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Table of contents :
Sage History Page
List of Figures
Chronology of Personalities, Events, and Institutions
Buddhism and Jainism
Hindu Temples: Their Originand Growth
Hinduism under Muslim Rule
Hinduism under British Rule
A Peep into the Future
About the Author
“insightful and fascinating...” SHASHI THAROOR
A HISTORY OF
HINDUISM The Past, Present and Future
se ec ec
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A History of
Hinduism The Past, Present and Future
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A History of
Hinduism The Past, Present and Future
Copyright © R Ramachandran, 2018 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in 2018 by
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Dedicated to the memory of my mother Seethalakshmi alias Angichi of Harita Gotra from Tirunellai agraharam A true follower of dharma She played her role in the performance of Vedic rites at home, cooked oblations and food for the family in hearths made of clay using firewood, milked and tended cows, performed various other chores and bestowed abundant love on her ten children, especially her youngest Ramamritham.
List of Figures
Chronology of Personalities, Events, and Institutions Preface
Introduction xxiii The Roots 1 Rigvedic Religion 21 Mimamsa 39 Uttara-Mimamsa 53 Buddhism and Jainism 73 Dharmasastras 97 Epics 117 Puranas 131 Hindu Temples: Their Origin and Growth 163 Adi Sankaracharya 181 Bhakti Movement 197 Hinduism under Muslim Rule 213 Hinduism under British Rule 229 The Present 249 A Peep into the Future 269 Appendix 275 Glossary 277 Selected References 291 Index 293 About the Author 299
List of Figures
1 Coimbatore West Suburbs 2 Rigvedic People—Stages of Migration—1500 BC to 1200 AD 3 Buddha’s World—500 BC 4 Buddhist and Jaina Monuments 5 Aryavartam in Manusmriti—300 BC-200 AD 6 Palakkad Agraharams 7 Agraharam House Plan 8 Hindu Temples: Regional Patterns 9 Places Visited by Adi Sankaracharya 788-820 AD
8 35 75 88 104 156 159 176 188
Chronology of Personalities, Events, and Institutions
Years ago (base: 2000 AD) Christian Era 12000 10000-1000 BC 4600
3200 3000 3000 2800 2700
1200-800 BC 1000-800 BC 1000 BC 800-600 BC 600-500 BC
600 BC 600-300 BC
566-486 BC 550 BC-
Personalities, Events, and Institutions Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures in the Sub-Continent Harappan Civilization Around 50 Rigvedic rishies (poets) lived and composed the first 5000 Verses Megalithic cultures in the South—burials and hero stones Painted Grey Ware Culture (PGW) Krishna Yajurveda, Samaveda composed Use of iron tools began Composers of early Brahmanas Yajnavalkya composed the Shukla Yajurveda The first kingdoms emerge in Ganga plains Composers of Aranyakas and early Upanishads Art of writing originates in Ganga Plains(?) Northern Black Polished Ware Culture (NBPW)
Gautama Buddha Bimbisara founds Rajagriha—the Capital of Magadh (continued)
A History of Hinduism (continued) 2540 540- 468 BC 2519 519 BC2519 2500
519 BC500- 400 BC
400 BC400-100 BC
2400 2362 2327
400-100 BC 362-320 BC 327-150 BC
2321 2300 2300
321-185 BC 300-200 BC 300 BC
2200 2200 2166
200-100 AD 200-200 AD 166-78 AD
94-150 AD 50-250 AD
50-50 AD 78-140 AD
Vardhamana Mahavira Cyrus, the Persian King occupies NorthWest India Karoshti script used in North-West India Composers of Atharvaveda, its Brahmana and Upanishads Jaimini—the author of Jaiminisutra Composers of Brihadaranyaka and Chandogya Upanishads Badarayana composed Brahmasutra The Nandas of Pataliputra Alexander and other Greeks in NorthWest India The Mauryan Dynasty Composers of Grihyasutras Kapila Muni—the founder of Sankhya School Early Inscriptions on rocks in Tamil Nadu in Brahmi script The third Buddhist Council in Pataliputra convened by Asoka Authors of Dharmasastras Composers of Sangam poetry in Tamil Newer waves of Greeks, Scythians, and Parthians enter N-W India Patanjali—the author of Patanjali Yoga Sutra Buddhist monuments in Barhut and Sanchi built The Saka kings in North-West India Satavahanas with their capital in Paithan on the Godavari River Roman Trade in India peaks Kushana kings—Kanishka promotes Buddhism Earliest inscriptions in Sanskrit in Junagarh xii
Chronology of Personalities, Events, and Institutions 1800 1800 1700
200 AD 200 AD 300 AD
Valmiki composes Ramayana Kautilya’s Arthasastra Mahabharata—early part composed
300 AD 300-900 AD
1680 1650 1600
320-550 AD 350-750 AD 400-477 AD
1600 1595 1550
400 AD 405-411 AD 450-477 AD
450 AD 455-467 AD
476 AD 500-900 AD
1500 1500 1495
500-1200 AD 500 AD 505-587 AD
1457 1450 1450 1400
543-757 AD 550-575 AD 550 AD 600-900 AD
1394 1370 1370 1350
606-647 AD 630-643 AD 630-970 AD 650 AD
Vatsyayana composes Kamasutra The Pallava Dynasty in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu The Gupta Empire from Pataliputra The early Puranas composed Kalidasa—the author of Raghuvamsam and other poems or plays Bhagavad Gita composed Fa Hsien, Chinese traveller Ajanta Caves carved out by Vakataka dynasty Harivamsa composed Hunas invade North-West India—acted against Buddhism Aryabhatta—astronomer was born Nayanmars—Tamil Shaiva poets compose hymns in Tamil Bhavishya Purana Temple at Deogarh—built by Guptas Varahamihira—the author of the Brihat Samhita The Chalukyas of Badami Elephanta caves near Mumbai carved Bhartruhari Alvars—Tamil Vaishnava poets compose hymns in Tamil Harsha king of Kanauj—staunch Buddhist Hien Tsang—Chinese traveller Eastern Chalukyas of Vengi, AP Bana—author of Harsha Charita and Kadambari Bhavabhuti in Vidharba—author of Uttararamacharita (continued) xiii
A History of Hinduism (continued) 1350 650-800 AD 1288 712 AD
Early Tantric texts in Sanskrit Arabs capture Sind and North-West India
752-880 AD 765-773 AD
1230 1220 1212 1200
770-1120 AD 780-840 AD 788-820 AD 800-880 AD
1150 1120 1100 1100 1100 1050 1027 1025
850 AD 850-1267 AD 900 AD 900-1350 AD 900-1150 AD 950 AD 973-1189 AD 975-1025 AD
1030 AD 1056-1137 AD
1077-1147 AD 1100-1350 AD
Rashtrakutas rule from Devagiri Ellora Kailasanatha Temple built by Raja Krishna Pala dynasty in Bengal Gurjara Pratiharas Sankaracharya Manikavachakar—author of Tiruvachakam (in praise of Shiva) Agni Purana composed Chola Empire Garuda Purana Brahma Purana Khajuraho Temple built by Chandellas Bhagavata Purana Chalukyas of Kalyani Abhinava Gupta—Shaiva philosopher of Kashmir Mohammed Ghazni raids North-West India Al Beruni visits India Ramanujacharya—qualified advaita philosopher in Tamil Nadu Ganga dynasty Devibhagavatha Purana
1114-1171 AD 1133-1150 AD
Basava—the founder of the Lingayat sect in Karnataka Hoysala dynasty of Dorasamudra, Karnataka Solanki/Chalukya rule in Gujarat Sekkiar—author of Peria Purana in Tamil about Shiva Kalhana writes the Rajatarangini xiv
Chronology of Personalities, Events, and Institutions 810 808 803
1190-1294 AD 1192 AD 1197-1323 AD
Yadavas of Devagiri (Daulatabad) Delhi Sultanate established Kakatiyas of Warangal, Telangana
1216-1327 AD 1219-1294 AD
1238-1258 AD 1300 AD
600 600 590
1400-1500 AD 1400-1450 AD 1410-1510 AD
560 531 522 521 515
1440-1510 AD 1469-1539 AD 1478-1583 AD 1479 AD 1485-1533 AD
502 468 400 392 378
1498-1597 AD 1532-1623 AD 1600- 1800 AD 1608-1649 AD 1622-1673 AD
Jayadeva—author of Gita Govinda lives in Bengal Early Sufi saints (Muslims) in North India Later-Pandyas of Madurai Madvacharya—founder of the dualist school in Karnataka Konarak temple built Srivaishnava Brahmanas in Tamil Nadu split into Vadakalai and Thenkalai The Vijayanagar Empire with capital at Hampi, Karnataka Brahmavaivarta Purana Namadeva Ramananda in Varanasi inspires bhakti movement in the North Kabir Guru Nanak—founder of Sikhism Surdas Vallabhacharya Chaitanya—Vaishnava poet and saint in Bengal Mirabai Tulsi Das—author of Ramacharitamanas Nayak rule in Tamil Nadu Tukaram—a Dalit poet of Maharashtra Kshetrayya—a Dalit poet in Andhra Pradesh Shivaji—the Hindu nationalist icon from Maharashtra The Satnami sect founded. They worship a Guru rather than God The Asiatic Society of Bengal founded in Calcutta (continued) xv
A History of Hinduism (continued) 254 251 247 244 235 226 220 214
1746-1794 AD 1749-1836 AD 1753-1821 AD 1756-1836 AD 1765-1837 AD 1774-1833 AD 1780-1830 AD 1786-1860 AD
1800 1827-1890 AD
1819-1899 AD 1820-1908 AD
1836-1886 AD 1837-1925 AD
1837 1847-1943 AD
Sir William Jones—Indologist Charles Wilkins—Indologist Colin McKenzie—Indologist Ghasidas and Satnami Movement Colebrooke, H T—Indologist Raja Ram Mohan Roy—Hindu reformer Swaminarayan and the Satsangi sect Wilson, H H—Indologist and first professor at Oxford centre for Hindu Studies Saibaba of Shirdi Jyotiba Phule—Dalit leader of Maharashtra Caldwell, Robert—author of Dravidian Linguistics First use of the word Hinduism by Ram Mohan Roy Monier Williams—Indologist Pope G V—translated Tirukkural into English Frederic Max Mueller—Indologist at Oxford; translated Rigveda Swami Dayananda Saraswati—founder of Arya Samaj in 1875 Brahmo Sabha founded by Ram Mohan Roy Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Bhandarkar, R G Indologist and author of Sanskrit grammar books The Brahmi script deciphered Anne Besant—The Theosophical Society at Adyar, Chennai Sri Narayana Guru—a Dalit spiritual leader of Kerala Rabindranath Tagore
Chronology of Personalities, Events, and Institutions 138
1863-1902 AD 1869-1948 AD
1890-1976 AD 1891-1956 AD
1893 1896-1977 AD
80 78 76
1920-2013 AD 1922 1924
The Archaeological Survey of India established Swami Vivekananda Mahatma Gandhi—expounded Ramarajya and satyagraha Ramana Maharshi—the mystic saint of Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan—Hindu philosopher Mortimer Wheeler—Archaeologist Bhimrao Ambedkar—eminent Dalit leader; converted to Buddhism in 1950s World Parliament of Religions at Chicago Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada— founder of ISCON Vedanta Movement founded in America by Swami Vivekananda Chandrasekharendra Saraswati (Kanchi Acharya) Maharshi Mahesh Yogi—founder of Transcendental Meditation, Rishikesh Saibaba of Puttaparthi Vir Savarkar coins the word ‘Hindutva’ RSS—Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh founded by Dr Hedgewar Swami Dayananda Saraswati—founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh—founder of OSHO Swami Chinmayananda-leading Vedanta scholar of the 20th century Growth of Hindu temples in USA
Six years after the publication of my book on the nature of Hinduism, I have ventured to write a sequel. In the meanwhile, I have read many more scriptures in original Sanskrit, besides other relevant texts. Whenever I read the original Sanskrit texts, I maintained short notes and comments on them; this is particularly the case with Valmiki Ramayana, on which you would find a fairly intensive analysis in this work. What, however, prompted me to write this work are some distorted versions of the history of Hinduism by Western scholars interested in digging up dirt, rather than trying to understand what happened—of which they have no clue. I felt the need to write my own version of the history of Hinduism. I am a Brahmana and I am very proud of my ancestors. I am convinced that Brahmanas have an intellectual heritage that is unparalleled in the world. They did not impose their views on others, nor did they wield any authority at any time, other than moral ones, to punish or reward anyone. They never tried or even thought of destroying other cultures; instead, they protected them and accepted some of their ideas and gave them a new form. Despite attempts by the British to instill hate against Brahmanas in the South (refer to their role with the Justice party of 1916), Brahmanas still enjoy the trust and respect of all people here. From my personal experiences in the area where I live, I am convinced that the people of Tamil Nadu, of all Jaties and even tribes, have
A History of Hinduism
very high regard for Brahmanas. I am sure that this is the case all over India. Some ‘pigmy intellectuals’ from the West saw only ‘darkness’ in the minds of Brahmanas, but I will not get into any controversy with dirt diggers in this book; instead, I will state my point of view and let others judge. The complexity of Hinduism has baffled many in the past and at present. It is difficult to wade through this difficult terrain without strong commitment and a burning desire to know the truth. I have spent a whole lifetime on this; but on a full time basis only for the past decade and a half. I had the benefit of learning many things from my father who was a great intellectual himself, with a very analytical and critical mind; but for the training from him I could not have gone as far as I have done. It was a special privilege to which I am most indebted. The place where I live is about 20 km from the city of Coimbatore. I live in a senior citizen complex which some consider to be a copy of an agraharam. We have both Vaishnavite Ayyengars and Smarta Iyers here—almost in equal numbers. We have a small library that has a fair collection of religious texts and many of my friends here own small personal libraries of their own. I have relied on these resources for my work. Obviously, the resources at my command are indeed very meagre, yet I have tried to get as much detail from them as I could. I have used my Social Science background to full effect. I have depended much on memory and, therefore, I can only apologize for the mistakes that have crept in without my realizing. As always, I enjoy writing from my heart and state what I believe to be true. Religion is a sensitive subject and I know this very well from interactions with other senior citizens in this complex. My objective here is not to offend anyone, but at the same time, I have not hesitated from telling the truth even if it is unpleasant. In this matter, I have gone against the golden rule mentioned in Manusmriti—do not tell the truth that is unpleasant. I hope the readers will pardon me for doing this occasionally. xx
Whatever the merits of this book, I can assure you that it is original and positive in its approach. I hope you will enjoy reading it. R Ramachandran Thondamuthur
• Is Hinduism a Revealed Religion? • Historical Evidence • Chronology of Sanskrit Texts • The History of Brahmanas • The Historical Method • Assumptions and Value Judgements • Telling the Story Whoever says he understands ‘Hinduism’ does not really understand it in the same way, the abstract God Brahman is not easily defined, nor understood in its totality. Much like the six blind men trying to define an elephant, it remains at best a partial understanding. Hinduism needs a framework or a paradigm to understand it even partially. One way of achieving this is by establishing a chronology of religious texts, in terms of their style and content and then extending it to history by relating it to events and movements outside of Hinduism. This, in short, is the basic objective of this work. A History of Hinduism implies that there is more than one history of Hinduism and none of them can claim to be the sole ‘truth’. This work has an academic perspective. It is not a religious text or a religious perspective on history of Hinduism. For the latter, one may read Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati’s work: Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life.
Is Hinduism a Revealed Religion? In the second half of the 20th century, the elite have come to believe that Hinduism is a ‘revealed religion’ much the same way
A History of Hinduism
as Christianity. To substantiate this, they mention the legend of Veda Vyasa to whom the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Puranas were revealed by God. The Kanchi Acharya (Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati) had time and again asserted that Hinduism is a revealed religion. At the same time, he has said that the Vedas were revealed to the great rishies. How can we have a multitude of revelations? Further, he asserts that the meaning of Vedic mantras is unimportant and only their sound matters. This is entirely irrational. If one reads the Vedic mantras, it becomes obvious that they have nothing to do with revelation. On the other hand, they reveal a lot about the society and life of common folk during the Rigvedic period. This is also true of other religious texts—they are so varied in style, content and purpose. In revealed religions, there is a dominant historical personality around whom the whole religion is woven. Thus, in Christianity we have Jesus Christ and in Islam Prophet Mohammed. Hinduism was never woven around a single individual; instead, we have hundreds of individuals who composed verses and texts, but refused to project themselves. Each sacred text evolved over a period of time. Rigveda took probably 500 years to reach the corpus of over 10,000 verses and at least 50 poets, involving several generations. This is true of later Vedas, Brahmanas, Upanishads, and even Puranas. There is no personality cult in Hinduism. An average Hindu would not have heard of Veda Vyasa, let alone worship him. Certainly, all Christians know about Jesus Christ and Muslims without exception know about the Prophet. How come Hindus alone do not know a thing about Veda Vyasa or anyone worships him? Nor do they have a festival or day in honor of Veda Vyasa. Hinduism, as a revealed religion, does not make sense. In any case, the very concept of revelation is based on faith and it need not be accepted as fact. For those who still believe in the concept of revelation, history has no relevance (what has been revealed by God is not subject to xxiv
scrutiny, analysis and inference or rejection); but for those who do not, like this author, history does matter.
Historical Evidence In Sanskrit, there are no historical writings with one exception in the 12th century AD in the work of Kalhana. What we have are mythologies. Dating the past is almost impossible given the paucity of reliable information. However, we can infer a chronology of the Hindu religious texts from their style of writing and the contents of the texts. To this corpus, we can add evidence from archaeology, the historical records of foreigners who came to India—from Persia, Greece, and China, in particular. Moreover, there is a substantive volume of evidence from Buddhist and Jaina texts which refer to, and borrow from, Hindu religious texts. Historical evidence of events that took place after 300 BC is well recorded and there is little controversy as far as laymen are concerned. For events that took place before that there is archaeological evidence that goes back to millennia. These are well supported by various truly scientific methods of dating the past; these experiments can be repeated again and again to confirm the findings. Hence, the history of Hinduism can be traced with a fair degree of accuracy.
Chronology of Sanskrit Texts There is no doubt that the corpus of Rigvedic verses is the oldest and they came to us through an oral tradition. Rigvedic verses and the language have many unique attributes; there is a separate dictionary for Rigvedic Sanskrit. The Mimamsa texts are clearly of later origin; these include the Yajurveda and Samaveda with their Brahmanas. These define a new religion using Rigvedic verses in a different context and involving elaborate rituals, some of which involve animal sacrifice. The Aranyakas are a later addition to the Mimamsa texts; these also include the eight early Upanishads. They bring in a new perspective and are very critical of the utility of xxv
A History of Hinduism
rituals. They laid the foundation for a Hindu philosophy of life, which permeates the Hindu way of life even today. Some of the Mimamsa texts were entirely in prose and rather voluminous, and even when they were written down, their preservation for posterity raised serious questions. It is the fear of loss of the prose texts that gave rise to the sutra style of writing. Jaiminisutra and Brahmasutra are the best known texts of this genre and they summarize the two Mimamsa religions in short pithy statements. The sutra texts are also known as Dharmasutras. The Dharmasutras give way, still later, to an entirely different style of writing, known as Smrities. The Smrities constitute Dharmasastras—they lay down the laws of varna-ashrama-dharma and raja dharma. These provide a sort of constitution and laws for early kingdoms with a king at its head. The emergence of kingdoms necessitates several changes; the answers are provided by the invention of the concept of Saguna Brahman in the later Upanishads. Kings now are portrayed as incarnations of God. Epics elaborate the concept of raja dharma in the Smrities, while the Puranas grapple with the concept of Saguna Brahman in the form of Shiva and Vishnu and his incarnations, besides several other sectarian Gods. The Puranic religion has survived to this day, primarily because of translations and adaptations of Epics and the stories in the Puranas in vernacular languages and their popularization through music, dance, drama and other forms of art including sculpture and temples of Gods.
The History of Brahmanas The history of Hinduism is altogether different from the history of India; the latter is generally viewed as the history of rulers—of kings and their dynasties and rarely about the life of the ordinary folk. In India, kings were thought to belong to the Kshatriya Varna. This assumption is very important in religious literature, but in actual history most kings since 300 BC belonged to other Varnas, including the Shudra Varna. When Shudras or Mlechhas became xxvi
kings they were elevated to the Kshatriya status. If we accept this very flexible definition of Kshatriyas, the history of India may be thought of as the history of Kshatriyas. History of Hinduism, on the other hand, is the history of Brahmanas—how they shaped the religion to establish their role in society and to make a living. Most Sanskrit texts in Hinduism were written by Brahmanas. The basic question then is: in what context and why did they write these texts? The answer obviously is that they wrote these religious texts to preserve their status in society and to earn gifts of gold and land—the very means of their sustenance. Changes in social context occurred from time to time in response to changes in society, from tribal to peasant and feudal systems. The influx of foreigners from Yavanas to Muslims and then the British influenced the way Brahmanas reshaped Hinduism to the changing times. Brahmana is the only Varna that has its root in Rigveda, as will be explained later in the text. The Brahmana lineages are more stable and central to the preservation of the Vedic corpus and its adaptation into various other forms. It is not possible to get admitted into this Varna at later stages in life because the learning of the Sanskrit language and recitation of Vedic texts in proper form requires years and years of training from early childhood.
The Historical Method I view history as a series of layers superimposed one upon the other and the job of the historian is to explain the transition from one layer to the other. In other words, history consists of short periods of rapid social change followed by longer periods of social stability, the latter explained by the former. In Hinduism, I have, in the previous section, already identified several layers. I shall explore the circumstances under which these layers of history came into being. There is yet another way of looking at history. Here we look at history as a process over time. There are several processes working xxvii
A History of Hinduism
at any given time. Each process is like a vertical slab with a beginning and an end. Let us take the example of Rigvedic poets and the slow enlargement of the Rigvedic text. It is a historical process. In any lineage, there are several generations of poets. The lifespan of each poet represents a vertical slab; the preceding and succeeding generations overlap in time, but still provide continuity and progress over time. In Hindu religious texts, the Upanishads, Smrities, Puranas, and other genres represent a sequence of vertical slabs; in each there is continuity and progress. The Upanishads and Puranas cover centuries and they overlap with other developments. In this book I have used both the approaches—the horizontal or the layers and the vertical or the slabs. This is essentially an academic book written for the benefit of Hindus who know English. For this reason, I have not cared to explain a great many terms used in the religious texts, nor have I retold the stories from Epics. I assume that the readers know the context well. I have used a great many Sanskrit words in the text without diacritical marks. I assume that most Hindus understand the meaning of these words and can easily recognize them. There is, however, a glossary at the end to help those who are unfamiliar with the basics of Hinduism.
Assumptions and Value Judgements Throughout the work, I have avoided two major ‘isms’ that have dominated the writing on Hinduism in the twentieth century. They are ‘nationalism’ and ‘racism’. My reading of the original Sanskrit texts show that these two ‘isms’ have nothing to do with Hinduism and both were never a part of Indian ethos. In the 19th century, the Indologists, who were essentially racists like their countrymen, introduced these elements in the study of Hinduism and the ancient Sanskrit literature. Unfortunately, Indian scholars—both western educated and even the traditional scholars, accepted these xxviii
values without questioning. Thus, Indian writers on Hinduism are no less racist in their approach than their western counterparts. Spirited nationalism has led to new interpretations of the scriptures which often do not stand up to scrutiny. Glorification of the past is both naïve and unproductive. Nationalism is a very destructive concept and Europe paid a heavy price for promoting this concept; they are trying to reverse it now. The approach in this work is essentially humanist—in a way it is a little broader than that. The Hindu scriptures say that man can be born as an animal—a cow, a dog, or a bird and so on. God resides in everything that lives. All living things are equal in the eyes of God. The purpose of religion is not just to explain the human condition, but to explain everything that there is to know. The Hindu religious doctrine has a much wider canvas than other major religions; yet, it is the least aggressive among them. There is no assertion of superiority or inferiority in religious thought or principles; there is no question of converting others to the Hindu point of view, nor to downgrade other cultures and religions. Hinduism is an open house—anybody can walk in or walk out. I would like the readers of this book to look at the propositions with an open mind. They have the freedom to accept or reject any notion; likewise, they should accept the author’s right to his own views expressed in this book.
Telling the Story Where do we begin our narration? In the past, the narration used to begin with the arrival of the Aryans; the very concept of Aryan in the literature of Hinduism is racist. I shall not mention the word Aryan hereafter in this text. Where do I start then? I think we should go to the earliest settlers in India and study their religion, or whatever remains of it. They are still there, in flesh and blood, and much of their culture is still intact. The existence of these cultures is unquestionable proof of the Brahmana perspectives on xxix
A History of Hinduism
religion—no conversion, no persuasion to change, and certainly no destruction of existing cultures. This basic value system is beyond the comprehension of Christians and Muslims and all the chaotic misinterpretations of Hinduism arise from this basic inability. From the earliest settlers, we move on to village Gods and regional Gods in very brief sections. This is the foundation of the edifice of Hinduism and it is still intact. The main body of the text has to do with Sanskrit based religions, starting with Rigveda, Mimamsas, Buddhism and Jainism, the Smrities, Epics and Puranas and then on to bhakti—in a time sequence. I would like to emphasize that Buddhism and Jainism did dominate the religious scene, at least among the elite, for some centuries and they did bring about a radical response from the Brahmanas, which changed the framework of the Vedic religion. This is the part of the story that is most difficult to understand. The Puranic religion, for all its faults, integrated the Vedic religion with the folk religions of India to a large extent without destroying them. I have added two chapters to emphasize the linkages. The chapter on Adi Sankara best illustrates the integration process, which had already been initiated with Bhagavad Gita. Adi Sankara was successful in integrating bhakti and jnana—two important ‘paths’ that Hindus follow. I have also added a chapter on the origin and growth of Hindu temples; in a way, this illustrates the progress of Puranic Hinduism from 5th century AD onwards. The Vedic religions, with their roots in the Indus-Ganga Plains shifted to the Deccan around 2nd century AD and eventually (around 6th century AD) to the far South, where they transformed themselves with the infusion of bhakti—a notion that has its roots in Tamil culture; with renewed invigoration this religion spread north, where Sanskrit based Vedic Hinduism had come under severe strain from Muslim rulers. While we trace the sequence of changes brought about by Brahmanas and explain them in terms of compelling contextual xxx
reasons, it must always be remembered that the original tribal, village, and regional gods and religions were always there as a substratum. After independence, Hinduism has been revitalized but there is still considerable confusion as the old concepts do not fit into a new India. In the final chapter, I have dared to take a peep into the future. I am a free person, enjoying religious freedom to the fullest degree and so there is no constraint here for me. Let us begin the journey by going back to the ancient roots of Hinduism.
• Introduction • India 3,500 Years Ago (1500 BC) • Religions in 1500 BC • The Past from the Present; Tribal Gods and Religions • Village Gods and Religions; Regional Gods • Brahmanas at Present • The Past and the Present • Overview
Introduction Hinduism has existed from the time the Indian sub-continent was settled by people 12,000 years ago. Since then, it has grown into a giant tree that has a thousand roots and a thousand branches. The tree has old and new branches, they bloom with colorful flowers on occasions and have fruits that are sweet for the most part, but are also sour and bitter at times. Likewise, the tree has ancient roots as well as newer ones; the essences from these roots nourish the branches in varying degrees and proportions. This is what happens when a host of independent cultures co-exist—newer ones are added to the mix from time to time, and the old and new closely interact with each other without destroying one another. Take for example Tantrism. It is today practiced in some form or other by Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Saktas, and Buddhists; apart from the followers of tribal and village cults. Tantrism has deep roots in the ancient past going back to Neolithic people of India 12,000 years ago. All over India, people worshipped spirits of various kinds and exorcised them for good and bad. In present day Hinduism,
A History of Hinduism
Tantrism is very much present in all parts of India, although it is more popular in eastern India than elsewhere. The Shaivites, in particular, and Vaishnavites to some extent use tantric methods for various religious purposes. One might even say that it is an integral part of Shaivism. Texts in Sanskrit on Tantrism were composed, rather late, around 6th century AD. Some Nambudiri Brahmanas in Kerala specialize in Tantrism even today, even though Adi Sankara, who belongs to this group, denounced it in no uncertain terms. Apart from Tantrism, Hinduism has many ancient roots and they are very much present in varying degrees all over India. The tree of Hinduism, nourished by thousands of roots, is now the oldest religion of the world; it is still very healthy and vibrant and it continues to grow. It has withstood changes in weather and climate through the centuries. Among the roots that go back into the pre-historic age, a few more need to be mentioned here. About 4,500 years ago, a great civilization arose on the Indus river valley and it lasted for about 700 years, adding many new religious ideas that still exist as branches of the tree of Hinduism. The worship of male and female Gods as part of a fertility cult, the worship of trees and plants, animals and spirits were practiced during the Harappan age and they continue in modified forms to the present. The people outside of the Indus valley built megaliths to honor and worship their heroes, a tendency that continues to persist at the present. The roots of Hinduism acquired a very notable addition at the time when the Indus valley civilization disappeared from the scene and a new migrant group entered the sub-continent. They spoke Sanskrit. This book is about what happened after this ‘historic’ event. This root has fascinated a lot of people in India and abroad, who viewed it in their own way. For example, the European Indologists were fascinated by the common words in Sanskrit and some of the European languages; they even coined a new word—the Aryan race. In the 19th century, Indian scholars and others trained 2
in British educational institutions looked at the Sanskrit literature in perspective of nationalism and even racism—both concepts inspired by the Indologists from Europe. In this book an attempt has been made to look at the history of Hinduism from an insider’s point of view; to be more specific, from a South Indian Brahmana’s point of view. First, we look at the situation existing at the time when the Rigvedic people came to India.
India 3,500 Years Ago (1500 BC) Three thousand five hundred years ago, the sub-continent of India was inhabited by about ten million people (as compared to 1.6 billion today). At that time, most of the country was heavily forested, in particular, the eastern part of the Ganga Plains, the central belt along the Vindhya and Satpura ranges and almost the whole of the west coast of India. North-Western parts of the subcontinent were semi-arid lands interspersed with tributaries of the Indus River. Similarly, the plateau region extending from Vidharba in Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu in the South was less forested with scanty rainfall. It is the areas with scanty rainfall that were first populated; the forest lands could not be cleared because tools made of iron were not available at that time. The people of the North-Western region, including the whole of Pakistan and extending up to Gujarat in the south and Ganga River in the east, were inheritors of the well-known Harappan civilization without their urban component. The reason why the urban component vanished from around 1700 BC is still a mystery, yet there is continuity in terms of other aspects of culture and religion; the latter is more important from our point of view. In the rest of the sub-continent, there were several small communities as far south as Tamil Nadu and as far east as Assam. In general, most of these communities belonged to the Chalcolithic age—the age preceding the Bronze and Iron Age. The Harappan 3
A History of Hinduism
culture belongs to the Bronze Age. In all these cultures, the use of iron was unknown. The people responsible for these cultures belonged to different races of mankind—people with yellow skin and straight hair in the Himalayan belt and in the North-East; people with dark to very dark skin and wavy hair scattered around rest of India. Small tribal groups lived in the hilly areas mainly as hunter gatherers, while the larger communities lived in permanent village settlements along river valleys, mainly as farmers and herders of cattle. The evidence for these statements comes from excavations of pre-historic settlements; time is determined by radio-carbon dating method. Estimating the population 3,500 years ago is a very complicated process that cannot be explained here.
Religions in 1500 BC The people of India at this time practiced a great variety of religions—of this there is no doubt. The evidence for this is partly archaeological and partly inferential. A great deal of the archaeological evidence comes from the excavations of Harappan sites. The Harappan culture extended over the whole of Gujarat and western Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and even western Uttar Pradesh. There are literally a few thousand sites where the remains of this civilization can be found and many have been excavated since independence. The original sites at Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro are now in Pakistan. The Harappan culture ranks among the oldest of world civilizations, though much later than the civilizations in the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). One drawback of the Harappan culture is the paucity of written material in stone and terracotta tablets and our inability to decipher the Harappan script in spite of many attempts. On the other hand, the scripts in Mesopotamia and Nile valley have been deciphered and we know their culture in far greater detail. 4
The 2000 and odd stone tablets, not yet deciphered, are the only evidence from which inferences regarding their religious beliefs can be made; this is indeed very scanty material. Each stone tablet consists of a set of symbols, mostly around ten, but sometimes having as many as 20 symbols. Some inferences have been made based on these symbols. The symbols have been intricately carved on stone and have a high degree of artistic merit. They show a great variety of objects such as human figures, various domesticated and wild animals, and some imaginary ones as well as well as plants and trees. Some of the tablets seem to convey religious beliefs and even legends. Icons of a mother goddess have been found in abundance and from this, it is believed that the Harappan people worshipped female Gods. They also made terracotta tablets with symbols and figurines in large numbers. Apart from the depiction of female Goddesses, there is also a depiction of a male (nude) God in human form with horns; this God assumes a yogic posture and it has been concluded that he represents a prototype Shiva of later times. The depiction of animals around this God is interpreted as the source of the concept of pasupati—again referring to Shiva. Also of some significance is the presence of figurines of the bull with a single horn, which is somewhat unusual, yet suggestive of the worship of the bull as a fertility God. Among trees depicted in tablets— the pipal tree is of some significance as this tree is now considered sacred by both Buddhists and Hindus. Another notable feature is the presence of conical forms that are interpreted as the ‘phallus’ indicating worship of male fertility. The dead were buried, as several grave sites have been discovered and there is no evidence of cremation. These suggest that this civilization has no direct connection with the one that followed it—a religion based on Sanskrit. The Sanskrit based religion was notable for cremating the dead as opposed to burial. 5
A History of Hinduism
Excavations of sites other than Harappan culture, further south, reveal the practice of burial in specially made urns; the presence of great many items—of ornaments, weapons, and food in the burial sites reveal elaborate rituals associated with death. The megaliths or hero stones are commonly met with in the South, and they reveal another religious aspect of practice—worship of tribal chiefs and other leaders who were known for their hunting or fighting skills. Legends and folk tales about their exploits form an important aspect of their mythology. While these artifacts tell us something about the religion of these ancient communities, they do not go far enough; for this we need to devise other methods.
The Past from the Present Our knowledge of society and religion 3,500 years ago is indeed meagre. These societies were all pre-literate and hence we have no written evidence (even the sum total of Harappan evidence in tablet form does not amount to much; they cannot be thought of as literature in any case). However, the existing archeological evidence is relevant and it is growing. It will eventually open up newer vistas giving us a more accurate picture of the past. There is, however, another way we can learn about the prehistoric past—by studying present societies, both at the tribal, village and regional levels to see elements that have not been obliterated by the so called Vedic religions. I would term this as the sieve method. From Rigvedic times, Brahmanas never questioned the right of the local cultures to exist—as Christianity and Islam have done in the past—but co-existed peacefully in the midst of tribal, village and regional religions. This co-existence has produced changes in both Rigvedic religion and its later adaptations, and the local religions as well. Elements of their original beliefs and practices still remain in the local religions. In India, there is an infinite wealth of cultural information at the tribal and village levels. Historians have ignored it. Actually, the 6
study of tribal and village cultures falls within the domain of social anthropology (with which geography has had a very close relationship). Nevertheless, historians never read the literature from this discipline or so it appears. Just reading is not enough; one has to push it through an intellectual sieve to arrive at the right inferences. In the following pages, I use examples from my neighborhood to elaborate my point. This is actually field research, a method extensively used by social anthropologists and geographers. All the facts and inferences described below are verifiable. Keeping this in view, I have given the actual locations of the places mentioned in the text in Figure 1.
Tribal Gods and Religions About two km from where I live is Attukkal—an Irula village. Irulas are perhaps India’s oldest inhabitants—adivasis. They are now found in small communities near or inside the forests of the Western Ghats regions of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. The Irulas originally belonged to the negritto racial group. However, I found only a few who have the typical woolly hair. The majority, in fact, have wavy hair. This indicates considerable admixture with other adivasis of the Australoid group and perhaps others as well. The Irulas have their own God and religious beliefs. They still sacrifice black goats to their God. The temple priest is from among the Irula community itself. In the village that I referred to above, they have a temple for their God named Vettaikkaran, which in Tamil means ‘hunter’. The present temple has been rebuilt a year or so ago and they celebrated the anniversary of this event on Sivarathri day. They sacrificed 10 black goats on this occasion. The Irulas consider themselves as Hindus. They are proud of this fact. The very concept of God of the Irulas—Vettaikkaran or hunter is probably as old as the tribal group’s existence in India— about 12,000 years. Why a hunter is thought of as God? Irulas 7
Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Drawn by the author.
Figure 1 Coimbatore West Suburbs
were, although they no longer are, primarily hunters. They hunted for food in the forests surrounding them. The expert hunter among them was transformed into a legend and then into God. This supposition is no longer relevant, but Irulas regard it as their tradition. It may be noted here that Irulas are no longer a truly tribal community, at least in Attukkal. Most children here go to school. There is electricity and television antennas are visible everywhere. Water is obtained from an elevated tank with public taps. However, people still depend on collection of forest produce to obtain additional income. Goats, chicken fowl, and even cattle are kept inside the village. Wild elephants inhabit the forests immediately to the north of the village and they venture out at night along with herds of wild boars who are attracted to farm lands to the south of the village. A tarred road connects the village. The first km and a half of this road from the village was just a footpath when I first visited the village years ago. The nearest bus stop is 1.5 km way. The Irulas are quite familiar with the city of Coimbatore which is about 25 km away; there are about 50 motorcycles in the village. While the original God Vettaikkaran is their own, he is now presented in forms that are borrowed; his wielding of a sword reminds me of another village God—Karupparayar in the Kongunadu region of Tamil Nadu. Further, there is a suggestion of relationship to the Hindu God Shiva. This description of a tribal God and religion is by no means unique to Irulas. A similar situation exists in other parts of India. The names of Gods differ, so also their beliefs. People are quite happy to be left alone to practice their religion. They do not want others to preach to them; nor do they care for their advice. Brahmanas never tried to change the tribal ways of life and they left them alone, even though, some of the great intellectual Brahmanas lived in or near forests. 9
A History of Hinduism
Village Gods and Religions Around the place where I live, there are at least four temples for Karupparayar (Karuppuswamy) within a radius of three kilometres. He is a very popular village God in the Kongunadu region of Tamil Nadu (consisting of the districts of Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Erode, Salem, and Namakkal). Karupparayar is usually represented as a man seated on a horse (or without it) with an arival—a long sword like weapon. Along with his image in clay, which is painted, there are invariably one or more lingas or hero stones and also invariably a trisul, implying that Karupparayar has something to do with Shiva. However, we cannot be sure about the origins of these symbols. They could have come from the ancient Harappan culture or may be a later addition. Hero stones are fairly common in Kongunadu and they are an important aspect of the megalithic culture of this region dating back to at least 1000 BC. Karupparayar, near Brindavan where I live (see Figure 1), is worshipped by the dominant social group—the Okkaligas. There are four main clans of Okkaligas in this area. The worship of Karupparayar is clan based, that is, each clan has its own temple. These temples are very small, usually a small brick structure, 8 feet by 10 feet, which houses the clay and rock images of Karupparayar with small conical or cylindrical stones that probably refer to clan heroes of a distant past. The temple, located on the outskirts of the village, is usually taken care of by a family living in a farmhouse nearby. They clean the premises and decorate the idols and place flowers on them on a daily basis. There are usually larger, sometimes lifesize images of horses and deities on horseback outside the temple. These are made of clay and painted. There is no provision for going round the temple, a practice that is common to all Puranic temples. Family members belonging to the clan visit the temple either alone or along with a priest, usually from the potter caste; they perform the rituals and return home. The visit is pre-arranged with 10
the priest. On certain occasions, the family may also sacrifice a goat for the fulfillment of their wishes; such occasions, are now rare. Normally, the priest offers flowers and vibhuti (ash) to the devotees as prasad. There is also a practice of oracles either by the priest himself or any other chosen person from the clan. Those who perform oracles have to undergo strict rules of conduct—vritham, for a certain period of time. They usually go into a trance and make statements or prophesy. These used to be taken very seriously in the past, and for this reason, the worship at the temple is kept very secret by the family. When larger groups join the event, the God Karupparayar is also worshipped through songs—villu pattu and dance in the form of karakkattu and kuthu. People usually vow to make offerings to God when they face financial, health or other problems; when the problems are resolved they fulfil their vows in the temple. Decisions regarding annual festivals and other issues regarding Karupparayar temples are taken by a committee; these decisions are based on customs and traditions supported by folk-lore. The festival itself may involve hoisting of a flag and tying the kappu—a ring. Goats, chicken are sacrificed during the celebrations as offerings to the deity, while sometimes alcoholic drinks are also served. The Karupparayar temple near my residence has been newly renovated; it is located about a km from the nearest village, but there is a family living in a small house near the temple. The priest visits the temple twice a week in the morning hours and performs a puja; the language used by the priest is Tamil. He belongs to Valayar Jati—originally they were hunters, but very different from Irular. The Irulas are adivasis, while Valayar are part of the village community, although belonging to a specific Jati. The original priests belonged to the potter caste. Pottery is no longer in demand and for want of employment, the potters have migrated out of this village and hence the replacement with a priest from another Jati. 11
A History of Hinduism
Most of the families who worship at this temple are Okkali Gounders, while the temple is technically open to other Jaties from the surrounding villages. Families offer private prayers, prearranged, and even sacrifice goats on occasions. There is an element of privacy and secrecy around this and people are unwilling to discuss matters with strangers. While temples for Karupparayar are commonly found in villages in my neighborhood, elsewhere the village temples are for Muniappan—a God very similar to Karupparayar according to some and different according to others. Apart from Karupparayar and Muniappan, the 18 villages with dominant Okkaliga community have a common temple for Mariamman, which they consider as their common God, at a higher level. This common temple is located in a prominent spot in the town of Thondamuthur. The temple, though very small originally, has been rebuilt into an impressive structure a year ago. The construction of new temples is a recent phenomenon, indicating local prosperity. The consecration of the new temple, which I witnessed, was a very big event and it lasted for several days with thousands of visitors and a variety of ritual performances—all unknown to me. The Epics or Puranas make no sense to the people here and Sanskrit and Vedas are like things from an alien planet.
Regional Gods Every region in India has its own favourite God. In Bengal, it is Kali or Durga. In Maharashtra, it is Ganesh, and in Tamil Nadu, it is Murugan. Some of these may have ancient roots; others could be only a few centuries old or even something transplanted from some other region. The Tamil God Murugan has very ancient roots; songs in praise of Murugan are found in the Sangam literature. They also refer to arupadaiveedu—the six principal abodes of Murugan, which the poets describe at some length. The reference to the abodes of 12
Murugan show that temples for this God existed as early as 2nd century AD. The word murugan means a handsome young man. Murugan is always represented as a young boy or as a youthful adult. I would think that the human form of Murugan is derived from the earlier hero stones, commonly found all over Tamil Nadu. The most famous work on Murugan in the Sangam literature, which goes back to 2nd century AD (note that the legend of this God may have existed long before this work), is by Nakkirar. This work has a long title Thirumurugatharupadai—which would translate as: Murugan: the God with six abodes. The six sacred abodes of Lord Murugan are: Tiruttani, in Northern Tamil Nadu; Swamimalai near Kumbakonam in Tanjavur District, where the temple for Murugan is on an artificial hill inside the walled temple compound; Palni—this popular temple is in Dindigul district and it is on a prominent granitic dome shaped hill; Pazhamudircholai and Thirupparamkundram are both near Madurai, and finally Tiruchendur near Tuticorin on the seashore. Pilgrims from all parts of Tamil Nadu flock to these centres of pilgrimage at least once a year. In later literature, we find that Murugan has not only six sacred abodes, but also six heads. In the ancient Tamil literature, Murugan is associated with hills or mountains (known as kurunji in old Tamil). He is the youthful fighter armed with a spear with a peacock as his vehicle. The prominent temples for Murugan are all on hill tops or on hilly areas. There are a few exceptions as well—there is a Murugan temple in Kempanur village in my neighborhood. It is not on a hill but in the centre of the village. In later literature, Murugan is often mentioned as the son of Shiva and Parvati. He assumes various other names, some with Puranic connections, others of a local nature. Thus Skanda or its Tamil equivalent Kanda (which came first?) and Subbramania are of Puranic origin and are in Sanskrit; while Vadivel, Senthil, or Palaniswami have only a regional significance. 13
A History of Hinduism
A very unique form of worship associated with Murugan is kavadi attam. A kavadi can take many forms. However, the most common and the most spectacular form is that of a pair of semicircular wood pieces attached to a horizontal plank which is carried on the shoulders of the devotees. The whole devise is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers. The other kavadies are the milk kavadi—where milk is carried in a pot on one’s head, or the vel kavadi, which is a large pole with a lot of decorations. The kavadi attam is associated with the important festival of thaipusam which is celebrated in the Tamil month of Thai (JanuaryFebruary) and on a full moon day when the moon is on the star pusam; often these two events coincide. However, they could fall on two different days. Individuals wanting to participate in this festival, which includes both men and women, must begin their preparations some six weeks in advance—refrain from eating meat, bathe in cold water daily, shave one’s head—again for both men and women, sleep on the floor and so on. Just a day before the festival, people walk barefoot to the sacred abode of Murugan, near to their village carrying the kavadi—singing and dancing. Some, in addition, pierce their lips or tongue or the chest or back and attach lemons with strings. All these burdens and self-torture is to demonstrate their true love for Lord Murugan. In return, they expect the Lord to fulfil their desires – often to cure a near or dear one having a chronic disease. In the Coimbatore region, there is a well-known temple for Murugan, which people visit on occasions. It is in Marudamalai, about 10 km away (see Figure 1). This temple is located at about a thousand feet on the slopes of the Western Ghats and it is surrounded by forests with all kinds of wild animals including elephants. Built probably in the 12th century AD, this temple was indeed very small when I first visited it some 60 years ago; a new and very impressive temple was constructed recently, ten years ago. It attracts large crowds on all days of the week with much larger 14
crowds on weekends and Tuesdays. Marudamalai is also known for the natural cave in which the 12th century Pampatti Siddhar—a Shaivite saint lived. His name suggests that he had a special relationship with snakes and that he allowed these to crawl over him. The Pampatti Siddhar is one of the 18 Siddhas mentioned in Tamil Literature and the cave where he lived is under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India. This region (Coimbatore West Suburbs) has also a very wellknown Shiva temple in Perur, probably built in the 9th century AD. It has several exquisitely carved pillars. These come under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India; the Perur temple is known as the Pateeshwarar temple (Shiva was the favourite God of the sacred cow known as Patti, one of the four daughters of Kamadhenu). The temple also houses the Pachainayaki temple for Parvati (Pachai in Tamil means green and Parvati in mythology was of green color). This temple truly represents the Puranic age and Puranic Hinduism. Perur is essentially a Brahmana agraharam and the temple has more to do with Brahmana culture, although the temple is well patronized by non-Brahmanas as well. Most, if not all, large Puranic temples have a Brahmana agraharam either around it on four sides or nearby.
Brahmanas at Present The worship of Vettaikkaran and Karupparayar represents grass root religions of a local nature; the worship of Murugan has wider regional significance. The regional Gods, if not some aspects of their worship, were absorbed in the Puranic religion and mythology. This has happened throughout India. The local Gods, however, remained untouched by the pan-Indian culture of the Puranas. The description of religious practices, in a local setting, attempted above, would be incomplete without mention of the religion of the Brindavan Brahmana Community of which I am a member. 15
A History of Hinduism
The Brindavan community is of recent origin—about six years old. It consists of Sri Vaishnava and Smarta Brahmanas, who are all senior citizens. They live in a small gated community of about eighty households. The members of this community are all highly educated, and were mostly professionals—administrators, teachers, accountants, engineers, and even doctors (medical). Their children—a majority of them—live in foreign lands and visit them occasionally. The senior citizens here also go abroad to spend time with their children. What is religion like in this community? It is predominantly Puranic with a little bit of Vedic religion (Mimamsa). Daily bhajans are held in the evenings in the small prayer hall attended by around twenty regular devotees; the prayer hall has idols of Lord Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana, reflecting the management’s preferences—they are Sri Vaishnavites. The bhajans, however, cover a wide spectrum from Vedic mantras to slokas relating to almost all the principal Puranic Gods. The participants are a mix of Sri Vaishnavites and Smartas. Women outnumber men in the ratio of five to one. Bhagavad Gita and some Upanishads are fairly popular—however, their meanings may not be fully understood by the devotees, as their knowledge of Sanskrit is indeed minimal. There are a few male members who know the basics of Sanskrit language and they do have original versions of various scriptures, particularly the Epics and Puranas. Discourses on the Gita and Bhagavata Purana are routinely held. Some male members of this community perform an abridged version of the annual upakarma and the monthly tarpana and for this a specialist priest is invited. A few, less than five, perform the daily sandhyavandana three times a day (something that all Brahmanas are expected to do daily). Similarly, some perform the annual Shraddha ceremony in memory of their ancestors. The rituals following deaths, which is not uncommon among senior citizens, is invariably performed with the assistance of well-trained 16
priests. These are in accordance with the Vedic texts. There are local Brahmana associations who own land and facilities for the performance of the last rites in accordance with Vedic practice. No one performs the daily homa, while many do perform the daily puja for their favourite Gods with flowers obtained from the plants in the complex. These daily pujas are also performed by both men and women, mostly women. The community, as a whole, does celebrate the full range of Puranic festivals during the course of the year. This is done with great enthusiasm. Among the more important religious functions are Bhagavatha Saptaham and Bhagavat seva. The former lasts for a week in which the entire Bhagavata Purana in Sanskrit is read out. The latter is based on Devi Bhagavatham; it lasts only for a day. The priests who officiate in these functions are well trained and often knowledgeable. While Deepavali is celebrated in Brindavan and in the villages around us, it has greater significance for the community in Brindavan. The Dussehra festival, which lasts for ten days, is observed on a grand scale in Brindavan, but it has no relevance to the Hindu communities outside. On the other hand, the Pongal festival is celebrated with greater gusto in the surrounding villages but notionally in Brindavan. In the surrounding villages, several other festivals are celebrated with much fanfare. Among these is Adi perukku— an event that welcomes the onset of the rains and the flooding of rivers. The communities in Attukkal, Kempanur, and Brindavan coexist in harmony and there is no conflict whatsoever. They practice different shades of a religion that is known as Hinduism. The communities respect each other and interact with each other almost on a daily basis. In a way, this describes the Hindu way of life—peaceful co-existence. Tolerance of diversity and differences and co-operation are the key elements of this culture. 17
A History of Hinduism
The Past and the Present I have described the tribal, village and regional Gods and religions in brief to illustrate that the ancient roots of Hinduism still exist and are still important. They may have undergone changes as the original settlers mixed with the later ones. Hinduism is an open house where religions, ancient and newer ones, co-exist and absorb each other’s ideas without compulsion and in an atmosphere of absolute freedom. The Irulas, for example, retain their culture and religion and to some extent their way of life as they deem fit. This is true of the great many village and regional Gods; and it is equally true of family gods, and of the Gods of Jaties as well. The over 6,000 Jaties in India are a product of the respect given to them by Brahmanas and also their recognition of their validity. Brahmanas never considered their religion to be superior to the others or as the only true and valid religion. Their policy has been one of mutual respect for all Gods and religions. Hinduism should never be compared with Islam or Christianity religions—their outlook is poles apart. A lot of confusion about history and religion in India arises from westerners looking at Hinduism from their narrow perspectives and Indians trying to look at their own religion with an outlook borrowed from the west. In this book I shall try to avoid this pitfall. There is some confusion in the understanding of Hinduism; this arises from the undue importance given to the religions based on the Sanskrit language. In the past, the role of the oral traditions (non-Sanskritic) and the traditions of regional and vernacular traditions have been totally ignored. The fact is that the rich diversity of Hinduism is due to the survival of these traditions and their interaction with Sanskrit based traditions. I would like to emphasize this aspect at the outset and remind the reader about it from time to time in this book. However, by virtue of my own personal background, I shall in the succeeding chapters focus primarily on Sanskrit based religions and how they evolved 18
absorbing many facets from other religions from the regional and local levels. I would like to remind the readers of the roots of Hinduism at every stage of the evolution of Hinduism based on Sanskrit texts. One should not be carried away by what the Brahmanas say in Sanskrit texts; it is only a part of the whole the story of Hinduism.
Overview What follows in the subsequent chapters has more to do with the Brahmanas of Brindavan and elsewhere, and less with the farming community of Kempanur, and hardly of any relevance to the community in Attukkal. The three communities represent India in miniature and you can find the same pattern all over India. Often the Brahmana element is missing, for Brahmanas constitute less than three percent of India’s population. The following chapters deal with the story of Brahmanas from the beginning—from the arrival of the Rigvedic people.
• Rigvedic Society • Rigvedic Verses • Prosody • Poets or Rishies • Vedic Sanskrit • Rigvedic Religion • Brahman: The Original Concept • Gotra, Pravara, and Charana • The Prelude and the Prognosis
Rigvedic Society Around 3,500 years ago, a group of Sanskrit speaking people came to the Indian sub-continent from central Asia. They composed verses in Sanskrit in praise of their Gods and recited them in front of fire— representing their foremost God ‘Agni’. These verses, composed according to rules of prosody, were then memorized and passed on to the generations to follow. After several centuries, when they were compiled into a text, these verses were collectively known as Rigveda. Rik in Sanskrit means a verse and veda is knowledge; Rigveda is then knowledge in the form of verses. The people who composed these verses—let us call them Rigvedic people—numbered less than one lakh in the beginning. They had come to the upper Indus basin after an arduous journey through the Khyber Pass, losing many of their near and dear ones, as well as their cattle and horses. The groups that survived the journey consisted of groups of 100 to 200 persons who made a living by herding cattle; each community’s worldly possessions consisted of tents and clothing made of leather, cattle numbering around 500, about twenty horses, and with bows and arrows as defensive weapons.
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The verses, composed by the Rigvedic poets, reflect dependence of these people on nature and hence their prayers in the form of verses appealing to the powers of nature—the sun, fire, rain, water, wind, and thunder and lightning. They offered food (meat or dairy products that they themselves depended on) to the Gods through the medium of Agni. The fire worship was performed by the community as a whole and for the welfare of the entire community. Everyone in this community was ‘equal’. The value of equality, togetherness, and sharing were stressed by the poets in the Rigvedic mantras. Throughout the Rigvedic text, meaning almost every verse of the text, one would come across the pronouns—‘we’ and ‘us’. These two pronouns hardly ever appear in the later Vedas. They are replaced by the pronoun—‘I’, the priest and ‘he’—the performer of the ritual ceremony or yajna. The Rigveda is a unique religious text. It stands apart from later Sanskrit texts. It relates to a particular type of society which no longer exists—in fact it ceased to exist 3,000 years ago. Yet, the Rigvedic text is considered to be the most sacred religious text of the Hindus even today, although no one knows anything about it. Even among Brahmanas today, very few can recite a verse from Rigveda from memory.
