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

Vedic Rishis: The ancestors of all Indians – Maria Wirth

Maria Wirth“Is it not time that Indians wake up to the treasure hidden in their scriptures which are much older than what western scholars estimated? Those scholars were influenced by the Christian belief that the world was created only some 6000 years back. The Rishis had always thought big and their estimate of the age of this universe is collaborated by astronomy. Further, their claim “the world is maya” was ridiculed, but nowadays nobody ridicules it unless he wants to make a fool of himself.” – Maria Wirth

BrahminSome five years ago there was a small news item in a national paper. At that time Jairam Ramesh was the minister of state for environment and forests and he had stated, ”India is losing at least 2000 patents every year on traditional formulations as the knowledge on these has never been documented.”

I wondered whether the politicians, administrators and academics actually knew where their ancient tradition is documented and what it contains. There is a big gap between the English-speaking academics and the Vedic pandits. The former tend to think that they are superior and represent India’s intelligentsia. However there is great, often untapped knowledge in the other camp of Sanskrit pandits. Their knowledge might even be more crucial for a harmonious society. Sadly, both groups don’t meet because they don’t understand each other. If they would meet and exchange, India in all likelihood would be a frontrunner in scientific innovation, as well as in philosophy and consciousness research. For example, the statement of the Vedas that Parabrahman desired to transform itself into many, and that Brahman is awareness, could have let to the discovery that matter is basically energy (or rather awareness), long before Einstein.

Unfortunately the study of India’s tradition was gravely neglected in independent India. It was even demeaned by so-called intellectuals whose intellect was obviously challenged or rather brainwashed by British education. With the new government, this pitiable situation might change, and the signals that come from the HRD ministry are encouraging.

Many of the Leftist ‘intellectuals’, however, can be expected to shout “saffronisation”. And they usually shout loudly. Sure, everybody has the right to freely express his opinion, but the right to be heard all over the world is reserved for few individuals, and so far, those intellectuals enjoyed this privilege. The Vedic pandits on the other hand, who preserve the traditional knowledge, have been sidelined and even unfairly charged with being the main cause for the backwardness of India.

The bias against the Indian tradition is difficult to understand, except for a lack in self-confidence, because the knowledge that the Rishis uncovered is truly amazing. It is the heritage of all Indians. If any other country had such long history and such great achievements to show, they would stress it on every occasion. Yet in India, this knowledge has been ignored. Instead, academics were ever ready to take up any hypothesis provided it came from the west.

Jesus & DarwinFor example, Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Indians don’t realize that Westerners have only Darwin or the Church to choose from, and Darwin looks more probable, though not really convincing. Indians have other options: they could consider the possibility that there are cycles from Satya Yuga to Kali Yuga. There is plenty of evidence in Indian scriptures that in ancient times, India was spiritually and technologically highly developed.

Over the years, a few attempts were made to dig out India’s treasure. For example, in some universities, a course on Indian psychology is now on offer that has been sourced from ancient scriptures and Sri Aurobindo’s deliberations on the topic. This happened only after Westerners had added a new stream to western psychology that is based on Vedic insights. Yet the Indian origin of ‘transpersonal psychology’ is not acknowledged.

In regard to psychology and philosophy, ancient India was far ahead of the modern west. Still, even today, Indian psychology students learn the simplistic theories of Pavlov and Skinner, whereas in the West, “consciousness studies” have taken off in many universities and institutes.

Ayurveda is finally appreciated in India again, mainly thanks to the efforts of Swami Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna. Yet here, too, it had made already an impact in the West. The Charaka Samhita, a comprehensive treatise about what constitutes health, how to remain healthy and how to regain health, is about 2500 years old. Sushruta Samhita is another treatise from that time. Many formulations in those treatises have not yet been tested in modern times. Some formulations have been tested and several greatly valued drugs were the result of taking ancient scriptures seriously.

Yet ayurveda, psychology and of course yoga are only some aspects of India’s ancient knowledge. There is much more, and so far it was left mainly to foreigners to exploit it for their own benefit.

Yajur VedaImportant concepts that are uniquely found in the Vedas have meanwhile been proven correct by science. Some other concepts still need to be scrutinized, but never has any concept been proven wrong. Yet most educated Indians are ignorant about their great ancestors and don’t give them the respect they deserve.

For example the credit for the discovery of the earth going around the sun should be given to the Vedic Rishis and not to Copernicus, who lived only a few hundred years ago. Or the credit for the discovery of the solar spectrum of colours and the cosmic rays should be given to them and not to Newton and Hess respectively. Here are a few samples of what a Vedic pandit had translated and written down for me:

  • Earth goes around the sun – Rg Veda 10. 22. 14. and Yajur Veda 3. 6.
  • Sun neither rises nor sets – Atraya Brahman 3’44 and Gopatha Brahman 2’4’10.
  • Sun and whole universe are round – Yajur Veda 20. 23
  • Moon is enlightened by the sun – Yajur Veda 18, 20.
  • There are many suns – Rg Veda 9. 114. 3.
  • Seven colours in the sun – Atharva Veda 7. 107. 1.
  • Electromagnetic field, conversion of mass and energy – Rg 10. 72.

As the ancient Rishis were on target on these issues, their other statements may well also be correct or at least worthy of being taken seriously. Please see in this context my article on India’s wisdom and modern science.

ConfuciousChina is not hesitating to extract what it can from its ancient knowledge, and why not? A major part of the money that is generated worldwide through Feng Shui and acupuncture flows back to China. In contrast, India is getting a measly 2 percent of the money from the huge yoga market in the West, a report stated.

Is it not time that Indians wake up to the treasure hidden in their scriptures which are much older than what Western scholars estimated? Those scholars were influenced by the Christian belief that the world was created only some 6000 years back. The Rishis had always thought big and their estimate of the age of (this) universe is collaborated by astronomy. Further, their claim “the world is maya” was ridiculed, but nowadays nobody ridicules it unless he wants to make a fool of himself.

The greatest treasure of India’s wisdom, however, lies in the knowledge of what the human being truly is: he is not a separate person, the Vedas claim. He is one with Brahman. His essence is pure, infinite consciousness. And it is possible to realize this truth by living a dharmic life and doing sadhana. When the mind is stilled by dropping thoughts, the divine dimension of one’s being is accessed. True inspiration and intuition come from this level, and true happiness as well.

And how to drop thoughts? In the Vijnanabhairava, one of the texts of Kashmir Shaivism, 112 methods are described. Maybe they are already patented in the West and come to India in the form of seminars held by foreigners charging hefty fees? The participants from the wealthy elite would not notice.

However, in spite of the lack of traditional knowledge in the English educated classes, Indian tradition is fortunately still alive among many who don’t speak English. They make India still positively stand out among other countries, in spite of the vigorous attempts by media to blacken her image.

These Indians were not brainwashed by the British education against everything “Hindu”. They don’t need psychological workshops. They still have reverence for their ancestors, though they may not know what their Rishilegacy consists of in detail, yet they know the basics like: “Ishwar or Brahman is everywhere” and “harming others will harm them in turn”. Many are grateful that especially Brahmins have taken great pains over the millennia and still take pains to preserve the Vedas for posterity by learning an incredibly huge number of slokas by heart.

If the Indian establishment, too, honours the ancient Vedic rishis and the modern Sanskrit pandits by discovering and spreading their insights, it would not only help character building in a big way, but also would instill pride in Indians to be the offspring of such great ancestors. The Vedic knowledge could again flow out all over, as it has done in earlier times and humanity as a whole would benefit. – Maria Wirth Blog, 7 June 2014

» Maria Wirth is German and came to India for a holiday after finishing her psychology studies at Hamburg University. With the blessing of a number of saints, she continues to live in India, sharing her insights with German and Indian readers through articles and books. However, when in recent years, she noticed that there seemed to be a concerted effort to prevent Indians—and the world—from knowing how valuable this ancient Indian heritage is, she started to point out the unique value of Indian traditions.


The Dravidian identity crisis – S. Aravindan Neelakandan

S. Aravindan NeelakandanToday, the 100-year-old Dravidian movement is struggling to remain relevant. It has become socially, culturally, historically and spiritually a failed movement. Like all failed movements it lives in desperation. And like all desperate entities it seeks violence and hatred to justify its existence.” – S. Aravindan Neelakandan

M. KarunanidhiOur enemies, the Brahmins, should tremble in fear.” When DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi made this public statement early this year as part of the centenary of celebrations of the Dravidian movement, Bishop Robert Caldwell of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) would have had rolled over in ecstasy in his grave. After all, it was Bishop Caldwell who gave the fundamentals of the racial framework for the interpretation of south Indian history.

Like the term ‘Arya’, the term ‘Dravida’ also has a long history. Traditional Indian psyche with its diverse streams, including the Vedic, Buddhist and Jain, never interpreted these terms in racial terms. While the term ‘Arya’ relates to a person of culture, ‘Dravida’ refers to a specific geographical region well within the cultural matrix of India. However, after Max Muller read racial meaning in the term ‘Arya’ and Europeanised it as ‘Aryan’, colonial-missionary binary constructs of Aryan-aboriginal started fast percolating into the psyche of educated classes of Indians — both Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Bishop Caldwell, whom DMK supremo praised limitless, added a conspiracy theory to this racial framework. No, Aryans did not conquer the Dravidians, he said, but they sent their stooges the cunning Brahmins who through their religion enslaved the Dravidian kings. According to Caldwell, Tamil kings were gullible enough to accept the title ‘Shudra’ when Brahmins told them that it was a title of honour. ‘Cunning Aryans’ also invented what is now known as Hinduism as a means to enslave Dravidians!

Bishop Robert CaldwellToday, the Aryan-Dravidian binary stands rejected by archaeology and dismissed repeatedly by genetic studies. However, the apologists of the Dravidian movement claim that it was nevertheless a tool for social emancipation and had to be understood in that context. How much truth is contained in such a claim?

The racial theory enunciated by Caldwell had three components: The Aryans, the Dravidians and the Dalits. The Dalits were of little consequence in the narrative constructed by Caldwell. His main aim was projecting the Aryan-Dravidian divide. And this became an integral part of Dravidian political ideology. Herein lies the main spiritual weakness of the Dravidian movement: It could never speak whole-heartedly for the Dalit rights. Throughout the history of the Dravidian movement one sees this deficiency. Rettaimalai Srinivasan, one of the pioneers of the Dalit movement in Tamil Nadu, which was then part of the Madras presidency, though then he had no reason to question the Aryan-Dravidian theory, realised that even if one accepts the binary, the so-called Brahminical and non-Brahminical religious traditions were organically linked. In fact, he along with Baba Saheb Ambedkar at the Round Table Conference in London had petitioned the British to label the depressed classes as “non-conformist Hindus or reformist Hindus or protestant Hindus”.

Rettamalai SrinivasanAnother great Dalit leader of Tamil Nadu was M.C. Rajah. He parted ways with the Justice Party, which was the political expression of non-Brahmin politics. He, too, was appreciative of the reform agenda then taken up by the Hindu Mahasabha. Ayyankali, the first Dalit freedom fighter of Kerala, who successfully won the educational rights of Dalits in Kerala through a bitter battle, had no use for the Aryan-Dravidian racial construct. Incidentally, he had his initial inspirations from monks who had their roots in Arya Samaj. Nor did Sri Narayana Guru ever use the racial framework of Caldwell for his social emancipation fight. Rather, he used Advaita Vedanta for the liberation of the oppressed.

The decisive blow against the Dravidian ideology as a tool for social emancipation was dealt by none other than Ambedkar. Bodhisattva of our times, Ambedkar rejected the racial interpretation of Indian social reality decisively. Discarding the Western theory that the so-called untouchables and Brahmins belonged to different races, Ambedkar stated that if anthropometry was to be considered a science then based on exhaustive data, Brahmin and the Dalit did not belong to separate races but one. “The Brahmin and the untouchable belong to the same race,” he said. This was a basic fundamental truth which the south Indian non-Brahmin movement, which labelled itself ‘rationalist’, never grasped.

M.C. RajaE.V. Ramasami (EVR), the primal patriarch of Dravidian racism, who was also donning the cap of “the sun of rationalism” never understood the fallacy of his demand for Dravidstan. In July 1947, he attacked Ambedkar of betrayal and as having gone to side of “dry North Indian philosophy” and standing for a “United India”.

The Dravidian race theory also contained in it a denial of Dalits as part of the same race. This contempt for Dalits as part of the Dravidian movement has often manifested itself in abusive and violent forms. EVR himself often spoke in venomous contempt against the Dalits. Dalit leaders of his time protested vehemently against his disparaging remarks attributing the rise in the price of cloth to Dalit women wearing jacket. It was only after decades, that too during an election period, that EVR came up with a lame explanation for his alleged statement which did not cut much ice across the Dalit leaders.

The unkindest cut of all came in the form of a Dalit massacre in 1969. In a village in Tamil Nadu (the notorious Keezhvenmani massacre) non-Brahmin upper caste landlords torched alive landless Dalit workers, who were non-violently agitating for an increase in the wages. EVR came up with a condemnation of the incident. He started with the condemnation of the concept of Satyagraha, which according to him had made common people rebels. Then he ended up condemning those who ‘instigated’ the Dalits to fight for higher wages. There was not a single word of condemnation against the non-Brahmin landlords.

Dr. B.R. AmbedkarAmbedkar was bitter about Hindu society for its suicidal maintenance of the oppressive caste system. But he never let that bitterness become hatred. He never compromised on the safety and integrity of the nation. He always saw him as part of the great process of renaissance and social emancipation movement that started with the wisdom of the Upanishads and manifested in the compassion of Buddha. He and his movement were staunchly rooted in the principles of democracy and Ambedkar traced the spiritual basis of Indian democracy to the ‘Mahavakyas’ of the Upanishads. One finds such deeper and holistic understanding of Indian social history conspicuous by its absence in the Dravidian movement.

On the contrary, the Dravidian movement rooted itself in the false racial doctrine of Aryan-Dravidian theory. It was based on a racial hatred for Brahmins as the other. Though in later days, democratic compulsions forced C.N. Annadurai to overcome this hatred, he too was not above lamenting that the social reality of Tamil society prevented him from implementing Hitler’s methods in eliminating the Brahmins. However, the people of Tamil Nadu were cautious in the sense that they repeatedly rejected the hardcore pseudo-rationalist, racist DMK and preferred the ADMK which during the charismatic M.G. Ramachandran’s time was more inclusive of the Dalits, more sensitive to Hindu religious sentiments and had a better democratic and humanitarian face.

E.V. RamaswamyToday, the 100-year-old Dravidian movement is struggling to remain relevant. It has become socially, culturally, historically and spiritually a failed movement. Like all failed movements it lives in desperation. And like all desperate entities it seeks violence and hatred to justify its existence. The term ‘social justice’ has become synonymous in the Dravidian movement for a racial hatred for Brahmins and a passionate hatred against Indic spiritual traditions. Thankfully, people have realised its ideological bankruptcy. – The Pioneer, New Delhi, 18 August 2012

» With inputs from M. Venakatesan, author and an emerging Dalit historian.  S. Aravindan Neelakandan is the co-author of a path-breaking book on Dravidian and Dalit faultlines, Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines.

King Porus’ defeat of Alexander at the Battle of the Hydaspes (Jhelum) – N.S. Rajaram

N.S. Rajaram“Indian history has been distorted to meet the ideological needs of the ruling powers, a situation that continues to the present day. The pattern though is startling: just as the myth of the Aryan invasion was created to make Vedas and Sanskrit foreign imports, the myth of Greek superiority beginning with Alexander’s victory in India was concocted to make Greek learning superior to Indian. It was a claim the Greeks themselves never made. It was not for nothing that Napoleon called history a ‘fable agreed upon.'” – Dr. N.S. Rajaram

Alexander & BucephalusAccording to colonial British historians and their Indian followers, Alexander’s campaign in India (actually West Punjab now in Pakistan) was one of the most important episodes in Indian history. The reasons given are two. First it allowed scholars to establish a chronological marker for Indian history by identifying Sandracottos of Greek records with Chandragupta the founder of the Maurya Empire. This made him a contemporary of Alexander whose dates are known from other sources. This equation, known as the ‘Greek Synchronism’, is hailed as the sheet anchor of Indian history and chronology. All other dates are derived assuming it to be correct.

No less importantly, Alexander’s ‘victory’ has been used as evidence of European superiority over Indians even in ancient times. This soon led to the claim that all Indian achievements from astronomy and mathematics to Sanskrit drama and epic poetry must have been borrowed from the Greeks. (like: Ramayana was a copy of the Iliad!) It is commonplace among Western Indologists to claim that all Indian science and mathematics were borrowed from the Greeks after Alexander. (If so why didn’t the Greeks have the decimal place value system for another thousand years, which they got from India?) Some even claim that Indian writing was borrowed from the Greeks. Anyone who questions this is immediately denounced as a chauvinist incapable of logic.

Chandragupta MauryaThe idea is fantastic. Alexander entered India in the winter of 327 — 326 BC and left when a mutiny of his soldiers forced him to retreat with heavy losses. As we shall see later his stay was brief and troubled. Philip, the satrap he left in charge of the garrisons was murdered by the locals and his garrisons swiftly overrun. Seleucus who tried to recover them was defeated and driven out. But to go by the accounts of colonial scholars, Alexander must have brought an army not of soldiers but scholars and scientists who taught Indians everything from writing to astronomy — all in a matter of months!

Contrast this with the British experience. Their rule lasted two centuries, and at its height included all of India. And yet India retained its identity and knowledge, learning from the British of course but adapting them to Indian conditions. The Greeks were in control, if at all of a remote corner of India for a few months. How could they achieve so great a transformation in so short a time that the British couldn’t in centuries? But such questions are dismissed as chauvinistic and unworthy of debate. So it is best to leave these claims alone and look at what the records have to say.


Greek and Indian records

Before we examine these claims, especially Alexander’s supposed military success against the Indians a few facts should be kept in mind. No Greek records from the period survive; we know about them only from later, much later accounts that refer to them. This includes the Indica of Megasthenes which is only known from references in later works by writers like Strabo, Diodorus, Plutarch and a few others. And none of them mention the word Maurya. Several scholars have suggested that Sandrocottos of the Greek records could have been Samudragupta of the later Gupta dynasty. This would topple the Greek synchronism and place the Maurya dynasty including Chandragupta and Ashoka several centuries before Alexander.

The point to note here is that the whole of Indian chronology rests on the correctness of this linguistic similarity between Sandrakottos and Chandragupta (Maurya). There is no technical or inscriptional evidence to support it. Ashoka’s inscriptions don’t mention Alexander even though other kings are mentioned by name. Nonetheless historians for the most part have taken it as proven although a few dissident scholars are questioning it citing some recent archaeological finds. It is important to note that Ashoka’s date, as well as the dates of his inscriptions are deduced from this Greek Synchronism and not based on any scientific grounds like radiocarbon tests. (Recent archaeological data relating to stratification seem to cast doubt on it, but this line is not pursued here.)

R.C. MajumdarIn all this there is an implicit assumption that Western sources are always reliable and objective and should be accepted without question. But the trustworthiness of Greek accounts on which much of this version of history is based, including those of Megasthenes and his successor Deimachus, has been questioned from the earliest time. The late R.C. Majumdar pointed out that we must give up any notion that they were somehow more reliable than others — a view propagated by colonial historians. Even the ancient Strabo (c. 65 BC — c. 24 AD) wrote: “Generally speaking, the men who hitherto have written on the affairs of India were a set of liars. Deimachus holds the first place in the list, Megasthenes comes next…. Of this we became the more convinced whilst writing the history of Alexander. No faith whatever can be placed in Deimachus and Megasthenes.”

ChanakyaIn contrast to the paucity of Greek records, we have ample records from Indian sources — Hindu, Buddhist and Jain — from the periods before and after Alexander. The most famous of these is the Arthashastra of Kautilya who was a contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya and hence of Alexander if his identification with Sandrakottos is correct. While they know nothing of Alexander, they do note invasions by others like the Scythians (Shaka), Huns (Huna), Persians (Parasika), Parthians (Prithu-Parthava) and others. The word ‘Yavana’ (Yona in Prakrit) is fairly common in the late ancient age, but does not always mean the Greeks (or Ionians) much less Macedonians.

The first identifiable reference to Alexander in an Indian work is found in Banabhatta’s Harshacarita written almost a thousand years after Alexander’s invasion. In this Bana refers to an Alikasundara and his campaign against a country ruled by women (stree-rajya) or ‘Amazons’. They are probably the same as the Massagetae whose warrior queen Tomyris defeated and killed the Persian emperor Cyrus the Great around 535 BC. Their country corresponds to modern Kazakhstan, so Alexander would have encountered them on his march towards Afghanistan (or Bactria).

AristotleThis suggests that the impact of Alexander’s march on India has been exaggerated out of all proportion to reality by historians of the colonial era. In order to get a truer picture it is necessary to have some idea of the historical and political background to Alexander’s campaign which was part of Macedonia’s expansionist policy and not just a bolt from the blue. Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias, the fourth of Philip’s seven (or eight) wives. As Macedonians, they were looked down upon by the Greeks as half-barbarians. Probably to counter this, Philip engaged Aristotle to tutor Alexander in Greek learning.

It was Philip who initiated an expansionist policy by invading and occupying Athens and other parts of Greece proper. To this end Philip introduced a military innovation known as the ‘phalanx’ — a compact and disciplined infantry formation that could fight as a unit. This proved successful against the tribes of Asia Minor and Central Asia, as well as the once mighty but now disintegrating Persian Empire. These were pitched battles in which Alexander’s disciplined phalanxes proved superior. They proved less effective in India where he needed to move against large formations over vast areas.

PhalanxPhilip was assassinated in 336 BC, plotted by Alexander’s mother Olympias according to some historians. Alexander III (to give his official name) inherited his father’s kingdom as well as the powerful army that he had created. He continued Philip’s policy of subduing the Greek states, which they intensely disliked, and expanded east and south until his forces were in Asia Minor (East Turkey). Egypt, which was chafing under Persian rule threw off its yoke and greeted Alexander as liberator. In 334 BC, he turned his attention to the wealthy but decaying Persian Empire.

Alexander’s campaign against the Persian Empire consisted of a series of raids in which he plundered wealthy cities like Issus, Susa and Persepolis, the last of which he reduced to ashes. They were not unlike Mahmud of Ghazni’s raids into India 1300 years later. Darius III, the unworthy bearer of a great name, proved both incompetent and unpopular. He was captured and killed by one of his own subordinate rulers, Bessus of Bactria. In his Persian campaigns Alexander was greatly helped by his general Parmenion (c. 400 — 330 BC) who had loyally served his father also. Alexander repaid hiDarius IIIs loyalty by having the seventy year-old general executed on false charges of disloyalty. (This shows that Alexander was not the kind of man to reward a defeated adversary like Porus.)

By 330 BC, Alexander found himself in Central Asia and Bactria (Afghanistan), trying to consolidate his hold over what were once parts of the Persian Empire. He was now near the border of India. He, like his contemporaries had heard a great deal about the country and its legendary wealth. Whether it was his love of plunder or imperial ambition that attracted him, he descended into the plains of Punjab in the winter of 327 BC.

This shows that Alexander was not the first foreigner to take an interest in India. There were others — traders, mercenary soldiers and adventurers before and after Alexander. Some even set up kingdoms, or tried to until uprooted or assimilated into in the region of the northwest. They are referred to as the Indo-Greeks. They should be seen as part and parcel of long standing encounters between India and the people to the west though most of them were not military in nature. We need to have some idea of this to get a truer picture of Alexander’s campaign and its impact.


