Hindu Integration: Brahmanas and Gramadevatas

By GauravL 43 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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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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From OIT to AIT

By GauravL 123 Comments

For TL;DR jump to My reasons for this position today are


Yesterday I tweeted about how OIT is becoming an Article of Faith on the Hindutva Wing in a thread related to Ruchir Sharma podcast where he dodged the AIT question. I further tweeted the change in my position of one supporting OIT (till 2018) to AIT by 2018 especially in face of the recent genetic evidence and following the work by Razib Khan. I was contacted by BP regular guest and host of the Carvaka podcast – Kushal Mehra and we had a long (3 hours) chat. His reading of the issue (Archeology and Rgveda) is much more robust than mine and I felt as Hemu’s army would’ve felt battling Babur’s projectiles. (though I am still not convinced by his argument). Hence I write this piece to evaluate my evolution with the Aryan question and also putting my current position & its defense in digital ink.

Like most Indians, I had read about the Aryan invasion theory as a historic fact and only got introduced to the inherent racism in the initial framing of the AIT after my schooling. In 2008 the paper, Reconstructing Indian Population History came out and the terms ANI and ASI got popularized. The media commentary on the paper (as with the Rakhigarhi paper) seemed to suggest the genetic data had refuted the AIT. Influential public figures like Subramanian Swamy (who appeared a lot more respectable to me in 2008-09) and few lesser-known Marathi influencers and others championed the debunking of the AIT myth in the public sphere which was not refuted except well enough except by historians like Romila Thapar (in whom I have low trust around politically charged topics as proven in Babri case). Things started getting heated in Indian Media around 2013-14 with after the publication of Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India. But my interest in the Aryan issue came due to this article by scientist and influencer Anand Ranganathan on newslaundry (before then I had been largely ignored the arguments and counterarguments). I had some instinctive unease with these ANI/ASI argument against AIT but chose to ignore my doubts as Geneticists from India & commentators like Anand Ranganathan (who is a scientist), Sanjeev Sanyal, even anti-Hindutva Shashi Tharoor chose to concur with the views refuting the AIT.

In the following year or two, I read the following

  • Romila Thapar on Ancient History (small bands of herders)
  • Upinder Singh (who is non-committal)
  • Michael Daninos Lost River (the most reverent Sarasvati)
  • Free Papers on Academia – especially the Michael Witzel and Shrikant Talegeri debate.
  • Koenraad Elst’s blogs.
  • Edwin Bryant’s Indo Aryan controversy book.
  • Sections of Mallory’s book
  • Ambedkar’s book on Shudras

I particularly saw the linguistic arguments for AIT to be weak largely attributable to my ignorance of the field. I see myself as extremely ignorant about history in general around then, for my interest in non-fiction is very recent (2015 onwards). In some ways, I am still not well-read compared to most authors/commentators here. I  haven’t read any history from outside India other than British, American, and WW2.

Hence I was moderately convinced by Danino’s Sarasvati argument back then. Additionally following the Witzel-Talageri debate I found a lot of criticism of Talageri ad-hominem and patronizing. The dismissal of Talageri’s work as a bank clerk’s revisionist Hindutva did not seem scholarly to me (I mean Witzel’s criticism did not appear scholarly but ad-hominem). In my view, Edwin Bryant’s book confuses as it doesn’t take a position after 500+ pages. However in the end the lack of Archeological support for AIT (no significant change in material culture) made me convinced that the AIT was flawed. As I see this as a binary problem i.e either AIT or OIT has to be true to explain the spread of Indo-European languages, my position was that of OIT. I also felt AMT is a workaround for the problematic parts and holes in the AIT.

In 2017-18, around the time The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia hit the biorxiv and created quite a few waves in the Indian media, articles by Tony Joseph, Shoaib Daniyal, and Hartosh Bal made enough noise on my twitter timeline to make me take a renewed interest in the controversy. Around that time David Reich’s book was published and most AIT guys used Reich’s book to bolster their claims. By the time I had completed Reich’s book I was almost convinced of the AIT yet I made an effort to cross-check the counterviews. I reached out to Anand Ranganathan who sort of dodged my cross-questions. I also reached out to Swarajya Magazine (of whom I was a subscriber in 2018/19) and was not at all convinced by the explanation given by them here and here. On reading work by Razib & other genome bloggers who got a shout out in David Reich’s book I was even more convinced by their arguments. I read Tony Joseph’s Early Indians and it does a good job of laying out the data IMO. However one always notices the author’s political biases coming up especially around his handling of Caste( I find it extremely stupid to look back at events that are speculated 2000 years ago with today’s moral compass and use it making political points calling the Brahmins in 100 AD the original Tukde-Tukde gang.)

