Yugant / युगान्त : Book Review/Recommendation

By GauravL 30 Comments

Yugant / युगान्त is a critical and rational analysis of Mahabharata by the Irawati Karve – the anthropologist, sociologist, educationist and writer from Maharashtra, India. She was the daughter in law of Dhondo Keshav Karve – a reformer from Maharashtra.

Yugant confronts various versions of Mahabharat analytically and tries to make sense of character arcs and motivations. Intelligently analyzed without religious respect but with literary respect. The motivations of Pandavas for marrying Draupadi as the Royal Queen are very well explained. The literary accounts of chats between Dhritarashtra and Gandhari & those of Draupadi’s death are very well written and move your heart. Krishna (Vasudeva) stands out not only because of the brilliance of his character but the wonderful analysis and the crisp unraveling of his motivations. The Arya (Kshatriya) Dharma is explained in Krishna and Yugant chapters. The author enthralls with deep and intelligent writing in the final chapter that resonates wonderfully even in the 21st-century internet age. The sincere and irreligious comparisons of Mahabharat Era – Arya Dharma to contemporary Hindu religion and other Prophetic Faiths are interesting. Throughout the book, the author refrains from applying current Zeitgeist as a yardstick – something which is refreshing in 21st century polarized analysis and debates which always have political undertones. Even without a direct running story arc – the arrangement of essays offers a wonderful climax – especially Krishna and Yugant chapters.  With recent elevation of Heroic Karna in Indian literature and thought, a look back of the character of Karna as seen in 1950s-60s is a pleasant change.
Surprisingly the argument for conservatism offered at times by the author towards the end – is also a stimulating one.  Further readings of Mahabharata (Bhandarkar critical edition) may lead to various disagreements with author’s positions at various points – but that has to be expected, especially for a text as dense and significant as Mahabharata.

Post Script:

I have not read the English edition. I cant vouch for the  English version. The analysis is very well explained in the original Marathi editions. Some of her work – especially on Anthropology is hotly contested today, but IMHO her MO is very relevant even today.

A recent twitter thread on the Author:

This book is easily available on Amazon in India in both languages. The price on Amazon.com appears unreasonably high.

 

 

A note for Traditionally inclined Hindus  – None of the analysis is reverential but it avoids the viewing of Mahabharata from western lens. 

 

 

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Why Hinduism is not inchoate paganism

By Razib Khan 66 Comments

An individual, who I have come to conclude is a troll after further comments (they are banned), mentioned offhand that Hinduism and/or Hindu identity is reactive Islam and the British, and that its origins are in the 19th century. This is a common assertion and presented recently by one of our podcast guests. I myself have entertained it in the past. It’s not prima facie crazy.

But I have come to conclude that this is not the right way to think about it. Or, more precisely, it misleads people on the nature of the dynamic of Indian religious identity and its deep origins. This is why I think Hindus themselves self-labeling ‘polytheists’ or ‘pagan’ can mislead people. Not because these are offensive terms. People can refer to themselves however they want. But these terms have particular relational resonances with other groups, periods, and peoples.

One can point to al-Biruni’s external observations about Indian religion, or Shijavi’s personal opinions in his correspondence, to make a case for Hinduism and Hindu identity (using both terms to avoid troll-semantic ripostes) being older than the 19th century. But this is not the argument that is strongest to me. I have spent many years and books reading about the cross-cultural emergence of religious identity, and its change, in places as diverse as Classical Rome, post-Arab conquest Iran, and 7th century Japan, to name a few places. Many of these places and times had local religious cults and practices. In all of these places, they were assimilated and absorbed into the intrusive “meta-ethnic” religion. In Rome, Tibet, and Japan, the religion had major initial setbacks, but eventually, the meta-ethnic “higher religion” came back and captured the elite.

In the modern world, we see massive Christianization, and to a lesser extent Islamicization, in Sub-Saharan African. The traditional religions persist, in particular in West Africa, but history is clearly against them. Importantly, most of the religious change occurred after the end of colonialization.

