Land Of Dharma

Essays in this collection

The collection opens with the essay by Ravi Joshi and Yamuna Harshavardhana in which the two authors set out the task of disaffirming the Myth of Dravidian-Aryan Divide by challenging the deeply contentious AIT theory (along with its very questionable methodology) by examining and critiquing the writings of (1) George L. Hart (Professor of Tamil language at the University of California, Berkeley), (2) Robert E. Frykenburg (Professor of History and South Asian Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison), and (3) E.V. Ramasamy Naicker. The authors bring out the internal differences between Tamil Nadu on the one hand and the modern states of Karnataka/Andhra, and Kerala on the other in order to argue that no ‘homogeneous’ thing as “Dravidian” covering the entire South of India existed as claimed by Dravidian nationalists. Based on insights of Ananda Coomaraswamy and M.N. Srinivas, they explain why the emic explanatory mode is more suitable for interpreting the data on Tamil Sanskrit interactions than Western Indology’s fixative etic mode that concentrates on the origins and priority (who came first, who copied from whom), and on Manichean narrative of two utterly independent well developed entities –Dravidians and Aryans interacting in a way full of friction and conflicts. Any serious observer of Indic history knows this is far from true, and that the mutually respectful interaction between the Sanskritized world with its surroundings – including the ‘tribal’ forest cultures and ‘Dravidian’ South – was a model successfully and peacefully replicated over and again in the history of India until the advent of Islamic conquest and British Imperialism. Using G Srinivas Reddy’s work (Reddy 2011) on the historical interpretation of Krishnadeva Raya’s literary masterwork, the Amuktamalyada, Joshi and Harshavardhana show two-way North-South interactions, and the deep layout of Telugu Kannada world exemplified by the Vijayanagara Empire with its overall Dharmic emphasis, contrasting wherever required with the empire’s pragmatic use of “mleccha” men, materials and ideas. This is a demonstration of the natural Indic Dharmic tendency to respond constructively to social change, based on a millennium of North South mutually respectful ‘blending’ (i.e. samanvaya) The authors also bring out a detailed picture of a cultural zone that acted as a ‘grey area’ between the Northern and Southern expressions of Indic culture. Its existence, they argue, belies the Dravidian nationalists’ claim of a sharp South- North cultural divide. Emically speaking, Indic Civilization has had two major Dhārmic loci—(1) in the Sanskritic/Vedic/yogic basis originating in North India and (2) the Tamil/Vedic/Āgamic/siddhār basis originating in South India. The composite and pluralistic nature of the Indic civilization, they conclude, allowed for free mutually respectful exchanges between these two major cultural zones over millennia.

The next essay by Manogna Sastry and Megh Kalyanasundaram begins by observing that the Myth of Dravidian-Aryan Divide and the AIT literally took away the proverbial home-ground of the Indians and everything that is India’s original contribution to the world knowledge systems. Being restricted to a model of language relationships and of linguistic descent the AIT tells us nothing certain about the origin of the Indic civilization. Taking a multi-disciplinary approach (rather than solely relying on linguistics as Western Indologists do), they analyze thirteen key indigenous sources identifying over two hundred occurrences of the terms Ārya and Draviḍa in order to rebut the Pūrvapakśa of Indo-European (IE) linguistics from an insider’s (emic) perspective. Sastry and Meghasundaram found no references to the word dravida in any of the three books of the Tolkāppiyam—the Ezhuttadikaram, the Solladikaram and the Poruladikaram—the oldest surviving work on Tamil grammar, literature and linguistics. Neither did they find references to the term in Srimad Bhagavatpurāṇa, Kālidāsa’s Abhijñānaśakuntalam, Raghuvaṃśam nor in Kumārasaṃbhavam. In the many references to the occurrences of the terms in the Mahābhārata, they were led to the same conclusion.

