Symbolography in Indus seals

(This is a guest post by Rekha Rao, the author of Symbolography in Indus seals)

Symbolography in Indus Seals by Rekha RaoIndus civilisation has evinced keen interest amongst scholars from various disciplines in their pursuit to unfold many aspects of this wonderful civilisation, which is one of the oldest. Though many aspects of the civilisation have been well addressed, decoding of Indus seals remained as an enigma even as of date. This has remained controversial, as there is no uniformity or logic in its interpretation. The prominence of the mythical one horned bull that can be seen in many seals, occupying almost seventy-five percent of seal area, with differing signs between seals, does indicate it is beyond what has been understood till date. This research is focused on, (1) Understanding the symbols of the script that are inscribed, (2) The interpretation of seals depicting activity, and (3) Demystifying the curiosity in answering prominent questions that arise when one examines the seals with an open mind such as:

  1. Why seals have a single horn bull?
  2. Why some are double horned humped bull and some non-humped ones?
  3. Why the single horned bull is in front of a manger and not the double horned humped bull?
  4. Why the manger has different design patterns and, supported on a slender pedestal?
  5. Why the decorations on the neck, nature of tail of the bull is different in each seal?
  6. Why the bull in each seal is associated with different symbols?
  7. Do these seals are a part of a continuum or is it explicit?
  8. Why the seals are small in size 2 by 2 inches?

In an endeavour to find answers to these questions, the research work had to cross several domains until such time the connectivity got established.

A convincing analysis of the riddles associated with the single horned bull, the manger structure, and the symbols used in the Indus seals have been attempted with a holistic approach. The single horned bull has been proved here to be a concept of Hotṛ priest with strong correlation with Vedic hymns has been established. The structure of manger has the depiction of chandas-the metre and the pattern of repetitions involved. Each seal appeared to have information on one particular aspect of the Vedic contents and the Yajña.

This book also answers the enquiries like

  1. Which class of people made use of these seals?
  2. What was the intention behind the issue of seals?

The seals are portrayed on a two-inch stone piece. It was probably with the idea of easy handling, transporting, and storing as reference document. It was like a ready reference material for the students involved in Vedic studies and practitioners of Vedic rituals. Probably, it was also planned to avoid the probable mistakes during recitation and ritual procedures at a time when script was non-existent, while the literary activity was at its peak and the multiple chapters of each Veda was voluminous for memorisation.

With the aid of a seal as reference, a man who had undergone his initiation in the Veda Śikśha could get the information like, for which ritual the sequence of Mantra is to be recited, and which tone and metre had to be adopted. The hymns to deities were in different metres, had to be recited meticulously according to the prescription of the Ṛgveda, Yajurveda, and the associated Brāhmaṇa text teachings. Different food offerings were to be made as each deity had its own preferred food and it was indicated as symbols. Seals were meant only for a specific class of educated lot and not for commoners. The frame structure in a seal shows a big square in which smaller squares are engraved to indicate about the specific metre chosen. These frames are like sample piece demonstration of metre that is to be followed by the sequence of hymns of similar pattern in a series while reciting for a Yajña. This gives a logical point for why the square frame in front of the single horned bull has smaller units in varying numbers and it matches with the squares adopted as Pada while dealing with the literary aspect of Vedic metre.

The understanding of seals reveal that India is the only country or probably one of the countries which has an unbroken pattern of traditions maintained for over 3000 years. The advancements in the field of science have not influenced this part of social heritage. The Somayajña performed in 2011 in Kerala, called Panjal Atirātram had performed the Pravargya fire ritual following the Vedic pattern, and it was amazing to find a seal that also depicted this Pravargya ritual in the seals. The royal and Somayajña are rare now for neither the royal families exist nor the Soma plant. However, the domestic or Gṛhya rituals like Śrāddha Karmas (death rituals) and the Ṣoḍaśa Saṁskāra (social observances) are very much alive and observed by every family in India.

Every religion, born or adopted in a country leaves its imprint among the followers and especially the death rituals are unique to every religion. Even to this day Hindus are very much the followers of Vedic rituals, the Yajña, the same Vedic Mantras are recited in the same metre that existed then. The death rituals, the Śrāddha – post death rituals also mostly the same as depicted in seals, and is definitely the unique pattern that does not exist in any other part of the world. The imprints of Vedic practises are practised only in India.

Of the 165 seals that are analysed in this book,I showcase the analysis of a seal which depicts the conceptualised picture of pitr in sraddha related seals.

