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Unformatted text preview: India Rosenberg, 291-294 (Creation) Coomaraswamy, 286-313 (Shiva), 217-244 (Krishna) Indian Geography & Location Mountains in the North Himalayas Mt. Everest Rivers Indus, Karachi; Ganges Bengal in modern Bangladesh. Peninsula. monsoon: Deccan, Civilization Indus valley Ganges valley. Common Assumptions of Indian thought. Dharma. -Duty, responsibility. 1) Atman - Eternal soul/self -Spiritual unity in everything living in the universe -Life is connected: ->Individual soul ->Common soul -Conclusion: Different concept of identity 2)Creation of Universe -Always existed -Samsara (wheel of life) -Reincarnation Moksha - Goal; release from Samsara Hindu myths and religion Main figure before Hindu Hindu characteristics Maha Yuga Krita Yuga Treta Yuga Dvapara Yuga Kali Yuga Comparing Hindu and Greek The Aryan Invasion Sanskrit Vedas the oldest documents in India: Indra, Soma A HINDU PANTHEON (major Hindu gods) One of the most remarkable achievements of Hinduism was its blending of the countless cults, gods and totems of Indias many ages and diverse peoples into one vast mythology--a mythology dominated by the two Hindu gods, Shiva and Vishnu. The characteristics of many of these gods often merged into one: Shiva, for example, incorporates aspects of the fertility-god of the prehistoric Indus Valley people, as well as the fierce god Rudra of the early Aryan invaders and the unnamed dance-gods of the Dravidians of the Tamil region. When such adopted gods were too disparate to be combined, they were simply made members of the families of important gods or incarnations (avatars) of them. Animals venerated by the earliest Indian societies --the bull, the elephant, the serpent-- were joined to the Hindu pantheon as the companions of the major deities. A few of the most known and most widely worshiped of these deities, avatars and companions are noted below: BRAHMA THE CREATOR once thought the greatest of the gods because he set the universe in motion, faded in importance with the rise of Shiva and Vishnu, lie appears in white robes and rides a goose. From his four beads sprang the Vedas, which he carries along with a scepter and various other symbols. SHIVA THE DESTROYER, one of Hinduisms two mightiest gods, represents power whatever his aspect--the fierce ascetic; the demon-stayer entwined in snakes and wearing a headdress of skulls; the Lord of Creation, dancing in a circle of fire; the male symbol of fertility. He, more than other gods, is a composite of older gods, cults and myths reaching back to Indias prehistory. PARVATI (or Mahadevi), Shivas wife, was the daughter of the Himalaya Mountains and the sister of the river Ganges. With love, she lured Shiva from his asceticism; she represents the unity of god and goddess, man and woman. UMA is the golden goddess, a creature of light and beauty, who, as a term of Parvati, reflects milder manifestations of her husband, Shiva. She sometimes mediates conflicts between Brahma and the other gods. DURGA, who is Parvati as a ferocious 10-armed goddess, sprang full grown from the flaming mouths of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. Astride a tiger, she uses the weapons of the gods to battle demons. KALI is Parvati turned into Hinduisms most terrible goddess, with art Insatiable lust for blood sacrifice. She usually appears blood-smeared, bedecked in snakes and wearing a necklace of her sons skulls. TIlE BULL NANDI, sacred to the Indus people as a fertility symbol, was absorbed into Hinduism as Shivas constant companion--his mount, his chamberlain, his musician. Shiva wears Nandis emblem, the crescent moon, on his brow, KARTTIKEYA (or Skanda) replaced the Vedic god Indra as the principal Hindu god of battle. The son of Shiva and, in some myths, begotten without a mother, he is interested only in fighting and war. Six--headed and 12--armed, Karttikeya leads his celestial legions from the back of a colorful peacock. GANESESHA. the roly-poly elephant-headed son of Shiva, is probably the most poplar god in the pantheon. Wise, thoughtful and well versed in the scriptures, he is invoked by worshipers before every undertaking to assure success. VISHNU THE PRESERVER and to many Hindus, the Universal God --usually holds four symbols: a discus, a conch shell, a mace and a lotus, Whenever mankind needs help, this benevolent god appears on earth as an avatar, or reincarnation. It is generally believed that nine avatars have already appeared; a tenth is yet to come. Some feats of the avatars reflect Indian history. THE HORNED-FISK MATSYA represents Vishnus intercession at a time of universal flood. The fish warned Manu (the Hindu equivalent of both Adam andNoah), then saved him in a ship hooked onto his horn. THE TORTOISE KtJRMA, the second avatar of Vishnu, appeared on earth after the food to retrieve treasures, including the ambrosia of the gods. The tortoise churned the ocean, bringing up the ambrosia. THE BOAR VARAHA, originally the sacred pig of a primitive cult, became an avatar of Vishnu after a second flood. Digging underwater