Saturday, March 14, 2009

Origins of Indians: Version 6.2.5

I was going thro' Sankara's Atmabodha (Knowledge of Self). One sentence there strike me as rather uncharacteristic.

One should understand the self to be always like a king, different from the body, senses, mind, consciousness, and eyes, the witness of their activities. (18).

A sage or seer would have made sense. But why 'king'?

This led to me read Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, supposedly Sankara's source for 'knowledge of self'. I found rather strange explanation in it about the origin of Varna system(Section 1.4).

11. Verily in the beginning this was Brahman, one only. That being one, was not strong enough. It created still further the most excellent Kshatra (power), viz. those Kshatras (powers) among the Devas,--Indra, Varuna, Soma, Rudra, Parganya, Yama, Mrityu, Îsâna. Therefore there is nothing beyond the Kshatra, and therefore at the Râgasûya sacrifice the Brâhmana sits down below the Kshatriya. He confers that glory on the Kshatra alone. But Brahman is (nevertheless) the birth-place of the Kshatra. Therefore though a king is exalted, he sits down at the end (of the sacrifice) below the Brahman, as his birth-place. He who injures him, injures his own birth-place. He becomes worse, because he has injured one better than himself.

I thought brahman and brAhmaNa became rather ambiguous terms here. What really comes out clearly here is Kshatra is higher than Brahman. There is nothing beyond Kshatra therefore it is the highest and hence Kshatriya must be the highest. A lower phenomenon producing a higher phenomenon is rather weird. But weirdness doesn't end there. Why talk about 'injury' here?

I have copied the rest of Varna development below but don't find them much helpful except for another weirdness of Devas being divided into four Varnas.

12. He 1 was not strong enough. He created the Vis (people), the classes of Devas which in their different orders are called Vasus, Rudras, Âdityas, Visve Devas, Maruts.

13. He was not strong enough. He created the Sûdra colour (caste), as Pûshan (as nourisher). This earth verily is Pûshan (the nourisher); for the earth nourishes all this whatsoever.

14. He was not strong enough. He created still further the most excellent Law (dharma). Law is the Kshatra (power) of the Kshatra 2, therefore there is nothing higher than the Law. Thenceforth even a weak man rules a stronger with the help of the Law, as with the help of a king. Thus the Law is what is called the true. And if a man declares what is true, they say he declares the Law; and if he declares the Law, they say he declares what is true. Thus both are the same.

15. There are then this Brahman, Kshatra, Vis, and Sûdra. Among the Devas that Brahman existed as Agni (fire) only, among men as Brâhmana, as Kshatriya through the (divine) Kshatriya, as Vaisya through the (divine) Vaisya, as Sûdra through the (divine) Sûdra. Therefore people wish for their future state among the Devas through Agni (the sacrificial fire) only; and among men through the Brâhmana, for in these two forms did Brahman exist.

Some of the observations I can make here.
- This explains why Sankara choose 'king' as a perfection.
- Loyalty of Brahmins to a god(Agni) associated with their ritual aspect(Note that Iranian counter part 'Atar' doesn't have an IE etymology). This probably explains decline of gods related to IE pantheon in India. The identity of priestly caste is West Asian and not European.
- No, it doesn't imply three fold division of Indian society just like IE society. I would rather think that concept probably was created and preserved by IE bards only. These bards anyway became part of West Asian priestly class in Iran and India. Since we don't see strict division of IE societies in European lands, I would consider even there the concept was just part of bards poems not really the rule imposed on the population.
- It implies appropriation of three fold division concept (chieftain/raja, common people/vis and serfs/swartr/sudra) by a West Asian origin endogamous priestly caste.
- It shows a bit hesitation and creation of a escape passage in claiming priests as the most superior considering the current idea of king as a supreme person.
- This probably explains the triumph of Buddhism only in Sri Lanka. The four fold caste division there had been, raja, bamanu, vindalo, govi(sudra?). Note the primary position of king. Also, the term is 'raja' and not 'kshatriya'. The latter is an innovation of Brahmins in India and not part of IE concept. The term raja is still a cognate with 'rig' of European three fold class system.

Sankara (if at all he existed) had only shown his intellectual dishonesty.


Maju said...

If I'm not wrong the term used by Sankara for "self" is Aham, which is as much as saying Willpower.