Representation of Pitṛ in seals

 

The concept of superhuman status of God / deity and the lower form of Preta and spirits and the still lower class of demons all emerged on the karma theory or the actions performed in human status. All three – the deity, the Pitṛ, and the demons, had to be in human form that was mandatory to perform actions, the good actions of Satchetana of positive nature were promoted to deity status. Moreover, the wicked and bad ones who ate human flesh were demons, like Vṛtta, Vāla, etc. Ṛgveda 5.20.1 has many hymns with this theory.

In the Indus seals the Preta – the bodies after death are depicted differently from the dead persons after one year and entering into Pitṛ Loka. After death, Pitṛ were offered food in the Śrāddha rituals, and later were invited to consume Soma juice.

Ṛgveda 10.15.6, about fathers’ quotes about their posture also:

“Bowing your bended knees and seated southwards, accept this sacrifice of ours with favour.
May they fathers worthy of Soma, invited to their favourite oblations Laid on sacred grass come neigh and listen.”

The Pitṛ are always depicted in a sitting posture on the tree with the weight on one leg. The arms are outstretched and the fingers are depicted as bifurcated in two parts. The Pretātma was believed to be having bondage with the humans for the first twelve days after death. When the emotional bondage shredded they were called Pitṛ. Pitṛ, who have endured the journey to the upper world are depicted in human form, in a specific sitting posture on the branch of silk cotton tree. They are depicted with bifurcated hand structure and extra-long arms that are stretched. Many Ṛgveda verses say how Pitṛ can reach the offerings offered to them by their sons, and collect the essence of Piṇḍa from their abode. They were also offered the Soma juice, a favourite of Pitṛ.

All seals with Pitṛ are depicted sitting on the branch of the tree, are presented in human form with extra-long stretched arms with hands in Pitṛtīrtha. It is the way of mane’s hand, where the part of the hand between the thumb and the forefinger is parted, a hand gesture through which water is offered for the Pitṛ. The rituals related to Pitṛ –the Pitṛyajña was a sort of energy exchange at two levels. Many seals reveal about the history of Ṛgvedic beliefs and ritual practises regarding death and worship of ancestors.

The topic of Yajña, the hymns, its metre, the accessories used and preparation of Yajña arena are oceanic in contents. The research work narrated in this book is the understanding of each symbol, and what it communicates when presented in a series. This new interpretation provides a logical continuity and helps to read the Yajñic rituals that are depicted in the seal with some amount of coherency.

An attempt is made here to know the three major classifications of Yajña, followed by its seven groups called Saṁstha and correlated with the seals. Over 160 seals has been analysed in the C section of this book. The reading of many more seals can be interpreted with the help of the 260-symbol analysis provided in the Section B of this book.

This book is an independent research in understanding what the seal communicates, may prove as the first step in this new approach of understanding Indus seals.

Out of India, to Australia

Australia was populated by modern humans around 47,000 years ago. Then, 4000 years back, the dingo reached Australia suggesting another movement of people which bought changes in language and tools. There were studies which showed that the Aboriginal Australians descended from populations in India and Sri Lanka in the time frame (1300 – 13,000 years back), but were these the people who took the dingo to Australia?

Two pieces of evidence suggested that it was so

  1. There is definitely an Indian component in Aboriginal Australian genes
  2. Analysis of the Y chromosome lineage found that the common ancestor lived around 5000 years back, to the time of Indus-Saraswati civilization.

A new study reveals that the divergence time between Australians and Indians occurred not 5000 years back, but around 54,000 years back.

Australia-divergence

Image source: Deep Roots for Aboriginal Australian Y Chromosomes by Bergstrom et al.

To understand this, one has to look at the journey of man from Africa. The path of the initial migrants was from Africa via the Middle East through India to rest of the world including Europe and Australia. A great visualization for this movement can be seen at the Bradshaw Foundation.

Australia

via the Bradshaw Foundation

The paper concludes

Here, we sequence 13 Aboriginal Australian Y chromosomes to re-investigate their divergence times from Y chromosomes in other continents, including a comparison of Aboriginal Australian and South Asian haplogroup C chromosomes. We find divergence times dating back to 50 kya, thus excluding the Y chromosome as providing evidence for recent gene flow from India into Australia [Deep Roots for Aboriginal Australian Y Chromosomes]

 

Five ancestral components of India

According to a new paper, India did not have just two ancestral components, but five. Here is the summary

