Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Vienna conference: Dominik Wujastyk on the Buddhist element in the Yoga Sutra



    At the conference on "Yoga in Transformation" (Vienna, September 2013), Prof. Dominik Wujastyk highlighted some less frequently realized Buddhist elements in Patañjali's Yoga Sutra. The final editing of the Yoga Sutra is conventionally dated to the 4th century (though the text's core may be centuries older), some 4 centuries after the final editing of the Pali canon and at least 7 centuries after the Buddha. 


    Among the more obvious and widely acknowledged Buddhist elements in the Yoga Sutra are the four Brahma-Vihara-s (divine states): maitri (benevolence), karuna (compassion), mudita (fellow-joy) and upeksha (indifference), all four together attested in the Buddhist canon. Incidentally, the Buddha's choice of the term Brahma-Vihara is very inconvenient to those who would like Buddhism to have been a "anti-Vedic revolt".


    Already in the interbellum, Louis de la Vallée-Poussin of Ghent University noted a number of items in the Yoga Sutra that could only be properly understood by taking the Buddhist or Jain surroundings into account. Among these are such key concepts as kaivalya, "isolation" (corresponding to Jain "kevala"), karma, duhkha ("suffering"), and, most consequential and controversial of all, isvara. Wujastyk didn't go into the latter example, but I will apply his insights here.


    I advisedly write isvara without capital, because in Buddhism and Jainism it never had the sense of "Creator" (the universe's endless causal chain not admitting of a beginning) or "Supreme Being" -- and neither did it for Patañjali. The interpretation of isvara as "God", leading even to Madhva's 13th-century division of the Sankhya school (of which Patañjali was a consistent exponent) into Nirisvara Sankhya ("godless Sankhya", or just Sankhya) and Sesvara Sankhya ("Sankhya-with-God", being Patañjali's Yoga), is now a common assumption among Hindus. Yet, if Patañjali had wanted to define isvara as "God" and yoga as "Union with God", he would have said so explicitly. But he doesn't. Isvara is simply a person or consciousness unit without desire -- a realized being or guru, otherwise strangely absent from this yoga classic. If he had wanted to turn isvara into the Creator or so, he would have left us in no doubt about that.


    Now, in this paper, Wujastyk proposed to focus on a few cases that are not so well-known yet. The first one is YS 1.11, containing the word asampramosa, "(memory is) not forgetting". Numerous mediëval commentators and modern translators till today explain this from the root mos,"to steal", or medial "to disappear", so that "memory is non-slippage"; but in fact, it is a clumsy sanskritization of Pali mus-, "forget", corresponding to Sanskrir mrs-, "forget".,' attested in the Buddhist Sutra of Golden Light: "so that the memory may not be forgotten".

    The second one is YS 2.47, containing the word "anantya-samapatti", the attainment of infinitude. Many commentators and translators, mostly in the past, interpret this word with reference to Ananta, "the infinite one", a name of the world snake. In fact, among the 8 samapatti-s ("attainments") or stages of Buddhist meditation (several of which are continuations of practices the Buddha in his apprentice years learned from "Hindu" yogis), the 5th and 6th stages are called the Akasa-Anantya-Ayatana and the Vijnana-Anantya-Ayatana, i.e. focusing on the "infinitude of space" and the "infinitude of consciousness". Both the Buddha and Patañjali borrowed from an existing culture of meditation practices. 


    Finally, the reference in YS 4:29 to dharmameghah, "the cloud raining down righteousness", actually refers to one of the Buddhist descriptions of the duties of a king: being like a cloud (megha) that rains down righteousness (dharma) on his people. Wujastyk concludes what his data suggest, viz. that Patañjali was a child of his time, borrowing from or re-applying concepts from his intellectual environment, including Jainism and Buddhism.

Some commentators on the YS mistranslated phrases because they had become unaware of the Buddhist context. This observation can also be applied to passages not discussed here, such as the references to isvara, where an entire doctrine has been elevated among late- and post-mediëval Hindu philosophers attributing theism to Patañjali, all on the basis of a mistaken interpretation of the word isvara.

I might add that the reverse is also true: as Johannes Bronkhorst shows in his book Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism, the Buddha repeatedly referred to passages of Yajñavalkya's Brhadaranyaka Upanisad, and Pali Canon editors misunderstood these passages because they did not recognize their referential character. This is what you can expect from Hindu sectarianism: as I first noted among Western followers of Hindu gurus, but later also among born Hindus: most people only know their own sectarian tradition and have no grasp at all of the larger picture. Both the followers of Patañjali and those of the Buddha were so fixated on their own sectarian traditions that they failed to see how their own respective masters had borrowed from other traditions, which were beyond their ken.

    Leaving Wujastyk for now and developing my own conclusions, I would say that this does not illustrate what most people would like to read into it, viz. that Patañjali was essentially a variator on Buddhist thought, and that everything profound in Hinduism is but an outgrowth of Buddhism. Instead, what Patañjali had in common with the Buddha was partly borrowed from the Buddha, and partly elements of an older tradition from which Buddhism had borrowed. This is already suggested by the common indebtedness to Kapila, the legendary founder of the Sankhya school whose conceptual framework Patañjali uses and who donated the land for the town in which the Buddha grew up, viz. Kapilavastu. Sankhya has influenced both the Upanishads and Buddhism, the main "orthodox" and "heterodox" traditions, and is thus a truly pan-Indian school.
Of course, it has been eclipsed at least by the time of Sankara (8th century) by Vedanta, and more recently totally eclipsed by theistic Vedanta, the conceptual backbone of the devotional (Bhakti) mass movement. Sankara also holds it against Patañjali that he doesn't quote the Vedas or concede to them any position of authority, which is perhaps not such a bad thing. At any rate, Hindus would do well to rediscover and revaluate Sankhya and admit Patañjali a place of pride within it.

