Friday, February 21, 2014

Release of Rajiv killers - Is Jayalaithaa wrong?

Jayalalithaa has stirred up the Nation’s conscience by her move to release the Rajiv killers! Before telling why, I wish to express my surprise at how people – including those in TV debates did not see some basic facts in this issue.

Technically speaking, all that Jayalalithaa did was to have seized upon the suggestion the SC verdict had given that the State Government can exercise its remission powers under Section 432 and 433 Cr.P.C. by following due procedure in law. Her mistake was that she didn’t follow the due procedures in securing the remission perhaps due to the fact the results of such procedures are not binding on the Government. Even now the SC in its note of stay on the release of the killers had not said that the killers must not be released, but only said that there are procedural lapses in securing the remission, thereby implying that once the due procedure is in place, the remission of the killers will not be a problem or cannot stopped. Whether this applies to 3 killers who applied for mercy or all  7 killers is another issue – but going by the trend in SC verdicts, the 20+ long years of incarceration of them seems to weigh in favour of their release.


Can Jayalalithaa be faulted for this move as being political and aimed at greater National role?

There is of course something political but not the way that media in rest of India thinks. The SC verdict came at a time when DMDK was making secret parlays to Congress that could result in an alliance between DMDK, Congress and DMK. This is certainly the most wretched alliance that must not be allowed to take any advantage in the hustling based on the supposed vote share of these parties. The best way to make it not happen is to make it difficult for DMDK to hobnob with Congress. This verdict giving room for the State Govt to release the killers, if done immediately would blow up emotional reactions which Rahul expectedly did, followed by his party men – least thinking of the support his mother had given long ago by asking for clemency for the killers and his sister had timed a visit to one of the killers (Nalini) in the prison to make up a pro-Tamil image. The rest of India and the media had forgotten all that.


Now with Rahul-led Congress crying foul over the release of the killers, the anger against Congress is growing further in TN and it is impossible for DMDK -Vijaykanth to side with Congress! With election schedule likely to be announced anytime now, there is no time for Vijaykanth to work out new strategies on alliances. His fate is almost sealed by this move by Jayalalithaa.

Jayalalithaa  knows pretty well that this decision will be challenged in court. Things are going as per her plan I believe. That is seen by the way she / her Govt was cool in responding that she would abide by the court! She would claim that she did not act on her own when she passed the order of remission, but on the court’s suggestion and now she would say that she would wait for what the court is going to say. Either way she had worked for “Tamil” cause far better and higher than anyone in the fray! But the real dividend lies in having isolated DMDK.

By now she would have gotten used to thinking on two sides for any one thing, as it has become a habit for the opposition parties to go to court for whatever she does. Tamil nadu ranks the highest in India in court cases against Govt decisions. That works to her advantage as she is by now very much trained in thinking way ahead of all others. The current issue is one such thought-out strategy. She knows that it will be challenged in court, though the outcome of releasing the killers had been perfectly legitimised by the court verdict in a succinct way. Why go through the procedure in the first hand when there is an opportunity in shattering an alliance before it is made? She did that and Congress reacted expectedly – resulting in a fresh snowballing of public opinion against Congress  that left less room for DMDK to align with Congress at least for now – or until this is in people’s memory.

To call this as though this is against the interest of the nation is selective memory or hypocrisy.

Suppose if DMK had been in power now, do you think DMK would be keeping quiet? Both DMK and Congress would have worked hand in glove to release the killers. Sonia or Rahul would have made the first appeal to release them.

Now they are not in power in TN to draw this advantage, Congress is making noises while  DMK chief is trying to take credit that he was the first one to have batted for the release of the killers long ago.

People must remember that the day before Jayalalithaa passed this order, supposedly for political gains, Congress has just done a real heinous crime of dividing a State for political gains. Is that not real danger to nation’s integrity? No court, no party and no one could stop that which is going to herald a new season of fragmentation of the country. There is proverb in Tamil “Maamiyaar udaitthaal maN kudam: maattup peN udaitthaal pon kudam” (pot broken by the mother -in -law is after all mud pot. But if the same pot is broken by the daughter- in- law, a big hue and cry will be raised as though she had broken a golden pot). Jayalalithaa is the daughter-in-law in the proverb!

Coming to this issue, Jayalalithaa was the least politicking person initially. She was sincere when she wanted to enforce discipline and work culture in Govt offices, but she was severely criticised for that. She had the guts to bring in anti conversion law, but no one backed it. She did something which only a Buddha could do when she banned animal sacrifices in temples. But she was highly criticised and was forced to retract. This country and its people didn’t have a conscience beating for these issues. The lesson is that one has to go in the way that others go. She learnt that in this tenure and as someone remarked aptly, she has only herself to surpass. She used it to break the evil axis of DMK-Congress-DMDK. 

I said in the beginning that Jayalalithaa’s action had stirred up the Nation’s conscience.

Yes, the collective conscience of what is good for the country was not heard when Congress was allowing voices for pro-killers or pro-LTTE to gain momentum, was allowing Elam Tamil issue to scuttle Indian foreign policy, was allowing Karunanidhi to play politics over all that, had Sonia pitch for clemency for the killers, had Priyanka pay a visit to Nalini in prison, and MORE THAN ALL THESE delay the mercy petitions of the killers for nearly a decade purely for political considerations. If this issue on Rajiv killers had come to this level, it is because of the way mercy petitions were sat upon or disposed only in accordance with political calculations of the Congress party.

