Adivasis Were Buddhist Naagas: K. Jamanadas

30/05/2011

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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San Francisco (USA) Buddhist center’s shrine, in celebration of global Ambedkar month.

20/10/2010

 

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San Francisco (USA) Buddhist center's shrine, in celebration of global ambedkar month.


Depicting Buddha as Hindu

26/07/2010

BY Dr. K. Jamanadas

For last two three years, Sangha-parivar is trying to depict to the international community, that they respect the Buddha. While doing that they use terminology depicting him as a Hindu. About Ambedkar also, similar thing is seen, books are written to show the work of Hegdewar and Ambedkar was same. We find Shankaracharyas garlanding the photo of Dr. Ambedkar. We find Brahmanic dignitaries like Sankaracharya paying a visit to Nagpur Diksha-bhoomi to pay tributes.

Declaring Buddha as an avatara of god was the beginning

They declared the Buddha as an avatara of Vishnu, some times around eighth century, as a verse to this effect from Matsya Purana is engraved in a monument at Mahabalipuram. The process seems to be completed by the time of Jaydeo writing “Gita Govind” in 12th century, including Buddha’s name in it. We are also aware that an average Brahmin takes a great pride that Buddhism was driven away from this land by Adi-Sankara.

How a non-existent religion can die?

About declaring the Buddha as ninth avatara of Vishnu, L. M. Joshi observes that it was a “remarkable cultural feat”, achieved by the Brahmanic Puranas, which later caused confusion in the minds of people with the result that Buddhism came to be treated as a “heretical” and “aesthetic” branch of Brahmanism.

The present scholars like P. V. Kane, Radhakrishnan and even Swami Vivekanand, have pushed this confusion further back to the time of origin of Buddhism, by saying that Upanishadas are the origin of Buddhist thought. To this list must be added the name of B. G. Tilak, who devoted a full chapter in “Gita Rahashya” to prove that Buddhism was an off-shoot of Hinduism, (and one more chapter for proving that Christianity arose from Buddhism and hence eventually from Hinduism). Commenting Swami Vivekanada’s statement that the Swami and other Hindus did not understand Buddha’s teachings to be an honest confession, Joshi observes:

“… Not only the ancient and medieval brahmin teachers did not understand Buddhism; modern scholars born into the Brahmanical tradition have not shown any better understanding. Shankara, Kumarila, Udayana, and Sayana- Madhava did not understand Buddhism. This is true also of Tagore, Gandhi, Coomaraswamy and Radhakrishnan. …” [L. M. Joshi, “Aspects of Buddhism in Indian History”, Buddhist Publication Society, Candy, 1973, (Wheel publ. 195/196), p.12]

Showing a great surprise of Brahmanic scholars claiming both that Buddhism was just a refined “Hinduism”, and also claiming with pride that Buddhism was driven away by the Brahmanas and it has died down, he sarcastically observes:

“… The causes of the decline of Buddhism in India are attributed either to Tantrika practices or to Muslim invasion, or to both. Nobody even imagines that if Buddhism were only a “reformed” or “refined” version of “Hinduism” how it could be said to have declined and died away while “Hinduism” is still flourishing and is the faith of majority of Indians. Buddhism can be said to have declined only when there was evidence for its existence at a certain period in Indian history apart from the existence of “Hinduism”. If Buddhism did not exist apart from Brahmanism or “Hinduism” it did not die at all. A non-existent tradition or way of life does not die. The theory of decline of Buddhism, from the standpoint of “traditional” history is a false theory. On the other hand, if the decline of Buddhism in India was a historical fact, the theory of its origin as a “reformed” Brahmanism is a false one and must be discarded.” [L. M. Joshi, Ibid., p.14]

I feel that our friends of Buddhism from abroad, who visit Indian Buddhist centres, as a mark of great respect and reverence to the Buddha, should be warned of the practices of present day Sangha- parivar. The institutions like those of shri Jaysuriyaji could play a great role in this.

http://www.ambedkar.org/buddhism/Depicting_Buddha_as_Hindu.htm



Adivasis Were Buddhist Naagas: K. Jamanadas

26/07/2010

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


An Overview of India’s Buddhist Movement

19/07/2010

Vishvapani, http://www.ambedkar2006.blogspot.com/, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 9, 2006

According to the 2001 census there are 7.95 million Buddhists in India out of a population of 1 billion, making it the country’s fifth-largest religion. The true figure is far higher – between 20-30 million, but many do not register as Buddhists for fear of losing government concessions that are due to low-status Hindus.

“We have 405 New-Buddhists in our village, 69 from the Matang community, they say there were only 105 of us in 1991 and in 2001 census, we are not there. This means we don’t get any relief or benefit from government. We are supposed to get 20 per cent of the Panchayat budget of Rs. 3 lakh per year”. — Census wipes out dalits in Maharashtra , Mandar Phanse , CNN-IBN

These Buddhists include a number of groups. There are scattered survivors of the period when Buddhism flourished in India such as the Baruas of Assam, Chakmas of Bengal, the Saraks of Orissa and the Himalayan Buddhists of North-East India; there are also ethnic overlaps from Nepal, Thailand and Burma, such as Tamangs and Sherpas there are converts who have been influenced by theMaha Bodhi Society, the Dalai Lama and so on; and there are refugee Tibetan Buddhists in different settlements.

Finally there are the followers of Dr. Ambedkar, who constitute over 90% India’s Buddhists. Dr Ambedkar was the unquestioned leader of the dalits: people considered ‘untouchable’ under the Hindu caste system. He converted to Buddhism in 1956 with many of his followers, and the events of Autumn 2006 represent a development of his movement on the 50th anniversary of its inception.

One reason for the current interest in Buddhism is the success of those who became Buddhists in the past. 72.7% have a basic education compared with the national average of 52.21% and the community is increasingly confident, self reliant and free from negative social norms. The new Buddhists refuse to work within the ritually polluting and ritually duties traditionally associated with their caste, such as handling dead bodies: a strategy that works when people are able to find alternative employment outside the village. However, even if new Buddhists are successful in joining ritually more or less neutral professions, they are looked down.

It is hard to overstate the continuing importance of Dr Ambedkar – Babasaheb to his followers – within this community. He is seen as a ‘bodhisattva’ – a compassionate being on the path to Enlightenment and revered second only to the Buddha. Statues and pictures of Dr Ambedkar are seen everywhere in New Buddhist communities, where people greet one another with “Jai Bhim”, meaning, ‘Victory to Bhimrao Ambedkar’. Invocations of Dr Ambedkar are even added to traditional Buddhist chants and rituals.

Dr Ambedkar died only six weeks after his conversion in Nagpur and the Buddhist movement lost momentum at a crucial point in its history. Conversion ceremonies in other major Indian cities that were planned to follow the Nagpur event failed to take place. Following his death, the Ambedkarite movement was divisided and lacked direction, and there were few Buddhist teahcers to educate the millions of followers in the new faith.

Nonetheless, a substantial Buddhist movement has grown up. Its focus is the central Indian state of Maharashtra, and Nagpur is its heart. This is where Dr. Ambedkar took initiation on October 14 1956 along with his 380,000 followers. Other significant New Buddhist communities are found in Madya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Andra Pradesh. For details of the conversion ceremony in Hydrabad, AP, on 14th October see the previous post. Further large ceremonies are planned in Karnataka, Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Orissa, and Rajasthan.

In Maharashtra, the conversion movement has been largely confined to the Mahar sub-caste, to which Dr Ambedkar himself belonged. Now it is spreading to other Maharashtrian communities. A confederation of 40 tribal communities, numbering at least hal-a-million are embracing Buddhism (see http://ambedkar2006.blogspot.com/2006_10_04_ambedkar2006_archive.html), and many members of the Matung sub-caste are doing the same.

Conversion ceremonies are regular occurrences, prompting anti-Buddhist measures by some state governments (see http://www.buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=42,3191,0,0,1,0 for details of such measures in Gujarat). But Dr Ambedkar’s movement is at last coming of age, as Saddhananda Fulzele, who organised the 1956 Nagpur ceremony and for many years has been the Chairman of Nagpur’s Dr Ambedkar College, told me this week, ‘Fifty years is not a long time in the history of a religious movement.’ Dr Ambedkar’s prestige continues to grow 50 years after his death, his works are being translated into regional languages, many young people are discovering his work for the first time, and there is increasing interaction with Buddhists from outside India. ‘Dr Ambedkar is more powerful dead than alive,’ Fulzele commented.

At a time of deep disillusionment with political solutions to India’s problems, the true contribution of Dr Ambedkar, who framed the country’s constitution, is becoming clearer. Through his political achievements and the foundation of the Buddhist conversion movement he offered a path for India’s lower classes that contains great depth that is deeply in sympathy with the teachings of Buddhism. Large sections of India’s 200 million ‘scheduled castes’ (i.e. those considered untouchable under Hinduism), and many members of the 500 million lower (or ‘depressed’ castes, are now looking seriously at Dr Ambedkar and considering following his example by adopting the Buddhist faith.

An Overview of India’s Buddhist Movement
by Vishvapani, http://www.ambedkar2006.blogspot.com/, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 9, 2006


50 Years after Ambedkar’s Conversion

19/07/2010

Courtsy: 2006 @ http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/003868.html


ambedkarpics.jpgFifty years ago, on October 14, 1956 — and a mere two months before his death — Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the scholar and political leader who was principally responsible for the drafting of India’s Constitution, converted to Buddhism in a public ceremony in Nagpur. Somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 of his Dalit followers — the accounts vary — embraced Buddhism in the immediate wake of his conversion. For Dr. Ambedkar, nothing in his long, distinguished career could convince him that the socio-cultural dynamics of Hinduism would ever offer Dalits a way out of “untouchability,” disenfranchisement, poverty and social stigma.

Each year on October 14, conversion ceremonies take place at which Dalits embrace Buddhism or Christianity. This year they have extra poignance, not only because it is the 50th anniversary of Ambedkar’s act, but also because several states ruled by the BJP have recently adopted or strengthened laws limiting conversion. On top of all this, a principal follower of Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram, who founded the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which is the main political vehicle for the Dalit movement now, passed away earlier this month.

From accounts in the press so far, there were major conversion ceremonies today in Nagpur and also in Gulbarga in Karnataka:

Hundreds of Dalits on Saturday embraced Buddhism and Christianity at a mass conversion programme in Nagpur, in which copies of Gujarat government’s anti-conversion bill were also put to fire.

The mass conversion, organised by the All India Conference of SC/ST Organisations and the All India Christian Council on the occasion of World Religious Freedom Day, was attended by Dalits from Orissa, Karnataka and Gujarat states, organisers said.

The conversion of Dalits to Buddhism was performed by priests, while a group of Christian pastors from the Council led by President Dr Joseph D’Souza baptised the Dalits. [Link]

GULBARGA (Karnataka): More than 3,000 Dalits on Saturday embraced Buddhism at an impressive ceremony here on Saturday, synchronising with the golden jubilee of Dr B R Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism.

Marking the change of faith, the Dalits were administered the oath by Bante Bodhi Dhama, a Buddhist monk from Japan.

Preceding the ceremony, “Buddha Dharma Deeksha Pratigne”, a huge procession led by more than 500 monks, was taken out through the city streets. [Link]

There are some very interesting present-day political angles here, not least the controversy over the anti-conversion laws, and the fact that the leader of the BSP, Mayawati, the former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has said she will not convert to Buddhism yet. She said this at today’s Nagpur rally, while announcing that Kanshi Ram’s funeral rites were performed in the Buddhist tradition, even though he had not converted; and while expressing her hope that Buddhism would spread further among Dalits. The mixed message clearly reflects the political complexity of the Dalit leadership’s position.

In the larger historical frame, perusing the day’s news and doing a little background research reminds me how shamefully little I know about Dr. Ambedkar’s story, let alone more obscure yet significant figures like Kanshi Ram. I hope that comments and debate on this post will help me, and surely others, remedy this lacuna.

ambedkar.jpgOne question I realized I had about Ambedkar was, how was he able to get his education in the first place? The answer, per the rather extensive Wikipedia entry, blends several classic ingredients that are common to stories of escape from deep-seated social injustice the world over. Ambedkar benefited from the advocacy of a determined parent, himself empowered by his military career; from a family move to the big city; from the kindness of a benevolent aristocratic patron; and of course, from his own hard work and academic excellence:

Ramji Sakpal encouraged his children to read the Hindu classics, especially the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. He used his position in the army to lobby for his children to study at the government school, as they faced resistance owing to their caste. Although able to attend school, Ambedkar and other Untouchable children were segregated and given no attention or assistance from the teachers. Ramji Sakpal retired in 1894 and the family moved to Satara two years later. Shortly after their move, Ambedkar’s mother died. The children were cared for by their paternal aunt, and lived in difficult circumstances. Only three sons — Balaram, Anandrao and Bhimrao — and two daughters — Manjula and Tulasa — of the Ambedkars would go on to survive them. Of his brothers and sisters, only Ambedkar succeeded in passing his examinations and graduate to a bigger school. His native village name was “Ambavade” in Ratnagiri District so he changed his name from “Sakpal” to “Ambedkar” with the recommendation and faith of a Brahmin teacher that believed in Bhimrao.

Ramji Sakpal remarried in 1898, and the family moved to Mumbai (then Bombay), where Ambedkar became the first untouchable student at the Government High School near Elphinstone Road. Although excelling in his studies, Ambedkar was increasingly disturbed by his segregation and discrimination. In 1907, he passed his matriculation examination and entered the University of Mumbai, becoming one of the first persons of untouchable origin to enter college in India. This success provoked celebrations amongst his community, and after a public ceremony, he was given a biography of the Buddha by his teacher Krishnaji Arjun Keluskar also known as Dada Keluskar a Maratha caste scholar. Ambedkar’s marriage had been arranged the previous year as per Hindu custom, to Ramabai, a nine-year old girl from Dapoli. In 1908, he entered the Elphinstone College and obtained a scholarship of Rs. 25 a month from the Gaekwad ruler of Baroda, Sahyaji Rao III for higher studies in USA.

