From Dr Hamid Hussain. Dr Hamid is what might be described as a “secular” or “liberal” Muslim. These are his personal thoughts on the Ram Mandir judgement.
11 November 2019
Someone had sent me excerpts of Spinoza’s God a day before the Indian supreme court verdict. I was pondering over those words when I was asked about my comments. Following was the result and all credit goes to Spinoza.
“If you are desirous of obtaining a great name, of becoming the founder of a sect or establishment, be completely mad; but be sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age. Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances, and to not forget to be excessively opinionated and obstinate. It is certainly possible that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars erected to you”. Voltaire (1698-1778)
Babri Mosque Verdict
“The toughest kind of forgiveness is self-forgiveness and the road that leads to it is a lonely one but is also where mad meets the divine”. (1)
On November 09, 2019, Indian Supreme Court announced its judgment about the long standing dispute between Hindus and Muslims about a religious site in Ayodhya. Muslims claim that a mosque has been at this place since sixteenth century. Hindus claim that it was built on the site of a Hindu temple. The place has been locked since 1949 for fear of threat to public order. On 06 December 1992, a Hindu mob demolished the mosque resulting in riots that resulted in death of over 2000 people. After a three decades court battle, court awarded the site to Hindus to build a temple explaining that the sixteenth century mosque was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. Continue reading “The Ram Mandir Verdict in India. From Dr Hamid Hussain”
Gotabaya got less of the minority vote (less than 10%) compared Mahinda Rajapakse in 2015 (around 20%).
Tamils: Instead of reaching out for Economic development, its still pie in the sky separatism. These views are propagated by the Tamil leadership like Sumanthiran who live comfortably in Colombo, went to Colombo schools (and their children).
Sumathiran (or someone in the TNA) went as far as to say if we dont vote for Sajith we cant defeat the Sinhalese. The Tamils united and backed Sajith by over 70% in the North and East. That was the kiss of death for Sajith with the Sinhalese voters in the south
Muslims: Sajith, hobnobbed with Muslim MP’s who had been pals of the Easter Terrorists. The Muslims voted for Sajith en masse (again over 70%) and Sajith lost a lot of Sinhala votes.
The Sinhalese responded,and united in what they saw as Sajith’s apparent support for separatism and seeking support of Muslim MP’s sympathetic to Islamic Extremists. The SLPP party base is not sufficient to win. There has been UNP crossovers to Gotabya and he won with pretty much only the Sinhalese vote.
Background on Gotabaya Rajapakse Was the all powerful Defense Secretary 2005-2015. Credited with ending the Civil Wat, Urban renewal and Infrastructure development. Diploma in IT from Uni of Colombo. MS in Defense Studies from the University of Madras and various Defense related training In SL Army, 1971-1992 retired after 20 years as Lieutenant Colonel. Unix Admin (1998-2015) at Loyola Law School, CA. Credited with being a Technocrat and authoritarian.
November 09, 2019 was a momentous date in the history of modern India. An end to the decades and centuries old Ayodhya dispute has likely happened. The Supreme Court of India has, by a unanimous verdict of 5-0, pronounced that the disputed site of 2.77 acres be given for the building of a Ram temple while at the same time allotting a land of 5 acres somewhere else for the construction of a mosque.
In all respects this was a very fine judgement by the Supreme Court. However, there are mischief mongers who are busy spreading falsehoods about this judgement for their own vested interests. Let me here share a few videos which give us a very clear picture of why the SC judgement is neither biased nor is it giving precedence to faith over evidence.
Please also watch these two long presentations as they explain the available evidence at length.
Ayodhya is one of the seven holy cities of ancient India and for Hindus or Sanatan Dharmis. Its holy precisely because it is associated with the birth and life of Lord Ram, one of the most revered figures of Hinduism.
Now what exactly is the significance of Ayodhya for Muslims ?
Particularly with regard to the Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid site, it is clear and the SC judgement also points out that the Babri Masjid was not built on a vacant land but was built over a large pre-existing non-Islamic structure. Archaeologists and scholars have pointed out that this structure was most likely a Vishnu temple built by a feudatory of the Gahadavala King Govindchandra, the most powerful king of North India in his time and the grandfather of none other than Jayachand of Prithviraj/Samyukta fame.
While the SC has acknowledged the existence of this temple structure since the 12th century, it points out that between the 12th century and the early 16th century when the Babri Mosque was built on the site, we do not have records documenting what was happening at the site. The SC also states that the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) could not prove that this earlier temple was destroyed to build the mosque i.e. perhaps the temple was already destroyed & lying in ruins. However, proving it conclusively is a tough ask.
Nevertheless, it has already been proven without a shadow of doubt that the remains of the pre-existing temple, including its pillars were used in the construction of the mosque.