I have since, also read David Anthony’s book, Narsimhan and Shinde papers, read most BP blogs (including JR’s pieces) and comments on AIT/OIT, followed a small bit of linguistics, and listened to the views of Niraj Rai, Shrikant Talageri (on Carvaka), Koenrad Elst. I still continue to hold the view that AIT probably happened and more importantly OIT seems highly implausible.

My reasons for this position today are:

  1. I am partial to the view that Genes and Languages are moderately correlated. There are exceptions as readers of this blog would know, but they are exceptions. As the genetic data points out that 10-20% of Indian ancestry comes from Bronze Age Steppe, I find it highly implausible that such large changes wouldn’t result in some language change – especially given the gradients of Steppe wrt North/South and Caste. Additionally, the complete absence of AASI like genetic ancestry beyond the boundaries of the Mauryan & Mughal empires at their zenith is big deal. If any kind of OIT that doesn’t explain satisfyingly falls short. (Roma Gypsies have AASI)
  2. On the whole, I find the Steppe hypothesis works well linguistically and archaeologically to an exceptional degree in my reading – for Europe. By Occam’s razor, it would be fair to assume India isn’t an outlier among regions speaking Indo-European. Small objections like this don’t debunk the entire Steppe hypothesis IMO.
  3. The lack of material culture change associated with AIT is a problem, but the same objection is also present for OIT. Lack of evidence isn’t the absence of evidence. At best archaeologically the AIT/OIT debate is a Tie.
  4. I find Talageri’s work lays excessive claim on his interpretation of Rgveda and Avesta. I find the Rgveda has no memory of invasion argument weak. What we know of the Rgveda might just the memory preserved post the Bharata victory in the Dasarajna (Victor’s memory). It would be plausible that memories of invasion may be lost by accident of history. I am no expert on either Rgveda or Linguistics (I have read only 4-5% of Ralph T.H. Griffith translation) but I still find the lack of scholarly approval of Talageri’s work a problem from believing his work. However, on Kushal’s advice, I am going to read his entire work – 3 books hopefully by sometime next year.
  5. I take the Horse argument seriously. The paucity of equid bones IVC itself is significant. Especially if you compare them to Steppe sites. (The Botai & other steppe sights are extreme in the sheer quantity of horse bones). On the whole, I find Anthony’s horse hypothesis holds in face of the data we have today.
  6. I don’t see the Sanuali find as a game-changer. The Daimabad hoard Bull drawn cart/chariot has been known for decades. I don’t think the argument for Sanauli chariot being Horse-drawn is convincing yet. Also, the lack of spoked wheels would make the chariot less agile which would make it not a War-chariot like Sintasta. Anthony had to fight a lot for years before even his finds (which are far more impressive than Sanauli) at Sintasta were taken seriously as a war chariot by the community. His chariots were disproved by peers for things like width, length, etc. At the least, it’s premature to call the Sanauli chariot as a deal-breaker for AIT. Additionally latest the dating of Sanauli at 1800BCE isn’t far enough from the 1500+-200 date given for AIT. Rather the 1800BCE dating appears consistent with Asko Parpola’s first Pre Rgvedic Arya migration theory.
  7. I have heard Slapstik’s BP podcast, read his comments, and also those of some others who know linguistics along with some light reading of linguistics. The linguistic argument appears robust enough for my non-expert ears.
  8.  In historic times, since the Persian invasion during the time of Bimbisara to the invasion of Abdali – the flow of invasions has been Strictly One Way – from the Bolan/Khyber pass to the Subcontinent. (in some cases as speculated with some Hunas – via Kashmir). Examples of these being Persians, Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, Kushanas, Hunas, Arabs, Turko Afghans, Mongols, Mughals, Persians, and Afghans. These invasions have a concrete economy to them – the fertile and prosperous lands of the Indo-Gangetic plains. So it begs the question – why would Indo-Aryans go out if they were indigenous. Many reasons for coming IN & almost no for going out.
  9. I find the arguments over Sarasvati which convinced me once unconvincing today. I think the argument comes from the position of reverence to the holy Sarasvati from the Rgveda & laying excessive emphasis on it. I am convinced by the general argument of the same names being used for rivers by migrating people and we have many examples of that in the country. Additionally, the Shtich that the Yamuna changed course and dried up Sarasvati made famous by Amish’s fiction appears on its face – an extraordinary claim with almost no concrete evidence.

