In continuation of the discussion on Brahmins in the comment section of the previous article Kamal Hassan's Vishwaroopam as 'Bhasmasura'. I requested our guest writer Mr R. Ramanathan to write about the life style of Brahmins. I am thankful to him for obliging this request and sending me this article for publication. On reading this article, one would know how it was impossible for a Brahmin to suppress others in the ways that are told by everyone from evangelists (St Thomas myth) to Dravidian thinkers and movie makers. The kind of Brahmins explained in this article did exist until a century ago, but today they are an endangered people.
In the course of the article, the writer has said that Brahmins abstained from eating onions and garlic and those who ate them had to do propitiation. It was not just Brahmins but all Hindus abstained from onions and garlic in ancient Bharat. This is known from the chronicles of the Chinese travelers Fa-hien and Hiuen Tsang. Onions and garlic were cultivated only for medicinal use. Now on to the article by Mr Ramanathan:-
Today there seems to be a very wrong opinion about the life of strict Brahmanas and Brahmaniyam and it is assumed that it is an easy and lazy life and just living of "charity". I have heard people say that the life of a "Shastrigal" is the easiest to live and how fortunate these "Shastrigals" were. How unfortunate "we" were because "we" have to go to offices and obey a bosses orders! I am not exaggerating and this was said by one of my relatives who works as a branch manager in a nationalized bank. On the contrary if a brahmana's life is lived as per the dictates of the shastras and the veda's , even after accounting for changes in yuga dharma appropriate for Kali yuga, it will not be an attractive proposition for today's mostly materialistic brahmanas. The dharma shastra says that if ever a brahmana is living a life of luxury and enjoying sense pleasures alone, without doing his dharma he is wasting his life and deserves to be branded and paraded on a donkey!!. The dharma shastra enjoins poverty (Daridra sthiti) for brahmanas. The Aruna prashna which is the first prashna of the Taittriya Aranyaka, states that they should be "Asanchayavan" meaning they cannot think of the morrow. They have to live by doing the 6 karmas enjoined upon them which are
1. Adhyayanam(learning) of the 14 vidya stanas(4 Vedas+ 6 Angas+ 4 Upa angas. This itself would drive away most of the brahmin people today)
4. Pratigraham(Acceptance of dakshinas at ceremonies)
5. Yajnam(performance of sacrifices).
6. Yaajanam(Officiate in others rituals)
A householder brahmana can earn money but if his wealth reaches a level that he can sustain his family for 3 years he is asked to perform the more elaborate shrauta yajnas that are highly expensive and at the end of which his resources are bound to be sucked of, without leaving a penny. Reading the Katopanishad, we find that Nachiketas father Vajashravaha, performed the Vishwajit sacrifice where every possession is expected to be given of as dakshina. So the ideal brahmana is not allowed to hoard wealth too beyond limits. Great brahma rishis like Vasishta were addressed with adjectives like "Taponidhee!" meaning one that has tapas alone for his wealth. Thus it is very clear that brahmanas were expected to live a simple, austere life depending on society for livelihood and guide the society in education and spiritual values. If they failed the king would punish them by cutting of their shika. This disallowed them from doing any one of the 6 karmas stated above, thus being deprived of their livelihood. This is the same as death.
Typically he is expected to get up around 3.30-4.00am in the morning and since the time he is awake, his actions are regulated by the dharma shastras. Even the way he gets up from his bed, the way he has to answer natures calls, bathing sandhyavandanam, japam, Aupasana/Agnihotra for a householder etc. are regulated and is not left to his wish. The list is too long to mention. For details please read any book on the dharma shastra like the Vaidyanatha Deekshitam. In addition he has to do the above 6 karmas, the Vaishvadeva ceremony where offerings are given to all beings: - beasts, birds, men, even to pishachas, rakshasas, and even to adharma devatas(Refer to the Vaishvadeva mantras of the Mahanarayana Upanishad in the Taittriya Aranyaka). The idea behind this is that no being should go hungry as far as possible. When all this ends, it is about 3.00pm in the afternoon when he has food. Remember there was no concept of breakfast in Ancient Bharat and there were no 2-minute noodles, ready to cook & eat stuff etc. So, not even one morsel of food would go in till 2.00-3.00pm.
