Friday, February 13, 2015

Why did Zoroastrianism fall but Hinduism didnt?

The Zoroastrians had the privilege of a mighty empire of which ruled the entire Middle East along with parts of South Asia in the form on Achaemenid and Sassanid empires.

The latter especially had routinely humiliated the Romans and was an unstoppable force until the Arab invasion.

The question remains as to how this highly centralized empire fall to a few thousand horsemen from Arabia while the fractured kingdoms in Bharatavarsha prone to internecine warring manage to thwart their attempts once for all.

Here we will concentrate on the Arab attempts rather than the later Turkic Muslims who of course far more successful in making inroads into India as that was a different era (300-400 years later) and all the different social, political, economic,military and religious differences it entailed.

Perhaps we need to realize that first and foremost Zoroastrianism like Buddhism places ethics such as non violence on a rather high plane

Firstly Zoroastrianism was thoroughly unoriginal.

Its art and sculpture was lifted from the Assyrians
Its theology (inverted) from Hindus
Its administration and laws from the Elamites
And its clothing from the Central Asians
Its architecture from the Babylonians

Hindutvadis may dislike Rajesh Kocchar but I believe his heart is in the right place, even if his head is often not. But when he is right, he is right. He was especially perceptive in contrasting the warlike Devas such as Indra with the placid As(h)uras of Persia.

Zoroastrianism gained prominence by becoming the chosen religion of the Median,Achaeminid and Sassanian elites and gained recognition and status accordingly. It was never in itself a religion associated with a martial people but that of a priestly and mercantile class.

Not dissimilar to how a seemingly pacific Christianity became the chosen religion of the most powerful empire in the region a 1000 years later(Rome and Byzantine). Or how relatively pacific Buddhism and Jainism became the choice of religion of the Japanese Shoguns, imperial Mauryas and militaristic Rashtrukutas and Kalingas respectively.Why the kings and warrior elites would yield to relatively pacific faiths in contrast to their warlike native deities is an interesting question. I can only speculate that its because these religions are also expansionary and missionary in instinct first and foremost. And they find this inclination helpful as the missionaries can act as very potent agents of state propaganda on ground.

Even today Buddhist priests in Sri Lanka, Burma ,Thailand are not exactly shrinking violets when it comes to waging war against those they see as threats to the states with whom they are intertwined.

The downside to this is in such a centralized fusion of church and state, all a determined invader has to do is liquidate the elites ,political,military and religious and the religion falls due to failure of patrons and support.

This is what transpired with both the Islamic conquest of Sassanid Persia and Byzantine Empire. The bulk of the population turned Muslim almost overnight as due to their historical experience, they associated their religion with the temporal power which lorded over them and now that another religious group(Islam) held that power, it was thought prudent to convert to that religion

Contrast this to India. Not only was it far more difficult for the Muslims to militarily defeat the Hindus.
It also didn't help that the Persian empire was overwhelmingly as land based one as they didn't care too much for the sea. Indeed they believed that the devil resided in salt water. This distaste was naval expeditions was to some extant adopted by Northern Hindus were influenced by Zoroastrians ideas and hence the empires of Mauryas(which consciously based itself on the Persian model) and Guptas were lacking in strong naval forces but those southerners who had less to do with Persians such as Satavahanas, Cholas ,Pallavas and Pandyas had impressive sea based empires in South East Asia where Hinduism thrived even as it faced difficult times in the mother land.
It was therefore very difficult for them to eradicate the faith not just in the mainland but also in places such as Indonesia and Malaysia(though they still try today) as they had done successfully with Christians and Zoroastrians in the Middle East.

Not that they didn't try. They massacred Brahmins , burnt scriptures and destroyed temples en masse. But in all likelihood they killed Brahmins who were associated with the royal elite and not so much the Vedic scholars and family priests. And even so, many of the so called illiterate castes were more than familiar with the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the various stories of Devas and Asuras battling it out in the Puranas and Vedas.
To say nothing of the Rishi, Munis, tantrics and other assorted groups who were not part of society proper and therefore were even difficult to reach.

Furthermore Brahmins were expectedly to mobile and travel to regions where they were needed or in this case provided shelter ,security and livelihoods.
Hence a good number fled to Nepal or the South where they were instrumental in various renaissances of Hindu culture and political revival from Vijayanagar and Vidyranya all the way to Marathas and Thyagaraja.

