Browncast with J Sai Deepak

Another Browncast 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!

The podcast was a good experience – a free flowing discussion without much structure. Retrospectively I felt I could have intervened more on some points or countered some of the answers, but I am overall happy with the discussion.

I hope I have this opportunity again to discuss a few more things with Sai.

 

The Die is Cast: the death of Indian Liberalism

More than 2 years ago I had appeared on the Brownpundits podcast to elucidate a moderate liberal opposition to the Juggernaut of BJP under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi. My political position back then is clear in this interview. My political hope for the 2019 election was a reduced majority for BJP in 2019 to counter some of the nasty excesses which come up in Indian politics when a political party gains absolute power. I was sympathetic to moderate/liberal Hindutva – as in I would have preferred a Gadkari over Modi for what it’s worth. Being a skeptical person by nature, I had never swallowed the whole agenda driven home by Indian and Global Liberal Media viz Cow lynchings or Saffronisation of textbooks or so-called Intolerance debate. My primary criticisms of the BJP government from 2014 to 2019 were the abuse of independent institutions – especially the courts and reserve bank and especially the win-at-all costs mentality when it came to elections – including Hindu-Muslim polarization during elections.

In spite of all my public and social criticisms of the Government and Hindutva project, for most part of the election campaign I considered voting for BJP as the alternative to Modi appeared scarier than anything Modi offered. However, the nomination of Sadhvi Pragya from the Bhopal seat was something I could not digest.


It would be clear to the regular followers on this blog or my followers on twitter or elsewhere that my political orientation has somewhat changed, so let me attempt to flesh out what has been the change and how it came about. One blogpost which summarizes my political/social position in 2020 as liberal is here.


Article 370:

The position of Congress and a whole lot of “opposition” on changes to article 370 (apart from AAP/BSP) is objectively disconnected from ground reality (as was their criticism of Indian government action in Balakot). Nationalism in Indian context has never been associated with the bad odour of European Nationalism, but this reality seems increasingly lost on Indian Liberals.

CAA NRC protests and Delhi Riots:

I had described CAA as “the Straw that broke the camel’s back” back in 2020, but the CAA agitations themselves had raised serious doubts in my minds about the Liberal project wrt protests. In retrospect Islam wasn’t just the rock that broke liberalism, but Islam was the rock used by Liberals to attempt to break Hindutva while Liberalism itself became collateral damage. The unconstitutional and often violent protests which led to loss of crores worth of property and finally riots in the national capital were not merely supported but actively encouraged on by Indian Liberals. I had a written the following article calling out the illiberalism of the liberals over the Bloomsbury Delhi riots fiasco. In essence the position a huge segment of Indian liberals espoused was “Free speech till I like it”. I unsubscribed from Newslaundry after a lot of to and fro debates in the letters to Newslaundry section. I continued with my subscription of Swarajya and the Print. I would see this as my transition from Center-Left to Center. 

Only the truly deluded would call a riot where 25+% dead are from the majority community (with apparent state support) a pogrom or carnage, but this was a fairly mainstream view in Indian liberal circles.

Covid

The covid lockdowns truly brought out two extremes in Modi Government’s responses to the problem from the knee jerk overreaction in 2020 to the casual underreaction in March-April 2021. A lot of blame that the government received from all sides was justified, but where justified outrage gives way to sedition or atrocity-porn is often difficult to discern. Yet from the coverage of 2nd wave, it’s fair to say that Indian liberal media (in sync with western media) was extremely unfair in handling India – much to the detriment of Indian image worldwide.

While initial vaccine policy of the Modi government was rightly panned by commentators on all sides of the spectrum, till this day I have not come across a serious liberal voice who is happy with the vaccination program undertaken by the Modi government (an exercise unlike any other in the history for its sheer scale).

Farm Laws: 

The Government subsidised policies like (i) Rice production in Northwest India, or the (ii) Sugar production in UP and MH have been among the worst agro-economic policies in the 21st century. There is almost a global economic consensus in the need jettison the MSP driven subsidies, for their economic as well as environmental impact. In early 2021, traders, landowners and farmers from 2.5 states with immense help from inside and outside the country, brought a government with majorities in both houses of the parliament on its knees. If a government with comfortable majorities, popular mandate cannot introduce reforms which are popular with the majority of Indian electorate (including farmers), it speaks volumes of the Negative Veto that immensely small minorities can hold over the strongest government this country has seen in 3 decades.

If a Modi government with 304 seats in the Lok Sabha (350 for NDA) cannot bring in much needed reforms, a BJP minority government wouldn’t even be able carry out attacks it carried out against Pakistan. So much for the moderate centrist position for checks and balances. In essence, India remains a democracy with extremely weak state where heckler’s veto is so mainstreamed that moderate centrism is nothing but naiveté at best.