Lastly, there are numerous eye-witness and other accounts in English, Persian, Arabic & Urdu from the 16th, 17th & 18th centuries which clearly prove that the particular site was holy for the Hindus and that the mosque was built by destroying the mandir or temple, and the site is often referred to in the accounts as the Ram Janamsthan.
Hindus were able to show that they were worshipping at the site for several centuries and people used to flock the site particularly on Ram Navami, the date of Lord Ram’s birth. They were also able to show the outer courtyard was always under the control of Hindus while there was often disputes between Hindus and Muslims for the inner courtyard of the mosque.
One may ask, what is the evidence that Lord Ram was born at this very site. And infact we don’t have any. But it can be shown that for several centuries it has been a Hindu belief that this very site was the birthplace of Lord Ram and that there is no other site at Ayodhya or elsewhere for which such a belief exists or has existed.
When one looks at this evidence in totality it is clear that the claim of Hindus on the site as an important place of worship for several centuries is supported by much more substantial evidence than anything the Muslim side could muster.
Therefore, the Verdict was a foregone conclusion. The Supreme Court has merely gone by the balance of evidence and has not buckled under the pressure of majoritarianism nor has the rights of the Muslim minority been suppressed by it, as alleged by some unscrupulous lot who perpetually want to keep the communal cauldron burning.
Special thanks to Mayuresh Madhav Kelkar for sending this. I would start watching this excellent Dari Farsi documentary 1 minute 19 seconds in. There are many excellent ancient maps of central and south Asia.
I just want to watch this again and again, just to listen to the narrator’s voice. Majestic, wise, soft and sweet. For those so sure Afghanistan will fall; any nation with voices like this is perchance stronger than she appears. This may be where the homo sapien sapien modern civilization was born.
The Chalcolithic & Bronze Age civilizations geographically closest to the Harappan or the Saraswati-Sindhu civilization were the twin Eastern Iranian civilizations of Helmand and Halil Rud/Jiroft and the Central Asian civilization of BMAC spread over the southern margins of Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan and as far east as Tajikistan.
We have discussed the genetic evidence which showed profound Harappan influence in Helmand and BMAC while the aDNA from Halil Rud civilization, situated in the Kerman province of modern Iran, further west of Shahr-i-Sokhta, remains to be sequenced and published.
After having had a look at the genetic data that supports an Out of India migration into these adjacent regions of Eastern Iran & Central Asia, it would be in the fitness of things to also have a brief encounter with the archaeological evidence that can prop up the above said genetic evidence.
The archaeological data is much varied and quite interesting. However there is a lot more to learn and perhaps we have so far just scratched the surface.
Helmand & Halil Rud
The twin civilizations of Helmand and Halil Rud, situated to the west of the Harappan civilization, were not known until a few decades ago and even today we know very little about them. In many ways, we know even less about them than what we know about the Harappan civilization itself.
From what we know it is fairly clear that both of these Eastern Iranian civilizations preceded by several centuries the BMAC civilization and were roughly contemporaneous with the Harappan civilization. All of these southern civilizations, including the Harappan, are in turn considered to have played a defining role in the formation of the BMAC, a proposition which has been confirmed by ancient DNA evidence.
Both the Helmand civilization and its western neighbour, the Halil Rud civilization were intimately in contact with their geographically massive eastern neighbouring civilization of the Harappans.
In order to avoid an unduly long post, I shall limit myself over here to the very intriguing linkages of Harappans with the Helmand civilization only.
Helmand & Harappan
(Burnt Building, Shahr-i-Sokhta)
The Helmand civilization centred on the river Helmand which flows from Afghanistan into Sistan province of Eastern Iran. We know atleast two of its major sites – Mundigak in Afghanistan and Shahr-i-Sokhta in eastern Iran.
The genetic evidence from Shahr-i-Sokhta, the biggest Helmand site, confirms that the relations with the Harappans were quite strong with nearly half of all ancient samples from that site considered to have been migrants from the Harappan region, especially from Baluchistan and the rest of the ancient samples showing admixture from these migrants.
According to the French archaeologist, Jean Francois Jarrige, the principle excavator of Mehrgarh, as stated in this article, the foundation of Mundigak, the other Helmand site, can be interpreted as the settling of people from Baluchistan of the Mehrgarh Chalcolithic tradition and the remains of Period I at Mundigak fit almost perfectly the cultural assemblage of Mehrgarh Period III.
