The concept of Brahmin- hatred was sown by the British in late 19th century. Initially it arose as an intellectual articulation of the Manu smruthi, but later they planted it as a fact in their documents and write-ups.
When the British came to India, they found a firmly established grass-root governance wherever they went. The early travellers and writers of the 18th century and Census Reports published until the census of 1881 have reiterated that the country was working excellently on decentralised administration at the village level. The legal issues were settled at the village level itself to the satisfaction of all. The system of justice was not based on any legal book but on the wisdom of the elders. The same system was seen throughout India. The Kings had come and gone in different regions, yet the lives of the people were in no way affected by such changes and the legal system worked smoothly.
This surprised the colonial judges who were imported from Britain. They believed that there must exist a book of legal code to have enabled the village elders to carry out justice. In the 18th century, William Jones, the Judge of the Calcutta High Court embarked on a mission to write the legal code of India. His search ended in Manu Smruthi. He decided that the Code of Manu was practiced in India until then. He translated it into English and incorporated its contents in the law book of India. But for him, Manu's code would not have become widely known as it is today.
Manu's code is criticised for the formation of Varna system and the sub castes that arose from inter-mixing of the varnas. If such a criticism if justified, then Tholkappiyam also stands to be criticised. It propagates the 4 varnas and adds 3 more (Refer part -3 of this series). It gives many rules of the society that are not found in Manu neethi. For example, it gives rules for separation from family for the purpose of education and other reasons. While Manu recommends 6 or 9 years for education which applies to the young and unmarried boy, Tholkaappiyar speaks about separation from the family for education for a maximum period of 3 years only. (1) This verse coming in "KaRpiyal" (கற்பியல்) dealing with marital issues, shows that there was a practice in ancient Tamilnadu to leave the home for studies after marriage. Such a situation was not discussed in Manu's system.
In the next verse, Tholkaappiyar says that a person can be away from home for a year at the most when he is on a deputation on King's orders. (2)
This includes going on war, as messenger and for business or making wealth. In contrast Manu allows separation only for education. Like this many intricate variations from Manu's code in personal and social life can be quoted from Tholkaappiyam. This goes to prove that every region had its own codes of conduct based on the needs and life style of the people. To think that Manu neethi was applicable all over India has no basis.
If it is argued that Manu neethi was prevalent all over India, it can be refuted on two accounts. One was that Manu neethi was the code of law for Krutha yuga and not Kali yuga which is the current era. The unchallengeable fact of epigraphy is that the current era is Kaliyuga which started 5000 years ago. The Law code changes with each yuga and the law book of the present Kaliyuga is Parasara Smruthi, not Manu Smruthi. That Manu neethi was not in vogue even as early as the 2000 years ago can be made out from the fact that Megasthenes did not speak of 4 varnas, but a system of 7 categories based on the kind of job people were doing. (3)
The 2nd reason is that Manu smruthi was not taught in any school or college anywhere in India. The records on the status of indigenous education prepared in the 1830s enumerate the subjects taught in India until then. Manu Smruthi was not mentioned anywhere.
As far as Tamil people were concerned the only Manu neethi the people knew was that of a Cholan king killing his son as a punishment for accidentally killing a calf. It happened in the home town of Karunanidhi! The understanding of the people was that even a king cannot be spared if he caused harm to any life. The higher that one is in the ladder of responsibility, the severe the punishment is. Apart from this no one knows what Manu neethi talked about. It was not studied in law schools of Tamilnadu and certainly the Brahmins were not in the know of the rules of Manu neethi.
The system of justice that was in vogue throughout rural India was mostly based on morals derived from tales and ancient stories. Of course the guidelines from the king must also have been there. Such laws of morality were common knowledge for all citizens. An invaluable record of audio renditions of the people of South Asia including India complied between 1913 to 1929 not only shows how the language was spoken 100 years ago and but also how moral stories were woven around life. When I checked the records in my mother tongue, Tamil and also the Irula Bhasha which was spoken by the Irulas of Coimbatore, I was surprised to hear them all speak some moral story. The stories have relevance to their life and immediate surroundings. It showed that commoners were aware of what to do and what not do.
