Iranic-origin dynasties of the Christian Caucasus

Saint Shushanik – Ardēan Store

The histories of Armenia and Georgia are intricately intertwined with Greater Iran, as evidenced by several dynasties with Iranian origins. Georgia shares a similar historical profile, indicating close ties between the two regions (I won’t even touch on Azerbaijan, which to my mind is simply Russified Iran). With regards to the North Caucasus, notwithstanding Russian ethnic cleansing & genocide (apparently what inspired Dune), there is heavy Persian-Iranian influence (though of course I don’t know nearly enough of the history of the region).

All three of the Great Houses of the Kingdom of Armenia (331 BC to 428 AD) were Iranian origin.

  • Orontid Dynasty (potential ancestral ties to the Achaemenians): Dating back to the 6th century BCE, the Orontids were influential rulers in ancient Armenia during the Achaemenid Persian Empire’s reign.
  • Artaxiad Dynasty (descendants of the previous Orontids, the clue is in the Iranian-loaded name Arta): Succeeding the Orontids, the Artaxiads governed the Kingdom of Armenia from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE, overseeing its territorial expansion and cultural flourishing.
  • Arsacid Dynasty (Armenia): A branch of the Parthian Arsacid dynasty in Iran, the Armenian Arsacids ruled from the 1st to the 4th century CE, with periods of Roman influence interspersed with periods of independence.

There are many other dynasties like the Chosroid, Mihranids, Bagratid (the clues are so obvious in the names) and then even in the Kingdom of Cilician Armenian (the region & inhabitants suffered genocide under the Young Turks) the RubenidHethumid Dynasty had Iranian-links even in the Middle Ages. There is an exotic dynasty, the Mamikonians, who apparently had Chinese-origins but even they intermarried with Iranian nobility eventually.

However, the case of St. Shushanik (pictured above & below) highlights the tension between Christianity in the Caucasus, with its Eastern roots but “West-facing” orientation, and Iranianism, particularly Zoroastrianism.

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Continue reading Iranic-origin dynasties of the Christian Caucasus

Hardliner Who Also Liked Going To The Movies

Author’s Note: This is not an academic or objective essay; rather a personalised opinion on the recent Bharat Ratna awardee. 

Lets begin with two excerpts:

First one:

Then out spake brave Horatius,

The Captain of the Gate:

“To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods.”

From Horatius by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Second:

“Mardania! eh Ajudhia nagari Sri Ramchandra Ji ki hai. So, chal, iska darshan kari ”, which translates to: “Mardana! This Ayodhya city belongs to Sri Ramchandra Ji. So let us go for his darshan.”

From Bhai Man Singh’s Janam Sakhi which states that Guru Nanak visited Ayodhya.

Considering the aforementioned excerpts it is perhaps unsurprising that it was a Nanakapanthi Macaulayputra who charioted the movement to reclaim the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya and rebuild the Ram Temple. Additionally it was his organisational and political manoeuvring skills that shifted the political balance of India from the dominant secular leadership of the Congress party to the widely popular and ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party. It was for all that and many other activities that the current regime awarded him the land’s highest honour the Bharat Ratna. What made the moment more momentous was that it came days after the  consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. 

Though currently, the immensely popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi is synonymous with the BJP’s dominance across India’s political landscape, it was the Lal Krishna Advani who acted as one of the chief characters to shift the political levers of the country. Before proceeding further, it is necessary to give the reason behind his moniker – Nanakapanthi Macaulayputra.

LK Advani belonged to a Sindhi Amil Nanakpanthi family whose religious tradition “used to be Sikh rituals”, the holy book at his home being the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. He was educated at St. Patrick’s High School, Karachi, and by his own admission was unfamiliar with Hindi, preferring to speak his mother tongue Sindhi at home, while preferring English as functional language. Even his introduction to the so-called dreaded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was for lack of a better word, bourgeois one, in his own words:

During my vacation and before joining college, I started playing tennis. One of my regular partners on the tennis court was a friend, Murli Mukhi. One day, right in the middle of the game, he said, ‘I am going’. Utterly surprised, I asked him, ‘How can you go like this, without even completing the set?’ He replied, ‘I have joined the RSS a few days ago. I cannot be late for the shakha because punctuality is very important in that organisation’.

