The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on November 20, 2014
At long last, we touch onLiteratureproper here at the Andhra Cultural Portal.
The importance and impact of this aspect of Indian Civilization and Andhra Culture cannot be minimized. After all, the stories, heroes & heroines, great romances, beautiful places, and wondrous accomplishments of yore are all preserved in and passed on via the literature of a people. It is this, the documentation of the sum total of a civilization’s life, society, and above all, values that connects the young with the old, and for those yearning for star-crossed sringara, connects lover with lover as well. However, to properly appreciate the nuances of a sophisticated culture’s Literary Accomplishments, one must first understand the structural theory it is founded upon.
Those of you following us on Twitter may have seen our recent tweets about videos and articles educating layreaders on the logic and principles of Classical Indian Music and Artistic systems. In that light we continue today with the first in a series on Classical Indic Literature: Literary Theory.
Intro to Classical Indic Literature
India’s Classical Literature Traditions indubitably begins with its unmatched Sanskrit Literary Heritage. By some counts of Indologists, there are some 30 million Sanskrit Texts on various subjects: some political, some religious, some scientific, some literary, some romantic, some historical, and many not even properly catalogued.
In the recent past, the study of Sanskrit has been highly and unfairly politicised. It was not just the language of Brahmins nor was it limited only to Vedic rite. In fact, Sanskrit was the language of high culture, and the speech of the elite and refined. Although most of the credentialed-but-ignorant think its poetry was merely limited to the epic Ramayana and Mahabharata; the reality, however, is that there is a galaxy of romantic poetry and comedic prose in this most elegant of tongues. Poets and Dramatists ran the spectrum and included such literary jewels as Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhasa, and Dandin. Poems such as Meghadootam and Uttaramacarita captivated our forbears with their sentiments of passionate love. Plays such as AbhignanaSakuntala (Recognition of Sakuntala) and Malavikagnimitra (The Romance of Malavika & Agnimitra)made their heroic and comedic marks as far as Germany and beyond, with the former even developed into an Opera during the Enlightenment era.
Tragically, due to the vicissitudes of history and the travesty of politics, Classical Indic Literature was neglected, much like the Classical Indian Education. Therefore, to properly appreciate the literary accomplishments of Ancient India, one must first be properly acquainted with its literary theory and creative logic. Much like aesthetics is taught to artists, and music theory to musicians, so to is it with the civilized written word.
While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originate with the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), India’s first great treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra of Sage Bharata.
Classical Indic Literary Theory
Classical Indic Literary Theory [Saahithyalochana] was highly developed, with a host of treatises expounding its structure and a constellation of commentaries applying its critical theory. Works such as Ghantapatha (commentary on Kiratarjuneeya) and Saahithyadarpana along with names such as Jaggaadhara, Bhaamaha (a rhetorician), and Andhra’s own Mallinatha respectively provide expository on detailed structural theory and incisive analysis. Unlike today, many of these critics and commentators were successful litterateurs in their own right.
The origin of Classical Indian literary theory is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata, Natya Sastra. Natya translates to the performance arts (histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”.
This mighty work runs the gamut from literature, music, and dance to painting, sculpture, and architecture. While a discussion of this seminal opus of genius could take a series of blog posts or a book itself, the relevant aspect for our post today is the originality of Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well.
Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Veerya (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).
The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha
Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Vibhaava is the Excitant which builds up the main sentiment and is divided into Aalambana, the subject (i.e. hero, heroine) of the Rasa and Uddeepana or the object that excites (i.e. the moon, beauty, seasons, etc). Anubhaava means the Ensuant. This is the “outward manifestation of internal feelings, through the eyes, face, etc.”
There are other literary elements such as metre (chandah); however, such an expository on the Natya Sastra is best dealt with another day, the present focus being literary theory in general.
The Literary structure of Classical India chiefly aggregates into Dramatics and Poetics.
Literature (saahithya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).
Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubjya (Kannauj)), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes, they needn’t be examined for our purposes.
The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa).There are two main kinds of Vasthu: Principal (Adhikaarika ) and Accessory (Prasangika ). The Principal Plot is that which concerns the main characters of the piece and the central storyline. The Accessory Plot is that which deals with the supporting characters, and may in fact further the Principal Plot. There are two kinds of Prasangikas: Pataka and Prakari. The Pataka (meaning : “Banner”) “is an episode by which the progress of the plot is illustrated, furthered or hindered”. This further piques the audience’s interest in the story. It frequently spans the entire play to the very end. In contrast, the Prakari is only a short and minor episode of limited importance. The principal characters do not play any role here.
The other main plot devices in the classical Indic drama are the bija (seed), bindu (drop), and karya (the final issue or object of the plot). Together with the above two, these five dramatic constructs are called Arthaprakritis. Vasthus may borrow from history (Natakas) or may be wholly or partly fictitious (Prakarana).
The five stages of a play are called Avastha (conditions): (1) Aarambha(Beginning) (2) Yatna (Efforts ) (3) Praaptyaasa (Prospects of Success) (4) Nityataapti (Obstacle Removal) and (5) Phalaagama ( Attainment of Object).Links to connect them and other parts of the main action are called Samdhis, of which there are five kinds (mukha, pratimukha, garbha, avamarsa, and nirvahana). Mukha is where the seed is sown (including the various rasas), pratimukha is where the chief end is revealed, the garbha establishes the attainment or non-attainment of the object, avarmarsa is where the seeds attain growth and the attainment sprouts, and finally, the nirvahana is the consummation of the all of the preceding, in the story’s denouement.
The Hero of the Play (Neta) is expected to be “modest, decorous, comely, munificent, civil, of sweet address, eloquent, [and]…from a noble family” or a ministerial family. There are four kinds of hero: Dhirodaatta, Dhiralalita, Dhirashaantha, and most importantly, the Dhirodatta.
The Dhirodatta is the hero of sublime qualities. He is known for his magnanimity, patience, modesty, self-possession, resolve, concealed high spirit, valor, and keeping of promises.
Rama is the best example of this as well as Veerya rasa (heroism/manliness). This quality of his is best seen in the drama Mahaviracharita by Bhavabhuti. Rama’s romantic (sringara) qualities are highlighted in the same dramatist’s follow up work, Uttararamacharita.
The Hero’s principal assistants are the Peetamarda (key figure in the accessory plot/episodes), who is clever in speech, loyal to the Neta, and only slightly lesser to him in his manly qualities. Next is the famous Vidusaka, or comic relief. He is known for his wit and for assisting the hero in his romances. Finally, there is the Vita, who is skilled in one art (of the traditional 64).
The Nayika is the heroine, and must generally be the equal of the hero in his various virtues, as Sita is to Rama. She may be the wife of the hero, a woman who already is obligated to another, or a common woman. The helpers of the heroine are the sakhi (friend), daasi (servant), dhaatreyi (nurse or mother), and patikesika (neighbor).
The hero’s rival, or villain, is called the Pratinaayaka, and is generally “avaricious, bold, impetuous, criminal and of evil conduct”.
The Nataka is typically conducted by commencing with a benediction (svastivachana), followed by a prastaavana (prologue) introduced by the Nandi (the introductory portion which suggests the plot). All this is conducted by the Sutradhara (stage-manager). Typically divided into Scenes and Acts (which may be as many as five to ten in number), the Classical Nataka of Ancient India had long-standing rules on structure and even subject-matter. There was a historical rule against tragedies, since the rasas themselves are thought to imbue a spiritual quality in the audience. However, at least 1 play, Nagananda by Sri Harsa, is known to have broken this custom.
The most intriguing aspect of the classical drama is the diversity of languages.The aristocracy and other elites are seen conversing in Sanskrit, with the more common folk relying on various types of Prakrit for dialogue.
Poetry is divided into Prose (gadhya), Verse (padhya), and Mixed (misra). The vast majority of our classical literature has been in padhya.
Gadhya is further divided into katha and aakhyaayika. The distinction between the two is generally considered to be minimal. The modern understanding is that the aakhyaayika gives a detailed prose narration of the litterateur’s family history and background (i.e. auto-biographical), while the katha does the same in a short verse, and therefore, is seemingly less formal. This is because the latter is rarely divided into chapters, and there are no embedded stanzas suggestive of future events.
Aakhyaayika is also strictly narrated by the hero, which is not the case in katha. There are other distinctions as well, such as names of chapters in Aakhyaayika being called ucchvaasa, but they are not important for our discussion today. The key takeaway is that, according to the treatise Alamkaarasamgraha, the Aakyaayika is based on historical facts and events, whereas a katha is considered purely fictional.
We end this post with a brief sample of a famous Aakhyaayika by a famous poet and scholar of Poetics: The Dasakumaracarita of Dandin.
One of four known historical prose romances, the Dasakumaracarita of Dandin is a remarkable work. Literally meaning History of the Ten Princes, it is a composition of prose par excellence. The author Dandin is celebrated for his word play (pada-lalityam) in a famous sanskrit sloka (couplet).
Since the author himself will be discussed in detail another time, the work will be the object of brief focus. A truly delightful story, Dasakumaracarita has it all, from political conflict and war to action/adventure to feverish romances. It is centered around the escapades of ten princes and young ministers as they all seek to gain the necessary allies and strength to defeat their King’s enemy. It nevertheless is set in a background that gives a vivid picture of common life and is a detailed rendition of Indian Society during that period.It is divided into three parts: the Purvapithaka (Prologue), Dasakumaracarita proper, and the Uttarapithaka (Epilogue).
This piece of prose is dated to the 6th-7th centuries C.E., although tradition holds that the author was a contemporaneous rival of Kalidasa himself, which would date him to the 1st-4th centuries C.E. While Dandin is also famous for his incisive and erudite work on Poetics, it is his lyrical command of language (apparent even in translation) that truly defines him and this magnum opus of literature.
Frustratingly, due to the baggage of history, only an incomplete portion of the original text was discovered. Thus, it effectively begins in medias res and two of the ten narratives are missing/incomplete. One of the foremost scholars of Sanskrit literature, the late Moreshwar Ramchandra Kale, wrote that the Dasakumaracarita is officially classified as an Aakhyaayika, though it doesn’t appear to carry the main markers of one. Therefore, he designates it a gadhya kaavya (prose-poem or prose romance). Whether or not it is based on historical events, the Dasakumaracarita gives us a panoramic view of classical Bharat.
The Ten young noblemen in the story have various run ins with kings from throughout India, including Andhra, further demonstrating Bharat’s historical civilizational unity. While it is particularly famous for making delightful and frequently scintillating reading, we will end this post with a short passage that emphasizes its wisdom more than its word-play.
Foolish, indeed, are the worldly people that place Artha (wealth) and Kama (pleasure) on an equal footing with Dharma (virtue)…To be sure, Artha and Kama cannot come into being without Dharma; but even without regard to them, Dharma alone is the creative cause of final beatitude, and is attainable only by the concentration of the mind. It does not (like Artha and Kama) much depend on external means. Supported (i.e. held up) by the knowledge of the reality, it is not affected by Artha and Kama, howsoever pursued; and, even if affected, it is set right by a little exertion, and redaicating that defect also, it conduces the highest bliss.
Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
The following Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on February 22, 2015
Switch on the TV and with almost frightening regularity you will see an instance of horrendous rape being reported or a young girl being snuffed in the prime of her life by her husband and in-laws in what is known as dowry deaths. On local TV channels it becomes 24/7 screaming headlines until the next breaking news event occurs. It’s a case of lots of noise with expert analyses which gives the viewer no new insight nor tackles the underlying causes for it. This then is picked up by international media and “atrocities on Indian women” becomes the talking point internationally. The result is that the image of India that gets perpetuated internationally is one of a country of rapists and wife beaters/burners where women are simply not safe.
My point here is not to deny that such things take place but to state that we are no wiser at the end of each such episode on how to tackle the underlying cause for this deviousness. Instead what we have in the TV studios are assorted women’s rights activists who do not offer much more than outrage at the events and who use the opportunity to vent ire, usually at male dominance and patriarchy. The terrible fallout of all this loud “debate” is the international image of India. At this point it is important to ask if being pro-women, as activists claim to be also includes being pro-society. I ask this question because it often seems to me from the TV debates that one is exclusive of the other: that to be a truly liberated woman, one has to essentially be anti-society and a rebel. Does being a truly liberated woman mean that one is divorced from society, and if so is that really a pro-woman stance?This is a question that should be asked by women and particularly young women. I would like to show here that there is a different way to approach this issue. In Dharma lies the solution to correct the ills of society if we only take the time to rediscover it and respect its profundity. We have to revive the Shakti–the Divine Feminine– in Indic Society.
Status of the Indian Woman today
Indian society did and does have its share of ills and baggage, but the context and situations of Indian women are not the same as in the West. India is the one land where women enjoyed an exalted position in the past. India is the only culture that sees divinity in women so much so that goddesses are the custodians of the domains of wealth and knowledge. Lakshmi and Saraswathi are the goddesses in charge of the two respectively. Apart from this it is again a goddess who is said to be the Ardhangini or the other half of a divine marital couple. Goddess Parvati is the Shakti to Shiva and Shiva is often depicted as Ardhanareeswara (a complete form with one half male and the other female). However, as we should be willing enough to admit, India is now also the land where girls are killed even when they are in the womb resulting in a skewed sex ratio in many parts of the country. Women are beaten, oppressed and exploited by males especially when poverty which is widespread in this ancient land, is also accompanied by alcoholism.
Alcoholism which is a major problem both in the extremely poor sections as well as the extremely well-to-do sections of society is generally ignored by the government and powers that be; for alcohol is a major source of revenue for the State. Hereis a very revealing article on the state of affairs in Tamil Nadu, but which in varying degrees can be the story right round the country. This menace can have a devastating impact on women in general. It is compounded further when the State colludes to exacerbate the problem.