Rigvedic Verses The Rigveda consists of 10,552 mantras—verses set to one or more metres. The Rigvedic poets—known as rishies—had mastered the art of prosody. It is the mastery of prosody and strict rules for their recitation that have preserved this religion for posterity. Quoted below is a set of mantras, known for their lyrical quality as well as sanctity of their content: आपो हिष्ठा मयोभुव स्ता न ऊर्जे दधातन। महेरणाय चक्षसे यो वः शिवतमो रस स्तस्य भाजयतेह नः। उशतीरिव मातरः तस्मा अरं गमाम वो यस्य क्षयाय जिन्वथ। आपो जनयथा च नः 22
Rigvedic Religion Oh Water! You are most desired the world over. You provide us nourishment. You have neglected the barren lands! That which is the most beneficial essence, we depend on you here! You are like mother’s words of scolding! We enter you but slowly to get rid of which you prompt us. Oh water! Refresh us again and again (Rigveda, Mandala 10.9.1-3)
The three verses given above are in gayatri meter, consisting of twenty-four syllables divided into three parts (padas). This is the oldest and most sacred of all Vedic meters. It is supposed to possess unique mystic properties. There are strict rules for reciting these mantras and even the slightest variations are not allowed. The verses have to be learned from a guru—a teacher who knows the rules. The verses are addressed to the water Goddesses. Water is always in feminine gender in Sanskrit and it is always in plural. The plurality is perhaps due to the fact that water is present in various forms—as rain, as rivers and streams, as lakes, and as the ocean itself. While the meaning of the verses is fairly straightforward, there are three intriguing phrases that need explanation. The phrase ‘you neglect the barren lands’ has to be understood in the context of semi-arid lands of the Punjab where the Rigvedic people first settled in India, where the lands between the rivers was barren without any source of water. The second phrase is ‘it is like the words of scolding by mother’. This has to be understood again in the specific context. These mantras relate to the act of bathing—marjanam. Bathing here means bathing in the cold waters of Himalayan Rivers in the Punjab. Here the waters are ice cold and one shivers while entering the water, yet the after effects are indeed most welcome. The next line makes this clear—we enter you (water) but slowly. The third phrase—refreshes us again and again—can be interpreted in different ways. Bathing is to remove dirt which is alluded to and to 23
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refresh; however, the actual word used has to do with birth from the mother’s womb which is a bag of water. One immerses in water and is reborn. It is a colorful phrase, but I doubt whether the poet actually referred to the concept of rebirth, which came into being at a later point of time. The three verses are repeated in all the four Vedas and within the Vedas themselves in various contexts; obviously, they were considered to be very important. It is also noteworthy that these mantras are a part of the daily sandyavandanam ritual of Brahmanas throughout the ages. As a young boy, I used to recite these mantras while performing my daily prayers in the morning and evening.
Prosody The invention of the gayatri meter is perhaps the most important event in the history of Hinduism. This meter consists of twentyfour syllables, which in Rigveda are grouped into three parts or padas, each pada consisting of eight syllables. The numbers three and eight have since acquired mystic value. The correct intonation of the syllables is sacrosanct and it is this that makes the verses easy to remember and difficult to paraphrase. Who invented this meter? Obviously, he is one of the early poets or rishies. My own reading of the Rigvedic mantras has led me to the conclusion that this poet was the original Angiras; later he was also given the title of Brihaspati and Brahmanaspati. Brihat means the Rigvedic text—he is the lord of the Rigvedic text. Brahmanaspati means the lord of the chief priests or the doyen of the chief priests. To me, Angiras is the founder of the Rigvedic religion and the inventor of the gayatri meter—the most sacred of all Rigvedic meters. An invocation to Angiras—Brihaspati—is a must in all Vedic rituals. Only about a quarter of the Rigvedic verses are in the gayatri meter. About one sixth of the verses are in the anushtup meter, which is closely related to the above; it has four padas instead of 24
three consisting of eight syllables each. Trishtup with forty-four syllables and Jagati with forty-eight syllables are far more numerous. Together these four metres account for nearly 90 percent of the Rigvedic verses. Altogether, there are twenty metres in use in the present day Rigvedic text. The number of metres increased gradually over time. In this way, one can infer that the Rigveda evolved over a period of time. A detailed analysis of the metre used in each mantra, its content, and the name of the poet is necessary if we want to learn more about the evolution of the Rigvedic text.
Poets or Rishies Rigvedic verses were composed by over 50 poets, belonging to several generations. The principal poets were: Vishwamitra, Gautama, Atri, Vashistha, Bharadwaja, Bhrigu, Jamadagni, Angirasa or Brihaspati, Kanva, Saunaka, Parasara, and Kasyapa. The opening verses of Rigveda, as it exists now, were composed by Madhuchanda Vaishwamitra, while the closing verses of Rigveda were composed by Samvanana Angirasa. The opening and closing verses are very well known and are used in rituals almost invariably in some context or other. It is also notable that quite a few of the Rigvedic poets were descendants of senior poets; for example, Madhuchanda is from the lineage of Vaishwamitra. When the first vowel in a name is lengthened (it also undergoes some complicated changes in some cases) it assumes the meaning: belonging to or in the lineage of. Thus Vishwamitra becomes Vaishwamitra; Bhrigu becomes Bhargava and so on. The important point to note here is that even during Rigvedic times lineages of poets were already recognized. This, eventually, led to the formation of Brahmana gotras.
Vedic Sanskrit The Sanskrit used in Rigveda is very different from the language used in the Smrities. Words have a different meaning. For example, 25
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the word ‘namas’ in Rigveda means food, while in the Puranas it means salutation. Nouns are declined in a different way; hasthah (hands) becomes hastasah in Rigveda; sringah (horns) is actually sringani in later Sanskrit. The difference is indeed very substantial, so much so, there is a separate Vedic dictionary. The first such Sanskrit-English dictionary was prepared by Monier Williams. The Kanchi Acharya calls Vedic Sanskrit as Chandas— although this word has a limited connotation as metre in prosody. The Acharya, however, considers the literal meaning of Rigvedic mantras as irrelevant—only the correct pronunciation and recitation of verses matters. These have mystic properties, according to him. There is another rational interpretation of the Acharya’s statement. The meaning of Rigvedic mantras bear no relation to the purpose(s) for which these mantras were used in rituals in later time periods. In that context, they are indeed meaningless. Adi Sankara never wrote a commentary on Rigveda or any other Veda; he never even quotes or mentions verses from the Vedas. The point is that the later Vedas and certainly the Upanishads have nothing to do with the Rigvedic religion. The later Vedas do contain verses from the Rigveda, but their meaning does not matter. In this context, what the Kanchi Acharya said is right. The Epics and Puranas used the names of Rigvedic poets, constructed stories around them, and attributed to them magical powers, absolute knowledge, immortality and so on. All this is really part of the mythology of Hinduism and has nothing to do with history.
Rigvedic Religion Rigvedic people worshipped the Gods Indra and Varuna, through the medium of Agni—the fire God. To this God, they offered meat and other dairy products and prayed for protection for the community, their cows and horses. They worshipped the Gods for longevity of life and for sustaining the welfare of their tribal communities. 26
The utter simplicity of this religion comes out vividly in the following verse: दधिक्राव्णोः अकारिषं जिष्णोरश्वस्य वाजिनः। सुरभि नो मुखा करत् प्र नः आयूं षि तारिषत् ।। Yogurts and oblations are ready; Fast and strong as a horse (Oh Agni) Please make our mouths fragrant; enhance our lives a little bit (Vamadeva Gautama in anushtup meter in Rigveda 4.39.6)
Each mantra in Rigveda has three components—praise of a God, offering of food or oblations, and a request. God is usually Agni, Indra, Varuna or Vishvedeva. Oblations and food may consist of meat or milk products. In this mantra the request in flowery language is for food and enhancement of lives. The pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ are used in every mantra; the prayers are made collectively by the tribal community for the benefit of all the members of the tribe. In the later Mimamsa religion the request is on behalf of the yajamana for his own or his family’s welfare—a major departure necessitated by social change. The verse quoted above is repeated in the Taittiriya Samhita (Krishna Yajurveda), the Shukla Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda. I think that the repetition is because of the beauty of the verse, the wit and mild humor and an air of skepticism inherent in the prayer. The meter used in this verse is an elaboration of the original gayatri meter—the difference is that while gayatri has three parts with eight syllables, the anushtup meter used here has four parts of eight syllables each. It is obviously a meter conceived at a later time, but is still popular. It is appropriate to quote another verse which possibly comes from the end of the Rigvedic period (around 1000 BC); the verse itself gives sufficient proof of this statement. 27
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तत् त्वा यामि ब्रह्मणा वन्दमानः तदा शास्ते यजमानो हविर्भिः । अहेऴमानो वरुणेह बोध्यु रुशं स मा न आयुः प्र मोषीः The honorable Brahmanas and the Yajamana’s requests with oblations is: please do not take away our lives; we know, Oh Varuna, you are not easily given to flattery here; nevertheless you are highly respected everywhere! (Rigveda 1.24.11)
This mantra is repeated in both the Krishna and Sukla Yajurvedas and it is invariably recited in all Vedic rituals. The reason for its popularity is the presence of two words—Brahmana and Yajamana. In the Mimamsa religion (that we will discuss in the next chapter), these two words refer to the two important persons involved in the ritual: the priest and the person wanting to perform the ritual. A large number of verses in the present Rigvedic text either belong to the Mimamsa period or even later; this becomes clear from their content and the manner in which they are stated. The closing verses of Rigveda, belong to a period when the gurukula system came into being; this means that it belongs to the period of the early Upanishads—a period even later than the Purva Mimamsa period. What distinguishes the original Rigvedic text—excluding the later additions—is its overall simplicity and down-to-earth approach to religion. Even the praise of Gods is very subdued and often mentioned with skepticism, as we have noted in the verses quoted above. Gods like Indra, Varuna and so on are praised in the hope that they will solve the community’s basic problems of food supply, longevity of life, and the protection of warriors and the cattle from predators. The approach to God is simple and direct, through the medium of Agni, another God. The Rigvedic text is notable for the total absence of mysticism, glorification, personification of Gods, ascription of divine powers 28
in humans, miracles, fantasies, and even the presence of ghosts or evil spirits, which many ancient tribal communities used to worship or fear. In later phases of Hinduism, we will find all these creeping in and at times even deluging the literature. Furthermore, there is no heaven or hell, no sin attached to human actions, although non-permissible actions are mentioned occasionally as in the verse below: इदमापः प्र वहत यत् किं च दरु ितं मयि । यद् वाहमभिदद्ु रोह यद वा शेप उतानृतं ।। Oh water! Wash away whatever dirt is in me! Those from my harmful actions or those from my sexual misconduct (Rigveda 1. 23. 22)
This verse is also repeated in the 10th mandala of Rigveda as well as in Shukla Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. There is remorse for misconduct but no mention of punishment. The concept of purity and pollution that are introduced in the Smrities find no mention anywhere in Rigveda. I like the Rigveda for it straightforwardness, honesty, simplicity and directness; no other religion in the world can match these unique qualities, including the later versions of Hinduism. There is but one caveat: the sacrifice of cattle and meat as oblation is not recommended now. In Rigvedic times, they thought of meat as food and the killing of cattle was part of the issue of obtaining food. Actually, the sacrifice of cattle is not mentioned in Rigveda— that belongs to the Mimamsa period. At this stage cattle were killed for food and the same was offered to the Gods.
Brahman: The Original Concept In Rigveda, ‘Brahman’ means a priest—a person who directs the rituals before the fire altar with the whole community in attendance. He is a composer and poet as well. The other priests 29
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who participate in the community rituals under the direction of the Brahman—the chief priest, were known then as ritwiks. In the later Mimamsa religion, the word Brahman still retains this connotation; the only thing is that several other categories of priests were added on. Thus, we have the hotri (or hota) who recites the Vedic mantras, the adhvaryu who prepares the soma juice and makes other arrangements for the yajna, the udgata who chants the mantras from Samaveda, and the Brahman, who supervises the entire procedure. The Brahman or chief priest merely sits on a high pedestal supervising the performance of the other priests. In a very elaborate ritual, each category of priests will be assisted by three others and thus one could expect sixteen priests officiating in a major ritual. However, the division of labor among priests could have originated in the Rigvedic period itself, but they were fully developed in the Mimamsa period, when elaborate rituals were conducted at the behest of a rich yajamana. Still later, in the Upanishadic texts, Brahman becomes the absolute God and in the Puranic age Brahman becomes Brahma— the creator of the world and one of the three supreme Gods— Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The different meanings of the word brahma or brahman belong to different religions and different periods; the confusion becomes unavoidable for a layman.
Gotra, Pravara, and Charana The concepts of gotra, pravara, and charana do not belong to the Rigvedic period, but their roots are in Rigveda. Further, the three concepts have survived over time even to the present and they provide a chain of continuity that is remarkable for its persistence. In this book, the thread of continuity is provided by these three concepts. This book is about the history of Brahmanas, as much as it is about the history of Hinduism; the three concepts are central to the definition of a ‘Brahmana’. A Brahmana always was, and in fact is, bound by definition to have a direct link with Rigveda. 30
The poets who composed the Rigvedic mantras were known as rishies. The names of these poets are given at the start of each section of the Rigvedic text along with the name of the meter used in the verses and the Gods to whom the verses are addressed. We have, in an earlier section, noted the names of the principal rishies and the fact that many of the Rigvedic poets were descendants of earlier poets; a sort of lineage was already emerging in Rigvedic times. Rigvedic poets were real people who had children and grandchildren. They are all historical personalities in the true sense of the term. In the post Rigvedic period, the descendants of the Rigvedic poets began to identify themselves with one or more rishies from whom they were descended. This led to the concept of gotra—a gotra is a group of people who claimed descent from one or more Rigvedic rishies. In later times and even to the present a Brahmana is identified by his gotra. It is but natural for Brahmanas to claim descent from a well-known ancestor—in this case a Rigvedic poet whose name appears in several suktas or cluster of verses. Until recent times, a Brahmana boy who had already been initiated into Vedic study through the upanayana ceremony was expected to identify himself. He was also required to seek alms from ladies of households. He would address the housewife as follows: भवति भिक्षाम् देहि अभिवादये भार्गव वैतहव्य सावेदस त्रया ऋषेय प्रवरान्वितवादू लगोत्रोत्भव आपस्तं ब सूत्र यजुर्शाखा अध्यायी श्री रामचन्द्र शर्म नाम अहम अस्मै भोः Madam, please give me alms. I offer my salutations. I, Sri Ramachandra Sharma, am from the lineage of the three rishies—Bhrigu, Vithahavya, and Savedasa, born in Vadula gotra, and I am a student of Apasthamba Sutra and Yajur Sakha.
This introductory statement has three components: the gotra name, the pravara, and the charana. All three are important. The 31
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gotra name is just a short form for purposes of identification and it is actually defined by pravara. Pravara is the lineage in which one or more names of Rigvedic poets are mentioned. In the above introduction Bhrigu, Vithahavya, and Savedasa are all Rigvedic poets whose names appear in the Rigvedic text. They have all contributed several verses to the Rigveda. In pravara, one claims ancestry to Rigvedic poets. Charana means recitation. What the student is saying is that he is studying a section or sakha of a Veda and a part of a Brahmana (apasthamba sutra is actually a Brahmana attached to Krishna Yajurveda). The student can be tested by asking him to recite mantras from the above, which he would be expected to know. Brahmana gotras, pravaras and charanas have survived through time and that is how I am able to make my own introduction in the Sanskrit passage above. However, few Brahmanas nowadays know their gotra, pravara or charana and they will not be able to introduce themselves in Sanskrit. Yet, over the centuries, Brahmanas did maintain their identity and provided some sort of continuity with the Rigvedic people. This is a true historical fact. At this stage, one may ask about the other sections of the Rigvedic population—those who were not poets or their descendants. Other than the poets, the other group that had a clear identity was the warriors. It is logically correct to expect lineages of warriors as well; one would expect to claim ancestry from a well-known warrior and his name would then be perpetuated. The Rigveda does not contain any mention of names of warrior heroes or their descendants; this does not mean that they did not exist. Obviously, by analogy, they did. The other sections of the Rigvedic society, however, remained anonymous. There is a big difference between warrior lineages and Brahmana lineages. Among Brahmanas the Vedic knowledge was transferred from father to son at an early age. Among warriors this is not necessary. Neither is the training such a prolonged experience as in 32
the case of the Brahmanas, nor is it begun at an early age. There is no evidence of continuity among warrior lineages as we will notice in the later chapters of this book. There is yet another dimension to the warrior lineages. In the post Rigvedic period, the warrior lineages became clans; the warrior class requires close collaboration in battle and they need to be organized, and hence, lineages tend to transform into clans. This is not the case with Brahmanas who are more or less independent as their profession did not require any organization when the tribe gave way to a peasant society. Brahmanas were always organized into nuclear or joint families. There were no clans of Brahmanas.
The Prelude and the Prognosis The Rigvedic people came to the upper parts of the Indus River (the land of the seven rivers) around 1500 BC, and possibly they remained there for a few centuries. During this time period several things happened. No society remains static for so long. With each generation of poets, the corpus of verses grew. It is important to remember that there were hundreds of Rigvedic communities and the poets came from different tribal communities. There was interaction among these tribal communities and also between the Rigvedic and the pre-existing non-Rigvedic communities. The Rigvedic verses begin to acknowledge the existence of these ‘other’ communities and their Gods. At the same time, the homogeneity of the Rigvedic tribal communities underwent changes with the emergence of the lineages of poets and warriors among them. Branches—sakhas—of the Rigvedic corpus emerged with each lineage expanding their own corpus of verses. The number of sakhas would also have increased over time. No one tribal community knew all the verses of the Rigveda. The compilation of Rigvedic verses came only after the art of writing was invented; and that happened many centuries later. When this happened, some of the sakhas would have merged and different combinations of sakhas would have emerged. 33
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With increasing population, these tribal communities would have felt the need to move on to new regions. It is also possible that the Rigvedic communities met with increasing pressure from newer immigrants through the Khyber Pass. Equally possible are the consequences of increasing desertification of the Indus basin. Whatever the reason, at least some of the Rigvedic tribal communities did migrate to the east in search of new pastures. The process of migration is a recurring event in all tribal communities and the Rigvedic people were no exception. From hindsight, we know that the Rigvedic people or sections thereof, migrated to newer lands from time to time and eventually covered the whole of the sub-continent. Again, from hindsight, and from the literary and archaeological evidence, we can postulate five distinct stages of migration of Rigvedic people (or sections of them) through historical periods (see Figure 2). We have already discussed the first stage during the period 1500 BC to 1000 BC, in which the regional setting was the upper Indus basin. In this stage, the Rigvedic religion was practiced in a pure form and the major part of the Rigvedic verses were composed by poets. The Indus basin had nothing more to contribute to the growth of Vedic religion. The venue shifted to the east. In later time periods, while this region was held in high esteem, the people there were thought to be Mlechhas—referring to their foreign origin (Yavanas, Sakas, Pahalvas and so on). In the second stage, from 1000 BC to 600 BC, the Rigvedic people seem to have settled down in the region of the Upper Yamuna around the present day Delhi. Again, we may note that the migration did not involve the entire Rigvedic population, at that stage, but only some communities while other communities of Rigvedic people continued to live in the Indus basin. It is in this stage that the Rigvedic religion was modified and the newer Mimamsa religion emerged. This development is discussed in Chapter 4. 34
Figure 2 Rigvedic People: Stages of Migration Source: Drawn by the author. Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
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In the third stage, there was further eastward movement along the upper reaches of Middle Ganga Plain; the new focus was eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In the second stage itself, the tribal communities merged, at least partially, into the pre-existing peasant communities in the Yamuna basin; this process could have begun even earlier. What I mean by merger is the gradual disappearance of ethnic differences. The process of merging, in general, starts from the less important individuals and sections and proceeds upwards; the logic here is not difficult to understand. The lower sections of society have much in common, while the upper sections, for example the Brahmanas have very distinctive skills. In the case of Brahmanas, the issue of merger happens at the level of the young student who wants to learn the Vedic mantras and he is accepted by the teacher as a member of the family. This occurs only on very rare occasions. In the case of warriors and others, inter-group marriages were fairly common; evidence for this comes from Smrities. In the third stage, there are developments on several fronts: the development of spiritual thought in the form of the Upanishads, which constitute Uttara Mimamsa and the emergence of a number of heterodox religions and sects, among which Buddhism and Jainism were by far more important. (These aspects are elaborated in Chapters 5 to 7). In the first three stages, migration possibly involved all sections of the tribal communities, including the poets and the warriors and the ordinary folk. In the final two stages, migration involved only descendants of poets, while the other sections remained more or less in the Ganga Plains. The fourth stage involved the migration of Rigvedic people (mainly or exclusively Brahmanas) beyond Aryavartam, as described in the Smrities. At this stage, migration of Brahmanas was prompted by invasion of Northwest India by Yavanas and the resulting destabilization of Vedic culture there and the rise of Buddhism and other heterodox religions. The conversion of Asoka to Buddhism 36
was another important contributing factor. The political patronage extended to Brahmanas was considerably reduced as a result. The selective migration of Brahmanas to central India started from 200 BC to about 500 AD. This migration is reflected in stage IV. These developments are reflected in the contents of the Epics and Puranas, discussed in Chapters 8 and 9. In this stage, the Brahmana communities settled down in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and even Gujarat—focusing on the valleys of the Narmada, Tapti, and Godavari rivers. Several new kingdoms emerged in this region and they encouraged the settlement of Brahmanas here. In the final stage—500 AD to 1200 AD, the Rigvedic people, now clearly restricted to Brahmanas alone, migrated to the far South. There was a strong positive incentive for Brahmanas to migrate further south where the Hindu kings were very willing to accept them and give grants of land and various other incentives; this process achieved a climax during the reign of the Cholas. The Brahmana population of the entire South owes its presence to the generous land grants from kings and other rich chieftains. The Brahmanas settled down in a new kind of settlement known as agraharam and practiced the Vedic religion in peace. It is to the migrant communities of Brahmanas that we owe the Sanskritization of the South. In 5th century AD, the region of South India was known as Tamizhakam—the land of Tamils or the region where Tamil is the spoken language. In Tamil, there is no concept of race, while linguistic affinity is strong, as also religious preferences. The other so called Dravidian languages did not exist then. They came into being as a result of the process of Sanskritization of the Tamil language. The fifth stage is notable for the emergence of Hindu temples in the South and the flowering of the bhakti movement. At the same time, the Mimamsa religion and Vedic culture flourished here, along with the regional and local cultures. These new developments are discussed in Chapters 10, 11, and 12. 37
• India 3,000 Years Ago (1000 BC) • Yajur and Sama Vedas • Brahmanas (Texts) • Mimamsa Religion • Atharvaveda • Dharmasutras • Two Varnas • Vedic Sakhas • Summary
India 3,000 Years Ago (1000 BC) Over a period of time, the Rigvedic people began a slow migration to the east, from the Indus and its tributaries to the basin of the Yamuna around Delhi (see Figure 2—Stage II). In this new setting, the tribal units of Rigvedic people merged into the pre-existing agricultural communities and they lost their separate identity and also their unique tribal way of life. In other words, the Rigvedic tribal communities were transformed into a number of Jaties, based on their occupations and locations, while maintaining some attachment to their earlier tribal roots. There is considerable archaeological evidence for this period from 1200 BC to 800 BC. Based on the characteristics of the pottery used at that time, archaeologists have used the term Painted Grey Ware Culture to designate the society of that time. There were hundreds of village settlements in this area and many have been excavated. However, none of these can be described as urban. These peasant communities cultivated wheat and barley, and practiced animal husbandry. There is evidence of the use of iron tools, although very sparingly.
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The basic unit of society from now on was the family, which could be a nuclear family, a joint or an extended family. The Rigvedic people branched into lineages and families, most engaging themselves in farming and animal husbandry. A notable exception was the poets and their families who continued the tradition of memorizing the Vedas passed on to them by their peers and the worship of Vedic Gods through the medium of Agni. The poet priests became a distinct category and they earned a living by providing ritual services to the former members of the tribal population and to others. This priestly class later came to be known as Brahmanas. Thus, Brahmanas became the first ‘Varna’—meaning a category of people distinct from the others—to be formed out of the original Rigvedic communities. It is important to note that the term ‘Varna’ is a general category term and it would normally have a large number of Jaties, within its domain.
Yajur and Sama Vedas The disintegration of the Rigvedic tribal society posed new problems for the descendants of Rigvedic poets. Their main concern was with the preservation of the corpus of Vedic mantras. This required constant practice, teaching and learning of the mantras by the younger generation. They had very little time to practice agriculture or animal husbandry and yet they had to make a living. For this, they improvised a new system of lifecycle rituals. While the Rigvedic mantras were the central pieces in these rituals, newer mantras, and even prose forms were introduced into the rituals to make them more relevant to the lifecycle events such as births, deaths, marriage and nuptials, puberty, initiation into the learning process for young boys, and finally rituals for the consecration of the dead and the worship of the ancestors. These rituals involved considerable expertise and the Brahmanas could extract fees (initially in kind, later in gold) for helping people perform them. This became the main means of livelihood for Brahmanas. They did keep cows, for milk was an important part of 40
their diet and milk products were used in most rituals as oblations. The cow was a sort of sacred link to their Rigvedic origins. They continued to be meat eaters and they offered meat as oblation, in addition to other items. Krishna Yajurveda was the first Mimamsa text to emerge out of this new predicament. It deals extensively with various rituals to be performed both by Brahmanas and others. At this time the Varna categories did not exist, except that Brahmanas were emerging as a distinct group. The vast majority of Brahmanas, at any point in time, were Yajurvedins. However, Yajurveda itself branched into two later, around 400 BC. The Krishna Yajurveda text is actually known as the Taittiriya Samhita. It deals with a great number of family and lifecycle rituals, in addition to a number of sacrifices: somayaga, vajpeya, rajasuya, asvamedha etc. I would ascribe the elaborate sacrifices to a later period in the evolution of Yajurveda—that is several centuries later. The Krishna Yajurveda is also the original source of the Rudra mantras and so also purusha sukta (later included in Rigveda). Krishna Yajurveda in itself is a separate religion. It actually expanded and became elaborate over the centuries. It was later known as the karma kanda of Vedas or Mimamsa. Samaveda, a later addition to the Vedic corpus, added a new dimension to Mimamsa by introducing a new form of reciting the Rigvedic mantras; it also focused more on the worship of ancestors. The reciting of Samaveda verses—samagana—is particularly important in the so called soma sacrifices. There were only three Vedas at this stage: Rigveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda. Samaveda is comparatively short in relation to Yajurveda, about 1,800 verses, and it mostly consists of mantras drawn from Rigveda. Its contribution is mainly in the rendering of the mantras in musical form. The priests who chant Samaveda mantras are known as udgatas. They are a special category of priests, as only they are allowed to chant the saman. Unlike Krishna Yajurveda, Samaveda has no independent status—it is only an 41
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adjunct to Yajurveda rituals. The specialization of a Brahmana boy in Yajurveda or Samaveda depends entirely on the teacher under whom he obtained his training. Thus, among two boys from the same family, one could be a specialist in Yajurveda and the other in Samaveda. In Krishna Yajurveda, the mantra portion, the Brahmanas and even Aranyakas are all in the same text. This text is also mostly in Sanskrit prose. At a later point in time, the Krishna Yajurveda branched off into a newer one known as Shukla Yajurveda; this is a much shorter text and it has only one Brahmana—the Satapada Brahmana—in the form of a separate text. The composition of Shukla Yajurveda is attributed to the sage Yajnavalkya. This name appears again and again in the Upanishads— it means someone belonging to the lineage of Yajnavalkya and not necessarily the original Yajnavalkya. The name Yajnavalkya does not appear among Rigvedic poets. We have already noted that by lengthening the first vowel of a proper noun the meaning is altered—the lengthened form means something belonging or in the lineage of. Yajurveda, especially Shukla Yajurveda, introduces a whole class of Gods that are new and not mentioned in Rigveda. We have thus mention of Lord of the beasts (Pasupati), Lord of Herbs (Aushadi), and even astonishingly Lord of the Thieves! All these go to show that Brahmanas had an open mind and willingness to absorb Gods and practices of other communities. The issues of superiority or inferiority of Gods or religious practices is never mentioned.
Brahmanas (Texts) Brahmanas as texts are actually instructions given by the Brahman or the chief priest who sits on a high pedestal in any major sacrificial ceremony. Brahman occurs in Rigveda as a leader among the poet priests. The concept of brahman is not new. However, in Yajurveda it acquires a new status as the Yajurveda rituals involve a host of 42
priests. Hence their leader—the brahman—has a very special standing especially in the more elaborate sacrificial yagas. Each of the four Vedas has its own Brahmanas. Rigveda has two—Aitareya or Aswalayana and Kaushitaki or Sankhyayana. Shukla Yajurveda has one—Satapada Brahmana. In Krishna Yajurveda, the mantra part and the Brahmana are interspersed together in Taittiriya Samhita. However, in later time periods, it acquired sub-texts in the form of sutras—apasthamba, Gautama, Baudayana, and Vashistha being the principal ones. Samaveda has six or seven Brahmanas. Each Brahmana consists of three parts—the explanatory part or Brahmana proper, the Aranyaka or the deliberations of recluses, and Upanishads, the thoughts of the intellectuals. It is important to emphasize that the three parts may actually belong to different time periods. Religious texts in Hinduism are always time flexible and author flexible. Aranyakas were composed at a later point in time than Brahmanas, while Upanishads are of still later origin. Another interesting aspect is that, with time, there is movement from western parts of the Ganga plains towards the east. By the time of Mahavira (5th century BC), the founder of Jainism, the Vedic communities have moved to eastern Bihar. Mahavira came from Vaishali in Bihar. It may be noted that Mahavira established Jainism in opposition to Mimamsa. It is reasonable to conclude that Mimamsa religion thrived in east Bihar at that time (5th century BC). Furthermore, the later Vedas and their Brahmanas evolved over a period of time—may be in terms of centuries. The later additions to Yajurveda include the Purusha sukta and Rudra japa (which also finds its place in Rigveda). While references to Rudra in Rigveda may be seen as a borrowing from pre-existing cultures in the Indus region, its elaboration and identification with Shiva is still of later origin. In a sense, Shaivism may be traced to Yajurveda, but only in a notional way. 43
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Mimamsa Religion Purva Mimamsa is a ritual based religion. The rituals are termed as karmas. They are of three kinds: the daily rituals, the occasional rituals, and rituals performed for fulfilling one’s desires (nitya karmas, naimittika karmas, and kamya karmas). The rationale for these rituals is that everyone owes a debt to the Rigvedic sages, the Vedic Gods, and one’s ancestors. Non-performance of the rituals will have negative consequences, while diligent observance of the rituals will bring positive results. The responsibility for performing the rituals is on the students (brahmacharins) and on married adults (grihasthas). These rituals are also known as srauta karmas (as opposed to smarta karmas mentioned in Smrities, which are of later origin). Srauta karmas are the essence of Mimamsa and are held to be sacrosanct by true Brahmanas. The daily ritual known as sandhyavandana, which is to be performed three times a day, is important for self-purification. It is nitya karma. The study of Vedas is known as brahma yajna. It is the duty of every Brahmana to do this daily to repay his debt to the Rigvedic rishies. The worship of devas or Vedic Gods is for the welfare of self and family. It is called deva yajna. In addition to this, there is pitr yajna which is meant to please the ancestors. All the above yajnas must be performed daily by a Brahmana. I would like to point out here that all Vedic religions and rituals are Brahmana centric. Others can and did participate as yajamanas by giving gifts (dakshina) to Brahmanas. They rarely had the expertise to perform the rituals by themselves. In course of time, most Brahmanas also did not possess the requisite expertise and they had to depend on the priestly class (Vaidika Brahmanas, see chapter on Smrities) to perform rituals. Lifecycle rituals form another category. They are to be performed as the occasion warrants. The main ones are: simanta, jatakarma, namakarana, annaprasana, caula or cuda, and 44
upanayana; this is followed by marriage. In the final phase, one should also include the cremation rituals—dahana-kriya. A householder, in addition to all the above, must perform three kinds of yajnas at infrequent intervals and some only once in a lifetime. The three sacrificial yajnas are: paka yajnas, havir yajnas, and soma yajnas. Each of the above has seven distinct yajnas each. A householder must perform these yajnas at least once in his lifetime, and if possible, more often. Some, but not all yajnas involve animal sacrifice. The more common ones do not involve animal sacrifice; these include the paka yajnas and five of the seven havir yajnas. In these yajnas only the following are offered in the fire: ghee (ajya), rice mixed with ghee (haviryanna), cooked rice (caru or purodas), milk, and unbroken rice grains (akhsata). One may also note that the mention of rice in the above list itself indicates that Brahmanas at this stage were based in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where rice cultivation was commonplace. In actual practice, in the routine homa yajna performed by Brahmacharins, only samit (sticks of the palasa tree or flame of the forest) are offered as indicated by this famous verse from Rigveda: सं समिर्धुवसे वृषन्न्गे विश्वान्यर्य आ । ईडस्पदे समिध्यसे स नो वसून्या भर ।। Worship the great bull Agni, universally respected, with samit Worthy of respect, worship him, he will fill us with riches. (Note: This verse is in the form of advice given by a teacher to his students. In the gayatri mantra japa and homa performed on a daily basis only samit is offered to the fire God). (Rigveda 10.191.1)
This verse makes it clear that all that is needed for worship are sticks of wood or the darba grass; no animal sacrifice is involved in worship. The Brahmanas of my generation used wood sticks for the daily gayatri mantra japa and homa. 45
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In rare and major yajnas, animals are sacrificed. The largest of these is the asvamedha yajna performed by monarchs, involving the sacrifice of 100 horses, while the vajapeya sacrifice involves twentythree animals. While these yajnas are rare, there were others where single animals were sacrificed—mostly male calves. There are detailed instructions regarding the cutting and offering of meat from the sacrificed animal in the Brahmanas. The Mimamsa religion has been severely criticized or looked down upon for yajnas involving animal sacrifice. This is indeed very unfair; but it suited Western scholars to paint it that way.
Atharvaveda The Atharvaveda stands on a very different footing from the other three, although it does rely heavily on Rigvedic mantras. Atharvaveda is not recognized as a Veda in Manusmriti or in Bhagavad Gita. Yet, three of the first eight Upanishads belong to this Veda—Prasna, Mundaka, and Mandukya; the last of these is a basic text for Vedantins. Atharvaveda derives its name from the purohit or priest Atharvan. This Veda is a mixture of prose and poetry and it deals essentially with sacrifices for three purposes: santikam for peace, paushtikam for strength, abhicarikam to hurt enemies. This Veda has mantras in praise of Gods not mentioned in the other three besides fierce spirits. It is precursor of the tantric school with its magical formulas. Atharvaveda has only one Brahmana—the Gopada Brahmana. The Samhita part of Atharvaveda (of which I have a copy), consists of over 4,000 verses and it is twice as large as Samaveda or Shukla Yajurveda. While quite a few verses from Rigveda are included in it, and often repeated again and again in various sections, the original verses of this text are not very attractive from my point of view. Their lyrical quality is poor and they lack originality. Atharvaveda is often thought of as a medicinal text, but this is not true. It deals with a great variety of problems that common 46
people, as well as kings faced and they offer solutions to these problems. For each problem, for example, the destruction of an enemy or victory over him, there are many independent solutions offered. Each solution consists of a section comprising five to fifteen verses. These verses are to be recited in an elaborate ritual or homa for which detailed instructions are given in the Brahmana text. Examples of medical issues for which solutions are offered are: leprosy, leukoderma, and tuberculosis. It also offers solutions for after-effects of poisons, fever, conception, safe pregnancy, and safe delivery. There are sections that focus on relief from sickness, grief, and relief from poverty. Solutions are offered for political issues such as war and peace, protection from unknown enemies, destruction of the opponent’s army, the welfare of the king and the people, village welfare, as well as general welfare and prosperity with abundant food. Family issues deal with love, obtaining a bride or groom, marriage, sons, and long life for self, family and others. Freedom from fear and solutions for it occur repeatedly. The moral issues are not neglected. They deal with issues such as: release from sins, cure for curses, purity of the soul, release from burdens of life, and attainment of heaven or moksha, immortality or simply spiritual advancement. There are also sections dealing with evil spirits and even serpents. The list is very long, but there is nothing that is uncommon even at the present time. Whatever the merits of the solutions offered in Atharvaveda or its practical efficacy, the Atharvaveda provided a means of livelihood to a number of Brahmanas who specialized in this Veda. People wanted solutions to various problems and they were willing to pay for the solutions in good faith. In those days people had no other alternative but to seek the help of priests or local medical men. The more learned Brahmanas and certainly the intellectuals among them did not approve of the practices of the priests who practiced this Veda and hence it had a very low status among 47
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them. This also explains why it is not mentioned in Manusmriti or Bhagavad Gita. Nevertheless, from the point of view of this text it is important. The issue in this text is how Brahmanas found a way to make a living and not whether it is meritorious or not. Atharvaveda, I would think, had a very important role in the lives of the people in ancient times, but its importance has declined drastically in the past few centuries. Still, it was practiced in isolated pockets until a few centuries ago. There are hardly any Brahmanas who specialize in this Veda anywhere in India at the present time.
Dharmasutras The Mimamsa texts were summarized, at a later stage, in the form of terse statements known as sutras. Jaiminisutra is a summary of the Mimamsa religion. It is considered as the foundation of Mimamsa, although it is really a summary of the karma kanda of the later Vedas. The Jaiminisutra is of much later origin than the Krishna Yajurveda. Jaimini, certainly, was not the originator or founder of the Mimamsa tradition. The Jaiminisutra consists of over a 1,000 aphorisms. It begins with the following aphorism: यथातो धर्म जिज्ञास ।
In that manner, and therefore, the desire to know dharma.
This is the source of the word dharma and hence Jaiminisutra is also known as Dharmasutra. The word sutra is applied to any text that is in the form of terse statements; some of these may belong to much later time periods. The objective of the sutra form of writing was to preserve and protect the original texts, which were rather elaborate and tedious to read. The Apasthamba Sutra is actually a Brahmana rather than a summary in sutra form. In Sanskrit, terms like sutra, are used rather liberally and hence there is considerable and inevitable confusion. There is a whole class of sutras known as grihya sutras. The grihya 48
sutras contain much detail and they also deal with differences in the traditions of Brahmana lineages; hence Brahmanas follow grihya sutras that are specific to them. Brahmasutra is as important as Jaiminisutra; it summarizes the early Upanishads. While Jaimini is obviously the author of Jaiminisutra, the author of Brahmasutra is generally considered to be Badarayana. However, in the Puranic age, Badarayana is considered to be the same person as Veda Vyasa. It is also said that Jaimini is Vyasa’s son. These statements lead to several contradictions. I would, therefore, dismiss the stories of Veda Vyasa as mere legends, having no basis in history. The Sutras certainly belong to a period much later than the original Mimamsa texts—Yajurveda and Samaveda. Probably they belong to the age of the Buddha, since Buddha uses the word dharma—a term coined from Jaiminisutra. However, Brahmasutra may belong to a still later period.
Two Varnas The early part of the Mimamsa period also saw the coming into prominence of the lineages of warriors of the Rigvedic period. The reasons for this are fairly simple. They are at the root of the adaptations of the Rigvedic people to the peasant way of life which is based on land. During the earlier period, the warriors were protectors of cattle and the pasture lands. In a peasant society, land becomes even more important and the warriors were better placed to obtain, by whatever means, lands and to retain them by force. Their lineages became more powerful as land and not cattle became the real wealth; the acquisition of land and the rights on it depended on physical force and the warrior class was well suited for this purpose. Unlike Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas were organized as clans. This form of social organization is better suited for war and conquest. In terms of power and status, the warrior classes had better claims to superiority than the Brahmanas. Yet, the Brahmanas were the 49
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true repositories of Vedic lore and they alone possessed the expertise to conduct rituals, which everyone admired and respected. In the Mimamsa period, there were no real conflicts between Brahmanas and the new class of warriors who were then known as Kshatriyas– protectors of land. The Brahmanas rendered ritual services to the Kshatriyas in return for gifts in kind. At later time periods, the gifts were in the form of gold—hiranyam; and still later in the form of land grants, which were then worked by tenant farmers with often a 50/50 share to the Brahmanas, who did not work in the fields. The relationship between the two principal classes of Rigvedic people, though very close, often assumed proportions of love and hate—an uneasy relationship. This continued for some centuries. By the time of the Puranas, the original Kshatriyas were replaced by newer immigrants and even the ordinary peasants who turned into able soldiers. Sometimes, even Brahmanas became soldiers and commanders and eventually some of them took over kingship as well. There is considerable historical evidence for all these statements. But they belong to a later time period. One important point to be noted here is that unlike Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas were far less cohesive. They came from very different backgrounds and often returned to their original social class (Shudras). Only those holding power (kings and the class to which the king belonged) were truly recognized as Kshatriyas. Kshatriya status was tenuous and it needed recognition from time to time from Brahmanas to have social validity. The Varna system is truly a Brahmana construct.
Vedic Sakhas In actual practice, the Vedic texts were in the form of sakhas or recensions. Each sakha consisted of a Veda or a portion thereof, called the samhita part, a Brahmana, an Aranyaka, and an Upanishad. A sakha was actually a text used by a family or group of 50
Brahmanas; it consisted of everything that they knew. When written down it consisted of bundles of palm leaves tied together and kept in a basket. There were 1,180 Vedic sakhas, according to Vishnu Purana, but only twenty-one or so sakhas actually existed in the 19th century, when the manuscripts were collected by Indologists. The Vedic sakhas were put together and compiled several times in the past, and the ones that we recognize today are those that were compiled in the 19th century. In other words, the Vedic texts used in the past, had a very different look than the ones we use today and they differed widely between groups of Brahmanas. A rather unbelievable aspect of the above is that of the 1,180 sakhas, nearly a thousand were of Samaveda—Samaveda being the shortest among all Vedas. Secondly, it has hardly any original verses; almost all verses were borrowed from Rigveda. This again leads me to disbelieve the Puranic statements. Of the remaining sakhas, twenty-one belong to Rigveda, fifteen to Shukla Yajurveda, ninety-four to Krishna Yajurveda, and finally fifty to Atharvaveda; there are no internal contradictions here. Among these Sakhas only a few (seven or eight) are actually available today. While the numerical jugglery may have little historical merit, there is no doubt that hundreds of sakhas did indeed exist in the past.
Summary Mimamsa (or Purva Mimamsa as it is sometimes known) is the core of Vedic religion. It was practiced diligently for over 2,000 years and some aspects of it still survive. It is the religious foundation of Manusmriti which calls it by the name karma yoga to distinguish it from jnana yoga which refers to the Uttara Mimamsa religion. There is no conflict between these two. Manusmriti clearly states that Mimamsa is for grihasthas (householders). Those who take sanyas at an early age or at the end stage of one’s life can opt for 51
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Uttara Mimamsa or anyone of the advanced yogas. Others can continue to practice Mimamsa till the end of their life. This is what the great majority of Brahmanas did throughout the historical period. The practice of Mimamsa survived among Brahmanas in the South until about 100 years ago. Thereafter, it has lost its vigor and the rituals were performed without conviction and without proper understanding. In the 21st century, I would say with some conviction that it is more or less dead. Nevertheless, Mimamsa is alive at an intellectual level among scholars of Sanskrit and in the various religious mutts, especially those established by Adi Sankara. However, a mutt is not the proper place for the practice of Mimamsa religion. One can get training there. Its proper place is at home. The practice of Mimamsa religion does not require any institutional framework such as a temple. This is, in a way, true of Hinduism in general. Hinduism is intrinsically a home based religion and it does not require outside support.
• Some Brahmanas Revolt • Upanishads: Basic Concepts • The Upanishad Texts • The First Eight Upanishads • Other Schools of Thought • Later Upanishads: A Review • Brahmasutra • The Minor Upanishads • Summary The Mimamsa religion, as outlined in the earlier chapter, developed and flourished for a hundred years without anyone raising questions against it. Then it met with some opposition from the ranks of Brahmanas. What was the problem?
Some Brahmanas Revolt The families of Brahmanas had become independent and selfseeking. Success in life depended on income from services provided to other families, mainly, if not exclusively, from non-Brahmanas and there was considerable competition here. Not everyone was happy with this situation. Those who knew the Vedas well were not necessarily more successful as priests. Those who were being served cared very little for the quality of the priest’s knowledge of the Vedas. Competition for name or money had its own negative consequences. The intellectual Brahmanas had theoretical and technical objections to the practice of Vedic rituals in an altogether changed social situation. The Rigvedic mantras and worship of Agni were meant for the welfare of the community as a whole and the
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worship involved everyone in the tribal community. This comes out very clearly in the Rigvedic mantras which invariably use the pronouns ‘us’ and ‘we’. They had doubts about the efficacy and appropriateness of the mantras in the context where rituals were performed for the welfare of individuals and families alone and for lifecycle events such as births, marriages and deaths. This prompted them to look at the whole concept of worship afresh and the nature of the ‘Gods’ they worshipped. The intellectuals among Brahmanas and those who cared more for the practice of Rigvedic religion in its true ambience of communal living receded into the background and they sought solace and refuge in the forests, where they established gurukulas or simple hermitages. The hermitages or ashrams comprised one or more dwellings, in which a group of people—including men, women and children lived together more or less on the pattern of small tribal communities. They maintained cows as they had done before. The cow remained an integral part of Brahmana households throughout the historical periods until about a hundred years ago. Students came to the gurukulas for training and specialized knowledge of specific sakhas of Vedic study. In this way, they trained the future priests. In recognition for this service, they received gifts from the families of the students. In fact, the students as independent adults in later life were bound by duty to repay their debt to their teachers for life. This was a new value system that evolved to sustain the gurukula system. The more intellectual Brahmanas living in the hermitages spent less time on students, while giving more time to meditation and thoughts on the basic concepts—in particular the concept of God itself. They wrote down what they discovered; these texts are known as Aranyakas. Upanishads are a part of Aranyakas, while both Aranyakas and Upanishads are considered to be a part of Brahmanas. 54
This might give the impression that there was no conflict between rituals based on Brahmanas and the spiritual enquiries in the Upanishads. This is partly true and partly false; the two systems are independent and worlds apart. The ritualistic Brahmanas and the recluse poets of the Upanishads did sharply criticize each other. While the priestly class of Brahmanas thought that the performance of Vedic karmas (rituals) is adequate in itself, the Upanishadic poets thought that rituals were fine up to a point, but without knowledge of the Brahman one cannot attain eternal bliss. An uneasy relationship existed between the two categories of Brahmanas. Besides, there were quite a few who sat on the fence.
Upanishads: Basic Concepts There are a few distinctive aspects to Upanishads. They are: l The main thrust is on the concept of Brahman—the absolute God. This concept is elaborated at great length in every Upanishad; l The second important concept is atman. Atman is the counterpart of Brahman residing in all living objects, including man; l Theoretically, atman and Brahman are one and same—this is proved with an elaborate set of deductive arguments; l The atman becomes impure on account of karmas (in the sense of ordinary human actions) in the real world. In living things, it exists within enclosures or shells of tendencies— good and bad, and the load of sins and good actions from previous births; l The impure atman is subject to rebirth. Rebirth can take any form even as a tree or lowly animal, but the majority of those with lower level of impurity will be born as humans; the object of life is to get released from the cycle of births and deaths and to become one with God. This leads to an elaborate theory of salvation of the soul or moksha. 55
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The Upanishad Texts There are 108 Upanishads, of which eight belong to the period prior to the advent of Buddhism and Jainism; three later Upanishads belong to the age of the Smrities, while the bulk of 97 Upanishads belong to the Puranic age. Sankaracharya considered only ten Upanishads as part of his definition of Vedas (this will be elaborated in a later chapter) and he totally ignored the rest of the Upanishads. However, an even stricter definition would include only the first eight Upanishads. Although the focus, in terms of chronology, is on the first eight Upanishads in this chapter, we shall make comments on the others as well in later sections to maintain some continuity in arguments. An important characteristic of all Upanishads is that they follow a question and answer format. This format tends to persist in texts of later time periods too, for example in Bhagavad Gita and in most, if not all the Puranas. Most Upanishads are very short; one important Upanishad has only 12 verses. Again the majority are in verse form but there are prose passages in many Upanishads. They also contain, though not always, short anecdotal stories to illustrate a point. Some of these have become very famous, like the story of Nachiketas in Katha Upanishad. As a general rule, the contents of the Upanishads are far more important than the lyrical qualities of the work; nevertheless, some of them contain verses of very high lyrical quality.
The First Eight Upanishads Eight Upanishads, which form part of Aranyakas, constitute the backbone of the Uttara Mimamsa or the Vedanta school. These eight Upanishads are: Isavasya, Kena, Katha, Aitareya, Taittiriya, Prasna, Mundaka, and Mandukya. Of these, Isavasya Upanishad belongs to the Shukla Yajurveda text itself (Chapter 40 consisting of 17 verses), Aitareya Upanishad 56
belongs to the Rigveda Brahmana of the same name; Kena Upanishad is a part of Talavakara Brahmana of Jaimini sakha of Samaveda. Taittiriya Upanishad belongs to the Krishna Yajurveda Samhita, which includes all the three components—Mantra, Brahmana, and Aranyaka; Katha Upanishad belongs to Katha Sakha of Krishna Yajurveda; Mundaka, Prasna, and Mandukya Upanishads are part of the Brahmanas of Adharva Veda and are considered to be of later origin than the others. The commonly recognized order of early Upanishads is as follows: Isavasya, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, and Aitareya. This is not really their chronological order. In the following sections I have tried to capture the essence of each of the eight Upanishads. Isavasya Upanishad:– It has claims to be the oldest of the Upanishads. It forms part of samhita of Shukla Yajurveda and its style is more akin to Rigveda, with a collection of 17 verses not connected to each other in any rational sequence. It also includes a few verses from Rigveda itself, and is therefore more in the nature of an anthology and not an independent work. Yet, it contains the basic concepts in very brief form and it could be seen as the formative stage of Upanishadic doctrine. However, it could also be argued that Isavasya Upanishad is a later insertion into a Vedic text to give authenticity to all the Upanishads by mixing its verses along with Rigvedic mantras. The first verse of Isavasya consists of two disconnected parts and this is justified by a set of unconvincing arguments by later writers. Kena Upanishad:– This is a cohesive set of verses organized into sections that explore the concept of the absolute Brahman. I consider the Kena Upanishad as the oldest among the eight Upanishads for its exploration of the concept of Brahman in a raw form. A few verses from this Upanishad are quoted further to illustrate this point:
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के नेषितं पतति प्रेषितं मनः के न प्राणः प्रथमः प्रैति युक्तः । के नेषितां वाचमिमां वदन्ति चक्षुः श्रोत्रं क उ देवो युनक्ति ।। Who makes the mind focus on an object? Who joins life with the body in the beginning? Who directs men to make statements? Which God directs the eye and ear? (Part I, verse 1).
यच्चक्षुषा न पश्यति येन चक्षूं षि पश्यति । तदेव बह्म त्वं विध्दि नेदं यदिदमुपासते ।। What the eyes cannot see, but by which the eyes are made to see. That alone you understand as Brahman and not what people worship here (Part I, verse 7).
नाहं मन्ये सुवेदेति नो न वेदेति वेद च । योनस्तव्देद तव्देद नो न वेदेति वेद च ।। I do not think that I know it well. Nor do I know that I do not know it. Among us those who know, know it; even they do not know that they do not know. (Part II verse 2)
While the verses quoted above are self-explanatory, the last verse ends on an enigmatic note. The point is that the concept of the absolute God Brahman is indeed difficult to explain in words— it has to be experienced; that is what the other Upanishads will tell us. The objective of Kena Upanishad was to show that there is a God that is far superior to the Rigvedic Gods—namely Indra, Varuna and Agni. To make this point clear, the Upanishad relates a story where a woman appears before Indra and explains to him that all his victories are indeed the work of Brahman. The story is not proof; it is only an explanatory device. Katha Upanishad:– This work focuses on atman and its journey through the cycle of births and deaths and finally its salvation (moksha). Katha-Upanishad has been praised for the sheer beauty of its poetry and clever narration. The key concept in this Upanishad 58
is atma jnanam. Much of the material in this work was later copied into the Bhagavad Gita of Puranic times. What happens to the atman when it leaves the body after death? The answer is given below by Lord Yama, the teacher of Nachiketas, who asked the question: श्रेयश्च प्रेयश्च मनुष्यमेतस्तौ सं परीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः । श्रेयो हि धीरोअभिप्रेयसो वृणीते प्रेयो मन्दो योगक्षेमात् वृणीते ।। That which is good for the next life (shreyas) and that which gives pleasure in this life (preyas) are presented to people; the intelligent prefer the former after comparing and discriminating the consequences of the two options; the dull persons prefer the latter for the welfare of their lives (Katha Upanishad, Chapter 1, section 2, verse 2).
For those who value symbolism, Katha Upanishad contains a series of verses that explain the relationship between the body, atman, the intellect, the mind, the sensory perceptions and the path to salvation. A few verses are quoted below: आत्मानं रथिनं विध्दि शरीरं रथमेव च । बुध्दिं तु सारथिं विध्दि मनः प्रग्रहमेव च ।। इन्द्रियाणि हयान्याहुर्विषयां स्तेषु गोचरान् । आत्मेन्द्रियमनोयुक्तं भोक्तेत्याहुर्मनीषिणः ।। यस्त्वविज्ञानवान्भवत्यमनस्कः सदाअसुचिः । न स तत्पदमाप्नोति सं सारं चाघिगच्छति ।। यस्तु विज्ञानवान्भवति समनस्कः सदा शुचिः । स तु तत्पदमाप्नोति यस्माद्यभू ो न जायते ।। The atman is the owner of the chariot, the chariot his body. The intellect is his charioteer and the mind the reins. The senses are the horses and the interests of the senses the road. When the atman is joined with the mind and the senses, it is called the enjoyer by the learned.
A History of Hinduism He who has no understanding, who has no control over his mind and who is always impure—he does not reach the final destination, but returns to this world. The person who has understanding and control over his mind and his mind is always pure; he obtains that place from which he does not return to earth. (Katha Upanishad, Chapter 1, section 3, verses 3&4, 7&8)
The analogy of the chariot is highlighted in Bhagavad Gita, with Lord Krishna as the charioteer and Arjuna, the Lord of the chariot. The bhaktas perceive this relationship as one between the teacher and his student or Brahman and atman. One can look at this analogy in any number of ways. The picture of the chariot with Arjuna and Krishna has a very powerful message in itself. Prasna Upanishad:– Six students approach a teacher and request him to explain the concept of Brahman. After a year of service to the teacher, the students are allowed to ask questions. The teacher answers each question one by one. The questions are: who created all living beings? What supports life? How does life enter and depart from the body? What controls consciousness in wakeful, sleeping, and dream states? What is achieved by meditating on AUM? Who is the person with sixteen parts? All the questions are eventually answered by Brahman/atman. It is everything—both mind and matter. Understanding it leads to eternal peace. (Note: ‘it’ stands for Brahman in Upanishads). Mundaka Upanishad:– By knowing what, everything here becomes known? This is the question put to the teacher. The answer given is that there are two types of learning—para and apara. The study of the four Vedas, the performance of rituals based on them, learning of grammar, astrology, prosody and so on constitute apara. This learning will give only very limited benefits in this and the next life; this benefit is meagre and transient. The advocates of ritualism come in for sharp criticism by the teacher. The teacher recommends learning of the higher para knowledge. 60
For this, one must retire to the forests and seek guidance from a teacher. Brahman is then described at length—it is formless and imperishable; the entire universe is its creation. Brahman is the creator of the Sun, moon, the Vedas, the human body, the mind and the intellect. Brahman should be worshipped by reciting AUM. AUM is the bow, one’s atman is the arrow, and Brahman the target. Only a person with a pure heart can know Brahman. A person with pent up desires can never achieve him. Brahman will reveal itself to one who has renounced life and is living as an ascetic. No one can realize Brahman; but Brahman will reveal itself to the deserving. Mandukya Upanishad:– This Upanishad is all about meditation based on AUM to attain the ultimate union with the Absolute. The three letters in AUM stand for the three states of wakefulness, dreams and deep sleep; the fourth or the turiya state is the one which is to be attained. The first three states are governed by Vaisvanara, Taijasa, and Prajna; the Lord of the fourth stage is atman itself. By knowing it one dissolves into Brahman. Atman and Brahman are one and the same. Mandukya Upanishad is in some ways comparable to Pantanjali’s Ashtanga Rajayoga. While the latter belongs to the Sankhya School, the former is part of the Vedantic tradition of meditation. It is held in high esteem by all Vedantins. Adi Sankara’s teacher (actually teacher’s teacher) Gaudapada wrote a glossary on this Upanishad and Adi Sankara has written bhashyams for both. It is a text book for spiritualists of the Vedanta tradition; one could augment this by studying Adi Sankara’s own Vivekachoodamani. Taittiriya Upanishad:– Taittiriya Upanishad, the Taittiriya Brahmana, and the Taittiriya Samhita together form the Krishna Yajurveda text. In this Upanishad, Bhrigu approaches his father Varuna and asks him to enlighten him about Brahman (note Bhrigu and Varuna are just first names of ordinary individuals, just as we call persons by the name of Rama or Krishna or Govinda today). Varuna tells 61
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him that Brahman is that from which these beings are born, that by which when born they live, and that into which they enter on passing away. He asks him to go the forest and meditate. Each time he comes up with an answer, he is sent back until finally Bhrigu gets enlightened. Thus Bhrigu is led step by step from matter (annam) to life (prana) and from life to consciousness (manas), and from consciousness to bliss (ananda). Brahman is perfect bliss. Aitareya Upanishad:– This Upanishad tells the story of atman feeling lonely, creating a being and entering it through its head. Having entered the body it forgets its origin. Eventually, it recognizes itself as Brahman. How? There is intelligence, consciousness, insight, steadfastness, discrimination, memory, volition, decision, life, desire, and control—all these indeed are names of intelligence. Intelligence is Brahman. All the eight Upanishads reviewed above are all very brief, except Katha Upanishad. The next three Upanishads, which were written a few hundred years later, are all lengthy. By this time, society had gone through further changes as we will see in the later sections.
