Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Medieval India and Caste System

As we discussed in an earlier chapter, the rise, decline and fall of the Shreni (Guild) system echo the economic ups, down and end of an economic order that had made India “Golden Sparrow” once upon a time. Gupta era is highly praised by Indian Historians, but they hardly have realized that it was Gupta era that started bungling up the economic strength of the Shreni’s, whether craftsmen or Trader, by transferring the financial centers from guilds to the Vaishnavait temples. Gupta kings were ardent supporters of Vedic religion. An offshoot of Vedic religion, Vaishnavait cult flourished during that era, many temples were built, though Vedic religion originally was not idolatrous. Vishnu too, was adorned with an entirely new character erasing his original Rig Vedic form as a subordinate to Indra. Laxmi is not his consort in Rig Veda, rather he has none, still, she got associated with him. Vishnu and Laxmi suddenly became the deities of the wealth. The flow of the wealth was diverted towards the temples and suddenly the guilds became just the creators of the wealth, but the management of the wealth no more was left with them.

We have seen how later on the rise of feudal powers and political upheavals gradually brought limitations on the inland trade and production. The series of foreign invasions, their discriminatory rule and a series of famines was the final blow on the indigenous economic system. It collapsed. There were no saviors. Islamic rulers imposed heavy duties on the foreign trade on non-Muslim craftsmen and traders called Ushr which resulted in winding up foreign operations so far conducted by the Hindu Traders. Many preferred conversion to Islam to escape from these circumstances.  From the seventh century onward overseas trade was usurped by the Arabs and other Muslim powers. Al Masudi in his "Meadows of Gold" reports he had seen over ten thousand Muslim traders settled at the Cheul port.

When the centralized production centers were disintegrated, craftsmen started abandoning them. When one economic system collapses, for want of survival people get engaged in building a new order.  Agriculture, the backbone of the economy, too, was fractured, limiting the creation of the wealth and so the local demands that eventually hampered the craftsmen badly, those produced articles and implements. The condition of the service providers must be more pitiable. 

This situation, pathetic though, forced the people to change previous social modality, overall functioning, social relationships and ways of survival. Indians invented a new order to survive through those odds. “Self-reliant Village system” emerged gradually by the tenth century and became permanent by the twelfth century. Tough there are no written records available of the emergence of this system and its exact time, we can infer from the circumstantial evidence those must have led the people to find new ways for survival. Let us not forget that it is eco the omy that commands the social models. How it could have happened? We can infer from the following circumstances.

1.     In the absence of the sufficient demand, naturally, production too suffers. Supplies cannot be more than the demand as the economy cannot absorb surplus productions. Under such circumstances, no profession can expect any kind of competition from new entrants. Hence mobility from one to another profession becomes highly difficult for the resistance from the people already engaged in the same profession. We can find the same thing happening in modern era too everywhere where doors are closed to the new entrants when economy suffers form the recession.

2.     In the absence of regional or national marketplaces and the trade channels, the production becomes localized and need-based. 

3.     Disintegration, separation, and Localization of the craftsmen, traders and service providers were inevitable making them village oriented, where they could meet local needs. A village could not absorb excessive craftsmen and service providers for their limited demand. Farmers (whether landlords or the tenants) still formed the major component of the buyers, but were in a distressful economic condition, since they too were suffering from the droughts and political upheavals.

4.       For survival, a new professional relationship came to be established, called as “Balute” or “jajmani” system. In this system seller had no bargaining power whatsoever or right to decide the price of his products or services. However, his survival was assured. Suddenly professions became of secondary importance; some lost their requirement making them solely dependent on the mercy of the villages, accepted to do the menial work as farm laborers, tenants or some even undertook filthy jobs.  

5.       Under the circumstances, the social status of the every profession solely depended on the needs of the people and what they were paid in return for their services. The disparity in the revenue of the every profession, though required same labor and skills, brought social inequality and dissatisfaction among the professions. 

6.       The professional guilds appeared in a new form, called as Jati Panchayat (Caste assembly) that started governing the professional communities by designing new professional ethics, restricting other caste men to enter their profession and vice versa, and by making their own caste-men outcast or enforce excommunication, if the codes of the caste were broken. In a way, the guilds started interfering in the ethical and personal conduct of the people belonging to their caste (profession) and gradually it seems it became more tyrant and unjust. But it was accepted for the basic need to stop competition, protect their rights, survive and solve professional issues. 

7.     Since, it became almost impossible to enter another profession, it was but natural that the castes became birth based and rigid. Also, since there was no more competition there was no need to be innovative. Anyway, revenue would remain the same. India was thrown into an abyss of Dark Age because the time killed their zeal of learning to become more productive and innovative. In a way people’s life and horizons got restricted to the villages making them almost careless about the rulers. It is important to note that the fall of Yadava dynasty, that ruled over 300 years in Maharashtra, do not reflect at all in the Saint literature of 13-14th century. In a way it is miraculous, but is a fact.

8.     The circumstances made castes a close ended loop, where mobility was not possible as the circumstances did not allow it to happen. There were absolutely no chances to break the caste barriers to breath in the free atmosphere and choose a profession of individual choice. The acquired skills from the past tradition were transferred to the next generations. Barring a few professions, those still had been in demand, too, become stern enough not to allow new entrants. It is not that the Brahmins closed their doors against others first which was imitated by the others, as Dr. Ambedkar opines. The fact is the process of closing the doors against others had its roots in the changed political and economic scenario. The people could not afford to be liberal when the survival had become of prime importance. It had no religious relevance. It is impossible that some authority could enforce such commands that would assassinate the sense of the human freedom and the people accept them unopposed. It is against human nature. 

