Adivasis Were Buddhist Naagas: K. Jamanadas


Were Adivasi ancient Buddhist Naga rulers ?

 Dr. K. Jamanadas,
Various names of Scheduled Tribes (aadivaasi) Various scholars have given different names to the population which is popularly called aadivasis in India. Nadgonde [p.1] has summerized these terms:
(1) “Aboriginal” or “Aborigines” by Riseley, Lassi, Elvin, Grigson, Shuburn, Talent, Martin and A. V. Thakkar (2) “Primitive Tribes” by Hutton (3) “So called aborigines” or “Backward Hindus” by Dr. G. S. Ghurye. (4) “Submerged humanity” by Dr. Das. (5) “Vanavasis” is a new name given to them by “Sangh Parivar”, against which the tribal leaders are agitating as they feel it as insulting as “Harijan” to the dalits. (6) Some Adivasi leaders do not like the term “Adivasi” also, as they feel it originates from Brahmanic texts and has an effect like “Harijan” for untouchables. [L. K. Madavi, p. 10] (7) “Scheduled Tribe” is the term used in the Constitution, the reason as explained by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, was:
“the word Adiwasi is really a general term, which has no specific legal dejure connotation, whereas the word ‘Scheduled Tribes’ has a fixed meaning, because it enumerates the tribes. In the event of the matter being taken to a court of Law, there should be a precise definition as to who these Adiwasis are. It was, therefore, decided to enumerate the Adiwasis under the term to be called “Scheduled Tribe” [Madavi, p. 17]
Who should be called Aadivaasi
Nadgonde gives the following as distinctive marks of tribal society as distinct from Hindu population: (1) Separate location (2) Small number (3) Common blood relationship (4) Absence of own dialect and own writing (5) Own life style (6) Simple Economics (7) Limited technology (8) Common religion and (9) Integrated social life
Differences between Castes and Tribes
1.. Caste is based on birth, and there is no entry to caste without being born in it. Basis of tribe is not birth, but it is a group of people inhabiting in a particular area and are related by blood.
2. Caste is an endogamous group, but tribes do not oppose strongly the inter tribal marriages unlike caste. Inter dining also is allowed unlike caste.
3. Caste has obligations to follow hereditary traditional occupations, tribe does not.
4. Castes are spread on many areas but tribe stays at a place and has territorial integrity.
5. Castes have graded inequality in status, even subcastes have it, but not so in tribes.
Origins of various names
Various tribes have their own legends about their origin. One example is about origin of the word Korku – a legend says, once upon a time there ruled a king in Vidarbha at Nagpur, called Koram. Renouncing his home and kingdom, he went to forest with the intention of taking sanyas. A young Kol damsel fell in love with him and prayed for his love. King accepted after due consideration. The progeny of this union was called Korum or Korku. The area where they stay in large numbers is even now termed as Chota Nagpur. [Risley, “Tribe and Caste of Bengal, Appendix V., Chaure, p.12]
Prehistoric Period
It is held by scholars like Sankhalia, that the people of Neolithic age understood the use of fire, made pottery, cultivated grain and domesticated animals. The potters wheel and the art of spinning and weaving are also traced from the Neolithic period. [Mahajan, in “Ancient India”, [p. 28 ff.]
Some scholars believe that present day Adivasis are the survivals of the Neolithic Age, some of the Neolithic people were driven into hills and forests by later invaders and they are at present represented by the Gonds, Bhils, Santhals, etc. and a number of superstitious along with the worship of manes and spirits and Phallus images of stone and wood and the the use of amulets, beads, sacred threads, shells, stones, etc., for curing diseases and keeping away the evil spirits can be traced to the Neolithic period. [Mahajan, Ancient India, [p. 28 ff.]
Adivasis are post Buddhistic
The idea that present day Adivasis are the “Original inhabitants” or Mul Nivasis and are remnants of the Neolithic Age is a popular theory of many activists. But it is far from the truth. Sociologists do not believe that the present S.T.s are that ancient, as mentioned by Nadgonde, who avers that sociologists do not think them to be the most ancient society or the most original residents. [Nadgonde, p.2] At the time of rise of Buddhism, the society was so much intermixed that no trace of pure Aryans, or pure Dravidians for that matter, was left. Rhys Davids has observed:
“It is generally admitted that there are now no pure Aryans left in India. Had the actual custom been as strict as the brahmin theory this would not be so. … in Northern India the ancient distinction, Aryan, Kolarian, and Dravidian, cannot, at the time of the rise of Buddhism, any longer be recognized. Long before the priestly theory of caste had been brought into any sort of working order, a fusion, sufficient at least to obliterate completely the old landmarks, was an accomplished fact; and the modern division (on caste), though race has also its share in them, use different names, and are based on different ideas. [Rhys Davids, Buddhist India,p. 59]
Dr. Ambedkar also has expressed the similar opinion. It follows, therefore, that the creation of S.T.s is a post Buddhistic phenomenon, and the present day Adivasis are descendants of population, who were called Naagas and were Buddhist by faith, and after the fall of Buddhism were degraded to the present status by the ruling priestly class because Naagas had the enmity with the Aryans, did not worship Aryan Gods, did not perform yadnas but were devotees of Arhats, and chaiytas.
Indus Valley civilization was not of Aryans
The present Brahmanic scholarship is bent on proving that Aryans are the original residents of India and that there was no “Aryan Invasion”. They try to prove that Aryans were a civilized people and were the builders and not the destroyers of Harrapan Civilization. What is the reason, that they wish to somehow prove this? To us, it appears that, since Mahatma Jotirao Phule criticized the Arya Bhats for the atrocious behaviours of these people towards shudras and ati-shudras, in this “Land of Bali” – Bali Sthan -, and organized the masses against the Aryabhats, the latter felt that they will loose the supremacy, which they had achieved and very jealously guarded. So it became eminent for them, they prove that they are not aliens, they belong to the soil, and that Aryan Invasion is just a myth. Voluminous literature is being created by them and every method is being used to promote through the media, print as well as electronic, to put forward their view. Not withstanding all this, it was the Naagas who were the original residents of this land and Aryans were the invaders. That is the verdict of the history.
India was land of Naagas and its language Tamil
Who were the people inhabiting India during the Indus Valley Civilization? The modern scholars like Karan Singh and Dasaku Ikeda think that the Dravidians are the descendants of people from Harrapan Civilization. In his opinion, “…the creators of the Indus civilization were the forefathers of the Dravidians, who today mainly inhabit southern India.” [Karan Sing and Daisaku Ikeda, p.2]
Like many others like Gail Olmvet, Datta Ray Chaudhari and Majumdar also opine that, the main basis of Indian social cultural system is presumed to be Vedic Culture. This presumption is baseless, and unacceptable. There is no doubt that, the Indus valley culture played a great role in the development and preservation of Indian culture. [Kosare, p. 263]
Dr. Ambedkar’s views
That these people were the Naagas is clear from the account by Dr. Ambedkar, who observes that the students of ancient Indian History often come across four names, the Aryans, Dravidians, Dasas and Naagas. The Aryans were not a single homogeneous people, being divided into at least two sections. A greater mistake lies, he says, in differentiation of the Dasas from the Naagas. Dasas are the same as Naagas, Dasas being another name for Naagas. Dasa is the sanskritised from of the Indo Iranian word Dahaka, which was the name of the king of the Naagas. The following points emerge from his writings:
1. Undoubtedly the Naagas were non-Aryans. A careful study of Vedic literature reveals a spirit of conflict, of a dualism, and a race superiority between two distinct types of culture and thought. The mention of the Naagas in the Rig Veda shows that the Naagas were a very ancient people.
2. It must also be remembered that the Naagas were in no way aboriginal or uncivilized people. History shows a very close association by intermarriage between the Naaga people with the Royal families of India. Not only did the Naaga people occupy a high cultural level but history shows that they ruled a good part of India.
3. That Andhradesa and its neighbourhood were under the Naagas during early centuries of Christian era is suggested by evidence from more sources that one. The Satvahanas, and their Successors, the Chutu Kulu Satkarnis drew their blood more or less from the Naaga stock.
4. Contrary to the popular view is that Dravidians and Naagas are the names of two different races, the fact is that the term Dravidians and the Naagas are merely two different names for the same people.
