I haven’t written anything this week and I was going to flush out my thoughts on my written diary or locked blog but an interesting observations came upon me, which I would share.
I’ve noticed with Vidhi’s science-intensive path that it’s very uncharacteristic for our northwestern cultural streams. Sindhis, Punjabis and the lot are into different professions.
I also noticed that religious difference didn’t make so much of a difference (Sikhs in some ways are surprisingly similar to Muslims but one must not over-hype their kinship, their loyalties with the Hindu population will always come first) but it seemed that a region’s exposure to Islamicate ways reduced their inclination for science (the Gunpowder Empires were advanced in military tech but were reknowned for their aestheticism).
As an aside to deny that Hindu criticisms of the Mughals is not grounded in communalism is laughable. Louis XIV (whose reigns roughly coincided with the latter two Mughal Emperors) was renowned for his profligacy (Versaille is the mini-Taj of Western Europe) and his constant wars of conquest (Aurganzeb comes to mind). Nevertheless after a Revolution or so the French remain profoundly proud of their “Sun King” in a way the Hindu Right Wing do not towards the Mughals.
Back to the Brahmins; there are 5 sets of Brahmins who capture the Indian imagination.
(1.) The UP Brahmins who are the core of Hindu doctrine and society. Without them there wouldn’t be a coherent Hindu society or population (there are 20 million UP Brahmins).
(2.) The Bengal Brahmins who are the periphery of the Hindustani belt (but still very much a part of it with Bengal being significant in the Mughal era and core heartland in the Colonial one), emerged as a core of a more “Hindu cultural identity.” Is it any wonder that the Indian national anthem is in Bengali?
(3.) The Kashmiri Pandits. Unique among Brahmins they were a minority among an overwhelming Muslim population. Surrounded by Muslims, they Mughalicised, became the Hindu Mughals and the political class of independent Indians.
(4.) The Maratha Brahmins. On the Edge of Aryavarta and the heart of the Deccan; they became the Hindu warrior class after the Rajputs were entirely coopted by the Anglo-Mughal establishment (the Rani of Jhansi was a Maratha).
(5.) Finally the Brahmin class, which sparked my initial thought. The Tamil Brahmins, furtherest away from the Islamicate world in every way possible (their Islam is similar to the Kerala, TN, Ceylon, South East Asian one) and most obsessed with the hard sciences. It’s pretty obvious Vidhi wouldn’t have been on her scientific path if she had grown up in the North.
In some ways the “millennia of humiliation” (not my words) splintered the Hindu response 5-ways, which is why any reconstruction of Hindu identity rests on a multi-regional response.
Ps: Shocking in a case of life imitating art – I was just browing girmit’s last comment and found out that the commentariat were discussing the exact same thing..
55 thoughts on “The Five Great Brahmin Castes and their proclivities”
Interesting observations. Although I’m not sure the hypothesis of historical exposure to Islam necessarily stands up to scrutiny.
Re: TamBrahms, indeed, it seems like they almost single handedly fly the flag of elite accomplishment for Indian Science — of the five desi origin science Nobel Laureates, three are Tam Brahms (Raman, Chandrashekhar and Ramakrishnan, the first two being uncle/ nephew). The Indian Space Research Organization has in the past 20 odd years, become dominated at the upper echelons by southerners, particularly Tamils, although the rank and file still do draw from all over the country, although predominantly as you can guess, from Bengal and the southern states. Contrary to widely accepted lore the Ramanujan came from nowehere, he too came from this community, described by Sunil Khilnani in this podcast as a `hothouse for intellectual accomplishment’
I’d hazard against writing off the Punjabis though, since they produced the other two science laureates (Khorana and Salam, the former a Hindu and the latter an Ahmadi), although this seems to be more of a lingering legacy of when they were a part of British India.
Which brings me to my counterpoint — if it’s distance from exposure to Islam that causes an Indian culture to be more inclined to science, how do you account for the Bengalis?
Today, I’d say in terms of numbers, Bengalis (along with Southerners) dominate the Indian scientific establishment, but not overwhelmingly. They are overwhelmingly Brahmin, however, with Jains and Parsis also significantly over-representing. In physics and astronomy Gujaratis, Orriyas and Marathi people also represent, but perhaps not in proportion to their populations.
Minor quibble — `Maratha Brahmin’ is an oxymoron, it should be Marathi Brahmin. Marathas are a neo-Kshatriya caste whose name derives from the Marathwada region where they dominate.
Bengali and Tamil Brahmin; The ones with the highest AASI say compared to UP Brahmins.
Then of course who were the leisured class, those who had the time to sit and think and not worried about putting food on the table. Isaac Newton and Hooke come to mind.
ahh of course, Dravidian supremacy 😉 It’s hard not to agree these days….
While sympathetic to ideas of surplus labor and leisured classes, TN is not one of leisured classes, while Bengal might have been. The landowning among Brahmins in TN was much lesser in Bengal, and not much surplus labor or time was available. However, they did maintain the corpus of vedic and Sanskrit literature in the south. This is owing to the lack of rich land and rainfall in TN vis-a-vis Bengal, kerala or even srilanka. The comparison of TN Brahmins is better with Lankan North, and they are smallholders and temple castes, not zamindars. Still, the tN brahmins were dominant in the few villages were they were present, just not in the way Brahmins dominated as large landowners or holders of surplus capital in the north.
