Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Were Brahmins bad? – a sequel to Karunanidhi’s hate-Brahmin speech. (Part -2)


The second episode in Silappadhikaram involving a Brahmin tells about the kind of possessions that a Brahmin had! The Brahmins were not traders and were not engaged in jobs of commercial utility until the British vitiated the social structure in the 19th century. So there was no scope for them to have grabbed the job opportunities of others or the wealth of others.

Of the four varnas, only the middle two namely the Kshatriyas (rulers) and Vaisyas (traders) made wealth, were after wealth and possessed wealth. Only these two categories had an interest in owning movable and immovable properties. The other two in the extremities namely the Brahmins and Shudras always depended on these two varnas as patrons.

The kind of life and aspirations of the four varnas is best understood from Narada's narration of Rama's story in the very first chapter of Valmiki Ramayana. After narrating in brief the story of Rama to Valmiki, he explains the benefits that the people would get by reading Ramayana.  "A man reading this Ramayana happens to be a Brahman, one from teaching-class, he obtains excellency in his speech, and should he be Kshatriya person from ruling-class, he obtains land-lordship, and should he be Vyshya person from trading-class, he accrues monetary-gains, and should he be a Shudra person from working class, he acquires his personal excellence..." (1)

Excellency in speech, lands, wealth and personal excellence were the four benefits that the four varnas aped for, in that order. The Brahmins have aspired for speaking abilities whereas the Shudras have aimed for "Mahathwam" – greatness. Though the translation given here is "personal excellence", the exact word used by Narada was "Mahathwam". (2) In contrast, the ruling and trading class aped for land and wealth – because those are the things their lives were dependant on. These two classes have dominated the political and social scene for all these ages. There was easy movement between these two classes depending upon on the winds of change. But the extreme two classes namely Brahmins and Shudras were never part of this nexus. They were always at the mercy of the middle two classes and this continues even today.

Today the hereditary Varna system is gone, but based on the things they ape for, the Varnas do continue to exist. The middle two varnas are the politicians and the corporates who hold the entire country and the society under their control.

An undeniable fact is that the Dravidian movement was started by these two classes, the politicians and businessmen / landlords. These two classes of the Dravidian movement have a nexus between themselves for the obvious purpose of having control over all aspects of the society and to get access to wealth and land. They cannot tolerate any competition and challenge from the other two classes. This was successfully done by them by propagating the Brahmins as enemies of Shudras (the landless and the very poor.)

On the one side, Brahmins have been smothered by the hate speech against them and on the other the Shudras are being kept as they are. By this propaganda, the middle two classes have successfully stalled any competition or revolt from Brahmins. They have also successfully stalled the progress of the Shudras to discourage competition to them and to keep up the relevance of the hate-Brahmin campaign.  As long as the Shudras believe that Brahmins were their oppressors, the middle two classes can enjoy wealth without any worry. This is the aim of Dravidian policy.
The access to wealth and lands was very limited for the Brahmins for all these ages. There are very less Brahmin landlords even now as it was before.  Even now the acumen to multiply lands and money is more for others (politicians / rulers and traders / business men) than for an average Brahmin. The 2nd episode that I want to explain from Silappadhikaram tells about a Brahmin who ran into trouble when he came to possess some wealth. (3)

This Brahmin is mentioned by a name Vaarthikan living in a town called Thiru-th-thangaal in the Pandyan Kingdom, with his wife Kaarthika and his little son, Dakshinamurthy. One day another Brahmin by name Parasara was returning from the Chera kingdom with a bounty he received from the king for a display of talent or Vedic learning. On the way he crossed the town where Vaarthikan's family was living. Vaarthikan's young son who had not yet weaned away from milk food was playing in the street with other children. On seeing the Brahmin children, Parasara called them for a competition. He asked them to chant Vedas and offered a gift to the one who chanted well. The little Dakshinamurthy chanted very well than others and was given some jewels that Parasara got from the King. Parasara continued to go on his way and this kid happily wore the jewels.

