Posts Tagged ‘Indian’

To celebrate or to remember?

May 13, 2007

Recently, we saw S Muthaiah argue why calling the Indian mutiny of 1857 a war of independence is an exaggeration:

What, however, needs to be remembered when looking at all these mutinies and rebellions as well as the rather larger-scale events of 1857 is that the idea of Indian nationalism did not exist at the time in the fragmented subcontinent. That nationalism had its beginnings only in the 1890s and flowered only in the early years of the 20th century. Thus, to call these tragic events wars for independence is to exaggerate. Even the mutineers of 1857 and their subsequent political allies did not march on Calcutta to drive out the dominant John Company; most of them hastened to Delhi to request the Mughal emperor, representative of another conquering power but himself subservient to the British, to lead them! Not seeking that leadership was nearly two-thirds of the sub-continent beyond the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain. These outbreaks against authority, uprisings at best, were all local in nature, a consequence of felt-wrongs done to personal beliefs or due to the curtailment of personal power and wealth. A war for the independence of India none of them was.

Now, Rudrangshu Mukherjee tells why we should remember but not celebrate 1857 (via Churmuri):

The events of 1857 churned around a vicious cycle of violence. The rebels killed mercilessly without considerations of gender and age. Witness the massacre on the river in Kanpur where nearly the entire British population was killed in a spectacular show of rebel power. The British killed indiscriminately to punish a population that had transgressed the monopoly of violence that rulers have over the ruled.

The British won and, like all victors everywhere, they memorialized their triumph. In Kanpur, to take one example, they transformed the well into which the bodies of the victims of a massacre had been thrown into a shrine. A weeping angel carved in marble by Marochetti was placed over the well. The shrine was an exclusive preserve of the white man till August 15, 1947. On that day, people damaged the nose of the angel, which had to be removed. In its place, a statue of Tantia Topi was erected. One icon was replaced by another.

Food for thought!


Golden guide to hallucinogenic plants

April 30, 2007

Hallucinogenic plants have been used by humans for ages; here is Wiki on one such Indian use in Vedic times, for example:

Soma (Sanskrit: सोमः), or Haoma (Avestan), from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sauma-, was a ritual drink of importance among the early Indo-Iranians, and the later Vedic and greater Persian cultures. It is frequently mentioned in the Rigveda, which contains many hymns praising its energizing or intoxicating qualities. In the Avesta, Haoma has an entire Yasht dedicated to it.

It is described as prepared by pressing juice from the stalks of a certain mountain plant, which has been variously hypothesized to be a psychedelic mushroom, cannabis, peganum harmala, or ephedra. In both Vedic and Zoroastrian tradition, the drink is identified with the plant, and also personified as a divinity, the three forming a religious or mythological unity.

Via B-squared, I now understand that the Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants is available online. And, in case you are curious, the Golden Guide thinks that Soma is Amanita Muscaria–the mushroom, which, I first saw in Bavarian alps:

Recent studies suggest that this mushroom was the mysterious God- narcotic soma of ancient India. Thousands of years ago, Aryan conquerors, who swept across India, worshiped some, drinking it in religious ceremonies. Many hymns in the Indian Rig-Veda are devoted to soma and describe the plant and its effects.

PS:- By the way, if you followed the link above, and wondered about the mention of urine drinking in Rg Veda, this page gives some more information on the issue.

Representations of Gandhi

April 25, 2007

…the point that I am moving toward is that a more robust, and perhaps muscular, Gandhi is visible in the pages of Indian writing in English these days. The sanitized Mahatma of early Indian fiction has given way to a maverick Gandhi.

From here. There is more along similar lines. Take a look at this for example:

In Kanthapura, Rao’s highly mannered syntax had conveyed to me the removed grandeur of idealism. I was discovering the past in a stylized way. Then, in the world outside the classroom, Hollywood brought peace and popcorn together, and gave Gandhi the honor he deserved. An Oscar.

