Saturday, April 27, 2013

How original meanings are lost?

To see how words lose their original meaning in the course of the time is an interesting thing in itself.  The words, names or even epithets those were used in the past find completely opposite meaning in today’s vocabulary. The changes can be attributed to the socio-cultural strife taking place intermittently in the human history and to the changing faiths with the time. Let us go through few examples to make our point:

1.  Asur: we use this word as a synonym for demon or evil being. Indian mythology contains hundreds of the stories of eternal warfare between Deva’s (Gods) and Asura’s. Per mythology, Deva’s and Asura’s were brothers but took separate path opposing each other as to who shall rule the earth and fought incessantly.

In pre-Rig the Vedic period, Asur didn’t mean anyway an evil being. Original meaning of “Asur” is Full of the Life, gallant or supreme Power. This meaning was retained in early Rigvedic verses, however, as the enmity between Zoroastrians and Vedics. Zoroastrians kept on revering Ahur (Asur) whereas Vedics gradually started defaming it. The highly revered Vedic God Varuna’s main epithet in the beginning was “Asura”. Same epithet is used respectfully for Agni, Indra and Mitra sometimes in the ancient body of Rig Veda. In a way Rig Vedic Asura's are exalted God's!

Then how come that the very term “Asura” took opposite meaning in the later times is a question that needs to be answered.

Vedic religion was originally an offshoot of the Asura culture that had flourished in Afghanistan and later in North India. Asura’s were prominently Shaivait and idolatrous whereas Vedic religion was centered about the sacrificial fire worship. However, as no new religion immediately can cut off its past links from which it has emerged, few faiths are retained, as seen with Judaism and Islam. Hence Asura term was retained with its original meaning, but as strife grew between old and new faiths and Asura became sworn enemies of the Vedic’s it was but natural that they started defaming Asura’s and dropped the epithet in new compositions of the Veda’s.

                                             (Asura's as depicted in the sculptures) 

This is how “Asur” word took entirely opposite meaning in later literature of the Vedic people. However this word in Avestan form “Ahur” (Asur) maintained same divine position throughout.

In course of the time, people belonging to Asura culture, though retained their Shaivait faith, too accepted new meaning of the term because hoards of Vedic literature denounced Asura’s in every possible mythical story. 

Still the fact remained that Asura’s were devotees of Lord Shiva, received various boons after sever penance from him and destroyed sacrificial fires of the Vedic people as much as possible.

So change in the meaning of the term “Asura” gives us insight in the cultural conflict that took place in India in historic times. However, we need to rethink on the term as Vedic rituals have been seized since at least last two millenniums. Shaivait tradition still is in its full force, then why we should not take original meaning of Asura and pay homage to our forefathers instead of defaming them taking opposite meaning of the Asura?

If we look at the history of Asura Kings like Maha Bali, Jarasangha, Banasura etc. we find them powerful emperors spreading their culture in Central North-East Asia. They were just kings having their original Shaivait faiths.  Philosophers like kapil, Shukracharya and many others (including many Upanishadik seers) were from Asura clan. Even today we can find most of the Shiva temples are named after Asura's. It was a distinct culture that is retained even today...and still if we are associating "Asura" with bad elements then it is our grave mistake. 

2. Durodhana, Dusshasana etc. : Duryodhana and his brothers are painted in dark shades in Mahabharata. All blames for causing Great War of Mahabharata are showered upon them, especially Duryodhana. I have discussed Duryodhana here, so let’s go to the meaning of Duryodhana and also of Dusshasana. 

a.     Duryodhana originally means “He, who cannot be conquered.”
b.     Dusshaasana originally means “Impossible to be ruled over”

Now if we look at the original meaning of the names, what is bad about it?

Still the names are taken as the bad names. Bhishma, it is said in some epical versions, preferred to address Duryodhana as “Suyodhana”.

And we praise Bhishma for his so-mush-so kindness. But the phrase Suyodhana means “Easy to conquer”. Isn’t in fact the term defames Duryodhana?

How could, none asked, Royal parents would name their off springs that has bad meaning?  

No. Dhritarashtra and Gandhari were intelligent enough how to name their kids. They had named them with right names that had glorious meaning.

But as Kaurava’s had to be proven villains from every aspect, meaning of their names were inferred quite opposite than what it originally meant!  

Similar thing has happened with the term “Raksasa”.

For over two millenniums Raksasa has become synonym of Demon, an evil being having tremendous mysterious powers that harms human life.

But actual meaning of the word “Raksasa” is “Protector” or He, who saves!

Change in the meaning of this term finds its roots in the cultural history that we have seen in the case of the Asura’s.

 This is how words remain same but the meaning attached to it changes over the time because of socio-cultural strife and what is implied by the mythical and other literature over and again, thus original meaning is lost!

-Sanjay Sonawani

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Shunga dynasty and Sanskrit….

