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Assaults on Knowledge Across Time
Sadhika Pant
 May 15 2024 at 12:46 pm
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Readers acquainted with my writings will recognize my fascination towards exploring figures and events from Hindu religion and mythology, often drawing parallels with counterparts from different cultures or religions. In this piece, I aim to maintain the same approach, albeit with a departure from scripture into the pages of history. The Event: The Burning of the Nalanda University Founded in the 5th century CE, in what is now the state of Bihar in India, Nalanda University was the first residential university in the world. Interestingly, this Buddhist monastic university was founded during the Gupta dynasty's reign, the kings of which were devout Hindus. Its strategic location along the ancient Silk Road facilitated the exchange of ideas, attracting scholars and students from distant lands. Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and secular scholars coexisted harmoniously, contributing to Nalanda's reputation as a melting pot of intellectual thought. One of Nalanda's defining features was its remarkable diversity, both in terms of its student body and faculty. Scholars from across Asia, including China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, converged at Nalanda. Nalanda's curriculum encompassed a wide array of disciplines, ranging from philosophy, theology, and logic to mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the arts. Students engaged in rigorous intellectual debates, delving into the intricacies of Buddhist philosophy, Vedic scriptures, and secular sciences. At the heart of Nalanda's ethos lay a commitment to the pursuit of truth, enlightenment, and service to humanity. The university's renowned library, said to house 9 million texts and treatises, encompassed a staggering array of subjects ranging from philosophy, theology, and metaphysics to mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the arts. It has been speculated that Aryabhata, the father of Indian mathematics, the first to assign zero as a digit and develop the place-value system, headed the university in the 6th century CE. In 1193 CE, Nalanda fell victim to the marauding forces of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turko-Afghan conqueror who launched a devastating attack on the university in an attempt to assert dominance over rival cultural, religious and political institutions. Accounts suggest that Khilji's army laid waste to the venerable institution, reducing its magnificent structures to rubble and laying waste to its priceless library. The burning of Nalanda's library, said to contain countless manuscripts and treatises spanning diverse fields of knowledge, represents a profound loss to humanity's intellectual heritage. Irreplaceable works of philosophy, theology, mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the arts were consigned to flames, forever lost to posterity. Tradition says that the library at Nalanda burnt for 3 months before the buildings, structures and volumes were consumed by the inferno. The fleeing monks dispersed far and wide, carrying with them fragments of the university's vast repository of manuscripts and teachings, some of which are now housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. They became the first apostles of Buddhism, spreading its teachings beyond India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In the late 19th century, efforts were initiated to excavate and revive interest in the ancient university. Today, Nalanda stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Knowledge In the Highest Place In Hindu tradition, the pursuit of knowledge is regarded as one of the highest virtues, revered for its transformative power and capacity to lead individuals towards spiritual enlightenment and liberation (moksha). Shastrartha, a Hindu tradition of scholarly debate and discourse between proponents of different philosophical schools, exemplifies the intellectual tradition and commitment to dialogue within the religion, and are viewed as opportunities for mutual learning and refinement of ideas, rather than contests of ego or superiority. Books (vidya) are treated with utmost respect, often being placed on elevated platforms or altars in homes and temples. One of the prevalent customs associated with this reverence is the belief that books must not be touched by feet, a tradition rooted in the principle of purity and sanctity. Central to Hinduism is the tradition of the guru-shishya parampara, wherein knowledge is transmitted from teacher to disciple in an unbroken lineage. Gurus are revered as embodiments of wisdom and are accorded the highest honour and respect. In Hindu culture, the gesture of pranam holds profound significance as a mark of respect and humility towards parents, elders, teachers, and revered figures. A common form of pranam involves touching a teacher's feet and then one's forehead, symbolising the student's acceptance of their rightful place at the feet of the teacher. Prior to performances, Hindu singers or dancers may also offer pranam to the stage itself, a symbolic act acknowledging the divine presence inherent in all creation. The goddess Lakshmi is often depicted as the bestower of wealth, prosperity, and abundance. However, in the Hindu tradition, wealth is not limited to material possessions but also encompasses intellectual wealth, including knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual insight. Therefore, Lakshmi is also associated with intellectual pursuits and is invoked by scholars and seekers of knowledge to bless their endeavours and grant them discernment (buddhi). Similar Events The burning of the Library of Alexandria is a similar event that ranks among history's most lamentable losses of knowledge and culture. Situated in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt, the library was a beacon of intellectual enlightenment, housing an unparalleled collection of manuscripts and scrolls from diverse civilizations across the ancient world. The exact circumstances surrounding the burning of the Library of Alexandria remain shrouded in historical ambiguity, with accounts often conflated and embellished over time. Not unlike Nalanda, Alexandria was a strategic hub in the ancient Mediterranean world, coveted by rival empires and conquerors seeking to assert dominance over the region. The library's destruction may have been a casualty of the power struggles and military conflicts that characterised the ancient world, with successive waves of invaders laying siege to the city and its prized institutions. While the destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the burning of the Nalanda Library represent monumental losses of knowledge and culture, their legacy echoes through history, intertwining with the spectre of intellectual repression seen in totalitarian regimes of the modern era. During the regimes of Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong in China, Adolf Hitler in Germany and Benito Mussolini in Italy, book burning became a tool of ideological control and political repression. All these leaders sought to consolidate power, enforce ideological conformity, and suppress dissent by censoring and destroying literature deemed threatening to their respective regimes. Contemporary Relevance of These Events These incidents symbolise the vulnerability of human civilisation and our collective intellectual legacy to destruction, whether through warfare, conflict, or neglect. In both cases, the destruction of the libraries can be seen as acts of resistance to enlightenment and intellectual progress. The burning of books and manuscripts represents an attempt to suppress free thought, challenge established norms, and control the dissemination of knowledge. By targeting these centres of learning, those responsible sought to undermine the intellectual foundations of their adversaries and consolidate their own power. In today's world, where censorship, misinformation, cancel culture and ideological extremism pose threats to intellectual freedom, the events serve as reminders of the importance of defending and promoting the free exchange of ideas as a cornerstone of democratic society.
