Adivasis Were Buddhist Naagas: K. Jamanadas


Were Adivasi ancient Buddhist Naga rulers ?

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

Unbiased Recitals: Guha at Ambedkar Lecture London


Ramachandra Guha’s new anthology gives us some carefully selected writings from what he chooses to call Makers of Modern India. The book cannot but offend adherents of those excluded and offend some for its inclusions. “Where is Patel?” he has been asked. “Where is our Netaji?” The plaintive

questions are not invalid.But it is his anthology, not that of the questioners. He can choose what to include and what to leave out.


But he has to explain the procedure he has followed, which is to select the works of those ‘Makers’ who were original thinkers and have left a body of writing behind. This fact is not immediately grasped by readers of the book, for which difficulty the title of the book is partly responsible.

At the book’s launch in Chennai, he was asked: “Why have you left Kamaraj out ? Was he not a maker of modern India?” Ram said Kamaraj was a giant of a man and he (Ram) had paid Kamaraj the huge tribute he deserved in his India After Gandhi, but then Kamaraj was a doer, not a thinker and  did not leave a body of published material behind.

The questioner was not quite mollified, nor was I.

“What about Annadurai?”

“Yes, he was an extraordinary political figure too but his influence outside Tamil Nadu is limited and then again his thought is not available to a wider non-Tamil readership…” Then, an ‘inclusion’ was raised. “You have included Jinnah who did not make India, rather he broke it…”

“Thank you for that question,” Ram said, “it is important for us to know Jinnah’s mind precisely for that reason…We should know the negatives that make our positives…We should know how the  Muslim India of Jinnah’s conception and a Hindu Pakistan of Golwalkar’s are the antithesis of Nehru’s secularism.”

In his comments at the Chennai launch, Ram said something that tallied with a recent experience of mine, totally. He said that followers of some Indian icons know their hero’s life-line well, but not his thought-line. Others, academics among them, know the thought-lines well and do not share the ‘followers’ bhakti-like fascination for the icon’s person.

Both deficits are unfortunate, for the first leads to hero worship which does understanding little good, and the second leads to dry-as-dust intellection that leaves out the human dimension entirely.

An experience I had some days ago bore out Ram’s point totally. At a lecture in London in memory of BR Ambedkar, I made the point that Ambedkar cannot be monopolised anymore than he can be marginalised. He cannot be fenced-in anymore than he can be fenced-out. To typecast a man like Babasaheb as a spokesman, howsoever formidable, for one section of India alone, for one interest, and one cause, or to label him as the chief architect, howsoever formidable, of one legislative edifice, one enactment, is to deny and impoverish the totality of his legacy.

Some questions followed and I responded to them in various degrees of inadequacy. Just as one last hand went up, the question slot was over and the meeting closed. But as I had noticed the raised hand, as the audience dispersed, I invited the young man to come over for a chat. I said I was sorry he could not put his question. Whereupon the young man said: “You referred to Babasaheb as ‘Ambedkar’, as ‘Dr Ambedkar’ and as ‘Babasaheb’…For me he is Babasaheb and he is my God.” There was little for me to say to this beyond indicating respect for his feeling. He added: “I also wanted to ask you a silly question”. Saying it may not be silly at all, I encouraged him to pose it. He said: “You have just spoken about Babasaheb…can you please tell me: first, his full name, the expansion of the initials of his name. Second, the date and place of Babasaheb’s birth. Third the date and place of his death. That is all”.

I did not expect the question to be this simple and this challenging, this courteous and this startling. I had just expatiated on Babasaheb and made what I had thought was a point worth making, but I had clearly ‘reckoned without the host’. I may have known the sum, but did I know my tables ?

Now, I was aware that ‘B’ stood for Bhimrao but told him, honestly, I did not recall the expansion for ‘R’. This was inexcusable. If I knew that the ‘K’ after ‘M’ in Gandhi’s full name stands for ‘Karamchand’, ought I not to know what the ‘R’ in ‘BR Ambedkar’ stands for? Of course, I should. Next, I knew the dates of his birth and death (having attended the Ambedkar Jayanti and Ambedkar Nirvana Divas in Kolkata annually for five years) but, again, was not sure of the year of his birth, nor of the place of his birth.

If I knew axiomatically that Gandhi was born in Porbandar and Jawaharlal Nehru in Allahabad, could I afford to not know where Babasaheb was born?  Especially, when I was giving a bhashan claiming an intellectual kinship with him? In three minutes, I had learnt more from him than my audience had from me, over my 30-minute lecture. And I am not referring to the bare facts alone.

The young man had made me realise the inherent hypocrisy in pompous public speaking. His question  also reminded me of a television ‘operation’ that had some MPs scurrying for cover when asked by a TV channel on Independence Day simple ‘GK-type’ questions like “Who wrote Vande Mataram?” I had laughed at their ignorance. This time round, it was my turn to be shown up for my ignorance.

But my questioner has also made me reflect on India’s and Indians’ attitude to their Founding Fathers.

Everyone is entitled to favourites, intellectual or emotional. For us, however, our favourites have become means for self-fulfilment.

Guha’s eclectic anthology helps us see that history is different from humans. It owns no favourites, only facts and these go beyond ‘mere’ awareness  or ‘pure’ bhakti. And history’s destination is neither the self-projecting speaker’s podium nor the selfless devotee’s pedestal, but a straight unbiased recital.

Which recital shows Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (born 2.10.1869 at Porbandar, died 30.1.1948 in New Delhi) and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (born 14.4.1891 in Mhow, died 6.12.1956 in New Delhi) giving a psychologically splintered India very similar messages in differing vocabularies.


Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor The views expressed by the author are personal.


Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil

The slave’s dream
By Jawed Naqvi
Thursday, 28 Jan, 2010
Chief Minister of Gujrat, Narendra Modi’s administration reinforces an Indian variant of apartheid. –Photo by AFP

“Democracy in India is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic.” Arundhati Roy? Wrong. It’s Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the Dalit leader who wrote India’s republican constitution 60 years ago.

Going by Ambedkar’s expressed fears, the Indian republic is like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Slave’s Dream. It was created by a people that were subjugated by colonialism and its republican ideals were shaped by a human rights pioneer who rose from the lowest layers of the country’s caste heap, a form of slavery in some ways more degrading than apartheid.

India celebrates its Republic Day each year with an hour-long display of military hardware, which of late has included dummies of nuclear-tipped missiles. The accompanying convoy of floats showcasing the country’s cultural variety (and humour) with everything ranging from ayurvedic massages to tribal dances, to harvest festivals is a more realistic sample of the country’s anarchy and depth than imported military arsenal, which guzzles depleted resources, annoys neighbours and contributes to keeping millions of Indians in penury and poor health.

Ambedkar’s fear of an inhospitable soil that deters rather than nurtures democracy if left to itself has been vindicated by the country’s sharp tilt to the right since 1990. His most entrenched detractors belong to the Hindu right, but the exigencies of the country’s caste arithmetic, which shores up the parliamentary system, compels them to woo his followers, if not his legacy.

That’s why it remained unclear on Tuesday, as to which was a bigger affront to India’s democracy — the inability of the state for the first time in 19 years to hoist the Indian flag in the alienated precincts of Srinagar’s Lal Chowk or a vaudeville staged by the chief minister of Gujarat who carried a giant replica of the Indian constitution on elephant back to display his sudden fondness for the rule of law.

“This is a historic moment for Gujarat, as the procession of the constitution is being taken out for the first time in Indian history,” Chief Minister Narendra Modi proclaimed not without dollops of irony. There was no remorse in his tone over the worst anti-Muslim pogrom his state witnessed, and for which he is being investigated.

Ambedkar had perhaps anticipated Modi’s antics, whose administration reinforces an Indian variant of apartheid, in which Muslims and Dalits have been driven to live in hidebound ghettoes. Let’s hear what Ambedkar had to say about a Republic Day he had helped create.

“On 26th January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one-man one-value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of democracy which this Constituent Assembly has so laboriously built up.”