Another far-reaching conclusion which I venture to draw from this analysis of misunderstandings: the commentators and even the masters, who together form the venerable "tradition", were only fallible human beings. The tradition contains many mistakes. Some stray examples from other fields: the Puranas discuss the relation between the Vedic seers Visvamitra and Vasistha in terms of caste rivalry, when caste was not yet an issue in early Vedic times; the Puranic genealogies of the Vedic seers conflict with the information on the seers which a close analysis of the Vedic texts themselves reveals; the Puranas call the Kanvas and Atris the first seer families, when the Rg-Veda clearly starts with the Angiras seers, etc. So, unlike traditionalist Hindus who crawl before tradition and venerate it to the letter, and whose boastful knowledge of tradition does not amount to more than quoting it by heart, we are free to dissent from tradition and deal with it critically.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Banning Wendy Doniger's "The Hindus"

Numerous Hindus come across as jubilant and triumphant now that they, or some of them, have managed to pressure Penguin books into agreeing to withdraw Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: an Alternative History and destroy its stock. I am not that happy about it. And I agree with Wendy that the real villain of the piece is Art. 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits insulting religious communities and was successfully invoked by Dina Nath Batra to threaten the publishing-house with a judicial condemnation.

Art. 295A was never the doing of Hindu society. It was imposed by the British on the Hindus in order to shield Islam from criticism. The reason for its enactment was the murder of Pandit Lekhram in 1897 by a Muslim because Lekhram had written a book criticizing Islam. While the British authorities sentenced the murderer, they also sided with him by retro-actively and postumously punishing Lekhram.

Though originally and for a long time serving to shield Islam, Hindus gradually discovered that they too could use the religiously neutral language of this Article to their seeming advantage. Christians as well have invoked it, e.g. to ban Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code. This creates a sickening atmosphere of a pervasive touch-me-not-ism, with every community outdoing the other in being more susceptible to having its sentiments hurt. 

American academics have a moral right to deplore this law, on condition that they have spoken out against it on the occasion of earlier conspicuous incidents of book-banning. Where was Wendy when Salman Rushdie's book The Satanic Verses was banned? Not knowing her entire record, I leave it to her to provide the answer. At any rate, many Indian secularists, who mostly enjoy the support of those American academics, supported the ban, which was decreed by a self-declared secular Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) and ruling party (Congress).

I remember Vijay Prashad and Biju Mathew calling for a denial of any platform to myself, and big professors like Michael Witzel and Robert Zydenbos seconding this call; but I don't remember Wendy Doniger coming out in my support. I was thrown off the RISA list by Deepak Sharma in violation of the list's own charter, and where was prominent member Wendy Doniger then? In most cases, the people clamouring "freedom of expression" on this occasion are very selective in their love of freedom, which they would gladly throw overboard as soon as it concerns the expression of an opinion less dear to them. I have the impression that Wendy herself is in this category too, but she may convince us otherwise by showing off her earlier acts of solidarity with besieged writers.

For the Hindus, this is a Pyrrhic victory. The publicity they gain worldwide is entirely negative, and it corroborates their image as authoritarian and intolerant. They also admit that they are unable to fight back with arguments. To an extent this is simply true, there is no level playing field, and the American academics including Wendy herself have done their best never to give the Hindus a fair hearing. On the other hand, this power equation is the Hindus' own doing. They have never invested in scholarship, and so they have to take umbrage behind a threatened judicial verdict now that they have the chance.

Individual Hindus who don't enjoy their enemies' institutional support have indeed presented strong argumentative cases: Arun Shourie, Rajiv Malhotra, Meenakshi Jain. A list of the numerous errors in Wendy's book has been compiled by Vishal Agarwal, an Indo-American engineer writing in his spare time. Most of all, he has shown how her book's treatment of Hinduism is unconscientious and flippant to a degree that would never be accepted from a professor of her rank for more established religions. But this is only a small counterforce against the massive anti-Hindu propaganda put out under the guise of scholarship by "Wendy's children". Here, Hindus only pay the price for their self-proclaimed leaders' non-performance during the last decades.

Building a scholarly challenge to the present academic consensus is a long-term project that admits of no shortcuts. By going to court and twisting Penguin's arm, Hindus think they have scored a clever victory. I think they have only demeaned Hinduism.

But the taste of victory has become so unusual for Hindus that even many people who I thought knew better, have jubilated over this book withdrawal. And of course, Art. 295A may be a bad thing, but as long as it is on the statute books, it should count for Hindus as much as for Muslims and Christians. But American Indologists including Wendy Doniger have always condoned religious discrimination on condition that Hindus are at the receiving end, so they may not applaud this plea of mine for even-handedness.

Briefly: while I do not support this act of book-burning, I don't think American India-watchers are really entitled to their much-publicized indignation.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

"Hindu" not synonymous with "Vedic"

Very many Hindus will agree with this statement, uttered on Rajiv Malhotra's list: "For a Hindu, it is mandatory to accept the authority of the Vedas." Very fundamental, and shared by many, yet demonstrably wrong.

1) When the Muslim invaders introduced the Persian geographical term "Hindu" into India, adding the religious meaning to it that has become central to "Hindu", they meant "Indian Pagan", nothing else. They excluded non-Indian Pagans, such as the idolators of Arabia or the Persian Zoroastrians, and the Indian non-Hindus, esp. the part-Indian Jews, Syriac Christians and Arab "sons-in-law" they encountered in Kerala. They made no difference between Brahmins and Buddhists ("clean-shaven Brahmins"), upper and lower castes, urbanites and forest-dwellers, temple-goers and worshippers in sacred groves or in the open air. This definition has essentally been adopted by VD Savarkar in his founding tekst Hindutva, and by laws like the Hindu Marriage Act, piloted by Dr. Ambedkar. The criterion "believer in the Veda" does not appear there.

