More Stories from Siṁhapurī and Malayadvīpa and Reflections: Part 2
In the previous article, we had briefly reviewed some of the comments made by the Vṛddhamahānītijña of Siṁhapurī in a recent pustaka with regards to the threat posed by the Marūnmattas. The candor was appreciated in secret by the intellectuals who shared the same sense of foresight in this regard and could anticipate the impending danger, but the honesty came with a small price-i.e. In the Sāmānya Nirvācana that happened in that very year, the Marūnmattas indeed took offense as people generally do when presented with overwhelming evidence for a reasonable proposition which they nonetheless have to disagree with for reasons beyond rationality. It was initially speculated but eventually canonized that there was a loss of votes from the demographic and also that this loss was in good part ascribable to the statements made. Of course the ruling party won again but the Vṛddhamahānītijña was compelled to apologize and revoke his statement. To make things worse, a rahasyavacana made by him in confidence about this very viṣaya, stating that the Marūnmatta-mārga is a viṣa–mārga, was leaked. And I was reminded of the good advice offered by Manu whose words the Veda praises as medicine.
satyaṁ brūyāt.h priyaṁ brūyānna brūyāt.h satyamapriyam.h |
priyaṁ cha nānṛtaM brūyādeṣa dharmah sanātanah ————Mānava-Dharmaśāstra 4.138
“Let him speak the truth, Let him speak pleasantly. Let him not speak the truth that is unpleasant. Let him not speak a pleasant falsehood.”
If only that Cīna Mahānītijña had heeded this good advice, the aforementioned problems would not have arisen. Nevertheless, one cannot but help admire his boldness, brutal honesty and clarity of thought.
But admiration, even if based on a certain intellectual kinship, can always be qualified and the Prathamah Pradhānamantrin is no exception to this. In the same book which was the object of contention, which I had titled, “Kaṣṭa Satyāni”, he had mentioned a few comments about another topic: his observations about Brāhmaṇas, the caste system (That train is never late!) and the overall standing of Bhāratavarṣa as a nation vis-à-vis Mahācīnadeśa. My initial reaction was that of surprise as I had not expected a person of Cīna ethnicity to actually speak of Brāhmaṇas. Moreover, Varna is rather invisible and unimpressive in its overall influence over identity construction among the Indians who have to live as a minority amongst other ethnic groups, the majority of whom is the Cīna group and would be thus hardly relevant to the people here.
The surprise was followed by a slight sense of trepidation as the Mahānītijña (who is a devout believer in the doctrine of genetic determinism, especially with regards to intelligence and to be honest, I have certain sympathies towards that idea as well although this would do a far better job of elucidating that point than I can, with my limited training in genetics.) went on to single out the Brāhmaṇas for their exceptional intelligence and “high literary capabilities” which were necessitated by their duty to know the religious texts, which were in saṃskṛtam. Over the course of time, I have heard many explanations, which are more or less of the same substance, that focus on the Brāhmaṇas’ way of life that contributes to their “high level of intelligence” (The inverted commas are because this conclusion arises not from any empirical data as far as I am aware of and purely from observations, which are nonetheless seconded by my own to some extent).
The trepidation was because I feared that a Pandora’s Box was opened and those Abrāhmaṇas who read these comments of that Mahānītijña might take grievous offense and vent their anger at those fellow Hindus whom they know to be Brāhmaṇas. The cause of this anxiety lies in my own roots and it would be difficult for the reader to sympathize if you are not a Brāhmaṇa, especially one from the Tamil land. Perhaps this would have been undue paranoia on my part given that I had grown up far away from the heat and the dirty politics of it all. But a person is not shaped merely by his own experiences but the narratives he hears from family and friends would have a certain impact as well. Add to that the not-so-subtle Brahmadveṣa in movies. And I will never forget the day when I went to a local library and came across a book in the Tamil section, with the cover depicting Rāma Dāśarathi standing as accused in a court. The actual contents of the book were more ambitious than the cover, incriminating many more apart from the Ikśvāku hero, with the lion’s share of the venom reserved for the evil and oppressive Brāhmaṇas. If this should happen in a country dominated by the Cīnas most of whom are unacquainted with the Dharma, it only meant that there were Dravidian ideologues among those who recommend Tamil books to the libraries. For my part, I wrote a letter and got the book removed from the library but the implications remained in my mind: As long as I live among other Indians who are not Brāhmaṇas, my identity as a Brāhmaṇa is going to be an unavoidable subject of discussion, whether for good or bad, even in a country whose overwhelming majority ethnic group has no real knowledge of the castes and no concern for Hindu dharma in general.
