Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Parashuraam - A metaphor bridging Caste System and Varna System

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In continuation with thoughts from this article

The story of Parashurama has many serious repercussions because to understand Parshurama, one has to understand caste system, varna system and their interrelation. 

India has been and will remain the land which is occupied by various "Jaatis" which share this land and are linked by a common thread of "Sanskriti". Here I present another view of looking towards India from socio-political PoV. 

1. Jaati or Castes are those networks of family which lived nearby and were indulging in "roti-Beti vyavaahaara" with each other. Roti-Beti means social security and marital relations to propagate and strengthen the network and its stake in geography or "Desha" of India. Each "Jaati" has their own customs traditions arising out of and modified according to demands and constraints of space and time. 

As described elaborately on this blog on countless occasions, Dharma is set of rules which accommodates the drives of each of the components of ecology to evolve and excel. In sociological context, it is set of rules to accommodate needs and aspirations of all the networks/clans/Jaati/castes (all are interchangeable) in desha of India. This dynamic equilibrium of jaati based networks rooted in land of India and connected to each other by thread of dharma is known as "Raashtra". 

2. Combinations of such Jaatis living together formed village and so on and so forth. Until the level of village, there is no need of linking these Jaatis together because everyone knowns everyone else.

3. As political, sociological, economic and sanskritik consolidation started, there became necessary to have certain groups which could look at the bigger picture. One of the main pre-requisite of such group is that this group itself should be root-less and possession less. Because since India is very rich geography, it needs to be protected over period of time from newer tribes coming from outside India to settle here. For defending the territory, military consolidation is essential and for that to happen, weaving all the indigenous "Jaatis" in one thread of "sanskriti" is essential since it is real pain in arse to control a huge and diverse geography, that is India without participation of most of Jaatis. This participation comes by giving them stake in "common neighborhood watch". 

4. This is where the need to have a Brahmana and Kshatriya arose. Brahmin varna was supposed to draw its cadre from all "Jaatis". Some members of "Jaati" should give up their possessions and become "Jaati-less" and start interacting with similar other "Jaati-less" individuals from other regions, Jaatis. Slowly, there arose necessity to have a link language and an artificial language of "Sanskrit" was designed

5. The "Kshatriya" too has to be "Jaati-less". A raaja although the "owner" of "rajya", was not supposed to have any property of his own. Raja was head of state and state owned the land and Raja owned the land by the virtue of being head of state. A Kshatriya cadre, just like brahmin cadre, was drawn from all Jaatis. Simply because every Jaati wants to have a "stake" in this order so that they are represented and their issues are addressed.

6. This is difference between Varna and Jaati. Varna is selected cadre drawn for purpose of administration, linkage and sanskritik conversation across the "desha" of India so that India remains not only a "desha (geography)" but also a "Rashtra (nation)" with common civilizational heritage. 

7. With time, these Varnas became new "Jaatis" since they started owning property and possessions individually. This owning of property suddenly converts one's vision from civilizational to parochial.

8. There is a reason why it happened so.. Purushaartha system asks every individual to pursue artha and kaama (wealth, power, desire) using just (dharmik) means. Whereas, the Varna specifically asks a person to give up pursuit of individual OR parochial artha and kaama for national or civilizational artha and kaama. 

9. This is the reason why in one of my previous posts, I said that Indic dharma requires a certain level of prosperity for functioning. In less prosperous geography and climate, the tree of dharma cannot take root. anyways..

10. While it is known that the members of Brahmin and Kshatriya "Varna" become property-possessing "Jaatis" over the period of time, there was a system which was churning out new individuals to form new line, to replace the "fallen" varnas and take their place and continue the "tantra" (system). During Abrahmic invasions, and more so during British invasions, this system where property-less networks were suddenly churned up to make national level decisions was  damaged. The last example which see is house of Peshwa. Of course there are many such examples, Peshwa is just one of them for demonstrating the point. 

Example - The caste of Peshwa was "Chitpavan brahmin community". It is interesting to know that this Jaati did not exist before 1720. It was during Marathi translation of Skanda Purana funded by Balaji Vishwanath (father of Bajirao-1) put in the story of 14 dead bodies resurrected by Parashurama and hence origins of Chita(Pyre) Paavan (purified/resurrected) brahmin class. In all previous literature, there is no special word for brahmins from Konkan. They are simply referred to as brahmins. Furthermore, there are many "theories" on origins of this caste (including Jewish, persian, greek, afghan, Berber origin and what not). But this is not the point. The point is, when this community suddenly rose to prominence, they catapulted the expansion of Indic dharma (Bajirao-1, Nanasaheb, Madhavrao-1). They churned the society of India and along with them rose many other lower castes (Shindes and Holkars which were from shepherds and agricultural labour caste) to "Varna" of "Kshatriya" bypassing the traditional 96-clan Maratha kshatriya class of Deccan.