2) Many Hindus, claimed as Hindus by the Hindu nationalists, don't acknowledge the Vedas as authoritative: the tribals, the ex-untouchables, many other communities such as the Lingayats. Patanjali, chided by Shankara for never ever citing the Veda, doesn't go by Vedic authority. Indeed, the Vedic seers themselves, the composers of the Veda, didn't know of any Vedic authority. They preceded their Vedic product and didn't extol or divinize it. Are you willing to say out loud that the tribals etc. in the present, as well as Patanjali and the Rishis in the past, are or were not Hindus? If so, one of the implications is that  Hindus are already a minority in India.

3) It is doubtful that those who wax eloquent about "the authority of the Veda" have ever read the Veda. For, the text of the Veda rarely contains commands. The Shastras contain prescription, but even according to the Veda-touters themselves, these are part of the Smrti, not of the Shruti/Veda. The Vedic hymns were poems, and then a comment literature that grew up around these, containing instructions for the accompanying ritual and interpretations of these, but no commandments comparable to the Ten Commandments. They are in the form a man addressing the Gods, not of God addressing mankind. But instead, many Hindus have hypnotized themselves to see the Veda as an alternative Quran, divinely revealed.

4) Hinduism is not book-centred. At most, some (by no means all) books contain reports of an experience, and this experience inspires Hindus. But the book itself is only a medium to this experience, a ladder which you throw away after having climbed to the top.

So, Hindus should disabuse themselves of the divinization of the Vedic Book, an attitude which makes them Indian counterparts of the Christians and Muslims, people of the Book. This should make them proud of their Rishi ancestors, who composed such beautiful poetry.


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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Arundhati omen

A fan of Nilesh Oak's date for the Mahabharata war at the mid-6th millennium BC asks me what I think of his crucial argument for this very high chronology, viz. the observation that Arundhati/Alcor rose before its twin star, Vasishtha/Mizar in the Saptarishi/Great Bear. Here is a first attempt.

Vyasa tells Dhrtarashtra that he has seen a number of evil omens in the sky, presaging the fratricidal war between the Kauravas (Dhrtarashtra's sons) and the Pandavas (his brother Pandu's sons) with a terrible outcome. Among these evil omens is that he saw Arundhati rise before her twin star Vasishtha. Between the 12th and 5th millennia BCE, this was normal. Ever since, it was abnormal, as Vasistha would rise ahead of Arundhati. Therefrom, NN Oak deduces that the Mahabharata war must date back to the time when Arundhati was ahead, for instance in the mid-6th millennium.

For two reasons, this conclusion is incorrect. Firstly, an evil omen is normally either a case of muddled visibility (e.g. in Babylonian astrology Algol, in  Arabic "the Demon", counts as a negative influence because, as modern astronomy has found out, it is a double star of which the darker member periodically obscures the brighter member; and this temporary lack of visibility is deemed a bad omen; or the constellation of Cancer is deemed inauspicious because it has no bright stars and is thus a dark pit in the starry sky) or because it is an abnormality, e.g., in all astrologies the world over, an unforeseen eclipse, or the unexpected appearance of a comet. Now, between the 12th and 5th millennia BCE it would be normal to see Arundhati rise first, and thus not fit to serve as an evil omen.

Not having a Sanskrit Mahabharata handy, I am quoting from memory, so you may fill in relevant details. I do not know how Vyasa's observation came about, but it cannot possibly be a sighting of Arundhati rising first before the 5th millennium. But it can very well be an unusual sighting of Arundhati after the 5th millennium. So, let's drop this eccentric theory and discuss possible dates for the Mahabharata war within the usual range of dates.

"Secondly, note already that you put the tradition and the numerous Hindu believers in the tradition in the wrong. They, with their 3139 BCE, are said to be more than 24 centuries off. So, you may fight it out with them, not to speak of those convinced of a later date, like me. Moreover, your discovery fails to take into account the general picture, with its chronology determined by many other factors. Thus, the Kaushitaki Brahmana and the Shatapatha Brahmana are astronomically dated to ca. 2300 BCE, and are literarily deemed contemporaneous with the Yajurveda, thus earlier than the editor of the Vedas, Vyasa, the grandfather of the Mahabharata protagonists. The Mahabharata itself posits that the full moon in conjunction with Regulus/Magha took place after the solstice, so after 2300 BCE when this star passed the solstice. For a different information given by the epic itself: Balarama misses the battle because he goes on pilgrimage reaching the place where it stops flowing, thus after the drying of the Saraswati ca. 1900 BC.

And if you are skeptical of literary and astronomical data, consider the harder material data. The central event of the MBh is a chariot battle. Now, chariot battles were popular in a very specific window of history, viz. the bronze age when metallurgy was already sophisticated enough for strong and light chariot wheels; and before the rise of cavalry made chariots redundant. The first chariot found by archaeology dates to 2200 BC (Sintashta, Asian Russia). Its high tide in warfare was in the later 2nd and the early 1st millennium BC: many wars of that period were fought with chariots, e.g. the Trojan war of ca. 1200 BC. That is why the scriptural reference dating Pandava Arjuna's grandson Parikshit 1050 years before the coronation of Mahapadma Nanda (ca. 380 BC), i.e. in the 15th century BC, may well be right. The classical date, 32nd century BCE, is extremely unlikely to have seen chariot warfare, and for Oak's date of the mid-6th millennium BCE, this is simply impossible.