The collective conscience of the country did not even seem to exist when the Congress Govt politically timed the execution of Kazab and Afzal Guru. In effect, emotions and politikings have been allowed to grow to the current level mainly due to the ways that Congress party had chosen for extracting mileages from whatever it does.

The Nation and the National media did not wake up on those times. But now they have woken up when Jayalalithaa did a thing. The Nation or the media did not even know that all life prisoners (murderers and criminals) were released every year on Annadurai’s birthday by Karunanidhi during his last tenure. Jayalalithaa too did it in her first tenure but did not repeat it in subsequent tenures. She only stopped karunanidhi’s order after she resumed office in the current tenure. The Nation’s conscience was nowhere seen on those occasions.

It’s good that it is woken up now. May that remain vigilant in all issues of politicking done by all parties starting from the oldest party to the latest entrant, AAP!


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Throne from India, among the ivory things that Prince William wants to destroy.

In a bid to send a strong message against elephant poaching and illegal trading in ivory goods, Prince William of Britain has called for destroying all the 1200 items of ivory in the possession of the Buckingham Palace.  Without going into the merits and demerits of destroying finer art pieces, I wish to focus attention of the ivory art works taken from India by the British people during their colonial occupation. 

Royal collection: There are over 1,200 items in the Royal Collection which are listed as containing ivory, including this throne and footstool which comes from India and dates to 1850

Though killing innocent animals for the ivory is terribly bad, I am of the opinion that ancient Indian goods of ivory were not made from poached elephants. There is a verse from Sangam age Tamil text, “Nedu nal vaadai” on how ivory was procured for making the Royal cot for the queen of the Pandiyan King Nedum chezhiyan.  The elephant having drum-like legs and had crossed 40 years of age and had served in battle field until then was considered as the right candidate for ivory. Its tusk that has fallen on its own from this elephant is ideal for making the cot.  The tusks taken from dead or killed elephants were not suitable for making art works. That was the norm of choice for ivory in India where poaching was not reported in the past. Many such rare products had left India, some of them finding a place in Buckingham Palace.

The British Royal family came to possess numerous art works on ivory from many of the overseas countries and kingdoms in the past centuries. I don’t think those works also would have been made through cruel means (of getting the tusk). In all fairness, the British Royal family must return these goods to the original owners wherever the owner countries had been identified. As for the throne and other items taken from India, they must be returned to India and not destroyed. 



Prince William 'wants to destroy ALL of Queen's ivory collection to set an example for other world leaders'

Prince William has vowed to destroy all 1,200 ivory artefacts in Buckingham Palace to 'send a message' to illegal elephant poachers.

The priceless collection includes a throne from India that belonged to Queen Victoria, as well as fans, tankards, statuettes, and furniture. 

But sources close to the prince say he feels strongly about putting 'his money where his mouth is'. If successful, he will go on to urge other heads of state to follow suit.

A long-term supporter of animal rights charities, the Duke of Cambridge makes regular speeches imploring world leaders to adopt a 'zero tolerance' policy towards illegal poaching in the lucrative trade.
On Thursday, he joined his father Prince Charles to a summit in London urging industry members to 'follow the money' to chase the brutal gangs, just days after the pair released a multi-lingual appeal for people to condemn illegal poaching across the world.

At home in Clarence House, William is said to have ordered for all ivory items to be hidden from sight for years.
Speaking at a conference last year, the second in line to the throne said: 'The forces that are currently destroying some of the world's most endangered species are sophisticated and powerful, but this week we are seeing the creation of an equally powerful alliance, coming together to help fight them.'
The royal collection now under threat mainly consists of gifts handed to the Queen by leaders across the world.

Palace sources insist they were all acquired 'in full knowledge of relevant legislation'.

The princes have been over to Africa to survey the stockpiles of elephant tusks collated from gangs

However, experts have hailed the suggestion as a powerful move that will have significant impact.
'It's difficult to imagine a stronger symbol of the horrors of ivory than Buckingham Palace publicly destroying its own,' Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith told the Independent on Sunday.
'Good for Prince William for pushing this.'
However, the move, the latest in a number of bids by the prince to protect elephants, has sparked outrage in the art world as experts claim destroying works 'of the highest order' is 'menacing'.

The royal collection mainly consists of gifts handed to the Queen by leaders across the world.
Brian Sewell, art critic and elephant-protection supporter, told the Independent on Sunday: 'We have to recognise that [these items] exist. 

'Ivory was a treasured material that was worked on by craftsmen of the highest order during the Renaissance... It's pointless.

'I can't see the connection between saving elephants and destroying works of art made centuries ago.'

Mr Rajiv Malhotra on Wendy Doniger issue.

Mr Rajiv Malhotra on Wendy Doniger issue.


Most of you know of the recent media controversy over Penguin's decision to withdraw Wendy Doniger's book, "The Hindus". Almost daily there have been extensive TV and major print media discusions in India. In the USA, NPR, CNN, New York Times, New Yorker and various other media majors have featured this story in a big way.


Rediff recently interviewed me because I was the one who first started this debate around the year 2000 in a series of articles. (Article-1. Article-2)


Soon after my initial articles, Wendy Doniger's own University of Chicago Magazine interviewed me and did a large and balanced coverage. It was their leading story. (Read)


The debate quickly ignited the Indian diaspora and the American academy for a few years, with numerous mobilizations and accusations from both sides. This fight was one of the defining moments in the awakening of Hindu thinkers about the way their discourse was controlled and distorted by others. The academic study of Hinduism has not been the same since.


The drama quickly intensified. With the help of her hordes of powerfully placed students, Doniger fought back furiously. She arranged a front page article in the Washington Post and another feature article in the New York Times. Unlike the magazine of her university, these were PR jobs tilted in her favor.


The theater widened across the academic and litarary circles of Europe, North America and India. More players join in on both sides.


Martha Nussbaum, the prominent feminist and University of Chicago colleague of Doniger, wrote a scathing book against Hindus with a whole chapter dedicated to me - without bothering to interview me even though that was suggested to her. She and Doniger have consistently ignored my requets for a live debate in public.


In response to what I felt was a one-sided portrayal of the events, I compiled a new book, titled, Invading the Sacred: An Analysis of Hinduism Studies in America", and it was published in 2007. Its launch video gives a good idea of our side of the story. (Video) And so does its web site.


The fallout of all this was very significant:

  1. Wendy Doniger lost her clout in the American academy, and being on the defensive, she lost most of the students who earlier thronged at her doorstep for PhDs in Hinduism.
  2. The American academy made numerous changes (still not enough) to become sensitive to Hindus' views concerning Hinduism, or at least these academics become less blatant in their denigration of Hinduism.
  3. The most significant change was that there emerged a new appreciation among Hindus and a new mobilization of their leaders. It became widely accepted that it was a bad idea to outsource the study of our tradition to scholars whose lenses  were programmed with Judeo-Christian and Marxist premises. In fact, no other major world faith is studied by outsiders with the same authority and power as Hinduism is.

A brilliant compilation of these debates and controversies has recently been turned into a web site for those who want to get an good overview. (Read)


Meanwhile, I moved on to many other projects of research and publishing, pretty much forgetting Wendy Doniger as a closed chapter. But the story does not end here.


Some years back, Doniger struck a new alliance to help her make a dramatic comeback: She positioned herself with the Indian Left as their "expert on criticizing Hinduism". Since Indian secularists are uneducated in Sanskrit and only superficially informed about religious studies, Doniger was a useful ally to supply them "masala" which they could use.


In turn, the well-connected Indian secularist/leftist media and writers helped reposition Doniger in India as a great authority on Hinduism. Soon she was winning awards in India, even though back home in USA her own academic colleagues had distanced themselves because she was seen as a tained scholar with a bad reputation.


Then yet another new chapter began. Some Hindus in India decided to contest her relatively recent book. They filed a lawsuit in Delhi alleging that it was biased and insulting to Hindus.


After four years, an out of court settlement was recently reached under which Penguin agreed to withdraw the book from India. But the terms agreed to, do not ban electronic copies or foreign editions from being sold in India. Doniger's massive PR machinery went to work overtime to put the matter into the limelight. The largely ignorant Indian media and its love for sensationalism served her needs. As a result, her book is once againt selling in India even though the Indian edition is withdrawn.


Bottom line: I have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the litigation and settlement. My own approach had been entirely through a scholarly debate. This takes a lot more hard work, rigor and creativity. Undoubtedly Doniger and her followers had retreated. But now she has made a comeback, ironically using the withdrawal of her book, to position herself as a victim.


The recent interview appearing in is the first time I have spoken on this  development over the past month. I wish to give my 15 years of perspective on this issue.


I hope you will read it with an open mind and form your own views.





Click here to read Rediff article




Thursday, February 13, 2014

Koenraad Elst is wrong on Mundas – Mundas are a product of Parashurama’s fury.

There is a phrase in Tamil “ nuni-p-pul mEithal” (நுனிப் புல் மேய்தல்) meant for referring  to people who just graze here and there but claim to have imbibed great knowledge. Reading the article on Singbonga of Mundas I find that this phrase is perfectly made for the self-proclaimed  sympathiser of Vedic cause who does not believe in the historicity of Rama and doesn’t even think that Vyasa ever existed and never loses a chance to abuse the believers of these basic views of the Vedic society as “madhouse”, as people with “profoundly wrong-headed nationalism” and those with “Hindu nationalistic lack of logic”.  Knowing our country and its culture that had come up through countless ages as to be part of a billion plus people today, cannot happen by reading here and there or talking to some people of the present times or from comparison of religions. Without being born in this culture or part of this culture or grown up in this culture and have observed all around, it is not possible to make meaningful deductions from what we see in this country. Mr Koenraad Elst had attempted to do that on the basis of - all the things in the world –  the Christian Missionary studies on “The religious life of the Sarna tribes” the motive of which need not be explained to us - the “mad-house” people of Hindu Nationalism. The funny part of that essay by him  is that in his hurried grazing (nuni-p-pul meithal), Mr Elst had overlooked an important custom of the Mundas – a concept that we have been stoutly defending as originally Vedic – is their knowledge of rashis!

Everyone including Mr Elst would agree that Mundas have been secluded from the rest of the country and had been living in isolation for ages even before the so-called “Aryanisation” penetrated India or before the Mundas got exposed to outside world which happened only after the British came to India. One of the main festivals of Mundas is the birth ceremony called “Narota” festival that is celebrated after 9 days (night nights perhaps – going by the name Narota – nava – rathri– Sanskrit word!). On that occasion they name the child based on the rashi it is born! 

Narota festival in a family of Mundas at Dhatinakhali.

(The inputs and photographs produced in this article are based on the research study on Mundas’ traditional water management techniques, titled “Social water management among Munda people in the Sundarban” done by Chiara Perucca and Krishnapodo Munda under the auspices of University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh – ULAB).

