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.

Organ and Edwards on dinosaur genomes

•March 9, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Scott Edwards has been doing some interesting research on amniote genomes for sometime- of the type I was long back very interested in, before moving on to ancient evolutionary events. He had earlier presented the possibility that the decrease in genome size in avian archosaurs might have preceded the origin of flight unlike the original proposal of Hughes. Now with Organ and colleagues he has followed it up with some new research that I find very interesting and very close to my scientific proclivities as a teenager. It is a bit speculative and ultimately heading into murky ground but one of the most impressive pieces of research nonetheless.

The work mainly pioneered by Hughes suggested that bird genomes are amongst the smallest seen in amniotes because they were streamlined by natural selection for light bodies resulting in lower energetic costs for flight. This was supported by the argument that flightless birds have larger genomes and that bats amongst the generally large-genomes mammals have small genome. However, it must be noted that there is no correlation between body size and genome size or gene number. In terms of genome size, mammals and reptiles of diverse shapes and sizes typically have large genome sizes compared to birds of similar size. In terms of gene number ciliates and early branching eukaryotes like Trichomonas have more genes than most complex animals including vertebrates. However, interestingly there is a reasonably good positive correlation between blood cell size and genome size. What the Edwards team showed is that there is a similar correlation between genome weight and osteocyte size. They cleverly used this correlation to predict with Bayesian statistics the genome sizes of several dinosaurs whose osteocytes or lacunae they could observe in bone cross-sections. As a result they found that estimated average extinct theropod genome weight is 1.78 pg which is in the range observed of .97-2.16 pg of extant birds (average=1.45 pg). This is significantly below that seen extant reptiles and crocodiles (greater than 2.2 pg) and mammals are even higher. Interestingly, the ornithischian dinosaurs are in the same range as other reptiles.

Then the authors ingeniously established a positive correlation between the transposons of the LINE-like retroposon family and the associated non-coding RNA derived reverse transcripts (SINE-like elements) and used this predict that these elements were in low numbers from early in theropod or even early saurischian evolution (dependent on the phylogeny of Herrerasaurus).
Thus they provide reasonable evidence that the compression of genome size began early in theropod evolution before they ever started flying. Thus many features of modern birds– air sacs, feathers, sleeping posture and egg-incubation posture emerged before in course of dinosaur evolution, long before the birds emerged or took to wing. The authors mention nesting and parental care in their paper- but these emerged even earlier in archosaurs prior to the divergence of the crocodile and dinosaurs lines. This suggests that there were many levels of pre-adaptations leading to the avian flight. However, the exact reasons for the differential action of the LINE-like retroposons in different amniote lineages is puzzling – expansion in mammals and inactivation and contraction in the dinosaurs. The authors propose that smaller blood cells might have aided better oxygenation and higher metabolic rates (mammals achieved this by possibly losing the erythrocyte nucleus). There could be other more basic reasons for this– one possibility though not well-supported by the data at hand is that endothermy coupled with gigantism required genomes to compress to allow faster maturation. Again this could be an effect rather than cause. What ever the cause it needs more thought.

Australian entomofauna and arachnofauna

•March 8, 2007 • Leave a Comment
R and Marc had returned after long and were having a chat along with Sharada even though we should have been doing work. After all we are very like the Hindu kings who squandered their days in bhoga even when the turuShka blizzard was blowing around them. We had many things to talk-(1) The mysteries of genetic relatedness of European, Indian and Central Asian populations and their implications for much earlier human migrations- like the clash between H.sapiens and H.neanderthalis. (2) The niHshvAsa-tantra and the tantric discussion of R^ichIka and mata~Nga (3) The synthesis of various alkaloids and the effects of DMT and other active amines. (4) The entomofauna and arachnofauna of Australia. R had spent an year and half studying these in the earlier days and was well familiar with them. She had a collection of documentaries on them some of which provide striking illustrations of some examples touched upon by T.Eisner in his book.

