Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

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PART II: Who Speaks for the Subaltern?

CHAPTER 5: Rammohan Roy


In 1828, Raja Rammohan Roy (1774-1833) founded the Brahmo Sabha. Later renamed the Brahma Samaj, this organization sought to effect a purification of traditional Hinduism by promoting the values deemed operative in Vedic times: belief in the unity of God, absence of idol worship and unnecessary rituals (Collet 1962: 220-24). The Raja based his reform on a reading of "Vedic" scripture, believing that its wisdom, once available to all, would effect the rejuvenation of Hinduism. The role of the Brahma Samaj in the social and religious conditions of early nineteenth-century Bengal has been the subject of several fine studies and continues to inform critical assessments of Indian social history.

In The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism (1983), Ashis Nandy examines the Raja's relationship to colonialism as the flip side of a theory of progress. His identification with the colonial aggressor is presented as an ego defense mechanism. Nandy likens Roy's reform efforts to the response of a child in confronting the inescapable dominance of physically more powerful adults enjoying total legitimacy. First, Nandy reconstructs a psychological sketch of the Raja's relationship with his mother as the sub text for reform. He then posits the "unbreakable dyadic relationship" that ensues from such an identification as the sine qua non of colonial culture. Nandy views Roy's introduction of ideas such as organized religion, a sacred text, monotheism, and a patriarchal godhead as a response to the colonial subject's alienation from an older lifestyle and its values. Nandy also sees Roy's reform as a reaction to the colonial incursion into eastern India and an attempt to confront domination by redefining masculinity, traditionally based on the demystification of womanhood, and shifting the locus of magicality from everyday femininity to a transcendent male principle. Nandy's analysis, while brilliantly performative, lacks sufficient grounding in textual specificity, a defect shared by the feminist conflation of Rammohan Roy by Lata Mani.

In Mani's article, Rammohan Roy's appeal to scripture is attributed solely to a purported colonial institution of scriptural normativity. The privileging of brahmanic scripture and the equation of tradition with scripture are presented as an effect of the "colonial discourse" on India, where colonial power underwrites official discussion and ensures scripture's increasing normativity (Mani 1988: 91). Colonial authorities alone institutionalize assumptions by making texts the basis of law. Only under colonialism is scripture seen as the locus of authenticity. For this critic, there exists no positioning of scripture within the brahmanical tradition, as if scripture had not always been normative and privileged in the history of Sanskrit literature. Not only is the colonial subject's relation to a text completely disengaged from any Indian exegetical tradition, but Rammohan Roy, as colonial subject par excellance, can only stand in relation to a text in light of the colonial experience. Any call to textual authority becomes a strategy of colonalism. Colonial subjects, we are told, would not even believe their own pandits, were it not for the British making them do so (Mani 1988: 102). While these arguments are absurd within the historical and religious framework, from a critical vantage point we must pause. They suggest a logic wherein texts can only function as "forms of cultural coercion" in which an ideology (in this case, colonialism) can be "naturalized and skillfully upheld" (Fluck 1996: 219).

Let us descend from the artful argument of Mani's critique to touch down in the realm of exegetical reality. The privileging of brahmanic scripture and the equation of tradition with scripture is not an effect of colonial discourse on India. The colonial subject is not solely constituted by colonialism, nor is it the only form of discourse that really matters. Other inventories and traces occur beyond the archive of the postcolonial critic. Other competing traditions of protest existed.1 The colonial subject did, indeed, have a voice that was not wholly contingent upon the colonial experience2 and was textually audible without need of the critic's intervention.3 However, to hear this voice, one must engage texts and cultural specificity. Both Nandy and Mani represent a trend in theory that views textuality as little more than a rhetorical tool in the interest of ideology and form as a deceptive promise of the possibility of individual agency (Fluck 1996: 225). A theoretical posture that minimizes the formal elements of literary representation, since texts only reveal manifestations of power relations, obviates the task of detailed reading and simplifies the demands placed upon the reader. It does not necessarily bring us any closer to engaging cultural complexities as mediated through language and other cultural translations. In the following analysis of Rammohan Roy's translations and exegetical writings, we will challenge the critical approach that seeks to reveal textual complicity without recourse to text or context. We will examine how Rammohan Roy used various literary strategies to set the groundwork for reform structured on a myth of an Aryan Golden Age. We begin the discussion by contextualizing Rammohan's work as an outgrowth of his cultural encounter with Europeans and critique of Indian traditionalism.


Rammohan Roy's oeuvre defies simple categorization. It is misleading to view him as enacting a debate between liberalism and conservatism, East and West, modernism and tradition (Kopf 1969: 204-5). The tradition/modernity polarity, so optimistically accepted by mythographer-critics of the Raj, positions an image of primal precolonial innocence as the alternative to the victimized or collaborationist colonial Other. The tradition/modernity polarity diffuses specifics; it blurs the fact that variants of the concepts with which many anticolonial movements worked have often been products of the imperial culture itself and that these movements also pay homage to Indian cultural origins.

Rammohan Roy was the first Indian to establish his own press and publish newspapers, books, and pamphlets (Pankratz 1998: 335). In so doing, he was the first Indian distributor of Hindu and Christian texts. Roy was motivated by the belief that these two religions held similar traditions despite their formal diversity. In keeping with this universalist credo, Brahmo worship included public readings from the Bible in addition to selections from the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Brahmasutra (Collet 1962: 224-26).4 Furthermore, it embraced other "Christian" elements such as prayer, sermon, and hymn as integral parts of its service.5 Underlying this attempt at synthesis was Roy's belief that all major religions were equal in value and only needed to substitute rational faith for the meaningless rituals, myths, and superstitions prevalent in popular practice. Christianity, he felt, had much to offer India. Utilitarianism, in particular, offered a vision of theistic progress, wherein human perfectibility could be best achieved by joining social reform to rational religion. In Utilitarianism, he recognized a Christianity purified of miracles and devoid of theological "rust and dust." Yet, this search for a purer form of Christianity was of secondary importance to Roy's primary goal of rehabilitating Hinduism by proving that Sanskrit scripture espoused monotheism and rejected idol worship.

Toward this immediate pragmatic end, he fashioned translations and commentaries of the Vedanta and five principal Upanishads (the Isa, Kena, Katha, Mundaka, and Mandukya). These translations served as a defense of Hinduism against the pernicious assault waged by Trinitarian missionaries, in particular Alexander Duff and his followers. Roy answered Trinitarian attacks on Hindu superstition by establishing that Christianity also had its share of foolishness. Such a claim simply enraged Roy's missionary opponents, most notably Joshua Marshman of the Serampore Mission, who could not conceive of an Indian challenge to the hallowed inconsistencies of Christianity or faith in the Trinity (Kopf 1969: 202). Rammohan established his first journal, the BrahmunicaL Magazine (1821) with the expressed purpose of defending his belief in a monotheistic Hinduism against the critique of polytheism launched by the Serampore Missionaries.6 Rammohan Roy's relationship to Christianity was, therefore, not uncritical. Although he had great respect for ethical Christianity, this esteem did not blind him to its doctrinal inconsistencies or deter him from challenging its abuses.

His relationship to Sanskrit learning was equally complex. Because he had studied in Benares and was not formed by Orientalist scholarship, his knowledge of Hinduism was greatly valued in his time (Kopf 1969: 59). Even though he did not garner his knowledge of the Sanskrit tradition from Western scholars, his quest for a purified Hinduism was considerably influenced by their utopian vision of the Aryan past. However, it also reflected the work of eighteenth-century pandits. Just as the pandits essentially "rewrote" the shastras for the benefit of the East India Company judges, Roy "rewrote" them for the Indian intelligentsia. He differed, however, from the eighteenth-century pandits by relying on English translations as much as on the Sanskrit texts themselves Goshi 1975: 145). For this reason, Roy's version of the Aryan past also owed much to the prejudices of Sir William Jones and H.T. Colebrooke.

Colebrooke's essay on the Vedas proved particularly significant in its attention to discrepancies between ancient textual requirements and contemporary practices (Kopf 1969: 198). Colebrooke first suggested that objectionable religious practices resulted from a misunderstanding of texts (Colebrooke 1802: 196). Roy adopted this strategy in his own readings. He also followed the Orientalists' preferance for the Vedantic period as the authentic model for Aryan theology, law, and literature (Roy 1906: 573). He shared their devaluation of post-Vedantic Hinduism as well as their identification of idolatry, sati, and polytheism as medieval excrescences. Although ideas regarding monotheism and the symbolic nature of idol worship had previously been discussed by learned Hindus, particularly the eighteenth-century poets Ramprasad and Bharat Chandra, Roy followed Western critics in their direct attribution of the degeneration of Hindu society to these customs (Roy 1906: 574-75). As did Jones and Colebrooke, the Raja likewise blamed the brahmins for social and religious decay, since they plotted to conceal the truth of the Vedant "within the dark curtain of the Sanskrit" (Roy 1906: 3) rather than disseminate it to the people in the vernacular languages. It was to undo religious degeneration and counter the brahmin hegemony over Hinduism that Roy chose to translate scripture into the vernacular (Roy 1906: 199). Here too, Roy continued an age-old struggle between Sanskrit and vernaculars that had previously found expression in the works of Eknath (Ranade 1902: 219).

Quite simply, the strategy arguing for social reform in terms of scriptural authority existed in India outside the colonial era and did not depend on "the emerging dominance of an official Western discourse on India" (Mani 1988: 114). Before we accuse Roy of collaborating with colonial administrators by prioritizing smrti (with Manu as foremost among smrti texts), we must first question whether there existed a colonial discourse with respect to scripture that differed from brahmin orthodox policy.


In orthodox tradition, Manu was a standing source of authority and not just a text that was malleable to colonial administrative designs (Manu 1992: xviii) and, by extension, Roy's need to imitate his colonial masters. It was the subject of nine complete commentaries and more frequently cited than any other dharmashastra. In theory, Indians have always taken Manu very seriously. Whether its privileged status extended to actual use in legal courts is another matter. Some historians have claimed that, before colonial rule, Manu had been used by jurists (Manu 1992: ix). Orientalism did not give Manu its authority.7 Manu was the absolute authority of both Vedic knowledge and Vedic practice (Manu 1992: xli-xlii). In other words, there existed a noncolonial precedent for Roy's reliance on Manu. Roy (and the colonial officials) diverged from this exegetical tradition, however, in an important respect. After identifying original authoritative sources, they felt it their duty to correct these texts of the accretions suffered with the passage of time. Whatever truth claims scripture originally held had been contaminated by centuries of ignorant and sometimes wild accretions.

The Raja thus posed a serious challenge to scriptural inerrancy and canonicity. A scriptural canon was established as original and authentic. However, in order to prove valuable for Roy's larger project of reform, it had to be corrected. For his needs, Roy gave centrality only to those texts that could be read to support universalist and modern interpretations (Nandy 1983: 194). Toward this end, the Raja drew primarily from those texts that easily lent themselves to reinterpretation suiting his immediate concerns for social reform (Heimsath 1964: 154). His reliance on the Upanishads, the Vedanta Sutra, and Manu as sufficiently vague and complex authorities stemmed from this same need for adaptability.

Roy based his vision of the Aryan Golden Age on a "Veda," constructed to provide ample opportunity for self-realization. As a guide, even this extensive canon could not sufficiently reinforce the ethical basis that Roy felt lacking in Hinduism. Moral precepts that he found present in his "Veda" appeared only in scattered form. Since he felt Christian ethics presented the same system of morality in a manner better suited for the discharge of social duties, Roy incorporated the precepts of Jesus into his canon as a basis for teaching morality. He continued to champion the validity of "Vedic" texts, but acknowledged the unacceptable errors that they had accrued over time, clouding their moral focus.

It is important to remember that in his definition of the canon, Roy was guided both by the Orientalist reception of the "oldest" texts and method of reading as well as by the Indian normative view of a "Vedic" canon and tradition of interpreting it. Although eternal and immutable, this Veda could be employed to explain a process of change and provide a fluid sacred authority upon which an interpreter could impose a personal thematic. Canonical gerrymandering and free translation techniques restructured the authoritative texts. They could now be read "objectively," that is, to support the pillars of Rammohan's reform: the condemnation of sati and polytheistic idolatry (Roy 1906: 5).8 The Raja read and sometimes rewrote the "Vedic" canon to depict an ideal Aryan past where these practices did not exist.

Of all the contemporary practices that diverged from ancient sources, sati was considered by Rammohan Roy to be the most destructive force threatening society: engendering prejudice, superstition, and the total destruction of moral principles. In the Conference between an Advocate for and an Opponent of the Practice of Burning Widows Alive (1818), Roy presented his textually grounded condemnation of sati in the form of a debate. The opponent of sati claims that it is suicide and, as such, forbidden by the various shastras. The advocate for sati, however, cites the Rig veda in support of the ritual.

O Fire! let these women, with bodies anointed with clarified butter, eyes coloured with collyrium and void of tears, enter thee, the parent of water, that they may not be separated from their husbands, but may be in union with excellent husbands, themselves sinless and jewels amongst women. (Roy 1906: 327)

The opponent's response to Rig Vedic authority relies on a fundamental thesis of Roy's commentaries and translations: pure religion degenerated into cultic practices that aimed at accommodating less gifted adherents. Citing the Bhagavad Gita, the opponent claims that even a Vedic passage may be superceded, if it is directed toward readers who are occupied with or trapped within sense desires. Thus, the Rig Veda passage, the ultimate authority condoning sati, can be discounted as a lesser authority intended for lesser minds.

The opponent/Roy also points to the obscurity of the Rig Vedic passage and questions its authenticity (Roy 1906: 367-72). He notes that it does not specifically enjoin women to sacrifice themselves and contains no reference to women performing voluntary death with their husbands' corpse. The phrase "these women" can only be taken to refer to particular women and not women in general. Roy adds, moreover, that no commentary has ever given this passage the interpretation of commending widows to burn themselves on their husband's pyre. In a gesture of overkill, Roy has now both rejected as an invalid authority the Vedic passage cited in favor of sati and called into question its reliability.

He next questions whether support for this problematic ritual has ever been found in smrti, texts which rank second to the Veda in authority. Among smrti, Manu is the most authoritative. Roy claims that Manu, by enjoining the widow to live a virtuous life, is decidedly against concremation. Although contradictions to Manu can be found, Roy rejects them for the same reason that he discounted the Rig Vedic passage -- their promise of future carnal fruition (Roy 1906: 368). In addition to the Gita's injunction to discount texts that promise reward, he cites Manu and modern law experts who also discredit behavior done in the hope of future gains. Roy's condemnation of sati rests, therefore, upon three claims of validity. Passages are first assessed according to intent. A text, whatever its status, that promotes superstition, idolatry, or the promotion of selfish ritual must be discarded. Secondly, passages are judged by authenticity and reliability. These factors are judged by corroborative textual evidence. Thirdly, corroboration is sought in the most authoritative text. Barring Vedic corroboration, it is to be found in the next most authoritative source. Roy reads Manu as inviolate and claims a text valid only insofar as it agrees with Manu (Roy 1906: 343). Manu, therefore, can overrule all other lawbooks and, in this case, the Veda itself. At the expense of the Rig Veda, Manu is deemed truly "Vedic." As such, Manu's assessment is deemed valid and original. Roy reads Manu's enjoinder for widows to live virtuous lives as the legitimate condemnation of the rite. The condemnation of sati thus pivoted upon the rhetorical use of scripture, its shifting authority, and conflicting truth claims. Rammohan Roy's critique of idolatry further developed this line of argument.


By shifting scriptural authority and translating select Upanishads and the Vedanta Sutra into vernaculars ("Hindoostani" and Bengali) and English, Roy did not merely construct a specific normative reading. By making the texts available, he prioritized scripture as it had never been before, substituting the texts themselves for the priest as the ultimate source of authority and, thus, subverting the traditional hermeneutic process. In this manner, Roy created a vision of the Vedic past wherein objectionable aspects of modern Hinduism were absent, since they existed only through misreading and abuse of textual authority.

In the introduction to his translation of the Kena Upanishad, Roy asserted that in India, no less than in the West, there had developed a notion of monotheism (Roy 1906: 35). In subsequent epochs, this belief had degenerated into idolatry for two reasons: believers are often ignorant and priests are often liars. There exist many who are incapable of grasping higher truths, yet are entitled to religious principles lest they remain in a primitive state. For the sake of those who possess limited understanding, worship of figured beings is allowed. This rationale explains how an infallible text such as the Veda can appear paradoxical; it is so by design, with the interest of the common man in mind. Where the Veda suggests a tolerance for idolatry, it actually reveals a strategy for accommodating the unsophisticated (Roy 1906: 23).9  Subtleties in Vedic rhetorical style aimed at providing divine access to all persons, including those incapable of subtlety who may choose lesser paths.10 Roy thus delimited a subtext within the Veda, a meta-Veda, that demanded an allegorical reading aimed at an alternative audience. As a literary device, however, allegory proved baneful, since Indians showed themselves to be particularly skilled in this art. When literature and philosophy subsequently decayed, clever allegorical representations were misinterpreted to condone idolatry as the foremost and preferred form of worship.

The prevalence of Hindu idolatry, therefore, should be seen as an error in interpretation. Different genres coexisting within a single scriptural text presented different claims to authority and validity. To decipher Vedic truth, one must determine which passages should be read as scriptural injunction and which as poetry. The Raja could then, having established rules for textual validity, dismiss the poetic (and symbolic) passages that had been "misread" and correct those "excrescences" that had led to "exceptionable practices," depriving Hindus of common comforts and bringing about societal ruin. Rather than anything intrinsic to Hinduism, it was the Indian genius for allegory and democratizing scriptural strategies of revealing God to all, the gifted as well as the unsophisticated, that led to confusion. The reader's inability to judge the respective truth claims of poetry and scriptural injunction enabled the practice of idolatry to flourish. Roy's translations and commentaries aimed at enabling Indians to cast aside prejudice and release themselves from the fetters of accumulated misreadings.

In addition to misreadings stemming from interpretive misperceptions, Vedic wisdom was also undermined by a well-organized brahmin conspiracy.

Roy directly accused the brahmins of keeping the true scriptural knowledge concealed from their brethern (Roy 1906: 66) by permitting "themselves alone to interpret or even touch any book of this kind" (Roy 1906: 3). Roy claimed that textual inaccessibility had allowed religious practice to stray from orthodoxy to the point that it stood at a considerable distance from precept. Brahmins read the Vedas in support of ceremonial observance as necessary for the acquisition of divine knowledge in order to monopolize profits from the rites and festivals of idol worship (Roy 1906: 93). Zealous brahmins thus sacrificed scriptural authority for "the preservation of their fertile estate of idolatry" (Roy 1906: 108, 118). They were fully aware of the absurdity of idol worship (preface, Isopanishad, 1816), yet they nevertheless encouraged its practice since it provided their fortune and comfort. Their motives as promoters of image worship were, therefore, base, shameless, and mercenary (Roy 1906: 114, 116). These self-interested guides, motivated by vulgar caprice (Roy 1906: 71), conducted believers to the temple of idolatry (Roy 1906: 73). They succeeded in promoting idol worship only because the average Hindu was unversed in scripture and believed that religion really consisted in the observance of rituals and rules of caste. Whereas the worship of idols had existed in other civilizations (notably Greece and Rome) in equally "impure, absurd and puerile" forms, the Hindu variety was far more pernicious, since it was perpetrated by trusted authority figures "hardly deserving the name of social beings" (Roy 1906: 120), who destroyed the comforts of life and the very texture of society.

Rammohan believed that idolatry ultimately effected the total destruction of morality. As an external form of ritual palpable only to gross instincts, it countenanced criminal intercourse, suicide, female murder, and human sacrifice. All prejudices and superstitions derived from it, since the worship of objects resembling one's own nature deadened the senses and led to grosser abuses (Mu1J4aka Upanishad, 1819). He laid the destruction of society's moral fabric directly at the feet of the brahmins, who acted as false guides and consciously defied scripture. Roy chided traditional brahmins for distorting scripture and withholding religious truths. But he primarily blamed "modern Brahmins" for sanctioning the practices of sati, child marriage, dowry abuses, and Kulinism.11 They promoted "the most heinous crimes that would make even the most savage nations blush to commit unless compelled by most urgent necessity" (introduction, Katha translation).

In his translation of the Katha Upanishad, Roy elaborated upon his condemnation of self-interested brahmin leaders who foster superstitions. He accused them of actually fashioning scripture to suit their greed and selfish aims. Roy exhorted his readers to use common sense, follow reason, and put faith only in those who translate scripture for them out of disinterested motives rather than those who conceal truth, demand goods, and require obeisance. In contrast to the traditional (and flawed) interpreter, the Raja positioned himself as the ideal reader committed to reason and not motivated by greed. His desire to reform Hinduism, however, conflicted with his ideal of objectivity. Although he claimed to translate the Upanishads faithfully (Roy 1906: 63), his renditions differ considerably from the Sanskrit texts, particularly in those passages (noted in italics) that he added to the original to "facilitate comprehension." Upon closer inspection of Roy's translations, one realizes the extent to which he editorialized scripture to promote his reform agenda. In the interest of space, a representative example of Roy's creative emendations should suffice.

The attributeless God of the Upanishads becomes in Roy's translations a patriarchal deity viewed as "spiritual father" and parent (Roy 1906: 39, 42). This was a difficult divine image for the Raja to have extracted from the attributeless Brahman of Vedanta or the monism of Advaita. Nevertheless, he read into Shankara's commentary a revival of monotheism and evoked a patriarchal God who was "the author and governor of the universe" (Roy 1906: 174). He is a God who rewards the faithful and bestows grace upon them in the form of knowledge (Roy 1906: 58) and faith (Roy 1906: 26). Unique and paternal, God responds to those who rationally approach Him. Although human forgetfulness allows for the identification of this God with a multitude of celestial representations (Roy 1906: 12), no competing divinities really exist. In the Isa's invocation of the Sun (verse 16), Roy supplements the text with the comment that such prayers are "meaningless since the sun is the same as He who possesses Divine Nature." Throughout his translations, Roy consistently explains away multiple gods and promotes a vision of Vedic monotheism. The Raja reads the text to say that idolatry is as much an error as is ritual excess.

Roy introduces the subject of ritual into texts (Roy 1906: 26, 76) where it does not appear. A passage from the Isopanishad is literally translated as:

Those who are covered in darkness and who despise the Self die and become demons.12

Rammohan Roy rendered this passage in the following manner:

Those that neglect the contemplation of the Supreme Spirit either by devoting themselves solely to the performance of the ceremonies of religion, or by living destitute of religious ideas, shall after death, assume the state of demons such as that of the celestial gods, and other created beings, which are surrounded with the darkness of ignorance. (Roy 1906: 76)

Here as elsewhere (Roy 1906: 47, 51-52), the Raja introduced the subject of ritual into the text only to condemn it as a false goal of worship, motivated by vain desire of future gain, a form of superstition (Roy 1906: 15), or something purely optional. Ritual is equated with religious ignorance. Demons are likened to the multiple gods worshipped by lesser minds. In this manner, he rewrites the Upanishadic text to condemn both ritual and idolatry.

These polemical works and translations show that the Raja fully recognized the authority wielded by the "Vedas" as absent texts and the abuse of authority exercised by their brahmin "readers."13 Rammohan Roy's entire project was directed at making present these texts and wresting power away from their custodians. In his polemical works, Roy developed strategies to alter the canon so that it supported his arguments. With his translation of principle portions of the "Vedas" and the Vedanta, authority came to rest solidly on a tangible archive. Here the canon, now fixed, underwent rewriting. Through the manipulation of his canon, Roy set about redressing errors concerning the nature of the "invisible Supreme Being" and suggesting models for "pure worship" untainted by idolatry. The condemnation of idolatry ultimately rested on the conflicting truth claims of poetry and divine injunction.


Christophe Jaffrelot has identified two theoretical positions that historians generally use to describe the origin and development of ethnic movements in India: the primordialist and the instrumental. The primordialist position maintains that cultural specificities lead to ethnic consciousness. The instrumentalist position holds that cultural identities are malleable and can, as symbols, be manipulated by elite groups to mobilize a given community. Jaffrelot suggests a third perspective, what he terms "strategic syncretism." He terms this position syncretic because the content of ideology is taken from the behavior of groups deemed antagonistic to a given population. The syncretism is strategic in that it aims, through psychological and mimetic processes, to dominate those same antagonistic groups (Jaffrelot 1993: 519).

We have tried to show how Rammohan Roy constructed a canon and used it in a manner consistent with what Jaffrelot has termed strategic syncretism. He borrowed from the Orientalists a preference for Vedantic texts. He shared their devaluation of modern Hinduism. Here, he was less motivated by the missionaries' contempt for a debased faith and more from belief that it did not suit the social needs of the population. However, he shared their distrust of brahmin power. Rammohan Roy took what he liked about Christianity, borrowed the methods wielded by missionaries and Orientalist scholarship, and devised strategies, based on traditional Indian normative approaches to textuality (that is, that texts need interpretation), to challenge scriptural inerrancy and canonicity.

He waged a battle on two fronts, one against the heavy-handed techniques of Christian missionaries (a problem that does not seem to go away, as witnessed by recent events in India with American Baptist groups) and another against brahmin power. His reform was strategic in the sense that it sought to dominate both missionary and brahmin discourse. Through the evocation of a Vedic Golden Age constructed out of alternative readings of canonical sources, he condemned those very practices that had elicited the scorn of Christian missionaries. By evoking a monotheistic Vedic Urreligion, he placed Hinduism on equal footing with Christianity. By exposing the idolatrous nature of the Christian Trinity, Roy silenced any critique of Hindu polytheism.

However antagonistic the Trinitarians might have been as a group and however necessary it was to neutralize them, the enemies who existed closer to home were far more daunting opponents. To combat them, Rammohan Roy waged a battle of literary proportions. By prioritizing textuality over and above priestly exegesis, the Raja dealt a severe blow to brahmin authority. If there was a brahmin conspiracy, wider accessibility to authoritative texts would do much to countermand it.14 By grounding his reform in the reinterpretation of sacred texts and appending onto these texts core values borrowed from the rhetoric of Christianity, Roy legitimized his arguments according to existing Indian concepts of scriptural sacredness. He sought to establish a means whereby Hinduism, whose conventional sacred duties had been confined to ceremonial rites and offerings, might be transformed and brought into the service of the community. He expressly sought to promote the comfort of his people and unite them by reviving the "Vedant" and disseminating religion in book form.

In this study of the Aryan myth as it expresses itself in the literary consciousness, it is our intention to stress at all times the hermeneutic event, the individual's relationship to inherited tradition and the specific experience of encounter. Rammohan Roy's translations of the Upanishads brought into focus a fundamental disagreement over man's natural capacity to understand religious truth. This hermeneutic problem stemmed from the hierarchization of Hindu social and religious life founded on the premise that significant differences in capacity and competence exist between individuals. Rammohan Roy seriously challenged this adhikarabheda tradition when he translated the texts. He asserted that all but a very small minority could understand the basic teachings of the Upanishads. He did not expect all to benefit fully from these teachings, but the success rate would be proportionate to one's state of mental preparation (Roy 1906: 133).15

There was even another level of syncretism in his work-his promoting Christian precepts grounded in Western rationalism. He did not see contemporary Hinduism as permanently inferior to Semitic-based creeds, but as a once great but now fallen religion which still had possibilities. His efforts at reform were motivated by a desire to improve the lot of his countrymen and modernize their faith. In his harkening back, via a "Veda" that could wield authority in India's present-day malaise, Roy sought to reconstruct a purified Hindu community and a sense of history for that community (Nandy 1983: 103). To borrow Jaffrelot's terminology, we may say that his syncretism was strategic in the sense that the resulting neo- Hinduism originated out of a purely indigenous golden age that depicted a unified religion and a single cultural strain (Nandy 1983: 193). By revealing the essential truth embedded in scripture, Rammohan Roy sought to separate scriptural authority from the false accretions of time and the literal teachings of idolatrous, self-promoting brahmins who continued to practice a socially destructive system. His methodology provided a powerful tool of social engineering to the next generation (Nandy 1983: 193). His efforts represent far less the colonial's intellectual dependency on the Western Other and need to mimic his values, and far more an individual interrogating his own tradition and wielding the tools of Western religion as they are useful to him. In Rammohan Roy, we find the "voiced" subaltern.

No one doubts the acknowledged limitations of nationalism within the colonial context, nor the influence of nineteenth-century intellectual models upon nationalism. Colonialism does define, limit, and distort contact between cultures. However, it does not follow that a weak and dependent intelligentsia's admiration for its master's civilization is exclusively a result of dependency (Sen 1978: 4). The hermeneutic possibilities of cross-cultural encounters are simply not exhausted by identifying a "drive" in the European psyche suffering from ego-anxiety or its aggressive objectification of the other in order to constitute its own coherence (Said 1978: 72). Quite simply, we must question the dynamics involved in Eastern appropriations of Western constructs. Indian responses to specific elements in British culture, for example, were not necessarily linked to colonialism, even though responses may ultimately have reinforced imperial dominance (Raychaudhuri 1988: 5). The oppressor/victim binary of colonial discourse analysis does not account for patterns of admiration and positions adopted within the receiving culture. Dominance can provoke revulsion and rejection as well. While negative responses are frequently interpreted as ambivalence, they might also be explained by the fact that particular components of the cultures involved determine what is admired or rejected. Ideally, theory should explain how appropriations are rooted in the specific cultural traits of the receptor society and its literary tradition. Equality and inequality are not the sole determinants of cultural encounters.