A bizarre result of this was, like the Jaffna Tamils, Tamil Brahmins advanced fastest under the British, where education, school completion and working as salaried class was important; this was repeated again in the 1970s-1980s-1990s, where higher education and working in international, neoliberal markets was prized, and the TN Brahmin diaspora relocated to where capital was located. This was not a result of surplus time or capital, but the outcome of prizing learning vis-a-vis capital.
I tend to agree with this explanation — emphasis and cultural bias towards prizing learning appear to be the operative dynamic, certainly relative to prizing the pursuit of wealth. This certainly appears to account for the difference between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis given their otherwise common institutional recent history (via the Bombay Presidency). Gujaratis tend to emphasize skipping formal education and joining the family firm asap, whereas Marathi people tend to prize learning as a means of economic and social betterment. Although learned Marathi folk tend more towards the humanities and literature than the sciences per se, they do have some world class scientists of recent note.
Getting back to Zack’s point, perhaps this is what he meant by distance to Islam rendering the society more amenable to academics, since more conservative strains of Islam have recently come to discourage academic inquiry relative to mastering one’s understanding of the Quran and the Hadiths. I seem to recall Razib remarking elsewhere that the majority of scientific accomplishments of Islamic scholars during its golden age to be Persian speaking. Persia, of course, being another culture who have historically prized learning. In theoretical physics today, I’d say almost all of the production from the culturally Islamic world tends to come from Iranians or people of Iranian descent (with some Turkish contributions). Abdus Salam’s singular contributions do not seem to have engendered any lasting intellectual legacy in Pakistan, although that has as much to do with their mistreating and ostracizing him as an Ahmadi more than anything else.
This is Zack’s blog, and he can say what he wants, but I wish to tone down the idea of Brahmins, TN or otherwise going on a path of scientific education, with an end of pursuit of knowledge itself. A cynical take will be, If astrology is the way to $$, all TN brahmins will rush to that. The Brahmins of TN identified education and science early, and ahead of all other castes, but, now, several other castes are rushing into that. TN is not a place Newton and Ramanujam can survive, whether they have wealth or not.
“This certainly appears to account for the difference between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis given their otherwise common institutional recent history (via the Bombay Presidency). ”
Gujaratis have been institution builders.
Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, Tatas etc.
Think of it – ISRO, NID, TIFR, IISc were all built by Gujarati capital and/or initiative.
Marathi guy PK Kelkar did have a major role in building up the IIT system.
I am not espousing Dravidians (whatever the heck they are).
I am all for the jungle bunny tribal etc.
I think I have a much of the jungle bunny in me.
I just have to quote Gananath Obeysekere, I was ignorant.
Look up Brahmin Migrants, the Sudara Fate
Awaiting the research publication.
Incidentally Obeysekere are older than the Bandaranaikes. SWRD’s mother was an Obeysekere ( (the spelling matters) and old Solomon married into that family for greater legitimacy. Ethel Obeysekere was like a fisher woman, would curse and use strong language against Sir Solomon. Apparently tough guy but no match for Lady Ethel.
What’s a good way of telling which name is a Tam-Brahm name other than having the surname Iyer and Iyengar? The more Sanskritic sounding the name, the higher the likelihood? I know Murthy is a Konkani Brahmin surname, but does it translate to Tamils as well, i.e. is “Ramamurthy” for example a Tamil Brahmin surname?
Also, seems South Indian Christians are very well represented in the ISRO ranks as well, given their relatively small population nationally.
I have a joke that every time a Tam-Brahm boy is born, the family tosses a coin. If it’s a head, they name him Karthik.
Sorry. Don’t mind me. Please continue with the serious discussion.
Let me guess, if it is a tail, they name him Srinivas, isn’t it? 🙂
(I am extremely delighted to meet you!)
What you have written is very similar to a tweet I read recently which goes something like: God tosses a coin every time a Tamil Brahmin is born and if that turns heads he decides to make the Tamil Brahmin in question an extreme right-winger and if tails, an extreme left-winger.
caste surnames like Iyer or Iyengar and, in fact all other castes surnames are much less used nowadays. Murthy you will find in all southern states.
So is there a good way to tell a Tam Brahm from a non Brahmin when no info is available? Appearance? It seems a lot of people at ISRO (at least those listed on Wikipedia) don’t seem to be Brahmins.
None. No way to physically or namewise identify a TN Brahmin.
I want to tell you one thing; NO TN Brahmin manwill go to a govt job anmore. No money any more. ISRO has a lot of people from Kerala because they are located in Thumba and Sriharikota (more anhras)
Yes South Indian Brahmins can look like South Indians but they can look extremely distinct.
\NO TN Brahmin manwill go to a govt job anmore. No money any more. \
No TN Brahmin man or woman goes to TN govt jobs due to heavy exclusionary policies of the Dravidian parties for the last 60 years. It is not a matter of money.
I don’t know what is proclivity or Brahmans or anybody else . Past is no indication of future.
