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W’end Links: “Maccha Yantra”, Amarnath & The Purpose of History

Start this weekend reading about “Maccha Yantra” – which might have been the precursor to the mariner’s compass of today…

Next, read former Governor of J&K, Jagmohan’s account of  his trek to Amarnath

…and finally, ponder over Chandan Mitra’s provocative piece on the purpose of history

Excerpts from all the three articles below, as always.


*** Excerpts from Ancient India’s Contribution in the areas of Shipbuilding and Navigation ***

by Sudheer Birdokar

…Sanskrit and Pali literature has innumerable references to the maritime activity of Indians in ancient times. There is also one treatise in Sanskrit, named Yukti Kalpa Taru which has been compiled by a person called Bhoja Narapati. (The Yukti Kalpa Taru (YKT) had been translated and published by Prof. Aufrecht in his ‘Catalogue of Sanskrit Manu scripts. An excellent study of the YKT had been undertaken by Dr. Radha Kumud Mookerji entitled ‘Indian Shipping’. Published by Orient Longman, Bombay in 1912.)

…This treatise gives a technocratic exposition on the technique of shipbuilding. It sets forth minute details about the various types of ships, their sizes, the materials from which they were built…(it)gives sufficient information and date to prove that in ancient times, Indian shipbuilders had a good knowledge of the materials which were used in building ships. Apart from describing the qualities of the different types of wood and their suitablility in shipbuilding, the Yukti Kalpa Taru also gives an elaborate classification of ships based on their size.

…Interestingly there were Sanskrit terms for many parts of a ship. The ship’s anchor was known as Nava-Bandhan-Kilaha which literally means ‘A Nail to tie up a ship’ . The sail was called Vata Vastra a which means ‘wind-cloth’. The hull was termed StulaBhaga i.e. an’expanded area’. The rudder was called Keni-Pata, Pata means blade; the rudder was also known as Karna which literally means a ‘ear’ and was so called because it used to be a hollow curved blade, as is found today in exhaust fans. The ship’s keel was called Nava-Tala which means ‘bottom of a ship’. The mast was known as Kupadanda, in which danda means a pole.

…Even a sextant was used for navigation and was called Vruttashanga-Bhaga. But what is more surprising is that even a contrived mariner’s compass was used by Indian navigators nearly 1500 to 2000 years ago. This claim is not being made in an overzealous nationalistic spirit. This has in fact been the suggestion of an European expert, Mr. J.L. Reid, who was a member of the Institute of Naval Architects and Shipbuilders in England at around the beginning of the present century. This is what Mr. Reid has said in the Bombay Gazetteer, vol. xiii., Part ii., Appendix A.

“The early Hindu astrologers are said to have used the magnet, in fixing the North and East, in laying foundations, and other religious ceremonies. The Hindu compass was an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed to the North. The fact of this older Hindu compass seems placed beyond doubt by the Sanskrit word Maccha Yantra, or fish machine, which Molesworth gives as a name for the mariner’s compass”.

It is significant to note that these are the words of a foreign Naval Architect and Shipbuilding Expert. Is is thus quite possible that the Maccha Yantra (fish machine) was transmitted to the west by the Arabs to give us the mariner’s compass of today.


*** Excerpts from To feel India’s connect with Kashmir, go to Amarnath by Jagmohan ***

July.10 : Few of the present generation of Indians know that Swami Vivekananda, accompanied by a couple of his European disciples, undertook a yatra to the Amarnath shrine from July 28 to August 8, 1898. Sister Nivedita, an Anglo-Irish social worker and a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, has left a brief but beautiful account of the journey which shows how significant this yatra is from the point of view of culture and national integration.

…In August 1986, when I was the governor of Jammu and Kashmir, I travelled on foot, from Chandanwari to the cave, taking the same route as was taken by Swami Vivekananda and his party. It was a journey to remember. The route is certainly one of the most enchanting and enthralling routes in the world. It transmits a feeling of being “upward and divine”.

