Our link to asura varuNa

•April 1, 2007 • Leave a Comment

ajIjano hi varuNa svadhAvan-natharvANaM pitaraM deva-bandhuM |
tasmA u rAdhaH kR^iNuhi suprashastaM sakhA no asi paramaM cha bandhuH || AV-S 5.11

From father bhR^igu we have acquired that connection to the great asura medhira. As kavi atharvA had said to varuNa: we have walked the 7 steps of friendship and thus become connected. When atharvan desired to know that which lay beyond the rajas he asked varuNa, for the asura is the knower of that which is “paro rajasi” (kavi atharvan asks: “kiM rajasa enA paraH ?). When bhR^igu desired to acquire supreme knowledge he went to father varuNa (bhR^igur vai vAruNiH | varuNaM pitaram upasasAra |). The wise asura answered : “annaM prANaM cakShuH shrotraM mano vAcha miti | tagM ho vAcha | yato vA imAni bhUtAni jAyante | yena jAtAni jIvanti | yat-prayanty-abhi-saMvishanti | tad-vijij~nAsasva |…”
These words inspired the founder of our clan in the quest for knowledge and they are what we continue to seek. These words of the Aditya are the ones that set us on the path of knowledge. When our ancient clansman shunaHshepa stood bound at the stake, facing certain death, with harishchandra dying in pain from the jalodara, he invoked the all-seeing Aditya:
“ava te heLo varuNa namobhir ava yaj~nebhir Imahe havirbhiH |
kShayan-nasmabhyam asura prachetA rAjan-nenAMsi shishrathaH kR^itAni ||”

We have this bond (paramam cha bandhuH of atharvan) with varuNa to which we turn. When over-powered by the abhichAra of the foemen, with our enchanting yakShiNi-s all dispersed, struck down by roga like harishchandra, we turned to rajan varuNa. We sought him like our ancestors who knew the veda did. We besought him of a 1000 snares to release us from the grip of the pAsha in which we were. The great god has bore us aid when we invoked him with his great mantra from the pit of suffering in which we were.
” bibhrad drApiM hiraNyayaM varuNo vasta nirNijam | pari spasho ni Shedire ||”

Intellectual cretinism of Hindus

•April 1, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Intellectual cretinism is a prevalent trend amongst the Hindu elite. The sincere Hindus at the saMskR^ita sabha were showing me a video made by Western gauDIya vaiShNava-s that they were hoping to use to educate the modern hindu youth about the greatness of their culture and religion. While I am happy that the saMskR^ita sabha is making efforts to educate Hindus, I am appalled by the intellectual laziness of much of the Hindu elite. Many of them are brAhmaNa-s who are not worth the thread slung on their shoulders and hardly suited to take the place in the shiras of the puruSha. The things that are particularly futile in this section of the Hindu elite are the following: 1) The pursuit of flogging dead Germans and other assorted Europeans ad nauseum. Over and over again they talk of the evils of Mueller, Oldenburg, Jolly and Gonda, as though they are relevant today, and work themselves up on how they have insulted the vedas, hindus etc. The only catch here is that these dead Europeans are firmly behind their graves and Hindus have overthrown their white conquerors over 50 years ago. But in these 50 odd years the Hindu elite did not pay attention to reacquiring their traditions -vedic, tantric and secular. And in fact in the mean time the successors of the old Indologists have developed into more subtle subversionists (Note Sheldon Pollock’ work) unbeknownst to the Hindu elite.
2) For all the talk the Hindu elite, especially the first two varNas, has not shown any discipline to study the veda, or the smR^itis or the tantras. In fact most who wax eloquent on such matters have little knowledge of the veda in its original. If the first two varNas are so blatantly derelict in their duty then who will teach and guide the remaining Hindus? After all the one thing ancient Hindus did well was to teach their lore. Have the modern Hindu elite collected these texts and edited them? Have they studied the intricacies of vedic language before saying “everything is in the veda”.
3) advaita, advaita advaita– they prattle as though Hindus had no other intellectual tradition — they even name their sons “advaita”. They do not realize that you study the pUrva-pakSha-s too like the great mAdhava vidyAraNya had done in his famous work. As result they fail to see the totality of Hindu thought and fail to appreciate the intellectual stars like the atharvavedin bhaTTa jayanta.
4) Most fatally they have an alarming tendency to reject Indo-European linguistics. “There is no PIE”, “IE linguistics is an Indological subversionist tactic” they blather. It is this last point that exposes this section of the Hindu elite as utter intellectual cretins. It must be clearly said that a person who denies the monophyly of Indo-European and the reality of PIE is an Idiot. If one fails to understand IE linguistics one is seriously handicapped in understanding the intricacies of the languages of Hindu thought. It is really tragic that the successors of pANini and pata~njali in this era are unable to grasp key linguistic issues. Perhaps, they must stop using computers for these were also invented by our European enemies or whoever.