“There is no nation of Indians in the real sense of the world. It is yet to be created. In believing we are a nation, we are cherishing a great delusion. How can people divided into thousands of castes be a nation? The sooner we realise that we are not yet a nation, in a social and psychological sense of the world, the better for us.”

“… My definition of democracy is — a form and a method of government whereby revolutionary changes in the social life are brought about without bloodshed. That is the real test. It is perhaps the severest test. But when you are judging the quality of the material you must put it to the severest test. Democracy is not merely a form of government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards our fellow men…”

“A democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of a society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy. It may not be necessary for a democratic society to be marked by unity, by community of purpose, by loyalty to public ends and by mutuality of sympathy.”

“But it does unmistakably involve two things. The first is an attitude of mind, and attitude of respect and equality towards their fellows. The second is a social organisation free from rigid social barriers. Democracy is incompatible and inconsistent with isolation and exclusiveness resulting in the distinction between the privileged and the unprivileged.”

“What we must do is not to content ourselves with mere political democracy. We must make our political democracy a social democracy as well. Political democracy cannot last unless there is at the base of it a social democracy. What does social democracy mean? It means a way of life which recognises liberty, equality and fraternity as the principles of life. These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items. They form a union in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality, nor can liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity.”

“… On 26th January, 1950, India will be an independent country. What would happen to her independence? Will she maintain or will she lose it again? This is the first thought that comes to my mind. It is not that India was never an independent country. The point is that she once lost the independence she had. Will she lose it a second time? It is this thought which makes me most anxious for the future. What perturbs me greatly is the fact that not only has India once before lost her independence, but she lost it by treachery of some of her own people.”

“Will history repeat itself? It is this thought which fills me with anxiety. … Will Indians place the country above their creed or creed above their country? I do not know. But this much is certain that if the parties place creed above country, our independence will be put in jeopardy a second time and probably be lost forever. This eventuality we all must resolutely guard against. We must be determined to defend our independence with the last drop of our blood.”

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Insight into Dalit bahujan writings: THE WEAPON OF THE OTHER Kancha Ilaiah



THE WEAPON OF THE OTHER – Dalitbahujan writings and the Remaking of Indian Nationalist Thought: Kancha Ilaiah; Pearson Education, 7th Floor, Knowledge Boulevard, A-8 (A), Sector 62, Noida-201309. Rs. 695.

The meek and the weak deserve to be written about because they constitute the ‘other’ side of our society. The maturity of our democratic consciousness can be measured by how we treat, not our descendants and dependents, but members of the classes/castes other than our own.

The term ‘Dalitbahujan’ refers to and encompasses the Scheduled Castes and the Other Backward Classes, the “people and castes who form the exploited and suppressed majority.” This is what Kancha Ilaiah told us in his classic Why I Am Not a Hindu (1996). Now, 14 years later, Ilaiah says there were three kinds of nationalist thought during the anti-colonial struggle. There was the Hindu nationalism of Tilak and Gandhiji, the Brahmanical communist nationalism of P.C. Joshi and S.A. Dange, and Dalitbahujan nationalism of Jotirao Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar E.V. Ramasami.


Dalitbahujan writings made five contributions to Indian nationalist thought, says Ilaiah. The first is the Buddha-Ambedkar school that advocates non-violence and restricted use of weapons, for self-defence only. In contrast, the Hindu gods carry weapons —Krishna has his ‘chakra’ (wheel), Parsuram his axe, and Rama his bow and arrow.

The second contribution is the concept of equality based on communal property. The life of Dalitbahujans mostly depends on the labour power of their hands and the larger prakriti (or nature). The leisure-loving higher castes, who constitute the upper class, base their life on private property and on the labour of the other sections of society.

The third contribution is universal humanism or ‘Dalitism.’ The “egalitarian democratic-socialist baby” is growing in the womb of Dalitbahujan wadas or neighbourhoods.

The fourth relates to the democratic gender relations. Ilaiah believes that man-woman relations in the Dalitbahujan wadas are less patriarchal. In these wadas, atrocities are inflicted by husbands under the influence of brahmanical feudalism and capitalism.

Socio-economic values

And the fifth contribution concerns positive socio-economic values. The class of people who produce goods and are wrongly considered ‘polluted’ deserve to be respected, while those who produce nothing and remain mere ‘consumers’ but claim themselves to be ‘pure’ must be ‘devalued.’ “Making shoes should receive greater respect and better payment than teaching in the university.”

It is noteworthy that Ilaiah is himself a university don. Hence he merits our respect for the courage of his conviction to talk against his own interest.

Kancha Ilaiah, who has risen from a humble background, has six books to his credit, and his articles have appeared in all leading Indian journals. He has participated in the U.N. Conference on ‘Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia’ held at Durban in 2001 and has also been a postdoctoral Fellow with the Dalit Freedom Network, Denver, in 2004-05.

This book, which is rhetorical in character, is the outcome of another Fellowship, the one from Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (1994-97). Ideally, such a prestigious Fellowship should have been used to offer some fresh theoretical insights.

But Ilaiah has chosen to uncritically endorse Jotirao Phule’s theory that the Aryans were invaders. Phule (1827-90) could take that position because such was the historical thinking during his time. In fact, he was only echoing what Max Mueller (1823-1900) had said. If Ambedkar (1891-1956) endorsed that line it was because his work related to public administration, not history. As for Periyar (1879-1973), the Aryan invasion theory eminently fitted into his campaign for the Dravidian cause.

One expected Ilaiah, as an academic of stature with a record of pioneering work, to have examined the issue in the light of the latest thinking in the academia. For instance, we have Romila Thapar telling us that Aryans were not a race but were people speaking Indo-Aryan group of languages. And languages get disseminated through story-tellers, pen-pushers, litterateurs, and so on.

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Devadasis Were Degraded Buddhist Nuns


Dr. K. Jamanadas,

What is the Devadasi System

Perhaps the most horrible effect of fall of Buddhism in ancient India, which is haunting us even today, is the start of devadasi system. The system of votive offering of girls to the deities in Brahmanic temples is a system found in all parts of India, but was more prevalent in the south. In some parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka it is still prevalent and has become a source of exploitation of lower castes. Though they had a glorious past, these girls are now a days degraded to the status of cheap prostitutes. The saying in Marathi goes, “Devadasi devachi bayako sarya gavachi”, meaning that she is servant of god but wife of the whole town. This is the lot of such a woman. She has to remain unmarried, and maintain herself by ceremonial begging, a system called “jogava” in Marathi, to get both ends meet. With “chal” (a string of small bells) in her feet, she carries the “jag” (a metal mask of god) in a “pardi” (a basket) on her head and begs whole life, or ends up in a brothel.

The term devadasi is a Sanskrit term denoting female servant of deity, but they are known by different names in different areas. Jogan Shankar gives the names by which they are known in various parts, such as Maharis in Kerala, Natis an Assam, Muralis in Maharashtra, Basavis in Karnataka State. [p.16] Though the name ‘devadasi’ is popular, in Goa they use the term `Bhavanis’. `Kudikar’ on the West-Cost `Bhogam-Vandhi’ or `Jogin’ in Andhra Pradesh; Thevardiyar’ in Tamil Nadu; `Murali’, ‘Jogateen’ and ‘Aradhini’ in Maharashtra. In Karnataka, old devadasis are called as `Jogati’ and young devadasis as `Basavi’. The term `Basavi’ refers to feminine form of `Basava’ a bull which roams the village at will without any restriction. Hence `Basavi’ alludes to the foot loose position of the woman. [Jogan Shankar, p. 157]

The rite of Initiation

This cult is prevalent even today throughout India with some regional variances. When a girl is dedicated to or married not to a mortal-man but to an idol, deity or object of worship or to a temple, some rite is performed. About the rite of initiation, it is stated that, unlike old times, such ceremonies are now a days performed rather secretly without much fanfare at smaller temples or local priests’ residences, rather than big temples of Yellamma like at Savadatti or Kokatnur, to avoid the expenses and also to escape clutches of law. The expenses are borne either by the ‘would be’ companion or paramour or the “Gharwalis” (mistresses of urban brothels) where these girls who would be expected to join their brothel in future. [Joga Shankar, p.99]

The vows at the time of initiation include the warning to parents or brothers that this girl will have a right in their property. Then the priest addresses the girl to be dedicated and seeks some set answers, to which the girl has to agree.

