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Greeks in India Before Alexander

Greece and India Before Alexander

In his speech at a banquet hosted in his honor by Greece President Karolos Papoulias and in his address at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, on 26 April 2007, the President of the Indian Republic. Shri A. P. J. Abdul Kalam referred to exchanges between India and Greece that began well before Alexander’s march into India in 326 BC. Let us take a look at what these exchanges were.

Pre-historic era
 
Were there Greeks in India before the advent of Alexander the Great? Was Alexander the first Greek to conquer India?
 
The ancient Greek historians Pliny (VI..xxi.4-5), Solinus (52-5) and Arrian (Indica, I. ix) all assert that Alexander was not the first Greek to invade and conquer India.  Their accounts are a mixture of myths and history; and it is not easy to separate the one form the other.
 
According those historians, with some variations, Dionysus was the first Greek King to invade India. And, an incredibly long period of 6451 years and 3 months separates Dionysus from Alexander’s conquest of India. During that interval about 153 0r 154 kings reined. Diodorus Siculus (60 – 30 BCE) another historian mentions that there were three kings bearing the name Dionysus separated by long periods of time.  According to Diodorus it was the first Dionysus, the eldest – Dionysus of India (Indos) who conquered India.And, after his conquest he reigned over India for 52 years and died of old age,  thereafter his sons ruled in unbroken succession. Arrian (Indica, I. vii) drawing from the book of the Greek Ambassador Magasthenes writes “Dionysus founded cities and gave laws to those cities and introduced the use of wine among the Indians as he had done among the Greeks, and taught them to sow land, himself supplying the seeds….It is also said Dionysus first yoked oxen to the plough and furnished them with implements of agriculture, and also made husbandmen of the Indians He also mentions lot of other things introduced by Dionysus.
 
Dr. Nagendra Singh in his monumental Encyclopedia of Hinduism (pages 1712-15) after a lengthy discussion surmises that Dionysus the eldest, the Indos is the nearest equivalent to Prithu Vainya – Prithu the son of Vena in Indian mythology. Prithu is celebrated as Adiraja the first anointed monarch and the starter of royal dynasties. He is also the earliest among the monarchs to be hailed as Chakravarthin who ‘at the head of his army marched to every part of the world’. It was figuratively described that Prithu chased and conquered the earth which was fleeing from him like a cow. He was ‘Raja daivyena sahasa’ King with God-force. .It was after his name that the earth we live came to be known as Prithvi. The Atharva Veda( 8.10.24) credits Prithu with introducing the art of ploughing; leveling the whole arable earth; encouraging cultivation, cattle –breeding, commerce; building of cities and villages. Prithu is also said to have released the rapture of wine (Soma) from the earth for the delight of the gods.
Prithu_-_Crop

It appears Prithu the Indian monarch runs parallel to the Greek Dionysus the Indos. I hesitate to suggest that both refer to one and the same person.

In case the the claim of the Greek historians that Dionysus marched in to India about 6451 years before the time of Alexander is taken seriously , it then throws the whole chronology of the Indian history as it is now acepted into a vortex.

[There are several other versions of the Dionysus legend. In one of the versions (Diodorus Library of History, Book III, 62-74) Dionysus is described as : “ The most ancient Dionysus was an Indian, and since his country, because of the excellent climate, produced the vine in abundance without cultivation, he was the first to press out the clusters of grapes and to devise the use of wine as a natural product, likewise to give the proper care to the figs and other fruits which grow upon trees, and, speaking generally, to devise whatever pertains to the harvesting and storing of these fruits. The same Dionysus is, furthermore, said to have worn a long beard, the reason for the report being that it is the custom among the Indians to give great care, until their death, to the raising of a beard. ….Furthermore, there are pointed out among the Indians even to this day the place where it came to pass that the god was born, as well as cities which bear his name in the language of the natives; and many other notable testimonials to his birth among the Indians still survive, but it would be a long task to write of them.”

dionysus-mosaic-1
 
Another version of the legend mentions that Dionysus did not die in India. It says: “ Then he made a campaign into India, whence he returned to Boeotia in the third year bringing with him a notable quantity of booty, and he was the first man ever to celebrate a triumph seated on an Indian elephant..And the Boeotian and other Greeks and the Thracians, in memory of the campaign in India, have established sacrifices every other year to Dionysus
Triumph_of_Dionysus
 triumph-of-dionysos

Let us now turn to recorded history

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A.Sindhu –Hindu _ India

Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today  call as India is named as  Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah– the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along  with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well. 

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and  had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia

B.The Great Persian Empire

3. King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the vale of Peshawar . By about 516 B.C., Darius son of Hystaspes annexed the Indus valley and formed the twentieth satrapy of the Persian Empire . The annexed areas included parts of Punjab . This became the twentieth satrapy, the richest and most populous Satrapy of the Persian Empire . In the inscription at Nakshi–e-Rustam(486.BCE) a reference is made to the  tributes paid  to Darius by Hidush and others vassal such as Ionians, Spartans, Bactrians, Parthians, and Medes. 

4. Thus, the Indus region became the easternmost boundary of the vast Persian Empire, which sprawled across all of western Asia to include, after 546 B.C., most of the Greek cities on the coast of Asia Minor. The skills and labor of all of Persia ‘s subjects, Greeks included, were employed in imperial building projects. Many Greeks served as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. Indian troops formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. Indian troopers were also a part of the army that faced Alexander at Gaugamela in 331 B.C. 

The Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery. The requirements of war, administration and commerce in the far-flung Persian Empire provided numerous occasions for the Indians and Greeks to work together. Most of such interactions may have been inconsequential; but it is likely some genuine exchanges of ideas might have taken place. 

C.Scholars and Historians

-Hekataios and Herodotus

5. The term Indos(India) first appeared in Greek literature in about 5th century B.C. in the works of Hekataios of Miletos (B.C. 549–486) and Herodotus of Halikarnassos (484-425 B. C.), The word  Inder or India,  in Greek and in Persian, originally referred only to the Indus region, which then   was under the Persian Empire. Herodotus, however, used the term in a wider sense to denote the whole country and classical Greek usage followed his example.

6. Long before Alexander’s march into India, Greek writers, such as Hekataeos and Herodotus, possessed some information about India . This information however was not gained directly by visit to India or by study of its texts. Most of what the Greeks knew of India came to them by word of mouth, percolated through Persia , from its soldiers, merchants and officials in the Persian Empire . That perhaps explains why the early Greek writings of India look like a strange concoction of facts and fantasy. Hekataeos mentions the river Indus, Herodotus speaks of the Gandarioi race, perhaps inhabitants of the Peshawar valley, whose town was Kaspapyros( Peshawar ?). Herodotus mentions the name of one of the deities, worshipped in common by the Vedic Indians and the Persian Zoroastrians, namely Mitra; but he takes Mitra for a female deity. The knowledge so gained through Persia was also the source for those few Indian names that appear in the surviving remnants of Hekataio’s Geography (ca. 500 B.C.) Unfortunately, his work is now in fragments and it is nearly impossible to tell precisely what Hekataios did know about India . Like his predecessor, Herodotus also did not visit India , but he was a tireless collector of anecdotes from many sources

 -Ktesias (405-397 B.C.)

7. The last of those Greeks, before Alexander, who wrote about India, was Ktesias of Knidos. He had a better access to information on India than his predecessors did.  Ktesias was a medical doctor by profession; he served for eight years (405-397 B.C.) as the personal physician to the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.), son and successor of Darius II. . He did not claim he visited India . He may have had occasions to meet Indians or Persian officials who served in the empire’s Indian territories. Even from the vantage point of the Persian court at Susa , India still seemed  a strange and virtually unknown country. Upon his return to Greece , Ktesias wrote a book called Persika, covering the entire history of the Near East from its beginnings down to his own time, as well as a much smaller work called Indika, about India . With respect to India , the information Ktesias has to offer is occasionally accurate, though more often exaggerated. He did take care, nonetheless, to distinguish between things he had himself seen and the information he acquired by hearsay.
 

Both his works have disappeared; but there are a number of citations, together with extensive excerpts made by the Byzantine Photios – Patriarch of Constantinople in the 9th century. 

8. What the early Greeks knew about India did not amount to much and it was not accurate either. Nevertheless, the writings of Hekataios, Herodotus and Ktesias did not only evoke some awareness of India ‘s existence among the educated Greek but also added a very important chapter to cultural history of India and Greece . Presumably, these histories  had some effect on the Greek intellectual life. Herodotus explained in his works how foreign contacts might produce a relativistic point of view.

 D.Explorers and travellers.

9. The first Greeks to set foot in India were probably servants of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.) – that vast polity which touched upon Greek city-states at its western extremity and India on the east. Most of the persons who made the trip to India are unknown to us. They are the anonymous seamen, merchants and hangers-on who followed the sea-lanes from the Red Sea to the Malabar Coast (?).However, despite these rather extensive contacts, Hellenistic literature provides incredibly few accounts of such travels. 

10. The first Greek who is supposed to have actually visited India and to have written an account of it was Skylax of Karyanda in Karia. He lived before Herodotus, who tells that Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia . Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. 

Skylax later wrote a book of geography titled Indika apparently a report of his expedition that set out to follow the Indus from its headwaters to its mouth.

Herodotus did not appear to have a high opinion of Skylax as a historian.

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11. Alexander’s expedition to India was a landmark in the History of the region and it vastly increased the Greeks’ knowledge of India . A number of his associates – Callisthenes, Onesikritos, Aristobulos, Nearchos, Ptolemaios – wrote about India ; their works remained standard sources on the country for centuries afterward. The picture of India that Alexander’s companions and successors presented to the Greek world, helped historians to reconstruct events in ancient India , though partially. Greek’s association with India has left a indelible mark on India ’s cultural, artistic and political history. 

12. In comparison to Greek sources, the Indian sources are very scanty. There is hardly any writing concerning the events of those times. While Alexander’s invasion of India opened the way to further Indo-Greek relations, Indians do not appeared to have entered the Greek world until nearly the Christian era. There is also no evidence of Indian Ambassadors being in the courts of Egypt or Roman Empires, except in the Ashoka’s edits where the emissaries to Syria , Egypt , Macedonia and Libyaare mentioned .

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Source: 

India and the Greek World; 
A study in the transmission of culture 
Sedlar, Jean W. 
New Jersey, 1980

 Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (pages 1712-15) By Dr.Nagendra Singh

 Please also read : Some other Greeks in India
 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History

 

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Some Other Ancient Greeks in India

 

The exploits of Alexander the Great in India and the deeds of the other famous Greeks that followed him are well known. Among those famous Greeks who traveled to India , there were Kings, Generals, Diplomats, Philosophers, Historians and a whole tribe of soldiers. Many of whom have written about India and their life in India .
 
 
  
1.1 Apart from these, some other ancient Greeks traveled to India either as individuals or in small groups. They were mostly sailors and explorers. Some of them took the land route while many others sailed to India . The principal interest of their travel was not conquest but trade. Only a small number of these explorers have left behind a record of their travels detailing, among other things, the sea route they took, ports they sailed into, the commodities they traded and their impression of the strange country, its strange people, their customs etc. However, in most other cases the details have come down to us indirectly, through the writings of historians who gathered tales from sailors, merchants etc. who might have accompanied the voyages; or from other sources that are not now extant. The life and work of, what we may call, these other ancient Greeks is not common knowledge, except in History circles. Let us look at a few of them.
 
 
 
2. Before going into that, a mention has to be made of two other ancient Greeks-Skylax of Karyanda in Karia and Pyrrhon the Skeptic- both of whom do not fall in the above category.
 
 
 
2.1 Skylax :
 
 
Skylax, the first Greek to set foot in India, lived before Herodotus, who tells that the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia . Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. Continuing, Skylax followed the coast and explored the gulf of Oman and the south-eastern side of the Arabic Peninsula . In thirty months, he circumnavigated  Saudi Arabia and reached  Mediterranean through the channels of Nile and Isthmus of Suez . Skylax later wrote a book of geography titled Indika apparently a report of his expedition that set out to follow the Indus from its headwaters to its mouth.
 
(Source: J.W.Sedler – India and Greek world)
 
 
 

2.2 . Pyrrhon of Elis (365-275 B. C.)

Pyrrhon is one of the earliest Greek philosophers likely to have had a direct contact with India . According to Diogenes Laertios (second cent. A. D.) , the ancient historian of philosophy, Pyrrhon was at first a painter and his works were seen in the gymnasium at Elis . Later Pyrrho took to philosophy influenced by the works of Democritus(c.400BC). He studied philosophy with a teacher of the school of Megara (Magerian dialectics) and then with Anaxarchus (340BC), the pupil of Democritus.

2.2.1. Pyrrhon was one of the philosophers who traveled with Alexander the Great on his expedition to India . He apparently met some Indian philosophers during his stay in India . His experiences in India may have had some effect on him because on his return to India he preferred to live in solitude and in poverty. Yet, he was highly honoured by the Elians and the Athenians, who conferred upon him the rights of citizenship. He did not put his ideas into writing. His ideas have survived only through fragmentary citations in later authors and mainly through the writings of his pupil Timon of Philus. Timon admired his teacher for his modesty and his tranquil way of life.

 
Pyrrhon is regarded the first skeptic philosopher and the inspiration for a school of thought known as Pyrrhonism founded by Aenesidemus(of third skeptic school) in first century B.C.
 
(Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition)
 
 
 

3.Patrokles:

The 3rd century B. C. has been rather kind to historians. A good number of reports of Greeks who traveled to India during this period have come down to us, as compared to the later periods. During this period, the rulers of Persia and Greece sent their emissaries to India . It is said, an officer named Petrokles (c.280 BC) visited India and returned with some useful geographic information. However, nothing much is known about Petrokles.

3.1. Pliny, the historian, in his Naturalis Historia VI 36 mentions Patrokles. He attributes the statement, that the Caspian Sea is as long as the Black sea to Patrokles. He also mentions that Aristobulus [who accompanied Alexander the Great] stated that the Oxus is easy to navigate and that large quantities of Indian merchandise are conveyed by it to the Hyrcanian [Caspian] Sea and then transferred into Albania by the Cyrus and through the adjoining countries to the Euxine [Black Sea]. Pliny, then, adds a remark to the effect that Aristobulus and Eratosthenes -(276-194BC- the Greek mathematician known to have calculated the Earth’s circumference and to have drawn the map of the world) – borrowed this idea from Patrokles. This is Eratosthenes’s map. India is on your right hand side.
 
3.2. Patrokles’s name appears four times in the fragments of Megasthenes’s Indika. On all those occasions, it was in connection with measuring the size of India , the length (breadth?) of India and distance of places in India from the south sea. Patrokles, on each occasion differs from the measurements calculated by Megasthenes, Eratosthenes and by Deimachos (envoy to the court of king Bindusara).  Hipparchos (the Greek astronomer who drew up the first catalog of the stars) remarks that two competent authorities’ viz. Deimachos and Megasthenes opposed Patrokles; and that even Eratosthenes discredited the calculations of Patrokles.
 
 
3.3. Evidently, Patrokles along with Eratosthenes and Hipparchos visited India and he had some knowledge of India . All these were highly eminent persons. Obviously, the Greeks, in those times, valued their relation with India .

(Source :

http://projectsouthasia.sdstate.edu/docs/history/primarydocs/Foreign_Views/GreekRoman/Megasthenes-Indika.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eratosthenes

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4.Eudoxos of Kyzikos (Eudoxus of Cyzicus ) :

The later half of the first century and the period thereafter in the second century BC did not witness frequent contacts between India and the Greek world because the land route was blocked by the Parthian empire (successor to the Seleukids). As regards the sea route via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean , the sea captains had not yet learned to utilize the monsoon trade winds and had forgotten the route found by Skylax. There was, however, some improvement in the traffic following the movement of the Bacterian kings into the Indus valley. This rendered the land route less dangerous.

 

4.1. The beginning of the second century saw an upsurge in the sea travel between Egypt and India . This continued until the third century. It all began with the voyage undertaken by one Eudoxos of Kyzikos

4.2. By all accounts, Eudoxos of Kyzikos was a remarkable person. He was a highly cultured sea captain who was described as a geographer, fighter, diplomat and intrepid trader and one who explored uncharted lands beyond the Mediterranean . He left behind the story of his expedition from Egypt to India . He is the hero of popular novels and films.

4.3. Eudoxus (c.130BC) was born in Cyzicus an ancient town of Mysia in Asia Minor , situated on the shore side of the present peninsula of Kapu-Dagh (Arctonnesus). Nothing much is known about Eudoxus’early life. There are some references to his unhappy married life and to a series of voyages across the Indian Ocean seeking wealth for his family shipping concerns.

4.4. According to Strabo (64BC to 24 AD -a Greek historian), quoting Posidonius (135BC to 51 BC -a Greek philosopher and historian), while Eudoxus was in Alexandria , he met a nearly dead shipwrecked Indian rescued from the Red Sea shore. After the seaman recovered and learnt a smattering of Greek, he informed that he was the sole survivor of a ship that sailed from India . Eudoxus was exited with this piece of news and thereafter convinced the Egyptian king Ptolemy VIII (Physkon) to sponsor an expedition to India , with the rescued Indian seaman as the guide. Eudoxus set sail in 118 BC from Berenice Harbor with the Indian as the guide. The voyage after having reached Muzuris in South India , Kerala , located below Calicut , returned to Egypt after 70 days. Eudoxus returned with a rich cargo of precious stones and aromatics. Ptolemy VIII promptly confiscated the cargo. Ptolemy VIII, not long after, died in 116BC; bequeathing Kyrenaika to his illegitimate son Ptolemy Apion and Egypt to Kleopatra III’s son with herself acting as the regent.

4.5. Posidonius recounts that the second voyage of Eudoxus to India came about in 116 BC at the command of Kleopatra III because she was desirous of procuring more precious gems and perfumes from India . The second voyage was, however, not as smooth as the first one. On his return voyage, Eudoxus was blown off-course and stranded on a shore below Ethiopia (perhaps below Cape Guardafui , Somalia ). After a series of misadventures, Eudoxus finally returned, with his precious cargo, to Egypt in around 114 BC. By which time Ptolemy IX had become the pharaoh. Yet again Eudoxus met with the same fate when the Pharoah Ptolemy IX confiscated the cargo just as his father did earlier.

4.6. What followed thereafter was a most wonderful adventure story. Eudoxus intending to embark on a third voyage to India by circumnavigating Africa ( Alexandria ) built a big ship. As a true showman, he gave wide publicity to the voyage, put music girls on board along with physicians and artisans, and set sail to India in great style. Because of a number of mishaps on the way, Eudoxus abandoned the voyage to India and eventually landed in Cadiz in what is now Spain . Strabo remarks that Eudoxus was always attended by good fortune.

4.7. Long after Eudoxus voyage Ptolemy XII (80 to 51 BC) created a special post titledCommander of the Red and Indian Seas to organize and encourage trade with India . The best-known occupant of this office was Callimachus the epistrategos, who was the Commander between 78 BC and 51 BC.

 
4.8. Pliny complained that the Indian luxury trade was depleting the Roman treasury to the extent of 50 million sesterces annually. The Roman Senate even contemplated banning the use of Indian cotton in the clothing Toga that Roman citizens wore, because it was too expensive to import. Evidently, the trade with India was flourishing.
 
 

Incidentally, the captain of Eudoxus of Cyzicus’ship that sailed to India , according to some, was Hippalus. Who was this Hippalus?Was he real?

(Sources: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Strabo/2C*.html#3.4

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_maritime_history )

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5. Hippalus : 

 

The contents of the book titled Periplous of the Erythraean Sea (“Circumnavigation of the Erythrean i.e., Red Sea”), written in around 75 to 90 AD by an unknown author presumed to be a Greek merchant sailor, indicates, the author had access to first-hand information about the ports in western India .The book mentions a series of ports along the Indian coast, including Muziris (Pattanam?), Colchi (Kochi?), Poduca, and Sopatma.  The book is narrated on a navigation itinerary basis, stopping at every point (a ‘port of call’) to enumerate merchandises, details about the local routes of trade, information about the natural environment, the political establishment, and the cultural and religious affairs and/or traits of the port in question. According to M.S. Megalommatis, a scholar, judging by the language of the text one could say Greek was not the mother tongue of the author. Most probably, he was an Alexandrian Egyptian captain and merchant who voyaged these seas and had intimate knowledge of the areas mentioned in the text.

5.1.The book also records the accomplishment of a certain Hippalus who, it says, understood the patterns of the Indian monsoons and discovered a sea-route from the Red Sea to Southern India . The book also makes a special references the port of Kodanganallur (anglicised to Cranganore, and also known as Muziris or Shinkli), in present day Kerala on India ‘s West coast. Pliny refers to this port as primum emporium Indiae.

5.2. There are two issues concerning Hippalus that are debated (a) the Sea route from the Red Sea to the Indian ports were  already known to the earlier Greeks. Hippalus did not discover them; and (b) Hippalus was not a real person and that the term was coined to represent a system of trade winds or to the sea/sea route.

5.3.As regards the first issue, we know that Skylax as far back as in fifth century BC traced a sea route to and out of the Red Sea . Further, as recorded in Arrian’s Indica ( 21, 1)Nearchus, a Macedonian General and a friend of Alexander, commanded a fleet to carry the men back from India to Persia and Mesopotamia . It is said, he was the first to realize the importance of the monsoon winds for sailing in that region, he, therefore waited for the commencement of the northeast monsoon to begin the voyage from India .After his conquest, Alexander sent out voyages of exploration to Arabia and the Caspian Sea but he died soon thereafter. (Apart from this ,the Arabians and Indians must, of course, have known and made use of the monsoon winds for centuries.)

 

Perhaps, because these events were too far back in time, they were either forgotten or lost in antiquity.

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5.4. The other issue, which questions the existence of Hippalus, is a little more debatable. To start with, Pliny (79AD) does not mention him ; and in Ptolemy (c.168AD), Hippalus is the name of a sea. The French historian Andre Tchernia explains that Pliniy’s contention was because in the earlier times, the name of the wind was written as Hypalus and it was only in the Roman times the spelling Hippalus came into use . Some historians, therefore, wonder if Hippalus were to be a real person, then it is strange that his exploits were hardly known to the succeeding generations

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5.5. Regardless of the view one might take on the above issue, the fact is that after the first century there was an upsurge in the sea traffic between Greece/Egypt and India . This was mainly on account of the drastic reduction in the time and the risks involved in sailing to India .The sailors setting out of Egypt ,now, went from the Red Sea to India over open sea , instead of hugging to the African coast as had been the practice till then. This made it possible to sail confidently for days without sight of land. The new route was shorter and free from the Arabian pirates. The Greek sailors also introduced a new shipping calendar and planned their voyages accordingly. These practices soon turned the Egypt-India sector into a major sea route and the Greek merchants sailed further crossing the Bay of Bengal on to the Southeast Asia region. Naturally, the trade between Egypt and Southern India flourished during this period. “Previously, not twenty vessels … dared to peep outside the straits…but now, great fleets are sent as far as India and the extremities of Aethiopia, from which the most valuable cargoes are brought to Egypt and thence sent forth again to other regions.’ ; so runs Strobes oft-quoted remark (Strabo, 17.1.13. [798]). Emperor Tiberius (42BC to 16AD), was however concerned over Rome ‘s increasingly adverse balance of payments. He complained, “The ladies and their baubles are transferring our money to foreigners”.
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5.6. The key to this success story was the Greeks’ coming to understand the phenomenon of monsoon, the Indian monsoon. What is this monsoon? Let us see.
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Monsoon is an anglicized form of Mausum, an Arabic/Hindi term meaning weather or season. It is specially refers to the heavy rainy season that commences in June, dies away in September, each year, and is very vital to the climate, the economy and to the life on Indian subcontinent.
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The south-west monsoon is born off the Madagascar coast to Somalia due to a high-pressure area .The wind direction at this point is south easterly. The moisture-laden winds from this high-pressure area around Madagascar travel northwards to Somalia . As soon as they cross the equator, south-easterlies turn right to assume a south-westerly direction.
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It is in Somalia that south-west monsoon assumes its true character. It becomes a jet stream by May. That jet drives the south-west monsoon from Somalia to India . The Jet streams are relatively strong winds concentrated within a narrow stream in the atmosphere. The Somali jet-stream helps the south-west monsoon gain force and hence it hits the Indian subcontinent with great force
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5.6.1. The two key ingredients needed to create a successful monsoon in India are a hot land mass and a cooler ocean. In India , for instance, the landmass of the Great Thar Desert , the adjoining areas of north and central India , in addition to the Deccan plateau absorb much heat from the sun during the summer months; while the temperatures over the Indian Occasion remain comparatively lower.
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[Prof. A L Basham , in his “The Wonder That was India ” gives a graphic description of Indian Monsoon:
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The most important feature of the Indian climate is the monsoon, or “the Rains Except along the west coast and in parts of Ceylon rain rarely falls from October to May, when cultivation can only be carried on by carefully husbanding the water of rivers and streams, and raising a winter crop by irrigation. By the end of April growth has practically ceased. The temperature of the plains rises as high as 1lO° F. or over, and an intensely hot wind blows. Trees shed their leaves, grass is almost completely parched, wild animals often die in large numbers for want of water. Work is reduced to a minimum, and the world seems asleep.
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Then clouds appear, high in the sky; in a few days they grow more numerous and darker, rolling up in banks from the sea. At last, in June, the rains come in great down pouring torrents, with much thunder and lightning. The temperature quickly drops, and within a few days the world is green and smiling again. Beasts, birds and insects reappear, the trees put on new leaves, and the earth is covered with fresh grass. The torrential rains, which fall at intervals for a couple of months and then gradually die away, make travel and all outdoor activity difficult,and often bring epidemics in their wake; but, despite these hardships, to the Indian mind the coming of the monsoon corresponds to the coming of spring in Europe. For this reason thunder and lightning, in Europe generally looked on as inauspicious, have no terrors for the Indian, but are welcome signs of the goodness of heaven]
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Since the Indian Ocean is bound on the north by a large land mass, the effects of “differential heating” are intense. The air mass over the subcontinent, consequently, heats up, expands, and rises up in to the air. This causes a low-pressure area over the northern and central Indian subcontinent. To fill up this void, the cooler, heavier and moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean rush on to the subcontinent. The damp, chilly layer that hangs Over India will be as thick as three miles.

As the cool air arrives, the winds also shift. During the dry season, the winds blow offshore – from land to sea. Then, as the monsoon begins, the winds blow onshore – from sea to land. This phenomenon perhaps explains why the early Arabs named the monsoon “Mausin,” or “the season of winds.” The southwest Monsoon generally begins around the middle of June and lasts until September.

(Sources: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/monsoon/html/body_make.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsoon

**

5.7. The real impotence of this phenomenon to the Greek/Egyptian sailors was that in the Indian winters the winds blow from the Sea on to the subcontinent; While in the Indian dry season, the winds reverse and blow from land to the sea. The Greeks could, therefore, sail into India during the Indian winter and sail back to Egypt during the Indian summer; thus taking advantage of favorable winds  on both occasions .This rendered the sea crossing a lot easier and faster than before. It is said, Hippalus set out in August sailing into the wide Arabian Sea directly towards the Malabar Coast . Further, Dr. Lionel Casson in his recent translation and commentary on “The Periplus Maris Erythraei,” says the ships left Egypt in July to take advantage of strong winds out of the north in the Red Sea and while returning, the ships usually departed in December or January to catch a favorable shift in winds.

(http://nefertiti.iwebland.com/timelines/topics/means_of_transportation.htm#rem13

*
5.8. Dr Lionel Casson says , a round trip to India covered about 3,500 miles. Dr. Casson, in his another book Rome’s Trade with the East: the Sea voyage to Africa and India, says that in those times the ships could make between four to six knots with fair wind. Accordingly, the mariners of those days could do about 100 miles per day, if they sailed through the night. That means to say the voyage from Egypt to Malabar might have taken about three weeks or a little less. According to Pliny, Eudoxus voyage to India and back took seventy days. In one-step, voyages were reduced from months to weeks, and profits soared.
 
 
5.9.One of the fallouts of Greeks’ increased trade with Southern India was, the perspective they gained of India ’s geography. The Greek geographers till then thought the Indian coast stretched from West to East. Now they could recognize the North _ South direction of India ’s West coast and its projection into the Indian Ocean .
*
5.10. Finally, Hippalus, real or otherwise, continues to hog the limelight. A crater on the moon is named after him .He is also a prominent character in Sprague de camp’s bestseller The Golden Wind.
 
 6. Pantainos (c.180 to 200AD) :
**
*
Very little information is available about Pantainos’s early life. It is said, to start with, he was a stoic philosopher. He later became a Christian. He established, in 180 AD, the famous Catechetical School in Alexandria (which later became the first Christian University ) to teach the beliefs and the philosophy of the new religion. He is regarded as the teacher of Clement of Alexandria , the first member of the Church of Alexandria . Clement called him “Sicilian bee” while Pantainos called himself “teacher of gentiles”. He is believed to be the author of the well-known Letter to Diognetus or atleast of its conclusion.
 
 6.1. Because of his zeal and learning, Pantainos was sent as a missionary to Malabar Coast, in South India, to preach Christianity. The Church in Kerala believes that Pantainos while in India came across Matthew’s Gospel in Aramaic.
(Source: J.W.Sedler – India and Greek world)
 
 
7.Frumentios of Tyros:
**
*
Frumentios in his childhood accompanied his uncle to India on what seems to have been a tourists’ trip, but remained there for many years as  the household superintendent under an Indian king. On his return to Alexandria , he was appointed Bishop of India in the year 336, and presumably returned to India to spread the Christian gospel.
 
 
7.1. Interestingly, the Ethiopian Christian tradition states that a certain Frumentios of Tyros was in Ethiopia in around 360 AD. While on a visit to India , he along with his brother Aidesios of the Äthiopiern was imprisoned but was later released and appointed as teacher to the prince. He preached Christianity while in India . On return to Alexandria , he was appointed Bishop of Ethiopia and was called “Apostel Abessiniens”.
 

Were they both talking about the same person?

( http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=http://www.bautz.de/bbkl/f/frumentios_a_ae.shtml&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=3&ct=result&prev=/search%3Fq%3DFrumentios%2Bof%2BTyros%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG)

**

 

8.Theophilos:

*

 

According to Philostorgios (c.368 to 433AD)who is described as lateantique church historian, the Roman Emperor  Constantine (fourth century AD) dispatched a certain Theophilos to India to preach Christianity and that while in India he found some Christian followers of the Apostle Bartholomew. There is also a tradition that says Theophilos visited India and Maldives in AD 354, Mar. However, the details of his life are unknown and what little is known is disputed.
 
 
8.1.It is believed he came from one of the islands near Somalia . There is also an opinion that his travels were in connection with to trade and politics and were not related to religion.
 
 

Philip Mayerson in his essay A Confusion of Indias: Asian india and African India in the Byzantine Sources , says that after the fourth century the term India came to be applied rather loosely to refer to the subcontinent India , Axum/Ethopia or even to South Arabia and this has lead to much confusion. Mr. Mayerson says, Theophilos was not sent to India but was sent to perform missionary work among Homerites in Arabia Felix.

**

9. Kosmas Indikopleustes (Indian voyager):

 

He was a Greek traveler and Geographer who lived in Alexandria during the first half of the sixth century. He was a contemporary of Emperor Justinian I .He came from a family of traders and in his early years was trained to become a merchant. His business took him to various regions around Egypt . He voyaged in the Mediterranean , the Red Sea , and the Persian Gulf . The farthest he traveled was to the Cape Guardafui . He gathered information about these and other surrounding regions. It is not certain that he actually visited India .
 
 
9.1. The sub title “Indicopleustes” meaning “Indian voyager” stuck to him perhaps because in those days the entire region of Arabian Sea , the Red Sea and its sublets fell under the broad name Indian Ocean .
 
 
9.2. In his later years (ca. 540), he became a monk and entered the monastery of Raithu on the peninsula Sinai. In around 550AD, he wrote a richly illustrated twelve volume monumental work titled Christine Topography. One copy of the manuscript is in the Vatican Library while the other is in the Laurentian Library of Florence . A feature of the book is the cosmology the author projects. According to that, the earth is flat and heavens are in the shape of box with a curved lid. Cosmos aimed to disprove the pre-Christian geographers who asserted the earth was spherical in shape.
 
  9.3. If the cosmology is set aside, the book is an interesting and reliable guide to the world that has since disappeared.
 
 

In the words of Philip Meyerson , Christian Topography is the work of an anonymous Alexandrian merchant and an aspiring theologist who centuries later was given the name Cosmos and soubriquet of Indicopleustes although he never visited India .

(Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmas_Indicopleustes

****

It is sad that the Greek/Egypt trade with India collapsed after third century AD. The fall of the Roman Empire , and the succeeding dark ages brought instability to Western Europe and caused a near collapse of the trade network leading to a massive contraction of interregional trade. The Greek/Egypt and India trade was one of its early causalities.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History

 

Tags: ,

The Question of Hindu, Hinduism et cetera – Part Two

Continued From Part One

For my learned friend Prof. Dr. DMR Sekhar

As observed by the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the case of  ‘Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal’ (1995) the word ‘Hindu’ derived from the name of the river Sindhu originally referred to the region along the river Sindhu (now called the Indus) as also the people residing in the Sindhu region.

It is explained that Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor. In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word ‘Sindhu’ not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

And again, by about 516 B.C.E, Darius son of Hystaspes annexed the Indus valley and formed the twentieth satrapy of the Persian Empire. That became the twentieth Satrapy, the richest and most populous Satrapy of the Persian Empire. The inscription at Nakshi–e-Rustam (486.BCE) refers to the tributes paid to Darius by Hidush and others vassal such as Ionians, Spartans, Bactrians, Parthians, and Medes. 

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial ‘S’ is represented by ‘Ha’).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos / (plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce ‘Ha’ and had no proper ’U’. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India. Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia.

All this was to explain that the word ‘Hindu’ originally referred to the river system; and to the adjoining areas; as also to the people residing in that region. The term was employed to denote regional and cultural affiliation; but, not a religious identity.

**

In the ancient times the concept a distinct ‘religion’ as opposed to other ‘religions’ did not seem to exist. The Rig-Veda or the Upanishads or even the Buddha do not refer to a ‘religion’ or speak in ‘religious terms’. Even the later texts such as the Arthashatra of Kautilya or the Indica Megasthanese  do not mention a religion per se that existed in India of their times.

Even otherwise, what has now come to be categorized as ‘Hinduism ‘does not satisfy or fall within the accepted definition of a ‘religion’?

For instance; it has no Prophet or a Originator; its origin cannot be pinpointed to a time or place;  it has no single source-text or the Holy Book; it is not identified with a particular symbol or an emblem; it does not prescribe (injunctions or list of Do-s – thou shalt) or proscribe (prohibitions or list of don’t-s- Thou shalt not) a set of beliefs or rules of conduct;  it does not lay down a particular system of faith , dogma or worship ;  there is no single Authority to issue mandates or edicts (Fatwa)  for regulating or governing religious faith  of its people; one cannot be excommunicated from its fold ; and by the same token one cannot m strictly speaking , converted to its faith; in fact it has no global ambition, intending to conquer the world;  those within it have the absolute freedom to accept/reject/ abuse any or   all of the gods ;  any or all of the texts; one can accept or reject a superhuman controlling power according ones will;  one can observe the time-honoured accepted customs , ceremonies and rituals or reject any or all of it with impunity and still profess to be a ‘Hindu’; and so on…

Further; what is now called Hinduism was not made; but, it has grown over the centuries. And during its long and circuitous route, in its metamorphosis,   it has imbibed within it several tribal cultures  by absorbing, transforming and reforming various cult and tribal beliefs and practices, many of which were vague and amorphous,  ranging from sublime to grotesque . The Hinduism, as practiced today, is a continuing amalgam of hundreds of tribal cultures.  The Hindu culture, philosophy and rituals are greatly enriched by such countless tribal cultures. But, all the while it did retain the ancient concept of an all-pervading, Universal entity from which everything emanates and into which everything eventually returns. Some describe Hinduism as an inverted tree or a jungle; but not a strictly planned structural building.

Thus what has come to be regarded as Hinduism is a peculiar, open-ended system that rejects all sorts of restrictions and defies a specific definition. That perhaps is the reason why the Supreme Court observed:  ‘Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such’.

The ‘Hindu’ view of life accepts – rather celebrates the pluralistic nature Truth or Reality, which cannot be , dogmatically, restricted or diminished to a particular single position. The ‘Hindu’ traditions have always tried to adopt the concept of Anekāntavāda which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject. It believes that merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions; and, it would be prudent to approach each issue from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika). It also marks the tendency to harmonize opposing views as distinct parts of a larger whole whose fullness lies well beyond the reach of mere perception or reason.

Then the Question is: how did such an open concept that vaguely meant a geographical or a cultural association was brought down and restricted to mean a particular religious group as distinct from other such rival groups or sects.

 

***

Catherine A. Robinson, a Professor on the Study of Religions at the Bath Spa University in the introduction to her celebrated Book Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and images of the Hindu tradition investigates and  discusses , in fair detail , the course of  ‘the changing meaning of ‘Hindu’ whereby an original ethnic and cultural meaning was much later superseded by a religious meaning’. Much of what follows hereunder is based on her work.

The very notion of religion (dian definiri religio), commonly translated as ‘a feeling of absolute dependence’,’ to tie or bind’, is primarily a Western concern. It is the product of the dominant Western religious mode; the theistic inheritance from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The basic structure of such theism is essentially a distinction between a transcendent deity and all else; between the creator and his creation; between God and man.

 [On October 25, 2016, a Seven-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India  headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur which had taken  up   a review of the judgement handed down by its Three-judge Bench  in 1995, among other things , observed:

“It is difficult to define religion. There will be no end to this”. ]

 

According to Ms. Robinson: ‘Hindu’ did not, originally, designate religious significance or affiliation; nor did it distinguish among affiliations to what are now regarded as different ‘religions’. ‘Hinduism’, she says, is to be understood as a modern Western concept adopted and adapted by ‘Hindus’. And,  it is , therefore, important to differentiate between ‘Hinduism’ as a contemporary phenomenon with ideological power and practical implications and the historical process that produced it, imbuing it with an appropriate past and aura of antiquity.

The change in the meaning of ‘Hindu’ from the ethnic and cultural to the religious occurred in two important phases during which ‘Hindu’ was defined negatively through the exclusion of Muslims ; and,  then  during the Western period , positively through the association of those identified as ‘Hindu’ with a single unified ‘religion’.

In the medieval period, in Islamic usage, ‘Hindu’ tended to denote an Indian who was not a Muslim. It was a negative criterion – non-adherence to Islam; as also a demarcation of the indigenous inhabitants from the foreign or invading populace in terms of ethnic, cultural or even religious distinctions. And later, a ’Hindu’ came to mean one who was not affiliated to any of the identifiable cults, beliefs and practices prevalent among the indigenous population.

In the modern period, as per the Western usage, initially, and in general, ‘Hindu’ signified   an ethnic and cultural identity associated with the indigenous civilization of India. Later,   ‘Hindu’, in particular, tended to denote an Indian who was neither a Muslim nor a member of another sect recognized as a ‘religion’

Let’s look at these phases in a little more detail.