Be that as my , traditionally brahmins have been divided into two sections , largely coinciding with geography, but the basis of division is not geography
What are the proclivities of other Brahmin groups, like Hill Brahmins (Himachal, Uttarakhand), Punjabi Brahmins, Rajasthani Brahmins, Telugu Brahmins etc., O great sociologist of India.
Hello Scorpion Eater,
I sincerely await Zack Zavidé’s perception of Telugu Brahmins too but I personally find them to be like having this old Independence-y, freedom-fighter-y (probably like the Kashmiri Pandits described in the article) and in the more modern days, the quintessential-kernel-Indian-middle-class-ey vibe about them. Most Telugu Brahmins actually tend to be middle class with also significant number of poor. The secular middle class as well as more priestly Telugu Brahmins are very simple-living and Telugu-loving people though they can also have a bit of these old-world tendencies to say some old-world casteist stuff, etc. lol.
The connection between “Hindu cultural identity” and the Indian national anthem made under Bengal Brahmins appears off. The Poet held a position even against a much more liberal and inclusive Gandhian nationalism, thus hard to connect him to its contemporaneous other extreme, Hindutva / Savarkarite nationalism.
Probably best illustrated by the fact he composed national anthems of three countries!
Are UP Brahmins genetically the closest to Serbs?
\TN Brahmins …….. most obsessed with the hard sciences.\
Ultimately TN brahmins will be judged by history how well they preserve their traditions vedic/vedantic/ ritual / sanskrit and scholarly traditions.
This is truly sad when the most highly educated of the diaspora emphasize and spread the most retrogressive of ideas, as Brahmins as guarantees and guardians of a retrogressive tradition that aims to maintain a large majority of the population in a backward state. One would expect that the aim of the most educated would be to improve the economic and social status of the less well off, or improve the health and living conditions of the poor, and that would be what they will be judge against … but no! Maintaining the retrogressive traditions that is the offspring of all evil in the society is what they are expected to sustain.
In the 1970s and 1980s there was expectations that education and wealth will do away with this endogamy, but, god, were we wrong! Now, the most retrogressive of the people are the Ph.Ds in the diaspora!
NO! the brahmins will not be judged by chanting some vedas, but even if one of them can cheaply desalinate water, or improve the irrigation efficiency of water, or find a way of providing cheap lenses or glasses to visually impaired, then they will be remembered and judged by history. History does not care about who preserves traditions.
I think Scorpion eater was needling Zack along these lines, do not try to preserve and build up Brahminism, but that got lost in the humor.
I do not believe external parties should judge but rather reform their own societies.
Hence I’m ambivalent on Brahmanism, which is distant & exotic, but rather scathing on Islam, where I feel immediacy and kinship.
I do see the Brahmins’ attack on the Urdu language and culture to be painful but every action has an equal & opposite reaction and that obstinacy directly led to Pakistan..
Zack, what is “Brahminism”?
Brahmin means someone who is Satwa Guna predominant or someone who is in 24 hour meditation.
Brahminism is hardly a challenge in the world today. There are very few Brahmins.
Zack, why don’t you focus on enriching and enlivening high Hindustani syncretic culture? In other words backing all the dialects of Hindustani (Hindi, Urdu, etc.) and uniting them. Before 1947 we had “Hindustani” . . . that could be written down in many different scripts. Why can’t we go back to that? But much better of course. 😉
Anan, brahminism is analogous to islamism, which you’ve shared your thoughts on before. The original merits of a brahmin or islam as a concept become superseded by a system of thought that reinforces the uncritical idealisation of those categories.
PersonalIy, I feel its quite unfair to solely blame brahmins for the cultural practices that are attributed as brahminical, but consider the term quite useful in that its conceptual kernel is the purity and pollution fetishes that are well attested in hindu priestly liturgy.
For those that suspect Indic civilisation’s greatest failing is the degradation of the dignity of labor, brahminism seems like a clue to our unique pathologies.
girmit, can you define “brahminism” in more detail?
One of the things Brown Cast podcast is trying to do is set up a high level (Vijnayamaya and Anandamaya level) discussion of eastern philosophy between a practitioner (who is prominent in academia) and a very intelligent critic (who has also carefully studied the 10 darshana system). Any ideas for this discussion would be much appreciated.
For clarification, there is no such thing as “Brahminism” on the ground. Sanathana Dharma or Hinduism can be described as a family of over 100 religions.
Can you describe a specific parampara or grouping that typifies the phenomenon you are describing and elaborate further. Preferably from a detailed theological perspective and an insider perspective.
“consider the term quite useful in that its conceptual kernel is the purity and pollution fetishes that are well attested in hindu priestly liturgy.”
You are referring to Suchi and Saucha. Would there be an interest in an article on this subject?
Souchi and soucha are technologies to improve physical health, mental health and intelligence. They are not goals in themselves and are by definition optional. However, they help to improve our own health, brain and nervous system. I have not yet met a meditator (from any part of the world and any philosophical background) who does not attest to how souchi and soucha like practices do not make meditation easier. [If you know one, please let me know.]
A related question relates to the eastern proverb:
“Tell me your company and i will tell you who you are.”
Some see this as bigotry, racism, sectarianism, oppression, exploitation, white supremacy.
