Friday, February 19, 2021


The cut-off date in the Mahābhārata debate


 (Pragyata, 15 Feb. 2021)

Last January, Srimati Neera Mishra’s Draupadi Dream Trust organized a three-day zoom conference on the chronology of the historical battle at the heart of the much-expanded epic Mahābhārata. Specialists from different disciplines took part in the debate; we do not have the ambition for a tour d’horizon of the different positions. Let’s just summarize the contrast between the archaeologists’ option for the -2nd millennium and the (professional and self-taught) astronomers’ choice for the late -4th millennium. (It could have been even earlier, in the -6th millennium, but Nilesh Oak hadn’t been invited.)


Jijith Nadamuri Ravi, engineer and sanskritist, made a good overview, and in his account, the archaeologists made a convincing case why the archaeological evidence doesn't allow for a date prior to the -2nd millennium. There wouldn't be much of a debate over the date, and there wouldn't be claims for the -4th millennium or earlier, if there hadn't been traditionalists and others basing themselves solely on the astronomical data, impervious to any other evidence. Only, a second look at this astronomical evidence shows up one pointer, a central one, that sends the date of the battle to the -2nd millennium even on astronomical grounds. I've shown it before on various forums, but all those who want to deduce the Mahābhārata date from astronomy doggedly keep on ignoring it.


In the story of Bhīṣma’s self-chosen death, the asterism Māgha, centred around the major star Maghā/Regulus, is said to be on or past the solstice axis: the asterism/star itself is just past the Summer Solstice, so that the calendar asterism, situated in opposition where the sun is when the full moon is in the physical asterism, is past the Winter Solstice. Indeed, Bhishma elects to give up the ghost when the sun is "past the Winter Solstice/Uttarāyaṇa" and "in Māgha". He dies when the moon is with Rohiṇī/Aldebaran, which is some 98° past this point, a distance covered by the moon in 7 1/2 days; hence it is said that Bhīṣma died on Māgha Śukla Āṣṭamī, the 8th day, therefore also called Bhīṣmāṣṭamī. This implies that he died 8 days past the Solstice/ Uttarāyaṇa. (Or more, if the New Moon didn't exactly coincide with the solstice axis anymore.)


Now, when did Maghā/Regulus pass the Solstice? The earth's polar axis describes a precessional cycle of 25772 years, or ca. 71 years per degree of arc. In this cycle, Maghā is today 60° past the solstice axis. We calculate backwards: 60 x 71 years ago, i.e. 4260 years ago, i.e. ca. -2240. Moreover, we are already on the 8th day of the asterism defined by this star, and 8 days translate precessionally into 568 years, so the end result is ca. -1672. All this may have some imprecision about it, so we don't commit ourselves to a specific year, but certainly to the 2nd millennium. We leave it to others to argue out -1478 vs. -1728 etc., but we do stick to this non-negotiable conclusion: it must have been well past -2240, the cut-off time when Maghā passed the solstice axis. 


This makes it impossible for the Mahābhārata battle to have taken place in 3139, as “the tradition" (but not the Mahābhārata itself, only an "invented tradition" dating to much later, probably ca. +500) says, nor in 3067, nor 5561, nor any other year prior to -2240. If you at all must deny the king-lists and the archaeological evidence pointing to the -2nd millennium, and exclusively stick to the astronomical evidence, well alright, here is astronomical evidence. Unlike all the rest of it, this is not convoluted or contradictory, it is simple and straigntforward. And it excludes the high chronologies.

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Monday, February 8, 2021

A case of good nationalism: DK Chakrabarti on historiography



A case of good nationalism


(Pragyata, 5 February 2021)


Outside India, and in India’s secularist circles, “nationalism” counts as a bad thing, a kind of collective self-centredness, a refusal of solidarity with the rest of the world. In the 19th century, it counted by contrast as a form of generous solidarity with people you didn’t know, simply because they belonged to the same nation. The Great War of 1941-18 saw the highest tide of nationalism. Thus, in my native Belgium, an artificial state without a soul, it was the war that first created a national feeling, focused on war leader King Albert I. In the inter-war years, all manner of associations for trade-unionism, sports or even music affected military mannerisms with parades and uniforms, an atmosphere in which the emerging authoritarian-nationalist movements could flourish. India’s newly founded mass movement RSS (1925) followed this same fashion, and has kept it up till today, long after it disappeared abroad.

At the same time, the war was followed by the emergence of a pacifist and internationalist spirit, embodied at the highest level by the creation of the League of Nations. A number of writers expressed this weariness of the nationalist passions that first had led to the war and then been exacerbated by it, such as Goodbye to All That by frontline veteran and famous classicist Robert Graves.  After World War Two, when the Axis powers had profiled themselves as fervently nationalist (and in spite of the fact that the Allies and the Resistance movements had done likewise), nationalism definitely went out of fashion. Intellectuals developed a keen eye for the distortive influence that nationalist (even more than other) passions had on history-writing.


Nationalism in the British period

But now Dilip K. Chakrabarti, emeritus professor of Archaeology at Cambridge UK, defends nationalism as a research framework: Nationalism in the Study of Ancient Indian History (Aryan Books International, Delhi). Not the fanatical nationalism of some Hindutva trolls, but the modest and quiet nationalism visible in the colonial-age and Nehru-age Indian historians. Their historiography simply and unsensationally paid proper attention to the scientific and cultural achievements of Hindu civilization and to its already ancient search for unity.

This nationalist tendency marked itself off against the rival tendency of colonialist history. The latter would deny any originality or agency to Indian culture, all inventions and important doctrines borrowed from Greek or other foreign sources. This tendency persists among today’s dominant anti-nationalist or self-described “secularist” school, for political reasons out to belittle India’s achievements. Yet, we get to see that the great British historians (discussed on p.76-156), as distinct from non-historians like TB Macaulay, rarely gave signs of belittling India.

At the other end we find the traditionalists, who were then and still are scornful of the canons of academic history. They derive history from sources like the Puranas and take the epics literally.  Ridiculed but persistent, they are impervious to scholarship. There is for any reader of this book, or any other by Chakravarti, no occasion for confusing him with these far-fetched chauvinists.