It is also signiﬁcant that the pottery of Mundigak I, the earliest occupation of the “Helmand” cultural complex, corresponds to the Mehrgarh III pottery, in technique—quality of the paste and manufacture— as well in the shapes and decoration, probably within a phase dated to the end of the 5th millennium. The pottery of Mundigak I-II (ﬁ g. 2: 3-5, 7-8) can also be related to the context of Balochistan ceramic productions, especially from Mehrgarh IV around 3500 BC. (link)
The foundation of Mundigak, incidentally dates to around 5000 BC and is therefore significantly older to the foundation of Shahr-i-Sokhta, its sister site in Helmand more than 400 kms to its west, whose earliest dates go only upto 3300 BC and where we have already seen that the Harappan or Baluchistani migrants were already present from the earliest period.
While , “..there is general agreement that Shahr-i Sokhta and Mundigak have the same material culture including similar buff ceramic material, validating the existence of a Helmand Valley archaeological culture at the time corresponding to Period I at the former and Period III at the latter…” it also needs to be understood that “Shahr-i-Sokhta I nonetheless has inter-regional connections that are not recorded at Mundigak. In particular, a series of objects point to contacts to the west…”(link)
With regard to Shahr-i-Sokhta, which in its most expansive phase was atleast around 150 hect. it should be noted that “…Shahr-i-Sokhta I is the foundation period of this site and that no other site (or no context at this site) has been observed thus far in Seistan with older archaeological deposits. Since no evidence for an older settlement is observed in this region, the most rational reconstruction is that Shahr-i Sokhta was founded by communities coming from (an)other area(s) in the late fourth millennium BCE.” (link same as above).
An important provenance study of the Shahr-i-Sokhta ceramics also indicated a strong influence from the west from the Baluchistani region and Mundigak. Almost all of the deluxe pottery that was found at the site and associated with elite graves was of non-local origin and were imports from the Iranian and Pakistani Baluchistan region.
The authors of this study also observe, “The possibility indeed remains that, for instance, the cultural assemblage at Mundigak, or a part of it, belonged to people who later moved to Shahr-i-Sokhta.”
We have already noted earlier how, Mundigak itself likely derives from the Mehrgarh Chalcolithic tradition of Pakistani Baluchistan. This tradition, also known as Damb Sadat or Quetta pottery tradition is one of the 4 major early pottery traditions of Early Harappans.
There was a recent twitter thread that I followed on the best anthem in the world (created by Brian Skinner, a physicist at MIT I follow). According to the unofficial poll the Indian National Anthem, or as innumerable bored school kids know it as – Jan Gan Man – a bhadrolok bong monstrosity that many of us have learnt to live with, won the competition. Probably more of a sign of the number of Indians on twitter than anything else (though he tried to normalise for it like a good physicist!).
This is a biased result. National anthems should be judged purely on their soporific value (now here’s a scientifically testable definition!)
And in that nothing beats the Japanese anthem — kimigayo is barely a sentence long but can still manage to put most people to sleep. https://t.co/HNEvwPX3iJ
As I replied to Skinner, own test of a good anthem is its soporific value. Basically something like the number of adults of a random lot size of say, 100, it can put to sleep if repeated say, 10, times (like a lullaby) divided by the total character length of that anthem. The denominator is to correct for the true sleep-inducing potential of the melody as opposed to sheer brute length. After all, *any* sufficiently long national anthem on repeat will put people to sleep out of sheer boredom. In that respect, I think Jana Gana Mana is pretty sleep-inducing too but I wonder how much of that has got to do with its length?
What do people here think? Which one is the best, i.e. the most sleep-inducing, anthem in S Asia or indeed the World? My own vote goes to Japan’s Kimi Ga Yo which is basically just one sentence. Good on you, Japs!
Also, please feel fee to comment on the worst, (a)rousing anthems too. Of those, La Marseillaise pretty much makes the bottom of the pile in my opinion. Literally asking for a revolutionary blood bath, that one…
While the two recent ancient DNA papers have set the Indian media abuzz with talk of whether Aryans were indigenous or whether they came from outside, almost all the English media has ignored the fact the genetic data also shows the migration of ancient Indians or Harappans into neighbouring regions of Eastern Iran and Central Asia.
A couple of articles took note of it but tried to minimise its relevance. Tony Joseph at The Hindu says,
Another spin around the new studies suggests an ‘Out of India’ migration. This is also misleading. If by ‘Out of India’ migration we are referring to the fact that some Harappans visited neighbouring civilisations or cultures such as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) or Shahr-i-Sokhta, with whom they had trade and cultural links, these are well-known and unsurprising facts.
Girish Shahane at the Scroll.in, opines about the Indus Periphery samples,
The obvious explanation is that the 11 people had travelled to those locations from an Indus Valley Civilisation region. Their presence in such far-flung places testifies to the extensiveness of Indus Valley Civilisation commercial and cultural contacts. It does not suggest a migration out of India extensive enough to change the genetic profile of foreign lands, because if that were the case the 11 individuals would not have been obvious outliers.