The answer to this is that brains and nervous systems affect the brains and nervous systems of those around them. At some point Brown Cast will hopefully discuss this with a leading neuroscience research leader.
“For those that suspect Indic civilisation’s greatest failing is the degradation of the dignity of labor, brahminism seems like a clue to our unique pathologies.”
This is caused by confusion. Dignity of work is greatly valued by Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.
Brahmins are suppose to take the vow of poverty, beg for a living (which helps Brahmins learn humility), live away from big cities where possible, avoid business, stay away from politics, governance, law enforcement, militaries.
Brahmins are allowed to provide health care and education . . . but forbidden to charge for it.
Brahmins are suppose to renounce materialism and live a spiritual life. Only seeking the truth. Only speaking spiritual progress.
This system has broken down. There are very few Brahmins left. [To their credit many Buddhist and Jain and Bon orders have kept the ancient Brahmin concept alive through their monks and renunciates who meditate in nature]
People with Brahmin ancestry who follow other Varnas are subject to the Dharma of those other Dharmas.
This is something that some with Brahmin ancestry have had difficulty with. But the school of hard knocks is fixing them.
Without honoring the dignity of work, it is hard to be successful in any sphere of life. Success has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan. People are inspired by and emulate success.
This seems like an inside critique of certain people to me, versus a critique of eastern philosophy per say.
Almost all the various leaders of eastern organizations (whether spiritual/religious or other) greatly emphasize hard work and the dignity of labor.
Doesn’t the Asian economic miracle demonstrate that labor is getting more dignity and respect?
“This is truly sad when the most highly educated of the diaspora emphasize and spread the most retrogressive of ideas, as Brahmins as guarantees and guardians of a retrogressive tradition that aims to maintain a large majority of the population in a backward state. ”
Well put. The notion that Brahmins are the custodians of India’s great intellectual traditions veers towards ascription fallacy to me. Elites almost always produce the bulk of a civilizations intellectual capital. If no avenues for meritocratic upward mobility are available, then it follows almost by definition that this group will look like the sole source of that culture’s knowledge production in hindsight. This is particularly true in the Indian context, as the Brahmins absolutely horded access to Sanskrit and ancient scriptures (and Yoga, mathematics) etc until India’s encounters with the west disrupted the entire system.
Some form of meritocracy and upward mobility, however imperfect or inefficient, is the oxygen for the health and robustness of a civilization. Both Europe and China had these in some form at various times (though by no means always). It took multiple external and internal perturbations for Indians to have these in fits and starts, and the Brahmins always did their best to dampen or extinguish them, with great help from their Kshatriya and Baniya enablers evidently. Everyone’s complicit, as Ambedkar himself noted. I think that Indian civilization could have scaled much greater intellectual and cultural heights had the yoke of Brahminism been lastingly thrown off at some point, but that’s just my two paise.
SP, can you describe these “regressive” ideas and the “retrogressive tradition” you speak of?
This is mostly made up stuff by marxists, post modernists. and fabian socialism.
What do you object to?
What texts or traditions in Sanathana Dharma have you studied?
Those were Vijay’s words, not mine. I object to the hording of knowledge and knowledge systems by the Brahmins throughout history. Do you dispute this, or do you think the Brahmins shared knowledge freely with wider Indian society?
This is something I have written about.
Eastern systems (whether Jati, parampara, Vaishya, Shudra, Kshatriya, Brahmin, Taoist, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh) kept technology in vertical silos that did not communicate with each other.
Intellectual property sharing and collaboration is one of the great achievements of Europeans in the 1700s to 1900s. And one Asians can and have learned from.
Having said this there are several examples in the narrative history of the east when intellectual property and technology were shared. It has not always worked out well.
Do you know the traditional reason technology and science were kept in silos?
For thousands of years the east has been terrified of creating very powerful beings with extraordinary physical health, mental health (Chitta Shuddhi) and intelligence (Buddhi) who could use technology to harm the world (because their love is impure).
This is still the answer that most traditional people from an eastern philosophical background (Taoist, Zorastrian, Sufi, Bon, or the 10 Darshanas) give.
SP, how would you respond to this?
Desalinate water, irrigation efficiency improvement, split atoms, land on the moon, do 100 meters within 9 secs, and myriad other achievements can be done by all and capitalism can take care of these things . All thus nothing do with Brahmanism or Brahmans directly .
\Maintaining the retrogressive traditions (of brahminism) that is the offspring of all evil in the society \
This surely is from the Hymn sheet of Francis Xavier and hundred other colonial missionaries or their present day epigones and wannabee missionaries of some sort
Watch out from people seeking to identify the “source/offspring/cause of all evil in society”. 🙂
VijayVan, before the Islamist invasion Arya Varsha was capitalist and what today would be called classically liberal secular.
“Gujaratis have been institution builders.
Vikram Sarabhai, Homi Bhabha, Tatas etc.
Think of it – ISRO, NID, TIFR, IISc were all built by Gujarati capital and/or initiative.”
I think it’s a stretch to claim the Tatas and the Bhabhas (there are two Homis of renown after all) as Gujaratis. They’re Parsis. My statement being about cultural priorities, and I think you would agree that growing up in a Parsi cultural mileu is nothing like growing up in a Gujarati one.
