Ravidas: 'Flowering above the World of Birth'

 

Gail Omvedt

 (An excerpt from the book 'Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste')

While Nandanar has become well-known only in Tamil Nadu and has had no recorded influence on other bhakti sants, the Chamar or leatherworker, Ravidas, who lived in the 15th century, is one of the most famous of sants in north India and has influenced many others. Many of his songs survive in some form or the other. There are countless stories about him and he is widely known as one of the greatest of saguna devotees, i.e., devotees of God 'with form', who take Shiva or Ram or Krishna or one of the many incarnations of Vishnu as their personal deity.

Ravidas is associated with the other great north Indian sant, Kabir, in a story where a great debate between them is represented as a saguna versus nirguna (without qualities) devotion debate. He is also linked to the Rajput princess Mirabai, most famous of the women devotees, who took him as her guru. His compositions are included in the Adi Granth, the scriptures of the Sikh community (Hawley and Juergensmeier 1988: 9–23).

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The return to Muthanga

C.K Janu and M. Geethanandan

(Written in May 2003)

The Adivasi decision is to return to Muthanga. The Adivasis had become victims of untold brutalities. Yet there is no other way but to return. And the Adivasis have been made refugees in their homeland. There are the spirits of the dead in the forestlands of Muthanga. Not only Jogi, but also the bodies and souls of all those who had lived here as one with nature have merged irrevocably with the soil. None can separate them now. Anyone who enters Muthanga can see the scattered coins in front of the Sacred Temple at Thakarappady. There is also a splintered bamboo there. This was the hundi ( Coin collection box) of the Adivasis, smashed by the police officers and the goondas as though it was some part of the weaponry of the Adivasis. No one would pick up the coins. These coins representing the beliefs and dreams would still be there when they return....

Those Who See the Theyyam*....and Those Who Hear Also...

2-3 January 2003: Adivasis who commenced their journey from various villages from different parts of Wayanad district belonging to different communities assemble at Pulithookky and Thiruvannur colonies. Pulithookky is a colony ravaged by hunger deaths. Pulithookky has been in the news in full glare. Those who reached Pulithookky – the aged, the ailing, the women, the youth, those who stopped their formal studies, the infants – came for a new life.

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I, E.V. Ramaswamy

[On the occasion of Periyar's death anniversary (24th December), we remember him through some select quotes from his speeches and writings-- Round Table India]

Periyar

'I, E.V. Ramaswamy, have taken upon myself the task of reforming Dravidian Society so that it shall be comparable to other societies of the world, in esteem and enlightenment, and I am solely devoted to that service.

I express, plainly and openly, thoughts which occur to me, and which strike me as right. This may embarrass a few; to some this may be distasteful; and a few others may even be irritated; however, all that I utter are proven truths and not lies.

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Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 8)

Translated by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar

Chapter 4

We begin this chapter not by discussing at first the ruined and pitiable state of the toiling ignorant farmers who labour night and day on the land, but rather will give on the occasion an idea of the true condition of those arrogant parading, indebted ignorant Kunbis who, because of having some mother's grandfather's aunt or father's great-grandfather's daughter given in marriage to an excellent expensive son of the Shindes or Gaikwads, beat the drums of being "Maratha" among the farmers of Mali, Kunbi, Dhangar etc. castes. 

One landowner was returning to his village in great anger from the tent of the Collector Saheb's office, pumping his arms and legs furiously, clashing his teach and chewing tobacco as he strode among the thickly grown airy mango groves along the airy banks of the river. Aged around 40, his spirit showed few signs of breaking down. Though he had a white, well-wrapped turban on his head, a torn cloth was tied over it. He was dressed in breeches and an undershirt of khadi and old fancy Satari blunt-nosed shoes on his feet. A coarse cotton cloth was flung on his shoulder and a red cotton bag hung over that; nearly all these clothes were sprinkled with drops of reddish yellow Holi colors. While the heels of his boots were thick and strong, he was limping a bit because they had cracked open in some places from the heat. The bones of his hand were thick and his chest broad. His big mustache and beard covered his two decayed teeth. His forehead and eyes were expansive and his irises were a reddish brown color. He had a light skin and a fine overall countenance, though his face was a bit round. After reaching his house around two o'clock and finishing his meal, he went into the middle room with the intention of taking a little rest, and took a rug from the swing, threw it to cover the ground covering his face with linen, lay down to sleep with a coarse woolen shawl. But troubled since he had awoken in the morning, had met the Collectorsaheb, and "since he was stupefied in the throes of his tea and dining, he did not hear my true story and fix a time limit for my installment," he could not sleep. So lying supine with his two hands on his chest, he began to almost rave to himself in his mind: --

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The Self-creation of the Brahmans

Gail Omvedt

 

[An excerpt from the chapter 'The Background to Buddhism' in her book, 'Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste']

Indian Brahmans as they have evolved over the centuries represent one of the most unique elites that any society has produced. They trace their origins back to Vedic times, where they were priests of the sacrifice, and it was as priests, intellectuals and possessors of the Vedas that they appear in the middle of first millennium BCE society. However, it would be a mistake to see the Brahmans, identified as a social group in the first millennium BCE, in 'essentialist' terms, as lineal descendents of Vedic priests, just as it is a mistake to take the Khattiyas as descendents of Vedic warriors or rajanyas. Both claimed purity of descent, but this was a self-serving mythologising.

Thapar has argued that Brahmans of non-Aryan origin were attested to in legends of sages such as Agasthya and Vasistha who are said to have been born from jars and of a Rig Vedic seer being described as dasiputrah or 'son of a slave' (Thapar 1984: 52). Some Pali texts, for example the Ambattha Suttanta (see Chapter 3) indicate that they may also have included illegitimate offspring of the Khattiyas. Even the Upanishads show that an occasional man of questionable birth could be accepted as a disciple and taken into the line of 'Brahmans'; for instance, in the Chandogya Upanishad, Satyakama Jabala's mother tells him, 'Darling, I do not know what lineage you belong to. I got you in my youth, when I travelled about a great deal as a servant' (Upanisads 2000: 174).

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Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal

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[What is the 'Dalit Prerna Sthal'? What is its purpose? Why was it built? The inscription shown in the picture above, displayed prominently in the  'Rashtriya Dalit Smarak' (picture below), provides many of the answers. We are publishing here the full text of the inscription for our readers. It was copied by hand, so some inaccuracies might have inadvertently crept in. We shall correct the errors, if any, as and when we get access to an official copy of the text. We thank Bhanu Pratap Singh for both the text and the pictures- Round Table India.]  

 

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Religion: Untouchable Lincoln

"Hinduism is not a religion; it is a disease."

One of the few men who have risen from the malodorous sink which is below the lowest caste of India is Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, No. 1 Untouchable. This plump, cheery, bespectacled man of no caste, whose very shadow would outrage high-caste Hindus, managed to get a good education in Indian Government schools, was staked to courses at the University of London and Columbia University by the highly democratic Gaekwar of Baroda. Dr. Ambedkar is probably the only man alive who ever walked out in a huff from a private audience with the Pope of Rome. His Holiness Pius XI having heard from Dr. Ambedkar about the miseries of Indian outcastes, replied: "My son, it may take three or four centuries to remedy these abuses, be patient."

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