“History — a fable agreed upon”

Links between India and the West, including the Mediterranean world of Greece, Ionia, Egypt and Rome is of untold antiquity. It is important to recognize that the ancient Greeks did not see themselves as Europeans, but as one with other people of the Mediterranean region that included Egypt, Babylonia and Persia. To them Europe and its people were barbarian. As previously observed, Alexander and his fellow Macedonians were seen by the Greek elite as barely a step removed from being barbarians.

Other than a few questionable references in the Old Testament, the earliest Western work to mention India appears to be the Histories of Herodotus (c. 484 — 425 BC). His writings indicate that there were others before him who had visited India including possibly Pythagoras (c. 570 — 495 BC). It is not known if Herodotus himself was ever in India. His writings (or those ascribed to him) do not suggest any great familiarity with India of the time. But they do show that India and its people were already familiar to the Greeks centuries before Alexander.

Until the campaigns of Alexander, there was no large scale Greek presence in India though a few Greek colonies did exist in the northwestern regions of the subcontinent. Following his failure to gain a position in India and the defeat of his successor Seleucus Nikator, relationships between the Indians and the Greeks and the Romans later, was mainly through trade and diplomacy. Also the Greeks and other ancient peoples did not see themselves as in any way superior, only different. Herodotus in fact is full of admiration for Egyptians, Persians and the Ethiopians (Africans). The notion of Greeks as superior to Indians and other non-Europeans was a conceit introduced by Europeans of the colonial period.

Alexander & PorusTo preserve this conceit of ‘European’ superiority, colonial officials made the Greeks all but the bringers of knowledge to India — a claim the Greeks themselves never made. As a first step, these ‘scholars’ turned what was Alexander’s disastrous defeat into a victory that somehow resulted in his ‘defeated’ opponent ending up with more territory! Alexander also had to face a mutiny by his supposedly ‘victorious’ army and forced to beat a hasty retreat that resulted in the near destruction of his army and his own premature death. Further, his position became so weak that Alexander dared not return by the northern route by which he had come but took the forbiddingly inhospitable southern desert route where water is very scarce. (This is reflected in the legend of how Alexander on his deathbed gave the last cup of water he was about to drink to a thirsty soldier.)

This historically realistic picture was first brought to light — to Indians at least — by the famous Russian general and military thinker Marshal Georgy Zhukov. In his convocation address delivered at the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, Zhukov stated that Alexander’s conduct in the aftermath of his battle with Porus showed that he had suffered a catastrophic defeat. According to Zhukov, Alexander in his Indian campaign had fared far worse than Napoleon in Russia. A careful examination of Greek and Roman sources like Plutarch reinforces Zhukov’s analysis who was undoubtedly familiar with them. In particular it shows that his supposed victory over Porus was a later fabrication.

Marshal Georgy ZhukovHere is how Plutarch described Alexander’s ‘victory’: “This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians’ courage and stayed their further progress in India…. Alexander not only offered to Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.” So Porus emerged from his war with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. This can only mean that Alexander had to buy peace with Porus to ensure a safe passage for himself and his troops. How this constitutes victory is known only to colonial historians and their gullible Indian followers.

Worse fate awaited Alexander and his army on their way south. As he was trying to withdraw, Alexander nearly lost his life in a battle near Mulasthana (the modern Multan), and managed to escape thanks to the bravery of his friend Peucestas who sacrificed his life to save Alexander. Alexander and what was left of his army beat a hasty retreat towards Babylon through Sind only to be decimated. The ‘world conqueror’ died in Babylon — a shadow of his arrogant self. All this is recorded by Plutarch who goes on to add, “Alexander left deceptive monuments to exaggerate the scale of his successes in India.”

This should give an idea of how seriously Indian history has been distorted to meet the ideological needs of the ruling powers, a situation that continues to the present day. The pattern though is startling: just as the myth of the Aryan invasion was created to make Vedas and Sanskrit foreign imports, the myth of Greek superiority beginning with Alexander’s victory in India was concocted to make Greek learning superior to Indian. It was a claim the Greeks themselves never made. It was not for nothing that Napoleon called history a “fable agreed upon.”

Prithviraj Kapoor (To balance this it should be added that the 1941 movie Sikander with Sohrab Modi as the brave but defeated Porus and Prithviraj Kapoor as the victorious Alexander chivalrously restoring the defeated Porus to his kingdom did as much to seal the myth of Alexander and his nobility as any colonial era history book. It was released at the height of World War II when the nationalist sentiment was running high. It captured the mood of the people.)

In conclusion we may say that while ancient records may not give us a full picture of the Battle of Hydaspes (Jhelum River) between Alexander and Porus, they certainly tell us it was far from being a victory. Of one thing we can be sure: like Napoleon’s march on Moscow, it was the beginning of the end of Alexander’s career as world conqueror. After a disastrous retreat through Sindh and Makran, Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, broken in health and spirit. – Folks Magazine, 2 March 2012

» Dr. Navaratna S. Rajaram is a mathematician and historian who publishes with Voice of India.

See also

The impact of Sanskrit and Vedic tradition on Tamil life – Kausalya Santhanam

Kausalya Santhanam“This book establishes for the first time that Tamil attained classical status by adopting Vedic and Sanskrit traditions, especially with the help of Brahmins in the formative stages. The Tamil script is derived from Brahmi, which was invented by the Brahmins or the Brahmanas when Emperor Asoka wanted to propagate his message through his edicts.” – Kausalya Santhanam

Dr. R. Nagaswamy“At no point was there an isolated development of Tamil culture,” states R. Nagaswamy, former Director of Archaeology, Government of Tamil Nadu. “At no point of time was any part of the world isolated from its neighbourhood. The impact of the North Indian tradition on various spheres in the Tamil region cannot be denied. We are able to trace this tradition up to the Vedas.”

Nagaswamy’s latest book, ‘Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit,’ is an integrated study that shows the impact of Vedic tradition and Sanskrit on Tamil life – its literature, art, music, dance, legal system and social customs. In the book, he gives examples from inscriptions, historical records, Tamil literature, social life, civil administration, the judicial and legal fields.

The book is a chronological evaluation of the progress of Tamil culture. The archaeologist talks to this correspondent on certain aspects of his work. Excerpts:

Sanskrit and Vedic traditions; Brahmi

This book establishes for the first time that Tamil attained classical status by adopting Vedic and Sanskrit traditions, especially with the help of Brahmins in the formative stages. The Tamil script is derived from Brahmi, which was invented by the Brahmins or the Brahmanas when Emperor Asoka wanted to propagate his message through his edicts. The earliest known written records in Tamil are assigned to 2nd century BCE and are in the Brahmi script.

Asoka embraced Buddhism no doubt. But nowhere does he mention that he is spreading Buddha Dharma. His edicts are about how a civilised society should be – he is emphasising righteous conduct. What the emperor says is not new; he is propagating the ancient code of conduct. “I want to enforce what kings have tried to enforce earlier but have failed to do,” says Asoka. All that he propagated was derived from the age-old teachings enshrined in the Upanishads, especially Taittriya Upanishad. Also, Asoka is not anti-Brahminical as is believed by some. Repeatedly he emphasises in his edicts that Brahmins must be accorded respect.

Legal terminology

You find the legal terminology employed in Sanskrit legal texts applied in early Sangam, Pallava, Chola and Pandya times. The terminology found in the Dharma Sastras is employed in all these administrative systems based on the general code of conduct formulated during the Vedic period.


The earliest Tamil grammar available today is Tolkappiyam. By the time of Tolkappiyar and the Sangam poets, Tamil had been so integrated with Prakrit and Sanskrit tradition that it is impossible to isolate it from Sanskrit tradition. Tolkappiyar deals with both Tamil and Sanskrit grammatical structures … he exhibits it in many sutras in his work. The Sastraic tradition is reflected in Agattinai.

Mirror of Tamil and Sanskrit - R. NagaswamyTolkappiyam shows that many of the concepts followed in Tamil Nadu were found in the northern tradition, something that has been denied in the past 50 years.

The Tamil poetics as prescribed in Tolkappiyam was adopted from Sanskrit sources as for example phonetics and alankaras such as Upama.

