The Venus: Looking at two recent articles

As I discussed in a previous post, the connection between the seclusion of girls at puberty and Venus figurines is not yet a subject which has found the respectability among  academia. However, it is still a useful exercise to see how these ideas stand against  more acceptable views on the prehistoric figurines. There have been two papers from the last year on Venus figurines, available on the web which I would like to briefly review in this post.

The Venus: Mother or Woman?

Petra Molnar

University of Manitoba

Journal of the University of Manitoba Anthropology Students’ Association, Vol 29 (2011)

I read the above paper titled The Venus: Mother or Woman? with great interest. The author makes a very valid point in a succinct manner about the need for a move away from more traditional viewpoints on the subject.

 In order to unearth the true meanings behind the fascinating Venus figures of the Upper Paleolithic, one must move away from the paradigm which casts the Venuses as fertile mothers, instead considering other possible explanations of their existence. (p. 6)

 Some theories about Palaeolithic Venuses are very limited in scope and only explore the visual qualities which meet the eye. Few theories are rather androcentric and even see the figurines as pornographic. I wholeheartedly agree with the author that Professor McDermott brought a new perspective to this lively debate about what these figurines represent.  However, I feel that we are not doing justice to his theory if we are to treat it as the basis for a gender-centric discussion about the figurines. The theory doesn’t explain why men didn’t make similar objects, as frequently, representing themselves without face or feet despite the fact that among art mobilier from these prehistoric times, many three-dimensional objects have been uncovered. This may mean that these figurines transcended the gender and represented a more symbolic theme. Secondly, there is no way of proving that these women themselves made the figurines or someone else, possibly even a male, created them. Thirdly, we should not look at our prehistory through a glass coloured by our gender-centric biases. In other words, what is important is not rather a non-sexist view but objectivity[1] encompassing a broader explanation. Such explanation should take into account not only obvious features of the figurines but also the possible symbolic meanings attributable to them.

On the other hand, the fertility symbolism associated with Venus figurines may still have some relevance. To see the persistence of this association, we only need to see the next article published by two scientists about which we would discuss in a following section. I, too, believe that there is no direct association between the figurines and fertility. However, there may be some form of relevance of fertility which permeates through another symbolic meaning. For an example, if these figurines were related to puberty rites as the articles previously published in this website hypothesize, the figurines could have ended up serving as protective amulet for pregnant women or wish-conferring talisman for women yearning for children. Even if the figurines had nothing whatsoever to do with puberty, they could still have served for such purposes through storied personage/s probably represented by these figurines. Thus, we cannot be completely sure that these figurines, in no conceivable manner, were associated with fertility as the deep history doesn’t easily divulge her secrets. Whatever opinion which fits most of the known facts about Venuses can be somewhat more plausible than a view explaining only one aspect of their existence.

Another sad facet of anthropological interpretations of the figurines tainted by modern gender-biases is selecting a favoured one from many possibilities. An example for such an instance related to ‘fertility symbolism’ is frequently occurring ideomorphs of ‘pubic triangle’. Are we sure that the prehistoric relatives of ours meant exactly what we think these signs to represent? Can it be a primitive chastity device which bothered both men and women? In the mind of hunter-gatherer man, perhaps, the chastity of his woman might have been more prominent than some life-giving symbolism. In prehistoric cave art, there aren’t many occasions where male organs had been depicted in isolation[2].  Why, then, did these early relatives of ours depict ‘female signs’ in isolation. Treating caves as female by the Paleolithic men and women could be one explanation. Could then these ideomorphs be symbolic of a pledge of chastity from women to men or some supernatural force? We cannot be sure.

There can be so many unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, questions that would naturally come to a critical mind about these arts and artefacts from our distant past. Future archaeological and anthropological researchers may try to further investigate these issues. Unless they rid themselves of prejudicial views, their task may not get any easier.

In the final analysis, as the author of the above article says, first we should unshackle ourselves of more traditional viewpoints if they are burdened with our prejudices.

Venus Figurines of the European Paleolithic: Symbols of Fertility or Attractiveness?

Alan F. Dixson and Barnaby J. Dixson

Journal of Anthropology

Volume 2011 (2011), Article ID 569120, 11 pages


 As the title of the paper suggests, two authors try to reaffirm, at least for some of the figurines, the veracity of fertility hypothesis which the previous author hadn’t felt comfortable with. In the following discussion, the attractiveness aspect of these figurines will be overlooked as the proper noun “Venus” for these figurines only serves as a convenient label.

 We suggest three possible roles for Venus figurines. Firstly, a minority of images may have been intended to represent young, sexually attractive and nulliparous adult females. These might truly be considered as “Venuses” in the conventional sense. Secondly, a subset of figurines represented changesin body shape during pregnancy and might be symbols of fertility. Thirdly, the figurines, depictingcorpulent and often middle-aged women, may not have been “Venuses” in any modern or conventional sense. They may, instead, have symbolized the hope for survival and for the attainment of a well-nourished (and thus reproductively successful) maturity, during the harshest period of the major glaciation in Europe.(p.15)


Again, we may be forced to ask why the glaciations and harshness of environment only led to making Venuses not her male counterparts with similar frequency. It is very probable that these Paleolithic men also wished to be well-nourished and, as the driven males through the law of ruthless selfishness of gene are supposed to do, had surely been longing to be reproductively successful.  Dr. Patricia Rice in her insightful analysis first argued to remove the fertility label attached to these figurines by pointing out the womanhood celebrated by these figurines[3]. Instead of expert opinions that Dr. Rice relied on, the study in focus used contemporary university students to evaluate the age category and attractiveness of the figurines. One problem with such analyses is the loss of symbolic meanings or other plausible cultural and phenomenological nuances associated with the figurines.

Moreover, how certain are we that these figurines represent the physical forms of Paleolithic women, made to scale and betraying their age? How crucial is the facial features in determining the age of a person from the physical appearance? Why should we expect these women to be average persons with body forms conforming to every other woman of a perceived age? For an example, couldn’t there be a youth with a corpulent body shape? What is the likelihood of these figurines representing some storied personage or personages from these prehistoric periods?