Consequently, the two authors find no basis for an ‘Aryan’ invasion/migration into India accompanied with import of Sanskrit and Ŗgveda and no evidence for ‘Aryan’ anywhere in the world (of course, prior to formulation of AIT), which leads them to posit that (1)‘Sanskrit’ language (or its ‘precursor) as well as ‘Sanskrit’ language-based culture existed in India long before 2000 BCE; (2) the word ‘Aryan’ itself was a confused derivation of a similar word that existed in India, long before 2000 BCE.; and (3) Ŗgveda –the oldest available text of humanity, existed in India, long before 2000 BCE. By way of Uttarapaksa, the authors posit that the term ārya has been used in both genders to address a person of cultural refinement and noble standing as in the description of Rama in the Ramayana. The term draviḍa has similarly been used to refer to a group of people from the south, along with other kingdoms.

 The authors of the first two essays therefore conclude that one group has never been highlighted against another among the southern kingdoms itself, let alone any Aryan-Dravidian clash and migration as claimed in the Myth of Dravidian and Aryan Divide. This line of argument is consistent with the vyatireka modality of the Samanvaya method discussed above,

Jayaraman Mahadevan finds in the method of Samanvaya a Swadeshi methodology that would be fit for pressing forward with the task that Swadeshi Indology has set upon for itself: promoting Indic thought and consciousness from a Dharmic perspective. He accordingly makes a strong plea for recognizing in tantrayukti-s (tandiravutti-s in Tamil) a shared methodology suitable for evaluating Tamil and Sanskrit Kāvya and Śāstra texts on Dharma and allied disciplines, peer reviews, and for editing and publishing works across all other languages of India. A verse from the Carakasamhitā justifies such a role for tantrayukti-s: Just as the sun causes the bed of lotuses to bloom or just as the lamp lights up a house, so also the tantrayukti-s shed light on the meanings of the texts (Siddhisthāna 12. 46). There are references to tantrayukti-s/and tandiravutti-s from fifth century B.C.E to twelfth century C.E. Unfortunately, a method that was in vogue for such a long period of time fell into disuse and was consequently forgotten. Reintroduction of tantrayukti as a method would help in systematically understanding the structure and the contents of ancient Indic texts cutting across languages; from Tamil to Sanskrit. Secondly, the comparative studies of the texts between Indian literary traditions can be better structured and systematized in light of the tantrayukti doctrine. Finally, tantrayukti can be used as a guidebook for construction and interpretation of texts systematically by authors and scholars in current topics in our contemporary times. Caraka lists six devices for undertaking research (parikşā): (1) knowledge (vidyā); (2) reasoning (vitarka); (3) scientific method (vijñāna); (4) memory (smŗti); curiosity (tatparatā); and practical application (kriyā). To formulate a research design, he provides another list of devices that include: atikrānta avekşaņa (reference to previous investigations); atideśa (reference to inter-related topics); anumata (approval of others); viparyaya, samśaya (pūrvapakşa = opposing view, doubts); uttarapakşa (establishing one’s answer or counterview); yoga vidhāna (consistency in logical order and mode of presentation); and samuccaya (mutual compatibility). Thus stated, yukti is comparable to the categories, rules, and methodology of modern science and discursive mathematico-logical reason. It is only by painstaking comparison of individual glosses for tantrayukti-s and tandiravutti-s that one may finally rediscover the lost bridges that have linked Tamil and Sanskrit technical literatures for so long.

