by Tapas Piplai
Frontier | Vol. 49, No.13-16, Oct 2 – 29, 2016
The recent move to unify India in terms of so-called Hindutva tradition is not only a distortion of historical facts but also a silent move to take control over people’s diversified cultural, religious and food habits.
As per history, India from prehistory period was never having such unification codes in terms of Food, Language, Religion and Social practices. It had always been the unity in diversity. The tolerance was the mainstay of societal progress.
Objectively the settlements of population were geographically distant and mutually far off in the country coupled with poor connectivity and communication system. These gave rise to the exclusive growth of different languages, habits, cultures, lifestyles etc. The diversity was further accentuated with continuous invasion by foreign powers and their settlement in this land thereafter through marriages. There was always a cultural and social fusion.
This was prevalent during the period of so-called pre-Vedic and Suras (mahisasura, narakasura, Ravanas, Bakasura etc.) time and even in post-vedic period too.
Aryans came to India around 1700 to 1500 BC. They brought with them from Mesopotamia—horse for speed, pastoral life in place of semi urban life, religious Gods like Indra, Agni, Soma, philosophical discourse, new Indo Aryan language and Shruti literature etc. Gradually the Indo-Aryan language got evolved into Sanskrit & Prakrit.
But with the society being transformed from primitive pastoral to initial agricultural society and thereafter to matured agricultural and feudal society there had been a paradigm shift in social layers of polity and their habits.
As per Rg Veda, created by the Aryans,one finds plenty of references where Oxen and Cows were sacrificed and meats were offered to these Gods as sumptuous food. It could be evidenced in several Vedic or post Vedic literature. One finds sample proofs of Beef eating inUpanishads too and even by Brahmins in four Varnasystem.
But with the progression towards agricultural society the need was felt to protect Cows / Bulls / Oxens as they were the main instruments for augmenting the agricultural productions and thereby its tributes to amass wealth.
Post 500 BCE during the emergence of Religion and Maurian period the society witnessed a sea change.
Mayurian period is one of the landmark periods in the developmental history of India.
After the Nanda dynasty, the evolution process started in the country on the concept of pan-Bharat or bigger empire. It was earlier a clan driven society with various identities.
This period is preceded by the settlement of Aryans in India from 1500 BCE, clashes between the ruling and aspiring clans, usage of Iron from 1000 BCE, rise of commercial & merchandise activities, growth of towns etc.
Concurrent activities in the society are the invasion of Greeks & thereafter weakening of their erstwhile mighty presence from 200 BCE, importing the customs of Grecko Romanian society, usage of writing language, grammar, rock edicts for proper spread of royal communications from 300 BCE. natural process of transformation of society from earlier pastoral type to agricultural society, land gift to Brahmins or court persons to facilitate the growth of feudal society for the future.
This is the period when the mercantile activity also stepped up significantly through river or sea trade. The conquest, border protection, centralised bureaucracy, control over minerals and collection of tributes, coin circulation etc germinated the process of bigger empire formation on a solid foundation. Even a lot of influence on language calendar can be evidenced with the synthesis of diversified cultures between Greek, Macedonian & local people. Historians say that the human face of Gods in Hindu deities were also the direct influence of Greek practices. Before their entry to India people did not find any human faced Gods.
The circulation of coins made the exchange value of commodities standardised and created the base for improved commodity exchange economy. Similarly in the areas of technology, a lot of tools such as tongs, pliers, scissors, semi-rotary pumps were seen to be used as a prelude to formation of future mercantile economy.
In short one sees enormous contribution to the society by these so termed conquerors like Greeks, Macedonians etc from central Asia. It was basically an exchange of cultures and social practices. By their outside connection with Rome, Babylon and Syria, a lot of influences and good practices were imparted in the country as well. All these resulted a bigger India concept with the standardised social practices and justice system.
After 500 BC, with the onset of Brahminical and Shramonic (Buddhist and Jain) religions the concept of Ahimsa dawned upon the society, mainly to differentiate the upper classes and cultivators. It was tightened more during next 500 years to further differentiate the manual / menial work from cerebral work.
It got established through religious sermons with the introduction of Manusanhita, Puranas and Epics. In conjunction with above the Religion came into the society from Shramonic (Buddhist & Jain) movement and transformation of earlier Vedic discourse to Brahminical Religion. Also initiated during this time the Sruti culture of Manu, Yagnavalka, Vyas—on the social laws along with the support fromPuranas and Epics by bards. It is the period when earlier Sruti (Vedic philosophical quests) transformed into smriti (societal laws) by Manu, Vyas, Yagnavalkya etc.
The religious ban on cow meat and making cow as Gomata along with the concept of vegetarianism were adopted by the Brahminical society during this period. This was adopted in order to augment agricultural tributes. Religious dictums followed thereafter. There was no evidence of such ban during Vedic period or immediately thereafter in the society till agriculture production process started to generate surplus.
Even during the Ashoka’s period (around 350 BC) there is no such proof on cow meat ban in any administrative texts or rock edicts. It was during Post Mauriyan period eating cow meat was made associated only to Shudras or untouchables in conjunction with the religious concept of rebirth and transmigration of soul. It was just an attempt to establish caste-class differentiation in the society. Same was the attempt made in language to differentiate between Sanskrit and Prakrit. The former was made for upper classes and priests and the latter was for common or oppressed people.
The concept of transmigration of soul and its alleged bad consequence during next rebirth along with Conquest theory formed the core foundation of caste-class society. It was a paradigm shift from earlier Chaturvarna system. By and large it was the same period when dietary restrictions amongst the castes also emerged.
