india1 - Vedic Age (ca. 1500450 no.) Maurya Dnasty (ca....

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Unformatted text preview: Vedic Age (ca. 1500450 no.) Maurya Dnasty (ca. 323—185 BC.) 31006.6. Satavahana " . Gupta 3: I (ca. 4th—6th century AD.) $1 Pllava - (7th—9th century) Pala (ca. 8th—12th century) Chola (mid~9thu13th century) I. Sultanate (1192—1526) , Vijayanagar = (1336—1565) Mughal (ca.1526—1827} British I _. (ca. late 18th century— - 1947) . Reublic of India AN "EMPIRE OF THE SPIRIT”? Even though colonialism ended in India half a century ago in 1947, there are two major ways in which colonial India is still an issue. The first is the extraordinary impact that colonialism had on India’s institutions The two hundred years of British influence and con- trol, reckoning from the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the drawing down of the Union Jack at midnight on August 15, 1947, turned India into a modern state and left no social institution unaltered. Terms like “tradi— _tional India” and “the timeless caste system” are Virtuall meaningless, nial era as long gone and irrelevant. When we go to India now, as tourists, scholars, or business people, we go to an India transformed by the col - : - - unter. =@1 so dominates our knowledge of India in the colossal legacy of colonial scholarship about India. India did not have the indige- nous tradition of historiography that China had, as we shall see in chap- ter 7. If it had, that would have been the starting point and foundation for modern and Western models for writing India’s history. Indian historiog- raphy, to the extent it existed, was limited to genealogical pedigrees of local rulers to prove they were descended from Vishnu or the sun, or to ballads extolling the victorious battle of one ruler over his enemy. While such sources are not worthless and have recently been used with good effect by ethnohistorians, they were not sufficient to have prevented Whole eras and empires from disappearing from history. Indus Valley civ- ilization, the Mauryan Empire, King Ashoka, and Buddhism’s origin and spread throughout India all vanished without a memory. When in 1976 in China the huge burial army of the First Emperor (221u206 so.) was redis— covered archaeologically, it was not really comparable to the rediscovery of Mohenjo—Daro in northwest India in 1924, because there were Chinese histories aplenty describing Qin Shihuang, but there was not a trace in any Indian text to provide a parallel account of Indus Valley civilization. It was not that India had no intellectual class that might have been writing history; far from it. It was just that they had much more impor— tant maM-SIWWW them. There was the na ure 0 t e soul and the nature of the universe. There were the fabulous doings of divine characters like Shiva, Krishna, Our knowledge of Indian society is dominated by the colonial era. 119 120 Chapter Five Peshawar: _- (.4. “KATHMANDUV LUCKNOW I ’ Ganges PATNA ‘ o o Allahabad . Nalaflda Budh Gays. River o ' CA LC UTTA “armada Rivet INDIA 0 K’X. Cfldavarl Raw BOMBAY HYDERAJSAD MADRAS. - Mysore Map 5.1 India and Kali. There were legendary stories to be told at enormous length in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, treated as history and whose his— toricity has yet to be seriously addressed. And if little serious attention was paid to the doings of actual kings and actual ordinary persons, there was lengthy and sometimes brilliant reflection on how kings and king- doms should be ordered, how societ be or ' s .In_dia they uickl be an to an“ I. ls“ ' ' Wall India 121 many cases,- but texts taken seriously, applied to real life. They were authoritative in the sense that society in many intriguing ways altered itself to be what the texts asked of it. Since the mode of thinking about the world that we call historical was not a form of thought indigenous to India, when British adventurers, traders, and eventually administrators ll usurped power in methods to this exotic new place. The result was a vast literate of vana e quality. e have already encountered the brilliant Sir William Jones in chapter 3, whose effort in mastering Sanskrit led to the discovery of the Indo-Euro- pean language family and the founding of historical linguistics. That was only one of the discoveries of nineteenth—century scholarship. Discovery after discovery was reported in periodicals like the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in travel accounts by the score, in the voluminous gaz- etteers describing every local region in minute detail written by over— worked local oificials, and in multivolume surveys such as A. C. Cunning- ham’s Archaeological Surveys of India, which ran to twenty—three volumes. It has sometimes seemed they discovered it all and said it all. A perennial topic was the caste system. Its complexities fascinated the British, while its inequities appalled themmeven as they inserted themselves at the apex of the hierarchy, bounding themselves off with rules of separation like any other caste. The caste system was the ele- phant and they the blind men trying to take its measure, determine its nature. Were the castes so many tribes, each with its own history and cus— toms, trying to preserve ethnic identity in close interconnection. with other tribes? No, that was too simple, since the caste system was also a division of labor: Unlike self-sufficient tribal cultivators, the castes were deeply interdependent economically. Above all, they were interdependent ‘ ritually Powerful landowning castes could not get their sons and daugh- ters married without ritualized services up and down the hierarchy. Brahmans could not maintain sufficient purity to chant the Vedic mané tras without washermen to remove impurities from their clothes, barbers’ wives to remove birth pollution, and sweepers to clean their latrines. Everyone depended on the Brahmans to perform their essential life~cycle rites. The logic that best accounted for the hierarchy of castes was a ritual I _. logic. Brahnians, not kings, were at the top. The puzzlin seconda position of kings and the subordination of political owertomlmmm mg feature. As kings were toppled one by one in the East India Com- Wding control—here a principality annexed, there a raja reduced to tax collector—British scholars consulted with Brahmans about how this society, which they now had to govern, worked. It seemed to be a system of weak kings and powerful Brahmans. It seemed to be a 122 Chapter Five ’i. civilization in which power and economics were subsumed under religion. It seemed to be an “empire 0 e spiri . In the process of ruling it and writing about it, the “timeless caste system” was being reconstructed. “Colonial intervention . . . removed the politics from society and created a contradictory form of civil society— with caste as its fundamental institution—in its place” (Dirks 1989bz61). Kings were deposed or reduced to figureheads while real power was transferred to the British. But this new form of power, being alien, was ignored by scholars writing about Indian society who wanted to know about the “traditional” system and found it inviting to render invisible the impact of their own usurpation of power. In this chapter, we will of course look at the caste system as it is now in postcolonial India. But in looking at the premodern state, we will attempt to reconstruct it before its colonial alterations began. THE MORAL SOCIETY The world’s earliest states, emerging in the second and third millennia no. in Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China, were the first to face the questions that all states, including modern ones, have got to face: How to mobilize power effectively? How to survive past the first generation? How to manage the force that created the state without immediately destroying it? How to get and keep the loyalty of diverse groups drawn together in the state? The family, village, and tribal solidarities that long preceded the state had their moral codes, often implicit, which seemed as natural as the growth of plants in sunshine and rain or the springtime birth of calves and lambs. But as states emerged out of competition, conquest, and dom- ination, a new social formation had appeared for which there was no nat- ural model to provide for harmony and continuity. Both China and India sought ways to conceptualize these new concentrations of power that would legitimate the rule of a monarch and divert attention from the priv— ileged classes that now had to be supported. The family was a natural metaphor that both societies made use of. The king would be a father to his people, using the military might by which he conquered them to pro- tect them; the people would be his children who owed loyalty and obedi— ence and could expect justice from him. (The metaphoric potential of motherhood in state ideology was apparently less fruitful.) But an ideol- ogy of the family writ large could go only so far in underwriting state power. Rama, the hero of the Ramayana and India’s greatest (and mytho- logical) king, as he prepared to obey the command of his father that sent him into a fourteen-year exile on the day on which he was supposed to be a: India 123 crowned king, said: “There is no greater act of righteousness than this: obedience to one’s father and doing as he bids” (Pollock 1986). He was thus modeling a son’s moral obligation to his father and a subject’s obli— gation to his king. The word translated as righteousness is dharma. Dharma: The Moral Order of the Cosmos Some concepts, generally the most important ones, cannot be easily translated. If there is a key concept for understanding Indian society, it is the concept of dharma, which we will simply call by its Indian name. Dharma has a wide range of meanings deriving from the Sanskrit root dhr. It means the essential foundation of things, and so signifies “truth.” It means that which is established, customary, or proper, and so signifies “traditional” or “ceremonial.” It means one’s duty or responsibil- -_ity, hence “moral obligation.” It means that which is right, virtuous, or meritorious-hence “ethical” (Malony 1987). It means, in sum, both “the 'way things are” and “the way things should be." Though mostly from a somewhat later period, the concept of dharma is found in the very earliest Indian text, the Rg Veda (1200 