Category Archives: History

The Rig Veda and the Gathas-revisited


On 22 Apr, 2007, I posted a write- up  discussing the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas concerning the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc. I mentioned there in, the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures), known as Avesthan was remarkably similar to that of the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rig Veda. Further, in the Rig Veda the devas are worshipped as gods and the asuras are put down as demons, while in Zoroastrianism the treatment of these deities is reversed.   (Topic: Rig Veda and the Gathas )

As regards the similarities between the two languages:

One could find a Sanskrit equivalent for almost any Avestan word. For instance: The Avesthan : aevo pantao yo ashahe, vispe anyaesham apantam (Yasna 72.11); could be rendered in Sanskrit as : abade pantha he ashae, visha anyaesham apantham (translation: The one path is that of Asha, all others are not-paths).

Another example (left) of Avestan text from Yasna 10.6 is rendered word for word in Sanskrit on the right. Translated it means: `Mithra that strong mighty angel, most beneficent to all creatures, I will worship with libations’

The Cambridge History of India observes, “The coincidence between the Avesta and the Rig-Veda is so striking that the two languages cannot have been long separated before they arrived at their present condition.” The linguist, Professor T. Burrow of Oxford University also argued for strong similarities between language of Avesta and Vedic Sanskrit.   And, HD Griswold (in his The Religion of the Rig Veda) went  so far as to point out that each can be said to be “a commentary on the other … No scholar of the Avesta worth the designation can do without a thorough grounding in Vedic Sanskrit”.


The issues raised in the post of 22 Apr, briefly, were – when and why the terms deva/asura came to acquire different meanings in the two texts. Was this because of a conflict between the two sects? If so, when and where the” conflict “ took place?

Following that post there were a few comments and discussions in the Forum. I also looked around a few sites and read a few books on the subject because I was not totally convinced that there was a “conflict” per se. In the mean time, a friend on the Forum recommended an article entitled “Vedic Elements in the Ancient Iranian Religion of Zarathushtra “ written by Mr. Subhash Kak, a scholar from Jammu & Kashmir. The article was well written and it helped me to take a view on some, though not on all the issues raised in the post of22 Apr 2007. These efforts yielded additional information on the ancient kingdoms of Kassite s, Mittanis and Hattusa that existed sometime during 18th century B. C to 16th century B. C. in the Mesopotamian and North –West Syria regions. Based on the additional information I prepared a fresh article on the subject and hence this post.

Now, shall we resume our little talk about the Rig Veda and the Gathas?

1. I have veered to the view that the “conflict” was mostly surmised. There is no evidence pointing to any such “conflict”. I agree we may safely discard that hypothesis, at least for the present.

2. the Vedic religion, in some form, was present in the Mesopotamian region during the times of the Mitanni ,the Hittite, the Kassites (c 1750 BC) who worshiped Surya.

3. The Hurrian (1500 B C to 1270 B C) was located in the present-day western Syria , in the mountainous regions of Upper Euphrates and Tigris. The name Mitanni or Maitani first appears in the “memoirs” of a military officier who lived at the time of Amenhotep (1525 – 1504 BC). These memoirs were in connection with the Syrian wars (ca. 1480).

3.1 The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain.The names of some Mitanni kings reveal Indo Aryan influence. They appeared to follow the Vedic religion. The ruling aristocracy was maryanni , meaning “young warrior” a derivative of the Sanskrit marya. The Mitanni warriors were called Marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well.

3.2 Washukanni, or Waššukanni (also spelled Washshukanni, Wassuganni, Vasukhani, or a combination of these variants) was the capital of the kingdom of Mitanni from 1500 B C. The name is similar to the Sanskrit phrase for “a mine of wealth.” Washukanni flourished as a capital city for two centuries.

3.3 The names of the kings also point to the Indo-Aryan influence. The founder of the Kirta (1500 B c to 1490 B C). His name is also mentioned as “Krta” or with its element such as Krtadeva, Krtadhaja, and Krtadharman etc.

The names of the other Mitanni kings are also of Indo Aryan origin. For instance: Tushrata (Dasharatha–possessing ten chariots), Baratarna ( Paratarna-great sun); Biridaswa (Brihadashwa- possessing great horses); Artatama (Rtumna-devoted to the divine law, Rta); Rta-smara ( rooted in the Rta);  Sattura (Satvar – warrior); Saustatar ( Saukshatra-son of Sukshatra, the good ruler); Saumathi (Son of Sumathi); Sattawaza (he who has won seven prizes);Shuttarna (Sutarna – good sun); Sumaala ( having beautiful wreaths); Parsatatar(Parashukshatra-ruler with axe); and, Mattiwaza ( Mativaja -whose wealth is prayer) – are the Mitannian names of the kings and other males of the time.


Royal seal of Saustatar

Šattiwaza (c.1325-1280) before his accession to the throne carried a Hurrian name Kili-Teššup, like that of several of his predecessors. In his treaties, he invokes, among the many Hurrian and Mesopotamian deities, the Indo-Aryan deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nasatyas.

3.4 A famous treaty entered between the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma and the Mitanni king, Mattiwaza,(Mattiraja) in about 1380 BC, at Boghazkoy, invokes not only the Babylonian gods to witness the treaty but also the deities of Vedic origin such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya (Ashwins). The names of these deities are in the forms that appear in the Rig-Veda (S. Konow: Aryan gods of the Mitani people, 1921).

They occur in the treaty as ila_ni Mi-it-ra-as-si-il, ila_ni A-ru-na-as-si-il In-da-ra, ila_niNa-sa-at-ti-ya-an-na. Since the form for Na_satya is quite different in the Avestan language (Naonhaithya), it is likely that the Mitannian did not speak Iranian but Indo-Aryan (E.Meyer: Sitzungsberichte der K. Preuss. Akad. Der Wissen, 1908). Of these gods, only Mitra (Mithra) is invoked in the Avesta (Indra and Nanhaithya appear in the Avesta as demons and Varuna may have survived as Ahura Mazda – Asura Mahat).This indicates that the religion of the royalty was Vedic and the Iranian influence was yet to spread to the Mitanni region.

The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have therefore materialized at a much later stage .Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

3.5 As regards the language of the Hurrian kingdom, the common language Hurrian was neither Indo Aryan nor Semitic but was closer to Urartian. The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their language in about 2000 BC . It appears there were different groups and sub groups who spoke different dialects and followed different sets of deities. The royal family of Mitanni was speaking Hurrian as well.

the horse drawn chariot

3.6 Kikkuli, a master horse trainer (assussanni, the Sanskrit form of which is aśva-sana) of Mittani, was the author of a chariot – horse training manual written in the Hittite language (an extinct language of Indo European family). The text (dated c1499 B. C) is notable for the information it provides about the development of Indo European language and for its content as well. Kikkuli’s horse training text includes numerical terms such as aika (eka, one), tuwa (dwe , two), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), Na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round).The terms used to denote the horses of different ages or stages of training are – saudist– “foal” or “untrained”; yuga– “young horse”; dāyuga to mean “horse in its second year of training” etc. The text employs terms such as babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red) to denote colors. These terms are of Sanskrit origin.

