Philosophizing on magnetic sight

•October 1, 2007 • Leave a Comment

I wanted to document the great victory of the Hindu armies in the land of Karroo. After the memories of 1983 which are faint, almost going back to our infancy, this is the only time we have displayed any notable valor in battle with the two Rajput warriors on the helm putting to sword the Anglo-Saxons, the peerless pirates from down under, the Voortrekkers and finally the bloody-eyed al-ghazis. But then I was talking to people who make little sense of cricket. But R and I had a long talk that starting from Steve Irwin’s crocodiles, passed through a three part BBC documentary on reptiles, then through cryptochromes whose ancient origins we had nailed, and finally took a philosophical turn on to consciousness. I would have liked to capture the various elements of it, both scientific and philosophical, but for now just a few points for we are like the haunted man chased by a vetAla.

“vedA yo vInAm padam antarikSheNa patatAm |” (shunaHshepa Ajigarti in RV 1.25.7a)
[varuNa] knows the migratory path of the birds through the atmosphere

“sarvA vA iyaM vayobhyo naktaM dR^iShe dIpyate | tasmAd imAM vayAMsi naktaM nAdhy Asate | ya evaM vidvAn agniM chinute praty eva tiShTya abhi disho jayati |” TS 5.6.4
A
All this (earth) in the eyes of the birds shines at night, therefore at night birds do not rest here. He who knowing this piles a fire finds support, and conquers all the quarters.

How do the birds manage their great feats of navigation, which need no further dilation ? How do they manage to home so accurately?

I believe the main reason why we fail to understand this well is because we apparently lack the magnetic sense. We have sight so we recognize an eye when we see it another animal or for that matter even in an alga like Chlamydomonas. We smell and taste so we can recognize the chemoreception in other organisms, we hear and we feel various stimuli via skin and sense stretch thus we are able to recognize auditory and tactile receptors elsewhere in the living world. These senses tend to dominant our conscious experience. There are two other senses that are less obtrusive on the consciousness — being filtered out most of the time. One of them strongly impinges on the consciousness, when altered — the balance sense. The other one, proprioception, while apparently filtered out does seem to contribute to the sense of I, an important part of conscious experience. But when it comes to magnetic sense most of us do not know what that is, and hence lack that experience to easily recognize its receptors in other animals.

Yet we have come to realize over the ages that it is one of the primary forces behind avian migration and homing.
continued …

sarvatobhadra maNDala

•September 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The saiddhAntika-s and the kaumara-s

•September 24, 2007 • Leave a Comment

I was examining a kaumAra manual used by priests from Kilmangalam (a village near the town of Periyakulam) for the worship at the aruLmigu bAlAsubrahmaNya temple. The temple is itself was built around 1020 CE by one of the greatest Indian emperors, choLa rAjendra-I. The temple has an apocryphal legend associated with it: rAjendra was hunting boars and at this spot killed a boar sow which was feeding its piglets. He had a vision of kumAra feeding the orphaned piglets and keeping them alive. Struck by the vision rAjendra built a temple to honor kumAra. The kaumAra manual used by the Kilmangalam priests to conduct rituals at this temple is from the 1500s of CE composed by a certain hAlAsya. In its opening it has a salutation to great saiddhAntika tantriks of yore. It names durvAsa as the founder of the lineage and then lists the following historical tantriks:
1) sadyojyotis son of kheTaka 2) bR^ihaspati 3) nArAyaNakaNTha 4) his son rAmakaNTha-II 5) aghora-shiva deshika.

The South Indian Urdhvasrotas (saiddhAntika ) commentarial tradition remembers many great prior Acharya-s and siddha-s, but like its Kashmirian counterpart its memory starts with sadyojyotis and bR^ihaspati, both of whom are termed siddha-s. After this it shifts to the great Kashmirian lineage which opens with bhaTTa rAmakaNTha-I:
rAmakaNTha-I -> vidyAkaNTha-I -> nArAyaNakaNTha ->rAmakaNTha-II -> vidyAkaNTha-II and shrikaNTha (probably).

Then it remembers the Tantrik-s of the mattamayUra lineage and its great patron, the Rajput king bhoja, from northern and central India (outside of Kashmir): brahmashambhu, mahArAja bhojadeva paramAra, somashambhu and ishAna-shiva.

In south India itself it remembers the great Tantriks-s of the greater Tamil country like:
aghora-shiva, his student vaktra-shambhu, j~nAna-shiva and trilochana-shiva associated with Chidambaram and Mysore.

