Shubha Deepavali! Diwali Shubhkamnayein! Happy Diwali! Happy Tihar! and all the many regional variations of this sacred festival. Deepavali is the great utsav that unites us all, being celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists alike.
So enjoy this great Festival, and like last year, burst crackers to your hearts content!
With the Real Sheet-Anchor of Indian History established, the time has come to move forward with an exegesis on Bharatiya Itihasas. After all, if foreign sources and foreign histories have been prioritised in order to impose a false chronology and false history on India, then the reassertion of the native Historical Literature of India becomes critical.
History is Itihasa (pronounced Ithihaasa), meaning “So indeed it happened”. Historical illiterates may pretend the term only applied to the epics, but it did not. There are a number of traditional histories in regional languages like Hindi, that use the term Itihasa. Charitra often translated to history, refers to Chronicles and Vamsavalis refers to Vamsa-avalis (Family Lineages or Geneologies).
At present, the modus operandi of our sepoy historians and fraudacharyas has been to prioritise colonial Christian chronologies, foreign histories, and inscriptions. We have already discussed the issues with the previous two. But in case the reader might wonder why epigraphy and numismatics offer problems, here is the logic:
After all, data manipulation, even by much worshipped scientists is not unheard of–why should British colonialists who back-stabbed their way to colonising India, be free from suspicion when their descendants are not? When modern academics and greedy corporations can be credibly accused of this, why are greedy Imperialists (medieval or colonial) being absolved by Post-modernists? The fact remains that expedience, rather than consistency and character, has been the by word of science-celebrities and scientism advocates. That is the importance of tradition. It actually communicates the historical memory of a people. Science can’t construct historical memory…it can only validate it.
For all the glories sung of Herodotus, forget what Indian sepoys have to sing; here is what his fellow Europeans themselves wrote about him:
“Manetho, Egyptian Historian and High Priest of the Temple of Isis ate Sebennytus, about 300 B.C.), whose works are unfortunately [or conveniently?] lost,is said to have written a book on purpose to correct the errors of Herodotus, and by Greek and Roman authors alike the titles of ‘fabler’ and ‘legend-writer’ have been freely applied to ‘the father of history’.” [10, xxv] Woods, Henry George. Herodotus. Oxford.1873.p.xxv
G.F.Abbot: “Herodotus has been called the ‘Father of History’; in truth he is only the father of story-telling; the first and most lively of our special correspondents…21: his celebrated Logoi…further vitiated by careless inaccuracy, love of exaggeration, addiction to entertaining anecdote, and indiscriminate acceptance of ancient lore—all of which properly belongs to a rudimentary age” [10,2]
So lore is ok in History when the Greeks do it, but not so much when Indians do it. This is the much-vaunted “Father of History” in the west whose sources we must place unquestioned “scientific” faith in. The real question of course is whether he is the father of history or father of hearsay.
This is not to denigrate historical sources other than our own; but rather to show what it’s like to apply the same standards foreigners apply to Indic Civilization. Scientism advocates and sepoys, of course, have double-standards.
So Homer wrote of a Cyclops and a Scylla, Herodotus of the Sun God’s intervention in the life of the Croesus, but the Mahabharata’s history of a royal family, succession crisis, and war, must be balanced by Pollockian chicken droppings, because “Science”. No wonder this same set became chelas of self-proclaimed cultural Christian Richard Dawkins. They too are almost there…culturally. Enough. Those with unjustifiable egos and sepoy sensibilities are welcome to wallow in their own ignorance, but those with more logical inclinations can understand why the same videshis who dictated false history cannot be credibly expected to construct another. Fool me once shame on you…
As such, upon what historical materials can sincere students of history and cultured members of Indic society rely?
Therefore, per Historian of Indian Civilization (knowledgeable in World history) and Traditional Brahmin Pandit Kota Venkatalachalam, this is our…
Traditional Historical Literature of India (in order of importance).
2. Itihasas & Charitras
4. Textual & Literary Historical references (in non-historical works such as literature & math)
5. Tamrapatras, Prasastis, and other inscriptions/epigraphy
6. Coins (and other physical evidence)
7. Foreign Histories and Travelogues
Even an orthodox Brahmin Pandit like Kota Venkatachalam was willing to accept credible and well-written histories like the Chachnama, which, due to the terrible destruction inflicted on Sindh, fills the gap left in native records. But he mentions this only after critical analysis, rather than abject intellectual slavery to all records foreign.
He (and we) have necessarily placed foreign sources at the lower end of importance (and after careful scrutiny) for reasons he had described.
What’s more, the famous and fantastical accounts of Dog-faced men who barked [all very scientific you see] from the “[Western] father of history” are proof of why in this topsy turvy Kali Yuga, we must take their order of precedence and turn it on its head. Foreign sources and foreign opinions are of the least important to us. The accounts, texts, and traditions of our traditional scholars are the most important.
People from all jatis (castes) should have access to our Itihasa-Purana, as they are our own people, and can be trained as traditional and “modern” scholars alike. Foreigners, necessarily, should no longer have such unlimited access or unlimited importance to our primary sources and primary texts given the havoc they have wreaked on Bharat from De Nobili and William Jones down to Doniger and Sheldon Pollock. Only fools trust foreigners more than their own people(just as only casteists supportAIT — as they are eager to be adopted by foreigners…).
There may be many good-hearted non-Indians, some even who are sincere…but the sins of others necessitate our need for reducing access at this time. This does not mean being rude or disrespectful to non-Indians…only being prudent and showing discretion. That is the real reason why we study Niti and the Panchatantra. And Niti is one of the main reasons we study Itihasa(History).
Sepoys, on the otherhand, have no time for Niti. They exist only to do their masters’ will so as to retain their (undeserved) emoluments.
The time to consign such termites, catamites, and dust mites to the dustbin has come. These intellectual equivalents of dung beetles have spewed enough foreign manure. We must reconstruct our real history, our own history, on our own sources.
As we scrap the foreign imposed history and restore our own, it becomes necessary to study the Native Sources of History. The Historical Literature of [Greater] India.
The Puranas may strike one as a surprising choice for an historical source, but there is a solid, logical basis for this. The Puranas consist of more than just “legendary” and “divine” aspects. There are in fact a number of distinguishing features (lakshanas) to them.
There are 18 Mahapuranas (major) and 18 Upapuranas (minor). While not all of these are sources of history, many of them, such as the Vishnu Purana and the Bhavishya Purana provide credible historical accounts, with minor reference to the fantastical. Some may wonder what the reason is for this format. In contrast to the West, which sees the Secular and Sacred in conflict, the Indic tradition recognises the harmony of the material and spiritual. After recognising the limitations of the former, we understand the transcendental nature of the latter . Only limited minds cannot see this.
Puranas, therefore, are highly useful not just for learning history, but understanding Niti contained in it.
2. Itihasas & Charitras
There are numerous histories and charitras composed by our ancients. For far too often, our modernists have insisted that only literature following foreign strictures can be classified as a “history”. But this is preposterous. Different civilizations evolve different styles and philosophies. Due to the dogmatic nature of some traditions, they require a violent separation of church and state to curtail further violence. For others, adherence to the truth was so strong, that no such separation was or is required to apprehend true history.
Desh drohis promoting AIT may devalue the accounts of Kalhana as mere Poetry, but the author of the Rajatarangini is an historian par excellence. Funny how the same voices who take inspiration from the name of the Rajatarangini don’t seem to have properly read it. Following the traditional asisha/mangala (benediction) in the beginning is the convention in Sanskrit Kavya. But that never stopped Kalhana from implementing the historical method in his work.
For this reason, although Kalhana’s magnum opus is often classified as a Chronicle, it should not be reduced to the rank of its grecian and anglo-saxon counterparts. The Rajatarangini is a proper Itihasa of Kashmir.
Kalhana discusses his methodology, expresses hesitance at describing supernatural events, and presents his topic in an informative and poetic manner. Works of history, which frequently analyse events and their significance, are Itihasas. Works that merely collect and present annals are chronicles, which are better referred to as Charitras. The word Charita, as seen in the Buddhacharita and the Harshacharita, is naturally related to Charitra. Jain and Buddhist literature (such as Ashvagosha’s work mentioned above) naturally take their place here as well. Charitras merely describe deeds in chronological order; Itihasas analyse their significance to teach Niti and Dharma.
Vamsavalis are the Dynastic King lists. These are the Royal Chronologies of Provincial Histories. Nepal is a famous example. Other Provincial Royal Chronologies also exist..
As Pandit Chelam notes, there are Manuscript copies of various dynasties that are available to this day. These involve the traditional names of the ancient provinces (janapadas/desas) of Bharatavarsha, such as Kasi, Panchala, Kalinga, Sindhu, Ujjain, etc. Some are, true to name, dedicated purely to established families of note. The Velugoti Vamsavali in the Telugu region is one such example.
Nevertheless, the historical value of these genealogies are significant. Historical material and detail is available, but must be collected and disseminated.
Another important set of historical sources comes from the records of Traditional Mathas and Agraharas. While not traditional vamsavalis in the strict sense, they are useful to supplement King lists due the repository of information regarding the guru-sishya paramparas in Mathas and families that populated agraharas and their interactions with political authority. Every head of main mathas (and Buddhist/Jain monestaries as seen in the Jaina Pattavalis which record pontiffs) of India is recorded. These lineages are as reliable as king lists and provide a means of authenticating and verifying which king ruled when based on the corresponding spiritual leader.
4. Textual & Literary Evidence
*(historical references in non-historical works such as literature & math)
Textual & Literary evidence refers to non-historical sources that offer historical details. Examples include discussions or references to various kings or personalities, as the Mudrarakshasa by Visakhadatta famously does. Despite being a play, it is nevertheless based on the history of the Maurya Dynasty and its famed Chancellor Chanakya.
Others can be various treatises and texts such as Kalidasa’s Jyotirvidabharana.
Nevertheless, these four categories compose the essential historical literature of India. Foreign sources have already been discussed in detail, and the nature of prasastis and tamrasasanas, silpasasanas, and numistmatics is better discussed elsewhere.