On the birth ceremony of the Munda child done after the 9th day or if not, after 11th and 13th day, the naming is done after ‘consultation with the rashi (horoscope)’. How was this possible given that they were secluded from rest of the society for quite so long, say, even before Alexander ‘annexed’ Indian territories that paved the way for Indian rishis to go to Greece and borrow the names and  concepts of rashis from the Greeks – as per the pet concept of the Indologists?

There are specific ceremonies on this day similar to shuddhi ceremonies as done in any family following Vedic culture. One strange ceremony on this day involves the grandparents to predict whether they would have cordial relationship with the new born. It is on this day the naming of the child is also done. The important info is that the name is chosen on the basis of the rashi the child is born. How did they know about the rashis? Did someone teach them after learning them from Greeks in post- Alexander period? Or did they themselves mingle with the urban society and learn from them how to find out the rashi of their new born?

No foreigner is ready to attribute anything Vedic to Mundas. They are keen on separating Mundas from main stream India and Vedic culture. They are the ones who are keen on calling them as tribes and original inhabitants who pre-dated the Indian ancestors of the present folks. If that is true how come they ever know that rashis existed – when there is no way for them to have contacted the outside world until a few centuries ago?

No one can say that Mundas could have come to know of it later and started using them for naming their children. Mundas are known for stoutly resisting any outside influence. There are accounts of how they refused to be part of a common gathering in the early days of conversion activities by Christian Missionaries in the 19th century. They have resisted any change in the way they lived. Their opposition to dressing up Virgin mary in their traditional style  is an example of their refusal to accept others copying them and also demonstrative of retaining their individuality and customs. 

How then could they be expected to have ‘learnt’ about rashis from others and included them as a source of naming their children in an important Narota ceremony?

The obvious inference is that knowledge of rashis had existed in India even before Mundas as a distinct entity had come into existence. With their origins going back into unknown times of the past, the knowledge of rashis in India also goes back into times of antiquity. Not only rashis, Munda had knowledge about Moon’s movement and stars. They had a combination of these along with sun’s movement to determine the time of agricultural activities. This is precisely the oldest use of astrology in the Vedic society.

Coming to the origin of the name or God Singbonga that Mr Elst is happy to connect with Biblical Creator God (?), the name of a place in the same region gives a better explanation. I refer to “Singhbhum” in Jharkhand / Chota Nagpur region, which sounds similar to Singbonga. Singhbhum is interpreted on the basis of the term ‘Bhumi’. But going by Singbong being worshipped by the people of the same region for ages, it appears that Singhbhum is connected to Munda’s Singbong.

Singbong was the considered as the one who created the Munda tribes. This idea coupled with idea of the special rituals done to Karam tree and the sacred grove rituals of Sarna, gives a different story that fits with certain passages from Mahabharata, past records of some places and the recordings done during the British period. According to Mundas, the Karam trees saved their ancestors who were fleeing from an enemy.  That means their ancestors had hidden themselves behind the trees or in the trees to escape detection from the enemies. This had happened on a night time as they do the worship and rituals to the karam tree at night with Moon and the stars as the witnesses. Their excess importance to ancestors and spirits of ancestors do reveal a story of a hard time when their ancestors, the first generation of Mundas were fleeing from death in the hands of an enemy. At that time Singbonga had safe guarded them and paved way for them to start a new life.

The name Singbong is separated as Singa – bonga. Singa is a Tamil word for lion/ simha. Bongo (বঙ্গ) is how “Vanga” (Vanga desa) is called in Bengali language. So the name is Singa-vanga, a native of Vanga desa who was valiant like a lion,  headed them in their escape from an enemy, saved them from death and helped them to start a new life in the place where they had fled – which were remote ones such as mountains or deep forests or inaccessible areas.

This can be cross checked from two sources. One is that this has resonance to the story of Parashurama who was out to destroy the kshatriyas for 21 times. One of the tribes who fled for life from his fury was “Savaras” and another was “Vangas”.  Savaras are one of the communities of the Mundari speaking people.  Here is the translation from Mahabharata 14-29 on Savaras having fled the fury of Parashurama:

“Then, some of the Kshatriyas, afflicted with the terror of Jamadagni's son, entered mountain-fastnesses, like deer afflicted by the lion. Of them that were unable, through fear of Rama, to discharge the duties ordained for their order, the progeny became Vrishalas owing to their inability to find Brahmanas In this way Dravidas and Abhiras and Pundras, together with the Savaras, became Vrishalas through those men who had Kshatriya duties assigned to them in consequence of their birth, falling away from those duties. Then the Kshatriyas that were begotten by the Brahmanas upon Kshatriya women that had lost their heroic children, were repeatedly destroyed by Jamadagni's son. The slaughter proceeded one and twenty times.”

Here is the translation of the verse from Mahabharata 7:68, on Vangas being vanquished by Parashurama
“The Kashmiras, the Daradas, the Kuntis, the Kshudrakas, the Malavas, the Angas, the Vangas, the Kalingas, the Videhas, the Tamraliptakas, the Rakshovahas, the Vitahotras, the Trigartas, the Martikavatas were all vanquished by Bhargava Rama.”

The Savaras and Vangas had fled under the guidance of Singa-vanga to Chota Nagpur hills. Many of their tribes were killed by Parashurama – a reason why the Mundas are overly concerned about ancestral worship that includes those who died earlier along with those who died in the known previous generations. They had hidden themselves behind rocks and trees and inside groves and caves and that is why all these structures are reverberating with the soul of their departed first generation ancestors who fell to the fury of Parashurama. 