***

Dr. Dileep Karanth, in his article ‘The Unity of India’ (Journal of the Indian History and Culture Society; 2006-7) explains:

According to Dr. D.P. Singhal (India and World Civilization, Rupa & Co., 1993), the earliest mention of India in Chinese chronicles occurs in the report of an envoy from the Chinese court to Bactriana. Here, India was referred to as Shen-tu.  Dr. Singhal explains that the term Shen-tu can be philologically related to the word Sindhu (Indus).’

He says; the old Chinese name for India Shên-tu had been replaced by Yin-tu by the time Yuan-Chwang (602-664 CE), a Chinese Buddhist monk and traveler who traveled across India for 17 years,  was visiting; and, it has remained that ever since.

In Chinese , ‘Hs’ pronounced ‘sh’, often represent foreign H. That is, the word ‘Shen-tu’ in Chinese may just be ‘Hindu’ transcribed.

And when Yuan-Chwang came looking for ‘Shen-tu’, he heard a word ‘Indu/Yin-tu’, which had become current in the borderlands of India; and, he began to make a note of it. Yuan-Chwang proposed an etymology for the name ‘Yin-tu’. India, he said, is named ‘Yin-tu, because, like the moon, its wise and holy men shed light even after the sun of the Buddha had set. (Incidentally, Indu, in Sanskrit means moon; and that might be reason why the Chinese chronicles explicitly use the pictogram for the moon to represent India.)

It is interesting to note that ‘Indu’ in Sanskrit could well be changed to ‘Hindu’ in Old Persian. The term ‘Hindu’ has been current among Greeks, Persians, and Chinese quite independently of the Arabs or the Muslims. It is widely believed that the term itself is the creation of foreign peoples (even if the idea is not).

*

Yuan-Chwang used the term Yin-tu to apply to the whole of the Indian subcontinent, inclusive of the Indo-Gangetic plain, Magadha or Kashmir and the southern peninsula. Yuan-Chwang also spoke of ‘Indian’ lands which were then under Persian rule. That is, Yuan Chwang could tell that a province was ‘Indian’ even if it happened to be under foreign rule. Yin-tu did not mean a religion.

The idea of an India has existed since classical times – since time immemorial, some would say. It has been celebrated in the classical literature of India, even though the name ‘India’ was not used. The civilizations that came in contact with classical India did perceive the very diverse peoples of the land as somehow ‘One’. And the term Hindu was not used to signify a religion.

The notion of an India thus has deep roots; and yet, its expressions at the surface may have changed with the times. The concept of India and Indian subcontinent is now broad enough to embrace all peoples whose homelands are contiguous to India, and who choose to celebrate the notion of an India.

***

Al-Biruni (973-1048) a Muslim scholar of Iranian descent is regarded as one of the greatest scholars of the medieval Islamic era, who distinguished himself as a historian and versatile linguist,.  He arrived in India during 1017; and spent here number of years learning the local history, culture and languages. He also collected books on Indian philosophies, mathematics, medicine, astronomy and art, as practiced in 11th century India. During his stay, it is said, he learnt Sanskrit, befriended number of Indian scholars, and had discussions on verities of subjects.

Al-Biruni in his book Tarikh Al-Hind (History of India) , wrote about his impressions on almost every aspect of life in the India of his times (early 11th -century) as also about its history, geography, geology, science, and mathematics.

He observed: ‘the Hindus entirely differ from us in every respect’ they totally differ from us in religion; alongside in general cultural practices, language and custom’. The Hindu, in his work, generally denoted non-Muslims. And his description of the ‘Hindu’ was not particularly in terms of ‘religion’. It was meant to highlight the differences in the culture; rather than in religious beliefs and practices.

And within the hierarchy of ‘religions,  as derived  from the criteria that were close to Islam, those religious groups without a revealed book or fixed laws were  ranked  lowest.

The later medieval Muslim scholars adopted a similar approach. They too referred to the whole of the non-Muslim population as the Hindu; and, they did not seem to be aware of the diverse sects and cults within it or outside of it.

Accordingly, the medieval Islamic view of ‘Hindu’ was primarily to designate indigenous non-Muslim population and their way of life.

**

Medieval Church

 It is said; according to medieval Christian belief, the entire population of the world was classified into four major religious groups: ‘lexchristiana, lexiudaica, lexmahometana and lexgentilium’; that is, Christians, Jews, Muslims and the rest ‘Heathens’. The ‘idolaters’- of any sort -, who were said to form roughly nearly two-thirds of the world’s population, were also grouped under ‘heathens’ (gentilium). It is explained; the concept of ‘heathen’ was derived from such Christian-world view; and its fourfold classification.

By about the sixteenth century, the native population of India (other than Jews and Muslims) were categorized by the Church and by the Europeans, in general, under lexgentilium- heathens and idolaters. And, till about the Eighteenth Century, the term Gentile, Gentio or heathen was applied to identify the Hindus and to distinguish them from the Moors (Muslims) of India.

Gentoo

The Portuguese (who perhaps were the earliest to colonize India) after they landed on the West coast found that the native inhabitants of India also included Jews and the Moors (Muslims). They did not quite know what those other indigenous pagan religious groups were called. But, the Portuguese named them as Gentoos – the native heathens. It is said; the Portuguese word ‘Gentoo’ is a corruption of the Gentio, meaning a gentile, a heathen, or native. 

gentoo

Thus, as early as in the sixteenth century, Gentoo was a term commonly employed, basically, to distinguish local religious groups in India from the Indian Jews and Muslims. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Gentoo as ‘a pagan inhabitant of Hindustan, a heathen, as distinguished from Mohammedan’.

***

East India Company and the Code of the Gentoos Law

With the rapid spread of the British colonial environment and the rise of the East India Company, the British courts in India had to adjudicate on increasing number of legal disputes among the locals. The Court of Directors of the East India  Company decided  to take over the administration of civil justice ; and, felt that it would help its business interests if it could involve in what they termed as ‘Hindu learning’ to decide on civil matters. Accordingly, Warren Hastings who was appointed as Governor General of Bengal in April, 1772 was asked to execute the Company’s decision; and, interalia come up with a ‘Judicial Plan’. His immediate object thereafter was to devise an arrangement to dispense law/justice to the Indian litigants in ways that are as close as possible to their own customs, in matters of person and property; and, particularly, on matters considered as religious. But, the dispensation of justice had to be according to the British norms and by British Judges; and it was made   explicitly clear that employing the Indian scholars or pundits as judges was totally out of question.

By August 1772, Warren Hastings submitted his ‘Judicial Plan of 1772’. It  declared that ‘in all suits regarding inheritance, marriage, caste, and other religious usages, or institutions, the laws…of the Shaster with respect to Gentoos shall be invariably adhered to’.

[Pitt’s India Act 1784 or the East India Company Act 1784 was passed in the British Parliament to rectify the defects of the Regulating Act 1773. It resulted in dual control or joint government in India by Crown in Great Britain and the British East India Company, with crown having ultimate authority. The relationship between company and crown established by this act kept changing with time until the Government of India Act 1858 provided for liquidation of the British East India Company; and the transference of its functions to the British Crown. On November 1, 1858, at a grand Durbar  held at Allahabad, Lord Canning released the royal proclamation which announced that the Queen had assumed the governance of India.

Under the provisions of the  Royal Titles Act 1876 , Queen  Victoria assumed  the title “Empress of India” , effective from 1 May 1876.. The new title was proclaimed at the Delhi Durbar of 1 January 1877 ]

queen-empress-of-india-1878

Till about the eighteenth century, the native population of India (other than Jews and Muslims) were labelled by the British as Gentoos. That is the reason why the first digest of the Indian legislation drafted by the British in 1776 for the purpose of administering justice and to adjudicate over civil disputes among the people of India belonging to local religious groups was titled as A Code of Gentoo Law.

[The Gentoo Code is a legal code or a digest of Hindu law on contracts and successions, compiled by a set of  by Brahmin scholars headed by Pandit  Jagannath Tarkapanchanan . In its Sanskrit version , it was titled as Vivādāravasetu.   It was first translated into Persian, which was official language of that time. And, later it was translated from Persian into English by Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, a British grammarian working for the East India Company, for the use in courts of the East India Company as ‘A code of Gentoo laws’.  

The translation was funded and encouraged by Warren Hastings as a method of increasing colonial hold over the Indies. It was printed privately by the East India Company in London in 1776 under the title A Code of Gentoo Laws, or, Ordinations of the Pundits. Copies were not put on sale; but, the Company did distribute them. In 1777 a pirate  edition was printed; and, in 1781 a second edition appeared. Translations into French and German were published in 1778.]

gentoos code

The English version A Code of Gentoo Laws or Ordinations of the Pundit was published in 1776 to serve as a source for ’legal accomplishment of a new system of government in Bengal, where, it was said :  ‘the British laws might , in some degree, be softened and tempered by a moderate attention to the peculiar and national prejudices of the Hindoo ; some of whose Institutes, however fanciful and injudicious, may perhaps be preferable to any which could be substituted in their room’.

In the introduction to the Code of the Gentoo Laws(pages xxi-xxii) it was explained that the terms ‘Hindustan’ and ‘Hindoo’ are not the terms by which the inhabitants originally called themselves or their religion. In fact, in very distant past when their books were created, the religious distinctions as we know did not yet exist. And, their land was originally called as Bharatha-khanda or Jamboodweepa, in Sanskrit. Hindustan is a Persian word unknown to the original inhabitants of the land.   It was only since the era of Tartars (Muslims) the name Hindoos came into use to distinguish them from the Mussalman conquerors. Thus, the term ‘Hindoo’ was employed mainly to demarcate some class of natives from some other class of natives. The translators, therefore, decided to reject the term Hindoo; but to retain Gentoos which term was then in common use among the Europeans.

It was only later when the British realized that the Indian Gentoos had numerous religious groups and sub-groups among them, the term ‘Hindoo’ came to be used in place of the Gentoo. Accordingly, in the British official records, ‘the religion of the Hindoos’ gradually displaced ‘the religion of the Gentoos’. The word Gentoo later became archaic and obsolete,

Until then, what is now called as Hinduism was officially referred to by the Europeans as the religion of the Gentoos. In the early years after that change, which is till end of    early nineteenth century, the word ‘Hinduism’ was in common currency; and, it largely meant ‘the primal and ancient religion of the subcontinent’.  But in the later years, the scope of the term Hindu as a religion was restricted to cover non-Muslims and non-Christians.

It was only later that ‘Hinduism’ came to acquire specific religious connotations and characteristics; and, having an assortment of beliefs.

**

Administration of Temples and religious institutions

The intervention and supervision by the British over the implementation of the Hindu Personal Law led to their gaining direct and indirect control over administration of religious institutions, deciding on religious matters ; as also to officially categorize  issues and classify them as ‘religious’ or secular.

[With the advent of the British and their judicial system, an increasing number of litigations were brought before the Courts on all sorts of secular and religious matters, including petty ones. The better known among the religious issue, though a petty one, was Vadakalai Vs Thenkalai namam dispute of 1776 concerning the shape of the namam to be placed on the elephant at the Kanchipuram temple; and, the appeal filed thereafter in 1795. Baron Robert Hobart, 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, who was then the Governor of Madras (1794- 1798), advised the warring Sivaishnavas:

“The Board of Directors of the Company do not think it is advisable to interfere in the religious disputes of the natives, lest by giving a decision on grounds of which they are not certain, it might become the cause of dissentions serious in their consequences to the peace of the inhabitants”.

Despite Governor Hobart’s sensible advice, disputes on the namam issues continued to be brought before the Courts. (Source: Madras, Chennai: A 400-year Record of the First City of Modern India, Volume 1; edited by S. Muthiah; pages 100 – 101)]

 

As the British began defeating the local Kings and gaining control over their territories, they naturally stepped into the shoes of the erstwhile rulers; and inherited the special privileges they were entitled to. 

In the olden days, the King as the ruler of the state exercised authority and also assumed responsibility of protecting temples. He was accorded special regard and honors at the temples. The East India Company, as the rulers, too had to maintain such relations with the temples.  In the process, the British gained control over the management and administration of the temples.

But some modifications in the relations between the ruler and the temple became inevitable under the Company rule.

In that context, the Madras Endowments and Escheats* Act of 1817 (particularly Regulation VII) came into force. Under this Regulation, the Madras government enabled itself to administer all the religious institutions in the Presidency. Apart from overseeing the temple administration, maintenance of its buildings and management of its finances, the British also had a say in ritual and worship activities.

[*Escheats – Where a person dies interstate and without leaving legal heirs, all his property shall be escheat and shall belong to the Government]

The involvement of the East India Company in temple activities was viewed by the   British public opinion, back at Home,   as supporting native heathen religion. The Anti-Idolatry Connection League (AICL) protested against such anti-Christian activities.  East Indian Company came under heavy criticism for adopting and supporting a non-Christian creed.

The connections between of the Company with religious institutions in India also became a matter of dispute between  politicians  and the high officials of the Company in England on the one side;  and administrators of the East India Company in India on the other side.  Whereas the latter justified the support of the religious institutions like the temples with pragmatic political arguments…the former strongly opposed these links with moral and Christian missionary arguments and condemned it as state sanction of idolatry. 

On August 8, 1838, the Court of Directors transmitted the following instruction: We more particularly desire that the management of all temples and other places of religious resort, together with the revenues derived therefrom, be resigned into the hands of the natives; and that the interference of the public authorities in the religious ceremonies of the people be regulated by the instructions conveyed in the 62nd paragraph of our despatch of 20th February, 1833.

Thereafter, in 1843`, the Madras Government of the East India Company finally bowed to the pressure from the British at home ; and ended its participation in the ritual activities of the temples , while retaining its control of the religious endowments. And, again in 1863, the power over endowments was also given up.

[The case on the point was that of the celebrated temple atop the Tirumala Hills.

Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao in his very well researched work The Hill Shrine Of Tirupati ( Surama Prakashana – 2011) while chronicling the history and traditions of the Tirupathi-Tirumala Temple , spread over long centuries, makes a mention of the involvement of the East India Company in its management and administration.

The East India Company was in direct control of the Tirumala temple , its management, administration and its finances for about forty long years, from 1801 to 1841.

After the defeat of Tippu Sultan (1799) almost the entire South India came under British control. As regards the Arcot region which fell within the Madras presidency, the British gained control over the territory in a rather contrived manner.

After the death Chand Sahib, the then Nawab of Arcot, the British installed Md. Ali Khan Wallajah (1717 –1795) as the next Nawab of Arcot, during 1760. But, they demanded a price: Wallajah and his succours should serve the British as vassals; and that British would be paid certain amount of money for their efforts- (for services earned with blood and presence, and that at the risk of losing our trade on the Coramandel coast).

Later, again, in 1780, the Nawab had to seek help from the British in defending his territory from attacks carried out by Hyder Ali of Mysore. The British East India Company agreed to provide the Nawab, for his safety, ten battalions of its Army stationed at Madras. For its services and also as the Royalty, the Company demanded, as its price, 400,000 pagodas (about £160,000) per annum.

Since Nawab Wallajah was unable to come up with the money demanded, he ran into enormous debts to the British. The Nawab had to borrow very heavily East India Company as also from financiers in England

Thereafter, an arrangement was devised through which the British would be able to recover their dues. Under that arrangement, Nawabs of Arcot assigned to the East India Company the revenues of the temples in their territory, including that of the temple at Tirupathi, to enable the Company to recoup the expenditure it incurred in safeguarding the territory of the Nawabs of Arcot, and also to recover the amounts that were promised to them, earlier, by Md. Ali Khan Wallajah for installing him as the Nawab.

The first Collector of Chengalpattu, Lionel Place, noted in his Report of 1799 that, soon after he became the Collector, he took over the ‘management of the funds of all the celebrated pagodas’ into his own hands and allotted the expanses of the temples for their festivals and maintenance.

And, by 1801, the British East India Company deposed the Nawabs of Arcot and annexed their territory. Thus, in 1801, the East India Company stepped into the shoes of the Nawab of Arcot as the De Jure ruler of the territory; and took direct control of the Tirupathi-Tirumala temple for the sake of garnering income of the temple. The object of the Company in taking over Tirupati temples was to generate fixed revenue, by organising its working, through systematic administration, and by preventing misappropriation and pilferage of temple funds.

In 1803, the then Collector of the Chittoor Mr. Sutton, sent a report to the Board of Revenues of the Company detailing the full account of the Temple, together with the schedules, pujas, expenses, and extent of lands held by the temple etc., This report came to be known as Statton’s Report on the Tirupati Pagoda; and, formed the basis on which the Company controlled the temple till 1821.

(According to the Report , the temple owned 187 villages of which 40 belonged to the various temple functionaries and 124 were under the management of palayakkarars )

Between 1805-16, many instances of misappropriation and misuse of temple-funds were brought to the notice of the Company. Thereafter, the British East India Company passed the Regulation VII of 1817 to check such abuses. That paved way for the Company to interfere in almost every aspect of the Temple administration.

And again during 1821, Col. Bruce the then Commissioner of the Chittoor District came up with a code of rules for  guidance and conduct in the management and administration of the Tirumala Temple. His code which came to known as Bruce Code  , was said to be in use till   the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams Act of 1932 came into force.

The Bruce’s Code of 1821, formed in terms of regulation seven of the Madras Regulation Act 1817, was essentially a set of rules for the management and administration of temples at Tirupathi and Tirumala.  These were  well-defined rules formulated as a code having Forty-two provisions to guide the administration of temples of Tirumala and Tirupati on the basis of customs and previous usages , (including payment of salaries to staff ) without , however, interfering in its  day-to-day affairs. It also prescribed a Questioner (Saval-Javab- Patti) and time-table and regimen for conduct worship and other services for each day of the year.

Under the recommendations of the Bruce Code, a District level official working under the Revenue Board of the Company was appointed to look after the income, expenditure, administration and management of the temple on behalf of the Company.  He was assisted by a Tahsildar, Siristedar and four clerks. It is said; the annual income from the Tirumala temple  which in 1749 was Rs.2.50 lakhs  was increased to more than Rs.3.50 lakhs in 1822; and the  the expenses in 1822 amounted to  about Rs.0.30 lakhs.

The protocol for the entry of the pilgrims as also for collection of offerings and accounting was also laid down :

Passing through the Bagalu vakili or silver porch the pilgrims are admitted into a rather confined part and are introduced to the God in front of whom are two vessels, one called the Gangalam or vase, the other Kopra or large cup and into these things the votaries drop their respective offerings and making their obeisance pass through another door. At the close of the day, the guards, both peons and sepoys round these vessels are searched. Without examination of any sort offerings are thrown into bags and are sealed…after which the bag is sent down to the cutcherry below the hill Govindarauz pettai. At the end of the month, these bags are transmitted to our cutcherry… and there they are opened, sorted, valued and finally sold at auction. However during the Brahmotsavam either the collector or a subordinate must be on the spot due to the value of the offerings…

The East India Company was in direct charge of the Tirumala Temple until 1841, when its Court of Directors in England strongly resented “the participation of the Company’s officers and men in the idolatry conducted in Hindu temples by reason of its management of these religious institutions and ordered its relinquishment of their administration of religious endowments”.

Thereafter, in 1843, the East India Company decided to move away from direct involvement in temple administration; but, to ‘outsource’ the Temple –administration by introducing the system of appointing a Mahant. Under that system, the Mahant would administer the Temple on behalf of the Company; and would remit to the Company a certain specified amount, regularly each year.

The first of such Agent appointed in 1843 was a Mutt named Hathiramjee Mutt, belonging to the   Vaishnava Ghosai tradition of North India. The first Mahant so appointed by Hathiramjee Mutt was Seva Das (1839-1860). He was succeeded by Mahant Dharma Das (1860-1870). During their tenure, many temples atop the Hill affiliated to the main temple of Tirumala were renovated; and the restoration and improvement of the temple-tank was also undertaken (1846).

The Mahant system was in existence until the Tirumala-Tirupati Devasthanams Act of 1932 was enacted. That Act was replaced by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Act of 1951.]

But, withdrawal of the Company from the direct involvement in the administration of the temples did not seem to matter much, because by 1863 all the ‘Hindu’ religious institutions had been brought under the control of the East India Company. And the Government had to continue to be involved in litigations concerning the temple properties, which by- the-way, produced body of case laws based. And, the Government had to bring into force additional legislative provisions to govern the temples more effectively.

Such legislative measures were intended to take care of varieties of issues and problems not only in the day-to-day administration but also on matters impinging upon the control and ownership of the temples. For instance; the rules specified the conditions under which the Government could take control over the temple; the extent of such control; measures to combat pressure-groups that posed threats to the temple; as also the tactics of the vested interests to influence the direction of the Government policy etc.

It was during the course of such measures and steps taken by the British in the administration of ‘Hindu religious institutions’, the concept and identity of ‘Hinduism’ as a legal entity and a public cause took concrete shape.  Thus, ‘Hinduism’ which till then was rather amorphous, began to gain a structure as litigation after litigation  were brought before the courts.  The events that followed advanced the process.

***

The Census of 1871

But, it was the Census of the 1871 that formally, officially and legally categorized Hinduism as a religion.

The 1871 census, the first comprehensive   census to be conducted on All-India basis, set out to gather data on religion in order to analyze and interpret data categorized under various heads. Apart from supplying factual information to the government, the Census helped in objectifying   the concepts used to compile the data collected. As a result, these concepts – one of which was the religion – acquired a new reality and relevance beyond the census figures and bureaucratic reports.

Not only did the Census reports accord increasing importance to ‘religion’ both as a subject in its own right and in relation to other subjects, but also as a conceptualization of ‘religion’ in terms of community, membership of which could be established by reference to certain criteria , and conduct ; and , hence compared with membership of such other communities .

The inclusion of religion and the role assigned to it posed a problem to the enumerators and analysts when it came to identifying ‘Hindus’ and hence ‘Hinduism’. In order to avoid complicated tabulations, the enumerators adopted a short method or a thumb rule. They went by the rule that anyone who was unable to identify himself with a known sect was to be classified as a ‘Hindu’. This was also the method adopted for tabulating most of the tribal people, nomads and low caste

And that brought focus on the contentious question of determining who was a ‘Hindu. It also went into exercise of classifying religious movements as “Hindu’ or; non-Hindu’.

While enumerating ‘Hindus’ , the Census made judgements about the limits of ‘Hinduism’ that in turn became focus of controversy , thereby establishing how official use of certain categories to classify ‘religion’ promoted the reification of ‘Hinduism’, which is rendering the complex idea of Hinduism into something recognizable and easier to identify.

Thus, the British imperialism played a key role in the concretisation of ‘Hinduism’ as an identifiable religion. This led to transformation of an abstract idea into a practical ‘religion’ distinct from other religions.

**

Divide and Rule

At times, the cultural and linguistic differences among the local populations were exploited by the British to accentuate the ‘Hindu’ divide.

For instance; the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh was a large and heterogeneous territorial unit of British India. The rural areas, in general, were dominated by Hindu folk traditions. The fairly large Muslim minority of the United Provinces (about 17 per cent of the population) was mostly settled in the towns (about 44 per cent of the urban population).

The differences between the two were reflected in their language and literature: Urdu, the lingua franca of the Mughal empire, was associated with urban Muslim culture; while, Hindi and its many dialects was the idiom of the rural Hindus.

Movements such as that for the recognition of Hindi in Devanagari script (i.e. the Sanskrit alphabet) as an official language in the Urdu-dominated courts of law (where proceedings were recorded in Persian characters), as well as campaigns for the protection of the sacred cow from the Muslim butcher, merged into a general stream of Hindu nationalism in the late nineteenth century.

The British decision to replace the use of Persian in 1842 for government employment and as the language of Courts of Law caused deep anxiety among Muslims of the sub-continent. This development greatly alarmed the Muslims and gave rise to communal conflicts.

The British had certainly not created these conflicts, but they took advantage of them in line with the old maxim ‘divide and rule’. The British seemed to favour the minority Muslims who looked to them for the protection of its interests against the Hindu majority.

The British established a Muslim college at Aligarh, near Agra, which was designed to impart Western education to Muslims while at the same time emphasising their Islamic identity. This college, later called Aligarh Muslim University, became an ideological centre whose influence radiated far beyond the province in which it was established.

Challenged by the foundation of a Muslim university, the Hindus soon made a move to start a Hindu university which was eventually established at Benares (Varanasi) and became a major centre of Western education.

The establishment of two sectarian universities in the United Provinces was characteristic of the political and cultural situation in that part of India, also clearly demarcated the ‘Hindu’ from the rest.

***

Role of the Missionaries

If the British imperialism played a leading role in the construction of ‘Hinduism’, the role of the Christian Missionaries was no less important.

Because of the effort of the group of Evangelicals led by William Wilberforce, the British Parliament resolved that Christianisation of India was the solemn duty of the British Government. This led to the unrestricted ‘opening’ up of India to missionaries with full freedom to condemn and malign Hindu religious practices and institutions. It also led to the setting up of the Ecclesiastic Department as a part of the Government of India.

The Christian Missionaries, thereafter , enjoyed a special and a privileged relationship with the British Government. Britain was seen the ‘Mother Country’ of Empire whose official religion was Christianity. The British rulers in India viewed themselves as the servants and protectors of the Mother country as also of its religion. The Missionaries could preach and propagate Christianity under the protective canopy of the British Raj.

The Missionary activity earnestly picked up strength since 1813 under the aegis of the East India Company. Even later under the protective canopy of the British Raj, the Missionaries could preach and propagate Christianity as the ‘true religion’; and denounce Hinduism as a ‘compound of error, c corruption and exaggeration’ and as a false religion.

With such propaganda, a clear line was drawn between Hindu and non-Hindu religions.

***

Oriental Scholars of the West

The oriental scholars were also influenced by the British government and by the Church.

There were the Oriental scholars, funded by wealthy private patrons, who carried forward the Missionary agenda. Lt. Col. Boden of the Bombay Native Infantry endowed a Chair in the Oxford University for propagating Christianity in India through Sanskrit. Sir Monier Williams became the second-Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, England. He studied, documented and taught Asian languages, especially Sanskrit, Persian and Hindustani.

He made it clear that his interest in preparing dictionaries was primarily to translate the Bible into other languages. He said that he would initially fulfill the wish of Col. Boden to translate the Bible into Sanskrit ‘in order to enable his countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian religion’. Monier Williams, eventually, compiled a Sanskrit-English dictionary based on the earlier Petersburg Sanskrit Dictionary which was published in 1872. A later revised edition was published in 1899 with collaboration by Ernst Leumann and Carl Cappel.

In his writings on Hinduism, Monier Williams argued that Hinduism is a complex ‘huge polygon or irregular multilateral figure’ that was unified by Sanskrit literature. He stated that ‘no description of Hinduism can be exhaustive which does not touch on almost every religious and philosophical idea that the world has ever known’.

Monier Williams taught Asian languages, at the East India Company College from 1844 until 1858, when the rule of the East India Company in India ended, after the 1857 rebellion. He came to national prominence during the 1860 election campaign for the Boden Chair of Sanskrit at Oxford University, in which he stood against Max Müller.

After his appointment to the professorship, Williams had declared, from the outset, that the conversion of India to the Christian religion should be one of the aims of orientalist scholarship.

*

Max Müller (1823 –1900) considered that Hinduism which was characterized by superstition and idolatry needed to be reformed just in the manner of Christian Reformation.  In his letters to the Dean of St. Paul’s (Dr. Milman) of February 26, 1867, Max Muller wrote: I have myself the strongest belief in the growth of Christianity in India. There is no country so ripe for Christianity as India, and yet the difficulties seem enormous.

In a letter to his wife, Max Muller wrote: “It (The Rig-Veda) is the root of their religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last three thousand years.”

In one of the letters, he says, “Ah! We have found the key to Christianize India.” And the key, according to him, was the Brahmo Samaj, in which the missionaries reposed great hope as the intermediate station for the Hindus of Bengal to become Christians. They had their hopes, in particular, on Keshav Chandra Sen, who was heading the Brahmo Samaj then.

 Later he also wrote to the Duke of Argyle, the then acting Secretary of State for India: “The ancient religion of India is doomed. And if Christianity does not take its place, whose fault will it be?”

In his 60s through 70s, Max Müller gave a series of lectures, which depicted his view of Hinduism. That somehow was followed by others of his time.

*

Many have argued:   “The term ‘ism’ refers to an ideology that is to be propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such ‘ism’. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any ‘ism’.


They point out that ‘Hinduism’ that the western world perceived was essentially the construction of the British imperialism, the nineteenth century western scholars and the Missionaries. Such constructions were made to suit their own agenda.

***

 

 ‘Hindus’ and ‘Hinduism’

As we saw, the concept of Hindu and Hinduism that emerged during the Nineteenth century was mainly in terms of the notions imposed by imperialism, missionary impulse and western scholarship.

Many educated Indians of the nineteenth century, therefore, mounted a counter attack on the Christian Missionary propaganda against Hinduism, adopting their own (missionary) methods and style.

There were also those who sought to remedy the flaws through which others tried to expose and exploit Hinduism, by revaluing the ancient texts, by reforming the Hindu practices and such other radical explanations.

In addition, there were the Indian elite who somehow seemed to be apologetic about Hindu beliefs and practices; and brought in social and cultural reforms. A Bengali Renaissance tried to usher in a new type of philosophical Hinduism tinged with a romantic nostalgia for some of the nobler forms of Vedic traditions.

At the same time, many cast doubts upon the conclusions of the oriental scholars, pointing out the flaws in their sectarian stance and arguments and dogmatic approach .

There was another set of Indians trying to make use of the religious enactments passed by the Government and take control of the religious institutions; while at the same time protesting against threats and encroachment on Hindu interests.

The construction of Hinduism thus arose out of encounter and interaction with the West. And it owed much to the Indian elite.

Such assortment of   ’ Hinduism’, thus, was mostly the creation of the nineteenth century Indians as a response to or in confrontation with the Western interpretations. Their reaction also to an extent contributed to the shaping of Western perception of ‘Hinduism’.

 

**

Some of the influences that shaped and re-shaped the concept of ‘Hinduism’, during the nineteenth century, were obviously religious; and, in addition there were also social, cultural and political organizations that projected their concept of ‘Hinduism’.

Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Brahmo Samaj looked down upon the current practices as corrupt and degenerate. The Brahmo Samaj harked back to the ancient and pure ways of the Upanishads, formulating an enlightened creed of ‘Hinduism’.

Swami Dayananda Saraswathi also aspired to bring back the principles and practices of the Vedic times. He called upon all Indians to study Vedas.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a mystic seer, through his own experiences declared the oneness of all religious   paths ‘and took a ‘universal’ view of all religions and varied paths leading to same goal.

Jatiya Mela and Jatiya Sabha  of Bengal came together, (renamed as Hindu Mela, in 1867), in order to promote a distinct identity of the ‘Hindu’ and a sense of pride in being a ’Hindu’

 

There were also movements of emerging popular ‘Hinduism’ floating their own pet brand of ‘Hinduism’.

*

In the political terms, the concepts of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ got entwined with nationalistic ambitions of several organizations.

Some of those nationalists portrayed the land Hindustan as the holy Motherland of the people of India.  For instance; Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee) (1838-1894) raised Nationalism to the level of religion by identifying the Motherland with the Mother-Goddess. The tremendous impact and thrilling upsurge that Anandamath and Vandemataram  had on the Indian National Movement is indeed legendary.  He came to believe that there was “No serious hope of progress in India except in Hinduism-reformed, regenerated and purified”. With that in view, Bankim Chandra tried to reinterpret ancient Indian religious ideals by cleansing them of the accumulated floss of myths and legends.

Aurobindo Ghosh and other revolutionaries acknowledged Bankim Chandra as their political Guru and followed his ideals of India and ‘Hinduism’.

The Hindu Mahasabha founded in 1909 by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was based in the idea of Hindutva. It called upon Hindus to fight for the freedom of Motherland and to consolidate the Hindu nation.

That movement fell into decline rather soon. And, its place was taken by Rastriya Svayamsevak Sangh (RSS) inspired by the ideals of the Anushilan Samiti , was established by Dr.  Hedgewar (1889 –1940)  in 1925 with the ideal to ‘unite and rejuvenate our nation on the sound foundation of Dharma’.

Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) the political offshoot of RSS carried a similar ideal.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) a cultural organization with undertone of Hindu religion vowed to protect Hindu religion from encroachment by other religions.

These movements also contributed towards identification and demarcation of ‘Hinduism’ where “Hinduism’ was broadly associated with nationhood.

**

Hinduism variously conceived

Variously conceived, ‘Hinduism’ was generally regarded as the ‘essential religion of India’. And yet; the views on the quintessence of Hinduism varied greatly. The question got complicated by the presence and practices of immense varieties of beliefs and plurality of perspectives. But, yet there have also been efforts to equate ‘Hinduism’ with a particular version of it. There are also those who wish to treat Hinduism as a group of ‘religions’ or a socio-cultural unit or civilization which consist a plurality of distinct religions

There are also different versions of ‘Hinduism’. Sri Sankara’s non-dualistic Advaita philosophy takes a broad view and reconciles the apparently conflicting beliefs within the ‘Hinduism’ as a system. Then there is the Vaishnava theology centred on devotion on a personified God. There are also affiliate home-grown religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Sikh-religion. There is also the juxtaposition of foreign faiths such as Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam.

*

The acceptance of the Vedas and their authority has been cited by the Supreme Court as one of the characteristics of Hinduism.

It is no doubt that Vedas are the roots of Indian ethos, thought and philosophy. They are of high authority, greatly revered and very often invoked. But, their roots are lost in the distant antiquity. The language or the clear intent of those texts is not easily understood; its gods and its rites are almost relics of the past. They no longer form active part of our day-to-day living experiences. The worship practices followed by the common Indians of the present day differ vastly from the rites prescribed in the Vedic texts. The gods worshipped by the present generations too vary greatly from the Vedic gods .  In today’s world, it is the popular gods, modes of worship as in the duality of   Tantra that has greater impact on socio religious cultural practices than the Vedas. The living religion of ‘Hindus’, as practiced today, is almost entirely in the nature or the version of what appeals to each sect,  or  to each individual .  

[Most of the Western Scholars consistently draw a distinction between the Vedic tradition and the ‘Hinduism’.]

*

There is also a claim to adhere to Sanatana Dharma (eternal law), an equivalent of perennial philosophy of the West, where all ‘religions’ are unified. This is despite the fact that the meaning and scope of the term Dharma is far wider than ‘religion’; and is not restricted to religion or sect.

[ The term Sanatana is , often , explained thus : ‘Puratana‘ is that which belongs to the past; ‘Nutana‘ is that which has come into existence now ; and “Sanatana‘ is that which has been in the past, existing in present, and continuing in the future. It is present at all times. It is eternal.] 

But, the term Sanatana Dharma is perhaps used to signify orthodoxy as opposed to reformed ‘Hinduism’. That is based in the belief that ‘Sanatana Dharma’ though of great antiquity is indeed an ongoing process that changes while retaining continuity. Yet, it is rooted the aspiration of attaining liberation (Mukti) from all sorts of confines and limitation.  It is all-inclusive in nature and not shutting out new ideas and concepts; it is also not regimented by fixed set of rules or commandments.

The proponents of  Sanatana Dharma concept assert that ’Hinduism’ is a recent construct, which was  introduced into the English language in the 19th century to denote the religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India. Despite that rather newly coined epithet, they point out, it essentially refers to a rich cumulative tradition of texts and practices that date back to a very distant past. And, they quote The Supreme Court which said that Hindu does not signify a religion but a way of life; and represents the culture of India, and of all people of India, whether Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc.

 .

***

At the End

Thus, though the word Hindu (not originally Indian) might have, in the past, referred to a geographical region (Hindu-stan), a cultural association, or language (Hindu-stani) or to a common religion of the land etc, yet, it has, over a period, come to acquire specific religious connotations and characteristics. Consequently, the concept of the ‘Hindu religion’, that is ‘an Indian religion with a coherent system of beliefs and practices that could be compared with other religious systems’ got established.

Now, generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu. It has been used as a geographical, cultural, or religious identifier for people indigenous to South Asia. In any case, Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of India and the suffix ism is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting ‘Hinduism’ or being a ‘Hindu’.

***

A Hindu is a Hindu not because he wanted to be distinct and created a room and put a door around him. But, because others started constructing walls everywhere, and at some point of time, the Hindu found that the walls other constructed somehow became his boundaries as well.

– Julia Roberts

lotus offering

 

 

Sources and References

  1. Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gita and images of the Hindu tradition by Catherine A. Robinson
  2. A History of India by Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund ; Fourth Edition; Routledge ; 2004
  3. The Hill Shrine Of Tirupati by Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao (Surama Prakashana – 2011)
  4. https://selfstudyhistory.com/2015/09/30/al-birunis-india/
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce%27s_Code
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Census_of_India_prior_to_independence
  7. https://tamilbrahmins.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/temples-and-the-state-in-india-a-historical-overview/
 
 

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The Question of Hindu, Hinduism et cetera – Part One

supreme-court-of-india

The Newspapers have been reporting that a Seven-judge  Bench of the  Supreme Court Of India headed by the Chief Justice T S Thakur  has since 18 October 2016 taken up a review of a judgement handed down by a Three-judge Bench  of the Supreme Court in 1995.

The uncomfortable issues questioning the legitimacy of the statements made by political parties canvassing for votes in the name of religion had since been coming up before the Apex Court. The present Review, it is said, had become necessary for arriving at ‘an authoritative pronouncement on electoral law categorising misuse of religion for electoral gains as corrupt practice”.

The 1995-Judgment that the Newspapers have been talking about refers to the famous case of Manohar Joshi vs. Nitin Bhaurao Patil & Anr (citations: 1996 AIR 796, 1996 SCC (1) 169) delivered on 11 December, 1995 by the then chief justice of India, J S Verma . Please click here for a copy of the judgement.

The judgement handed down by a bench of three  judges  of the Supreme Court led by the then chief justice of India, J S Verma was examining the question regarding the scope of corrupt practices mentioned in sub-section (3) of Section 123 of the 1951  Representation of People Act  and its interpretations. The Court in its ruling found that that statement by Manohar Joshi that “First Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra did not amount to appeal on ground of religion”.

The court had held that seeking votes in the name of Hinduism is not a “corrupt practice” under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act; and , it would not result in setting aside the election of winning candidates.

This ruling delivered in 1995 which earned the nickname ‘Hindutva judgement ‘ held that ‘Hindutva/Hinduism is a way of life of the people in the sub-continent; it represents the culture of India, and of all people of India, whether Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc.;  and ‘is a state of mind’.  

And, the Judgement concluded that ‘Hinduism’ was “indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and is not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith”.

 

In effect, the 1995-Verdict was taken to interpret that seeking vote in the name of ‘Hindutva/Hinduism’ did not prejudicially affect any candidate

However, the issues regarding the interpretations of the sub-section (3) of Section 123 had been coming up before the Apex Court quite regularly. Three election petitions are pending on the subject in the Apex court. The questions raised were: whether a politician can legitimately seek votes in the name of ‘Hinduism’; whether will it amount to corrupt practices under the Representation of People’s Act; and, whether will it subsequently attract disqualification.