What is interesting about Vijayanagar is that to some extant it was similar to the Persian and Byzantium state . It was self consciously a Hindu civilization with "the protection of Brahmins,cows and Vedas" practically as its constitution. So when it was centre of that state was attacked by combined Muslim armies, it collapsed just as readily as Byzantium and Persia. It was upto the Marathas who, while looked upto Vijayanagar as a cherished ideal of Hindu samrajya, were a mobile ,more egalitarian and rustic cavalry culture to exploit the decentralized nature of Hindu culture in order to deliver a crushing blow to Muslim power.
Of course they had made serious errors in the process, least of which was a lack of patronization of Hindu arts,court culture, temple construction and sciences. But that is beyond the scope of this essay.

The core of Hinduism resides not in the courts,big temples and its associated fat cat priets  but in the Vedic pathashaalas, sacred groves and the folk culture of  the rural people.
Arts and sciences which were patronized in the cities were often derived from Vedic traditions of shastras,sutras, samhitas which dealt with topics as diverse as metallurgy, logic, astronomy, medicine, surgery, mathematics, sculpture, geometry, architecture, weapons not to mention more arcane topics such as ornithology and taming elephants!

A good deal of this was lost during the Muslim invasions but good news was that the base of Hinduism which was preserved in the rural areas could be invoked in order to create the same again.
And in some ways the success of present day Hindus in the sciences is a legacy not so much of the ballyhooed British educational system(which is frankly a disaster) but the innate curiosity of the average Hindu for the understanding of the universe which the Vedas encourage.
Of course there are caveats to the anti dogmatism of Hindus coupled with lack of the Vedic insistence of the concept of discrimination (much lamented by Vivekandanda)is that they are susceptible to believing in a lot of rubbish which appeals to their sentimental and perverse complex of victimhood rather than their intellect.

Iranians today OTOH while not exactly duffers in scientific pursuits are more into finance and trading. Much like their blood relatives in Gujarat ,Sindh and Rajasthan who were often ruled by Iran or were descended from tribes speaking an Iranian dialect(Gujjars)

However all is not lost for Zoroastrians...

What is interesting is the difference between the pantheons and structure of Zoroastrianism and Vedic Hinduism. This in turn dictated Islam's relationship with each.

Zoroastrianism despite its borrowing of the Vedic pantheon is essentially a dualist religions where the major figures are Ahura Mazda and Ahriman which roughly correspond to Allah and Shaitan in the Quranic scriptures.

Hence it was much easier to subsume Zoroastrian followers into Islam. A product of which is the nearly millennia long evolution of Shiism. Today the appeal of Shiism particularly in Iran is type of anti Arab nationalism

In a somewhat similar manner the Catholic church attempted to gain as many European converts as possible by appropriating the pagan gods as saints or demons as the situation demanded.

Some Padres even went as far as to pose as Hindu sanyassins and elaborate Christian theology in a Vedic garb. Due to severe backlash from Hindu revivalists, this tactic was discarded.

To be sure Arab Muslims did not intend for their religion to become a vehicle of anti Arab Persian imperialism which threatens Sunni Arabs in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon in contemporary times. It is due to the dynamic culture of the Persians that they managed to appropriate Islam for their own purpose. It is significant that the most observed festival is not Eidh ul Fitr or al Adha but Navroz , the Spring New Year associated with pagan traditions possibly pre dating Zoroaster.
In my trips to Dubai, Persia and Los Angeles I have met Persian Muslims wearing proudly the symbol of Zoroaster on their person as necklaces or windshields of their cars or storefronts.

So it is not to say that Zoroastrianism has been totally wiped out in the home country but it survives in an underground form. It is not an insignificant fact that they thrive in India.

My point I wished to make is that Hinduism didn't need to go underground to survive and thrived in its millennia long battle against Islamic iconoclasm. While Persian Zoroastrians quickly collapsed but pursued their pre Islamic in the Trojan horse of Shiite Islam.

The difference between the two religions dictated how the adherents dealt with Islamic imperialism.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The appeal and fatal flaw of Vladimir Putin

It occurs to me that the only reason Putin has any admirers is because he behaves as how a Western leader would a 100 years ago - assertive, nationalistic ,imperialistic and charismatic.

Social conservatives in the West are understandably impressed with his Russian Orthodox inspired stance against the propagation of homosexuality and aberrant values which undermine bourgeois morality. Curiously these same conservatives particularly in America were virulently anti Russian 30 years ago as the latter were viewed as amoral communists out to undermine Western Christendom.

To be clear, I don't begrudge Russians for admiring Putin. It is natural for them to crave respect rather ridicule and degradation which is what occurred in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse and despair of Russian society. You had respectable grandmothers selling their family heirlooms on the street, wholesome mild mannered boys were reduced to thuggery and beautiful, sweet natured girls who should be going to college and practicing ballet took to selling their bodies all across the world so much so the word Russian in places as varied as Dubai and Berlin became synonymous with prostitute.