For example the Irula spoke about the famous story of the shepherd who cried "Tiger. Tiger'. It contains a basic lesson for the young boys of their community. It can be heard in this link.
A householder from Tanjore, narrated the story of a greedy wife who refused to give food to an old lady. It turned out the old lady was none other than the famed poetess of the sangam era, Auivaiyaar! The story centres around the most common problem in many households and the lesson out of it. It can be heard here:-
The link to the main page of this Linguistic study is given here so that readers can hear the narrations in their language and check whether they are also about moral learning.
South Indian languages:-
What is revealed from this and other records of the British India is that people of the country were aware of morality and ethics and therefore the Justice system.
The problem with the British was that they believed that Aryans invaded the country and imposed their laws. They thought that Manu neethi was imposed by them on the native tribes by keeping themselves in the top level. The Brahmins topped the list of varnas. So their reasoning was that Brahmins must have held control over the society. But in reality, though they were for giving Aryan status for the Brahmins, they could not do so, because the Brahmins were not like 'them'- as the British considered themselves and other Europeans as the original stock of Aryans. The Indian Brahmins did not even fulfil the nose index that they created for Aryans. Particularly the South Indian Brahmins finished just above PaLLi in the length of the nose! The reason was not difficult to seek. According to them the original Aryan Brahmins mingled with local tribes who gained the status as Brahmins due to this mingling. This means the British considered the Tamil Brahmins as local tribes who were given Brahmin status by the invading Aryans. Something to be noted by Karunanidhi who keeps harping that Brahmins were original Aryans!
To quote from the Report of the Census of 1901,
"The Tamil Brāhmans themselves belong, indeed, to a lower physical type; but their mean index of (nose)76.7 has probably been affected by the inclusion in the group of some tribal priests, who obtained recognition as Brāhmans, when their votaries insensibly became Hindus. Then follow the Palli (77.9) a large group, mainly employed in agriculture, who claim twice-born rank and frequently describe themselves as Agnikula or fireborn Kshatriyas." (4)
The British could not accept Tamil Brahmins as Brahmins nor accept Palli (Dalits) as originally belonging to the Kshatriya varna of a well known agni-kula lineage! When we look at the records of the Reports of the Census 1871 and 1881, we get valuable information on all the sections of India and how they retained the memory of their lineage that was coming down from time immemorial. But the British did not accept their explanations given to the census authorities but formulated their own theories on their origin and also categorised them into "castes" which was not known to them until then.
The British knew very well the position of Brahmins in every village. The Brahmins were either found in temples worshiping deities or giving tips on the time for agricultural operations. Such Brahmins were known as Calendar Brahmin or Panchanga Paarppaan in Tamil. They never held the position of the Village Chief nor sat for delivering Justice. The same situation continues in rural pockets even today – something brought out in movies such as "Chinna Gownder".
The book, "The History of British India" by James Mill in 1817, reveals that this was the situation until 1800s. To quote from this book:-
"From these documents the committee have drawn the following as a general picture; "A village, geographically considered, is a tract of country, compris- ing some hundreds, or thousands, of acres of arable and waste land. Politically viewed, it resembles a corporation, or township. Its proper establishment of officers and servants consists of the following descriptions: The Potail, or head inhabitant, who has the general superintendance of the affairs of the village, settles the disputes of the inhabitants, attends to the police, and performs the duty of collecting the revenues within his village: The Curnum, who keeps the accounts of cultivation, and registers every thing connected with it: The Tal- liar and Totie; the duty of the former appearing to consist in a wider and more enlarged sphere of action, in gaining information of crimes and offences, and in escorting and protecting persons travelling from one village to another; the pro- vince of the latter appearing to be more immediately confined to the village, consisting, among other duties, in guarding the crops, and assisting in measuring them; The Boundaryman, who preserves the limits of the village or gives evi- dence respecting them in cases of dispute: The Superintendant of water- courses and tanks, who distributes the water for the purposes of agriculture: The Brahmen, who performs the village worship: The Schoolmaster, who is seen teaching the children in the villages to read and write in the sand: The Calendar Brahmen, or astrologer, who proclaims the lucky, or unpropitious periods for sowing and thrashing: The Smith, and Carpenter, who manufacture the implements of agriculture, and build the dwelling of the ryot: The Potman or potter: The Washerman; The Barber: The Cow-keeper, who looks after the cattle: The Doctor: The Dancing Girl, who attends at re- joicings; The Musician, and the Poet.