India, occupying the center stage of Paleolithic and Neolithic migrations, has been underrepresented in genome-wide studies of variation. Systematic analysis of genome-wide data, using multiple robust statistical methods, on (i) 367 unrelated individuals drawn from 18 mainland and 2 island (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) populations selected to represent geographic, linguistic, and ethnic diversities, and (ii) individuals from populations represented in the Human Genome Diversity Panel (HGDP), reveal four major ancestries in mainland India. This contrasts with an earlier inference of two ancestries based on limited population sampling. A distinct ancestry of the populations of Andaman archipelago was identified and found to be coancestral to Oceanic populations. Analysis of ancestral haplotype blocks revealed that extant mainland populations (i) admixed widely irrespective of ancestry, although admixtures between populations was not always symmetric, and (ii) this practice was rapidly replaced by endogamy about 70 generations ago, among upper castes and Indo-European speakers predominantly. This estimated time coincides with the historical period of formulation and adoption of sociocultural norms restricting intermarriage in large social strata. A similar replacement observed among tribal populations was temporally less uniform.

Helicobacter pylori and Out of India Theory

Helicobacter pylori

Helicobacter pylori (via Wikipedia)

This is not a picture of a galaxy, but of your stomach. What you see is Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori, a bacterium found in our stomach. This particular bacterium is found in the stomach of half of the world’s population and is more than 100,000 years old. When our ancestor left Africa on their worldwide migration, this bacterium was present in their stomach. Currently, that one strain has seven different variations tied to different geographies. Thus, there is a variation for Europe, few for Africa and a couple for Asia.

The current strain which is found in Europeans came from two sources Ancestral Europe 1 and Ancestral Europe 2 (AE1 and AE2). It is believed that AE1 originated in Central Asia and AE2 in North-East Africa. The admixture of these two strains occurred sometime between 10,000 and 52,000 years back.

A recent study, which looked at the gastrointestinal tract of a 5300 yr old iceman has revealed some interesting information about this person. This iceman lived in the Italian Alps and was probably a European farmer. When he was between 40 and 50 years old, he was murdered by someone using an arrow. He is called an iceman because his body was preserved  by freeze drying in a glacier.

Analysis of the bacterium revealed that he did not have the strain that most modern Europeans have. His strain was from India, especially North India. This strain was also the co-ancestor of the current European strain.  What this tells us is that the India strain was present in Europe during the copper age; there was a movement of people into Europe  during that period.  This strain, which was found in the iceman’s body is also different from the strain that modern Indians have. This tells us that that people went from India to Europe, stayed there and were genetically isolated from the Indian population. This isolated group became ancestral to the European strain.

If you look at the age of the iceman, you will find that he lived in 3200 B.C.E. This was the Early Period of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. According to the Invasion Theories, the invasion would happen almost a millennia later. Now evidence says that, while Sarasvati was flowing and many sites existed on its banks, there was an Indian strain of bacterium going Out of India. Was this iceman an original resident of North India who reached the Italian Alps or was he one of the descendants of an earlier migration? We don’t know.  But the fact that Indians moved to Europe should not come as a surprise. If you look at the trading hubs of the ancient world, this movement was quite common.

Related Tweets

References:

  1. The 5300-year-old Helicobacter pylori genome of the Iceman
  2. Supplemental Material

15 Best Books of 2015

 

khliafat-smaranakal

Though I did not blog, I read a lot. This list is in no particular order. Most of it is non-fiction.

    1. The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. On the origins of Al-Qaeda and the lack of co-ordination among investigating agencies that led to 9/11. Riveting read.
    2. The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century. Steve Coll becomes a fly on the wall in the bin-Laden family tracing their relationships among themselves, the kings of Saudi Arabia. He also goes into the convenient relationship between the Saudis and Americans.
    3. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East. During WWI, a bunch of young guys from Germany, USA and Romania were roaming around the Middle East with varying motives. Their goal was to spy for their country and leverage the war. The book reads like fiction.
    4. The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East. Understanding WWI and the fall of the Ottoman Empire is critical not just in understanding the formation of the Middle East, it is also important in understanding certain events that happened in India.  This book gives the required background.
    5. Rearming HinduismAbhinav’s review has all the details.
    6. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors A good book to learn the fundamentals of human origins and evolution.
    7. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief You will learn a lot about L. Ron Hubbard, the religion he founded and the tactics that they use to keep people within the flock.
    8. The Martian I am the person who spoils a movie by saying the book was better. Even if you have seen the movie, read the book.
    9. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth Read my detailed review.
    10. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownA look a the culture of rape in a small town in America and how it gets handled.
    11. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Prof. Harari taught this course on Coursera and it was brilliant. The book captures his ideas (see sample) very and this is probably one of my favorite books of last year.
    12. The Baklava Club: A Novel (Investigator Yashim Book 5) Fiction.  I loved the first book in the series and read all of them. Though the third and fourth books were not of the quality of 1 and 2, this one is an excellent read.
    13. The Tears of Dark Water Fiction. The book starts with the hijacking of an American boat off the Somali coast. But it is not just a thriller.Towards the middle, the book turns around and gives a much detailed look into the lives of Somalis.
    14. Khilafat Smaranakal or Memories of Khilafat (Malayalam). Brahmadattan Nambuthiri was a local Congress president during the Mappila Lahala of 1921. He was arrested for his speeches, shuttled among various jails and tortured.  Finally, when he was released, he was excommunicated. The book gives a first-hand account of what happened in Malabar during those times. Maddy also mentions him in this post.
    15. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin 1933, William Dodd was the American ambassador to Germany and he and his daughter Martha saw the rise of the empire. Martha gets involved with the Gestapo and Soviet spies. Fascinating read.