with his tusks, the boar raised the earth arid restored it to dry land. THE MAN-LION NARATSIMHA was another avatar of Vishnu. Brahma had given a demon invulnerability day and night against god, man or beast. The avatar--god, man and beast--killed the demon at dusk. THE DWARF VAMANA another avatar, became a giant to foil a demon who sought control of the universe. Granted permission to keep all he could cover in three steps, Vamana encompassed the earth, sky and middle air. FARASURAMA was Vishnu as the sort of a brahman robbed by a kshatryia king. Pamasurama killed the king, whose sons, in tarn, killed the brahman. Parasurama then killed all male kshatryias for 21 generations. RAMA the hero of Indias great religious literary epic, the "Ramayana," was Vishnu as an avatar who overcame the worlds most terrible demon, Ravana. Rama represents the ideal Hindu. a gentle husband, a kindly king and, most significantly, a leader valiant under oppression. SITA Ramas wife, an incarnation of Lakshmi, represents the ideal Hindu wife. She was abducted by the demon Ravana and taken to his abode, but remained devoted to her husband. HANUMAN the monkey king, lent his agility, speed and strength to Rama to help free Sita from Ravana. In return, he asked to live as long as men remember Rama; thus, Hanuman is immortal. KRISHNA Vishnus most important avatar, was a hero-god beloved in many aspects: a prankish child, an amorous adolescent a mature hero who spoke the great lessons of the Bhagavad-Gita." These aspects of Krishna had different origins: Aryan, Dravidian, perhaps Christian. BUDDHA as an incarnation of Vishnu, exemplifies Hinduisms ability to absorb disparate religious elements, The avatar Buddha appeared, Hindus say, primarily to teach the world to have compassion for animals, KALKIN the avatar of Vishnu yet to come, is pictured on a white horse, punishing evil-doers and rewarding the righteous. Some Hindus look to his arrival as some Christians do to Christs Second Coming. LAKSHMI Vishnus wife, often shown both sitting on a lotus and holding a lotus, represents good fortune. Her attendants are two gentle elephants. An important goddess in her own right, she is also worshiped as the avatar Sita. GARUOA Vishnus mount, is a mythical white-faced bird with the head and wings of an eagle and the body and limbs of a man. Carrying the god on his flashing golden back, he was sometimes mistaken for the fire--god, Agni. KEY TERMS IN HINDUISM (to explain major Hindu terms) Agni Vedic god of fire Aryans Indo--European people who migrated into India ashrama a stage of life in Hinduism; also a hermitage or place for meditation atmanin in Hinduism, the soul or self, considered eternal avatara descent or incarnation, especially of the great god Vishnu, as Krishna or Rama Bhagavad Gita important Hindu scripture containing Krishnas teaching to Arjuna bhakti devotion, self--surrender to ones god Brahma designation for the creator god in Hindu thought Brahman Hindu term for ultimate reality; the divine source and pervading essence of the universe Brahmanas ritual commentaries, part of the Vedas Brahmins (brahmans) highest ranked, priestly class in Hindu society darshana the ritual act of being granted the "seeing" of a sacred image, person, or place Devi Goddess, sometimes meaning the Great Goddess, often under many other names Dharma in Hinduism, the cosmic order, social duty and proper behavior Divali autumn festival of lights and good fortune in India Durga great, fierce Hindu goddess, a form of Devi Gandhi leader of the Indian independence movement emphasizing spiritual preparation and nonviolent resistance (1869-1948) Ganesha son of Shiva, a popular elephant--headed Hindu god who overcomes obstacles and brings good fortune guru spiritual guide and master Holi popular festival in northern India with a carnival atmosphere Indra Vedic storm-warrior god Indus Valley Civilization urban-agricultural civilization that flourished in the third millennium B. C. E. and left influences on Hinduism jati "birth"; ones caste or closed social group as determined by birth in India Kali goddess of death and destruction in Hinduism, a form of Devi, the Great Goddess karma "action", law that all deeds and thoughts, according to one's intentions, will have set consequences kirtana devotional group worship through song and dance Krishna avatara of the great Hindu god Vishnu; hero of the Bhagavad Gita and popular god in Vaishnavite devotional movements kshatriyas the classical warrior class in Hindu society lingam the phallic pillar that symbol of the great Hindu god Shiva Mahabharata one of the two great epics of Hinduism mantra sacred word, formula, or verse maya appearance, illusion, term to indicate that which prevents one from seeing truly moksha liberation from bondage to samsara and karma; the goal of Hindu spiritual practice mondualism view that ultimate reality and the phenomenal world are not different Path of Action (karma-marga) Hindu path toward liberation based on acting according to Dharma, without desire for the fruits of action Path of Devotion (bhakti-marga) Hindu path toward