"Under this simple form of municipal government, the inhabitants of the country have lived, from time immemorial. The boundaries of the villages have been seldom altered: and though the villages themselves have been sometimes injured, and even desolated, by war, famine, and disease, the same name, the same limits, the same interests, and even the same families, have continued for ages. The inhabitants give themselves no trouble about the breaking up and division of kingdoms; while the village remains entire, they care not to what power it is transferred, or to what sovereign it devolves; its internal economy remains unchanged; the Potail is still the head inhabitant, and still acts as the petty judge and magistrate, and collector or renter of the village." (5)
The above narration by James Mill clearly reveals that the Brahmin was no way near delivering justice or dictating terms on others. The life of all sections of the society also was in harmony at all times.
Another factor is that the Brahmins did not have the numbers to make their presence felt. The Brahmin population also was woefully low throughout the country. This is revealed by the Report of the 1881 Census.
"The following are the proportions which Bráhmans fill in several Indian Provinces:—
Per-centage of Bráhmans on the Hindoo Population.
North-West Provinces and Oudh
"from which it appears that the proportion of Bráhmans is very much lower in Madras than in any of the other great provinces."
The 3.94 % of Brahmins in 1881 has come down to 2% at present in Tamilnadu. With such a less population, how could the Brahmins have held sway over the masses as to have caused prejudice against each other? Or how could they have gobbled up maximum chances in employment?
The situation until the British came to India was such that there was no need for any one section wielding power over the other. The only powerful entity was the King. To quote James Mill in The History of British India, "Wherever the Hindus have been left most entirely under the influence of their ancient customs and laws, the facts which now offer themselves to the senses of the observer fully correspond with the inference which would be drawn from these laws, and prove that property in land was vested in the sovereign."
The produce of the land was shared by all the inhabitants while a major share went to the king who used it to give wages (in kind) to the employees of the government. The narration in the book on The History of British India by James Mill describes the amazing situation of rural India as it existed in 1766.
"To every man, as soon as he arrives at the proper age, is granted such a quantity of arable land as is estimated to produce 2421/8 measures of rice, of which he must pay 605/9 measures, or about one fourth to the rajah or king."
Every citizen of the town or village was entitled to a share even though he was not engaged in cultivation. It was because everyone was engaged in some job that would collectively benefit the society. To quote the words of Mr Place, the Collector in the jaghire district at Madras
"Every village considers itself a distinct society; and its general concerns the sole object of the inhabitants at large: a practice, which surely redounds as much to the public good as to theirs; each having, in some way or other, the assistance of the rest; the labours of all yield the rent; they enjoy the profit, proportionate to their original interest, and the loss falls light. It consists exactly with the principles upon which the advantages are derived from the division of labour; one man goes to market, whilst the rest attend to the cultivation and the harvest; each has his particular occupation assigned to him, and. insensibly labours for all. Another practice very frequently prevails, of each proprietor changing his lands every year. It is found in some of the richest villages; and intended, I imagine, to obviate that inequality to which a fixed distribution would be liable." (6)
The ratio of the share shows that Brahmins did not enjoy any special privilege. For example a Brahmin was given only half of the produce that was given to a barber, potter, washerman, carpenter and black-smith. Five times of that was given to the temple Brahmins who used it for offerings. The village Chief received 8 times of what an ordinary Brahmin received whereas the accountant received 10 times. The accountant was known as 'Kanakkan" which was recognised as a caste in the British census of 1881. They were not Brahmins.