This was how the caste and sub-caste structure became permanent. Financially, barring a few, all castes became almost pauper. Self-reliant village system sounds good even to some today, but it was the system people designed to survive through hard times. It killed basic human instinct of competition and progress through it.

This situation occurred between the tenth to the twelfth century AD and became stratified by the thirteenth century to become unjust and cruel. The role of the Vedic Brahmins was not in making that system, but in regulating it as priests/ministers of the feudal lords and kings. Brahmins or the rulers never interfered in the decisions given by the Caste Assemblies. Even the verdicts of the Gotsabha’s (Brahmin caste assembly) were hardly declined by the rulers. In fact, every caste assembly, old guild system in a new form, too, remained defacto ruler of the profession (caste) in new order too! 

It is a common experience of the mankind that the people become more fatalists in the time of the distress. Recently, in USA, in 2008, during the recession, it was observed that the attendance in the Churches had phenomenally risen. Indians suffered from such period over a millennium, was natural to become more Destiny-Centric and thus believing in divine command. 

This broke the backbone of original Indian free will. So many new deities emerged during this vast span of the time. Various new rituals too were introduced by the acting priests, alien to Hindu religion, Brahmins, for their own benefit. In Royal courts and with feudal lords they formed a coalition that helped them to preach Vedic supremacy. They captured many Shaivait shrines claiming them to be Vaishnavait. A fine example is of Vitthala of Pandharpur. 

They didn’t stop here. The new philosophy got prominent in this era of “Karmavipaka. Siddhanta”. This theory proposed that the distresses of present birth were because of the sins of the past birth. Vedic Brahmins vehemently proposed and propagated this theory making the people more religious and slavish to the inevitability of the destiny.  Many Saints too fell to this fatal doctrine and echoed it in their writings. The acceptance of the inevitable destiny was dangerous to the society, but Vedic Brahmins found opportunities in it. They invented many selfish ritualistic remedies those people followed almost blindly in a hope of ultimate salvation or better next life. 

We have many instances in the medieval history, how the Vedic doctrine of inequality had started poisoning the people's mind. Though they didn’t create birth based caste system, they provided pseudo-divine reasoning for its brutal existence. Hemadri Pundit, a Minister of Yadavas, authored Chaturvarga Chintamani in which over 2500 religious rituals was listed, most of which never existed before. 

The Vedicism and Vaidik Brahmins become an evil force as they misused the religious authorities those were availed with new opportunities over the people those never belonged to their religion.  The Fraudulent nature that persisted in them since the Gupta era, took disadvantage of the changed circumstances. They used every tool to impose their supremacy that made their life easier. Even they corrupted the religious scriptures. Rather, they imbibed the Vedic divine order theory in the minds of the distressed people during this era. The social inequality, they tried to connect with the Vedic ladder-like social order. Varna system thus started plaguing Hindu’s and they too started to connect, like Varna system, their superiority over some while inferior to another with their natural social status of the time. 

This situation created such a complex relationship between the castes and subcastes that even acceptance or rejection of food or even water from other castes became a preordained custom. The inter-caste marriages became almost rare, and if conducted the families of the concerned couple were thrown away from the castes or punished heavily. These customs were made and enforced by the caste assemblies. Hence, it can be said that the tyranny of the caste assemblies too was responsible for the tightening of the caste-grip. 

Though it had inherent limitations, the movements against brutalities of the caste system begun by the 12th century to break the caste barriers. To do so it was essential to overthrow the yoke of Vedic dominance and doctrine of birth-based inequality. Though Hindu followed their ancient religion in this era too, the Vedic philosophy had penetrated into the minds of the people through the corrupted Puranic tales and new myths. The spirituality became more prominent because there was left very little to develop material life. Movement of the saints failed utterly because they too were influenced heavily by the Vedic doctrine. No new social or economic theories could emerge after this period. Few saints realized this and tried to delink Hindu religion from the Vedic dominance, but ultimately failed to do so. 
(To be contd.)

Monday, May 23, 2016

किन्नरांचे बंड!



अलीकडेच महिलांनी संघर्ष करून त्यांना बंदी असलेल्या शनी शिंगणापुरमद्ध्ये चौथ-यावर जाण्याचा अधिकार मिळवला. याच आंदोलनाचे नेतृत्व करणा-या तृप्ती देसाई यांनी महिलांना बंदी घातलेल्या हाजी अली दर्ग्यातही प्रवेश केला. प्रश्न देवा-धर्माचा नव्हता तर लिंगभेदामुळे निर्माण केल्या गेलेल्या विषमतेविरुद्ध आवाज उठवण्याचा होता. आपले समतेचे अधिकार मिळवायचा होता. काही विजय मिळाले म्हणून हा समतेचा पुर्ण यशस्वी झाला असे म्हणता येणार नाही, कारंण अद्याप खूप अशा जागा आहेत जेथे जातीभेद, लिंगभेद कोणत्या ना कोणत्या बहाण्याने निरलसपणे राबवला जातो. धर्माच्या पुरुषी आणि जातीय सोयीने व्याख्या केल्या जातात. त्याला आव्हान दिले कि परंपरांकडे वा थातूर मातूर बनावट मिथकांकडे बोट दाखवले जाते. पण म्हणून जुन्या काळात अज्ञानामुळे चालल्या तशाच्या तशा प्रथा आधुनिक काळात चालू शकत नाही. वेडगळ प्रथांविरुद्ध बंड होतेच!

