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Posts Tagged ‘Indian history’

Rock Sculpture at Dudhai – UP

March 6, 2011 1 comment
Rock-cut Narasimha-deva at Dudhai  (Image courtesy - timesofindia.com). Click for larger image.

Rock-cut Narasimha-deva at Dudhai (Image courtesy - timesofindia.com).

Wonder how many more neglected sites are around?

Dated at 5th century, this sculpture at Dudhai is one of those ‘forgotten’ treasures of India.

A modern traveller writes

‘iconic rock cut narasimha in dudhai is a thing of past as the locals have erected a cement structure which makes visiting the place through the hell maze roads an absolute waste’. archaeology

Dudhai, Indian history, Indian art, Indian archaeology, India,

The future of the Past

December 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Paris got a makeover in the time of President Mitterrand with the creation of La Defense and the revitalisation of the Louvre. And yet, its most visited tourist spots are the Eiffel Tower and historic district of Champs Elysees.

New York too embarked on an ambitious journey from inner city decay to Soho chic, reviving its rundown districts into fashionable areas; romanticised living in a historic brownstone became the ultimate New York real estate dream. Closer home, New Delhi is investing in its renaissance through infrastructure improvement and restoration of its medieval monuments in time for the Commonwealth Games.

And yet, whenever Mumbai’s makeover is discussed, we forget that the city need not be packaged as a business destination alone, with two World Heritage Sites in the city (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and Elephanta Caves) and two more in the state (Ajanta and Ellora), making Maharashtra a state with the maximum number of World Heritage Sites. (via The future of the Past).

Neglect of 2000 years of history

The most remarkable feature of Mumbai’s history are Buddhist caves from 1st century to 11 th century. In her article of more than 1800 words, how many times does the author, Abha Narain Lambah, mention Mumbai’s Buddhist caves?

Nil. Yes. That is right. Zero. Zilch. 零. Nul. Null. μηδέν. ゼロ. нул. cero.

Magathane Caves
Magathane Caves

The other aspect is the totally foreign (read Western) idiom that Lambah uses. Assuming she wanted to use international benchmarks, could she not find any conservation models from Turkey (Boghaz Koi for example), Egypt (the Cairo Museum?), Japan, China (The Forbidden City), Thailand (Ayuthya) – which comes to my mind at least. This ‘narrow-casting’ makes me shudder at the shallowness.

Motivations

Abha Narain Lambah, is a practising conservation architect in Mumbai. A recipient of the Eisenhower Fellowship (USA) 2002, Sanskriti Award 2003 and the Charles Wallace Fellowship (UK) 1998, her projects have won five UNESCO Asia Pacific Awards for Heritage Conservation.

Now how much of a chance does she have of winning commissions from Western multinationals and Western clubs (like UNESCO, et al) or from the ‘Westernized’ South Mumbai types – if starts off on Buddhist and Hindu shrines. For that matter, I doubt if she will win the Rs.28 crore contract /grant /sanction /approval it even from the Maharashtra Government?

As Ganga descends from the heavens, it starts teeming with Nagas (fertility symbol)

As Ganga descends from the heavens, it starts teeming with Nagas (fertility symbol)

Then there are others

To the lengthening line of non-specialists, who are re-writing Indian history, like Amaresh Misra (War of 1857), Anant Darwatkar (on Sambhaji Maharaj), Parag Tope (on Tatiya Tope’s role in 1857), Savitri Sawhney (on the Ghadar Party’s contribution to Indian Freedom Movement), Benoy K Behl (photography of Indian history), it may be early to now add the name of Anita Rane-Kothare. Her work on Buddhist caves of Mumbai is yet to make an impact.

Benoy Behl’s work is particularly very attractive.

Awesome Work

Capturing Indian history across more than 20 countries, Benoy K Behl has spent,

almost two decades now, … to document the spread of Buddhism; his work evident in over 30,000 unique photographs that he has taken all over the world.

He has found that

“At many of these places people may not have seen present-day Indians but they still hold Indian culture in great regard”.