The main purpose was to establish that there were and are serious historical literatures within the Indic tradition that can be relied upon. Foreign sources can be used merely to supplement. But it should be obvious to all thinking persons that Bharatiyas need not wax eloquent over Herodotus and Thucydides, when they have ample historians of their own.
In fact, the much-celebrated Thucydides has himself been criticised over the years. First on grounds of style. It seems drab prose tends not to appeal to all scholars of history, which puts to favour Herodotus, and ironically, Kalhana as well. But more importantly, on other grounds as well:
“his style is often very compressed and difficult to understand, so that any translation is necessarily an interpretation.”
“There are big implications here for our modern admiration of Thucydides as a historian. First, the “good” translations of his History (those that are fluent and easy to read) give a very bad idea of the linguistic character of the original Greek. The “better” they are, the less likely they are to reflect the flavor of what Thucydides wrote—rather like Finnegans Wake rewritten in the clear idiom of Jane Austen. Second, many of our favorite “quotations” from Thucydides, those slogans that are taken to reveal his distinctive approach to history, bear a tenuous relationship to his original text. As a general rule, the catchier the slogans sound, the more likely they are to be largely the product of the translator rather than of Thucydides himself. He simply did not write many of the bons mots attributed to him.”
“But however we choose to excuse Thucydides, the fact remains that his History is sometimes made almost incomprehensible by neologisms, awkward abstractions, and linguistic idiosyncrasies of all kinds. These are not only a problem for the modern reader. They infuriated some ancient readers too. In the first century BC, in a long essay devoted to Thucydides’ work, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a literary critic and historian himself, complained—with ample supporting quotations—of the “forced expressions,” “non sequiturs,” “artificialities,” and “riddling obscurity.”
Real historians understand that they have a duty to communicate clearly and logically, and educate their audiences effectively, elite and mass alike. Historians engaging in non-sequiturs and abstractions are hucksters, more often than not . But then again as they say, if you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, the baffle them with…
Judging by bloviating blog ramblings popular on social media among some who think and seem like they’re smart, but not really , it is not surprising why some self-important sections think Thucydides is superior to Kalhana. No wonder they count Ayn Rand fans among their ranks…After all, these are the self-same cognitive defectives who think Indra is superior to Vishnu and believe AIT is the traditional view in India…poor souls.
The truth of the matter is, Kalhana managed to accomplish the best of both Herodotus and Thucydides. He wrote in an engaging and appealing literary style that respected tradition (like Herodotus) but also analysed history carefully using methodology (like Thucydides). He carefully reviewed the scholars that preceded him (Nilamuni, Helaraja, and Padmamihira, with 12 Kashmiri chroniclers in total), truthfully researched and recounted the history of Kashmir’s kings and queens, and engagingly provided his analysis and useful niti for readers in a literary manner.
The Truly Learned write not to amuse themselves and dazzle and baffle their sycophants, but to educate people on the lessons of life and history. That is the true measure of an Acharya.
So let read what a real one had to say.
Here is what Bharata Charitra Bhaskara, Pandit Sri Kota Venkatachalam wrote on the matter [Emphasis and Proofing ours]
The following Post was originally published at True Indian History on August 15, 2009
Historical Literature of India
1. A.Stein writes in his introduction to Rajatarangini Westminister edition Vol. I. P. 3:— “It has often been said of the india of the_Hindus that it possessed no history. The remark is true if we apply it to history as a science and art, such as classical culture in its noblest prose-works has bequeathed it to us. But it is manifestly wrong if by history is meant either historical development or the materials for studying it. India has never known, amongst its Sastras, the study of history such as Greece and Rome cultivated or as modern Europe understands it. Yet the materials for such study are equally at our disposal in India. They are contained not only in such original sources of information as Inscriptions, Coins and Antiquarian remains, generally, advancing research has also proved that written records of events or of traditions concerning them have by no means been wanting in ancient India.”
2. H. Wilson in his admirable introduction to his translation of the Visnu Purana, while dealing with the contents of the Third book observes that a very large portion of the contents of the Itihasas and Puranas is genuine and old and writes:–
“The arrangement of the Vedas and other writings considered by the Hindus–being, in fact, the authorities of their religious rites and beliefs–which is described in the beginning of the Third Book, is of much importance to the history of the Hindu Literature and of the Hindu religion. The sage Vyasa is here represented not as the author but the arranger or the compiler of the Vedas, the Itihasas and the Puranas. His name denotes his character meaning the ‘arranger’ or ‘distributor’; and the recurrence of many Vyasas, many individuals who remodelled the Hindu scriptures, has nothing in it, that is improbable. except the fabulous intervals by which the if labours are separated. The rearranging, the re-fashioning, of old materials is nothing more than the progress of time would be likely to render necessary. The last recognised compilation is that of Krishna Dvaipayana, assisted by Brahmans, who were already conversant with the subjects respectively assigned to them. They were the members of the college or school supposed by the Hindus to have flourished in a period more remote, no doubt, than the truth, but not at all unlikely to have been instituted at some time prior to the accounts of India which we owe to Greek writers and in which we see enough of the system to justify our inferring that it w as then entire.
That there have been other Vyasas and other schools since that date, that Brahmans unknown to fame have remodelled some of the Hindu scriptures, and especially the Puranas, cannot reasonably be counted, after dispassionately weighing the strong internal evidence, which all of them afford, of their intermixture of unauthorized and comparatively modern ingredients. But the same internal testimony furnishes proof equally decisive, of the anterior existence of ancient materials; and it is, therefore, as idle as it is irrational, to dispute the antiquity or the authenticity of the contents of the Puranas, in the face of abundant positive and circumstantial evidence of the prevalence of the doctrines, which they teach, the currency of the legends which they narrate, and the integrity of the institutions which they describe at least three centuries before the Christian Era. But the origin and development of their doctrines, traditions and institutions were not the work of a day; and the testimony that establishes their existence three centuries before Christianity, carries it back to a much more remote antiquity, to an antiquity, that is, probably, not surpassed by any of the prevailing fictions, institutions or beliefs of the ancient world.” (Willson’s Vishnu Purana, London Ed. P.P.LXII and LXIII.)
Again in dealing with the contents of the Fourth Amsa of the Visnu Purana, the Professor remarks:-
“The Fourth Book contains all that the Hindus have of their ancient History. It is a tolerably comprehensive list Of dynasties and individuals; it is a barren record of events. It can scarcely be doubted, however, that much of it is a genuine chronicle of persons, if not of occurrences. That it is discredited by palpable absurdities in regard to the longevity of the princes of the earlier dynasties, must be granted; and the particulars preserved of some of them are trivial and fabulous. Still there is an artificial simplicity and consistency in the succession of persons, and a possibility and probability in some of the transactions, which give to these traditions the semblance of authenticity, and render it likely that these are notaltogether without foundation. At any rate,in the absence of all other sources of information the record, such as it is, deserves not to be altogether set aside. It is not essential to its celebrity or its usefulness, that any exact chronological adjustment of the different reigns should be attempted. Their distribution amongst the several Yugas, undertaken by Sir William Jones, or his Pandits, finds no countenance from the original texts, rather than an identical notice of the age in which a particular monarch ruled or the general fact that the dynasties prior to Krishna precede the time of the Great War and the beginning of the Kali Age, both which events are placed five thousand years ago…….This, may or may not, be too remote but it is sufficient, in a subject where precision is impossible, to be satisfied with the general impression, that, in the dynasties of Kings detailed in Puranas, we have a record, which, although it cannot fail to have suffered detriment from age, and may have been injured by careless or injudicious compilation, preserves an account not wholly undeserving of confidence, of the establishment and succession of regular monarchies, amongst the Hindus, from as early an era and for as continuous a duration, as any in the credible annals of mankind.” (Do. Book LXIV, LXV)
And lastly, in discussing the general nature of the Puranas , and of their values as historical records, he_says:-
“After the date of the Great War, the Vishnu Purana, in common with other Puranas, which contain similar lists, specifies Kings and Dynasties with greater precision; and offers political and chronological particulars to which, on the score of probability there is nothing to obiect. In truth, their general accuracy has been incontrovertibly established. Inscriptions on columns of stone, on rocks, on coins deciphered only of late years through the extraordinary ingenuity and perseverence of Mr. James Princep, have verified the names of races and titles of princes – the Gupta and the Andhra Rajas mentioned in the Puranas.” (Wilson’s Vishnu Purana Page LXX.)
3. In his Rajasthan. Col. Tod says :-
“Those who expect from a people like the Hindus a species of composition of precisely the same character as the historical works of Greece and Rome, commit the very egregious error of overlooking the peculiarities which distinguish the natives of india from all other races, and which strongly discriminate their intellectual productions of every kind from those of the West. Their philosophy, their poetry, their architecture are marked with traits of originality; and the same may be expected to pervade their history, which, like the arts enumerated, took a character from its intimate association with the religion of the people.”
“ln the absence of regular and legitimate historical records there are, however, other native works, (they may, indeed, be said to abound) which in the hands of a skilful and patient investigator, would afford no despicable materials for the history of India. The first of these are the Puranas and genealogical legends, of the princes which, obscured as they are by the mythological details, allegory, and improbable circumstances, contain, many facts that serve as beacons to direct, the research of the historian.”
“Another species of historical records is found in the accounts given by the Brahmins of the endowments of the temples their dilapidation and repairs which furnish occasions for the introduction of historical and chronological details In the legends respecting places of pilgrimage and religious resort, profane events are blended with superstitious rites and ordinances local ceremonies and customs. The controversies of the Jains furnish, also, much historical information, especially with reference to Guzerat and Nehrwala during the Chaulac Dynasty. From a close and attentive examination of the Jain records, which embody all that those ancient sectarians knew of science, many chasms in Hindu history might be filled up.”
“Every MATHA or religious college of any importance preserves the succession of its heads.Among the Jains, we have the PATTAVALIS or successions of pontiffs, for a full and lucid notice of some of which we are indebted to Dr. Hoernle: they purport to run back to even the death of the last TIRTHAMKARA Vardhamana-Mahavira.”(528 B. C.)