The king's men were there in all places in those days. They saw this little Brahmin boy with jewels on his body. It raised a suspicion on their minds on how the Brahmin came to get these jewels. They accused Vaarthikan as having stolen the treasure of the king and jailed him. On hearing this, Kaarthika, the Brahmin's wife started crying and was inconsolable. When this was happening, the door of the Durga temple (mentioned as Aiyai temple ('ஐயை கோயில்' – 'கலையமர் செல்வி'- female deity mounted on a deer) (4) remained shut and could not be opened. Silappadhikaram states that the Deity closed her temple doors on seeing Kaarthika cry.

This news was conveyed to the Pandyan king who understood that something had gone wrong in his country. Hearing this, the guards conveyed the jailing of Vaarthikan. The king was shocked and ordered the immediate release of Vaarthikan. When Vaarthikan was released, the temple door opened automatically. The king apologized for the mistake and donated to Vaarthikan two towns, Thiru-th-thangaal and Vayalur which are still in existence today. Since the guards were under the suspicion that the jewels were got as treasure, the king made an announcement that treasures found out by one need not be surrendered to the king's treasury but can be kept by oneself.

This story was narrated by the deity of Madurai to Kannagi to drive home the point that Pandyan rulers were not bad and they readily made amends when something went wrong. But the deity continued to tell that there was a curse on Madurai that it would be engulfed in fire on the day of Kriththika star in the month of Aadi – thereby linking Kaarthika's suffering getting manifested as a curse on the city of Madurai.  The tears of Kaarthika, though wiped out later, left its impact on the country.

This episode shows that
·         Brahmins did not possess wealth or jewels in good numbers.
·         The action of the guards show that Brahmins were not spared when a suspicion rose about them. They were not shown any undue favour.
·          When a Brahmin got some wealth, he did not think of keeping it to himself, Parasara's action shows that Brahmins were willing to share it with others.
·         Brahmins were keen on encouraging and developing their area of study, namely Vedic chanting.
·         When an innocent Brahmin was wronged, the entire country came to bear the brunt of it.
·         The wealth of Brahmins always was a gifted one. Brahmins did not go after wealth nor appropriate the wealth of others.
This episode contains two important facts of history. One is about the place Thiru-th-thangaal where this episode happened. Another is the name Vaarthikan which implies a meaning that negates anti-Brahmin propaganda of the Dravidian chauvinists.

Taking up the first, the narration explains Thiru-th-thangaal as an already existing town with Brahmin population excelling in Vedic studies under the upright rule of Pandyan king. The King's Governance is mentioned as supreme under which the Brahmins were doing their duties in the best way. (5)  At no time in the past Brahmins were allowed to have a free hand in such a way as to dictate terms on others. Only the King held the strings and not the Brahmins.

This place called Thiru-th-thangaal contains a previous history involving Krishna of Dwaraka. When Krishna's grandson Aniruddh was imprisoned by Banasura for having a love affair with the daughter of Banasura, Krishna went to the town of Banasura in disguise to secure his release. He went through the streets of the town by dancing with pots kept on his head. When the guards and the people were attracted to this peculiar dance of balancing pots on the head, Aniruddh was able to escape without notice. Later, his marriage was solemnized in the presence of Krishna in Thiru-th-thangaal. There is a Vaishnavite Divya Desa in Thiru-th-thangaal with this story as the Sthala purana.

The existing write-ups on the story of Aniruddh are trying to locate the town of Banasura somewhere in North India. But the information connected with the story has found deep presence only in Tamilnadu. For example, the dance of Krishna by balancing the pots on the head to secure the release of Aniruddh is popular only in Tamilnadu. It finds a mention in Silappadhikaram and Periya Puranam (5). It continues even today as a rural dance by name "Karakaattam" (the dance with karaka / pot).