Monday, December 29, 2008

Astika Philosophies of Ancient India

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There are plenty of philosophical schools in India which when studied individual are so different from each other that in any other case, they will qualify as separate religion. However, this is not the case seen in India, a land where even the mutuall contradictory philosophies and ideas have coexisted with each other peacefully.

These religions/paths were identified as Dharmic Paths OR Hindu system of religions. Here are few characteristics shared by them, irrespective of differences.  

1) Belief in GOD is not mandatory in Hindu system of religions.  

2) Hindu is a historical term which was used by Muslims to denote the followers of all religions of Indian origin. All Shaivas, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, tribals, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, Indian atheists, basically everyone who is not Muslim, Christian or Jew and followed a path of Indian origin is and was known as Hindu in medieval times. Hence, whenever I use the term Hindu, I refer to person following Non-Abrahmic religion of Indian origin.
3) All the Indian religions are categorised in two classes - Those who believe in supremacy of Vedas (Aastika) and those who do not believe in supremacy of Vedas (Naastika). Paths which fall under Aastika class are - Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shaakta, Saamkhya, Nyaya, Mimansa, Vedanta, Yoga, Vaisheshika, and others which make up modern day Hinduism. Paths which fall under Naastika class are - Bauddha, Jaina, Sikh (Who are ambiguous about Vedas), Ajivika, Charvaka and few others.  

In both categories, few believe in existence of god, others do not. In both categories, the emphasis is laid on being righteous and perform one's duty, rather than belief in particular deity. This differentiates Indian religions from Abrahmic religions. Hence Indian religions are also known as Dharmic religions and are perfectly in harmony with each other. 

The very concept of RELIGION was unknown to India before Islam. Prior, it was duty and righteousness, irrespective of belief in supernatural. Irrespective of belief system, following two quotes of Vedas are deeply ingrained in the minds of all Hindus, however ignorant they are. 

Those two ideas are -  

1) God is everywhere and everything is god ( Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma)
2) God is one, different people refer to him and worship him in different forms (Eko Sat, vipra Bahuda Vadanti).

For an atheist Hindu, the term GOD is replaced by Brahman.

All Indian religions are called Dharmic religions. There are four achievements (Purushartha) in life of man following Dharmic religions 1) Dharma (Being righteous and following one's duty) 2) Artha (Pursuing material wealth as long as conduct is in domain of Dharma or righteousness) 3) Kaama (Fulfilment of all desires as long as means are righteous or Dharmic) 4) Moksha/Nirvana (liberation/complete self knowledge All the dharmic religions are in perfect harmony about the first three Purusharthas. The differences arise in fourth Purushartha.

Those differences arise in their differential perception of divine and ways of attaining the divine or supreme knowledge. Hence, whatever differences are, are all philosophical and not practical. It was seen very frequently that different people of same family following different schools of thought and yet live together peace fully. Hence whatever differences arose amongst Indian religions, they were resolved by means of debate, and not sword and forcible conversion. The most illustrious example is of Adi Shankaracharya who brought about non-violent revolution in India in 700 AD be vanquishing the Naastika schools and few atheist Astika Schools in India. 

Majority of Indian population started following the reformed version of theistic vedantic religion after this campaign by this young unarmed monk. As I said, Vedanta is just one of the 6 philosophical schools of Astika Philosophy. Vedanta perceives world in three versions - Non-Dualism (Advaita); Nondual Dualism (Vishishta-Advaita); Dualism (Dvaita).

The oldest school is Saamkhya - It is an atheist school and does not believe in existence of God. Instead it propounds that universe is made up of two forces which are equal and opposite to each other and complete each other. The two entities are - 

1) Purusha (Puram Ushati sa Purusha:) - One who spends time/burns in the citadel is Purusha. Here Citadel or a fortified city (pura) refers to Body as well as Universe.  

2) Prakriti - (Pra + Kruta) - One which can perform an action spontaneously and vigorously is Prakriti.  
In other words, Purusha and Prakriti refer to matter and energy. Same as Yin and Yang in tao, although much older than Tao. Prakriti (Energy) is made up of three GuN (Characteristics)  

1) Satva - Literally - truthness, also refers to lightness, illumination 
2) Rajas - comes from word raaja and refers to tendency to experience life, excitation, activity driven by selfish interests. (note - there is nothing negative about word Selfish) 
3) Tamas - Literally darkness - refers to intense activity, coarseness, sloth  

(Note - It is really difficult to express what these three GuN refer to in English. I recommend trying to understand them at least in Hindi or in any Indian language derived from Sanskrit) 

Different things in universe including human beings have different combination of these three characteristics varying in different levels which makes up their Dharma or Basic nature and shapes their intellect and mind. Hence universe is how it is. 

In theistic version of Samkhya, Purush and Prakriti are identified as Shiva and Shakti. It must be noted that although Samkhya talks of two entities which are equal and opposite, IT IS NOT A DUALIST school of thought.. Purusha has some Prakriti in it and Prakriti has some Purusha in it. They are not separate entities and cannot exist on their own. They always exist in pair, hence calling Samkhya a Dual school is fallacy.

According to Samkhya, Ignorance is root cause which needs to be eradicated. From Wiki article on Samkhya - [i]The Sankhya system is based on Satkaryavada. According to Satkaryavada, the effect pre-exists in the cause. Cause and effect are seen as different temporal aspects of the same thing - the effect lies latent in the cause which in turn seeds the next effect. More specifically, Sankhya system follows the Prakriti-Parinama Vada. Parinama denotes that the effect is a real transformation of the cause. The cause under consideration here is Prakriti or more precisely Mula-Prakriti (Primordial Matter).

The Sankhya system is therefore an exponent of an evolutionary theory of matter beginning with primordial matter. In evolution, Prakriti is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects. Evolution is followed by dissolution. In dissolution the physical existence, all the worldly objects mingle back into Prakriti, which now remains as the undifferentiated, primordial substance. This is how the cycles of evolution and dissolution follow each other. 

Goal of Samkhya - According to Sankhya, the Purusha is eternal, pure consciousness. Due to ignorance, it identifies itself with the physical body and its constituents - Manas, Ahamkara and Mahat, which are products of Prakriti. Once it becomes free of this false identification and the material bonds, Moksha ensues.  

