~By Murad Ali Baig
The Brahmins were the priestly class of the tribe of the Aryas (not Aryans). There is, however, no unanimity about where these Aryas came from. There was also a tribe of Aryas in ancient Persia who had a priestly class called Arthvan, phonetically similar to Brahmin, meaning a person of essence. Like the Rig Veda in India they had a similar holy book the Zend Avesta. Both books were written in a similar language as Old Sanskrit was nearly identical to Old Persian. They were also written in the same cursive Kharoashti script written from right to left. The phonetic Devanagri script was only used in India after the fifth century CE.
According to the Zend Avesta they also had a class of warriors called Rateshwar (charioteers) that is phonetically similar to the Kshatriyas in India. Their third class was the Vastrayosh, similar to Vaishya, who were their cattle herders and workers. When the Aryas gave up their nomadic life and settled down, the Vaishyas became traders and farmers. There had originally been no fourth class but as the nomads picked up tribal people and stragglers on their travels they later added a fourth class who were called Hutoksh in Persia and Shudra in India. As the Persians could not pronounce `S’ that became `H’ so Shudra is phonetically not very different to Hutoksh. They similarly called their sacred intoxicant Haoma like the Soma in the Rig Veda.
Both sacred texts and their very sophisticated language must have taken a very long time to evolve and could not have suddenly erupted out of nowhere. The Persian Aryas were clearly related to several other `Indo European’ tribes as they spoke a similar language and revered similar deities like Varuna, Surya and Indra as is recorded in the Treaty of Cappadocia between the Mittani and Hittite tribes in 1380 BCE. In India, however, the Harappan civilization has revealed almost nothing of any literary culture and the extensive ancient Tamil texts showed a completely different tradition of language and scripts. In later times Tamil and other indigenous languages borrowed many words from Sanskrit.
There is no evidence that the Aryas went from India to colonize west Asia but considerable evidence that a number of tribes speaking an old Indo-European language settled in the Caucasian area, south of Russia, and streamed southwards in waves after 1,800 BCE. Well-documented records in West Asia show that many of tribes like the Hittites and Kassites entered Turkey and destroyed Syria in 1732 BCE. The Mittani attacked Babylon in the same year, while the Hyksos attacked Egypt in 1,730 BCE. The Dorians and Achaeans went to Greece and the Italics to Italy. The Aryas may have slowly migrated to Iran and then to India through Afghanistan.
As most of their artifacts were made of biodegradable wood or leather they have left little to prove where they originated from. Scholars have studied the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in studies of populations from all over the world. This shows that western-Eurasian lineages found in India today average 5.2 per cent as compared to 7.0 per cent in Europe. On the basis of the same data protagonists of the `Aryan Invasion’ and `Out of India’ beliefs draw totally opposite conclusions. A complicating factor is that the genetic inheritance of people today cannot prove what they were 4,000 years ago. It, however, seems unlikely that a large number of people chose to leave a well watered land like India to migrate huge distances over harsh mountains and deserts to the barren lands of central Asia.
It seems that the Aryas first settled in the Indus river valley from where they gradually moved north and entered the Gangetic Plain from where they slowly spread all over India as indicated by their distinctive gray ware pottery. There is no mention of the Ganga River in the Rig Veda but many references to the Saraswati that might have even been the Harirud (Sarirud) of Afghanistan. It also makes no mention of tigers and elephants unique to India.
The Rig Veda is actually the only Veda because the later Sama Veda and Yajur Veda were essentially rearrangements of the hymns of the Rig Veda with priestly texts added. These were all elaborated as the Brahmanas, Aryankas and Upanishads. Kalpas and Yugas feature nowhere in the Rig Veda and seem to have also been a Puranic idea. The Artha Veda was added very much later to include many non Vedic indigenous traditions concerning cosmology, astrology, yoga, medicine, mathematics, philosophy, etc. The early Vedas and shastras do not mention reincarnation but often mention the eating of beef at their fire sacrifices.
The Rig Veda describes the local inhabitants of India as dark skinned `Dasyus’ with whom they clashed as well as walled cities (Puras) that might have been the Harappan cities that they proudly destroyed. Several historians believe that India’s earliest organized religions were Shaivism and Jainism. Tamil Sangam poetry preserves some of the old traditions of the original Puranas. After the legendary Brahmin warrior priests like Agasthya and Parusharam entered south India about the third century BCE, 18 of the Puranas were translated into Sanskrit. As Rig Veda makes no mention of Brahma and Shiva and has Vishnu as a very minor god among its 33 deities it is postulated that Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu were not Vedic but gods of the Puranas. Some speculate that the epic Mahabharata could have been a clash between the invading Kauravas and the resident Pandavas as Krishna and Draupadi were recorded as being dark complexioned.
