Monday, January 29, 2007

Muharram: Hussaini Brahmins of Telangana

January 29, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Higera calendar, binds together the hearts of people of different religions in Andhra Pradesh, as in other parts of India. The first 10 days of this holy Islamic month are observed with religious fervour and devotion by Muslims and Hindus alike. In fact, more number of Hindus are seen offering prayers at Ashoorkhanas in Telangana villages and at Peerla Panjas in coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
Moharrum in Andhra Pradesh is a great occasion of integration. In some villages Hindu women dance and sing songs recalling the great sacrifice of Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain.
The uniqueness of Muharram in Andhra Pradesh is that even upper caste Hindus including Brahmins, particularly women, participate in prayers at Ashoorkhanas and Peerla Panjas, presenting a rare show of communal amity and human brotherhood. Some villages in Telangana still have a small section of people called "Hussaini Brahmins", who are known to observe Muharram traditionally for centuries. Hussain Brahmins are known to have been observing the 10th day of Muharram (Yaum-e-Ashoora) even before the formal entry of Muslims into the Indian sub-continent.
Muharram is observed differently in three different regions of the State. A majority of Shias and a section of Hindus observe "matam" (mourning) and offer "dhattis" to the Alams (standards) in Telangana. But in coastal Andhra where Shia Muslims are numerically a small community, Sunni Muslims manage and organise the Muharram processions with beautifully decorated "Peers" (Alams). The main difference in Muharram observance between Telangana and Andhra regions is that Hindus belonging to a particular caste in Andhra have adopted a particular Peerla Panja. For instance, dhobis have their own Peerla Panja and the organisers ensure that the Peer or Alam visits the houses of all dhobis in the given locality. The butcher community has its
own Peerla Panja. In the case of Rayalaseema, Muharram processions are taken out jointly by Hindus and Muslims.
In Hyderabad the Yaum-e-Ashoora is marked by the huge Bibi-ka-Alam procession on a caparisoned elephant. Lakhs of people from different parts of the State visit Hyderabad to witness the event. Some of the Panjas and Ashoor Khanas are controlled by Hindu mutavallis. Fire-walking is also a practice in some parts of the State during Muharram.
"Even the nomadic Lambada tribal community has evolved its own style of observing Muharram. There are hundreds of Muharram hymns in Telugu, though Telugu is the mother tongue of only a few thousand Muslims in Andhra Pradesh. This clearly shows that many Hindus have been religiously observing the Yaum-e-Ashoora. Interestingly most of the Muharram hymns and lamentation songs in Telugu have been penned by Hindu writers and poets," says eminent Telugu poet Yakoob. Since Muharram stands for the
fight between democracy and Satanic forces, people of all communities have stood by Imam Hussain and his pious group of followers.
On the 10th day of Muharram processions are taken out throughout the State wherein people of all communities participate singing hymns in praise of the martyrs of the battle of Karbala. The Hussaini Brahmin sect, though very small in number, also takes part in the procession.
According to senior Islamic writer Syed Naseer Ahmad, the Hussaini Brahmins are also known as Dutts or Mohiyals in north India. "They have a long martial tradition, which the Hussaini Brahmins trace back to the Battle of Karbala about 14 centuries ago. The belief is that the ancestor of Hussaini Brahmins known as Rahab had fought in the army of Imam Hussain by travelling all the way from Punjab. Rahab fought against Yazid. Rahab's sons who survived the battle returned to India and settled down in the western Punjab. But this tradition is slowly dying down," says Naseer

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Digital historic atlas of South India throws light on prehistoric Dravidian land