Next seven essays concentrate on Tamil Nadu’s contribution to Dharma by reaffirming the harmony of Āgama and Nigama with emphasis on the anvaya component of the Samanavya method and using comparative data obtained from textual, archaeological, numismatic, and epigraphic sources. S. P. Akshay in his paper attests to the unity of North and South India under the same Dhārmic civilization for at least last twenty-five hundred years. Toward that objective, he documents evidence of Śiva in North and Vedas in South based on data gathered from relevant texts from the Sangam period and from epigraphic and numismatic sources. Many Cōla rulers held the title Cempiya, which is derived from the Sanskrit patronym Śaibya, meaning descendants of the benevolent Vedic king Śibi whose story is famous among Hindus (there’s also a Buddhist Jātaka narrating his story). The story of King Śibi is mentioned at various places in the Cankam literature as in the Puṟanāṉūṟu poem (# 37, # 46 etc). The early Cōla kings claimed origins from the northern king by keeping the title Cempiya. Apart from the ancient Vedic Hinduism, the Āgama–Tantric (i.e the post Vedic Hinduism where temple and image worship became popular) or Itihāsa- Purāņic form of Dharma was also practiced in Caṅkam age Tamil kingdoms. Puranāṉuṟu poem (# 6) describes Pāndyaṉ king Peruvaḻuti visiting temple of three eyed God i.e.  Śiva, and the poem also praises the king by saying he only bows his head down in front of Vedic Brahmins to get their blessings. The epic Rāmāyana is one of the most hated texts by the Dravidianists since according to them it speaks of the conquest of southern India by ‘Aryan’ Rāma from North. But Cankam era poems such as Akanāṉūṟu (# 70), Puṟanāṉuṟu (# 378) mention select themes from the Rāmāyana without any such hostility. Since the earliest recorded culture of the Tamils was already under dhārmic influence, we can say that Tamils were followers of Dharma since time immemorial and that there are no civilizational divide between the Aryans and early Dravidians in recorded history. Tamils having their own terms for Vedic elements like Pārppaṉar or Antaṇar (Brahmins) pūṇūl (sacred thread), vēḷvi (yajña), nāṉmaṟai (Veda-s) and also names of deities like Koṟṟavai (Durga or Kālī ), Māyōṉ & Tirumāl (Kr̥ṣṇa or Viṣṇu), Vāliyōṉ (Balarāma) etc suggests that the ancient Tamils viewed Vedic dharmic culture as their own.  

Bimal Trivedi continues with the theme of numismatics as one of the bonding threads between Tamil Nadu and the rest of India but with more emphasis on the scripts used in the inscriptions on the coins issued by kings in ancient and medieval India. He elucidates the history of the Brāhmī and Nāgarī scripts across India and South East Asia, as indicators of the unity of their learned systems. Brāhmī became truly a national script of ancient India that remained official script of mighty Maurya, Sātavāhana, Gupta and Harşa empires.  It was equally well accepted official script with other post Sangam age rulers and many city states. Stone inscriptions of Asoka widely found across India – from today’s Afghanistan to Karnataka in further south and in the east; is ample proof that people knew how to read Brāhmī and the script was widely popular. Sanchi was a meeting point of Indian writing traditions.  Prima facie, the transition of Brāhmī to two major forms of Nāgarī (Deva and Nandī) happened almost simultaneously across India between seventh to tenth centuries.  Nāgarī became as popular as Brāhmi in India, from today’s Afghanistan in the west/north west to Arakan in the east and to Sri Lanka in far south. For some centuries, in the regions north of Vindhya, Deva Nāgarī was popular and officially used by many rulers.  Prithviraj Chauhan III of Delhi was the last ruler who used Deva Nāgarī as primary script. After the onset of Delhi Sultanate in the thirteenth century, the script suddenly disappeared from the coinage and donative inscriptions.  The memory of the two distinct versions of Nāgarī nevertheless has remained in the regions North and South of Vindhya reminding us that the whole nation was connected Pre-900 CE by Brāhmī and Post-900 CE by two special forms of Nāgarī script: Deva Nāgarī and Nandi Nāgarī. Nāgarī, though derived from Brāhmī, along with other Brāhmī derived scripts, became main stream and was in use for more than a thousand years as a medium of exchange be it gold, copper or other base metal. Such evidence as collected by Trivedi is valuable because coins bearing inscriptions have been in circulation across and beyond India. In the hands of numismatists and historians they can reveal India’s cultural and spiritual unity that generally remains submerged.