Which brings us to another fascinating item. Unlike many academically successful Indians of his generation, Ambedkar didn’t go to England to study. He came to America, specifically to Columbia University in New York, where he obtained a doctorate in political science. It may well be that here in the U.S., he was more able to escape the social prejudices that might have followed him to England. The fact that he took up rooms with a Parsi could be used to argue the point either way:

Arriving in New York City, Ambedkar was admitted for graduate studies at the political science department. After a brief stay at the dormitory, he moved to a housing club run by Indian students and took up rooms with a Parsi friend, Naval Bhathena. In 1916, he was awarded a Ph.D. for a thesis which he eventually published in book form as The Evolution of Provincial Finance in British India. His first published work, however, was a paper on Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. Winning his degree and doctorate, he travelled to London and enrolled at Gray’s Inn and the London School of Economics, studying law and preparing a doctoral thesis in economics. The expiration of his scholarship the following year forced him to temporarily abandon his studies and return to India amidst World War I.

Columbia’s page on Ambedkar suggests that his time here was transformative indeed:

At Columbia, Ambedkar studied under John Dewey, who inspired many of his ideas about equality and social justice. Ambedkar later recounted that at Columbia he experienced social equality for the first time. “The best friends I have had in my life,” he told the New York Times in 1930, “were some of my classmates at Columbia and my great professors, John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin Seligman, and James Harvey Robinson.”

In Ambedkar’s American sojourn I feel a foreshadowing of the experience of African nationalist leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, or Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, who also came to the U.S. rather than Britain, and absorbed a very different political — and racial — environment.

The later part of Ambedkar’s career is better known. Although a nationalist, he was also fiercely opposed to the Gandhian faction in the Indian National Congress; Ambedkar wanted a separate electorate for “untouchables,” which Gandhi felt was a bad idea. When the British supported Ambedkar’s idea, it could well have been classic colonial divide-and-conquer rather than any great sympathy for the Dalits. Ambedkar also opposed Gandhi’s naming of untouchables “Harijans,” or children of God. Perhaps he felt it was a hypocritical term; that the Dalit condition simply could not be reconciled with the social structures of Hinduism. However, despite these differences, Ambedkar was invited to become the first law minister of independent India, and chairman of the committee that drafted the constitution. If India’s constitution was remarkably liberal and democratic for its context and time, we have at least in part Dr. Ambedkar to thank. I don’t think it’s a stretch either to say that some of the similarities in spirit and substance between the Indian and American constitutions may have been his contribution as well.

In a sense, Ambedkar was a separatist figure: he had long given up on achieving Dalit equality within the Hindu framework, and his conversion to Buddhism at the end of his life only confirmed this. He also wanted to use the tools of the secular state to limit the power of Hindu institutions: when he resigned from the government in 1951, it was over a Hindu Code bill that would have established gender equality in many areas; he and Nehru supported the bill, but it did not make it past opposition in parliament. He also contested the treatment of women in Islam. It is not surprising that he remains a controversial figure fifty years after his death.

Kanshi Ram, who founded the BSP in 1984, embraced a somewhat different approach, perhaps indicative of changed times as much as anything else. From a valedictory article by S. Anand in Outlook:

Kanshi Ram, unarguably the biggest leader to emerge from among Dalits in the post-Ambedkar period, and someone who succeeded in the realm of parliamentary democracy in which Ambedkar repeatedly failed, drew heavily from Ambedkar’s political resources. However, he decided to deploy a different strategy at the ground level. …

Kanshi Ram realized that if the Dalits had to wrest their share in political power on their own terms, they needed allies. In this sense, he was more a follower of Jotiba Phule (1827–1890). At the heart of Kanshi Ram’s politics was the concept of the ‘bahujan’—the oppressed majority, a quintessential Phule formulation that believed in the organic unity of the Sudras (BCs and BCS) and Atisudras (Dalits and Adivasis); (something with which Ambedkar differed since he saw the Sudras as essentially erstwhile khsatriyas and the untouchables as fallen Buddhists). Following Phule, Kanshi Ram believed that the Sudras and Atisudras needed to join hands with Muslims and other minorities to combat the Brahmin-Baniya-Rajput combine. The logic that drove this postulation was that if democracy was the rule of the majoritarian voice, then why was it that in Indian democracy only the voice of the dwija castes was heard? In the early phase of his political career, Kanshi Ram believed that the Dalits and their immediate tormentors in the rural landscape—OBCs—could join hands.

Later, as the BSP gained clout and for a time political control in Uttar Pradesh under Mayawati — a Dalit female Chief Minister — its leadership found itself making political deals that one would think would have been anathema to Ambedkar. Or, as Anand argues, maybe not:

How and why did Kanshi Ram ally alternately with BJP and SP and even the Congress—in other words, with BCs and OBCs, as well the Brahmin-Baniya-Thakurs? Here, we need to invoke Ambedkar on the place of minorities in the midst of communal and political majorities. He argues in his neglected, late work Thoughts on Linguistic States:

People who rely upon majority rule forget the fact that majorities are of two sorts: (1) Communal majority and (2) Political majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition. A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed. The politics of a political majority are free to all to make and unmake. The politics of a communal majority are made by its own members born in it. How can a communal majority run away with the title deeds given to a political majority to rule? … This tyranny of the communal majority is not an idle dream. It is an experience of many minorities.

Kanshi Ram understood that what was being played out in Indian democracy was the rule of communal majority in the name of the rule of the political majority. For a communal minority like Dalits , the only way to democracy was by kneading its way into the forces that constituted political majority in electoral politics. Dalits could not join the communal majority constituted by Baniyas, Thakurs and Brahmins, for, as Ambedkar says, the door to communal majority is closed. But they sure could join the political majority, since the class and caste composition of the political majority could change. This was manageable through alliances. Under Kanshi Ram’s stewardship, the BSP practically demonstrated what Ambedkar had theoretically formulated. In this sense, Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India.

Anand concludes:

Kanshi Ram painfully realised that Phule’s bahujan concept would not work under Dalit leadership. Kanshi Ram therefore successfully wedded Phule’s advocacy of the bahujan with the Ambedkarite idea of negotiating space for a communal minority in a political majority. With this premise, within a decade he managed to build a national party that became the sole challenge to the supremacy of the Congress and the BJP in the Hindi heartland.

An appraisal of Kanshi Ram’s legacy by Shivam Vij in Tehelka is slightly less detailed but makes similar points. As with much else in Indian politics, where this leaves anyone is ambiguous. It’s hard to see how the Mandal II mess over expanding the OBC reservations can have advanced the Dalit cause, whatever the outcome. And the daily reality of discrimination and denigration carries on for many millions of people. Hence the continued power of conversion, as Ramdeep Ramesh writes in the Guardian:

In the small one-room house on the edge of the rice bowl of India, Narasimha Cherlaguda explains why he is preparing to be reborn again as a Buddhist.

As an untouchable, the 25-year-old is at the bottom of Hinduism’s hereditary hierarchy. “The [local] priest tells me if I was a good dalit in this life, then in my next life I can be born into a better part of society. [I say] why wait?”

Like tens of thousands of other untouchables – or dalits – across India today, Mr Cherlaguda will be ritually converted to Buddhism to escape his low-caste status. The landless labourer points to a picture of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, on his wall and says it will soon be gone and replaced by an image of the Buddha.

He will not be alone. More than 70 people from the village of Kumarriguda, 40 miles outside Hyderabad, the capital of southern India’s Andhra Pradesh state, will leave the Hindu religion. There are plans for a Buddhist temple and money set aside to hire a Buddhist priest – probably the first in the area for 1,500 years – to conduct prayers as well as marriage and death rites. …

In Hyderabad the first person to convert will be KRS Murthy, 70, who was the first dalit recruited into the state’s civil service in 1959.

Not being in India, I’ll leave it to others to gauge the grievances and assess the different strategies available to Dalits to address them. But here, still from the Ramesh article, is a fairly concise statement of the problem, and of the counter-arguments currently at work:

Many dalit thinkers say that what is happening in India is a “religious rebellion” against a hierarchy that condemns them to a life of suffering. “Look we make up 150m people of India.

“Yet where are the Dalit news anchors, the entrepreneurs, the professors? We are neither seen nor heard. Changing religion makes us visible,” says Chanrabhan Prasad, a dalit writer.

The Hindu right has become increasingly wary of Buddhist conversions, seeing its call for equality as exerting a powerful pull on the lowest castes. The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government in the western state of Gujarat controversially amended an anti-conversion law to classify Buddhism and Jainism as branches of the Hindu religion, denying them status as unique religions.

“Dalits should concentrate on illiteracy and poverty rather than looking for new religions. In fact we think that there are very few differences between Buddhism and Hinduism,” says Lalit Kumar, who works for a Hindu nationalist welfare association in Andhra Pradesh.

One last thing: I appreciate that this post raises some unresolved questions in Indian politics and society that are the subject of very strongly felt disagreements. I am also no expert, nor are my sources in any way final: I am sharing what I learned today. I hope those with facts and opinions to share will do so freely, but graciously and in the spirit of pedagogy

———————————–

105 comments

1 · Beige Siege on October 14, 2006 9:52 PM · Direct link

Amazing post Siddhartha. I think I will add a couple of footnotes to this otherwise comprehensive summary.

Ambedkar was a truly great leader and played an indispensible role in the birth of the Indian nation. However he was not a person of the masses like other leaders of the independence movement. This along with the fact that he was percieved to be not very anti-british(he was a member of pre 1947, quasi independent governments, which Congress stayed out of demanding complete independence instead) gives some of his critics ammunition against him.

Regarding the anti-conversion bill, the attempt to classify Buddism and Jainism as sub sets of Hinduism is not born purely out of an attempt to repress the lower castes. Its a widely held opinion among Hindus as evidenced by the extent to which Buddha is worshipped among the pantheon of Gods.

I think these are conversions are very important because it provides an opportunity for debate and speedens the process of eliminating the role of caste that is taking place in India right now.

There is a lot more I want to say, but its time to go out drinking 🙂 Be back tomorrow.

2 · Kritic on October 14, 2006 9:55 PM · Direct link

Thanks for this post. One of the greatest Indians, indeed.

btw, Columbia Uinversity’s School of International and Public Affairs has only one persons bust on it’s premises…Ambedkar’s.

3 · razib_the_atheist on October 14, 2006 9:58 PM · Direct link

ambedkar’s story is inspiring because of his social background (though his family was not, from what i can gather, the poorest of the poor as many dalits are). one thing about the buddhist or christian angle: i think that conversion of communities like the chamars and mahars to a religion with large non-indian following is important in that it does allow them to have allies internationally in their fight for a higher status. japan is after all one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and it has a large buddhist population.

4 · Al beruni on October 14, 2006 10:25 PM · Direct link

Ambedkar, Gandhi and Tagore are the three key figures in understanding the nature, form and challenges of indian modernization. Each one has left an enormous corpus of work, from which one can learn an enormous amount. How each faced the various challenges of their lives is also quite significant.

5 · Janeofalltrades on October 14, 2006 10:29 PM · Direct link

Siddhartha I’m really happy to see this post. Dr Ambedkar’s teachings and philosophy had a huge presence in my maternal home when I was growing up. In fact my grand parents were at one time very close to him and took part in many demonstrations with him. They also converted to Buddhism symbolically though for the most part have always lived as atheists. My grandfather passed away some years ago and I am lucky to have heard a lot of stories about Dr Ambedkar from him. I wish in hindsight I had recorded some of them. My grandmother still has a picture of him in her home with his arm around my grandfather. I recently found out that my parents were married in a Buddhist ceremony presided by a picture of Dr Ambedkar. This post is better than Wikipedia. Thank you for posting it.

6 · chick pea on October 14, 2006 10:44 PM · Direct link

siddhartha–with your name, how could you not post about this 😉

thanks for the most comprehensive summary and great writing..

i learned a lot..

7 · tash on October 14, 2006 11:05 PM · Direct link

Thanks for the post, Siddhartha.

It was really eye-opening, informative, comprehensive…and it reminded me how important it is to remember the continuing discrimination that exists in India through social vehicles such as the caste system.

Changing religion makes us visible

This quote really got to me…

I think as migrants it’s easier to believe that such feelings only exist for South Asians in western countries we’ve moved to…but to feel invisible in your own homeland must be so demoralising I can’t even imagine it, and knowing that it still exists in India to this day is a sobering truth…although I’m studying the similar institutionally discriminatory treatment of indigenous people in New Zealand at the moment and this post gave me my own way into trying to empathise and gauge what that particular invisibility must feel like, although I guess I’ll never understand.

Big ups for connecting Ambedkar’s story with those of African nationalists, that’s a brave thing to do on a site where some commenters see no hypocrisy in denouncing anti-South Asian sentiments while hating on other cultures, particularly people of African descent, in the same paragraph.

8 · ashvin on October 14, 2006 11:06 PM · Direct link

Great post Siddhartha. What an inspiring man !

If any of you need reminding of the reality of caste in India today (and it’s easy to forget… for some of us, at least), here’s a little video from Shivam Vij’s site :
http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/10/i-am-a-dalit-how-are-you.html

Thanks also for your comment JOAT. Very interesting.

9 · Archana on October 14, 2006 11:13 PM · Direct link

I just read about this today on BBC – thanks for the post. I want to know more about the laws that restrict conversion – does it have to do with the religion-specific family codes? Isn’t it unconstitutional to limit this?