Both these writers are hardly excited by the fact that there is indeed evidence of Indian migration into Eastern Iran & Central Asia and they try to explain it away non-nonchalantly as the evidence of Harappans’ trade & cultural contacts. I mean, why is the overwhelming obsession just about proving the supposed Aryan migration ? Isn’t it exciting that we now have clear and indisputable evidence of ancient Indians already, as early as 3300 BC (the earliest dated Indus Periphery sample), migrating and living in advanced Bronze Age civilizations outside of the traditional geographic boundary of South Asia. What was the nature of these interactions should naturally arouse considerable curiosity.
The writers also grossly underestimate the genetic influence of Harappans on both its neighbouring regions.
What the research paper says
Let us quote directly from the paper which published these 11 ancient South Asian migrant samples and see what it has to say on the matter –
We document 11 outliers—three with radiocarbon dates between 2500 and 2000 BCE from the BMAC site of Gonur and eight with radiocarbon dates or archaeological-context dates between 3300 and 2000 BCE from the eastern Iranian site of Shahr-i-Sokhta—that harbored elevated proportions of AHG-related ancestry (range: ~11 to 50%) and the remainder from a distinctive mixture of Iranian farmer– and WSHG-related ancestry (~50 to 89%).
While this part of the research is reported by our writers they fail to note another equally important piece of research from the same paper which states,
Unlike preceding Copper Age individuals from Turan, people of the BMAC cluster also harbored an additional ~2 to 5% ancestry related (deeply in time) to Andamanese hunter-gatherers (AHG). This evidence of south-to-north gene flow from South Asia is consistent with the archaeological evidence of cultural contacts between the IVC and the BMAC and the existence of an IVC trading colony in northern Afghanistan.
When we take both these statements together we get the clear picture. Not only were migrants from the Harappan civilization present in Eastern Iran and Central Asia, infact the genetic admixture from these Harappan migrants was present in all the native people of these regions and was not just consigned to the Harappan migrants only. It is puzzling as to why this crucial information has completely been ignored by almost everyone.
This Harappan admixture was apparently not present in the earlier period in Central Asia before 3000 BC which would mean that the Harappan admixture happened in the transition phase between the Copper Age in Central Asia and the formation of the Bronze Age urban civilization of BMAC when the population of this region increased greatly.
Quite clearly, the migration and mixing of Harappans with the Central Asians and Eastern Iranians co-incides or slightly pre-dates the transformation of these socieites into large urban civilizations and likely played a crucial role in the transition of these culture into urban Bronze Age civilizations.
How is this not an important finding ?
It is quite strange that this clear evidence of Out of India migration is being sidelined and neglected. Let us dig a little deeper and show what the quite comprehensive and large Supplementary section of the paper has to say on this Out of India migration.
What the Supplement Says
The primary ancestry source of all these ancient samples from Central Asia & Eastern Iran was the Iranian farmer related ancestry, the same ancestry type which was also the main ancestry of IVC people.
This Iranian farmer related ancestry was the main ancestral source in Central Asia even in Chalcolithic period (4000 – 3000 BC) which means that already by the Chalcolithic period the populations of Central Asia and NW South Asia had a lot of shared ancestry before the IVC migration into Central Asia during the Bronze Age. How old is this shared ancestry should be a matter of future research.
The analysed data from Central Asia and Eastern Iran in the Bronze Age consists of about 60 samplesfrom the sites of Gonur, Sappali, Jarkutan (Dzharkutan) & Bustan associated with the BMAC or Oxus Civilization of Central Asia, 2 samples each from Parkhai & from Aigyrzhal in Kyrgyzstan, also from Central Asia and finally 17 samples from the large Eastern Iranian settlement of Bronze Age Helmand civilization, Shahr-i-Sokhta (fig. S17, pg 202).
Quoting from the Supplement, they observe from the admixture plot (fig S18, bottom panel, pg 203) that,
“… some individuals from each site also harbor trace amounts of a component that is maximized in Andamanese Hunter-Gatherers (AHGs) and Dravidian speaking groups in southern India. Particularly revealing is our observation of outlier individuals from several of these sites that are exceptions to these patterns. We hypothesize that these individuals were migrants from South Asia (or descendants of recent migrants)…” (pg 202)
Based on the results of the admixture-f3 stats (fig S21-S23) on the BMAC and Shahr-i-Sokhta main group of samples they further observe,
For the BMAC main cluster, we also observe significant (Z<-3) admixture signals with a source from pre-Copper Age Iran and Turan and a source related to present day groups within the Indian subcontinent, a signal that we do not detect in individuals from the earlier period in Turan (Fig S 21 – Fig S 23). This is consistent with the hypothesis that the main BMAC cluster harbors a proportion of ancestry from gene flow from the south, plausibly from South Asia… We observe that the individuals from Shahr-i-Sokhta, also show significant admixture-f3 statistics with one source as AHG. Taken together with the fact that there are individuals with significantly high proportions of AHG-related ancestry at both sites, this suggests that there was gene flow from South Asia out into Turan during the BA (pg 206).
