No room for courses on Hinduism at JNU – Prakash Nanda

Jawaharlal Nehru University Delhi

Prakash NandaNow, if JNU, one of India’s foremost universities, refuses to teach Indian culture and yoga with the logic that it would lead to promotion of Hinduism in a secular country, then where else can one study Hinduism in India, where 80 percent of the population happens to be Hindus? – Prakash Nanda 

Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) is in the news again, but this time the national media has treated the news scantily. It has not paid enough attention to the fact that those who were agitating early this year to protect their right to dissent in JNU are now the suppressors of ideas coming from others who are not their “own”. For them, the university will do or practice what they want. It is they who will decide what is to be taught and how the university should be administered. Needless to say that these “dissenters” are mostly the so-called leftists and secularists; dissent for them means that they have the exclusive right to oppose things they do not like, but they deny the same right to those who disagree with them.

Anita Singh, a JNU professor, has told DNA that she was abused and attacked inside the university campus by a group of students, instigated by the Left-dominated students union and teachers association, while she stepped out of the meeting of the university’s statutory decision-making body, the academic council (AC), late on 7 October. Abused as a “sanghi”, Singh, who is the dean, School of Law and Governance, told the paper that she earned the students’ ire because, “I had presented the proposal for introducing a disaster research programme in the university for a trans-disciplinary programme, the talks for which have been going on since 2011, and that has already been passed by five standing committees. But the JNUSU thinks that any new innovation is ‘bhagwakaran’ (saffronisation) and I was attacked as soon as I stepped out.”

Singh has spoken about the events that took place outside the AC meeting. But what happened inside the AC meeting was equally gratuitous. Here, in the name of “secularism”, the majority rejected a proposal of the University Grants Commission (UGC) of introducing three short-term courses in Indian culture and yoga. According to the UGC’s proposed draft, the course on Indian culture aimed at expounding the importance of the country’s culture as well as exploring the etymological, social, spiritual, cultural and mythological aspects and establishing Indian values in the world. “The course will contain the texts, thoughts and traditions of different cultures and include things like religious systems in Indian culture among others. Besides, it will have portions from Vedas and selections from epics and Jatakas and suggestions on readings of Hindu epics like the Ramayana,” the draft read. It was argued in the draft that Indian culture cannot be understood without the help of “Indian literature, which is generally written by sages”.

Now, if JNU, one of India’s foremost universities, refuses to teach Indian culture and yoga with the logic that it would lead to promotion of Hinduism in a secular country, then where else can one study Hinduism in India, where 80 percent of the population happens to be Hindus? And here, I came across a report in The Hindu, dated 13 July, 2013, that said that one Subadra Muthuswami, who had a Master’s degree in public health from Columbia University, hoped to pursue her interest in Hinduism when she returned to India. “Since I am in India, I decided to do research to understand why we practice rituals and rites in Hinduism. But I understand that no university offers a comprehensive course in Hinduism studies,” she told the paper.

Madras UniversitySubadra discovered that the University of Madras had programmes in Vaishnavism and Indian philosophy, but not on “Sanatan Dharma” (Hinduism) as a whole, even though the university “has separate departments for Christian and Islamic studies”. She was told by senior professors that “universities are secular places where Hinduism as a religion cannot be taught. Sources in the university said when the department wanted to offer a paper in yoga (which is also a shastra) last year, the move was opposed on the grounds that it was endorsed by a political party.”

One fails to understand that how a university that has departments on Christian and Islamic Studies considers offering a paper on yoga, let alone Hinduism, will tarnish its secular character. As a result, in India one can study Hinduism—and this was what Subadra discovered—only in private or spiritual organisations like Swami Shivananda Institute, Chinmaya Mission, Iskcon and Vedanta Academy (Mumbai).

In contrast, let us [look at] the situation abroad. I just did a Google search to find western universities offering courses on Hinduism and Indian culture. And this was what I found. The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies is a recognised “independent centre” of Oxford University. The principal aim of the Centre is “the study of Hindu culture, religion, languages, literature, philosophy, history, arts and society, in all periods and in all parts of the world.” Cambridge University teaches Vedanta, Vyakarana and Sanskrit philosophy along with Buddhism. London’s School of Oriental and African Studies offers courses on “Indian philosophy, especially Vyākaraṇa and Mīmāṃsā, Sanskrit philology, Sanskrit scientific literature.” In fact, many British universities such as Sussex, Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh have departments on Theology and Religious Studies that teach, among others, “Sāṅkhya and Pātañjala Yoga.” Sweden’s Stockholm University has courses on Indian Philosophy, especially “Nyāya and Buddhism.” In Brussels (Belgium), “Vrije Universiteit” (Antwerp FVG: Faculty for Comparative Study of Religions) teaches Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Indian Philosophy, especially “Vedānta schools and Kaśmīr Śaivism.” University of Vienna (Institute of South Asian, Tibetology and Buddhist Studies) has programmes on “Sanskrit philosophy, Āyurveda and Sanskrit philology.” There are many universities and institutes in Germany that give special emphasis to Sanskrit, Indian philosophical texts and Indian religions, including “Veda, Pāli and Epics”.

Coming to the US, Concordia University has a chair in Hindu Studies that is dedicated to the interdisciplinary study of Hinduism. There is the J. Newton Rayzor Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University that studies Hinduism. Case Western Reserve University has a department on South Asian religions. So has also Emory University. Then there are famous professors like Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago who has written many books on Hinduism, some of them controversial though.

Prof Wendy DonigerThe questions that emerge from the illustrated list (not exhaustive) above are this: Are these western educational institutions having departments of theology and offering courses on comparative religions communal? If not, how can the Indian institutions offering courses on Hinduism or related subjects like yoga be branded communal, that too in a country where 80 percent of the people happen to be Hindus? And thirdly, if our “secularists” consider the book on Hinduism (which has shown the religion in negative manner) by American Indologist Wendy Doniger, a Professor of “Religions” in an American university, a great scholarly work, why cannot they promote similar scholarly works in Indian universities? Is it not double standards to applaud work on Hinduism by foreign scholars in foreign universities but deny the Indian scholars to work on the same subject in Indian universities?

In fact, as the recent development in JNU has proved once again, our so-called liberals and seculars, who dominate the country’s education system, will leave no stone unturned to foil any attempt by any university in India to introduce courses on “Religions”. They will have nothing to do with the promotion of a “dead language” such as Sanskrit. Even any elective, repeat elective, course on “Vastu Sashtra” will be dismissed (as it happened in a Madhya Pradesh university some years ago) as attempts towards “saffronisation”. But minorities can pursue studies on their respective religions. As a result, what we see today is that the Muslims children learn about Islam and the Quran in madrasas and the Christian children learn the essence of Christianity and the Bible in educational institutions founded and managed by them. Under the Indian Constitution, the minorities are allowed to have their own educational institutions and the certificates or degrees thereof are recognised legally.

In contrast, the children of the majority of the Hindu community do not have such facilities. Even at the school-level, whenever there are attempts to teach the children about the Ramayana, the Mahabharata or the Gita, the “secular brigade” makes a lot of hue and cry. And ironically, all these elements, who dominate the Indian academia and media, will want books critical of Hinduism to flourish in India but they will advise against the circulation of anything that is critical of other religions.

Such are their double standards!

» FirstPost, 12 October 2016: Prakash Nanda is editor of Uday India, a national weekly, and Geopolitics a niche monthly devoted to defence, security and diplomacy. Previously he was a National Fellow at the Indian Council of Historical Research.  He has also been a Visiting Professor at Yonsei University, Seoul and FMSH, Paris.

JNU Students Union Polls

The answer Quora monitors couldn’t digest – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth

It seems truth cannot be told anymore. I had written an answer to the question “What do Western atheists feel about Hinduism?” on Quora, but after over 11k views it was taken down, allegedly violating the “be nice, be respectful” policy. I cannot see anything objectionable in my answer. Why would they let it “collapse”?

