadir Shah’s exploits in India

By srikanth 10 Comments

Last year marked the 280th anniversary of Nadir Shah’s invasion of the city of Delhi – an event as catastrophic as the invasion of the city by Timur in 1398.

It is worth reflecting on this remarkable event in early 18th century – an episode that underscores the perils of a weak state.

Source : wiki images

State of the Empire in the 1730s

What’s remarkable about this invasion is that it happened barely 32 years after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 – a time when the Mughal Empire was still very formidable and pan Indian in extent (albeit a tad over-extended). By 1739, the decline of the empire was well underway. The Mughal emperor at the time of Nadir Shah’s assault was Muhammad Shah, Aurangzeb’s great grandson.

Now it is well known that Aurangzeb was just the 6th Mughal emperor, between 1526 and 1707. But Muhammad Shah who ascended the throne in 1719, was the 12th!

So you had six new emperors in the ten years following Aurangazeb’s death – as many emperors as the number between 1526 and 1707 – a commentary on the chaos at the head of the empire in the years succeeding Aurangzeb.

Now let us do a quick summary on the state of the region just before Nadir Shah’s assault –

  • Bengal was already semi-independent, with Murshid Quli Khan becoming the first Nawab of the region circa 1720.
  • Avadh was on its way to autonomy with Saadat Khan becoming its first Nawab in 1722.
  • The Marathas were clearly in the ascendant. By 1737, they had gained tax collection rights in Deccan, Gujarat, Bundelkhand. In 1737, two years before Nadir Shah’s raid, Baji Rao attacked Delhi and scored a remarkable victory – despite having an army half as large as the Mughals. Post the battle of Delhi, Malwa was ceded by the Mughals to Baji Rao’s Marathas. In 1738 on the eve of the Nadir Shah invasion, the Mughal crown was already weakened considerably.

The other point to note is that even after 2 full centuries of Mughal rule, the nobility of the land was largely foreign born. So power was wielded by men who felt no patriotism for India, and had no affinity to the traditions and culture of the land.  Let’s take some examples –

      • Nizam Ul Mulk, perhaps the most influential noble in early 1700s, was of Uzbek ancestry. His grandfather had migrated from Samarkhand
      • Saadat Khan, the Nawab Avadh, was a native of Nishapur (north eastern Iran), who had moved to India in early 1700s

This goes contrary to the perception pushed by many historians today that Mughals shouldn’t be regarded as foreigners as they were “thoroughly assimilated” and “rooted” in the Indian soil. Hardly the case.

The foreign origins of much of the creme-de-la-creme of the nobility meant a somewhat weak affinity to the land, and susceptibility to treason against the state. Saadat Khan in fact later advised Nadir Shah to assault Delhi, and ask for a large ransom.

Now let’s examine the situation in Persia in the decades leading up to Nadir Shah’s invasion of India.

The Safavid empire ended in 1722 following an Afghan rebellion. But this proved shortlived, with Nadir Shah defeating the Afghans and establishing his rule over Persia starting 1736.

With respect to Afghanistan – Mughals had lost Southern Afghanistan (including Qandahar) to Persia in the mid 1600s. However they retained control of Kabul / northern parts of the country.

Right from the start of his reign, Nadir evinced great interest in the Mughal Empire. He could see the waning power in Delhi as an opportunity. Also the Persian hold over Qandahar meant a strategic advantage for Persia, lost to the Mughals for nearly a century.

Failed Diplomatic efforts

What’s interesting though is that Nadir didn’t simply launch an assault on India with a savage horde. He engaged in extensive diplomacy, with multiple communications with Mughal crown!

E.g. in 1736, Nadir Shah sent an envoy to Delhi, informing of his intent to expel Afghan rebels from Qandahar, and requesting that the Mughal power in Kabul should obstruct these Afghans and not give them refuge. The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah responded agreeably. But when the expulsion of Afghans happened from Qandahar in early 1737, the Afghan rebels did flee to Kabul. The Mughals breached on their promise!

When Nadir Shah sought an explanation for this breach through an envoy, Delhi gave him no reply. And on top of that detained the Persian envoy!