The following passage is from The History of British India :-
"Dr. Buchanan gives a most instructive account of the manner in which the crop, in those parts of India which are most purely Hindu, is divided between the inhabitants and the government. In Bengal it is not allowed to be cut down till the rent or tax is first paid: but in those countries to which his journey principally relates, it is the custom, after the grain has been thrashed out in the field, to collect it into heaps, and then to divide it. A heap generally consists of about 110 Winchester bushels, of which he presents the following distribution as a specimen of the partition which is usually made. For the gods, that is, for the priests at their temples, is deducted five seers, containing about one-third of a Winchester gallon each; for charity, or for the mendicant Brahmens, an equal quantity; for the astrologer and the Brahmen of the village, one seer each; for the barber, the potmaker, the washer- man, and the Vasaradava, who is both carpenter and blacksmith, two seers each; for the measurer, four seers; for the Aduca, a kind of beadle, seven seers; for the village chief, eight seers, out of which he has to furnish the village sacrifices; and for the accountant, ten seers. All these perquisites are the same, whatever be the size of the heap beyond a, measure of about twenty-five Winchester bushels. When these allowances are withdrawn the heap is measured; and for every candaca which it contains, a measure equal to 51/20 Winchester bushels, there is again deducted half a seer to the village watchmen, two and a half seers to the accomptant, as much to the chief of the village; and the bottom of the heap, about an inch thick, mixed with the cow-dung which in order to purify it had been spread on the ground, is given to the Nirgunty, or conductor of water. These several deductions, on a heap of twenty candacas, or 110 Winchester bushels, amount to about 5¼ per cent, on the gross produce. Of the remainder, 10 per cent, is paid to the collectors of the revenue, as their wages or hire; and the heap is last of all divided into halves between the king and the cultivator" (7)
It is further stated that this system existed in Tanjore where the traditional style of living continued from long.
This system ensured that no one went hungry. Even in a year of lean production, everyone had something to eat as the share was on the basis of the entire produce and not a fixed amount. Of interest to us in for our topic was that the Brahmins did not enjoy power, nor wielded any influence on others. They were part of the society like anybody else and they did not occupy the position to dictate terms or create prejudice against any community.
But the British continued to have an obsession with the Brahmins and observed them meticulously wherever they were found. They observed and recorded every habit of them but used those details to deride them. Perhaps they compared themselves, 'the inhabitants of the Aryan homeland' with the Brahmins of India and deduced that the Brahmins were in no way superior to them. They recorded the accurate head count of the Brahmins in the census reports whereas scores of others were just mentioned without any detail. For example in the Census report of 1881, 167,283,899 people were mentioned as other castes without any other details whereas the number of Brahmins was little above 10 million only. They had a region –wise split up of Brahmins and even split the Brahmins under 107 castes! But contrary to their expectations, they did not come across people identifying themselves as Shudras – something that contradicted their faith in Manu! Even as late as 1900, they did not come across people who called themselves as Shudras.
Their obsession with Manu's varna system can be seen in their records. To quote from the Census Report of 1901:-
"The first point to observe is the predominance throughout India of the influence of the traditional system of four original castes. In every scheme of grouping the Brahman heads the list. Then come the castes whom popular opinion accepts as the modern representatives of the Kshatriyas, and these are followed by the mercantile groups supposed to be akin to the Vaisyas, When we leave the higher circles of the twice born, the difficulty of finding a uniform basis of classification becomes apparent. The ancient designation Sudra finds no great favour in modern times, and we can point to no group that is generally recognized as representing it. The term is used in Bombay, Madras, and Bengal to denote a considerable number of castes of moderate respectability, the higher of whom are considered ' clean ' Sudras, while the precise status of the lower is a question which lends itself to endless controversy."
Even if no one is called as a Shudra, the British could not stop wondering how that could be! The result was that they created identities for many people who already had a traditional identity – not as castes – but based on lineage or some historical reasons. The kind of bungling that the British did in grouping the people into castes resulted in the loss of old memories which were continuing as valuable oral and historical records from time immemorial and creation of division among the people which was exploited by the Dravidian politicians of Tamilnadu. One such important historical memory goes to the times of Parasurama. There are quite many groups – renamed by the British as aborigines or tribes and some castes – which were connected to Parasurama's times. Their descendants still continue to live in India. But for these records of Census we may never be able to prove that Parasurama was indeed a historical figure.