An even earlier lineage of saiddhAntika Tantrik teachers in the south is recorded in the inscriptions of the chAlukya king vikramAditya-I of bAdAmI. The rAja himself was initiated into the Urdhvasrotas mantras by sudarshanAchArya and his school included the shaiva brAhmaNa scholars: rudra-shiva, gAyatrI-shiva and parama-shiva. Similarly, the pallava king narasimhavarman-II also mentions attaining dIkSha into the saiddhAntika mantras in an inscription on the rAjasimheshvara temple in Kanchi (~700 CE), but we know little of his lineage beyond this. No scholarly works on the tantras from any these early South Indian lineages are currently known.

There is no evidence that the earlier saiddhAntika-s from the pallava and chAlukya courts contributed directly to the medieval siddhAnta tradition. The illustrious South Indian Acharya aghora-shiva deshika of Chidambaram carried out a major synthesis with the saiddhAntika tradition by unifying the ritual prescriptions of mahArAja bhoja and somashambhu, with the Kashmirian commentaries of bhaTTa nArAyaNakaNTha and bhaTTa rAmakaNTha on the core tantra-s of the Urdhvasrotas. It is fairly reliably known that aghorashiva was active around 1150 CE and he expresses tremendous veneration for his Kashmirian predecessors. This suggests that there was a new influx of the siddhAnta traditions from Kashmir and Malava (e.g. king bhoja’s work) to the Tamil country prior to aghora-shiva. After he wrote his synthetic paddhati this became the standard tradition in the Tamil country with the Kashmirian Acharya-s providing theoretical base. One notable late change was the subtle transformation of the saiddhanta tradition with vedantic elements by the smArta appayya dIkShita.

In the Kashmirian tradition bhaTTa vidyAkaNTha-II was a contemporary of abhinavagupta, while rAmakaNTha-I was possibly closer to utpaladeva or just before him. sadyojyotis and bR^ihaspati might have also been from Kashmir but we have little information about their lives. sadyojyotis was definitely pre-sha~nkara. In his polemics against advaitin-s he clearly attacks the pre-sha~nkara advaita like that of bhartR^i-prapa~ncha who expounds pariNati-vedAnta in his bR^ihadAraNyakopaniShad commentary. One can imagine how sha~nkara having transformed vedAnta into mAyAvAda must have retaliated against these shaiva-s and demolished them in the debates that are supposed to have occurred in Kashmir and other places. The fightback against the mAyAvAda form of advaita is seen only later amongst the saiddhAntika-s in the works of rAmakaNTha-II.

-The main works of sadyojyotis that survive are : 1) the triad of works comprising the commentary on the raurava-sutra-saMgraha, namely the bhoga-kArikA, mokSha-kArikA and paramokShanirAsa-kArikA: collectively the raurava-vR^itti. 2) The commentary on the svAyambhuva-sUtra saMgraha named svAyambhuva-vR^itti. 3) Two works on the nature of existence according to these two sUtra collections: tattva-saMgraha and the tattva-traya-nirNaya. 4) nareshvara-parIkShA- a polemical work laying the siddhAnta shaiva position in contradistinction to the AstIka darshana-s, earlier pAshupata shaiva-s and pA~ncharAtric vaiShNava.
-The siddhAnta Tantrik bR^ihaspati-s works are poorly known and are :1) the raurava vArtika on the raurava-sutra saMgraha and 2) the shiva-tanu.
-bhaTTa nArAyaNa-kaNTha wrote the once famous sharan-nishA that is supposed to have clarified the tattva saMgraha of sadyojyotis like the moon shining on an autumn night. This work is remembered in both Kashmirian and Tamil tradition but does not seem to survive. He also composed new commentaries on the mR^igendra tantra.
-His son rAmakaNTha-II not only commented on the works of sadyojyotis but also on the mata~NgapArameshvara tantra.
-aghora-shiva in Tamil Nad composed commentaries building precisely on the works of nArAyaNa-kaNTha and rAmakaNTha and appears to follow their conservative path. This is quite clear from his epitome of the siddhAnta worship presented in the 100 verse stotra known as the pa~nchAvarNa-stava. Similarly, his student vaktra-shambhu also from TN seems to build on nArAyaNa-kaNTha’s work on the mR^igendra.