Even communication between Delhi and Kabul was terribly slothful! When the Mughal governor in Kabul sought funds for his troops, his repeated requests were turned down by Muhammad Shah the emperor. So clearly you had a situation when the frontier regions of Afghanistan and Punjab grew gradually defenceless through neglect, at a time when Persian power under Nadir Shah was on the rise.

This was an empire waiting to be assaulted.

The Battle at Karnal

Nadir conquered Northern Afghanistan in 1738. Peshawar and Lahore soon followed. Then the Shah marched to Karnal, where a decisive battle awaited him. In the great battle that ensued at Karnal (February 1739), the Persian army numbered at 55K cavalry. The Mughal army was likely larger, but heavily reliant on elephants – a ponderous and outmoded carrier.

What’s also remarkable is that the Mughal armies took for ever to assemble at Karnal! Saadat Khan, the noble from Awadh, took a whole month to arrive with his troops in Karnal.

It took him 3 days to travel from Delhi to Panipat – a mere distance of 55 miles! This is in sharp contrast to the blitzkrieg raids that Marathas were undertaking elsewhere in India at the same time. The Mughal army (in part perhaps because of its reliance on elephants) was not mobile enough. Not nimble enough.

The other major difference was in the familiarity and comfort with fire-arms. The Persian army revelled at fire-arms. The Mughal army still relied a great deal on swordsmanship and “felt a contempt for missile weapons” (to quote Jadunath Sarkar)

Here’s Sarkar elaborating on the Indian inefficiency at fire-arms

So the result at Karnal was a resounding victory for Nadir Shah. But what followed was not a raid on Delhi rightaway, but extensive negotiations for peace!  This included face-to-face conversations between Nadir Shah and the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah at the Persian camp near Karnal.

Negotiations post battle

Here’s an account from Sarkar drawing on the primary sources of Harcharan, Anandram et al on the first meeting between Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah.

But the emperor reneged on his word and did not pay the requested ransom of Rs 20 crores! This angered Shah and eventually led to a second meeting with the emperor and the latter’s house-arrest

Raid on Delhi

What followed was the famous raid on Delhi, which lasted about 50 days. But a point to note is that the provocation for this trigger came from the Mughal side. Saadat Khan in particular – the Nawab of Oudh.  While Nadir originally had an indemnity of 50 lacs in mind, it was Saadat who told Nadir after the Karnal battle, that if he were to go to Delhi, he could get 20 crores! As opposed to 50 lacs.

Nadir’s raid on Delhi was focused mainly on collection of ransom. Not just from the treasury, but also from private mohallas, with the consent of the Mughal emperor. But he did not intend to engage in a massacre. What triggered the massacre was an uprising in Delhi against the stationed Persian soldiers. Some 3000 Persian soldiers were killed by Delhi-ites. Nadir had to retaliate with a massacre, which likely claimed some 20K Delhi civilian lives in a span of a few hours. This is a conservative estimate, with other estimates as high as 4 lacs.

Consequences and Takeaways

So that brings us to the end of this brief account of Nadir Shah’s raid of Delhi. What were its consequences?

First of all the raid did not trigger the empire’s decline per se. The Mughal empire’s decline had started long before Nadir Shah set foot.  But Nadir Shah’s invasion unlike Timur had some political consequences – it resulted in the loss of Afghanistan and the modern Frontier province to Persia. Eventually it led to the loss of Punjab to the Afghans (under Ahmed Shah Abdali) a few decades later. The Maratha raids on Bengal too ensued a few years after Nadir’s raid.

So it could be said that Nadir Shah’s invasion hastened the decline of the empire, though not necessarily the cause of it.

More importantly it has some lessons for our times. We tend to think of “invaders” as ravaging hordes lacking in civilization and human values. But Nadir was a shrewd diplomat. He engaged in multiple diplomatic overtures, though the Mughals bungled every one of them.  Even the ransom amount to him was suggested by a Mughal insider, Saadat Khan. So was the idea to raid Delhi. Even the massacre at Delhi that ensued was in large measure a retaliation of the massacre of his own soldiers by Delhi civilians

We live in an age of constitutional patriotism, where deference to the state has to transcend ethnic ties. But Nadir Shah’s episode has lessons for us in this respect.