P.S. - Very beautiful philosphophy which has potential to explain most of the questions of life without having a need to assume existence of god. When coupled with Yoga, it becomes all pervading philosophy with slight theistic flavor, as Yoga acknowledges the existence of Non-acting Non-Interfering God, who although is a master of universe (Ishvara), never participates in any of the activities of Universe. So practically, he is Non-existent in most of Yoga, except when it comes to final aim of Moksha.

Yoga - Almost same as Samkhya. If Vedanta and Saamkhya is theory, then Yoga is Practical.. Knowledge, IMHO, can't be attained by any one single approach. This is the opinion of all the Astika schools.  

Yog literally means Union.. It extensively deals with psychology and training which mind and body needs to be given for achievement of supreme knowledge. It is defined as controlling the tendencies of Mind. (Yog: Chitta Vritti Nirodh:). Control need not necessarily mean oppression. Some times in some conditions, some tendencies need to be over-expressed. 

It is relative, and should be governed by Dharma (righteousness and Duty, more fittingly basic nature, in terms of Yoga). When, tendencies of mind are controlled, the characteristics of mind which is governed by Prakriti of three characteristics slowly change to neutral state of mind. This is called the process of going back towards birth (Prati-Prasava) of these tendencies.  

For eg. If a person gets angry too often, trying to get rid of this quality by suppressing anger is illogical. Instead, slowly, the quality is taken towards its birth. Finding out the root cause of why one gets angry, and trying to work on the cause. Slowly, the intensity of anger will reduce and eventually vanish. Thus, one Characteristic of the given mind is controlled. Similarly to all characteristics. When all the characteristics of mind are controlled, person attains a state where the mind and the ego are dissolved. 

Hence, a seedless state of mind (Nirbeej Samadhi) is attained, where the existence of individual as mind, intellect, and separate identity vanishes and he becomes Kaivalya or Singularity. This is state of Liberation or Moksha - Liberation from one'e mind, body, intellect and even a sense of separate individual existence. Thus we see, Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta are mutually complementary to each other and belief in God does not matter.

Mimansa - Atheist school. Emphasizes on performance of rituals precisely and elaborately as essential thing for attainment of Moksha.  

Nyaya - Indian Logic.. More mathematical, than spiritual. Presents the methodology of how knowledge should be attained and how to differentiate between true data and false data. Very scientific in approach. Atheist school of Philosophy.. Since gaining of knowledge is focus of the Samkhya, Yoga, and Vedanta, the seeker of knowledge must be aware of Nyaya in order to save himself from getting lost in the forest of knowledge. Nyaya provides a methodology of segregation of obtained data.  

Vaisheshika - Indian Atomist school. Very similar to Nyaya school. again deals more with description of the universe whose truth a seeker wishes to decipher. Universe made up of different atoms. Different atoms of different substances have different characteristics. Different combinations of differently flavoured atoms gives rise to differentiality of the world.  

Vedanta - It is a theistic school. Dvaita is one school which might be closest to Abrahmic religions. However, it must be emphasized that the characteristics of Supreme god in dvaita school although similar to abrahmic sky daddy in some aspects, differs a lot in many other aspects..  

Three branches of Vedanta are popular.

1) Advaita Vedanta (Non-Dualism) - Everything is Brahman, without any duality

2) Vishishtadvaita (Qualified or Special dualism) - Brahman and world is like light and sun. Same but not the same

3) Dvaita (dualism) - Brahman and Universe are different entities with Ishwara = God = Master of Universe.

Thus from Astika branch of India religions we have Two theist schools - Yoga, Vedanta schools. three atheist schools - Nyaya, Mimansa, Vaisheshika one school which was originally atheist, but later a theist version was developed - Saamkhya. So in principle 4 Atheist schools and 2 theist schools. Furthermore, the The Hymn of Creation - Nasadiya Sukta (Rigveda 10:29), clearly states that " No one can say for sure whether He exists or not. Only He can know whether He exists or not".

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Inherent Unity amongst all Indians of Non Abrahmic Paths

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There are few paths which believe in 330 million gods. There are others who believe in 330 million with one chief god. There are some, who say there is no god at all. There are some who are monists and believe in one principle (like Brahman). Others reject everything which lacks any sort of empirical evidence. Some believe in authority of Vedas, some do not, and others to variable extents. Some simply emphasize on doing your duty honestly, without caring a damn about God. Others leave their duties and keep on thinking about the nature of god.

We can see, thousands of religious, philosophical, ritualistic paths have beautifully assimilated with each other to give a strange cocktail called Hindus. Few of them have left their core beliefs and have changed. Many others have retained it, yet with no complications of identity.

I sure there are many elements of the religion of Greeks, Kushans, Huns, Scythians, Mongols, Turks (preislamic) and countless local and tribal religions in this conglomerate. In spite of all this, they have assimilated.

Such is a variety of paths found in the conglomerate of Hindus. All of them were originated in India. And all of them were identified as Hindus by outsiders. They were venerated, hated, proselytized, executed, oppressed, united and liberated in the name of Hindus.

It is high time that people identify the inherent Hindu-ness in everyone of us.. To understand that despite of all the differences in rituals and world view, there exists an underlying unity amongst all of the Dharmic religions. When people of India wil recognize this unity, that wil mark the end of internal feuds of Hindus.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Fort of Chandragiri

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 The citadel of the Chandragiri Fortress

 The Execution point (Vadha-Stambha)

The Taandava Krishna 

The Palace of Krishnadevaraya and later Vijaynagar rulers

The fountain in front of King's palace 

 The "Pushkarini" in front of King's palace

The Bastions of the citadel. This is the inner level of fortifications 

The tower (Shikhara) of king's palace

The Queen's palace (as seen from king's palace) 

Vadha-Stambha (Wide angle) 

Gopuram of Raajarajeshwari Temple in Fort premises

Chandragiri was the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, located about 12 kms from Tirupati. The forts and Mahals here are attractive tourist spots. Chandragiri denoting the 'Hill of the Moon’ is traditionally associated with Chandra the Moon God who performed penance at this place in order to please Lord Shiva. Punctuated with fertile lush green fields and hillocks, this picturesque place attained prominence during the medieval times. It has many religious structures like temples of Raja Rajeswari, Venugopala, Karttikeya, Shiva and Hanuman at the entrance of the fort as guardian deity; ponds, tanks, sculptured mandapas besides a well-built fortification at the summit.