rAmakaNTha-II makes an interesting statement in the beginning of his commentary on the mata~NgapArameshvara that the siddhAnta tantras have been interpreted according to the theories of the nyAya atomists, vedantins and kaula Tantriks. rAmakaNTha-II then seeks to restore what he calls the correct saiddhAntika interpretation as per the path originally laid by sadyojyotis. Even the non-siddhAnta trika-kaula tantrics like abhinavagupta and the shrIvidyA tantric jayaratha cite these siddhAnta tantra-s and use them as authoritative works. They also try to accommodate bR^ihaspati and sadyojyotis within their scholarly framework. This shows that the siddhAnta tantra (and other such Agamic scriptures) had an independent position of respect (even if not on par with the shruti). This was probably in no small part due the prominent role they played in the domain of sthApana (=temple establishment), prayoga (=goal-oriented tantric rites) and yoga. In general other streams of AstIka thought and nAstIkas too in a subversive sense sought seem to have a priori accepted the praxis and mantra-shAstra of these tantras, though within their own established contexts. Thus, well before appayya dIkShita there were multiple attempts to treat the siddhAnta tantra-s from the stand point of other AstIka theoretical frameworks, including non-siddhAnta tantric models, rather than the one preferred by the shaiva tantriks.

As we have seen above the works of vaktra-shambhu and aghora-shiva suggests that the medieval South Indian authorities returned to the conservative path of interpretation of the Kashmirian shaivas by adopting rAmAkaNTha and nArAyaNakaNTha as the standard. But what about their association with the kaumAra path? As we know the temple of aruLmigu bAlAsubrahmaNya was in place before aghora-shiva and kaumara temples were present in TN even before that. The kaumAra path in TN is a much earlier transmission from North India — it is possible that it was associated with the early pre-aghorashiva saiddhAntika-s like those associated with the earlier chAlukya and pallava kings. However, we have no evidence for that. In fact the chAlukyas, pallava-s and kadamba-s who began as feudatories of the pallava-s were kumara worshipers even before their kings started acquiring shaiva dIkSha. The kaumAra path also has no notable role in the siddhAnta works of Kashmirian lineage or that of bhoja. Hence, it becomes likely that the siddhAnta shaivas actually invaded the domain of the preexisting and took over their activities especially in the domain of sthApana and prAsAda utsava vidhi. In terms of the mantra-shAstra we clearly notice this imprint in the kaumAra tradition of TN — the pa~ncha brahma mantra (a very key aspect of saiddhAntika worship) has been exapted for kaumAra worship. The installation of tridents and spears (trishula/shakti sthApanaM) in kaumAra temples also follows a saiddhAntika model. However, much of the other rites relating to subrahmaNya yAga, and kumAra mantroddhAra follow the actual kaumAra tradition. This take over by saiddhAntika-s is not surprising given that they already possessed sthApana tantra-s for parivara devatA-s including kumAra. However, it should be noted that it is erroneous to believe that the kaumAra was an offshoot of the saiddhAntika stream.

The technically educated kaumAra-s are a vanishing group: they seem to be extinct in the North in Rajasthan (where again there was an association with the shaiva stream), and are present in small clusters in Tamil Nad, and the Kanada and Tulu countries (where a pristine secretive subrahmaNya maTHa lineage survives). Their texts have rarely been published if at all and most lie as unedited and in some cases lacunose manuscripts from these regions. We are one remnant of this path. We have too much of a personal connection with this deva, but we know not what the roguish deva has in store for us.

USA and the Islamic powers: Recent events

•September 23, 2007 • Leave a Comment

A number of news items are of some interest in terms of the manufacture of opinion, and the clash of civilizations between the Judaeo-Christian west and Islam.
Item 1: The visit of the Iranian president to the US and the Columbia university. It is very interesting to note how the American media is in frenzy over the recent antics of Ahmedinejad. Like any other true believer in the monotheistic prophetic cult Ahmedinejad is a threat to the world. But there are very many of them all over the world so is he really that special or dangerous to merit the excitement. Let us note the following facts:
1) Iran was not involved in 9/11
2) Iran was an arch enemy of the Taleban, the hosts of Osama and his gang.
3) Iran has not carried out a terrorist strike on US soil and the last major assault on the US interests was a long time ago using Hezbollah proxies (Of course they are fomenting trouble for the Americans in Iraq now, but it is the Americans who got into a hell-hole in the first because of the being taken for a ride by the Neo-cons).
4) Iran is actually too weak to be a direct threat to the US, if the rulers of the US exhibited common sense.