“Priest: Look! Hereafter you cannot claim a right of wife with any man. You have to fast on Tuesday and Friday and beg on those days holding a Joga in your hand. You happen to see a calf, sucking its mother you should not forcibly withdraw the calf. If a cow grazes the crop before you, you shall not drive it away. You shall not speak untruth. If you are feeling hungry don’t tell others so and ask for food. Offer shelter to shelterless and strangers. Provide food to those who are hungry and water to the thirsty. Help the helpless people. If anybody abuses you and beats you, never retaliate. If you come across with an event of death you have to take bath, visit the temple of Yellamma. Only after worshiping the deity you are supposed to take meals. You should not eat ‘Yenjalu’ (left out food) of somebody. You shall chant “Udho Yellamma” (Glory to Yellamma) all the time.” [Joga Shankar, p. 101]

Fate of Devadasis

After initiation, the ceremony of ‘the first night’ is celebrated. It is called ‘Uditumbuvadu’. Previously the right belonged to the priest but now a days, it is well publicized within the clientele of businessmen and rich landlords. One who deflowers her gets right to her over others for the rest of her life but neither she nor the children of such union have any right over him, or his property. He can leave her any time. She has to lead a life of a cheap prostitute either near about or at metropolitan brothels. By the time her market value goes down, and she is thrown out of business, she becomes a habitat for a number of diseases including may be AIDS, and ends up in some village corner, desolate, rejected, friendless and rots to death.

Caste distribution of Devadasis

It is well known that majority of devadasis are from dalit community. According to the research conducted by Prof. Baba Saheb Ghatge for his M. Phil. the percentage of castes in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra is as follows:

Mahar (SC) – 53%, Maratha – 30%, Matang (SC) – 10%, Gurav (OBC) – 2%, Sutar (OBC) – 1%, Dhangar (OBC) – 1%, Parit (OBC) – 1%, Khatik (OBC) – 1%, Bhoi (NT) – 1% [Baba Saheb Ghatge, “devadasi pratha aani punarvasan”, (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1996.

The 30% among Marathas, which is not a backward caste, is rather surprising, and in my opinion is indicative of common origin of Dalits and Marathas, as was explained by Dr. Ambedkar in “The Untouchables”.

Even in those places, where worship of Yellama is in vogue by other castes, the devadasis are all dalits. Jogam Shankar observes:

“In Yellampura village almost everybody worships Yellamma deity. A dominant caste like Lingayats acknowledge Yellamma as their family deity. But at the time of survey it was found that no single upper caste woman was dedicated to the deity. However, knowledgeable elderly persons revealed that there were a few devadasis among other castes like Talawar, Gurav and Kurubar castes. But at present no devadasi is found among these castes. As ritual status of such women came down and functional relation with temple almost terminated, members belonging to other castes abandoned the practice but lower castes like ex-untouchable including Holers, Madars and Samagars continued the practice. Among Samagar caste there is only one devadasi who is about 70 years old. Since then no new initiation has taken place in the caste. Samagars are placed above the remaining ex- untouchable castes. The whole devadasi population is concentration among Holers and Madars only.” [Jogam Shankar, p. 159]

Legends to support Devadasi system

To keep the bahujans and dalits under control, it was necessary that the stories are manufactured and incorporated in various mahatmyas in the Puranas. There are three important legends, we should know about. It may be useful to see what the traditional stories told by the brahmins and believed to be true by the sufferers themselves. Vasant Rajas, “Devadasi: Shodha ani bodha”, (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1997, has given the account of various legends in Puranas concerning this practice. [p.74 ff.] The following is the summary of it.

Legend of Renuka or Yallamma

One of the important legends concerned is about Renuka Devi. It seems to be an addition to the well known story of Parasurama. The story of Parsurama is interpreted in many ways, by different scholars. But there is an inherent contradiction in his story, which no scholar seems to have pointed out. The main concern of Arjuna on the battle field was of ‘varna sankar’ i.e. inter caste marriages. If you kill the ksatriyas, the widows are likely to have ‘varna sankar’ which destroys the ‘dharma’. The Lord says he takes avatara to establish the ‘dharma’ meaning ‘chatur-varnya- dharma’ by killing the ‘wicked’, meaning those who do not follow this dharma. Parasurama is said to be an avatara. How does Parasuram deserve the status of avatara, when he himself killed the ksatriyas 21 times, and ultimately led to ‘varna sankara’? But such questions are not to be asked to the brahmins. Let it be as it may, we come back to the legend.

According to legend, Renuka appeared from the fire pit of ‘putra kameshti’ yadnya performed by a kshatriya king Renukeswara. She was married to Rishi Jamdagni. The couple had five sons including Parasurama. One morning she was late in coming home from the river as she was sexually aroused by watching the love play in river, of a Gandarva raja with his queens. This enraged Jamdagni who ordered his sons to kill her. All other sons refused and were burned to ashes by rishi’s curse, but Parsurama beheaded her. The rishi gave him three boons. By first, Parshurama asked to bring back to life his four brothers. By second he wanted his mother to be made alive. But her head was not available. So Parshurama cut the head of a woman from ‘matang’ caste, and Jamdagni revived his wife with the matangi’s head. By third he wished to be free from the sin of matricide. But Renuka was cursed by Jamdagni to have leprosy and was banished from the hermitage. However, she got cured by some ‘Eknatha’, ‘Jognatha’ sadhus in the forest. She returned back to Jamdagni who pardoned her and blessed her that she will attain great fame in Kaliyuga.

Later a King Sahstrarjuna killed Jamdagni on Full moon day of Magha, and Renuka became a widow. This day is called “Rand Punav” – a widow’s full moon day. “Rand” is a derogatory word meaning widow as well as a prostitute. According to Hindu customs, Renuka broke down her bangles on death of Jamdagni on this day. So all the devadasis on that day assemble in the temple of Yellama at Soundatti, to break down their bangles.

Later Parsurama invaded Kartvirya Sahasrarjuna, killed him and brought back ‘kamdhenu’ along with the head of this king. On his prayer of god, his father Jamdagni again became alive, so Renuka again became a ‘suhagan’ – a married woman – and put back on her green bangles. So the Devadasis put on bangles (chuda) on this day – the full moon day of Chaitra, so this day is called ‘chudi punav’. A ‘choundak’ was made out of the skull of Sahasrarjuna, so the devadasis use this musical instrument while begging a ‘jogava’.

Parsurama went on rampage destroying and annihilating the kshatriyas twenty one times. He killed even the children in the womb of pregnant women. So these women started running around. Their garments fell down till they approached Renuka, who advised them to wear branches of ‘nim’ tree around their waist and pray Parsurama, saying ‘udho udho udho’. (so ‘nagna-puja’). Since then the people became devotees of Yellamma and started offering their girls as devdasis and boys as ‘jogte’, the male counterpart of devdasi.

Temple of Renuka was built in 13th century in Soundati hills. The Jains believe that Renuka is their ‘Padmawati’. For centuries, the devotees of Renuka, who are mostly dalits and bahujans, assemble there twice a year on Magha and Chaitra full moon days for pilgrimage, offer their daughters to make them devdasis.

B. S. Kamble from Sangali dist. mentions the influence of blind faith over dalits to an extent that a backward class member of legislature had established a shrine of Renuka image in Bombay Mantralaya. [“Sugawa”, marathi journal, Ambedkar prerana issue, December 1998, p. 51]

Legend of Renukamba

There is a temple of Renukaamba, built in 14th century, at the top of Chandragutti hill in Shimoga district in Karnataka. The gullible masses from dalit and bahujan communities are made to believe that Renukaamba devi is the incarnation of Renuka or Yallamma of Saundatti. The speciality of this temple is that dalit women must go naked to worship this devi. It is called ‘betale seva’ or ‘nagna puja’ i.e. naked worship.

