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).


•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.

New species of Neofelis?

•March 17, 2007 • Leave a Comment

R brought to my attention that there was a considerable press attention being give all of a sudden to two papers published late last year in the tabloid Current Biology by the cat experts O’Brien and Kitchener’s groups. The essence of the two papers is claim that the clouded leopards (Neofelis) from Borneo are a distinct species. Since new large mammal species are not found so often the media appears to be making a big deal of it. But as R herself pointed me following up the references from Kitchener’s classic The Natural History of the Wild Cats(one of R’s favorite books), the Indonesian clouded leopard has been known to science since the first half of the 1800s, when it was described by naturalists in catalog of zoological specimens from Sumatra and the vicinity. In fact standard references on cats show that the genus Neofelis has several sub-species under the species nebulosa: N.n.macrosceloides – NE India and surrounding regions; N.n.nebulosa -Indo-china; N.n.brachyurus – island of Taiwan; N.n.diardi – Borneo, Malay Peninsular. Now it is this N.n.diardi that was elevated to a new species rather sub-species. Basically what the O’Brien’s team using DNA sequences showed is that the variation between the Borneo form and N.n.nebulosa is in the same range as between the species of Panthera, such as lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards and snow leopards. Kitchener et al likewise showed that it was morphologically distinct from N.n.nebulosa, especially in coat color, as from as seen in the pictures. But does this warrant a separate species?
Species is such a subjective yet intuitive concept in biology that all this merely in the eye of the beholder and dependent on what you really want to do with your species. Though the situation is much better than in the prokaryotes it is hardly iron clad in animals. Humans too show great morphological variation in different parts of the world and until the past few hundred years there was hardly any mating between several human populations– e.g. those of Australia and the New World with the rest of the Old World. They are not termed different species, so why should the Neofelis populations be called species? By this token it is possible the Indian version and the possibly extinct Taiwanese version that apparently had a short tail unlike other Neofelis types could well be new species too.

The main point worth introspecting in all this is bio-geography of the genus Neofelis— Molecular phylogenies clearly show that it is the earliest branching of the Panthera lineage. The rest of the Panthera lineage is distributed widely in the world: leo was found in Africa, Eurasia and America; pardus was found in Africa and Eurasia, tigris in Asia, uncia in the Asian highlands and onca in America. This distribution taken together with the distribution of Neofelis suggests that Panthera lineage possibly arose in Asia close to the western boundary of the range. I suspect that in some ways Neofelis may be close to the ancestral condition of this lineage (some what saber-toothed). P.leo and P.onca separated in northern Asia with both shortly there after heading off into the Americas while P.leo alone developed a unique social system for cats and also spread westwards and downwards to Africa. On its westward movement it was accompanied by its relative P.pardus. In contrast, P.tigris appears to have radiated mainly in Asia occupying a niche similar to P.onca in the Americas. Their distribution might have also been shaped in part by the presence of other felid predators of the Smilodon lineage. As Neofelis diverged first but was fixed in an strongly arboreal niche, I am not surprised that it has been conservative on morphology, whiles its different populations have accumulated genetic divergence comparable the later radiating Panthera genus.

Early Angiosperm evolution

•March 16, 2007 • Leave a Comment
1) Cabomba; 2) Waterlily; 3)Trithuria

Molecular methods have caused a cataclysmic shake up in angiosperm phylogeny. Since Linnaeus the mainstream belief was that the angiosperms were divided into Monocots and Dicots, with each clade being supported by numerous characteristics, the chief amongst which were: Fibrous roots, single cotyledon, parallel venation, and specific vascular features for monocots, and tap roots, two cotyledons, reticulate venation and their own vascular features for dicots.

But what the molecular phylogenies suggested was that the dicots were not a natural group. Instead, a subset of dicot termed the “Eudicots” were found to be a sister group of the Monocots forming the crown group of the angiosperm tree. A sister group to this crown group was the magnoliid-type clade which included the classic eumagnoliids and the family chloranthacaeae. The fossils from the later Mesozoic generally supported this picture of the magnoliids being a sister group of the above crown angiosperms. In these phylogenies basal angiosperms outside of the above clades were supposed to include: 1) the enigmatic Amborella, a shrub from New Caledonia, described first by BGL Swami from Bangalore, usually considered the basal-most angiosperm clade. 2) The waterlilies and the Cabomba or the nymphaeales 3) The mainly woody austrobaileyales.

Saarela et al have recently reported that the enigmatic family of Hydatellaceae are actually a sister group of the Nymphaeales. They are aquatic plants entirely submerged and growing in ponds and lakes. Recognized only in the 1970s Trithuria and Hydatella were found only in Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. In 1994 two Indian botanists found this plant in ponds in Maharashtra (Yadav, S.R. & M.K. Janarthanam, Hydatellaceae: a new family to Indian flora with a new species. Rheedea Vol. 4(1) 1994; 17-20). This distribution suggests that this plant might be a remnant of the Mesozoic Gondwanaland. The fossil angiosperm Archaefructus comes to mind– like the Hydatellaceae it has naked unisexual flowers in inflorescences and both are aquatic. This raises the possibility that the great angiosperms that were to take over as the dominant plants in the Mesozoic made their advent as aquatic plants with inconspicuous flowers. The rise of the waterlilies from such a ancestor might represent one of the most ancient innovations of large flowers for attracting pollinators. This find also suggests that the angiosperms very rapidly exploded to colonize practically every niche available to a seed plant undergoing numerous morphological adaptations — they probably had something that other dominant plants of the era did not or were given a chance by a mass extinction (?). So it might be useful to study the molecular developmental aspects of these angiosperm lineages at greater depth. In particular I would be interested in seeing the differences in expansions of the AP2, VP1, WRKY MYB, MADS bZIP and bHLH between these plants and the crown group angiosperms.