The article clearly states that there can be more than one reason for the existence of Venus figurines. This repeats a very strong point which many authors on this subject expressed in different ways by proposing multitude of hypotheses. With one such view, discussed elsewhere in this web site, it is argued that these figurines were associated with the seclusion of girls at puberty. Can this hypothesis stand the conclusions of the authors of the article in focus? I believe it can. The seclusion of girls at puberty hypothesis attempts to neither assign an age to the women who were represented by these figurines, nor make it the exclusive interpretation for all such figurines. It only looks at the symbolic meaning of these figurines and accepts that there can be other figurines, not falling within the groups of figurines which are faceless and feetless, made for different purposes. The hypothesis can easily explain many of the characteristics of group of Paleolithic Venuses showing neither facial features nor feet. It can account for their obese looks and apparent incisions. It is also very widely accepted that red ochre found on some figurines can result from their association with puberty rites. The diffusion of puberty rites across the globe, too, should not be ignored. This may indicate a history of, at least, 40000 years. This sort of antiquity can comfortably sit within the prehistoric setting of  Venuses. It can even merge with the widely-accepted altered-state-of-consciousness hypothesis about the origin of cave art signalling the Creative Explosion. With all these compelling reasons, if we still choose to ignore it, we should have some sound reasons to do so.

[1] The connection between the views on Venuses and our religiosity or lack of it expressed in this website is only secondary to the author’s strong belief in the connection between puberty rites and the symbolism encompassing prehistoric Venus figurines.

[2] See p.147 of Cave Art by Jean Clottes,Phaidon,2011

[3] Prehistoric Venuses: Symbols of Motherhood or Womanhood? Journal of Anthropological Research, 37(4), 1981

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A short note on Remembered Present and failures of our reasoning

A recent incident that had a profound impact on me forced my hand to write the following post. To borrow a phrase from a well-known writer, I am trespassing, as I often do, on the territories of the specialists.  However, this is just another commentary on a very common phenomenon and my musings are more hypothetical in nature.  In a previous post, the implications of ‘rule-of-thumb logic’ in our daily affairs were discussed. Some of the thoughts expressed in that article can be made more relevant with the incidents about to be discussed here.

A few weeks ago, I was driving alone in heavy rain around 9 o’clock at night. The traffic was almost non-existent and lane markings were hardly visible. There was a service road next to the main road and at a distance a vehicle was coming in my direction on the service road which is situated next to a main road.  Even though the roads were familiar, my mind took a sudden decision and made me drive towards nature strip dividing the service road and the main road. In haste, my mind perceived the service road as the other side of a divided road with a nature strip in the middle and for a split moment, I was on the wrong side of an empty main road.

Another such incident was recounted by a friend. One day she parked her car in the car park at a shopping centre very familiar to her. After making her purchases she walked back towards where she parked her car. With the remote controller, she unlocked the car which was of same colour as hers and very similar in appearance. She didn’t notice the unlock indicators flashing. After opening the door she sat in the driver’s seat and was about to adjust the mirror before she noticed an unfamiliar girl in the back seat fully immersed in her texting.  Then she realised that her car had been parked next to the one she got in.

These are only a few incidents which I could recall even though such situations are very common in our daily existence. Following Prof. Gerald Edelman’s selectionist viewpoint, we can find similar situations in other environments, too.  An animal sensing a change in its surroundings may decide to flee even when there is no obvious danger. The flight[1] was executed by the previous value driven behaviours linking a conscious scene via remembered present. However, the linking should be done via logical deduction.   I find them to be very good examples of the way in which ‘rule-of-thumb’ logic[2] operates. In the light of issues like binding problem, re-entry etc., the mechanisms involved are obviously more complicated than what they are made out to be in this article. However, I would still like to reflect on the connection between the sensory inputs and reality in reference to our logical systems.

When our memory looks through stacks of ‘visuals’ to figure out the best fit for the current scenario or the remembered present, it seems natural to use rule-of-thumb logic. These ‘visuals’, at least some of them, can be thought of as somewhat similar to ‘Archetypes’, vague in outline but specific enough to identify itself with the salient features in its form. The information about the current scenario would come in as a stream of ‘visuals’ which would be matched to the visuals from memory. But this is only done using the ‘rule-of-thumb’ logic resulting in some errors or false signals which can be viewed in a setting of Gestalt psychology. The following is a simple model which binds together the above elements we discussed. Later, we will focus on how Gestalt aspect of the model comes about.

{ Memory (‘visuals’) >>>>>>> matching with rule-of-thumb logic <<<<<<<< Sensory Inputs} => Reality

As Gestalt implies when we match the sensory inputs with the memory, we grab the reality as a whole without always paying enough attention to the specific details which are determined by the nature of the whole. Through Prof. Benjamin Libet’s and other neuroscientist’s work we know that our subliminal processes play a part larger than we sense in our daily life. However, sometimes these subliminal pathways fail to tick off all the boxes while the matching happens resulting in distorted reality. That is when the ‘rule-of-thumb logic’ fails. We can visualise this with a two complicated jig-saw puzzle pieces. Sometimes, if we get few key contours of the pieces right, we can easily put them together. If our logic, perhaps, acting subliminally, miss a contour in the process, the two pieces wouldn’t fit.

With a broader interpretation we may place the above incidents within the framework of figure-ground perception. It could be reasonable to assume that determining what we see as figure or ground is done by the ‘rule-of-thumb’ logic using ‘visuals’ in our memory. If the logic used is more advanced than what is perceived as ‘rule-of-thumb logic’, there would be even less chance of false alarms. As the error management theory predicts, there is a selective bias towards committing less costly errors. For the alert animal above-mentioned, a false positive is far less costly than giving up its life. However, for our day-to-day decision making process, such a sophisticated biological framework cannot be expected to operate for the simple reason that we make umpteenth number of decisions in a day. Each one of these scenarios might not have been weighed in to see how costly an erroneous decision would be.

