Back to varnam

Since I lack the time to maintain two blogs, Palm Leaf has merged back with varnam.org/blog, from where it originally ran away.

All future history related postings will be done at varnam only.



Even though Subhash Kak et al wrote a book asserting that India is the Cradle of Civilization, still Mesopotamia is though to be the one. Now some new discoveries in Iran may change all that.

Archaeological excavations in the lower layers of a cemetery in Jiroft have revealed that its history goes back to the fouth millennium B.C, much before Mesopotamia. Some inscriptions were also found which proves that the writing language of Jiroft was older than that of Mesopotamia.

As the author of a three-volume history of Mesopotamia and a leading Iranian authority on the third millennium BC, Madjidzadeh has long hypothesized that Jiroft is the legendary land of Aratta, a “lost” Bronze Age kingdom of renown. It’s a quest that he began as a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, when in 1976 he published an article proposing that Aratta, which reputedly exported its magnificent crafts to Mesopotamia, was located somewhere in southeastern Iran.

According to texts dating from around 2100 BC, Aratta was a gaily decorated capital with a citadel whose battlements were fashioned of green lapis lazuli and its lofty towers of bright red brick. Aratta’s artistic production was so highly regarded that about 2500 BC the Sumerian king Enmerkar sent a message to the ruler of Aratta requesting that artisans and architects be dispatched to his capital, Uruk, to build a temple to honor Inanna, the goddess of fertility and war.

Yet even if Jiroft turns out not to be Aratta, it is nevertheless a pivotal clue to a better understanding of the era when writing first flourished and traders carried spices and grain, gold, lapis lazuli and ideas from the Nile to the Indus. Although not on a par with the more influential civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley, “Jiroft is obviously a very important archeological complex,” says Holly Pittman, an art historian at the University of Pennsylvania who is one of a growing number of non-Iranian scholars who are being allowed into the country.[What was Jiroft]

In Kalki’s epic novel, Ponniyin Selvan, which is about the the early life of 10th century Chola emperor Raja Raja Chola I, there are many references to Buddhism. In the second book, we get to see him in Sri Lanka restoring the Buddhist Viharas and getting impressed by the size of the statues of Buddha. Later when he gets caught in a cyclone and falls sick, he lives in hiding in the Buddhist Monastery of Nagappatinam in Tamil Nadu.

Recently the Archaeological Survey of India had found a 10th century Tamil inscription that mentioned the donation of land to build a Shiva temple in Kolapakkam, 20 km from Chennai. Deciphering the inscriptions, they found two Buddha statues in dhyana pose and some ornamental pillars.

S. Rajavelu, epigraphist, ASI, had recently found that the third inscription belonged to “Sri Vijaya Maharaja,” a king from Sumatra, and that it was issued in his eighth regnal year. The inscription mentions his donating 250 kuzhi (a measurement) of land to Agatheeswarar at Kolapakkam, which was in Perur nadu (country), a sub-division of Puliyur. Sri Vijaya was a contemporary of Raja Raja Chola and the palaeography of the inscription showed the script was similar to that of the period of Raja Raja Chola. Sri Vijaya had a cordial relationship with the Chola kingdom. Although the inscription mentioned Sri Vijaya’s donation to the temple, it indirectly indicated Buddhist activity nearby, because Sri Vijaya was a Buddhist.

Dr. Satyamurthy and Dr. Rajavelu explored the area and found the ruins of a Buddhist temple close to the Agatheeswarar temple. The two Buddha sculptures and ornamental pillars, in granite, were unearthed. The Buddha sculptures are three feet tall. One sculpture has a dharma chakra on either side of the Buddha. This was sculpted in the ancient region that is now Tamil Nadu. The other sculpture has a three-tiered umbrella above the Buddha’s head and women bearing fly-whisks.

According to Dr. Satyamurthy, the face of this Buddha has Mongoloid features and this sculpture shows South-East Asian influence. One of the ornamental pillars unearthed has a bas-relief of a human face, with a head-gear that shows South-East Asian influence. An image of Ganesa is carved on this pillar.

