Don’t Mention the Empire!

 

The British Empire holds a strange place in the UK’s national memory; many young people have little knowledge of it while many older people remember it fondly, with 65% of over 65s in a YouGov poll saying the Empire was something to be proud of in 2014.[1] Considering that the British Empire lasted for 500 years, it is rarely talked about, usually only brought up when talking about immigration or invoked as a nostalgic tool to invoke ‘Britannia’ in relation to issues such as Brexit.[2] Actual detail is rarely mentioned, it’s rarely covered in film or TV despite the UK’s love of period drama and the teaching of it in schools is minor, if existent at all.

I was never taught about the British Empire in school. I was never even taught about the slave trade, except for brief mentions during Black History Month – and then only the USA’s role was mentioned. I know some people a little younger than me at least were taught about the slave trade and going back to my parents’ school days of the 1960s and 1970s, the slave trade was mentioned. The British Empire overall though was barely touched upon. While teaching of the British Empire has reportedly been improved upon in recent years, it is still patchy due to a focus on certain aspects or periods of the Empire.

The problem with teaching about the British Empire is that it isn’t easy and it doesn’t make Britain look good. Take the teaching of World War Two in Britain – the Nazis were clearly evil and we fought against them, so we’re the good guys! Great detail is gone into on the Nazi atrocities, quite rightly. However any evil done by the British is glossed over to preserve the dichotomy. No talk of handing over Czechoslovakia to Hitler prior to the war; or the bombing of German civilians; or the British government doing nothing to help victims of Nazi persecution (the famous Kindertransport children were only allowed to enter the country if a non-governmental organisation found them a place to stay and a £50 bond per child was paid); the internment of those who came from countries who were part of the Axis Powers; and the blind eye turned to the rape of women and children, committed by Allied troops, by the Allied leadership to name a few. Acknowledging the atrocities committed by the Allies does not make the Nazis look at any better, nor does it mean disrespecting those who died – they were not the government. Acknowledging these atrocities does however damage the myth of a heroic Britain, of a past we should be proud of. That is exactly why the British Empire is such a touchy subject.

Exact numbers of those who died at the hands of the British Empire will never be known, and no estimation will ever be agreed on but let’s take a look at a couple of generally accepted figures. 3.1 million Africans were transported by the British to its colonies and other countries.[3] 1 million (at least) died in the Irish Potato Famine, while the British government exported food from Ireland and British landlords evicted families.[4] 4.3 million died in the Southern India famine of 1876–78, while the British government exported food from India and refused to provide any charity, instead forcing the starving to work for rations that were not enough to sustain them.[5] At least 28,000 Boer women and children and 20,000 Black people died in one of the earliest examples of concentration camps, created by the British Army during the Second Boer War.[6] These uncomplicated figures are enough to cause horror for any person with something resembling a moral compass. These are indefensible. These were civilians; the excuse of ‘they were attacking us’ just simply doesn’t count for these examples.

Now there are people who claim that the British Empire was a force for good, a highly controversial claim among many historians, but the major problem with the lack of education or thorough discussion of the Empire outside academic circles means that these claims are fed uncritically to the public almost always via newspapers and politicians who are using this argument for their own political means. For example, if we refer back to the atrocities above, the Daily Mail in one article claimed that during the British Empire ‘the occasional massacre was undoubtedly carried out’ but we played a role in ending the slave trade and ‘successfully exported’ democracy to countries that were colonies.[7] This of course shows a rather dismissive attitude to the deaths of millions and conveniently leaves out the British role in beginning the slave trade. This is not exactly unsurprising when you consider even Wikipedia refuses to use the Daily Mail as a source; that such an article makes no attempt to even vaguely consider history properly. It is also understandable in some respects why newspapers like the Daily Mail aggressively pursue such a position; they do not exist to teach history – or even tell the truth – they are there to push a particular opinion onto readers in the hope that readers will support their political aims at the ballot box to financially support their owners. This, of course, is not confined to just right-wing newspapers but to newspapers in general.