Legend in Purana says that the if girls go naked and pray the devi they get good husbands and married women get all their wishes fulfilled, the childless women get children, and that those shudra women and girls who do not follow these traditions meet with a lot of calamities.

Some awakened youth trained in Ambedkarite traditions tried to stop this practice in 1984. There was a struggle against these workers, they were beaten up by the goons of pujaris and orthodox mandir committee people, and paraded naked, and were made to worship the Devi in such condition. The victims included some police – even lady police officers – kept for bandobast.

The chief Minister of Karnataka had to appoint a committee to investigate whether “Nagna-puja” has any religious sanction of Hindu sastras. The report was submitted in 1988 stating that there is no such sanction of Hinduism. In 1992 ban was imposed on this “Nagna-puja”. There was a hue and cry against it, but since then it is stopped.

Legend of Khandoba

The third deity of Devdasis is Khandoba of Jejuri, though there are eleven ‘pithas’. It is the ‘kul-daivat’ of dalits, though many others worship him including some Muslim devotees, who presumably were dalits, worshiping this deity before being converted to Islam. Even the robbers used to attend the annual fair and finalize their plans there. They were, presumably, of ex-criminal tribes, which was a part of Dalits. Brahmins have homologized this deity and made out stories that Shankara took this form of Martanda, to protect the brahmins from the asuras.

People do votive offering of their sons and daughters to this deity. The terms used are ‘waghya’ for male and ‘murali’ for female. It is a form of Devdasi. Murali, whose token marriage is performed with Khandoba, remains unmarried throughout her life and leads a life same as devadasi of Yellama. After Ambedkarite awakening in the Matang society, who form the majority of Murlis, the practice has declined though not completely stopped.

Jogam Shankar gives more details:
‘Muralis’ are girls dedicated to god Khandoba in their infancy or early childhood by their parents. “Poor deluded women promise to sacrifice their first born daughters if Khandoba will make them mothers of many children. Then after the vow the first born girl is offered to Khandoba and set apart for him by tying a necklace of seven cowries around the little girl’s neck. When she becomes of marriageable age, she is formally married to Khandoba or dagger of Khandoba and become his nominal wife. Henceforth she is forbidden to become the wedded wife of any man, and the result is that she usually leads an infamous life earning a livelihood by sin. Some of these girls become wandering muralis. Others become ordinary public women in any town or city; while a few are said to live for years with one man. The parents of such girls do not feel ashamed to take her earnings, because they belong to Khandoba, and what they do is not sin in the eyes of his devotees. Kunbis, Mahars, Mangs and other low castes make muralis of their daughters in this fashion”. (Fuller : 1900 : 103). High caste people of the region also worship Khandoba and their mode of expressing reverence to the god differed. Thus “Not a few high caste people visit Jejuri to pay their vows; but they never give their own girls to Khandoba but buy children from low-caste parents for a small sum of money, which is not a difficult thing to do and offer them instead of their own children”. (Fuller, Marcus B., “The wrongs of Indian Womanhood”, Edinburgh:Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1900). [Jogan Shankar, p. 50]

Definition of Devadasi under the act

As many laws had to be passed from time to time, for its abolition, it had to be defined by law. One such example is the Bombay Devadasi Act, 1934, which states that “the performance of any ceremony intended to dedicate or having the effect of dedicating of women as a devadasi where such women has or has not consented to performance of such ceremony, is hereby declared unlawful and to be an effect to any custom or rule to the contrary not withstanding”. This law also declared the marriage of devadasi valid and children of such marriages as legitimate. [Jogan Shankar, p. 153] However, nobody bothered to enforce the Law, till some Ambedkarites agitated.

Some examples of Brahmanic sexual exploitation

According to Ramanika Gupta, in certain parts in Bihar, even now, a new dalit bride has to spend the first night with the village head man. [Sugawa, p.69]

A bazaar is organized in Dholpur for sale of Dalit girls. [Sugawa, p. 69]

Kamble describes a custom called Okali. On first or second Saturday comming after the Hindu New Years Day (Gudhi padawa), the devadasis were openly sexually enjoyed in public, about hundred years ago. This is now replaced by another tradition called “Okali”, which was in vogue till 1987. It is a festival like ‘Rang Panchami’. The young boys from higher castes assemble around a pool of coloured water in front of town temple. Young devadasis in the town stand in front of them in a row, and each receives a sari, a choli and a flower garland. The coloured water is poured over the devadasis who appear virtually naked as the cloths given to them are very thin, scanty, delicate and transparent. The boys play with the bodies of devadasis as they like, doing everything just short of sexual intercourse. All assembled enjoy the scene. This happens in the name of god ‘Bili Kallappa’. [Uttam Kamble, Sugawa, p. 81]

Vasant Rajas describes another custom, called “Sidi attu” in town Madakeripura in Karnataka which was in vogue till 1987, when it was banned by the Govt. Here a devadasi is suspended with a hook in her back on one end of a transverse rod placed on a vertical pole planted in ground, and rotated by a rope at the other end. She salutes the gathering, while her garments fly and all the naked lower part of her body is visible to all, for their amusement. This was supposed to bring prosperity to town, and the devadasi used to get a sari, a choli, a coconut and a betel nut, for which she thanked the gathering. [p. 27]

It must be realized that Hinduism is the only religion in the world, which has given religious sanction and provided with religious philosophy to the practice of prostitution. [Sugawa, p. 81]

It is well known that Dr. Ambedkar advised the conference of Devadasis on 13th June 1936, in Damodar Hall, Parel, Bombay, saying that they must give up this life of sin and be prepared to lead a pure life though it will be a life in poverty, as character is more important than money. After conversion to Buddhism, the custom of devadasis is stopped completely in families converting to Buddhism. [Prof. Archana Hatekar, Sugawa, p. 92]

Dasis and Devadasis are different

Many scholars including shri Rajas, an active Ambedkarite, who has played an important role in the activities for the Abolition of Devdasi system, has confused a ‘devdasi’ with ‘dasi’ which simply meant a female servant. It must not be confused with the ‘dasis’, which were given in Yadnyas to brahmins as gift. The famous dasis like Manthara of Ramayana fame, Uttara in Mahabharata, Mura in Maurya period or Panna of Rajput period were all ‘dasis’ and not ‘devadasis’.

Use of sex by Brahmins for dominating over masses

Use of sex by brahmins to keep domination over the masses is not a new thing. Shri Rajas gives many examples like ‘putra kameshti yadna’, the rite of ‘laja hom’ during Vedic marriages where the ‘devas’ give up their right over the bride, an old tradition of offering of wife to the guest for the night, the tradition of rajpurohit spending time with the queen in king’s absence on war or hunting – the rite called ‘anang dana pratana’, traditions in Gujrath and Rajasthan of sending young brides before marriage to temple for one night to be spent with the priest, similar tradition of visiting temple priest by one woman from every household for one night during the nine nights in ‘navaratra’ prevalent in Gujrath and Rajasthan, are all such examples of the tricks employed by the brahmins over the masses. He has also given the example of infamous game of ‘ghat kanchuki’ during the reign of Peshava Bajirao II. [Vasant Rajas, p. 4 ff.].

But why blame Peshava Bajirao II, for a game of ‘ghat kanchuki’. It is described in the Hindu sastras as ‘chakrapuja’. M.M. Dr. P. V. Kane has described it in his ‘dharma sastra cha itihas’. He describes that, an equal number of men and women assemble secretly in the night, without any consideration of caste or relationship, and sit around a paper on which ‘chakra’ is drawn as a symbol of goddess. All the women remove their cholis and put it in a pot, and every man picks up a choli at random and selects his partner for the night. A Hindu Tantrika text, “Kularnava Tantra”, he says, mentions that God has ordered that, what ever good or bad transpires that night must never be disclosed. Kane had heard in his childhood that this puja was practiced in some cities in Maharashtra. [Marathi translation by Y. B. Bhat, p. 430, second edition, 1980, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal, Mantralaya, Mumbai]

But all these traditions, customs and practices are not examples of devadasi system.