So, I don't know yet how to make astronomical sense of this alleged observation of Arundhati rising before Vasishtha. But a number of different reasons exclude the explanation that it points to a date in the 12th-5th millennium bracket.

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Saturday, February 1, 2014

What have I done? (2)


(In December and January 2013-14, I was a member of an ad hoc list of some 35 people selected by Prof. Vijaya Rajiva, prominently featuring Dr. S. Kalyanaraman and Dr. NS Rajaram. Since they are public figures whose general positions can easily be verified on the internet, I do mention their names below; for other members, I will use X and Y. Soon, this list sank to a terrible level of narrow-minded chauvinism and smugness. The said doctores also made plans to get Prof. Michael Witzel’s book on global mythology, OUP 2013, which they hadn’t read but of which they applauded a review lambasting him as “racist”, banned from sale in India; and to get Harvard and OUP to somehow punish him. They also exhausted themselves in the choicest abuse of Shrikant Talageri and myself, and declared both the Aryan Invasion Theory and the Out-of-India Theory nonsense. I left this madhouse on 1 February 2014 with the following post.)



Dear all,

In spite of everybody having had his say, I have not seen any answers to my questions. Rajaram has not told us who those worthies are who accept his decipherment, after it has been laughed out of court for the past fourteen years. Much less has he apologized for his false allegations against me. Nor has he or Vijaya Rajiva or S. Kalayaraman told us why they know it all better than Yajnavalkya or Shankara in choosing to substitute censorship and repression for open debate. We have only gotten to see a very ugly face of Hindu nationalism.

Anyway, it is clear by now that this is not the forum that will get us anywhere. So, before leaving this list, I will merely set the record straight on a few matters raised here.


"The Aryan debate is over"

NS Rajaram persists in error by declaring that the Aryan debate is over, and even that it doesn't exist. For him indeed, the debate has never existed, for he has never faced an opponent. He has only preached to the uninformed (like, on his own admission, Prof. X) and the like-minded. He has misinformed gullible audiences that didn't know the subject. But he has never entered the debating arena, though he has often lambasted prominent scholars past and present in less than diplomatic terms.

This led directly to the California textbook disaster (2005-9). The California parents were mostly engineers, doctors and businessmen. Not being historians, they relied on those whom they deemed historians, people like the author of several books on the Aryan question, physicist dr. NS Rajaram. To be sure, Rajaram was not a historian either, nor an archaeologist or Sanskritist, he had no professional qualification to pass judgment on the competing theories of ancient history; no Adhikara, as people here would say. Nonetheless, his assurance that "the Aryan debate is over" and that "nobody believes in the Aryan Invasion Theory anymore" had spread through his books and become the received wisdom among common Hindus.

To be sure, I am not a diploma fetishist, and I don't want to draw any conclusion from the fact that he wasn't qualified while, for instance, I do have a PhD and two MA diplomas in History & Philology. He may have chosen to master the discipline of History at a later age and informally, but amateurs should abide by the same rules of the discipline as diploma-holders. His attitude to the very relevant discipline of Historical Linguistics, which he has always curtly dismissed as a "pseudo-science", does not indicate a willingness to learn. His conduct as an amateur-historian has certainly not contributed to a favourable attitude among real historians towards amateur interlopers.

It fell to me to warn the California Hindus that the AIT was very much alive, and that asserting otherwise would not succeed, would wake sleeping dogs and even jeopardize the other textbook edit proposals. And this is exactly what happened. If they didn't want to listen to a foreigner (since many of you here value ethnicity more than truth), there were many Indians and born Hindus who could have told them the same.

Thus, History professor Vinay Lal, admittedly a secularist, wrote in 2003: "There is, on the whole, more scholarly consensus on the issue of an Aryan migration to India than on any other subject". (The History of History, OUP, p.138) The theory may of course be wrong, as has happened so often in the history of science, but he accurately notes that it is the dominant theory, directly in conflict with Rajaram's claim. About Rajaram, he notes that Michael Witzel and Steve Farmer in their Frontline cover-story "Horseplay in Harappa" (30-9-2000) "demolish Rajaram's arguments", and in their later rejoinders "similarly savage Rajaram". Lal also cites a "devastating critique of Rajaram and his ilk" by historian Shereen Ratnagar. (p.137-138) While this doesn't decide right and wrong in this debate, it does testify to the dominance of the AIT paradigm, as well as to Rajaram's status as an international laughing-stock.

To sum up: Rajaram has misinformed his readers including the Hindu parents in California, and they have paid dearly for that. Instead of making progress, the Hindu cause has been thrown back for  many years, and all educational authorities are henceforth wary of any Hindu amendments to history and religion textbooks. This does of course not decide about the correctness of Rajaram's (originally the late Natwar Jha's) decipherment, which may still be partly or largely correct. Unfortunately, Rajaram, who has repeatedly struck a haughty pose of ignoring this and disregarding that, behaves like he has abandoned his own decipherment.



For another statement by Rajaram: "It is not worth worrying about Elst. This is not the first time he has abused colleagues, even in print. He doesn't seem to understand that abuse is not argument and self-praise is no recommendation."


No participant in the present discussion has been more abused than me. According to Rajaram, my detractors should realize that "abuse is not argument". I am unaware of any self-praise, I have merely factually and verifiably asserted that I have debated many times with the other side, while most of you have not. This contrasts with the self-praise widely indulged in by Hindu chauvinists, who earn the ridicule of the world with their claims of Hindu superiority and ancientness, all without waiting to hear the reaction of the outside world.


This, incidentally, is why it is so funny that Vijaya Rajiva "uninvitedly" diagnoses the Elst problem as follows: "The problem with Elst is that he lives in the closed very closed world of the Aryan debate. This is unhealthy." So, in other words, it is unhealthy that I live in the real world, where there are different and clashing opinions, while she and most of you live in a cosy world of mutual praise, incestuous and shielded from unhealthy interaction with other opinions.