Further, Kikkuli’s text, though in Hittite, has a few loanwords from Luwian and Hurrian languages. Whenever Kikkuli found it difficult to put across the Mitanni concepts inthe Hittite language, he switched to his own language (Hurrian) and switched back to Hittite.
Mitanni Chariot with spokes

3.7 Hence, the Indo-Aryan element of the Mitanni could be placed 1500 BCE , if not earlier.

4. Hittites is the conventional English name for an ancient people who spoke an Indo European language and who established the kingdom of Hattusa in the North Western region of Syria in 14th century B C. Hittite is the earliest attested Indo European language. The Hittites referred to their language as Nesili (or in one case, Kanesili), meaning “in the manner of (Ka) nesa.” Jay Friedman, University of California,in his paper Verbs in the Rig-Veda and Old Hittite confirms the Indo European nature of the Hittite language.
4.1 A cognate appears in a Hittite text found at Bogazköy in the name Ak/gniš, a god of devastation and annihilation. This term refers to AGNI (Sanskrit), the god of fire in ancient and traditional . In the Gathas of Zarathustra, the term atar is used to denote the concept of fire. The term atar does not appear in Rig-Veda. This points to presence of Vedic type of religion in the region .

5. kassites are the ancient people of the Middle East who established a dynasty that ruled for about 450 years, starting around 1600 BCE. Their capital was Dar Kurizgalu; about 150 km north of Babylon.The kassite spoke a language that was similar to Sumerian.

5.1 The names of some Kassite kings were of Vedic origin (for example: Shuriash = Surya, Maruttash = Marut, Inda-Bugash = Indra-Bhaga),

5.2 The fifth king among the Kassite dynasty took the name Abirattas’ (abhi-ratha ‘facing chariots (in battle)’. (T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language , London, Faber and Faber, 1955).

5.3 The tenth king of the Kassite dynasty Agum (II) (c.1595-1545) took the throne-name Kakrime derived from Sanskrit term KAK meaning “ to enable , to help”(Sanskrit – saknoti, he is able, he is strong: Shakti,)( The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageIndo-European Roots)

6. What is interesting in the case of Mitannis and Kassites is, the language of the common people was not Indo Aryan, the religion of the people did not appear to be Vedic. Yet, for some unknown reason many of the kings assumed Sanskrit – throne-names. It appears there were traces of Indo Aryan influence in the region.

The Indo-Aryans names do not appear in texts till 15th century BCE. The Mesopotamian texts of the 18th and 17th centuries BCE do not show evidence of this trend (of assuming Sanskrit-throne names). This trend, therefore, was comparatively recent.

What is not clear is, how these “traces of Indo Aryan influence“ came into being? When and why they faded away?

Ruins of Mittani palace

7. Mr. Kak in his paper makes a number of points:
( )

a) Following the collapse of the Sarasvati – river based economy around1900 BC, groups of Indians might have moved West and that might explain the presence of the Indic Kassites and the Mitanni in West Asia .

b) The old Vedic religion survived for a fairly long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of its survival comes from the daiva-inscription of Khshayarshan (Xerxes) (486-465 BC).

c) The ruling groups-Kassite and Mitanni – represented a minority in a population that spoke deferent languages. They, however, remained connected to their Vedic traditions. They were neighbors to the pre-Zoroastrian Vedic Iran . In addition, there were other Vedic religion groups in the intermediate region ofIran which itself consisted of several ethnic groups.

d) As per the Mitanni documents , the pre-Zorastrian religon in Iran included Varuna. Since Mitra and Varuna are partners in the Vedas, the omission of Varuna from the Zoroastrian lists indicates that Zarathushtra might be from the borderlands of the Vedic world where the Vedic system was not fully in place.

e) The pre-Zoroastrian religion of is clearly Vedic. Zarathushtra’s innovation lay in his emphasis on the dichotomy of good and bad The Zoroastrian innovations did not change the basic Vedic character of the culture in Iran. The worship ritual remained unchanged, as was the case with basic conceptions related to divinity and the place of man.

I also believe that Zarathushtra did not try to overthrow belief in the older Iranian religion, he did however, place Ahura Mazda at the centre of a kingdom of justice that promised immortality and bliss. He attempted to reform ancient Iranian religion on the basis of the then existing social and economic values

8. Now, let us come to the question of why the same set of deities came to be viewed differently and why there was division. This concerns mainly the asuras/ahuras versus the devas/daevas debate.

In the older texts, that is, in the Rig Veda and the Avesta, these differences are not quitesharp.In the Rig Veda, the asuras were the “older Gods”, a class of deities without negative connotations,who presided over the moral and social phenomena of the primeval universe; while devas the “younger gods” presided over nature and the environment. In the Vedic account of creation, some of the “older gods”(asuras) went over to join the ranks of the “younger gods” (devas). The remaining asuras were exiled to the nether world. While this distinction between asuras and asuras-who-became-devas is preserved in the texts of the Rig Veda, the later texts employ the term asura to represent allnon-devas or those opposed to devas.

In Zoroaster’s Gathas, where the battle between good and evil is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion ,the daevas are the “wrong gods”, the followers of whom need to be brought back to the path of the ‘good religion’

9. It is not clear what led to the rivalry between two groups and how rival groups perceived the same set of deities differently.It is possible that at some common point of time, the ancestors of both branches worshiped the same set of deities. Later, it is possible; each group supported its chosen set of deities, leading to rivalry between the two groups. The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have materialized a long time after the demise of the Mittani and other kingdoms. Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

It is likely that the rivalry had its roots in the division of theIndic and Iranian branches of Proto-Indo-Iranian culture. However,the differences persist even today; while their causes have disappeared long ago, and even have been forgotten.

10. Mr. Kak states that the Vedic and the Zarathushtrian systems are much less deferent than is generally believed. He mentions the Kashmiri system which recognizes a three-way division consisting devas, asuras, and daevas. He also brings in the argument of three gunas –Satva, Rajas and Tamas- of Indian thought. I am familiar with the “Gunas” concept; But not as well as to comment on Mr. Kak’s argument.

11. I do believe that the Rig Veda and the Gathas have to be studied together to gain a fuller understanding of either of the texts. Parallel research on the Gathas and on the Vedic, religion prior to Zarathushtra will therefore be useful for better appreciation of the Zoroastrian and the Vedic texts.


H.G. Rawlinson in his Book Intercourse between India and the Western World from the Earliest Times to the fall of Rome(Cambridge University Press, Cambridge – 1926) writes :

From prehistoric times, three great trade-routes have connected India with the West. The easiest, and probably the oldest of these, was the Persian Gulf route, running from the mouth of the Indus to the Euphrates, and up the Euphrates to where the road branches off to Antioch and the Levantine ports. Then there was the overland route, from the Indian passes to Balkh, and from Balkh either by river, down the Oxus to the Caspian, and from the Caspian to the Euxine, or entirely by land, by the caravan road which skirts the Karmanian Desert to the north, passes through the Caspian Gates, and reaches Antioch by way of Hekatompylos and Ktesiphon.

Lastly, there is the  circuitous sea route, down the Persian and Arabian coasts to Aden, up the Red Sea to Suez,  and from Suez to Egypt on the one hand and Tyre and Sidon on the other. It must not be supposed, of course, that merchandise travelled from India to Europe direct. It changed hands at great emporia like Balkli, Aden or Palmyra, and was often, no doubt, bartered many times on the way. This accounts for the vagueness and inaccuracy of the accounts of India which filtered through to the West in early times. A story is always vastly changed in passing through many hands.

Trade between the Indus valley and the Euphrates is, no doubt, very ancient. The earliest trace of this intercourse is probably to be found in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Llittite kings of Mitanni in Kappadokia, belonging to the fourteenth or fifteenth century B.C. These kings bore Aryan names, and worshiped the Vedic gods, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and the Asvins, whom they call by their Vedic title Nasatya . They were evidently closely connected, though we cannot yet precisely determine how, with the Aryans of the Vedic Age, who were at that time dwelling in the Punjab.