Another cross checking comes from the name of the place where they are settled for ages. This place is Datinakhali, a popular Munda village. This name sounds like Dakshina Kali! Dakshina Kali is the form of Kali who drinks the blood of the people slain in a battle field and dances on dead bodies in the battle field. (The description of this kind is found in many texts of Tamil Sangam literature).  Her fury is such that she tramples on her consort Shiva while dancing over the corpses. There is no Puranic basis for this description of Dakshina Kali. This could have come up from the Mundas and Savaras  due to the loss of their folks in a war with Parashurama where no rhyme or reason was followed on who was being killed and why.  There is evidence to show that this Kali was indeed a deity personified by these terror struck people.

Entrance of the Dakshina Kali temple.

When we go through the culture of Savara also known as  Saora, Saura and Sabara living in the hills of Jharkhand and Odisha and coastal Andhra,  we come to know that a Savara king by name Viswabasu (Vishwavasu ) had worshiped Lord Nrusimha! This is a surprise connection because their saviour was Singavanga or Singabonga – an entity with the name lion. This Lord Nrusimha was in Neela giri, the place which is now known as Puri!. This lord was called as Neela Madhabha. The image of the deity was made of the wood of a tree – a thing that Mundas considered as having the soul as their ancestors were saved by the trees. The Savara king had worshiped in secrecy and no one knew where this deity was housed. {Why such secrecy should happen, if it is not for the reason that the Mundas and Savaras had been for ages living in fear of being found out and killed? The fear must have existed initially but later on such secrecy and seclusion could have become a habit}. In due course the Savara king was duped by King Indradyumna to reveal the location of this deity but managed to hide it under the sand. However the deity revealed Itself to King Indradyumna  who was pursuing it with devotion. (Read here for the story). That deity is worshiped as Lord Jagannatha of Puri. This story has been detailed in Skanda Purana, Brahma Purana and other works found in Oriya language. {Indradyumna’s connection to Puri / Kalinga desa and worship of Puri deities as Krishna and his siblings was previously explored by me in this blog.}

Now let us look at the similarities. Puri is the location of both Dakshina Kali and Lord Nrusimha who was supposed to have been worshiped by the Savara king. The whereabouts of Nrusimha temple was never known. No one had ever seen this deity. It was only hearsay that Savaras worshiped Nrusimha  perhaps due to their connection with Singbonga. But the deity that he was supposed to have worshiped happened to be called as Jagannatha. He worshiped an image made of wood. The image of Puri Jagannatha is also made of wood.  If some myth makers wanted to weave a story around Lord Jagannatha, they need not have invented a story with a king of Savaras coming from a previous time of the actual consecration of Lord Jagannatha. In fact Savaras were not thought of as elites. It serves no purpose to have invented Savara connection to this deity unless such a thing had happened in reality.

Another information from Puranas is that Lord Jagannath Himself was Dakshinakalika. It is also true that a temple of Dakshina Kali does exist in Puri and is associated with Lord Jagannatha. (read here). Perhaps to conceal the movement of Savara kings outside their hide-outs, confusing ideas were floated. But once found out, the Savara king withdrew. The deity he worshiped continued to exist in another form (Jagannatha) thanks to King Indradyumna. The period of Puri Jagannatha is such that it must have been certainly before 2000 years. The iconographic details of the 3 deities of Krishna siblings were already there in place as we find them in Brihad Samhita 58- 35&36.

The presence of Dakshina Kali in the same place cannot be ignored as a recent development, for, Dakshina Kali had better relevance for Savaras and Mundas as people who suffered sudden annihilation in the hands of Parashurama.   Parashurama had attacked kshatriyas again and again for 21 times. Perhaps Puri and its surrounding regions were the location of Savaras and Mundas before they were attacked by Parashurama. This location corroborates with the description in Mahabharata where Savaras are mentioned along with Kiratas and Yavanas. (12-64-3569, 13-14-1074, 13-35-4170). Of these three people, the location of Kiratas is given in no uncertain terms that they (Kiratas) were “living on the northern slopes of the Himavat and on the mountain from behind which the sun rises and in the region of Karusha on the sea-coast and on both sides of the Lohitya mountains.” (2-51-2138).

This puts them in North east India of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam etc. The Vangas occupied present day Bengal and Bangladesh. South – south west of it was Kalinga where Puri / Dakshina Kali are located. The ancestors of Savaras and Mundas, had they lived in this region of Kalinga and were killed by Parashurama, then there is every reason to believe that this place became the place of Dakshina Kali – the Kali who drinks the blood of people killed in battle and dances on their corpses. Even after they had managed to flee and take a hiding in Chota Nagpur mountains, they – who were hell bent of worshiping their ancestors till today- could have come to this place to pay obeisance to the killed ancestors and appease Dakshina Kali who was symbolically associated with battle fields.
This location is close enough to Hehaya location and Parashurama’s location at Mahendragiri. Puri being the location of Dakshina Kali could have been the ancestral region of Mundas and Savaras. This location is close to Mahendragiri associated with Parashurama. 

       (Click on the image to enlarge)
Kartha veeryarjuina of Hehayas was the main enemy of Parashurama. His kingdom was in Mahishmati, in present day Maheshwar.