Vidyuta Karthikeyan introduces her paper with a famous (though rather cryptic) Tamil saying: “Teṉmoļi tēṉmoļi, vadamoļi vādāmoļi”– “the language of the South [Tamil] is honey; the language of the North [Sanskrit] never fades.” Tamil and Sanskrit, she explains, were considered as the two eyes and hence were studied with equal interest in ancient Tamil Nadu. The Vedic culture, its rituals, and practice were in vogue during the Sangam age and were duly incorporated in the works of the poets of those times. Karthikeyan discusses this in four sections – (1) Sangam Literature; (2) Vaidika mārga; (3) Vaidika mārga as reflected in the Sangam literature; and (4) Sangam culture in contemporary Tamil Nadu. Toward that objective she undertakes a detailed study of the Sangam literature and documents several instances of evidence of co-evolution of Vedic and Sangam civilizations existing together and building upon each other’s contributions to humanity at large. The British rule turned this composite structure of Indic culture topsy-turvy privileging the allegedly superior Dravidian culture. In post-independence India the movements launched by the Communist party and the Justice Party paved the way to the Dravidian political and nationalist movement in Tamil Nadu that has continued to undermine the pluralistic, pan-Indic ethos. In the opinion of Karthikeyan, Dravidian nationalism nevertheless remains at the elite (and therefore superficial level) without seriously damaging the spiritual roots of the Indic culture. This is also because the undercurrent of the ancient Indic principles and ethos continues to be nourished by the ‘masses’ and therefore has not yet dried up. The paper thus focuses and provides foundational evidence in the form of textual articulations in Sańgam literature that is resonant with Vedic cultural expressions and strongly indicating that the Indic civilization embraced diversity of local traditions though deeply rooted in the profound pan-Indic ethos. 

Vrinda Acharya is concerned to show the reader that Tamil Isai has remained an integral part of pan-Indic or pan-dhārmic culture and that its harmony with Vedic and Sanskritic tradition is very evident in all its varied dimensions. She explains how Tamil Isai can be understood as music that originated in Tamil Nadu as well as music that is sung in the Tamil language. The ancient Tamils possessed a highly developed culture; the Muttamiḷ (threefold Tamil) consisted of the divisions இயல்(Iyal = literature), இசை(Isai = music) and னாடகம் (Nāṭakam = drama). She informs  The three principal musical instruments of Tamils namely yazh, kuzhal and maddalam (யாழ், குழல், மத்தளம்), for instance, had their parallels in the celebrated vādya trayam; vīnā, veņu and mŗdangam. Acharya, however, cautions that this need not and should not be taken as undermining or negating the greatness of Tamil Isai and its contribution to Indic music at large. Her paper does not conclude that the Tamil tradition has always been only a borrower; nor does it show in any way that it is insignificant or less great than the Sanskrit tradition. The contrastive use of saṅgīta (Sanskrit) and isai (Tamil), which have both been translated into English as “music” is an eloquent testimony to the different linguistic and ‘caste’ orientations. Schematically put, Karṇāṭaka Saṅgīta refers to the culture of classical music based on compositions in Telugu and Sanskrit and performed and patronized primarily by members of the Brahmin caste; whereas Tamilḷ Isai, music in the Tamil language and/or a musical tradition nurtured by Tamils, has been advanced mostly by non-Brahmins. The terms: ‘Karnatic Music’ and ‘Hindusthani music’ occur in the Sangita Sudhākara of Haripāla, written between 1309-1312 CE and the formal division into North Indian (Hindusthani) and South Indian (Karnatic) systems came during the reign of the Mughul Emperors in Delhi. Prior to that a single system of music prevailed throughout the length and breadth of India as Sambamoorthy points out (2006: 86). The word ‘karņātic’ means ‘classical’ or ‘pure’, especially when used to indicate musical forms and the fine arts.

Blaming Hindu Dharma and spirituality for their [allegedly] inherent social inequality and hierarchy that has been perpetuated through rituals controlled by the Brahmins is a major plank of the Myth of Dravidian-Aryan Divide. Next two essays seek to counter this claim with reference to the roles played by Ramanuja and E. V. Ramaswamy in relating spiritual quest, performance of rituals, and social equality. Shanthi Narayanan’s essay points out that long before such clamor for equality of classes in society, Āvār-s (Tamil poet-saints) had expressed and espoused samadharma through their life and works. Rāmānuja, for instance, established bhakti towards brahman as the lens through which to view this world and attain mokşa. For the first time in the history of Sanātana Dharma, Veda-s became accessible to all four varna-s, men and women since Divya Prabandham was rendered in Tamil. Veda-s, Upaniṣad-s and Purāņa-s (originally available in Sanskrit) were the monopoly of only the learned men till then. It is important to note that the works of Āḷvār were primarily concerned with brahman and how to reach it. They do not concern themselves with or delve into societal workings of the caste divide or other reforms. Rāmānuja as a role model for M. Karunanidhi’s own view of Tamil Nadu, where Tamil and not Sanskrit is welcomed, is therefore inconsistent with Rāmānuja’s view of Bhārata as one culture, one people. Karunanidhi’s focus on Ramanuja as a social reformer wrongly portrays him as rebelling against the social order whereas the saint was concerned with timeless issues. He viewed Sanskrit and Tamil equally important for their role in accessing jñāna about the ultimate truth. He was not ready to sacrifice one for the other. Rāmānuja considered Āvār-s’ Tamil Veda as nectar meant to be relished in bhakti while institutionalizing the Viśiṣṭādvaita philosophy in Sanskrit for propagating jñāna about the Supreme among the intellectuals. As S. Radhakrishnan said, Rāmānuja sought to reconcile the demands of religious feelings with the claims of logical thinking. He accordingly recognized Sanskrit and Tamil as two languages and two cultural traditions in his theology–one was for the intellectuals or the educated elite and another purely devotional, for the masses that could also attain liberation without concerning themselves with the intricacies of abstract philosophy.

