Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hart's caste system - I

George L. Hart's study "Early Evidence for caste in South India" basically tells us that ground work for various levels of caste society had already been done in South Indian society before Brahmins sanctified it. According to him, these divisions were basically the result of auspicious and inauspicious religious strains present in the society. The people mostly into inauspicious rituals became later day untouchables. However, kings patronized them but they remained poor. But kings were not part of that segment but their dependence on these people was some kind of philosophical inevitability. Later Brahmins provided a very logical alternative to kings and other segments of the society which was readily accepted. But I found the study left out many aspects.

Jain influence:
How strong was the Jain influence in the literature? I suppose some of the Tamil classics were written by Jains. How much Jain worldview might have influenced Dravidian upper classes?

Another tradition caught my eye was tonsuring head of widows. This tradition was supposedly followed by Dravidian upper classes and now observed among few Brahmin communities. This hairy issue continues to perplex me. I have read that having hair on the body was considered unclean by Malayalees. In fact, "hairy person" was some kind of abuse or criticism in old days. That anthropologist(G S Ghurye?) speculated that since dark skinned people do not have much bodily hair any growth might have been considered unwanted. Imitating the other Malayalees even Brahmins started shaving off their body hair. Well, I am not sure about metrosexual nature of Dravidians but whenever I hear plucking every hair from the body that reminds me of Jains. After all, hair plucking must be a pan-Indian phenomenon (probably, in South-West gradient).

Where are the shamans?
Along with Jains, the article hardly talks about shamanism. As I see it the conflict was between Shamanic tradition and Godistic tradition in old Tamil society. However, there are no mentions of shamans(Paatri in Tulu society, B(V)elichappad or Komaram in Malayali society. Though, most of the article considered them as oracle, I would rather call them as shamans as they hardly make use of any oracle bones but only get possessed by spirits) in that study. Too much emphasis on spirit possession by communities that later became untouchable. Whereas, the shamans could be from any caste in Tulu/Malayali societies. Probably, Tamil society had hardly remained Dravidian in true cultural sense by first century CE. I wonder since when uncle-niece marriages became part of Tamil society. This tradition shows a major shift from matrilineal society to patrilineal society. Uncle-niece marriages would have been impossible in matrilineal societies as both belong to the same family. I would expect the taboo against this would been present for certain period in societies that made a recent transition from matrilineality to patrilineality. I believe there was a strong non-Dravidian(cultural) influence on Tamils(along with Kannadigas and Telugus) since pre-historic times of South India. For this reason, I find the word "pole" (the erstwhile untouchables were called Holeya in Kannada/Tulu and Pulayar in Tamil) intriguing. It seems pole in old Kannada meant menstrual blood.

The unclean menstrual blood concept:
As I have already discussed the concept of linga-yoni could have been developed in Shamanic societies, while Godistic society was basically incompatible with that. But one can observe that linga-yoni concept was not part of original Shamanic society of Tulu tribes and mostly part of Eastern regions.

I consider, the unclean menstrual blood and glorification of semen could be envisaged only in linga-yoni societies. I do not find any foundations in purely Shamanic societies for such a tradition. Which society developed this concept?

If we observe some of the communities with origins in Eastern region (Bengal/Orissa/Andhra), we see a curious belief of impurity of birth. In some communities the pregnant woman has to move away from the family and live in a solitary confinement until she gives birth and must come back on her own. I believe this tradition is the peak of any yoni related concepts. Roma, a gypsy community in Europe/Central Asia had this tradition and as I have already pointed out they were basically from Eastern Indian regions.

So, if birth was impure for old Eastern Indian communities(predominantly Y-haplogroups H and R2 clans), what about menstrual blood? I think it is not possible to generalize South Indian cultural ethos by looking at old Tamil society. The linguists have already observed this in the case of Tamil and Proto-Dravidian coalesce.

...and the Pallavas:
Hart elaborately explains conflicts between auspicious and inauspicious traditions and how the dominance of inauspicious traditions left the country divided into smaller principalities with constant warfare. According to him, solution offered by the Brahmins would have helped to unite the country(with an example of Guptas in North India...what about Rajputs... anyway, there could be other explanations). But the problem is the kings who first saw this advantage were Pallavas.

I would have accepted all those logical reasons given by Hart, if Pallavas made a transition from inauspicious traditions to auspicious traditions. But, as I see it, that is hardly the case. Pallavas were part of auspicious traditions.

No comments: