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Posts Tagged ‘caste system’

Epics are a fair indication of national character. The Iliad and Odysseus of Homer give the reader the wider arc of Greek civilization in touching the entire western world: geography of the people touches their way of life and in the case of Greeks added to their martial prowess and hardiness. If their city-states cut up by mountain terrain left no room for expansion they would expand outwards and populate Asia Minor and beyond. The exploits of Achilles or Odysseus made them look beyond themselves. In India we see it was just the opposite. The sub-continent, which we call India hemmed in north by Tibetan Plateau and surrounded by the sea was the repository of ideas, innovations as a result of innumerable invasions of people. And as such we grew ever inwards. Except in the case of Buddhism we as a people never thought it worth the while to influence outside the sub-continent as the Buddhist monks spread the teachings of their Buddha. Why we never then thought of closing the gap of people scattered across this vast sub-continent? Were we fatalists or uncharacteristically become immune to changes? This begs an answer.
Was not there a thought that could meld all under as one? Unfortunately there was none. Why?
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Even as practitioners of a set of beliefs and form of worship we were receivers than originators. Different influences brought with successive waves of migration were assimilated. Notions of a belief-system of Aryan race having to do with Indian sub-continent are more conjectural than the National Socialists claiming ‘racial superiority’ on their superficial characristics to blond hair or blue eyes. Let us say they were part of mass migration of people during which one went over in the direction of Northern West Europe while another veered to the east. From the Fertile Crescent of river civilization the mass exodus carried influences that have impacted India.
By the way Hinduism is more a way of living than a religion with any set of creed or liturgy.
History of India is that of the Indian sub-continent. The way of primordial life in the ancient geographical sub-continent was superimposed time and time again by the attitudes and beliefs of those who came to settle down. Those who lived were animists and worshiped manifestation of Nature. If the concept of Trinity came later into acceptance was it not working of nature in terms of clear concepts? Manifestation of nature mirrored in its regenerative power,- Brahma, physical laws that explained it,- Vishnu or destructive power,- Shiva are merely the result of man’s thought setting down the original Principle in certain form. Such ideas were the result of mass migrations of people. Animism or Nature worship may have undergone sea-change having absorbed over eons of time the characteristics of regions as far as Fertile Crescent or the Caspian Sea. How much was to the account of the foreign influence and how much of it homegrown? Does it really matter in the absence any clearcut archaeological evidences?
History of unrecorded period however reflects Indian epics and if there be bias we might also point it as the position of the conquering race.
Does the war of Pandavas and burning of Sri Lanka adhere to historical facts? Was Ravana vilified as contemptible since history we get to read is one-sided version? In whichever case we may associate the case-system taking root in the sub-continent after Indo-Aryan people settled in this part of the continent. If Brahmins were at the top in the social hierarchy provided with all the privileges we need not look elsewhere for reason.
The successful Brahminical caste laid down law.
In the Indian epic Mahābhārata, Ekalavya is a Bhil youth aspires to study archery in the school of Dronacharya. After being rejected by Drona on account of his caste( of lower status) Eklavya embarks upon a program of self-study in the presence of a clay image of Drona. He achieves a level of skill superior to that of Prince Arjuna, Drona’s favorite and most accomplished pupil. Drona eventually comes to know this and demands that Eklavya turn over his right thumb as gurudakshina. The loyal Ekalavya cripples himself, thereby ruining his abilities as an archer. In my opinion this story encapsulates what defied India from taking her rightful place in the forefront of International community.
In the Happiness Index (www. Forbes.com) China has advanced while India slipped several places down(#115 below Iraq!).
If Indian society was splintered right along the caste lines( up to the coming of the British) what unity different states with different rulers,- each jockeying for power, could have been talking? We were not united under the Mughals and nor were we anywhere near knocking down age old and man-made barriers of caste under the British Raj.

benny

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The beginnings of human society in the Indian subcontinent for the lack of a writing system can only be restricted to archaeological evidences. What artifacts we have, predominantly deal with fertility symbols, which are not unique to this subcontinent: for example Mother or Earth Goddess is common to many other cultures. There were datable artifacts in Mesopotamia to cite one example prior to those of Indus Valley civilization. Given such similarities where man in primeval past conceived notions of a religious idea on the basis of manifestations of Nature, it is hardly surprising. Cults based on symbols, prayers and rituals, – religious ideas are often characteristic to a region. But these must also account for human migrations by which there are clear evidences of ideas that are pre-Aryan and Aryan sources. In such co-mingling the identity of Aryan or non Aryan elements are somewhat blurred.
The label Aryan means people whose original homeland may have been around Caspian Sea and have spoken Indo-European language. Is religion the sure basis for determining the identity?
If the supporters of Hindu identity settle for this Aryan source as the starting point are they not being arbitrary?
Indian subcontinent is awash with countless waves of human migration each an event in point of time as the continental drift is and when a piece of Eastern Africa became detached from the African continent and attached to the Asia. It happens gradually but in point of time. Tibetan plateau and Himalayas bear proof to it. India as part of the Asian subcontinent and not of Africa has also bearing on the make-up of our national identity. Indian subcontinent straddling between Europe and China is on the crossroads of migratory route, which later on would be known as the Silk route.
Human migrations have impacted original inhabitants as mighty torrents grind the riverbeds in course of time. This would change the shape of the existing terrain. Do they not also bring blessing to the land in their wake?
Civilizations as we see from history first sprung up around rivers. The steady stream of peoples has left their influences on the original inhabitants and such fusion of cultures has all added to give civilization in the Indian subcontinent its own special flavor. As a result we have drawn from mythological sources and traditions that existed in Iran, Greece and Rome. These are like yeast working into the whole lump of dough: it is a fool’s business to apportion contributions of any people apart from what is common in such a give and take. To sum Indian identity based on religious ideas or worship is an error.