Other Schools of Thought The age of the early Upanishads—from 600 BC to 300 BC—also led to the emergence of other and competing schools of thought. Their theoretical formulations were at variance with the Vedanta of the first eight Upanishads. It is not clear whether all of them originated at this point in time; it is possible that some of them did and others did not. Some of these schools, in particular Sankhya, were absorbed into the Vedantic philosophy, so that it is now impossible to separate the two. Nevertheless, it is necessary to briefly state the basic features of these schools of thought. The schools of thought, other than Vedanta, are: Sankhya, Nyaya, and Vaisesika. Grammar is also included in this category, but it has no relevance to philosophical or religious thought. 62
Nyaya is also known as tarka sastra. Gautama, the author of this school, argued by reasoning that Isvara is the creator of this world. Isvara is also described as paramesvara—clearly this line of thinking is the work of Shaivites. Gautama traced the source of his inferences to Vedic passages, in which the word Rudra appears repeatedly. Nyaya School bases its enquiry on four pramanas or bases: pratyaksha, anumana, upmana, and sabda. These may roughly translate as perception, inference, comparison, Vedic evidence. The basis of enquiry focuses on what are defined as padarthas or word meanings. These may exist or may not; thus even non-existence cannot be dismissed outright. The padarthas are seven in number: dravya (substance), guna (quality), karma (action), samanya (association), visesha (difference), samavaya (inherence) and abhava (non-existence). These lead to an elaborate theory. Sankhya, a school founded by Kapila Muni around 300 BC, is based on twenty-five tatvas or principles or categories, of which purusha—equated with atman—is the basis of all. Of the remaining twenty-four tatvas, prakriti is a product of maya and it is the principal tatva. The other tatvas in decreasing levels of importance are: intellect, ego, the mind, the five jnanendriyas and the five karmendriyas, the five tanmantras, and the five mahabhutas; these together constitute the twenty-five tatvas. There is no place for God or worship in Sankhya and for this reason it is considered as atheistic. However, the Vedantins treat it as though there is no difference between the two schools of thought (both Bhagavad Gita and Vivekachoodamani make this clear). Prakriti, according to an interpretation, is made up of three gunas—sattva, rajas, and tamas. There is an elaborate theory woven around these attributes. Patanjali was a follower of the Sankhya school and he is the author of the very well-known and popular Patanjali Sutra or Patanjali Yoga Sastra. It describes an eight fold path to samadhi— the equivalent of salvation. However, Patanjali (150 BC) belongs to period of the Dharmasastras; the first two stages in this yoga involve 63
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yama and niyama—which are defined in Dharmasastras. The other six stages are: asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The Patanjali Sutra explains all these in over 150 aphorisms. In Vaisesika, founded by Kanada, it is believed that everything ultimately is made up of anu or atoms. Isvara created the world by different combinations of atoms. The individual self is different from Isvara, though. In Vaisesika School, the emphasis is on differences between attributes of objects—in other words, it is important to look into their peculiarities. There is a hint of scientific theories of modern times here. However, both Nyaya and Vaisesika schools do not believe in Isvara or God. They are rationalists up to a point but accept that everything cannot be fully comprehended. However, everything is inter-related and there has to be a God to create them. The pure ‘atheist’ school in India was called Charvakam (that which is pleasing to hear). They believed in living as one liked and not to engage in any form of worship, which they considered to be totally useless. This school is closest to existentialism.
Later Upanishads: A Review The later Upanishads, namely, Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, and Svetasvatara belong to the time period between 300 BC and 200 AD; this is made clear by their frequent references to kings and kingdoms. Chandogya Upanishad praises ahimsa—a concept borrowed from Jainas and hence it dates to a period later than fifth century BC. The last of the trio—Svetasvatara Upanishad—stands on a different platform. It actually belongs to a still later time period, just prior to the age of the Puranas. Chandogya Upanishad:– This is a lengthy Upanishad which uses the story telling format to explain concepts, especially the concept of Brahman and its meditational form AUM. There is a lot of repetition here, as with all the later Upanishads; the only difference is in terms of the context and manner of elucidation of the earlier concepts. 64
The stories reflect a much altered social context from the earlier Upanishads. For the first time we find mention of kings—albeit very lower order ones. Besides, we have mention of asuras along with devas as their arch-rivals. In the Rigveda we have only devas and no asuras. The society painted here is early feudal society. The initial question asked is: What is the origin of the world? Answer: space—space is Brahman. Space is AUM. The space outside is Brahman and the space inside is atman. This is followed by a series of stories involving different teachers and different students. The names of the students and teachers are all pre-Puranic and there is no mention of Puranic Gods or Puranic stories. Krishna, as son of Devaki and a student of Angiras, is mentioned along with many other students and teachers. This Krishna definitely has nothing to do with the Krishna of Bhagavata Purana. Chandogya Upanishad could possibly have been written by different authors at different points in time ending with the age of the Smrities—namely, Manusmriti. Manu is mentioned at the end but there is no reference to Manu dharma. Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas are mentioned, but there is no mention of the concept of Varna. In terms of its content, Chandogya Upanishad labors hard on explaining the concept of Brahman through different stories; it then moves on to atman, the self, and the realization of atman/Brahman. True knowledge of atman and attainment of eternal bliss is really Jnana yoga but this term is not used at all. Nevertheless, students of spiritual pursuit would like this Upanishad. It is useful despite its repetitive nature and the element of mysticism in the final stages of realization. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:– This is nearly as long as the Chandogya Upanishad and is written in the same style—stories. The stories are dialogues among Brahmanas and sometimes Kshatriyas. Interestingly, there is a common character in both, though not very important– Uhasta Chakrayana. He was a poor Brahmana who won some money 65
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from the court of the local king in Kuru country by his knowledge; while a person with the same name appears as a scholar in the court of Janaka of Videha. The two regions are a thousand kilometres apart. The king Janaka appears in Buddhist literature as well. The principal protagonist in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is Yajnavalkya. Yajnavalkya was the composer of Shukla Yajurveda and is also the author of Yajnavalkya Smriti–which is next in importance to Manusmriti. However, when the first ‘a’ is lengthened it has the sense of ‘in the lineage of ’ and hence there could be several Yajnavalkyas. In this Upanishad, Yajnavalkya appears as an outsider who outwits the scholars of the court of Janaka. The topic of debate is—what is Brahman? The initial statement in this Upanishad is: If one worships a God thinking that God is one thing and he another, he does not know God. He is like an animal to God. A person who meditates on his self becomes one with it and is not reborn. In his discourse with his wife Maitreyi, Yajnavalkya says: It is not for the sake of husband that a husband is dear, but it is for the sake of the self that a husband is dear. This line of argument is repeated again and again. The point is that the self is Brahman and everything here is Brahman. Life should be lived as dedication to Brahman and therefore the mention of self again and again. In the court of Janaka, Yajnavalkya is asked questions by several court scholars—all questions pertain to the concept of Brahman; Yajnavalkya answers all of them to the satisfaction of the scholars. Gargi, who is more astute than the others, does indeed go further to a point where the concept of Brahman cannot be explained in words anymore. After this, king Janaka himself takes over and the discussion further elaborates the domain of Brahman. An interesting definition of atman given by Yajnavalkya is—he who dwells in all beings, which the beings do not know, but he controls their body. 66
Finally, to the question how many Gods are there, Yajnavalkya gives an ambiguous answer; it could be 33 or 3,003 he says. He is then pinned down and finally he says that there is only one! (This is indeed Hinduism). Svetasvatara Upanishad:– This is considered to be the last of the eleven major Upanishads. Although, for the most part it focuses on the elaboration of the concept of Brahman, there is an important qualitative difference. For the first time, this Upanishad anticipates a new form of Brahman—the Brahman in human form. Svetasvatara Upanishad is, I think, the root of Shaivism. It equates Brahman with Rudra of Rigvedic roots and Rudra is equated with Shiva. Shiva is then described as Maheshwara; thus Isvara becomes Brahman in human form. This is an important concept further developed in Puranas. What the Puranas do is to add Vishnu and Krishna as Brahman in addition to Shiva. The substantive part of this Upanishad concerns Brahman and atman and a third—nature or Prakriti. The first is all powerful and the second is powerless and is just an onlooker. The two are linked by the third—a product of maya. Nature or Prakriti is maya. One who understands all three as one and the same becomes immortal. For achieving immortality the self, atman, has to be realized by meditation using the pranava—AUM. Meditation on pranava is yoga. Yoga is to be practiced in a comfortable posture in a clean place. This yoga is explained in some detail. The concept of maya and prakriti, are linked to Maheshwara— the Saguna Brahman in the following verse: मायां तु प्रकृ तिं विघ्यान्मायिनं च महेश्वरं । तस्यावयवभूतस् ै तु व्याप्तं सर्वमिदं जगत् ।। Know that maya is prakriti (the phenomenal world) and the controller of maya is the Maheshwara. The phenomenal world is filled with living things that are part of his body. (Svetasvatara Upanishad Part 4, verse 3)
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What is notable in this verse is the use of the word Maheshwara. Maheshwara is Shiva and he is also known as Rudra. These two words are also used in several other verses in this Upanishad. Rudra, Shiva, and Maheshwara are all one and the same—they refer to the God of Shaivites. To Shaivites, Isvara is Shiva and Shiva is Brahman in human form. The Vaishnavites use the term Isvara to denote Vishnu and in Bhagavad Gita, Krishna or Narayana. Shaivites do not believe in avatars. To them the term Isvara denotes only Shiva, their supreme God. All these developments play an important part in the Puranic period; their origin, however, can be traced to Svetasvatara Upanishad.
Brahmasutra Brahmasutra of Badarayana is considered to be a summary of the first ten Upanishads (excluding Svetasvatara Upanishad ). It is a basic text for Vedantins. Adi Sankara has written an elaborate bhashyam on this work, although, the original text consists of only 555 aphorisms or sutras. Jaiminisutra, and Brahmasutra are a sort of cousins; the first summarizes the Purva Mimamsa School, while the latter summarizes the Uttara Mimamsa School of thought. The first consists of over a thousand aphorisms, while the latter has only 555 aphorisms. Both texts start with an aphorism which is almost identical except for one word. The word dharma in Jaiminisutra is replaced by the word Brahman in Brahmasutra. Brahmasutra refers to Jaimini in several places and it is clearly a later work, perhaps written many centuries later. Brahmasutra is infinitely more difficult to understand and it is meant only for the scholars of Vedanta philosophy. I am giving below the first five aphorisms of Brahmasutra to give an idea of what one is up against: 68
अथातो ब्रह्म चिज्ञासा। जन्माध्धस्य यतः। शास्त्रयोनित्वात् । तत्तु समन्वयात्। ईक्षतेनार्शब्दम्। Literal meaning: l Hence thereafter a deliberation on Brahman. l That (Brahman) from which(are derived) the birth etc. of this (the universe). l (Brahman is omniscient) because of (its) being the source of the scriptures. l But that Brahman (is known from the Upanishads), (it) being the object of full import. l The pradhana of the Sankhya is not the cause of the universe because it is not mentioned in the Upanishads, which fact is clear from the fact of seeing (or thinking). Note: These meanings are taken from Swami Gambhirananda: Brahma-Sutra Bhashya of Sankaracharya, Advaita Ashrama, Pithorgarh.
The simple meaning is followed by detailed explanation or bhashyam. The original bhashyam is by Adi Sankara in Sanskrit. On an average, each aphorism takes two pages, sometimes much more. While Brahmasutra is indeed difficult, there is an alternative for the layman—the Bhagavad Gita. Indeed, it would appear that this is the reason for the composition of Bhagavad Gita in the 4th century AD and its insertion into the Mahabharata epic.
The Minor Upanishads There are 97 minor Upanishads. According to Swami Chinmayananda, there are more—perhaps 163, of which 125 are acceptable, but only 108 are widely accepted as authentic. The numbers 8, 18, 108, and 1008 have mystic significance in Hinduism. This could be one reason why the number 108 is widely accepted by most scholars. 69
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The problem is that there is no proper definition of what constitutes an Upanishad; this applies equally to various other terms in Hinduism. There are varying definitions of what constitutes Vedas, for example. In the case of Vedas, Manusmriti has defined it in one way while Adi Sankara has defined in an entirely different way. In the case of Upanishads, I have not found a satisfactory definition anywhere. I have applied, instead, two criteria for recognizing a work as an Upanishad. They are: l It should be a part of any of the four Vedas and especially of the Brahmanas and Aranyakas attached to them. l It must explain the concepts of Brahman, atman, and the path to moksha or salvation. I have read the first eleven Upanishads several times; the rest of 97 Upanishads have been read once. The latter are in fact very light reading compared to the first and do not deserve more than one reading. In the light of the definition given above, the 97 minor Upanishads should not be called Upanishads. They do not satisfy the first criteria or even the second criteria. There is a problem in the application of the second criteria. The problem is a change in the definition of Brahman. During the Puranic period, starting from Shiva Purana, Vishnu Purana, and Bhagavata Purana, the original Upanishadic definition (see Kena Upanishad) is designated as Nirguna Brahman, while the concept of Brahman used in the Puranas is that of Saguna Brahman. The Saguna Brahman takes human form. All the 97 minor Upanishads are based on the application of the concept of Saguna Brahman. This leads to a multitude of Gods, with the principal ones being Shiva and Vishnu. The titles of some of the minor Upanishads reveal their Puranic outlook, for example: Vasudeva, Savitri, Devi, Ganapathi, Krishna, Varaha, Hayagriva, Garuda, Jabali, Bhagyalakshmi, Subala, Seetha, Dakshinamurthy, Skanda etc. Other titles do point to philosophical themes such as Yogasiksha, Turyatita, Sanyasa, Avyakta, Akakshara, Adhyatma, Atma, Parabrahma, Muktika, Amrita bindu, Tejobindu, Nada bindu, 70
Atmaprabhaudha, Yogachudamani, etc. Then there are titles related to the original or later Upanishadic personalities: Yajnavalkya, Maitreyi, etc. These are indeed very few. The 108th Upanishad is titled: Muktikopanishad. This is in the form of advice given by Lord Rama to his bhakta Sri Hanuman. This appears, on the face of it, as a parallel to the advice given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita. However, this is indeed a very poor second. Nevertheless, it may be held in high esteem by bhaktas of Lord Ram. The dialogue in this Upanishad occurs in Ayodhya after Rama’s return; needless to say that there is no mention of any such thing in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Another interesting point about this Upanishad is that Lord Rama lists all the 108 Upanishads. The first ten in the list follow the traditional ordering given earlier in this review starting with Isavasya. However, Svetasvatara appears not as the 11th but the 14th in the list. The minor Upanishads are all in very simple Sanskrit prose of the classical style. Verses occur as a rarity rather than the norm. Further, for the most part they are very brief. Their content is more descriptive of Gods and hardly philosophical. Whatever philosophical content is there is actually repetitive of statements in the original Upanishads. There is nothing new here to attract the attention of academic scholars. In spite of all the above, the minor Upanishads are useful to the bhaktas—those having faith in Puranic Gods. They translate some aspects of Upanishadic philosophy in a new and easily understandable mode.
Summary During the period under discussion, 600 BC to 300 BC, there were sharp criticisms of each other of two groups of Brahmanas—those who believed that the practice of Mimamsa religion is all that is needed to attain salvation and those who believed in the Upanishadic concepts of the absolute God and the path to salvation. During the age of the Smrities, from 300 BC to 200 AD, a compromise 71
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solution was arrived in which the practice of Purva Mimamsa was recommended for grihasthas, while vanaprastins and Sanyasins were to focus on the Upanishads and practice dhyana yoga. Still later, during the Puranic age, the concept of Brahman itself gets transformed into Saguna Brahman or Brahman in human form. Here Brahman is worshiped in an altogether newer form using idols and flowers as offerings. Further bhakti takes over and meditation and yoga are relegated to a lower level. The 108 Upanishads were written at various points in time. The first eight are the oldest and they belong to the active period of the Purva Mimamsa school of Hinduism, which is from 8th century BC to 4th century BC, somewhat overlapping with the time of Buddha. The next three Upanishads are post Buddha era and are contemporaneous with the age of the Smrities, in particular Manusmriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti. They belong to the period from 300 BC to 200 AD. The remaining 97 Upanishads belong to the Puranic period, from 2nd century AD to 10th Century AD. The single most important contribution of the Upanishads is the discovery of the Absolute God and its detailed exposition. They called it Brahman. The discovery that God resides in all living things led to the concept of atman; from this they postulated the concept of rebirth. They theorized on the mechanism and principles of rebirth and that gave birth to the well-known karma theory. From karma theory it is one step to the concept of moksha or salvation. Moksha is at the core of Upanishads and the path to moksha is very difficult. This is meticulously outlined in Katha and Mandukya Upanishads. It is later elaborated by Patanjali in his Yoga Sastra, in Manusmriti, and still later in Bhagavad Gita. Adi Sankara gave its final form in his work Vivekachoodamani. The eight principal Upanishads represent Hindu philosophy. One must read them to claim to know the basic concepts. These concepts are relevant today and they will always be relevant. They focus on the individual and the social context is immaterial. 72
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• India in Circa 600 BC to 300 BC • Siddhartha Gautama and Buddhism • Religious Texts of Buddhism • Later Developments • Chaityas and Stupas • Buddhism Goes Abroad • Vardhamana Mahavira and Jainism • Ajivikas and Other Sects • Buddhist and Jaina Influences on Hinduism • The Decline of Jainism and Buddhism • Buddhist Monuments and Temples • Jaina Monuments and Temples • Summing Up
India in Circa 600 BC to 300 BC Magadha with its capital in Rajagriha (present day Rajgir) in south Bihar was the most powerful kingdom of this time with Bimbisara as king who was later replaced (killed by jailing and starvation) by his son Ajatasatru. Another important kingdom of this period was that of Kosala with its capital at Shravasti, where the King Prasenajit was ruling. In this period, Prasenajit, a scholar interested in religious pursuits, was replaced by his son, by wrong means. Other prominent capital cities of this period were: Champa, Saketa (later known as Ayodhya), Kausambi, and Varanasi. Kausambi and Varanasi were the oldest among these cities. In addition, there were other small towns, such as Kapilavastu, Vaishali, Kusinagara and so on. While small kingdoms dominated in the southern parts of the plains, the north was in the control of chiefdoms: the Sakyas in Kapilavastu, the Mallas of Kusinagara, Licchavis and Vrijjis
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of Vaishali. While Buddha came from the Sakya clan, Mahavira belonged to the Licchavis clan. In some of the chiefdoms, the leader or rajan was elected through a public assembly of clan members (see Figure 3 and note that this region is much the same as the one shown in Stage III of Figure 2). The stories of Buddha, Mahavira, and several other philosophers and ascetics unfolded in the fertile region of the middle Ganga Plain between Varanasi in the west and Vaishali in the east. South of Vaishali, and to the south of the river Ganga was the city of Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha. Kapilavastu and Vaishali were close to the present day Nepal in the north. All the principal personalities described below lived in this region and never went outside of it. Within this region the Brahmanas had further developed the Mimamsa religion, which earned them both a good reputation as well as a stable means of living. The Yajurveda and Samaveda were already in existence along with the early Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. The rituals of the Mimamsa religion give greater importance to rice, and much less to wheat and barley, clearly indicating a change in environment. However, in villages, the ancient Gods and religious practices were followed and there were small temples for the Gods outside these villages. It should also be noted that although the pre-Vedic religions were very much present they were not mentioned in the Sanskrit literature relating to this time period. One has to note the occasional references to non-Vedic gods and certain Vedic practices to infer the presence of these cultures. As we shall see, the Buddhist texts refer to them more explicitly and use their folklore and religious practices without giving any credit. Several developments were taking place at this time away from the Middle Ganga Plains. The Persians, under Cyrus and later Darius, had conquered the whole of the Indus basin and had established their rule. They introduced the Karoshti script in this 74
Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Drawn by the author.
Figure 3 Buddhaʼs World
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region, perhaps the first form of writing in North-West India. In the South, the Chalcolithic and Megalithic cultures had their sway. The early Tamil language and culture were emerging in the far South perhaps stimulated by the advent of tank irrigation—a form of irrigation that is unique to South India. In this system, earthen dams were built across small streams and water stored in them during the rainy season and in the dry months they were used to irrigate fields. This system of irrigation increased productivity and led to emergence of urban centres and an independent civilization based on the Tamil language. The three regions mentioned above remained totally cut off from each other during this time but they were to interact closely from 3rd century BC onwards.
Siddhartha Gautama and Buddhism Siddhartha Gautama was born in 556 BC in Lumbini (Nepal) as the eldest son of the chief of the Sakya clan whose capital was in Kapilavastu. At the age of thirty-five or so, he gave up his luxurious palace life to seek the truth—the cause of suffering in this world. He wandered for seven years and learned yoga under two teachers; the first at Vaishali on the banks of the Gandhak river and the second in Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha. Both the teachers were Brahmanas who taught him Upanishads, yoga, and meditation. At Rajagriha, the king of Magadha, Bimbisara, on his own initiative, made friends with Gautama and they became lifelong friends. Bimbisara gave him a plot of land near Rajagriha where he could establish a refuge for his meditation and spiritual pursuits. Buddha always stayed in this grove whenever he returned to Rajagriha. Disappointed with his failure to learn the truth from his second teacher in Rajagriha, Gautama left for Bodh Gaya with five of his classmates. He stayed there for six years practicing yoga on his own. Again, lack of success prompted him to abandon all austerities and lead a normal life. This change of mind did not impress his friends 76
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and they left him alone and went to the Deer Park in Sarnath, near Varanasi. Later, under a pipal tree, Gautama meditated for forty-nine days, at the end of which he became enlightened. He discovered the basic reasons for suffering in this world and the principles to be followed to emerge out of this suffering. The noble truths that he discovered are: l Truth of suffering—birth, age, sickness, death, union with beloved one and separation, and non-achievement of desires. l Origin of suffering—craving for pleasure, craving for existence, craving for non-existence, all cause suffering l Suppression of suffering—complete destruction of desire. l The path to end suffering—the sacred eight fold path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. l We may sum up these as the middle path. A life of pleasure and life of austerity will not lead one to salvation and hence one must follow ‘the middle path’. After he attained enlightenment under the pipal tree in Bodh Gaya, and after seven weeks of contemplation, Buddha proceeded to Varanasi to meet his friends and test his discoveries. His friends immediately accepted his findings and became his steadfast disciples from then onwards. Soon he attracted a number of followers and the first order of monks was established at this time. This group began their journeys stopping in the outskirts of villages in the afternoons and for the night, while marching to new locations and seeking alms in the morning hours. The order of monks was allowed only one meal—the noon meal. The afternoons were reserved for religious instruction and meditation. For over forty years, Gautama Buddha, along with his followers, travelled on foot for eight months in a year and for the rest of the four months of monsoon they camped on the outskirts of a 77
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large village or town where they were hosted by a rich landlord or chieftain. He followed a circular path which included Kapilavastu, Kusinagara, Vaishali, Rajagriha, Gaya, and Varanasi (see Figure 3). The order of monks expanded, and on the bidding of his foster mother, he allowed an order of nuns, although at heart he was against it. Celibacy was a basic requirement for both monks and nuns. He had doubts about violations of this code if the two orders were located close to each other. What he thought would happen, did indeed happen. It did weaken the Buddhist monastic order in later periods. Gautama Buddha had to face many unhappy situations. His royal friend Bimbisara was jailed and allowed to die of starvation by his son Ajatasatru. Nevertheless, Ajatasatru had no hesitation in asking Buddha for pardon. Buddha kept silent. Likewise, another royal friend, the king of Kosala, Prasenajit was also tricked into giving up his kingdom by his son. Soon after the takeover, the new king attacked Kapilavastu and killed many young Sakyas who offered no resistance, following Buddha’s ideals of non-violence. Buddha took everything stoically and continued his travels, meeting people everywhere till the ripe age of eighty years and then finally the end came during an afternoon. His last meal consisted of a new dish of pork given by a blacksmith which did not suit him. He was worn down by diarrhea. He was cremated with great fanfare and his ashes were taken to different places for burial by the chiefs of various clans and kings.
Religious Texts of Buddhism Whatever Buddha preached in his lifetime was in oral form; some of his close disciples may have kept notes on palm leafs. After his death in 486 BC, a great gathering of monks was held in Rajagriha. In this congregation, his chief disciple Upali recited the Vinaya Pitika, which is about the rules to be followed by the order of monks. A second disciple, Ananda, recited the Sutta pitika—a doctrinal text 78
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containing Buddha’s teachings. Pitika means a basket—a basket containing bundles of palm-leaf documents, while sutta is the Pali word for sutra in Sanskrit. Both the texts were in Pali. The Sutta Pitika is comparable to Jaiminisutra which summarizes Mimamsa texts. The word dharma becomes dhamma in Pali. Thus Sutta Pitika is a text on Buddhist dharma. A second congregation was held in Vaishali about a hundred years later—around 390 BC. At this time, Buddhism branched into two, of which the older one is known as Theravada. A third council was convened by Emperor Asoka in Pataliputra around 250 BC; it is in this council that Theravada Buddhism got recognition as the orthodox sect. Nevertheless, Theravada Buddhism eventually receded into the background in India, and established itself in Sri Lanka and from there this sect was propagated in Myanmar and Thailand and other South East Asian countries. During the interregnum—after the death of Buddha and the holding of the third council, Buddhism had established itself in the Middle Ganga Plains as a popular religion with generous support from kings and rich landlords. It coexisted peacefully with Brahminical Hinduism, and other local religions—the Jainas and Ajivikas. There were some verbal duels between the Jainas and Ajivikas and even Buddhists. While Buddha had rejected the concepts of Brahman and atman, he did, however, accept the Upanishadic doctrine of rebirth and karma; this remained as a central theme in Buddhism. Buddhists generally respected Brahmanas, while passing negative remarks about some aspects of Mimamsa religion such as the killing of animals in sacrificial rites. They also respected the Vedas and did not oppose them in any way.
Later Developments Much of what we know and consider as Buddhism today actually belongs to later time periods. Much like Hinduism, Buddhism also evolved over a period of time from 5th century BC to about 10th 79
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century AD. There were parallel developments in Hinduism at the same time. Both these religions borrowed from each other without acknowledging their debt. Among the secondary texts of Buddhism are the Jataka stories which describe Buddha’s life in previous births. In these stories we come across Buddha in a different form known as Bodhisattva or Buddha in the making, but not fully matured. They also have the concept of a future Buddha—the Maitreya, somewhat parallel to our concept of Kalki. Forms of worship were borrowed by both religions from folk cultures, though these were never acknowledged by either.
Chaityas and Stupas The focal points of Buddhism from 500 BC to 300 BC were the chaityas. These are places of a sacred and often secluded nature – with groves of trees commemorating the tree under which Buddha got enlightened. In addition, there were places where the ashes of Buddha were buried and small monuments built over them. Later a dome shaped brick and mortar structure was built over these and these are now known as stupas. The chaityas were places of worship for lay Buddhists and others. The Buddhist monks invariably established their monasteries near the chaityas. The Buddhist monasteries are known as viharas. Often, the three—chaityas, stupas, and viharas are found together in the same location. The chaityas and monasteries received gifts from kings and their numbers grew. Emperor Asoka further expanded the network of chaityas and stupas by reburial of Buddha’s remains, after dividing the existing portions into several smaller parts. Perhaps the best known caitya and stupa is the one at Sanchi, in Madhya Pradesh. This is the largest monument to Buddha in India. Other centres of Buddhist pilgrimage are: The pipal tree in Bodh Gaya where Buddha was enlightened; Lumbini near Kapilavastu where Buddha was born, the Deer Park at Sarnath near Varanasi where Buddha gave his first sermon and the grove near Kusinagara where 80
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he died (see Figure 3 for location of places associated with the life of Buddha). The chaityas have their origin in the pre-Buddhist period, where the village people worshipped spirits and other gods near groves in the outer periphery of the villages. The Buddhists merely adapted them using them as substitutes for the times Buddha spent in groves as an ascetic. This adaptation enhanced the popularity of the new religion since it combined the older more popular local cults with the new brand of Buddhism. Further, the forms of worship were exactly the same as the ordinary people had followed for centuries—going round the sacred trees or relics in a clockwise fashion, prostration, and offering of flowers. The deification of Buddha and the worship of his idols belongs to a later period of time—around 2nd century AD (refer to the section on Buddhist monuments and temples).
Buddhism Goes Abroad The role of Emperor Asoka is undoubtedly the most significant factor in the spread of Buddhism to the rest of the world. Asoka not only convened the third council of Buddhists in Pataliputra in 256 BC but also sent emissaries to other countries, the most significant one being to Sri Lanka led by his own son, who had become a Buddhist monk. Later, under the Kushanas (1st to 3rd century AD), Buddhism not only flourished in North West India, but spread to central Asia and beyond to Mongolia. This period also accounts for the first sculptured images of Buddha, which were then installed in several locations in Central India and elsewhere. They show Greek influence, although they combine elements from local cultures as well. These sculptures provided the protype for images of Buddha in the later centuries. It is to the Palas of Bengal (7th century AD) that we owe the addition of tantric rituals into Buddhism, and this form of 81
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Buddhism, Mahayana, spread to Tibet (and the rest of China), Korea and Japan. Buddhism is the state religion in a number of countries in Asia today: China, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.
Vardhamana Mahavira and Jainism Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha. Like Gautama, he was from a Kshatriya clan—a clan closely related to the Licchavis of Vaishali in North East Bihar. He was born in 540 BC or thereabout and lived for about 70 years. (The Buddhists consider Mahavira as an ardent opponent of Gautama Buddha). He married and had a daughter. At age of 30, he left home and became an ascetic. He joined a well-established group known as Nirgranthas. This sect was founded by another ascetic by the name of Parsva, long before the birth of Mahavira. Parsva is considered today as the 23rd thirthankar, while Mahavira is the 24th and the last thirthankar. As an ascetic, Mahavira went from place to place living on food which he obtained by begging. He subjected himself to very strict austerities. This continued for about six years when he was joined by another ascetic by the name Gosala. They became friends and continued the ascetic life for another six years. A heated discussion between the two friends led to parting of ways for good. Gosala founded a sect known as Ajivikas or materialists; while Mahavira stuck to his strict regimen in which he wore no clothes. A year later, Mahavira attained enlightenment. He progressed from arhant, a worthy follower, to a jina, a conqueror, and finally a thirthankar—a person who has crossed the ‘bridge’ and attained nirvana. He died at the age of 72 near the city of Rajagriha. He died by the method of prayopavesa—death by self-imposed starvation. The Jains call this practice santara and it is practiced by Jaina saints even today. For 200 years, the followers of Mahavira remained as an inconspicuous group until Chandragupta Maurya, the founder 82
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of the Mauryan Empire, abdicated and became a Jaina. A major schism among Jainas occurred at this time—those under the leadership of Bhadrabahu insisted on not wearing any clothes (this rule applies only to monks, the lay were allowed to wear clothes). Chandragupta Maurya accompanied Bhadrabahu to the South where he spent his last days in the vicinity of Sravana Belagola in Karnataka. (Note: The term Sravana is the equivalent of Brahmana; the former relates to Jainism and Buddhism, while the latter relates to Hinduism). On account of famine in the Ganga plains, a large number of Jainas followed Bhadrabahu to the South, where Jainism was introduced. Jainas thrived in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. In 300 BC, Jaina monks reached as far south as Tirunelveli District of Tamil Nadu and established cave dwellings for their monks. We find epigraphic evidence to support this. This is perhaps the earliest evidence of writing in India. This involved the Brahmi script, Tamil language and Jaina principles. The Jaina philosophy of life had considerable influence on Sangam literature in Tamil. In particular, the Tirukkural (God’s Voice) gives clear evidence of this influence. Meanwhile, the other group led by Stulabhadra stayed behind in Bihar. Stulabhadra allowed his followers to wear white clothes. The differences between the two groups were indeed small, but the groups insisted on being different. Jains were, and continue to be, strict vegetarians and adherents of ahimsa, sometimes taken to extreme lengths. These two basic principles made it impossible for most people to follow this religion. Agriculture was among the long list of prohibited occupations and as a result the great majority of rural folk in India could not become Jainas. However, from the beginning, Jainism thrived among the trading community. To this day, Jains are either traders or professionals—teachers, lawyers, and even doctors. The Jaina religious texts were first composed only in the 2nd century BC, several hundred years after the death of Mahavira. 83
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Thereafter, they underwent several modifications. An interesting aspect of later Jaina literature is their claim that the King Trisanku was the first thirthankar. Trisanku, they claim, is the founder of the dynasty of suryavamsies with his capital at Ayodhya. As late as 8th century AD, Ayodhya was well known as a Jaina centre. However, in Valmiki Ramayana Trisanku is mentioned as one of the ancestors of Ram but not the first. In any case, Jainas do accept a common link with Hinduism. Buddha and Mahavira, both Kshatriyas, were fully conversant with the Mimamsa religions. Their position is closer to the Uttara Mimamsa, though they refused to accept the central concepts of atman and Brahman. They, however, did accept the theory of rebirth. Jainism made a strong impact on a section of the Brahmanas. While they stuck to Purva Mimamsa, they eliminated animal sacrifice and became vegetarians. About fifty percent of Brahmanas today are pure vegetarians. Buddhists and Jains abandoned Sanskrit and replaced it with Pali and Prakrit, the languages of common people in the Middle Ganga Plains. For a few centuries, Buddhism and Jainism flourished both in the North and the South of India. This does not mean that they replaced the existing religions. Nevertheless, the influence of Jainism is very much visible in Karnataka today, while it left a very strong impression in early Tamil literature. However, Jains and Buddhists together accounted for less than half percent of India’s population until the 1950s, when Dr Ambedkar converted to Buddhism and encouraged millions of Dalits to convert to Buddhism.
Ajivikas and Other Sects Ajivikas, a sect founded by Gosala, was even stricter than Jainas. They wore no clothes, did not believe in any God or Gods, and practiced vegetarianism. They denied every doctrine that Brahmanas had propounded; this included the Brahman and atman and Karma 84
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theory. Nevertheless, they retained the concept of rebirth, much the same way as Buddhists and Jainas. For Ajivikas, birth cannot be influenced by human action; it is determined by a vague universal principle. Everything is deterministic and hence one should live as one likes and not bother about anything. There are no texts for this religion; we know of them only through Buddhist and Jaina texts. Ajivikas were not the only sect that can be thought of as atheists. Lokayatas (existentialists) and Charvakas (meaning sweet talkers) were the other two groups who went against the established religions and advocated materialism and a total irreverence to Gods and worship in any form. The importance of these groups may be recognized not so much by the strength of their followers as by the criticism they generated in all other religious texts—Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina. Obviously, they were seen as a threat to the very foundation of established religious doctrines of the times.
Buddhist and Jaina Influences on Hinduism Brahminical Hinduism was profoundly influenced by both Buddhism and Jainism. However, these changes took considerable time to be incorporated into Hindu philosophy. The earliest evidence of the influence is found in the Smrities, which we shall discuss in the following chapter. Among the lasting influence of Buddhism was the ordering of Hindu monks or sanyasins. The concept of Sanyas or sanyasin did not exist in Rigvedic times or in the early Mimamsa period. None of the Upanishads mention this word. It appears for the first time in Smrities. Buddha accepted monks into the fold after a simple ceremony. In Hinduism, the teacher, himself a sanyasin, ceremonially accepts his student as a sanyasi. As in the case of Buddhists, Hindu sanyasis wear ochre-colored dress, shave their heads and they are expected to be celibate for life. Buddhism introduced a monastic way of life for monks. In the 8th century AD, Sankaracharya established 85
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Mutts, in a similar fashion, where sanyasins and lay students lived together in a sort of gurukula, but without women folk as in the original gurukula. However, most boys in the gurukula are just brahmacharins and not monks or sanyasins. A Hindu priest is a grihastha and not a sanyasi. The Vedic rishies were actually grihastas and not sanyasis or ascetics, as is portrayed in the Puranic literature. Most rishies had wives and children. They attended to the daily chores just as their cohorts in the tribe. The contribution of Jainism is seen in the acceptance of ahimsa as a basic principle. Besides, a significant number of Hindus, especially among Brahmanas, Vaishyas, and some Shaivites accepted vegetarianism as well. Manusmriti endorsed vegetarianism but made it optional. Perhaps the most important way Brahmanas reacted to the developments described above was to move away from it all into a new phase in which folklore, anthropomorphism (the conversion of Gods into human form), and bhakti—devotion to a personal God, played a dominant role.
The Decline of Jainism and Budhism Many reasons can be ascribed for the failure of Buddhism and Jainism to sustain their vigor and replace Brahminical Hinduism. The strict adherence to vegetarianism and ahimsa was acceptable only to the trading community, but not the others. Jainism is now, by and large, a religion of Vaishyas—the trading community. Buddhism received enthusiastic support from the kings and Buddhist monasteries became rich and self-dependent. This cut them off from the masses and Buddhism became irrelevant to the masses in course of time. There is an even greater reason for its failure. Buddha favored a society in which all are equal—there is no scope for Varna or Jati. While a total abolition of Varna is feasible, the abolition of Jati is not. While Varna is a religious concept—a concept created 86
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by Brahmanas—Jati is not a religious concept nor was it created by Brahmanas. It is a product of the freedom to maintain one’s identity and culture, including religion and social practices by even very small communities. Asking people to give up this privilege was like asking for the moon. Maintaining culture and identity is a fundamental human right. Brahmanas understood this, at least by default, while Buddhists did not. The Christians did not understand this nor the Indian social scientists who were more devoted to their Western peers than their own identity and culture. As far as the elite are concerned, Brahmanas were able to defeat Buddhists in arguments and debates. Both Jainism and Buddhism, which refuse to recognize a creator (Brahman) and individual souls (atman) and do not recognize any cognizable Gods are left with a religious structure without a foundation. Hindu intellectuals did not find any logical merit in either Buddhism or Jainism. However, in the final analysis, it is the people who have to be won over. By adopting newer strategies, the Brahmanas won the people over to their side. Among these new strategies, the Brahmana–Kshatriya coalition, as envisaged in the Smrities, Epics, and Puranas, is of great significance.
Buddhist Monuments and Temples The monuments related to Buddha and Buddhism date back to the 3rd century BC and they are much older than the monuments relating to Jainism and Hinduism. The largest Buddhist monument in India is in Sanchi, about 55 km north of Bhopal and in Vidisha (originally Besnagar) which is further north of Sanchi. Equally important and well known are the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra where we have a whole series of caves with elaborate wall paintings and also statues of Buddha. (see Figure 4). About 55 km north of Bhopal is the village of Sanchi where Emperor Asoka built a small stupa enclosing a small part of the 87
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Figure 4 Buddhist and Jaina Monuments Source: Drawn by the author. Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
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remains of Gautama Buddha, around 250 BC. Emperor Asoka (265-232 BC) was based in this region before his elevation to kingship. It has been considerably expanded and built upon in later time periods, before it was relegated to obscurity. Rediscovered in 1818, and considerably restored in the early 20th century, Sanchi is now a major tourist attraction, known the world over. The main structure in Sanchi is the huge Stupa—a dome shaped structure, 15 metres high and 37 metres in diameter, located on a small hill. The whole stupa is encircled by a pathway with railings. There are four entrance gates. The railings and gateways are intricately carved and they generally tell the stories from Jataka tales. There are no idols of Buddha, but he is represented by symbols such as a tree, the wheel of law or just footprints. The various miracles attributed to Buddha are portrayed, especially the miracle he is said to have performed in Shravasti. Buddha’s journey to nirvana is picturised in another gateway, which incidentally also tells his life story in brief. Asoka’s life as a Buddhist is shown in another gateway as well as the early days of Buddha’s life. The events of Buddha’s later life and the temptations of the demons to break his will are depicted in another gateway as also many other tales from Jatakas. There are a number of pillars in the area around the stupa; a few of these were erected during the time of Asoka. However, the majority of pillars (35 in all) belong to later time periods, as late as 5th century AD. There are many other smaller stupas around the main dome. Asoka himself built 8 of them, but only two remain. These stupas are in honor of Buddha’s disciples, whose remains were probably buried there. Other stupas were built much later. Several Buddhist monasteries (viharas) existed around this site; but they have all disappeared, probably because they were largely built with wood. The later chaityas (prayer halls) show Greek influence. They are supported by many pillars. Around 7th century AD, some of the chaityas assumed the form of early Hindu temples with two 89
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structures close to one another—a structure with a deity inside and a hall meant for devotees. There are other Buddhist sites within a range of 100 km from Sanchi; among these the most prominent ones are near Vidisha. There are a number of Buddhist sites that are now in ruins. Mention may be made of Bharhut, near Nagod in Madhya Pradesh. The rich sculptural relics from this site are in museums in London and Kolkata. The relics in Bharhut belong to the same period as Sanchi—150 BC or earlier. The caves in Ajanta represent an entirely different kind of monument, where there are hardly any sculptures and the pride of place is taken by paintings—very elaborate and done on a very large scale. The caves and the paintings belong to the period from 200 BC to 650 AD. They are later than the stupas at Sanchi, but earlier than the monuments in the Ellora caves, where we have a mixture of Buddhist, Jaina and Hindu works of art. Ajanta is located about 60 km north of Aurangabad on a horse shoe shaped gorge with steep cliffs; a river flows at the base of the cliff, while the caves are indeed way up. There are twenty-seven caves in all, with the older ones occupying the central part. The caves here are neatly divided into two parts—those belonging to the earlier Hinayana Buddhism and those belonging to the later Mahayana Buddhism; the latter caves have a few large size images of Buddha, all in the Gandharan style. Elsewhere, images of Buddha are absent; he is represented symbolically by his footprints or the wheel of law. The themes and sources of stories relating to Buddha depicted in the paintings are more or less the same as the ones in Sanchi, except that these are in form of paintings. They include stories from Jataka tales and the life history of the Buddha and some aspects of the ordinary lives of people. The caves fall into two categories: those that are essentially viharas or monasteries—places where the monks lived, and those 90
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that are chaityas or temples meant for prayer and meditation. Sometimes these two are adjacent to each other or included in the same cave. There are beautiful views of the river and the landscape from the temples; also the entire range of caves can be seen from a point at the opposite side of the river. The places in India, Pakistan, and beyond where Buddhist monuments are found are shown in Figure 3. These cover the whole of North India and extend south to the Krishna River. In Purushapura (Peshawar), Kanishka built a magnificent tower, which is no longer there. It was built around 200 AD. At Amaravati on the Krishna River there is large stupa, although much damaged. This stupa is known for the use of white marble for sculptures. The site further up the river at Nagarjuna is now submerged under water but the sculptures have been transferred to a museum nearby. Amaravati has been selected as the location for the capital of the new state of Andhra Pradesh.
Jaina Monuments and Temples Jainism has always been overshadowed by Buddhism. However, unlike Buddhism, it did survive the ups and downs of history and remained relevant throughout. The Jaina monuments are not as numerous as the Buddhist monuments, but there is one monument that is really spectacular—the statue of Bahubali in Sravana Belagola. Like their Buddhist counterpart, the Jaina monks also lived in caves often along with Buddhist monks as in Ellora or independently. Furthermore, we have hundreds of Jaina temples that have existed throughout history, i.e. from about 5th century AD onwards and are still in use (see Figure 4). The 1000th anniversary of the statue of Bahubali in Sravana Belagola was celebrated in 1981; the statue of Gomateshwara is 17 metres tall and completely naked in keeping with the basic principles of Digambara Jains. The monks of this sect do not wear 91
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clothes while inside their monasteries. Not only is the statue very tall, it stands on top of a hill that is over a thousand feet higher from the surroundings. The statue is visible from about 25 km. At the base of the hill there are several Jaina temples and monasteries and there are still quite a few Jains among the local population who are either converts or descendants of those who migrated over here from Bihar a few thousand years ago. The majority of the Jains now live in Maharashtra, which is unquestionably the economic epicentre of India. The most important centres of pilgrimage for Jains are in Gujarat and the adjoining parts of Rajasthan. Jains do not believe in the existence of a creator or God and hence there are no images of Gods in their temples; instead, they have one or more statues of tirthankars. Jain temples are, therefore, named after one of the 24 tirthankars. There are two main centres where there is a concentration of Jaina temples and where Jains go on pilgrimage. They are near Palitana in South Gujarat and Girnar, near Junagarh. In each case, the holiest temples are on top of a hill, which is difficult to climb; there are temples at the base as well. Palitana is 60 km from Bhavnagar. There are about 800 temples over a hill about 2 km away on a 600 metres high hill. The hill top remains almost devoid of people during the nights, when the tirthankars are left alone. It is considered as the holiest place for Jains. The temples belong to a period later than 10th century AD. North of Palitana is Valabhi, an ancient capital of Jaina kings and a Jaina centre now but in total ruins. Near Junagarh, we have another major complex of Jaina temples located on top of the Girnar hills. There are temples for Neminath and Mallinath on top of the Girnar Hill, which is again about 600 metres higher than the base. At the base itself, there is a tank in which one is supposed to take a bath to purify oneself before going up the hill to visit the temples. These Jaina temples belong to the 12th century AD. Apart from the two centres described above, there are over a hundred Jaina temples in Patan, in North Gujarat. 92
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However, the best known Jaina temple monuments are in Mt Abu which is in Rajasthan, but close to the Gujarat border. The Jaina temples in Mt Abu have exquisite carvings in marble. The main temple complex is known as Dilwara and here we have two temples, with the best specimens of Jaina architecture and carvings. The older of the two temples is dedicated to Adinath, the first thirthankar. The temple has an image of Adinath. It was built in 1031 AD. The second temple is dedicated to Neminath, the 22nd thirthankar and it was built in 1230 AD. One should not conclude, from the descriptions above, that the Jaina temples are of much later origin than the Buddhist ones; indeed Jaina caves are found side by with Buddhist caves in Ellora and various other places in Bihar and elsewhere. Most of these relate to 5th century to 8th century AD. These older Jaina monuments are not as spectacular as their Buddhist counterparts and hence they have not received the same attention.
Summing Up During the period 500 BC to 300 BC, the Mimamsa religion was the focus of attack, but it survived almost intact with a few minor adjustments. In the next chapter, we shall see that Mimamsa was indeed very much alive and it, along with the Smrities, formed the foundation of Brahminical Hinduism for several centuries. What are the reasons for its survival? Why did Buddhism and Jainism fail to supplant it? At the outset, it may be noted, that all three religions were elitist in nature and did not have much of a mass support, as is often assumed. The masses of India, living in thousands of villages, followed their traditional village Gods and village religions and were, if at all, only superficially influenced by the other three religions. The elitist religions were confined to the first three Varnas who constituted at best 15 percent of the total population. Besides, each of the three was Varna specific. Mimamsa was essentially 93
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Brahmana centric, while Buddhism was patronized by Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas preferred Jainism. Their influence beyond their Varnas was very limited. Among the three, Brahminical Hinduism had a definite advantage; it was already well established. The Brahmanas as a Varna were cohesive. The Vedas were preserved and passed on from generation to generation within families. No other social organization was needed; the gurukulas were but extended families and not an association of free persons. It is this foundation that accounts for the survival of Brahminical Hinduism. Brahmanas hardly ever carried arms and they were for the most part spared by those engaged in armed conflict. Their scholarship and the respect they commanded provided them security. Buddhism, on the other hand, depended on monasteries for its survival. So long as patronage from kings and the rich was forthcoming, Buddhism survived. In fact, for some centuries, this was the case. Buddhist monasteries increased in number and the monks prospered. However, their contact with the lay population in villages diminished over time and eventually vanished. They had another serious disadvantage, when compared to Brahmanas. The Buddhist monasteries were fewer in number compared to Brahmana households. They were indeed conspicuous as landscape features and they could easily be destroyed by adversaries. This is what happened during the reign of Hunas in North-west India. Once the institutional foundation was destroyed, Buddhism had no other support. The Buddhists were discriminated against by dynasties that followed the Mauryas in the Ganga plains. They, however, received special treatment under the Kushanas in the North-western parts of India and beyond, but were severely suppressed by Hunas, who came to India in the 4th century AD. With that, Buddhism came to an end in the Indian Subcontinent.
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Jainism was slightly better placed. Its adherents were mainly, if not wholly, from the trading classes; they were always rich and prosperous. This was a very cohesive class and could support Jaina monks and their institutions through generous gifts. No outside support was needed. Like Brahmanas, Jainas were never involved in armed conflicts. On the other hand, Jainism never had any mass appeal. Its strict adherence to vegetarianism and ahimsa were totally unattractive to the great majority of people. With adherents from the trading community alone, this religion could not expand in any way. Eventually, Jainism practically vanished from the region of its origin—north-eastern Bihar and found a better environment in the desert region of Rajasthan and in Gujarat, where we find a concentration of India’s prosperous trading communities. Brahmanas found ways to accommodate the Kshatriyas, whatever their ethnic origins may have been. Co-operation between the two Varnas was essential for the survival of both. Hinduism actually prospered on account of this, as we shall see in the following chapters.
• Introduction • India from 300 BC to 200 AD • The Smrities • Manusmriti • Aryavartham and Yavanas • The Basis of the Varna System • Varna-Ashrama-Dharma • Rajadharma • Other Sastras • Loukika and Vaidika Brahmanas • Nibandanas • Itihasa Puranas and Temples
Introduction The previous two chapters may have introduced an element of confusion regarding the chronology of events. While dealing with Uttara Mimamsa, Buddhism and Jainism, we started with 500 BC but soon progressed into later time periods, including the period covered in this chapter and even beyond. That was justified because we were dealing with processes over time, which have a common origin but no terminal point in time. Uttara Mimamsa, Buddhism and Jainism are still alive, but their origins go back to the same point in time, namely, 600 BC to 400 BC. We have emphasized the circumstances under which they originated and progressed through time. The Smriti texts, the subject matter of this chapter, belong to the period 300 BC to 200 AD. They acknowledge the early Upanishads, Buddhism and Jainism, the latter only indirectly and represent the response of the Brahmanas to all the above, at a stage when all three had just taken off. A response from the Brahmanas was urgently needed for their own survival. The Smriti
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texts represent a major new thrust to keep society firmly under the influence of Brahmanas. They tell us a great deal about the social life of that time They accept Purva Mimamsa as the true religion, while acknowledging Uttara Mimamsa, Buddhism, and Jainism.
India from 300 BC to 200 AD The situation in the middle Ganga plains in 300 BC was rather chaotic. There was intellectual ferment, with wide ranging solutions to problems of society. Political changes were taking place at a rapid pace. Chiefdoms and kingdoms had emerged and the power and influence of the Kshatriyas had grown enormously in a secular sense. Furthermore, they were trying to shake the very foundation of Mimamsa religion, thus threatening the survival of Brahmanas. Some of the Kshatriya kings, however, were also proving to be irresponsible, as we saw in the case of Ajatasatru in Magadha and Prasenajit’s son in Kosala. Something had to be done to stem the rot. Things were getting further aggravated by external forces. As early as the 5th century BC, the whole of Indus basin had come under the rule of the Persians. Around 300 BC, the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, invaded the Indus basin and occupied it for some time and remnants of his Greek army stayed behind; they were called Yavanas. They did not fit into the society of the Buddha, Jaina or the Brahmanas. Out of this turmoil the Mauryan dynasty came into prominence and dominated the Ganga Plains and beyond for nearly two centuries—326 BC–150 BC. To the great discomfiture of Brahmanas, Emperor Asoka converted to Buddhism and promoted this religion in a big way. At the end of the Mauryan rule, smaller Hindu kingdoms began to rise once again. Many of these kings were no longer from the original Rigvedic society but were new entrants from other ethnic communities including Yavanas.
Brahmana–Kshatriya (the word Kshatriya connotes the ruling class irrespective of their ethnic origins) rivalry is attributable to the emergence of small kingdoms and the resulting tug of war for supremacy between secular and temporal powers. This rivalry, as we saw earlier, had its origins in 6th century BC when the first kingdoms emerged in Varanasi (capital of the kingdom of Kasi) and Kausambi (capital of the kingdom of the Vatsas). It acquired a new dimension with the emergence of a new ruling class, not quite at ease with the Vedic tradition. Nevertheless, Brahmanas were highly respected for their Vedic knowledge by the rest of the population and this gave them enormous influence and even political power. Kings, on the other hand, were wielders of physical force and the power of coercion and punishment. Both religious leaders and rulers used intimidation to make people obey them. Only the form of intimidation varied. Kings threatened punishment with physical force, while religious leaders threatened people with divine punishment. Those who exercise power tend to abuse it; this applies equally to kings and religious leaders. There is, of course, a basic difference—physical force has an upper hand over moral or spiritual power. The two sources of power, by necessity, have to co-operate. This is in the best interests of both. This is the context in which the Smriti texts emerged.