The issue for interpretation of the sub-section (3) once again arose on January 30, 2014, before a five-judge which referred it for examination before a larger bench of seven judges. The apex court in February 2014 had decided to refer the matter to a seven judge’s bench.

Now about two decades after that 1995-Judgment, a Seven Bench Judges of the Supreme Court of India has taken up  this contentious ruling, commencing from 18 October 2016.

On October 19, 2016 the Supreme Court asked the Counsels if non-contesting spiritual leaders or clerics could be held accountable for corrupt practices under electoral law for asking voters to vote for a particular party or candidate; and how such appeals seeking votes would fall foul of the RP Act.

The proceedings are on .

Let’s wait and watch the final outcome.

[ Update

On October 25, 2016 , a Seven-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice T S Thakur said that for now it will not touch on its 1995 definition of “Hindutva is a way of life and not a religion” and also not ban its use during elections.

At this stage, we will confine ourselves to the issue raised before us in the reference. In the reference, there is no mention of the word ‘Hindutva’. We will not go into Hindutva at this stage.

The SC said that it would not examine the larger issue of whether Hindutva means Hindu religion, and whether the use of Hindutva in elections is permissible.

“It is difficult to define religion. There will be no end to this ”

The 7-judge bench, however, said it is looking into the nexus between religious leaders and candidates and its legality under Section 123 (3) of the Representation of People Act; and, whether seeking of votes in the name of religion will amount to a corrupt practice under the Representation of the People Act warranting disqualification.

But , asserted that asking for votes in the name of religion was ‘evil’ and ‘not permissible’ ]

***

[ Further Update:

A seven-judge-bench of the Supreme Court of India in its judgement delivered on 02 January 2017, by a 4 to 3 majority view, enlarged the scope of Section 123(3) of the Representation of People Act 1951. The Section 123(3) defines as ‘corrupt practice’ appeals made by a candidate or his agents to vote or refrain from voting for any person on the ground of ‘his’ religion, race, caste, community or language. The court  has  now interpreted Section 123(3) of the Representation of People Act to mean that this provision was brought in with intent ‘to clearly proscribe appeals based on sectarian, linguistic or caste considerations”.

The reference to the seven-judge bench had become necessary in view of the conflicting rulings in the previous judgements. In that context, the present Constitution bench explained the meaning of the term ‘his’ since that was relevant as to whose religion it has to be when an appeal is made.

 In substance, it ruled that an election could be annulled if candidates seek votes in the name of their religion or that of their voters. Till now, soliciting votes on the basis of religion and other such considerations was restricted to that of the candidates alone. 

The latest ruling is significant in the sense that any attempt to canvass for votes on the ground of religion or other such parochial identities – either of the candidates’s or on behalf of his agents or groups or his opponents – would invite the provisions of the Representation of People Act.

*

In their majority view, Chief Justice T S Thakur, Justices Madan B Lokur, S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao ruled in favour of a ‘purposive interpretation’, stating that the term ‘his’ would mean the religion of the candidate, his agents, voters as well as any other person who, with the candidate’s consent, brings up religion or such subjects in an election

“An appeal in the name of religion, race, caste, community or language is impermissible under the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and would constitute a corrupt practice sufficient to annul the election in which such an appeal was made regardless of whether the appeal was in the name of the candidate’s religion or the religion of the election agent or that of the opponent or that of the voters,” the majority view held.”

The Chief Justice said in his separate verdict:

 “The state being secular in character will not identify itself with any one of the religions or religious denominations…The elections to the state legislature or to Parliament or for that matter any other body in the state is a secular exercise just as the functions of the elected representatives must be secular in both outlook and practice,”

**

Dissent

Justices Adarsh K Goel, Uday U Lalit and D Y Chandrachud, however, dissented with the majority’s view, holding that the expression ‘his’ used in conjunction with religion, race, caste, community or language is in reference to the candidate, in whose favour the appeal to cast a vote is made, or that of a rival candidate when an appeal is made to refrain from voting for another. 

His’ in Section 123(3) of the RP Act cannot validly refer to the religion, race, caste, community or language of the voter.

To hold that a person who seeks to contest an election is prohibited from speaking of the legitimate concerns of citizens that the injustices faced by them on the basis of traits having an origin in religion, race, caste, community or language would be remedied is to reduce democracy to an abstraction,” the minority judgement held”. ]

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In this context , while on the question of ‘Hindu ‘and ‘Hinduism’ I would like to draw attention to another important judgement of the Supreme Court , also of 1995, which somehow seems to have been forgotten. I am referring to the case  ‘Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal’ in the matter of the Ramakrishna Mission’s petition to be declared a non-Hindu, minority religion under the Indian constitution. Please click here for the full text of the judgement that was delivered on July 2, 1995 ; delivered by Justice N. Venkatachala.

The judgement, interalia, discussed the intent and connotation of the term Hindu; and also identified Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism. The petition filed by Ramakrishna Mission was denied.

 

The following are the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the term Hindu:

 (27). Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our inquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of `the word `Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indologists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived from the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. `That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia, through the mountain passes into India , settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called the Indus ). The Persian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brother Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus `Indoi’.

 (28). The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described `Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p.686). As Dr. Radhakrishan has observed: `The Hindu civilization is so called, since it original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus ) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab . This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of the Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p.12]. That is the genesis of the word `Hindu’.

 

On the question of Hinduism, the Supreme Court of India discussed in detail the nature of Hinduism, citing several references and authorities.

While laying down the characteristics of Hinduism, the Hon. Court observed:

Features of Hindu religion recognized by this Court in Shastri Yaganapurushdasji (supra) as coming within its broad sweep are these:

(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.

(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

(vi)  Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.

(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.

While drawing up the criteria for indentifying Hinduism, the Court relied heavily on the views of Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan that stressed tolerance, universality and a search for a fundamental unity as the virtues of Hinduism. It also relied on B.G. Tilak’s view: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.”Even in the earlier case (Yagnapurushdasji) the “acceptance of the Vedas” was a key element in the court’s decision.

The criteria drawn up in the Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case is taken as a working rule evolved for a limited purpose. It is not construed as the definition of Hinduism; because, Hinduism is described on various occasions depending on the context. Each time a ‘context- sensitive’ interpretation has been put forth.

It was therefore said: All definitions of Hinduism are indeed  ‘context –sensitive’; and there is no absolute and precise definition.

For instance:

: – In the Indian Constitution, Explanation II appended to Article 25 says that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”

: – The Hindu Code Bill (which comprises four different Acts), too, takes an undifferentiated view of Hinduism: it includes anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew under ‘Hindu’ as a legal category.

: – Any reform movements, including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, were seen as merely different sects within Hinduism.

: – There are legal pronouncements that Hindus are Indian citizens belonging to a religion born in India. This means Buddhists, Sikhs or Parsis, even those who did not recognize themselves as Hindus, are to be considered Hindus.

The Supreme Court of India dealt with the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ when used in election propaganda. The court came to the conclusion that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith. This clearly means that, by itself, the word ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ indicates the culture of the people of India as a whole, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews etc.”

***

Incidentally the Seventh in the list of criteria drawn up by the Supreme Court in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case leaves me a little perplexed. It reads ”Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such”. This in a way sums up the position; but, at the same time, it appears to knock down the earlier six criteria.

Perhaps it is because of this view ( of not being tied down to any definite set of concepts)  that many say “The term ‘ism’ refers to an ideology that is to be propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such ‘ism’. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any ‘ism’”

**

That leads us to the question: how did a ‘way–of-life’ that was not tied down to an ‘ism’ came to be known as Hinduism, a religion?

Tracing such process that led to tagging or assigning a name to a ‘way of life’ is, no doubt, an elusive exercise.

It is explained that the name Hinduism was coined by the foreigners as an operative term; points at a much larger entity; but, does not exactly stand for it.

I sometimes wonder whether even in the distant past it ever had a specific name or did it needed one, perhaps because of the absence of a rival. It is also plausible there was none.

For instance:

: –  The ancient Indian texts such as Vedas and Upanishads do not talk in terms of a ‘Religion’.  

 : – The Buddha also does not name, refer to or attack the religion of the day though he criticizes the Brahman attitude, the rituals; and discourages its ungainly speculations. He sometimes referred to his disciples by their sect as Brahmins or Kshatrias. He addresses some of them by their Gotra like Vaccha (Vatsa), Kassapa (Kaashyapa), and Mudgala (Maudgalya) etc. Some of the disciples address the Buddha by his Gotra- Gautama.

Buddhism did not start as a religion. The Buddha intended to offer true interpretations of the Dharma. (That perhaps was how his sect was named.) It started as a free-thinkers-moment that attracted the seekers and the lay intellectuals; in much the same way as the Ramakrishna moment did at a much later time. During the Buddha’s time it was not a religion yet; the rituals related to births, deaths and weddings were presided over by the Brahmin priests. The Buddhist rituals and practices (vinaya) were collated from the teachings and the incidents in the Buddha’s life at a much later time, after his death.

What set apart the Buddhism and other school of thought was is emphasis on compassion towards all and ethics in all walks and modes of life.

:- Megasthenes (Ca. 350 BCE – 290 BCE )- the Greek explorer who became an Seleucus I Nicator to the Court of Chandragupta Maurya in Pataliputra –  in his  the work Indika , though mentions Brahmins and Sramanas does not  talk about the name of any religion.

 : – The Arthashastra of kautilya makes frequent references to classes of people within its society; but does not refer to a Religion in particular.

 

Perhaps it was this factor of the absence of a Religion per se in ancient India that largely guided the Supreme Court of India in listing some criteria for Hinduism while handing down the ruling in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal.

 

**

Here, in these references by the Apex Court,  the term Hindu had somehow travelled a full circle and came back to the original view of territorial and not creedal significance. It implied residence in a well-defined geographical area.

But now, generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu. It has been used as a geographical, cultural, or religious identifier for people indigenous to South Asia. In any case, Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of India and the suffix ism is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting “Hinduism.

**

How did this transformation of ‘Hindu’ which originally referred to an inhabitant of the subcontinent into one of   religious identity take place? It is t important to learn the changing meaning of ‘Hindu’ whereby an original geographic , ethnic and cultural meaning was much later superseded by a religious meaning.

It is a long story. Let’s read that in the next part.

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Continued in Part Two

 

References and Sources

  1. Manohar Joshi vs Nitin Bhaurao Patil & Anr on 11 December, 1995(Equivalent citations: 1996 AIR 796, 1996 SCC (1) 169) Author: J S Verma

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1215497/

  1. Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal (in the supreme court of India ; civil appellate jurisdiction;  civil appeal nos. 4434a-34d of 1986 with civil appeal nos. 4937/85, 5676-78/85; with I.A.No. 1 in C.A. Nos. 5676-78/85 and CMP  No. 23111/86 in C.A. No. 4937/85  https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5047
  1. Newspaper reports
 
 

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About Upavarsha … Part One

Intro

1.1. Upavarsha is one of the remarkable sage-scholars who come through the mists of ancient Indian traditions. And, again, not much is known about him.

We come to know him through references to his views by Sri Shankara and others. Upavarsha was an intellectual giant of his times.   He is recognized as one of the earliest and most authoritative thinkers of the Vedanta and Mimamsa Schools of thought.  He is credited with being the first to divide the Vedic lore Mimamsa  into Karma-kanda (ritualistic section) and Jnana-kanda (knowledge section).He advocated the six means of knowledge (cognition) that were adopted later by the Advaita school. He began the discussion on self-validation (svathah pramanya) that became a part of the Vedanta terminology. He is also, said to have, pioneered the method of logic called Adhyaropa-Apavada which consists in initially assuming a position and later withdrawing the assumption, after a discussion.

1.2. Upavarsha is placed next only to Badarayana the author of the Brahma sutra. The earliest Acharya to have commented upon Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra is believed to be Upavarsha.  Among the many commentaries on Brahma sutra, the sub-commentary (Vritti)  by Upavarsha – titled ” Sariraka Mimamsa Vritti”,  (now lost )  –  was most highly regarded.  

1.3. Upavarsha was looked upon as an authority by all branches of Vedanta Schools; and is respected in the Mimamsa School also. Both Sabaraswamin and Bhaskara treat the ancient Vrttikara as an authority; and, quote his opinions as derived from ‘the tradition of Upavarsha ‘(Upavarsha-agama).  Bhaskara calls Upavarsha as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’. Sri Shankara’s disciples who made frequent references to the works of Vrittikara-s on the   Brahma Sutra often referred to Sariraka-mimamsa-vritti of sage Upavarsha.

2.1.  Sri Shankara, in particular, had great reverence for Upavarsha and addressed  him as Bhagavan, as he does Badarayana; while he addressed Jaimini and Sabara, the other Mimasakas, only as Teachers (Acharya). 

2.2. It is believed that the words of Sri Shankara explain the correct account of Upavarsha’s doctrines. He is quoted twice by Sri Sankara in his Brahma-sutra-bhashya (3.3.53).  

 

Before we get to Upavarsha and his views, let’s talk of few other things that surround him.

 

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Out of Takshashila

3.1. Maha Mahopadyaya Shri Harprasad Sastri in his ‘Magadhan Literature’ (a series of six lectures he delivered at the Patna University during December 1920 and April 1921) talks about Upavarsha, in passing.

3.2. According to the Maha Mahopadyaya, Takshashila a prominent city of Gandhara, a part of the ancient Indian polity included under the Greater Uttara-patha in the North-west, was for long centuries the centre of Vedic civilization.  It was also at the entrances to the splendour that was India. The city gained fame in the later periods, stretching up to the time of the Buddha,   as the centre of trade, art, literature and politics. Takshashila  was  also a renowned centre for learning to where scholar and students  from various parts of India , even from Varanasi at a distance of  more than 1,500 KM, came  to pursue  higher studies in  medicine , art , literature , grammar , philosophy etc .

3.3. Pandit Harprasad Sastri says: “It was at Takshashila the city named after Taksha the son of Bharatha of Ramayana, and the capital of Taksha Khanda, that the King Janamejaya performed the sarpa-satra.  It was here that Mahabharata was first recited by Vaishampayana.  A beginning was made here of the classical literature as also of the Indian sciences. Jivaka, the famed medical man, the personal physician of the Buddha belonged to Takshashila. The earliest grammarian known belonged to that city. The earliest writer of Mimamsa too, belongs to that city. The earliest writer on Veterinary science on horse belongs to its vicinity.  In fact, all works in classical Sanskrit seem to have their origin in Takshashila.  Further, at Takshashila, Indian learning moved on, very nearly shaking off the narrow groove in which the Vedic schools were trapped”.

4.1. But, the glory of Takshashila came to an abrupt end when Darius (518 BCE) the Persian monarch who destroyed the dynasty founded by Cyrus, overpowered the North-West region of India and annexed it into the Achaemenid Empire. And, thereafter, Alexander the Great (326 BCE) subdued Ambhi the King of Taxila and overran the region. Alexander’s conquest and withdrawal was followed by prolonged quarrels among his Generals for control over North-west India.

4.2. The long periods of lawlessness, anarchy and chaos totally destroyed the cultural and commercial life of Taxila. By about the time of the Buddha, Taxila was losing its high position as a centre of learning.   And, that compelled its eminent scholars like Panini the Great Grammarian, and scholars like Varsha and Upavarsha to leave Taxila to seek their fortune and patronage, elsewhere. They were, perhaps, among the early wave of migrant intellectuals to move out of the Northwest.

On to Pataliputra

5.1. By then, Pataliputra, situated amidst fertile plains on the banks of the river Sona at its confluence with the Ganga, was fast rising into fame as the capital of the most powerful kingdom in the East. The scholars drifting from Taxila all reached Pataliputra; and there they were honoured by the king in his assemblies ‘in a manner befitting their learning and their position’. And, thus began the literature of Magadha.

That also marked the birth of a new tradition.

5.2. Rajasekhara (10th century) a distinguished poet, dramatist, and scholar who wrote extensively on poetics – Alamkara shastra (the literary or philosophical study of the basic principles, forms, and techniques of Sanskrit poetry; treatise on the nature or principles of poetry); and who adorned the court of King Mahipala (913-944 AD) of the Gurjara-Prathihara dynasty, refers to a tradition (sruyate) that was followed by the Kings of Pataliputra (Kavya Mimamsa – chapter 10).

5.3.  According to that tradition, the King , occasionally , used to call for assemblies where men of  learning; poets ; scholars ; founders and exponents of various systems; and ,  Sutrakaras hailing from different parts of the country, participated enthusiastically ; and ,  willingly let themselves be examined. The eminent Sutrakaras too during their examinations (Sastrakara – Pariksha) exhibited the range of their knowledge as also of their creative genius. Thereafter, the King honoured the participants with gifts, rewards and suitable titles.

5.4. In that context, Rajasekhara mentions: in Pataliputra such famous Shastrakāras as Upavarsha;  Varsha; Panini;  Pingala ; Vyadī;  Vararuci; and  Patañjali;  were examined ; and were properly honoured :—Here Upavarsha and Varsha; here Panini and Pingala; here Vyadi and Vararuci;  and Patanjali , having been examined rose to fame. (Kavya Mimamsa – chapter 10).   “

 

“Sruyate cha Pataliputre shastra-kara-parikshasa I atro Upavarsha, Varshao iha Panini Pingalav iha Vyadih I Vararuchi, Patanjali iha parikshita kyathim upajagmuh II “

 

 

Group of Seven

 

6.1. It is highly unlikely that all the seven eminent scholars cited by Rajasekhara arrived at the King’s Court at Pataliputra at the same. The last two particularly (Vararuchi and Patanjali) were separated from the first five scholars by a couple of centuries or more.  And, perhaps only the first five among the seven originated from the Takshashila region; while Katyayana and Patanjali came from the East. Katyayana, according to Katha Sarit Sagara, was born at Kaushambi which was about 30 miles to the west of the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna (According to another version, he was from South India). His time is estimated to be around third century BCE.

As regards Patanjali, it is said, that he was the son of Gonika; and, he belonged to the country of Gonarda in the region of Chedi (said to be a country that lay near the Yamuna; identified with the present-day Bundelkhand).His time is estimated to be about 150 BCE.  It is said; Patanjali participated in a great Yajna performed at Pataliputra by the King Pushyamitra Sunga (185 BCE – 149 BCE). [This Patanjali may not be the same as the one who put together in a Sutra – text the then available knowledge on the system of Yoga.]

6.2. The Maha Mahopadyaya, however, asserts that the seven names cited by Rajasekhara are mentioned in their chronological order, with Upavarsha being the senior most and the foremost of them all.

6.3. Further, all the seven learned men were related to each other, in one way or the other. Upavarsha the scholar was the brother of Varsha a teacher of great repute. Both perhaps resided in Takshashila or near about. Panini the Grammarian was an inhabitant of Salatura – a suburb of Takshashila; and Pingala was his younger brother.  And, both the brothers were students of Varsha. Vyadi also called Dakshayana, the fifth in the list, was the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) of Panini.   It is said; Vyadi, the Dakshayana, was also a student of Varsha. He was called Dakshayana because:  Panini’s mother was Dakshi, the daughter of Daksha. And, Daksha’s son was Dakshaputra or Dakshayana, the descendent of Daksha. [According to another version, Dakshayana might have been the great-grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle].

Then, Vararuchi also called as Katyayana was one of the earliest commentators of Panini. He was some generations away from Panini.   And, the seventh and the last in this group was Patanjali who came about two centuries after Panini; and, he wrote an elaborate commentary on Panini’s work with reference to its earlier commentary by Katyayana.

7.1. Details of Upavarsa’s life or his nature etc are completely unknown. However, an ancient collection of legends – Katha-sarit-sagara (II.54; IV.4) narrates stories concerning Upavarsha, his daughter Upakosa, his brother Varsa and Vararuchi who, according to some, is identified with Vrittikara Katyayana, a famed commentator. They all figure in the story; and, were all contemporaries.

You can enjoy the delightful story of Vararuchi at :

http://www.wollamshram.ca/1001/Ocean/oosChapter002.pdf

7.2. Now, this     Katha-sarit-sagara, a vast collection of stories, fables, folk- tales and legends,   is said to be a re-rendering undertaken by   Somadeva (Ca.11th century)    . It is believed that   Katha-sarit-sagara is based upon an older collection of stories titled Brihad-Katha said to have been written in Paishachi (a dialect that was lost even before the 10th century) by one Gunadya (Ca.200 BCE?). All the names that figure in that legend relate to eminent scholars   that perhaps did exist.

But, since the stories narrated in Katha-sarit-sagara are highly fanciful   the scholars tend to view the details of Upavarsha (as also of other scholars) as historical fiction; and, are chary of accepting them as history.

7.3. But, in any case, all agree that Upavarsha – a revered scholar well established in grammar; an authoritative Master among the Mimamsikas, Vedantins and Yoga teachers – did exist in the centuries prior to Sri Shankara.

 

Galaxy of Scholars

 

8.1. By any standards, the seven sages (saptha munih) formed a most eminent group of extraordinarily brilliant scholars.   Each was an absolute Master in his chosen field of study.

8.2. Among the seven, Upavarsha was regarded the eldest and the most venerable:   Abhijarhita. Upavarsha was a revered teacher; a scholar of great repute well established in grammar; and an authoritative commentator on   Mimamsa (a system of investigation, inquiry into or discussion on the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts). And Upavarsha’s brother was Varsha who also was a renowned teacher. Both perhaps resided in Takshashila or near about.

We shall discuss about Upavarsha, with reference to citations of his views by other scholars, in Part Two of this Post. Let’s, now, talk in brief about the other famous-five.

 Panini

 9.1 In ancient India, Grammar, Vyakarana the foremost among the six   Vedangas (ancillary parts of Vedas) was considered the purest paradigm science (pradanam cha satsva agreshu Vyakaranam). And , it was said :  “ the foremost among the learned are the Grammarians , because Grammar lies at the root of all learning” ( prathame hi vidvamso  vaiyyakarabah , vyakarana mulatvat sarva vidyanam – Anandavardhana ) . Panini, without doubt, is the foremost among all Grammarians.

[ protracted debates were carried out to assign a date to Panini. An important hint for the dating of Pāini is the occurrence of the words Yava-Yavana (यवनानी) (in 4.1.49), which might mean either a Greek or a foreigner or Greek script.

Indra-varua-bhava-śarva-rudra-mṛḍa-hima-araya-yava-yavana-mātula-ācāryāāmānuk || PS_4, 1.49 ||

It needs to be mentioned here…

King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the vale of Peshawar. By about 516 B.C., Darius, the son of Hystaspes, annexed the Indus valley and formed the twentieth Satrapy of the Persian Empire. The annexed areas included parts of the present-day Punjab.

Many Greeks served as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. And, Indian troops too formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. The Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery. Thus, Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor.

The first Greeks to set foot in India were probably servants of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.E) – that vast polity which touched upon Greek city-states at its Western extremity and India on the East. The first Greek who is supposed to have actually visited India and to have written an account of it was Skylax of Karyanda in Karia. He lived before Herodotus, who tells that Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia. Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean. 

Thus, even long before the conquest of Alexander the Great in the 330 BCE, there were cultural contacts between the Indians and the Greeks, through the median of Persia.

The term Yavana, is, essentially, an Achaemenian (Old-Persian) term.   And, it occurs in the Achaemenian inscriptions (545 BCE) as Yauna and Ia-ma-nu, referring to the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor.

The word was probably adopted by the Indians of the North-Western provinces from the administrative languages of the Persian Empire – Elamite or Aramaic. And, its earliest attested use in India was said to be by the Grammarian Pāini in the form Yavanānī (यवनानी), which is taken by the commentators to mean Greek script.

At that date (say 519 BCE, i.e. the time of Darius the Great’s Behistun inscription), the name Yavana probably referred to communities of Greeks settled in the Eastern Achaemenian provinces, which included the Gandhara region in North-West India. All this goes to show that Panini cannot be placed later than 500 BCE.]

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[The fact that Greeks (Yonas or Yavanas) were familiar figures in the Noth-west – India even as early as in Ca.6th century BCE , is suupported by a reference in the Assalayana Sutta of Majjima Nikaya.

The Majjhima Nikaya is a Buddhist scripture, the second of the five Nikayas or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka, which is one of the Tipitakas (three baskets) of Pali  Sthavira-vada (Theravada) Buddhism. The Pali Cannon is considered to be the earliest collection of the original teachings of the Buddha; and, it is said to have been composed following the resolution taken at the First Council , which took place at Rajagrha, soon after the Parinirvana of the Buddha. It was transmitted orally for many centuries , before it was reduced to writing in Asoka-vihara , Ceylon during the reign of Vattagamani (first century BCE).

In the Assalayana Sutta (93.5-7 at page 766/1420) , the discussion that took place between an young Brahmana named Assvalayana (Skt. Ashvalayana) and the Buddha , refers to countries of Yona and Kambhoja , which did not follow the four-fold caste division; but, recognized only two classes – viz., slaves and free men. And, in these countries, a master could become a slave; and, likewise , a slave could become a master.

The Buddha says : “ What do you think about this, Assalayana ? Have you heard in the countries of Yona (Yonarattam; Skt. Yona-rastram) and Kambhoja (Kambhojarattam; Skt. Kambhoja-rastram) and other adjacent districts, there are only two castes : the master and the slave ? And, having been a master , one becomes a slave; having been a slave , one becomes the master?”  Assalayana agrees ; and replies : “ Yes Master , so have I heard this, in Yona and Kambhoja … having been a slave , one becomes a master.”.

Here, Yona is probably the Pali equivalent of Ionia; the reference being to the Bactrian (Skt. Bahlika) Greeks. And,  Kambhoja refers to a district  in the Gandhara region of Uttara-patha, to the North of the  Madhya-desha (Middle Country) .]

**

9.2. Panini who gained fame as a Great Grammarian was the student of Varsha. His fame rests on his work Astadhyayi (the eight chapters)  – also called  Astaka , Shabda-anushasana and Vritti Sutraa-  which sought to ensure  correct usage of words by  purifying  (Samskrita)  the  language (bhasha)  – literary and spoken ( vaidika –  laukika) –  that  was in use during his days.  The Eight Chapters comprises about four thousand concise rules or Sutras, preceded by a list of sounds divided into fourteen groups. The Sutra Patha, the basic text of Astadhyayi has come down to us in the oral traditions; and has remained remarkably intact except for a few variant readings and plausible interpolations.

[Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is composed in Sutra form – terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text does need a companion volume to explain it. That utility was provided by Katyayana who wrote a Vartika, a brief explanation of Ashtadhyayi. Considerable time must have elapsed between Panini and Katyayana, for their language and mode of expressions vary considerably. Similarly, a fairly long period of gap is assumed between Katyayana and Patanjali the author of Mahabhashya, a detailed commentary on Panini’s work; as also his observations of the Vartika of Katyayana. Katyayana is assigned to third century BCE; and Patanjali followed him about a hundred years later (second century BCE), perhaps 150 BCE.]

 9.3. Astadhyayi was not composed for teaching Sanskrit, though it is a foundational text that   can be used for understanding the language, speaking it correctly and using it correctly. Panini’s work is also not a text of Grammar, as it is commonly understood. It is closer to Etymology.

 In way, Panini  is dealing with a system having finite number of rules that can be used to describe a potentially infinite number of arrangements of utterances (sentences, vakya). His was indeed a pioneering task in any language. With his system it became possible to say whether or not a sequence of sounds represented a correct utterance in the bhasha (Sanskrit). 

In fact, Panini’s work is context-sensitive; it addresses only Sanskrit; and, is not a ‘universal Grammar’. But, a most amazing thing happened in the twentieth century with the development of computer languages. The writers of these virtual languages discovered that Panini’s rules can be used for describing perhaps all human languages; and, it can be used for programming the first high level programming language, such as ALGOL60. It is said; by applying Panini’s rules it is possible to check whether or not a given sequence of statement forms a correct expression in a particular programming language.

9.4. Panini did not seem to lay down rigid rules for the correct sequence of words in a sentence. He left it open. But, his system allows for a rule to invoke itself (recursion).  By repeatedly applying the same set of rules, one could make a long sentence or extended it as long as one wanted. 

9.5.  But , Panini’s primary concern or goal (lakshya) was  building up of Sanskrit words (pada) from their root forms (dhatu, prakara), affixes (pratyaya), verbal roots; pre-verbs (upasarga); primary and secondary suffixes; nominal and verbal terminations ; and , their function (karya) in a sentence. The underlying principle of Panini’s work is that nouns are derived from verbs.

9.6. Panini  was also interested in the synthetic problems involved in formation of compound words; and the relationship of the nouns in a sentence with the action (kriya)  indicated by the verb. With this, he sought to systematically analyze the correct sentences (vakya).

 Panini also defined the terms (samjna) employed in the grammar, set the rules for interpretation (paribhasha), and outlined, as guideline, the convention he followed.

[Panini did not neglect meaning; but, he was aware the meanings of the words were bound to change with the passage of time as also in varying contexts. He recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it day-to-day lives were better judges in deriving, meaning from the words.]

 Panini’s Astadhyayi has thus served, over the centuries, as the basic means (upaya) to analyze and understand Sanskrit sentences.

*

[Regarding Panini’s contribution to Sanskrit language , Prof. A L Basham writes (The Wonder That Was India):

After the composition of the Rig Veda, Sanskrit developed considerably. New words, mostly borrowed from non Aryan sources, were introduced, while old words were forgotten, or lost their original meanings. In these circumstances doubts arose as to the true pronunciation and meaning of the older Vedic texts, though it was generally thought that unless they were recited with complete accuracy they would have no magical effectiveness, but bring ruin on the reciter.  Out of the need to preserve the purity of the Vedas India developed the sciences of phonetics and grammar. The oldest Indian linguistic text, Yaska’s Nirukta, explaining obsolete Vedic words, dates from the 5th century B.C., and followed much earlier works in the linguistic field.

Panini’s great grammar, the Astadhyayi (Eight Chapters) was probably composed towards the end of the 4-th century BCE . With Panini , the language had virtually reached its classical form, and it developed little thenceforward, except in its vocabulary.

By this time the sounds of Sanskrit had been analysed with an accuracy never again reached in linguistic study until the 19thcentury. One of ancient India’s greatest achievements is her remarkable alphabet, commencing with the vowels and followed by the consonants, all classified very scientifically according to their mode of production, in sharp contrast to the haphazard and inadequate Roman alphabet, which has developed organically for three millennia. It was only on the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe.

The great grammar of Panini, which effectively stabilized the Sanskrit language, presupposes the work of many earlier grammarians. These had succeeded in recognizing the root as the basic element of a word, and had classified some 2,000 monosyllabic roots which, with the addition of prefixes, suffixes and inflexions, were thought to provide all the words of the language. Though the early etymologists were correct in principle, they made many errors and false derivations, and started a precedent which produced interesting results in many branches of Indian thought

There is no doubt that Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization, and the most detailed and scientific grammar composed before the 19th century in any part of the world. The work consists of over 4000 grammatical rules, couched in a sort of shorthand, which employs single letters or syllables for the names of the cases, moods, persons, tenses, etc. In which linguistic phenomena arc classified.

Some later grammarians disagreed with Panini on minor points, but his grammar was so widely accepted that no writer or speaker of Sanskrit in courtly  circles dared seriously infringe it. With Panini the language was fixed, and could only develop within the framework of his rules. It was from the time of Panini onwards that the language began to be called Samskrta, “perfected” or “refined”, as opposed to the Prakrta  (unrefined), the popular dialects which had developed naturally.

Paninian Sanskrit, though simpler than Vedic, is still a very complicated language. Every beginner finds great difficulty in surmounting Panini’s rules of euphonic combination (sandhi), the elaboration of tendencies present in the language even in Vedic times. Every word of a sentence is affected by its neighbors. Thus na- avadat (he did not say) becomes navadat.  But, na-uvaca (with the same meaning) becomes novaca. There are many rules of this kind, which were even artificially imposed on the Rg Veda, so that the reader must often disentangle the original words to find the correct meter.

Panini, in standardizing Sanskrit, probably based his work on the language as it was spoken in the North-West. Already the lingua franca of the priestly class, it gradually became that of the governing class also. The Mauryas, and most Indian dynasties until the Guptas, used Prakrit for their official pronouncements.

As long as it is spoken and written a language tends to develop, and its development is generally in the direction of simplicity. Owing to the authority of Panini, Sanskrit could not develop freely in this way. Some of his minor rules, such as those relating to the use of tenses indicating past time, were quietly ignored, and writers took to using imperfect, perfect and aorist indiscriminately; but Panini’s rules of inflexion had to be maintained. The only way in which Sanskrit could develop away from inflexion was by building up compound nouns to take the place of the clauses of the sentence.

With the growth of long compounds Sanskrit also developed a taste for long sentences. The prose works of Bana and Subandhu, written in the 7th century, and the writings of many of their successors, contain single sentences covering two or three pages of type. To add to these difficulties writers adopted every conceivable verbal trick, until Sanskrit literature became one of the most ornate and artificial in the world.

Indian interest in language spread to philosophy, and there was considerable speculation about the relations of a word and the thing it represented. The Mimamsa School , reviving the verbal mysticism of the later Vedic period, maintained that every word was the reflexion of an eternal prototype, and that its meaning was eternal and inherent in it. Its opponents, especially the logical school of Nyaya , supported the view that the relation of word and meaning was purely conventional. Thus the controversy was similar to that between the Realists and Nominalists in medieval Europe.

Classical Sanskrit was probably never spoken by the masses, but it was never wholly a dead language. It served as a lingua franca for the whole of India, and even today learned Brahmans from the opposite ends of the land, meeting at a place of pilgrimage, will converse in Sanskrit and understands each other perfectly.]

***

 Pingala

 10.1. Pingala was the younger brother of Panini.  He  is celebrated as  the author of Chhanda-sastra an authoritative text on the rules  governing  the structure of various Vedic meters adopted by different Vedic shakhas (schools); enumeration of meters (chhandas)  with fixed patterns of long (Guru)  and short (Laghu)  syllables.

10.2. In the Indian context Chhandas Shastra (roughly, the Prosody) is not merely about construction of verses or about rhythm – patterns (praasa).  It is, on the other hand, a complete technology of poetry. It attempts to build a systematic relation (or patterns of relations) between meter (Chhandas)  and syllables (akshara) ; syllables and articulated sound (varna) ; the pronunciation of sounds with its vibrations (spanda) ; the vibrations with desired effects (viniyoga) ; and , the usefulness of such effects  in  mans’ life.

10.3. Pingala explains the disciplines and forms of seven basic meters : Gayatri (24 syllables) ; Ushnik (28 syllables ) ; Anustup (32 syllables); Brihati (36 syllables); Pankti (40 syllables) ; Tristup (44 syllables) ; and, Jagati ( 48 syllables); their characteristics ; and , the variations permissible under each meter. He also provides a recursive algorithm for determining how many of these form have a specified number of short syllables (Laghu).

10.4. Pingala, in this context, is credited with the first known description of the binary numerical system as also with a sequence of numbers called mātrāmeru now recognized as Fibonacci numbers. The Computer theorists of the present-day say: “A remarkable example of the mathematical spirit of Piṅgala’s work is his computation of the powers of 2. He provides an efficient recursive algorithm based on what computer scientists now call the divide-and-conquer strategy”.

[In the field of music, it is said, Piṅgala’s algorithms were generalized by Sārṅgadeva to  rhythms which use four kinds of beats – druta, laghu, guru and pluta of durations 1, 2, 4 and 6 respectively (Saṅgītaratnākara, c. 1225 C.E.).  In Mathematics, Āryabhata (5th Century) further developed on Piṅgala’s use of recursion Algorithms.]

 For more on Pingala’s Chandaḥśāstra and Pingala’s Algorithms, please check the following links:

 https://sites.google.com/site/mathematicsmiscellany/mathematics-in-sanskrit-poetry

http://www.northeastern.edu/shah/papers/Pingala.pdf

 

Vyadi Dakshayana

 

11.1. Vyadi Dakshayana was related to Panini. Some say, Vyadi was the maternal uncle of Panini, while some others say he was the grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle. Vyadi also wrote about Grammar in his Samgraha (meaning, compendium) or Samgraha Sutra.  In his text, Vyadi went further than Panini. Unlike Panini who strictly kept out of his Sutra all matters foreign to Grammar (etymology), Vyadi Dakshayana included in his Samgraha the topics that were not directly related to Grammar that was used as a tool (upaya) for day-to-day transactions.

11.2. Vyadi – Dakshayana’s Samgraha or Samgraha Sutra, basically, is a work of grammar   (Vyakarana shastra). Yet; it dealt on the philosophical aspects of grammar as well.  It speculated, at length, on the question whether the language sounds (including words) is fixed (nitya) or is it of a passing nature (karya). He said; the meaning of a description (word) consists entirely in its being related to an individual object (dravya).  He seems to have said; it would be ideal if a word carries a single meaning that can be uniformly applied in all situations. But now, the meaning of a word is largely context sensitive; and, therefore, a word need not have a fixed or a single meaning.  Vyadi did not neglect meaning; but was aware that the meanings of the words were bound to change with the passage of time, as also in varying contexts. He recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their day-to-day lives were better judges in deriving, meaning from the words.

11.2. But, he said, in any case,   one must study grammar diligently. Patanjali who came later seemed to love Vyadi’s Samgraha; and, held it in great esteem: “beautiful is Dakshayana’s Grand work, the SamgrahaShobhana khalu astu Dakshayanena   Samgrahasya kruthihi” (Mbh. 1.468.11).

[The Samgraha Sutra is now lost. We know of it through references to its verses in later texts.  Samgraha is said to have been a grand work (sobhana) running into 100,000 verses, discussing about 14,000 subjects. But, by the time of Bhartrhari (seventh century A. D) the work was already lost. Vyadi is also credited with Paribhasha or rules of interpreting Panini; and also with Utpalini a sort of dictionary. These works are also lost. ]

 

Vararuchi Katyayana

12.1. Vararuchi also called Katyayana (also as Punarvasu and Medhajita) is one of the earliest commentators of Panini that are known to us.  It is likely there were other commentators before his time.  Katyayana offered his comments on selected Sutras of Panini, by way of explanatory Notes or annotations titled as Vrittika-s.   Out of about 4,000 Sutras of Panini, Katyayana selected about 1,245 Sutras for comments; and, on these he offered about 4,300 or more sets of explanatory Notes, Vrittika-s.  These Vrittikas (Varttika-patha or text in original form) of Katyayana have not come down to us directly. They all have been picked up from Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, where they are quoted and preserved.

12.2. In his Vrittikas, Katyayana aims to provide a new dimension to Astadhyayi. Katyayana takes up a sutra of Panini and annotates it; supplements it with additional information; modifies, at places, the views of Panini; and, generally offers explanations according to his own understanding. He even rectifies those Sutras where, according to him, something remained unsaid (anukta) or was badly-said (durukta).

 12.3. Some wonder why Katyayana had to offer critical comments on such large number of Sutras. One explanation is that Katyayana came several generations after Panini; and in the meantime the language had changed with new forms of expressions coming into vogue. The other is; the fact that Panini originated from North West while Katyayana came from the East may also have something to do with difference in their perceptions. Considering these factors, Katyayana’s criticisms seem fair.

 Katyayana showed no disregard towards the revered Master Panini. Katyayana, on the other hand, shows great respect for Panini. He closes his Notes on each Chapter of Astadhyayi with the auspicious word Siddham   – This is correct; well proved. At the end of his work, Katyayana offers respectful submission to the venerable sage (Muni) saying: Bhavatah Panineh Siddham, what Bhagavan Panini has said is absolutely correct.

 [Note: there have been other Vararuchi-s and other Katyayana-s in various fields and in different times.]

 

 Patanjali

 

13.1. Patanjali’s Mahabhashya fulfilled a long felt need. Till its appearance, the learners had to depend on Vritti or Varttika to study Astadhyayi. But, just as the Astadhyayi, the Vrittis too were in the inscrutable Sutra format.

 Mahamahopadyaya says that it was only after the advent of Mahabhashya that Panini’s work Astadhayi gained universal acceptance.  Till then, he says, Astadhayi had a rather limited circulation; perhaps confined to closed group of scholars. For instance, though Arthashastra came to written, say, about a hundred years after Panini, its author Kautilya (second or third century BCE) did not seem to be aware of Panini’s rules of grammar. [Incidentally, Kautilya too just as Panini migrated from Takshashila region to Pataliputra.] It is said; there are many expressions in Kautilya’s work that do not meet the approved standards set by Panini. Kautilya still seemed to be using parts of speech and such other grammatical terms that were set by grammarians of much earlier times.

 13.2. Patanjali’s Mahabhashya is composed in a conversational style employing a series of lively dialogues that takes place among three persons: Purvapakshin (who raises doubts); the Siddanthikadeshin (who argues against objections, but only provides partial answers); and Siddhantin (the wise one who concludes providing the right answers)   . Its method is engaging, dotted with questions like “What?” and “How?” posed and resolved; introducing current proverbs and   references to daily social life. In addition, Patanjali builds into his commentary about seven hundred interesting quotations from Vedic texts, Epics, and from the works of earlier authors.

13.3. Mahabhashya is an extensive discussion on Panini’s Astadhyayi spread over 85 Chapters. Yet; Mahabhashya is not a full (sutra to Sutra) commentary on Astadhyayi. Patanjali offers comments on about 1,228 select Sutras out of about 4,000 Sutras of Panini’s text.  It draws upon Katyayana’s Vrittika, Vyadi’s Samgraha as also on the Karikas and Vrittis of other commentators.  It analyzes the rules into components, adding elements necessary to understand the rules, giving supporting examples to illustrate how the rule operates.

14.1. Patanjali, in a way, takes off from Panini who focussed on words.  The Mahabhashya begins with the words ‘atho sabda-anu-shasanam’:  here begins the instruction on words. The three important subjects that Patanjali deals with are also concerned with words: formation of words, determination of meaning, and the rela­tion between a word (speech sounds – Shabda) and its meaning. He also talks about the need to learn Grammar and to use correct words; nature of words; whether or not the words have fixed or floating meanings and so on.

14.2. In general,   Panini manipulates word derivation as a tool to derive sentence.   The basic purpose of a grammar, according to Patanjali, is to account for the words of a grammar; not by enumerating them; but, by writing a set of general (samanya) rules (lakshana) that govern them and by pointing out to exceptions (visesha).These general rules, according to him, must be derived from the usage, for which the language of the ‘learned’ (shista) is taken as the norm.

 14.3. At times, Patanjali finds fault with Katyayana’s criticism; defends Panini against unfounded criticism; but, again criticizes and re-states certain other rules enunciated by Panini. Then he takes up those Sutras that were not discussed by Katyayana. He also revises or supplements    certain rules of Panini in order to ensure they are in tune with the contemporary (Patanjali’s time) usage. But, in his philosophical approach to grammar, Patanjali seems to have been influenced by Samgraha of Vyadi.

 

The time of Upavarsha

 

15.1. The time of Upavarsha is not known exactly. But it is surmised to be before 400 BCE. This estimate is based on certain circumstantial events the dates of which are generally accepted.

15.2. The unrest in the North-West commenced with the conquest of Darius (550–486 BCE) and it later worsened with the annexation of a considerable portion of the North- Western India into the Persian Empire.  It is said; Darius marched into the Taxila Satrapy during the winter of 516-515 BCE; and thereafter set about conquering the Indus Valley in 515 BCE.

15.3. The next significant date in the context of Upavarsha is the founding of the city of Pataliputra to where Upavarsha and others migrated. Pāṭaliputra (पाटलिपुत्र) of ancient India (Patna of modern-day), it is said, was originally built by Ajatashatru (son of King Bimbisara of Magadha – 599 BCE to 491 BCE) in or about 490 BCE.  Later, King Shishuka the founder of the Shishunaga dynasty, who established his Magadha Empire in 413 BCE, shifted his Capital from Rajgriha to a more prosperous and a more secure city: Pataliputra. The Shishunagas in their time were the rulers of one of the largest empires of the Indian subcontinent. The city of Pataliputra thus came into prominence, naturally. And, the eminent scholars from many parts of India gathered at Pataliputra seeking King’s patronage. Thereafter, Pataliputra gained greater fame and prosperity during the time of Mahapadma Nanda who succeeded the Shishunagas and founded the Nanda dynasty.  Mahapadma Nanda (C. 400-329 BCE) who declared himself the most powerful Samrat and Chakravartin ruled from Pataliputra.

15.4. The scholars who have studied Panini (a contemporary of Upavarsha) in greater detail have suggested 4th century BCE or earlier as the time of Panini. Some say; a 5th or even late 6th century BC date cannot be ruled out with certainty. But, generally, scholars accept that Panini’s time was, in any case, not later than C.400 BCE.

15.5. The group of scholars – Upavarsha, Varsha, Panini, and Pingala – seem to have migrated from Takshashila region to Pataliputra during the reign of the Shishunaga kings or the reign of Mahapadma Nanda.  

15.6. Following these events/dates the time of Upavarsha is reckoned to be not later than fourth century BCE.

Birth of a new tradition

 16.1. With the crossover of the core group of scholars from the North West towards the East, the intellectual capital of the then ancient India shifted from Takshashila to Pataliputra. And, that was also significant in another way.  The transition, somehow, marked the end of the Sutra period and the beginning of the period of Shastras , Vrittis, Vrittikas  and such other , comparative , descriptive texts.  The Sutra texts which were in a highly condensed format, by their very nature, were difficult to comprehend. Attempts were made by the scholars at Pataliputra to elaborate upon, comment upon and explain the Sutra texts (Sutra Patha) in a manner that could be read and understood by other seekers and students.

16.2. This phenomenon of giving up the highly condensed inscrutable Sutra format and taking up to writing more expansive Notes (Vrittikas), critiques (Vrittis), elaborate commentaries (Bhashyas) etc was not confined to traditional texts – Darshanas- alone. It even spread to various branches of secular knowledge, such as: economics, polity, medicine, and theatrical arts etc; and, spilled over to exotic and erotic subjects. A fresh wave of writers began composing expansive works in poetic forms that could be enjoyed at readers’ leisure.  Such comprehensive works (Shastras) did   render even tough subjects attractive, easier to commit to memory and, of course, easier to put it to use in day-to-day life. With that, the Sutra period met its end in Magadha.

Perhaps the increasing practice of writing books to impart knowledge instead of depending on oral transmissions also contributed towards this development.

 16.3. Some explanation about the terms mentioned above appears necessary here. Let me digress for a short while.

 

Sutra

17.1. Generally a subject or a body of study dealt in ancient Indian texts was expounded through a series of works and traditions (sampradaya) that were followed and kept alive by its adherents, over a period of time. Since the subject matter was scattered over several texts and diverse oral renderings, attempts were made by some diligent scholars to put in one place , for the benefit of students and learners of coming generations,  the salient arguments and important references bearing on the subject. Such compilation or collation was made in the briefest possible manner, so that it could by learnt by – heart , retained in memory and passed on to the next generation of learners.  Such highly condensed text-references came to be known as Sutra-s.

17.2. Sutra literally means a thread as also the one over which gems are strewn (sutre mani gane eva). But, technically, in the context of ancient Indian works, Sutra meant an aphoristic style of condensing the spectrum of all the essential aspects, thoughts of a doctrine into terse, crisp, pithy pellets of compressed information  ( at times rather disjointed )  that could be easily committed to memory. They are analogous to synoptic notes on a lecture; and by tapping on a note, one hopes to recall the relevant expanded form of the lecture. Perhaps the Sutras were meant to serve a similar purpose. A Sutra is therefore not merely an aphorism but a key to an entire discourse on a subject. Traditionally, each Sutra is regarded as a discourse rather than as a statement.

17.3. Each school of thought had its Sutra collated by a learned Sutrakara, the Compiler of that School. For instance, the Nyaya School had its Sutra by Gautama; Vaisheshika School by Kanada; Yoga School by Patanjali; Mimamsa School by Jaimini ; and , Vedanta School by Badarayana. Besides, there are a number of Sutras on various other subjects. [Of all the Schools, the Samkhya did not seem to have a Sutra of its own. ] 

Badarayana is of course the most celebrated of them all. He is the compiler, Sutrakara, of the Brahma Sutras (an exposition on Brahman) also called Vedanta Sutra, Sariraka Mimamsa Sutra and Uttara Mimamsa Sutra.  The style of presentation adopted by Badarayana set a model for Sutras that followed.

17.4. The method adopted by a Sutrakara was to refer to a specific passage in a text, say an Upanishad, by a key word, or a context (prakarana) or a hint to the topic for discussion. He would also hint his reasoning in a word or two.  The Sutrakara would follow it by Purva-paksha (prima facie view or opponents view), Uttara-paksha (his own explanation/rebuttal) and Siddantha (his conclusion).  The Sutra–text (Sutra patha) was so terse that it would need a commentator to make sense out of the Sutra.  The genius of the commentator on the Sutra ( Vrittikara or  Bashyakara )  was   in his ingenuity to  pinpoint the  Vishesha Vakya  the exact statement in the Vedic text referred to by the Sutra; to   maintain  consistency in the  treatment – in the context (prakarana),  and the  spirit of the original text; and, in  bringing  out the true intent and meaning of the Sutrakara’s reasoning and conclusions.

17.5.  But, to dismay of all, the concept of Sutra was often carried to its extremes. Brevity became its most essential character. It is said a Sutrakara would rather give up a child than expend a word. The Sutras often became so terse as to be inscrutable. And, one could read into it any meaning one wanted to. It was said, each according to his merit finds his rewards.

 

Vritti

 

18.1. Sutra by itself is unintelligible, unless it is read with the aid of a commentary.  The function of bringing some clarity into Sutra-patha    was the task of Vritti. The Vritti , simply put , is  a gloss, which expands on the Sutra; seeks to point out the derivation of forms that figure in the Sutra (prakriya); offers explanations on what is unsaid (anukta)  in the Sutra and also clarifies on what is misunderstood or imperfectly stated  (durukta) in the Sutra. 

 Vrittika

 19.1. Then, Vrittika is a Note or an annotation in between the level of the Sutra and the Vritti. It attempts to focus on what has not been said by a Sutra or is poorly expressed.  And, it is shorter than Vritti.

 Bhashya

 20.1.  The Vritti is followed  by Bhashya ,  a detailed , full blown ,  exposition on the subjects dealt with by  the Sutra ; and it  is primarily based on the Sutra , its Vrittis , Vrittikas ,  as also on several other authoritative texts and traditions. Bhashya  includes in itself  the elements of :   explanations based on discussion (vyakhyana); links to other texts that are missed or left unsaid in the Sutra (vyadhikarana) ;  illustrations using examples (udaharana) and counter-examples (pratyudhaharana) ; rebuttal  or condemnation  of   the opposing views of rival schools (khandana) ; putting forth  its own arguments  (vada) and counter arguments (prati-vada)  ; and , finally establishing   its own theory and  conclusions (siddantha).

 20.2. Let’s, for instance, take the Sutra, Vritti-s and Bhashya-s in the field of grammar (vyakarana). Here, Panini’s Astadhyayi is the principal text in Sutra format, referred to as Astaka (collection of eight) or as Sutra-patha (recitation of the Sutra).  It is the basic and the accepted text. But, its Sutra form is terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text does need a companion volume to explain it. That utility was provided by Vararuchi-Katyayana who wrote a Vartika, Notes or brief explanations on selected Sutras of Astadhyayi.  And, Patanjali who followed Katyayana, much later, wrote Maha-bhashya, a detailed commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi, making use of Katyayana’s Vritti and several other texts and references on the subject. He presented the basic theoretical issues of Panini’s grammar; he expanded on the previous authors; supported their views and even criticized them in the light of his own explanations.  

 20.3. The trio (Trimurti) of Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali are regarded the three sages (Muni traya) of Vyakarana Shastra. Here, in their reverse order, the later ones enjoy greater authority (yato uttaram muninaam pramaanyam); making Patanjali the best authority on Panini.

 21.1. Upavarsha, regarded the most venerable (Abhijarhita), revered as Bhagavan and as ‘shastra-sampradaya- pravarttaka’ is described both as Shastrakara and Vrittikara.  However, in the later centuries, his name gathered fame as that of a Vrittikara, the commentator par excellence on the Mimamsa. We shall talk of Upavarsha the Vrittikara in the next part of this post.

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Click here for Part Two

 Continued in

Part Two

 

  Sources and References:

 1. Magadhan Literature by Mahamahopadyaya Haraprasad Sastri; Patna University (1923) 

2. Astadhayi of Panini  ( Volume One )  by Pundit Rama Natha Sharma

3. A History Of Sanskrit Literature Classical Period Vol I by Prof.SN Dasgupta; Calcutta University (1947) 

4. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5; edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja; Princeton University Press (1990)

5. Grammatical Literature, Part 2, by Hartmut Scharfe ; Otto Harrassowitz (1977)

6. A New History of the Humanities: The Search for Principles and Patterns…  By Rens Bod; Oxford University press

7. An account of ancient Indian grammatical studies down to Patanjali’s Mahabhasya:  by E. De Guzman 0rara

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2013 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha

 

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Who was Uddalaka Aruni? – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Uddalaka Aruni – Teachings

22. 1. It is said; the great Yajnavalkya (Brh.Up.6.3.15) as also the sage Kausitaki (Sat Brh.11.4.12) to whose family the portions of the Kausitaki Brahmana are attributed, Proti Kausurubindi of Kausambi (Sat Brh. 12.2.213), and Sumna-yu (Sahkhayana Aranyaka -15.1) were at onetime the students of Uddalaka Aruni.

But Uddalaka’s fame as a teacher and a philosopher rests mainly on the discourses he imparted to his son Svetaketu (formally: Svetaketu Auddalaki Gautama). It contains the essential teaching of all the Upanishads.

22.2. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka is portrayed as a caring father who sent his son, at his age of twelve, to a residential school (ante – vasin). And, on his return home, after twelve years of education, Uddalaka questions Svetaketu, now a bright looking well grown young man, to find whether he had learned anything of importance. He questions his son whether he has learnt ‘that by which one can : hear that which is beyond hearing (Ashrutam); think that which is unthinkable (amatam); and know that which is beyond knowledge (avijnatam)’.

Tam ādeśam aprākya yenā-aśruta śruta bhavaty; amata matam; avijñāta vijñātam iti || ChUp_6,1.3 ||

Of course, he had not. Uddalaka then proceeds to teach his son, with great diligence,   on what the school could not instruct: ‘knowing which everything becomes known (avijnatam vijnatam iti)’ – the real meaning of life.

Broad outline

Before entering into discussion on the teachings of Uddalaka let me outline, in broad strokes, the main aspects of his teaching.

23.1. In his exposition, in the form of a dialogue with his son Svetaketu, detailed in Part Six of the Chandogya Upanishad , spread over sixteen sections, Uddalaka covers a wide range of subjects touching upon the theories of  the Absolute Being, theory of creation , the living-principle (spirit) , the nature of matter and its multiple forms,  oneness of man with nature , relation between food , body  and mind etc.  

He bases some of his explanations on ideas that were current in his time (such as, the man being composed of sixteen parts; dependence of mind’s working on nutrition; or, the senses merging into mind and mind into Prana).

At the same time, he sets aside certain earlier notions concerning the origin of the universe (such as the universe originated from void or non-being). In addition, he breaks away from the earlier texts and covers some fresh ground.

23.2. He questions, how anything could come out of nothing; and argues that there must have been an original being, in a very subtle but a very powerful form, giving rise to everything in the Universe. Sat the primal Being exists solely and completely by the virtue of its own power of existence. It is not abstract. It is real and alive.

23.3. He demonstrates through skillful  teaching exercises – involving a pattern of activities designed to rouse the young man’s mind –  that the unseen need not be understood as ‘void’; it could well be the most wonderful subtlest essence of existence which is too fine to be perceived by senses, and from which everything springs forth (as a tree growing out of the invisible core of a tiny seed), and it permeates , unseen, everything in the universe (as a lump of salt dissolved in a jug of water)  as energy and vitality in all forms of life (as in a person , animal or in plants).And, finally  It is into That, all existence subsides. It does not mean the universe that once was, is reduced to nothingness; for, ‘something does not become nothing, just as nothing does not become something’- Na-asti satah sambhavah; na sata atmahanam

[  After Svetaketu breaks open the seed, he reports ‘it is broken Sir’ (binna Bhagavah iti). Uddalaka asks the boy ‘what do you see in it (Kim atra pashyati iti). Svetaketu replies ‘nothing Sir’ (kinchana Bhagavah iti).

Uddalaka explains to his son that finest part in the seed which one does not see (yam na nibhalayase) is indeed the essence (animnah). In it is hidden the big banyan tree (esah mahanya-nagrodhah). Have faith, dear one (sraddhatsva somya iti).

“Just as that subtlest unseen essence pervades the tree, Similarly, Sat, subtle and invisible, pervades all existence. That subtle essence Sat is the truth, the Atman (Ch.Up.6.12.3). Everything comes from That and everything merges back into That. It is in all beings. You like the tree and the world, is made of that essence. The evidence of that can be grasped by reasoning and faith. Svetaketu, you are That (tat tvam asi śvetaketo iti).

That ‘nothingness’ need not be understood as void; that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent

The essence of the tree is in that seeming nothingness. The manifest emerges from the un-manifest. The cause, that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent. For, nothing can come out of nothing, and nothing can altogether vanish out of existence. Na-asti satah sambhavah; na sata atmahanam. This, in short, is premise of Uddalaka.

This, in essence, is the principle of Satkaryavada.

The Samkhya notions of Prakrti and the emergence of the world from the Being (Sat) and its theory of causation – Satkaryavada have their seeds in Ch Up 6.2.3&4.

Bhagavad-Gita follows this principle saying ‘there is no existence from what does not exist; there is no non-existence from what exists’ (BG; 2.16): Na-sata vidyate bhavo; na-bhavo vidyate Satah

(The later Buddhists put forward the theory of prior-non-existence (pragabhava). It asserts that something can exist now though it was not in existence before (abhutva bhavati, abhutva bhavah). This is the A-satkaryavada) ]

24.1. As regards the process of evolution, Uddalaka tries to establish, methodically, in a series of natural stages how the Reality entered into matter giving rise to multiple forms. According to Uddalaka, all matter in the world, including human beings, is composed of three fundamental elements, each of which is a power. These are: heat-Teja (as also light or energy), water –Apah (all aspects of liquidity and fluency), and food –Anna (solids, plants and earth).These three dominant elements, in sequence, are inspired and animated in varied degrees by the primal being (Sat or Prana). The element of fire principle has its root in Sat; that of water in fire; and that of earth in the water principle . Each one of these elements carries within it some traces of the other two elements. Therefore, there is nothing in this world that is unmixed.

24.2. All these elements are charged with the will to become many (bahau –bhavitam-iccha) and to manifest as objects; each object having a different degree of fineness; each having its own   inner nature (nama) and an outward form (rupa).

25.1. Uddalaka asserts; understanding the material of which any given object is made yields an understanding of everything else made of the same material.

According to Uddalaka, every material object is composed of infinite number of extremely small particles (anu), so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. Each of these particles, according to him, is qualitatively different from the other; and is infinitely divisible. The minute particles (anu) ceaselessly separate and re-combine giving rise to newer forms. Each minute particle (anu) is in a churning motion within itself, by virtue of which it spontaneously unfolds or evolves; each according to its quality or nature. Each of   these minute particles is charged or animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat).

25.2. Each living body or an organism is an animated whole, all parts of which being   pervaded by one and the same living principle. That invisible power, the potent energy or vitality is present in the core of all beings. And, when that life-force leaves the body, the body  withers and dies. But the living principle (jiva or atman) never dies.

25.3. He teaches that all objects and all living things are inter-related.  The essence of everything is One, though the forms are many and the individuals are many. The whole world arises and continues to exist by virtue of that invisible essence – Sat. According to Uddalaka, in the ultimate analysis, man is nothing but an evolution of That essence. He tells his son, each time, there is nothing that does not come from that essence, “verily, you are that essence”. “O Svetaketu, do you understand what I am telling you? This great but most subtle essence of all the worlds is the Truth, the Atman, the Supreme Reality within you, and you are That (tat tvam asi)”.

26.1. Uddalaka observes that eventually, at the end, everything in existence is absorbed back into That from which everything emerged. It is the same In the case of an individual too.  At his death, man reverses in successive steps towards that being from which he originated. The speech merges into mind, the mind into prana, the prana into heat and the heat, the last to depart, into the Pure Being. This process occurs in every case, as in nature, no matter whether one is aware of it or not. The process of going back is natural and does not depend on the striving of the individual. But one who is fully conscious and understands the Reality at each stage of the process gains freedom. Such knowing or not-knowing is perhaps the difference between knowledge and ignorance.

27.1. He asks his son to exercise the mind which is endowed with fabulous capacity to observe, to reason and infer, in order to gain insight into the Reality. He advises that when both his intellect and his senses do not help in leading him on the right path, he should seek guidance from a proper teacher (acharya) who knows. An ardent seeker who finds an illumined teacher attains freedom. And, in the end it is truth that protects.

27.2. But , Uddalaka cautions his son , the proof of the existence of One subtle –force (Sat) which gives birth to and sustains all life is beyond the realm of subjective sense -cognition. It is possible to understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith. Uddalaka urges Svetaketu: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2).

27.3. Uddalaka, in his teaching, does not refer to a God or any other Supernatural Being as creator. According to him, the process of evolution, sustenance and eventual withdrawal into the source follows its own natural laws, at each stage.

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Universe and its beginning

28.1. The question of the origin of the Universe and the process of evolution comes up for discussion on several occasions in the Samhitas, as also in the Upanishads. Many seers offered their explanations; and, there are, therefore, numerous theories on the subject. For instance, one theory in Rig Veda (RV 10.72) states that originally there was nothing (a-sat) and out of it being (sat) evolved. Similarly Taittiriya Upanishad (Tai.Up.2.7) mentions “Non-being, indeed, was here in the beginning (asad vaa idam agra aasiit) “. Another theory in Rig Veda (RV.10.129) speculates that in the beginning there was neither being nor non- being, but (somehow) the One , a living being, came into existence; and , it expresses a philosophical doubt as to how the universe may have evolved.

28.2. Uddalaka rejects the earlier notions of evolution of the universe. He asks how something could come out of nothing. And, he asserts that there must have been an original being from which everything in the Universe has come forth (Ch.Up.6:2:1, 2).It is not abstract; and, it is alive.  He proposes and tries to establish, methodically, a series of stages of development, explaining how all reality has emanated out of the Being.

[Even at the very early stages of Indian thought, two groups had clearly emerged: the one that asserted the hypotheses of the Being, and the other of non-Being . Both left strong impressions on the later Indian speculations. In a way of speaking, the history subsequent Indian philosophy is mostly about the unfolding and expansion, a wider application, continued modifications of these two ancient postulates, or   departure from either.]

28.3. Uddalaka puts forward a hypothesis: “In the beginning, my dear, this universe was Being (Sat); alone, one and only without a second (Sat tu eva, saumya, idam agra asid). Some say that in the beginning this was non-being (asat); and from that non—being, the Being was born (Kutas tu khalu, saumya, evam syat, iti hovaca, asatah saj jayeteti).” How is it possible for a Being to emerge out of Non-Being? (Katham, asatah saj jayeteti). Has anyone seen such a phenomenon? I agree, something might produce something; but, how can nothing produce something? … Listen to me my dear, In the beginning only being was here, one alone, without a second – ekam eva advaitam (Ch. Up. 6.2.2),by virtue of which everything evolved.

Kutas tu khalu, saumya, evam syat, iti hovaca, katham, asatah saj jayeteti, sat tu eva, saumya, idam agra asid ekam evadvitiyam.

[The term Sat (extended into Satyam) had several meanings depending on the context. Sri Sayanacharya has written a gloss explaining several meanings that could be ascribed to the term. For our limited purpose, Sat signifies a single (without a second) Reality existing in the beginning. A-sat is the opposite of Sat; it was non-existent at the beginning. Sat is the enduring ground; while a-sat, as opposed, is the transient variation. While sat is the substance (as in satva), a-sat relates to appearances as forms and names.

In the context of creation theories, Sat perhaps meant “this which is here and now”, and a-sat meant “that which has not yet come to be”. The Creation is understood as the transformation of the un-manifest into manifest; it is a process of becoming from Being.]

The Reality that pervades all existence

29.1. Sat, according to Uddalaka, is the origin of all things, all beings. There is nothing that does not come from Sat. It is the subtle essence that pervades all existence at all times. Of everything, Sat is its inmost Self. It is infinitely subtle and practically invisible; and one may even mistake it for non-existent.

29.2. Uddalaka demonstrates how the apparent nothingness at the innermost core of a seed holds within its womb the essence and the existence of a huge tree.” O soumya, the gentle one, in that finest part of the seed, in the core of its invisible essence resides, hidden and unperceived, the huge banyan tree (nagrodha). Is that not a wonder? Have faith in what I say” (Ch.Up.6.12.1-4). The whole varied world arises and continues to exist like a banyan tree, born and animated by virtue of That invisible essence.

Tam hovacha yam vai, saumya, etam animanam na nibhalayase, etasya vai, saumya, esho’nimna evam mahan nyagrodhas-tishthati srddhatsva, saumya iti.

“Just as that subtlest unseen essence pervades the tree, Similarly, Sat, subtle and invisible, pervades all existence. It is like a lump of salt dissolved in a jug of water, which you wouldn’t see; yet, it is there all the time. That subtle essence Sat is the truth, the Atman (Ch.Up.6.12.6). Everything comes from That and everything merges back into That. It is in all beings. You like the tree and the world, is made of that essence. The evidence of that can be grasped by reasoning and faith. Svetaketu, you are That (tat tvam asi).

Sa ya esho’nima aitad atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma, tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti;

[This often repeated great epithet, sad-vidya or maha –vakya, at a much later time was adopted by the Vedanta School to assert oneness of Atman  with Brahman.

However, Uddālaka Āruṇi does not use the term “Brahman”— either in his instruction to his son Śvetaketu, or on any other of his many appearances in the Upanishads.

As regards the question of identity of Atman with Brahman, the concept , it seems , grew in stages over long periods. Although Śāṇḍilya’s teaching of atman and Brahman is often considered the central doctrine of the Upanishads, it is important to remember that this is not the only characterization either of the self or of ultimate reality. While some teachers, such as Yājñavalkya, also equate atman with Brahman (BU 4.4.5), others, such as Uddālaka Āruṇi, do not make this identification.

Moreover, it is often unclear, even in Śāṇḍilya’s teaching, whether linking atman with Brahman refers to the complete identity of the self and ultimate reality, or if atman is considered an aspect or quality of Brahman. Such debates about how to interpret the teachings of the Upanishads have continued throughout the Indian philosophical tradition, and are particularly characteristic of the Vedanta Darshana.

Uddālaka’s famous phrase tat tvam asi was later taken by Sri  Śankara to be a statement of the identity of atman and Brahman]

29.3. In order to explain his views, Uddalaka makes use of number of metaphors from the natural world. For instance, he compares Atman that exists in all beings to the nectar, despite originating from different plants, when gathered together forms a homogeneous whole. In the same way, he talks of the rivers flowing down from all directions merging into the ocean and losing their identities (Ch. Up. 6.9.1, 6.10.1–2).A wave or a bubble arising out of the vast waters of the sea loses its form and identity on merger with the sea .

Uddalaka argues, all living beings merge into existence – “whatever they are in this world a tiger, a lion, a wolf, a boar, a wolf, a worm , a gnat or a mosquito they all become That (Ch.Up.6.9.3; 6.10.2.). The process of returning to the source is a natural process and it does not depend on the striving of the individual to attain a certain ‘state’.

As bees suck nectar from many a flower / And make their honey one, so that no drop / Can say, “I am from this flower or that,” / All creatures, though one, know not they are that One.

Yatha, saumya, madhu madhukrto nistishthanti, nanatyayanam vrkshanam rasan samavaharam katam rasam gamaynti.

Te yatha tatra na vivekam labhante, amushyaham vrkshasya raso’smi, amushyaham vrkshasya  rasosmiti, evam eva khalu, saumya, imah sarvah
prajah sati sampadya na viduh, sati sampadyamaha iti

As the rivers flowing east and west/Merge in the sea and become one with it / Forgetting they were ever separate streams, / So do all creatures lose their separateness/ When they merge at last into pure Being.

Imah, saumya, nadyah purastat pracyah syandante, pascat praticyah tah samudrat samudram evapiyanti, sa samudra eva bhavati, ta yatha yatra na viduh, iyam aham asmi, iyam aham asmiti.

30.1. Then he points to a tree and says it is entirely pervaded with the living self. The tree stands alive, rejoicing moisture and fresh air, drinking in and taking in all that is good: ‘If one were to strike at the bottom of this big tree, it would bleed; but it will continue to live.  If one were to strike at the middle, it would bleed, but live. And,  if one were to strike at the top, it would bleed,  but live. Pervaded by the living self, the tree continues to live happily, drinking in its nourishment. That is to say, if life (jiva) leaves one of its branches then that branch withers, but, the tree continues to live. But in case the life were to leave the whole tree, then, the tree withers and dies’. In exactly the same manner,  “That which loses life dies; but life (jiva) itself does not die  (Ch. Up. 6:11:1-3)”.

1. Asya, saumya mahato vrkshasya yo mule’bhyahanyat, jivan sravet; yo
madhye’bhyahanyat, jivan sravet yo’gre ‘bhyahanyat, jivan sravet, sa esha
jivenatmana’nuprabhutah pepiyamano modamanastishthati.

3. Jivapetam vava kiledam mriyate, na jivo mriyata iti, sa ya esho’nima etad-atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma, tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti;

Life is more than that which meets the eye. And life as life shall never die. The conditional existence (nama-rupa) of the world might vanish, but not the Sat, its underlying Reality.

30.2. Here, Uddalaka is pointing to the difference between a living organism that can survive injury, take nourishment, recover and flourish; and a dead limb, disconnected from the vitalizing principle (jiva), the source of life of the whole tree. That jiva is later identified by Uddalaka with the Atman.

30.3. Through these exercises Svetaketu learns that the Universe we live in – macro and micro – can be studied and understood. The Universe in all its aspects is infinite, complete and conserved. He learns that Self is not mere ‘me’, but is the knower.

“When a person is absorbed in dreamless sleep (swapiti) he is one with the Self, though he knows it not. We say he sleeps, but he sleeps in the Self. As a tethered bird grows tired of flying about in vain to find a place of rest and settles down at last on its own perch, so the mind, tired of wandering about hither and thither, settles down at last In the Self, dear one, to whom it is bound. All creatures, dear one, have their source in That. That is their home; That is their strength. There is nothing that does not come from That. Of everything That is the inmost Self. That is the truth; the Self supreme. You are That, Svetaketu; you are That.”  (Ch.Up.6.8.1-2)

1. Uddalako harunih svetaketum putram uvaca, svapnantam me, saumya, vijanihiti, yatraitat purushah svapiti nama, sata, saumya, tada sampanno bhavati svam apito bhavati, tasmadenam
svapitity-acakshate svam he apito bhavati

2. Sa yatha sakunih sutrena prabaddho disam disam patit-vanyatrayatanam-alabdhva bandhanam evopasrayate, evam eva khalu, saumya tan mano disam disam patit-vanyatrayatanam-alabdhva pranam evopasrayate prana bandhanam hi, saumya, mana iti.

Matter

31.1. Uddalaka conceived matter as one continuous whole in which all things are mixed up. All matter, according to him, is derived from the three basic elements (dhatu: fire, water and earth principles), which, are qualitatively different from one another; and each of it has something of the other two. These elements are infinitely divisible. According to Uddalaka, there is nothing in the world that is unmixed.

31.2. Uddalaka expands on this idea in his ‘doctrine of mantha’. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Brh.Up.3.7.1) refers to the doctrine of Mantha (a super-fine mix of ingredients) in fair detail. The term mantha denotes: to churn, to blend or to a churning –rod (say, as in the verse: Krishnam vande mantha – pasa dharm, describing the boy Krishna holding a churning – rod). The concept is derived from pounding, fine mixing and blending of various ingredients into a smooth paste (Dravadravye prakshiptâ mathitâh saktavah).

Uddalaka visualizes matter as a super-fine paste, an extremely fine mixture of infinitely small particles or atoms (anu) which are qualitatively dissimilar. The atoms incredibly minute, abundant in number are fantastically durable. The long-lived atoms really go round. They unite, separate and reunite forming incredible numbers of varieties of forms.

All matter is composed of infinite number of infinitely small seeds of things (bijani) or minds (manas), so mixed together and so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. These particles, according to Uddalaka, are qualitatively different from each other and are divisible. Each of those small particles is in a churning motion within itself. With the aid of the churning motion within, they spontaneously unfold or evolve, each according to its quality or nurture.

31.3. But, all matter composed of such infinite number of   minute particles is animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat). Therefore, every instance of matter, beings or organisms is an animated throbbing whole, all parts of which being enlivened by one and the same living principle, in varying degrees of vitality.

31.4. Uddalaka is talking about the essential unity of the divisible and the un-divisible; of the particular and the universal; of the Being and the non-being; of the Atman and That primordial subtle essence.

Evolution

32.1. Uddalaka puts forth his hypothesis of evolution. According to him the Reality, the Sat, the pure Being desired to become many (bahusyam). First, it entered into fire or heat / light principle (tat teja aiksata); then, heat, by the same desire, produced water principle (tat apah asrajata); and water, having the same desire, in turn produced earth principle – matter or food (tat annam asrajanta).

[In the language of these texts, the term Annam has multiple meanings. Here, Annam refers not merely to food but also to the earth, the plants and all matter. Following that, anything that is external to consciousness is Annam, food. Again, that which proceeds from condensation of water is food. An object of thought is also food. Further, the terms fire, water, earth stand for all the subtle elements of that nature. ]

32.2. Resorting to the metaphor of a tree (Ch.Up.6.8, 4-6), Uddalaka explains that Sat is the root (mula), of which tejas (fire) is the sprout (srunga).Tejas in its turn is the root, of which apah (water) is the sprout. And, apah in its turn becomes the root, of which anna (food) is the sprout. Every successive effect was already present in the original cause or deity (Devatha).

[Uddalaka’s use of the term Devatha (deity) is rather ambiguous. He employs the term in metaphysical sense and also to refer to the three dominant elements. His metaphysical Devatha could be construed as pure and unmixed, one and indivisible, universal and un-manifested. His reference to the elements (tejas – fire, apah -water and anna – earth) as Devatha might be because they all are highly concentrated form of matter; charged, inspired and enlivened by the one and the same living-principle (prana).Generally, Devatha appears to denote the physical power of existence that is in motion within itself.   Devatha, here, more often refers to matter than to the spirit (prana).]

The subtlest condition of fire is ether, the material basis of sound. The subtlest condition of water is air, the material basis of vital breath. The subtlest condition of earth is food, the material basis for mind or its functions.

32.3. Then, each of the three elements combined in itself something of the other two elements. Following that everything else in the universe came forth including man, mind, and matter.

Organisms

33.1. Uddalaka then moves on to creation of organisms born out of heat and moisture of earth. The birth-types are classified according to the origin and mode of development. He says; all physical bodies (animals, plants and humans) come into the world in one of three ways: by an egg (andajam), by the womb (jaraujam), or through a seed (udhbijam). Each of these Jivas becomes three-fold, due to the three elements entering in them. They all are enlivened by consciousness in varying degrees

[Tesam khalv esam bhutanam triny eva bijani bhavanti, andajam, jivajam, udbhijjam iti – Ch.Up.6.3.2.]

[Some versions mention a fourth classification: svedaja, coming out of dirt, dust, sweat, etc.]

Scheme of things

34 .1. In Uddalaka’s scheme of things, evolution follows its own natural laws. There is no role envisaged for a Creator. What is discussed here is mainly the process.

Uddalaka conceives the original being (Sat) as alive and capable of forming a wish (sankalpa). It wished to become many (bahau – bhavitam-iccha); and therefore, Sat entered into each of the three primal elements as its life, its essence and its own living self. The three subtle elements heat, water and anna (food or matter) are also  conceived as  living; and, are indeed referred to as divinities (Devatha) .The three elements too  wished  to produce multiplicity of objects  having  certain inward nature (nama) and outward appearance or form (rupa) , having visible shape with colours. Everything in the world is therefore alive from the beginning.  Thus, the matter of the Universe is  alive having desires to grow. And, it is by the power of this urge that evolution takes place.

34.2. Here, the Sat did not ‘create ‘anything. Sat entered into the elements; extended into matter.

Another important feature of Uddalaka’s hypothesis is that, the Original Being, as it enters into the elements, is not divided in the process of emanation; but it remains the Absolute.

One in many and many into one

35.1. Uddalaka builds a systematic relation between the cause (mula or root) and its effect (shoot or shrunga). He believes the effect resides in its cause; in other words, things are contained in one another. Uddalaka provides an illustration:” My dear, when the curds are churned, its minute essence rises upward to the surface and forms butter. That does not mean, the curd transformed itself to butter. It is merely that the seeds of butter concealed in the curds were extracted by the aid of churning action. And so it is with everything else” (Ch.Up.6.6.1)

[Incidentally, the Buddha, too, following the general principle ‘Being follows from Being’ put forward his concept of continual ‘coming –to-be and passing –away’ as in a series of changes each rooted in its preceding one. This process of ever changing or becoming was neither capricious nor pre-ordained but went on by way of natural causation. He too, just as Uddalaka, did not talk in terms of an agent that causes/ brings about changes, but he brought focus on the order of things itself.

When faced with questions such as ‘who desires’.’ who creates’, ‘who controls’ etc he replied the questions were wrongly framed  and were not ‘sound questions’. The proper form of questions should be, he said, ‘through what conditions do desire or becoming etc occur’ (Samyutta Nikaya-2.13).In other words, there is no person or agent or soul whatever who does things. But there is only the process or the series of events which occur under certain conditions.