Kolapakkam perhaps was a centre of Buddhist activity. According to Dr. Rajavelu, this area coming under Tondaimandalam was noted for Buddhist activity about 1,000 years ago, prior to the Chola period. [Buddha statues unearthed near Chennai]

Update: It seems the statues are not that of Buddha, but of Jain thirthankaras

The Search for Dwaraka

Few years back, Marine Archaeologist S R Rao found evidence of a city under the sea in Dwaraka and since some of the specifications matched the description of Dwaraka mentioned in Harivamsha, a prologue of Mahabharata, people thought that they had found Krishna’s Dwaraka.

There is a new article which tells the details of how scientists at the NIOT (National Institute of Ocean Technology, of the Department of Ocean Development) found the submerged city while working for British Gas in the Gulf of Cambay region.

Samples collected include artefacts, wood pieces, pottery materials, hearth pieces, animal bones. They ere sent to Manipur University, Oxford University, London, Institute of Earth Sciences, Hanover, Germany for analysis and dating. The results were astonishing. It was found beyond doubt that the samples belonged to a period varying from 7800 to 3000 years (BP) Before Present !

The even more flooring discovery happened soon. NIOT, which carried outside scan and sub-bottom surveys in the year 2002-03, established beyond doubt the presence of two large palaeochannels (river channels which existed once and later submerged under the sea) in the Gulf of Cambay. Alluvium samples were collected from different locations in the areas of the palaeochannels by the gravity core and grab method.

Prof.Gartia (The Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology, No.2 of 2005, Pg.144) after conducting extensive investigations concluded that Gujarat region had experienced at least three large killer earthquakes about 1500, 3000 and 5000 years BP respectively. Geomorphological evidences also show beyond doubt that the North-Western part of the Indian landmass was seismically active during the last 10,000 years. These killer quakes are likely to have caused the shifting of the rivers and sea level fluctuation including the sinking of the legendary city of Dwaraka, capital of the Lord-King Krishna. [How marine archaeologists found Dwaraka]

Other people have suggested that Krishna’s Dwaraka was not in Jamnagar, but in Junagad and apparently there are nine sites in Gujarat which claim to be Krishna’s Dwaraka.

The first farmer debate

Archaeologists excavating in Lahuradeva in Uttar Pradesh have found remains of carbonised material containing grains of cultivated rice along with wild grass dating back about 10,000 years. If this is true, then Middle Ganga Valley could be the home of the first farmers in the world.

Previously it was believed that agriculture began in West Asia in a region known as the Fertile Crescent with the domestication of barley and wheat. Later a new Fertile Crescent was discovered in China where rice cultivation began much before agriculture in West Asia. In the Indian subcontinent wheat and barley cultivation began in Kachi Plain in Baluchistan(Pakistan) in the seventh millennium B.C.

The findings at Lahuradeva were discussed at an International archaeology conference in Lucknow last month.

But none of these theories is fully confirmed or accepted by everyone in the field, and P.C. Panth, former professor of archaeology with Benares Hindu University, pointed to just this as he made a bold claim. “It is possible that middle Ganga valley was the home of the first farmer,” he told The Telegraph.

State archaeology director Rakesh Tiwari echoed him: “The studies at Lahuradewa and Sanai tal (a nearby lake) indicate this settlement could be (the site of) the earliest genesis of agriculture developments than ever found before elsewhere in the world.”

The international experts — who included Professor Peter Bellwood of the Australian National University and Dorian Q. Fuller of the Institute of Archaeology, University College, London — were non-committal. But they agreed that agriculture may have begun at more than one site about roughly the same time. [Enter UP kisan in farm origin debate]

Travel along a path taken by a historical figure is always exciting and many books have been written about those trips. For example Walking the Bible is a journey from Egypt to Jerusalem along the path followed by Moses. Chasing Che is a motorcycle trip along the route that Che Guevera took.

Last year some researchers attempted a bronze age trade route from Sur in Oman to Mandvi in Gujarat in a bronze age boat.

