Yavanas in India

The following are pertinent extracts from ‘Early India: From the origins to AD 1300’ by Emeritus Prof. R. Thapar. They should put to rest any exaggerated claims about Hellenic Greek influence in ‘India.’ The author distinguishes between Greeks from the Mediterranean (Hellenic) and Hellenistic culture in West Asia. She also makes clear that the word ‘Yavana’ applied (until recently) to all Westerners in the Punjab to terrain further East.

“In 327 BC Alexander, continuing his march across the empire of Darius, entered the Indian provinces. The Greek campaign in north-western India lasted for about two years. It made little lasting impression historically or politically in India, and not even a mention of Alexander is to be found in any Indian source.”

“A significant outcome of Alexander’s campaign, that was neither political nor military, was that he had with him literate Greeks who recorded their impressions of India … They sometimes provide a corrective to the fantasies in other Greek accounts, even though in these the imagination of the authors is not always curbed.”

“One of the enduring images was that of Alexander in conversation with sophists … This image was seminal to the view that Indian ideas entered the Hellenistic and Mediterranean world subsequent to Alexander and contributed to various schools of thought that did not necessarily conform to established views in the European tradition.”

“Indians, on the other hand, did not say much about the Greeks, and what they did say varies. The term used for them was Yavana … Yavana became a generic term for people coming from the West and was used as recently as the last century. Some later brahmanical texts were bitterly uncomplimentary and hateful about the Yavanas, perhaps because of a lingering memory of Alexander’s hostility to the brahmans during his campaign …” (Note: allegedly, he had a large number of them put to death.)

“The mingling of Hellenistic Greeks and Indians in the second century BC came about through the Hellenistic kings, who ruled in the north-west as successors to those who had succeeded Alexander. Some differentiate between the Greco-Bactrians who ruled over Bactria and the Indo-Greeks who included India in their domain; others refer to them as Indo-Bactrian Greeks or use Indo-Greeks in a more general sense. Indian sources refer to them as Yavanas.

This term makes no distinction between what some would call the Hellenic Greeks, living on the mainland of the peninsula of Greece, and the Hellenistic Greeks. The latter were those of Greek descent or of mixed descent, but broadly conforming to Greek Culture and living in the eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. Hellenistic culture drew on Greco-Roman culture of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Iranian sources and some Central Asian influence, and can be regarded initially as Greco-Roman colonial culture.”

“The Greek settlements in Bactria traced their origins to the Achaemenid period (c. fifth century BC) when the Persian kings settled Greek exiles in the region. These were reinforced by Greek artisans settling in the cities of Bactria.”

“The history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed mainly on the evidence of their coins. … The coins are symbolic of an intermingling of Hellenistic with Indian or Iranian cultures.”

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Merchants in the temple

Gianluigi Nuzzi’s ‘ Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis’ secret battle against corruption in the Vatican’ (published 2015) is, according to the author, based on confidential information to which he had been given access.

The back cover says: “Based on confidential information – including top-secret documents from inside the Vatican and actual transcripts of Pope Francis’s admonishments to the papal court about the lack of financial oversight and responsibility – Merchants in the Temple illustrates all the undercover work conducted by the Pope since his election and shows the reader who his real enemies are. It reveals the instruments Francis is using to reform the Vatican and rid it, once and for all, of the overwhelming corruption traditionally entrenched in the Roman Catholic Church.”

The cover also shows these reviews. “A truly shocking, shameful story of waste and corruption within the vast network of Vatican finances … a provocative work of dogged investigative research.” (Kirkus Review)

“The author’s analysis of the numbers and account of the byzantine internal politics are thoroughly convincing … These revelations should make the need for urgent reform obvious to the world outside the walls of the Vatican.” (Fortune)

The book includes the role of Australian Cardinal Pell in the Pope’s efforts to effect change.