vikrama enters the graveyard

•March 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment

tataH shamashAnam saMprApa niHsha~Nko bhuta-saMkulaM
sarvApAyamayaM kAyam ivA .a.ayAsashatAshrayaM
Then fearlessly he entered the crematorium which was full of ghosts
It was like the body of all deaths, the abode of a hundred misfortunes.

mastiShka-lipta-shubraasthi prakaraM lohitAsavam
AkrIDaM iva kAlasya kapAla-chaShakA-kulaM
Full of heaps of white bones smeared with brains,
Blood was the drink in the pleasure-ground of kAla, with cups of skulls.

dhUmaandhakAra-malinam vIrendrA-rAva-garjitam
ca~ncach-chitaagni-taDitaM kAlamegham ivo .atthitam
Stained with the darkness of smoke, thundering with the cries of brave warriors (1),
Flashing with the leaping funerary fires, it was like the rising cloud of death [or rising black cloud].

gR^idhraakR^iSTaantra-mAlAbhiH kR^ita-prAlamba-vibhramam
kAlyA iv.aotsavonmatta kR^ittikA nR^itta kampitaM
The likeness of a pendant was formed by the garlands of entrails torn by vultures,
The [place] was reverberating by the frenzied dancing of the kR^ittikA-s in festival of kAlI.

jIrNaasthi-nalakach-Chidra-kShipra-shi~njAna mArutaM
samcharad yoginI vR^inda nUpurair iva rAvitam
Through the long hollows of old bones the wind sharply whistled;
The [place] resounded as if it were the noise of the anklets of prancing yoginI-s (1).

dikShu pratiphalad-ghora-pherava-sphAra huMkR^itaM
tri-jagat-pralayaarambha-kR^it-oMkAram ivA a.ntakam
The quarters echoed with the terrifying howls of jackals, like humkAra-s;
Like the destroyer uttering the oMkAra to initiate the destruction of the 3 worlds.

maNDitaM muNDa-khaNDena ka~NkAla-kula-mAlinaM
jvalitaa~Ngara nayanaM dvitIyaM iva bhairavaM
Decorated with fragments of skulls, garlanded with clusters of bones,
With glowing embers of eyes, it was like a second bhairava (2).

praty-agra-rudhiraapUra saMpUrita vR^ikodaraM
karNa shalyod-dhR^itA-rAvaM duHshAsana-vadhA-kulaM
Fresh-flowing blood filled the satiated bellies of wolves;
The ears were pierced by the cries from the execution of criminals.
[It was like karNa and shalya raising a cry at the scene of duHshAsana’s killing,
With fresh flowing blood filling the belly of vR^ikodara-bhImasena]

bahuch-ChalaM dyUtam iva strI-chittam iva dAruNaM
avivekam ivA .aneka sha~NkAta~Nka-niketanaM
It [was filled] with uncertainty like the casting of dice; with ruthlessness like a woman’s mind,
The abode of indiscernible anxieties and apprehensions.

kharotkaTa janasthAnaM ghora shUrpaNakhA vR^itaM
daNDakAraNya sadR^ishaM mArIcha-ruchirAtaram
It was a place of rough and fierce beings; filled with sharp-clawed demons,
It appeared like a wasteland, [feeling] more pungent than the taste of pepper.
[It was like the janasthAna of the giant khara, with shUrpaNakha roaming around;
It appeared like the daNDakA forest pleasing to the demon mArIcha].

bhrAntaakampana dhUmraakSha meghanAda vibhIShaNaM
la~NkA daham ivo.adbhUtaM jIvad-rAvaNa-viplavam
It was terrible because of the roar of thunder causing the confused and smoke-filled eyes to tremble;
As though produced from the flames that burnt branches, causing the living to flee in tears.
[There roamed akampana, dhUMrakSha, meghanAda and vIbhIShaNa, as though sent forth by the burning of la~NkA that cause distress to the rAvaNa even as he lived (3)]

samagra-duHkha-nilayaM bhUta-saMgha-praharShaNaM
bahuch-ChidraM ghanaashliSTa-preta-rAshi-nirantaraM
It was the abode of all sorrows that caused the ghostly hosts to rejoice,
Full of fissures with densely packed rows of corpses.