10 · SkepMod on October 14, 2006 11:31 PM · Direct link

Ashvin, thanks for the link. That was one of the most moving pieces I have seen in a long long time. Times are a changing, but unfortunately, a little too slowly.

11 · razib_the_atheist on October 14, 2006 11:54 PM · Direct link

that was an incredible link. everyone watch it.

12 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 12:27 AM · Direct link

For a contradictory view of Ambedkar, read ‘Worshipping False Gods’ by Arun Shourie. Check out an excerpt here.

13 · risible on October 15, 2006 12:33 AM · Direct link

Couple of quick points:

In a sense, Ambedkar was a separatist figure: he had long given up on achieving Dalit equality within the Hindu framework, and his conversion to Buddhism at the end of his life only confirmed this.

Yes. But, he was an Indian Nationalist as much as a Dalit leader.

1) He advocated the partition of India, because he did not think Hindus could not live with Muslims.

2) He rejected both Christianity and Islam as a solution to the Dalit problem, becasue he felt that a large scale conversion to the Abrahamic faiths would be existentially disruptive for India.

3) Which makes the appropriation of Ambedkar by Christian groups like the Dalit Freedom Network kind of amusing. But then, times have changed, and new coalitions form all of the time.

4) Ambedkarite Buddhism owes little to Indian Buddhism or the extant Buddhisms in Asia; its more Deweyan rationalism dressed up in Buddhist symbology, confirmed by twenty-two tough oaths which leave no doubt that he wanted Dalits to have nothing to do with Hindu practices.

5) However, sociological studies demonstrate over and over that Dalit Buddhists retain many of their pre-conversion practices. They might be called Buddhists in name only. The Indian Nationalist definition of Hinduism includes Buddhism as one of its branches. This offends many people, but strangely, it reflects the way Buddhism exists in India today. That, however, makes for very bad protest politics, hence, I think, the uproar.

6) Mayavati is wooing Brahmins right now, which is why she has toned down the anti-Hindu rheoric. The elctoral calculus in UP shows the upper caste vote is up for grabs and that it will be crucial if she is to win back power from the Samajwadi Party, so her sloganeering is suddenly pro-Brahmin.
7) I am all for the Dalits wresting themselves free from the oppressive Brahmanic ideology. I agree with Ambedkar’s reasoning, and prefer Buddhism over Christianity or Islam.

8) Ambedkar did not popularize the term Dalit. That was the work of the Dalit panthers, an Indian political party modelled on the Black panthers. Another seminal event in the popularization of the term was a literary supplement on Dalit literature published in the Times of India in the 70s. While Dalit is the preferred term used in western discourse and among intellectuals, the former untouchable castes tend to refer to themselves by their caste names, like Valmiki or Jatav, or in South india, adi-dravidas, or adi-andhras, adi meaning “first,” because they believe that they were the indigineous subjugated peoples of those regions.

14 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 12:40 AM · Direct link

..and incidentally, Mayawati is no heroine. She has been one of the most corrupt politicians in India, along with that other “paragon of ‘social justice'” Laloo Yadav. I loved the parody on her in ‘Bunty and Babli’ (the ‘Taj for sale’ scene).

15 · Asha’s dad on October 15, 2006 12:52 AM · Direct link

Solid post. I don’t think I could put together something like this if given an entire semester. Well done, sir, well done.

16 · siddhartha on October 15, 2006 12:56 AM · Direct link

Risible (or anyone else who can speak to this point),

Lots of interesting additional points there; thank you. A quick reaction to the first one. You said:

1) He advocated the partition of India, because he did not think Hindus could not live with Muslims.

But in the Wiki article it says this:

Between 1941 and 1945, he published a large number of highly controversial books and pamphlets, including Thoughts on Pakistan, in which he criticized the Muslim League’s demand for a separate Muslims state of Pakistan.

Is that not an accurate characterization? Did his thinking on Partition evolve from one view to the other?

17 · Manju on October 15, 2006 1:39 AM · Direct link

Siddhartha:

I have nothing to add. I just came home, put on some Ali Farka Toure, poured a glass or Jim Beam neat, and thouroghly enjoyed your writing. I see I’m not the only one.

Thanks for the nightcap.

18 · BrooklynBrown on October 15, 2006 2:21 AM · Direct link

I found myself writing about Ambedkar tonight, too, in anniversary of the mass conversions that took place on the 14th. My interest was mainly with the city of Nagpur, where my parents come from, where all of my relatives still live, and the site where Ambedkar and thousands of his followers converted to Buddhism (as you mention). Nagpur is also whereK. B. Hedgewar formed the RSS, 31 years before Ambedkar’s conversion, and where Gandhi’s murderer Nathuram Bodse, an RSS member, traveled to frequently (He sometimes stayed with my grandparents). I found it interesting that the city could both birth and sustain modern Hindu fundamentalism (the BJP came from the RSS) while being the location for the liberation of Dalits from the Hindu hierarchy.

I concur that the Wikipedia entry is quite extensive, and I also concur with others who enjoyed your post, Siddhartha. Thanks.

19 · Shruti on October 15, 2006 2:34 AM · Direct link

Wow, this is the quality of work I aimed at doing when I decided it was a good idea to stay in and study. My idea was a total waste of a Saturday night, but to quote the now infamous Red Snapper line, “Sepia Mutiny does not waste your time.”
Solid thoughtful post, Siddhartha. And thanks to risible for #13.

On this point,

5) However, sociological studies demonstrate over and over that Dalit Buddhists retain many of their pre-conversion practices. They might be called Buddhists in name only. The Indian Nationalist definition of Hinduism includes Buddhism as one of its branches. This offends many people, but strangely, it reflects the way Buddhism exists in India today. That, however, makes for very bad protest politics, hence, I think, the uproar.

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically? If for all practical purposes, the society around them still recognizes them as the lowest rung, can it really help the common Dalit who has little to no economic agency? Is it more of a demonstration in solidarity?

20 · Dev on October 15, 2006 2:59 AM · Direct link

Here are some interesting links:

India’s Untouchables turn to Buddhism in protest at discrimination by Hindus

21 · Dev on October 15, 2006 3:03 AM · Direct link

“Across India this month, thousands of Hindus from the former Untouchable castes are converting to Buddhism in protest at the continuing discrimination they face. Mass conversion ceremonies are being held throughout the month, from Delhi in the north, to Hyderabad in the south. Organisers are claiming that more than 100,000 people have already converted.”

A hundred thousand Dalits gather in Maharashtra to burn anti-conversion laws

100,000 to Become Buddhists in Hydrabad on 14th October

An Overview of India’s Buddhist Movement

And Finally…. the blog of Ambedkar 2006

http://www.ambedkar2006.blogspot.com

22 · Dev on October 15, 2006 3:07 AM · Direct link

^ Damn, just realized the links don’t work 🙂

Just go to http://www.buddhistchannel.tv – they have a whole focus on the issue at the moment.

23 · shiva on October 15, 2006 3:24 AM · Direct link

Siddharth,

I am surprised that you choose to discuss a wikipedia discussion on Ambedkar and Pakistan rather than read the document herehttp://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/. One of the unfortunate consequences of Ambedkar idolisation (a post 80s practice) is that people have stopped reading him – critically or otherwise – and have simply taken his statements for the value as polemic.

As Ambedkar says in this paper,

The second thing he will find is that there is no partisanship. The aim is to expound the scheme of Pakistan in all its aspects and not to advocate it. The aim is to explain and not to convert. It would, however, be a pretence to say that I have no views on Pakistan. Views I have. Some of them are expressed, others may have to be gathered. Two things, however, may well be said about my views. In the first place, wherever they are expressed, they have been reasoned out. Secondly, whatever the views, they have certainly not the fixity of a popular prejudice. They are really thoughts and not views. In other words, I have an open mind, though not an empty mind. A person with an open mind is always the subject of congratulations. While this may be so, it must, at the same time, be realized that an open mind may also be an empty mind and that such an open mind, if it is a happy condition, is also a very dangerous condition for a man to be in. A disaster may easily overtake a man with an empty mind. Such a person is like a ship without ballast and without a rudder. It can have no direction. It may float but may also suffer a shipwreck against a rock for want of direction. While aiming to help the reader by placing before him all the material, relevant and important, the reader will find that I have not sought to impose my views on him. I have placed before him both sides of the question and have left him to form his own opinion.

The paper was published in 1945 about 9 years before he died. Shortly after this paper came the Constituent Assembly and thanks to the efforts of Gandhi, Ambedkar found a place in it as the chair of its drafting committee. Ambedkar’s views on the Constitution of India have not been studied with care. And given the Indian “scholar’s” fondness for combing texts for quotes and trotting them out as the points of view of the person in question, almost all that is written on this subject is worthless. A lot of anecdotal evidence might be already lost. In between 1945 and 1956 came the Kashmir problem and then the fall of Tibet, both of which worried Ambedkar greatly. Interestingly when Ambedkar invited another famous activist of his time (he was not a dalit) to join him in embracing Buddhism, the latter tartly responded that unlike Ambedkar he wasn’t ready to give up on Hinduism and even if he did not believe in its tenets would rather die a Hindu. Another (again not a dalit) commented that Ambedkar was simply achieving a high jump rather than a long jump.

Considering that Ambedkar thought that caste has no biological basis it is surprising that he thought these to be unchanging categories. Varna and to a lesser extent jati are both constantly changing categories. There are a few powerful communities within the Hindu fold today that were untouchable in Phule and even Ambedkar’s time. Social mobility rather than unchangeable classes is the feature that stands out. Which is why communal configurations have tended to break up.

24 · Res on October 15, 2006 3:34 AM · Direct link

Well if “varna” and “jati” are “constantly changing” does that mean “untouchables” should just wile away their time hoping it would change so that they would (finally) be able lead a life with dignity? I can’t help but notice that some Hindus are annoyed by this conversion out of Hinduism and into Buddhism. But it wouldn’t be happening if Hindu society wasn’t so repressive of the so-called “untouchables.”

25 · shiva on October 15, 2006 4:38 AM · Direct link

Res

…does that mean “untouchables” should just wile away their time hoping it would change so that they would (finally) be able lead a life with dignity?

Well said. And there is something phoney about being accorded ‘dignity’ after demand. These are not mere civil rights but are at the core of a person’s identity. Ambedkar says that Hinduism is beyond reform as it is inherently unequal and unjust. Even then Hindu reformers continued to invite Ambedkar to speak at their conferences through the 30s. Ambedkar of course was far from being clannish or even striedent. He was married to a Brahmin (his 2nd marriage IIANM) and had friends from all communities.

Here’s the link to Thoughts on Pakistan. The one in the earlier post doesn’t work. Please do at least browse through the document, although it is meant for a more serious read. From the preface

I cannot close this preface without thanking Prof. Manohar B. Chitnis of the Khalsa College, Bombay, and Mr. K. V. Chitre for their untiring labours to remove all printer’s and clerical errors that had crept into the first edition, and to see that this edition is free from all such blemishes. I am also very grateful to Prof. Chitnis for the preparation of the Index, which has undoubtedly enhanced the utility of the book.

and the

26 · Al_Mujahid_for_debauchery on October 15, 2006 7:53 AM · Direct link

Great post Siddhartha. The video from ashvin was extremely depressing. It sure sucks to be a Dalit (maybe the understatement of the year)

27 · Red Snapper on October 15, 2006 9:10 AM · Direct link

but to quote the now infamous Red Snapper

I’m infamous now??

Great post Siddhartha

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up?

I think it is empowering. Generations of oppression being rejected in a symbolic act. The arrogant classifying of Buddhism as ‘just another branch’ or Hinduism in Gujarat must be especially obnoxious to them.

28 · chick pea on October 15, 2006 9:36 AM · Direct link

red snapper.. you have always been infamous 🙂

just like the chick pea 😉

29 · Mr Kobayashi on October 15, 2006 9:59 AM · Direct link

Siddhartha, rock-star post.

30 · sidg on October 15, 2006 10:01 AM · Direct link

This is a great post.

This conversion doesn’t do anything to help them. This is just a false hope given to them for getting more votes and more people in their religion(Christianity). Changing religions is not going to help them go up in life. If the OBCs,BCs,SCs,STs make up 70-80% of the population then i still don’t get it why they are called minorities. They have to voice their opinion when someone puts them down or treats them bad(This will not happen just by changing religions, but becoming a strong person). The laws and enforcement of laws should be more strict and swift.

The most annoying thing about this is how 70% of the media and other important positions are held by people from not lower castes. Mainly because nobody cares to EDUCATEthe lower castes. They just do this sort of stupid mass conversions which helps them get votes. Unless the government strictly enforce education of lower castes all over India by either free mid day meals and as such, the lower castes are not going to hold positions in media or wherever they want to. Because no private company is going to look at castes, they are just going to look at your education, if you have no skills you are still going to be holding a janitorial or unskilled labor where you will not be making decisions. So education is the main tool to “EMPOWER” people not religious ceremonies and conversions. It might give a dose of euphoria to those people and make them vote but heck they are still going to be where they are for another 50 years unless educated.

31 · Sriram on October 15, 2006 10:05 AM · Direct link

Thanks for this great post. This is an individual I know very little about and your article gives me a great starting point.

32 · senaX on October 15, 2006 10:09 AM · Direct link

I am all for the Dalits wresting themselves free from the oppressive Brahmanic ideology. I agree with Ambedkar’s reasoning, and prefer Buddhism over Christianity or Islam

yup – let them convert to buddhism all they want

only thing is though, this is not what actually happens, if you read about the conversions that recently happened, although most converted to buddhism, there were a significant amount who converted to christianity

33 · tamasha on October 15, 2006 10:13 AM · Direct link

Yes, I would have to echo this rock-star business, Siddhartha. I have learned so much this morning!