It would be impossible for someone like me, born some decades after independence, to imagine Sahgal’s or Rao’s awestruck relationship with the Mahatma. Our freedom as a later generation of Indians has also meant a freedom from Gandhi-worship. Newer Indian writers have undoubtedly played a small part in this whole process of demystification. Consider Vikram Chandra’s portrait of Gandhi where he appears less a holy man on a pedestal and more a tactical mix of East and West, of high and low, of the sacred and also the secular: “Be fearless, like that suave cosmopolitan M.K. Gandhi, that most international of khiladis, who told us repeatedly that while his political gurus were Gokhale and Ranade and Tilak, his spiritual gurus were Tolstoy and Thoreau and Ruskin, and that he got his nonviolence not from the Gita, but from the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that Gandhi’s audience was not just Indian, but also everyone else; that all his actions, the spectacle of his revolution and the revolution of his self, were performed simultaneously before a local audience and a global one. He spoke to us, to those he loved, but in speaking to us he was also speaking to all the world, and in speaking to the world he wanted nothing less than to change all of it.”

A must-read excerpt. Have fun (and, do not forget to check out Bombay–London–New York from your library).

Indian history (after Gandhi)

April 24, 2007

From Amitava Kumar’s blog, I understand that the much awaited book on Indian history after Independence by Ram Guha has finally been published. Here is the review by Amit Chaudhuri of the book (that Amitava Kumar refers to in his post) By the way, does the book cost 25 pounds? Still, I cannot wait to lay my hands on a copy!

Here is the Macmillan page of the book; Amazon UK seems to sell the book at half the price, while Walmart seems to be accepting orders for the August 2007 publication of the book by Harper Collins.

Here is another review of the book by Edward Luce.

Books on some aspects of Indian history

April 2, 2007
  • Kanakalatha Mukund reviews a book on the history of the rise of banking in India in the 19th century:

    This book is a serious work by an eminent economic historian, who locates the beginnings of the central banks firmly in the context of the imperatives of the colonial government and the changing economic and commercial situation in Bengal, Bombay and Madras during the 19th century. It also fills a gap in the earlier Cambridge Economic History of India (vol. 2) — the absence of a chapter on the rise of banking in India during the 19th century.

  • Nalini Rajan reviews a collection of essays on the visual representations of India:

    How does one imagine the nation? According to Benedict Anderson’s well-known thesis, it is the emergence of print-capitalism in the form of the newspaper and the novel that allows a people to make the transition from the face-to-face village community life to the process of collectively imagining an anonymous group of people spread across a geographical space with a common `national’ identity. By the same token, Jurgen Habermas famously acknowledged the emergence of the public sphere of the media as heralding secular modernity in any polity. Going against the grain of these theses, this collection of eight essays examines the Indian context of a largely illiterate, visually alert, public that often imagines the nation (see the contributions of Sumathi Ramaswamy, Sandria Freitag, Kajri Jain, Catherine Asher, Christiane Brosius, and Raminder Kaur), and occasionally refrains from doing so (see the articles by Ajay Sinha and Christopher Pinney).

  • Suranjan Das reviews a book of selected speeches of Nehru, which among others, contains Nehru’s views on politico-economic democracy, social justice, secularism, federalism, foreign policy, cultural pluralism, his vision on the future of India and his emphasis on the scientific spirit.

Time for a bit of Indian history

March 31, 2007
  1. This essay in the Hindu by Babu K Verghese on the history of printing press in India is a must-read. Reaching India by accident, and promoted by missionaries ardently to spread the word of God, the printing press had (and continues to have) a very strong impact on all aspects of Indian national life.
  2. Last week, S Muthaiah talked about the mutiny at Vellore in 1806 that preceded the 1857 one (and several others too); this week, Moushumi Basu talks about yet another that took place in Bombay in 1683 — however, as she notes in her piece, it was a ‘white’ mutiny against the company, unlike the ‘native’ ones that followed.
  3. Navtej Varna is ecstatic about a Gazetteer of the Delhi district 1813-1884. Nor does the Gazetteer seem to be immune to the Indian way of telling history or describing geography:

    The Gazetteer notes that the “hills of Delhi, which though not attractive in themselves, give a pleasant view across the Jamna, and in clear weather allow, it is said, even a glimpse of the Himalayas.”

    I guess Raja Rao would have been happy to see the puranic style rendering of such geographical information.

  4. Malavika Karlekar writes about the southern sojourn of Sarala Debi at Maharani Girls College, Mysore and her brahminical (learning veena) and un-Brahminical  (reciting Upanishads) forays during the stay.

