Where is the Brahmin, seeker of the highest truth? – Makarand Paranjape


Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeIndia is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. … The main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” – Prof Makarand Paranjape

No right-thinking Indian can justify the ancient régime of varna vyastha, whose injustices, inequalities, and indignities have survived into our own times. Yet, arguably, it is caste, not ideology, that is still the driving force in Indian society and politics. This contradiction of repudiation-reification makes us pose the moot question, “Has the Brahmin disappeared from India?”

Some 20 years ago, Saeed Naqvi, in The Last Brahmin Prime Minister of India, conferred that dubious distinction on P. V. Narasimha Rao. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ascension to the august office proved Naqvi wrong. Rani Sivasankara Sarma’s autobiographical account in Telugu, The Last Brahmin, published soon after Naqvi’s, also asks similar questions, though from a socio-religious, rather than political, standpoint.

I was startled to learn that on his last visit to India in 1985, the great philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti raised the same question in his conversation with Professor P. Krishna at Rajghat, Varanasi (A Jewel on a Silver Platter: Remembering Jiddu Krishnamurti by Padmanabhan Krishna). Krishnamurti is quick to clarify that “Brahmin” is “Not by birth, sir, that is so childish!” As the conversation unfolds, Krishnamurti narrates a story to illustrate.

After defeating Porus, Alexander is impressed by the efficiency of the former’s administration. Alexander hears that the person responsible, Porus’s Brahmin Prime Minister, has left the capital after the loss. Sending after him, Alexander is further surprised at the Brahmin’s refusal to call on him. Deciding to visit him instead, Alexander asks, “I am so impressed with your abilities. Will you work for me?” “Sorry,” says the Brahmin, “I must teach these children; I no longer wish to serve emperors.”

Krishnamurti’s tale is a variation of the story of Alexander the Great and the Stoic. The latter refuses to give up philosophy even in face of the monarch’s threats or blandishments; clearly, this story has both Greek and Indian versions. Krishnamurti concludes: “That’s a Brahmin—you can’t buy him. Now tell me, Sir, has the Brahmin disappeared from this country?”

In thus defining a Brahmin, Krishnamurti is following a tradition as old as the Buddha. In Canto 26 of the Dhammapada titled, “Who is a Brahmin,” the Tathagata says, “who is devoid of fear and free from fetters, him I call a Brahmin.” Verse after verse clarifies, enumerates, and explains the qualities: “He who is contemplative, lives without passions, is steadfast and has performed his duties, who is free from sensuous influxes and has attained the highest goal—him I call a Brahmin” (386). “Not by matted hair, by lineage, nor by birth (caste) does one become a Brahmin. But the one in whom there abide truth and righteousness, he is pure; he is a Brahmin” (393).

Traditionally, those born in the Brahmin jati were supposed to aspire to and espouse such high ideals, whether Vedic or Buddhist. But in these contentious times, the Buddha’s words themselves have been politicised. There are many “modern” translations of the Dhammapada where the word “Brahmin” has been removed completely. The Vedas, of course, are rejected altogether for being “Brahminical.” The object is clearly to attack, denigrate, and destroy the abstract category called “Brahmin.”

Often, the main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” Actually, the latter word was invented by Orientalists to refer to the worship of “Brahman” in contra-distinction to the Buddha, which was called Buddhism. The rule of Brahmins, though there was possibly never such a thing in actual Indian history, should more properly be termed “Brahminarchy”, a term no one uses. Much misinterpretation has also entered our own languages through the back translation of “Brahminism” as “Brahmanvad.” The latter is understood as the ideology of Brahmin domination promoting a hierarchical and exclusionary social system.

Maharaja NandakumarThe history of anti-Brahminism should not, however, be traced to Phule, Periyar, or even Ambedkar, who were all trying to reform rather than destroy Hindu society. The real culprit was more likely British imperialism. If the Muslim invaders tried to annihilate the Kshatriyas, the British attempted to finish off the Brahmins. After the East India Company assumed the overlordship of Bengal, their first execution was of “Maharaja” Nandakumar, a leading Brahmin opponent of the Governor-General, Warren Hastings. On 5 August 1775, Nandakumar was hanged for forgery, a capital crime under British law. But how was such a law applicable to India?

Macaulay, though an imperialist, called the execution a judicial murder. He accused Elijah Impey, the first Chief Justice of the Calcutta Supreme Court, of colluding with Hastings.

The hanging of Nandakumar took place near what is now the Vidyasagar Setu. The entire Hindu population shunned the British, moving to the other bank of the river, to protest against British injustice and to avoid the pollution caused by the act.

Today, India is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. My own university, JNU, is full of pamphlets and posters against Brahminism, one even blaming “Brahminical patriarchy” for the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, who went missing on 15 October 2016. Anti-Brahminism, however, is never considered hate-crime or hate-speech. Why? Don’t Brahmins have human feelings or rights? Brahmins, moreover, are soft targets, scripturally and culturally enjoined not to retaliate. As the Dhammapada (389) puts it, “One should not strike a Brahmin; neither should a Brahmin give way to anger against him who strikes.”

Is it time intellectually to re-arm Brahmins so that they maintain both their own dignity and the veneration of their inherited calling? Does the ideal of the Brahmin continue to be relevant to India, whether we define a Brahmin as one who cannot be bought, a seeker of the highest truth, or a teacher and guide? Shouldn’t such a person, regardless of the jati she or he is born in, continue to be a beacon of light and leadership? As to those born into the community, they may well remember the Kanchi Paramacharya’s sage advice: Fulfill the responsibilities but do not expect the privileges of your birth. – Swarajya, 6 January 2017

» Prof Makarand Paranjape is an author and teaches English at JNU, New Delhi. 