liberation based on devotional practices directed toward ones god Path of Knowledge (jnana-marga) Hindu path toward liberation based on knowledge, emphasizing meditation pula ritual worship of the image of a god by offering food, flowers, music, and prayers Puranas late Hindu scriptures that developed from popular theistic devotional movements Rama avatara of Vishnu, divine hero of the Ramayana Ramanuja Hindu philosopher and advocate of the Vaishnavite bhakti tradition (ca. 1017--1137) Ramayana story of Rama, one of the two great epics of Hinduism rebirth in the religions of India, belief that after the death of its body the soul takes on another body Rig Veda the earliest and most important collection of Vedic hymns Samhitas collections" of early Vedic hymns and verses; there are four collections: Rig-Veda, Sama-Veda, Yajur-Veda, arid Atharva-Veda Samkhya one of the classical schools of Hindu philosophy stressing an absolute distinction between matter and spirit samsara the rebirth cycle of existence sarmskaras rituals performed at the critical changes amid passages of life sannyasin one who has renounced the cares and concerns of the world; the fourth stage of life in Hinduism Shakti divine energy, personified as a goddess; female aspect of a god, especially of Shiva Sharskria great philosopher of Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta(788--820 C.E.) Shiva the great ascetic Hindu god symbolized by the lingam; focus of the Shaivite devotional movement Shruti "that which is heard," the eternal truth, that is, the Vedas shudras classical servant class in Hindu society, the fourth class Smriti "that which is remembered," the tradition, that is, the scriptural writings after the Vedas Tantrism movement in Hinduism (and Buddhism) using initiation, rituals, imagination, and sexual symbolism as spiritual practices leading toward liberation Upanishads secret teaching; collections of teachings about the self and ultimate reality that makes up the last part of the Vedas vaishyas the cIassical producer--merchant class in Hindu society varna "color," term for the c1asses is the classical system of Hindu society Varina Vedic god of the Heavens Vedanta "end of the Vedas"; influential school of philosophy based especially on the Upanishads Vedas most important scriptures of Hinduism, the Shruti; they consist of the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads Vishnu great Hindu god manifested in avataras including Krishna and Rama; focus of the great Vaishnavite devotional movement Yoga techniques of spiritual discipline for overcoming bondage to samsara, often emphasizing breathing and meditation exercises; one of the classical schools of Hindu philosophy Yoni a circular sacred image representative of the female reproductive organ, often associated with the lingam _____________________________________ Indra (Handout) When the Aryans invaded India from the northwest in about 1500 B. C., they brought their religious ideas into the land they conquered. This included a group of gods who personified the forces of nature-- among them fire, rain, and wind. The conquest of India produced heroic leaders, such as Indra, whose accomplishments gave rise to a body of oral legend that was based partly on fact. Indra gradually became one of the great gods of ancient India, acquiring both the divine attributes of older gods and the heroic exploits of mythic characters. Indra was the king of the gods and the defender of gods and humans before the Brahmans and the later Hindus elevated Vishnu to his supreme position. He was also associated with rain and the fertility of the soil. With his great weapon, the thunderbolt, he destroyed demons that lived in darkness and created drought. Such heroic feats were necessary because India's soil was often very dry. Indra's role as a fertility god is evident in this myth, where he successfully fights the dragon and releases the seven rivers that make the earth fertile. The earliest heroic exploits of Indra are celebrated in the Rig Veda, a collection of more than 1,000 mythic hymns, rituals, and treatises dedicated to the pre-Hindu group of gods. For hundreds of years following the period from 1500--1200 B.C., the Vedas were preserved through an oral tradition. Finally the myths were written down in Sanskrit, an Indo-European language that is closely related to Creek and Latin. The Hindus revered the Vedas, but they also changed the roles of the gods to reflect their own developing religious tradition. They created the idea of reincarnation in about 700 B.C., and as their myths reveal, any god or hero could be an incarnation of any other god or hero. This concept united their new gods with the older tradition by making the later gods reincarnations of the earlier ones. Centuries after the Rig Veda, the god Indra still exists in Hindu myth but as a shadow of his earlier self. In the Hindu epic The Mahabharata (written sometime between 300 B.C. and AD. 300), Indra shows fear where once he showed courage, and the dragon he conquered in the earlier myth conquers him in the later myth. In the Hindu Ramayana (written