Indus Valley Civilization

As foreign examples are not applicable to India, the search for time of origin of Devadasi cult in India should start with Harrapan Civilization, which shows no trace of offering of girls in worshiping places. The well known bronze ‘dancing girl’ is referred by Basham as a representation of temple dancer, but he himself admits that “this can not be proved”. As a matter of fact, “historians remained silent about existence of temple or common place of worship” in Harrapan Civilization. [Joga Shankar, p. 38] Though it was a Dravidian civilization, as has been amply proved, it had no connection with the devadasi cult.

Courtesans in Vedic Age

A marathi scholar, “Itihasacharya” V. K. Rajwade, who had taken a vow not to write in English, has described many sexual practices of Aryas, whom he always referred to as “our savage ancestors”. They used to have free sex openly in front of fire, so perhaps had no need of prostitution or devadasis.

Rig Veda mentions the word “Samana”, which is rendered by different scholars differently to mean a festival, a gathering or a battle, festival being the most favoured. In it among many others, the courtesans used to attend ‘to profit by the occasion’ [Shastri Shakuntala Rao, “Women in Vedic Age”, p. 6]

There are references to secular prostitution in Rig Veda and terms are used like “harlot”, “son of a maiden” or “son of an unmarried girl”. [Joga Shankar, p. 38]. But certainly these are not the examples of temple prostitution.

Buddhist period

That way, prostitution is supposed to be the oldest profession. The known history of India starts in sixth century B.C. and we find in Buddha’s time, an illegitimate child, becomming a renowned courtesan Amrapali, who later became a Bhikkuni.


“Artha Shastra” of Kautilya, or Chanakya or Vishnugupta is supposed to be a work of around 300 B.C., though some people think that there are interpolations of the Gupta age. It mentions “Ganikadyaksha” – superintendent of prostitutes, the penalties for prostitutes, dancers and singers, but does not talk of devadasis.

Ashokan Times

An inscription of Ashokan times found in a cave at Ramagarh in Vindhya hills, as referred by J. Bloch, mentions a word “Sutanuka”, which in later period was used to denote temple dancer. But this is no “clear reference to devadasis in early sources” [Joga Shankar, p. 39]

The Jatakas also make no mention of temple dancers. (Altekar, p. 185)

Vatsayana’s Kamasutra

It is expected that Vatsayana, who deals with sexual attitude in ancient India, will make a note of this cult, if it existed at his times. But he does not, as Joga Shankar observes:

“In early literature we find abundant references to secular prostitutes, dancers and courtesans, But specific references to temple dancers and sacred prostitution are not traced. Classics like Vatsayana’s ‘Kamasutra’ (250 A.D.) deal in detail about courtesans. There is, however, no direct reference to sacred prostitution. … He even classifies prostitutes into nine classes, the most honoured of whom is ganika. “Such a women” says Vatsayana, “will always be rewarded by kings and praised by gifted persons, and her connection will be sought by many people” (Burton : 1923 :166) [Jogan Shankar, “Devadasi Cult”, p. 40]

Later Works

We find in a sanskrit drama of seventh century A.D., Mrichakatikam, a courtesan Vasantsena having courtship with of a poor Brahmin Charudatta.

In South India, about the same time or a little later, two Tamil epics “Manimekhalai”, a Buddhist composition and “Sillapadhikaran”, another non-brahmin creation, which depict the story of Madhavi, a girl adept in singing and dancing etc.

All these belonged to flesh trade. But none of them was a devadasi. This distinction is important, because the origins of these two systems are different.

Earlier accounts of devadasi system

Vasant Rajas, “Devdasi: Shodha ani bodha”, (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1997, mentions of an inscription of 1004 A.D., in Tanjor Temple mentioning the numbers of devdasis to be 400 in Tanjor, 450 in Brahideswara temple and 500 in Sorti Somnath temple. [Vasant Rajas, p.3]

R. C Majumdar, who blames the inclusion all people with different views into its religious fold by the Buddhists for the general decline of morality in India, admits the degradation in ideas of decency and sexual morality in the Hindu religious practices. He observes:

“A great Sanskrit poet of the period gave a vivid description of the deva-dasis in a temple of Krishna and added that they made one feel as if the goddess Lakshmi had come down on earth to attend her lord the god Murari. (Dhoyi, “Pavandutam”, v. 28) Contemporary epigraphic records also refer in rapturous terms to the personal charm and beauty of the hundreds of deva-dasis assigned to a single temple. [R. C. Majumdar, “The Struggle for Empire”, HCIP, vol. V, fourth edition 1989, p.400 ]

Ghoshal enumerates the number of devadasis in various brahmanic temples:

“Indeed literary record and inscription give us the impression that they were regarded as a part of the normal establishment of temples, The number of these girls in the temples often reached high proportions. The temple of Somnatha at the time its destruction by Sultan Mahmud is stated to have been served by three hundred and fifty dancing girls. According to Chau Ju-Kua, Gujarat contained 4000 temples in which lived over 20,000 dancing girls whose function was to sing twice daily while offering food to the deities and while presenting flowers.

“We have the valuable testimony of Al-Biruni to the effect that the kings maintained this institution for the benefit of their revenues in the teeth of the opposition of the Brahmana priests. But for the kings, he says, no Brahmana or priest would allow in their temples women who sing, dance and play. The kings, however, make them a source of attraction to their subjects so that they may meet the expenditure of their armies out of the revenues derived therefrom. [U. N. Ghoshal, “The Struggle for Empire”, HCIP vol. V, fourth edition 1989, p.495]

Al-Biruni’s statements, as is well known, are all based on the learned Brahmins, whom he interviewed. So it is the Brahmins’ side of the story. The truth is that Brahmins and kings used to fight for the possession of these girls.

Distribution of Devadasis between Brahmins and Ksatriyas

The devadasis in temples had become the targets of the pleasure seekers among the brahmins and the kings. Brahmin priests claimed that they being the representatives of gods in heaven, the ‘bhudevas’, i.e. gods on the earth, they have the first claim, as anything offered to god belongs to brahmins, so also the girls offered to god must belong to them. The Kings retorted, that they make appointments of devadasis, they give them money and land and feed them, so they have greater claim. Ultimately the conflict was resolved by an understanding and devadasis were branded on their chest with emblems of ‘garuda’ (eagle) and ‘chakra’ (discus) for kings and ‘shankha’ (conch) for brahmins. [Rajas: p. 2]

It is interesting to note that all these emblems are Vaishnavite. We know that Ramanujam had started the system of branding on shoulders, with shankha and chakra, for the devotees embracing Vaishnava faith and it was a part of initiation rite. [See details in my book: ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’]. The system of branding devadasis seems to be the further application of the same principle.

Devdasi system among Muslims

The influence over Muslims of hindu of devdasi tradition is mentioned by Vasant Rajas. Some muslim sects had started offering girls to ‘dargas’. Such girls were called ‘acchutis’. There is a colony of such people in Lucknow in U.P. even today. The girl is married to Koran, Nikah is performed, the girl is called ‘bibi’ and is condemned to lead a life of prostitution. [Vasant Rajas, p. 17]

Earliest References in Epigraphs

In inscription of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of raja Raya III, in Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar is used for dancing girls, in Vishnu temples. This word had the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D. [K. Jamanadas, “Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”, p. 125]

In India, first references start appearing around tenth century or so in Jagannatha temple of Puri, which was originally a Buddhist temple, where Buddha’s Tooth Relic was being worshipped. Here these dancing girls were called ‘Maharis’. It is well known that ‘Mahar’ is a prominent untouchable caste of Maharashtra.

The earliest reference to the girls dedicated to temples appears in a Tamil inscription dating back to the reign of Rajaraja the great, a Chola monarch. He was a Shaiva votary. He came to throne in 985 A.D. The inscription indicates that in 1004 A.D. the main temple at Tanjore had four hundred ‘tali-cheri-pendugal’ or ‘women of the temple’ attached to it. “They settled in the streets surrounding the temple and in return of their service received one or more shares, each of which consisted of the produce of one veli (26,755 sq. meters) of land, calculated at 100 Kalam of paddy”. (E. Hultzsch: South Indian Inscriptions : Vol II: part III). The entire Chola country was filled with temples with devadasis in attendance as is clear from this particular inscription. It also provides an exhaustive list of the dancing girls who had been deputed to the Tanjore temple. [Jogan Shankar, p. 52]

“Historians have also traced and inscription from the Chebrolu of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh dating back to 1139 A.D. The inscription records that some dancing girls were in services at the temple of Nageshvara right from the age of eight years old (Epigraphia Carnatica : V : Ak : 105 : 1139 A.D.).

