Tag Archives: Wikipedia

St Thomas to Lord of the Dance

One of the features of previous National Blog Post Month series on this site has been the ‘six degrees of separation’ piece. This is where I start with a Wikipedia search on a current topic of interest, and then follow six links through the on-line encyclopaedia and see where I end up. As always, one shouldn’t place too much reliance on the facts that follow in this piece – they are as accurate and reliable as any crowd-sourced open access on-line encyclopaedia can hope to be!

Today’s starting point is St Thomas (being the eponymous hospital that is currently caring for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he seeks to overcome his covid-19 infection). Thomas was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus in the Christian tradition. Thomas is occasionally labelled “Doubting Thomas” as a result of his refusal to believe initial accounts of Christ’s resurrection until he had seen the crucifixion wounds with his own eyes. After Christ’s ascension, Thomas is reputed to have travelled beyond the limits of the Roman Empire preaching the gospel, eventually reaching the Malabar Coast in modern-day Kerala, in India. Some authorities state that Thomas is the Patron Saint of India.

The Malabar Coast refers to a part of south west India that runs from the Western Ghats to the Arabian Sea. It seems likely that the region acquired its name from the 6th Century town of Male, which was a major pepper trading emporium. Barr is the Arabic word for continent or country, and so Male Barr would have been the region or country around Male. During the British occupation of the Indian sub-continent, Malabar District was under the supervision and control of the British East India Company.

The East India Company received its Royal Charter from Queen Elizabeth I on 31st December 1600 as the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East-Indies. Initially (and for the first hundred years of its existence) the Company was solely interested in trade between England and India. It was only during the 18th Century, as the power of influence of the Mughal Empire waned and was under threat of being superceded by French and Portuguese interests, that the East India Company became interested in territorial occupation and politics. At the height of its power and influence in 1803, the Company controlled a private army of 260,000 soldiers (twice the size of the British Army at that time) and effectively ruled directly or indirectly, the whole of the Indian sub-continent. It was only in 1858 that the Government of India Act abolished the East India Company and the British Government assumed direct responsibility for the management of the country through the establishment of the Raj.

The first Governor of the East India Company was Thomas Smythe, a position that he held only fleetingly initially, before returning in 1603 and remaining in post for some 18 years. As well as his interests in India, Smythe was also heavily involved in the settlement of Virginia in north America, having acquired the rights from Sir Walter Raleigh. Indeed, Smythe was heavily implicated in a scandal surrounding the management of the Virginia Settlement when he was charged with enriching himself at the expense of the company that he controlled to run the colony. Smythe effectively conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing targeting indigenous people in Virginia, turning over their land to the production of tobacco. It appears that Smythe’s influence over King James was such that he was able to extricate himself from the scandal and retain his position as a personal adviser and confidante to the King. Smythe’s influence extended beyond Britain, India and America into Russia, where he was appointed as an advisor to Tsar Boris Godunov in 1604.

Boris Godunov’s rise to become Tsar of Russia is a story that is so Russian as to be almost a cliché, involving murder, intrigue, politicking, banishments to Siberia and even the flogging of a bell (yes – you read that right) that had been rung to draw attention to the death (at Godunov’s instigation) of a potential heir to the throne. It’s well worth a read on the relevant Wikipedia page. It will suffice for present purposes for us to note that dramatisations of Godunov’s life have inspired and opera by Mussorgsky and a play by Alexander Pushkin, the incidental music for which was composed by Sergei Prokofiev.

Prokofiev’s score for his ballet version of Romeo and Juliet is a staple of the Classic FM playlist, where the Dance of the Knights is a particular favourite. And if you’re not familiar with this piece, then “You’re Fired!”

Six degrees more

I first ventured on a six degrees of Wikipedia separation journey, as part of National Blog Post Month in November last year (https://andrewpearce16.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/linking-william-of-orange-to-hotel-babylon-6-degrees-of-wiki-separation/). It was good fun at that time, and so I’ve set out again. My starting point this time came from entering my lower-case initials into the Wikipedia search engine, and following up the first result that came in.

Alkaline Phosphatase may not be something that you are familiar with, but it is an essential chemical in the safe production of milk for human consumption, being an indicator of the successful completion of the pasteurisation process.

Dairy cows,contemplating the alp levels of their output - or not...

Dairy cows,contemplating the alp levels of their output – or not…

Clicking on milk reveals that it is an agricultural product extracted from mammals during or soon after pregnancy and used as a food for humans. The largest producer and consumer of milk in the world is India, although interestingly, that country is entirely self-sufficient and neither imports nor exports a drop of the white stuff!

India is the second most populous country in the world (1.2 billion people), and is the birthpace of four of the world’s major religions : Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is conservatively estimated that there are 4.2 million Jains in India, although it is likely that the influence of the religion is much more widespread than even that number suggests, with Jain communities existing in 34 of the 35 Indian States. Literacy rates among Jains are also the highest by religious group in the country.

Laxmi Mall Singhvi was both a Jain and a prominent Indian lawyer, politician and jurist. He was a member of the Indian Supreme Court at his death in 2007, and prior to that he served for six years as Indian High Commissioner for the UK from 1991. In 1993 he gave the Rede Lecture at the University of Cambridge, following in the footsteps of many of the greatest philosophers and lawyers to have been produced by that ancient and august institution.

cambridge university

Amongst Singhvi’s predecessors as a Rede Fellow was the aristocrat, politician, diplomat and writer John Buchan, who delivered the lecture in 1929. This was fourteen years after Buchan had published arguably his most famous novel, The Thirty-Nine Steps, which (incidentally) is only 33 steps more than I am going to go on this Wiki-separation journey!