The tusk of svapna-sa~NketA

•May 13, 2007 • Leave a Comment

After the third vIra had broken forth the vairi-s turned their attention towards the 4 other distant vIra-s. Two of them were protected by the spells of the taittirIyaka, the bull amongst the kuNDinas. The rAhu which seized us like a graha of kumAra or a vinAyaka seizing a victim will be described when we emerge on the other side of the grahaNa. There was a vague intelligence we received that the amAtya was the principal target. It was not as clear as the dreaded kR^ityA that we saw last year in the middle of our day like a shUrpanakha in the daNDaka– verily like a pill of venom coated in honey. But it was like the mAraNa that took us closest to vaivasvata, before we were literally hauled out of the raging waters by the yakShiNI nIlalohitamekhalA of indescribable beauty with the strength of 8000 elephants. We did not know when the amAtya would be struck or even if the amAtya was really the target.

The kavi among the bhArgava-s however was aided most remarkably by the highest prayoga of sUkarAnanA of the dreams. As a result he clearly saw the dreaded chaturashra yantra with sAdhya curled under the mAyA bIja in the middle, much like the vighna yantra of bhaNDAsura. With this clear intelligence available, he saw that the amAtya was the target. He then saw exactly what abhichAra had been deployed: the unexpected dinAstra and it was advancing rapidly. Before he could do anything the amAtya was struck. He almost simultaneous retaliated with the first counter-prayoga. But he saw this being repulsed by the dinAstra, though it gave enough time for the amAtya to hold on to life. Keeping his presence of mind he retaliated almost immediately with the combination of nabho-nilaya-bhairava and surA-devI and mahiShAruDha-vArAhI. This destroyed the mAraNa prayoga and saved the amAtya-s life. Then the oShadhi-s of atharvaNa-bhadrakAli were deployed to counter the lasting effects of the abhichAra. The bhargava was able to pull this off beyond all his expectations only because of the anugraha of the tusked one.

The yaudheya-kuShAna conflict

•May 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

A yaudheya coin with kumAra and a yaudheya style image showing a li~nga, kumAra and revatI devI.

One of the murky aspects of Indian history is the overthrow of the Hinduized Iranian rulers, the Kushanas and the mahA-kShatrapa-s. We know that the mahA-kShatrapa-s appear to be descendants of the shAka haumavarga, and held sway mainly in the Western part of India. After a glorious rise under rudra-dAman these Iranians appear to have declined gradually and moved into oblivion, with their military power curbed by the andhras (shatavAhanas). The end of the kushAnas appears to have been more dramatic, especially in the mainland of Aryavarta. Given that these Iranians were thoroughly Hinduized it is not clear if a major nationalist response to them was initiated — i.e. similar to something against the Macedonians of Alexander or much later the movement of the later gupta-s against the hUNa rAjas. However, it is clear that the original kShatriya-s who were overrun by the Iranians were not going to take their subordinate status lying down and eventually organized the struggle that destroyed the kushAna rule.

There are claims in the tamil epic the shilap-padhikAraM that the chera king senguttavan defeated a certain kaniShka in Aryavarta. He is said to have made this kanaka and another ruler vijaya carry the image of pattini (kaNNaki-ammAl) to the drAviDa country. There is little clarity on what this meant. Altekar argued using numismatic evidence that it was the yaudheya republic that overthrew the kushAnas. Altekar correctly inferred that prior to the kuShAna period, the yaudheya republic’s territory encompassed a northern Rajasthan and Punjab/Haryana of modern times. One of their chief capitals was the great kaumAra center of rohitaka (Rohtak), their patron deity being kumAra. The mahAbharata states that the republic was founded by the son of yudhiShThira through devikA, a princess of the ANava kingdom of the shaibyas.