Recently there was a new book, Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud by Shuyun Sun which follows the path taken by Huen Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim who toured India during in the 7th century.

Now four Buddhist selected from Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao are planning to retrace the steps of Huen Tsang.

The group will carry valuable gifts for Nalanda, including a Liuzu altar sutra embroidered on silk, a Sakyamuni statue and a copy of an ancient Chinese book, “records of the western regions of the tang dynasty” by Xuanzang`s disciple Bian Ji.

“The embroidered Liuzu altar sutra is the most valuable gift as it is the only sutra originated in China,” said shi Zhongyao, secretary-general of the trip organizing committee. “Others were all translated from Sanskrit,” he added.

In the late autumn of 628, monk Xuan Zang started his journey to South Asia. He walked 25,000 kms and spent 19 years [Retracing Zang`s journey to India]

Unlike Huen Tsang, these folks don’t plan to walk all that 25,000 on foot since they don’t have time for it. Still it would be an interesting journey and I hope someone makes a documentary on it, similar to the Walking the Bible series on PBS.

Few days back, we had a review of Kalki’s epic novel Ponniyin Selvan and had the question – where does a historical novelist get his characters from?

Books on Indian history talk mostly about the North Indian dynasties and only a few lines are spent for the South Indian ones. Even in those few lines, only the famous kings are mentioned and details are just glossed over. Thus when it comes to the Cholas, you may hear about Raja Raja Choza I and Rajendra Choza, but not about Parantaka I or Parantaka II.

The Chozha dynasty

One of the authoritative histories of South India, Nilakanta Sastri’s A History of South India provides more detail. According to Sastri, Parantaka I ascended the throne on 907 A.D and ruled for forty-eight years. Even though there was prosperity during his time, thirty years (955 – 85) after his reign there was a period of weakness and confusion. Parantaka I was succeeded by his son Gandaraditya who with his queen Sembiyan-mahadevi played a major role in religion than in politics. By the time of the death of Gandaraditya in 957, the Choza dynasty had shrunk to the size of a small principality. Gandaraditya’s brother Arinjaya ruled only for a year and was succeeded by his son Sundara Choza Parantaka II.

His son Aditya II was made the yuvaraja and and Sundara Chozha turned his attention to the south to defeat Vira Pandya. Sundara Choza defeated him and Vira Pandya was killed by Aditya II. The last years of Sundara Chozha were clouded with tragedy and this is the story told by Kalki’s novel, Ponniyin Selvan.

According to Nilakanta Sastri, Uttama Choza conspired to murder Aditya II and compelled Sundara Chozha to recognize him as the heir apparent. He ruled till 985 A.D and after that Arulmozhi Varman, Sundara Chozha’s second son took over and started the period of Choza imperialism.

That’s all the information. So where does a novelist turn to find other characters and details of life at that time? What about Vandiyathevan or the conspirators Ravidasan and Soman, or Nandini? Did they really exist or were they created by Kalki?

Kalki’s other sources were stone inscriptions, copper plates and other books. There is a stone tablet in the great temple of Thanjavur which has the following inscription: “The revered elder sister of Raja Raja Chozhar, the consort of Vallavarayar Vandiyathevar, Azwar Paranthakar Kundavaiyar”. The book sources were K.A.Nilakanta Sastri’s The Chozas and T.V.Sadasiva Pandarathar’s Pirkala Chozhar Charitttiram. The second book has a five line reference to Vandiyathevan and from that, he became the hero of this novel. The names of the conspirators also came from a stone inscription.

Lot of information about the activities of various kings came from inscriptions like these as well as copper plates like the Anbil one. The Thiruvalangadu copper plates state, “The Choza people were very keen that after Sundara Chozan, Arulmozhi Varman should ascend the throne and rule their country. But Arulmozhi Varman respected the right of his Uncle Uttama Chozhan, the son of his father’s younger brother, Kandaradithan, to the throne and crowned him King”.

In the conclusion of the novel, Kalki frames a set of questions which the reader may have about the characters after the end of the novel and he talks about each one of them, but does not give any sources for the information.