The reason the invasion was facilitated was because of high treason, which in turn was caused by the fact that much of the Mughal nobility was of foreign origin, and felt little patriotism towards India.

Some 30 years ago, there was a debate in India around “Foreign origin” of Sonia Gandhi and whether this should bar her from public office and electoral politics. The debate settled in Sonia’s favor

But then when we reflect on episodes like these from the past (Saadat Khan’s treason for instance), you wonder if an ethnic connect to the land is a pre-requisite to expect a high degree of patriotism.

We will conclude on that note.

References: Jadunath Sarkar’s “Nadir Shah in India”.

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

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Hindu Integration: Brahmanas and Gramadevatas

By GauravL 42 Comments

Annual Waari – Kalyani Bhogle

The pluralism in Hindu thought is often pegged back to the philosophically sophisticated एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति  from Rgveda – first mandala. While that message underlies a lot of Hindu thought as we know it, it’s often overstated as it sounds sophisticated to the scholars/amateurs studying it. On the other hand, some hymns from the family books, particularly the Rgvedic Hymns 7-82 to 7-89 give a fascinating peek into the mind of the Bharata purohit Vasishta after the Dasarajna Yuddha. The hymns which are very repetitive mostly praise Indra and Varuna for the help given to Sudas(Bharatas) and the Trstus in the Dasarajna where the enemies also worshiped Indra. The important point to glean here is the different functional roles for which these deities are evoked. Indra for war, Varuna for prosperity, Aditi for light, etc. Varuna who is often paired with Mitra or Aryaman, gets paired with Indra here – which scholars (RN Dandekar, Michael Witzel, etc) see as conciliatory.

According to Dandekar, it was out of this experience of bhakti that Vasistha became essential in the conciliation of the Indra- and Varuna-cults and especially in “averting a schism in the Vedic community” by demonstrating “that Varuna and Indra were not antagonistic to each other but… essentially
complementary. ‘Indra conquers and Varuna rules.”

It is fair to speculate that such a conciliatory approach would go on to shape interactions the mainstream Vedic thought would have with non-Vedic deities as these hymns are the victor’s recollection. This conciliation and integration (A) appear much more pragmatic and economic than abstract ideals (B) espoused by एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति or other sophisticated thought from Upanishads or Gita. For B to emerge and sustain, A appears essential. With A established, B in some form or other would follow as evidenced by other Eastern faith systems which also tend to be inclusive. It is fair to say a combination of A and B lays the foundation for the emergence of quintessential pluralism of Hinduism.

Let us segway into a short story: 

  • In a village in Vengurla (South Konkan), there was a local Saint/Warrior (non-Brahmin) who was extremely popular with the masses. 
  • He passed away and his devotees wanted to make a shrine/temple for him. A Kaashyap Brahmin who was a respected man in the village objected. His objection stemmed from the deification of a man (probably Shudra) and placing him on the same pedestal as the Devas. 
  • The Brahmin (who had quite a bit of clout in the village) opposed this Adharma with all his might but was almost overpowered by the “uncouth masses” in the story.
  • The landed or Kshatriya(ish) castes sided with the masses instead of the Brahmin and as a result, the Brahmin couldn’t prevent the deification.
  • Additionally, the humiliated Brahmin was expected to condone the practice and give the shrine his blessings.    
  • He couldn’t be part of this Adharma and hence left his lands, wealth, position, and went northeast and settled in Ichalkaranji near Kolhapur preferring his descendants living in abject poverty over condoning Adharma.
  • The replacement Gaargya Brahmin was happy to support the deification of the Saint. His descendants flourish economically in the village with large lands and respect but suffer spiritually.    
  • The shrine/temple remains popular to this day and most villagers have forgotten about this tale around the origin of that particular deity. 
  • The spiritual suffering of the current Brahmin was removed by the forgiveness of the descendent of the Kaashyap Brahmin some years ago.