between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200), Indra is still the king of the gods, but the demon, Ravana, has conquered him, and Vishnu, rather than Indra, is the defender of gods and humans. Indra's connection with rain is still evident, although he showers flower blossoms rather than raindrops. Soma, the intoxicating beverage that gives Indra his great strength in the Rig Veda, had a very important role in later Hindu religious ritual. Priests sacrificed soma to preserve the strength of the gods. Hindus came to believe that without soma their gods would not have the strength to direct the cyclical progress of the world from one age to the next. Indra and the Dragon (Handout) Indra, who carries the mighty thunderbolt in his hand, rules all that moves and all that rests, all that is aggressive and all that is peaceful. He alone rules the people of the earth as their king, enclosing them as the rim of a wheel encloses the spokes. Whenever they need him, he comes to their aid. This is the god Indra's first heroic deed. Long ago, a mighty dragon named Vritra lived upon the earth. This demon was the enemy of gods and humans alike. One day he swallowed the seven rivers of the earth and imprisoned them within his great mountain. Then he lay down on the mountaintop to guard the waters he had captured. Day and night he lay awake, prepared to defend his conquest against any being who challenged him. The fiery sun rose each day as always. It burned the earth with its blazing rays. Trees, grass, and all forms of plant life gradually shriveled and died, for river water no longer supplied the moisture necessary for them to thrive upon the earth. People prayed to the gods for help, but not one of the gods was strong enough to combat the great dragon-demon. As days passed, the gaunt and greedy figure of Famine began to stalk the land. More and more people were starving. At first tried to buy food. Then they begged for food. Finally, in desperation, they cried for food. Their cries fell upon a great silence, for even the storehouses of rich were empty, and scarcely a trace of food remained upon the earth. Weak with hunger, the people fell upon the dry and barren earth and pleaded the gods to heed their prayers. The gods gazed upon the earth with sorrow in their hearts, knowing that they were powerless against such a deadly foe as Vritra. But Indra was determined to help the dying humans. He was the youngest of the gods, but he intended to prove himself the bravest and strongest. One by one, he picked up three bowls of soma, a sweet, intoxicating drink, and he drank them down. With each drink he became stronger and stronger. Finally Indra knew that he had become the mightiest of the gods. He took his great weapon, the deadly thunderbolt, in his right hand and set our to fight Vritra. He knew that he would find the dragon-demon reclining upon his mountaintop, watching and waiting for a god who would be courageous enough to attack him. As Indra approached, the mighty dragon prepared for battle. Unlike the gods, Vritra had neither hands nor feet to defend himself, but his mouth terrified gods and humans alike. Inflamed with anger, the demon exhaled a foggy mist, shutting out the rays of the sun and shrouding the earth in blackness. Then he spewed forth blinding lightning, deafening thunder, and a cutting storm of hailstones. To Vritra's surprise, Indra showed no fear of the dark. The lightning did not blind his eyes, the thunder did not threaten his ears, and the hailstones did not slash his skin. The young god calmly raised his deadly weapon, and when the dragon's next bolt of lightning illuminated the scene, Indra hurled his great thunderbolt at Vritra. The missile flew straight as an arrow and lodged firmly in the dragon's flesh. The mighty blow crushed the demon's spirit and shattered his body with one stroke. The dragon tottered upon the mountain peak and then fell to the base far below, where he lay like the severed branches of a tree chopped from the trunk. Vrirra's mother came forth to avenge her son, but Indra was undaunted by the sight of another fearsome demon. He summoned his strength and hurled his mighty thunderbolt at her also, killing her as he had killed Vritra. She fell to the ground near her son, lying near him in death as a cow rests near her calf. Indra now freed the imprisoned waters. With his deadly weapon he split apart the mountainside, opening the sealed outlet and releasing the seven rivers. The waters rushed straight down the mountainside and swept across the land to the sea, roaring as noisily as a herd of cows. When the seven rivers once again flowed across the earth, moisture soaked through the parched soil of every land. Parched roots drank their fill and sent renewed life coursing through the trunks of dying trees. Greedy seeds sprouted, quickly growing into nourishing grasses. Thirsty humans drank their fill and lived to eat a new crop of life-sustaining plants. Famine retreated from the sight of plenty as a lion backs away from a pack of hungry wolves. Indra, the brave god, confronted the great dragon Vritra