If alcoholism is one kind of problem, the male gaze is another (though not unique to India). Sexual advances are regularly made by males on the streets and in public places, and generally women are too diffident to speak out against it for fear of being branded dishonorable. Generally it is assumed that it is the girl who invited the unhealthy attention, and it is her lot to bear up. Honour is very intimately tied to chastity.
Girls are discriminated against in households where there is preference for a male child, and while there is a perception that this generally not explicit, there are many subtle ways in which the discrimination plays out.
It has come to the point where the Central Government is thinking of measures to undo the imbalance. The centre has announced the scheme called Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, Educate the girl child). India’s Prime Minister Modi in a very telling addressto a large gathering at the launch of the program, describes very poignantly the ills that plague Indian society today with respect to the girl child. This initiative shows that the Indian state has started responding to the skewed balance and slowly this will then drive the Indian society to change their attitude too. But what are the forces driving this positive change? Are they external and foreign or internal and indigenous?
Indeed, the trajectory of Indian feminism has been quite interesting. For all the global discourse about India being a patriarchal society, the feminist movement in India was initially spearheaded by males.In the 19th century, Indian males were the first to own up to the problems that Indian females faced and worked to abolish the system of sati, child marriage and encourage widow re-marriage to name a few. They were also the first to demand that women need to be better educated. Women joined the men only much later, and then the movement got put on hold while the nation was engulfed in the throes of nationalism. Men and women from all across the country worked shoulder to shoulder to oust the British from India.
Gandhiji brought women to the fore exhorting them to join the freedom movement, but this call was always in sync with the ethos of the Indian woman’s way of living. He made it a point to accord utmost reverence to the roles that an Indian woman played as a caring, sacrificing, giving mother, sister, wife. And probably on account of that, he inspired millions of women across the country to rise in revolt against the British.
Independent India drew up a constitution that guarantees equality to women. The constitution also gives Indian women the right to vote, and indeed she exercises her franchise most decisively at every election. This is something for which the Western woman has had to fight. It is also interesting to note that rural women go out to vote more than their urban counterparts. So do rural women understand their rights better and indeed care more about whom they ask to govern them, compared to the urban? It’s a point worth thinking about.
Post-Independence Indian Feminism
Post independence, a brand of feminism that has been championed by the West has gained ground in India. Some of the ideas are indeed good and need to be implemented fully. For example, equal wages for similar jobs among men and women is certainly a much required and indeed necessary demand of the Indian woman. Access to education is another which unequivocally is a must for restoring the dignity and importance of the role an Indian woman plays in all spheres of human activity. While these are positive and affirmative actions in the social and economic spheres, when western feminist notions enter the familial space, it is a different ball game. I tend to think that such notions play havoc with the fabric of the familial identity in ways that could be potentially devastating for the future of the family as a unit. Worrying signs are present even as we speak, but it is still not too late to reclaim them.
India has been a family oriented society since millennia. The western idea of the primacy of the individual and her/his rights are not part of the genetic make- up of Indian society. India is a very traditional society that has rights and more importantly duties built into the family structure.Hence, the way the family unit has functioned here is vastly different from the way it has panned out elsewhere. Dharma is the bedrock of the Indian family. Dharma works on the concept of Purusharthas loosely translated as the objects of human pursuit. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha are considered as the valid purusharthas for man. Briefly, Dharma is living by the rules of the universe. It means going by the primordial rhythm that makes life possible. In short, it means the “right way of living” which includes having rules, laws, and conduct in all spheres of activity and for all manner of organisms.
Artha is the pursuit of means to sustain life, or simply put, it is the pursuit of wealth or economic success. Kama is the pursuit of pleasure, physical, emotional and psychological. Moksha is the ultimate goal of all living beings. It is the liberation or release from the cycle of birth and death. It is the state when one is not different from the One. However, our shastras state that Dharma alone is the means to this Moksha and is placed above Artha and Kama. What this essentially means is that the right way alone is to be used for the pursuit of the other two. If Dharma is sidelined in the pursuit of Artha or Kama, it leads to social chaos.
I find this an extremely profound way to regulate lives. And in it, I clearly see the way for progress of society. But the Western idea, being a very seductive and attractive proposition in the short term while being ruinous in the long term, has women being drawn to it like flies. And it is slowly beginning to take its toll on the Indian family. S. Gurumurthy insightfully provides us with a lesson in what Indian society is all about. He says, “Ancient Indian literature in all Indian languages reveres parents, teachers and women as the divine in human form. But reverence, on which tradition rests, is anathema to modernity”.
The discourse, that has its roots in the western feminist movement, has surreptitiously slipped into the small conversations, messages and jokes that get shared on social media platforms like Whatsapp, Facebook etc. Sample this message which came as a forward on Whatsapp. It goes like this:
“She changes her name, changes her home, leaves her family, moves in with you, builds a home with you, gets pregnant for you, pregnancy changes her body, she gets fat, almost gives up in the labour room due to the unbearable pains of child birth, even the kids she delivers bear your name. Till the day she dies everything she does, (cooking, cleaning your house, taking care of your parents [….])” and then says, “So who is really doing whom a favour?” It rambles on further and then does an expansion on the word “Woman”. All good, except that when giving an explanation for the letter “n” in “Woman”, it says, “N-NICEST GIFT TO MEN FROM GOD”. The caps too are part of the message by the way.
There are many problems with such ubiquitous messages which are supposed to be uplifting for women. I will dwell on just a few, those which have been marked in bold.
Does the woman in a marriage get pregnant for her husband? I do not think any educated Indian woman will really subscribe to this. It would then mean that the coming child is an unwelcome oneto at least one partner in the marriage who in this case happens to be the woman. Are urban Indian women ready to accept that? Now, let’s come to the fact of getting fat after a pregnancy. Since when did Indians start obsessing about the statuesque figure?
Yes, it is very much in vogue today. However, I see this obsession to be thin and reedy only in the women of today.I think Indian men by and far still like women to be voluptuous. I agree that it’s not healthy to be obese but this obsession with maintaining a figure dictated by western mores is something that has gained currency since the advent of satellite TV and global content, which has resulted in the import of Western notions of beauty to India. Body image is a huge problem in the West affecting many a girl’s self esteem and self worth.
Do we want to replicate this syndrome among Indian girls? Do we want our girls to start dwelling so much on that perfect figure that they turn out to be bulimics or anorexics?
Now let’s tackle the favor aspect of the marital relation. When you say “So who is really doing whom a favor”, are you not making it a case of tolerance on the part of the wife towards the husband? Is tolerance the basis of a modern urban marriage? Then it is certainly a bad commentary on the state of the institution of marriage in India. When faced with such explanations, I am sure most women and indeed some men too, forwarding such sexist messages in the garb of glorifying womanhood, will and should pause to think.
Finally, after supposedly championing the cause of the woman, the message ends with a blatantly regressive remark stating that a woman is the nicest gift to men from God. Is the woman not entitled to an existence without being a “gift” to men? Is she not someone who has an equal right to existence just as the man has? It is seriously a message which is completely confused about its content. It is peddled in the garb of liberating the woman and making her feel special and instead at the end, she is finally told that she has an existence only as a gift for man. Nothing about partnership, nothing about complementarity. And this is a message which I believe must have been forwarded countless times by women and also by some men who thought they were celebrating women.
Its not just Indian women; there are women who live in the West who have been so fully influenced by the Western narrative that they have only the most hateful things to say about India and its culture which is a rather sad thing. Sample this article where a daughter talks of the anguish and daily hell that her mother endured while she went on living the pretense of a marriage with her ever absent father. The daughter heaps abuse on Indic traditions for the plight of her mother because she feels her mother lived exactly by the rules laid down by Indic traditions and obliterated herself for family when married. She talks of how getting a divorce and giving wings to her dreams and ambitions has helped her mother become free.
This is how a self hating, inferiority complex ridden native informant trashes her mother culture without any credible knowledge of the deep and profound essence of its teachings. Many young Indian women may express indifference as they may feel Indian men are being rightfully criticized, but they should remember that they too are under the scanner…
It is rather amusing when Western media comments about Indian culture and Indian mothers as this article does, with nary an idea about what it is. The article talks about the preponderance of mother-in-law, daughter-in-law conflicts and serials in India. While I do not endorse the over the top, ludicrous caricaturing, it’s rather hypocritical of the Western media to comment on a different society when the structure of its own is in shambles. Maybe its better for them to analyze their own before they proceed to analyze others.
This assault on Indic culture was first started during the period of colonial rule in India.It has its origins in the atrocity literature which was regularly churned to highlight ills (imagined and real) which existed in Indian society by the British. A similar thing happens even today when Stanley Kurtz, an anthropologist specializing in Indian studies makes a ridiculous statement like this on Indian women and his interpretation of how they treat motherhood (hear in this 30 Second Clip) :
I am sure no Indian woman would subscribe to the above view of the Western scholar.Indeed in a talk during the launch of Invading the Sacred held at Mumbai in 2007, the audience could only laugh heartily to see such absurdities being peddled in the name of Indian motherhood.
We find it very amusing but the westerner takes it in all seriousness, and this is the kind of information that gets compiled into reports which are then used to paint a horrible picture of the human rights scenario in India. Such kind of scholarship mainly emanating from the West and lately being further facilitated by Indian scholars completely out of sync with the true story of India, is serving to demonize this ancient society and certainly this does not bode well for the future of Dharma. Do we need this human rights report from outsiders? Is it even factual? And if not, isn’t it time to question whether this human rights industry seriously has any real concern for the Indian woman.
The background picture of this twitter handle IndiaRapeWatchshould make you wonder whether there is any real concern for the Indian woman by this supposed watchdog. The picture seems to want to state that white women are unsafe in India which is full of leering, loutish men. There is nothing whatsoever (in the visual) about the Indian woman for who it ostensibly professes concern.
Evolution of Indic Society
Given this atrocity literature industry dating back to the colonial era, perhaps this is the time to take a look at our roots and a second look at whether our own ancestral heritage can provide the inspiration to elevate Indian women to their rightful position in society. Indic society is very old. In Vedic times, women enjoyed an exalted position in the social order. “The Vedas, Upanishads and other scriptures give numerous examples of women philosophers, politicians, teachers, administrators and saints” . There were women like Gargi, Maitreyi and Lopamudra among others who were equal to or more accomplished than their male counterparts in their knowledge of the Vedas and their grasp of philosophy. We also have the example of Ubhaya Bharati, the wife of Mandana Mishra who was defeated by Adi Shankara in a debate in as late as arguably the 8th century C.E. Ubhaya Mishra, a woman, was chosen to be the judge for the philosophical debate between Adi Shankara and Mandana Mishra for she was considered to be a very accomplished scholar in her own right. The beauty of the story was that Ubhaya couldn’t declare a winner until she too was rhetorically defeated by Sankara, because she was her husband’s other half.
These are only some examples of the prowess of our Dharmic women. However, like in any society, norms established for societal behavior, changed over time and certain unwanted elements crept in too. Certainly, every system goes through an evolution from birth, to youth, maturity, degradation and demise and rebirth. And so it was with Indic culture. Indeed, Bharat was a self correcting society and whenever societal structures stagnated, there would come a movement which would infuse new life into society and give birth to another movement. In India, all changes until about the 10th century C.E came from a system that was inherently grounded in Dharma be it the Jainism movement or later, the Buddhism movement. Both these systems were born from the bedrock of Vedic Dharmic culture. Hence reforms happened without the dismantling of the basic foundation of Dharma which is considered to be Sanatana or eternal.
Something happened around the 10th century C.E which would repeat over the next few hundred years. This would go on to take a toll on the Dharmic cultures that had existed side by side in this country until that point of time. Wave after wave of foreign invasions by people of non-Dharmic faiths from about the 10th century C.E. engulfed India in a tide of civilizational Total War. This was followed by colonial subjugation for a period of over 200 years. Obviously, in the course of this 1000 year continuous assault many things worked their way into the collective psyche giving rise to all sorts of societal ills. For example, the Sati system where the wife gives up her life when her husband dies, by immolating herself on his funeral pyre, became widespread. What was originally a voluntary act at first became a way to safeguard honour when the Turkic hordes came invading and began to ravage the spoils of war. Whole groups of women began to commit what was called jauhar, a mass self immolation, to escape becoming slaves of the foreigners. This later began to be considered as an obligatory act when the husband died. Thus it began to take on the colour of oppression and patriarchy, whatever its original intent.
Similar stories can be found for the practice of wearing of the ghoonghat (covering up one’s face or head when in male company. Interestingly, this practice was never followed in south India which was generally shielded from the worst impacts of the invasions). Dowry considered as such a scourge in India today is an interesting phenomenon that merits study. Veena Oldenberg, author of the book Dowry Murder, The Imperial Origins of a Cultural Crimesays in an interview to Times Of India, “Prior to the arrival of the British In India, land was not seen as a commodity which could be bought and sold”. She goes on to then say that the British made land property ownership exclusively the right of males which led to the creation of a male economy. This then made the practice of female infanticide more rampant for people who wanted a male heir to their property.
The attempt by the British to codify all social and cultural practices which were inherently flexible, into a set of legal codes which of course excluded women, made the systems frozen and hostile to women. Dowry–originally known as Stridaan–began as a local practice of honoring a bride with a property gift from her father which would only be inherited matrilineally. However, it later began to be looked at as a means to extort money by grooms who were anyway in high demand due to the administrative policies of the British. In the midst of this corrupting of the Indian society, it must be emphasized that the British were no champions of women causes. They had absolutely no qualms in treating Indian women as chattel via indentured labor.
Such practices later, began to be used as tools for oppression and exploitation of the Indian woman. The sad consequence is that the girl child has today come to be looked upon as a burden rather than an asset to a family. 20th century saw India getting independence from the British but the independence was only in name and we had as a civilization just become incapable of picking ourselves up in any meaningful way. Our mindset had become colonized and the foreign system of education that was thrust upon us (incidentally started by Macaulay for a specific reason) ensured that we remained chained to the way of thinking that the British had institutionalized over the course of their 200 year stay here.
