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In this episode Omar, Akshar and Mukunda talk to Srikanth Krishnamachary. Krish is an active presence on Twitter at @shrikanth_krish and mostly tweets about Hinduism and Indian history, but has a variety of interests (his intro says he is “a data scientist in financial services based out of New York City, whose interests include economics, political philosophy, Hinduism, American history, and cricket”). We asked him to define Hinduism and give us his opinion of what it was and what it is today. And of course, we asked him about caste. And we hope to have him come back in the future to touch on topics we did not get to today.
Krish also writes on various websites and some of his work can be seen at the following links:
Since many of you are innumerate, I first want to make it clear that Sindh province is 10% Hindu. These Hindus are concentrated mostly in rural areas. As you likely know most elite Sindhi Hindus no longer live in Pakistan. These are poor and relatively powerless people.
The mass ceremony was the latest in what is a growing number of such conversions to Pakistan’s majority Muslim faith in recent years — although precise data is scarce. Some of these conversions are voluntary, some not.
News outlets in India, Pakistan’s majority-Hindu neighbor and archrival, were quick to denounce the conversions as forced. But what is happening is more subtle. Desperation, religious and political leaders on both sides of the debate say, has often been the driving force behind their change of religion.
Treated as second-class citizens, the Hindus of Pakistan are often systemically discriminated against in every walk of life — housing, jobs, access to government welfare. While minorities have long been drawn to convert in order to join the majority and escape discrimination and sectarian violence, Hindu community leaders say that the recent uptick in conversions has also been motivated by newfound economic pressures.
As someone who has read a great deal about religious dynamics, this is not subtle, but a very typical. Contrary to some claims, very few conversions to Islam were “forced” in a physical sense. Rather, historically, individuals converted out of self-interest or desperation. Often there were whole communities who make this choice.
A second issue is that there are attempts to present a symmetry between what is happening in India and Pakistan. This story illustrates how no such symmetry exists. Muslims in India are obviously at a disadvantage, but their situation is not analogous to Pakistani religious minorities.
Part of the story here is obviously about the treatment of religious minorities under Islam, which was not out of the ordinary in 1000 A.D., but 1,000 years later is anomalous, insofar as low-grade persecution is common. But it is also a story about the lack of Hindu solidarity with these people who were literally “left behind” as the Lohannas decamped for Mumbai.
At my other weblog, I have a long post on Irish DNA which I think will be interesting to readers of this weblog. The reason is that the big aspects aren’t really about Irish DNA, but the fact that ancient DNA is shedding new light on the mythology of the Irish people, which unlike other Northern Europeans was preserved rather than forgotten during Christianization (the indigenous and gradual nature of Irish Christianization probably explains this).
The authors found a high-status individual buried in a Neolithic mound who was the product of first-order incest (brother-sister or parent-child). This strongly suggests a very stratified society. But this is the incredibly interesting part:
The Brú na Bóinne passage tombs appear in Medieval mythology that relates their construction to magical manipulations of the solar cycle by a tribe of gods, which has led to unresolved speculation about the durability of oral traditions across millennia…Although such longevity seems unlikely, our results strongly resonate with mythology that was first recorded in the eleventh century AD, in which a builder-king restarts the daily solar cycle by copulating with his sister…Fertae Chuile, a Middle Irish placename for the Dowth passage tomb (which neighbors Newgrange), is based on this lore and can be translated as ‘Hill of Sin’ or ‘Hill of Incest’…
It seems clear here that the Irish had clear memories of the native Neolithic people and their practices, over 3,000 years after these people had been replaced by intrusive “Bell Beakers” who likely spoke Indo-European languages (perhaps, but not necessarily, Celtic). This is not surprising in light of other instances of long-term preservation.
But, it does suggest that the early Indian mythological cycles have embedded within them a fair amount of information, though it will no doubt be mixed in with narrative elaboration and fabulation.
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.
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.