Finally moving onto the qpAdm admixture analysis, our researchers note,
To better understand the population changes associated with these BA settlements we studied proximal sources. We first observe that there are many models that fit under our acceptance criteria, but they are of a similar nature, in the sense that all involve a population from the previously described Copper Age period with additional ancestry related to present-day South Asians. Most working models involve populations from Turan with additional South Asian related mixture, for example present-day individuals from South Asia with minimal Steppe pastoralist-related ancestry, or outlier individuals from Shahr-i-Sokhta and BMAC sites with high proportions of AHG-related ancestry (pg 210).
When we look at analysed aDNA samples Shahr-i-Sokhta, we see that out of a total of 17 samples, as much as 8 of them are classified as migrants from the Harappan civilization by our authors. So essentially about 50 % of the population at Shahr-i-Sokhta was made up of migrants from the IVC. Infact, barring one sample which they classify as an outlier, the other 8 samples, which the authors label as Shahr_I_Sokhta_BA1, also harbour IVC ancestry and the best fitting qpAdm model (p-value – 0.658) suggests that this S_I_S_BA1 group harboured as much as 20 % ancestry from these IVC migrants (table S30, pg 212).
It may also be noted that the IVC migrants at Shahr-i-Sokhta date from a period between 3300-2000 BC while the other group of 8, labelled the main S_I_S_BA1 group only date between 3300-2600 BC. All in all, this cumulative genetic evidence alone is enough to show that Shahr-i-Sokhta was enormously influenced by the Harappans.
This is further underlined when one looks at the archaeological evidence which shows substantial similarities between Shahr-i-Sokhta and sites to its east in the Indian subcontinent. Shahr-i-Sokhta itself only came into existence as a habitation site around 3300 BC but the other major site of the Helmand civilization, Mundigak, found about 425 kms east along the course of the Helmand river in Afghanistan, has a beginning going back to the 5th millenium BC, and it already shows significant cultural parallels with older sites such as Mehrgarh to its southeast. The main cattle type at Shahr-i-Sokhta was also of the Indian Zebu variety further cementing the strong east to west cultural and genetic flow at the site.
To try to brush this off vaguely as evidence of ”commercial and cultural links” and trying to de-emphasize the importance is quite telling.
In contrast, the Italian archaeologist Massimo Vidale, one of the principal researchers at Shahr-i-Sokhta in recent years and one of the contributors of this Narasimhan et al paper, states the following on page 110 of Supplementary section,
The archaeological and genetic evidence thus suggest that a flow of migrants from the northwestern borderlands of South Asia was active at the beginning of the local settlement, and that the same flow, different from the earlier one from northwest, intensified in the following centuries. We unfortunately do not have ancient DNA from Period III and the later centuries of the Shahr-i-Sokhta sequence when cultural influence from the Indus Valley Civilization appears to become stronger.
To be sure, what percentage would a trader community consitute in the population of a foreign city ? And out of these traders, how many are going to end up dying and getting buried in that foreign land ? Perhaps 1 or 2 %. It surely cannot be as high as 50 % besides also contributing your ancestry to all the local people in the foreign land.
But that is what we see at Shahr-i-Sokhta and therefore this is evidence of very deep cultural and perhaps religious and linguistic links.
The body of archaeological literature documenting the links between the IVC, Eastern Iran & BMAC is quite significant and I intend to write on it, God willing, in the next post to complete and complement the picture given by genetic data.
Moving to Bronze Age Central Asia, the authors document 3 samples from the major site of Gonur in the Margiana region of the BMAC which they classify as IVC migrants along with the 8 already noted at Shahr-i-Sokhta. Alongside these 3 samples, there is a slightly later sample dating to around 1500 BC from the site of Bustan, labelled as Bustan_BA_o2, which is not similar to the 3 Gonur IVC migrants but can be modelled as 70 % Swat_IA + 30 % IVC migrants. So this is also for all intents and purposes a likely migrant from South Asia but with a very different genetic profile.
But besides this, as can be read from the quotes from the Supplement and main paper given above, all the ancient samples of the main group of BMAC people also harboured ancestry from South Asia which was absent in the earlier period.
In the proximal models for the BMAC main cluster (table S28, pg 210), we can observe that the BMAC Bronze Age population can be modelled as deriving between 70-75 % ancestry from Shahr-i-Sokhta_BA1 which itself harbours about 20 % IVC ancestry. Therefore this suggests that the BMAC main cluster, its core population, harbours about 15 % ancestry from IVC.