The relevance of this is clear. The Indian subcontinent would be an exception for all these above cases if the vast majority of people were unintegrated animists with only local religious cults. The precedent from Europe and the world of Islam is that Brahmins and a few other pan-Indian groups (e.g., Jains) would persist as religious minorities, while the vast majority converted to the newly introduced meta-ethnic religion.

Continue reading “Why Hinduism is not inchoate paganism”

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The Indo-Pakistan problem — To be or Not to be

By GauravL 55 Comments
Wagah Border

THIS ESSAY WAS WRITTEN IN 2016 in the immediate aftermath of the URI ATTACKS with the aim of bringing some nuance in the increasingly binary discussions of Pakistan. Looking back at it in 2020 there are a few points in the essay I mildly disagree with but on the whole, I stand by my arguments. 


For anyone willing to read a shorter -TL-DR version find the link HERE:

Note: This is not a scholarly analysis of Indo-Pak question but an essay ((*mildly subjective)) on the question with references being presented for most of the essay. 


Every well-read Indian who has thought enough about the India-Pakistan issue will have faced Hamlet’s dilemma — “To be or not to be”. It’s fair to assume that national patience, with everything related to Pakistan, is waning very fast nowadays aided by the explosion of social media. Simply put — most Indians have had enough of this shit for 69 + years (the Idea of Pakistan being older than Pakistan). The leftist solution to the Pakistan problem has always been the Aman ki Asha narrative. The reactionary position of some of the Right-wing is to totally boycott anything related to Pakistan every-time a terrorist attack takes place in India. This position though backed by popular opinion at times like this seems to be no closer to a permanent solution to the problem. To come up with potential solutions for this problem, we need to discuss both these approaches and we also need to dig deep into the Nation-state of Pakistan.

 

Continue reading “The Indo-Pakistan problem — To be or Not to be”

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Belief and Reclamation

By The Emissary 111 Comments

For eons, ascetics and wanderers would journey to the sacred snow-clad Himalayas to test the fires of their belief. Where the skies met the earth and the heavens met the material world, humans met enlightenment; and their discoveries would cascade down the subcontinent. These beliefs would be ossified by ritual and rite, and a culture would engulf the land between the great Himalayas and an endless ocean – India, that is Bhārata.

And it is this legendary journey from the foothills of the Himalayas to the tip of the subcontinent that a civilizational epic takes place – the Rāmāyana. On August 5th, 2020, the ancient song of Valmiki will echo in the villages, in the cities, in the deserts, the fields, the jungles, the mountains, the waters, and especially in the minds of those who believe. A civilization will enact its long-awaited reclamation.

Continue reading “Belief and Reclamation”

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On Being Hindu in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

By Razib Khan 56 Comments

Most readers of this weblog will already know this story. Far more than I do at least: Construction work at Hindu temple site in Islamabad halted. This part jumped out at me:

The Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), an ally of Prime Minister Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf recently opposed the construction of the temple by claiming that it was “against the spirit of Islam.”

Let’s be frank: isn’t this correct?

Religions are what people make of them, and there are some latitudinarian Muslims who would object to the assertion that the building of a Hindu temple was “against the spirit of Islam.” But historically this action, the obstruction of the building (and repairing) of religious buildings of minority communities has been normative in many Muslim majority societies. Egyptians Copts, for example, have long had to obtain very high level dispensations to repair their churches.

The basic theory from what I recall from Islamic jurists is that minority communities under the protection of Islamic rulers were tolerated, but they need not be encouraged. Their religious liberties were provided at sufferance, and that was enough.

The issue with Hinduism is even deeper: Hinduism is rather explicit in that it is a form of shirk. Whether you conceive of your Hinduism as fundamentally monotheistic or polytheistic, from a Muslim perceived it is polytheistic, and therefore an abomination. The Pakistani polity is illiberal in its behavior, but it is operating squarely within the orthodox parameters of Islamic accommodation to some level of religious pluralism, which combines subordination with delimiting the purview of minority religious beliefs and practices.