Recently I’ve been reading about the Kalash religion. For readers who are not aware, the Kalash area group of Indo-Aryan speaking pagans who reside in the fastness of Chitral, Pakistan. Genetically about ~30% of their ancestry can be modeled as “Sintashta”, the pastoralist Indo-Europeans who were dominant in Bronze Age Turan, and likely gave rise to the Indo-Aryans. The remaining ~70% of their ancestry is similar to that of the Indus Valley people.
Despite their predominant non-Aryan ancestry, I do wonder if the Kalash could give us insights about the beliefs of the original Indo-Aryans, before they were exceedingly transmuted by India. One thing that is clear to me is that their “mountain shamanism” seems to be similar to the “steppe shamanism” outlined in Empires of the Silk Road. The insight from this work is that ecology and lifestyle matters. Turks, Iranians, Mongols, and Tungusic peoples all transformed in similar ways when exposed to and habituated toward steppe pastoralism. The shift toward more “organized” and structured religion happens with sedentarism and mixed-agriculture.
Rishabh Gulat–who I respect greatly has a different take on Datuk Mahathir Mohamad, Hero of Asia, than I do. Some argue that Datuk Mahathir has recently shifted his policy and allied with conservative Wahhabi (subset of Salafi, subset of Sunni) muslims, MBS, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan against India. Mr. Gulat implies that Datuk Mahathir is backing Brown Pundit favorite Dr. Zakir Naik against India:
Please watch Mr. Gulat and come to your own conclusions.
The Indian Malays (7% of the population, 15% of the professional workforce, 40% of all Malaysian doctors, economic engine that moves Malaysia) are rallying the opposition to Datuk Mahatir. Mr. Gulat thinks the global Indian diaspora and global Eastern philosophy diaspora (presumably inclusive of Confucians, Toaists and Chinese) should back the Indian Malays in this.
I need to do a lot more research before proposing an alternative course of action. But here is a question. Can the Indian Malays, global Indian diaspora, global Eastern Philosophy, global Muraqabah tilted Sunnis and Shia and global liberal muslims unite and offer Datuk Mahathir Mohammed an offer he can’t refuse?:
There are many great and powerful Indian and Indonesian muslims–friends of PM Modi–who can make the offer.
As an aside, many Brown Pundits readers know Dr. Zakir Naik fanboy and heart throb Veedu Vidz. Please ask him to come on the Brown Pundits Podcast!
Mr. Rishabh Gulat is a great thought leader and expert on Indonesia, Malaysia and South East Asia more generally. He says that India and Indonesia should make a civilizational, cultural, economic and geopolitical alliance. Is there an interest in the Brown Pundits Podcast interviewing Mr. Rishabh Gulat?
[Author’s note: With the celebrations of Guru Nanak’s 550th Anniversary and the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor being in the news, this is an opportunity for discussing the importance of the Sikh message, not just from a religious perspective – for Sikhs – but for Indian history. This article places the founding of Kartarpur, and Guru Nanak’s message, in a historical context – juxtaposing it with Babur’s founding of the Mughal Empire.]
I. Turning of the Wheel: Baba Nanak and Babur
In 1519, Babur invaded India – ‘ever since coming to Kabul we had been thinking of a Hindustan campaign, but for one reason or another it had not been possible,’ he writes in the Baburnama (translated by William Thackston, see pp 270-280). For some time his armies had been campaigning on the frontiers of the Hindu Kush, but these campaigns had yielded ‘nothing of consequence to the soldiers’. So, he turned to Hindustan. In the next few months, despite dogged resistance by the Afghans, Gujjars and Jats of the upper reaches of the Jhelum and Chenab, northern Punjab was subjugated, and plundered, by Babur’s armies. Babur himself spent most of his days inebriated, contemplating the legacy of Timur and setting poems to rhythmic metres. While his next great invasion of Punjab would come few years from then, in this interregnum, Punjab burned.
Among the towns and villages devastated was the settlement of Sayyidpur.
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.