The Smrities Brahmanas, in response to the above, wrote new texts known as Smrities. The Smrities are also known as Dharmasastras; this term has a broader connotation that will be elaborated in a later section. The Smriti texts go far beyond the Dharmasutras, mentioned in the earlier chapters. The new rules and formulation of dharma reflect changes in the social system. While the Dharmasutras dealt elaborately with the types of rituals and the rules for their conduct, the Smrities went beyond the Dharmasutras and dealt with a variety of issues that concerned social and individual 99
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conduct. The Smrities are complimentary to the Dharmasutras and there is no contradiction between the two. In Smrities, the daily life of individuals, including mandatory rituals and the rules to be followed, are elaborated. These rules vary according to the Varnas, explained in a later section of this chapter. These rules are collectively known as varna-ashrama-dharma. The second aspect deals with rules of governance, known as raja dharma. Raja dharma includes punishment for social offences; these are elaborated in great detail. The Raja dharma may be thought of as a ‘constitution’ for early Hindu society with a king as its head. The king is the head of the state and he is supposed to have divine attributes; it is this power that he uses to punish those who violate the dharma. In this, the King is assisted by ministers (drawn mainly from among Brahmanas). Manusmriti deals exhaustively with these issues. It is the focus on raja dharma and the laws of social conduct that distinguish Dharmasastras from Dharmasutras. In addition to punishment from the king, people are also afraid of direct divine punishment for violations of the code of conduct. The punishment here is not by the king but by God, which may take several forms—rebirth as a poor person or with disabilities, spending time in a number of hells and so on. Manusmriti deals elaborately with divine punishment and ways to alleviate the punishment through penance. Here, Brahmanas play an important role. It is they who highlight the nature of divine punishment and also prescribe the nature of penance to be performed by the guilty. Manusmriti is the most important of the Smrities. In Hinduism, all important religious texts and even concepts come in multiples and they differ from each other. Besides, every concept or technical term has many definitions. There were 18 Smrities in all, besides 18 Upa-smrities. The 18 Smrities are: Manu, Parasara, Yajnavalkya, Gautama, Harita, Yama, Vishnu, Sankha, Likhita, Brihaspathi, Daksha, Angiras, Pracetas, Samvarta, Acanas, Atri, Apasthamba, and Satatapa. Obviously, 100
they were composed by different authors at different times and at different locations over a period of a few centuries from 300 BC to 200 AD. India has always been culturally diverse and the multiplicity of Smrities partly reflects this diversity. The number 18 recurs again and again in the age of the Smrities and Puranas. The Smrities resolved or attempted to resolve the Brahmana– Kshatriya conflict by recognizing the kings as the guardians of dharma, while Brahmanas held an important advisory role as the sole custodians of the sacred texts and as advisors to the king in all matters. The 18 Smrities differ considerably from each other and are replete with contradictory statements. These differences may be due to the time factor as well regional differences. However, though there are contradictions within each Smriti, the Smriti texts are well organized and coherent and are easily readable. The conflicting statements in them are referred to in Yaksha Prasna, an episode as well as an inserted text in the Mahabharata—thus: तर्कोअप्रतिष्ठः श्रुतयो विभिन्नाः नैको मुनिः यस्य मतं प्रमाणं । धर्मस्य तत्वं निहितं गुहायां महाजनो येन गतः स पन्थाः ।। Arguments galore! The Smrities differ. No one’s opinion is authoritative. The essence of dharma is hidden and elusive. The right path is the path followed by great men. (Yaksha Prasna, sloka 114)
Manusmriti suggests one’s own conscience as the ultimate arbiter when in doubt: वेदोअखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तव्दिदामं । आचार्यश्चैव साधूनामं आत्मानस्तुष्टिरेव च ।। The Vedas are the root of dharma followed by Smrities. The Acharya and good men come next; finally, one’s own conscience. (Manusmriti, Chapter 2, sloka 6) 101
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Manusmriti Manusmriti is divided into twelve chapters and contains 2,694 slokas. Any text that is 2,000 years old cannot claim to be the original—with time some additions and some subtractions would certainly have occurred. What we discuss here is in its current form or more truthfully, one of its current forms. The main thrust of Manusmriti is on varna-ashrama-dharma and raja dharma. Of the twelve chapters in this text, six are devoted to varna-ashramadharma; the seventh and eighth are on raja dharma. The first chapter deals with how the text came into being. It says that Manu passed it on to his son Brighu, who then passed it on to an assembly of rishies. This style of introduction is repeated again and again in the 18 Puranas, only the names differ. Manusmriti starts with the creation of this world, the time scales, and concludes with praise of Brahmanas. The section on praise of Brahmanas is especially notable. The second chapter traces the roots of dharma and defines the practice of dharma as karma yoga. The objective is to fulfil ones desires. Manusmriti asserts that all karmas (rituals) are kamya karmas. There is a brief description of Aryavartam and the samskaras or rituals to be performed by the three Varnas. Forty samskaras are defined in Dharmasutras (see chapter on Mimamsa). The main theme in this chapter is on the duties of Brahmacharins in the first ashrama. The third chapter begins with marriage, types of marriage, conjugal rights, the five yajnas to be performed daily by the grihastha, and concludes with the role of the wife in performing these rites. Grihastha dharma is further elaborated in the fourth chapter, while the fifth deals with food—what is allowed and what is to be avoided; cleanliness, and duties of wives and widows. The sixth chapter deals exclusively with rules regarding vanaprastha and sanyasa stages of life. The seventh and eighth chapters deal with raja dharma. The duties of the King are described as part of the daily routine of the king from early morning to late at night when he goes to bed. 102
The issues involved are many and the two chapters are indeed lengthy. The ninth chapter deals with conjugal rights, laws of inheritance, Vaishya and Shudra dharmas and several other issues. The tenth chapter deals with inter-Varna marriages and the emergence of mixed classes. The inference is that inter-Varna marriages were fairly common. It also deals with problems that arise in an emergency such as war or pestilence, when it is impossible to follow the normal rules. Chapter eleven is on remorse and penance for violation of dharma. The twelfth chapter focuses on the consequences of wrong actions in this and next life and it makes a number of general remarks including a brief mention of Karma and Jnanayogas. While Manusmriti is rooted in Purva Mimamsa, it does recommend vanaprastins and sanyasins to read the Upanishads. It uses the word karma yoga for the practice of Purva Mimamsa religion, while the term Jnana yoga is used for Uttara Mimamsa. Manusmriti became the bedrock for the practice of Hinduism by the three upper Varnas in India for about 2,000 years. In this social system, both Brahmanas and Kshatriyas had well defined roles and an exalted status in society.
Aryavartam and Yavanas Manusmriti, in the first chapter, defines Aryavartam in fairly clear terms as the land between the Himalayas in the north and the Vindhyas in the South and the seas to the east and west (see Figure 5). The word aryavartam consists of two words—arya meaning respectable and aavartam meaning repetition or rebirth in this context. In other words, Aryavartam is the land where respectable people live or are reborn again and again. I would restrict the meaning of arya to Brahmanas alone. This is not a racial or ethnic word. The word arya means those who know the Vedas and the sastras. Generally, it is Brahmanas who studied the Vedas and kept Vedic knowledge alive and hence the respect. Brahmanas are 103
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Figure 5 Aryavartam Source: Drawn by the author. Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
respected throughout India even today, especially those who know Sanskrit and have studied the Vedas. In addition to Aryavartam, Manusmriti mentions Brahmavartam and Madhyadesa and a number of other territories (janapadas) and ethnic groups, some of whom were foreigners or yavanas. The description is provided in Chapter 2, verses 17–22 of Manusmriti quoted below: सरस्वतीदृषद्वत्योर्देवनद्योर्यदन्तरम तं देवनिर्मितं देशं ब्रह्मावर्त्तं प्रचक्षते ।। कु रुक्षेत्रं च मत्स्याश्च पाज्ञ्चालाः शूरसेनकाः एष ब्रह्मर्षिदेशो वै ब्रह्मावर्त्तादनत्तरः ।। हिमवद्विन्ध्योर्मध्यं यत्प्राग्विनशनादपि प्रत्यगेव प्रयागाच्च मध्यदेशः प्रकीर्त्तितः ।। आ समुद्रात् तु वै पूर्वाद् आ समुद्राच्च पश्चिमात् तयोरेवान्तरं गिर्योरार्यावर्तं विदर्बुु धाः ।। The God created land between the divine rivers Sarasvati and Drishvati is known as Brahmavartam. Slightly less sacred is Brahmarishidesa consisting of Kurukshetra, Matsya, Panchala, and Surasena. The land south of the Himalaya and north of the Vindhyas. And east of the Sarasvati and west of Prayaga is well known as Madhyadesa. The scholars know the country between the mountains and the seas to the east and west as Aryavartam.
The Madhyadesa is fairly well defined as the land between the Sarasvati, to the west of the Yamuna and Prayaga—at the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga Rivers. The northern part of the Madhyadesa consisting of the territories of Kurukshetra, Matsya, Panchala, and Surasena are designated as Brahmarishidesa, while the lands to the west of the Sarasvati were known as Brahmavartam—the lands which have a higher status. What these descriptions mean is that historically, the Vedic people first settled in Brahmavartam, then 105
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the Brahmarishidesa, and then expanded into Madhyadesa. By the time Manusmriti was written they had moved further east to the Middle Ganga Plains. Manusmriti also mentions several ethnic communities in the context of degraded Kshatriyas. These include the Greeks, Pahlavas (Iranians), Paundras, Chinas (the people of Nepal), Oudhras, and even Dravidas. In addition to all the above, Manusmriti mentions a host of communities, which according to Manu’s theory were the products of inter Varna marriages. The theory fails when it also mentions that Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and so on could have wives from different Varnas, including Shudras. How children born of the same father could form different and distinct communities (samkaravarnas) is a mystery, especially if they all continued to live at the same location or even in the same house. The word samkaravarnas actually means unified Varna and not division. The fact is that Manu did not understand the reasons for the existence of so many communities in different parts of Aryavartam (see Figure 5).
The Basis of the Varna System The fourfold division of society into Varnas is the foundation on which the Smrities are founded. Western scholars, in the last two centuries, have given far too much importance to this system and its practice as defined in Manusmriti, to which they added the racial angle. Indeed, Europeans were so obsessed with race in the 19th century, that they were incapable of seeing India in any other light. Where was the need for the fourfold division of society? In actual fact, it was simply recognition of existing divisions within society at that time. The religious justification and the legends about the origin of the four Varnas in the purusha sukta are simple fabrications to justify the existing system. Why was society divided into four recognizable divisions? Varna classification is based on the different roles of sections of society. The Brahmanas preserved the Vedic tradition, the 106
Kshatriyas controlled land and the income from it, the Vaishyas had an independent role as traders, while the Shudras provided various services that were necessary in a civilized society. The first of the divisions, namely Brahmanas, was already there and owes its origins to Rigvedic times. The fifty or so rishies (Rigvedic poets) constitute the pravara, the source of the Brahmana lineages, later known as gotras. These lineages specialized in the study and preservation of the Vedas. The second division has also its roots in the Rigvedic tribal community. Other than poets, the warriors formed an important group within the tribal community. Their main function was to protect their herd of cows from being poached by other tribes and to exercise control over their grazing grounds and expand them if possible. The warrior lineages became chiefs and then kings in course of time as land became even more of a precious asset to be guarded against opponents. The emergence of kingships solidified the position of warrior lineages. They were then called as Kshatriyas. This term has its root in kshetra or land. However, as centuries passed, even Shudras became kings, so also mlechhas; and these groups also began to claim Kshatriyahood. As a result, Kshatriyas, in later time periods, were far less homogenous as they came from different ethnic stocks and they had nothing to do with the original Rigvedic people. Nevertheless, whoever was in power as king was recognized as a Kshatriya, whatever his ethnic background, so long as he was willing to abide by the Vedic tradition as defined by the Brahmanas. In other words, the word Kshatriya means simply the current ruling class. The third Varna reflects the growing importance of trade. The traders were often very wealthy and their support was needed both by the ruling class as well as the Brahmanas; they were an important source of income for both. Further, farmers who owned large tracts of land were very rich and they needed recognition in their own right. These two classes together were called Vaishyas. 107
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In Manusmriti, the definition of Vaishyas includes both trade and agriculture as their principal occupations. However, there is a contradiction here. In reality, Vaishyas specialized in trade, while the farmers produced the soldiers and were closer to the Kshatriyas. The rest of the population, who were poor, was called Shudras. These people were mainly artisans—carpenters, smiths, weavers, potters, metal workers and so on, besides small farmers and landless agricultural workers; their occupation implied service to others, in particular to the ruling class, the traders and Brahmanas. The Varna categories did not have any racial or ethnic connotation, nor were they rigidly defined. Manusmriti itself recognizes the prevalence of inter-Varna marriages in matters of inheritance and religious rights and points out the emergence of Shudras and Mlechhas (foreigners like Greeks, Iranians, and others) as kings; while historical records of Shudra kings begins with the Nandas. Bright boys from any community were admitted to the Gurukula system, so much so, even the composer of Atharvaveda is believed to be from among the Shudras. There is no word for race in Sanskrit or any of the Vernacular languages. The four basic classes of society were not unique to India. They existed everywhere in Europe, in China and all civilizations in their feudal stage. What made matters different was the presence of Jaties. The concept of Jati has nothing to do with Varna and in fact, Manusmriti does not use this term at all. I shall deal with the issue of Jati in a later chapter.
Varna-Ashrama-Dharma Varna dharma is explained first. It is the duty of Brahmanas to teach and to learn (the Vedas and all other sastras); to worship and to help others to worship Gods; to give gifts and to receive them. Among these, learning, worship, and giving gifts are own dharmas (svadharma); while teaching, helping others to worship (priesthood), receiving gifts (mainly as dakshina) are the means of making a 108
living. High praise is showered on Brahmanas, because they have attained this by virtue of their past karmas; it is asserted that wealth rightly belongs to them. When hidden wealth is discovered, it has to be given to Brahmanas as gifts. The protection of people, giving gifts, worship, and learning of Vedas are the duties of Kshatriyas; but they should not indulge too much in recreation and pleasure. The protection of animals (cows), giving gifts, learning of Vedas, commerce, money lending, and agriculture are the duties of Vaishyas. There is only one duty prescribed for Shudras: rendering service to the other three Varnas. There are four stages of life or ashramas: brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sanyasa. Details of the rituals to be performed during each stage in life from birth to death are the subject matter of chapters two to six. The emphasis is on Brahmana Varna; the assumption is that the same rules apply to the other two Varnas as well. When there is a difference, it is pointed out. Rules in great detail for each of the life cycle rituals are given for the four stages of life. One chapter is devoted to Brahmacharya; while three chapters are devoted to grihasthashrama, and finally one chapter to the two final stages of life—Vanaprastha and sanyasa. The burdens placed on the grihastha are indeed pretty heavy. He is responsible for supporting both brahmacharins and sanyasins, whose main focus in life is to study Vedas. The rituals to be performed by the grihastha, on a daily basis or on an occasional basis, are those that are prescribed in the Yajurveda and Jaiminisutra and also other sutras like the grihyasutras, apasthamba and several other similar sutras, which are considered as Smrities by some Acharyas. These rituals have been listed in the chapter on Mimamsa. Manusmriti does not mention puja or idol worship, nor refers to any of the Puranic Gods. It is fully committed to Purva 109
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Mimamsa School and only a passing mention is made of Uttara Mimamsa in the vanaprastha and sanyasa stages of life.
Rajadharma Rajadharma is treated in Chapters 7 and 8. The duties of the king are narrated in chronological order, from early morning when the king gets up from his bed to late night when he goes to bed again; this covers everything that a king is expected to do. Aspects of administration, justice, espionage and even war, taxation, monetary policy, resolution of land disputes and a great variety of topics are dealt with. Manusmriti provides a fairly accurate picture of social life around second century AD. The nature of crimes that existed at that time is particularly revealing as they were no different from the present society. Although Manusmriti mentions about the divine origin of kings, it says that this applies only to the original kings and not the present ones. Further, it is unhappy about kings who have a Shudra, Yavana origin. It wants Brahmanas to migrate to other lands, when the king does not respect dharma and the Vedas. By 2nd century AD the presence of kings of Yavana origin had become commonplace in North and North-West India; elsewhere, kingship was being taken over by individuals of low origin. The Nandas and Mauryas were not from the original Kshatriya Varna. Manusmriti has this to say about such kings: शनकै स्तु क्रियालोपादिमाः क्षत्रियजातयः । वृषलत्वं गता लोके ब्राह्मणार्दशनेन च ।। पौणॅ ड्रकाश्चौड्रद्रविडाः कांबोजा यवना शकाः । पारदाः पह्ळवाश्चीनाः किराता दरदाः खशाः ।। मुखबाहुरुपज्जानां या लोके जातयो बहीः । म्लेश्चवाचश्चार्यवाचः सर्वे ते दस्यवः स्मृताः ।।
Dharmasastras Non-performance of rituals and the non-association with Brahmanas, in course of time, reduces Kshatriyas to the level of Shudras. Paundras, Oudhras, Dravidas, Kambojas, Yavanas, Sakas, Paradas, Pahlavas, Chinas, Kiradas, Daradas, and Khasas are to be considered as Shudras (in the absence of Vedic rituals). Those born from Brahmanas and Kshatriyas, who have not performed Vedic rituals, even if they speak Arya bhasha or Mlechha bhasha, are to be treated as Shudras. (Manusmriti, Chapter 10, slokas 43, 44 and 45 on degenerate Kshatriyas)
Brahmanas, especially the scholarly ones, never had a high opinion of kings as this verse shows: विव्दत्वं च नृपत्वं च नैव तुल्यं कदाचन। स्वदेशे पूज्यते राजा विव्दान् सर्वत्र पूच्यते ।। Kingship and scholarship are never comparable or equal. A king is respected in his own kingdom, while a scholar is respected everywhere. (From an unknown source)
Other Sastras The word sastra may either refer to a religious text or a secular text. All sastras, both religious and secular, belong to the age of writing; they belong to the first century AD or later. The Smrities are truly religious texts and indeed they define Hindu dharma. The origin of the word sanatana dharma can be traced to Manusmriti: सत्यं ब्रूयात् प्रियं ब्रूयात् न ब्रूयात् सत्यमप्रियं । प्रियं च नानृतं ब्रूयादेष धर्मः सनातनः ।। Tell the truth; tell what is pleasing; do not tell the unpleasant truth. Do not tell what is pleasant but untrue; this is sanatana dharma. (Manusmriti, Chapter 4, sloka 138)
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What is sanatana dharma? It is the Dharma explained in Smrities and in particular Manusmriti. Further, the true meaning of satyam is explained in the following verse: यो वै स धर्मः। सत्यं वै तद् ।… एतद् उभयं भवति ।। That which is dharma is satyam. The reverse is true as well. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I-4-14)
This concept of satyam is elaborated in Valmiki Ramayana in a section titled satya prasamsa; we shall deal with it in the chapter on Epics. The earliest of the sastras dealt with language and rituals: siksha sastra (phonetics), vyakarana (grammar), chandas (prosody), Nirukta (lexicon, etymology), jyotisha (astronomy and astrology), and kalpa (manual of rituals). These are also known as vedangas or the six limbs of the Vedas. These sastras have their origin between 400 BC and 200 BC. The later sastras, on the other hand, deal with secular matters, although some of them have a very close link with religious issues. Arthasastra deals with political science and economy. Ayurveda deals with medicine and this has its roots in Atharvaveda. Dhanurveda deals with military science, while Gandharvaveda has to do with music. At a still later point in time, we find more texts dealing with mathematics, astronomy, surgery, etc. The study of secular sastras provided additional opportunities for gainful employment for Brahmanas. Kautilya’s Arthasastra is a well-known work; although this text may have been written originally around 300 BC, the interpolations in it may date to much later time periods, extending to 2nd century AD. Aryabhatta, the mathematician, lived in the 5th century AD. Most secular sastras were written after 2nd century AD. Most, if not all the sastras, are truly historical works and their dates can be verified by cross references and mention of kings and dynasties. 112
Loukika and Vaidika Brahmanas From 300 BC, Brahmanas were generally categorized as Loukika Brahmanas or Vaidika Brahmanas. The distinction is solely based on profession and training and has nothing to do with sociological concepts of Jati or Varna. The Loukika Brahmanas were those who specialized in one or more sastras—this could be Jyotisha, Arthasastra, Ayurveda, or even any one of the Dharmasastras like Manusmriti. Some of these Brahmanas took jobs under the kings as ministers or as their assistants or provided certain special services to the public. The Vaidika Brahmanas obtained special training in the study of Mimamsa and the performance of rituals. Some of them were specialists; for example, the Dixits specialized in the conduct of yaga; while purohits specialized in life cycle rituals performed in every household. The schools where Vaidika Brahmanas were trained are known as patasalas. The Nambudiri Brahmanas maintained such patasalas for preserving Vedic study until recent times. The various Sankara Mutts also have patasalas attached to them, where purohits and other specialists are trained even today. The proportion of Loukika Brahmanas to Vaidika Brahmanas increased manifold during the 19th and 20th centuries. At present, 99 percent of Brahmanas are Loukika Brahmanas. As mentioned in Manusmriti, most of these Brahmanas are only Brahmanas in name–they have no knowledge of Sanskrit or the Vedas. Brahmanas as a class were never rich. If a Brahmana received a large gift, he was bound to share it with other Brahmanas. Receiving any gift entails sin; this can be reduced by sharing with others. On the other hand, most Brahmanas—even the well qualified ones— were really poor. Examples of poor Brahmanas can be found in the Upanishads, Epics and Puranas. However, even a poor Brahmana was respected and a Brahmana could always live by seeking alms. Even a minimal knowledge of Sanskrit and of the Vedas or sastras was adequate for a Brahmana to make a living. 113
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Nibandanas The Smrities constitute the foundation of Hindu law. Over the centuries, with the absorption of local cultures they needed modifications to take into account local customs and traditions. This was accomplished by newer works in Sanskrit known as Nibandanas. There are several of these works that reflect regional customs and traditions. The most notable among the Nibandanas is Mitaksara, which is popular in Maharashtra and is recognized by our legal system. Dayabhaga, another Nibandana, deals with laws of inheritance and is followed in Bengal, in particular. All the regional Nibandanas deal with achara and vyavavahara—the regional customs and traditions and the regulations for their application. They constitute the real dharma sastra at the grass root level. However, in Tamil Nadu, the regional Nibandana known as Vaithynatha Dikshitiyam is hardly ever read even by priests today. Copies of this work are not easily available.
Itihasa Puranas and Temples Manusmriti very casually mentions the word Itihasa along with other sastras but does not mention Ramayana or Mahabharata. It does not mention any of the names of Puranic Gods; only the names of Vedic Gods are mentioned. There is no mention of idol worship or puja. Manusmriti follows the Mimamsa religion truthfully and it is founded on Dharmasutras and Grihyasutras. The word devalaya or temple is not used but there is an indirect mention of temples in the outskirts of the village as the following verses show: सीमामं प्रति समुत्पन्ने विवादे ग्रामयोर्व्दयोः । ज्येष्ठे मासि नयेत् सीमामं सुप्रकाशेषु सेतषु ु ।। तडागान्युदपानानि वाप्यः प्रस्रवणानि च । सीमासन्धिषु कार्याणि देवतायतनानि च ।। 114
Dharmasastras When disputes arise about the boundary between two villages, the boundaries should be demarcated in the month of May when the boundaries can be seen clearly. Among other things, the following may be located along the boundary: wells, ponds and other water bodies as well as places for worship of devtas. (Manusmriti, Chapter 8, slokas 245 and 248, about temples in the village boundary; the word devta may mean a spirit or a lower order God).
The small temples on the outskirts of villages belonged to the Shudras and for the Gods that they worshipped from time immemorial. This practice of building temples in the village periphery continues even today. In the Puranic period, the same temples were accepted by Brahmanas, so also the Gods that the Shudras worshipped. These were then sanskritized and absorbed into the Puranic religion.
• Introduction • Brahmana–Kshatriya Tussle • Valmiki Ramayana • Dharma and Satya • History in Ramayana • Geography in Ramayana • Concept of Territory • The Ideal King • Mahabharata • History in Mahabharata • Later Developments
Introduction The Epics hold a very special place in Hinduism today. Ramayana, in particular, has an enormous popularity in the Hindi speaking regions. Mahabharata’s religious significance is solely due to the role of Lord Krishna. However, the whole story of Lord Krishna is told in the Bhagavata Purana and not in Mahabharata. The two Epics were written before the 18 Puranas and after the age of the Smrities. The two Epics—Ramayana and Mahabharata—have attracted recent attention based on the claim that they represent the true history of India. The Sanskrit word for Epics is itihasa which is a combination of two words which mean: ‘the way it was’. Religious leaders and even some historians hold these two as historical treatises. Having read Valmiki Ramayana in original Sanskrit, and after studying the story of the Mahabharata in some detail, I do not accept this viewpoint. I consider both Epics as Dharmasastras in a story format. Their objective was to explain the principles of dharma to the
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illiterate people through the medium of stories that could be orally transmitted to a wider audience. The Smrities cannot be directly understood by the common people, even if they are explained to them. Furthermore, storytelling gave Brahmanas another means of earning a living. In my view, the original Epics did not present Rama or Krishna as Gods or as divine beings; the transformation of these two into Gods is the contribution of the Puranic period. Both the Epics were rewritten to legitimize this proposition, during and after the Puranic period. The original Ramayana and Mahabharata were virtually forgotten and the newer versions were assumed to be the original. The two Epics, it should be emphasized, are rooted in the dharma as explained in the Smrities. On this point, there can be no doubt at all. Their original objective was to popularize the dharma of the Smrities.
Brahmana–Kshtriya Tussle The Smrities did not fully resolve the Brahmana–Kshatriya tussle for supremacy, although they provided a basis for resolving the issue. The influence of Brahmanas had declined considerably in society. Vedic study and knowledge was no longer sufficient to attract the masses and to make a living. The Mimamsa religion and its practice were more or less confined to Brahmanas. Vaishyas and Kshatriyas were more attracted to Jainism and Buddhism. Besides, Brahmanas were increasingly dependent on the kings, the landed aristocracy, and the rich traders. They realized that Buddhists had attracted mass appeal through the medium of folklore. They had used this method effectively by telling stories about Buddha in his earlier births. The Jainas also adopted similar methods. The Epics— Ramayana and Mahabharata—were written in Sanskrit to attract the attention of the masses. The characters and episodes in them already existed as folk-lore and some of them were included in the 118
literature of Buddhism and Jainism. Both the Epics subscribed to the dharma as prescribed in Manusmriti. In Valmiki Ramayana this is made fairly explicit. In the Epics, though Brahmanas had the highest rank among the Varnas, some Kshatriyas are represented not only as kings, but as kings with a knowledge of dharma. Thus, Rama in Ramayana and Yudhishthira, Vidura, and Bhishma in Mahabharata are represented as true exponents of dharma. Indeed, another name for Yudhishthira is Dharmaputra. There is hardly any mention of Vaishyas, while Shudras are mentioned infrequently. On the other hand, mention is made of communities of Rakshasas, Yakshas, Gandharvas, and Asuras, along with Devas of Rigvedic vintage. The Rigvedic rishies also appear in a new form as teachers and ascetics, who are immortal with supernatural powers. Manusmriti mentions the term itihasa in the context of several sastras. While the Itihasas existed at this time, they were merely stories to highlight dharma—especially raja dharma. Manusmriti says that Brahmanas can specialize in one or more sastras and earn a living. Storytelling was one option and the Itihasas provided the substance for this form of mass contact. Brahmanas could earn gifts and presents by entertaining people with stories, while at the same time promoting dharma and enhancing their relations with the ruling class as well as the public.
Valmiki Ramayana Ramayana was the first of the two Epics. Its sole object was to describe an ideal king who followed raja dharma as prescribed in Manusmriti. In the later modified versions, Rama is elevated to the status of God and an incarnation of Vishnu—something that is not mentioned anywhere in the original text. Among the later versions, the most notable are Kamban’s Ramayanam in Tamil composed in the 9th century AD and Tulsidas’s Ramacharitamanas in Hindi composed in the 16th century AD. In between, several Ramayanas 119
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were composed in Sanskrit and other vernacular languages. They differ from the original in many ways. In Ramacharitamanas, Ram is seen as God and the whole work is in the spirit of devotion or bhakti. This work has an indirect connection to the South through the noted exponents of bhakti—Ramananda and Ramanujacharya. Valmiki Ramayana is the first full length work of a single author composed in one specific meter. The story is told in a coherent narrative with a beginning, including a preface, and an ending. The purpose of the work is clearly stated in the preface—it is to demonstrate the qualities of an ideal man. The ideal is to be judged against dharma; here the dharma relates to varna ashrama dharma as well as raja dharma as enunciated in Manusmriti.
Dharma and Satya The most important principle enunciated in Ramayana is satyam or truth. Satyam is dharma and dharma is satyam. This statement made by Rama in Ramayana is based on the Upanishads and Manusmriti. Satyam here means abiding by the rules prescribed in Manusmriti or Manu dharma. The advice given by Jabali, a learned purohit of the Ikshvaku family, and the answer given to him by Rama provide the rationale of Valmiki Ramayana. Jabali’s advice is in Ayodhyakandam, Jabali Vakyam, sarga 108, and Rama’s rejoinder in Sathyaprasamsa, sarga 109. The moot question in this context was whether Rama should accept Bharata’s request that he return to Ayodhya and take over the kingship, after the death of their father. Jabali argued that Rama was justified in accepting Bharata’s offer, under the circumstances. Rama’s response was firm and he explains in detail why he cannot accept his younger brother’s offer. According to him, he was bound by the order given to him by his father and he cannot deviate from it. Rama was not convinced even after the family guru, Vashistha, intervened. Eventually, Bharata had to return back to Ayodhya 120
without his elder brother. Satyaprasamsa section consists of 39 verses. I am quoting below two verses which summarize Rama’s line of argument: सत्यमेवानृशंसं च राजवृत्तं सनातनं तस्मात् सत्यात्मकं राज्यं सत्ये लोकः प्रतिष्टितः ।। सत्यमेवेश्वरो लोके सत्ये धर्मः प्रतिष्टित सत्यमूलानि सर्वाणि सत्यान्नास्ति परं पदं ।। A king should follow the truth—rule without cruelty From that, truth gets established in the kingdom and among the people. Truth is God; dharma is established in Truth. Everything is rooted in truth; there is nothing higher than Truth. (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kandam, Sarga 109, verses 10 and 13)
What this episode illustrates is a very fundamentalist approach to the interpretation of dharma in Ramayana—a very strict and rigid adherence to the rules. Ramayana is all about satyam and dharma.
History in Ramayana In Manusmriti, unlike the Puranas, yugas have a different meaning. They do not relate to history or the past but to the standard of moral values or dharma and in particular rajadharma. The following verse from Manusmriti makes it amply clear: कृ तं त्रेतायुगं चैव व्दापरं कलिरेव च । राज्ञा वृत्तानि सर्वाणी राजा ही युगमुच्यते ।। All the four yugas–kritham, treta, dwapara, and kali—depend upon the king’s rule and hence it is the king after whom a yuga is named.
In this verse and the subsequent ones, Manu interprets yugas in an unconventional way. This is in contrast to the way it is interpreted in the Puranas. It is the dharma followed by the king that determines a yuga and not vice versa (Manusmriti, Chapter 9, verse 301). 121
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In the Puranic age, the story of Ramayana is attributed to the treta yuga; while the story of Lord Krishna belongs to the next yuga, namely, dwapara yuga. The moral values decline with every yuga and in kali yuga—the present age—it is in its worst phase. An aspect of the two Epics is the listing of names of kings in a chronological order. Rama belongs to the Ikshvaku vamsa (lineage) which is a part of surya vamsa. The origin is from the sun and his son Manu and Ikshvaku is Manu’s son. The origin of the vamsa is pure mythology. From its origin, the Ikshvaku lineage is traced down to thirty and odd generations, ending with Rama. There are other lists of the Ikshvaku dynasty but they do not tally. Besides, Jain’s claim Trisanku as the founder of Jainism, with his capital in Ayodhya. The genealogical lists which became rather fashionable from this age were fully used by Brahmanas to trace their benefactor kings to the solar or lunar lineages. It served the interests of Brahmanas to obtain gifts and the kings were happy to establish their genealogical legitimacy. The lists or tracing of ancestors has no basis in fact. In later times, it was widely used to legitimize kings in the eyes of the people. My view is that Ramayana has nothing to do with history, nor was it ever meant to be history. It is only a projection of the past mixed with fiction, fantasy, miracles, and supernatural events and forces. The core values pertain to dharma and it is clearly meant to demonstrate and educate the masses about dharma. The narrative in Ramayana is told in the fashion of a play. The story unfolds from one scene to another—the time and space gaps are totally ignored. The scene can shift quickly from one location to another, without mention of the intervening time or distance. This has merit when Ramayana is presented as a stage drama and it is this aspect that probably makes it very popular among folk artists. 122
Geography in Ramayana Valmiki had no interest in geography. From Ayodhya to Chitrakut, the description is plausible enough, but beyond that everything is pure imagination. Even the description of the hill in Chitrakut is unrealistic and pure fantasy. There is a longish piece on geography, when Sugriva sends four teams to the four corners of the world to look for Sita. However, he gives very little time, only a few months for the teams to complete their job. Sugriva had his capital in Kishkinda, near the Pampa River, which is mentioned as lying to the south of Godavari (this river is not the same as the Pampa of Kerala). Its exact location on the present day map is not known. Sugriva does give an overview of places, mountains, regions etc. when he sends out his commanders to search for Sita. The following are lists of such places and features. These are mentioned in the text in terms of their relative location with respect to Kishkinda, that is, to the east, south, west and north of Kishkinda. View of the East—Interestingly, the view of the east (of Kishkinda) begins with the Bhagirathi and Yamuna rivers followed by Sarasvati. Bhagirathi today is a tributary of Alakananda in the Himalayas. Regions mentioned are: Videha, Malla, Kasi, Kosalam, Magadh, Vanga, and Punda; the mountains lying to the east are Mahagiri, Sisira, Kailasam, Rishabha, Jadaroopasila and Udaya Parvatam. Reference is made to Lolutan and Khsirodam seas. View of the South—Vindhya with 1,000 peaks and Narbada, Godavari, Krishnaveni, Mahanadi and Varada rivers are enumerated in a sequence. This is followed by mentions of regions: Vidharba, Vanga, Kalinga, Kausika, Dandakaranya, Andhra, Pundran, Chola, Pandian, and Kerala. The rivers Kaveri and Tamraparni find mention here. These regions are inhabited by Apsarasus, Gandarvas etc. This is followed by mention of many mountains: Mahendra Parvatam followed by Pushpita, Suryavan, 123
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Vaidhyuta, and Kunjara Parvatams. The last is where Agastya’s ashrama is located. Beyond that is the city of Bhogavati—a city of serpents with Vasuki as king. Finally, we have Rishabha Mountains where Gandharvas live. View of the West—The west begins with Avanti (generally identified with Rajasthan) and then the Sindhu River. At the junction of this river with the sea is a great mountain, named Hemagiri with a hundred peaks. This area is inhabited by Vanaras and Gandharvas. Beyond this are the Vajra and Chakravan mountains. It was in this area that the Danavas killed the Panchajana (of Rigvedic fame?) tribes. Further to the west are the Varaha Mountains. Here we have the city of Pragjyothisham of the Danavas. Further west is the Siledram, Meghavan and other mountains. Finally we reach the North Meru Mountains. The sun departs to his apartment here. This is also the abode of Indra. View of the North—Dominated by the Himasailam, this region is inhabited by Mlechhas, Pulindas, Suramana, Bharatas, and Kurus; besides Kambojas, Yavanas and Sakas (all historically true). Further north we have Chinan and Paramachinan. There are forests of devadaru (cedar) and the Mahasam Mountains followed by Sailendram, Hemagarbam, Sudarshanam and Devasakha mountains. Beyond this are barren lands without mountains, rivers or trees. Further north are the Kailasam and Pandaran Mountains. Kubera lives here. Further, Vaishravana, the king of the Yakshas, also has his abode. Still further north are the Krauchan Mountains—the abode of rishies. Thereafter, we have the Mainaka Mountains, known for Danavas, Gandarvas, Kinnaras, Nagas, and Siddas. Furthest north is the abode of snow. Here are the brahma loka and deva loka. Here the sun is not visible but is well illuminated on its own. Finally we have Somagiri where even gods dare not go. So where is Kishkinda? From the above account it is logical to infer that Kishkinda was located to the west of Yamuna, east of 124
Sindhu River, north of Vindhyas, and south of the Himalaya. This is the Madhyadesa of Aryavartam in Manusmriti (see Figure 5). In the substantive narratives, Kishkinda was on the river Pampa, which is found south of the Godavari River. Obviously there is a contradiction here. An alternative view is that the east, south, west, and north were described in relation to the location of the poet and not Sugriva. In that case, the poet lived in what is now known as Haryana. Sugriva’s world view covers the entire Indian subcontinent and even beyond to the west and north. The description lacks credibility. It is a mix up of the known and unknown with emphasis on mythical lands, people, mountains and rivers. A relative location of even known features is inconsistent with reality. On the whole, Valmiki has no interest in geography. His work focuses on fantasy and myths about the past. The problem is compounded by the fact that some rivers, mountains, places have been named or renamed centuries after Ramayana was written, drawing inspiration from it. Because a present day city has a name similar to the one mentioned in Ramayana does not mean that it existed at the time of Valmiki; in the same way as a Rama of today is not the same person as the Rama of Ramayana. Names of places, rivers and mountains have changed over time—just as they do even today.
Concept of Territory The concept of territory in Ramayana is very different from what it is thought to be in the 20th century. In Ramayana, many distinct territories are superimposed on one another; these territories have no boundaries. The core areas or capitals are distinct and identifiable, but the periphery is highly flexible. Thus humans, vanaras, rakshasas, danavas, Gandharvas, Yakshas and even devas co-existed in the same lands. Sugriva’s influence extended all over the world and so did Ravana’s. 125
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Rama claims that, by the authority vested in him by his brother Bharata, the then king of Ayodhya, he is empowered to punish all wrongdoers in the kingdom, which by implication extends to not only Dandakaranya, but even Lanka. At the same time, Ravana made his brother, Khara, the governor of Dandakarnya. The concept of territory in Ramayana is unique. Territory in Valmiki’s world has no boundaries and several territories co-exist in the same land area. The domains of Rama, Ravana, and Sugriva are one and the same. Territories exist as layers, one superimposed on the other. Only the capital cities are distinctly different. The concept of territories without boundaries is common to all mythologies all over the world; the co-existence of different worlds in the same territory is also common to all mythologies. The concept of territories with well-defined boundaries is a product of the 19th century and is associated with the origin of the concept of nationalism and the nation state in Europe.
The Ideal King Rama, in Ramayana, is an ideal king and an ideal person who stands for truth and is willing to make sacrifices in order to maintain dharma. This is the duty of a Kshatriya. An ideal king must be willing to put up with hardships, sacrifice comfort or even his life. He must listen to the people and earn their love and affection. In the process, he may have to sacrifice his personal or family life. He may have to take unpleasant decisions involving his family—in this case his wife. The upholding of truth or dharma is his only goal. This, in short, is the ideal ramarajya according to Ramayana. This is an ideal applicable to the ruling class even today. It is wrong and futile to look for history or geography in Ramayana. Instead, one should focus on dharma. This is actually what common people do and that is why they like this treatise and hold it as sacred. 126
Mahabharata For the most part, Mahabharata is a realistic story of a great variety of characters—good, bad or just plain ordinary. It has sustained the interest of the common Hindus for centuries, if not millennia. Unlike Ramayana, it is not hero centric, where the hero—is eventually elevated to the status of a God. In Mahabharata, the divine element is provided by Lord Krishna; however, he has only a very minor role in the story. It is also possible that the elevation of Krishna to God status was brought in later. Mahabharata is much longer than Valmiki Ramayana, but, unlike Ramayana, it does appear to be the work of several authors, at different points in time. The focus in Mahabharata is actually on adharma, while in Ramayana it is on dharma. One could enlighten people on dharma in two ways—in a very positive way or in a negative way. In Mahabharata, it is the latter path that is chosen. In the real world, this path is more forceful, attractive, and entertaining and hence Mahabharata is far more popular among the people than Ramayana. Mahabharata ends in a massive tragedy—annihilation of the Kshatriya Varna; for, in the eyes of Brahmanas, the evil originates from the ruling class. At another level, the sustained interest in Mahabharata may be largely due to the role of Lord Krishna. The main story of the life of Lord Krishna is given in Bhagavata Purana, which is extremely important from a religious angle. This work clearly belongs to a later age. Furthermore, Mahabharata is also known for Bhagavad Gita—the text in which Lord Krishna advises Arjuna about karma yoga. Bhagavad Gita is undoubtedly the most revered religious text for most Hindus (excluding Shaivites and Saktas). It links Uttara Mimamsa with Bhakti movement through the medium of the Puranas. Mahabharata, much like Ramayana, expounds Manu dharma, with a very convoluted story of fiction and fantasies. The central 127
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characters who represent dharma are Vidura and Yudhishthira. Vidura, the eldest half-brother of Pandu and Dhritarashtra, is the chief advisor to the king and he examines every issue from the point of view of dharma. His advice is highly valued, but not necessarily followed. His role as an advisor does not entitle him to play an active role and hence, he remains as a mute spectator of adharma of his evil nephews. Yudhishthira, on the other hand, is a prince and heir to the throne. He eventually becomes the king of Hastinapura, but after a very protracted struggle and war with adharma, ending in the annihilation of the votaries of adharma. In Mahabharata, almost everyone, if not all, have performed an adharmic act at some time or other in his or her life. The basic objectives of the authors of both Ramayana and Mahabharata (its original name was different) is the same—to present aspects of dharma to the common people in a story format and to make it popular.
History in Mahabharata Mahabharata is commonly believed to represent the history of India; in particular, the war in Kurukshetra was supposed to have taken place in about 800 BC. Historians do not find any evidence of this. The earliest evidence of kingdoms and kingships with their capital cities belongs to 600 BC, and from this time on, we have historical evidence from Buddhist and Jaina texts that do not support the historicity of Mahabharata war. The war itself and the survival of a handful of people does not make historical sense. If we look at the main characters in the epic, their names tell another story. No father would give such names as Duryodhan (wicked warrior), Dushasan (wicked ruler) to his heirs. Even the name of the king himself—Dhritarashtra (there is the implication of seizing the kingdom and holding on to it) is odd. The point is that the author of this work wanted to explain dharma to the layman. 128
He wanted people to distinguish between good and bad characters and avoid the possibility of confusion, that is, some people treating the good as bad and bad as good. This is fairly common in real life. Duryodhan and Dushasan are evil while the Dharmaputra, Arjuna and Bhima represent the good. The names tell it all. There is plenty in this epic to show that it has nothing to do with history or geography. It is mythology and its objective is to educate people on aspects of dharma and adharma. In Mahabharata, the Chandravamsi (lineage of the Moon) is the main Kshatriya lineage; while the kings of Ramayana belong to the Suryavamsi (lineage of the sun). The problem in Mahabharata is that neither of the two claimants to the throne—the Pandavas or the Kauravas are directly descended from King Santanu. Santanu’s two sons by Satyavati died young without any children. Their wives, Ambika and Ambalika were forced to bear children through Veda Vyasa. Veda Vyasa himself was an illegitimate child of Satyavati. The Kauravas were legitimate children of Dhritarashtra, but one wonders how 100 sons were born at one stroke. The Pandavas were not legitimate children of Pandu, as their mother(s) conceived children through divine intervention. The Chandravamsi lineage in Mahabharata is pure mythology and has nothing to do with history. Chandravamsi and Suryavamsi lineages are artificial creations of Brahmanas, who later used them to legitimize Shudra kings and earn gifts of gold or land. In Northern India, there is the practice of pundits from Varanasi visiting Kshatriya families to extract a gift every year. They keep records of the families and can recite the names of the ancestors and certain relationships with other families. This does make an impression on the hosts and they give some money, even if they do not take the whole thing very seriously. Looking at it from the point of view of the pundits, they are able to make some money from the tradition established in the Epics. 129
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Later Developments The real story of the Epics had only just begun in the 2nd century AD; they attained name and fame over a period of centuries. The translation of the two Epics into vernacular languages made them accessible to the people, without the help of Brahmana storytellers. However, the first translation of Ramayana in any Indian vernacular language took place in the 9th century AD. Within a matter of a hundred years, translations of the epic appeared in other languages. The Epics are easy to translate and the translator could modify the text any way he wanted as there were no rules to follow. Eventually, the translations followed the language of bhakti and attained even greater fame. The first Hindu temples for Gods mentioned in the Epics and Puranas were constructed around 5th century AD and this happened almost exclusively in peninsular India. During the ninth to twelfth centuries AD, the great temples of South India were built and they have served as the foundation of the growth of Puranic Hinduism. The stories in the Epics and Puranas are depicted in sculpture form inside temples or in their huge gateways, providing a visual imagery of the events in them. The Epics had a great influence on music, dance, storytelling and other art forms. All these developments, however, belong to later time periods.
• Introduction • India in Circa 200 AD to 600 AD • Gods in Human Form • Saguna and Nirguna Brahman • Brahmana–Kshatriya Relations • The Invention of the Yugas • The Contents of the Puranas • Veda Vyasa • Names of Puranas • Chronology • Vaishnava Puranas • Other Puranas • Upapuranas and Sthala Puranas • Kriya Yoga • Temples and Agamas • Mimamsa in the Puranic Age • The Growth of Agraharams in the South • Agraharam: A Case Study • Summing Up
Introduction The Puranas define a new kind of religion which is vastly different from the original Rigvedic and the later Mimamsa religions. What are the primary elements of change? There are several aspects: l The Puranic religion is based on worship of Gods in human form, while this is not the case with Rigvedic or Mimamsa religions. l In the Puranic religion, the main form of worship involves idols and puja, while in the Vedic religions it is homa through the medium of the fire god Agni. l Puranas are entirely based on stories or mythology, while Vedic religions do not involve mythology; they are based on an elaborate theory about human activities—karma, punishment and reward, salvation etc.
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Puranic religion successfully integrated Vedic theories using the twin concepts of Saguna and Nirguna Brahman; further, they included, in their stories, the Rigvedic poets by immortalizing them and giving human form to Vedic gods. l The Puranic religion incorporated the existing local cultures, sanskritized them and wove them into their mythology, thus providing a link between the Vedic and folk cultures, both of which have deep roots in the past. These aspects gave the Puranic religion the character of a composite religion in its own right. Puranic religion is truly what we call Hinduism today—it represents everything from origins to the present. Yet, it should not be mistaken as the original form of Hinduism. It is a new synthetic religion created out of a specific need. There is, however, a very negative aspect to the Puranic religion—it is not a cohesive religion but a collection of religious sects and cults, each having its own specific forms of worship, beliefs and practices. On the other hand, the Rigvedic religion and the later Mimamsa religion are both very distinct and cohesive and can be easily defined. Around the first century AD, there were several religious sects, for example, Pasupatas, Kapalikas, Pancharatras, and Bhagavatas. These were not the only sects or cults existing then; there were indeed many more. They come into the open in later time periods. The Puranas, as texts, emerged from these sects. In other words, they gave a formal written shape to the pre-existing sects. In the process, they brought about several changes in which the Vedic and folk cultures were interwoven. There was some integration of the older sects into three major sects with several subsects under each: those who worshipped Shiva, those who worshipped Vishnu, and those who worshipped Shakti. The followers of each sect considered their God as supreme; while they did not deny the other Gods, they gave them lesser importance. In the historical past, some sects considered 132
themselves as an independent religion and rejected all other sects. Mention may be made of Veerashaivites and Srivaishnavites in the South. The Puranas as texts were composed at various points in time, starting from 2nd century AD to the 14th century AD. There are 18 major Puranas and a number of Upapuranas. Puranas are like sacred texts for different sects and are considered to be sacrosanct by the followers of each sect. The Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana are the sacred texts of the Vaishnava sects. Likewise, Shiva Purana is the foundation for the Shaivites, while Markandeya Purana is the foundation of the Saktas. Nevertheless, all Puranas acknowledge the other sectarian gods, while asserting the superiority of their own. The negativism is more due to the practitioners of different sects, rather than the creation of the Puranic texts. An interesting point is that each sect is based not on one Puranic text but a number of them. This is characteristic of Hinduism, where multiplicity of Gods and religious texts is commonplace. There is no rigidity, whatsoever. The emergence of the Puranic religion should also be viewed in the context of Brahmana–Kshatriya relations. It was also a new instrument used by Brahmanas to retain their power, importance and relevance to the whole society and to obtain benefits, especially from the kings, and to maintain their exclusive way of life.
India in Circa 200 AD to 600 AD The Puranic age begins with the end of the reign of Kanishka (78-140 AD), who encouraged Buddhism in the North. Even after this, Buddhist monasteries continued to exist in remote rock cut caves. The Jainas were present in the southern and western parts of India. Moreover, Manusmriti had already been composed (100 BC-100 AD). Ramayana and Mahabharata, in their original form, were already written. Kautilya’s Arthasastra was probably still in the making, in terms of additions and modifications. In the 133
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South, the Sangam period—the golden age of Tamil poetry—had just ended. The most important dynasties of the Puranic age are the Guptas (320-550 AD) with their capital in Pataliputra and reign extending over large parts of North India. In the South, the Pallavas were on the rise (375-800 AD). In between these two very influential dynasties, there were several other notable dynasties linking the North and the South. Among these were the Satavahanas (50 BC-200 AD), Vakatakas (460-477 AD), Rashtrakutas (765-773 AD), Kalachuris (550-575 AD), the early Chalukyas (543-880 AD) and others. Their relative importance varied from time to time. This period is also notable for the Huna invasion of North India (455-467 AD) and the visit of the Chinese traveller Fa Hsian (405-411 AD). Kalidasa wrote poems and plays in Sanskrit during this period (400-477 AD), while Kamasutra was composed by Vatsyayana around 300 AD. A very important aspect of this time period is the building of the earliest temples in India from 5th century AD onwards. During this period, the political map of India was organized in terms of Hindu kingdoms—small and big. The geography of the Puranic age comprised of about 250 Janapadas or small kingdoms. The names of these kingdoms are mentioned in the Puranas. In northern India, we have the Gupta Empire which lasted from 4th century AD to 6th century AD. This is considered to be a golden age from the point of view of Hinduism. Yet, this period was full of turmoil with frequent wars between the kingdoms, and even religious conflict. The Buddhist institutions suffered the most—Nalanda and Taxshila were turned into ruins. The Purana texts define Kali Yuga as starting from the end of the reign of Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna, but this is mythology. Of greater significance is the mention of King Bimbisara and Ajatasatru, and later the Sungas, Nandas, Mauryas, and Kanvas— 134
all dynasties based in Magadh. This is history. It is clear from this that the Puranas were written after 2nd century AD. The Puranas also mention that the Nandas and Mauryas were of non-Kshatriya origin (born to Shudra women). The names of the historical kings and dynasties are mentioned in several other Puranas as well. There is no doubt that these were composed during the historical period from 2nd century AD to 14th century AD. On the other hand, the Vedas and Mimamsa texts existed 1,000 to 1,500 years before the Puranic texts.
Gods in Human Form In the Vedic religions, there are no Gods in human form. The only form of worship was the homa where havis (oblations), words of praise addressed to specific Vedic Gods, and a special request to the Gods was offered. In praising Gods, there is an element of personification; but there are no idols or images (except perhaps mental ones). In one instance in the Keno Upanishad, Brahman appears in the form of a woman before Indra; this is probably the one exception. Imagery was used in mantras. Take for example the mantra addressed to Agni by the priest while kindling the fire: चत्वारि शृङा त्रयो अस्य पादा व्दे शीर्षे सप्तहस्तासो अस्य Four horns, three feet, two heads, and seven hands he has (Rigveda 4.58.3)
In the Puranic religion all Gods take human form. How did this come about?
Saguna and Nirguna Brahman Around the beginning of the first century AD, the Brahmanas invented the concept of Saguna Brahman, while retaining the older concept of the Absolute God—Brahman (the first reference to this concept occurs in Sveteshvataropanishad). They named 135
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the older version as Nirguna Brahman, which means Brahman without attributes. The Saguna Brahman took human form to regenerate dharma among the masses. This transformation was effected through a mechanism known as maya. Maya or ‘illusion’ is inseparable from the concept of Saguna Brahman. Using the power of maya, the Nirguna Brahman took the form of Saguna Brahman or Isvara. Thus, Isvara is conceived as the creator of prakriti—the phenomenal world and humans. Vishnu and Shiva were recognized as Isvaras by Vaishnavas and Shaivites respectively. The Vaishnavites used the concept of rebirth to postulate several incarnations of Vishnu, while the Shaivites did not subscribe to the concept of avatars. Further, both Vaishnavites and Shaivites accepted idol worship, which was already in vogue among the Shudras. These new developments were in fact inspired by local cultures. The God Rudra of Harappan and Vedic vintage became Shiva (explained in Sveteshvataropanishad) and he is also identified with linga, trishul and other symbols. Shaivism has its roots in the Upanishad mentioned above and in the Shiva and Skanda Puranas, while Vaishnavism is based on Vishnu Purana and later Bhagavata Purana. In the latter, idol worship and puja are explained by Lord Krishna in a section titled Kriya Yoga. The Shiva Purana also has sections devoted to procedures to be followed in idol worship. In particular, it deals with the installation of the linga and its mode of worship. A very important point, often ignored by the bhaktas, is that all Gods in human form are an illusion; they are the products of maya. While the layman sees the human form of his favourite God, the Jnani sees nothing. He is one with Brahman. Thus, the intellectual’s viewpoint is at variance with the layman’s; this dichotomy has existed throughout the historical period. All the actions of Brahman in human form are illusions. It follows from this that all that the Puranas say is imaginary. There is no history here. This does not mean that the illusions are not 136
relevant. They are and very much so to the bhaktas, but not to those who ‘know’. This subtle point distinguishes the intellectual Brahmana from the lay bhaktas. This also proves that history and mythology are two entirely different systems.
Brahmana–Kshatriya Relations The love-hate relationship of the two principal Varnas—Brahmanas and Kshatriyas—is highlighted in the Puranas in the story format. The Kshatriyas get a far better deal here, although all the Puranas were written by Brahmanas. The reason is not far to seek. By the time of the Puranas, the Brahmanas had moved in significant numbers to the South, first to the Narmada and Godavari valleys and still later to the extreme South. The kings in these new lands did not belong to the old Kshatriya clans of the Mimamsa period. Instead, they were either from the Brahmana Varna or from the Shudra Varna—more from the latter. Nevertheless, the two principal Varnas needed the support of each other, even more than at any other time in the past. For the kings, particularly those coming from lower strata of society, recognition as true Kshatriyas was of paramount importance for their power and influence depended on this. For this they had to organize Vedic yagas of various kinds to earn respect from the public. Brahmanas provided the means to achieve this. In return, the kings treated Brahmanas with respect and gave them land and gifts of gold. This provided the primary source of living to the Brahmanas. Evidence for the above comes from the establishment of agraharams—Brahmana villages, throughout the South. The agraharam is the foundation for the spread of Vedic and Puranic religions in the South. From the South, the Puranic religion returned to the North with the infusion of bhakti, as we will see later. There is a need to study the role of agraharams in far greater detail to understand the evolution of Hinduism at this time. 137
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The Puranas are essentially stories of kings and queens, princes and princesses. While most kings, as depicted in the Puranas, are very ordinary humans with no claims to divinity, there are two notable exceptions—Rama and Krishna. These two are the principal Gods worshipped by Vaishnavas. However, the Shaivites and Saktas do not give any importance to kings and queens. Shiva himself is represented as a hunter while Shakti in various forms is a power goddess who gets rid of evil demons. There were many kings in the South and in the North who were ardent followers of Shaivism. Further, the Brahmanas created fictitious lineages for various dynasties tracing them to the two principal lineages in the two Epics—Suryavamsi and Chandravamsi. Both of these dynasties were descendants of Manu by two different wives and Manu himself is represented as the son of the Sun God. However, this belief is relevant only in the North where Brahmanas used it to make a living. It is in this context that the Puranas—particularly Brahmanda Purana and Bhagavata Purana—mention a few historical kings who belong to the 5th century BC to around the beginning of the Christian era. These kings belong to the Kali age—the fourth Yuga known for decadent moral values and degenerate Kshatriya kings. According to the Puranas, the Kali Yuga begins with the death of Parikshit—the grandson of Arjuna. Bhagavata Purana is actually a series of stories told by Suka to Parikshit. In this Purana there is a prediction about what is going to happen in the Kali Yuga. The kings of Kali Yuga that are mentioned in the Puranas are: Bimbisara and Ajatasatru; the latter killed his father to gain the kingdom. Both father and son were known to have had friendly relations with Gautama Buddha. Pushyamitra, a Brahmana, usurped the kingdom from a descendant of Ajatasatru by killing him and established the Sunga dynasty. They were overtaken by the Nandas—a son of a Shudra wife of the ruler. The Nandas were replaced by the Mauryas, who were succeeded by Kanvas—a 138
Brahmana dynasty. Kings of the Gupta period are not mentioned. This may lead us to conclude that the two Puranas mentioned above belong to the intervening period between the Kanvas and Guptas. However, it is quite possible that they were written much later and the information given above is just copied from an earlier Purana.
The Invention of the Yugas The Brahmanas were an unhappy lot from the advent of Buddhism and Jainism, from around 5th century BC. Their influence had diminished and they were left powerless. They had to invent new ways to regain their influence and power. The invention of Saguna Brahman and maya was one means that they could use. However, they could not in any way glorify the contemporary kings and ruling dynasties—they had nothing but contempt for them. The invention of the concept of yugas provided an opportunity to overcome this hurdle and to revive their fortunes. They postulated that while the kings of the Kali yuga (from 5th century BC onwards) were degenerate Kshatriyas, the earlier kings before 5th century BC were not. They invented three more yugas starting with krita, treta, and dwapara. They postulated that the moral values based on dharma declined rapidly with each yuga and reached their lowest point in the kali yuga, when the kings were from either the Shudra Varna or Mlechhas (foreigners). Within this framework they re-created the two Epics: Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ramayana belongs to treta yuga, while Mahabharata belongs to dwapara yuga. In Ramayana, Rama was an ideal king who followed dharma in a very strict way. In Mahabharata, the kings were portrayed more or less as degenerate, those who violated dharma often. Even Yudhishthira, the sole upholder of dharma in Mahabharata, had to make compromises at various points in time. Between the two Epics, the Brahmanas showed a decline of moral values and the degeneration of Kshatriyas. Still, the very 139
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portrayal of Rama and Krishna as royalty was sufficient to enlist the cooperation of the kings and nobles. To this they added the invention of fictitious dynasties (Chandravamsi and Suryavamsi). This was essentially a mechanism that they used to legitimize the kings and obtain gifts from them. Manu interprets yugas in a straightforward way, leaving little room for misinterpretation. It is the dharma followed by the king that determines a yuga and not vice versa. It is only a construct to project good and bad kings. Ramayana and Mahabharata are founded on this principle enunciated by Manu and they should not be considered in any other way. Nevertheless, the depiction of both Rama and Krishna as Gods may be taken as a further concession to the ruling class. The subtlety of the yuga concept has often been ignored in subsequent centuries. Thus, what was in fact an illusion is assumed to be real. Furthermore, the Epics and later the Puranas borrowed names of personalities from the Vedas and Upanishads to show that their stories were part of the Vedic tradition and to reinforce the Brahmana–Kshatriya nexus. Throughout the medieval period, the new kings of the North and a few in the South were traced either to the Suryavamsi lineage or the Chandravamsi lineage, just to legitimize their royal status in the eyes of the people. In most cases, the new kings belonged to the Shudra Varna. In return, the new kings gave groups of Brahmanas large land grants to establish villages. These are known as agraharams. There are thousands of agraharams in South India even today, clear evidence of the patronage extended to Brahmanas by the kings of the day.