This is not limited to Islam, as some readers will be aware that Late Antique pagan practice slowly reconfigured its outline into a shape less offensive to Christianity as the price of toleration (e.g., public animal sacrifice disappeared). In Indonesia Buddhism and Hinduism are both explicitly monotheistic religions, so as not to offend Islamic sensibilities (though in Indonesia Muslims can also convert to Christianity or Hinduism legally, unlike many Muslim nations).

What’s the solution to this illiberality? In the long term, the only answer is greater secularization. As long as orthodox Islam, looking back to the past remains central to Pakistani identity I can’t see any other reaction to the attempt by Hindus to practice and express their religion in the public domain, as opposed to private practice.

Note: There is a long tradition in Abrahamic religions which believes that the gods of polytheistic faiths are actually devils and demons. This is one reason that Christians in Korea have attacked Buddhist statues, and Muslims in Pakistan are expressing horror at the building of a temple to Krishna, who they believe to be a demon who actually exists.

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Resilience in the face of religious change

By Razib Khan 16 Comments

Recently my friend Josiah Neely mentioned offhand how in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Gibbon argued that one reason paganism couldn’t reverse the tide of Christianity is that once a society or individual became Christian and ceased pagan practice, there wasn’t a good roadmap on how to reembrace the old traditions. In contrast, Christianity’s ideological content meant that even if there was a period of apostasy or public cessation of practice, ideological continuity could be maintained.

To be more explicit and extend the argument, I think the key is that there was a class of religious professionals who were devoted in a deep way to the ideological content of Christianity. If, as occurred in Britain and the Balkans, Christianity collapsed, they would endeavor to reconvert the populace, as they did.

There are other cases of this. Han Yu was a Confucian scholar who denounced Buddhism in the year 800 A.D. during the Tang dynasty. This period, between 600 and 900 A.D. was the “high water” point of public state Buddhism in China. But there always remained an alternative tradition of Chinese scholars and officials who were expositors Confucianism. Eventually, these people “recaptured” China during the Song dynasty for Confucianism, and Buddhism became a religion of the popular people and not the state.

As I said elsewhere, this may explain the persistence of Hinduism. Hinduism, like Greco-Roman paganism, is diverse and variegated. But unlike Greco-Roman paganism, there seems to have been a dynamic and reciprocal tension between philosophy and folk religion, mediated by Brahmins. Greco-Roman paganism was fundamentally an expression of ethnicity and identity. Tradition and custom. Greco-Roman metaphysics was the purview of secular philosophers. Hinduism is arguably more fused, and this may have given it more robustness.

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Expanding CAA

By AnAn 28 Comments

Expanding CAA (working evolving draft)

 

Would like to propose expanding CAA to include the following groups of muslims to:

  • get everyone’s feedback on what can practically pass the Indian Lokh Sabha quickly
  • see if several major Indian leaders will publicly endorse this

The following text will be continually edited based on feedback.

Proposing to expand CAA to include the following “AND ONLY THE FOLLOWING” groups of muslims IF AND ONLY IF they can prove persecution inside Bangladesh, Pakistan or Afghanistan:

  •  13 classes AND ONLY 13 CLASSES of Muraqabah Sufi muslims:
    • 3 classes of Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
      • Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
        • Dawoodi Bohra Sixer Ishmaeli Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
      • Twelver Jafari Muraqabah Irfan Sufi Shia muslims
    • 10 other classes of Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Chisti Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Qadiri Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Nund Rishi Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Shirdi Sai Nath Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Kabir Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Janardhan Swami Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Hazrat Babajan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Syed Mohammed Baba Tajuddin Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar Muraqabah Sufi muslims
      • Pir Baba Budan Muraqabah Sufi muslims
  • Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims
  • LBGTQ plus muslims
  • Female femnist muslims

 

Any and all Muraqabah Sufi muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified as Muraqabah Sufi muslims by a council of Muraqabah Sufi muslims chaired by Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin. Pir Diwan Sahib Syed Zainul Abedin will appoint a committee of Muraqabah Sufi muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.

