Pseudonym provide a peculiar opportunity. It provides the liberty to choose.
Maithreya and Bali both have unique significance in Indian political and cultural history. For the purpose of this blog, they provide counternarratives that can prove as windows to deconstruct Indian written and oral history.
Maithreya is one of the past ‘incarnations’ of Buddha. Bali is a demon king ( Asura in Indian mythology) who was revered for his benevolence in a particular part of India.
Buddha was ahead of his times in many ways. While most of the world civilizations was in a primitive form, Buddha provided a religion that is highly advanced to his times. He not only denied vedic rituals and animistic practices, he did away with a personal humanized ‘God’. His religion was atheistic in conception, and humanist to the core. He was not only advanced to his times, he was advanced for his followers themselves. When Buddha spread his teachings, much of the human settlements elsewhere were in a primitive state of existence- either barbaric or polytheistic. The monotheistic orders that sprang up in the West Asia much later- Judaism, Christianity and Islam- had a silly streak of ‘humanized’ God who was more of a personal auditors of mankind. As Richard Dawkins said, the God in the old testament is a jealous, unforgiving control-freak, a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; and a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, who is a genocidal, and malevolent bully. This kind of god with everyday emotions of man is a common phenomenon of deities of all ancient religion sans Buddhism.
As everywhere in the world, religions developed as a means of providing explanation to the phenomenon of the world around. God was the personification of the anxieties and fears of the ancient man. The early human revered all natural forms that is powerful and formidable than him as Gods. The animistic religion that worshipped snakes and rain and wolf and tiger were such a primitive conception of the world. Later, this multiplicity was reduced to few number of Gods as seen in trinity concept. Monotheists religions were a further refinement of the conceptual maturation of the human thinking. Atheism, on the contrary, was doing away with this final forms too. It requires tremendous amount of insight and bravado to propagate a quasi-atheistic philosophy when the fundamental requisites* of such an understanding was not existent. Buddha’s persuasion was powerful that we have documented history of a ruthless king like Ashoka getting converted to his fold as a pacifist who abjured violence and blood-shed. Such a transformation was unprecedented in the history past and future.
After 1000 to 1400 years of Buddhism-inspired rule in India, in the 8th century AD there came a massive Brahmanical revivalism that borrowed Buddhist philosophical insights to various denominations of Vedantic reinterpretations from monism to dualism. Buddhism-laced reintrepretations of the essentially animistic-polytheistic invocations of Vedas were rekindled to fire salvos at Buddhism itself. The vedantic reinterpretations of Brahmanical traditions tapped into the fissures of orthodoxy in Buddhism. The new philosophies of Vedanta colluded with local chieftains and revived the elitism of Brahmanical order. In this process thousands of Buddhists monastery were destroyed, monks were beheaded and cultural humiliation of the traditions of Buddhism was carried out in the mainland Indian subcontinent. The destruction of Buddhism was completed by the Turkish-Mongol hordes that invaded India in the 12 century onwards. Brahmanical revivalism established caste system, disallowed dissemination of literacy amongst the massed and created a society highly fragmented and immobile in the confabulation of Vedantic rhetoric. Anything linked with soil and tools were considered uncouth and was shunned for the hyperbolic Vedanthic rhetoric. As the vast section of the toiling population – the very section of population who were instrumental in the development of tools and technology that preceded the period of European industrialization – were cut-off from the instruments of accretion and dissemination of technological knowhow. Caste system that run an endogamous units- effectively prevented the advantage of population diversity to provide commensurate intellectual outputs to the community.
In many ways, destruction of Buddhist traditions from India was the return of a highly advanced civilization to the dark ages that ran for centuries together. While the Europe evolved from dark ages of the middle ages to the light of the renaissance, the Indian subcontinent devolved from the light of the Buddhist enlightenment to the dark ages of the Brahmanical revivalism. This is the singular most important factor that impeded the natural progress of Indian knowledge systems. It again led to the sociological fragmentation of the Indian society and led to India falling easy prey to the conquest by barbarian hordes from the Central Asia.