The problem is that when many peoples’ knowledge comes from journalists set on achieving political goals the actual debate and evidence of the Empire is not present. While historians cannot escape ideology completely, at least there is some kind of attempt at being critical of their perspectives and examining evidence. If an argument is to be made that the British Empire was ‘good’ then it should be put forward properly evidenced with historical rigour, with an actual chance of experts being able to debate the argument for its historical accuracy rather than political value. This is why it is so important that the British Empire is actually taught in schools so students have a chance to critically engage with the history rather than be fed carefully condensed politicised propaganda. An evidenced debate in schools has been favoured by school leaders and historians over a curriculum based on fostering patriotism.[8] This approach has also been favoured by students themselves.[9]

The lack of knowledge about the British Empire is particularly problematic because of how much of an impact it is having today. The British Empire created Apartheid in South Africa, and continued to resist imposing sanctions on the government till the end. Claims of violence between black and white South Africans has recently been the subject of interest amongst Trump supporters. The British Empire played a large part in the beginnings of the Israel-Palestine conflict, perhaps the most controversial conflict in modern history. After pitting Hindus and Muslims against each other for the British Empire’s own gain, the rushed partition of India helped cause the bloody legacy of the events of the partition that still plagues the relationship between India and Pakistan today. Intervention in Afghanistan began with the British Empire and the volatile state of the country can be linked back to British installed puppet governments. Proper understanding of these current events cannot be achieved without the knowledge of what past events caused them, and in so many cases the British Empire played some part.

It is even still having an impact on government policy as seen with the recent Windrush scandal with those who came to Britain and their descendants from former colonies in the Caribbean being threatened with deportation. The disregard for these people who spent their early lives under colonial control and then came to rebuild the UK due to lack of work available in their own countries because of colonial policy, all while having to cope with racism and poverty when they came to Britain. The recent scandal led to many of these people facing racism and poverty all over again; with many arguing that such behaviour would have never happened to white immigrants and that the decision to destroy records was racially charged. Whether such assertions are true or not, there is certainly an issue that being former colonial subjects that their history was not considered as important as white Britons.

Despite such claims that the British Empire was a good thing, even from politicians in government, there is a strong suggestion that perhaps the British government aren’t quite as proud about it as they claim. In 2011 a group of elderly Kenyans won the right to sue the British government for the torture they allege they suffered in the Mau Mau rebellion against the Empire. As a result of this an official review of colonial government papers, which unlike most government papers had not been passed onto the National Archives, was undertaken. The review found that they had been purposefully hidden, and that also thousands had been disposed of with the expressed intention by the secretary of state for the colonies so that any records that “might embarrass Her Majesty’s government” should be destroyed.[10]

 

[1] https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/07/26/britain-proud-its-empire/

[2] https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/dont-mistake-nostalgia-about-british-empire-scholarship

[3] http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/slavery/pdf/britain-and-the-trade.pdf

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

[5] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=S2EXN8JTwAEC&pg=PA132&dq=famine+british+empire+india&as_brr=3&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=famine%20british%20empire%20india&f=false

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/boer_wars_01.shtml

[7] https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20180412/281861529084026

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/british-empire-students-should-be-taught-colonialism-not-all-good-say-historians-a6828266.html

[9] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/413714/History_for_all.pdf

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/apr/18/britain-destroyed-records-colonial-crimes?newsfeed=true

 

An overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa (extended version)