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 25: Was the prehistoric Dravidian land a habitat of Homo Erectus, the ancestor of modern man, Homo Sapiens? Did the modern man evolved in South India, as opposed to the general view that the ancestor of modern man had his origin in Africa?
According to the first-ever digital historic atlas of South India, the land of Dravidian people, an analogy of prehistoric South India with African sites shows that the "man" who dominated the early Stone Age in the region south of the Vindhyas belonged to the species of Homo Erectus.
The South Indians were adept in making jewellery and making tools from iron. But they learnt about the "Varna" system from their counterparts in the north.
The population density in South India at that time was very low and actually so far only two localities of this lower Palaeolithic culture are known, namely Upper Krishna valley in Karnataka and Attirampakkam valley about 50 kilometres to the north-west of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The man at this stage was mostly a hunter using large-sized stone tools such as handaxes and choppers.
"An analogy with African sites shows that this man is supposed to belong to the species of Homo Erectus. The real ancestor of modern man (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) who appeared around 50,000 years before present was a more developed species who could fabricate thinner flake tools and blade-like tools using a variety of stones," the atlas, prepared by the French Institute of Pondicherry, points out.
In their presentation made early this week at the Map World Forum meeting held in Hyderabad, Frederic Borne, head of Geomatic Laboratory, Pondicherry and others, pointed out that the aim behind the digital atlas was to give an objective information on the cultural, social, economic and political information pertaining to South India, from prehistoric times to 1600 AD, using a combination of maps, illustrations and texts, and using GIS techniques.
The compilers of the atlas heavily relied on the epigraphic records (nearly 9,000) for the period from 600 CE to 1600 CE and on archaeology for the pre-600 CE period. Using maps, the digital atlas gives vivid information on the important areas in South India including traces of Ramayana, wherein Sri Rama was mentioned as having crossed the Vindhyas to free Sita from the clutches of Ravana.
The period 3000 to 1000 BC in south India was marked an important technological development when man took much care to make the stone tools in finer shapes by grinding and polishing. "For the first time some storage vessels were made using clay. Also first experiments were made to cultivate grains on a small scale. Cattle and sheep were domesticated. That is, the Neolithic man had more than one avenue of getting his subsistence, hunting being just one among the many," the atlas observes.
According to the compilers, more areas were begun to be occupied by man in several parts of Indian sub-continent but in different times, starting at the earliest in 7000 BC in Baluchistan (Pakistan) and from 3000 BC onwards elsewhere. In the south India, the Neolithic period had its advent around 2500 BC. The Neolithic stage man lived mostly on small flat hills or on the foothills in small, more or less permanent settlements but for periodical transhumance for grazing purposes.
The South Indian neolitithic man gave his dead kin proper burials within urns or pits. His aesthetic sense can be appreciated in the form of rock-art found near or within the rock-shelters. Such structures are reported from Gulbarga district. These monuments are so far mainly distributed in the Central Deccan, in the districts to the south of Hyderabad.
During the Megalithic Age (1000 to 300 BC), unlike in north India, the Iron Age culture in peninsular India is marked by Megalithic burial sites, which are found in several hundreds of places. For the first time most of south India is studded with Iron Age sites; in other words, most of the macro-region, from Nagpur in the north to Kanyakumari in the extreme south was populated by the Iron Age folk during the course of the first millennium BC.
"Still there is much to be learnt regarding the chronology of these sites. On the basis of some excavations, and on the basis of the typology of the burial monuments, it has been suggested that there was a gradual spread of the Iron Age sites from the north to the south. The southern sites are therefore considered chronologically later than the northern sites," the Atlas says.
Iron technology was highly developed and shows a high degree of uniformity through the length and breadth of peninsular India. Both iron tools and weapons show quite a variety.
The ancient South Indians were also adept in making gold, silver, copper, and bronze jewels and objects of art. "They were things of prestige. Beads made of carnelian were ubiquitous prestige objects found among the grave goods," according to the Atlas.
The period 300 BC to 200 BC marked the first or earliest historical phase of south India including Tamizakam or Tamil land comprising present Tamil Nadu and Kerala states, as writing in the proper sense started appearing from early 3rd century BC, though written documents is not available in sufficient quantity to help in the reconstruction of history.
During the third century BC, the Deccan was part of the Mauryan kingdom whose political centre was in Pataliputra in north India, and from the middle of the first century BC to second century CE the same area was ruled by the Satavahana dynasty. The Tamil area had all along an independent political set-up.
"Gradually the rulers came under the spell of north Indian ideology of kshatriya varna (ruling class), which encouraged performance of Vedic sacrifices to enhance the status of the ruler and equated him with the heroes of the Itihasa-Purana tradition," it points out.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Codex on Pappadam: What's the size of your papad?