I’m looking at Tolkappiyam from two angles in the book. The division of the land was into five groups. This is stated by Bharata in his Natya Sastra when he talks of how the images of these various divisions should be created on the stage so that the audience experiences the feeling of being transported there. The people of these five divisions in Tolkappiyam had their own gods and they were all Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna, Siva, Vishnu, Kumara (Muruga)….

I have also dealt with the social aspect. There were the Brahmanas, then the Kshatriyas, the Vanigars, and the Vellalars, the last-named were divided into two groups — all of them were eligible for Moksha which is also mentioned in Sanskrit literature. If you go deeper, the customs such as registration of marriage were also introduced by Brahmins. The whole of Porul Adhikaram of Tolkappiyar is based on Sanskrit literature.


Silappadikaram is only a Nadaga Kavya, not an epic as it is made out to be. It is purely creative poetry for the purpose of dance. “I’m using it to mirror society,” says the author Ilango Adigal. Silappadikaram consists of three cantos. Each end-poem describes what is contained in the canto. And that is based on the particular virutti. This is the Sanskrit influence for it is present in Natya Sastra.

The Vedic mode of worship was followed in the time of Silappadikaram. Natya Sastra was the basis of aesthetics of music, dance and literature. In turn, Tamil Kavyas were translated into Sanskrit — it was a two-way or reciprocal relationship.

Sangam Literature

I have said that these poems are not folk poems but poetically embellished works. They are not narrative poems and they are not history. It is said that the old Sangam poets were relegated to the background. But I have pointed out how century after century, the rulers studied Sangam poets and how Brahmins have not suppressed Tamil. There was no antagonism to Tamil anywhere and both Sanskrit and Tamil have prospered.

There is no iron curtain – Tamil culture is part of the total Indian culture. The whole of India was called “Navalar Theevu,” the Tamil equivalent of Jambudvipa, and it was ruled by different dynasties in different regions. But the outlook of the people was the same and the culture was one.

Response to the book

The book has already generated a positive response from a few scholars abroad. If scholars or others here want to refute anything I have pointed out, they are welcome. But their arguments should be based on facts and evidence and not on emotional response. – The Hindu, 5 July 2012

Social engineering, social reform and protecting the Vedic heritage – Vijaya Rajiva

Icon“The temple priest is expected to be a devout Hindu, with knowledge of scripture and tradition. With a non-Hindu government it is doubtful whether the choice of candidates for the temple priesthood has been conducted rigorously and with transparency.” – Vijaya Rajiva

Kerala Devaswon Board LogoThe recent move of the Congress led government of Kerala to hire 50 trained non-Brahman temple priests has to be viewed with some caution. On the face of it the move can be lauded as social reform. But it can also be part of a social engineering process that aims to attack Hindu religious traditions in toto, moving in planned fashion from one target to the next. The Hindu Samaj must treat each of these moves on a case by case basis. Of the 50 candidates some candidates no doubt will be sincere and in earnest and some will be there for economic reasons (also acceptable since they are valid reasons) and at least a few will be stooges of the government and the Devaswom Board, which is largely staffed by anti-Hindu individuals (often with misleading Hindu names!). In 2007 the Minister for Devaswom affairs was a member of the Communist Party (CPM). These newly hired priests will function under the directions of this self-same government, now a Congress led one, but essentially also anti-Hindu. A principled stand alone taken in favour of non-Brahman priests can be counter productive and the Hindu Samaj should be alert to the politics of social engineering.

Gowri-Parvati-BayiThe Devaswom as a body that managed temple affairs came into existence as early as the 17th century in Kerala. There was a proliferation of them and it was only in the early 19th century under the Maharani Regent Gowri Parvati Bayi (1815-1829) that a royal decree was passed forming a Devaswom Board and most of the temples were brought under its control. This marked a shift from private groupings / families exercising control over the temples to that of state power vested in the royal family.

However, the last ruler His Highness Shri Chitira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma (1931-1949) was concerned that the Dewaswom Board should remain a Hindu organisation that would serve Hindu interests in the matter of temple administration and welfare. Therefore, in 1949 when he signed the instrument of Accession to the Indian Union he signed in a Covenant that would protect the Board from unnecessary interference from both state and central governments in independent India. The Board by this Covenant would remain with 3 members who were clearly Hindu and their term would be for 4 years. This was incorporated into The Travancore Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act of 1950 by which the state government would manage temple affairs via the Devaswom Board. Hence, both by law and convention the Board members would be sworn in as Hindus. Needless to say, the successive governments did not follow this rule except as a formality since Communist members could not actually be Hindus simultaneously given their ideology. And in the case of Congress governments the Hindu names often concealed allegiance to the ‘secularism’ of the Congress party, especially after the rise to power of the Italian Catholic, Sonia Gandhi, at the centre in 1998.

LDF in KeralaIn 2007 emboldened by political events on the national scene, the secular LDF Kerala Government received permission from the Central government to change the composition of the Devaswom Board. The number 3 was changed to 5 incorporating a member from the scheduled caste / scheduled tribe (so-called ) and a woman, ostensibly to promote social reform.

There was a dual purpose here. Under the rubric of social change and in order to secure a vote bank from the non-Brahman groups the Kerala government tried to extend its already existing control over Hindu institutions.This control had previously been given to them by the misguided fathers of the Indian Constitution which was clearly discriminatory towards the Hindus, since the other religious groups (Muslims and Christians) were left untouched. The Kerala government’s policy was to further extend control over the Hindu temples and one of the ploys was to throw the temples open to non-Hindus and later the training of non-Brahmans to become temple priests. In 2007 social groups like the NSS (Nair Service Society, not particularly known for any Hindutva leanings) objected. In regard to the first move it was defeated and in regards to the second move the so-called reform went forward, even though in 2010 the NSS and other organisations (mainly Hindu) objected.

 Chithira Thirunal Balarama VarmaHere again the anti-Hindu government throws as much as it can against the Hindus with the hope that some of it will stick, even if some do not. Throwing open Hindu temples to non-Hindus IS CLEARLY NOT THE SAME as opening the temples to all Hindus. The Temple Entry Proclamation by the Maharajah Chittira Thirunal in 1936 was the right way to go for Hindus. But here the situation is different. Churches and mosques are primarily places for the faithful to congregate and offer prayer, whereas the Hindu temple is where the consecrated deity resides, the consecration accompanied by deep Vedic ritual. It follows that non-Hindus who do not accept this tradition cannot be given free entry to what is considered a hallowed place. Temples are not tourist centres or parks or museums, where the public can roam around for entertainment, they are hallowed grounds. Those who ardently desire to enter can easily return to the Hindu fold by undergoing a shuddhi ceremony. The recent ones conducted by Agniveer are good examples of tasteful, short and meaningful ceremonies. Thereafter the individual accepts the sanctity of the Vedas and the presence of the consecrated deity housed in the temple.

The present writer has raised an alarm in two previous articles and pointed out that the aim of the motley crew of deracinated Hindus, Macaulayites, Congresswallahs and the axis of Communists-Islamists-Churchists has always been to defeat Hinduism by various ploys. [1][2]

Prof. Monier Monier-WilliamsThis has been the ancient dream of the Christian West and is being touted by deracinated Hindus. It is understandable that someone like Arundhati Roy (a Christian) can hide behind the rubric of her questionable Leftism (it is reported that she built a large luxury bungalow on notified tribal land!) to fulminate against the Brahmanic Hindu state. Like Monier Williams the identification of Hinduism with Brahmanism is a non-starter. Nevertheless, the Hindu Samaj should be extremely vigilant. The phrase ‘the mighty fortress of Brahmanism’ was first put forward by Monier Williams (author of the Sanskrit English Dictionary, 1899). His exact quote is:

“When the walls of the mighty fortress of Brahmanism are encircled, undermined and finally stormed by the soldiers of the cross, the victory of Christianity must be signal and complete ” (Modern India and Indians, p. 247).