In the field of vedic studies we have true intellectual cretins amongst Hindus like Dandekar and sadly to a certain extant Madhava Deshpande (though to give credit were due, he did produce a useful work on atharva vedic vikR^iti pAThas). Dandekar scrapes the rock bottom in his studies on Vedic devatA-s, and it is such stuff that is parroted back by other Hindus. How many Hindus in the last 3o years (especially those with much greater access to resources than many of us) did comparable work to the greats like PV Kane, VRR Dikshitar, V. Raghavan, VS Agarwala, Sukhtankar and the like? Our friend ekanetra asked me why did Hindu scholars not do the job of Daniel Smith, Teun Goudriaan, Mark Dyczkowski, late Jan Schroterman or Somadeva Vasudeva ? ekanetra himself felt greatly indebted to the works of the above-named white scholars. Well, perhaps those who did a comparable job were not well-known as the above because they printed works in local Indian presses that gave them poor circulation. But I do seem to get a feeling like him that the Hindu elite simply did not do enough to support or widely spread the results of their own scholars. The secular government might not have supported us, but our elite should come forth and support scholarship privately.

Blowing the mammalian fuse

•March 31, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Since the time of manu we have tried to understand the relationships between organisms. But even after realization of the modern evolutionary theory we failed completely achieve this goal. Many of us are chipping away at it, and the one thing that is really allowing us to do this are the molecular phylogenies. What molecular phylogenies have shown is that the the morphological evolutionary trees perform poorly beyond typically obvious of relationships. This is true even within vertebrates and this ever truer the further back we go into time. See the following cases where molecular phylogenies came into action to bring order in the gloom.
1) The hagfishes and lampreys were thought to represent non-monophyletic successive outgroups to the gnathostome vertebrates. But MPs showed that the agnathans form an unequivocal monophyletic lineage with several shared features.
2) Turtles were generally thought to be anapsids with the exception of Rieppel’s work. Even that did not place them in a precise location in diapsids. Molecular phylogeny nailed their archosauromorph affinities inside diapsida.
3) The false gharial Tomistoma was consistently placed away from the true gharials in morphological analysis, but MPs showed that they were after all sister taxa just as they appear to be to a casual observer.
4) Finally, the relationships that largely eluded morphological analysis amongst placental mammals were uncovered by MPs: the hippo-whale sister group relationship and the monophyly of afrotheria that not a single paleontologist had even suspected.

The big lesson from this that must be remembered for the coming discussion is that morphological analyses are really prone to problems in the non-trivial zone. The cases mentioned above if carefully reanalyzed suggests a certain element of human subjectivity in the seemingly objective cladistic analysis of morphological characters–in many cases the morphologists have subsequently reproduced the molecular phylogenies by recoding their data.

Molecular phylogenies suggest that the extant placental mammals show 4 major evolutionary assemblages: 1) Afrotheria- including predominantly African lineages, with striking morphological diversity with forms like the golden moles(Afrosoricida), Elephant shrews (Macroscelidea), hyraxes, elephants and manatees. 2) Xenarthra– including all major south american mammals, armadillos, sloths and anteaters. 3) Laurasiatheria, which includes the familiar orders of carnivora, perissodactyla, artiodactyla (including whales), bats, and eulipotyphlan insectivores. 4) Euarchontoglires including primates and their sister group, the flying lemurs, the tree-shrews and rodents. An important aspect of this phylogeny is that in most major assemblages we have rather generalized “shrew-like” insectivoran forms. In Afrotheria the elephant shrew, in Laurasiatheria, Solenodon, in Euarchontoglires the tree-shrew. All these forms are in their generalized life-style, size and behavior comparable, and in general form reminiscent of the earliest Mesozoic eutherians like Eomaia or other early forms like Cimolestes. What this would mean is that even after their separation the major mammalian superorders possibly remained quite conservative in gross morphology (shrew-like) and life-style. It was from such precursors they appear to have repeatedly radiated to occupy all the niches they do today.