Encounters are determined from the evolving values of a people and their specific historical situation. Rammohan Roy lived at a time when one could envision incorporating the ideas of science, history, and progress as forces of criticism within Indian traditions. He was a product of an age which was culturally self-confident (Nandy 1983: 101), when individuals thought themselves capable of self-definition. Rammohan's political consciousness was based on a good deal of self-esteem and autonomy. As recent assessments of Rammohan Roy have shown, directing our theoretical task to unmasking his complicity in colonial rule limits any need or desire to engage in more nuanced literary or philosophical investigations of his work. It is important to stress the power of ideas themselves acting as autonomous forces and as catalysts (Sen 1978: 5). It is important to avoid complacently dismissing Indian responses to the West as motivated either by slavish admiration or xenophobic rejection. Epistemological binarism is problematic in itself. In this particular instance, structure and history collide.

Since structuralism, critical theory is largely based on some idea of structural power that determines all behavior, both political and personal. To this fundamental systemic feature, the critic questions whether there can, in fact, be a true representation of any thing (Ahmad 1994: 192). The desire to know the world and the claim that it is open to rational comprehension can then be dismissed as contemptible attempts to construct "grand narratives" and totalizing (totalitarian?) knowledges.16 In Orientalist and postcolonial criticism's narratives of oppression, complex subjects such as Rammohan Roy tend not to exist. Representation is always already misrepresentation; human communication is "a ruse of illusory subjectivity [that] precludes the possibility of truthful statements on the ground that evidence that ... writing, is always already prejudiced by the very nature of language itself" (Ahmad 1993: 194).

On a historical level, such theory gives colonial discourse a status that it did not possess in the world as power. If colonial discourse as knowledge had the power ascribed to it, colonialism would probably not have been overthrown. There would have been no room for local power elites to collaborate with colonialism or synthesize their own form (Clark 1996: 29). By replacing reading with theoretical strategems intent on shaping the contest over decolonization, colonial discourse analysis can overlook areas of response that are not wholly determined by relationships of colonial power and undervalue causal links in areas such as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century nativist concerns. It can neglect those positive responses to specific elements in an alien culture that are not necessarily linked to dominance, even though the latter may reinforce them (Raychaudhuri 1988: 5). It can dismiss most claims of individual agency. It can refuse to acknowledge textuality as anything but a representation of inner contradictions of systemic violence. Theory prioritizes itself as the necessary device with which one can decode how textual inconsistencies and contradictions reenact or deconstruct the power relations of a system.

It allows us as readers to embrace the rather shallow critical assumption that all human communication is deceptive. The notion that systemic limits determine all struggles for self-realization stems from the belief that the individual is always subject to forces beyond his or her comprehension. If texts are considered mere effects of systemic violence, if representation is conceived as already an attempt to impose boundaries, then promises of reform ultimately reveal themselves as shrewd strategies of containment. This critical position points to reactionary and self-serving impulses dominating literary theory today. As we have seen in the case of Rammohan Roy, it has little basis in fact when actually applied to the production of any number of colonial subjects. In the following chapters, we might want to ask ourselves what politics of projects foreground the theoretical dependence on epistemic power and the rejection of intersubjectivity.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Postby admin » Tue Feb 09, 2021 4:45 am

CHAPTER 6: Text-based Identity: Dayanand Saraswati's Reconstruction of the Aryan Self


In chapter 5, we saw that the founding of the Brahmo Samaj in 1828 by Raja Rammohan Roy initiated a religious and political movement for the cultural purification of Hinduism. It was his belief that India had strayed from the true model for Indian culture and religion, the ancient Aryans. As a cure for India's political subjugation, he proposed a recuperation of the former Aryan vision and glory. Rammohan's method of reading the past as a means of reaffirming or undoing the present set a precedent. Indeed, throughout the nineteenth-century, Indian readings of the Aryan past revalorized ancient Indian history and contributed to social reform. Perhaps the most radical reformer was Dayanand Saraswati (1824-83), who founded the Arya Samaj in 1875. In much the same manner that Rammohan Roy based his reform on the translation and dissemination of the Upanishads, Dayanand developed his notion of the Aryan through a continued rearticulation of the authority vested in Vedic texts.

Like the Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj was a movement that rejected much of what passed as current Hinduism. It based its reform on eradicating differences in language, religion, education, customs, and manners that prevented Indians from fully effecting the mutual good of society as a whole. The ten principles (niyams) of the Arya Samaj (written in 1877) provide a summary statement of Dayanand's position with respect to social reform and ethics. Many of the issues raised in the niyams address ethical concerns for the physical, spiritual, and social welfare of others that the Brahmo Samaj and Western critics had found lacking in Hinduism.1

As did Rammohan Roy, Dayanand rejected polytheism and posited the existence of a single and abstract God. He also condemned idol worship. Since God is formless, He cannot be captured by plastic representation. For both thinkers, the issue of idolatry was emblematic of a degenerate Hinduism as opposed to an earlier pure faith. Both focused on idolatry as a medieval excrescence totally foreign to Aryan religion. By debunking idol worship, both sought to reform Hinduism and return to its source. However, Dayanand took arguments against idol worship one step further. He asserted that idolatry led to India's political slavery and degradation. By depending on idols and not exerting themselves, Indians had lost their government, independence, wealth, and pleasures. Dayanand maintained that the Indians themselves were responsible for having become a subject race.

In addition to approximating the Brahmo Samaj's stand on monotheism and idolatry, Dayanand also advocated other issues that were fundamental to Rammohan's reform: female equality in education, postponing the age of marriage, marriage by choice (Dayanand 1981: 315), and widow remarriage (Dayanand 1981: 282). In matters of caste reform, Dayanand far exceeded the efforts of the Raja.2 While the Brahmo Samaj challenged caste with arguments based on Western Enlightenment concerns for social utility, Dayanand condemned caste as a Hindu distortion of Aryan social values.3 The means for rehabilitation existed and could be rediscovered in the Vedas. It was, therefore, a question of relying on Aryan solutions to social and religious problems. No foreign inspiration or models for reform were necessary. The Arya Samaj rejected the universalism of the Brahmo Samaj, particularly in its later configurations.4 Rather than accommodating different religious writings, the Arya Samaj challenged scriptural eclecticism. Hinduism was not equal in the brotherhood of religions, but superior to all others (Jordens 1978: 278-79).

Underlying the Arya Samaj's mandate was its founder's profound belief that modern Indians needed only to return to Aryan values articulated in the Vedas in order to effect reform and regain independence.5 Since the techniques for a return to the Aryan social system were to be found in the teachings of the Veda, Dayanand based his entire program on these texts. They possessed the necessary learning (Dayanand 1981: 117), including all scientific knowledge (Dayanand 1981: 404, 130). Unfortunately, the fundamentals of all types of knowledge do not appear in the Veda in their fully developed form. To access this knowledge, one needed the interpretive skills that Dayanand 's reading of the Veda purported to offer.

With the Satyarth Prakash and the Rgvedadibhashyabhumika,6 Dayanand sought to liberate the Veda from brahmin control, make it accessible to all Hindus,7 and reveal the Aryan Golden Age. In the following discussion, we will examine how the Satyarth Prakash (1875, revised 1883) and Dayanand's commentaries on the Vedas present a series of interpretive strategies enabling him to extricate Vedic revelation from its hermeticism and narrow ritualism and promote a vision of Hindu nationalism that resonates up to the present day.8


Vedic textual reference was traditionally known only as memorized utterance. In order to reconstruct a universal system based on the Veda, it was first necessary to fix the revealed text as a written text in the form of a book edition or a translation before invoking it as a canonical authority. Rammohan Roy had begun this process by physically disseminating his "Veda" in the form of vernacular and English translations of the Upanishads. Max Muller continued this process of fixing the Veda with the monumental task of "collecting the ancient MSS" and "publishing for the first time the text and commentary of the Rig Veda, the oldest book of the whole Aryan race" (Muller 1970: 25). Before Dayanand, however, no modern Indian scholar had exhaustively studied the Vedic mantras. Although Hindus paid homage to the Vedas, the Puranas were the scriptures used by the masses and the elites alike. Even for rituals, priests did not rely on the Srauta Sutras, but on medieval glosses of their commentaries that had been written in Sanskrit (Sen 1979: 328). The perception of scriptural value was often more important than content or authorship.

Like Rammohan Roy and Max Muller, Dayanand realized that the Veda's authority was contingent upon the text's accessibility, its availability to the public, and its release from brahmin control. In fact, the entire issue of Vedic authority and canonicity really entailed the liberation of Vedic revelation from its brahmin appraisers. Witness the format that Dayanand initially chose for his polemic, the sastrartha or book disputation (Llewellyn 1993: 104).9 The most notable book disputation took place in Benares in 1869. Here, Dayanand challenged the pandits to prove that idol worship had Vedic sanction by demanding that they physically produce references. They, of course, could not prove Vedic authority for idolatry. Only the Puranas sanctioned it, and Dayanand 's opponents based their claim on this authority.

The site and the theme of this book disputation are noteworthy: Dayanand chose Benares, a center for brahmin learning, as the site to debate idol worship, one of the major sources of priestly pecuniary gain. Although the topic was idolatry, the ensuing debate ended abruptly in the midst of a discussion concerning whether the Puranas were an expression of the same religion as was found in the Vedas. Legend has it that one of the pandits produced some pages containing the term purana ("old"), and while Dayanand was reading them, the pandit declared victory. Dayanand was pelted with stones and police whisked him away (Jordens 1978: 68).10 It is important to note that the debate rested more on the issue of canonicity than on idolatry. Even at this early stage in his career, the book-bound nature of his canon and the physical existence of a Veda were significant factors.11

With time, Dayanand focused even more on textually grounded Vedic authority (Jordens 1978:54-58).12 Throughout his career, he consistently emphasized the legitimacy of physically present texts. After he abandoned the medium of the book disputation and public debate, he focused his attention on translation and commentary. Through these efforts, Dayanand established a canon from which he could create a portrait of an idealized, monotheistic Aryan world devoid of idolatry.

Dayanand's initial task consisted of identifying a canon of authority. In an innovative move, Dayanand limited the Vedic canon to include only the samhita portions of the Vedas.13 It was a curious move on his part to posit the Vedic samhitas as the sole authority, since they were historically viewed as ritualistic texts. Dayanand, however, insisted that the samhitas be read exclusively in order to gain knowledge relevant to life. Since the Vedas alone were considered divine in origin and other texts were composed by seers, Dayanand deemed that whatever was found in any text contradicting the Veda must be rejected. As the only texts composed by God, they alone were infallible; other texts depended on them for their respective authority. By delimiting his canon in this manner,14 Dayanand sought to discover the earliest strata of religion in its purest form. The movement back to the earliest text, predating any and all practices, provided an impregnable position from which to launch an attack on contemporary abuses.

Regarding the rest of Hindu scripture, Dayanand only considered those texts written before the Mahabharata War in the Vedic Golden Age,15 the arsha literature, as authoritative. While this corpus contains some error (since it was composed by humans), Dayanand judged it valid to the extent that it reflected God's knowledge as manifest in the Veda. He judged the anarsha texts, those written after the Mahabharata War, devoid of authority and unworthy of study. They may contain some truth, but it is hidden under much falsehood, amidst "a lot of rubbish, myths and fabrications" (Dayanand 1915: 74). Given the fact that Dayanand clearly delineated those texts that he viewed as authoritative, it is interesting to note the extent to which he held to his valuation of textual legitimacy and adhered to his preestablished canon of authority. Dayanand scholar J.T.F. Jordens compared the first and second editions of the Satyarth Prakash and discovered that, in the first edition, Dayanand provided few Vedic references to support his portrait of the Aryan world. It was only after the long and arduous work on the Vedabhtishya that he compiled the second edition and cited the Vedas more frequently (Jordens 1978: 102). In both editions, Dayanand also relied heavily on Manu, the principal Upanishads, and the six schools of philosophy (Jordens 1978: 250).16

In an exhaustive statistical analysis of Dayanand's use of source material, J.E. Llewellyn has further shown to what degree Dayanand relied on arsha literature when the samhita portions of the four Vedas did not offer sufficient material to substantiate an idealized vision of Aryan reality. Llewellyn has quantified the extent to which Dayanand based his portrait of the Aryans on a limited Vedic canon supplemented by alternative authorities from arsha literature that were not Vedic as Dayanand defined it, but could be used canonically in conjunction with the Veda to support argumentation (Llewellyn 1993: 207).17 In order to develop a full theory of polity, for example, Dayanand relied primarily on Manu. Expediency overrode his self-imposed canonical strictures. The important point in this regard is that, textually, Dayanand's Vedic world was no more "Vedic" than Rammohan Roy's translations of the Upanishads. Moreover, in order to read this "Veda" in support of an idealized vision of the Aryan world, Dayanand devised a series of hermeneutical ploys that further facilitated his thesis that the Vedas embody a totality of truth.

Llewellyn has shown how, in general, Dayanand was not truly consistent in his use of citations (Llewellyn 1993: 231).18 References to sources frequently did not even follow the authority quoted (Llewellyn 1993: 240). In the great majority of cases, Dayanand presented his own interpretation of the Vedic passage without any reference to supporting material (Llewellyn 1993: 231, 238). When he chose to support his readings, he prominently featured non-Vedic arsha texts noteworthy for their interpretive flexibility (Llewellyn 1993: 235-37).19 Dayanand also allowed himself considerable freedom through an impressionistic treatment of verbs. If the Veda was indeed timeless, Dayanand felt justified in changing verb tense or person to fit his interpretation (Llewellyn 1993: 237-38). Because God's knowledge is eternal and infallible, the relation of words, letters, and meaning remains the same in the past and in the future (Dayanand 1981: 40, 301). Thus, Dayanand could easily transform the past into the present. Semantic contortions allowed him to render historical events or geographical features into statements of principle (Jordens 1978: 271-72). The latitude that such tinkering afforded his translation cannot be overstressed. It virtually liberated his "authoritative" reading of the ultimately canonical text from any bonds of textuality.

However, Dayanand's most effective strategy for reading the Veda to support his argument was to be found in his fanciful etymologies and translations. Creative etymology allowed Dayanand to draw his rather baroque conclusions- that the Aryans possessed sophisticated scientific data regarding air filtration and water purification techniques (Dayanand 1981: 327), the science of aeronautics (Dayanand 1981: 264), and techniques of medicine (Dayanand 1981: 267). Grammar and semantics were enlisted to support Dayanand's unique notion that the Vedas were the repository of all scientific truth (Jordens 1978: 272). Creative translations also allowed Dayanand to reveal the Aryans' historical commitment to social progress. The Yajur Veda text 20.10 is literally translated thus: "I take my stand on princely power and kingship." Dayanand renders this passage:

I live in a kingdom which is administered righteously and in the country which is awakened, due to the widespread literacy and morality.

Two sentences later in the same passage, the Sanskrit can be rendered thus: "I stay on welfare, on upper regions and earth and I recline on sacrifice," to which Dayanand offers the following reading:

Those who carry on duties of government regarding me as their supreme Lord, achieve always triumph and progressive prosperity. All government officials therefore should strive to enlighten the people with knowledge and justice and should protect them so that injustice and ignorance may be uprooted. (Dayanand 1981: 293)

Creative translations also allowed Dayanand to reveal the Aryans' commitment to scientific progress by proving Aryan knowledge of telegraphy and modern chemistry.20 Reading the results of scientific investigations into the Vedas may well have functioned as a strategic ploy aimed at defusing the modern encroachments of scientism or attacking the scientific pretenses of modernism. However, Dayanand's linguistic flights of fancy also served a serious practical purpose: They were directed in service of religious reform.

Broad translation enabled Dayanand to draw his most significant conclusions regarding Aryan religious belief. A free rendering of the term pratima, as "measure" rather than "idol" or "image" (Llewellyn 1993: 250) allowed Dayanand to confirm that the Veda actually prohibits image worship (Dayanand 1981: 383-87).21 Morphosyntactic switching allowed Dayanand to affirm the existence of Vedic monotheism (Dayanand 1981: 91-92).22 Although Dayanand ascribed ten separate meanings to the term deva, he concluded that it in no way referred to a multiplicity of divinities (Dayanand 1981: 76).23 In this manner, Dayanand's reading of the Veda supported his critique of Hindu polytheism and idolatry, constant themes in his attack on traditional beliefs and practices. In other words, Dayanand's interpretive strategies established a hermeneutical structure that foreclosed all competing value systems: scientific, religious, and, finally historical.

The Veda eternally existed prior to all history.24 It cannot, therefore, relate to any particular event or individual (Dayanand 1915: 240). Those instances where the Veda seems to refer to proper names or events actually express statements of principle or injunction clothed in dramatic or poetic form. Moreover, the Veda cannot contain anything that offends reason and morality (such as miracles or myths). Seemingly supernatural or historical events must be interpreted allegorically (Dayanand 1981: 369). Names, particularly the names of various gods, can indicate general sense only (Dayanand 1981: 120).25 In short, Dayanand used a "shadow" Veda or alternative canon, miscitations, creative etymologies, and mistranslations to support his central thesis of the Veda's universal applicability and usefulness as a protomodernist tool for reform. This methodology had far-reaching implications: It ultimately allowed him to mythologize history and demythologize myth.

Dayanand's vision of text-centered authority, his delimitation of the canon, and the hermeneutical strategies he devised enabled him to attack the very type of religion that brahmins identified as "Vedic" and Dayanand deemed false and superstitious. His creative method of reading also challenged the modernism represented by the Brahmo Samaj and Indian scholars whom he felt were under the spell of Western ideological presuppostions.26 The layers of deception were manifold: Indian modernists depended upon Western scholars who, in turn, had fallen prey to brahmin falsehood in the form of traditional Sanskrit commentaries (Dayanand 1981: 405). Dayanand thus rejected the authority of traditional exegesis (in the form of scoliasts and commentators) as well as modern (yet traditionally trained) scholars both at home and abroad. After rejecting all competing exegetical authorities, his canon and interpretation alone remained valid.

Beyond imposing a personal idiosyncratic reading on the canon as he defined it, Dayanand's strategies for reading presented a serious attempt to liberate the Veda from the limited readership of brahmin priests and pundits who controlled access to the texts. Rammohan Roy had first sought to liberate the text by redefining access to it through translation. By rejecting traditional and contemporary readings, Dayanand directed his efforts to the same end-freeing the text from brahmin readings and bequeathing it to a more general public. Rammohan's efforts had been limited. Dayanand understood that, with the consolidation of colonial power and its print culture, Indians had the opportunity to reclaim their scripture from "unworthy" brahmin custodians. Dayanand's response was forcefully directed at undermining the system of age-old authority, overthrowing the traditional reader, and installing an ideal reader.

Dayanand 's discourse on the Aryan world thus challenged tradition in the form of brahmin textual power as well as incursions of modernity into tradition. Given the traditional Hindu attitude toward scriptural authority, Dayanand 's interpretive play with citations, etymology, syntax, and tense were truly innovative. They provided the textual apparatus for the reinterpretation and valorization of what it was to be Aryan. However, this text-based Aryan identity necessitated the rehabilitation not only of the text, but the reader as well.


The task of rehabilitating the textually bound Aryan and his reader necessitated the revaluation of human actions and the spirit that animates them. Dayanand represented the human soul as an active and creative energy, not a passive spectator (Dayanand 1915: 226). In fact, the Satyarth Prakash at numerous reprises drives home the message of man's involvement in the moral world.27 Underlying Dayanand's recuperative efforts was the acknowledged conviction that the primeval truth of the Veda had been distorted by the Advaitan belief in the oneness of God and the human soul. According to Vedantists, neither good nor evil exist because God is the only reality. It is the Advaitan goal to realize this identity, and the sannyasi dedicates himself to this ideal. The world, where good and evil seem to exist, is an illusion. The Satyarth Prakash sets out to disprove the notion that the world is unreal and evil nonexistent. Common sense, Dayanand claimed, established the existence of objects independent of our perception of them. Objects have a reality of their own, and the world must exist or souls could not reap the rewards of previous deeds (Dayanand 1915: 221).

Dayanand presented the soul alone as the seer, doer, and reaper of the fruits of actions (Dayanand 1915: 290). It is the soul that thinks, knows, remembers, performs actions, feels individuality, enjoys, and suffers. Only the soul can perform good and evil deeds (Dayanand 1915: 221-30). Dayanand discouraged belief in concepts such as transmigration and karma because he felt that their determinism made people lazy and indolent. There were no shortcuts through ritual or devotion. Action alone led to moksha. In his estimation, passivity sanctioned by religion had deprived the Indians of their independence, happiness, wealth, political power, and learning. They sit idle, praying for relief and charity that is never forthcoming. Such behavior, he maintained, had completely ruined Aryavarta (Dayanand 1915: 318).

Dayanand enjoined his readers to revert to their Aryan selves, to become again men of energetic and active habits (Dayan and 1915: 250). He urged them to reject ignorance and promote public good, justice, and righteousness (Dayanand 1915: 279). Rather than focusing on the casting off of bodily concerns with a view toward emancipation, Dayanand promoted an image of active masculinity, laying special stress on the efficacy of good works ordered by the Veda, the mastery over sense gratification, and behavior beyond the standard personal virtues. These traits had previously made the Aryans great and should be revived in modern India. Clearly, for Dayanand, the Aryans serve as models for human achievement. Their historical downfall, however, provides an equally important lesson, whose message has less to do with racial somatology than with textual politics and potency Dayanand's "history" of the past begins with a panegyric to Aryan glory. Humanity consisted of two classes: the good (arya) and the wicked (dasyu) (Dayanand 1915: 266). The Aryans were God's chosen people to whom the Veda had been revealed and whose language was the source of all languages. The Dasyus, also called asuras, were dacoits (Dayanand 1915: 264). Warfare broke out between the Aryans and Dasyus. Dayanand did not, however, use the terms arya or dasyu in a racial or a religious sense.28 Arya simply meant an "excellent man" as opposed to a "wicked man." He did not suggest that the Aryans were a particular race or tribe who had conquered aborigines and named them slaves (dasyus) (Dayanand 1981: 266).

Regarding India as the best place on earth, the Aryans emigrated there from Tibet "sometime after creation" (Dayanand 1915: 265) and colonized it. They named this land Aryavarta, the abode of the Aryans.29 Before the Aryans had colonized it, Aryavarta had no name and had been uninhabited. From their new home, the Aryans governed the whole world (Dayanand 1915: 320) and preached the Vedas throughout their dominion (Dayanand 1915: 266). All peoples embraced the Aryan morality, since it taught universal brotherhood. Only under the rule of the Aryans did peace and happiness reign upon this earth (Dayanand 1915: 326-27). Aryavarta was the center and source of Aryan power; all knowledge, righteousness, and all religions originated there (Dayanand 1915: 265). The Aryans were the true Indians. Unlike the Bible or the Koran, the Veda was meant for all nations. Sanskrit was the universal language, since it was no people's mother tongue and all had to learn it. The Aryans taught Egypt, Greece, and Europe whatever initial1earning they possessed (Dayanand 1915: 238). They were sophisticated, generous (Dayanand 1915: 39), and cosmopolitan (Dayanand 1915: 326). Their system of rule was so perfect that it formed the basis for all subsequent world governments (Dayanand 1915: 201). Devoted to the acquisition of knowledge and bodily perfection, endowed with ideal social structures and religious customs, the Aryans kept India free from disease and misery. Despite their efforts to maintain a perfect society, however, the Aryans brought destruction upon their culture.

The Mahabharata War marked the end of the Aryan Golden Age. During this conflict, Aryavarta was dealt a blow from which it never recovered: When the princes, kings, sages, and saints of the golden age perished, their teaching of Vedic literature and religion died with them (Dayanand 1915: 316-18). Superstition and degenerate cultic practices took root and began to flourish in the form of Hinduism's distortions of Vedic religion.30 Dayanand's philosophy of "history" installs this aetiology of loss and corruption as the root cause of Indian's contemporary malaise. However, what sets Dayanand's teleology of decay apart from Western theorists of degeneration, such as Spengler or Nordau, was that the degeneration Dayanand found in history was intimately related to textual degeneration.

Dayanand held that God communicates the Vedas to man at the beginning of each kalpa. Just as He has done in the previous kalpa, so will He reveal the Veda again in future kalpas ad infinitum (Dayanand 1981: chapter 1). Of the three eternally existing entities, God, souls, and the material universe, the universe and sows cease to exist in their present form at cosmic dissolution (pralaya). In the beginning of the next kalpa, however, they come into existence again (Dayanand 1915: 281, 284). Like the universe and sows, the Veda too, while not manifest in the period after pralaya, is communicated anew to humanity as each world is created (Jordens 1972: 372). Thus, God's knowledge in the form of the Veda is revealed to humanity at the beginning of each kalpa and, we are to assume, suffers a similar process of degradations through successive readings. Racial degeneration is thus tied to textual decline.

Textual degradation was partially defined by brahmin agency. Since the Mahabharata War, brahmins had denied textual access to non-brahmins, thus bringing to a close the tradition of studying Vedic scriptures rationally. Without necessarily understanding the texts, they made their living by controlling and distorting them (Dayanand 1915: 158). Dayanand tied the degeneration of Vedic Hinduism to the proliferation of spurious works of a sectarian nature. Brahmins furthered India's degeneration by sponsoring superfluous rituals for financial gain. Hence they bequeathed to Hinduism belief in idols, miracles, pilgrimages, astrology, and the like, all absent in the Aryan world of the Vedas. Dayanand held that brahmin preoccupation with absurd rituals stemmed from greed and ignorance. He noted that when uneducated persons became preceptors, hypocrisy, fraud, and vice got an upper hand (Dayanand 1915: 317). Their behavior directly brought about the ruin of Aryavarta (Dayanand 1915: 318).

Given the brahmins' abuse of their privileges, Dayanand maintained that they were no longer worthy of the respect paid to them by their birthright (Dayan and 1981: 321). Out of selfishness, they destroyed Vedic knowledge. Lest their fraud be revealed, they contrived to undermine and repress all dissenting voices (Dayanand 1915: 157). They prevented people from educating themselves and ensnared the population in a net of hypocrisy (Dayanand 1915: 317). The authors of "current Sanskrit books or vernacular books" that "wrangle over trifflings" completed the degradation of Vedic truth (Dayanand 1915: 260). Brahmins abused and misdirected the power placed in their hands.

Dayanand directly associated this power with textual power. He claimed that the Vedic source of brahmin power, the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda (10.90), had intentionally been misinterpreted. While there were indeed four hierarchical classes, as evinced in this sukta, Dayanand described them as born out of the collectivity's needs for socioeconomic complementarity. Rather than the dismemberment of a primordial man into elements representing social hierarchy,31 the true meaning of the sukta related how the universe was created and sustained by an omnipresent God who oversees human merit, allowing individuals to enter their hierarchical station only by faithfully discharging the duties of that station (Dayan and 1915: 98-99).32 According to Dayanand's interpretation of the sukta, even the lowborn should be recognized as brahmins as long as they possess the requisite qualifications. Similarly, the highborn should be demoted if they fail to fulfil duties. Thus, righteous conduct alone determines the achievement of a "higher order of caste" (Dayanand 1981: 397). Dayanand claimed that the status distinctions, the actual "evil" of caste, were a later distortion read into the sukta by brahmins; they did not exist in Vedic times.

Dayanand proposed to replace the current caste system with a meritocracy, where all classes were determined according to the individual's qualifications, accomplishments, and character. Individuals would be assessed some time between their sixteenth and twenty-fifth year of age (Dayanand 1915: 100). Dayanand allowed that the shtidra could attain brahmin status and enjoy the privileges of a brahmin, if he evinced the qualities of a brahmin - if he possessed wisdom, piety, charity, and chaste conduct. The same criterion held true for the brahmin, who would become a shudra if he were impure, stupid, dependent, or subservient (Dayanand 1981: 396). For Dayanand, therefore, a brahmin is not born, but self-actualized. One whose mind is a repository of Vedic learning and devotion to God becomes a brahmin. 33 Self-realization is, however, tied to textuality or textual literacy. One can read and understand the Vedas only if one's mind and speech are pure and controlled (Dayanand 1915: 45). Such an individual represents for Dayanand the ideal reader of the Veda, someone capable of returning to true Aryanhood.

Dayanand's attack on the traditional brahmin and redefinition of the true brahmin intersects with his discourse on masculinity, which, in turn, is intimately related to his ideology of the Aryan. False brahmins (that is, traditional brahmins) are false readers of the Veda. They do not exhibit the traits of the Aryans. True brahmins have recuperated Aryan values by returning to the Veda. These "restored Aryans" differ radically from present-day "emasculated Aryans," who are the object of Dayanand's invective. In fact, Dayanand took pains to dissociate his followers from the fallen Aryans of Hinduism. For the 1881 census, Dayanand gave the direction that Arya Samajists should enter themselves as "Arya" in the column on community or race and should note "Vedic Dharma" in the column on religion.34 When he once inadvertently used the term "Hindu" in one of his sermons in Poona, he immediately corrected himself.35 He urged his audience to give up the name "Hindu" and take pride in "Arya" and "Aryavart." He noted: "You have degenerated in your qualities, which is bad enough but you should at least not corrupt your name."36 Dayanand chose a series of persuasive metaphors to describe the manner in which modern "Aryans" had rejected Aryan values and adopted evil customs (Dayanand 1915: 320). One metaphor that Dayanand chose to illustrate past Aryan glory and present "Aryan" dissolution was that of the sannyasi. Rather than focus upon renunciation as the path by which one seeks personal liberation, Dayanand devalued the renunciant's role in Hindu society.37 Dayanand "Aryanized" the sannyasi. Like others, the true sannyasi should be an active member of society, dedicated to the good of the people, rather than a worthless parasite (Jordens 1972: 377).38 Dayanand juxtaposed Aryan worldliness with what he considered to be modern Indian provincialism. He cited dietary regulations as symptomatic of the general malaise. How, Dayanand asked, could Indians fight and persevere over their enemies (as the Aryans had done) if they worry about who prepares their food, where they eat it, and with whom? Real Aryans had travelled abroad learning good qualities from other peoples and rejecting bad influences. They traded, wielded political power, and were fearlessly bold. Rather than obsessing on foolish injunctions, modern Indians should emulate Aryan cosmopolitan sophistication.