Earlier Duties of devadasis

In earlier stages, their duties remained religious as Mahalingam presumes that when food was offered to God they danced before the idol, they themselves gave him food and all that was necessary. (Mahalingam; 1940:150). Probably this services to only God remained for a long period.

Harshad. R. Trivedi believes initial spurt of the cult was associated with the great spurt in building up of temples, and that the cult of “Devadasi” began to flourish during Pallava and Chola dynasties in South India from the 6th to 13th Century A.D., and the rise of “sacred prostitutes” in India seems to have taken place in the ninth or tenth century A.D. [ (Trivedi :1976:76), Jogam Shankar, p. 111]

However, at later stage devadasis were forced to please earthly Gods and lords as well. Mahalingam referring to Nuniz, wrote :

“Every Saturday, they were obliged to go to king’s palace to dance and prostrate before the King’s idol which was in the interior of his palace” (Mahalingam:1940:158).

In Mattsya Purana there is a reference to the dishonoured women of the defeated or killed wives of ‘asuras’ who were asked to serve in the temples and practise prostitution (Nadkarni:1975:15). Naturally it seems that the other kings and princes treated the devadasis as their personal servants and forced them to dedicate every thing they possessed to them. Emulating the practice of sponsoring the cult of such rulers, chieftains, feudals, officials, and moneyed persons also took advantage of this system and treated devadasis as objects of their carnal desires. Priests and religious heads of various denominations and temples supported the cult to continue and persist by bestowing religious sanctions. [Jagan Shankar, p.111]

Jagan Shankar observes:

“Hence, we have to assume that they were rare until the middle ages, Altekar also opines that, “The custom of the association of dancing girls with temples is unknown to Jataka literature. It is not mentioned by Greek writers; the Arthashastra which describes in detail the life of ganikas is silent about it” (Altekar : 1973:185). [Jogan Shankar, “Devdasi Cult”, p. 39]

“Probably the custom of dedicating girls to temples and sacred prostitution became quite common in the 6th century A.D. as most of the Puranas containing references to it have been composed during this period. Several Puranas recommend that arrangements should be made to enlist the services of singing girls at the time of worship at temples. They even recommend the purchase of beautiful girls and dedicating them to temples..” [Jogan Shankar, p. 40 ff.]

“Bhavishya Purana suggests that the best way of winning Suryaloka is by dedicating a bevy of prostitutes to a `Sun’ (Solar) Temple” (Altekar : 1973:184). [Jogan Shankar, p.40]

Moghul period

Abul-Fazl records the condition of prostitutes, both sacred and secular, during Akbar’s reign (1556-1605) in his famous work Ain- e-Akbari, stating their number was so much that a ‘Daroga’ or a superintendent was required to supervise their activities, and their locality was called ‘saitanpura’ or ‘devil’s villa’. [Blochman and Jarrett, 1873, quoted by Jogan Shankar, p. 40]

“During the reigns of Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shah Jahan 1628-1658), the luxury, ostentation, extravagance and depravity increased”. (Manucci : 1907 : 9). [Jogan Shankar, p. 40]

It was Aurangzeb (1659-1707), who seems to have taken pity on the plight on these women and made many efforts to attempt to alleviate their sufferings, and at the same time, check the wastage which was slowly draining the resources of the country. He was a committed Mohammedan puritan who led a life of an ascetic. During his reign thousands of Hindu temples were demolished by his order, and every effort was made to wipe out prostitution and everything pertaining to it. He even issued public proclamations, prohibiting singing and dancing; at the same time ordered all the dancing girls to marry or be banished from the Kingdom. (Elliot : 1867 ;283). [Jogam Shankar, p.41]

Why the Devadasi cults are less in North India

W. Crooke while presenting account of the tribes and castes of Northern India, mentions castes such as tawaif, gandharb and patur. These castes consist of dancers, singers and prostitutes. Only one caste called ‘raj-kanya’ among them seems to be temple dancer. [Jogan Shankar, p.42] There are certain gypsy tribes named `bediyas’ and `nats’, who are dancers, acrobats and prostitutes in Bengal. But these castes have no connection with temple worship. [Jogan Shankar, p. 43]

Thus we find that though the secular prostitution flourishes in Northern India as in the rest of the country, the Devadasi cult seems to be less in existence. This is attributed to Muslim influence, as Jagan Shankar observes:

“Hence in North India the institution dedication to temple dancing is very rare. This may be due to Mohammedan rule which destabilized temple administration and sacred complexes were frequently attacked by alien plunderers. However, dedicated dancers were not attached to any temple as such. Mohammedan puritans like Aurangzeb treated this institution and other Hindu cults with contempt. He wanted to do away with such cults. In fact he succeeded in his endeavours to some extent.” [p.43]

Participation of Veera Shaivas

At least during British times, Veera Shaivas did not lag behind the Brahmins and the kings in exploitation of these girls. In a paper entitled `Basavis in Peninsular India’ at the Anthropological Society of Bombay during 1910, presented by R.C. Artal, then deputy Collector of Belgaum describes:

“… Indeed the ceremony is subject to local variation. The lucky badge is generally tied on her neck by the Lingayet Jagam or Arya-Pattadappannavaru or Charamurtigalu of Hire- Math, i.e. Chief math of the Village. The practice observed with regard to the consummation of the Basavi is that generally the Hiremathadayya has the right to take her maidenhood” (Artal :1910:99)

“It seems to me that the institution of Basavis was mainly started with a view to satisfy the carnal desires of Jangamas or Lingayat priests who are not allowed to touch a non-Lingayat women. Hence the proverb “Bhaktar Mani Oota, Basavi Mane Nidre” which means “a Jangama take his meals in the houses of Bhaktas (devotees) and sleeps at night in the house of a Basavi” (Artal :op.cit.).

“The leading members of the Veershaiva community of the village, including the Jangamas of the Hirematha, endow her with a concave metal vessel on the occasion of her dedication, and thus permit her to go a-begging. I have seen the concave copper vessel given to the Veerashaiva Basavi of Rabkavi in the Sangli State on the Terdal-Jamkhandi Road. It bears an inscription on it to the effect that it was given to the Basavi by the Pattadappanavaru of the place” (Artal : op.cit).

Commenting on this Joga Shankar observes that, it is evident from this description that dominating castes and their priests sponsored this cult in the past. [Joga Shankar, p. 62]

Some important Devadasis

In spite of great humiliation and exploitation, and ultimate horrible fate of most of them, devadasis being expert in dancing and singing, some of them have attained high fame. Rajas mentions some of such important ones. The famous dancer Jailaxmi of Padanallur became the queen of King Ramanad. Devadasi Subalaksmi became a famous classical singer. The famous devadasi house of ‘Mangeshkar’ from Goa is renowned for singing all over the world. During late Peshava rule, example of Patthe Baburao, a great ‘shahir’, who forgot his brahmanic origin and removed his sacred thread for his consort Pawala, a Mahar by caste, is still famous [Rajas: p. 54], and people have produced films on the couple.