13.0.), where we hear about the gods engaged in dharma when they separate day from night, make one season follow another, and make the rains fall. The gods do not create the universe but maintain its good order through their cer- _ emonial acts, their vows, and their ascetic practices. And later, in the Laws of Manu, which ordain how humans should conduct themselves in moral society, those who support dharma are promised “fame in this world and incomparable happiness after death” (Mann 2.9). Thus, both humans and gods are responsible for maintaining dharma. Every social category and life stage has its own dharma that con— tributes to the fundamental goodness and order of the cosmos. There is a term, svadharma, which means “one’s own” (Sva-) dharma, but this does not imply an individualistic, personal sense of values such as Westerners typically mean by suchphrases as “This is what I stand for” or “These are my own personal values.” Svadharma means an individual’s moral obli- gation given one’s osition in the social order There is the dharma of kings (immdrma), the dharma of one’s class (varnadharma), the dharma of one’s life stage (asramwdharma), the dharma of one’s caste {iatidharma}. The moral order of society is com- posed of social categories, not of individuals. The Dharmashastras (the “science of dharma”) were lawbooks expounding on dharma for the vari— ous classes of people. Dharma has its opposite: adharma.1 Adharma means _“immorality” or “unrighteousness” or against :the natural ; order .inherent'in' the-uni- verse, _A person may conduct himself in an adharmik manner. A society may lapse into disorder, wickedness, chaos. A society where people do not 124 Chapter Five live by the dharma of their class, gender, life stage, and caste is a chaotic, immoral society. The concept of dharma holds society to an ideal that it cannot always meet, and its sympathy for reform is generally limited to reinterpreting change in terms of ancient values. It was the work of the'centuries from about 700 to 300 13.0. to find ways to link dharma to the state and to stabilize the early kingdoms that all too easily fell into bloody conflict. The First Civilizations The first urban society in India emerged in the Indus Valley around 2300 BC. This was the world’s third civilization, a thousand years later than'Egypt and Sumer in Mesopotamia. Indus Valley was in contact with Sumer via a land route stretching from oasis to oasis across the Iranian Plateau, and via a much easier coastal route in the shallow waters of the ‘ Arabian Sea and up the Persian Gulf. India was the fabled source of pea- cocks and monkeys, ivory and e ices and Who cities of Indus Valley were depmmfiver for a water source and for tranSportation. They grew wheat and cotton, were the first to weave cotton into cloth, and brought their raw materials by river to the two great cities of Mohenjo—Daro and Harappa. ' The first civilizations did not emerge quickly but required a long evolution out of farming communities whose growth and increased pro— ductivity supported the nonproductive elite that dominated them. Box 5.1, “Characteristics of Civilization,” identifies some of the primary and secondary features associated with early civilizations. The political struc- ture of a civilization is the state, where power is centralized in a monarch ‘ or oligarchy. Society had grown more complex, with new forms of special- ization and stratification. The king gathered around him a full-time war~ Iiorclass; priests who functioned as advisers, .diviners, and intercessors with the gods; and a nobility composed of the king’s family and lineage that grew larger and more powerful by the generation. All these people . had to be supported by the agricultural classes. Older studies sometimes talk about the “surpluses” produced by early states that allowed nonagri- cultural classes to emerge as if surpluses were some kind of natural phe- nomenon growing out of agricultural technology The facts are much less pleasant. Independent cultivators were turned into peasants, tied to the land by various devices that squeezed them for surpluses to support the growing nonproductive elite. _A percentage of the harvest, often 25 percent or 50 percent, was demanded, which forced peasants to work harder and find ways to grow more, because their own subsistence needs remained the same. It was political coercion,..not simply improved agricultural tech- nology, which squeezed out an extra portion of grain to be passed upward as taxation.‘ : ‘* India 125 _. ..-5._.-1 ...Choro¢i_e'ri$lics ofcivilizalion'5-pi-I Primary Features The State: - Centralized authority in a monarch, king, emperor, or oligarchy - Stratification of society with an aristocracy, priesthood, military, and peasants - A taxi'tribute system for redistribution of surpluses upward High population densities Expanded food production to support economically unproductive classes Urbanization: villages, towns, and a few true urban centers with populations of 7,000 to 10,000 Full-time craft specialists Secondary Features Monumental art and architecture Long-distance trade Codified law Writing systems Mathematics and astronomy Religion in the service of the state Bifurcation of folk culture and court culture, with court-sponsored arts and intellectual traditions In the meantime, urban densities formed around the king’s court and in a few trade centers, so that along with villages there is a hierarchy of urban spaces: towns and one or two major cities. In the earliest cities, ten thousand was a lot of people; by 2500 13.0., there are cities with popu- . lations close to one hundred thousand. Cultural and intellectual life began to diverge from village culture in the urban centers of privilege in the caurts of early kings. Specialists of all sorts elabOrated their own cul- tural domains: a few carpenters turned into architects and engineers, building palaces, temples, and mausoleums for their royal patrons; min- isters codified the law; priests pondered the old myths and rites, raising new philosophical questions. They gazed at the stars and developed astrology and astronomy. Mathematics grew out of useful practices like engineering and astronomy. Royal courts sponsored new forms of art: the- ater, music, dance, and poetry. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the development of new uses for religion: The power of the state needed to be legitimated somehow; new forms of religion emerged in the service of the state. Note that a civilization is something more than a state. States are political formations that can come and g0 rather quickly, and most will 126 Chapter Five not form a true civilization around themselves. A civilization includes enduring cultural traditions that can be maintained and passed on from generation to generation even when political centralization has lapsed, whereas a state is a centralized social system that is much more vulner- able to spinning into disorder at the death of a powerful leader or collaps- ing into bitterly contested struggles for leadership that end in fragmenta- tion. So civilizations can outlast particular states. Indian civilization has survived through eras when no state could be said to be functioning or when only small regional states existed. Similarly, Chinese civilization has stretched across eras when the state itself disappeared in periodic chaos. Indus Valley Civilization (2300—4750 13.0.) Indus Valley is the mystery civilization of Asia. While its two major cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, have been extensively excavated and now lie exposed once again to the blistering sun of Pakistan (see box 5.2, “A Most-Curious Object"), almost everything We would want to know about the people and their culture remains unexplained. Perhaps these people were ancestors of the Dravidians, who are now the vast popula— tions of the southern Indian states of Tamilnadu, Kerala, and Mysore. There are a few tiny tell-tale pockets of Dravidian—speakers stranded in the Indus Valley region of Baluchistan, though now the languages of the northern states are all Indo—European. They certainly had a well-orga- nized and centrally planned society, but what kind of political order was responsible for this is not clear from the archaeological record. They had a script, but what ideas were captured by it is unknown because the script has never been'cleciphered. The religious ideas that motivated their lives have left traces only in rough sculptural form, and so the connection to later Indian ideals remains conjectural (Fairservis 1975). The cities of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were the most modern cit- ies of their time; there was a genius of civil engineering and public works. The cities were built on a grid plan, with a broad north-south street bisected by narrower east-west streets. Houses built on these streets were often large and multiroomed with windowless exterior walls, inner court— yards, and flat roofs. This house style remains prominent in much of India to this day, allowing family life to be lived in inner privacy in the court- yard and, on hot nights and cool winter days, on the rooftop. Many of these houses had private interior wells with outlets in several rooms of the house. Bathrooms were built against an exterior wall, with sloping floors and chutes that drained bathwater to the lane outside. From there, sewage was disposed through brick-lined covered channels to cesspits outside the city. This water and sanitation engineering was unmatched anywhere in the world prior to the last couple of centuries. a ' India 127 _ '_ 5.2 A Most Curious Chisel _ _ In the winter of 1872—3, while touring the Punjab, Cunningham investigated Harappa. _ on the Ravi river. It was 'the most extensive of all the old sites along the Ravi', and, according to Charles Masson who discovered it on his way to Afghanistan, it boasted the ruins of a vast brick castle. Cunningham found plenty of bricks, several mounds ofthem In fact. but no castle. Nor was he altogether surprised. Standing amongst the mounds, he could hear the trains rattling along the new Lahore-Multan line. More than a hundredmlles of track had been ballasted with bricks from Harappa. The most curious object discovered at Harappa is a seal . . . which was found along with ' two small objects like chess pawns, made of dark brown jasper. . . . The