Along with impoverishing our nation theybrilliantly succeeded in impoverishing our mindstoo. And if we had the British then, we have the foreign funded NGO movement today which does its utmost to work on the faultlines existing in Indic society, exaggerating them even more and making divisions where none existed before. We would do well to listen very carefully to what Madhu Kishwar has to say about the workings of these NGOS in the below video. The video touches upon the aspect of how these NGOs treat the incidents of sati, dowry and the newest phenomenon under their scanner, the Khap panchayats.
So what is the Feminist Movement?
Feminism can be called as a collection of movements and ideologies that have a common goal. What is this common goal? This ostensible goal is to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights for women. It also includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.
To understand the feminist movement, it is important to understand the role of Christian theology regarding the status traditionally accorded to women in the West. Linda Woodhead, a professor in the sociology of religion states that it’s the Book of Genesis that first mentions the Christian theological basis for forming a position on the roles of women. In the Book, the conclusion is that women are generally inferior to men. It also states “that the image of God shines more brightly” in men than women. All Abrahamic faiths and Christianity is no exception, have traditionally accorded a very inferior status to women.Women had no rights, social, political or economic and indeed no rights even over their own body and how they related to it.
Sin is at the heart of Abrahamic theology and hence while it is a truth claim of Christianity that all mankind is sinful, the woman is exceptionally so for it is she who initiated that first act of sin in the Garden of Eden. Eve, the biblical first woman on earth, was the one who was tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit from the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. She not only ate from the tree herself, she also made Adam do the same and hence compounded her guilt. This eating of the forbidden fruit made both of them realize they were naked which fact they weren’t aware of until that point. Thus was born sin. This then was what shaped attitudes to women in the West. So the first wave of feminism was a reaction to the general status of women in Western society and their lack of political voice.This first movement, which started in the late 19th century, brought voting rights to women.
The second wave of feminism which began in the 1960s was more about the skewed gender relations and the effects of that on economic and social equality. Second wave feminists strove to change the sexism inherent in power structures whether they be in the political, economic or social spheres and were greatly influenced by the communist ideology. There is also a third wave of feminism which co-exists with the second wave and deals with issues of sexuality which, according to them, were not addressed properly during the second wave. While second wave feminism was firmly and shrilly of the view that pornography was a form of violence against women, third wave feminists prefer to look at it as an exercise of free will.
Andrea Dworkin was a leading feminist voice and was called a radical feminist. Such feminists are of the view that patriarchy is the sole reason for all of woman’s problems. They posit that the woman is the “Other” who needs to be suppressed and marginalized by the patriarchy. Dworkin’s astonishing views on sexual intercourse have very deeply influenced third wave feminists who are advancing a trajectory of gender relations that has potential for immeasurable harm to the natural relations between sexes. Dworkin’s strong views made her a very controversial person and her detractors say that she peddled hate in the garb of feminism.
Third wave feminists are associated with the “raunch culture” as they see it as “expressions of femininity and female sexuality as a challenge to objectification”. They believe that women should be allowed to dress, act or express themselves in any manner they pleased since they are only exercising their basic freedom. Third wave feminists are also at the forefront of what is called as reclaiming abuse words like “b*tch”, “slut” and so on, associated with women and giving it an expression that they think defines the word for today.
Has Feminism helped the Plight of the Western Woman?
After taking a brief look at the movement and its evolution, let us now look at some statistics. “Nearly 1 in 5 women in U.S Survey say they have been sexually assaulted”. The fact is that women, for all the feminist movements, do not find themselves in a safe place in the West. “Approximately 2/3rd of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim”. These are stats with respect to rape in the West.
Women of course have become more independent and earn on par with their male peers in the West. They are very much in control of their destinies in general but what about the institution of marriage and the concept of family? An eye opening article by Pew research points out that, “Less than half (46%) of U.S kids younger than 18 years of age are living in a home with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage”. The article also says that the trend is that Americans generally seem to be delaying marriage or not reposing faith in the institution at all. It is worthwhile to go through the articlefor some very interesting stats. Fatherlessness is another of the fallouts of this movement. It is a growing concern in the U.K. and is often accompanied by economic disparity. “Fatherlessness is now reaping a whirlwind of destruction in U.K society” says Jonathan Bellamy .
Has Feminism helped the Indian Woman?
If the feminism of the West has been so liberating, why is it not borne out by facts? Worse, why is India buying into the idea? The horrific gang rape of a woman in Delhi in 2012 saw a spontaneous outpouring of emotion on the streets and there were many in the West who were indeed warmly surprised by the reaction of the Indian people. While such righteous outpouring is welcome, let’s see some stats on where India stands globally on the issue of rape. “United Nations data shows that in Sweden the rape rate is 63.5 per 100,000. In the US, it is 27.5; but as more than four-fifths of forcible rapes in the US are not reported at all (National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center Report July 2007), the effective rapes in the US will be more than 137.5 per 100,000! And what is the figure for India? Just 1.8!”.
The extreme left in India has what is called the Naxalite movement and this movement has abused and exploited women under the guise of women’s or worker’s rights, especially in the tribal areas where they are ostensibly there to improve the lot of the tribal woman. “Sexual exploitation of tribal women cadres in the Maoist camps have been disclosed in statements of several surrendered women CPI (Maoist) cadres of Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states. Such instances of sexual exploitation include rape, forced marriage and molestation by senior male CPI (Maoist) cadres”. The draconian anti-dowry laws are instruments used by feminists to willfully extort and demonize men as Deepika Bharadwajwill testify.
Sankrant Sanu in an article said. “Violent gang-rape is indeed an aberration in our society, hence the outrage”. But we have to indeed analyze and understand why such heinous acts are committed for it is not there either in our millennia old texts nor has it been prevalent in our society on such a scale until recently. We have to think and reflect on whether the “increasingly sexualized mass media message” is responsible for the changing behavior patterns. Sankrant’s article argues also in favor of lower marriageable age at least for rural communities as was the practice earlier so that youngsters can be sexually active at an earlier age within the bonds of a legal relationship like marriage. While this may or may not be an acceptable solution to all, and is indeed open to debate given our shock at any suggestion so contrary to our laws, it nevertheless is one which should be explored. In a bid to correct the wrongs of a previous era, we have arbitrarily applied a one-size-fits-all kind of law without pausing to understand the ramifications of such a draconian move.
The Way forward: Reviving Shakti
All this is relevant to me as a woman and as a member of Indic society. Dharma has always been context sensitive. It has never been about rigid unbendable absolutes. There is right and wrong, but it is always placed within a context and a situation. Society always occupies background space applying reasonable restrictions which helps to keep individual relations in equilibrium. Dharma is even handed and follows a middle path veering neither towards one extreme of mortification of flesh and ascetism nor towards the other extreme of selfishness and hedonism.
Therefore, measures for restoring the dignity of ideally half of India’s population should be in accordance with Dharma: context sensitive and in keeping with the times. Dharma offers the best chance for an individual and specifically for a woman to find herself fully. We have many examples of Dharmic women from history who were trailblazers for their time.
Today, an Indian woman may be educated and be part of the workforce driving the economy of the country. However, she should have the choice to also step out of it to nurture her family if she so desires. And there should be no derision attached to this choice. Often, we now hear people (especially those wanting to make a point about feminism) deriding the choice of a highly qualified woman choosing to stay at home to look after home and hearth. Education can never go in vain. It will help her guide her children to make the right choices and become responsible individuals. Such individuals then make a responsible society.
Creating a responsible society is no less a valid choice than one to pursue Artha in material terms. Kama is a valid pursuit in Dharma, but it is not a commodity to be paraded on the streets. It is to be enjoyed privately between two loving partners according to norms that are mutually comfortable without having labels of misogyny and misandry attached to it. The ultimate aim of a person’s journey according to Dharma is Moksha. Isn’t it better to aim for it in harmony with the rhythm of the cosmos than to seek it kicking and screaming and trying to bend nature’s will to yours? Would take you that many more lives if you try the second path…
Purusha and Prakriti or Shiva and Shakti: whichever way you want to look at it, one is not complete without the other. It is only the partnership and complementaritybetween the two that can lead to the One. And therein lies the potential of awakening Shakti in Indic society once more.
I wish to thank N.R.I Pathi for the help rendered to bring out this article. It would simply have not been possible had I not received such generous help and guidance.
“The special relationship between the Hindu mother and her son appears here as a variation on a distinctive Hindu pattern rather than as a mere intensification of a style of intimacy found in the West . . . Nursing is not therefore, an occasion through which mother and child cement on an emotional union. The child is frequently fed, yet the mother seldom lingers to mirror the baby’s satisfaction. Thus, while the child no doubt develops a strong emotional attachment to the mother as a result of the physical gratification she provides, the mother does not respond by setting up a Western-style loving, emotional partnership.”
Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.
Following up on my previous post regarding the restriction on entry of women to the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala, I think I have to follow it up with its counterpart, the Attukal Pongala (mentioned in that article) where men are simply not allowed to participate.
“The largest annual gathering of women is achieved by 2.5 million women in an event organised by ATTUKAL BHAGAVATHY TEMPLE TRUST in Kerala, India, on 10 March 2009. Attukal Pongala festival is a tradition of Hinduism.”[i]
This was in 2009. In the edition of the festival held in 2015, the number was supposedly around 4.0 million!
“I think nearly four million women have participated in the Pongala festival,” said a temple committee member.”[ii]
So, what is the festival about?
The festival is a 10 day long temple gathering which happens in the Attukal Pongala temple in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the small state of Kerala. The onset of the summer months in Kerala is a season for temple festivals. It happens in almost every temple in every town, district, and village in Kerala and is celebration time. Depending on the resources a temple has and the antiquity of the temple (which means the antiquity of the story attached to it), the festival it has runs from 3 to 10 days. So, the older and more established temples like the Attukal Devi temple has a festival that runs for 10 days.
Life becomes slower during these days as it is the time to indulge the senses. But the dharmic worldview of indulging the senses does not mean mindless pleasure seeking. Each day, the temple will have rituals and a percussion tableau (called as the melam) with lots of cultural programmes thrown in. Since the festival revolves around the temple deity, the pleasing of the senses is achieved with the carrying out of those activities like the melam, umpteen number of pujas, dance and music programs all infused with the sense of bhakti. Attukal Pongala is no different.
However, there is one difference with the Attukal temple festival. On the 9th day of the festival, there is a congregation of women who gather to cook a particular sweet porridge called pongal out in the open. This is made as an offering to the presiding deity of the temple, Attukal Bhagavathi or Devi, the mother goddess. It is this gathering of women that has earned its place in the Guinness book of records. The pongal is made in a clay pot on a fire which is lit between three bricks out in the open. The fuel for the fire is brought by the women from their homes and it is usually dried coconut rind and fronds.
The city starts filling up well before dawn and from last year’s (2015) accounts, streets in a 10km radius were cordoned off for the cooking ritual. The temple conducts the pujas to the Devi as three men seated in a hut recite the story of Kannagi’s life. Kannagi is believed to be a reincarnation of the Devi. The story that is recited at the temple for Pongala can be read from links below. However, there is a point in the story where Kannagi destroys the city of Madurai with fire. This point in the story is the cue for the temple priest to light the holy fire in the temple. The cooking then commences with the fire that is lit from this first one, the fire being passed down to the women one by one from the original one.
The women wait in the gathering smoke and heat until their pot boils over with its contents.
Pongal is made of rice, jaggery cooked in water and garnished with coconut. The cooked dish is then served around all the assembled people as prasadam blessed by the Devi. While cooking, the women ask the Devi for blessings for whatever it is that is on the top of their list of priorities for the year. During this entire episode, menfolk are not allowed anywhere in the vicinityunless they happen to be the temple administration officials or someone connected with the actual conduct of the rituals. Permission is needed if a man wants to enter the area andmen generally keep away without complaint.
At the end of the day, the women gather all their belongings and leave the place. And last year, it is said that the women cleared up every single thing after they finished so that they left the place clean and tidy. This was a gesture in support of the Swacch Bharat campaign launched by the present Government of Bharata desam.
At this festival of the women, by the women and for the women, there are no caste barriers, no class barriers and in recent years, no religion barriers either. It is however a Hindu festival in its nature, its origin and its ethos.
Excerpts from a Foreigner’s Account of the Pongala
At the outset I must say that I usually view any foreigner’s account of our traditions with suspicion because they do not understand our culture like we do. Hence I do not like to quote such studies.
However, during my research on the festival I came across a paper/article written by a foreigner on this festival which had so many points that I would like to reproduce here. The writer of this article/paper does have many misconceptions which I do not want to elaborate on here. However, she makes some beautiful points in her paper which I would like Bharatiya women to read carefully and understand before embarking on their ‘Happy to bleed’ and confrontationist path with men.
With regard to Kerala, it must be stated that Kerala had a matrilineal system from ancient times. It is in this context that I reproduce the writer’s words [Emphasis mine].
“There were several positive consequences for the status of women and children in the system. The mother was the most significant parent in every respect, and women were indispensable for the continuation of the matrilineage, which was understood to be an indivisible combination of the people, land, and ancestors. There was no prepuberty marriage, and the marriage ritual was simple, with no transfer of wealth or power as in a dowry system. Because women did not leave their homes, they and their children had no loss of power or status. Legitimacy, which was the main concern in the rest of India, was relatively unimportant. Females had high visibility, indeed were indispensable. The trauma of widowhood was avoided (Gulati, Ramalingam, and Gulati 1996, 4). A female, from the moment of her birth, was “perceived as the (potential) purveyor of prosperity, fertility, and good fortune. The female is an auspicious category” (de Tourreil 1995, 17).”
The below extract is true for all Hindu families, not especially Kerala ones, as far as I know.However, it is important to highlight it since it is a luxury the West does not have. And we never appreciate it fully enough ourselves.