The yaudheya republic was overrun by the kushAnas under kanishka who annexed their territory to his empire. In 145 AD they made their first attempt at breaking the stranglehold by declaring independence in Northern Rajasthan. The kushAna-s took the aid of their co-ethnic rudra-dAman to crush the yaudheyas. He declares with much pride in the Junagad inscription that the yaudheya-s who were much respected for their valor by all the kShatriya-s were destroyed by his sena which moved northwards to smother their attempt at revolt. For about 30 years after this crushing defeat the yaudheya-s seemed finished. But they rose again defeating the kShatrapa-s in the south and then in a series of battles driving out the kushAna-s from the original yaudheya territory. After this point the kushAna-s lost the entire territory east of the shutudri (Sutlej) river to the yaudheyas, and subsequently crumbled and disintegrated eventually becoming vassals of the Sassanid rulers of Iran in the extreme west. After this victory of the yaudheyas, we notice their cities reviving again in places corresponding to modern Rohtak, Dehra Dun, Saharanpur, Delhi, Ludhiana and Kangra. The latter city was originally founded by the audumbarAyanas, who were destroyed completely by the kushAna-s. This glorious victory against and overthrow of one of the most powerful empires of the world of that era, one which had defeated the chIna-s and taken as hostage a prince and princess of the Han chIna-s, greatly increased the the prestige of the yaudheya republic. Their victorious advance of the yaudheya-s was attributed to the jaya-mantra of the brahmaNya deva — a point often mentioned in the legends of their coins below the image of a spear-wielding skanda (“yaudheyANam jaya mantra dharANAM”). A point of interest that Altekar noted regarding the yaudheya coins was that the script used was brAhmi and not Greek or even kharoShThi, as was typical of the kushAna-s who also had coins with kumAra images. This might indicate that yaudheya-s were explicitly flaunting their national spirit by repudiating the foreign and northwestern scripts.

The study of the coin inscriptions has also been noted that the yaudheya republic grew by amalgamation of other republic they incited into the overthrow of the kushAna-s. These were: 1) the enigmatic arjunAyana-s, who claimed descent from the pANDu hero and liberated the territory in the Agra-Jaipur zone. 2) kuNinda-s who liberated the area in the north-west between the shutudri and vipAshA (Beas). Some historians feel that the numbers ‘2’ or ‘3’ coming after the legend yaudheya-gaNasya jayaH indicated these associated republics that coalesced with the core yaudheya-s. Their rule was one of the golden periods of the kaumAra sect, with the development of much of the classical kaumAra mantra-shAstra.

On the sautrAmaNI

•May 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The celebrated sautrAmaNI rite, which is one of the rare shrauta rites in which oblations of beer are offered is a conservative one that goes back to the early vedic period. The key oblations are readied thus are prepared thus (the production of the vedic beer has already been described):
The cups for the ashvins
Material: ashvattha wood
Flavoring: wheat flour and juice/powder of red large jujube fruit (kuvala)
mantra: tejo asi.. . SYV vajasaneyi saMhitA 19.9
The cup for the sarasvati
Material:udumbara wood
Flavoring: coriander powder and juice/powder of yellow green large jujube fruit (badara)
mantra: vIryam asi … VS 19.9
The cup for indra
material: nygrodha wood
mantra: balam asi … VS 19.9
Flavoring: Barley powder and juice/powder of small red jujube (karkandhu).
Powder of wolf, tiger and lion hair are respectively added to the 3 sets of cups with the mantra ojo asi (VS19.9)
The total set of cups are 2 milk cups for ashvins; 2 beer cups for ashvins; 1 milk cup for sarasvati; 1 beer cup for sarasvati; 1 milk cup for indra; 1 beer cup for indra. The beer cups are filled by placing them on earthen sthAli saucepans.
These are for offerings in the AhavanIya. The adhvaryu then takes the 100-holed pitcher with a kusha grass filter and a gold ornament and offers the remaining beer into the dakShiNAgni with the mantras punantu mA (VS 19.37-44). In the charaka-sautrAmaNi it offered in the southern AhavanIya (without the raised altar) typical of this rite. In this case the pitcher may alternatively be 9-holed.

A variant of the sautramaNi is performed within the rAjasUya, the charaka sautrAmaNi as instituted by the kR^iShNa-yajurvedic charakas.

The structure of the sautrAmaNi ritual closely follows its oldest mention in the indra sutrAman sUktaM (RV 10.131):
yuvaM surAmam ashvinA namuchAvAsure sachA |
vipipAnAshubhas patI indraM karmasvAvatam ||
Young ashvins, auspicious lords, drank swigs of good beer, and refreshed indra in his work with the Asuric namuci.

putram iva pitarAv-ashvinobhendrAvathuH kAvyair-daMsanAbhiH |
yat surAmaM vyapibaH shachIbhiH sarasvatI tvA maghavan-nabhiShNak ||
As parents aid a son, the two Asvins, have helped you O indra, with their wondrous powers and mantras. When you, with glory had drunk the swigs of beer, sarasvati refreshed you maghavan.