My record and my lack of status


Rajaram further belittles me: “A problem with Elst is he has no standing as an academic being only a freelancer. He was lucky in having Sita Ram Goel promoting him but he never moved beyond that. He was also lionized by Hindu groups during the Ayodhya dispute where he did some useful work, though nothing fundamental like BB Lal or Harsh Narayan who went to the primary sources.” 


Yeah, people believe in status, far more than in truth. This counts for most people, but more than usual for the Hindus (and here I am deliberately generalizing): because of their Muslim- and British-inflicted inferiority complex, they crave a pat on the shoulder. So, they want status for themselves and their children, and judge others in terms of status, not of such a trifle as the truth of their opinions. So yes, I am only a freelancer, barred from any semblance of academic status. Not that this is innocent: it is the enemy who decides which persons are rewarded with status for their correct opinions, and which persons are punished with untouchability for their dissident opinions. So, Rajaram is saying that I am being punished for my stated views by the enemy, and that this is a "problem". Objectively, he is siding with the dispensers of status and non-status, viz. the secularists.


In Hindu activist circles, this can go quite far. It has always been a practice of the Sangh Parivar to invite enemies with status rather than friends without status. Thus, in 2002, when the BJP was suspected of planning the "saffronization" of education, it created a chair for Indian Studies in Oxford and nominated one of its known critics, the militantly secularist professor Sanjay Subramaniam, to show just how secularist it was. Imagine: the poster-boy for "saffronization" was a known anti-Hindu. Living in a fool's paradise, the party genuinely expected to be applauded for this act of secularism, yet none of the secularists gave up lambasting the BJP as "a threat to India's secular fabric", least of all its own nominee. But at least he had status...


I was indeed very lucky in meeting Sita Ram Goel, but he did not exactly save me from my lack of academic standing. Here, Rajaram has his chronology backwards. When I met Goel, everything was still possible, the future smiled upon me. But then, like Goel, I started arguing in print against Muslim causes, and even against Islam itself. At the time I didn't think about career prospects, but I was soon to find out that in India and in all India-related circles, all doors henceforth remained closed to me. And while I had thought that Europe remained comparatively free, the early nineties were characterized by a very fast switch to the same situation as in India, where Islam had clamped an Emergency on society. So I became a target of exclusion, but I soldiered on in spite of social and professional (and increasingly also medical) problems. This too was a situation which I have lived through, while most of you have not.


During the Ayodhya controversy, I am said to not have done any "original work". Fair enough, but I never sought to do any original work. I saw many valid arguments based on good original research, only it was not communicated well, largely because the Sangh Parivar was conditioned by its long-standing choice against opinion-building. So I took it upon myself to communicate these findings, just as Rajaram's valuable work on the Aryan question consisted mainly in putting together and communicating other people's findings, such as Seidenberg's thesis on the Indian origins of Babylonian mathematics.


But I did something more: to the extent possible and necessary, and with my then level of knowledge, I put these Ayodhya findings in the argumentative framework which they were sorely lacking. It had been made insufficiently clear just what was proven or refuted by which finding. Some Hindus are very good at harvesting all logical implications from a given fact (this especially is the strength of Shrikant Talageri), but among the aged gentlemen who had discovered or dug up the Ayodhya findings, this was lacking somewhat. So, Sita Ram Goel was asked by the Vishva Hindu Parishad to sew together the array of Ayodhya data, and being in Delhi at the time, I got to do most of this work. Just as there is a difference between a pile of car parts and a functioning car, there is a difference between a pile of data and a structured body of data geared for confrontation. A scientist ought to know that. Then, having learned the ropes of history at work, I moved on to do original work, such as my contributions in two books, seven papers in collective books and a number of articles on the Aryan question.  




Prof. X praises Vijaya Rajiva: "Well done, dear lady. Standing up at last to Elst's pontification and hectoring." I don't really mind him using loaded words for what is just criticism of misconduct. His choice of words says more about him than about me.


And more from Prof. X: "I am sure you and the others in the list remember my cousin Nikhil Bhaduri giving Elst, a few weeks ago, a dressing down that the fellow richly deserved. His ego is Himalayan; in a debate or a dialogue, he just does not show any respect for others." 


This is the first thing I hear about a "dressing down". Of course I receive a lot of denunciations in my mail-box, or what the enemy calls "hate mail". Most of it I immediately forget, including the name of the sender. This "dressing down" seems to have been in that category.


But this bluff, this crowing over a non-existent victory, fits into an existing pattern. Thus, on Rajiv Malhotra's list, a member recounted the Hindu American Foundation’s campaign to "take back yoga", i.e. to thwart attempts by Westerners to play down the Hindu origins of yoga. While it was laudable that Hindus mobilized for this cause, the "digestion" of yoga in the general society simply continued. Some time later, another member asserted the strength of the American Hindus and gave as proof: "We took back yoga." Oh really? And the biggest example is of course the Aryan debate, where some of the present list's members already dance on the AIT's corpse since at least fifteen years, whereas in the real world the AIT is quite alive, thank you.  


The professor also praises Rajaram en Kalyanaraman for discussing the Aryan issue "without using pejorative terms". You can go through the record of this very debate to see for yourself how mightily they have refrained from using "pejorative terms". And worse than just "terms", it is not merely a matter of language, but includes calls for thwarting the debate and censoring unread books.