I have nothing to add except that I’m pleased to see a higher level of maturity in the comments of this post than one might expect, given the intense nature of the subject. Thank you everyone for sharing personal information and links, etc. It’s making for a rich (no pun intended) lesson.

34 · sidg on October 15, 2006 10:14 AM · Direct link

Is there any link on what Dr.Ambedkar advocated on education for lower castes.
He was given the post of writing the constitution mainly because of the education he got not because of his caste. I am really surprised he did not do more for education of the oppressed.
Yes there might still be some educated racists but it would be like the US then. US has its fair share of racists but they dont stop anyone on their tracks to become successful.
In this age no education means no success, no matter what caste or religion.

35 · voiceinthehead on October 15, 2006 10:31 AM · Direct link

Regarding the anti-conversion bill, the attempt to classify Buddism and Jainism as sub sets of Hinduism is not born purely out of an attempt to repress the lower castes. Its a widely held opinion among Hindus as evidenced by the extent to which Buddha is worshipped among the pantheon of Gods

1. Gautama, the buddha is NOT the ninth avataar of vishnu. See for a consise description of the controversy. 2. Translation of Bhagavatam Google around for views of Vivekananada, Arabindo, and other reformers on this controversy.

36 · Janeofalltrades on October 15, 2006 10:43 AM · Direct link

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically? If for all practical purposes, the society around them still recognizes them as the lowest rung, can it really help the common Dalit who has little to no economic agency? Is it more of a demonstration in solidarity?

In conversations with my grandpa…the symbolic act was more of a rejection of Hindu laws that separated people and kept the Dalits down. It was more of an empowerment act of not being a dalit any more and less about actually being Buddhist though he did follow Buddhist philosophies and encouraged the converts to follow them as well. However because culture is so strongly bound to religion in India many converts continued to practice Hinduism in some form of the other.

My grandfathers household was a perfect example. They practiced Buddhism in daily life and it permeated into a lot of things my grandfather did and how he lived. But his children all ended up devout Hindus and my grandparents did not prevent them from being so. The temple in his house contained a statue of Buddha, a conch & Ganesha & a picture of Ambedkar. He was a moderate man and practiced the middle way a philosophy that was the core of what Gautam Buddha taught, it meant being non extreme and tolerant of everyone and for the the era when Ambedkar was a renegade it appealed to the Gandhi believers. If you compare Gandhi’s teachings to his they have much in common.

So it was more of a symbolic act of defiance however remember it also meant not identifying yourself by caste in so many aspects and forms in your daily life. It meant not being a dalit when you applied for employment or education etc etc. It was also psychologically allowing the dalits to believe they were better than before and they could aspire to be better. Also Buddhists were persecuted all thru South Asia for centuries by several Zorastrians, Persians and Muslim rulers so the religion had a ‘perseverence’ label attached to it.

37 · risible on October 15, 2006 11:09 AM · Direct link

Sid,

yeah, I was writing quickly, I agree with Shiva that things are more nuanced than bullet points allow, that views change over time (as with gandhi’s views) and like all things debatable. But to quote from the book which you referenced and he found a link to:

“What is the unity the Hindu sees between Pakistan and Hindustan? If it is geographical unity, then that is no unity. Geographical unity is unity intended by nature. In building up a nationality on geographical unity, it must be remembered that it is a case where Nature proposes and Man disposes. If it is unity in external things, such as ways and habits of life, that is no unity. Such unity is the result of exposure to a common environment. If it is administrative unity, that again is no unity. The instance of Burma is in point. Arakan and Tenasserim were annexed in 1826 by the treaty of Yendabu. Pegu and Martaban were annexed in 1852. Upper Burma was annexed in 1886. The administrative unity between India and Burma was forged in 1826. For over 110 years that administrative unity continued to exist. In 1937, the knot that tied the two together was cut asunder and nobody shed a tear over it. The unity between India and Burma was not less fundamental. If unity is to be of an abiding character, it must be founded on a sense of kinship, in the feeling of being kindred. In short, it must be spiritual. Judged in the light of these considerations, the unity between Pakistan and Hindustan is a myth. Indeed, there is more spiritual unity between Hindustan and Burma than there is between Pakistan and Hindustan. And if the Hindus did not object to the severance of Burma from India, it is difficult to understand how the Hindus can object to the severance of an area like Pakistan, which, to repeat, is politically detachable from, socially hostile and spiritually alien to, the rest of India.

***

Keep in mind that the Hindu Mahasanha (the precursors of todays Hindu parties) were largely against partition. They wanted “akhand bharat.” undivided India.

38 · risble on October 15, 2006 11:29 AM · Direct link

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically?

Shruti,

In Maharastra, “baudh” has become synonomyous with Mahar, so the discriminators still know who the Dalits are. The same goes with Christian dalits and Sikh Dalits and Muslim dalits. The Dalit Buddhists I know tell me its psychological liberation, like having a burden removed. Besides retaining Hindu practices, many have taken up meditation, SN Goenka’s vipassana meditation is very popular among them, though he is a Burma raised Marwari, not a Dalit, and some Dalits are wary of that. Quite a bit of literature has emerged in Marathi especially, but also other languuages.

In Mumbai, a popular dance is the “Jai Bhim” dance, where they lift one hand up and gyrate, probably after a famous picture of Ambedkar. “Jai Bhim” is the greeting Dalits use with one another (Bhim being Ambedkar). Dalit arts are entering popular culture as well, in Tamil, there is usually a track in every film that has the ‘Pariayar’ drum beat, and there was a CD put out called Dalit Drums.

There is an annual book festival for navayana books (a Dalit Buddhist imprint), and thousands of dalits turn up.
Politically, Kanshi ram, Mayavati, the whole BSP ideology, is struck from Ambedkar, though his own political party was unsuccessful.

Keep in mind that a few thousand conversions in India is not an earth shaking event. Many popular Hindu festivals are dominated by Dalits as well…

My perpective, as you can probably guess, is unabashedly Indian nationalist, though I don’t agree with alot of what passes for nationalism today.

39 · Abi on October 15, 2006 1:04 PM · Direct link

Thank you, Siddhartha, for this excellent post. I’m not knowledgeable enough to add to the factual content here. But I do recommend the site www.ambedkar.org, which has a pretty extensive section on the great man himself.

Bhupinder Singh has a nice post on Ambedkar and Sikhism.

Thanks again.

40 · voiceinthehead on October 15, 2006 1:32 PM · Direct link

Is the background song on ashvins’ video Gaddars song

41 · louiecypher on October 15, 2006 1:38 PM · Direct link

I’m very sympathetic to the Dalit cause and have a high regard for Buddhism. However, as I have observed in my ancestral corner of Tamil Nadu, the biggest agent of change will be increased competition for Dalit labor. It wasn’t until the textile mills & machining plants opened up that the local Dalits (i.e. Chakkliars) had an alternative to their hereditary role as agricultural serfs and started asserting themselves. I would also hope that the non-elected segments of the central government (e.g. IPS) would show some balls and aggressively prosecute some of the more atavistic elements of the feudal landowning community, but I won’t hold my breath.

While I don’t care for the BJP/VHP (they are co-opting the intolerance that is central to certain faiths that I will not identify in this post), I agree that the Hindu/Buddhist divide is bogus. All you have to do is travel to “Buddhist” Thailand where people still pray to Ganesh & Shiva. They understand that “Hindu” is a catch-all that does not make sense outside of the Indian context and use the term Brahminism in museum placards/literature to identify that particular belief system that holds the Vedas as central and the Manu smrti as the basis for society. Anyone who knows anything about Hinduism beyond what they teach in Ivy League Comp Religion 101 knows that by equating Hinduism with Brahminism you put 80% of South Indian Hindus outside the fold. My point is that Vedic Hinduism, is just one of many “Hinduisms” along with Jainism/Buddhism/Tamil Muruga worship etc. It just happens to be the sect with the most political power, something that needs to change if we are to be a more equitable society. I’m all for the adoption of Buddhism, it’s a rejection of the Manu smrti not “Hinduism” as a whole.

42 · senaX on October 15, 2006 1:46 PM · Direct link

I always wonder what exactly conversion does for Dalits. One day they’re destitute Hindus and the next day they’re Buddhists moving on up? Your point indicates that it’s not so much a cultural change for them as it is a political one, but how does it even help them politically?

it does nothing – the only true way for progress, as many have already pointed out, is through education

43 · Shivam Vij on October 15, 2006 2:12 PM · Direct link

Siddhartha,

Thank you for this post – particularly the much-needed last sentence. Some comments:

The mixed message clearly reflects the political complexity of the Dalit leadership’s position.

Actually, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati’s ambiguity over Buddhism is for me a cause for cheer: I don’t know about Kanshi Ram but Mayawati in her speeches has left no doubt about her atheism. For a movement against religion-sanctioned caste, atheism is the most progressive way forward, in my view, notwithstanding the appealing reasons Ambedkar gave for choosing Buddhism. He linked Buddhism and Dalits historically; be that as it may, any harking back to the past for me compromises a movement’s forward, progressive direction. Having said that, I fully understand Buddhism’s appeal, as it stands completely in contrast with Hinduism and against caste. (I do become a little unsure about my views as an atheist when I see a Dalit wish another ‘Happy Dhamma Dushera’ on Orkut!) Mayaywati and Kanshi Ram were concerned with solely the pursuit of power, and may have seen Buddhism as an unnecessary distraction. It could also have come in their way for creating a pan-opprssed movement, as they sought to create a movement that united disparate Dalit communities with disparate OBCs and Muslims – the prjoect of unity between the three has met with little success but is still worth the try, despite the anti-OBC venom that the megalomaniac Chandrabhan Prasad spews: http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/09/chandrabhan-prasad-and-the-other-backward-classes.html

In the larger historical frame, perusing the day’s news and doing a little background research reminds me how shamefully little I know about Dr. Ambedkar’s story.

That’s true for most Indians including me, and has to do with the shameful neglect of Ambedkar in school books in India, which makes me wonder… The state recognises Ambedkar as an architect of the Constitution in a mai-baap way, wherein the fact that the Constitution’s architect was a great Dalit becomes nithing but lip-sympathy for Dalits; Ambedkar’s views on Hiduism are to be ignored because Gandhi has to be put on a pedestal.

Ambedkar also opposed Gandhi’s naming of untouchables “Harijans,” or children of God. Perhaps he felt it was a hypocritical term; that the Dalit condition simply could not be reconciled with the social structures of Hinduism.

This point needs to be made more strongly. I once wrote a rant about this: http://www.countercurrents.org/dalit-vij061204.htm

Gandhi’s ‘Harijan’ talk was condescending not just in its content but also for the fact that it was like an upper caste person giving alms: Ambedkarites argue that Dalits have to be led by their own leader, their own ideology. Gandhi was too much in the Hindu mould, as you rightly say.

As with much else in Indian politics, where this leaves anyone is ambiguous. It’s hard to see how the Mandal II mess over expanding the OBC reservations can have advanced the Dalit cause, whatever the outcome.

Mandal II helps bring Dalits and OBCs a little closer; many of those arguing for OBC reservations were Dalit leaders this summer. This is despite the fact that Dalits and OBCs are in violent conflict on the ground all over India because OBCs own small pieces of land where they ill-treat Dalits who work as landless labouers, even as the Indian state continues to live the lie of land reforms. I recently interviewed Dalit intellectual Gopal Guru (the article will be published later) who said that most farmers committing suicide are OBCs, and that their increasing alienation from the state could bring them closer to Dalits, given some hard political mobilisation.

That hard political mobilisation may well happen because of new Dalit parties coming up in UP and elsewhere:
[1] http://www.ibnlive.com/news/kanshi-rams-brother-to-launch-new-party/23991-4.html
[2] http://tehelka.com/story_main20.asp?filename=Ne1021200The_King.asp

What the BSP needs is some free market competition; this could help Dalits and OBCs with the trickle down process in the development game.

44 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 2:30 PM · Direct link

risible wrote: “7) I am all for the Dalits wresting themselves free from the oppressive Brahmanic ideology. I agree with Ambedkar’s reasoning, and prefer Buddhism over Christianity or Islam.”

The reality on the ground is that there is no powerful brahmanic ideology anymore. In fact, brahmins were never ever in positions of economic or military power; those were in the hands of kshatriyas and vaishyas. [Yes, there was/is a strong brahmanic presence and discrimination in places of religious worship.].

Even now, the largest number of atrocities are committed by the so-called lower castes against other lower castes. Open any newspaper and note the atrocities committed by Yadavs/Rajputs against Dalits in Bihar, or the Gounder atrocities in TN, the Kamma/Reddy discrimination in Andhra. Do note that all these economically powerful (with muscle power) are classified as backward classes.

The less said about the conditions about the adivasis, the better. They are not even in the same league as the other oppressed classes, but they are not a vote bank, and hence, very few care about them.

45 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 2:40 PM · Direct link

Incidentally, the most militant Hindu organizations are headed by non-brahmins (specifically by those classified as Vaishyas and OBCs). There was an article in The Week or Outlook India about this curious phenomenon some years back. VHP and Bajranj Dal were two prominent orgs. I can’t seem to find the article through google since I may not have the correct keywords. Anybody else have luck with that?

46 · razib_the_atheist on October 15, 2006 2:43 PM · Direct link

Keep in mind that the Hindu Mahasanha (the precursors of todays Hindu parties) were largely against partition.

there were fundamentalist muslims who opposed partition as well, they viewed separation of muslims and hindus as an impediment to their conversionary mission.