Chakrabarti surveys the British-age Indian historians at length. (p.157-250). An interesting example was Rajendra Lala Mitra  (p.157-173) We may quote him here for disturbing the common Hindu chauvinist allegation that the alleged Indian lack of historical sense is but a colonial concoction meant to belittle India. No, it is a fact based in common observation, also by Indians themselves. Mitra is quoted as lamenting his own civilization’s lack of historical sense: “India never produced a Xenophon or a Thucydides, and her heroes and their mighty exploits, her greatness and her early civilization, where they live, live but in song (…) there are few ancient books which bear authentic dates”. (p.159)

Not that the Indians lacked a calendar system – they had too many of them: “It was held to be a distinguishing mark for a great sovereign to establish an era (…) But unfortunately Indian writers never brought their systems of chronology to bear upon history; and in the absence of chronology their history degenerated into the most inconsistent fables and legends. (..) Almost every date is doubtful.” (p. 167)

Same remark by the greatest historian of the 20th century, RC Majumdar, whose voluminous work is discussed in detail. (p.226-8 and p.273-287) He is quoted as diagnosing the “almost all-encompassing absence of historical texts from the earliest times to the Muhammadan conquest” and the “absence of a definite chronology”. (p.380) Like Mitra and Majumdar, Chakrabarti is clearly not a nationalist in the sense of a blind glorifier of his country. But acknowledgement of India’s weak points is all the easier as the said flaw is compensated by the many achievements of Indian civilization. And moreover, the admitted weakness has a silver lining: India’s record of its early history is a bit garbled, but on the other hand it reaches deeper in time (with very pre-Vedic histories of Manu and his successors) than comparable records in the other great civilizations.



Another pioneer was Ramesh Chandra Dutta, who “like many of the period [= late 19th], was an avid supporter of the Aryan theory”. (p.182) He is quoted as considering the results of the “industry, perseverance and genius” of early Indo-Europeanists like “Bopp, Grimm, and Humboldt” as “one of the noblest and most brilliant of the century”: the Indo-European language family. (p.183)

Today, many nationalists including Chakrabarti himself reject the notion of Indo-European, but he concedes that back then, far from being resented by the Indians of the day as an imperialist concoction, they generally welcomed it, because: “The Aryan hypothesis implied that the ruling Anglo-Saxons and the ruling Indians (at least the higher castes among the North-Indians) belonged to the same stock and could claim a cousinship, however removed, with their rulers.” (p.183)

But he himself is not convinced: “To the present author, the Aryans are a historical non-issue because this is nothing more than a historical concoction to imagine a group of all-conquering dominating people on the model of the Europeans in the 16th-20th centuries.” (p.9)

Like a very large number of Hindus, Chakravarti assumes, following the AIT school, that “comparative philology” necessarily implies the AIT; and is therefore to be shunned. He rejects not only the Aryan Invasion/Immigration Theory but the Out-of-India Theory as well: “The so-called ‘out-of-India’ theory postulated for the Aryan origin, which is current among a section of Indian scholars, should not mean anything historically tangible or verifiable because the whole Aryan issue is irrelevant to the rational understanding of ancient India.” (p.9-10)

Well, some of the historians he discusses contradict this view. Mountstuart Elphinstone was the Governor of Mumbai  Presidency before he became a historian, which makes him formally an out-and-out colonialist. Yet, he was in two minds about the Aryan invasion thesis. In his day (1841), the Aryan Invasion Theory was still young (August van Schlegel posited a Caucasus homeland in 1834) and disputed. He simply notes the dilemma whether the high castes had been invaders or “merely a portion of one of the native states (a religious sect, for instance) which had outstripped their fellow citizens in knowledge”.  (p.115)

Then he proceeds to give a cautious answer. Even if conquest was at the origin of the power equation in caste society, that doesn’t make it a foreign conquest: “It is opposed to their foreign origin that neither in the code [of Manu], nor, I believe, in the Vedas, nor in any book that is certainly older than the code, is there any allusion to a prior residence”. (p.115)

To be sure, there is no such recorded memory among the other Indo-European branches either, e.g. the Germanic Edda of ca. 1200 CE  knows nothing of an immigration whereas the Out-of-India Theory (and even the still-common peri-Caucasus homeland theory) posits their immigration into Northern Europe ca. 2500 BCE, obviously because the long time-lapse made this forgetfulness a natural outcome. The Aryan Invasion Theory, by contrast, posits an immigration ca. 1500 BCE and immediately thereafter the composition of the Rg-Veda, including (at least in the AIT school’s reading) descriptions of battles between invaders and natives. So unlike in the Edda, especially in the Vedas we ought to find references to very recent foreign origins, given the importance that ancient peoples in general and Indians in particular attached to origins.  

Where I completely agree with Elphinstone but Chakrabarti does only partly, is this: “The common origin of the Sanscrit language with those of the west leaves no doubt that there was once a connection between the nations by whom they are used; but it proves nothing regarding the place where such a connection subsisted, nor about the time, (…) To say that it spread from a central point is a gratuitous assumption (…) Where, also, could the central point be, from which a language could spread over India, Greece and Italy, and yet leave Chaldaea, Syria and Arabia untouched? The question, therefore, is still open. There is no reason whatever for thinking that the Hindus ever inhabited any country but their present.” (p.115-6)

Indeed, we agree that the Hindus came from India. As for the Europeans, we say that the linguistically decisive part of their ancestry came from India, whereas most Indians including Chakrabarti say it didn’t; though essentially they don’t give a damn about these non-Indians, as their horizon stops at the Khyber Pass. Here, persuasion will have to come from Chakrabarti’s own field: archaeology. So far it has shown a complete absence of indications of Aryans moving into India (as opposed to  Europe, where both archaeological and genetic evidence of the Aryan invasion is plentiful), but much less work has been done to identify Indian emigrant traces in the Central-Asian record. These will give more body to a scenario of Aryan expansion via a secondary homeland on the steppes, then into Europe.



One great merit of this book is the insider’s account of the Leftist take-over of the education establishment, mainly during Indira Gandhi’s 1972-77 tenure, with PN Haksar as her political secretary, Saiyid Nurul Hasan as her Education Minister, and card-carrying Communist Prof. RS Sharma as the first chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research, newly founded in 1972. (p.3-20, p.293-311, passim) Sharma’s textbook Ancient India, the ICHR’s first, with the protest against it by archaeologist Swarajya Prasad Gupta, was the first salvo in the ‘textbook controversy’ that has never really died down ever since.

As for his own experience:  “In several Indian universities that I can think of – Delhi University, for instance -- students were positively discouraged to read those ‘nationalist’ writings” (p.4), i.e. sober India-minded historians like RC Majumdar. Chakrabarti himself served at Delhi University for a while, and was the target of Communist slander there. Editing A History of Ancient India in 2013, he found that major publishers refused, slated contributors withdrew etc.: “cancel culture”.