Yet they are making a big noise about Ahmedinejad yapping at Columbia University or visiting New York.

In contrast, Pervez Musharraf was invited to New York and treated as a guest of honor. He was invited to talk his nonsense at the same Columbia University and also Cornell University (On September 26, 2006), another famous school in New York. He was feted by the American rulers and media as a great ally of the US.

Note the following facts now:
1) Musharraf was the primary supporter of the Taleban and gave them the infra-structure to support al-Qaeda.
2) It was through his support that al-Qaeda carried out 9/11
3) He still hides Osama, Omar and their gang and is supporting the resurgence of the Taleban in Afghanistan.
4) He has been involved in clandestine nuclear proliferation with North Korea and was a patron of Xerox Khan.
5) Most major Islamic terrorist activities conducted against the US trace back to Pakistani sources which are all orchestrated by Musharraf.
6) While Ahmedinejad is an elected leader, Musharraf is a dictator who deposed an elected leader. Not that this matters much to the rest of the world, but US paints a picture of being the beacon of democracy furthering various democratic causes the world over.

The US media largely praised Musharraf and no one protested against his visit to the universities in any serious way.

As va~Nga paNDIta said, the discerning person knows why this is so, and how opinion is manufactured by the controllers of the American media contrary to the facts. But it still remains comical on one hand and tragic on the other to see the American people being fooled so thoroughly to lose their lives and tax money due the patently delusive propaganda that the Iran and Iraq posed threats to their lives. Even more annoying is that Hindus seemed to be taken on this ride too, to act contrary to their self-interests (vis-a-vis Mushy in particular).

*-*-*

Item 2: The recent events in Iraq have brought to fore the role of American private armies, such the mercenaries of Blackwater and the like. These armies of interest to the geopolitical observer. Some probing shows that a frequent, if not the only constituent, of these mercenary armies deployed by the US is the following kind of individual: A macho leukotestate male, fired by ideals of Hollywood gunmen-supermen on one side, and protestant Isaistic delusions on the other. In essence he is a crusader a mirror-image of the Mujahideen standing firm in the fight of the cross against the crescent. Secondly, since regular armies could always be blamed for crimes against humanity, it is useful to deploy these unaccountable warriors, especially when they are fired with Isaistic fervor. Now, the scale of these Isaistic mercenary armies is particular striking — the one currently in the news headed by a fanatic Isaistic military-trained chieftain is supposed to have 20,000 men with their own military base and assault aircraft. No sovereign nation will allow such private armies, unless they are supported by the rulers. But the important lesson for us to learn is the potential of such Isaistic armies to cause harm to us heathens. We already know very well how the “soft arm” of the leukosphere in the form of various Isaistic activists- evangelists, priests, NGOs etc operate with impunity in India converting Hindus and subverting the nation. These soft soldiers are very likely to be backed-up by these private Isaistic armies of “contractors”. I believe this is already in place with India, Nepal and Tibet being major targets and will only increase in the future as they become relatively jobless in Iraq.

This too va~Nga paNDita had foreseen but the Hindus sleep on.

Gregory Paul’s prescience

•September 22, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The previous snippets on related topics:
* The big and small of theropods
* Organ and Edwards on dinosaur genomes
* Microraptor as a biplane
* Jurapterxy- wrong inferences?
* Tyrannosaurs and morphological evolution in coelurosaurs
* The rise of tyrannosaurs
* Buitreraptor
* The adaptive radiation of avian and para-avian clades

Thermopolis Archaeopteryx

Gregory Paul, the artist and maverick paleontologist published a remarkable book in 1988 “The predatory dinosaurs of the world”. For its era it was a masterpiece of scientific art. At that point in time, other than Archaeopteryx, feathered dinosaur fossils were hardly known from the Mesozoic. But Paul restored his theropods with feathers. What was striking was that his dromaeosaur and oviraptorosaur representations might be as good as those made after the “Chinese revolution” from Liaoning. He also predicted the hyperextendible claw in Archaeopteryx, which was proved after the publication of the Thermopolis specimen in 2005. However, what was even more striking was the theory presented first in that book that the dromaeosaurs were actually secondarily flightless dinosaurs that had reverted to terrestriality from an ancestor that resembled a flighted form like Archaeopteryx. In a subsequent book, “The Dinosaurs of the Air”, another artistic masterpiece, Paul went on build the case for the possibility of secondary flightlessness in the dromaeosaur, troodontid, oviraptorosaur and therizinosaurid clades. However, Gregory Paul is not one who uses phylogenetic methods to construct evolutionary trees and lay out his theories in the framework of a phylogenetic tree. Instead he builds his case based on mechanistic and anatomical arguments. As a result dinosaur evolutionists have tended not to cite his work. This sad in a sense because I believe that phylogenetic frameworks are not only vindicating his prescience but also adding details that were not accessible to him.