Empedocles and vasiShTha : Agrigentum and Mithila

•May 2, 2007 • Leave a Comment

τέσσαρα γὰρ πάντων ῥιζώματα πρῶτον ἄκουε·
Ζεὺς ἀργὴς Ἥρη τε φερέσβιος ἠδ’ Ἀιδωνεύς
Νῆστίς θ’, ἣ δακρύοις τέγγει κρούνωμα βρότειον.

And first the fourfold root of all things hear!—
White gleaming Zeus, life-bringing Hera, Aidoneus,
And Nestis whose tears bedew mortality.

Hayasthanika of great beauty and vigor (I would like to say this of another woman too but am forbidden from saying so in public ;) ) and I were once discussing the edifices of pagan thought. I was unfolding to her the basic idea that the entire edifice of what might be termed the current intellectual meme unfolded between Sicily and Mithila long long ago. I term this the collective “gyANa-kANDa” of the pagans. Though no one clearly understands the dynamics of this great and striking resonance between the Aryas and yavanas, it is very clear to those who properly understand both systems. So much so that just as understanding the depths of the vedic language benefits from understanding Greek, so too deciphering the intricacies of Aryan thought is eased by comparisons to yavana thought. Pythagoras and bAdarAyaNa, Euclid and pANini, Democritus and kaNAda; thus they go along in resonance. Sadly, much of this missed in the modern world because somehow yavana thought has come to be termed “Western philosophy”, and is gazed upon by minds infected by the Abrahamistic memes. While on the other hand the Hindu makes no attempt to make an independent study of it. The typical modern Hindu thinker does not even realize that as a pagan he is the only genuine adhikArI to interpret the yavana-s, as the pagan yavana-s are long gone. I have always believed that the Hindus can be considered as having truly come of age only when they set up institutes that can analyze various pagan thoughts within a pagan framework (the natural Hindu one, rather than the Abrahamistic one).

She who is like a female oryx was wondering as to who were the greatest sages amongst the yavana-s. Of course names like Pythagoras, Anaximander, Parmenides, Euclid, Plato and Aristotle were thrown about. But the one name which came to my mind was Empedocles of Agrigentum, son of Meton , that highest sage amongst the yavana-s. One thing about Empedocles that struck a common chord in Hayasthanika and me, and vividly impacted our world view, was his remarkable description of the origin of of the world and life forms. He held that 4 elements- fire, air, earth and water which in a hymn composed by him he identified with the deities Zeus, Hera, Aidoneus and Nestis (See above). From these elements he believed that first various parts of the body came into being: heads, arms, eyes, legs that floated around and combined with other body parts to give rise to full beings.
“These members fell together where they met,
And many a birth besides was then begot
In a long line of ever varied life. Hymn fragment 59 of Empedocles.

He further elaborated that there arose many forms with wrong combinations of limbs and body parts or ancient forms with supernumerary combinations that were not capable of surviving. Hence, they perished leaving behind only the correctly combined parts that resulted in fully functioning organism. This was one of the earliest statements one of the basic biological truths: the principle of evolution by natural selection (Thus, he had preceded Darwin in proposing an evolutionary model based on natural selection by over 2300 years).

In addition to this, Empedocles had many profound proto-scientific ideas: He proposed a version of the conservation principle for matter that resembled the saMkhya version of the Hindus; he described the importance of the heart in the circulatory system, and was possibly even an engineer. Empedocles belonged to the aristocracy of Agrigentum and is believed to have led the life of a sage: He abstained from meat and impure foods. He performed magical rituals and cured diseases by using medicines and uttering ritual incantations. He believed that if one murdered, broke oaths and committed such other sins one was reborn repeatedly through many bodies. He claimed he remembered his many births : “For by now I have been born as a boy, a girl, a plant, a bird, and a dumb fish in the sea.” Many later yavana authors praised him as one of the greatest poets of their past.

Coming back to his remarkable evolutionary model of organisms being put together from pre-emerging parts, she who is like a female eagle asked: Is this not a remarkable and unprecedented insight? I agreed remarkable indeed but not unprecedented. Hayasthanika asked: So where do we encounter this idea prior to Empedocles?