या शतकातले सर्वात मोठे बंड म्हणून तृतीयपंथीयांनी स्वत:चा "किन्नर आखाडा" स्थापन करुन उज्जैन येथील कुंभमेळ्यात २२ जुलै रोजी सुरू होणा-या शाही स्नानात भाग घेण्याची जी घोषणा केली आहे या घटनेकडे पहावे लागेल. या आखाड्याच्या उपक्रमाचे नेत्रूत्व  किन्नर नेता लक्ष्मीनारायण त्रिपाठी करत आहेत. २२ राज्यातील किन्नरांनी एकत्र येवून उज्जैन येथे या आखाड्याची स्थापना केली. या आखाड्याने स्वत:च ध्वजही निश्चित केला आहे.

पण सनातनी विरोधाखेरीज आपल्याकडे काही होते काय? अखिल भारतीय आखाडा परिषदेचे महंत नरेंद्र गिरी यांनी किन्नर आखाड्याला मान्यता द्यायचेच नाकारले. लक्ष्मीनारायण त्रिपाठी त्यांची प्रतिक्रिया बोलकी आहे. ते म्हणाले, "हे कोण आमची मान्यता नाकारणारे? नरेंद्र गिरींनी संबंध नसलेल्या गोष्टींत लक्ष घालू नये. आम्ही त्यांच्यापेक्षा जास्त तपस्वी आहोत! सिंहस्थात आमची स्नानव्यवस्था केली गेली नाही तर आम्ही आमच्या पद्धतीने ती करू!"

किन्नरांना आपल्या व्यवस्थेत अत्यंत दुय्यम स्थान आहे. त्यांचे मानवाधिकार हिरावले जातात. किंबहुना त्यांना मानवी व्यवस्थेत स्थानच नाही. अशा स्थितीत त्यांनी एकत्र येत आपले धार्मिक अधिकार मिळवण्यासाठी धाडसी पाऊल उचलावे, धर्माच्या ठेकेदारांना खुले आव्हान द्यावे हे एक बंडच आहे आणि त्याचे स्वागत करायला हवे.

याचा अर्थ असा नव्हे कि कुंभ म्हणजे काही अद्वितीय घटना आहे. ती तशी मानली जात असली तरी ती आजकालच्या माध्यमांतील अचाट प्रसिद्धीमुळे. मुळात हा पुरातन उत्सव नाही. एवढेच नव्हे तर तो धार्मिक उत्सव असल्याचेही जुने पुरावे मिळत नाहीत. रामायण-महाभारत या उत्सवाचा उल्लेख करत नाहीत. ह्यु-एन-त्संग याने सातव्या शतकात झालेल्या नाशिक येथील कुंभ मेळ्याचे वर्णन करुन ठेवले आहे. पुराणांतरी येणारी कुंभमेळा माहात्म्ये ही गुप्तकाळानंतरची, वैदिक माहात्म्य वढल्यानंतरची आहेत. वैदिक धर्माला राजाश्रय देणारे गुप्तच होते हा इतिहास आहे. एक वैदिक पुराकथा...कि अमृतमंथनानंतर झालेल्या अमृतकुंभाच्या मालकीवरुन झालेल्या देवासूर युद्धात विष्णुने मोहिनीरुप घेऊन कुंभ पळवला, तेंव्हा त्यातुन चार थेंब चार ठिकाणी नद्यांत पडले म्हणून त्या नद्या व स्थळे अतिपवित्र मानली जातात. त्या नद्या म्हणजे नाशिकची गोदावरी, प्रयाग येथील त्रिवेणी संगम, उज्जैनी येथील क्षिप्रा आणि हरिद्वार येथील गंगा. या प्रत्येक ठिकाणी कुंभमेळा दर तीन वर्षांनी क्रमाने भरतो. म्हणजे प्रत्येक ठिकाणाची पाळी दर बारा वर्षांनी येते. यातही अर्धकुंभमेळा, महाकुंभमेळा व पुर्ण कुंभमेळा हे फरक आहेतच. महाकुंभमेळा दर १४४ वर्षांनंतर येतो तर दर बारा वर्षांनी येणारा पुर्ण कुंभमेळा फक्त प्रयाग येथेच भरतो.

अवैदिक परंपरेत सामुहिक स्नानांनाही वैदिक काळापुर्वीही धार्मिक/सांस्कृतिक महत्व होते हे आपल्याला सिंधू संस्कृतीत सापडलेल्या सार्वजनिक अवाढव्य स्नानगृहांवरुन दिसते. तेथे खाजगी घरांतील स्नानगृहे घराघरातही सापडलेली आहेत. घरात स्नानगृहे असतांनाही सार्वजनिक स्नानगृहेही असावीत याचा अर्थ त्यांचा संबंध धार्मिक कृत्यांशी असावा असे अनुमान करता येवू शकते.  सिंधुपुजनाचा "चाली हो" उत्सवही त्या प्रदेशातील नदीबाबतच्या कृतज्ञतेशी जोडता येतो. ब्रह्मपुत्रेचीही अशीच पुजा करण्याची पद्धत आहे. नद्यांचा आणि मानवी संस्कृतीचा निकटचा संबंध असल्याने कृतज्ञतेपोटी नदीतील स्थान आणि तिची पुजा याला महत्व आले असल्यास नवल नाही.