In 1000 AD, the ruler of Narayanavaram known as Immadi Narasimha Yadav Raya built this fort near the famous Tirumala hills which is abode of Lord Venkateshwara. About 4 centuries later, Vijayanagar kings captured this territory and established their firm rule. The kings belonging to Saluva Dynasty and the auspicious lineage of great king Bukka Raya were instrumental in renovation and expansion of this fort, which was later to become the third capital of Vijaynagar empire.

After defeat in the battle of Talikota, the metropolis of Vijaynagar in Hampi was destroyed and desolated by the army of confederation of Deccan sultanates. The capital of Vijaynagar empire was shifted from Hampi to Penukonda, this fort became the third capital of declining Vijaynagar Empire in 1592 AD. With time, the fort passed down in the hands of Hyderali of Srirangapattanam. According to the treaty of 1792 AD, when Mysore state under Tipu Sultan was defeated by joined forces of Marathas and British, this fort passed on to British. The documents allowing East India Company to build Saint George Fort in Chennai were signed in this fort.

The well-secured fortification having cyclopean walls buttressed with the typical bastions at regular intervals and pierced with gateways and zig-zag entrances, appears to have been erected originally by Immadi Narasinga Yadava Raya, while ruling from Narayanavanam. The height and the width of the walls was increased in the times of Vijaynagara occupation. However, the walls clearly are not at all built for artillery based siege warfare. The height and width of the walls in most of the places is clearly not sufficient to withstand the artillery barrage. As stated in my previous post, clearly, it is a construction of pre-gunpowder era in south India. Gunpowder was first used by Krishnadevaraya in battle of Raichur in India..

The serpentine nature of the wall clearly is constructed to take the fullest advantage of the rocky Rayalseema terrain. The tactical problems posed in operationalizing medieval artillery in that region of big mountains with huge boulders are immense. The area occupied by the fort is vast, and the internal space is very intelligently utilized to ensure that considerably large number of armed forces could take refuge within those walls. One huge lake was built to ensure the water supply even when under siege.

The Raja-Mahal of Chandragiri

The fort along with the structures inside owes much of its construction to the Vijayanagara rule. Raja Mahal and Rani Mahal are the two imposing structures fairly preserved in the citadel. Both are raised on high moulded plinths and have in their layout a series of corridors, halls and rooms with projecting window balconies decorated with stucco work and supported by heavy corbels. The austere yet elegant flat ceilings are laced with a border of foliage design. The steps to upper storeys are well lit by narrow arched slits. These edifices are built in coursed rubble masonary set in lime mortar with finely plastered surfaces and limited usage of timber. These bear close resemblance with the famous Lotus Mahal in the Zonana enclosure at Hampi. The temples of Chandragiri also follow the typical Vijayanagara pattern of plan in having a sanctum, a vestibule and an open pillared mandapa.

The main door of this palace faces North direction while all the galleries and most of windows open facing vast forest and comparatively plain land in south, where perhaps army used to be stationed and King could keep an eye on them. The court of Raya is particularly intriguing. The court is on the ground floor of the palace where Krishnadevaraya's life size statue is installed along with this consort and the statues of Achyutadeva Raya as well.

Although the court is not as grand and magnificent as of Hampi, its still about 2500 to 3000 Square feet and is double storeyed. Krishnadeva Raya along with his two wives, Achyutadevaraya and Minister Council used to be on ground floor. The council probably were not seated. The subjects wishing to greet king and put forth their grievances used to enter a gallery on first floor about 15 feet from the ground. They bowed to the king sitting on the ground floor from the gallery. Pretty rare site, considering the fact that kings usually are made to sit on higher pedastle and subjects look up to him. Here, it was completely reversed. The subjects were not allowed on the ground floor of the court area. Small elegantly made teak doors guarded the entry and exit points of the court.

The house of a royal bard was situated to the west of the Raya's palace. The raagas rendered by him used to travel on the eastward blowing wind to please the ears of Raya, resting after day's work. The fountain is built in front of king's palace, where by the means of siphon alone, water sprouted through the nozzles to give a beautiful display.

The citadel of Chandragiri is double fortified with high stone walls and bastions built at regular intervals, to give the last stand against the enemy who has already broken the primary defenses. The eastern most point of the hill is made up of single huge boulder and on it is placed another giant boulder, as if someone has systematically arranged them. A huge frame is seen placed on those boulders. The structure which looks like a big huge door frame from a distance, upon a closer look, we find out that this was a point for the public execution of criminals. The criminals were publicly hung on this easternmost tip of the mountain, so that everybody, not only from fort, but also from adjacent town of Chandragiri, could see what fate awaits a person who dares to break the laws of Raya.

The Raya's palace is today converted into a museum administered by Archaeological society of India (ASI). It harbors one of the most elegant and beautiful sculptures of various deities carved in typical Vijaynagar style. The sculpture of Trimurti carved in one single rock column with Brahma at the bottom, Vishnu in between and tip of human phallus signifying Shiva at the top, is extraordinarily marvelous. Unfortunately, photography is strictly prohibited in the premises of the museum. The other interesting sculpture which uniquely catches the attention of visitors is the sculpture of a Krishna performing Tandava-Nritya (Dance of Cosmic destruction), usually performed by Shiva. It is part of a beautifully and elegantly carved pillar with Tandava-Krishna at the top. Seeing Krishna is elegantly divine mudra ready for destruction of universe is both beautiful and fearsome.

Exactly opposite to the fort of Chandragiri is a beautiful temple of Shiva. As if, Shiva is overlooking at Chandragiri with his benovalent vision towards the famous Tirumala hills is one of the divine features of Chandragiri. A place worth visiting for any enthusiast of history, culture and arts.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Battle of Baharaich (14th June 1033 AD)

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It is interesting that none of the history textbooks we read, mention this great victory of Indian Union over Islamic hordes from northwest of India. There is a famous battle of Baharaich near Lucknow.

This battle was fought on 14th June 1033.


The nephew of Mahmood Gazni, known as Masud Gazni, invaded India with army of more than 100,000 men in may 1031 AD. This time, the army was not a raiding party like that of Mahmood who came with intention of raiding, looting and retreating with the loot to Afghanistan. They were backed by the imperial army Persian empire and came here with the intention of permanent conquest and Islamization of India.