seal is a smooth black stone without polish. On it is engraved very deeply a bull, without hump, looking to the right with two stars under the neck. Above the bull there is an inscription in six char- ' actors which are quite unknown to me. They are certainly not Indian letters. . . . The seal itself found its way into the British Museum where It was joined by one or two others which came to light during the late nineteenth century. But no further progress was made in probing their significance. . . . Certainly Sir John Marshall attached no immediate importance to them. For twelve years after his appointment as Archaeological Director, no one visited the place. When one of the Department's Staff finally visited Harappa in 1914, It was just to survey it. He did indeed recommend that the main mound be excavated, but it was not until 1921 that work started. In that year. more pottery and more seals were discovered, as well as a number of stone implements. But still the significance of' these finds was doubtful. But the breakthrough was imminent. A year before, Fl. D. Banerji, one of Marshall's Indian recruits, had been travelling in the sand wastes of Sind 400 miles south of Harappa and near the mouth of the Indus. At a place called Mohenjo-daro, he stopped to investigate a ruined Buddhist stupa and monastery, both built in brick, and he noticed in their vicinity several other promising-looking mounds. Two years later a trial dig got under way. Some engraved pieces of copper and some seals were found. One of the seals depicted what was thought to be a unicorn; all bore picto- graphlc letters which Banerji immediately recognized as belonging to the same class ' as those on the Harappa seals. In 1924, Marshall compared the finds from Mohenjo-daro with those from Harappa, and recognized that they belonged ‘in the same stage of culture and approximately to the same age, and that they were totally distinct from anything known to us in India.‘ In a report to the Illustrated London News in 1924 Marshall could not conceal his excitement. Not often has it been given to archaeologists, as it was given to Schliemann at Trryns and Mycenae, or to Stein in the deserts of Turkestan, to light upon the remains of a long for- gotten civilization. lt'looks, however, atthis moment, as if we are on the threshold of such a discovery in the plains of the Indus. Up to the present our knowledge of Indian antiq- uities has carried us back hardly further than the third century before Christ. . . . Now, however, there has unexpectedly been unearthed, in the south of the Punjab and In Sind, an entirely new class of objects which have nothing in common with those previously known to us. . . . John Keay, 1988, pp. 165~68. 128 Chapter Five e we saw: u. m fimmmuw e mm mugs «‘«W‘wams» mmmnofll’ m; t. , eewsdwwwax .. Mia“%~%“%$ a saw-smwamw *wmmmt'flcwflfié me» e 3”” «mauve: «mamawqmw M Wm g MW 213mm WM. - ' W a» «mega m. 33% - . . - - semi This photo shows the citadel at Mohenjo Daro after excavation. In the distance is visible a Buddhist stapa from a later era. A society that is technologically advanced enough for this kind of town planning and sanitation engineering surely, one might suppose, would be able to write its language. Contemporary civilizations had this knowledge: Sumerians had developed cunieform and Egyptians had hieroglyphics, both of which can now be read. Early Chinese civilization, which developed later, also had a script that can be read today. But Indus civilization does not appear to have advanced far along this route, a tre- mendous handicap to us when it comes to attempts at understanding this early phase of Indian history. ' _ ' (1- al . .graffi _ tang slain inch or two in dimensm an impression in wax and may have been used as a wax seal on parcels. There were a total of 419 signs, with 200 in frequent use. This is too many for an alphabetic script like ours and not enough for a logographic one like Chinese. asset: ' " bl " .But there are no long texts; the longest string of characters is a mere twenty-one signs, and the aver- age is more like five or Six (Fairservis 1975). Thus, it is unlikely that the script was used to express complex ideas in religious texts or historical txwwnwg ’é‘fi‘i‘fffif .m‘vmawgw “influencing-z» a A: s, i; a 3 gt 5-4 a is a India 129 This seal, less than two inches wide, is one of hundreds found in Indus Valley sites. The characters on the top have never been translated. Many of the seals, like this one, show a ball before what may be a sacrificial post, suggesting that in Indus Valley balls were objects of sacrifice and perhaps also of worship. accounts. The best guess at present, based partly on the fact that Indus seals have been found in Sumer, is that the inscriptions were names of merchant families used to identify goods in long-distance trade. a When it Comes to religious ideas, again we have to guess on the basis of ihtriguin'g clues. The seals that bear the puzzling inscriptions also con— thin pictures of animals that were important then: the humped bull, tiger, camel,‘antelope, and elephant. Often animals are depicted tethered to an ornamented post as if about to be sacrificed, and one she s a woman about to be sacrificed, her arms raised in supplication. A " 130 Chapter Five In one, two worship— pers eel beside him with hooded cobras towering over them. This deity so resembles the later god Shiva that he isoften referred to as the Proto- Shiva. The frequency of religious themes on the seals could sustain a reli- gious, rather than commercial, function. Other hints oflater Hindu practices are possibly goddesses, aii?§::'diithiimb'erzf-iriale--=1Inage's. They are often crudely made of terra-cotta, as if constructed for popular use or to be dis— carded after brief use at a festival. These mother goddesses are lavishly decorated with layers of necklaces, bangles, and belts; have fabulous fan- shaped headdresses; and are bare-breasted. Perhaps this is how women of the Indus Valley dressed. In later times, the Indus Valley goddess, who had a partner in the Proto-Shiva, was temporarily eclipsed by the male deities of the Aryan pantheon, but she ultimately reemerged as the pri— mordial Shakti, who takes form in Kali, Durga, Saraswati, and other female deities. A few better—made male images were also found, one assumed to be a priest, another remarkably (but impossibly) Greek-look- ing from the realism of his torso. - Most puzzling of all is the question of how Indus Valley civilization was organized. Though it spread across a vaster region than either Sumer or Egypt, a thousand miles from west to east, with over one thousand towns and two or three great cities so far excavated or located, there is precious little evidence of strong centralized government beyond the indi- rect evidence of the well-laid out cities. No palace complex exists where a great king might have lived and held court. No great temple complex bears testimony to a cult of the divinities depicted 0n seals and in terra- cotta statuettes. There is no evidence of rivalry between states or of war— fare. The closest to a structural center of power that has been discovered is a pillared hall with many tiny adjacent rooms called by archaeologists an “assembly hall” located at the highest points at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. There is little to suggest the residence of a great king here, but it just might be the center of a priesthood, whose monks lived in the cubiu cles and functioned as a powerful oligarchy in worship of a god and god- dess, ordering society through their ritual authority, and enforcing a rational plan in the laying out of the cities and maintaining water and sewage systems. ' ' ‘ not monarchical authority so in" Has “e ki 61' ‘o :exrst‘ence‘ -o£---a*.conc'éptualzgplan a’fO'Ifi. humansso'ci' ‘iesisfithwhereverpeoplecsettled-eafididiiiredwiuages5; The Vedic Age (1500—450 13.0.) For Indus Valley civilization we have ruins but no words; for the ‘ Vedic Age, we have words but hardly any ruins, at least for the formative l ‘ st India 131 first thousand years. But this vast resource of texts tells us, directly or - indirectly, a great deal about the people who entered India in the centuw ries following the decline of the great cities of the Indus Valley. We must remember that a state can dissolve and cities fall into ruin while a civili- zation is kept alive by rural populations that go right on living much as they always did. What makes the early post—Indus culture a puzzle for historians is that a indcrEurepsan‘=A1ra abiliti- ently entered India {routine northwest; confideredfivith ifié...1oca1-p30p1e d-Ieventually. established. a. series . of gsrnall. kingdoms , _,_across North} IndiaiThey“ bi'di‘igh't- a 'Ivei‘yiidifferent - culture with them, whose most important religious ideas are contained in four texts, the The cultural tradition that finally emerged must have been a syn- cretism of the new Aryan culture with older Indus culture, but who con- tributed what to the mix has not been sorted out. The Aryans, like the Hittites and Greeks to whom they were ethni— cally related, were a Society of Bronze~Age tribal warriors who herded cat- tle and were organized patriarchally under tribal Chieftains called rajas. They worshipped male gods whose names were widely known to Indo— Europeans, as evidenced by the appearance in Hittite texts of about 1400 lib. of Indra (Ipdara in Hittite), Varuna (Uruvna), Mitra (Mitira), and the Naksatras (Nasatiya)."Like the Greeks, they moved into a region where more advanced urban civilizations were already in decline. Their religion of transcendent gods of the heavens encountered and partially replaced the earth goddesses of agricultural peoples. And like the Greeks, they brought epics of heroic and embattled kings that were composed early in the first millennium 13.0. and written down much later. The Mahabharata, like the Iliad, is an epic tale of bloody warfare among related princes; the Ramayana, like the Odyssey, is the tale of a long exilic journey in territo— ries of mythical beings, ending with a joyful return home. The kidnapped Helen of Troy, whose abduction leads to the Trojan War, has her counter- part in the abducted Sita, whose rescue dominates the Ramayana. For the first five hundred years, the newcomers made themselves at home in the upper and lower reaches of