Also, only TIFR, IISc were seeded with money from the Government of India along with generous philanthropy from the Tatas (Jamshedji for the IISc and Dorabji for the TIFR). ISRO had one Gujarati chairman, and visionary though he was, it’s a major stretch to say ISRO was made possible by Gujarati capital. It’s government of India funded through and through.
Or we could say that although the parsis in question are gujarati, their effectiveness in institution building was particular to their parsi-ness. Maharashtra’s agrarian communities have established many educational trusts, though not as glamourous as the apex research institutions named, do a lot to make their society a productive one.
Regarding iisc in Bangalore, the land grant, which accounts for a great deal of that institution’s capital, was given by the maharajah of Mysore.
Thanks for engaging this in substance — you’ve clearly put a lot of thought into some of these issues. With regards to your reply to girmit above, it seems to me that the logic of your response veers towards the `No True Scotsman’ fallacy. If a group of people spanning the highest varna of the caste system tend to engage in practice X as an ensemble average statement, then that should be the ground on which an discussion of practice X is engaged, and not shifting it towards a discussion of whether it is something that a shuddha Brahmin would condone, or whether it is true to the real practices a Brahmin should engage in according to some particular articulation. I believe Girmit (and mine, and others’) identification of some averaged behaviour of Brahmins as category in which to engage the issues is a useful one, and should be engaged on that turf without shifting the goalposts.
With regards to your statement that sharing of intellectual property is a European invention and alien to Asia — I could not disagree more. It is basic human nature to do so, and it has been happening everywhere throughout time, unless rendered impractical by physical barriers to communication (the source of some of the silos you identified above), or if some power structure disincentivizes it, as was the case in India, or as is the case today in some spheres with BS intellectual property rent seeking.
We know that Indian culture has been infused multiple times with knowledge from other parts of the ancient world, both east and west. If you asked me to, I would rattle off a litany of examples, but will refrain from doing so to not derail the present discussion. The process has gone the other way too. The number system, Buddhism, various metallurgic techniques to name but a few. Buddha was perhaps the original Martin Luther in many ways. He (or the collection of individuals on whom we project a single person) wanted the common man to understand his/ their teachings, and so spread it in the different Prakrits. It is one of India’s great contributions to civilization, and it spread like wildfire based on its intrinsic worth. The insights onto the nature of the human mind (building off of many centuries of Brahmanical and counter Brahmanical practices) and the ways in which language plays tricks with our cognitive deductive abilities is something that NLP and CBT have basically plagiarized and given scientific veneer today… and we all know how the Brahmanical orthodoxy viewed Buddhisms challenge to it’s centrality.
” If a group of people spanning the highest varna of the caste system tend to engage in practice X as an ensemble average statement, then that should be the ground on which an discussion of practice X is engaged, and not shifting it towards a discussion of whether it is something that a shuddha Brahmin would condone, or whether it is true to the real practices a Brahmin should engage in according to some particular articulation. I believe Girmit (and mine, and others’) identification of some averaged behaviour of Brahmins as category in which to engage the issues is a useful one, and should be engaged on that turf without shifting the goalposts.”
You bring up an important point. What time frame are you referring too. Let me offer a couple options:
—Time of Krishna and Mahabharata
—Time of Buddha (I mean the older one using Mahayana Buddhist records since I think there is more than one)
—Time of Cyrus the Great (when close to have his subjects might have been considered Hindus)
—Time of Alexander the Great
—600 AD before the arrival of Islam
Or are you speaking of another historical time period. I can’t engage until I know what time frame we are speaking of.
The other point is that Arya Varsha was like a United Nations with enormous variation and diversity. A case can be made for all things and perspectives depending on what area and group of people is being discussed.
The Eastern way is freedom and maximizing diversity and pluralism. This is sometimes interpreted by Marxists as backing oppression . . . but is not the same thing.
“With regards to your statement that sharing of intellectual property is a European invention and alien to Asia — I could not disagree more. It is basic human nature to do so, and it has been happening everywhere throughout time, unless rendered impractical by physical barriers to communication (the source of some of the silos you identified above), or if some power structure disincentivizes it, as was the case in India, or as is the case today in some spheres with BS intellectual property rent seeking.”
I think we are not far apart. I thought you were critiquing this aspect of pre Islamic Arya Varsha (or Bharat or Hindustan). This was a common critique in the past too. And one that is continually discussed over time and across geography.
“We know that Indian culture has been infused multiple times with knowledge from other parts of the ancient world, both east and west. If you asked me to, I would rattle off a litany of examples, but will refrain from doing so to not derail the present discussion. The process has gone the other way too. The number system, Buddhism, various metallurgic techniques to name but a few.”
Very true. The Mahayana Buddhists brought Buddhism and Hinduism together to Tibet, Xinjiang, Turan, Iran, China and Japan. Many Hindu technologies and systems now live primarily inside Mahayana Buddhism (including Sharada Trika Kashmiri Shaivism civilization) .
“Buddha was perhaps the original Martin Luther in many ways.”
I have thought of writing a long piece on Buddhism. However I would want Buddhist monks to review it in detail before posting it.