After 3 generations, this community too let go all the steam and Post Madhavrao-1 (post 1772), the maratha movement simply kept existing due to initial momentum generated by these three kings. The reason of their fall (which started from Nanasaheb himself) is their sense of "property" and their attachment to it. Bajirao-1 had nothing to lose as he owned nothing worthwhile. The seats of Baroda, Kolhapur, Nagpur were from elite property owning class and were not much instrumental. Seats of Pune, Indore, Dhar and Gwalior became like Kolhapur,Baroda, Nagpur seats after 1790s. And all this when the Varna-system was totally collapsed in India for 600 years. Whatever manifested in form of this social engineering of India in 1600s and 1700s, was not ideal, yet had its roots in a faint memory of an "utopian Raam Rajya". 

11. Everyone gets attached to one's achievements. Once attachments arises, vision narrows and priorities change from expansion to preservation. While both qualities and visions are essential. Dharma withstood the onslaught of 1000 years due to the firmly rooted property owning class which sustained the possibility of dharmik ressurection in India by preserving the bond of Sanskriti. Dharma expanded when the property-less class was propped up to overcome the inertia of rooted class.

12. This is the dynamic of dharma. When "Brahmin" becomes a "Jaati", it loses all its potency. Same is with "Kshatriya". 

13. This is where the Parashurama comes in. Parashurama not only shows the struggle to achieve equilibrium sharing of responsibilities, duties and hence power associated with it between the "Brahmin" cadre and "Kshatriya" cadre which is drawn from "all jaatis" in geography of India. It also shows the tendency of inertia and ruthless preservative instinct of those networks which have found roots in property (represented by kaartavirya arjuna) and who go to any extent to preserve their power and keep "things going". 

14. The power of Parashurama is in his ability to rebuild a "brahmin" cadre by drawing individuals from "all Jaatis". To be precise, all those Jaatis who in given space and time are dharmik but are not owing much of property, and with bleak prospects. By rebuilding Brahmin cadre, I mean by convincing the property-less "Jaatis" to give up some of their members. And by convincing those members to give up the Jaati-based identity and priorities, give up their personal aarthik and Kaamik aspirations and channelize them towards civilizational and national arthik aspirations. This convincing is tough job. 

15. If point 14 is not taken into consideration, within no time, Parashurama becomes Hitler. 

Jaati-system (castes) is mainstay of India, while various Jaatis in India (networks/clans/castes/Lobbies) come and go, move up and down. Varna and Ashrama system along with Purushartha system links these Jaatis towards a common goal - that is establishment, preservation and protection of Dharma in prosperous geography of India. If the fail-safe measures to ensure the cleanliness of four-fold systems of Varna-Ashrama-Purushartha are not kept optimally operational with rigorous self-check at regular intervals, the new lines to replace the "fallen" members of Varna won't come up and system will start collapsing. As it did in past 1000 years. 

This is one of the main aspect of our "Dharmaarthik" deracination.

If you like this line of thoughts, please continue reading this article.


Naras said...

Fascinating and enlightening. I liked the subtle distinctions between varna and jaati.

I had this feeling that the downfall of the varna system started when it became a biological inheritance - a brahmin's son being a brahmin and a shudra's son being a shudra. Since varna is a matter of quality (guNa/karMa vibhaagashaha) and not vamSha, this introduced a fatal flaw into the system.

Due to the sad history of this system, and the continuous ideological attacks on it for the last 300 years etc, deracination has made the understanding of it difficult. These terms are now so loaded with negative connotations, that the terminology used has to change. Otherwise the general public will misunderstand things again, and the ideological attacks will continue.

Kal_Chiron said...

Naras ji,

Thank you for the comment.. :-)

I agree with the changed contexts in modern period. We cannot use the same terminology.. Nor we can use the same "model" as it is again.. The model to be "installed" in current space-time needs to be contemporary.

However, The previous version of this system provides a good platform. We have to study it and understand it in order to update it to make a relevant and contemporary model based on modern needs. Terminology is one aspect of this "update".

Every system has an expiry date. So did the previous system and so will the new system which will take its place. But that does not stop Dharma from propagating. That should not.

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Chinmay 'भारद्वाज' said...


I just attended Dr. Subramaniyam Swami's lecture on corruption yesterday and in the context of his talk he mentioned a fascinating story of how varna-vyavastha came into being.

Maharshi Bhrugu and Maharshi Bharadwaj were discussing tenets of establishing a stable and peaceful society. Maharshi Bharadwaj asked Maharashi Bhrugu if it is even possible. To that Maharshi Bhrugu replied as long four centers of powers are decentralized it is possible. Namely knowledge, weapons, wealth and land. Thus you see four varna hold each of this power and need other powers to be successful in a society.

d2thdr said...

Based on this essay, I wonder if the following assertion is true -

The central government hates politicians from Maharashtra due to the Marathi speaking politicos still hold a deep respect for the concept of Hindawi swaraj which is at odds with the central government.