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Godesses around the world

The earliest inhabitants of India worshipped a Mother Goddess and a horned fertility god. Godesses are also mentioned in the Rg Veda like Prthvi, Aditi, Usas, Rathri and Aranyani. While godesses are still worshipped in Indic religions, they have largely disappeared from the West after the arrival of the Abrahamic religions.

But this was not the case before; female worship was prevalent all around the world. Recently three such artifacts were found:  in Turkey, in Golan and in Scotland.

The one in Golan, dated to 500 CE, was of Aphrodite – the Greek goddess of love. (see pictures)

“Aphrodite was the goddess of love, but also the goddess of fertility and childbirth,” Segal says. “Pregnant woman hoping for a safe birth would sacrifice to her, as would young girls hoping for love. Mainly, flowers, rather than animals, would be sacrificed to Aphrodite. The figurines we found were made in a mold in rather large numbers. They would be offered to the goddess in a temple by supplicants, or kept above one’s bed,” Segal said. [Dig unearths ancient cult figurines of Aphrodite]

According to the person who led the dig, Christians outlawed the Aphrodite cult, but it still survived since women clung to it.

While the Aphrodite figurine is just 1500 years old, the one found in Turkey is ancient, dating to 16,000 years back.

Erek said that the figurine showed that the social status of women was very important 16,000 years ago. Erek noted that the oldest fired clay god or goddess figurines unearthed in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Near East were made in 5,000 BC. He added that experts believed that the clay was used earliest in that period, however, the goddess figurine showed that this method was older than thought. [16,000 Year-Old Mother Goddess Figurine Unearthed]

Finally, a sandstone figurine, 5000 years old, was discovered in Scotland and it is supposed to Scotland’s earliest face.

The carving is flat with a round head on top of a lozenge-shaped body. The face has heavy brows, two dots for eyes and an oblong for a nose. It is thought other scratches on top of the skull could be hair. A pair of circles on the chest are being interpreted as representing breasts, and arms have been etched at either side. It is believed a regular pattern of crossed markings on the reverse could suggest the fabric of the woman’s clothing.[Scotland's 'earliest face' found]

Posted in History: Before 1 CE, History: General.

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The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 2


The headquarters of thePropaganda fide in Rome
(Read Part 1) It would be wrong to say that at that point in time Indians of the 1830s hated English. At the Hindu college, which was established by Indians, the British themselves admitted that the English education was as good as any school in Europe. When the Government decided to establish a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta, Ram Mohan Roy was disappointed. He wanted Indians to learn European math, science, chemistry instead of “grammatical niceties and metaphysical distinctions”.
After further objections to the “imaginary learning” of Hindu schools, he [Ram Mohan Roy] summarily assures Lord Amherst that “the Sanskrit system of education would be the best calculat-  ed to keep this country in darkness.” What he wants to see established is “a more liberal and enlightened system of  instruction, embracing mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, anatomy, with other useful sciences.” This, he urges “may be accomplished with the sums proposed, by employing a few gentlemen of talent and learning educated  in Europe and providing a College furnished with neces- sary books, instruments, and other apparatus.” [The life and letters of Raja Rammohun Roy]
Mohan Roy’s letter to Lord Amherst did not get an answer. By then the fight between the Anglicists and Orientalists had reached a point where a decision had to be made. Macaulay arrived on the scene in 1834 and he had a clear idea about the future direction. Also Duff’s independent efforts had convinced Macaulay that an Anglical education system would succeed.
Macaulay was of the opinion that there was no point in perfecting the vernaculars, since there was nothing intelligent, but falsehood in them. In his Minute, he noted that he had no knowledge of Sanskrit or Arabic, but was convinced that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia. On the other hand, whoever learned English had access to the vast intellectual wealth of the wisest nations of the earth and the literature available in English is valuable that the literature of all languages of the world together.[Macaulay's Education Part 3: The Minute]
Lord William Bentinck signed Macaulay’s draft into law. While the goal of British Government was to promote European literature and science, the Oriental schools were not to be closed. Instead it was decided not to subsidize the students. The large amount of money spent on printing Oriental books were to be stopped and the money instead was to be used for promoting European literature.

Duff had already done this without any Government support and had solved many problems which the administration would face later. When a medical college was established in Calcutta there seemed to be a problem since Hindu shastras prohibited touching a dead body for anatomical purposes. To find a way out, the education commission visited Duff’s school. The students told the commission that it was a fact that shastras prohibited handling of a dead body, but they did not care. They wanted to take up the medical profession. Later orthodox priests told William Bentinck that there was no prohibition against touching a dead body for learning, but Duff was praised for showing that modern science was compatible with traditionalism.

Continued…

Posted in DesiPundit, Essays, History: India.

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The Man who came to destroy Hinduism – 1

On Jan 15, 1823, Jean-Antoine Dubois, a French-Catholic missionary, who spent time in Pondicherry, Madras Presidency and Mysore left India for Paris, never to return again. During his time in India, he dressed like a native and preached the Gospel, but after 30 years in India, he was convinced that it was next to impossible to convert Indians.