It is more difficult when there is a pitru rite on somedays like the shraddha or tarpana. Note these have to be performed only during the aparanha kaala (middle part of day). Not at 7.00am in the morning as is being done now. After this is over and after the midday bath (compulsory for householders and vanaprasthins), other rites like pooja etc are to be done. There are too many occasions like this and it can fill an entire page. Remember I have not even touched the food restrictions for brahmanas. Just to mention, if a brahmana "accidentally" ate onion or garlic he was asked to undergo a very tortuous fast called Chandrayana as expiation. From the above it can be seen how difficult a life of a true brahmana is. It is surely not the "What do you plan to do for the weekend!!!" kind of life and I don't think such a life would be envied by anybody today.
There may be a question that "Where do brahmanas live like what you say, today?" Yes I will be honest; 99.99% of them do not. But I know a dozen of people who still live such a life in very remote villages and I have personally spent time with them. Their presence radiates a feeling of inner peace, contentment and in my case I felt ashamed of my current materialistic life. Most of them are great Vedic scholars who have read more than one veda along with the angas and many are lifelong Agnihotris and perform shrauta sacrifices. But their down to earth simplicity and unassuming nature and indifference to materialistic wealth are really stunning.
As a real life example of the last point, one of the brahmanas was officiating at a soma sacrifice in his own village, when news reached him that his small patch of sugarcane caught fire and he needed to rush back. But he refused to budge stating that "Even if you roll on a heap of sand, with your body full of oil whatever sand can stick will stick and the rest will fall down". He reminded me of Janaka who was unperturbed even when Mithila was on fire. There is a deekshita in Ramanathapuram who is 88 years old and he still gets up at 3.30 am and takes bath in the well in his backyard and does his Sandhyavandanam on time, performs aupasana and other agni karyas. He has never given prayashcita argya(given when sandhyavandanam is performed late after sun rise. However this is the norm than the exception these days) since he had upanayanam and started to perform sandhyavandanam. Now you may ask me why on earth people should subject themselves to such torture. I can tell you that the senses and the mind are restrained and as a result inner peace & satisfaction and the courage to face life with equanimity results.
Can present day Brahmins return to their earlier lives? The answer is yes and no. "Yes", because with a great effort and re-aligning your value systems you can do so. Again there are examples of this I have seen. Many brahmins working in software companies have given up their jobs and went back to agraharas in villages and taken up veda adhyayana. But the point is you need to be financially independent for this. But then you should be ready to sacrifice your comfortable job and city life for this. "No", because the latter is impossible for the majority. Earlier the society took upon itself to support such brahmamanas who lead life of tapasvis and taught the vedas without expecting dakshinas etc. Now with absence of such support it is better to be financially independent and then venture to take up such a life. But remember the brahmanas whom I mentioned earlier did not go for jobs and fortunately for some of them, the next generation did not go to school and did only vedic study and are continuing their traditions. One Agnihotri from Mathur in Karnataka even told me proudly that his vamsha, since the time of Manu has never seen the inside of a school and did only veda adhyayana.
The great Shaivite saint Thirugnanasamabandar sings, "Long live the Brahmins, May there be copious rains, long live the king. May the name of Hara spread everywhere" This does not apply to present day Brahmins but to brahmins who live a strict life of Aachara, who were Shrotriyas and brahmanishtas, who were not affected by desires, who maintained sacrificial fires without allowing them to extinguish, who unfailingly did all their shastraic duties assigned till they breathed their last. And this involves all that I mentioned at the beginning of the article. Surely not the life coveted by brahamanas these days!