“The preservation of pedigrees and successions have evidently been a national characteristic for very many centuries. And we cannot doubt that considerable attention was paid to the matter in connection with the royal families and that Vamsavalis or Rajavalis, lists of the lineal successions of kings, were compiled and kept from very early times. We distinctly recognise the use of such VAMSAVALIS, giving the relationships and successions of kings, but no chronological details beyond the record of the total duration of each reign with occasionally a coronation date recorded in an era, in the copper-plate records. We trace them, for instance in the introductory passages, of the grants of the Eastern Chalukya Series ( See SII, I 35; EI, V. 131) which from the period A.D. 918 to 925 onwards, name the successive kings beginning with the founder of the line, who reigned three centuries before that time, but do not put forward more than the length of the reign of each of them; and, from certain differences in the figures for some of the reigns, we recognise that there were varying versions of those VAMSAVALIS. We trace the use of the VAMSAVALIS again in the similar records of the, Eastern Gangas of Kalinga, which, from A.D. 1058 onwards (EI, IV, 183), give the same deta ils about the kings of that line with effect from about A.D. 99O and one of which, issued A.D. 1296 ( JASB, L XV 229), includes a coronation date of A.D. 1141 or 1142. There has been brought to light from Nepal a long Vamsavali (by Pandit Bhagavan Lal Indraji P.H.D. Hon. and M.R.A.S.) which purports to give an_unbroken list of the rulers of that country, with the lengths of their reigns and an occasional landmark in the shape of the date of an accession stated in an era, back from A.D. 1768 to even so fabulous an antiquity as six or seven centuries before the commencement of the Kali age in B.C. 3102.”
(Quoted By M. Krishnamachariar in his History of Classical Sanskrit Literature, Introduction 38 ff.)
4. In his Rajatarangini KALHANA mentions certain previous writers.—”Suvrata, whose work, he says, was made difficult by misplaced learning; Kshemendra who drew up a list of kings, of which, however, he says, no part is free from mistakes; Nilamuni, who wrote the NILAMATAPURANA, Helaraja, who composed a list of kings in twelve thousand verses; and Srimihira or Padmamihira and the author SRI CHCHAVILLAKARA. His own work, he tells us, was based on eleven collections of RAJAKATHAS or stories about kings and on the work of Nilamuni.
“Tamrasasana, or ‘Copper chapters‘ consist sometimes of a single plate but mare usually of_several plates strung together on a large signet—ring_ which bears generally the seal of the authority who issued the particular chapter. The stone records usually describe themselves by the name of Silasasanaor ‘Stone-chapters’, Sila-lekha or ‘Stone-writings’,or Prasastior “Eulogies’. They are found on rocks, on religious columns such as those which bear some of the edicts( inscription recording grants, chiefly of grants and allowances engrossed on copper plates) of Priyadasi and others which were set up in front of temples as “flagstaffs” of the Gods; on battle-columns of victory such as the two at Mandasor, on the walls and beams, sand pillars of caves and temples, on the pedestals of images, and on slabs built into the walls of temples or set up in the courtyards of temples or in conspicuous places in village sites or fields. And they are often accompanied by sculptures which give the seal of authority issuing the. record, or mark its sectarian nature, or illustrate some scene referred to in it.
_ The Chronology of Classical Sanskrit Literature starts with Mahabharata war and Kaliyuga. Kaliyuga commenced on 20th February 3102 B.C., just on the day on which Sri Krishna departed to his divine abode. The Kuru-Pandava war was fought 37 years before Kali, that is in 3139 B.C. Onwards from the commencement of Kaliyuga, Puranas contain accounts of various kingdoms that flourished from time to time and successive dynasties that ruled and fell during the course of about 35 centuries. To an impartial observer the tenor of these accounts warrants their accuracy and to the mind of the Hindu– the Hindus of those bygone ages when scepticism had not called tradition superstition—-life here is evanescent and life’s endeavour must be the attainment of beatitude eternal. Ancient sages (Rishis perceived the divine hymns of the Vedas and passed them on for the edification of posterity. Since the advent of Kali, a prospective crop of vice and folly was predicted and to wean the erring world from such sin and misery, Vyasa formulated Puranas with the object of Vedopabrinha, that is, supplemented the exposition of Vedic teachings, and that in the garb of a language and narrative that would be easily assimilated by the masses. To such philosophical minds, the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms was not worth remembrance, save as another realistic means of illustrating the tenets of philosophy, e.g., the truth of the divine essence, Brahman, the unreality at sensual pleasures, the liberation of individual soul and the attainment of eternity in beatitude or oneness with the Spirit Divine and above all the inevitable occurrence of God’s mandates shortly termed Destiny or otherwise called Kaala or Niyati. If this is the object of Puranic literature, it is a sacrilege to charge the author or authors of them, whoever it was, with having fabricated scriptural testimony for attributing an antiquity to Indian literature and Indian civilization, which it did not possess; for even if they had been, as many orientalists have said, made up late after the Christian era, the authors would not have anticipated this method of political history of the 18th and 19th centuries A. D. The Puranic lists of dynasties of kings and kingdoms furnish details of dates to an extent that even in days of historical records may be surprising, for they mention even months and days in their computation. Whatever those ancient authors did or wrote, they did it with sincerity and accuracy, ‘truth’ being the basis of accuracy. Our educational institutions are saturated with the teachings of modern scholars on the untruth of these Puranic accounts, but it is still hoped that time will come when truth will triumph and display a real orientation of ancient Indian History.
(P. P. XXXVIII — XLIV History of Classical Sanskrit Lit. By_M,· Krishnnmachariar) (38 to -44 pages)
( F, E. Pargiter has given an admirable summary of Early Indian Traditional History, as recorded in Puranas in JRAS (1914) 267 et seq.) _
It is unsurprising that the pedantic but puerile would think to give priority to the videshi on everything from civilizational origin to empiricism.This is why verbosity and complexity is not the measure of intelligence, but rather clear logic with actionable solutions. This is why pedantic parrots do not offer any of the latter.
Just at the time when Bharatiyas are reasserting ownership of their own heritage, this band of do-nothing dimwits proceeds to emphasise the need for foreign sources to make ours more “scientific”, which is code for secular. Funny how the same cabal of casteists is quick to drop their gotras to assert authority, while doing everything possible to undermine the historical tradition maintained by real brahmanas like Pandit Chelam.
If science is the new religion, and every culture is considered “more scientific” than your own by sepoys and gyaanis, is it any wonder that misguided youth seek to convert to every civilization but your own? Science cannot be religion. Science does not replace tradition.
Contrary to fraudacharyas who seek to undercut and supersede astika Brahmin Pandits like Kota Venkatachalam, traditional Bharat did have “real history”. But history is not science. How could it be? The data is imperfect. Other than some epigragraphy and numismatics, it is not verifiable (unless you have a time-machine). And the results are never the same, but as Mark Twain asserted, they do “rhyme”.
That is the danger of scientism. It seeks to impose the ramblings of scientifically credentialed propagandists, imagining credential in one area as credential to speak in another (Vedic tradition). It seeks to use the credibility of the profession of science to force eminently unscientific conclusions, as the Christian Historians who pushed the Biblical Chronology and the Hearsay using Herodotus’ fantastical views of India (dog-faced men who bark). And for all the glorification of Persian chroniclers of Turk invaders, the propaganda and fallacies of Ferishta et al are well known to those who actual analyse what they read…rather than read and regurgitate like parrots.
Pandit Chelam himself criticised many of the conclusions of Hieun-tsang as unreliable and poorly informed. As such, foreign histories and observations of travel writers are useful to provide other perspectives and to fill in gaps. But the notion of using them to “balance” our own tradition is absurd as the theories these ahankari-shikandis push (“ait”, “Indra superior to Vishnu”, “Ramana maharishi had mental problems”). Like the vesya of yore, these academics-vaisya sold out to the highest bidder; all they have are sinecures, “sybaritic” nonsense, and (questionable) gotras to salve their egos. Real Brahmanas know better, and recognise the logic of actual Historian Pandit Chelam’s conclusions.
The time for rejecting the colonial histories and their sepoy enforced foreign sources has come. The time to reassert the primary and predominant place of our native historical sources is here. It is time to prove worthy of our inheritance.
True Indian History. [Various Blog Bosts]
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). The Age of the Mahabharata War. Vijayawada: Tirumala.1988 (posthumously)
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). The Plot in Indian Chronology.Vijayawada: Arya Vijnana. 1953
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). Chronology of Ancient Hindu History Part I. Vijayawada:AVG
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). The Age of Buddha, Milinda, and Amtiyoko. Guntur: Sri Ajanta Printers.1956
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). Chronology of Kashmir History Reconstructed. Guntur: Sri Ajanta. 1955
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). Chronology of Nepal History Reconstructed.Vijayawada: SahiniPress. 1953
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). Chronology of Ancient Hindu History Part II. Vijayawada:AVG
Aulus Gellius: Young, Arthur Milton. Echoes of Two Cultures. University of Pittsburgh.1964.p.17
Foster, Edith & Donald Lateiner. Thucydides and Herodotus. Oxford. 2012. p.2
Dawkins: I’m a cultural Christian. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/7136682.stm
Acknowledgment: Our sincere thanks to Sri G.D. Prasad garu, grandson of Pandit Kota Venkatachalam for his kind permission to reprint these articles and excerpts.
As we’ve argued before and as we’ve seen from the last few articles, the time to put an end to this Colonial Narrative of the “Invasions Idea of India” has arrived. The history of the Pratiharas and the Paramaras and the VijayanagaraRayas are all forgotten for those who wish to downplay notre histoire militaire. Can’t let those yindoos get uppity, n’est pas? Ironically, British history is itself the story of invasions, beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Brutus (legendary Exile of Troy), and on to the Romans, the Angles & Saxons, the Vikings, and the Normans (and apparently now, the Pakistanis…).
From the Chinese to the Persians to the Greeks to even the propaganda heavy Brits & continental Europeans, all major civilizations have faced invasions at one time or another. The question has been whether they went extinct like Zoroastrian Persia and Pagan Rome and Pre-Norman Britain, or whether they fought and lived for another day, like Dharmic India.