But seven years later, on May 27th, 1830, a Scottish missionary arrived in Calcutta and his goal was to “prepare a mine which should one day explode beneath the very citadel of Hinduism.” This 24 year thought that the methods of other missionaries, like directly appealing Hindus to renounce their faith, would do nothing but anger the natives. Instead he claimed to have found a unique way to destroy Hinduism in a peaceful manner.

To understand how Alexander Duff came up with his recipe, we need to understand the India of 1830s.
  1. The language of the Government was Persian and there were a few educational institutions which taught Arabic and Sanskrit. The learned people spoke these Oriental languages and not English.
  2. Duff arrived at a time when there was a controversy in British India over the language to be used for Indian higher education. On the one side there were the British Orientalists who wanted to use Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic and on the other side there were the Anglicists who had scorn for Oriental languages and Indian culture and wanted to enforce English
  3. The missionary activities were not very successful. The missionary technique consisted of standing in the street corner and preaching which fetched an occasional convert or two, but nothing of great significance. Even in South India, where there were more converts, the converts came from the out castes; the Hindu masses remained unaffected.
Duff would take all these three ingredients to come up with a winning formula, which was eventually endorsed by the Lord himself – I mean Lord Macaulay. Looking back, the formula was simple.
  1. Provide English education for the masses
  2. Make Bible studies an integral part of this education
  3. Be non-apologetic about teaching Christianity.
Thus he would teach Western history, philosophy, and natural sciences and as per the plan Hindus seeing irrationality in their religion would discard their faith voluntarily. But this was tricky business. It was possible that a Hindu who had left Hinduism due to Western education could become agnostic. But Duff would fill that spiritual vacuum with the Christian view of life.

Duff was very clear about what Christian education meant: it was not secular education with some Biblical studies thrown in. For him Christianity contained all knowledge and his goal was to teach with Christianity revelation at the center.

When Duff first proposed this method, veteran missionaries did not find it appealing. Still he went ahead without any government support. Bengalis did not mind an English school, but had reservations about an English school where Bible was an important subject. This reservation made it difficult for Duff to get started; he could not even find a building to start his classes.

One Indian who helped get Duff was Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Mohan Roy who worked with Lord William Bentinck in suppressing sati and who believed that the pure faith of the vedas were corrupted by various cults had founded Brahma Samaj to teach the worship of one God. Ram Mohan Roy provided Duff with a hall as well as his first students. When parents learned that Bible was being taught there, they were reluctant to send their kids, but Ram Mohan Roy helped there as well. On the first day of school, Ram Mohan Roy, who had three more years to live, calmed the students who refused to read the Bible and appeared daily for the Bible class.

Though Duff was a proponent of higher studies in English, he did not hate Bengali. He did not want students to be alien to their culture and hence Bengali studies were an important part of the curriculum. After one year, Duff conducted a public exam  – in front of parents and the media – and students demonstrated their knowledge in language, science and Bible. This was a huge success and it convinced both Indians and the British. Soon the number of students started increasing.

Not everyone in Calcutta was his fan. One of the newspapers published an article suggesting that all students who attended Duff’s school be outcasted. This warning had an effect and the attendance dropped briefly, but later picked up.

Soon Duff encountered students —- not from his school, but from the Hindu college — who were enamored by Western thought and had a low opinion of Hinduism. These were the kind of people Duff wanted to seed Christian religion into and he invited them to his home to attend lectures on “God and His Revealing.” Hindus reacted strongly against Duff and asked the Government to stop this. Lord William Bentinck asked Duff to slow down and this crisis too passed.

But soon Duff got his converts — Krishna Mohan Banerjee, Mohesh Chunder Ghosh, Gopinath Nandi and Anando Chand Mazumdar  — and as he had expected they came from the higher castes. Some of them were Brahmins who ate beef to show their defiance against Hinduism and whose moral vacuum was happily filled by Duff.

By this time the Orientalist-Anglicist fight had reached critical mass. The East India Company needed a supply of qualified clerks and there were educational institutions like the Mohammedan college in Calcutta and Sanskrit college in Benares which provided the employees. The company even started a new Sanskrit college in Calcutta and Oriental colleges in Delhi and Agra. A large sum of money was spent in publishing books in the Oriental languages and translating European works into these languages. For the amount of money spent on education, there was not enough demand for these books.

In the language fight, the Government, missionaries and Orientalists wanted to use the Oriental languages, while Duff sided along with the Anglicists. If Indians were to learn Western culture and Christian theology, he said, it was not possible to do it in Sanskrit, Arabic or Persian or the vernacular Bengali. This decision on which language to choose for Duff was very critical and in a later speech given in Scotland, he said that it concerned the ultimate evangelization of India.

His arguments against Sanskrit were that (a) it was not perfect for Western education (b) ordinary people did not speak Sanskrit and © Western literature was not translated to Sanskrit. Since Sanskrit was tied to Hinduism, even if one were to teach Western literature in Sanskrit, the association formed in the mind of people would of an idolatrous and superstitious religion whereas English, would bring fresh ideas without the burden of association.