Journalistic integrity (Eg: Lavanya suicide): 

I had published this rant when the Lavanya controversy broke on social media. To this day I do not cannot say with certainty if the episode was exactly as represented in the Hindutva social media, but it did make the hypocrisy of coverage pretty clear to me. On its own, this episode isn’t a particularly outrageous one (among a pattern of Liberal media coverage) but this particularly made the Liberal media pattern clearer to me than it had ever been before. The constant gaslighting of atrocities on Hindus owing to fears of Hindu majoritarianism across the board has gone unnoticed for long enough.

Hijab Controversy: 

The fact that in year 2022, a dozen girls under the influence of now banned PFI, can hold schools at an impasse over their “right” to drape themselves in a modesty garb (not the headscarf – Hijab is translated loosely as a modesty garment). On the liberal side, only Shekhar Gupta had understood the potential significance of controversy. Given the stance Indian liberals took during the Karnataka Hijab controversy, their silence on Iranian Anti Hijab protests isn’t surprising but consistent with the Faustian bargain they have committed.

Kashi Vishwanath – Nupur Sharma controversy:

The court verdict of the Kashi Vishwanath excavations notwithstanding, the claims of the Hindu side regarding the existence of Shivling in the Wuzu khana is something difficult to digest for even the most irreligious Hindus (like myself). While it’s imperative to disassociate the acts of medieval religious fanatics from Muslim population today, all the actions of the previous 300 years (if the continued existence of Shivling in Wuzu khana is proven) cannot be wished away. I had personally never been a fan of so-called Truth and Reconciliation program, as I favored the view that contemporary problems don’t need to have their solutions in the history, but this episode has thrown a heavy wrench into that pet-theory of mine.

The Nupur Sharma episode which followed, particularly the antics of “Fart-Checkers” made the binary even clearer with principles being were jettisoned wholesale. An example below:

Munawar Faruqi continues to gain meaningful livelihood in India, Nupur Sharma has no option but to spend the rest of her life as Salman Rushdie did in the 90s and 2000s. A dozen or so Hindus who have committed the act of “blasphemy” have already given up their lives in last 10 years of Hindu resurgence. 100 years after the ethnic cleansing of Kohat Hindus over blasphemy the house of Congress MLA was torched in BJP ruled Karnataka over Newton’s Third Law Blasphemy. What has changed in last 100 years? Additionally, in 2022 the Umesh Kolhe and Kanhaiyalal murders are objectively worse as they weren’t even accused of blasphemy themselves.

An important point worth noting here is, Umesh Kolhe was murdered on 21st June, the news of his death at hands of Islamists only became public on 2-3rd July after Shinde-Fadnavis wrestled the political reins of Maharashtra from the hands of the “Secular” MVA.

Indic/Bharatiya movements:

While I have my disagreements with the Decoloniality movement – crystalized in J Sai Deepak’s India that is Bharat series (my reviews: book 1book 2), the movement is one of immense consequence. My own views have changed a lot over last 3-4 years on topics like Temple control, “Coloniality and its legacy” etc after honest engagements (with disagreements) with these thoughts. The colonial hangover is something which has impacted minds of all Indians growing up to a large extent – be it due to Textbooks, Media, Pop-culture. However, once we become aware of some of the inherent biases of these institutions, the impact they had in shaping us will be somewhat eroded with time.

Kashmir Files: (My Review)

Objectively speaking Kashmir files can be proved to be less biased than Haider. While Kashmir files has no positive Muslim character, Haider has no positive Pro-India Kashmiri. Haider was a concoction of imagination while Kashmir files is based entirely on facts (though it can be accused of being selective). Yet Haider was well received by Indians of all ideological spectrum (when it was initially released) while every attempt to discredit Kashmir files was made by the almost the entire Liberal Media and Entertainment industry. Clearly a film like Kashmir files could not have been released hadn’t it been for the overwhelming majority enjoyed by BJP at the Centre.

Love Jihad:

Data points about Cow theft lynching in the range of noise were enough to make India “Lychistan” globally, while statistically significant cases (in the range of hundreds over last 7-8 years) of inter-faith abuse/fraud – more colloquially known as Love-Jihad, was looked at as a conspiracy theory by even Hindutvavadis till a few years ago. Now thanks to the fearless reporting by the likes of Swati Goel among others, “Love Jihad” cases are coming to light at a truly alarming rate. Personally, I have been hearing such cases for at least 2 decades, but I have never taken these rumors or conspiracies seriously. From a purely sociological perspective, it seems an inevitability given the trajectories of various communities in India.

History and perspective:

What one gains out of reading world history is context. Systemic Oppression was a norm and not an outlier in all societies just its flavor varied according to culture. A member of so-called Oppressor Group, guilt tripped into the real and imagined sins of his ancestors will inevitably gain a different perspective about his/her history once he/she reads world history more thoroughly. The “enlightened” position of jettisoning all traditions – lock stock and barrel, appears over the top after getting 30000 feet view of history. As a result, one learns to love and own their own culture without the necessity to always feel ashamed for the past, thus being more committed to defending it.

