Puppets of Faith: Theory of Communal Strife (A critical appraisal of Islamic faith, Indian polity)
Author: BS Murthy

Chapter 6
The Zero People

 While the Brahman genius paved the way for the Aryan’s intellectual superiority, the others of the land were denied access to education as a ploy to stall their challenge to them for all times to come. Nonetheless, the indigenous genius was allowed to find expression in arts and crafts earmarked to their castes; thus, by and large, their social re-engineering seems to have worked wonderfully well to justify Max Mueller’s eulogy.

The Brahmans who invented the zero, and the decimal as well, had however marginalized the sudras besides turning the outcasts into ciphers, only to eventually degenerate themselves as well. The caste system of the Aryan social expediency was in time given the Brahmanical religious sanction through interpolations in the Gita itself through the one below, v13 in chapter 4, Practical Wisdom, and such others.

By Me ordained born beings

In tune with their own natures

Environs in such govern their life

But tend I not them to their birth.

Alberuni describes the caste ridden Hindu society as he found it between 1017 and 1030 A.D thus:

“The Hindus call their castes varna, i.e. colours, and from a genealogical point of view they call them jataka, i.e. births. These castes are from the very beginning only four.

1. The highest caste are the Brahmana, of whom the books of the Hindus tell that they were created from the head of Brahman. And as Brahman is only another name for the force called nature, and the head is the highest part of the animal body, the Brahmana are the choice part of the whole genus. Therefore the Hindus consider them as the very best of mankind.

2. The next caste are the Kshatriya, who were created, as they say, from the shoulders and hands of Brahman. Their degree is not much below that of the Brahmana.

3.  After them follow the Vaisya, who were created from the thigh of Brahman.

4. The Sudra, who were created from his feet.

Between the latter two classes there is no very great distance. Much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings.

After the Sudra follow the people called Antyaja, who render various kinds of services, who are not reckoned amongst any caste, but only as members of a certain craft or profession. There are eight classes of them, who freely intermarry with each other, except the fuller, shoemaker, and weaver, for no others would condescend to have anything to do with them. These eight guilds are the fuller, shoemaker, juggler, the basket and shield maker, the sailor, fisherman, the hunter of wild animals and of birds, and the weaver. The four castes do not live together with them in one and the same place. These guilds live near the villages and towns of the four castes, but outside them.

The people called Hadi, Doma (Domba), Chandala and Badhatau (sic) are not reckoned amongst any caste or guild. They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleansing of the villages and other services. They are considered as one sole class, and distinguished only by their occupations. In fact, they are considered like illegitimate children; for according to general opinion they descend from a Sudra father and a Brahmani mother as the children of fornication; therefore they are degraded outcastes.

The Hindus give to every single man of the four castes characteristic names, according to their occupations and modes of life. E.G. the Brahmana is in general called by this name as long as he does his work staying at home. When he is busy with the service of one fire, he is called ishtin; if he serves three fires, he is called agnihotrin; if he besides offers an offering to the fire, he is called dikshita. And as it is with the Brahmana, so is it also with the other castes.

Of the classes beneath the castes, the Hadi are the best spoken of, because they keep themselves free from everything unclean. Next follows the Doma, who play on the lute and sing. The still lower classes practice as a trade killing and the inflicting of judicial punishments. The worst of all are the Badhatau, who not only devour the flesh of dead animals, but even of dogs and other beasts.

Each of the four castes, when eating together, must form a group for themselves, one group not being allowed to comprise two men of different castes. If, further, in the group of the Brahmana there are two men who live at enmity with each other, and the seat of the one is by the side of the other, they make a barrier between the two seats by placing a board between them, or by spreading a piece of dress, or in some other way; and if there is only a line drawn between them, they are considered as separated. Since it is forbidden to eat the remains of a meal, every single man must have his own food for himself; for if any one of the party who are eating should take of the food from one and the same plate, that which remains in the plate becomes, after the first eater has taken part, to him who wants to take as the second, the remains of the meal, and such is forbidden.”