the Indus. They wrote of encoun- tering empty cities and dark-skinned people called dasas whom they scorned and fought. For the next five hundred years (from about 1000 to 450 13.0.), they moved eastward, discovered the great Ganges system, and began setting up small kingdoms all across North India. Certain of these kingdoms became famous in the great epics. Indraprastha (now Delhi) and Hastinapur were the capitals of the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata. Kosala, the capital city of which, Ayodhya, was Rama’s kingdom, and Mithila, the capital of Sita’s father, King J anaka, figure in the Ramayana. Kashi was the ancient name of modern Banaras, sacred to Shiva. And Pataliputra, the easternmost kingdom of the Vedic Age, was 132 Chapter Five the first kingdom to conquer the others and establish an empire that stretched from Bengal to the Indus, the Mauryan dynasty, in 323 no. The most ancient “texts” of the Aryans were too sacred to write down, even after a script was devised late in the Vedic Age. e'srtrtigflflieardiii scripture .directlyrevealed-words "'o'fthe': ode-o ,3 __ and they Were Reese-d: ' teacher- Ciplei Just as hey are today, three thousand years later, as young Brahmans memorize whole books by precise formulas of rote learning intended to ensure that even if passages are not well understood, they will nonetheless be passed on in linguistically perfect form. Eventually, Brahmans made their peace with writingand wrote the Vedas down, but the Vedas still exist mostly as oral texts chanted at rituals. The oldest Veda, theiRg-Ved‘ ~a coll :3 "it-tiara:"$51301.7.;13991315311fianslgitsearches-thatE'S'Oniétofzt-isno Elly-trans- iélatablefil The oldest portions may have been composed as early as 1200 BC. “The Creation” (see box 5.3, “Two Myths from Rg Veda”) is a very early speculation on the perennial puzzle of the origin of the universe. What could have existed before all that presently exists came into being? How could what exists now have arisen? It hypothesizes a primordial con- dition when there was no space, no sk no ni ht or day, no life, and, there— fore, no death. The‘fbree of ' " ‘ ' " eat (“That One arose through the power of heat”) (“desire ame upon That One in the beginning”). It raises the poss1b111ty that gods might have created the cosmos, only to reject it: “The gods came afterward with the creation of the universe.” But a more shadowy, unnamed entity called only “That One” arose through heat, and then, through the flush of desire, \I, ‘fifilthe “first seed of mind” was planted. The creative power of heat and the 53 C}? existence-maintaining properties of desire would continue to be funda- r . Cu i}? u mental assumptions of Indian thought for the next three millennia. We do not hear that this One in the high heavens is any of the known gods such as Varuna, Mitra, or Indra. There is no idea about this One at all. That One knows and desires, but does not create. Already we find nuclear ideas of later Hinduism: multiple gods vs. a prior, more abstract sense of God; desire as the central fact of existence (with its opposite, desireless— ness, associated with nonexistence); and the priority of mind over the material. “The COSmic Sacrifice” seems to be describing a later phase of cos— mos making. The gods now exist and what do they do up in the heavens? They make sacrifices. Another divine figure, Purusha (“the sacrifice born at the beginning”), is bound “as the sacrificial beast.” One is reminded of Indus Valley seals with the bull tied to the sacrificial post. The division of the sacrifice brings the essential components of the phenomenal world into existence. From the melted fat of Purusha were made beasts of the air, the forest, and the village. Sit gods. a India 133 __ 5.__3_ - TWO Myths from Rg Veda .. The Creation There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep? There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That One breathed, windiess, by its own impuise. Other than that there was nothing beyond. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, That One arose through the power of heat. Desire came upon That One in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in nonexist- ence. Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giv- ing-forth above. ' Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? WhenCe was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen? Whence this creation has arisen—perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not—the One who looks down in it, in the highest heaven, only he knows—or perhaps he does not know. Hg Veda 10.129 The Cosmic Sacrifice When the gods performed the sacrifice with Purusha as the offering, spring was the clarified butter. summer the fuel, autumn the oblation. They anointed Purusha, the sacrifice born at the beginning, upon the sacred grass. With him the gods, perfected beings, and sages sacrificed. From that sacrifice in which everything was offered, the melted fat was collected, and he made it into those beasts who live in the air, in the forest, and in villages. From that sacrifice in which everything was offered. the verses and chants were born, the meters were born from it, and from it the formulas were born. Horses were born from it, and those other animals that have two rows of teeth; cows were born from it, and from it goats and sheep were born. When they divided Purusha, into how many parts did they apportion him? What do they call his mouth. his two arms and thighs and feet? His mouth became the Brahmin; his arms were made into the Kshatriya (warrior); his thighs the Vaishyas (the people); and from his feet the Shudras (servants) were born. The moon was born from his mind; from his eye the sun was born. Indra and Agni came from his mouth, and from his vital breath the Wind was born. From his navel the middle realm of space arose; from his head the sky evolved. From his two feet came the earth, and the quar— I ters of the sky from his ear. Thus they set the worlds in order. There were seven enclosing-sticks for him and thrice seven fuel-sticks, when the gods, performing the sacrifice. bound Purusha as the sacrificial beast. With the sac- rifice the gods sacrificed to the sacrifice. These were the first dharmas. These very powers reached the dome of the sky where dwell the perfected beings, the ancient Rg Veda 10.90 Wendy Doniger O‘Flaherty, 1988. 134 Chapter Five Humans, however, come from the division of the body of Pnrusha. Perhaps the most significant feature is that the first division of humans at the very creation was not by gender (as in “male and female created He them”) but by social classification: the mouth became Brahmans (priests), the arms became Kshatriyas (warriors), the thighs became Vaishyas (the people), and the feet became Shudras (servants). This four-category clas- sification known as the name system, the basis for the caste system, was created by sacrifice at the very beginning of the universe. Finally, in this myth we see the gods in the heavens doing the same work as Brahmans on earth. They perform sacrifices. Everything comes from it. And it follows that if you want to keep the cosmos in good order, sacrifice becomes essential. That is the duty of Brahmans, whose princi— pal activity during the Aryan period (as well as in the present) was per- forming the many required sacrifices. Their central feature was the burn— ing of the sacred fire with offerings of ghi (clarified butter), certain kinds of grain and wood, and sprinkles of water, along with chanting the appro- priate Vedic verses. These rituals were always done on behalf of a house— holder or king, the yajman, who cannot perform the sacrifice himself. The sacrificial flame itself, which is the embodiment of the god Agni, is the transforming power of the cosmos. What makes fire sacred? Fire is the sun, the source of heat and life. It is terrestrial fire, a piece of the sun on earth. It is the household fire, which cooks the food that nourishes us. It is lightning, the mediating fire that connects the sky and the earth. Fire is life, for the sun makes things grow. Finally, at death, a bit of fire brought from the cooking hearth lights the funeral pyre that burns the body and releases the soul. A Tale of Two Kings: The Premodern Hindu State The kingdoms that arose in North India in the first millennium BC. established certain ideals for the Hindu polity that had far-reaching influ— ence throughout the subcontinent and into Southeast Asia in later times. Two ancient Indian kings, One mythical, one historical, stand out as mod— els of the Indie monarch. The actual king inherited India’s first great empire, enlarged it through bloody conquest, then transformed it by insti- tutionalizing a new state religion throughout his domain. The mytholog- ical king, assuming he was mythological, never actually ruled anywhere, but his reputed reign is regarded as India’s golden age, while the histori- cal king was totally forgotten in India (though not outside of India) within a few centuries and had to be rediscovered in the nineteenth century by British scholars. The kings I am referring to are Rama (of the Ramayana) and Ashoka (269 to 232 13.0.). Rama: Hero of the Ramayana. Rama’s story is told and retold in hundreds of versions throughout India and Southeast Asia, in poetry and a India 135 _ prose, almost always as a public event (see box 5.4, “The Ramayana”). It _. . is constantly being performed in villages and urban areas, as in the past ' . it was performed in court. It is chanted by pandits reading from a text, ' _ enacted by traveling troupes of actors, or performed by puppets. For the -. last 150 years, the Ramayana has been presented as an annual “theatre of hyperreality” at a site across the Ganga River from Banaras (Schech- ner 1993). In nightly episodes lasting a month, Rama’s fourteen-year _ exile is reenacted by actors and followed by audience-pilgrims who liter— . ' ally journey from site to site where all the critical pan-Indian locations, 3 - ; from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka, are reproduced around the palaces and gar- . dens of the Maharaja of Banaras and the town of Ramnagar. The actors . who play Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman are suarup, “forms” or ' - incarnations of the divine figures themselves, worshipped with garlands and pranams (respectful folding of hands or touching of the feet) at the end of each performance. At the end of the last episode, when Rama and ' Sita have returned triumphally to Ayodhya to begin the glorious reign of Rama, the actors” feet become black and blue with reverential touching. Before the final performance of farewell to Rama and Sita, they are car— ried by royal elephants to the palace, where the Maharaja of Banaras, ' dressed simply as a devotee of Rama, washes their feet, and garlands and ' feasts them. These royally sponsored reenactments have been going on in India since at least the second century BC, and spread to Southeast Asia ' - where even today scenes from the Ramayana may be seen on the inner I side of the great wall surrounding the royal palace in Bangkok. 