Original was posted on- 12/04/2015 by lauraljpotter

Original title- A Brief Overview of Indian Migration and Diaspora in Africa

The Indian diaspora in Africa has seen a number of fluctuating migrations in the last two centuries. The majority of Indians came to Africa as indentured servants to the British. The use of indentured servants became particularly popular in the nineteenth century after the abolition of slavery. , as the next form of cheapest labour. 32,000 Indians were brought to East Africa in 1896 to build the Ugandan railway. Once the railway was complete in 1901, after the deaths of 2500 labourers in the five years it took to construct, many settled in various countries of East Africa and had their families join them. The migrants settled into local communities and began to work in the middling professions of these communities such as shopkeepers, artisans and doctors. This mirrors their position racially in the race system of African countries under colonial rule from the British. Whites occupied the most privileged position within the system, with Indians along with other Asians considered inferior to their white oppressors. However they did generally occupy a more privileged position than the Africans whose countries they lived in. It has been suggested that this position was generally accepted due to the fact that Indians found themselves able to flourish commercially, something that would not be afforded to them back in India. The British adapted the Hindu caste system that was already in place in India since Ancient times and they continued to do so in the nineteenth century. The system was as follows; Brahmins (Priests) remained at the top of the caste system, Khsatriyas (Warriors) were next, Vaishyas (Merchants/Landowners) followed them, Shudras (Servants/labourers) were of a lower caste and lastly the Untouchables (those who killed cattle for a living/eating the flesh of cattle) were considered to be out of caste and subordinate to all. The Indian labourers that were employed to build the railway would have been a lower caste.

As well as Indians migrating to Kenya and Uganda, those countries are often studied when analysing the Indian diaspora, other Indians migrated to other surrounding countries such as; Tanzania and Mozambique. These Indian Diasporas have not been studied as much and in some cases until recently. As a result we have less information about them. However, with the limited information we have it is still informative nonetheless. We will start with Tanzania. As with Kenya and Uganda, many Indians settled in India, those who came were mainly from the Gujarat region and were traders. Many Indians who settled in Tanzania were mainly found in the large port city, Dar es Salaam and Stone Town, Zanzibar. Zanzibar in particular was home to many Parsis. Parsis were originally from Persia that migrated to Gujarat and Sindh (now in Pakistan) and practice the Zoroastrian faith. Many of them worked as merchants and for the colonial government as civil servants. The father of Freddie Mercury, Bomi Bulsara worked as a Cashier for the Colonial Office in Zanzibar and the family lived there. After decolonisation there was an anti-Indian sentiment in Tanzania and many left the country for the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Some went back to India and Pakistan. The situation was no different in Zanzibar. After the 1964 revelation, which was to destabilise the power the Arab/Asian ruling class many Africans were unhappy by this inequality and felt they were unfairly represented politically. As a result many of the Indian diaspora, namely Parsis fled to other areas in the Commonwealth with many settling in the UK.

The countries that have been covered so far were in the British Empire. There was a sizable Indian diaspora in Mozambique. Mozambique was not part of the British Empire but it was part of the Portuguese Empire in Africa. Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese explorer noted how he spotted Hindu traders off the East coast of Africa. Many Indians took advantage of the trade route between East Africa and India for centuries. Some from the Vaishya caste settled in Mozambique during the nineteenth century. Muslim traders were also present in Mozambique and were involved in trade that included; ivory and selling cashew nuts that proved to be lucrative. Beforehand some traders were involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until it was outlawed. Some of the Indian Diaspora from South Africa continued to move up north towards Mozambique. Mozambique must have been considered a good place for the Indian diaspora and for their trade to prosper. So what went wrong?

Firstly, in the late nineteenth century there was an outbreak of plague in Mozambique and the Indian community was blamed for it. As a result, Indian migration to Mozambique as well as Asian migration in general was heavily restricted. This restriction was imposed from 1899 until 1907. However, it was still financially difficult for Indians who wanted to settle in Mozambique, the restriction was still in “force” in all but name.

Later on in the twentieth century, things took a worse turn for Indians in Mozambique after the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961. Prior to 1961, Goa was a Portuguese territory. The Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveria Salazar placed Indians in Mozambique in concentration camps and froze their bank accounts. The Portuguese claimed this was to protect them. However, another reason was that they had hoped for the Portuguese prisoners captured in Goa would be released. From the 1970s the decolonisation of Mozambique occurred. During this time many Indians left the country. Most of the Indians were of adherents of Ismailism, a branch of the Shia sect of Islam. However, unlike the Indian diaspora in other East African nations they were not forced out by those from inside the said countries they adopted as their new home. The Ismaili Indians were told to leave by an outside source, Aga Khan IV, an Imam. The case with East Africa being, they were told or made feel to leave from inside the country.