My main point in this article is about our routine decision making processes are largely governed by ‘rule-of-thumb logic’. This logical process may be far more pervasive than meets eye and may even be embedded in our biology. When driving a car we may misjudge the space that should be allowed for an incoming vehicle on an unmarked road. That judgement is based on our rule-of-thumb reasoning. Our decisions and conclusions that are arrived at by such logic are not illogical given our past experience or memories. However, our decisions based on this ‘inferior’ logic cannot be fool-proof and can lead to distorted perception of reality. For an example, if we extrapolate the same logic for complex issues that we face we can see how we increase our probability of making ‘wrong’ decisions. Based on superficial similarities, we may conclude and predict. As a certain star always becomes visible on the horizon before the start of the yearly rainy season, there is a connection between the rainy season and the rising of star; thus, given rainy season’s impact on us, we may also conclude that stars can foretell human conditions as well. Even though jig-saw pieces are not coming together, the rule-of-thumb logic can force a match. Our ingrained tendency to see things in the light of this simple logic, sometimes, via a subliminal process which we may call intuition, might have roots in our biological tendency to use this rule-of-thumb reasoning for many ‘automatic’ decision making processes.

[1] The same mechanism leading to minimally counter-intuitive concepts is invoked by some researchers to find the origin of our religiosity.  If I accept Prof. Edelman’s version, as I like to do, the questions I need to pose myself are; how did our ancestors acquire memory patterns about ghosts? What was the evolutionary advantage of replacing false alarms with even more false concepts which may become costly in the end?

[2] The rule-of-thumb logic is in some sense similar to the heuristics and biases idea of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. However, the rule-of-thumb logic assumes we make the best judgement under circumstances irrespective of the fact that it would be judged differently by others, on reflection or under different circumstances. If our daily judgements are often wrong, we have to be dead as soon as we in our childhood become independent of parental oversight. Similarly, judgement is not judged under this logic. Furthermore, this reasoning assumes no self-interest bias exists.

Posted in About the book, Topics of General Interest | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment and the interest in seclusion of girls at puberty

Seclusion of girls at puberty has been a topic which was discussed in Western literature for more than a century. Similarly, Palaeolithic Venuses have been a hot topic in many fields of study for a long time. Towards the end of 2010, connection between the two was brought together in a paper published in this website as it was deemed important to conceptual basis on which the blog site was founded[1]. Ideas and opinions can be forced upon people in a manner similar to selling merchandise. Like many fashion trends, the ideas so forced upon may disappear from our collective memory after their successful foray. However, a decent idea may slowly find its way through incessant scrutiny of interested people and bid it’s time to avoid such an untimely demise.  In a similar manner, if the view bringing together seclusion of girls at puberty and the Palaeolithic Venus figurines is strong enough to survive such a deep analysis, it would be treated as having some merit.

Over the last two years, ideas considered in this web space might have contributed to kindling of new interest in the topic of seclusion of girls at puberty. Of course, there has also been a Wikipedia page on this subject for a while now. Based on Wikipedia article, there is a Facebook community page on the topic as well. From the statistics covering the ninety days prior to the day this article was written, the Wiki page received about 15 page views a day.  According to Full wiki, based on the page views, this has become the fifty sixth ranking topic in Cultural Anthropology[2]. There has also been a recent book published based on the internet articles and sold on Amazon[3]. Importance of all of this is the awareness created among many people, enthusiastic about forgotten or dying cultural practices.

Even though some general interest in the above topics is visible from the foregoing discussion, scholars and researchers in relevant fields would perhaps be critical of the ideas expressed in these web pages as pseudo-scientific or not rigorously argued. Apart from a tolerant few with open minds, many, if they happen to see these pages, even wouldn’t pay much attention to the viewpoints therein. As practitioners of science, such stringent standards of theirs should be applauded. Science, through the mechanism of ‘natural selection’ picks the ‘fittest’ ideas. However, before the practices such as seclusion of girls at puberty fades away from our collective cultural memory, it is useful to look back at them to see new ideas which these dying rituals can bring to bear. Do we have evidence to completely reject connection between the prehistoric Venuses and puberty rituals? Assuming that these are connected, what do we see as its impact on our long-held views? Would there be a shamanistic aspect associated with these puberty rituals?  Why did our ancestors burden themselves with such taboos? Can there be any connection between the caves like Lascaux, Chauvet, Rouffignac and Perche Merele and the female puberty rituals? We only can speculate[4].

[1] We do not believe that the origin of religion should be relegated to our animal ancestry. To place it on an equal footing, in spirit not in logical rigor, similar to science we need to look for its origin in our human ingenuity.

[2] (accessed 23/3/2012)

[3] Seclusion of Girls at Puberty (French Edition) [Paperback] by Frederic P. Miller (Editor), Agnes F. Vandome (Editor) and John McBrewster (Editor)

[4] A somewhat lengthy discussion on this topic and cave art is postponed to a future point in time.

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Witches, Shamans & the Girls at Puberty

The possible nexus between the girls’ puberty rites, the origin of Venus figurines, the witch cult in Western Europe and shamanism in Eastern Europe and Asia is discussed. It is a possibility that the Venus figurines can be associated with both the girl’s puberty rites and the hunting magic.  In many recorded accounts from the modern times, the puberty rites are mainly there to exclude girls at puberty due to their ‘evil’ influence. The mistress of animals who is associated with the witch cult is supposed to help hunter-gatherers with their search for the game. Considering the connections between witch cult, shamanism and the girls at puberty, it is reasoned that the seeming contradiction between the seclusion of girls at puberty and the association of female personage/s with hunting may be dismissible.


The possibility of some association between the Prehistoric Venus Figurines and the seclusion of girls at puberty can be more than mere speculation (Arachige 2009 & 2010). The scholars such as Frazer (1993), Benedict (1934) and Richards (1962) extensively studied the rites pertaining to the puberty of girls even though they didn’t discuss the reasons for the origin of such rites. In this article what is attempted is to find some parallels between the puberty rites of the girls and two other cultural constructs, namely, shamanism and witch cult, as practiced by European cultures in the recent past and place such rites in the perspective of socio-cultural environment in the pre-historic times.

Thus, the main hypothesis posited in this article is that the seclusion of girls at puberty rituals might have preceded the cultural traits such as shamanism and witch cult. Therefore, it is very probable that in Europe, the fear of first menstruation receded and branched off into three separate cultural elements; the ‘mistress of the game’ cult which might have later developed into the witch cult, the shamanism and the residual fear of menstruation…………………………………….READ THE REST IN THE ATTACHED PAPER!!!!!