Then the cousin himself, Mr. Y: "Now, to get back to Elst. What gets my goat about this man is his insufferable grandstanding. Dr. Rajaram has suitably dealt with this form of  vainglorious egoism. And a few others have also similarly written about this aspect of the man. Some well-wisher/s of his should advise him that it is not really kosher to run down the others in your team all the time. He seems to think he is the real McCoy, while the vast majority in his camp are completely sub-standard. This is simply not on, Elst." 


In the two books, seven papers etc. mentioned above, I have hardly (and recalling from memory, never at all) criticized anyone "from my own team". But perhaps they were too tedious for Mr. Bhaduri to read. In those, I modestly accepted the burden of proof, all the different items of evidence that we are honour-bound and logic-bound to furnish to the enemy side. But I found myself interrupted by other AIT skeptics who took the "grandstanding" position that my efforts are in vain as the Aryan debate has already been won long ago. And now, I begin to wonder whether the people concerned really belong to the same team. While we are arguing against the Aryan Invasion Theory, they are declaring the Aryan debate over. While we are on the battlefield fighting, they are powdering their noses for the victory parade. Is this still the same team?


At any rate, my "hectoring" is aimed at getting Hindus out of their smugness and convincing them to do what it takes and bridge the small distance between the present situation and victory. By contrast, the smugness of the others has already proven to be really harmful for the Hindu position, costing them humiliation in the "Horseplay at Harappa" incident and defeat in the textbook cases. Clearly, Mr. Badhuri prefers defeat to victory.





Paradoxically, those who attack individuals rather than argumentative positions, prefer to attack groups rather than individuals. After all, an individual can still develop his very own opinion, which is too complicated to attack. It is easier to reduce him to his membership of a group, and then attack the group. So Mr. Y says: "Some of you Flemish types sometimes think you are in the Belgian Congo in the 1930s."


The really bad time for the Belgian Congo was when it was not Belgian yet, but King Leopold II's private property, around 1900. He defeated the Arab slave-traders and freed the black slaves, as promised to certain international stake-holders; but then exploited the natives in novel ways that were little better than slavery. His policies led to the death of over a million people, which in the British propaganda became more than ten million. Some Indians have the sepoy mentality and reproduce the British propaganda faithfully (and I predict they will indignantly maintain the propaganda version and decry my stating the facts). Anyway, we Flemish like it that Leopold is such an international hate figure: the worse for Belgium, the better for Flanders.


But this is intra-Belgian politics, of which Mr. Y understands little. I don't mind that, for the topic of Belgian politics is supremely unimportant. However, if you don't want to take the trouble of studying it, then spare us your ignorant opinions. On this topic as on many others, Rajiv Malhotra has a point when he calls his Hindu flock "under-informed but over-opinionated".


Further, the Flemish in Belgium are in exactly the same position as the Hindus in India: a numerical majority but a political minority, with many internal enemies and a hostile media both internally and internationally. These media and the outside "experts" like to pontificate about an overbearing majority, when that majority owes its lack of power precisely to its dividedness and gentleness. If you still want to denounce the Flemish, please go ahead, but then don't complain when the Hindus receive the same treatment.



Honest advice


Finally, some honest advice from Mr. Y: "Learn to give respect to others in your group. By all means, point out the flaws in their approach and prevent them from committing mistakes.  But, cut down on your hectoring. And talking down to others.  Quite often, you sound (and appear) to be a wayward rabble-rouser against Hindus and Indic movement members."

Well, my lack of civility has easily been outdone by the lack of civility evident in the discourse of some on this list, routinely shouting doctoral terms like "trash", "scumbag" or "chamcha". You people are what Arun Shourie has called the "mimophant". Like the centaur, the mimophant combines two creatures in one: the mimosa and the elephant. It is hypersensitive like the mimosa when it comes to having its own tender feelings respected by others; and it is blunt and insensitive like the elephant when it comes to respecting other people's feelings.

But OK, I admit that sometimes I have really lost patience. I apologize for those occasions. I don't think loss of temper can ever be justified. But it can nonetheless be made understandable.

I live in the real world, you people don't. I actually suffer consequences for any misbehaviour by "my team". You guys can scream that "ancient Hindus colonized the world" or that "Rama lived a million years ago", or similar nonsense, and then sleep soundly; but I see my name wholly undeservedly appear in juxtaposition with that of crackpots; I see doors closed in front of my nose. That is partly due to the enemy's lack of discrimination (not to mention his wilful attempt at "guilt by association" as a substitute for arguments), but it is also due to "my team" giving the enemy a handle for this tactic. 

I also used to believe that activists want their cause to be victorious. It was at first a surprise and then quite frustrating for me to find that you people have other priorities. At one time I practised Japanese martial arts. Part of the training was to withstand humiliation, and to just mutely accept it when the teacher gave you a "dressing down". It is at first an unpleasant surprise, but ultimately it makes you very strong. Though not in full, I have retained something of that attitude. Though I am sure that Indian Akharas function on the same principle, and Hindu self-denial cultivates a similar attitude, the Hindu warriors against the AIT turned out to be far too tender for this healthy harshness. I thought that criticism would be welcomed when it serves to improve your performance, but I had to learn that you people don't want to improve your performance, in spite of the defeats inflicted by the enemy.



Just now my inbox got enriched with a youtube video showing a talk by NS Rajaram. It is introduced thus:

"Dr. NS Rajaram talks about how Aryan Debate no longer exists now. He says, 'It's not a debate anymore'. Sharing latest research on Genetics and Human migration -- he claims that Aryan Invasion never happened in India. He shares that Africa is the original homeland of Human (homo sapient) from where humans have migrated across the world. This new Genetic research shows that how first few migrations from Africa brought Humans in India where it give rise to great Indic civilization."