The social duties of non-Brahmans as pictured by Alberuni are -

“The Kshatriya reads the Veda and learns it, but does not teach it. He offers to the fire and acts according to the rules of the Puranas. In places where, as we have mentioned, a tablecloth is prepared for eating, he makes it angular. He rules the people and defends them, for he is created for this task. He girds himself with a single cord of the threefold yagnopavita, and a single other cord of cotton. This takes place after he has finished the twelfth year of his life.

It is the duty of Vaisya to practice agriculture and to cultivate the land, to tend the cattle and to remove the needs of the Brahmans. He is only allowed to gird himself with a single yajnopavita, which is made of two cords.

The Sudra is like a servant to the Brahman, taking care of his affairs and serving him. If, though being poor in the extreme, he still desires not to be without a yojnopavita, he girds himself only with linen one. Every action which is considered as the privilege of a Brahman, such as saying prayers, the recitation of the Veda, and offering sacrifices to the fire, is forbidden to him, to such a degree that when, e.g. a Sudra or a Vaisya is proved to have recited the Veda, he is accused by the Brahmans before the ruler, and the latter will order his tongue to be cut off. However, the meditation on God, work of piety, and alms giving are not forbidden to him.

Every man who takes to some occupation which is not allowed to his caste, e.g. a Brahman to trade, a Sudra to agriculture, commits a sin or crime, which they consider only a little less than the crime of theft.

All other men except the Candala, as far as they are not Hindus, are called mleccha, i.e. unclean, all those who kill men and slaughter animals and eat the flesh of cows.”

The ironclad caste arrangement that might have initially helped the work culture of specialization, insensibly led to the economic ruin of the society in the long-run. Those who didn’t have an aptitude to the craft that was earmarked to their caste, or had an inclination towards the art reserved for another, at the very best, must have been invariably half-hearted in their ‘forced’ pursuits; or, at the worst, they became parasites on the society at large. Understandably, their progeny who were supposed to learn the nuances of the craft or tricks of the trade from such should’ve lost their ropes for the lacking of their parents. Equally inimically, the watertight work culture could have prevented the flow of consultative corrections from one section of the society to the other, resulting in the stagnancy of skill that invariably led to the eventual decay of the craft itself.

In time thus, the social insult and the economic plight would have driven the numerically dominant fourth castes and the fifth outcasts into a state of despondency. And owing to the segregated nature of the society, the kshatriyas too might have lost the pulse of these very people they were supposed to govern. It was under such circumstances that Buddhism and Jainism made their appearance to threaten the hitherto unchallenged Brahmanism socially, and the sanātana dharma, sanctified by them, morally.

The account of the rise and fall of Buddhism, which initially challenged Brahman hegemony, only to lose out in the end, but, not before becoming the prevalent religion of Asia, is well recounted by Romila Thapar in ‘A History of India’ published by Penguin Books India.  

“The Buddha (or the Enlightened One), as he was called, came from the republican tribe of the Shakyas, and his father was the kshatriya chief of this tribe. The legend of his life has curious similarities with the legendary episodes in Christ’s life, such as the idea of the Immaculate Conception, and temptation by the Devil. He was born in about 566 B.C. and lived the life of a young prince but with increasing dissatisfaction, until he left his family and disappeared one night to become an ascetic.

After an austere six years he decided that asceticism was not the path to salvation and discarded it. He then resolved to discover the means of salvation through meditation, and eventually on the forty-ninth day of his meditation he received enlightenment and understood the cause of suffering in this world. He preached his first sermon at the Deer Park at Sarnath (four miles from Banaras) and gathered his first five disciples.

This sermon was called the Turning of the Wheel of Law, and was the nucleus of the Buddhist teaching. It incorporated the Four Noble Truths (that is, the world is full of suffering, suffering is caused by human desires, the Renunciation of desire is the path to salvation, and this salvation is possible through the Eight-Fold Path), and the Eight-Fold Path which consisted of eight principles of action, leading to a balanced, moderate life, (right views, resolves, speech, conduct, livelihood, effort, recollection, and meditation, the combination of which was described as the Middle Way).