The book concludes with the question “Will the Pope win the battle?” and the statement “… Italian prosecutors who are expert in organised crime … have repeatedly expressed their fear about threats to Pope Francis’ safety.”

An incredible amount of detail is available in the book, and its ‘Notes.’ Yet, under the heading “Where does the money for the poor end up, the book states  … we know how much has been collected from the faithful but not how it is spent.”

“In other words, of the 53.2 million taken through Peter’s Pence (2012) – to which we would add 3 million in interest payments – a good 35.7 million (67 percent) was spent on the Curia and another 6.3 million (12.4 percent) was not used, set aside as reserves of the Peter’s Pence fund.” “In practice, to date, the offerings for the poor are still a black hole: absolute secrecy on how the money is spent …”

(A fascinating book. But, “corruption in the Vatican”? By religious leaders? Of the largest institutional religion in the world? Whose theology dominates Australia’s social policy?)

The British came – and went (Part 1 )

In 2012, when I felt keenly that I could hear the whisper of the wings of Death, I wrote 44 articles (of a somewhat intellectual flavour) for exinearticles.com. I wished to leave my thoughts on some serious topics.

Since then, each month, a number of readers have looked at my articles. The article attracting the most interest is titled “The pros and cons of British colonialism.”

That anyone could find any benefits to a subject society from European colonialism must attract some attention. To then find that the author is a former colonial subject who is avowedly anti-colonial (but clearly not anti-British), would be more surprising.

The principal benefit I and my age cohort received in British Malaya was a sound education in English. This was based on a curriculum in Britain. It was truly broad-based. My classmates succeeded in various disciplines post-school, studying in Britain and certain colonial outposts offering competitive professional qualifications. One classmate became a professor at Harwell, UK, the atomic research institution.

Our education was, in my experience, superior to that provided to my offspring in Australia. This assessment is based upon my substantial involvement in the education system in the national capital. My children’s education was superior to that offered to their children. By then, there were many fads creeping into what should have been a focused preparation of the nation’s youth to become viable in a highly competitive global realm.

My first grandchild, near the end of her second year in school, could not read. Why? Phonics was out – by fiat, by the teaching profession. The rationale? Semantically unclear verbiage of such a high abstraction that one would need a bank of anvils to ground the attempted rationale to an operationally-definable level. We do have many, many excellent teachers – but they had to toe the line. In two 20-minute sessions with me, my grand-daughter could read. She turned out to be a bookworm. What a waste of 2 years!

The second benefit of colonialism which I accepted was British law, codified, and based on precedence. That justice does not always match the intent of the law, is covered in another post.

The third benefit is the concept of democracy. It has surface merit. However, regrettably, from my 70-year exposure to Australian democracy, I now assert that what is known as Western democracy is a sham. Yet, as the former Prime Minister of Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) showed, there are other viable versions of democracy. Refer my later post.

China in the 15th Century AD

“We, Zheng He and companions, at the beginning of Zhu Di’s reign received the Imperial Commission as envoys to the barbarians. Up until now seven voyages have taken place and, each time, we have commanded several tens of thousands of government soldiers and more than a hundred oceangoing vessels. We have … reached countries of the Western Regions, more than three thousand countries in all.

We have … beheld in the ocean huge waves like mountains rising sky high, and we have set eyes on barbarian regions far away, hidden in a blue transparency of light vapours, while our sails, loftily unfurled like clouds, day and night continued their course, rapid like that of a star, traversing those savage waves.”

(Stone inscriptions in the Palace of the Celestial Spouse Chiang su and Liu Shia Chang, dated 1431)

From back cover. The inside front cover states as follows.

On 8 March 1421 the biggest fleet the world had ever seen sailed from its base in China. The ships, huge junks nearly five hundred feet long and built from the finest teak, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di’s eunuch admirals. Their mission was to proceed all the way to the end of earth to collect tribute from the barbarians beyond the seas and unite the whole world in Confucian harmony. That journey would last over two years and circle the globe.”