After SP Gupta, a very small handful of minor publications dealt with this Communist coup against objective historiography. Then “the first major criticism of the ‘left-liberal’ or ‘progressive’ historians was made by Arun Shourie with special reference to the state of the ICHR in their control.” (p.11, referring to Shourie’s 1998 book Eminent Historians. Their Technology, Their Line, Their Fraud) The title Eminent Historians refers to how they call each other to pull rank against the non-conformist historians mostly excluded from an academic career; it is also pun on a colonial-age book title, Eminent Victorians. The book documented the eminent historians’ misuse of the lavish subsidies they received, and focused on their systematic history manipulation.

Though “these earlier scholars never transcended the limits of objective historical research in their championing of some nationalist premises” and “in no case did they try to glorify ancient India at the expense of objectivity”, yet “the communists launched a propaganda war against the earlier scholars by styling themselves ‘progressives’ as opposed to the ‘revivalist’ and ‘regressive’ Indian scholars of the earlier generations. They did not find the necessity of citing facts to support their contention”. (p.381) The Left purposely conflates Bhāratīya Vidyā Bhavan (that published RC Majumdar’s magnum opus) historians with the eccentric Bhāratīya Itihās Saṇkalan Yojanā history-rewriters. They also portrayed themselves, though power-wielders, as oppressed.

Thus, DN Jha’s Myth of the Holy Cow (Verso, 2002) tried to shock the Hindus, who protested. So Jha roped in worldwide sympathy by presenting himself as a victim of Hindu fanaticism. Yet the case of historian Rajendra Lala Mitra’s 1881 book Indo-Aryans, with the same message, had not led to any persecution. (p.169) The Hindu public had had no problem with the message that Hindu norms had been different 3000 years ago compared to today; only with the Hindu-bashing that Jha added to it.

Did the scene change under Narendra Modi, the supposed Hindu fanatic? Not quite: under BJP rule, no counter-strategy was developed, and the much-discussed problem of “Right-wing history rewriting” remains a figment of the feverish Leftist imagination: “The communists had a free run so far, their opponents being no match in the psychological warfare launched by the communists. These opponents have had the control of the ICHR uninterruptedly since 2014 but they have basically been unable to neutralize the communist lobby in Indian historical studies. They are not motivated enough and focused enough. They regrettably are not even professional enough to realize where the communists have to be hurt to their disadvantage. They remain content by merely uttering platitudes about the Aryans or the Sarasvati. In the latter entreprise they regrettably have been joined by a large number of people who have never taken a day’s course in historical studies on a professional level.” (p.382)

                To sum up: this book is a very good overview of the main trends in Indian historiography. It introduces the main conflicts within the field, marking these for future in-depth studies. The Left would have liked us to ignore their motivated power-grab, but after this book, this will become impossible.


Dilip K. Chakrabarti: Nationalism in the Study of Ancient Indian History, Aryan Books International, Delhi 2020, 398 pp., ISBN 978-81-7305-648-2, Rs 995.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

What the West’s academy has to say on Ayodhya


What the West’s academy has to say on Ayodhya

(Pragyata, 24 December 2020)


At this year’s digital version of the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Conference, the most agenda-setting event worldwide in the field of religious studies, several of the hundreds of sessions were devoted to Hinduism Studies. Of these, one (Boston, 9 dec 2020), presided over by Diana Dimitrova, addressed “The Ayodhya Verdict: The Jurisprudence and Geography of Modern Hinduism”. Nothing important, this report of ours: just letting you know what goes on in influential places. The on-line programme book announced:

“This panel examines the 2019 Supreme Court of India’s controversial judgement on the ‘Ayodhya Dispute’, M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors, in order to better understand modern Hinduism as a juridical and geographic phenomenon. Two papers focus on the jurisprudence (legal theory) of the judgement itself: how Rāma is conceived of as a juridical person capable of owning land; and how the court’s privileging of Rāma’s rights over those of Muslim litigants effectuates a legal endorsement of majoritarian Hindu claims to contested spaces by state institutions. How does the legal language of the judgement recast Ayodhya and India more broadly as a ‘Hindu’ space? In what ways is modern Hinduism shaped by the language of law? Conversely, the next brace of papers posit that text of the judgement itself is the culmination of longstanding practices of Hinduizing India’s geography. These papers explore the religious practices - temple building, pilgrimage, and intense devotion to Hanuman - whereby Hindus built possessory claims over the contested space in Ayodhya. Thus, this panel theorizes modern Hinduism majoritarianism’s spatial and legal dimensions.”


No Ayodhya debate

So, the actual Ayodhya debate, about the history of the site, was starkly avoided. In the past, the Indologists all meekly parroted India’s Eminent Historians that there never was a temple there, that it was merely a Hindutva concoction. It would be in the scholarly fitness of things if they were to face their mistake, acknowledge that they had made a false allegation of a “concoction” and that the evidence has robustly confirmed the demolished temple scenario. But they haven’t done that on any forum whatsoever.

The judicial aspects were safer ground for the Eminent Historians and their foreign allies: the insiders among them know of their hilarious defeat in the scholarly debate, so they avoid or muzzle any mention of it. Their ostentatious position of around 1990 was proven wrong and is now all the more embarrassing in proportion to how high-profile it was back then. So, their loyalists in the US likewise tiptoe around the issue.

Even many of their followers abroad have gone remarkably silent on the Ayodhya history: they still do obligatory instalments on what they call “Hindu history manipulation”, but whereas the Ayodhya debate used to be their crowning example, now it has gone down the memory hole, though in fact it was the one case that was fought out in the public square and came to a clear verdict both scholarly and judicial, viz. to the complete detriment of the anti-Hindu camp. Thus, the Flemish tabloid De Morgen (25 March 2020) did a multi-page article on an alleged policy by Narendra Modi to rewrite history, but innovatively left out all reference to the Ayodhya affair (my reply: “Negationisme in India”, Doorbraak, 5 April 2020, English translation: Koenraad Elst: . Negationism in India, and in De Morgen).

The only ones in the anti-temple camp who are staying the course and repeating what they used to say in the 1990s are people who haven’t paid attention for the last 20+ years. At the Leiden conference in July 2019 of the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS), an all-Korean panel discussed India’s religious conflict. They were well-meaning and had nothing of the foaming hatred against Hinduism that many secularists and their Western acolytes display, but they were poorly informed; or rather deliberately misinformed, most of them having studied in Delhi at JNU. So, while saying nothing about the scholar’s debate on the Ayodhya site’s history, they focused on some conspiracy theories featuring the Hindu forces, e.g. that the public works in Varanasi to open a corridor between the Gyanvapi mosque (standing on the Kashi Vishvanath site) and the river, intended to make it more visible, are “in reality” Narendra Modi’s and Yogi Adityanath’s preparation for engineering a new temple-mosque controversy.

