The Strange Case of Indian Feminism

As a kid I remember both my grandmother were smokers and me going and buying the Indian version of cigarette called “Beedi” from the nearby shop was common. Now I am not sure when and how they had started and unfortunately by the time I was old enough to ask them they were not around anymore. There is no doubt about them being devout enough. My dad’s mother would religiously go to Ganga every morning before the sun rises and do her daily prayers. So one really can’t say that they were forward looking or modern. But today when a lady smokes eyes turn and it comes as a shock.

When you look at temples like Sun Temple Konark (have visited personally) or famous Khajuraho (only heard), the depiction of images that are considered taboo today.  Guide at Konark was really shy showing us the sculptures himself. I am not sure why places of worship will have such display of things that nobody wants to talk about in modern world. This is quite intriguing that people were so open in those days.

Today when we stand for young people wearing dresses that they want to, going to places where they like to, speak about things that they would like to, it should not be considered  an extra privilege but more as way of life.

I am not sure when “purdah” became a system, when women folks were not allowed to move out of homes and when dowry became the norm. We do not have texts or historical evidences of common people’s life but I would like to believe all this to have started due to extreme invasions or violence which became sort of common after 1000 AD.

The society created these artificial inventions that became traditions that people would die in order to protect. It became age old way of life that forced women to be in walls of their house where ever they go.

It became so much so that the mom-to-be would like the one in the womb not be what she is. She would not like her to face an uneventful life like hers and probably the yearning of having a male child started and this took to imagination of other folks as well.

I think a society will only reach true potential when everyone has equal opportunity and it is true for modern women folk as well.

In today’s world there are many who have the opportunity to shun these age old traditions and come to limelight but they prefer to be cocooned in the artificial boundaries created for ages.

 

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How was Ashoka’s rule special?

EdictsOfAshoka
Edicts of Ashoka

Ashoka ruled huge parts of modern India which extended from present day Afghanistan  in north to Karnataka in South, Orrisa in East to Gujarat in west which probably constitutes 80% of present day India. So its not entirely true that India as we know today is gift of the British rule. And thanks to Ashoka’s Rock Edicts this expanse can be proven by history and archaeology as well and it cannot be judged to be someone’s figment of imagination.

The problem with Indian history is so enmeshed with mythology that it sometime become very difficult to differentiate between mythology and history. Ashoka was a visionary and quite innovative for his times. Almost two thousand years ago when communication was not as easy he developed means to communicate to his subjects and he used the Rock Edicts all over his empire to convey his message. In Today’s world if Prime Minister Modi wants to convey his messages he can just go to his twitter handle or do “Mann Ki Baat” that is telecasted in various modes like radio, television or internet. Internet has made dissemination of information very easy. In modern age one doesn’t have to be so powerful like Modi or Ashoka to broadcast messages, Facebook wall or a blog like this has become for us what Rock Edicts were for Ashoka.

According to the legend Ashoka was not the heir apparent to the throne of his father Bindusara as her mother was not the senior most and he already had a substantial harem and heir apparent called Susima. Ashoka was sent as an emissary to Taxila in order to thwart the rebellion brewing up there. But eventually he was successful in becoming the third ruler after his Grandfather Chandragupta who established Maurya Dynasty by overthrowing Nandas. The inflection point in the life of Ashoka was the battle to include a considerably smaller kingdom of Kalinga, present day Orissa under his Dynasty. Though he had won but there was extreme violence which changed his heart. From then on he became follower of Buddhism and its greatest patron in the entire history. And thus began the story of a communicator-par-excellence. Ashoka started sending out his thoughts for public around his empire to be written on Rocks surrounding places where common people can read it.

These edicts were commissioned throughout his years as an emperor. It covered thoughts of emperor on dhamma promoting morality to secure happiness, protection of animal from mindless sacrifice, proper courtesy of people from slaves to Brahmins and many other similar discussions. These messages were in Brahmi script in parts of current day India and in Kharosthi in present day Afghanistan. How these messages were perceived by the common people of that time is somewhat difficult to judge as nothing else has survived apart from these Rock Edicts and incriptions. Any written account Ashokvadana was written in or around 2nd Century CE or Mahavamsa written around 5th Century CE which is much after the time of Ashokan rule.