In his ignorance this colonialist had set up a straw man called Brahmanism. His Macaulayist followers and other elements have followed suit. It is Hinduism with its Vedic heritage that is their real target, the word ‘Brahmanism’ being only a catchy logo. This Vedic heritage is an ongoing project which all members of the Hindu Samaj have upheld, from the aam admi to the acharyas, gurus, temples, mathams, etc. The Vedas set up a dedicated priesthood that would carry out the rituals of prayer and devotion to the terrestrial, atmospheric, and cosmic forces envisaged as Gods and Goddesses. It is the Hindu belief that these powers are present in the land, from north to south and east to west. Temples big, medium and small also housed these powers.

Yagna in progress.The priests were responsible for carrying out the ritual worship of these powers. The Vedic rituals were carried out in the open, under the sky. With the building of temples in the post-Vedic age the temple priests continued the Vedic worship in various parts of the subcontinent, preserving the INTEGRITY of the rituals. Hence, the Kerala temple priests are in this tantric tradition. They are expected to follow certain well laid down rules and procedures for the rituals. They are initiated and trained by an authentic and qualified acharya who has deep knowledge of the scriptures and familiarity with tantric worship which consists both of mantras and mudras.

The Hindu belief is that the deity in the temple (already consecrated by deep ritual) is invoked during the ritual ceremonies.

It follows therefore, that the temple priest is expected to be a devout Hindu, with knowledge of scripture and tradition. With a non-Hindu government it is doubtful whether the choice of candidates for the temple priesthood has been conducted rigorously and with transparency. If not, then the ignoble motive is clearly to make a dent in the hitherto undefeated traditions of Hindu worship. Preserving the Vedic heritage means upholding Hindu polytheism and murti worship, as opposed to the dogmas of the monotheistic faith, with their ONE god and the attendant persecution of non-believers, and their history of violence and conquest.


  1. Prof. Monier Williams and his mighty fortress of Brahmanism – Vijaya Rajiva

  2. Temple priests and preserving the Vedic heritage – Vijaya Rajiva

» The writer is a Political Philosopher who taught at a Canadian university. Her academic training is in Literature, Philosophy, Political Science, Political Economy & History.

The Chidambaram temple and the Podu Dikshitars – T. R. Ramesh

Chidambaran Nataraj Temple

The Koyil

The Lord resides at Chitrambalam
The Lord resides at Chidambaram
The Lord resides at Tiruvambalam
The Lord resides at the Splendorous Podu

Tirumantiram – the Tenth Tirumurai; Song 869 – Saint Tirumoolar, 3rd century CE

Shiva NatarajaFor Tamil Saivites across the world, Chidambaram Sri Sabhanayagar Temple is known as “the Koyil” or “the Temple”. For them, no Siva Temple is or could be more important or sacred than this Temple of Sri Nataraja at Chidambaram where the Lord performs his Cosmic Dance in the Hall of Wisdom.

Indeed it is the belief of Saivites and other Hindus that after the last pooja of the day (Artajama Pooja), the Siva Jyoti present in the Sivalinga of every other Siva temple converge in Nataraja, the presiding deity of this Supreme Siva Temple. The words Chitrambalam, Chidambaram, Tiruvambalam and Podu all denote that this place of worship was only the Dancing Hall of Siva in the beginning.

Origin of Sri Sabhanayagar Temple

“Sri Sabhanayagar Temple or Sri Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram is an ancient temple of great importance to Saivites all over India.” – Statement of Case by Government of Madras in Civil Appeal 39/1953 in the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.

“This Temple is very ancient one and apart from Epical history no historical evidence could be traceable in respect of the details of its founding and age.” – Document no. 30 at page 101 of the Government’s submissions before the Hon’ble Division Bench of the Madras High Court in W.A.181 of 2009.

Admittedly, the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple is one of the most ancient temples in India whose origin is lost in antiquity. Chidambaram temple is a hoary temple that goes back to the period of Sages Patanjali and Vyagrapadha. Sage Vyagrapadha is the father of the great Siva Devotee Upamanyu. Shri Upamanyu is the ‘Deeksha Guru’ of Sri Krishna.

Pagoda of Chelimbaram ca. 1762“The Koyil” rose on an ancient site, some of the inner portions being of the remotest antiquity, was preserved with care by the Podu Dikshitars and enriched by Kings of yore through the efforts of the Podu Dikshitars. The first true building on this worship site would seem to be the sacred central shrine, which is still the heart of the temple. What started as a small Dancing Hall (‘Citrambalam’, meaning ‘small hall’) of Siva later became a huge temple complex. As the Temple grew in size, importance and fame, the town too grew big and became a ‘Taniyur’, an independent self-governing town.

Sacred tank and pagoda at Chillambaran, India ca. 1870Epigraphical and other records show that Chidambaram occupied in former centuries much larger limits than now. A 12th century inscription mentions it as Perrumpatrapuliyur-Taniyur, a large self-governing local unit comprising 23 hamlets with a radius of eight miles. By that time (and now) the Temple Complex comprised an area of almost 40 acres. The Raja Gopuras present now in the temple were built at various periods, spanning many centuries. It is marvellous to note that all four Gopuras are uniform in size, structure and form. All Gopurams are 7-storeyed and 135 feet tall. All have 13 Copper Kalashas on them. They are uniformly 90 feet long and 60 feet wide at the bottom and the entrances are 40 feet high. All Gopurams have beautiful statues depicting various postures of Natya or Dance Karanas. This uniformity has been possible only due to the continuous presence and administration of the Podu Dikshitars from the inception of the temple.

The innermost part of the temple where the Dancing Hall of the Lord is present is a very ancient structure that is very early in tradition. It is a wooden structure in rectangular shape with a thatched roof covered with gold leaves. Such a style is unknown or cannot be seen in other temples in Tamil Nadu. The closest resemblance to this structure is found in a relief panel from Nagarjunakonda, north of Tamil Nadu and dates from about the 3rd century.


The gold-roofed stage or dancing hall is the sanctum sanctorum of the Chidambaram temple and houses the Lord in three forms:

– the ‘form’ or anthropomorphic form of Lord Nataraja, called the Sakala thirumeni

– the ‘semi-form’ or semi-anthropomorphic form as Crystal linga Chandramouleswarar, the Sakala nishkala thirumeni

– the ‘formless’ as the Space in Chidambara Rahasyam, an empty space within the sanctum sanctorum, the Nishkala thirumeni

Shiva NatarajaThe dancing lord

“Every part of the Nataraja image is directly expressive not of any superstition or dogma, but of evident facts. No artist of today however great, could more exactly or more wisely create an image of that energy which science must postulate behind all phenomena. It is poetry; but nevertheless science” – Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

The Chidambaram Temple is unique since the presiding deity worshipped is a metal icon of Lord Nataraja in contrast to statues of deities made of stone found in other temples. But in the same sanctum, the ethereal or Akasa linga is present and is worshipped along with the Nataraja. There is also a Spatika Linga for which the six daily kala poojas are done.

Golden HallThis Sanctum is the Kanakasabha or the Golden Hall where Nataraja, as Kanakasabhapati, Lord of the Golden Hall, performs his Dance of Bliss, the Anandatandava. It is important to note that in this Sanctum there is a screen of golden Bilva leaves which hangs to the right of Nataraja and the screen when moved aside reveals empty space that represents Akasa or Space. The removal of the screen is the removal of ignorance and behind the veil is the real truth – Sat, Chit and Ananda – which is the subtle ethereal form of Nataraja. This is known as the Chidambara Rahasya.

The Dancing Lord Nataraja while dancing enacts the five activities known as Panchakritya – Srishti (creation), Sthiti (preservation, continued maintenance), Samhara (destruction, involution), Tirobhava (veiling, incarnation), and Anugraha (release, salvation).