Here is what I wrote:

Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is least dogmatic (Buddhism is more dogmatic as it follows what Buddha said and Buddha was only one of numerous Hindu sages). And of course it is completely different from Christianity and Islam. If those two big religions are the norm, then Hinduism should not even be called a religion.

However, it is not easy for a foreigner to get to the core of Hinduism. One reason is that we hear mainly bad things about Hinduism in the west and another is that Hindus don’t go out of their way to explain [their religion]. In fact, many of them, especially the English educated, know themselves pretty little about their tradition as it was demeaned under British rule and even after Independence.

Only recently more Hindus realize its worth and this may fluster the Christian west. I guess it’s because at least some westerners know that Hinduism can pose a real challenge to their “blind-belief-in-divisive-dogma religions”.  And again there is this increased effort in recent times to demean India in general and Hindus in particular—whether it is by shouting “rape” or “attack on minorities”. Both charges are very unfair if seen in relation.

I was on my way to become an atheist, as I couldn’t believe anymore what the Church told us to believe, and the Christian God simply couldn’t be true, sending non-Christians summarily into hell. And what about all those who lived before Christ was born? Anyway, it’s easy to see why one can lose faith in dogmatic religions and the Christian God.

On my first trip to India I didn’t understand a thing about Hinduism. Only on my second trip (which was intended as a stopover) I came by chance into contact with two great sages and then slowly went deeper, started reading, reflecting, meditating….

It all made immense sense: naturally there must be some great power / intelligence behind and beyond this universe—the inner ruler of the big and the small. It makes sense that the meaning of life is to discover That in oneself. If it is there (and it makes sense that it is there), then of course it makes sense to put my focus in life foremost on That.

From then on, it is not only intellectual enquiry but also experience. If I say that bhakti, devotion to that great power, is a natural outcome of putting one’s focus on it, many may not agree because intellect alone can’t get there. One needs to genuinely want to know the truth about ourselves for the truth’s sake.

Unfortunately, for many in the west “God” has such negative connotation thanks to the Church that they don’t have an open mind even towards “Brahman” (big, expanding), as they may feel that “God” comes in again through the back door. Yet the Hindu concept of the Highest is scientific. “Veda”—the most ancient Hindu scriptures—means knowledge. The analysis of us and the universe by the rishis is mind-boggling and the ways to connect with that power in present day Hinduism are amazingly colourful and joyful. – Maria Wirth Blog, 20 October 2016

Quora Logo

9 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B. R. Haran

Supreme Court of India

B.R. HaranSubsequent to the SC’s order, the Kerala government started registration of captive elephants in the state. In the process, it found that many persons owned elephants illegally. The elephant owners association pressurized the government to legalise such ownerships and give ownership certificates and licenses. … The SC on 4 May stayed the Kerala government’s order and cancelled the licenses issued to the owners based on that order and ordered the elephant owners association not to shift the elephants to other states. – B. R. Haran

PETA IndiaPetition before the Supreme Court

Animal welfare organizations have been fighting their level best to free the captive elephants from captivity. These organizations have been waging legal battles in courts of law in various States for the welfare of captive elephants. Hearings in a few cases are going on in the High Courts of Chennai and Kerala. Organizations like People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC) are playing a significant role and the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) is also jointly working with them for the same cause.

Animal Welfare Board of IndiaWRRC filed a Writ Petition (Writ Petition(s) (Civil) No(s). 743/2014) before the Supreme Court in 2014, seeking appropriate orders to effectively implement the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, and various government directives to protect elephants held in captivity in different parts of the country.  

Excerpts from the Petition 

In its Writ Petition, WRRC has placed the following significant facts: 

• This petition brings to the fore the ground-level situation in different States where captive elephants are being victimized in blatant violation of the existing provisions for their health, care and proper upkeep. The current state of the health, welfare, safety and upkeep of a majority of captive elephants in the custody of private ownership is abysmally poor.  

• As a keystone species of the tropical forests, the elephant has been accorded the highest level of protection in Indian law as it is placed in Schedule I Part I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972. Elephant is an important part of Indian culture and heritage and is revered by a significant part of the population. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India recognizing the same, vide Notification dated 21 October 2010, declared the elephant as National Heritage Animal of India. Unfortunately, such a recognition has not contributed in any manner whatsoever to the welfare of elephants.

• Though there are several important issues relating to the protection of the Indian elephant in the wild, the instant petition raises concerns relating specifically to elephants held in captivity, in the custody of private individuals, temples, trusts, societies, religious and other institutions and seeks appropriate orders and directions with regard to the same.

• The four main concerns which require urgent attention of the Hon’ble Court are: firstly, the cruel treatment suffered by elephants in captivity that is in violation of constitutional and statutory provisions; secondly, the illegal sale and transfer of elephants under the guise of gift or donation; thirdly, the illegal use of elephants in commercial and/or religious activities; and fourth, the poor conditions of housing and upkeep that elephants are subjected to.

• Due to the torture and ill-treatment meted out by owners and mahouts, several instances of death and severe injuries to captive elephants are reported across the country every year. Moreover, elephants held in captivity are known to turn violent under mental and physical stress leading to panic and stampede in public areas, often causing loss of life of mahouts and by-standers and damage to property. Various studies show that the violent behavior of elephants is attributable to poor living conditions and subjecting them to various forms of torture, including beating with a belt trap, making them walk over hot tarred roads and keeping them chained, often for the entire day. Under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, the kind of abuse suffered by captive elephants amounts to the offence of cruelty.

• According to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, in 2000, there were estimated to be 3400-3600 elephants in captivity in the country. Captive elephants are found with private individuals, in temples and other religious institutions, zoos, circuses, forest camps, tourist spots etc.

• Despite numerous provisions in Indian law which promote the well-being of captive elephants, the situation on the ground with regard to the treatment being meted out to the captive elephants is dismal. In addition, Hon’ble High Courts of various states have also passed orders and given directions on issues relating to the management and safekeeping of these elephants. Therefore, there exists a large body of laws, rules and orders protecting elephants in captivity. Yet there is ample proof that these laws are blatantly disregarded causing a great deal of hardship to the elephants as well as society in general as accidents involving captive elephants often lead to loss of lives and damage to livelihoods and property.

• As the Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus) is a Schedule I species under the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972, transfer, acquisition, transport etc. of captive elephants is governed by the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972. Captive elephants are also protected by the provisions of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has also issued Guidelines for Care and Management of Captive Elephants in 2008. However, the implementation of the law and orders relating to captive elephants has been extremely poor.

• Despite a mandatory requirement under the Declaration of Wildlife Stock Rules 2003, many individuals and institutions have not declared the captive elephants in their custody to the concerned Chief Wildlife Warden of the State or obtained Ownership Certificates under Section 42 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972.

• The Task Force, constituted by Ministry of Environment and Forests, made several recommendations in this regard including the need to amend the provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972 to ensure better protection of captive elephants. It has been recommended that there should be a prohibition on the use of elephants in ‘exhibitions, circuses, weddings, unregulated tourism, public functions, begging or for other entertainment’. An emphasis has also been laid on improving the upkeep, maintenance and housing of captive elephants.

• There exists a constitutional imperative in accordance with Article 14, Article 21, Article 48A and 51A(g) of the Constitution of India to protect these elephants held in captivity, as there is towards other wild animals, as well as to prevent accidents that could endanger the lives of people.  

WRRC in its petition has prayed to the Supreme Court to direct the concerned Government agencies to take urgent measures to ensure the protection and welfare of the elephants. 

Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre BangaloreAt the Supreme Court so far

WRRC’s writ petition came up for hearing in the Supreme Court on 18 August 2015. Other animal welfare organizations also submitted their impleading petitions in the case. The Kerala government submitted a petition. Accepting Kerala’s petition, the SC Bench comprising Justice Deepak Misra and Justice Baumathi ordered as follows and dismissed it.

As per Indian Wildlife Act 1972, as submitted by the learned counsel of Kerala government under Section 21 or 22 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, as pointed out by the learned Solicitor General of India under Section 42 of the 1972 Act, and also based on the Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2012, the SC gave the following orders:

As far as the present issue is concerned, we are inclined to direct that the Chief Wild Life Warden shall see to it that all captive elephants in the State of Kerala are counted and in the absence of obtainment of requisite certificate under Section 42 of the 1972 Act and the declaration made under Section 40, appropriate action shall be initiated against the owners.

Every owner shall maintain an Elephant Data Book as specified by the Chief Wildlife Warden for each captive elephant. Transport norms for elephants must also be followed as specified in Rule 9. The said Rules shall be religiously followed by the owners failing which the authorities shall take appropriate action against them.

A District Committee constituted as per the 2012 rules to deal with the cases of cruelty meted out to captive elephants must have a member of AWBI (from January 2015) in addition to the members as per the 2012 rules.

The District Committee shall take necessary measures, to ensure that the Festival Committee constituted for the smooth conduct of festivals or the persons organizing such functions in which elephants are exposed, shall adhere to the following:

• There shall be sufficient space between elephants used in processions and parades.

• No elephants in musth shall be used in connection with festivals.

• Elephant which is sick, injured, weak or pregnant shall not be used.

• Chains and hobbles with spikes or barbs shall not be used for tethering elephants.

• Elephants shall not be made to walk on tarred roads during hot sun for a long duration without rest.

• Making an elephant stand in scorching sun for long duration or bursting crackers near the elephants for ceremonial purpose shall not be permitted.

• It shall be ensured that sufficient food and water for the elephants are provided.

• The Committee shall ensure that the flambeaus (theevetry) are held away from elephants. There shall be facility to keep elephants under shade during hot sun.

• It shall be ensured that adequate protection to the elephants taking part in celebrations through volunteers provided for the purpose.

• Services of veterinary doctor from the elephant squads shall be ensured in cases where five or more elephants are engaged in the festivals.

• The nearest Forest Range Officer / Police Officers shall be informed about the proposed festival / celebrations at least 72 hours in advance.

• During the procession the elephants shall have chains (idachangala and malachangala) tied to their leg.

• It shall be ensured that the mahouts are not intoxicated while handling elephants.

• The weaned calf below 1.5 m. height shall not be engaged for festival purposes.

• Sufficient rest has to be given to elephants which are engaged for “para procession”. Para procession shall be restricted to 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. only.

• During night-time, generators shall be provided to avoid any contingency due to failure of general power supply.

• It shall be ensured that elephants are brought under public liability insurance scheme for an amount of Rs. 3.00 lakhs per elephant.

On a perusal of the aforesaid Rules, it is clear as crystal that it obliges the District Committee to take necessary measures to ensure that the festival committee constituted for smooth conduct of the festivals or the persons organizing such functions in which elephants are exposed are required to adhere to many a measure. The District Committee is bound by the Rules and must see to it that the festival committees follow the same.

Temples or the devaswoms shall get themselves registered with the district committee within a period of six weeks from today. The temple and devaswom shall, apart from other formalities, also mention how many elephants will be used in any festival. It will be the obligation of the State to see that the registration is carried out. It shall be the duty of the State, the District Committee, Management of the Devaswom, Management of the Temple and the owners of the elephants to see that no elephant is subject to any kind of cruelty and, if it is found, apart from lodging of criminal prosecution, they shall face severe consequences which may include confiscation of the elephants to the State.

Gauri MaulekhiWith the above orders the SC disposed off the Intervening Applications and listed the writ petition after eight weeks. (Reference) 

Supreme Court stays Kerala government’s amnesty scheme 

Subsequent to the SC’s order, the Kerala government started registration of captive elephants in the state. In the process, it found that many persons owned elephants illegally. The elephant owners association pressurized the government to legalise such ownerships and give ownership certificates and licenses. Yielding to the pressure, the Kerala government issued a notification dated February 26, 2016, which offered amnesty period for the owners of 289 captive elephants without valid ownership certificates. 

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (India) sent a legal notice to the Kerala government seeking withdrawal of the above order, warning that the scheme would be a mockery of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which prohibits illegal capture, trade, and custody of wild animals such as elephants, as well as the purpose of the interim order of the Supreme Court of India dated August 18, 2015.

As the Kerala government did not reply to the notice, PETA and WRRC approached the SC. PFA (People For Animals) also submitted an intervening petition through its representative Ghauri Maulekhi. Accepting the petitions, the SC issued notice to the Kerala government to reply by 27 April 2016. Then, after hearing arguments, the SC on 4 May stayed the Kerala government’s order and cancelled the licenses issued to the owners based on that order and ordered the elephant owners association not to shift the elephants to other states. (Reference)

Meanwhile, WRRC added a video clipping comprising a few scenes from Sangita Iyer’s documentary Gods in Shackles by means of a CD material to its petition and submitted it to Supreme Court. The case, which came up for hearing on 21 September, has been adjourned.

» B. R. Haran is and independent senior journalist in Chennai. This series of articles will be continued.

Elephants at Guruvayur Temple

VIDEO: The Story of India – Will Durant

Will & Ariel Durant

Will Durant Quote

14 – Tamil Nadu in the grip of Jihad – Thamizhchelvan

Begumpur Mosque Dindigul

JournalistBegampur Mosque in the Muslim-dominated Begampur area of Dindigul. No procession of any kind is allowed to pass by the mosque. The mosque was built by Hyder Ali and is administered by the Prince of Arcot Trust. Since 1952 it has been serving as headquarters for the fundamentalist Sunni revivalist movement Tablighi Jamaat. – Thamizhchelvan

While the district of Ramanathapuram has become a hotbed for jihadi activities with a Muslim population of 20 per cent and being a fertile ground for all Islamic fundamentalist organisations, other districts of Tamil Nadu are not far behind. Some like Dindigul, Vellore, and Thirunelveli follow Ramanathapuram closely, with others catching up. The Hindu Munnani documentary depicts the jihadi activities taking place in 19 other districts as well.


In the Muslim-dominated Begampur area of Dindigul (Dindukkal), it is reported that no procession, whether a temple festival procession or funeral procession, is allowed to pass by the mosque. This mosque was built by Hyder Ali and has, since 1952, been serving as headquarters for the fundamentalist Tablighi Jamaat, a proselytizing and revivalist movement. The documentary asserts that this mosque has become a safe haven for fundamentalists and their activities.

Besides restricting processions, they do not allow even electoral campaigns in the area. On 18 April 2014, cadres of actor Vijayakanth’s DMDK were restricted from campaigning and were attacked when they persisted. The local inspector justified this, saying that the party cadres should not have come to the ‘prohibited area’. The police cannot take any kind of action against the community either for a traffic offence or a petty crime as the police station would be besieged by hundreds of Muslims protesting against the action.

A stupid Hindu girl riding to disaster!The documentary asserts that conversions and love jihad are happening in Dindigul. The brother of a girl who was converted through love jihad has testified in the documentary. A local BJP leader also testifies about the proselytizing activities of fundamentalist organisations, which run centers (“Arivagam”) for the purpose. Exclusive centres for women are also there. The documentary says that most of the cell phone service centers are owned by fundamentalists, who tacitly provide the numbers of Hindu girls to jihadis, Muslim auto drivers provide details of movement of Hindu girls.