The answer to this lies in a lecture given by a vasiShTha to a janaka named karAla, the ruler of mithilA preserved in the shanti parvan of the great bhArata (12.303 in the Vulgate edition; 12.291 in Critical Pune edition). Here, the kauNDinya, on being questioned by the king on the highest philosophy, propounds a saMkhya theory, which is a proto-version of pA~ncharAtric sAMkhya. In it he explains that from the tanmAtras the bhUtas- akAsha, teja, vAyu, Apah and pR^ithivi emerged (these correspond to the four elements of Empedocles, only that the Hindus had 5 bhUta-s instead with AkAsha being the extra one). These bhUtas then combined to gave rise to several organs like: ear, skin, eye, tongue, nose, mouth, hands, legs, guts, genitalia and the mind. These then combined to give rise to the organisms of waters, earth and sky. Only those forms that could exist/ or survived in these environments are observed as existing. This presentation of the vasiShTha clearly explains that the peculiar core sAMkhyan theory of the organs and mind emerging from the bhUta-s and then assembling organisms was actually meant in the same way Empedocles propounded his theory in the Greek world.

A further allusion to an evolutionary theory that resembles the principle of natural selection as suggested by Empedocles is provided in another lecture on sAMkhya similar to that provided by the vasiShTha. This is in a lecture that was delivered by the R^iShi yA~jnyavalkya to the janaka named daivarAti, the king of mithilA (Mbh shantiparvan: 12.312 in Vulgate edition; 12.299 in critical Pune edition). This lengthy lecture on sAMkhya is said to be an upaniShad. Here in yA~jnyavalkya explains that the source organisms (yonis) come into being through the conglomeration of the pa~ncha-bhUta-s (same as described by the vasiShTha). The they are said to compete with each other (anyonya-spardhinaH) and consequently they kill the rival organisms or out-compete them depending on their qualities which result in destruction or survival. Some are said to form associations with each other and exist symbiotically. Thus evolving the organisms come to be.

Thus, in early sAMkhya thought we find evolutionary theories that propose an assembly of organisms from various parts that were formed from the bhUta-s (elements of Empedocles). We also find an evolutionary theory which proposed that organisms compete with each other with only some surviving depending on their properties. It also postulates formation of symbiotic associations. The fine differences between Empedocles and the sAMkhya seers represent different parallel synthetic attempts utilizing a similar set of core ideas. Both the sAMkhya seers and Empedocles also share other issues like having some concept of rebirth and the need for purifications to transcend the births with suffering. This similarity in not only their naturalistic thought but also other points of their world view shows that they belong to a related intellectual tradition with comparable ideas (It should be noted that such ideas are not particularly frequent in other coeval cultures of the Americas, Africa, Indo-Pacific, Australia and most other Eurasian peoples).

In the Hindu world, the various works belonging to this genre include in addition to the AkhyAnas of the vasiShTha and yA~jnyavalkya in the Mithilan court, the bhR^igu-smR^iti, the opening section of the manu-smR^iti, the lecture of the butcher to the kaushika and the lecture of the female sage sulabhA prAdhAni to another janaka explaining among other things the atomic theory and embryology of humans. These works were a part of the corpus that was inserted into the original core bhArata to form the mahAbhArata. This appears to have been the work of the bhArgava-s during their inflationary redaction of the bhArata text. In this act the bhArgavas preserved the intellectual production that immediately followed the end of the vedic period (upaniShads) and beginning of the darshana period. The key highlight of this period was the rise of sAMkhya and other darshanas and the use of naturalistic theories to explain properties of substances, atomic structure of matter, physiological functions of plants and animals (as seen in the bhR^igu smR^iti), classification of living organisms (opening section of manu smR^iti), embryology, and also evolutionary models to explain their origins. The frequent involvement of the janaka-s suggests that the court of mithilA was one of the key centers of this great intellectual movement that began with the late vedic (upaniShadic) period. A little later similar thoughts exploded across the far away yavana world, with systematic new theoretical syntheses converging on theories similar to evolution by natural selection.