Main gopuram  of Chidambaram Temple ca. 1828Chidambaram temple is owned by the denomination of Podu Dikshitars

“An interesting feature about Chidambaram Temple is the system of management. It has no landed or other endowments nor any dastik allowance and is the property of a class of Brahmins peculiar to this town…” – Mr. W. Francis, Gazetteer of the South Arcot District (1906)

“The Pagoda is the property of a class of Brahmins known as Dikshadars” – Manual of South Arcot District by J H Garstin M.C.S., Collector of South Arcot District (1878)

“The pagoda is the property of the class of Deecshita Brahmins” – Glossary of the Madras Presidency by C.D. Maclean (1893)

“The formal Committee of Dikshitars is called “Podu Dikshitars”. This Committee meets at the “Perambalam” hall of the temple. This Committee is the traditional administrator and protector of this temple. Only Dikshitars have the right to perform worship in this great temple of Chidambaram. Since this temple belongs to them as their personal temple Dikshitars do not take any other avocations – Vaazviyar Kalanjiyam – an encyclopedic work by Tamil University

There are many religious and historical records to show that the temple belonged to the Community of Podu Dikshitars, besides two judgments of the Hon’ble Division Bench of the Madras High Court.

– The Tamil Canonical works known as Tirumurais clearly record that the Chidambaram temple is the temple of the Podu Dikshitars and all rights of services within the temple complex is entirely theirs. This has been most clearly recorded by the Tirumurais and by the chief minister of the Chola Kingdom, St. Sekkizhar who authored the Periya Puranam, a hagiology of Saiva Saints in the year 1140 C.E.

– It is also amply clear that the Sabhanayagar temple at Chidambaram is owned by the denomination of Podu Dikshitars from the following two judgments of the Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras: [1] Marimuthu Dikshitar vs. State of Madras (1952 (1) MLJ 557); [2] Devaraja Shenoy vs. State of Madras (1952 (1) MLJ 481)

West gopuram of the Nataraja Temple.Temple administration

The Podu Dikshitars of the Chidambaram temple are both Archakas and Trustees of the temple from time immemorial. The Chidambaram temple is ably administered by the Body of Podu Dikshitars as per their temple constitution written centuries ago and printed for the first time in 1849. Any Dikshitar gets his right to do sacramental service to Lord Nataraja and participation in Temple Administration only after his marriage. The Dikshitar who thus takes participation would not be discriminated by age, education, capability or wealth. The Dikshitars would be on duty at the temple 20 at a time and each batch of 20 stays for 20 days till each has in his turn performed the complete tour of puja at the different shrines of the temple where the daily pujas are held.

The 9 Management Committee members of Podu Dikshitars are elected by lots on 31st March of each year. This Committee looks after the daily administration of the temple but the major decisions are taken only by the general assembly of Podu Dikshitars in a democratic way. Though Dikshitars live in poverty, they never faulted in their rectitude. The temple possesses invaluable offerings of jewellery made by opulent people and Kings of Tamil Nadu. There are prescribed regulations for physical verification of these (jewellery) once in 4 days, 20 days and six months. These accounts remain perfect and are free from embezzlement till date.

Young Dikshitar at the Chidambaram Temple.Who are the Podu Dikshitars?

If one were to search the Globe for a community or sect or clan that for more than 20 centuries has done the same religious, social and cultural activities and is domiciled in the same place throughout the 2000 years, one would not find such a community until one zeros in on the geographic coordinates 1.399686°N, 79.693622°E, the exact location of the ancient temple town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, in South India.

Chidambaram town was known as Tillai till recent times, Chidambaram being the name of the Temple. The Podu Dikshitars are also known as Tillai Vaazh Antanar or ‘the Brahmins of Tillai’ were associated with the temple from its inception. This unique clan was originally three thousand in number and hence they were also known as Tillai Moovayiravar or “The Three Thousand Brahmins of Tillai”. As per Sthala Puranas, traditions and Saivite belief, the presiding deity of Chidambaram Temple, Lord Nataraja, is one among the Tillai Brahmins. Lord Nataraja is their God of worship and Leader of their clan.

Podu Dikshitar BrahminUniqueness of Chidambaram Podu Dikshitars

Chidambaram Dikshitars differ from other Brahmins in many respects. They are found only in Chidambaram town and form an endogamous clan. They do not have marriage alliances with any other Brahmin sects, marry only from their own community, and are thus a closed community. Their life, religion, education, training, culture and vocation revolve around the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple. From the time of birth, they are dedicated to the services of Nataraja and His Chidambaram Temple.

Podu Dikshitars are staunch Saivites, among the foremost of Saivites. Servitorship is an important aspect of Tamil Saivism. It is the belief of Saivites that Saint Sundaramurti was ordained by Lord Siva to sing in praise of the great Saiva Devotees. Saint Sundaramurti sang a hagiology of Saiva Devotees in eleven Tamil verses naming 63 individual devotees and the nine general classes of devotees. These devotees are worshipped in all major Siva temples in Tamil Nadu. The pride of place among all these Saivite devotees is accorded to the Podu Dikshitars of Tillai. It is also a fundamental religious belief of Tamil Saivites that this predominant position was accorded to this community of devotees by Lord Siva Himself.

Nataraja car festival at ChidambaramPooja rituals

The Pooja rituals and tenets found in the Chidambaram Temple are very special and are found nowhere else in the Hindu world. Chidambaram temple poojas are based on Vedic rituals in contrast to agamic rituals found in most other temples. Further, the Podu Dikshitars follow a unique set of tenets for their poojas and festivals. This is the only temple where Vedic traditions as expounded by the Sage Patanjali are the tenets of the Podu Dikshitars, and only these are used in worship and rituals in the Chidambaram temple. The Podu Dikshitars’ ritual and pooja traditions have not changed for over two millennia. It is among the very few temples where one can witness Vedic traditions followed by sages and rishis of ancient days.

The Podu Dikshitars take turns to be the Chief priest of the day. This turn may come to them once in about 300 days. Only married male members above 25 years of age, who have gone through an initiation called “Diksha” and whose wives are alive are eligible to be the Chief Priest of the day. Before performing the kala poojas and poojas to Lord Nataraja performing the “Dance of Bliss” in the Sanctum Santorum, the designated ‘Chief Priest of the Day’ takes a bath in the holy temple tank called Sivaganga. After bath he performs the fire ritual before starting the kala poojas. The Vedic modes of rituals with chanting of Vedic mantras are integral parts of these pooja rituals.

The “Rahasya Pooja” done in the evening is not open for public darshan as are the other poojas. Only the Chief Priest of the Day and his assistant who is also a Dikshitar would be present to conduct and witness that pooja. The public and other Dikshitars are excluded from this every day.

Four Dikshitars at the Chidambaram TempleDikshitars and Tamil

Tamil is the mother tongue of Podu Dikshitars. It is the language spoken in their homes and used by them in their administrative records in the temple and in their communications. There have always been Tamil scholars in every generation of Dikshitars. Saint Umapati Sivam, a Tillai Vaazh Antanar of extraordinary merit has authored many Saiva Sastra works in Tamil and has sung the History of Chidambaram (Temple) in Sanskrit as original and has rendered it in Tamil, naming the Tamil work “Kovil Puranam”.

Many Dikshitars have erudition in the Tamil Canonical works known as Tirumurai. Many publications and research works have been authored by Podu Dikshitars on Tamil Tirumurais. Besides Vedas, Tamil Tirumurai are accorded great importance by Dikshitars at the Chidambaram Temple. Recitation of “Pancha Puranas” or five songs from the 12 Tirumurais in a prescribed manner during the allotted puja times is unique to Chidambaram.

Similarly, honouring the Tamil Saint Manikkavasagar during the Arudhra festival days by reciting 20 of his hymns and performing special aradhanas after reciting each hymn is unique and special to Chidambaram Temple.

In Chidambaram, the collection of the first Seven Tirumurais were found and preserved. In Chidambaram the eighth Tirumurai – Tiruvachakam and Tiru Kovaiyar were written. The ninth Tirumurai consists of songs which are mostly in praise of Chidambaram Temple, Nataraja and Podu Dikshitars. The tenth Tirumurai is the earliest Tamil work which mentions Chidambaram, the Dancing Hall and Nataraja. The eleventh Tirumurai too has many songs on Chidambaram temple, Nataraja and Podu Dikshitars. The Eleventh Tirumurai clearly records that Chidambaram Temple is the temple of the Podu Dikshitars. It clearly states that Nataraja came to Chidambaram with the Podu Dikshitars and took the Dancing Hall as His dwelling place.