This of course is what occurs when a country is defeated. And it was a good thing that the Soviets were defeated and Reagan should a Nobel Peace Prize for it(but he wont). The Soviets were monsters and they had it coming. It is unfortunate the Russian people paid the price but that is collateral damage for you.

The salt on their wounds was the installation of Boris Yelstin- a fat,buffoonish drunk as President who had come to typify Russian fecklessness and incompetence in the post Cold War era.

Enter Vladmir Putin via some false flag bombings attributed to Chechens. At this point even false flags skeptics like me would say "oh come on that is just so obvious" . I wonder why an admirer of Putin and a false flag conspiracy enthusiast doesn't bring this up in his Putin worship..oh never mind.

The sleek well dressed judo champion and outdoor enthusiast Vladmir Putin projected a welcome image of strength, serenity ,dignity ,stoicism and resolve. A polar opposite of the drunken, buffoonish polar bear look alike Boris Yelstin. This came as a  relief and point of pride for Russian people. I remember when Putin came to power when I was in college in U.S and had a Russian friend who was doing his PhD in Material Sciences and Mechanics who lived in the same boarding house as me. We would often liquor up in the evening chatting about whatever came to our mind. As you may guessed he was incredibly intelligent not just in his science and tech field but also had sound knowledge of Russian European, Chinese and Middle Eastern history, classical music specifically the great Russians and Austrians composers, Renaissance paintings not to mention the great filmmakers such Tarkovsky and DW Griffith. And this guy , THIS GUY loved Putin. You would expect such an enlightened individual to go for a dovish leader but that would be misreading the Russian people in particular and humanity in general.

People if given half a chance would like to be associated with assertion of power so they can live vicariously through their leaders and derive the status that emanates from such displays.
Of course that is not the case with all people who believe that they had enough of applications of force. Hence the war weary Americans elected an effeminate ,glib and spineless Obama and the only Sikh that Indians put in high office was not the tought KPS Gill but the pencil neck Manmohan Singh. So when atrocities like 26/11 occurred and Indians REELECTED the same government who not only allowed for such lapses in intelligence(the NSA was busy dealing the LTTE who weren't a threat since the early 90s) and failed to punish the sponsoring nation of Pakistan appropriately I lost interest in all national security matters. There is nothing but heartache when one reads of Indian debacles during that administration.

Putin to be sure CRUSHED the Chechen rebellion. An amazing and unprecedented act. Imagine the ferocity of Pathan combined with tactics,organization and daring of the LTTE and then add the cohesion and ideological morale of Hezbollah and you have an idea of the Chechen rebels were like.

It alo helped that unlike Israel in Southern Lebanon and Americans in Iraq and Sri Lankans pre Rajapaksha, the Russians simply couldn't be bothered with caring about civilian casualties. Indeed that may have been even the aim. An untold number(possibly a third) of military age men were killed in the Chechen wars. The end result which a clownish Chechen version of Yelstin was installed as Putins personal sock puppet through whom he would keep a close eye on the troublesome Chechens.

A wise man once said that politicans are like women, watch what they do , not what they say. Well I would say that the general public is also like a woman. Just as women CLAIM they want decent ,respectable,kind gentleman and yet quickly throw themselves at an attractive, self confident and assertive tough so too the public which crows about human rights in Palestine, Iraq etc due to good natured bungling by Israeli and American governments suddenly falls in love with Vladmir Putin who unapologetically slaughters anyone who comes in his way.

Putin contrary to what some conspiracy prone fan boys claim is not an anti Semite. He has a very cosy relationship with Israel(sorry captain). And he is supported by all the major Rabbis in Russia. His crusade against billionaire Jewish oligarchs was mostly stemmed from the fact that he wanted their riches for himself. Not due to any anti Jewish animus.

To be sure, there are a great number of American Jews in the media and academia who loathe Vladimir Putin but that is because they are leftists with a dash of anti Russian prejudices thrown in.This applies to American Jews of both West European and Russian origin(such as actor Michael Douglas whose father had escaped from Cossack oppression)

This is aided by Apocalyptic texts such as Book of Revelations where it is prophesised that the nations of Gog and Magog will invaded Israel in the end times. Gog and Magog in those days was associated with Scythia (known in India as Sakas and as per legend created from Vasishtas cow).

And Scythia was the progenitor of many nations including Russia ,Parthia(as distinct from Media) and the Turks.