A contextual point to mention here would be the view that the RSS also had certain inspirations behind it. Many scholars quote contemporary accounts about how senior political figures of the early 20th Century like Madan Mohan Malviya and Dr Moonje wanted an organisation fashioned after the British boy scout and army, including but not limited to their marching songs. The RSS march as seen today was inspired by that of British voluntary  forces in areas of trouble to warn citizens. Supposedly Sangh leaders borrowed English tunes to train the RSS band. The aforementioned figures, besides celebrating native heroic legends like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Peshwa Baji Rao, also stated that Indians had to develop patriotism the way the British developed theirs. Important wars fought by the British like the Battle of Waterloo and Trafalgar were given as examples. 

Considering this scenario, it is not strange for a moderate Macaulayputra like LK Advani to familiarise himself with the organisation. Thus he joined the RSS in 1942 besides attending discourses on the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Ranganathananda the president of the Karachi centre of Ramakrishna Mission.  This shows Advani to be the recipient of the Indian, rather Indo-Anglian renaissance that swept British India from 1850’s to 1930’s. Couple that with his Amil Nanakpanthi family roots which is the recipient of Bhakti movement.

Also lesser known is the fact that he was related to famed Sufi poetess Dadi Ganga , in fact Advani mentions in his memoirs that his wife Kamla along with her sister Sarla published Dadi Ganga’s Sufi poetry. All these make him the ideal reformist as opposed to the Hindu hardliner the media likes to portray him as; or would it be a leap of faith to say in certain cases, Hindu hardliner is the ideal reformist. 

The leap can be taken considering how he organised the political networks connecting the BJP to figures stretching from fiery socialist George Fernandes to Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray.

Besides political networking, what is less spoken about Advani (maybe intentionally) is his penchant for films and the filmmakers. As stated by Vidhu Vinod Chopra whose  An Encounter with Faces was nominated for the Academy Award under Best Documentary Short Film in 1979:

 “When I got nominated for an Oscar I had no money, I had nothing and I read in the paper that I was nominated. He gave me an Air India ticket and $ 20 a day and that I owe it to Mr LK Advani. I want the world to know why he is so special to me. Not because he is a politician but because he is the man who sent me to the Oscars.”

On multiple occasions other Hindutva icons like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Balasaheb Thackeray have been lauded as poets and artists, but Advani as the admiring film buff has been less talked of. Be that as it may, 2024 can be now seen as honouring a Nanakpanthi Macaulayputra who charioted a saffron trail across India’s political landscape and who also liked going to the movies. 

The essay has been published in the following blog as well.

Podcast explores advances in gender equality in India

I highly recommend checking out this podcast as it delves into gender equality advancements deep in rural India (Bihar- site of an upcoming temple). It sheds light on grassroots efforts, including how the birth of a girl child is perceived differently from a boy child, and the barriers girls and women face in education and beyond. Continue reading Podcast explores advances in gender equality in India

An Electoral Earthquake in Pakistan

As everybody knows by now, Pakistan held a general election on February 8th and the results (such as they are, rigging is still going on as we write, so not all the results are here) are a shock for the army and the parties it had roped in to remove their own creation (Imran Khan).

Imran Khan was brought into power in 2018 as part of a longstanding army project to get rid of bothersome civilian politicians. To arrange that victory the army had used its various levers (pliant judges, ISI pressure, pliant media etc) to remove Mian Nawaz Sharif from power and when the numbers still seemed uncertain after the voting, they delayed results and arranged “positive results”. But Imran Khan proved a disaster at governance and by 2021 the army chief (Bajwa) had lost faith in Khan and in typical army fashion now “arranged” a vote of no confidence against Khan. Somewhat to their surprise, Khan refused to go gentle into that good night and launched a campaign of defiance. Since Bajwa himself was playing double games (probably in the hope of getting another extension as army chief) and was a rank incompetent in any case, the entire saga was shambolic even by Pak army standards. Khan was especially successful in turning the army’s own mildly jihadi paknationalist narrative against them. And he MUST get credit for having the guts to do so. It is not like it was not available to other parties, but outside of fringe leftist or Islamist groups, no major party ever dared to attack the pak army as traitors and american agents. Khan had no such hesitation, he made it the main plank of his resistance, and it worked, spectacularly. He also had the benefit of Bajwa’s rank incompetence and all round goofiness and the terrible economic performance of the coalition the army had put together to overthrow him was the icing on the cake.

When the army finally arrested Khan, his supporters tried to incite a coup against the new army chief (Hafiz Asim Munir) and may have had the sympathy of a couple of senior generals, but the attempt failed and when you go at the king, you best not miss.. once they missed, Hafiz was able to launch a massive crackdown against the PTI and it seemed like they had no future left. But continuing economic crisis meant the public remained unhappy and the caretaker regime’s blatant authoritarian and undemocratic maneuvers REALLY turned off the new educated youth, who were more idealistic than their elders; every unfair means used against Khan increased his support in that demographic.