Ravalnath

This is the fanciful tale of my great-great ancestor as told to me by my Chachera uncle (first cousin once removed). The Gotras are not important to this piece but the emphasis and obsession on Gotra is a salient feature of Brahmanism which deserves some attention. This tale is not very atypical. There have been other documented cases of such squabbles between village Hinduism and Brahmanism. This tale echoes many other tales from South Konkan – those of Ravalnath, Betal, etc. I am unsure if the deity in the tale of my ancestor is Ravalnath or Betal or something else entirely. But the contours of the tale are very similar. In both the cases of Ravalnath and Betal, there was initial resistance to these deities from local Brahmins in the medieval times – especially due to local traditions that involved blood sacrifices and other things frowned upon by Brahmins, but over time these deities got wider acceptance – even among local Brahmins. BetalWhile Ravalnath is a Kuladevata for most Goans (all castes), Betal is a Gramadevata of some local communities. Vithoba, the popular God of Pandharpur( the annual Waari) is a very important figure of the Bhakti movement. Religious scholar and Sahitya Akademi winner RC Dhere who extensively studied Vithoba also hypotheses pre Vedic origins of Vithoba. Khandoba is another deity whose origins are similarly muddy with a range of theories explaining him as the fusion of earlier deities including Kaal Bhairav. Interestingly in the Puranic tale of Kaal Bhairav “his struggle for the atonement of Brahmanhatya” is central. Khandhoba of Jejuri remains a deity for not only the Sudra castes, but Brahmins, Jains, Lingayats, and even some Muslims including the patronage of comparatively tolerant Bijapur Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah. While it would be tempting to dismiss this as some tenuous Donigerish take, the sheer numbers of such stories spread across the country strengthen the hypothesis.

Coming back to the descendants of the uncompromising Brahmin from Vengurla. Today my extended family proudly worships all the Gramadevatas from Ichalkaranji whose origins may be very similar to the one whose foundation my ancestor had objected to. Ironically most of my paternal family follow a plethora of local Saints (in addition to the popular Bhakti Saints), whose tales of the origin have occurred within living memory and hence are far easier to negate. I would not go into rants about these Saints (esp Gajanan Maharaj) whose followers number in millions. While some traditional elite Hindus (especially Urban) are known to have disparaging views of Saints & local deities, mostly these distinctions have weathered away. It is not unlikely to find Hindus who fast on Mondays for Shiva also fast on Thursdays for some local Saint (who mostly claim intellectual or avatarish descent from Dattatraya).  Despite some initial friction, the Brahmanical thought has made its peace with such traditions. Most scholarship refers to this as – the local traditions (non-Vedic) being co-opted by Brahmanism. IMO this is an incomplete way of looking at it as it conflates organic integration which typically occurs over generations with the realization of some highly foresighted plan. Typically humans are not foresighted enough to pull off multi-generational machinations. From a multi-generation evolutionary paradigm, these would make sense but not if you take a snapshot at any particular moment in history.

With this background, we go into realms of pure speculation and come to the Post Vedic deities in Hinduism. The origin of some of these deities is highly contested – especially that of Shiva. While the Rgvedic Rudra is often said to be the precursor of Shiva, the meaning of Shiva is certainly in contrast with Rudra. Whether the Pashupati seal from IVC or other Proto-Lingas are Proto-Shiva or not will likely not be resolved till we decipher the IVC script, but these speculations seem very plausible. Even Parpola doesn’t dismiss them in his Roots of Hinduism. In addition, Parpola makes a good argument in the IVC origins of Durga with seals of Tiger riding goddesses from Kalibangan. Similarly, we can say the Dravidian Murukan and the Vedic Skanda gave rise to the Karthikeya we know today. We still don’t have any intelligent speculation about the origins of Ganesha (other than some references to Gajapati), buts it fair to assume the elephant-headed god is a pretty late addition to the Hindu pantheon. The aim here is not to discuss and speculate the origins of these deities but to guess the mechanisms of integration of these deities and customs into Brahmanism. Brahmins had a huge ritualistic/moral capital, but given the tenuous or conflicting relations they had with the Kshatriyas and other dominant castes (as seen through numerous puranic stories especially those of Parshuram) it is fair to assume Brahmins would not often get their way with subtracting traditions they found Adharmic or uncouth, yet they could continue to shape these traditions from inside with participation. Pressure both from the masses and Brahmins would’ve actively shaped the integration of these traditions for centuries to the point where it’s often hazy where Brahmanism ends and where “Non-Brahmanical” traditions begin. (This probably happened with Sramana or Proto-Sramana traditions competing with Brahmanism but that is a different discussion)