Closing comments:

  1. It’s fair to say both sides in India are fairly motivated by politics. I don’t find the OIT arguments as ridiculous as some AIT supporters find, but one can’t ignore the identity politics and question of Islam being catalytic in the debate. Personally, I don’t think this is a coherent position, I supported the OIT while being a Liberal opponent of Hindutva for almost 2-3 years and even today I am open to change my mind in face of new evidence. However, I think it’s unlikely that I will be easily convinced without some genetic data or more archaeological data (more chariots around 2500 BCE with horses).
  2. A salient point made by Talegiri is worth noticing. He claims that the Indians who continue to support AIT are Brahmins who have not yet given up their supremacist mindset. He also conjectures such support for AIT goes hand in hand with the defense of Varna. Growing up as a Chitpavan Brahmin I know this argument has some truth to it, though Maharashtrian Brahmin communities have given up those supremacist ideas in 2020. In a way, Hindutva has united what Varna/Jati had divided.
  3. A version of OIT seems to be too fantastic to be true but works with genetics and archaeological findings. This theory being Aryas composed the Vedas before 3000 BCE, some of them settled in IVC cities, some went out into the Steppe. And then these Steppe people spread the languages and a pulse came back around 1500 BCE and composed the latter Rgveda. I naturally don’t buy this 🙂
  4. In the end, the difference is what kind of evidence people are willing to buttress their arguments on. Most of the time such opposing views would talk past each other. I get a feeling no amount of Ancient DNA will convince OIT folks who take the Rgvedic & archeological arguments over Genetics/Linguistics. Personally, I am partial to Genetics\Linguistics as I find it more Sciency than Reconstruction from texts & archaeology (or lack thereof).

Postscript:

I plan to read Talageri’s books, Asko Parpola’s Roots of Hinduism, Mallory’s book again in the coming years as I find the issue fascinating. I guess that Razib, Slapstik, and others who have been at this topic for years on the blog might be finding the topic boring by now. Still, I would urge them to comment and point out any inconsistencies or blindspots I may have had in my summary above. Same for OIT guys – as already mentioned I will be reading Talegiri – is he the main guy you rely on? How many of you are patrons of Kushal’s AIT/OIT work ? which appears to be very extensive.

I said above that Talageri is not Hindutva but have been corrected by Kushal made the change in the blogpost.

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Problems with the terms INDIC and DHARMIC

By GauravL 41 Comments

With the rise of Hindutva, certain terms are gaining traction in the intellectual spheres for denoting native Indian beliefs and philosophical systems. As the word Hindu which started as a geographical term has today come to mean a specific overarching faith and philosophical system among the Indian native systems, new words need to be found to encompass all the native systems under an umbrella term. As a term, the terms Dharmic and Indic have come up to encompass all the native Indian systems – like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. The need to have a separate word for these systems appears valid, but I often cringe at the use of words Dharmic & Indic (though I hypocritically use them). The primary urge to use these terms seems to be the desire to have a broad tent for native Indian faiths against/or in contrast to western philosophical and religious systems (especially Abrahamic and Enlightenment systems).

INDIC: 

The word Indic originally appears to be used for denoting Indo-Aryan languages in the literature. However, it is being used extensively by people from Left as well as Right to denote the native Indian faiths.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines Indic as:

  • of or relating to the subcontinent of IndiaINDIAN
  • of, relating to, or constituting the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European languages ( Urdu the national language of Pakistan is also an Indic language, so would Pakistan by extension be Indic? )

If we take the first meaning, it simply means Indian. Unless it metamorphs into the meaning the users of the term Indic want to be mean, this will continue to be confusing in the future as well. The urge to avoid using the term Indian which has a specific meaning in the world of nation-states is understandable but Indic doesn’t seem to go around the problem enough IMO.

Another problem with the term Indic is that the word itself has no history in any of the native systems. Though after the popularization of South West Asia (or South Asia), Indic seems not so bad.

DHARMIC:

The word Dharma is a better candidate as it is the concept of Dharma that loosely binds the native Indian systems more than the mere geographical accident of origin. The meaning of Dharma in all the native faiths is similar enough to make this framing faithful. But the word Dharma has a meaning that transcends the native Indian practices and seems to point towards some basal human morality. In a way, Dharma is universal and unconstrained by the geographical boundaries of the subcontinent. Consequently using Dharmic for specific systems just because they know “of Dharma” or are “in conversation about Dharma” is wanting. The word Dharma also carries a lot of moral baggage and it would be unwise to even indirectly imply that certain systems are Dharmic.

Additionally, if we use Dharmic to denote native Indian faiths, what would we call the non-native Indian faiths? Adharmic faiths or Non-Dharmic or Un-Dharmic? Adharma like Dharma cannot be used to denote whole faith and philosophical systems – unless you are in the supremacist bubble. Similarly, other negations – Non/Un when placed on a word of deep meaning like Dharma don’t lead to desirable labels.