Neuroplasticity of Vedic Pandits

Panjal athirathram by Asokan. R Raman (flickr)

Panjal athirathram by Asokan. R Raman (flickr)

It is not easy to be a Vedic Pandit.

Professional Vedic Pandits undergo rigorous training in exact pronunciation and invariant content of these oral texts for 7 or more years, with 8–10 h of daily practice (totaling ~10,080 h over the course of the initial training), starting in their childhood, and mastering multiple 40,000 to 100,000 word oral texts (compared to ~ 38,000 in the book of Genesis). The training methods strongly emphasize traditional face- to-face oral learning, and the Yajurveda recitation practice includes right hand and arm gestures to mark prosodic elements.

There are special exercises to ensure that the Vedas are chanted without mistakes. Now a new study shows that such intensive study changes the brain both in the white matter and gray matter. Extensive memorization and verbal recital practice resulted in the following changes

We found massive gray matter density and cortical thickness increases in Pandit brains in language, memory and visual systems, including i) bilateral lateral temporal cortices and ii) the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus, regions associated with long and short-term memory. Differences in hippocampal morphometry matched those previously documented for expert spatial navigators and individuals with good verbal working memory. The findings provide unique insight into the brain organization implementing formalized oral knowledge systems.

There are few other interesting points from the paper

  1. The Pandits were highly competent in Sanskrit. They memorized large volumes of Sanskrit text and understood its complex morphology. They were multi-lingual as well. That was a contributing factor for the increased gray matter density.
  2. Another reason was the way of learning, using gestures and articulation. The result of using hand and arm movement could be seen in the brain. Indian classical  music students too use that extensively, especially hand movements.

Sharon Begley has written about the effect mindfulness has on the brain. The brain has the ability to grow new neurons and rewire itself. Now for those who wonder if learning a “dead” or communal language like Sanskrit is worth it, read the paper.

Reference:

  1. Hartzell, J.F., et al., Brains of verbal memory specialists show anatomical differences in language, memory and visual systems, NeuroImage (2015), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.07.027

 

Hypocrisy and Indian History: A Public Statement

(I did not write this post. Here is the original source. Please sign the petition, if you have not)

On 26 October, 53 Indian historians voiced alarm at what they perceived to be the country’s “highly vitiated atmosphere” and protested against attempts to impose “legislated history, a manufactured image of the past, glorifying certain aspects of it and denigrating others….” This was soon followed by an “Open letter from overseas historians and social scientists”, 176 of them, warning against, “a dangerously pervasive atmosphere of narrowness, intolerance and bigotry” and “a monolithic and flattened view of India’s history.”

Such closely-linked statements appearing with clockwork regularity in India and abroad—there have been several more from various “intellectual” circles—are a well-orchestrated campaign to create a bogeyman and cry wolf. They are neither intellectual nor academic in substance, but ideological and, much more so, political.

As historians, archaeologists and academics specializing in diverse aspects of Indian civilization, we wish to respond to these hypocritical attempts to claim the moral high ground. Many of the signatories of the above two statements by Indian and “overseas” historians have been part of a politico-ideological apparatus which, from the 1970s onward, has come to dominate most historical bodies in the country, including the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), and imposed its blinkered view of Indian historiography on the whole academic discipline.