The loss of Aryan values was thus tied to the loss of true ksatriyahood (Nandy 1983: 24-26), as the loss of knowledge was directly tied to the loss of worldly power. Perhaps this is why Dayanand never took a stand against the British. In his view, foreign rule had occurred through the Indians' own failings. A country cannot progress when it indulges in mutual feud, child marriage, carnality, untruthfulness, neglect in the study of the Veda, and other evils. When brothers fight against each other, then only an outsider can pose as an arbiter (Dayanand 1915: 320). Unless a country trades effectively with foreigners and extends its rule over others, it can only expect misery and poverty.39

Dayanand's Aryan thus stands in stark opposition to the tendency in Hinduism to draw men away from the world and active involvement in it (Jordens 1972: 378). Indeed, this thematic expresses itself throughout his commentaries. The message of activism, a vision of an active Hindu and a new Hinduism, finds expression most significantly in the purified, vital, and progressive India that Dayanand hoped to see reborn on the model of the Aryan Golden Age (Jordens 1972: 379). Dayanand tied the loss of Aryanhood to the very behavior and customs that his reform sought to attack: communal and sectarian violence, idolatry, lack of education, child marriage, and the neglect of Vedic study. These malpractices brought about the loss of Aryanhood and, as a consequence, caused India's foreign subjugation. To reverse Aryavarta's degradation, one merely had to reestablish the Aryan utopia with its undistorted institutions. The necessary palliatives for modern Indian malaise could be found in Vedic times. One need not resort to other proposed cures, such as Christianity or modern science. The cure was in "reading" the wisdom that the Aryans left behind, as in Dayanand's interpreting the ancestral varna system to incorporate individualistic values. Such "correct" readings of the Veda would usher a new Aryan age into being.


Contemporaneously with European flights of scholarly imagination within the domains of linguistics and philosophy, India was creating its own autochthonous myth of origin in the Aryan past. A myth of a Vedic Golden Age was first promulgated by the Brahmo Samaj. Rammohan's reinterpretation of the Indian socioreligious tradition led to conflict on two fronts: against Christian missionaries on the one hand and Hinduism on the other. It was Rammohan's belief that Hinduism had strayed from its true model, the ancient Vedic period. He condemned the later period, identified as that of Hindu idolatry, for destroying the texture of society.

The belief that India had degenerated from Aryan ideals also found support in the commentaries and debates of Dayanand Saraswati. Dayanand's cure for India's political subjugation was to recover past vision and glory. Like Rammohan, who based his version of the Aryan myth on the interpretation and authority of canonical sources, Dayanand also sought a textual basis to reconnect with the Aryan past. The Arya Samaj, founded in 1875 by Dayanand, provided a social context for interpreting the Vedic canon (Llewellyn 1993: 7). In fact, throughout the nineteenth century, a myth of the Aryan, grounded in arbitrary readings and authoritative definitions of what was considered "Vedic," was used by social reformers to mobilize public opinion. Reformers devised interpretations of the Aryan tradition in order to diffuse Western missionary propaganda, battle against modernity, and combat social inequity. Out of a need to reassert self-esteem under colonialism, caste Hindus regarded themselves as descendents of ancient Aryans and stressed the continued historic superiority of their culture. Since philology had deciphered the relationship between Sanskrit and Greek, the Indo- Aryans could now be recognized as the true originators of civilization. The historian Romila Thapar has correctly noted that the theory of the Aryan race was the most influential theory to come out of nineteenth-century Indology (Thapar 1992: 3).

In Dayanand's discourse regarding the Veda, the loss of Aryanhood and the degradation of values from the Vedic Golden Age was intimately bound up with textuality and the hermeneutic process. Cultural regression was due to the loss of interpretive skills that had previously ensured the survival of Aryan values. If the glorious past of great achievement rested on Vedic knowledge, Dayanand explained India's modern decline as a distortion of that knowledge through inaccessibility and/or misreading of its textual basis. He proposed a plan for the revival of that glorious past through the restoration of Vedic textual knowledge and readership. In short, he assigned to the Veda an authority that far exceeded its traditional status within orthodoxy. While still the locus of truth and authority, it now became the measure of all knowledge and the only tool whereby the reversal of India's sociocultural decline could be effected. Prior to his interpretation, Dayanand felt that the Veda had either been foreclosed or incorrectly read. "Unworthy" modern Hindus had limited access to the text or intentionally misinterpreted it. All Indians were entitled to the text. Through a correct reading for which Dayanand provided the hermeneutic tools, they would be guided back to its true meaning and its ideal Weltanschauung.

Dayanand's ideology of the Aryan framed, therefore, a larger discussion wherein Indian masculinity was placed in the balance and found to be sorely lacking. The biographies (hagiographies) of Dayanand tend to ennoble his cultivation of physical powers. The soteriology of moral activity that he devised codified engagement as opposed to contemplation. Dayanand's myth of the Aryan brings into focus the larger reformulation of Indian masculine identity in nineteenth-century social reform. Ashis Nandy has shown just how, in coming to terms with India's subjugation, certain Indian thinkers both attributed England's use of power to masculine superiority and India's defeat to the loss of the ideals of Aryan manhood. The task now was to seek in Indian tradition those "cultural differentiae" (Nandy 1983: 25) that enabled the West to stay on top. Dayanand found these values, or rather read these values, into a flexible Vedic canon.

Through an idiosyncratic reading of essentially non-Vedic sources, Dayanand revealed the Vedic truth of active masculinity that had been destroyed by distortion and brahmin greed. This truth revealed the character of the Aryan as a cosmic force to be reckoned with-a figure engaged in good works and fearlessly bold. This ideology of the Aryan was not intended as an alternative frame of reference by which Indians might confront their colonizers. For Dayanand, colonialism did not represent an absolute evil. Britain did not appear as a juggernaut, but merely as one conquerer among others who had profited from Aryavarta's decline. Dayanand's aetiology posited the crises of Indian identity not as a result of colonialism, but as an ongoing degeneration dating from ancient (mythological) history.

It is not surprising that postcolonial critics have neglected a seminal colonial figure like Dayanand. He does not serve their theoretical criteria. In Dayanand, there is no systemic effect; struggles for self-realization are not subject to forces beyond one's comprehension. He knew who the enemies of Aryanhood were; they were close to home and identifiable. Their power could be questioned and challenged. The texts themselves tell us how to deconstruct brahmin power. The reader possesses individual agency and wields it through formal textual strategies. Under colonial rule, liberal visions of individual agency functioned in widespread and sophisticated forms. Dayanand represents a subaltern voice railing against home-grown oppression, reordering society through the rearticulation of myth, and building a hermeneutic structure to assert a new national identity. By distinguishing the modern brahmin from the ancient Aryan, Dayanand justified the need for a new social order and provided a model for redefining authority. His ideology of the Aryan became a means of redefining the role and position of the brahmin elite.40 By liberating the text from its traditional custodians, documenting their misreadings, and offering an alternative reading, Dayanand rewrote the caste system as a meritocracy and "Aryanized" Hindu masculinity.

British colonial rule was the symptom, not the cause, of India's real tragedy. The cause was to be found in the loss of Aryan manhood. Emasculation had brought about India's legitimate defeat at the hands of the British. Dayanand's strategies for reading created a myth of the Aryan that allowed Indians rather to "redeem their masculinity and become the counterplayers of their rulers according to the established rules" (Nandy 1983: 11). Dayanand's textual construction of the Aryan exhibited a political strategy enabling Indians to access a discourse of power and, as reified Aryan overlords, share in it.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

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Part 1 of 2

CHAPTER 7: Aryan Identity and National Self-Esteem


The translations of Rammohan Roy and the Vedic commentaries of Dayanand Saraswati were predicated upon the belief that India had degenerated from Aryan ideals partially because the Aryan texts themselves had decayed. The cure for India's political subjugation was thought to be found in the recuperation of past glory through a canonized image of the past and in the reinterpretation of canonical texts. Their readings of the Veda created portraits of the Aryan that carried considerable ideological significance. These reformers created a foundation myth worthy of a new nation.

An idealized vision of the Aryan necessitated reenvisioning Indian masculinity, since the nineteenth-century Indian male, under the yoke of foreign oppression, did not measure up to his valorous forebears. Indian masculinity, like Aryan values and Aryan texts, had decayed from its ideal in the Vedic Golden Age. Thus, the recuperation of Vedic texts and their reinterpretation represented a response to a general detour from the true Aryan path and a loss of its imagined virility. The process of "remasculinizing" the modern Indian, however, necessitated reformulating femininity through social reform.

Since identity was text-centered, the Aryanization of the modern Indian male centered on reading the Vedic canon as texts written against the female body. As such, the retrieval of the Vedic canon and its reinterpretation expressed a will to power over one's own degenerate male self and over the female whose social position threatened that effeminate self. The retrieval of the Veda also expressed a will to identity with those superior qualities that had previously been attributable to the West but could now be situated in the fictive Aryan past. It also enabled reformers to allocate lost Aryan strength to the Indian present. Rammohan Roy and Dayanand Saraswati had set this process in motion when they tied the themes of Aryan degeneration and textual decay to the reformulation of gender. In this chapter we will examine how late nineteenth-century social reformers further developed this theme. We base our discussion on the work of Justice Ranade, Lokamanya Tilak, and Swami Vivekananda.


The Mythic and Historical Context

The Marathas comprised the last great Hindu empire in India. Maratha power, consolidated under the rule of Shivaji Maharaj (1627-80), had seriously challenged Muslim rule during Aurangzeb's reign. Under the Peshwas (1713-60), the Maratha confederacy expanded power beyond Maharashtra into the subcontinent. Shivaji: had been a ksatriya; the Peshwas were brahmins and, as such, were unique in their position as both the spiritual elite and temporal rulers. The Peshwas came from the Chitpavan brahmin community. With the fall of the Peshwas (1818), the British unified India under colonial rule. However, the Chitpavans continued to wield considerable power and were formidable adversaries to the British. Claiming to have directed Maratha power at its height and overseen its demise when the last of the Peshwas fell, they naturally resented their new vulnerability. The British took this potentially volatile situation seriously and sought to placate Chitpavan wounded pride by continuing to support their pandits monetarily (as the Peshwas had done). They also instructed missionaries to give them a wide berth.1

By and large, these efforts to placate the Chitpavan community failed. As a group, they consistently presented problems for the British as evinced by their representation among opponents of colonial rule. The Chitpavan community supplied India with some of its greatest nationalists (such as Vishnu Krishna Chiplunkar and Bal Gangadhar Tilak), its greatest revolutionaries (such as Vasudeo Balwant Phadke and Vinayak Savarkar), and its most effective terrorist assassins (the Chapekars and Godses).2 However, the Chitpavans have also provided India with some of its greatest reformers, such as Mahadev Govind Ranade and Gopal Krishna Gokhale. To this day, Chitpavan brahmins remain a proud community. When modern Maharashtrians think of the Aryans, they associate them with the Chitpavans, who pride themselves on their fair complexions and greenish gray eyes. Their superiority and "otherness" is reflected in the community's myths of origin. The term "Chitpavan" either means "pure of mind" or "pure from the pyre." The former etymology is popular in contemporary community representation; the latter finds support in the creation myth preserved in the Sahyadri Khand of the Skanda Purana.

In this mythological account, the community's patron deity Parashurama ("Rama with an axe") slaughters so many warriors and has become so defiled that brahmins refuse to perform purification rituals on him. In retaliation, Parashurama takes the bodies of fourteen shipwrecked foreigners he finds on the Western shore of India, purifies them in a pyre ("chita"), and restores their corpses to life. He works this miracle so that he might teach these resuscitated outsiders to perform purification rituals on him (Wolpert 1962: 4). Several aspects of this myth of origin are of interest. First, the Chitpavans define their position of superiority within caste hierarchy by means of a myth highlighting their very marginality to society. By coming to India from the West by sea, they are eminently impure as mleccha (barbarian foreigners). Moreover, they are Westerners, Europeans, or even Jews, who undergo purification to become purifiers.3 Finally, they are exemplary purifiers in the sense that they purify god, usurp the position of the mythic brahmins, and become the best and the brightest of the historic brahmin families. This myth of identity is fraught with ambiguity and contradiction. It reflects the intricacies of brahmin notions of identity and otherness that informed brahmin-based nationalism. Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Justice Ranade were both born in Chitpavan families. It was their respective responses to their religious and secular privilege and jurisdiction that inspired their nationalism. Ranade represented the progressive forces of reform, while Tilak allied himself with the traditional orthodox camp.

Aryan Degeneration, Textual Decay, and the Rights of Women

In 1897 in a lecture at the National Social Conference, Mahadev Govind Ranade defined revival as a return to the old ways, an appeal to old authorities and sanctions. A society, unlike a living organism, can undergo revival (Ranade 1902: 169-70). For a culture, the doom of death was not irrevocable. It merely needed to stimulate the stifled seeds and lop off dead excrescences (Ranade 1902: 107). Decay could be stemmed and death averted.

Without a survey of the past, it is not possible to understand intelligently the present or correctly to forecast or guide the future. The theory of evolution has, in this country, to be studied in its other aspect of what may conveniently be called devolution, when decay and corruption set in, it is not the fittest and the strongest that survive in the conflict of dead with living matter, but the healthy parts give way, and their place is taken up by all that is indicative of the fact that corruption has set in, and the vital force extinguished. (Ranade 1902: 27)

By calling upon the authority of revered texts, Ranade sought to retrace the pristine glory of India's Aryan past and revive Hindu society.

Ranade felt that such a return to the golden age could be achieved under a Pax Britannica (Ranade 1902: 246). Providence had sent England to India to provide a living example of pure Aryan customs, untainted by non-Aryan traditions, to aid in the restoration of healthy old practices (Leopold 1970: 283).

Fortunately, the causes which brought on this degradation have been counteracted by providential guidance, and we have now a living example before us of how pure Aryan customs, unaffected by barbarous laws and patriarchal notions, resemble our own ancient usages, to take up the thread when we dropped it under foreign and barbarous pressure, and restore the old healthy practices, rendered so dear by their association with our best days, and justified by that higher reason which is the sanction of God in man's bosom. (Ranade 1902: 169)

A theist like Rammohan Roy, Ranade praised the Christian virtues that he perceived were at work under colonial rule: fraternity, philanthropy, and the battle against indifference. A similar commitment to human dignity likewise animated his reform (Ranade 1902: 23). His regard for "Christian" values was as pragmatic as that of the Raja. He too felt that neither Hindu nor Moslem civilization had trained virtue in a way to bring the races of India on a level with those of Western Europe. The British connection was, therefore, just and humane. It could bring about a positive social change and stem India's further decline (Ranade 1902: 183).

Ranade did not advocate an indiscriminate return to ancient practices without considering whether they suited society. He distrusted the efforts of certain revivalists and condemned any irresponsible nostalgia for the past:

We are asked to revive our old institutions and customs, people seem to be very much at sea as to what it is they seek to revive. What particular period of our history is to be taken as the old -- whether the period of the Vedas, of the Smritis, of the Puranas, or of the Mahomedans, or the modern Hindu times? Our usages have been changed from time to time by a slow process of growth, and in some cases of decay and corruption, and you cannot stop at any particular period without breaking the continuity of the whole ... What shall we revive? Shall we revive the old habits of our people when the most sacred of our castes indulged in all the abominations, as we now understand them, of animal food and intoxicating drink, which exhausted every section of our country's Zoology and Botany? The men and the gods of these old days ate and drank forbidden things to excess, in a way that no revivalist will now venture to recommend ... Shall we revive the old liberties taken by the Rishis and by the wives of Rishis with the marital tie? Shall we revive the hecatombs of animals sacrificed from year's end to year's end, in which even human beings were not spared as propitiatory offerings to God? ... Shall we revive the sat{ and infanticide customs, or the flinging of living men into rivers or over rocks, or hook-swinging, or the crushing beneath the Jagannatha car? Shall we revive the internecine wars of the brahmans and the ksatriyas or the cruel persecution and degradation of the aboriginal population? (Ranade 1902: 170-71)

In response to the question of what one should revive, Ranade followed the inspiration of a long tradition of indiginous reformers. In particular, he emulated the work of the universally respected Maratha saints. He recognized in their efforts an attempt to modify caste exclusion, endow the shudra with spiritual power, and raise the status of women. Since Ranade viewed the Aryan past as a time of enjoyment in which woman played a necessary part, women's rights became for him emblematic of the good old times. As a consequence, Ranade's reform became intimately bound up with the status of women in Hindu society. Activities of reform included female education, widow remarriage, caste intermarriage, and infant marriage.4

Ranade saw the rise of female rights in Aryan India and their subsequent fall as a history much like the rise and fall of institutions among the Roman Aryans. In early Vedic times, women were devoid of rights. Their lot gradually improved as Vedic texts show: there grew a chivalrous regard for women and concern for their freedom and comforts. Aryan women ultimately were allowed to choose their marriage partners. The Vedas speak of women poets, philosophers, and rishis (Ranade 1902: 97). Vedic texts such as the Grhya Sutras recognized female liberty. According to Ranade, the Aryan society articulated in the Vedas celebrated monogamy, intercaste marriage, and non-infant marriages.

This idyllic Aryan past, however, gave way to a philosophy that devalued earthly existence, with women appearing as just one of the many snares of maya. As a consequence, the status of women diminished. Aryan society in general lost its vigor. Non-Aryan barbarians who had earlier been driven to the hills reemerged. They easily overran the weakened and demoralized Aryans. The victors' morality, decidedly of a lower type, asserted itself. The non-Aryan conquerers circumscribed female liberty and lowered the dignity of women in social and family arrangements (Ranade 1902: 29). The subsequent rise of other non-Aryan tribes to power and Buddhism's "horror of female society" further eroded Aryan cultural values (Ranade 1902: 32). on-Aryan races from central Asia such as the barbarian Scythians and Mongolians then invaded. They too conquered India and drastically altered what remained of its Aryan institutions and usages. All these "lower civilizations" further curtailed women's rights. Islam, however, dealt the final blow: The Moslems had an especially low ideal of family life and respect for the female sex. Women now became a symbol of corruption and vice.

Aryan civilization did not recover. It had tried to reassert the values of the Vedas, but Moslem outrages interrupted restoration (Ranade 1902: 100) by degrading Aryan spiritual values (Ranade 1902: 192-93). It is important to note that Ranade did not attribute loss of Aryanhood to brahmin corruption. Aryan institutions had been pure and healthy until they were assailed by the Scythians from the north and attacked by the aboriginal Dravidians in the south (Ranade 1902: 230-31). Hindu institutions had even tried to revive and return to their old pristine glory, only to be assailed by the Jains and Buddhists, who sapped Aryan spirituality with the introduction of idol worship (Ranade 1902: 221). To fight off all these forces, brahmins allied themselves with barbarians whom they had previously treated as shudras. They deteriorated even more through this intercourse (Ranade 1902: 188-91). Brahmanism, having failed to conquer non-Aryan forces, was thus overrun by the very multitudes that it had failed to civilize (Ranade 1902: 191-92). Although the Aryans had once been a chosen race, they were now submerged by Dravidians and tribals. Finally, they were conquered by the Moslems.

Non-Aryan influences caused all those practices (infanticide, Kulinism, communal land tenure, sati, polygamy, polyandry) that reformers sought to change. Ranade advocated, therefore, a return to the true Vedic past where these practices did not exist. His aim was to undo the process of degeneration that had beset Hindu society.

We have not to unlearn our entire past, -- certainly not -- the past which is the glory and wonder of the human race. We have to retrace our steps from the period of depression, when, in panic and weakness, a compromise was made with the brute force of ignorance and superstition. If this unholy alliance is set aside, we have the brahmanism of the first three Yugas unfolding itself in all its power and purity, as it flourished in the best period of our history. (Ranade 1902: 193)

Reform was nothing but the liberation of superior religion, law, polity, and institutions from restraints imposed upon them by brute force (Ranade 1902: 194). The procedure that Ranade advocated was textually bound. By retracing the status of women in Vedic texts, Ranade hoped to show the process by which Indians had generally departed from the healthy customs of their Aryan ancestors.

In "The Age of Hindu Marriage," Ranade surveyed the growth and decay of Aryan social usage regarding the institution of marriage. He pinpointed two distinct stages in the development of the present practice. First, there existed the old, venerable, and noblest stage in the Vedic age. This epoch was followed by the period of arrested growth, when the internal decay caused by foreign invasions had paralyzed activity. It was in this second (and degenerate) stage that Indian society in Ranade's time was living (Ranade 102: 28). When shastris evoked the past, they did not venerate the "ideal" Vedic past, but rather the "developments" of the Puranic period. This was unfortunate, Ranade claimed, since exegetical practices of the Puranic age had distorted old texts to make them fit what was hopelessly irreconcilable with them (Ranade 1902: 29). If one returned, however, to Vedic sources, one would discover through textual analysis that the dependant status of women, child marriage, and seclusion of women were not authentic Aryan practices. Moreover, prohibitions against widows remarrying, intercaste marriage, and foreign travel were also distortions of the old Aryan standards (Ranade 1902: 285). Interpolations had been made on authoritative texts in order to support changes that had been introduced as Aryan society decayed (Ranade 1902: 286). Reform, therefore, entailed taking a stand to defend the letter of the ancient ordinances. In order to return to the customs of the Aryan forefathers, it was necessary to confront the textual obstacles that obscured meaning (Ranade 1902: 287).

Widow Remarriage and the Age of Consent Controversy

Ishvara Chandra Vidyasagar, the renowned Bengali Sanskrit scholar, was the first to agitate against the prohibition of widow remarriage. In 1855, he submitted a petition to the Legislative Council of India pointing out that this prohibition was a cruel and unnatural custom. He claimed that forbidding widows to remarry prejudiced the interests of morality and was not in accordance with the shastras and the true interpretation of Hindu law. Acting upon Vidyasagar's petition, the Legislative Council passed Act XV of 1856, legalizing widow remarriage. However, this legislation had little impact, since there existed throughout India popular feeling against this reform.

In Maharashtra, reformers sought to arouse the public conscience against the prohibition and enlist the sympathy of the orthodox community. In Poona, a center of orthodoxy, the Shankaracharya of Sankeshwar5 convened a meeting in 1870 to debate the issue of widow remarriage. The orthodox community argued in favor of the prohibition and claimed textual support for their position.

To counter their claim, Ranade specifically enumerated Vedic authorities (Ranade 1902: 57-61) that allowed widow remarriage (Ranade 1902: 62ff).6 He maintained that the orthodox party had cited prohibatory texts that were general and culled from inferior smrti writers, such as Babhravya, and not the likes to be pitted against Manu, Narada, Vashistha and Parashara, whom he judged more authoritative. The gist of Ranade's reform argument was that Parashara was the guiding authority, and he expressly allowed remarriage in five instances.7 Parashara was particularly important because he enumerated the particular cases where remarriage was allowed, referred specifically to the three castes, and permitted remarriage even though a first marriage had in every sense been completed. Ranade presented Parashara's text as an earlier attempt to revive Aryan law regarding widows.8

The orthodox objection to Parashara hinged upon his use of the Sanskrit term pati, meaning 'husband' or "protector." The orthodox camp claimed that in the text, pati did not mean "husband," but rather signified "protector." What the sages meant, they averred, was that the widow should have another protector. Ranade countered this argument by claiming that such a reading, given its context, was false. In the text, the injunction was immediately followed by other cases in which "another husband" (pati) is allowed. In the latter cases, there is no question regarding the meaning of the disputed term patio One who has lost one pati is to take "another pati." If "protector" was meant, he cannot be "anya (another) pati." He can be "anya" only with reference to the first. Besides, another "protector" would be no help in remedying the affliction that the loss or incapacity of a first husband brings. Ranade concluded that there exist numerous specific authorities in the shastras and the Vedas (Ranade 1902: 79) as well as in smrti law allowing widow remarriage. He judged the prohibitory texts to be vague and general (Ranade 1902: 80). He relied on Parashara's authority and, by means of a close reading, rejected the orthodox interpretation of the passage. Despite Ranade's strong argument and the weak case presented by the orthodox contingent, the Panch (council) nevertheless voted in favor of maintaining the prohibition. Although there would be no immediate improvement in the cruel conditions assigned to widows, the movement to reform widow remarriage prohibitions continued. Ranade now turned his attention to the matter of infant marriage.

In 1884, the Gujarati reformer Behramji Merwanji Malabari published his "Notes on Infant Marriage and Enforced Widowhood."9 The time was right for agitation against this abuse. The Criminal Procedure Bill amendment, known as the Ilbert Bill, had recently sought to place accused Europeans on equal footing with native Indians in criminal proceedings.

Although this amendment was later modified, it had roused much enthusiasm for colonial reform among the Indian public. Malabari took the offensive: If Indians wanted equality in politics, why did they not exercise it in their own homes?

Ranade wrote a commentary on Malabari's "Notes" that supported legislation against infant marriage (Ranade 1902: 105-6).10 As in the case for widow remarriage, Ranade's argument was text-centered. Reminiscent of Rammohan Roy's earlier strategy, Ranade claimed that infant marriage was never included among the pure customs of the Aryans but rather, like sati and infanticide, reflected degenerate excrescences on the once healthy Aryan society (Ranade 1902: 108, cited in Wolpert 1962: 49). The tendency to lower the age of consent marked degenerate Puranic India. Ranade concluded that, in clinging to the existing order of things, the orthodox school was really setting at naught the traditions of their own best days and the injunctions of their own shastras. As in the case of widow remarriage, Ranade advised his readers to follow the rule laid down in Vedic times (Ranade 1902: 51) and return to the true and legitimate order.

Ranade began his commentary by vouching for the authenticity of his sources (Ranade 1902: 45,49). The various law treatises he cited were unanimously in favor of late rather than infant marriage. The majority of the authorities cited the age of twelve or puberty as ideal for females.11 Ranade maintained that it was later added texts that promoted the notion that girls should be married before the age of eight. Moreover, those sources that the shastris cited to condone infant marriage were actually obscure smrti of which complete texts were not preserved. Ranade also rejected the passage from Manu cited in favor of infant marriage, claiming it to be a misinterpretation (Ranade 1902: 48). He felt that the problem with the orthodox argument in favor of infant marriage was its penchant for lumping all smrti together, major and minor, original or later accretions. Applying a faulty method of exegesis, they sought to reconcile divergent texts by inventing fictions. Ranade also accused the shastris of twisting and torturing texts absurdly. He claimed that, rather than attempting to show the true and natural meaning (Ranade 1902: 90), the shastris bent the texts for desired meanings. Ranade called for Hindus to take the texts as they exist, arrange them in intelligent order, and determine where the balance of authority rests (Ranade 1902: 38). He personally concluded that the texts support postpubescent female marriage (Ranade 1902: 38ff). The Vedic age of the Grhya Sutras did not set an age limit for females (Ranade 1902:33), but the majority of the texts favor the age of twelve or the age of puberty (Ranade 1902: 41). Just as in the argument favoring remarriage for widows, Ranade's justification of post-pubescent marriage depended on a close reading of texts and canonical legitimacy. This strategy of explicating and hierarchizing canonical authority was also adopted by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in the next stage of the orthodox resistance to infant marriage reform.

As in the case of Ranade, Tilak's great battle for Aryan authenticity revolved around women's rights. After initial skirmishes over female education and the Rakhamabai case,12 Tilak joined the infant marriage debate. Ranade had condemned the practice of infant marriage and advocated its voluntary prescription. Tilak, as editor of Kesari and Mahratta, approved this measure, but vigorously protested over its official state regulation (Wolpert 1962: 46-47). The government remained passive until 1890, when the eleven-year-old Phulmani Bai died from injuries sustained during sexual intercourse with her considerably older husband.

The Legislative Council decided to act, since Phulmani Bai's husband was not liable to any criminal charge. Malabari saw in this tragedy the test case with which to take his cause to London and enlist government support for reform. Tilak's contention was that the English as foreigners had no jurisdiction over matters of religion, a strategy he applied also to the Parsi Malabari (Wolpert 1962: 49). Moreover, Tilak defended his position by resuscitating the claim that legal treatises from the pure Aryan past did not support reform (Wolpert 1962: 51). Tilak positioned law books as the ultimate religious authority, invoking them as male texts written against the female body. Tilak claimed that Phulmani Bai died from having "an unusually dangerous organ." Her husband had justifiably omitted "to speculate upon the comparative dimensions and vigour of the sexual organs of both either before or at the time of his marriage or intercourse." Tilak blamed the girl's death on her being one of those "dangerous freaks of Nature." How, he asked, could a husband reasonably be punished because of "defective female organs" and persecuted "diabolically for doing a harmless act?" (cited in Wolpert 1962: 53-54).