Not only did Indians migrate to East Africa, many had migrated to South Africa. Before the abolishment of slavery and arrival of the British, Dutch traders had acquired Indian slaves from the Mughal Empire and settled them in the Cape. The Mughal Empire ruled most of India apart from the southern tips. These Indian slaves were from Bengal, today the territory is in the Republic of India and Bangladesh during the 1600s. Interestingly enough they were never classed as ‘Indian’ or ‘Asian’ by Dutch Traders. They were called, ‘Cape Malay’ or ‘Cape Coloured’. However, there was no substantial rise in the Indian Diaspora until the British arrived at the Cape. Many Indians were transported to Natal Colony, today part of South Africa to work as indentured labourers, like what has been discussed previously in the post about Indians migrating to East Africa. They came to work on sugar, tea and cotton plantations that were introduced in Natal colony as the land was deemed appropriate for this type of cultivation to flourish. Again, due to a lack of indigenous labour, labour had to be imported from another Colonial hold, India. Over five decades c. 150,000 indentured labourers were imported from Tamil speaking areas, Hindi speaking areas and Telugu speaking areas. In terms of religion many of them identified as Hindu or Christian. There was a smaller Muslim population too. Colonial officials felt indentured labourers were a better choice than African workers because many of them were economically self-sufficient or that the British felt their working practices were not suitable for a growing economy based on a large supply and demand.

As with the Indian diaspora in East Africa some decided to remain in South Africa after their service. Many established themselves rather quickly in industry. These included; agriculture, the railways, fishing and clerks. Others established themselves as traders, but these Indian traders arrived after the indentured labourers. The main difference here was these traders paid for themselves in search of a new life in South Africa, whereas those in indentured labour could not afford this. Their payment was considered to be labour. These traders were mainly Muslim or Hindu Indians from the Gujarat region and Uttar Pradesh. In spite of large numbers settling in Durban, not all of these migrants settled there. Some migrants moved inland towards Johannesburg, establishing trading posts. Much to the dismay of white and even African tradesmen there was some conflict because there were more Indian tradesmen than white and African tradesmen.

Many Indian migrants faced discrimination in South Africa throughout the years, but unlike Uganda they were not forced to leave and unlike Kenya they didn’t feel as if they had to choose between British citizenship and Kenyan citizenship in Post-Colonial times. However, Indian South Africans were far from being free citizens in their new home. Indian migrants suffered from early discrimination in the colonies of; Natal, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Some colonies treated Indians more harshly than others. For example in the late 1800s in the Orange Free State, a Boer held territory, Indians were banned from living there. Generally Indians were restricted from certain areas and professions in the other states. For example in the Transvaal, Indians were banned from working in the mining industry and they were not allowed to walk on pavements. In Natal voting rights for Indians were restricted. Moreover, Mahatma Gandhi stated he received racial discrimination when he resided in the country as a Lawyer. In Cape Colony although racial discrimination occurred, it was not as bad in other colonies where they were banned entirely or that there voting rights were restricted. In actual fact Cape Colony proved to be the most lenient towards Indian migrants as they were allowed to vote, own property and prosper in trade.

During Apartheid, effective from 1948 until 1991 the population of South Africa was segregated according to the colour of their skin. People who were not considered to be white were racially discriminated. Indians living in South Africa at the time were not considered to be white, they were often classed as coloured and in some cases black. They suffered racial segregation just as much as the native population. Discrimination occurred in everyday life in South Africa. This included public facilities, employment opportunities, education and events.

The Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the world and although many have left African countries, some migrated back to Africa after the troubles of expulsion or discrimination. Today there are c. 40,000 people of Indian origin living in Mozambique, c.50,000 in Uganda, c.70,000 Tanzania, c.110,000 in Kenya and c.1,300,000 in South Africa.

Thuggee

A word like many other words that have been adopted into the English language from India like the words ‘bangle’ and ‘bungalow’. Although today the spelling is quite different and is more recognised to the eye as ‘thug’, to mean a violent person/criminal. The definition however has not changed much since the nineteenth century. The term ‘thugee’ is defined as the robbery and murder practiced by a group in India in accordance to their rituals of worship. Another way that people might know about the Thuggee is they have been referenced in popular media, most notably in the Indiana Jones Franchise. In the second movie Jones and company arrive in India and stumble upon Thuggee practices taking place at an underground palace, in spite of them being told by a palace operative and a British officer that the Thuggee practice had been quashed previously. The film although questionable in how they portrayed them (child labour taking place {no evidence to support this}, hearts being ripped out {again no evidence to support this}). However it did show that the cult was nonetheless violent.