(It has been a long time since my last post. Due to some harrowing circumstances, I couldn’t work on the site for a while. With much difficulty and delay, I could finish a paper I was working on and is published here under the title “Witches, Shamans and the Girls at Puberty”. Hope this add some value to the discussion about the importance of the puberty rite to interpret Paleolithic Venus figurines.)

Please find the PDF version at the link below:

Witches, Shamans and the Girls at Puberty

If you read the paper, please leave a comment about your opinion.

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The Legacy of Sathya Sai Baba

Recent demise of Sathya Sai Baba caused a plethora of emotions among people who knew him; some were very derisive of while the others were very sympathetic towards Sai Baba. Perhaps, it is still too early to look at the legacy left by Baba. However, it is very appropriate to discuss Baba’s legacy in these pages as he provided a central theme for the present authour’s book, the lure of noma. There are many facets to what Baba meant to various people.  For some he was a God-incarnate; for others he was a cheat who faked miracles and implicated in homosexual  encounters and deaths at Prashanthi Nilayam – his Ashram; some saw him as a philanthropist.; others were concerned about the so-called empire worth billions of dollars. My effort here is neither to defend Baba nor to condemn him on the alleged misdeeds. Even though I will discuss some of these, the thesis I build here is a personal one which simply try to explain what Baba’s life and legacy means to me.

Furthermore, I don’t try to hide the fact that I followed Baba for a few decades at a distance. I have visited his Ashram several times though never had any close encounters with him. Apart from his Vibuthi production which I saw from a distance, I have never seen any of his ‘miracles’. I do not have knowledge to denounce him as a cheat pretending to be God or support the thesis of him being the God-incarnate.  However, over the years, I have read about him and his teachings and observed the functioning of Sai Baba’s organizational structure. If I would be deemed to be partial towards him by the readers of this article, I can fully understand their concerns. However, the ideas that I would try to explore are not dependent on being a follower or non-follower; they are logical questions that I would ask myself from the standpoint of a person who wants to believe in the belief and the enormous importance of unity of faiths to the modern world. My conviction in writing this article is to show the importance of a unifying force regardless of personality cult.

Sathya Sai Baba – the godman

Many people have written about Baba and I do not wish to repeat his life story here. Instead, I am devoting this section to discuss many allegations against Baba and show the readers that there is more than one angle to look at them.

No one can deny the fact that he was a human being.  But Baba claimed him to be God-incarnate who is aware of being God and the rest of humanity though being God themselves are not aware of it. He said “God is Love; God is in you; God is with you; God is around you; God is above you; God is below you; you are God; realize it[1].”His God is somewhat similar to God defined by Spinoza.  Proposition 15 of the part 1 of Spinoza’s masterpiece, Ethics states ‘Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God[2]’.   Naturally, Baba’s view is far more aligned to Vedanthic tradition where God as Brahman is also the Creator. Kathopanishad says “Brahman is one. It is the Ruler, the internal Atman of all living beings[3]”.  This is the idea expressed in Bagavad Gita as there is “nothing else besides” Krishna. This view embodies the idea of non-dualistic universe which was created by God who ought to be morally neutral[4].  It is also said that Baba was a keen promoter of the idea of a non-dualistic universe[5] with respect to atma and God.

By adopting the above stance Baba had somehow made an extremely smart choice.  If Baba claimed himself to be the son of God, then that implies a female consort. If God is the only true existence, there cannot be a female consort.  Thus, the son or daughter of God is against the very premise of the existence of a supreme God.  The only possibility then is the son or the daughter being a part of God or in essence, God himself. If Baba called himself a messenger, can there be a messenger without being part of God in the light of Advita philosophy? This argument brings about the question why people believe Sai Baba, if he is God incarnate as claimed, should only do ‘good’ while God as the Supreme Being can only be morally neutral.   According to Bagavd Gita, Krishna was the main driver behind the war in Kurukshetra.  Krishna as the incarnate of Vishnu had an affair with a married woman and was said to have had enjoyed 16100 women in all[6]. The point I make here is that divinity, Baba’s as claimed or someone else’s should not be confused with goodness.

Sai Baba called his ‘miracles’ his visiting cards[7].  There are so many websites discussing these ‘miracles’[8].  For some these are out-right sleight of hand trickery[9].  According to Priddy, many devotees have seen him faking the ‘materializations’.  Another savant who claimed to have proof for Baba’s faked miracles is Basava Premanand , a disciple of the well known rationalist, Abraham T.  Kovoor[10].   Though the rationalists such as Premanand, other intellectuals and ex-Baba devotees are considered by themselves and their followers as the people on the side of the truth who look down on largely illiterate Indian population as gullible, the point they missed when claiming Baba’s miracles fake, especially faking the materialization of Vibuthi, is the validity of the experimental methodology used.  Showing a possible mechanism of making Vibuthi is not same as showing what Baba did was trickery.  Employing such simulation is useful in engineering where you have ‘full’ theoretical grasp of the situation but it is not true in disproving paranormal claims which might be due to a glimmer of psychological condition.  I would rather be called a man of lesser intellect, perhaps, by admitting that I would wait for someone to definitively prove, using the available footage or other means, that Baba consistently tricked us.  Until such time, only serious attempt at an investigation, despite all the criticism aimed at it, was done by Haraldsson who concluded “[W]hat we can squarely state is that in spite of a long lasting effort, we found no direct evidence of fraud[11].”  All other claims of debunking are based on assumptions, allegations, low quality video footage and rather poor simulation models.  We should remember that the proof of burden is on us as we are the doubters. Apart from the intellectuals who are trying to catch a trickster, there might have been other hundreds of smart devotees who have witnessed Baba’s “miracles”.  Did he manage to fool all of them over about seventy years?   It is also important to consider that many of the ex-devotees wrote glowing references about Sai Baba’s powers before falling out with him[12].

According to some devotees, some of the gifts perceived as ‘materializations’ he offered his devotees might not have been true materializations[13] but tricks to test their faith.  This is not a reasonable enough explanation.  If someone tells me Baba lost his ‘special powers’ over the years and to continue the ‘myth’, he was forced by his associates to fake materializations, it would be more logical to accept.