Buddha was not the first Martin Luther. Krishna and Rama and Parashurama and Vamana all brought similar revolutionary changes during their times. However Buddha did change everything.
Buddha “declassified” much of Hinduism’s deepest corpus. Buddha revealed the Yogachara to the public. The Yogachara in turn pressured other paramparas within Sanathana Dharma to make public their own texts (such as the Samkhya Sutras, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Upanishads, Puranas, Smrithis, Agamas) and technologies.
Buddha openly discussed the 31 heavens or levels of Samadhi. And the Shunyata or Nirvana that transcends them. [Krishna also discussed what he called “Brahma Nirvana” but not with as much detail as Buddha and Buddha’s paramparas.] Buddha also declassified Tantra and a lot of information about Siddhis.
One of my concerns about discussing this is I think less than 1% of the world’s population understands this stuff. And I am among the 99% who does not.
“He (or the collection of individuals on whom we project a single person)”
This is a very interesting question. I think there was more than one Buddha. However the last Buddha had many disciples comparable in greatness to the Buddha himself. Their teachings and the teachings of their paramparas from then until now can be properly attributed to Buddha as well.
Personally I am deeply drawn to Guru Rimpoche.
“wanted the common man to understand his/ their teachings, and so spread it in the different Prakrits.”
Buddha did much more than this. Buddha created many different paths, each for different types of spiritual seekers. Buddha encouraged devotees to congregate around his principle disciples (who all taught different but related paths).
Buddhist shastra are Shaba Apta Pramana. Reading them helps better understand shastras from other Darshanas.
“It is one of India’s great contributions to civilization, and it spread like wildfire based on its intrinsic worth. The insights onto the nature of the human mind”
Very true. It greatly complements and adds to what came before much as Krishna, Veda Vyasa, Shukha did.
” (building off of many centuries of Brahmanical and counter Brahmanical practices) ”
I have no idea what “Brahmanical” means. I am not sure if any of the 100 or so Sanathana Dharma parampara sampradayas do either.
Krishna was not Brahmin. Neither was Rama. Neither was Buddha. Neither was Janaka. Neither was Sita. Neither were any of Krishna’s wives, Krishna’s sister, Krishna’s brother. Radha was not a Brahmin. None of them ever wanted to become a Brahmin.
Veda Vyasa’s mother was not Brahmin (Veda Vyasa became Brahmin). Valmiki (Adivasi or Munda) and Vishwamitra and Jaambali were not born Brahmin but became Brahmin.
Shastra belongs to everyone.
“the ways in which language plays tricks with our cognitive deductive abilities is something that NLP and CBT have basically plagiarized and given scientific veneer today”
What are NLP and CBT?
“we all know how the Brahmanical orthodoxy viewed Buddhisms challenge to it’s centrality.”
This is a more nuanced discussion. Another way of putting it is that Purna Mimaamsa transformed into Uttara Mimamsa or Buddhist tilted Purna Mimaamsa. Does this make sense to you?
Buddha empowered certain forces within Astika Sanathana Dharma and positively improved and transformed it. While offering Nastika paths to those who preferred to be Naastika.
One way to see Buddhism is a graduate course on Jnaana Yoga Maarga. However even Buddha understood the value of pre-school . . . hens Yogachara and Tantra.
Only someone who is “Brahmin” Varna Dharma or Satwa Guna predominant can pursue high end Buddhism.
I suppose nuance isn’t a strong value at BP, but I am mildly amused at the thought Brahmins being hoarders of the intellectual capital is their worst offence.
Knowledge is not free, and free knowledge isn’t the best either (why not handover nuclear bomb plans to everyone?). Meritocracy has no meaning if there’s assortative mating (which is pretty much foregone with endogamy). Was the best course of action was to allow random mating among populations like Europeans? Maybe, but that is also not a sustainable solution in a land of numerous contagious diseases and high disease burden due to subtropical climate. It would have destroyed population structure and it is just a matter of time before some microbe can do Black Death to that population.
Also, why isn’t maintaining diversity a good thing, if we are being modern about so many other things (e.g. would Parsis remain Parsis without allowance of endogamous caste structure?) ? Also, engineering and applied science (including irrigation, wood work, pottery, textiles and sculpting ) are all non-Brahmin knowledge pursuits. Don’t Indian textiles still hold distinction ? (no surprise British targetted textiles)
Show me any great civilization that sustained as much disease burden and maintained as continuous intellectual tradition. I am willing to be educated. Easy to blame one group or other without considering emergent conditions that lead to such societies. Maybe I am just too naive to expect any interesting discussions here..,
\ allow random mating among populations like Europeans? \
European mating was never random. It was males from powerful ruling classes (of race, economic class, religious sect, etc) wanting sex on demand from females of ruled classes and getting it. 99% of mixed race populations in the west are due to this .