Classical Dance forms of ancient India

Today, we find the exhibitions over media, and festivals being organized, specially for foreigners, to show how great was our ancient art form of dance, may it be Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi or Oddisi. It is never mentioned on such occasions that this art was the gift of these low caste women who nurtured the art under trying conditions and with great suffering. The art was later learnt by women of higher castes and now it is they who only participate in international festivals and the like. Jogan Shankar gives an account how this happened about ‘Sadir’ dance of devadasis. He observes:

“The revivalists wanted to preserve the traditional from of Sadir dance by purifying it. The new name was given as ‘Bharatanatyam’. As a consequence of purification some modifications were introduced into the content of to dance style. The revivalists were basically belonging to Brahmin dominated Theosophical Circles. Many Brahmin girls started to learn the dance from devadasis. Hence the dance technique remained unchanged. The only change was change in the class of clientele.” [p. 144]

The themes were picked up from Sanskrit texts, higher caste girls learned the dances and put them in new settings which excluded devadasi traditions, and the dance form became individual oriented from the community oriented. [p.144] Theosophical Society of India revived the devadasi dance, declaring as the aim of restoration of India’s ancient glory. Rukmini Arundale was well groomed and encouraged by Annie Besant to convert the devadasi’s ‘Sadir’ to ‘Bharatanatyam’, and started training the higher caste women, with the funds of the Theosophical Society, organizing a convention in 1935-36, and establishing an International Academy of Arts which was later renamed as Kalakshetra. [Jogan Shankar, p. 145]

Theories of origin of Devadasi Cult

Jogan Shankar observes that, none of the numerous theories, provides explanations satisfactorily. However inadequate they may be, they help us in our inquiry, so he gives the list of such theories.:

1. The custom of dedicating girls to temples emerged as a substitute for human sacrifice, being and offering to the gods and goddesses to appease and secure blessings for the community as a whole.

2. It is a rite to ensure the fertility of the land and the increase of human being and animal population on the principle of Homeopathic magic.

3. It is part of phallic worship which existed in India from early Dravidian times.

4. Probably sacred prostitution sprang from the custom of providing sexual hospitality for strangers; and if such hospitality is offered by the living mortal wives of a deity, prosperity would bound to result.

5. The devadasi cult simply represents the licentious worship offered by a people, subservient to a degraded and vested interests of priestly Class.

6. Devadasi system is a deliberately created custom in order to exploit lower caste people in India by upper castes and classes as:

(a) The upper castes have influenced the establishment of an order of prostitutes who are licensed to carry on their profession under the protective shield of religion.

(b) The establishment of such system facilitates them the access to low caste women to fulfill their carnal desire.

(c) The setting up of such a system can destroy the lower castes’ sense of self-respect in a society.”

As Jogan Shankar feels that the last theory is most likely to be the real cause, we will concentrate only over it. He feels:

“The above mentioned theories have been put forth by many scholars in the past. The survey of literature and historical evidences clearly show that most of them are inadequate to explain the whole institution of devadasis. While some of them are supported by Frazer, Briffault, Tawney and Penzer these theories or explanations do not support everything. Such theories were presented after making comparisons. … Hence for the present study the sixth explanation seems to be more feasible. …” [Jogan Shankar, “Devadasi Cult”, p. 62 ff.]

The first five theories can not explain, why only bahujan girls have been becoming devadasis and not the others. So his theory of exploitation of lower castes by the upper castes is very sound. But it is the effect of devadasi cult, and not the cause, as we will see later.

Decline of Women started with the decline of Buddhism

It is well known that at one time girls were allowed to undergo ‘Upnayana’, which was a ‘right’ to take education, but their position declined later. It started from Manu and went on deteriorating further. Altekar identifies the period of 500 A.D. to 1800 A. D. as one of further deterioration During this period the ‘Upanayana’ rite for girls was banned, marriage remaining the only alternative. The age of marriages of girls was lowered and child marriages became the rule. Widow remarriages were prohibited. ‘Purdah’ was observed leading women to a secluded life. Hindu sastras considered women as Shudras, and they were debarred from reading or reciting the Vedas and perform any Vedic sacrificial rituals. Women were indoctrinated through the puranic stories which inculcated blind-faith rather than rational thinking. It was impressed on their minds that they must visit temples, perform vows and observe fasts with more regularity than menfolk to accumulate ‘punya’, i.e. virtue. In this context Altekar explains the paradox with these apt remarks:

“Thus the very women whom religion had once considered as outcastes, were also the most faithful custodians of its spirit and traditions (1973: 176)” [Jagan Shankar, p. 9]

Condition of women in non-hindu religions

We all know that, the women’s participation in Buddhism and Jainism was more their condition was not that humiliating as in Hinduism. After Buddha changed his stand about the admission of women into the Sangha, we have many examples of outstanding Buddhist nuns. Later, Jains also permitted nuns but more puritanic Digambara Jains held that women could never gain salvation unless they are reborn as male. [Jogan Shankar, p. 10]

In a study, from Madras, it was found that Christian women had a much higher rate of participation in white collar occupations than Hindu women and that Muslim women had a much lower rate. The report states that Christianity places fewer restrictions on the activities of women that other religions and therefore Christian women have acquired more education and vocational training than women of other communities.

Chandrakala A.. Hate, who has also found similar differences from Bombay and Poona, claimed that “since there is no joint family system among the Christians, women work out of necessity the expectation of the eventual need to be self-supporting”. (Hate :1969 :16). Both studies attribute the low rate of participation of Muslim women to greater conservatism.” [Jgan Shankar, p. 11]

A stigma on Hinduism

The faith in god itself is a blind faith. The blind faith increases the exploitation of ‘masses’ by the ‘classes’. Any time the interests of these classes are in danger, there is a hue and cry that the ‘dharma’ is in danger. I have a great respect for the members of ‘Andha shraddha nirmulan samiti’ for their work, but it is a pity, that they have also failed in removing the fear from the minds of people about these so called devis, and could not convince them that matting of hair – ‘jat’ – as locals call it, is not a ‘call from devi’ to offer their daughter as a devadasi. I think it is because they do not like to include the faith on god as a ‘blind faith’, though they accept in private that the origin of all blind faith starts with the faith in existence of supreme god.

Untouchabilty has been recognized as an ‘evil’ of Hinduism, and a stigma, but devadasi system is still not recognized as such. The day that is recognized as such, will be the real day of beginning of liberation of women. Dr. Ambedkar has shown that the real cause of Untouchability is contempt of Buddhists. Similarly, it is the fall of Buddhism that caused the degradation of Buddhists nuns to the present state of devadasis.

Salient points

The theories to which Joga Shankar attributes the origin, it would be clear that he is confusing the effect with the cause. That the exploitation of dalits is the effect and not the cause of devdasi system. The cause is the contempt of Buddhism. His theory does not explain many points.

We know that devadasi system started around ninth or tenth century after the fall of Buddhism, during the so called ‘Rajput period’.

We know that many Buddhist temples were converted to Brahmanic ones during the period.

We know that it was the Buddhist system of at least one girl or a boy from each house to join the Sangha.

We know that the Bhikkus were killed. Some ran away to foreign lands, some accepted brahmanism and became low grade brahmins. Then what happened of these bhikunis?

We know that during the last phase of Buddhism, it was Vajra Yana, which prevailed. In later stages of this religious system, the importance of women in the religious practices had increased. As a matter of fact all tantras, hindu as well as buddhist, used women as media, in their religious practices.

We know the system of untouchability had started during late Gupta period around fifth or sixth century. How did the untouchable girls got entry into the sanctum sanctorium after this? These girls must be present in the temple service before the system of untouchability started and some of the Buddhists, residing out side the villages and refused to stop eating beef of a dead cow, were condemned to be untouchables, as explained by Dr. Ambedkar.

Devadasis were degraded Buddhist nuns

It is, therefore, our opinion, that today’s devadasis are the degraded Buddhist nuns of ancient India, as put forward by us some ten years ago. [Dr. K. Jamanadas, “Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”, p. 125 ff.] The points in favour of this theory are as follows:

In Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar which was used in the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D got the meaning of dancing girls, attached to Vishnu temples, in inscription of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of raja Raya III. [K. Jamanadas, p. 125]

In Maharashtra, they are called ‘Devadasis’, meaning ‘female servant of God’. In the opinion of present author these devadasis were originally Buddhist nuns, and the system of making first born daughter, a Bhikshuni was prevalent, and the fall of Buddhism caused the degradation of these bhikshunis to the level of todays devadasis.