Anyway, it was in the audience that someone brought the long-buried claim of a no-temple scenario in Ayodhya back to life. Unbelievably, Italian scholar Marzia Casolari (who wrote about alleged links between Italy’s Fascist regime and the Hindutva movement, as discussed in K. Elst: The Saffron Swastika, p.483-500) still voiced the belief that it was merely a British divide-and-rule concoction launched by Montgomery Martin. Why would they concoct a novel mosque-replaces-temple scenario when there were so many of these present in India, often clearly visible with the temple remains worked into the mosque, and often affecting other prominent Hindu sacred sites (as in the aforementioned Gyanvapi mosque)?

Anyway, this flight of fancy only survived the first months of the Eminent Historians’ offensive, for pre-colonial testimonies of the Hindu pilgrimage to the contentious site soon surfaced. The negationist story therefore had changed already in the beginning: from blaming the British to blaming the Ramanandi Sadhus. But time had stood still in the minds of the meekest followers, including Dr. Casolari’s: having interiorized the victory claims of the anti-temple camp thirty years earlier, she kept on repeating them in blissful ignorance of the scholarly defeats meanwhile suffered by her side.

Otherwise, the no-temple claim has been buried even by India’s anti-Hindu forces, and though this news has clearly not reached all their loyalists, their American friends have clearly come to toe their line. Although, the next speaker made a semi-exception.   


Rama as litigator

Christopher Fleming addressed the topic: “In Breach of Trust with God? Fiduciary Principles and the Bar of Limitation in the Ayodhya Verdict”.

My paper attends to a novel facet in the Supreme Court of India’s controversial 2019 judgment concerning the ‘Ayodhya Dispute:’ the fiduciary relationship between the juridical person ‘Ram Lala Virajman’ and his erstwhile servants (shebaits), the Nirmohi Akhara. The Nirmohi Akhara, a monastic order, had long claimed the right to represent Ram Lala Virajman (a perpetual minor under the law) and to enjoy a percentage of the revenues brought by pilgrims coming to Ayodhya. The court, however, found that, despite their representations otherwise, the Akhara had acted against Ram’s best interests (collaborating with Muslim litigants and undermining Ram’s proprietary claims) in a mala fide (bad faith) manner. Ironically, the court ruled that the Akhara’s breach of trust with Ram constituted a ‘continuing harm’ that protected Ram’s suit O.O.S. No.5 of 1989 (Regular Suit No.236 of 1989) from the bar of limitation. My paper concludes that the way the court construed Hindu religiosity as a justiciable form of Trust with a deity is a unique feature of modern Hinduism as a legal phenomenon.”

These are details about a well-known fact, though certainly surprising to outsiders: that a Hindu deity can be a party to litigation, and that it has the status of a minor as his case has to be taken up by a guardian. The perceived divergence between the deity’s interests and its guardian’s position in this particular case adds spice to this exotic situation. This is not controversial, so here we need not go deeper into it.

However, in presenting the verdict, Fleming claimed in passing that the Supreme Court in its verdict was non-committal on the historical question. Naturally, he too avoids going into the history question itself, and even the judicial treatment of that evidence is passed over swiftly. This much is true, that the Supreme Court did not explicitly base its verdict on the history question, partly even falling back on the inertial reasoning of the 1885 Court case, when the status quo (then de facto Muslim possession, now de facto Hindu possession) as such was taken as sacrosanct. Earlier, Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao had wanted to base the solution on the historical facts, which they knew to be the pre-existence of a Rama temple; and the UP High Court had, after ascertaining the historical evidence, given its verdict on this basis.

This verdict was confirmed by the Supreme Court. The whole background gives a central place to the historical evidence, which the Supreme Court wouldn’t go against. Still, unlike the UP High Court, which for years had been preparing a verdict based on the evidence, the Supreme Court looked hesitant to follow the evidence, which would necessarily lead to a pro-temple verdict. From the media reports, admittedly a doubtful source, the Supreme Court seemed to be more resolutely “secularist”, meaning prejudiced against the Hindu position.

This appeared from a strange episode in mid-2019, of which we must await the explanation from the jurists involved. The Supreme Court seemed to throw out all that had been acquired in terms of evidence, and instead leave it to a compromise between the parties. It declared that it did not want to impose a verdict, instead preferring a negotiated solution. (Imagine the murderer of your daughter standing trial and the judge declaring: “No, we don’t feel like sitting in judgment. Try to find an agreement with him.”) This was back to square one, reopening all possibilities, depriving the Hindu side of the lead that it had built on the scholars’ and archaeologists’ findings.

Moreover, the Hindu negotiator appointed by the Supreme Court was Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, which raised some eyebrows. His record in interfaith discussions was rather spineless, with booklets about Christianity and Islam churning out the usual flaky sentimental pap, and a video debate with Zakir Naik bandied about by Muslims as a shattering victory for their side. On the other hand, he has set up a network of meditation centres in the Middle East, which is extremely meritorious and makes up for any shortcomings by far; but it also makes him vulnerable to blackmail from the Muslim side. However, during this episode, he consulted with a very goal-oriented VHP, that monitored the mediation closely. At any rate, the sell-out that some observers had feared, never materialized. No one wanted to give up his claim, as the judges had hoped. So, a disappointed Supreme Court gave up on this mediation gambit and took up the process of judgment again.

The verdict that resulted was predicated partly on other considerations (like the status quo factor confirming the extant Muslim possession in 1885 and the extant Hindu possession in 2019) than the long-available proof for the temple, which had earlier already informed the UP High Court’s verdict. But if the evidence had not been there (let alone if it had pointed the other way), it is strongly to be doubted that the Supreme Court would have awarded the contentious site to the Hindus.   



         One of the buzzwords of Subaltern and other Grievance Studies is “space”. The third speaker, Knut Axel Jacobsen, dealt with “Hinduization of Space and the Case of Ayodhyā”:

“This paper discusses Hinduization of space as a historical process in India. It presents some central features in the development of Hindu pilgrimage sites and makes some comparisons with modern and contemporary developments. The close connection between political power and expansion of sacred sites is analyzed and the paper looks in particular at sacredness as a form of land appropriation and the function of parikrāmas as a way to construct and mark religious boundaries. The paper looks at different ways Hindu sacred sites have been constructed and expanded in the past and compares these processes with the present Hinduization of space in India and especially with the contemporary centre of Hinduization policies of Ayodhyā.”