Anchored mainly in Marxist historiography and leftist ideology, with a few borrowings from postmodernism, the Annales School, Subaltern and other studies, this new School, which may be called “Leftist” for want of a better term, has become synonymous with a number of abusive and unscholarly practises; among them:

  1. A reductionist approach viewing the evolution of Indian society almost entirely through the prism of the caste system, emphasizing its mechanisms of “exclusion” while neglecting those of integration without which Indian society would have disintegrated long ago.
  2. A near-complete erasure of India’s knowledge systems in every field philosophical, linguistic, literary, scientific, medical, technological or artistic—and a general under-emphasis of India’s important contributionsto other cultures and civilizations. In this, the Leftist School has been a faithful inheritor of colonial historiography, except that it no longer has the excuse of ignorance. Yet it claims to provide an accurate and “scientific” portrayal of India!
  3. A denial of the continuity and originality of India’s Hindu-Buddhist-Jain-Sikh culture, ignoring the work of generations of Indian and Western Indologists. Hindu identity, especially, has been a pet aversion of this School, which has variously portrayed it as being disconnected from Vedic antecedents, irrational, superstitious, regressive, barbaric — ultimately “imagined” and, by implication, illegitimate.
  4. A refusal to acknowledge the well-documented darker chapters of Indian history, in particular the brutality of many Muslim rulers and their numerous Buddhist, Jain, Hindu and occasionally Christian and Muslim victims (ironically, some of these tyrants are glorified today); the brutal intolerance of the Church in Goa,Kerala and Puducherry; and the state-engineered economic and cultural impoverishment of India under the British rule. While history worldwide has wisely called for millions of nameless victims to be remembered, Indian victims have had to suffer a second death, that of oblivion, and often even derision.
  5. A neglect of tribal histories: For all its claims to give a voice to “marginalized” or “oppressed” sections of Indian society, the Leftist School has hardly allowed aspace to India’s tribal communities and the rich contributions of their tribal belief systems and heritage. When it has condescended to take notice, it has generally been to project Hindu culture and faith traditions as inimical to tribal cultures and beliefs, whereas in reality the latter have much more in common with the former than with the religions imposed on them through militant conversions.
  6. A biased and defective use of sources: Texts as well as archaeological or epigraphic evidence have been misread or selectively used to fit preconceived theories. Advances of Indological researches in the last few decades have been ignored, as have been Indian or Westernhistorians, archaeologists, anthropologists who have differed from the Leftist School. Archaeologists who developed alternative perspectivesafter considerable research have beensidelined or negatively branded.Scientific inputs from many disciplines, from palaeo-environmental to genetic studies have been neglected.
  7. A disquieting absence of professional ethics: The Leftist School has not academically critiqued dissenting Indian historians, preferring to dismiss them as “Nationalist” or “communal”. Many academics have suffered discrimination, virtual ostracism and loss of professional opportunities because they would not toe the line, enforced through political support since the days of Nurul Hasan. The Indian History Congress and the ICHR, among other institutions,became arenas of power play and political as well as financial manipulation. In effect, the Leftist School succeeded in projecting itself as the one and only, crushing debate and dissent and polarizing the academic community.

While we reject attempts to portray India’s past as a glorious and perfect golden age, we condemn the far more pernicious imposition by the Leftist School of a “legislated history”, which has presented an alienating and debilitating self-image to generations of Indian students, and promoted contempt for their civilizational heritage. The “values and traditions of plurality that India had always cherished in the past” are precisely those this School has never practised.We call for an unbiased and rigorous new historiography of India.