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Conjecture On Göbekli Tepe
Numapepi
 May 03 2024 at 03:12 pm
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Conjecture On Göbekli Tepe Posted on May 3, 2024 by john Dear Friends, It seems to me, the moment the climate settled down, primitive hunter gatherers started cities. Not megalopolises but trading centers. Where useful items were traded. In other words, the petite bourgeoisie came to being almost the moment it was possible. Making commerce a basic human trait. Who knows what Göbekli Tepe was, but the perpetual need for resources that come from other areas, is a problem that’s plagued mankind since the dawn of time. The answer apparently has been, and will probably always be, commerce. There would be no examples of towns in the archaeological record, since a wooden town abandoned five thousand years ago, would have rotted into nothing millennia ago. Even the cities of American First nations people, are gone, but for arrowheads. Imagine the utility for hunter gatherers to have a central location to trade items. A trade network of fine obsidian would be invaluable. Tribes could go to a central location, or pass through once a year, and trade goods. A large chunk of obsidian could be made into a myriad of tools. Arrowheads, knives and scrapers to name a few. A tribe so equipped could venture into places that are devoid of good stone for tools. They would be like people forging into the wilderness with bronze or iron tools. In fact the archaeological record does show vast trade networks set up thousands of years ago. The bronze age was made possible by the importation of tin from Britain to Sumeria. Such a trade network didn’t spring up overnight. It was an evolution of the ancient trade networks that traded stone, hides and cinnabar. Farming is often considered to be the turning point of human civilization. It’s creation allowing people, “for the first time,” to gather into towns and cities. Thus began the city state age. Yet, how does farming create bronze? Or copper for that matter? In good years farming can give the farmer spare time to innovate, but innovation requires access to materials. The more exotic the materials available the greater the ability to innovate. Meanwhile, there are examples of farming from before Göbekli Tepe, in the Levant during the glacial maximum, yet they didn’t even have pottery. It was trade that opened up mankind to innovations such as effective farming, metallurgy and shipbuilding. Because no one place could supply everything that’s needed. As with making a pencil today, much had to be imported. Göbekli Tepe predates pottery, yet sported relief carved stone, pillars and plazas. It and the other sites like it may have been for rituals, public meetings or, open air markets. I think they were neolithic shopping malls if you will. Tribes might pass through once or twice a year, to trade the things they picked up in their travels, for things they needed. A trading center would start out as a good well, and someone with a propensity to talk, instead of do. The talker, and well, becomes a nexus. His family specializes in commerce for a living instead of hunter gathering. That life choice makes it easier for the hunter gatherers. By opening up a much larger territory of materials to them than they could ever find themselves. That good well and trader could, in a thousand years, turn into Göbekli Tepe. We tend to think everything is recent. Like Adam Smith’s division of labor. But the efficiency of that system was used by cavemen. It wasn’t named. Much of what we “know” is simply the named wisdom of the ages. Making us feel smart since we have words for them. The best proof however are hunter gatherer tribes with little contact with the outside world. They always have a village. To fabricate cloth, pottery and projectiles. Archaeology proves people had settlements even before pottery. So I maintain, mankind created settlements the moment the climate made it possible, maybe before. Civilization and wealth leading to a Göbekli Tepe, doesn’t have to be based on farming as the historians say… the wealth can, and usually is, based on commerce. Sincerely, John Pepin

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