Three years ago, when the Tamil Nadu government announced that it would construct a memorial for Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan as “freedom fighters”, members of Hindu Munnani protested and conducted a sustained and successful campaign against it. The Dindigul Hindus overwhelmingly supported the campaign leading to government dropping the idea of constructing the memorial on public land. During that campaign police filed cases against Hindu Munnani cadres for pasting posters in the town. But when posters appeared against the Hindu Munnani, the police refrained from filing cases and removed the posters themselves, as shown in the documentary.

The documentary says that several mosques have come up on all the bypass roads leading to Dindigul and most have become save havens for fundamentalists and their activities. Today, Dindigul town is literally under jihadi siege. Mohammed Haneefa alias “Tenkasi” Haneefa, an accused in a case pertaining to placing of pipe bombs along the route of BJP leader L. K. Advani’s rath yatra in 2011, was arrested when hiding in a mosque in Vathalagundu near Dindigul.

Palani, sacred abode of Lord Murugan, is in Dindigul district. Fundamentalists have encroached upon the footpath (taking shops on lease and sublease) leading to the hill shrine and indulged in sacrilegious and immoral activities. Finally the local Hindus had to file court cases leading to the court ordering the Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowment Department to clear the footpath leading to the shrine of encroachments. Senthil, who belongs to the organisation which filed the case, testifies in detail in the documentary.

Islamic fundamentalism has raised its head in places such as Sithaiyan Kottai, Aathoor, Aiyyampaalayam, Vathala Kundu, Nilakkottai, Chinnalappatti, Kodaikanal, Pazhani, Neykarapatti, Kalayamputhur, Aayakudi, Chathirapatti, Viruppaachi, Oddanchathiram, Kallimandayam, Kannivaadi, Sriramapuram, Vedasandur, Vadamadurai, Ayyalur, Kovilur, Kujiliyampaarai, Natham, Vempaarpatti, Gopalpatti, Sendhurai, Keeranoor, Maanoor, Balasamuthiram in Dindigul district.

M.H. JawahirullahSivaganga

Amidst several jihadi incidents, the documentary notes two specific issues in Sivaganga district. In the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Arvind Reddy in Vellore in 2012, the BJP organized a protest meeting at Illayangudi. Senior BJP leader and national general secretary H. Raja was addressing the gathering, condemning the effete police and the MLA Jawahirullah, when hundreds of fundamentalists belonging to TMMK pelted stones and threatened the leader and other functionaries. The meeting came to an abrupt end and the police simply registered cases against ‘unknown persons’ and allowed the case die a natural death. H. Raja explains the incident in detail in the documentary.

In another place called Piranmalai, extremists have been making bombs from a secret location in a nearby hill for years. A series of incidents have happened in Madurai in the last few years, though on a small scale, with bombs procured from this Piranmalai, which, due to police indifference, has become a den for terrorism.


In April 2014, Muruganandam, the BJP candidate for the Lok Sabha, was targeted by a mob while campaigning at Mallipattinam in Thanjavur district. When Muslims objected to his campaigning in the locality dominated by them, Muruganandam asserted his democratic right as a candidate and tried to continue campaigning. However, he and his party men were attacked. The police came and forced Muruganandam to leave the place. In the meantime, the jihadis, who indulged in violence, took refuge in a nearby mosque. The documentary shows the entire incident, at the end of which police were seen begging the jihadis to come out. They finally took a few jihadis sent by the leaders in the mosque for filing cases. Muruganandam explains the incident in detail in the documentary.

Conversion is also rampant in the district and the documentary details the conversion of four women (Lokeswari, Ambika, Sharmila and Kalaichelvi of Pasupathi Kovil area) and how they were separated from their families.


Muthupettai in Thiruvarur district is a den of Islamic fundamentalism. In December 2013, police caught hold of a drone that fell in a residential area, which belonged to one Thameem. It has the capacity to capture images in a periphery of 200 meters and record voices. A camera was also fitted in it. Yet, the police returned the drone to him terming it a play toy. The documentary questions this action as Muthupettai is notorious for jihadi activities and many smuggling activities are going on in the nearby coastal areas.


Nagapattinam is another coastal district fast catching up with Ramanathapuram in terms of Islamic fundamentalism. In a government-aided Muslim educational institution, Gavudhiya Higher Secondary School, a Hindu teacher, Selvaraj, was sent to prison on false charges of sexual harassment for being a supporter of Narendra Modi as the Prime ministerial candidate. Although the school management is aware of the truth, it was helpless due to the pressure exerted by the local MLA Nizamuddin.

The documentary describes the rampant conversions going on in Nagore and Nagapattinam. Hindu youth, both male and female, working in textile shops and mobile service outlets, which are mostly owned by Muslims, are extremely vulnerable to conversions. Most of these workers belong to the Scheduled Castes and are converted easily by threat and enticements. The documentary, citing the family of one Shanthi as example, asserts that more than 30 youth have been converted in Nagore alone and the organisation behind this is Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath.

The documentary also talks about secret terror training camps in Nagore. It cites a grove behind a restaurant called ‘Nice Hotel’ which allegedly serves as a den for fundamentalists. It shows various other incidents such as disruption of Hindu festivals, demeaning of Hindu Gods, encroachment of temple lands, etc., happening widely in Nagapattinam district, which is very fertile ground for fundamentalist organisations like PFI, TMMK and Thowheed Jamath.


Karaikkal, a town close to Nagore, is a part of the Union Territory of Pondicherry. When Al Umma was banned in Tamil Nadu for indulging in terrorist activities, including the RSS office bomb blasts and Coimbatore serial bomb blasts, the Pondicherry government refrained from banning it. This helped the organisation to create a den out of Karaikkal. So, Karaikkal, despite a low density Muslim population, served as a safe haven for the fundamentalist elements of nearby Tamil Nadu towns.

Here also Love jihad and subsequent conversion are rampant. Properties are being bought by Muslims on a large scale and obstruction of temple festivals and processions are widespread.


Parangipettai, a coastal town in Cuddalore district is another jihadi den. Gul Mohammed Maraikair (37) of Parangipettai was deported by Singapore when found influencing the Muslim youth there to join ISIS by giving them jihadi literature. He was also instrumental in influencing and sending one Fakrudheen from Singapore to Syria in July 2014. Fakrudheen, of Parangipettai, was working in Singapore while his parents are still in Cuddalore. He went to Syria directly from Singapore along with his family and is fighting for ISIS now.

One Ashraf Ali, an Indian Mujahideen operative from Rajasthan, was hiding here for a while before he was arrested by Rajasthan’s anti-terror squad in July 2014. Another resident of Parangipettai, Qutbuddhin, was picked up by the state police in connection with the murder of Hindu Munnani leader Suresh from Ambattur, Chennai.

When Tamil separatist actor, Seeman, president of ‘Naam Thamizhar Party.’ organized a public meeting in Cuddalore in support of LTTE and its late leader Prabhakaran, he had brought in Kashmiri separatist, Yasin Malik, to address the gathering in May 2013. The documentary shows Parangipettai as a breeding ground for jihadi terror.


Kanchipuram district, which is close to Chennai, has pockets of Islamic fundamentalism. Tambaram is one such pocket, where the TMMK is very strong. The organisation launched its political party, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi (MMK), here. The Tambaram market is dominated by fundamentalists who are creating all sorts of problems for Hindu traders; the documentary describes some incidents.

Similarly, Madippakkam is another area where jihad is on the rise. Encroachments and illegal constructions are going on by jihadis. Yakub, district president of TMMK, was involved in attacking the US Consulate in Chennai during protests against the film Innocence of Muslims.


Vellore district’s two towns, Ambur and Vaniyambadi, is another hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. With the support of a Dalit party, Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi, they fundamentalists attempted to convert a building near the famous Jalakandeswarar Temple inside Vellore Fort as a mosque. The Communists supported the move, but Hindus thwarted the move by forcing the authorities to act.