“… They had also discovered Antarctica, reached Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook and solved the problem of longitude three hundred years before the Europeans.”

The above are extracts from ‘1421. The year China discovered the world’ by Gavin Menzies. He is a retired Royal Navy Submarine Commanding Officer, born in China. He “spent 15 years tracing the astonishing voyages” of Admiral Zheng He’s fleets.

The book contains many pages of supporting evidence; eye witness diaries; key charts “describing the first navigation of the world”; and the “determination of longitude by the Chinese in the early 15th century.” A somewhat comprehensive presentation.

As said on the inside front cover “His compelling narrative pulls together ancient maps, precise navigational knowledge, astronomy and the surviving accounts of Chinese explorers and the later European navigators. It brings to light the artefacts and inscribed stones left behind by the emperor’s fleet, the evidence of sunken junks along the route and the ornate votive offerings left by the Chinese sailors wherever they landed, in thanks to Shao Lin, goddess of the sea.”

The reviews shown by amazon.co.uk had an average rating of 4 (out of 5) from more than 500 reviewers.

Eurocentric readers, fed on Columbus and Magellan (both of whom had maps to follow), will need to rely on the achievements of European colonialism from the 15th to the 20th century AD, and today’s neo-colonialism. Ironically, the former colonial powers are now led by a new nation created by European emigrants within this colonial period.

 

Will the West be overtaken? (Part 2)

‘Why the West rules – for now’ by Ian Morris is interesting while challenging. His representation of China as the East is somewhat selective; he ignores any significant historical developments in mid-Asia. How could the Indian civilisation be the oldest continuous culture on post-Deluge Earth? Indic philosophy, not being consumer-oriented, allegedly developed an understanding of mankind in the universe a long way back in history.

Morris also conflates West Asia (“the first Westerners”) with Europe and the USA (the latter two normally known together as the West).

Then, is consumption of food the best criterion for comparing social development? A high average figure of consumption may cover vast disparities within the community. Is there not a place for moral or spiritual progress? Man shall not live by bread alone.

Yet, the Morris thesis is worthy of attention. There is this question: Did not Europe develop industrially and philosophically much later than the core cultures of Asia? Only after the 15th century CE was Europe joined by Morris to Western Asia as ‘the West’, except for the 500 years from 250 BCE when Rome was first linked to West Asia as ‘the West.’ A new nation created by European emigrants, viz. North America, was subsequently added to ‘the West.’ Ultimately, it is the USA, as ‘the West’, which is compared with China.

Morris, who writes in a very erudite manner, is most knowledgeable about all the major events of human history. He shows how ‘the West’ was ahead of China for at least for 2,000 years until 541 CE in terms of social development (as defined by him). Then China moved ahead until 1773. Industrialisation and battle-capacity subsequently enabled the West to get ahead again. China will, however, soon catch up, he expects (a somewhat unavoidable conclusion).

The reality is that China already contributes to consumption in the USA. Its recent economic, technological, and military advances, allied to a probable future in association with most of East Asia and probably all of Southeast Asia, while simultaneously linked to Central Asia through the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, will soon equal the military and industrial might of the West (the USA and its satrapies and NATO).

While Morris’ analysis is most impressive, his scenario seems to be much ado about little. A combination of economic success and military power (subsuming the necessary information technology and organisational competence) will probably result in China, Russia, and the USA eventually forming a tripartite global system of power-based governance – – by necessity.

Like the poor in developing and developed nations, the rest of humanity will survive, hopefully in peace; with energy consumption more equitable than at present, in the penumbra of this most probable governance relationship.

How will geography, impacted also by sporadic cosmic catastrophes, respond? Would the presence of 3 powerful nations, eyeing off one another with some suspicion, provide more protection than hitherto to the smaller, weaker, and unprotected nations?