This is not directly related to what you wrote but it may be interesting to see how the earliest Indian responses were like to the European-Enlightenment-based new occupational knowledge systems encountered by them. Did an allocation of the new occupations happen along the lines of perceptual similarities to old caste-related occupations or was any other system followed? But I may be wrong in framing my questions the above way as the British may not have allowed an easy access to their knowledge systems and all the above should be in the form of a question of alternative history instead (I am extremely bad at history; all I know is just a bit of prehistory.). Very interesting question I believe, which I am sure many on this site would be able to answer, like the user Skanda Veera for example, if this is a musing about alternative history. If there is any existing data because this already took place, then too people can try to answer this maybe (yes I’m shamelessly begging for answers without doing my own research because I’m very lazy lol; but I will indeed try to learn more about this myself when I find time; I have always been thinking about this my whole life).
I attempted a detailed response but it was deleted. Guess it’s a friendly nudge to sign off on this thread…
Interesting. See the photo of the Shaman, most likely not a Vietnamese. Moneky god clinches it I think.
Is it any surprise that the Pakistani Muslim nuclear bomb scientist was from a brahmin caste? They have developed great intellectual skills over the millennia.
Abdus Salam is as much a Brahmin as I am.
I just checked his ancestry:
Abdus Salam was born to Chaudhry Muhammad Hussain and Hajira Hussain, into a Punjabi Muslim family that was part of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. In terms of caste-affiliation, they were Jats of Rajput descent from Jhang on his father’s side while his mother was a Kakazai from Gurdaspur. His grandfather, Gul Muhammad, was a religious scholar as well as a physician while his father was an education officer in the Department of Education of Punjab State in a poor farming district.
I’m a Kakazi patrilineally and they are an Afghan tribe who settled in Sialkot-Gurdaspur. Strangely enough they was a very strong Ahmadiyyah link to that tribe since Qadian (the Ahmadiyyah centre of origin) is in Gurdaspur.
It is an interesting thought that if the Ahmadis are considered to be non-Muslims; then the Punjab has spawned two independent faiths (Sikhs and Ahmadis). The relationship between Sikhism and Hinduism is nowhere near as torturous as that of Ahmadis and Sunnis.
Thought some of you might find this farcial anecdote to be worth a wince or a chuckle — Salam’s final resting place is in Rabwa (NW of Faisalabad). It used to say he was the `… first Muslim Nobel laureate’, until it was defaced since some folk took exception to an Ahmadi’s being declared a Muslim.
The result is that he is now that his gravestone declares him to be the `first Nobel laureate’
LOL. As violet said nuance is not our strongest forte. The funniest part of the whole “Brahmin- Hoarders of wealth”/ “Brahmins the retrograde” (sounds like movie names)meme is as if the Buddhist India / Dravidian India would have been some enlightenment era phenomena where people would be moving in perfect lines while meritocracy would be recognized and so on and so forth. I mean everyone has its own version of utopia so yeah we can dream on.
Power corrupts, and any social group who had that much power would have acted in exactly the same way like the Brahmins did. And we make it worse by trying to adjudicate historical events on parameters of today( meritocracy, social justice etc). When the whole world was moving in a specific direction we feel/want India should have been some cut above the rest and different.
India/Hinduism is ,for better or worse, what it is , and you can take it or leave it. And yeah those who think “their” world order(for India) would have been so different you can live in that cuckoo land.
Indeed, if you’re expecting nuance then I’m afraid a blog comment thread is not the place to find it. Some level of intellectual rigor is, however something we can all aspire to. Making broad statements and tenuous associations based on a highly stylized view of history, is not particularly impressive in that regard.
Clearly, epidemiology is not your forte. Population density and presence of disease vectors (pests etc) and efficient commercial and trade links can, in certain circumstances, swamp climatic factors when it comes to potential for epidemics. Europe had these just as bad if not worse than India in various places and times throughout history (and suffered for it consequently). The premise that societies that practice endogamy vs those that don’t have less potential to spread diseases is definitely something you made up (also people fornicate, whether you like it or not, whether in or out of wedlock).
As for the “continuous” intellectual tradition you allude to — one only has to recall the examples of Aryabhatt’s work, who Chanakya and Ashoka were and what they did, (along a very substantial chunk of India’s history) were lost to posterity until the recent shocks of India’s encounters with the colonizers threw it all up again. Only in India can a school of Mathematics (the Kerala school) discover what took Europeans a couple of centuries and the development of calculus to reproduce (what should be known as the Taylor-Maclaurin-Madhava series expansion), only for it to practically die where it was born. Some tenuous claims of it being transmitted to Europe notwithstanding, its teachings didn’t even spread to other parts of India.
One can certainly defend social hierarchies for a variety of reasons, but please be serious when you do so.
First of all I request you to not mind my intrusion here very much.
I just wanted to note that a possible counterpoint to your view about the lack of “historical” memory from a Classical Hindu perspective may be that the examples you have chosen to illustrate your point may not be very important for earlier Classical Hindus to preserve carefully. For example, it may be the case that Ashoka as a Buddhist was not viewed as an important thing to preserve by Classical Hindus of the past. I don’t know about the fate of Chanakya and Aryabhatta but is there a possibility that these latter two may have been present in the collective memory of Classical Hindus a bit more than Ashoka? (I don’t know much history and that’s why I am wondering.)