The Buddha also rejected the idea of the universe (loka) as an entity which had a definite beginning or an end; or as a changeless eternal substance.  He, on the other hand, held universe as a process (samsara) which had no definite origin (Samyutta Nikaya-2.178). Universe, according to him, is of natural and impersonal forces and processes driven by conditions ; and is not an enduring substance. In other words, universe is a system governed by its own sets of conditions and laws.

“Leave aside the questions of the beginning and the end. I will instruct you in the Dhamma: ‘If that is, this comes to be; on springing of that, these springs up. If that is not, this does not come to be; on cession of that, this ceases’. (Majjhima-nikaya, II. 32)

The Buddha employed Uddalaka’s simile and  extended it further  : “ Just as from milk comes curds , from curds butter , from butter ghee , from ghee junket;  but, when it is milk it is not called curds, or butter , or ghee or junket; and, when it is curds it is not called by any of the other names; and so on”.

Here, He was not only putting forward his concept of the law of causation but was also pointing to the principle of identity at each stage. Each state in the chain of changes is real in its own context and when it is ‘present’; and it is not real when it was past as ‘something that it was’; and also not real when in future ‘it will be something’.]

35.2. Having established that heat (taapa) emanated out of Sat, Uddalaka proceeds from heat to water and from there to matter. Among the later derivatives of the elements are the components of human body (flesh, blood, bone, breath etc) including mind (manas). He explains that food (or earth) is dependent on water; and, food, in turn, is the cause of man or his mind. These two-mind and matter- are indeed two aspects of the same element or power (Devatha).

“ So these three compose the world, first heat which is to say warmth in all its forms; the waters the liquidity,  the fluency in all matter, and  all moistures the elixirs of life in multiple forms , in our frames, plants  and  clouds, And food, that is solids , due sometime for one to eat but in turn be eaten by another for that is the way of all existence.

Although the substances are compounds of the elements; the elements themselves are real. They beget one another; and the Being enters them ‘with this living self’ and dwelling in them makes out their names and forms”.

35.3. Uddalaka asserts, repeatedly, everything in existence is produced by the three-fold (tri – vrit – karana) combination of these original elements (tanmatra) in varying proportions. Therefore, all the objects in the world; the nama – rupa, their name and form; are the result of the various combinations of the three elements (tanmatra). That is to say, all the variety in this world, whatever is their numbers and whatever be their forms, they all are the expressions of these three elements.

35.4. Again, each of the three elements has in itself certain properties of the other two elements. Fire, for instance, Uddalaka says, contains within itself not merely heat but something of the other two, its visibility and its colour (red). Similarly where there is water, there is food.

Generally, he says, the redness one sees in the objects is due to the fire principle in them; the whiteness that dazzles is due to the water principle; and, the darkness is due to the earth principle. These powers (the elements) are   present in an object as its intrinsic or essential property; and they are not separate from that object. If the threefold presence of the elements -fire, water and earth- is withdrawn from the object, then nothing will be left of that object. Uddalaka   says, therefore, whoever knows the three fundamental elements, understand the visible world. He seems to be saying that in order to understand something, it is essential to understand the elements with which it is composed.

36.1. Uddalaka explains that in order to bring forth multiplicity into  existence; to develop names – and –  forms in order to facilitate  distinguishing  one from the other; or , to set them in order, Sat entered into all elements as their living principle (jiva). That living principle is identical in almost every respect with the universal spirit (Sat or Prana). It animates in varying degrees all kinds of matter. Therefore, what is really extant in matter is the living principle.

36.2. The various distinct natures as also their names and forms (nama-rupa) are conceptions of the mind to distinguish one object from the other in this world of conditional existence. But the proof of the existence of subtle –force is beyond sense-cognition which is subjective. It is possible understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith.

Nama –rupa

37.1. In order to introduce his doctrine of ultimate elements out of which the whole universe is constituted and of the still more ultimate being , Uddalaka points out how things superficially different may essentially be the same . “‘My child, as by knowing one lump of clay, all things made of clay are known; the difference being only in form and  name  arising from speech; and the truth being that all are clay. Similarly, by knowing a nugget of gold, all things made of gold are known; from one copper ornament everything made of copper are known; and, by one pair of nail scissors all that are made of iron are known; they differ only in name and form and as a matter of verbal classification, while in reality it is all iron . The different names used for different objects made from the same substance are mere conventions of speech for easy identification; but ,in fact ,the  nature of all objects made of same substance is one  “(Ch. Up. 6:1:4-6).

yathā somyaikena mṛtpiṇḍena sarvaṃ mṛnmayaṃ vijñātaṃ syāt | vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ mṛttikety eva satyam || ChUp_6,1.4 ||

yathā somyaikena lohamaṇinā sarvaṃ lohamayaṃ vijñātaṃ syāt | vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ loham ity eva satyam || ChUp_6,1.5 ||

yathā somyaikena nakhanikṛntanena sarvaṃ kārṣṇāyasaṃ vijñātaṃ syāt vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ kṛṣṇāyasam ity eva satyam | evaṃ somya sa ādeśo bhavatīti || ChUp_6,1.6

37.2. Uddalaka is delineating the relation that exists between a particular material and all the objects made of that material (material causality). He is not suggesting that by knowing one material, the nature of all objects in the world made of other materials would become known. Nor is he suggesting that all objects in the world are made of the same material. Uddalaka’s claim is that, an understanding of the material of which any given object is made, yields an understanding of all other objects made of that material. Therefore, every object can be reduced to its constituents; and there is nothing in the object except its constituents.

37.3. At the same time, Uddalaka recognizes the distinctions we make amongst the different objects, made of the same substance, based on their form, structure and verbal identifications. Such object –form- distinctions are the concepts of the mind; and not intrinsic or not directly related to their cause which is uniform.  He explains, the cause and effect, the root (mula) and the shoot (shrunga) might look dissimilar having different attributes (lakshana), but their essential identity is the same. This perhaps is Uddalaka’s understanding of Nama – Rupa (name and form) – conditioned existence- which becomes relevant when one becomes many; and when there are multiplicities of objects.

38.1. Uddalaka extends his argument and suggests that since all things in the world are made by the combination of the three fundamental elements (dhatus) – fire, water, and matter, the world is nothing but the nama-rupa of these elements. Therefore, we can understand the nature of the world if we understand the nature of these three elements. Uddalaka extends this line of argument further, and says: since the three fundamental elements which make the world are mere emanations of That (Sat), the entire creation is ultimately nothing but the nama – rupa of That One single Reality. Uddalaka asserts; If you take away names and forms from this existence, what remains is That (sat).

Colours

39.1. Uddalaka extends the argument from forms to colours; and says that the colours we perceive are again the expressions of the three elements: heat, water and Anna or earth. Red (rohita) is the form of heat (tejas); white (shukla) the form of waters (apah); and black (tama) the form of food (anna) or earth principle. And, that which is ‘un-understood ‘is the combination of the three divinities (Devatha). (Ch.Up.6.4.6)

yad u rohitam ivābhūd iti tejasas tad rūpam iti tad vidāṃ cakruḥ | yad u śuklam ivābhūd ity apāṃ rūpam iti tad vidāṃ cakruḥ | yad u kṛṣṇam ivābhūd ity annasya rūpam iti tad vidāṃ cakruḥ || ChUp_6,4.6 ||

39.2. He then offers illustrations from nature. “Observe how these elemental forms present themselves, each in its own disguise, in these: Fire, sun, moon, and lightening, the powers – the four that shine”.

“First watch the fire advancing in the woods. It kindles as ‘red’; it is heat we see. It then glows as ‘white’; it is the fluidity in fire that allows it to flow and to spread like streams of water. When it is lowering back into ground as char, it is earth the solid that is presented to our eyes. (Ch.Up.6.4.1)

Next , watch the sun. As it rises, it is red- the color of heat. As it moves up the sky it is white and more white, a brilliant pool of brightness that seethes’ to its brim. It is then in the nature of water, spreading out fluently and relentlessly. And, descending down from its height, it sinks into black on to the solid earth.

Therefore, red, white or black are just putting names to forms of one and the same thing that does not change. The truth is; these are appearances of the three elements that constitute the world, which are born of One reality.” (Ch.Up.6.4.2)

“The moon perchance raises red. Then it slowly turns white and shines;   and wanes thereafter. The waters are teeming in, filling it up and passing out again. When these have gone out, we see black. Then it is nature of earth.

Therefore, red, white or black are just putting names to forms of one and the same thing that does not change”. (Ch.Up.6.4.3)

“When lighting breaks all of a sudden it is red, the heat. Next we see the flashes of white that run across the sky as rivers of dazzling light streaming down the mountain rocks in jets of white. It is then the waters. And as it strikes a tree and subsides into its trunk, it turns black.

Here again , the ‘red’ ,’white’ or ‘black’ are mere names we give to the forms we see. But the reality is one which is made of heat, water and earth, the three constituents that make the world; and these three again are enlivened by That Reality.” (Ch.Up.6.4.4)

yad vidyuto rohitaṃ rūpaṃ tejasas tad rūpam |yac chuklaṃ tad apām |yat kṛṣṇaṃ tad annasya | apāgād vidyuto vidyuttvam | vācārambhaṇaṃ vikāro nāmadheyaṃ trīṇi rūpāṇīty eva satyam || ChUp_6,4.4 ||

“Understand then, recognizing by colours and calling by names is similar to assigning names to objects formed, say, of clay, iron or gold etc. The colours too are the visible forms of the three dominant elements, the aspects of That”.

39.3. Thus, Uddalaka suggests that whenever we see an object, we usually see only those aspects which the eyes can see or the senses can grasp; and not its fundamental nature. The colours that we see in objects are really the threefold presence of the elements. No object in the world is independent of the three elements.

39.4. The contrast between the name assigned to a thing and its intrinsic property serves as an introduction to Uddalaka’s teaching on his classification of matter according to degrees of fineness of its essence: coarse, medium and fine.

Food – Body – Mind

40.1. Uddalaka maintains that man consists sixteen parts or fractions (shodasha kala); each equivalent to a day. And, if  a person  fasts for fifteen days , at the end of the fifteenth day he is exhausted ,  his psychic functions almost fade away ; and he is left with only  one part (prana). It is as if a great fire has burnt out; and is like the dying coal leaving behind just the firefly-sized embers.

[Breath arises from water, according to Uddalaka; and therefore remains despite the fast. On taking food again, the mind is nourished, and its faculties flare up once more like the spark that finds fuel.]

40.2. In order to demonstrate dependence of mind’s working on food or nutrition, Uddalaka proposed an experiment which his son carried  out (Ch. Up. 6. 7).  Accordingly, Svetaketu abstained from food for fifteen days, but taking only water. At the end of fifteenth day he was unable to recall and recite the hymns he had learnt earlier. On taking food again, his mind was revitalized and his memory returned. This exercise was meant to show the dependence of mind and its working on food and nutrition; and more particularly to demonstrate the unity of body and mind, with life as their common support. In another context, It strengthened the argument that the mind originates from food (anna); and, that mind and matter are indeed the two aspects of the same element.

Assimilation of food in body-parts

41.1. Uddalaka Aruni explains to his son that human beings too are composed of the elements of heat, water and food (solids); and, each of the elements have three different degrees of fineness: the gross, the medium and the subtle.  He then elucidates how the food intake contributes to the development of various organs of the body and influences their functions: ‘the foods we consume produce our flesh, blood, mind, life energy (prana), and the rest’.  According to him, the highest human functions are composed of the finest degrees of these elements: the organ of thought is composed of the finest degree of food, the life-breath of the finest degree of water; and the speech of the finest degree of heat.

41.2. All that we eat and drink is not absorbed by the body.   When the food (including solid, watery and hot substances) is churned and processed in the stomach, its ingredients are separated according to the degree of their fineness, in three ways : gross, medium and fine (Ch.Up.6.5.1).

annam aśitaṃ tredhā vidhīyate | tasya yaḥ sthaviṣṭho dhātus tat purīṣaṃ bhavati |
yo madhyamas tan māṃsam | yo ‘ṇiṣṭhas tan manaḥ || ChUp_6,5.1 ||

As regards the gross: some part of the solids and liquids (food, water and fire principles) are thrown out as ‘ excrement ‘ and   so too is  ‘ the noisome thing and so set in the bilge for riddance’ ;  while some parts of the gross fiery food (ghee, oils etc) are absorbed into bones.

In regard to that which is medium:    the medium of food (solids) is absorbed into the flesh ‘the tender wrap that clothes the bones’; the medium of water into the blood ‘ the tide of warming crimson that surges the heart within’; and the medium of the fiery substance goes into the bone marrow.

But, the most subtle and vibratory part which is the essence of all that we consume rises up (just as butter emerges when milk is churned); and goes into the mind and its functions. “ So my dear , the passage from coarse to fine , from dense to subtle , just as with the coagulated milk when churned all its essence rises up above the thickened curd , a crown of shining smooth butter fit to pour upon leaping  yajna flames reaching  up to the gods” (Ch.Up.6.6.1-2).

The subtlest portion of the solids goes to the mind; the subtlest portion of the watery substances becomes prana (life force) and virility; and the subtlest portion of the hot substances to the speech (Ch.Up.6.6.2-4).

tejasaḥ somyāśyamānasya yo ‘ṇimā sa ūrdhvaḥ samudīṣati | sā vāg bhavati || ChUp_6,6.4 ||

41.3. The thinking faculty of a person is thus influenced by the most subtle essence of what he consumes, comprising the three elements: The mind is made of the finest degree of food (anna) element; the life-breath (prana) and virility are influenced by the finest degree of water elements (apah); and speech (vac) by the finest degree of fiery elements (teja).

42.1. Thus, the three subtle elements (tanmatra) —fire, water and earth—enter into, sustain and become a part of our system. Our senses, our prana, our mind and our speech, are all influenced by the foods and drinks we consume: “The mind is the essence of food; prana of water; and speech of heat. You are made up of these elements”. (Ch.Up.6.5.4)

annamayaṃ hi somya manaḥ |āpomayaḥ prāṇaḥ |tejomayī vāg iti |bhūya eva mā bhagavān vijñāpayatv iti | tathā somyeti hovāca || ChUp_6,5.4 ||

42.2. Uddalaka explains, what we call hunger (ashana) is nothing but the dissolution of the physical food by the element of water and the absorption of it into the system. What you call thirst (pipasa) is similarly the absorption of the water element in the system by the fire principle within us. In short, at each stage, the effect is consumed by the cause and is absorbed into its own self (e.g. food into water; and water into heat) . This process continues until all effects are absorbed into the final cause of all things, where they abide absolutely and completely.

Asana-pipase me, saumya, vijanihiti yatraitat puruso asishati nama, apa eva tad asitam nayante: tad yatha gonayo svanayah purushanaya iti, evam tad apa acakshate asanayeti, tatraitacchungam utpatitam, saumya, vija nihi, nedam amulam bhavishyatiti.

The withdrawal

43.1. Uddalaka asserts; everything comes from That; and, eventually everything is absorbed back into That (Sat). At the time of dissolution, everything reverses in time; the three elements collapse back into the original being. That does not mean the universe that once was, is reduced to nothingness; for, ‘something does not become nothing, just as nothing does not become something’.  Uddalaka charts an inward course back to the very sources from which all existence originated. Speech recedes into breath, breath into mind, mind into prana; and prana back to Sat.

43.2. In the case of the individual too this process occurs, no matter whether one is aware of it or not. The process of going back to the source is natural and does not depend on the striving of the individual. But, one who is fully conscious and understands the Reality at each stage of the process gains freedom. It is that such knowing or not-knowing which perhaps makes the difference between knowledge and ignorance

[These ancient texts hold a view, among others, that our universe goes through eternal cycles of expansion followed by withdrawal or collapsing on itself. The process of expansion from the very core of the Universe is analogues to what has come to be called the Big-bang. However, it is preferable not to imagine the initial expansion as a thunderous explosion. It is rather understood as a sudden and a vast expansion on a truly enormous scale; but rather quietly. The theories of creation that are put forth are not merely about the initial outburst, but are more about what happened thereafter.

Here, the expansion or evolution takes place in stages, proceeding from the most subtle to the most gross; and the effect in each stage resides in its cause. And, therefore, it is said,’ it is not possible to get something out of nothing’. Eventually, all matter in existence retrace their steps, each effect collapsing into its cause, and finally into the original cause. That is, until the next cycle of expansion occurs.

The expanding universe is not conceived as a flat surface; but is visualized as curvilinear, bending on itself (Brahmanda – the Great Orb). It is therefore endless (anantha) or infinite. Everything in the universe is curvaceous, one stage leading into another. The sun’s rays too travel in a curved way as snakes do (bhujangana- mita).  Even man’s life too is not a flat journey starting at a point and ending at a point-of-no-return; it is a cycle. The course of human life is spherical; just as the capacious globe on which he lives.]

Death of a person

44.1. Coming back to the individual, Death of a person too is a process of withdrawal of prana; which, in effect, is retracing the steps over which the universe came into existence. It is the eventual way back into the ultimate source (Ch.Up.6.15). Thus at the time of death, man reverses, in inward steps, to that being from which he originated.  The speech merges into mind, the mind into prana, the prana into heat; and heat, the last to depart, into the Pure Being. In other words, each death is a re-enactment of the eventual withdrawal of universe into its original source. The process of withdrawal and expansion are, as explained, cyclical.

44.2. Uddalaka explains; when a person is fatally ill and facing death, his family gathers around and asks ‘do you know me? Do you recognize the one sitting next?’So long as his senses are awake he is aware of his surroundings and tries answering questions. But, when the senses are withdrawn into mind, the faculty of speech too subsides into the mind (Vang-manasi sampadyate). He might be aware; and might be able to think and to see, but he would not be able to speak. Next, is the absorption of mind into Prana (manah prane), wherein the breathing process continues, life exists, but there is neither thinking nor sensation. Then, the breath (Prana) is withdrawn into fire principle (heat in the system)-(pranah tejasi).  When Life (prana) is withdrawn there is neither consciousness nor bodily life.  The body thereafter becomes chill. That is to say, the fire element or heat too departs. But, heat is the last to leave the body. It is withdrawn into the Supreme Being – tejah parasyam devatayam – (Ch.Up.6.15.1).

Purusam, saumya, utopatapinam jnatayah paryupasate, janasi mam, janasi mam iti; tasya yavan na van manasi sampadyate, manah prane,
pranah tejasi, tejah parasyam devatayam tavajjanati

Atha yada’sya vanmanasi sampadyate, manah prane, pranastejasi, tejah parasyam devatayam, atha na janati.

Sa ya eso’nima aitad atmyam idam sarvam, tat satyam, sa atma tat-tvam-asi, svetaketo, iti; bhuya eva ma bhagavan vijnapayatv iti; tatha, saumya, iti hovaca

lotus design

Teaching methods

45.1. Uddalaka’s teaching method is skilful. Throughout his instructions, Uddalaka points to observable phenomena in life and in the surrounding nature. He sets up experiments, one after another, with a view to leading Svetaketu to proper understanding of the subject. He involves Svetaketu in a pattern of activity designed to raise questions in the young man’s mind.

For instance, he does not merely talk about the banyan seed; he gets Svetaketu to look at the fruit, to open it up, to extract the seed and then to break it open.  Svetaketu after breaking  open the seed reports ‘it is broken Sir’ (binna Bhagavah iti).At that point, when his son’s attention is on the broken seed  Uddalaka asks the boy ‘what do you see in it (Kim atra pashyati iti). Svetaketu replies ‘nothing Sir’ (kinchana Bhagavah iti).

Uddalaka explains to his son that finest part in the seed , the subtle essence within the seed which one does not see (yam na nibhalayase) is indeed the true essence (animnah). In it is hidden the big banyan tree (esah mahanya-nagrodhah). Have faith, dear one (sraddhatsva somya iti).

Uddalaka then names and identifies that subtle essence, presenting it as that from which the whole banyan tree grows. He then identifies that subtle unseen essence with Atman, with the Real, and, as that which Svetaketu himself truly is.

“Just as that subtlest unseen essence pervades the tree, Similarly, Sat, subtle and invisible, pervades all existence. That subtle essence Sat is the truth, the Atman (Ch.Up.6.12.3). Everything comes from That and everything merges back into That. It is in all beings. You like the tree and the world, is made of that essence. The evidence of that can be grasped by reasoning and faith. Svetaketu, you are That (tat tvam asi).

sa ya eṣo ‘ṇimaitad ātmyam idaṃ sarvam | tat satyam | sa ātmā | tat tvam asi śvetaketo iti |

That ‘nothingness’ need not be understood as void; that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent

The essence of the tree is in that seeming nothingness. The manifest emerges from the un-manifest. The cause, that nothingness, however subtle, is never non-existent. For, nothing can come out of nothing, and nothing can altogether vanish out of existence. Na-asti satah sambhavah; na sata atmahanam.

[Bhagavad-Gita follows this principle saying ‘there is no existence from what does not exist; there is no non-existence from what exists’ (BG; 2.16): Na-sata vidyate bhavo; na-bhavo vidyate Satah]

Uddalaka succeeds in imparting the teaching not through argument but by the force of the experience of Svetaketu as he peers at the ‘nothingness’ at the core of the split banyan seed , and understands it as an image of the nothing, which is the true-Self-of-all.

Similarly, In order to show Atman pervades everything but cannot be seen, he asks Svetaketu to add a chunk of salt into a jug of water. A day later, Svetaketu cannot locate the chunk of salt in the jug of water. However, he learns that even though he cannot see the salt he can taste it in every part of water in the jug. Through this experiment Svetaketu understands that like salt in water, Atman permeates his entire body though it is not directly observable by the senses.

In other examples, Uddalaka instructs his son about Atman by means of comparison with natural processes such as bees making honey, rivers running into ocean; and, sap flowing out of a tree.

45.2. Similarly, Uddalaka teaches his son Svetaketu the dependence of mental faculties on nutrition, by getting him to abstain from all food for fifteen days, save pure water. [Ch. Up. 6. 7]. At the end of fifteen days of fasting, Svetaketu is unable to recall any of the verses he had learnt earlier. Then Uddalaka compares Svetaketu’s temporary loss of memory to the sacrificial fire that has run out of fuel. Uddalaka then asks ‘eat, then you will remember’ (Ch. Up. 6.7.3). Uddalaka explains the connection between nourishment and mental faculties. Svetaketu understands the teaching well because he just had the experience of it.

Shodasa-kalah saumya purusah pancadaoahani masih kamam apah piba, apomayah prano na pibato vicchetsyata iti.

Sa ha pancadacahani na’sa atha hainam upasasada, kim bravimi bho iti, roah, saumya yajumsi samaniti; sa hovaca, na vai ma pratibhanti bho iti.

Tam hovaca, yatha saumya mahato’bhyahitasyaiko’ ngarah khadyota-mantrah parisishtah syat, tena tato’ pi na bahu dahet, evam saumya, te sodasanam kalanam eka kala’tisista syat tayaitarhi vedan nahubhavasi, asana atha me vijnasyasiti.

45.3. All these may be simple teaching methods; yet,  they do convey the lessons effectively well. Uddalaka is a good teacher. He comes down to the level of the student and provides illustrative examples, allegories, and images taken from life and nature that are easy to comprehend. The language used too is rich adorned with picturesque descriptions.

46.1. Thus, in the philosophical texts, Uddalaka Aruni was perhaps the first to apply a form of experimental verification . His method of investigation was based in observation of facts (drstanta) and drawing inference by way of induction. Which, in other words, was reasoning and generalization based on observation (than on speculation). The process of his inference moves from the particular to the general, from species to the genus or from appearances to reality.

It is said; a prominent landmark in the philosophy of his period was reached in the teachings of Uddalaka Aruni. According to Dr. Benimadhab Barua “ Indian philosophy took a systematic turn in the teachings of Uddalaka; for , it is here that we find different lines of thought branched off   to give rise in later times to the fundamental conceptions of Vedanta, Bauddha, Sankhya, Yoga , Nyaya and Vaisesika systems.”

[Uddalaka is credited with initiating a systematic way of investigating into nature. And, he is recognized as a rational thinker who attempted advancing logical proof for the reality of the Being. Yet, it would be incorrect to regard him as a rationalist through and through. Because, he also implicitly pre-supposed the Being as bringing forth primal elements and entering into them, in order to multiply. His approach could perhaps be called ‘rational mysticism’, if such a term exists.

His teachings would become more clear if they are read with passages on similar issues in other Upanishads, particularly the Katha, Mundaka and Svetasvatara Upanishads. ]

47.1. As regards the cognition, Uddalaka neither trusts nor distrusts the sense-perceptions. According to him, the senses provide information from which the knowing mind infers the nature as also the inter- relation of things among themselves. Uddalaka raises the question what can we perceive of objects from the senses? His answer to that is: nothing but sensations and impressions. According to him, power of human cognition is limited, as the knowledge gained through senses is subjective. The senses do not give us the knowledge of the absolute; one has to grasp that in reason and faith. Uddalaka urges Svetaketu: ‘śraddhatsva somyeti; have faith, my dear’ (Ch. Up. 6.12.2).

taṃ hovāca yaṃ vai somyaitam aṇimānaṃ na nibhālayasa etasya vai somyaiṣo ‘ṇimna evaṃ mahānyagrodhas tiṣṭhati | śraddhatsva somyeti || ChUp_6,12.2 ||

48.1. Uddalaka asks his son to exercise the mind which is endowed with fabulous capacity to observe, to reason and infer, in order to gain insight into the Reality. The sum of his assertion is that Self of the world, of him who knows, and of each being around us is one and the same; and it alone is real.

48.2. He advises that when both his intellect and his senses do not help in leading him on the right path, he should then seek guidance from a proper teacher (acharya) who knows. An ardent seeker who finds an illumined teacher attains freedom. And, in the end it is truth that protects.

lotus-flower-and-bud

 

Sources and References

Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

http://www.archive.org/details/atmaninpreupanis032070mbp

http://www.rationalvedanta.net/node/126

What the Upanishads teach

http://www.suhotraswami.net/library/What_the_Upanisads_Teach.pdf

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada

http://www.suhotraswami.net/library/What_the_Upanisads_Teach.pdf

Vedanta Philosophy in the Light of Modern Science by S.K. Dey

http://satenupriedas.110mb.com/Vedanta.pdf

Svetaketu

http://atmajyoti.org/up_chandogya_upanishad_9.asp

The Secret Lore of India and the One Perfect Life for All, By W. M. Teape, B.D. (Cambridge: 1932

PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET

 
9 Comments

Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads

 

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Who was Uddalaka Aruni – Part Two

Continued from Part One

Uddalaka Aruni – Life and his search

Philosopher- creation of Shri S Rajam

(Philosopher- creation of Shri S Rajam)

15.1. As mentioned earlier, Uddalaka Aruni was a classic student, teacher and a philosopher of the Upanishad times. He is recognized among all the Upanishad sages and teachers as the true representative of the Upanishad age and its spirit of rational enquiry. He   is reckoned    among great of thinkers and real philosophers. Uddalaka Aruni was systematic and cogent in his approach; and, he put forward rational explanations on the nature of Man and the nature of Universe without employing the terms Brahman or God. He retained till the end, an open mind and a keen desire to learn. He remained a student all his life; yet, he was the best of the teachers.

15.2. In the philosophical texts, Uddalaka Aruni was perhaps the first to apply a form of experimental verification . His method of investigation was based in observation of facts (drstanta) and drawing inference by way of induction. Which, in other words, was reasoning and generalization based on observation. The process of his inference moves from the particular to the general, from species to the genus or from appearances to reality.

Outlook

16.1. According to Uddalaka, there is nothing that is unmixed in the material world. All matter is derived from three primordial elements (dhatus: fire, water and earth) combined in various proportions. Again, each of these elements has in it some traces of the other two.  And, every material substance is composed of infinite number of extremely small particles (anu), so tightly packed they appear as a continuous whole leaving no scope for void. Each of these particles, according to him, is qualitatively different from the other; and is infinitely divisible. Each minute particle (anu) is in a churning motion within itself, by virtue of which it spontaneously unfolds or evolves; each according to its quality or nature.

The particles ceaselessly separate and recombine into newer forms.

16. 2. But, all matter composed of infinite number of   minute particles is animated by one and the same pure and invisible energy (Sat). It pervades all parts of  all living bodies as their living principle (jiva).Therefore, each living body or an organism is an animated whole, all parts of which being   pervaded by one and the same living principle. That invisible power, the potent energy or vitality is present in the core of all beings, as in the womb of a tiny seed from which a huge banyan tree springs forth into existence. When that life-force leaves any part of the tree; say, a branch of the tree, then that branch withers away and ceases to an integral part of the living whole. And, when that life-force leaves the whole tree, then the tree withers and dies. But the living principle (jiva or atman) never dies.

16.3. Uddalaka conceives Sat, the origin of all things and all beings, not as an abstract concept but as real being; alive and capable of forming a wish. It appears to be a physical conception of the power of existence. It is absolute, pure and unmixed, indivisible, universal and un-manifested. When Sat entered into the three dominant elements in order to enliven them, it was not divided in the process; it remained the Absolute. There is nothing that does not come from Sat. Eventually, at the end; everything is absorbed back into That from which everything emerged. The process of going back is natural and automatic. It does not need a supernatural agency or the striving of the individual; and, it occurs in every case no matter whether one is aware of it or not.

[ He also rejected the ritualistic view that a certain thing is produced because a certain ritual is performed in a certain manner.]

16.4. Jiva or Atman is the living principle in individual beings, plants and matter; and it is identical in almost every respect with the universal spirit (Sat). It animates, in varying degrees, all kinds of matter. The various distinct  objects, their varied natures as also their names and forms (nama-rupa) that one comes across in this world of conditional existence are conceptions of the mind and verbal identifications to enable one to distinguish one object from the other. But the proof of the existence of One subtle –force (Sat) which gives birth to and sustains all life is beyond the realm of subjective sense-cognition. It is possible understand That only through reasoning, grasped in faith.

[Here , Sat and the elements (dhatus) are, roughly, analogues to Purusha and Prakrti of the Samkhya. But, in Uddalaka’s hypothesis they work together and are entwined, unlike in Samkhya where they are ever separate.]

16.5. Following his observations and reasoning, Uddalaka tried to demonstrate the essential oneness of man and nature; that everything in the universe is made from the primeval matter, which in turn is enlivened by one and the same life-force. According to him, in the ultimate analysis, man is nothing but an evolution of  That essence. His view was crisply captured in the epithet “That thou art, Svetaketu (Tat tvam asi)”.

16.6. Uddalaka did not involve a supernatural agency in the making of man or his world. He did not refer to God or any other Supernatural Being. According to him, the process of evolution, sustenance and eventual withdrawal into the source follows, at each stage, its own natural laws. Death according to him is a natural phenomenon where the body disintegrates into matter, water and heat. And, its living-principle (jiva) eventually resolves back into ‘Sat’ the primal source.

Early years

17.1. Uddalaka’s power of exposition shines forth in part six of the Chandogya Upanishad. He also figures in Kausitaki Upanishad (Kau.Up.1.1-2) and in Satapatha Brahmana (11. 4.1-9) where he is portrayed as a person of considerable wisdom and humility that is ever willing to learn from whosoever possessed knowledge he wished to acquire. Mahabharata briefly refers to an incident from his early student days, picturing him as an earnest pupil of Rishi Ayodah-Dhaumya (Mbh.1.3.638). This incident brings out Uddalaka’s dedication to work and absolute faith in his teacher’s commands.

17.2. Uddalaka son of Aruna Aupavesi of Gautama gotra, resident of Kuru-Panchala Desha, came from a long line of sage-scholars. His country, Panchala Desha, is identified as a region in Madhya Desha; the region south of the Himalayan foothills and the North of the Ganga in the present-day Uttar Pradesh. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (6.5.2-3) in its linage of teachers (vamsha-brahmana) lists fourteen generations of revered teachers and scholars of great merit. According to that rendering, Uddalaka Aruni was the son of Aruna Aupavesi Gautama who was the son or disciple of Upavesa. It is said; Upavesa followed Kushri the student of   Vajasravas. Uddalaka’s immediate ancestors were scholars of great merit. His father Aruna is an important name even in Satapatha Brahmana, while Upavesha is mentioned in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad as a great Rishi.

yājñavalkya uddālakāt |uddālako ‘ruṇāt | aruṇa upaveśeḥ | upaveśiḥ kuśreḥ | kuśrir vājaśravasaḥ | vājaśravā jīhvāvato bādhyogāt | jīhvāvān bādhyogo ‘sitād vārṣagaṇāt | asito vārṣagaṇo haritāt kaśyapāt | haritaḥ kaśyapaḥ śilpāt kaśyapāt | śilpaḥ kaśyapaḥ kaśyapān naidhruveḥ | kaśyapo naidhruvir vācaḥ | vāg ambhiṇyāḥ | ambhiṇy ādityāt | ādityānīmāni śuklāni yajūṃṣi vājasaneyena yājñavalkyenākhyayante || BrhUp_6,5.3 ||

17.3. Aruni of Panchala, son of Aruna Aupavesi Gautama, had his early education under the famous teacher (upadhyaya) Ayoda-Dhaumya. Two of his class-mates mentioned are: Upamanyu and Veda (Mbh.1.3. Paushya Parva). Mahabharata narrates an interesting event which epitomizes Aruni’s sense of dedication and sincerity to work assigned to him. According to the story, on one rainy night the teacher Ayoda-Dhaumya asked Aruni to supervise water flowing through a certain field. When Aruni went there, he found the dyke had breached and the water was seeping out. Aruni tried to plug the breach and to stop the leak, but was not successful. Aruni then lay down on the breach; stopping the water flow with his body. He lay there the entire night. The next morning, the teacher Dhaumya along with other students came in search of Aruni; and found the boy stretched out along the dyke trying to stop the outflow of water. Dhaumya was deeply impressed with the dedication and sincerity of Aruni. On seeing his teacher, Aruni stood up. And, as he did so, the water began to flow out.

The teacher highly pleased with the pupil Aruni called him Uddalaka: ‘Because in getting up from the dyke you opened the water-course, henceforth you will be called Uddalaka as a mark of my favour. And because you obeyed my bidding so sincerely, you shall prosper and all the Vedas and other scriptures shall shine in you (Shloka 30-35).’ Later, Aruni gained great fame as Uddalaka Aruni.

yasmād bhavān kedārakhaṇḍam avadāryotthitas tasmād bhavān uddālaka eva nāmnā bhaviṣyatīti /sa upādhyāyenānugṛhītaḥ / yasmāt tvayā madvaco ‘nuṣṭhitaṃ tasmāc chreyo ‘vāpsyasīti / sarve ca te vedāḥ pratibhāsyanti sarvāṇi ca dharmaśāstrāṇīti / sa evam ukta upādhyāyeneṣṭaṃ deśaṃ jagāma //MB.01,003.030-31//

[This simple story was somehow turned into a symbolic myth where the rice-field represents human body; the leaking and uncontrolled water running away aimlessly as the mind; and Uddalaka who prevents wastage and brings water under control as the uttama-purusha who channelizes his intellect purposefully.]

Learning

18.1. Apart from his initial ‘schooling’ at the Ashram of Dhaumya, Uddalaka Aruni studied under various other teachers reputed for their special knowledge on subjects that interested him. It appears, during those days, a student could, if he so desired, learn from another teacher while still being a student of one teacher. This he did with the permission of his teacher, usually at the end a term (samvatsara-vasin – Shata.Br. 14.1.1.26.27) –

samvatsara-vāsine’nubrūyāt eṣa vai samvatsaro ya eṣa tapatyeṣa u / pravargyastadetamevai-tat-prīṇāti tasmāt-samvatsara-vāsine’- nubrūyāt

Uddalaka travelled long distances across the breadth of Aryavarta from Gandhara – Madra region in the west to Videha in the east (Bh.Up.3.7.1; Ch.Up.5.3.6; 10.4).

athainam uddālaka āruṇiḥ papraccha — yājñavalkyeti hovāca | madreṣv avasāma patañcalasya kāpyasya gṛheṣu yajñam adhīyānāḥ | tasyāsīd bhāryā gandharvagṛhītā | BrhUp 3,7.1 |

It must have taken considerable courage and determination to trudge such long distances on foot when roads were almost non-existent and the modes of travel were poor, slow and painful.

18.2. A devoted student who travelled across the country in search of suitable teachers and knowledge was termed a naistika-brahmacharin or chaaraka. Sri Shankara explained the term chaaraka as referring to one who was constantly on move, as he had taken a vow to learn wherever the knowledge was available (adhyayanartha vrata – charana –chaarakah). The Taittereya Upanishad also refers to eager students wandering from place to place in search of knowledge “They hasten from all sides to famous teachers, like water down the hill” – yathā apaḥ pravatāyanti yathā māsā aharjaram (Tait. Up. 1.4.3). Uddalaka was a Charana or a Chaaraka in its true spirit.

19.1. Uddalaka basically hailed from Kuru- Panchala region (Sat.Brh.11. 4, 1, 2) – (roughly the present districts of Bareilly, Badaun and Farrukhabad), but sought his education under many teachers, in different parts of the country. For instance ; Uddalaka learnt about the principles and practice of Yajna from Panchala Kapya by travelling to Madra country (Sialkot area) – (Bh.Up.3.7.1).He learnt about  transmigration of souls  and about the path  taken by the soul after departing from body from King Citra Gargyayana (his name is mentioned also as Citra Gargyayani or Gangyayani ) – (Kau.Up.1.1-2). Citra Gargyayana discoursed, in particular, on the question ‘who am I?’ and said “I am a season (ritu), born of the seasons, brought forth from the womb of endless space, and generated from the light, the luminous Brahman; I am tyam . I am that which you are. You are That ”. He described Brahman as the luminous primal energy. I am from – Brahman (Kau.Up.1.1.6).

ritur asmy artavo’asmy akasad yoneh sambhuto bharyayai retah samvatsarasya tejo bhutasya bhutasyatma bhutasya tvam atmasi yas tvam asi soham asmi tam aha ko’aham asmiti satyam iti bruyat kim tad yat satyam iti yad anyad devebhyas ca pranebhyas ca tat sad atha yad devas ca pranas ca tad tyam tad etaya vacabhivyahriyate satyam ity etavad idam sarvam idam sarvam asity evainam tad aha tad etac chlokenapyuktam.

19.2. Uddalaka Aruni is said to have studied for some time in the Gandhara* which formed a part of Uttarapatha, the northern region. In his later years, he mentioned Gandhara as a seat of learning; and compared a man who attains liberation to “a blind-folded person who reaches at last the country of Gandhara” (Ch.Up.4.14). The Satapatha Brahmana mentions; Uddalaka Aruni used to move about (dhavayam chakara) among the people of Uttarapatha, the northern country (Sat. Br. 11. 4. 1. 1).