I have never been a fan of Khan sahib but even I could see that PTI is more popular than anyone in the establishment camp. And being in the establishment camp really hurt the PMLN, who had themselves been victims of establishment shenanigans in the past but now sacrificed their anti-establishment narrative for a short chance to rule followed by establishment support in the election. That proved to be a game changer. Their lethargic campaign and mixed and confused messaging added to their woes. Still, many people (including yours truly) thought that all the pre-poll rigging by the army and the fact that PTI had been denied the chance to run as a single party would be enough to squeeze out a PMLN win (though I also thought the army prefers a hung parliament, so they wont let them win big either). But paradoxically the state’s oppression of PTI removed all the opportunists and charlatans the army itself had gifted to them in 2018 and the young idealists who were left proved up to the task. They managed to get a candidate on almost every seat (running as independents as the party was kept out of the running via undemocratic means) and they managed to use social media to let their voters know who the candidate is in every constituency. This is a major achievement and they deserve FULL credit for doing that. 

Come election day, the establishment allowed mostly free and fair voting. Somehow their own assessment was that this will produce a fractured mandate with PMLN in the lead, but still dependent on them for arranging turncoats and supporters for them to make it to the magic number. They allowed PTI to run all their independents (probably feeling that too much in the hands of PMLN will not be good for them either) (I say “let them run” because considering the undemocratic means at their disposal, they COULD have done more to suppress these people, it was not beyond their abilities) and waited for the voting to end.

The voters then delivered their verdict. PTI having no “ground game” proved irrelevant. The common people of Pakistan (at least in the “Pakistani” zones of Punjab and KPK) came out in droves to “vote out the scoundrels” and there was a PTI  landslide in KPK and in many parts of Punjab. They may even have had a lot support in Karachi, but turnout was lower and (maybe with some rigging) they did not do as well there. They did not make a dent in rural Sindh (where sindhi identity is still strong and Sindhis know that PPP is the only Sindhi party in the game) and there has not been a real election in Balochistan for decades. STill, in most of Pakistan the “independent” candidates put up by the PTI won in large numbers. Having miscalculated and now with massive egg on their face, the establishment was forced to go back to its old shenanigans and they have delayed results on many constituencies, clearly trying to alter the result in close races (eg, i know for a fact that young lawyer Taimur Malik of the PTI upset ex-prime minister Yusuf Gilani in Multan, but that seat’s result was delayed and then announced in Gilani’s favor).

But even after this post-poll rigging, it is now clear that PTI has won KPK by a landslide and has won about half the seats in Punjab. That makes them the biggest single “party” but of course on paper they are not one party, they are 125 independent MNAs (members of the national assembly). That means there is still the possibility (really, probability) that the establishment will cobble together a coalition of some favored parties plus whatever independents they can buy or cajole. Ideally the army would like to make lemonade from the lemons they have gathered together, creating some kind of “national unity govt” that is run by GHQ from behind the scenes, but more likely they will end up with a useless and fractured govt and it will not last too long. Pakistan will have another election within two years (or less), or it will have a military coup. Same old, same old. And all other crises are still bubbling along. “Militancy”, separatist insurgency, economic crisis, poor governance. The show must go on.

Just to be clear, if you think like a democrat the obvious solution is to let PTI constitute its MNAs into one party and let them form governments where they can. But keep in mind that we are talking about Pakistan, where the army has ruled for decades, directly or indirectly, so this is more or less a pipe dream.  The country is run by the army and the apparatus of the Raj (now rusted and decayed, but still the machinery that actually runs the country) and ALL parties are badly compromised. PTI itself runs on vibes and has no serious economic or foreign policy plan (if Khan stays in prison they could conceivably find a competent leader to run the govt but they are a personality based party and will not be able to keep khan on the side.. if they are in power, they have to have Khan in power and khan is an incompetent goof at that job, though one must give him credit for taking a clear stand and fighting back. And of course, FULL CREDIT to the young guns of the PTI who mananged, under very adverse circumstances, to fight back and win. A job well done. Young people in Pakistan are sick of the terrible governance and all the unfair means used by the establishment. They have spoken out against it in this election. Unfortunately, this is pakistan, so Allah will not give us any unalloyed good. Young uns are idealistic and are rejecting the authoritarian and oppressive establishment, but ideologically they are all over the place, the default narrative is PMA-level paknationalist (which is why they are extra angry now, because they think big bad America has kicked out their hero, who was trying to do the Islamic Paknationalist thing and was stopped by anti-islam and anti-pakistan forces). They have done a great thing on February 8th, but all the other realities remain unchanged.
It is what it is. 