There had been killings that took place at the ashram in Putta Parthy and there are many looming allegations about Baba molesting boys and men.  The stories about cover ups by Indian Government and Organizations run by Sathya Sai Baba have filled the internet for a long time.  Instead of alleging the sexual molestation by Baba it would have been very fair by the community at large for them to take the matters to the courts.  Among the people who accused Baba are many Indians a few of whom we mentioned in the previous paragraphs. The claim that the Indian Judicial system and Government are biased towards Sai Baba and thus, the victims never could take the matters to the Indian Courts is not only a lame excuse but also a blatant misrepresentation of World’s largest democracy, its people and processes.  It is not a secret Basvas Premnand took Baba to the courts on violating Gold Control Act[14]. A petition prepared by ex Sai Devotees is only a futile exercise which can be seen as mere propaganda as it doesn’t take the matters to the judiciary.   India is not full of Baba devotees.  Apart from the rationalists, many purist Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians do not see eye to eye with Baba for his views about unity of religions. It was in India a Hindu shot dead Mahatma Gandhi, who himself was a Hindu, for fighting for religious tolerance. It is not winning the case against Baba which would have mattered but bringing the solid evidence to a court might have done a big service to the people with faith who are Baba devotees as well as people who are spiritual in general.  If Baba devotees start claiming that the ex-Devotees could not take their case to the Courts due to a Baba’s miracle, what would be the rational argument against it? It is not very different to accepting Baba was God and couldn’t do any harm. Now Baba is no more and the case for such an action is purely for monetary gain and cheap propaganda.

There are questions being asked about Baba’s date of birth. Some believe that they have evidence to show Baba was younger and the date of birth was made up to coincide with Sri Aurobindo’s and Shridi Sai’s declarations about the advent of Sathya Sai Baba[15]. The explanation given by one publisher of a Baba’s biography sounds reasonable as Baba’s parents might have used a more recent date as his date of birth for schooling to increase his chances of finding employment after school[16].  Sometime ago, forging birth certificates for similar purposes was known to be relatively wide spread exercise in the country – Sri Lanka where I grew up. Thus, the explanation by the publisher is not improbable. Similarly, people argue that Baba passed away at 85, ten years before he said he would take leave from his body.  Some devotees try to twist Baba’s age by using lunar calendar.  As they believe, Baba’s date of birth might have been manipulated. Do these discrepancies really matter in the context of bigger picture? Historically, Jesus Christ was not born on the 25th of December.  Similarly, Lord Buddha left this world at least forty years before he was expected to[17]. These are pedantic scholarly issues which are not relevant to what I consider as Baba’s legacy. It is only futile to engage in these explanations as one popular quote states “Never explain. Your friends don’t need it; your enemies will not believe it”.

Sai Baba – The Activist

One aspect of his life Baba was trying to show the world after the above allegations started to go around was his community activities[18]. According to his biographers, Baba has been an activist since his youthful days. He declared himself Shirdi Baba Avatar and left his school and home to stay with his followers[19].  Since then he lived for his followers deciding to spend his life as a ‘Baba’.  He spent money from the donors[20] on water projects, hospitals, and educational institutions.  He was also far-sighted enough to tie all the donations into several trust structures holding billions of dollars so that whatever work he started can be carried out into the future even after his demise. His hospitals should still provide free medical care; his university and educational institutions should still provide free education.  Water should still be supplied where it is needed.  It may need billions of dollars for the long-run maintenance of these activities.

Sai Baba – the teacher

I believe that the most important Sai Baba is Sai Baba, the teacher or Guru. He brought together people of all faiths from all over the world. Sai Baba never asked people to leave the religions that they believe in, to come into his fold.  Following Shiridi Sai’s example, he embraced both Hindus and Muslims who constitute major demography of the Indian sub-continent. As the front page of online edition of The Hindu acknowledged, “When the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid controversy was at its peak in the 1990s, Sai Baba refused to buckle under pressure from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to issue a public statement favouring the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. VHP president Ashok Singhal made at least two trips to Puttaparthi in this endeavour but failed to extract any assurance from Sai Baba. He chose to remain neutral.[21]

Sai Baba born as a Hindu seemed to have shown equal respect to all religions as he drew his followers from so many backgrounds.  Some of them are from Jewish, Buddhist or Catholic backgrounds; some are devotees of Guru Nanak or Zoroaster.  Some were super rich while others were dirt poor; some were rulers while others were the down-trodden.  The devotees came from all walks of life and many countries spread across the Globe.  Sai Baba also acknowledged the equality of men and women; he saw oneness of God across such boundaries. “The atma is not different in man or woman. The atma is eternally conscious, pure and self-effulgent. The atma is neither masculine nor feminine, nor yet neutral.[22]

Many sources of information covering a vast cross section of Sai Baba followers can be found on the internet[23].  He in essence was against seeing God in the image of ‘man’. He endeavoured to bring together many facets of God in people’s minds to the ultimate God as God should be. For him, there was neither Hindu God nor Muslim God; neither Christian God nor Jewish God. He saw God or all religions as emanating from human need for the enhancement of spiritual qualities to stir the innate goodness of human beings.  He wanted humanity to transcend the externalities such as caste, creed and race and the internal qualities such as anger, hatred and apathy to human suffering. Thus he made us look above the divisions and war towards the unity and peace.

He asked followers to see God living inside them and convinced them to treat humanity as they would treat God. In his words, “Serve Humanity, Serve God”.  He asked his devotees to “love all and serve all[24]”. What profound message beside that there can be! It is his love of humanity which he tried to instil in his followers should be taken as his key message. At various times, there had been many others who tried to get the same message across but weren’t successful as Baba.  The simple reason is, perhaps relevant to both Shirdi and Sathya Sai Babas; “They used parables to make their message clear and ‘miracles’ to make it forceful[25].”  I am ready to pardon Sai Baba even if he used ‘trickery’, so convincingly, to convey a message that helps uniting the divided humanity.  The challenge to the people who try to discredit Sai Baba as a cheat is to achieve at least a significant fraction of what he achieved through trickery, immorality and other misdeeds of which he is accused.