The Contents of the Puranas The Puranas normally contain five basic features: l Creation of the cosmos. l The enlargement of the universe. 140
Puranas l Creation
of living things and humans. l Description of the four yugas and the periods of the 14 Manus, the forefathers of mankind. l Genealogy of the rulers of the country. For the most part, however, they focus on stories of men and women, both ordinary people and kings to highlight the need for following dharma as given in the Smrities. Most of the stories in the Puranas deal with the ancestors of the hero of Ramayana and stories connected with Mahabharata. The stories of the Shaivite and Saktas Puranas, however, cover a different spectrum, and are entirely independent of the Epics.
Veda Vyasa While dealing with Puranas, one cannot ignore Veda Vyasa. His name appears often in the Puranas; he is supposed to be the author and the primary storyteller. However, after a few brief statements, he delegates this function to the principal student Suta and his own son–Suka. The story in the Puranas is told to a group of rishies who have assembled in the woods near the river Naimisha—a mythological river. In recent times, this river is identified with the Gomati River and the forests (Naimisharanya) near this river were located about 90 kms north-west of Lucknow. The name of Bharadwaja also appears at times and his ashram on the banks of the Ganga is mentioned. We may recall the lavish reception given to the people of Ayodhya in this ashram, when they were on their way to meet Ram in Chitrakut. Veda Vyasa was the son of Parasara and Satyavati, when she was still a maiden. Parasara was one of the original Rigvedic poets whose name appears in the Rigvedic text. Later, Satyavati got married to Santanu, the king of Hastinapura. She had two sons by this marriage. The two sons died after their marriage leaving no heirs. Satyavati compeled her daughters-in-law to have a child by her 141
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surviving son—Vyasa. The two princesses, Ambika and Ambalika, were unwilling to do this. They sent their maid at first and Vidura was born to the maid. On hearing this, Satyavati forced them to go to Vyasa and produce children. They obeyed unwillingly—one of the sons was born blind and the other pale skinned. The story contravenes dharma and the prescriptions laid down in Manusmriti (Chapter 9.59). While a widow is allowed to have a child by the brother of her husband or by an agnate, she cannot be compelled to do so (Veda Vyasa was not an agnate but an illegitimate cognate). The rationale was that a widow had no support in the absence of her husband and she needed a son for support in old age. She had to decide whether to have a son or not but could not be compelled to do so. In this story, both Satyavati and Veda Vyasa are shown in bad light. Probably the intention of the author of this work was to show the seeds of adharma that pervades the story of Mahabharata till its very end. Adharma is ultimately punished by total annihilation of Kshatriyas. The Mahabharata and the story of Parsuram show that the Brahmanas were annoyed with the adharmic acts of the Kshatriyas. The annihilation of Kshatriyas may also refer to the fact that by the time the Puranas were written, the old warrior class of Kshatriyas was no longer there—eliminated by competition from others, both locals and outsiders. Yet, Brahmanas had to make compromises with the new class of Kshatriyas in their own self-interest, even though they knew of their adharmic ways. The story of Suka, the fourth son of Veda Vyasa, is also very strange. Suka was born to a parrot which was flying in the air when Vyasa’s seed fell on it and she got pregnant and gave birth to Suka. The parrot was actually a damsel from the world of Gods. I would think that Veda Vyasa was never meant to be a real person and everything about him is unreal, mythical and unethical. 142
Names of Puranas The Puranas are generally considered to be 18 in number. In addition there are 18 Upapuranas and a host of Sthala puranas. The Sthala puranas are invariably associated with an important temple and its agama sastra. The agama sastras, in turn, relate to one principal temple and a number of smaller temples associated with it. The 18 Puranas are: l Brahma Purana (10,000 verses) l Padma Purana (5,600 verses) l Vishnu Purana (23,000 verses) l Siva Purana (24,000 verses) l Bhagavata Purana (18,000 verses) l Narada Purana (25,000 verses) l Markandeya Purana (9000 verses) l Bhavishya Purana (14,000 verses) l Brahmavaivarta Purana (21,00) l Linga Purana l Varaha Purana l Skanda Purana (100,000 verses) l Vamana Purana (11,000 verses) l Kurma Purana (17,000 verses) l Matsya Purana (14,000 verses) l Brahmanda Purana l Garuda Purana l Agni Purana The verses in the Puranas usually comprise of 32 syllables. All the 18 Puranas put together have over 4 lakh verses, while Mahabharata consists of one lakh verses. Valmiki Ramayana has only 20,000 verses. This gives on idea of the comparative volume of material in these texts.
Chronology There is no acceptable ordering of the Puranas. From the religious point of view a chronological ordering of the Puranas is irrelevant 143
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since they were revealed to Veda Vyasa by God. However, if we ignore the religious angle, chronology becomes relevant and some inferences are possible, however tentative, from the content of the Puranas. From a historical angle, all Puranas were composed after the period of the Mauryan rule. The early Puranas do mention the Mauryan dynasty and the presence of Yavanas in the North-West, as well as some of the later dynasties prior to the Gupta age; they belong to the period after 2nd century AD. The following are the tentative dates given for the early Puranas: Brahmanda (350-900 AD), Kurma (550-850 AD), Markandeya (250-550 AD), Matsya (250-500 AD); all the others belong to a later period. One could also say that the age of the Puranas coincided with the origin and growth of temples, from the period of the Guptas that is from 5th century AD onwards (see Chapter 10—Origin and Growth of Temples).
Vaishnava Puranas The Vaishnava Puranas are by far the largest group; there is a Purana for each of the main avatars of Vishnu, apart from the original Vishnu Purana itself. Vishnu Purana provides the foundation for the Vaishnavite sect. Ramanujacharya used this Purana as the basis for the formulation of his qualified non-dualism (visishta-advaita), while Bhagavata Purana which deals mainly with the life of Lord Krishna is considered today as the bible of the Sri Vaishnavas. The other Puranas in this group are: Matsya Purana, Kurma Purana, Varaha Purana, Vamana Purana, and the Brahmavaivarta Purana— the latter deals with the ras leela of Lord Krishna. Apart from Vishnu Purana, the Bhagavata Purana holds a very special place in Vaishnavism. While Vishnu Purana was composed by Parasara, the father of Veda Vyasa, Bhagavata Purana is essentially a dialogue between Suka, the fourth son of Veda Vyasa and Parikshit, given on the banks of the Ganga River where Parikshit had retired 144
after abdicating his kingdom to his son Janamejaya, on account of a curse by some rishies. Bhagavata Purana, which I have read in original Sanskrit, is very tedious to read; there are dialogues within dialogues. It is not organized in any chronological order. Instead, a dialogue within a dialogue represents an episode or a short story in itself. The more substantive part of the Purana is at its end where there is a very prolonged dialogue between Lord Krishna and his boyhood friend Udhava. Here, the discussions are more serious and they deal with philosophical matters. Bhagavata Purana also deals with Lord Krishna’s relationship with the Gopies and particularly Radha. Udhava acts as a go between Lord Krishna and the Gopies, especially when he was preoccupied with other responsibilities in Kurukshetra or Mathura.
Other Puranas Of the eighteen Puranas, ten come under the category of Vaishnava Puranas; the remaining eight deal with Shiva, Shakti and Skanda— three well recognized sects of Hinduism. This would seem to be rather imbalanced. However, the Skanda Purana alone has one lakh verses, about one fourth the size of the 18 Puranas put together. The lack of numbers is thus partially offset by the volume of verses. There is another problem with these Puranas: it is nearly impossible to neatly divide them into the three sects that they represent. The reasons for this is not far to seek. Shiva, Parvathi, and Skanda have close relations and it is difficult to separate their individual stories; yet some demarcations are normally made. Shiva Purana and Linga Purana are the primary texts for Shaivites. Skanda Purana is about Skanda or Karthikeya and various others names. However, the bulk of this Purana deals with stories concerning Shiva. The Markandeya Purana is primarily devoted to Devi, Durga or Shakti. The Brahmanda Purana is also devoted to the same 145
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Goddess in another form. Here, the focus is on Lalita or Amba. This Purana contains the lalita sahasranama—verses consisting of the thousand names of Amba or Lalita. Reciting the 1,000 names in a sequence is very popular among bhaktas. In a similar way, there are lists of thousand names of Shiva and Vishnu as well; these are part of the Mahabharata. Among the other Puranas, the Garuda Purana is about ancestors and it is used in the Shraddha ceremony. Narada Purana shifts between Shiva and Vishnu, although it is primarily a Vaishnava Purana. Brahma, Padma, and Agni are the other Puranas which deal with nonsectarian deities. Bhavishya Purana deals with the happenings in the Kali Yuga, while all the other Puranas are concerned with the earlier three Yugas; Ramayana deals with treta Yuga, while Mahabharata deals with Dwapara Yuga. The number of verses devoted to a sectarian God or Goddess in the Puranas does not necessarily indicate the number of followers or bhaktas. In fact, there is a gross imbalance here. If we take India as a whole, Shaivites outnumber the Vaishnavites by a big margin, especially in rural areas and among the masses of illiterate people. In the South, the rural temples are mainly for Shiva or Parvathi (in her folk versions), Skanda and Vinayaka. Temples for Vishnu are very rare indeed. Nevertheless, a few temples for Krishna are very famous. Among the old historical temples known for their size and architectural excellence, Shiva temples dominate the scene.
Upapuranas and Sthala Puranas In addition to the 18 Puranas, there are 18 Upapuranas. The principal Upa-Puranas are: The Vinayaka Purana, the Kalki Purana, Tula Purana, Magha Purana, and others. The Upapuranas are obviously of much later origin and are relatively unimportant. Some of the Upapuranas are named after the months of the year; they actually deal with the significance of these months from the 146
religious point of view, in terms of rituals and other observances. In addition to the above, there are Sthala Puranas which connect the Puranic legends the local and regional lore. Most, if not all, relate to large and well known temples and their associated townships in the South. The Sthala Puranas in Tamil Nadu find mention in the basic texts of the Shaivas and Vaishnavas—the Tevaram and the Divyaprabandham—which belong to the period around 600 AD or later. They explain the special characteristics of the temple and the deity and these are related to mythology. In addition, they also explain the relationships to other temples in the region. The stories that form part of these Puranas are well known to the devotees. Others not aware of the context in which the deity is to be worshipped can get copies of the Sthala Puranas in the bookstores near the temple premises. They are mostly in the vernacular language or in English. These printed versions are not to be taken as the original; they are only recent adaptations. A more valid source is the Agama sastras relating to the temple. The later Tamil bhakti texts are full of references to Sthala Puranas of various temples in the state. The Sthala Puranas are pure mythology and have nothing to do with local history or history of the temples. The major Puranas and the minor Puranas also deal with the holiness of rivers—the Ganga, Narmada and Kaveri. An interesting point here is that the Puranas cover the South and the North.
Kriya Yoga Kriya yoga is a new concept introduced for the first time in Bhagavata Purana (Part 11, Chapter 27–consisting of 55 verses). Bhagavatham (another name for Bhagavata Purana) is all about bhakti yoga and this term is mentioned throughout the text consisting of 12 parts, a variable number of chapters in each, and about 25,000 verses in all. Kriya yoga is only a miniscule segment of this work and has not 147
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attracted much attention. The author was not even aware of this term until recently. What is kriya yoga? It is explained by Lord Krishna in answer to a request made by Udhava in Bhagavatham. The Lord’s explanation is summarized below. At the outset, Lord Krishna says that he may be worshipped in any one of three ways: the vaidika method, the tantric method, or a mixture of the two. Any form of worship is acceptable provided it is done with devotion and according to prescribed rules for rituals. These rules are given in texts generally known as nigamas and agamas. Kriya yoga is essentially idol worship, and for this reason the more detailed explanation starts with eight different types of statues or images of God. Of these, six are made of materials such as stone, wood, metal, clay, sand, and crystal; the seventh is a drawing or painting, while the eighth is a mental image or an image of the Lord in one’s mind. The bhakta may use any one of these images for daily worship. शैली दारुमयी लौही लेप्या लेख्या च सैकती । मनोमयी मणिमयी प्रतिमाष्ठविथा स्मृता ।। Stone, wood, metal, clay, sand, and crystal. Mental image and a drawing are the eight types of idols. (Srimad Bhagavatham, Part 11, Chapter 27, sloka 12).
Further, idols are of two kinds: those that are immovable and the ones that can be moved. The immovable ones are established in temples of the Lord. The movable ones are found in homes. It is interesting to note that for Hindus, it is not necessary or even important to go to a temple to worship their God; they can do it at home. Most people follow the latter method and go to temples only occasionally. Much of the discussion on the subject in this Purana focuses on the worship of the Lord at home. In the Mimamsa religion all 148
rituals are to be performed only at home. There is continuity here in basic principles. Before performing the worship of the Lord, one should take a bath and perform sandhya vandana or other prescribed nitya karmas. This has to do with Mimamsa religion. The next step is to wash and anoint the idol with sandal paste, followed by clothing of the idol. Further, the idol should be decorated according to individual taste. For this flowers may be used, in addition to ornaments. Prayers may be in the form of mantras or slokas in praise of the Lord; to start with the gayatri mantra should be recited. While reciting the slokas, the devotee must remember that the Lord is both Saguna as well as Nirguna Brahman. The Lord is one’s own atman and he also exists in all living things. It is important to remember this always. The Lord gives far more details about what should be done during the performance of the daily puja. It is important to note that the Bhagavata Purana recognizes the Nirguna Brahman as higher than the Saguna Brahman. At the end of the puja, modakam or payasam made from cane sugar may be offered to the Lord. The rituals described above and further details given in the text in the Lord’s own words are the ones that are normally performed by devotees even today, and in this sense the Lord’s prescriptions are followed to the letter by all devotees. Kriya yoga, as such, is nothing special or out of the way. For this reason it is very popular even today. It is a ritual that is easy to follow at home and it is more than adequate to serve one’s religious requirements for salvation. One may note that in popular practice, the Mimamsa components, such as nitya karmas, are generally ignored. Indeed, most people have no idea of nitya karmas as prescribed in the Mimamsa texts. At the end, mention is made about the need to construct temples of the Lord outside the village perimeter and to maintain flower gardens to support the daily rituals. In Shiva Purana, there 149
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are detailed prescriptions for the worship of the linga, somewhat similar to the description in the Bhagavata Purana. What is interesting is that ‘idol worship’ is not mentioned in any of our religious texts written before the Puranas. This includes all four Vedas, the Brahmanas attached to each of the four Vedas, the Upanishads, Manusmriti, and even Valmiki Ramayana. However, idol worship had always been practiced, long before the Puranas were written, by common people–designated as Shudras and Mlechhas in Sanskrit texts. The worship of idols by Shudras in temples outside main villages is indirectly indicated in Manusmriti. Kriya yoga, from a technical point of view, is not yoga at all. Its focus is on daily rituals, and in this sense, it corresponds to the pancha yajnas of the Purva Mimamsa School as defined in Manusmriti. It is, in fact, a substitute for daiva yajna—the daily ritual to be performed by all grihasthas. In Manusmriti, daiva yajna means a homa in which Vedic mantras are recited. The Gods worshipped here are Vedic Gods, namely, Indra, Varuna, Agni and so on. In Kriya yoga, Vedic Gods have no role at all. Instead, one worships one’s ishta devta—usually Krishna, Rama, Shiva, Parvati, Vinayaka, or Lakshmi. Mantras are replaced by slokas in praise of one’s favourite God. One usually offers flowers to the deity in the form of an idol and also cooked food. While homa for Vedic Gods is hardly ever performed even by Brahmanas today, the daily puja for one’s ishta devta is very commonly performed at home by most bhaktas.
Temples and Agamas The magnificent Hindu temples of peninsular India belong to the Puranic period. It may be noted that temple construction by kings began with the Guptas probably in the 5th century AD; however, there are no temples belonging to this period at the present time in North India, with the rare exception of a small temple in Deogarh, 150
south of Jhansi. From the 5th century AD onwards, temples were cut into rocks or built as free standing temples. Temple construction on a grand scale peaked during the reign of the Cholas between the 11th and 13th centuries and these temples are still functional. During the later Puranic period—from the 10th century onwards, temples became centres of pilgrimage and people flocked to them from far and near. The Puranas mention various places of pilgrimage throughout India—a great majority of them are tirthas and a few are associated with temples. Some of these temples were located on the banks of the rivers. The sacred rivers mentioned are Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri. These rivers were glorified in the later Puranas and bathing in them was considered to be particularly beneficial. Agamas are texts in Sanskrit that serve as the foundation for the building of temples, their day to day management and all matters connected with the performance of rituals and temple festivals. There are 108 Agamas, most of which belong to the Shaiva sects. The Vaishnava Agamas are few in number; still they are very important. The Agamas cover a great variety of issues, including Sthala Puranas and even Vedic philosophy. From the view point of religious sects, the Agamas are far more important than even the Vedas. This is particularly so in the case of Shaivite sects.
Mimamsa in the Puranic Age During the Puranic period, the practice of Mimamsa religion had been considerably weakened in the North with the advent of the Yavanas and the rise of a newer class of kings who were not used to this religion. The emergence of Buddhism and Jainism was another contributing factor to the decline of the Mimamsa religion in the North. The Guptas, however, patronized Brahmanas and thus promoted the Mimamsa religion during the 3rd to 5th centuries. By the end of the 5th century, Brahmanas migrated to the South in larger numbers in search of newer pastures. 151
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While the practice of the Purva Mimamsa religion declined in the North, it was practiced in a rigorous way by a very select group of Brahmanas who lived in the agraharams of the South. The Uttara Mimamsa religion regained some vigor in a new format with the growing popularity of Bhagavad Gita. Uttara Mimamsa, because of its intellectual content, was always practiced by rare persons. Its practice did not require any support from kings or the ruling class for its survival. The Vedic religion and the two Mimamsas flourished in the deep South, where they were encouraged by Cholas, Pandyas, Cheras, and other southern dynasties of Hindu kings. They gave large land grants to groups of Brahmanas from the North and settled them in villages known as agraharams. This process had begun from the 2nd century AD and was further expanded by later dynasties. There are thousands of agraharams in the South today. The agraharams laid the foundation for the Sankritisation of the South and the preservation of the Vedic traditions under the aegis of Hindu rulers until very recent times. Much of what we now know of the Vedas was actually obtained from manuscripts maintained by Brahmanas in the deep South. The agraharams have played an outstanding role in the protection and preservation of the Vedas and Vedic literature. In the Ganga Plains, where it all began, the study of the Vedas and the practice of Mimamsa religion all but vanished over centuries of Muslim rule.
The Growth of Agraharams in the South Agraharam is a Sanskrit word which means a large tract of land given as gift to a group of Brahmanas to establish a village settlement. Eventually, it becomes a village settlement inhabited exclusively by families of Brahmanas. The lands surrounding the village are owned by Brahmanas in the village but cultivated by tenant farmers from the Shudra Varna. Within the village land, there may be one or more smaller settlements for tenant farmers and at least 152
one for the landless labourers, who normally belong to the Dalit group. The Brahmanas lived on the income from the agricultural lands; these were exempted from tax by the Hindu kings. Under the Cholas, these land grants were legally sanctified in copper plate charters. A number of these charters are still in existence. Some, if not most of these Brahmana villages were self-governed and the kings did not interfere in their internal administration. These villages were administered by small committees elected by the Brahmanas themselves. The details of village administration are explained in the copper plate charters. Some of these are available in published form. A plot of land given to a Brahmana is known as brahmadeyam. This is in addition to the above or apart from it. In other words, with time the Brahmana population increased and the number of agraharams increased. These newer Brahmana settlements, however, were not strictly land grant villages. They were villages established by Brahmanas using the brahmadeyam lands as a source of income. Whenever a scholarly Brahmana obtained a large land grant, it was shared among many Brahmana families to establish a new village. The rationale is that receiving a gift involves ‘sin’ and the sin can be washed away by sharing it with others (a value system that has its roots in Rigveda). Entire villages given away to support a temple is a daivadeyam. These lands are also exempt from taxation. Most temples in South India were supported in this way. The temples also received donations of land and even gold and jewellery from the rich. These are often recorded by means of inscriptions on temple walls. In the 1950s, the temple lands reverted to the tenant farmers. Likewise, the agricultural lands in the villages also reverted to the tenants, especially in the case of absentee landlords. Most Brahmanas, who were absentee landlords, lost their lands in this way. During the period from 4th century AD to 6th century AD, the Guptas started the custom of giving large grants of land for 153
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three purposes: as a gift to Brahmanas, as a gift to temples, both of which earned religious merit; thirdly, they gave land as salary for officials. The first and second were not taxable, the third was. The practice of giving large grants of tax free land to Brahmanas became very popular south of the Vindhyas. The process was probably initiated by the Satavahanas, and later followed by Vakatakas, and Rashtrakutas, and others who established dynasties in North Deccan. Further south, the Chalukyas of Vatapi (modern Badami) continued the tradition. In Tamil Nadu, Pallavas were the first to initiate this model around the 6th century AD. They were followed by the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. In Karnataka and Andhra, the Hoysalas, Gangas, the Ikshvakus of Guntur and Kakatiyas of Warrangal followed the tradition. The most recent practice of agrahara land grants relate to Kerala, where the Zamorins of Calicut, the kings of Kochi and Travancore or their vassals brought in groups of Brahmanas from Tamil Nadu and settled them in their respective territories in the 17th and 18th centuries AD. The British period saw an end to this tradition; further, the agraharam lands were taxed much the same way as other lands. The Brahmanas did not enjoy any special privileges as they used to with the Hindu kings. Among the southern states, Kerala has an entirely different system of Brahmana settlements. The Nairs, who had the highest rank among the locals, were matrilineal until recently. It was with this social class that the Nambudiri Brahmanas closely interacted. The rural settlements were of the dispersed type with each individual house surrounded by land in which coconut, mango, jackfruit and various others trees were planted, along with small gardens for vegetables and spices. While these gardens were on the slopes of small hills, the valleys served as fields for rice cultivation. When Brahmanas first came to this region around the 5th century AD, the local kings and chieftains gave them large tracts of 154
land—2,000 acres or more. The Nambudiri Brahmanas built illams––large houses which could accommodate fifty or more persons. The surrounding agricultural lands were cultivated by tenant farmers. The large Nambudiri household had a male head, several wives and children, unmarried sisters and brothers, widows and so on. The Nambudiries applied the law of primogeniture in a strict way. In this system, the eldest son inherited the entire property. In this way, the original land grant remained intact for generations. The younger brothers were not allowed to marry other Nambudiri girls, but they had alliances with Nair women, who followed a matrilineal system. Kerala had, and still has, remnants of thousands of such Illams. However, the system broke down during the British period and the joint family system and the practice of primogeniture have come to an end. The matrilineal system among Nairs also underwent changes and is no longer relevant today.
Agraharam: A Case Study What is an agraharam? I shall try to explain this using my native agraharam—Chandrasekharapuram, in the Palakkad district of Kerala State (see Figure 6). For visual images of this village one can go to: www.cspuram.in, which is quite informative. This website is maintained by the Chandrasekharapuram Welfare Association. Located on the banks of the Kunnadi Aar (or Kannadi Puzha as it is popularly known), a tributary of the Bharata Puzha in the district of Palakkad, Chandrasekharapuram is a small but beautiful agraharam—a village inhabited solely by Smarta Brahmanas. It is approached from Palakkad by travelling along the PalakkadShoranur road for about 8 kms and at Edathara by taking a narrow side road. This tarred road passing through paddy fields and gardens ends at the village of Chandrasekharapuram. Chandrasekharapuram village impressed me with its very beautiful rural setting on a small rocky hill beside a river with a 155
Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
Source: Drawn by the author.
Figure 6 Palakkad Agraharams
rocky bed, where water flowed in cascades in short stretches, while small pools of water suitable for bathing and even swimming were present at intervals. There are two approaches to the river from the agraharam. The one to the west, behind the Krishna temple has paved steps for the most part and is commonly used, while the approach from near the Chandrasekharaswami temple in the east is a katcha path which can be used by those who are familiar with the place; this approach may have snakes on the way. The river with flowing water is indeed beautiful to look at from sections of the village perimeter. When the river is in flood, the waters can reach very close to the Krishna and Chandrasekharaswami temples. It is then an awesome sight. Unlike most other agraharams, this village consists of a single street of row houses on either side; there are some eightyfour houses in all. All the inhabitants of the village, at present, are Brahmanas and hence it is able to retain most of its cultural attributes. However, only a third of the residents are descendants of original settlers; others are from nearby agraharams, who chose to settle down in this village. There are twelve houses which are locked and unoccupied. The Brahmanas here belong to a group known as Smartas, also popularly known as Iyers. The Smarta Brahmanas practiced the Mimamsa form of Vedic religion and they were in the past strict followers of the rules laid down in the Smrities. It is for this reason that they were known as Smartas—this word is derived from Smriti. They were also followers of Adi Sankara and his philosophy of advaita. They accept the Sankaracharya of Sringeri Mutt as their parama guru. Important functions like marriage were performed with his blessings. In course of time, Smarta Brahmanas gave up the Mimamsa religion while giving more importance to Puranic modes of worship, and the study of the Puranas and Epics in preference to the Vedas and Upanishads. They also accepted local
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Gods as their kula deivam. About 200 years ago, the Mimamsa religion was dominant; today it is the other way round. In Chandrasekharapuram, the Smarta Brahmanas belong to the Vadama Jati. Among Smartas there were several Jaties— endogamous groups. In most villages, Brahmanas belong to the same Jati. There are about ten such Jaties of Brahmanas in this region. How did these Jaties come about? I would think that they came about as a result of the emigrational process through the centuries. On the other hand, in this village, there are families belonging to several gotras; a gotra is an exogamous group of families. Almost all agraharams are homogenous with regard to Jati but have families belonging to different gotras. The village has a well at its eastern end—a relic of the past; in fact, most houses have their own wells to provide good water. The water has to be pulled up with rope and pulleys but the depth of water is only about twenty feet. However, even the wells inside houses have become obsolete with piped water supply from Malampuzha scheme; most villages in Palakkad area have piped water from this scheme. The wells are still there and some people still use them. Waste disposal and drainage is through the septic tank system built in the backyard of each house. In the olden times, the water just drained off into the river or the fields. A typical house in the agraharam has a 30 foot frontage (sometimes 20 feet) and a depth of 120 feet (see Figure 7). The entrance is through an open veranda with a very heavy but small front door measuring 5˝ by 2.5˝. The heavy wooden door and small entrance is a security measure adopted during medieval times. The entrance opens into a long passageway which leads to the backyard. Immediately upon entry, to the left of the doorway, is the wooden granary with a staircase leading to the first floor and also the top of the granary. The granary is where paddy (unhusked rice) is stored. We may note here that the main source of income of families was 158
Figure 7 Agraharam House Plan Source: Drawn by the author. Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
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the paddy given to them by the tenant farmer after harvest. The wealth of families was judged in those days by the quantum of paddy that the family was entitled to receive from their tenants every year. The first floor of the house is an elongated hall measuring 20/30 feet by 15 feet; the hall is used as a common bedroom. There are no other bedrooms in the house. Beyond the entrance passage is a dining hall to the left and a kottathalam—an open air space where rain water comes in directly, thus providing cool air and ventilation to the inner area of the house. From the dining hall one can enter the kitchen and beyond the kitchen is an open courtyard with a well which can also be accessed from the kitchen area (plus a small bath as well). The courtyard is fairly large, 30 × 30 feet; beyond this is the inner house (randam kettu) where the cows are housed. This area is also used as a multipurpose storage of fuel wood and a number of odd items. It was also the place where women spent most of their time during the monthly cycle. Further beyond is the open kitchen garden and the lavatories, now furnished with Indian commodes and a septic tank. The backyard may lead to the river directly in houses that are on the southern side of the street. On the northern side, the backyard will merge with agricultural land mainly used for rice cultivation. Cows used to be ubiquitous in all households a century ago, but now, there are no cows in any household. The cows used to walk out of the house each morning to assemble outside the village, from where they were led to the pastures for grazing by boys and they would return to their respective houses in the evening on their own. A cow was always a very important member of a Brahmana household. Agraharam life is now altogether different; in the past the emphasis was on performance of daily rituals (nitya karmas) and the five daily yajnas as mentioned in Manusmriti. Today the focus 160
is on worship at the temples in the morning and evening hours. There are three temples in the village. The most important is the Chandrasekharaswami temple located outside the agraharam to the east. It is a large temple (covering about two acres of land) and the village itself derives its name from the presiding deity. There is a large Krishna temple at the western end of the agraharam. It is an impressive temple whose frontage is visible throughout the agraharam. A third temple is for Vinayaka; it is a small and rather unimpressive temple located in the east of the village. Village life nowadays is centered on these temples and the festivals associated with them. The study of Vedas and Vedic rituals play only a minor role in the lives of the Brahmanas of the village.
Summing Up The village of Chandrasekharapuram highlights the transition from Mimamsa religion to the Puranic religion in a matter of centuries. From 5th century onwards temples have come to play an important role in the lives of Brahmanas, not only in Chandrasekharapuram but throughout India. In the following chapter we shall look into the history of Hindu temples.
Hindu Temples: Their Origin and Growth • Introduction • Origin • Early Temples • The Mature Phase—South and North • The Peak of Temple Building • Regional Patterns • Temples and Pilgrimage
Introduction Hindu Temples are a product of the Puranic age. The earliest temples, in the Puranic mould, belong to the 5th century AD, while the most impressive examples of Hindu temples belong to the 11th to 13th centuries AD. Many old temples were rebuilt after their partial or total destruction on account of wars, invasions, or by some Muslim rulers. New temples were also built in more recent times and they continue to be built even at present. The art of temple building and sculpturing is still in vogue. There has been, in fact, a spurt in temple building and renovation activity in the recent past. The history of Hindu temples is indeed the history of Hinduism from around the 5th century AD onwards. Unlike the Epics and Puranas in text form, temples are more accessible and have always been the focal points of religious activity, both at the village and regional levels. Hindus were never tied to a specific temple; on the other hand, they always worshipped in several temples. The relationship between temples and the people is quite unlike that between the layman and the church in Christianity or between the layman and the mosque in Islam. The Hindu temples never exercised any control over the
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people; it is the people who patronized the temples of their own free will. The larger temples were invariably built by the kings while the smaller ones were built by wealthy people or collectively by the people of a village. Temples are most often managed by a committee, especially the smaller ones. These are representatives of the devotees and major donors. In the South, the big temples were supported by land grants from kings and landlords. The wellknown temples were indeed rich in terms of the revenue from these lands and the kitchens attached to these temples provided one meal a day free to Brahmanas and others. Temples also receive donations in cash and kind from devotees on a regular basis. In the North, most small temples are privately owned by families and the income from the temple goes to support the families. The priests who perform rituals in the bigger temples in the South are just employees or part-time priests who are engaged in some other occupation. As a rule, they do not enjoy the status of the priest in a church or an imam in a mosque. They have no religious duties beyond the temple and their contact with the devotees is purely a formal one—not very significant in religious terms. In general, the temple priests are not only relatively poor and ill-paid but are also ill-trained. Their knowledge of the scriptures is nonexistent. There may be a few exceptions—those who have learned the scriptures on their own. Hindu temples, particularly the more important ones, function on all days but some are open in the morning and evening for two to three hours only. Generally, temples are active in the early mornings and at sunset when local devotees come to the temple to worship. The priests in the temple perform rituals but do not give sermons or speeches as in Churches or Mosques. All temples of antiquity, whether active at present or not, are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. They usually have an office near the major temples. The historical data on 164
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temples is collected and preserved by them. The major temples often had collections of palm leaf manuscripts and records of various kings engraved into stones, besides valuables in terms of gold and jewellery stored in underground vaults. The epigraphical material is indeed very voluminous and valuable. The approximate age of the temples is inferred from these documents. Generally, the origin of the older temples is approximate while for the more recent temples it is fairly accurate.
Origin Temples of a very rudimentary character existed from preRigvedic times and were worshipped by small tribal communities, which later came to be known as Jaties. Temples on the outskirts of villages are mentioned in Manusmriti. The concept of God in the form of an idol—a stone, a plant, or a tree is not the creation of Brahmanas. For Brahmanas, Agni was the only God to be worshipped in physical form. Temples, as a rule, belong to communities or Jaties, classified as Shudras in Sanskrit literature. The term Shudra is a creation of Brahmanas, but Jati, with a specific name for identification, has always existed. The Jaties worshipped their Gods in small makeshift temples from very early times—may be from the time they came to India, thousands of years ago. The Buddhists were the first to accept the concept of temple from the Jaties. They called them chaityas. Chaityas are places away from the villages with groves of trees where the Buddhist monks could meditate in a peaceful setting; there were no images here. After the death of Gautama Buddha, his remains were reburied and small structures erected over them. These were known as stupas. The stupas became places of worship. The priests offered flowers, went round the stupa and prostrated in front of it as forms of worship, very much in the same way the Hindus worship idols now. During the time of Asoka, stupas were built in many places and these became the focal points of Buddhist monasteries. 165
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Images of Buddha were added on to the stupas and chaityas; the process started in the Gandhara region (probably around the second century AD), in Northwest India, where the Greek influence on sculpture and image worship was strong and from there it spread to Mathura on Yamuna River and beyond. From the time of Asoka, caves (mostly man-made and some natural) began to be used for religious purposes, mainly by ascetics belonging to various sects. Asoka himself ordered caves to be carved out for this purpose near Gaya in the Barabar Hills. Later, Buddhist monasteries preferred a cave location in remote areas. It is from these beginnings that the modern day Hindu temples evolved from around 5th century AD. However, there is still a huge time gap before temples of considerable magnitude emerged around the 7th century AD.
Early Temples The earliest mention of temples being built by kings is during the age of the early Guptas, who ruled the whole of northern India from around the latter half of 4th century AD. However, there is no archaeological evidence of structures that could be thought of as temples during this period, with perhaps one exception in Deogarh near Jhansi. This temple was built of masonry with iron supports. It has a small tower above the sanctorum with a covered walk around the sanctum, much like the later temples of this region. Hindu Temples cut into caves probably emerged for the first time around the 5th century AD. The rock cut caves in Udayigiri near Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh) contain small temples—an image of Vishnu in boar incarnation is notable. The origins of this cave temple could be any time between 320 to 600 AD. Caves with statues of Shiva were carved out in the Elephanta caves near Mumbai in 550-575 AD. Likewise, there are cave temples in Badami, in north Karnataka, roughly belonging to the same period. These caves were built by the early Chalukyas. 166
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The earliest Hindu Temples with very substantive relics belong to the early Chalukya Dynasty at Aihole, Badami, and later at Pattadakkal in Karnataka. Around the same time, the Pallava Dynasty of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu constructed well known rock temples which date to 400-650 AD. While early temples were carved out of caves on small granitic hills, later ones were free standing ones. At Aihole we have the prototypes of small free standing temples, in well preserved form, that inspired the larger temples of later time periods. The credit for the earliest Hindu temples with Puranic motifs should go to the cave temples of Aihole in North Karnataka in the 5th century AD, when it was the capital city of the Chalukyas. The Temple sites are at three locations—Ladkhan, Kunligudi and Durgigudi; there are over 70 structures around these three sites. The Chalukyas supported Brahminical Hinduism, but were not opposed to Buddhism or Jainism. While Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples predominate, one can also discover Jaina and Buddhist sculptures in some of the caves of this period. The cave temples near Badami belong to a slightly later period (540-757 AD), while the bigger free standing temple at Pattadakkal belongs to a still later period. All three were capitals of the Chalukyas at different times but are all in very close proximity to each other, forming a triangle. The Chalukyas of North Karnataka and the Pallavas of Kanchipuram were formidable rivals and each triumphed over the other at different times. While they were great temple builders, they also caused the destruction of some of their rival’s temples. Nevertheless, a lot remains, especially of the Pallava temple complexes. The rock cut temples of Mamallapuram (later renamed as Mahabalipuram) date to the 7th century AD and these took advantage of a series of granitic hills near the shoreline in Mahabalipuram. While most temples and smaller raths used small rocky outcrops, one large granitic hill is the venue of a number of caves called halls 167
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or mandapams. There is a large rock carving on the east side of this hill, which has attracted a lot of attention for its portrayal of Arjuna doing penance, besides a great number of engravings of ordinary folk. The raths, eight in all, are all on independent rocks and each one of them represents a temple in miniature which formed the prototypes of temples built on much larger scale in later time periods and at other locations. The seven shore temples—a few of them now submerged under water, are considered to be the most outstanding work of art of this period. Equally famous is the scene depicting Arjuna’s penance to obtain weapons from Lord Shiva, which is engraved on an open rock surface of the large hill. This interpretation has been contested by some scholars. The temples in Mahabalipuram are either for Shiva or Vishnu and they represent legends from Mahabharata or the early Puranas. There are no sculptures based on Ramayana. There are, in addition to the above, rock carvings depicting day to day life of men women and children, besides carvings of animals, plants, and imaginary creatures. The rock carvings of Mahabalipuram provided the stepping stone for the well-known free standing temples of Kanchipuram, which was the inland capital of the Pallavas. Another notable example of an early temple complex is the famous Kailasanatha Temple at Ellora, built during the reign of the Rashtrakuta Emperor Krishna II (756-773). This is a free standing temple which is unique in the mode of its construction. It was cut out from the side of a cliff from the top. The whole complex is enormous in its extent and height; it is reckoned to be the largest of its kind in the world. The temple complex consists of a towering shikhara, along with pathways, pillars, and halls in the main temple. Also included are a number of smaller temples within the complex. All the exposed rock surfaces contain intricate engravings of scenes from mythology and images of Gods, besides representation of ordinary folk. 168
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Elephanta caves are located on an island about 10 km from the Mumbai port. It has four cave temples. These involve steep climbs from the edges of the rocky island. Originally known as Gharapuri, the Portuguese renamed it as Elephanta on account of the presence of a huge rock cut elephant near the entrance to the cave. These caves are all devoted to carved images of Shiva and Parvati and also their son Ganesh. In one of the sculptures, Shiva takes the form of trimurti—Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In another sculpture, he takes the form of ardhanareswara—half male and half female. The carved panels in the rock faces are of very high artistic merit. The location of the temple in an island cut off from the mainland raises the question as to whether it was ever a functional temple.
The Mature Phase—South and North In this phase, we come across two contrasting styles of temple architecture—the Southern and the Northern. In terms of time periods there are overlaps. The Southern temples extend over a longer period of time from 8th century to 13th century AD, while the northern temples belong to the 11th and 12th centuries. Southern temples: Kanchipuram is a temple city par excellence. It comes first in terms of the antiquity of its active temples, their number (over 70), and the range of sects that are represented. While some of the temples were built by Pallavas, others were built by Cholas, and still others by Vijayanagar Kings. The gopurams of temples in Kanchipuram can be seen from a distance of 20 km and this is also true of most of the temple towns of Tamil Nadu. The Kailasanatha temple in Kanchipuram was built by the Pallava King Rayasimha in the late 7th century; this temple is dedicated to Shiva. It is the oldest temple in Kanchipuram, which has remained more or less intact without additions in later periods. It is a classic example of early southern temple architecture. The name Kailasanatha reminds us of the famous temple in Ellora with the same name. The Kanchipuram temple was probably built a 169
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little earlier than the one at Ellora. The two have no commonalities except the deity to which they are dedicated. Next in importance is the Vaikuntaperumal temple built during 674-800 AD, known for its suggestive multi-pillar mandapams (halls). The Ekambareswara Temple was constructed by Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagar Empire and it is very large covering several hectares of land. It has a gopuram which is 59 metres tall. It has a 1,000 pillar hall as well—a characteristic feature of temples of later time periods (the actual number of pillars may be slightly less than a thousand). Kanchipuram is generally identified by the Kamakshiamman temple. This temple is the focus of the annual car festival in Kanchipuram. There are several other major temples but it is impossible to describe them all here. Kanchi is also the seat of the ancient mutt of Adi Sankara, whose Acharya, Shri Cahandrasekharendra Saraswati, was highly respected by the Brahmanas of the State. The southern temples follow a similar architectural pattern. The temples are generally built outwards from the centre, which houses the original garbhagriha. The original garbhagriha may be small in most cases because of its antiquity but this is compensated by later constructions. These follow a pattern of concentric squares. Each square is enclosed by walls having four entrance passageways over which towering gopurams are erected. The outermost square generally has the largest gopuram. The four gateways may have gopurams of unequal height. Within each square are several smaller temples and halls. Temple towns in the South follow a classic spatial model of concentric squares, as prescribed in the Vastu Shastras with the temple located at the centre. Immediately outside the temple wall are four streets where Brahmanas live; these are generally designated as the ‘north matha street’, ‘south matha street’, and so on. The following concentric squares house the Kshatriyas (landed 170
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aristocracy), followed by Vaishyas, and Shudras. This spatial model is still, by and large, intact. Northern Temples: The classic examples of the mature northern style of temple construction are found at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh and in Odisha in the temple triangle of Bhubaneswar, Puri, and Konarak. Of these, the first and the last—Kajuraho and Konarak—are no longer in use, while the others play a very important role, particularly in Odisha. The temple complex in Khajuraho is a major tourist attraction and it is well maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. These temples were built by the Chandella kings during the period 950-1050 AD. The earlier temples used granite while the later ones used sandstone for construction and rock carvings. The temple complex escaped destruction probably because of its remoteness (from Delhi). The temples here, and in the North, in general, follow a five part plan—the smaller temples follow an abridged three part plan. The entrance passageway (ardhamandapa) is followed by a hall (mandapa) which leads to the large hall (mahamandapa); the mahamandapa is supported by pillars with a corridor around it. The garbhagriha where the deity is placed is approached from a small room or antarala. A passageway runs around the garbhagriha so that one can perform the pradakshina around the deity. The towers that stand out from the outside are all built over the passageways and the one on top of the garbhagriha is the tallest of all. Unlike the southern temples, the height of the towers declines sharply from the back to the front. The central tower—the shikhara is curvilinear while others are pyramidal in shape. The entire temple is built on an elevated platform—adisthana. There are no enclosing walls as in the South. The alignment of the temples is east-west, with the entry from the east. This is a standard practice for temples all over India.
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Khajuraho has several temples devoted to Shiva and some to Vishnu. The Kandariya Mahadeo temple is the largest and the best of all. Only one temple, the Matangesvara temple, is currently in use. Other notable temples are the Lakshmana temple (930-950 AD) which is perhaps the oldest, the Vishvanath temple, Devi Jagathamba temple, the Parvati temple, the Chitragupta temple, and the Lakshmi and Varaha temple. The most significant aspect of all the temples is the exquisite sculptures of great variety. There are representations of Gods and Goddesses, mythology, and ordinary people engaged in day to day life. What is more is the artistic representation of the mithuna act and the erotic that pervades the representation of men and women (the latter in particular). The emphasis on the erotic aspect is even more vivid in the Konarak temple. I think that these artistic forays are part of the bhakti movement that had reached its pinnacle around this period in the South and to some extent in the North as well. The erotic dimension has more interest among the foreign tourists than among Hindus, who cannot often understand this aberration. In Odisha, the Konarak temple (not in use) is more popular among tourists for its explicit sculptural representation of the sexual act based on Kamasutra. From a religious point of view it is irrelevant. The temples in Bhubaneshwar, in particular the Lingaraj Temple (1090-1114 AD), are indeed important from a historical and archaeological view point. The original Lingaraj temple is attributed to the 7th century AD. Bhubaneshwar is a temple city with a large number of temples though not on a scale comparable to Kanchipuram. The Jagannath temple in Puri has a wider regional role and it is most important from the point of view of religion as practiced in Odisha now. The Jagannath cult is at the core of Odisha’s cultural ethos. The annual car festival in Puri attracts millions and it is one of the major religious events of the country. The Jagannath temple was built, in its present form, around 1198 AD. The temples in Odisha follow a different model from the 172
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one described earlier for Khajuraho. Here, the temples have two basic components—the deul, where the image of the deity is kept and over which the tallest tower is built, and jaga-mohana—an entrance hall; it may have a smaller tower over it. In addition, the larger temples have one or more halls meant for specific purposes— the nata-mandira or the dancing hall and bhoga-mandapa, where the offerings to deity are made. The entire temple complex along with the smaller temples is enclosed within an outer wall, as in the case of the southern temples. As in Khajuraho, there are intricate carvings everywhere showing figures of Gods and Goddesses, plants, trees, flowers, animals, sculptures of men and women in day to day life and in erotic postures. The latter aspect is best highlighted in the Konarak temple, a few km north of Puri. This temple is not presently in use but is a major tourist attraction for non-religious reasons. The temple is enclosed within an outer wall and a few other smaller temples as well. The largest towers in these temples reach a height of over 40 metres. Konarak temple is actually a recent discovery— around 1900 AD. It was buried in sand at the time it was discovered. Obviously, it is a historical relic that escaped vandalism through neglect and natural burial.
The Peak of Temple Building The largest and most lavish temples belong to the period of the Cholas, who were great temple builders in the Tanjavur delta. The reign of the Cholas (800-1300 AD) is accepted as the golden age of South Indian History. It stands on an equal footing as compared to the golden ages in the North. Equally important are the temples built by Hoysalas of central Karnataka. These temples belong to the period from 11th to 13th centuries. The largest and the tallest temple in India is undoubtedly the Brihadeshwara temple in Tanjavur built by Rajaraja Chola between 985 and 1015 AD. Its gopuram is the tallest in India—63 metres or 173
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206 feet. Its dome made of a single stone of granite weighs over 80 tons. It has the tallest Nandi (bull) and the tallest Shiva linga. This idol is worshipped by using ladders because it is over 3 metres tall. The surfaces of the temple are all intricately carved. Rajaraja Chola and his sons spared nothing to make this temple an incomparable one. In addition to the stone sculptures, there are frescos on the interior walls, made with great skill. The Shiva linga in this temple (and other deities as well) have been worshipped continuously for over a thousand years. Apart from the Brihadeshwara temple, the Cholas covered their large empire with temples of both Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities. Every town in Tanjavur district can boast of temples of antiquity. Kumbakonam has over a 100 temples, while Tiruvarur, Trikandiyiur, Tiruvaiyaru, Darasuram, Gangaicondacholapuram, and above all Chidambaram have magnificent temples. The Cholas have made Tanjavur and the adjoining areas a citadel of Puranic Hinduism. Among other temples in Tamil Nadu, the temple at Chidambaram and the huge temple complex in Srirangam on an island in the Kaveri River deserve special mention. Chidambaram has the famous dancing Nataraja—the icon of classical dancing in the South. Srirangam is a hallowed name for Srivaishnavites. It is the largest temple complex in Tamil Nadu and perhaps the whole of India, having seven concentric walls and 21 gopurams—in all covering about 14 hectares of land. There are literally hundreds of temples of importance in Tamil Nadu and it is impossible to list them all here. There can be no doubt that Tamil Nadu is way ahead of other states in the matter of the scale and number of temples of antiquity. There is yet another region in the south that has temples of exquisite beauty and architectural merit. These were built by the Hoysala kings who ruled south-central parts of Karnataka between the 11th and 13th centuries. The Hoysalas are essentially 174
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a local dynasty when compared to the Cholas. However, the three temples at Belur, Halebid and Somnathpur are unrivalled in terms of the intricacy of the art of sculpturing and they stand apart as examples of great art. Of the three temples, the ones at Halebid and Somnathpur were desecrated and are no longer functional, while the temple in Belur is still in active use. Halebid was the capital of the Hoysalas and its earlier name was Dorasamudra. The three temples built by the Hoysala kings have unique architecture of their own; these temples are nowhere as tall as the temples of Cholas. But for what they lack in height they make good in the beauty and intricacy of their architecture. It is impossible to describe the beauty of these temples.
Regional Patterns Temples are more or less ubiquitous throughout India, except perhaps the north-east and a few other pockets in the Punjab and elsewhere. The great majority of these temples are of recent origin. They are small, unimpressive, and often constrained in limited space, and managed by individuals or families. They do, however, serve the people who are devoted to God and help to support a priestly class. These are altogether different from the temples mentioned in the previous sections; those are the historical temples having roots in the past. What follows is an analysis of the distribution of historical temples in India to provide a spatial perspective (see Figure 8). The single most remarkable point is that there are no temples of historical antiquity in the entire region extending from Punjab in the west to West Bengal in the east. This is not to say that there were no temples there in the historical past, but those temples ceased to exist during the long period of Muslim rule in the north. All the temples, including those in the holy city of Varanasi, belong to the post Aurangzeb period. This is one of the tragic consequences of Muslim rule over six centuries. 175
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Figure 8 Hindu Temples: Regional Patterns Source: Drawn by the author. Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
Hindu Temples: Their Origin and Growth
Further north in the Himalayan belt—Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand—we have smaller temples which have their origins from 8th century to about the 10th, apart from the more recent ones. These Hindu temples have very special characteristics. While most temples follow the basic northern pattern of shikhara over the garbhagriha with a hall leading to this, some temples follow the Tibetan style. These ancient temples are especially notable for their exquisite wood carvings. Perhaps the most ancient of the temples in this region is the one at Marthand in Kashmir. There are also temples which are old but without any architectural merit; for example the temples in Kedarnath and Badrinath, which according to tradition were consecrated by Adi Sankaracharya in the early 9th century. In the middle belt, between the Ganga plains and the deep South, extending from Gujarat in the west, through Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha and further down to Maharashtra and even the northern parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, we have a few historical temples. Many of these are in ruins or have become non-functional by partial destruction and abuse. There are indications of the existence of many more temples in this region. A good example of temples belonging to the 8th century but now in total ruins are found near Kota in Rajasthan. On the other hand, there are a few isolated cases of temples that have survived and are still in active use. The best examples of these are from Odisha. The truly historical temples in this region of great architectural merit—Khajuraho, Konarak, Kailasanatha temple in Ellora, Halebid and Somnathpur temples in Karnataka are no longer in active use. In the deep South, historical temples are still very active, as they have been through history. Tamil Nadu is clearly an outstanding example where temples have continued to play their role throughout history. The landscape of Tamil Nadu is clearly distinguishable with dominating temple towers and hill temples all over the state. 177
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Kerala has many temples with a long history, the most notable among them being the Shiva temple (known as Vadakkanathar temple) in Trissur, where the annual festival (Thrissur pooram) attracts huge crowds. The temples in Kerala have an entirely different architecture from those of Tamil Nadu. They are small and unique. Almost all of them have tiled roofs, and in some respects they resemble the Buddhist temples of China and Japan. Most temples in Kerala have a large compound with enclosing walls and a separate building for kitchen and a huge dining hall. They usually have a huge tank in front of the temple compound which is used for bathing. There are temples for Shiva, Vishnu and Bhagavati and many other Gods. They are very well maintained and extremely clean, and the people of Kerala are very proud of them.
Temples and Pilgrimage Religious pilgrimage is of two types: tirthas and temples. The major tirthas are at: Prayaga, the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga rivers, Haridwar, where the Ganga finally descends to the plains from the mountains, Ujjain on the river Sipra, and at Nasik on the river Narmada. The Puranas mention several rivers as being holy and where Hindus may bathe to purify themselves. These rivers are: Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada, Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri. Among temples, Kasi Viswanatha temple takes the pride of place as a place of pilgrimage, although the present temple is less than 300 years old. The temples at Badrinath, Kedarnath come next, followed by a host of temples all over India—their number goes into hundreds. At present, the most popular temples are at Tirupati, which is the richest temple in India today, and Guruvayoor in Kerala. In both, the presiding deity is Krishna. People also throng to temples of Gods that are not mentioned in the Puranas, for example, the Ayyappa temple in the Western Ghats in Kerala and Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu region. The Saibaba temple near Shirdi is another noted centre of pilgrimage in Maharashtra. The 178
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last three are really religious cults rather than recognized religious sects. Yet, they do attract millions every year. At the regional level, there are many temples that attract huge crowds during festival days; they are too numerous to be listed here. Temples exist because of patronage from bhaktas. The origin and growth of temples in India is closely related to the origin and growth of the bhakti movement; this aspect will be looked into in another chapter. In the meanwhile, it is important to look at the life and times of the greatest of all religious leaders of historical times, who lived in the 8th–9th century AD—Adi Sankaracharya. (Hinduism owes a lot to this great religious teacher.)
• Introduction • Early Life • Later Life • Four Disciples and Four Mutts • Adi Sankara’s Bhashyams • His Own Works • His Message
Introduction Adi Sankaracharya holds a very special place in Hinduism. He is the link between the intellectual Upanishadic religion, the Puranic religion, and the Bhakti movement. An aspect that is ignored here is Mimamsa, in which he was well trained and yet, as a sanyasi, he was not supposed to practice it. His Brahmana followers or grihasthas, however, actually practiced the Mimamsa religion. He is the architect of present day view of Hinduism in eyes of the elite, especially those with a spiritual bent of mind. Sankaracharya was born in a place called Kaladi near Alwaye and Kochi, in Kerala, in 788 AD and died in 820 AD. While most people believe that he died at the age of 32, some historians say that he lived till the age of 54. It is a fairly well established fact that he died in Kedarnath in Uttarakhand State, near the Shiva temple there. There is a small commemorative stone memorial to mark this event near the Kedarnath temple premises. He probably died of pneumonia, under very cold and harsh weather conditions. There is a view that Sankaracharya was born in Valianad, which is a little distance from Kaladi. In support of this, it is said that the first child was always born in the mother’s family residence,
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which, in this case, was in Valianad. Both his parents came from Nambudiri Illams—father from Kaladi and mother from Valianad. Swami Chinmayananda, who is a well-known Vedantin of the 20th century, comes from a Nayar Tharavad (joint family) near Valianad. He claims descent from the Nambudiries in the Valianad Illam. In his later life, the Swamiji purchased the Valianad Illam and located a Vedic study centre there under the Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, which he had founded earlier. As with everything in Hinduism, historical dating is a difficult task. The religious viewpoint is often based on astrology and the Puranas, with little or no support from contemporary events or archaeological evidence. Mahadevan, in his book on Adi Sankara, gives some credence to the religious view which places his time as 509–477 BC. In the book on Sankara by the Chinmaya Mission Trust, a more realistic assessment is made using Sanskrit works of the 7th and 8th centuries; accordingly, Sankara’s year of birth is put at 788 AD. Almost everyone seems to agree that he lived for only thirty-two years. My contention is whether it was humanly possible to accomplish all that is attributed to him in such a short span of life. Adi Sankaracharya should be judged by his works and not by the span of his life. They are the real testimony to his greatness.
Early Life Not much is known about the early life of the Acharya. His mother became a widow when he was a small boy. According to a legend, his mother took him to the valley of Narmada to the ashram of Sri Govindapada, a disciple of Gaudapada, a very well-known teacher and scholar of that time. Sri Govindapada accepted him as a student, even though he did not know his gotra or lineage; nor did his mother know. This legend seems to be unrealistic, as women in Brahmana households did know their gotra and various other details very well even in ancient times, perhaps even more so 182
at that time than at present. However, there is a parallel story in Chandogyopanishad: तं होवाच किङ्गोत्रो नु सोम्यासीति स होवाच नाहमेतव्देद भो यद्गोत्रो अहमस्भ्यपृच्छं मातरं सा मा प्रत्यब्रवीद्दव्हहं चरन्ती परिचरिणी यौवने त्वामलभे साहमेतन्न वेद यद्गोत्रस्त्वमसि जबला तु नामाहमस्मि सत्यकामो नाम त्वमसीति सोअहं सत्यकामो जबालो अस्मि भो इति ।। Once Satyakama, son of Jabala, went to Gautama Haridrumata and asked if he could become his student. The teacher asked him to which gotra he belonged. Satyakama said that when he put this question to his mother she said that when she was young and a servant maid, she had slept with many men and that she did not know who his father was. However, she said: ‘My name is Jabala and your name is Satyakama and therefore, you are Satyakama Jabala’. The teacher accepted him as his student saying that only a Brahmana would tell the truth. (Chandogya Upanishad, part IV. 4.4).