In Mumbai …

Two years ago, a historian, while researching traditional Indian methods of water harvesting, stumbled upon a series of ancient Buddhist caves in Borivli, which its custodians scarcely knew or cared about.

Initially, she was scared that the historical caves would crumble under the weight of the slum colonies that encroached upon them, but now she fears that the construction works being conducted on an adjacent plot might bring the structures down. (via Historian on a mission to save little-known caves – The Times of India).

Old Mumbai mills are valuable - but not the Buddhist caves
Old Mumbai mills are valuable – but not the Buddhist caves

While India has managed to obtain funding for ‘saving’ the gargoyle-infested colonial railway structures from UNESCO, breast beating activists have managed to increase awareness of structures funded by colonial loot and drug trade (of opium).

In all this, two things are forgotten.

One – Colonial versions show the start of Mumbai’s history when the Portuguese gave Mumbai as dowry to the British in 1661 – including a Government of Maharashtra website.

If there was no Mumbai before the British, where did these Buddhist caves (at Magathane, Kanheri, etc.) come from? Or did I miss the ‘fact’ that British first came to India in the 2nd century, made these Buddhist caves – and came back again to India in the 17th century, built these Gothic Victorian structures, and went away – which we ‘uncultured’ Indians are trying to save?

Did the British come in the 1st century and make these caves?
Did the British come in the 1st century and make these caves?

Two – The liberal establishment in India is worried about all the colonial ‘heritage’ and structures. Old Mumbai mills are included – but not the even more ancient Buddhist structures.

The Mumbai Municipal Commissioner, while decrying the attempts by the Indian neo-Colonial Rulers, to ‘save’ Mumbai’s colonial past, makes no mention of these Buddhist caves. While Kipling’s bungalow is a ‘hallowed’ institution, these Buddhist caves are dying of ‘active neglect’.

<img title=”As Ganga descends from the heavens, it starts teeming with Nagas (fertility symbol)” src=”http://www.thehindu.com/fline/fl2425/images/20080104242506605.jpg&#8221; alt=”As Ganga descends from the heavens, it starts teeming with Nagas (fertility symbol)” width=”218″ height=”340″ />

As Ganga descends from the heavens, it starts teeming with Nagas (fertility symbol)

Awesome Work
Capturing Indian history across more than 20 countries, Benoy K Behl has spent,

almost two decades now, … to document the spread of Buddhism; his work evident in over 30,000 unique photographs that he has taken all over the world.</p>
He has found that
“At many of these places people may not have seen present-day Indians but they still hold Indian culture in great regard”

In the dying days of the Raj …

August 4, 2009 10 comments
Mortimer Wheeler with Barbara Cartland - both good at florid fiction

Mortimer Wheeler with Barbara Cartland - both good at florid fiction

One evening in early August 1943, Brigadier General Mortimer Wheeler was resting in his tent after a long day of poring over maps, drawing up plans for invasion of Sicily. Mortimer Wheeler was invited to become the director general of archaeology by the India Office of the British government in its last years of rule in South Asia …Summoning a general from the battlefields of Europe was an extraordinary measure, an admission both of the desperate condition of Indian archaeology and an acknowledgment of its vital importance. (from The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture … – Google Books).

Amazing!

The fictitious Maj.Martin in Operation Mincemeat

The body of Glyndwr Michael, a Welsh vagrant, who was made into a fictitious Major William Martin in Operation Mincemeat

This is one question that has long puzzled me!

Why would the glorious British Empire, on which the sun never set, struggling for its very existence, in the middle of WW2, suddenly pull a general back from the battlefield – and put him into archaeology! Especially, in the middle of WW II! That too, Indian archaeology. Not Egyptian, not Greek! Just why did the world’s foremost imperial power, struggling for its very existence, put a general on to the job of digging dirt.

Dirty brown Indian dirt!