The latest in this line of finds is that of the dromaeosaur Mahakala omnogovae from Mongolia reported by Turner et al. Also authors on the paper are two of the most noted American paleontologists of the modern era, Norell and Clarke (famous for numerous evolutionary studies on avian and non-avian dinosaurs). Mahakala is from the Djadokhta formation in Mongolia from the Campanian age (i.e. the second last epoch of the Cretaceous). The remains are relatively scrappy but covering a good part of the skeleton — a partial skull with brain case, sacrum, partial pelvis, several vertebra, femur, foot with sickle claw, and ulna. Despite its relatively young age it is clearly a primitive dromaeosaur showing that primitive members of this clade were around even in the penultimate epoch of the Cretaceous. Its size was estimated at around 70 cm.

A phylogenetic analysis of the avian-paravian clade including Mahakala produced striking results. The basal most division was into birds and deinonychosaurs. The birds have as their basal most branch Archaeopteryx and Shenzhouraptor uniting as a monophyletic lineage of primitive long-tailed toothed birds. The next most basal lineage of birds that are a sister group to all other birds are the Omnivoropterygids which include the extremely enigmatic oviraptorosaur-like Sapeornis and Omnivoropteryx. The deinonychosaurs split up into troodontids and dromaeosaurs. The basal-most lineage of troodontids are the Chinese forms Mei and Sinovenator, with a crown group formed of Byronosaurus, Saurornithoides and Troodon. The basal-most dromaeosaur is Mahakala with 3 major radiations including: 1) The unenlagines- Unenlagia (>Nequenraptor?), Buitreraptor, Rahonavis and Shanag. Of these, all except Shanag are from the Gondwanan fragments. 2) The Chinese radiation comprised of Microraptor, Graciliraptor and Sinornithosaurus. Bambiraptor might also belong to this clade, but the prudish paleontologists, due to some weird dispute regarding specimen ownership or something like that tend to ignore this magnificent specimen. 3) The velociraptorine clade comprised of Velociraptor, Deinonychus, Saurornitholestes, Tsaagan, Adasaurus, Dromeosaurus and the large Utahraptor and Achillobator.

This tree suggests that flighted forms were potentially present on all the 3 major clades- Aves, dromaeosaurids and troodontid. Amongst the deinonychosaurs, Rahonavis from the unenlagine clade was initially described as a bird and was definitely flighted. Microraptor from the basal “Chinese clade” is also definitely flighted with the potential “biplane morphology”. Among the troodontids Mei and Jingfengopteryx might have had limited flight capabilities. Using the tree, Turner et al also reconstruct the common ancestor of deinonychosauria as well as the paravian clade (aves+deinonychosauria+Scansoriopterygids) as being around 70 cm and ~700 g which is consistent with them being fliers. Turner et al do not include the enigmatic and poorly preserved scansoriopterygids, which could further destabilize their clades in different ways. There are other fragmentary forms like Pedopenna, which might unify with one of the known clades or form yet other poorly known lineages within paraves. It is more likely that actually the flighted ancestor amongst coelurosaurs goes back further in time as Paul suggested, including the oviraptorosaurs and therizinosaurs, and perhaps even the alvarezsaurids (initially believed to be birds).


Sapeornis

This proposal has an important implication (which is in line with Paul’s original suggestion): Could our current cladistic analysis be artificial grouping flighted forms together into a monophyletic aves merely because they retain several flight adaptations? Is it possible that just like Rahonavis moved inside dromaeosaurs, other lineages currently grouped inside aves might actually group with other coelurosaur groups. One immediate candidate for this Archaeopteryx itself. Could it be that it is actually close to the ancestor of the entire paravian clade. Being the earliest representative of the clade from the Tithonian epoch of the Jurassic it is well-placed to occupy this position. Another more unclear case is the omnivoropterygid clade within Aves. Both Sapeornis and Omnivoropteryx share a general cranial similarity with oviraptorosaurs, in which some semi-pygostylic forms like Nomingia have been described. Is it possible that these represent the early-branching flighted representatives of the oviraptorosaurid clade ? More fossils, if and when they become available, might resolve these issues.