We should note the rawness of the Sanskrit prose in this text and compare it with the more modern prose of Sankara in his bhashyam; examples are given later in this chapter. One may also note the broad-mindedness of the teacher in accepting a student without proper credentials entirely on the basis of an interview. The legend of Sankara being taken to his guru Govindapada by his mother may have its roots in this story from Chandogyopanishad. However, Nambudiri women never moved out of their house and it is more likely that his uncles took him to his guru and the story is a mere concoction. I have narrated the above story for two reasons: first, because the Upanishadic story has an intrinsic value to it; secondly, because, it shows the way the Vedic lore is used in Puranas and other legends. When Sankara’s father passed away, he was barely three years of age and his mother sent him to a patasala (school). Such schools existed even when I was a young boy and the Nambudiri boys used 183
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to be sent to these schools, while other Brahmanas sent their boys and girls to schools established by the British. In any case, Sankara proved to be a brilliant student and he completed his studies far ahead of others of his age. At eight years of age he took sanyas, against the wishes of his mother who gave her consent reluctantly. He went towards the north, passing through the beautiful coastal plain of North Kannada. He walked for two months before he reached the banks of the Narmada River at Omkaranatha (this is an island in the Narmada River where we can still find the ruins of a Shiva temple). His intention was to seek studentship under Govindapada, who was known to be a great scholar and ascetic. Govindapada was a disciple of Gaudapada, an even greater scholar. Gaudapada had an enormous influence on Sankara’s scholarship. Gaudapada was an expert on the Upanishads and he had written a karika (glossary) on Mandukya Upanishad. In his later life, Sankara not only wrote a bhashyam on the Upanishad but also a bhashyam on Gaudapada’s karika. The Mandukya Upanishad holds a very special place in the study of Vedanta even today. Mastery over this text is a must for a Vedantin. Sankara stayed with his guru for three years and then on his advice he went to Kasi to meet the eminent Kumarilla Bhatta—an exponent of Mimamsa. Kumarilla Bhatta had debated with the Buddhist scholars and had been most successful in refuting Buddhist doctrines; he earned fame and name as a result. He did not teach or engage in debate with Sankara but sent him to his student Mandana Misra, who was also a brilliant exponent of the Mimamsa doctrine. Eventually, Sankara met Mandana Misra at Mahishmati, on the northern banks of the Narmada River, and defeated him with his own exposition of Vedanta. Mandana Misra became his student and later the head of the Sharada Peetham at Sringeri in the South. He assumed a new name as Sureshvaracharya. 184
Later Life After returning to Kasi from his encounter with Mandana Misra, Adi Sankara moved north to Badrinath with his disciples; he actually settled down in Jyotirmath (known as Joshimath today)—a few miles south of Badrinath. Later, he consecrated the temple of Badrinarayana at its present site and arranged for Nambudiri Brahmanas to perform pujas there. All these were made possible by the support of the local king. Adi Sankara and his students stayed in Jyotirmath for four years, in which time he wrote the bhashyams on the 10 Upanishads, Brahmasutra, and Bhagavad Gita; in short, his prasthana thrayam. From Jyotirmath, he visited Kedarnath where he consecrated a temple for Shiva and later another temple at Uttarkashi. Wherever the Acharya went he obtained full support of the local Hindu kings. He moved south along the Yamuna River to Kurukshetra, Indraprastha, Brindavana and Mathura before proceeding to Prayaga. From Prayaga, the Acharya moved further south to Mahishmati on the Narmada River. From Mahishmati, he travelled to Nasik, Pandaripura, and then Srisailam, famous for its Shiva temple. There, he had an encounter with the sect of Kapalikas, who were Shaivites practicing Tantrism and human sacrifice. The Acharya is believed to have reformed this cult. Throughout his journeys into the four corners of India, the Acharya met with several strange cults—as many as 70, and in each encounter he succeeded in converting them to more humane modes of worship. From Srisailam, the Acharya and his students went west to Gokarna on the west coast and from there to Mukambika and Sringeri. At Sringeri he acquired another student who later was known as Totakacharya. With the help of the local king, Sankaracharya constructed a temple for Sarada Devi in Sringeri with accommodation for several ascetics and established a centre of learning. 185
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From Sringeri, the Acharya proceeded to Kaladi, his birth place, where his mother was ailing. He was present at the time of her death and he performed the dahana kriya for his mother (although sannyasins are not supposed to do this). From Kaladi the Acharya and his students (by this time he had acquired his full complement of students numbering more than a dozen), travelled to Rameshwaram, Srirangam, and then to Kanchipuram. From Kanchipuram the group moved north to Tirupati, and from there through Karnataka and Vidharba and back to Andhra coast to Rajamahendri and from there to Puri where he consecrated the famous temple for Jagannath. From Kalinga, the Acharya and his followers went to Magadha and Kasi. It is in Kasi (actually Varanasi) that he composed his well-known work, Bhaja Govindam. From Kasi, the Acharya went west towards Saurashtra, passing through Ujjaini, and then Girnar, Somnath and finally Dwaraka. From Dwaraka the group proceeded north to Pushkara lake and from there to the Indus river through a stretch of desert. They reached the confluence of the Indus with Sutlej. Following the river Indus, they proceeded further north to Purushapura in the North-West. From Purushapura, the Acharya visited Kashmir, and stayed near an ancient Shiva temple on a hill near Srinagar. Here he had several debates with the pundits of Kashmir belonging to Shiva and Sakta sects. He is said to have composed the stotra, Soundarya Lahari, in praise of the Goddess Bhavani at this location. Soundarya Lahari is one of the most beautiful poems composed by the Acharya. He then moved to Taxshila and from there he turned east to the Yamuna and Ganga rivers and reached Hardwar. Later he went further east to Pataliputra, Nalanda and Gaya. From Gaya, he went to the kingdoms of Vanga and Prak-Jyotisha and to the town of Kamarupa, famous for its temple for Kamakhya.
From Assam, the group returned to the River Ganga near Kasi and then proceeded to Pasupatinatha temple in Kathmandu in Nepal to restore the temple to its former glory by advising the king to follow prescribed rules and not to depend on heretics such as Buddhists. From Nepal the Acharya returned to Jyotirmath. After a short stay, they proceeded to Kedarnath, where the Acharya attained his samadhi. The greatness of the Acharya is seen not only in his scholarship and advocacy of advaita philosophy but his travels from Kaladi to Kashmir and from the Indus valley to the Brahmaputra (see Figure 9). We may get the impression that he travelled all the time; this is not true. All his trips covered a period of over two decades at least but he had plenty of time to rest and to compose his works. Further, it is the students who did much of the laborious work of copying from the manuscripts and even preparing the original palm leaf manuscripts of his works. A very interesting comparison comes to my mind. If we compare Figure 8 with Figure 3, which shows Buddha’s world of travel, there is indeed a huge difference. Buddha travelled within a comparatively small area of the Middle Ganga Plains. This he did almost on an annual basis for over four decades, while Sankaracharya covered the whole length and breadth of India in about two decades. I would give Sankaracharya’s visits far greater importance for his impact on Hinduism is indeed of a lasting kind. One reason for this big difference is that Buddha never wrote anything, while Sankara has many scholarly works to his credit.
Four Disciples and Four Mutts The most impressive and long lasting tribute to Sankaracharya comes from the four religious mutts that he established in roughly the four corners of Hindu India at that time (early 9th century AD): Jyotir Mutt near Badrinath, the Govardhan Mutt in Puri,
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Figure 9 Places Visited by Adi Sankaracharya Source: Drawn by the author. Note: This figure is not to scale. It does not represent any authentic national or international boundaries and is used for illustrative purposes only.
the Kalika Mutt in Dwaraka, and the Sharada Peetham in Sringeri in Karnataka. In addition, he had also established the Kanchi Kamakoti Peedam in Kanchipuram. Some people claim that this is the original Mutt established by Sankaracharya. However, this is unlikely to be true. The followers of Adi Sankaracharya are known as Smartas, and in the South they recognize the Sringeri Acharya as their parama guru. Nevertheless, Kanchi Peedam acquired great fame under the leadership of Acharya Chandrasekharendra Saraswati (1894-1994). According to tradition, before his death, the Acharya instituted the four Mutts and prepared detailed instructions for their upkeep and continuation of tradition. He asked Padmapada to be in charge of the Govardhan Mutt at Puri, Sureshvaracharya to be in charge of the Sarada Peedam at Sringeri, Hasthamalaka was to take over Dvaraka Mutt, while Totakacharya would be in charge of the Jyotir Mutt near Badrinath. In course of time, the heads of the four Mutts were themselves known as Sankaracharyas. These Mutts have been in existence for 1,200 years and are still very active. They continue to play a very important role in providing leadership to all Hindus in their respective regions. The Mutts have also promoted the study of Vedas and the practice of Mimamsa religion and if the latter is alive today, it is due to the strength of these mutts.
Adi Sankara’s Bhashyams Adi Sankaracharya is best known for his bhashyam on Bhagavad Gita; he also wrote bhashyams on ten of the major Upanishads and on Brahmasutra. He called the Bhagavad Gita, the ten Upanishads, and Brahmasutra as the prasthana thrayam. He laid down the condition that one should have written a gloss on any one of these in order to qualify to debate issues with him. He was very rigorous and strict in his analysis and interpretation of the original texts. The Vedantins consider the prasthana thrayam as constituting the Veda. 189
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It is notable that Sankaracharya did not include any of the four Vedas in his prasthana thrayam. He does mention Mimamsa, which actually means the Vedas, especially the Yajurveda and Samaveda, but they stand on a different level—a lower one. He always used prose in his bhashyams. Invariably, he used the question and answer format—the basic style used in the Upanishads. The questions probably related to other bhashyams on the same text which are no longer extant. His prose is simple, elegant and lucid; he was a master of clarity in expression and sharpness of wit. Bhashyams on each and every verse in the Bhagavad Gita begin with the meaning of words, explanation of sandhies and samasams, especially the difficult ones, and a rendering of the meaning of the verse in simple Sanskrit prose, pointing out grammatical errors and the reasons for it. For the most part, it is the lucid counter arguments that steal the show. He has a method of showing the opponent’s weak reasoning by counter arguments. He was a master of debate. Examples of his style of writing can be inferred from the quotes below: यतः तदर्थे विज्ञाते समस्तपुरुषार्थसिध्दिः अतः तव्दिवरणे यत्नः क्रीयते मया। Because understanding the meaning of Gita leads to the realization of the four purusharthas; therefore, in explaining this work, an effort is being made by me. (Note: This is the very last sentence of his preface to his bhashyam on Bhagavad Gita.)
अस्मिन् हि गीताशास्त्रे परं निःश्रेयससाधनं निश्चितं किं ज्ञानं किं कर्म वा आहोस्विद् उभयं इति। कु तः सन्देहः? Which is the most beneficial method for moksha, as determined in this Gitasastra: Jnana, Karma, or both? Why this doubt? (Note: This is the opening sentence to his concluding remarks on Bhagavad Gita which run into several pages; there is no mention of bhakti in his concluding remarks.) 190
His preface to Bhagavad Gita, although very short, is something that any modern writer can and should emulate, and so also his concluding remarks on the Gita. Nothing can be more lucid and precise. He was always very sharp in his observations. There is no verbiage. Unlike most religious literature, he never went around in circles while making his points; never engaged in platitudes and naïve statements. His style was something that earns respect on its own. He was quite unlike the modern day religious leaders who exaggerate and glorify and make tall claims, which are untenable. He did no such thing. For all the simplicity of language and mode of explanation, the subject matter of the texts that he explained are among the most difficult to understand and explain; among these Brahmasutra is especially very difficult. However, he showed no interest at all in contemporary life. Although he travelled on foot all over India, he had nothing to say about the life of ordinary people, except perhaps that it was pretty miserable. He says: विध्दि व्याध्यभिमानग्रस्तं लोकं शोकहतं च समस्तम् । Gripped with diseases and false pride the whole world is down with misery. (Bhaja Govindam, verse 4)
He had no admiration for the rich and the powerful, a few of whom he actually met but never mentioned anywhere. To him the contemporary world was but an illusion—maya, and therefore why bother about it. This is the view of a sanyasin and he did not deviate from his high pedestal of enlightenment. The result is that we know very little about the India of that time, although he travelled all over the country on foot. 191
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His Own Works Adi Sankara was a teacher, scholar, writer and poet and he excelled in every one of these fields. There are many things that he wrote that are well known and quoted in subsequent texts; they are also very popular and known to ordinary people. I would think that his masterpiece is Vivekachoodamani, which is essentially a textbook on Vedanta. No one can claim to know Vedanta without reading this text. Swami Chinmayananda, who knew Sanskrit and wrote well in English, has translated and written his own commentaries on all of Adi Sankara’s works; they are easily available in Chinmaya Mission institutions. Swami Chinmayananda had, as I mentioned earlier, a special attachment to Adi Sankaracharya. Swami Chinmayananda’s works are highly readable and they do justice to the original texts. Using a question and answer format, Vivekachoodamani—the crown jewel of discrimination—is in the form of verses; there are 581 verses in all. It lays down the qualifications for a student of Vedanta: he must be able to discriminate between real and unreal; must have a spirit of detachment from this world, must have control over sensory perceptions, and finally a burning desire for salvation. आदौ नित्यानित्यवस्तुविवेकः परिगण्यते इहामुत्रफलभोगविरागस्तदनन्तरम् । शमादिषट्कसम्पत्तिर्मुमुक्षुत्वमिती स्पुटम् ।। Knowledge of what is real and unreal comes first; Giving up enjoyment of fruits of action in this and the next world comes next; the six controls followed by the clear commitment to moksha. (Vivekachoodamani, verse 19)
The text however is comprehensive; it covers the whole spectrum of spiritual pursuit from the Upanishads and Sankhya and other schools of thought to Bhagavad Gita. 192
While few people today read Vivekachoodamani, the Acharya’s other works are very well read. These works are in the form of stotras—a stotra is to a bhakta what a mantra is to a mimamsaka. A stotra (derived from stuti meaning praise) is a verse composed in a specific meter and can be sung as a bhajan by the bhakta. The Acharya has written one hundred such stotras, some fairly long as Bhaja Govindam, while others are very short. Among the hundred stotras, seventy-five relate to the worship of principal Gods of the Puranic age, while twenty-five focus on spiritual themes—on jnana and moksha. Interestingly, the final stotra of the first part is called nirguna manasa stotra; it is about Nirguna Brahman. Adi Sankara lived in an age when the Bhakti movement was in full swing, especially in Tamil Nadu from where he started his journeys. While he was a true jnani and upheld jnana yoga as the real objective of life, he was well aware that a personal God and bhakti to one’s personal God were important to the common man. He recognized bhakti yoga as an important step towards jnana yoga. It is with this in view that he consecrated temples for Shiva and Vishnu in the form of Krishna and wrote stotras or bhajans. Among seventy-five stotras on bhakti, only one each are devoted to Vinayaka and Skanda, while 19 are devoted to Shiva, 10 are for Vishnu and his avatars. Even more surprising is the fact that he devoted as many as 23 stotras to Sakti; the worship of Sakti is far more widespread all over India than the other two. Sakti is India’s number one God and Shiva, Krishna, and Rama come way down the list in terms of popularity. We can measure the popularity of these Gods from the number of temples devoted to them. One may argue that almost all the well-known temples are for male Gods, but one has to look at the lower levels, which are far more numerous and it is these smaller temples that matter to the common people. The Acharya has also written stotras in praise of rivers of India: namely, Ganga, Yamuna, Mandakini, and above all Narmada, with 193
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which he had a special connection. The place of Hindu pilgrimage on which he has written a stotra is Kasi—which is the holiest of all Indian places of pilgrimage. The Acharya’s stotras include Moha Mudgara consisting of 31 slokas, which is in the nature of advice to all Hindu grihasthas to pursue the path of bhakti and in later life mature to dhyana yoga as prescribed by Patanjali. This stotra is now known as Bhaja Govindam. Yet, the poet saint laments about the lack of interest in spiritual matters thus: बालस्तावत् क्रीडासक्तः तरुणस्तावत् तरुणीसक्तः । वृध्दस्तावत् चिन्तासक्तः परमे ब्रह्मणि कोअपि न सक्तः ।। Children are attached to games; the young men are attracted to girls. The old are a worried lot; no one is interested in the absolute God. (Bhaja Govindam Verse 7)
The 25 stotras devoted to spiritual matters make things somewhat easier for new entrants into spiritualism as they fully reflect his concept of God—the Nirguna Brahman which resides in all of us. Quoted below is a stotra by Totakacharya in praise of his guru Sri Sankara Bhagavadpada: भवता जनता सुहिता भविता निजबोधविचारणचारुमते । कलयेश्वरजीवविवेकविदं भव शं कर देशिक मे शरणम् ।। Let people be well sustained; Exponent of the knowledge of the self Lord of the arts and of life principles; Oh Sankara, spiritual teacher, I seek refuge in you. (From Todakashtakam–verse 3)
His Message Adi Sankaracharya was a great scholar and a great religious leader— perhaps the greatest. Having read almost all his works and those of 194
his translators and interpreters of the present day, I see some basic contradictions unfold. Sankaracharya is best known for his unequivocal assertion of the soundness of advaita philosophy. However, while maintaining his commitment to advaita, he did make concessions to popular beliefs and faith. His bhashyams, his text book on Vedanta— Vivekachoodamani, and also some 25 stotras are firmly rooted to advaita. The rest of his work is devoted to bhakti. As we saw earlier, he wrote very popular works praising the principal Gods– Shiva, Vishnu and Sakti. As a sanyasi he was exempted from rituals; but present day Sankaracharyas are rooted to rituals— both srauta and smarta karmas. He did not object to this practice even in his time. The contradiction between pure advaita and bhakti cannot be easily resolved. Later religious leaders used the concepts of Saguna Brahman, maya and avatars to legitimize bhakti. While Adi Sankara did not agree to this legitimization, he conceded the power of bhakti. He wanted bhakti to be combined with jnana. He considered bhakti as a pathway to jnana and jnana yoga. Later leaders and particularly Ramanujacharya have altogether given up the concept of Nirguna Brahman in favour of Saguna Brahman and jnana yoga is replaced by bhakti yoga. This would totally negate Adi Sankara’s advaita philosophy. Why this ambivalence? The problem is that in 8th century there were hundreds of Hindu kings all over India and even Sankaracharya had to depend on their patronage to establish Mutts and for facilitating his travels. The life of Brahmanas and ascetics has always depended on the gifts from the rich and the powerful. Puranic religion which eulogizes the rich and powerful was more relevant to the masses because it fitted nicely with the social milieu of the time. Adi Sankara could not escape from this reality. He made his compromises saying—follow bhakti initially and switch to jnana yoga in later life. Brahmanas today are no longer dependent 195
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on kings and one can proceed to jnana yoga directly and ignore bhakti altogether. Bhakti and bhakti yoga are now meant for those who do not want to study the Upanishads. The context and the social milieu have changed in the 21st century. There are no Hindu kings anymore in India or anywhere else. The Puranic religion, with its emphasis on kings and queens is no longer relevant. Nor do Gods in human form make much sense; all these belong to a bygone age. Nevertheless, Adi Sankara’s advaita, in pure form, is still relevant; it does not depend on the social milieu for its existence. It goes beyond the social context. It is this that makes Adi Sankara relevant in the 21st century.
• Introduction • India in Circa 600 AD to 1300 AD • Origins of Bhakti • Brahmana Influence • Nayanmars • Alvars • The Later Exponents of Bhakti • Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita • Bhakti, Temples and the Arts
Introduction Bhakti or devotion to one’s personal God is the backbone of Hinduism today. A number of new developments mark the beginning of the bhakti movement around 600 AD in Tamil Nadu. l The Sangam literature in Tamil (which goes back to around 2nd century AD), had laid the foundation for worship based on love and attachment to a God or supernatural force. l The Tamil bards had already popularised songs in praise of their personal God Murugan. l The Brahmanas from the North started migrating to the South in large numbers at the end of the Gupta period around 500 AD; they lived and flourished in land-grant villages known as agraharams. l The vernacular languages began to play a major role, in addition to Sanskrit. l While Brahmanas continued to dominate the literary scene both in Sanskrit and the Vernacular languages, the Shudras, in particular, also played a major role, especially in the South.
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Vedic religions were more or less confined to Brahmanas alone and they declined slowly; their domain was largely confined to agraharams. l The folk cultures, with their legends and their modified Sanskrit versions in the Puranas became the popular religions. l Temples became the major focus of religious activities. While the Shaivite and Vaishnavite temples were patronized both by Brahmanas and others, the temples for village and regional Gods continued to be patronized exclusively by nonBrahmanas. l The tribal and village Gods, along with legends, continued to exist in pure form or were slightly modified but rarely taken over by the overarching Puranic lore under the Brahmanas. Brahmanas were not the originators of the bhakti movement; but they soon took over the movement. Temples, small and big, provided the institutional framework for the bhakti movement. While a visit to the temple was a daily affair, festivals, held on a few days a year, attracted large numbers of people. People also performed pujas and bhajans at home, sometimes on a daily basis. Music, in all its varied forms, both classical and otherwise, plays an important part in rituals associated with bhakti. The other arts: dance, drama, painting, sculpture and many other folk arts also played an important role. The focus of bhakti or devotion can be any God. While Shiva, Vishnu or his incarnations, principally Krishna and Rama, and Bhagavati in various forms as Amman, Kali, and Durga are the principal deities worshipped, there are many other lesser Gods, besides local Gods. India in Circa 600 AD to 1300 AD At this time, the Gupta Empire had come to an end and with it the golden age of Hinduism in the North. On the ruins of the Gupta Empire, Buddhism again thrived under the rule of Harsha with his capital in Kanauj (606-647 AD). Harsha suffered defeat 198
by the Chalukyas of Vatapi (543-880 AD). They were followed in the northern parts of peninsular India by the Rashtrakutas (750900 AD), Vakatakas (460-477 AD), Pratiharas (780-840 AD), the Yadavas of Devagiri, the Chalukyas of Kalyani (973-1189 AD), Chandellas of Bundelkhand (900-1150 AD) and so on. The focus in this chapter, however, shifts further to the South. The Pallavas of Kanchipuram (375-800 AD) and Chalukyas of Badami (543-880 AD) were on their ascent and they played a very important role during this period. They were followed by the Cholas who dominated the South between 8th and 12th centuries AD. They were supplanted by the later Pandyas (12001400 AD). In Karnataka, apart from the Chalukyas of Vatapi, the other prominent dynasties were: Hoysalas in Dorasamudra (10001300 AD), the Gangas, and the Ishvakus in the Guntur region of Andhra Pradesh. Another branch of the Gangas and Kesaris ruled over Odisha.
Origins of Bhakti Although bhakti movement had its origins around 6th century AD in Tamil Nadu, its roots go back to the Sangam age which could be anything from 300 BC to 200 AD. According to Tamil tradition, there were three literary councils of poets or Sangams that met in Madurai, the principal city of this age in the South. The surviving literature of this period is attributed to the third council, although Tolkappiyam is said to belong to the second council. Tolkappiyam is a grammatical work and it could not have existed without a literature. Presumably these literary works are now lost. The existence of towns and cities is mentioned in the Sangam literature. When and how did they come up? Lack of archaeological evidence prior to 2nd century AD is cited as the reason for denying the existence of these cities; on the other hand, there is considerable circumstantial evidence to conclude that towns and cities did exist in earlier time periods. The emergence of cities in Tamil country 199
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was a product of tank irrigation which was very highly developed in this region. Tanks are small reservoirs built by earthen dams across small streams. There are thousands of such tanks (known as eri in Tamil) in Tamil Nadu. The probability that some existed even prior to the Sangam age, cannot be dismissed out of hand. The construction, maintenance, and the distribution of water for cultivation from the tanks would involve an administrative framework. The surplus generated from more intensive and productive agriculture would have resulted in the emergence of small chiefdoms. Thus, the Sangam literature should be viewed in the context of an urban civilization which had an independent origin. This is supported by the fact that the Tamil literature of this period does not contain Sanskrit or other borrowed words. The language itself is archaic, very different from the language used in the classical literature; much like the fact that Rigvedic Sanskrit is different from Sanskrit in later time periods. The main works of the Sangam period are collectively known as Ettutogai—an anthology of poems written by many poets. These are of a secular nature with beautiful descriptions of life in villages and towns in very realistic terms. There are well over 2000 poems, involving about 200 poets. A second major work of this period is Pathupattu; it contains fewer but longer poems. A unique characteristic of Tamil literature is that all poems are classified into two categories: agam meaning ‘inside’ and purram meaning ‘outside’. The agam literature deals with love and emotions, while the purram literature is about the kings. The Tamil works classified as Purananuru, form part of Ettutogai, containing 400 songs that describe aspects of politics, religion, trade and society. They also tell stories of philanthropists of the time. Poems were further classified on the basis of the landscape that they described. There are five landscape types: kurunji, the hills; palai, the dry lands; mullai, the scrubland and the forest; marudam, the cultivated lands; and neydal, the coastal belt. Landscapes are 200
linked to emotions. Hills provide the background to romance or herding of cattle; dryland landscapes are linked to separation of lovers and devastation, the scrubland is the setting for raiding and hunting; coastal landscape for the travails of fishermen and war. Further classifications are based on animals, flowers etc. Altogether, it was a mosaic of highly emotional life that was savoured by the poets, and the public before whom they were sung. The later texts of the Sangam period show influence of Jainas. The Jainas had come to Tamil Nadu as early as 3rd century BC. Jaina influence in Tamil literature is most visible in the classic Tirukkural, a work containing 1,300 verses or aphorisms of a philosophical nature by Tiruvalluvar. This is considered to be a sacred text by recent enthusiasts of Tamil language; it was always held in very high esteem by everyone. Naladiyar is another work of even greater merit, but its content is more secular, while its poetry is of very high standard. From these early beginnings, two major Epics in Tamil were produced. The content of these Epics is entirely a product of Tamil culture. However, there are certain influences from the North as well. The best known among these is Silappadigaram. It tells the story of Kannagi and her lover Kovalan. Kovalan was killed unjustly by the king of Madurai, mistaking him to be the thief who stole the queen’s anklets. Kannagi comes to the court and proves that her husband is innocent. The king’s admission of guilt and his death out of remorse did not quench her anger at the injustice done. She felt that the people of Madurai deserved to be to be punished as well. Gods answered her curse and the city was burned down. Both the storyline and the sense of justice are unique to the Tamils and different from the ones portrayed in the Sanskrit texts (compare this to the scene in Mahabharata in which Draupati explodes into rage against Dushasan). Buddhists, who came much later than Jains, also influenced the literature in Tamil. Among the notable works that show profound 201
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effect of Buddhism is Manimeghalai. It is a sequel to Silappadigaram. It is the story of two women who, after a tumultuous life, become Buddhist nuns. Buddhist principles are presented as discussion between these women, much in the same way as in the Puranas. The earliest devotional songs in Tamil are about the Tamil God Murugan. Examples of these songs are found in Pathupattu (meaning ten songs). A later work of the Sangam period, Tirumurugarrarupadai, is the first part of Pathupattu and it consists of songs in praise of Lord Murugan. It was composed by Nakkirar. Murugan is still the chief Tamil God. The rationale of worship by songs in praise of one’s God is one of mutual love—if you love your God, he would love you and all your problems would get solved eventually. For this, love must be pure. Such unblemished love is possible only by those who are blameless or pure themselves and hence the need to follow the correct code of conduct in life.
Brahmana Influence Shaivism and Vaishnavism were brought to Tamil Nadu by Brahmanas from the North. Brahmanas were the last to come to Tamil Nadu, after the Jainas and the Buddhists. They came around 5th century AD and settled in agraharams through land grants given to them by the Pallava Kings of Kanchipuram. This was the beginning of Brahmana migrations to the South. The earliest streams of migration were from the Deccan region (see stage IV, Figure 2). This was followed by migrations along the east coast and west coasts from regions further north. The Cholas gave very liberal land grants and hundreds of agraharams came into being in the Kaveri Delta and elsewhere. These migrants probably came from the Ganga Plains as one of the Chola kings took his army as far north as the Ganga River. The Sri Vaishnavite Brahmanas in the South probably had their roots in Bengal, while a number of Brahmana groups along the west coast may trace their roots as far north as Kashmir. Most of these Brahmanas were Shaivites. 202
The impact of the new Brahmana settlements is seen in the subsequent Bhakti literature. This literature is pure Hinduism with little or no influence of Jainas or Buddhists. At the time Brahmanas migrated from the North, the cult of the Bhagavatas and Pancharatras was already there in North-West India; a counter to this was the cult of the Pasupatas. The former has its origins in what is known as the Vasudeva cult and the Narayana cult; these names were later incorporated into the Puranas, mixing with other cults and legends, like the legends of the cow boy by the name Krishna. The names Krishna and Devaki appear in the Upanishads in a different context. Pasupati is the lord of animals and this is a very ancient cult, which gets transformed into worship of Shiva and of linga and so on. From early Vedic times, the local religions, legends, and cults were in constant ferment with additions and mixtures, and from this new cults emerged. Even in the last century, we have seen the emergence of new Gods like Santoshi Maa and Ayyappan. Hinduism is constantly evolving and new Gods emerge from time to time. There were two very different streams of Brahmana immigration to the region of Tamil Nadu—the Smartas, who were specialists in Smrities (they were rooted to the Mimamsa religion) but with a slight leaning towards Shaivism, and the Sri Vaishnavites who were bhaktas of Vishnu. The two divisions of Nayanmars and Alvars reflect this dichotomy. I would think that the Smarta Brahmanas were the first to arrive in Tamil Nadu, while the Sri Vaishnavites came later. In both cases, there were not one but several streams of migration. This is indicated in the names of Jaties among Smarta Brahmanas—Ashtasahasram, Brihacharanam, Vadama, Vadhyama, and Mangudi. The Brahmana agraharams brought about a new vigour in the poetry of the Tamil bards, who were, for the most part, from nonBrahmana communities of Tamil Nadu, including, in a few cases, people from the lowest classes. Two groups of bards emerged from this cross cultural contact—Nayanmars and Alvars. 203
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Nayanmars The Nayanmars, who were Shaivites, composed songs in praise of Shiva; they were sixty-three in number and they lived from 6th century AD to 12th century AD. Shaivites in Tamil Nadu consider Tirumurai as their most sacred text. Marai in Tamil is equivalent to Veda in Sanskrit. Tirumurai means ‘the sacred book of God’. It consists of the Tevaram, the Tiruvachakam, the Tirumantiram, and Periapuranam. These component texts were composed by different Nayanmars. The word tevaram means a garland worn around a deity. It is the work of three of the early Shaivite poets: Tirujnanasambadhar, Appar, and Sundarar. Tirumantiram is a work on spiritual pursuits and it was composed by Tirumular, who was a siddha and a mystic. Siddha is actually a medicine man and an ascetic. Eighteen original Siddhas are mentioned in the texts. One of whom, the Pampatti Siddhar, has already been mentioned in the chapter on roots. Tiruvachakam was composed by Manikavachakar, a minister in the court of the Pandya kings. His other works are: Tirukovaiyar and Tirvembavai. He was an exponent of a special kind of mysticism in which the devotee becomes the bride and God her beloved lover; the ecstasy of being with the lord and pangs of separation form the main theme. Periapuranam is the last of the works in the Tirumurai. It was composed by Sekkizhar. It narrates the life story of the Nayanmars or the 63 Shaiva saints. However, Sekkizhar was not one of them. Nevertheless, his contribution to Shaivite hagiography and canon is considered to be very important and hence he is often thought as the 64th Nayanar (Nayanmar is the plural of Nayanar in Tamil). Shaivism was dominated by non-Brahmanas from the beginning. It is also true that Shaivism is far more popular among the masses in South India, while Vaishnavism is more or less confined to the Brahmanas and a few upper caste Hindus. The Smarta Brahmanas, who probably brought Shaivism to Tamil Nadu, did not consider themselves 204
as Shaivites; instead, they thought of themselves as Mimamsakas. Even today they are open to Shaivism, Vaishnavism, or any other sect.
Alvars The bards who composed songs in praise of Vishnu and his avatars are known in Tamil as Alvars—meaning ‘immersed in the Lord’. There were only 12 Alvars as against 63 Nayanmars. While almost all Nayanmars were from the non-Brahmana community, almost all the Alvars were Brahmanas. It is, however, ironical that the sacred text of the Vaishnavites— the Nalayira Divya Prabhandam—is in Tamil. It shows the extent to which Brahmanas adjusted to the local language and culture. This text represents the collected works of all the 12 Alvars, who lived during 6th century AD to 11th century AD. Among them, Namalvar was the greatest. He was not from among the Brahmanas. His original name was Maran. He is the author of Tiruvaimozhi, a sacred text. It is considered to be the basis of Vaishnava siddhanta—a doctrinal work of great importance. There are 108 places in the South sacred to the Vaishnavas; these places have been mentioned by the Alvars and songs written by them in praise of the deities there. The Sri Vaishnavite Brahmanas give greater importance to Bhagavata Purana and the basic texts in Tamil, while attaching secondary importance to the Vedas. They are also more at home with puja rather than homa.
The Later Exponents of Bhakti The Alvars and Nayanmars dominated the scene in Tamil Nadu for nearly five centuries. At the very end of this period, we see the emergence of three great Acharyas who reinvigorated the bhakti scene with their new formulations of the relationship between God and the soul. All the three were Brahmanas. Ramanujacharya (1017–1137 AD): Ramanujacharya was born into a Vaishnava family near Chennai in Tamil Nadu. He had 205
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his early training under a guru in Kanchipuram. His brilliance and his tendency to correct his teacher did not endear him to the guru. However, Ramanuja eventually did become the head of the Kanchi Mutt (of Vaishnavites) and later on the Head of the Visishtadvaita Mutt, in Srirangam, which was and continues to be the most important Mutt of Sri Vaishnavites. Ramanuja visited a number of places in North India, including Kasi, Badrinath, and Kashmir. He actively propagated his views in all these places. Today, he is best known for his four books: Bhashyam on Brahmasutra, Vedanta Sara, Vedanta Sagara, and Vedanta Deepa. He was a reformist and he broke Varna and Jati barriers and enrolled many newcomers to his sect. As a consequence of this policy, in the 13th century, the Sri Vaishnavites split into the northern (Vadakalai) and southern (Thenkalai) branches. During his headship of the Mutt in Srirangam, he incurred the displeasure of the Chola King, who was a staunch Shaivite. Ramanuja managed to escape to Mysore where he made friends with the Hoysala King by curing the illness of his daughter. He then established a temple and a Mutt in Melkote on top of a hill. Later, when the Chola king died, the new king was far more lenient towards Vaishnavites and Ramanuja returned to Srirangam. After many years of peaceful life he died there at the age of 120(?). Vaishnavism in Tamil Nadu followed the Pancharatra division of Vaishnavism of the North (as opposed to the Bhagavatas). Further, Ramanuja’s philosophy is based on the concept of Saguna Brahman or Brahman with attributes which are real and permanent. Jiva is the individual self and it is a servant and worshipper. The Jiva should surrender himself to the Lord. Oneness of God and Jiva is justified on the ground that all attributes are products of divine grace. All depend on Narayana for their existence. This is his theory of qualified non-dualism. According to Sri Vaishnavism, bhakti towards their God, Narayana, is adequate to attain moksha. There is no difference 206
between jnana yoga and bhakti yoga—both are one and the same’ a proposition that is intrinsically different from Adi Sankara’s viewpoint. Basavanna (1131-1167 AD): Basava or Basavanna, as he is more popularly known, was the founder of Lingayat or Veerashaivite sect. It is the single largest group among Hindus in Karnataka; they are a minor group in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra as well. The Lingayats as a community or sect are very well organized and the heads of the various Lingayat Mutts carry enormous influence among the people. As a result, the Mutt heads wield political influence as well. Basavanna was originally a Brahmana hailing from North Kannada District. He was a minister under a Jaina King in Kalyani in Maharashtra. Later, he became a monk and organized a new sect; this sect shows clear influence of Jaina religion. Basavanna rejected Brahmana dominance and the Varna and Jati systems. Like the Jains, he advocated strict vegetarianism. Again, like Jains, he rejected idol worship. However, he was a staunch Shaivite. His followers wore the sacred thread with a linga knotted along it. This is the most sacrosanct symbol that every Lingayat—both men and women—are expected to wear at all times. The belief is that this will protect them from evil at all times. Basava was a social reformer, rather than a religious leader. He believed in Visishtadvaita in which Shiva is equated with Brahman. The Mutts, fairly large in number, are the main focus of worship, where the head of the Mutt is someone who is to be revered and even worshipped. The Mutts followed a fundamentalist philosophy and enforced rules. The life of a Lingayat, therefore, was very much controlled by the Mutts. Madvacharya (1199-1294 AD): Like his predecessor Basavanna, Madvacharya also came from a Brahmana family. The philosophy of Madvacharya differs in very basic terms from those of Adi Sankara and Ramanuja. He believed in dualism. Brahman and Jiva are 207
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different on a permanent basis. His Brahman is Saguna Brahman in the form of Lord Krishna. He justified his stand of dualism on the basis of rather far fetched arguments based on the Upanishads; in other words, he interpreted the Upanishads in a different way and justified dualism. The focal centre of Madvacharya’s dualism continues to be the Krishna temple in Udupi. His followers are known as Madva Brahmanas, who are largely confined to the South Kannada district of Karnataka. Western scholars see a strong influence of Christianity in Madvacharya’s life and philosophy. Madvacharya is believed to have performed many miracles during his lifetime, which reinforces the above statement.
Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita In the 9th century AD, Kamban composed Ramayana in Tamil. His version of Ramayana was in many ways different from the original. It had an element of bhakti, while at the same time Ravana was not shown as an archetype villain. Even in Valmiki Ramayana, Ravana comes out as being kind and generous to women. Hanuman said that all women in his harem were well taken care of and everyone was happy—he did not find a single unhappy woman there and hence he moved to the Asoka vana to find Sita. The question in Ramayana has to do with rajadharma and not the personal character of Ravana. There is no element of bhakti in Valmiki’s Ramayana, for Rama is not shown as a God there. In Kamban’s Ramayana, Rama is God incarnate and the element of bhakti comes into play. Later, in Tulsidas’s Ramacharitamanas in Hindi, bhakti attains a climax. Everything is seen in black and white—evil and good. All later adaptations of Valmiki Ramayana, either in Sanskrit or in vernacular languages, are all steeped in bhakti. The Bhagavad Gita, probably composed in the 4th century AD and added on to the Mahabharata, has a very important role in the bhakti movement. Although the main thrust of the Bhagavad Gita 208
is about karma yoga and jnana yoga, it lays an equally important stress on bhakti yoga. In reality, while the first two are generally ignored by common people, it is bhakti that stands out as the most important teaching of this highly regarded text. The Lord himself says: पत्रं पुष्पं फलं तोयं यो मे भक्त्या प्रयच्छति। तदहं भक्त्युपहृतमश्नामि प्रयतात्मनः।। I accept leaves, flowers, fruits, or water offered to me by sincere and devoted bhaktas with a clean heart. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9, verse 26)
Further, the last and concluding verse quoted below of the Bhagavad Gita is often cited by bhaktas to reinforce their faith: सर्वधर्मान् परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज। अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः।। Discarding all moral codes, take refuge in me alone. I shall cause you to be released from all sins.
Lord Krishna is everything for the bhakta who craves for the empirical experience (vijnana) of the Lord. The repeated assertions in the text—to see Brahman in Lord Krishna—are all but forgotten. Even Adi Sankara conceded defeat by asking the question at the end: where is the doubt? The fact is that doubt persists and it is bhakti yoga that triumphs over jnana yoga.
Bhakti, Temples, and the Arts From around the 5th century AD, India witnessed a blossoming of culture which covered a variety of fields which were blended into a harmonic whole by the bhakti movement. The origin and growth of temples described in the previous chapter provided the institutional foundation, and in itself represents the development of the arts of 209
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architecture and sculpturing to a high degree of perfection over the centuries. The inspiration for this came from Buddhist stupas and Buddhist and Jaina cave arts. In turn, these were based on long forgotten Harappan artefacts and figurines of female goddesses, besides Gandharan sculptures which reflect Hellenist influences. Hindu temples and their architecture, I think, are firmly rooted in the bhakti movement, both in the North and the South. Various Hindu art forms such as sculptures, murals and frescos in caves and temples, and above all, music, dance, and drama were all based on temples with the bhakti movement providing the emotional and artistic inspiration. Bhakti movement is not an isolated event and it is rooted in religion and mythology. On a visit to any of the well-known temples in India, whether it is the Puri Jagannath temple or the Brihadeeswara temple in Tanjavur, one would not fail to notice the blending of all these art forms into a cohesive and inseparable whole. A notable feature of Hindu temples is the presentation of legends from Hindu mythology in the form of sculptures in the shikharas and gopurams, on the walls and on every available surface inside a temple. People who visit the temple understand and appreciate these legends and their visual representation and they believe these to be true representations of their past. It reinforces their faith. Music was originally introduced by the bards who sang in praise of their favourite God in chosen temples. This is particularly true of Nayanmars and Alvars; their lyrics are all temple centric. Music combined well with dance and drama. These were staged in one of the mandapams within the temple premises. In the Orissa temples there is a nata mandira as part of the temple complex. The temple also supported the artists (by giving them a salary besides gifts in kind) whether they were musicians or exponents of dance or drama. The specific forms of art varied from region to region. In 210
Kerala, the well-known kathakali dance-drama art form was based on temples, so also the classical dance forms of Bhartanatyam, Odissi or Kuchipudi dance. The doyen of Carnatic music, Sri Thyagaraja, lived near the temple in Tiruvaiyaru in Tanjavur District practicing uncha vritti (livelihood by seeking alms). At noon every day, he went round the temple singing his kirtans with a bowl in his hand. He did not accept gifts even from the king of Tanjavur. He was a well-known Rama bhakta. Today, it is impossible for a non-bhakta to render a performance of classical music. The very essence of Carnatic music is in its bhakti bhava. It sharply differs from classical music and dance in North India, where these are performed for the most part in a secular spirit, especially by Muslim exponents. What is true of music is equally true of sculpture, drama, painting, dance, or any other art form in India. Whatever secular art exists in India today is of recent origin and is based on foreign influences. The temple arts in the South are primarily a contribution of non-Brahmanas. Only in the area of classical music from 17th century onwards, and in the 20th century in classical dance have Brahmanas contributed to its growth in any significant way. Art is common to all; temples are also common to all. If discrimination existed in the well-known temples, those discriminated developed their folk arts independently in their own temples while focusing on their Gods. Such discrimination was confined to the Dalits alone and not the other Jaties. Even this is a thing of the past now. In general, the temples, both big and small, were focal points of bhakti and the arts, throughout the medieval period and at present. The bhakti movement that originated in the South reached the North somewhat late; by that time the North had come under Muslim rule. Yet, bhakti did spread in the North in a very subdued fashion, as we will see in the following chapter.
Hinduism under Muslim Rule
• Early Inroads • India in 1200 AD • Hinduism under the Delhi Sultanate • Hinduism under the Mughals • The Issue of Religious Conversion • Hinduism at the End of Muslim Rule in the North • The South and Muslim Inroads • The Bahmani Kingdoms • Vijayanagar and Warrangal • The Tipu Interlude • Summary
Early Inroads Although, Islam originated in Arabia in the early 7th century AD, the Arabs had come to India as traders from 2nd century AD itself. Some of them married local women and established small communities along the west and the east coast of India, especially in their southern segments. The established quasi-Arab communities in the coastal belt were easily converted to Islam early in the 8th century. In the late 7th century, Arabs under the leadership of the Caliphs of Baghdad invaded Sindh and established Islam there; later they also invaded North-West India, leading to the conversion of some at least of the local population to Islam. This invasion had some positive contributions, in the sense that the Arabs learned about Hindu religion and its knowledge in such areas as mathematics, astronomy and so on; it is this knowledge about India that they passed on to Europe. These early Muslim communities hardly had any significant impact on Hinduism and Hindus and Muslims lived side by side.
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There were no conflicts either. It is the early converts to Islam who account for about 20 percent of Kerala’s population. They are generally known as ‘Mapla’ and they speak the local vernacular language—Malayalam. The Islam that they follow is closer to the Arabs than to their north Indian counterparts. Similarly, Muslims in Tamil Nadu, a majority of them, speak Tamil and have no knowledge of Urdu—their culture is akin to that of their Tamil brothers. In the South, the presence of Muslim communities in the coastal areas did not have any significant influence on the practice of Hinduism. The two communities followed a ‘live and let live policy’ with no great religious significance. Muslims in Pakistan can claim that their religion came directly from Arabia almost from its very inception in the 8th century AD. Nevertheless, the majority of the Hindus there were converted to Islam after 1000 AD with the influx of Afghans from the North. Muslims in northern India were either the new migrants from Afghanistan or converts from the local population from 1200 AD when the Delhi Sultanate was firmly established. Eventually, Muslims in the northern parts of the country developed their own language Urdu—a hybrid language. Further, the Islam practiced in Northern India is significantly different from the one practiced in Arabia; it has some common elements with Hinduism. Hinduism in North India also shows significant influences of Islam. The interaction of Islam and Hinduism in Northern India is of a different kind compared with that in the coastal belt described earlier. In the North, Muslims were rulers and the Hindus were their subjects; it made a lot of difference. While Hindus as a ruling class never interfered or imposed their religion on others (Kerala is a very good example of this kind of tolerance), Muslim rulers had no hesitation in doing so if it was politically expedient. Hinduism in the North suffered most from this unequal relationship. 214
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India in 1200 AD The North-Western parts of India were mostly under small Hindu kingdoms. The Rajputs had by this time established themselves around Delhi and the whole region of Rajasthan. They were a force to reckon with; although internal divisions among them made it impossible for them to unite and fight the common enemy from the North-West. In Kashmir, Abhinava Gupta had established a new brand of Shaivism, while Kalhana had written his well-known historical work in Sanskrit—Rajatarangani, the story of the kings of Kashmir. Jayadeva, who lived in Bengal, had composed Gita Govindam—a work that would produce a whole new sect in North India at a later point in time. The well-known temple of Konarak in Odisha was yet to be built (1238–1258 AD). On the other hand, the Somnath temple was destroyed repeatedly by Mohammed Ghazni (1001-1027 AD). Lahore had already become a provincial capital of the Ghors. Islam was establishing itself in the Indus valley. In the South, the great Chola Empire had disappeared and was yet to be supplanted by the Pandyas of Madurai. Nevertheless, Hinduism was flourishing in the South. Ramanujacharya (10561137 AD) had given Sri Vaishnavites under the Alvars a new impetus, while Sekkizhar (1133-1150 AD) had written his Periapuranam, telling stories about the great Shaiva saints in Tamil. Madvacharya, in coastal Karnataka (1119-1294 AD), was creating a new wave among Vaishnavites based on his dualist philosophy and the worship of Lord Krishna. At the same time, Basava (11061167 AD) had created an altogether new sect of Shaivites, who refused to worship idols and Gods in human form, but retained the linga as a sacred object worn by men and women on their body, tied to the sacred thread.
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The Muslim rule in the Indo-Gangetic plains was preceded by military forays mainly for the purposes of plundering; the most infamous example of this is the destruction of the Somanth temple in Kathiavar in 1026 AD and the destruction of the temple in Mathura in 1014 AD by Mohammed of Ghazni. Later, Malik Kafur destroyed the famous temple at Madurai in 13th century AD, while still later Aurangzeb razed the city of Varanasi to the ground (17th century AD). The Meenakshi temple in Madurai was rebuilt on an adjacent site by the Naiks (a remnant of the Vijayanagar empire), while the new temples in Varanasi were built by the Holkars after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 AD. These three events left a strong impression on the minds of the Hindu elite in the 20th century, and much of their negative attitude towards Muslims arises from these impressions. The rule of Aurangzeb (1656-1707 AD) is often regarded by Hindus as the worst period of Muslim rule in India. Aurangzeb destroyed whatever goodwill Hindus had for their Muslim brethren and he laid the foundation for the eventual disappearance of Muslim rule in India. There were no powerful kingdoms anywhere in the North in 12th century; this had particularly important consequences. The Delhi Sultanate was established to fill this vacuum (1192-1206 AD).
Hinduism Under the Delhi Sultanate From 1200 AD to 1800 AD, the whole of Northern India was ruled by Muslim kings. During this period of 600 years, millions of Hindus were converted to Islam. Ninety-eight percent of the population of Pakistan and ninety percent of the population of Bangladesh are now Muslims. In India, about 172 million people are Muslims, forming about 14 percent of the population (in 2011). The impact on Hinduism from Muslim influx had far reaching consequences. The practice of Vedic religion was practically impossible under Muslim rule. As a result, Vedic Hinduism all 216
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but vanished from the Indo-Gangetic Plains. However, a subdued form of Puranic Hinduism based on vernacular, bhakti and puja did survive intact in North India. The South was almost, and in the extreme South wholly, free from Muslim rule and here the old Vedic traditions were followed by Brahmanas, under the aegis of Hindu rulers. In North India, in rural areas, the local cults and local Gods and Goddesses continued to be worshipped. The Mimamsa religions and the study of Vedas survived in a few pockets here and there. It reappeared after the Muslim rule and re-established itself in Varanasi, where the Mimamsa religion is practiced by a few even today. Sanskrit and Mimamsa religion, to some extent, survived in the Himalayan belt where the Muslim influence was non-existent. The Vedic religion even in these areas was confined to a select few, while the majority followed the Puranic modes of worship.
Hinduism under the Mughals The Mughal period began in 1526 AD. The Mughals were Turks and they were very suspicious of Afghans from whom they had taken over. As a result, they were more conciliatory towards Hindus in general. On the political front, they entered into marriage alliances with Rajputs—a great majority of the smaller kingdoms around Delhi were ruled by Rajputs then. Akbar the Great took over in 1556 AD and thereafter Hinduism went through a new phase for the next fifty years. Despite the slightly favourable conditions under Akbar’s liberalism, the Vedic religion could not be revived for the simple reason that the Brahmanas who knew Sanskrit and practiced Vedic religion had already migrated to the South, from the 2nd century AD or even earlier. The Brahmanas who stayed back had given up the practice of the Mimamsa religion and they were hardly in a position to revive it. By its very nature, Mimamsa religion is something that cannot be revived. It requires a very special social 217
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environment and social stability and continuity. It survived only in the Brahmana agraharams in the South, where such conditions prevailed until recently. The revival of Hinduism in the North during the medieval period is of a different kind altogether. Even here, the impetus for the new developments came from the South. Swami Ramananda (1410-1510 AD), a disciple of Vallabhacharya (who hailed from Andhra Pradesh) and a follower of Ramanuja’s school revived Vaishnavism in Varanasi. He inspired a new trend in the vernacular literature in Hindi. Among those inspired by the new trend were Surdas (1478-1583 AD), Kabir (1440-1510 AD), and Tulsidas (1532-1623 AD). The Krishna cult grew in Brajbhumi. Surdas ‘the blind bard of Agra’, who was a disciple of Vallabhacharya (1479 AD), wrote lyrics in praise of Lord Krishna and his favourite damsel Radha; these promoted the Krishna cult in Brajbhumi around Mathura, near Agra. Mathura became a holy place. In the early centuries of the Christian era, Mathura was a centre for Buddhism and it is here that an independent school of sculpture arose. The original temple for Krishna in Mathura was built over the ruins of a Buddhist monastery; this temple was demolished by the Muslim rulers and a mosque built over it. Still later, in the 18th century AD, a new temple for Krishna was built near the mosque. There were many others who contributed to the growth of the Krishna cult at this time—special mention may be made of Mirabai (1498-1597 AD), whose bhajans are loved all over India today. The revival of the Rama cult is, by and large, due to the famous work of Tulsidas, the Ramacharitamanas. This work became the bible of the masses in the Hindi speaking world of the Ganga Plains and it is still the most important religious text read by the common man. Tulsidas was based in Varanasi. He was a contemporary of Akbar. No other work in Hinduism attained such a measure of popularity and acceptance as Ramacharitamanas. 218
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However, its influence remains limited to the Hindi speaking world. There were equally important works on Ramayana in all the vernacular languages of India. Indeed, the first translation or re-telling of Ramayana was in Tamil by Kamban in the 9th century AD, although this text is not popular today. To the East, Bengal saw a resurgence of bhakti literature in Bangla. This focused mainly on Chaitanya Deva, a Vaishnavite who sang songs in praise of Vaishnava Gods. The 16th century saw a profusion of religious literature in all vernacular languages of India. Chaitanya (1486 AD-1533 AD) was born in Nadia district in Bengal. He preached love and devotion and travelled widely in North India. He spent eighteen years in Odisha and six years in the Deccan and Brindavan and other places preaching his form of bhakti towards his favourite God, Krishna. He was against rituals and paid no attention to caste or creed. His message was that by sheer devotion, song and dance, one could attain bliss, lasting bliss. In Maharashtra, revival of Hinduism took a new turn; here the saints came not from Brahmana families but from among the lower Jaties. Namadeva, a well-known bard, again preached the path of bhakti and love of one’s favourite God. However, he believed in the unity of God and hence was not a follower of the sects. Among the royalty at the Mughal court, Dara Shikoh holds a special place for Hindus. He learnt Sanskrit from scholars in Varanasi. However, he lost the war of succession against his younger brother and was killed. Thereafter, Aurangzeb rose to power and ruled northern India for 50 years. Ramacharitamanas in Hindi, after the death of Aurangzeb, became the foundation for the worship of Sri Ram in North India, while Surdas made notable contributions to the bhakti school in the 14th to 16th centuries. Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam and Chaitanya’s propagation of Krishna worship in Bengal are other notable contributions of this period. They laid the foundation for the practice of Hinduism in its current form in northern India. 219
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Kabir (1440 AD-1510 AD) had a different view of religions. He wanted to unify all religions into a common mould. With this in view, he was equally critical and appreciative of different aspects of Hinduism and Islam. Despite his good intentions, the gap between the two cultures was impossible to bridge. Guru Nanak was the other religious leader who strived towards the same end; he also failed in achieving a lasting compromise. The trend in mainstream Islam was always against any compromise—the Quran was sacrosanct and could not be tampered with. Among Hindus, nothing is really sacrosanct. Hindus accept aspects of any religion if it appeals to them. West Asian religions are different—there is no room for accommodating other points of view. This explains the impossibility of even sects within those religions coming to terms with each other. They are dogmatic to the core. The situation has not changed even a wee bit in the 21st century. Guru Nanak (1469 AD-1539 AD) was born in the Punjab, now in Pakistan. He was a contemporary of Kabir, Surdas, and Mirabai, but a little earlier than Tulsidas. He belonged to a period of religious revival under the early Mughals. While Kabir was very critical of both Hinduism and Islam, Nanak wanted to combine the good aspects of both the major religions and bring about unity. He travelled widely —he went to Mecca for haj; his closest friend was a Muslim from Lahore; he toured Iraq and Afghanistan. He had a special affinity to Sufism, especially that branch of Sufism propagated by Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Moinuddin Chishti belonged to a place called Chishti near Herat in Afghanistan. He came to India and established himself in Ajmer. The Dargah of Ajmer has become a sacred place for both Muslims and Hindus alike. Guru Nanak lived a very simple life and preached harmony, love, co-existence, and tolerance among followers of all religions. He preached human service, generosity, and hospitality to one and 220
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all. The Sikh gurudwaras even today offer food to everyone and do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of religion, race, or caste. When Guru Nanak passed away in 1539 AD, his nominee became the second Guru. His message continued to be propagated by his able followers. The fourth Guru, Guru Ramdas was highly respected by the Mughal King Akbar and he donated a piece of land in Amritsar to him. This became the present day Golden Temple, the sacred abode of Sikh religion in India. His son and the next Guru compiled the Adi Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs. The sacred text of the Sikhs contains many verses from Sufi saints; it gives due importance to Hindu mythology as well. A great organizer, Guru Arjan Dev ji preached the message of Guru Nanak. However, his forays into politics of the Mughals cost him his life. Later, the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, organized the Khalsa—a band of brave soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause of humanity. They became fighters and fought battles with various rulers including the Mughals; but the Mughals were still very powerful and Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s life ended in a tragedy. The martyrdom of the 9th guru, Guru Tegh Bahadur under the orders of Aurangzeb (when he was given the choice between martyrdom and conversion to Islam, he chose martyrdom), inspired the Sikhs even more. Guru Tegh Bahadur’s son, Guru Gobind, was a very capable leader. He organized the Khalsa and prepared additions to the Adi Granth. He was the tenth and the last Guru of the Sikhs. Thereafter, the leadership of the Sikhs passed on to their holy book Guru Granth Sahib. Nevertheless, the Sikh religion is still very strong and vibrant. The majority of the people in the Indian Punjab are Sikhs. The death of Aurangzeb in 1707 AD saw a revival of Hinduism in the North. The decline of the Mughal Empire was brought about by the religious fanaticism of Aurangzeb on the one hand, and 221
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equally strong religious convictions of Shivaji and his successors, who fought bravely to weaken the Mughal rule. The resurgent Hinduism in the Ganga plains was focused on the Ramacharitamanas of Tulsidas in Hindi; thus the Rama cult was born in the North. The North has remained firmly rooted in the Epics and Puranas. The situation has not in any way changed after independence. The Mimamsa religion continues to remain irrelevant in the North.