Especially, when it was clear that they would be departing from India – sooner rather than later. Remember, the deceptive Operation Mincemeat had just been completed. The Allies were readying their armies for their assault on Hitler in Europe.

The end of WW2 was still distant – and the outcome, far from certain.

Just why

Considering what theories came from Mortimer Wheeler’s rather fertile ‘imagination’ and his rigourous archaeological process, in hindsight, from a Western perspective, this was sound decision. Looking at the manner of his appointment, there is little doubt that Wheeler’s appointment had little to do with history!

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, who appointed Sir John Marshall, was employed by the British Intelligence bureau.

As a spy!

The facts behind the story

In 1938, Sir Leonard Woolley, an expert in ‘Biblical’ archaeology, was appointed as head of review committee to report on Indian Archaeology. During WW2, Leonard Woolley became advisor to the British War Office. Woolley’s committee completed and submitted its report during WW2. Based on this report, Mortimer Wheeler was appointed as head of ASI.

Wheeler’s handler? Sir Charles Leonard Woolley!

The Biblical agenda

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley was an interesting player, closely allied with the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF). PEF, a famed ‘Biblical’ institute, and Woolley was its chief archaeologist. The excavations at Ur and Carchemish were to his ‘credit’ as was the ‘discovery’ of Biblical Abraham’s ‘birthplace’.

Along with TE Lawrence and Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell, Woolley was a part of team ofintelligence agents who ventured to the land of the Bible hoping to find spiritual redemption under cover of patriotic duty.” Britain turned these “archaeologist-spies into an intelligence operation in Cairo, known as the Arab Bureau”.

History – mangled by Western spies and intelligence agents!

The political agenda

TE Lawrence, confided to his mother that these excavations were “obviously only meant as red herrings, to give an archaeological color to a political job”. In WW1, they were recruited by the British military to survey of the Negev Desert, under the garb of archaeology, funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund to search for Biblical “Wilderness of Zin”. These archaeological excavations served the purpose of intelligence gathering.

The most famous example of this intelligence work was that of TE Lawrence and Leonard Woolley who were excavating at Carchemish in Syria prior to World War I. Their archaeological endeavours seem to have been secondary and perhaps even a cover for more covert activities.

The British were hardly alone in this.

In 1940, J. Edgar Hoover decided to start “as comprehensive a programme as is possible in utilising the services of archaeologists” for the CIA. The CIA, under William Langer, recruited and “enlisted archaeologists, art historians and other academics to use their fieldwork for CIA intelligence-gathering purposes.”

History written by such ‘archaeologists’ is what India is trying to unravel!

Again … just why?

British colonialism

British colonialism

The original questions remain!

For instance, knowing that they would be leaving India, sooner rather than later, Britain nationalized Indian Railways, stopped investing in and maintaining Indian  Railways from 1925 – which steadily increased accident rates and incidents.

Just why would an imperial power, struggling for its very existence, suddenly pull a general from the battle field, in the middle of WW2 – and put him onto the job of digging dirt. Why were the British focusing on Indian history? In the middle of WW2?

It is this one incident which possibly contains answers to many unanswered questions like: –

  1. The amount of energy expended by the West in defending the Aryan Invasion /Migration Theory,
  2. The lack of access to Indian scholars of the archaeological sites in Pakistan,
  3. The many myths in Indian history,
  4. The clues to the partition of India
  5. The dating problems

et al.

There may be the facile answer that the British were after all ‘searching for history and truth’. The answer may lie in the remarks made by Mortimer Wheeler,

“They demonstrate with astonishing clarity the extent to which the brief transit of Alexander did in fact Hellenize almost instantly vast tracts of Asia populated previously by nomads or semi-nomads and villagers”

Only one explanation fits – it had to be a struggle for a existence at a higher level!

Ironically, in 1965, the Government of India, appointed another Review Committee, this time with Sir Mortimer Wheeler as Chairman. So, we now know why Indian history has changed so little from colonial version.