Though Parashurama’s exact place of birth is not known he was known to have done penance at Mahendra giri in today’s Odisha. The link between the regions of Mundas (Dakshina Kali) and Mahishmati with Parashurama is there.

Parashurama has attacked Savaras, Vangas, Angas, Malavas etc who were all neighbourhood people in this part of the country. He had cleansed the regions north, south and east of the Vindhyas of every kshatriya living at that time. 

The Hehayas had been completely annihilated. The Savaras (saura worshipers – on the east coast of Odisha where Konark Sun temple was established in later days) were killed and made to flee. Their final destination was Chota Nagpur in Bihar. Later they spanned to Sundarbans.

This dispersal on the wake of threat from Parashurama is meaningful and reasonable for people living in that region. Vanga Desa being  close-by, Singa Vanga (Singbonga) and his men had fled with Savaras. He restored order in the new settlement and enforced do’s and dont’s for the safety of the people.

Compared to them, there are others who managed to survive and get back their regions. It was possible because their kings and princes had taken shelter with sages. Mahabharata enumerates them.
Mahabharata 12 – 51, tells about how the various kings and their children were living in secrecy to escape from Parashurama. They concealed their identity by not doing anything of a Kshatriya but things done by other varnas. They are as follows:

(1)    Son of Viduratha of Puru vamsha grew up under the protection of ‘bears’ in secrecy in the mountain of Rishavaan. This is situated at a place where river Narmada divides as a fork.  Corroboratory evidence to bear connection to Rishavaan is found in Ramayana where it is said that Jambhavan, the bear (could be a symbolic reference to bear) lived in Rishavaan!

Location of Rishavaan.

(2)    Another king by name Sowdasa was protected by Parashara rishi. Mahabharata says that he lived like a Shudra. It means he did not exhibit Kshatriya qualities or Kshatriya looks and was engaged in activities of a shudra. 

(3)    The next king mentioned is Gopathy, son of king Sibi. Sibi’s father was Usinara who is mentioned at some places as Kshatriya vratya. But Sibi was a king and perhaps ruled Sivi, of today that is found in Pakistan. His area came to be called as “saura” and his descendants as “sauvira” of whom Jayathrath was a descendant in Mahabharata period. Gopathy, as this name shows tended the cows to escape the attention that he came from a kingly family. His region being North West part which is now in Pakistan, one can gauge the extent of terror for Parashurama at that time.

(4)    The king by name “Anga” (perhaps king of Anga desa) lived under the protection of Gauthama rishi in the Gangetic region. (Parashurama killed Angas but this king had managed to survive and live in secrecy.)

(5)    The next king mentioned is Brihadratha, who lived in secrecy in Kruthra koota. Kruthra koota is the name of the pond dedicated to Jatayu in a Divya Desa called Pullam Bhootham Kudi in Tamil nadu. From this it is deduced that Kruthra koota was the place where Jatayu confronted Ravana. This place is the Dandaka vana in the south of Vindhyas.

(6)    The descendants of Maruttha went to the southern seas and lived in cognito. This could be the seas south of Prabhas kshetra – the Arabian sea which was close to the Vindhyas.

These are the names given in Mahabharata as those who lived in secrecy to escape the wrath of Parashurama and  were reinstated as kings after some time.

Those who could not return were the Hehayas of the Kartha veeryarjuna clan who were the prime targets of Parashurama. The Munda – Savara tribes too had left their regions never to return. They must have had secret pilgrimages to Dakshina Kali but that was eventually stopped once Jagannatha cult started. From then onwards, they must have become totally isolated.

Savara – Sarna 

The name Savara, perhaps came to signify the religious beliefs as “Sarna”.  Savaras, by their name are Saura worshippers. The previous location at Dakshina Kali is a vantage location for Sun worship on the east coast. The Mundas and others are known for sun worship. To say Singbong was the Sun god is a corruption of thought over a period of time. But their worship of sun had stayed on. They worshiped sun and moon and considered them as pair which is what Shiva – Parvathi pair is about. Their emphasis on worship of ancestors of various kinds can be traced to the heavy loss of life they suffered in the hands of Parashurama. The natural features such as mountains, trees and rocks helped them to conceal themselves from being noticed by Parashurama who went out 21 times to kill the kshatriyas. That is why those features also became entities with soul worthy of worship. This is basically what Sarna religion is all about. The name ‘Savara’ had changed into ‘Sarna’ in course of time.

Now about the name, Munda. There is indeed a reference to Mundas in Mahabharata 3-51 as those who paid a tribute to Yudhishtra in the Rajasuya yaaga. But this name comes along with country of women which could be a reference to Sthree rajya (My article on the location of Sthree rajya at Straya Maina can be read here). This puts these Mundas in Kamboja as there is reference to Kambojas with shaven head in Mahabharata (read here). But the Mundas we are talking about are in the North – North east of India.

Analysing the name-cause, one of the tribes of Munda clan is known as Remo also known as Bonda tribes. They have a story connected to Sita of Ramayana. Some women of these tribes happened to see Sita taking bath in a pond and were cursed by her for having seen her bathing. The curse was that they must have their heads shaven and be naked. Later she rescinded the curse by allowing them wear a waist cloth. The story may be an imagination but what we cannot miss is that they have a memory of Ramayana and had lived even at that time. Parashurama was a contemporary of Rama of Ayodhya. His presence was there in Ramayana till Rama married Sita. If the Mundas and other tribes were the ones who went into hiding in inaccessible regions of forest and mountains, there is scope to believe that these people in the hiding were secretly following the happenings around. As Rama’s period overlapped  with Parashurama’s period, the people who accidentally got exposed to Sita or anyone from outside would have changed their looks to avoid detection. Women with shaven head and a waist cloth would have been treated as some tribals, and their true identity could not have been known. The name as Remo for these tribes, resembling Rama add substance to this story.