Pushyamitra Shunga is respectfully applauded by Vedic people for his greatest ever achievement that he revived Vedic religion that was almost vanished from India because of dominance of Buddhism. As per Punanik texts he conducted two horse sacrifices to revive Vedic rituals after coming into the power. This fact also evidenced by Kalidasa’s famous play “Malavikagnimitra”. Chief protagonist of the play Agnimitra was immediate successor of Pushyamitra, probably his son.

Pushamitra was General of Mauryan King Brihadratha. He assassinated Brihadratha and assumed power. Many scholars state that he had complete apathy towards Buddhism, so much so that he mass-massacred thousands of Buddhist monks and destroyed many monasteries.

Even if considered above being sheer exaggeration of the facts, there has been no doubt among any historian that Pushyamitra was anti-Buddhist and reviver of almost dead Vedic religion.

If this is a fact it poses few questions:

First, if Pushyamitra was reviving Vedic religion, which language he would have chosen to be his Court language?

In all probabilities answer will be “Sanskrit.”

Sanskrit is thought to be very ancient language. The language Vedic people revere for its being divine and perfect one! Supposing, since Ashoka was follower of the Buddhism, he chose Prakrit as official language of his Court, wouldn’t Pushyamitra do naturally quite opposite?

Wouldn’t he select divine Sanskrit over Prakrit to be his official language as he was reviving ancient Vedic religion?

But this is not a case at all!
Pushyamitra came into the power in 185BCE and acted as defacto King (he never assumed title of the king, continued his previous title “Senapati”…i,e. Commander of Army.) till his death! (149 BCE)

 During his reign of almost 36 years had he used Sanskrit as his official language wouldn’t be there some proofs in the form of any inscription? There is no such proof!

His contemporary kings, like Kharvela, still were using Prakrit and ample proofs are available to support this fact, like Hathigumpha inscriptions. Prakrit still was dominant language of social and royal communication.

Agnimitra, who succeeded Pushyamitra in the year 149 BC, struck his own coins. Pushyamitra may not have circulated his coins because he never assumed title of the king in his life. But his son Agnimitra’s some coins have been found in Mathura region.

The coin gives startling proof! The name “Agnimitra” punched on the coin is “Agi Mittasa”. This is Prakrit form of the name!

This does only imply that Agnimitra too used Prakrit as his official language.

This may not be enough. Other king from the lineage of Shunga dynasty, Danabhuti, (he is also thought to be a feudatory of Shunga, not king himself) too have used Prakrit form of his name. In Bharhut inscription, in mention to a donation his name appears as "Vacchiputa Dhanabhuti". Also in another Bharhut inscriptions Shungas are mentioned as "Sugana raaje" (During the period of Shunga's), in Prakrit language. 

Now let us deal with other proof. We know that Heliodorus was a Greek ambassador appointed in Shunga court. Bhagabhadra was ruling king of those times. Heliodorus, near Shunga capital Vidisha, erected a Garuda pillar in honor of Vasudeva in 110 BCE

There are two inscriptions on the pillar engraved in Prakrit language using Bramhi script.  

Since a royal emissary used Prakrit language in the inscription, it does mean that the official language of Shunga dynasty was Prakrit and none else.  Otherwise a foreign Ambassador wouldn’t have used that language.

 Shunga’s at one hand are called reviver of Vedicism and at other they do not apply Sanskrit of any form as their royal language raises a serious question, did Sanskrit exist then?

This is because till 160 AD, no Sanskrit inscription is to be found throughout the country. There is no trace of any kind of Sanskrit (Chandas or Bhasha) being part of social or political life till middle of second century AD.

Then another question arises, if Pushyamitra conducted Horse Sacrifice as per Vedic ritual, in which language were Veda’s then? We always have been told that Veda’s and Vedic literature was preserved by oral tradition through millenniums in itself becomes a lie. Entire absence of any Sanskrit or Sanskrit-like language, even in the reign of Vedic dynasty points out to this startling fact.

Then why after 160 AD gradually from hybrid sanskrit to classical Sanskrit inscriptions and written literature starts floating, dominating even Prakrit languages?

The answer is because Sanskrit was still in making during this period! It didn’t exist prior to, at least, first century AD. As sanskrit was developed it started getting royal patronages and gradually became language of inscriptions and literature during Gupta period...still in the beginning inscriptions were bilingual i.e. Prakrit and Sansktrit. Inference can be drawn that Sanskrit was still a new language to the people hence needed bilingual texts.   

-Sanjay Sonawani
Ref.: 1. Coins of Ancient India:From the earliest Times Down to the Seventh Century- By Alexander Cunningham
2. Between the Empires : Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE- By  Austin Patrick Olivelle Alma Cowden Madden 

-See also:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Marriage: An Artificial Institution

Marriage is an artificial institution invented by the human being in an order to put female-kind in permanent slavery. There was a time in human history when there were no marriages.  Sexual relations were as free as we find in the animals. In a way, when the human being was leading a tribal life, women of all ages were treated as a common property. During this era, it is believed by the Anthropologists that the females carried more importance over men folks because of her productive abilities. The fertility cults all over the globe originated out of the awe towards mystic abilities of the women. 