Therefore, we see all pervasive South Asian admixture in Central Asia just before the region becomes urbanised and perhaps organised into a state. This suggests that the South Asian or IVC migration and admixture in Central Asia could have played a leading role in the transition of the region into an urbanised state with major cities like Gonur.
Our authors argue that the 2 samples from Aygyrzhal in Kyrgyzstan in the eastern part of Central Asia, do not have any South Asian ancestry but this is belied by the fact that in all proximal models (table S31, pg 212), these 2 samples show about 17 % admixture from IVC migrants.
Nor is the IVC genetic influence this far to the east in Central Asia an anamoly. A study of mtDNA from some ancient Tarim Basin samples (4000 YBP), showed the presence of the indisputably Indian lineage M5, besides other lineages such as U7, U2e & R* which are also widely present in South Asia, Central Asia and Iran.
As pointed out by Silva et al 2017, mtDNA M5a was clearly part of outward South Asian migration towards Iran in the Bronze Age. Therefore its presence also in Tarim Basin in the same timeframe explicitly confirms it to have been there as part of South Asian migration and admixture in the Tarim Basin in that early period.
Winding up the genetic evidence, we observe that in the Bronze Age, the IVC genetic influence extended in an enormous arc from Shahr-i-Sokhta in Eastern Iran to the Tarim Basin mummies in modern Xinjiang, China with the genetic influence on the Helmand civilization (Shahr-i-Sokhta) being quite overwhelming and that on the BMAC also being all-pervasive.
How is this major Bronze Age genetic phenomenon not a significant event of Out of India migration ? Whether this was related to Indo-European migration, only time will tell.
It is a matter of archaeological record that the greatest influence on BMAC was from IVC and the Eastern Iranian civilizations of Halil Rud (Jiroft) and Helmand which were themselves heavily influenced by IVC. Infact, when there is evidence of such overwhelming cultural and genetic links between these regions, political links between these regions would have been a definite reality. Infact, as Mesopotamian records of the 2nd quarter of the 3rd millenium BC, the Eastern Iranian state of Marhasi (perhaps Halil Rud) was closely in political alliance with Meluhha (the IVC).
It is quite instructive that the historically known core region of Indo-Iranians was already greatly in confluence from the Early Bronze Age period.
rise and fall, hubris and nemesis, a frequent pattern in human existence .. .
Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche by Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn Jorvik Press, 199 pp. (2019)
The book benefits enormously from having twin authors — Rob Hogendoorn provides invaluable biographical and analytical material, credited to him as it occurs, while Mary Finnegan’s contributions relate, in her own voice, her experiences. Both authors are Buddhist practitioners, both have researched the sexual abuse claims around Sogyal for years — claims which have since been admitted by Rigpa, Sogyal’s teaching organization.
Mary Finnigan & Rob Hogendoorn’s book title hits two human keynotes. You’ll find them intertwined for crowd-pleasing reasonsd in Game of Thrones:
It’s a question that’s been asked of Game of Thrones as long as the HBO series has been on the air: Why so much sex and violence?
But Tibet? Perfect Tibet of our wishes? Tibet of the revered Dalai Lama? Tibet of the lamas who create intricate mandalas of colored sands — then brush them away in a gesture of impermanence and carry the dust to rivers which wash them out to sea? Shangri-La — in fact not fiction?
There’s a lot that’s wonderful to Tibetan Buddhism, and the better it looks and actually can be, the easier it is for Westerners to fall for the trap of projection — to believe, in this case, in the impeccability of Sogyal Lakar, sometimes titled Rinpoche, or Precious-One.
It’s unwise in general to speak ill of the recent dead, and Sogyal died in August 2019. Yet his story must be told, because unhappy though it is, the telling can help us avoid the illusion of a supposedly great lama — second only to the Dalai Lama in popularity in the west — who was in fact assaulting his female students sexually on numerous occasions across decades.
That’s the tale Mary Finnigan, herself a practitioner of Dzogchen — Sogyal’s own form of Tibetan Buddhism — details in collaboration with her co-author Rob Hogendoorn in this book.
The accusations against Sogyal, of “sexual, physical and emotional abuse”, led to the Dalai Lama declaring Sogyal “disgraced”. The Charity Commission for England and Wales disqualified two of the Trustees of Sogyal’s organisation, the Rigpa Fellowship, in the UK because they covered up “knowledge of instances and allegations of improper acts and sexual and physical abuse against students”..
But although sex, violence, and sexual violence are at the heart of the anguish Sogyal inflicted on unwary students, there’s another side to Sogyal’s story that Finnigan and Hogendoorn illuminate — the story of the son of a wealthy family, in contact with a senior Dzogchen lama and taken under his wing, who learned little that might have qualified him to be a teacher of that tradition, yet who managed to wangle his Tibetan nationality into the appearance of a gifted and highly educated lama on his arrival in England.