For all their complaints about the Puranas, the same British colonial propagandists, I mean, historians, had no problem using some apparently forged “Yuga Purana” as proof of some imagined Indo-Greek campaigns in Northern India (bolstered by possibly forged coins, no less). As we demonstrated in our previous article, the Yavanas of the Puranas didn’t refer to Greeks, but excommunicated Vedic Indians who lived in Afghanistan, and later spread West to Persia and beyond. The British colonial historians purposefully interpreted things in a way to ensure their purposes of self-glorification.
But since our anglicised Indians—and even a few odd man-children moonlighting as internet hindus— still operate within various colonial and neo-colonial boxes, let us give one Purana for another. Yavanas are in fact mentioned long before the Yuga Purana, in the Harivamsa Purana for example, and a mighty monarch of the Solar Dynasty, the Great King Sagara, is recorded to have defeated the Yavanas.
One wonders if western “Indologists” will insist that this Great, Great Grandfather of Bhagiratha (who brought down the Bhagirathi) and ancestor of Sri Rama, was in fact fighting these same Yavana/Indo-Greeks. “Of course not, dear boy, these ‘Yavanas’, were defeated by Indians…how the devil could that be possible?”. Umm, Wadgaon? Chillianwala? There are, of course, more “historical” examples of Indian victories over invaders, not just temporary, but even permanent (i.e. Huns, Sakas, Battle of Rajasthan, etc). But the benchmark for all of these must necessarily begin at the beginning.
Now that foreign double-standards have been exposed, we may now start with the Story and Achievement of the Great King Sagara of the Suryavamsa: Repeller & Humiliator of Invaders.
Maharaja Sagara was more than a mere Emperor or legendary King. He was not just the ancestor of the noble Bhagiratha and the divine Sri Rama. Sagara was a Dharma-rakshaka in the true sense, and set an example as to how one must single-mindedly defeat, uproot, and punish those who dare set eyes upon our sacred lands, let alone invade them.
Previously we discussed Svayambhuva Manu of the Svayambhuva Manvantara, who is the progenitor of all mankind per our tradition. The present manvantara, however, is the Seventh, and is called Vaivasvata. It is named after Vivasvaan whose son Vaivasvata Manu, from Dravida desa, is the present Manu. His son Ikshvaku is the namesake for the illustrious Ikshvaku branch of the Solar Dynasty. From this lineage came many a mighty, noble, and truly Dharmic King. The names Harischandra, Ambarisha, Raghu, and above all, the towering Rama Dasarathi himself, dot the tree of this family. But one name has not received its due in the present time, and that is the name of Sagara.
It may often be wondered whether it is the Solar Dynasty that itself produces such illustrious kings or whether illustrious kings themselves naturally seek out the Sun. In any event, the son of King Bahu (a.k.a Bahuka) and Queen Madhuravani (also called Kalindi), is a towering figure in an already towering lineage. The dynasty which began with Ikshvaku and leaves off at Sumitra(at least officially…) , had yet another worthy in the Sagara of Sixty Thousand Sons. From Legend to History, it is Nitiand Dharmawhich stand the test of time. These are the examples, the nidarsana katha, that educate us on proper conduct, both private and public. If adversity is the test of men (and women), then let the ambitious prove themselves on their own merit, like mighty Sagara. He, whose deeds earned him his place in this brilliant vamsa, had many worthy forebears and successors.
After his father was driven out of Ayodhya by the Haihayas and their Yavana, Saka, and Pahlava allies, he went into exile in the forest. There he eventually took to penance and passed away. His chief wife wished to join him on the funeral pyre, but was prevented by the Rishi Aurva, who stated she was pregnant. She was to give birth to a mighty Emperor who would avenge his father and restore his dynasty to greatness. He was named Sagara as he was ‘one who could absorb poison’. His jealous step-mother attempted to poison his mother Madhuravani when she was pregnant with him. Nevertheless, due to divine grace, poison was turned to nectar, and he was born healthy.
He was a gifted student and a talented prince, mastering the Vedas, Vedangas, Politics, Arts, and the Art of War. Appropriately for this dynasty, he was a master archer, perhaps a sign of greater things to come. A great bhakta of Lord Vishnu, he attained success at a young age, becoming virtually invincible in war, and a conqueror in his own right, ruling righteously. He married Princess Sukesini of Vidarbha and the lady Sumati, daughter of Maharishi Kashyapa. He would become the father of 60,001 sons.
Nevertheless, while he remains celebrated for his descendants, he is worthy of remembrance and respect for his own righteous valour.
Now that the motivated nature of “invasions of India” has been illustrated for neophyte readers, it is important give an example of exactly why we must not be so naïve and conventional in order to be thought of as “credible” in the present time. When the history of the Kings of Britain can begin with a Trojan Prince, when Rome begins with Romulus & Remus (reared by a wolf), when Homer himself made reference to Greek gods on the plains of Ilium, the time has come for the legendary history of Hisarlik to be matched and exceeded many times over by our own. That foreigners have long cast their eyes on the sona chidiya of India is not news; but it needs to be understood that many from the Yavanas of Yore onwards, were made to pay the price for their insolence and audacity. Sagara is the proverbial patron Pitr for that.
Oath and Victory over the Yavanas
When Prince Sagara came of age and was crowned King of Kosala, he learnt of the invasion of the Haihayas and their Yavana allies, and swore an oath to defeat and drive them out. With the blessings of his teacher, Rishi Aurva, he set out on campaign and was victorious.
But Sagara did not just defeat and forgive the Yavanas, like so many proverbial Prithiviraj Chauhans of the present age. He crushed them, utterly uprooted them, and taught them a lesson they would never forget. He sent a clear message that there is a price to pay for those who plan to try to take our territory. Read for yourself:
Despite the fact that per the traditional Pauranic reckoning Sagara came from a very ancient period of Sacred History (the Satya Yuga), he nevertheless, provides a steely example of resolute opposition to invasion, castigating those who would dare transgress our lands and cast designs upon us. He also demonstrated fortitude in the face of formidable enemies.
“But although the Haihayas received a set-back, they grew in power, and their dominions stretched from the gulf of Cambay to Ganga-Yamuna Doab, and thence to Banaras. They overthrew the kingdoms of Ayodhya and Kanyajubja, and many other kingdoms in the north-west, with the co-operation of various foreign tribes. The king of Ayodhya driven from his throne, took refuge in the forest, and died there, leaving a child Sagara. Sagara, on reaching manhood, defeated the Haihayas, and regained Ayodhya. He extended his campaign, crushed the Haihayas in their own territories, and subdued all the other enemies in North India. India was thus saved from age-long struggles and depredations, bringing ruin and carnage in their train.” [1,69]
He is said to have warred with and conquered the Saka, Yavana, the Kamboja, the Parada, and Pahlava 
In war, Sagara was a veritable Indra, so much so that Indra himself is said to have been concerned, and disturbed his Ashvamedha. He did so by tying the white horse beside Maharishi Kapila, resulting in the misunderstanding by the 60,000 sons of Sagara.
Skilled in archery and the other arts of War, the stern Sagara destroyed his enemies, drove them out of Ayodhya and restored the glory of his Dynasty. He conquered numerous kingdoms and became an Emperor.
Per R.C.Majumdar, Sagara ruled a vast empire across the Aryavarta:
“When Sagara established his empire over Northern India, the only noticeable kingdoms that survived were the Videha, Vaisali and Anava (descendants of Anu) kingdoms in the east, Kasi in Madhyadesa, and the Yadava kingdoms in Vidarbha, and on the Chambal. After the death of Sagara, the overthrown dynasties seem to have extended their authority northward over the Haihaya territory.”[2, 69]
Jain sources refer to him as one of the Chakravartins (Universal Emperors).
Despite his great accomplishments, Sagara is perhaps most famous for the Ashvamedha yagna, which raised to prominence his own descendants. The privilege and aim of every great Dharmic king is to assert his supremacy by guarding the sacred horse that travels as it pleases. Kingdoms which do not pay homage must face war against the army accompanying the ashva.
As previously mentioned, Sagara’s 60,000 sons were known to be quick-tempered, and so when Indra fooled them into thinking the venerable Sage Kapila was responsible for stealing the horse, they aggressively approached and berated him. The tapas and punya of this muni was so great, that by merely opening his eyes, these sons of Sagara were burnt to ashes. Sagara was initially devastated, but was told that one of his descendants would redeem his sons by bringing down the Ganga through penance. His heir apparent Asamanjas proved unworthy of the throne, and so he forced to abdicate in favour of his son Anshuman. Anshuman failed to bring down the Bhagirathi, as did his son Dileepa (the first one). Finally, the Great Great Grandson of Sagara succeeded, to eternal fame. Sagara himself therefore was the paramount sovereign, but also, the fountain of the family who changed the face of India itself.
Standing tall among the tallest line of India’s illustrious kings of past, Maharaja Sagara is more than an epic ancestor or a literary reference, he is a great figure of our Pauranic history in his own right, and deserving of his rightful place in it.
He will forever be associated with the name Bhagiratha, and in the process, the Ganga itself. Legendary though these days are, they are intertwined with the story of India’s most sacred river and the Solar race that is eternally associated with her.
It is perhaps unsurprising that in a lineage consisting of such noble figures as Satya Harishchandra, Ambarisha, Bhagiratha, Raghu, and Dasaratha, that Sagara would feature so notably, so early on in the Ramayana. That Rama is the Ikshvaku-kula-thilaka is beyond a doubt, but that he represented the peak of an already majestic mountain of maharajas is oft-forgotten.
Beyond the Ramayana, Sagara is mentioned in other texts such as Harivamsa (attached to the Mahabharata) and the Vishnu Purana.
Sagara may not be considered an “historical personality” per our modern history, but is undoubtedly a figure worth of veneration from our Sacred History. When the British start with the legendary Trojans Aeneas & Brutus, the Romans with Romulus and Remus, and the Chinese with the legendary Xia Dynasty, there is no reason we cannot start with Sagara. Sagara may not be the first of our kings even in our Legendary history (that credit goes to Svayambhuva Manu), but he was arguably the first in the present age to provide an example on the attitude to have and how to deal with foreign invaders.