Ashoka is a ruler whose story will continue with us as the Indian national emblem and National Flag both have Ashoka’s legacy deeply integrated. The Lion Capital and Chakra of Ashoka is symbol of present day India.

Ashok’s wall is probably the earliest wall in today’s world where everyone has a wall and probably an inspiration for Modi’s “Mann Ki Baat”

 

Image Attribution:

By PHGCOM [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

O Bhaity !!!

India has gained independence and atmosphere varied from ecstatic to routine depending where one lived. Sadiya, a  town bordering  NEFA was one such remote location. It was 7:39 PM of August 15 1950 when the tremors hit the northern hills of undivided Assam.

Kaling, aged around 14 years, came to Sadiya High School to continue his studies from his village Dambuk. India has just emerged from the shackles of colonialism and stories of festivities did reach to people in Sadiya. Kaling has come to Sadiya a couple of months back with the starting of the session in June. Kaling heard so much about Sadiya which was considered next to capital city of undivided Assam Shillong but everything will change forever on this day.

Kaling has not seen city life and was trying to adjust to life in Sadiya. He came alone leaving his hamlet, leaving his parents who were farmers, his many siblings of whom he liked her elder sister Yayi who has encouraged him to study further and not remain a small time villager. Of eight of his sibling Kaling had a urge towards studying and he underwent a lot of hardships to reach to this level changing schools very often as their were no teachers in the Primary and Middle ones close to villages. Sadiya would solve all these problem and he wanted to devote his time completely into studies. Yayi was in village and very soon as others was supposed to find someone and get married. Pasighat was another place which was probably smaller than Sadiya but she wanted to find someone who can take her there. She used to dream about sending her kids like Kaling to schools and she hoped that reaching Pasighat will ensure that for her kids.

Kaling had the habit of waking up early as everyone would in the land of rising sun. The district administration has asked all the schools to conduct “Prabhat Pheri” to commemorate the Independence Day with Flag Hoisting Ceremony at around 8 AM in the morning. Kaling heard from his other Adi friends in the hostel that refreshment provided after Flag Hoisting are quite tasty.

Kaling woke up a little earlier due to the excitement and joined “Prabhat Pheri”. That morning was little cold with fog even in month of August but there were lot of people who have gathered. The slogans that had played such major role in Independence have reached to this part of India and everyone was joyously shouting “Inquilab Zindabad”, “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, “Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai”. Kaling joined the chorus, unfortunately he was trying to learn two new languages Assamese as well as Hindi and  always his brain used to create a heady cocktail mixing both the languages  and making it difficult for him to make sense. Even then he continued waiting for the sweets that he was told about. In his village they used to eat  fruits from the natural orchards only and he was excited hearing about “Jalebi” which he wanted to try for the first time.  Flag was hoisted and mood was festive, sweet distribution started and Kaling did get his “Jalebi” but it didn’t meet his eagerness and excitement and he still liked the fruits they used to eat from their natural orchards.

Since there were no classes that day, Kaling had nothing much to do. At 6 PM which was the dinner time everyone in the Hostel were standing in a queue around the mess. On the occasion pork was being served but Kaling kept his expectations down as jalebi had not met his expectations. After the dinner some of his friends were  discussing remembering their villages and people. Kaling was always homesick but he never used to show it to others.

Everyone in the hostel starting going to bed around 7:15 PM, people in hills and villages start early and end early their day.  Kaling was in lightest sleep state when he felt a big sudden jolt and thundering sound. He woke up and was not sure if it was a dream but when he saw people running around he know something has happened. The earth shook for 8 minutes continuously. Hostel warden Munindra Saikia rushed to the dormitory and asked everyone to vacate the hostel right now. All the hostel mates were moved to big playground in Shantipur.

