My first brush with Kanchipuram was as an Outlook reporter in August 2001. I was investigating the charge that the CEO of the district, Jayendra Saraswati, had segregated hostels for Brahmin and non-Brahmin students in the engineering college under the Sankara math. The math had by then acquired hospitals, erected a deemed university (with P.V. Narasimha Rao’s abiding grace) and was planning an IT Park. I filed the report proving how the segregation was indeed true, but within days, 9/11 happened. The story never appeared. I revisited the town in 2003 when Jayendra began meddling in the Ayodhya-Babri dispute at the behest of the then BJP government. Soon, in September 2004, A. Sankararaman, a former math functionary, was hacked in the premises of Varadarajaperumal temple. Chief minister Jayalalitha (of the extra a) decided, for once, that the law could take its course. Jayendra became the first accused. While the subsequent Karunanidhi regime weakened the case, Amma was expected to tighten the screws again. But she got busy attending to other loose screws. Today, posters near the math herald Jayendra’s 78th birth year. He has made a quiet comeback.
The Past at Stake
In 2004-05, since I ended up spending many days in Kanchi, I realised there was more to the town than sleaze, scandal and silk. The rich and hoary past finds an echo in the town’s broad municipal divisions of Siva Kanchi, Vishnu Kanchi, Buddha Kanchi and Jaina Kanchi—the last two mere ghosts now. Interestingly, the Siva Kanchi police station houses a nice 10th c Buddha seated in a mandapam, bestowed in 1992 by failed Veerappan hunter and dreaded police chief Walter Dewaram. The trigger-happy Dewaram’s love for peace-loving Buddha can’t compensate for the bloody battles waged by Shaivite and Vaishnavite saints to decimate the sway of Buddhism and Jainism during and till the Pallava period (8th c). Scholars and epigraphists are veering to the view that it is in Buddhist and Jain caves that the early Tamil Brahmi script took shape. Sculpture flourished. Buddha viharas and Jain basadis dotted the landscape. Hiuen Tsang, visiting in 640 CE, talks of a hundred viharas and over a thousand bhikkhus. The finest classics of Tamil literature were produced by Buddhists and Jains. Soon, Buddhism and Jainism jostled for royal and popular patronage. In round one, Jainism prevailed. Meanwhile, ‘Tamil Bhakti’, both Shaivite and Vaishnavite, ‘staked’ its claim, literally. Premised on fierce monotheistic devotion, the cults were nourished by the blood of sramanic monks impaled in public. Sambandar, the Shaivite saint, wrote songs exhorting the rape of Jain women. Periya Puranam, the 12th-century hagiography on Shaivite saints, says Sambandar was born to destroy Buddhism and Jainism and spread Shaivism. He did just that.
My recent visit owed to Chennai photographer and filmmaker S. Anvar teaming up with Kanchipuram’s Buddhist enthusiast K. Mohanraj, our guide, to facilitate a day-long tour of Buddhist and Jain sites. Over centuries, Jain and Buddhist structures have morphed into temples for Vishnu, Siva, Vinayaka etc all over Tamil Nadu. The idols of Tirthankaras like Adinatha and Chandraprabha were replaced with lingas or Vaishnavite images. Tara Devi became Kamakshi. Buddha images (mostly defaced) got strewn around, and farmers stumbled upon them in fields. As Nagappa Mudaliar did some hundred years ago, in Pallur on the Arakkonam road, unearthing three majestic 6th c granite Buddhas. He and the village folk kept vigil for decades. Ten years ago, a shelter was raised with help from Thai Buddhists. Malliga, the woman who opens the gates for us, has cropped white hair announcing her widowhood. Her voice and painted toenails suggest a zest for life. She said her husband discovered the Buddhas as a 10-year-old. If he died five years ago at age 105, how old was she? “I’m 63 now. He married me when he was 61 and I was 13.”
I stayed back for two days to gape at temple sculptures. Two pillars in the Kachabeshwarar temple are adorned with meditating Buddhas. Nearby, a woman presses her breasts to a linga, arms around it. In Varadarajaperumal temple’s forecourt, I bump into a musician penetrating a very supple woman arched backwards like a horseshoe; the Vijayanagara-era, 96-pillar pavilion has a fellatio scene where the guy’s schlong would delight a porn filmmaker. While explicit heterosexuality is common in temples, I thrilled in a rare find: two stout men rubbing noses, locking arms, legs and eyes.
Eating Idli Pie
Looking for a meaty lunch, I try Tahira, famed for their biriyani, paya (trotters) and crowds. It’s shut. I try a military mess across the street. Shut too. I’m told it is Krithigai, an auspicious day for Murugan, and non-veg hotels do not expect customers. I eat humble idli.
A former Madras correspondent for Outlook, S. Anand is the publisher of Navayana; E-mail your diarist: anand AT navayana.org
Apropos S. Anand’s Kanchipuram Diary (Mar 11), there is little point in dredging up history and trying to blame any particular community now—whether it's Shaivite and Vaishnavite Brahmins or Muslims—for historical wrongs. We need to suppress such divisive feelings and work for national unity.