Also, the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, though thoroughly Brahminical as it was, may* have arisen majorly in the background of a very old Vedic sacrificial (Shrauta?) tradition much like the earlier Shulba Sutras and other mathematical literature. Now it seems by the time of the Kerala school this Shrauta tradition majorly was present only in Kerala (and also the East Godavari district of coastal Andhra apparently) with the rest of India under the influence of the various schools of Vedanta. Is there a possibility that the knowledge of Kerala school of mathematics and its results did not much spread into other places within India because of these philosophical differences? If so, then from a Classical Hindu viewpoint, even this example may be considered as not very illustrative of a perceived lack of historical memory on the part of old Classical Hindus.
On the flip side, much of the Vedantic-tradition-based stuff like Shankara’s system, Bhakti movements, etc. really seem to have spread over most parts of India quite swiftly and quite thoroughly from whatever little places they originally began. Classical Hindus might – quite reasonably I think – argue that this is illustrative of existence of a robust and continuous network of knowledge exchange among the elites of various parts of India, of knowledge that was perceived as important by them.
*- I don’t know if this possibility is likely. I don’t know anything about the historical motivations behind the developments of the Kerala school. I just know that one of the members wrote the famous Narayaniyam which is like a usual Bhakti composition but I kinda speculatively connected the thing I read about the historical Shrauta dominance in Kerala with the mathematical school and proceeded.
Always a pleasure to throw ideas around (even if passions get aroused at times), so by all means 🙂 Certainly your point that it perhaps may not have been a priority for classical Hindu’s to preserve certain historical works or records is very plausible. I just wanted to comment on one thing that I can infer with a reasonable degree of certainty from posing the counterfactual —
“Is there a possibility that the knowledge of Kerala school of mathematics and its results did not much spread into other places within India because of these philosophical differences?”
This is indeed possible, but there must be a more powerful dynamic at work here. When you have a profound new tool e.g. zero as a place holder (which allowed every six year old kid on the streets of Varansi to do arithmetic in their heads that took Romans complicated machines and the Chinese, expert abacusists to figure out), it tends to spread like wildfire unless there are some barriers (physical or communication) put in place to prevent it. Given how much demand there was for precise astronomical tables *across India* back then (as today), anyone with a power series expansion for the trigonometric functions is sitting on an extremely handy power tool. It’s stupefying to me that the insights of the Kerala school did not spread given the many practical incentives for it to do so. Clearly some sort of artificial barrier was in place (as in Yoga, which was practically unknown to Indians until Iyengar started spreading it to the west, much to the chagrin of the Brahmin orthodoxy, only then for it to come back to India, frustratingly, via interactions with the west).
I should also add that (addressing Violet above again), it’s a mistake to project modern notions of Intellectual property onto the past. One must also distinguish patentable technology from ideas (if you can’t, I’d find that quite sad). Music, poetry, science, literature, just about every human sphere of intellectual endeavor was copied, plagiarized and spread much more freely in a variety of societies over time than we do today. It’s tempting to ascribe it to more likely be a universal human value than the hording of knowledge, that some commenters seem to puzzlingly want to defend on it’s own merits (with fairly amateur arguments as well).
Okay SP, thank you very much! As I said, I just tend to know a little of this and a little of that in most of the cases. In the Kerala school case, I am still kinda tempted to invoke the relatively isolated geography of Kerala as a cause for the Irinjnjazhappilli Madhava’s mathematical results not becoming very well-known in other parts of India, but that somehow feels like it is very stupid so I am deciding against doing it.
Also, I think things like Kerala school phenomenon are more surprising than normal because it seems it does not seem to have spread very much to even the Brahmins of other places. In most parts of Indian history it seems that Brahmins of most regions exchanged knowledge (of the kind that interested them, or supposed to be assigned to their caste profession) with each other pretty well, no (irrespective of the percolation of that knowledge into non-Brahmins in the respective regions)? Maybe the failure of the spread of Kerala school actually happened because of some kind of an excessive regionalisation of Brahmins? But I don’t know how this can be because all (or most (with the rest in Malayalam)? I’m not very sure) the work of the Kerala school was written in Sanskrit.
As with many historical questions Indian or otherwise, there are multiple analytic lenses through which one could view them, to most likely find multiple causes. There has been quite a bit of scholarship on the Kerala school, but most of what I’ve read focuses on the question as to whether it was transmitted to Europe by missionaries (probably not from what I gather). I’d certainly like to find out more about it picking up some of the lines of inquiry you’ve raised, but I’m not sure where to begin.
I’m surprised you think Kerala is isolated though — it’s ports were highly integrated into the trade networks that went up the coast and across the Arabian sea…
SP, I too believe investigating more about the connections between the Kerala school and any other Indian regions outside Kerala will be more enlightening about India of the time period. Maybe people will begin to investigate this after they finish off researching the bigger topic mentioned by you.
In the comment about the geographical isolation of Kerala, I was majorly thinking about its isolation from Tamil Nadu and also probably the culturally most dominant regions of Karnataka (I read that the Vijayanagara empire for example did not extend to Kerala very much) because of the Western Ghats (minus the small opening in the Palakkad gap). (On a side note, it may be not very mysterious after all that it is Malayalam among the literary Dravidian languages that preserves some of the most archaic features of Proto-Dravidian and Proto-South-Dravidian innovated away even in the generally conservative Tamil.)
Comments are closed.