Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Buddhism and Jainism in South India - 4

In my previous posts on the very topic I maintained that both these were elite religions and certainly not part of common people. I based my opinion on the fact that Theravada Buddhism was strongly associated monastic life and could have been beyond common people. Also, Jainism from its present distribution appears to be mostly restricted to ruling classes.

However, it looks like I need to take a paradigm shift about Buddhism and Jainism in the context of South India.

I came across the following comment at Indo-Eurasian_research;
naming one's mother in constructions like: x-(fem.)-putra is common
usage in inscriptions, the more so if the mother is a brahmin to a
royal (i.e. kshatriya son) and thereby providing ritual virtues.

I have talked about these metronymics of Satavahana and Ikshvaku kings before. There are two things that come out of these discussion.
-> The gotra belongs to mother
-> mother is a brahmin

The best example is Goutami Balasri(a la Goutama Buddha/Siddhartha) mother of Goutamiputra Satakarni. Okay, the weak point is why feminized gotra name for Balasri. Anyway, I'll consider it as an aberration.

However, if you read history then you'll know that these queens were strong supporters of Buddhism. I would rather consider them as Brahmin Buddhists. That explains Vedic/Buddhist nature of all these kingdoms in Andhra/Central East region. The most famous Buddhist (mythical?) Nagarjuna was also a Brahmin. In fact, one of the earliest Kannada Jain poet Pampa was also believed to be a Brahmin by birth.

What it shows is that South India was never Pushyamitra Sunga's North India when it comes to Vedics on one side and Buddhists/Jains on the other. Brahmins moved to Buddhism and Jainism freely without ever losing their identity (based on the gotra-s). And if you observe that kings took up their mothers' gotra-s so as to upgrade themselves for higher ritual purity, it points to a rather ominous aspect that became part of Buddhism(probably Jainism).

I would argue the purity-pollution world view of Brahmins as part of Buddhism and Jainism didn't change much. Therefore, it need not be surprising that proselytizing zeal was lacking in South India. Whatever the Buddhist/Jain population existed in South India might have moved to brahminhood as the political climate changed(the parallel could be found in Tengalai Vaishnava movement).

1. Non-brahmins claiming brahminhood on account of Brahmin mother is known in South India. Amma Kodava-s, a section of Kodava-s, considered themselves Brahmins as they traced their maternal ancestry to a Brahmin woman. In fact, a Kannada Brahmin community accepted them in their fold.
Ref: Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India, M. N. Srinivas

2. One of the versions about the origin of the name 'Namboodiri' is it is derived from 'Namboodhiran', a title of advisers of Buddhist kings. It seems that has been discounted. I feel that is the most accurate root.

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