It has been claimed that the word ‘Sindhu’, found in the library of Assurbanipal (668-626 B.C.), is used in the sense of ” Indian cotton,” and the word is said to be much older, belonging in reality to the Akkadian tongue, where it is expressed by ideographs meaning “vegetable cloth ’’ Assurbanipal is known to have been a great cultivator, and to have sent for Indian plants, including the “wool-bearing trees” of India.

At any rate, we know that the cotton trade of western India is of great antiquity The Indians, when the Greeks first came into contact with them, were dressed in “wool grown on trees” In the Rig Veda, Night and Dawn are compared to ” two female weavers.”

We may perhaps trace to this source the Greek, the Arabic ‘satin’ (a covering), and the Hebrew ‘sadin’. Similarly the Hebrew ‘karpas’ and the Greek Kap-aaos are identical with the Sanskrit ‘karpasa’. Logs of Indian teak have been found in the temple of the Moon at Mugheir (the “Ur of the Chaldees”) and inthe palace of Nebuchadnezzar, both belonging to the sixth century B c , and we know that the trade in teak, ebony, sandalwood and black wood, between Barygaza and the Euphrates, was still flourishing in the second century AD 6 In the swampy country at the mouth of the Euphrates, nothing but the cypress grows well.

please also check A Kassite / Mitanni Kudurru Boundary Stone

Mitanni - World History Encyclopedia

Source :

All images are from Internet


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Indian Philosophy


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Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Indian oldirs in Paris WW2

Unacknowledged Heroes of WW2– the Indian Story

Whenever the subject of World War –Two (WW2) comes up for discussion it invariably veers to and ends in the role played by the major powers like Germany, usa, uk, ussr etc. A number of other nations – big and small- that had no heart in the war were dragged into the cauldron by major powers, for a variety of reasons. The contribution made towards the war efforts by these reluctant warring nations was enormous. They suffered countless losses and untold misery in pursuit of someone else’s cause. Yet, their efforts, their contribution and their suffering have largely gone unnoticed and unacknowledged.

It would be far more interesting to talk of the role played by such reluctant warriors than to chew over the role of the inevitable major powers of WW2.Let us start with theIndia story. I invite the other members on the Forum to share their views on the reluctant involvement of sates like the states, the African states, and others.

1.India roped in

The undivided India was one of the nations that were sucked into the WW2 to serve the cause of the British Empire and the Allies, though it was not distressed by the causes that ignited the war.

British India was a key allied nation during the World War 2.The then India included the present day India , Pakistan and Bangladesh. Apart from the provinces directly ruled by the British there were a large number of Princely States within the British Raj that provided large donations to the Allies to combat the threat of Nazism and Fascism .India sent millions of troops to fight the Axis powers in South East Asia , North Africa and southern Europe.

2. Indian contribution not given due credit

The role of the Indian armed forces in World War II — including campaigns in the East Indies, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, Burma, Iraq, Iran, the Vichy-controlled Levant, British Somaliland, Abyssinia, the Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Italy as well as duty in places like Greece, Cyprus, Aden, and Socotra Island — is often obscured because it is wrapped under the general description of “British” operations. The roles played by the European forces are well recorded and are accessible. However, the official history of Indian armed forces remains unfamiliar and is difficult to find.

3. The number of Indian men

When the Second World War broke out, not a single unit of the Indian Army was mechanized to respectable standards. Motorization was selective, and scales of weaponry extremely sparse. Nevertheless, the number of men that gave to the Allied Cause was 205,000 in1939; this number rose to 2,644,323 by 1945. The Indian soldiers were largely drawn from agricultural communities. Though the Indian heart was not in the war, the Indian war record is nevertheless impressive.

 4. Theaters of war

During World War II, the Army of under British command fought many battles on several fronts.

In the Western desert , in Eritrea ,and Italy ,the Indian forces engaged German and Italians .

-The Indian Divisions took part in the North Africa theatre against Rommel’s Afrika Korps. In the of Bir Hacheim, the Indian gunners played an important role by destroying the tanks of Rommel’s panzer divisions.

– the 4th and 5th Indian Divisions distinguished themselves in a series of hard-fought campaigns in the East African Campaign against the Italians in Somali-land,, Eritrea and Abyssinia, and then in Libya against the Germans. From North Africa the 5th  division was moved toIraq to protect its oil fields.

– The third (Indian) Motor Brigade badgered the Corps using trucks and machine guns

– Indian forces- consisting the fourth, 8th and 1oth Infantry Divisions and 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade   played a major role in liberating Italy from fascism. They fought the famous of Monte Casino and the torrid battle on the Gothic lane in late 1944 and 1945. The British Army of was the third largest Allied contingent in the Italian Campaign after the Us and British forces.

-The British eighth Army depended on the fourth Division of Indian Army to break the Axis formations

-In Malaya , Singapore and Burma, the Indian Army engaged the unstoppable Imperial Japanese in its drive through South-East Asia. The Chinese, the American, and the British formations could not repulse the Japanese. Then the 14th Division of the Indian Army- consisting one million men of which 700,000 were Indians- went on the counter offensive, swept the Japanese out of South-East Asia.
– The Indian Air Force fielded ten squadrons during World War 2. Flying in the China-Burma-India theatre, these squadrons carried out assault mission against Japanese troops stationed in Burma . It was because of the efforts of Indian Army the advance of Imperial Japan came to a halt.
– The Royal Indian navy ships were active in all theatres. HMIS sunk a Japanese raider

5. War causalities

As per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, total deaths in the Indian Army were 87,040 which included Army (79,326), Air Force (897), Navy (501),Merchant navy (6,114) and civilian deaths (193) .The wounded numbered 64,354; while the POWs were 79,489. Apart from these, the pro-Japanese Indian National Army (INA) suffered 2,615 dead and missing.

On top of these deaths came the deaths in the Bengal Famine of 1943 .It is estimated that the wartime pressures and failure to implement the ‘famine code’ resulted in the death of over five million  people due to starvation , malnutrition and related illnesses .

6. Exploitation by the British

The through widespread acquisition and use of raw materials, foodstuffs and resources produced by the Indians. The vital agricultural supplies of sisal, maize, wheat, tea, sugar, rubber, jute and cotton came from the Indian sub continent. In addition, although the British largely discouraged the development of industry in India , it nevertheless took advantage of India’s rich mineral wealth in bauxite, iron, steel, manganese, tin, coal, timber, and gold.

The British officials showed little or no concern for local interests as they instigated ruthless price controls, coerced colonial labor, and unapologetically dictated colonial economic policy.

Overall, the war exacted a heavy economic price on India, which diverted more than 80% of its annual budget to the war effort, and extensively shared the huge and intolerable economic cost of war.

7. The British Empire and Commonwealth in World War II:

Selection and Omission in English History Textbooks

( )

Mr. Stuart Foster, Institute of Education, University of London; in his remarkably candid paper has discussed how the text books in England are Anglo-centric centric and how they fail to give credit to the rich and diverse contributions of all races of the British colonies and their sacrifices in the struggle against the Axis powers during the WW Two.

He also goes on to document the exploitation, the racial discrimination and says how by disguising the true history of colonialism and by writing the black people out of British history, the official historians have marginalized and further oppressed the under privileged.

Mr. Foster’s paper is highly educative and interesting.

Indian oldirs in WW2


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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The cultural diversity of the Indian subcontinent

The diversity in the Indian cultural scene is not merely in its ethnic or racial composition. It is spread to every walk of life. Starting with geographical features and climatic conditions there are vast regional and intra regional differences. It is often said our strength lies in harnessing these diversities. Let us dwell on that.