More recently, in another paper Turner et al present the discovery of quill knobs on the ulna of Velociraptor, just as those reported in Rahonavis. This establishes beyond doubt that even the flightless larger forms retained their secondary feathers This also shows how flightless derived forms with unmodified clawed hands proceeded in directions other than that seen Patagopteryx or the Ratites. Flightlessness in the deinonychosaurs and possibly oviraptorosaurs was often accompanied by retention of the flight feathers of the arm suggesting that that the feathers had an adaptive value beyond flight. Many possibilities exist but limited volancy in juveniles, and wing-assisted incline running are the ones I favor most.

Whatever the case it is becoming increasingly clear that as Paul had suggested flight emerged much before the avian crown group amongst theropods and might have been repeatedly lost in the early stages of its evolution and coexisted with precursors and derivatives like wing-assisted incline running, gliding from trees, and biplane volancy. It also appears likely that feathers (or the homologous dino-down) evolved before flight, most possibly as the functional equivalent of mammalian hair. When did this dino-down first emerge in archosaurs? We know most likely this emerged after the crocodile line branched off, by the exact point of emergence is the big question still in need of an answer.

Why has he attained eko mAnuSha Ananda ?

•September 19, 2007 • Leave a Comment

We finally had that chance for the wonderful meeting with ekanetra and ST. ST said: “I think I have found one who has ekomAnuSha Ananda”. “Lead us to that one” we said. ST lead us to her charming friend jAyadrathi, who in someways reminded us of our friend R. ekanetra who knows the ways of the strI-s declared to ST and me in saMdhyabhASha: “This jAyadrathi has not attained eko mAnuSha Ananda.” But we knew that she could lead us to that one who had attained eko mAnuSha Ananda. She took us across the nadi of bhaya to the great palace in which lived the one graced by the mother of the rAkSha-s who adorns the southwest. He was one who had attained eko mAnuSha Ananda. On seeing him we knew this. We were awed by his power and dazzled by the energy emanating from him. He was surrounded by his several a~Ngana-s, putras and bhR^itya-s all of coral or shell-like complexion. The jAyadrathi said he is a mahApuruSha like whom no one exists. We saw him in wonderment, made strongly aware of our own fragile and powerless selves. His presence towered over ours like a gigantic statue of the tathagata made by the nAstIka-s. He truly looked like one for whom indra had given all. Then did ST ask that profound question: “Why has this nirR^itti-priya attained eko mAnuSha Ananda ?”
ekanetra said: “I believe he has been given all by indra. After all the shrutI stated: yuvAsyAt sAdhu yuvAdhyAyakaH … sarvA vittasya pUrNAsyAt”.
I said: “O vaishvAmitra I do think that the vajrin girt by the maruts and aided by the triple-striding viShNu has given us many things that he has not given that mahApuruSha, but shatamanyu has yet given him eko mAnuSha AnandaH.”
ekanetra said: “That might be so, O bhArgava, but why has he attained it while we have been consigned to our sthala-s”?
ST: “But we all know that vR^itrahan places all good things apart.”

Then we went to hang out with the jAyadrathI and enjoy the pleasures with which ST could inundate, the tongue, the nose, the eyes and the belly. ST’s new inventions in sUpa-kala was like the soma drunk by dashadyau in the realm of shatakratu or the food eaten in suvargo loka. This was pleasing to the external senses. But the presence of jAyadrathI caused within us an emptiness — a sense utter failure of our astra-s, like the vAnara-s crumbling before kumbhakarNa’s last march. We then moved away and went the regions of Hayastanika. As we have always mentioned in the past Hayastanika emanates a tremendous revitalizing energy. The very sight of Hayastanika, who was a like materialization of a side glance of kAmeshvarI enlivened our spirits, like the trikadruka-s refreshing maghavan. Hayastanika, who exceeds most in the combination of physical might, beauty, and intelligence shone like a Venus in the firmament of the senses. The inner senses were delighted, even as a momentary glimpse of the mayUkha-s of kaulinI arouses the sadhaka to supreme delight. Delighting in the company of she whose tresses are like the prop roots of a nyagrodha tree we let some time pass.