5.4 The Ramayana The King of Lanka, a ten-headed demon named Havana, has won a promise by the gods that he cannot be conquered by any divine or demonic force. Dismissing .- as impossible the notion that any maria! could destroy him, he thinks he is invin— cible. At the same time. in the city of Ayodhya, King Dasharatha is having a special sacrifice to provide him with a male heir. Immediately his three queens give him jsons. Eldest is Rama, son of queen Kausalya; Queen Kaikeyi gives birth to - Bharata; and Queen Sumitra gives birth to twins, Lakshman and Shatrughna. Rama’s career as a warrior begins when as a young man his teacher-sage 'Vishvamitra leads him and Lakshman to the nearby kingdom of Mithila, where they encounter King Janaka in the middle of a great sacrifice. Janaka stops to wel- come the princes from Ayodhya and tells them about the miraculous birth of his _ daughter, Sita, found when the king plowed afurrow in the earth. Because of this ' miraculous birth he has vowed she will only be given in marriage to a hero who can pull the bow of Shiva. which is in his keeping. Many princes and kings have Came. failed to pull the bow, and in their humiliation waged war. Rama is shown the bow; he pulls it so hard he breaks it, and thus wins Princess Sita’s hand in marriage. 136 Chapter Five Not long after, King Dasharatha resolves to retire, and arranges for the coro- nation of Rama. As Hama is beloved by the citizens of Ayodhya, there is great rejoicing as the day approaches. But Dasharatha’s youngest queen, Kaikeyi, fear- ful that heriortunes will decline when Harna is king, plots against him. Dasharatha owes her two favors, which she now claims. First, he must banish Rama to the for- est for fourteen years, and second, her own son Bharata must be put on the throne. Dasharatha is grieved, but must fulfill his vow. Rather than resort to force of arms to keep the throne, Hama insists on fulfilling his father’s vow and accepts the banishment. Bharata, loyal to his half-brother, places Rama’s sandals on the throne and rules as regent until Hama returns. At first Hama plans to take only his brother Lakshman, but Sita insists she can never be happy if separated from her husband and that the forest will be a better place than the palace if she is with her husband. Finally Hama agrees to take her, too. As the people of Ayodhya weep, Rama, Lakshman, and Sita depart. Many adventures occur in the forests and jungles that they traverse in their wanderings. A demoness named Shurpanakha falls in love with Rama and threat- ens to eat Sita. Lakshman cuts off her nose. She flees to her brother, Havana, and tells him of the cruelty of Rama and the beauty of Sita. Havana decides to kidnap Site for himself, and carries her off to his kingdom in Sri Lanka. Desperate to find Sita, Harrie encounters a monkey prince named Sugriva, who has also lost his wife under similar circumstances. They resolve to help each get the other's wife back. Particularly helpful is Sugriva's minister, Hanuman. It is Hanuman who comes to Hama’s aid, discovering the location of Site, under guard in a grove near Havana's palace. He witnesses her constant refusal of Havana’s advances, creeps in to present her with a Signet ring belonging to Hama, and promises to soon rescue her. Hanuman allows himself to be captured in order to enter the court of Havana; there they set his tail on fire. The quick-witted monkey manages to escape, sets the city on fire with his burning tail, and returns to Harna with his inside knowledge of the Lanka capital. Now the monkey army, led by Rama, Lakshman, and Sugriva, begin their assault on Lenka. They build a bridge across the strait so the army can cross. There is a huge battle with tremendous loss of life on both sides. Atthe end, Rama and Havana meet in hand-to-hand combat. and Havana dies at Hama‘s hand. Sita's virtue is now in question. Did she or didn't she remain chaste while in Havana’s control? She insists on undergoing a test of fire; she enters the fire and emerges unscathed in proof of her virtue. Then Hams and Sita return triumphantly to Ayodhya, whose citizens light candles to welcome them, an event repeated every year at the fall holiday of Divali. Rama rajya begins; Rama now rules over Ayodhya in years of peace and well-being. The perfection of Rama rajya is marred only by the renewal of gossip about Sita. Rama’s one weakness is to give in to these rumors and banish Sita, once again, to the forest. There, she lives in the shelter of a sage and gives birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha. She remains, even in banishment, the loving and loyal wife of Rama, teaching her sons to sing the praises of their father. Finally she returns to the earth from whence she came, and Hama lives many years in private loneliness without Sita until he finally ascends to heaven. st India 137 A televised serial in 1987 had over 80 million viewers, the most ' watched program ever on Indian television. Paula Richman (1991:3) describes the reactions of viewers: It was "not just that people watched the show: they became so in- volved in it that they were loath to see it end. Despite the fact that Doordarshan, the government-run network, had only contracted with the producer for a year’s worth of episodes, the audience de- manded more. In fact, sanitation workers in Jalandhar went on strike because the serial was due to end without depicting the events of the seventh, and final, book of the Ramayana. The strike spread among sanitation workers in many major cities in North In- dia, compelling the government to sponsor the desired episodes in order to prevent a major health hazard. . . . Many people responded to the image of Rama on the television screen as if it were an icon in a temple. They bathed before watching, garlanded the set like a shrine, and considered the viewing of Rama to be a religious expe- rience. After transforming India’s television audience into a devotional con- ._ gregation for a year, the Ramayana lent its expressive capacity to a more ominous event. On December 6, 1992, Hindu mobs led by right—wing, reli- giously motivated political partiesmthe Bharatiya J anata Party and the Vishva Hindu Parishad—demolished a sixteenth-century mosque said to have been built by the first Mughal emperor, Babur, over the birthplace of Rama in Ayodhya, setting ofi' Hindu-Muslim riots across India in which ' _-more than five thousand people were killed. What can account for the grip that this 2,500-year—old story has on ' the imagination of twentieth-century Indians? Some kind of energia, or . .“social energy"wthe ability of a text to cause a “stir in the mind” (Green— blatt 1994)—is at work here. A text that has such life, age after age, is cer- tainly a many-stranded thing; each generation and class brings its own ' 'set of historical circumstances and preoccupations to a narrative that . - invariably has fresh expressive capacity to energize a new age. Earlier in the century, Gandhi used the symbolism of Rama rajya, “Rama’s reign,” to mobilize Indians around a vision of a new golden age of an independent India, using a hymn to Rama as a nationalist rallying song. The Ramay— ana may have had its greatest surge of popularity during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries as Central Asian invaders stormed across North India; Indians identified these rapacious aliens with the evil King _ Havana, and their own Hindu kings were identified with the deposed but finally vindicated Rama. However, during the era when the Ramayana was composed and had its first audiences—sometime between 750 and 500 B.C.——it was surely addressing different social concerns. As we know from all the epics that deseribe life in those times (the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the 138 Chapter Five Harivamsa), it was a violent era of bloody succession fights and conflict between small kingdoms. Kingdoms built by strength of arms had not found ways to moralize the exercise of power. The other great epic from this period, the Mahabharata, is the most pessimistic of all, describing a war of apocalyptic proportions with horrible weapons of destruction that ends with eighteen million corpses and the death of every prinCipal char- acter. King Dhritarashtra, in desolation, says: “This world is savage. How can one understand the savagery of this world?” and Bhishma replies: “You are part of it.” Only in this century has anything close to the Mahab- harata’s apocalyptic vision occurred, when forty million people lost their lives during World War II. The Mahabharata cannot imagine a dharma for a kshatriya (war— rior) other than this One: [The kshatriya] must always be ready to slaughter the enemy, he must show bravery in battle. . . . The kshatriya who conquers in battle most effectively wins the [higher] worlds. Killing is the chief dharma of one who is a kshatriya. There is no higher duty for him than to destroy enemies. . . . [A kshatriya] who would satisfy the claims of his dharma, a king in particular, must fight. Mahabharata 12.60.13w18 The most famous and beautiful section of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavadgita (the “Song of God”), where the warrior-prince Arjuna halts in his chariot, filled with dread at the coming battle where he must kill his cousins or be killed by them. The god Krishna has taken the form of his charioteer and urges him on, giving him moral justification for it: I am time grown old, creating world destruction set in motion to annihilate the worlds; even without you, all these warriors arrayed in hostile ranks will cease to