1. Prof. Arnold Toynbee defines civilization as a pattern of interactions between challenges and responses. The challenges may come from different directions; say from environment or from social and cultural stresses. To these, the people living in a land mass over a great period of time develop their responses to ensure individual and collective survival. What is important in such situations is, the responses should always be individually satisfying and socially relevant. The web and warp of these responses and corrections, over a period, weave the cultural pattern of a society. The story of the Indian subcontinent is no different.

2. Bharatha Varsha

2.1. Indians in their daily prayers still refer to themselves as those belonging to the land -mass of Jambu-Dwipa (Sanskrit) a geographical area comprising the present day India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and Corinth. Within this vast stretch of land, Indians identify themselves as those residing in Bharatha Varsha. They call it a country situated to the north of the ocean and to the south of the Himadri, the snowy mountains, and where the descendants of Bharata (a distant ancestor of Rama) dwell.

2.2..Rig Veda mentions Bharathas ruled the land that spread over the banks of the rivers Parushni (Ravi) and Vipasa (Beas) .Kautilya (c. 350-283 BC), the renowned author of the Artha shastra, names Bharatha Varsha as the land that stretched from Himalaya to Kanyakumari ; he also called it Chakravarthi –Kshetra ( the land of the Emperor). An epigraph of Kharavela (209 – 179 B. C?) who ruled over the region of the present day Orissa, found in Hathigumpha (near Bhubaneshwar in Orissa) uses the nomenclature of Bharatha Varsha. There are, of course, innumerable references to Bharatha Varsha in various Puranas.

3. Composite Culture

3.1. Rig Veda often regarded as the source, if not the beginning, of Indian culture repeatedly refers to the composite character of its society and to its pluralistic population. The other ancient records also state that even from the early years of its history Bharatha Varsha, the Indian land mass, has been multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-lingual. For instance , its society included , among others , Bhalikas ( the Balks) ,Kiratas( hill tribes), Bhotas ( Tibetans), Hunas (from Jungara),Sakas(Scythians),Parasikas ( from Persia), Airakas( from Iraq),Yavanas (from Iona), Maidas ( from Media) and Kambhojas ( from North western region ).

This composite culture was the result of continuous influx of people from other regions and a dynamic interaction with them.

4. The influx

4.1. The influx of foreigners continued down the ages. About 500 years B.C.E the Greeks, the Sakas (Scythians) came to India. The Persians have of course been a part of the Indo-Aryan heritage even from the times of the Rig Veda. In the early centuries before the present era, the Kushans from Central Asia entered through the North-West. In the first Century A.D., the Spanish Jews as also St.Thomas, the Apostle, reached the Malabar Coast in South of India. This process continued with the arrival of Huns in the fifth century, Arabs in the eighth century, and with the Mughals who invaded and settled in 15th century. Around the same period, Portuguese landed on the coast of their home. On the other side of the sub continent, the Mongoloid Shans entered Assam while Mongolians inhabited the upper tracts of the North. Thereafter the western traders such as the Dutch, the French and the British vied with each other to get a foothold in India. Eventually the British prevailed not only over its rivals but also over the native Indian rulers. The British Empire lasted in India for nearly a century thereafter. The continuous influx of foreigners over a long period rendered Indian scene complex and colorful.

5. Assimilation and Amalgamation

5.1. The much-hailed composite culture did not come easily. It demanded its price. The several foreign invasions and aggressions caused large-scale cultural stress. Indigenous populations were exposed to cultural and social influences that were altogether alien to them. They had to under go untold hardship and misery. There were long periods of political subjugation, economic exploitation and religious suppression and there was general degeneration in the quality of man and his life. The ordinary man in India was no longer at peace with himself, his age-old style of life was shaken rudely and his view of his fellow beings and life was confused .The process of assimilation and amalgamation spread over a long period is still going on. It is an on –going dynamic process.

5.2. A number of Scholars and various Commissions have studied the racial and social amalgamation in India.

Meghasthenes (350 B.C.E to 290 B.C.E) a Greek traveler and Geographer, in his book Indika wrote “It is said that ,India being of enormous size when taken as a whole, is peopled by races both numerous and diverse, of which not even one was originally of foreign descent, but all were evidently indigenous”. He gives a detailed classification of the ethnic groups in of his time. The racial groups described are too numerous to be mentioned here. Please check the following link

5.3. Among the other studies on the subject, in the recent past, the report of the British anthropologist Sir Herbert Hope Risley, the Census Commissioner for India in 1901, is fairly well known.

Let me add a word of caution here; Risley’s theories and classifications are now only of historical interest. The Government of India and the National Census of independent India do not recognize any racial groups in India. The erstwhile group names are generally considered as linguistic terms, rather than ethnic terms.

[The leading exponent of “race science” in India was H. H. Risley (1851–1911), a British ethnologist who served in India in the Indian Civil Service from 1873 to 1910. Risley was the census commissioner in 1901, and after his retirement in 1910, he was elected president o f the (British) Royal Anthropological Institute.

Following the anthropo-metric techniques of the French anthropologist Paul Topinard, Risley used a “nasal index” (a ratio of the width of a nose to its height) to divide Indians into two races—a dark-skinned Dravidian race and a fair-skinned Indo-Aryan race.

Using this nose science, he proved (to his own satisfaction and that of con-temporaries) the existence of a seven-caste racial hierarchy in India, with Dravidians at the “primitive” bottom and Indo-Aryans at the “civilized ” top.

 “The social position of a caste,” he once said, “varies inversely as its nasal-index” (Trautmann). Race, not occupation, he concluded, was the true basis of the Indian caste system. For late 19th-century “race-scientists” such as Risley, this type of physiological measurements served to confirm the distinct racial essences they believed existed within the Indian population (and more generally in the larger world)


H. Risley drew his ideas on nose measurements from the work of a contemporary, 19th-century French scholar Paul Topinard. Writing in his 1885 Elements of General Anthropology (Élémentsd’anthropologie générale),  Topinard developed a “nasal index” (a ratio of the breadth of the nose to its height) that enabled him to classify noses (and their owners) into a series of nose types.

Risely nose Index

Narrow noses, said Topinard, characterized the Europeans (types 1 through 5); medium noses characterized the “yellow races” (type 6); and broad noses belonged either to Africans (type 7) or to Melanesians and native Australians (type 8).

(Paul Topinard,Éléments d’anthropologie générale, 1885)]


Risley’s account of racial characteristics of Indian population provides an interesting aspect of the composite nature of the Indian populace.

Turko-Iranian (the frontier provinces)

Indo-Aryan (punjab, Kashmir, Rajasthan)

Scytho-Dravidian (Madhya Pradesh, Saurastra)

Aryo-Dravidian (U.P, Rajasthan,Bihar)

Mangolo_Dravidian (Bengal,Orissa)

Mongoloid (Nepal,Assam,Himachal Region)

Dravidian (South India, M.P, Chota Nagpur)

Negrita (Kadars and Mala-pantarans of Kerala)
Proto-Austalaid (tribes)


6. Cultural Diversity

6.1. The reasons for cultural diversity may lie in the combination and interdependence of geographical, economic and ethnic factors. Toynbee’s thesis of the “challenge of environment” mentioned earlier, might explain to some extent why and how unique cultures developed in certain regions. This may even pertain to a region such as the Indian subcontinent.

6.2. The diversity in the Indian cultural is not merely in its ethnic or racial composition. It is in every walk of its life. Starting with the geographical features, climatic conditions, and the vast regional and intra regional differences one can go on to religion , customs ,attitudes, practices, language , food habits, dress , art , music , theatre and notice that no two regions are alike in these matters. Each group, each sub group has its own set of identities. Then, what is it that holds India together ?.

