Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Can I question few assumption​s?

I am rising questions about few assumptions which have been told and accepted as facts about ancient India.

First assumption: Buddhism was all hunky dory religion, spread peacefully by Ashoka.

Teachings of Buddha may be ideal, but did the followers of Buddhism followed it exactly so? (Theories can be ideal, human beings/society is not). One can realise from Brahmana Varga in Dhammapada, how people from Brahmin descent were given importance in Buddhist organisation. For a minute let me presume, everyone were equal and there was no hierarchy existing in Buddhism. Afterwards Islam wave arrived and most of them (specially the north west part of India) got converted to Islam. Now let's have a look at Muslim surnames in Pakistan and northern India where Buddhism belt supposed to have been stronger. We still come across Chowdhuris, Bhatts and Ansaris. (I know, some of them are converted straight from Hinduism to Islam, but not all). What do these names mean? They were not present when these people were Buddhists and suddenly reappeared (after thousand year break) during Islamic conversion? Or the caste tag never went away despite people undergoing two conversions, while both the religions claimed equality ?
 
Second Assumption: Relationship between Jainism and Buddhism.
 
Lines from Wendy Doniger (The Hindus: An Alternative History, page 214) : " ... Buddhism and Jainism remained friendly conversation partners, their rivalry with Hinduism often spurring both factions to borrow from each other in a positive way....."  What a glossy statement without bothering to substantiate.

She herself admits in the beginning the book, she has included a few episodes of interaction (both friendly and hostile) between Hindus and non-Hindus, but has not paid enough attention to those other religions in their own right. But picking Hinduism part alone in a literary work which mocks at society in general gives the impression of a prejudiced version. Kshemendra's Narma Mala (11th century AD) is a satire on society in general which speaks about corrupt beaurocrats and women, which does not spare even Buddhist nuns. But Wendy selectively picks up the part which mentions the linga (symbol of Shiva) for the narration of Hinduism (Page 22). (I did not feel comfortable to put the exact wordings here). 

Hathigumba inscription describes how Kharavela, the Jain emperor of Kalinga brought back the Thirthankara idols of Kalinga which earlier Magadha rulers had carried away with them after Kalinga War in Past. Both Buddhism and Jainism propagated peace. But people who propagated them were kings who fought wars. Two of biggest empires that India witnessed before Moghal era belonged to Ashoka, king of Magadha empire and Kharavela who ruled the empire of Kalinga. One was a Buddhist, other was Jain. It is very obvious, such vast empires cannot be built without wars/violence.
 
Ashoka's change of heart towards wars after battle with Kalinga has been mentioned in inscriptions. Him embracing and promoting Buddhism is also a admitted fact. What is unknown is, did these two happen at the same time? "Ashokavadana", a Buddhist literature which was written 4 centuries after his death does not mention about this. In fact we get an idea, the extent of Ashoka's intolerance towards Jainism.
 
There is a similarity between Buddhism & Jainism with Islam versus Christianity in Europe. Yes, both these religions were born in India. But their pattern is similar. These were also "missionary religions" (with monks and Viharas) unlike the traditional society where there was an individual teacher (Gurukul). The new religions were backed up by political power (Ashoka for Buddism, South Indian rulers in the case of Jainism). They grew with this royal patronage.

Randal Collins (The sociology of Philosophies : A Global Theory of Intellectual Change) mentions how Monasteries were prominent at accumulating property, donations coming from grants of land and villages from kings and merchants, as well as expenditures of students and pilgrims. 
Next assumption is about the way they propagated:

The theology of one unified religion sounds rosy. Now, let us consider this. We all (Hindus/Christians/Muslims) worship different Gods with our own cultural practises. Now, if someone imposes a religion called Xism and declare X is the God and every one irrespective of any religion/caste should pray X from now on, how will every community react? How many of us are willing to adopt to a new faith? Each of us are fine with whatever we are. I would like to quote Collins again (page 188,191). The general principle governing the long term dynamics of intellectuals factions. Strong schools subdivide; weak schools ally. Continuing he says, Hinduism was not a primordial religious identity but a self conscious united front that gradually built up in opposition to Buddhists and Jainas.

Many times, people like Wendy Doniger and Kancha Iliah try to apply contemporary values to interpret the ancient culture. I am just trying to understand today's conflicts of human mind/society and using it to reinterpret history. (I am referring to Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe). The hesitation shown by the communities (castes) in ancient India to abandon their age old customs/ rituals to suddenly embrace and show affection to a new system are the normal insecurities of a human psyche. Then why people (historians) presume, thousand years ago people thought differently? The reasons for conversion must be either some convenience or fear.
 
S.L. Bhairappa, in his novel Sartha lists what could be the reasons for growth of Jainism and Buddhism (He mentioned, it comes in one of Jataka tales of Buddhism). Hindus were not allowed to travel through sea (of course, this tradition was not existing during Indus Civilisation, but must have propped up in between). This put the people who had to use sea for their life (fishermen and traders who were using sea for their livelihood) into trouble. People who had infinite Gods did not have anyone to pray when they were struck in a storm. (The only Hindu God's story wherein sailing is mentioned is Satyaranarayana. I came to know, this God is only couple of hundred years old! ).These religions became an escaping route for them, as they could pray to these gods. Also, when they were going for long voyage; every community had to cook separate food. Everyone converting into a single religion looked more convenient. I cannot argue about the authenticity of this theory. But most of the time I observe, Jainism is a predominant religion in coastal regions like coastal Karnataka, Gujarat.
 
About fear factor. Akbar despite being a emperor, could not popularise his own religion Din-e Ilahi. Then how did Ashoka become successful in spreading Buddhism; not only in India but also outside?
 
Ashoka's personal life resembles Aurangzeb more than Akbar. Both killed their brothers for getting thrown. Both built a vast empire. Both believed in a philosophy and tried their best to spread it. Ashoka's spread of Buddism was called promoting; Aurangzeb's was called "enforced". But in their rigour, they underestimated the strength of the silent masses. Just few decades after their demise, their dynasty got weakened and were overtaken by smaller kingdoms and people like Ashoka and Kharavela were completely forgotten for the next two thousand years till British dug their details out.
  
Ashoka has been termed as a highly religious tolerant ruler (The Hindus: An Alternative History, Wendy, Page 21). What is the source of reference?  The inscriptions that have been erected by himself? Or the Buddhist literature, the religion which he tried to promote? Is that sufficient? To summarise how much this society cares about the vastness of the empire that one ruled, let me quote Purandhara  Dasa a poet from Karnataka during Bhakti Movement (1500 - 1600AD).

ಮುನ್ನ ಶತಕೋಟಿ ರಾಯರುಗಳಾಳಿದ ನೆಲವ / ತನ್ನದೆಂದೆನುತ  ಶಾಸನವ ಬರೆದು /
ಬಿನ್ನಣದ ಮನೆ ಕಟ್ಟಿ ಕೋಟೆ ಕೊತ್ತಲವಿಕ್ಕಿ / ಚೆನ್ನಿಗನು ಅಸುವಳಿಯೆ ಹೊರಗೆ ಹಾಕುವರೋ //

(Millions of rulers have made a claim for this piece of land before you. Now you are inscribing that it belongs to you. You build a fort to guard it. Once you die, your body will also be thrown out of the castle just like everyone else).
 
Despite three most powerful kings  (Ashoka, Kharavela and Aurangzeb) promoting their faith so rigorously, people  seemed not happy with any of the religions imposed on them and India's majority still managed to remain Hindus.

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