Sundari Siddhartha explicates how Śaivism in Tamil Śaiva siddhānta is Āgama-based and yet is consistent with Nigama. In the hoary past, these two major currents existed side by side, as two aspects of the same faith that individuals effortlessly incorporated into their lives.. The earliest level of interaction between the two traditions included mutual denunciation and segregation. The Āgama-s claimed that knowledge of Siva leads to liberation, but Vedas lead only to worldly prosperity. The Vedas on the other hand, held only Vedic ritual to be Dharma. But with time, each made inroads into the other and the two began to merge. Vedic mantras became a common addition to many Āgamic rituals. These mixed temple rituals continued over the centuries. Since the worship is done mostly in Sanskrit, and temple-worship had been accepted by all sections of the society, the Sanskrit-knowing priests, with their familiarity and control over the rituals, appeared to become all too powerful. Over time, the ritual and worship aspect of spirituality inevitably became the cause of an irrational imbalance in the society bringing the ‘caste’ problem to the forefront. E. V. Ramasamy (Periyār) fought it with a firm message to the Brahmin community – “In the name of God, religion and Śāstra-s, you have duped us. Give room for rationalism and humanism.” In 1970, Periyār successor, M. Karunānidhi, got the hereditary priesthood abolished by the Supreme Court; fulfilling Periyār’s last wish to see appointments of Arcaka-s from all castes. Periyār’s attacks therefore, argues Siddhartha, cannot be called attacks on spirituality. Burning of Hindu God Rāma’s picture, she continues, was only a way of protest against inequality, discrimination, and sub-human behavior of man to another man in the name of God. Demands for temple-entry, for appointment of non-Brahmins as priests, for making available worship in Tamil instead of Sanskrit etc. cannot therefore be considered ‘anti-spirituality.’ Spirituality should be nurtured like a garden, concludes the author, while removing the weeds that inevitably grow around it at every stage.

In the final essay of this collection Shrinivas Tilak returns to the method of Samanvaya which, he argues, can be used to reaffirm the harmony of Āgama and Nigama in our times by going along the plan proposed by Tirumūlar, one of the sixty-three Nāyanmār saints in his the Tirumantiram, which is recognized as the foundational work of Śaiva Siddhānta. Tirumūlar deployed the method and strategy of samanvaya to accommodate the followers of other spiritualities within the fold of [Siva] Dharma while retaining and respecting differences from them. Tirumūlar’s strategizing of samanvaya can also be used, argues Tilak, to reaffirm harmony between Āgama and Nigama (the two foundational sources of Hindu Dharma) that modern Western theologians and scholars of Hinduism insist; does not exist because they are deemed to be two rival theological systems and as such incapable of existing in harmony under the canopy of ‘Hinduism’ (i.e. Hindu Dharma). Tilak presents his paper in the traditional debating format also pursued by Tirumūlar: ‘Pūrvapakşa-Uttarapakşa-Siddhānta’ (Arusamaya Pinakkam) where the pūrvapakşin stands for non-Hindu scholars of Hinduism (with particular focus on Professor Natalia Lidova) as well as Dravidian nationalists that employ the Orientalist perspective to divide and undermine Hindu Dharma. His refutation of their arguments (the Uttarapakşa) is based on the accommodative vision (samanvaya) and the relevant data to be found in the Tirumantiram. The Siddhānta establishes Tirumūlar’s sterling contribution to Dharma to be skillful adjudication of the claims of the two streams–Āgama and Nigama by juxtaposing the two in such a way as to highlight their similarities; yet preserving their unique identities and differences. The paper concludes with discussion of the legacy Tirumūlar left to the followers of Dharma in India and beyond inviting them to move forward positively with Dharma regardless of the attempts in the past to sow disharmony between its two streams—Āgama and Nigama.