The earliest documentation of the Thuggee was said to have been in the fourteenth century and they were said to have derived from seven Muslim tribes in spite of them claiming to be formed from the sweat of Kali (a Hindu God of worship). What is interesting to note is the practice is hereditary being that the life of a thug was passed on from father to son in most cases. However this is not the only way to become a thug. Other ways of membership included; in some cases to take the children (if any) of their victims, train to become one with a guru or to hope that if you got to know a thug well you may be recruited as one yourself (similar to how a fraternity would work). In spite of all these ways of becoming a thug it is unclear if women undertook the activities of a thug.

The victims of the Thuggee were usually travellers as they appeared to be easy victims for their activities. Traditionally they would usually appear to help people on their travels in the areas that they occupied as a way to gain their trust. After the Thugs gained the trust of travellers they would strike at a time when their victims would at least suspect it by strangling them with either a noose or handkerchief around the neck. Usually after this act they would rob the victims of any valuables and dispose of the body. These killings usually took place in remote spots away from prying eyes near river banks for instance and at times of the day when they were less likely to come into contact with anyone, usually at night.

As of yet it is not known exactly what the death toll was from the thuggee practice. However some estimates have been made into how many killings took place during the nineteenth century when the cult was still active. The British historian Mike Dash states that approximately 2 000 000 people were killed, yet some disagree with this amount saying it was too high. David Rapoport states that 500 000 people were killed, implying that even in recent history it is extremely difficult to state accurately how many deaths took place.

During the British Raj the Thuggee became notorious and as a result the British set out to suppress and eventually eradicate the practice of the Thuggee from the 1830s. It became clear from very early on that the British soon found an effective way to overcome the techniques of the Thuggee. In spite of general policing being in its infancy in Britain, they adopted very clever ways of warning travellers coming to India of the dangers, regarding the Thuggee at border points. This proved to be a success as more and more travellers became aware of the dangers and prepared themselves accordingly by productive counter measures. Secondly an official department was set up to help quash the threat of the Thuggee. This proved to be very useful as it enabled people to know about where the locations of the attacks happened, likely targets and what time of the day they would attack. Soon the Thuggee realised they had met their match and found that they could no longer keep up with the constant surveillance of the movements. Eventually the Thuggee way of life became extinct by the 1870s.

 

The British Museum – through the Lens of a Camera pt. 2

This is a continuation of my blog update from yesterday. The images you will see here are taken my by myself-probably very clumsy, in my walk around the British Museum on the 31st August 2015.

Through Asia: Oriental Cultures in the British Museum

So here I have gone around the rooms regarding China, Korea, Japan, and the India. I have taken pictures of several deities, heavenly guardians and other protective spirits, following the pattern that I had accidentally promoted through my Assyrian images. The are a couple of things that are included such as the crown that do not quite fit in with the theme – but what cultural historian with an art background in depictions of power would I be if i neglected that gilded silver beauty… When fitting I have taken pictures of things that perhaps we have catered for in the blog this year-like the japanese picture below. So have a look and enjoy it.

Louhan: in glazed stoneware from the Hebei Province, China (907-1125 AD)
Louhan: in glazed stoneware from the Hebei Province, China (907-1125 AD).

 

(Another glazed stoneware Chinese figure)
(Another glazed stoneware Chinese figure).

 

Ming dinasty stoneware figure from judgement group - 16th Century
Ming dynasty stoneware figure from judgement group – 16th Century.

 

Ming dinasty stoneware figure from judgement group - 16th Century
Ming dynasty stoneware figure from judgement group – 16th Century.

 

"Painted pottery tomb guardian", North China, tang dynasty 7th-8th Century AD
“Painted pottery tomb guardian”, North China, tang dynasty 7th-8th Century AD.