King Anandpal Shahi tried to check this Gazni advance towards heartland of India. He was helped by king of Sialkot, Rai Arjun. But, this alliance was overwhelmed by superiority of numbers of Pathan army. After defeating Anandpal Shahi and Rai Arjun, Masood advanced towards towards Malwa and Gujarat. King Mahipal Tomara tried to check their advance here but was defeated too.

After victories across North Indian plains, Masood Gazni settled at Bahraich near Lucknow. He stayed here up to mid 1033.

Meanwhile, 17 Rajput Kings of north India forged an alliance. This is biggest confederation that have ever existed in India. The head of this confederation was Raja Sukhdev, a Gurjara-Rajput King. It would be interesting to know how the alliance was forged and how was the game of chess played before the final showdown on 14th June. However, I have not come across any books which deals with this part of History in detail.

In June 1033, as per Hindu traditions, Masood Gazni was intimated by Rajput confederation that the land belonged to Rajputs and Hindus and Masood should evacuate these lands. Masood replied that all land belongs to Khuda and hence he would not retreat.

On 13th June, Morning, Rajput army of about 120,000 descended on Gazni camp of Bahraich. Masood's army was completely besieged and encircled. The battle continued for hours. In the end, each and every man in Masood's camp was killed. No POW's were taken, no mercy was shown on the Afghan army. The location of this battle to be precise was near Chittaura Jheel, a lake about 8 KM away from modern Bahraich on Bahraich-Gond Road. The battle ended on 14th June with Victory of Raja Sukhdev and his Rajput alliance.

The invasion was completely crushed and such resounding was this victory that none of the king from Northwest dared to invade India for 160 years..

This is one of the golden pages of Indian History. India is indebted to series of Rajput Kings along the western border of India and in Central India. They were extremely instrumental in keeping Arab invaders at bay for 3 centuries. This was the time when Arabs were at their zenith. The Khilafat extended from Western Sindh to Spain.. However, they could not defeat Rajputs and enter Indian heartlands.

Rajputs were also instrumental in initial defeat of Muslim invaders from Northwest. The Battle of Bahraich was the peak point of Rajput valor. Their resistance waned with time over next 5 centuries. Rana Pratap was perhaps last famous Rajput general to fight invaders.

The tomb of Masood Gazni is still present at Bahraich. People there have elevated him to the status of peer and Gaazi and worship him. And there is no single mention of this glorious victory of Hindus. This, in my opinion, is an insult of Rajput valor. Same is the case with tomb of Afzal Khan at Pratapgarh in Maharashtra who was slain by Shivaji.

I do not oppose theistic beliefs. However, people worshiping the tombs of people like Masood Gazni and Afzal Khan should be made aware of their heinous deeds.

Edited to add:

I came across this verse written by Goswami Tulasidas pertaining to Bahraich and tomb of Gazni..

लही आँखि कब आँधरे बाँझ पूत कब ल्याइ ।
कब कोढ़ी काया लही जग बहराइच जाइ ॥

When did a blind person regain his eye sight?, when did a barren woman get son? And when a leper was cured for his leprosy and got his beautiful body back?. But even then people visit Baharaich. (for no particular reason out of misplaced superstition)

It is for every one to decide now; even the contemporary Indic saints were opposed to idea of worshipping the tombs of invaders and mass-murderers and elevating them to the higher pedastle of sainthood.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Krishnadevaraya and Glorious Battle of Raichur

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The Battle of Raichur, was waged in the summer of 1520 for control of the strategic city of Raichur. This fortified center is located in the middle of a rich sliver of land between two rivers that run through the heart of the Deccan Plateau. For several centuries before this battle took place, sultans of the Bahmani kingdom to the north of Raichur fought with rulers of the Vijayanagara kingdom to the south over control of this agricultural fertile tract, with the town of Raichur located right in its center.

Actually, this region had been a contested zone even before the Bahmani and Vijayanagara states came into being. In the late 1284 AD, a Kakatiya King, Rudra,had seized this tract of land and built the imposing complex of walls and gates that encircle the core of Raichur city. With their massive slabs of finely dressed granite, these walls were, in their own day, considered an engineering marvel. Even today, residents of Raichur imagine them to have been built by gods, not men.

However, in the early 1323 AD, rulers of a mighty north Indian empire, the Delhi Sultanate, invaded the Deccan plateau, swept away all the states of the region, and Systematically colonized the northern Deccan with settlers transplanted from north India. At the same time, the invaders subcontracted governance of the central and southern Deccan, including the Raichur region, to local client-chiefs.

But in 1327, one of these client-chiefs threw off allegiance to his northern overlords and carved out a new state that sprawled over the entire southern half of the Indian peninsula. This was the kingdom of Vijayanagara, a powerful kingdom governed from the sprawling metropolis of the same name, located just south of the Raichur plain. Several dynasties of kings ruled from this splendid city, which by the 1400s was described by Europeans as larger than either Rome or Lisbon. Here we see some of the surviving monuments of this great metropolis, a stunning site even today in its ruined.

But Raichur did not for long remain in southerners’ hands. In the confusion that surrounded the expulsion of imperial rule of the Delhi Sultanate in 1347, the Raichur plain fell to the other power that simultaneously arose on the ashes of Delhi’s failed attempt to colonize the Deccan. This was the Bahmani sultanate, which ruled from a series of capitals north of Vijayanagara. For 150 years, rulers of Vijayangara and the Bahmani sultantate fought bitterly for control of the agriculturally rich Raichur plain. But for most of this period the plain remained under northern control. During this period, in 1469, Bahmani engineers, capitalizing on technology imported from north India and the Middle East, built an entirely new wall. Here one sees the city’s new, outer wall, which crawled up the hill leading to the hill-top citadel.

But shortly after completing these fortifications, dissensions within the Bahmani ruling class led to factional struggles, and by the year 1500 the kingdom had fragmented into five new successor states. The one that inherited control over Raichur was the kingdom of Bijapur,which also inherited control of the western half of the plateau, including the strategic seaport of Goa.