In a place called Sathuvachari, the fundamentalist attempted to encroach government land and build a mosque there. This move was also thwarted by Hindu Munnani.

When the Tamil daily, Dinamalar, carried a news item regarding the famous Danish Cartoons episode, thousands of Muslims laid siege at its office and the daily was forced to apologise and express regret in the following issue.

When the Railway Police intercepted and apprehended some suspects taking 52 children from West Bengal and Bihar by train at Katpadi Junction for interrogation, hundreds of fundamentalists gathered at the railway station to protest. Inquiries revealed that the children were being taken to a madrassa in Kerala. Officials from the Children Welfare Committee came and conducted further enquiry. As more fundamentalists started gathering at the station, the State’s Reserve Police intervened and arranged for special compartments and sent the children and the caretakers to Kerala by another train. However, the Children Welfare Committee officials were helpless and regretted the release of the children who were transported without valid documents by the caretakers. Both the Police and Child Welfare Board appeared impotent.

Following the successive murders of BJP leader Dr. Aravind Reddy and Hindu Munnani leader Vellaiyappan, the functionaries of both the organisations have become vulnerable. As the Police have been found wanting, especially after the infamous Ambur riots, Islamic aggression continues unabated in the district.


In December 2012, Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath distributed handbills denigrating Hindu saint Vadalur Ramalinga Vallalar. When Hindu Munnani lodged a complaint with the Triplicane Police, they refrained from taking any action.

Mannady is notorious for jihadi activities. On 23 February 2014, jihadis molested a Hindu girl and assaulted her brother as well. When the city Hindu Munnani secretary Elango went to the local police station to lodge a complaint against the jihadis, his car was attacked and he was threatened. The police, instead of taking action against the jihadis, pleaded to Elango not to aggravate matters. Elango has given a detailed description of the incident in the documentary. The Police filed a petty case under Section 75 against the jihadis, so that they can get out with just a nominal fine.

In January 2014, jihadis attempted a murderous assault on Sri Vedantam, former International Working President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, when he was going to Washermanpet to inaugurate a few local units of VHP. He explains the inaction of police in the matter, in the documentary.

P. JainulabdeenJihadis attempted to unleash terror at the Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair in 2014. Apprehended students, who intruded at the fair, were in possession of stall details, international debit cards, mobile SIM cards of other States, etc. The cadres of Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath immediately assembled near the vicinity of the fair and protested against the arrest of the three jihadi students.

The Hindu Munnani office at Chintadripet has been receiving “threat letters” quite often, and till date the police could not find out the culprits and solve a single case. The threats varied from threatening to liquidate the leaders of Hindu organisations to demolition of temples by bombs.

The documentary shows a clipping wherein, Jainulabdeen, President of Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath, openly says that his organisation threw bombs at cinema director Mani Ratnam’s house (for showing Kashmiri terrorists in his film, Roja) and threatened Kamalhasan. Till date the Police have not taken any action against him.

Chennai city has borne the brunt of Islamic aggression (protests against movies such as Innocence of Muslims, Vishwaroopam, Thuppakki)  many times. Assaults and murders have also been committed by jihadis in Chennai and the city continues to be vulnerable.

Other districts

The documentary also describes jihadi activities in other districts such as Vizhupuram, Thirunelveli, Theni, Madurai, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Kanyakumari, Thoothukudi, etc. It describes in detail activities such as murders, assaults, love jihad, conversions and training centers (“Arivagam”), encroachments of temple and public lands, besieging police stations and media houses, obstructing Hindu festivals and processions, unchecked construction of mosques disproportionate to their population, indulged in by jihadis. Arivagam claims to have converted and trained thousands of youth.

The documentary lists 26 organisations which indulge in all kinds of fundamentalist activities in the State. It establishes how the Government is pandering to jihadis by a policy of appeasement, and how the State Police have become ineffective and inefficient due to the policy of the Government.

(To be concluded…)

The complete district wise documentation of jihadi activities can be viewed on the video below, Youtube link: Tamil Nadu under Jihadi Siege – Part 2

In defence of Indian science – Michel Danino

Pingala with Surya and Dandi

Prof Michel DaninoLet me clarify that I have not attempted to prove that India “invented the zero,” as is often and wrongly stated. The Mesopotamians, the Mayans and the Chinese all had some concept of a zero, mostly as a place-holder—just as it was used in India before the place-value system spread across the subcontinent. India’s unique contribution … was to integrate the zero in a positional system, in a way that zero now became a mathematical operator. – Prof Michel Danino

Dr Meera NandaStudies of India’s ancient scientific accomplishments have seen two extremes: At one end of the spectrum, daydreamers fancy that the Vedas knew everything from electricity to interplanetary travel, that vimānas crisscrossed Indian skies millenniums ago, or that Aryabhata invented all mathematics. At the other end, gainsayers bristle at the thought that some science might not have emerged from the “Greek miracle”: Indian scientific advances can only be borrowed or derivative, its imperfections and errors alone being original contributions, while its rational elements ultimately stem from contact with the Greeks; Indian savants knew no experimental science, followed no proper axiomatic method, and in any case ended up in stagnation, while Europe galloped forth triumphantly and gave us the boon of “modern science”.

With minor variations and boring predictability, the two scenarios are repeated decade after decade, while serious scholars—both Indian and Western—quietly and patiently generate solid material which, in a normal (rational?) world, should suffice to dismiss dreamers and gainsayers alike to the obscurity they deserve. Indeed, ridiculing the former is easy, and occasionally needs to be done. Exposing the latter, however, is less commonly done, as they often conceal their biases or ignorance behind academic posts and imposing jargon.

A recent case in point is Meera Nanda, who has been for some years on a self-appointed mission to expose all claims to knowledge by (let us lump them together, as she does) Hindu enthusiasts, nationalists, right-wingers or Hindutva activists. Her latest contribution, “Hindutva’s science envy” (Frontline, August 31), blames in a vast sweep “the current crop of Hindu nationalists and their intellectual enablers” for being the progeny of thinkers like “Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya, Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswati, Annie Besant (and fellow Theosophists), Sarvepalli Radhakrishanan, M. S. Golwalkar and countless other gurus, philosophers and propagandists”—doubtless a most despicable crowd!

I will not deal with Nanda’s personal attacks on past and present figures, but will confine myself to discussing the considerable distortions in her two case studies of Indian mathematics: the case for early Indian knowledge of the Pythagoras theorem, and India’s claim to be “the birthplace of the sunya, or zero.”

The Pythagoras Theorem

Nanda attacks the view that Baudhāyana’s Shulbasūtras, a text of geometry for the construction of fire altars, which she dates “anywhere between 800 and 200 BCE,” knew the Pythagoras theorem (on right-angled triangles) before the Greek savant himself. Thus, Nanda informs us, Pythagoras “comes in for a lot of abuse in India.” But this view is not that of hot-headed enthusiasts; it was stated as early as in 1822 by the British astronomer John Playfair (“On the Astronomy of the Brahmins”): “It is curious to find the theorem of Pythagoras in India, where, for aught we know, it may have been discovered.” The eminent historian of Indian mathematics Bibhutibhushan Datta (in his Ancient Hindu Geometry of 1932) showed that knowledge of the “theorem” was actually traceable to the much earlier Taittirīya Samhitā (also known as Krishna Yajurveda) and Shatapatha Brāhmana, the first of which dates back to 1000 BCE at the least. In his landmark 1960 paper on “The Ritual Origin of Geometry”, the U.S. mathematician and historian of mathematics A. Seidenberg independently reached similar conclusions: “The Pythagoras theorem … was known and applied at the time of the Taittiriya Samhita.” Playfair, Datta or Seidenberg were not members of the Sangh Parivar, to my knowledge; neither can they be blamed for “abusing” Pythagoras.