IVC goddess riding Tiger

While it is generally said Brahmanical thought absorbed the local traditions, it is equally or more appropriate to say that the village Hinduism made space for Brahmanism & tamed it – into the diverse and plural fold and this process was not complete for the entire subcontinent when Mahmud of Ghazni attacked Somnath. Scholars like to emphasize Adi-Shankara’s Advaita and Mutts, Upanishads, Rgvedic “एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” as it appears sophisticated and intellectual. However, the tendency of humans to pragmatically negotiate the boundaries of their traditions (in absence of exclusionary universalist ideas) when they already have multiple modes of worship tends to be underemphasized as it appears uncouth or folk. Roman religion easily absorbed Isis and Cybele into the Roman fold but couldn’t absorb the God of Abraham. In contrast, when Christianity conquered Europe it absorbed the old gods into the Christian fold as Saints but kept them subordinate to the one true god. However, Shiva and Ganesh did not bow done to Indra, and by the time of the Puranas, the mighty Vedic Indra was reduced to an insecure and somewhat petty King of Gods.

Maybe the Brahmin elites & Sanskrit managed to maintain a cohesive identity-based on sacred geography only because they themselves were tamed in similar mechanisms by the natives of the geography. If yes, then Hindu Pluralism and Syncretism is as much a legacy of numerous lost stories as it is of the philosophical moorings of the Vedas, Itihasas, and Upanishads. 

Next up – Brahmanas and Sramanas;

Postscript:

I had been thinking along these lines since my discussion with Mukunda and Omar on the Brown-cast about the roots of Indian pluralism. While commenting please stick to the topic and be civil & constructive. I will delete off comments for this piece.

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Looking back at 2019 Maharashtra election

By GauravL 30 Comments

It has been a year since the 2019 Maharashtra election & its consequences which fascinated the country. The drama of the election remains unforgettable, for anyone interested I would recommend the book 36 Days.

For anyone interested in some analysis I would recommend Shekhar Gupta’s Cut the Clutters on the topic: here; here; here and here.

However, here are a few salient points from the election and the Maharashtra government

  1. Imagery matters. This image of the 80-year-old cancer patient Sharad Pawar braving the rains in Satara had a huge impact on voting in western Maharashtra.
  2. If someone has to stop the Hindutva Ashwamedh, strong leaders are essential. No one can win elections on sloganeering without strong & visible leadership.
  3. Caste still plays an important role in even progressive states like Maharashtra. One of the reasons for the defeat of BJP was the anti-Brahmin sentiment evoked by NCP by indirectly attacking Fadanvis’s caste.
  4. Ideology is important for political parties, but not as important as survival. Shivsena’s shift out of the NDA was for its survival and not for any other nonsense we hear.
  5. The NDA was well and truly over in 2019, the Akali’s leaving the NDA was in someways foreshadowed by ShivSena’s exit. Bihar election result and Nitish/Paswan reaction to the result would be something to watch out for.
  6. Forming a coalition government is easy, running an effective administration with conflicting interests and multiple power centers are tough. It would be a surprise if the SS-NCP-INC government completes its full term.
  7. All governments abuse institutions when in power and to nearly the same extent, not just the BJP.
  8. Regionalism can be a bulwark against Central hegemony. The region can bind what ideologies divide.
  9. Confrontational governments will find it difficult to work with an all-powerful central government. Non-BJP state governments can either take the Maharashtra route or the Andhra route (of YSR Jagan Reddy)
  10. The respect of the position of the governor (which never had too much respect I guess) has taken a very bad hit after the Maharashtra example.
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Browncast: Ruchir Sharma, Marxian Hindutva

By Omar Ali 6 Comments

Another BP Podcast episode 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!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago.

In this episode we talk to Ruchir Sharma,   an international affairs and social entrepreneurship expert who also writes in some Indian publications and used a good deal of “woke” terminology in his writings and has talked of something he describes as “Modian Socialism” (as opposed to Nehruvian Socialism). Check it out. Comments welcome as usual.

PS: just to be clear, this is not the Ruchir Sharma who works in NYC in the finance “industry” and writes in various well known publications..