But by the opening of the 16th century, the balance of power between the northern and southern Deccan was swinging back to the south, meaning the great, sprawling state of Vijayanagara. For one thing, the fragmenting of the old Bahmani sultanate into five successor states naturally meant that Bijapur, which inherited control over the Raichur plain, would be weaker than its larger, parent state. For another, in 1509 the man who ascended the Vijayanagara throne was Krishnadeva Raya, one of the most famous conquerors in Indian history. Under him, Vijayanagara annexed the entire peninsula down to the southern cape, thereby amassing immense manpower and capital resources.

The were Portuguese mariners who, following Vasco da Gama’s voyage from Lisbon to India in 1498, built up a powerful commercial and military presence on coastal India. Moreover, having driven Muslims out of Europe, these conquistadors were especially hostile to Muslims in Asia. And since Bijapur was ruled by a Muslim sultan, Portuguese strategists naturally made overtures to Krishnadeva Raya, the Hindu ruler of Vijayanagara.

The Portuguese possessed several assets in their drive for political and commercial dominance along coastal India. First, by achieving control over the Arabian Sea, which connects the Middle East with India, the Portuguese monopolized control over the valuable trade in warhorses, which Indian rulers had imported from Arabia and Iran for centuries.

Second, the Portuguese introduced new kinds of gunpowder technology to the Deccan plateau. To be sure, gunpowder was known and used in India before the advent of the Portuguese. In the 1470s, Bahmani engineers used explosive mines in their wars of Vijayanagara. And in the early 1500s, Muslim engineers in the Deccan were using artillery and matchlocks in their campaigns. A major infusion of gunpowder technology reached western India in the years after 1508, when Ottoman Turks sailed into the Arabian Sea to engage Portuguese warships off the Indian coast. Following that engagement, some Turkish gunsmiths stayed behind and took up service with the sultanate of Bijapur, working in the Goa arsenal. This would explain why, when the Portuguese attacked and conquered the seaport of Goa in 1510, the victors found that the Bijapuri defenders had already established their own munitions plant in the city.

The Battle

We now come to the battle itself, waged between Krishnadeva Raya of Vijayanagara and Ismail Adil Khan of Bijapur. Two sources can guide us here. One is Muhammad Qasim Ferishta, who in 1611 dedicated his monumental Persian-language history, Tarikh-i Ferishta, to Ismail’s great grandson as ruler of Bijapur. The other is the Portuguese chronicler Fernao Nunes,who around 1531 wrote a history of Vijayanagara’s kings based on local traditions and his own interactions with Indians. Nunes, who was a horse trader who resided in metropolitan Vijayanagara for three years, might have lived in coastal India since 1512, in which case he would have heard first-hand reports of the battle shortly after its conclusion.

It is also possible that he recorded remembered traditions some eight years after the event, most likely from participants. Most intriguing is the possibility that he was an eye-witness to the battle, which is suggested by the sense of immediacy with which he described the battle. Of these two sources, Firishta is the less trustworthy, not only because he was writing 90 years after the fact, but because he had to account for the crushing defeat of his patron’s own great grandfather.

Description of Raya's Army

Fifty thousand scouts went three leagues (5.556 km is one league) in front of the army. Their job was to spy out the country in front and always maintain that distance. On the flanks of the scouts two thousand horsemen armed with bows advanced. A great number of merchants with necessary supplies for the army also accompanied. The army consisted of about a million of men, if the camp-followers be included. The fighting men numbered about 736,000 with 32,600 horses and 550 elephants.

Initial Phases of Raichur Campaign

The chief of the guard Pemmasani Ramalinga Nayaka (also known as Cama Nayak) led the advance with thirty thousand infantry (archers, men with shields, musqueteers and spearmen) and a thousand horse and his elephants. After him went the contingents of Timmappa Nayaka, Adapa Nayaka, Kumara Virayya, and Ganda Raya, the governor of the city of Vijayanagar. The other well-known nayakas were Rana Jagadeva, Rayachuri Rami Nayudu, Hande Mallaraya, Boya Ramappa, Saluva Nayudu, Tipparasu Ayyappa Nayudu, Kotikam Viswanatha Nayudu, Chevvappa Nayudu, Akkappa Nayudu, Krishnappa Nayudu, Velugoti Yachama Nayudu, Kannada Basavappa Nayudu, Saluva Mekaraja, Matla Ananta Raja, Bommireddy Nagareddy, Basava Reddy, Vithalappa Nayudu and Veerama Raja. All their soldiers were well armed, the archers and musqueteers with their quilted tunics and the shieldmen with their swords and poignards in their girdles. The shields were so large that there was no need for armour to protect the body.

The horses were in full clothing and elephants had large howdahs from which four men fight on each side of them. The elephants were completely clothed. Sharp knives were fastened to their tusks. Several cannon were also taken. About twenty thousand washermen and courtesans accompanied the army. In the rear with the king, but always on the road in front of him, twelve thousand men with leather water bags placed themselves along the road to give water to those in need.

The King proceeded until he arrived at the town of Mallayyabanda (Maliyabad), which is a league from the city of Raichur. A royal tent was pitched behind a makeshift hedge of brush-wood and thorns. The army was given rest to overcome the fatigue of the march.

According to Nunes, Krishnadeva Raya entrusted one of his Muslim merchants with 40,000 gold coins to buy warhorses from the seaport of Goa, then under Portuguese control. But instead of doing that, the merchant absconded with the money to Bijapur. This so enraged Krishnadeva Raya that he decided to use the incident as an excuse to invade the fortified city of Raichur, which he and his predecessors at Vijayanagara had long coveted. So in early 1520 the king moved north with an immense force of 27,000 cavalry and over a half million infantry. The bulk of the army consisted of archers, swordsmen, war elephants, and only “several” cannon.

By contrast, Ismail Adil Shah had fortified Raichur with 200 heavy cannon and many smaller cannon, positioning these artillery between the thirty bastions of the fort’s outer wall. Whereas the fort’s defenders fired on Vijayanagara’s forces with their cannon and matchlocks, the besiegers used no artillery against Raichur’s walls. Instead, Krishnadeva Raya ordered his commanders to offer their men monetary inducements to approach the walls directly and dismantle them with crowbars and pickaxes, paying them in sums proportionate to the size of the stones they dismantled. Of course, many were killed as they hacked away at the walls by hand.