palAsha-shata-saMbAdham chitA-niHsheShita-drumam
shivAbhir vyAptam ashivam bhrAntaantakam anantakam
Crowded with hundreds of palAsha trees, with wood being consumed non-stop in the pyres;
Surrounded by jackals, inauspicious and vast with death roving about.

niShkaMpa-kucha-kumbhAbhir vipula-shroNibhir muhuh
digambarAbhir nArIbhiH kalpitoch-chaNDa-tANDavaM
Incessantly, with firm pot-like breasts and great hips,
Sky-clad women performed the terrific tANDava dance (4).

gR^idhra-gomAyu-gahanaM kAka-ka~nka-kulAkulaM
The place was thick with vultures and jackals, the roost of flocks of crows and egrets.
Throngs of frenzied ghosts and goblins, dancing the lAsya dance surrounded the place like garlands.

spaShTaaTTahAsa-mR^itakaM krIDach-chakreshvarI-chayam
There were band of resounding Damarus pleasing to pishAchas and DAkinis.
Amongst the Loud laughter of ghosts, bands of chakreshvarI-s (5) sported.

bhayaMkaraM bhAyasyaapi mohasyaapi vimohanaM
tamaso .apy andha-tamasaM kR^itAntasayA .api kR^intanaM
The place was fear for fear itself and agitating for agitation itself.
It was blinding darkness even for darkness and cutting down death itself.

dR^iShTvA pitR^ivanaM ghoraM DAkinI-gaNa-sevitaM
kShAnti-shIlaM vaTatale so .apashyat kR^ita-maNDalaM
He [vikrama] saw in the terrible grove of the manes, served by DAkinIs,
kShAntishIla at the foot of the Ficus religiosa tree, drawing a maNDala.

(1) kShemendra had studied with abhinavagupta the great kula/krama/trika tantric and was evidently very familiar with the graveyard rituals of shrIkula and kAlikula. He subsequently went over to the pA~ncharAtra school of tantric vaiShNavism. I suspect the vIrendra-s here refer to the performers of vIrasAdhana (even as it does in the lalitA-sahasranAmam- mahAvIrendra tanayA) invoking yogini-s in the shmashAna. This vIrasAdhana is clearly mentioned in the brahma yAmala whose other elements may color this poem.
(2) Even bhaTTa somadeva uses a similar simile in his kathA-sarit-sAgara which implies this comparison was there in the original vetAla-pa~nchaviMshati. Of course, both kShemendra and somadeva, with the connections with trika and kula tantrism, would have seen the comparison as appropriate.
(3) In the mahAshmashAna dIkSha given in the brahma-yAmala we notice invocation of rAkShasas headed by rAvaNa and pishAchas in the AvarNas around bhairava holding the sword. This is also consistent with the rite in the niHshvAsa-tattva tantra. Evidently this practice was well known amongst the kashmirian kula tantrics.
(4) It is peculiar that the women dance a tANDya dance, but this reference to the sky-clad women dancing the shmashAna is clearly inspired by the kula ritual with the kulA~NganA-s described in the jayadratha-yAmala. The shrIkula tantrics following jayaratha mention that the ritual intercourse with the kulA~NganA is preceded by her harShaNa into an ecstatic state.
(5) The use of the word chakreshvarI is again a clear allusion to the kula ritual sanctioned by the pichumata of the pichu-maNDala performed in the shmashAna, where the great goddess manifests as kulavidyA, the chakreshvarI.