(* It is explained that the Sindhu region represented the country of the lower Indus; while Gandhara included the sections of the middle Indus with its tributary the Kubha , the modern Kabul ; thus Gandhara , the North-west  frontier region was the most ancient center of the Vedic tradition)

uddālako hāruṇiḥ udīcyānvṛto dhāvayāṃ cakāra tasya niṣka upāhita āsaitaddha sma vai tatpūrveṣāṃ  vṛtānāṃ dhāvayatāmekadhanamupāhitam bhavatyupavalhāya  bibhyatāṃ  tānhodīcyānām brāhmaṇānbhīrviveda 

The Buddhist text Uddalaka-Jataka (No.487) too mentions that Uddalaka journeyed to Takshashila (Taxsila to the north-west of Rawalpindi) and learnt there from a renowned teacher.

19.3. It is said; while moving about in the northern country, Uddalaka was impressed with the learning of the sage Saunaka (three Saunakas are mentioned with their ‘last’ names as:  Kapeya, Svaidayana or Atidhanvan?), and immediately desired to become his pupil in order to study the ritual traditions, practices and interpretations (Ch.Up.1.9.3; 4.3.5-7). But, interestingly, in his own teachings in Chandogya Upanishad (ch.4) Uddalaka rejects those traditions and interpretations, and opts for more careful observations of nature carried further by experiments and reasoning. And, he attempts to find what causes the things to appear as they do, and to offer generalizations of a rational character.

19.4. Earlier, Uddalaka had learnt the Madhu-vidya (honey doctrine) from his father Aruna Aupavesi Gautama at Kuru-Panchala (Ch.3.11.4). Uddalaka is also said to have had contacts with Bhadrasena Ajatasatru Kasya, the king of Kasi and Janaka Videha, the king of Videha.

Later years

20.1. Uddalaka was a life-long student, never too old to learn. Even in his later years he learnt from Prince Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala the theory of karma and transmigration of souls, and about the path taken by the departed souls – devayana and pitriyana (Ch.Up.5.3.10; Brh.Up.6.2). Similarly, he learnt the doctrine of Vaisvanara –vidya from King Asvapathi kaikeya in the far off north-west region (Ch.Up.7.11).

20.2. How these came about is rather interesting. As regards the former, when his son Svetaketu unable to answer the questions posed by Pravahana Jaivali (such as: Do you know to what place men go after departing from here?; “Do you know how they return again?”; and “Do you know where the paths leading to the gods and leading to the Manes separate?” etc) returned home crest fallen and asked his father to teach him the right answers, Uddalaka admitted he too did not know the answer to many of those questions. And, he then said to his son ‘let’s both go to Jaivali and learn from him ’.

Similarly, on another occasion, five householders approached Uddalaka to teach them about Vaisvanara Atma. Uddalaka did not however know the subject very well; and said to himself, ‘these householders have come to question me of which I am not able to tell them completely; let me redirect them’. Uddalaka then suggested to them: “Revered Sirs, King Asvapati the son of Kekaya knows, at present, about the Vaisvanara Atma. Let us all go to him.” He then led those five to Asvapati, promptly (travelling all the way from central UP to north-west Punjab).

20.3. In the tradition of wandering scholars who went around the country engaging in disputes and discussions,   Uddalaka too participated in debates held in the far off Gandhara and other northern regions (Sat.Brh.11.4.1) as also in court of King Janaka of Videha in the east (along the Indo – Nepal border region)- (Ch.Up.4.14).

uddālako hāruṇiḥ udīcyānvṛto dhāvayāṃ cakāra tasya niṣka upāhita āsaitaddha sma
vai tatpūrveṣāṃ vṛtānāṃ dhāvayatāmekadhanamupāhitam bhavatyupavalhāya
bibhyatāṃ tānhodīcyānām brāhmaṇānbhīrviveda-11.4.1.[1

Teacher

21. 1. It is said; the great Yajnavalkya (Brh.Up.6.3.15) as also sage Kausitaki (Sat Brh.11.4.12) to whose family the portions of the Kausitaki Brahmana are attributed, Proti Kausurubindi of Kausambi (Sat Brh. 12.2.213), and Sumna-yu (Sahkhayana Aranyaka -15.1) were at onetime the students of Uddalaka Aruni.

atha vaṃśaḥ | oṃ namo brahmaṇe nama ācāryebhyaḥ | guṇākhyāc chāṅkhāyanād asmābhir adhītam | guṇākhyaś śāṅkhāyanaḥ kahoḷāt kauṣītakeḥ | kahoḷaḥ kauṣītakir uddālakād āruṇeḥ | uddālaka āruṇiḥ priyavratāt saumāpeḥ | priyavrataḥ saumāpiḥ somapāt | somapaḥ saumāt prātiveśyāt | saumaḥ prātiveśyaḥ prativeśyāt | prativeśyo bṛhaddivāt | bṛhaddivaḥ sumnayoḥ | sumnayur uddālakāt | uddālako viśvamanasaḥ | viśvamanā vyaśvāt | vyaśvaḥ sākamaśvāt | sākamaśvo devarātāt | devarāto viśvāmitrāt | viśvāmitra indrāt | indraḥ prajāpateḥ | prajāpatir brahmaṇaḥ | brahmā svayaṃbhūḥ | namo brahmaṇe namo brahmaṇe ||ŚĀ 15,1 

But his fame as a teacher and philosopher rests mainly on the discourses he imparted to his son Svetaketu (formally: Svetaketu Auddalaki Gautama). It contains the essential teaching of all the Upanishads.

21.2. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka is portrayed as a caring father who sent his son, at his age of twelve, to a residential school. And, on his return home, after twelve years of education, Uddalaka questions Svetaketu, now a bright looking well grown young man, to find whether he had learned anything of importance. Of course, he had not.  Uddalaka then proceeds to teach his son, with great diligence,   on what the school could not instruct: ‘knowing which everything becomes know’ – the real meaning of life.

21.3 Let’s talk of Uddalaka’s teachings in the next part.

 

Continued in Part Three

Sources and References

Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

http://www.archive.org/details/atmaninpreupanis032070mbp

http://www.rationalvedanta.net/node/126

What the Upanishads teach

http://www.suhotraswami.net/library/What_the_Upanisads_Teach.pdf

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada

http://www.suhotraswami.net/library/What_the_Upanisads_Teach.pdf

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads

 

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Who was Uddalaka Aruni? – Part One

This article is primarily about Uddalaka Aruni, a classic student, teacher and a philosopher of the Upanishad times. To me, he represents the true spirit of rational enquiry of the Upanishads. Before meeting him, let’s talk of a few other things of his times.

upanishad-1

The age of the Samhitas and the age of the Upanishads

1.1. The Vedic cannon are generally classified into the scheme of the Samhitas   followed by the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and ending with the Upanishads.  The Upanishads are therefore usually described as the fourth and the last phase of the Vedic texts- Veda_nta.

The Brahmanas are compendiums concerned mainly with the conduct of the Yajnas. They were composed over many centuries; and, their origin lies in distant antiquity.

Midway between the Brahmanas and the Upanishads are the transitional texts – Aranyakas.  Its texts are named after the ascetics (Arana) who retired to the seclusion of the forests (Aranya) to lead a life of contemplation. These Forest-treatises (Aranyakas) are more speculative in nature than the Brahmanas, They  attempt to explore the inner , spiritual significance of the Vedic rituals.

The Upanishads bring up the end (Anta) portions of the Vedic texts; and , are accordingly called Vedanta. They contain the teachings, discussions and debates of the ancient seers on the questions of identity of the Self (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman), as also on the means of liberation (Moksha) through knowledge.

Vedas

That scheme might be valid for classifying the texts according to the nature of the subjects they discuss. But, it would be rather incorrect to treat such classification as indicating the chronological sequence of the texts. Because,   the distinctions between each class are not always clear; there are several throwbacks and overlapping among the Brahmanas and the Upanishads; and, many of the early Upanishads are closely associated with or incorporated into the Brahmanas. For instance; The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which contains the discussions and teachings of the Sage Yajnavalkya form the final section of the Satapatha-brahmana.

The texts cannot, therefore, be arranged in a chronological order. They are classified more by their nature than by the sequential order of their composition

 [ Vedas are generally concerned with the primacy of ritual-action (Karman); whereas  the Upanishads that follow , as their latter portion (Vedanta), are primarily concerned with the philosophical speculations that are deep and intuitive.  While both the Vedas and Upanishads are classified under Sruti –revealed knowledge, which is authoritative – the Vedas are regarded as Karma-kanda  (ritual-action segment) ;and , the Upanishads (that is the Vedanta) are regarded as Jana-kanda (knowledge segment). The transition from the Vedas to Vedanta is not abrupt ; but, it is a smooth progression, integrating the two with many overlaps.]

These make it difficult to say that the Upanishad period always followed that of the Brahmanas. The chronology in Vedic texts, as in Indian History, is still a major problem.

1.2.  About ten of the Upanishads are considered very ancient. But, all these do not belong to the same period.  Among the Ten, it can be said , without much doubt, that apart from the five ancient Upanishads (Chandogya, Brihadaranyaka, Aitareya, Kausitaki and Taittareya) the rest belong to a much later period than the Brahmanas.

Of these five,  the Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka which quote from earlier sources, texts, discussions and events drawn from older stock, are  considered ancient and authoritative.

The other early Upanishads, such as the Taittiriya, Aitareya, Isa and kaushitiki are also closely connected with the older Vedic texts.

The Upanishads of the middle period, Kena , Katha, Svetasvatara  and Mundaka  Upanishads , share many common features;  and , anticipate the thoughts that figure in  the later schools of Indian philosophy.

The latest among  the principal Upanishads are said to be the Prasna and  Mandukya Upanishads .

Further, the Rig Veda Samhita and the earliest of these principal Upanishads are separated by several centuries. And quite clearly the two sets of texts differ very substantially in terms of their thought, their concerns and their language , as also in their style of depiction. The prose of the Upanishads is distinct from the archaic language of the Rig Veda hymns. The charming prose style of the Upanishads is highly elliptical, speaking through symbolic metaphors and allegories.

1.3. It also true, Upanishads are in harmony with the Vedic setting; and, they inherit the inspired poetry, lyrical voice and complex layers of symbolisms of the Vedas. Their philosophical discussions too reflect an unbroken tradition of the Samhitas, especially the Rig Veda. Many of the philosophical Hymns of the Rig Veda are incorporated into some of the Upanishads. It also needs to be said; that such philosophical hymns in the Veda are not many in number; and, their philosophic ideas are scattered or not systematized. The significance of the Upanishads is that they attempt to understand the philosophy of the Rig-Veda, to develop those germ ideas, and to carry them forward.

The one significant trait that the Upanishads inherited from the Rig-Veda was that  of daring to ask questions. Unlike other religious or philosophical texts, the Rig-Veda asks questions, in awe and wonder of the phenomena; and, the beauty of nature. It does not make any excuses for not providing answers to the questions it poses. In fact, it opens up the whole arena; and, invites everyone  to come forth and express their interpretation of the world, its relation to god and man.

[Shri MP Pandit, a disciple of Sri Aurobondo writes: the Upanishads frequently invoke the authority of the Vedic seers in confirmation of what they say e.g. tad-etad-rikbhyuktam, (this is said by the Rik) or tad-uktam rsina bhuktyam (that is said by the Rishi) etc. or quote a whole Rik in clinching their pronouncement. Many of the ideas expounded by the Upanishads can be found present in germ form in the Vedas.]

Whatever might be these literary classifications, the ancient philosophers of India looked upon the Upanishads as of an entirely different type from the rest of the Vedic literature. By all accounts; the Upanishads stand on their own authority.

1.4. We also, at times, speak of Upanishads as a consistent body of knowledge as if they were chapters of a well edited book. But, in fact, each Upanishad is complete in itself; and , is distinct from other Upanishads in content as also in spirit of enquiry. They are also separated in time and space.

1. 5. The cultures represented in two sets of texts – Samhitas and Upanishads – are far too diversified to be treated summarily as belonging to a single cultural unit. There are too many geographical, socio-economical, political, religious and philosophical variations to be ignored. Even the gods, the religious practices and the questions raised by the Samhitas differ from those of the Upanishads. It would therefore be quite in order to treat the Samhitas and the Upanishads as representing distinct eras of Vedic culture.

Let’s briefly look at some of the dissimilar features of the two eras.

A. the world of the Upanishads

Geography

2.1. The geography of the Rig Veda is generally the land of seven-waters (saptha sindhavaha) which perhaps stretched from eastern Punjab to the present day Afghan-Pakistan regions. But, the geographical horizon of the Upanishads was much wider, stretching from the Gandharas in the west to the Videhas in the east and to the Vidharbha country to the south.

2.2. Apart from the Kuru – Panchala country which formed the hub of Vedic and Upanishad culture, several other new centres had sprung up during the times of Upanishads, such as: Madra, Kaikeya, Kasi, Kosala and the Videha which in particular had gained fame as a centre for performing the Yajnas as also for sponsoring philosophical debates.

2.3. The expanded geographical area and the increased number of centres of learning led to greater numbers of scholars, teachers and students participating in more debates. And with that, the range and the varieties of the subjects and the ideas discussed were also widened. With the heightened level of discussions, the concepts and concerns tended to get less hazy and a bit more focused. Uncertainty and vagueness were gradually giving place to clearer understanding.

Kings

3.1. As compared to the Vedic era, the period of the Upanishads enjoyed a more peaceful and settled pastoral life. The process of urbanization had brought in leisure and relative comfort. The people as also the kings could afford to set apart their time for contemplation and reflections. The kings of the Upanishad-age spent more time in performing Yajnas and in hosting philosophical debates than in waging wars. A king’s court or his Parishad was the meeting ground for the iterant philosophers, teachers and students. The King presided over and guided the debates concerning the nature of life, of time and of the substratum of all existence. The Kings such as Asvapathi Kaikeya, Ajatasatru Kashya, Janaka Videha, and Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala were regarded highly for their learning. Many philosophers and learned Brahmins went to them seeking instructions and explanations on spiritual matters.

[ It appears from the Chandogya-Upanishad (8-14-1; 5-11, 24; 1-8, 9; 1-9-3, 7-1-3, and 5-11); Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad (2-1-20, 2-3 -6); and Kausitiki Brahmana (2-1, 2; 10, 4.) that during the early Upanishad-period the Kshatriyas were adepts in Adhyatma-Vidya. For instance; king Ajatashatru of Kasi , in an assembly of the Kuru-Panchalas , consoles the Brahmin lad Svetaketu, son of Uddalaka Aruni of the Gautama Gotra that he need not be sorry for his inability to explain certain principles of Adhyatma-Vidya , because that has , so far, been the preserve of the Kshatriyas – tasmād u sarveṣu lokeṣu kṣatrasyaiva praśāsanam abhūd iti (Chandogya-Upanishad: 5-3).]

4.1. The kings too seemed to have benefitted from the discussions held in their Parishads as also by their own study and contemplation. The kings such as Ajatashatru Kasya, Pravahana Jaivali, Citra Gangyayani and Asvapathi Kaikeya were remarkably learned; and, each had developed his own theories on the nature of the individual and of the Universe.

4.2. For instance, the king Ajatasatru of Kasi put forward a theory that consciousness as prajnatma pervades the body and makes the senses alert; but during sleep, it absorbs the functions of the organs, and withdraws into the space within the heart:  ““As the spider moves along the thread it produces, or as from a fire tiny sparks fly in all directions, even so from this Atman come forth all organs, all worlds, all gods, all beings. Its secret name (Upanishad) is “the Truth of truth- tasyopaniṣat satyasya satyam iti ” (Br. Up. 2.1.20 ;  kaush. Up. 4).

[sa yathorṇavābhis tantunoccared yathā agneḥ kṣudrā viṣphuliṅgā vyuccaranty evam evāsmād ātmanaḥ sarve prāṇāḥ sarve lokāḥ sarve devāḥ sarvāṇi bhūtāni vyuccaranti| tasyopaniṣat satyasya satyam iti | prāṇā vai satyaṃ teṣām eṣa satyam || BrhUp_2,1.20 ||

sa yathā loka ūrṇanābhiḥ / ūrṇanābhirlūtākīṭa eka eva prasiddhaḥ sansvātmāpravibhaktena tantunoccaredudgacchet / na cāsti tasyodgamane svato ‘tiriktaṃ kārakāntaram  || BrhUp_2,1.20 || ]

Such discussions  display their great interest in the nature and the states of consciousness in its various levels. They identify the state of dreams and the state of dreamless – sleep as being different layers of awareness. In the latter state, both body and mind are at rest; but the individual is not aware of that. In either case, there must be someone who is in know of things. Then, they ask: what is “known” in each and who is the knower? In such constantly changing stream of thought, they question: is there an observer who remains the same? Is there a thread of continuity? Another aspect of the discussion is the relative significance of each state. The trend of this argument is: All experience is real. When we wake up from a dream, we do not pass from unreality to reality; but, we pass from a lower level of reality to a higher one. It might, therefore, logically, be possible to move on from here to a higher level of reality, the one above this world of constantly changing sensory impressions.

4.3. Pratardana son of Divodasa the king of Kasi asserted that Prajnana, the right understanding, is the prime faculty which controls other faculties and senses (speech, breath, sight, limbs, mind etc). He spoke by employing the symbolisms of the Yajna; and explained self-control (samyama) as an inner sacrifice (antaram agnihotram). In that process, a person can withdraw from the senses as also the sensuous, exercise control over passions and emotions; and pour all that into Prana (vital breath) the nave of his being. Pratardana believed this  internal Yajna  (antar yajna) was a superior form of Yajna, as it did not aim at material or sensuous gains.  This was an idea that Pratardana carried forward from Kausitaki Upanishad; but, he enlarged it further. He argued; breathing is an essential activity of a living body; but, breathing is a symbol or an outward active manifestation of Life (prana). One can hold breath for some time, and still be alive; but one cannot be alive, even for an instant, without prana. ‘Death occurs when prana departs; and when it resumes life arises’.  The proof of one’s existence and living is, in fact, Prana which is the first principle. It is the first cause as also the final cause of all things (yo vai pranah sa prajna; ya va prajna sa pranah).  Pratardana also made an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5

Clearly, a man is unable to breathe while he is speaking. So, during that time his breath merges into his speech. A man is, likewise, unable to speak while he is breathing. So, during that time his speech merges into his breath. One offers these two endless and deathless offerings , into self, without interruption, whether one is awake or asleep.

4.4. And, King Aswapati Kaikeya had developed his own theory of vaishvanara-vidya, of Super-Soul which pervades all existence as Atma – vaisvanara (Ch. Up .5.11.18). Many Brahman scholars learnt this doctrine from Asvapati. Here, Vaisvanara is explained as ‘He who is the ruler of all human beings’ (visvesam naranam netara); and as’ He who is the soul of all’ (visvesam ayam narah). The Vaishvanara-vidya that king Aswapati taught is a highly mystical form of meditation in which one contemplates on the Universe as one’s body. It is a process that is centred on the identity of the individual with the Universal. According to its doctrine, there is nothing in the Cosmos which is outside   the body of individual. As Sri Swami Krishnananda explains  “When you see the vast world before you, you behold a part of your own body. When you look at the sun, you behold your own eye. When you look above into the heavens, you are seeing your own head. When you see all people moving about, you behold the various parts of your own personality. The vast wind is your breath. All your actions are cosmic movements. Anything that moves does so, on account of your movement. Your breath is the Cosmic Vital Force. Your consciousness is the cosmic consciousness. Your existence is Cosmic Existence. Your happiness is Cosmic Bliss”.

4.5. Another king, Pravahana Jaivali of Panchala (who was also well versed in Udgitha, recital of Sama) taught his theory concerning the path taken by the dead; and, how the departed soul fares on its way to rebirth, according to merits of its deeds (S.patha. Brh .6.6.3.12; Ait. Brh. 8.36.2; 40.4). This was a departure from the faith of the earlier Brahmanas which did not specifically speculate on life after death; but, generally believed that those who performed Yajnas were granted material gains in the present life and proximity to gods in the afterlife. Pravahana effectively negated the old beliefs; and, introduced his theories of karma-phala, rebirth etc. He said that only those who diligently practiced contemplation and meditation travel by the deva-yana and attain bliss; while the others travel the way of the manes (pitri – Yana) taking rebirth , according to ones’ merits. It underlines the importance of moral conduct in life.

yoga

4.6. Jaiminiya Brahmana (1.22-25) mentions that Uddalaka Aruni along with four other Brahmins (Yajnavalkya Vajasaneya , Barku Varsna, Priya Anasruteya, and Budila Asvatarsvi Vaiyaghrapadya) approached King Janaka of Videha with a request to teach them about Agnihotra.

4.7. These scholarly kings were respected for their learning. And, often the Brahmans, the scholars and other seekers of knowledge came to them seeking guidance and instructions on their specialized subjects.

 

***

As a caterpillar, having come to the end of one blade of grass, draws itself together and reaches out for the next, so the Self, having come to the end of one life and shed all ignorance, gathers in its faculties and reaches out from the old body to a new(Brihadaranyaka 4.4.3)

ad yathā tṛṇajalāyukā tṛṇasyāntaṃ gatvānyam ākramam ākramyātmānam upasaṃharati|evam evāyam ātmedaṃ śarīraṃ nihatyāvidyāṃ gamayitvānyam ākramam ākramyātmānam upasaṃharati || BrhUp_4,4.3 ||

***

Devas

5.1. Vedic literature is full of references to gods, invoked individually and also collectively. In the early Rig Veda, most of the gods correspond  to the phenomenon in nature; such as, the sky and earth (Dyava-Prithvi), the dawn (Ushas), the Sun at its various positions in the sky (Savitar, Surya, Pushan, Ravi and Vivasvan), the rain clouds (Parjanya), the fire (Agni) and so on. Some of the major gods – say, Indra, Varuna or Aswin – who acquired individual traits and distinct personalities evolved into other beings, over a period of time. Some other minor gods (Vishnu and Rudra) developed and enlarged into super-gods.

In the Brahmanas, most of the Rig Vedic gods were  continued to be worshiped; but, the Yajnas took precedence; and greater importance was accorded to Yajna than to gods.

5.2. As regards the Upanishads, they contain enough references to the religious life of people, their gods and their rituals. But by then; the concept of Devas, the gods, seemed to have changed significantly. While the Vedic hymns look outward in reverence and awe at the phenomena in nature, the Upanishads tend to look inward, attempting to interpret the powers of nature as varied expressions human consciousness. The gods of the Upanishads are therefore rather ethereal; and, lack the human-like personalities as in the Rig Veda.  It suggests; gods prefer indirect references or symbolisms (paroksha priyaya vahi devahBhru. Up 4.2.2).Their personal attributes, powers, their likes / dislikes are not talked about in the Upanishads. The Devas of the Upanishads are also not shown performing astonishing feats.

5.3. Just as in the Samhitas, in the Upanishads too, the gods did not evoke fear. They were approached with awe and reverence for gaining an understanding of the secrets of the Universe. The Rig Vedic gods that appear in the Upanishads play special roles. They become the sage-like counselors or repositories of higher knowledge. They act as great teachers imparting instructions on the nature of Man and his Universe. For instance; Yama the god of death, initiated the boy Nachiketas into mysteries of life after death, and about the knowledge of the Soul (Katha Up.); the ancient god Varuna taught sage Bhrigu about the oneness of all life (Taiitt. Up.); and, the king of gods Indra preached Pratardana ‘the only knowledge that is worth knowing’. And, in a similar manner, Agni, Pushan and Uma were all respected as wise teachers; and, were invoked for True knowledge.

5.4. A peculiar trait of the Rig Veda hymns was that whichever god was being praised he was depicted as the highest, because he was seen as a representation or an aspect of the Supreme Being. These notions were to become the seeds of mono theistic tendencies which gradually led to the concept of a God of gods.  Most of the Upanishad thinkers seemed to be involved in long, curved and roundabout processes of enquiry in arriving at the concept of a   Supreme Being who was not merely the chief of the gods like Indra, not merely a creator like Prajapathi ; but was verily the very essence and the guiding principle behind all existence. He was not the creator from outside; but was in the very Self. The attention shifted from the objective to the subjective. Eventually, after long centuries of speculation and introspection, Brahman emerged as the highest principle, the Supreme Being. The concept of Brahman is the original contribution of the Upanishads; the term Brahman in that sense did not appear in the hymns of Rig Veda.

Yajna

yajna

6.1. The Upanishads continued to believe in the efficacy of the Yajnas; in many passages you find the glorification of the Yajna. The two streams of ritual and knowledge progressed without coming into conflict. But, evidently there was a shift away from rituals; the emphasis shifted from routine performance to the understanding of its significance with knowledge and faith. The Upanishads sages came to be regarded highly   more for their learning and their authority in debates, discussions and teaching, than for their ritual-skills.

The idea of the Yajna underwent a sea change. Even the need to offer oblations was debated. Many asserted that there is a Reality which the Yajnas cannot reach. The questions such as ‘To which god shall we offer the oblation’ (kasmaey devaya havisha vidhema) were no longer asked. The Yajnas were no longer performed merely to attain a certain human-desire (ishti); nor was Yajna deemed the best of deeds. Yet, the Upanishad thinkers were not totally against either the concept of Yajna or performing Yajnas. A quiet transformation was gradually taking place.

6.2. Instead of the ritual-details, the Upanishads talk in symbolisms. And, Instead of describing the offering of oblations into fire, they speak of speech or breathe offered as oblations into ones inner self. For instance; the objects of smell, taste, sound, color and touch as also that which is to be thought and that which is to be understood were symbolized as the seven kinds of fuel (offerings). These seven offerings (the perceived information) were poured into seven fires (organs of perception). It was said, the act of restraining ones senses and the mind, and pouring (offering) the objects of those senses and the mind (as libations) into the fire of the Soul within the body, was itself a Yajna.

6.3. Every aspect of life, even sex, was viewed through the symbolism of Yajna (as per sage Kumara Harita: Brh.Up.6.4.4: which suggests that sex-desire, like everything else, is partly physical; it is a powerful personal energy. It needs neither to be suppressed nor repressed, but to reconnect to its power-source – (bahu vā idaṃ suptasya vā jāgrato vā retaḥ skandati || BrhUp_6,4.4 ||

There is another elaborate symbolism at 6.4.3 of Brhu.Up drawing a comparison between sex organ of woman with Yajna – altar) – atha ya idam avidvān adhopahāsaṃ caraty āsya striyaḥ sukṛtaṃ vṛñjate .

Similarly, the issues relating to outward worship, rituals, oblations etc all came to be discussed. Philosophical doctrines were projected to explain the symbolisms associated with the Yajna.

6.4. Many times, the gatherings at a Yajna served as a forum for debates or discussions on philosophical issues. The king as the Yajamana, the performing priests, the invited scholars and iterant seekers, all participated in the debates that followed.

The Upanishads record in details the proceedings at such discussions.

Debates and discussions

Jaimuni questions Markandeya, Garwhal c 1785, 17.8x24.7cm

7.1. The bulk of the Upanishad teachings have come down to us in the form of discussions or debates, which took place in verities of contexts. Apart from intimate sessions where an illumined teacher imparts instructions to an aspirant , there are instances of varied kind, say, as when : a wife is curious  to learn from her husband  the secrets of immortality; a teenage boy approaches Death itself to learn the truth of life and death; a king seeks instruction from an recluse sage who speaks from his experience ; Brahmans advanced in age and wisdom sit at the feet of a Kshatriya prince seeking instructions as also inspiration ; and , when sometimes , the sages are women who are approached by kings . There are other sorts of dialogues , say, when Jabala is taught by bulls and birds (Ch. Up 4.4.1-4) , Upakosala by the sacred fires (Ch.Up_4,14.1), and Baka  by a dog (Ch.Up 1.12.1-3).

7.2. Most of the participants are just names, as very little or nothing is known about them. Some of them come alive because of their thoughts or the schools they represent. The more human and tangible persons among them include Janaka Videha, Yajnavalkya Vajasaneya, Uddalaka Aruni with his son Svetaketu, Satyakama Jabala, Ushasthi Chakrayana, Gargi Vachaknavi and a few others.

7.3. Many times , the debates came up spontaneously , say, when an aggressive questioner stormed into a Yajna and pelted questions at all those present there; as when Ushasthi Chakrayana walked into a Yajna being performed for the King of Kuru and demanded answers to his most perplexing questions on the divinities associated with each phase of the Yajna.

7.4. Some other times, certain topics arose in informal discussions as in the case of Prahavana Jaivali, Silaka Salavatya and Caikitayana Dalbhya (Ch.Up.1.8-9; Br.Up.4.1); and also as when   the much traveled scholar Gargya Balaki offered to teach King Ajatashatru of Kasi the knowledge of Brahman, the latter negated all of Gargya’s theories; and, instead, put forward his own views glorifying Prana as the highest principle (Brh.Up.2.1.1; Kaush.Up.4.1). The scholarly Yajnavalkya often talked to King Janaka Videha on the nature of Brahman (Brhu. Up).

7.5. Many times, a king would go up to a sage and seek instructions. For instance, the king Janasruti Putrayana approached the famed recluse Raikva Sayugvan for true knowledge; and, the latter preached his doctrine of Samvarga-Vidya ‘absorbing’ (Chan. Up. 4.2.5).  It speaks of air (Vayu) in the Universe and the vital breath (prana) in the individual as two fundamental elements. It believes that everything in the Universe emerges from these two ;and , eventually dissolves back into them. Raikva said: “There are two ultimate elements which absorb everything; inwardly, it is prana into which all senses and mind merge; and outwardly it is Vayu the sutratman, the controller which absorbs all. Everything rises from it; and everything goes back into it“.  The two are said to be identical. His doctrine elaborately narrates how fire, the sun, the moon and water each successively subsides into the next; and finally into air. And, similarly, when a person sleeps, the speech, sight, hearing and mind – all these – are absorbed into his vital breath.

[This process perhaps could be understood as interiorization, as Mr. MN Nagler explains: reaching back to the center of one’s core.]

7.6. There are also instances where a group of earnest scholars went to a well informed person ; and, sought from him explanations on certain specific issues. For instance; a   group of six Brahmans traveled from Madhya-Desha in the Ganga –Yamuna doab to the far off Kaikeya country in the west, to learn about the concept of Atma-Vaisvanara as evolved by King Asvapathi (Ch.Up.5.3-10; Brh.Up.6.2; Katha Up.1.1).

Similarly, on another occasion, another set of six scholars Sukesa Bharadvaja, Saivya Satyakama, Sauryayani Gargya, Kausalya Asvalayana, Bhargava Vaidarbhi and Kabandhi Katyayana – went to sage Pippalada; and, stayed with him for over a year in order to learn his doctrine. He then answered their six questions concerning the nature of Reality and a range of other subjects – such as the origin of the world, its sustenance; and similar questions about the human being , how does Prana – life breath enter the body etc .

Pippalada names Prana and Rayi (equivalent to consciousness and matter) as the cause of all life on earth. Prana is the highest principle, that which fuels evolution and powers all forms of life. It gives rise to nama-rupa, to all conditioned reality. At the same time, Prana is understood here both as the vital breath – the life of the Man and also as the life of the Universe. Prana is the abiding element – the core faculty – that which gathers up all other faculties when they become dormant (Prashna Up.1.4.8). Just as senses and mind are withdrawn progressively into prana when a man sleeps, similarly all existence is eventually drawn into the ultimate source. In answer to the sixth question, Pippalada taught the seekers that Prana is the first and the foremost of the sixteen successive phases or sixteen parts  that comprise Man (shodasha kalaa  purusha)-: the sixteen parts are Prana (life) , desire, space, air, fire, water, earth, senses, mind, food, virility, discipline, mantra (scriptures), yajna (karma), world, and nama-rupa (conditioned existence). ‘The Purusha is the hub of the wheel of life; and the sixteen forms are only the spokes. Purusha is the paramount goal of life. Attain this goal and go beyond death ‘- (Prashna.Up.6.6)

arā iva rathanābhau kalā yasmin pratiṣṭhitāḥ / taṃ vedyaṃ puruṣaṃ veda yathā mā vo mṛtyuḥ parivyathā iti // PrUp_6.6 //

[This set of sixteen mentioned by Pippalada varies from the sixteen enumerated in Samkhya: manas (mind); five buddhindriyas (organs of sense); five karmendriyas (organs of action) and five maha-bhutas (gross elements)]

7.7. At other times, formal debates were held in stately halls; as in the court of King Janaka of Videha, where the winner was awarded a very substantial prize. In one of those debates, it was Yajnavalkya who impressed the King Janaka with his erudite scholarship and sharp intellect. And, Yajnavalkya, walked away with the prize of thousand cows even before the debate was formally concluded. When those assembled protested furiously, shouting “how presumptuous of you…!” Yajnavalkya, with a wry smile said “I salute to the wisest among you; but, I just want those cows”. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad dwells on these debates in as many as nine chapters covering almost the entire span of Upanishad learning.

7.8. There was also a practice of holding ‘Brahmodya’ – a competition of solving riddles or a sort of quiz contest  – in the intervals during an Asvamedha or the Dasaratra- Brahma-vadya (a ten-day long Satra) , in which the the eager , the needy as also the learned scholars participated enthusiastically. The winners were honored with the titles such as Kavi or Vipra (the learned sage) and such others. The most famous  of such Brahmodya was that which was held at the court of Janaka of Videha, as detailed in the Brhadlranyaka Upanishad

Such  bouts which  carried prize money, as expected, tended to be aggressive. But, an unsavory feature of such debates was the trading of challenges and threats. Quite often, one would threaten the opponent that his head would fall off or his limbs would be harmed or his bones would be carried away by robbers if he did not answer (rightly) – (Ch.Up.1.8.6-8; 1.10.9-11; 5.12-17; Brh. Up.3.9.26)

Dialogues between students and teachers

8.1. Nothing in the Upanishads is more vital than the relationship between a student and his guide. The Chandogya Upanishad has more dialogues between teachers and pupils than any other Upanishad, including the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The teacher talks, out his experience, about his ideas of the nature of the world, of truth etc or about particular array of phenomena visualized through mental images that stay etched in memory; and the student questions him further, in earnestness. The teacher finally encourages and urges the student to think, to contemplate and to find out for himself the answers to his questions. A student needs humility, persistence, and honesty of purpose to go further.

8.2. An Upanishad-teacher does not teach everything that his student needs to know. But, he ignites in the heart of the boy a spark that sets ablaze his desire to learn and to know the central principles which make sense of the world we live in. The guide inflames the sense of challenge, the urge to reach beyond the boy’s grasp and to know the unknown.The Brihadaranyaka calls upon:

‘You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your desire is, so is your will (sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur-bhavati); As your will is; So is your deed (yat-kratur-bhavati tat-karma kurute) ; As your deed is, so is your destiny (yat-karma kurute tad-abhi-sapadyate”- (Brhu. Up. 4.4.5).  

sa yathākāmo bhavati tatkratur bhavati | yatkratur bhavati tat karma kurute |
yat karma kurute tad abhisaṃpadyate || BrhUp_4,4.5 ||

As the Katha Upanishad says, ‘only a few hear the truth; of those who hear, only a few understand; and of those only a handful attain the goal’. In the end, all achievement is fuelled by burning desire.

śravaṇā̍yāpi ba̱hubhi̍r yo na labhyaḥ śṛ̱ṇvanto̍’pi ba̱havo̍ yaṁ na vidyuḥ | āśca̍ryo vaktā ku̱śalo’sya labdhā āśca̍ryo jñātā ku̱śalā̍nu-śiṣṭaḥ || 7 ||

9.1. As mentioned, the core of the Upanishad teachings is recorded in the discussions or dialogues between a learned teacher and his ardent student , who approached respectfully. Those were not formal bouts; but, were intimate sessions where the teacher guided, in confidence, the student seated close to him (Upa-ni-shad). The Upanishads abound in such student – teacher dialogues.

Let me just mention a couple of the more famous ones that took place between:

:-  Varuna and Bhrigu

[Varuna teaches Bhrigu said to be his son about Brahman as being food / matter (anna), life (prana), mind (mana), intelligence (vijnana) and bliss (ananda)- (Taitt.Up.3.1-6)].

: – Sanath kumara and Narada

[Sanath kumara teaches Narada about the various theories about Brahman that were prevalent at the time; and then leads Narada to the Understanding of Brahman, through progressive  stages  of name, speech, mind , will etc leading up to infinite and Self – adhīhi bhagava iti hopasasāda sanatkumāraṃ nāradaḥ (Ch.up.7.1-26)].

:- Ghora Angirasa and Devaki-putra Krishna

[Ghora Angirasa teaches that all of a person’s life is indeed a Yajna; his every act constitutes a ritual and death is the final offering; and, at the time of death one should believe he is indestructible and is the very essence of life – antavelāyām etat trayaṃ pratipadyetākṣitam asy acyutam asi prāṇasaṃśitam asīti(Ch.Up. 3.17.6)]

: – Yama and Nachiketas

[Yama teaches the truth about life and death]. The Katha Upanishad is held up as a lesson in asking the right question to the right person. The boy Nachiketas puts a simple-worded question to none-other -than Death: “When a person dies there arises this doubt: ‘He still exists’ some say; ‘No, he does not’ say some others. I want you to teach me the truth” – (katha Up. 1.1.20). The dialogue also covers the steep choices one has to make in life between what is implicitly good (shreya) and what is merely pleasant (preya). The message of the Katha Upanishad, which echoes throughout the Upanishads, is to dare like a teenager: to reach for the highest you can conceive with everything you have, and never be distracted.

: – And, another is the series of discussions between Uddalaka Aruni and his son/disciple Svetaketu. It covers almost the entire range of Upanishad learning (we shall talk more about this dialogue in the next part).

9.2. The discussion between Maitreyi and her husband Yajnavalkya could also be treated as of similar class. When Maitreyi desired to share her husband’s wisdom, Yajnavalkya imparts her instructions about the true nature of the soul, the world and the Brahman (Brh.Up.2,4.1; 4.5).He presents the Self as the pure subject, the knower, which cannot be described through any known array of terms or attributes. He explains to her “Know that, whenever we love we are responding to the Self within that person. Therefore if we can discover that Self there would be no parting and no sorrow between us. … As long as there is separateness one sees the other as separate.  But, when Self is realized as the indivisible unity of life, there is no more sorrow”.

sage teaching

The spirit of enquiry

10.1. A remarkable feature of these discussions is the spirit of enquiry. Here, no teacher claims that he has discovered the ultimate truth, nor does he declare that his views are beyond dispute and should be obeyed implicitly, by all. None of the teachers or scholars is fully satisfied with the knowledge he has attained. All, the teachers and students alike, are eager to probe further and uncover more of the unknown. Even the aged wise teachers travel long distances and sit at the feet of the learned, who might be younger to them in age, and seek  instructions on subjects they are not well versed.

Philosophy in Upanishads

11.1. The discussions featured in the Upanishads record the opinions or views on various philosophical issues of that era. The participants came from all walks of life; there were sages, priests, women, teachers, kings, charioteers and common folk. The answers to the questions discussed in the texts varied from teacher to teacher; and from region to region. All the doctrines presented in them do not stand out equally prominent. Some are merely flashes of thought, others are only slightly developed ;and still others are but survivals from the older period. Many ideas are put forward, discussed or even withdrawn , according to their strengths and weaknesses.