The final battle in the Age of Consent controversy had begun. In the Proceedings of the Council of the Governor-General, orthodox anti-reformers renewed their strategy of alluding to textual support for the custom. Tilak implored the Viceroy not to interfere in religious and social customs with the passage of the Age of Consent Bill (Tilak 1992: 7). Justice Telang of Bombay's High Court rearticulated the reformist position that the dharmashastras viewed infant marriage as a distortion of ancient practice. Finally, the renowned Sanskrit scholar Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar presented the most eloquent defense of reform and most authoritative challenge to orthodoxy's vague and rhetorical reliance on textuality. Bhandarkar quoted references to claim that Hindu religious law allowed consummation three years after puberty because medical science felt a female could not give birth to a healthy child before sixteen years of age (Bhandarkar 1891: 23, cited in Wolpert 1962: 55). Tilak countered that reformist readings of shastra were attempts to "oppress dharma." To which Bhandarkar replied that present practice did not always reflect ancient usage. Moreover, Bhandarkar accused Tilak and the orthodox anti-reformers of abusing scripture by enlisting authoritative texts to support ideological projects.

He twists a passage in an old work so as to harmonise it with that practise, in spite of grammar and propriety. He thus belongs to the school of those who find the steam engine and the electric telegraph in the Vedas. (Bhandarkar 1891: 37, cited in Wolpert 1962:56)

Tilak's bluff had been called. The tradition begun by Rammohan Roy, exploited so artfully by Dayanand and manipulated by Tilak, was unmasked by an unimpeachable Sanskrit authority. Either one respected the letter of the text or left one's references vague. One could no longer miscite the canon.

The Scoble Bill (1891) settled the infant marriage debate by raising the marriageable age of consent from ten to twelve years. Its passage represented a significant defeat for Tilak. As a consequence of this debacle, Tilak may have felt the need to reassert his position of authority and competence within the orthodox community (Wolpert 1962: 63). His subsequent Aryan scholarship might well be viewed in this context: as a means of enhancing his tarnished reputation as the most vocal and effective supporter of orthodox Hinduism. By rewriting the history of the Aryans, Tilak continued his nationalist efforts in a more subtle vein. He had learned a valuable lesson from the Age of Consent battle. The Orthodox community did not suffer defeat gladly. It was now the moment to pamper its wounded collective male ego. To do so, Tilak needed to reaffirm his community's respect for Sanskrit scholarship and their identification with their Aryan forebears. What better way to achieve both ends than by reading the Veda and deciphering the true story of Aryan glory? By valorizing those ancestors with whom his people identified, he effectively valorized his own community. Moreover, glorification of the Aryan past validated nationalist faith in present-day Indian (read: brahmin) capabilities and future potential.

Arctic Aryan Hegemony

As Bhandarkar correctly noted, Dayanand and Tilak read the Vedas literally. Both believed that they could be read as plain and simple points of fact. Both denied the poetic nature of these texts and sought to find in the Vedas factual information regarding the fate and mission of the Aryans. As a Realpolitiker, Tilak realized that textual legerdemain was no longer an option. What had been acceptable for a holy man such as Dayanand was not accept able for a politician. If the texts themselves could not be manipulated, the history they told was still open to revision.

In The Orion or Researches into the Antiquity of the Vedas (1893), Tilak rewrote the history of the Aryans. He began by calculating the age of the Rig Veda from astrological data. By examining the zodiacal positions culled from the Vedic hymns, he placed the Aryans on the plains of Central Asia between 5,000 and 6,000 B.C. In a subsequent work, The Arctic Home of the Vedas (1903), Tilak turned to the specific mythological descriptions found in the Rig Veda to determine the Aryan's original home and describe their lifestyle. Rejecting the theories of Western racial theorists of the time whose conclusions, he believed, were formed by their personal ethnic identities rather than "objective" truth,13 Tilak proposed that the original home of the Aryans was situated near the North Pole. He based this conclusion on meteorological data supplied by the hymns of the Rig Veda themselves: The poetry of the Veda described physical phenomena only visible in Arctic regions.14 Commentators such as Yaska and Sayana could not have known anything about the Aryans' Arctic region, since the key to this discovery had only been recently unearthed. The ignorance of earlier interpreters had seriously compromised their readings and subsequently India's entire understanding of its Aryan ancestors. Previous commentators had been forced to rely on explicating the verbal texture of passages (Tilak 1971: 342). Because opaque passages could not be explained, the general impression made by these commentaries was that the Aryans and their product, the Veda, were illogical. This judgment was clearly erroneous. Earlier interpreters just did not possess the necessary scientific data, and they misread plain and simple points of fact as metaphor. Armed with the proper interpretive tools, Tilak could read the Veda, analyze the fate of the Aryans, and predict the proper course of action for their descendants.

When the Aryans lived in the Arctic zone, they flourished. They were able to thrive because, at the time in question (that is, interglacial period), the polar regions were mild and temperate like a perennial spring. The Aryans led a happy life, only inconvenienced by the long polar night (Tilak 1971: 358). Around 8,000 B.C., however, catastrophe struck: The mild climate was destroyed by the onslaught of the glacial period. The land became covered by ice and the Aryans were forced to abandon the Arctic region. For the next three thousand years, they wandered through Northern Europe and Asia searching for a suitable new home, cherishing throughout this period memories of their civilization.15

Through religious zeal and industry during their exile, the Aryans incorporated their traditions in religious hymns, making them the exclusive preserve of a few to hand down scrupulously to future generations (Tilak 1971: 262). By oral tradition, the Aryans were thus able to maintain their culture intact for thousands of years. Tilak dated the oldest Vedic hymns at 4,500 B.C. Whatever shortcomings the texts may exhibit must be understood within the larger context of the Aryans' catastrophic loss of home, forced migration, and fragmentation during the Neolithic age (Tilak 1971: 345).

It is only when Tilak elaborated upon this chronology that the ideological parameters of his thesis become clear. Tilak presented the Aryans as the first globally victimized people. He discounted any "shortcomings" attributable to the Aryans of the hymns as a natural relapse into barbarism following great catastrophe (Tilak 1971: 361). They were simply unable to preserve in a pure form their civilization among non-Aryan savages. Only the Asiatic Aryans, the ancestors of the Hindus, significantly maintained their civilization. Considering what they had undergone since the Neolithic age, the intrinsic superiority of the Aryans is a foregone conclusion. It is not customary for a race to suffer such a catastrophic loss of home and forced migration. What we have in the Veda are the necessarily degenerated expressions of a truly superior antediluvian civilization. The very fact that, even after compulsory dispersion from their motherland, the Aryan survivors could carry with them fragmented culture and establish supremacy over all the races that they encountered in their migrations is significant. That they were able, under such adverse circumstances, to "Aryanize" these peoples in language, thought, and religion proves just how superior these Aryans were to the non- Aryan races (Tilak 1971: 360-64) that they encountered in their colonization of northern Europe. Their superiority manifested itself in an ability to preserve Aryan civilization by conquering and ruling over others.

Although the culture of the Neolithic Aryans was but a relic or imperfect fragment of pre-diaspora Arctic Aryans, it was exponentially greater than that of modern savage races. The very fact that so much of this sophisticated culture can be discerned in the Vedas, and that the Vedas, representing merely a fragment of Aryan genius, are so well preserved, further indicates the mettle of these people. The Vedas exist, therefore, as testimony to the temporary regression of the Neolithic Aryans when exiled from their antediluvian home (Tilak 1971: 375-76). More importantly, even in their fragmented form, they testify to the interglacial glory of the Aryan race.

The message of The Arctic Home of the Vedas was tailor-made to appeal to the chauvinism of the orthodox community. While its pseudoscientific thesis in no way revolutionized the way historians view the Vedic period, Tilak's theory did have significant implications: The Vedic texts need not be deciphered. They described what actually existed in the pre-diasporic Aryan world. The Aryans were neither primitive nor illogical. In fact, they were almost superhuman to have survived in the form that they did. If the Aryans were, indeed, the first to attain a level of civilization higher than that reached by any other group in the age of metals, how could they now justifiably remain dependent on the West? It was this vision of the Aryan's intrinsic ascendancy over others (both foreign and domestic) that came to fuel nationalist rhetoric. This racialist script was exported to the West by Swami Vivekananda.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

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Part 2 of 2


Text-Centered Identity amidst Scriptural Loss

Like others we have examined in this study, Swami Vivekananda's vision of Hinduism also depicted a glorious past and a degenerate present. His prescription for the future consisted in reactivating past Aryan glory by empowering Hindus through the rediscovery of their superior spirituality. By retrieving an Aryan ideal, Vivekananda hoped to implement it in the Indian present. In one important aspect, however, Vivekananda differed from other nineteenth-century social reformers. His reform, while primarily directed toward the domestic front, was also intended for export abroad. The West, possessing mere techniques in the form of technology, work ethic, and organizational skills, was in dire need of Hindu spirituality. Vivekananda proposed to remedy this deficiency by spreading Indian wisdom throughout the world. His mission was all the more necessary because the Aryan God was the true Father to all peoples, while the Semitic God was "only a thunderer, only a terrible one" (Vivekananda 1991: 8.151).16

In order for the modern inhabitants of Bharata to gain the strength and courage of their convictions and rise up from the dust of the earth where they were presently mired, they must study their past and set out working the great plan laid out by their ancestors (Vivekananda 1991: 3.368). To rediscover its Aryan core, India must first return to the Vedas, the oldest Aryan texts (Vivekananda 1991: 1.344) and the oldest literary works in the world. They are the foremost, most complete, and most undistorted texts. Accessible to all, regardless of caste distinctions (Vivekananda 1991: 6.208-9), they furnish the basis for all other scriptures (Vivekananda 1991: 6.182) and the model for all society (Vivekananda 1991: 7.174). Indeed, the religion of the Vedas is the foundation and authority of all religions (Vivekananda 1991: 6.48).

Vivekananda claimed that there was no truth or law absent from the Vedas (Vivekananda 1991: 5.206). They provided the "eyeglass of evolution" containing the whole history of the progress of religious consciousness (Vivekananda 1991: 6.103). Their authority extended to all ages, climes, and people as it alone expounded universal religion (Vivekananda 1991: 6.181). Reminiscent of Dayanand, Vivekananda held that the germ of every Aryan science (Vivekananda 4:427) and all religious ideas (Vivekananda 6:105) were found in the Vedas.17 Creation comes out of the Vedas; they represent "authority with a vengeance" (Vivekananda 2:336-37). All things exist in the Vedas. If one thinks that there exists something not found in the Vedas, then one is prey to delusion (Vivekananda 1:148). The Vedas were not written: they are eternally coexistent with the infinite God (Vivekananda 3:512). God spoke once and he spoke Sanskrit (Vivekananda 3:512).

Vivekananda recognized, as did others, the textual limitations of his blueprint for the future: The Vedas provided a damaged source of reference. One must, therefore, use caution in reading them, adopting as revelation only what agrees with reason (Vivekananda 5:315), since its knowledge arises at the beginning of each cosmic cycle and degenerates with time (Vivekananda 5:411). Moreover, since most of the Vedas have disappeared (Vivekananda 3:232), what remains is a mere fragment. For this reason, Vivekananda claimed that the Vedas' canonicity was malleable. They could be altered to suit the needs of the reader. Anything sanctioned by the Vedas that proved to be problematic could be dismissed as a degenerate distortion. The Vedas were thus absolute, sacrosanct, and eminently interpretable.

Vivekananda further circumscribed his canon: The Vedas only consist of those portions of the remaining fragmentary Vedic corpus which did not refer to purely secular matters and which did not record tradition and history (Vivekananda 6:182). Vivekananda thus rejected the Samhitas and the Brahmanas. He judged the highest form of spirituality to be found in the later Upanishad sections. In short, he structured his interpretation of the Veda to provide a scriptural basis for a socially concerned Vedanta.18 Calling upon the authority of the Veda, Vivekananda created an idealized myth of the Aryan in a negative manner. His conception of the absolute malleability of the Vedas is as striking as the way he restricted the canon to fit his needs. The Aryan could be anything that was not specifically proved to the contrary in the Veda. The issue of Vivekananda's use of the Veda as a negative authority is, however, a moot point. At no time does he refer to any text to support his ideology of the Aryan. An absent authority, the Veda is invoked rather than cited.

The Racialist Script

The Aryans originally lived to the North and possessed a warm, poetic nature (Vivekananda 1:492). Vivekananda inferred this knowledge from the existence in the Himalayas of a unmiscegenated brahmin type, pure in thought, deed, and action. This pure brahmin-Aryan is honest and beautiful. In fact, he represents the most handsome human specimen in the world, a being so perfect that degenerate Westerners can only dream of his existence (Vivekananda 5:466). Aryans, Vivekananda noted, possess regular features and dark eyes. They dress well.19 Their hair and skin are "like drops of milk." Aryans are kind and generous. They dedicate themselves to elevating persons of brutish habits (Vivekananda 2:482). They possess superhuman genius. Beastly practices have never found a place in their world (Vivekananda 5:537). The Aryan is, by nature, totally untainted and un sexist (Vivekananda 8:28). His wife's dowry belongs to her alone. These Aryan-brahmins possess trusting natures; they allow their women to circulate within the community. Since they live in isolation, few people know of the survival of this hidden Aryan tribe of supermen in modern times. Missionaries have not found them nor have they suffered Muslim influences (Vivekananda 3:506).

While Vivekananda's understanding of the historic Aryan was as fictitious as any other, he did take the argument one step further by specifically identifying his mythic Aryan with racially "pure" modern brahmins. While this depiction of the Aryan feigned inclusivity, embracing the "ethnological museum" that was India (Vivekananda 4.296),20 it was clearly restrictive. Although he proposed that all Hindus, whether pure or of mixed blood, were Aryans, Vivekananda presented very definite criteria for the true Aryan: They have straight noses, mouths, and eyes; they are white-complected, their hair is black or brown, and their eyes are dark or blue (Vivekananda 7:366).

As opposed to the "so-called Aryans of the philologists" (Vivekananda 5.466), Vivekananda clearly delineated the moral fiber of his Aryan. During the Vedic period, the climatic conditions had not yet begun to have a negative effect upon race (Vivekananda 6:158) and it was the custom of the ancient Aryans to work incessantly.21 One Aryan branch went to Greece. Surrounded by a "beautiful, sweet, tempting and invigorating" climate, they studied the "outer infinite," or the macrocosm. Due to their continual activity, these Aryans also turned politically outward. They and their descendants, the Europeans, developed arts and sought political liberty. The other branch migrated to India. There they found the subcontinent's climate inconducive to physical exercise. These Aryans developed the "inner infinite," studied the microcosm, and sought spirituality. They developed their religion (Vivekananda 6:86) and provided the world with its spiritual giants (Vivekananda 4:316). Aryan man has always sought divinity within himself (Vivekananda 6:3).

Vivekananda felt that each branch of the Aryan family had distinct parts to play in civilizing the world (Vivekananda 3:434). In fact, Vivekananda held that there exists only one really civilized race in the world, the Aryan. Until endowed with Aryan blood, no race can be deemed civilized. Civilization cannot be taught: It necessitates the Aryan giving his blood to a race for it to become truly civilized (Vivekananda 3:535). The Aryans were lovers of peace and cultivators of the soil. Vivekananda contrasted these Aryans with India's first inhabitants, races of wild people and cannibals who were neither Aryan nor Hindu. Exposure to the sun had turned their skin black. The Aryans did not swoop down and steal land from these aborigines. Nor did they settle India by exterminating the native population (Vivekananda 5.534), as Christians were wont to do (Vivekananda 2.282). Rather they absorbed them, making modern India a totally Aryan nation (Vivekananda 3:292). The only vestige of this successful miscegenation was the alteration of the "transparent glow of the white complexion of the Himalaya dwellers" into the bronzed hue of the present-day Hindu (Vivekananda 3:506). Once again, apparent inclusivity masked social, racial, and political exclusionism.

When not constrained by nationalist rhetoric, as in a 1900 lecture in Oakland, California, Vivekananda elaborated upon the racial subtext that there is no kinship between the northern and the southern Indian. The North, Vivekananda maintained, belongs to the great Aryan race to which all Europeans (except the Basques and the Finns!) belong. The South stemmed from the same race as did the ancient Egyptians and Semites (Vivekananda 8:241-42), racially and culturally distinct from the Aryan center. While the great Aryan race comprises the top three castes, the non-Aryan race consists of shudras, aborigines (who aspired to become civilized), and the Dravidians.

This racialist argument foregrounds the larger political concern of validating caste distinctions. Rather than evolving toward a civilized mode of existence, non-Aryans are presented as "schemers" trying to live as did the Aryans, coopting their lifestyle by entering schools and colleges, wearing the sacred thread, performing ceremonies, and enjoying equal rights in religion and politics (Vivekananda 3:520). Too many different uncivilized and uncultured races tried to flock to the Aryan fold with their superstitions and hideous forms of worship. While appearing civilized, they clearly were not. These barbarians wreaked havoc by introducing "mysterious rites and ceremonies" to the old faith. They destroyed Aryan vigor and chaste habits. They defiled India with their superstitions (Vivekananda 3:263). Their rank imitation of the Aryan lifestyle initiated a process of decay. The central Aryan core, forced to succumb to the allurements of sensual forms of worship prevalent among these various low races, lost its integrity. In the past, when contact with "outcastes" had threatened to "destroy Aryan civilization," the Aryans had struck out in a natural reaction of self-preservation, as when they destroyed Buddhism (Vivekananda 6:164). But, the successful seduction of the Aryans by sensualists resulted in blind allegiance to usages "repugnant to the spirit of the Sastras" and ultimately destroyed the Aryan race (Vivekananda 6:182). Aryavarta became a deep and vast whirlpool of the most vicious, most horrible, and most abominable customs. It lost all internal strength and became the weakest of the weak (Vivekananda 4:445).

The racialist tone of these passages starkly contrasts with the nationalist script where Vivekananda presents Aryans warmly embracing others within their fold, despite their cultural superiority, or where, by mixing with the blood, speech, manners, and religions of Dravidians, shudras, and aborigines, the northern Indian Aryan emerged as a stronger and more organized race. Vivekananda might claim that by "clinging on with great pride to its name of Aryan," the "central assimilative core gave type and character to the whole mass." However, he is quick to note that Aryans were by no means willing to admit other races within the Aryan pale (Vivekananda 6:159), even if willing to share with them the benefits of their civilization. The political argument ultimately bows to the force of genetic constraints. An Aryan cannot be born out of lust, suggesting that Vivekananda only viewed as Aryan those born from civilized rather than barbarian types. Civilization meant adherence to the Veda. In fact, only a child whose conception and birth proceed according to the Vedas can be called an Aryan. The very fact that fewer such "Aryan" children are being produced these days in every country accounts for the mass of evil in the modern world (Vivekananda 3:409). Vivekananda's vision of progress is thus tied to the production and maintenance of Aryan racial types.

Caste and Racial Chaos

In Vivekananda's schema, caste becomes necessary insofar as it prevents the destruction of blood heredity. One does not want to mix, for example, with Negroes and American Indians; "nature will not allow you" (Vivekananda 3:534). Caste provides the "unconscious" means whereby the Aryan race will be saved. Amidst disingenuous disclaimers of inclusion -- that the non-Aryan is equal to the Aryan and should be afforded equal rights -- Vivekananda upholds a strict adherence to caste exclusionary practices. Caste Hindus must not mix with non-castes, lest the Aryan be degraded. Already in India, the barbarian has overrun the civilized as "hordes of these outlandish races came in with all their queer superstitions and manners and customs." These barbarians were "not decent enough to wear clothes. They ate carrion. They introduced fetishism, human sacrifice, and superstition in their wake. With time, they degraded the whole race" (Vivekananda 3:534). Thus, while ostensibly supporting the equal rights, Vivekananda focuses on the racial distinctions between Aryans and non-Aryans, civilized and barbarian, northern Indian and Dravidian, caste Hindus and Tribals, and the threat of diluting Aryan blood in a process of racial degradation.

This racialist script should not be confused with the political script directed against the West. The former aimed at maintaining the caste status quo; the latter evoked the fiction of Indian social and religious superiority to the West. Vivekananda thus directed a public relations coup against foreign critics of caste and Indian social reform. In this scenario, Aryan civilization is a fabric; its cotton consists of its highly civilized, semicivilized, and barbarian tribes; the warp is the varnashramadharma, and the woof is represented by the conquest over strife. Europe has been able to produce nothing of this magnitude. All the West can do is exterminate the weak like wild beasts (Vivekananda 5:537), acts of which India is incapable. Unlike Europe's extermination policies, Aryans have established a system of inclusion. Through the implementation of varna, Aryans raise everyone up to their own level or even higher than themselves. While Europe metes out death to the weak, Aryan civilization devised social rules for their protection.

Vivekananda conceived of caste as a liberating force. While individuals have every chance of rising from a low caste, "only in this birth-land of Altruism" are they compelled to "take" their whole caste with them (Vivekananda 4:297). Vivekananda viewed caste as one of the greatest social institutions that the Lord gave men (Vivekananda 4:299). Although it evinces some unavoidable defects (which Vivekananda blames on foreign persecutions and undeserving brahmins),22 it has worked wonders in India and "is destined to lead Indian humanity to its goal." Exactly what Vivekananda envisioned to be India's goal was clear.

Prevention of race chaos appears as the central message Vivekananda believed India could impart to the world. Just as Sanskrit provided the linguistic solution for humanity, the Aryans provide the racial solution with the caste system. Varna ensured the social stability necessary to form a race of superior strength (Vivekananda 3:534). Vivekananda championed its continuation as a social system, since it had established the conditions wherein a superior race could develop over time. The only problem with caste, as Vivekananda saw it, was that it occasionally needed to be readjusted (Vivekananda 5:215).

Although Vivekananda saw all social and political problems solved (Vivekananda 4:309) by the formation of "brahminhood," at crucial junctures in his argument the language of race competes with his theology of decay. While Vivekananda upholds upper-class descent from Aryan ancestors, he also condemns them as ten-thousand-year-old mummies or walking corpses with antiquated possessions, manners, and customs. In the world of maya, they represent the real illusions; they are void, unsubstantial nonentities of the future (Vivekananda 7:326). The fact that an ideal past had degenerated justified Vivekananda's subversion of traditional social hierarchy.

The vitality in India is not found in the hereditary elite, but rather in those whom the ancestors called "walking carrion" (Vivekananda 7:326). Vivekananda could call for the new India to arise out of the peasant's cottage and the huts of the fisherman and sweeper. He could maintain that the common people who suffer oppression and misery have become vital through suffering. He could claim that their strength derived from their pure and moral lives. He could even portray the common people as possessing unparalleled love, power of incessant work, and manifestation of strength (Vivekananda 7:327). But such claims were most often made at a safe distance, among Californian and Chicagoan society matrons. Effective reform or actual amelioration of the disenfrancised was never an issue at home. Vivekananda held to the status quo, camouflaging his orthodox politics in a mystification of caste. Without caste reform, any romanticization of the downtrodden is foreclosed. What remains is a glorification of an India in which the brahmin descendants of Aryans are the only real beneficiaries.

Vivekananda's plan for India's future consisted of a recreation of the past glory. In order to achieve his end of moral regeneration, he first established an Indian utopia in the Aryan past. He read into the Veda, or rather, invoked the Veda to portray an India that seeks the common good through caste and liberation through austere religious vows, fasting, and retreat. The language of the Veda becomes the means by which renunciation is attained. Vivekananda juxtaposed this ideal fiction of the Aryan past with an equally fictive West fraught with rank materialism, power, sense-pursuits, and strange luxuries in the form of fashion, food, drink, magnificent palaces, manners, and transportation. The West is guided by self-interest. The goal of Western society is individual independence attained by a language of money-making, education, and politics (Vivekananda 4:476). Vivekananda presented the Aryan ideal as an alternative to the decadent West. India will lead the world in the regeneration of man the brute into man the god (Vivekananda 4:315). For the colonized, this message was, indeed, uplifting. However, behind the rhetoric of the holy man lies a disingenuous will to power: the determination to maintain traditional structures of power and domination.


In this chapter, we examined in detail three nationalist configurations of the Aryan myth. What is particularly striking about these stagings of the past is their literary aspect, specifically their modernism. In reading Ranade, Tilak, and Vivekananda, one is reminded of certain short stories by Borges, where history is presented as inevitably limited and parochial in focus. Facts are only interpreted according to the ideology of the time, just as memory is activated by conventional scholarly wisdom. History and memory are potentially radically different phenomena than they appear to be. What is remembered or recorded is paltry in comparison to what actually took place. Great races have existed, but have been lost or forgotten. Outside recorded history, there was once a golden age with mythic forebears who accomplished astounding feats. The central insight here is that myth holds greater truth value than history. As opposed to history, myth absorbs contradictions into its own system. Myth is permitted to ignore details, since it contains the true spirit of the past-its essential legacy. This arbitrary and fragmented construction of history commonly fetishized in literary modernism also appears in popular culture's attempts to recuperate an idealized past.

In a 1980 article coauthored with Dominique Julia and Jacques Revel, Michel de Certeau defined popular culture as the vision of a culture's infancy, whose purity of social origin lies buried in history and needs to be preserved or recaptured (Certeau 1986: 127). Popular culture creates an explicitly political fiction of a national heritage and a cohesive geographical community. The establishment of popular culture correlates to specific acts of political repression. All recuperations of an idealized past present a strategic process of homogenization in the interpretative treatment of a community (Aherne 1996: 131), wherein diverse populations are brought into conformity with prescribed political programs. A fictional model of authenticity is created by interpreters and presented in terms of a seductive origin, whose traces are presumed discernible in interpreted texts. Authors thus mask the nature of their own interpretative intervention and presence. They provide a reassuringly idealized image of a people, despite the inevitably corrupted nature of their product. It has been our intention to show that the Aryan presented in Indian social reform and nationalism functions as an icon of popular culture. This figure inhabited an idealized past, and its textual rediscovery enabled interpreters to bring into supposed conformity diverse segments of the population without publicizing the politics behind their production of authenticity.

The fictional model of the Aryan addressed a variety of psychological and political needs. We have seen how some nationalists sought to bolster Indian self-esteem by portraying the Aryans as the most superior race that the earth had ever produced. The nationalist vision of Aryan superiority promoted belief that India's regeneration was attainable only through the restoration of Hindu culture. In this respect, they were indebted to the Arya Samaj, whose vision of Aryan moral superiority and its recuperation provided a model. Following a trend set by Dayanand, reformers like Tilak and Vivekananda emphasized the uniqueness of Aryan physical and mental prowess, courage, bravery, and conquest. Vivekananda also stressed the spiritual ascendency of the Aryans over other nations and particularly over their Western cousins, who had lost their spiritual edge through contact with non- Aryan religions. Faith in the Aryan past thus became a tool in the fight against foreign oppression.

Some nationalists focused on Indo-European solidarity. They were inspired by the Brahmo Samaj under Rammohan Roy and its emphasis on Anglo-Indian sympathies in the service of liberal and social reform. The belief that the white masters were distant cousins of their Aryan subjects provided a salve for the egos of the Indian intellectual elite and bolstered cultural self-confidence. It provided the Indian elite with a forceful psychological weapon against British power politics. Through identification with the aggressor, the Indian elite raised morale under colonialism. Justice Ranade viewed colonialism as a predestined event in order that a pristine Hinduism might be reborn from the model provided by English Aryan customs (Ranade: 1902: 101). Caste Hindus could thus identify with their British rulers, the representatives par excellence of European Aryandom. Keshab Chandra Sen could thus view English rule over India as a reunion of parted cousins, descendants of two different families of the ancient Aryan race. Colonialism was destined in order to rescue India and return it to a pristine form of Hinduism (de Bary et al. 1988:2. 48-9). Significantly, caste Hindus' racial rapprochement to their British rulers effectively distanced them from their benighted brethern and allowed them to sidestep the pressing issue of domestic inequality.

As the preceeding discussion has sought to show, the different strategies of nineteenth-century Indian nationalists, regardless of their politics or religious orthodoxy, held to the cultural, moral, and intellectual inferiority of non-Aryans. Justice Ranade believed that the Aryans were the chosen race whose civilization had been submerged by lower Dravidians, Huns, and Moslems. Hindus who had been contaminated, for example, by contact with the Moslem world and customs needed to restore former healthy Aryan practices. This belief expressed itself in the knowledge that the conquest, assimilation, and extermination of non-Aryans proved Aryan superiority. Caste Hindus, regarding themselves as descendants of ancient Aryans, could stress the historic superiority of their culture and its racial and religious unity. As Lokamanya Tilak formulated it, the superiority of the Indian Aryans manifested itself in their survival and conquest over the non-Aryan, who had migrated to northern Europe and immediately lapsed into barbarism. For Vivekananda, the Indian Aryan could even assert racial superiority over Western Aryans who had lost their moral fiber upon foreswearing Aryan spirituality. Groups that had previously been marginalized could be "Aryanized" by renewed access to Aryan scripture and religious ritual. Vivekananda even sought to take this mission worldwide and reintroduce Aryan ideals to the spiritually depraved West. When reformers and nationalists called for the racial unity of all Hindus, they inevitably defined Hindu culture as Vedic, Aryan, and upper caste.

Hindu identity was defined "by those who were part of national consciousness and drew on their own idealized image of themselves resulting from an upper-caste brahmin dominated identity" (Thapar 1992:85-86). Geographically, the seat of culture favored the north, and the center of national culture always gravitated to Sanscritic Hinduism, Vedic culture, the Vedanta, and the Sanskrit epics. It did not focus on Buddhism or bhakti. Given its marked bias for defining culture in favor of the upper castes, nationalist reform tended to support the caste system. In fact, the Aryan theory of race provided a triumphant pseudoscientific justification for caste exclusion. Discourse regarding the Aryan was used to differentiate upper castes from the lower castes believed to be of non-Aryan origin (Thapar 1992: 8). Caste became seen as a means whereby different racial and cultural groups had been brought together and subjected to the civilizing influence of the Aryans.

