Sivasya Kulam: Decoding Caste, Untouchability & The White Man's Burden
- In Book Reviews
- 11:43 AM, May 21, 2023
- Ramaharitha Pusarla
Caste has been the most misunderstood word. The inconsistencies surrounding it are slowly becoming global. On May 23, 2023, California State Senate voted in favour of a bill, SB 403, 34-1 to make Caste a protected category in the state’s anti-discriminatory laws. The connotation of caste with discrimination and coming in the back of the lawsuit against Cisco System employer for allegedly blocking the career prospects of ‘low caste’ employees have brought to the fore the urgent need for deciphering the existing Caste System in India and its origins. Caste in the real world has become an enigma of sorts.
Caste has become an institutionalized system in India with a mandatory disclosure column in all almost government filings for jobs, college and school admissions, and entrance examinations. The reservation system and the allied legislations like the SC/ST atrocities act etc have only bolstered this kind of caste-specific identity in Indian society. The weaponisation of caste for electoral appeasement has become a deeply entrenched malaise in democratic India. Indeed, taking it to the next level, the Bihar government launched its Rs 500 crore pet project of the caste-based survey in the state in January. But Patna High Court threw a spanner in the works and temporarily halted this survey. This kind of emphasis lent to the Caste as an identity necessarily needs a better understanding given the European origins of the word.
Centuries of invasion, conquests and colonization inflicted a death blow to the socio, economic and religious fabric of India. Caste in its current form, as it exists, has pushed to antiquity the terms like varna, jati and kulam that were integral to Hindu society. Redefined, morphed and sometimes mischievously interpreted, the European word Caste has attempted to subsume all the existing terms of the Hindu society and bestowed them with a hierarchical system akin to pre-French revolutionary European society notwithstanding the incongruities. Given the mounting disingenuous and malicious interpretations of the Indian Caste System by vested interests, it is incumbent on the Hindus to dig for unvarnished facts in the scriptures to annihilate the warped discourse.
To put things in perspective, MVNL Sudha Mohan an Aero Engineer by profession after four years of painstaking research authored a meticulously researched book titled- “Sivasya Kulam: Decoding Caste, Untouchability & The White Man Burden”. Piecing information from various sources including primary data, various scriptures, local sources, the author has presented the various facets of the Hindu society. Caste which has roots to the Portuguese word Casta is about classes and lineage based on blood purity. This blood purity is alien to Hindus and the basis for Hindu castes has been religious sauca or practices.
Martin Farek clearly states that the blood purity concept is European hinged on the struggle for identity basically among the Old Christians and the new converts from Islam and Judaism since converts were considered outcasts, economically expendable and socially untouchable. The European caste system was civil in nature and hierarchical with no mobility and replete with servitude. Racial purity was the cornerstone of the European system. Whereas the Kula is a group of people irrespective of race having the same spiritual pursuits.
It is imminent at this juncture to know that Hindu society has two broader divisions- Vaidikam (Vedic) and Tantrikam (Tantric). Sanskrit Nighantu describes Veda as Nigama and Tantra as Agama. Those following the Vedic standards of sauca is Sauchachara or Sadachara or Sistachara and those adhering to Tantric standard is Vamachara or Kaulachara.
These two had different perspectives and different paths to tread to attain the ultimate spiritual end goals of life. At different points in time, different groups were held in reverence when Tantrism peaked, Brahmins were looked down and vice-versa. Hindu society never had a graded hierarchy. But every kula had its own set of code of conduct or inviolable rules. Anyone who breached the rules or brought disrepute to the group was expelled or excommunicated. This was the common punishment. Indeed, the fear of ex-communication forced people to strictly follow the rules of the kula.
It is through a change of Achara, kula moved up or down. Moving close to Vaidikam is accompanied by a gain of respect while it is the opposite if they move to Tantrikam. Kings had the power to raise or lower the ranks of the Kula after consulting a council comprising Brahmins and non-Brahmins. After colonization, the Britishers and the Missionary cabal donned this role.
Hence, Kula in short is not only about the type of Achara, the decision of the king, public opinion, and political power played a key role in deciding a kula. Elaborating on this facet, the author states that Saraswat Brahmins couldn’t successfully prove their claims of Brahmanship in Peshwa court as public opinion was against them. The majority of the Brahmins subscribed to Vaidikam and followed the standards of keeping the blood or race clean as they believed that an inner and outer purity i.e., bahya and abhyantara sauca would augur well for performing yoga and meditation stably.
Another notable aspect of Hindu society was the absence of universal reference for measuring social respect as every region had different types of Acharas. Surmising Brahminical services as the Universal reference to measure the Hindu society, the British tampered with the social system of Hindus and institutionalised the same by unveiling the Indian British Caste System in 1901. By setting Brahminical standards, the Missionary and Colonial intellectuals presented a unidimensional perspective of the society and consciously omitted and attached a kind of stigma to the Tantric aspects.
Colonial intellectuals and the missionary cabal together erased all attributes of the Vamachara deliberately. They have portrayed everything in binaries Vedic, Agamic (Tantric) as Clean and Unclean undermining the fluidity of the system. From this stemmed the narrative of projecting the Brahmins (Dvijas) as Aryans and the rest of the castes as Dravidians. This is in sharp contrast to the basic doctrines of the Tantric group which doesn’t differentiate between sauca and asauca (pure and impure) and they considered everything pure except agnana (ignorance).
The British Indian Caste System stalled the mobility of groups from one kula to another and also destroyed the inherent checks and balances in the system that ensured that people strictly comply certain rules and regulations. This has permanently stratified the society which inadvertently propped up the idea of belonging to one caste by birth that even eventually made intermarrying between different groups difficult. This is contradictory to the Anuloma and Pratiloma relations that existed in Hindu society.
