Monday, April 07, 2008

Buddhism and Jainism in South India - 6

The religious identity as we define today is not a good model to understand the South Indian society 1000-1500 years ago. I am more and more convinced of the fact that there did not exist Buddhist, Jain and Vedik (pre-cursor to present day Hindu or caste) identities in the context of South India. From historical times the caste identity has been fossilized to such an extent in south India it remained the fundamental identity though the person might have prescribed to Buddhist or Jain philosophies. Of course, this is true only in the case of brahmins, rulers and merchants. Identities of the rest of the population is rather irrelevant. Also, there have been multiple reorganizations, in terms of exogamy or endogamy, of caste identities of other population(cultivators, toddy tappers,artisans etc...) throughout the history.

Though this model is invariably true in the case of Buddhism, there are exceptions in the case of Jainism. It appears Jainism was able to develop a religious identity in South India which to a certain extent was able to obscure caste identity. A small native Jain population is still found in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

An exclusive Jain or Buddhist identity would require an existing strong opposite collective view. But in this case, I would think only Brahmins offered that opposing view initially*. Other castes identities did not have a literate dogma. In such a situation individual caste identities acted as present day religious identities. Some of the dominant individual castes followed Sivaism, Visnuism, Jinaism or Buddhism.

Even before the implementation of the caste system by the royal sanction of the purity-pollution rules introduced by brahmins, there could have been a proto-type of caste identity because of the migration of guilds from East India to South India. The replication of this proto-type by the tribes moving to mainstream cannot be ruled out. The varNAzrama, after the development of guilds, became a self-sustaining phenomenon, which is called caste system, throughout India. My model for development of the caste system in South India;

First phase: Formation of caste groups because of the migrations of guilds from East India
Second phase: Ritual sanction by the purity-pollution rules introduced by brahmins with the help of rulers

I would argue the entry of Buddhism and Jainism must have happened only after the first phase.

I don't deny that there were Bouddhas and Jainas in South India. It is even possible that many of them from non-brahmin, non-merchant or non-ruling families. But they were invariably monks hence most likely did not leave any progeny to carry their new identity. Also, the caste identity of a family that sent him or her did not change because of this.

*That probably means Brahmin identity in those times was akin to Buddhist or Jain identity not just a caste identity of present times.

Daily Life In Ancient India (from 200 BC to 700 AD), Author: Jeannine Auboyer
(Read 100 pages till now).

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