“Shakunthala’s daughter, Gigi, married at twenty-two, later than women in other parts of India, and returned home to her mother when she was five months pregnant with her first child. When I told her that this would be unusual in the United States, she was very concerned: “Who will give the girl and baby the massages?” In their ayurvedic system, birth is an event that holds great possibility for healing and also for poor health. They believe that with proper care, any existing condition can be cured. Before birth and for forty-one days following, the women of the family provide the mother and baby special massages and diet. Wealth as well as healing and natal care continues in the matrilineal line.”
On the inclusive nature of the festivities:
“ On Pongala day, not only every street but every courtyard is filled with women. It is auspicious to live near the temple because Pongala brings prosperity. In return for this advantage, each family, including Christian and Moslem ones, invites women to cook Pongala in their courtyard. It is a blessing to be able to receive the women in the name of the Goddess Bhagavati and good luck for the occupants of the house. Every courtesy is extended to the women–both those who have been invited and those who just show up.”
On what it means for this lady to be at this festival and how it is significant for her society, the Western one.
“The journalist continues, “The way it is generally perceived here is that in the West you don’t value your family. Given that background, does Pongala seem relevant? Because here too, we are changing.
I answer, trying to be truthful and trying to make a bridge:
Yes, we care about our families and what is happening to them. I think that is why women in the United States are looking at spiritual traditions and practices. Some women are looking into their own traditions, but some of us are looking to older religions, religions that have the concept of a deity as a mother. We don’t have that concept in the West; we don’t have the concept of the Divine Feminine.Many women in the West are trying to find rituals and ways to help reconstruct and revision our families and our society.
… You still massage your babies and pregnant mothers, and we have forgotten that need. You still go to the snake groves to ask for children and are content if you only have two and both are girls. Christians, Moslems, and Hindus from all communities come together to do Pongala for the Goddess, united in their wishes for healthy and happy families. When I have shown films of Pongala to women in the West, they are inspired.”
… “Because here, too, we are changing”; the words of the reporter repeat in my mind. I am profoundly disturbed by the changes because they remind me of what I believe we have lost in the West and the consequences of that loss. As Hema says, “We are trying to change like you at the same time you are trying to find out about us.”
On the unselfish nature of the wishes that the devotees ask of their Devi while doing the Pongala as also the spirit of sharing that this festival is infused with.
“As a researcher, I have been asking women what they ask Bhagavati for. Many respond, “I asked for the health and well-being of my family.” The vegetable seller asks that her family never goes hungry. Asha asks for a job. Shreemadi asks that her granddaughter do well on her school tests. Tara asked for a good husband.
…When you go to the Pongala you try to share everything there. There is nothing that belongs to you exclusively. So you don’t try to exclusively appropriate something that belongs to you and not share it with another person. If you did, then you would be immediately given a sign of it before you reach home.” “What kind of sign?” I asked. “Some small disaster that you wouldn’t forget. People don’t cheat. They don’t steal. If they would take something, then double that would be taken away. The women stay there without quarreling until they reach home.”
And finally, a gesture from our menfolk that is at once simple and celebratory and at the same time reinforces my idea that most of our men still consider the feminine as divine.
“The men begin to come back. When the helicopters do not arrive to shower the departing women with flowers, the men take buckets of petals and, standing on top of the walls, do it themselves. I am astonished. This is why I come here.”
As a woman, this simple and uncomplicated celebration of womanhood is exhilarating. Which woman does not want to be showered with petals! Unrelated men just celebrating the earth that you are trodding on because you are considered divine…I can’t imagine a woman not being moved by that gesture.
I have only this to conclude with. To my women counterparts I say, let us not demonize our men so much that they eventually start being the demonic beings from the foreign/media projections that are made on them. Understand the evolution of our society. It is different from the trajectory of the West. Appreciate that difference and by all means change and evolve. But do it with a civilizational lens that is compatible with ours. Don’t use the lens of the West to analyze, dissect and deconstruct our culture. It is only bound to fail.
To the men:I have to say, we are proud to be complementary beings to you. You have a culture of looking upon us as the divine. Do not lose that reverence in the noise that is generated today. It is the one thing that has kept the women of Bharata desam safer than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. At the same time, in keeping with the changed times, do your best to encourage the woman to achieve her potential in whatever it is that she may choose to do. Be the supporter, the care giver, the baby sitter when the need arises. It will only make the relationship more harmonious.
Post Script:For those whose curiosity is piqued, the festival calendar for Attukal Pongala this year is between 15 Feb and 24 Feb. The Pongala itself therefore falls on 23 Jan. Do join and celebrate the divine woman.
Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.
With a bow to Brahma and Siva I shall expound the Canons of Drama, as these were uttered by Brahma.
While the soul of our culture and civilization is Dharma, the body of it verily is the arts—the alankara of culture. Perhaps no extant text more deserves the title of “Fountain of the Arts” than that masterpiece by Bharata Mahamuni: Natya Sastra. This article is, therefore, a proper introduction to both it, and its composer.
Natya Sastra is an expansive text that deals with a variety of topics such as Nrtya (Dance), Chitra (Painting ), Silpa (Sculpture), Vaastu (Architecture), Kavya (Poetry ) all under the umbrella of Natya (Performance Arts or Histrionics). Due to its originations of such concepts as Rasa, it is referred to as a work on Aesthetics and Beauty as well. Those of you who are long time readers would recall our articles on Classical Indic Literature. We previously dealt with Literary Theory (Saahithyalochana) and Poetics (Alankara Sastra or Kavya Sastra). This article will continue that series started over at Andhra Cultural Portal with Classical Indic Literature III: Dramatics (Nataka Sastra). It will focus more on the literary aspects of the illustrious work as well as its direct applications for literature (drama in particular), leaving performance aspects for another time.
It is said that ” No activity in a Society can remain unaffected by the Philosophy of that Society, be it a literary, or social or cultural or scientific activity.” [3, 1] The elite Literature of Bharat, Saastriya Saahitya, is no different. An important note: “the recent use of the term sastra as adjective, sastriya nrtya or sangita, it suggests quality of performance, sometimes genre, with an implied translation of the term ‘classical’ in English, as a qualitivative and not historical period category.” [1,43] Thus, our heritage is very old, but very much alive, and rather than secular, is sacred in nature. While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originatewith the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), and “[a] re-reading of the Upanisads is convincing proof of the concrete imagery of the senses, the sense perceptions and sense objects of these highly abstract metaphysical texts”[1, 54], India’s first great known treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra.
The origin of Classical Indian literary theory, as such, is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata. Natya translates to the performance arts (Histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”. 
Considered the earliest extant work on Dramaturgy, Natya Sastra is most famous for Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well. He has sanctioned the use of all the rasas without reservation (NS, 19.147).
Not much is known about the author himself. There are several legends associated with him. There is strong reason to believe, however, that Bharata Muni hailed from Kashmir.
The Natya Sastra in fact touches on the life of the great Sage ever so briefly. It mentions that he had 100 sons. They are said to have misused their skills and capacities to ridicule sages and other such dharmic personages (something very common even today). They are therefore cursed by rishis who say, ‘as due to pride in your knowledge (jnana) you have taken to arrogance (avinaya), your ill knowledge (kujnana) will be destroyed’ [1,9]. This is an appropriate warning not only to those who take interest in learning the fine arts, but also those today who have grown arrogant of their knowledge, and are misusing it for their own ends.
“Bharata’s initial statement that ‘I am creating a theory and text of performance, of practice and experimentation’ acquires crucial importance.The composer of the text consciously creates a fluid text. He calls it a sastra of prayoga i.e. a theory of praxis.”[1,38]
An important point is that “sastra is distinguished in literature and the arts as being a category distinct from the creative. While in the English language, we can easily use the terms ‘creative and critical literature’, ‘creative and technical literature’, when the terms are transferred to the sphere of the Indian, for that matter, the Asia arts, there is difficulty. “[1,40]
What’s more, artificial separateness does not characterise Bharata or the Indic tradition. There is a clear interrelationship between all the various artforms. “The themes which the Indian dancer portrays are not only the raw material of literature, but are also the finished products of literary creation; the music which seems to accompany the dance is actually the life-breath of its structure and, indeed, dance interprets in movement what music interprets in sound; the postures and the stances it attains are the poses which the sculptor models; all these the dancer imbues with a living spirit of movement in a composition of form which is both sensuous and spiritual. The body is the medium to transcend the ‘body’. [1,112]
As such, teleology again becomes important. The sophisticated audience or refined reader (sahrdaya) recognises that each movement, each word, even each omission is filled with meaning and symbology. Therefore, merely dividing and subdividing to attempt to fathom is merely learning more and more about less and less. To gain a proper understanding, an holistic and systemic approach is required to understand what is very clearly an intentional methodology. All this was done with a specific design. It was not art for the sake of art or poetry for the sake of debauchery, but a system of aesthetics designed to not only be transcendant, but to transcend.
“Bharata had inherited a ‘vision’; he gave it form as concepts and framework. The creative artist, in turn, internalized the vision of the inner and outer life he had experienced. The principles of structure enumerated by Bharata were inherited directly or assimilated as part of a larger ambience, gave the artist the tools for creating a variegated world of ‘forms’ and multiple forms only to evoke the beyond form (pararupa).”[1,112]
How old exactly is Bharata Mahamuni and his Great Tradition? According to Manomohan Ghosh, the Sage of Natya doesn’t mention the Arthasastra of Kautilya, but rather that of Brihaspati. This, therefore, leads to the logical inference that Bharata pre-dates the Maurya Empire, which puts him before the 3rd Century B.C.E, and some would say even earlier than the 5th. 
Per our Pauranic accounts, the origin of Natya is attributed to Narada muni. In fact, it is he who is said to have brought music and the arts from Brahma to the world of men. Nevertheless, this Sastra itself is a product of the intense Tapas of the present Muni, who refers to other authorities.
“To return to the inheritance the lineage of Bharata, as also those who inherited from him—we have already referred to Bharata’s indebtedness to the Vedas, the Upanisads and Brahmanical yajna practices. He incorporates the system of puja later codified in the agamas, draws freely from contemporary practice, and considers loka, the ‘people’, as the final authority.” [1,113]
There were other attempts of course. Even a certain celebrated grammarian touched on the topic and how there were other such treatises.“The Natasutras referred to by Paanini have been cited as examples. The Astadhyayi (IV.3.110-111) refers to them and the schools of Silaalin and Krsasva. Although the works are possible irretrievably lost, perhaps, this was the first attempt to codify some rules of dramaturgy.” [1,114]
The key takeaway however is that while Bharata may be the greatest in our present era, he may in fact not have been the first.“The fact that there was a flourishing tradition of poetry, dance and music, even of architecture, sculpture and painting, is evident from innumerable references in the Vedas and epics. Patanjali’s Mahabhaasya and Arthasastras, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide interesting details of theatre halls, recitals, social status and training, but of the works of writers Acaryas or rsis of the arts we learn little. Bharata provides a list of his gurus (teachers) and contemporaries. Apart from Pitamaha Siva and Mahesa, he mentions Kohala, Dhurtila (Dattila), Salikarn, Baadaraayana (Badari) and others.” [1,114]
Nevertheless, whatever his biography and lineage, Bharata Mahamuni managed what others have not:
“From amongs those that have received attention of scholars from the fields of literature, poetrics and dramaturgy, music, dance, architecture, sculpture and painting, it is possible to surmise that Bharata’s text provided the single unified source for a theory of art.”[1,115]
It is therefore, a complete theory of Aesthetics and provides an Adhyatmik approach to Beauty.
As seen above the Natya Sastra commences with a salutation to Siva and Brahma, and it credits knowledge behind the work to the Supreme. Bharata tells the munis of Brahman’s state of yoga, that is his concentration, and determination (sankalpa) which produced the fifth veda, or Natya Sastra. [1,8]
“Obviously the authority of the Vedas was recognized at this stage. This alone could enable Bharata to cull out a theory of aesthetic and a structure of drama from the Vedas. Important is the fact that he identifies paathya, the arti-culated spoken word, not just the word (sabda) with the Rgveda.”[1, 13] It explicitly cites the traditional four aims of life, or Purusharthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha as ends of literature.
His assertion that he is creating a fifth Veda which will be accessible to all castes and classes at the same time likening it to the Vedas (i.e. creating a fifth Veda and the analogy of a ritual) transcends the accepted boundaries of hierarchy as also norms of inclusion and exclusion.[1,21]
Bharata emphasized the synthesising role of drama with respect to all spheres of knowledge from the sacred scriptures to arts and crafts to geography. This is what makes it open to all. Indeed, its written versions were a matter of history as well, as between 1900-1926 a hunt was on for more manuscripts. As a result, there was a sizeable find of 40 manuscripts and two recensions. This is fascinating as the Natya Sastra, like much of real Indic literature, was transmitted via the oral tradition. To have such an expansive written reach demonstrates its influence, both North and South.[1, 34]
Kapila Vatsyayan, noted authority on the Natya Sastra, had this to say on the matter:
“the division of many manuscripts into southern and northern recensions has been in many cases a superimposition of a tacit acceptance of marked differences in northern and southern recensions. In this case, the fact of the matter is that Abhinavagupta was a northerner but the closest approximation to his text is a manuscript in the Trivandrum collection. Other instances can be given. The more pertinent question to be asked is as to the manner and mode of transmission of a single text to different parts of India—ranging from Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga, Maharashtra, Bengal, Andhra, Tamilnadu and Kerala. All these manuscripts can be dated roughly between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries with the exception of those of the commentator—Udbhata. One of his works was found in the Gilgit manuscript (tenth to eleventh century), now edited by Gnoli. The earliest manuscripts come from Nepal in Newari script. The text is available in many scripts—Newari, Devanagari, Grantha, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.”[1, p. 36]
Perhaps the single most interesting aspect about the Natya Sastra is that it is in fact one of many. Much like there were Arthasastras before Kautilya there were Natya Sastras before Bharata Muni. “Previous authors reputed to have written on Natya Sastra as a discipline include Kohala, Dattila, Tandu, and Salikarna.“ [1,8]
The Natya Sastra itself is of expansive structure. It consists of 6,000 slokas (verses) spread among 36 chapters. As with all else in the Indic tradition, this number too is rife with symbology. According to Subhash Kak, the 36 chapters are said to correspond to the 36 tattvas of Kashmiri Shaivism.  What’s more, “The thirty-six chapter of the Natyasastra can be grouped from the point of view of (i) artistic experience, (ii) the artistic content or states of being, the modes of expression through word, sound, gesture, dress, decorations and methods of establishing correspondences between physical movement, speech and psychical states, as also communication and reception by the audience, readers and (iii) structure of the dramatic form, popularly translated as ‘plot’. The itivrtta is, however, a more comprehensive term for structure and phasing.”[1, 58]
While 5 chapters are dedicated to music, certain key chapters give us insight into his dramatic methodology.