5. The word ‘Dravida’ is the Sanskritised form of the word Tamil. The original word Tamil when imported into Sanskrit became Damila and later on Damila became Dravida. The word Dravida is the name of the language of the people and does not denote the race of the people.
6. The thing to remember is that Tamil or Dravida was not merely the language of South India but before the Aryans came it was the language of the whole of India, and was spoken from Kashmere to Cape Camorin. In fact it was the language of the Naagas throughout India. [“The Untouchables”, pp. 56, 58, 59, 63, 66, 75]
Vratyas were Naagas
Before seventh century B.C., i.e. before the rise of the Buddha, all the ksatriya dynasties of Mahabharata times had been ruined, shattered and destroyed. They were replaced on one side by the Dravidas – Naagas in Taxilla, Patalpuri, Udyanpuri, Padmawati, Bhogpuri, Nagpur, Anga or Champa, and in various places in the south; and on the other side by ganas or republics of vratyas like Licchavis, Mallas, Moriyas etc. [Jyoti Prasad Jain, quoted by Kosare, p. 42]
Brahmanic literature calls the various clans like Lichavis, Mallas, Moriyas, etc. as Vratyas. The Shishunakas are called as Ksatra-bandhus and not as Ksatriyas. According to Prof. Jaychandra Vidyalankar, this term is used to describe the ignoble origin of these people. They were the warriors among the vratyas, and the vratyas were those people who inhabitated the east and north-west of madhya-desha. They were not followers of Vedic brahmin culture. Their cultural language and day to day language in use was Prakrit. They did not respect the brahmins, instead they respected the arhants and worshipped the chaityas. [Kosare, p. 42] He further avers that there was no pure progeny of Aryans alone. Because of inter marriages, cultural interchanges and religious conversions, a new class of Indian people was emerging, which comprised in majority of followers of shramanic Naagas or Dravidas or Vratyas as they were called by the followers of chaturvarnya. There used to be inter marriages among the Aryans and Dravidas, and the ethnic differences were getting eliminated. All those who followed the profession of ksatriyas, may they be descendants of Vedic Aryans, or Manav-vamshi Aryans, or Vratyas, or Naagas or Vidyadharas or Dravidas, they all called themselves as Ksatriyas, and were having marriage relationship among themselves very freely. [Kosare, p. 42]
Sisunaaga Dynasty
The name of Sisunaaga is applied to first king of dynasty by the Brahmins, but Buddhist tradition, as seen in Mahawanso, applies it to tenth and narrates a legend, that he was a son of a courtesan from a Licchavi king, was thrown on a dung heap as an abortion, a certain Naaga Raja revived and protected the male child, who ascended the throne of Magadha. [Fergusson, p. 63]
Second Buddhist convocation was held hundred years after the Buddha, during reign of King Kalashoka. He and his successors, including nine Nandas, till Chandragupta Maurya came on throne, were all Naagas, and were considered of very low caste and hated by Brahmins. Maha Padma and Nanda, the only two of their names, certainly known to us, are both names of serpents and their coins depict the serpent as principle symbol. [Fergusson, p. 64]
After the Shishu-Naagas, the Nandas ruled Magadha. Their founder was called by many names, including vratya-nandi Shishu Naaga, the term according to K. P. Jayswal denotes of their being the vratyas, which meant that the Nandas like their predecessors, Shishu Naagas, were also from the Naaga descent. [Kosare, p. 43]
Naaga worship is non-Vedic
Fergusson explains, though the serpent worship is found as traces in various places, it is “diametrically opposed to the spirit of Vedas or of the Bible”, and it is prevalent among the Turanian races and essentially only among them only. By Turanian he means Dravidians, in Indian context. [Fergusson, p.3] Like Vedas, Zend Avesta also records the religious beliefs of Aryans, and they “are not, and never were, serpent worshipers anywhere” and that “serpent worship is essentially that of Turanian, or at least of non-Aryan people.” [Fergusson, p. 40]
Naagas were Buddhists
That the Naagas were sympathizers and followers of Buddha is well known. Dr. Ambedkar in 1956. while converting half a million of his followers to Buddhism at Nagpur, had remarked that his selection of Nagpur, was due to the historical association of the area with the Naagas, who were friendly towards Buddhism. His opinion that we all are the descendants of a Naaga Takshaka saved by Rishi Astika from the genocide of Naggas, in the Sarpa yadnya, performed by Janmejaya, the great grand son of Pandavas, is also well known. We might also quote a Buddhist tradition from Mahavatthu:
“Naagas are generally devoted to the Buddha. The enthusiastic devotion that our compilers believed Naagas to possess towards the Teacher and the Teaching finds expression in the popular episode of Muchalinda’s extraordinary way of protecting the Exalted One during the seven days of untimely rain. They were also among the beings who formed a body of guards protecting the Bodhisattva and his mother. At the Bodhisatva’s birth some Naagas came to bathe him, a scene that had long been a favourite among sculptors. On the magnificent demonstration of bearing parasols. From other sources we learn how they happened to obtain relics of the Buddha, which they jealously guarded for a long time, [quoted by K. Jamanadas, “Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”, p. 108]
While describing the birth of Bodhisatta, Paul Carus mentions about Naaga kings:
“The Naaga kings, earnestly desiring to show their reverence for the most excellent law, as they had paid honour to former Buddhas, now went to greet the Bodhisatta. They scattered before him mandaara flowers, rejoicing with heartfelt joy to pay their religious homage.” [Paul Carus, p. 11]
That “Naaga” was an honorable appellation used in ancient Indian society is clear from the description of the rite of initiation of Buddhist Bhikku. Dharmanand Kosambi mentions that the shramner desiring upasampada was being addressed as “Oh, Naaga”. [p. 57] Diggha Nikaya has two poems, which describe “how all the gods of the people come to pay reverence, at Kapilvastu, to the new teacher”, as Rhys Davids observes, among whom were four kings, which included the King of Naagas. While explaining the relationship between worship of Naaga, tree and river, Rhys Davids observes:
“Then come the Naagas, the Siren serpents, whose worship has been so important a factor in the folklore, superstition, and poetry of India from the earliest times down to-day. Cobras in their ordinary shape, they lived, like mermen and mermaids, more beneath the water, in great luxury and wealth, more especially of germ, and sometimes, as we shall see, the name is used of the Dryads, the tree-spirits, equally wealthy and powerful. They could at will and often did, adopt the human form and though terrible if angered, were kindly and mild by nature. Not mentioned either in the Veda or in the pre-Buddhistic Upanishads, the myth seems to be a strange jumble of beliefs, not altogether pleasant, about a strangely gifted race of actual men; combined with notions derived from previously existing theories of tree worship, and serpent worship, and river worship. But the history of the idea has still to be written. These Naagas are represented on the ancient bas-reliefs as men or women either with cobra’s hoods rising from behind their heads or with serpentine forms from the waist downwards.” [Rhys Davids, “Buddhist India”, p. 223]
Though “scarcely noticed in the Vedas”, as Rhys Davids mentions, the Tree worship formed an important part of the beliefs of peoples of Northern India at the time of the rise of Buddhism, and the tree deities were called Naagas. As to why tree gods are not mentioned separately, in Diggha Nikaya, Rhys Davids observes:
“… The tree-deities were called Naagas, and were able at will, like the Naagas, to assume the human form and in one story the spirit of a Bunyan tree who reduced the merchants to ashes is called a Naaga-raja, the tree itself is the dwelling place of Naaga. This may explain why it is that the tree-gods are not specially and separately mentioned in the Maha Samaya list of deities who are there said by the poet to have come to pay reverence to the Buddha. …” [Rhys Davids, “Buddhist India”, p. 232]
Rajwade’s Opinion
About the existence of the Naagas in this country, shri V. K. Rajwade mentions that ‘Rajtarangini’ describes in detail about the Naaga kingdoms in Kashmir in olden days. Astik parva of Mahabharat is related to Naagas from beginning to end. It mentions the inhabitation of Naagas in the Khandava-prastha and Khandav vana situated to the south of Yamuna river. Harivamsha mentions the of Naagas residence to be in Nagpur. Therefore, there is no doubt that in olden days, during the Pandava times and there after, there were Naagas residing on a vast territory of India. It can definitely be stated on the basis of description of ‘sarpa satra’, that there was a fierce war between the Naagas and Manavas for some time. Arjuna married a Naaga princess Ulupi. From this it can be inferred that some Naagas were friendly towards the Manavas. [Kosare, p. 270]
Views of T.A Gopinath Rao
While discussing hindu iconography he has agreed that majority of Buddhists were Naagas, as he said, quite a long time back, that many regions of India, in historical times, were inhabitated by the Naagas and they are said to have formed the majority of persons who joined the newly started Buddhistic religion. [p.554] He further states:
“Some scholars of Malabar are inclined to believe that the modern Nayars (Sudras) of Malabar might be descendants of early Naagas as name within modern times might have been corrupted into Nayars. The hypothesis is more fictitious and fanciful than real and tenable.” [Gopinath Rao, vol. II, part 2, p. 554]
Prof. Rao, who categorically mentions Nayars were sudras, finds the theory that they were Buddhists, untenable. It is difficult to understand what faults Prof. Rao found with the theory. At least, we do not find any particular reason to disbelieve this theory. One thing is certain that the Nayars were the original inhabitants of the region, they did not come from outside. Before the Brahmins came from the North and establish ‘sambamdhams’ with the female folks of Kerala, and thus dominated over the Nayar community, the original inhabitants were the Naagas only. From ‘Naaga’ they could have become ‘Nayar’. What is so peculiar in this, that Prof. Rao finds, is hard to understand.