 

Any and all Agnostic, Atheist and Ex muslims, LBGTQ plus muslims and female femnist muslims admitted under CAA need to be certified and verified by a council of muslims chaired by Tarek Fatah . Tarek Fatah will appoint a committee of muslims at his own discretion to assist him in this task.

 

In addition to approval by above councils of muslims, any and all muslim CAA applicants are subject to extensive deep background security checks and can be vetoed by the Indian government for any reason.

NO OTHER MUSLIMS will be permitted to apply for CAA. No other aspect of CAA will be affected.

Please provide your suggestions about how to improve the above draft.

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Brownpundits Browncast episode 100: Creating a New Medina, Venkat Dhulipala

By Omar Ali 4 Comments

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 with the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Due to the costs of both recording software and storage space, I would appreciate if you could also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. It also compensates Razib for his editing.  If we get more patrons we have reached out to have someone professional edit…but really we don’t have the funds now.

If you can’t give (in these times many cannot!), I would appreciate more positive reviews!

Coming up with an idea of PakistanIn this episode we talk to eminent historian Venkat Dhulipala. Venkat is the author of “Creating a New Medina, state power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial India” and we talk about the book and the ideology of Pakistan as well as his current interests and projects. We also manage a shoutout to Keerthik Sashidhran, who everyone should read.

This remains a controversial topic and I hope people add value in the comments.

 

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A collective religion in an individualistic age

By Razib Khan 158 Comments

Recently on Twitter someone asked why people of subcontinental backgrounds who leave Islam don’t refamiliarize themselves with the religion of their ancestors. One response could be “well actually, my ancestors weren’t really Hindu…” I think this is a pedantic dodge. In places like Iraqi Kurdistan and Tajikstan some people from Muslim backgrounds are embracing a Zoroastrian identity.

Iraqi Kurds turn to Zoroastrianism as faith, identity entwine:

In a ceremony at an ancient, ruined temple in northern Iraq, Faiza Fuad joined a growing number of Kurds who are leaving Islam to embrace the faith of their ancestors — Zoroastrianism.

Years of violence by the Islamic State jihadist group have left many disillusioned with Islam, while a much longer history of state oppression has pushed some in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region to see the millennia-old religion as a way of reasserting their identity.

“After Kurds witnessed the brutality of IS, many started to rethink their faith,” said Asrawan Qadrok, the faith’s top priest in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

But to be clear, not all the ancestors of the Kurds were Zoroastrian. Some were Christians. Others were probably Jews. The largest numbers on the eve of the Arab conquest were probably a mix of folk mountain pagan, with a patina of Zoroastrianism among the elites. Additionally, modern Mazdaist Zoroastrianism is only a single stream, and one strongly shaped by its Islamic captivity.

And yet on some level, it makes sense that Kurds convert to Zoroastrianism to reconnect with their ancestral Iranian tradition. It is part and parcel of that tradition. Similarly, people of Muslim subcontinental background turning toward Sanata Dharma is not crazy, even if their ancestors were Buddhist or pagans of some sort.

But there’s a problem with “converting” to Hinduism: modern Hinduism is organized around jatis, and being Hindu means being part of the community, and membership in that community is a matter of birth, not choice. Someone who was raised a Muslim and converts to Hinduism can’t just join one of the many local jatis. Of course, there are devotional sects such as ISKON, but these are exceptions, not the rule.

Obviously the same problem occurs in Islam and Christianity. I have read of converts to Islam who were single talk about the difficulty of finding a spouse since they have no “connections” within the community, and being single as a Muslim convert can be very isolating. But, Islam has within it more of an acceptance, like Christianity, that conversion of individuals is possible and even meritorious. Hindus are more ambiguous and ambivalent.

In the premodern world, Hindu communitarianism was a good fit. But in a more individualistic world, it puts Hinduism at some disadvantage.

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