Summary of “The Ocean of Churn” – Sanjeev Sanyal

Sanjeev Sanyal’s latest book, “The Ocean of Churn” is a great book for every one who needs to understand the importance of Indian Ocean and the intertwining of people in the region that shaped the human history. It is also a must-read for every Indian who needs to get the correct perspective of India’s contribution to human kind. Unlike most of the history books this book is not a western perspective. This book also gives a holistic perspective of events and without going in to intricate details gives insights to the major events that shaped history. These insights are filled with interesting anecdotes that makes this book an interesting read, unlike most books on history. I am listing summary of some of them in the hope of enticing the reader to get a copy of this book and immerse in.

The books starts of with story of how a prosperous Pallava kingdom in southern India, in ACE 731, when faced with an existential crisis of not having a heir after death of their king, Parameswara Varman II, chose to coronate a prince from Angor as their king. Five generations earlier the younger brother of a Pallava king had gone to Angor, married their princess, and became its ruler. This king rose to become one of the greatest monarch in the history of southern India, Nandi Varman II. The close link between Pallavas and the Cambodians is well known; even the Khmer script is derived directly from the Pallavas. There has been several instances of Pallavas marrying in to to the Naga royal clan. When Vasco da Game led the Portuguese fleet in to the Indian Ocean in 1497-98, it had already been a highly interconnected ecosystem for a very long time. The Europeans dominated this area only about four hundred years in its thousands of years of existence.

Indian soldiering, as a leading contributor to UN peacekeeping effort, is thought to be a modern phenomenon. Interestingly Indian soldiers and mercenaries pop up everywhere in historical record right from Greek wars when they sided with Persians; then for Macedonian general Selects against rivals in Middle East; then for Sinhalese rules in Sri Lanka; dying for Shite cause in Karbala; not to forget modern wars for British in Opium Wars in China, the Boer Wars in South Africa and World Wars.

The devastating Tsunami on 26 December 2004 caused widespread casualties across Indian Ocean but it did not cause any loss of life to Onge and Jarawa people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, though they were very close to epicentre. Evidently, they had followed an oral tradition that instructed to move inland to higher ground when the ground shook. These tribes are said to have arrived on these islands more than 30,000 years ago and must have experienced such deadly tsunamis many times in their history.

The books also cites the latest genetic study findings to put the Aryan invasion hypothesis to just being a colonial imagination with no evidentiary backing. Domestication of animals and cultivation rose independently in many places in this area. The earliest Indus-Saraswati civilisation is shown to be at Bhirrana in Haryana dated around 7000 BCE and the largest one at Rakhigarh, Haryana – four times of Mesopotomia. Trade with India had a big influence on the Persian Gulf area with artefacts from Indus-Saraswati civilisation. India is also given the rightful credit for inventing iron technology with artefacts dated around 2400-1800 BCE.

It outlines story how unintended consequences of early Iron Age migrations seems to cause a large part of the world celebrating birthday of an ancient god from Haryana. The story is how the Vedic-Mitanni (Mitanni were warrior tribes who migrated from India in to northern Iraq in middle of second millennium BCE) god Mitra would remain a popular diety in the Middle East and, centuries later, would witness a major trivial in the Roam empire (where he would be known as the solar god Mithras). The pagan Romans celebrated a big festival called Saturnalia that went for a week from 17 December. At the end of the festival, on the 25 December, the Mithras cult would celebrate the feat of Sol Invictus or Unconquered Sun. When Christianity become powerful, the merely digested this festival and made it birthday of Jesus Christ (after all, the actual birth day of Jesus Christ is not known).

A band of Indians migrated in to Australia 4000 years ago and contributed to the DNA of aborigines. The dingo dog, not surprisingly, looks surprisingly like the stray dogs one sees all over India, which was carried along with the band.

Even the Mahabharata hints at the matrilineal streak in India’s north-east. This was norm in many societies in India as well as some in south east Asia. It tells us how the exiled prince Arjun visited the kingdom of Manipur and how he married warrior princess Chitrangada. However the marriage took place on explicit condition that Chitrangada would not have to follow Arjuna back home as she and her children were heirs to the throne. He is kidnapped by Ulipi, the queen of a neighbouring Naga tribe. The composers of Mahabharata were aware that the status of women was different in north-east compared to Gangetic heartland.

The Mahavamsa, an epic written in Pali, tells the founding myth of how the Sinhalese came to Sri Lanka with a Bengal-Odiya origin. It recounts the story of how Phonecians might have sailed around the Cape of Good Hope two thousand years before Vasco da Gama.

Ashoka does not seem to be fit to be called “Great” with cruelty and unfairness right from the time of his coronation. When Bindhusara died in 274 BCE the crown prince Sushima was away fending off incursions on the north-western frontiers and he rushed back to Pataliputra. However, on arrival, he found that Ashoka, one of his half-brother, with help of Greek mercenaries, had usurped the throne. Ashoka, like many later Mughal tyrants, got not just Sushima, but ninety-nine half brothers killed. He is said to have personally decapitated 500 of them. His rule was brutal and unpopular, and was called as Chandashoka or Ashoka the cruel. Current stories revolve around how the invasion of Kalinga brought remorse in him and he converted to Buddhism and he became a pacifist. In reality he had converted few years earlier to 262 BCE when invasion happened. His edict at Kalinga does not show any remorse and even years later he seems to be equally ruthless. In fact one of the earliest genocide – killing of 18,000 Ajivikas in Bengal happened under his watch years later. In his lifetime itself control of a large part of kingdom were lost. A revenge story of how Kharavela, a remarkable military leader of Kalinga, three generations later in 181 BCE, rampaged Maghada empire and brought back the Jain idols, is beautifully described.

The myth of St. Thomas visit to India is given a new light and described as one without any historical reference. The story arose from some Christians fleeing persecution in the Persian empire came under leadership of Thomas of Cana (confused as the apostle) in ACE 345. The trade deficit Rome had with India was nicely captured in a lament by Roman writer Pliny (ACE 23-79) where he complained that, ’Not a year passed in which India did not take fifty million sesterces from Rome.’

The colonisation of Madagascar was achieved in fifth century by Indonesian sailors in their outrigger boats. Genetic studies show that a tiny group of Indonesians which may have thirty women was source. The island’s main language Malagasay has been traced back to south Borneo. Certain Hindu rituals and words from Sanskrit survive in traces.

Such and many other stories leading up to the twentieth century…

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