The jarAbodhIya sAmans

•March 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment
shakti was the son of maitrAvaruNi vasiShTha. The sons of shakti were the shAktya-s like parAshara and gauravIti. They were performing a yAga in which pashu-puroDAshas were offered. For this purpose the R^iShi gaurivIti shAktya had shot a deer. Just then garuDa came flying onto his quarry from above. He took aim with his arrow to shoot tArkShya suparNa. suparNa told him: “O R^iShi do not shoot me. I will help you to fulfill what desire you might have.” gaurivIti asked him: “so what do you think is my desire?” garuDa said: “You love the daughter of asita dhAmnya; I will convey you to her. asita dhAmnya was a jealous father who did not want his daughter’s lover to get to her. He had a palace in atmosphere, where the asuras safe-guarded his daughter. garuDA daily awakened gaurivIti with the jarAbodhIya sAman, hid the R^iShi in a rolled up leaf and bore him to his lover. He made her pregnant and a son was born to her. The asuras saw the child of their sister and said this is a rakSha and tearing him threw him away. gaurivIti wished to revive him and used the jarAbodhIya sAman to revive him. The revived boy was the R^ishi saMkR^iti the founder of the eponymous gotra amongst the vasiShThas.

The jarAbodhIya is a dyad of sAmans composed on the R^ik 1.27.10* of shunaHshepa Ajigarti, the son of the fallen bhArgava. These sAmans are a laud to rudra. Both are seven-fold sAmans. The stobha in the first one is au ho vA occurring in the second last bhakti. The second has 2 stobha-s ovA and iDA occurring the first and last bhAktis. That stobha iDA is supposed to protect and increase his cattle. Shown above is an analysis of the sAmans, as recited by kauthuma shAkAdhyAyins from thanjAvur who had served as the udgAtar and his assistance in recent soma sacrifices. One can note that in the 1st jarAbodhIya jArA opens in a low tonal series but the duplicated bodha2 with the pre~Nka moves to the high tone. In the second sAman the whole bhakti jarAbodhovA is in the low tonal series. The nidhana of the first one is a high tone, while in the second one we notice the descending tone series ‘345’ typical of many saman musical cadences.

indra’s a~Nkusha: conceiving the old Indo-Aryan weapon

•March 4, 2007 • Leave a Comment

The a~Nkusha is a common weapon of the gods. This in itself appears a bit strange. Among the gods it is most closely associated as the weapon of choice of the dreadful vinAyaka and kAmeshvarI. Most medieval icons of these deities show the a~Nkusha as the elephant goad and a~Nkusha is even translated as such. In classical Sanskrit and the vulgar prakrits that temporally overlap with the former it is again used in the context of the elephant goad. However, it appeared a bit strange that the a~Nkusha is hardly used as a weapon in the warfare of the mAnavas.

When we look at the R^ig veda we find that it was a weapon of the gods even there, and was wielded by indra in battle:
imaM bibharmi sukR^itaM te a~NkushaM yenArujAsi maghava~n-ChaphArujaH |
asmin su te savane astvokyaM suta iShTau maghavan bodhyAbhagaH || (RV10.44.9)
I bear this well-made a~Nkusha of yours, with which you, maghavan, tears the [attackers] dismembers them under the horse’s hoofs. At this soma-pressing you be pleased and drink the juice and accept the sacrificial share, maghavan.

The implication is reasonable here- it was used as a weapon in chariot or horse-borne combat against the attacker.