Kaling was afraid of his dreams, his family back home. He wanted to be there in village helping everyone but he was not aware that it was he who was in danger. The mighty tributaries of Brahmaputra have been blocked due to landslides and mountains toppling like a pack of cards. The very next day when these natural lakes created, broke, a deluge hit Sadiya which  wiped it out completely from the map as it was known to the history. Kaling heard that his school and hostel was all submerged under the waters of the river now. Kaling was not sure if Sadiya will be same ever again and with no news of his family, his village and his Sadiya he was staring in the big unknown that lay ahead of him  and his life.

He could hear a voice calling from a distance “O Bhaity…O Bhaity !!!!”

[My First Short Story, Please help me with your comments and suggestions]

Chindia – Case of Close Neighbors

The geographical proximity of India and China have led to conditions that many times we see with our neighbors. There are very few neighbors who remain to be very close and friendly in normal day to day life. Indo-China relations have never been very amicable and the future isn’t going to be that rosy as well with the world looking at these two countries which hold one third of the world’s population as the so called “bright spots” in the extremely difficult economic situation.

I would like to see from the historical viewpoint how the relations were between these countries. Chinese were very meticulous than Indian counterpart in recording of information and because of them there are some written records that dates back to 5th century. There are three Chinese monks that have left well written memoirs because of which there is some glimpse of those days. These monks were well respected in their own country as well as India. They were scholars of the highest order and in order to collect original Sanskrit manuscripts of Buddhist texts they made extremely difficult journeys to India. Fa Hien was the first one who arrived in India in start of fifth 5th Century and he traveled across India’s important Buddhist sites. Yi Jing was another traveler who visited around 300 years later to Fa Hien but the most famous was Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) who has many stories associated which are now more myth than reality. All three of them came to India in order to collect original Buddhist manuscripts as many translation available in China were not complete or were misrepresentation of the philosophy. This exchange of Buddhist philosophy happened until 11th Century between India and China and there was steep decline in popularity of Buddhism in the country of Origin itself. The last rulers that supported Buddhism “Palas” of Bengal lost their Kingdom.

The fact that Buddhist philosophy was foreign and not central to the Chinese culture created  resistance in China and ideas of Confucianism and Daoism gained more popularity. There was lot of anti Buddhist ideas that gained currency to enhance Chinese nationalism.

There were other ideas apart from religious ideas that were exchanged between these countries like Mathematics, Science, Literature but these don’t get the kind of importance that Buddhism gets. It is also difficult to ascertain who developed the idea first and it leads lot of complexity in analyzing such scenarios.

Indians may be proud that Buddhism is one their exports to the world but probably it may be one of the reasons that China has not been that comfortable with it’s neighbor. Indians were not very keen mixing up with foreigners those days foreigners were called “Mlecchas” meaning barbarians 🙂

 

Indus Valley Civilisation – When will it speak to us?

Imagine a situation, 4000 thousand years from now something happens to this world we know and everything is gone. The language we speak, the cities we have and technologies we are proud of. It just happens that someone finds one of our cities and starts finding so many different kind of stuffs like the plastics with some writings, sewers and drains, foundations of building but unfortunately nobody is able to make sense of any of those because language cannot be deciphered and there are all sorts of possibilities being explored by the citizens or the inhabitants of our earth of that time.

Indus Valley Toys

This is exactly the same case with Indus Valley Civilization. Somewhere around 1920 in the colonial British Raj the mounds of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa were found and from then onwards more than 1000 sites related to this civilization have been found. The archaeologists who found Indus valley civilization initially thought that they have found a civilization of children as a huge number toys (like the image shown above) were excavated which signifies that these people were leading a peaceful happy life.

It is much larger than the Mesopotamia or the Egyptian civilization and these cities were a metropolis according to the standards then. In the map below we can see that there are sites near to the Indus river like Mohenjo Daro, Harappa in present day Pakistan and another bunch of sites like Ganeriwala, Dholavira alongside the river basin that no longer exists which is called Ghaggar-Hakra

Indus Sites

I have been spending a lot of time for few weekends reading up and watching videos on Indus Valley Civilization for which I have suffered ire of my wife. Here are few important questions that I still not able to figure out but I will try to put them down so that my research can be streamlined.

Is Ghaggar-Hakra the Saraswati River mentioned in Rig Veda?