NEOLOGISM: 

Compare both these to the word Hindutva. For anyone who has rudimentary exposure to any Indo-Aryan (Indic) languages, the word would instantly click. There is something organic and quintessential about the word itself which is certainly lacking in Indic/Dharmic.

Though the word Hindutva was not coined by Savarkar, it certainly was popularized by him. Savarkar himself is credited with over 100 new words in Marathi. Though the aim of Savarkar behind his neologisms is often chided by liberals as fanatical, no one can deny that the result is an enhanced Marathi vocabulary.

In closing, it wouldn’t be a very bad idea to coin a new word to denote the wide tent under which a variety of native Indian cultures have flourished for millennia. Linguists and geeks – get working.

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NCERT Books – Early Muslim invaders

By GauravL 8 Comments

 

Even though the comment thread on my previous blog post – Playing with Fire was the immediate trigger for me writing this post, but I have been meaning to wade into this topic for some time. History writing in India has been a controversial topic especially since the ascendency of Hindutva. NCERT books on history are often blamed for preventing the “Truth and Reconciliation” between the Hindus and Muslims. While these criticisms have some merit, I often feel they’re overstated and straw-manned. Left-Liberal historians – Messrs Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra has been the favorite punching bag of Hindutvavadis in general. A lot of times people get carried away in hubris while punching these histories. Generalizations and misrepresentation of writings of these historians are rife in the Hindutvavadis.

I will go through Medieval India by Satish Chandra (class 11 history), Romila Thapar’s Medieval India (class 7), and Medieval history book by Nios (by multiple authors).

This piece focuses on the treatment given to Pre-Delhi Sultanate Muslim Invaders – the famous Ghazis of Islam. My recollection of textbooks is that the Mughals (except Babur and Aurangzeb) are glorified to a certain extent – especially Akbar, but none of the previous Muslim rulers are. I may be wrong – I am yet to read those chapters and will be posting about them later.

Mohammad Bin Qassim :

The Ummayad General doesn’t get much mention in these texts as by most accounts the Arab conquests of Sindh were at most localized events and did not have lasting consequences beyond Indus. Yet the one mention he gets in the Medieval history NCERT book isn’t something which appears positive.

  1. NIOS book – Module 2 – Page 134 History Module 2:  “Arabs were also attracted by the wealth of India. Arab merchants and sailors had brought back stories of great wealth of India. However, the reason for the invasion of Sindh was to avenge the plunder of Arab Ships by pirates of Debol. King Dahir refused to punish the pirates. Hajjaj the governor of Iraq despatched an army under Muhammad Bin Qasim. He arrived in Sind in AD 712, and besieged Debol which was situated on the sea coast. After crossing the Indus he marched forward. At Rawar, Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Dahir who was defeated. Arabs killed a large number of fleeing soldiers. Dahir was also caught and killed. Muhammad Bin Qasim now proceeded forward and within a short span he conquered various important places in Sind including Brahmanabad”

Mahmud of Ghazni:

  1. In Satish Chandra’s Medieval history, the period from 1000-1200 is called the Age of Conflict. The intra-Turkic conflict between Muslim and Non-Muslim Turks before the consolidation of Turkic sultanates also finds mention in the chapter. Additionally, he notes “The Islamized Turkish tribes were to emerge as the greatest defenders and crusaders of Islam. The love of plunder went side by side with the defense of Islam. About Mahmud – Mahmud is considered as a hero of Islam & the ghazi spirit further increased during his time. In India his memory is only of a plunderer and destroyer of temples. Mahmud also posed as the great But-shikan or destroyer of images. Mahmud also broke the Shivlingam and ordered parts brought back to his capital.”
  2. In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history, Mahmud doesn’t get a positive treatment. Thapar says “One of the attacks which is frequently mentioned was the destruction of the Somnath temple. Destroying temples had another advantage – he could claim as he did that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images. In 1030 Mahmud died and people of North India felt relieved“. After this Thapar does state his achievements for his capital and state along with his patronage of scholars like Firdausi and Al-Birauni.
  3. NIOS book – Module 2- gives a slightly more neutral characterization of Mahmud “Mahmud enriched his treasury by looting the temples of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura and Kanauj. The attack against Nagarkot in AD 1008 has been described as his first great triumph. In AD 1025, Mahmud embarked on the most ambitious Indian campaign, the attack on the Somnath temple in Saurashtra. Mahmud captured the city after grim struggle in which more than 50,000 defenders lost their lives. His attacks on India were an attempt to fulfil his ambition to make Ghazni the formidable power in the politics of Central Asia. Mahmud’s raids into India were only to acquire the famous wealth of India.