As we have seen throughout this volume, Aryan racial identity was often text-centered in the Vedas. Like Dayanand, Tilak read the Vedas literally, as plain and simple points of fact. Like Dayanand, Tilak denied the metaphorical nature of these texts and sought to find in the Vedas factual information regarding the fate and mission of the Aryans. Whereas Dayanand, Ranade, and Tilak sought support for their notion of the Aryan past in the letter of the text, Vivekananda eschewed basing his vision of Aryan superiority on any textual reference. On the one hand, Aryan superiority was a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, the Vedas were so distorted that they afforded no reliable reference. As in the case of Dayanand, Vivekananda's pronouncements on scripture had credibility due to his status as a holy man. Laymen were held to a different accountability when invoking scripture. Tilak and Ranade referred to specific texts when they described their Aryans. Whether supported by textual evidence or not, nationalist discourse presented the Aryans and their scripture as exempla of high culture.

The Aryans alone were responsible for their creation. One could not view these texts as monuments created by "the hostile Dravidians ... freely cursed in the hymns themselves" (Aurobindo 1964: 1). The Dravidians could not have influenced the hymns for the very simple racial reason that they never evolved beyond savagery. The Aryans were seen as the bearers of culture while the Dravidians represented the barbarian. The binary civilized/barbaros would shift, with the barbarian variously represented by lower caste Dravidians, tribals, or Moslems. However, the Aryan always represented the civilized who had been contaminated by various barbarian Others. Even as enlightened a figure as Justice Ranade held to this scenario of cultural degeneration. It was non-Aryan influences that had inspired India's worse abuses (communal land tenure, sati, polygamy) and degrading social patterns (Ranade 1902: 31, 32, 98-100). Aryanhood in India had been sorely tested, if not destroyed. In short, the search for an Indian national identity was as bound up with the search for a superior race living in an unchanging utopian past as was the Western quest for origins. For European and Indian nationalism, Aryanism came to define the true and pure Hindu community (Possehl 1982: iv, 84). Some sought to reclaim it; others knew this to be an impossible task.

We have seen how reformers rhetorically sought to include those very persons who had been excluded (outcastes, tribals, Moslems, Jews) from Western- and brahmin-based Aryanism. They declared Aryanhood to be culturally attainable. Previously excluded groups were supposedly allowed to unite with the Aryan fold, once they espoused its spiritual values, as if Aryanhood could ever be dissociated from heredity. However, certain thinkers outside the brahmin fold would challenge the sincerity of the caste Hindu's call for unity in diversity. In chapter 8, we will see how Jotirao Phule and Dr. Ambedkar subverted this nationalist script in their portrait of the anti-Aryan. They recognized in Aryan historical revisionism a brahmin ploy to maintain the caste status quo and deny their people any equality with their so-called co-religionists. Phule and Ambedkar eloquently and effectively played the Aryan race card against brahmin reformers.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Postby admin » Fri Feb 12, 2021 1:58 am

Part 1 of 2

CHAPTER 8: The Anti-Myth



Orientalist scholarship had given the term arya a racial meaning of physical and cultural alterity. The Aryans were other than the indigenous population of India; they came from the margins... Western scholars believed that the etymology of the term varna linguistically supported the Aryan racial theory by its association with color and its reference to caste...

The racial connotation did, however, enter the discussion because of the juxtaposition of the arya with the dasa in the Rig Veda, where the dasa was described as dissimilar to the arya. Since Vedic references to the arya contrast him with the dasa, who was described as short and dark-complected, both were taken to represent two distinct racial types. The Aryans were believed to have invaded India, subjugating the natives (dasa/dasyu), who were believed to be racially different from them. The arya evolved later into the upper three castes with the dasa remaining the lowest. The Aryans were believed to be the white race. They enslaved the Dasas, a dark race, who eventually became the shudras. This racial interpretation of the arya/dasa as white/black largely prevailed among scholars and is still a common scholarly perception... The Sanskrit terms in question are elastic. In the passages customarily cited to support a racial reading, Vedic terms of "white" can equally be translated as "light," with the sense that the Aryans were forces of light or goodness. Similarly, the Sanskrit term for "black" (most often, krsna) can signify "darkness." In an "ideological" reading, those terms racially translated white/black can justifiably be rendered good/evil.

Those references to black skin also can elicit an alternate reading. The Sanskrit terms for skin in the pertinent Vedic citations (tvac) can just as easily signify the surface of the earth. These references could actually refer to the "dark world" of the Dasas as opposed to the "broad light" of the Aryans. The compounds krsnayonih and krsnagarbha have customarily been translated as "those with blacks in their wombs" or "pregnant with blacks." However, the Sanskrit also supports a reading of "having dark interiors" as in "those whose forts have dark interiors" or "the dark world where forts are located" as opposed to the light world of the Aryans...

The Aryans, deemed the founders of European and Asian civilization, entered from the borders and spread over the subcontinent. They settled Aryavarta by subjugating the indigenous Dasas. As victors, the Aryans were assumed to be superior to non-Aryans. They maintained their position of ascendancy through strict rules against racial miscegenation. With the implementation of the caste system, they protected their racial exclusivity, with the brahmins viewed as having preserved the purest Aryan strain...

The treatment of untouchability was truly horrific... in Poona, under the Peshwas, Untouchables were not allowed to use public streets if a Hindu was approaching, lest they pollute the Hindu with their shadow. Untouchables were required to wear a black thread on their necks or wrists to ward off Hindus, lest the Hindus be inadvertently polluted. They were to carry a broom strung from their waist to sweep away the dust that they tread. They were to hang an earthen pot from their neck to catch their spit, lest they defile the dirt upon which Hindus walk... as 1928 in central India, Untouchables could not wear clothing with colored or fancy borders. Women could not wear gold or silver ornaments. Untouchables must work without requesting any remuneration. They were not allowed to draw water from village wells or let their cattle graze on village lands. They were not allowed to walk through Hindu fields, and so forth. No fiction or mystification of caste by brahmin reformers could refute or obscure this brutal state of affairs...

Jotiba Govind Phule... launched an attack on the notion of Aryan racial superiority by identifying the Aryans as the perfidious barbarian aliens who had conquered the indigenous powerful social groups of the time, the shudras (Mahars and Mangs). Mere subjugation did not satisfy Aryan lust for power; they instituted caste isolation so that they and their descendants, the brahmins, could continue to oppress the indigenous population. Aryan brahmins sought to punish the shudras for eternity by depriving them of their rights and condemning them to ignorance...

If culture descended from the Aryan conquerers, then the traditional elite were essentially foreigners (Irani Aryabhats) who had overrun and enslaved the original and true Indians, the mass of peasants, tribals, and Untouchables... the high-caste Hindu, who was no less foreign than the English... the British... at least, aimed at an enlightened vision. The brahmins, however, were bound by villainous and treacherous traditions that had been devised as weapons by foreign forebears and wielded by their alien descendants... the Veda provided the key to unravel the mysteries of Indian identity...

It was through the authority vested in the Vedas that the alien Aryan usurpers fabricated their identity as brahmins and enslaved true Indians with draconian laws. By passing off "idle fantasies" as divine revelation, brahmins forced those whom they had conquered into serving them faithfully as the consummation of devotion. By "stealthily producing heaps of new scriptures," brahmins "brain-washed" the Dasas' descendants, the shudras, into believing them to be the descendants of Aryans. They further duped the shudras into thinking that by serving them and performing menial tasks, they fulfilled their religious obligations. Moreover, brahmins conspired to keep the shudras in ignorance by denying them access to true knowledge and controlling them with "unholy" law treatises...

[T]he Vedas [are] a form of false consciousness. As fictions of religious authority enshrined in scripture and given additional force through custom, the Vedas express nothing but brahmin greed...

Read correctly, the Vedas reveal a different message -- that the Dasyus were the original inhabitants of the land; they were brave, pure at heart, and upright in their conduct...

B.R. Ambedkar (1892-1956) belonged to the Untouchable Mahar caste of Maharashtra... Ambedkar dedicated his life to working for the advancement of his people...

The British government was beginning to address the low-caste needs that had gone unheard by caste Hindu society for centuries. Ambedkar contributed to the cause of low-caste reform by serving as a delegate to the London Round Table Conferences (1930-33), where he made the case for the recognition of Untouchables as a minority with a separate electorate.

Ambedkar would have been successful in London had not Gandhi manipulated the situation. Gandhi believed that the Untouchables should remain within the Hindu fold and seek redress for their treatment there. Ambedkar suspected this strategy to be a caste Hindu ploy to continue control of the lower castes and avoid strengthening the Moslem cause. He, therefore, opposed Gandhi's initiative. When it appeared that Ambedkar's opposition might succeed, Gandhi began a fast. The possibility that Gandhi might actually die put Ambedkar in an impossible position. The "Mahatma's" death would have certainly unleashed a bloodbath against the Untouchable community. Gandhi was as aware of this inevitability as was Ambedkar. Ambedkar had no choice but to acquiesce to Gandhi's strategem and capitulate, thereby forfeiting the opportunity of securing viable representation for his community under British rule...

While Gandhi proceeded with his method of pleading with caste Hindus to abolish untouchability, Ambedkar sought to secure basic rights that his community continued to be denied despite Congress's promises: He sought to obtain his people's rights of a temple entry, use of community wells, and other basic human rights. But here too, he failed...

His greatest service to India, however, was his chairmanship of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution... Even in this venture, Ambedkar had to wage a pitched battle for his people's rights to reasonable representation. By 1956, Ambedkar had had enough. He was disgusted with the continued impossibility of his people's condition. He was tired and ill. With the claim that he was born a Hindu but had no intention of dying a Hindu, since the religion offered him no human dignity, he converted to Buddhism, as did his followers. His commitment to the plight of his people spearheaded the mobilization of low-caste Hindus that took shape with the Dalit revolt in the seventies and continues to this day in the social and political struggle of the scheduled castes.

Ambedkar had begun his mission where Phule left off, by pointing out the fallacy of Indian social reform: Brahmin-based reform was a contradiction in terms. To expect a brahmin to revolt against social inequity was like expecting the British Parliament to pass an act requiring all blue-eyed babies to be murdered... He believed that if reformers really wanted to destroy caste, then they would have to destroy the authority of the Veda, since the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda gave the caturvarna its eternal and sacrosanct status as a system. By invoking the sanction of law, it presented caste as natural, ideal, sacred, and divine. The Rig Veda thus codified caste and ensured its continued application...

The Veda had the double advantage of being both a book and a revealed religion. Caste, if preached by the Vedas, became both sacred and uncontested; it automatically received the authority of the book and the sanctity of divine word. It had to be accepted as sacred, divine, and eternal truth; it could not be attacked, lest one risk the guilt of sacrilege. By giving caste a place in the Vedas, brahmins ensured their sacredness and invulnerability.

According to Ambedkar, the establishment of Vedic authority and infallibility involved a wide-reaching brahmin conspiracy to legitimate the caturvarna system and provide it with an impregnable line of defense. In any other society, the existence of hard and fast classes would have caused embarrassment and self-recrimination. Hindu society, however, evinced no such concerns. Thanks to the Purusha Sukta and the authority vested in the greatness of ancient Aryan civilization, brahmins could steadfastly maintain an iniquitous class stratification and justify their behavior. Since they held a monopoly over scholarship, they could safely benefit from a system that need never undergo scrutiny... no one had judged the Purusha Sukta immoral, criminal in intent, and antisocial in its results. By condemning the hymn, Ambedkar also condemned the Veda and the world of the Aryans... Since the Dasas were believed to have been conquered by the Aryans, their presumed descendants, the shudras, were seen to inherit their position of subservience legitimately...

The Aryans were steeped in the worst kind of debauchery of a social, religious, and spiritual nature. The rampant moral decay of this degraded society manifested itself in their devotion to human sacrifice and genital worship. They indulged in high-stakes gambling and were given over to drink and beef-eating. Even their women indulged in drunken excesses. Aryan society was also steeped in sexual immorality. As there were no rules prohibiting sexual activities, the Aryans engaged in polyandry, polygamy, and incest. They routinely performed sexual acts in public. They shared and rented out their women for sex or as breeding stock. Bestiality was prevalent. Aryan society was predicated upon class war and social degradation. Sacrifice, providing a setting for revelry, drunkenness, gambling, and sexual promiscuity, showcased Aryan carnage and debauchery. When humans were sacrificed, Aryans indulged in cannibalism. When they sacrificed animals, as in the ashvamedha, Aryans committed bestiality. Ambedkar claimed that this was the reality of the Aryan world and the ideal toward which highcaste reformers aspired.

Ambedkar judged Aryan religion as a mass of sacrificial, social, political, and sanitary rules possessing no universal value. He deemed that what Hindus called religion was nothing but an iniquitous code of ordinances supporting a class ethic that inspired no loyalty to ideals and deprived its adherents of moral freedom and spontaneity... Aryan religion was without spiritual content and supported by a canon saturated with wicked thoughts. In the Rig Veda, the Aryans did not pray for forgiveness of sins or deliverance from evil. Instead, they praised Indra for killing the pregnant wives of their enemies and otherwise bringing destruction to their foes. Since Aryan religion was never concerned with the righteous life, it should be destroyed. It had never even been a religion, but rather a compendium of laws in dire need of amendment or abolition...

Scientific evidence indicates that the brahmins and Untouchables belong to the same race. If the brahmins are Aryans, then so too are the Untouchables; just as if brahmins are Dravidians, so too are Untouchables.

-- Aryans, Jews, Brahmins: Theorizing Authority through Myths of Identity, by Dorothy M. Figueira

In our previous discussions, we have seen how texts possess the power of composing and distributing narratives of space that underlie and organize a culture (Certeau 1986: 67-68). Indian evocations of the Aryan past, like all creations of popular culture, presuppose this unavowed operation of censorship (Certeau 1986: 119-21). Representations must be abstracted from historical conditions in which they are produced. The deceptive plenitude of a national identity is founded on an unavowed absence of those excluded (Certeau 1986: 133-34). Creating a myth of the people necessitates the excision of less comfortable or convenient forms of alterity (Aherne 1995: 134). Populations (in our case, the non-Aryan), must be converted into a reassuring Other, the utopia of a new political relation between the masses and the elite. The Other is then set up as an inert body which can be manipulated and controlled by a ruling elite. Such an elite becomes, according to Certeau, blind to what it excludes by means of such an operation -- it occults a panoply of other kinds of operations that run through those regions of society which it supposes to be passive (Aherne 1995: 136).

According to Certeau, however, acts of excision produce certain symptoms that remain discernable in the language of interpretation. They leave behind questions of lost origin or a fantasmatic presence of a putative origin. The Other, excluded from interpretation, returns to "haunt" the production. The truth of the people is thus set back from their texts. Subsequent interpreters work with these predefined models of what constitutes the authentically popular or original. They offer a reassuringly idealized image of the people and remain deaf to anything that unsettles that ideal. In the following pages, we will show how two great untouchable reformers dealt with the historical exclusion of their respective communities from true national identity. Mahatma Phule and Babasaheb Ambedkar recognized how, through a displacement of traditional boundaries, they could delimit a new cultural field for their communities. We will examine how their reading of the Veda functioned as just such a redistribution of cultural space. Before we begin our analysis, however, the racial parameters of the Aryan myth require some clarification.


It has been noted that the Western quest for origins received its initial formulation in the late Renaissance when philological similarities were noticed between Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and other languages of Europe. We have seen how in the Enlightenment, theories concerning Aryan culture developed out of such linguistic theorizing and were never really discarded. They resurfaced in Orientalist scholarship, Romantic mythography, nineteenth-century linguistic science and race theory. Once philology had showed the relationship between Sanskrit and Greek, it was assumed that the Indo-Aryans were the originators of civilization. Nineteenth-century Indian racial theorists and reformers allowed themselves to be guided by this then-current and flawed philological thesis.

Orientalist scholarship had given the term arya a racial meaning of physical and cultural alterity. The Aryans were other than the indigenous population of India; they came from the margins. This definition differed significantly from the textual use of the term arya, where it signified an honored person of high status as distinct from a mleccha or barbarian (an-arya). Western scholars believed that the etymology of the term varna linguistically supported the Aryan racial theory by its association with color and its reference to caste.1 They were wrong. In the Vedic context, arya only signified one who spoke Sanskrit and observed caste regulations (Thapar 1992: 4). The textual criteria for difference between the arya and anarya were determined not by race but by language, observance of the varnashramadharma, appearance, and religious worship.

The racial connotation did, however, enter the discussion because of the juxtaposition of the arya with the dasa in the Rig Veda, where the dasa was described as dissimilar to the arya.2 Since Vedic references to the arya contrast him with the dasa, who was described as short and dark-complected,3 both were taken to represent two distinct racial types. The Aryans were believed to have invaded India, subjugating the natives (dasa/dasyu), who were believed to be racially different from them. The arya evolved later into the upper three castes with the dasa remaining the lowest. The Aryans were believed to be the white race. They enslaved the Dasas, a dark race, who eventually became the shudras. This racial interpretation of the arya/dasa as white/black largely prevailed among scholars and is still a common scholarly perception (Hock 1999: 4). The linguist Hans Hock has recently shown, through an examination of Rig Vedic passages in which the terms white/black appear, that a racial interpretation is "not required by the textual evidence" (Hock 1999: 6). The Sanskrit terms in question are elastic. In the passages customarily cited to support a racial reading, Vedic terms of "white" can equally be translated as "light," with the sense that the Aryans were forces of light or goodness. Similarly, the Sanskrit term for "black" (most often, krsna) can signify "darkness." In an "ideological" reading, those terms racially translated white/black can justifiably be rendered good/evil.

Those references to black skin also can elicit an alternate reading. The Sanskrit terms for skin in the pertinent Vedic citations (tvac) can just as easily signify the surface of the earth. These references could actually refer to the "dark world" of the Dasas as opposed to the "broad light" of the Aryans (Hock 1999: 9). The compounds krsnayonih and krsnagarbha have customarily been translated as "those with blacks in their wombs" or "pregnant with blacks." However, the Sanskrit also supports a reading of "having dark interiors" as in "those whose forts have dark interiors" or "the dark world where forts are located" as opposed to the light world of the Aryans.4

Racial interpretations based on skin color do not generally play a significant role in premodern societies. They are more "an invention of (early) modern European colonialism and imperialism" (Hock 1999: 15) and its construction of racial superiority. It is not surprising, therefore, that nineteenth-century European Indologists would have read Vedic texts racially, especially since the British takeover of India seemed to parallel the assumed takeover of prehistoric India by the invading Aryans (Hock 1999: 23). Nor is it surprising that the racial interpretation of arya/dasa persists among Indian Indologists, given modern India's color prejudice.5

The Aryans, deemed the founders of European and Asian civilization, entered from the borders and spread over the subcontinent. They settled Aryavarta by subjugating the indigenous Dasas.6 As victors, the Aryans were assumed to be superior to non-Aryans. They maintained their position of ascendancy through strict rules against racial miscegenation. With the implementation of the caste system, they protected their racial exclusivity, with the brahmins viewed as having preserved the purest Aryan strain. Already by the mid-nineteenth century, it was this racial rendition of the Aryan myth that had taken root in the collective consciousness. This was the script that Phule and Ambedkar sought to overthrow.

Lest we lose sight of the historical praxis of this racist ideology, it is worthwhile to describe to what degree such racial notions found expression. The treatment of untouchability was truly horrific. Let us cite Ambedkar's historically recognized examples. He wrote that in Poona, under the Peshwas, Untouchables were not allowed to use public streets if a Hindu was approaching, lest they pollute the Hindu with their shadow. Untouchables were required to wear a black thread on their necks or wrists to ward off Hindus, lest the Hindus be inadvertently polluted. They were to carry a broom strung from their waist to sweep away the dust that they tread. They were to hang an earthen pot from their neck to catch their spit, lest they defile the dirt upon which Hindus walk. Ambedkar noted that as recently as 1928 in central India, Untouchables could not wear clothing with colored or fancy borders. Women could not wear gold or silver ornaments. Untouchables must work without requesting any remuneration. They were not allowed to draw water from village wells or let their cattle graze on village lands. They were not allowed to walk through Hindu fields, and so forth. No fiction or mystification of caste by brahmin reformers could refute or obscure this brutal state of affairs.7


Jotiba Govind Phule (1828-1890) was born a shudra of the gardener (Mali) caste. Educated at the Scottish Mission High School in Poona, he was a militant advocate for the rights of the Untouchables and the peasants. He entered the field of reform by championing the cause of education for women and the lower castes. He opened the first girls' school in Poona and established an untouchable school. He is also credited as the first Hindu to found an orphanage with the aim of preventing infanticide (1863). In 1873, he founded the Satya Shodhak Samaj (Society of Seekers of Truth) to liberate the Untouchables from brahmin exploitation. He viewed British rule as a godsend, welcoming English conquest as a means whereby the disabled shudras would be liberated from the slavery of the "crafty Aryans" (Wolpert 1962: 7).

Phule called for a reinterpretation of theories of the past by locating the struggle of the low castes within the historical perspective of the Aryan conquest of India. He launched an attack on the notion of Aryan racial superiority by identifying the Aryans as the perfidious barbarian aliens who had conquered the indigenous powerful social groups of the time, the shudras (Mahars and Mangs). Mere subjugation did not satisfy Aryan lust for power; they instituted caste isolation so that they and their descendants, the brahmins, could continue to oppress the indigenous population. Aryan brahmins sought to punish the shudras for eternity by depriving them of their rights and condemning them to ignorance.8 Phule's revision of the Aryan invasion theory served him as the paradigm for subsequent Indian history. He framed the Moslem invasion as a repetition of Aryan conquest. Thus, Moslem social and religious power was no more alien than that of the Aryans. The Moslems distinguished themselves from the Aryans by bringing a sophisticated culture with them when they invaded India. Aryans only brought repression.

Phule's intention, like that of other social reformers, was to reaffirm or revitalize culture. In his case, however, culture was defined by the subculture. Like the nationalists, he aimed at identifying the national culture that would form the basis of a new state. The Indian bourgeois and upper-caste elite had offered a politically expedient response to the question of national identity: all India formed the basis for the state. However, it was clear that by "all India" they meant Hindu society and, in particular, Hindus who traced their origins to a Vedic Golden Age. In other words, the state consisted of the traditional varnashramadharma, wherein other Indian cultures (non-Aryan, Moslem, tribal, and low castes) were relegated to an inferior position. Phule's response was to identify national culture as consisting of those very persons that highcaste social and religious reformers had relegated to the margins. He did so by turning the argument of text-centered identity back upon the elite. Phule took those very strengths and virtues that had been attributed to the Aryan in Romantic mythography and Orientalist scholarship and subsequently coopted by brahmin reformers and transferred them to the lower castes.

If culture descended from the Aryan conquerers, then the traditional elite were essentially foreigners (Irani Aryabhats) who had overrun and enslaved the original and true Indians, the mass of peasants, tribals, and Untouchables. The original inhabitants should overturn the hierarchical system, now revealed as fraudulent, and usurp power from the high-caste Hindu, who was no less foreign than the English. In fact, as foreigners go, the British scored well in Phule's estimation: They, at least, aimed at an enlightened vision. The brahmins, however, were bound by villainous and treacherous traditions that had been devised as weapons by foreign forebears and wielded by their alien descendants. It was time, according to Phule, to put an end to oppression and to turn the brahmin foreigners' most effective weapon, the Veda, against them. For Phule, as for other social and religious reformers, the Veda provided the key to unravel the mysteries of Indian identity. He, too, undertook to reveal its true message. This process involved a demonstration of how the invading Aryans had treacherously conquered the natives and established socioreligious structures for their continued deception and exploitation.

Instead of an appeal to return to an Aryan Golden Age, Phule called for the reestablishment of an alternative mythical age, the reign of King Bali,9 which predated the Aryans' treacherous coup d'etat.10 In retelling the legend of Bali, Phule posited the arya as the invidious invader and the dasa as the indigenous population made up of enlightened kings and warriors. By invoking the figure of Bali, Phule constructed an essentially non-Aryan myth or a Dasyu myth wherein the Chitpavan brahmins of Maharashtra, who prided themselves on being close descendants to the Vedic Aryans, were revealed as frauds and cheats. Phule identified those groups traditionally relegated to the lowest positions in caste hierarchy, the Maharashtran peasant majority, the tribal community, and the Untouchables, as the true Indians, distinct from and morally superior to the Aryans. His small treatise, Gulamgiri ("Slavery"), in fact, presents a paean to their intrinsic worth and calls for them to assert group solidarity and end oppression.
In short, Phule sought a return to a former non-Aryan Golden Age.

It was through the authority vested in the Vedas that the alien Aryan usurpers fabricated their identity as brahmins and enslaved true Indians with draconian laws.11 By passing off "idle fantasies" as divine revelation, brahmins forced those whom they had conquered into serving them faithfully as the consummation of devotion. By "stealthily producing heaps of new scriptures," brahmins "brain-washed" the Dasas' descendants, the shudras, into believing them to be the descendants of Aryans. They further duped the shudras into thinking that by serving them and performing menial tasks, they fulfilled their religious obligations. Moreover, brahmins conspired to keep the shudras in ignorance by denying them access to true knowledge and controlling them with "unholy" law treatises. Finally, as custodians of Vedic knowledge, brahmins vouchsafed their power to alter the so-called divine revelation as need arose (Phule 1991a: 1.34).12

As a weapon devised and wielded by the religious elite, the Veda's "palpably absurd legends" distorted God's revelation in order to consolidate brahmin ascendancy. Priestly control over the text's accessibility only highlights the brahmins' need to defraud: The hermeneutical conspiracy could only succeed if the Vedas remained a closed and hermetic canon of authority that could shield brahmins from the lies their ancestors had perpetrated in the name of religion and absolve them of associative guilt (Phule 1991a: 2.21).13 Textual control enabled the brahmins to commit the even greater sin of rendering themselves godlike.14

Phule specifically designated the Vedas as a form of false consciousness. As fictions of religious authority enshrined in scripture and given additional force through custom, the Vedas express nothing but brahmin greed.15 The brahmins transgress God's designs by denying the text to others (Phule 1991a: 2.104-5) and misusing it for selfish gain. Their continual textual subversion of scripture incurred God's wrath in the form of foreign conquest of India by the Mughals, Pathans, Portuguese, French, and finally, the English. The pen being mightier than the sword, God punished the Aryan brahmin in the nineteenth century through the texts themselves. Under the harsh light of foreign scholarship, God allowed Western scholars to reveal how the brahmins had persecuted the shudras with spurious readings of the Veda.

God used Western Indological scholarship to punish the Aryan brahmins and publicize their treachery worldwide "so that the eyes of the shudras will be opened and the sins against them will be brought home in a blinding flash" (Phule 1991a: 2.22-23).

Phule called for the victims of Aryan perfidy to use reason (Phule 1991a: 2.83), recognize what had been inflicted on them, and revolt against brahmin treachery by discarding the scriptural instrument of this fraud and enslavement (Phule 1991a: 2.32). Once the spurious Vedas are rejected, the true Vedas can be unearthed. Phule did not reject the concept of textual authority or legitimacy. He rejected rather the false readings of the Veda that held his people in thrall. Read correctly, the Vedas reveal a different message -- that the Dasyus were the original inhabitants of the land; they were brave, pure at heart, and upright in their conduct. Phule exhorted their descendants to acknowledge this alternate rendering, recognize the degradation to which they have been reduced by the Aryans (Phule 1991a: 2.83), and reject it.

By introducing this new category of reason into the discussion, Phule effected a dissociation of "thing" from "name," or objects from what they were called (Certeau 1986: 70). Reference did not determine the signifie, but rather the application of a sign (Aryanhood) to an object (the Dasa) categorized and interpreted that object. By challenging the myth of a utopian past, Phule launched a radical attack on Vedic revivalism. He realized full well that the brahmin and upper-caste intellectual (that is, the new middle class) would represent the Aryan in any return to origins. He also understood how any glorification of supposedly Aryan values further consolidated brahmin ascendancy. Finally, he suspected that opposition to the West, another key component of revivalism, often masqueraded as patriotism when, in reality, it masked hegemonic desire on the part of high-caste reformers.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Postby admin » Fri Feb 12, 2021 2:01 am

Part 2 of 2


B.R. Ambedkar (1892-1956) belonged to the Untouchable Mahar caste of Maharashtra. When only 1 percent of his caste was literate, Ambedkar received a B.A. in Bombay, M.A. and Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York, D.Sc. at London University, and passed the bar from Grey's Inn, London.16 He was able to achieve what none of his caste had ever done because his father had joined the British Army and his family had found the means to secure him an education. Ambedkar dedicated his life to working for the advancement of his people. Initially, he worked as a social advocate in the field of journalism, later as a representative for his people testifying at government commissions, and finally as their guru and leader.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the lower strata of Indian society had awakened to the inequities of their existence and begun to question the brahmanical face of reform. Ambedkar's witness before the Southborough Committee (1917) had sought treatment for the Untouchables as a distinct community (like that of the Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus) and defended their legitimate political demands (Ambedkar 1979: 1.250). The Montague Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 and the Reform Act of 1919 acknowledged the changing social reality. The British government was beginning to address the low-caste needs that had gone unheard by caste Hindu society for centuries. Ambedkar contributed to the cause of low-caste reform by serving as a delegate to the London Round Table Conferences (1930-33), where he made the case for the recognition of Untouchables as a minority with a separate electorate.