There has been so many camps and the beliefs and ideologies of the member depends on which camp you belong. I am trying to gather here what I could figure out with my mini research. As shown in the map above over 1000 sites that have been located we can divide them into two, one located on the Indus river basin which is still flowing and one on extinct river basin which has been called by different names Ghaggar, Hakra or Sarasvati. Ghaggar-Hakra still flows but its no longer perennial Himalayan river but one that dries up in summer. Sarasvati is a river that find maximum number of mention in Rig Veda which is by the way earliest Veda.

Here are some inferences that have been made about Indus Valley Civilization and Rig Veda. Indus Valley Civilization’s downfall is attributed to the natural causes as against Aryan invasion as it was believed earlier and probably drying of the river bed may account for much of that. Now the mature Indus Valley civilization has been agreed to be 2600 to 1700 BCE and around this period metropolis of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro had collapsed. The sites found in today’s Gujarat like Dholavira survived a little more till around 1300 BCE. Rig Veda  is believed to written somewhere around 1700–1100 BCE which overlaps with end of matured Indus Valley Civilization and late Harappan period. Did the people who wrote Rig Veda belonged to extended family of the the Indus Valley people who traveled towards the Gangetic Plains when the environment became more hostile.

According to scholars the people who wrote Rig Veda were Agro-Pastoralists which means that cattle and other domesticated animals were given more importance than the crops. And many times they tend to moving around due to presence of large cattle bases which depreciates the environment in few years and necessitates migration to newer pastures. On the other hand Indus Valley Civilization is seen to have metropolis, large scale water irrigation systems and full fledged economy based on trade which creates a confusion as to how Rig Vedic people and Indus valley people can be the same.

It become such a mess and getting any concrete conclusion becomes all the more difficult. The present day politics and spread of sites into two different countries of India and Pakistan makes it all the more difficult to find answers to such questions.

Even if we get the answer about Ghaggar-Hakra and Sarasvati, there still remains questions about who Indus valley people were and who were the Rig Vedic people, sharing so much of history yet very different.

Indus Valley People were Dravidians or Aryans or someone else?

As I had pointed out in one of my earlier blogs that the western Vedic scholars as well many Indian scholar have believed about the Aryan Invasion theory and the claim is that the people who wrote Rig Veda were Aryans and they came to India though Central Asia breaking into two different groups, one that remained in present day Iran and the other that invaded the peaceful civilization of Indus Valley though they were more advanced in terms of city planning and trade but lacked the warfare technology. And hence the original people who have been called Dravidian were forced to retract to southern India due to hostility they faced in the hands of Aryans.

There is a tribe called Brahui that are found in north-western Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their language is similar to the Dravidian languages spoken in south, but is this tribe remnant of time when Dravidian was more widespread or it is a migration during 1000 AD or 13th or 14th Centuries. There are number of theories and each have support from their group.

There has been significant effort by scholars to decipher the script that have been found in many seals excavated from various sites. The problem is majority of the script found have five characters that makes it very difficult derive some sense based on statistical analysis. There are two major scholars Asko Parpola and Iravatham Mahadevan both proponents of Indus script being a Dravidian one.

Ancient scripts use a principle called Rebus which is something like this

Belief- Rebus Princeple

Here is seal from Harappa and its deciphered meaning into the Dravidian language driven by a research conducted  Tata Institute. With such interpretations it may be easy to conclude that Indus valley was Dravidian but this cannot be validated.

Meen - Seal Example

Or if this was a gradual change and people spoke initially Dravidian, then bilingual and then Sanskrit/Prakrit which became a major language in north. Or is it similar to what is happening to us right now where English is kind of dominating all the local languages due to economic and historical consequences.

I have not able to get to other side of story where it is claimed that Indus Valley people used Indo-Aryan or Munda subgroup or other Austroasiatic languages. I will try to get to that in my next writing.

There is so much hidden in the ruins of Indus Valley Civilization and our ancestors have left a bunch of things that we are not able to figure out. Hopefully one day we will find the Rosetta Stone for Indus Valley Script and everyone of us will know what these seals and signs are hiding from us. And hopefully it politics will not be played and we will be enriched by their understanding of this world.