But as human civilization entered into the agrarian and settled life, like right over the land, he invented new social order called marriage to establish “ownership over the woman” to prove his right over the children produced from her. This was essential to him as he needed successors to continue rights over the land property perpetually.  In a way, man established a relationship between the productive land and productive woman. It was in a way an ancient capitalism employed in the social life. Religion had no hand in it. Rather all the religious concepts about the marriage emerged quite later. Prior to that, we can say that it just was a practical remedy to the material problems faced by the people.

We can find above assumption true as women used to be called as “Seeta” (Land) in Vedic era. Rama’s consort was named “Seeta” because she was found to Janaka when he was furrowing his farm. There was another reason to this.  Women were fertile and so was the land. If produce from the farms could be owned by the owner of the land, naturally offspring’s too meant to be owned by the man who seeded the woman to have them. Emerging of this thought to deployment in social order must have taken considerable time. In the transitional period, we find several types of the social orders, matriarchal and patriarchal being the major. However, the main purpose remained the same to which we call “marriage institution.”

In the beginning males could marry as many women they wanted, similarly, women too could marry as many men as they desired. Society in a way was divided into either matriarchal society or patriarchal society. We find many instances of co-existence of both the systems in Mahabharat era. However, we find that the issue of adequate inheritance became a major hurdle in carrying out the polyandry or polygamy. Both the systems had their own problem, male-female population balance being one. We find that wherever female population, at the particular time was reduced drastically, polyandry seems to have been encouraged. However, we trace that the polygamy continued but matriarchal system almost lost its original position as the society became male dominating.    

Thus, the patriarchal system of society finally won and a dark age for women began.  In this era, the religion played a major role in providing sanctity to the marital ties, making it a divine union.

Still, there was not any place for love between husband and wife. Husband could offer his wife to the guests, sages or anyone he thought could yield religious fruits to his benefit. Wife had no right to deny her husband’s orders, no matter how absurd those could be. This was because the wife was his absolute physical property and he could even sell her as a slave in bad times or wage her in dice games. Individual wishes or sentiments of the woman had almost no role in the society of those times. We can say that the religion was completely favoring males over the women. 

Not only over the wife, husband had absolute right over children as well. He could sell them too, as a slave or sacrificial beast and religion had full support to such deeds. We find many instances of child-selling in Mahabharata and other religious texts like Aitareya Brahmana.  

In the disguise of virtues, women were put in more and more tactful bondages. No matter what the circumstances, “wife must not even think of the other man even in her dreams” like theories were propagated through new myths. One myth that everyone knows that is of Jamdagni asking to behead his wife Renuka at the hands of his children, because she felt momentary sexual attraction towards other man bathing in the river.

Such myths inadvertently were stamped on the mindset of the women that “Purity” became the highest virtue over all others.

Medieval India witnessed a gruesome dark age that put women in the brutal clutches of male society. Hundreds of restrictions were imposed upon her. Child marriages were a part of it. Man of any age could marry 7-8 year old girl. The young wives were forced to immolate themselves in the funeral pyre with the corpse of their husband. Cruelty knew no bound when it came to the women.

Indian society occasionally experienced social equality and freedom for both the genders where sex was not considered despicable. The States ran brothels. There were festivals dedicated to the young boys and girls to facilitate their union with freedom to choose the partner. Even extramarital affairs were not considered unchaste. The sexual attraction of married women towards strangers had become favorite subjects of the poets. in "Gatha Saptashati" we find many verses dedicated to such relations but nowhere they are condemned. 

But this did not last longer. The clutches of male dominance caused by religious sanctions took over the free social system and dark age began.

In modern times, we find women have got more freedom. But still are they really free? The character of women is always under minute inspection than of the male. Still, wives are harassed. Women of young and old age are raped. Violence against the female is at constant growth.

The root cause of such evil is artificial marriage Institution.  Marriage essentially makes the woman a slave of her husband, no matter how sacred verses are chanted and oaths whispered of equality at the moment of the marriage. No equality is practiced…wife instantly becomes a secondary to the husband! No religion on this earth is an exception.

It is almost forgotten that women too possess same sensuous feelings as a man do. She too has the same urge of the freedom like a man. There is nothing like religious sanctity or virtues when it comes to the answering call of the heart. Religion rather has brutally crushed the freedom of the women. Men started deciding what women should think. How she should behave and act. In fact, this is not the business of menfolk, but to respect freedom of the women. The social order would be better if women are free from social restrictions and expectations. She has every right to decide on her sexual priorities and all other things those concern her own life. 

She is not at all an instrument to produce legal heirs to the man against her desires. In fact, the marriage institution has lost its significance in the modern era. Even if she or he marries, both has equal rights to establish conjugal relations with any other person of their liking and choice.

Feminist movements naturally are against male dominance. Sometimes,  they too go to the extreme, so much so that they want to eliminate entire male race from the earth!

How to establish real equality between men and women is a major question before our modern society.