Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

A Misunderstanding: Manat and Somnath

The story of Muslim conquest of central India may have begun with a misunderstanding: one man’s pronunciation can become another man’s poison. The three most revered pagan goddesses of pre-Islamic Mecca were AL Lat, Al Uzza, and Manat, denounced in the Quran as false deities and the source of the infamous controversy about the alleged ‘Satanic Verses’. According to an old belief, when the prophet smashed the idols at Kaaba, the image of Manat was missing: it had been secreted away, and sent in a trading ship to a port-town in India called Prabhas, which imported Arab horses. According to this belief, idol-worshippers built a temple to Manat , and renamed the place to So-Manat, or somnath.


From, Shade of Swords: Jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity By M.J Akbar.

She was one of the goddesses Prophet Muhammed once said could be worshipped, but then retracted, claiming that the assertion was influenced by Satan. The reference to Manat is contained in the so-called Satanic Verses, subsequently deleted from the Quran.

A good place for a historian of Islam to start would be 629 ad, or Year 8 of the new Muslim calendar, though that had yet to come into being. In that year, 20 armed horsemen, led by Sa'd ibn Zayd, were sent by Muhammad to destroy the statue of Manat, the pagan goddess of fate, at Qudayd, on the road between Mecca and Medina. For eight years Muhammad had tolerated the uneasy coexistence of the pagan male god Allah and his three daughters: al-Lat, al-Uzza and Manat. Al-Uzza (the morning star, Venus) was the favourite goddess of the Quraysh, the tribe to which Muhammad belonged, but Manat was the most popular in the region as a whole, and was idolised by three key Meccan tribes that Muhammad had been desperately trying to win over to his new monotheistic religion. By Year 8, however, three important military victories had been won against rival pagan and Jewish forces. The Battle of Badr had seen Muhammad triumph against the Meccan tribes despite the smallness of his army. The tribes had been impressed by the muscularity of the new religion, and Muhammad must have deemed further ideological compromise unnecessary. Sa'd ibn Zayd and his 20 horsemen had arrived to enforce the new monotheism.

The keeper of Manat's sanctuary saw the horsemen approach, but remained silent as they dismounted. No greetings were exchanged. Their demeanour indicated that they had not come to honour Manat or to leave a token offering. The keeper didn't stand in their way. According to Islamic tradition, as Sa'd ibn Zayd approached the beautifully carved statue of Manat, a naked black woman seemed to emerge from nowhere. The keeper called out: 'Come, O Manat, show the anger of which you are capable!' Manat began to pull out her hair and beat her breasts in despair, while cursing her tormentors. Sa'd beat her to death. Only then did his 20 companions join him. Together they hacked away until they had destroyed the statue. The sanctuaries of al-Lat and al-Uzza were dealt with in similar fashion, probably on the same day.

A seventh-century prophet could not become the true spiritual leader of a tribal community without exercising political leadership and, in the Peninsula, mastering the basics of horsemanship, sword-play and military strategy. Muhammad had understood the need to delay the final breach with polytheism until he and his companions were less isolated. However, once the decision to declare a strict monotheism was taken, no concessions were granted. The Christian Church had been forced into a permanent compromise with its pagan forebears, allowing its new followers to worship a woman who had conceived a child by God. Muhammad, too, could have picked one of Allah's daughters to form part of a new constellation - this might even have made it easier to attract recruits - but factional considerations acted as a restraint: a new religious party had to distinguish itself forcefully from Christianity, its main monotheistic rival, while simultaneously marginalising the appeal of contemporary paganism. The oneness of a patriarchal Allah appeared the most attractive option, essential not only to demonstrate the weakness of Christianity, but also to break definitively with the dominant cultural practices of the Peninsula Arabs, with their polyandry and their matrilinear past. Muhammad himself had been the third and youngest husband of his first wife, Khadija, who died three years before the birth of the Islamic calendar.

Historians of Islam, following Muhammad's lead, would come to refer to the pre-Islamic period as the jahiliyya ('the time of ignorance'), but the influence of its traditions should not be underestimated. For the pre-Islamic tribes, the past was the preserve of poets, who also served as historians, blending myth and fact in odes designed to heighten tribal feeling. The future was considered irrelevant, the present all-important. One reason for the tribes' inability to unite was that the profusion of their gods and goddesses helped to perpetuate divisions and disputes whose real origins often lay in commercial rivalries.

From, Mullahs and Heretics by Tariq Ali

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question...
Oh, do not ask, `` What is it? ''
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains.
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys.
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me.
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, ``Do I dare?'' and, ``Do I dare?''
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
[They will say: ``How his hair is growing thin!'']
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
[They will say: ``But how his arms and legs are thin!'']
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep. . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: `` I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all''--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: ``That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.''

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor--
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow, or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
``That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.''
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.


I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.




T.S. Eliot (1888–1965). Prufrock and Other Observations. 1917.


The epigraph to the poem comes from Dante ; Divine Comedy Inferno (XXVII, 61-66), translation using google translation for Italian to English is:



S' I believed that my answer was To person who never returned to the world, This staria flame without piu jolt. But perciocche giammai of this bottom I do not return alive some, s'' I hear the true one, Without infamy topic I answer to you.

Translation from the Norton Anthology of Poetry is:

"If I thought my answer were given

to anyone who would ever return to the world,

this flame would stand still without moving any further.

But since never from this abyss

has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true,

without fear of infamy I answer you."


Accnowledgements: Wiki and Bartleby.com
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