PS

This post provoked some interesting off-site discussions. Most of such ‘fault-finding’ was nitpicking. One comment stated that “Sicily was invaded in July 1943 so whatever Wheeler was doing in August 1943 it wasn’t drawing up plans for an invasion of Sicily.”

A quick search showed that

In September 1943, he (Mortimer Wheeler) commanded the 12th Anti-Aircraft Brigade during the landing of the Allied Forces at Salerno, Italy, which became known as Operation Avalanche. (from New World Encyclopedia)

Some others writing about the Salerno landings had this to say

The German 10th Army had come close to defeating the Salerno beachhead. The stubborn initial resistance by 16th Panzer Division’s battlegroups and the Germans’ ability to reinforce them by land quicker than the Allies could land follow-up forces by sea or air had almost tipped the battle. 5th Army planners had concentrated the main weight of its forces in X Corps on its left wing, in line with its major objective of advancing on Naples. This had left its right wing thinly manned to defend X Corps’ right flank and left a particular weakness at the corps boundary. (from Wikipedia).

In another thread the entire post was dismissed because the rank of Brigadier General was abolished after WW1. But a more knowledgeable source pointed out that “After WW 1 the War Office wanted to reduce the number of Generals … the Army obeyed orders at the same time keeping the status of their one-star Generals intact by the simple expedient of abolishing the rank of Brig-Gen and re-designating them simply as Brigadiers.”

On reader refused to take a 2ndlook, as he did not “think that there is any great puzzle here nor do I see any dastardly design to ‘invent’ the theory of European Origin for the Aryans, as the linked article seems to suggest.

Mortimer Wheeler was … 54 years old. He had taken an active part in WWI and WWII. He retired from the Army Service simply because he was 54 years old, which, I would think, is the usual age for Brigadiers to retire.  Also, by 1944 and after Normandy the rolling back of the German War Machine was well on its way. Mortimer Wheeler must have been quite pleased to get this assignment after his retirement!”

Why would this respondent think that 54 was the retirement age for a Brigadier? Even if it was, why did this posting occupy the minds of the British bureaucracy in the middle of WW2.

Historian on a mission to save little-known caves – Mumbai – City – NEWS – The Times of India

July 12, 2009 16 comments
Magathane Caves

Magathane Caves

Two years ago, a historian, while researching traditional Indian methods of water harvesting, stumbled upon a series of ancient Buddhist caves in Borivli, which its custodians scarcely knew or cared about.

Initially, she was scared that the historical caves would crumble under the weight of the slum colonies that encroached upon them, but now she fears that the construction works being conducted on an adjacent plot might bring the structures down. (via Historian on a mission to save little-known caves – The Times of India).

Old Mumbai mills are valuable - but not the Buddhist caves

Old Mumbai mills are valuable - but not the Buddhist caves

While India has managed to obtain funding for ‘saving’ the gargoyle-infested colonial railway structures from UNESCO, breast beating activists have managed to increase awareness of structures funded by colonial loot and drug trade (of opium).

In all this, two things are forgotten.

One – Colonial versions show the start of Mumbai’s history when the Portuguese gave Mumbai as dowry to the British in 1661 – including a Government of Maharashtra website.

If there was no Mumbai before the British, where did these Buddhist caves (at Magathane, Kanheri, etc.) come from? Or did I miss the ‘fact’ that British first came to India in the 2nd century, made these Buddhist caves – and came back again to India in the 17th century, built these Gothic Victorian structures, and went away – which we ‘uncultured’ Indians are trying to save?

Did the British come in the 1st century and make these caves?

Did the British come in the 1st century and make these caves?

Two – The liberal establishment in India is worried about all the colonial ‘heritage’ and structures. Old Mumbai mills are included – but not the even more ancient Buddhist structures.

The Mumbai Municipal Commissioner, while decrying the attempts by the Indian neo-Colonial Rulers, to ‘save’ Mumbai’s colonial past, makes no mention of these Buddhist caves. While Kipling’s bungalow is a ‘hallowed’ institution, these Buddhist caves are dying of ‘active neglect’.