More than the grandsire of Bhagiratha, more than the ancestor of Rama, the great King Sagara is an example of stern, serious, and strategic defense of Dharma and its sacred lands, that is required in the present time. It has no time for boorish babbling, pedantic piffle, idle talk, self-righteous moralising, counter-productive caste obsession, cowardly silence, or childish infighting . It requires, instead, single-minded focus to root out those who would do us and our Vedic heritage harm.
It requires understanding how to work together and collaborate internally against those who cooperate externally against us. But above all, Sagara provides a shining example of how since even legendary times, we have tales of successfully defeating invaders. India is not a product of Invasion; India is a product of victory over Invasion…(no matter how long it takes). If those who control the past, control the future, let us take back control of our past, by taking control of our present. Reject those weaving colonial and neo-colonial memes by hook-or-by-crook, and do your duty to Dharmafirst. Otherwise, you not only will have no seat at the table in the future, but you will have no legitimacy while pontificating like paper-tigers now.
Let the Legacy of the Mighty Emperor Sagara be our example, and let us redeem ourselves, by vindicating our forebears, not through boastful claims, but great and dharmic deeds.
Kota, Venkatachalam Paakayaji (Pandit). The Age of Buddha, Milinda, and Amtiyoko. Guntur: Sri Ajanta Printers.1956
The soul of a culture and civilization is embodied in its National Epics. Not just the values and high-minded principles, but also its emotions, core, and national character. That is the importance of High Culture and the Indigenous Indic Literary Canon, and that is the value of today’s topic in our continuing Series on Classical Indic Literature.
From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Prose & Poetic Edda, Epic Poetry has a crucial place in the annals of World Literature. It is often adapted as was Milton’s Paradise Lost, re-constructed as was the Aeneid, or even outright constructed, as was the case of the Silmarillion. In fact, J.R.R. Tolkien of Lord of the Rings fame, is said to have written the latter on account of a desire to create a mythology for the English, and mythos to reference in LOTR. Allegations of anti-semitism aside, Richard Wagner is said to have held a similar fascination for Norse Mythology, which was adapted for the Germanic people for a Teutonic mythos. But what others called mythology, we call Sacred History. 
Indeed, the category of Epic Poetry in the Indic context is better served by native terminology of Itihasa-Purana and Mahakavya For us, these stories, names, and even places are not made up, but in most cases, stories, names, and places that are still being lived or lived on today. Ayodhya is not some imaginary city, but an important municipality that stands even today and is revered by millions. Mathura is not on some distant planet, but a place of pilgrimage to the common person. Kasi is not merely a crowded, polluted town, but the holiest city in Hinduism. They are as much the cities of Rama, Krishna, and Divodasa, as they are Pradhan Mantri Narendra’s.
That is why, even when characters and various lokas seem fantastical in the modern world, they still hold a very real relevance because the earthly places themselves still exist. Whether we believe these stories took place verbatim, or believe them to be mere atisayokti (hyperbole) added to true events per the storyteller’s prerogative, Itihasa-Purana is at the heart of our heritage. Empires may fall, cities may be destroyed, but the heritage of a people, indeed their historical memory and civilizational identity, is contained in its stories and epics. That is also why “mythologists” and assorted videshi vipers have been hissing and spreading sometimes sweet, but usually sour, poison about our stories and figures, whether male, or increasingly female. When they are ‘Invading the Sacred‘, it becomes all the more important that we reassert the sacredness of our epics and adapt them to the modern context.
Classical Indic Epics
What are the civilizational epics of Bharatavarsha? How many are the national epics of India? The short answer is 2, 20, and 32. Virtually every Bharatiya when prompted about the sacred epics of their society will instantly respond: Ramayana & Mahabharata. And this is for good reason. They are our two most important epics and central stories as they are not only spotlights on the national character, and guidebooks on dharmic living, but they in turn connect us to the overarching Puranas and our ultimate Vedic tradition. Both are stories within stories. As the Silmarillion provides the backstory that makes the Lord of the Rings all the more compelling, so too the Puranas provide the backstory that makes the Ramayana and Mahabharata all the more compelling.
But while Tolkien had to invent a mythology for a nice story, we have ready made Pauranic punditry to bring to life the Ramayana and Mahabharata’s sacred history. The Lord of the Rings and the western literary canon are generally mere fiction meant to provide entertaining stories. But the Ramayana and Mahabharata provide a moral compass for society.That is why we study them and make serials which no Hollywood or Bollywood could replace. Their profundity surpasses production capacity of the big screen.
But along with these 2 Sanskrit epics and the 18 Maha Puranas that form the corpus of Pauranic literature, we also have contributions from Baudha Dharma and Jina Dharma via associated Sanskrit and Tamizh Literature. First, there is the Buddhacharita of Ashvagosha. Then there are the 5 main epics of Tamizh Literature. Finally, there are the Mahakavyas. These are the 5 main great poems of Sanskrit: Kumarasambhava, Raghuvamsa, Kiratarjuneeya, Sisupalavadha, and Naisadheeya Charita, by Kalidasa, Bharavi, Magha, and Sri Harsha respectively.
Despite being mere adaptations of Pauranic history as Paradise Lost was to “biblical history”, these Mahakavyas have over the course of time acquired a potent character so as to be almost sacred. The truth is, given the 30 million texts in sanskrit alone (leave aside Tamizh, Prakrit, and Pali), countless tomes can be classified as Epic Poetry. But what what is it that truly makes a work Itihasa-Purana, or a Purana, or a Mahakavya?
That is where the tradition itself and the adhyatmic authorities who guide it, play the presiding role, not some self-appointed videshi “dhotiwallah’, pretending to go native. What text has served to provide moral education and critical understanding of our Dharmic tradition? That is what elevated even the Mahakavyas to the level of secondary epics.
Before we commence with this exegesis on the epics, it is important to briefly touch on those two mightiest of poets, who art the fount of both poesy and wisdom, from which men of the dread Kali Age derive their dharma and direction.
Known as the Adi Kavi, Maharishi Valmiki, and his own wondrous story of redemption, needs no introduction to the cultured Indian person. From robber-hunter to wise Sage to majestic poetic, he is the man who gave us our most inspiring tale of familial and fraternal love, and yet inspires us with his own biography.
He uses the anushtubh metre in his wonderful poem, imbued with the spirit of his tapas. Like the Ramayana, his is a story of vindication. Indeed, his life alone demonstrates that it is not mere learning or knowledge or certified scholarship that marks an acharya or authority on literature (let alone a Maharishi), but rather, sadhana and shraddha. Like the Aayana of Rama, Valmiki’s journey is one that awakens not just the mind but also the soul, and the fruit of his Tapas, is our beloved Ramayana.
Better known as Krishna Dvaipayana, “the Island Born” Krishna (as distinguished from the other Krishnas: Draupadi, and Vasudeva), Maharishi Veda Vyasa is famous for, among many other things, compiling the Vedas and presenting them in their present form.
Per the tradition, the full corpus of the Vedas could no longer be memorised and understood by a single human being in a single lifespan, due to the moral and physical degeneration of man in the Kali Yuga. As such, at the End of the Dvapara, he divided the Vedas into the Chaturveda as we know them today. However, in their original form, these only constituted Karma Kanda, that is, the portion of Vedic Knowledge associated with ritual and yajna. The remaining portions of the traditional “Veda” include Jnana Kanda (The Upanishands) and Upasana/Bhakti Kanda (Bhagavata Purana).
As such, the work of this mighty Maharishi spans the breadth of our tradition: from the Vedas, to the Itihasas, to the Puranas. The son of Satyavathi and Maharishi Parasara not only compiled the Vedas, and composed the Mahabharata, but features in the latter as well. Nevertheless, his story and greatness are a matter for another time. It is time to understand what makes an epic, epic.
The sway of our epics has spanned the breadth of the world. However, nowhere outside of India has their impact been more obvious than South East Asia. Our ancestors crossed the oceans, and the love of Indic culture and civilization created new Ayodhya’s across the samudra. Mahakavi Dandin wrote that “lore is the boat for those who desire to cross the deep ocean of poetry”[5, 7]. That is the value of not only the epics, but understanding of Itihasa-Purana and Sastra. The value of each reference, each allusion, each simile, and their respective depths-of-meaning can only be fully absored by one well-versed in lore.
Despite the sophistication of Classical Indic Poetry, its brilliance is in capturing the most elevating of sentiments and philosophies in the simplest and most sundaram of stories.
Divided into six books, kandas (though the 7th Uttara Kanda is sometimes added), the Ramayana is the most beloved of all Indic epics, and the masterpiece of Maharishi Valmiki. [10, 72] It is for this reason, known as the Adi Kavya, and its author, the Adi Kavi. It is 500 cantos and 24,000 verses of pure spiritual beauty. Was it history? When did it take place? Some say thousands of years ago, some say, Chatur-yugas ago. Nevertheless, this is the singular work that binds the heart and soul of Indic civilization together. This is not due to geography or history or even morality, but the pure sentiment of the work. Despite being dharmopadesa, it is a poem of vatsalya (familial affection).
So much so is this the case that even the video game, Sid Meier’s Civilization, refered to the Ramayana as a civilizational achievement that boosted the morality and happiness of a populace. Yet in our era, this timeless tale is attacked from all corners without proper understanding, or unwillingness to undertand, its subtlety and moral high-mindedness.
From Presidents of the Republic, to local dhobis, it is the universally known and universally recited epic of our civilization. From the small child, to the greatest warrior, all draw inspiration from its simple elegance, profound sentiment, and hope against hopelessness. The well-known story of Lord Vishnu’s 7th incarnation as Rama, the Crown Prince of Ayodhya, his wife Princess Sita, his loyal brothers, his beloved bhaktas, his vaunted lineage, and his destiny’s enemy Ravana, are all so woven into our being that it is verily part of our national character, and can be discussed at another time.