Coming to recent history, the Pakistan movement remains incompletely studied in school curriculums as well as pop history. Books like Creating a New Medina, MJ Akbar’s Tinderbox (Review by Maneesh Taneja) and now J Sai Deepak’s India Bharat and Pakistan are shattering the hold of mainstream and popular historians the popular discourse. After reading both sides of the history of Islamic exceptionalism in India, one can’t help noticing the unnerving parallels in the events leading to the Khilafat movement in 20th century to events in 21st century.

Being judgmental of the Indian leaders of the 20th century may be unfair, but not learning from their mistakes would be downright foolish. For all the mistakes they may have committed with the benefit of hindsight, the likes of Gandhi, Nehru and Patel in all likelihood understood the unique problem posed to Indian civilization by Islamic exceptionalism. Their tactics and strategies may have been proven wrong, but one can at least say they understood the problem they were facing. Can the same be said about the “Secular” leadership today? Or does the RSS with its moderate face in 2022 play the role of Indian national congress in 1940s and 1950s? Maybe – Maybe not, but the “Secular opposition” today is far removed from the position of even Nehru, let alone Gandhiji or Sardar Patel.

the Other side:

All the points mentioned above cannot whitewash any of the fair criticism (of which bucket load exists) of the Hindutva movement in general and the Modi government in particular. I continue to hold the view that the Abrahamisation of Hinduism is undesirable. I also continue to think the Hindu view of Cow-protection is extremely unpragmatic in the 21st century market driven economy with a population of 1.3 billion. The Bilkis Bano remission cannot be anything but a blot on Indian civilization as a whole. I am extremely skeptical of the apparent resurgence of Hindu orthodoxy visible on Twitter (though one can’t be sure of its implications on the ground). My reservations around the cult of personality of the Narendra Modi remain as strong as ever but it would be childish to deny the fact that Hindutva needs Modi. Almost all the criticisms of authoritarian tendencies one can make of the BJP are criticisms one can make of the opposition with more fervor. (Ketaki Chitale, Arnab Goswami, Bengal violence etc etc).

the Die is cast:

I had read Rajiv Malhotra’s “Breaking India” 7 years ago, I had agreed 50% with his thesis (though I was a BJP supporter back then). More importantly I had found the remaining 50% far-fetched, overstated and conspiratorial. I don’t think I need to re-read the book to claim that I would agree with around 80-90% of the book’s thesis today. From celebrity activists expressing solidarity with Farm law protestors to 9/11 being chosen for Dismantling Global Hindutva, the global anti Hindu/India conspiracy angle doesn’t appear far-fetched if one keeps an open mind and consumes information from all sides of the spectrum. Links of the Communist-Missionary nexus with protests like Sterlite copper plant or the Dravidian or Ambedkarite movements is now out in the open. The manufactured controversies around Mohammad Shami and Arshdeep Singh were so transparent that I am astounded more honest people from the Liberal side haven’t picked it up. Ditto for the call of Arab intervention in Indian domestic affairs – an act even Owaisi condemns in public.

I generally avoid using larger than life words like civilizational cause and arc of history or existential crisis. But the 2.5 front war is here, and it is not a merely political war but a civilizational one. In this context, Liberal Idealism which I once espoused appears to be just another face of pompous and self-righteous naiveté.

As Christopher Hichens famously put it

The barbarians never take a city until someone holds the gates open to them.

The DIE is CAST, Indian liberalism is dead. We might as well pick sides.

 

Episode 14: The Delhi Sultanate

 

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

In this episode of the history podcast, Omar and Jay discuss the period of Delhi Sultanate with Jay and Gaurav. We go over all the major dynasties and also discuss the religious, economic aspects of this time.

As Omar Ali puts it, the legacy of Delhi Sultanate is the legacy of Islam in the subcontinent.

References:-

1. The Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate, 1192-1286 by Sunil Kumar
2. The History and Culture of the Indian People: Volume 6: The Delhi Sultanate
3. India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765 by Richard M. Eaton
4. Medieval India – Vol. 1 by Satish Chandra
5. Advanced Study in the History of Medieval India: Volume I by J L Mehta
6. A Comprehensive History of India: The Delhi Sultanat (A.D. 1206-1526), ed. by Mohammad Habib and Khaliq Ahmad Nizami

Book Review: India, Bharat and Pakistan – a Not so Gentle Reminder

Lawyer and author J Sai Deepak is back with the book of his India that is Bharat Quadrology. I had reviewed his first book India that is Bharat almost a year back – you can find my review here.