47 · razib_the_atheist on October 15, 2006 2:46 PM · Direct link

In fact, brahmins were never ever in positions of economic or military power; those were in the hands of kshatriyas and vaishyas.

isn’t this simplistic? the peshwas and senas are not exceptional brahminical ruling dynasties from what i gather. i think it is correct to state that elite status is not a brahmin monopoly, but certainly brahmin preeminence has extended beyond their clerical vocation quite a bit.

48 · risible on October 15, 2006 2:52 PM · Direct link

Even now, the largest number of atrocities are committed by the so-called lower castes against other lower castes.

That is true, but there are mutts in India that will not admit a Shudra, let alone a Dalit initiate to study the Vedas. Plus, the attitude that the panchamas are dirty, drink too much, are licentious, etc., is very common still, I’m sorry to say. Upper caste leaders have not been innocent in all of this. I would prefer reformed Hinduism over Buddhism, but understand the motivation to convert.

BTW the Congress is barely winning the adivasi vote anymore. The Sangh, for all its silliness, has done a lot of good humanitarian work among them.

Here is an account of the event from a “right of center” blog:

The day’s events in Nagpur turned out rather unexpectedly for the organizers. To begin with the event was essentially localized a motley group of individuals and its observance essentially localized to Nagpur despite its organizers attempt to give it an international spin calling it world freedom of religion day. While tall claims were made of converting 100s of thousands, in the end it was just a few hundred that showed up. It is anybody’s guess how many of these few couple of 100 were genuinely motivated and were legitimate conversions. The biggest dampener to the event was the Dalit’s loudest mascot and Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati who stormed out of the event and held her own parallel press conference. In a slap in the face to the other dalit messiahs Mayawati dodged questions on why she herself had not converted out of hinduism. Seeking to strike a political balance with an eye on the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls, Mayawati took refuge in a rather flimsy vow that she will not convert till she became the Prime Minister of India.

49 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 5:01 PM · Direct link

razib: the peshwas and senas are not exceptional brahminical ruling dynasties from what i gather. i think it is correct to state that elite status is not a brahmin monopoly, but certainly brahmin preeminence has extended beyond their clerical vocation quite a bit.

Fair enough. But the reformation came about by Brahmins themselves. In fact, Ram Shastri launched a strong protest against the then Peshwa & his wife. My point was that using terms like “brahminic ideology” is not helpful. Ambedkar himself, as Siddharta has recognized, was helped by a Brahmin. Using vehicles like reservations are discriminatory since they do not oppose specific discriminators but label entire communities as evil. My ancestors, though Brahmins, were never prvileged. They were, in fact, singularly lower middle class. My father had to struggle to do his engineering, by working hard and getting scholarships. Even during those days, there were wealthy classmates of his, who were beneficiers of “positive discrimination”. It is similar to dismiss all white as slave owners whilst there was a strong anti-slavery movement launched by some whites, who literally died for the cause.

risible: The Sangh, for all its silliness, has done a lot of good humanitarian work among them.

Very true. Most people fail to realise that even during the pre-independence days, the RSS made it a point to involve Hindus of all castes within their fold. They also had specific lunches where members of all communities would sit together and eat. Now during the 1940s this was a big deal.

My point is that, as with all political discourse, there are nuances which need to be discussed. Unfortunately, the politicians have reduced it to a simple black and white vote bank issue. Increasingly, it is a class or a sub-caste issue rather than a upper caste vs lower caste issue. Tamil Nadu is a prime example of this phenomenon, where the people who wield economic and political power are the so-called lower castes, but haven’t done much to the lower classes. More importantly, the atrocities that take place over there are almost always done by lower castes with financial/political clout on other lower castes who do not possess it. Bihar/UP are other examples.

50 · Ponniyin Selvan on October 15, 2006 5:27 PM · Direct link

Shiva,

Thanks for the link ‘thoughts on pakistan’.. I was planning to read it for a long time but could not get it in the bookshops I looked at.

More power for the Dalits to convert to Buddhism. I’d have liked the Dalits to convert to ‘atheism/religion of rational thinking’.. But Buddhism is the closest.. In the process, if they get money from the wealthy Christian missionaries that’s a bonus too.. Christian missionary NGOs get billions of dollars in foreign aid.. 🙂

51 · RC on October 15, 2006 5:39 PM · Direct link

Thanks to Shivam Vij for that article and that disturbing video link. My god!!!!

Even now, the largest number of atrocities are committed by the so-called lower castes against other lower castes.

I think the above statement is what ends up being used to discriminate against the Dalits. The above statement says .. “look at those savages …” well, thats the first step !!!

52 · Ponniyin Selvan on October 15, 2006 6:08 PM · Direct link

Thanks to Shivam Vij for that article and that disturbing video link. My god!!!!

Yeah disturbing.. But how much of it is just propaganda and good editing.. who knows.. Especially the segment that I can understand relating to the Tamil devar landlord talking about rapes looks like cleverly edited to me.. (after the 3.00 minute mark.. the 30-40 second segment) He speaks in the third person and what he says doesn’t gel with translation which says ‘we used to rape a lot’ ..

I’m not saying that Dalit discrimination does not take place.. Ofcourse it is but be watchful of propaganda videos..

53 · RC on October 15, 2006 6:14 PM · Direct link

Ponniyin,
Since I dont speak the language spoken by the landlord, I cant say one way or the other. You might be correct. It could be done for increasing the shock value. But what was more shocking to me was the little girl’s account about discrimination at the school. That was extremely shocking to me. I have no way of telling whether what she was making up the allegations or not, but if its true than … my god !!!

54 · risible on October 15, 2006 6:17 PM · Direct link

My point is that, as with all political discourse, there are nuances which need to be discussed. Unfortunately, the politicians have reduced it to a simple black and white vote bank issue.

I agree. In contrast to the Sangh, which is thought to be upper caste when thats simply not true any more, the Communist Party, allegedly the people’s party, started out and continues in many ways to be an upper caste bastion. On one occasion, the Communist leader of Kerala, EMS Namboodiridad dismissed depressed caste uplift as a “burgeoise concern” subordinate to the revolution! Ambedkar referred to the Communists as a “Brahmin Boy’s Club” 🙂 On the other hand, he had very cordial relations with the Sangh.

I alluded to the fact that Ambedkar considered and rejected both Islam and Christianity, both on Indian nationalist grounds. He also considered Sikhism. Veer Savarkar of the Hindu mahasabha was very much behind a Dalit conversion to Sikhism, but 1) Ambedkar spoke with lower caste Sikhs who told them their situation was not pretty, 2) the Jat dominated Sikh institutions did not want a massive Dalit influx. So he dropped the idea.

With reference to Christianity, it is well known that the Syrian Christian Church was also also against a Dalit influx.

He also, according to Eleanor Zelliot, thought of Christianity as a “foreign religion.”

Now for some books:

1) The best short biography of Ambedkar is “Dr. Ambedkar and Untouchability” written by Christophe Jaffrelot, published by Columbia University Press. Jaffrelot is a French scholar.

2) The best collection of essays on the Dalit movement (which includes an extensive analysis of the origin of the term ‘Dalit’, a history of the Dalit panthers, etc.,) is Elanor Zelliot’s “From Untouchable to Dalit.” Zelliot is an American scholar.

3) For an account of the retention of Hindu practices among Buddhist Dalit converts, check Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar, by M.N. Srinivas, who is universally acknoweledeged as the preeminent authority on Sanskritization. Check Neera Burras survey of mahar villages in particular.

4) For the claim that Ambedkarite Buddhism is really a Deweyan rationalism, check the chapter on Ambedkar in “Prophets Facing Backwards” by Meera Nanda.

5) For a polemical reconstruction of Buddhist history in India, with an account of the Tamil adi-dravida Buddhist movement of Iyothee Thass that preceded Ambedkarite Buddhism, check Gail Omvedt “Buddhism in India.” Omvedt is an American scholar married to an Indian who lives in India.
The nationalists are ambivalent about Ambedkar at the moment. Politically those that make good with Buddhism strike me as being on the right path–and there are several. Shourie’s approach, imo, is a huge mistake.

55 · Quizman on October 15, 2006 6:31 PM · Direct link

RC:

Nonsense. What I was pointing out was that there are many nuances to this discourse and it is not a simple case of higher caste vs lower caste (although that discrimination exists). By making simplistic statements like you have done above, the discourse leads nowhere. In addition to talking about higher caste vs lower caste discrimination, it is imperative that we not lose sight of the fact that there are many layers underneath. [Akin to talking about black-on-black violence in the US.]It is a vital topic that needs to be aired out. There are other issues (economic, cultural, political, regional) even within the same subset of castes that are at play here. Policy makers should not concentrate on caste as the sole variable.

And converting is a simplistic solution, and possibly the least viable solution. Pick up any desi newspaper and check out the matrimonial ads; one can notice subtle discrimination within Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities as well. And if one is convinced about Buddhism’s lack of discrimination, all they ought to do is read about the Rape of Nanking (Buddhist vs Buddhist, wasn’t it?). Maybe the IPU is a better choice?

56 · Roy on October 15, 2006 7:25 PM · Direct link

Good to see Buddhism make a come back in the land of its birth!

57 · Hari on October 15, 2006 8:24 PM · Direct link

For those interested in this, I couldn’t recommend more Jabbar Patel’s biopic Ambedkar. Not easy to get in the U.S., but not impossible either. The lead actor Mamooty plays a fine Ambedkar, albeit in a Mallu accent throughout.

58 · Beige Siege on October 15, 2006 8:40 PM · Direct link

I agree. In contrast to the Sangh, which is thought to be upper caste when thats simply not true any more, the Communist Party, allegedly the people’s party, started out and continues in many ways to be an upper caste bastion. On one occasion, the Communist leader of Kerala, EMS Namboodiridad dismissed depressed caste uplift as a “burgeoise concern” subordinate to the revolution! Ambedkar referred to the Communists as a “Brahmin Boy’s Club” 🙂 On the other hand, he had very cordial relations with the Sangh.

Same thing with the communist party in Bengal as well. The irony is delicious, if it only it were not so sad.

59 · Jamesbond on October 15, 2006 10:33 PM · Direct link

Buddhists should be the 2nd largest religious minority in INDIA… not Muslims :-p

60 · blue mountain on October 16, 2006 7:47 AM · Direct link

The conversion of Dalits to Buddhism was performed by priests, while a group of Christian pastors from the Council led by President Dr Joseph D’Souza baptised the Dalits.{Link}

Someone please tell me what those “Christian pastors” were doing there. And when did they become an official authority for conversion to Buddhism ? This D’Souza guy seems interesting. A different account of the conversion here.

Anyhow political power will not come to Dalits unless education is widespread – no matter which religion they embrace. Mayabati seized power in UP but tragically tried to copy Congress and BJP with disastrous results.

Well something like Jharkhand is likely to happen. Here tribals say that a tribal is tribal first. His religious identity does not matter.

On a related topic,Yoginder Sikand writes about Muslim dalits here

Most Indian Muslims are descendants of ‘ untouchable and ‘low’ caste converts, with only a small minority tracing their origins to Arab, Iranian and Central Asian settlers and invaders. Although the Qur’an is fiercely egalitarian in its social ethics, Indian Muslim society is characterised by numerous caste-like features, consisting of several caste-like groups (jatis). Muslims who claim foreign descent claim a superior status for themselves as ashraf or ‘noble’. Descendants of indigenous converts are, on the other hand, commonly referred to contemptuously as ajlaf or ‘base’ or ‘lowly’. [Link]

The foremost priority for the AIBMM is to get recognition from the Indian state for the over 100 million ‘Dalit Muslims’ as Scheduled Castes so that they can avail of the same benefits that the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled castes enjoy, including reserved government jobs, reserved seats in state legislatures and in the Indian Parliament, special courts to try cases of atrocities against them as well as social and economic development programmes meant specially for them.

In articulating a separate Dalit Muslim identity it finds itself at odds with the traditional, largely ‘high’ caste Muslim leadership, which, in seeking to speak for all Muslims, sees the question of caste that the AIBMM so stridently stresses as divisive. Leading Muslim spokesmen have, not surprisingly, accused the AIBMM of seeking to create divisions within the Muslim community and of spreading ‘casteism’, and thus playing into the hands of militant Hindus.

Ali is bitterly critical of the traditional, largely ‘high’ caste, Muslim leadership, both `ulama as well as ‘lay’. Over the centuries of Muslim rule, he says, the ruling class among the Muslims displayed little concern for the plight of the Dalit Muslims, who remained tied down to their traditional occupations, mired in poverty and ignorance. The only concern of the ruling class Muslims, he writes, was to perpetuate their own rule, and for this they entered into alliances with ‘upper’ caste Hindus, keeping the Dalits, both Hindus as well as Muslims, cruelly suppressed under their firm control.This disdain for the Dalits, he writes, carried down right through the period of Muslim rule, and continues till this very day.

Ali calls for a ‘power shift’ from the ‘Arab-origin ashraf’ to the ‘oppressed Muslims’. Denying that his struggle is aimed against the `upper’ caste Muslims, he says that it is directed principally at the government, to force it to grant Scheduled Caste status to the Dalit Muslims.[link]

61 · Nanda Kishore on October 16, 2006 7:52 AM · Direct link

Until such times as religion plays a central role in human life, there will always be those who will misappropriate it to oppress others. I won’t toe the Richard Dawkins line and say religion is the root of all evil and I can understand why people want to reject a religion that has brought them nothing but misery, but to think that people can convert their way out of such misery is naive. May be I’m just a mubmling idiot, but those are my thoughts. I especially feel sorry for those that are being seduced by Christianity (again, I can fully understand), which has been used to cause untold misery to mankind.