Throughout the whole field of Hindu Studies, you just have to get used to the omnipresence, though in different doses, of the Marxist-inspired reduction of religion to worldly categories. Prominent among these is “appropriation”, as in e.g. “cultural appropriation” or indeed “sacredness as a form of land appropriation”. There are power dynamics, to be sure, but you’re never going to understand Rama worship and the place of the Ayodhya site in it by forever dragging it down to the political level; just as Romila Thapar or Richard Eaton were fated never to understand the Muslim invaders’ iconoclastic zeal given their reduction of temple destruction to a mere political statement. It is an occupational hazard of post-religious scholars of (or opinionators on) religion that they just don’t understand the passion involved in their subject, including the destructive passion springing from a religion’s iconoclastic doctrine.  

To be sure, economic and political dimensions of religious activity also exist, and may present legitimate objects of study. We can’t hold it against Jacobsen individually that he chose this theme, but having followed the scene for decades, we know that the academic authorities in this field do channel all scholarly energy towards this reductionist view of Hinduism. This is much less true for other religions: it is Hinduism that is very disproportionately targeted for reduction to its external dimension.


The Marwaris

Another form of reductionism focuses on the financial dimension of Hindu initiatives. Thus, Jeremy Saul dealt with “The Ayodhya Decision and Marwari Merchants: Financing Ram Devotion Through Hanuman”:

“This talk focuses on the decades leading up to the Ayodhya decision as a time of Marwari merchants’ cultural activism, when they championed devotion to Hanuman as a representation of Ram. The rise of Hanuman worship was thus a stand-in for the long-stalled Ram temple-to-be in Ayodhya. The Marwaris, prosperous merchants who reside in cities throughout India but trace their ancestry to northern Rajasthan, modified their longstanding reverence for ancestral shrines in their Rajasthan homeland, long reified as a symbol of ancient Marwari dignity, into Vaishnava (Ram-oriented) temple devotion in that region. They thus adopted the Hindu nationalist ideology of reviving Ram’s mythological domain onto Marwari ancestral piety. Thus, this talk argues, the chronology of Marwari donations to Hanuman temples in Rajasthan has closely paralleled the historical trajectory of the Ram Janambhumi movement. The patronage arose as a consequence of the formation of urban Marwari devotional organizations dedicated to Rajasthani folk manifestations of Hanuman during the late 1980s, just as public enthusiasm for the Ayodhya movement was reaching its climax in the destruction of the Babri mosque.”

This was an interesting but perfectly inconsequential piece of research in the margin of the very consequential Ayodhya affair, the kind that our academics fill their time with to distract from the real issue. The noteworthy aspect was a little contemplation on the Kothari community. It was mentioned that among these Marwaris in Kolkata were the Kotharis, who count in their ranks the brothers Ram and Sharad Kothari, who were martyred during the Ayodhya agitation in late 1990. The speaker claimed that the Kothari sub-caste belongs to the Terapanthi Oswal Jain community, which doesn’t practice murtipuja (“idol-worship”).

That is when discussant Deepak Sarma intervened, who said his very own wife is a Kothari Jain. He agreed that it was odd for the Kothari brothers to be that deeply involved with Vaishnava worship when they shouldn’t have been into “idol-worship” in the first place. He was smirking and dismissive of the Kotharis’ doctrinal inconsistency.

In fact, this intervention exemplifies how estranged the Indo-American secularists are from the reality of India’s religious landscape. As we have been able to ascertain ourselves in Delhi and Gujarat, there is no fixed boundary between Vaishnavism and Jainism, they are communicating vessels with lots of intermarriage within the Bania class. Mahatma Gandhi was a Vaishnava Bania but had the Jains’ extreme concern for non-violence. We have visited the Kothari family’s home in Kolkata to pay our respects to the martyred brothers, and we saw nothing non- or anti-Hindu there. The idea that Jainism (or Sikhism, Virashaivism etc.) is separate from Hinduism, a kind of anti-Hindu revolt, is a figment of the secularists’ imagination. They cultivate the Christian misconceptions about religious boundaries (which they think can only be crossed by “conversion”, e.g. Khushwant Singh describing Banda Bairagi’s entry in the Khalsa as a “conversion”), as if they are first-time tourists bringing their baggage of Christian categories to Hindustan.



         Through the chat facility, I put the following feedback in writing:

“Contrary to what Christopher Fleming claims, the court-ordered excavations in 2003 did yield evidence that the structure replaced a Hindu temple: this (rather than the plentiful documentary evidence) was the main ground for the UP High Court's 2010 verdict. It confirmed what earlier partial excavations since 1974 had found. Far from being a ‘Hindutva concoction’, it was confirmed by the participant senior archaeologist KK Mohammed. The High Court also called a line-up of ‘eminent historians’ who had earlier pleaded in public that there never had been a temple there, to the witness stand. One after another, they collapsed and were reduced to stammering: ‘I have never been to the site’, ‘I am not an archaeologist’; their evidence for a non-temple scenario amounted to exactly zero, and they were fiercely reprimanded by the Court for their misuse of authority to mislead the public.

“The Ayodhya evidence debate has presented the hilarious sight of an entire academic and mediatic establishment in India and abroad denying what had been a matter of consensus till the mid-1980s, and this on the strength of strictly no evidence at all. In all these years, documentary and archaeological evidence for the demolished temple has been accumulating, and some has kept on coming to light even after the debate had ended. This to the extent that the judges simply couldn't push a verdict going against this wealth of evidence. Now that the Ayodhya dispute is over, the question remains when all these academics are going to climb down from the denial of history on which they had staked their august reputations. The present power equation, which has allowed them to get away with this historical negationism in years past, and to keep the lid on their defeat now, is not going to last forever.”

Talking to those people is like tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean. Probably it will go nowhere, but there still is that slim chance of someone somewhere picking it up. It just might set a consciousness revolution in motion. 

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Ram Swarup and Hinduphobia



Ram Swarup and Hinduphobia



(Bharat-Bharati, 26 Dec. 2020:



On Ram Swarup's 22nd death anniversary, in the centenary year of his birth (12 Oct. 1920 -- 26 Dec. 1998), let us consider what he said about Hindu-bashing, or what is nowadays called Hinduphobia. The word, though in existence since more than a century, was not yet in vogue as Hinduism's ad hoc counterweight against the omnipresent propaganda term Islamophobia. But the phenomenon was already dominant in India and increasingly present abroad.