January 20, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 19: Any traditional Indian meal is incomplete without the crispy papads. And as the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants, controlled jointly by the FAO and the WHO, decides to include papads on its food items list, the Indian government sets international standards for this tasty kitchen product.
Papads, generally prepared from soaked rice flour or black gram, mixed with salt and spices, should be manufactured and dried under hygienic conditions.
"Papads shall be in the form of thin circular discs having diameter ranging from 5 cm to 25 cm. The thickness shall be 0.3 mm to 1.2 mm for papads while for sago papads it shall be between 1.0 mm and 1.5 mm," according to the standards prescribed by the Central government.
Any food item that meets Codex standards will be accepted by member countries around the world. If Indian papad manufacturers meet the new government standards, they can compete in the international market without any hassles.
The new Indian Codex standards for papads also specify that papads shall be of "pleasant taste and smell, and shall be free from rancid or bitter taste and shall not crumble".
Papads shall also be free from broken or frayed edges, excessive number of holes, dirt or foreign matters, insect infestation or fungal growth. On frying, papad shall be brittle (break easily) and crispy to bite. They shall not give leathery, gritty, sticky or soggy mouth feel.
Apart from papads, several traditional food products like lassi, khoa, tamarind concentrate and powder, fruit bars, picked fruits and pickled vegetables, chilli paste, paneer and bhujiya.
The Indian Codex standard for lassi is that it should be free from added foreign matter including starch except sugar and synthetic sweetener. The fat obtained shall conform to milk fat and pesticide residue on fat basis shall conform to codex limit for milk on fat basis.
As far as khoa is concerned, the milk fat in it should be not less than 30 per cent on dry weight basis and it should be free from added starch and added sugar and there should be no colouring matter or pesticide residues below the limit under codex for milk on fat basis.
When it comes to doodh peda, the Codex guidelines specify that the total solids should be 65 per cent at the minimum level and the fat content on dry basis should be a minimum of 30 per cent. Peda should be free from pathogens and added colour.
If Gulab Jamun has to meet the international standards it should be prepared from khoa, skimmed milk powder, milk powder, ghee, cream, butter or other milk solids. It may, however, contain maida, citric acid and baking powder but should be free from dirt, insects and mould growth. The gulab jamun should be uniform in colour, shape and shall have good flavour and appropriate texture.
Rasagulla should not contain any added starch and fat obtained from the product shall conform to milk fat. It may contain preservative permitted under codex for dairy products but shall be free from added colour.
Tamarind concentrate or powder should be free from insects, fibres and seeds. The concentrate shall have characteristic flavour, free from burnt or any other objectionable flavour and taste.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Artificial Intelligence: IIIT comes out with intelligent robots

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 8: Dozens of robots vied with one another on Monday separating ferocious "tigers" from large but humble "elephants" and "eating" fruits leisurely to boost their artificial intelligence.
The Robo Safari held at the International Institute of Information Technology here brought to the fore the advancement made by India on the artificial intelligence front. Robots in different shapes and sizes took part in the Robo Safari, the first of its kind competition being held down the Vindhyas. The competition coincides the five-day International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence which began on Monday.
The Robo Safari began with robots entering a room where several objects shaped like elephants, tigers, dogs, zebras and lions and apples, bananas, citrus, grapes and pomegranates were placed. The robots vied with one another to recognise these artificial objects using their artificial brains.
The task before the robots was not simple. They will have to identify the object and record its image as well. This twin task of identifying and recording the object is not quite easy for the robots. The designers have all racked their brains and put their natural intelligence together to make the robots work with artificial intelligence.
"The contest is aimed at testing visual intelligence and mechanical strength. The idea is to look at the development of mobile robots that can effectively work in a wide variety of situations and environments. The challenge is to build robots that can perform tasks in realistic environments exploiting the recent developments in the areas of computer vision and mobile robotics," says one of the organisers.
The robots were developed based on a real-time vision system with a laptop and a camera mounted on a given mobile platform. The vision system must detect, recognise and locate all instances of objects along the path of the robot. The Safari was held in two subjects location and identification.
The robots moved on five different types of terrain, racing along the circuit one at a time. Scores were given based on their performance. The robots were started by a button/switch at the beginning of the race once the judge pressed the timer. After starting, the robots worked completely autonomous and moved along the track and negotiated obstacles without external control or intervention.
While doing so the robots recognised all objects in their path. A 3D model of the specified objects were placed in different poses. Room lighting was kept normal with no deep shadows.
The contestants were supplied with a set of multiple images of several target objects a month in advance while another set was released only on Sunday to make the competition even tougher.
The robots counted the objects - one apple, two tigers and an elephant even while reporting it correctly.
In the second competition based on "localisation", the robot entered the room where simple geometric objects (3D) were kept. It stopped at certain positions (unknown to participants). The vision task is to localise the robot at that position. The starting location of the robot was made available to the participants.
At positions where it stops, optional landmarks (at-least 3 in number) were placed for aiding localisation. These landmarks were made known to participants in advance. The positions of the landmarks were given at the start of the competition. They were in the same frame of reference as the starting position of the robot.
When the robot stopped it was notified through a mike input to the lap-top in form of a beep or tone. Uncertainty in position of the robot up to a certain error was allowed.