When the Indian nation was formed not many Western observers and academicians thought it would survive long because the land mass encompassed too many variables. The newborn nation tried to rope in a variety of people who spoke different languages, .who followed many faiths, who were culturally and racially divergent; and to bind them into a nation looked unnatural.

For instance Aldous Huxley, the famous thinker, wrote in 1961, “When Nehru goes, the government will become a military dictatorship—as in so many of the newly independent states, for the army seems to be the only highly organized centre of power”.

In the year 1967, The London Times wrote, “The great experiment of developing within a democratic framework has failed. (Indians will soon vote) in the fourth—and surely last—general election”.

These fears have, of course, been belied.

6.3 Mr. Ramachandra Guha, a scholar of modern day India, in his brilliant essay “The miracle that is India ” discusses the complexity of the Indian situation and comes up with his views on why India as a nation survives amidst apparent contradictions. I try to sum up his views briefly.

-The pluralism of religion was one cornerstone of the foundation of the Indian republic. A second was the pluralism of language. Linguistic pluralism has worked. Instead of dividing, as elsewhere in the world, it tamed and domesticated secessionist tendencies.

– It has sustained a diversity of religions and languages. It has resisted the pressures to go in the other direction, to follow by favoring citizens who follow a certain faith or speak a particular language.

– That unity and pluralism are inseparable in is graphically expressed in the country’s currency notes.Denominations on the Indian currency note are given not just in Hindi and in English but in all Indian languages

– The economic integration of is a consequence of its political integration. They act in a mutually reinforcing loop. The greater the movement of goods and capital and people across India, the greater the sense that this is, after all, one country

– As a modern nation, India is simply sui generis. It stands on its own, different and distinct from the alternative political models on offer—be these Anglo-Saxon liberalism, French republicanism, atheistic Communism, or Islamic theocracy

– One might think of independent India as being Europe’s past as well as its future. It is ‘Europe’s past, in that it has reproduced, albeit more fiercely and intensely, the conflicts of a modernizing, industrializing and urbanizing society. But it is also its future, in that it anticipated, by some 50 years, the European attempt to create a multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, political and economic community

– The future of as a nation-state lies not in the hands of God but in the mundane works of its men women. So long as the Constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens can speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and—lest I forget—so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive

6.4. M. C. Chagla, a legal luminary and a statesman, said there is an Indian- ness and an Indian ethos, brought about by the communion and intercourse between the many races and many communities that have lived in this land for centuries. He said, there is an Indian tradition, which overrides all the minor differences that may superficially seem to contradict the unity. This, according to him, is what holds India together.

7. Unity in Diversity

Heinz Werner Wessler says India ’s traditional multi-cultural society that came into being in the pre-modern context, is probably the most important resource for a political and cultural vision of “Unity and Diversity”. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India’s first Prime Minister, often said India’s strength is “the unity in diversity”. While a majority accepts this motto, some lay stress on its inevitability. Because, they remark, the motto may imply to mean that while we recognizes the actually existing diversity we also appreciate the need for unity. Hence, they say, unity and diversity are not contradictory but complementary. At the same time, the modern state in principle always approves of diversity and looks for ways to enable minorities to identify themselves with the state as much as possible. This is a complex situation.

8. Concept of a Nation

8.1. Nations are, in the words of Ernest Renan, ultimately a consensus among people who wish to be included in a nation. Over the centuries, the notion of an nation has exerted a powerful influence on the peoples who make up India. However, it was not easy to turn it in to a reality because of several constraints. India was not a homogeneous country, by any classification. In addition, the boundaries of India changed very often. It was difficult to sustain the image of a nation since the four famous criteria of the State viz. land; people, government, and sovereignty were not always present. An amorphous feeling of belonging may bring together people of different culture, language, and even religion. However, that alone will not transform them into a nation. There has to be a political awareness of belonging to a single entity. That solidarity and commitment to the concept and reality of nation is essential. In India, the essentials for a nation did not materialize until recently.

8.2. Whatever may be the debate about political unity and cultural diversity in India, the fact is the diverse peoples of India have developed a peculiar type of culture far different from any other type in the world and have learned to live together as one people. This unity transcends the countless diversity of blood, color, language, dress, manners, sect et al.

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in General Interest, History


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Buddhism of Tibet

India -Tibet and Buddhism

1. Early Days

1.1 India and Tibet (known to Tibetans themselves as Bod and to Indians as Bhota Desha) have had a long and a continuous cultural contact. The links between the old neighbors intensified when in 620 AD the emperor Sorang – sGam-Po (569 – 650 AD) sent his emissary to Kashmir to evolve a suitable script for the Tibetan language and to invite Buddhist scholars to Tibet. Interestingly this move, it said, was initiated at the wish of two women one from Nepal and the other from China who were married to the monarch .The two queens were pious Buddhists .It does not however mean Buddhism was not known in Tibet until then. It appears that at least a hundred years earlier when LHa- THo- THo ruled the land a number of Buddhist texts were available in Tibet but not many could read the script. The initiative taken by the monarch not only brought in a gentler religion and a mellowed way of life but also a new “religious speech” (CHos – sKad) enriched by Sanskrit. Since then Tibet has regarded India as its sacred land and India in turn looks upon Tibet as its religious frontier. The mutual regard and respect has continued to this day.

2. Buddhism Enters

2.1 The introduction of Buddhist influence into Tibet was neither sudden nor violent. It was a gradual and a gentle process. This was a remarkable feat considering that the Tibetans and their religion at the time were “wild “and that the Monarch did not resort to violence or repression to usher in Buddhism. The Tibetans were mostly nomadic in nature, Spartan in their ways of life and were fiercely warlike. The religion native to Tibet called Bon –pronounced Pon – meaning “to mutter magic spells”, often described as shamanism, fetishism filled with rituals, spells, dances etc. had a strong influence on its followers. Yet the transformation brought about following the introduction of Buddhism is astounding. Today there is no gentler race than the Tibetans .No other people have preserved the high ideals of Buddhism as the Tibetans have even in the face of persistent trials, tribulations, displacements of immense proportions forced on them. How did this come about?

3. Synthesis

3.1 The religion that Indian monks planted in Tibet was not the one practiced in India at the time. In order to become acceptable to the populace of Tibet it was necessary Buddhism evolve itself into a new form by letting in Bon practices and ideas while firmly retaining its basic Buddhist tenets. In the process Buddhism took in materials and attitudes native to the soil, lent them a new sense of direction and grafted them with the Mahayana doctrines. It allowed many Bon attitudes, ideas, tribal gods, goddesses, and the associated rituals and instilled in them the spirit of piety (Karuna). Thus While the form was traditional to the soil, the soul was Buddhist. Bon at the same time also adopted numerous Buddhist practices, attitudes and ideas.

3.2 It is important to remember that the Indian monks who brought in Buddhism were not missionaries in the usual sense of the term. They were not interested in conversions.

3.3 Some call the Tibetan religion as Vajrayana. It may perhaps be more appropriate to recognize it as Bon- CHos (Buddhism grafted on Bon). Because, what we have here is a harmonious synthesis of two religious practices and ideas rather than domination of one over the other. For this reason, we may say Tibet has manifested a truly unique CHos (Dharma) with its own scheme of values.

4. Vajrayana

4.1 The form of Buddhism that took root in Tibet belongs to Vajrayana (the path of the thunderbolt) an offshoot of the Yogachara branch of the Mahayana. Vajrayana had its origin in South India, blossomed in the universities of Nalanda, Vikramashila and Odantapura in North India .It later took root in Tibet and Mongolia. Its characteristics are involvement in Tantric rituals, incantations (Mantras) and visualization of deities. At the same time the adaptable integration of the body (Kaya – Snkt,), speech (Vacha – Sanskt) and mind (manas – Sanskt.) is also a main plank of the Vajra (Diamond) path.