In fact, it was quite old. Several tribes of Muslims with a doctrinally motivated hate for the Hindus, followed by the Portuguese Christians with a similar aversion, had actively persecuted Hinduism for centuries. They represent a permanent source of anti-Hindu violence that now takes the form od occupation of parts of the Hindu homeland by the Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh; of Pakistani incursions; of terrorism and of rioting. But while they bludgeoned Hindu society and inflicted huge human and material losses on it, they did not penetrate it or take control of its institutions.



Tribes of haters


The British, by contrast, could rule India with more limited violence largely outsourced to native Sepoys, but their influence penetrated far more deeply. Firstly, they managed to pit several Hindu sub-groups against the mainstream: most obviously the Sikhs, for whom the status of separate religion was made of whole cloth, promoted as a social reality and underpinned at the scholarly level. In several booklets, Ram Swarup went against this colonial-engineered separatism by documenting how, as per their own scriptures and history, Sikhism was a self-identified sect of Vedic Hinduism.


            The creation of bad blood between Buddhism and mainstream Hinduism only took the institutional form of keeping Sri Lanka and later Burma outside of British India, but was far more influential at the scholarly level. There, the underlying paradigm of all Buddhist studies and of Indian histories as instilled through the schools became: “Hinduism bad, Buddhism good.”  Even before 1947, “Christian missionaries (…) were presenting Buddhism (as they have been doing with Sikhism) as (…) a revolt against ‘Brahmanism’ and the ‘Hindu’ caste system.” (Hinduism and Monotheistic Religions, p.519, originally 1991) They had no use for the Buddha, except for making him into a stick to beat Hindu society with. The Macaulayites and Marxists followed this example: “they tried to use their learning and position to undermine Hinduism (…) and show that there was little difference between Marxism and Buddhism. Now communist historians are telling us that Hindus demolished Hindu temples.” (p.519)


Likewise with the Dalits and Tribals, who came to benefit from an incipient reservation system, and with the non-Brahmin Tamils. The then-popular Aryan Invasion Theory was used to pit them against the upper castes and the North Indians. The thrust of the exercise was invariably to put Hindus into the dock and make them feel guilty for their very existence. Needless to say, this caste-based discrimination with a good social conscience has only become more encompassing over the years, and the Invasionist paradigm still is the official one.


            But the second effect was even more detrimental to Hindu assertiveness: “The British took over our education and taught us to look at ourselves through their eyes. They created a class Indian in blood and colour, but anti-Hindu in its intellectual and emotional orientation. This is the biggest problem rising India faces – the problem of self-alienated Hindus, of anti-Hindu Hindu intellectuals.” (p.45)


            Then again, in numerical terms, this impact on Hindu society was still quite small even by 1947. Many millions in the countryside had never seen a Briton, less than 1% of the population spoke good English. If the Indian leadership had wanted, it could have undone this influence in a matter of decades.


            A crucial factor here was the choice of language. Ram Swarup himself was quite at home with British culture and thought, being most influenced by British liberalism: Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell. In his case, this didn’t stop him from fighting for freedom from British rule, with active participation in the Quit India movement. But for less independent minds, gulping down English influence would only end up estranging them from their Hindu roots, as it had done in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru. The vote in the Constituent Assembly’s Language Committee should have been crucial: 50% voted for Sanskrit, 50% for Hindi (which was given victory by the deciding vote of the Chairman), and 0% for English. For the generation that had achieved independence, it was completely obvious that decolonization implied abolishing the colonizer’s language. Yet by 1965, when this abolition was due to become effective, the English-speaking elite had gathered enough power to overrule this solemn commitment. Ever since, the influence of English and of the thought systems conveyed by it has only gone on increasing, and at some levels, India is becoming a part of the Anglosphere – hardly what the Freedom Fighter envisioned. Today, most Anglophone secularists are nearly as knowledgeable about Hindu culture as first-time foreign tourists who have crammed up the Lonely Planet Guide’s few pages summarizing India’s religious landscape.



Marx and Mao


            Compare with China, not formally colonized but having been repeatedly humiliated by colonial incursion, yet now again proud and assertive. Of course it has retained its language, and adopting a foreign language as medium for education or the judiciary is simply unthinkable. Ram Swarup, who wrote several books criticizing the record of Maoism, wouldn’t emphasize this, but it is one thing the Communists undoubtedly achieved: a clean break with the colonial age. Under the nationalist regime (1912-49), China was increasingly under Anglo-American influence, and the Christian missions could operate on a large scale. Nationalist leader Jiang Jieshi (who later was to give an award to Ram Swarup’s and Sita Ram Goel’s anti-Communist think tank Society for the Defence of Freedom in Asia) was a Christian along with much of his family. By contrast, when Mao Zedong came to power, all missionaries were imprisoned, killed, or at best banished.    


On the other hand, by importing Marxism, China was opening itself up to another Western doctrine, and actively imposing it on its population. The same counted for those circles in India that came to espouse Marxism. Under Nehru, it started influencing the power-wielding circles, and from Indira Gandhi onwards, it achieved control over education policy and much of cultural policy. This ideology was “more Eurocentric than regular imperialism. It used radical slogans but its aims were reactionary. (…) Marx fully shared the contempt of the British imperialists for India. He fully subscribed to the theses of colonial scholarship that India was not a nation, had no history and was meant for subjugation. Marxism was Macaulayism at its most hostile. It blackened Indian history systematically. It gave to [the] Indian social and political system its own format, the one it had learnt from its European teachers. It saw in Hinduism not (…) a great spiritual civilization but only communalism.” (p.45-46)


Newer forms of Marxist or soft-Marxist thought (critics speak of “Cultural Marxism”) remain entrenched in the Indian institutions, and are more powerful than ever in the relevant departments of Western universities. Their construction of Indian reality remains dominant and is more than ever spread to the new Hindu generations, leading to more culpabilization c.q. sense of shame for Hinduism.



Race to the exit


The trends unambiguously traced to colonial policies have not been reversed by the Nehruvian regime, but have instead been continued and magnified. Thus, the British policy of separating Hindu subsets from general Hinduism has continued with an affirmation at different times of minority status for Buddhism, Sikhism, the Arya Samaj, Jainism, Virashaivism and Sarna “animism”. In every case, the administrative separation was fortified with a change in discourse: the need for a non-Hindu identity was in each case buttressed by an increased blackening of Hinduism. This anti-Hindu attitude has even crept into Hindu organizations without the institutional ambition of minority status, e.g. the ISKCon (Hare Krishna) calls itself non-Hindu, except when it is canvassing for donations by Hindu communities.