The Summary: 

J Sai Deepak’s second book dissects the time from the fall of the Mughal empire to the Khilafat movement relying heavily on the tools developed in the first book and a vast number of primary sources. The author also investigates the trail of the Islamic doctrine consolidated during the Fatwa-e-Alamgiri (compiled on orders of Aurangzeb) back to the 13th century Islamic scholar Taymiyyah and Syed Ahmad Sirhindi (a contemporary of Mughal Emperor Akbar).

The two figures covered in detail among the post Mughal Ulema are Shah Wahiullah Dehlawi and Syed Ahmad Baraelvi – the two giants who have shaped the Islamic revivalism in the 18th century. The establishment of Wahhabi power center in Northwest of Punjab, establishment of the various schools of Islam in North India – Deobandi, Barelvi, Ahl-i-Hadith, Ali-garh and the British crackdown of Wahhabism are all discussed in sufficient detail before jumping off to Syed Ahmad Khan and the modern genesis of the two-nation theory. The author then covers all the important events from the Partition of Bengal to the Khilafat movement – relying heavily on primary sources. The book ends with a summary of the Khilafat riots – especially the Mopla massacre.

My 2 Annas:

It took me 3 weeks to complete the first section of the book. I completed the rest of the book in 2 days. I think this statement itself is a review in a nutshell. If I had to give a one phrase review for book 1 it would be “Overstated yet immensely Consequential“, if I have to do the same for book 2 it would be “About time or Oh My Gods“. This is not to say I don’t have disagreements with the book – especially some of author’s conclusions, but the overwhelming thrust of the book is something I strongly agree with.

Firstly, the book busts all the popular notions of two-nation theory and it being solely a creation of the British. The author effectively traces the modern origins of the two-nation theory to Syed Ahmad Khan and the Aligarh movement at the very least. The book also covers some of the lesser-known events from the 19th century – the Wahhabi movement and the conflict in the Northwestern frontier province. The book makes it abundantly clear that Islamic revivalism was less a reaction to Colonialism and more a reaction to Hindu and Sikh resurgence. The fact that both the British and Muslims saw each other as closer religiously and hence more acceptable/worthy instead of the “Hindu” is driven through via a vast number of primary sources. 

The common trope among the secular (even Hindutva discourse) about the Syncretic nature of Sufis is addressed (though I felt the author didn’t fully go into this question).

Location 528

Pan-Islamism and its proponents – especially Al-Afghani are also covered in the book.

Secondly, the book also goes into origins and progress of “Moderate Nationalism” under Indian National Congress right up to the ascendency of the “Mahatma”. I had expected the author to be slightly unfair to the Indian National congress and especially the role of Gandhiji but to my surprise he hasn’t. Though some conclusions may seem a tad unfair at times but because the author relies heavily on primary references the “judgement” is moderated. Most importantly the support of Khilafat which is put firmly on the shoulders of Gandhiji in Hindutva circles, is clearly shown to be a mainstream view of Indian National Congress years before ascendency of Gandhiji, absolving Gandhiji of some of the blame.

The inability of the “Indian nationalism led by Hindus” in dealing the Islamic exceptionalism both before and during the period of “Hindu-Muslim” harmony is on display in the book. The author compares “Coloniality” of the Hindus to the “Rootedness” and “Intransigence” of Muslims for these defeats. Whereas there can be no doubt that Muslim “Intransigence” was important, I find the blame laid on “Coloniality” not watertight.

Take example of Jawaharlal Nehru and Kemal Pasha “Attaturk”. Both were modernizers who tried to jettison the past of their respective countries. What separated them both wasn’t any rootedness or lack of deracination – but a personal attribute, namely political ruthlessness, incidentally something Mohammad Ali Jinnah shared. Kemal Pasha not only broke the tradition of the Khalifa but also forced the Roman alphabet overnight on the Turks. Similarly, in India the two heads who had the most clear-eyed vision of the thread of Islamic exceptionalism were Dr Ambedkar and Veer Savarkar (both “Modernists”). I would instead put the blame on Hindu naivete which is an unfortunate byproduct of Hindu Pluralism – we simply never understood the other. Most of our ReConquistadors (with notable exceptions) did not pursue Reconversions.

Another thing I found mildly irritating in the book (continued from book one) – is the use of the term Middle eastern coloniality/consciousness. Ironically the term “Middle Eastern” itself reeks of its Western Colonial origins. I would have used the term Islamic or Arabic instead, but this is sematic disagreement which doesn’t matter much.

a Not so Gentle Reminder:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results“.

The disagreements with the author’s conclusions notwithstanding, the book is a not so Gentle Reminder for the India that is Bharat. In retrospect, the compromises Bharatiya nationalism offered, from accepting disproportionate Muslim representation to supporting the fanatical Khilafat movement, may have worked against the Indian civilization itself. While it may be unfair to excessively blame the Bharatiya leaders from the past, it’s imperative to call out those who are flirting with the same approach in the 21st century (incidentally my position a few years ago). Essentially the Hindu leadership made a Faustian bargain and sold their brains. Though Swatyantraveer Savarkar is almost absent from the book, he cast a long shadow in my mind while I read the book.