In fact, even though the evolutionary models of Empedocles and the sAMkhya seers involving fusions of “free-floating parts” looks childish, we now know they are not all that far-fetched. We see how much horizontal gene transfer has contributed to the emergence of complex forms including animals — literally a putting together of genomes from various parts floating about. Emergence of key components of the animal neuro-sensory system provide some good examples : The key receptors of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA emerged from an ancestral receptor of the ART-LGIC family that was coded by a laterally mobile gene in the bacteria. Likewise the precursors of the animal and plant (chlorophyte alga) nitric oxide receptor and the calcium channel subunit that bind gabapentin were also present in bacteria. So also precursors of taste (and neural metabotropic) receptors emerged from bacterial small molecule sensors. So in a sense, as described by Empedocles and the sAMkhya sages, the parts of the complex animal neuro-sensory system was already floating around in the bacteria. They came together through lateral transfers over eukaryotic evolution in the precursor of the animals (literally the parts, like the manas, j~nAnendriya–s and karmendriya-s floating about and aggregating to form the tiryagyoni-s in the sAmkhya theories :)).

Thus, in a sense they were close to the truth in a funny unexpected way.

Adriosaurs and the origin of snakes and the snake-like form

•April 25, 2007 • Leave a Comment

We had earlier seen how the Lee camp had claimed that snakes are a sister group of the marine varanoid lizards, and how the Rieppel camp had repeatedly engaged in falsifying these claims. The molecular phylogenies showed that snakes were not particularly close to the extant varanoids. Lee tried to strike back by claiming that even in a tree constrained by the robust nodes determined by molecular phylogeny the snakes and mesozoic marine lizards continued to group together. Caldwell another major protagonist of the Lee camp has now brought up a new adriosaur species Adriosaurus microbrachis to support their theory. The adriosaurs definitely make one sit back and consider the snake-marine lizard connection again with greater care.

This issue of the origin of the snakes, like the origin of the turtles, is an enduring problem in paleontology and I have been fascinated by the lessons it offers. The current debates have a long history: In the 1860s the prolific American scientist Edward Cope (who published about 1200 papers in his life) first noted the similarities between the marine lizards, varanoids and snakes. From 1908 to 1923 the prophetic Franz von Nopsca published papers (including “Zur Kenntnis der fossilen Eidechsen”,1908; an early classic on lizard evolution) in which he proposed that the marine forms like dolichosaurs and adriosaurs with progressively snake-like bodies presented an evolutionary pathway leading from marine lizards to snakes. A modern variant of this theory was to become the mainstay of the Lee camp. In the 1930s the great explorer of reptilian anatomy, Mahendra (who produced the first modern survey of Indian snakes), proposed the rival fossorial or burrowing origin of snakes. His works, however, were largely ignored and forgotten until the fossorial theory from extant snakes was revived by Bellairs and gang a decade or so later. It was in Bellairs’s stupendous classic on reptiles which I started reading when I was 8 or so that I encountered this fascinating evolutionary issue of snake origins. The story was so riveting that I just could not put the books down. I had obtained some skulls of lizards and snakes from the vAnara parvata and intently studied them to gain an appreciation for the issue. The main issue supporting the fossorial origin of extant snakes was the presence of the peculiar eye-lens focusing muscles. These clearly suggested degeneration of vision as seen in other fossorial forms of lizards followed by revival of vision by this highly derived lens focusing apparatus. However, it was not impossible that the earliest snakes were marine and only the ancestor of the extant forms was fossorial.

The Mesozoic marine lizards are typified the following major lineages: 1) aigialosaurs 2) mosasaurs 3) dolichosaurs 4) adriosaurs and 5) the distinctive Aphanizocnemus that might define a lineage of its own. All these forms show several clear similarities with terrestrial varanoid lizards that had already pretty much settled into their modern form by the late Cretaceous as suggested by forms like giant Gila monster-like lizard Estesia from the Mongolian Gobi. Anatomically, the aigialosaurs appear to retain the most primitive condition. Forms like Carsosaurus have fairly large well-developed limbs capable of supporting weight on land, though they have the marine adaptation of being viviparous with tail first birth. In a general sense these lizards would have very well resembled the varanoid lizards like the water monitor that is seen occasionally in the desh (I had a good chance to study it after a Dravidian interested only in eating the torso had hacked of the head and given it to me). The water monitor is competent on both land and water and grabs fishes with considerable efficiency. The more recently described primitive mosasaur, Dallasaurus from Texas retains several aigialosaur-like features. This suggests that the ancestor of the agialosaurs and mosasaur at least was an amphibious form, much like many extant varanoids. The extreme marine adaptations of the classical mosasaurs thus appear to be much later feature in their evolution. The dolichosaurs, Aphanizocnemus and adriosaurs appear to be much more derived– they have much longer bodies in general with elongation of their neck as well as increase in number to dorsal vertebrae and reduction of forelimbs to different degrees. What Caldwell found was that Adriosaurus microbrachis has an extreme reduction of the forelimbs — just an atrophied humerus. This was seen as a tendency towards forelimb loss that preceded the emergence of snakes.