It’s a fascinating and heart-rending story — heart-rending is the word used by the New York Times in its obit for Sogyal — throwing light on Tibetan Buddhism itself, an astonishing mesh-work of visualizations and compassionate insight; the vicious politics that have long existed within the cloak of lamaism, and which the Dalai Lama has partially uncloaked; an archaic gender differential as power differential; and in general, eastern wisdom meets western credulity.
Sogyal’s wealthy family connection gives him access to a high lama, Chokyi Lodro, and his presence at Lodro’s side gives him in turn the title of Tulku, which often but not always signifies the reincarnation of some previous high lama, and is always a term of respect.
An authentically scholarly Tibetan meditation master, Dudjom Rinpoche, knows Sogyal has little to no education in the finer points of Tibetan philosophy or meditation, but considers him someone a western student might pick up some hints from — crossing the cultural divide as it were.
Sogyal , moving to the west, is on his way.
The years pass, just being a Tibetan guru in the west is sexy in the broad sense in which Lamborghinis and orchids are sexy: scholars of religion call it charisma. And when young and impressionable women become devotees of supposed high lamas — and when there are rumors, not without foundation, of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism including tantra, or spiritual-sexual practices, feelings and expectations can get very confused.
The main thrust of Mary and Rob’s book is to tell the rise and fall of Sogyal Lakar, his rise by that wider “sexy” quality we term charisma, his fall by discovery of the abuses of both spirituality and sex he’s inflicted on so many of his students across the years. I won’t go into the details, it’s their story to tell, and they tell it with the probing integrity of journalists as well as the sincerity of practitioners.
It has to be said that young Western women stood in line to sleep with Trungpa [“a formidably intelligent iconoclast” meditation master] and were usually eager to oblige with Sogyal. They became known as dharma groupies and sex with a Rinpoche became almost as much of a status symbol as plaster casting Mick Jagger.
Oh, Mary can write!
The problem was the abuse at Sogyal’s “feudal” court.
The Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism teaches something often translated:
form is emptiness, emptiness is form
where emptiness is better understood as <em>void, and void as devoid of self-establishing nature — so that these lines might be rendered:
Form is devoid of self-establishing nature, absence of self-establishing nature is form.
Sogyal — no great meditation master, it would seem — has another form of emptiness. Whatever he may have thought, he lacked that compassion which is the fruit of deep meditative practice. And so he was able to enact violence on his students.
But we may witness that emptiness in another arena, that of scholarship.
Early on in Sogyal’s time in the west, Dudjom Rinpoche is giving a talk to a hundred eager students, packed into a room intended for an average London family, and Sogyal is translating for him. Mary was there, sitting next to her then boyfriend John Driver, a linguist gifted in Tibetan, and noted that John was frowning. She writes:
During the first lunch break, John steered me into a cafe down the road. He was quite angry.
“Sogyal is not translating correctly,” he said. “Either he’s interpreting Rinpoche’s words into what he thinks is suitable for Westerners or he doesn’t understand what Dudjom is saying.”
It was a foreshadowing. Ever since Walter Evans-Wentz published an early English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead in 1927, the gold-embossed green cloth volume has been a choice text to set beside the Chinese I Ching in pride of place on one’s desk or shelf. Come 1992, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was published, updating the timeless Buddhist classic, personalizing it with some of Sogyal’s own tales, made “accurate” to some degree by the inclusion of questions and answers from distinguished Tibetan masters such as Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama together with western masters of hospice living and dying such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross — but, but–
As one student who was around at the time put it:
Could anyone who knew Sogyal imagine him being able to quote the German mystical poet Rainer Maria Rilke? Or the Sufi sage, Jalaluddin Rumi?
No, the “editor” who’d have provided those quotes, and much more of the content and form, indeed the very flowing language of the book, would have been Andrew Harvey, Oxford scholar extraordinaire and author of The Way of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi and other works.
So much for a great book — and it was and is great, and Sogyal deserves some, though by no means all, credit for it.
To sum up:
Sex and violence are paired in the book’s title. The problem with the sex is not that it was sex — Sogyal was no more a monk than Trungpa was, and it was often consensual. The problem was in the tirades, the humiliations, the violence, the abuse — delivered under cover of spiritual authority in violation of trust across a power and gender differential.
The scholarship is, well, Andrew Harvey’s, and Padmasambhava’s, and Kubler Ross’.