In a state of heightened sublimity and with his faith fully surcharged and the awe and majesty of the sights around him, the pilgrim perceives, with his mind’s eye, Lord Shiva, sitting calmly underneath an imperishable canopy provided by the “mount of immortality”, and conveying in hushed silence the message of inseparability of the processes of creation and destruction; of “every beginning having an end, and every end having a beginning”.

…The most captivating spot on the route is the lake of Seshnag. This lake symbolises the cosmic ocean in which Lord Vishnu, the preserver of this universe, moves, reclining on a seven-headed mythical snake. After getting refreshed with a bath of ice-cold water of Seshnag, the pilgrim takes a steep climb to the most difficult spot, Mahagunna (4,350 metres). Thereafter, a short descent begins to Poshpathan which is covered in wild flowers. From there, pilgrims move to Panchtarni, a confluence of five mythical streams, and then to the cave. A strange sense of fulfilment seizes the pilgrims, and all fatigue is forgotten. Even with temperatures touching zero, the pilgrims are driven by their faith to take bath in the almost-freezing rivulet of Amravati.

This is what Sister Nivedita has written about Swami Vivekananda’s experience:

“With a smile he knelt, first at one end of the semi-circle, then at the other. The place was vast, large enough to hold a cathedral, and the great ice-Shiva, in a niche of deepest shadow, seemed as if throned on its own base. To him, the heavens had opened. He had touched the feet of Shiva. He had to hold himself tight, he said afterwards, lest he “should swoon away”. But so great was his physical exhaustion, that a doctor said afterwards that his heart ought to have stopped beating, and had undergone a permanent enlargement instead. How strangely near fulfilment had been those words of his Master: “When he realises who and what he is, he will give up this body!” Afterwards he would often tell of the overwhelming vision that had seemed to draw him almost into its vertex. He always said that the grace of Amarnath had been granted to him there, not to die till he himself should give consent. And to me he said: “You do not now understand. But you have made the pilgrimage, and it will go on working. Causes must bring their effects. You will understand better afterwards. The effects will come”.

The significance of the pilgrimage, however, does not end at the personal level. It extends to the much larger issue of cultural unity and vision of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kathiawar to Kamrup. Its importance as an underlying integrating force needs to be recognised. When some people talk of Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of India only in terms of Article 1 and Article 370 of the Constitution, I am surprised at their ignorance. They do not know that this relationship goes much deeper. It is a relationship that has existed for thousands of years in the mind and soul of the people, a relationship that India’s intellect and emotions, its life and literature, its philosophy and poetry, its common urges and aspirations, have given birth to. It is this relationship which inspired Subrmania Bharati to perceive Kashmir as a crown of Mother India, and Kanyakumari as a lotus at her feet, and also made him sing that “She has 30 crore faces, but her heart is one”.


*** Excerpts from The purpose of history by Chandan Mitra ***

…In view of the flagrant abuse history is being subjected to, I believe the time has come for every thinking person to ask some fundamental questions about the way it should be taught.

The basic question is about the very purpose of teaching history. As some of my colleagues often point out, the only time most Indians learn any history is in school, pragmatically assuming that 99.9 persons do not choose history as their subject in college. In other words, their view of India’s past is conditioned by what they read in their formative years from say, six to 16. Even during this stage, history is usually not the preferred subject and only one among the array of disciplines they need to learn. That is why the teaching of history in our schools must not only be authentic, but also adhere to a purpose.

That purpose cannot be to run down the country’s civilisation, selectively black out facts, delete whatever is deemed “politically incorrect” and indoctrinate youngsters into believing that everything good that happened to India was the contribution of foreign invaders (pre-British) and all the bad was caused by indigenous forces or white imperialists. (Sorry, at a time when a Left-sponsored Congress leader of Caucasian origin was being extolled as goddess, I should be careful of using the now-sensitive term “white” negatively, lest I be accused of being racist and fascist).