To understand this sermon did not call for complicated metaphysical thinking, and the rational undertone of the argument was characteristic of the Buddhist emphasis on causality as the basis of analysis, particularly in a system where nothing is left to divine intervention. Salvation lay in achieving nirvana, or extinction, freedom from the wheel of rebirth. Thus the doctrine of karma was essential to the Buddhist system of salvation. Unlike the brahmanical idea, karma was not used to explain away caste status, since the Buddha rejected caste. 

Buddhism was also atheistic, in as much as God was not essential to the Universe, there being a natural cosmic rise and decline. The universe had originally been a place of bliss but man’s capitulation to desire has reduced it to place of suffering. Brahmanical ritual was almost entirely eliminated and was disapproved of in the early pure form of Buddhism: popular cults such as the worship of trees and funerary tumuli were accepted and Buddhists were thus able to associate themselves with popular worship.”    

Romila Thapar further notes the effects of Buddhism, and its cousin Jainism founded by Mahavira, on the Hindu social strata thus: 

“There was much in common between Buddhism and Jainism. Both were started by members of the kshatriya caste and were opposed to brahmanical orthodoxy, denying the authority of the Vedas, and antagonistic to the practice of animal sacrifices, which had by now become a keystone of brahmanical power. Both appealed to the socially downtrodden, the vaishyas who were economically powerful, but were not granted corresponding social status, and the shudras who were obviously oppressed. Buddhism and Jainism, though they did not directly attack the caste system, were nevertheless opposed to it and can, to that extent, be described as non-caste movements. This provided an opportunity for those of low caste to opt out of their caste by joining a non-caste sect. The lack of expenses involved in worship, as contrasted with brahmanical worship, also attracted the same stratum in society.”      

The challenge posed by Buddhism brought changes as well in Brahmanism that eventually evolved as Hinduism, and this phenomenon is described by Romila Thapar thus:               

“The successful attack of the ‘heretical sects’ on Vedic sacrifices and gods strengthened the trend of monotheistic thinking in brahmanical teaching, which trend had originated in the philosophy of the Upanishads with its concept of the Absolute or the Universal Soul.  This concept also resulted in the idea of the trinity of gods at this time, with Brahma as the Creator, Vishnu as the Preserver, and Shiva as the god who eventually destroys the universe when it is evil-ridden. This concept was associated with the cyclical conception of nature where creation, preservation, and destruction were seen as the natural order of things. Of the three gods, Vishnu and Shiva gained a vast following and through ensuing centuries the Vaishnavas and the Shaivas remained the two main sects of Hindu belief, each believing that its god represented the Absolute. Brahma receded into the background.”  

However, though having enjoyed the support and patronage of the rich and the powerful, the Buddhism, on the other hand, lost ground in the country of its origin. The causes of this decline are well described by Romila Thapar thus: 

“It is not to be wondered at, therefore that monasteries were richly endowed, that huge stupas were built, and that the Buddhist Order became affluent and respected.  Some of the monasteries had such large endowments that they had to employ slaves and hired labour, the monks alone not being able to cope with the work. Gone were the days when the Buddhist monks lived entirely on the alms which they collected during the morning hours, for now they ate regular meals in vast monastic refectories. Monasteries were built either adjoining a town or else on some beautiful and secluded hillside far removed from the clamour of cities. Secluded monasteries were well endowed to enable the monks to live comfortably.

The Buddhist order thus tended to move away from the common people and isolate itself, which in turn diminished much of its religious strength, a development which one suspects the Buddha would not have found acceptable. Improvement in communications led to an increase in pilgrimages, which in turn led to the spread of new ideas.

Buddhism had become very active in sending missions to various parts of the subcontinent and outside, and, in the process of proselytizing; Buddhism also began to receive new ideas. This inevitably led to reinterpretations of the original doctrine, until finally there were major differences of opinion and the religion was split into two main sects.  This schism, as well as the growing tendency of the Buddhist clergy to live off the affluent section of society, bred the seeds of decay in Buddhism.” 

“The more orthodox Buddhists maintained that theirs was the original teaching of the Buddha and they are called the Hinayana sect or the followers of the Lesser Vehicle. Those that accepted the new ideas were called the Mahayana sect or the followers of the Greater Vehicle. Eventually, Hinayana Buddhism found its stronghold in Ceylon, Burma, and the countries of south-east Asia, whereas Mahayana Buddhism became the dominant sect in India, Central Asia, Tibet, China, and Japan.”