Hence there is a good reason for Russia to be allied with Iran ,apart its former relationship as a colonial occupier of Teheran. Russians and Iranians are aware of this distant relationship and have a common interest in restraining the excitable Central Asian and Caucasian peoples over whom Iran holds considerable influence (In the words of Robert Kaplan, Iran is a cultural lode star for the Central Asians, a honor which until about 400 AD belonged to India)

Similarly its support for Syria and Palestine is motivated by a sympathy for the Orthodox sect of Christians who are heavily involved in the military security apparatus. Indeed in some ways the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s was just as much Greek Orthodox Syrian supported Alawites vs Lebanese Maronite Catholics as it was Sunni Lebanese and Shia Iranians. But then again there was no shortage of sectarian hatreds in that hornets nest which was once known as Switzerland of the Middle East.

It was a Greek Orthodox militia member in Beirut who had beaten up Christopher Hitchens in 2006 after he had defaced a swastika in the Orthodox style. A reminder that in some parts of the world, the Ribbentrop Molotov pact is still honored.

All in all, whatever one thinks of Russia's alliances , it make sense from a strategic, political, military and cultural point of view and it is na├»ve for the West to expect Russians under Putin to give up these relationships for the sake of the formers interests.

I don't believe in demonizing Putin but let us keep things in perspective. There is no reason to celebrate him.

His rise to power was lubricated by the blood of noble and patriotic Russians be they journalists, political opponents, business magnates or activists.

The Russian economy had failed to capitalize on high oil prices when the time was ripe and neglected diversification of its economy and vast potential of an educated and industrious middle class. Serious economic reform and infrastructure were woefully neglected.

As was a 100 years ago as it is now- Moscow and St Petersburg as two small islands amidst and cold ocean of darkness and despair.
That type of country is not sustainable. Already in the vast Siberian tundra there is talk of Chinese colonialism and economic supremacy complete with Chinese settlers.
And even in Moscow and St Petersburg tends to be rather provincial when compared to West European cities. Hardly any there speaks English and Russian is a notoriously difficult language to pick up. It is on top with Japanese and Arabic in the  5 hardest languages. This intimidates foreigners and discourages assimilation.

High oil prices don't last forever and the ramshackle Russian army ,though spirited ,courageous and resourceful, is still something that youth try to avoid. Unlike the U.S army where voluntary enlisting was high even during the darkest days of the Iraq war (2005-2007), the Russian army finds it hard to meet its quota even during peace time. Many young men of means go so far as to attend foreign universities to the extant of overstaying their visas just so that they are too old to be eligible for the draft.

As a result nearly a fifth is composed of Muslim recruits of Central Asian origin. The Russian demographic collapse was apparently exaggerated and has recovered but it is on the precipice. And only time will tell if the Tatar and Central Asian Muslims will out breed their Orthodox Christian overlords. Right now the smart money is on the former.

The Russian army is never far away from a complete breakdown in discipline a collapse of morale due to the near non existent NCOs. Russians are great are expelling invaders but not so at invading and maintain their new acquisitions. Those days ended with Catherine and Peter the Great.

The great Russian industry of armaments also suffered serious PR damage when its top client India complained of shoddy quality and delayed deliverables.

Russia Today is a blatant propaganda network for Putin coupled with a very coarse anti Americanism. To call it the Fox News of Russia is a disservice to Fox News. At least Fox News does present an anti establishment and pro liberty view points which are at odds of any administration Republican or Democrat. Not so Russia Today. There are few dictators that they dislike.

Ultimately what may do in Putin and therefore damage Russia is his own personal ego. This is an individual who understably has to cultivate a macho image to present to this constituents. Remember this is a country where the Enlightment only did half its work due to the conquest of Byzantium(which used to much needed Hellenic culture to the pastoral cultures of Finnic Scythian Slavic and Scandinavian mix that is Russian civilization). Hence they have a pre modern notion of what constitutes their leader. A big man who does great things , preferably in nature. Admittedly he does look good without a shirt. However some who wish to emulate him do not.



                                     Also acceptable(really an antidote for the previous photo)

What ever his glories and warts and he has quite a few of each, he is certainly not the leader of the free world. Neither Putin nor the author of that ridiculous post would know freedom even if it bit them on the ass.

And if he actually believes this hype, and it is quite possible he does, it can well be the cause of his downfall as he will inevitably over reach as that is what he is doing in Ukraine and I'm afraid he will bring down quite a few of now powerful but ultimately hollow edifices with clay foundations with him.

All in all , the Russian people are tough ,resilient, intelligent, brave, cultured, tragic, artistic and sentimental people(what else explains their penchant for Bollywood?) with a culture to reflect all these aspects. So therefore let us celebrate it.