If my memory is correct, it was Campbell who suggested a parallel with the Egyptian creation myth of Ptah, who is said to have created all with his heart (associated with the Sun, i.e. willpower) and then named with his tongue (associated with the Moon, i.e. consciosness). The Hebrew Genesis, which is just a devaluated version of this Egyptian legend, instead removes the creative factor and puts it all under the verbal one, transforming the cosmic creative act in a mere priestly narration, emphasizing maybe the "magic" power of words but supressing the truly creative willpower, which would be the more essential divine attribute and of which the verb, the consciousness is just a shadow.

Well, whatever the case, it seems that the Hindu mythology also captures this duality of willpower and consciousness, of heart and tongue: aham and brahman. Right?


For the rest, I'd read in mundane terms: the ksatriyas held the actual (military) power but the brahmins legitimized it by holding the "mediatic" power. Hence there's a trend in Hinduism to raise the brahmin and their abstract super-god Brahma over the military caste. This may well be a counter-tide trying to restore an order of things that existed prior to IA invasions (if IVC can be compared with Sumer, we do find in Mesopotamia the priestly caste as original elite of civilization, not the warriors).

In any case, it does seem the mythical akcnowledgement of a dialectic between the two elite castes: the priests acknowledge partly, only partly, the superiority of the actual military leaders and submit to them formally in exchange of a nearly equal status. Each of the two elite castes acknowledge each other's area of power and that is put on paper in mythical style, like some sort of a "divine" contract.

My two cents.

Manjunat said...

No philosophical discussion for this post. I don't understand it much. Also, I don't care if it's for people who have done their austerities and got rid of their sins.

For you it may look mundane. But not for me. The political aspect involves only Brahmins here and not the rulers. This also explains - initial anti-brahmanical nature of Jinaism and Buddhism; both were generally founded or espoused by rulers.
- the only culturally Indian but Buddhist society in Sri Lanka (mind you they are IE speaking people and not Dravidian speaking).
- of course, I've to counter the dumb racist theory that IE nomads created caste system and made the passive priests as the top most Varna. It doesn't make sense considering that big chunk of ex-untouchables in north India share the same ancestry. I feel egalitarian European/Central Asian nomads have been needlessly blamed for the sins that they never committed.

Maju said...

What's the origin of untouchables? If I don't understand it wrongly, untouchables are casteless people, either never really integrated in the caste system or expelled from it (outcasts). In principle every non-hindu would be an untouchable, right? (Even if for practical reasons this does not really apply).

If this is correct, untouchables should be left out of the analysis of genetic lineages among castes, as the original low caste were in fact sudras (i.e. feudal peasants, serfs), while untouchables would be product of multiple unconnected epysodes of "outcasting".

Does this make any sense?

Manjunat said...

Untouchable fall under two categories.
1. One who did impure jobs (eg. cobbler, undertakers, scavengers etc...)
2. The slave farmers(these form the big chunk)

The slave farmers indeed come under Sudras in the Varna system. However, it should be noted here that apart from Brahmins other two Varnas were matter of convenience or economic power. The Vaisya according to Varna system should have included all the common/independent people (herder and farmers). However, these people have been Sudras since known history. The Vaisya space has been claimed by merchants but you don't find their mention in the old scriptures.

Basically, all independent in the society should have had the privilege to study scriptures and undergo initiation ceremonies (hence called twice born). However, both are generally if not exclusively observed in Brahmins only. Merchants in North(Gandhi's caste) and South India claimed right to undergo initiation ceremonies in 17-18th centuries (generally opposed by the brahmins). However, it is never known how they lost their right to wear it in the first place. I think these facts show independent origin of Brahmin identity and consolidation of bards from various origins (IE or Dravidian) into that.

In my opinion, there was actually only one Varna and that is Brahmin. It became a reference society. The hereditary and endogamous nature of it along with its purity-pollution rules were later adopted by various other occupational groups and tribes, thus becoming jatis or castes but never really being part of any Varna.

Maju said...

Thanks for that explanation, very much clarifying.

In my opinion, there was actually only one Varna and that is Brahmin.

Makes sense: the priestly caste and the rest (laics), eventually more or less redefined at the (distorted) image of the priestly caste, some with acquired privileges, like ksatriyas, and others with nothing.

You seem to think that the brahmin caste has a pre-IE neolithic origin, at least conceptually, right? I'm inclined to agree with this.