in battle and won. Indra, the mighty bringer of rain, relieved the drought and restored the fertility of the earth. Indra, the supreme god, rescued those who walk the earth from certain death. Indra, who carries the mighty thunderbolt in his hand, rules all that moves and all that rests, all that is aggressive and all that is peaceful. He alone rules the people of the earth as their king, enclosing them as the rim of a wheel encloses the spokes. Whenever they need him, he comes to their aid. Questions to think while reading about Indra What has the dragon Vitra done that requires Indra to intervene? How do Vitras action reflect the Indian conception of what the world is?What is the effect of Indra slaying Vitra? What is restored and recreated? What does that make Indra's role to be? The Vedas (Handout) Rig Veda: Sama Veda: Yajur Veda: Arthura Veda: Nature of Religion changes: While the Vedas describe a warrior religion with Indra at the head of the gods, a warrior hero-protector himself, his role has been significantly diminished in Hinduism as it emerges. In stead, the central gods become Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, none of them much discussed in the Vedas proper. Then, too, the Vedas stress sacrifice, both as a goal and as a means, and much of the Vedas provide the procedure for sacrifice. That sense of ritual sacrifice and self denial never goes away, but it assumes a more abstract form. Other early Indian literature suggests that every life has three stages. In the first stage, one is a student, in the second, a householder. And when those duties are discharged, he should seek salvation, release, moksha, as a hermit, as a ascetic, in the forest. Here is the description of the last stage from the Laws of Manu. Manu THE LAWS OF MANU, Chapter 6 1. A twice-born Snataka, who has thus lived according to the law in the order of householders, may, taking a firm resolution and keeping his organs [desire and passions are symbolized by "his organs."] in subjection, dwell in the forest, duly (observing the rules given below). 2. When a householder sees his (skin) wrinkled, and (his hair) white, and the sons of his sons, then he may resort to the forest. 3. Abandoning all food raised by cultivation, and all his belongings, he may depart into the forest, either committing his wife to his sons, or accompanied by her. 4.Taking with him the sacred fire and the implements required for domestic (sacrifices), he may go forth from the village into the forest and reside there, duly controlling his senses. 5. Let him offer those five great sacrifices according to the rule, with various kinds of pure food fit for ascetics, or with herbs, roots, and fruit. 6. Let him wear a skin or a tattered garment; let him bathe in the evening or in the morning; and let him always wear (his hair in) braids, the hair on his body, his beard, and his nails (being unclipped). 7. Let him perform the Bali-offering with such food as he eats, and give alms according to his ability; let him honour those who come to his hermitage with alms consisting of water, roots, and fruit. 8. Let him be always industrious in privately reciting the Veda; let him be patient of hardships, friendly (towards all), of collected mind, ever liberal and never a receiver of gifts, and compassionate towards all living creatures. While it is by no means clear when, the ascetic impulse, the impulse to sacrifice the body to free the soul, became strong enough to populate the forest with ascetic hermits. And those hermits, students of the Vedas, rishis, reinterpreted the warrior and ritual literature of the Vedas in new ways. Appended to each Veda are new interpretations, like footnotes, using the words and images of the Vedas as symbols of the philosophical assumptions of Hinduism. Appended to the Vedas: The Brahmanas: The Upanishads: Reading: Creation: Rosenberg, 293-294 The Four Ages of Man: Rosenberg, 292-293 Shiva Coomaraswamy, 286-287 Shiva and Sati: Coomaraswamy, 287-301. The Saints of Shiva Coomaraswamy, 301-310 The Dance of Shiva Coomaraswamy, 310-313 Caste varnas, Brahmins Kshatriyas Vaisyias: Sudras: Pariahs: jati The Laws of Many about caste system: 27. But with the minute perishable particles of the five (elements) which have been mentioned, this whole (world) is framed in due order. 28. But to whatever course of action the Lord at first appointed each (kind of beings), that alone it has spontaneously adopted in each succeeding creation. 29. Whatever he assigned to each at the (first) creation, noxiousness or harmlessness, gentleness or ferocity, virtue or sin, truth or falsehood, that clung (afterwards) spontaneously to it. 30. As at the change of the seasons each season of its own accord assumes its distinctive marks, even so corporeal beings (resume in new births) their (appointed) course of action. 