While Brahmins took their evolving Brahminism southwards Siddharth Gautam started a new religion in the north in the sixth century CE. Buddhism was probably a reformed and less extreme form of Jainism. It was, however, Emperor Ashoka in the third century BCE who spread Buddhism (Dhamma) that became India’s dominant religion for a thousand years. Unlike Brahminism it did not believe in a miracle producing god who would grant boons in exchange for Vedic sacrifices. Buddhism believed that salvation only came from the evolution of the souls of all living things by their actions that shaped their Karma enabling them to evolve in subsequent lifetimes. Though Buddhism was the main religion of India it co existed with Brahmin sects that grew stronger over the centuries. The Gupta Empire (320 – 550 CE) began the Hindu renaissance though there was no Hindu religion at the time but many hundreds of sects that had Brahmin priests. The word Hindu, as a name for a religion, was alien to all sacred texts till 1826 when Ram Mohun Roy first coined the word.
The caste of Rajputs had completely disappeared during this thousand year period but revived in the seventh century and the Brahma Kshatra progenitors of the revived Rajputs severely persecuted the Buddhists and Jains. Inspired by Shankaracharya (788 – 820 CE) it destroyed Buddhism and weakened Jainism. The Brahmins, however, ingested many Jain and Buddhist beliefs like reincarnation and Karma and added many Puranic deities like Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu as well as Ganesh, Hanuman, Kubera, Kali and Devi to their pantheon of deities. As the Brahmins adopted gods of the Puranas their Vedic gods faded into legend. The worship of Krishna and Rama were still very far in the future.
Buddhist and Sanskrit accounts mention that the country had been made up of 18 Mahajanapadas (great kingdoms) each comprising a number of smaller kingdoms, so there may have been over 200 kingdoms with their own traditions, languages and local deities. The first name of the country was Jamundwipa (island of jamun fruits). In the sixth century BCE the Persians under Cyrus ruled the land of the Indus (Sindhu) as the 19th province of their huge empire, but they pronounced Sindu as Hindu and all the land east of the Hindu Kush was thereafter called Hindustan. It had never been called Bharat that was the name of one of the ten earliest Arya tribes.
Many Brahmins believe that India has no history except that which is recorded in Sanskrit texts, but no Sanskrit text mentions Alexander, Mauryas or Kushans and starts their calendar from the victory of king Vikramaditya of Ujjain over a Saka tribe in 56 BCE though the Saka era actually begins in the year 78 CE. These Sakas were probably the nomadic Scythian tribes from eastern Europe, who streamed into north India. Sanskrit as a sacred language was therefore forbidden to people of low castes as evidenced by the story of Ram’s killing of Shambhuka, because he was a Shudra who was studying the Vedas. Perhaps even more serious was the fact that women had also been forbidden from learning Sanskrit. It, therefore, was never a `Mother Tongue’ but a theological language for male priests and scholars. Local languages and dialects therefore continued to be used for all domestic matters. Buddhist scriptures were therefore told in Pali, the common language of north India, and written in Prakrit.
The caste system is not found in the Rig Veda except for one small verse. It only hardened after a Brahmin called Kulluka Bhatta wrote an elaborate commentary on Manu’s old Manusmriti in the seventh century CE that made the caste system rigid and unforgiving. The terror of pollution made all those defined as being of lower caste into loathsome parriars to be abused and shunned. All forms of creativity were now frozen into a series of inflexible Shastras. All art, sculpture, music, literature architecture, medicine and even sex were frozen into ritualistic and lifeless forms. The guilds of artisans and craftsmen that had been so honoured in earlier times were reduced to low caste workmen. Now there was blind worship and undiscriminating awe. The past became sacred and all that it produced, good and bad, was reverenced alike. Slavish imitation was inculcated as duty while novelty and originality became crimes.
After the eighth century Many Rajput kingdoms flourished with their Brahmin priests and many huge temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu began to spread north, east and west modelled on the fine examples from south India. The rich offerings of devotees made them very rich and temples became guilds of bankers. It was these spectacular riches so conveniently found at one place that attracted robber warlords like Mahmud of Ghazni.
The entry of Islam from the 12th century was very traumatic as their rigid beliefs were alien to Indian thought. The early Afghan Sultans and the Mughal rulers were not very religious until the Sunni orthodoxy of Aurangzeb from about 1680 CE. An exception were the wandering Sufis who preached a purely spiritual faith that did not concern itself with social or moral issues or the rituals of religion. Not surprisingly, many Sufi shrines became places of worship for people of other faiths. They believed in simple direct worship and developed large followings. They believed the Vedantic idea that “God is everywhere and the whole world is a manifestation of the emanation of God.” They converted more people to Islam than all the Muslim soldiers and priests.