To make it worse, the Mahānītijña went on to contrast the unequitable Indic system with the allegedly superior Cīna social model of meritocracy where the vidvān class in Mahācīnadeśa spreads its genes to a multitude of his wives and concubines, enabling social mobility. Meanwhile, the Brāhmaṇas had cunningly and selfishly kept all the good genes to themselves, effectively short-changing the rest of the nation in terms of “good genes”. Of course, he did not use the pejorative terms to describe the Brāhmaṇas as in fact he had a high opinion of the Brāhmaṇas. But, that is how the mind of an average Abrāhmaṇa would render that innocuous “observation”, at least as far as my paranoid mind envisioned it. However, there were numerous problems with his observations and cross-cultural comparison, which can be easily ignored if the reader reacts too viscerally. Firstly, the so-called meritocratic system in Mahācīnadeśa, was really an imperial examination system that depended upon rote memorization and thus not an exemplary model.
Secondly, the idea of an exclusive Brāhmaṇa group was a key factor in the production of a diverse and complex body of intellectual output that enriched the civilization and also allowed that group to be effective carriers of a common culture in their migrations within Bhāratam. Also, the foreign migrations of Brāhmaṇas into South-East Asia helped extend Bhārata’s soft power and cultural dominion over much of the region. It was the destruction of the Brāhmaṇa class that resulted in the weakening of Bhārata’s collective identity.
Thirdly, by making claims about how the other communities have been deprived of the “good gene pool” of the Brāhmaṇas, one is not merely reiterating the rather false stereotype of the exploitative and selfish Brāhmaṇa, but is also insulting the other communities as if they made no progress or achieved nothing significant on their own. These points would be elaborated in a future post in greater detail.
Going to Malayadvīpa, we note one of its recent leaders who is similar to the Prathamah Pradhānamantrin of Siṁhapurī in some crucial ways; and yet his Parama-Vairi. We may style him as Mahādhīra or indeed the Mahādhipa of the Malaya-Jana who had many educated leaders before and after him, none of whom are impressive as him. Though I personally do not like him for the Marūnmatta fanaticism and Malaya racism (which is ironic because his father was of Ardha-Kerala descent) which served to alienate the Indian Hindus even more than before, one has to admit that he had a certain boldness and vision, values that are clearly lacking in many political leaders of today. Regarding the similarities with the Mahānītijña of Siṁhapurī, he too believes in the relationship between ethnicity and intelligence, subtly hinting in an early book of his at the idea that the Malaya-Jana might have poorer genes, accounting for their weaker overall performance as compared to the other communities.
Coming back to the case of Brāhmaṇas, whatever intelligence we may have acquired by virtue of “good genes”, it is apparent for me that those effects are eroding rapidly. The social environments and political cultures of Siṁhapurī and Malayadvīpa are vastly different, but they both impact the Brāhmaṇas in profoundly adverse ways. In the former, the unabashedly materialistic attitude towards education (all in the name of “pragmatism”), while giving an opportunity to excel in a meritocratic environment (with some occasional caveats), utterly destroys the creative instinct and the idea of pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, two great values that made the Brāhmaṇas truly worthy of reverence as a class. As a consequence, they take a disdainful attitude towards their own heritage, which does not bear any “practical utility” for them, and their interests revolve around purely hedonistic and base pleasures. On the other hand in Malayadvīpa, the alienation of the Hindus as a group and forced imposition of the Marūnmatta faith on the whole nation, has deprived the Brāhmaṇas of their spiritual sustenance (In contrast, there are more than 20 temples in the very tiny Siṁhapurī and the rituals are performed very frequently with ardour and fervour and a Kumbhābhiśekam for a major temple can witness even a Cīna Mantrin attending as a guest of honour with eager and respect) and the affirmative action policies in favor of the Malaya-Jana have forced the small Brāhmaṇa population to focus efforts on eking out a respectable living. As a result, the Brāhmaṇas bereft of guidance themselves, let alone the ability to guide the rest of the Hindus spiritually, have become addicted to various “Gurus” and “Swamis” cults. With respect to even basic knowledge of their traditions, they have become utterly powerless and meekly accept whatever is thrown at them by a domestic priest.
I am reminded of a very short 2-day trip to Malayadvīpa during when a Vṛddha Brāhmaṇa, who hosted my stay, told me that he wanted to ask me a question regarding the Sandhyopāsana. As usual, I cheerfully obliged. Apparently, he wanted to do it properly after decades of having not done it. He then asked me to help him with the enunciation of certain words for the gotrābhivādanam whose text a family priest and friend of his had given him. When I examined the text, I was surprised to find that Atri was mentioned first (Indeed he is Ātreya gotrodhbhava) but Nidhruva as the second! I was 100% sure that Nidhruva is the son of Kaśyapa and thus it would not make sense here. But then the answer struck me. Obviously, his father had failed to pass the information regarding the exact pravara and the Ṛṣis and owing to lack of practice and interest, the information died off from memory. And being the passive recipients who mindlessly repeat what the priests tell us at rituals without appreciating what it is, why would any priest bother to explain? Given the mythological precedent of Kaśyapa being the mythical ancestor of all beings, the priest might have sincerely thought it would be a good idea to substitute the name of Nidhruva for the unknown names of the descendants of Atri. And this level of understanding is prevalent among those who pride themselves to be “orthodox” Brāhmaṇas. If this should be any indication of the eventual fate of Brāhmaṇas, then I say that fate looks ominous.