If you want to see my pre-election thoughts, i did a podcast:

 

My podcast when Imran Khan was arrested is here: https://www.brownpundits.com/2023/05/11/pakistan-crisis-the-arrest-of-imran-khan/

My article from 2011 about Imran Khan (I never liked him in politics).

Seat position per Dawn.com as I write this (a bit misleading because they are not showing many independents as PTI when they really are):

Hurry up! Don’t miss out! Quick!

The world is at a frenzied pace in most aspects of our lives! Are we in a sense losing out ( FOMO) if we enjoy doing some things slow and at an enjoyable pace?

We do it to our children :
Hurry up! We are getting late for the bus.
Hurry up! eat your snack soon and start doing your homework
What is 234567 multiplied by 3456? Quick
We have been brainwashing children that they have to be quick at everything they do be it getting ready, displaying a life skill say eating well, or even for that matter all our entrance exams for education/jobs mostly is a race against time

We display it in public places :
The plane has landed, let’s get off fast before it takes off again
The signal will turn red in 2 seconds, let’s cross it anyway, even if we put someone else at risk
Jump queues, I am more important than the others, my time is precious

Based on what we were told when we were children we still want to be First ( faster than the rest) to get to something. While there would be situations that are an emergency, are we wired so strongly that we want to be ahead of others irrespective of our situation or theirs?

We are doing it to our banking system:
My google pay is down, can you please check yours
Don’t have google pay, can you pay from Phone pay
I paid, can you please check now !!!

There was a time when cheques were issued across banks and the clearing cycle could even run into weeks. We got that to a couple of hours and now we have instant payments. The challenge is not that we have instant payments, but are we ready to manage things when the “Instant” is down for an instant?

We are doing to our food/grocery/things delivery
I can see your location, What is taking you so long
Just 1 km from my house, for idli. vade why 30 min to deliver?
Why not 10 minute delivery of groceries and food?

We walked across to the groceries stores to fetch stuff we needed and planned, We hated parcels unless it was an emergency. The fresh food and extra chutney /sambar at the restaurant ending with a strong filter coffee was a delight.

We seem to be in a hurry in every aspect of our lives, from everyday tasks, food, etc to buying a car, a home in our early 20s.

Not at all against the fast-paced life and changes that are evolving with it, Just some questions that arise

Are there some aspects/things that we want to still do well and slowly?

Most of us tend to slow down, observe things, chat leisurely while we wait for our drink/food, read, do nothing during our vacations, and are happy doing so, Is there a Malgudi* kind of city/town life possible in today’s world?

Are we and our next generation ready to wait if something doesn’t work OR when someone else is really in hurry?

The 10-minute food delivery from Zomato triggered this piece

Hurry H(om)e !!

               

A Brown Pundit Visits China

 

I spent five days in China, a first visit to the mainland.

My first visit to a country I have read about, is a mix of fact checks, search for stereotypes and surprises.

I visited two cities Shanghai and Beijing, and did not get a chance to speak to as many locals I would have liked to.

Some observations and musings from the trip.

Time to get the obvious out of the way- It is a large country and what I saw, is akin to a pothole in an ocean. None the less here goes.

The scale and quality of hard, physical infrastructure is imposing. The maglev train from Shanghai’s Pudong international airport, the orderly never-ending traffic on endless roads that crisscross Shanghai and Beijing, the extensive metro network, the omnipresent taxis- regular and via the cab hailing app and the digital ecosystem of Universal apps- WeChat and Alipay. The high-speed railway that takes you from Shanghai to Beijing- a journey of about 1300 kilometers in four and a half hours. Movement of people and information is fast. That it happens at a scale unmatched anywhere else in the world and the time in which this whole infrastructure has been built- is awe inspiring.

The state is everywhere, it is watching you from cameras in every corner but you do not see the state.  No hoardings that tell you about the Chinese communist party or of one Xi Jinping. No cops on the roads, especially true for Shanghai.  The state is unobtrusive. It knows where you are and what are you up to but all you get is the power of the state capacity- well organized and clean super cities. You live the force of state capacity but do not get to see the state.

Talking of hoardings, you do not see commercial ones nudging you to buy that new car or an apartment or the latest…. (Insert shoe/ phone/ perfume/bag). All outdoor advertising is on the facades of the stores and even there it looks understated. Miles and miles of roads without outdoor advertising takes getting use to, if one has landed from Delhi.

Labour is abundant and female participation is high. There are apps for food and groceries delivery at your doorstep. Delivery staff ride electric two wheelers, that make no sound, and sneak up on you.