Sai Baba & NOMA

NOMA (Nonoverlapping Magisteria) is the conceptual framework proposed by Stephen Jay Gould which allows religion and science to co-exist.  Sai Baba was never against science even though he always thought spirituality is far more important than science.  He once said “Science is below senses; Spirituality is above senses”. From a point of view of a spiritual person, this is not remarkable. What are remarkable are his building schools, universities and speciality hospitals where science is taught and practised.  Baba acknowledged the inquiry as the beginning of both science and spirituality and welcomed science for its service to humanity[26].

Sai Baba’s Legacy

The following quote from The Hindu again, this time from an editorial, succinctly encompass the essence of what Sai Baba’s legacy should be;

“In a country that has never been short of self-proclaimed godmen peddling spiritual succour with commercial motive, Sri Sathya Sai Baba,……, stands out as a rare phenomenon — a spiritual leader whose mass following transcended linguistic, national, and religious boundaries, who channelised the fervour and quest of millions of devotees into giving and sharing, who steered clear of divisive political and communal activities all his life[27].”

These few sentences summarises the essence of Sai Baba’s life.  It is not his materializations, other miracles or splashing of the money from his trust funds to the uplift of poverty-stricken communities of Southern India which should survive as his legacy.  His legacy is definitely not of the humbug of a godman, full of alleged tricks, highly publicised sex scandals or the clouds hanging over his head over the murders at the ashram, into which his detractors, the ex-devotees and the widely publicised BBC documentary “Secret Swami” try to portray him.  As humans it is always very easy to find faults with the other people, especially when they are well-known and hold different opinions to us.  But it is also our duty as a progressive people to see whether he or she had a view which is worthy of consideration.

It is not surprising that an Indian IT engineer wrote in his blog;

‘Nowadays we need godman who are secular rather than those creating religious fights. He was being forced by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to issue a public statement favouring the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. He chose to remain neutral[28].’

This is a very big endorsement of what Baba stood for by an ordinary Indian; this is the message Baba strived to convey to his followers through his teachings. He brought all other religions under his umbrella so that his ‘non-denominational’ spirituality is treated by some as secular. At the end, after his departure, it seems his message is to be permeating to the populace. Thus, there is a big chance that Sathya Sai Baba’s legacy will survive.  As some believe Sai Baba movement embodies the flavour of future religion which accepts the diversity of religious views[29].

[1]Sai Baba Interview 1978 (Part 1), You Tube,

[2] p519,Classics of Western Philosophy edited by M. Cahn, Hackett Publishing Company,           Inc, Indianapolis / Cambridge (1990),

[3] p56, Essence of Principal Upanishads, Swami Sivananda,The Divine Life Society, Himalayas, India, 1980

[4] p15-16, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

[5] Issac Tigrett – Dallas 2009 (Eng),

[6] p146, Ibid.

[7] p144, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

[8] Gallery of Miraclse,

[9] Sai Baba miracles, Robert C. Priddy,

[10] Basava Premanand,

[11] p222, Miracles are my visiting cards, E. Haraldsson, Ph.D. , Sai Tower Publishing, 1983.

[12] Exposing Critics’s Smear-Campaigns Against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba, This site is highly recommended given its rather balanced presentation of information for and against Sai Baba

[13] False Materializations?,R.D. Awle,

[14] Sathya Sai Baba,

[15]Chapter 5, Omniscience and Truth, Brain Steel, 2002

[16] Exposing Critics’s Smear-Campaigns Against Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba,

[17] Lord Buddha was supposed to live a ‘Kalpa’ which is usually interpreted as 120 years.

[18] Rao, Manu (26 December 2000), Sai Baba lashes out at detractors

[19] p60, Sai Baba – Man Of Miracles, Howard Murphet, 1971, The McMillan Company of India Ltd

[20] I had been participating in some activities at Sai Centres in Melbourne over a long period. I never ever felt compelled to contribute. However, I donated very small amounts and dry food whenever I could. The merchandise such as books which are at sale are available for the interested devotees.

[21] A Secular Spiritual Leader, Online edition of India’s National Newspaper – The Hindu of 25th Apr 2011,

[22] Sri Sathya Sai Baba Teachings,

[23] Ted Henry & Jodi Cleary’s Videos,Vimeo ,

[24] This is what influence Issac Tigrett to use this as motto for his Hard Rock Cafe chain. See Ted Henry & Jodi Cleary’s Videos,Vimeo ,

[25] p149, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

[26] Sri Sathya Sai Baba Teachings,

[27] Sai Baba, His Life & Legacy, Opinion – Editorials ,Online edition of India’s National Newspaper – The Hindu of 26th Apr 2011,

[28] Varun’s Blog,

[29] p150-153, The lure of NOMA, D. Arachige, Ocean Publishing,  Australia, 2009

(Copyright:,, May 2011)

(Referencing: Arachige, D (2011) The legacy of Sathya Sai Baba,

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About An Everyday Miracle: Reasoning by Rule of Thumb Logic

This is a post I wanted to write for a long time but kept postponing.  Perhaps, this is about letting my imagination break loose. One reason for the slackness is the fact that this is not my current research interest. However, it is a topic I touched in the book ‘the lure of noma’   in some detail.

This is about everyday miracles. We all lead a life full of miracles. Every weekday morning when I drive my car to the train station, for a brief moment, I wonder how I can manage to drive a car in the middle of the lane.  I do think about hundreds of events, people, my wishes, my hopes and many other things while my hands are still on the wheel.  I sometimes listen to music and talk to someone sitting in the car and still keep the car in the middle of the lane.  We never think much about this simple miracle. We dismiss it as the ‘second nature’, ‘automatism’ or ‘automaticity’. If we dare we can ignore this as a kind of ‘unconscious perception’ or ‘blind sight’ which involves two neural pathways. Once we master something and form a habit we don’t have to be conscious about what we do.   Is this so?

I think this is an oversimplification of our innate abilities. My point of view is rather philosophical than related to psychology of cognition. While we are driving on autopilot, we make umpteenth number of little decisions. We don’t pay much attention to this fact but our brain can perform this for us. Even though I cannot see the tyres of my car and the spatial relationship of them to the white lines, I constantly make little decisions such as if I maintain a certain visual perspective I am inside the lane.  At the curve, I have to turn the wheel and when I come to the end of the curve I should release my grip on the wheel. Thus, for me this is a big application of ‘Rule-of-Thumb” logic.  We do not make sure what we do is right as the rule of thumb measure we have internally is good enough to perform the task.  Our conscious minds make such deductive decisions umpteenth number of times while we are driving.