Mohammad Ghori: 

  1. In Satish Chandra’s book – The Ghurid invasions and Mohammad’s legendary battle against Prithviraj Chauhan finds considerable space given to it. The analysis is neutral and doesn’t get into speculations beyond a point. The other exploits of Mohammad and Qutubuddin Aibak are explained in some detail. The author makes no claims of iconoclasm except in the case of Bakhtiyar Khalji in Bihar and Bengal. About Khalji he writes “he destroyed some of the great Buddhist monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramshila“. Additionally, he notes “Neither was really concerned with Islam, though neither scrupled over the use of Islam to justify their plunder of Indian cities and temples
  2. In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history – she also focusses on the Battle of Tarrain and appears neutral towards Mohammad Ghori and the Ghurids in general.
  3. NIOS book also gives a neutral and brief analysis of Ghurid invasions and capture of North India.

    Romila Thapar’s Medieval History is meant for 7th standard and hence doesn’t have the details seen in Satish Chandra’s 11th standard history book. Satish Chandra’s book captured a lot of facets of these invasions including religious.  Reading these chapters, it is fair to conclude that none of these books glorify these early Muslim Ghazis. It can be fairly argued from Hindutva point of view, that Islam’s role in these conquests is understated (especially in Thapar’s Medieval History). But that book is meant for 12-year-old kids.

    On the broader reading of history, I guess Islam is necessary but not sufficient in explaining the Turko-Afghan invasions of India in the 11th and 12 centuries.

    Treatment of Delhi Sultans next.

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Playing with fire ?

By GauravL 55 Comments

Unless you are living under a rock, you will have noticed the Babri demolition conspiracy verdict. All 32 accused including the firebrand Ashok Singhal and Uma Bharti were acquitted of the conspiracy charge. A conspiracy charge is notoriously difficult to prove in Indian court even with Political will, in this case from an objective perspective, the charge was unlikely to stick owing the excessive burden of proof required to prove conspiracy.

I came across this interview of Advani with Prannoy Roy from 2000.

After six years of Modi Shah, Advani appears like a fresh of breath air (to my liberal ears). Notwithstanding his role as the prime mover of the Ram Janmabhooni movement which left trails of blood across the country, Advani appears significantly liberal to my eyes in 2020. The willingness to talk to the enemy (as seen in a range of interviews given to aggressive media), comparatively more respect to democratic ethos and institutions, and an overall soft spoken-ness.

However, the interview leaves us with the question – Is Advani telling the truth?

There seem to be three potential chain of events which led to the culmination of the demolition of Babri Masjid.

  1. The aim of the Rath Yatra by Advani was always to demolish the mosque and the previous years were spent in raising support for the demolition of the mosque. This was the narrative the most far left and far right in India believe.  In other words, the whole movement was a conspiracy under a facade of Rath Yatra.
  2. The leadership of the movement – namely Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and to a lesser extent Vajpayee under the umbrella of RSS (this included the current Prime minister) never really planned to break the mosque. Their aim was to mobilize the Hindu over and above their caste boundaries. The mobilization has political benefits as well as social benefits in response to Islam. However, during the movement, a small group actually conspired to break the mosque. That means if there was a conspiracy, either the top leadership was kept in dark or the top leadership turned a blind eye towards it. This seems to the claim made by Advani and Vajpayee where both of them on record called the demolition of the mosque as the saddest day of their life.
  3. The mass movement got carried away in hubris. After years of chest thumbing, for the karsevaks – this was the moment to go down in the history and they did.

If either of 2 and 3 is true, it is fair to say the BJP and Sangha Parivar leaders were playing with fire and when the fire got out of control it burned every one to a certain extent. Though today even if the fire was unintended, the fruits of the fire continue to be reaped.