In this dreary manner, the siege dragged on for three months. Then in early May, while the siege was still in progress, Krishnadeva Raya learned that Ismail Adil Khan had marched down from Bijapur to relieve the embattled fort and was camped on the northern side of the Krishna river. Suspending the siege of Raichur, the king moved his army up to the Krishna river to prevent the sultan’s forces from entering the Raichur plain.

The battle proper

The army upon nearing the fort of Raichur pitched the camp on the eastern side of that citadel and began the siege. After an interval Raya received intelligence of the arrival of Adil Shah on the north side of the Krishna, with an army of 140,000 horse and foot. The sultan rested his troops for a few days, crossed the river, advanced to within nine miles of Raichur and entrenched himself there leaving the river about five miles behind him.

On Saturday morning, May 19, in the year 1520 AD the forces became engaged. Krishnadevaraya ordered an advance to his immediate front of the two forward divisions. Their attack was successful and the Muslims were driven back to their trenches. The Sultan opened fire from the guns that he had previously held in reserve and caused great loss in the close ranks of the Hindus. The Raya's troops fell back in face of formidable bombardment and at once the Muslims charged them. The retreat was changed to a rout, and for a mile and a half to their direct front the Sultan’s cavalry chased the Raya’s forces belonging to the first line.

Krishnadevaraya, who commanded the second line, rallied the troops, collected about him a number of the nayaks, and determined to face death with the bravery that had always characterized him, plunged into the battle. Mounting his horse, he ordered a forward movement of the whole of his remaining divisions, and charged the now disordered ranks of the Muslims. This resulted in complete success and the Sultan’s army got scattered and fled before the Hindu onslaught way back to, and into the river, where a great slaughter took place.

Krishnadevaraya then crossed the river and seized the Shah's camp, while the Shah himself with the help of Asad Khan escaped and fled from the field on an elephant. While being driven back towards the river, Salabat Khan, the Shah's general, made a valiant attempt to retrieve the fortunes of the day. Salabat Khan lost his horse, but at once mounted another and pressed on. The little force was, however, surrounded and annihilated. The general was made prisoner. Like Firishta, Nunes reports the horrific slaughter that then took place by the river, in the midst of which Isma`il jumped on his elephant and barely escaped with this life.

It is clear that Ismail had brought considerable ordnance from Bijapur down to the battlefield, for Nunes reports that his retreating army had to abandon 400 heavy cannon and 500 small cannon, in addition to 4,000 warhorses and 100 elephants. In fact Ismail boldly crossed the Krishna River because he was confident that the great strength of his artillery would give him a quick victory over his adversary’s cavalry and infantry. And in fact, the sultan’s opening barrage did give him temporary field advantage. On the other hand, Krishnadeva Raya, who crushed his opponent in that engagement, used no artillery or matchlocks.Similarly, in his siege of Raichur, which was heavily defended with cannon, the king of Vijayanagara used no cannon to bombard the fort’s walls. Rather, he paid his men to claw it down with crowbars and pickaxes.

So when Krishna Raya returned to Raichur, he resumed this same, laborious method of besieging the fort. Except this time a new factor enters the stage. This is the appearance of a group of twenty Portuguese mercenaries who, led by one Cristovao de Figueiredo, had joined Krishna Raya’s forces as matchlockmen. Noticing how fearlessly Raichur’s defenders roamed about the fort’s walls, fully exposed to the view of the besiegers, de Figueiredo and his men began picking them off with their matchlocks, doubtless the Indo-Portuguese guns recently manufactured in nearby Goa. Significantly, Nunes reports that up to that point the defenders had never seen men killed with firearms. This is dramatic evidence of the earliest appearance of gunpowder in the Indian interior.

A turning point in the siege came on June 14, when the governor of the city, seeking a better view of exactly where the Portuguese snipers were positioned, unwisely leaned out in front of one of the battlements and was instantly killed by a matchlock shot that struck his forehead. This snapped the morale of Raichur’s defenders, who promptly abandoned the wall. The next day the fort’s defenders opened the city gate and filed out, beginning for mercy. And the following day, June 16, Krishna Raya rode into the city and spoke to the gathered townspeople, generously assuring the city’s leaders that their property would be respected. He even gave them the option of leaving the city with their movable property, if they so wished. Thus ended the battle’s military phase.

Post Conflict Diplomacy

Upon returning from Raichur to Vijayanagara, Krishnadeva Raya devoted himself to several weeks of non-stop festivities to celebrate his crushing defeat of Ismail Adil Khan. When this was over, an ambassador from the sultan’s court arrived at his court to negotiate a final settlement between the two kings. Krishnadeva Raya clearly relished this moment of triumph.

First, he kept the ambassador waiting for a full month before admitting him for private audience. When he finally got his audience with the king, the ambassador conveyed to the king an extraordinary request from Ismail Adil Khan, namely, that the sultan would remain the king’s enduring and loyal friend if only Krishna Raya would restore to Isma`il the city of Raichur, together with all the artillery, tents, horses, and elephants that the sultan had lost in the battle.

Considering that the sultan had been thoroughly defeated both on the battlefield and at Raichur fort, this was a stunning request, which took a lot of chutzpah to make. Most diplomats would have been turned out of court for making such an outrageous request. But Krishna Raya, basking in his triumph, decided to play the ambassador by agreeing to all the requests of his defeated adversary. Indeed, he went one more. He even offered to return to the sultan his highest ranking officer, Salabat Khan, who had been captured in the debacle by the Krishna River and was now in languishing in the Vijayanagara jail.

But there was one catch.
To close the deal, Ismail Adil Khan would first have to come down to Vijayanagara and kiss the king’s foot.

When this proposal was conveyed to the sultan, Ismail replied through his ambassador that he was “of full mind joyfully to do that which the King wished.” Regrettably, though, it was not possible for him legally to enter another king’s sovereign territory. Therefore, he would not be able to kiss the king’s foot.

On hearing this, Krishna Raya graciously offered to accommodate the sultan’s concerns by meeting him at their common border near the fort of Mudgal, located midway between Bijapur and Vijayanagara. There, on the border, the sultan could kiss the king’s foot. He made immediate preparations to proceed straight to the border town of Mudgal. Accompanying him north was a formidable army, doubtless intended to focus the mind of the sultan. But Ismail, who had no intention of journeying to Mudgal or of ever enduring the humiliation of kissing the king’s foot, stalled and prevaricated while his messengers notified Krishnadeva Raya that the sultan was at that very moment on his way and would reach Mudgal very soon.