Foreign origin of the custom

It the mistakes to trace the origin of Indian Temple dancers to Babylonian, Greek, Syrian, Phonecian or Egyptian tradition or any foreign ancient customs. Even some very important leaders who are struggling for the abolition of ‘Devadasi system’ in parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka, seem to attribute this origin. Practices of dancing in these foreign temples was thousands of years before the Christian era. Indian scene is comparatively more recent, about 1000 A.D. or so. It should be clearly understood that Ambrapali, Vasantsena and Madhavi were not Devadasis, as mentioned above, and there is no foreign influence on Indian Temple dancers. This system of devadasis started after the decline of Buddhism in India during the so called “Rajput Period”, and flourished during the “Muslim Period”.

Their nomenclature

They were called emperimandiars in Tamilnadu, a name which was applied to devotees of Vishnu before being called Vaishnavas, as already seen. In certain parts of Maharashtra, these devadasis are known as ‘bhavin’ or ‘jogin’ or ‘jogtin’. All these words literally mean a Buddhist nun.

Temple of Jagganatha at Puri

In India, first references start appearing around tenth century or so in temple of Puri. It is well known that this was a Buddhist temple, where Buddha’s Tooth Relic was being worshipped. For details on this point please see my book ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’. It is interesting to know that these dancing girls were called ‘Maharis’ in temple of Puri. It is well known that ‘Mahar’ is a prominent untouchable caste of Maharashtra. From Jogan Shankar we learn that same name is used in Kerala too. That the Kerala Nayar community were Nagas and formerly Buddhists is well recognized.

Ancient Indian literature is silent about them

One has to differentiate between Ganikas and their inferior counterparts Varaganas on one hand and Devadasis on the other. That the Devadasis were Buddhist nuns can be deducted from many evidences. They were unknown to ancient India. Jatakas, Kautillya or Vatsayana do not mention them, but later Puranas are full of them. The system started only after the fall of Buddhism and records of them start appearing around 1000 A.D.

Old Buddhist practice of offering a child for religious cause

In certain castes the system of offering at least one daughter from family for the service of god was rampant in almost all families of the caste. It well known that 95% of the devadasis today belong caste of Untouchables, who were, of course, Buddhist originally.

These dancing girls and their male counterparts had different names in different parts of the country, and the important point to note is that the pair was, and even today is considered not as husband and wife but as brother and sister, the relation that existed among the Buddhist nuns and Bhikshus. The practice of Ceremonial Begging also denotes Buddhist origins.

Their deities

There is always some religious rite conducted at the time of their initiation and that they were looked upon with respect by the society in early days, It is also noteworthy they have the Deities of their own, which are distinct from Brahmnic Deities, and the original connection with Buddhist Deities is already forgotten.

Some of the Deities of these Devedasis are also now homologized as some Brahmins also worship these Deities, and the people whose ‘Kuladdaivatam’ are those deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmnic order. These deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmnic order.

Religious Orthodoxy

Origin of devadasi system is religious and not economic. It has not only economic facets but also religious ones. For example devadasis have a firm religious belief that they must not get married, as they are married to god. This poses a difficult problem, not only to find them husbands but also to persuade them for marriage. Instances are abundant that these girls refused to get married and some of those who did get married, lost their prestige in the eyes of their kith and kin. This kind of orthodoxy can only be explained on religious grounds and not on economical ones.

Unfortunately the present Devadasis are ignorant of their glorious past and that the prominent among them and their families have dissociated themselves from the problems of Devadasis. They are against any kind of reform and are associating with the very social institutions and people, who made them prostitutes from servants of God.

What more evidence is needed?

It is a matter of understanding. 95 per cent of Devadasis are untouchables. Being untouchables they were Buddhists of olden days as shown by Dr. Ambedkar very aptly. Before the name ‘Vaishnva’ came in vogue, the devotees of the Lord of Tirumalai were known by the name ’emperumandiyars’. The same name was being applied to these women who became devadasis from buddhist bhikkunis. This is a direct evidence that the ancestors of todays devadasis who were devotees of Venkateswara, were Buddhists and that the Lord of Tirumalai was the Lord of these Buddhists.

The name by which these erstwhile Buddhists are known today, was the name of the devotees of the Lord Venkateswara. What more direct evidence could there be that the Lord Venkateswara was the Buddhist deity.

Evolution of the System

The evolution of the devadasi cult has been traced erroneously to a period earlier than Aryans entry in India because of ‘dancing figure’ in Harrapan civilization. This is shown above to be false.

The Kerala pattern of matriacheal system, as Joga Shankar seems to suggest, also has nothing to do with this cult and it is not a relic of Dravidian matriarchal society, in which the genealogy of a child was traced only to the mother.

Contrary to what he suggests, the children of devadasis are forced to enter `Basavi’ or mother’s name in the slot meant for father’s name in the school application forms, only because they do not have a social father and even if known, the biological father accepts no responsibility. This has nothing to do with the matriarchal society of Dravidian region and no parallel can be drawn. One might remember a story of Satyakama Jabala from Upanishada, who was placed in similar situation.

Joga Shankar’s suggestion that, Aryan invasion saw many Dravidian deities being homologized by Brahmins is correct. Many such examples are given by Bal Krishna Nair, who observes:

“Who does not know how the Tamil Muruga came to be installed as the Subramania and how the Tamilian Avai was metamorphosed into the Durgai and Parvathi in the Aryan pantheon. Even Mayon and Mal are believed to be old pre Aryan Tamil names subsequently identified with the later Aryan Sun god, Vishnu. … An ancient ‘Muruga’ temple situated in the eastern ghats popularly known as “Ayyappa Swami” (also considered as Buddhist in origin) became Sanskritised as ‘Shastha’ and therefore the son of Vishnu. … Deities are similarly married and the new relative assumes equal importance in a new place like the older deity whose spread encompassed the new also. The bride, of course, in this case is usually the Dravidian deity and the bridegroom is mostly Shiva e.g. marriage of goddess Meenakshi of Madurai with Shiva. [“Dynamic Brahman”, pp 51 ff.] . For details of Ayyappa see K. Jamanadas, p. 28 ff.]

Similarly, Basavi or Jogati such as Yellamma, originally a Dravidian Goddess, became Renuka or Renukamba and was superimposed by an Aryan system of devadasi, which was prevalent in Somannath and Jagannath Temple at Puri and other north Indian temples where the impact of the Aryans was predominant.

Initially the dedicated women were required to clean the sanctum – sanctorium, for maintenance of lamps in cleaning, putting oil, lighting the lamp, offering food (naivedya) to the main deity, assisting priests at the time of worship, as they used to do as Buddhist nuns. Education and learning of women had already stopped with the decline of Buddhism, so these nuns had no other work. System of washing and bathing the Buddhist images had already started in Mahayani system.

Ratha Yatra was a Buddhist practice copied by Brahmanas [K. Jamanadas, p. 160 ff.] These girls started to dance and sing in praise of the deity, and look after cleanliness of the temple complex. These women were said to be expert artists in music and dance. We have seen how Bharatnayam, a classical dance form, flourishes today because of devadasis of Tamil Nadu. As society underwent changes so also patrons of devadasi changed and their service also shifted.

From Devadasi to a Prostitute

The later progress can be surmised as mentioned by Joga Shankar:

“At a later stage, devadasis were asked to serve the king as in the case of God, since the king was considered to be God on earth. In fact Kings sponsored this cult. Temple dancers along with their traditional ritual functions started rendering their services to royal palaces and assisting Kings in the art of politic. They were use in espionage activities against enemy Kings and Court dancer.

“Kings started building temples and appointed devadasis to serve God in the temples and royal palaces. This development had a far reaching impact on popularization of the cult. Other lesser Kings, chieftains and feudals also emulated their superiors and started patronizing the cult. In rural areas feudals who possessed substantial land, exercised commandable authority over other socially and economically weaker sections of society. They were de facto owners of men and material of the region. The cult served as an instrument through which they could gain the assessability to desirable low caste and poor women. The field experience supports that this cult is prevalent only among scheduled caste women who are subjugated and suppressed by upper caste members since time immemorial.” [Jogan Shankar, p.157 ]

And thus the Buddhist nuns were converted to today’s Devadasis, the cheap prostitutes in the name of god, and it was the most dreadful result of the decline and fall of Buddhism in ancient India, affecting mostly the bahujans.