A flight over Chowpatty that made history – The Times of India

June 26, 2009 4 comments

In 1895 an Indian pioneer flew what is said to be the first Indian plane in the air. The centenary year of the first successful flight, by the Wright brothers, was celebrated from December 17, 2003. But our own pioneer from Mumbai, Shivkar Bapuji Talpade, made an aircraft and had flown it eight years earlier. One of Talpade’s students, P Satwelkar, has chronicled that his craft called ‘Marutsakha'(Friend of the Winds) flew unmanned for a few minutes and came down. (via A flight over Chowpatty that made history – The Times of India).

Claims … and reality

Speculative drawings based on Vymanika Shastra

Speculative drawings based on Vymanika Shastra

Western claims to superiority over the Rest usually include their record in ‘innovation and invention’. This record is brandished as proof of Western superiority – of Western attitudes, institutions, society, polity, media and academia, values, et al.

Technology – a function of funding

What is usually never mentioned or understood is the funding of technology. Technology is a quantitative function of funding. Western funding of its technology quest was underwritten first by conquest (of the Native American by the Spaniards), followed by slavery (of the Native Americans and Africans) followed by colonialism.

It were these forms of exploitation which created a continuous flow of resources (funds, patrons, technology, raw materials) which enabled this technology output.

If …

As this news item points out: –

  1. The Indian pioneer could not obtain funds. Another newspaper report (reproduced elsewhere) points out how the British Raj influenced the Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad of Baroda from support to Talpade’s research.
  2. On the other hand, the Wright Brothers were supported by the US Army to the extent of US$25,000.

These reports are linked to an intriguing Sanskrit technical manual, the ‘Vymanika Shastra‘. Some level of critical examination has happened in the last few years. What makes this claim worth investigating is the fact that this manual in Sanskrit came out in India – from a man who had little exposure to technology being developed on the opposite side of the world. A copy of this manuscript landed at the Sayaji Rao Gaekwad’s Rajakiya Sanskrit Library, Baroda.

While original dating of this document is not yet done, its authenticity as a technical document in Sanskrit, within a few years of Kitty Hawk makes the ‘ripoff-theory’ baseless.

Some sources for this post

From Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute , Volume 69 | Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute | Page 365

From Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute , Volume 69 | Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute | Page 365

From Cultural reciprocation between India and the world | By Sures Chandra Banerji | Page 191

From Cultural reciprocation between India and the world | By Sures Chandra Banerji | Page 191

From Asia: Asian quarterly of culture and synthesis, Volume 4 | By René de Berval | Page 40

From Asia: Asian quarterly of culture and synthesis, Volume 4 | By René de Berval | Page 40

After the death of his wife, Talpade lost interest in the project. One book claims that “later his relatives sold the models and other things connected with his experiment to the firm of Rally Bros …”

Food journalist from Times of India & Economic Times

April 29, 2009 1 comment

Matters came to a head in the 1920s over a grant by the Tamil Nadu Congress Committee to a school where two Brahmin students were given separate eating facilities. After much campaigning, when the Committee withdrew the grant, several Brahmins resigned, causing the first caste-based split. Curiously Mahatma Gandhi, who was otherwise firm on overcoming caste discrimination in all forms, was willing to be flexible in not forcing inter-caste dining. This perhaps reflected Gandhi’s dependence in dealing with Tamil issues on Brahmin lawyers like C Rajagopalachari (who, to be fair, was not as personally prejudiced), but it could also stem from his own fastidious eating habits. Gandhi and the Brahmins shared a powerful sense of bodily purity based on food. (via Meat Eating & Inter-Caste Dinners Continue To Be The Hot Topics Of Political Debate In Tamil Nadu BY VIKRAM DOCTOR).

Here is someone who writes about food seriously – and usually with serious insight. He is best when he is writing about Indian food. He is also sponsored by various farmer co-operatives in the West – and then he starts plugging Western food, where he ends up being rather trite and synthetic. He is worth a read on Indian food though.

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