1958, 27 May RU RAMNAGAR
HISTORY AND SUPERSTITION[partially corrected]
27 August 1958 RU, Ramnagar, INDIA
It is the Renaissance Universal convention.
Our subject today is “History and Superstition”.
Let me tell you at the very outset that the English word “history” and the Saḿskrta word itihása are not synonymous.
The chronological record of past events which is called “history” in English should be called itivrtta, itikathá, purávrtta or purákathá in Saḿskrta.
Itihása refers to the particular type of itivrtta or history which has great educative value.
Itihása is defined as:
Dharmárthakama moksá niitivákyasamanvitam
“The type of history which has the possibility of fulfilling physical longings, psychic longings, psycho-spiritual longings and spiritual longings, and which also imparts great moral education, should be called itihása.”
From this perspective, the Mahábhárata can certainly be regarded as itihása. But I do not subscribe to the views of those who are inclined to treat this great treatise as only an epic or educative story.
So, you understand now that the book called – “The History of India”, which is usually taught in schools and colleges, should not be called Bháratvarser Itihása, rather it should be called Bháratvarser Itikatha.
Those books which impart only moral education and have no relation to history are called puráńas.
Books of this type are useless in determining the facts of history. Rather, their exaggerated and imaginary information create confusion in the minds of the readers.
For instance, we can cite the case of the Rámáyańa. The Rámáyańa has great educative value, yet it is not history or itikathá.
Rather, it is a purańá, a myth.
All the characters in the Rámáyańa are imaginary.
The puspak chariot, the imaginary flying vehicle in the Rámáyańa, may mislead someone to believe that during the Rámáyańa period the people of India knew how to manufacture planes.
By reading such written records of our ancestors, many people today may misunderstand history and be misled into believing that the unreal is real, and thus indulge in superstition. This applies not only to the Rámáyańa or other famous mythological books.
Many stories and books of fiction are being wrongly treated as itihása, causing the seeds of superstition to penetrate deeply into the minds of contemporary readers.
There are many reasons why superstition takes root in the human mind. If we analyze these reasons, they can be divided into several categories – ignorance regarding history; ignorance regarding science; superstition caused by blind attachment; and superstition which has become habituated.
Today we will analyze the superstitions which arise due to ignorance regarding history.
First, let us discuss casteism. It is an undeniable truth that at the dawn of creation the earth was not inhabited by human beings. In the course of the introversial movement of the cosmic cycle of creation, plants first evolved out of the five fundamental factors, then underdeveloped creatures, and finally human beings.
Through the study of history it is known that about 1,000,000 years ago a species of semi-human beings emerged on the earth who were closely related to apes. These semi-humans were the tailless apes – gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, etc.
They were the early ancestors of human beings.
After studying the origin of the human race and tracing the earliest human ancestors, every educated person will have to admit that all human beings belong to this semi-human species.
No group of people can logically claim that their ancestors are superior to those of others. Every intelligent person will have to admit that the history of human lineage is created by human beings and is not divinely ordained.
As human beings originated from apes, all belong to one race.
Were the forefathers of brahmins monkey brahmins, and the forefathers of káyasthas monkey káyasthas?
Such a ludicrous concept will provide historians with amusing anecdotes.
In fact primitive people declared themselves members of the higher castes by verbal jugglery or defeating others in a battle of wits, and today their descendants claim this ancestral lineage.
Simultaneously, those who had little intellect were forced to accept positions as members of the lower castes.
Many people today speak of the so-called purity of blood. Let us also discuss this point.
If by purity, of blood people mean pure Aryan blood only, then I will ask, “Was there no racial blending among the non-Aryans and the Aryans who migrated to India from Central Asia and the North Pole?” Certainly, racial blending occurred among the Aryans and Indians.
This is the reason why the skin colour was gradually transformed into white, black or yellow as one traveled through different geographical areas; whoever made their migration to India.
In India we notice black coloured brahmins and white colored shúdras because of this mixture of Aryan, Dravidians & Austrics.
Some people support casteism by referring to books on caste history. Although many of the historical texts of the different castes were written in difficult Saḿskrta, one fundamental defect is apparent.
If the shlokas in these texts are accepted as true, one will be led to believe that one caste was born out of the mouth of the Supreme Entity, another from the middle of His body, and yet another from His feet.
Only those who are under the influence of intoxicants will accept such scriptures as authentic! Obviously, no human being can be born from the mouth.
Though it is philosophically accepted that the quinquelemental universe was created out of the vast cosmic body, it is foolish to imagine that the Cosmic Entity has a mouth, hands, thighs, legs, etc.