I met Sogyal once. I asked him about the meaning of “skillful means”, and he responded “not entering or leaving a room through the wall, when there’s a door available.” He seemed pleasant enough. Trungpa Rinpoche I befriended at Oxford, and took to visit friends of mine at Prinknash Abbey near Gloucester: later he wrote that the visit had shown him the possibility of living the contemplative life in the west. He opened the first Tibetan monastery in the west shortly thereafter, Samye Ling in Scotland. And Mary is an old friend from hippie days.
As I indicated above, Mary and Rob have a story to tell, and they can tell a story.
Sogyal himself is no longer with us. He has entered, perhaps, the bardo, that liminal space between lives about which The Tibetan Book of the Dead — and to some extent its Sogyal reincarnation, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying — are written.
(In 2017-18, an Indian friend wanted to collect essays from Pakistanis on how they view MK Gandhi across the border. I wrote this short letter to Mr. Gandhi that I recently saw in my collection. Sharing it with the BP community. )
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Birla House, New Delhi.
Dear Mr. Gandhi,
My name is Abdul Majeed and I am writing to you from the city of Lahore, Pakistan. I have been asked to write about you by an Indian friend of mine and I accepted his proposition. I feel ambivalent writing about you since I have thought about you in myriad ways over the course of my life. I grew up in a conservative Muslim household in a small Punjabi town called Sialkot and first learned about you in the ‘Social Studies’ textbooks taught to schoolchildren. My first impression of you as a person was quite negative since the role assigned to you by virtue of ‘Two Nation Theory’ (or TNT, as I now call it) was that of a Hindu politician who opposed the formation of Pakistan and probably hated Muslims. Like many schoolboys of my age, I idolized Mr. Jinnah, your arch-nemesis and a founding father of Pakistan. For us, Jinnah was the David to your Goliath, a defender of minority rights against all odds, an impeccably dressed man who stood up to the might of Hindus and saved Muslims of India from a cultural annihilation. In our imagination, he was everything you were not. We used to make fun of your attire and your persona. I grew up in a society where violence was the channel through which you expressed your masculinity and thus we thought your non-violent methods were signs of cowardice. I learned that All India Congress, a party you led for many years, did not support the idea of an Independent Pakistan (or a divided India, depending on whom you ask) and refused to believe in Partition even after two separate countries had been established.
My outlook towards history and towards your personality changed when I went to boarding schools in the northern part of the country. While the basic ideological framework remained in place, facts added up through the years. At one point in time, I could recite the whole ‘Pakistan Studies’ book by heart in two hours, including names of the books written by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, a Muslim educationist and reformer in Nineteenth-century, charter of demands presented by the Shimla deputation to Viceroy of India in 1905, consequences of Bengal’s partition in 1905, Minto-Marley reforms of 1909, Fourteen points of Mr. Jinnah (a proposal for constitutional reform in British India) and the Islamic clauses in Pakistan’s three constitutions. You might be astonished to know that history books in our schools start the story from the Nineteenth century as if nothing happened in this land before. The boarding schools I went to, were located near Mansehra (containing artifacts from two thousand years ago) and Taxila (where the oldest University in the world was once present) respectively, sites containing artifacts from a past I never had. I knew you as a wily politician who duped Muslims during the Khilafat Movement. The word ‘Mahatma’ was used as a prejudicial slur towards anyone ‘Indian’. I often got called by this name because I was a vegetarian.
Years later, I ended up seeing you in a different light. I was roaming the streets of New York City in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy when I chanced upon a statue of you in Greenwich village. A week after that, I saw another one of your statues at the MLK memorial in Atlanta. I learned about your influence on Martin Luther King Jr. and the strategy of non-violence resistance. It was around this time that I read Arundhati Roy’s foreword to ‘Annihilation of Caste’ and ‘The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-bearer of Empire’. As I grew up, I came around to the idea that human beings contain multitudes and having contradictions is partly what makes us human. On one hand, you paid lip service to the idea of caste in Indian society, on the other, you made public displays of spending time with the untouchable community. You accelerated the fusion of religion and politics in India during the late 1910s and the Khilafat movement and you also held fast when Pakistan was not paid money it was due after partition. You used elements of Hinduism in your political and social message and were eventually gunned down by a Hindu nationalist. You didn’t subscribe to the Two nation theory but the last century proved you wrong. India and Pakistan have grown and keep growing apart as a Sunni state and a Hindu state. Some of your ideas were as controversial then as they are now. You were in favor of treating Nazis with peace and non-violence and you lived to see how that turned out. In Pakistan during the 2000s, some people wanted to talk to the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) and that didn’t go as planned either. The question then is, how does one deal with groups whose founding ideology is based on violence? With this, I’ll leave you in peace in your forever abode.
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This episode Razib and previous guest Surya Yalamanchili talk about the updated ancestry composition for South Asians from 23andMe. For nearly a decade we’ve all been 95% “Broadly South Asian.” Now most of you are part Bengali!