III Siddhānta

Seventy years after independence, the Indian civilizational narrative and discourse worldwide and in India continue to be in the hands of outsiders. Indians have always been studied and analyzed as subjects and they continue to look to “outsiders” to understand themselves and their own civilization. Swadeshi Indology series sponsored by the Infinity Foundation (India) seek to give an intellectual response to Western/Leftist/Marxist Indology using Indic methodology and Dharmic perspective. The Chennai 2017 conference aimed to give an intellectual response from “insider” (emic) viewpoint (armed with historical and scientific evidence) to challenge Western/Leftist/Marxist interpretations of Tamil Nadu, its spirituality, and civilization. Tamil Nadu has the largest number of Hindu temple complexes to Śiva, Vişņu, and Devī (the main Hindu deities) and the most rituals performed. Tamil has numerous Sanskrit words and Tamil children continue to be named after them (Ganesh and Shashi Kiran 2017).

The essays compiled in this volume adopt differing schemes for transliterating Tamil and Sanskrit words and that choice is respected since no single system of transliteration is correct for every use. Certain important technical terms occur both in Tamil and Sanskrit with different spellings. A list of such terms is provided hoping it will help readers make connections between the Āgama and Nigama streams of Dharma.

III Siddhānta

Seventy years after independence, the Indian civilizational narrative and discourse worldwide and in India continue to be in the hands of outsiders. Indians have always been studied and analyzed as subjects and they continue to look to “outsiders” to understand themselves and their own civilization. Swadeshi Indology series sponsored by the Infinity Foundation (India) seek to give an intellectual response to Western/Leftist/Marxist Indology using Indic methodology and Dharmic perspective. The Chennai 2017 conference aimed to give an intellectual response from “insider” (emic) viewpoint (armed with historical and scientific evidence) to challenge Western/Leftist/Marxist interpretations of Tamil Nadu, its spirituality, and civilization. Tamil Nadu has the largest number of Hindu temple complexes to Śiva, Vişņu, and Devī (the main Hindu deities) and the most rituals performed. Tamil has numerous Sanskrit words and Tamil children continue to be named after them (Ganesh and Shashi Kiran 2017).

The Myth of Dravidian-Aryan Divide is a politically motivated fabrication without basis in fact. It has plagued Tamil Nadu (and with it, all of India) for decades tearing the national and cultural fabric by striking at the unity of India. Although the AIT, its root, has been systematically debunked, the Myth continues to be circulated in the Dravidian nationalist circles, with its tentacles spanning the range of social, political, cultural, economic, and scientific studies. The papers in this collection challenge it and seek to reaffirm the all-encompassing united identity of the people of Tamil Nadu with rest of the country. In the process they have contributed significantly to the initiative of SI-3 to positively regenerate the narrative for Tamil people and culture in a genuine way to once again show the world that Tamil culture is an inalienable part of the pan-Indic culture and has contributed immensely to the same. Tamil is one of the most ancient living languages of humanity that is both classical and sacred. For at least last two thousand and five hundred years, Tamil has been nourishing the two spiritual streams of Āgama and Nigama that are an integral part of pan-Indic spiritual and cultural traditions. The three great Acharyas–Śankara, Rāmānuja and Madhva came from South India of whom two came from Tamil regions and the bhakti movement with rich philosophical mystic content began and flowered in Tamil Nadu and spread to entire India and beyond. Just as Tamil has enriched itself with other Indic traditions, it has also provided the cardinal values and narratives for pan-Indic body. The papers remind us that dimension of Tamil life–from literature, music, dance, drama, medicine, bio-diversity to ‘theo’-diversity have Indic spirituality embedded in it.

(Dr. Shrinivas Tilak, Editor).