Another popular trope I felt the author could have busted was the trope that Islamic intransigence in India is largely the legacy of “it having been spread by the sword”. The Mopla carnage was undertaken by descendants of Arab traders who came without any major conflict. Maybe violent intransigence and exclusivity is a feature not a bug.

The book becomes unputdownable after the Lucknow Pact, as the Hindu-Muslim unity discussed here which didn’t even last a decade remains as relevant today as ever. The riots covered in the end of the book – especially the Mopla carnage is almost unbearable to read reminding the reader of Kashmir. The letter by Annie Beasant to Gandhiji stands out. The book also brings into focus some of the lesser-known riots like Kohat. Incidentally the trigger for the Kohat ethnic cleansing was blasphemy, a topic which continues to remain as relevant as ever.

As I write this review a century after Mopla Riots, raids are conducted on Popular Front of India members while the PFI supporters can call for Hartals with partial success in Malabar coast. If the first book was a red pill in a blue jacket (Akshay Alladi (@akshayalladi) / Twitter), this is a केसरी (Saffron) pill in a green jacket.

I have skipped over many topics from the book in this review for brevity, but I would urge the reader of this post to buy and read this book in its entirety and engage with the uncomfortable facts it lays down infront of us.

The book ends with the following quote

Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The above line becomes even more relevant especially give the way history is taught in India. I would end this review with a quote (in one of its many forms) most people reading this review would recognize.

अश्वत्थामा हतः इति, नरो वा कुंजरोवा !

Khalid Baig on Indian Nationalism and Islam

 

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

In this episode Gaurav chats with Khalid Baig – an Indian Nationalist on a wide range of topics – Indian nationalism, Hindu-Muslim relations, Hindutva and bright future of India. Khalid Baig and Amana Ansari Begam also run a very popular Youtube show called India This Week By Amana & Khalid – YouTube.

We also chatted to his co-host Amana Ansari Begam a few months back – Amana Begam Ansari on Muslims and Women in India – Brown Pundits

 

Book Review: Saartha – 8th Century India recreated

After reading SL Bhyrappa’s Parva I wanted to read more from the man. I started with Saartha after a friend recommended it. Review of Parva.


the Tale:

Saartha is a tale of a Brahmana sent on a mission by his king under the pretext of finding more about the various trade caravan routes with a Saartha (caravan). The protagonist Naga-Bhatta is the first person narrator for the entire book. The novel is primarily a journey of self realization of Naga-Bhatta – dealing with a varied range of emotions from anger, infidelity, love to melancholy and despondency. Naga-Bhatta travels from his hometown in Central India to North Indian plains – particularly Mathura, from Mathura to Kannauj and Kannauj to Magadha, Magadha to Mahismati before embarking upon a journey to Arab ruled Multan before coming back to Mathura. Though a lot of characters come and go in the novel, the ones who leave a mark as personalities apart from Nagabhatta are Pratihara Senapati JaySingh and actress and Yogini Chandrika. Other than that, the author also brings the real life historic personalities to life in fantastic and powerful manner. – Mandana Misra, Kumarila Bhatta, Bharati Devi (Misra) and epoch changing Adi-Shankaracharya. Apart from that, the author deals with the intellectual fights – especially between Sramanas (especially Bauddhas) and the followers of the Vaidika Dharma (Vedic Hindus). Bhyrappa manages critical about aspects of both the traditions even though the narration is that of a Vaidika Brahmana.

The storytelling is top notch and visually perfect. The dialogues are extremely effective and powerful. But where the author excels like in Parva is bringing to life a real world from a time long gone. What is more – he manages to do it with the Zeitgeist of the story in mind – not our own. The author doesn’t want to be politically correct or use his zeitgeist as a lens to observe the events of the tale. As the narration is that of a moderately patriarchal 8th century Brahmana, he doesn’t try to bring up the hypocrisy of his position – wherein the protagonist has no qualms about his (attempted) infidelity while he cannot digest his wife’s betrayal so much that it derails his life – filing him up with despondency and emptiness. Its in moments like these that the brilliance of the author comes through.