Let it be as it may, the fact remains that the Naagas became Buddhist in great numbers, is a fact that is certain, as admitted by him. Today’s Indian society is made up of and is developed from the erstwhile aboriginal tribal people, is a fact recognized by all the scholars. Then what is the difficulty in accepting that the word ‘Nayar’ could have come from ‘Naaga’?
The relations of Nayars with low caste Pullayas, who were undoubtably Buddhists originally, can also be judged by a well known, and now banned by British, custom of so called “Pullaya scare”, where a Nayar woman had to go with a Pullaya man, if touched by him outside the house while alone, during one month in a year after Makar Sankrati. Barbosa, a traveller from Portugal has recorded about Pulaya Scare in 1517 AD.
There was a casteless society among the Naaga culture
The non-aryan Naaga people were believers in Buddhistic social culture. During their rule, there was a society based on social equality in India, because their cultural values were influenced by the Buddhist traditions. This social system of Naagas, even in those early days, is noteworthy in contrast to Brahmanical social system of inequality. It is unfortunate that the modern high caste scholars, while narrating the greatness of ancient Indian culture, ignore this fact. Shri H. L. Kosare opines:
“As all the elements in the Naagas society were treated with equal status, casteless social order was the main basis of social system of Naagas. As the Naaga culture was based on Buddha’s principles of equality, it received the status of Buddha’s religion. Thus, Naaga culture played the greatest role in the process of establishing a casteless egalitarian and integrated society in Indian cultural life.” [Kosare, p. 256]
“Basham has shown that there is no mention of caste anywhere in ancient Tamil literature. But after Aryan influence increased, and political and social system became more complex, caste system which was somewhat more severe than in north, evolved even here. The period of Sangam literature is third century A.D., This shows that during the Satavahana rule there was no caste system.” [Kosare, p. 251]
Naagas had their Republics
Not only their social system was public oriented, but unlike the brahmanical system, their political system also was designed to give social justice to all sections of people. It is well known that during pre-Gupta era, from first to the beginning of fourth century A.D., the central countries in India comprised of strong Republics of Naagas. Samudragupta destroyed these republics. About the system of administration of Bharshiv Naagas, Dr. K. P. Jaiswal has observed that their social system was based on the principles of equality. There was no place for any caste system in them. They all belonged to one and the same caste.” [Kosare p. 251]
There were independent kingdoms of Naagas in South India also. These kingdoms came together and formed a federal republic. This federal republic of Naagas was termed as Fanimandal or Naagamandal. This Cheromandal republic of Naagas of South India was very powerful and indivisible at the time of Periplus, i.e. in 80 A.D. Later during Ptolemy’s times, i.e. 150 A.D., north eastern part of Tondemandalam became separate. (J.P.Jain, ‘bharatiya itihas’, p. 239). This Cheromandal or Fanimandal was a federation of separate kingdoms of Naagas coming together to form a united national federation. In reality, it was a united Naaga Nation of South India. [Kosare, p. 179]
Naagas in Mahabharata
It is an accepted fact, that Mahabharata had minimum three revisions as per brahmanic scholars, along with Gita in it. As a matter of fact, scholars like Khare, an ardent student of Gita from Pune, has differentiated the verses of each of three authors, in his book. Western scholars like Kaegi believe that the epics continued to be interpolated upto 13th century and even to the beginning of current century. Therefore, it is no wonder that Rhys Davids finds it difficult to assign particular verses to Mahabharata depicting state of affairs in seventh century B.C. at the time of rise of Buddha. [Rhys Davids, p. 214] He feels the changes made by priests were “because the priests found that ideas not current in their schools had so much weight with the people that they (the priests) could not longer afford to neglect them.” The objects of priests in doing so were:
“…in the first place to insist on the supremacy of the brahmins, which had been so much endangered by the great popularity of the anti-priestly views of the Buddhists and others; and in the second place to show that the brahmins were in sympathy with, and had formally adopted, certain popular cults and beliefs highly esteemed by the people. In any case, there, in the poem, these cults and beliefs, absent from the Vedic literature, are found in full life and power. …” [Rhys Davids, “Buddhist India”, p. 214]
Mahabharata is a story of feud between Kurus and Pandus, and Pandus are unknown to early literature, either Brahamanas or Sutras. Mahabharata was originally a story of war between Kurus and Panchalas. But Mahabharata without Pandus is ‘like an Iliad without Achilles and Agamemnon’. In the epic, Panchalas are allies of Pandus. Pandus are for the first time mentioned by Katyayana (c.180 B.C.). Pandus first come to view in later Buddhist literature, as a mountain clan. Epic Pandus is not a people but a family. [Cambridge hist. of India, p.226] But who were Panchalas? Presumably, they were Aryans and the epic represents the ‘fight between Aryans after the original inhabitants were overthrown and Brahmanised’. But the author says this is doubtful, and speculates:
“It is possible that the Panchalas represent five Naaga clans (with ala ‘a water snake’ cf. Eng. eel) connected with the Kurus or Krivis (meaning ‘serpent’ or ‘Naaga’), and that none of the families is of pure Aryan blood, for the Naagas in the epic are closely related to Pandus …” [Ibid., p. 227]
Mahabharata opens with a curse on Naagas
Fergusson avers that, to start with, this epic poem opens, with a curse on the serpents. Poet uses the words so cleverly that, if carelessly read, the curse could appear to be on reptiles and not on human worshipers. But in reality it is a curse on the Naaga people. In Adi parva the word used is Naaga and in Vana parva, where Bhima gets in trouble with Nahusha in the form of a real serpent, it is sarpa. [Fergusson, p. 47, fn.]