On a lighter note it has been observed that Indus Valley Metropolis like Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, Dholavira knew how to make use of water and they have extensive sewerage for waste water and separate drainage for fresh water. If we can tie up our lineages to them which is 3000 years earlier then I believe we have lost all of that with present day filth spread across our cities and villages. I think we should get some inspiration from these ancestors of the land that we belong 🙂

This writing is based on following links

http://www.harappa.com/

http://a.harappa.com/

http://a.harappa.com/video/computing-rosetta-stone-indus-script

http://a.harappa.com/video/meluhha-indus-civilization-and-its-contacts-mesopotamia

I am just history enthusiast and do not have any formal training in History, Archaeology or Anthropology. So any mistake or omission is possible and will be corrected on notification.

Attempt at Debunking the Aryan Invasion Theory

I come from the viewpoint that the racial division in India between the “fairer” Aryan north and “darker” Dravidian south is a glorified imagination of western vedic scholars and historians. The western vedic scholars did in the intellectual sphere what British army did in the political realm – discredit, divide and conquer Indians. The whole idea was to prove the “white man’s burden” and justify imperialism.

Probably it gained currency in the northern part of India because it brought northerners close to the white races of Europe. Unfortunately we have been reading and honoring translations of our vedic scriptures by western christian scholars  as Max Muller, Griffith, Monier-Williams and H. H. Wilson. This is also true that much of these books are being studied in our universities. Many of our scholars like Dayanand Saraswati, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Arubindo Ghosh had rejected this long back but we Indians have accepted the foreign view.

Here are some theories from Romila Thapar’s book The Past As Present’s chapter “Which of us are Aryans”, throws some light on the topic. I want to take a evidence based historical view rather than a nationalistic Hindu rightist view. I don’t believe that everything good or of some importance has happened from the glorious past of India but I do believe that there are some misconceptions that needs a better investigation and representation. This is a attempt to bring out some of these observations one more time.

  • Indus Valley Civilization is considered to be pre-vedic and to prove this point it was stated that since no horses, chariots or iron were discovered in Harappan sites whereas all this find mention in the Vedas making these two races different. Archaeological evidence has not been conclusive enough to support or reject this theory. And it was concluded during the British Raj that Harappan people were indigenous Dravidian people who were invaded by Aryan people and forced to go towards the southern peninsula of India. Apparently the theory of invasion has been discounted because the decline of the cities cannot be attributed to a single cause as the decline cities were not simultaneous and those in Gujarat have declined much later. So the likely cause of decline in the Indus valley civilization is ecological and environmental compounded by decline in the trade.
  • Origins of languages and comparative study called “Philology” has been used extensively as a method to arrive at a common ancestry or the roots of European culture. When Mr William Jones suggested that there was a similarity in the structure and vocabulary of Sanskrit and Greek, this became the basis of number of theories regarding the origins of European and Indian culture. Language became a major evidence of race. But with better understanding of history it has been found there is no basis for such a  equation and there is no support for the argument that those who speak an Indo-European language must belong to same Aryan race. Max Mueller who was well aware of this difference also occasionally confused between the two. It has been observed from examples from all over the world and from many periods of history that it is perfectly feasible for people of different racial origins brought together through migration, trade, conquest or persecution, to find themselves using the same language.
  • The use of term Arya in Vedic and Buddhist texts have been confused with Aryan race. The term arya has been used frequently to refer to a person who is respected and regarded as an honored person. The western historians gave the word arya a racial connotation and the term arya was used to refer to those of Aryan race and dasa to those of indigenous race

We have to be very careful with origins of races and its political implications. History can be distorted to represent the view that supports the political ideologies. It is all the more important to make an informed decision in today’s time which is very much possible in today’s internet age.

Hopefully there is more study on this topic archaeologically and hopefully someday Harappan writings will be deciphered  that may further help in our understanding. It is possible that with new evidence the theory again changes but we have to remember that all this we are talking about is, has happened more than 3500 years ago.