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Some brief points on Gandhi

By GauravL 53 Comments

A brief summary of my views about Gandhi

  • I have seen the entire “Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoy” play and read the entire speech by Nathuram Godse. Till my late teens, I was impressed by parts of Godse’s arguments but today I find them misguided and half baked and his actions hasty and counterproductive (From Hindutva POV). On further reading – especially Gandhi’s own writings and other commentaries my views have changed almost 180Degrees wrt Gandhi. A lot of hatred of Gandhi in MH brahmin circles is due to the 1948 Anti Brahmin riots.
  • He would be best classified as a Brave Pacifist Extremist. He combined both Tilak’s and Gokhale’s tactics. He was not a moderate like Gokhale, nor did he condone violence like Tilak – yet he tried to encapsulate both streams in Congress before him.
  • Prima facie a lot of his pacifism seems excessive and inefficient, but when you read Gandhi’s own writings on Violence as a tool against oppression the pragmatism of his position comes through.
  • Non-violence was the path of least resistance and hence extremely helpful in building national movement while instilling democratic values in the populous.
  • His pacifism was more rooted in Jain/Jesus’ influences on him than Hindu Ahimsa.
  • His Ahimsa probably won’t have worked against other colonial powers.
  • Gandhi deserves the most credit for increasing the involvement of the Indian populous into the freedom struggle.
  • He said and did a lot of stupid things that cannot be defended no matter what. His moral grandstanding can be seen as extremely patronizing.
  • His campaign against untouchability had a significantly more impact than he gets credit for.
  • His fasts which can be seen as moral blackmail did a lot of good for the country too. The 1932 Poona pact being a primary example. I also see his controversial 1948 fast for money transfer to Pakistan (for which he finally died) as not without merit.
  • His solution for most Hindu-Muslim conflicts was naive. He can be rightfully accused of being very soft on Muslim extremists. Khilafat movement was arguably a great blunder.
  • Blaming Gandhi for Partition is extremely unfair. If anything the blame must reside with Nehru/Patel for their greed for power.
  • His ideas about bottom-up Swarajya and sustainability appear naive and stupid in the 21st century.
  • Some moments in Gandhi’s life are extremely extraordinary – eg: His Satyagrahas, his reception by Manchester mill workers, his conflict resolution in Naokhali.
  • Why he favored Nehru (over Patel) who was very unlike Gandhi is a mystery to me. Guha and others have tried but I am not convinced.
  • He understood the country much more than his peers.
  • Influence Gandhi has had on foreign movements is extraordinary – MLK, Mandela. He is along with Yoga the two strongest candidates for Indian soft power.
  • Liberal criticism of Gandhi (South African racism, Casteism, Sexism) miss the point of Gandhi. Seldom have public figures changed their views on issues with changing times so drastically and so transparently. IMO that’s the quality that keeps Gandhi apart from other famous politicians.
  • I guess distant future history will remember Gandhi as a flawed yet great human being – in league with Jesus and Mohammad.
  • He is undoubtedly the most consequential (hence Greatest ?) Indian from the 20th century.
  • In the long run, as already seen by the RSS/BJP embrace of Gandhi, his legacy is safer than others (Like Nehru)
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My Experiences with Ayurveda

By GauravL 4 Comments

I have no medical/biology/medicine background nor am I am a scientist nor do I claim to understand statistics. Read this as some thoughts of a layman.


The Wikipedia entry for Ayurveda starts with

Ayurveda is an alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.[2] The theory and practice of Ayurveda is pseudoscientific. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterizes the practice of modern medicine by Ayurvedic practitioners as quackery.

Compare that the quackiest of all quackery – Homeopathy which gets similar treatment on Wikipedia entry.


This piece is not a defense of Ayurveda but analysis of some personal experiences with it. I object to calling the entire broad practice of Ayurveda as quackery – Its certainly not “science” as we have come to understand the word in 21st century but calling it quackery is too much of a stretch.

Like most Indians I have my fair share of experiences with Ayurveda and like most I have mixed feelings about the practice of Ayurveda. My house contains a fair number of Ayurvedic medicines for a range of ailments like Acidity, Headache, Bloating, Bowel issues and a range of other minor discomforts. I have liberally used these over last 30 years and have not had any problematic reactions. In my experiences these pills/powders have been reasonably effective though not silver bullets. But most of these ailments are shown to be affected by placebos in large trials and hence cant be used to attest efficacy of the practice.

Here are some significant experiences I have had with Ayurveda

Acne: Since my teenage years I suffered from tremendous bouts of acne. The allopathic physicians I visited gave me creams and pills which did not work. Hence I went to a renowned Ayurvedic practitioner in Pune. I took all medicine prescribed for almost 3 months while following strict diet (no eggs, meat, curd for almost an year). None of these made tiniest bit of impact while each visit to the practitioner included talks about how उष्ण I was (best translated into HEAT) and how the Acne was a manifestation of my उष्णता. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with all the Pittha, Kapha, Vatha talk but still I continued the medicines for a good 3 months. Next I went to a dermatologist and the antibiotic treatment (which included some specific antibiotics) started yielding results within days (some nasty bacteria were exterminated I presume). On retrospection I should have done this years ago, but for a variety of reasons I did not.