In chapters I and II, Bharata appears to lay a conceptual and physical foundation that is nevertheless redolent in the sacred. The origin of drama is attributed Brahman with various actors such as Vishnu, Shiva, Sarasvati, the Daityas and Bhutas, and Yakshas, all as actors–either protagonist or as agitators . In some ways, Indra can be conceived of as the hero, as his dhvaja or pole (jarjara) provides the fulcrum of the stage. Sarasvati is the heroine, as she is the embodiment of speech, and Shiva is the energizer.
“Two statements by Bharata at the end of chapter XXI are clear indication of his approach to all that he has suggested. After describing the characteristics and components of the dramatic form, called nataka, he emphasizes the fact that drama presents, re-narrates (anucaritam) through abhinaya (expression), but its success is possible only when the actor has overcome, suppressed, his personal self (svabhaavas tajyate: chapter XXI, v.12-1234).” [1,80] As one can see, the spiritual is very much immanent in this, the most dramatic of artforms.
The spiritual is therefore not only intertwined with the psychological and the conceptual, but even the sensual. We find that true the highly sophisticated use of various ornaments or devices or archetypes, specific reactions are catalysed.
“Pertinently, it is in this context that he describes the different types of graces (alamkaara) or women, namely, feeling (bhaava), emotion (haava) and passion (hela). These are not autonomous categories: they are psychic states with their emotional and involuntary reflect physical response co-ordinates in relation to the opposite sex (XXIV, verses 6-11) and in the sphere of kaama (normally, most inadequately translated as erotic). The underlying foundation of the entire chapter is thus kama and sense, body, mind and consciousness relationship. Logically, at the level of perception and expression, these are either inner or outer (aabhyantara and baahya) or indirect, implicit or invisible (paroksa) and direct and explicit (pratyaksa). Another group of terms, namely, suci (pointing needle), ankura (sprouting), saakha(branches) indicate the feeling, body and word-gesture relationship in different sequential order or concurrency, suggested or proliferated. It is on these foundations of perception and insight, that Bharata narrows down his concern from the generic character and personality types of women to the categories of heroines (naayika).”[1, 85]
Perhaps it is not for nothing that he is referred to by some as the first neuromarketer.
Na tajjaana na tacchilpa na sa vidya na sakala|
Na sa yogo na tatkarma yanna tyesminna drsyate || NS 1.116.
There is no wise maxim, no learning, no art or craft, no device, no action that is not found/reflected in the drama.
“Only India believed that literature is efficacious in ‘sivetara-ksati’ or countering inauspiciousness”. [2, 7] The notion of mangalam, is a constant throughout the Dharmic tradition, and even drama is supposed to contribute to this idea of auspiciousness.
In Indian dramatics there is also a formal rule against tragedy (likely on account of the inauspiciousness of the genre). The celebrated dramatist Bhasa, however, set this rule aside in his famous Urubhanga, a one act play on the episode of the shattering of Duryodhana’s thigh.
Nevertheless, one thing is clear: “Bharata wants drama to not only enterain, but to teach and ennoble. The fruit which the hero desires being difficult to attain, the final success of the hero is an inspiration and exhortation to the spectators”. [2,205]
While lakshana(secondary meaning) is discussed by some as the most important concept to stem from the Natya Sastra, an interesting point is that tattastha seems to be the most underlying one. Literally meaning “spacing”, it becomes apparent that in poetry, music, dance, and the visual arts, the unsaid is frequently as important as the said. In fact, there is a legend that while Manavas prefer the direct, the Devas prefer the indirect. Lakshana and tattastha are both interrelated concepts that not only emphasise the importance of the idea but demonstrate the sophistication of Bharatavarsha’s Natya.
Although musical theory obviously dates back to the Saama Veda, Subhash Kak asserts that acting and indeed elements of the theatre tradition can in fact be found in the Yajur. “Since the four Vedas come together in the dramatic performance, natya is the Fifth Veda”. As such, the sacred and sanskritic is very much a part of the Indic tradition of dramatics and histrionics.
He goes on to assert that the Natya Sastra took paathya (recitation) from the Rig Veda, abhinaya (acting ) from the Yajur, rasa (sentiment) from the Atharva, and sangeeta (music) from the Saama.
The Play or Nataka was a very sophisticated matter. Generally, a rupaka (dramatic composition)was recommended to consists of between 5 and 10 acts. It would begin with a Prastaavana (prologue) sanctified by a Svastivachana (benediction) which is part of the Naandi (introductory portion which suggests the plot). Acts were not to be too long, inauspicious events (such as wars) only indicated rather than portrayed, and the play was to end as it began, with another benediction. In this cause, it was fittingly named Bharatavakya. Typically, the vasthu (plot) was based on pauranic or historical events.
Chitra-abhinayaa (translated, special enactment, special representation, mixed pictorial, a category of different types of enacting through speech and movement) was a key aspect to stage craft itself.[1,p.86] Indeed, it lays the foundation for histrionics, which stems from the dramatic.
The sutradhara (stage-manager) would frequently introduce the play, along with a host of other characters. Other important figures/concepts include prayokta (producers), prayoga (dramatic production) and saadhaka (creator-artist with inner control and discipline). There were in fact a whole set of rituals including puja performed in what was called the purvanga (preliminaries).
“Bharata reminds us that the entire act of creation and presentation is a saadhana where impersonalization, de-personalization and detachment is primary.”[1, 91]
Slokas from the critical chapter XXVI discuss some of the specifics of natya.
The triple basis of drama is discussed in slokas 118-119 as being the people (loka), the Vedas, and the spiritual faculty (adhyatma). [1,88] Indeed sloka 124 goes on to state that “Whatever sastras, laws, arts and activities are connected with human conduct (lokadharma) may be produced (literally called) as a drama).”[1, 89]
The prekshaka, or audience, also had its own dharma.
“As for the audience and spectators, they too must be attuned, trained and initiated. The demand from them is no less exacting. Preparedness of both attitude and initation into some technicalities is an essential pre-requisite.”[1,91]
Bharata goes on to lay the criteria for critics (samalochakas) and judges, laying down the qualifications for the jury. The last, as typical with the sastras, is near exhaustive. Experts in ritual (yajnavit), in archery (isvastravit), in dance (nartaka), in prosody (chandovit), in grammar (sabdavit), in painting (chitravit), and music (gandharva) are all required. A king (rajan), king’s officer (rajasevaka), and interestingly even a courtesan (vesya) are all listed as well, likely due to their extensive training in The 64 Arts. [1,91]
Of course, no discussion of the Natya Sastra, indeed dramaturgy itself, is complete without mention of Rasa.
As a refresher on Rasa, here are some introductory concepts we discussed in previous articles. Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Vira (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).
The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition.There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha.
Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Rasa means sentiment, sthayi bhava means dominant emotive state, and vyabhichari bhava means transitory or transferable stages.”They are the instrumentalities of conveying and communicating intangible but real states of mind.”[1,9]
Literature (Saahitya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).
Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubja (Kannauj), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes of these Uparupakas (minor dramas), they needn’t be examined for our purposes.
The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa).
Bharata muni avers that literary artists should seek to use adhbuta rasa (sentiment of wonder) in the nirvahana samdhi (denouement). He gave highly sophisticated almost scientific sanction to dramaturgy. Indeed, so much care and preparation is allocated to the stage itself that modern (usually western/westernised) commentators wonder at how tenable its implementation was.
Bharata classifies drama into ten types. Each one has differing aims, length, and magnitude. “The structure of drama, according to Sanskrit dramatic theory, is the scheme of avasthas (Stages/phases) and samdhis (juncture) and samdhyangas (parts of junctures). These form the infrastructure of the drama.” [2,202]
Some hold that Lakshana (indirect expression or secondary meaning) is in fact the most important contribution of Bharata to literature in general and Poetics in particular. They believe that it is a “lost master-key which opens all the locked mansions of alankara [rhetorical device], guna [merit/quality], riti [diction], vrtti [mode of expression/style], chandas [metre], dhvani [resonance] and vakrokti [twist in expression] and aucitya [propriety]”. [2,5]
Whether via rasa or lakshana or tattastha (or all 3), the Natya Sastra is the conceptual foundation for the Indic Literary and Performance Arts.
“The arts provide both pleasure and education and are a vehicle of beauty, duty and conduct” [1, p .25]
The legacy of the Natya Sastra cannot be minimised. Scholars and commentators from Abhinavagupta to Manmohan Ghosh have all propounded its centrality not only to literature and the performance arts, but the Classical Indic Tradition itself.
“Natyasastra lays down the foundations of a theory and practice of the Indian arts which was adhered to by theoreticians and practicising arts” for thousands of years. This was done consistently throughout the subcontinent. [1,26]
And yet, despite the best efforts of many motivated men to muddle not only its importance but to limit it to Kashmir, the impact of it was not only pan-Indian but Pan-Asian as well. “It had validity and applicability outside the country, especially in Asia, and continues to have relevance today for articulating a theory of art which can be clearly distinguished from Aristotelian or subsequent theories of aesthetic and art in the post-Renaissance West.”[1,26]
Above all, above even rasa and lakshana, was the uniquely spiritual quality that the Rishi of Natya brought to dramatics and histrionics. As many artistes in disparate fields such as dance and art and music attest today, to perform based on the structures and tradition of India is not merely an experience of the senses, but an experience of the spirit:
“Bharata’s adherence and debt to this world-view is clear when he repeatedly speaks of the ‘eye’ and the ‘ear’ and purification. It is not only ritual purification; it is the constant endeavour to arrive at a greater and greater degree of subtlety and refinement.The theatrical universe is the world of the ‘audible’ and the visible’. The senses and sense-organs and perceptions play a crucial role in the evolution of the theory, as also the techniques of each of the four instrumentalities of expression—sound, word (vacika) and body language (angika), décor and dress (aahaarya) internal states (sattvika)”.[1,55]
The imprint of Bharata is felt, therefore not only in Classical Ancient India, but even in the medieval period and across regions. From the Manasollasa (Kannadigas) to the Dhvanyaloka (Kashmiris) to the Sangita Kaumudhi (Odias) to the Sangitaraja (Rajasthanis), the influence of his work is irreplaceable and undeniable, crossing centuries and corners of India. Even the Ain-e-akbari, Risala-i-Ragadarpana, Sangita Mallika, and Kitab e Nau Rasa all rely heavily on, and some would even say attempt to digest, the pioneering work of Bharata muni. Notably, however, this influence was neither regimented nor haphazard. [1,120]
“Jayasenapati’s Nrttaratnavali from Andhra (thirteenth century) also reflects both adherence to and departures from the Natyasastra. While it follows the basic principles it focuses much greater attention on training vyaayama and a full account of the desi type of karanas.We gather very important information from this text on many matters, including the basic techniques of training, including those on the bar. Unlike others, he includes a section on construction of theatres.”[1,122] True integral unity with diversity.The canon itself provided general principles which were adapted to the local style and needs of the region. Indeed, Jayasena’s text was instrumental in reviving not only Andhranatyam but Perini Siva Thandava as well.
The reverbations of the ancient and medieval period, therefore, can still be felt today. Most importantly, vrtti (style) and pravrtti (regional school) both had their place and space, as opposed to regimented standardisation. Perhaps that is what makes the Indic tradition so dynamic. Appropriate flexibility exists to not only provide for the civilizational and the regional, but also the material (laukika) and the spiritual (adhyatmika). The spirit of dharma, therefore, can seamlessly move from school to school, region to region, and artform to artform.
The British and their elite academic atlantic relatives have historically taken pro-pak positions, pretending a variety of falseties for propagandic purposes. One theory that was floating around was that there was no true performance music before turks came and took “vedic chants” from the temples to create Hindustani music. This ignorant (or self-serving) view has no historical basis, as even the most committed hinduphobe knows the Natya Sastra is dated to 200 BCE, if not earlier.
It is also one of the reasons why adarsh liberals have always given such step-brotherly treatment to south India, long before l’affaire Jallikattu. This is because foreign influences are difficult to divine or impose on Carnatic. Even recent additions like the European violin have been adapted to suit the Indic taste, much as Hindustani and Kathak were merely modified Indic artforms to suit the Turkic taste.
To bring things back full circle, however, perhaps the best rebuttal came from a scholar of literary theory himself:
In my opening remarks I referred to narrow nationalism as going against the spirit of Comparative Literature…Narrow nationalism, however, is not the problem here; rather its opposite is the problem; and its opposite is not wider nationalism; it is absence of national feeling. We Indians are often unnecessarily apologetic about ourselves and about our national heritage. We unnecessarily feel guilty of jingoism, of cultural expansionism in such matters. This peculiar feeling has its roots in respect of some students of literary not in the thorough knowledge of our heritage, but in its opposite, namely, complete ignorance of our heritage. [3,185]
Understanding the root helps us learn where all the branches are. That is the importance of the Natya Sastra to Indic—real Indic—music, art, poetry, dance, and drama.“The Mahamuni provided the basic framework and a pan-Indian vocabulary which was to guide the theory and practice of the Indian arts for two millennia”,and likely more .[1,100]
Bharata’s work influenced millions directly or indirectly. For these reasons alone, Natya Sastra is one of the most important books ever written [6,19]
Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
Pandey, Sudhakar and V.N.Jha.Glimpses of Ancient Indian Poetics.Satguru Publications: Delhi, 1993 .