However, when it became clear that Ismail was not going to present himself at the border, Krishnadeva Raya opted for an alternative course of action, namely, of bringing his foot to the sultan, so that the latter could kiss it in his own domain – indeed, in his own palace – without having to travel anywhere. So the king and his army entered the sultan’s territory, moving all the way up to the capital city, Bijapur city, which the sultan prudently vacated before the king’s arrival. With Ismail absent, Krishnadeva Raya’s men proceeded to damage several of the city’s prominent houses, on the grounds that they needed firewood. When Ismail protested, through envoys, Krishna Raya replied that he had been unable to restrain his men from their destructive activities. Eventually the king, satisfied that he had humiliated his adversary sufficiently, left Bijapur and returned to his own capital of Vijayanagara.


The victory caused other Sultans in Deccan to come together and consider a combination by the aid of which the Vijayanagar Empire was finally overthrown (Battle of Tallikota).

Furthermore, the victory greatly affected the Hindus by instilling in them a spirit of pride and arrogance, which added fuel to the fire, caused them to become intolerable to their neighbours, and accelerated the downfall of Vijayanagar.

The war also affected the fortunes of the Portuguese on the west coast. Goa rose and fell simultaneously with the rise and fall of the Vijayanagar dynasty because their entire trade depended on Hindu support. This is a point frequently left unnoticed by writers on Portuguese colonial history.

When Vijayanagar, with its grandeur, luxury, great wealth and its enormous armies, was at the height of its power, the foreign traders were eminently successful and when Vijayanagar fell, and the city became desolate and depopulated, the foreign traders had no market for their goods, and trade decayed.

Thus, Battle of Raichur is one of the highest watermarks of Indian Kings against invading Muslim rulers.


1) Vijaynagara- A Forgotten Empire by Robert Swell - Page 140 to 155.

2) 'Kiss my Foot,’ said the King: Diplomacy, Firearms, and the Military Revolution in India, 1520” Richard M. Eaton; Global Society & Justice Workshop, University of Arizona, 14 April 2008.

3) Wikipedia -


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Survival of Hinduism in Islamic India...

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Prolonged Abrahmic onslaught is one of the definitive feature of Indian History. Ever since conquest of Sindh by Mohd bin Qasin in 711 AD, although partially, India has been subjected to Islamic brutality. Arabs could not conquer India from 700's to 1000's. This was the time when they reached their Zenith with Caliphate stretching from Indus in east to Spain in west. Almost all land in between these two points was completely converted to Islam in these years. Their past whitewashed and identity lost. The only identity that these regions showed thereafter was that it was an Islamic Land. Dar ul Islam.

Although Arabs could not conquer India, the neo-converts from central Asia like Pathans, Mughals, Turks, invaded India and established their dominion. Although most of India was eventually brought under Islamic rule, somehow, Islam could not repeat the results of Persia, Egypt, North Africa in India. The complete Islamization of India failed.

This was due to certain inherent characters of Hindu religions. One very basic tenet of Vedic philosophy which makes up the backbone of Hinduism is, Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. - Everything is brahman.. And second is, Eko Sat vipra bahudha vadanti - Truth is one, different people refer to it by different names.

It is very much logical to compare Zoroastrianism with religions belonging to Hindu conglomerate. As both of them had to face the sword of Islam, the results in these two lands were completely different.

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion with a strong center based upon the ultimate reverence of Ahura Mazda as one true god and ultimate reverence to the words of Zaratushtra as a final word.

Hinduism is not such centralized religion. It is amorphous religion. A hindu can easily say that allah is god. what he will think is, we call it vishnu, they call it allah.

Arabs attacked on this center of Zoroastrianism. Hence it fell. There is no such central authoritative underbelly in Hinduism. Hence, it survived. Arabs could never conquer India. They just conquered Part of Sindh for few centuries and were replaced by Sumer Rajputs.

This is the fact for all Monotheistic religions, especially, Islam and Christianity and early Zoroastrianism. Disprove prophet and Koran, and entire Islam falls into shackles. Disprove the divinity of Christ, and entire set up of Christianity falls down to nothing. Hinduism and to some extent Judaism have shown the resilience and lack of such soft underbelly under the hard shell. This is what I mean when I say that Hinduism is amorphous religion which changes with time.

Unfortunately for Zoroastrians, the Arab juggernaut fell on the soft underbelly. The tough shellof military might was weakened due to wars with Romans. So, Iran had to face a tough time.

There were many changes that were introduced in Hindu society as response to Islamic onslaught. The morality in warfare hit Indians very badly too. Perhaps, that was a concept which was outdated when Islam fell upon the world. Hinduism moved ahead, and became experts in the so called immoral warfare too. Shivaji is brilliant example. So are Kings of Vijaynagar.

The changes, good or bad, that got introduced in Hindu society were as follows.

Development of Caste System.

You may be surprised when I say that caste system strengthened as response to Islamic invasion. There is subtle different between Varna System that is mentioned in Vedic literature and present caste system.

Varna of a person is not based upon his birth, but upon his basic nature and more importantly, the profession he takes up. So Shudra's being considered as dirt of feet is all crap. Nothing of that sort is mentioned in Shrutis.

Caste, as we know today, is a closely knit community which interbreed and gives a legitimacy to a person. The punishment of being Outcast was more painful than death penalty. Because, the very identity of person finishes off, when he is excommunicated.

Let me give u one example. The Catholic Christians of Goa proselytized more atrociously than Muslims. A priest used to come in village, and put pieces of bread and wine in the wells of people. Mostly, in the wells of the people from lower castes. After the people of that community had drunk the water from that particular well, it was declared that the community has been converted to Christianity and have been saved from Eternal Damnation. Of course, other forceful measures were always at disposal.

This resulted in people of different castes uniting and securing their own water sources. The converted people became a new caste in themselves and had to interbreed as no other person will indulge with them in food sharing OR marital alliances. So, today, we find castes in converted Muslims and Christians too who have similar thoughts of social heirarchy as their Hindu Counterparts have. I have a Friend who is Roman Catholic from goa and is a Kayastha Prabhu. She said, she will marry only to a person who is Prabhu-catholic. This is how, it limits the overall spread alien religion to other communities in such tightly knit medieval society.