Nanda proceeds to ridicule the thesis that the Greek savant might have come to India to learn geometry “from Hindu gurus,” unaware that the said thesis emerged not from one of her bêtes noires, but from a few minor neo-Platonic Greek texts picked up and amplified by Enlightenment philosophers such as Voltaire, the French astronomer Jean-Sylvain Bailly (in 1777) or the British Edward Strachey (1813).

Nanda then points out that the Mesopotamians knew the theorem about 1800 BCE, which “blows holes through much of the case for Baudhayana’s priority.” Strictly speaking, all that the Mesopotamian tablets in question show is an acquaintance with certain sets of Pythagorean triplets; this may or may not imply knowledge of the theorem in its general form (as given in the Shulbasūtras). Even if conceding that the Mesopotamians did know that general form, as is likely, does this badly puncture the Indian text’s “priority”? Not necessarily, since the Shulbasūtras enshrine a geometrical tradition much older than the texts themselves, as Datta and Seidenberg demonstrated. How much older is a matter of speculation in the absence of clinching evidence.

But why should “priority” matter so much, after all? Nanda does not cite a single serious scholar, not even a “nationalist” one, who worries about it. Historians of mathematics rightly prefer to concentrate on understanding how each geometrical tradition—Mesopotamian, Greek, Indian or Chinese—approached and applied the theorem, or whether (as Seidenberg concluded) the first three traditions had a common origin.

Pythagoras in China

Nanda then informs us—and this is supposed to be very damaging—that the first “proof” of the Pythagoras theorem is found not in the Shulbasūtras but in a Chinese text of unknown authorship, Chou Pei Suan Ching, “dated anywhere from 1100 to 600 BCE.” In current spelling, this is the Zhou Bi Suan Jing (“Mathematical Classic of the Zhou Gnomon”), which was “most probably compiled no later than the first century BCE,” according to Joseph W. Dauben, a distinguished historian of science and expert on Chinese mathematics (I borrow his translation of the work’s title). Christopher Cullen, another respected expert, agrees that the text “was probably assembled under the Western Han dynasty during the first century BC.” In fact, Joseph Needham, the noted pioneer of history of Chinese science, one of Nanda’s only two references in this whole issue, mocks those who “would cheerfully put the Chou Pei 1000 years too early” and accepts a date in the Han dynasty, that is, between 206 BCE and 220 CE.

This brings in an interesting aside: Nanda, as we saw, was willing to stretch Baudhāyana’s date to 200 BCE, while most scholars have him earlier than 500 BCE (even to “800–600 BCE,” to quote the U.S. historian of Indian mathematics Kim Plofker); in contrast, Nanda curiously ages the Chinese text by at least five centuries, taking it before 600 BCE—a neat somersault to suggest Chinese “priority” over the Indian text! (Of course, as pointed out by Needham and others, the Zhou Bi Suan Jing integrates older material and practices, but so do the Shulbasūtras.)

Such double standards apply to her statement that the first Indian proof, by Bhāskarāchārya in the 12th century CE, is “an ‘exact reproduction’ of the Chinese” one. This, she claims, was stated by Needham “and many others” (whom we shall not know). Actually, Bhāskara in his Bījaganita mentions two proofs which he attributes to tradition (and therefore of uncertain but older dates). One is rāshigata (arithmetical); the second, kshetragata (based on geometric algebra), does bear some likeness to the Chinese proof—but equally to the Shulbasūtra-type of constructions.

The evidence, again, is not clinching: Nanda fails to realize that likeness alone is no proof of borrowing—neither from India to China (as she blames unnamed “Indocentric historians” for always assuming) nor from China to India, as she herself favours. The methodology serious scholars follow is to note similarities and chronologies, whenever unambiguous, but to refrain from conclusions until an actual chain of transmission can be objectively established.

Finally, why should Nanda ridicule the “longstanding demand of Hinducentric historians that the theorem should be renamed ‘Baudhayana theorem’ ”? Note, once again, that she does not cite a single such historian or source to that effect; even assuming such a demand has been made, it is by no means without justification, since Baudhāyana is undeniably one of the early mathematicians to formulate the theorem (which in Greece was not formulated, let us recall, until 300 BCE by Euclid). However, let us recall that mathematicians have renamed series discovered in Europe by Newton, Leibniz or Gregory as “Mādhava–Newton,” “Mādhava–Leibniz” and “Mādhava–Leibniz–Gregory” series—after Mādhava, the fourteenth-century founder of the famous Kerala School of mathematics and astronomy, who discovered the said series long before European mathematicians. Similarly, a better term for the Pythagoras theorem would have to be “Baudhāyana–Zhou Bi–Pythagoras theorem” (in whatever order). It is far too unwieldy ever to be adopted, yet would be accurate, historically justified, and certainly no insult to Pythagoras, who made a profound impact on Greek and later Western thought without leaving behind a single written work.

The Zero and the Decimal Place-Value System

Meera Nanda moves on to the notion that “Bharat gave zero to the world,” which she calls “the sacred cow of Hindu sciences.” Her all-too-predictable line is that China is the likeliest source for both the concept of zero and the positional decimal system of numeral notation. That system—the one the whole world uses today—is technically called “decimal place-value system of numeral notation,” since the value of a numeral depends on its place: 261 is not the same as 621 (whereas the value of XXIII, 23 in Roman numbers, does not change if the two Xs are switched: it is not a positional system).

Nanda cites Needham (who wrote on Chinese mathematics in 1959) and a more recent scholar, Lam Lay Yong, to suggest the “possibility of the South-East Asian transmission of zero from China.” She complains that Lam’s “rigorously argued and evidence-backed thesis” has met with a “deafening silence” in India. What are the “rigorous arguments,” then?

First, “the absence of place value in Indian numerals until around the sixth century of the Common Era, and secondly, [the fact] that the first physical evidence of zero comes not from India but from Cambodia [in 683 CE] and other South-East Asian countries that lie between India and China.” Nanda combines the second point with Needham’s and Lam’s thesis to argue that the mathematical zero is traceable to China, not India.

There is nothing wrong in giving credit where credit is due, and ancient Chinese civilization did witness brilliant advances in mathematics and other sciences, not to speak of technologies, often far ahead of the rest of the world. As it happens, however, Nanda’s two arguments can only be maintained by sweeping under the (Chinese silk) carpet a mountain of evidence. Needham could be excused for advancing them six decades ago (far more tentatively and detachedly than does Nanda), but fresh material has come to light since his pioneering research, all of which Nanda ignores. The work of epigraphists and historians of science, both Indian and non-Indian, all of it equally “rigorously argued and evidence-backed,” now permits a definite answer.

As a complete survey of the evidence would easily fill a thick tome (the French historian of mathematics, George Ifrah, devotes over 200 pages of his monumental Universal History of Numbers to the Indian systems and the zero), I will restrict myself to a few instances (and can supply references on request). Let us begin with three inscriptions deciphered by D. C. Sircar, from all accounts the greatest post-Independence authority on Indian epigraphy:

The Mankuwar Buddha image stone inscription of 428 CE includes a “small globular symbol” representing zero. This is not a positional context, however: zero here acts as a mere place-holder.

The Dabok stone inscription (near Udaipur, Rajasthan) bears the date of “701” (in the Vikrama Samvat era, that is, 644 CE, again not in a true positional fashion, but with a symbol for 700 followed by a dot (zero as a place-holder) and 1.

The Khandela stone inscription of Rajasthan gives its date as “201”, now in the proper positional system, and with a small circle for the zero. Sircar applied the date to the Harsha era, which yielded 807 CE.

The Mankuwar and Dabok inscriptions, both of which antedate the Cambodian inscription of 683 CE, are conclusive epigraphic evidence for an early use of the symbol for zero in India (initially in non-positional systems). Even the common notion, relayed by Nanda, that the zero in a positional context is first depicted in India in the Gwalior inscription of 876 CE is belied by the Khandela inscription.