An Asian-Australian reviews post-war Australia

In this whitish outpost of the West, set in coloured waters, and surrounded by worrisome foreign faiths, myth meets reality in challenging ways. Myth – Australia is a Middle Power. Reality – Australia is a satrapy of the USA. It rushes behind its hoped-for protector into wars which have no bearing on its existence.

An octogenarian Asian-Australian author (Raja Arasa Ratnam) would like to see his adopted nation (of which he is strangely proud) become the next state of the USA. Why? Australia would become less welfare-oriented and more enterprise-driven; it would enjoy the military protection it seeks (while not having to pay for its armoury); it can strut the world stage without being uncertain about the way it might be viewed by its major export customers; and less subservient to foreign investors (the nation will not survive without an on-going inflow of foreign capital); and it will become a republic which elects its presidents directly (a majority preference).

Myth – Australia is multicultural, with more languages and ethnicities within its borders than any other nation; and it upholds human rights. Reality – the ‘ethnics’ being broadly spread throughout its electorates, the nation is well-controlled by Anglo-Celts. Its social policies are dominated by the values of the Vatican. Voluntary euthanasia is anathema; a legislated charter of human rights is opposed by those ‘of the faith’; and race discrimination legislation offers (sort of) protection against being offended, even by spoken words!

‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’ (published 2012) presents a rear-vision mirror assessment of Australia after the author’s highly interactive and contributory life of more than 6 decades in his adopted nation. It was only after a professor of history and politics had written (in summary) “There is wisdom here” that the author decided to publish this book. It was then recommended by the US Review of Books.

The book covers a range of issues: religion; the Cosmos; professional ethnics and multiculturalism; migrants, refugees and unlawful arrivals, viz. asylum seekers; racism and tribalism; national identity; governance; family and society; empires – gone and going; subservience (of the political class vs. the stand-tall workers); and biculturalism. It is hard-hitting but fair. The analysis is deep, the commentary incisive.

The author is a communitarian small-l liberal (thereby a political orphan). He has an extensive record of contribution to civil society: national president of Australian Rostrum (akin to Toastmasters); foundation chairman of a school board (when he wrote an accepted outline of a program for teaching primary school children about religion – no indoctrination); founder of a public speaking competition for primary school children in the national capital and surrounding townships; chairman of a union committee which established merit protection procedures in the federal public service (receiving a Meritorious Service Award); co-founder of a national public speaking competition for secondary school students; and an appointed member of the health advisory committee in his shire. There were sundry other contributions. His activities led to him being a luncheon guest of the Governor-General; and as co-guest of honour with a State Governor in two cities.

The author’s 2 memoirs ‘Destiny Will Out’ and ‘The Dance of Destiny’ show that the spirit world ‘hijacked’ him to Australia, and kept him there. His experiences include the wheels of his life-chances cart falling off from time to time; and him falling into holes which were not there! The US Review of Books recommended ‘The Dance of Destiny.’

It was after a significant psychic experience – when the spirit of his favourite uncle materialised to offer him spiritual guidance – that the author began to write. This was in response to his uncle’s advice that he could “contribute to building a bridge from where you came to where you are.” ‘Destiny Will Out’ reflected both his own settlement experiences and his work – over 9 years – (at the level of Director) on policies relating to migrant integration.

‘Destiny Will Out’ was so well received by senior academics and a wide range of readers that he wrote ‘The Karma of Culture’ (2003) and ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity’ (2004). Both were recommended by the US Review of Books. The supportive pre-publication endorsements by senior academics and other appropriate notable persons have since been confirmed. Both books cover issues relating to successful migrant integration.

‘The Dance of Destiny’ describes (in Part 1) life under British colonialism, the Japanese military occupation of Malaya, and an interesting but short stay in Singapore by the author and his Anglo-Australian wife. Part 2 of this book covers the author’s travails during the White Australia era. The book ends with a strong spiritual overlay.

‘Pithy Perspectives: a smorgasbord of short, short stories’ (2011) reflects the author’s whimsical approach to life. It was reviewed favourably by the US Review of Books and, most strongly, by the New South Wales state president of the Federation of Australian Writers.