Kidney Stones: 4 years ago I developed Kidney stones which weren’t large enough to be treated/ operated but were painful nonetheless. The urologist’s prescription was to take some anti inflammatory drugs during bouts of pain. Again I turned to an extraordinarily confident Ayurvedic practitioner who gave me some powders and syrups. It appeared to work within couple of days. I have not had Kidney stones since. I get that this anecdote might just be easily explained by N other things but still went on to share it as not sharing it seemed incomplete.

Allergic Rhinitis: For 17 years I have suffered from frequent and severe bouts of Allergic Rhinitis (average once every week) – where I sneeze for most of the active day. I visited ENT & allergy specialist for this issue some years ago, we failed to pinpoint the trigger but I was prescribed anti allergy pills for 3 months which worked for 3 months. The continuation of those pills for lifetime wasn’t advisable and hence after 3 months I was prescribed Duonase Nasal Spray. This spray works 95% times if used with 5 minutes of onset of Sneezing. But sadly the spray comes with side effects like Drowsiness, Reduced focus (esp while driving) and doesnt work for me once the Sneezing has already started for sometime. So I turned to Ayurvedic practitioner again. I followed the advice on diet and took medicines for a couple of months which had no effect whatsoever. I had resigned to accept this ailment as my fate which could only be moderated to certain extent my maintaining a healthy sleep pattern in sync with Circadian rhythm. (this seems to be a good advice for good immunity in general even for COVID)

With the Covid pandemic raging, a famous Ayurvedic technique called Jalneeti became popular in Maharashtra/Pune after it was recommended by oncologist Dr Dhananjay Kelkar who was at the vanguard of fight against Covid at Deenanath Mangeshkar hospital as its Medical Director (one of the largest hospitals in Pune).

I started doing this technique 9 weeks ago as I trusted the words of a doctor of Dr. Kelkar’s renown. The practice appears difficult to follow at first, but it gets easy after a week or so. I do this practice two or three times a day depending on my day. Last 9 weeks I have not had a single major bout of allergic rhinitis which is unprecedented for me (I had a minor bout one time) especially given the fact that my sleep patterns are the worst they have ever been. I don’t know how long these results will continue, but I plan to continue this practice. I believe once WFH ends this practice might be difficult to follow, but still it can be easily achieved atleast once a day.

Obviously in absence of any scientific publication I wont comment on its efficacy as preventive for respiratory illnesses but I would recommend it strongly if you suffer allergies.


In conclusion, I strongly protest against calling Ayurvedic practices as Quackery (it smells strongly of Anti Hindu bigotry) though I continue to be skeptical of Ayurvedic advices/treatments for non psychosomatic diseases in general. I even find the whole Coronil fiasco troubling. Additionally the reduction of every ailment under the sun into Pittha, Kapha, Vata appears very frustrating in 21st century especially given all we know about health. I sincerely hope more funding finds it way towards study of Ayurveda which is unfettered by ideology/ dogmatism or nativist biases. I hope someone in India (maybe GOI or state governments) sponsors research into the plethora of Ayurvedic practices instead of clubbing it with Homeopathy under AYUSH.

Here is an interesting piece on Ayurgenonics by Anand Ranganathan – the twitter and TV debate celebrity.


Any Doctors or scientists reading the blog; Dr Omar, Dr Warlock and Razib – please add your two(thousand) cents if possible.

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Sexual selection by Indian Society and its implications

By GauravL 8 Comments
Peacock courtship (A peacock displaying its full-length tail feathers in a courtship dance) © Gaurav Lele

To human eyes, few things in the animal world come close to the splendor of a full-grown peacock in plumage. The iridescent blue and green of a peacock tail can leave even the driest and unpoetic of us spellbound. Such a magnificent fellow seems wasted on the thoroughly mediocre peahen. The peacock’s tail puzzled Charles Darwin, for he could not find any survival value in the flamboyant tail (rather the tail makes escaping predators much more difficult). The driver of this trait was not any direct survival value, but the seemingly partial treatment peacocks with fuller tails received from the peahens (some say the tail is a health indicator). They mated more often, sired more offspring and so their genes flowed and conquered the peacock gene pool, making peacocks with huge tails a norm.

In the 21st century, many evolutionary biologists state that with increasing health care, eradication of many contagious diseases, evolution via natural selection of homo sapiens is no longer shaping our future as a species as it did leading up to the 20th century (Or at least they did in the Pre COVID era ). For generations, preferences and desires of women have helped shape the alpha male- the knight in shining armor, whereas the preferences of men have led to the distinct female characteristics being present in most women. Oddly though, today overwhelmingly humans without means to meet even their basic needs are passing their genes to further generations (breeding like rabbits some call it). To compare humans to other animals may offer a specious argument today as we have left some of our evolutionary habits far behind, leading very different lives than our animal cousins. The Games of Sexes in humans have become incredibly nuanced which has complicated ramifications on every aspect of our society.