Remo girl.

This is where the name “Munda” gets its real meaning. Munda means shaven. On the Narota festival of the birth of a child, one of the important rituals is to remove the hair of the child with a razor. The baby is just 10 days old but it would have its hair cut at that time. This is something unthinkable for anyone unless there is a compelling reason or rationale among the people. A barber is called in on the day o Narota and the razor is blessed by the members of the family by touching it. The use of razor means that it was not merely a hair cut but a clean shave of the head. Why should they do it so early for a child? Why did it acquire a collective role for all in the family to have offered their blessing by way of good luck for the shave? 

The probable reason can be traced to the times the tribes managed to escape attention from Parashurama from annihilation. The initial survivors must have shaved their heads completely and changed the way they dressed. The subsequent generations too had maintained that to avoid detection. Another reason could be that since the clan had lost most of their people, many kids could have been born after the death of the father while fleeing. Once the baby had crossed the birth- pollution period, the first duty is to pay obeisance to the dead ancestor. As it is a practice to shave the head in death ceremony, the child gets head shaved on the day it is religiously born.

{Here I wish to add a note of the reference to rashi in naming the child. According to Vedic rituals the baby is given Jatha karma where the father for the first time calls the baby by the name of the star it is born. In Nama karma, the father addresses the baby as one born in so and so star and so and so Rashi and that the ceremony was meant for such a baby. One would not find the word “rashi” in the sutras, say Apasthambha sutras that I am referring to, but the word “rashi” does come into use in the mantra-prayoga during the ceremony. The mantras begin with a sankalpa and an identity of the person who is going to do that mantra prayoga. The identity lies with the star that one is born in. As nine stars are split in between rashis, there is a need to mention the rashi names for those stars. Anyone living in Vedic system would know that even while doing a puja in the temple, the priest would ask for the rashi only in the case of the 9 stars that are not wholly present in a rashi. The identification of a person by the name of the star that he is born is found in R-VJ 28 and Y-VJ 35.}

One of the tribes of this group consisting of Mundas, is Ho people, known for dancing and singing. They used musical instruments called Dama, Dumeng and rutu. Similar sounding people are Haha and Huhu people who are classified along with Tumvuru and Narada known for musical skills. They fit in the bill with Ho people who also managed to escape Parashurama’s fury. Though Haha and Huhu lived at the time of Mahabharata, Ho could have come in a sister clan and were on the run.

The Savaras are being mentioned in Mahabharata as those who became Kshatriya vrratyas due to the rage of Parashurama. The Savaras and others who fled had to live on whatever they could lay their hands on. They had to subsist on anything that they can catch hold of , say a frog or rat. Mahabharata 18-135 says,

“By accepting food from a eunuch, or from an ungrateful person, or from one who has misappropriated wealth entrusted to his charge, one is born in the country of the Savaras situated beyond the precincts of the middle country.”

This is to say that one would get degraded food in Savara areas which was beyond the Madhya desa – of Saraswathi basin. Though Savaras existed in seclusion, their existence was known to people in Mahabharata times. But their rules of exclusion advised by Singbonga initially had stuck with them and they continued such an existence. Their previous region must have been in the southern side, near Puri in Orissa which made them name their settlement as Datinakhali and look for their deity in Orissa region.

The name as Munda meaning “Mandai” or head in Tamil fits with their frightened beginnings of danger to head, as beheading was common mode of killing in wars. Thurston’s recording of the castes of South India contains a name “MandapOtho” who were found in Ganjam district and were roaming in the streets of Puri!! These places are connected with Mundas as per our analysis. To strengthen our analysis, we find that these people used to bury their heads as a way of attracting people to give them alms. Manda in MandapOtho means ‘head’ (Tamil word), Potho means “bury”. The Manda or Munda referring to head seems to be the name associated with a people of this region in Puri and Ganjam. Munda in Tamil means “headless body”. The MandapOtho people had exhibited headless body by burying the head in sand. All this goes to show that people with a name connected to Manda (head) or Munda (shaven or headless) were in existence in this part of the country.

Corroboratory evidence comes from Kocch- Mandai people of Bangladesh or Bengal. The Kocch- Mandai people must have been those who lived near river Kosi or Koshi. 

A Kocch Mandai woman

Here comes the important link with Parashurama times.
In the census record done in 1881 in the British India, the Suraj-bansi or Surya-vansi tribes of East Bengal had identified themselves as Kocch Mandai people but took up an identity as Surya vanshi – as Chattri (kshtraiyas) who threw away the sacred thread to “escape from the death-dealing axe of parashurama”. The identity as Surya vanshi is important as that is how the Savaras or Sauras were known as.

In the census of 1901 also, the “Mongoloid Kocch of Northern Bengal” also identified themselves as Raj vanshis and as Vratyas or Bhanga (Broken) kshatriyas who were made so in trying to escape the wrath of Parashurama.

In the census of 1881:- “The Aroras claim to be of Khatri origin. The Khatris, however, reject the claim. Sir Greorge Campbell is of opinion that the two belong to the same ethnic stock. They say that they became outcasts from the Kshatriya stock during the persecution of that people by Paras Ram, to avoid which they denied their caste, and described it as Aur or another, hence their name. Some of them fled northwards and some southwards, and hence the names of the two great sections of the caste, Uttaradhi and Dakhana.”