 

Glazed pottery group from North China during the Tang dynasty, 8th Century AD
Glazed pottery group from North China during the Tang dynasty, 8th Century AD.

 

"Sandstone figure of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara" Northern Qi dynasty, AD 550-577
“Sandstone figure of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara” Northern Qi dynasty, AD 550-577.

 

Brahma, South India, Tamil Nadu AD 1001-1050
Brahma, South India, Tamil Nadu AD 1001-1050.

 

Gilt silver crown from the late Ming early Qing period (17th Century)
Gilt silver crown from the late Ming early Qing period (17th Century).

 

Shiva dakshinamurti, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, late 10th Century
Shiva dakshinamurti, South India, Tamil Nadu, Chola dynasty, late 10th Century.

 

"Ambika, the Jain Mother Goddess" Dhar, Paramara dynasty (CE 1084)
“Ambika, the Jain Mother Goddess” Dhar, Paramara dynasty (CE 1084).

 

Vahara, the boar god - Vishnu's incarnation 12th Century
Vahara, the boar god – Vishnu’s incarnation
12th Century.

 

"Shiva and Parvati", Orissa, 12-13th Century
“Shiva and Parvati”, Orissa, 12-13th Century.

 

"Amitabha Buddha" - the buddha of infinite light- statue in marble, found in the Hebei Province (China), from the Sui dynasty from AD 581-618.
“Amitabha Buddha” – the buddha of infinite light- statue in marble, found in the Hebei Province (China), from the Sui dynasty from AD 581-618.

 

"cloisonne enamel figure of a Tibetan Lama, seated on a lotus base" Qing dynasty, early 19th century
“cloisonne enamel figure of a Tibetan Lama, seated on a lotus base” Qing dynasty, early 19th century.

 

Statue of Kudara Kannon, from Japan. Copy from the original statue by the temple of Nara made for the British Museum in 1930. (the original statue is from the c.600 AD).
Statue of Kudara Kannon, from Japan. Copy from the original statue by the temple of Nara made for the British Museum in 1930. (The original statue is from the c.600 AD).

 

IMAG0428_BURST002[1]
“Entertainers in Niwaka Festiva”l by Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1753 – 31 October 1806). Colour print from 1793.
Depiction of the guardians of the Buddhist realm. Joseon period, Korea, 1796-1820.
Depiction of the guardians of the Buddhist realm. Joseon period, Korea, 1796-1820.

 

Polynesia & the Barkcloth

As we were walking by, my father made me aware that they had brought some items from Polynesia, including the Barkcloth for a little while to the BM…And obviously we had to go have a look! Here are some pics of the items I found most interesting. The masks are particularly awesome!

 

pa'u (woman's skirt) an example of barkcloth decorated with ula'ula, or red plant dyes
pa’u (woman’s skirt) an example of barkcloth from Hawaii decorated with ula’ula, or red plant dyes.

 

Kovave mask - worn by male initiates from the Elema people from the Gulf region of Papua New Guinea, and used to call out the spirits of the bush. Early 1880s - in barkcloth too!
Kovave mask – worn by male initiates from the Elema people from the Gulf region of Papua New Guinea, and used to call out the spirits of the bush. Early 1880s – in barkcloth too!

 

Kavat from the Baining people (New Britain, Papua New Guinea). Mask to attract the spirits of the forest that this people depended on for harvesting, hunting and war. 1970s.
Kavat from the Baining people (New Britain, Papua New Guinea). Mask to attract the spirits of the forest that this people depended on for harvesting, hunting and war. 1970s.

 

Barkcloth headdresses used by the warriors of Papua New Guinea
Barkcloth headdresses used by the warriors of Papua New Guinea.

 

Kua'ula - use for men's loincloth in the 1700s (Hawaii).
Kua’ula – use for men’s loincloth in the 1700s (Hawaii).

The rise of the Maurya Empire 322BCE-232BCE

As part of this month’s challenge to write about a period or place that is out of our comfort zone, I have chosen to write about the rise of the Maurya Empire in ancient India. As I predominantly write about British or American history, the researching and writing of this post was something completely new to me. Therefore, I hope that you enjoy this post and that it gives you an insight into a fascinating period of history.