62 · Risen on October 16, 2006 11:44 AM · Direct link

Dear Nanda, it’s because of Christian genius that this world runs. And it is Indians who are running to Christian countries, disowning their own “Hindustan.” I’m sure you have your own pre-conceived notions of Christianity but it is Christianity that formed the basis of the western legal system that India eagerly adopted. “Untold misery to mankind”?

Please give it a rest.

63 · Al Mujahid for debauchery on October 16, 2006 12:08 PM · Direct link

I dont think Indian Christians have the ability to bring untold misery to anyone.

64 · P.G. Wodehouse on October 16, 2006 12:29 PM · Direct link

but it is Christianity that formed the basis of the western legal system that India eagerly adopted

The western system is based on the following:
(*) Checks and balances.
(*) Separation of church from state—religion stays in your home, not in public affairs
That’s why India eagerly adopted it. Christianity gets no credit for the western legal system.

65 · Puliogre in da USA on October 16, 2006 12:58 PM · Direct link

And it is Indians who are running to Christian countries, disowning their own “Hindustan.”

My parents move to the USA. the USA is not a christian country. It is secular. India is also secular. They moved from 1 secular country to another. Christianity had nothing to do with it. get over the idea that god in government makes anything good happen.

66 · Al beruni on October 16, 2006 1:05 PM · Direct link

Nanda Kishore
whhoops, careful there !!

It is not acceptable to openly talk about the massive violence supported by christianity in the last 1000 years. You should understand that things like the Holocaust, violence against native peoples in the americans, massive expansion and extension of arab slavery model by european christians to americas are “cultural” issues or some sort of “aberration”. They definitely do not have ANYTHING to do with Christianity. In fact, as the Pope recently suggested at Auschwitz, many of these horrific episodes have to do with (gasp!) paganism….

On the other hand, science, medicine and modern goverment etc. are all definitely derived from Christianity. Plus all those who immigrate to the west are actually secretly harboring the desire to become christians, as they would be executed in their benighted former homelands..

Got it?

67 · electric_abacus on October 16, 2006 1:50 PM · Direct link

OH. MY. GOD.

I especially feel sorry for those that are being seduced by Christianity (again, I can fully understand), which has been used to cause untold misery to mankind.

How is that not an intolerant, anti-secular comment?

Yes, there have been many ills perpetrated in the name of Christianity – but that stems from a faulty reading, not from the doctrine itself.

*rolls eyes, gets back on topic*

My impression of these conversions is that they’re mostly a symbolic rejection, like a wake-up call to the government that more needs to be done for the dalits – yes, no, maybe?

I don’t see any practical gain in it for them, since people would still recognize them as dalits, regardless of professed faith. Nevertheless, giving up one’s faith as a means of protest is a gesture of real, palpable desperation – and hopefully people are listening.

68 · Miguel Marcos on October 16, 2006 1:55 PM · Direct link

Regarding the comment about Ambedkar’s bust at Columbia, I found the following page with a snapshot:
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/00/12/ambedkar.html

I had never heard of Dr. Ambedkar before this post and am glad I know of him now. A figure to be admired.

69 · Puliogre in da USA on October 16, 2006 1:56 PM · Direct link

but that stems from a faulty reading, not from the doctrine itself.

the bible explicitly says some pretty horrible stuff. I could interpret it in a very uncreative way, and do some heinous stuff. people act like “if you have faith in the RIGHT thing in religion, and not the wrong interpretation you will be a good person”. but…the truth is, having faith in a thousands year old fairy tail full of barbaric laws and ideas and assuming its true without any evidence is fairly crazy.

70 · GujuDude on October 16, 2006 2:02 PM · Direct link

but it is Christianity that formed the basis of the western legal system that India eagerly adopted

The western system is based on the following: (*) Checks and balances. (*) Separation of church from state—religion stays in your home, not in public affairs That’s why India eagerly adopted it. Christianity gets no credit for the western legal system.

I thought the roots of western law and civil code stems from Babylonian law (Hammurabi’s code), which predates Christianity. It also has elements of Greek and Roman (pre/post christian) civic code. Christianity has played a significant role in the west, but Babylonian, Greek, and Roman civic code influences are far greater than Christianity.

However, seperation of church and state is far more subjective. Religion has played an important role in almost every society. How ‘seperate’ church and state has been, from what I know, has direct bearing on diversity, how science (and mathematics) has evolved, explaining many issues away from religion (and how educated people have become, how much the world has become dynamic.) Historically, in a religiously homogenous society, religious influence is a foregone conclusion. It does influence how people or rulers organize and enforce their civic code.

I may be talking out of my ass here, though. Would any lawywer/historians like to expand on this? Am I missing something or misinterpreting here?

71 · senaX on October 16, 2006 2:33 PM · Direct link

all you kannadigas … or if you understand kannada 🙂

here is a link about karnataka and conversions

aptly titled “inversion through conversion”… shows how manupilative conversions are

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2491552500831566730&q=kannada&hl=en

72 · senaX on October 16, 2006 2:36 PM · Direct link

thats “invasion through conversion”…

73 · Puliogre in da USA on October 16, 2006 2:37 PM · Direct link

“inversion through conversion”

krishna = 1/jesus

74 · shiva on October 16, 2006 2:44 PM · Direct link

Shivam is wrong. Ambedkar is not the architect of the Constitution of India. He chaired the Drafting Committee one of the many committees of that august body, the Constituent Assembly of India – whose 250 odd members are the founding parents of modern India – which included men and women of all communities. Since Ambedkar himself was never one given vanity or envy, it will not be out of place to suggest that he was only one of the many distinguished and learned men and women of the Assembly. Ambedkar almost missed being a part of the Constituent Assembly as by 1947 he had few friends. IIANM Ambedkar (as was Sir CP Ramaswami Aiyar and many other distinguished gentlemen of their time) were members of the Viceroy’s Executive Council during the Quit India movement. This does not mean that they went over to the other side (as Shourie suggests) for quite a few Congressmen too were against the Quit India movement. The commies of course were the collaborators of the Brits in India during WW2 and many leading lights of the commie movement (some alive today) were informants and stool pigeons for the Brits and shameless recepients of what in Malayalam is termed “kai-coolie” Gandhi, among others, helped Ambedkar get a ticket from the Congress and helped him get elected to the Assembly IIANM from Bengal. Even if this post is not about Gandhi, since he has been dragged in here by Shivam we must put things in perspective. Gandhi believed that untouchability and the consequent oppression is not a mere matter of laws. Unless we transform ourselves and believe within that we are all one discrimination and oppression is some form or the other will exist. And how true it is in the case of India. While our laws have achieved a little it is the transformative acts of people like Baba Amte and Bindeshwari Pathak who have helped us make a clean break with the past. Others such as Dr. Venkataswami (Arvind Eye Hospital) and S. Vidyakar (Udavum Karangal) are among those few enlightened folk who uphold ‘maitri’ (friendship and fraternity).

Now even if Shivam won’t tell you – the category Dalit – is an artificial one. Within the putative Dalit class there are tens of communities. Ambedkar himself wasn’t from a very oppressed group. He came from a fairly well established community – the Mahars – and there continues to be a Mahar Regiment in today’s Indian Army. The Congress is where the extremely marginalised dalits found their home. Babu Jagjivan Ram from Bihar, and Kakkan from Tamizh Naadu being among the most popular dalits of their time, and thereon to more recent times we have had Sitaram Kesri (who is known to have never once hosted a relation, even his children at his official residence in Delhi), Buta Singh (A former Valmiki who embraced Sikhism), or Giani Zail Singh who hailed from a non-dalit but marginalised group among the Sikhs. On the other hand the “Dravidian” movement in Tamizh Naadu (supposedly a ‘liberational’ one) sidelined truly popular leaders most notably Erattaimaal Srinivasan (a very good friend i may add of my granduncle). We forget that in the ferment that was India in the first half of the 20th century, Ambedkar was not the only activist. Kerala had just witnessed the movements of Sree Narayana Guru and Sahodaran Ayyappan, there was Shahu Maharaj in Kolhapur, and many others and others such as Mahatma Phule even earlier. And among the ideologues who condemned the untouchability and ritual have we forgotten Prabodhankar Thackeray, Bal Thackeray’s father? Shivam seems like he wants to create a new communal group, not a political group. While Ambedkar saw marginal communities banding together to form political groups, and Mayawati and Kanshi Ram before her have already transformed BSP into a broad coalition (probably because they haven’t achieved much outside UP?). Shivam isn’t trying anything new. Contrary to what some may think “caste” groups aren’t unchanging entities and have evolved many times over and gone far beyond their original boundaries.

And as for biographies, the best on Ambedkar is by Dhananjay Keer. Keer IIANM was himself a Dalit (and lower in the hierarchy than was Ambedkar) and wrote a number of biographies over about 3 decades from the 30s to the 60s. Keer in the way of the scholars of his time wrote not only in English but also in Indian langauges (Marathi and Hindi). Keer wrote biographies of Gandhi (simply the best), Savarkar, Phule, Tilak, and Gokhale. Keer was very close to Savarkar and Ambedkar. And his biographies capture the nuance of the times that these new glossy volumes, little better than coffee table publications, lack. And Gail Omvedt is an historian only in the sense that a turkey and T-Rex can be classified along the same bilogical clade.

Ambedkar was a giant in a time of giants. Even the the ones among them who had chosen to given up their studies to join the struggle for freedom were well read. Some like Jagjivan Ram found Ambedkar haughty and were touched by simplicity of Gandhi who once said (more or less) that Ambedkar’s rage is understandable. And if he chooses “not to break our heads” it is because he does not hate or harbor any malice.

75 · desitude on October 16, 2006 3:08 PM · Direct link

Kanshi Ram, the “Bahujan” architect, was not a Hindu, but a Dalit Sikh. I wonder whether the cremation controversy was over whether to follow Sikh or Buddhist rites. Dalit Sikhs are still routinely marginalized in Punjab villages. As an example, from a controversy in the Doab region:

Talhan offers special insights into the working of the caste system in Punjab as the issues there squarely address issues of political and social power. Jat Sikhs in Talhan have sought to legitimise their position by claiming that the Dalits religious practices place them outside the boundaries of Sikhism. Jat leader Bhupinder Singh says, “The reason we object to the Dalits taking charge of the gurdwara is that they cut their hair, smoke and drink.” He has the support of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which has been working to bar Sehajdhari Sikhs, those who cut their hair, from voting in elections to the body.

Many of the Dalit Sikhs congregate under the Ravidas banner. Ravidas, a cobbler-saint, is honored by Hindus and Sikhs. A prominent Dalit activist in the US, KP Singh, is a Ravidasi Sikh.

At a recent meeting in Talhan, the head of the ultra-Right Damdami Taksal, Mokham Singh, even claimed that the Dalit protests in Talhan were a conspiracy to destroy the Sikh faith. The Taksal, once led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, has been at the core of efforts by the religious Right to strangle alternative practices of the faith, such as those of the Ad-Dharam, Udasi, Ravidasiya and Ramdasiya sects, adhered to by most Dalit Sikhs. Although the Sikh faith expressly bars the practice of caste, most villages in Punjab have separate gurdwaras for different communities. [Link]

76 · Rorschach on October 16, 2006 4:52 PM · Direct link

Awesome Post, Sid.
Thanks a lot to Ashvin and Shivram Vij for uploading that video on YouTube.
I remember the time my Grandfather talked about his younger brother who was exiled from home, because he had married a Dalit woman.It took 20 years till the time relations were renewed,and this happened only after the death of my Great Grandfather,who was a staunch believer in the Caste System. It is going to take a long long time for a paradigm shift in perception when it comes to Caste is concerned,especially in India.I shudder to think as to how many girl-childs dreams of becoming a Doctor will be shattered by then, riven and smashed by these,our “Modern times”.

R.

77 · dipendra on October 16, 2006 5:08 PM · Direct link

Excellent points shiva, Quizman and risible. For those who think that Buddhist majority countries are paragons of egalitarianisms Buddhism comfortably co-existed with caste.

In Sri Lanka, people of the lower castes in Sinhalese society were denied ordination into the Buddhist clergy. The argument given was “how could one expect women of the higher castes to fall at the feet of men of lower caste”. The lower castes had to travel to Burma for ordination.

There is a caste of untouchables in Sinhalese society called the Rodiya. The Durava were the caste of toddy tappers. The Wahumpura were the caste of jaggery makers also considered low since one had to climb the
palm tree to get the ingredients for jaggery. The Karave were the caste of fishermen. The lower castes frequently adopted Roman Catholicism to “escape caste discrimination entrenched in Buddhist society”.

All Sri Lankan leaders, except for one, belonged to the highest Goyigama caste. The Buddhist clergy remains largely Goyigama to date except for the two orders (Amarapura and Ramanya) that received ordination from Burma.

78 · shiva on October 16, 2006 5:59 PM · Direct link

The Buddhist bhikshu has a very different role from that of a Hindu purohit. Since the Buddha rejected ritual and had no use for the idea of a soul, bhikshus have nothing to do with rites of passage. I wonder what the bhikshu was doing when he performed a 7th day ritual for the late Kanshi Ram.

79 · razib_the_atheist on October 16, 2006 6:04 PM · Direct link

The Buddhist bhikshu has a very different role from that of a Hindu purohit. Since the Buddha rejected ritual and had no use for the idea of a soul, bhikshus have nothing to do with rites of passage. I wonder what the bhikshu was doing when he performed a 7th day ritual for the late Kanshi Ram.

did it specify which buddhist tradition? in japan buddhist priests traditionally perform funeral rites.

80 · desitude on October 16, 2006 6:41 PM · Direct link

Sena X:

thats “invasion through conversion”…

Dude, there’s an English version of the conversion video.