Incongruous as the title might sound, that is the sense of disharmony that one feels in this holy season of the Sabarimala deity Ayyappan.
Makara Sankranthi has just gone by and bhaktas from all over India have congregated to this hill shrine in what previously were dense jungles in the Western Ghats of Kerala. But amidst the chanting of Swamiye Saranam Ayyappa (Ayyappa you are our refuge) and the overwhelming feeling of being on a different plane with the chanting of these words by the faithful, another harsh shadow looms over this temple shrine.
Far away from Kerala’s jungles and in the capital city of Bharata desa, Delhi, the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court has raised a question.
The question that the Supreme Court has asked is that the temple has to explain why it bars entry for women devotees between the ages 10-50 at the shrine. This is the outcome of a case that has been filed by some women lawyers many years back.
Like all things Hindu, the story and the history of the temple is shrouded in some mystery. This is because Hindus do not base their belief in historical events in iron clad terms. There are no absolutes in history as long as the story is cohesive. There are many stories regarding this hill shrine all more or less having the same subtext. However, the consensus among all these narratives is that Ayyappan is a celibate god.
I am not getting into the stories about Sabarimala and a curious reader can go through the links below this article for the various versions of the history of this shrine.
Now, the reason given by the temple authorities for barring of women in the reproductive age is that since the deity is celibate, he cannot be defiled with the ‘impurity’ of menstruating women. This obviously has not impressed the court which looks at this defense as pure discrimination in an age when ‘rights’ rule the world.
Outlining the issue: Using a western lens to solve a dharmic problem and how it is inappropriate
Bharata desa faces a peculiar problem today. Her civilization is many millennia old. The length of her existence is still a matter of debate but much research today points to her being the mother of all civilizations[i]. What has shaped the worldview of this civilization then? It is the culture, language, and tradition of that part of humanity that today calls itself Hindu. Many present day traditions have an unbroken continuum with her ancient civilization. Today, the group of people practicing these traditions are called Hindus but they belong to the same stock as their ancestors who believed in the system of Sanatana Dharma. Civilizations developed in other lands (and I’d like to believe from the same common root) and gave rise to organized religion in the form of the three monotheisms seen today.
Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is completely different from the organized religions. With regard to women and science here is the difference.
Organized religion in its canons or holy books, looks upon women as being inferior beings and the source of temptation and evil. Sanatana Dharma however, considers women as divine. In fact, as someone remarked on twitter, the three main portfolios of education, finance and defence if we were to look at ministries in a political setup, are controlled by women in Hinduism. Goddesses preside over these three ministries. Hence, using a western framework to deal with issues of our civilization is not just without merit but even dangerous. When the lens used is wrong, obviously an analysis made with such a lens will yield an outcome which will eventually serve to facilitate cultural genocide.
As a result of women being considered inferior to men in organized religion, for the largest part of history, this group has found itself to be severely oppressed. Additionally, organized religion has been in continuous conflict with science. This is due to the linear notion of time in organized religion related with the idea of when the world was created by god and how it will have a finite time period to exist. It was not until the enlightenment movement that an uneasy truce was reached between religion and science. Bharata desam has suffered no such conflict on either issue by and large. While the above statement lays me open to accusations of supporting brahmanical oppression of women and other classes, I have to state that I think these theories were also propagated by the colonial invaders. In my view, there is no oppression inherent in Hinduism’s philosophy. As we have seen above, woman is considered as divine as man and worshipped as goddess. In fact purusha and prakriti are complementary and necessary for the creation of a whole.
To come back to the point, organized religion needed to have various movements to release its adherents from the centralized control of the powers that be. The enlightenment movement helped science to achieve a level of truce with religion. Then the feminist movement helped women break free of the shackles that made them second class human beings. Since a fight was involved to secure basic freedoms, this society then latched on to the rights paradigm for everything. It became a feminist rights movement, animal rights movement, human rights movement and so on. Thus, the society that was shaped from this churning was one which was based on individual rights.
In the case of Bharatiya civilization, it is a society that has evolved with the family as its bedrock. Duties are more important than rights here since people are committed to the greater common good. The basis for all behavior is Dharma. Hence the tree has its own dharma, a dog has its own dharma, a woman has her own dharma, a man has his own dharma, why, even a mountain has its own dharma. However, while they have their individual dharma, they are all connected like in Indra’s Net[iii] (introduced to me by Rajiv Malhotra) where each microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm infinitely. It is this inter-connectivity which finally ensures that the individual karmas (deeds) are in harmony and for the benefit of the larger good. This is such a powerful and affirmative concept while the rights based paradigm is a debilitating and negating concept.
This rights based paradigm is alien to the Bharatiya worldview and is in fact helping to destroy this culture. In fact I fear for Bharata desa when I see how much the western rights based paradigm has come to dominate our thinking. I was trying to research a little bit on the Sabarimala issue and I was aghast to see my google search throw up page after page of shrill shrieking articles advocating ‘Happy to bleed’, castigating the temple authorities and generally making enormous noise for menstruating women to obtain this right. I counted fourteen google search pages which had almost every article shrieking about women’s rights. After the 14th page I was dejected enough to not want to search anymore. There was not a single article trying to explain the rationale properly for this ban on women of reproductive age! As a woman, I found this upsetting.
Trying to explain the restriction
When the Supreme Court question broke out, there were many of us on social media trying to understand this prohibition. This bloghad a lovely take on the subject of menstruating women and how they are looked at in Bharatiya culture.
“There is a build up of energy in the days leading to menstruation as the body prepares for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not take place and menstruation starts, this built up energy gets dissipated from the body during menstruation. During menstruation, Vata is the predominant dosha. Apana vayu, one of the elemental air functions of the Vata Dosha, is responsible for the downward flow of menstruation. Therefore, any activity that interferes with this necessary downward flow of energy during menstruation should be avoided. During menstruation, women are more likely to absorb other energies in their environment. This forms the basis of most of the cultural practices around menstruation in India.”[iv]
However, I know there are many who think Ayurveda is some pseudo-science and that all this talk of energy is so much gobbledy gook. We are of course afflicted with the disease of over-rationalising, a gift from the science versus religion battle of the West. Rationality and ‘science’ are the buzzwords today and even when science admits there are things it doesn’t know (which is why most scientists in the field of astronomy and space research are humble and believe in the divine), we are so fixated on negating anything that does not fit into the limited paradigm of science. This is a kind of arrogance of science that has replaced the arrogance of religion.While we dismiss talk of energy as being hogwash, the same is being studied very keenly by neuroscience experts in the West and the day is not far off when it comes out with a theory similar to the one explained in the above blog. Then of course we will all embrace it as science. For such of us who worship “rationalism” (as distinct from logic) as if it’s the new god, explanations like the one which the blog uses will be brushed off as force fitting an idea to feel good.
For such doubters here is a blogthat explains why women cannot go to Sabarimala.
“I have been going to the temple at Sabarimala for over 25 years and one question that people ask me often is “Who placed the restrictions on women entering the temple?” And the short answer is, Ayappa himself! According to legend, Ayappa is celibate so that he can focus on answering the prayers of his devotees. And he will remain celibate till the day kanni swamis (first-time devotees) stop coming to Sabarimala.”[v]
The author of this blog uses a story or legend associated with Ayyappa to explain the position. Do read the rest of the blog to know the story. He is right. It is Ayyappa himself who does not want mentruating women to visit him. But then, rationalists can rationalize that these are human beings speaking for Ayyappa and that they are basing their explanation on some unverifiable myth; easy to take down. The author also goes on to say, “Since he [Ayyappa] is celibate, he should not be distracted”. This is easy pickings for the shrill feminist. I would like to use his words but back it up with something very simple. The explanation for why women are not allowed is simply explained by the following twitter thread.
What it basically explains is that for Hindus, a murthi in a temple is not simply a lifeless idol. Prana pratistha is done which means that the deity being consecrated is considered to be infused with the physical presence of the divinity represented. Thereafter the god/goddess is deemed to be physically present in that place and that the space where s/he resides belongs to him/her. Hence, no decision regarding the working of that temple, the rules to be maintained, the rituals to be followed can be taken without consulting the resident deity. The deity’s preferences are determined through various methods lightly touched upon in the twitter thread.
So, if it is the decision of the deity (in this case Ayyappan) to not have women in the reproductive age visiting him, why is it that his wishes cannot be honored? Even in legal terms, the deity can be considered to be a respondent and the court is bound to take note of this living practice of Hindus in the running of their temples as is explained inthis article on the rights of Hindu religious institutions.
Further, which woman wants to offend the deity if he wants not to have her in his presence. What would she want to prove by going against his wishes? She claims to be his devotee which means he is her ishta devata and she has surrendered to him as per Hindu sastra. That being so, why would she not want to respect his wishes?! What kind of a devotee does that make her? I don’t think any real devotee of Ayyappa male or female will want to go against his wishes. If you do so, then you lose claim to be a devotee and hence the right to decide how things must be run at his shrine.
Moreover the assorted brigade of feminists will never tell you that the same Kerala has a tradition called Attukal Pongala where men are absolutely not allowed.In contrast, in Sabarimala, it is hardly a blanket ban on women. Girls who have not yet reached puberty and women who are post menopausal are most welcome to visit. At the Pongala no such leeway is provided. It is an out and out women only festival with no admission whatsoever for men or boys of any age. How come none of the placard hoarding, ‘Happy to Bleed’ feminists highlight that. Can not our menfolk also start a petition to cry foul of this discrimination?
Here’s another articlefrom Kerala again, where it is shown that the woman is the only one who has the rights to do puja in this temple. Am sure you will find many such instances of temples with women only archakas or rituals where only women can participate. Contrast this with the church where even today, no woman can be a priest. What explains this? This is so because Sanatana Dharma is multi-layered. It is not limited to binaries, let alone false dichotomies. When will our people begin to realize this?
This is what a purely rights based paradigm does. It sees things only in black and white. The binary mode of Western thought permeates the rights based lens to look at issues. Dharma is far more nuanced and cannot be force fitted into the rights regime that is imported from the Western experience. Bharat Ganarajya’s laws are not really representative of the dharmic nature of her civilization. Many of the laws have been framed using the western lens which the outgoing British left for posterity in the minds of Bharatiya lawmakers. The true success of the British regime is that it left the Bharatiya populace (particularly the section that has the means and wherewithal to steer the course of this country) mentally colonized while physically being independent.
While I think the lawyers and elites need to mentally decolonize, the Bharatiya citizens need to do this more urgently; otherwise what explains the ineffectiveness of the Ayyappa temple authority spokesman’s defence of the temple ritual? He opened himself up to ridicule by calling menstruating women as impure and demanding for a scanning machine to check if women devotees were having their period when they came to Sabarimala. Why could the temple authorities not take the help of Agama shastras to explain why the rules at Sabarimala are what they are? They are the strongest argument against letting the discrimination charge leveled by the feminist brigade. We really need to rearm Hindus to develop their self confidence and knowledge about their own customs and traditions. A thousand years of foreign invasion and rule has crushed the spirit of the Bharatiya. It will take time to decolonize the mind and build the confidence. But do we have the time given the realities in the world?
Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.
Personal introduction is a rather difficult proposition because I suppose one has to take a mirror to oneself. It’s always hard to do that and therefore, I will keep it very short.
I am a citizen of Bharata desa and a person who has moved from avidya (ignorance) of being a confused person to someone who has some vidya (knowledge) and is more aware of who she is and where she comes from over the last few years. Today I believe I am a stakeholder in the continuation of our Bharatiya civilization because it has so much to offer the world.
My writings on this portal will only be a samarpanam (offering) to my mathru bhoomi, its age old civilization, and my ancestors who graced this beautiful and sacred land. I owe it to them to keep the fire burning. I hope I will be able to make a difference. Those of you who know me from Andhra Cultural Portal know that I am a proud Malayali, and will be discussing issues from my native Kerala as well. So join me for a filter kaapi or three!
Thank you to all who will read me. I hope I do not disappoint you.
As Sankaranthi winds down, here’s the surprise announcement we mentioned in our greeting. Many of you following ACP on twitter probably already saw, but one of the sharpest minds (and wits) in the dharma blogosphere has just launched our first sister site:
TCP marks an important milestone as it provides India’s southernmost state, the wonderful people of Tamil Nadu, a chance to enjoy their own culture as well, while appreciating the Integral Unity they share with other parts of Bharatavarsha.
Our Tamizh brothers and sisters are more than welcome to continue reading and participating at ICP. But we encourge all of you, Tamizh and non-Tamizh, to check out this site, and not only learn about another region, but encourage cross-pollination as well.
A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on August 12, 2015
As many of you know, we wrote a series on one of the key impediments to safeguarding the future of the Telugu Language, Andhra Culture, and Indic Civilization. Despite the much vaunted Indian Intelligence (which received a fillip from the selection of a certain new tech CEO), we recognise that this was balanced by a quality known as Indian Stupidity. As such we completed a 5 part series that concluded with Culture: The Cure for Stupidity.
Having not only identified the ailment, but established the appropriate medicine, the question that now remains before us is: “how to ensure healing and recovery?”. If Bharatavarsha has been on the cultural defensive for the better part of a millennium, how then is this highly accomplished and ancient civilization to revive itself? In short, What is Needed for a Civilizational Revival?