(Read Part 2)

Posted in DesiPundit, Essays, History: India.

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Indian History Carnival – 20

The Indian History Carnival, published on the 15th of every month, is a collection of posts related to Indian history and archaeology.
  1. Where do Nairs come from? Maddy does a literature survey and “To summarize, the Nayars have been considered a derivative of local people with invading Aryans, have been wandering Scythins who settled down, the Nagas and so on. No one theory holds forte, though from all the above, the Scythian link seems to be the near fetched one”
  2. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Beckett wondered why Indians were not contributing to charity like Americans. He also used the derogatory term “Hindu rate of growth” to which Sarvesh Tiwari responds, “Here we shall share some random thoughts from the historical perspectives on Hindu outlook to economy and charity, and try showing how, there is continuity even today, although latent, of the same outlook prevailing among the more traditional Hindu shreShThins of our age.”
  3. The effort to set up a Sanskrit University in Karnataka is facing considerable opposition. Sandeep B says, “Sanskrit is what gives identity to the Indian civilisation as we know it. From Valmiki to Kalidas, every major Sanskrit literary work spoke of this identity in its own way.”
  4. History and Mythology, a blog about Amar Chitra Katha, has a post about Chandragupta II: “He is almost certainly the King Chandra eulogized in the Sanskrit inscription on iron pillar in the Quwat al-Islam mosque in New Delhi’s Qutub Minar campus, which dates back to 4th century.”
  5. “Located near the city of Jogjakarta on the island of Java, it’s a stunning remnant of the days when the Dharmic religions were politically ascendant in the islands. It was commissioned and built between 800 and 900 CE by the local monarchs so that devotees need not travel all the way to India for spiritual pilgrimage.” Usha Alexander writes about the Borobudur stupa.
  6. “In 1193 CE, Nalanda was put to a brutal and decisive end by Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turkish Muslim invader on his way to conquer Bengal. He looted and burned the monastery, and beheaded or burned alive perhaps thousands of monks,” writes Namit Arora on his post on Nalanda.
  7. Feanor has translated Afanasii Nikitin’s fifteenth century memoirs of his travel to India. Nikitin was a merchant from the Mongol areas of Russia. He had heard that horses were in demand in India and spent few years in Deccan.
  8. Hari, based on Vaasanthi’s Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars, looks at the life of MG Ramachandran (1917-1987), “one of the most important figures of Tamil politics, who, with help from other prominent leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), including the crafty script writer Karunanidhi, seamlessly moved between cinema and politics as if the two were one.”
f you find any posts related to Indian history published in the past one month, please send it to jk AT varnam DOT org. Please send me links which are similar to the ones posted, in terms of content.The next carnival will be up on Sep 15th.

See Also: Previous Carnivals

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The Exile Effect

The Biblical narratives are very clear about certain events like the Exodus, the origin of the Israelites, and Joshua’s military conquest of Caanan. There was a PBS documentary – Bible’s Buried Secrets (1, 2) – which found  no evidence of Exodus, no evidence of Joshua’s conquest and that the Israelites were not migrants from outside, but natives of Caanan. Now the focus on the origins of Israel has shifted from the Late Bronze and Iron ages to the Persian period. According to one paper, “The earlier assumption that Israel emerged as a social entity before the 6th century b.c.e. has been labeled a ‘myth’. “

The earlier assumptions are now being questioned because the biblical narrative was not able to withstand examination by archaeological data.

According to the PBS documentary, the Hebrew Bible was formed during the Babylonian exile.

Israelites were reminded that they had broke the covenant with God and hence were incurring his wrath. Still this was not taken seriously till the time the Babylonians exiled the Caananites. It was during this exile that one of the scribes of that era, known as “P”, took all the previous revisions and created the present version of the Bible. The documentary suggests that the Abraham story was created then, by this scribe, to enforce the concept of the covenant. The scribe lived in Babylon and Abraham was placed in the nearby Ur; Abraham’s goal was to reach the promised land, so was the dream of the exiles. [Bible's Buried Secrets (2/2)]
Some people think of this period as the origin of Israel, but a new paper on the Persian origins makes it clear on what exactly happened after the exile.
Yahwism after the Exile experienced discontinuity of iconographic practices and matured as it consolidated its sacred literature.Stern (2001: 29) insists that “upon the return from exile, the Jews purified their worship. Jewish monotheism was at last consolidated.” This assumes that there were no iconographic representations of Yahweh after the Babylonian deportation. The archaeological and textual evidence supports pentateuchal Yahwism as the official, normative religion that was practiced by the majority, even though there are some iconographic representations from the Persian period that require more detailed discussion. The Persian period seems to be the time when the prohibition on representation of Yahweh was particularly widespread. Pentateuchal Yahwism thrived and became the norm that would be followed by the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. [The Persian Period and the Origins of Israel: Beyond the "Myths"]

Posted in DesiPundit, History: Before 1 CE, History: General.

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