The recently released analysis by Bininda-Emonds et al in the English tabloid using a supertree and multigene molecular phylogeny suggests that the four great placental superorders split within a 2.4 Myr interval around 100 Myrs ago. They further go to suggest that nearly all extant placental orders had emerged in an evolutionary explosion by 85 million years. Thus, they say that the higher order diversification of the mammals was complete in the Mesozoic, coeval with the radiation of angiosperm plants, temperature dip and fall in ocean oxygen. They argue that the radiation of most mammalian orders was not due to ecological release caused by extinction of non-avian dinosaurs in the K/T event. The second major point they make was that though the orders radiated early, the diversification into the extant ecological diversity within these orders happened later, well after the K/T event, through the Eocene and Oligocene. Some forms like cats appear to have radiated even much later, close to our recent time.

In short these findings need some careful thought — but the so called long fuse for the explosion intraorder diversity of extant forms is the main issue to concentrate on. If this were true, I suspect that many shrew-like forms from the Mesozoic and Paleocene may actually contain the precursors of all our extant orders but go unnoticed due to the deficiencies of morphological phylogeny–a future project for paleontologists.

The figure in the shadows

•March 29, 2007 • Leave a Comment

After the futile battle of khANDava, which to us was like the decline into the sufferings of the kali age, we had climbed into the tower of parIkShit. Having been driven away from there by fate we had landed in rAjagrAma, ever shadowed by that ghoul of malapaTTana. We wandered long ago like a performer of the kapALa vrata in the forests around the dasyu shAla. kR^iShNa-mukha, khara-mukha and mala-tvacha were seated on the wall at the rim and laughing loudly. We ran into the niShada and asked him what lay beyond the yonder mist. He told 4 stories and the wheel of kAla raced ahead. Down a deep tunnel-like alley were projected the laughing three-some. We saw them in deep, and then they vanished into nothingness. Then the niShAda smiled and said these bhrAtR^ivya-s will be washed away like the rivals of sudAsa being washed away by the paruShNi. But then there will rise the dreadful one, the ghoulish one; the dream will show it. We went on a long ride on our ashva and crossed the stream of go-mUtraka.
We saw sujAtA and asked her the following cryptic question: “What will your number be and when will it come ?” She replied: “it will be two and end at dvAdashAnta. I will inform you in the most subtle of ways.” She did so recently.
We saw the kaushika and asked him: “When ?” He said: “When you are burning in battle I alone shall be beside you, even as the vaishvAmitra-s around rAmo bhArgava.”
We saw kalashodbhava-suma~NgalA and asked: “what is your number ?” She said: “It will start just before dvAdashAnta. As for its full extant do not ask.”

Then we stumbled into the senior bhArgava. He said: “the third hero has broken forth, but why do the two ghouls chase their victims like the beings sent forth by the kAshyapa to slay the bhAradvAja?”

We were nearing the end of a train journey. It was similar to the end of another such journey at the end of the mirth and joy of dashAnta. It ended and we went up the steep rock face near giri pAda that lay on the opposite side of the city from the kumAra gR^iha. We saw vidrum then — in a few days the flow of kAla had swept him aside as the flood on the paruShNi bore the enemies of sudAsa. We survived, and emerged victorious in battle. But then after getting down from this journey we did not know who would be swept away.

The purANa of the Maharatta ruler, the paTTisha and other issues

•March 26, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The Hindu paurANic style never died out. We know of the many responses seen in Sanskrit literature to the Mohammedan onslaught. We had earlier seen how kShemendra had described the kali yuga before the coming of kalki. The learned Ravlekar had furnished us with two texts of interest. One was the particular text titled the kalki-purANa. In this it is narrated that demonic turuShka or mlechCha king named shashi-dhvaja (the moon-bannered one) whose capital lies in the desert will cause untold misery on the earth by ravaging Aryavarta and destroying the dharma. Ruling the world this shashi-dhvaja would spread the mlechCha atrocities all over the world until he encounters kalki. In the fierce battle that would happen in a certain bhallATapura kalki would behead shashi-dhvaja, destroy numberless dasyu-s, turuShka-s and mlechChas, and relieve the earth from their dreadful grasp. However, only a few surviving forms describe the exploits of Hindu heroes in their struggle against the turuShkas and mlechChas. This was the topic of the second text: The shiva-bhArata of paramAnanda describing he exploits of the founder of the maharatta nation. paramAnanda says it is the bhArata of shivAjI, even as the mahAbhArata of the bharatas.
paramAnanda says (I translate it to roughly approximate paramAnanda’s verse):
uShNISheNaiva shuchinA vyabhAd-uttamsa-dhAriNA |
kashmIraja-pR^iShad-varSha-raMjitena-a~Ngikena cha ||
shiva-varmA bR^ishbalaH saMvR^itaH shiva-varmaNA |
tasya vajra-sharIrasya kiM kAryaM tena varmaNA ||
kR^ipANaM pANi-naikena bibhrANo.anyena paTTishaM |
sa nandaka-gadA-hastaH sAkShAd-dharid-udaikShyata ||