Contrary to many of our over-memorising, but under-thinking commentators, it is not a matter of simply dusting off a few palm leaf manuscripts and tamra patras to revive our sanskriti and recreate the Satya Yuga. A society, a culture, and indeed, a Civilization, is more than just a collection of texts that has to be implemented when an elite again has agency. What’s more, alleged leadership that spends day in day out reviling its masses and imposing a uni-dimensional vision of its ideal-state has no business, let alone legitimacy, to stake claim to authority. The purpose of leadership, political or spiritual, is to recognise the tremendous responsibilities that come with tremendous privilege. It is not a question of ruling jatis and service jatis. By any schema, all are service jatis only, as everyvarna is mandated to serve Dharma, not itself. That is the path to a spiritual and cultural revival.
To catalyse a cultural revival, we cannot merely replicate the past, but must use it to inspire us to build a new future.
While the fundamental motives, the governing ideas which constitute the essential spirit of our culture are a part of our very being, they should receive changing expression according to the needs and conditions of our time.-Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan[1, 9-10]
To catalyse a cultural revival, more than mere saastric vidya will be necessary to defend Dharma in the days ahead. Like it or not, mind-boggling material advances have been made, primarily in Western institutions (quietly drawing from the East), that have overwhelmingly increased the sophistication and stakes of man’s material knowledge and power. Entire new fields such as nano-robotics, game theory, information technology, and marketing have come into their own and matured beyond prior mortal conception (at least in this Chaturyuga). Not only learning our own itihaasa, but in depth global history, will become crucial, even disqualifying if found lacking, for any putative cultural leader.
To catalyse a cultural revival, cosmopolitan and worldly-wise women and men will be required to collaborate (rather than compete) and create a response to the vast array of cultural kalakeyas arrayed against them and the Aryavarta. From AIT to ADN, there is an alphabet soup of insidious intellectual mechanisms, memes, methodologies, and meta-groups all salivating at the prospect of carving up Bharata by divide and rule. Semiotics and non-governmental organisations have been equally deployed to devastating effect for which there is no sastra to serve as playbook. Indeed, if culture is the new politics, how can dharmic politicians not be the one’s strategising its re-introduction? Some self-serving, self-appointed circa satya yuga sanskriti senapatis think art, music, and the host of civilizational accomplishments must be left unsullied by leadership—as though mere snobs a-sniping would ensure artistic traditions would remain unscathed from those who would hoodwink the hoi polloi. Yes, I believe these self-same sage views were held by the Russian aristocracy on the eve of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution…
To catalyse a cultural revival, national and civilizational culture must be balanced by regional culture. Just as the sub-culture of a single varna or jati cannot be imposed, so too cannot the regional culture of a single group be imposed on the nation at large. Does this mean no Indic national and administrative language? Certainly not. But it does mean regional culture must be allowed to express itself in all its Dharmic glory. After all, both Sanskrit and Tamizh fell from Lord Shiva’s damaru. In light of that, while the nation and even civilization can unite around a common devabhasha and desa bhasha, rashtrabhasha and sanskriti must—absolutely must—be respected. If you want a united India, act like it, and learn the language of your state of residence!
To catalyse a cultural revival, responsibility will lie not only with the elite, but with the masses as well.All sections will have a role to play in the upcoming upheavals, and will have to determine whether they will give in like so many hedonistic helots to their baser instincts and life of unthinking dependence, or rise to the Himalayan heights of nobility that their ancestors came to define.
As as a result, our vision of Bharat Mata as not only safe, secure, and splendrous, but also as Jagad Guru (teacher to the world), will materialise only with concerted, critical, collaborative, strategic, and serious thinking.This is not the place for woolly-headed, caste-obsessed, insular, and impractical amateurs. It is precisely this reason why this site is open for all, but challenges serious people—the supposed current and future elite—to stop squabbling and competing like jealous, immature children, and work together for the common good. This requires not only a high culture, but a sense of organisational culture. Instead of each moron fighting and operating as an army of one to create an un-collaborating “organism”, each man or woman of serious intellect and inclination must learn to work with others (even rivals) in the name of the common good. This means taking initiative when the need or even opportunity presents itself, having the people skills and discretion to avoid needlessly [ticking] people off, and utilising sense and buddhi to step aside when someone else will prove better at the task.
A man who needs no introduction, Shri Rajiv Malhotra has discussed many of these issues already, perhaps in slightly different terms.
In a recent talk, RM spoke of three components for a cultural revival:
1. knowledge 2. training of leaders 3. institutions. These are the 3 arches that he listed.
Ever the original thinker (a far rarer quality than is commonly admitted), Rajiv ji has listed three components for reviving our culture and punya bhoomi. These indeed form the required framework. But a strong, fundamental foundation is needed to construct a stable bridge to Nutana Bharata.
As such, we complement his components with our own. While knowledge, training, and institutions will all prove invaluable, there is no point in trying to explain what the expert has already done better. Therefore, this essay will focus on fundamentals. The critical elements to a cultural revival are as follows:
Good values make a good individual. Good individuals make a good family. Good families make a good community. Good communities make a good state. And Good states make a good nation.But to accomplish this, as discussed above, we need Awareness, Team ethic, and Bottom up solutions.
To institute good values, the clay itself must be suitably malleable. The aridity of stupidity must be rejected by identifying and curing its origins. Following that, the individual must then study dharma. Not the philosophical dharma, not the intellectual dharma (both of those are for advanced students), but the everyday dharma, the practical dharma . This is attained through the proper study, absorption, and most important, the practice of culture. Arts are merely the alankara (ornament) of culture, dharma is its true identity. Proper study of the stepping stones to dharma require learning (in some cases re-learning) sabhyata, saujanya, maryada, and achara. Having understood this, the individual is then prepared to be a valuable and contributing member of a team.
Families are the building blocks of society, which is in turn the building block of culture and civilization. Families raise good dharmic children. Individuals weaned on the welfare state and entitlement economy are selfish and servile, and in some cases, outright vile. Dharma ensures respect and self-respect. Therefore the key to establishing good teams and good families is through rejection of selfishness.
Society must operate not on the basis of hermetically sealed communes, but with a sense of community and common purpose. Paths and panths may vary, kulacharas may differ, but dharma is for all. This is because dharma mandates that we think of society before ourselves. Community comes before korika (iccha or personal desire). Therefore, ambition must be rejected. This is the key to not only community, but also character.
The governance of a state (rashtra) or country (desa) requires serious people. One must not only be selfless, and strategic, but also serious. This means not deceiving ourselves about the serious issues that face us, whether it is a newly bifurcated state, or a 65 year old republic, or a millennia old civilization.
It also means producing people of subtlety. One dimensional nationalism, lose the region. Excessive regionalism, lose the nation. Lose Dharma, lose everything. Too much centralisation is brittle. Once broken, the nation or civilization is gone. Too much regionalisation, however, and centrifugal forces result in states being easily divided and played off against each other like puppets. Therefore, we need bottom up solutions, but top-down strategy. Regional variations of civilizational ethos will build “Integral Unity“, which is more flexible and resilient.
[Ram Raj was not built in a Day] but it was built upon tyaga and nishkama karma (selfless service). When individuals attempt to anoint themselves as Acharyas with no clue to their character, personal agendas come into question. Work cannot be done in the name of nationalism, but secretly to the benefit of special interests. Whether dynasty or durbar, individual families or communities cannot operate only in their own interests. All elements in the system must be respected to ensure a single-minded but decentralised dharma, in place of a putative papacy.
It must not seek to directly or indirectly abuse and revile our co-Dharmics, but bring them along not only as “labour”, but as stake-holders, decision-makers, and fellow Bharatiyas. Varna and Jati Dharmas may vary, but it is the principle and uniting sense of Saamaanya Dharma that must be the clarion call. What’s more, in response to the widespread targeting of certain castes, we cannot simply dismiss the very real mistakes that were committed by some sinners against dharma.
As the foremost intellectual kshatriya of the hour has spoke, “There can be no whitewashing here”. All jatis, and in particular our dalit jatis, must be welcomed in this joint-venture of reviving our culture and civilization. Indeed, whether caste itself may or may not disappear, one thing is clear, generational and systematic untouchability (and the terrible offenses against dharma committed by those who would misinterpret it) must be declared null and void.
Whether it is a matter of identifying original varnas or jatis on the basis of last names, etc, it is the height of idiocy to treat 200 million people as “untouchable”, especially when many (or even most) North Indian Dalits abstain from go-mamsa, and quite a few are outright vegetarian and are generally interested in Dharma. Out of curiosity, how many beef-eating, non-Indian (I’m being euphemistic here) marrying upper castes have similarly been “outcasted” and declared patitha? One cannot have one’s cake and eat it too—and untouchability not only by law, but also as a collective social rank must end forthwith! Dalits must be returned to dignity as fellow brothers and sisters in Dharma.
This is the foundation and framework, but what is the woodwork? What is the flesh and blood to the bone structure we have laid before you?
Many of you may now argue, “ok Nripathi, so what’s the problem? Seems straightforward. Let’s implement!” But not so fast. What is it exactly that we are implementing? It is easy to say let us teach good values—but how? It is easy to say let’s create good families—but how? It is easy to say revive a good nation—but how? Frequently in this materialistic world, in this kali yuga, it is not so much what we do, but how we do it. Frequently in this materialistic world it is is not so much what we say, but how we say it.
This must be done not in a pedantic or puerile or even primitive way. It must adapt to time, place, and manner. Stupidity may be the single biggest sickness afflicting Indic Society, but the single biggest obstacle is the gyaani.
The Gyaani Complex: Introduction to the Gyaani
Previously we discussed Rajarishi Janaka. The father of Sita was a man not only of astonishing self-control, and virtue, but also of compassion. Indeed, rather than ahankar driving him, it was those with ahankar who chose to test him–a self-realised man who remained on Earth out of compassion to teach those who had not yet attained self-realisation . This showsthat correct interpretation is necessary, based not on questionable translations or ahankar, but Acharyas—real Acharyas.
Similarly there is a story of Maharishi Yajnavalkya, who features prominently in the Upanisads, especially the Brihadaranyaka. Yajnavalkya had grown haughty with pride due to knowledge, and his guru forced him to vomit what had been taught. All the other jealous students therefore quickly turned into partridge birds (tittira) to eat up the knowledge that had been regurgitated, giving the name Taittiriya to the related Upanishad. Today, we have gyaanis (as distinguished from jnanis) and sarvagyaanis, who make false pretense to the truth while turning into little birds to consume vomit, etc, only to vomit it again without understanding what is relevant to the time, place, context. Aiming to be Yajnavalkya, each is a mere Tittira (a bird) seeking to specialise in simplified knowledge, but failing to understand its collective complexity. They quote logic and procedure, but are unable to apply it to their own arguments. This the danger of pompous fools who have knowledge, but not wisdom. Theory but no practice. A pound of practice, however, is worth a tonne of theory.
We must differentiate between adhyatmika and laukika vidya. After all, despite his brilliance and wisdom, would you have asked Sri Ramana Maharishi to be your general? We must also differentiate between vidya and buddhi (not to mention vidya and jnana). Simply because a person is well-read or learned in lore does not make him wise or self-realised. An illiterate can have wisdom from sheer anubhava (experience). Simply because one has memorised the Dharmashastras, does not make him a jnani. Vidya is lost at the end of every life. It is only jnana that makes an impression on the soul, and this comes from humility—in many cases, well-deserved. So do not be bowled over by clever talk and sophisticated phrases. Look for clear logic, not a mere exegesis of it. That is how you know not only whether the proposed action is wise or your path fruitful, but whether your guru is true…or false.
It also means adapting to changed circumstances. In an era where knowledge is power, not only do we need Sastra and Suhstra, but where necessary and justifiable, we must use Sastra AS Suhstra. When the adversary is breaking all the rules, you cannot be so foolishly hidebound and unrepentantly stupid as to continue to observe them to the most trivial letter. This is where maturity, and above all, judgment come from. After all, “Deficiency in judgment is is properly that which is called stupidity”.
Like Ravanasura, grandson of Pulastya, they are wrapped up in pride about adhyatmic knowledge and lineage rather than asking if their conduct is worthy of the lineages they claim. What’s worse, these same thin-skinned, false preachers of truth take belongings (or ideas) from others and claim them as their own as though they were divinely inspired!—what cheek! As Ravana shamed the great and venerable Saptarishi Pulastya, so too do they shame their progenitors with their lack of character. They are unable to reflect upon their own behaviour and shameless thievery of the original work and property of others (Ravana stole Lanka from Kubera), when it is so obvious that they had neither the knowledge, nor wisdom, nor competence, nor ability to create it in the first place. But what truly haunts them, is they realize they never will…
In their quests to demonstrate their knowledge, they engage in petty one upsmanship, not realising the foolishness, and inability to tell right from wrong, that they have fallen into. Themselves mired in delusion, they label others as deluded. They pusillanimously claim the mantle of Dharma, only to pervert it to their own petty, self-serving ambition, even at the cost of the common societal good. They may come from any caste, but they are perennially obsessed with the idea of it. But this is of no surprise, for they don’t even have the capacity to properly define “dharma”—how then can they teach it let alone implement it and defend it?
It is logic and lesson (niti) that must be digested. Arguments cannot be “well Dharmashastra says this! This is the rule of Apasthamba!”. No other way of life has emphasised time and place more than Dharma. Indeed, it is not for nothing that there were not 1 but 4 separate Dharmasutras (Vasishta, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Apasthamba), each one updating the other and even rejecting whole rules outright or legalities outright as obsolete. Just as the Chhatrapati adopted Ganimi Kava (enemy tactics) as needed, so too must we be open to external ideas and approaches and altogether fresh fields of study. This doesn’t mean ejecting dharma, it means separating the ancillary (or non-essential) from the essential. Discretion.