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An evening to remember - the chase, the hunt, the theft, and the meal

By GauravL 3 Comments

I am finally starting a Medium Photoblog (travel and living) after years of laziness. I would only post my Photoblogs on Brownpundits if I find the topic would interest BP Readers (i couldn’t even find a suitable category 🙂 ). I hope to become better at brevity in prose with photo blogging.  

Crossposting from Protected By The Sea.

I have been wanting to start a photoblog (travel and living) for years but never got around my introversion and laziness till now. I couldn’t think of a better story to start this blog. The photographs are poor due to a combination of rain and poor light but I felt the story is worth it.

After four spectacular days in Kenya, we finally reached Masai Mara and started an evening Safari. After an eventful couple of hours came the moments which will be etched in my mind forever. I had not seen a Cheetah after four days in Kenya and was dearly hoping to spot one in Masai Mara.


As it started to drizzle and we considered taking a break we spotted a Cheetah on a stroll

the Cheetah zoomed in on a herd of wildebeest visible at a distance

The Cheetah began the chase. Sadly for us at this moment the rain became too heavy to see anything

Thankfully the rain went away and we saw the Cheetah enjoying his well-earned meal half a km away

He was rudely interrupted by a group of hyenas. The Cheetah ran off after some posturing clearly smarting.
The hyenas finished the wildebeest within literal minutes. The noises of groans, laughter, and cracking of bones I heard that evening remains one of the most singular cacophonies ever.
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The rise of Indicus!

By Razib Khan 25 Comments

A few years ago an ancient DNA paper on cattle was published, Ancient cattle genomics, origins, and rapid turnover in the Fertile Crescent. It’s a pretty good paper with interesting results. The paper confirmed pretty strikingly that there was a punctuated and massive expansion of indicus ancestry across the Near East between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago.

The interesting aspect of cattle is that there are really two species that intermix. Using mtDNA researchers estimate indicus and taurus diverged 300,000 to 2,000,000 years ago. But the main thing you have to remember is cattle generations are about 20% as long as human generations. So 300,000 cattle years are equivalent to 1.5 million human years. And, for technical reasons (smaller effective population size) one should probably assume mtDNA underestimates the divergence.

Ancient cattle from the Near East are all taurus. The PCA plot shows that most of the variance is on PC 1 which separates indicus and taurus (a secondary dimension is PC 2, between African and Near Eastern/European lineages). The figure at the top of this post shows that there is a massive jump in genome-wide indicus ancestry across the Near East between 2000 and 1500 BC. As the authors note this can’t be diffusion; the jump is too sudden and sweeping.

So what happened during this period? As noted in the paper: Bronze Age civilization almost collapsed around ~2000 BC. More concretely, after 2000 BC is when we see evidence of Indo-Europeans in the Near East. The Indo-Aryan Mittani show up in Mesopotamia in ~1600 BC. The Indo-European Hittites, the Nesa, are known from Anatolia a bit earlier.

This is also the period that small, but detectable, levels of “steppe” ancestry show up in some ancient samples.

Before this paper, I would have leaned to the position that the Mittani Indo-Aryans migrated directly from the Sintashta homeland without much contact with Indian Indo-Aryans. These data are too suggestive of a widespread zone of expanding agro-pastoralists that existed between western South Asia and the Near East between 2000 BC and 1500 BC.

One of the things we know from the barbarian period during the Fall of Rome is that barbarian groups had strong channels of information flow. For example, a group of Saxons arrived with the Lombards in Italy in the second half of the 6th century. But, through various channels, these Saxon warriors learned that their co-ethnics had established dominance in what was to become England, and there are texts which allude to the reality that they decamped and crossed the Alps, presumably on the way to what was going to be England. The point here is that there was a “Saxon international.”

Aside from the Mittani the evidence of Indo-Aryans in the Near East is tenuous, though some of the Kassites of Babylonia may have had Indo-European affinities. There is not nearly as strong a genetic imprint of steppe in the Fertile Crescent as in Northwest India. The Hittites were very different from Indo-Aryans, who seem to have the closest relationship to the Slavic language family.

The indicus breed is adapted to tropical dry climates. It seems plausible that the Indo-Aryan international facilitated the spread of this breed in the centuries before 1500 BC.

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