(To be continued)
(1) "வேண்டிய கல்வியாண்டு மூன்றறிவாது" – Tholkaappiyam Poruladhikaram 186.
(2) "வேந்துரு தொழிலேயாணடினதகமே" – Tholkaappiyam Poruladhikaram 187.
(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megasthenes The 7 categories are as follows:-
The first is formed by the collective body of the Philosophers, which in point of number is inferior to the other classes, but in point of dignity preeminent over all. The philosopher who errs in his predictions incurs censure, and then observes silence for the rest of his life.
The second caste consists of the Husbandmen, who appear to be far more numerous than the others. They devote the whole of their time to tillage; nor would an enemy coming upon a husbandman at work on his land do him any harm, for men of this class, being regarded as public benefactors, are protected from all injury.
The third caste consists of the Shepherds and in general of all herdsmen who neither settle in towns nor in villages, but live in tents.
The fourth caste consists of the Artizans. Of these some are armourers, while others make the implements that husbandmen and others find useful in their different callings. This class is not only exempted from paying taxes, but even receives maintenance from the royal exchequer.
The fifth caste is the Military. It is well organized and equipped for war, holds the second place in point of numbers, and gives itself up to idleness and amusement in the times of peace. The entire force--men-at-arms, war-horses, war-elephants, and all--are maintained at the king's expense.
The sixth caste consists of the Overseers. It is their province to inquire into and superintend all that goes on in India, and make report to the king, or, where there is not a king, to the magistrates.
The seventh caste consists of the Councillors and Assessors,--of those who deliberate on public affairs. It is the smallest class, looking to number, but the most respected, on account of the high character and wisdom of its members; for from their ranks the advisers of the king are taken, and the treasurers, of the state, and the arbiters who settle disputes. The generals of the army also, and the chief magistrates, usually belong to this class.
(4) Report of the 1901 Census. http://www.chaf.lib.latrobe.edu.au/dcd/page.php?title=&record=1646
"(ii) In Southern India the mean proportions of the nose vary from 69.1 in the Lambādis of Mysore and 73.1 in the Vellalās of Madras to 95.1 in the Paniyans of Malabar. In Chota Nagpur and Western Bengal the range of variation is less marked and the mean indices run from 82.6 in the Kurmi of Manbhum in a gradually ascending series to 94.5 in the Male of the Sautāl Parganas. The Asur figure of 95.9 may be left out of account as it relates to only two subjects. In both regions the mean proportions of the nose correspond in the main to the gradations of social precedence, and such divergences as occur admit of being plausibly accounted for. At the head of the physical series in Southern India stand the Lambādi with a mean index of 69.1. They do not, however, employ the local Brāhmans as priests and their touch is held to convey ceremonial pollution. But there is reason to believe that they are a nomadic people from Upper India, and that their social rank is low merely because they have not been absorbed in the social system of the South. Next come the Vellālas, the great cultivating caste of the Tamil country, with a mean index of 73.1. They are classed as Sat or pure Sudras; the Brāhmans who serve them as priests will take curds and butter from their hands and will cook in any part of their houses. The Tamil Brāhmans themselves belong, indeed, to a lower physical type; but their mean index of 76.7 has probably been affected by the inclusion in the group of some tribal priests, who obtained recognition as Brāhmans, when their votaries insensibly became Hindus. Then follow the Palli (77.9) a large group, mainly employed in agriculture, who claim twice-born rank and frequently describe themselves as Agnikula or fireborn Kshatriyas. Low down in the social as in the physical scale, are the Parāyan or Pariah, with an index of 80, whose mere vicinity pollutes, but whose traditions point to the probability that their status was not always so degraded as we find it at the present day. This conjecture derives some support from the fact that the Kadan, Mukkudan and Paniyau, with substantially broader noses, yet take higher social rank."