The Issue of Religious Conversion Hinduism never entertained the concept of ‘conversion’. As a result, the tribal and village communities in India were able to preserve, protect, and practice their religions without any hindrance. This is a highly civilized and very liberal policy. The religions of the Middle East, in particular, Islam and Christianity, have a different viewpoint that is diametrically opposed to this. In this chapter, we shall deal only with Islam; conversions to Christianity will be discussed in the next chapter. There are differences in the methods used by both. Conversions to Islam in Northern India sometimes had an element of compulsion or threat of violence. This is dramatically illustrated in the case of Guru Tegh Bahadur who was offered the choice between death by decapitation and conversion to Islam. He preferred death to conversion. However, in reality, most people, if not all, would accept conversion to save their lives. The use of force or threats was often made at three levels: individual, family, entire village, or community of artisans like weavers, metal workers or other artisans. Most Muslim converts in the Ganga plains were from the artisan group. The threat to them came in the form of withdrawal of patronage by the ruling class, who were Muslims. Threats of loss of property or violation of women and young girls were also made to convert entire families to Islam. 222
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There are limits to forceful conversions when the rulers are aliens from a different land. This is an aspect that inhibited the use of force by the kings of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughals. Also, a number of Muslim kings were not religious minded and they did not want forced conversions. On the other hand, forced conversions could occur at the local level at the insistence of the local clergy or the local militia. Armed resistance by Hindus did take place in the form of peasant revolts. These revolts occurred even during the rule of Akbar, for the people who wielded power at lower levels were not as tolerant as the king. At a still later stage, the Vijayanagar Empire in the South and the Marathas under Shivaji and his successors waged wars against the Muslim ruling class.
Hinduism at the End of Muslim Rule in the North By 1800 AD, Brahminical Hinduism, by which I mean the performance of Vedic rites at home, at least by Brahmanas and a modicum of knowledge of Vedic mantras among them had come to an end. It did survive among the few priestly groups in cities like Varanasi and a few isolated centres. These priests lived by providing services to pilgrims and those families claiming Kshatriya lineage, real or false. Unlike the South, there are no land grant villages in the North, nor could they practice Vedic rituals and perform Vedic yagas under Muslim rule. The local Muslim clerics often prompted the Muslim military leaders to put a stop to such practices in their area of influence. This is well illustrated by Gokhale in his study of Surat in the 17th century. By 1730 AD, the Mughal Empire existed only in name. It was destroyed by the fundamentalist and fanatical rule of Aurangzeb combined with bravery of the Marathas under Shivaji (1630 AD-1680 AD) and his successors. Aurangzeb destroyed the Mughal Empire by zealous pursuit of a religion that did not belong to him. 223
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The South and Muslim Inroads The far south—Tamil Nadu and Kerala—were never ruled by Muslims, even though there were brief encounters especially during the time of Tipu Sultan which lasted for eighteen years. Muslim nabobs ruled the Arcot region in Tamil Nadu for a short period before 1800 AD. Kerala was, during this period, under three kingdoms—those of Travancore, Kochi, and Malabar (under the Zamorins of Calicut). Malabar came under British rule; the other two remained as Hindu kingdoms until Independence. Further north, there were three important Muslim Kingdoms during the medieval period—Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, Golkonda in Telangana and adjoining parts of Maharashtra (Marathwada) and Karnataka (Hyderabad Karnataka), and finally the kingdom in Bijapur in north Karnataka. They were in constant wars with each other and the Vijayanagar Empire (1336-1565 AD). Of these, only the Hyderabad State survived during British rule, but under a new dynasty—a by product of Moghul disintegration. The Bahmani kingdoms also had to contend with the Marathas based in Pune. Later, the Marathas split into five groups and extended their rule to Gwalior (Sindhias), Indore (Holkars) in Madhya Pradesh; Baroda (Gaikwads) in Gujarat, Nagpur (Bhonsle) and Pune (Peshwas) in Maharashtra. A small branch of the Maratha royalty ruled Tanjavur during the 17th century; they however, promoted Hinduism. The Marathas under Shivaji always respected Brahmanas and Pune became an important centre of Sanskrit based Vedic Hinduism in medieval and later periods.
The Bahmani Kingdoms The Muslim kingdoms of the South have their origin in the misadventure of Tuglak who shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad (earlier known as Devagiri) and back. The southern commanders combined to throw the Tuglak regime out of the Deccan and in its place the Bahmani kingdom was established with 224
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Gulbarga as its capital in 1347 AD. This kingdom lasted for over a century and in 1489 AD it broke up into five kingdoms (together known as Bahmani kingdoms with their respective capitals in Ahmednagar and Berar in Maharashtra, Golkonda in Telangana, Bidar and Bijapur in North Karnataka). Muslim rule in the Deccan thus came two centuries later than in Delhi. The Bahmani kingdoms were constantly tormented by Mughal armies from the north and the armies of Vijayanagar, Warangal, the Konkan, and other Hindu kingdoms. They were eventually overrun by Shivaji and his Maratha warriors. Only Hyderabad under the Nizam (who was a governor under the Mughals) survived till India’s Independence in 1947. On the whole, the Bahmani rulers came from the lower rungs of society—their origin can be traced to slaves, and servants. They were made ineffective by palace intrigue and constant wars with neighbors and often by incompetent rulers. Most of them were given to pomp and luxury and wasted their resources. There were a few, may be two or three, who were inclined towards scholarship and the arts, but they did not make much of an impression. They did build a few spectacular mosques, for example, the Bijapur mosque with its large dome. Muslim rule in the Deccan and adjoining areas did not do much damage to Hinduism, although the Vedic form of Hinduism was impossible to practice under these conditions. However, small communities of Brahmanas did manage to keep it alive. The Puranic form of Hinduism, under the circumstances, replaced the Vedic religion, which as we noted earlier needs special conditions for its practice. The Puranic religion was easier to practice and did not require the services of priests, nor even temples. The slow but steady emergence of vernacular translations of Epics and Puranas was adequate compensation for the absence of the Vedic religion. These thrived with bhakti or devotion as the primary forms of worship and belief.
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An interesting aspect of this development is the emergence of religious leaders from among the lower classes of society; notable among them were Namdev in Maharashtra (1400 AD-1450 AD), Kshetrayya (1622 AD-1673 AD) in Andhra, Tukaram (1608 AD1649 AD), a Dalit poet from Maharashtra and so on. Conversion of Hindus to Islam did take place during this period; nevertheless, the proportion of population converted was only around 10 percent; this percentage has remained nearly constant ever since.
Vijayanagar and Warangal We have already noted the emergence of Shivaji motivated by the desire to defend Hinduism from the onslaught of Islam further north. However, Shivaji was preceded by others further south. Harihara and Bukka, who had the same religious fervour had established the Vijayanagar Empire (1336 AD-1569 AD) in Hampi and to a large extent blocked the advance of Islam into the deep South. Similarly, the Kakatiyas of Warangal (13th and 14th centuries) also held on to power neutralising the advance of the Bahmani kingdoms. Vijayanagar was the most powerful kingdom in the South in the 15th century and its capital was noted for its architectural beauty. Still, commanders of the Muslim kingdoms managed to come as far as Madurai and they did establish a small kingdom in the Arcot district of Tamil Nadu, which survived till the British period. Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagar, was eventually destroyed by Muslim invaders in1569 AD. But by that time Shivaji and his forces were active in the north and Aurangzeb was bogged down in war with them. People of Vijayanagar survived and established themselves in Madurai; they rebuilt the Madurai Meenakshi temple, destroyed by Malik Kafur in the 13th century. The new temple is a magnificent monument, and exists in its original form even today. 226
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Almost all other temples in the deep South remain intact and so also Hinduism of all shades remained very much alive there. The Vijayanagar Empire encouraged Hinduism, art, and literature. For the vernacular languages of Kannada and Telugu, it was a golden period. Notable contributions were made to the literature of these languages during this period.
The Tipu Interlude In Mysore, where Hindu kings had ruled for a long time, Hyder Ali, an ordinary soldier under the Hindu King, managed to usurp the throne. He and his son ruled from Srirangapatnam, a very small island on the Kaveri River near Mysore for about 40 years. During this period, they were in constant war with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the British. They sided with the French, who were, on most occasions, outwitted by the British. Eventually, Tipu Sultan was killed in an operation in Srirangapatnam (killed by a sniper’s stray bullet) and his rule came to an end. The Hindu kings of Mysore were restored to power again.
Summary The impact of Muslim rule differs sharply between the North and the extreme South. In the extreme South, Islam had no impact whatsoever on Hinduism, while the North-West came entirely under its sway (this includes the whole of the Indus basin, except the Indian Punjab). Elsewhere in the North, in the Ganga Plains, the Muslim impact meant practically the elimination of Vedic religion. However, Hinduism survived in the form of Puranic religion with idol worship, bhakti and bhajans as forms of worship. The situation in Bengal is somewhat unexplainable. Here, in the extreme east, 90 percent of the people were converted to Islam; while the part of Bengal in India was predominantly Hindu. While one does understand the conversion of Hindus in the Indus basin from around 7th century, the conversion to Islam 227
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in Bangladesh could only be because of extreme poverty and an exploitative feudalism that existed there. Perhaps the most notable contribution of Muslim rule in the North was the emergence of a common language—a lingua franca—in the form of Hindustani. This language, in its oral form, is understood all over India and Pakistan and even beyond. It established a firm cultural bond in South Asia. To this we may add Sufism which dominates Islam in the subcontinent and which is closely linked to mysticism of the Hindu variety.
Hinduism under British Rule • India in 1800 AD • Christianity in India • The Indologists • Raja Ram Mohan Roy—the Father of Hindu Reforms • Swami Dayananda Saraswati • Swami Vivekananda • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan • Brahmanas in the South • Hindu Diaspora • Mahatma Gandhi • Hindu Muslim Rivalry and Partition
India in 1800 AD In 1800 AD, the political map of India was highly fragmented with hundreds of small kingdoms, both Hindu and Muslim, dispersed across the length and breadth of the sub-continent with a British presence almost everywhere. The British had come to India for commercial gain. Their presence in India started with trading posts at first in Surat, later in Madras in 1639 AD, Bombay in 1688 AD and Calcutta in 1698 AD. These places formed the nuclei of British rule in India. The British East India Company had by 1800 AD established itself firmly in Bengal, Madras, and much of the east coast region, and they were in a position to extend their territorial control over the rest of India. However, this took a few decades more. The Marathas under the Sindhias, Holkars, Gaikwads still held on to power and the Sikhs under their powerful leader, Raja Ranjit Singh, were still ruling over a greater part of the present day Pakistan with the capital at Lahore. The Mughal king had been reduced to a puppet under the British East India Company. The power and prestige of the
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Mughals had long since vanished after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 AD; a number of governors and jagirdars under the Mughals (both Hindus and Muslims) had declared their independence and established their rule in their respective territories. The Nizam of Hyderabad was among the prominent members of this group and he played politics with the Company to his disadvantage, so also did most of the rulers of this period. The main rivalry at this stage was between the British and French East India companies. In this rivalry the British had the upper hand, mostly because of sheer luck. The Gurkhas of Nepal were subdued by 1814 AD and vital Himalayan territory was secured for the hill stations of which Shimla became the summer capital of the British. Tipu Sultan was vanquished in 1800 AD, and with the taming of the Nizam of Hyderabad around 1818 AD, the French role in India also came to an end, except in a few very small pockets of Pondicherry, Karaikkal, and Chandranagore. Goa and Daman and Diu were under Portuguese rule since 1510 AD (The Portuguese had a special relationship with the British and hence their survival). Much of India was in a state of anarchy with no competent rulers anywhere. The British, at this stage, saw the possibility of a much bigger role for them. By 1840 AD, the Sikh rule in Lahore came to an end and the whole of the Indus basin was under British control. India had fully become a British colony. The Indian sub-continent, in effect, was directly or indirectly under British control. The power of the British, both in territories directly administered by them and those which were under petty rulers, was growing with the passage of time. The British East India company framed rules by which they could annex the Indian kingdoms in case of disputes over succession or misrule. In spite of all this, the British and the English language were in the process of unifying the entire sub-continent; new institutions, both administrative and judicial, were coming into play. 230
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With the East India Company, Christian missionaries had just begun to come to India in the latter half of the 18th century, to convert the local population to Christianity. Eventually, in the early part of the 19th century, the missionaries created considerable friction and it had far reaching consequences for the British and the Hindu population. The Muslims, however, were not affected at all for two reasons—Islam was seen as a sister religion which the Christian missionaries were well aware of and respected, while they had no understanding of Hinduism. It was to them a very primitive religion badly in need of reform and help. The introduction of paper and the printing machines in the second half of the 18th century had far-reaching implications for the dissemination of information in general, and for education. It helped Hindus to discover their religion through the original texts or vernacular translations which were then printed and made available in the form of books as we know them today. In medieval times, this facility did not exist and paper for writing was not known even during the Mughal period. The developments during the British period, therefore, should be viewed in the context of the revolution brought about by the use of paper for writing and the printing press.
Christianity in India Christianity came to India (in Kerala) as early as 2nd century AD according to one tradition. It is said that St Thomas, a disciple of Jesus Christ, came to India and converted people to Christianity. It is also believed that he died in Santhome near Mylapore in Chennai. According to another view, Christianity came to India via Persia in the 6th century AD; this stream accounts for Syrian Christians, for the Christians who came from Persia with trading ships were affiliated to the Church of Antioch in Syria. In the 16th century AD, Jesuit missionaries came to Kerala and found Christian communities there. However, these communities 231
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practiced a form of Christianity which was little different from Hinduism. The Jesuits tried to reform the existing Christian communities—a section of whom were fully converted to the Roman Catholic Church, while the other continued to be known as Syrian Christians. These people perhaps gave up some of their old Hindu practices as a result of the contact with the Jesuits. The Christian Community in Kerala is very strong economically and educationally, unlike Christian communities elsewhere in India where they carry a low caste or tribal tag. Christian Missionary activity was most pronounced in Tamil Nadu in the 19th century where they met with success in converting the less privileged classes of society. Christianity could not convert persons belonging to the Brahmana or other upper class non-Brahmanas except in rare cases. In the 19th century, Christian missionaries initially adopted a very aggressive posture. They used the newly translated Hindu scriptures, using selected passages, to show the decadent nature of Hindu society and highlighted the inequalities and the discrimination of people of low caste. They even ridiculed Hindu mythology pointing out the contradictions and absurdities. Upper caste Hindus took the fight back to them and pointed out the absurdities in Christian beliefs. In general, the upper castes in India did not have a high opinion of either Christianity or Islam. In other words, they felt that Hindu religious doctrines, as outlined in the Upanishads, were far superior to those of Christianity or Islam. The impact of the missionary activity is seen in educational institutions which were established in all the big towns and cities. These were, for the most part, patronized by Brahmanas and other upper castes. However, this did not lead to conversion of these classes. If we bypass the issue of conversion, everyone including Brahmanas would agree that the Christian missions in the South 232
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performed good service for the people of all classes, not only in the field of education but also in medicine and in orphanages and similar institutions for the poor and disabled. Christian missionary activity in North India met with even lesser success; but the pattern was much the same—a greater impact on the poor and lower strata of society and far less on the upper Varnas. In the 20th century, the Christian missionaries focused more on tribal areas in Bihar and Odisha and in the North-East. In the North-East they met with great success; the majority of the people of Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are now Christians. Their degree of success in Jharkhand and Odisha was far less.
The Indologists Unlike the Christian missionaries who came to India in late 18th century, there were a few British and even Europeans who were genuinely interested in learning Sanskrit and knowing more about the ancient texts in this language. These gentlemen were the first Indologists, who discovered the linguistic connections between European languages and Sanskrit. From this first step it was held that Sanskrit and European languages had a common origin; hundreds of words in Sanskrit had similarities with German and English words. The common origin of languages led to the theory of the common origin of people and a common race; the latter came to be known as the ‘Aryan’ race. However, the connection between language and race is now totally discredited and the concept of the ‘Aryan’ race totally abandoned. Among the Indologists, Charles Wilkins was the first to learn Sanskrit from local pundits; he was an administrator under the company. He was later joined by William Jones, who came to India as a judge of the Supreme Court in Calcutta. He was a great scholar and linguist. He learnt Sanskrit with help from Wilkins and the Pundits. Together, they established the Asiatic society of 233
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Bengal in Calcutta. Wilkins translated the Bhagavad Gita and later the Hitopadesa into English, while Jones translated Kalidas’s Sakuntalam and Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam and finally Manusmriti (The Institutes of Hindoo Law). These leading Indologists were later joined by equally eminent scholars: Henry Colebrooke and Horace H Wilson. The latter became the first professor of Sanskrit in Oxford University. Universities in the United Kingdom and European countries appointed professors in Sanskrit and Indian studies. Interest in Sanskrit and study of Sanskrit and Hindu religion and philosophy expanded in Europe and led to translations of a great many texts including the Rigveda, the Upanishads, and a host of others. Max Mueller, who never set foot in India, translated Rigveda; he was based in Oxford in England, although he was a German by birth. The extraordinary interest in Sanskrit in Britain and Europe was motivated by the desire to claim antiquity for their civilization. Northern Europe had little to boast of by way of culture or civilization in comparison with southern Europe. The discovery of a common link to the east which had an ancient civilization boosted their morale and the claim of a common superior ‘Aryan’ race enhanced their self-respect. This lasted for only a few decades; it was then discovered that Sanskrit and Indian civilization had close links with Greek and Latin as well. Besides, Alexander had come to India in 327 BC and in the process established a deeper civilisational contact and cross fertilization. The discoveries of the Indologists were made possible by the collection of original manuscripts in Sanskrit of the Vedas and other texts from various parts of India, both the South and the North. Seventy-five percent of the original manuscripts, numbering over fifty thousand, came from South India, while the rest came from the remote Himalayan belt including Nepal. These manuscripts were written on palm leaves or in bhurja-patra (the bark of the birch tree) and were in different scripts, according to the region from where 234
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they were obtained. In Tamil Nadu, the manuscripts were in the grantham script. The Brahmi script was deciphered in 1837; this was made possible by the work of Alexander Cunningham. Although he was a military man, he devoted all his time to the study of ancient works of art, sculpture and engravings. Thus, a new dimension was opened up and new evidence of the past became available. Ultimately, this resulted in the establishment of the Archaeological Survey of India with very meagre funds; nevertheless progress was made. The final chapter during the British period was the discovery of the Harappan culture by Sir John Marshall and further excavation by Mortimer Wheeler after the Second World War. Independent India has vastly expanded its knowledge with recent excavations. In the latter half of the 19th century, many Indians with a background in Sanskrit and English joined the group of Indologists. Among these, the most well-known was RG Bhandarkar, who wrote books on Sanskrit grammar in English and it became the standard text used for the study of Sanskrit in Indian Universities in the 20th century. Apart from the Asiatic society of Bengal, new institutions came into being in Pune, Banaras, Chennai and other places. These institutions also specialized in the procurement and preservation of manuscripts and their study. This gave birth to a number of Indian scholars who were recognized as Indologists the world over. The interest in Sanskrit and the rise of Indology is only part of the story. In the South, we had another kind of discovery. The initiative for this was provided by the Christian missionary, Sir Robert Caldwell, who spent all his life in the district of Tirunelveli and wrote a classic work on Dravidian languages. This opened up a new vista, generating interest in the Tamil language and its ancient literature and culture and the links between the Northern Sanskrit culture and the Southern Tamil culture. Perhaps, the most important contribution of Indology is that the Indian elite became aware of the greatness of their religion and 235
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its significance in a global context. It had important implications for the way in which the English educated Indian elite began to view their ancient heritage and take pride in their past, and that in turn spurred a nationalistic ferment, something that was totally absent in India in the past. Unfortunately, the new fervour included a racist interpretation of Indian history, something that the Indian scholars imbibed from their western counterparts and peers.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy—the Father of Hindu Reforms Raja Ram Mohan Roy was the first Hindu to react in a positive way to the criticism by Christian missionaries of Hindu society and Hindu religion. He was, and he remained a Hindu. He was equally staunch in his determination to eliminate certain negative social practices, which had no sanction in our religious texts, but were still followed. It is notable that he articulated his strong views on various issues and pleaded for legal reforms but the East India Company at that time (around 1800 AD) was not willing to oblige. The policy of the company at that time was not to interfere in religious matters, while allowing Christian missionaries a free hand to have their way and criticize Hinduism by making very aggressive statements. Ram Mohan Roy knew English, Sanskrit, and Bengali well. He published Bengali translations of extracts from Hindu scriptures to support his views on Hindu social reforms. He thought highly of the Vedas. He advocated the principle of one God—Brahman and rejected all other Gods. He rejected the worship of Puranic Gods and idol worship in particular. He opposed all rituals—Vedic and non-Vedic, although he wore the sacred thread throughout his life. In 1828, he founded the Brahma Sabha to propagate his views. This was, as a practical measure, confined to the elite. The other sections were in no position to understand his viewpoint. Ram Mohan Roy emphasized the need for English education for the younger generation, and towards this end he established educational institutions and encouraged others to do so. 236
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He was a great social reformer. He opposed the practice of sati, saying that it had no sanction in Hindu scriptures. He was against the caste system and discrimination based on it. He advocated widow remarriage and pleaded for a share of the inheritance for women so that they could live a life of dignity. He was against polygamy. He believed in freedom of speech and believed that education was the key to uplift India into the age of modernity. Ram Mohan Roy fought for the freedom of the press in 1790s, while it was eventually granted in 1817, with few restrictions. All restrictions were totally abolished in 1835. Raja Ram Mohan Roy was a pioneer and the greatest leader of Hindu reforms. There has not been a personality like him since, with the exception of Swami Vivekananda. Ram Mohan Roy stood firm for an enlightened Hindu society, complete freedom, the upliftment of women and all the weaker sections of Hindu society. His views are still relevant in the 21st century. The Brahma Sabha that he founded did not survive very long. It was renamed as Brahmo Samaj. This institution split several times. The men who took over were in no way comparable in stature to Ram Mohan Roy. They retained some irrelevant vestiges of the past while claiming to be reformers and the society eventually passed into irrelevance.
Swami Dayananda Saraswati A great Hindu reformer of the latter half of the 19th century was Swami Dayananda Saraswati (1824 AD-1883 AD) who founded the Arya Samaj. The Swami was well versed in Sanskrit but did not have an English education. He believed that the evil practices of the Hindus, as pointed out by Christian missionaries, were all due to corruption brought about by later additions to Hindu scriptures in the form of Puranas. He declared them to be the work of ignorant men who did not understand the Vedas. 237
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Much like Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda believed in the principle of one God as formulated in the Upanishads. He opposed Puranic Gods and idol worship. He was against caste discrimination and restrictions based on caste. The Arya Samaj institutions and the Vedic rituals they advocate are open to all Hindus without any distinction. This includes the most important lifecycle ritual, namely, marriage. Arya Samaj weddings are still very popular among the educated classes in India and outside. They are recommended for those young Hindu couples who want to break away from the expensive traditional marriages with their irrelevant rituals and ostentation. The Arya Samaj weddings are strictly based on Vedic prescriptions (that is, as prescribed in the Brahmanas of Yajurveda). An even more important ritual is the shudhi ceremony by which non-Hindus may be converted to Hinduism. This is considered to be a major vehicle for unifying all Hindus and even non-Hindus, if they are willing to join. Nevertheless, the shudhi is indeed an imitation of the Christian practices of baptism and communion. Dayananda propagated his views through his work—Satyartha Prakas. This is the basic text for the followers of Arya Samaj. The Arya Samaj found large followers in the Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh. Outside of this, it exists only in the larger cities of India. In the North, the Arya Samaj is opposed by those who follow sanatana dharma. The latter believe that Hinduism is a revealed religion, much the same way as Christianity. All Hindu scriptures were revealed to Veda Vyasa, whom the Sanatanis’ consider as the founding father of Hinduism. They believe in the Epics and Puranas. These two schools had a running feud in the Punjab and Delhi for decades. Arya Samaj found many leaders to take it forward; among them were: Lala Lajpat Rai, Lala Hansraj and Swami Shraddhanand. All three are well known figures in Punjab. These leaders promoted educational institutions in Lahore and other places. 238
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A few negative aspects of Dayananda Saraswati’s philosophy need to be mentioned. His lack of knowledge beyond Sanskrit texts led him to believe that the Vedas contained everything that mankind knew in his time. He believed all the scientific knowledge already existed in Vedic times. He was for the protection of cows and against cow slaughter. However, this is not mentioned as sacred in the Vedic texts. The sanctity of the cow is of Puranic origin and has nothing to do with the Vedas. Having rejected the Puranas, the excessive zeal for cow protection is not justified. The unfortunate outcome of the activities of the Arya Samaj and the followers of Sanatana Dharma is that the negative aspects of the movements are now stressed more while the positive aspects are ignored.
Swami Vivekananda In the late 19th century, Swami Vivekananda electrified Hinduism by infusing the spirit of nationalism and patriotism in it. He spoke eloquently about the greatness of the Vedas and Upanishads. Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendranath Dutta in 1863 AD. He was not a Brahmana, unlike Ram Mohan Roy or Dayananda Saraswati. He graduated from the Presidency College, Calcutta University, in 1884 AD. He was a brilliant student and a great orator. As a student he had already come under the influence of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836 AD-1886 AD), an obscure priest in an obscure temple for Kali in Dakshineswar, situated north of Calcutta. But for the eminence of his disciple, the guru would perhaps never have attained name or fame. Ramakrishna was illiterate but he displayed great wisdom and had a storehouse of parables to illustrate his viewpoints on Hindu religion. He had a broad outlook and believed that all religions and all Gods are one and same, much like Kabir or Guru Nanak before him. He had a knack for telling stories with great effect and this is what attracted the attention of young Narendranath who became an 239
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ardent follower of Ramakrishna, and in later years, compiled the stories told by his master into a text. Upon the death of his guru in 1886 AD, Narendranath withdrew into his Mutt in Baranagar and took sanyas in 1887 AD. This was the beginning of his spiritual journey. He travelled to Kanyakumari and by meditating on the rock at the southern extremity of India, he received enlightenment. Thereafter, he lived as a monk, preached to the masses and attracted followers. His oratory and erudition won him many followers from high and low society and he travelled widely to publicize his views. He had, by this time, established himself as a true Vedantin. He wrote commentaries on Upanishads. He loved to sing in public and thus enhanced the power of his oratory. More importantly, it is the eloquent manner in which he highlighted the message of the Vedas and Upanishads that earned him a name as perhaps the greatest Hindu sage of his time. Vivekananda believed that all religions are valid and equal. He was vehemently opposed to obscurantism and blind faith. With considerable difficulty and with help from friends, he managed to travel to the United States to attend the World Conference of Religions in 1893 AD. When his turn came, he gave a rousing speech that made him instantly famous. He returned to India and established the Ramakrishna Mission with the objective of advancing education and to help the weaker sections of society. The Ramakrishna Mission is now a worldwide organization with branches in all cities of India. Its educational institutions are well known and highly rated. Swami Vivekananda’s popularity spread very widely among the educated elite in India. He is the founder of the new brand of nationalistic Hinduism. The growth of nationalistic Hindu organizations of the 20th century is a direct outcome of Swami Vivekananda’s influence. It should, however, be noted that Vivekananda was greatly influenced by the West also. Nationalism, racism and patriotism are 19th century European concepts. They 240
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are alien to the ethos of Hinduism; yet, they were readily accepted by the Indian elite. Hindus began to glorify their religion and their past, a trend that has continued to dominate religious thinking in India to the present. Swami Vivekananda passed away at a young age in 1902.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Another influential figure was Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. He was a philosopher and an Oxford professor. He wrote many books on Hinduism from a religious and philosophical angle; the historical aspect was ignored. His most famous book is: The Hindu View of Life. A characteristic of his work was his keenness to show to the West the similarities between Hindu and Christian doctrines. In his comments on Bhagavad Gita he quotes extensively from Biblical cannons. Radhakrishnan’s interpretation of Bhagavad Gita differs significantly from Adi Sankara’s. Radhakrishnan follows Ramanuja’s Visishtadvaita, in which Lord Krishna is seen as Saguna Brahman. It is this interpretation that facilitated his comparisons with Christian cannons. An offshoot of this line of thinking was that many influential Hindus began to accept that Hinduism is a revealed religion much the same way as Christianity. It is claimed that the Vedas were revealed to the rishies by God. In the same way, others assert that the Vedas, Upanishads, Epics and even Puranas were revealed to Veda Vyasa. Textual evidence does not support this view. Some among us think that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life and this conclusion is attributed to Radhakrishnan. The problem is that this statement is just a platitude—it means nothing. Christianity and Islam, or for that matter any religion, is a way of life. By saying that Hinduism is a way of life we convey nothing at all. The philosophical content in Radhakrishnan’s work is of great academic value, but it has no significance when it comes to the 241
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practice of Hinduism by the lay people who are totally uninfluenced and ignorant of his work.
Brahmanas in the South Perhaps, the greatest adverse impact of British rule over India was an indirect one. It attracted Brahmanas and converted them into clerks both in government and private trading companies, and above all the railways. The lure of jobs made even the most orthodox Brahmanas send their children to schools where English was taught and many, after 1857, went to colleges and obtained degrees. Ram Mohan Roy went to England to plead for initiating reforms; he did not succeed and he died in England. Many others went to England for higher education. The lure of office took young Brahmanas out of their religion and out of orthodoxy. This was a shattering blow from which the old fashioned Vedic religion which was still being practiced in the agraharams in the South would never recover. Brahmanas, living comfortably in agraharams in the South, had to face newer problems. They lived on income from land cultivated by tenants. While the Hindu kings exempted Brahmanas from all kinds of taxation including land revenue, the British did not recognize this age old arrangement. The relationship between landlord and tenant was now subject to the jurisdiction of the courts and this had adverse consequences for Brahmanas. They lost income from gifts for rituals performed in the houses of the kings and nobles under the old system. Above all, they could not hope for fresh land grants to accommodate their increasing numbers. The last agraharams, to my knowledge, are the ones established in the kingdom of the Zamorins of Calicut, the kingdom of Kochi, and kingdom of Travancore in the 18th century. No agraharams came up after this period, although Brahmanas did build houses and even groups of houses known as mathas (a matha is simply a house of a Brahmana in the South) for a variety of reasons. These were all done with private income and not gifts. All these 242
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developments led to the neglect of Vedic learning and the practice of Mimamsa religion. Given below is a brief history of my family for five generations to illustrate the changes that came over Brahmanas during British rule. In the agraharam of Chandrasekharapuram in Palakkad, my grandfather’s grandfather was a village teacher in the early decades of the 19th century. He taught young boys, who were initiated into brahmacharya by upanayana ceremony, Sanskrit grammar and language, as well as Vedas and Upanishads. If they wanted to specialize in the performance of Vedic yajnas, they had to go to a Vedic school some 20 kms away. His son was well read in the Smrities and he practiced law in the vernacular language. The law at this time meant Mitakshrara or Dayabhaga as far as property disputes were concerned, while some general principles from Manusmriti were also taken into account. He practiced law in the courts in Palakkad town—a few km away. He would have learnt a little bit of English in the course of his practice where the judges were British. In early 1880s, he sent his only son to Chennai (then Madras) for higher education in the Presidency College and later in the law college. In those days there were neither railways nor any means of travel except on foot, bullock carts or horseback in caravans that periodically connected the towns. My grandfather took a bachelor’s degree and a degree in law from the University of Madras. He practiced law in sub-district court in Tirur, about 100 km from our native village, where he built a house. By this time, the study of Sanskrit and Vedas at home from one’s parents had almost stopped. My grandfather, in later years, learnt Sanskrit by self-study using RG Bhandarkar’s books on Sanskrit grammar in English. My father and all his brothers graduated in the early 20th century. My father became a teacher in a government run school and eventually became a headmaster. While he taught English and mathematics at school, he learned many languages, including Sanskrit on his own and read 243
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all the Vedas and Upanishads. He did not neglect the Vedic rituals at home, although the more important ones were performed with the help of a professional priest who had undergone training for the purpose. By the time I was a boy of 11 years of age, India had become independent. I was, however, initiated into brahmacharya by my father and I learned to do the nitya karmas and Gayathri japa and homa all by myself. I did study Sanskrit at school. In my adult life, I became an agnostic and completely gave up rituals. I started the study of Vedas in Sanskrit only after retirement at the age of sixty. However, I never resumed Vedic rituals. I do not believe in Puranic Gods and rituals like puja, nor do I go to temples. However, my wife is a follower of Puranic Hinduism and she performs puja daily at home. While I was brought up in an environment where Sanskrit played a part and Vedic rituals were performed, these were no longer considered to be important in one’s life. With my generation, I would assume, the Mimamsa religion has come to an end. I do not think that it is being practiced by any family in a serious way. The study of Sanskrit has ceased, except in a very non-serious way in schools. There is no question of learning to recite the Vedic mantras in a proper way. However, the study of Sanskrit and Vedas along with Vedic rituals is taught and practiced in a few religious Mutts.
Hindu Diaspora British rule in India should not be viewed in an isolated way, for the British had many colonies, over fifty in number, covering the whole world. They were the main world power during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. They needed cheap labour to work in sugarcane plantations in the West Indies and Fiji, in tea plantations in Ceylon, and rubber plantations in Malaysia. Labour was procured from villages in North India as well as the South—they were the so called indentured labour, in short slaves. The majority of them were Hindus, while Muslims were almost absent from this 244
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class. The Hindu agricultural workers toiled hard and earned little and they were ill-treated by their white masters. Mahatma Gandhi has described the lot of these poor Hindus in the province of Natal in South Africa. He tried to help them through legal means and succeeded to a large extent. Among the workers whom he helped were Tamils, from the present day Tamil Nadu. Agricultural labourers were not the only Hindus to go to distant lands; the trading community went in large numbers to East and South Africa and other countries as well. They were followed by educated middle classes who sought administrative jobs as clerks in government and private industry. In later decades, Hindus and Muslims alike went to England as permanent residents and became British citizens. The majority of the Hindus who thus migrated to foreign lands still continue to be Hindus; thus we have a large diaspora of Hindus all over the world. In the post-independence period and especially at the end of the 20th century, highly educated Indians have been migrating to the developed world, in particular the United States, where their presence is fairly conspicuous now. I also went to the US, under a US government scholarship, to earn my doctoral degree in geography in the 1960s, but I returned back home to teach at the University of Delhi, while many others did not come back.
Mahatma Gandhi In the second decade of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi returned from South Africa to India to lead the independence movement, which was weakening for want of proper leadership. Gandhi ignited the freedom movement with his own brand of nonviolent passive resistance. He had admiration for the British and he did not consider them as enemies; all he wanted for India was dominion status under the British crown. He was a passionate and devout Hindu. He was a Vaishnavite to the core. To him Ramayana was the bible and Ram his favourite 245
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God. He did not believe in rituals or idol worship; his worship was in the form of bhajans. The evening bhajan was his main expression of the depth of his faith in God. His religion in a nutshell was dharma, which in Ramayana is spelt out as satyam. Satyam and dharma are one and the same. The word dharma in Hinduism denotes dharma as prescribed in the Smrities; but to Gandhiji and to most of the lay Hindus, dharma is Ramayana or Mahabharata. They tell us about dharma in a story form. In Ramayana there is a section on satya prasamsa which is considered to be the essence of Ramayana. To Gandhiji, Ramayana and Ram were everything. He devoted his life to the search for truth. His autobiography is titled: My experiments with Truth. He called fasting a form of political protest or Satyagraha. He was looking for the truth, for the right path for everyone. Gandhiji was quite unlike earlier reformers like Ram Mohan Roy or Swami Dayananda, who based their religion on the Vedas and Upanishads; even Swami Vivekananda was rooted to spiritualism based on Upanishads. Gandhi was no savant like Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. His religion was the religion of the masses—direct and simple. One problem he had to face squarely on his return to India was the status of the so called ‘untouchables’ in Hindu society. Gandhi was opposed to this and other practices of a degrading nature among Hindus. His solution was to live with them and like them. He called the ‘untouchables’ Harijans—hari is Vishnu and therefore they are the ‘children of Vishnu or God’. The political aspect of the problem of Harijans cropped up in the 1930s when there was discussion in the Congress party on a tentative constitution for India. B R Ambedkar, who argued the case of Harijans, was for separate electoral rolls for Harijans and the freedom to choose their leaders by themselves. Gandhi was rightly opposed to this, but he agreed to the concept of reservation of seats for Harijans in legislatures and in government jobs. The 246
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representatives of the people from among the Harijans were to be elected by all; and not just the Harijans. Gandhi won his point on this score. However, on another issue he lost. Gandhi was passionately for village autonomy – Ambedkar vehemently opposed this on the ground that the Harijans under this system would remain subordinated forever. An even greater problem for Gandhi was the presence of large numbers of Muslims in British India. Muslims constituted nearly a third of the population of the sub-continent and Gandhi wanted Hindus and Muslims to live together as one nation as they had done for centuries. He believed in the unity of all religions—for Ishwar and Allah were one and the same for him. While a substantial number, perhaps even a majority believed in the concept of a unified India, there were sections among Muslims who did not believe that this was possible. Mahatma Gandhi had, eventually, to accept the Partition of the sub-continent into two, against his basic convictions.
Hindu Muslim Rivalry and Partition As the independence movement picked up momentum, the British sought ways to counter the force of the independence movement; they encouraged the Muslims in various ways to assert their point of view. The Muslims in India were sharply divided into the educated and the rich and the very poor. The idea that Muslims would remain poor and backward in a united India was used as an emotional plank by Muslim political leaders encouraged by the British. By the time of Independence, the Hindu-Muslim divide had assumed alarming proportions. Partition followed with disastrous consequences for Hindus and Muslims alike. In the meanwhile, under the leadership of Savarkar and others, a Hindu right wing was emerging in the political arena. In 1922, Savarkar coined the word hindutva. The ideology of hindutva united various right wing groups to oppose Gandhiji. In Gandhi 247
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they saw someone who would go to any extent to appease the Muslim community at the expense of the Hindus. The British encouraged the right wing group and they did not participate in the freedom movement. The after-effects of partition have left a lasting wound in the psyche of both Muslims and Hindus that has not healed ever since. Hindus, in general, have blamed the British for their divide and rule policy and showing partiality to the Muslims. Even after India and Pakistan became independent countries, there has been a general conviction in India that the Western countries always favoured Pakistan against India. This has always been a sore point in India’s relations with the West. This is a legacy of the British rule in India.
• Introduction • India in the 21st Century • Religious Composition • Hinduism at Present • The Collapse of the Varna System • The Survival of Jaties • The Decline of Agraharams • The Status of Brahmana Priests • The Decline of Religious Values • The Lure of Money • The Ancient Roots • Relevance of Vedanta
Introduction Hinduism remains very lively, vibrant and yet enigmatic. There are a handful of true religious leaders; none of them are great enough to command the respect of all Hindus. The Sankaracharyas of the four mutts in Sringeri, Puri, Jyotir Mutt, and Dwaraka still command considerable following among the elite. They are still accepted as the true authorities on Vedic Hinduism. Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati of Kanchi Mutt (1894– 1994) was perhaps the most revered religious leader of India during the 20th century. I have referred to him in the text several times as he was the foremost authority on the Hindu scriptures. In the 1950s, Rishikesh emerged as the spiritual capital of India. A number of ashramas were established here on the banks of the Ganga across the Lakshman Jhula. The Divine Life Society established by Swami Shivananda is a premier institution from where a new class of religious leaders emerged. Swami Chinmayananda was one of them. He started his career as a journalist but was soon
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attracted to the spiritual path. Eventually, he became a very wellknown Vedanta exponent. He knew both Sanskrit and English and wrote well in the latter language. He translated all the original Upanishads, Brahmasutra and Vivekachoodamani (in short all the works for which Adi Sankara wrote bhashyams) and all his works are available to the public. The Chinmaya Mission Trust has many branches in India and abroad. Swami Dayananda Saraswati, an associate of Swami Chinmayananda, who passed away recently (1930-2015), was an equally erudite Vedic scholar. He founded the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam which has branches in India and abroad. Another leading personality was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi whose Transcendental Meditation Centre in Rishikesh became very popular especially among a few British and Americans. AC Bhakta Vedanta Swami, the founder of ISKON, is another wellknown institution builder who had a very wide impact. Saibaba of Puttaparthi rose to eminence from a very humble background and established the Prasanti Nilayam in Puttaparthi. He had a huge following among Indians and Puttaparthi has become a centre of pilgrimage. He claimed to be an incarnation of God, something that is unusual among religious leaders, and yet, his followers believed him. In recent times, we have newer leaders who are exponents of bhakti or its variants, the latter requiring little or no spiritual knowledge. Mata Amritanandamayi is, to a large extent, like Saibaba of Puttaparthi. She rose from very humble origins and has built a very popular organization with educational institutions of international standard in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Bangalore. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is an exponent of spiritualism; originally, a follower of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, he has built his own religious institution—Art of Living Foundation. He is well known in India and abroad. At a still lower level, there are any number of religious mutts with their heads; some of them are very well read and command high respect locally. Nevertheless, Adi Sankara’s lament about the 250
presence of fake sanyasins in the 8th century AD is still very true in the 21st century. There is a whole class of religious leaders with followers in foreign lands; they serve the expatriates from India and a few foreigners who are attracted to Hinduism. They have a style of functioning which is quite different from the classic model of an Indian sanyasi. Some have earned negative publicity—mention may be made of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, founder of OSHO in Pune. In a democratic country, religious leaders and well known politicians do interact, sometimes very closely. The reason for this is not far to seek as both thrive on popular support. There is a negative side to this interaction; mention may be made of religious leaders like Dhirendra Brahmachari and Chandrasvami. However, there are a number of interactions of a positive kind as well. There is considerable advance towards a more liberal attitude towards religion, leaning heavily towards secularism. Hindus are indeed very happy to be totally free to practice their religion as they wish, compared with Christians and Muslims, who are still very much under a tight leash from their Churches and Mosques.
India in the 21st Century A lot has happened since India became an independent country in 1947. We are now a state with a written constitution which provides fundamental rights to all citizens. India is a secular democratic country where freedom of religion is guaranteed under the constitution. All religions are equal in the eyes of the law of the land. Although the constitution makes specific mention of a common civil law, this has not come into being. Hindus, Muslims, and Christian religious practices regarding marriage, adoption, inheritance etc. are governed by separate laws—the Hindu marriage and succession act, Muslim law and so on. The criminal law, on the other hand, is entirely secular. 251
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Politics in India is based on the principles of secularism and pluralism. There are provisions for affirmative action, especially in the case of the Dalits (former untouchables) and other backward classes as defined by laws. The constitution of India has stood the test of time and people have full confidence in it; it has helped to resolve many difficult social and political issues, including religious ones. India has made much progress in economic development. It is now among the largest and fastest growing economies and it has a diversified industrial base and well developed financial institutions. The country is well set on the growth path. Above all, India has maintained communal harmony, in spite of the persistent attempts to disturb communal peace by external forces. No country is perfect. The people of India are learning to live in peace, while practicing their religion in whatever way they want; this includes Hindus as well as Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and others.
Religious Composition We have looked at the history of Hinduism in earlier chapters. In this section, we explore the mix of religions that exist today in India, their relative importance, and regional variations. These are explained with reference to what happened in the past and what is happening today. The discussion in this section is entirely based on 2011 census data. The appendix to the book contains the full information on religious composition by states and union territories. About 80 percent of India’s population is Hindus and about 14 percent Muslims, the second largest religion. The proportion of Muslim population has steadily increased from about 11 percent to 14 percent after independence. The Christians account for slightly over 2 percent of the population. The Sikhs follow next by less than 2 percent, while Buddhists and Jains account for less than one 252
percent of the population. Together, these 6 religions account for over 99 percent of the population. Less than one percent belongs to the ‘any other religion’ category and this includes those not wanting to declare their religion (Census of India: Religion: Table C-1-Population by Religious Community 2011). The amazing thing about this data is that tribal religions are not mentioned at all. At the time India’s constitution was written, 7.5 percent of our population was tribal and the constitution provided for 7.5 percent reservation in legislative bodies and in government jobs. Where did the tribal population with their distinctive religions vanish? The answer is not simple. The fact is that before the census enumerators they claimed to be either Hindus or Christians, while at the same time claiming their tribal status for jobs. Religion, after all, is a matter of convenience and expediency in the 21st century. The political dimensions of tribe, caste and religion are expanding while interest in their substantive meaning is dwindling. The regional patterns of religious composition reveal both historical and contemporary processes—some salient examples are explored in brief. The method used here is to examine each of the religions, other than Hinduism, and examine their regional variations. This is a lot easier than taking one region at a time—there are far too many complexities here and problems of repetition will naturally arise. Let us take Muslims first, since they constitute the second largest religion in India. Of the 172 million Muslims in India, over 60 percent are in the five states of Uttar Pradesh (over 38 million), West Bengal (over 24 million), Bihar (17 million), Maharashtra (over 13 million), and Assam (over 10 million). All these states were the core regions of Muslim rule in the medieval period (except Assam, where the Muslims are recent immigrants from Bangladesh and elsewhere). It is in the Ganga Plains that the Indian Muslim culture evolved and it is here that the Urdu language blossomed and united the Hindu and Muslim populations alike with its eloquent and flowery style. We may note here that the national language 253
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of Pakistan is Urdu. This language in the form it is spoken— Hindustani—is understood widely throughout the sub-continent and it is almost the lingua franca of the people of the subcontinent. The Muslim populations of Kerala and Assam tell entirely different stories. Over a quarter of the population of Kerala and over a third of the population of Assam are Muslims; the former has its roots in the Gulf region from the birth of Islam. In Assam, the presence of Muslims is of recent origin, the post independence period, when Muslims migrated to this region from Bangladesh and also from West Bengal. This influx of Muslims is a vexing problem in this region. In Jammu and Kashmir, there is an entirely different situation. While the valley of Kashmir is now almost entirely Muslim, the Ladakh region is Buddhist and the Jammu region is predominantly Hindu. This is a product of medieval Indian history. There are a few small concentrations of Muslims with their unique history. The Muslims of Hyderabad are inheritors of both the Adil Shahi regime of Golkonda and the Turkish rulers—the Nizams—who came from the Mughal capital to find a safe niche in the South. Srirangapatnam and other parts of the old Mysore tell the story of the rise of an illiterate Muslim Hyder Ali to power and his brave and shrewd son Tipu who fought the British against odds. Christians are a very small minority in India and account for only about 2 percent of its population and about 28 million individuals. However, they have a very old story to tell. In Kerala, which has the oldest Christian community in India, the Syrian Christians or Nazranees as they were known locally, have their own traditions. Names like Chacko, Kurian, Cherian, Ousep, Anthony, tell their own story. Kerala Christians, like all other Indian Christians, speak the local language and are at home in the regional culture with Hindus and Muslims. While around 16 percent of Kerala’s population is Christian accounting for 6 million persons, 254
Tamil Nadu has fewer Christians (over 4 million), but in a relative sense they are the second largest group accounting for 6 percent of Tamil Nadu population. Most of the Tamil Nadu Christians are recent converts, during the British period and even after Independence; sometimes they tend to drift back into their old Hindu caste domains. In an altogether different cultural setting, Christian converts from tribal population dominate the scene in Nagaland (nearly 90 percent), Meghalaya (over 70 percent), Manipur (40 percent), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (21 percent), Arunachal Pradesh (30 percent) and to a far lesser extent in Jharkhand (only 4 percent). These people were converted by Christian missionaries in the recent past. The people here have not fully forgotten their tribal past and in fact aspects of tribal culture are very much present. Goa is rather unique. The Christians here have a mixed Portuguese and Indian blood and they are staunch Roman Catholics. In Goa, 25 percent of the population is Christian. If we look at the length of British rule in India and compare it with that of the Muslim rule—150 years as contrasted with 600 years—the small proportion of Christians as compared to Muslims—2 percent to 14 percent, makes a lot of sense. The pace of conversion to Christianity was definitely much slower and more concentrated in small pockets. The Sikh population of over 20 million is all concentrated in the Punjab (about 60 percent), the adjacent Haryana (over 5 percent) and Delhi (about 4 percent). The birthplace of Guru Nanak is now in Pakistan and Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the most famous Sikh ruler, actually ruled from Lahore. His kingdom included most of Pakistan. The Sikh population is now found entirely in the adjoining Indian Punjab; there are hardly any Sikhs left in Pakistan. As noted earlier, the Sikh and Hindu populations are closely knit through marriage and kinship over the centuries and Sikhs have made a unique contribution to Hindu culture. 255
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There are 8 million Buddhists in India today. They can be divided into two very different groups. The first, and traditionally the most important group of Buddhists are from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim (28 percent), Arunachal Pradesh (13 percent), Mizoram (8 percent), and Tripura (3 percent). They have a very long history behind them. However, the largest contribution to Buddhists in India comes from Maharashtra—5.8 million out of 8 million Buddhists in India. They constitute 6 percent of Maharashtra’s population. These Buddhists are concentrated in the regions of Vidharba and Marathwada of Maharashtra and are converts from among Dalits. They are followers of Dr BR Ambedkar, who converted to Buddhism later in his life (1950s). Jains, along with Buddhists, have their origins in the Vedic age. Unlike most Buddhists, Jains came originally from Vaishali in Bihar and later migrated to the South, to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; others went west to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Besides, there were some who converted to Jainism from the local population. Jain religion is rather rigid when it comes to food and occupation and as a result the number of Jains is indeed very small—about 4 million or about 0.4 percent of our population. Maharashtra has the largest number of Jains—1.4 million, out of the total of 4 million Jains in India. Rajasthan has 6.2 lakh Jains, followed by Madhya Pradesh (5.6 lakhs), Gujarat (5.8 lakhs), and finally Karnataka (4 lakhs). In relative terms, Jains are well represented in Gujarat (over 10 percent), Rajasthan (1.2 percent), Maharashtra (1.2 percent), Madhya Pradesh (0.9 percent), and Karnataka (0.8 percent). Jains are generally absent from rural areas but are found in large numbers in the large cities as professionals and traders.
Hinduism at Present Describing Hinduism at present is much more difficult than describing Hinduism of two thousand years ago. While dealing 256
with the past one could be very selective, either by choice or because of the absence of information. The present exists in different forms right from the villages to the regions and the states. No one can claim to know the whole story and even if it is written down it will cover several volumes. I will highlight a few aspects and assume that the reader has his own legitimate view of what Hinduism is at present. Hindus generally have a place for God or Gods in their homes. If there are no idols, at least a picture of a God will be hung in one or more places; just to remind one of God all the time. There are homes where there are separate puja rooms and the idols of god are worshipped on a daily basis by the family, with all the paraphernalia of worship. What is missing is worship of Agni in a homa with the chanting of Vedic mantras. This was a common practice a hundred years ago in Brahmana homes but is no longer relevant today. Temples are now very conspicuous in villages, towns and metropolitan cities, particularly in the South. The daily puja takes places in all temples everywhere. Only the scale of the puja varies according to the number and wealth of the devotees. The busiest and richest temple in India is the Venkatachalapathi temple in Tirumala, Tirupati, in Andhra Pradesh. There are hundreds of temples in the South that attract crowds in the thousands daily, in the mornings and evenings. In addition to temple festivals, there are many Hindu festivals focusing on homes; these vary a lot and it is impossible to document them here. The annual temple festivals are a major attraction throughout the South. In all agraharams, the main temple has a temple car or rath, and the deity is taken around once a year with great fanfare. The Kalpathi (see Figure 6) car festival is a well-known cultural event. The annual rath yatra in Puri Jagannath temple attracts huge crowds and is world famous. The annual festival in Thrissur Vadakkanathar Temple with 22 decorated elephants and fireworks 257
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is another major event. Ramlila festival in the Ganga Plains, Durga puja in Bengal, Dussehra or the navratri festival in the South, and more specifically in Mysore, and the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra are among the better known regional festivals. In every village, the annual temple festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The Holi festival is celebrated throughout the North in the month of March. It is a very colourful event. Deepawali is a national festival celebrated all over India now, albeit for different reasons. Hindus are fond of going on pilgrimages, sometimes to faraway places. The annual yatra to Amarnath is indeed a huge affair; the trips to Kedarnath, Badrinath and Gangotri and Yamunotri are other major events. The largest crowds gather during the Kumbha melas in Haridwar, Allahabad (Prayaga), Nasik, and Ujjain. However, these happen once in 12 years at each location; but once every three years if all four are taken together. In addition, people go for bathing in the sea and at various locations in all the sacred rivers from Ganga to the Kaveri river.
The Collapse of the Varna System The Varna categories make sense only when two conditions are satisfied: Firstly, if land is ruled by a Hindu Kshatriya king, and second, if the King respects the advice of Brahmana ministers and scholars. The first condition was broken when parts of India came under Muslim rule. Under Muslim rule both Kshatriyas and Brahmanas became non-entities and the Varna categories had only notional value. There were areas where rule under Hindu kings was sustained throughout history and even a few years after Independence, for example, in Travancore and Kochi in Kerala. Besides, there were nearly 500 Hindu kingdoms in India at the time of Independence. Under Hindu kings, the Varna system prevailed and sustained itself. After 1951, Hindu kingdoms in India ceased to exist. The Varna system which was already irrelevant 258
in areas ruled by the British and Muslim kings, ceased to exist in any meaningful form anywhere in India. At present, the claim to belong to any Varna is only notional, based on birth alone. No one takes it seriously and it has hardly any relevance in one’s daily life. Among the Varnas, the Brahmana Varna alone had actual validity throughout the historical past as it was fairly stable and testable—knowledge of Sanskrit and the Vedas was a must. Manusmriti is emphatic in saying that one who has not studied the Vedas is not a Brahmana. Both Vaidika and Loukika Brahmanas had to satisfy this criterion; others were only notional Brahmanas and according to Manusmriti they are to be considered as Shudras. The Kshatriya Varna is irrelevant today as the age of the kings is long over. Besides, most kings in India were hardly Kshatriyas by birth or ancestry. The Vaishya Varna had greater stability over time—they were, and are, recognized by their occupation, namely, trade or vanijya. However, even here, knowledge of Sanskrit and Vedas, even in rudimentary form, is a must, but that is now absent. The fourth Varna—Shudra, is actually defined in a negative way. It includes everyone who is not a Brahmana, Kshatriya, or a Vaishya. It loses all meaning when the first three Varnas do not exist. The study of the Vedas and the practice of Vedic religion exists only in name. It started dying from the middle of the 19th century, and in the 21st century it no longer exists. Non-Vedic, and in particular Puranic, tribal, village and regional religions are still in existence and are to some extent quite lively. They do not need literacy or any knowledge other than what is obtained by word of mouth.