Nevertheless, it is a guidebook for individuals and the conducting of individual relationships.It captures the sweetness of family life and provides a cautionary tale of how selfishness and jealousy lead to division. But it is also a triumph. While the Mahabharata destroys one family, the Ramayana victoriously reunites this one. It is a tale of a family reunited, because they were able to surmount the bitterness of circumstantial division (caused by fate), and ultimately triumph because all the brothers and all the sisters-in-law did their duty. One sin by one mother nearly destroyed a kingdom. But it was the nobility of the eldest brother and the sacrifice of the second-eldest, and the selflessness of the two youngest, that ensured the family was ultimately able to triumph over all tragedies. The rightful heir became king, and the people received good government, not only because they were worthy of Ram Rajya (unlike our current crop), but because all rejected the Perils of Ambition.
Fittingly, this very theme of ambition and its perils would be evaluated in the Epic that defined the very geography of Bharatavarsha, the War of the Bharatas.
The epic of epics, the Bharata of Bharatas, the incarnation of incarnations, all are so contained in this magnum opus of Maharishi Veda Vyasa that the very name evokes sweeping grandeur. The familiar story of a family divided, and the fratricidal war that follows, shows not only the ultimate restoration of dharma, but also the dangers of internecine and inter-familial rivalry.
That, incidentally, is also part of the lesson of the epic Poem for which the future Sapta Rishi is famous for. Originally known as Jaya, and Bharata, the Mahabharata is the single greatest epic known to man. Requiring no introduction to any Bharatiya of worth, it is more than just the record of a rivalry or war as with the Iliad or the tale of journey a la Odyssey, but is an expression of the philosophical, political, societal, and strategic culture of Dharma itself. “It is not an epic written to please the kings sitting on the throne” [10,62]. It is a guide of societies. “The artistic unity and symmetry, the harmony and the right proportion of the various parts and the natural way in which events follow events and items are introduced in various contexts –all these make the epic a real work of art.” [10,62]
At 18 chapters and 180,000 verses, and 1.8 million words, it is the single longest epic poem in World Civilization. Ten times larger than the Iliad and the Odyssey put together, it is four times longer than the Ramayana. Simultaneously discussing various aspects of humanity, and with numerous side stories and side instruction, a veritable lifetime itself could be spent poring over its plentiful details and nuances. What begins on the banks of the Ganga, featuring its eponymous Goddess and the Kuru King Shantanu, ends not on that famous field of the Kurus, or even with the end of Sri Krishna avatar, but concludes with an exhortation to moral behaviour. While the Ramayana is written in the form of a recitation, the Mahabharata is written as a dialogue, of Rishi Vaisampayana recounting the story to King Pareekshit. It predominantly uses anushtubh chanda (metre). Said to take place in the Dvapara Age, the passing of Krishna, iniated the start of the Kali Yuga (3102 B.C.E).
As the world’s longest poem, veritable tomes let alone articles could be written on the best of Bharatas. Where to begin and where to end in the discussion of the sum total of human experience? Maharishi Veda Vyasa himself notes that while what is contained in it may be found elsewhere, there is nothing found elsewhere that is not contained in it. Therefore, better to end this section on the Mahabharata with the sloka that best defines epic:
Oorddhva baahurviromyesha na kashchit shrnothi me Dharmaath artthasha kaamascha kim na sevyati? (Svargarohanika Parva, S.5)
I raise my hands up [in frustration] and say “The way to wealth and love is through Dharma—why doesn’t anybody listen?!”
Classical Indic Literature traditionally maintains the category of Itihasa-Purana. While the two Civilizational epics cross the threshold of that liminality, because our tradition holds them as sacred physical history, there are nevertheless the namesake Puranas that are clearly meta-physical in nature.
There are traditionally 18 Maha Puranas and 18 Upa Puranas. While the Ramayana and Mahabharata are often referred to as Puranas, per the tradition, in the Pauranic context, they are referred to as Itihaasa. Many such as the Vayu Purana are mentioned in supplements to the Epic of the Bharatas. Thus, the 18 Maha Puranas, generally of later origin, can therefore be distinguished. Of these, the Bhagavatha Purana is of the greatest importance, while the others are often assigned a younger date circa 300 B.C.E. [10, 76] This is because when Maharishi Veda Vyasa, at the end of the Dvapara (5117 years ago) was compiling the Vedas, it was determined that the traditional corpus could no longer be mastered by a single brahmana. As such, he divided it into karma-kanda (Chatur-Veda), jnana-kanda (Upanishads), and upasana/bhakti-kanda (Bhagavatha Purana). The other 17 Maha Puranas are as follows: Padma Purana, Vishnu Purana, Shiva Purana, Skanda Purana, Vayu Purana, Brahma Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Brahma-Vaivarta Purana, Agni Purana, Garuda Purana, Linga Purana, Markandeya Purana, Matsya Purana, Kurma Purana, Varaaha Purana, Vamana Purana, and Naradheeya Purana.
The Dasavatara of Lord Vishnu is predominantly discussed here. Per tradition, the Puranas are all said to be extensions of the Mahabharata, and thus, all are sometimes credited to Maharishi Veda Vyasa. [10,74] Nevertheless, there is more to them than moral instruction. Interestingly, we find that despite being spiritual in nature, and dealing with the creation story of the universe, they remain works of great literary significance. Women too are provided with a prominent place. The Shiva Purana itself critically features episodes concerning Goddess Durga.
The 18 upa-puranas typically deal with matters of lesser importance. These include the history of place names, and thus, many are called “sthala purana”. [10,79]
Nevertheless, Jina Dharma (Jaina/ Jainism) and Baudha Dharma (Buddhism) also made significant contribution to Epic Poetry.
Ashvagosha wrote his famous Buddhacharita in the days of Kanishka. Considered a good poet writing “true poetry”, he nevertheless has, unlike Mahakavis, the intention to sermonise, and he does so plentifully. Despite differing in panth, he looked to Adi Kavi and the compiler of the Vedas for inspiration. He himself annointed it a Mahakavya and composed it in Sanskrit (as opposed to the traditional Pali). [7, ii] Only half the work (17 cantos) is said to have come down to us, four of which are not considered authentic. In fact, in a recurring issue, we have a later poet adding on to the original work. Translations in Tibetan and Chinese take the original number to 22 cantos at least. [10, 131] We see the episodes involving Siddartha Gautama‘s life in the palace, eventual despair at the cycle of samsara, and quest for enlightenment. The language used is simple but elegant, and very much in line with the Vaidarbhi style of Acharya Dandin.
Interestingly enough, Ashvagosha is credited with a lesser known epic the Saundara-nanda. A work in 18 cantos, it begins in the city of Kapilavastu with the father (Suddodhana) and brother of the Tathagatha, namely Nanda. Here we see the rise of the Buddha’s half brother to the throne, and understand his ambivalence between the exigencies and pleasures of the material world, and the buddhist beatitude of the spiritual world. [10, 132-4]. Whether it should be considered a formal epic in the league of the Buddhacharita is another matter, but in “the Saundara-nanda, there is a deliberate introduc-tion of the poet’s erudition in the ancient lore of India, various names of sages and of poets of the ancient times, the Vedic rituals and customs and manners, stories of the heroes of old and so on.” [10,133]
Considered a work of great dexterity and kavya skill, the Saundara-nanda of Ashvagosha gives us an understanding of sampradayic relations. In fact, in “his works we see the great reverence which the poet had for Vedic literature and Vedic culture”. [10,133] As such, the actual “integral unity” of our tradition is apparent once again. This is also apparent in the Jain canon and in the classical Tamil language.
Tamizh & Jain Literature
Among the other classical languages, Tamizh (Tamil) naturally stands out. There are 5 epic poems credited to the Sangam Age that define this branch of the Indic canon. These epics, nevertheless, are the Silappathikaram, the Manimekalai, the Sivaka Chintamani, Valayapathi, and Kundalakesi. Interestingly enough, though most of Jain literature, especially the Purvas and Angas, is in Ardh-Magadhi (Prakrit) or Sanskrit, it is in Tamizh that we see its philosophy come to life in epic form.
While the Manimekalai favours Baudha Dharma, Jain themes are replete in the Sivaka Chinatamani and the Valayapathi. Tamizh itself by tradition is attributed to Lord Shiva, and its grammar credited to Maharishi Agasthya, per his disciple Tolkappiyar (who wrote the Tolkappiyam). Sangam literature itself is presently dated to the 3rd Century B.C.E. to the 1st, though it is likely older. The most famous however remains the Silappathikaram. It too is a tale that is replete in Dharma, and the heroine, Kannagi, said to be an incarnation of Devi herself. These epics are filled with themes of heroism and valour. 
Tamil literature in fact contains numerous resplendent gems, such as the Thirukural and the Kamba Ramayana. Nevertheless, in order to properly appreciate these classics, it best to learn from proponents of the tradition themselves, here.
There are, according to tradition, 5 Mahakavyas in number, and thus, they are known as the Pancha Mahakavya. [10,136] Of course, alert students (and motivated videshis) are quick to question why Ashvagosha’s work or Bhatti’s Kavya are not included in this number. But that is a matter for another time and another article. At present, we shall limit ourselves to the traditional number and works.