Hence, although an evil practice in Hindu society, Caste helped a lot indirectly in preventing the mass conversions to Abrahmic faiths. This system was not always so evil. It grew evil. But, given the features of Hindu society, if it can be incorporated when it was required, it can also be thrown out when it is no longer required. The works of great people like Savarkar, Ambedkar, Phule and many others initiated this process. As a result, the influence of caste system is greatly reduced as compared to 1800's. In urban India, caste is not at all cared about, except during arranged marriages. In love marriages, who cares about the caste.

Second most important reason of survival of Hinduism ability of Hinduism to produce time and again the radical reformers who shape up the society.

There were people like Bappa Rawal in Rajputana, who organised reconversion of Muslims to Hindus. Many Muslims were reconverted to Hinduism by many reformers time and again. Shivaji and other Marathas sponsored such ceremonies from state's fund.

The founders of Vijaynagar empire, Harihar rai and Bukka Rai were forcibly converted to Islam. Vidyaranya Swami, the Shankaracharya, converted them back to Hinduism, and they founded one of the greatest Hindu Empires in medieval India.

Then there was Khushro Khan of Khilji dynasty, who proclaimed to be a Hindu Emperor of India after a coup and usurping the power from son of Allauddin Khilji.

There are many such examples.

Thirdly, the disparity between Hindus and Buddhists was very important reason. It is well documented fact by many people including Al beruni, that Buddhists offered very little resistance to marauding Islamic hordes. The places where they were in majority, like Afghanistan and Bengal, quickly got converted to Islam.

Sufism was very important factor as well. Hinduism developed Bhakti Movement as a response to Sufism. So, it did not have as much effect on Hindus, as it had on Buddhists.

Hinduism changes demographically as well as with time. The Hindus of Ajmer had no issues in visiting Dargah of Moinuddin Chisti. It is against the principle of Islam to worship a man. But, Hindus were OK with it.

The inherent social mobility of Hindu society is also responsible. When Elite Kshtriya people of India died out with Guptas fighting Huns, rajputs were elevated to the status of Kshtriyas.

Similarly with Marathas. Shivaji had no relation whatsoever with rajputs. If you have read my article on Shivaji, his grandfather was ordinary bargir who did not even own a horse. But, Shivaji was coronated as Kshtriya King and thus heralded the new era of Hindu revival.

Many castes which can be apparently called as Shudras were elevated to Kshatriya hood. Many Brahmin people denounced their Brahminism and became Kshtriya. Most famously, the Peshwas and their Brahmin sardars.

Other castes like that of Shephards (Holkars), farmers (Scindhias), and others became to be known as Kshtriyas after they proved their mettle.

Thus we see that, there was always some one who took the place of the line that fell in previous onslaught. This inherent mobility of Hindu society and ability to change with time was the main reason of Hindu survival in India, Islamic OR christian.

This does not demean the attrocities committed upon hindus by Muslims and Christians. But, Hindus outlasted all of them. Today, average Muslim society is far lagging behind the average Hindu society in terms of education and openness of mind.

It is seen from the trend all over the world in all times that if left alone, Hindus tend to prosper along with others peacefully. Followers of Christianity and Islam usually can't..

According to V S Naipaul, Islam is a Arabic Nationalist Movement. Somehow, every muslim is forced to revere the Arabic lands, even if he is not even remotely associated with Arabia.  Although the invading Arabs were marauders, they were more concerned with having a cultural impact of Islam on the cultures they conquered. Look at Iran, Egypt and entire North Africa, and medieval Spain. All these cultures lost their very identity due to Arabic Invasion. All of them were molded in Arabic Culture. So such an extent that Egyptians consider themselves as Arabs and forget their own glorious heritage. So is the case with Iran, except for Shia-Sunni Problem.

So was the case with Arabs who conquered Samarkand and central Asia. But, most of the central asians were tribals. So, the Central Asian Muslims right from Sabaktijin to Ahmadshah Abdali, were relatively less cultured than Arabs, and definitely less cultured than Hindus. So, although, they tried to follow the tenets of Islam as they understood it, by destroying the temples, killing people, forcible conversions by sword OR blackmail, imposition of Jaziya. They were more in Awe with India. Be it Mughals Or their predecessors.

But, they could not destroy the culture. And irony of Muslims in India is, they could not Destroy Hindu Culture in thousand year stay. Nor they have assimilated in Hindu Culture like Huns, Kushans, Scythians, greeks and others. That is why they are suffering from such huge identity crisis.

Jainism remained a faith of Classes.. It was not a religion of masses like Hinduism (in all its forms) and Buddhism (Once upon a time for short period). Secondly, it blended into Hinduism beautifully and did not pose itself as an idealogical threat to Hinduism.

Thirdly, there are few instances wherein Buddhists helped invaders due to religious allegiance. Most famous example is Menander OR Milinda, a bactrian greek invader who conquered region all the way up to Ayodhya and Buddhist emperor of Magadh, Brihadratha Maurya, did nothing. Pushyamitra Sunga had to carry out a coup to replace this dysfunctional monarch and defeat Menander.

Hence, Buddhism was virtually non existent in Mainland India from 1300's to 1956. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and resurrected it in India. Most of Buddhists were converted to Islam in Bengal and Northwest Frontier as they offered very little resistance to Invading Muslims. This Buddhist complacency is seen time and again in Ancient phase of Indian History and India has paid heavy price for this.

Jainism simply did not grow that big and huge as Buddhism. So its fall was not very complete and it survived in form of few communities in Western India. I wonder, many jains today are gujaratis. However, many holy Jain places are in Karnataka like Shravan Belagola.

Lastly, Hinduism (in all its forms) does not proselytize as much as Abrahmic faiths. The conflict was mainly ideological, and these two religions were vanquished by means of soft power, instead of hard power.. They were assimilated in mainstream and were allowed to maintain their distinct identity as well.. Buddha became 9th incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna became a Teerthankara of Jain as well. Krishna's second Guru, Ghor Angirasa, was a Jain teerthankar himself.

All these characteristics present in Dharmic tradtions of Hindu-Conglomerate, enabled the survival of Hinduism in one of the worst phases of Indian history.