…*…

We had defeated the evil kR^isha-mukha in battle. It was glorious victory, one of the biggest ever we had scored after the fierce battle of saptadashAnta. It was similarly bloody. In other ways it was like the great victory of dakShiNa nadi, but there our forces had total superiority in every way. Our vairi-s, the mlechCha chiefs, trembled before our forces to whom mahendra had given the signal in the form of the eagle after we had performed the autumnal rite. With indra on our side we totally dominated the battle from start to finish. On the way we scattered some chIna-s who dared to challenge us. Here, kR^isha-mukha a~nkusha-nAsa, viT-mukha ANishiras and their allies formed a vyuha against us. But several mlechCha-s from their side came over to ours as we used diplomatic tactics to go hand-in-hand with the offensives. Thus, we prevailed over them. It was one of our great victories but in a sense empty — our mitra with whom we had gone to the center of the town in a mirthful advance was not there to celebrate. In a sense, we felt like king yuddhiShThira after that fateful clash of 18 days on the kuru field:
The four vIra-s were scattered; It was like the forgotten struggle of the bundela-s against the Moslems; We were unable to enjoy the mirth our brave vIra-s who faced the fury of the enemy arrows as the banners were mixed and the dust rising to the heaven the great clash of men.

…*…

On the other front despite this great victory the khANDavan-s remained active. The unseen one who deployed that strike of the “crane” was also active. It was the 3rd time the strike of the crane was being deployed, one for each ardhasaMvatsara.

Skin color of Indians (and others)

•September 11, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Indians more than any other ethnic group are aware of the dramatic variation in their skin color. This may be seen right in the same family (especially in brahmin households from the southern part of the peninsula) with all the shades ranging from fair as Western Eurasians to dark as sub-Saharan Africans. What plays out in a family also plays out over the entire country. There are some well-known trends: 1) The gradient from north to south of the sub-continent with the extreme Northerners close to European complexions and extreme Southerners more closer to sub-Saharan Africans. 2) A less visible trend that is still in need of more detailed study is the gradation between the varNa and avarNa populations, with the latter tending to have more dark individuals and possibly being darker on an average and than the former.

World skin color distribution of native populations (I believe this is not entirely accurate but a an approximation that serves for illustrative purposes).

In a sense India reflects the variation that is seen throughout the world all within a subcontinent. Now on the global scale the populations closer to the equator tend to be dark, while those from higher latitudes are fair. In Eurasia, two otherwise only distantly related populations are characterized by fair skin: the Europeans, and the Northern East Asians like Chinese, Japanese and Koreans. All these have for long suggested a major selective role played by solar radiation damage and vitamin D production in shaping the biogeography of skin. The quest to understand the mysteries of Indian skin color genetics began with Haldane’s shot at the dark in the form of a 4 gene model to explain the majority of skin color diversity in India. But we have now come close to a real understanding with several new papers supplying nuggets of useful data on genetics of skin color. I paste some of those references below and provide a synthetic account with some related observations of mine.

The mouse below is the Underwhite mutant (SLC45A2 gene). The fish on top is the zebrafish golden mutant. The human on the left is the corresponding human natural variant (both in SLC24A5 gene).

There are only two major biological purveyors of skin color shared by all humans– melanin the skin pigment and hemoglobin the blood pigment. A combination of the reflectivities of these two compounds colors skin. In East Asians, additionally the layer of fat below the skin may provide an additional yellowish tinge. Melanin is an ancient pigment in vertebrates produced by melanocytes from the amino acid tyrosine (and cysteine in the case of the brown pigments) in the derived lysosomes termed melanosomes. Melanosomes are transported along the dendritic projections of the melanocytes (which in someways resemble neural cells being derived as sister cells in the neural crest) to neighboring keratinocytes in skin, which are directly responsible for skin and hair color. Earlier studies on mouse pigmentation identified over 100 genes several orthologs of which are also mutated in human pigmentation disorders. More recently the zebrafish golden gene was sequenced and its human ortholog was found to show an allele that in humans shows a mutation that correlates with lighter skin color. Thus a common pathway of melanocyte function and skin pigmentation appears to function throughout vertebrates.

The main results of the studies on Indian skin color genetics are thus:

-3 genes account for a major component of color variation amongst Indians:
SLC24A5 (ortholog of zebrafish golden), TYR (ortholog of mouse Albino gene) and SLC45A2 (ortholog of mouse Underwhite).