  1. Dilip K. Chakrabarti, Emeritus Professor, Cambridge University, UK; Dean, Centre of Historical and Civilizational Studies, Vivekananda International Foundation, Chanakyapuri, Delhi; member, ICHR
  2. Saradindu Mukherji, historian, retired from Delhi University; member, ICHR
  3. Nanditha Krishna, Director, CPR Institute of Indological Research, Chennai; member, ICHR
  4. M.D. Srinivas, former professor of theoretical physics; former vice-chairman, Indian Institute of Advanced Study; chairman, Centre for Policy Studies, Chennai; member, ICHR
  5. Meenakshi Jain, associate professor of history, Delhi University; member, ICHR
  6. Michel Danino, guest professor, IIT Gandhinagar; member, ICHR
  7. B.B. Lal, former Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
  8. R.S. Bisht, former Joint Director General, Archaeological Survey of India
  9. R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Govt. of Tamil Nadu; Vice Chancellor, Sri ChandrasekharendraSaraswathiViswaMahavidyalaya, Kanchipuram
  10. B.M. Pande, Former Director, Archaeological Survey of India
  11. DayanathTripathi, former Chairman, ICHR; former Head, Dept. of Ancient History, Archaeology and Culture, D.D.U. Gorakhpur University, Gorakhpur; former Visiting Professor at Cambridge, British Academy
  12. R.C. Agrawal, President, Rock Art Society of India; former Member Secretary of ICHR
  13. K.V. Raman, former professor of Ancient Indian History & Archaeology, University of Madras
  14. Padma Subrahmanyam, Dancer and Research Scholar
  15. Kapil Kapoor, former Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antararashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya, Wardha (Maharashtra)
  16. Madhu Kishwar, Professor, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi
  17. ChandrakalaPadia, Vice Chancellor, Maharaja Ganga Singh University (Rajasthan); Chairperson, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
  18. SachchidanandSahai, Ph.D. (Paris), National Professor in Epigraphy, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, Advisor to PreahVihear National Authority under the Royal Government of Cambodia; member, ICHR
  19. J.K. Bajaj, Director Centre for Policy Studies, Former Member ICSSR
  20. MakarandParanjape, Professor of English, JNU; Visiting Global South Fellow, University of Tuebingen
  21. NikhilesGuha, former professor of history, University of Kalyani, West Bengal; member, ICHR
  22. Issac C.I., member, ICHR
  23. (Dr.) Purabi Roy, member, ICHR
  24. Jagbir Singh, Former Professor and Head, Dept. of Punjabi, University of Delhi; Life Fellow, Punjabi University, Patiala.
  25. G.J. Sudhakar, former Associate Professor, Dept. of History, Loyola College, Chennai
  26. Bharat Gupt, Former Associate Professor, Delhi University
  27. O.P. Kejariwal, Central Information Commissioner & Nehru Fellow
  28. S.C. Bhattacharya, former Professor and HOD, Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology, Allahabad University; former National Fellow, IIAS, Shimla
  29. S.K. Chakraborty, former professor, Management Centre for Human Values, Indian Institute of Management Calcutta
  30. AmarjivaLochan, Associate Professor in History, Delhi University; President, South and Southeast Asian Association for the Study of Culture & Religion (SSEASR) under IAHR, affiliated to the UNESCO
  31. R.N. Iyengar, Distinguished Professor, Jain University, Bangalore
  32. Professor (Dr) Nath, former Professor of History, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur
  33. KiritMankodi, archaeologist, consultant to Project for Indian Cultural Studies, Mumbai
  34. K. Ramasubramanian, Cell for Indian Science and Technology in Sanskrit, IIT Bombay; Council Member International Union for History and Philosophy of Science; member, RashtriyaSanksritParishad
  35. M.S. Sriram, Retired Professor and Head, Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Madras; Member Editorial Board, Indian Journal of History of Science; Former Member, Research Council for History of Science, INSA
  36. Amartya Kumar Dutta, Professor of Mathematics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata
  37. Godabarisha Mishra, Professor and Head, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Madras
  38. R. Ganesh, Shathavadhani, Sanskrit scholar
  39. Sri Banwari, Academic and Journalist; former Resident Editor, Jansatta
  40. S. Krishnan, Associate Professor, Dept of Mathematics, IIT Bombay
  41. Rajnish Kumar Mishra, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  42. VikramSampath, Director, Symbiosis School of Media and Communication; former Director of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) – SRC; historian and author
  43. K. Gopinath, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
  44. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, former Professor and Head, Dept. of Vaishnavism, Madras University
  45. Sumathi Krishnan, Musician and Musicologist
  46. PremaNandakumar, Author and translator
  47. Santosh Kumar Shukla, Associate Professor, Special Centre for Sanskrit Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

The above list was released on 17 November; on 18 November, three scholars had been contacted but could not send their answer in time owing to the flood situation in Chennai. We include them here for the record:

  1. Siniruddha Dash, former Professor & Head, Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Madras
  2. Mamata Mishra, Managing Trustee, Prof. K.V. Sarma Research Foundation
  3. ChithraMadhavan, historian and epigraphist

(via IndiaFacts)

In IndiaFacts: Review – Zealot by Reza Aslan

(The original version was published at IndiaFacts)

In 66 C.E., fed up with the Roman occupation of their land, the Jews declared war on the Roman Empire. Soldiers patrolled even in the temple of this supposedly inconsequential part of the empire. Imagine the anger Malayalis would have felt if Communists administered their temples and the state looted its wealth. Wait. Wrong example. Though Rome was a powerful empire, the Jews were confident that their God would take them to victory. Motivated by what looked like a possible victory, the rebels attacked Jews who colluded with the Romans. Many messiahs also appeared on the scene, prophesying the end of Jerusalem. Finally, the miracle happened; they liberated Jerusalem.