Besides, the famous Bakhshāli manuscript, a mathematical work dated to the 7th century CE by the Japanese scholar Takao Hayashi, author of the most thorough study on it (of course, others have proposed older as well as more recent dates), manipulates numbers in the decimal place-value system, with the zero represented as a dot.

In fact, many more inscriptions bearing a symbol for the zero (always a bindu or small circle) predate the Cambodian one. I have not listed them as they are on copper plates, and according to Nanda, “many of [the copper land-grant plates] have been later proven to be fake.” The trick of declaring “many” (how many?) copper-plate inscriptions “fake” has long been resorted to whenever their dates proved inconvenient to the prevailing theories—but the said “fakeness” is almost never “proven”; it is no more than a matter of opinion. That is what happened to the well-known copper-plate inscription of Sankheda (Bharuch), which records its date as “346” in a local era, equivalent to 596 CE. Its authenticity was questioned but, as Bibhutibhushan Datta (with A. N. Singh) and Ifrah independently explained at length, without valid ground. In any case, stone inscriptions such as the above cannot be faked.

Ifrah’s conclusion as regards the epigraphic evidence is categorical: “There exist very numerous records [other than the Sankheda inscription] of perfect authenticity which prove beyond dispute that the zero and the positional decimal numeral system are definitely—and solely—of Indian origin, and that its discovery goes back to a far more ancient period than the oldest known inscription on a copper plate.”

Are Inscriptions the Only Evidence?

The strongest evidence is however not of epigraphic nature. Consider:

The system of computation found in Pingala’s Chhandasūtra (variously dated between 400 and 200 BCE), a set of rules on Sanskrit prosody, used a binary system to classify all possible metres (no numerals are involved, let us note, only Sanskrit letters and syllables). In the course of the calculations, which demand a place-value notation, Pingala refers to the symbol for shūnya or zero, which, as the historian of science S. R. Sarma demonstrated, had to be an integral part of the system. This does seem to be its conceptual origin, after which it took a whole millennium to be worked out with numerals and to spread across the subcontinent, and beyond.

The Buddhist philosopher Vasumitra (1st century CE) wrote, “When [the same] clay counting-piece is in the place of units, it is denoted as one, when in hundreds, one hundred, when in thousands, a thousand,” which is plainly a positional system of counting. A few Jain savants between 100 BCE and 100 CE have been credited with similar statements, but more research is required to bring out their contributions. Vyāsabhāshya, before 400 CE, made a statement similar to Vasumitra’s: “The same stroke [i.e., numeral 1] denotes 100 in the hundreds place, 10 in tens place and 1 in units place.”

Sphujidhvaja’s Yavana Jātaka, an adaptation of a Greek work on astrology, gives its own date in a system called bhūta-samkhyā which is strictly equivalent to the decimal positional system; the date is 191 of the Shaka era, that is, 269 CE. Concludes Kim Plofker, “Evidently, then, positional decimal numerals were a familiar concept at least by the middle of the third century, at least to the audience for astronomical and astrological texts.”

Lokavibhāga, a Jain text of 458 CE, explicitly uses (with words rather than numerals) the modern place-value system along with zero.

Āryabhata, who wrote his celebrated Āryabhatīya about 500 CE, spelt out a number of rules for mathematical and astronomical applications. Although he created his own semi-positional system of numeral notation based on Sanskrit syllables, that system will not work for the algorithms he formulated for the extraction of square and cube roots instance, among other procedures: only the full-fledged place-value system with zero, as we know it today, will work with such algorithms. This was briefly noted two decades ago by the current Indian doyen of historians of science, R. C. Gupta, then was amplified by Ifrah, who offered a rigorous mathematical proof of this, which anyone familiar with school-level maths can follow. This is irrefutable evidence that the modern system was well known to the Indian scientific community in the 5th century CE.

Subandhu, in his Vāsavadattā of the 6th or 7th century CE (but dated two or three centuries earlier), compared stars to shūnya bindus, that is, “zero dots”.

Finally, in 662 CE, the Syrian bishop Severus Sebokht wrote about “the science of the Indians … their subtle discoveries in astronomy, discoveries that are more ingenious than those of the Greeks and the Babylonians, and their valuable methods of calculation which surpass description … done by means of nine signs.” This is a clear reference to the place-value system, which will not permit “valuable methods of calculation” without the integration of zero. Why should a Christian bishop go out of his way to acknowledge the scientific advances of “Pagans” if there was not good ground to do so? Let us note the date, 221 years before the Cambodia inscription.

I wonder why Nanda is “deafeningly silent” about such incontrovertible evidence, some of which was discussed as early as in 1929 by the U.S. Sanskritist W. E. Clark. Even the highly conservative historian of Indian astronomy David Pingree conceded that “there is evidence in Buddhist and Jaina texts of uncertain date, but near the beginning of the Common Era, that a decimal place-value system was in use, but there is no certain evidence that a symbol for zero was in place before the fifth century A.D.” As we saw, the second part of his statement can arguably be pushed back by two or three centuries, but it is good enough for our present purpose.

From India to China?

Desperate to somehow connect the issue to Hindutva propaganda (apparently Sangh Parivar hotheads discuss the “sacred cow” of the numeral system everyday at breakfast), Meera Nanda makes it appear as a recent one. In reality, the debate of the origins of the place-value numeral system and the zero goes back well over a century and initially was conducted wholly among Western scholars. Leaving aside Alexander Wylie, who wrote in 1897, let me come to the British scholar G. R. Kaye, author of studies on Indian mathematics and astronomy and a strong proponent of the colonial prejudices that Indians could have created no science of their own: it had to be always derivative, borrowed the Greeks, the Persians or the Chinese. As a result he declared all early Indian inscriptions to be “fakes” and insisted that the place-value system originated in Southeast Asia under Chinese influence and travelled thence to India—a thesis he first formulated in 1907, and which is almost verbatim Nanda’s. A couple of decades later, the French scholar George Coedès, revered as the “unchallenged dean of Southeast Asian classical scholarship” and author of numerous volumes of inscriptions from all “Hinduized states of Southeast Asia,” as he called them, gently rebuked Kaye for his “strange opinion” and plainly favoured an Indian origin.

In fact, according to Needham himself, “The circular symbol for zero is first found in print in the Su Shu Chiu Chang of Chhin Chiu-Shao(+1247), but many have believed that it was in use already during the preceding century at least.” Thus the Chinese depiction of the zero is not only centuries later than the Indian inscriptions we saw above; it is also some 500 years more recent than the Cambodia inscription Nanda makes so much of: if the latter is evidence of Chinese influence, as she argues, why do we not have much earlier depictions of the zero in China itself?

And while Nanda is so sensitive to unnamed “Hinducentric historians,” she ought to know that Chinese scholars are far more nationalistic as a rule than their Indian counterparts. This is the case of Lam Lay Yong cited by Nanda; Lam’s theory of the Chinese origin of the place-value system is neither “rigorous” nor “evidence-based,” as she completely ignores the Indian evidence (as a glance at the bibliography of the revised 2004 edition of her Fleeting Footsteps: Tracing the Conception of Arithmetic and Algebra in Ancient China, co-authored with Ang Tian Se, will show). Lam is no doubt a sound scholar of early Chinese mathematics, but she is ill-qualified for crosscultural studies, which is why her thesis, first propounded over 30 years ago, has met with no growing acceptance, despite to Nanda’s assertion to the contrary.