The twelfth and final Tirumurai – Periya Puranam – was written by the chief minister of the Chola Kingdom, St. Sekkizhar at Chidambaram. In this hagiology St. Sekkizhar has recorded the greatness of the Podu Dikshitars and how devoted are they to the temple and to the Lord. St. Sekkizhar also records that all services to the Lord and the temple belong rightfully to Podu Dikshitars.

Justice T. Muthuswamy IyerTemple administration and the denomination of Podu Dikshitars

As early as 1890, a Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras consisting of the first native High Court Judge of India, Justice Muthuswamy Aiyer and Justice Sheppard, clearly recorded that the Podu Dikshitars of Chidambaram have held both the offices of Trustee and Archaka in the temple from time immemorial. The Division Bench also clearly recorded that the net income of the temple is their recognized means of livelihood.

– “About 250 families of Dikshadars reside at Chitambaram, and the nett income of the temple, which is derived from general offerings, is their recognized means of livelihood. According to their usage every Dikshadar becomes entitled, on marriage, to take part in the management, to do puja or perform service in the minor shrines, and to share in the emoluments of the institution. He is, however, considered not qualified for performing service in the principal shrines, until he is twenty-five years old and initiated in a ceremony called Diksha.”

– “It is not denied that the institution has been used as a place of public worship from time immemorial but it is said that the public worship in it by permission of the dikshadars.” – Justices Muthuswamy Aiyer and Sheppard of the Hon’ble Madras High Court – ILR 14 MAD 103 (17/03/1890).

Dikshitar at pujaBoth religious and administrative duties and rights of the Podu Dikshitars are inseparably intertwined. The Division Bench upheld this inseparable nature of both the offices in ILR 14 MAD 103. Their Lordships held the pooja rights were, according to the usage of the institution, appurtenant to their status as dharmakartas and the interests of the temple would be but inadequately protected if the two rights were severed…

Again in CRP.121/189, Justice Muthuswamy Aiyer reinforced the above decision by stating, “ The right to perform Pooja being appurtenant to plaintiff’s status as Dikshidar and trustee and the two rights being inseparable, he cannot divest himself of the character of the trustee and at the same time insist on his right to perform Pooja.”

Shiva NatarajaThis inseparable nature of trusteeship and archaka was further confirmed when the Hon’ble Division Bench of the Madras High Court, in 1952 I MLJ 557 equated them with Matathipathis since there can be no demarcation of religious and administrative duties of the Podu Dikshitars.

The nomenclature “Podu Dikshitar” refers to individual Dikshitars of Chidambaram when they indulge in mundane or pooja activities. It refers to the body of Podu Dikshitars when they attend to the administrative duties of the temple. The administration of the Chidambaram Temple is carried according to the constitution of the temple framed by Dikshitars centuries ago and printed for the first time in 1849. This temple law is known as “Shri Sabhanayagar Koil Sattam”. The Hon’ble Division Bench of the Madras High Court was awe-struck at the elaborate rules and the thoughtfulness and planning that had gone into framing them.

Podu Dikshitars strictly follow the temple traditions and ensure that the temple rituals and practices are conducted without any deviation from the traditions. Poojas and rituals are conducted on time every day. Administrative meetings are held once in twenty days and a lamp is brought from the sanctum of Nataraja to denote the presence of the Lord who is the leader of the Podu Dikshitars. The administrative decisions are taken in the presence of the lamp in a democratic manner and all Dikshitars have equal rights in the administration.

The unflinching loyalty of the Podu Dikshitars to Nataraja and to their temple, their strict adherence to rituals and their excellent administration have been recorded by scholars, institutions, Central and State Ministers, Hon’ble Judges of the High Courts and the Supreme Court, Government officials and Devotees.

Govindaraja SwamyProtectors of the Chidambaram temple

The Podu Dikshitars have gone through many ordeals and tribulations in protecting the essential properties of the temple and the deities at various times. After the decline of the Chola Empire, Chidambaram town and the temple suffered many invasions and occupations at various times. The Podu Dikshitars were the body of persons who safely hid the murtis of the main deities and safeguarded the valuables and jewels, even at the cost of their lives. In 1597 CE, when a Vaishnava fanatic of the Vijayanagara Empire proceeded to expand the Vishnu temple at the cost of the Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram, more than twenty Dikshitars including women gave up their lives protesting this transgression.

During the Anglo-French and other wars, Podu Dikshitars took the Nataraja and other murtis away for safekeeping in various places and reestablished Nataraja worship at Chidambaram after nearly 37 years.

The Podu Dikshitars protect the temple jewels with a very elaborate and safe twenty-one custodian system. The Hon’ble High Court of Madras and other institutions of merit like the Tamil University have praised this system of protection. Even to this day, a team of Podu Dikshitars regularly takes up watch and patrol duty at the temple every night.

Shiva dancing.Religious denomination of Podu Dikshitars

Article 26 of the Indian Constitutions protects the religious and administrative rights of religious denominations or sections thereof.

In 1951, when the HR & CE Department and Government tried to takeover the Chidambaram temple from the Podu Dikshitars, the latter opposed the move on both merits and constitutional grounds. The Government opposed the Dikshitars’ claim of protection under Article 26.

The Division Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras held that it could be asserted that the Podu Dikshitars of Chidambaram form and constitute a religious denomination. It also held that the Podu Dikshitars in whom the management of the temple is vested are both the Managers and the Archakas and they have a substantial beneficial interest in the income of the temple, and the procedure to notify this temple encroached upon the rights of the Dikshitars to manage the property belonging to the denomination. The Government appealed to the Supreme Court challenging these and other findings, but a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal.

Thus the denominational nature of the Podu Dikshitars and the Chidambaram temple were decided in favour of the Podu Dikshitars and the matter attained finality.

Though the matter attained finality, we could still apply the three conditions to form a religious denomination enumerated by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in subsequent judgments, including the Shirur Mutt Case, on the Podu Dikshitars. These are:

– It is a collection of individuals who have a system of beliefs which they regard as conducive to their spiritual well-being; the Chidambaram Dikshitars are Vedic Brahmins who have a common religious belief i.e. believe and worship Lord Nataraja as per the principles of “Dhakaropasana” as expounded by the Upanishads.

– They have a common organisation and the collective body of Podu Dikshitars is the common organisation of this denomination.

– The collection of these individuals has a distinctive name; this collective body has a common name, “Podu Dikshitars”.

Indeed, the Chidambaram Podu Dikshitars are the benchmark of religious denominations. They are even a closed body with distinctive religious and cultural features.

Flag of IndiaConclusion

It is to protect such unique micro communities and minor denominations from the onslaught of the mighty and those in power that the framers of the Indian Constitution mooted special rights and protection under Article 26.

Due to various invasions and autocratic actions of kings and rulers at various periods and due to poverty, the 3000 Chidambaram Brahmins have today dwindled to 360! But as a community and as a religious and cultural identity they have so far survived.

Podu Dikshitars are great patriots. They invested, from the temple’s gold reserve, the highest value ever invested in Tamil Nadu, in the Government’s Gold Defense Bonds when India faced war with China. The Chidambaram Temple is the first among temples which hoists the National flag atop the main Eastern Gopura every Independence Day and Republic Day.

Podu Dikshitars were also among the first to open the temple to all castes of Hindus. This is probably the only ancient temple in Tamil Nadu which permits non-Hindu devotees to have darshan of the deities including the presiding deity Nataraja. In the two main festivals celebrated every year, devotees of all communities are permitted to participate with equal respect and prominence.

It is ironical that the Podu Dikshitars who survived tremendous tribulations and ordeals under tyrannical and totalitarian kings and regimes now face the threat of annihilation from the mala fide actions of a democratically elected and ostensibly secular government. – Vijayvaani, New Delhi, July 31, 2011  

» R. K. Ramesh is a banking professional and research scholar on Hindu religion.