“the story of great sacrifice for the destruction of the serpents is so mixed up with historical and human action that it is evident at once that the ambiguity about the name is only seized upon by the Hindu poets as an excuse for introducing the super natural into an ordinary human transaction, …” [Fergusson, p. 47]
Immediately after the introductory passages, the story Naaga races starts with two sisters Kadru and Vinata marrying Rishi Kashyapa. Kadru, the eldest, becomes mother of 1,000 Naagas, from whom originates the whole Naaga race. Important among the names of her decedents are Sesha, Vasuki, Airavata, Takshaka, Karkotaka, Kaaliya, Aila or Elaapatra, Nila, Anila, Nahusha and others. The younger sisters gives birth to garuda, who becomes a powerful enemy of Garuda race. “When divested of all poetical garb and mythological rubbish”, the heroes Mahabharata, “Lunar race” are of second horde of Aryan race comming to India, comming about 1000 years after purer “Solar race”, their original seat traced near north of Peshawar, however, has shown all of Buddhistic sculptures of Bactrian influence. [Fergusson, p. 59]
They passed through Punjab and settled at Hastinapura. In the first transaction with Naagas, they burn the forest Khandava, for making place for a second capital and dislodge the Naagas there. The Naagas were protected by a Buddhist deity Indra. But attacked by Vedic god Agni, the brahmin poet depicts that all Naagas perished except their king Takshaka. [Fergusson, p. 60]
The relations with the Pandus and Naagas were most friendly as seen by Arjuna, marrying first Ulupi, the daughter of a Naaga king at the foot of Himalayas, near Hurdwar, and marrying Chitrangada, daughter of Chitravahana, the Naaga king of Manipur. By her, he had a son, Bhabra-vahana, who played a strange part subsequently, during Arjuna’s Ashwamedha. From these and other minor particulars, Fergusson feels, “the author of Mahabharata wished to represent the Aryans of that day as cultivating friendly relations with the aborigines.” [Fergusson, p. 60] The quarrel between Aryans and Naagas started when Parikshit insulted a hermit by hanging a dead snake around his neck. Hermit’s son invoked Takshaka, who is represented as king of Takshashila. Takshaka bit the king to death to avenge the insult. Janmejaya started the great sacrifice for destruction of the Naagas to avenge the assassination of his father. Thousands – myriads – had already perished when slaughter was stayed at the intervention of Astika, a Brahmin, though nephew of Vasuki, a Naaga king of east. Probably, the remnants got converted or promised submission to Aryans and for next 3 or 4 centuries, we hear nothing about Naagas until 691 B.C., when we find Naaga dynasty on the throne of Magadha, and in reign of sixth king Ajatshatru, the Buddha was born in 623 B.C., and “regeneration of the subject races was inaugurated.” [Fergusson, p. 60] About Manipur, he feels it curious to observe that in Manipur, the scene of Arjuna’s marriage with Chitragandha, and his slaughter by her son, that at present day, the peculiar God of Royal family is a species of snake called Pa-kung-ba, from which family claims decent. [Fergusson, p. 61] In the immediate neighborhood of Manipur, there are numerous tribes of aboriginal people still called Naagas, though they are not serpent worshipers. [Fergusson, p. 61] The site of the Naaga sacrifice of Janmejaya is said to be Kurukshetra, but it is more probable that the site is in Orrisa, at Agrahaut. Here the tradition of Mahabharata is preserved by images of kings, who could not be present on the occasion. And the serpent worship is still prevalent in the region. [Fergusson, p. 61]
Naaga Rajas in Kashmir
Fergusson believes, “Kashmir has always been considered, in historical times, as one of the principle centres of serpent worship in India”, and whatever knowledge of Naagas has been gathered is from its legends. Though Naaga worship prevailed from ancient past, it is certainly seen from a century before Christ, when king Damodara, as per Raj Tarangani, was converted into a snake because he offended some brahmin. He was succeeded by three tartar princes who were Buddhists as confirmed by their coins. His successor was Abhimanyu, who appears to be against the Buddhists. His successor Gonerda III, restored the Naaga worship. Many more Naaga kings are mentioned. [Fergusson, p. 45]
When Huen Tsang entered the valley in 632 A.D. during the reign of Baladitya, Buddhism was flourishing, though the King was against Buddhism. He repeats the usual story of valley being a lake in the past, but adds that fifty years after the Nirvana of the Buddha, a disciple of Ananda, converted the Naaga Raja, who quitted the tank, built 500 monasteries, and invited bhikkus to dwell in them. [Fergusson, p. 46]
It is not only in the valley of Kashmir, but from Kabul to Kashmir, Huen Tsang finds Dragon Kings or Naaga Rajas playing important role in the history of land. All this shows how north west India, in seventh century, was Naaga worshiper and became Buddhist. [Fergusson, p. 46]
Huen Tsang further mentions a legend of a king of Sakya kula, during his travels through the land, fell in love with and married a Naaga princess, who was cured of blindness by the Buddha Himself; and her son was among those who were present during the distribution of relics of Buddha on His nirvana. [Fergusson, p. 46]
Another legend is of a Bhikku becoming a serpent because he killed the tree Elaapatra and resided in a beautiful lake or spring near Taxila. People could go there along with a sramana, during Huen Tsang’s times, and their wishes of good rain or weather were fulfilled by prayer of the Naaga. General Cunningham visited the spring in 1863, and found it still reverenced. [Fergusson, p. 46]
A story in ‘Mahavamso’, confirms the presence of Naaga Kings two centuries before Huen Tsang. A bhikku, named Majjhantiko, was sent to Kashmir and Gandhara by Ashoka after third Sangiti in 253 B.C. Aravaalo, the Naaga king ruling there, tried to terrify the bhikku, but was ultimately converted to Buddhism. Similarly in Himavanta, 84,000 Naagas were converted, and all his subjects were bowing down to the Thero. [Fergusson, p. 47]
Ambassadors of Alexander, returning after a visit to Kashmir, mentioned that the King there cherished two large serpents. The King of Taxilla also showed to Alexander a huge serpent being worshipped, according to Strabo. [Fergusson, p. 47]
The Naaga and Buddhist influence persisted till Moghul times as Abdul Fazal tells us in Ayeene Akbari, that during reign of Akbar (1556-1605), there were temples in Kashmir, 45 of Shiva, 65 of Vishnu, 3 of Brahma, 22 of Durga, but 700 of the Naagas, in active worship. All this is confirmed by the architecture of the valley. [Fergusson, p. 47]
Rise of Buddhism
A large section of Indian population is of Turanian race, which fell prey to hordes coming from west for centuries. The incoming Aryans intermixed with aboriginal races, became weak and were subdued by next hordes coming in. Less pure “Lunar race” came about 13th or 14th century B.C. For next thousand years, no other horde came here, due to powerful kingdoms in Assyria and Persia. As the blood of Aryans had become impure, Veda had lost its rule of faith. Under these circumstances, Sakyamuni tried to “revive the religion of aboriginal Turanians” and his call was responded to by not only Turanians in India, but by “all the Turanian families of mankind.” [Fergusson, p. 62]
On Puranic evidence, Fergusson, rather unjustifiably feels, the Buddha himself was Aryan. Though Buddhist tradition takes his son Rahula as a bhikku, Vishnu Purana records his succession to throne of his grand father. He says: “the dissemination of Buddhist religion is wholly due to the accident of its having been adopted by the low caste kings of Magadha, and to its having been elevated by one of them to the rank of the religion of the state.” [Fergusson, p. 62] As a matter of fact, Buddha was a Naaga, and even by Brahmins, he is described as Vratya Kshatriya. Fergusson feels that as the reforms introduced by the Buddha, ancestral worship was abolished and worship of relics of saints started, serpent worship was repressed and “its sister faith” the tree worship, was elevated to first rank. [p. 63]
Ahimsa of Buddha
Ferguson avers that the Buddha promoted asceticism, denounced the sensual enjoyment and preached nonviolence, and observes:
“No war was ever waged by Buddhists, … No faith was ever so essentially propagated by persuation as that of Buddha, and though the Buddhists were too frequently persecuted even to destruction, there is no instance on record of any attempt to spread their faith by force in any quarter of globe.” [Fergusson, p. 63]
Serpent worship during Mauryan Dynasty
Ashokan edicts do not show worship of Buddha, or tree or Serpent, but Mahinda takes branch of Bo tree to Ceylon and in caves in Orissa we see both tree and serpent worship prevalent during the period. [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 64]
Time of Naagaarjuna and Kanishka
Naagaarjuna was the ruling spirit behind the Buddhist Council held under Kanishaka. Roman coins dated 73 to 33 B.C. are found in a stupa by Kanishka at Manikyaal. The Name Naalandaa originates from a Naaga called Naalandaa, who resided in a pool nearby. Naagaarjuna was monk at Naalandaa monastery. According to him,
“the words uttered by the Sakya Muni during his life time, had been heard and noted down by the Naagas, and have kept them to themselves in their own abode, till such time as mankind would become worthy to receive them. Naagaarjuna gave out that he had received these documents from the Naagas and was commissioned to proclaim them to the world. …” [Fergusson, p. 65]
Buddhist Sculptures
The literary evidence is only available from Lalita-vistara of Tibet onwards, and such later books from Ceylon etc., it is hoped that original sutras would be available in future. Our only means to reconstruct the history is from archeological finds from Ashoka edicts, Sanchi, Amravati, Ajintha, Mahabalipuram, and other caves in ghats. [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 67 ff.]