Update: 7th May 2016

Iravatham Mahadevan says (Link“According to my view the Vedic people were the descendants of both Sanskrit speaking Aryans and Dravidian speaking Harappans who had merged into a composite Indian society centuries before the Rig Veda was composed”

I think this is something I would like to believe and hopefully it gets proven through anthropological and historical facts.

Ruins of Nalanda University – A detailed account from my recent visit

Nalanda is small town in Bihar which is famous for tourists on the Buddhist Circuit. I have been visiting Bihar from childhood days as we had relatives there and we used to visit during our summer vacations mostly every couple of years. But I had never been around much, but somehow this time it worked out and I visited Nalanda/Rajgir which is about 100 km from Patna and roads are relatively better when compared to rest of Bihar. Anyways it was a great experience to see the ruins of erstwhile great Buddhist Centre of Learning and other remains of the long forgotten Indian civilization.

The time period that I am talking about is 500 BC to 1100 AD and unfortunately there is not much written history apart from two Chinese travelers Fa Hien (AD 399 – 413) and Hiuen Tsang (AD 629-645). Fa Hien din not mention anything about Nalanda in his writings whereas Hiuen Tsang have given details which has helped historians to co-relate with the excavations that has been done.

The existence of University happened in a later period but it looks like there were Viharas established earlier for the monks to stay during the rainy seasons. It seems that Monks were to be on travel round the year propagating Buddhist preaching and could find a place to settle during the rainy days. Gautam Buddha before gaining enlightenment passed through Rajgir (earlier Rajgriha) and the king Bimbisara requested him to be part of his court which Buddha denied. Bimbisara again requested Buddha to come back to Rajgir after attaining enlightenment which was accepted by him. After the enlightenment Buddha did come back and Bimbisara became a great patron and disciple of Buddha. He gave away lot of land for Budhha to create a base station for all the monks and probably this led to creation of Viharas in Nalanda. The rein of Bimbisara is believed to be around 558 BC –491 BC. The teachings and philosophies of Gautam Buddha gained support during the Gupta Empire, reign of Harsa and Pala Dynasties.

Ruins in Nalanda are spread in 30 acres and Alexander Cunningham identified as ancient Nalanda University in 1860 i.e. almost 600 years of unknown  existence with so much of ruins covered with mounds and all kinds artifacts lying around across the villages that had come into existence. The official excavation could be done by  only in 1915-16 by the ASI. This shows that what may be left in order to infer the glorious history would not be much. It is said that none of books from the great library has been found and have been destroyed in a large conflagration which as usual has been attributed to Muslim invasion under Bakhtiyar Khilji which is fairly easy drawn conclusion based on Muslim chronicler who always have the habit of eulogizing to great levels for their masters. The question that comes to my mind is how such a big organization could not revive after the invasion, does it mean that by 12th century Buddhism had declined in India to that extent that there was a migration of scholars as well students that the university was never revived. Unfortunately there is not much evidence as to what had happened but the both the Indian and British historians help the muslim invasion for the complete devastation of the university which may the immediate cause but there must other long term causes which needs investigation.

Anyways lets leave the history for now and get into what I had seen there which is still amazing as we can at least see it now. This is the main stupa and it has been observed that this mound is a result of seven successive accumulation.

20150311_103300
Stupa that is face of Nalanda University Ruins
20150311_103455
Close Up View

There are number of smaller votive stupas decorated with well modelled stucco figures of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas.

Apart from these there are many hostels for students spread across the remains. The trend of constructing over the ruins is again established with these hostels that has been called monasteries. There are eight that are similar in their construction.

View of a Monastery
View of a Monastery
Another view with Courtyard
Another view with Courtyard

All the monasteries are believed to be multi-storied as there are steps in many hostels and big stone slabs that were supporting the structure.

Steps in the Monastery
Steps in the Monastery
Stone Slabs to support superstructure
Stone Slabs to support superstructure

There are multiple temples that are called Chaityas. There are four of them all together. There are no statue now. Probably whatever remained was moved to museums nearby the site as well all across the world

Chaitya
Chaitya

Here is a layout of the Nalanda ruins which is available at the site. There is much more still hidden underground and in the many literature of those times.

Layout of the Ruins
Layout of the Ruins

I will try to read more literature and update my blog.