MR. JUSTICE RANADE ON "SOUTH INDIA."
SIR, - Mr. Justice Ranade bears a great name, is a distinguished scholar, a great thinker, and a good student of history; and in my admiration and respect for him I yield to no one else. But however great our esteem may be personally, I cannot refrain from expressing my disagreement with them in some of his conclusions and inferences which he gave us the benefit of, as the result of his study of Abbe Duboi's great book, so far as they relate to South Indian civilization; and I could not help remarking, at the conclusion of his great speech, to several of my friends that he was quite at sea so far as South India was concerned. And this only shows what, except the great Abbe's book, great paucity of materials really exists about the history of Ancient Southern India; and even the Abbe's book only proposes to state what he had actually seen about his time. Almost all the Oriental scholars have lived in and written about Northern India alone, and Mr. Dutt, in his "Ancient India," in which he summarizes the results of all the previous investigations, hardly devotes more than a few pages to the history of South India, and does not at all notice the condition of the people and the literature of this part of India. Mr. Justice Ranade has the further disadvantage of not being a native of Southern India and in not possessing acquaintance with the Tamilian language and literature; and being a great man as he is, I could very well understand the great diffidence with which he desired to speak, subject to correction and I could have let him alone, if you had not yourself been carried away by his great name, and placed too great reliance on it for the test of the truth of his statement and inferences; though somewhere you discount it a great deal by your "if"; you will therefore appreciate my natural desire to let some light on his facts and inferences, and I have accordingly taken the trouble to address you on the subject at some length. In the first place, I must express my agreement with the learned editor of the Indian Social Reformer in failing to see the distinction between the Revival he inveighed against in the previous year, and the Liberation from restraint be talked of at the Anderson Hall. The reference to "our ancient pristine purity" was very frequently on his lips, and he seems to think that all the calamities that befell the ancient Aryan pure civilization and morals occurred about the beginning of the Christian era, and after the rise of Buddhism and Jainism. Though Buddhism and Jainism had their rise in Northern India, yet they do not account for the downfall of ancient Brahminism in the North as in the South, and the learned Justice invokes the incidents of Scythian and Hindu invasions to account for the unsettling of morals and religion in almost the same wonderful way; and he seems to think that all the Puranas were written in the South and not in the North, and with special reference to the inroads on these made by South Indian barbarism. And he seems to think that modern Hinduism, in its adulterated form, was a compromise effected between the pure religion of the Aryan sages and the barbarous Demonism of the southerners. Among the catalogue of enormities with which he charges South Indians are the rigidity of caste, the fall of woman from her high estate, the introduction of Sati, the sale of girls in marriage, polygamy and polyandry; and to their discredit also, he traces the prohibition relating to remarriages, late marriages, sea voyages, etc., which the priests laid down as being unsuited to the Kali age. And he grows positive as he enumerates these sins of South Indians, and this seems to him as the only possible explanation for the degradation of the old civilization, which not being entirely extinct, the great Acharya, Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya, who with their great successors entered their protest against this cruelty and wrong and degradation of the priesthood, though their efforts were again frustrated by the establishment of Moslem power. And he recounts in glowing colors all the great things the Aryan people were capable of in the Vedic and Epic periods; and my attempt herein is to show how fallacious this reasoning is and to prove by these very records the existence of these very enormities which he wishes to trace to South Indian barbarism.
As regards that first charge, the charge of demon and ghost worship to South Indians alone was once before made in your pages by Mr. Charles Johnstone, in his learned article on the union of Hindu philosophies, and he stated that the gruesome description of God contained in the transfiguration scene in the Gita was probably derived from the wild faiths of the dark aboriginals and demon worshippers of Southern India. A review of this appeared in the last March number of the Siddhanta Deepika, and the writer has traced this very transfiguration scene in all its earlier forms through the earlier portion of the Mahabharata itself and back to the very Yajur Veda, the very central portion of it called the Catarudriya, be lauded in several Upanishads and in the Mahabharata itself by Krishna himself; and the writer observes truly that if this be true this demonology of South Indians, instead of being a thing repugnant, must have been glorious indeed, to be copied by the Brahmabadins of Yajur Veda days. The description of God as the fierce destroyer, the devourer of all men, Drona and Bhishma and the warrior hosts contained in verses 25 to 31 of Chapter Xi of Gita are simply the same idea as is contained in Katha Upanishad (1-2-25). Leaving this great conception of God as the destroyer, I come to the minor question of the worship of demons and ghosts. And here are a couple of passages from the Sama and Yajur Vedas, which ought to outweigh the pound of inference of the learned Justice: - "May the gods, demons, benevolent genii, spirits called Cushmanda, trees and all animals which move in air or in water, which live on earth and feed abroad; may all these quickly obtain contentment through the water presented by me. To satisfy them who are detained in all hells, and places of torment, this water is presented by me. May those who are and those who are not of kin to me, and those who were allied to me in a former existence and who desire oblations of water from me obtain perfect contentment." The same passage is also repeated in the Yajur Veda in a slightly