When Ram Swarup wrote against separatism among the Sikhs, it was an interesting intellectual entertainment for his (mere hundreds of) readers, but had no impact at all on policy-making. The Narasimha Rao government managed to neutralize armed Sikh separatism, but did nothing to change Sikh separatist thought, so that there remains a constant threat of its political revival. In a healthy society, we might expect power-wielders to listen to sages like Ram Swarup, but this was not the case; just as it is still not the case today.


As described in Ram Swarup’s booklet The Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity, the Ramakrishna Mission, besieged by the Communist-supported Teachers’ Union in its school network, felt compelled as a matter of survival to relieve this pressure. In India, by virtue of Art.30 of the Constitution, minority schools (and similarly, places of worship) are autonomous and immune from government take-over, whereas classification as Hindu makes vulnerable to nationalization. But the RK Mission did not try to have the discrimination against Hindu schools abolished, did not appeal to Hindu society, but did the dishonourable thing of trying to escape by seeking minority status, like a rat leaving a sinking ship. The Bengal High Court gave it the coveted minority status, then finally (or so it seemed) the Supreme Court denied it, entirely in accordance with RK Mission founder Swami Vivekananda’s assertion of Hindu pride.


Superficial Hindus might jubilate that this was a victory for Hindu unity, but Ram Swarup warned that the Mission would now have to live down the anti-Hindu attitudes which it had come to espouse. Here again, some of its swamis make all the right noises for the respective audiences they address, sometimes calling themselves Hindu, but the “we are not Hindus” animus has not disappeared: when Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won the state elections ending decades of Communist rule, the Mission asked her for minority status. And promptly it received her assurance that it would henceforth be treated as a minority, thus de facto overruling the “final” Supreme Court verdict. Ram Swarup always emphasized that institutional arrangements are unimportant in themselves, merely the materialization of convictions and mentalities. If you want to stop the race to the exit, it is imperative to change people’s unfavourable impression of Hinduism.



Down with conspiracy thinking


A final point for the attention of the rather hot-headed Hindu activists and polemicists. They always see conspiracies against Hinduism, e.g. the Aryan Invasion Theory was a “British concoction”, the Partition of India was “imposed by machinations by the British” who had “brainwashed” the Muslim League leadership. In this case, “Hinduphobia” is deemed to be an expression of an intractable “hatred” that for some reason (in the case of Westerners, “racism”) animates Hinduism’s numerous enemies. This fuming hot air in Hindu discourse puts off many neutral observers and produces Hinduphobes. But in all of Ram Swarup’s works, there is not a single instance of this approach.


For a single example, he describes a novel about the Buddha’s wife Yashodhara, Lady of the Lotus, by a well-meaning American, William E. Barrett. It has totally fictitious episodes about the couple’s visits to the quarters of the Untouchables: “They were revolted by the sight. They saw that ‘the traffic in the streets was, in the main, animal’.” And about the sight of hungry people: “Next day when they were in bed, light dawned on Siddharta that ‘No one has to be hungry (…) and no one should live as these people live’.” (p.527) In reality, the Buddha was not particularly interested in the difference between rich and poor, high and low; he taught that suffering was basic to the human condition in general. He did not propagate liberation from poverty, but Liberation from the human condition. The socialist reinterpretation of the Buddha as a social rebel conflicts with the Buddha’s teachings. It is typical for the post-religious worldview to reduce religion to socio-economic considerations, i.e. to cultivate ignorance about the existential passions that have generated religions.   


The most interesting part of Ram Swarup’s account is: “The author was not hostile to India but he was doing his best to depict Hindus and their history as he knew it.” (p.528) This is crucial to understanding “Hinduphobia”: while some classes of people, say mullahs and missionaries, have an interest in blackening Hinduism, most people don’t. They just go by the information they have been fed. This American novelist has been fed the fable that the Buddha was a rebel against Hindu societal reality, so that is what he puts into his story: Buddhism social, Hinduism oppressive. As Socrates (translated into Hindi as Satyakām Sokratez by Ram Swarup’s friend Sita Ram Goel) taught: evil is, upon closer analysis, a case of ignorance. Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence.   





Ram Swarup made it his job to inform. Around 1950 he presented the facts about life under Communism, later he presented the facts of Buddhist or Sikh scripture, outside the Hindu field he presented the facts about Islam. No hectoring, just cool, calm and collected: the facts. Know the truth, and the truth shall make free. A hazy knowledge of Hinduism makes for distortions and makes susceptible to even more distortions, of the willful sort.


The best remedy for “Hinduphobia” is to study and disseminate correct data about Hinduism. For foreigners this will mostly be a learning process, from scratch. For Indians this increasingly means learning a knowledge that was virtually automatic to their grand-parents. For the successful policy of the “Hinduphobic” leaders has been to estrange Hindus from their own civilization to make them ignorant. And unknown makes unloved.

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Sunday, December 20, 2020

The real Uttarayana



The real Uttarayana

(Pragyata, 20 December 2020)

As the Winter Solstice approaches, this year on 21 December at 10h3 Greenwich Mean Time, or 14h33 Indian Standard Time, we find in our inbox, like in preceding years, a passionate plea by AK Kaul for a return to celebrating Uttarayana on that day: “Why should we celebrate Makar Sankranti on December 21, 2020, 15:34 IST”. Alright, our data yield one minute of difference; but otherwise, the present article is entirely in support of this Hindu plea for a major rectification of the Hindu calendar. 

Uttarāyana, “northward course”, is the moment the sun stops its southward course (with ever-shortening days in the northern hemisphere) and turns northwards. It is an exact translation of “the half-year period starting with Winter Solstice”, or simply “Winter Solstice”. However, modern Hindus celebrate this moment on a different date, 14 or 15 January, which they call Makara Sankranti. What has gone wrong?

The Sankrantis (cusps) are the starting moments of the 12 periods of the Zodiac, with Makara being Capricorn. The problem is that there are two Zodiacs, presently more than 24° apart, or technically: with an āyana (“journey, distance traversed”) of 24°+. The one is called the Tropical Zodiac or Sāyana Rāśicakra, determined by the Tropics (from Greek trepō, “turn”, hence “turning-points”), i.e. the Winter and Summer Solstice, i.e. the seasons; the other the Sidereal Zodiac or Nirāyana Rāśicakra, determined by the constellations. For the Tropical Zodiac, the stars play no role at all: you could define it if only the sun and the earth made up the universe; and while they exist, the stars can fall in any Zodiacal period. For the Sidereal Zodiac, the seasons play no role at all: its twelve signs can fall in any season of the year. So, which of the two Zodiacs is it?