With a pure [white] turban bearing a shining crest jewel,
with his body raimented in a patterned kashmir silk garment,
shiva-varman bhR^ishbala (shivAjI bhosle) was encased in shiva’s armor.
With an adamantine body like his, what was the need of an armor?
With a sword in one hand and bearing a paTTisha* in the other,
he appeared like hari himself with the nandaka and gadA.

*The modern translators of paurANic texts often hopelessly mess up the translation of the term paTTisha. Most common depictions of shivAjI by contemporary and subsequent painters show him exactly as described by paramAnanda holding a sword in one hand and paTTisha in the other. A modern day Maharatta will tell you that the paTTisha is a “daNDa-paTTa” and several specimens of it are found in Maharatta weapon collections. I have even encountered a modern Maharattas ply the paTTisha with great proficiency and cleanly slice a lemon placed on a pole with it. The paTTisha is an ancient and unique Indo-Aryan weapon. The mahAbharata repeatedly mentions it as being used in the great bhArata war. For example:
bhIShma parvan 86 (critical edition)
tena mAyA-mayAH kL^iptA hayAstAvanta eva hi .
svArUDhA rAkShasair-ghoraiH shUla-paTTisha-pANibhiH .. 52..||
In describing a battle of irAvAn and alambusha, the brahma-rAkShasa, it mentions the well-mounted terrible rAkShasa hordes wielding tridents and pATTisha-s.

Again in bhIShma parvan 92 (critical edition) in the list of traditional hindu weapons mentioned there the paTTisha figures:
samare patitaish-chaiva shakty-R^iShTi shara-tomaraiH |
nistriMshaiH paTTishaiH prAsair-ayaH kuntaiH parashvadhaiH .. 56..||
parighair-bhindipAlaish-cha shataghnIbhis-tathaiva cha .
sharIraiH shastra-bhinnaish-cha samAstIryata medinI .. 57..||
The weapons mentioned are shakti, R^iShTi, shara (arrow), tomara, nistriMsha, paTTisha, prAsa, iron kunta, battle axe, parigha, bhindipAla and shataghni.

The later devI-mAhAtmyaM mentions the same weapon (The mahAlakShmi section):
chachArAsura sainyeShu vaneShv-iva hutAshanaH |
niHshvAsAn.h mumuche yAMsh-cha yudhyamAnA raNe.ambikA || 52||
ta eva sadyaH sambhUtA gaNAH shata-sahasrashaH |
yuyudhuste parashubhir-bhindipAlAsi-paTTishaiH || 53||
The gaNas emerging from the breath of aMbikA are described as fighting with battle axes, bhindipAla-s, swords and paTTisha-s

Looking for homologs of the paTTisha used by the Maharatta in other parts of India one encounters the urumi or chuttuvAL of the kaLaripayattu, which probably is the only surviving ancient Hindu martial system. The urumi is a highly prized weapon used only by the best trained in the martial system. This shows that paTTisha had a long continuous tradition in India that never went out of vogue until recently– evidently it can be very effective with a skilled user. It should hence be conceived as a flexible, long two-edged razor foil, and not like the many faulty translations of this term. While the accounts of the killing of Afzal Khan differ in detail, at least some accounts mention that shivAjI used the paTTisha to dispatch him after stabbing him with the dagger or tiger claws.