परंतू कुंभमेळा हा वेगळाच, तुलनेने अर्वाचीन प्रकार आहे. वैदिक धर्मसाहित्यातही या उत्सवाबाबत मौन अहे. शिवाय यात फक्त चार नद्यांना महत्व आहे. कुंभमेळ्याचा संबंध ग्रह-सुर्य व राशींशी निगडित आहे. उदाहरणार्थ नाशिक येथील कुंभमेळा सुर्य आणि गुरु सिंह राशीत असतील तेंव्हा भरतो. ही खगोलीय घटना आहे व ती नियमित येते. पण मुळात भारतियांना राशी ग्रीकांकडून मिळाल्या असे मानले जात असल्याने कुंभ मेळ्याची सुरुवात भारतियांचा संबंध ग्रीकांशी आल्यानंतर झाली असण्याची शक्यता आहे. किंवा पुरातन नदीमाहात्म्याला ग्रह-राशींशी जोडत त्याची उदात्तता वाढवली गेली असल्याचीही शक्यता आहे. असे असले तरी कुंभमेळ्याची परंपरा फार पुरातन नाही.

कुंभमेळ्यात देशभरातुन नागा साधुंसह विविध पंथोपपंथांचे साधु-साध्व्या, योगी येत असल्याने याचे धार्मिक महत्व वाढले आहे हे सहज लक्षात येईल. अन्य कोणत्याही धार्मिक कार्यक्रमात एवढ्या संख्येने साधु-साध्व्या येत नाहीत. त्यामुळेच कुंभमेळ्याला दर्शन पर्वणी असेही मानले जाते. हा कोणत्या धर्म परंपरेचा भाग असे शोधले तर पदरी निराशाच येते. कुंभमेळ्याची सुरुवात वैष्णव परंपरेतुन सुरु झाली असावी असे अमृतमंथनाच्या पुराकथेतुन दिसत असले तरी कुंभमेळ्यात शैव व वैष्णव आखाडेही बरोबरीने सहभाग घेतात असे दिसते. यात शैव आखाड्यांची संख्या अधिक आहे.. एका अर्थाने हा उत्सव धार्मिक नसून सांस्कृतिक आहे हे उघड आहे.

हा उत्सव सांस्कृतिक म्हणा कि धार्मिक, पण लोकोत्सव असून नदी-जलाशयांप्रती कृतज्ञता दाखवण्याची ही एक पर्वणी आहे. नद्यांवर सर्वांचाच बरोबरीचा अधिकार आहे. याचा धर्माशी खरे तर काही संबंध नाही. नद्यांना घाण करत त्याच नद्यत डुबक्या मारु पाहणारे सर्वात अधिक असांस्कृतिक आहेत हेही येथे नमूद केलेच पाहिजे. पण तो एकूणातील सामाजिक संस्कृतीचा प्रश्न झाला त्यात आपण नापासच होणार हे बेगळे सांगायची गरज नाही. पण त्याहून मोठे असंस्कृती म्हणजे आपल्या समाजाच्या मनात साठलेली विषमतेची, लिंग व जातीभेदाची घाण.

आपण नद्या स्वच्छ करू शकू कि नाही हे माहित नाही. पण मनातील ही घाण तरी काढायला आपण आपल्याच आत्मडोहात डुबक्या मारुन पाहणार आहोत काय?

लक्ष्मीनारायण त्रिपाठी आणि त्यांचे सहकारी यांनी बंडाचा एक झेंडा फडकावला आहे. तृतीयपंथियांना कशाला हवेत धार्मिक अधिकार? असे अशिष्ट प्रश्न आताच विचारले जात आहेत. विविध आखाड्यांचे महंत आणि अखिल भारतीय आखाडा परिषदेचे नरेंद्र गिरी किन्नर आखाड्याला मान्यताच नाही असे म्हणत आहेत तर लक्ष्मीनारायण त्रिपाठी साहसाने म्हणतात, तुम्ही कोण आम्हाला मान्यता देणारे?

आणि हे खरेच आहे. हे कोण मान्यता देणारे? हे कोण धर्म आणि संस्कृती ठरवणारे? धर्माला अथवा संस्कृतीला नाकारुन धर्म बदलवता येत नाही. तृप्ती देसाईंनाही हे वावदूक सल्ले दिले जातच होते कि, बाई, शनीच नाकारा कि! प्रश्न शनी अथवा हाजी अली नाकारणे अथवा स्विकारणे असा नव्हताच. प्रश्न एखाद्या ठिकाणी, स्वतंत्र भारतात, महिला आहे म्हणून प्रवेश नाकारण्याचा कोणाला अधिकारच काय?

किन्नरांचा प्रश्न असाच आहे. तो आत्मभानाचा आणि आपले अस्तित्व मानवी पातळीवरच आहे हे दर्शवण्याचा आहे. त्यासाठी चक्क "किन्नर आखाडा" स्थापन करत धार्मिक समतेच्या पायावर "आम्हालाही शाही स्नानाचा अधिकार आहे" हे सर्वांना बजावून सांगण्याचे अलोट धैर्य किन्नरांनी, विशेषता: त्यांचे लक्ष्मीनारायण त्रिपाठी यांनी दाखवले ही एक समतेच्या मार्गावरील एक ऐतिहासिक घटना आहे हे मान्य केलेच पाहिजे. किन्नरांच्या पाठीशी मानवतेच्या पातळीवर, समतेच्या पातळीवर सर्वांनी उभे राहिलेच पाहिजे.

किन्नर आखाड्याच्या शाही स्नानास शुभेच्छा!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rise and fall of the “Shreni” system and the Castes!

All the students of Indian history are aware of the caste (occupational) guilds, called as “Shreni” or “Nigam” those used to operate like todays Chamber of Commerce or trade/manufacturers associations. These guilds would manufacture the specialty articles, conduct internal, interstate and foreign trade. Nigams were allowed to issue coins too, which are found in excavations from Gandhar to south India. Rather in Janpada era till Gupta era the issuance authority of the coins were the guilds. Every guild had their own unique trademark associated with the symbol of their kingdom (janpada) or Gana’s. (Republics) Rather Shrenis were economic, socio-political dominant segment of ancient India that survived till 10th century AD and met with demise by 12th century AD. 