4.2 The Yoga – Tantra ideology (known to Tibetans as Grub –Thob) developed during the early part Christian era by a class of Indian seers called Siddhas became the driving force of the Vajrayana. Siddhas brought in the concept of Bhodhi –chitta.

4.3 As per the concept, Bhodhi-Chitta resides in all of us in its twin aspect :(1) as ordinary consciousness soiled by actions and agitated by thoughts, and (2) as a hidden pool of tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright”, beyond the phenomenal involvements. The former aspect is mind (Manas -Sanskrit) (Yid – Tibetan) and the latter is consciousness (Chitta – Sanskrit) (Sems – Tibetan). The object of the Tantra is to transform the former (characterized by Stress – Klesha) into the latter (experienced as Bliss – Sukha).

4.4 To illustrate the Bhodhi – Chitta, the mind is like a pool of water. The agitated water should become still before what lies beneath (consciousness) becomes visible. Beating or stirring the water does not help. The pool should be left undisturbed .The art of letting the mind alone (“let go”, “open hand”) to allow it to settle naturally into silence and tranquility is at the core of the disciplines advocated by the Siddhas. The instruction is “cast aside all clinging and essence will at once emerge”.

This concept gives rise to another one viz. Vipasyana meaning clear vision, which comes about because of stilling the constitutional mind.

4.5 These concepts entail a process that lays stress on utilizing the mind to reach a state of “no mind”, refinement and sharpening of the mind, purifying it and making it “like a cloud less sky”, “like a wave less occasion”,” like a bright lamp in a windless night” etc. In short, the object is to attain a clear, bright and a stable state. This process is also called as emptying the mind. The Tantra here not only suggests a path from a cruder form of thought and emotions to a higher level of functioning but also prescribes practices that transform and elevate the human being.

5. The Masters

5.1 The credit for evolving a wonderful synthesis of the two religious practices goes to the Tibetan monks and their Indian Gurus the prominent among whom, in the early stages, were Padmasambhava and Santarakshita. Padmasambhava built the first Buddhist monastery in Tibet (bSam Yas) around 749 AD modeled on the Odantapura monastery while combining three styles of India, Tibet and China. He persuaded the great scholar Santharakshita of Nalanda to preside over the monastery. Both were men of great learning. While Padmasambhava had his roots in Tantra, Santarakshita was a quiet ascetic in the traditional mold. The Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team was a curious combination of dissimilar capabilities .One complimented the other. One would argue, thunder and coerce while the other could explain, expound, teach and convince. One had a mass appeal; the other had the quiet regard of the elite. One emphasized magic, rituals and success; the other highlighted the value of virtues, contemplation and wisdom. Padmasambhava stood for powerful action; Santarakshita symbolized gentle being. The two great men together molded the attitudes and approach of later day Tibetans. If the Tibetans have successfully accommodated the thunderbolt (Vajra) with the abiding peace of vacuity (Shunya) then a large share of the credit must go to these Masters each working in his own way for the betterment of humanity.

5.2 If the Padmasambhava – Santarakshita team introduced the Buddhist excellence the other team of Dipankara and Brom firmly established Buddhist influence in Tibet Dipankara, a prince from Bengal earlier in his life, presided over the Vikramsila University. He was a great Mahayana scholar in the mould of Santharakshita. He was 60 when he arrived in Tibet where he lived for 13 years until his death in 1054 AD. He was fortunate in securing a very capable and devoted Tibetan disciple in Brom. The two together strived to clean up the cobwebs since settled in the Tibetan Buddhism and to restore the traditional values and virtues.

5.3 Another revered name in the annals of Tibetan Buddhism is TSong –Kha – Pa (1357 – 1419 AD), a scholar of great renown and author of the celebrated Lam – Rin CHen Mo. He is worshipped even today as a living presence, next only to Buddha. The Chinese emperor honored TSong –Kha – Pa’s nephew as a Bhodhi Sattva. Later in 1650, the Mongolian emperor conferred the all-powerful status of Dalai Lama on a descendent of TSong –Kha – Pa. Since then the successive abbots have been the religious and secular heads of Tibet.

TSong –Kha – Pa brought large scale and enduring reforms in the Buddhist monastic organizations in Tibet. The achievements of TSong –Kha _Pa and his contribution to Tibetan Buddhism in particular and to Dharma in general are too numerous to recount here.

6. India’s Debt to Tibet

6.1 India owes a debt of deep gratitude to Tibet for preserving Yoga-Tantra tradition and keeping it alive even though it has become extinct in the land of its origin.

6.2 Further, because of the large-scale destruction of Buddhist and Hindu texts stored in Nalanda when Muslim forces attacked it during the middle periods, many ancient texts are no longer available in India. The only credible source for such ancient texts is the body of Tibetan translations carried out centuries earlier by Tibetan monks.

6.3 More importantly, the extraordinary sprit of tolerance, non-violence and resilience displayed by the large population of ordinary men and women displaced from their homeland is a true tribute to Buddha and his ideals.

1. Tibetan Tantric Traditions
– Prof. S K Ramachandra Rao
2. The Buddhist Tantras
– Alex Wayman

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Buddhism, History, Sri Sankara


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Rig Veda and the Gathas

Rig Veda and the Gathas

I am  intrigued by the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas–the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc.

It is generally accepted that the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures) known as Avesthanis close to that of the Vedic Sanskrit (please see the notes at the bottom mentioning some similarities as also  differences between Sanskrit and Avesthan). Avesthan Gathas were reflected in a hymn kakshivant Ausija – Zarathustra representing the side of the defeated Anuras (Asuras?) and Usijica representing the side of the victor. Hashurva is recognized as Sushravas who entered into a truce with Diwodasa, while Vistapa  the patron of Zarathustra  is found to be Ishtashwa of Rigveda.There is  also references to Devas(Daevas ?) , Asuras(Ahura) , Gandharvas , Anavas , Turvashas(Turanians) etc . In the Gathas the word Asura is pronounced as Ahura because the Indic  “S “ becomes Iranian “H”(like Sindhu – Hindhu , Soma – Homa,Saptha – Haptha). Similarly the Indic “V” becomes Iranian “P” (Ashwa – Aspa); Indic “H” becomes Iranian “Z” (Hind – Z(s) Ind) et al. Apparently, both the scriptures speak of the same set of Deities / Characters.

Further, in the Avesta the Asuras (Ahura) are the Gods, and Devas (Daeva) are the demons. It appears the Angirasas were the priests of the Vedic Aryans and the Bhrgus were the priests of the Iranians. In addition, that there was a period of acute hostility between the Vedic Aryans and the Iranians, which left its mark on the myths and traditions of both the peoples.

Now we have two issues here :

1) Where and when did this hostility take place?

2) Many hold the view that it is impossible to understand Indian pre- history unless:

a) is also taken into consideration .The whole of Aryana () should be taken as one unit of Aryan prehistory .

 b)The original Gathas of Zarathustra and Rig-Veda is comprehended together because the Sixth and Seventh Mandalas of Rig-Veda represent Devas (Daevas of Zarathustra) and the   likely (?) scene of action was the present day Iran: and the Caspian region

Can some learned members on the forum please throw light on the issues 1?

Can some one pl recommend to me book/s on a comprehensive comparative study of the Rig Veda and the Gathas as also of their language…issue2.