Ashoka’s inscriptions present the picture of early Buddhism, entirely different and in a wonderful contrast with Buddhism of Lalitvistara. [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 67]
Gateways of Sanchi are of times of Naagarjuna, in first half of first century. “Buddha never appears in them as an object of worship. The Dagoba, the Chakra or wheel, the tree and other such emblems are reverenced. Serpent does appear but rarely.” [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 67]
At Amravati, three centuries later, Buddha is worshipped, but Naaga is his coequal, more in accordance with modern notions. Dagoba, Tree, Chakra are all worshipped. Thus Sanchi gives picture of Hinayana and Amaravati that of Mahayana, before coming of Fa Hian. [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 67]
Ajanta depicts picture just before its decline, three centuries later than Amravati. There is no serpent worship in paintings, but Naaga representations are found as sculptured decorations on the doorways or in detached bas-reliefs in the caves. [Fergusson, p. 67]
The important bas-relief described by Fergusson, which today’s brahmanic scholars like to describe as a scene of “Descent of river Ganges”, is at Mahabalipuram. He mentions it as “great Naaga sculpture belonging to the classical stage of Indian Art”. He describes the sculpture in minute details, and laments that the top portion is broken away, In 1827, only the lower part of Naaga was remaining, but his wife below him was quite intact. It has a form of Naaga different from those at Sanchi, Amravati and Ajanta, but the grouping of the figures around Naaga is so similar to the oldest one in Sanchi, as if so many centuries made no difference in style, and this is last of Takshaka sculptures. [Fergusson, p. 68]
Ayrans created writings, Turanians created structures
Fergusson believes, Turanians were builders, the stone architecture starting from Ashoka. The point that Turanian, i.e. Dravidian culture had also created great Buddhistic literature, and has been destroyed by Brahmanic / Aryan / Sanskritic vandalism, has not been taken into account by him, it seems. He mentions:
“… It (Buddhism) was not a reform of Vedic religion of Aryans, but simply that when they had lost their purity, Sakya Muni called on the subject races to rise, and moulded their feelings and their superstitions into that form of faith we now know as Buddhism. It was when these Turanians first came into power that permanent architecture was thought of in India, and as they grew in strength, and their influence extended, so did their architecture acquire consistency, and spread over the length and breadth over the land. They had no literature, or next to none; at least we have not yet found one Buddhist book that was reduced to its present shape till nearly 1000 years after the death of the founder of the religion. … Stated in its broadest terms, the distinction is this, – all the literature of India is Aryan, all the architecture is Turanian; and the latter did not come into existence till the former race had lost their purity and power, or, in other words, till the Turanian religion, known as Buddhism, rose to surface, and its followers usurped the place hereto occupied by the Aryans and their Vedas.” [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 78]
Tribal Population in Sanchi and Amaravati Stupas
By careful study of human figures both of men and women, which Fergusson has described in minute details, he identified two distinct races to be present there.
One is described as civilized, and worshiping the Buddhist emblems like Chakra, Stupa and tree. He is actually referring to Buddhist upasakas, i.e. house holders, though he calls them as Hindoos, not in modern sense as of brahmanic faith, as word hindoo has no relevance for a period before the arrival of Muslims. As against this there is another race, referred by Fergusson as Dasyus, for want of any suitable name, which is of Aboriginal Tribal culture, mostly worshiping Naaga emblems. These were labeled as “ascetics or priests” by General Cunningham and Colonel Massey, because their costumes resembled Buddhist ascetics in Burma and other Buddhist countries. But Fergusson believes them to be Aboriginal tribals. He says, as there is no appropriate name, he would “unhesitatingly” suggest them to be called as Takshaka, like Colonel Todd did. This is because, they are essentially serpent worshipers and “Naaga and Takshaka being synonymous appellations in Sanskrit for snake, and Takshaka is the celebrated Naagavamsha of the early heroic history of India.” He believes, these people were converted to Buddhism, as he says:
“From their appearing so frequently on Buddhist monuments, we may certainly assume that they were converted eventually to Buddhism, and being a tribe dwelling in woods, their priests may have become forest ascetics …” [Fergusson, p. 94 ff.]
He further avers that they were the real architects of India, their original home was near Takshsila, the important seat of serpent worship, and from there they spread all over India. [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 95]
Antiquity of Naaga worship
Fergusson believes that, Snake worship was an old and prevalent form of original faith all over India before Aryans arrived, and Aryans adopted it gradually as they intermarried with indigenous Naaga people. He remarks:
“It is not mentioned in Vedas, hardly hinted at in Ramayana, occupies a considerable space in Mahabharata, appears timidly at Sanchi in the first century of our era, and is triumphant at Amaravati in the fourth, and might have become dominant faith of India had it not been elbowed from its place of power by Vishnuism and Shaivism, which took its place when it fell together with the religion of Buddha, to which it had allied itself so closely.” [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 114]
Tri Ratna – not Trishul
On a fallen pillar of Southern gate way at Sanchi, along with a Bo tree, an emblem, which Fergusson conjectures to be a Trishul is found. Such is also found at Amarawati and Karle, and many Buddhist monuments at various places. It is not a trishul, as we understand from weapon of Shiva. Trishul has a central prong prominent and longer because of its use as a weapon, and also has a long handle. The emblem found in Buddhist monuments is Tri-Ratna, which denotes Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. It has roundish contour, a smaller middle prong and no handle. It is also found on the chest of Buddhist images, and was later copied by Brahmins to be carved on Vishnu images, as Fergusson further observes:
“General Cunningham suggests that this afterwards became emblem of Juggernath, with his brother and sister. In this suggestion, I entirely agree, but the transformation took place at a period long subsequent to that we are now engaged upon. The more I look at it the more do I become convinced that Vishnuism is only very corrupt Buddhism.” [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 125]
Amaravati and Tree worship
As is well known, Buddha at Amaravati is now a days is worshipped as Shiva, the subject being discussed more fully by us elsewhere. [Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine, p. 10]. The Tree worship and Naaga worship are well known methods of Buddhist practices. After conversion to Brahmanism, even now they form important part of ritual at Amareswara. Fergusson, while describing tree worship at Amaravati, observes:
“The following is a curious instance of irradicability of local forms, even long after the religion to which they belonged may have perished. At the present day, during the festival of Navaratri, in honour of Shiva at Amareswar, the immortal lord, on the third night a brazen tree is carried round the town in procession; on the fifth night a ten headed serpent in brass. At the close of the festival the worshipers go in great pomp to a tree called Shemmu Veerchum, where the god is made to exercise in shooting an arrow at the sacred tree, followed by discharge of fire arms in the air, which closes the ceremony. In the festival called Shiva Maharatri, the procession to the same tree is the culminating point, to which all previous arrangements are subordinate, and thus the festival closes.” [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 171]
Mihirkula and Feet marks of Buddha
The feet marks of Buddha are seen in many places at Amaravati, and are also seen stamped on cloths there. Mihirkula, a Shaivite king of Kashmir, is well known as the enemy of Buddhists. He waged a war against Sri Lanka, because his wife happened to wear a jacket of Simhala cloth, which was stamped with feet marks of Buddha. The impression came off on her bosom, and the king became indignant and invaded Ceylon, and forced him to stamp the cloth in future with a golden sun. [James Fergusson, “Tree and Serpent Worship”, p. 189]
Tribals are Naagas
Fergusson describes mainly two types of persons worshiping Buddha and being disciples of Buddhism. Turanians are the Dravidians, also termed the Naagas, whom we now know as aboriginal tribal population. Who are the people, whom Fergusson referred to as Hindoos. He himself has cleared the point. : “… the sculpture meant to represent the inhabitants of the province now known as Upper Bengal, more specially of the districts of Tirhoot and Behar, which were assuredly the cradle of Buddhism. …” [Fergusson, p. 225]
The people who are associated with Buddha in both the stupas of Sanchi and Amarawati, are the mixed race of Bengal, with some Aryan blood, but mostly which was mixed with the aboriginal tribes of Bengal before Aryan invasion. That the Buddhism could rise on its ruins, is the evidence of it.