exist. Therefore, arise and win glory! Conquer your foes and fulfill your kingship! They are already slain by me. Be just my instrument, The archer at my side! (Miller 1986) But the Ramayana has a new vision for kings. Its author, Valmiki, writing the Ramayana for kshatriya patrons, suggested a different dharma for kshatriyas. Rama rejects “the kshatriya’s code (rajadharrna) Where unrighteousness and righteousness go hand in hand, a code that only debased, vicious, covetous, and evil men observe” (Pollock 1986:68). Rama is the first kshatriya prince to renounce artha, power. ‘Nhen palace intrigue puts his succession into jeopardy, instead of plunging into war— fare to claim his rightful throne—the Mahabharata solution—he goes st India 139 into a fourteeneyear exile, living like an ascetic in the wilderness. On his return to Ayodhya at the end, purified by his suffering in exile, empow— ered by his asceticism, and made wise enough to govern, Rama ushers in a utopian age of peace, abundance, and righteousness. Of course, there never was such an age, except in the imagination. The bloody centuries between the writing of the Ramayana (750—500 13.0.) - and the first imperial unification in 323 no. provoked fundamental ' '- rethinking of the meaning of human existence and the nature of order in the cosmos and in society. There was profound questioning of the efficacy of the Brahmanical rites, rooted in the Vedas, which led to questioning of everything connected to life in society, from the family to the kingdom. Renunciation of society, already seen in Rama’s voluntary acceptance of -'exile to the wilderness, in search of truth beyond society’s (dis)order became common, and in Indian thought two great alternatives for mean— ingfiil human existence emerged: life in society and life outside of society. - _ Even princes faced this choice, many of whom renounced, including most importantly Prince Gautarna, who became the Buddha. We shall return to these issues later in this chapter. In 326 EC. Alexander the Great marched his armies across the five I rivers of the Panjab, assaulting the front lines of Indian war elephants and infantry with his Macedonian cavalry and flaming arrows, defeating . every raja who stood up to him. It was only disarray in his own hinter- -. 3 lands that caused him to stop at the Indus and turn back in the same year. ' '_ ' He left behind him Greek generals who founded kingdoms in the upper I .' Indus that survived for centuries (most importantly, a major city called Taxila), and left untouched an empire that was growing in the far east of the Ganges with its capital at Pataliputra. Much of what we know about -' this empire comes from reports by a Greek ambassador, Megasthenes, and from inscriptions left by the third ruler of the Mauryan dynasty, 3-; - . Ashoka. _ Ashoka: The Forgotten King. Ashoka’s life seems to have been filled with all those ambiguities of raj adharrna that we have just seen. ' He inherited an empire extending from the Panjab to Bengal that had been unified by conquest carried out by his grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya, and expanded this empire southward by the same methods. ' Three principal sources describe Ashoka’s reign and the manner in which the Maurya‘n Empire was governed. The first was an amoral, Machiavel— .- lian treatise called the Arthashastra (“The Science of Governing”) said to have been written by Kautilya, a Brahman advisor to a Mauryan ruler ' ' thought to have been Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya attempted to define the state just as I did at the beginning of this chapter. For Kautilya, it was a state when there was a king, his ministers, a territory, a fort, a ' treasury, an army, and allies. This practical treatise does not exactly 140 Chapter Five q India 141 describe a Rama rajya; rather, it describes a repressive civil and military bureaucracy sustained by spies, soldiers, and bureaucrats, where one fourth to one half of all crops were paid into the imperial treasury (Wolp— ert 1993:58—59). The treatise urges the shrewd king to make war on any other king he thinks he can defeat, and warns the king against trusting anyone, least of all his own administrators. “Bureaucracy,” Wolpert con- cludes from his reading of Kautilya, “with all its mixed blessings, was thus obviously no recent Western import to Indian soil, and may have had indigenous roots in Harappan society” (Wolpert 1993259). However, two other sources present a different picture. These con- sist of a series of inscriptions on rocks and pillars put up by Ashoka across his empire, and several pious texts about the life of Ashoka, most impor- tantly the Asokavadana (“The Legend of King Ashoka”). By the time the pillars that Ashoka erected along the periphery of his empire in the third century BC. began to draw British interest in the nineteenth century, they were no longer associated with the name of Ashoka, nor could anyone read the inscriptions, which were in two kinds of forgotten scripts. (It was actually Ashokan brahmi; see chapter 3 for a sample.) Some thought the script looked a little like Greek, and for a while, there was a theory that Alexander the Great had come as far as Delhi. However, when more pillars began to turn up as far away as Bihar, it was clear some other explanation was needed. Eventually, over thirty columns were found in various conditions (Keay 1988). These had met various fates; one was gently pulled down, transported by ship up the Ganges, and erected on the third story of a Mughal mansion in Delhi, where it stands to this day. Others came in handy for cannon practice, and a couple served to support a bridge British engineers built over a silted- up river. In the seventh century, Xuanzang claimed to be able to read these pillars, but his translations have proved incorrect. For within a few centuries of Ashoka’s time, knowledge of Ashokan brahmi was lost, and Hindus were referring to the pillars as “Bhima’s walking stick” (Strong 1983). It was James Prinsep who finally cracked the code of Ashokan brahmi in the nineteenth century. Some of the character of Ashoka can be read in the columns and rock edicts. (inversionjtouBuddhismlisi-attested-toi-byvtlie hirte'enthiRoc‘ls; -lil_dict_.§see box 5.5, “The Words of Ashoka”),--;where' .h'e regrets the" suffering of:Kalinga caused-by conquest,-- declares his-devotion toidharma, urgé's'.-th'at‘dhar1iia- be. accepted throughout his; empire _-as=dtprdb1simsd beyond it.a,In the “Legend of King Ashoka” we learn he was rejected by his father, King Bindusara, because of his ugly skin, despite the prophecy of a wandering ascetic that he would be a cakravartin, a “wheel—turning” . monarch, that is, a great king who rules the whole world according to This is one of more than 30 pillars erected by King Ashoka; around his vast dharma. He succeeded in becoming king, but his cruel streak soon be— empire, proclaiming dharma. This one, bearing inscriptions in brahmi, was came apparent After beheading five hundred this ministers on a whim '_ - removed from its original site and carried upriver to be erected on the third floor of a Mughal prince’s mansion, where it stands to this day. «not: New amen View.“ wwuwin vegan“ « . mm 4mm“ <¥fi.¢l“ Mm “seam we, mumvw News a.” v «Ma ‘6 «i . a» new» wan: was: www-mwwsweww m N M» m M W w. wmeWI¢fiahfiw Mum swam mm mam,QO ,stoiwnmew w MWM fiawr-fi'fi simian Mama.“ ,4” .=. 4M «View-AV» «gaw‘on'wwfi. MW e w w u» the‘b‘v‘k waxes Mamma- ammmav‘e Maw Ownwfli’e'y‘ - fi‘mmwow'“ ,44-2s'mx'vwvvn H; , My « s s x 2 § x x 29 u w M a: 4': as an m H s g, M w 3? §8 1 M $ (s a 1 § 3 a a s e s s is .msvseuxgnm. arsewwumsmm 142 Chapter Five 5.5 The Words of Ashokcr . from the Thirteenth Rock Edict When the king. devanamprya ("Beloved of the Gods," i.e.. Ashoka), had been con- secrated eight years, Kalinga was conquered, 150,000 people were deported, 100,000 were killed. and many times that number died. But after'the conquest of Kalinga, devanampiya began to follow dharma, to love dharma, and to give instruction in dharma. Now devanampiya regrets the conquest of Kalinga, for when an independent country is conquered people are killed, they die, or are deported, and that devanampiya finds very painful and grievous. And this he finds even more grievous—that all the inhabitants. . . suffer violence, murder, and separation from their loved ones. . . The participation of all men in common suffer- ing is grievous to devanampiya. Moreover there is no land, except that of the Greeks, where groups of brahmans and ascetics are not found, or where men are not members of one sect or another. . . . For all beings devanampiya desires security. self-control, calm of mind, and gentleness. Devanampiya considers that the greatest victory is the victory of dharma; and this he has won here and even five hundred leagues beyond his frontiers in the realm of the Greek king Antiochus, and beyond Antiochus among the four kings Ptolemy, Antigonus, Magas, and Alexander. Even where the envoys of devanampiya have not been sent men hear of the way in which he follows and teaches dharma, and they too follow it and will follow it. Thus he achieves a uni- versal conquest. and conquest always gives a feeling of pleasure; yet it is but a slight pieasure, for devanampiya only looks on that which concerns the next life as of great importance. 