Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Resistance towards royal Religions

I keep listening to left wing historians, how Buddhism and Jainism suffered because of Brahminism, which wanted to keep the caste structure alive. I want to put across my points on the resistance to these religions offered by Brahminism as well as other communities. Were they one and the same?

I would write about Bhagavad Gita in the next post.

I would mention the next recorded resistance, Kumarila Bhatta. Buddhism had given a special place for Brahmins who had read Vedas and left Brahminism to embrace Buddhism. These people who knew the loop holes of Vedas could debate knowledgeably with others. Non Buddhists did not know what Buddhism offered. Kumarila Bhatta joins Nalanda specifically to learn about Buddhism without revealing his identity. The description of tutors in Nalanda (Dharmakirti) does not give a secular impression of Buddhism as left wing historians describe. It was just another missionary religion, which wanted to grow by pulling others down. Brahminism became its main rival as  Brahmins could debate with equal rigour, unlike others. But that does not prove, it (Buddhism) had cordial relation with rest of the communities. (I recall another instance from Things Fall Apart. The missionaries make fun of local Gods having families. They preach, there is only one God. One innocent villager asks; But you said, he has a son. Then, your God must be having a wife as well). Debate was the only strength of Brahmins. Records say Kumarila Bhatta won many debates with Buddhist scholars. But, was Hindu society able to survive just because of these debates?
Another one, Acharya Shankara. I feel, his personality has been stretched (hyped) to cover up one's belief. From his walking bare foot and travelling all India  (Kaladi -> Sringeri -> Puri -> Joshimat (Jothirmat ) -> Dwaraka -> Kaladi  would be around 10,000km) twice, to building temples in every corner of India, from Kanchi to Kashmir, finally rescuing Hinduism from Buddhism, all in two decades (unless Shankara's rescue mission started even before he reached 10). We are not even sure, Shankara knew a thing called Hinduism. If at all he wanted to rescue anything, it could have been Brahminism, from where people were migrating to new found religions.
From whatever I have observed so far, Brahminism has  survived mainly due to adaptations and escapism rather than putting up fight. There are certain modifications brought in Brahminism because of the influence of these religions. One is vegetarianism. Second one is the missionary culture. Before Shankara, we have no reference of any Mutts which are equivalent of Buddhist Viharas. We have not seen a head shaven monk without marriage either. All the earlier Rishis are bearded guys with wives and families. Shankara tried to reinterpret Vedas under the influence of Buddhism. Also Shankara (or whoever it was) imported Buddhist culture of institution (Mutts) in Brahminism as well. But wonder whether he had any hold on other communities.
Now regarding the fight put up by non Brahmins. They were not the ones who would express their displeasure with debates. Like the retaliation we hear from Pushyamitra is not with words.
I understand, there is a confusion over authenticity of Pushyamitra's intolerance as well as his background. Ashokavadana and Malavikagnimitra both are fictional works. Ashokavadana narrates intolerance of Pushyamitra towards Buddists. In Kalidasa's work Malavikagnimitra which has Pushyamitra's son as the protagonist describes a Buddhist lady monk who is most respected by the king and who happens to be secretly safeguarding the princess Malavika. (It is a bit of surprise to me, why no poet or a play writer including Kalidasa ever chose to write anything about Ashoka). The play clearly shows the respect Buddist monks commanded during Sunga's rule. Okay, for the moment, I am ready to accept what is said in Ashokavadhana.
..... In 183 BCE, Pushyamitra, a Brahmin who was the commander of the army assassinated the last Maurya, took control of the empire through a palace coup and founded Shunga dynasty. Buddhists say that Pushyamitra persecuted Buddhists and gave increasing patronage to Vedic Brahmins (The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, Page 216)........
While writing these lines, Wendy  has not even made any definitive conclusion on the origin of Shunga dynasty (She mentions  much later in the book that the Shungas could be of low birth). If Shungas were of lower birth, she does not bother to explain why they were hostile to Buddhism and not to Brahminism. I am surprised, why none of the historians ever bothered to explore the conflict between Buddhism and lower class of the society. They clearly omit how the book describes Ashoka (who is supposed to be the centre of the work) in the beginning, who was more brutal than Pushyamitra. Both the people (Ashoka and Pushyamitra) could have been exaggerated by the book. Just filtering the gist; Ashoka's deeds were actions, Pushyamitras deeds were reactions.
Some of the edicts of Ashoka shows how he was against slaughtering of animals. His intentions may be genuine. But he was clearly overriding the social practises prevailing at the time and imposing his belief of non violence over the tribals (who used to kill and offer animals to please their tribal goddess) by banning their festivals. From the edicts one also gets a feeling, Ashoka's ruling actually did not clash with Brahminism as historians allege, it in fact clashed with lower classes of the society (4th edict) which listed too many animals (from lamb to fish) under protected animal categories and challenged the diets of the folk. Other communities are not like Brahmins, who change themselves from top to bottom to impress their ruler. Pushyamitra's actions could have been retaliation for these oppressions.
These other communities also must have gone rigid (though they didn't bother to institutionalise and build Mutt). The recent studies have indicated that caste mixing was stopped around 2000 years ago. They try to attribute it with Manusmriti, as it was written around the age. But why the other castes would have followed what is written in Manusmriti? One can also argue, the changes were around the period when Ashoka ruled India. Who would have had more influence on masses? A ruler, who rigorously promoted a religion and forcefully (or lawfully) curtailed the practices in other faiths or a book written in Sanskrit by a Brahmin, read by Brahmins? (Mind will read, what it wants to read).

I wonder, when we couldn't follow Hazare with all media coverage, how all the people in India would have listened to Shankara or Buddha. Whatever was the reason for embracing Buddhism/Jainism, Indian mind generally prefers chaos over organised way. Nobody likes to give up the habit they are born with. I feel, even when people embraced these religions, they did not surrender their identity. They carried their castes, their tribal goddess when they converted. When this wave passed, (with no more royal support) people must have gone back to their earlier communities. With no history being ever written, Acharya Shankara's name must have been brought in to cover up everything.
One cannot say, reconversions were not allowed in Hindu society. Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana (12th century), converted from Jainism to Vaishnavism (Brahminism) while his wife Shantala continued to remain a Jain.  At one point, one third of the population in Karnataka was supposed to be Jains. Now 2 or 3%. It would not have happened without reconversions.

I think, if we were not ruled by British, Islam also would have met the same fate as above religions. (Yes, there are instances where some Brahmins did not allow a Peshwa's son to get reconvert. But there are proofs, Jeeja Bai had sensed this technical problem earlier and was for reconversion). Moghal empire was anyway under collapse after Aurangzeb. Given some time, if British had not appeared in India, regional kingdoms would have taken over; slowly these people also would have been back to their respective communities. Whoever remained would have formed yet another caste in the  Hindu society (Not that, they are any different now. Now also they are recognised with their castes). In summary, Indian mind never prefers an organised religion. We prefer to be chaotic. 

May be it was easier for Islam to tame an organised religion (Buddhism) than a chaotic society (Hinduism). We have always preferred to be disoriented. What's wrong with chaos anyway?

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