Other vedic references add more to the picture:
A nastujaM rayiM bharAMshaM na pratijAnate |
vR^ikShaM pakvaM phalam a~NkIva dhUnuhIndra sampAraNaM vasu || (RV 3.45.4)
In this mantra vishvAmitra asks indra to bear him wealth with his a~Nkusha even as one would pull down ripe fruit from the tree.

dIrghaste astv a~Nkusho yenA vasu prayaChasi | yajamAnAya sunvate || (RV 8.17.10)
A similar metaphor is used by iriMbiThi kANva in this mantra where indra is asked to pull in wealth with his long a~Nkusha (dIghaste astv a~Nkusho). Similar to the idea of pulling in wealth is the concept of pulling a woman towards you and indra’s a~Nkusha is invoked for that purpose in the strI-vashIkaraNa mahA-mantra in the atharvanic rite for obtaining a wife (this mantra is also used in the marriage ritual of the atharvavedins):
yas te .a~Nkusho vasudAno bR^ihann indra hiraNyayaH |
tenA janIyate jAyAM mahyaM dhehi shachIpate || (AV-S 6.82.3/ AV-P 19.17.6)
That wealth-giving, great golden a~Nkusha of yours O indra, with that O lord of shachI give me who seeks a woman, a wife.

In a comparable context, there are two closely related mantras from the paippalAda atharva veda describing the use of extracts of the pATa herb (Stephania hernandifolia or a related plant) by a woman seeking to break up the connection between her lover and a rival female (AV-P 7.12.9 and 20.42.11).
pATA bibharty a~NkushaM hiraNyavantam a~Nkinam |
tena saptnyA varca A lumpAmi mamed asat || (AV-P 7.12.9)
pATA bibharty a~NkushaM hiraNyavantam a~Nkinam |
tenAham anyeShAM striya A lumpAmi mamed asUn || (AV-P 20.42.11)
Both the mantra-s use the metaphor of the a~Nkusha to describe how the pATa herb pulls away the rival woman (or her fertility or sexual fervor). Here, again the a~NkuSha is used in the context of hooking and pulling away a human entity. Interestingly, some modern studies have shown the menispermacean plants like S.hernandifolia to cause depression of testosterone levels in male rodents. It is important to note the use of the verb ‘lumpati’ along with the noun a~Nkusha, which means to pull or tear away. It is the same verb which is used again in the context of the a~Nkusha in an atharvanic surgical procedure (below).

From these earliest allusions to the a~Nkusha we notice the following: 1)The a~Nkusha is a weapon which was actually used and most probably by horse-/chariot- borne warriors. 2) It is never mentioned in the context of an elephant, unlike in classical sanskrit and the depictions in medieval Hindu iconography. Instead, multiple references to it allude to pulling away/down human entities, even if metaphorically. 3)Unlike the short elephant goad, the weapon is clearly described as being long and used in the context of pulling down fruits from trees. 4) However, at this point it must be mentioned that in the paippalAda atharvaveda the a~Nkusha is also used describe a surgical instrument devised by the ashvins. In AV-P 2.81.2 it is mentioned that a metal a~Nkusha is used to incise and pull out the cataract that causes blindness (the earliest account of the cataract surgery).

Thus, the a~Nkusha, in large part, was originally not an elephant goad but a pole-arm similar to the fouchard or the Mongol hook-spear. Especially the latter was an effective pole-arm — deployed by the Mongols on horseback to pull down the enemy and then finish them off, fitting well with the description of the a~Nkusha of indra in RV 10.44.9. However, in the medical literature of the atharvans the a~Nkusha was used as a technical term to describe a surgical instrument for cataract removal- a technique which continued into the later day Ayurveda. The a~Nkusha in traditional iconography is often mentioned with another weapon the pAsha. Interestingly, this was also used in a similar context by the Mongol warriors in lassoing enemies and pulling them down from horse back. The description of the construction and use of the pAsha in the surviving fragments of Hindu dhanurveda is very similar its reported use by Mongol warriors. The pAsha, the dhanurveda, states is used in combination with a club that is used to finish of the enemy after pulling him down with the pAsha. Thus, it appears that the a~Nkusha and the pAsha were originally used by the early Aryans in a manner similar to other steppe warriors — in pulling down riders or chariot warriors by other horse/chariot riding users. This use appears to have eventually gone out of vogue in India and the object with a similar shape which was in common use, the elephant goad, took over its name.