Both have a valid reason for existing. The dichotomy follows from the heavenly movement of the precession: the slow movement of the stars through the Tropical Zodiac, or conversely, of the Tropical cusps through the Sidereal Zodiac, at the rate of one cycle in 25,772 years, or 1° in nearly 71 years. So, since the moment ca. 300 CE when the two Zodiacs coincided (and Makar Sankranti, the entry in Capricorn, did indeed coincide with Uttarayana), the point marking the start of winter and of the northward course in the seasonal Zodiac has moved up 24° in the stellar Zodiac. After waiting for another ten thousand years or so, the constellations presently marking the winter months will mark the summer.

This movement is too slow to be perceived in a single lifetime, and had to wait till the availability of long-term observation tables to be discovered. It was 127 BCE when Hipparchos of Alexandria first realized the precessional motion. Until then, the Babylonian astronomers who had started the 12-part Zodiac followed the Sidereal Zodiac thinking it was Tropical. Siderealists sometimes argue that the original Zodiac was sidereal, which is true, but it was intended as Tropical. Significantly, already in the 5th century BCE, well before the discovery of the precession, Euktemōn had introduced the Zodiac in Athens as a non-lunar calendar system of 12 equal months, with Capricorn on Winter Solstice and Aries on Spring Equinox, purely seasonal-Tropical.

This primacy of the Tropical as against the Sidereal Zodiac can be seen from the symbolism of the Zodiacal signs, which is not linked to the constellations (as a comparative study of the constellation contours and names in different cultures shows, you can see all kinds of things in the shapes of star groupings), but to the seasons. Thus, in the contrast between the voluminous Taurus and the reduced Scorpio, it is obvious which one signifies the fullness of spring and which the reduction to the seed form. Virgo symbolizes the harvest, Pisces the thaw, mountainous Capricorn the coldness of sunny winter days, hospitable Aquarius the relative cosiness of snowy winter days, Sagittarius the hunting season, etc.

While purists could still dismiss these associations as dependent on the climate zone (e.g. some countries having more than one harvest season), more fundamental are the links with the mathematical structure of the Zodiac. The dynamic Aries signifies the pioneering starting-point, so its opposite is the middle of the Zodiac, aptly symbolized by Libra. At Summer Solstice, the solar arc, or visible motion of the sun during the daytime, is larger than half a circle, and has the shape of pincers, Cancer; at Winter Solstice, it it much less than half, and is shaped like a mountain in the distance, Capricorn. The sectors of the Zodiac rise in the morning at different speed: slowest for the sign around Autumn Equinox, viz. Virgo, the sign of analysis and patience, and Libra, the sign of equilibrium achieved with effort; fastest for the Spring Equinox signs, viz. Pisces, the sign of flight, fast and even faster, and for Aries, the sign of speeding forward, also of the falling object at its moment of greatest speed, viz. upon impact.   

At the same time, the stars and constellations have their own importance. They exist, and the Hindu Ahimsa view is that all entities have a valid reason for existing. Rather than the cosy earth-centred and sun-centred view, we can also focus on the long distance, where seasons are no longer important. But just as life at home is primary and distant journeys presuppose a grooming period at home, the Tropical Zodiac is primary and the Sidereal Zodiac a derivative.

Alright, so both Zodiacs are in their own way legitimate, but which one is being celebrated? Which one should determine the Uttarayana festival? AK Kaul clearly opts for the Tropical Zodiac, yielding 21 December, but the traditionalists opt for the Sidereal Zodiac and for 14 January, present date of the Makara Sankranti festival. In the many debates or slanging matches we have witnessed on a Hindu calendar list, the Hindu traditionalists (who control the calendar) always object that Kaul’s proposal goes against “Vedic” (meaning scriptural) tradition. About this, we can afford to be brief: this is not true at all.

While Kaul himself has argued this point with numerous examples (see for starters his article, we will make do with just two. The Srimad Bhagavata 5/21/3-6:  

 “Placed at the centre of the sky, the glorious sun, the lord of the luminaries, warms by its heat and illuminates by its light the three worlds (heaven, atmosphere, earth).  Coursing by slow, swift and regulated marches known by the names of Uttarayana (the northerly march from the Winter Solstice), Dakshinayana (the southerly march from the Summer Solstice) and the Vaishuvata (Equinox) and rising higher, going down and taking a mean position whenever  and wherever such positions are inevitable, the sun, while passing the Zodiac, from Makara (Capricorn) onwards, lengthens the days while shortening the nights and vice verse and brings their duration on a par."


         So the central concern is the Solstices and Equinoxes, markers of the year cycle with the seasons, like in most Pagan cultures and the emerging neo-Pagan practices worldwide. Additionally, the constellations are linked with them, so that Makara/Capricorn starts the northward course, which is on 21 December. No word is whispered about a constellation, Makara denotes a time, viz. the beginning of the sun’s northward course. It focuses on the immediately available seasonal cycle rather than on the distant constellations.


The Vishnu Purana 2/8/28-31 is even more explicit: “In the beginning of Uttarayana (northward course), the sun enters Makara Rashi (Capricorn), from there going to Kumbha (Aquarius) and then Mina (Pisces). After having passed through these three signs, it just gains Vishuvati (equinoctial) speed resulting in the day and night being equal on Mesha (Aries).(…) Then when the sun is in the end of Mithuna Rashi (Gemini), i.e. when it is just at the verge of entering Karkata (Cancer), the day is the longest then, as Dakshinayana (southward course) starts on that date”.


So, as per scripture, Makar Sankranti is nothing but a synonym of Uttarayana, already celebrated in the Vedas, Mesha Sankranti of Vedic Vishuva, Karkata Sankranti of Vedic Dakshinayana, and Tula (Libra) Sankranti of Vedic Śārada Sampāda (autumnal confluence). As Kaul sums up: “What is material is that they are related to the seasons -- exactly as is done by the Vedas and the Puranas and Siddhantas.”


         So, while most cultures focus on the seasonal cycle and celebrate its great moments or its derivatives (e.g. Chinese New Year being the second New Moon after the Winter Solstice, or Easter being the first Sunday after the first Full Moon after Spring Equinox), Hindu culture likewise focuses on this earthly phenomenon. Additionally, it also reckons, more than others, with the constellations, but these should not displace the primary seasonal cycle. So, we should celebrate Winter Solstice, not the entry in the Capricorn constellation which in its precessional motion happened to coincide with it some 17 centuries ago.


To sum up, we support Kaul’s practical conclusion: “God helps those who help themselves: We should not wait for Pujya dharmacharyas (reverend religion teachers) to streamline the derailed Vedic calendar.” 


Shubh Uttarayana, Merry Winter Solstice!

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