1 have had this inscription of dharma engraved that all my sons and grand- sons may not seek to gain new victories, that in whatever victories they may gain they may prefer forgiveness and light punishment, that they may consider the only victory the victory of dharma, which is of value both in this world and the next, and that all their pleasure may be in dharma. . . . Modified from Wm. Theodore De Bary, ed., 1958, p. 144. and burning alive five hundred women in his harem, he began to be called Ashoka the Fierce (Chandashoka). He employed an executioner who contrived to carry out all the tortures of the Buddhist hells right here on earth. One day Ashoka’s executioner imprisoned a Buddhist monk, with plans to execute him the next day. But during the course of the night—spent meditating 0n the teachings of the Buddha—the monk achieved nirvana, breaking the bonds of existence. When on the follow- ing day the monk was thrown into a cauldron of human blood, urine, and excrement, the executioner could not get the fire to burn. Instead, the monk floated tranquilly on a lotus blossom in the midst of the filth and horror, and when Ashoka arrived to witness the execution, the monk began a display of stunning superhuman powers. Ashoka begged it for an explanation. “I am the son of the Compassionate Buddha who has cut through the tangles of worldly inclinations,” the monk informed him. “I am detached from all modes of existence” (Strong 1983:217). He told Ashoka of a prediction by the Buddha that one hundred years after his parinirvana, a cakravartin named Ashoka would spread his teach« ings by distributing his relics far and wide. “But instead you have built this place of suffering.” Hearing these words, Ashoka put his hands together in repentance: “Forgive me this evil deed. Today I seek refuge in the Sangha, the Buddha, and in the Dharma2 that is taught by the noble ones.” Ashoka’s next act was to distribute fragments of the Bud- dha’s body throughOut the world in eighty—four thousand stupas (a number connoting totality). From then on he became known as Dharmashoka. As Dharmashoka, he was both cakravartin, “world ruler,” and Bud— dhist layman. Who could better support the Buddhist monks than the king who has the entire treasury at his disposal? Ashoka enacted his rajadharma by many acts of religious donation (don) to the sangha, cul— minating every five years in giving away all his worldly possessions as dan. Though Rama was not historical and Ashoka. was, that distinction means a good deal less than the fact that both kings were larger than life to subsequent ages through sacred texts held to be about the “really real.” They provided moral—political models for later rulers coming to thrones through conquest, sometimes rising ignony from highway banditry, or getting their start as tax collectors under the Mughals, and needing to moralize or legitimate their rule. The biographies of Rama and Ashoka presented a scenario for just rule. A Hindu king wished to rule like Rama. A Buddhist king wished to rule like Ashoka. And later rulers did emulate them, as we see from Xuanzang’s eye—witness account of King Harsha (AD. 606—647). King Harsha lived during India’s Classical Age, a great Hindu-Bud- dhist king whose capital was at Kanauj. At the end of the year AD. 642, he invited to his capital all the disciples of all schools of thought—Brahman, Buddhist, and J sin—as well as all the subordinate rajas of his empire. Thousands came on elephants, chariots, palanquins, and foot. First he feasted all the vassals and the best of the Buddhist monks, Brahmans, and Jains, presenting them with new robes and golden dishes filled with coins. Eighteen days of religious debate and interpretation of sacred texts followed, with winners proclaimed and honored. Then came Harsha’s mahadan, or “Great Almsgiving,” held every five years in the manner attributed to Ashoka. On a large field at the junction of the Gauges and Jumna Rivers, all the monks and Brahmans of Harsha’s kingdom were said to gather for seventy-five days of dan in which Harsha gave away his entire royal fortune. On the first three days, the gods were worshipped 144 Chapter Five with dan: Buddha, Surya (the sun god), and Shiva. On subsequent days, dan was given to monks, Brahmans, J sins, the poor, orphans, and the des— titute. Ultimately, five years’ worth of royal accumulation was distrib— uted, reserving only the military strength of the king to defend his king- dom (his horses, elephants, and weapons of war). He gave away every personal adornment until he had to beg his sister for an old cloth to cover his nakedness. Then he prayed to Buddha: “May I, in all my future births, continue always to give thus, so that I may attain salvation” (Mirsky 1964:100—103). At the end, the eighteen subordinate chiefs joined the king in acts of dan by distributing their own wealth to redeem the king’s jewels and royal robes and presenting them back to him as gifts. When they finished, Harsha was as rich as before. This pattern of establishing kineg authority through the giving of gifts, which often took the less extravagant form of providing support for Brahmans and endowing temples, became the essence of statecraft until British times and did not fully disappear even then. Lower-ranking chiefs established relationships with kings by sharing in the granting of royal gifts, as we have just seen Harsha’s vassals doing. As Dirks writes about the Pallava kings and their hierarchical relationship with lower—ranking chiefs: “They received honor by participating in the granting of royal gifts (dan). In so doing, they entered into a relationship with the Pallava king predicated on the sharing of the king’s sovereignty. That is, they became active and necessary participants in the central royal ritual; the sover— eignty of the Pallavas that was predicated on their divine origin was shared with the Chieftains who embodied similar virtues on a lesser scale” (Dirks 1989a:29). Gradually, Buddhism disappeared from India, and the picture we see of Harsha honoring Buddhists as well as Brahmans, the Buddha as well as the Hindu gods, simplified into the older pattern of raja as chief patron of the Brahmans. At the same time, rajas began attempting to trace their genealogies to the gods—Vishnu or Indra or Surya or Shiva— emulating Rama’s incarnation of Vishnu. As all good things flow from the gods, so the flow of gifts from the king established his authority and redis tributed his sovereign substance to his people. From Dan to Tax Collection As the British moved into India, they brought different assumptions about the relationship of kings to subordinate chiefs and to peasants. They surmised that it was about tax collection, or that it should be. Effi- cient tax collection would take a reasonable share of each harvest, pay the tax collector a fee for his efforts, and flow into the state treasury to be dis» bursed for public works and payment of civil-service salaries. To the Brit- ish, the state was a secular system based on a commercial logic of assets, - ever, Wivalent in any oth it India 145 income, and cash flow. What they found was a grossly disordered system of titles and honors, where temple rituals presided over by kings were affairs of state and where lower chiefs gave gifts to higher ones and were given territories in return. At every turn, whole villages and districts were simply given away to Brahmans or temples or military retainers, so that the ratio of actual revenues to theoretical revenues could be 25 per- cent or less. The Collector of Tirhut in the late eighteenth century wrote disapprovineg of this system: Raghava Singh [Maharaja of Darbhanga] by large presents to the Nawab Mohabat Jan acquired the lease of Tirhut at one lakh of ru- pees [Rs. 100,000] and a full confirmation of his title of Raja. He also paid annually a nazarana of 50,000 rupees to Raja Darnidhar, the Nawab’s Dewan, which, together with other valuable presents annually repeated, secured to him the quiet posseSSion of that [re- gion]. (Stevenson-Moore 1901244) The system of Indic kingship—morally based on dharma and prac- tically articulated through the hierarchical exchange of gifts and the redistribution of the king’s authority downward, a system practiced for over two thousand years—was declared incompetent and corrupt, and the British set about amending it. THE CASTE SYSTEM Indians, like everyone else§_;'a're born_;int=§;_families and communities that, til-readyatsbirth define who ;.jtheyj.;arej§ These communities will further shape the individual they are to become. One of these identities, how— identityfiSpecifiesucertaififiniiatf W ifiiiflmtureof;.t_he_f-soc_ietyl=add-Whole.-'llfIa man is born a'Brahman, for example, he is held “by nature” to be capable of learning the Vedas and performing the Vedic rites on behalf of others; he is naturally a calm and spiritual person. A Rajput is a lusty, martial sort of fellow, proud, quick to perceive an insult, and prone to heavy drinking. By tradition and _ innate capacity, he is a warrior and ruler, a descendant of Rama himself (Hitchcock 1959). In any local area, people identify the various groups, their own included, by such summarizing characterizations. In the West, we might call such a description a stereotype, but that would be to miss the essence of what Indians, particularly Hindus, mean by jati, or “caste” in English. Beyond such traits as spiritual or martial temperament, members of the same jati are believed to share many other fundamental character- _3 1176 Chapter Five I of rules for the spiritual community, called the Vinaya, developed. It con- sisted of 227 prohibitions in order of seriousness; the first four were - abstention from all sexual intercourse, from theft, from destruction of life - even down to a worm or ant, and from claiming any superhuman powers. Ofienses against these rules resulted in expulsion. Other rules forbade ' handling gold and silver, engaging in trade, drinking alcoholic beverages, sitting or sleeping more than eight inches from the ground, and eating any meals after noon. ISLAMIC CIVILIZATION IN INDIA No personality radiates from Indian history with the vibrancy of Akbar. He was a contemporary of Elizabeth I, and part of a new cultural strand in India for whom the actions of kings were worthy themes to write about; therefore we knowa great deal about him. At the age of thirteen, in 1556,'he inherited the Mughal Empire, founded by his grandfather Babur. By his twenties, he had consolidated and expanded the empire by conquest north and south so that, by his death in 1605, his domain stretched from Afghanistan to Bengal, from the Himalayas to the Dec— can. But India has had conquerors aplenty; it is not Akbar the warrior who leaps from the pages of history, but a vivid spirit whose actual face is known from dozens of paintings and whose life and times were recorded in admiring detail by contemporary writers. His biography, the Akbarnama, was written in his lifetime by Abu’l Fazl and illustrated by court painters chosen and personally overseen by Akbar himself. The nineteen—year-old emperor is at the epicenter of one scene in which a charging bull elephant chases another across a pontoon bridge. Holding himself by a bare foot hooked under the harness of “Sky-Rocket,” the meanest, wickedest elephant in India, Akbar has driven him against an equally aggressive