A water-montior navigating a river

It has to be admitted that the dolichosaurs and adriosaurs are indeed pretty snake-like in a generic sense. However, this does not necessarily imply a close relationship. The snake-like form has occasionally emerged independently in different aquatic vertebrate lineages. Such a morphology might have been primitive for the extant agnathans– lamprey and hagfishes — suggesting that anguiliform morphology was first acquired very early on by swimming vertebrates. In the sharks, this form emerged in the deep-sea forms like Chlamydoselachus and among fishes it is seen in eels. Thus, given the right conditions this form is convergently adopted by different aquatic forms. However, one point to note is that snake-like morphologies were rare amongst tetrapods returning to the water. While numerous reptilian lineages re-entered the waters few really acquired a snake-like form. It is not seen in mesosaurs, pachypleurosaurs, nothosaurs, plesiosaurs, Hupehsuchus, ichthyosaurs, choristoderes, placodonts, turtles and crocodylomorphs. For all the axial elongation seen in the sauropterygians (pachypleurosaurs, nothosaurs, plesiosaurs) there was no snake-like form.

In contrast, snake-like forms emerged in terrestrial lizards that burrow or exhibit an undulatory locomotion on multiple occasions as shown by the dibamids, pygopodids, skinks, amphisbaenians, and anguid lizards . Even in “amphibians” the terrestrially well-adapted and predominantly fossorial caecilians show this form. The other snake-like amphibians — the lepospondyl radiation of aistopods were probably aquatic in origin, though this is not certain. Thus, the anguiform morphology might evolve in both terrestrial niches (fossorial or otherwise) as well as aquatic niches convergently. Hence, there is no reason that the snakes and marine lizards did not adopt axially elongated morphologies independently in different situations. On the other hand there is the infrequency of marine to terrestrial transitions in tetrapods, which has been cited in favor of the terrestrial origin of snakes.

In conclusion, given the frequent convergent emergence of the snake-like body plan in different niches, its origin should be examined unconstrained by preconceptions. A robust phylogenetic reconstruction and a general survey of the morphological features on this phylogenetic framework would then help in understanding the degree of repeated re-emergence and loss of derived states.

In 1975, the zoologist Gans analyzed the various factors related to limblessness in tetrapods. However, it should noted that it is subset of a more general issue of why snake-like morphologies emerged in vertebrates from agnathans to reptiles. While various factors were correlated with limblessness by Gans it is clear that most of these might be a consequence rather than a cause for limblessness. For example, the question arises as to whether burrowing behavior is a consequence of the snake-like form or vice-versa. However, a few points must be noted: 1) The snake-like form provides some kind of ecological “release” at least in terrestrial vertebrates. For example the snake-like pygopodids in Australia occupy far more diverse niches than their sister group the classical geckos (see below). Likewise snakes are amongst the most ecologically diverse group of lizards. Thus, the snake-like form may offer certain adapative advantages that have favored its repeated emergence. 2) It should be noted that the snake-like morphology does not emerge in endothermic vertebrates like archosaurs and synapsids. Considering a unit body volume, increase in length results in increase in surface area (in the ascending arm of the curve: A=2*(sqrt(PI*l)+1/l); where l=body length) making such elongation generally costly for an endotherm (need to warm more area). More importantly these vertebrates have an “erect” gait with the body wall not being thrown into undulations while moving.

These points suggest that, in line with Gans’ earlier analysis, the undulatory locomotion involving body wall muscles that in some form is primitive to the vertebrates is the key to the emergence of the snake-like body form. Thus an initial elongation, perhaps due to different reasons, leads towards the snake-like body plan as undulatory locomotion is perfected, and this form opens up other ecological advantages. Since a similar pattern of basic undulatory locomotion is used by vertebrates in both land and water this form might emerge in the context of swimming, “sand-swimming”, entering crevices or burrowing.