The Southern kekaya-s

•March 14, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The early kShatriya-s of the andhrApatha are important to understand the origins and transmission of the early medieval kaumAra sect. They are also critical to understand the peregrinations of kShatriya-s throughout India and the role they played in the unification of the country. These movements are also important to understand the early movements of the pAshupata shaiva lineage into the southern country. We have earlier alluded to the the role played by the ikShvAku-s of andhrApatha in the development of the kaumAra sect in the south. We believe that this movement of the ikShvAkus and associated clans into dakShiNA-patha was a key element of the entry of the kaumAra religion into the drAviDa country, where it has lingered in a peculiar form to this day even after it faded away in other parts of India. The ikShvAku movement to the south is suggested by the establishment of the principalities of ashvakas and mUlaka-s by members of this dynasty on the river banks of the godAvarI, which were around during the shatavAhana period. The fall of the shatavAhanas allowed many of these gain territory, and in andhrApatha a line of ikShvAku-s gained ground under the great king shAntamUla, the performer of vedic sacrifices and the worshiper of kumAra.

Interestingly, D Sircar’s studies on inscriptions brought to light a lineage of kekaya-s too in the southern country who lay to the West of the southern ikShvAku-s centered around the chitradurga town in Mysore. The kekaya-s are a member of the pa~ncha jana as per traditional testimony and are the descendants of anu. As per the testimony of the veda, purANa-s and itihAsa-s they along with another anu lineage, the mAdra-s, lay to the northwest of the sub-continent. Their great king ashvapati kekaya was rAjarShi who taught many brAhmaNas. The rAmAyaNa mentions them as in-laws of dasharatha and allies of the ikShvAku-s who helped bharata and his sons takSha and puShkala in the wars against the gandharas. The memory of their capital rAja-gR^iha in Balkh is recorded by the Chinese agent Yuan Chwang.

The inscriptions pertaining to the southern branch mentions “ikShvAkubhir api rAjarShibhiH kR^it AvAha vivAha– implying that they exchanged both sons and daughters in marriage with the family of ikShvAku rAjarShi-s. The use of the term rAjarShi strongly suggests that they were performers of shrauta sacrifices. The kadamba king viShNuvarman is mentioned as: “kaikeya-sutAyAm utapanna” implying that his mother was a kekaya princess. In an inscription from 470 CE we have the statement that the queen of the kadambas, wife of king mR^igeshavarman, is kaikeya mahAkula prasUtA (born in the noble family of the kekayas). Another inscription in Haldipur, Karnataka mentions the wife of the pallava chief chaNDamahAsena, who was a great kaumAra, as being from the kekaya kula. Their son was pallavarAja-gopAladeva. Thus the kekayas appear to have had relationship with the other 3 major southern dynasties, the ikShvAkus, pallavas and kadambas. Given that powerful dynasties like the shatavAhanas, pallavas, kadambas, viShNu-kuNDins and shAla~NkAyanas never claimed origin from the historic Aryan dynasties of the purANas, there is no reason to doubt that the ikShvAkus and kekayas of south India were migrant versions of the northern kShatriya dynasties. This suggests that after the rise of the mauryan power in North India, many remnants of the old dynasties started migrating outwards from their home zones, mainly towards dakShiNApatha. In the south they seem to have initially survived in the shadow of the shatavAhanas before coming of their own.

The end of the kekaya power seems to have come after the pallavas destroyed them along with the kadambas in the battlefield of naNakAsa. The chitradurga inscription mentions that their king shivanandavarman was wounded mortally in the battle and after the destruction of the kadamba king kR^iShNavarman, he lay on a darbha bed and waited for his death. This inscription mentions that he was a parama-mAhesvara, or a great pAshupata.


•March 13, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The third vIra

•March 10, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Whom shall vR^itrahan make the master of the realm?
Whom shall the wise asura of the skies favor?
Whom shall the bright Aditya be the friend of?
Whom shall father dyaus and mother pR^ithivi raise to glory?
Whom will the golden-handed deva savitA impel?

The third hero has broken forth.
He has become the winner of the gaviShTi.
Those who destroyed his ratha are dead.
The abhichAryamAnas have run away from him
The vajra of indra has broken his confinement.
He has become a victorious hero, the Ishvara of his realms.
They call him the bearer of the suparNa.

The other two heroes only dreamed of such glory.
Broken in battle, without friends and kinsmen,
running from pillar to post, were sinking.
Borne away by rAkShasis they were eaten.

The third hero was unfazed. Everyone knew he was wiser than all, and in this world it is wisest who wins. He was the master of dissimulation, in contrast to the last hero who knew nothing of this art. He was stationed there, where the one who had in his days attained eko mAnuSha AnandaH was dragged away by the son of vivasvAn. The third hero waited confidently in his lair with great patience, because he knew how to lure the prey. In contrast, the brash first hero rushed into the thick of battle and was hit by the brahmAstra vidyA. The third hero was hit many times but he was the one favored by the gods and he stood there hiding in the cave for his moment with his strung bow ready for action. He saw the first hero, who had exhausted his thunder, being carried away by a form like that of ayomukhI. He gently slid back behind the shadows. In the silent evening, the asymmetric archer crawling behind an overgrown hedge saw the third hero hiding in the cave. He thought to himself this fellow is afraid. Nay, fear was not going to be part of the third hero’s day but that of the asymmetric archer.

Two days went by– “I see it” he said. It was there fearsome as a phantasmagorical vision in the pit where atri had fallen. He looked back the door was shut. A single dimension separated him from the great unknown.


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