Let us first understand what Shrenis were. Every Shreni was an association of artisans, merchants or traders. The traders engaged in the trade of specific articles or goods would form their Shreni. People residing in the same area and engaged in same occupation naturally cooperated with one another to achieve common goals. The Shreni of artisans existed for a particular group of persons engaged in the same vocation. There are mention in various scriptures and various epigraphs that there were Shrenis of the artisans like blacksmiths, goldsmiths, weavers, carpenters, bamboo-craftsmen, cobblers, makers of ivory articles, metal workers, miners,  Jaggary producers, potters and so many other professions. 

The merchants and craftsmen needed allied services like transportation also. Goods used to be transported by bullock carts, loaded on the backs of the oxen or donkeys or ships. The destinations could be far off. For example Al Masudi informs us how goods were brought to Cheul harbor loaded on thousands of oxen. Some transporters were transporting specialty goods, such as salt, food grains, wood etc. Other services included security providers to the inland caravans. Variety of service based occupations too emerged during this vast span of time to meet the needs of the craftsmen and merchants. Such service providers too formed their own guilds.  

Romila Thapar  informs us that "The ancient sources frequently refer to the system of guilds which began in the early Buddhist period and continued through the Mauryan period. ….Topography aided their development, in as much as particular areas of a city were generally inhabited by all tradesmen of a certain craft. Tradesmen's villages were also known, where one particular craft manufacturing was centred, largely due to the easy availability of raw material.”

The purpose of the guild (Shreni) was to regulate the manufacturing standards, ethical codes for the member artisans, prices of the crafts, quantity and quality, training to the artisans etc. which could ensure smooth and timely production. The major duty of the Adhayksh, Shreshthi or Jyetthaka to represent the guild in the Royal Court for any grievances about taxation or any other matter related with the supplies. The Guild would work as an assembly where specific problems related to their member artisans or business could be discussed and solved. If any criminal/unethical elements regarding the service or manufacture detected, the Guild could fine or banish the member artisan from the guild. The verdicts of the Shreni could not be challenged even in the Royal courts. Every Shreni had a respectable status in the society and in the Royal houses and normally no decision in connection with the production or trade of the crafts would be taken without consulting Shreni’s.

Unlike later “Independent Village System”, till tenth century AD manufacturing was almost centralized. This was ideal system to make mass productions of the articles or metals. From Jataka we know about the villages of bamboo Craftsmen (Burud) and other such 36 villages dedicated to mass manufacturing of specific goods. In Maharashtra, from copper plates and rock inscriptions, we know about the villages of the Cobblers, Jaggary makers, Weavers etc. The artisans, specialized in certain crafts,  together would form Shreni, elect their President and other office bearers to represent them to protect their professional interests and account keeping as Craft guilds would provide loans or accept deposits from the member craftsmen and the public. 

Merchant guilds would distribute the goods in local markets as well export in the other regions or foreign countries. Craftsmen could sell their goods individually as well through guild. Especially Merchant Guilds had the authority to mint the coins and issue them. All the coins we have from the 4th Century BC onward were issued by the merchant Guilds and not the king. Mauryan kings too didn't issue their coins. In a way Merchant and craft guilds were the backbone of Indian economic stability and prosperity. There are instances where we find that the Guilds even lent the King in the time of distress. 

The post of the President (Shreshthi or Jyetthaka) of the guild was not hereditary. There are instances where the Shreshthi’s have been removed by the member artisans or merchants. Moreover, it seems that the mobility from one profession to another was frequent. It was because the vocational training was made available by the Guilds to meet needs of the additional workforce. The people who wanted to raise their economic status by entering into more flourishing businesses could get easy training and thus entry. Even local artisans would travel far afar in search for better opportunities. Depending on the demand, supplies of the raw material or political unrest, there could be rise and fall in all or the selective occupations. The craftsmen either would acquire other vocational training and change the profession by joining another guild or try to sustain in wait of the better days. 

Guilds would donate to the temples or Buddhist or Jain sanctuaries. Mathura inscription (2nd century AD) refers to the two permanent endowments of 550 silver coins each with two guilds to feed Brahmins and the poor from out of the interest money.
A Nashik Inscriptions (2nd century AD) records the endowment of 2000 karshapanas at the rate of one percent (per month) with a weavers' guild for providing cloth to bhikshus and 1000 karshapanas at the rate of 0.75 percent (per month) with another weavers' guild for serving light meals to them. Apart from these more epigraphs and inscriptions are mentioned as evidence in this regard. In addition to this the guilds engaged in works of Charity as well. Guilds worked to alleviate distress and undertook works of piety and charity as a matter of duty. They were expected to use part of their profits for preservation and maintenance of assembly halls, watersheds, shrines, tanks and gardens, as also for helping widows, the poor and destitute. We have epigraphical proofs from Maharashtra that shows the craftsmen, like cobbler, Potter, Ploughsmen (Halik) etc. have donated in an individual capacity to build arches or water tanks for the Buddhist caves. This would mean that the artisans were in prosperous financial conditions.

So much so was the power of the craft and merchant guilds that Kautilya advises King that he should ensure that the heads of the guilds are not united. However, there is no evidence that the guilds ever tried to capture the political power, but they maintained their dominant position in the politics.

The position of the guild can be explained in different five stages doweling from 600 B.C. to 1200 A.D. in the perspective of socio-economic environment of ancient India.