Throughout the narrative we are come across various spiritual paths available to the thinkers and philosophers in Ancient India – namely the Karma Kanda focused Vaidika Mimansa path, the Mahayana Bauddha path, the Yoga path, the Tantrik path, and finally Shankara’s Advaita. How the Naga-Bhatta grabbles with these paths and how he finds his Karma at the end is essentially the story of novel, Alchemist like tale with huge dollops of sophisticated philosophy and realism. What is fascinating about this book is that unlike Parva (Mahabharat) this book deals with and uses supernatural powers not just as sidenotes but for important parts of the story arc. Also the author’s grasp over Sanskrit is just spectacular, and like in Parva he has created couplets here and there as per the plot demand.


the Polemic and the Philosophy: (Spoilers ahead)

While the story of Saartha works on various levels, I doubt if that was the main purpose of the book. The author uses the character arc of Naga-Bhatta around which the tapestry of 8th Century India is painted, and its this tapestry that works more than the story. In the beginning we are introduced to the conflicts and divergences between Vaidika and Bauddha traditions, while noting the important changes which were occurring in the Bauddha tradition during this time. Some scholars have pointed to these changes (adopting of Puranic deities and tales) which made the Bauddha traditions loose its differentiating USP. The portrayal of Drama as a means of spread of devotional traditions of Rama and Krishna is fantastic. The mechanisms of Yoga and especially Tantra are very well explored. The flirtation of Naga-Bhatta with Buddhism, his abandoning of Vaidika traditions and coming back are not only explained convincingly, but readers also given a peak into the potential origins of the Maithuna images (erotic coupling images) which adorn the Khajurao temples.

The first climax of the book – based on the hagiography of Shankara- deals with the encounter of Adi-Shankara with the Guru of Naga-Bhatta – Mandana Misra, and though Mandana Misra is said to lose that encounter personally as I reader I couldn’t follow the logic of it. Similarly the peek into the life of Kumarila Bhatta – the Mimansika who is said to have defeated the Buddhists before Shankara left me unsatisfied. However one has to note that maybe that was the desire of the author, who clearly seems to favor the Vaidika Mimansikas (minus some orthodoxy).

The final climax of the book is about the confrontation with Islam. This part felt slightly caricaturish but still captured some of the salient reasons for Islamic incursions into the subcontinent. The tripartite struggle of Palas, Prathirahas and Rashtrakutas, the Hindu insularity and naivety & superstition and various other reasons come forth during the climax. The book ends on a very sour note, but that wasn’t surprising, as Bhyrappa is no bollywood screenwriter (who make Padvawat and Panipat appear as victories of Hindus (maybe even Prithviraj)).


Incidentally the History podcast Brownpundits have been producing was covering the same time period which Saartha covers. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in history, philosophy or even self discovery – Saartha works very well on all these fronts.

Personally as an agnostic I have wondered why have I never been attracted to the philosophy of Buddha whereas I have always been attracted by the philosophies’ Vaidika and Puranic Dharma. Bhyarappa was able to give me the answer in one sentence “Can you imagine Buddha saying what Krishna says (on Kurukshetra) ?”

Episode 11: Palas, Prathiharas and early Islamic invasions

Tripartite struggle between the Palas, the Rashtrakutas and the Pratiharas

Another Browncast 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!

By Print from 1425 CE, AfghanistanPhotographer: Worchester Museum – Worchester Museum

In this episode Maneesh and Gaurav chat with Jay and Omar Ali and they discuss North Indian politics and power struggles for a vast period from 700 CE to 1200 CE. We touch upon the origins of the Imperial Pratiharas and Palas and discuss the tripartrite struggle for domination of Kannauj between the 3 great kingdoms of Indian subcontinent while a storm brewed up in the west. We also talk about the earlier Arab invasions of Sindh and Punjab and the later Turkic invasions by the Ghaznavids and Ghurids which laid the foundation of Islamicate rule in India.

By Hiroki Ogawa, CC BY 3.0,

We will cover the Cultural changes of this period in another episode.

Another Map of the era

www.thomaslessman.com/History/ or www.WorldHistoryMaps.info

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Links to stuff discussed in this episode:

Al Beruni, Kitab ul Hind https://www.academia.edu/45077160/Al_birunis_Kitab_Ul_hind

Al Baladhuri: Early Islamic Conquests. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338318331_Arab_Conquests_and_Early_Islamic_Historiography_The_Futuh_al-Buldan_of_al-Baladhuri

 

Episode 10: North India – before and after Harsha

 

 

Another Browncast 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!

The history podcast returns to North India. Gaurav and Jay are in conversation with Maneesh about the changes in the North Indian landscape before and after the times of Harsha – generally considered as the last Emperor of “Ancient India”. We touch upon political splintering that followed the fall of the imperial Guptas, the political Game of thrones that followed, the Kumbha Mela and the decline of trade. 玄奘  (Xuanzang) and Banabhatta make appearances as prolific storytellers along with the stories of contested Urban decay and decline of Buddhism in the Indian heartland.

References for the episode:

A Comprehensive History of India – Vol III
The History and Culture of the Indian People: Volume 3. The Classical Age
Imagining the Urban – Sanskrit and the City in Early India by Shonaleeka Kaul
Urban Decay in India (c. 300-c. 1000) by Ram Sharan Sharma
Upinder Singh – Ancient India.
Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India
Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions.
Romila Thapar – Ancient History
Romila Thapar – Past before us
RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past

Live History India (Paid + unpaid)

PODCASTS:
The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick
Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti

https://www.youtube.com/JayVardhanSingh

 

Episode 8: The Guptas and Classical Age of India

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

In this episode of the History series, we return to North India and talk about the Age of the Guptas. We touch upon the military genius of Samudragupta and various Gupta emperors, the emergence of Classical Hinduism and various forms of Art, Music, Science which consolidated during this era. The speakers of the episode are Gaurav Lele and Jay Vardhan and the discussion is moderated by Maneesh.