G.K. Vasant, Bangalore
Anand’s diary is actually a hate piece. While it’s true that there were struggles between Buddhism and Jainism on one side, and Hinduism, they were mostly ideological. Buddhism was ideologically defeated by Shankaracharya’s Advaita philosophy.
Prasanth Nambiar, Melbourne
What? The Tamil Shaivite saint Sambandar writing songs exhorting the rape of Jain women! Sambandar himself would be shocked.
We are responsible for our own acts, not for the acts of our forefathers, or those who legitimise such acts today.
Ahmad Pasha, on e-mail
Outlook likes a bit of controversy, but this takes the cake.
LLet me take back my words, I am not against "temple culture" per se; but which temple culture?
I am all for that "temple culture" which can have debates and discussion. Which can nurture art, music, dance, etc.
But I am against the one; where paying few rupee through Panditji to make the god happy.
There isn’t really much we are talking different, but what we differ, is the conclusion. And dare I say; a Dharmic and Abrahmic difference.
What you are saying is; there was a chronic fight among sects/schools. I think that is the only problem here.
Your claim that at the time of Buddha, Hinduism as we understand today, was not there.
Indeed it is so; but my contention is Hinduism as we know it today, “evolved” from that same root.
There were Vedic Brahmans who believed in sacrifices and rites to appease GODs (they are what today is the primarily the priestly class among Hindus), Jains (Followers of Mahavira), Buddhists, Ajivikas (or Fatalist-Chanakya was an Ajivika), Charvakas or Lokayata (Materialists), Samakhya Patanjala and few more sects. A large population of tribals and locals had their own Gods and traditions but no dedicated priests.
Yes, even today it is so. But “Vedic Brahmans” is not correct, “Vedic ritualistic Brahmans” would be more proper.
For two reasons:
One, no-one, other than Charvak (Lokayat) appears to have opposed Veda. Buddha himself said to have told that the true Veda are from Vedic Nav (nine)-Rishis. Buddha was against ritual for sure, but was he against Veda? I guess not.
As per Jains, Swami Rishabhdev was greatest of the Vedic Rishi. Where is the opposition, other than rituals?
About Charvak, we don’t even know much, since there is no specific literature available. In-fact, Charvaks are scorned, but given the due respect to their view in Vedic literature.
Second, before Buddha, socially it appears to be all rituals and Yagna, thus he revolted. Upanishads were being compiled around the same time also.
So, Vedic Brahmans/society was indeed into rituals, but not all/only.
“Also Philosophical/reasoning/logical value of other school of thoughts far exceeded what vedic brahman could put forth in debate”
This is a little bit of strange argument. In your own admission, hundreds of Purana were compiled. There are millions of Sanskrit manuscripts, yet to be translated.
More than that, it is the Adi Shankarascharya, who won the most significant shashtrarth at the end. Then where is the question of “could not offer a good competing philosophy”.
Perhaps, the problem is, you are saying “Vedic” means “Ritualistic”, whereas I am saying “Rituals” are only one part of the “Vedic system”.
I will very much agree with “Rudra and Shiva are not same”, until “In North it was Pashupatinath and in south it was Murugan. Ideas behind these two Gods evolved into today’s Shiva”.
There is factual error.
“Shiva” is not used extensively in Veda for sure, but “Shiva” is very much there, all the way to Rig Veda. Once it is attributed to Indra and once to Angni; but many times to Rudra. In fact “Om Namah Shivaya” comes from Yajur Veda’s Shri Rudram Chamakam (not Vedic, but before Puranic).
So, if Shiva evolved, then it evolved from Rudra, and engulfed “Pashupatinath” and “Murugan” along the way. Which is not abnormal; in fact “Buddha” is “Vishnu” avatar, is also part of the same system.
So, no, “Shiva” did not come out of the blue.
“Thus Brahma the fair skinned Aryan God gave way to Shiva the local God”
This seems a bit of “colonial” argument. This is true that BrahmA is not a Vedic god, but Puranic. Given that Puranas are anecdotal explanation of Vedas, thus it is safe to say that Vedic “Brahm” is made into a person/god, called “BrahmA”.
But mind you, neither Vedic “Brahm”, nor Puranic “BrahmA” were ever worshiped. So, I am not sure where this “primarily Brahma worshippers” coming from?
Vedic system appears to be less into temples, but rituals are not only confined to temples. Even today, when there is a wedding, or any other “sanskar”, then it is the same old Vedic “Agnaye Namo, Indraya Namo, Somay Namo, Rudray Namo” etc.
So I am not sure, if it is safe to say that Vedic Gods did not make it. Yes, they did not make it into the temples, but they are still around us.
I agree that somewhere around Puranic era (or may be later) the mix-up of Varna and JAti took place (which for me is minor of two), and the untouchability came into existence (I read only Dr Ambedkar’s thesis on this so far).
But I am unable to see Vedic Aryan in chronic bloody-war with competing schools, as if “Aryans” were some aliens.
I will even say Buddhist and Jain going outside Vedic fold, is purely circumstantial, just as Sikh. Otherwise, there are enough schools in Vedic system, where both Buddhist and Jain thought can fit quite easily.