Ambedkar would have been successful in London had not Gandhi manipulated the situation. Gandhi believed that the Untouchables should remain within the Hindu fold and seek redress for their treatment there. Ambedkar suspected this strategy to be a caste Hindu ploy to continue control of the lower castes and avoid strengthening the Moslem cause. He, therefore, opposed Gandhi's initiative. When it appeared that Ambedkar's opposition might succeed, Gandhi began a fast. The possibility that Gandhi might actually die put Ambedkar in an impossible position. The "Mahatma's" death would have certainly unleashed a bloodbath against the Untouchable community. Gandhi was as aware of this inevitability as was Ambedkar. Ambedkar had no choice but to acquiesce to Gandhi's strategem and capitulate, thereby forfeiting the opportunity of securing viable representation for his community under British rule.

Ambedkar understood fully the extent to which his people were persecuted. He suspected that behind the rhetoric of reform was the caste Hindus' concern with maintaining control. In the case of Gandhi, this control took the form of usurping the role of spokesman for the subaltern and directing their future in an eventually free India. Many of Ambedkar's efforts in the years leading up to Independence involved campaigning against what he felt to be the hypocrisy of the Congress Party and Gandhi toward the Untouchable community. While Gandhi proceeded with his method of pleading with caste Hindus to abolish untouchability, Ambedkar sought to secure basic rights that his community continued to be denied despite Congress's promises: He sought to obtain his people's rights of a temple entry, use of community wells, and other basic human rights. But here too, he failed.

Ambedkar founded the Independent Labor Party that won fourteen seats in the Bombay Legislature in 1937 and served as a Labor member in the viceroy's executive council. His greatest service to India, however, was his chairmanship of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution. When need arose, it was to the Untouchable barrister upon whom high-caste clerks had spat, that the fathers of Indian democracy had to turn. Even in this venture, Ambedkar had to wage a pitched battle for his people's rights to reasonable representation. By 1956, Ambedkar had had enough. He was disgusted with the continued impossibility of his people's condition. He was tired and ill. With the claim that he was born a Hindu but had no intention of dying a Hindu, since the religion offered him no human dignity, he converted to Buddhism, as did his followers. His commitment to the plight of his people spearheaded the mobilization of low-caste Hindus that took shape with the Dalit revolt in the seventies and continues to this day in the social and political struggle of the scheduled castes.

Ambedkar had begun his mission where Phule left off,17 by pointing out the fallacy of Indian social reform: Brahmin-based reform was a contradiction in terms. To expect a brahmin to revolt against social inequity was like expecting the British Parliament to pass an act requiring all blue-eyed babies to be murdered
(Ambedkar 1979: 1.71) was Ambedkar's harsh analogy. Ambedkar particularly poked fun at the Arya Samaj's pretense of determining caste by worth (Ambedkar 1979: 1.58-59). Ambedkar deemed all such efforts futile. He believed that if reformers really wanted to destroy caste, then they would have to destroy the authority of the Veda (Ambedkar 1979: 1.69), since the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda gave the caturvarna its eternal and sacrosanct status as a system. By invoking the sanction of law, it presented caste as natural, ideal, sacred, and divine (Ambedkar 1990: 7.26). The Rig Veda thus codified caste and ensured its continued application. Given the damage produced by the Purusha Sukta, Ambedkar felt that to preach the Veda as the basis of everything, as did the Arya Samaj, was pure mischief. Throughout his writings, Ambedkar sought to destroy the Veda as the basis of society and debunk its eternality, status as revelation (Ambedkar 1987: 4.29, 40), infallibility, and stationary view of society (Ambedkar 1990: 7.14). He challenged the Veda's moral and spiritual value in the past (Ambedkar 1987: 4.41) as well as its authority (4.37, 39) and philosophical worth (4.44) in the present.

Ambedkar began by questioning the Veda's canonicity. Since Rammohan Roy, Hindu reformers had learned a valuable lesson from Christian missionaries. Book religions had definite advantages over bookless religions. They possessed a written constitution or voucher for truth that gave authority and induced obedience (Ambedkar 1989: 5.182). The Veda had the double advantage of being both a book and a revealed religion. Caste, if preached by the Vedas, became both sacred and uncontested (Ambedkar 1989: 5.181); it automatically received the authority of the book and the sanctity of divine word. It had to be accepted as sacred, divine, and eternal truth; it could not be attacked, lest one risk the guilt of sacrilege (Ambedkar 1989: 5.183). By giving caste a place in the Vedas, brahmins ensured their sacredness and invulnerability (Ambedkar 1989: 5.181).

According to Ambedkar, the establishment of Vedic authority and infallibility (Ambedkar 1987: 4.53) involved a wide-reaching brahmin conspiracy (4.27) to legitimate the caturvarna system (4.36) and provide it with an impregnable line of defense (Ambedkar 1989: 5.183). In any other society, the existence of hard and fast classes would have caused embarrassment and self-recrimination. Hindu society, however, evinced no such concerns. Thanks to the Purusha Sukta and the authority vested in the greatness of ancient Aryan civilization, brahmins could steadfastly maintain an iniquitous class stratification and justify their behavior (Ambedkar 1990: 7.239). Since they held a monopoly over scholarship, they could safely benefit from a system that need never undergo scrutiny.
No Voltaire had arisen from their ranks to decry intolerance (Ambedkar 1990: 7.240). Before Ambedkar, no one had judged the Purusha Sukta immoral, criminal in intent, and antisocial in its results. By condemning the hymn, Ambedkar also condemned the Veda and the world of the Aryans. The ultimate goal of his polemic was to dismantle the caste system they legitimized (Ambedkar 1990: 7.32). Since the Dasas were believed to have been conquered by the Aryans, their presumed descendants, the shudras, were seen to inherit their position of subservience legitimately.18 It was to reject this script of subjugation and to rehabilitate his own people, the Mahars -- the principle and largest Untouchable community in Maharashtra -- that Ambedkar sought to rewrite the Aryan myth. Ambedkar read the Rig Veda and constructed an elaborate portrait of the Aryan people toward this end.

The Aryans were steeped in the worst kind of debauchery of a social, religious, and spiritual nature. The rampant moral decay (Ambedkar 1979-90: 3.153) of this degraded society manifested itself in their devotion to human sacrifice and genital worship (Ambedkar 1987: 4.294). They indulged in high-stakes gambling (Ambedkar 1987: 3.168; 4.108; 4.295) and were given over to drink and beef-eating (Ambedkar 1987: 3.157; 4.111). Even their women indulged in drunken excesses (Ambedkar 1987: 3.154; 3.169; 4.109; 4.295). Aryan society was also steeped in sexual immorality (Ambedkar 1987: 3.171). As there were no rules prohibiting sexual activities (Ambedkar 1987: 4.109), the Aryans engaged in polyandry, polygamy (Ambedkar 1987: 4.229), and incest (Ambedkar 1987: 3.155; 3.171; 4.109; 4.298). They routinely performed sexual acts in public (Ambedkar 1987: 3.155; 3.171; 4.109). They shared (Ambedkar 1987: 4.109) and rented out their women for sex or as breeding stock (Ambedkar 1987: 3.156; 3.172; 4.294; 4.301). Bestiality was prevalent (Ambedkar 1987: 3.157, 173; 4.109). Aryan society was predicated upon class war and social degradation (Ambedkar 1987: 3.170). Sacrifice, providing a setting for revelry, drunkenness, gambling, and sexual promiscuity, showcased Aryan carnage and debauchery (Ambedkar 1987: 3.175). When humans were sacrificed, Aryans indulged in cannibalism. When they sacrificed animals, as in the ashvamedha, Aryans committed bestiality (Ambedkar 1987: 3.174). Ambedkar claimed that this was the reality of the Aryan world and the ideal toward which highcaste reformers aspired.

Ambedkar judged Aryan religion as a mass of sacrificial, social, political, and sanitary rules possessing no universal value. He deemed that what Hindus called religion was nothing but an iniquitous code of ordinances (Ambedkar 1979: 1.75-76) supporting a class ethic that inspired no loyalty to ideals and deprived its adherents of moral freedom and spontaneity. Moreover, he maintained that Aryan religion was without spiritual content and supported by a canon saturated with wicked thoughts. In the Rig Veda, the Aryans did not pray for forgiveness of sins or deliverance from evil. Instead, they praised Indra for killing the pregnant wives of their enemies and otherwise bringing destruction to their foes. Since Aryan religion was never concerned with the righteous life (Ambedkar 1987: 3.175-76), it should be destroyed. It had never even been a religion, but rather a compendium of laws in dire need of amendment or abolition (Ambedkar 1979: 1.76).

Ambedkar also challenged the racial portrayal of the Aryan that presented them as a fair race with sharp noses as compared to the Dasa/Dasyu who were believed to be dark-complected and flat-nosed. In modern times, the Dasa has been identified with the shudra and aboriginal tribes. Ambedkar claimed that the philological evidence keeping the racial myth alive was as spurious as the Western equation of varna with color.19 Rather than Muller's reading of anasa as a-nasa, without a nose (that is, flat-nosed), Ambedkar sides with Sayana's reading of an-asa, signifying devoid of good speech (Ambedkar 1990: 7.76). He maintained that the Veda had been consistently misread by brahmin scholars in a racial sense in order to foster a two-nation theory that benefitted their interests. With the brahmins as the representatives of the Aryans and the low castes seen as non-Aryans, brahmins could foster both their hegemonic power over their brethern as well as kinship with Europeans. Ambedkar found no evidence that the term arya was used in the Rig Veda in a racial sense. The Dasas were as civilized and powerful as the Aryans (Ambedkar 1990: 7.105). He did not read any racial distinction between the Aryan and the Dasa, since there are numerous instances in the Rig Veda where Dasas become Aryans. Similarly, there is no evidence that the Aryans were a different color than the Dasas (Ambedkar 1990: 7.85).

It was thought that the Aryans invaded India, conquered the Dasas, and made them slaves. Ambedkar claimed that the Aryan invasion myth was also unfounded (Ambedkar 1987: 3.419). Rather, the evidence shows the contrary, that India is the home of the Aryans. While there does exist in the Rig Veda many descriptions of the Dasa as the enemies of the Aryans, these passages make no reference to their conquest and subjugation, but rather to sporadic fighting. The Rig Veda also speaks of the Dasas and the Aryans standing against a common enemy, suggesting to Ambedkar that their conflict was of a religious rather than a racial nature (Ambedkar 1990: 7.76). The Aryan invasion theory was contrived to support brahmin superiority, justify their overlordship over non-brahmins, and satisfy brahmin arrogance (Ambedkar 1990: 7.80).

Ambedkar read the Veda to suggest that the Aryans were not a single homogeneous people, rather two groups with distinct cultures. One group, the Aryans of the Rig Veda, believed in sacrifice, traced their descent through man, and produced the Brahmanas, Sutras, and Aranyakas. The other group, the Aryans of Atharva Veda, believed in magic, traced their descent through Prajapati, and produced the Upanishads (Ambedkar 1990: 7.291).20 These two separate ideologies were fundamentally different and irreconcilable: the former believed in the caturvarna and the latter did not (Ambedkar 1990: 7.97). The two groups were eventually consolidated with the Rig Vedic ideology prevailing. The term dasa, therefore, denoted persons not observing Aryan forms of religion; they were Aryans of a different sect or class (Ambedkar 1990: 7.107).

According to Ambedkar, the Rig Veda (10.49) supports the thesis that the shudras are Aryan (Ambedkar 1990: 7.110) or members of Aryan communities who had been deprived of the title "Arya" for opposing belief deemed essential to Aryan culture. Their rights and privileges suggest that they belonged to the ksatriya caste and lived outside the village from the beginning (Ambedkar 1990: 7.278-80). Some shudras were so important a class of ksatriyas that eminent and powerful kings of Aryan communities were shudras (Ambedkar 1990: 7.114). Ambedkar read the Rig Veda and the Brahmanas as supporting a three-varna theory, with the shudra never appearing as the fourth and separate varna (Ambedkar 1990: 7.132, 139).

It was only the cosmology presented in the Purusha Sukta that justified the creation of the fourth varna, and Ambedkar denied the authenticity of this fundamental hymn (Ambedkar 1990: 7.134). He claimed that before Manu, the shudra was not a non-Aryan (Ambedkar 1987: 3.419). Brahmanic lawgivers, however, selected the shudras as victims of their law-making authority. They devised and imposed disabilities having no parallel anywhere in the world (Ambedkar 1990: 7.56). Manu, by positioning the caturvarna as the essence of Aryanism (Ambedkar 1987: 4.215), silenced once and for all any opposition to the "fictive" ideal set by the Purusha Sukta (Ambedkar 1990: 7.24). The Veda's status as eternal revelation ensured that any rational debate on the justice of the varna system was foreclosed (Ambedkar 1979: 1.72). Manu, by perverting history and defaming respectable and powerful tribes, transformed them into bastards (Ambedkar 1987: 4.224). It completed the task of marginalization begun by the Rig Vedic Aryans.

Thus, the fourth varna came into existence when the shudras were degraded on account of their violent conflicts with brahmins (Ambedkar 1990: 7.140). Out of jealousy of shudra superiority (Ambedkar 1990: 7.190) and in retaliation for indignities they suffered under certain shudra kings (Ambedkar 1990: 7.186; 7.11-12), brahmins denied them the ritual of the upanayana and degraded them from the second to the fourth rank (Ambedkar 1990: 7.156, 186).21 The shudras were not a vast group as they are in modern times, capable of challenging brahmin abuse. They were then just a single people and unable to fight back effectively. Only in modern Hindu society have they come to represent many uncultured peoples, a heterogeneous collection of tribes with nothing in common except their low cultural standing. In fact, present-day shudras should not even be called "shudras," since they have nothing in common with their namesakes in Aryan culture. Nor should they be made to pay penalties for crimes that they did not commit (Ambedkar 1990: 7.201).

Ambedkar rejected the entire Aryan racial myth (Ambedkar 1990: 7.78). The varna system cannot stem from Aryan color prejudice, since the Aryans were comprised of different colored peoples (Ambedkar 1990: 7.81). Scientific evidence indicates that the brahmins and Untouchables belong to the same race.22 If the brahmins are Aryans, then so too are the Untouchables; just as if brahmins are Dravidians, so too are Untouchables (Ambedkar 1990: 7.302). Untouchability has nothing to do with race or with occupation (Ambedkar 1990: 7.305-7). It originated in brahmin antipathy for "broken men."

Ambedkar maintained that the objects of brahmin wrath were actually Buddhists who did not revere or employ them as priests (Ambedkar 1990: 7.315). The brahmins retaliated with such tremendous slander that these Buddhists eventually became regarded as Untouchable.
The roots of untouchability are, therefore, to be found in brahmins' hatred and contempt for Buddhism as an assault upon their hegemony (Ambedkar 1990: 7.317). Brahmins hated the Buddhists because they made them look bad. Compared with Buddhist moderation, the brahmins' love of beef concealed in the elaborate pomp of the sacrifice (Ambedkar 1990: 7.334) undermined public esteem. Their constant slaughter of animals produced revulsion for Brahmanism (Ambedkar 1990: 7.346). Realizing how low their stock had fallen, the brahmins sought to recover the ground they had lost to Buddhism. They became vegetarian and made the cow sacred. Since the Buddhists remained meat eaters, they were consequently viewed as sacrilegious (7.350). The brahmins were thus able to marginalize Buddhists and gain ascendancy over them. Ultimately, the brahmins destroyed the Buddhists. They then conspired and succeeded in subjugating their descendants. Ambedkar's rewriting of the Aryan myth was no less fanciful than brahmin-authored versions. It differed, however, in one important respect. It was potent enough to enable him to lead millions of Indians out of the slavery into which they had been born.


In India, the Aryans could represent either the true and pure Hindu (Thapar 1992: 81) or the foreign invader. In the former instance such a characterization was achieved through a process wherein the periphery was identified and set apart. In the latter circumstance, the center appears as a construct against which the margin (or in the case of Phule and Ambedkar, the melding of margins) is reshuffled or undergoes reinterpretation. This redefinition of the margin necessarily plays a role in shaping the center.

In the orthodox formulation of the Aryan myth, privileged segments of the Indian population could consider themselves on a par with their conquerers rather than subjects. By framing the myth of an embattled Aryan "We," which purportedly existed before the arrival of the British, the middleclass Indian elite asserted a cohesive social identity and declared their cultural superiority in response to colonial domination. In such instances, the Aryan myth provided a psychological strategy that was instrumental in the eventual expulsion of the colonial authorities.

Outside the elite, groups on the periphery subverted the myth of Aryan hegemony and utilized its deformation as an instrument of unity and social estrangement. Through counter hegemonic inversion, they sought alternative models wherein subordinates and marginals under the present order agitated for the deconstruction of that order and the reconstruction of a novel pattern. Such reform relied upon disruptive discourse gaining a wide audience. It also relied upon the domination of sentiments of estrangement over those of affinity. In the contest for political power between two or more groups, emphasis was thus placed on the cultural separateness of the Aryan and the non-Aryan. Social reformers such as Phule and Ambedkar sought to sharpen separation for each group by identifying their divergent roots. By shifting semantic relations, Phule and Ambedkar called into question the traditional status of the Aryan and the Dasa, as well as their relationship to each other. They showed that the defining characteristics of Aryanness found their referent in the world of the shudra. They broke with the established definitions by separating the sign from the Aryan ideal as it had been codified in brahmin and Orientalist readings of the Veda.

Their approach was based on faith in the integrity of the outcaste Self and positing it as the norm by which the Aryan Other should be judged deficient. Translated into semantic terms, their position resulted in unifying the signifie with its referent. The Aryan was defined by what "one" does, the Dasa, by what "they" do. They broke this semantic system down further by separating the word "Aryan," the signifie of the sign, from its objectification in the outside world. The Aryan and the Dasa are then both located on the same level and judged in relation to each other. In this manner, the Dasa/shudra can be assigned to the very place from which it had been excluded. Thus, the discourse of the Aryan Other becomes a discourse of the shudra Self.

The word "Aryan," to paraphrase Michel de Certeau, leaves behind its status as a noun (the Aryan) to take on the value of an adjective (arya, or noble). Phule and Ambedkar's analysis let the word recede to ponder behaviors to which it could apply as a predicate (an adjective). It can do this in three ways: as an ambivalence ("Aryans are superior, shudras are superior"), a comparison ("We shudras are stronger and more powerful than those Aryans"), or as an alternative ("One has to be noble, we shudras or those Aryans, and it's not them!").

As I hope this chapter has shown, there are areas of response in nineteenth-century Indian reform that were hardly touched by relationships of colonial power and significantly address issues of Indian hegemonic abuses. Figures such as Phule and Ambedkar are curiously absent from deconstructions of hegemonic textualities. In those forms of scholarship where truth cannot go beyond deceptive representations of the colonized Other, their voices are absent. The problem, perhaps, is that Phule and, to a far greater degree, Ambedkar were not subalterns in search of a critic to speak on their behalf. They both had rather clear voices. The very fact that significant Indian discourse on the Aryan centered on nativist concerns raises interesting questions concerning the serviceability of postcolonial criticism to a broad spectrum of literary production under colonialism. One might well question whether professional spokespersons for the subaltern are deaf to their voices because they attacked an enemy who was not the colonial power, but an opponent from whose ranks the critics themselves spring and within whose hegemonic structure of knowledge and discourse they continue to operate. In this context, the tendency to demonize all colonial relations as a kind of "original sin" (Rothstein 2001: A17) seems particularly unsupportable. The "original sin" concept has had the effect of whitewashing the checkered past of many colonized and postcolonial elites. Many abuses of power and human rights violations perpetuated by these elites are swept away by the concept of colonialism as the hegemonic evil. Are we to read critics' deafness as an oversight (or, as they might say, over-site) or rather as a mask for their own needs to maintain traditional lines of power while restructuring the contemporary image of power?

The oppressor/victim binary of colonial discourse analysis does not fully explain the Indian need to idealize the antiquity of Aryan India and establish culture as diffused from India to the rest of the world. It does not account for the fact that patterns of admiration and positions adopted vary within various groups and from individual to individual in the receiving culture and are rooted in the specific cultural traits of Hindu caste society and its literary tradition. Phule and Ambedkar offered a radical attack on revivalism and challenged the elite myth of the past. They realized that brahmins and upper-caste intellectuals (that is, the new middle class) would always represent the idealized ancient Indian society, since their values could be seen to stem from that past. They also realized that opposition to the colonizing Other could be taken for nationalism, when it merely masked the preservation of traditional lines of power. Students of postcolonial theory should explore such histories and representations because they resonate in our continuing arguments with contemporary racism.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Postby admin » Fri Feb 12, 2021 2:06 am


The Aryan myth defined both the true Hindu community (Thapar 1992: 81) and the origin of the West. We have investigated how myths regarding the Aryan gave value to ancient Indian history, contributed to the ideological concerns of India during the colonial and nationalist periods, and established a schema of oppositions that continues to resonate in the modern historical and critical context. We also examined how myths concerning the Aryan race and narratives of their migrations served the political and ideological interests of Europe: The history of India could be appropriated as a means of expressing nineteenth-century European theories of origin. An examination of the Aryan myth thus addresses a fundamental concern of postcolonial criticism, namely that the West needed to constitute the Orient as its Other in order to constitute itself and its own subjective position (Ahmad 1993: 182). By idealizing the Indian past, Europe "colonized" the Other in an attempt to define the Self. Finally, we saw how, in both instances, identity came to be defined from the margin. In fact, the logic of the margin contributed significantly to the specific dynamic of the Aryan myth. The Aryan center appears as a construct of the non-Aryan margins and is redefined as those margins are reshuffled or interpreted. By applying concepts such as Deleuze's notion of deterritorialization and Foucault's archaeology to the examination of identity, one can track how margins shape the center and how human subjects relate inside an intersubjective world.

This study also examined how the Indian myth of Aryanhood was utilized to bring about the mobilization of powerful sentiments of affinity and solidarity. Through a transformation of consciousness, segments of the Indian population could consider themselves on a par with their conquerors rather than their subjects. With this myth, privileged segments of Indian society were able to frame an embattled Aryan "We," which purportedly existed before the arrival of the British and could be rallied in the rearticulated tradition. This construct allowed specific groups of Indians to assert a cohesive social identity and declare their cultural superiority in response to colonial domination. The social identity activated by the Aryan myth fostered estrangement from British colonial authorities and thus functioned as an effective instrument of resistance. It was instrumental in the eventual expulsion of the colonial authorities. Outside the brahmin elite, groups on the periphery subverted the Aryan myth for social reform. Thus, the myth was employed both to reassert the social and religious stability of the elite and undermine its hegemony. After independence, reconfigured versions of the Aryan myth became instrumental in destabilizing caste authority and, most recently, fomenting communalism.

As in India, so too in Europe: speculation regarding the Aryan provided essential information concerning the past; it promised to reveal the state of civilization that was closest to the supposed common ancestors of all Indo- European peoples. For those seeking to distance themselves from a Hebrew heritage, Aryan India provided an attractive alternative. Germans, in particular, believed that the study of Vedic mythology could elucidate the history and fate of the Indo-German Volk, a national collectivity inspired by a common creative energy, that was promulgated as the unique essence of the German people. German Indology's valorization of the Aryan past and an idealized vision of India further contributed to the identification of this Volk with the mythic Aryan. Subsequent racial hygienists would invert this Aryan myth: India became a projection of the German racial situation. Once the metaphorical cradle of German civilization, India now became its symbolic grave. Through the Aryan myth, India functioned both as an example and a warning to the Nazis. Just as the Aryans in India fell, so would those in Europe if racial purity were not recreated. In both the East and the West, the search for the "original" India became bound up with a search for a superior race living in an unchanging utopian past.

The point of departure for our inquiry was the belief that the heterological process is quintessentially hermeneutical. Throughout this volume, we focused on the recuperation of the Aryan past as a heterology unfolding in time and space, as a series of narratives reflecting dialectical processes and as an exemplary story promoting various national identities. Through the rhetoric of a myth of origin, these narratives attempt to bridge the distance between the subjective Self and the objective Other. Part I questioned how versions of the Aryan past articulated an ethical process whereby the European subject defined itself through cultural confrontation. Of particular interest in this discussion was the psychodynamics of appropriation, what Michel de Certeau termed the impossibility of portraying the Other as anything but a translation into a European familiarity of the Self. On a broader level, these chapters called into question the morality of appropriation. Part II examined the internal exoticism involved in Indian recuperations of the Aryan past. We saw how truth is ever elusive and open to reconfiguration. The truth regarding the Aryans was less to be found in their literature than in what it was no longer able to express. Truth was not to be discovered in words, but rather in the lacunae, the message that had been lost through decay, inaccessibility, and the loss of ability to read correctly.

European theories of the Aryan race developed out of scholarly inquiry into the origin of languages, the study of myth, and the historical study of religion. The quest for an original language from which other languages derived involved a search for unity in diversity. The quest for linguistic unity reflected the need for an ultimate textual authority. However, once that authority was identified, something curious occurred. The horizon of the text was virtually swept away; its integrity ignored. The text was treated by interpreters as almost nonexistent; they made it up to suit their needs. In a similar fashion, the horizon of the reader became pure ideology, expressing itself in emotional appeals to return to some golden age or true spirituality of the text.

Western Orientalist scholars focused on the superiority of the Indian Aryans and their legacy of excellence as manifest in their modern European descendants. In the Enlightenment, the Aryans provided an alternative to the Hebrew model. For the Romantics, the Aryan past confirmed those aesthetic and spiritual values that were cherished and promoted in the European present. Among certain nineteenth-century cultural critics, however, an Aryan theory of race inspired counter-hegemonic reveries of degeneration. Gobineau's Arierdammerung heralded the twilight of the gods. It was Nietzsche's task to transform these gods into idols. In the writings of Chamberlain and Rosenberg, notions of who comprised the Aryan race exhibited an endemic feeling that Christianity had empowered a sickly underclass and corrupted German religion. The fall of the Aryan resonated in the "infectous post-World War I story of betrayal by Jewish materialists and the vindictive Allies" (Crews 1996: 39).

In India, theories of Aryan unity ingeniously ignored discrepancies in racial and cultural development. Rammohan Roy and Dayanand focused on the Aryan religious tradition as a basis for Hindu spiritual revival. For Tilak and Ranade, the Aryan's racial superiority could be witnessed in their survival in modern times as caste Hindus. Ranade took a cosmopolitan perspective; he contrasted the Aryan to the Semite and the Dravidian. For Vivekananda, the Aryan was superior both to the Dravidian and the West. Tilak valorized the Aryan past to promote the nationalist cause. Vivekananda held expansionist designs: he saw itinerant Indian preachers setting forth to perfect (Aryanize) the world. Phule and Ambedkar challenged the myth of the Aryan, bringing back into discussion what nationalist discourse had excluded. Discussions of Aryanhood were thus either system-maintaining or counter-systemic. The system in question was the caste system, and specifically the role of brahmins as the disseminators of the Veda, its legitimate readers, and (ab)users of secular and religious power. There was some suggestion that the Veda had been corrupted by barbarian influences and the intolerance of ruthless conquerors. It was also believed that the process of textual degradation could be reversed. In those cases where the discourse was systems-maintaining, brahmins jealously guarded their access to the text and their right to interpret it. In those instances where Aryan discourse was counter-systemic, reformers desperately sought to wrest the texts away from their brahmin custodians.

These nineteenth-century quests for the Aryan past can be viewed as forms of popular culture, susceptible to the political and institutional forces that inform cultural criticism. They collaborate in the political structure that they inhabit and in their position and complicity within the power structure. Popular culture, even when Marxist in inspiration and populist in spirit, is defined by the mechanisms of exclusion. Like all quests for origin, it expresses moments in time when elites feel themselves threatened. When a culture has lost its means of self-defense, it turns to the ethnologist and the archaeologist (Certeau 1986: 123). Nineteenth- and twentieth-century German and Indian history bear out this maxim. The myths of the Aryan articulate this fear of impotence and present what Certeau in another context has termed a "geography of the eliminated" or "a negative silhouette" formed from the political and symbolic distributions of power. The larger question addressed by the authors we have examined in this volume is central to all critical endeavors: Who should read or interpret texts of authority? Who is the legitimate reader? It is with this fundamental concern that we conclude our discussion of the Aryan myth. Let us take this question even further. Are those "legitimate" readers of the Veda in the nineteenth century so unlike the modern critics? Both claim positional knowledge. Both, laboring notions of voicelessness and absence, can license the neglect of texts that contradict their master narratives. Both claim privilege to speak for the Other. The brahmin custodian of the Veda received his hermeneutical mandate from God. Critics are self-anointed and legitimized by their peers. The nationalist reformer defined the Aryan in order to reassert sociopolitical power and retain traditional lines of control. The critic, impotent through alienation from real political action, compensates by a posture of powerlessness vis a vis representation. Political parallels may well be drawn between extravagant claims in the mythology of the Aryan race and the more sober evocations of colonial discourse analysis. We have seen how the problem of identity finds no clear resolution. Identity, both individual and national, continues to be problematic into the new millennium. What I hope this volume has shown is that games of identity never really change. In fact, the politics of identity determines in many ways the theoretical and critical discourse of the present moment. The refusal to acknowledge operant codes of power limits our ability to recognize the shared culture of oppression that does not end with the colonialists' departure, but lives on in critical categories and methodology. Aryan warlords still wander the earth. They have abandoned the plains of Kurukshetra to settle in the groves of academe. The brahminization of theory is complete.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Postby admin » Fri Feb 12, 2021 2:06 am

Part 1 of 2



1. In the Brahmanical age, when the chief philosophical schools developed, the use of the Samhitas (or hymn portions) were limited to the ritual context. In the medieval period, bhakti (or devotional) texts gained prominence. Some of these affirm explicitly that Vedic religion was no longer appropriate to the present degenerate age (Llewellyn 1993: 95).