@jayvtweets  @maneesht @gaurav_lele

Links to the previous podcasts: Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3 

Episode 4:  Episode 5: Episode 6 Episode 7

Supplementary blogpost : Legacy of the Gupta Age – Brown Pundits

Sources and References:
Books and Blogs
 Upinder Singh – Ancient India.
 Upinder Singh – Political violence in Ancient India.
 Upinder Singh – Culture of Contradictions.
 Romila Thapar – Ancient History
 RS Sharma- India’s Ancient Past
 Gupta Vakataka Age RC Majumdar

 Live History India (Paid + unpaid)
 Early Hinduism — the epic stratification | by Gaurav Lele | Medium

PODCASTS:
 The History of India Podcast – Kit Patrick
 Echoes of India Podcast – Aniruddha Kanasetti

https://www.youtube.com/JayVardhanSingh

Legacy of the Gupta Age

© Asitjain / Wikimedia Commons

The rule of the imperial Guptas is generally considered as a Golden Age or Classical Age of Indian history. Generally arguments for “Golden Age” are rife with retrospective imposition or wishful thinking, but still nonetheless the Gupta Age still deserves to be recognized as an age of immense consequence.

Rome fell in the 5th century, a topic on which whole hundreds of careers have prospered over the centuries. On the other hand, the Imperial Guptas – their rise, their fall and their legacy all remain somewhat uncertain but that may be down to Indian history in general. While Rome as a empire existed from before common era, the rise of the Guptas was a much later event. But there would be some interesting parallels in which these two empires. Rome began becoming increasingly Christian during the 4–5 centuries CE. Guptas who were devoted to Bhagvata sect are also seen as the Great Hindu rulers of the subcontinent. One of the major reasons of the fall of Imperial Rome were the series of events triggered by invasions of violent Huns led by Attila the Hun. Similarly the Hunas who invaded subcontinent are said to be distantly related to the Europeans Huns (only distantly) — but essentially nomadic cavalrymen invaded both these empires and fall of these giant empires is in large part attributed to these Central Asian “Barbarians”/ Mlenchhas.

If we assume (as is the case according to most scholars) — that Indian armies were mainly infantry supplemented by elephantry and cavalry — the tactics used by Skandagupta and later indian rulers to defeat these Hunas must have been fascinating — interesting pop culture parallel would be the Dothraki versus the unsullied.

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 2

Integration of Classical Hinduism:

Hinduism as we define it today became something clearly recognizable during this time. One interesting way to look at Hinduism is using the metaphor Rajiv Malhotra uses — about Indra’s net — in terms of Software Hinduism is a open architecture software based on the Vedic traditions where different Apps and programs can be installed as long as they are compatible with open architecture. If we are to explain using that analogy — then the various Sampradayas and local deities cults slowly got integrated into the Vedic architecture. The devotional cults of Vishnu and Shiv and Devi clearly had some Vedic as well as non Vedic antecedents . The Bhagvata cult from North India may have had its origins in the Vedic period around the Vrishni Hero Krishna Devakiputra & others like Samkarshana, but by the time of Guptas the Bhagvata sect become something very different. The Puranas which were composed around these times played a key role in the linking of these various cults and deities into a somewhat coherent (yet extremely contradictory) mythology.

Apart from Vaisnava sect — various traditions of Shakta, Saivism and Tantra were also becoming popular. According to most scholars — Saivism was more popular at this time than Vaisnavism. Apart from the imperial Guptas, most other rulers of the time were devotees of Shiv. Whereas the Vaishnava traditions were more synchronized with Vedic traditions, some local, Tantra and Saiva traditions were not accepted in the mainstream Vedic religion. There are many stories of initial conflict of such local cults with Vedic traditions while these cults were slowly integrated into the Shrauta Vedic traditions. (Something I have touched previously in this piece – Hindu Integration: Brahmanas and Gramadevatas – Brown Pundits). The mechanisms of this integration are varied and complex — some deities become avatars of Vishnu — some become children of Shiv and some are added into the complex narratives of the Puranas. Kumārasaṃbhavam by Kalisada is also a fine example of the storytelling employed by composers while weaving this complex mesh of Hinduism.

Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand, CC BY 2.0

Devi also becomes increasingly interwoven with other deities — as illustrated by the tale of Mahisasur Mardini from the Puranas. The Udaygiri cave complex is a fantastic example of one of the earliest manifestations of such rich stories and motifs and their interplay — Vishnu as Varaha, Shiv Mukhalingam, Mahisasur mardini, Skanda, Ganesh etc.