Another important question is, Are the people who wear the snake hoods are as same race or not. Fergusson believes that the difference is only artistic, they are the same people but of two different nations. He explains that these are the aboriginal tribes.:
“The people whose manners and customs appear to present the closest affinities with what we found on the monuments, are those known as the Gonds and other closely allied tribes inhabiting the country to the south of the Vindhya hills. From their language we learn that they were allied to Dravidians, now occupying nearly the whole of Madras Presidency, …” [Fergusson, p. 225]
After careful study of figures, Fergusson comes to conclusion that people with snakes are the Naaga people. [Fergusson, p. 192]
Adivasis in South India
Most ancients were Villavar, (bowmen) identified with Bhils and Minaver (fishers) identified with Meenas. The other group is termed by the Sangam poets as Naagas, whom Hindu books depict as semi divine beings, half men and half snake, but Tamil poets describe them as warrior race with bows and nooses and famous as free booters. Various tribes are mentioned like Aruvalar in Arvunadu, and Aruva vadatalai, Eyinar, Maravar, Oliyar, and Paradavar (fisher tribe), who are certainly belonged to Naaga stock. [Cambridge hist. of India, vol. I, p. 539]
The main dynasties ruling Tamil country were of land tilling class. Pandyas, claiming descent from a tribe styled Maarar, Chola kings from tribe Tirayyirar, and Chera from Vaanavar tribe. Even in first century A.D., the country was free from Brahman caste system, thanks to the influence of strong Buddhist and Jain churches. [Cambridge hist. of India, p. 540]
Satavahanas were Buddhists and not of Brahmanic faith
Because Goutamiputra Satkarni performed the yadnyas, as mentioned in Nanaghat inscription of Naaganika, some scholars tend to think that he belonged to Brahmanic faith. This is a wrong interpretation. Shri Kosare feels the nature of these vedic yadnyas must be considered as a political act of a Ksatriya to raise ones own political prestige, status and glory as an Emperor. These yadnyas had absolutely no brahmanic effect on the republican style of their social culture in Satvahana times. Similarly, there are no records to show that any other king of Satvahana dynasty performed any vedic sacrifices. On the contrary, it appears that Buddhism flourished and developed to a great extent during the Satvahana period only. [Kosare, p.167]
Brahmanic traditions do not depict correct picture
It is now well recognised that Brahmanic books try to depict the superiority of Aryan / Sanskritic / Brahmanic culture and ignore the vast population, which had always been against this culture. Prof. Rhys Davids, aptly, points out this mentality:
“It is the accepted belief that it is in the literature of the brahmins that we find the evidence as to the religious beliefs of the peoples of India in the sixth and seventh centuries B.C. This seems to me more than doubtful. The priests have preserved for us, not so much the opinions the people actually held, as the opinions the priests wished them to hold. … We see how unreasonable it would be to expect that the brahmins, whose difficulties were so much greater, should have been able to do more. What they have done they have done accurately and well. But the record they have saved for us is a partial record. [Rhys Davids, “Buddhist India”, p.210 ]
Language of masses was Pali
That similar misinformation is spread by the Brahmanic claims that Sanskrit was lingua franca of India is clear when he avers:
“What had happened with respect to religious belief is on a par with what had happened with respect to language. From Takkasila all the way down to Champa no one spoke Sanskrit. The living language, everywhere, was a sort of Pali. … in the schools of the priests, and there only, a knowledge of the Vedic language (which we often call Sanskrit) was kept up. But even this Sanskrit of the schools had progressed, as some would say, or had degenerated, as others would say, from the Vedic standard. And the Sanskrit in actual use in the schools was as far removed the Vedic dialact as it is from the so-called classical Sanskrit of the post Buddhistic poems and plays.” [Rhys Davids, p. 211]
The religion of masses was not Vedic
The brahmanic books, and their propaganda by the vested interests, try to give an impression that the religious beliefs of Indian masses also were Vedic. This is far from the truth. Rhys Davids remarks:
“So with the religion, outside the schools of the priests the curious and interesting beliefs recorded in the Rig Veda had practically little effect. The Vedic thaumaturgy and theosophy had indeed never been a popular faith, that is, as we know it. … The gods more usually found in the older system – the dread Mother Earth, the dryads and the dragons, the dog-star, even the moon the sun have been cast into the shade by the new ideas (the new gods) of the fire, the exciting drink, and the thunderstorm. And the charm of the mystery and the magic of the ritual of the sacrifice had to contend, so far as the laity were concerned, with the distaste induced by its complications and its expense. … Those beliefs (in Rig Veda) seem to us, and indeed are, so bizarre and absurd, that it is hard to accept the proposition that they give expression to an advanced stage to thought. And one is so accustomed to consider the priesthood as the great obstacle, in India, an way of reform, that it is difficult to believe that the brahmins could ever, as a class have championed the newer views.
“But a comparison with the general course of the evolution of religious beliefs elsewhere shows that the beliefs recorded in the Rig Veda are not primitive. A consideration of the nature of those beliefs, so far as they are not found elsewhere, shows that they must have been, in the view of the men who formulated them, a kind of advance on, or reform of, the previous ideas, and at least three lines of evidence all tend to show that certainly all the time we are here considering, and almost certainly at the time when the Rig Veda was finally closed there were many other beliefs, commonly held among the Aaryans in India, but not represented in that Veda.” [Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, p. 212]
Atharva Veda is more ancient
It is well known that there are in reality only two Vedas, Rig and Atharva, the other two Sama and Yajus being the compilation of verses mostly from Rig, with a few more ideas being added. Out of these two, Atharva has got beliefs more ancient, the beliefs of ancient original residents, and therefore, the brahmins for a long time did not recognise it as a Veda, neither did the Buddhists. Rhys Davids explains:
“The first of these three lines is the history of the Atharva Veda. This invaluable old collection of charms to be used in sorcery had been actually put together long before Buddhism arose. But it was only just before that time it had come to be acknowledged by the sacrificial priests as Veda inferior to their own three older ones, but still a Veda. This explains why it is that Atharva is never mentioned as a Veda in the Buddhist canonical books. … Yet it is quite certain that the beliefs and practices to which the Atharva Veda is devoted are as old, if not older, than those to which the three other Vedas refer; and that they were commonly held and followed by the Aryans in India. …” [Rhys Davids, “Buddhist India”, p.213 ]
Forest folks were looked after by Ashoka
An account of his Kalinga conquest and its effects is given by Ashoka himself in Rock Edict XIII. After the horrible disaster, he became Buddhist, expressed profound sorrow and regret for the war, and started spreading Buddhism. About the forest dwellers he said, in the same edict:
“Even upon the forest-folk in his dominion, His Sacred Majesty looks kindly and he seeks to make them think aright, for, if he did not, repentance would come upon His Sacred Majesty. They are bidden to turn from evil ways that they be not chastised. For His Sacred Majesty desires that all animated beings should have security, self control, peace of mind and joyousness.” [Mahajan, “Ancient India”, p. 276]
Why Ashoka was sympathetic towards Adivasis is explained by todays Adivasi scholars: because “he was himself of the same blood”, says Venkatesh Atram as well as L. K. Madavi. [Venkatesh Atram, “Gondi sanskuti che sandarbha”, p. 51]
Naagas flourished before Guptas
Among the important monarchies flourishing before the rise of Guptas, the most important were the Naaga dynasties, and also many Republics. They were scattered all over India, as proved by literary, epigraphic and numismatic evidence. Vidisha, Kantipuri, Mathura and Padmavati were all Naaga powers, according to Puranas. We know from inscriptions, that Bharshiv Naagas came into power after fall of Kushanas. We have some coins of Bhava Naaga of Padmawati. In Puranas nine Naagas are mentioned by name. Powerful King Virsen of Mathura was also perhaps a Naaga. Guptas flourished by marriage of Chandragupta I, with princes Kumar Devi of Licchavis, whom Manusmriti had condemned as Vratya Ksatriyas. Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions of marriage of Chandragupta II with a Naaga princess Kuveranaga. Thus though the Guptas rose to power with the help of Naagas, they terminated Naaga kings like Ganpati Naaga and Naagsena, and most of the Naaga republics. [Mahajan, Ancient India, p. 406 ff.] Republics of Tribals were destroyed by Samudragupta The disappearance of the republics about 400 A.D. was due to the imperialism of the Guptas, according to Jaiswal, who said, “Samudragupta, like Alexander, killed the free spirit of the country. He destroyed the Malavas and the Yaudheyas who were the nursery of freedom and many others of their class.” As Dr. Altekar pointed out, even after Samudragupta, the republics of the Malavas, the Yaudheyas, the Madras and the Arjunayanas maintained their existence and autonomy, though now, under suzerainty of Guptas. However, the leadership became hereditary, and under those circumstances the republics disappeared and monarchy became the general rule. [Mahajan, “Ancient India”, p. 201]
The Pala Period
Many people are under a wrong impression, that after Harshavardhana in seventh century, there were no Buddhist Kings. They conveniently forget that Palas ruled for four centuries, and they ruled nearly whole of north India. They were staunch Buddhists and no brahmins were left after their reign in Bengal, so the Senas, who came after Palas, had to import the Brahmins, for yadnyas.