The molecular phylogeny of lizards

The molecular phylogenies of lizards have overturned most conclusions derived from morphological studies. Just as in the case of mammalian phylogeny, they have shown that, except for the closest higher order relationships, the morphological studies have failed to produce a correct tree on most occasions. In fact, even in the case of some close relationships they have failed quite badly. The result of the molecular phylogenies is summarized in the tree produced by the works of Vidal et al and Townsend et al’s pioneering efforts. Some of the most striking features are the crown group of Toxicofera uniting snakes, anguimorphs and iguanians, which was never expected by any morphologist (just like Afrotheria in mammalian phylogeny). In addition it showed that within anguimorphs varanids and Gila monsters are not sister clades. It also surprisingly showed that the amphisbaenians with snake-like forms are derived from the Lacertid-teiid assemblage and have no connection with snakes. It shows that the skinks, cordylids and Xantusiids from a monophyletic clade and are not specifically related in anyway to the lacertid-teiid assemblage. It shows the gekkotans and dibamids as basal lizard lineages with no apparent relationship between dibamids and amphisbaenids. Thus, both the Lee and Rieppel camps were falsified in one stroke.

The above picture illustrates two gekkotans: The classical Gekko gecko and its close relative the snake lizard (pygopodid) Lialis (gekkota is a basal lizard clade, very distant from the real snakes and anguimorphs). It illustrates how the snake-like morphology easily convergently emerges amongst terrestrial lizards.

Now on this phylogenetic model we can analyze the convergent emergence of various body forms. Among extant reptiles the snake-like form emerged convergently in 5 different lineages (and perhaps more than once within them): 1) snakes 2) amphisbaenids 3) anguids 4) pgyopodids 5) dibamids. At least 4 of these emergences appear to be in a strictly terrestrial context. A corollary to this is that the presence of a snake-like form should no longer be considered a major indication of sister group relationship. Thus, the adriosaurs being particularly close to snakes must be questioned. Since this phylogeny decouples the snake-varanoid connection and also breaks up a Varanus-Heloderma sister grouping, it indeed seriously questions if we should be certain about the position of adriosaurs, dolichosaurs, mosasaurs and their relatives. My own consideration of their anatomy, omitting the biasing features of the snake-like body form, suggests that they lie within anguimorpha. But snakes apparently do not lie within anguimorpha, but are only a related clade and can even be closer to iguania than anguimorpha. Further, recent molecular studies suggest that homeobox gene HoxC8 in other tetrapods is expressed just posterior to the pectoral girdle. In snakes its zone of expression of HoxC8 starts very close to the anterior-most vertebra. This suggests that the neck in snakes was not greatly elongated, much like the situation in skinks (where the key elongation is in the torso). This is in contrast to the elongated neck of the adriosaurs. Thus, I feel the adriosaurs and dolichosaurs are not close to snake origins, and are a 6th snake-like form convergently emerging amongst lizards.

Convergence in the “skink-like body form” in skinks (left) and teiioids (right)

In addition to the classic snake-like form, other elongate forms have repeatedly convergently evolved in lizards. For example the “skink-like” form are seen convergently in certain teiids as well as classical skinks, which are very distant from the former. This, illustrates a certain persistent driving force towards such adaptations in lizards, operating on basic locomotory mechanism which uses the body-wall muscles. In this context it would be useful to consider the coupling of the locomotory body wall muscles and respiration that restrict a lizard from running at high speeds without stopping to exhibit the panting behavior. The varanoids solved this problem by evolving a gular sac that allows pumping of air even while running at high speeds and keep the lungs working. The snake-like form might provide other locomotory alternatives for this, and might explain the adaptive successes of snakes and pygopodids.

While convergence is rampant in the snake-like form, we find that the converse might be true for the bifurcated or forked tongue. Most lizards have a notched tongue tip. However, it is prominently forked in teiioids, serpents, anguimorphs where it allows for “binocular” olfaction or precise perception of the smell source. Now, a simple notching might either be a primitive state of the lizard tongue or a reversal from an even more forked state. What ever the case, the fact that the iguanians are a crown group taxon with the anguimorphs makes it clear that the forking was lost secondarily in them as they specialized in using tongue prehension prey capture. This trait culminated in the highly specialized use of the tongue in the chameleonid lineage within the iguanians. With the iguanians in the crown group tongue bifurcation becomes a primitive condition.