Please read the next part of the article @


[Similarities and differences between Rig Vedic Sanskrit and Avestan .Source : Encyclopedia Britannica.

The long and short varieties of the Indo-European vowels e, o, and a, for example, appear as long and short a: Sanskritmanas- “mind, spirit,” Avestanmanah-, but Greek ménos “ardour, force; Greek pater “father,” Sanskrit pitr-, Avestan and Old Persian pitar-. After stems ending in long or short a, i, or u, an n occurs sometimes before the genitive (possessive) plural ending am (Avestan -am)—e.g., Sanskrit martyanam “of mortals, men” (from martya-); Avestan mašyanam (from mašya-); Old Persian martiyanam.In addition to several other similarities in their grammatical systems, Indo-Aryan and Iranian have vocabulary items in common—e.g., such religious terms as Sanskrit yajña-, Avestan yasna- “sacrifice”; and Sanskrit hotr-,zaotar- “a certain priest”; as well as names of divinities and mythological persons, such as Sanskrit mitra-, Avestan miqra- “Mithra.” Indeed, speakers of both language subgroups used the same word to refer to themselves as a people: Sanskrit arya-, Avestan airya-, Old Persian ariya- “Aryan.” Avestan

The Indo-Aryan and Iranian language subgroups also differ duhitr- “daughter” (cf. Greek thugáter). In Iranian, however, the sound is lost in this position; e.g., Avestan dugdar-, dudar-. Similarly, the word for “deep” is Sanskrit gabhira- (with i for i), but Avestan jafra-. Iranian also lost the accompanying aspiration (a puff of breath, written as h) that is retained in certain Indo-Aryan consonants; e.g., Sanskrit dha “set, make,” bhr, “bear,” gharma- “warm,” but Avestan and Old Persian da, bar, and Avestan garma-. Further, Iranian changed stops such as p before consonants and r and v to spirants such as f: Sanskrit pra “forth,” Avestan fra; Old Persian fra; Sanskrit putra- “son,” Avestan puqra-, Old Persian pusa- (s represents a sound that is also transliterated as ç). In addition, h replaced s in Iranian except before non-nasal stops (produced by releasing the breath through the mouth) and after i, u, r, k; e.g., Avestan hapta- “seven,” Sanskrit sapta-; Avestan haurva- “every, all, whole,” Sanskrit sarva-. Iranian also has both xš and š sounds, resulting from different Indo-European k sounds followed by s-like sounds, but Indo-Aryan has only ks; e.g., Avestan xšayeiti “has power, is capable,” šaeiti “dwells,” but Sanskrit ksayati, kseti. Iranian was also relatively conservative in retaining diphthongs that were changed to simple vowels in Indo-Aryan.Iranian differs from Indo-Aryan in grammatical features as well. The dative singular of -a-stems ends in -ai in Iranian; e.g., Avestan mašyai, Old Persian cartanaiy “to do” (an original dative singular form functioning as infinitive of the verb). In Sanskrit the ending is extended with a—martyay-a. Avestan also retains the archaic pronoun forms yuš, yuzm “you” (nominative plural); in Indo-Aryan the -s- was replaced by y (yuyam) on the model of the 1st person plural—vayam “we” (Avestan vaem, Old Persian vayam). Finally, Iranian has a 3rd person pronoun di (accusative dim) that has no counterpart in Indo-Aryan but has one in Baltic.


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Rigveda


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ANCIENT EGYPT AND INDIA – Cultural relations

ANCIENT EGYPT AND INDIA – Cultural relations

 I am new to this forum I noticed quite a few posts were made on the interesting subject of relations between Ancient Egypt and . Then I said to myself “let me add one more to the heap “.

1. Books

1.1 Peter Von Bohlen (1796 – 1840), a German Indologist, in his two volume monumental work Ancient with special reference to . He thought there was a cultural connection between the two in ancient times. 

1.2 Many others have also written on similar lines (e.g. El Mansouri, Sir   William Jones, Paul William Roberts, and Adolf Eramn et al). 


2.1. Many Anthropologists have observed that the Egyptians as a race (type ‘P’) are more Asiatic than African.

 2.2 As per the legends and lore, the early Egyptians were from PUNT, an Asiatic country to the east of . Going by the description given of its coastline washed by the great seas, its hills and valleys, its vegetation (coconut trees among others), its animals (including long tailed monkeys) the Punt, the scholars surmise, may in fact be the Malabar coast.

 3. Sphinx and Buttocks

There is very a delightful finding about the Sphinx. Joshua T Katz of Princeton  University in his scholarly paper “The riddle of the Sp (h) ij   and her Indic and her Indo-European Background”    has come up with a view that the name Sphinx is related to a Greek noun which in turn is derived from a Sanskrit word Sphij, meaning  “ Buttocks”. Now you know to where it all comes down.

Interestingly, when you type in sphij in Google search, it shoots back “Did you mean Sphinx?”

No, I am not joking. Mr. Katz’s research paper is a very serious work though   a pedantic one. Check this link

4. Emperor Ashoka’s contacts with

4.1 A very authentic record of is, of course, Ashoka’s 13th rock edict (3rd century B.C). Here in, the Emperor refers to his contact with Ptolemy II of (285-246 B. C) in connection with the expansion of Dharma (Buddhism) into Egypt and its neighboring lands.

 4.2 Ashoka ,  in his Second Edict refers to philanthropic works (such as medical help for humans and animals, digging wells, planting trees etc.) taken up by his missionaries in the lands ruled by Theos II of Syria (260 to 240 B. C) and his neighbors , including Egypt.

 4.3. Pliny (78 A, D) mentions that Dionysius was Ptolemy’s ambassador in the court of Ashoka. The Emperor’s rock edict records that Dionysus was one of the recipients of Dharma (Buddhism).

5. Gnostics and Buddhism

5.1 Coming to the present era, Dio Chrysostum (1st century A. D.) and Clement (2nd century A. D) have written that at Alexandria Indian scholars were a common sight.

5.2 Many scholars have has pointed to a number of similarities between Mahayana Buddhism and the Gnosticism of the early Christian centuries that developed in ancient Egypt..The Greek term Gnosis is a derivative of the Sanskrit term Jnana both meaning knowledge.  In both Gnosticism and Buddhism, the emphasis is on Wisdom, compassion and eradication of the opposite of gnosis/consciousness, that is, ignorance the root of evil.

5.3 In the Gospel of Thomas (translated by Peterson Brown), at verse 90, Yeshua says Come unto me, for my yoga is natural and my lordship is gentle—and you shall find repose for yourselves. It is startling to find term “Yoga” in a first century Christian document written in Egypt Perhaps it refers to Sahja Yoga. Check the following link

6. Oxyrhynchus Papyrus

During the early years of the 20th century a number of fragments of papyri –dating from 250 B.C. to 100 A.D- were discovered at Oxyrhynchus (now called el Bahnansa) in Egypt. The excavations yielded enormous collections of papyrus from Greek and Roman periods of Egyptian history. Among the finds was an incomplete manuscript of a Greek mime ( a skit) .For purpose of identification this fragment of papyrus it is called Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 413 .The scene of action of the skit is India and there are a number of Indian characters who speak dialogue in an Indian language. Dr. E. Hultzsch (1857-1927), a noted German Indologist, identified some words of the dialogue as an archaic form of Kannada, one of the four major languages of South India. Recent studies have supported Dr. Hultzsch’s finding. The papyrus is dated first or second century A.D.  This seems to prove that there were cultural and trade contacts between and the Mediterranean region at least as far back as in the early part of the first millennium CE.