31. But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet. Social order very strict dharma Hope of moksha Reading : Krishna Coomaraswamy, 217-244 The Caste System in India. - Indias second urbanization (the first being that of the long-forgotten Harappans) may be attributed partly to the process of state-formation and to the institutions it engendered, and partly to the surplus generated by the new agricultural regime pioneered in the East, new technology, development of trade, and the existence of specialized professions. - The Vedas and the epics portray the concerns, and celebrate the exploits, of a society consisting almost entirely of well-born clansmen. 2) Known as Ksatriya and rajanya, these warrior families acknowledged a chief with whom they shared a common ancestor. Ksatriya literally the empowered ones assumed military, political and administrative powers within the new state structures The chief was their raja a term rich in potential for misunderstanding in that it later came to mean a king in the monarchical states and an elector, or a participant in government, in the republics. 1) As well as the leadership of their rajas, the ksatriya also acknowledged the ritual insights and sacerdotal authority of Brahmans - a non-ksatriya priesthood. The latter, their profession becoming hereditary and exclusive through emphasis on their descent from certain ancient risis or seers, assumed the status of a parallel caste with well advertised rights and taboos derived from their monopoly of sacrificial lore, of religious orthodoxy and of academic jargon. 3) To these two castes was appended a third, possibly to differentiate clansmen of less distinguished descent who had forsaken their warrior past for agriculture and other wealth-generating pursuits. Vaisya, the term used to describe this caste, derives from vis, which originally meant the entire tribal community. They were thus considered to be of arya descent and, like the Brahman and ksatriya, were dvija or twice born (one physically, a second time through initiation rituals). Vaisya, the unempowered remainder of the erst-while vis, that is the vaisya, continued as gramini and grhpati, villagers and household heads. Their role was that of creating the wealth on which the ksatriya and Brahman depended or, as the texts have it, on which ksatriya and Brahman might graze. In pursuit of this productive ideal many vaisya accumulated landholdings while others invested in trade and industry. Much later, just as the ksatriya in recognition of their martial status would be equated with rajputs, so the vaisya would be identified with the essentially mercantile bania. Beyond the pale of the arya were a variety of indigenous peoples like the despised dasa of the Vedas. All were, nevertheless, subject to varying degrees of Aryanisation. Some, perhaps in recognition of their numerical superiority in regions newly penetrated by the clans, were actually co-opted into the three dviya castes while their cults and deities were accommodated in the growing pantheon of what we now call Hinduism. Others obstinately retained forms of speech and conduct which disqualified them from co-option and, perhaps as a result of conquest, they were relegated to functional roles considered menial and impure. Dasa came to denote a household slave or rural helot and dasi a female domestic or slave concubine. Slavery was not, however, practiced on a scale comparable to that in Greece or Rome, 4) Perhaps most of these indigenous peoples were in fact assigned an intermediate status as Sudra. The term is of uncertain origin and seems also to have embraced those born of mixed-caste parentage. Its functional connotation is clear enough, however. Just as the vaisya was expected to furnish wealth, the sudra was expected to furnish labor. These then were the four earliest castes, and a much-quoted passage from the latest mandala (X) of the Rig Veda clearly show their relative status. When in the course of a gory creation myth, the gods were carving up the sacrificial figure who represented mankind, they chose to chop him into four bits, each of which prefigured a caste: The Brahman was his mouth, of both arms was the rajanya (ksatriya) made, his thighs became the vaisya, from his feet the sudra was produced. Thus organized into a stratified hierarchy, each caste was theoretically immutable and exclusive; the purity taboos which derived from sacrificial ritual provided barriers to physical contact, while the lineage obsessions of clan society provided barriers to intermarriage. The term used for caste in the Vedas is varna color, which in the context of the aryas disparaging comments about the black dasa, is often taken to mean that the higher castes also considered themselves the fairer skinned. This is now disputed. According to the Mahabharata the colors associated with the four castes were white, red, yellow, and black; they sound more like symbolic shades meted out by those category-conscious brahmanical minds that skin pigments. Similarly the excessive rigidity of the caste system should not be taken for granted. Then as now, caste was not necessarily an indicator of economic worth; even the four-tier hierarchy was variable, with ksatriya more dominant than brahmans in the republics; and entry into the system indeed progression within it was never impossible. It may be precisely because alien cults, tribes