Then why don’t we perceive this decision making process? The simple answer is that the brain performs this in such short time spans that our conscious mind doesn’t register this. When we learnt to drive we noticed the turn of the wheels and every other movement of the car. We made conscious, rational decisions as to where on the lane the car had to travel. Over the time, when we became familiar with the car, we developed a very elegant spatial model with which we could make our Rule of Thumb decisions.  Can mind work so fast without our conscious self noticing it? There are many experiments done by psychologists working on the affect primacy hypothesis which could help us understand this possibility. In these experiments subjects will be exposed to primes presented below the threshold of awareness. Then they will be subjected to the target stimuli and asked to evaluate them as likes or dislikes.  The priming would be done for a very brief period like 10 ms while the stimuli would be presented to the subject for 2000 ms or 2 seconds.  If the target stimulus is impacted by the priming stimulus we can argue that the decision to categorise the prime into likeable or not occurred and the decision was made. Then the second decision to like or dislike the target stimuli arose. Based on the first stimuli we made our second decision.  This can be thought of as two sets of Rule of Thumb logic decisions. Thus we only take 10 milliseconds to make a rational decision.

We know even animals make Rule of Thumb decisions. Wolfgang Kohler’s work showed that his chimpanzees managed to use sticks or crates to reach bananas kept away from easy reach. To do this goal-directed task they have to make Rule-of-Thumb decisions. As Kohler believed these animals use their insights.  If they use trial and error they could be doing so many other things before stumbling on the boxes or sticks.  If they use insight, then they should be making rational decisions and these decisions should be based on simple logic steps.  Some researchers say the cognitive abilities of two year old human toddler are within the reach of great apes. The apes are capable of secondary representations such as mirror self-recognition, pretence, hidden displacement etc.  Even the crows are known to make problem-solving decisions.  Their logical thinking processes are well suited to problem solving around their limited social environment.  In our case, our environment is far more complicated and creates far deeper layers of interaction.

The rule-of-thumb logic is our everyday logic which we share with our evolutionary ancestors.  This is not about intuition or make-sense arguments. This is about an essential part of all who are mobile on their own volition.

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Is Self-Representation Hypothesis about Venus Figurines tenable?

(The following is based on a reply by the administrator of to a comment on the post Are the Paleolithic Venus Figurines telling us about the puberty rites?)

The self-representation hypothesis is an ingenious interpretation of Venus figurines and is different from all the hackneyed ideas. Thus, it is one of the more likely hypotheses in comparison to many others bordering on the ridiculous. However, as I always believe prehistory by nature would hardly allow us to arrive at the finality of an idea. For the following reasons I couldn’t agree with the arguments about ‘the self-representation among pregnant women… communicating through the figurines’ the autogenous visual information of their bodies. In a reply to critics Prof McDermott presented a strong case.

Self-Representation idea challenged the “the assumption that images of the human figure were first created from the point of view of other human beings” (McDermott, 1996).  The self-representation argument also diverged from common thread of other arguments.  The question that arose in my mind was “Are there any other ways to explain a phenomenon within the pre-existing paradigms?” If there is, does that explanation provide answers to all the key features of the phenomenon? I couldn’t appreciate the advantage of self-representation interpretation which moved to the second degree of complexity without eliminating the first degree explanations by breaking away from both the possibility of ‘other people’s point of view’ and more common arguments around fertility rites etc.

Another concern was the confounding nature of the hypothesis and the evidence supporting it or in other words, the “circularity” of main hypothesis and the explanation. The prehistoric woman created an image as self-representation.  We try to show this by using a modern female and the way she sees herself. If the images we see in the Venus figurines are similar to the breasts and bellies we see in Fig 5 & 6 in the self-representation article (McDermott, 1996), then we have a case at hand. However, what we see in those Venus figurines are ‘almost complete’ female bodies.  If we ignore the “abstract nature of the figurines”, a woman herself and a figurine representing the ‘more or less complete’ body of the same woman surely should show similar “bodily landscape” when viewed from similar angles. Thus I was concerned that the self-representation article didn’t provide external evidence, in addition to the above viewpoint, to support the hypothesis.

My third concern was about the internal inconsistencies that, I thought, were apparent in this interpretation. According to the self-representation argument, a woman had to bend down for the lower frontal view. The woman who thus viewed herself could represent her ‘somewhat hidden’ pubic area so well in the figurine while failing to show more of the more visible lower legs and feet.  Why could the woman show her head, even the back of the head in such fine detail and her posterior so well in comparison to her own face which is much more personal to an individual and could easily be seen in a ‘water mirror’? Why did some women show their facial features while others didn’t? The argument about the more breakable upper and lower body elements proposed as a counter argument to Marshack (comments on McDermott, 1996), in my mind, is not consistent with the argument about “the attributes of the figurines receiving the priority over logic”. The lack of facial features and feet are the major features that I think one should explain.

McDermott, LeRoy 1996. Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic female figurines. Current Anthropology 37(2): 227-275.

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Prehistoric Venuses & Puberty Rites

For those who are interested in reading the paper on the above topic, I am adding a pdf file.
Paleolithic Venuses and Puberty Rites

After first publishing the above single line post yesterday I doubted for a minute whether  the connection between the paleolithic Venuses and the personages related to the girls puberty rites as construed in the above paper could have some substance or is just a figment of imagination. Can these two different facts, ie the existence of Venuses and the forgone widespread practice of seclusion of girls can be connected? This, in turn, forced me to answer the question what the message Venuses are trying to convey. Is that about self-representation, the womanhood in symbolic form or just art for the sake of art? Or just “preoccupations of archaeologists” (Pettitt, 2009)? Then I was reminded of what Campbell (1990) had to say about the figurines in one of his lectures. He emphasized a few points about the figurines

1. Their spread across the localities in Europe and up to Lake Baykal on the border to China

2. having no face

3. the emphasis on breasts, hips and loins,” the miracle of the female body”

4. having no feet; “made to stand up”

5. only appear in dwelling sites

The first and last are facts that the archaeologists can interpret.  The second, third and fourth are the ones puzzling us. The third fact, whichever way we look at it is more likely about the wonder of womanhood.  Now, how can we interpret the second and the third without resorting to our own preoccupations? Wouldn’t the widespread practice of something which might have persisted through the times because of the peoples’ awe of the unknown provide a more objective interpretation? In this count I believe the connection which was construed in the paper is far more objective and plausible than a leap of imagination? However, there would be so much resistance to pay proper attention to this connection as it leads to a far bigger area of possibilities. On the other hand, I don’t expect the view expressed in the above paper to be accepted by  the mainstream scholars as this was proposed by someone not belonging to any of the scholarly traditions.  Science as practiced today is always not about the plausible new ideas; before accepting an idea it looks for belonging to a school of thought or a sort of in-group bonding. To see this we don’t have go beyond “The Trouble with Physics” by Lee Smolin.