different form. So these facts make it certain that if the pristine purity of the ancient Aryans was influenced by the demonism and savagery of South Indians, it was not after the rise of Buddhism and birth of Christ, but long anterior to the composition of these ancient Vedic hymns and Epic poems. As regards caste, Dr. Muir has collected all the passages bearing on the subject in his first volume of Sanskrit texts and they are traced back to the very Rig Veda itself and it occupies a prominent place in the Purusha Sukta daily recited by every Brahmin. If the Brahmins received any check in any part of India to introduce and stereotype their caste system and to assert their superiority, it was in Southern India, and for these reasons. The Non-Brahmins of Southern India never would done the badge of servility attempted to be put on them by Brahmins, and would not call themselves "Das" or "Dasa" (slave) but they called themselves "Nayanars" and "Nainmars" (Nairs) (Masters) and Menons, Nayagans and Nayudus, (Lords) Moodelliars (the first in rank), Chetty (Sresti) (chief) and Pillais (sons of God) etc., and the old Tamil words Aiyer, and Parpar and Anthanan were common words at one time meaning the learned and the pious, before they came to be appropriated specially by Brahmans. I have elsewhere pointed out that the only form of caste, if caste it can be called, was the distinction into Moodelliars, Idayar and Kadayar, first, middle and last, and it is this that has still been preserved, though Brahmins tried hard to impose their fourfold distinction, and portions of the South Indian community who display greater punctiliousness in the matter of caste are all people who have become more and more under the sway of Brahminism; and even now if there are instances of Pariahs entering temples and non-Brahmins officiating as priests and non-Brahmin women cooking for Brahmins (in Malabar for instance) they are vestiges of the older influence of non-Brahmins before they were subverted by the dominance of Brahmins, and especially during the days of the great Acharyas, whom Mr. Ranade chooses to eulogize for redeeming wrongs, etc. For it is a remarkable fact that the followers of these Acharyas are the most orthodox and intolerant men on earth which in the case of Sri Vaishnavas has created distinction between man and man of their own sect.
As regards the position of women, in what part of India do women possess sole rights to property to the exclusion of males, as in South India (Malabar)? In what part of India had female Sovereigns reigned and do still reign? In what part of India is marriage based on love and love alone as the tie and not on contract or religious sacrament? In what classes of South Indians is widow marriage still prevalent? Among what classes is infant marriage still practiced (to instance a stray instance is of no historical value)? A large section of Idayars and those below practice remarriage even today. If a portion of the Idayar class (middle class) and those above have given up the practice, it was by copying Brahmins. If there are classes of non-Brahmins that now practice infant marriage, they are those who are known to be notorious imitators of Brahmins. And we cannot also forget the fact that the references to widow marriage in the old texts are so few and so guarded that it must be evident that widow marriage was rather an exception than a rule, even before the days of the Epics; and the passages we will quote below from the oldest texts in regard to sati will show how a widowhood was even then dreaded. And these passages are from the Rig Veda downwards, thus disproving that South India had anything to do with the conception and introduction and maintenance of this custom. The passages are all collected by Colebroke in his essay on "The Duties of a faithful Hindu widow" (Pages 114 to 122. Vol 1), and I will only quote a few of them from the early records so much relied on by Mr. Justice Ranade: -
"Om! Let these women, not to be widowed, good wives, adorned with collyrium, holding clarified butter, consign themselves to the fire. Immortal, not childless, non-husbandless, well adorned with gems, let them pass into the fire whose original element is water." (Rig Veda).
"The wife who commits herself to the flames with her husbands' corpse shall equal Arundhati and reside in Swarga" (Griya Sutras of Angiras).
"Though the husband died unhappy by the disobedience of his wife; if from motives of love, disgust (of the world), fear (of living unprotected) or sorrow, she commit herself to the flames, she is entitled to veneration" (Mahabharata).
This text, by the way, clearly explains the motives and the reasoning which lead to the establishment of sati, and not, as was suggested by the Hon'ble gentleman, to any panic. And in a contribution to the Siddhanta Deepika (Vol I. P. 87), I have tried to give a more rational explanation for the prohibition against widow marriage "Independent scholars and pundits with some honestly will freely admit that the custom was not one unknown in India in remote times. In lower classes of society they still prevail. But the pundits say that such remarriage is prohibited in the bad Kali age. Who prohibited it, we ask? Is it not the fact that the slowly and steadily dawned on the mature minds in this Kali age. Be it said (rather to its credit) that singleness is better than wedded life (one of the checks to population in the Kali age) and that a widow would do well to keep faithful to the memory of her first lord, if she can afford to do so. It marks the highest sentiment in love that the lovers should remain true unto death. The Europeans have also built their faith on St. Paul's words: - 'I say therefore unto the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.' It was only the other day that the Indian Social Reformer praised Her Most Gracious Majesty for her noble widowhood. If such is the sentiment in Modern Europe, need we wonder that in India, where the people attained an early civilization, these thoughts became crystallized and handed down as custom (unfortunately some evil practices have had this tendency too) and the higher castes began to prohibit it altogether; and the mistake was made in not remembering the wise caution St. Paul that it is better to marry than to burn. Besides, this rigorous custom is opposed in one sense to the generally recognized freedom in Hindu principles, as deduced from the doctrine of Karma, etc."