If any Carthaginians were around, they would have told the Jews that this was a bad idea. In 70 C.E., the empire struck back. They razed the city to the ground, slaughtered the Jews and exiled the survivors. They also renamed the city and erased all mention of it from the record. Unlike Hindus, the Jews did not have temples all over the country. There was one temple — The Temple at Jerusalem — the center of their worship and that was gone. It was not just the Jews who were affected; the followers of a man named Yeshua were affected dramatically. It was after these events that the first Gospels were written.

Due to these sequence of events, Aslan argues that the Jesus of the Gospels is not the same as the historical man named Yeshua. For Aslan, the Gospels were written by believers for a specific purpose and are not historical documents. He ignores them and presents a picture of Yeshua by looking at the social, political and theological context of that period. Aslan himself is a former evangelical, who gave up that life as he became a religious scholar. Besides painting a portrait of Yeshua, he also reveals how the modern Jesus was invented.

If Jesus was not the person whom the Gospels claim to be — the good shepherd, the peacenik, the one who turned the other cheek — then who was he? According to Aslan, two things we can be sure are

  1. He was a Jew who led a popular movement like many others
  2. He was crucified by the Romans like many others.

To those who believe Yeshua was a child prodigy, who at a young age, stunned the priests of the Temple and to those Indians who are fascinated by the tale of Jesus learning in India, Aslan, who has been a Biblical scholar for two decades, sets the record straight. Yeshua was a woodworker or craftsman who never ventured far away. All Jewish peasants of the time were illiterate; Yeshua could not have been any different. (On a side note, the theory that he died in Tibet has been debunked as well)

Once baptized by his guru, John the Baptist, Yeshua took on a career of preaching. He wandered around as a professional exorcist, curing the ill of their sickness. Another common profession during that period, it paid more than being a woodworker. He was not the only miracle worker of that period, “it was quite common to see diviners, dream interpreters, magicians and medicine men wandering around the region”. But Aslan says Jesus did something different from the rest: he never charged for his work. We know that because the pagan and Jewish critics of Christianity agree on this as well.

Yeshua was not stoned to death for blasphemy, but crucified, which was the Roman punishment for treason. Anyone who proclaimed he was a messiah was crucified for striving to overthrow the Roman empire. Disrupting the activities of the temple, Yeshua proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was coming soon and this occurred during the time of when rebels were working to overthrow the Romans and bring the land under Jewish control. The main thesis of Aslan’s book is that Jesus was not someone who was talking about abstract ideas during this time, but was a zealot, actively involved in this movement like others of that period. Yeshua proclaimed that the present order would be replaced by a new political, religious and economic system and for advocating such a revolutionary idea, he was executed by crucifixion.

Another point Aslan makes is that the crucifixion of Jesus was not one of those stop the world events that happened in Jerusalem. Pilate, the Roman governor, who sent Jesus to the cross had utter disregard for Jewish customs and had crucified many others. He would not even have met Jesus. Terrorized by Pilate’s hobby, the people of Jerusalem complained to the Roman emperor. Even then he did not lose his job. Nothing happened to the temple priest as well. It was much later, after Pilate sent soldiers to butcher the followers of another messiah, that both he and the temple priest lost their jobs.

Following the crucifixion of Yeshua, three major strands of events occurred. The followers of Yeshua — the ones who walked with him — were shocked. The messiah who promised to rebuild David’s Kingdom had not only failed but was crucified like a state criminal. What did that mean? What could they do now? For the Jews, it was curtains down. He was yet another failed messiah. But for members of the Jesus movement, they had to invent a new explanation. They also had to prove to others that he indeed was the messiah. One of the earliest beliefs they came up was the radically new resurrection narrative — that he arose on the third day. They stayed in Jerusalem, continuing his teaching.

The second chain of events was set off by Paul who was inspired by Jesus though he had never met him. Other writers claimed Paul had a vision; Paul himself never said so. For Paul, Jesus was divine. Paul’s target market was the urbanized elite who did not care for messianic concepts or Jewish rituals. For the original illiterate followers of Jesus, Paul’s teachings were all Greek (literally). It would be like Hindus reading the writings of Prof. Wendy Doniger. In fact, Paul’s teaching looked so radical that the head of the Hebrew followers, James, (the brother of Jesus), sent congregations to convert the followers of Paul back to the fold; James was quite successful.