81 · senaX on October 16, 2006 7:01 PM · Direct link

ah yes.. a simple search in google gives the english version 🙂

very well… now a lot more people will hopefully benefit from this

82 · shiva on October 16, 2006 8:59 PM · Direct link

It is true that Buddhist priests in Japan conduct funerals. However, some of the practices – that we need not discuss on here – are simply the same as the classical Hindu rituals. In fact the Antarabhava phase that some Buddhisms observe (especially the Tibetan) – a time when the essence (soul for Hindus) is transitioning between death and rebirth – is almost the same in Hindu ritual as well. In the latter the soul is said to be in limbo for about 2 weeks before going on its way.

You have written about how Buddhism in Sri Lanka has a popular form and an intellectual form. I wonder if Buddhism in India too works in the same way.

The Buddhist clergy has always been a powerful group in Sri Lanka. Dr.Mano Singham (an educationist at Case in Cleveland, Ohio) writes about the bizarre things that happened when the Buddhist clergy had their way in Sri Lanka

Perhaps the best example of the extent to which this kind of religious pandering led to absurd policies came in the way the calendar was changed. (You are going to find the following story hard to believe but it is true. I lived though this.) The Buddhist calendar is based on the lunar cycle. The full moon has always had religious significance for Buddhists because it is believed that the Buddha was born, attained enlightenment, and died on a full moon day. So one government, in its desire to pander to religious sentiment, decided that the weekly calendar that had the weekend on Saturday and Sunday was too Christian-centered and that what was needed was a Buddhist-centered calendar that was built around the lunar cycle. So the full moon, quarter moon, new moon and three-quarter moon days were made holidays (called ‘poya’ days) as were the days just preceding them (called the ‘pre-poya’ days). Thus the pre-poya and poya days were the new weekends, replacing Saturday and Sunday.

Since these days need not coincide with Saturday and Sunday, a new system had to be devised to keep track of weekdays. So the weekdays were called P1, P2, P3, P4, and P5, standing for the ‘first day after poya’, ‘second day after poya’, etc. The catch is that since the lunar cycle is around 29 days, every fourth week or so (there was no definite pattern), you would have an extra workday in the week, which was called P6. Keeping track of these things and scheduling future events became a nightmare. Every time the week with the extra day kicked in, authorities would have to decide which of the five weekday schedules would have to be followed on the extra day.

I am amused to see Shivam criticise Chandra Bhan. Maybe because he actually helps people?

83 · Nanda Kishore on October 16, 2006 10:08 PM · Direct link

Just to be clear, I don’t have much respect for ANY religion. Also, I think my statement was quite clear: I said Christianity has been used to cause untold misery. So have other religions. In any case, I view religions as man made constructs, not divine stuff handed down by so called gods.

If someone thinks he/she life will be much better off by converting to religion X, by all means they should do so, especially given that they’ve had nothing but rejection and oppression that is apparently sanctioned by the religion they were born into.

As for accusations of intolerance, I’m not the one preaching from rooftops about how x religion is better than y or inciting hatred. Peace.

84 · risible on October 16, 2006 10:22 PM · Direct link

Ambedkarite Buddhism, as I’ve said over and over, is very different from traditional forms of Buddhism. In fact, Ambedkar called his Buddhism “navayana” (the new vehicle) in contradistinction to mahayana and hinayana. One would have to read Ambedkar’s opus The Buddha and His Dhamma for elaboration. And he did not have the best of relations with many other Buddhists: he thought they got it all wrong.

Some well-meaning people here seem to have some hostility to Buddhism as an option. Well, would you have preferred anything else? There was a grand effort by the international ummah to affect a conversion to Islam, I should remind you. Pleas and offers originated from as far as Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Sikhism was a grand choice as well, but the Akalis, under the leadership of Master Tara Singh, totally blew it. Let me leave you with what Ambedkar said the day before his conversion:


“And that is the greatest benefit I am conferring on the country by embracing Buddhism; for Buddhism is part and parcel of Bharitya culture. I have taken care that my conversion will not harm the tradition and culture of this land.”

Some “progressives” consider Buddhism to have been a “pseudo-remedy,” which leads me to believe that one of the great Indians in modern history did all right after all.

Risible, over and out.

85 · Macacaroach on October 16, 2006 10:32 PM · Direct link

It is going to take a long long time for a paradigm shift in perception when it comes to Caste is concerned,especially in India

It will probably take some foreign force to bring about any real change in the deeply entrenched caste culture. Just as it took the Brits to ban Sati, Human Sacrifice, Child Bondage etc. Though free India shamefully refuses to enforce the laws against child bonded labor.

Ambedkar says that Hinduism is beyond reform as it is inherently unequal and unjust.

Cant blame him for thinking that.

I’m all for the adoption of Buddhism, it’s a rejection of the Manu smrti not “Hinduism” as a whole.

Its a rejection of brahminism, which like it or not has become equated with hinduism. Fortunately the dalits are not converting to Islam.

86 · Amitabh on October 17, 2006 12:00 AM · Direct link

However, some of the practices – that we need not discuss on here – are simply the same as the classical Hindu rituals. In fact the Antarabhava phase that some Buddhisms observe (especially the Tibetan) – a time when the essence (soul for Hindus) is transitioning between death and rebirth – is almost the same in Hindu ritual as well.

There was a period in Indian history when the majority of the population had actually become Buddhist..before Hinduism made a strong comeback (I think starting in the 8th-9th century). There is a school of thought which says that this resurgent Hinduism took on (or retained) a lot of Buddhist philosophies and rituals, which could explain some of the above quote. Of course it is possible that some of the Buddhist stuff itself harkened back to earlier Hindu phenomenon…or that Hinduism (which was never fully wiped out even during the peak of Buddhism in India) and Buddhism evolved side by side for a really long time, influencing each other.

87 · shiva on October 17, 2006 10:26 AM · Direct link

Amitabh,

There was a period in Indian history when the majority of the population had actually become Buddhist..before Hinduism made a strong comeback (I think starting in the 8th-9th century).

That’s a meme with nothing to back it. Devotion in India has been strongly non-exclusive.

Macacaroach,

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar and Ram Mohan Roy had to fight the colonial administration among other groups to bring about reform.

88 · Koi on October 17, 2006 1:56 PM · Direct link

Prominent Indian female politician to embrace Buddhism

New Delhi, India — Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati and her followers will embrace Buddhism after the BSP gains an absolute majority at the Centre.

http://buddhistchannel.tv/index.php?id=42,3309,0,0,1,0

89 · ImportantNote on October 18, 2006 5:38 AM · Direct link

Note: Apparently, BJP has the most number of dalit/OBC ministers on its roster.

90 · Ponniyin Selvan on October 21, 2006 9:49 AM · Direct link

At Columbia, Ambedkar studied under John Dewey, who inspired many of his ideas about equality and social justice. Ambedkar later recounted that at Columbia he experienced social equality for the first time. “The best friends I have had in my life,” he told the New York Times in 1930, “were some of my classmates at Columbia and my great professors, John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin Seligman, and James Harvey Robinson.”

Was just listening to NPR on my way to morning coffee and they were talking about the ‘denial of colored people’ entry into restaurants/eateries in Wichita / Kansas and probably in a lot of regions in 1958.. Looks like Ambedkar didn’t drive south in his sojourn in America.. 🙂

91 · voiceinthehead on October 21, 2006 10:10 AM · Direct link

#89. Do you have a source for that ? Isn’t BJP perceived as an upper caste party. More Dalit/OBC membership is a routine slogan at chintan baitaks(strategy meetings).

92 · HMF on October 21, 2006 11:42 AM · Direct link

If any of you need reminding of the reality of caste in India today (and it’s easy to forget… for some of us, at least), here’s a little video from Shivam Vij’s site :http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/10/i-am-a-dalit-how-are-you.html

This sort of treatment is deplorable by any humanistic account. But here’s my question, how much of this discrimination is based on economic status? That is, what features/determining factors are used to categorize people? If one of these individuals was given nice clothes, nice car, and lots of money, would anyone be able to identify him as a dalit? Maybe this question isn’t practical, as social mobilit for these folks is near impossible.

Cornell West, a prominent professor of religion who’s held appointments at Harvard and Princeton, written numerous books, and even appeared in the Matrix Reloaded (His line: “Comprehension is not a prerequisite for compliance”, when talking with Commander Locke), still I contend, has as much trouble getting an NYC cab as tyrone biggums in the US.

Perhaps Dr. West has an incrementally easier time, but it’s nowhere linear. I’d say it’s a log scale, that is y = log(x) * u(x-1) where u = unit step function, x = “net worth” , and y = ability to hail a NYC cab.

93 · voiceinthehead on October 21, 2006 2:53 PM · Direct link

Siddharth hits it on the nail when he says, the issue is complex. There are socio-economic,educational,political, & religious dimensions to the issue of dalits. No single point solution will ever emerge.

See IG or IAS officer, Dalit is still an untouchable. Try google cache if the link doesn’t work.

94 · ravindranath on November 23, 2006 4:35 AM · Direct link

The Golden Jubilee of Buddhist Conversion programme held on 2nd October, 2006 at especially at Nagpur, Maharashtra, India and remaining parts of Indian States as well as all other parts of the world is the indicator, how Buddhism as rightly brought out practically in our life-style. The book entitled “Buddha & His Dhamma” written by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is gaining support throughout the world. The way and manner people are coming forward for embrassing voluntarily the Buddhism without bribe, incite or force in the entire world, is the genesis. what is Buddhism and why for Buddhism. Why people of the globe are discarding their ancient age old religions and peacefully accepting the principles and philosophy of Buddhism.? Is there certainly a need for leaving their orthodoxy religions and changing their life-style by practising Buddhism? I do not think so easily to change our thoughts which we are inheriting from our ancestors especially about supernatural things, they believe to accept them. Either we should think that that era was of barbaric, savage or non-scientific or science was not so established that time, and our ancestors were simply believing on natural forces, which we now-a-days knows details critically about each of them, or we are not living in modern science days, and consequently old customs, traditions, practices should not be believed by us, as science has proved those old thoughts as untrue.

There is a democracy in India and the world awakened people knows that this is the largest Democracy in the world. Democratic principles and philosophy as enshrined in the Indian Constitution written by Dr.B.R. Ambedkar, who is aptly called as the Father of Indian Constitution have mostly taken from the Buddhism. How Dr. B.R. Ambedkar so believed on Buddha who was there existed 2500 years ago? Did the principles and philosophy of Buddhism as propogated are not rusted, not outdated, non-scientific, as they are as old as 2500 years age? But this is true or incorrect or unique as consequently we believe on this modern science age, on the customs, traditions, practices, rituals, superstition, miracles, of our savagary or barbaric human stage. Is all old /ancient percepts are untrue, both yes and no because certain ancient practices have been proved as untrue by science and some ancient philosophy especially as propounded by Gautam Buddha have been proved as totally science based, true as well as universal till existence of human being. We should respect the Modern Buddha i.e. awakened one or enlightened one who have proved democratic principles as true which have been enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The way and manner of which Dr. B.R. Ambedkar shown emincipation to the world through Indian Constitution is required to be accepted as he has shown path for salvation to the entire human being through Democratic Principles. Many castes in India including Brahmins as well as other religious population including Christian, Islam and Hindu people are joining themselves spontaneously to the Science-based religion which will ever last. May the world take cognisance of this change and join science? It is expected answer as yes, because we want welfare of all human beings.

95 · shelley on December 4, 2006 4:37 PM · Direct link

great post. i’m an american girl of east indian ancestry, and i follow buddhism, and i think ambedkar did the right thing by converting. may india again be a buddhsit country. also, siddhartha, by your name, are you the buddha? 🙂 people should read the book Siddhartha by herman hesse, for it’s lovely. 🙂

96 · Jayant on December 5, 2006 2:48 PM · Direct link

Siddharth:- and everyone supporting GAUTAM BUDDHA and B R Ambedkar’s acquired Buddhism(Principles).Thanks to you all.I have been in thoughts for years together,and was looking forward for a momentum on MULNIWASI Buddhism in India.end-of-day,to have great strong PILLARs (getting the best education,vision,mission to my depressed classes people)
I am novice,have’nt read anything (except “Buddha and His Dhamma”).Now at the age of 35(running),I want to take a plunge and do some good for my oppressed people.

97 · sariput on March 30, 2007 8:15 AM · Direct link

i want to have a manuscript of the buddha and his dhamma through online. use my id to forward it if any body has it
my id is sariput_vet@rediffmail.com

98 · santosh on May 26, 2007 9:35 AM · Direct link

After kashiram mayawati is doing lot of work
which the congress & shivsainik wont do that exactly
from previous we can see that every mahapurish life has come from struggle
as per the mayawati
and i am confidently says that after kashiram mayawati is doing better job as a CM

99 · santosh on May 26, 2007 9:43 AM · Direct link

as per i have seen the history of mulnivasi i thaught lot of thing s
but one & alone cannot do anything but if we are close & we are thinkers of babasaheb
according to babasaheb if you are a thinker then from nobody you can loose

100 · laxmi sankhla on September 21, 2007 3:52 AM · Direct link

hello sir,
i have applied in your aid society for the scholarship which u provide for the sc/st students.i want to know about your process for getting the scholarship as till date i didnt got any mails from your side.and i serached for your e-mail id but i didnt got any so please mail me your id on my account so that i can know about the details..
thanks

With regards,
laxmi sankhla.

101 · Amit choudhary on June 4, 2008 2:12 PM · Direct link

Hello sir i want some amount of money becuse i am a student right now but unable to complete my education due to poorness plz help me.