Finally, the thorough smashing of the morphological trees suggests that the whole issue of the relationships of Mesozoic lizards must be revisited. The comprehensive review by SE Evans on lizard evolution needs a serious reconsideration in many aspects. While the presence of vomerine and pterygoid teeth rows in Kuehneosaurs and Marmoretta suggest that they might indeed be primitive many of the other forms need a more careful consideration. For example, do the paramacellodids from the Jurassic and Cretaceous really group with scincomorph lizards? Do the forms like Bharatagama and Tikiguania from the Jurassic and Late Triassic really belong to the iguanian radiation or did this radiation only occur in the Cretaceous ? The latter possibility is suggested by the recent discovery of a well-preserved fossil gliding lizard, Xianglong from the Early Cretaceous Yixian formation that clearly appears to be an iguanian, perhaps an agamid, just like its modern equivalent Draco. Is Parviraptor from the middle Jurassic really related to the anguimorphs? A revised study of the well-preserved Dalinghosaurus from the Yixian formation would also be beneficial. We feel this taxon may have a bearing on the relationship between the anguimorphs and iguanians. Answering all this means a thorough revamp of the evolutionary understanding of lizard anatomy. Again molecular studies might help– for example molecular markers to study the development of cervical and pectoral muscles could help in the snake origin problem. A study of skull development could again help in unraveling issues that were previously missed

(We wish we could invade these issues ourselves but for now we conclude this excursion into lizards by remembering the halcyon days when we studied the agamids Psammophilus– the yellow-black rock lizard in the city of our birth and Calotes and Sitana in the city of our growth).


•April 24, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Visualizing higher dimensions

•April 23, 2007 • Leave a Comment

When most people look at the above figure they know it is two dimensional yet they perceive it as a 3D object. But most of us stop at 3D. Most of us do not see a 3D object and visualize it as a depiction of higher dimensional object, unlike the 2D object in which we see 3D. In the West Möbius started thinking of this perception by bring to light the silhouette problem: the 2D silhouette of the left hand cannot be made into that of the right hand unless you have the 3rd dimension. Only with the 3rd dimension can you rotate the silhouette around in 3D and make into that of the right hand. Likewise he wondered if an equivalent operation in the 4th dimension could make a 3D right hand into a 3D left hand. Some mathematicians like Hinton, Stringham and Poincare felt that they could perceive the 4th dimension. Following them a number of mathematicians have felt that they possessed such perception and a profound exposition of polyhedra in higher dimensions is offered by Coxeter with illustrations of how their projections in 2 and 3 dimensions might appear. Though these projections give a sense of how algebraic operations on such objects might be carried most regular people cannot perceive the tesseract One may term it a siddhi from janma after pata~njali. Attaining this siddhi is of considerable difficulty but once one attains it opens certain higher realms for the sAdhaka. When this siddhi is attained many things that appear paradoxical or contradictory to the the lower mind suddenly free up.

After I originally brought this topic up, it seemed to have struck a chord in two acquaintances: R and SRA. Both seemed to respond to different aspects that I originally wished to touch upon. R informed me of the case of Alicia Stott which illustrates that higher dimensional perception is indeed a siddhi that, like some others, comes with janma [it may have genetic causes]. Alicia Stott starting at the age of 17 started “seeing” higher dimensional polyhedra, which she named polytopes and was able conceive them as sections and nets of 3D polyhedra. By means of her higher dimensional visualization capabilities she was able to show that there were only 6 regular polytopes in the 4D space, just like there are only 5 Platonic solids in 3D space. Her ability to perceive the higher dimensions was used by mathematicians, including the famous Coxeter, in their studies on higher dimensional polyhedra. One has to only look at her models depicting the sections through the 120-cell a 4D regular polytope to get a feel for the stupendous nature of her higher dimensional perception. The important point in this context to note is that Alicia Stott had no formal education in mathematics or any formally earned degree. However, she was the daughter of the mathematician Boole and her mother was a teacher with a high degree of intelligence. Her grand-uncle was the trignometer Everest involved in the surveying of India. Thus, the genes gave her the siddhi with janma.

In another direction: When the sAdhaka performing japa of that great mantra of mahAvaiShNavI with his dhyAna on the yantra nears its siddhi sees a reflection of the aShTa dala in the bindu. He then *sees* the 16 petaled padma. If he advances further he enters space and *sees* 8 cubes. He then transcends space and *perceives* the rahasya of the yantra and the hidden rahasya of the mantra. He becomes the over-lord.


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