Two wheelers, their riders young and old, men and women, abound. The only reckless driving seen in the cities is on two wheelers. Women work in retail and hospitality. They can be found behind immigration counters and at airport security. One place I did not see them was driving taxis. Not one, I hailed multiple taxis in both cities. Never found a woman behind the wheels. Every other job, you see them.

No overt religiosity. The Chinese have done away with the god(s). No places of worship, no congregations, no religious motifs in shops and commercial establishments. To paraphrase a local- money is our god and making money our religion. When asked how does he make peace with the uncertainties and unfairness of life, he answers- by making more money.  Make money and spend money. How do I look, what am I wearing, what am I driving and where am I living? Who needs gods.

Tech has taken care of the language barrier. Get online and use an app that translates and one can get around and engage. Even the cops posted at Tiananmen square indulge your queries.

Lots of youngsters and a few kids. From airports, railway stations to public spaces, the first line of the state machinery is young. No middle-aged potbellied cops and ticket inspectors. You can see the one child policy at work. A child with two sets of grandparents and her adoring parents. Wealth accumulated by six adults being spent on one child.

No Caucasians, no Indians and the rich of the middle east are also missing. Two of the largest cities of in the second largest economy of the world. A country whose presence is felt in every nation and the world is not visiting its cities. No sign of large expat communities. No watering joints that are popular with Americans or Europeans. The weather was not the best for tourism but who is running the Europeans factories and the American banks. Guessing they went home for the Christmas break but are the Caucasians rare or what. The Africans are invisible. Not one African face in 5 days in China’s oldest and biggest cities. Not one.

China is a great example of what state capacity can do. A densely populated country that has been around for millennia, has transformed itself within four decades without hitting the jackpot of a natural bounty. Those running the country did not seek wisdom of the crowds by holding elections/referendums. The economic transformation was forced upon its people. Economic prosperity in exchange of political choice. The state derives its legitimacy from outcomes. That it does not indulge opposition does not make it unaccountable. The nameless and faceless bureaucrats who have built China in the last 40 years- no noble prize-winning economists or Chicago University professors there, have lifted millions out of poverty and within a generation delivered a quality of life most of us will never experience. The scale of transformation is unprecedented in Human history and as an Indian, one cannot but admire and grudge it.

What I would like to know is how they got an ancient civilization to let go of its past, how did they bulldoze consumerism and materialism through societal networks that had evolved over centuries- how did they do away with God.

What did the Chinese Communist party do to retain legitimacy as it pivoted from ideas like collective farming to allowing a tech and finance led millionaire class to flourish within a generation. Perhaps another trip calls.

Is the Chinese model replicable and should we try and replicate it in India.

The Chinese model is not unique and they are not the first ones to pull it off. Sustained economic growth for long periods has always needed some kind of labour and financial repression combined with protectionist trade policies.  All the developed economies of today have indulged in both at some point in their growth trajectory.

Letting a small set of people decide the economic fate of millions is high risk strategy. If the elite are not good enough, the scale of failure is catastrophic. China from 1949 to 1979 is a good example of the magnitude of that disaster.

The result has too many variables we do not understand to give us a templet. Which brings us to the process. In India the state gets it is legitimacy through the process of its election. To forego that for a bet that the unelected elite will deliver on outcomes- think of the political party you loathe and now think of that party always being in power and is unable to deliver on outcomes. Let us stumble along I say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AI in Defense & Future of Drone Warfare with Abhijit Iyer Mitra

I spoke to Abhijit Iyer Mitra on AI in Defense & Future of Drone Warfare.

The Indic Explorer YouTube channel focusses on the interplay of Indic culture with modernity explored through different facets in the socio-cultural sphere.

Do subscribe to the channel at https://www.youtube.com/theindicexplorer

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Swetha Warrier – India’s Dancing Star talks about Bharatnatyam Fusion

I spoke to Swetha Warrier on her journey as the finalist in two of the premier dancing talent hunt TV shows in India namely – India’s Best Dancer & Dance India Dance. She also spoke about her passion for Bharatnatyam Fusion

The Indic Explorer YouTube channel focusses on the interplay of Indic culture with modernity explored through different facets in the socio-cultural sphere.

Do subscribe to the channel at https://www.youtube.com/theindicexplorer

and follow me here

Twitter- https://twitter.com/theindicexplor1

Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/theindicexplorer/

Substack-https://digitaldharma.substack.com/

Spotify – https://spotifyanchor-web.app.link/e/MobfQp83uzb

Brown Pundits