This subcontinent has had the Moguls and later the British in power. Each has impressed its own stamp into the Indian consciousness that still reverberates for good or bad in our lives. The demolition of Babri Masjid (1992) is one and the outrage in Kandhammal village in Orissa(2007) against Christians is another example. Are these two strictly a reaction to the foreign rule or do these hide some agenda from some quarters to reimpose those hidebound caste politics of the middle ages? Given such rich diversity of impressions rendering Indian culture a movable palimpsest how shall one make a clear indisputable case for Hindu identity? Certain political parties playing religious card to achieve their own ends cannot be the expression of a national will.
Such a question of identity would not have risen as it is today but for two great momentous events. India came under the alien rule one after the other. But neither the Mogul invaders nor the British came with the sole aim of importing its religion. Wealth, – and power derived from it, is the stuff on which are empires are founded. Islam as well as Christianity owe their roots for other reasons. Of course the power wielded by Moguls and the British provided a climate for growth of the religion practiced by the ruling elite. It was not religion per se but in the manner the British administration worked with the existing caste system and the religion that has given ammunition to some mischief-makers to view national identity in terms of religion. As with any alien rule the British overlords used a divide and rule, the simplest trick, – and as old as shell game to achieve their ends, least concerned with its long-range consequences and it worked.
The Indians saw the secularism of the West as insidious move and their reaction to hold on to orthodoxy and their accustomed ways was natural. Dominant religions have always had their impact on others: Buddhism and later Sikhism were reaction to Hinduism. If Buddhism found the Brahminical hold over Hinduism as intolerable the Sikhs could not stomach the idolatry of Hinduism. Such reactions are natural as Reformation in Europe came as a rejection of corrupt practices in the Catholic Church. Nationalism that took roots was a reaction to the Colonial rule. Within this burgeoning Nationalist movement there were elements, which equated the British with their religion, and also within Hinduism and Islam were attempts at synthesis with Christianity. It is but a natural reaction in the face of a threat from outside but these do not create a national identity. What does then define Indian identity?
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‘The peoples of this (Indus Valley) civilization whatever their caste or creed called themselves ‘Bharatvasis.’The word Hindu was used for them only by foreigners…It was the Greeks who used the word Indu for the river Sindhu and its people.’
The Indian identity that distinguishes peoples in the subcontinent must be seen as their shared experience irrespective of religions or faiths; the natural interaction where there is a common ground be it festivals, commerce or exchange of ideas to which none is excluded. Above all tolerance, which is cultivated when each individual has a common interest as the goal that keeps such harmony for the common good. Thus different cultures sharing a common history and goal must be seen as the touchstone for Indian identity say as different from that of Bangladesh or Pakistan. Their goal and our goals are not the same although we have a shared experience.
(Sources of Indian Tradition.volume-1/RN Dandekar-Penguin
Quote from SP Hindu-Our Hindu identity/The Hindu 1997).

benny

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In the medieval India there lived a mystic on this side of River Godavari. Before he became the teacher of Truth he was called Gampa Guru. He grew up among ordinary folks, all weavers belonging to same community. In Kothipalli of course one knew his place and the weavers were almost at the bottom, a cut above the untouchables. As a boy he knew one who had changed all that. He was  Mahirshi Shoonya to whom kings and the poor alike gave respect. Naturally the folks of Kothipalli made much of the sage and his great gifts. He was a devotee of Brahma, the creator and he settled himself at the foot of the Himalayas below a shrine that was dedicated to Shiva, the destroyer. Shiva is in the Hindu pantheon of gods, a manifestation of the Trinity. To every pilgrim who passed him  to do obeisance to the image of him in the form of a Shivalinga, Maharshi Shoonya would say, ‘Remember Brahma, the ultimate principle!”
“But we have come to worship, Shiva the destroyer!”
“Just the same mind Brahma. Will you?”
All the pilgrims took him for one with special gifts, touched by gods meaning that he had lost his marbles.
Once young Gampa Guru alias Paramartha, went to the Shrine in the company of his father. Mahirshi as usual called out to them to mind Brahma. “I have come for neither, Mahirshi” Gampa Guru replied,” I have come to show respect to you?”
“If so why visit Shiva? Brahma is the one you ought to worship.”
The boy asked,  “Pray what is your name?”

Shunya as in Punya.” ( Nothingness as in Holiness )
Turning to his father, the boy whispered, ”See him, father the one who sits there?” “That mad Mahirshi who tries to distract all to worship Brahma instead?”
“He isn’t against Shiva! “ the boy said seriously,” He says consider the seed of Life, consider the creator!” The old Mahirshi who overheard him came to him and told the father of the boy,” He ought to sit there instead of me.” His father was surprised beyond words.
*The whole universe is spun out of opposites. We approach Life in order to be swallowed by Death. We gather wealth and prestige while we lose something else in the bargain. Matter is of material nature that allows our senses to make some sense out of it. Whereas every matter comes with its abstract nature as well. When we speak of God or light as ideas we are also setting up Satan or Darkness by the same token.
benny

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