In the same census record, the Wanjaris of Maratha origin claimed that they were the allies of Parashurama in his war against Kshatriyas. “They assert that with other castes they were allies of Parasurama when he ravaged the Haihayas and the Yindhya mountains, and that the task of guarding the Vindhya passes was entrusted to them. From their prowess in keeping down the beasts of prey which infested the ravines under their charge they became known as the Yanya-Shatru, subsequently contracted with Wanjari. To confound them with the Banjara carriers castes, whose name “Vanachari” means “forest wanderers,” is to give them great offence”

These references also speak about the way how varieties of ‘castes’ were developed over time. The basis of the formation of these castes was not religion – Hinduism. There are familial, social, economic and political reasons for people to have lived in groups as distinct from each other and perpetuated them in due course. Only in a country of 1000s of years of past history, this kind of numerous varieties of such groups (called as castes) could have come as it is now with a billion plus people.

The fear of Parashurama resonated upto Pumpukaar of the Chola kingdom that the reigning king Kanthan handed over the kingdom to his son born to a concubine thinking that Parashurama would not consider him to be pure kshatritya race. (my article here).

Finally Parashurama crowned the one born to a Haihaya princess whose father was killed by him while his wife was pregnant with this child. Parashurama crowned him somewhere in Konkan region near a hill called Mooshika (in Tamil “Ezhil malai”). This king was called as Rama kuta Mooshika – one crowned by Rama of Bhargava kula. The so-called Indologists of foreign origin would flip this as a myth and even disregard Parashurama connections. But proof exists in many ways including in inscriptions that say that King Rajendra Chola I captured this crown given by Parashurama. This means till 1000 years ago, the people connected with Parashurama  had lived; till a century ago people with memory of their past connection with Parashurama had lived.

A corroboratory connection to Konkan exists with the Munda clans. The Kurukh or Korku clan among this groups located in North east India have been found to have come from Konkan region according to Indian Anthropological Society. The Saraswads were brought to Konkan by Parashurama and this shows that the original inhabitants had left Konkan to evade trouble from Parashurama. The Indologists may attempt to mark this migration of Saraswads to a recent past, but what cannot be denied is that Kurkus have been there in North east for very long.

Attempts will be made by foreign Indologists to say that Mundas and their co-habitants were non-Hindus. The wiki page writer on Savaras that gives the narration of the Savara king worshiping Lord Nrusimha in Puri did not think about his integrity and the absurdity when he wrote in the same article that Nationalist Hindu groups are working towards converting them to Hinduism! These tribes are already Hindus and a proof of continuity of Vedic tradition and historicity of Parashurama. One of the main deities worshiped by Mundas is Monsa. She is none other than Goddess Manasa Devi who appears with a child in her hand and found under the hood of snake. 

Mahabharata recognises the child as Astika who was born to release the ancestors. This aspect of the Devi might have been in the minds of these people for whom ancestor worship is foremost. But then it can be argued that Mahabharata post-dated Parashurama times. However there are Puranic allusions to her existence as a Goddess. The same idea of a Goddess with a child under protection is there in Tamil nadu also by the name Isakki amman. 

This Goddess is found in many regions of Tamilnadu where some valorous women in the deed of protecting a child could have been deified as Isakki. There is mention of Isakki as Iyakki in the 1st century AD text of Silappadhikaram, thereby establishing this deity as a continuing concept. By the name Iyakki, it means that she is one who drives the world / souls. She is Iccha shakthi of Creator God. That is identified as Manasa Devi. This original idea must have been there since long even before Parashurama’s times. Otherwise a secluded tribe worshiping this Devi is not possible. In the dream interpretations for which Mundas have their own ideas, sighting a snake in the dream was considered to be related to Monsa / Manasa Devi. This is proof of antiquity of Manasa Devi, whose image is recognised as Maari amman in Tamil lands.

The belief in Karam God and Dharam God and the superiority of Dharam God over karam God is another proof of Vedic past of the Mundas. The seven step procedure in marriage ceremonies, use of vermillion and conduction of marriage in Godhuli lagna in autumn season are also reminiscent of their early roots in mainstream Vedic society. In the absence of connect with Brahmins – which they could not do for fear of getting exposed – led them to discard Vedic rites as they had to be confined into the mountains for thousands of years. In this backdrop, a foreigner’s foray into their past with no grasp of any of the basics of our culture or the diverse links in the surrounding regions is fit to go in the way of Wendy Doniger’s work.

- Jayasree

On Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 4:08 PM, Lalit Mishra wrote:

Dear All,

In his one of the researches, Koenraad Elst who is still appreciated much by Indian indologists, for his having a foreign face in the list, recently stated that Munda's ritualistic practice of SARANA and Munda god "Singbonga" looks a bit like the Biblical Creator-God.

Sniffing such things, I had said that Elst is driven by Church under the carpet and his new act, proves it.

Pls refer to :

//  Singbonga, looks a bit like the Biblical Creator-GodTribal religions generally believe in one God, in a Supreme Being who goes by such names as the Great Spirit, the Great One, the Creator, the Mighty Spirit (...), etc. Although at times God is identified with the rain, light, dawn, fire, water, hills, the Supreme Being of the tribal people is usually independent of the material or astral world. (...) He has dominion over the entire universe." (p.44)