The Survival of Jaties While the Varna system has collapsed, Jaties (castes) continue to exist. Jaties exist not only among Hindus, but also among Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and others. Religion has nothing to do with the presence of Jaties in India. Why is this so? 259
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Jati is a Sanskrit word derived from Jata or jatam—birth. The word Jati is not used in Manusmriti but it refers to Samkara Varnas—mixed Varnas. The word samkara in Sanskrit literally means unification and not division. This term is wrongly interpreted as a process of Jati formation in recent times. This has led to the conclusion that Jati is derived from Varna. This is not true. The discussion of Samkara Varnas in Manusmriti is at best fanciful; it does, however, indicate that there was considerable intermixing of people of different Varnas. The fear at that time was about the disappearance of the Varna system by intermixing, in which both Brahmanas and Kshatriyas stood to lose. To be recognized as a Kshatriya or Vaishya required approval from Brahmanas. Recognition as belonging to a Jati does not require approval from Brahmanas. It exists on its own. An alternate explanation of the origin of Jati is given below. Jati today denotes a group of people with a distinctive culture of their own. This group is culturally homogenous as they speak the same language or dialect, worship the same Gods, and have lifecycle rituals that are common to all. They invariably marry within the group to maintain their cultural and social identity—a very legitimate objective. Cultural identity, and not birth, is the key to the understanding of the concept of Jati. Some intermixing takes place between Jaties for a variety of reasons, just as it did between Varnas, for which Manusmriti provides ample evidence. No Jati is ethnically pure and no one cares for ethnic or racial purity. Jati is a cultural concept not an ethnic or racial one. Jati has its origins in the ancient past—at least some 3,500 years ago, when people in the sub-continent were divided into small tribal communities with distinctive cultures. When new groups came from outside, they brought their own culture and they formed newer Jaties. As the population of the communities increased they moved to new lands and often acquired new 260
characteristics in terms of dialect and cultural practices, and thus new Jaties were formed. Often, they also changed occupations as well. The process of Jati formation has continued through centuries by migration, adoption of new occupations, change to a new language or dialect, and acceptance of new cultural practices. We have currently about 6,000 Jaties in India. Even among Brahmanas there are hundreds of Jaties; these Jaties are a product of migration and settlement in newer regions and concomitantly acquisition of newer cultural attributes. When the Rigvedic people came to the sub-continent they brought their own distinctive groups known as pancha jana— the five tribes. However, around 1000 BC the tribal way of life was abandoned by some of the people who took to farming and sedentary living in permanent village settlements. At this stage, the tribal community assumed the present day character of a Jati—a community that is integrated into a larger social system and yet remains as a semi-independent unit with a distinctive culture. The Rigvedic people themselves were divided into Brahmanas (those specializing in Vedic studies), Kshatriyas or warriors, and others (Vaishyas). At first each of these conformed to our definition of Jati. In the age of the Smrities they were recognized as Varnas. By this time, they were considerably mixed with other ethnic groups having similar occupations such as farming or cattle herding. Today, Jaties are spatially segregated within village settlements so that they can maintain and practice their religion and rituals without any interference. It gives them a sense of security, both cultural and physical. The segregation of Jaties existed right from the beginning. It is a voluntary adaptation. In the community where I live only Brahmanas are found; it has nothing to do with ethnicity, or race, or discrimination. It is acceptable to all, both within the community and outside. It is also interesting to note that in this community, Brahmanas belong to different sects and in each sect there are different Jaties. A hundred years ago, such a 261
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mixed community would be unthinkable, but today it is a reality. Brahmana Jaties, by and large, disappeared by the end of the 20th century, at least in Tamil Nadu. In a peasant society, it is but natural for Jaties to acquire some specialization in terms of occupations of their own choice. Thus occupation, in addition to other cultural attributes, became a feature of Jati definition. Thus, we have Jaties of potters, weavers, smiths, carpenters, washermen, and barbers. In recent times, the traditional occupations of some Jaties have become obsolete; for example potters, as there is no demand for their products. They have switched to other occupations. Yet, they retain their cultural identity. In the same way, Brahmanas have lost touch with Vedas but still they continue to think of themselves as Brahmanas. This fits into the definition of Jati. It is not a Varna, because then one would have to satisfy the conditions set out in Manusmriti. The formation of kingdoms and their expansion led to greater social inequalities; the kings and nobles of the warrior class became very powerful and they exercised power by physical coercion and taxation. The Brahmanas had a special place in society in view of their knowledge of Vedas, and popular faith in rituals gave them special privileges. It is the emergence of social inequalities that explains the Varna system. The Varna system is really nothing but the recognition of the stratification of society in a feudal system. When the feudal system collapsed in the 20th century, the Varna system became meaningless. Jaties remain and they will continue to remain so long as people believe in maintaining their distinctive culture. In the 21st century the desire to maintain one’s distinctive culture has declined and will continue to decline further. Some Jaties have begun to merge, as we noted earlier. Science and technology are bringing about cultural homogenization. In an age of rapid transport, communication, and learning, Jaties will not survive for too long. 262
The Decline of Agraharams Nothing explains the decline of Vedic Hinduism more effectively than the decline of the agraharams in the South. Centuries ago, the agraharams were the focal points of Vedic Hinduism in the South. Agraharam life is now altogether different. In the past, the emphasis was on performance of daily rituals (nitya karmas) and the five daily yajnas as mentioned in Manusmriti; today the focus is on worship at the temples in the morning and evening hours. This is Hinduism as we understand it today. Nevertheless, it is not the Vedic Hinduism that was in practice in agraharams two hundred years ago. Village life nowadays is centered around the village temples and the festivals associated with them. The study of Vedas and Vedic rituals play, if at all, only a minor role in the lives of the Brahmanas of the village. Even more importantly, most agraharams have fewer people; a great many houses are vacant. The houses in the agraharam still have the granaries but no grain; the cowsheds are empty and milk is procured in plastic bags from outside. A cow was indeed an important component of a Brahmana household in the past. In our family we had generations of cows with names; they were like members of the family. No homa with the chanting of Vedic mantras takes place in the homes, or only very rarely. In many agraharams, non-Brahmanas now constitute a significant proportion of the population. Chandrasekharapuram, my native agraharam in Kerala, still remains as a Brahmana village, but it will also eventually lose this character. The migration of Brahmanas from agraharams in search of employment has destroyed the cultural uniqueness of these settlements, which cannot be revived.
The Status of Brahmana Priests The category of Loukika Brahmanas is no longer valid, although most Brahmanas would like to claim this status. To be a Loukika 263
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Brahmana one must have studied the sastras and must have performed the daily karmas prescribed in the Smrities. Employment in government service will not entitle one to be called a Loukika Brahmana. There are still a small category of Brahmanas who specialize in helping others to perform Vedic lifecycle rituals and earn a living by providing this service to the so called Loukika Brahmanas and to others as well. Their number is declining. Most of the schools that trained this priestly class of Brahmanas have been closed down in recent decades and the remaining ones may not last much longer. There is yet another category of Brahmanas who specialize in performing pujas in temples; they are either employed by the Hindu Endowment Board of the state government as in the southern states or work in private temples for a monthly salary. They are invariably poor and their salaries have remained static for long. Among the self-employed well trained Brahmanas, a few are now fairly well-off; but their children are unlikely to take up the profession of their fathers. In the state of Tamil Nadu, nonBrahmanas are being employed as priests in temples—a trend that is likely to accelerate in the future. While a majority of well-known religious leaders are from among the Brahmanas, there are now many religious leaders who do not belong to this class. This also reflects the trend towards a non-Vedic Hinduism—by this I mean the absence of Vedic mantras and Vedic rituals.
The Decline of Religious Values The elite population of Hindus has lost touch with its religion; the process began over a century ago. For the Brahmanas in the South, who were well-versed in Vedic rituals, the degeneration started from late 19th century, when the young boys took to education in English and gained employment in the government or elsewhere. 264
A few generations later, the younger boys and girls knew nothing of daily rituals (which ironically, defines the Hindu way of life). In the 21st century, the elite population, both elders and the young, have no knowledge of the Hindu scriptures or of the rituals that they are supposed to follow. This is true of all Hindus in every part of India and abroad. The decline of religious values has been pointed out by the Kanchi Sankaracharya, whose life spans the whole of the 20th century. The Kanchi Acharya is well known for his orthodox and conservative views. In his discourses to the public, he has lamented, time and again, on the sharp decline in the practice of Vedic religion by Brahmanas, in particular, Smarta Brahmanas. He has said that while he was much respected and listened to, no one cared to follow his advice. The knowledge of Vedic religion is fast disappearing and the number of priests who can recite the Vedas is dwindling. He tried to revive Vedic learning through patasalas. While money was forthcoming, there were a few competent students, but the richer and middle classes never sent their children to these schools. The Acharya has again and again said that he can only advise his followers, who come in large numbers to listen to him, but he has little or no authority to impose his views. He lamented that although wherever he went people came in large numbers and respected him, they did not in their lives implement his advice. What is the future? The Kanchi Acharya was much like Mahatma Gandhi, whom he used to mention admiringly. The Acharya’s and Mahatma’s words of advice, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears. What is wrong with us? The problem is that both the Acharya and the Mahatma underestimated the power of science and technology and its impact on the lives of ordinary people. What they talked about was relevant to the pre-industrial age, but not in the 21st century. The present day religious leaders have understood this reality and they do not ask people to restore age 265
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old rituals and customs. There is no point in lamenting the decline of religious values. गतं तु गतं एव ह।
What is gone is gone indeed.
We need a more realistic assessment of the role of religion in society.
The Lure of Money The practice of Hinduism, at present, is more concerned with money rather than with spiritual satisfaction. The lure of money is all pervasive in all modern societies. Those who seek spiritualism spend a lot of money; it goes to those religious leaders who offer spiritualism for a price. The essence of Vedanta is that spiritualism does not require any money. On the other hand, it is concerned with giving up all desires and possessions, and this includes money. The only way one can attain spiritualism is by self-study. The age of the guruji teaching the truth is long over. In the Upanishads, it is shown that the teacher does not teach; he guides the student to learn by himself. One can think at home, meditate at home and study at home. Manusmriti says—‘do not rely on others for anything—do it yourself ’. This is the Hindu way of learning. In recent decades, religious leaders and institutions have grown and they display money on an extravagant scale. The money comes from donations from the rich. A few well known temples get donations on a daily basis which runs into crores of rupees. Some say that this money, particularly the large donations, have something to do with tax evasion or other illegal activities. In the centuries past, money came from the kings and rich landlords and merchants, but the scale of money flowing into India has significantly increased in the recent past. Hindu religious leaders
are not the only beneficiaries of donations from India and abroad; leaders of other religions also benefit. There are two sources of substantive funding for religious institutions from foreign countries; the first is from Christian church organizations, particularly from the United States and European countries, and the second is from the rich Gulf countries, in particular Saudi Arabia. While most of the funds are used for legitimate social services, some of them have gone into luring the poor and weaker sections of society to convert to either Christianity or Islam. This has created a backlash among the Hindu groups who feel let down because they do not receive funds on such a scale. The resulting frustration has led to violence against both Christian and Muslim institutions, particularly the former, because they are more vulnerable. One positive aspect of more money for religion is the availability of religious texts at very low prices. Hinduism has also benefited from the flow of money. Hindu religious texts are now available, especially the original texts in Sanskrit, either in the Devanagari or the vernacular scripts. Explanatory texts on various aspects of the practice of Hinduism are also easily available in all languages. There is no reason why a Hindu should complain about non-availability of religious texts. In general, religious texts are very low priced and affordable for middle classes, yet very few buy them.
The Ancient Roots All over India, the local religions of pre-Rigvedic vintage are still alive and active. Their simplicity, without scriptural texts, their effectiveness as a source of solace for the downtrodden, their total integration with social life at the village level, have made them survive. Their effectiveness is enhanced by the adoption of a few basic concepts from the Upanishads and entertaining stories from the Puranas. The local religions will remain as the bed-rock of Hinduism for centuries to come. 267
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The local religions have survived several millennia and I am sure will survive for several centuries more. It is the religions with written texts of a sacred nature that are under threat today. These texts have become outdated and are inflexible. The religious leaders have no authority to change these texts. Kanchi Acharya had time and again pointed out that he had no authority to change the sastras. He and others have no choice but to follow the sastras. One has to find one’s own way out of this dilemma.
Relevance of Vedanta Among the original Sanskrit based religions, Vedanta alone survives, along with Yoga and various methods of meditation—both in their original and adapted versions. This religion is popular among a section of the elite in India and abroad. In the 21st century, meditation and yoga could emerge as a universal religion—a religion of individual choice; a religion that focuses on one’s mind and intellect and does not bind one to social laws; a religion that gives complete freedom to an individual to think and to meditate on the true meaning of life. Religion of the future will be personal and individualistic and it will be based on self-study.
A Peep into the Future
Hinduism is at the crossroads of history. Rapid changes are taking place spurred by economic development, science, communication, and technology. The Hindu society is far more mobile today than ever before. In the bigger cities, where the population is heterogeneous, life is more or less secular; one may have neighbours who are from other religions or regions, and of different Varnas or Jaties. In the village of Kempanur (referred to in Chapter 2), there are many families from Assam, almost all are Muslims; they work in the construction industry. Among elite families, at least one member has gone abroad and some have taken foreign citizenships. These changes are not just restricted to the elite but even to rural folk. Change is perceptible. The love of one’s religion is of a sentimental nature but lacking in understanding. People have no time for learning the basics of religion; instead they depend on quacks who try to create a false image of the past, hiding their own superficial understanding of the religion. Often money flows into the hands of those who are able to manipulate publicity in the name of social service or in the name of reviving some strange religious or quasi-religious practices. True scholarship in religious texts in Sanskrit is now very rare and those who know are a silent lot. History is the sum of periods of turmoil and periods of stability. Undoubtedly, we are in a period of turmoil and of rapid change. What will be the outcome? It is hard to predict anything.
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The problem is not confined to Hinduism alone; the same or similar problems are there for other major religions of the world as well. The future of Hinduism is tied to the larger destiny of all major religions of the world. It is an unequal world, where money power dominates; but things are changing. In the future, money or physical force will not bring new followers to any religion. That is a thing of the past. Nor will followers—old and new—allow themselves to be abject slaves of religious leaders. The leaders of major religions of the world are aware of the problems and global nature of human society in the 21st century. However, religious leaders the world over, despite some very weak attempts, are in no position to come together, engage in a dialogue and find ways of resolving conflicts between religions. They have, in general, a very narrow view of religion and are, in fact, incapable of finding solutions to global religious conflicts. They certainly will not move towards a global religion. The dilemma facing religions today is: On the one hand, they have to maintain their uniqueness, otherwise why would people follow one and not another. On the other hand, they have to enable their followers to live in a global society and be able to interact with people of other faiths. This requires some flexibility and adaptability. It is difficult to walk this fine line. This is one of the reasons why many religious leaders today are demanding that their followers give up modern technology such as internet, television etc. Their desperation is seen in attempts to influence school curriculum in many countries. Finally, the horrible violence perpetrated in the name of religion is due to the fanaticism of some religious leaders who fear that they are losing out. If you indoctrinate people from a young age into believing a particular set of values, then it is tough for them to break out of this. If you keep your ‘flock’ insulated from the rest of the world, it may help to keep them in line with your views for some time. However, the rest of the world is way too big and intrusive for 270
A Peep into the Future
this to work in today’s world. We are no longer living in isolated villages, needing to walk or ride in carts for days to reach the next one. Trying to keep people in line using violence also works only up to a point. At some point, people have nothing to lose and they will fight back. The signs of this are already visible in the Muslim world. This is why I believe that the days of religions as we know them today are numbered. A nebulous belief in a power called ‘God’ will persist for various emotional reasons, but increasingly people will not be willing to follow strict rules and belief systems. In the future, we will find more and more people labelling themselves spiritual\humanist\free thinker, etc. instead of Hindu, Christian, or Muslim. There is no problem with people finding comfort in the idea of God. The problem crops up when people blindly accept whatever is written or said by someone or in some text or other. In the final analysis, problems will have to be resolved by people themselves. How can we do this? It is individuals who have to shape their own religious thoughts; they should not delegate this to religious leaders. By following an independent line, individuals themselves can shape a new world. In this context, Hinduism has certain advantages. Hinduism has always been an individual or family affair—institutions and religious leaders have played only a minor role. Hindus have always been open in their approach to religion, willing to offer ideas to others and also willing to accept ideas from others. They have shown resilience in the context of social turmoil and have adapted their religion to changing social and political environment. Moreover, we enjoy greater religious freedom than any other country in the world. I make this statement with total conviction. There are blasphemy laws in Europe and America and in the Islamic countries. They are enforced vigorously to negate religious freedom not only for people of other faiths but also for their own followers. In Christianity, the Church represents the body of 271
A History of Hinduism
Christ—baptism and communion ensure that a Christian is firmly rooted to the Church. The Church exercises power and is not a silent spectator. It has often abused its power in the past. In Spain, the control of the church over the lives of people is overwhelming. There is considerable loss of religious freedom in Christianity. In Islam, freedom does not exist. Yet, even in these countries, the educated elite have risen above the narrow limits imposed on them and have opted for a free thinking mode. In India, Muslims enjoy complete religious freedom—something which is impossible even to imagine in Islamic countries where Islam is the state religion. I know of many Muslims in India who have a broad secular outlook; this applies equally to men and women. The intellectual explorations of the Upanishadic age provide us a platform to rebuild the religion in a more rational and acceptable form. There is no doubt that religion(s) will play a smaller role in the future in the lives of ordinary people; yet, the need for God and religion will continue to be felt. People will demand a religion that is not divisive or aggressive and violent, but something that everyone can share. It has to be absolutely non-violent. Violence has no place in religion. The concept of God and principles should apply and appeal to all. There should be no need to sell a religion. It has to be accepted voluntarily without propaganda or persuasion. The truth must reveal itself to all. The population of the world is far more educated than before and the intelligentsia is no longer slaves of the Church or the Mullahs or other religious leaders. People are willing to think and act on their own beliefs. I do believe that in the future more and more people in the world will refuse to be tagged as Hindus, Muslims, Christians or Buddhists and so on. There is no need to carry a religious label on one’s person. This is an outdated concept. Yet, one can believe in God and certain principles. I recommend Vedanta and the methods of yoga and meditation as the foundation for future religious practice. Adi Sankaracharya 272
A Peep into the Future
is still relevant. He went beyond the advaita concept and included bhakti as an integral component of religious practice. Bhakti can involve any God and it can be practiced by anyone in his own way. There are no hard and fast rules for bhakti and its practice. Its sole object is to provide mental solace and no more. We can, and should, go back to the method of the Upanishadic saints. You can, and you must think, explore, and discover the truths about life. This is the way of Hinduism. This method is pithily described in the following description of the saint Narada in Valmiki Ramayana: स्वाध्यायनिरतः तपस्वी विव्दान्। Dedicated to self-learning Fully in control of the senses Seeker of the truth
This is the path for intellectuals of the future.
Appendix Religious composition by states and union territories in India 2011. States and Union Territories
Population % of % of in Millions Hindus Muslims
% of Christians
Percentage of Other Religions
26.2 Others 11.8 Buddhists
1.0 Jains 0.3 Others
4.7 Sikhs 0.8 Others
1.1 Sikhs 1.1 Buddhists 0.4 Others
Jammu and Kashmir
6.0 Buddhists 1.2 Jains
A History of Hinduism (continued) Nagaland
57.8 Sikhs 0.7 Others
27.4 Buddhists 3.6 Others
3.4 Buddhists 0.3 Others
Andaman & Nicobar Islands
13.1 Sikhs 0.5 Others
Dadra & Nagar Haveli
Daman & Diu
3.6 Sikhs 1.2 Others
1.3 Sikhs 1.0 Jains
Source: Census of India: Religion: Table C-1: Population by Religious Community (2011).
Glossary Aapa Godesses of water Abhava Non-existence Achara Customs Acharya Teacher Adharma Violation of dharma or moral code Adhisthana Foundation or a raised platform Adivasi Aboriginal or earliest settlers Adhvaryu One among four categories of Vedic priests Agamas Texts on temple management and rituals Agni Fire God or just fire Agraharam A land grant village of Brahmanas in South India Ahimsa Non-violence Akam Literally meaning inside in Tamil Alvars Bards of the Sri vaishnavite sect in South India Amman A Goddess in Tamil Nadu Ananda Bliss Annaprasam Initiation of an infant to eating rice Annam Cooked rice or just food Anthropomorphism God conceived in human form Anumana Inference Apara The phenomenal world including man Aranyaka Texts in Sanskrit included in Brahmanas Arhant A Jaina who has progressed to penultimate stage to salvation Artha Wealth Arthasastra The science of wealth or material things Arya Samaj A Hindu reformist organization (19th century) Aryavartam The land where respected people live Asana Sitting posture Ashrama Stage in life Ashrams Hermitages Ashtanga Raja Yoga A Sanskrit text on dhyana yoga by Patanjali
A History of Hinduism Ashwamedha Asura Aswalayana Atharvan Atma suddhi Atman AUM
A yaga involving horse sacrifice performed by kings A class of demons of the underworld (Patala Loka) A Rigvedic Brahmana—explanatory text A Purohit who composed the Atharvaveda Self-purification Soul—the absolute God present in all living things A representation of Brahman—it has two divergent interpretations Avatars Incarnations Ayurveda The science of life or medicine Ayyappa The God of the Ayyappa cult Bhagavatas An ancient religious sect who worshipped Vasudeva/Krishna Bhagavati The Goddess Parvati Bhaja Govindam A collection of 31 verses composed by Adi Sankaracharya Bhajan Devotional song Bhakta or Bhaktas Those having faith in a God Bhakti Devotion or simply faith Bhakti Movement A religious movement originating in Tamil Nadu in the 6th century AD Bhakti yoga A combination of bhakti and jnana Bharatnatyam A classical dance form of Tamil Nadu Bhashyam Commentary Bhutas or bhutagana A class of demons associated with Shiva Bhiksha A gift or an offering Brahma God of creation Brahma yajnam The study of the Vedas Brahmacharin A bachelor Brahmacharya Observance of bachelorhood Brahman The Absolute God Brahman A chief priest in charge of a yagya Brahmana A person belonging to the Brahmana varna Brahmana A Sanskrit text accompanying any one of the four Vedas
Glossary Brahmi Brahmo Samaj Bhrighu
The mother of all Indian scripts A reformist forum of the 19th century A Rigvedic poet as well as a legendary figure in Smrities and Puranas Brihaspathi The title given to Angiras, a Rigvedic poet Chaityas A grove of trees used for worship by Buddhist monks Caula/Chuda A ceremony involving the shaving of hair on the head of a child Chalcolithic culture Copper-stone age culture of 5,000 to 2,000 years ago Chandas The term in Sanskrit for any meter used in prosody Charana A Veda and Brahmana (text) in which a Brahmana is proficient Charvakam Literally sweet words or existentialism Clans A form of social organization Dahana kriya Cremation rituals Daiva yajnam The daily worship of Vedic gods Dakshina A payment made to Brahmanas for services rendered Dalit The preferred name for Scheduled castes Darba grass A type of long grass used in performing homa Dayabhaga A Nibandana dealing with division of property Deepavali The festival of lights Deva Any God—originally a Rigvedic God Devanagari A script used for writing Hindi and other Indian languages Devata Gods or spirits Dharana Sixth stage in Raja Yoga—involves concentration Dharma The moral code of the Hindus Dharmasastra Any treatise on social laws or a treatise on secular matters Dharmasutra A text dealing with lifecycle rituals and other rituals Dhyana Meditation; also the 7th stage in dhyana yoga Divya Prabhandam A Vaishnava sacred text Dravidian/Dravida A group of South Indian languages; or simply the South Dualism The doctrine that Brahman and atman are different
A History of Hinduism Durga Dussehra Ettutokai
A Goddess equated with Sakti Another name for Navratri festival in the South A collection of literary works of the Sangam period in Tamil Gandarva An asteric class of people Gandhara A region of North Western India Garbha-Griha The sanctum sanctorum inside a temple Gaudapada Adi Sankara’s teacher’s teacher Gayatri The first meter used in Sanskrit prosody Gayatri mantra The most sacred of all mantras in Rigveda Gita Govindam Lyrics in praise of Lord Krishna by Jayadeva—12nd century AD Gopuram A temple tower built over entrance gates in the South Gotra Brahmana lineage traceable to a Rigvedic poet or poets Grihastha A householder Grihasth-ashrama The householder stage of the lifecycle Grihyasutras A Sanskrit text on family laws Guru A teacher Gurukula system A system where students live with the teacher’s family Harijans The name used by Mahatma Gandhi for untouchable castes Havis Meat or cooked rice offered to Agni in a homa Hindutva A concept outlined by Savarkar in 1922 meaning; Hinduness Hiranyam Gold Homa A Vedic ritual performed in front of burning fire Hotri A priest who specializes in reciting Vedic mantras Hunas A Central Asian tribe who came to India in about 5th century A Illams Joint family households of Nambudiri Brahmanas Indologist A scholar specializing in the study of ancient Indian literature Indra A Rigvedic God of rain, lightening, and thunder Indriyas Includes limbs as well as sensory organs Irulas Perhaps the earliest inhabitants of India: a forest tribe
Glossary Ishta devta Isvara Itihasa
Favourite God Supreme God Literally; as it happened—usually refers to Indian Epics Iyers Smarta Brahmanas; derived from arya+r showing respect Ayyengars Srivaishnavite Brahmanas; derived from aryan to ayyan etc Jagannath The presiding deity of Puri temple Janapadas Originally tribal territories; later used in the sense of kingdoms Japa Recitation of the name of a God, mantras, or slokas Jataka stories Buddhist stories relating to the earlier lives of Gautama Buddha Jatakarma A ceremony performed on the birth of a child Jati An endogamous community or a larger group (of Jaties) Jiva The impure soul or the outer crust of the impure soul Jivatman The impure soul or the atman enslaved in it Jnana Knowing atman and Brahman to be the same Jnana yoga The state of self-realization attained by a few mystics Jnanedriyas Sensory organs Jnani One who knows atman and Brahman to be the same Jyotisha Astrology Kali yuga The present time phase Kalpa A text on rituals Kamya karma A ritual expressing a wish Kanchi Acharya The late Chandrasekharendra Saraswati, a noted Vedic scholar Kapalikas A Shaivite sect whose members carry sculls Karika A gloss Karma Includes all types of human actions including rituals Karma theory Theory about the consequences of good or bad actions Karmendriyas The limbs used in physical action Karthikeya Sanskritized name of Lord Murugan Karupparayar A village God in Kongunadu of Tamil Nadu
A History of Hinduism Kathakali Kavadi
A dance drama performed in temples in Kerala A semicircular devise carried on shoulders by Muruga bhaktas Kirtans/Kirtanas A devotional song in a classical or semi classical format Krishna An incarnation of Vishnu born in the Yadava clan Kshatriya A warrior class Kuchipudi A classical dance originating in Andhra Pradesh Licchavis A major Kshatriya clan based on Vaishali in Bihar Lingayats Name of Veerashaivite sect who wear a linga on their body Loukika Brahmanas Brahmanas who earn a living by expertise in any sastra Mahabhutas The five elements Maharishi The Puranic re-creations (legends) of Rigvedic poets Mahavira The founder of the Jaina religion Mallas A Kshatriya clan based in Kusinagara, North Bihar Manas Mind Mandapa A hall generally inside a temple Mandir A Hindu temple Mantra A Rigvedic verse Manu The legendary author of Manusmriti Mariamman A Tamil Goddess equated with Parvati Marjanam The act of bathing Maya The power to create an illusion Megalithic culture A culture in which huge stone monuments were built Mimamsa The theory and practice of Yajur and Sama Vedas Mimamsakas Those who practice rituals as given in the Yajurveda texts Mitakshrara A Nibandana popular in Maharashtra; accepted as Hindu law Mleccha Anyone who does not belong to the four Varnas Modakam Any sweet made of unprocessed cane sugar Moksha Release of the atman from the cycle of births and deaths Muni A saint Murugan The Tamil God who is later identified as a son of Shiva
Glossary Mutt The house of a Brahmana or a religious monastery Naimittika karma Ritual performed on specific occasions Nairs A prominent Hindu community of Kerala Nalayira Divya Prabhandam A sacred work of Sri Vaishnavites in Tamil Namakarana A ritual in which a child is given a name Nambudiri A Brahmana community of Kerala Nandi A statue of a bull usually placed in front of the Shiva Linga Navrathri A nine day festival in October—its interpretation varies Nayanmars Shaivite bards of Tamil Nadu NBP Northern Black Polished Ware An early urban culture in the Middle Ganga Plains in 600-300 BC Neolithic culture New Stone age culture of 10,000 to 5,000 years ago Nibandanas A text in Sanskrit detailing rules and regulations of social conduct Nigamas A text dealing with idol worship Nirgranthas Ascetics who rejected all Vedic texts Nirguna Brahman The Absolute God having no form or attributes Nirukta A lexicon Nirvana Literally disappearance—deliverance from this world Nitya karma The daily ritual of sandhya vandana performed three times a day Niyama The five observances for healthy living and spiritual enlightenment Nyaya A school of philosophy of 5th century BC Odissi A classical dance form of Odisha Padarthas Includes substance, quality, action, association, inherence, and non-existence Pali The language of the common people of Magadh in 4th century BC Pancha yajnas The five rituals prescribed for daily observance in Mimamsa Pancha jana The five tribes of Rigvedic times
A History of Hinduism Pancharatras Para and apara Parvati Pasupatas
An early Vaishnava sect Brahman and the phenomenal world A Goddess; consort of Lord Shiva A Shaivite sect and followers of the philosopher Pasupatha A Sanskrit based Vedic school for boys A collection of long poems as part Ettutogai in Tamil A sweet porridge made of milk and rice
Patasala Pattupattu Payasam PGW Painted Grey Ware Culture A rural culture around the present day Delhi dating to 1200-800 BC Pitr Karma/Pitr yajna Worship of ancestors Pradakshina Going around a deity in a clockwise direction Prakriti The phenomenal world Pratyaksha What is seen or observed Pramanas Bases–authority Prana Life Pranava The sound OM signifying the Absolute God Brahman Pranayama A breathing exercise or Gayatri mantra japa Prasada The offering from a deity to the bhaktas Prasthana thrayam The ten Upanishads, Brahmasutra, and Bhagavad Gita Pratyahara The fourth stage of Dhyana yoga Pravara Rigvedic rishies from whom a Brahmana claims descent Prayopavesa Literally entering death on one’s own—not considered as suicide Preyas That which is desired in this life Puja or Pooja Form of worship with offering of flowers to an idol or image Punya Merit for good act Puranas A series of 18 Sanskrit texts from 2nd century AD Purohit A common priest Purram The outside in Tamil Purusha Atman; also the cosmic man or creator Purusha sukta A cluster of verses in Rigveda on the creation of man
Glossary Purusharthas The four goals of life Purva Mimamsa The ritual based religion of Krishna Yajurveda Qualified non dualism Brahman and atman are one and same, except that Brahman takes human form Rajadharma The moral code for kings and the state Rajputs One of the Kshatriya groups of North India Rakshasa A class of demons, for the most part but not wholly evil Ramlila A festival in which the Ramayana is re-enacted for nine days and ends with burning of the effigies of Ravana Ras Leela The story of Lord Krishna and the gopies or damsels Rath The temple car associated with temples in the South Revelation Religion or sacred text believed to have originated from God Rishi A Rigvedic poet mentioned in the Rigveda Ritwik A priest Rudra A Rigvedic God equated with Shiva later Sabda Sound or the Vedic texts Saguna Brahman The Absolute God in human form with all attributes Sahasranama The thousand names of Vishnu, Shiva, or Parvathi Saibaba An 18th century ascetic based in Shirdi in Maharashtra Sakhas A recension of a Veda—a part of any Vedic text actually memorized Saktas/Shaktas Followers of the female God Shakti Sakya A Kshatriya clan of Kapilavastu in North-East Uttar Pradesh Samadhi A state of bliss attained by dhyana yoga Saman/ Samagana The chanting of the mantras of Samaveda Samavaya Inherence Samanya Association Samasams A new word formed by joining two or more words Samit Sticks of wood, especially of the Palasa tree—flame of the forest
A History of Hinduism Samkara Samskaras Sanatana Dharma Sanatanis Sandhi Sandhya vandana Sangam Sankara Sankhyas Sankritisation Sanyasa/Sanyas Sanyasi/sanyasin Sastra Sati Satvasudhi Satya/Satyam Satyagraha Scythians Secularism Shaivas/Shaivites Shraddha Shikhara Shreyas Siddhanta Siddas Sikhism Shiksha Silappadikaram Simanta
Unification through marriage of Varnas The 40 rituals prescribed in the Brahmanas A word used to denote Hinduism—literally means eternal moral code A sect opposed to Arya Samaj in Punjab and Delhi Rules governing suffixes and prefixes attached to a word or a combination of two words The daily ritual prescribed in the Sastras/Smrities The association of early Tamil poets of 200 BC-200 AD A name of Shiva Followers of the Sankhya School of philosophy The appropriation of local/regional Gods in the Sanskrit literature Withdrawal from worldly life A person who has taken sanyas Any Sanskrit text focusing on social aspects A woman who enters the funeral pyre of her husband Atma shudhi—purity of soul Truth meaning Dharma according to Smrities; Brahman in Vedanta The search for truth or the right path through fasting Also known as Sakas who came to India in the 2nd century AD A state not based on any religion Worshippers of Shiva, the God of destruction The formal worship of ancestors The tower over the garbha-griha in temples in the North That which is beneficial for the next life Religious doctrine Shaivite mystics A religion established by Guru Nanak in the 16th century Teaching and learning An epic in Tamil A ritual to ensure the welfare of mother and child during pregnancy
Glossary Sloka Smartas
A verse in classical or later Sanskrit A group of Brahmanas of the South who followed a Smriti Smarta karmas Ritual and non-ritual karmas prescribed in Smrities Smriti Text belonging to 300 BC to 200 AD which defines the moral code for society Somayaga An optional ritual that involves somaras—an intoxicating drink Soundarya Lahari A stotra composed by Sankaracharya in praise of Bhavani Srivaishnavites A sect of Hindus who worship Vishnu and his incarnations Srowtha karmas Vedic rituals; rituals prescribed in the Brahmanas Sthala Purana Local legends focusing on temple Gods Stotra A Verse in praise of a God or Goddess Stupa A monument built over the mortal remains of Buddha Suddhi A ritual of conversion to Hinduism; literally refers to purification Sufism A Muslim religious sect or movement involving mysticism Sungas A Brahmana dynasty of kings of the Ganga Plains Sutras Aphorisms in Sanskrit and also texts based on these Svadharma Own dharma—dharma for the Varna that one belongs to Svadhyaya Self-learning Tamizhakam The territory where Tamil was spoken in the Sangam period Tanmantras The five objects of the senses—sound, feeling, touch, form, and taste Tantriks A religious sect practicing black magic Tapasvi One who has undergone penance; a disciplined person Tarpanam A ritual offering to the ancestors Tatvas Principles—according to the Sankhya school Tevaram One of the three texts of Tirumurai in Tamil Thaipusam A very important festival in Tamil Nadu connected with God Murugan
A History of Hinduism thirthankar
A Jain who has crossed the bridge and attained the ultimate state Tirthas A place of pilgrimage associated with bathing in a holy river or the sea Tirumurai The sacred texts of Shaivites in Tamil Tirukkural A text containing 1300 aphorisms in Tamil of 2nd century AD Tolkappiyam A grammatical work of the Sangam period in Tamil Trimurti Shiva represented as Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma Trishtup A meter of Sanskrit prosody Turiya The fourth state in which one merges with Brahman Udgatas The priest trained in rendering mantras from Samaveda Uncha vritti The mid-day procession of bhaktas seeking grains or food Upakarma The ceremony initiating Vedic studies during a year Upamana Comparison Upanayana The initiation into brahmacharya Uttara Mimamsa Another name for Vedanta School Vadama A Jati among Smarta Brahmanas (suggests Northern origins) Vaidika Brahmanas The priestly class among Brahmanas Vaisesika A philosophical school of 4th century BC Vaishnavas A religious sect who worship Vishnu and his incarnations Vaishno Devi A new Goddess or cult of Northern India Vajapeya A major yaga Valmiki A poet who wrote the Ramayana in Sanskrit Vanaprastha The third stage in the lifecycle Varna A category or class of men; there are only four Varnas Varna ashrama dharma Code of conduct based on Varna and stage in life Varuna A Rigvedic God Vasistha A Rigvedic poet; or a descendent of that poet Veda Vyasa A legendary person to whom all the Vedas were revealed by God
The six parts of Veda are: Siksha, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Kalpa, Chandas, and Jyotisha Vedanta One of the six Schools of Hindu philosophy Vedas The first three Vedas; There are other definitions Veerashaiva Another name for the Lingayat sect Vettaikkaran The God of the Irulas—it means hunter in Tamil Vibhuti Ash powder given as prasad in Shaivite temples Vidwan A scholar—in religious texts a person who knows Brahman Viharas Buddhist monasteries Vishishtadvaita Qualified non-dualism of Ramanujacharya Vyakarana Grammar Vyavahara Conduct or rules of conduct Yajamana The person who performs a ritual by a trained priest Yama The God of death Yama The five disciplines: telling the truth, not-stealing etc. Yatras Pilgrimages Yavanas A term used to denote foreigners in 300 BC – Greeks in particular
Selected References Ali, S M: Geography of the Puranas, Peoples Publishing House, 1966. Adharvaveda Samhita, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Prathistan, Delhi, 2006 (This volume contains 4000 mantras, organized into clusters according to the purposes for which they are to be used). Basham, A L: The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the History and Culture of the Indian-Subcontinent before the coming of the Muslims, Third revised edition, Picador, London, 2004. Bhattacharya, Nagendranath: History of Tantric Religion, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1982. Chakravarti, Uma: The Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism, Munshilal Manoharlal, 1996. Doniger, Wendy: The Hindus: An Alternative History, The Penguin Press, London, 2009. Eight Upanishads with the Commentary of Sankaracharya, Translated by Swami Gambhirananda, Second Revised Edition, Volumess I and II, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkatta, 1989, reprinted 2006. Ghai, R H: Suddhi Movement in India: A Study of Its Socio-political dimensions, Commonwealth Publishers, New Delhi, 1990. Ghurye, G S: The Scheduled Tribes, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1963. India—A Travel Survival Kit, Lonely Planet Publications, Australia (latest edition). Mahadevan, T M P: Sankaracharya, National Book Trust, India, 1990. Manusmriti, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Puranattukara, Thrissur, Kerala (This book presents 2700 verses of Manusmriti in the Malayalam script with a commentary by Siddinadanandaswamy). Narayanan, Vasudha: Hinduism: Origins, Beliefs, Practices, Holy texts, Sacred Places, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004. Nehru, Jawarharlal: The discovery of India, The Signet Press, Calcutta, 1946. Neumayer, E: Pre-historic Indian Rock Paintings, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1983. Omvedt, Gail: Dalit Visions: The Anti-caste Movement and the construction of an Indian Identity, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 1995. Pusalkar, A D: Studies in Epics and Puranas, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai. Radhakrishnan, S: Hindu View of Life, Harper Collins, London, 1926 (reprint 2009).
A History of Hinduism Radhakrishnan, S: The Bhagavad Gita (with an Introductory essay, Sanskrit text, English translation and Notes), George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London, 1948. Ramachandran, R Hinduism in the Context of Manusmriti, Vedas &Bhagavad Gita, Vitasta Publishing Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, 2009, 2013. Rigveda Samhita, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Prathishtan, Delhi, reprinted 2008 (This volume contains 10,552 mantras in Devanagari script). Samaveda Samhita, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Prathistan, Delhi, 2006 (This volume contains 1,500 mantras in Devanagari script). Sankaracharya: the Missionary, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust, Mumbai, 2002. Sarma, D S: The Upanishads: An Anthology, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 1964. (selections of verses from 11 major Upanishads in Devanagari script, along with their English translation). Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkatta, 1983. Sri Chandrasekhara Saraswati: Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 1995, pp 790. Shreemad Bhagavad Gita, Sanskrit text in Devanagari script with Sankara’s commentary in original and its translation into Hindi by Harikrishnadas Goyendka, Gita press, Gorakhpur, 1998. Srimad Bhagavatham, Vol I and II, Original Sanskrit text in Malayalam script, Giri Trading Agency Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, (6th reprint, 2011). Srimad Valmiki Ramayanam, Original Sanskrit text in Malayalam script, Vol I and II, Sri Rama Mandir Trust, Tiruanandapuram, Kerala, 1997 (Reprinted 2004, 2009). Srinivas, M N: Social Change in Modern India, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1966. Taittiriya Samhita (Krishna Yajurveda), Chowkhamba Sanskrit Prathistan, Delhi, 2005. (This is mostly in Sanskrit prose). Thapar, Romila: The Penguin History of Early India from the origins to AD 1300, Penguin Books India, 2003. Weber, Max: The Religion of India, Original in German published in 1916, later translated into English, Currently published by: Munshiram Manoharlal New Delhi, 1996. Yajurveda Samhita (Shukla Yajurveda), Chowkhamba Sanskrit Prathistan, Delhi 2006 (contains 1800 mantras in Devanagari script).
Index Acharya xxiv, 26, 101, 170, 182, 185–187, 189, 193, 194, 265, 268 Adharma 127–129, 142 Adi Sankaracharya xxx, 2, 26, 52, 56, 61, 68–70, 72, 86, 157, 170, 177, 179, 181, 182, 185, 187, 189, 192, 193–196, 206, 207, 209, 241, 250, 265, 272 Afghans 214, 217 Agamas 131, 148, 150, 151 Agni Purana 143 Agraharam 15, 37, 131, 137, 152, 154, 155, 157, 158, 160, 161, 243, 263 Aitareya Upanishad 57, 62 Ajatasatru 73, 78, 98, 134, 138 Akbar 217, 218, 221, 223 Alexander the Great 98 Alvars 197, 203, 205, 210, 215 Angiras 24, 65, 100 Apasthamba Sutra 31, 38 Aranyakas xxv, 42, 43, 54, 56, 70, 74 Arya Samaj 237–239 Aryan xxv, 2, 233, 234 Aryavartam 36, 102, 103, 105, 106, 125 Ashrama xxvi, 69, 97, 100, 102, 108, 120, 124 Asoka 36, 79, 80, 81, 89, 98, 165, 166, 208 Atharvaveda 27, 29, 39, 46–48, 51, 108, 112 Atman 55, 58–63, 65–67, 70, 72, 79, 84, 85, 87, 149
AUM 60, 61, 64, 65, 67 Badarayana 49, 68 Bahubali 91 Bhagavad Gita xxiv, xxx, 16, 46, 48, 56–60, 63, 68, 69, 71, 72, 127, 152, 185, 189, 190–192, 197, 208, 209, 234, 241 Bhagavata Purana 16, 17, 65, 70, 117, 127, 133, 136, 138, 143–145, 147, 149, 150, 205 Bhagavatas 132, 203, 206 Bhaja Govindam 186, 191, 193, 194 Bhakti 196, 197, 199, 203, 205, 209, 273 Bhakti Movement 127, 181, 193, 197, 210 Bharadwaja 25, 141 Bhashyam 68, 69, 183, 184, 189, 190, 206 Bhavishya Purana 143, 146 Bimbisara 73, 76, 78, 134, 138 Brahman (God) i, 21, 29, 30, 42, 55, 57, 58, 60–62, 64–70, 72, 79, 84, 75, 77, 135, 136, 139, 146, 169, 206, 207, 209, 236 Brahma Purana 143 Brahman 29, 30, 42 Brahmana/Brahmanas (Jati) xxvii, xxix, 3, 15, 17, 19, 25, 28, 30–32, 37, 42, 44, 49, 50, 54, 65, 83, 87, 94, 98, 101, 107, 109, 113, 117, 118, 130, 131, 133, 137–140,
A History of Hinduism 153, 154, 160, 181–183, 197, 202, 203, 205, 207, 218, 219, 232, 239, 243, 249, 257–259, 262–264 Brahmana/Brahmanas (Texts) 32, 42, 46–48, 51, 57, 61 Brahmanda Purana 138, 143, 146 Brahmasutra xxvi, 49, 53, 68, 69, 185, 189, 191, 206, 250 Brahmi 83, 235 Brighu 102 Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 65, 66, 112 Brihaspati 24, 25
100, 102, 114, 119 Dravidas 106, 111 Durga 12, 145, 198, 258 Epics xxvi, xxviii, xxx, 12, 16, 26, 37, 87, 112, 113, 117–119, 122, 129, 130, 138–141, 157, 163, 201, 222, 225, 238, 241 Ettutogai 200
Chaityas 73, 80, 165 Chandogya Upanishad 64, 65, 183 Chandrasekharendra Saraswati xxiii, xxiv, 189, 249 Chandravamsi 129, 138, 140 Charvakam 64 Chinas 106, 111 Chinmayananda 69, 182, 192, 249, 250 Dalit 153, 226 Dayabhaga 114, 154, 243 Dayananda Saraswati 229, 237, 239, 250 Delhi Sultanate 213, 214, 216, 223 Dharma 97, 108, 111, 117, 120, 239 Dharmasastras xxvi, 63, 64, 97, 99, 100, 113, 117 Dharmasutras xxvi, 39, 48, 99,
Garuda Purana 143, 146 Gautama Buddha 77, 78, 82, 89, 138, 165 Gopuram 170, 173 Gotra 21, 30–32, 158, 182, 183 Grihya Sutras 49 Gurukula System 28, 54 Hasthamalaka 189 Hero Stones 6, 10, 13 Hindustani 228, 254 Hindutva 248 Indologists xxviii, 2, 3, 51, 229, 233, 234 Irulas 7, 9, 11, 18 Isavasya Upanishad 56, 57 Isvara 63, 64, 67, 68, 136 Itihasa 97, 114 Jabali 70, 120 Jaimini 48, 49, 57, 68 Jaiminisutra xxvi, 48, 49, 68, 79, 109 Jataka stories 80 Jati 11, 86, 87, 108, 113, 158, 165, 206, 207, 260–262 Jayadeva 215, 219, 234
Index Kabir 218, 220, 239 Kalhana xxv, 215 Kali Yuga 122, 134, 138, 139, 146 Kamasutra 134, 172 Kamban’s Ramayanam 119 Kamban 208, 219 Kanchi Acharya xxiv, 26, 265, 268 Kapalikas 132, 185 Kapila Muni 63 Karma theory 85 Karupparayar 9, 10–12, 15 Katha Upanishad 56–60, 62 Kena Upanishad 57, 58, 70 Khalsa 221 Kshatriya xxvi, xxvii, 50, 82, 87, 98, 107, 110, 117, 118, 126, 127, 129, 131, 133, 135, 137, 138, 140, 223, 258–260 Krishna 60, 61, 65, 67, 70, 71, 117, 118, 122, 127, 136, 138, 140, 144–146, 148, 150, 157, 161, 178, 193, 198, 203, 207, 208, 209, 215, 218, 219, 241 Krishna Yajurveda 27, 32, 41–43, 48, 51, 57, 61 Kriya Yoga 131, 136, 147 Kurma Purana 143, 144 Later Upanishads 53, 64 Lingayat 207 Lokayatas 85 Loukika Brahmanas 113, 259, 263, 264 Madvacharya 207, 208, 215 Mahabharata 69, 101, 114, 117–119, 127, 128, 129, 133,
139, 140–143, 146, 168, 201, 208, 246 Mahavira 43, 73, 82, 84 Mandana Misra 184, 185 Mandukya Upanishad 61, 184 Mantra 25, 27, 28, 42, 43, 45, 46, 57, 135, 149, 193 Manusmriti 46, 48, 51, 65, 66, 70, 72, 86, 97, 100–103, 105, 106, 108–112, 113–115, 119–122, 125, 133, 142, 150, 160, 165, 234, 243, 259, 260, 262, 263, 266 Mariamman 12 Markandeya Purana 133, 143, 145 Matsya Purana 143, 144 Maya 63, 67, 136, 139, 191, 195 Megaliths 2, 6 Mimamsa xxv, [xxvi, 16, 27–30, 34, 36, 37, 39, 41, 43, 44, 46, 48–53, 56, 68, 71, 72, 74, 79, 84, 85, 93, 94, 97, 98, 102, 103, 109, 110, 113, 114, 118, 127, 131, 132, 135, 137, 149–152, 157, 158, 161, 181, 184, 189, 190, 203, 217, 222, 244, 248 Minor Upanishads 53, 69 Mitakshrara 243 Mlechhas xxvi, 34, 107, 108, 124, 139, 150 Mohammed of Ghazni 216 Mughal 217, 219, 221–223, 225, 229, 231, 254 Mundaka Upanishad 60 Murugan 12–15, 197, 202 Mutt 52, 157, 170, 187, 189,
A History of Hinduism 206, 207, 240, 249 Nakkirar 13, 202 Nayanmars 197, 203–205, 210 Nibandanas 114 Nirgranthas 82 Nirguna Brahman 70, 131, 132, 135, 136, 149, 193–195 Nitya Karma 44 Nyaya 62–64 Pahlavas 106, 111 Pali 79, 84 Pancharatras 132, 203 Parvati 13, 15, 150, 169, 172 Pasupatas 132, 204 Pasupati 42, 204 Patanjali 63, 64, 72, 194 Patasala 183 Persians 74, 98 Prakriti 63, 67, 136 Pranayama 64 Prasenajit 73, 78, 98 Prasna Upanishad 60 Pravara 21, 30–32, 107 Puja 11, 17, 109, 114, 131, 136, 149, 150, 206, 217, 244, 257, 258 Puranas xxiv, xxvi, xxviii, xxx, 12, 15, 16, 26, 37, 50, 56, 64, 67, 70, 87, 97, 101, 102, 113, 114, 117, 121, 127, 130–147, 150, 157, 163, 168, 178, 182, 183, 198, 202, 204, 222, 225, 238, 239, 241, 267 Purusha Sukta 43 Purva Mimamsa 28, 44, 51, 68, 72, 84, 98, 103, 110, 150, 152 Pushyamitra 138
Radhakrishnan 229, 241, 242, 246 Rajatarangani 215 Ram Mohan Roy 229, 236–239, 242, 246 Ramananda 120, 218 Ramanujacharya 120, 144, 195, 206, 215 Ramayana 114, 117–123, 125–130, 133, 139–141, 146, 168, 197, 209, 219, 246 Rigveda xxiv, [xxvii, xxx, 21–30, 32, 33, 41–43, 45, 46, 51, 57, 65, 135, 153, 234 Rigvedic people 3, 19, 21, 23, 26, 32–34, 36, 37, 39, 40, 49, 50, 107, 261 Rudra 41, 43, 63, 67, 68, 136 Saguna Brahman xxvi, 67, 70, 72, 135, 136, 139, 149, 195, 207, 208, 241 Sakas 34, 111, 124 Sakuntalam 234 Samaveda xxv, 27, 30, 41–43, 46, 49, 51, 57, 74, 190 Sanatana Dharma 111, 238, 239 Sangam 12, 13, 83, 134, 197, 199–202 Sankhya 61–63, 69, 192 Sati 237 Satyam 120, 246 Savedasa 31, 32 Secularism 251, 252 Shaivism 2, 43, 67, 136, 138, 202, 204, 205, 215 Shikhara 168, 171, 177 Shiva xxvi, 5, 9, 10, 13, 15, 30, 43, 67, 68, 70, 132, 136, 138,
Index 145, 146, 150, 166, 168, 169, 171, 174, 178, 181, 184, 185, 186, 193, 195, 198, 204, 208 Shiva Purana 70, 133, 136, 145, 150 Sikhism 221 Silappadigaram 201, 202 Shivaji 222–226 Skanda Purana 143, 145 Sloka 101, 111, 148 Smartas 16, 157, 158, 189, 204 Smrities xxvi, xxviii, xxx, 25, 29, 36, 44, 56, 65, 71, 72, 85, 87, 93, 97, 99–101, 106, 109, 111, 114, 117, 118, 141, 157, 204, 243, 246, 261, 264 Sri Vaishnavites 16, 204, 207, 215 Sthala Puranas 131, 146, 147, 151 Stotra 186, 193, 194 Stupas 73, 80, 89, 90, 165, 210 Sufism 220, 228 Suka 138, 141, 142, 144 Shukla Yajurveda 27, 29, 42, 43, 46, 51, 56, 57, 66 Surdas 218, 219, 220 Sureshvaracharya 184, 189 Suryavamsi 129, 138, 140 Suta 141 Sutras 43, 48, 49, 68, 109 Svetasvatara Upanishad 64, 67, 68 Taittiriya Upanishad 57, 61 Tantrism 1, 2, 185 Taittiriya Samhita 27, 41, 43, 61 Thirthankar 82, 84, 93 Tirukkural 83, 201
Tirumantiram 205 Tirumurai 205 Tiruvaimozhi 206 Tiruvalluvar 201 Totakacharya 185, 189, 194 Todakashtakam 194 Tuglak 224 Tulsidas 119, 209, 218, 220, 222 Upanishads xxiv, xxv, xxvi, xxviii, 16, 26, 28, 36, 42, 43, 46, 49, 53–58, 60, 62, 64, 65, 67–72, 74, 76, 85, 97, 103, 113, 120, 140, 150, 157, 184, 185, 189, 190, 192, 196, 204, 208, 232, 234, 238–241, 243, 244, 246, 250, 266, 267 Upa-Puranas 131, 146 Urdu 214, 253, 254 Uttara Mimamsa 36, 51, 52, 56, 68, 84, 97, 98, 103, 110, 127, 152 Vaidika Brahmanas 44, 97, 113 Vaishnavism 136, 144, 202, 205, 207, 218 Valmiki Ramayana 84, 112, 117, 119, 120, 121, 127, 143, 150, 209, 273 Vamana Purana 143, 144 Vardhamana Mahavira 73, 82 Varna xxviii, xxvii, 40, 41, 50, 65, 86, 87, 94, 97, 103, 106, 107, 108, 110, 113, 127, 137, 139, 140, 152, 207, 208, 249, 258–260, 262 Veda Vyasa xxiv, 49, 129, 131, 141, 142, 144, 238, 241
A History of Hinduism Vedanta 56, 61, 62, 68, 184, 192, 195, 207, 249, 250, 266, 268, 272 Vedas xxiv, 12, 22, 24, 26, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 48, 51, 53, 56, 60, 61, 70, 79, 94, 101, 103, 105, 10–110, 112, 113, 135, 140, 150–152, 157, 161, 189, 190, 206, 217, 234, 236, 238, 239, 240, 241, 243, 244, 246, 259, 262, 263, 265 Viharas 80, 89, 91 Vishnu xxvi, 30, 67, 68, 70, 100, 119, 132, 136, 144, 146, 166, 168, 169, 172, 178, 193, 195, 198, 204, 206, 246 Vishnu Purana 51, 70, 133, 136,
143, 144 Visishtadvaita 206, 208, 241 Vivekachoodamani 61, 63, 72, 192, 193, 195, 250 Vivekananda 229, 237, 239, 240, 241, 246 Yajamana 27, 28, 30 Yajurveda xxv, 41–43, 49, 74, 109, 190, 238 Yajnavalkya 42, 66, 67, 71, 72, 100 Yavanas xxvii, 34, 36, 97, 98, 103, 111, 124, 144, 151 Yuga 121, 122, 134, 138, 139, 140, 146
About the Author R Ramachandran is an indologist and retired professor of Geography from the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. He has held positions as the Head of the Department of Geography, the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, and the Director of the Delhi School of Economics at various points in time. His first book Urbanisation and Urban Systems in India was published in 1989 and has been reprinted every year since. After retirement in 1996, the author has been devoting himself full time to the study of Hindu scriptures in original Sanskrit. In 2010, he published his first book on the nature of Hinduism—Hinduism: In the context of Manusmriti, Vedas & Bhagavad Gita. The author’s deep interest in Hinduism is the direct result of his ancestry from an orthodox community of Brahmanas and his feeling of indebtedness to his ancestors. The book is in the nature of a historiography and reflects the author’s perceptions as a member of a Brahmana community as well as his professional training and experience as a social scientist.