The area under control of Palas is the area of Naagas and is now an Adivasi tract. It was from Palas that the Buddhism finished, or mostly so. So they are the last remnants of Buddhism. Therefore, their history deserves special study by the Buddhists. That is why the tribal belt extends from North East Provinces, lower Bihar, some parts of Bengal, some parts of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chatisgadh and Bastar and adjoining part in Chandrapur Gadchiroli and the parts of Andhra? The relationship of Pala kingdom with Adivasi tracts is not discussed by the scholars. The Adivasi scholars start the history of Adivasis from the Gonds kings in Sirpur in Andhra, and in old Chandrapur district, which is now divided into two, and in Bastar and Chattisgadh and Madhya Pradesh etc. Some people like to connect themselves to the people of the neolithic age, as if nothing has happened in the mean time. Then they are silent about the period in between. They not only remain silent, but do not try to understand the reasons why their history is ignored by the Brahmanic scholars. But even then, from scanty references, it is possible to reconstruct the history of tribal population in the area. A mention is made about Tribal kings as Naaga kings in post Harsha period in Madhya Pradesh. The Tunga kings, Jayasimha, ruled over the whole of Gondama (or Gondama) which is sometimes specifically referred to as Eighteen Gondama. Gondama has been taken to mean the Gond tribe, but it probably denotes a territory, which was perhaps the entire hilly tract extending from Bonal and Barma in the north up Jeypore in the Visakhapatnam District in the south. [Imperial Kanauj, p.77 ] An account in a book by the poet Padmagupta, of the court of a Paramara king, Navasahasanka Sindhuraja, is considered historical and it narrates how a Naaga king ruling south of the Narmada sought help from Sindhuraja against a neighboring demon-king named Vajrankusa, and gave his daughter Shashiprabha to him after their killing the demon king. It is suggested that the Naaga king was a chief of the Naaga dynasty ruling in old Bastar State, and the demon-king was a chief of the Non-Aryan Mana tribe of Vajra, modern Wairagarh, presently in Chandrpur District of Maharashtra. [Imperial Kanauj, p.97]
Also mention is made of Vijayaditya II, coming into conflict with a Naaga king probably of the Bastar region. [Imperial Kanauj, p.134]
The Pala Kingdom comprised tribal areas
After the death of Harshavardhana, the brahmins regained the lost prestige and started converting people to brahmanism through the means of force by creating small principalities. The empire was broken down and only small feudatories under the newly created Rajput clans started appearing. R. C. Majumdar, explains how the Palas stopped this political disintegration of Bengal resulting in anarchy and confusion for more than a century after the death of Sasanka, the king of Bengal and strong enemy of Buddhism and of Harshavardhana, and how in the middle of the eighth century A.D., a heroic and laudable effort was made to remedy the miserable state of affairs. Realizing at last, that all the troubles of masses were due to the absence of a strong central authority, the numerous chiefs exercising sovereignty in different parts of the country did set up such a regime by voluntary surrender of powers to one popular leader. This shows no small credit upon the sagacity and sacrifice of the leaders of Bengal who rose to the occasion and selected one among themselves to be the sole ruler of Bengal to whom they all paid willing allegiance. Majumdar comments:
“… It is not every age, it is not every nation that can show such a noble example of subordinating private interests to public welfare. The nearest parallel is the great political change that took place in Japan in A.D. 1870. The result was almost equally glorious and the great bloodless revolution ushered in an era of glory and prosperity such as Bengal has never enjoyed before or since.” [Majumdar R. C., “The Age of Imperial Kanauj” HCIP vol. IV, p 44]
The hero was one Gopala (c. 750-770 A.D.), whose early accounts are uncertain, but he came to be known as a Kshatriya and was a Buddhist. All his successors also were Buddhists and the dynasty ruled over a vast area for about four hundred years. The “bloodless revolution”, was no doubt religiously motivated. This was also the time when Tantrika Buddhism made its appearance, and the religious leadership passed on to the lower castes in the society, to such an extent that after the fall of Palas, their successors had to import the brahmins for performance of yadnyas. After Gopala, his son Dharmapala (c.770-810 A.D.), came on throne. He was a hero of hundred battles, and had assumed full imperial tiles. He held a most magnificent durbar at Kanauj, to proclaim himself as the suzerain. Vassals attending durbar, among others, were the rulers of Bhoja, Mastsya, Madra, Kuru, Yadu, Yavana, Avanti, Gandhara and Kira, who uttered
acclamations of approval “bowing down respectfully with their diadems trembling.” He is described as the “Lord of Northern India” (Uttarapathasvamin). [Majumdar, ibid., p.46]
He was ruling over a vast territory. Bengal and Bihar, which formed its nucleus, were directly ruled by him. Beyond this the kingdom of Kanauj, roughly corresponding to modern U.P., was a close dependency, whose ruler was nominated by, and directly subordinate to, him. Further to the west and south, in the Punjab, Western Hill States, Rajputana, Malwa and Berar, were a number of vassal states whose rulers acknowledged him as their overlord and paid him homage and obedience. According to tradition preserved in the Svayambhu-Purana, Nepal was also a vassal state of Dharmapala. [Majumdar, p.47]
His grateful subjects fully realized his greatness and sung in his praise all over the country. He was great patron of Buddhism and founder of Vikramshila University, named after his another name, and a great vihara at Sompuri in Varendra. He also built Odantpuri Vihara in Bihar as per Tibetian sourses, though credit is given to his father or son by some scholars. Great Buddhist author Haribhadra flourished during his reign. Majumdar laments that his greatness, though sung by masses, “it is irony of fate that he should have been forgotten in the land of his birth but his memory should be kept green in Tibet.” [Ibid., p.49] What is so strange about it? It had always been the practice of brahmanic scholars to kill the memory of great non-brahmanic dignitaries by non-mention, and if we may say so, it continues even today. No non-brahmanic king is remembered by the priestly scholars of this country. Chandragupta Maurya is remembered in a fiction Mudrarakshasa written thousand years later; Ashoka is remembered by his edicts and credit of identifying Ashoka of Cylonese chronicles with Piyadassi of edicts goes to James Prinsep; Kanishika is remembered by his coins, Chinese sourses and Buddhist MSS, and Buddhacharita of Ashvaghosha; King Milinda by foreign accounts and Harshavardhana mainly by Huen Tsang’s writings. For the elite of this country, even Alexander the great never existed.
Dharmapala was succeeded by his son Devapala who had a long reign of about forty years. He was a great patron of Buddhism like his father, and his fame spread to many Buddhist countries outside India. Devapala granted five villages on the request of Balaputradeva, a king of a powerful Buddhist Dynasty, in the East Indies, in order to endow a monastery at Nalanda. Another record informs us that a learned Buddhist priest, hailing from Naagarahara (Jelalabad), received high honors from Devapala and was appointed the head of Nalanda monastery. [Majumdar, p. 52] After Devapala, glory of Pala empire declined. Though to a large extent, Mahipala tried to restore it. The Brahmanical dynasty of Senas overtook them. Senas, had to import Brahmins to their kingdom from other Brahmanical areas and start the infamous Kulin system, to reestablish Brahmin supremacy.
The reason why we like to stress the importance of the history of Pala Kings, is that they were Buddhists and their subjects were Buddhists, and at the present time, the area under the influence of Pala kings is the exact area which is occupied by the present day Adivasis. This shows that they were reduced to their present state, after the fall of Palas, due to neglect by and the atrocities of the Brahmanical forces during post Pala period. Though the miseries of tribals had started with the rise of Guptas, they had no protector left after the fall of Palas.