This linear mechanistic narrative of history is mostly silenced in Indian history textbooks. In the narrative of the Hindutva right-winger, this narrative is clearly a blind spot. They, on the contrary, have a heightened sensitivity to the stretch of history from the 12th century to 17th century when the central Asian invaders were decimating ‘Hindus’ from west to east. Indeed, the Mughals and the Turks decimated ‘Hindus’ of the Hindus Kush and further east, but this was only after the Brahmanical revivalists decimated culturally advanced Buddhists from its birth place in the Indian heartland to the peripheral margins extending from Thailand and Burma to China and Japan in the East. Therefore, when the Hindu right considers the Muslim in India as invaders, the Buddhist should consider Hindu revivalist as animistic-polythesistic barbarians who had set the clock backward in the Indian mainland.
Maithreya is a proud proclamation of the glorious agnostic-atheistic tradition of the Indian subcontinent, an announcement that the roots of Indian skepticism are quite firmly in India alone.
Bali is the mythical king who was supposed to have ruled Kerala. In the Hindu mythology, he is the son of Virochana and grandson of the Vishnu Bhakt Prahalada. He was a benevolent ruler who created a ‘welfare society’. The Gods, however, was jealous of his popularity and thought that his ambition would extend to the heaven as well. They petitioned Lord Vishnu, who incarnated as a Brahmin, Vaman, to deceive Bali. Vaman reached Bali’s court and asked for alms. Bali, in his generosity, promised to give anything he asked. Vaman asked for three foot of land. On receiving Bali’s promise, Vaman grew to a giant, and took one foot on the heaven and the other on the earth. Bali, never to waiver from his word, let Vaman take the third step on his head. Getting what he wants, Vaman plunged Bali to the hitherworld, Pathala. He gave Bali permission to visit his citizens once every year. Keralites celebrate Onam as the home-coming of their beloved ruler Bali.
This kind of celebration of an antihero as the hero is not unique to Kerala. Certain tribal groups in Bengal celebrate Mahisaura as their ancestor and mourn his death during the famed Durga puja of the mainstream Bengal. But what is unique of Kerala is that Onam is a mainstream festival of Kerala, and its celebration of the antihero is brazen and straight. Beyond the switching of the roles of hero and antihero, Kerala effects multiple switches that reveals a lot of his cultural history. It is one state that do not celebrate any of the mainstream Hindu festivals like Diwali ( Diwali being the home coming of Lord Rama) and Holi ( Holi being the celebration of slaying of another ‘Asura’ character). It is also a place where you don’t see the classical four-tier divisions of the Hindu caste system. On the contrary, the caste system in Kerala is two-tiered, Brahmins, the elite priestly scholarly class and Sutras, the lower caste who are ‘non-Aryans’. Some of the ‘sutras’ are given defacto-kshrathriya ( defacto-kinghood) status to rule the land. But for this to be sustained, the rulers have to provide generous alms to the Brahmins in periodic intervals ( mah?d?nams or great gifts in charity; this include a minimum 76.8 grams of gold to about 1000 Brahmins every six years to sustain the ‘Kshratriyahood’). Kerala is the last of abode of Buddhists who fled North India. Kerala, together with the neighboring state of Tamilnadu, is dotted with numerous places which bear the relics of Buddhist monasteries and sites of learning. There are even vestiges of Buddhist deities absorbed as Hindu godheads in uncanny stories of myth making. Kerala, also had the worst system of caste system perpetuated by Brahmin in the whole India. It also had the dubious distinction of having considered human beings as ‘pollutables’, a category of outcastes whose very site was ‘pollutable’. We shall look into the dynamics that underlay all these relationships in another section.
The fact that hero of a community is the anti-hero of another community is the play of perspective that is crucial in understanding the questions of right and wrong or truth or falsehood. It shows that cultural righteousness is just a ‘construction’ based on the bias of the dominant communities who were instrumental in developing the culture of that particular society. This kind of ‘alternative’ narratives is the crux of the technique of ‘deconstruction’. Deconstruction is an important tool employed in the development of ideas in this blog. Bali is the reminder of a character that is provides a window to the deconstruction of the cultural history of India.