Well, well. That genetics has confirmed the emergent migration story, with humans trekking from Africa to India and thence to Australia some 70.000 years ago, and a few thousand years later inland from India, is well-known. We already knew that amateur historian Rajaram has said nothing new, though his synopsis may have made a difference; here, amateur geneticist Rajaram is again offering a synopsis of others' findings. It is shared by the AIT believers, and does nothing at all to refute the AIT. To say that the genetically attested migration from India some 60,000 years ago has anything at all to do with the Indo-European or Aryan migration some 6000-5000 years ago, only shows that whoever thinks so, has not understood even the most elementary data of the Aryan debate. There was simply no Proto-Indo-European language yet 60,000 years ago.

The human and non-human genetic findings as presented by Premendra Priyadarshi are suggestive of migration but they still don't have a sufficiently precise time resolution, and anyway they don't speak. Some migrants impose their language while others adopt the language of the natives, and neither archaeology nor genetics can tell the difference. The AIT came about as a linguistic theory and only linguistic evidence can confirm or refute it.

Rajaram's video recording is advertised with one of his favourite phrases: "A paradigm change from the eurocentric approaches to civilization studies." Oh, well, ever since the phrase "paradigm change" saw the light of day, it has suffered a mighty inflation. Many titles of undergraduate papers and theses sport a "paradigm change". Many more are proposed to have such a title, but at the supervisor's prodding, the student climbs down from his ambitious proposal. In particular, the supervisor will generally observe that a new hypothesis within the same conceptul framework (or paradigm) is not the same thing as a change in paradigm. What the non-AIT schools propose, is a new hypothesis (or rather, a renewed hypothesis, for the Out-of-India Theory was already thought up by the much-maligned white-skinned Orientalists in the 18th century), not a new paradigm. What Rajaram hopefully wants to propose, is a new hypothesis. But what he risks proposing, I'm afraid, is indeed a new paradigm: the paradigm of fantasy replacing the paradigm of science.



What I have done


According to Rajaram, I "haven't had any new ideas in the last fifteen years". OK, let's take the millennium as the cut-off date. In 2001, Rupa published the bulky book version of my PhD thesis, and reported to me that it became a bestseller. It is not the usual RSS self-praise but not the usual RSS-bashing of the "experts" either. In that year, I also brought out the two-volume The Saffron Swastika. On the Notion of ""Hindu Fascism", the only book in the world to analyse this much-used line of discourse (except for my sequel from 2006, Return of the Swastika), both by foreign India-watchers and by the Indian secularists; and Gandhi and Godse, the analysis of the reasons for the Mahatma murder through the murderer's self-justification speech.


Outsiders all learn two facts about the Hindu movement: that one of its members killed the Mahatma, and that Guru Golwalkar declared himself a Nazi. You can hide your head in the sand all you want and declare smugly that you don't have to care about these outsiders, but the hostility against the Hindu movement is very much a fact and determines the world in which that same movement has to function. It explains why successful Indians play down their Hinduism, why Narayan Murthy finances American anti-Hindu Sheldon Pollock's Sanskrit studies instead of many more competent Hindus, why the BJP hires secularists and when in power fails to pursue a Hindu (so-called "communal") agenda, etc. So, I have taken it upon myself to give a fair account of the Gandhi murder and Nathuram Godse's speech, and to analyse (and refute) the Nazi allegation against Golwalkar. There are 7 billion people on earth, yet in both these crucial cases I am the only one to have done so.  


Admittedly, I have done the scholarly work, but the expected political consequences never materialized. In particular, my comprehensive refutation of the usual reading of the Golwalkar quote was starkly ignored by the main interested party, the RSS. Instead, the RSS chose to tell the lie that Golwalkar never wrote the book in which the quote appears (We, 1939). It published the "complete" works of Golwalkar without that book. This is plainly ridiculous: anybody can verify that he was the author of the book. The RSS already doesn't have a very truthful reputation, and here it explicitly and wilfully covered itself with a notoriety for mendaciousness. While the enemy sees through the lie and has his own channels of information, the only dupes of this lie are the RSS followers themselves. I gave the RSS a weapon for winning the Golwalkar debate, but they chose an assured and ignominious defeat. So, if I seem a little prickly at self-defeating Hindu tactics and Hindu self-deception, it is because I have repeatedly experienced such cases of high-level Hindu buffoonery.


Then came Who Is a Hindu?, about whether tribals, Buddhists etc. are Hindus, also an item with important ramifications. I zoomed in on Buddhism in my Dutch book De Donkere Zijde van het Boeddhisme ("the dark side of Buddhism"), half of which is an analysis of the relations between the Buddha and Hinduism. This is a very consequential matter, as the Buddha has become a weapon against Hinduism and most scholars assume the "Hinduism bad, Buddhism good" principle. Again, I am the only one in the world to have thematized this issue.


Ayodhya, the Case against the Temple, analyses the debating tactics in the Ayodhya controversy, gives an overview of the evidence, discusses parallel cases like Bodh Gaya, and dicusses the work of Mitsuhiro Kondo, Sanjay Subramaniam, BN Pande and others. It draws attention to an anomaly in the Ayodhya debate, viz. that the mosque party always demands pro-temple evidence but is never asked to present its own evidence. 


None of you seems to have read any of my papers on the Aryan question. That is your privilege, but it implies that you are not up-to-date on the Aryan debate, which in turn indicates that you are not serious about this debate. Increasingly, they focus on the one aspect of the debate that may yield the answer, viz. the linguistic evidence. My second book on the Aryan question, Asterisk in Bharopiyasthan, contains many relevant things which none here has refuted, of course. One of its chapters is devoted to refuting Witzel's discourse, and he also doesn't come out shining in the astronomy chapter. Still, Rajaram demolished this book in his review. Witzel-Rajaram, same struggle! 