7. Quseir

7.1 The excavation of the Quseir (a  Red Sea port in  Egypt)  shipwreck  also point to trade links between Egypt and India in the early Roman Imperial period.  The wreck site revealed Campanian- amphoras (A cylindrical two-handled amphora with oval-section handles and an almond-shaped rim) from Century AD.  Perhaps the ship was outbound for  India and was part of a fleet sent by Augustus to capture a controlling interest in the Indian Ocean trade

7.2 Further, three of inscriptions, one in a Prakrit and two in Old Tamil, found in Qusei also support the likelihood of flourishing trade between . This Suggests South India may have been the origin of the Indian merchants  stationed in Egypt.

–Neela – Kali

John .H. Speke (1827 – 1864) an officer in the British Indian Army , who discovered the source of the Nile , in 1844 , attributed his success , among other things , to the guidance he received from an Indian. The advise given was to look for the Neela (meaning Blue in Sanskrit, hence the  Nile) flowqing between the peaks of Chandragiri  (Mountains of the Moon) below the country of Amara. To his wonder, what Speke discovered fitted with the location indicated by the Indian.

9. What Next?

9.1 Both the old countries have been through thick and thin of things over the ages .It is not surprising if they interacted over a number of issues.

9.2 However, there have been no serious studies, in the recent past, on the subject of cultural relations between ancient Egypt and India. In case such studies are taken up, recently, can some one please enlighten me?


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History


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Hellenic influence on Buddhism


Buddha in conversation

Hellenic influence on Buddhism

The interaction between Hellenistic Greece and Buddhism started with Alexander’s expedition into during 334 BCE. Following Alexander’s death in 323 BCE his empire fragmented with each of his generals assuming charge of a portion of the empire. In the process, Seleucus became the king of the land that stretched into India. In the succeeding periods, spread over three hundred years, this kingdom again split into smaller ones. However, Buddhism flourished all along under these Indo-Greek kings. The friendly relations between Greek and Buddhist cultures continued until about 5th century.

During these long years, just as Buddhism spread its influence in the Hellenistic world particularly around Alexandria , the Greek culture in turn exerted its influence on Buddhism.

Some scholars opine that Greek-Buddhist interaction lead to evolution of Mahayana branch of Buddhism, introducing the “man-god” treatment of the Buddha as is done with Hellenic gods. Further, the representation of Buddha in human form also appeared to be an offshoot of Hellenic influence on Buddhism.

Buddha with hercules Procter

Until around the first century, the Buddha was represented by a pair of footprints .The human image of the Buddha was not projected either in sculptures or in paintings. It was only after the advent of Ghandhara art (of Greco-Roman origin that flourished largely during the Kushan dynasty) the image of the Buddha as we know today took shape. Those artists, while retaining their classical conceptions of the human form presented to the world a Greek-featured Buddha, dressed in a toga and seated in yoga pose. Thus, the Gandharan style represented a union of classical Indian and Hellenic elements

Apart from this ,while interpreting the Buddhist legends (Jathaka tales), the Gandhara School incorporated many motifs and techniques from classical Roman art, including vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and centaurs. The Gandhar craftsmen thus made a significant contribution to Buddhist art in their depiction of events in Buddha’s life. The basic iconography, however, remained Indian

Albert Gruenwedel (1856 -1935), a German Indologist, thought that Hellenic deities were traceable in Ghandara art. According to him, Apollo served as the model for Buddha images. The Gandhara school , he said , drew upon the anthropomorphic traditions of Roman religion and represented the Buddha with a youthful Apollo-like face, dressed in garments resembling those seen on Roman imperial statues .He also remarked that the types of Ghandara school were traceable in Buddhist religious paintings of Tibet , China and Japan.

Buddha gandhara 3 to 5 bce

[ There is a counter point to this argument.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947) in his relentless search for the non-derivative or ‘original’ nature of Indian art is typified in the debate on the Indian origin of the Buddha image, where he also establishes its development from early Indian yakña prototypes, as a counterpoint to Foucher’s thesis that accorded an exclusive Gandharan (and hence Greco-Roman) derivation to the Buddha image .  ]

There is interesting similarity here, though not directly related to the Buddha subject. Until Christianity took root in Greece , there was no representation of Christ in human form. The early Christian scrolls etc. indicated Christ with the figure of a fish. Some scholars (LaTourette 1975: 572) consider the mage of Christ Pantocrator (“Christ, Ruler of All”) is modeled after the great statue of Zeus enthroned at Olympia and it remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Christ Pantocrator

Statue of Zeus at Olympia


Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Buddhism, History


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Good history of one generation can be bad history of the next

Edmund Leach once said, “Bad” history is seldom constructed out of fantasy; it is simply that we tend to accept as good history whatever is congenial to our contemporary way of thinking. The good history of one generation becomes the bad history of the next

At one level, history of the present day as chronicled by those that matter today may not entirely be a product of fantasy. They may convincingly rationalize the conflicts of the present day to suit their political or religious point-of-view. They may possibly succeed in carrying the day with them. However, it is the succeeding generations, which have the benefit of a perspective view of things, who can judge whether what was accepted in the past was really a good piece of history.

Ideally, Good history tries to be as objective as possible. It tries to describe what happened, with the kind of detail that creates an honest, dispassionate and accurate, although imperfect picture. It is not confined to whatever is congenial to contemporary way of thinking. It is also not a tract to propagate an “ism.

We can impulsively draw up a checklist of what a Good history is not. However, those who live through it can seldom judge it

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History



Can Ancient Vishnu Idol Change View on Russian History?

1. During Jan2007, there were reports in the media about the discovery of an Ancient Vishnu Idol in Staraya Maina  a village in Russia.

2. There were some speculations that the discovery of an ancient Vishnu idol in the Staraya Maina village on the banks of Samara, region may cause the history of Ancient Russia to be re written.

I think such statements are shrill and exaggerated. 

3. The discovery of the idol may only suggest that there were links between the two old countries. Most likely the links were through trade than through political  relation/domination.

4. Around the 6th century, Russia still had an open religious environment. The social structure was also more open. Serfdom was yet to become a part of the feudal structure. The peasants were free to move about the country side in search of farm lands and work. The links with the other parts of the old world were still active and alive. 

5. It was only by 966 AD under Prince Vladimir that Russia accepted Christianity ; and all other religious practices were banned. In the periods thereafter Russia  went into a virtual isolation and was cut off from Asia/India for a very long time.

6. The period 6-7th century-also marked flourishing trade ventures by Indian rulers. Palas in the North and Cholas in the South were enterprising dynasties.During their times the Indian influence through trade spread to Far East and to regions beyond the mountainous borders.

7. The links between India and Russia  are definitely far older than the 6th Century; deep into the unrecorded historic past .The discovery of the idol only suggests that even during 6-7th centuries there were trade links between the two ancient lands. The Indian traders/travelers could have had their own place of worship in the Staraya Maina (as they did have in old Iraq , Afghanistan , Central Asia , Baku etc.) because they had to be stationed there for fairly long spells .This is quite possible since Staraya Maina was a major centre for trade and culture in the old times. It is unlikely there were direct political connections between Mid Volga region and North / 

8. A call to rewrite pre Christine Russian history on the basis of this discovery alone, to say the least, is rather unrealistic; unless further more compelling evidences – say , in the form of edicts , records , excavations etc, – come up.

9. But definitely, there is a need for further serious study.

A request to all other subscribers and members

1. Are there any details of coins, artifacts etc. found on the site? Has any study been made? 
2. Is there an update about the proposed ”International Conference “?
3. Can anyone please enlighten if such a conference was held. If so what was the outcome of it?
4. Is there a link on the Web detailing further developments on the issue of proximity between India and Russia?

Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History