elephant, now fleeing in defeat. The pontoon bridge breaks under the fury of their charge, throwing men into the water on either side, while others rush to pull the emperor from the danger he has put himself in. Akbar maintained a workshop of over a hundred artists who painted episodes from past and recent history, recorded scenes of Hindu life, and exhaustively illustrated events from the Mahabharata, Ramay- ana, and Harivamsa, which Akbar had translated for the Muslim elite. He sat for his own portraits and also had all his noblemen sit for theirs, so that paintings of the emperor holding darbar (audience) are filled with faces that really eat before the emperor. But the masterpiece was the bio- graphical Akbarnama, a work in twelve volumes with fourteen hundred illustrations that took fifteen years to complete (Welch 1978140). These remarkably detailed paintings are all the more amazing for being minia— India In if ' " ’J I ‘ I ‘ « we gig: fizstgflns Howe i, one of the scenes from the Akbarnama (ca 1590) across a into ggnal emperor in the vortex ofthe action, driving his elephants p oon ridge against the enemy. Warriors falling into the turbulent waters contrast with Akbar’s a ' . I _ ggresswe control from the center 0 t ' a companion painting, has ministers watch in alarm from the shof‘ehe “mm. In 1.77 178 Chapter Five tures. The scene of Akbar and the two elephants is only 13 inches by 8 inches. They were painted in opaque watercolor with brushes made of a few hairs plucked from kittens or baby squirrels, fitted on the fingertip of the artist. The glint of sunlight burnishing a North Indian scene was accomfih' ed with pounded gold mixed with a little silver or copper. Akb was the greatest of the “Great Mughals,” a line of brilllant, We zenith was the four men: Akbar, Jahan 'r S Jn and Auranze . heir four reigns spanned the years fromAfter the death of Aurangzeb, weaker men followed, who were ounded by the growing influence of the British. The last of the Great Mughals, Bahadur Shah, was'little more than a pawn during the Anglo—Indian War (aka. “The Great Mutiny”) of 1857. He died in exile in Burma. However; these rulers, who were Muslims and creators of the great synthesis of Indian and Islamic civilization, were not the ones who brought Islam to India. The Islamic Conquerors The Islamic conquest of India happened in three hases over eight centuries. It began during the period frowhen a series of adventures by military chiefs of Turkish and Afghan background took them into Sind, then the Panjab, and further and further east. Mnstnf these early efforts caused severe social crisis in India—felt particularly harshly by Buddhist monasteries, where easily identifiable “infidels” were slaughtered in great numbers—but failed to establish enduring kingdoms. These conquests were launched from Persia, which had already created a high culture that blended the Islamic faith with science, art, and literature in the Persian language. The Persian-Islamic influence would greatly enrich India culturally over eight centuries despite the humiliating and often brutal conquests India had to endure in the pro- cess. The sec conquest, generally called the Delhi Sultanate, lasted fro 206 to 152 , when a series of dynasties ruled from the new capital at Delhi. These were Afghan and Turkish military lords from Inner Asia and their clients, who jockeyed for power among each other, as first one, then another managed to control Delhi. During this period, Muslim scholars, scribes, Sufis, poets, and intellectuals flocked to India, seeking the patronage of the new regimes. The earliest phase of conver— sions occurred at this time, though they were limited in number. It is likely that the Turkish elite opposed the conversion of the Hindu nobility, should the nobility have been so inclined, since Islam was the faith of the ruling class and large-scale conversions would have increased competi- tion for the foreigners. Converts came largely from the peasantry who worked on lands owned by the Islamic elite and by the mosques. In addi— India 179 tion, noncaste tribal peoples on the fringes of the caste system now had a way to be absorbed into Indian society other than as avarna. They could convert to Islam. The third phase of conquest was the v1 ughal Empire (1526—185 , established icy—Ak—bar’s grandfather Babur. Under t e V ug . s, the syn- thesis of Persian and Indian heritages culminated in the brilliant cultural achievements of the imperial court. Among the most visible of their accomplishments were great works of architecture, also a synthesis of Muslim and Hindu motifs. Great mosques and palace com lexes were built in Delhi, Agra, Ajmer, Allahabad, and Fatepur Sikri. Most famous of all is the Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan, the “Engineer Badshah,” as a mausoleum for his wife Mumtaz. All the Great Mughals except for Aurangzeb ruled their Hindu subjects with a good degree of respect for cultural and religious difference, in part because they were a relatively small elite imposed on a vast Hindu populace, and in part because the most popular form of Islam in India, Sufism, had so much in common with Hinduism that the line between the two faiths was easily blurred. Islam be an on the Arabian Peninsula early in the seventh century when an illiterate member of the Quaraish tribe, recently arrived in W Mecca began receiving Visions WWW great temple in Mecca, housed hundreds of idols; but the messages received by Muhammad proclaimed the singularity of God. When he began to teach the message of his visions, he was hounded out of Mecca, fleeing to Medina in 622. This is the first year of the Muslim calendar, and the date generally given for the founding of Islam. The angel Gabriel continued to give revelations to Muhammad over a period of twenty years, and although the original, a tablet guarded by angels, is believed to remain in heaven, the earthly form was pieced together by followers under the third caliph, Uthman (644—655), as the authorized version of the Qur’an in 11-4.L chapters. The Quf an is supple— mented by the Hadith, a collection of stories about what the Prophet or one of his followers said or did under certain circumstances and that pro- vide moral guidance for Muslims facing similar problems in later centu- ries. Thus a complex of customs, or Sunna, have become the orthodox Islamic tradition, the culture of Islam. This sacred order continued to be the topic of scrutiny and controversy, as Muslims attempted to apply the Qur’an and the Hadith to social life and make law conform to sacred pre- scriptions and proscriptions. Out of this debate emerged a holy law known as the Shari’a, similar to the Laws of Manu, which attempted to regulate social life for Hindus. In India, Muslims developed their own ver- sion of the Shari’a knowu as the Hanafi Law. No faith coming to India, it would seem, could be more contrary to the outlook of Hindus than Islam. For Hindus, the world is illusion; for Muslims, the world is “dread reality” Each lifetime is followed not by 180 Chapter Five another lifetime but by eternal salvation in heaven or eternal damnation in hell. God is not infused through all reality, taking many shifting forms, but is the Creator who stands outside the fallen creation. Allah is unchanging, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent. Yet there were variations among Islam’s major sects—Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi—and not surprisingly, it was Sufism, the sect that had most in common with the Hindu-Bud- dhist worldview, that was responsible for spreading Islam in India. Sufi was a twelfth-century mystic order in which saints resembling Hindu sanyasis traveled through India preaching an ecstatic and mystical form of Islam. Popular religious culture became a mixture of Muslim and Hindu practices as Sufis adopted Hindu ceremonies, devotional songs, and yoga techniques (Lapidus 1988:449). Poetry expressing the yearning ‘ for and love of Allah was not unlike the bhakti devotionalism of Hindu- ism. In the process of adopting Indian languages, music, and poetic forms, Urdu was born, a literary version of Hindi that became a Muslim lan- guage for India. Sufis spread the idea of a universal hierarchy of saints and the practice of veneration of tombs. Shrines emerged as centers of worship, which led to the accumulation of properties granted bystate authority. Yet, the Mughals never attempted to establish an orthodOX Islamic state and were occasionally criticized by a handful of vocal, ortho- dox Muslims on the fringes of the court for being too cosmopolitan, too cul~ tured, and too cozy with the Hindu elite (with whom they intermarried extensively). “[It] was not state control of doctrine, teaching, or judicial administration, nor a history of well-established schools of law and ulama, but one of numerous autonomous and competitive Muslim reli- gious movements” that was the legacy of premodern Indian-Islamic orga~ nization (Lapidus 19881463). NOTES 1 This is an Indo-European linguistic feature parallel to “theist-atheist” where the addition of a- or an- reverses the meaning of the noun. 2 These are the “Three Jewels” of Buddhism: Buddha himself, Buddha’s teachings (dharma), and the monastic community (sangha). 3 Then, Mithila was a city, the capital of Videha; now, Mithila is the name of the region. 4 A zamindar was a landowner. The term could be used for small and great landholders, but in some parts of British India major zamindars called themselves raja or maharaja, titles that the British also frequently bestowed. 5 Gandhi’s term for “untouchables,” meaning “People of God.” 5 One lakh equals 100,000 rupees. As of this writing, the value of one dollar is about forty rupees; so one lakh is over $4000. A typical middle-class monthly income is Rs. 1500 to 3000; so a dowry of two lakhs might be eight years’ income. India 131 7 Not to be confused with the priestly caste of Brahmans. 8 Dates for the Buddha’s life vary. Sri Lanka chronicles place it at 563 13.0.; a mainland tradltion puts it at 450 3.6.; more recent research puts it at 485 B.C. (Gombrich 1984). 9 And a few centuries later, as we have seen, Ashoka opened these stupas, removed all but a fragment from each, and built 84,000 more stupas (or at least quite a lot) throughout his empire. ...
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