In several other recent books, I have criticized various aspects of Islam, including the psychopathology of the Prophet; and of Christianity and secularism. I have crossed swords with Mira Kamdar, Christophe Jaffrelot, Meera Nanda, Amber Habib, MF Husain as well as his critics, DN Jha, Harbans Mukhia, Wiliam Dalrymple, Edward Said, Ramachandra Guha, Ashish Nandy, Edward Luce, Vikas Swarup, Martha Nussbaum etc. The record shows that I have not limited myself to the gullible and the already-converted.


Admittedly, I could have done more. Thus, if I had had a position like Prof. X, with a high and secure income, with status and prestige, with a talking and publishing platform, I could have done more. Or if I was born with a golden spoon in my mouth, like the grandson of the Mysore Maharaja's last Diwan (Prime Minister), I could have done more. But then again, I have been fortunate in many ways, and I just owed it to my good fortune to give my best. So: “Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention.” I admit to some shortcomings, but I also claim the merit of my limited writings, which exist in cold print. 


So, you may continue to throw mud at me. But I trust that through all this mud, an inconvenient fact will shine through: I have done only this much, but at least I have done it. You may try to give a dirty twist to it by calling it "insufferable grandstanding" or, even worse, "white skin". But when all is said and done, a simple fact remains standing: I did it, you did not.  





Vijaya Rajiva wants to know why I say that "Indian astronomy" is borrowed from the Greeks. Though she piles on each other all manner of purely imaginary motives attributed to me, I will very briefly answer her -- because the subject can indeed be settled very briefly.


As NS Rajaram has rightly observed, Seidenberg traces Babylonian mathematics and astronomy to Indian models. He suggests the Kassite dynasty (18th-16th century) as the channel of transmission, as the Kassite language has an Indo-Aryan substrate. This is eminently reasonable. Thus, Babylonian astronomy  divided the ecliptic in 18, yet by the first millennium it had adopted a division in 12, the same as existed in Vedic culture, where a nightly division into 28 lunar houses was complemented by a daily division of the ecliptic in 12 half-seasons (Madhu, Madhava etc.), and where the rishi Dirghatamas introduced the first-ever division of the circle into 12 and 360. Till today, the division into 360 is explained in textbooks as a Babylonian invention, but the earliest mention is Indian.


While in Babylon, the division into 12 was filled up with the symbols now known as the 12 signs. These were taken over by the Greeks (already before Alexander's conquest of Babylon, see Euctemon's Athenian calendar in the 5th century BC) who communicated them to India. Contrary to what I earlier thought, these are not attested in Vedic literature. They appear in an interpolated part of the Ramayana, viz. Rama's horoscope, which is an ideal horoscope fitting the ideal man. It dates from the final editing, when the Hellenistic zodiac had become known.


The adoption of Hellenistic astronomy and astrology in India dates from 2000 years after the Kassite regime in Babylon. Confusing those two, such as by claiming that the one phenomenon refutes the other (as numerous Hindus do, including Vijaya Rajiva) shows a defective sense of time-depth. Orientalists have berated Hindu civilization for its defective history, and I try to paint a more positive picture of Hindu historiography; but these Hindus insist that, indeed, Hindus may tell stories set in the past but are allergic to real history.


Evidence of the Hellenistic origin of Hindu (now sold as "Vedic") astrology is manifold. Many texts refer to Mediterranean names, like the Yavana-jataka, Romaka-shastra and Paulisha-shastra. Or they refer to branches and terms of Hellenistic astrology, like Hora-shastra (after what is still called horary astrology), drekkana (from dekanos) etc. The names of the twelve signs were originally Sanskrit transcriptions of the Greek names (Varahamihira) before becoming Sanskrit translations of the Greek names. Some techniques of Hindu astrology, even techniques now lost in European astrology and thus distinctive of Hindu astrology, can be traced back to Hellenistic techniques existing in the 3rd century BC, such as the "harmonic horoscopes" (navamsha, dvadashamsha) or the "planetary periods". Aside from those, there are also truly distinctive techniques of Hindu astrology, either developed in the course of ca. seventeen centuries of Hindu horoscopy, or borrowed from the internal but different tradition of Vedic astrology.


Hindus use the term "Vedic astrology" wrongly by applying it to Hellenistic astrology, but there was indeed a pre-Hellenistic Vedic astrology, though not an individual birth-based horoscopy. The rishis employed the 28 lunar houses (also used in China and Arabia), which later became 27 to accomodate the 12-part Babylonian-Hellenistic Zodiac. These houses were used to determine good times for a ritual, the founding stone of a house, or a wedding. The auspicious times for marriage are its most important remnant in modern India.


As for the precession, I am willing to consider whatever arguments Vamadeva Shastri is offering in his new edition of the Vedic Aryans book. Until then, I abide by the version of all scientists the world over, viz. that its discovery was due to Hipparchus in ca. 150 BC. If you have proof for an older date, you can become famous overnight. Leave out all the baggage of the Aryan debate etc., just write a paper purely on the precession and prove your point: knowledge of the precession long predated Hipparchus, the Vedic rishis already had it. I wouldn't ask any better: firstly because I sympathize with the Vedic cause, secondly because by temperament I tend to applaud reversals in received opinion. If you don't want to do that, just smugly keep on claiming a theory for which you don't want to publish the evidence, I have no reason to believe you have proof for this revolutionary revision of history.


On several forums I have already explained this Hellenistic element in Hindu astrology. I hope it has convinced some third parties, but the reaction among my Hindu traditionalist interlocutors was usually: "Colonial!", "Trash!", "Conspiracy!", the typical chauvinist cackling. Well, I won't stay around for your reaction. Please scrap my name from the addressee list.


Kind regards, and goodbye,



Dr. Koenraad Elst



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