I.                   Pre-Mouryan Period (600 – 320 B.C.)
II.                Mouryan Period (320 -200 B.C.)
III.             Post-Mouryan Period (200 B.C. -300 A.D.)
IV.            Gupta Period (300 - 600 A.D.)
V.                Early Medieval Period (600 – 1200 A.D.)
In these eras Guilds transformed, prospered, declined and vanished from the socioeconomic scene. Roots of the Guild or Shreni system can be traced back to Indus era, for it was a manufacturing and trading community. From the Indus seals we can guess that the seals were meant to inform the origin and name of the goods and the price. The later coins of Mahajanpada era too were incorporated certain information in symbolic form, such as, the name of the mint, issuing guild etc. As Indus civilization declined, the guild structure of those times too must have been disintegrated, becoming less powerful and local. Later we come across Mahajanpada era or pre-Mauryan period when Guilds seem to have come into the prominence and continued to be dominant till the end of Gupta period.  

However, Post-Mouryan Period (200 B.C. -300 A.D.) saw a stiff rise in the Guild system in Indian economic scenario. Santanu Mahapatra in his essay states that-
“ In this period north-western and western part of India controlled by the Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Kushanas, and Parthians. The Mourya Empire disintegrated into a number of kingdoms and tribal republics. This led to the slackening of state control over administration and economy and the guilds assumed more power and influence that developed the closer commercial contact with the Roman Empire. The discovery of the north-eastern monsoon, ascribed to Hippalus, in C. 46 A.D. gave impetus to mid-sea voyage, reducing the time of journey, minimizing the danger of piracy and also obviating the need of the service of middlemen in Indo-Roman trade. Then Indian mercantile activity also extended to central Asia and China. India was the main exporter of the luxury items to the Roman Empire and earned huge profits. A large number of coins of this period those of the Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, Kushanas, indigenous rulers and tribal republics, cities and guilds have been found, some in hoards. It indicates a greater circulation of money-economy and fairly advancement of trade and commerce, in which guilds must have played a significant role. ‘Milindapanho’ (ed. Trenckner, 1880) refers to a number of occupational guilds, their number being much greater than the early period.” 

In the Gupta era too, guilds, whether merchant or craft, remained prominent, but it seems that the authority to issue coins was withdrawn. We do not find coins issued by the guilds during Gupta era. Rather banking activities, accepting deposits and advancing loans, of the guilds gradually shifted towards select temples. Though the artisans and merchants, along with farmers were prosperous in this era too, foundation of the guilds started weakening. Post-Gupta era saw the rise of feudal lords and various independent powers, thereby disturbing the political stability that India had enjoyed even under foreign rule. Constant conflicts between regional rulers made it difficult to smoothly operate  the trade. 

Later, we find series of Islamic invasions in North-west India causing further political instability and disturbance in trade and commerce. “As a consequence, people’s confidence in these institutions must have waned. There prosperity and affluence an account of which they commanded social status must also have diminished. Thus political upheaval exercised its worst effect on the guild organization.” thus states P. C. Jain.  In a way Samantas or feudal lords gradually became more dominant for the need of the time to fight out aggression. It diminished the earlier social status of the Guilds and their economy. Also the taxation structure was changed putting a heavy burden on the craftsmen, merchants and so the guilds. 
“Arthuna inscription of Parmara Camundaraja, dated 1079 A.D, also gives a list of taxes levied on different trade and crafts. On the account of these taxes, the guilds of merchants and traders were loosing prosperity in the preceding centuries. This prevailed from their donations which clearly give the impression that they were poorer. To keep up their old reputation of donations and defraying there expenses views of a region federated themselves and pooled their resources” so informs us Mr. Mahapatra. 
By the tenth century AD the guild system witnessed tremendous decline in the trade, which naturally hampered production of all the crafts. In a way it was like the situation of great recession. Craftsmen soon started deserting their centralized workplaces. This was exact situation which had caused decline of the Indus Civilization. But political instability, constant wars within local rulers and Islamic aggressors were not the only reason behind disintegration of the Guild system. Another series of natural calamities begun in 11th Century AD…and that were famines.
FAMINES
From the records we know that the year 1033, 1042 and 1052 witnessed nationwide dire famines causing complete disruption in trade and distress in the society. Series of regional famines followed almost in every alternative 3 years. In the year 1325 -1351 great famine befell in Gangetic regions and elsewhere including Maharashtra. The series of the famines continued till 1630. Within this period India suffered heavily from over 250 famines. 
The contemporary travelers and historians have given the piercing accounts of the famines. For example Badouni states about the distressful situation he witnessed during 1555 famine of North India. He says, “I witnessed men eating human corpses like cannibals. The sight of the hungry faces was so pitiable that hardly one could bear  it. …all the region had become a desolate desert and no farmer was left behind to look after the farms.” Abul Fazal of Ain-E-Akbari supports this with the statement that, “people were hell bent to eat each other!” 
About 1596 famine of North-West Fazal states, “men ate men and all the streets were littered with dead bodies.” A Dutch trader Van Twist, various saints like Tukaram and Ramdas have described the calamities the nationwide great famine of 1630 befallen on the people. Morland states about south that, “…because of this famine over a generation Deccan remained pauper.”    
From the descriptions, though they are scanty, scattered and all the famines have not been properly recorded, we can get a picture what people would have suffered from 11th century onwards till 1630. People used to abandon their villages, towns in search of the food, would sell their kids, properties and even the titles at throw away prices. Kavindra Parmanand in “Shivbharat” states, “during the famine, food became costlier than gold.” In a way the social structure too got disintegrated because of constant onslaught of the nature.
A grave impact on the economic and social structure was inevitable. The craft guilds and merchant guilds vanished completely under the Islamic rule and unstable grave climatic conditions. Inland trade became more risky because many tribes and even the earlier service-providing communities turned to robberies. The constant onslaught of the famines reduced the farmers to the pauper state. Naturally demand to the artisan’s crafts too drastically reduced. The farmers, artisans and service providers, those had enjoyed prosperity during the golden era for more than 1500 years, gradually became destitute and helpless. 
Let us not forget here that the vocation means caste. Earlier caste mobility was easy as there were tremendous opportunities and the Guilds were their strong support. With new innovations or new inventions, new castes (vocations) would emerge and the guilds too used to be formed to safeguard their interests. The economy decides social structure and its culture. The economic prosperity provides more freedom to the people. Earlier Guilds used to be in a commanding position in the political system. Artisans and service providers of every kind enjoyed a reputation since they were well-off, rich and backbone of the prosperous economy. But with changing political and economic scenario, they too lost their glory.
Unfortunately, none of the scholar has taken into the consideration the significance of the decline and fall of the Guild (Shreni) system while proposing their theories on the Caste system. They have wrongly considered that the rigid, birth-based caste system is in existence and practice since antiquity. It was not the case. No scholar ever bothered to look into the social and economic history of India while theorizing origins of the caste system, hence it didn’t occur to them that the hereditary nature of the caste system is a product of drastically changed economic and political scenario which remained unchanged for centuries. The Caste system was not imposed on them by some authority. It was not the outcome of the sense of maintaining purity of the blood. People have innate tendency to find new ways of survival and to adjust with the changed circumstances, no matter how grave they are!  Indians, too, gradually found their unique way of survival and when they found in later course that there was no hope left to see old prosperous days again or any change in the circumstances, they made their new system permanent. Norms and ethics of the life were rewritten. 
We will discuss in the next chapter how did this transformation took place and how it started becoming unjust, discriminating and vulgar as we experience it even today!
*
References:
1.     GUILD, THE INSTITUTIONAL ECONOMIC BASE OF ANCIENT INDIA BY SANTANU MAHAPATRA, published in International Journal of Social Science & Interdisciplinary Research, Vol.1, Issue 9, September 2012.
2.     Marathe Ani Maharashtra, A. R. Kulkarni, Diomond Publications, 2007.
3.     Arthashastra by Kautilya.
4.     Itihas : Prachin Kal, Maharashtra Gazetteer, Government of Maharashtra.
5.     Coins of Ancient India:From the earliest Times Down to the Seventh Century- By Alexander Cunningham
6.     Between the Empires : Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE- By  Austin Patrick Olivelle