As the Hebrews — the farmers and fishermen followers of Jesus — and the Hellenists — the urbanized Greek speaking Romans — were duking it out , 9/11 hit Jerusalem and the Romans wiped out the place from the map. This triggered the third sequence of events. The Gospels were written down in various cities in the empire — Rome, Damascus, Antioch, and Ephesus — by people who had never met Yeshua. By then four decades had passed since Yeshua’s crucifixion and the eyewitnesses to his life had perished. The teachings that were passed along were conveniently modified.

Also, after 70 C.E, it was clear to everyone, who had the power to chop off your head. The authors of the Gospels could either stick their neck out and write that Jesus was a man who wanted to overthrow the Roman empire or they could spin another tale. They chose the latter. A Jesus, who operated at a divine plane and had nothing to do with earthly matters became a convenient replacement.

The author of the first gospel, attributed to Mark, wanted to absolve the Romans of all the crime. Hence, the whole story of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus was invented. The Romans, who crucified Yeshua were sanitized and Jews who did not accept him as the messiah became the villains. That was the birth of anti-Semitism, the consequences of which can be seen even today. Another important point to note is that the gospels were not written in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in Greek. The evangelists’ goal was to convert the gentiles and so distancing themselves from Jewish “mumbo-jumbo” seemed right.

Aslan is not the first person to do this kind of analysis. He is one among many of a two centuries old line of scholarship trying to excavate the historical Jesus. Many years back, Prof. Thomas Sheehan of Stanford, taught a course called The Historical Jesus where he did similar analysis looking into the Gospels to find out what fits and what does not. Usually, historians go to primary sources to find the truth, but in this case, Sheehan says, the primary source are problematic. The Gospels which are now considered Canonical were ruled so by political forces. Whatever did not fit the template was considered heretic, a concept alien to dharmic traditions. Each blind scholar in this lineage found a different part of the elephant: using historical studies, literary analysis and sociology, they found Yeshua to be either a philosopher or an apocalyptic preacher or teacher or simply a magician.

With the destruction of Jerusalem, the original message was diluted and the urbanized, educated Greek-speaking diaspora Jews, immersed in Greek philosophy and Hellenistic culture Deepak Chopra-ed a new religion. This is like how American Buddhists are defining a new “scientific” religion by eradicating traces of Hinduism and mystical elements of Buddhism and retaining just mindfulness. The failed messiah, who did not set out to create Christianity, became the creator of heavens and earth and had nothing to do with the Roman occupation or the fight against it. This Neo-Jesus is the one to whom believers pray every weekend.

How the RigVeda is memorized

(This is a guest post by reader Ranjith P, after he saw a RigVeda chanting exercise in a temple near his home)

As you might  know it is a puzzle that how is RigVeda,  a ~4000 year old text is still memorized and chanted without making any mistake. It turns out that  people have made many special exercises to make sure that each person understands each word in detail, and can chant it in any order.  Once such exercise is called vaaram which helps people  learn RigVeda word by word by reciting it in a complex ordered way.

For example, these are the verses from Book 1, Hymn 23

Now watch these being recited

The two persons chanting are Dr. Mannoor Jathavedan Namboodiri (first person) and Mr. Naarayanamangalam Visakh. The second part (second person) is from Rig Veda Book 8 Hymn 11

When you see the video, you will note a few things

  1. In the first few minutes you can clearly see some stones near the person. They use some stones and somehow generate a random number. And using this, they choose a random hymn  in RigVeda and start from there. They don’t pre-plan where to start. That means, they have to know the whole of Veda by heart
  2. They repeat  words like: alpha beta, beta gamma, gamma, delta etc (first word, second word, second word, third word, third word fourth word etc).
  3. At the end of each sentence (and randomly) they have to split words (spitting sanskrit words is tough) .
  4. If you imagine transmitting some information orally, after some generations, very likely that one will goof up long and short vowels. For example,  words like “devaa” could be mistaken for “deva” and “vayoo” for “vayu“. To avoid it, they have developed a way of chanting where they stress the long vowels very clearly by extending it a bit too long so that the “deergham” is very clearly conveyed orally

When the second person chants you can see the first person, using his fingers, at random locations, ask the second person to split words (to test whether he knows)

This vaaram is like a minor day-to-day version of the famous Kadvalloor Anyonyam. vaaram is only one of the exercises and there are many others as well.

PS: This event happened at the Edakkuda temple, Malappuram district, Kerala