11.2. As regards the Upanishads’ philosophy, although the Upanishads are often called philosophical treaties, they do not propound a single system of thought or philosophy. They do not explain or develop a line of argument. Instead, entire range or shades and hues of philosophical opinions are scattered across the texts.

For instance, The Upanishads have no permanent point of view in regard to such questions as how the One Principle or Thing was conceived, or what its relations are to the visible Universe. They are tentative and experimental, not fixed and final. They appear to be philosophy in the making. They never assert that they have found the ultimate truth.

Even the doctrine of transmigration, which is said to have found its full form in the Upanishads, leaves several questions unanswered. It was stated that the departed Soul proceeds along a certain path into the other world before it returns to earth for its next life. At the same time, it was also mentioned that at the moment of death the departed Soul instantly takes another body. The Upanishads do not specify the nature of the being that transmigrates. The question of transmigration was left open-ended. Similarly,  on the  subject to the law of Karma  there is not much discussion on the  scope for  free-will which gives man some sort of control over his actions  or whether God’s grace and such other factors also come in deciding human fate. These problems were are left unanswered; and, if some answer were given, they are merely hinted at.

Speaking of the Upanishads, Prof. Bloomfield says that they captivate, not because they are finished products; but , because they show   the human mind engaged in the most plucky and earnest search after truth. And the, Upanishads represent the earnest efforts of the profound thinkers of early India to solve the problems of the origin, the nature, and the destiny of man and of the universe; the meaning and value of knowing and being.

In other words, the Upanishads provided a platform for displaying various shades of thoughts and opinions that were actively churned in those times.  Thus the widely divergent philosophers and varied Schools of thought coexist in the Upanishads without contradiction. And , that is the reason why anyone is now able to quote some Upanishad passage or the other and claim authenticity for his interpretation or for his train of thought.

11.3. For instance, the Upanishads speak of Brahman as the substratum of all existence from which everything emerges and into which everything merges. These speculations gave rise to the Advaita philosophy of the later ages. At the same time,  the other notions which assert that the individual soul (Atman) and the Brahman are parted but unite into one, gave the Dvaita philosophy its authenticity. Thirdly, there is also a current of theism which looks upon Brahman as the Lord controlling the Universe. All such views find place in the Upanishads without a sense of contradiction.  But, it was the later commentaries, glosses etc that created further discrepancies and contradictions.

The Questions that arose

12.1. The Vedic line of thoughts found its culmination in the Upanishads. The Samhitas and the Brahmanas did raise many doubts and questions; but, these were merely hinted. The ‘doubt’ in this context, it is explained, is not suspicion (smashaya); it is neither a doubt as of a sceptic, nor it is suspended-belief as of an agnostic. The doubt here is indeed with wisdom and faith. For instance, Nasadiya Sukta (the creation hymn) in the tenth Book of the Rig Veda ends with the classic doubt: “Whether this creation has arisen by itself or whether it did not , only He knows ; or perhaps He also does not know.”

इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टि॒र्यत॑ आब॒भूव॒ यदि॑ वा द॒धे यदि॑ वा॒ न ।
यो अ॒स्याध्य॑क्षः पर॒मे व्यो॑म॒न्सो अ॒ङ्ग वे॑द॒ यदि॑ वा॒ न वेद॑ ॥ ७॥

Those speculations were further developed in the Upanishads, which attempted to answer all those questions in a rational way. A great variety of views were expounded in the Upanishads   more systematically, and providing starting points for various schools of philosophies.

12.2. The elaborate discussions spread out in the Upanishads address and debate on various philosophical questions; and, much of that is subtle, sophisticated and intellectually challenging, such as: “What happens at death? What makes my hand move, my eyes see, my mind think? Does life has a purpose, or is it governed by chance?”. Yet, no single opinion or theory was held up as the undisputable truth; and, everything was left in a flux. It is because of its creative thinking and its open-mindedness that Upanishads continue to be an ever-fresh source of inspiration for people of all times and regions delving into it seeking answers to their questions.

12.3. But, the main concern of the Upanishads was the search for the central essence of Man; as also the essence of the Universe. The two independent streams of thought – one driven by the desire to realize the true nature of man ; and, the other, to understand the objective world – became fused. It represented an effort to express the world in terms of the individual; an attempt at rising from the known particular to the knowledge of the unknown universal. The blending of the two apparently dissimilar concerns led to the discovery of their essential unity.

12.4. The basic questions posed by the Upanishads in that regard were: ’Who am I?’ and ‘Who is He?’ . Centuries later, the Buddha, commenting on the Upanishads, remarked that the main concern of that period was: ’How shall I unite with Him?’ (Te-Vijja sutta – Dhiga Nikaya 1.13)

Brahman and Atman

13.1 The Rig-Veda is not a philosophical work. Questions which  came up much later, such as – the nature of Atman, the whence, how and whither of the Atman; the Supreme Self and its  relation to  the external world; and the mutual relations of Atmans and Isvara  – were  not  dealt with in the text of the Rig-Veda. But, there was awareness of a permanent factor in man’s life and its continuity even after the body perishes. There were also speculations about some essential unity among the individuals through some Supreme Being that is not conditioned by the limitations of a body and of worldly existence.

These and similar other questions were carried forward by the Upanishads.

13.2. The Upanishads are truly the continued saga of a prolonged search for understanding Man and his Universe. Its sages keep on pursuing their exploration, looking for a theory that would explain everything. Each of its philosophers identifies and argues about a particular aspect of life and existence as ‘the highest principle’ – as could be seen from the instances cited earlier in this article. Although all these teachers, as well as others, have varied understandings of Atman, they all present knowledge of self as a new way of thinking.

As many as about forty concepts such as prana, vayu, aph, purusha, aditya, agni , atma, akasha, manas, skamba, vac etc are alluded as the ‘highest principle’; and , as ‘the primary cause of the Universe, which bursts forth spontaneously as nature’ . If we collect all the terms employed in the Upanishads to describe ‘the basis and the cause for the universe ‘, it would read like a glossary of philosophical terms.

Eventually, all those terms, principles or powers that the Upanishad scholars believed to be the basis of the world; and , make the world explicable, merged into the meaning of Brahman. And yet, it would be incorrect to assume that apart from Brahman and Atman, all other terms in the Upanishads meant to signify the ‘highest principle’ fade into negligence.

13.3. Thus, the notion of Brahman in the Upanishads was arrived neither easily nor at once. It took centuries of thorough introspection, discussions and debates to reach at an acceptable concept. In the process, several notions, ideas and explanations were put forth, each more satisfying than the previous one, to account for the relation between the individual and the universe. At some stage in the evolution of its thought, the Upanishads named Brahman as the primal source of the universe; and Atman as the individual’s inmost essence. The two terms- Brahman and Atman – are now   ‘the two pillars on which rest nearly the whole edifice of Indian philosophy’. But, the concept and explanations of Brahman and Atman was not in the context of any religion or sect. The Upanishads, therefore, belong not just to Hinduism but to all mankind. They are India’s most precious gift to humanity.

13.4. The essential oneness of the individual and the universal was hinted at even before the Upanishads. But, the concept of Brahman – understood as that from which everything emerged and into which everything merges or like the web of the spider or a spark of fire (vispu lingaha) – was for the first time stated clearly in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Yajnavalkya came closest by describing it as ‘ the imperishable is the unseen seer, Gargi, though unseen; the hearer though unheard; the thinker, though un-thought; the known though unknown. Other than this there is no seer; other than this there is no hearer; other than this there is no thinker; other than this there is no hearer; other than this there is no thinker; other than this there is no knower. It is on this imperishable (akshara), Gargi, that space (akasha) is woven, as warp and woof (ota – prota)’ – tad vā etad akṣaraṃ gārgy adṛṣṭaṃ draṣṭraśrutaṃ śrotramataṃ mantravijñātaṃ vijñātṛ |(Brhu.Up.3.8.11)

It was expanded upon in the Katha and the Manduka Upanishads. Brahman was referred to as the universal soul; and, Atman as a spark of the bigger fire, framed within the individual (Katha Up. 1.3.1). Here, the terms Brahman and Atman refer to the same principle. The later Upanishads  lent it  an another imagery through an allegory of a pair of birds perched upon the branch of a tree: Two bright-feathered bosom friends; Flit around one and the same tree; One of them tastes the sweet berries,  the other without eating merely gazes down (Sveta.Up.4.6; Mun.Up.3.1.1).  In a way, Brahman was an open concept in the Upanishads.

dvā suparṇā sayujā sakhāyā samānaṃ vṛkṣaṃ pariṣasvajāte /
tayor anyaḥ pippalaṃ svādv atty anaśnann anyo abhicākaśīti // SvetUp_4.6 //

[In the Brahma Sutra of Sri Badarayana and the commentaries of Sri Shankara, the concept of Brahman crystallized as the only unconditioned reality existing eternally beyond our relative, conventional understanding.]

13.5. Brahman was thus the last in the series of the solutions that the sages were seeking; and it became a symbol for ‘the ultimate essence of being, the final basis of reality’.  The term was meant to assert the truth that the individual and the Universe are verily the manifestation of the same reality. The individual, the nature or God are in essence not distinct. The realization of the identity of Self and Brahman became the objective of the Upanishad seekers. It was valued as the true knowledge that liberates; by knowing which everything becomes known (Para vidya).

13.6. The ideal of the Upanishads is to live in the world in full awareness of life’s unity; giving and enjoying, participating in others’ sorrows and joys; but, never unaware even for a moment that the world comes from That and returns to That.

As a tethered bird flies this way and that, And comes to rest at last on its own perch, so the mind, tired of wandering about…settles down in Self. (Chandogya Up.6.8.2)

sa yathā śakuniḥ sūtreṇa prabaddho diśaṃ diśaṃ patitvānyatrāyatanam alabdhvā bandhanam evopaśrayate | evam eva khalu somya tan mano diśaṃ diśaṃ patitvānyatrāyatanam alabdhvā prāṇam evopaśrayate | prāṇabandhanaṃ hi somya mana iti || ChUp_6,8.2 ||

The Rishi of the Rig-Veda and philosopher of the Upanishads

14.1. There is a marked difference between the Rishi of the Rig-Veda and the philosopher of the Upanishads. In the early Rig Veda, the Rishi is referred to as Kavi.  A Kavi in Rig Veda is an inspired Rishi who can see the unseen. He is the sublime poet who envisioned the mantras (mantra drastaraha); and who conceived the self-evident knowledge (svatah pramana) by intuition. A Kavi is also ‘the hearer of the Truth’ (kavayah satya- srurtah).That is the reason the Vedas are regarded as Srutis, revealed scriptures; and thus A-paurusheya, not authored by any agency.

14.2. By the time of the later Vedic age , the Kavis and Rishis had become mythical figures; and, their deeds were narrated along with the deeds of the gods. Those seers include the sapta-rishis enumerated in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: Gautama, Bharadwaja, Vashista, Vishwamitra, Jamadagni, Kashyapa and Atri. And the Rishis like Vamadeva and Narayana indeed merged with the gods of their mantra; and , are now regarded as Gods.

14.3. As regards philosophy, scholars like Dr. Benimadhab Barua opine that the Rig Veda in its early stages did not seem to have a specific term to denote what we now call ‘philosophy’, though its Kavis and Rishis were sublime philosophers. The hymns of the Rig Veda (uktha) and its recitation (udgitha) itself meant philosophizing. That was perhaps because they did not regard ‘knowing’ (vid) as separate from other aspects of’ ‘being’. These terms continued to stand for ’philosophy’ until other epithets such as Darshana or Brahma-vidya etc came into use.

14.4. But, by the time of the Upanishads, ‘philosophy’ was a well recognized branch of study. Most of philosophers and thinkers of the Upanishads were scholars in the traditional mould; and, a majority had to work and earn a living. Many were scholars, teachers of great repute, advisers to kings, and priests under the patronage of a king; but, most were householders with families, tending cows and the lands. Those keen on pursuing the path of knowledge, studied for long years under the guidance of a teacher. Thereafter, each followed his individual pursuit; some followed the way of Brahmacharins devoted to studies and later settled down as householders; some left the comfort of home and wandered about in forests or led a life of contemplation. Some of them became iterant seekers and recluse. Many of them were teachers of great repute.

14.5. It is estimated that the five oldest Upanishads feature about one hundred of such philosophers, spread over five generations. A good many of those philosophers appear in the Brahmanas also . This supports the view that there was overlapping; and , the two trends of thought coexisted for a considerable time.

14.6. The earliest of the teachers who appear in the Upanishads were mystics or interpreters of the symbolism of rituals and esoteric meaning of the hymns. For instance, the colourful-hero Yajnavalkya bursts forth into sparkling series of poetic intuitions, picturesque analogies, and mystical imageries bewildering the questioner. His brilliant exposition is expansive, highly impressive and breathtaking; but is neither systematic nor very logical.  He carried away the debate by the sheer power and dazzle of his intellect.

14.7. In contrast, Uddalaka son of Aruna of Gautama gotra was systematic and cogent in his approach. He put forward rational explanations on the nature of Man and nature of Universe without employing the terms Brahman or God. And, without bluntly rejecting the earlier mythological beliefs and religious injunctions, Uddalaka Aruni tacitly set aside all those in favor of a rational explanation for the ultimate cause of everything in nature. Uddalaka is therefore regarded the greatest of thinkers and perhaps the first real philosopher. He retained till the end, an open mind and a keen desire to learn. He remained a student all his life; yet, he was the best of the teachers. Uddalaka’s power of exposition shines forth in the Chandogya Upanishad.

For these reasons; Uddalaka Aruni is recognized among all the Upanishad sages and teachers as the true representative of the Upanishad age and its spirit of enquiry.

Let’s talk a bit more of Uddalaka Aruni and his teachings in the next part.

 [ The search  for Ultimate Reality and essence that underlies all existence is the specific quest of the Upanishadic thoughts … Some of the most ancient Upanishads represent earliest attempts of mankind to provide philosophical explanation of the Universe , of the Ultimate Reality , of the nature of Self  and the purpose of the human kind….

The importance of Upanishads in the development of ‘Hinduism’ is enormous; for, it contains most of the developing concepts that we associate with ‘Hinduism’ today, such as: Brahman the Absolute principle, Atman (true self), Moksha (liberation) , Dharma ( what indeed is right), Samsara (re-birth)  etc. These are some of the fundamental concepts that are accepted by all the Indian traditions. Bhagavad-Gita the sacred text of ‘Hinduism’ relies heavily on the teachings of the Upanishads… author of the Bhagavad-Gita included the words of a number of Upanishads very frequently.

Jeaneane D. Fowler (The Bhagavad Gita: A Text and Commentary for Students – Introduction) ]

lotus-flower-and-bud

 

 

Continued in Part Two

Sources and References

 Life in the Upanishads by Dr. Shubhra Sharma; Abhinav Publications, 1985

The History of Pre-Bhuddhistic Indian Philosophy by Dr .Benimadhab Barua; Motilal Banarsidass, 1921

The Upanishads by Ekanath Easwaran and Michael N Nagler; Nilgiri Press, 2007.

A Course in Indian Philosophy by AK Warder, Motilal Banarsidass, 2009

Indian Philosophy before the Greeks by David J Melling

Atman in pre-upanisadic Vedic literature By H G. Narahari; published by Adyar Library 1944.

http://www.archive.org/details/atmaninpreupanis032070mbp

http://www.rationalvedanta.net/node/126

What the Upanishads teach

http://www.suhotraswami.net/library/What_the_Upanisads_Teach.pdf

The Chandogya Upanishad by Swami Krishnananada

http://www.suhotraswami.net/library/What_the_Upanisads_Teach.pdf

All images are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Upanishads

 

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The bizarre story of Madhavi of the ancient times

This is a story of ancient times that appears in Udyoga Parva (sections 119-122) of Mahabharata. It is a story that is uncoiled in four stages. Initially, Narada narrated it to Dhritarastra, which Vyasa recorded; Vaishampayana narrates that to Janamejaya; and finally Suti recites the entire epic. Narada’s narration comes about as an extension to his own story of fall owing to his conceit and arrogance. It is incidental; and not integrated into the Epic. It is not supported by any other narration in the Epic. The story raises many uncomfortable questions about the status and treatment of women in a society of a bygone era, which was guided by its own set of values. The fascinating but disturbing episode has been studied, in depth, by scholars, feminists and dramatists from sociological, psychological and various other angles.

Mahabharata (in contrast to Ramayana) is a complex composition spread in several layers , over varied periods; and, its elements are derived from diverse parts of the ancient Indian land. It also is not entirely the work of a single person. It has grown in stages across many traditions. Like the Indian jungle, it spreads out in an endless wilderness of trees entwined with creepers of bewildering sorts, inhabited by an astonishing variety of creatures, birds and beasts. It is a wonder piled upon wonders. There are several contradictions arrayed , one by the side of the other. Mahabharata is not one book; but, it is many books running into each other.

With that , let’s, first, look at the story in its brief and summarized form; and then discuss some of the issues it throws up.

The story

1.1. It is said that Galava was a very devoted pupil of the sage – King- teacher Visvamitra. He stayed and served loyally even when his teacher was passing through difficult circumstances. At the end of the academic period, the teacher, pleased with the pupil, blessed him and let him go. But Galava requested the teacher to state the fee (guru- dakshina) that he would accept. The teacher was content; but the pupil pressed on earnestly. Finally, with a little displeasure, as it were, Visvamitra asked Galava ‘present me with eight hundred white steeds of good pedigree; white as the rays of the radiant moon, and every one of it having one ear black in hue. Go Galava, delay not ’.

Ektaha shamkarna hayana chandravarchasam, Ashto shatani me dehi gaccha Galav ma Chiram- (Udog, 106;27)

herd_of_white_horses_ga

1.2. Galava promptly sets out in search of such rare type of horses ; but,he  was unable to find any. While he was brooding in desperation, his friend Suparna offered help; and, took him to many kings who might possibly possess horses of such rare description. After much wandering, the two reached the court of King Yayati of Prathistana. Suparna, on behalf of his friend, submitted the plea and requested the king to help Galava to be free from the burden of Guru-dakshina.

But, the King Yayati, whose wealth by then had depleted, had no horses that satisfied their specification. Nevertheless, he, as a king, would not disappoint a needy one who came seeking help. Therefore, he gifted, instead, his beautiful daughter Madhavi (also called Drishadvati); and, suggested that by setting her as price they could secure from any king/s who owned the horses of their required specifications. Yayati added;  Madhavi was capable of promoting every virtue (mādhavī nāma tārkṣyeyaṃ sarva-dharma-pravādini); and , her beauty was so striking that any king would gladly give up his kingdom, if it were needed, to be with her even for a short while.

asyāḥ śulkaṃ pradāsyanti nṛpā rājyam api dhruvam/kiṃ punaḥ śyāmakarṇānāṃ hayānāṃ dve catuḥśate – (Udyog, 113; 13)

Now, that there appeared a ray of hope, Suparna wished his friend well and took leave of him.

2.1. Galava first thought of the best of the kings, Haryasva of Ikshvaku race who ruled at Ayodhya. He was famed for his valour, wealth and large army. Galava offered Madhavi in marriage to the childless king Haryasva, in exchange for ‘eight hundred steeds’ born in good country, of lunar whiteness, and each with one ear black in hue’, saying ‘this auspicious and large eyed maiden will become mother of thy sons’. The king is struck with the beauty of Madhavi (rājā haryaśvaḥ kāmamohitaḥ).  He observes  that the six parts of this girl’s body which ought to be high are high, seven parts which ought to be slender are slender, three parts which ought to be deep are deep and five which ought to be red are red.  Upon her resides every auspicious  sign. 

unnateṣūnnatā ṣaṭsu; sūkṣmā sūkṣmeṣu saptasu; gambhīrā triṣu gambhīreṣv ; iyaṃ raktā ca pañcasu; śroṇyau lalāṭakakṣau ca ghrāṇaṃ ceti ṣaḍunnatam (Udyog, 05,114.002

Haryasva cried out “I most desire to have this beautiful maiden; but, sadly I have only two hundred steeds of the kind you wanted. He pleads with Galava – asyām etaṃ bhavān kāmaṃ saṃpādayatu me varam (Udyog; 114.9) – Let me fulfill my desire.  I beg you; allow me to beget one son upon this damsel and you make take away all those two hundred steeds”.

2.2. Madhavi intervened and suggested to Galava “I am blessed by a sage with a special faculty that each time after childbirth I will regain my virginity. Accept the offer made by King Haryasva; take his two hundred excellent steeds and let him beget one son upon me. Thereafter you may collect me and take me to the next king and to another, in similar manner, until you obtain all your eight hundred steeds. And, that should set you free from the debt you owe to your teacher”.

mama datto varaḥ kaś cit kena cid brahmavādinā / prasūtyante prasūtyante kanyaiva tvaṃ bhaviṣyasi/sa tvaṃ dadasva māṃ rājñe pratigṛhya hayottamān / nṛpebhyo hi caturbhyas te pūrṇāny aṣṭau śatāni vai / bhaviṣyanti tathā putrā mama catvāra eva ca/kriyatāṃ mama saṃhāro gurvarthaṃ dvija sattama (Udyog; 114.11-13)

That idea seemed to be a workable arrangement; and,  was acceptable both to Galava and the King. Galava became the owner of those two hundred steeds; but he let them continue in king’s care. In due time, Haryasva had a son by Madhavi. She thereafter, by the power of her wish, turned into a virgin again. The new born was as splendid as one of the Vasus; and was named Vasumanasa (also called Vasuprada – vasumanā nāma vasubhyo vasumattaraḥ; vasuprakhyo narapatiḥ sa babhūva vasupradaḥ). He later grew up to be one of the wealthiest and greatest of the benefactors among all the kings.

2.3. Galava next took Madhavi to Divodasa King of Kashi of great valor  having a large army (mahāvīryo mahīpālaḥ kāśīnām īśvaraḥ prabhuḥ;divodāsa iti khyāto bhaimasenir narādhipaḥ). Divodasa had already heard of Madhavi’s extraordinary beauty as also of her story (śrutam etan mayā pūrvaṃ). He rejoiced greatly upon the fortune to be with her. But, he too had only two hundred such steeds that Galava required. He agreed to beget only one a son from Madhavi in exchange for those two hundred steeds. Madhavi lived with Divodasa till a son was born to her. He was named Pratardana , who later became a celebrated hero (mādhavī janayām āsa putram ekaṃ pratardanam) . Madhavi having regained her virginity left her second son with his father and returned to Galava.

2.4. The next was, King Ushinara of Bhojanagari (jagāma bhojanagaraṃ draṣṭum auśīnaraṃ nṛpam) , who also had only two hundred of such horses. He handed then over to Galava and lived with Madhavi till a son named Sibi was born (he later gained renown as the upholder of truth and justice – śibir nāmna ābhivikhyāto yaḥ sa pārthivasattamaḥ). Madhavi turned a virgin once again.

2.5. Thereafter Galava collected Madhavi back from King Ushinara.  By then , Madhavi had three sons : pratardano vasumanāḥ śibir auśīnaro . But, Galava had so far gathered only six hundred horses, and still needed two hundred more to fulfil the commitment to his teacher. Then, his friend Suparna (Garuda) informs there were no more such horses; but makes a suggestion. As suggested by Suparna, Galava submits to his teacher the six hundred horses he had so far gathered, with a request to accept Madhavi in place of the remaining two hundred horses; and absolve him of the Guru-dakshina.

Visvamitra elated at the prospect of having Madhavi, accepts the offer gleefully  and discharges the pupil of his obligation –

viśvāmitras tu taṃ dṛṣṭvā gālavaṃ saha pakṣiṇā/kanyāṃ ca tāṃ varārohām idam ity abravīd vacaḥ/kim iyaṃ pūrvam eveha na dattā mama gālava (Udog, 117;14-15) pratigṛhṇāmi te kanyām ekaputraphalāya vai/aśvāś cāśramam āsādya tiṣṭhantu mama sarvaśaḥ

Madhavi bore to Visvamitra a son named Ashtaka –  ātmajaṃ janayām āsa mādhavīputram aṣṭakam (Ashtaka later gained fame as the king who performed grand Ashva-medha yajnas).

a_herd_of_white_horses_ga (1).jpg

3.1. With his debt discharged, Galava retires into the forest. As he departs, he thanks Madhavi for saving him, as also her father and the three childless kings: ” Oh Madhavi, the beautiful maiden, You have borne one son who will be a lordly giver, a second a hero, another fond of truth and right; and yet another a great performer of Yajnas. Farewell to you, virgin of slim waist”.

jāto dānapatiḥ putras tvayā śūras tathāparaḥ/satyadharmarataś cānyo yajvā cāpi tathāparaḥ/tad āgaccha varārohe tāritas te pitā sutaiḥ/catvāraś caiva rājānas tathāhaṃ ca sumadhyame (Udyog; 117.22)

After sometime, Visvamitra retreats into the forest. He hands over the six hundred horses to his son Ashtaka; and , sends Madhavi back to her father Yayati.

Yayati tries to arrange for Madhavi’s wedding, as many suitors (including the three kings who had sons from her) were eager to marry her. But, Madhavi is no longer interested in marriage or childbearing. She refuses all offers and retires into the forest as a hermit.

3.2. The recurring virgin Madhavi is not sovereign herself; but sovereignty passes through her to her four sons who grow up to become great kings whose deeds are celebrated in the Puranas.

In the end, everyone except Madhavi had something to gain: Yayati had the satisfaction of helping a needy person; the three childless kings beget worthy sons and heirs; Visvamitra gained six hundred of rarest horses as also the pleasure of living with the beautiful Madhavi; and, Galava extolled for his guru-bhakthi was relieved of the obligation to his teacher.

Madhavi’s salvation lies in her silence and her retreat into the woods. She prefers to select forest as her consort – Varam Vrivati Vanam (Udog, 120;5). Madhavi entered the forest, lived a peaceful life of a celibate –  ‘living in the woods after the manner of the deer ’ carantī hariṇaiḥ sārdhaṃ mṛgīva vanacāriṇī/ cacāra vipulaṃ dharmaṃ brahmacaryeṇa saṃvṛtā (Udyog, 118; 11)

 

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Question of antiquity

4.1. Though the story of the ‘salvation of the kings by a maiden’ is re-told in Mahabharata, its principle characters come from the distant Pre-Vedic or early Vedic times. Yayati, the son of the legendry King Nahusha, is a prominent figure in the early Indian mythological history. He is progenitor of a great dynasty Chandravamsa – that ruled for countless generations stretching up to the Pandavas and far beyond.

 Please click here for the family tree of  the Yadus and the Purus – the descendents of Yayati . 

4.2. Yayati marks a watershed in the ancient Indian history. He is credited with bringing together two rival factions of the Angirasas and the Brighus. Yayati, a follower of the Angirasa, married Devayani the daughter of Shukracharya of the Bhrigu clan; and also married Sharmishta the daughter of Vrisha Parvan, the King of Asuras, who also was a follower of the Bhrigus.

4.3. Turvasha and Yadu were sons of Yayati by Devayani of the Bhrigus; while Anu, Druhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta of the Asuras. Yayati’s story indicates that the five great lines of Vedic rulers were born of an alliance of Deva and Asura kings, which also meant the coming together of the followers of the Angirasa and the Bhrigu seers. Yayti’s marriage with the Bhrigu women was perhaps an attempt to reconcile two warring clans.

Yayati divided his kingdom among his five sons: to Tuvasha he gave the south-east; to Druhyu the west; to Yadu the south and west in the Narmada – Godavari region; to Anu the north; and to Puru the centre . Purus ruled as the Supreme Kings of earth.

The ‘Battle of Ten Kings’ (Dasarajna) described in the seventh Mandala of the Rig Veda was fought between the Puru clan and the Turvasha/Druhyu/Anu clans. The Kings involved in the Battle: Puru, Turvasha, Druhyu and Anu were all sons of Yayati.

4.4. The episode of ‘the eight hundred horses’ which we are now discussing mentions the hitherto un-named daughter of Yayati – Madhavi (but, her mother’s name is not mentioned).

Further, the Sukta No. 179  having three verses in  the Tenth Mandala of Rig Veda invoking Indra, is jointly ascribed to the three sons of Madhavi: the first is Sibi the son of Ushinara (prathamo ushinarah Sibihi –  शिबिरौशीनरः ); the second Pratardana King of Kashi (dwithiyo kasirajah Pratardanaha- प्रतर्दनः काशिराजः); and, the third Vasumanasa son of Rauhidasva (thrithiyasha Rauhidashwo Vasumana rishihi – वसुमना रौहिदश्वः) . In this Sukta, Haryasva   is named as Rauhidasva.

Mantra Rig 10.179.001 ;  Mantra Rig 10.179.002  ;  Mantra Rig 10.179.003 ]

Madhavi’s story surfaces in Mahabharata. But she belongs to the very far-away pre-Vedic period. That is the reason I regard her story as of very ancient times.

5.1. As regards Visvamitra, there were many kings and sages who went by that name. Visvamitra who appears in the Madhavi-story may not be the same as the one who figures in the third Mandala of Rig Veda who envisioned the celebrated Gayatri Mantra; or the Visvamitra of Aitareya Brahmana, the adopted father of Sunashepa; or the father of Shakuntala; or even the quick-tempered sage in the Harischandra story.

5.2. This Visvamitra of Kanyakubja in the Madhavi-story may not also be the Visvamitra of Ramayana epic. Because, in the linage of kings (according to Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas ; Vol 1 to Vol 5 by Swami Parameshwarananada ; page 187) Rama , son of Dasaratha comes almost fifty generations after Haryasva the King of Ayodhya , the father of  Vasumanasa . Some names of the kings have either gone missing or are unclear.

[ Haryasva – Vasumanasa – Sudhanva – Tridhanva (Tirvashana ) – Satyavrata (Trisanku) – Harischandra – Rohitasva – Harita – Chanchu – Sudeva – Bharuka – Bahuka – Sagara – Asamanjasa – Amsuman – Bhagiratha – Srutanabha – Vedhasa – Para – Nabhaga – Ambarisha – Sindhudweepa – Ayutayus – Rtuparna – Sarvakama – Sudasa – Mitrasakha (Kalmasapada ) – Asmaka – Mulaka – Khatvariga – Dilipa (Dlrghabariu) – Raghu – Aja – Dasaratha – Rama ].

Please also see the chart at the bottom of this blog.

You may click here for its complete and enlarged version for tracing the line of kings from Manu to Ikshvaku to   Mahabharata

Question of feminism

6.1. The Madhavi episode is roundly criticized in the recent times as being insensitive to a woman’s feelings, depriving her of any inner space or desire, and wiping out her very individuality as a person. She is robbed of any control over her life. Horses, it appeared, were valued more than women. And women were given away to get hold of good horses, which is shocking.    Madhavi is led just as a cow from one male to the other, traded for horses, impregnated and each time leaving behind her newborn. At the end, she is neither a wife nor a mother – despite having lived with four men and delivering to four boys.

That is a valid view, up to a point.

7.1. There is also an alternate view which is based in a field of study called Hermeneutics. It speaks of understanding a text by placing it in the context of its times and the society in which it was located; appreciating the cultural and social forces that might have influenced its outlook. Which is to say: before we impose our own set of perceptions or apply our the present-day standards of the rights and privileges accorded to women in our society, in order to judge Madhavi, lets pause and place her story in the context of her times and the norms that were evolved and accepted by that society in the environment of its own life patterns.

7.2. There is nothing lewd about the episode, by the manner it is depicted in the Epic. Everyone here is earnest, attempting to live honestly with a pious intent: Galava to fulfil his obligation to his teacher; Yayati to discharge his duty as the King providing for the needy who comes to him seeking help; and, Madhavi considers her   filial duty to save her father from disgrace; and in the process   to assist a dedicated student to fulfil his promise to his teacher, and to rescue of royal lines from dynastic extinction. And, she herself, in all her earnestness, suggests the arrangement of her exchange for horses.

7.3. The kings who figure in her life did not consider their relation with Madhavi as scandalous. The society in which she lived treated her with great respect. Her sons who were aware of their birth antecedents proudly called themselves the sons of Madhavi. The fact that they were the sons of the common wife of four kings did not prevent them from succeeding to thrones of their fathers. In fact, Sibi and Ashtaka were made kings by preference over the sons of their fathers’ individual wives

7.4. When her sons met her again after they had grown into fine young men, they greeted their mother with great reverence: “those monarchs saluted her and bowed down to her ‘O the abode of asceticism (tapodhane) , instruct us all thy sons, what command of yours shall we obey’ ”.

mādhavīṃ prekṣya rājānas te ‘abhivādyedam abruvan/kim āgamanakṛtyaṃ te kiṃ kurvaḥ śāsanaṃ tava/ājñāpyā hi vayaṃ sarve tava putrās tapodhane /  (Udyog, 119; 2)

Madhavi introduces herself to her father, at the hour of his need, as his daughter (duhitā ), a forest – dweller (mṛgacāriṇī) – ahaṃ te duhitā rājan Mādhavī mṛgacāriṇī .  Andat her command, her four sons help their grandfather Yayati  to ascend to heaven, again.

“It was thus that those daughter’s sons born in four royal lines, those multipliers of their races, by means of their virtues, sacrifices, and gifts, caused their maternal grandfather to ascend again to heaven. And those monarchs jointly said, ‘Endued with the attributes of royalty and possessed of every virtue, we are, O king, thy daughter’s sons! By virtue of our good deeds, ascend thou to heaven. ” (Mbh:  Udyoga Parva; section 122)

Yayati_ascend_to_Heaven (1)

7.5. Madhavi’s character, as I see it, is invested with a certain air of dignity. She had been true to her independent nature, fulfilling her womanhood in a manner she found appropriate in the given circumstances. Her unsullied and detached attitude to her unique encounters with four men perhaps defines her ‘virgin’ status. At the end of the episode she exercises her choice without disgust, rancor or regret; and retires into the woods.

8.1. The social ethos, the concept of marriage, the status and the treatment of women reflected in the Madhavi-story belong to those very ancient pre-Vedic times (perhaps older than 2,500 BC).They pre-date the Mahabharata – event period by several centuries. The society did not remain static during those centuries. It went through a prolonged process of evolution. The Rig Veda period that followed Madhavi’s time marked a watershed; and its society was in transformation. Further, the Mahabharata-society was far different from the Vedic society. The values, norms and idioms of social conduct changed not merely during those centuries but also during the course of the Mahabharata story. You find in the Epic, each stage evolving into its next phase. That is the reason the social values as reflected in early parts of the Epic are far different from those at its end-parts. Which in turn, were indeed much different from the customs that came into vogue at later times. Those differences should not be seen as contradictions or aberrations, but be understood as marking changes in the evolution or the flow of the Indian society. It is interesting, how the perceptions and values change in a society over long periods. They are usually born out of interactions between responses and challenges or demands of the times

On certain issues, the Pre-Vedic and Vedic women enjoyed a kind of liberty and social approval which was not available to the subsequent generations of women. And, some of the liberties of the Madhavi-period are not available to the present-day Indian women.

8.2. Generally, Mahabharata depicts a steady degradation or degeneration of what was once a cohesive society that cherished liberal values. The society in the early period of Mahabharata was more open than our present day society. But, as the Epic stepped into its later generations, the views and values got rigid. That downward trend, sadly, continued for long centuries (we shall come back to this theme later).

Question of recurring virginity

9.1. Madhavi mentions that she is gifted with a boon by virtue of which she will regain her virginity each time after she gives birth to a child (kanyaiva tvam bhavishyasi : Mbh.5.114.11).Such wondrous instances of  women retaining or regaining  their maidenhood are found elsewhere in Mahabharata. Satyavathi cajoled Sage Parashara into promising “when you have done me this favour you shall become a maiden again (garbham utsrijya mamakam . . . kanyaiva tvam bhavishyasi; Mbh: 1.105.13)”. She again (punar) became a virgin after giving birth to Vyasa. Kunti also became a maid each time after delivering to a son (punar eva tu kanyabhavam; Mbh: 15. 30.16). Both Satyavathi and Kunti gained that unique faculty through boons conferred on them by the sages.

9.2. Draupadi too, despite having five husbands and bearing five sons, is regarded as a knaya – a maid or a virgin- emerging chaste like polestar after each encounter :  the lovely one with glorious waist , the very mighty one , at the end of each day shall become a maid again’(Mbh: 1.197.14) . Kunti describes Draupadi to Krishna as sarva-dharmopa-carinam (the one who promotes or cultivates all virtues), in the very term used by Yayati to describe Madhavi while gifting her to Galava.

10.1. Obviously, virginity was regarded very precious in the Epics .Only a few virtuous women were blessed with the faculty of retaining or regaining maidenhood. Similar notions of valuing virgin –status exist in other religions too. For instance; virginity is a recurring theme in the Bible which looks upon the mother of Jesus as a virgin. In Judaism there is much discussion about the virgins in the temples. And, Islam too believes that a man who enters paradise will be received by 72 virgins. The Shakta –Tantra cult worships virgin as a complete person who has the ‘whole potential of the total-human being’ (combination of Shiva and Shakthi); and, as the untapped source of life-energy, the ‘holding back of the potential procreative power’.

10.2. The treatment of virginity in the older texts is again a much contested issue. Many have argued that such notions of continued or restored maidenhood were evidently moral or legal fictions invented, at a later period, merely to disguise the murky cases of promiscuity, free license or strange relations that were neither rape nor adultery. Or, at best, it might have been a self-deceiving, make-believe reflexes or opinions, reluctant to accept the stark fact.

10.3. The classic view of the scholars, however, converged on the understanding that virginity in those contexts does not refer to the state of their bodies but to the state of their being. It was said; virginity here does not refer to the physical condition but to the unsullied mind and attitude of those remarkable women. It is a state distinguished by purity, detachment and independence.

It is explained; when these women in Mahabharata, who knew more than one man and bore children, were respected by the ancients as kanyas, that was meant to suggest  they were psychologically pure and untainted. Those women learnt to sublimate their ego. And yet, they were independent women enjoying an identity of their own. Therefore, the status of Kanya also referred to the way they fiercely asserted their independence. Each one of those does whatever had to be done out of a sense of duty; and she is true to herself and to her nature. Each one’s life was authentic.

10.4. A common feature among the kanyas of Mahabharata is that they all had to endure countless difficulties. And, yet these ‘women of substance’ were not broken down by personal tragedies. Each went on to live with a certain pride around her. But, there was a sense of loneliness that surrounded them despite being placed amidst their men and offspring.

11.1. And, that is echoed by M. Esther Harding who writes in Woman’s Mysteries [Rider, 1971, p. 125- 126]

“the woman who is psychologically virgin is not dependent; she is what she is because that is what she is … (she is) one-in-herself (and) does what she does not because of any desire to please, not to be liked or to be approved even by herself but because what she does is true. Her actions may, indeed, be unconventional “.

M. Esther Harding again makes a telling observation:

“He does not know the difference before love and after love, before motherhood and after motherhood…Only a woman can know that and speak of that. …She must always be as her nature is. She must always be maiden and always be mother. Before every love she is a maiden, after every love she is a mother.”

She elsewhere while talking of purity of love says “Every Mother is a virgin. She is pure in love to her child. Every child comes out of pure love”.