The Bhakti Movement probably originated in 7th century Tamil Nadu and spread northwards to influence other religious communities. Ancient Alvar poetry is attributed to twelve Vaishnav saints (including one woman) and was all about being ‘immersed in God’. While the southern movement had been focused on a devotion to Vishnu and Shiva, another devotional movement developed in north India after the 12th century that was centered on the mortal heroes Krishna and Ram, who were both called incarnations of Vishnu. The tolerant Bhakti faith, however, co-existed peacefully with other movements in Hinduism though the Brahmins initially condemned bhakti as it was opposed to caste and disregarded Brahmanical authority. A prominent devotee in the north was the woman Meera Bai. The Bhagavat Gita, incorporating many Bhakti beliefs, probably evolved at this time and was inserted into the epic Mahabharata. As Kabir, Farid and Nanak were probably Sufis the impact of Sufism on Sikhism was profound.
The influence of Christianity after the 15th century, with its lifelike statues and paintings of a suffering Christ, may have also contributed to the evolution of Krishna and Ram because lifelike statues and paintings were much more emotionally satisfying than stone idols. Chaitanya (1436-1532 CE) and Goswami Tulsidas (1532-1623 CE) were mainly responsible for raising Krishna and Ram from mortal heroes of legend to deities of worship. The Ramacharitamanas was a long lyrical poem written by Goswami Tulsidas. It soon captured the minds of people and made cows into objects of veneration and the eating of beef shifted from being an item of diet to something sacred. Cow slaughter soon became a big political issue because beef was commonly eaten by Muslims. The first movement to protect the cow began with the Sikh Namdhari sect in 1820 and Dayanand Saraswati founded the Gorakshini Sabha in 1882. These provoked communal riots and beef moved from being a matter of diet to becoming a defining icon of Hindu versus Muslim identity.
It also made Ayodhya a place of pilgrimage. The first recorded incident of violence between Hindus and Muslims at Ayodhya took place in 1853 when a Hindu sect called the Nirmohis claimed the structure, contending that the mosque stood on the spot where a Hindu temple had been destroyed. There was subsequent violence from time to time. On 22 December 1949, when the police guards were asleep, two small statues of Rama and Sita were surreptitiously installed. On hearing this news, Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first Home Minister, directed the UP Chief Minister Govind Ballabh Pant to see that the deities were removed but no action was taken.
In 1984, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad launched a massive movement for the opening of the locks of the mosque. On 6 December 1992, the RSS and its affiliates organized a huge rally with some150,000 `Kar Sevaks’. The vastly outnumbered police fled and the mosque was soon brought down. The event however propelled the BJP to become a major political force. The Janta Party (later BJP) had only 5 seats in parliament in the 1991 elections but got 161 seats in 1996. In the General Elections of 2014 the BJP won 282 seats.
The BJP believed in Hindutva a word that was first coined by Vinayaka Damodar Savarkar (1883 – 1966) in a pamphlet he had written in 1923 called `Hindutva: Who is a Hindu.’ It advocated a narrow interpretation of the Hindu identity and promoted by other organizations who were to later become members of the Sangh Parivar or a family of organisations led by extreme right wing Hindu groups like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). M.S. Golwalkar (1906-1973) believed that India’s customs, traditions and ways of worship was its uniqueness and that this had a strong cultural underpinning that was native to India. He believed that all Indians shared “the same philosophy of life, the same values and aspirations”. They called for the protection of all traditions, holy structures, rivers and animals in a unified Hindu society to include all including Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains… inclusive of all who are born and who have adopted Bharat as their Motherland. It also stated that Muslims, Christians and Parsis too are Hindus by culture although not by religion. They were especially hostile to all things Muslim or Christian. The foundations of most of Hindutva thinking is based on Sanskrit literature that was a huge corpus of writing, entirely written by Brahmin scholars in Sanskrit, therefore reflects the Brahmin world view. They consider the Vedas to be the source of all wisdom
India is and has always been a multicultural country with many widely different religious practices and linguistic traditions will not easily become a homogenous monocultural society. The Brahmin continuing aversion to the low castes has been moderated because the Adivasis are a big political community who need to be wooed. Though there are 22 official languages and 1,635 dialects (according to the 2011 census) Hindi, the national language, is spoken by 41% of the population. The BJP is however trying to force Hindi on all the states.
As the BJP have evolved to become a major political party the ideologues are now trying to project Hindutva as the philosophy for the creation of a `Hindu Era’ similar to a British Era or a Muslim Era. Their vision of Hinduism is a nation that will integrate all castes and language groups in one homogenous whole. Brahmins today account for just 5.5% of the Indian population but Hindutva wants to create a Hindustan that is mainly rooted on Brahmin beliefs.