Anyways, I am not against your fight with “temple” culture; in fact I am against that too. Which seems more of a product of Bhakti movement, 5-600 years ago. But the justification through colonial/commie interpretation is no-good.
If your questions are asked from position of faith, then you are right and you can disregard my following comment.
All customs, practices, dresses, foods, people etc. with origins in Africa are called African does that make the term “African” or “Africanism” a religion? Similarly word Hindu(and never Hinduism) was used by Persians in similar meaning and context, and was not a word for a religion.
The festival of Christmas predates Christianity and probably was pagan festival, does that mean Christianity, predates Christ?
Practices/rituals that makes contemporary Hinduism are result of gradual changes from pleathora of old practices/rituals some of which survived and some died out, this is true and I maintain that. But were those practices and rituals understood by the society of that era as a coherent religion of Hinduism then, I doubt that?
What come close to development of Indian philosophies are philosophies that were developed in Greece. But Greek philosophies are called Greek philosophies or western philosophies and not Christian philosophies.
You are correct. But I mentioned Brahma as by 5th century, Brahma had come into existence, as Early Puranas were written around the Golden age of India.
In any case Brahma was not and original Aryan god but none of the 33 other gods of Vedas such as Agni, Indra, Varuna, Mittraa, Nasatya etc. with the exception of Vishnu, have survived to become the part of Temples practices of contemporary Hinduism.
Rudra and Shiva are not same. Rudra was a minor god of storms who was somewhat similar to Indra of Rigveda. Primary god in Rigveda, was Indra with roughly 1/4th of the verses written in his praise. Today his deeds in mythological stories are not very noble ones and he definitely has moved from Chief Aryan god to an insignificant one today.
How does this short rant deserve deserve so many comments?
@Sachin- The root base of your argument- that Hinduism does not exist 'then'- is factually incorrect hence your whole argument is faulty.
Let’s see how= Which is the most ancient Hindu text in existence? Every child knows the answer- Rigveda- Now when was Rigveda composed?? ? a hot topic among historians, but recent arguments place the date between 5000 – 10000 years. Even Marxist historians agree than Rigvedaa is at least 5000 year old! Now Sachin, you are saying Hinduism DID NOT exist in India during and after Budhas’s time!!! Which is merely 2500 years ago!!? Even Bhagavat Gita was composed much much before Budha’s times. So the naivety in your argument is breathtaking…… If Bhagavat Gita and Vedas existed 2500 years ago how can Hinduism not exist????
Earliest Indian civilisation unearthed by archaeologists is Indus valley civilisations. We still don’t know much about them –except for the fact that they were OUR ANCESTORS- but we do have various symbols and seals left by them. Google indus valley symbols and you will clearly see Shiva idols in pashupathi form ? Now we all know shiva is also called pashupathi (protector of cattle) – this is a very very ancient idea, as old as vedas. So indus valley people & civilisation actually worshipped Shiva- a Hindu deity- or a deity belonging to Sanatana Dharma. So your argument that Hinduism doesn’t exist in ancient India is simply wrong.
Yes our ancestors did not call them Hindus or their ‘religion’ as Hinduism- They simply called the land as Aryavartha or Bharatha varsha…. And their religious beliefs (including Budhist and Jainists) were firmly rooted on the concept of DHARMA and Karma- hence if you really want to ‘name’ their religion- you can call it Sanatana Dharma – or the eternal dharma.
Sure, the people of this Dharmic land had many deities, Indra and Agni (in vedas) and Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma etc in Puranas. This sanatana Dharma (or Hinduism as Iranians called it) is a huge confluence of ideas and philosophies. Everyone had the freedom to debate everything; hence we have various interpretations of God land life. Various sects formed based on various ideologies, shavites, vaishnavaites, Budhists etc. There were even atheist philosophers called Charvakas and Ajivikas. Unlike Semitic religions, there is NO blasphemy in Santana dharma- hence Ajivikas and Charvakas were NOT beheaded or impaled. Their religious schools survived till recent times- well, till the time of Delhi Sultanate and later Mughals! No surprises there....no prize for guessing what would have the “peaceful” invaders done to these Athist Hindu philosophers!!! -
The word Hindu-
First of all, lets define Hindu- who is a Hindu?- In modern times Hindu is synonymous with the 'Hindu religion'. Ancient Persians used to call the people who dwell beyond the river Indus as Hindus- why? Because In Persian language they use the word "Ha" instead of "Sa"- Hence Indian "Soma plant" becomes "Homa plant for Persians. Sindhu river (Indus) becomes Hindu river- and hence the civilisations that sprawled beyond S/Hindu river becomes Hind, and people Hindus-
Ancient Greeks again corrupted this word 'Hind" further- In ancient greek they tend to use the word "I" instead of "Hi" at times. So ancient Greeks called Hind as Ind, or India.
I personally prefer the term “Sanatana Dharma” to Hindu. It avoids so much confusion and doesn’t give a chance to Marxists/islamists/christians to question the antiquity of our culture and beliefs.
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