The Maurya Empire (322BCE-185BCE) began under the Maurya dynasty and would in a time, cover modern-day India and parts of modern-day Pakistan and modern-day Afghanistan. Also, apart from the extreme south, the Maurya Empire was the first empire to unite India under a single dynasty, thereby making this a very important period when looking at the history of India. Rising soon after the withdrawal of Alexander the Great’s troops from the Indus Valley in 325BCE, the small kingdom of Magadha in north-eastern India (modern-day Bihar and Bengal) was a part of the much larger Nanda Empire to the west. The first ruler of the Maurya Empire was Chandragupta Maurya, who from 322/1BCE waged guerrilla war against the Nanda Empire. The Nanda Empire ranged from north-east India at Pundravardhana to Bharkaccha on the north-west coast, essentially the northern part of India reaching the Himalayan mountain range. The Nanda Empire ended with the capture of the Nanda capital at Pataliputra in 321BCE and the succession of Chandragupta Maurya after the submission of the king of Nanda, Dhana.

The next phase of the empire’s rise was the conflict between the newly formed Maurya Empire and the Greek kingdoms/empires left by Alexander the Great. In 317BCE Maurya conquered Taxila, the capital of Punjab from the satrap of Media, Piethon, bringing him to the attention of other Greek generals further west. The next test for the Maurya Empire was the stable Greek kingdom under General Seleucus I as he tried to re-conquer the territory that Alexander had held west of the Indus Valley. The brief war in 305-303/2BCE ended in a peace treaty between the two powers, though Chandragupta Maurya was able to gain large areas of territory in what is now modern-day Afghanistan and Pakistan. Maurya also married a Greek general’s daughter as a sign of the alliance. This peace treaty allowed Chandragupta to unite the Indus Valley and Ganges Valley under the Maurya dynasty.

The conquest of central of India would be left to Chandragupta’s son and grandson. Bindusara inherited his father’s empire in 298BCE and set about conquering central India, expanding as far south as Karnataka. Bindusara’s son Ashoka continued the expansion with the addition of Kalinga in 261BCE and put down many of the revolts that had started under Bindusara. Whilst the reigns of Chandragupta and Bindusara had been about conquest and expansion, (Ashoka reign was also partially filled with some of the worst fighting and civilian deaths at Kalinga 262-261BCE) Ashako’s reign ushered in 40 years of peace. Therefore, the conquest of India was complete and the empire survived until the long decline after Ashako’s death in 232BCE.

Whilst it would appear that the Maurya Empire was formed by conquest and destruction, the empire also ushered in many changes for Indian history. Firstly, Buddhism flourished under the reign of the Maurya dynasty, particularly under Ashoka and missionaries were sent to the regions in south India and across ancient Asia. Trade routes within India also improved and agriculture became the main economic factor in the wealth of the Maurya administration. Furthermore, the empire built an effective military and civil administration under Chanakya, the tutor and prime minister of Chandragupta and unified India under one dynasty. Therefore, the Maurya Empire has a prominent place in the history of India and is still part of the cultural traditions of modern-day India today.

The Faiths of 500,000 British Citizens – Part 1: The Sikh People

As you might know already, this month has been totally dedicated to the study of religious history. So far everything that has been covered, was closely linked with the Christian traditions and belief throughout time. This made me think about the situation of religious belief in general in the UK, and so I did some research on census and polls on religious practices of the British people. It was interesting though to  find out that the second largest group of the population of the Uk  according to the survey results is the one corresponding to those that consider to not have a religious affiliation whatsoever. Interesting, yes, but not surprising. What did surprise me and interested my, due to my own ignorance, is that almost 500,000 people in the British Isles are part of religions that most of the people have not even heard about, and yet they are quite significant and outstanding in the rest of the world,  especially in the Middle East. For this reason today, I am introducing you to these four faiths: Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism and the Baha’i Faith. In this brief introduction I will present you some of the basic details about their beliefs and practices, places of worship, rituals and their place in the modern world.