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Caste system has no divine sanction!




We have seen that the later interpolation, Purushsukta in Rig Veda provides sanctity to the Varna system by providing it the divine origin. Some scholars tend to consider that Varnas were later divided in sub-castes (jati) but they do not explain how this process could have taken place and what were the basis for it. Brahmin Varna indeed is divided into various castes, but the divine authority of Brahmin remains intact in the Vedic social hierarchy. It is not the case with all other castes unrelated to Vedic structure. There is closed social stratification of every caste, higher to some and lower to other. 

However, unlike Varna system, there is no divine declaration about the origin of the caste system. This is why Vasistha SaMhita (3.1) states that, “The regulations those govern Castes, tribes and local social systems have no Vedic sanction.”  

Though Purushasukta mentions four Varnas, the fact is rest of the Rig Veda nowhere mentions the fourth Varna, i.e,. Shudra anywhere, rather the term is completely absent. It is not even the part of Vedic vocabulary. There is no etymology whatsoever of this terminology.  Unless we understand why all of sudden, and that too in a later interpolated hymn, this strange terminology could have appeared we cannot solve the problem of caste system. This is because barring few, a large part of the Indian castes belong to the so-called Shudra and ati-Shudra class.  

Since the term has been too controversial, causing irreparable damage to the Indian society and outrage for its use in a derogatory manner aimed for social suppression, indicating the lowest status of the larger population of India since long time, we need to have a brief look at the reality. 

Many attempts have been made by various scholars to find the real meaning of the Shudra and who were they. The people Dasa, Dasyus have been mentioned many a times in Rig Veda, though contemptuously for their different faith. But Purusha Sukta mentions, instead of Dasa-Dasyus, the Shudras, as the name of a class of the people, that too in a hymn that has been proven to be a later composition.

Suprisingly, in later Vedic texts the term Dasa and Dasyus (equivalent to Iranian Daha, Dahyu), used in Vedas for the people, goes on vanishing and remains just as a suffix of the personal names or denotes the servants. They, Dasa/Dasyus, no longer remains to be a set of the people, whether rival or not. Rather, while speaking of fourth section of the society, the people other than Vedics, the term Shudras have been applied in the Purushasukta

The sudden shift in the terminology, assigned for the class of the people clearly means that the Vedic had come across the new set of the people and needed a new term to address them. It also is clear that the Dasa/Dasyu people were left far behind by the time of this hymn was composed. Rather appearance of the term Shudra for people is in itself a proof that the Vedic geography had changed from Afghanistan to India.

This also is evident because, we should note here that, the term “Shudra” or its equivalent is not present in Avesta too, at all. What we find is Daha – Dahyu, equivalent to Dasa and Dasyus, in Avesta applied to the people of the land or compatriots. To Rig Veda they are the people those adhere to the different faiths and thus were enemies. It would appear the term Shudra has been emerged from nowhere which have no meaning whatsoever! This sure creates a problem for the proponents of Indigenous Aryan Theory as well. 