What’s more, simply because one has read the Arthashastra does not make him or her a master of politics and war. Just as Vidya and Buddhi are different, so too are vidya and karma. It is for this reason Dharmic society traditionally had separate vocations for especially brahmanas and kshatriyas. This is because just as fundamental science is not the same as applied science, so too is vidya different from karma (action). Rajarishi Janaka represented a bridging of the two. In our era, this has become even more critical and standalone, hence the call for baudhik kshatriyas. This is not to disparage one varna or bloat the head of another, or even make the designation dependent on caste lines.
Paleo-purists may decry this as a violation of our astika principles—but these are also the same ahankaris who stood idly by during the criminal disrobing of Draupadi, citing law and rna (debt). They needlessly and endlessly pick fights with many countrymen in the face of a common enemy. Even more tragic, they need a team of supporters just to muster the manhood/womanhood to take on one honest questioner.
Indeed, because stupidity is deficiency in judgment, they might even sacrifice the national cause in the futile hope that they may upstage a superior rival—all in vain. Unable to propose and implement workable solutions—let alone imagine and conceive them—they serve as obstacles to those who do. But true leadership does otherwise, of which a gyaani is not capable. Not only does it show accountability, but vision and implementation as well. In contrast, these “mimic men” of another sort are truly incapable of an original idea, so they viciously and pettily attack anyone who upstages them. Like Ravana, they ride their chariot of ahankar to their doom and demise, taking their kin along with them.
Therefore, our Individuals, of whatever caste, however accomplished and once well-meaning, must reject the Gyaani complex. If not, society must come together and punish them for being the errant school children that they are. It is incumbent upon Dharmic Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and other classes to speak up against such Adharmic behaviour, even if it comes from their own caste and kin. It also requires a new complement to the modern intellectual aristocrat. To assist the Baudhik Kshatriya, we need not the Brahma-Kshatriya, but rather, the Laukika Brahmana.
The Laukika Brahmana
Please note, while some circles may use the term disparagingly, this is in fact meant to be complimentary. This is because the Laukik Brahmin is not the ascetic and isolated adhyatmic brahmana or the ahankari gyaani, but is simultaneously spiritual and worldly wise. Indeed, the correct distinction for brahmanas in the material world is bhogi brahmana versus laukika brahmana. The Laukik Brahmin may or may not be born in the Brahmin varna or pursue its traditional vocations, but he embodies the ideals of it and the Sattva guna it represents. He does not merely pay lip service to Satya as a means to achieve his ambition (while appropriating the work of others), but actually dedicates himself to working with others to protect it. Because he checks his ego and rejects ambition, he can coolly advise the intellectual Kshatriya who requires fiery Rajas to complete his daunting task.
The true Laukika Brahmana may no longer pursue the old spiritual vocations, but he is not the adharmic brahmana who strays from the spiritual path due to ahankar and svaartha. As the Kali Age, The Age of Disorder, is such that non-traditional, though still dharmic, occupations are permitted so that he may supported himself, the characterof the ancient Brahmanas still shines through him.
The time has come for hyperventilating hypocrites and greedy gyaanis to step aside. Baudhik Kshatriyas are the need of the hour, but the need of the day or decade will ultimately be Laukik Brahmanas.
Where will we find such men you ask? They are already among us. They do not make a great show of themselves and their alleged bhikshu bags, but quietly do their work without ego, knowing the work itself is its own reward. I know of one already. He has been a long time supporter, but he is too modest and selfless to allow himself to be named, as he is forever praising others while never seeking praise. Therefore, I will speak of another whom I do not know personally.
Shri Swaminathan Gurumurthy has been one of the most tireless voices speaking out for the good of society. While his tam-bram background serves as happy coincidence to this point, it only underscores the validity and need of such truly dharmic men. True, he does come from an orthodox family and holds many views that may seem conservative to us, but in his own way, he does not merely speak for harmonious good in society, but searches for pragmaticways to achieve it. This is the tri-fold combination of adhyatmic, sastric, and pragmatic that we require.
The laukik brahmin understands the expertise and even authority with which professionalsspeak and has the ingenuity to combine it with dharmic principles for appropriate dharmic responses. The laukik brahmana uses his vocation to combine his saastric knowledge with his modern knowledge of the samediscipline, and advance civilizational knowledge and understanding. S. Gurumurthy is again illustrative here. Formally trained as a chartered accountant, he has an expert understanding of his field, and so, is in an exceedingly well-placed position study and reflect on ancient finance and economics in the arthasastra, vidura niti, and elsewhere. This practical understanding of needs can then identify the correct saastric principle or even determine if a new rule or text is required altogether. Thus he builds upon knowledge, rather than merely regurgitating it like the gyaani.
When culture itself has been commoditised, how can hidebound gyaanis be expected to provide good counsel? The blind fail to see the import of media shaping tastes. They think Art, Music, Poetry, Cinema etc. cannot or must not be harnessed as mediums to contest false adharmic ideas and reassert dharma. What else can be expected from one who is more concerned with position and privilege rather than principle?
The naivety and stubbornness of the gyaani leads to societal destruction.Neither able to lead the way nor willing to get out of the way, gyaanis stand as vignas to the protection and restoration of society even while chanting the sacred name Vigneswara.
That is the danger of rote-memorisation and blind application of sastras—they do not take into account the time, place, and context. Practices and even entire sastras which applied in one era, may have no place in another, because circumstances have changed. Some of the most unwitting assistants of evil are those who serially cry “adharma” at every response to adharmic attacks. This is the danger of casuistry—often the result of those who first discuss the structure of logic without applying it to their own thoughts or dialogues.
These same characters appeared when Sikhandi fought Bhishma, Yudhisthira uttered the one lie, and Arjuna fought Karna. Where were these alleged high-minded souls during the unjust killing of Abhimanyu or the attempted disrobing of Draupadi? Like Shalya, they develop a “conscience” only at the wrong place and wrong time, all while impotently whining at all other junctures.
When culture itself has become the new politics—can such unworldly whiners be expected to lead us, even spiritually? It is not working a 9-5 job in the modern word that makes us worldly, but being aware of the nature of the world and the designs of adharma and how it uses every tool at its disposal. The Laukika Brahmana is aware and chastises the clinical klibas who use casuistry to misguide the masses. He not only has adhyatmic learning but laukik discretion to not only know what to speak, and when to speak it, but also how to speak it.
In an era when medium is the message, unworldly naifs cannot be expected to show, nor can they be allowed to arrogate, leadership. This is because they have not studied leadership beyond the sastras. When organizations, laws, tactics, strategy, science, art, and even culture have become cataclysmically complex, adhyatmic knowledge must not only be balanced with saastric knowledge, but modern knowledge (desi or videsi) as well.
In Telugu, there is a saying Vajram nee vajram thoney koyyali. You can break a diamond only with another one. We Andhraites know something of this matter, after all, is that not how they split our Andhra?
Recognising how even western economists are now starting to view “caste” (varna/jati) as social capital, Gurumurthy ji attacks stigma and prejudice instead, seeing past mistakes correctly as corruptions brought by hypocrites. Despite his orthoprax household, he speaks of the need for theSaamaanya Dharma, the common dharma—from which individual dharmas originate.
Above all, there is no cognitive dissonance for him between saastric principles and laukik realities. Recognising cookie cutter solutions are not possible, he links not the letter, but the spirit and principle to the correct time, place and manner. Instead of merely paying lip-service to purva paksa, he like Baudhik Kshatriya Shri Rajiv Malhotra, actually conducts it in a continuous and rigourous fashion. He knows his Bairoch as well as his Baudhayana, and his Huntington as well as his Hastamalakacarya. No individual can know the entire global canon (let alone the Indic), but he makes effort to do both, and has been for decades.
Laukika Brahmanas are not born, but made.They embody sattva, study sastra, and adapt to samaya (time). They do not espouse the view of fools crying “it is a kingdom of conscience or it is nothing!”, but understand that enemy tactics must be matched to protect and restore dharma. He or she recognises that knowledge and wisdom not only come from reciting shruti and studying smriti and sastra, but from sadhana/pure-hearted tapas, and most importantly, philosophising. Philosophy has been perverted today to mean any ideology from any rancid corner. Rather, Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom”. Thus the true philosopher (the term by which ancient visitors referred to our brahmanas), does serious original thinking. He thinks and reflects on what the actual problems of society are and how they are to be faced and solutions actualised.
The Baudhik Kshatriya is forever engaged either in conflict, preparing for it, or resting from it.While Rajiv ji has been tirelessly alerting our spiritual (adhyatmic) leaders, as he himself said, there is only so much one man (however talented) can do. As such, Laukik Brahmanas can be in constant contact with the Adhyatmic leaders, to only to gain spiritual knowledge but in turn apprise them of required material knowledge to guard against threats to our ancient parampara, and ultimately, to dharma sanatana. Laukik Brahmanas do not replace the direct contact society requires with these great Paramacharyas via their interaction and discourse, but rather, supplement and complement it.
They can survey the landscape (intellectual and spiritual) dispassionately, and do not have the burdens of training and tactics and taekwondo in modern dialectics. The true brahmana who is pure adhyatmic can pass on our vaidik and saastric tradition (unbroken and uncorrupted by the globalized material world) of which they, and only they, are the keepers. Meanwhile, the true brahmana who is laukik, alerts our true Paramacharyas of the insidious nature and designs of deceitful adharmis (desi and videsi). Duly surrounded and thrashed by these two spiritual powers, where then can the self-serving gyaani hypocrite or collaborator run?
That is the imperative of and the need for the prideless and pragmatic Laukika Brahmana.
The Road Ahead
Some post-mandal pithecanthropi have been circulating various memes aimed at disparaging Dalits in matters pertaining to reservation (itself a complex issue). What’s more, they claim that matters facing many poor Brahmins (particularly impoverished temple priests) are due failure to maintain unity. A united front to join the reservation wars is not the path salvation, but the path to destruction. It is not mandal-maddened vote-bank unity that will secure well-being for Brahmins, but Lok Kalyan.
“Lok kalyan?”, you ask? “Naïve”, you say?—but is it really? The entire purpose of the brahmana varna was precisely that–pursuing lok kalyan. While various Kings would periodically forget their duties, the disciplined spiritual life of brahmanas was meant to ensure an entire philosopher class that would not only teach good values, but embody them. That is what made the brahmana. Not “IQ“, not poseur pedantry, but character. The true brahmana was the embodiment of egolessness, because he knew or at least was aware of Brahman—the source and power of all things, including intellect and learning. The humility that this inspired spurred him on to good conduct and provided not political authority, but moral authority to counsel kings and minister to the masses. While the best poor old Plato could conceive was the Philosopher King (flip a coin on that one), and Aristotle, his rule of the aristos, Varnashrama Dharma was meant to secure sage advice to even the most stern or most sybaritic of kings. The Raja can punish a wrong-doing Brahmin, or even imprison a troublesome one or ten or a hundred, but to routinely ignore the counsel of the entire philosophical class would raise doubts in the country’s confidence in the king and erode his mass support. Wealth, power, and hedonism are all barred to the true Brahmana—that is the price for his moral authority.
Forever in analysis, the gyaani would otherwise be in paralysis were it not for the original thought of others which he shamelessly and dishonestly appropriates–and is no example to the public. As such, we need fewer gyaanis and far more Gurumurthy’s.
Our attitude must be that of Ekam Samaajam—One society. We may have many varnas, many panths (religions), many duties, but we are one society and civilization of people with a common purpose of state and national good, and a common saamaanya dharma. That attitude, more than anything else, is what is needed for a civilizational revival.
To conclude, we will end rather uncharacteristically, with a tale not from India, that is Bharat, but rather, thatpragmatic civilization to the north, China, that is Zhongguo. It is the Parable of The Wheel and the Light:
“Emperor Liu Bang, in the third century B.C., became the first ruler to consolidate China into a unified empire [technically, it was Qin Shih Huangdi…but read on]. To celebrate his victory, Liu Bang held a great banquet in the palace, inviting many important government officials, military leaders, poets, and teachers, including Chen Cen, a master who had given him guidance during the campaign.
Chen Cen’s disciples, who accompanied him to the banquet, were impressed by the proceedings but were baffled by an enigma at the heart of the celebration.
Seated at the central table with Liu Bang was his illustrious high command. First there was Xiao He, an eminent general whose knowledge of military logistics was second to none. Next to him was Han Xin, a legendary tactician who’d won every battle he’d ever fought. Last was Chang Yang, a shrewd diplomat who was gifted at convincing heads of state to form alliances and surrender without fighting. These men the disciples could understand. What puzzled them was how Liu Bang, who didn’t have a noble birth or knowledge comparable to that of his chief advisors, fit into the picture.
“Why is he the emperor?” they asked. Chen Cen smiled and asked them: what determines the strength of a wheel?
“Is it not the sturdiness of the spokes?” one responded. “Then why is it that two wheels made of identical spokes differ in strength?” asked Chen Cen.
After a moment, he continued, “See beyond what is seen. Never forget that a wheel is made not only of spokes but also of the space between the spokes. Sturdy spokes poorly placed make a weak wheel. Whether their full potential is realized depends on the harmony between. The essence of wheel making lies in the craftman’s ability to conceive and create the space that holds and balances the spokes within the wheel. Think now, who is the craftsman here?”
The disciples were silent until one of them said, “But master, how does a craftsman secure the harmony between the spokes?”
Chen Cen asked them to think of sunlight.“The sun nurtures and vitalizes the trees and flowers,” he said. “It does so by giving away it’s light. But in the end, in which direction do they grow?” so it is with a master craftsman like Liu Bang. After placing individuals in positions that fully realize their potential, he secures harmony among them by giving them all credit for their distinctive achievements. And in the end, as the trees and flowers grow toward the giver, the sun, individuals grow toward Liu Bang with devotion.””
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. The Principal Upanisads. London: Unwin Brothers. 1968
Gurumurthy, Swaminathan. India’s Culture, Society, and Economy: Past, Present, and Future. http://lookintoculture.blogspot.com/
Is Culture the New Politics? http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report-is-culture-the-new-politics-zee-jlf-panelists-debate-2055654