However, it should be noted that the symbolism associated with it– as an instrument by which the gods draw wealth or a woman for the yajamAna — is an old one, which persisted in context of the new Hindu deities. It is not without reason that the wealth-giving vinAyaka and the fulfiller of all kAma-s, including shR^i~NgAra bhoga, kAmeshvarI wields the a~Nkusha. This another remarkable case of functional persistence of symbolic motifs in the Hindu world from the earliest times, despite changing meanings and deities.

The "Kashmirian" ayyars

•March 2, 2007 • Leave a Comment

While there is some evidence from the early shrIvidyA and siddhAnta tantric sundaranAtha (tirumUlar) was probably from kAshmIra or at least had teachers from kAshmIra, we know little of him and his affiliation with other smArta brAhmaNa-s of the drAviDa country. There a few vaDama-s (Northern smArta-s of the drAviDa country) who believe that they are from kAshmIra. That they were from there is of not much doubt, but whether they form a single migration or came to Tamil Nad (and Andhra) in multiple migrations has not been properly investigated. While eventually we may have the opportunity to investigate these issue with genetic markers, we cannot be so sure given that brahminical tradition is fast eroding in the Tamil country. The smArtas are amongst the most rapidly degenerating communities via varNa sankara, patita sAvitra and other pAtakas.

Looking at inscriptions we find the following information:
1) The oldest layer of vaDamas from the tirunelveli region contain one group of Kashmirian immigrants. This group appears to have come around 750-800 CE and settled specifically in the agrahAra-s associated with the tiruvalishvaram temple. A pallavan incription in this temple clearly attests the settling of these brAhmaNa-s in Tirunelveli. This group was particularly important because they were critical in transmission of the kubjikA tantras and the rahasya-s of the pashchimAnAya. kalhaNa mentions that the confiscation of agrahAras by the king jayApIDa in the dynasty of lalitAditya resulted in many brAhmaNas fleeing and this incident might have been responsible for their southward dispersal.

2) The second layer appears to have been related to the dispersal of an illustrious lineage of Kashmirian brAhmaNa intellectuals who contributed in different realms throughout length of the country. This appears to have happened in the 1000s of CE. This general dispersal included 1) uvaTa, the great vedic commentator who studied vedic grammar and the shukla yajur veda (court of bhoja); 2) bilhaNa the writer and poet who settled in the chAlukya court in karnATaka 3) the father-son-grandson trio: bhAskara (minister), soThala (prime minister) and shAra~Ngadeva (author of the primary sangIta-ratnAkara, the epitome of taurIya gAna) in karNATaka and maharAShTra during the yAdava reign; 4) somashambhu- the illustrious siddhAnta tantric who settled in the Tamil country and wrote one of the primary manuals used in the temple worship of shiva and ritual performance of the mantra-mArga shaivas of the Urdhva-srotas. 5) shrInivAsa bhaTTa- a savant of shrIvidyA who settled in the drAviDa country and initiated several lineages of brAhmaNAs into shrIvidyA. The brAhmaNAs associated with the latter have been incorporated both amongst vaDaMas and shivAchArya in the TN and south-western Andhra.

In between there were the pAshupata kAshmIrAchAryas who settled in the south, but do not appear to have contributed to the gene pool to the best of my knowledge. The final wave appeared during the vijayanagaran rule. This group included several lineages settled during the viceroyship of lakShmaNa daNDanAyaka settled in northern TN. These clans included several vedic experts who served as a priest in sacrifices performed by luminaries like appaya dIkShita. Some these learned the atharva veda in the south and returned to kAshmIra.

Some vaDamas connected to the lATa country might have also originally included a few immigrants from kAshmIra. There is a small community of vaDamas long-settled in Gujarat whose exact connection with these migrations, if any, remains currently unknown to me. It appears that bhAskara-rAya makhIndra’s guru was of this lineage.


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