Also, let us not forget here that the term Shudra have no etymology, neither in so-called IE languages or Dravidian languages. R. K. Pruthi suggests that perhaps Shudra was originally the name of non-Aryan tribe. (Indian Caste System, edited by R.K. Pruthi, Discovery Publishing House, 2004, page 72)

Rajwade suggests that the people those were taken in the personal service by the victorious Aryans were called as Shudras. According to him, the term was later applied to those all who were out of three Varnas. (Radhamadhav Vilas Champu, Preface, Edited by Vi. Ka. Rajwade, Sarita Prakashan, reprint 2014, page 130-31)

Bhandarakar too opines that the Shudras could be a tribe, but afterwards came to signify anybody who was not a full-fledged Arya or a foreigner who has been partially assimilated by Arya culture. He further states that, from Sutras Shudra denotes a person other than the member of three Varnas, i.e. Brahmina, Kshatriya and Vaishya.  (Some Aspects of Ancient Indian Culture, By D. R. Bhandarkar, 1989, page 12) Bhandarkar makes sense because in a Maharashtri Prakrit treaty, “Angavijja”, (2nd to 3rd century AD) includes all the indigenous and foreigners like Shaka, Hun, Kushanas, Mlecchas in Shudra category excepting three Vedic Varnas. This would indicate that Shudras were the people who did not belong to Vedic religion.

If removed Aryan and replaced with Vedic, it will be clear from the above opinions of the scholars that all those who were not Dasas or Dasyus or Vedics, those all lived in the Indian subcontinent, practiced different religions, were Shudras for the Vedic people. The fact is, though in Purushasukta, Shudra seemingly is enumerated as fourth class of Vedic religion; it was never at all the case. Rather, in Purushsukta too, term Varna does not appear.

Rather, historically we find a tribe from north-west frequently referred by Greeks as “Sudroi” and in Mahabharata also while enumerating kings participating Great War. It is possible that the Vedics came across this tribe first and in sheer ignorance of rest of the geography, mentioned this tribal name as a class of a divine society as they had come to their domain as refugee and as they spread their religion they named the people in their service as “Anirvasit Shudras” (Shudras in Vedic domain) and “Nirvasit Shudras” (Those did not live in their domain.) (See Panini)

Manusmriti is very explicit about this as well. It commands that the Brahmin should not delve or eat in the regions where Shudras rule. It does mean that the Shudra kingdoms were extant and they were not governed by the laws of Manusmriti. It also differentiates the professional castes from Shudras (even kings and idolatrous priests), those are prohibited from attending the Vedic rituals. Hence Shudra was a term that was always used by the Vedic people to the different set of the people in early times, which later came to be used to address all non-Vedic people. Manysmriti’s commands were applicable to only those Shudras who were in their service. Otherwise in Manusmriti’s time how could there be Shudra kings?

However, it seems that the term came to be used for all Shudras which did enormous harm to the Indian conscious in general and also created a religious confusion in all, including Vedic people.

As I have stated earlier, the caste system has nothing to do with any divine declaration. It was a need of human society to have different professions, expanding with new inventions and innovations. There was sufficient mobility and professional respect depending on its economic status and social viewpoints.

It never was a fourth class, the lowest or menial part of the society as it is largely assumed. Purity of blood or racial egotism too was not a reason behind formation any caste. Though suerficially similarities can be shown between tribal and caste structure, castes have not emerged from independent tribes. For example we find people from Ahir tribe divided in pastoral, shepherd, salt-maker, fisher, Maratha, Tailor, Goldsmith etc. The tribe seems to have fragmented in many caste and though they belong to same tribal origin, their caste-rituals and social status are separate. So tribes have not converted to caste.

 However, confusion between Vedic system and Hindu traditional occupation based society to some point created a chaotic social condition.

I must reiterate that there never was any Aryan invasion and the victorious Vedic Aryans did not create this caste system, as most of the communist thinkers claim supported by the aboriginalists. The data they provide in their support is outdated and is marred by European supremacist views.

Here we need to focus on the doctrines of the two entirely different systems and its later impact on the overall Indian social system and the reasons that cast an evil shadow over it. This is apparent that Brahmins weren’t inventors and enforcers of this system. We also have seen that the caste meant professions and the system was flexible. We have to find why the system gradually became inflexible, rigid and unjust. We have also seen that there is no divine declaration or religious sanction for the creation of the castes as they were merely a practical need of the society.

Scholars have made blatant confusion between Varna system and the castes (Jati) without properly understanding the difference between both the terms. It also is widely assumed that Vedic Brahmins are the priests of the Hindu religion. This is not the fact. From ancient times Shudras (Asura) had their own priests. Almost every caste has its own priest. 80% of the temples (except Vaishnavait) have no Brahmin priest. The Brahmin holiness as a priest has been for their Vedic sanctity and their over glorification. How Brahmins came to worship Hindu deities when none of the Hindu God finds mention in the Vedas or when Idol worship is banned in Vedic religion? The answer lies in the deliberate religious confusion created in the medieval era.

To sum up, Shudra was never a part of Vedic society, but had indeed been an independent religion they are following from ancient times. To Vedics, like Dasa, Dasyus of Iran those followed different religions and hence looked upon contemptuously, similarly Shudras too became a derogatory term in Vedic literature to the adherents of different religion. The over-glorification of the Vedas and their divine origin, has been a carefully nourished myth and deserves the rejection in totality. 

The harm it has done, in the form of seeding inferiority complex and sense of the inequality in the minds of non-Vedic masses, needs to be removed in the light of the bare facts!

If one wants to eradicate the caste based discrimination from the society one has to first understand how the caste system came into the existence and how it became birth based and rigid in the later era.