2. The term "Veda" is often used in a metaphorical sense to refer to the "end of the Veda," namely the Vedanta, most often the Upanishads.

3. The Aryans are often conceived of as having been ruled by a moral ethos that is chronologically much later encapsulated in the Manava Dharma Shastra, hereafter The Laws of Manu.

4. The primary level of textual retrieval necessary is of the original semantic denotations and connotations. The second necessary step involves the restoration of the extralinguistic context, which includes the retrieving of allusions to sociocultural references and an understanding of the literary tradition in which the activity of the writer and the comprehension of his audience took place.

5. A comparatist is not limited to a particular literature or set of literatures as the exclusive source of standards on which to base truth claims. In fact, comparative literature scholars legitimately situate literary works in relation to significant movements of elements in the repertory of any literature (Remak 1960: 20-22). Each literature offers internal traditions of hermeneutic guidance, and the general systems approach recognizes these hermeneutic principles as cultural facts in specific historical flows. The juxtaposition of phenomena in which cultural interferences playa prominent part can be realized without the necessity of presuming the superiority of either the nature or the initially foreign repertorial elements as a basis for formulating truth-claims. Comparative Literature views ideational contents as repertorial facts (Gillespie 1997: 5-6).

6. I do not offer anything close to the orthodox reading that these authors customarily experience from scholars of philosophy, history of religions, Indology, Germanistik, or French literature.

7. Similarly, the authors treated in this study are not usually subjected to comparative or literary analysis. A general systems approach justifies what may appear to some readers as rather insolites juxtapositions. Some readers may be shocked by the juxtaposition of the Indian nationalist articulation of the Aryan myth with that of Germany. I justify the appearance of individuals whom many Indians today revere as national heroes alongside individuals whom most Europeans revile on the grounds that both groups, by identifying the Aryan, designated a non-Aryan Other and sought to challenge its secular power. The European binary between the Aryan and Semite parallelled the Indian binary that was established between the Aryan and the non-Aryan or Aryan and Dravidian. Both India and Germany have sought authenticity in nonscholarly interpretations of history and prehistory (Hock 1996: 3). In this analysis, I deal with European (colonialist and non-colonialist) as well as Indian authors. The decision to read Orientalists does not make me an accomplice in some "diabolically clever cultural imperialism" (Gillespie 1997: 6). I believe that even Orientalists can exist as agents. Their relationship to India and the knowledge that they derived from the power situation by which they were authorized was produced; it was not the product of their interventions (Clark 1996: 27). Another critical stance bears mentioning, since a central concern of this volume deals with who is conceived as the appropriate reader or, in some cases, who is even allowed to read the texts in question. This author does not ascribe to the belief that critics either through race or gender possess some "intuitive or existential positional knowledge" (Clark 1996: 31). If such were the case, this reader could not/should not read Indian pundits or nineteenth- century German males.

8. Others championed the fundamental unity of ancient Aryan culture in India and beyond. In 1936, the Mahasabha proclaimed that non-Hindus must be made to understand that Hinduism is primarily for the Hindus and that the Hindus live for the preservation and development of the Aryan culture and the Hindu dharma, which are bound to prove beneficial for all. This trajectory has enabled the Aryan past to be presently used to legitimate Hindu communal ideology. The fluidity of Hinduism has allowed thinkers to draw on a supposed religious identity and use it as a basis of ideology. In Savarkar's terms, one becomes Aryan (Savarkar 1923: 38-39). The constructed identity of the Aryan seeks to neutralize diversity. If conformity can be achieved, this identity can be used for political ends, specifically domination over other groups through an emphasis on racial or religious superiority.



1. The Bedang (Vedanta) was accompanied by two other "authentic" texts, the Dirm Shaster (Dharmashtistra) and the Neadirzen Shaster de Goutam (Nyayashastra of Gautama).

2. Elsewhere Voltaire dates it as exactly 4,866 years old (Voltaire 1885: 26.325).

3. According to Voltaire, Plato wrote two thousand years after the Indian author of the Shasta (Voltaire 1885: 29.479, 481).

4. Sir Alexander Johnston (1775-1849) found a copy of the Ezour Vedam in Pondicherry along with other manuscripts similar in format. Guided by Johnston's discovery, Francis Whyte Ellis wrote an important analysis of this trove in an article entitled "Account of a Discovery of a Modern Imitation of the Vedas with Remarks on the Genuine Works," Asiatick Researches 14 (1822): 1-59). Ellis identified these manuscripts as imitations (written in Sanskrit with Roman characters and in French) of the three other "Vedas" and concluded that the Ezour Vedam was authored by the Italian Jesuit Roberto de Nobili. Ellis did not charge de Nobili as the perpetrator of the forgery; he attributed that act to another who must have edited, transcribed, and translated the Sanskrit text into French. Ellis agrees with Sonnerat's contention that the Ezour Vedam was written for converting idolators.

Ellis had made several significant comments concerning the style of the Ezour Vedam. He noted that the French was loose, defective, and not at all stylistically consistent with what he learned about the Vedas from Colebrooke's article on the style and contents of the Vedas that appeared in the Asiatick Researches (Colebrooke 1805: 369-476). Ellis judged its style to be rather puranic or similar to the dialogue of the Bhagavad Gita, texts with which the Jesuits were familiar. Most importantly, Ellis noted the existence of marginal notes that did not correspond to the text in the original or in the translation. This seemingly minor point, disregarded in all subsequent discussions on the Ezour Vedam, proves pivotal to Ludo Rocher's monograph, which, to my mind, lays to rest the mystery surrounding the Ezour Vedam fraud.

Rocher examines the manner in which the manuscript came to Europe, possibilities as to its authorship, and the reason for which it was composed. Rocher rejects de Nobili as the author of the work (Rocher 1983: 30-42). Since the Ezour Vedam was written entirely in French without the facing Sanskrit translation found in the other Pondicherry manuscripts, Rocher concludes that the French text constitutes the original. Due to certain idiomatic French expressions, concepts which were totally European in nature, the consistent lack of orthographic unity, and transliterations typical to the French language, Rocher speculates that its author was a Frenchman who had learned Sanskrit from various people in different regions of India.

5. The Shaster Bedang was, according to Voltaire's chronology, 1,500 years younger than the Ezour Vedam.

6. The allusion here is to the Ezour Vedam version of Hindu creation myths involving the birth of Adimo and Prokriti that are related in the course of a debate between Biache, a proponent of idolatry, and Chumontou, who combats puranic polytheism with the monotheism of the Vedas.

7. Sonnerat (Voyage aux Indes orientales 1782: 1.7) and Paulinus a Sancto Bartolomeo (Systema Brachmanicum 1791: 315-17) had attacked its authenticity.

8. The £zour Vedam identified the four Vedas with the following nomenclature: the Rik, Chama, Zozur, and Adorbo, Adarvan or Obartah-Bah, each with a supplement (oupa bedam) and summary (sanitah-vedam).

9. Sainte Croix claimed that Vedic fragments were also extant in the Puranas and that these communicated the substance of the Veda better than the "tiring and nauseating extravagances" of the Ezour Vedam (Sainte Croix 1778: 126).

10. Its original title (Zozur Bedo) was not included as one of the original Vedas identified by Ellis. In his article, Ellis identified the third manuscript of the Pondicherry corpus as the Yajur Veda, precluding any possibility that the Ezour Vedam was a misnomer for the Yajur Veda.

11. In Sanskrit, rules determining the changes that vowels and consonants undergo in certain combinations.

12. Even Diderot (under the rubric "vedam") joined in such brahmin-bashing, when he asserted that the Fourth Veda had been lost for a long time, to the regret of brahmins who would have gained tremendous power, had it still existed. Diderot further noted that the Vedas were held in such great respect by brahmins that they did not wish to share copies of them with anyone, especially the Jesuits who had made great efforts to obtain them.

13. For India as the site of the Garden of Eden, see Voltaire (1885: 13. 432-33).

14. Colebrooke cites others in the West who doubted their existence or pronounced the Vedas to be forgeries (Colebrooke 1805: 479).

15. The Veda was revealed by Brahma and compiled by Vyasa. It was divided in four parts: the Rich, Yajush, Saman, and the Atharvana (Colebrooke 1805: 429-30). Colebrooke noted that itihasa and the Puranas comprise a fifth Veda.

16. Colebrooke used fragments from Uvata's gloss and the commentaries of Sayana, Mahadhara, and Gaudapada.

17. Colebrooke claimed that a more manageable rendition of Aryan theology (Colebrooke 1805: 473) could be found in the Upanishads, mantra portions of the Brahmanas (Colebrooke 1805: 388), or supplements of the Veda (Colebrooke 1805: 441).

18. In addition to Rosen's Rigvedae Specimen (1838), a Latin translation of the first astaka of the Rig Veda that put 121 hymns at the disposal of future scholars, other translations of Vedic excerpts appeared roughly simultaneously with Muller's edition: the Stevenson edition of the Sama Veda was brought to press by Wilson in 1843; Roth's Contributions to the History and Literature of the Veda (1846); Weber's Vajasaneyi-Sanhitae Specimen (1848), followed by the beginning of an edition of the White Yajur text (1852), its brahmana (1855), and sutras (1859); Benfey's Sama Veda text with a translation and glossary (1848); Whitney's and Roth's Atharva Veda (1856). The competition was fierce. When Whitney (1987: 1.3) noted in Oriental and Linguistic Studies the various translations and editions of the Vedas, he relegated Muller's edition of the Rig Veda to a footnote and totally omitted Muller's name from the citation.


1. His terms for Aryan were Arier and Indo-Germanen (Muller 1895: 1.65).

2. They traveled along two possible paths, through Russia to the shores of the Black Sea and Thrace, and from Armenia across the Caucasus or across the Black Sea to northern Greece and along the Danube (Muller 1899: 298).

3. He placed considerable emphasis on the "childish"; it was alternately "childish and absurd" (Muller 1909: 282) or "childish and foolish" (Muller 1895: 1.37).

4. "The only real Veda is the Rig Veda. The other so-called Vedas which deserve the name of Veda no more than the Talmud deserves the name of Bible, contain chiefly extracts from the Rig Veda together with sacrificial formulas, charms and incantations" (Muller 1895: 1.8).

5. The Brahmanas, for example, consist of "twaddle, and what is worse, theological twaddle" (Muller 1895: 1.113). "They deserve to be studied as a physician studies the twaddle of idiots and the ravings of mad men" (Muller 1978: 389; see also 1895: 1.85-89; 1.67).

6. "The Hindu mind, however, was like the lotus leaf after a shower of rain has passed over it; his character remained the same-passive, meditative, quiet and thoughtful. A people of this peculiar stamp was never destined to act out a prominent part in the history of the world ... it is with the Hindu mind as if a seed were placed in a hot-house. It will grow rapidly, its colors will be gorgeous, its perfume rich, its fruits precocious and abundant. But never will it be like the oak growing in wind and weather, and striking its roots into real earth, and stretching its branches into real air beneath the stars and the sun of heaven" (Muller 1895: 1.65).

7. In Henotheism, each god is as good as another: they are not ranked hierarchically (Muller 1895: 1.28, see also 1891: 180; 1879: 251).

8. See also Muller 1892: 112: "I maintain that to everybody who cares for himself, for his ancestors, for his history, or for his intellectual development, a study of Vedic literature is indispensible; and that, as an element of liberal education, it is far more important and far more improving than the reigns of Babylonian and Persian kings, yea even, than the dates and deeds of many of the kings of Judah and Israel."

9. The fact that we cannot explain how so many dialects could be traced back to Hebrew (although many have tried) suggested to Muller that the problem had been misformulated (Muller 1899: 147).

10. After qualifying his position as longstanding, Muller offers Risley his advice: "If you were to issue an interdict against any of your collaborateurs using linguistic terms in an ethnological sense, I believe that your Ethnological Survey of India would inaugurate a new and most important era both in the science of language and in the science of man" (Muller 1888: 247).


1. In particular, see Conway 1997; Santaniello 1997; Santaniello 1994; Parkes 1991; Mistry 1981; Stambaugh 1972; Rollman 1978; von Glasenapp 1960; Alsdorf 1944.

2. On the title page to Daybreak, he purportedly cites the Rig Veda: "There are so many days that have not yet broken" ["Es giebt so viele Morgenrothen die noch nicht geleuchtet haben"] (Nietzsche 1986: 9.413). As Sprung has noted (Parkes 1991: 78-79), Nietzsche here freely adapted this quote from a Vedic passage (Rig Veda 7.76) that both German and English translations of the time read in a contrary sense. Both Griffith and Geldner translate the passage as: "There are so many dawns that have already dawned."

3. Sprung maintains that the connection between Nietzsche and India rests to a great degree on the philosopher's long-standing friendship with Paul Deussen, the prominent nineteenth-century Vedanta scholar. But, this critic's analysis of Nietzsche's library and correspondence, and that of his friends suggests that Nietzsche did not read much regarding Indian philosophy and did not discuss it at all with his acquaintances.

4. German Sanskrit dictionaries of the time (Bohtlingk, Cappeller) define arya in concordance with the standard English dictionaries. It is, indeed, ironic that a philologist of Nietzsche's caliber should base his understanding of the Aryan on a faulty definition.

5. For the codification of Nietzsche by the Nazis, see the work of Alfred Baumler (Nietzsche der Philosophe, 1931); Heinrich Romer ("Nietzsche und das Rasseproblem," 1940, 61): and Richard Oehler (Nietzsche und die deutschen Zukunft, 1935).

6. It is not the place here to categorize the Nietzsche-Nazi relationship or demonstrate the transmission of influence and causal relationships or assess their overall historical significance.

7. I am thinking primarily of Milan Kundera's remarks in Testaments Betrayed (Kundera 1996: 150), but the same can be said of a number of poststructuralist readings.

8. In this regard, Richard Schacht has written: "They [rhetorical excesses] blemish and mar its surface; but one must school oneself to look past them, filtering them out as so much unfortunate static" (Schacht 1983: xv).

9. Translations that were available for Nietzsche's use include: Sir William Jones, Institutes of Hindu Law: or the Ordinances of Meno, according to the gloss of Culluca (1776); J.C. Huttner's translation of Jones's translation entitled Hindu-Gesetzbuch oder Manu's Verordnungen nach Cullucas Erlauterungen (1797); the French translation of Auguste Loiseleur Deslongchamps, Manava Dharma Sastra (1833); and George Buhler, The Laws of Manu, Sacred Books of the East, vol. 25 (1886).

10. A copy of Jacolliot's book was listed in the inventory of Nietzsche's Weimar library (Etter 1987: 345).

11. Manu is believed to date between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D.

12. There are four aims of Hindu life: dharma (duty), artha (worldly gain), kama (erotic love) and moksha (liberation).

13. Some historians have claimed that before British colonial rule, Manu had been used by jurists (Manu 1992: ix).

14. See letter to Peter Gast of May 31, 1888.

15. In the next sentence, Nietzsche claimed that no one epitomized his point as much as the Jews, who exacted satisfaction on their enemies through the radical and vengeful transvaluation of their values.

16. The German translation of the term that Nietzsche uses is Tschandala.

17. The term candala denotes "outcaste," "man of the lowest stratum of society," "extremely despised and shunned," "a mixed caste born of a brahmin mother and a shudra father" (Monier Williams 1990: 383).

18. Elsewhere, I have discussed the symbolic use of the outcaste in European thought and artistic representation and have touched upon the importance of this metaphor in Nietzsche's writing (Figueira 1994: 29-45).

19. It is important to note that Nietzsche's references to the can4dala are not found in Manu, but were inventions of Jacolliot.

20. Nietzsche, Will to Power 854: "In the age of universal suffrage (i.e., when everyone may sit in judgment of everyone and everything), I feel impelled to reestablish order of rank." Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, see. 2; Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 257.

21. The order of rank provides "that tremendous energy of greatness in order to shape the man of the future through breeding" (Will to Power 964).

22. In contrast, the Jews had an order of rank that allowed them to avoid decadence even after they had become enslaved (Will to Power 427).

23. Without a firmly established order of rank, spiritual strength is worthless (Will to Power 53).

24. Will to Power 398: "What I want to make clear by all the means in my power: a. that there is no worse confusion than the confusion of breeding with taming; which is what has been done -- Breeding, as I understand it, is a means of storing up the tremendous forces of mankind so that the generations can build upon the work of their forefathers -- not only outwardly, but inwardly, organically growing out of them and becoming something stronger."

25. Nietzsche seems to use the term "race" interchangably with "caste." Therefore, the "races" to which Nietzsche refers consist of the brahmins (priests), ksatriyas (warriors), vaishyas (merchants), and shudras (outcastes).

26. This notion was an invention of Jacolliot, who traced the Jews' subject status as candalas to their Chaldean past.

27. Nietzsche claimed that the Chinese also seemed to have learned much from Manu, as seen in the teachings of Confucius and Laotse.

28. As a candala religion, Judaism early on lost two of their castes, the warriors and the peasant (Will to Power 184).

29. A case can be made for Nietzsche's "splendid blond beast" not being a German. This term occurs five times (three times in the first section of the Genealogy of Morals, one time in the second section, and one time in the Twilight of the Idols). With the first reference in the Genealogy, Nietzsche states that the beast is at the bottom of all noble races including the Romans, Homeric Greeks, Arabs, Japanese and Vikings (Genealogy of Morals, pt. 1, sec. 2). When reference is made to Teutons, they are Teutons of old, distinct from Germans of today (Santaniello 1994: 106). Kaufmann conjectured that Nietzsche might have meant by the term, "the noble lion" (Kaufmann 1974: 225). However, since Nietzsche discussed the blondness of the ancient Aryans a few pages before his first reference to the blond beast (Genealogy of Morals, pt. 1, sec. 2, cited in Detweiler 1990: 110), it is safe to assume that this pregnant symbol represented the values that Nietzsche read into the ancient Aryan (via Manu), projected onto the presumed descendants (the brahmin caste) and envisioned for the Ubermensch. We should remember that in the Genealogy of Morals (1.5) he refers to the Aryans as blond.

30. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 251.

31. For a discussion of Nietzsche's categorizing of different groups of Jews, see Santaniello 1994; Santaniello 1997: 31; Gilman 1997: 76.

32. In a letter to Koselitz (cited in Cancik 1997: 64), Nietzsche claimed that even Jewish laws were derived from the Aryan law as codified in Manu.

33. Nietzsche, Will to Power 164, 954; Beyond Good and Evil 251.

34. For a discussion of Nietzsche's admiration for Indian asceticism, see Hulin's essay in Parkes 1991: 69-70.

35. Antichrist 57: "Gentle, frugal, self effacing, he voluntarily lets the shudra wallow in vulgar pleasures, the vaishya parade his opulence, and the ksatriya strut upon the political stage while his preoccupation is getting others to affirm cosmic order."

36. Nietzsche drew no distinctions between brahmin behavior codified in Manu and the present-day brahmin. Both embodied those values that Nietzsche sought in the higher aristocracy he envisioned for the future (Will to Power 752, 866).

37. Nietzsche use the term candala (translated as "chandala") frequently, a more exotic equivalent for another favorite term, canaille. He defined candalas as mischmasch-Menschen or Nicht-Zucht Menschen. Candalas are not to be confused with shudras, whom Nietzsche defined as a service race, a lower kind of people whom the Aryans discovered in situ when they landed in India. For Nietzsche, the candala represents the degenerated of all castes, permanent phlegm (Auswurfstoffe) (Nietzsche 1986: 13.396-97).

38. Kaufmann supports Nietzsche's supposed rejection of Manu with the following quote from the Twilight of the Idols 4: "These regularities are instructive enough: in them we find for once Aryan humanity, quite pure, quite primordial-we learn that the concept "pure blood" is the opposite of a harmless concept. It becomes clear, on the other hand, in which people the hatred, the Chandala hatred for this "humanity" has become immortalized, where it has become religious, where it has become genius."

39. I would assume Kaufmann is referring to The Republic 5.459, where Plato has Socrates note:

It follows from what we have just said that, if we are to keep our flock at the highest pitch of excellence, there should be as many unions of the best of both sexes, and as few of the inferior, as possible, and that only the offspring of the better unions should be kept. And again, no one but the Rulers must know how all this is being effected; otherwise our herd of Guardians may become rebellious.  

Attributing Nietzsche's discussions on race and breeding to Greek sources continues in recent scholarship (Cancik 1997: 65, 67; Conway 1997: 35).

40. Golomb (1997:40) claims that Nietzsche was also well acquainted with Gobineau's work. However, he offers no references to substantiate this claim. Whether Nietzsche was directly influenced by the Frenchman or Gobineau's citations of Manu further popularized the lawgiver whom Nietzsche had read and, thus, stimulated independent reflections is a matter open to discussion.  

41. Kaufmann claimed that Nietzsche only considered using the terms Zucht and Zuchtung once as the title of the fourth and last part of The Will to Power. Forster- Nietzsche later chose this draft when she edited this volume because they fit her and Forster's interests (Kaufmann 1968: 304). According to Kaufmann, Nietzsche abandoned the title "Zucht und Zuchtung" as soon as he had written it down. It was his sister who chose to perpetuate it (Kaufmann 1968: 306). Kaufmann claimed that Nietzsche's strong concern with breeding derived from Plato (Kaufmann 1968: 305).


1. See in this regard, Alexander von Humboldt (1849).

2. The effort to make the Aryans our primeval neighbors reached its acme in the work of Hans F.K. Gunther, who from the early 1930s onward, developed elaborate proofs that Germany was the seat of Aryan origins. Gunther (1891-1968), a social anthropologist and spokesman of Nazi race ideology, was Professor of Racial Science at Jena. A prolific author whose work portrayed the Nordic as an ideal racial type in contrast to the Jew, who was a product of racial mixing and responsible for the disintegrating movements such as democracy and liberalism. Although influenced by Gobineau, Gunther heralded the age when the Nordic will would halt bastardization and eugenically purge the ranks of disintegrative elements. Up to his death in Freiburg in 1968, Gunther was still publishing toned-down variations of his racial theories.

3. Even Nietzsche, who reviled Treitschke, shared the historian's view of history as a battle between two races for mastery. He disagreed only with Treitschke's portrayal of modern types as exemplars of true noble characters. Instead, Nietzsche posited the ancient Aryan as the alternative model for future nobility.

4. Gobineau's Essai sur l'inegaliti des races humaines received a cold reception in France when published. The author's friend De Tocqueville opposed its thesis regarding the inevitable decadence of race. Renan refused to review it for the Revue des Deux Mondes.

5. Among the female nations, he classified the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Hindus. Among the male, he designated the Chinese, primitive Romans, and Germans.

6. In Gobineau's dedication to the king of Hanover, he spoke of the Vedas wherein events described are "bien proches du lendemain de la creation" (Gobineau 1983: 136).

7. Gobineau's Histoire des Perses, written a few years after the Essai, traced the rise and decay of the Iranian Aryans.

8. In the Essai and the Histoire des Perses, Gobineau wisely did not focus much on the anthropological characteristics of the Germanic type when he described the Aryans. Nor did the German type figure prominently among his fictional visions of Aryans as heroes (L 'Abbaye de Typhaines, Nouvelles asiatiques). Harriett and Amado in the Pleiades provide the ideal type of German, all brunettes and black-eyed, like Gobineau. However, the physical takes a backseat to the moral and ethnic side. Gobineau's Aryans did not achieve the racial ideal he had established. They tended to look like him, a strategy that Nazi leaders should have emulated.

9. As understood by Theodore Pavie in L'Inde ancienne et moderne.

10. The first theory was supplied to him by Lassen (1847-61: 1.391).

11. Gobineau (1983: 500) cites Manu, paragraphs 88, 90.

12. Gobineau (1983: 504) reads Manu in light of Lassen (1847-61: 1.817), who consistently downplays the lawgiver's harsh injunctions. Lassen reads a kinder, gentler Manu that forbids mistreatment of shudras and speaks of their gentle tutelage and protection from famine and misery at the hands of the high castes.

13. The term boue appears throughout Gobineau's works; see Amadis, bk. 3, chap. 3.

14. See for example Gustav Klemm's Allgemeine Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit (1843-52) that explained history of the breeding of active and passive races.

15. Buddha was for Chamberlain the antithesis to Christ. He represented the senile decay of a culture which had reached the limits of its possibilities, where everything was directed to thought, where a religious symbolism had gone amok, and where philosophy resulted in the deep silence of the primeval forest (Chamberlain 1968: 1.184-85).

16. Although the concept of the "Aryan" had become an ever more dispensible idea for anthropologists, ethnographers, historians, theologians, philologists, and legal authorities, many denied that the the Aryan race had ever existed (Chamberlain 1968: 1.266). Nevertheless, those who dared to still speak of it used it as a working hypothesis.

17. When Chamberlain used the term "Aryan," he took it in what he thought to be its original Sanskrit sense, "belonging to the friends." In other words, he took its meaning to signify homogeneity (Chamberlain 1968: 1.265).

18. Chamberlain 1968: 2.206.

19. Chamberlain cites the case of the Jews, as an example of this organic potential, since they developed along a path different from that of other Semitic groups (Chamberlain 1968: 1.262-63).

20. See also Chamberlain 1968: 1.18, 258-61, 343, 544-46, 561-63, 588, 590, 596-601.

21. As in the case of Gobineau, Chamberlain cites Lassen (1847-61: 414-16) in support of his thesis.

22. In Chamberlain as well as in Rosenberg, Eckhart's mysticism is associated with that of the great Aryan philosophers. In the Foundations (Chamberlain 1968: 2.411), Chamberlain wrote: "Scarcely a hair's breadth separates our great Teutonic mystics from their Aryan predecessors."

23. Chamberlain did not, however, reject the Old Testament outright. He felt that some Protestant scholars of his time had made it possible to sift out the Indo-Aryan myths that had been engulfed by Semitic concepts.

24. I have not included in this number those who were tried in absentia, received lesser sentences of imprisonment, or were acquited.

25. Outside the scope of this study is the role played by popular Eastern European anti-Semitism. Rosenberg was greatly influenced by a stint in Russia and his experiences in Munich, a haven for anti-Semitic White Russians who had escaped the Bolshevik Revolution. His rabid anti-Semitism found expression in such works as Die Spur der Juden im Wandel der Zeiten and Pest in Russland.

26. The Mythus, second only to Mein Kampf as a Nazi bestseller, was acknowledged by Hitler as an unreadable text.

27. According to Rosenberg, the Aryans, like their German descendants, were white, blond, and blue-eyed.

28. Rosenberg also blamed Buddhism's passivity and call to alleviate suffering for the deteriorization of Aryan values.

29. It was the same individuality that had been present in Homer's heroes and Tacitus's Germans (Rosenberg 1937: 71).

30. Hitler left it to Rosenberg to launch the attack on Catholicism. Rosenberg hated the "black, international" Roman Catholic Church as much as he hated Judaism. It had corrupted the Germans from the start.

31. Rosenberg defines this period as the time when the Atman/Brahman teaching had moved them away from the importance of action (Rosenberg 1937: 229-30).

32. F.L. Jahn's gymnastic societies had the object of building up a strong race and surmounting class barriers.

33. Nietzsche's antinationalism and his preference for the Asiatic Dionysus over the Hellenic Apollo were consistently deemphasized. It should be noted that when Rosenberg composed the My thus, Nietzsche had already been successfully "packaged" by Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche and the Nietzsche Archive for consumption by the fledgling movement.

34. Gobineau's reception in Germany dates from 1894 with the dissemination of his work by Ludwig Schemann and the Gobineau Society. Gobineau was also popularized by the Richard Wagner Circle and the Pan-German League.

35. However, Gobineau's conclusions regarding the inevitability of racial bastardizaion, while acknowledged by Rosenberg (Rosenberg 1937: 115), were singularly ignored by National Socialism.

36. This theory would animate German anthropology and Nazi eugenics.



1. Other late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century sects openly abjured polytheism and idol worship, and renounced caste such as the Karta Bhajas, Spashtadayakas, Balaramis, Sahebdhanis, Khusi Visvasis, and Ramvallabhis. Their leaders were non- Brahmins and did not cash in on the prestige of an original faith.

2. Just as their low-caste origin places them outside the colonial power struggle, so too, perhaps, does this lack of status place them at one remove or "translated into" postcolonial criticism. One wonders whether the moniker "subaltern" points more often to the self-conscious self-definition of the critic than to the objects of inquiry.

3. The widow is nowhere seen as subject (Mani 1988: 97). Official discourse forecloses any possibility of women's agency (Mani 1988: 98). "It is difficult to know how to interpret these accounts, for we have no independent access to the mental or subjective status of widows outside of these overdetermined colonial representations of them" (Mani 1988: 97). "Superslave or superhuman, women in this discourse remain eternal victims" (Ibid.). Now this is patently not true. The research of Anne B. Waters in the Pune Daftar shows that there are countless instances where the women "find a voice" and challenge both the strictures of Peshwa society and interact with colonial administrators (dissertation, University of Michigan 1997). The victim/oppressor binary is not a universally applicable construct.

4. The Raja did not develop any clear-cut program of reform, except perhaps his anti-sati agitation, before he departed for England in 1831, where he died two years later. His organization was later transformed by Dwarkanath Tagore and Keshab Chandra Sen, undergoing several subsequent incarnations.

5. This attempt at unity of cult through diversity did not ultimately succeed and, as Kopf (1969: 202) has noted, brought about its eventual schism. Keshub Sen and Dwarkanath Tagore represented this polarization. The Sabha was virtually moribund until Dwarkanath Tagore resuscitated it as the Adi Brahmo Samaj.