All these characteristics marked the beginning of a centralized empire from the earlier Ganashanghas and clan leader driven society. The Magadha empire reached its peak during Ashoka’s time and was found to be more centralized empire compared to other powers like Gandhara, Saurashtra, Kanauj and Karnataka. The emperor became the ultimate owner of land and minerals. The revenue generation helped the empire to set in the process for overall social and infrastructure development in the society.
This was the time when through Mauriyan rock edicts depicting the social values, tolerance and respect came into existence. It was used to convey to the common people, the royal message towards building a welfare and ethical society. These edicts were engraved mainly in local Prakrit language for easy understanding of the masses.
The focal point of social growth underwent a transformation with the generation of surplus revenue and agricultural tributes. Consequently based on such surplus, the administration, judiciary, road development, technology and research / development grew in the society.
It was proved from various archaeological proofs that most of these activities were initiated by Ashoka. He also was credited as the first person who started building the concept of centralized Bharat as a country based on love, tolerance, religious harmony. He also improvised communication and transport system in the society.
It was during this period, Buddha, emerged as a public intellectual, protested against various social laws. As per Prof Romila Thapar, he was the first public intellectual, like Socrates in Greece, Galileo in Italy, questioned the religious hypothesis on society or natural laws based on reason. After his death he was buried into a Godly status by the subsequent Brahminical pressure. And his rebel social character was changed into a religious leader.
The invasion of Greco Romanian force made a bigger empire with their improved social system of usage of Coin, technology, trading etc.
This era thus was a prelude to formation of future Bharat. Yet it was confined within the urban & elitist classes. There was no trace of so called Hinduta during this period.
The so-called Hindu name for religion was actually articulated and popularized by historian Stuart Mill during colonial period by dividing societal development phases into some imaginary Hindu, Muslim and Modern periods. To win the support of large population, the so-called Hindu period was termed as Golden period, Muslim period as dark period and British period as the modern period!
The ‘Hindu culture’, ‘Hindu religion’ etc. were born at that time with the ‘blessings’ of colonial rulers to camouflage the past progressive forces of the country and to reinforce the colonial rulers’ claim of staying and ruling India under Modern Age concept. It was articulated actually from their own imperialist convenience.
As per history the word Hindu had been derived from Sindhu (river). As the Indo-Aryans (Aryans) could not pronounce the letter S properly they pronounced it as H. Thereafter the usage of Hindu was first used by Vijayanagaram kings in 13th century text. During first millennium BC one finds the mention of Maha Sholo Janapod and Aryavarta to define this country. But these can at best be treated as an approach to define a bigger geographical area. Yet it is NOT any centralized India by definition as people perceive today. It took some shape indeed during Maghada time. There is also no Hinduism concept either, as one understands today.
Muslim religion has come to India much later, around 700 AD.
Similarly in food habit, the cow meat eating was prevalent in India much before Muslim arrival. Somehow to foment the religious polarization the beef eating was made associated with Muslims with no logic.
India never had any monolithic Hinduism or monolithic Islam concept. Even within Islam or Hindu religion the contradictions and sects were many. There were believers and non believers of God too. It is only during colonial period the terminologies were coined with an ulterior motive to divide the country into two religions.
As per Prof Romila Thapar the three Ms (Mill, Macaulay & Max Muller) created this colonial construction of history. James Mill laid the foundation of two nation theory by rhetorically highlighting the hostility between Hindu & Muslim. Macaulay infiltrated the education system by propagating the colonial interest and sharpened the religious acrimony instead of making a common education code based on scientific reasoning. Finally Max Muller installed the claim of superiority of Aryan culture and Hindu Aryan foundation in India. Surprisingly another Theosophist leader Colonel Olocott first circulated the origin of Aryan as Indians in late nineteenth century without any historical or archeological reasoning. He also propagated his own theory that Aryans were grown in India! The term Hindutva was later invented (!) by Veer Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha president in 1923 and demanded that India should be governed in Hindu way, after signing the clemency bond with British administration against his jail terms.
The word (the prefix of the word) Hindu actually is of Persian in origin, Hindustan is a Persian word, pan Hindustan / Bharat concept has been popularised by Delhi Sultanate and Mughals from 1000 AD.
Even the first patriotic song talking about Bharat or Hindustan was composed by Amir Khusru with NO communal differentiation. Even one Mughal king once said that when God showered rain and light, were it not for both Hindu and Musalman? Therefore, if God did not make any discrimination, why would there be communal differentiation? Indeed an excellent statement which can be uttered even today for communal harmony.
On a much later date, the actual creation of Bharat as a country can possibly be attributed to Gandhiji for his call for a national movement involving the whole of India and involving the common people irrespective of their religious or racial origin.. This created a sense of belongingness amongst the masses and the idea of citizenship. It really helped the process of homogenization of the sentiments of pan India as a country with diversified culture, religion etc.. Similarly culturally the concept of diversified culture intertwined in one nation was championed by Tagore in all his writings with no Hindu bias.
At the same time one cannot really deny the fact that a large number of people in India still worship Cow as holy animal because of continuation of age old tradition of religious bigotry and communal subordination. Logically there may not be any compulsion to continue with the Vedic practice today, if it is bad in today’s social justice system. But imposing social restrictions on any person’s belief arbitrarily is nothing but subordination and to be deplored.
[Acknowledgement: D N Jha interview in Frontline (dtd 30-10-15). Various lectures and books by Irfan Habib. Romila Thapar, D D Kosambi]