When Buddhism ceased to be a force in the land of its birth, Hinduism eventually sealed its fate by proclaiming the Buddha as the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, unmindful of the irony of it all for going by the theory of Divine Incarnation expostulated in the Gita through v 6 - 8 of ch 4, Practical Wisdom, as follows.

Beyond the pale of birth ’n death

On My volition I take birth.

Wanes if good ’n vile gain reign

Know it’s then that I come forth.

It’s thus I from time to time

Manifest here to uproot ill

And uphold well for public good.

The above verses are excerpted from the author’s free ebook, Bhagvad-Gita: Treatise of self-help, sans 110 verses interpolated in the version in vogue. 

Well, of what avail was the Buddha-avatar? If it were meant to destroy the oppressive Brahmanism and protect the suppressed castes and the outcasts, it was a failed avatar as Alberuni found in the early 11th century itself. On the other hand, by owning up the Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu, the Brahmans seemed to have unwittingly admitted to their own guilt for having deprived some sections of the Hindu fold. But, the near extinction of Buddhism pushed the oppressed masses of the Indian mainland back to the square one in the socio-religious game of snakes and ladders.

However, earlier, as they moved into the hinterland, the political acumen of the Aryans / Namesakes didn’t seem to match with their spiritual quest. After all, they did advance without guarding their flanks, didn’t they? And inevitably, many others from the Central Asia followed the very Aryan / namesakes’ footsteps into, what they referred as Hindustan. However, while most were insensibly absorbed into the Hindu cultural mainstream as sub-castes, some in the Sind, and yore, tenuously remained in the Hindu fold, only to jump into the Buddhist embrace in time. Thus, there developed in the populace near the Hindukush, an indifferent, if not hostile, attitude towards the Hindus, which made them apathetic to their cause. And this rendered the strategic Western frontier an Aryan barren land with disastrous consequences to the Hindu hinterland in due course.

Owing to the incompetence or corruption, and /or both, of the rulers, slowly but surely, the great medieval Aryan empires of the Gangetic plains got disintegrated. All that naturally led to the mushrooming of minor kingdoms, raised for most part by the hitherto integrated foreign races. Thus, in time, while the society was fractured by the Brahmanical order, the land was sundered by political disorder. Moreover, the visions of greater glory of the Rajahs of these minor kingdoms for themselves set them on expansionist campaigns against the neighboring entities. And inevitably, all this wasted the resources of the land besides tiring its warriors depleted their stock. It is thus, at length, the war-torn land became a wasteland, and that plunged its masses into depravity.

Amidst this anarchy, the by then weakened Buddhist religious buffer in the frontier paved the way for the then emerging religion of Islam for it to gain a foothold in the Aryavarta. However, that Arab conquest of the Sind in 712 AD didn’t disturb the Hindu complacence, as the arrival of St. Thomas in Malabar in 52 A.D. hadn’t before that.

And the question that naturally arises is why it was so? Alberuni seems to have captured the peculiarities of the then Hindu character and psyche thus:

“…  there are other causes, the mentioning of which sounds like a satire - peculiarities of their national character, deeply rooted in them, but manifest to everybody. We can only say, folly is an illness for which there is no medicine, and the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course from any foreigner.

According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar. If they travelled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is.”

 Well, Alberuni could not have been wrong in his speculation concerning the generations of the Hindus that passed by then, going by the intellectual reach of Chānakya, who under the pseudonym of Kautilya authored the celebrated Artha Shāstra, during 325 B.C.E. After all, having envisaged the threat Alexander the Great posed to India, he, with political vision, personal sagacity, and moral will, galvanized the Hindu kings to face the yavana challenge. But sadly, in the early 11th century, when the Afghan–Turkish threat loomed large on its western horizon, there was no Chānakya in Hindustan to grasp the Islamic ethos of expanding its religious space with the power of the sword, and gauge the zeal of the Musalmans for jihad. Thus, the warring princes and the dispirited populace were not galvanized enough to thwart the Quranic advance into the Hindu heartland. 


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