102 · Manik Prabhu on July 29, 2008 5:35 AM · Direct link

Harijans are converting in “parts” but they will never get FULL FREEDOM, respect and Equality, unless they convert to Islam en`masse without caring for lolli-pops (SC/ST Reservation). Please note that Reservations are a price, (a lolli-pop) to keep Harijans within the fold of Hinduism ! High Castes have thrown bread-crumbs at Harijans while enjoying the whole box of laddoos. Only Islam can stand up to idol worship and caste-system. Only Islam guarantees “equality” of man before One God irrespective of all distinctions (real or imaginary). Harijans will have to choose between freedom, respect and equality (Islam) vis-a-vis permanent bondage of slavery albeit with a lolli-pop. Equality or Reservation Lolli-Pop. The choice is for the Harijans to make., and they will make it sooner than later. Only Islam can stand up to Brahmanism. Otherwise they will make another “idol” ov Buddha., and add it to the 6000 idols already existing. Islam guarantees equality of mankind., so if harijans seek and desire equality, it is in the shade of Islam . For this they will have to throw away the bribe of the lolli-pop extended to them by the calculated Brahmin-Baniya.

103 · Siddarth on July 29, 2008 5:40 AM · Direct link

If Harijans convert to Islam enmasse, BJP, Congress and Shiv Sena would merge within 24 hours. It is only then that their real character would be exposed. All masks will fall off the faces.

104 · Das on August 13, 2008 6:58 AM · Direct link

An original thought:

Topic : Reservations in India.

I suggest that a 50 % Reservation for admission to professional courses / jobs (Central + state) / bank loans etc be made for the 3% Brahmin population, in India.

Presently 3% Brahmins hold 85% top jobs. This way, at least 35% could be made available to others, i.e. children of a lesser god.


A Fourth Turning of the Wheel?

14/07/2010

by Christopher Queen, Harvard University, Published on the Buddhist Channel

Cambridge, MA (USA)One way of looking at the coming of Buddhism to the West, and the beginnings of the true interpenetration of these profound worldviews, is to see it as a fourth yana [vehicle]. If we look at “Buddhism” as a tradition and we use that term in the singular we’re really covering a multitude of practices and beliefs. To focus on the kinds of beliefs and practices that people like ourselves are attempting in the name of Buddhism raises fundamental questions about whether we’re doing something brand new, or whether in fact the seeds of what we’re doing were planted by Shakyamuni Buddha twenty-five hundred years ago.

To my way of thinking, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (1891-1956) is the most articulate and perhaps radical spokesman for a new turning of the wheel. Ambedkar, I think, really went to the heart of this problem, and left us all with a provocative vision of Buddhism for the modern world.


Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

He was born among the so-called “untouchables” in India, but through his remarkable genius he became one of the most prominent personalities of his time. After India achieved independence in 1947, Ambedkar became the first law minister in independent India (what we might call the Attorney General). As such, he was the principal architect of India’s Constitution. It’s the world’s longest democratic constitution, and includes many
articles against the practice of un-touch-ability. It also provides for what we call affirmative action; people from all backgrounds should have access to education, scholarships and government jobs, but the preferences would be given to the lowest people in society. Ambedkar was responsible for all that.

In the last five years of his life he made good on a promise he made in 1935, “I was born a Hindu, but I’m determined not to die a Hindu. I’m going to figure out which of the religions offers me and my community the most dignity and humanity.” Many who knew him and study him think Ambedkar had Buddhism in mind all along, because he was deeply moved by a book on the life of the Buddha given him upon graduation from high school. But if
he had declared himself a Buddhist in the 1930s he would have lost a lot of his clout as a negotiator with the British and with other Hindus like Gandhi in the drama of emerging independence. So he held off until 1951 when he retired from the government, and spent the last five years of his life preparing for a huge conversion ceremony on October 14th, 1956, which is the traditional date of Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism.

The year 1956 saw the worldwide celebration of the twenty-five hundredth year of the birth of Buddha Shakyamuni. So the date and the place, Nagpur in central India, a city which was associated with the preservation of Buddhist teachings by the Nagas, the serpent people, was highly symbolic of the rebirth of Buddhism in a land which had seen no Buddhism for
virtually a thousand years. Nearly a half-million untouchables took refuge at Ambedkar’s conversion ceremony; and then six weeks later, he died of a long-standing illness.

In the years since his great conversion, Ambedkar had become a symbol of hope for low-caste people throughout India but his Buddhist movement since then has had to struggle along with support from outsiders like Sangharakshita and his British Buddhist followers, though it also attracted some talented leaders within India and the untouchable community. Where it’s going, and whether it’s growing and flourishing, is anybody’s guess. But we have Ambedkar’s own thoughts and writings to consider for our purposes today.

Choice and Adaptation

I’d like to mention two proposals that he made in his effort to adapt Buddhism to modern circumstances – not just for the untouchables, but really for the modern world. The first is that one must choose what religion one will follow, and the second is that one must adapt it to fit one’s needs.

One premise of Ambedkar’s religious sensibility was that as modern (or even postmodern) people we are forced to choose our belief system. It’s not only possible for people to become heretics, but we have what Peter Berger called the “heretical imperative.” (The word heresy, by the way, comes from the Greek root, which means simply “to choose”; it means to choose a belief and a lifestyle.) We really are forced by the world today to choose who we will be and what we will believe, because the grip of tradition on our minds has now been loosened by modern education, by science, by travel and by global communication. We are now faced with so many options for belief and practice that we have to sit down quietly with
ourselves and say, “What do I believe? What shall I do with my life? Who will be my friends and allies? Where should I put my extracurricular energies?” These are things that all people in the world are now facing. (There are certainly repressive countries where those options are limited, but I think most in the world today recognize the goal of being able to make yourself, remake yourself, and point yourself in some direction.)

Following his dramatic announcement in 1935 C.E. that he would adopt a new religion, Ambedkar considered Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism as possible options for him in India. They were all active religions, except for Buddhism, which, although originating in India had vanished by the twelfth century. Ambedkar asked, “Which of these
traditions offers my community the most dignity, the most inspiration, the most empowerment to move ahead and to realize a good life or a good future or a good symbolic universe, a universe that makes me feel that life is worth living and there’s a future for the world?”

Buddhism seemed to offer the most for Ambedkar and his followers because it was an indigenous religion; it wasn’t, like Christianity or Islam – something imported. It also offered something unique, a kind of reticence to lock onto fixed beliefs or practices. There was this notion within Buddhism that you must experiment within the laboratory of your own life
to see what works and what makes sense.

This helped with Ambedkar’s second principle: the notion that once I’ve chosen a major tradition or body of thought, I must adjust it so that it works in the circumstances that I face or that my community faces. Ambedkar echoed the discourse in the Kalama Sutta in which the Buddha said, “Don’t blindly trust teachings and writings, but test them in your
own life.” This idea of testing for yourself and questioning authority has become a hallmark of Western or modern Buddhism.

The heart of Buddhism was an attitude, or, perhaps, Buddhism was an attitude of heart. The Buddha, of course, was a human being representing a potential that all human beings have. So all of that went into Ambedkar’s search for a tradition that could be adaptable to a culture in which pluralism was present, but in which a significant proportion of people felt dis-empowered and dehumanized. Buddhism, for Ambedkar, emerged as a model for becoming a full human being. Yet it was a model still in need of some changes.

The Limitations of Buddhism

In his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, Ambedkar pointed to four problems he saw with the Buddhist tradition as received from the past, four issues that conflict with our modern sensibility. We should not forget that Ambedkar was trained in the West; he was a follower of John Dewey, the eminent American pragmatist philosopher.

1) The first thing that Ambedkar questioned was the legend of the Buddha’s isolation, as a prince, from normal human experiences. How could a twenty-nine year-old man suddenly discover illness, suffering, and death, and then abandon his family in a fit of existential angst? Wasn’t that a little late for someone to discover these things? So there’s something
about the Buddha’s story that’s a little odd to our way of thinking, because we know that young people today confront these realities of life during their adolescent years and we encourage them to wrestle with these things and resolve them in certain ways.

2) The second issue has to do with the causes of suffering. The second noble truth says that suffering is a result of craving and ignorance; therefore if someone is suffering we have to say, “Change your attitude. Practice meditation. Practice morality and your life will improve.” But might there be circumstances in which there are innocent victims? There are children or whole communities who are marginalized and oppressed by social, political and economic forces that are essentially beyond their control, unless they somehow collectively organize a resistance to oppression. Can Buddhism encompass the notion of social change, which has
both victims and oppressors?

3) The third problem was the question of karma and rebirth. Do we really believe in rebirth? Do we really believe that karma is a kind of ongoing accumulation of energy that will dictate not only the quality of our life but cause us to be reborn again and again? Must we conclude, for example, that a handicapped person is serving a sentence for past indiscretions or
crimes? Ambedkar had difficulty with the place of traditional teachings of rebirth in our modern world view, not only in terms of what we now know about psychology and physics, but in light of the social issues surrounding the life of untouchables in India.

4) The final contradiction or problem Dr. Ambedkar saw in Buddhism was the role of the monk or the ordained person. What is the true role of the ideal practitioner of Buddhism? Should it be one who is renouncing and retreating from the life of family responsibilities, work, and society, living essentially apart, except for the ritualized contacts of the
begging rounds or teaching? Or should those ideal practitioners of the Buddha’s teaching be seen not as sitting but as walking; that is, walking out into the community and trying to help people improve their material circumstances as well as their spiritual condition? Shouldn’t the monks be trained as social workers? This was one of Ambedkar’s core questions. And
his model was the Jesuits, the Benedictines and Protestant missionaries who founded clinics and literacy programs and helped people to dig wells, build roads, and otherwise improve their situation through engaged activity.

Modifications

In looking at these issues and other basic notions of Buddhism, Ambedkar modified the tradition quite freely. One of the most important changes he made was a rather radical re-interpretation of what was meant by nirvana. According to Ambedkar, nirvana is not a metaphysical or psychological state or attainment, but a society founded in peace and justice. He brought a transcendent view of nirvana down to earth.

This is an important feature of engaged Buddhism as manifested in many parts of Asia today. A common feature of this movement is to disregard notions of another world, whether it’s a psychological world or a metaphysical world, and to translate that into a society based on equality and the free exchange of ideas and goods. This is a kind of socialism, and
Ambedkar himself, though not a socialist per se, was significantly influenced by socialist thinkers.

With this different understanding, the discussion of nirvana becomes analogous to the discussion in Christianity about the kingdom of God or heaven. Is it an afterlife, or is it an ideal community on this planet? Ambedkar and his followers would vote for the latter concept. We need to create communities that unlock human potential and dignity – that’s
nirvana.

If you look at the Satipatthána Sutta or the Visuddhimagga you find texts setting forth a complex set of meditation skills and ethical practices, which the tradition offers us as the path to awakening. That is largely de-emphasized in Ambedkar’s writings and in his thought. For him the pursuit of education at all levels was a form of meditation and mental cultivation. This in turn supplemented the institutions of a free society – representative government, due process, and an impartial judiciary when an untouchable can go to a court and have a judge actually award the verdict to him or her. This is nirvana. All this has nothing to do with the traditional wealth of meditation practices available.

It is important to keep in mind that Ambedkar’s primary teachers were books. In this sense he shares something with Western “Buddhists” who have been brought to Buddhism by reading Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki, Shunryu Suzuki, or Trungpa Rinpoche, rather than being trained in Buddhism by a personal teacher who is devoting his or her life to practice and teaching meditation. There are many people in America who call themselves Buddhists because they’ve read books about it – the “bookstore Buddhist” or the “nightstand Buddhist,” as Tom Tweed calls them. Ambedkar had thirty thousand books, including a huge collection on Buddhism; these have marks all over the margins and underlines and crossings out, agreeing and disagreeing with elements of the tradition and deciding how Buddhism would
work for him. These books were his teachers.

As a personality, Ambedkar was certainly volcanic; he didn’t have the calm demeanor of Thich Nhat Hanh. It wasn’t breath and smile for Dr. Ambedkar. Ambedkar was deeply scarred by being an untouchable in his society all his life, and he brings the passion of that experience to his understanding of Buddhism. Educate, Agitate, and Organize – this was Ambedkar’s slogan during his years as a civil rights leaders in India. Today it is still used by his followers as Buddhists, which really irritates other Buddhists who say that agitation has no role to play in Buddhism. Well, does it? Should Buddhists be, in a certain sense, agitators for a better society, for reconciliation, or are these irreconcilable concepts?

Ambedkar’s Challenge

Given the way Buddhism is evolving in the West, with its strong emphasis upon meditation and psychology, Ambedkar’s perspective is very provocative. Many of us are drawn to Buddhism because it offers peace – inner peace and world peace. We would like to be more un-perturb-able, loving, compassionate and joyful, rather than the crusading radicals some of us were in the sixties. If Buddhism has to do with stilling the fires of passion, then mettá bhávaná [the cultivation of loving kindness] is probably the best and highest practice for engaged Buddhism in the traditional mold – achieving peace and then projecting that peace to others. If this attainment of peace has some ripples in the world, great; but the world is really not the primary concern of a traditional Buddhist. It is rather training the monkey mind to settle down.

But it may be worth looking closely at Ambedkar’s idea that Buddhism is something we receive and then have to work with. Buddhist teachings invite us to take responsibility for ourselves, and this is being interpreted in engaged Buddhist circles as taking responsibility for the entire Sangha, the larger community, and ultimately, our eco-system on this planet Earth. Ambedkar’s approach tells us that if we spend too much time in personal meditation practice, and in retreat from the world of social relationship, we will be irresponsible to our community. So we need to get off the cushion, get out of the house, get out there and start to educate, agitate and organize. This is a collectivist notion of Sangha as people working together for a society of justice, wherein our Buddhist practice becomes the engaged activity of social change.

crtsy: Buddhist channel, June 8, 2005