and professions could in time, if willing to conform, be slotted into its open-ended shelving that the system proved so pervasive and durable: Varna was a mechanism for assimilation. Though undoubtedly a form of systematized oppression, it should also be seen as an ingenious schema for harnessing the loyalties of a more numerous and possibly more skilled indigenous population. In Buddhists texts, and in common parlance even today, the more usual word for caste is not varna but jati. Jati derives fro a verb meaning to be born the emphasis being less on the degree of ritual purity, as in the four-tier varna, and more on caste determination as a result of being born into a particular kinship group. If varna provided the theoretical framework, jati came to represent the practical reality. With society assuming a complexity undreamed of in Vedic times, caste formation was veering away from rituals status to take greater account of the proliferation of localized and specialized activities. Geographical, tribal, sectarian and, above all, economic and professional specializations determined a groups jati. Specialization plumbed the depths of the social hierarchy, with tasks like disposing of the dead keeping the lowly candala as outcastes, irredeemably degraded by the nature of their work. It also cleft the pinnacles of the system, with some Brahman groups artfully deploying tier expertise as kingmakers and dynastic-legitimisers, while others had to rest content with handling ritual requirements at domestic and village level. In the monarchical state leading associates of the ruling lineage assumed quasi-bureaucratic functions within the royal retinue. As the ratnins, or treasures, of ancient ritual, their designations date back to Vedic times and include such functionaries as the charioteer, the huntsman and the bard. Out of their ranks arose the senapati, or senani, who became commander of the army, and the purohita, or high priest. The charioteer seems to have become a treasurer, and the messenger an official who looked after the state horses and was responsible of the maintenance of dynastic tradition. A similar process whereby household officials became officers of state would apply in Europe: in the Norman kingdoms the master of the royal stables (comes stabuli) became the constable of the realm, and the keeper of the royal mares (mareschal) the marshal of the realm. But it is in trade and manufacturing that specialization is most apparent. The carpenter, once one of the royal retinue, or ratnins, by reason of his skill in building chariots, was now joined by a host of other craftsmen- ironsmiths, and goldsmiths, potters, weavers, herbalists, ivory-carvers. Some were tied to a particular locality or village by their source of raw materials; others were encouraged to settle in designated areas of the new cities and towns by their predominantly royal patrons. Physically segregated and learning their skills by hereditary association such groups were readily accorded jati, status that, in the context of their specialization, bore a close affinity to a professional fraternity or guild. Besides being more numerous and capable of endless proliferation, each jati was firmly based on an economic community. They contained an element of mutual support, and they may be seen as extending caste organization deep into the burgeoning economies of the new states. Similar changes may have been underway in peninsular India. Since neither Mahavira nor the Buddha ventured south, their followers had little to record of the area and there are not textual sources for it before the end of the first millennium BC. But it is clear that by then proto-states were well established in the extreme south and that they were already engaged in maritime trade. How much they owed to Aryanising influences is debatable. Although the epics were evidently known and brahmans respected, social stratification took a rather un-Aryan form, with different taboos, and no place for two of the four varnas. In fact to this day indigenous vaisya and ksatriya castes are practically unknown in peninsular India. Thanks to the peculiarities of the caste system, Indian society seemed admirably stable, if excessively stratified. But the caste membership in India, according to different debates, was not wholly prohibitive and repressive. Indeed it has been argued that caste membership conferred important rights of participation in the economic and political processes as well as obligations of social conformity. In other words, it was as much about being a citizen as being a subject. Through various rural and, more obviously, urban assemblies like caste and guild councils, endorsement of a particular leadership was demonstrated by attendance in the myriad rituals of state. Rather than being excluded from the life of Indian polities (castes) actively participated in it. Indeed, by doing so, they partly constituted it....
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This note was uploaded on 05/06/2008 for the course HUMS 160 taught by Professor Litos during the Fall '08 term at Lansing.
- Fall '08