Anuloma where men of high yogic order married Hindu women of less yogic order and Pratiloma is a converse of it where men of bhoga marga married females of yoga marga. By posting Brahmins as the first name in the Varna scale, Britishers have successfully created a permanent inferiority complex among the Sudras. With this, the seamless interdependence of varnas suffered, creating fissures. Deeming the Dvijas as the higher castes, besides creating hatred the British planted the idea of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed”.
Decoding the Hindu society and presenting various layers of outstanding Hindu civilization, the author meticulously laid out the book into two parts- Part A on Kula or Kulam and Part B dedicated to The Saga of Dravidianism. The Caste System given to India by the British was essentially an attempt to fit the Hindu society which is far more vibrant and diverse into the narrow precincts of the European society encumbered by racial hierarchy where clergy was the top tier and the lowermost tier comprised the gypsies. It is grossly influenced by the Christian ideology of the whole world should follow one path. Hinduism doesn’t subscribe to “one size fits all”.
On the contrary, the divisions in kula could be based on the different forms of goddesses or different Agamas or Tantra. In other words, the castes in Hindu society are mere spiritual divisions and logically “Christianity and Islam are to be considered as castes too” says the author. During the time of the British regime, Shakti worship was very common and the so-called ‘lower castes’ used to worship them based on Tantra Achara.
The British were particularly intolerant towards these rituals and practices of the Grama Devatas. Out of this disdain, Britishers intentionally denied Tantrism in South India which is considered by some as the fifth Veda and an integral part of Hinduism. In their abomination for the members who followed Tantric practices, the British categorized them as criminals by birth with the 1871 British Criminal Tribes Act. Subsequently, the British started equating Tantrism to Dravidianism. Bishop Robert Caldwell laid the foundation for Dravidianism and linked it with the language-based-race theory. Accordingly, anything Sanskrit in Aryan and anything Tamil is Dravidianism.
By equating Tantrism to Dravidianism, Britishers have been brutally dishonest, since such practices weren’t confined to the Shanar community of Tirunelveli region of Tamilnadu. Similar practices were observed by people in Andhra Pradesh, the West Coast, the Himalayan region, Ceylon and Burma. So, how is it possible that people speaking different languages spread out in different places had similar rituals? The British Dravidianism fails on many counts. Hindu society has been extremely fluid, never stratified, diverse, and allowed people to pursue Acharas that best suited their intellectual faculties. They were free to choose the yoga marga or the bhoga marga for their sadhana.
Some of the Vamachara practices include deification of the dead, bhuta worship, and demonalatory which are interconnected with the grama devata worship. These grama devatas were mostly Sakti or mother goddesses and Bhairava puja. These Bhairava worshippers, mostly Siddhas have traditionally been keepers of Siddha Vaidyam which includes Mantra Vidya and Bhuta Vidya. Bhuta Vidya which especially deals with mental health is one of the important aspects of Ayurveda.
Through constant vilification of such practices, the Britishers have effectively alienated the so-called lower castes from these rituals and these people subsequently became more amenable to conversion. Steady propaganda led the people to slowly disown and give up the grama devata worship. With the destruction of the grama devata worship the spiritual, cultural and medicinal importance was also lost.
Similarly, the mutual untouchability which has been an offshoot of Adhikara Bheda between Dakshinachara and Vamachara was conveniently misinterpreted alleging the mutual untouchability followed by Brahmins alone as discrimination. This meta-narrative effectively strengthened the already existing “oppressor” epithet bestowed on Brahmins. Indeed, while Brahmins or the Vedic ideology disapproved of the Tantric practices, they never destroyed them, unlike the British. By building on these fabricated discrimination and oppression narratives, the British fostered the Temple entry movements that undermined the underlying native convictions, beliefs and ideological meanings.
By villainizing the Vedic system, the British created a permanent rift between the two acharas. Tantrics started Brahmins as ‘enemies’, this created permanent schisms in Hindu society, spawned permanent insecurity and destroyed their self-respect. By distorting and twisting the basic doctrines and the prevailing practices, the British gave birth to neo-Hinduism, comprising only select aspects. Interestingly, Hinduism in its current form is essentially left with aspects that can be easily appropriated or colonised. The author rightly says, that this part was declared as “scientific” whereas the rest are “condemned as superstitions”.
Disclaiming their intention of wishing to interfere with the religious rites and ceremonies of Hindus, the colonial authority, missionaries with the express consent and approval of the British Monarchy have distorted Hinduism. Though the British discontinued tabulation of the Caste data in 1941, the secular keepers and the Brown sepoys continued to hang on to the colonial interpretations and widened the existing dissensions the colonials wilfully perpetrated.
In the concluding chapters, the author suggests a way forward and the need to reclaim, decode and encourage scholarship in comprehending the Siva and Sakti sampradaya which are facing oblivion. The book has been a real eye-opener for me and should be a compulsory read for anyone who wants to develop an indigenous understanding of Sanatana Dharma. The new crop of Indic intellectual warriors in their individual capacities is making every effort to resurrect the knowledge system of Sanatana Dharma which is in tatters. By exposing the intellectual fraud of the colonial intellectuals, the author has indirectly alerted the Sanatanis of this perpetual bigotry and motivated attacks that continue to humiliate the Hindus.
Finally, the book will serve as a clarion call to Hindus to come out of the bubble of ignorance and cultivate a holistic perspective towards the dharma of the land and its civilisational values.
Published by Samvit Prakashan, pp 342
Image provided by the author.
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