Rise of Rajputs was mostly from Tribals
After the fall of Harsha, the Rajputs were created by the Brahmins, with the intention of fighting with the Buddhists by physical force. Through the Agnikula theory four dynasties of foreigners like Hunas were hinduised in North India, and in south India, through hiranyagarbha mahadana five dynasties were created out of tribal Buddhists. The subject is discussed fully by us elsewhere, suffice here to mention that also some tribal chiefs were among those who became the Rajputs. Giving example of House of Mewar which played important role in political and military history of India for centuries to come, and gave heroes like Bapa Raval, Rana Sanga, and Rana Pratap, Stella Kramerish observes:
“Formerly they (Bhils) ruled over their own country. This was prior to the arrival or Rajputs. The Rajputs, the ‘sons of king’, invaded the country, subsequently Rajasthan in about sixth century A. D. They became Kshatriyas, the nobility par excellence of India. Some of these Rajput princes, including the most exalted of them, the Rana of Mewar, at the inception of their rule, had their foreheads marked with the blood of a Bhil. It was drawn from his thumb or big toe. This was an acknowledgement of the precedence of Bhils as rulers of the country”. [Stella Kramerish, “Selected writings of Stella Kramerish”, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1968, p. 90; fn:- Koppers, “Die Bhil”, p.14]
Rajputs came from Tribals
In North India, Rajputs were made on the Mount Abu, by a purificatory yadna and four important dynasties were created to physically oppose the Buddhists and accept the supremacy of Brahmins. Some were remnants of Hunas and some were tribals. But the Brahmins took special precaution to limit the admittance to Rajputs to only a few important people, and the rest were remaining as ordinary castes, as explained by Balkrishna Nair. In Southern India, the rite prformed for purification, conversion, and initiation into awarding Ksatriyahood was called Hiranya-garbhs mahadana and the king was designated as Hiranya-garbha-prasuta, i.e. “one who performed the sacred rite of hiranya-garbha which consists in the performer passing through an egg of gold which was afterwards distributed among the officiating priests”. [D. C. Sircar, ‘The Classical Age’, HCIP vol. III, p. 225]
The Hiranya garbha prasuta kings of South India belong to the dynasties of: (1) Ananda gotra connected with Chezarla. (2) Vishnukundin connected with Srisaila. (3) Chalukyas. (4) Pandyas and (5) Rashtrakutas.
Most, if not all, of them were Buddhist Tribals, but after accepting Brahmin supremacy they fought with Palas as well as among themselves, thus instituting a tripartrite struggle for centuries, till they all handed over the reigns of the country to Muslims. The detailed discussion of them is beyond scope of this article.
With their conversion, all their deities got converted into Brahmanic deitis, like Jaganath Puri, Pandharpur, Ayyapa, Draksharama, Srisailam, Badrikeswara and many more including Tirupati, as explained in my book “tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”. Only one example is given below how tribal Madiyas became devotees of Puri.
Tribals worship Danteswari and are disciples of Jagannatha of Puri The tribal population of Bastar, known as Madiyas, as is well known, are Naagas, and they were referred as Naagas in inscriptions. What is not well known is that they have a Rath Yatra, very much like that of Puri. As explained by us in “Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”, both Rath Yatra and Puri Temple are of Buddhist origin. Also the name Danteswari of their deity is strongly suggestive of Dantpura, where Tooth Relic of the Buddha is being worshiped, which now is Jagannatha of Puri. The following are the excerpts from the article by Bhai Mahavir, who attended Dushera festival of Madiyas, and describes it as “a Dussehra without any mention of the Ramayana”. Even the date of Dushera is significant, as prior to Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism in 1956, the Hindu Panchangas used to depict Dushera as the date of birth of the Buddha, though Buddhist tradition places it on Veshakh full moon day. He writes:
“While for a large part of the country, Dussehra gets its name from the victory of Ram over the 10 headed Ravana, … in Bastar we have none of this. There is no Sita abduction, no Hanuman search mission and no Ram-Ravana battle. You do not see the spectacle of any effigies of Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Meghnath going up in flames as its finals. In fact, when this idea was mooted once, tribal leaders did not welcome it.”
Author explains how Baster’s Dussehra is connected with their own favourite deity, Danteshwari, unknown elsewhere. The festival, lasting virtually for two and a half months, is not mere entertainment, but a genuine religious practice and an essential part of their culture and philosophy.
Ratha Yatra being the main part, its preparation starts early, and different villages having well-designated duties of fetching wood meant for specified parts of the Rath. It is pulled with long ropes by about 500 Madiya tribals of Kilpal, a privilege they jealously guard. The fourth ruler of Bastar, Raja Purushottam Dev, who ascended the throne in 1408 AD, performed Dandavat (prostration) pilgrimage from Baster to Jagannath Puri, offered lots of precious gifts with one lakh gold mohurs to temple, and started the Ratha Yatra. Like in several states, the practice continued till the tragic death of Pravinchandra Bhanjdev. Now only the chhatra and the chief pujari of Danteshwari temple of Jagdalpur ride it. All the tribes bring their favourite deities with their chhatras to the courtyard of the royal palace. The whole town is out jostling to watch the gigantic chariot being pulled by hundreds of devotees. The tribes of Bastar are no Vaishnavites (vegetarians), they are devotes of Danteswari, though their Danteshwari Temple, at Dantewada, in Bastar, has an idol of Nandi and an image of Shiva. The Rath Yatra commences with a goat sacrifice, and no less than five goats are sacrificed by the time the festivals conclude. [An article “Without Ram or Ravana” by Bhai Mahavir in “Indian Express”, Nagpur, 4.12.99]
Why the Adivasis Struggle can not succeed in Hindu India
Excluding the population of Africa, India is the largest habitat of Adivasis. They are mostly divided into three geographical areas. A group in North East provinces, the “seven sisters”, are having Mongoloid influence. The second group, the “Central” group is in Bihar, Orrisa, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Vidarbha extends upto sea in the east and has Gond and Santhal origin. The Western group has mostly Bhil influence. The Constitution of India has taken note of these areas and the first group is placed under Schedule VI and the rest are placed in Schedule V. About the condition of all these adivasis, less said the better. Whereas the tribals in VI schedule are fighting a loosing battle against the Manuvadi social order, those in other areas are fast getting hinduised and accepting the Brahmanic values, and pessimistic about their struggle. The main question is why they are not getting any success in their struggle. The reason as explained by Kanshiram, long time back, is that they are fighting isolatedly and the reason is that they do not like to identify themselves as one of the co-sufferers among the multitudes of castes suffering under the tyranny of brahmanic social order. He appeals to them to organize their struggle together with these multitudes under one banner. [Adivasi-Bharat ke Mulnivasi, hindi, p. 10]
References
A. L. Basham, ‘The wonder that was India’, Rupa & Co., 1975
Carus Paul, The Gospel of Buddha reprinted by National book Trust, 1961
Chaure Narayan Dr., Korku Jan Jati ka itihas, hindi, Vishwa bharati prakashan, Nagpur, 1987
James Fergusson, Tree and serpent worship, 1868 India Museum London, Indian ed. – Indological Book House, Delhi, 1971
Kosambi Dharmanand, Buddha Dharma aani Sangh marathi, third edition 1970, publ. by Buddha Vihar Risaldar Park, Luckhnow
Kosare H. L. prachin bharatatil naag, marathi, 1989, Dnyan Pradip prakashan, Nagpur,
Karan Sing and Daisaku Ikeda, Humanity at the Cross Roads, Oxford University Press, 1988
Madavi L. K., (marathi), swatantra bharatatil adivasinchi swaytate chi chalval, 1998, publ. Mul Nivasi Mukti Manch Nagpur
Majumdar R. C., Chapter on The Palas The Age of Imperial Kanauj, HCIP, vo IV, 1955
Mahajan Vidya Dhar, Ancient India, Fifth Edition, Reprint 1972, Chand and Co., New Delhi.
Mukherjee, M.A. Prof. L., History of India (Hindu period), Mondal Brothers & Co. Pvt. Ltd. 54-8, College Street, Calcutta. 12. 26th edition.
Nadgonde, Gurunath D., (Dr.), Bharatiya Adivasi, (marathi), Continental Prakashan, Pune, 1979, reprint 1986
Nair Balkrishna N., The Dynamic Brahmin Popular Book Depot, Lamington Rd., Bombay – 7, 1959
Rapson E. J., Ed. The Cambridge History of India, vol. I, S.Chand and Co., third Indian reprint, 1968
Rhys Davids, Buddhist India, Motilal Banarasidas, 1993 reprint, original edition England, 1903
Karan Sing and Daisaku Ikeda, Humanity at the cross roads, Oxford University Press, 1988
T. A. Gopinath Rao, Elements of Hindu Iconography, vol. II, part 2, Motilal Banarasidas, 1985

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