These are: Kumara-Sambhava and Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa, Sishupala-vadha of Magha, Kiratarjuneeya of Bharavi, and Naishada Charita or Naisadeeya of Sri Harsha. In his Kavyadarsa, Mahakavi Dandin has stipulated conditions for a poem to be classified as a Mahakavya:
The truly great work of Poetry is the Mahakavya (Great Poem).A type of this is the Sarga-bandha, which is” a Mahakavya that has a beginning with a benediction or indication of contents, it deals with purusharthas and has one of the four types of heroes. It describes the various phases of romance between great lovers, their journeys, trials and tribulations, uses rasa and bhava, has reasonable size chapters and will survive several kalpas. [5, 8-10]
Reputed scholar M.R.Kale defines it as follows: “A Mahakavya is a metrical composition which ought to be divided into cantos, not less than eight and more than thirty in number, and not containing less than thirty and more than two hundred slokas in each.” [6, v]. He further writes that it may be concered with the life of a single hero (Kiratarjuneeyam) or an entire race of kings (Raghuvamsa). The hero should possess the qualities of the Dhirodatta Nayaka (hero of sublime qualities). Moreover, each canto is required to have a uniform metre, which much be changed at its end–with some exceptions. What’s more, at the conclusion of each canto, the subject matter or predominant rasa should be indicated. “A Mahakavya must, as well, contain descriptions of great cities, oceans, mountains, seasons, the rise of the sun and the moon, sportings with ladies in gardens and water, drinkings, separations and unions of lovers &c. The style should be highly sentimental and embellished with figures of speech &c. Nothing that violates the dignity of poetry, such as unmeaning talk &c. should find place in a Mahakavya.“[6,vi]
Given these guidelines, it is obvious to see that only a poet of great skill, a true Mahakavi, can aspire to complete a true Mahakavya. It is for this reason that, while many epic poems have been attempted before and completed since, it is only these 5 poems in Sanskrit that are traditionally referred to as Mahakavyas. It is also why 3 of the 4 poets below wrote at least 1, and the remaining 1 was a master of poetics.
The simile of Kalidasa, the depth of meaning of Bharavi, the word-play of Dandin, in Magha all three qualities are found! 
There are of course many other poems that are epic in nature, not only in Sanskrit, but many other languages. By some estimates 3000 sanskrit works have been composed since Bharatiya Svatantra (Indian Independence). But these Pancha Mahakavya have acquired a certain sanctity that, like canon law among the Anglo-Saxons, has a certain authority of their own. The first of these authorities is none other than poet extraordinaire, Mahakavi Kalidasa.
Kalidasa is reckoned the poet among poets, and an artist of the first echelon. Reams can be written on him, and indeed have been, and will be. Nevertheless, the focus of today is not on his life or even his poet grace, but the majesty of his mahakavyas, the first of which is the Kumarasambhava.
“The Kumarasambhava of Kalidasa is a tour-de-force of literary effort of a very high order, and is in fact the oriflamme of Indian poetic genius. It is a gem among Kalidasa’s poetic works“. So wrote eminent scholar C.R. Devadhar. But what is it that makes this recounting of the Birth of the War God, so resonant with power and redolent with sentiment?
Adapting the a portion of the Skanda Purana, it discusses the marriage of Shiva and Parvati and the Birth of their child, Kumara (Karthikeya/Muruga/Skanda), who will grow up to become the commander-in-chief of the Devas and defeat the demon Tarakasura. There are some who assert that due to presence of eros in the gandhamadhana episode, that Kalidasa’s pupils must have finished sections of it, to account for the disparity. There are others of more foreign disposition who assert that all of Sanskrit kavya is eros, so there is no point in drawing morality from it (this specifically is patent nonsense). It is true that as both Kama and his mate Rati feature in the Kumarasambhava, so too do Sringara rasa and Rati bhava accompany each other. But as both this mahakavya, and the one we end with demonstrate, the nava rasa is present in the discussion of dharma, because dharma pervades all 9 of them. A poem in 17 cantos (though Kalidasa is usually credited only with 8),[10,120] its predominent rasa is Sringara, but due to the great battle that is to ensure, it has elements of Vira rasa as well, as can be seen here:
God Kumara, too, indulging in the sport of war, snapp-ed into bits the arrows and the bow of the Asura, just as a Yogi, himself dry as dust, by his yaugic practices, snaps the infallible bonds of Samsara s.47,C.7 [7,252]
The Raghuvamsa is one of the most beautiful epic poems composed by man. This mahakavya of Mahakavi Kalidasa, is singularly one of his best works. While he normally distinguishes himself through upama (that is simile), here we find a magnificent work conceived from start to finish, encapsulating the glory of the dynasty of the Raghus. The maturity of the poet’s age and talent is seen in the sophistication of this composition.
There are by tradition 25 cantos, of which 19 have come down to us. [7,ii] The great Telugu commentator Mallinatha, from new Telangana state, famously did a commentary on it. Raghuvamsa begins with a salutation to Lord Shiva and then commences with the story of King Dilipa. From there it proceeds to the rise of Raghu, then Aja, then Dasaratha, and the veritable tilika of the Raghus himself, Sri Ramachandra. After relating key episodes in the Ramayana, in proceeds to successors from Kusha down to Agnivarna. In a long line of kings of high character, the last one named proves a libertine. Nevertheless, it ends on a note of hope, mentioning his pregnant wife.
In an era of special effects and CGI, the Raghuvamsa nevertheless proves an engaging and even engrossing read. Filled with action, softened by sentiment, and replete with deep-seating meaning and moral principle, it is the complete Mahakavya. And discussing Kings from the Uttarapatha down to the Dakshinapatha (the Chola king is invited to a Svayamvara), it is the complete Indian Mahakavya. 
As the title indicates, this poem adapts an infamous episode from the Mahabharata, known as the Slaying of Sishupala, the evil cousin of Krishna. But what marks the skill of the poet is not the description of the blades of the Sudarshana chakra. Rather, it is the very apogee of not only poetic skill, but imagination and conception of rhetoric device. That is why makes Sisupala-vadha an unique, intricate, and memorable work.
It is said by some that Magha, in whom all three qualities of great poetry are said to be found, was in fact inspired by Bharavi. There are many points of resemblance. “It is said that the name Magha was assumed by the poet to indicate when Magha (a month in the cold season) comes Bharavi (the sun) loses his splendour“. [6, xxii] A few examples alone will demonstrate the consummate skill of Mahakavi Magha.
“Sri Krishna, the giver of every boon, the scourge of the evil-minded, the purifier, the one whose arms can annihilate the wicked who cause suffering to others, shot his pain-causing arrow at the enemy.”
“Naisadhiya-carita is philosophy and all sciences and other currents of thought brought into poetry, or poetry presenting all the systems of philosophy and all the sciences and currents of thought knit around a simple and familiar story. There are elaborate descriptions, both of nature and of human emotions.“[11, 147]. Such is the glowing the glowing account of the Naisadheeya Charita of Sri Harsa Deva. But of all the why’s and who’s that come up, the first is whether the aforementioned Harsa is in fact Emperor Harshavardhana of Kannauj, the famous king of Kanyakubja who ruled Northern India in the 7th Century C.E.
From all accounts, this appears to be the case. He, in fact, is credited with a number of other works including the dramas Ratnavali, Svapnavasavadatta, and Nagananda. If this is in fact beyond a doubt, then it only goes to show that the model of Indic manliness and kingship, the embodiment of Nara Dharma, is in fact shown through harmony of prowess in battle and cultivation of culture.
A composition in 22 cantos, the Naisadheeya is an account of the famous episode in the Mahabharata concerning the Nishada King Nala and his lady love Queen Damayanti.[11,xx] It discusses their romance, and marriage. Harsha’s language is described as “lucid and grand“. “Harsha’s philosophy does not affect the art in his poetry; on the other hand, he beautifies his philosophy by giving it a coat of art”. [11, 147]
The Kiratarjuneeyam is that famous Mahakavya that celebrates the episode of Arjuna fighting Lord Shiva in the guise of Kirata (mountain-man) and later receiving his blessing and Pasupat-astra. Composed by Mahakavi Bharavi, its predominant sentiment is Vira rasa (heroic). While little has come down to us about its author, it is not the clash of arms that has elevated this composition to the stratosphere, but for the power of the poetry itself.
Bharaver-artha gauravam is a famous portion of a sloka on the sanskrit Mahakavis, and this is not without cause. Bharavi is famous for his depth of meaning and we understand why from the first canto. His expertise in political philosophy and rajniti is apparent throughout, and thus, it is as much as a pragmatic work as it is poetic. It has been referred to by other commentators as “one of the most vigorous and spirited poems in the Sanskrit language“. [6,xxi] Mallinatha remarked that Bharavi’s style was like a coconut “which has to be broken before one can get at the sweet kernel“. [6,xxii] But why learn second hand what you an see for yourselves. Here is a sample sloka.
To a man regarding self-respect as his wealth and seeking imperishable (lasting) glory by (at the cost of) perishable life,
wealth which is unsteady like a flash of lightning is but an object of secondary consideration. [6, 112]
In the era of 300 Ramayanas, Ravanleela, Siya ke Ram, and Sita sings the Blues, the very accuracy, let alone efficacy and sanctity of epics has been questioned. Bharatiyas, particularly the English-medium variety, are being “saved” by foreigners who are falling over themselves to rescue them from the very upper castes who feature in and composed these epics…if only we’d gosh darn let them! But why are they and their 300 Ramayana’s theories so full of Beowulf?–because our tradition also asserted what is the original. Despite being a proud Telugu speaker, I know that the Andhra Mahabharatamu may be a wonderful re-telling, but it does not have the authority of Vyasa.
It is the height of foreign arrogance to think that a Nina Paley could have the same authority as Maharishi Valmiki. This is because if countless and contradictory variations serve as ultimate authority, than what is the lesson we are meant to draw? So why do our “phoreign sabiours” insist?–It is because if epics can be and mean anything, then they are and mean nothing. That is the true value of epics: Dharma Upadesa. They give us upadesa (moral instruction) and niti (lesson) from which to guide our life. Does the heartbroken Nina Paley have the same authority of a tested Philosopher? Why the reverence of Derridas, but not Valmiki? That is why regional variations and assorted 300 Ramayanas, whatever their literary merit, provide adaptation to local needs, but the paramount authority remains the original version composed after sadhana and intense tapas, repeatedly chanting the syllables “Ma Ra”, as japa, resulting in that sweetest of phala:
Accordingly, the Valmiki Ramayana and the Vyasa Mahabharata stand out not only because they are the originals (and therefore, canon) but are pan-Indic in nature and their influence spans the subcontinent. In fact, it is not the “Valmiki Ramayana”, but simply The Ramayana, as it is the authentic version that all others bow to, draw from, and depend upon. That the Mahakavyas all draw their inspiration from these two as well as the Maha Puranas, only further demonstrates their status and that they are in a class of their own. Epic Poetry is itself a non-Indic classification. As such, as feted as the Mahakavyas are for their literary merit (and deservingly so), it is only the original Ramayana and Mahabharata that are worthy of the appellation Itihasa-Purana, and the due reverence they deserve. The others are unofficial upa-puranas at best, but more likely mahakavyas.