Raja Arasa Ratnam’s books are available as ebooks from amazon.com and its international outlets at about $US 2.99 each. They are now receiving customer reviews to complement the earlier endorsements and reviews.

For what it is worth, the author has been described as “an intellectual who cannot be categorised” and his writings noted as representing “a sliver of Australia’s post-war history.” (Refer Prof. Greg Melleuish of Wollongong University, Australia). Although the author arrived in Australia in 1948, when the White Australia policy had sharp teeth, he has no recriminations. Australia is on its way to joining the Family of Man, he says.

Aborigines in my community (mid-1990s)

It is very sad to hear the community at large talk about the Aborigines. There was an armed hold-up at the local service station and a very early question was: “Was the perpetrator black?” There was a break-in at the local shops and six youths were seen running away – four black and two white. Almost everyone, including the police, talked about the black kids. I asked what happened to the white ones. How was it they had become invisible?

Both white and black youth in a seaside fishing village are unemployed; yet an educated retirement community will cluck to one another about the lazy blacks who do not want to work. White migrants and Anglo-Celts hold similar views. Why not see the problem as a class problem (with young whites unwilling to work), instead of a problem of race (meaning colour) …

I walk through the small shopping area of this village and receive smiles and nods from those (Aboriginal and white) to whom I have served petrol, and sold cigarettes and the like in recent times. Some of the Aborigines drive into the service station in new cars and are well dressed. But I never see them on foot anywhere. I presume they work for Aboriginal organisations. Others arrive in old cars and are obviously not well off; they, too, are invariably courteous.

Yet, on some occasions, before I go out to serve them, I can hear some very rough language addressed to one another – but never in my presence. Infrequently, a very inebriated Aborigine has staggered into the shop and, on sighting me, immediately straightened his shoulders and spoken most courteously. On the street, if I am bumped by an Aborigine, or if I have to slow or step aside, the words I hear are, “Sorry, bro” or “Excuse me, brother”, and such like. I could not fault these people in their social conduct, but apparently some police can.

And, in this State, social conduct is not a crime. Yet ‘resisting arrest’, for use of language which allegedly ‘offends’ a policeman, is. Most of the Aboriginals we see are unemployed. An Aboriginal welfare worker told me that there are competent, educated, and trained people in the community. They cannot obtain work in the region in any capacity because, as my contact said, employers are racially prejudiced. Merit has no place where ignorance rules. And I used to think that I had experienced discrimination – little did I know.

… … there was a recent initiative for the community (meaning the whites) to foregather and learn about Aboriginal values. At the first meeting of seventeen people, organised by the local adult education committee of volunteers, including me, there was an Aboriginal lady present. She had been our guest at a literary lunch, when she had read her poetry to us. It was both beautiful and touching; her slim book had, however, to be published privately.

ll the whites attending this reconciliation meeting were joined in their sympathy for the Aboriginal people, i.e. it was only the supporters of reconciliation there. Guided by the poetess and the notes provided by the State bureaucracy, they would have become better informed about the values of the Aborigines. They were also introduced to some of the other members of the local Aboriginal community. In the discussions, we were told that it was the women who made community decisions; that any support for the reconciliation process would have to come initially from the women.

(As the above extracts from my first book ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate clearly, in contrast to the broadly prevailing negative views of the indigenous population by Anglo-Celt Aussies, there are other well-meaning white people who wish them a better future. That the prejudiced speak freely in my company is intriguing; I also detect no negative views about me (that may be because of my substantial involvement in civil society).

That competent Aboriginals had difficulty obtaining employment commensurate with their qualifications is deplorable.

Against that, how does one explain those vociferous supporters of economic migrants arriving by boat who, having torn up all identifying papers, seek asylum? Are they unable to see that their own black fellow-citizens could do with a helping hand?)