This courtship game has taken even weirder morph in the Indian subcontinent. In India, it’s not just the woman whom decides she mates with, but her parents, grandparents, her uncles, and aunts. Sexual selection has become a task for the entire society and feeling incredulous at this tendency is considered suspect. As we depend on middle-men in arranged marriages, single negative feedback from an otherwise unimportant person is enough to cast serious doubt in the proceedings. The growing feminism movement in the world has not yet had a substantial effect on the way marriages work in India. The society (Eg: western Maharashtra ) still dictates that an eligible bachelor

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  • Is halfway decent looking
  • Earns over 5–15 lacs per annum & Earns at least marginally more than the girl (a lot of Indian mechanical engineers in the US – especially California are facing worse rating in the arranged marriage game as girls tend to take to Software and hence earn a lot more)
  • Owns at least one house (or at least his parents own a Pucca house; The more the merrier — Preferably with low EMI)
  • comes from a well to do family & own’s caste.
  • has a Car (how did I forget about the CAR)                                                                 (Make your own list #####)

Whereas an eligible spinster is:

  • Good looking — Highly comparative
  • Homely ? or Earning …….. (depends on who is looking)
  • Sanskari – (even in families where their daughters are offered considerable freedom expectations from a daughter in law are stricter- though things are rapidly changing)

As one might note, society-created a criterion for eligibility of women are changing as feminism percolates slowly in our deeply patriarchal society. It’s more difficult to have a stereotype of the ideal spinster than that of her counterpart.

Many individuals (especially closeted homosexuals) are forced into an early and unhappy marriage especially when they’re the elder siblings. If and when homosexuality is accepted in our society, the change from that to the current rules of selection will be even more interesting. A flippant joke on the matter

Son: “Mother , I am going to marry Rajesh, I love him and now Gay marriage is legal in India too”.

Mother: “Naa beta … You cant marry him …”

Son : “Why ?”

Mother : “He isnt from our caste son. Find a gay from our caste.”

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Bushmen from Kalahari desert (San people)

But ironically none of the above-stated qualities are essentially needed to pass on the genes as a Kalahari Bushmen would know. These qualities might make the individual a stable and bankable partner but they can’t be assumed as gospel blindly. The men today (even women to a growing extend today) spend their lives being overwhelmingly stressed to meet firstly the needs of their respective spouses in the future, their parents, and on a larger scale, their society. Exposure to such high levels of stress has resulted in low fertility (men and women)and erectile dysfunction in the millennials. One might even relate the above 5 eligibility points to have a linearly negative effect (above a certain threshold) on the overall physical state, thus hampering (re)-productivity. Is the battle for sex leading the individual away from sex?

India has not been the land of true innovation since the colonial experience like some of the western countries. We are good at jugaad and thus produce good engineers shy of true brilliance. Apart from the educational system and other “systems”, considerable blame can be put on the social system. An early marriage not only casts doubts on any aspirations a woman might have but also restrains the man from venturing further in his dreams. If the risk-taking scientist/ innovator is not assured of any respect from society, his task becomes doubly challenging. Not only is he expected to get married at 26–30 but he is also expected to prepare for it since 22. The problem is that families don’t choose risk-takers over boring / stable. Truly passionate people can take such rejections in their stride and move on. But when the whole societies fervently impose judgments and expectations on these to-be-innovators many of these innovators can bundle and pack-up. A man or woman above 30/-35 being single becomes a topic of gossip and doubts. Many times the clutches of sexual policing lead people to marriage where they would’ve otherwise stayed single whilst indulging in sex uninhibited. Deciding to spend your life with someone because you love them is one thing, doing it because you are lonely and needy is another. But being expected to marry someone because your family and society want it to happen is something totally different.

If we take away the societal pressure from the institution of marriage and keep the social networks of marriage active, individuals who wish to settle down will still get access to an efficient system to find mates while. But eccentric geniuses and renegades will not be forced to conform. Incidentally, that seems to be the place where Indian society appears to be heading IMO.

Post Script:

I am a supporter of a liberal Arranged Dating + Marriage which is picking up steam in Liberal India in the 21st century. I would love to see some research done on the stability of arranged marriages (the liberal Arranged Dating + Marriage ones – where individuals have a choice and veto) versus love marriages. I can see As I married quite early (in my peer group) at the age of 27, a lot of this argument might appear hypocritical.

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