6. Kopf correctly problematizes the eA1:entto which the Raja borrowed contextually and methodologically from both the British Orientalists and other Bengalis. He has shown that Roy's arguments were also derivative of the polemic of the missionaries themselves. An early tract of the Serampore Mission, the Jnanoday (The Dawn of Knowledge) by Ramram Basu, attacked the twin evils of moral laxity and idolatry. Basu described the Vedic Brahma with attributes which are common to Jehovah. Kopf suggests that it was Ramram Basu and not Roy who was the inventor of monotheism in Hinduism and that the Raja was his successor (Kopf 1969: 125).

7. In the introduction to a recent translation, Doniger and Smith claim that Manu did not deserve the priority status that the British accorded it; a number of other dharmashastras as well as Manu's own commentaries debate almost every point that Manu makes. There were other contending voices within and without Hinduism (Manu 1992: vi).

8. The cornerstone of Rammohan's reformation movement was the idea of a theistic Brahmo (Kopf 1969: 198).

9. The sole regulator of the universe is one (Roy 1906: 63). Vedas, Puranas, Tantras, and so forth reveal a single attributeless godhead, and the worship of figured beings is applicable to those who are incapable of elevating the mind to the idea of an invisible supreme being. Moreover "those passages referring to a multiplicity of gods are to be taken in a figurative sense" (Roy 1906: 64-65). The individual believer chooses the form of worship which best suits his capacities.

10. "[T]hose texts which seem to command the worship persons or things are only directed to those who are incapable of adoring the invisible supreme being" (Roy 1906: 13). Roy championed individual responsibility in matters religious. He also advocated equal rights. The householder's right to worship god is as legitimate as that of the yati (Roy 1906: 65).

11. Thus Roy's interpretation of "Vedic" texts centers on their purported ethical concerns. He made a concerted effort to show how faith in the Supreme Being can only lead to eternal happiness when it is united with moral works. Whereas action entails moral merit for the Christian, for the Hindu, religious rites and ceremonies are "often irreconcilable with the commonly received maxims of moral duty" (Roy 1906: 106). Good works are not an indispensable accompaniment to holy knowledge in the Hindu context. Rammohan Roy highlighted and allowed how ethics is often ignored in the texts in question. He stopped short of imposing ethical values on them directly or overtly reading such values into them.

12. The Sanskrit is as follows:

asurya nama te loka tamasavrtah
tam ste pretyabhigacchanti ye ke catmahano janah

13. Roy 1906: 120: "It is, however remarkable that, although the learned Brahmin and his Brethern frequently quote the name of the Vedas and other shastras, both in writing and in verbal discussion, they pay little or no attention in practice to their precepts."

14. Fifty years later, Max Muller would also stress the importance of liberating the text. He noted that Westerners could hardly grasp the idea of the brahmins' absolute power as the only repository of the Vedas.

15. Elsewhere, he questioned the need for separate paths, noting that virtually all were as capable of worshipping God in the same manner as the renunciant. He thus challenged the need for grosser forms of worship and upheld human equality before God (Roy 1906: 15).

16. See Chris Bongie, Islands and Exile; Christopher Miller, Nationalists and Nomads; and Susanne Zantop, Colonial Fantasies, to name a recent few examples.
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

Postby admin » Fri Feb 12, 2021 3:45 am

Part 2 of 2


1. The sixth niyam calls for doing good in the world as the chief goal of society. The ninth niyam calls for attention to be paid to the wider world. The tenth niyam stipulates that all people should be bound in maintaining social principles which affect the welfare of the community and that everyone should be free in these principles that affect the welfare of the individual.

2. It may be remembered that in his own writings, Rammohan Roy made little reference to caste and that the schism of 1866 within the Brahmo Samaj centered on this very issue of caste. The older group under D. Tagore took the name Adi Brahmo Samaj, "First" Brahmo Samaj. The subsequent new organization, the Brahmo Samaj of India under Keshab Chandra Sen, completely disavowed caste.

3. He introduced the innovation of shuddhi (purification and readmission of Hindus to the fold). Shuddhi served as a response to present fears that Islam and Christianity aggressively proselytized by conversion (K. Jones 1976: 276). It was a method that had proved successful to foreigners in the past and could be appropriated by Dayanand to combat present foreign domination.

4. This eclecticism was carried to the extreme by the Adi Brahmos under the leadership of Keshab Chandra Sen.

5. In this sense, Dayanand was not unique in his thinking. Jordens claims that he got the notion that an understanding of pure Hinduism was to be found in ancient sources from his guru Virjananda. Dayanand's guru, however, had never defined which sources these might include. Dayanand, therefore, studied the Tantras, Puranas, Mahabharata, the Upanishads, Manu, and the Brahmanas, gradually eliminating all except the four samhitas (Jordens 1978: 278).

6. The Bhumika is a four-hundred-page commentary written around themes such as the origin and nature of the Vedas, their science and technology, mathematics, astrology, telegraphy, and medicine. Written in the customary form for Sanskrit commentaries, it presents the grammatical analysis of the terms followed by the padartha that explains the components for meaning and function in a sentence. Finally, there is the bhavartha, a sentence giving the meaning of the text, whether it is an injunction, statement of principle, or comparison. The padartha and bhavartha are in Sanskrit with Hindi translations.

7. In the first edition of the Satyarth Prakash, Dayanand followed the traditional view of Hindu orthodoxy in precluding the shudras from access to the Vedas. In the second edition, all Hindus were allowed this access.

8. Dayanand's commentary of the Rig Veda (Rgvedadibhdshyabhumika or Introduction to the Commentary of the Rig Veda and other Vedas) was completed up to 7.4.60. He also completed a commentary of the Yajur Veda in four volumes.

9. In Sanskrit, literally "the meanings of the scriptures." In the course of his public career of two decades, Dayanand participated in at least thirty-nine disputations.

10. For a complete discussion of the book disputations, see Llewellyn 1993.

11. Although Dayanand did not share Rammohan Roy's admiration for Christian social values, he did rely on one important Christian tenet: the sanctity of the book. To a much greater extent than the Brahmo Samaj, the Arya Samaj endowed the physical manifestation of the word of God with as much significance as Christianity endowed the Bible. He fully accepted the premise that God revealed himself in a book (Jordens 1978: 273).

12. After the initial free-for-all debates with brahmins, Dayanand demanded more formalized structures, with official transcripts signed by the participants and a preliminary list of authoritative books to be considered. J.T.F. Jordens has suggested that for Dayanand, the canon became narrower with time. The public lecture later became his major means of propaganda (Jordens 1978: 95); most dealt with subjects such as creation, the nature of God, the Vedas and India in Vedic times.

13. It is to be remembered that Max Muller limited his Veda to the mantra portions of the Rg Veda Samhitd alone. Unlike Dayanand, he disregarded the samhitas of the other three Vedas.

14. It is important to note that Dayanand's definition of the Vedic canon differed from that of traditional Indian usage, where the Veda is comprised of a vast body of texts including Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, and other literature related to the application of hymns in ritual, texts such as the Grhya, Kalpa, Srauta, and Dharma Sutras (Llewellyn 1993: 162). As Llewellyn has noted, limiting the Vedic canon to include only the samhitas was a radical move on Dayanand's part since, compared to the Upanishads, they historically were subject to little philosophical inquiry. In recent centuries, the Upanishads, considered to contain the best and most exalted of Vedic teaching, had been read to the exclusion of other Vedic literature (Llewellyn 1993: 179). The samhitas were not read closely and were distrusted as part of an outmoded ritual system (Llewellyn 1993: 230-31).

15. The Mahabharata War was the key event of Aryan decline. Dayanand maintained that after the war the Jains took advantage of Aryan disarray to propagate their own religion by building temples and encouraging idol worship. Sharikaracharya had tried to defeat the process of decline by reviving Vedic wisdom, as did Vikramaditya and Bhoja. All these attempts failed. Further damage was wrought when Muslims destroyed the country and persecuted Hindus.

16. The Advaitic influence present in the first edition is tempered in the second edition (Jordens 1978: 25).

17. Llewellyn further notes that when he did use a Vedic text to support some reading, it was often from the Yajur Veda and, unlike his use of arsha texts, he did not apply to it a customary interpretation.

18. For data, I rely on Llewellyn's statistical analysis: Of the 342 mantras quoted in the Rgvedadibhasya, 91 are not commented upon, 179 are commented upon without any citation from a secondary source, and a mere 72 are commented upon with the help of some authority.

19. Llewellyn, upon examining how these texts offer a range of hermenuetic options, found that the arsha books cited with the most frequency in the Satyarth Prakash include the Satapatha Brahmana, the Nighantu, and the Astadhyayi. The Rgvedadibhasya makes ample use of the Yoga Sutra and the Astadhyayi.

20. He demonstrated knowledge of telegraphy by translating tarataram (derived from tr meaning "to cross") as "it crosses inaccessible places and takes the message easily or it has its expansion everywhere." He then rendered it: "you make the instrument named telegraph." Dayanand interpreted the Rig Vedic (1.2.7) invocation to Mitra and Varuna as signifying that the Aryans knew that water is generated by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen.

21. Dayanand supported his condemnation of idol worship, for example, by citing the Yajur Veda (40-48). A literal reading of this passage makes no allusion to idol worship.

22. Dayanand ascribed ten separate meanings to the term deva: "play, desire to conquer, general activity, glory, praise, delight, rapture, sleep, beauty, and progressiveness."

23. In the context of ritualism (karmakanda), devata refers to a Vedic mantra in that function of expounding the various "methods of performing a ritual act."

24. Dayanand did not view the Veda as books in the sense that the Bible and the Qur'an are books (Dayanand 1915: 237). While the Vedas are eternal, the books called "Veda" are not; merely the words and ideas are eternal. The four Vedas were handed down by God to four rishis (Dayanand 1915: 236). However, this is not the form by which humanity experiences them. They were initially revealed to other peoples (Dayanand 1915: 272). They were disseminated in Sanskrit for the purpose of impartiality, so as not to favor any particular group. For, as Dayanand held, Sanskrit is a language which belongs to no country and is the mother of all other languages. Just as the earth and other material creations benefit all, so should the language of Divine Revelation be accessible to all countries (Dayanand 1915: 237), as all men and women have a right to study it (Dayanand 1915: 78).

25. Proper nouns, such as Jamadagni and Kasyapa, he claimed, do not refer to embodied humans. For example, Kasyapa is the linguistic equivalent to karma which, in turn, signifies prana.

26. In general, Dayanand was critical of Western incursions into the field of interpreting Hinduism. In particular, he singled out Max Muller and blamed him (along with others) for fostering the "delusion" that the Veda was of human origin (Dayanand 1981: 38). He was well aware of Muller's thesis that the Veda presented simple, natural, and even commonplace religious ideas of a "primitive" people, which rendered them valuable for the comparative study of religion and linguistics. Dayanand had even had Muller's writings translated for his use. He countered Muller's generally accepted view with the claim that the Vedas were sophisticated rather than primitive, certainly more so than the sacred writings of Christianity and Islam.

27. Jordens shows how Dayanand's movement from Advaita Vedanta to a rejection of monism is reflected in the different versions of the Satyarth Prakash.

28. He felt that such conjectures concerning the Aryans' movements were "imaginary tales attributable to foreigners" (Dayanand 1981: 266).

29. Dayanand situated Aryavarta as bordering the Himalayas to the north, the Vindhyachal Mountains to the south, and the sea on both the east and west.

30. Foreign faiths such as Jainism, Islam, and Christianity also contributed to the gradual loss of Vedic truth (Dayanand 1915: 320-27).

31. The Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda explains creation as a result of the dismemberment of Primeval Man into the physical elements of the world, the social order, and the seasons. The brahmin (priest) arose from the head; the ksatriya (warrior) from the arms; the vaishya (merchant or general people) from the thighs; the shudra (servant) from the feet and nether parts.

32. "He who is head, that is, a leader of men, is called a brahmin. He in whom power and strength (bahu) reside is the ksatriya. He who travels from place to place and obtains things on the strength of his thighs is called a vaishya. He who is ignorant is called a shudra.... "

33. Real brahmins can never falsely teach and lead selfish, hypocritical lives, or can never live on alms -- all of which tend to make them prejudiced and partial in religious and scientific matters (Dayanand 1915: 51). Dayanand defines the brahmin as someone who "studies the true sciences, practices brahmacarya, accepts truth, rejects untruth, disseminates true knowledge by leading a virtuous life, and, enjoined by the Veda, performs the homa sacrifice, reproduces good children, discharges the five great daily duties, and performs good works beneficial to the community (Dayanand 1915: 96).

34. This rule held for the censuses of 1891, 1911, and 1921, whereupon it was altered against Dayanand's directives (Swami Dayanand-ka-Patravyawahar, letters # 206, 8245).

35. Updesh Manjiri, Poona, Lecture No. 4. Delhi, Dayanand Sanstha 1976: 26.

36. Updesh Manjiri: Poona, Lecture No. 8. Delhi, Dayanand Sanstha 1976: 84.

37. Jordens has noted that the chapter dealing with the sannyasi was rewritten in the second edition of the Satyarth Prakash. Dayanand omitted highlighting privileges traditionally accorded to the sannyasi and drastically reduced references to their status in society (Jordens 1978: 263).

38. Jordens shows that the portrayal of the sannyasi's being-in-the-world only appears in the second edition of the Satyarth Prakash, suggesting that in the period between the first edition (1875) and the second edition (1883), Dayanand's vision of man became increasingly cosmic and active. Activity implied lasting involvement in the world.

39. As Jordens has shown, Dayanand's emphasis on action and worldly involvement is also reflected in his treatment of the themes of pralaya and moksha. In the first edition of the Satyarth Prakash, Dayanand affirmed an absolute beginning (adisrishti) and absolute end to the universe (atyant pralaya) with liberation (moksha) as irreversible. Once the soul reaches moksha, it never again returns to samsara. The second edition of the Satyarth Prakash claims that all three events are reversible (Jordens 1972: 373-73). Man remains an active cosmic force beyond moksha, a concept unique to Dayanand's thought and not expounded elsewhere in Indian philosophy (Jordens 1972: 375). It was clearly Dayanand's intention to define the soul in life and in moksha as connected to action.

40. Among revolt traditions, Dayanand was not unique. The Sadhs did not observe caste and rejected brahmin authority, monotheism, idol worship, pilgrimages, the shraddha ritual, and most other Hindu ceremonies. Their text, the Pothi, was a collection of sermons and songs, and extracts from the Adi Granth of the Sikhs.


1. For a discussion of the role of the Chitpavan brahmins in Maharashtra, see Wolpert 1962: 1-4.

2. The Chapekars were the assassins of Walter Charles Rand, appointed by Governor Sandhurst in 1897 as chairman of Poona's Plague Committee. Rand angered both secular and orthodox Hindus with the measures he took in his failed attempt to contain the plague. His methods were felt to be assaultive and insensitive to religious sensibilities.

3. The eminent Sanskrit scholar Ramkrishna Gopal Bhandarkar drew attention to the similarity between Chitpavan names and the names of geographical sites in Palestine (Enthoven 1975: 242).

4. Reform efforts were also directed at prohibitions against foreign travel and the readmission of converts into the Hindu fold.

5. The Shankaracharya of Sankeshwar was the religious head of the majority of the Deccani brahmins.

6. Alongside passages from the Vedas, Ranade relied also on smrti literature (especially Manu) in favor of widow remarriage.

7. Remarriage is allowed if the husband is abroad and no news has been heard, he is dead, he has become a sannyasi, he is impotent, or he has been found guilty of the five great unatonable sins.

8. He found this ruling particularly important since the lawmaker had expressly intended it for the Kali Yuga (one of the four ages of man, akin to the Greek mythological notion of the age of iron) in which the smrti has precedence over all others. The letter of the text itself was subject to the historical position of the reader. The new texts had been introduced to condemn the old approved Aryan institutions as unsuited to men in the Kali Yuga. Even though practiced in old times, they were now forbidden (Ranade 1902: 192). Ranade rejected this argument with the assertion that Indians had not yet attained the Kali Yuga age and could not be held to its degenerate laws. Ranade borrowed this line of thought from Vyankata Shastri's argument at the Poona disputation. This reformer had first noted that even if widow remarriage were applicable in the Kali Yuga, its time of application had not yet arrived. In the late nineteenth century, we were still in the samdhya period of the Dvapara Yuga, so texts prohibiting late marriages were not then applicable nor would they be for another 31,000 years.

9. The chronology here is significant. The Scoble Bill (1891) sought to raise the marriageable age of consent from ten to twelve years of age. Below this age, intercourse with or without consent would constitute rape. Reformist opposition to infant marriage predated the Scoble Bill by a decade.

10. This commentary was entitled "State Legislation in Social Matters."

11. The texts of various smrti writers fixed the minimum age for men at twenty-five and the maximum at fifty.

12. For a summary of the defamation suit against Tilak by the Diwan of Kolhapur, M.V. Barve (1882), and the Rakhamabai case of marital litigation (1887), see Wolpert 1962: 20-21, 37.

13. He cites Posche and Penka, who saw the tall, dolichocephalic race, the ancestors of present-day Germans, as primitive Aryans. He also cites the Frenchmen Chavee and Mortillet, who viewed the bracycephalic (represented by the Gauls) as Aryans. The Swiss German Schrader placed (Antiquities of Aryan Peoples) their original home somewhere in the Swiss lake district (Tilak 1971: 14).

14. By examining the astronomical phenomena in the region around the North Pole, Tilak had noticed two sets of characters-one for the observer stationed exactly at the terrestrial North Pole and the other for an observer located in the circumpolar regions (that is, tracts between the North Pole and the Arctic Circle). In the polar zone (terrestrial North Pole), the sun rises. The stars do not rise or set, but revolve in horizontal planes, one long day of six months and one long night of six months. In the polar zone, twilight lasts for two months. In the circumpolar zone, however, the sun is always found to the south of the zenith of the observer. The year is one long night, lasting more than twenty-four hours and less than six months according to the latitude. The dawn following this long continuous night lasts several days. He recognized a similarity between this astronomical data and descriptions found in the Rig Veda. From this similarity, Tilak concluded that the Vedic Aryans must have had an Arctic home (Tilak 1971: 64). The Rig Veda descriptions of the dawn moving like a wheel neatly described the condition of the polar dawn (Tilak 1971: 88). Similarly, the polar calendar, characterized by half-year-long days and nights, finds parallels in the Rig Vedic descriptions of long dawns with revolving splendors and continuous nights matched by corresponding long days. In their poetry, the Vedic rishis must have been describing physical phenomena that could only be witnessed in arctic regions.

15. Specifically, Tilak pinpoints the primeval home to be north of Siberia, rather than north of Russia or Scandinavia (Tilak 1971: 388).

16. This negative assessment of the Semitic God was fairly common among Hindu reformers. Ranade, in discussing the Aryan gods as gods of love and brightness, of sweetness and light, compared them to the Semite who dwelt on a terrific manifestation of a distant God whose "glory could not be seen save through a cloud, a severe chastiser of human frailties, and a judge who punished more frequently than He rewarded and even when He rewarded, kept the worshipper always in awe and trembling- such a God was not to be found in the Aryan religions of Greece, Rome, or India, where God always is a father, mother, brother, and friend more than a judge and chastiser" (Ranade 1902: 222-23).

17. Vivekananda cited the following proverb concerning the all-inclusiveness of the Vedas: "If a man loses his cow, he goes to look for her in the Vedas" (Vivekananda 7:41).

18. Vivekananda did not ascribe to the belief, championed by Dayanand, that only the Samhitas comprise the Veda. He judged that Dayanand devised this interpretation so that he could find a consistent theory in the Vedas based on a new interpretation of the Samhitas. Vivekananda notes that this was impossible; difficulties of interpretation remain and are attributed to the Brahmanas. He was of the belief that building a consistent religion is more reasonable, if one based an understanding on the Upanishads (Vivekananda 5:130).

19. Vivekananda tells his reader that Aryans are the best dressers, a fact that even Europeans have to admit (Vivekananda 5:374).

20. Vivekananda claimed that India was a nation peopled with Negrito-Kolarians, Dravidians, Aryans, Mongoloids, Mongols, Tartars, Persians, Yunchi, Huns, Scythians, Jews, Parsees, Arabs, and descendents of the Vikings.

21. Vivekananda did not claim that the Aryans migrated to India from elsewhere; he soundly rejected the Aryan invasion theory as a foolish lie foisted upon the Indians by the West (Vivekananda 5:534).

22. Vivekananda admitted that some brahmins had immorally abused their custodianship (Vivekananda 7:17). Selfish brahmins had also introduced a large number of strange, non-Vedic, and immoral doctrines to bolster their prestige.


1. The Sanskrit term varna signifies both "caste" and "color." Today such linguistic suppositions concerning the Aryans carry little weight. Furthermore, the idea that Vedic texts present an unproblematized vision of the Indo-Aryan has been seriously questioned. In fact, Vedic texts are presently seen to register the presence of non- Aryan speakers, and linguists now view the Aryan and non-Aryan as living in a symbiotic relationship of mutual adoption in vocabulary and linguistic structures. Nevertheless, the myth of Aryan cultural identity resists all attempts to reduce it to history and deprive it of its capacity to reconstruct social forms.

2. Rig Veda 2.20.8; 2.12.4; 3.34.9; 1.33.4; 4.16.3; 5.29.10; 10.22.8.

3. As scholars have noted, the Vedic passages are ambiguous. For a discussion, see Muir (1873: 2.374-75). Sanskritists such as Hans Hock still hold to the belief that those passages offer alternative readings (personal discussion).

4. Hock also finds that other racial descriptions customarily cited are equally dubious. The term anas has been broken down into components a-negative + nas (nose) and read as "noseless." But, the term equally can be read as an-negative + as (mouth), with the meaning "mouthless" or "speechless" barbarian. Likewise, in the term vrsasipra, racially translated "bull-lipped," sipra could have the meaning of lip, jaw, or cheek and vrsa could mean bull in the figurative sense of male strength. These terms also need not be read racially.

5. Hock cites literature to this effect. This point was brought home to me constantly in India as a white mother of a black child. On a supposedly more intellectual level, the topic of color was perceived as intrinsic to the topic of this book. After describing to a Sanskrit professor in Poona recently my interest in the manner in which identity is constructed from readings of canonical sources, I was surprised when this learned scholar responded with the non sequitur of whether I really did not find black Indians physically repulsive.

6. Aryavarta was determined by sources to correspond to the cultural source. In late Vedic sources, it represented the Ganga, Yamuna, Doab area and its fringe as opposed to the mleccha-desa such as Magadha and Anga (i.e., Patna, Gaya, Monghyr, and Bhagalpur districts of Bihar where there are mixed castes and thus unfit to the Aryan. In Jain sources, these regions are Aryavarta. In Buddhist sources, Aryavarta is thought to be to the east of Doab (modern Rajmahal area). In Manu, Aryavarta is northern Indian, north of the Vindhyas (Thapar 1992: 6).

7. This situation has, of course, changed since Independence. Nevertheless, notions of racial inferiority do not disappear overnight. Nor are holy men immune to their allure. Aurobindo Ghose provided a clear example of this racialist script. Aurobindo characterized the Dasyu as someone who robs and withholds wealth from the Aryan. The Dasyu is a thief, enemy, wolf, devourer, and divider. He represents also the power of darkness and ignorance. Aurobindo identified this Dasyu with the darkskinned Southern Dravidians whom he deemed as culturally and spiritually distinct from the Aryans (Aurobindo 1964: 39-41). They were never to be confused with the Aryans, whom the goddess Lakshmi prophesized would rise again to conquer, rule (Aurobindo 1942: 1.77-80), and Aryanize the world (Aurobindo 1960: 94).

8. Alongside the suppressed shudras lived the ksatriyas, who originated from a pre- Aryan society of flourishing peasants. The ksatriyas were ancestors of the Marathas and, like the Aryans, originally emigrated from Iran. As opposed to the brahmins, however, they lived in harmony with the shudras and helped them fend off Aryan attacks (Phule 1991a: 2.21).

9. The great king Bali, who serves as a symbol of the peasant, is cheated out of his kingdom by the treacherous brahmin boy Waman. Phule intentionally set Bali up as a model in response to the elite's and orthodoxy's use of Ram, Ganpati (in Tilak), and Kali.

10. Phule interpreted the nine avatars of Vishnu as an allegorical representations of the various stages of Aryan conquest. Matsya (fish) and Kaccha (tortoise) represent invasion by sea. Varah (boar) symbolized the Aryan barbarian in conflict with the more civilized native population. Narasinh and Prahlad represent conquest by treachery.

11. Phule succinctly described the Aryan invasion in the "First Ballad of Priestcraft Exposed":

The circles of rishis, the strength of dharma and the power of the Vedas
A great shower of curses
A kick in the chest of God.

12. "Jotirao: After the death of Brahma, the venerable sages divided the compositions of Brahma into three divisions or Vedas. Some equally celebrated sages changed and chopped these compositions. They put together some legends that they happened to remember along with some similar compositions, and created a fourth Veda. The minds of all the existing Ksatriya Satraps were greatly impressed and awed by the power of the magic incantations of the Brahmins when (they saw for themselves how) Parashuram vanquished and totally routed the subjects of Banasura. The effeminate (eunuch) Narada paid frequent visits to the royal residences of devout and superstitious Satraps ... He used to regale the queens and their children by playing upon his Veena ... but in reality he sowed seeds of dissension in their minds and succeeded in poisoning their minds against one another by spreading palpably false tales and reports about them. Thus he weakened the Satraps and by the same ruse, consolidated the ascendancy of the Brahmins. During that period the Brahmin authors put together their magical sacred incantations and the palpably absurd legends relating thereto, stealthily produced heaps of new scriptures designating them as smritis, Samhitas, Puranas, etc. with the sole object of establishing their permanent domination over the (luckless) shudras. They also succeeded in brain-washing the shudras to stick to their ancestral (traditional) vocation of serving the Aryans as menials as it was the 'truly religious' path. They also enjoined upon the Aryans not to allow the shudras, condemned to the Hell of ignorance, any access to knowledge, and incorporated strict instructions to that effect in their unholy books like the Manu Smriti with the sole intention that the shudras should never get even an inkling into the fraud practiced by the Aryans upon them and also intending to retain the liberty to change and chop these so-called scriptures, even in future, as the need arose."

13. Phule made a good joke for anyone who has tried to read Sanskrit. Phule claimed that the fact that the Vedas were written in Sanskrit was proof that God did not compose them. If they were meant for all mankind, a beneficient God would certainly not have written them in that idiom.

14. Phule 1991a: 2.37: "Firstly, the Aryans presumed to be Vedantic experts on the authority of their wholly illogical, philosophical arrogance (deceitfulness), rendered our Creator redundant, and subsequently supplanted Him. They further grew all-powerful and have become the 'earth-gods' of the ignorant, defeated folk. ... "

15. Phule 1991b: 33: "they would utter nonsensical and incoherent words and would claim that they were in communion with God Himself. They used this subterfuge only to dupe the ignorant masses. This is corroborated by (many references in) the Vedas themselves. Many European authors also have expressed a similar opinion. Taking a cue from this vicious practice some Bhats/Brahmins of today dupe poor ignorant gardeners and farmers by indulging in practices such as recitations, esoteric practices, magic incantations, etc. to earn their livelihood by unholy means. What a pity it is that these poor, ignorant, unfortunate victims of the guiles of the hypocritical (cunning) brahmins cannot fathom the depth of their tricks and guiles so shamelessly practiced upon them." Phule 1991b: 85: "The English scholars churned (the ocean of) the Vedas and revealed to us all, the esoteric secret contained in them. They exposed the erroneous philosophy of the Vedas (Scriptures), expounded the eternal truth, and thus established the reign of righteousness. The Brahmins were at their wit's end (were confused), and hence some of them embraced Christianity, pretending all the while to profess Truth. The Machiavellian Brahmins often found (establish) "People's Organisations" in diverse places and try to enlist members by holding out a false promise (subterfuge) of promoting unity (among the people). (The shudras should) realise the crafty nature of the Aryans, and try to search for the eternal Truth." Phule 1991b: 73: "The Brahmins forbade the shudras even to hear (the recitation of) the Vedas but (they did not trunk it a pollution) and they taught (Sanskrit and vernacular languages to) the Englishmen readily."

16. Upon his return to India, his opportunities in law were extremely limited due to prevailing prejudice. He did, however, eventually teach at the Government Law College in Bombay.

17. Ambedkar dedicated 'Who are the Shudras" to the memory of Phule, whom he esteemed "as the greatest shudra of Modern India who made the lower classes of Hindus conscious of their slavery to the higher classes and who preached the gospel that for India social democracy was more vital than independence from foreign rule."

18. See A.C. Das, Rig Vedic Culture, 133 and most importantly, P.V. Kane, Dharmashastra II (I), p. 33 (7.101).

19. By comparing the term varna with its Zend Avesta equivalent varana or varena (meaning faith, religious doctrine, or creed), Ambedkar concludes that varana must have originally meant a class holding to a particular faith (Ambedkar 1990: 7.85).

20. He breaks down the Vedas into the Rig and the Atharva, with brahmins viewing the Sarna and the Yajur as different forms of the Rig and the Rig regarded as far more sacred than the Atharva (7.87).

21. The upanayana is the sacred thread ceremony administered by brahmins to brahmins.

22. Ambedkar cites the cephalic index of Risley's survey of 1901 showing four different races and the migration theories of Guha (1936) delineating two racial stocks in India (Ambedkar 1990: 7.78).
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Re: Aryans, Jews, Brahmins, by Dorothy M. Figueira

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