An odd mantra

•March 23, 2007 • Leave a Comment

R mentioned to me a while back a mantra of great significance to sarasvatI that her ancestors had acquired from Shymol Ram:
OM dhIH shruti-vij~nA || (1)
Neither R nor me have not been able to locate it any tantra available to us. However it appears as a mantra to praj~nApAramitA in #658 of the highly corrupt Bali stuti saMhitA. As the Balinese were isolated from India in the Islamic period their Sanskrit education declined greatly and when they recorded these mantras and stuti-s they were horribly corrupt. In a very general sense the mistakes they make reminds one of the hilariously atrocious mistakes made by the drAviDas in transmitting Sanskrit via the degraded medium of Tamil. It would be interesting to see if the source tantra of the mantra can be traced from the Indonesian texts.
With some searching we found a cunning variant of it bauddha tantric digest, the sAdhanA-mAlA:
OM dhIH shruti-smR^iti-vijaye svAhA || (2)
The nAstika in his typical way wants to present his deity as being the victor over the shruti and smR^iti of the Arya– thus the pAShaNDa subtly alters the word vij~nA to vijayA to generate this variant mantra. This shows that the original did actually go from the Hindus to the bauddha-s and at least initially was preserved in the proper form (1).

Amniotes

•March 19, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The “anapsids” and their place in reptilian evolution have long puzzled biologists. The first major advance in amniote phylogeny was because of the brilliant, but largely forgotten English zoologist Edwin Goodrich, who showed that the basal division in the amniotes separated the theropsids (now synapsids) and the sauropsids (the reptiles including birds). DMS Watson also made several improvements to this original proposal of E Goodrich, especially with respect to early branching reptiles like the milleretids (millerosaurs) and procolophonids, but his scheme was damaged by his dogmatic adherence to Linnaean taxonomy. While these early attempts were actually capturing some real phylogenetic signal in the amniotes, it was not appreciated by many scientists due to the ascendancy of the Romer’s un-natural typological scheme outlined in the classic work “Vertebrate Paleontology” (Despite its shortcomings I have some respect for this volume. When I read this work during a dIpAvalI vacation at the age of 6 1/2, it set the course for my future pursuits in life). The popular scheme of Romer was based on the temporal fenestra and artificially grouped all forms without fenestra together as the basal anapsids.

As a result of Romer’s scheme, the idea that turtles were the only surviving representatives of the great Paleozoic radiation of anapsids was entertained till almost just a decade ago. As a result several investigators sought turtle origins amongst other anapsids– Reisz believed they were related to procolophonids while studying Owenetta; Lee thought they were related to the parieasaurs; and others saw them as generalized “anapsids”. However, this view was shaken by Rieppel’s phylogenetic analysis that showed that turtles were diapsids. Modern molecular phylogenies strongly suggest that turtles are not just diapsids but belong to archosauromorpha and perhaps even archosauria proper. My own suspicion is that turtles might have even been derived from the basal archosauriforms. This put an end the Romerian fancies of fenestral classifications. Fenestra can be easily lost or gained in the amniote skull and are not such fool proof phylogenetic markers. In light of this the recent phylogenetic studies by Reisz and his camp are converging on a reasonably clear picture of early amniote evolution. The sister group of the amniotes proper including Tseajaia, Limnoscelis and the widespread diadectids appear to be plainly anapsid.

The amniotes proper split, as envisaged by Goodrich, into synapsids on one side and reptiles on the other. In the synapsid clade right from the beginning we observe a single temporal fenestra and are yet to find any anapsid representatives. The reptilian clade splits up into parareptiles and eureptiles. The eureptiles include a crown diapsid clade with the archosauromorph and lepidosauromorph reptiles of today along with the basal sister groups which includes araeoscelids, younginiforms and perhaps forms like  Coelurosaurvus and Palaeagama. The two immediate sister groups of the diapsids are the ancient Paleothyris and the captorhinids, both of which are anapsid. The parareptiles include an amazing diversity of forms like the aquatic mesosaurs with long needle-like teeth, the milleretids, the lanthanosuchids, bolosaurs (with the earliest bipedal animals like Eudibamus), procolophonids, nyctiphruretids, nycteroleterids and the pareiasaurs (which were large-bodied strongly armored herbivores). Many of these forms were anapsid, though there are the notable exceptions, like the milleretids, lanthanosuchids, Acleistorhinus some procolophonoids (Procolophon and Candeleria), and at least one nyctiphruretid (Tokosaurus), all of which might have had fenestra. This pattern would suggest that the temporal fenestra probably convergently evolved on multiple occassions in the amniote clades. Another possibility is that it was there in some form even in the ancestral amniote and closed on mulitple occassions early in amniote evolution and was strongly fixed only in the synapsids and later in the diapsids. A molecular developmental study of skull fenestration might go a long way in clarifying this problem — but I simply do not have the resources to undertake it by myself.

 
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