A couple of Indian history links

March 24, 2007

At Telegraph, Malavika Karlekar writes about the first port city in India, Madras and its history. There is some interesting bits of history that I was unaware of till I read the piece:

…until well into the 19th century, ships were anchored about a quarter mile offshore and passengers had to climb down into masula boats (photograph) with flimsy catamarans in attendance; their skilled crew were in a constant state of preparedness in case they had to rescue any hapless passengers who might have the misfortune to fall into the water. Cargo to and from larger vessels was transported in a similarly unconventional manner.

…Robert Chisholm, first principal of the Madras School of Industrial Art and consulting architect to the government of Madras, changed the Madras skyline. He introduced the Indo-Saracenic form where the Hindu and Islamic blended with Gothic revival: cupolas, domes and arches melded with the fine lines of European buildings.

In a piece in Hindu, S Muthiah discusses the 1857 “First war of Independence” and the various uprisings that preceded it. However, in his opinion, a critical look at these events indicate that they are not nationalistic in the sense in which we understand the word today:

…to call these tragic events wars for independence is to exaggerate. Even the mutineers of 1857 and their subsequent political allies did not march on Calcutta to drive out the dominant John Company; most of them hastened to Delhi to request the Mughal emperor, representative of another conquering power but himself subservient to the British, to lead them! Not seeking that leadership was nearly two-thirds of the sub-continent beyond the eastern Indo-Gangetic Plain. These outbreaks against authority, uprisings at best, were all local in nature, a consequence of felt-wrongs done to personal beliefs or due to the curtailment of personal power and wealth. A war for the independence of India none of them was.

Take a look!

India in seventeen hundreds

January 9, 2007

Long back CRY published a calendar with some copper engravings. When I visited Papanasam and Kutralam, I could recognise the places immediately by the engravings–no photo of these places that I have seen have done justice to the liveliness of these places and people as those engravings.

Now, via Desi Pundit, I learn about these paintings of James Hunter of Bangalore. By the way, the  Shole Gurry in this page, Kistnaghurry in this page, and Anchitty-Droog in this page are now called Shoolagiri, Krishnagiri, and Anchetty (I suppose); the Shoolagiri hillock does not look very different even now (except for a four lane road, and a petrol bunk). Krishnagiri, since the foot of the hillock is a very dense settlement now, looks different, though! I have no idea about Anchetty, though, my father might be able to say.

It might also be interesting to see if Hunter ever painted the Periya Malai (The big Hill), Kottai Malai (The Fortress Hillock), Denkanikottah (Honey-Fruit-Fortress) and other such parts of the present day Krishnagiri district (originally part of the Maratha empire, then Mysore, then Salem District under the British, and then Dharmapuri district from 1950s till late 1990s).

On Senji

November 6, 2006

No; it is not about Japan. It is about an early 16th century south Indian city:

Senji was a flourishing fortified city for nearly three centuries from its advent in the early 16th century until its fall in 1761. In its heyday it was one of the few big cities of peninsular India; some European visitors to this place in the last decades of the 16th century actually compared it to contemporary Amsterdam and Lisbon.

But for the cost of the book (Rs. 1500), I would love to own Senji (Gingee) — A fortified city in the Tamil country; in any case, take a look at the review.

Here is a Flickr set of Fort Senji. Apparently, this book called Textures of Time: Writing History in South India, 1600–1800 by Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Shulman, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam has two chapters on Raja Tej Singh (Raja Desingu), and his defeat at Senji.

I believe, at present Senji is a favourite Tam movie shooting spot — I remember at least one song in Amarkalam which was  filmed in Senji. In any case, here is the  Wiki page on Senji fort; link via  My story — ISB and beyond (which page also carries some nice photos of Senji).

In those parts where I hail from, a one-day school trip to Senjik-kottai and Sathanur Dam used to be very common (though I have not yet visited either Senji or Sathanur, till now).

Dalrymple on Sepoy mutiny

October 23, 2006

Here is an article by Dalrymple on Sepoy Munity and its Jihadi conections; link via A&L Daily:

Although the great majority of the sepoys were Hindus, in Delhi a flag of jihad was raised in the principal mosque, and many of the insurgents described themselves as mujahedin or jihadis. Indeed, by the end of the siege, after a significant proportion of the sepoys had melted away, hungry and dis pirited, the proportion of jihadis in Delhi grew to be about half of the total rebel force, and included a regiment of “suicide ghazis” from Gwalior who had vowed never to eat again and to fight until they met death at the hands of the kafirs, “for those who have come to die have no need for food”.

An interesting read; take a look!