In a way traditions based on Vedic Yajna based practices which are more transactional began giving way to more devotional forms of worship. These include grand temples, Teertha Kshetras and Shakti Peeth. Small temples may have existed before — we cannot be sure as archeological record is sparse; but during these times ruler began to patronize rich temples complexes — like the Udaygiri caves, Pravareshwara temple complex – which were mediated by Brahamanas practicing Vedic traditions but focus began shifting on the devotional aspects on faith.

One of the interesting foreign accounts we have of this time is that of Fa-hien — a Buddhist monk from China — who writes about a somewhat Golden age — where crime and punishments are low and people are wealthy, where vegetarianism is a norm and people even abstain from garlic and onions. The important thing to glean out of this is the fact that practices like Vegetarianism were becoming widespread around these times — something that has been linked heavily with Vaisnavism as well as Sramana traditions — especially Jainism. This era was also the time when the Mahabodhi temple, Nalanda university were constructed, so Buddhism was also in fashion as was Jainism — though Jainism seems to be more dominant in the west and south.

BodhGaya : Attribution: Neil Satyam

Architecture and Art:

The oldest Hindu temples clearly go back to pre Gupta times but the recognizable Hindu temple forms also took shape during these times. Early temples used to be short constructions made of mainly wood — around 10–10 feet square. Temples with their distinctive “Shikhar” began becoming constructed around this time.

In Cave architecture , apart from the Udaygiri and Elephanta caves (which are not firmly dated) — cave architecture seems to have been predominantly Buddhist — as attested in the fantastic Ajanta caves. Even though some of the early caves of Ajanta cave complex go back to the Satavahanas — like the Karla and Bhaja caves, the more spectacular cave art — both paintings and sculpture goes back to the age of the Golden age of the Vakatakas  – around the end of 5th century.

In the times of the Kusanas the art form known as Gandhara sculptor developed (with influence from Greeks), during the Gupta period, the Mathura & Sarnath schools continued to innovate to new heights. The Sarnath Buddhas are considered as one of the greatest art produced in India. Among some other famous sculptures of this times are the terracotta of personified Yamuna and Ganga from Ahhichattra . Yamuna-Ganga figures along with the royal standard Garuda denote the Gupta and their patronage as the Gupta originated from the region of Prayaag.

The Natyasastra which is dated to the first and second centuries CE also deserves a mention while talking about the classical age of India. One of the central concepts of Natyasastra is Rasa — Rasa is what the audience is supposed to feel as an effect of the performance. Rasas and not emotions but they map on to emotions — like Shringara Rasa with love, Vira Rasa with energy — Rasa is not the feeling or emotion but Reaction— which i have to say is a very sophisticated way of looking at it. Audience was not supposed to be a passive observer, but a highly trained and sophisticated participant in the process of Drama. The Natyasastra also prescribes that death, love making, bathing, eating should never be shown on stage and dramas should always end on a positive note — unlike famous Greek tragedies.

Fa-hien also talks about buildings which acted as hospitals existing in north India. The Sushruta Samhita which probably goes back to the late Vedic or early Mahajanpada period, but the Caraka samhita which has many layers was probably work in progress till the Gupta era. The Bower manuscript which is dated to 5–6th century CE gives a fascinating peek into the developments of Ayurveda. It refers to passages from or commentaries on the Caraka Samhita. The text also refers to Sushruta as the one who originally got this knowledge from the king of Kashi.

Legacy of invaders, Indian Kingship and religions:

Coins of Samudragupta

By and large Indian kings right from the times of Bimbisara, rarely persecuted religions sects even if they were personally devoted to some competing sect. This made good pragmatic political sense — this is the argument made by a section of scholars while looking back at these policies of religious pluralism. Many of the ruling elites after the times of the Mauryas like Hunas during this age — were “foreigners”/ Mlencchas — like most steppe warriors of these Hunas must have mostly practiced some form of Iranic religion like the earlier Sakas and Kusanas or Shamanism like the later Mongols. But inspite of what we noted earlier — about Mihirakula being among the few ancient Indian rulers to resort to religious (anti religious) zealotry — the Hunas went native quite soon. These streams of invaders who came to shape the subcontinent from the time of the Buddha to the fall of Gupta empire — Persians, Macedonians, Bactrian Greeks, Sakas, Kusanas, Hunas — we find that all these identities melted into the Melting pot of India. Indian religions — especially Hinduism and Buddhism in large part absorbed, reshaped and restyled the faith systems of the invaders. From between a few generations to few centuries all these invaders “went native” — so in a way what became Classical Hinduism was shaped by these invaders. This integration of the “invaders” would stop in the coming centuries.

Here is a quote from Upinder Singh — History of ancient and earlier medieval india.

Brown Pundits