Brahmin & Moghul

See also


India’s secularism is anti-Hindu – David Frawley

Vamadeva Shastri / David Frawley“India is the only country that is exploiting, not defending its majority religion, and rewarding minority religions. It sounds more like a continuation of the old British Raj than a country that honors its indigenous traditions, which in the case of India are ancient, vast and profound. Relative to India’s foreign affairs, the country has rarely defended Hindu interests the way secular Western countries like the USA watch over Christian concerns throughout the world.” – Dr David Frawley

India is the only country in the world today where the principle of secularism is invoked for regulating the practices and taking funds from the majority religion, while protecting and subsidising minority religions.

Secularism in the West originally refers to a separation of church and state, rejecting church interference with state policies. Churches should not dictate state policies and the state should not dictate religious policies.

In India, on the contrary, the principle of secularism is used to justify state and judicial interference in the religious sphere – yet for one religion only, the Hindu.

India’s judiciary makes decrees regulating Hindu religious festivals and deciding who is allowed into Hindu temples, but it does not regulate minority religious practices in the same manner. Besides anti-Hindu discrimination by the courts, state governments take the revenue gained from Hindu temple offerings and use it for their own purposes, which may include funding minority religious causes.

Gold CoinsThis is in spite of the fact that minority religions inside India represent majority religions outside of India and receive considerable foreign help, including through numerous NGOs. It provides minority religions a financial and political power far beyond their actual numbers.

Secularism in the West

Secular Western governments do allow tax breaks to religious groups. In the USA over $ 70 billion in tax exemptions yearly is afforded to religious institutions, mainly to Christianity, the majority religion. Minority religions are not excluded from these exemptions but must work harder to receive them. For example, getting Hindu temples approved, in the few Western countries that recognize Hinduism as a legal religion, is much more difficult than getting churches approved.

If minority religions in the USA were to gain the special tax benefits and support that they receive in India, and America’s majority religion of Christianity regulated like majority Hinduism, many American religious groups would try to become minority religions just to gain the benefits involved.

In many European countries, on the other hand, governments either provide direct funding to churches or aid in collecting church taxes, reflecting vestiges of favoritism for majority religions. This includes Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland.

India, an Anti-Hindu State

In India, some claim that state governments can manage temples better than Hindu religious groups, even allowing atheists or non-Hindus on to Hindu temple boards. That states do a good job of managing temples is quite debatable. But it is not the right of the states to do so, and they do not attempt to for Christian or Islamic institutions, however poorly these may be run.

The fact is that no secular state worth its name has a right to regulate religious practices. If it does so, it should not be called secular but a religious state. In the case of India, the country might be better called an anti-religious state, specifically an “anti-Hindu state”, as interfering only with the majority religion.

India is the only country that is exploiting, not defending its majority religion, and rewarding minority religions. It sounds more like a continuation of the old British Raj than a country that honors its indigenous traditions, which in the case of India are ancient, vast and profound. Relative to India’s foreign affairs, the country has rarely defended Hindu interests the way secular Western countries like the USA watch over Christian concerns throughout the world.

India’s secularism is also allied with socialism. Socialism works upon the principle of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. India’s secular socialism, it seems, seeks to redistribute the wealth and power from the majority religion to minority religions!

Chief Justice of IndiaRole of India’s Media

And how does India’s media view this problem? It has never exposed the hypocrisy of secularism in India. Quite the contrary, India’s media portrays Hindus as a privileged majority, as if the laws benefitted them unfairly. It promotes anti-Hindu attitudes, and encourages government and judicial interference in Hindu affairs.

And when Hindus complain about the brazen discrimination against them, the media accuses Hindus of being intolerant. No religious group in the world today tolerates the kind of judicial regulation, state interference, and media denigration such as Hindus in India have to routinely face. Much less denigration has been blamed for fueling terrorism in Islamist groups.

India Crossed-OutWhy do Hindus allow this?

The question is why Hindus allow such discrimination against their religion in a country where they constitute a decisive majority. One cannot imagine Muslims in Pakistan or Christians in the West acquiescing to such discrimination. The Islamic world is quite the opposite. Islam is promoted blatantly in Islamic countries, including the enforcement of Islamic law on all groups in the society. Other religions are marginalized or suppressed by governments said to be Islamic democracies or Islamic republics, not to mention overt religious states like Saudi Arabia that ban them altogether.

This Hindu apathy appears to be a hangover from the long period of foreign rule and is rooted in anti-Hindu policies by the dominant Congress party in decades past. It includes a lack of self-confidence, ignorance of the extent of the problem, or protecting benefits that some individuals or groups may receive from these discriminatory policies. Denigrating Hindu practices is part of a political strategy of appeasing minority vote banks, and trying to weaken and divide any potential Hindu vote.

Yet as long as Hindus do not create a mass grassroots level movement to reclaim Hindu temples from state management, and remove court interference in Hindu religious affairs, these biases are likely to continue. The current BJP national government, which is not under the compulsions of India’s hypocritical secularism, should encourage such a national awakening, not only for Hindus but for true religious freedom in the country. – Swarajya, 2 May 2016

» Dr David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri) has a D. Litt. (Doctor of Letters), from SVYASA (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana), the only deemed Yoga university recognized by the Government of India.

Hindus Rising

See also