-These genes are also been implicated in color variation between Europeans and Africans. Light skin in Europeans and dark skin in Africans is due to alternate alleles in the same genes. At least some of the same alleles responsible for this color difference between Europeans and Africans seem to be involved in Indians. The SLC45A2 shows an allelic gradient from north to south in Europe. It might similarly be different in distribution between north and south Indians, with decrease in frequency in South India.

-While the above allelic variation responsible for skin color variation in Indians is as seen in Europeans and Central Asians it does not match the situation in Asians (people from East like Chinese Japanese Koreans etc). Here different set of genes appear to have convergently given rise to light skin color.

The region around the SLC24A5 gene shows a considerable reduction of heterozygosity suggesting a major selective sweep of this light skinned allele through the population. Interestingly, it appears that the light-skin in Indians and Central/Western Eurasians had a common origin independent of those in Asians, especially in terms of the contribution of the SLC24A5 allele. In a general sense this is not very surprising given that the Indian varNa populations show a closer relationship and Central/Western Eurasian populations to the exclusion of Asians. But what does this mean? After all several Indians who have the SLC24A5 A111T “light allele” (SNP: rs1426654) are not exactly in sun-starved climes where low vitamin D could trigger a major selective sweep. In fact it is found even in Shri-Lankans in fairly significant frequency. This might suggest that indeed it is ancestry rather than adaptation that has resulted in deep South Indian possessing this SLC24A5 allele in the observed frequencies. It means that Indians, including many from South India and Shri Lanka might have had ancestors from Northern latitudes. The results from these studies also suggest that in South India and Lanka there might actually be selection by UV-damage against the “light alleles” like that of SLC45A2 keeping its frequency low (Given that it is much lower than expected when compared to SLC24A5. In fact Soejima et al propose that it might be a useful forensic marker for Lankans and Tamils). Yet the retention of certain percentage of light alleles in tropical India might also suggest a sexual selection for such alleles.

So what do these genes do?

TYR encodes the tyrosinase which catalyze the oxidation of phenols to quinones in the first step of melanin biosynthesis. So evident the allele in Indian populations directly influence the amount or efficiency of the enzyme at first step. SLC24A5 and the SLC45A2 genes are more mysterious transporter proteins. SLC24A5 protein is a cation antiporter that is likely to exchange 4 Na+ for Ca+ and K+. The SLC45A2 protein is a member of the major facilitator superfamily of transporters that performs symport of sugar and sugar derivatives with Na+. This suggests that the SLC24A5 and SLC45A2 are functionally linked via the transport of Na+. Workers have suggested that the ion transport by these proteins may be related to efficiency of melanosome function by affecting pH (which is different in white and black skin) and providing calcium for proteolysis of the SILV protein.

However, I suspect that they are ignoring the issue of sugar transport by SLC45A2. The SLC24A5 A111T mutation maps to a loop between the TM regions of the transporter and the ancestral A in this position is highly conserved, and is seen in orthologous proteins in plants. Thus this state was present common ancestor of plants and animals, suggesting a key functional role in formation of a structure in the soluble part of the transporter. Hence, the A111T mutation probably seriously compromises function of this promoter. Likewise the SLC45A2 L374F mutation is in a soluble loop and the position is alway occupied by an aliphatic side chain residue in orthologous proteins, but never aromatic. Thus, again the L374F probably seriously affect the effective functioning of the transporter. We wonder, given that the melanosome is a derived lysosome, if this transport system ultimately affects the transport of a sugar. The transport of this sugar might be critical for processing of glycosylated proteins in the melanosome and there by their appropriate localization. Future investigation of this angle might be appropriate.

The key papers:
Norton HL, Kittles RA, Parra E, McKeigue P, Mao X, Cheng K, Canfield VA,
Bradley DG, McEvoy B, Shriver MD.
Genetic evidence for the convergent evolution of light skin in Europeans and East Asians.
Mol Biol Evol. 2007 Mar;24(3):710-22.

Soejima M, Koda Y.
Population differences of two coding SNPs in pigmentation-related genes SLC24A5 and SLC45A2.
Int J Legal Med. 2007 Jan;121(1):36-9

A genome-wide association study of skin pigmentation in a South Asian population
Renee P. Stokowski, P.V. Krishna Pant, Tony Dadd, Amelia Fereday, David A. Hinds, Carl Jarman, Wendy Filsell, Rebecca S. Ginger, Martin R. Green, Frans J. van der Ouderaa, David R. Cox
The American Journal of Human Genetics in press

 
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