Indeed, in a review of their book, the noted Sinologist Jean-Claude Martzloff was critical of Lam’s and Ang’s approach as regards India: referring to the early Tang dynasty or 7th century CE as “a period of intense contacts between China and India (where the concept of zero in its written form was already developed),” Martzloff pointed out that “Chinese translations of Indian mathematical and astronomical texts were made at this time and one of these, dated 712 AD, mentions precisely an Indian written zero in the form of a small dot. This aspect of the question is well documented, and certain of these translations have even survived. Still more significantly, the representation of numbers in Chinese Buddhist literature is often borrowed from Indian culture, especially in the form of phonetical transliterations of Sanskrit words into Chinese. Conversely, as far as I know, Chinese mathematical terms have never been detected in Indian or Islamic technical literature. Unfortunately, these aspects of the problem are passed over in silence in Fleeting Footsteps.”

That is the crux of the whole issue: while no positive evidence of Chinese transmission to India exists as far as the number system is concerned, there is plenty in the opposite direction, as many scholars have documented. But even a brief survey of India’s contributions to Chinese mathematics would require another longish article, and it is now time to rest my case.

Concluding Thoughts

First, let me clarify that I have not attempted to prove that India “invented the zero,” as is often and wrongly stated. The Mesopotamians, the Mayans and the Chinese all had some concept of a zero, mostly as a place-holder (just as it was used in India before the place-value system spread across the subcontinent). India’s unique contribution, as explained by Ifrah with meticulous care, was to integrate the zero in a positional system, in a way that zero now became a mathematical operator. Again, let us give credit where credit is due.

Secondly, there is no need to be obsessed with “priority,” unless clear evidence is available, much less with supposed “superiority”. There is also nothing wrong in discussing the occasional errors of Indian savants (Āryabhata, for instance, gives wrong formulas for the volume of the pyramid and the sphere; his diameters for the planets and the sun are also far too small). Indian mathematics rests on many well-documented breakthroughs from the Shulbasūtras to the Kerala School, especially in geometry, algebra and calculus; that is more than sufficient. Indian students, if those breakthroughs were not inexplicably concealed from them, would have a better and more intelligent appreciation of their country’s intellectual history.

Meera Nanda, clearly, wants none of this to happen. She is no doubt entitled to her opinions, neo-colonial prejudices and even pet hates, but disregarding or concealing all material that runs counter to one’s choices is poor scholarship. Worse, misleading the lay public into believing that the genuine accomplishments of early and classical Indian mathematics and astronomy are no more than Hindutva-created fictions reflects a jaundiced view of the whole field which not even the most contemptuous colonial scholar would have dreamt of. The mind boggles, and I wonder what Nanda’s next targets will be. I wish her well in her explorations, but hope she will first study basic research methodology, without which no scholarly work can endure. – The New Indian Express, 13-14 October 2016


Except for long vowels, I have made no attempt to use standard diacritics for Sanskrit words, opting instead for spellings closer to their actual pronunciation. “BCE” and “CE” stand for “Before Common Era” (or BC) and “Common Era” (AD). I am thankful to Dr. M. D. Srinivas for a few inputs on Bhāskarāchārya’s treatment of the so-called Pythagoras theorem and on Lam Lay Yong’s work.
Prof Michel Danino’s main interests lie in Indian protohistory and the history of Indian science and technology; he has also authored a few papers and educational modules on the latter. He teaches at IIT Gandhinagar and is a member of ICHR. Email:

Bakhshali Numerals


St Thomas Mount closed to public – HinduPost Staff

St Thomas Mount

HinduPostThe Catholic Church in Bharat acts like a state within a state in the Union of Bharat yet gives its feudal allegiance to the Pope in Rome! – HinduPost Staff

A tweet series on popular St. Thomas Mount in Chennai caught social media’s attention recently. This Mount is a beautiful hill located close to Chennai international airport. Many Christians in Bharat believe the myth that Thomas the Apostle stayed and was “martyred” on this hill, although researchers and scholars have found no evidence to back this claim. The St. Thomas Garrison Church is located at the bottom of this hill. A shrine dedicated to Mary was supposedly built in 1523 on top of the mount, by invading Portugese colonials. A flight of 160 steps leads up to the summit of the mount.

The tweet series mentioned that off late the shrine management has started restricting people who wish to come to the hill for activities other than praying; boards have been put up banning activities like walking, jogging, exercising etc on the hill.

St Doink Tweets

As mentioned in the tweet series, this board restricting entry has been put at the foot of the hill which clearly says morning and evening exercises are ‘banned’ on the hill :

St Thomas Mount Notice Board

Mr G. Christuraj, who is the Parish Priest & Rector at St. Thomas Mount National Shrine about this issue. We asked him if such boards have indeed been put aimed at banning the usual activities of residents / visitors other than praying, and if the entire hill is owned by the shrine management.

He confirmed that boards have been put up at both gates at the bottom of the hill to prevent morning / evening walking and exercises. The reason he gave is that people were misusing the “privilege” granted by the Church Management, and disturbing the prayer activities. He said that people can still access the hill for walking, jogging, exercises on the following conditions:

1. They should be “appropriately dressed”.

2. They should avoid coming during Church prayer times (morning, noon and evening).

3. They cannot come right to the top where the shrine is located unless they wish to pray.

Mr Christuraj claimed that the entire hill is owned by the Archdiocese of Madras—Mylapore, which comes under the Roman Catholic Church of India. It was originally “owned” by Portuguese missionaries who transferred control to the Church. He also added that locals themselves have expressed concern that some were using the hill as a “lovers park”, and hence the management had decided to take this step. He also confirmed that Army’s OTA (Officers Training Academy) too uses the hill at times (around once a month) but that is done with permission of the Church management.

But the signage boards clearly mention “banned” and hence, going by the above conversation with Mr. Christuraj, the text on the signage boards needs to be corrected—as walking is not “banned” but “restricted”. Mr Christuraj’s claim the entire hill is owned by the Catholic Church also needs to be probed.

Catholic Church: Largest non-agricultural land owner in Bharat

It is surprising that large pieces of land are still under the exclusive control of various Churches in Bharat, which were allotted to them as grants by British and other invaders. Unfortunately, these parts of land were not nationalized after independence. In various states, land reforms were effected which aimed at distributing the land evenly but it seems that land owned by Churches was not touched. There are very few details available on the internet and there is hardly any transparency in information regarding minute details of land owned by various Christian organizations and churches. As per this article written in 2014,  Catholic Church owns the largest portion of Bharat’s non-agricultural land. Note: this does not include the land holdings of the Protestant Churches and other Christian sects.

According to the census of 2011, official records state Christian population as approximately 27.8 million, constituting 2.3 percent of total Bharat’s population. So organizations that control just 2.3% of population own the largest portion of land after government in this country. How much more skewed can the allocation of this most valuable resource be?

In the past, Catholic groups have expressed concerns and asked for a white paper on land dealings by the Church bishops and related powerful people, as this news report suggests. The Catholic Church in Bharat acts like a state within a state in the Union of Bharat yet gives its feudal allegiance to the Pope in Rome. Contrast this to the way many large Hindu temples are controlled by the Government, donations offered by devotees siphoned off, and temple lands sold / leased for a pittance or encroached by political-criminal mafias.

While the Church and its organizations exercise absolute control over land allotted to it by old colonial masters, pastors attempting conversions to Christianity have dared to enter holy Hindu lands like sacred Tirumala hills.

The Church in Bharat should seriously consider giving up a large chunk of its humongous land holdings, much of it in prime urban areas, which was bequeathed to it by European colonials who captured the same from natives. This land should be redistributed to benefit local communities. Or the Government has to take steps to nationalize this land bank currently under Church control, and use the same in a transparent manner for the nation’s development. – HinduPost, 16 September 2016

Our Lady of Expectation Church on St Thomas Mount

See also

  1. A Feast of St Thomas – Ishwar Sharan
  2. Pope Benedict denies St Thomas evangelized South India – Ishwar Sharan
  3. The Legend of St Thomas in India is neither factual nor secular – Koenraad Elst