Sikhism

This religion had its origins about 500 years ago in the Punjab region, India. Its founder is known as Guru Nanak Dev. It has influences from other religions, especially Hinduism and Islam, and it send a universal message of love and peace.

The Sikhs belief that there is only one God and that Truth is its name (Ikk oan kar sat nam), and this being has no physical form therefore, there are no representations of it. The Gurus are inspired by God and they teach the rest of the community, but they are not worshipped. Their holy scriptures are compiled in what is called the Guru Grant, which include the daily prayers. The ideal that Sikhism follows is the union of all religions, races, no matter what backgrounds these would have.

Despite of the individual factor being a very important part of the practice of this faith, the Sikh have very strong family and community values. They are hard-workers that belief in the dignity of labour, equality of all people, and the importance of service: providing for each other. The also refuse the use of any type of toxins or drugs (unless recommended by doctors), as well as the performance of any sort of ritual sacrifice. In addition, a very curios characteristic of these people is that, unlike many other Indians, they are active eaters of any kind of meat. Finally, there is a common element to all the Sikh which is their surname. For the males is Singh, meaning lion or lion-hearted, while for the females is Kaur (princess), and it is ment to resemble their courage and hard-working values. Also, it is a common practice to wear a steel bracelet, not cut your hair,  and in the case of males to wear turbans and beards.

Their preferred place of worship is called the Golden Temple, located in Amritsar (Punjab). Nonetheless, their meeting can take place in any gurudwara (anywhere were there is a Guru Grant). The five Takhts are also important as they are the seats of temporal authority. About their festivities, we know that just like in the Christian Faith, they perform initiation rituals (Amrit), marriage celebrations (Anand Karaj) and funerals. In addition, they have a religious calendar which include the following feasts. Baisakhi is their version of the New Year, which takes place some time in April and is usually celebrated as a mass congregation in the Golden Temple. They also celebrate the day in which Guru Hargobund was released from prison with a group of fifty-two Hindu princes. This event is commemorated about the same time than Christmas and it is called Bandi Chhor. In addition, they also celebrate the birthdays of their ten gurus.

What is the place of the Sikh in the Modern World?

Nowadays there are about twelve million of Sikh in the world, most of them living in India. It has to be highlighted the remarkable number of Sikh related with the military. This is likely connected with the long persecution that the Islamic population of the area launched against these people. As a result they armed themselves for self-defence. Their military tradition carried on under British government, as the Sikh fought in both the First and Second World War. Nonetheless, repression of the faith’s followers carried on during and after the British occupation of India. The massacre of 1919 after the prohibition of the celebration of the Sikh new Year serves as an example, in the same way that the violent violation of the Golden Temple in 1984 by the Indian armed forces as a result of what is known as the Operation Blue Star, ordered by Indira Gandhi who was the ruler of the state of India at the time.

As a result of the many political tensions between the Hindus, Muslims and Sikh people in the area of Punjab, many Sikh had no other choice but to leave their homeland and find refuge elsewhere, mainly in the states that where once part of the British Empire. This obviously helped to spread the faith to other parts of the world, becoming more and more popular. It is surprising how despite of being a faith very attached to its homeland and origins, it is at the same time a stable religion, and not only stable but a growing one. This might be due to the fact that, indeed, the values of the Sikh are flexible, and tolerant. Their beliefs and practices have positive views linked with many current issues such as racism, sexism and religious intolerance, which perhaps provide people with hope for a change in mankind’s attitude.

To Know more about the Sikh take a look to the following sources:

Kaur Singh, N-G., Sikhism: World Religions, (1993, New York)

http://www.sikhs.org/– website of the Sikh people and their beliefs

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/sikhism/ – BBC section on this faith.

ANDDDD TO KNOW ABOUT THE ZOROASTRIANS, JAINS AND FOLLOWERS OF THE BAHA’I FAITH KEEP AN EYE ON THE FOLLOWING UPDATES! and for a heads up here is the link about the census and polls:

http://www.humanism.org.uk/campaigns/religion-and-belief-surveys-statistics