The astonishing part of the proposed rewriting of history by the Marxists was that interpretations changed quite merrily with their contemporary political proclivities. In our time, the Congress was Enemy No 1; it was a bourgeois-landlord party that collaborated with the imperialists to deny the people their true political rights. This culminated, according to the Leftists, in a false freedom in 1947.

…With the rise of the BJP and the growing challenge of “communalism”, the focus shifted to the need to defend “secularism”. Howlers were, thus, perpetrated in history textbooks so that impressionable students believed that all Muslim rulers were adorable things viciously denigrated by trishul-wielding “RSS historians”. I believe the section on Nadir Shah’s sack of (largely Muslim) Delhi had been whitewashed in the SCERT textbook prescribed for Delhi Government schools.

Meanwhile, Shivaji was dismissed in a couple of paras, Sikh history was overlooked and both were clubbed as inevitable revolts by people in outlying regions caused by a weakened, post-Mughal Centre. An NCERT textbook altered by the NDA Government actually contained derogatory references to Guru Tegh Bahadur which described him as a bandit indulging in “rapine”!

The mindset of Marxist historiography is besotted with demolishing popular faiths and beliefs. In their arrogance, these historians assumed that people knew nothing; that all they believed from legends and tales was erroneous; and they must be rescued from blind faith and superstition. This zeal is comparable to that of the white missionaries who came to India and Africa convinced they had to deliver the ignorant inhabitants from the Dark Ages. Take Romila Thapar’s book on the Somnath temple that I reviewed in February 2004 for India Today. The entire exercise, albeit scholarly, was undertaken to exonerate Mahmud of Ghazni of his criminal offence in ransacking the splendid shrine. She takes pains to point out conflicting contemporary accounts to suggest nothing so traumatic happened.

She quoted foreign sources to say that Mahmud could have believed the temple contained the idol of the Arabic pagan goddess Manat whose worship Prophet Mohammad had initially permitted but later retracted claiming he was under Satan’s influence while approving this. Apparently, the reference to Manat is contained in the so-called Satanic Verses later deleted from the Quran. She said it’s also possible that Mahmud thought the name Somnath was derived from the Arabic su-manat, and thus connected to the pagan goddess.

I have no doubt that under the new dispensation, this is the kind of history that shall be prescribed in schools. Short of exhorting children to offer prayers to Mahmud of Ghazni, Mohammad Ghauri, Nadir Shah and Aurangzeb, our new textbooks will do everything to run down all indigenous achievements. Maharana Pratap, for example, finds just a one-line reference in the SCERT book and Aryabhata none!

The unstated purpose behind this savage attack on Indian history is not mere jobbery; it is a deliberate attempt to berate India, its civilisation, religion and culture. It is aimed at emaciating the people morally and psychologically so that instead of taking pride in the country we become ashamed of its past. Once that is accomplished, we shall no doubt be expected to quietly acquiesce in many “nation-building” projects such as reconstruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya!


Stay healthy, Stay safe…and have a refreshing weekend.

November 14th, 2009 Posted by | Ancient Indian History, Indian History, Jammu & Kashmir related, Science & Mathematics in Ancient India, Technology in India, Weekend Reading | 4 comments


  1. This stunned me over the weekend!


    I did not about this barbaric practice of White Christians in Denmark. This is not coming from Africa but supposedly in a ‘civilized’ country!

    Comment by VoP | November 16, 2009

  2. Thamks for the History article.

    Comment by Anon | November 16, 2009

  3. Mahmud of Ghazni, much worse than Attila the Hun, desecrated and destroyed Somnath Temple. But this so called historian deliberately desecrating, destroying, tarnishing, insulting hindus, hindu belief systems and everything they hold dear. What is the so called eminent historian’s relationship with Mahmud of Ghazni. Why she is doing this deliberately whitewashing history’s worst moments of a peaceful populace. This is not even manufacturing history, but p…….ing history. Is secularism and democracy a licence to insult a section of the people ?

    Comment by KSV SUBRAMANIAN | November 16, 2009

  4. Interesting read: The Amarnath Pilgrimage – History & Facts

    Comment by B Shantanu | May 19, 2011

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