11.2. How well this illustrates Madhavi’s life and her experiences with men. The disinterested series of marriages and childbearing came about as a necessity. She looked upon it as her filial duty to save her father from disgrace; as assistance to an earnest student to fulfil his promise to his teacher; and as rescue of royal lines from dynastic extinction.

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Question of Motherhood

12.1. In the Epic, Draupadi had to live with five men, while Kunti had to endure momentary involvements; and the case of Madhavi lies somewhere in between the two. Madhavi had to live with four men; but, in succession, each for about nine months. The significant difference among the three was their motherhood.

12.2. Kunti treated with much respect in the Epic is projected as heroic mother who protected and guided her children on the right path. In the case of Draupadi the mother of five sons, sadly, there is not much discussion in the Epic about her motherhood. Her five sons are mere names of the boys who appear on the scene very late in the Epic, only to be slaughtered while asleep. They perhaps lived their childhood and brief adolescence in Panchala under the care of their maternal uncle and grandfather while Draupadi was in exile serving her five husbands. It is particularly sad that her husbands  could neither protect her well nor offer her the honour and respect that a woman should have as a wife and a mother. All that they succeeded was in making her a Queen.

Draupadi_and_Pandavas.jpg

12.3. Madhavi could not be a wife and a mother, in true sense. She had to be a mother ‘technically’. Each tine after a childbirth, she is separated from the infant’s father; and she has also no opportunity to nurse the infant, to care for him and bring him up to manhood. The emphasis of her life seems to be elsewhere. Her detachment is not by choice; but forced upon her by circumstances.

13.1. There are instances in the Epic of women giving up their newborn, of their own freewill, as in the case of Ganga (Bhishma), Satyavati (Vyasa), Kunti (Karna) and the Apsaras: Urvashi (Ayu) and Menaka (Shakuntala).There are also instances of women who were denied motherhood because their offspring were snatched away from them. The most well-known of such tragic cases is Devaki who was forced to surrender all her newborn. It is not Devaki but Yashodha the foster mother of Krishna that is celebrated in songs and legends as the very icon of loving motherhood.  In that sense, Madhavi is closer to Devaki than to the other women of Mahabharata.

14.1. Motherhood and mothering are seen as naturally related. Bringing forth a new life, its protection and nurturing are functions that only womankind can perform. The motherhood is essential for human survival and development. Motherhood is also of profound importance in family structure; that is to say in holding a family together, in building relations within and outside of the family, and in providing stability to life . And these functions are also central to female existence; it involves her body, mind and heart. She, often, regards motherhood as the fulfilment of her life. There is, naturally, enormous reverence, devotion and gratitude to Mother and motherhood.

14.2. Paradoxically, her maternal functions, her life-giving and life-sustaining responsibilities are taken for granted and often undervalued. And, these responsibilities have tied down the woman, excluded her from authority and role in public life. Added to these are the countless taboos on women during menstruation and pregnancy.

14.3. In the case of Madhavi, Devaki and others like them, being ‘mother’ is distinct from motherhood. Some regard that as tragic, because they were deprived of an essential and a most endearing aspect of woman’s life. There are also those who see no reason to be unhappy about such situation; because they view it as the sort of liberation that the women have been searching for.

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Question of Many husbands

15.1. As said earlier, Kunti need not have to live with the gods who provided her with sons. But, Draupadi had to live with five husbands all her life. Madhavi had to live with four men; but, in succession, each for about nine months.  Draupadi’s husbands were brothers; and that helped to maintain and strengthen fraternal unity among the Pandavas. While in the case of Madhavi, her men were unconnected and unrelated, excepting that all the four were kings.

15.2. The polyandrous relations that Madhavi and Draupadi had to endure have been much discussed. These two women lived in different eras and were separated by several centuries. In the Pre- Vedic times during which Madhavi lived, polyandry might not have been unusual. But, Draupadi’s polyandry wedding/s was definitely a strange and a startling feature of the then Mahabharata society. In the long list of the Pandava- ancestors there was no instance of polyandry. Draupadi’s marriage with five brothers did not, therefore, take place in accordance with the then prevailing custom or its old tradition. But, it came about as an extraordinary and an exceptional event.  Later in the Epic, her adversaries miss no opportunity to taunt, ridicule and humiliate her for being the wife of many men.

15.3. Yudhishtira’s proposal asking for Draupadi as the wife of all the five brothers came as rude shock to Drupada, Draupadi’s father; and it almost felled him.  He cried out it in anguish:  it is such an unheard of adharma   and is totally against the normal the codes of behaviour (lokadharma viruddham). Yet, Yudhishtira attempts to clear Drupada’s bewilderment by lamely citing Vedic instances of Marisha-Varkshi (vārkī hy eā varā kanyā: a girl raised by the trees) mother of Daksha married to the ten Prachetas brothers; and of Jatila (nee Gautami) the spouse of seven sages. Drupada is now more confused because those instances were ancient and not many had heard of those. Then, sage Vyasa the   biological father of Pandu (who was the de jure father of the Pandavas) steps in and convinces Drupada. Vyasa   succeeds in his attempt, not by reason or logic, but by narrating events from Draupadi’s previous birth/s. Drupada nonplussed, gives in.

[In the same episode, Sage Vyasa, in an attempt to convince the beleaguered Drupada, narrates the story of the most beautiful and virtuous Bhaumāśvī, the daughter of King Sibi of great fame and immense valor. Bhaumāśvī, the best and most auspicious among women, gifted with a sweet voice, melodious as the notes of the Veena. At her Svayamvara, the five valorous sons of the great King Nitantu (Salveya, Srutasena, Surasena, Tindusara and Atisara), bulls among kings, endowed with all good qualities and famous wielders of the bow, all fell desperately in love with the most enchanting Bhaumāśvi.

Ultimately, the five brothers married her, And, Bhaumāśvi as their common wife bore five most heroic sons. And, their descendants gained fame as: Salveyaas, Surasenas, Srutasenas, Tindusaras and Atisaras

In this manner, listen Oh Great King, Bhaumasvi, celebrated on earth as the most virtuous woman   became the common wife for five of Kings.

In the same manner,  your daughter of divine form, the blameless Parshati, Krishnaa is destined to be the wife of five Pandavas. 

01,189.049d@101_0008 etān naitantavān pañca śaibyā cātra svayaṃvare
01,189.049d@101_0009 avāpa sā patīn vīrān bhaumāśvī manujādhipān
01,189.049d@101_0010 vīṇeva madhurārāvā gāndhārasvaramūrcchitā
01,189.049d@101_0011 uttamā sarvanārīṇāṃ bhaumāśvī hy abhavat tadā
01,189.049d@101_0012 yasyā naitantavāḥ pañca patayaḥ kṣatriyarṣabhāḥ
01,189.049d@101_0013 babhūvuḥ pṛthivīpālāḥ sarvaiḥ samuditā guṇaiḥ

As per Unabridged Southern Editions Of Mahabharata...Kumbakonam Edition]

16.1. It appears that polyandry was a relic of the Pre-Vedic era that was linked to ancient Sumer (c.2900 BCE). Rig Veda period, which represents an age of transition, was an open society which fully appreciated the virtues of marriage. The marriage was sanctified with due rituals and ceremony. There is no passage in Rig Veda clearly referring to the custom of polyandry. The practice was known; but mentioned mostly with reference to certain gods. Johann Jacob Meyer in his Sexual Life in Ancient India (Barnes & Noble, inc 1953) remarks (page 108)

“As is well known the polygamy of the man in Aryan India is as old as the hills and does not form the slighted offence in the Brahmanic system, although since Vedic times, indeed, one wife is seen to be the usual, often the obvious thing. On the other hand, polyandry is utterly repugnant to Indian feelings, and in the Epic only one or two cases of it are found, and these are exclusively cases of a community of wives among brothers”.

16.2. The earliest known evidence of polyandry refers to the twins Aswins (Nasatya) who represent the pre-Vedic horsemen known for swiftness and ability to heal. Rig Veda also refers to Rodasi of disheveled hair as Sadharani the common wife of the Maruts: ‘The Maruts cling to their young and radiant wife who belongs to them all’ (RV.1.167.4); ‘ride upon their chariot with winged steeds; the youths have set the maiden wedded to glory’ (RV.1.167.6). The Aswins and the Maruts are gods or mythical figures; and not men of the living society. Such references are inoffensive not scandalous. According to Dr. Subimal Chandra Sarkar (Some aspects of the earliest social history of India – pre Buddihistic ages; 1924) it is best understood as the relic of a gradually disused custom transformed into allegories. Dr Sarkar also observes “The practice of polyandry is generally supposed to be un-Vedic; and clear evidences are not found in the Vedic texts”. Yet, he feels such imagery of Aswins and the Maruts were evidently inspired by polyandric – traits that must have existed in the past.

Madhavi’s story has therefore to be placed in the context of pre-Vedic times.

17.1. The instances that Yudhishtira mentions, those of Jatila and Varksi are indeed very ancient; and not much is known about these women. They are very rare incidents. In Aitareya Brahmana , a post Vedic text, attached to Rig Veda , there is a distinct prohibition against a wife having more than one husband at a time (AB: 2.23) . By the time of Mahabharata, the polyandry as a cultural trait had fallen into disuse and was largely discredited. It was also not in vogue at the time of the Buddha (600 BCE). The Dharma-shastras too do not speak of polyandry. Thus, even in the earliest times of which we have evidence, polyandry had become rare and discredited. It was not considered ‘respectable’ in the Madyadesha, the heartland of Vedic and Buddhist religions.

17.2. According to Dr. Sarkar, the practice of polyandry lingered among the Tribal communities in the Western Sub-Himalaya belts and among as also among the Tibet-Burma tribes. 

As regards Tibet, according to Melvyn C. Goldstein, professor of anthropology at Case Western University, in Natural History (vol. 96, no. 3, March 1987, pp. 39-48) , the practice is tied with limited tillable land, inadequate labor force and the skewed ratio of male -female. The custom  of polyandry occurs in many different economic classes, but is especially common in peasant landowning families.

But, it has been on steady decline; though it is occasionally still practiced.

Question of Women

18.1. In the stories through which the Mahabharata speaks of life, women occupy a central position. It is the women who take decisions, direct the course of events and decide the fate of men and their generations to follow. The women are the true leaders of the Epic. The three women (Satyavathi, Kunti and Draupadi) in particular wielded power, in more ways than one. Mahabharata is interwoven with their remarkable sagacity in exercise of power and leadership. They knew when and how to wield power; and more importantly, when not to slam it. These women demonstrated that the truly powerful do not have to cling to the seat of power, but can still influence the course of events.

[When you come to think of it ; the tragedy of the Kauravas was that their helpless mother Gandhari was unable to exert her influence upon her wayward children.]

18.2. One of the other ways of looking at Mahabharata is to view it as a reflection of the flow of woman’s life. The narrations in the early part of the Epic indicate that the women enjoyed a greater degree of freedom, were invested with authority to take decisions on crucial matters, and were accorded much respect. We have seen how Madhavi could preserve her independence; and exercise a measure of freedom of thought and action in a manner that was unique to her times. Later, coming down to the core Epic, you find Ganga and Satyavati married on conditions they imposed and insisted upon. Satyavati the fisher-maid could upset the dynamics of the royalty. She prevailed upon her husband to ensure that only her progenies succeeded to the throne. Kunti and Madri could take their decisions independently on crucial matters. Kunti, in particular, exercised control and actively directed the lives of her sons. She could command a sort of respect and obedience that Gandhari the queen could not secure from sons.

18.3.   As the Epic steps into its middle and later stages when Kunti recedes to background and Draupadi   enters the lives of the Pandavas there is a noticeable erosion in the power and influence of women. The women in the Epic are no longer respected as they once were. The esteem of women plummeted to its nadir with the most brazen act of wagering Draupadi at a gambling game of dice, which led to   insult and humiliation of her womanhood in a public place. Thereafter, the women cease to play any significant role; they are treated rather coarsely and almost reduced to objects of pity. Draupadi as a woman and mother is dealt a most grievous and mortal blow when her sons are slaughtered while asleep alongside her.   At the end, Draupadi the prime heroine of the Epic is left to die unattended as she stumbles and falls on mountain slopes while none of her five husbands cares to stay with her or to help her.

19.1. Thus, Mahabharata depicts a steady degradation of woman’s status, erosion of her authority, and degeneration of her esteem. That worsening downward trend, sadly, continued for long centuries. Let’s talk of this in bit more detail.

19.2. When Pandu attempted to force his wife Kunti to beget children for him by soliciting a worthy stranger, she recoiled in horror and flatly refused, screaming “not even in touch will I be embraced by another”. Pandu eventually succeeded in gaining her acceptance by cajoling and reasoning with her after narrating to her the sanctioned customs of the Uttara-kuru, Northern Kurus:

“Now will I make known to thee the true essence of dharma, listen unto me the ancient dharma perceived by the lofty-minded knowers of it (atha tv imaṃ pravakṣyāmi dharmaṃ tv etaṃ nibodha me – Adi Parva – 01,113.003). In former times, as is well known, women were left unhindered (anavrita)- anāvṛtāḥ kila purā striya āsan varānane; O thou of the lovely face, going the way of their desires, in freedom they followed their own inclinations.  (kāma cāra vihāriṇyaḥ svatantrāś cārulocane), O sweet-smiling one, neither man nor woman knew jealousy (Irshya nasti nari- nara- naam); and, were free from fear, excessive attachment and anger.   When they, from the years of maidenhood on, did trick their husbands; that was not seen as wrong. But, that was the right thing in former times. This was the moral order laid down by the rule of conduct; it was honoured by the great Rishis through observance, and to-day is still honored among the Uttara-kurus –

purāṇadṛṣṭo dharmo ‘yaṃ pūjyate ca maharṣibhiḥ uttareṣu ca rambhoru kuruṣv adyāpi vartate / strīṇām anugraha-karaḥ sa hi dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ – Adi parva – 01,113.006.

For, this is the eternal law that shows favour to women. But, sadly, the barrier of to-day was set up in our world short while ago.  Learn this now, O brightly-smiling one, from me “.

He then narrates the bizarre story of Svethakethu son of the Rishi Uddalaka; and, the circumstance that prompted Svethakethu to bring into effect the new moral order of conduct for woman and man, replacing the ancient law under which the women were unhindered (anavrita)   .

“Until then, women were not restricted to the house, they were not dependent on family members; they moved about freely, they enjoyed themselves freely. Until then they  were free; they could sleep with any men they liked from the age of puberty; they could be  unfaithful to their husbands, and yet were not viewed  sinful… the greatest rishis have praised the ancient  tradition-based custom;… the Northern Kurus still practice it…the new custom is very recent.” (Mbh: Adi Parva; 113.4-8)

19.3. During the Vedic ages, the women were generally not discriminated against merely on the grounds of gender. They did have their say in matters of education; marriage; re-marriage; managing the household and the property. Many women engaged in intellectual pursuits, participation in public debate; and many were teachers. There were also few instances of women on the battlefield fighting along with their men folk.

I am not suggesting that the Vedic society was a perfect one. I wonder if there ever was a perfect society. Even Plato’s idealized Utopia was not perfect. Rig Vedic society too suffered from poverty, destitution, slavery and exploitation of the weak. But, the sorrows and suffering that the women of those times had to endure in their day- to-day living were not for the mere reason they were women. The depravity, social evil and injustice do exist in all societies – modern or otherwise- just as the strong, affluent, educated, enlightened, independent and liberated women do exist in all societies. The Vedic society was as good or bad as any other society of its time; but it appeared to be a tolerant and moderately unbiased society.

20.1. What happened after the Buddhist period, particularly after 300 BCE, was a totally different story. Woman lost the high status and some of her independence she once enjoyed in society. She became a piece of property, an object to be protected.

The period after 300 B.C witnessed a succession of invasions and influx of foreigners such as the Greeks, the Scythians, the Parthian, the Kushans and others. The political misfortunes, the war atrocities followed by long spells of anarchy and lawlessness had a disastrous effect on the Indian society. Fear and insecurity haunted common people and the householders. Sons were valued higher than the daughters because of the need for more fighting males in order to survive waves of onslaughts. It was also imperative to protect women from abductors. It therefore became necessary to curtail women’s freedom and movements’; and confining them within limited spaces. Early marriage was employed as a part of those defensive measures. The education of the girl child was no longer a priority, as was her safety.

20.2. The   Dharmashastras came into prominence at the time when the orthodox society was under dire threat and when it was fighting for survival. The society had entered into an inward looking self preservation – mode. The severity of the Dharmashastras was perhaps a defensive mechanism, in response to the threats and challenges thrown at its pet social order. The Shastras compromised social values by accepting early marriage as a substitute for Upanayanam and education of girls. The neglect of education, imposing seclusion and paranoid sense of insecurity that gripped their lives had disastrous consequences upon the esteem and status of women. The society in turn sank into depravity.

The social conditions deteriorated rapidly during the medieval period.

21.1. The long centuries stretching to almost 2000 years – from 300 B.C. to 1800 A.D. – are truly the dark ages of India. The development of woman steadily stuttered though she was affectionately nurtured by the parents, loved by the husband and cared by her children.

21.2. Now, it is the time of reawakening. Women of India are beginning to get opportunities to establish their identity and be recognized for their potential, talent and capabilities. This is a good re-beginning; though there is still a long way to go. The process must improve both in terms of its spread and quality. The ancient principles of equal opportunities for learning and development; equitable position in work-place; and the right to seek out her destiny with honor, must soon find place in all segments of the society. It might sound like asking for the moon. But, that is the only option India is left with, if it has to survive as a nation…and, if only the opportunities and freedom are utilized sensibly.

img_3204

[You may click here for its complete and enlarged version for tracing the line of kings from Manu to Ikshvaku to   Mahabharata ]

 

 

References and Sources

1.Some aspects of the earliest social history of India –pre Buddihistic ages (1924)   by Dr. Subimal Chandra Sarkar.

2. Sexual Life in Ancient India (Barnes & Noble, inc 1953) by Johann Jacob Meyer.

3. Polyandry in Ancient India (1988) by Dr. Sarva Daman Singh

4. A Social History of India (2009) by Brajadulal Chattopadhyaya

5.The story of Yayati’s daughter Madhavi in the Udyoga Parvam

The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, Volume 3 Books 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12

6. Apropos Epic Women: East & West 

7.http://www.boloji.com/index.cfm?md=Content&sd=Articles&ArticleID=1172

ALL PICTURES ARE FROM INTERNET

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2012 in Mahabharata

 

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The other migrations

Ila

1.1. It is said; the Vedic region broadly comprised three areas:  Ila the western regions, Bharathi the tracts of the alluvial plains of the Ganga and Jamuna do-ab, and the third region being of course the Sindhu or the Sarasvati.

1.2. There is a view which asserts that ’Ila’, in fact, refers to the Land’s End  of the Sothern India the parts of which were rescued from the Great Flood  of  the very distant past. It also mentions about the migration of people from the lands threatened by flood waters towards safe upper reaches and to regions in the North. The ancient texts such as Shatapatha Brahmana and the Puranas as also the ancient Tamil texts seem to support that view. Let’s talk of Ila of the South.

Yayathi and sons

2.1. Yayathi the legendry king of the Vedic people is said to have had two wives: Devayani the daughter of Shukrachaya of the Bhrigu clan; and Sharmishta the daughter of Vrisha Parvan, the King of Asuras in the south west (Gujarat area) bordering the central region ruled by Yayathi. Vrisha Parvan too was a follower of the Bhrigus.

Devayani had earlier fallen in love, desperately, with Kaccha the son of Brihaspathi of the Angirasa clan. But her love was rejected.

2.2. Turvasha and Yadu were sons of Yayathi (an Angirasa) by Devayani of the Bhrigus; while Anu, Druhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta of the Asuras.

2.3. Yayathi’s story indicates that the five great lines of Vedic rulers were born of an alliance of Deva and Asura kings, the followers of Angirasa and Bhrigu seers. Yayathi’s marriage with the Bhrigu women was perhaps an attempt to bring together the two rival clans.

2.4. According to Vishnu Purana (4.10.17-18) the king Yayathi divided his kingdom among his five sons . To Turvasha he gave the south-east; to Druhayu the west; to Yadu the south and west in the Narmada –Godavari region; to Anu the north; and to Puru the centre. Purus ruled as the Supreme king of all earth.

dhanāśā jīvitāśā ca jīryato ‘pi na jīryataḥ // ViP_4,10.17 //
pūrṇaṃ varṣasahasraṃ me viṣayāsaktacetasaḥ /
tathāpy anudinaṃ tṛṣṇā mamaiteṣv eva jāyate // ViP_4,10.18 //

2.5. In the lineage of the Puranas, the Purus and Yadus rule famously, for long years, as the prominent kings of Chandra-vamsha, the lunar dynasty. The descendents of Puru and Yadu branched into Pauravas and Yadavas, respectively. Dushyanata followed by his son Bharata was the pioneer of the Puru clan in which line descended the Kuru and Pandava princes. While, Krishna son of Yadava prince Vasudeva was the culmination of the Yadu clan.

The west and the south combine

3.1. Turvasha and Yadu, the two sons of Devayani of the Bhrigus were said to be twins; and were particularly close. The kings of the Dravida region were the descendents of Turvasha, while the kings of the island of Sri Lanka were Yadus. The regions ruled by the two clans stretched from the upper regions of the Narmada to the end of Southern land mass which perhaps extended   beyond the present-day Sri Lanka. The entire region was ruled practically as one kingdom, because the ruling families in the South had very friendly relations with the Yadus of the Narmada region in the west. All were in the line of the Bhrigus.

3.2. The later legends mention of the sizable presence of the Asuras- Yadus – Brighus in the Narmada and Godavari region. It is said that Lavana, a Yadu and a disciple of the Brighus controlled that region. Lavana was related to Ravana who was a Yadu; a militant Yadu just as Kamsa of Mathura in the much later era. The followers of Lavana (including Ravana’s sister) roamed freely in the region. It was from this area that Ravana abducted Sita.

The Deluge and after

4.1. The Shatapatha Brahmana (I.8.1) describes the floods that swept the lands of the Vedic people, the rescue of the lands from the advancing floods; and of moving people and animals threatened by waters to the upper regions in the North. The other Vedic texts too carry similar legends of floods and the rescue. The later Puranas   and Srimad Bhagavatam turned the great event associated with the rescue from the floods into the legend of Matsya-Avatara of Vishnu, his emergence as a Fish, the first of his ten principal incarnations.

manave ha vai prātaḥ | avanegyamudakamājahruryathedam
pāṇibhyāmavanejanāyāharantyevaṃ tasyāvanenijānasya matsyaḥ pāṇī āpede (I.8.1)

4.2. According to the legends, a little fish (a shaphari crap fish)  asked a  kingto save its life while he was performing his early morning- austerities  standing in the river : and it kept growing bigger and bigger. The fish also informed the King of a huge flood which would soon hit and sweep away his land. The King thereafter built a huge boat to rescue his people, nine types of seeds, and animals in order to repopulate the earth.

[H.S. Bellamy in his Moons, Myths and Men, estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as – China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia- each has its own version of a giant flood].

5.1. The common features of most (not all) of the Indian legends of the Great Flood are: The king who rescued the land and its people from the encroaching flood waters was Satyavrata of Bhrigu clan, perhaps a king in line of Yadu or Turvasha. He ruled in the Southern region — Dravida Desha. When the little fish jumped into his palms holding water as offering to gods, the king Satyavrata was standing in the waters of the river Kritamala flowing down from Malaya Hills .After he built the boat, Satyavrata sailed north, away from the floods, and he rescued humans, animals and plants by taking them to safety in the regions of north and west. Ila is the name of Satyavrata’s daughter; she is described as Maitra-Varuni (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 6. 4.28) suggesting she descended from the line of the Bhrigus.  Ila is also the name of the land the parts of which were rescued from the flood waters.

athāsya mātaram abhimantrayate — ilāsi maitrāvaruṇī vīre vīram ajījanat |
sā tvaṃ vīravatī bhava yāsmān vīravato ‘karad iti 

5.2. The Malaya hills mentioned in the legends refer to the ranges in the peninsular region of India stretching south from Sri Sailam to the southern end of the Western Ghats, which could be the border areas between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills. An account of the pilgrimages undertaken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) mentions: “The Lord next visited the places known as Pandya-Desa, Tamraparni…, Panangudi, Carntapura, Sri Vaikuntha, Malaya-parvata and Kanya-kumari”.  As regards the Kritamala River, it is believed to be the Vaigai River or its tributary. The river Kritamala is mentioned in Mahabharata in the context of Balarama’s pilgrimage: “After the Setubandha (Ramesvaram) Lord Halayudha then visited the Krtamala and Tamraparni (of the Tirunelveli district) rivers and the great Malaya Mountains”. Kritamala is also mentioned in the travel accounts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Satyavrata might have therefore been a Yadu king of the Pandya country.

The king Satyavrata later became the progenitor of this eon: Vaivasvata Manu. He then was described as being in the line of the Vivasvan, an Aditya, a solar deity. Here too, Ila is his daughter.

5.3. All these suggest that king Satyavrata came from the South. And, the lands and people rescued from the deluge were part of a large landmass called Ila or Ilavar or Ilam named after the daughter of king Satyavrata who became Vaivasvata Manu. The people rescued from Southern waters were moved to north and west. And, the Vedas existed before and after the deluge.

The Land of Ila

6 . 1. That fuels the argument that ancient Ila – mandalam ‘The Land of Ila’ lay to the South, and its Vedic- tradition of the Aryans was rescued by the efforts its king and his people. And thereafter   , following a great migration, it rejoined the Vedic culture on the banks of the Saraswati River and flourished afresh. Since the rescue was by means of a huge boat that could sail over turbulent waters, the rescued population of the South could have reached the Saraswati basin by setting sail from a port situated along the west coast, nearer to the Pandya country. That possibility seems to give wings to the view that some of the early Vedic people in the Sindhu valley were migrants from Ila of the South; and that an early form of Dravidian language was one of the languages of the Indus people. Scholars assert that the Dravida influence was certainly present in north-western India by around the middle of the second millennium BC.

Shri Bhadriraju   Krishnamurti in his ‘The Dravidian Languages’ mentions that the Rig Vedic society consisted several different ethnic components who all participated in the same cultural life; and that the Rig Vedic Sanskrit had several borrowed-terms from the Dravidian e.g. ulukhala (mortar); kunda (pit); khala (threshing floor); kana (one eyed); and mayura (peacock).

6.2. A Russian Indologist, Nikita Gurov, claims that there were as many as eighty words of Dravidian origin in the Rig-Veda, ‘occurring in 146 hymns of the first, tenth and the other mandalas , e.g. RV 1.33.3, vaila (sthana-) -open space : wayal– open space , sunlight ; RV. 10.15, kiyambu –a water plant; RV 1.144, vril – finger: RV 1. 8.40, vilu- stronghold; witu – house, abode, camp; sira – plough; and kanuka –gift. Gurov also cites some proper names, namuci, kıkata, paramaganda; and suggests these could be of Dravidian origin.

6.3. The legends of Ila thus help to bind together the Vedic tales and the tales from the old Tamil texts.

The ancient Tamil legends

7.1. The ancient Tamil texts recall legends of a sunken kingdom that lay to the South-East of India. This land was known as Kumari Kandam ‘The Virgin Landmass’ or Ilam; and it included other parts of the now visible lands of Sri Lanka. That could be quite possible, since in the scale of geological time, the mountain ranges in the south-central Sri Lanka are regarded the oldest in the world. The geologists believe that these mountains existed while the Himalayan regions were still under water.

The Silappadhikaram, one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature   said to have been written in first few centuries BCE, states that the ‘cruel sea’ took the Pandiyan land that lay between the rivers Pahruli and the mountainous banks of the Kumari.

Adiyarkkunallar, a 12th-century commentator on the Silappadhikaram, explains that there was once a land to the south of the present-day Kanyakumari, which stretched for 700 kavatam from the Pahruli River in the north to the Kumari River in the south. the precise modern equivalent of a kavatam is not known. The speculations about the extent of the lands devoured by the ocean range from 6-7,000 square miles;  or  a smaller area .

lemuria-kumari-kandam-mapcropped-maxresdefault

(https://pparihar.com/2014/01/17/the-kumari-kandam/)

7.2. The deluge and its consequences caused large movements of people towards the upper regions in the north and to west. Early Tamil texts  mention that the present-day Madurai came up as  the new capital in remembrance of the old  capital Ten-Madurai sunken underwater (the ruins of Ten-Madurai are supposed to be lying under water in the region of the Great and Little Bases in the Indian Ocean off the south eastern coast of Sri Lanka).

7.3. Even several centuries after its  surrounding lands submerged under the sea , the author of The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (dated around the first century) names the island of Sri Lanka as  Palaisimoondus  , which actually meant Palaya –ila- mandalam, meaning the old-land – of Ilam.

(please see the map or  click here for an enlarged version).

 

Sage Agastya

8.1. The sage Agastya a revered seer of the South was the brother of sage Vasistha. The two are described as Bhrigus and carried the name Maitra-varuni; say like, Agastya Maithravaruni. The Puranas describe them as born out of water (children of Varuna), perhaps to suggest that the brothers escaped the flood waters and sailed out of it.

The brothers helped in controlling the floods and in rescuing the people. Thereafter Vasistha sailed back north along with the rescued people, while his brother Agastya stayed in the South. He then settled down at an ashram in the lower regions of   Western Ghats.

Vasistha seemed to have enjoyed his voyage back home and recalls the happy days on board the ship:

“Boarding the ship, when Varuna and I entered the mid-ocean and floated with other vessels on water we indeed very much enjoyed the delightful rocking of the ship “(RV 7. 88. 3-4).

 ā yad ruhāva varuṇaś ca nāvam pra yat samudram īrayāva madhyam |
 adhi yad apāṃ snubhiś carāva pra preṅkha īṅkhayāvahai śubhe kam |7,088.03|
vasiṣṭhaṃ ha varuṇo nāvy ādhād ṛṣiṃ cakāra svapā mahobhiḥ |
 stotāraṃ vipraḥ sudinatve ahnāṃ yān nu dyāvas tatanan yād uṣāsaḥ |7,088.04|

8.2. Agastya seems to have been a remarkable sage. He is described as ‘born small, not more than a span in length”; nonetheless he travelled from north to south along with eighteen groups of disciples chartering a new land route to South; and for that feat, he was accorded the epithet Vindhya-kuta, the one who tamed the Vindhyas . Until then, the chain of the Vindhya mountains,  though by no means as impressive as the Himalayas, formed  a formidable  barrier between the North and the peninsula . And, the people were forced to use mainly the rivers or the coast to move about within the sub-continent. There were of course no regular roads during those times; and travel by land routes was very hazardous. The position remained so until about late 19th century.

[The Sea route

sea route

I reckon even the people of Harappa used the river or canal transport wherever expedient. With Himalayas being a vast stretch of high mountains, horribly cold and inhospitable, India’s trade and contacts with other countries had to be mainly through the sea routes, particularly through the ports along its west coast. Even during the earliest periods, it is said, the Bhrigus who dwelt in the Indus and the lower Narmada valley were great navigators, expert mariners, and enterprising tradesmen who controlled the trade between India and the peoples to its west, such as the Assyrians.

[As Prof. AL Basham  mentions in his monumental work – The Wonder That Was India- :

The importance of the mountains to India is not so much in the isolation which they give her, as in the fact that they are the source of her two great rivers. The clouds drifting northwards and west¬ wards in the rainy season discharge the last of their moisture on the high peaks, whence, fed by ever-melting snow, innumerable streams flow southward, to meet in the great river systems of the Indus and the Ganges. On their way they pass through small and fertile plateaux, such as the valleys of Kashmir and Nepal, to debouch on the great plain…

The roads were dangerous to the merchant-caravans. Many of the trade routes linking centers of civilization passed through dense jungle, and over hills where wild tribes dwelt. ..The great rivers were used to carry both goods and passengers in vessels  large and small. Chief of these was the Ganges, the artery of the Great Plain, but the Indus and the rivers of the Deccan were also important as trade routes.

*

The chief ports of ancient India were on the West Coast—Bhrgukaccha, Supara, not far from the modern Bombay, and Patala, on the Indus delta. Hence coastal shipping plied to the South and to Ceylon, and westwards to the Persian Gulf and the RedSea until, in the 1st century a.d., seamen took to using the monsoon winds to sail straight across the Indian Ocean to the ports of South India. In the East the Ganges Basin was served by the river port of Campa, from which ships sailed down the Ganges and coasted to the South and Ceylon.

The merchants and seamen of Roman Egypt knew India well, and there survives a remarkable seaman’s guide, compiled in Greek by an anonymous author towards the end of the 1st century a.d.. The Periplus of the Erylhrean Sea. From the Periplus, Ptolemy’s Geography, of the following century, and the early Tamil poems which look back to this period, we learn much of the trade of the Tamil lands. Here many flourishing ports are mentioned, the three chief being  iVfuÿiri, known to the Greeks as JVfusiris, in the Cera country (Malabar), Korkai, in the land of the Panclyas, not far from the modern Tuticorin, and Kavirippattinam, the chief port of the Cola country, at the mouth of the Kaviri.

 In the early centuries of the Christian era maritime trade became most vigorous, especially with the West, where the Roman Empire demanded the luxuries of the East in great quantities. With the fall of the Roman Empire the trade with the West declined somewhat, though it was maintained by the Arabs, and improved gradually with the rising material standards of medieval Europe. Before the time of the Guptas contact was made by sea between South India and China, and as trade with the West declined that with China increased, the Chinese demand for Indian spices, jewels, perfumes, and other luxury commodities continuing down to the present day]

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The Archaeologists state that based on terracotta tablets and a graffito on a potsherd secured from Mohenjo-Daro, Harappans were the builders of large ships and their maritime trade extended up to Mesopotamia during third millennium BCE. From the terracotta models and the engraved seals unearthed, five types of sailing vessels have been identified. It is also said; the Harappans had built tide-docks for berthing and servicing ships at the port town of Lothal.

There are also abundant references in ancient Indian literature, including Rig-Veda, Baudhayana Dharmasastram, Manava-dharma-sastra, Kautaliya’s Arthasastra, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka tales in Pali, and in the Sangam works of the ancient Tamils about the maritime activity of the Indian people in ancient times for domestic, trade and naval war.

The celebrated Grammarian Panini (about sixth century BCE) in his Astadhyayi refers to various types of river crafts and ships during his , such as  utsagna, udupa, udyata, utputa, pitaka etc. A large boat was called Udavahana or Udakavahana. He mentions about cargo transport (dvaipya) form a nearby island and about large (dvaipa or dvaipaka) vessels coming in from mid-ocean. Panini makes brief mention of the ferry changes, cargoes, marine trade etc of his days.

A  Sanskrit work of the post-Gupta period Yukti-Kalpa-Tatru, a compilation ascribed to one Bhoja Narapati (King Bhoja ?) provides amazing details about the Indian shipping and ship-building of the ancient period. Under three broad categories, Bhoja mentions the details of about twenty-seven types of vessels. The River-going ships are treated as Samanya (general) and ocean going ships are treated as Visesa (special).   The three classes of ships described by Bhoja were: Sarva-mandira, a peace-time , large cargo  vessel meant for goods , animals and common people ; Madhya- mandira with a covered deck or living quarters in the middle to provide shelter from sun and rain; and, Agra-mandira  , a large vessel with the living room located in front or at the top of the vessel, meant   for distant voyages and carrying up to   about seven hundred passengers. The commentators mention that the largest vessel measured about 276 ft. X 36 ft. X 27 ft. weighing roughly 2,300 tons.

 (http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vimanas/esp_vimanas_11b.htm _)

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Further, because of the established trade route in the western sea, the Yadu people used the Harappan port cities such as Lothal or Dholavira in Gujarat and Kutch to trade with Sri Lanka. That trade went back to the third millennium BC. Therefore, migration of large number of people from Pandya Desha in south India to the Sind – Gujarat region, after the great deluge, does not seem improbable.

Tamil ship

During the times of the recorded history, the Indian direct trade in textiles, minerals, gems, perfumes and spices   with Egypt and Rome could flourish because the sea routes from Maziris (Pattanam?)  along the Malabar Coast as also the monsoon trade (Hippalus) winds helped avoiding the middlemen, the Arabs. I believe the Greek/Egypt trade with India and the Roman one that followed thereafter came as a culmination of the relations that existed between India and the West several centuries prior to Christian era.

 Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history, mentions that historical records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. According to Dr. Casson, they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast. The researchers said the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

The trade on the eastern side somehow came about much later; and was confined to the islands of near east . But   Japan being mostly insular having a culture of its own remained a distant proposition; India had very limited direct contact with Japan.]

8.3. Agastya too had a role in controlling the flood waters. That was turned into a legend of his drinking up the ocean (Pitabdhi . He also perhaps devised ways to divert the Cauvery River to Chola-mandalam. or Samudra-chuluka)

Bali – Vamana legend

9.1. There is also a talk of another migration at a later era. It relates to the migration of the Brighus – the Yadus from the Saraswathi and Narmada regions to far south and to Sri Lanka. And, that has to do with the Bali – Vamana legend.

9.2. The Mahabali – Vamana episode is at times explained in the context of Brighu- Angirasa rivalry. Maha-Bali (aka Indrasena) the son of Virochana and the grandson of the legendry devote-prince Prahlada, was an Asura. Shukra the son of Brighu was his preceptor. The king Mahabali, whose preceptors were the Brighus, ruled and controlled vast area called Brighu Desha or Brighu Kakshya – the domain of the Brighu (Brighu kaccha – Baruch) that covered the west, the north-west and the south west of the Indus. He performed a sacrifice on the southern banks of the Narmada situated in Brighu Kakshya.

9.3. Vamana represents the arrival of Angirasas into the kingdom of Mahabali. Vamana the son of sage Kashyapa, in the linage of the Angirasa, initially asked the king for a small piece of land for their settlement; and the king consented to his request despite warning from his priest (Shukra).  The Bhargava Shukra seemed to be aware of the designs of the Angirasas. The Kashyapas, starting from their small settlement, spread throughout the kingdom of Mahabali and eventually overthrew him from his kingship. The story of Vamana, perhaps, signifies the transfer of power from the Asura kings and their Brighu priests to the Devas and their Angirasa priests.

9.4. The Brighus and Yadus who earlier formed the majority in the Bhrigu country were now overwhelmed by the fresh immigrants. They were thereafter resettled – through sea route – by Bhargava Rama (in the linage of the Brighus) along the western coast and in what is now Kerala. The resettled Brighus carried to their lands the legend of their beloved King Mahabali and also the Krishna cult.

[Some of these are views; may not necessarily be verifiable facts. Chronology and ordering the events in sequences is the other issue.]

References and Sources

http://assets.cambridge.org/97805217/71115/excerpt/9780521771115_excerpt.pdf

http://www.tamilwritersguild.com/edited_Ilamurid.pdf

http://www.indianetzone.com/47/pandyas.htm

http://www.harekrsna.com/sun/features/01-10/features1629.htm

http://bulfinch.englishatheist.org/flood/Indian-Flood1.htm

All pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation

 

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