Those pseudo-intellectual Ivory & Ivy tower pinheads who mock our stories and serialised epics as “masculinasation of [effeminate] hindoos” should keep their shameless colonial terminology to themselves. The Raj era racist tripe against “Hindoos” is well known (and its modern day variants easily detectable), and these Western Europeans are the modern-day bearers of that ‘White Man’s Burden’. Perhaps that is why they decry the popping of that bubble so much (and having failed, perhaps that is why their attack is from the other end of the spectrum now). Yes, our heroes were manly, but also respectful of women. It is not a cowardly Parthian shot by retreating central asian horse archers, or conquest through canon from a distance and deception that marks manliness. It is not just power, but strength of character… integrity.Do these self-proclaimed, self-assuming “masculine” races have it?
Why do they attack our sacred stories? A certain Shri Srinivasan has ventured a theory. Perhaps that is why they brand Bhagvan Ram and deride Durga Ma, because they themselves are insecure at the piffle they’ve produced. Can the Iliad and Odyssey, or Lusiad and or assorted tales of chivalry, even hold a candle to just our two epics?
Indic Epic Poetry is attacked so heavily for other reasons as well. “This immense literature consisting of the Itihaasas and the Puraanas held the nation together, resisting the tendencies for separation and even disruption on account of geographical distances, introduction of new religious beliefs and practices, presences of different races in the country and the incursion of foreign tribes into country, and also the development of many regional languages into literary languages. ” [10,79]
It is no wonder that the Vedas and the Itihaas and the Puraanas are worshipped by the nation as the path for salvation. These specimens of poetry and their poets are the real saviours of the country from utter ruin. [10,79]
As a cosmopolitan person, it is important to appreciate what the rest of the world has produced. From Sun Tsu to Ovid, there is in fact much to appreciate in global literature, whether practical or philosophical. It is good to read widely and recognise wisely what is good in others. But it is even more important to do so, while being firmly rooted in one’s own tradition. That is the value of our Sacred Epics and Epic Poetry. It is only by juxtaposition (upamana) that we understand the beauty of what we have, and it is only by knowing the beauty of what we have, that we can correctly appreciate beauty in others.
But above all, Epic Poetry and Itihasa-Purana are crucial for reasons, ironically, that the Lord of the Rings itself best expressed.
And we shall conclude with that.
The Mahabharata. http://sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/index.htm
Srinivasan, Rajeev. Firstpost. “Modi right to Ditch English”. (June 11, 2014) http://www.firstpost.com/india/modi-right-to-ditch-english-but-he-should-speak-sanskrit-at-un-1563899.html
Shubh Deepavali! Happy Diwali! Happy Tihar! and all the many regional variations of this sacred festival. Deepavali is the great utsav that unites us all, being celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists alike.
So enjoy this day and safely but joyously burst firecrackers to all your hearts’ content. It is after all, the Festival of Lights. Shubha Deepavali!
A version of this Post was published on Andhra Cultural Portal on August 7, 2013
To understand Dharma is to understand Indic civilization and its myriad cultures.
It is Dharma that is the organizing principle of Bharatavarsha and indeed, the most powerful idea in the literary heritage of the Indian Subcontinent in general, and India in particular.
The four native religions of Bharat (Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh) all emphasize the centrality of Dharma as the core ideal of our Sanskriti and Bharatiyata. Therefore, to understand and appreciate the culture of Indic Civilization, one must be conversant in the ways of Dharma. This Post will highlight the subtlety, context sensitivity, and profoundness of Dharma.
The essence of Dharma is not based on an obsession with caste or ritual. Rather, it is about righteousness and duty and sacrificing one’s self for others. To understand dharma is to understand the cosmic order of the universe, Rta, which is rooted in truth, Satya. Dharma’s root word in Sanskrit is dharyate (literally, to uphold the order). Thus, practitioners of dharma must uphold this order.
The core of this order is not focused on the trivialities of caste and the divinely intended accident of birth, but rather, of mother raising child, husband protecting wife, child taking care of old parents, and rich assisting poor. It is about strong defending weak and putting societal interest before self interest–that is the heart of Dharma.
This essence is expounded not only in Sanatana Dharma, Hinduism, but also in the great texts and philosophies of Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, all of which venerate Bharatavarsha as their punyabhoomi, or home of their holy sites (both North and South of the Vindhyas). Whether it is the Eightfold path or Ashtanga Yoga, the same concepts of right conduct and yama-niyama form the foundation of all these paths, and therefore, transcend all panths (religions). Whether it is the Five Main Vows or the Five K’s (kesh, kanga, kirpan, kara, kachera), the guidelines (and the symbolic ideals that they embody) have a similarity that is identifiable to even the unschooled. The common values, courtesies, and guiding principles are immanent in the Purvas and Guru Granth Sahib alike. The same distinguishment between illusion and reality and encouragement of self-study and spiritual knowledge can be found in the Dharmasastra as well as the Dhammapada. Even the same reverence for life through common practices and encouragement of vegetarianism is apparent. This is because Dharma (righteousness), and especially Bharatiya Dharma, transcends religion (panth).
Vaidika Dharma (sanatana dharma as expressed by the Vedas) has three parts, karma kanda (which requires ritual and yagna), jnana kanda (knowledge of the truth as contained in the Upanishads), and upasana/bhakti kanda (which emphasizes compassion for all and devotion to God as seen in the Bhagavata Purana).
Karma kanda is the spiritual kindergarten (Swami Vivekananda himself spoke of this). It disciplines the individual so that he is fit to receive knowledge of reality (jnana). This knowledge and awareness of God, or Brahman, in all things, is what leads to worship/devotion and compassion (upasana/bhakti and karuna) It is for this reason that Vedanta, literally the End of the Vedas, is the object, rather than mere yagna and ritual.
Those who misunderstand or even misinterpret dharma get lost in the trivialities of karma kanda. They grow arrogant of their religious merit and birth and forget the true purpose of the exercise. If we are all mere creations of God, where is the place for arrogance and contempt towards our fellow man or even living thing of whatever background? After all, could not the brahmin have been a dalit in a previous life? Could not the dalit have been a brahmin in a previous life?
Arrogance of birth, lineage, caste, knowledge, and religious merit are some of the most dangerous as they lead away from the path of sanatana dharma to false ego, pride, anger, and destruction. Mere puja and archana doesn’t take us to God; they are but a start and also an aid to the troubled and anxious. Dharma is the path, and it is acted in the outside world. How we conduct ourselves in all settings (not just in the puja room) and how we treat others is how we are ultimately judged for fitness to reach God (or attain Nirvana).
Vaidika dharma does stipulate Varnashrama Dharma. Literally this emphasizes the division of labour (varna–caste is a misnomer) and stage of life (ashrama) as stipulating the right course of action in a given context. The logic behind this is that no member of society will simultaneously have spiritual, politico-military, commercial, and labor power. Any concentration of power with 2 or more of these types of power leads to tyranny, oppression, and adharma.
While historically traditions naturally passed from father to son (even outside India), in our era, people foolishly believe that birth itself grants privilege. What people forget is that with privilege comes duty.
As such, it is conduct that is the key determinant of a person’s true varna. The dharma or duty that one chooses to follow, whether as teacher/spiritual guide, administrator/warrior, merchant/farmer, or artisan/worker must not be cause for arrogance, but cause for humility. With each varna dharma comes a responsibility to society.
Each individual, no matter how privileged his birth, has a solemn and inalienable duty to society, and should not only behave in harmony with his varna dharma, but must behave in line with the moral commands of Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Dharma, which is the origin of all dharmas. Each varna is but a mere spoke in the wheel of society, and it is the Chakravartin who turns the wheel in order to uphold Dharma under the auspices of God. Thus those who become arrogant should remember that God has the ability to both grant and take away their position, and they must not abuse their power. Stewardship must be the mindset. Kings do not rule for only their pleasure and glory, and brahmins do not conduct yagnas for their own privilege; both operate as stewards, ruling and teaching respectively, while being ultimately accountable to God.
To move Dharma forward into the modern era, the mistakes of the past must be rectified. This means that the dalit communities of Indian Subcontinent have to be fully integrated. As is the law of the land, so to must untouchability be eliminated at the social level. After all, if the original thinking behind the system was that those who transgressed Dharma would be ostracized from society, how can upper and middle castes continue to bar dalits if they don’t outcaste their own caste brothers who eat beef, etc. today? People cannot ask for privilege while failing to do their duty. What kind of system gives only rights without responsibility? This is certainly not Varnashrama Dharma, let alone Sanatana Dharma.
According to the dharma sutras themselves, outcasted members of society or their descendants can be readmitted after prayascitta (penance/observance) and shuddhi. It is possible to do this by properly and sincerely readmitting the Subcontinent’s dalit jatis back into religious society. This is the best means of not only ensuring social justice to a wronged community, but of ensuring Dharma itself.
Accordingly, there have been many misinterpretations of dharma along the way. One such example is the treatment of the leather worker. While it is one thing to outcaste brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and sudras who commit personal sin, it is another to unfairly outcaste entire jatis of honest workers performing a service that all of society requires. If leather-working itself is sin, then let all those who wear leather be outcasted as well. People cannot have their cake and eat it too. Leather working is honest work as is sanitation and all members of Indic society must be integrated. Certainly, God himself will not enter, let alone bless the entrants and employees of, a temple that bars his devotees from entering.
Ultimately, what must be remembered by the more ritually inclined of whatever varna is that karmakanda is merely the kindergarten. It is the starting point so that people are fit to receive true knowledge of the existence of God in all things and all living creatures, and most importantly, all human beings. While one can read to know, reading is not understanding. So whatever are the requirements of ritual, be kind and courteous in the performance of those duties, for one will find that jnana and upasana kanda will lead to understanding why humility and compassion for all living things are the gunas that God ultimately wishes to encourage.
Think of others before you think of yourself, that is the surest path to God and at the heart of Dharma.