Campbell, Joseph (1999) Transformations of Myth Through Time, Thirteen brilliant final lectures from the renowned master of mythology, HarperPerennial, p12

Pettitt, P (2009) The rise of Modern Humans in The Human Past (ed by C. Scarre), 2nd Edition, Thames & Hudson p 164

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Is calling Paleolithic Venuses pornography justifiable?

In a recent personal communication, Dr James Harrod ( mentioned me about his dismay at some parties describing Hohle Fels figurine discovered by Prof. Conrad as the world’s oldest ‘pornography’ . In my mind, his opinion on this is very justifiable and prompted me to write about this past event.  It was the time when one preeminent archaeologist labelled people from the period associated with the Hohle Fels figurine as ‘sex-mad’. After the publication of the relevant articles, many critics made their displeasure about the “pornography” opinion known.  I wonder how often we in the modern age attempt to look at the prehistoric cultures from our point of view and how often we refuse the fact that we do so. On the other hand, it may be an exercise of publicity-seeking in the name of science.  We don’t exactly know. Regardless of the reason, these viewpoints might cloud the interpretation of ‘true’ nature of these figurines.

Looking at these figurines either with a male-chauvinistic viewpoint or a feminist opinion may not lead us towards what these prehistoric people wanted to tell their fellow travellers by creating such beautiful images. You may add looking at them from a religion point of view may not help either. I guess, in plain language not wrapped in technical sophistication, what is needed to do is to look at our ancestors with objectivity and the respect that they deserve. Whatever they did might be as logical as what we do today when  we take their environment into account. Do we call Botticelli’s Venus pornography? Now we turn our attention to the prehistory and the way the people might have lived. Do we assume that they wore as much clothes or had the same ideas about modesty as the Florentine women in Early Renaissance did? Most likely we don’t.  Now who do we think had a more sensual mindset when creating these images?

I don’t believe that the Venus figurines are pornographic.  Even if they were pornographic, do we think that these women represented by the prehistoric images can make their way to the covers of today’s male magazines? As far as I can see, they wouldn’t.  I don’t have any research to prove my point.  However, if they don’t, the pornography of today and the Paleolithic period are definitely not the same or the images are not meant to be pornographic.

( I am very thankful to Dr Harrod for his kind gesture of providing some useful references and  opinions on some related topics.)

On this day 1st of Jan 2011, I wish all of you ‘ A Very Happy & Prosperous 2011’!!!

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Has Islam again failed the moderate Muslims?

Life is something extremely precious and not to be treated with contempt and disregard. Every one of us loves our dear life and likes to see our kith and kin grow old with us. None of us are just there to be birth and death statistics.  We all as humans living in an advanced day and age are there to live and let live.

In this day and age, no one should be condemned for blasphemy. Only in an immensely backward, demonic culture a person would be condemned to death for such a trivial offence in average person’s eye.  However, unfortunately, that   seems to be the fate awaiting Asia Bibi, a Punjabi woman of Christian faith, deemed guilty of insulting Prophet Muhammad.   Death is what hardliner clerics in Pakistan want for her. How can a peace-loving religion ever allow such an inhuman crime? Has she hurt at least one of her fellow Muslim villagers let alone killing   them? Just saying a few words, if   she at all uttered something sinister in the spurr of the moment, never should warrant a call for her life.

This is not the first instance. A few years ago, Salman Rushdie’s head was sought on the charge of blasphemy. Apart from deaths and death threats, many people are being subjected to hardships and are killed   for having differing views. The innocent lives taken by Islamic terrorists in the US,   UK, Iraq, India, Pakistan etc are some   cruel reminders to innocent lives lost. Without shame, the cultural sites like Bamiyan were destroyed.   This is not a denial of similar acts committed by the believers of other faiths; but the incidents involving other religions are rare and far apart as the majority including their religious leaders condemn such acts. One cannot bring up the Palestinian Israeli conflict as an excuse for everything. It is a moot point to make Israel and Judaism one and the same.   Islam for its own long term survival should rise above being the victim of the lame excuse of existence of Israel. This is not a denial of the suffering of Palestinian people in the hand of   Israel.

Many moderate Muslims say that the word Islam itself was derived from the Arabic word, salaam, meaning ‘peace ‘.   They ask the rest of the world not to consider Islam as a non-peace loving religion. However much the world want to agree with them, harder the hardcore Islamic believers devoid of human hearts shatter the rest of the world’s goodwill. This may be due to the ingrained deficiencies in the practice of Islamic faith.  Islam is a religion which is so paranoid about the purity of its form and practice. It has two ingrained ideas which the moderates should consider with heavy hearts;

-not having a dialogue about the philosophical core and

-Interpretation of Jihad

It is sincerely hoped that Asia Bibi’s life will be spared.

We with the moderate Muslims should plead the radical, fundamentalist brethren to be more compromising, be tolerant of others and be humane. There would be no one more pleased than Allah to witness a more forgiving, accommodating Islamic community. For Him, as the creator, all humanity should be one and the same. It is true that the colonizers in the wake of European colonization used the sword and then showed the Bible. But times are changing and the world may never go back to the days of the past. Thus, the Islamic community hopefully will look to the future and rise above the current state of the affairs.

If the cruel things like Asia Bibi’s case   happen in the name of religion, people arguing for the demise of religion will see their day sooner. The acts of violence in the name of religion are not the way to promote religious beliefs. When carried out by Islamic community, they undermine the hopes and aspirations of multitude of Moderate Muslims.

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