And in the previous page in also remark that the much despised Kali age has seen much greater reforms in religion and morals and much greater advancement in Philosophy and Science than the three preceding Yugas, so much be lauded by the learned Justice; and I have given instances of the same. And the editor of the Indian Social Reformer, (which by the way extracted this whole article at the time,) is also good enough to recognize that the statement in the Puranas, that what was allowed in the other Yugas is not allowed in the Kali Yuga, does not necessarily prove a conscious and selfish surrender to any prejudices, but it is only a way of reconciling old texts with new customs, these new customs, it being remembered, having come to prevail even in the life time of those ancient writers. And before I leave this question, I refer again to the passages quoted by Colebrooke in the same essay referring to the disabilities of the widow in regard to food and drink, and to the fact that no non-Brahmin ever knows to any such restrictions and the only women who shave their heads in Southern India are Brahmins and Komatis.
I may also here refer to some Ramayana incidents as serving to illustrate and support the above remarks of mine. Regarding caste, the story related in the Ramayana Uttarakanda sections 73-76, which stated shortly is as follows: - "A Brahmin's son had died young, his death was ascribed by Narada to the enormity of a Sudra presuming to perform austerities. Rama goes and finds the Sudra in the act and kills him. The gods applaud the deed, and on being solicited to restore the Brahmin's boy to life, say that he had recovered his life as soon as the Sudra had been killed." And to this act of liberalism of the Dwapara or Krita (I don't remember which, we are tempted to use very strong language) our great thinker wants us to turn our eyes with respect and admiration! And as a contrast, where, if not in Southern India, did the holiest of Brahmins set up images of Non-Brahmins in their holy shrines and worship them as their great Acharyas? And some of their divine outpourings (not the result of their barbarism certainly) are read daily as the very Veda itself by Brahmins and non-Brahmins. And what is strange is that most of these writings came into existence just about the time when Mr. Ranade thinks the ancient Aryans were corrupted by the barbarism and brute force of the South. To revert again to the importance of Ramayana, do we not there read of King Dasaratha's three principal wives and sixty thousand other wives, and was not a whole holocaust of these latter sixty thousand made at the funeral pyre of Dasaratha? And what do we see in the intrigues of the wily stepmother except what you may almost every day meet with in our Law Courts of today? Another holocaust was made also after the great battle of Kurukshetra, and the loves and amours of Lord Krishna are certainly worth imitation! And the heroine of Mahabharata, how many thousands had she, and she wished for one more; and this sentiment of hers could only be appreciated by readers of Thomas Hardy's "A pair of blue eyes," where the heroine explains her apparently inconsistent conduct by asserting in the most pathetic manner that her old love had none the less diminished and we have the scene there of three of her lovers standing uncovered over her coffin! So it is not to savagery and barbarism alone that we have to look for most of these phenomena; and if we had instances of polyandrous communities in the Thothyars and Todas, they were exceptions which proved the rule; and one might also ask why did not the Brahmins copy their example. Nor could it be asserted that the Brahmins were able to reform everybody else but these, which would again cut the ground under the honorable gentleman's thesis.
As regards Malabar, all that I can say is that Abbe Dubois is entirely mistaken, as are many even today occupying the Coromandel Coast. And the family tie is held as much sacred there as in any part of the world, a circumstance no doubt due to the law of property prevailing there. As regards the uncovering of the upper part, it is merely a question of dress and etiquette, and in these matters many differences may prevail without involving questions of right and wrong. One might insist on the head being uncovered, another the feet, and another the middle part of the body. And one might do this as a duty and another might do it as a fashion. And nations admire the semi-nude figures of ancient Greece and Rome! The charge against sea travelling is not worth refuting, as the Tamils have for long colonized Ceylon, and the Eastern Archipelago, and their struggles in the West are matters of ancient history, and I know a man who returned from British Guiana, and none of the Moodelliars and Naidus who ever went to Europe ever felt any difficulty. And our Good Old Mother Avvei says: - "Seek wealth by crossing the foaming seas." And I may also remark that these prohibitions do not find any place in the entire Tamil Literature ancient or modern.
Nandyal, 14th January.
J. M. N.