In fact this Rk Vedic shloka, which is a mere interpolation, has been used to perpetuate the defective concept of casteism.
Moreover, the meaning of this shloka has been distorted.
Bráhmańo’sya mukhamásiit váhurájanyo’bhavat;
Madhya tadasya yadvaeshyah padbhyáḿ shúdra ajáyata.
Actually, here brahmans [intellectuals] means those with a sentient nature and an intellectual disposition. Through allegory it is being suggested that intellectuals symbolize the mouth of the Cosmic Entity.
The warriors [[(rajahguńii)]] represent the valiant arms, the capitalists, merchants and traders [[(rajastamaguńii)]] represent the middle portion of the cosmic body, and the workers [[(tamoguńii)]] symbolize the feet. This is the proper interpretation of the shloka.
Numerous contradictions are also easily discernible in caste history.
For example, if caste history is strictly followed, one has to accept only ten categories of brahmins – five from North India and five from South India.
As other groups of brahmins do not fall into these ten categories, they will have to be declared as non-brahmins.
Besides this, different caste histories make it clear that in ancient times the custom of niyogprathá – that is, fathering a child by a woman other than one’s wife – was practiced extensively, and as a result promiscuity was widespread in society.
Moreover, in the Buddhist Age the rigidity of rastrism decreased, and the intermingling of castes became quite popular. In those regions where orthodox people tried to keep themselves aloof from caste mixing, various castes and sub-castes were formed.
Let me tell you an interesting story which will illustrate the contradictory nature of caste history.
In the caste history of the Bengal brahmins, it is mentioned that King Jayanta Shur brought five sincere brahmins from Kánya Kubha to Bengal.
These five brahmins are described as the forefathers of the millions of brahmins of Ráŕh and Barendrabhumi.
Did each of these five men marry a large number of Bengali girls, otherwise how could they have had so many descendants?
It is also stated that five shúdras came to Bengal along with the brahmins as their servants and became the ancestors of the káyasthas of Bengal.
Now, in the caste history of the káyasthas it is mentioned that King Jayanta Shur brought five warriors to Bengal from Kánya Kubha, and they are the forefathers of the káyasthas of Ráŕh and Barendrabhumi. These káyasthas were all chivalrous warriors, and came on horseback wearing leather shoes. Despite their capacity, they did not know how to cook, so five cooks accompanied them. These cooks became the forefathers of the brahmins of Ráŕh and Barendra.
Obviously the question arises, are such caste histories reliable?
According to the caste history of the káyasthas, Citragupta was the first ancestor of the káyasthas of Bengal.
All the káyasthas except four or five groups accept Citragupta as their first ancestor.
The amusing thing is that Citragupta is only an imaginary character. He is the mythological son of Brahma. It is stated in the caste history that Citragupta had twelve sons – Cáru, Sucáru, Citru, Citracáru, Aruńa, Yatiindraya, Himavána, Matimána, Bhánu, Vibhánu, Vishvabhánu and Viiryabhánu.
The twelve categories of kayasthas – ambaśt́ha, shriivastava, bhattanágara, máthura, sakhasená, ganda, súryadhvaja, valmiiki, kulashreśt́ha, aśt́hána, nigama and karana – arose out of these twelve sons. But the interesting thing is this.
The káyasthas belonging to these twelve categories had two hands, but their father Citragupta is depicted as having four hands holding thunder, a club, a fountain pen and an ink-pot.
Though Citragupta was supposed to be human, he was the record keeper of an invisible kingdom. I leave it to you to decide whether the episode of Citragupta is reliable or not.
There is an unhealthy tendency among some people in society to give credence to baseless stories and mythologies.
They do so because they are ignorant of history.
I have heard some people say that India was called “Bháratavarśa” after a mythological king, so the mythological king Bharata should not be regarded as false. But the facts of history are otherwise.
India was not named after so-called King Bharata. In fact, the term “Bháratavarśa” is much older than the story of King Bharata. People have been misled and confused because of the apparent similarity in the names.
Etymologically, bhara means “feeding the people” and “ta” means “expanding”.
So Bháratavarśa means “a land which can readily supply food and shelter to its population, and easily facilitate the unhindered psycho-spiritual development of its population.”
Varśa means “land”.
Often the nomadic Aryans, who were used to living in an inhospitable environment arrived in the fertile, prosperous land of Bharata, they were so overwhelmed with the abundant wealth, warm climate, lush vegetation and verdant beauty of the country, “Bháratavarśa”.
It was Aryans who named, according to one’s special qualities or characteristics. For example, the Aryans noticed innumerable pebbles and stones the colour of blackberries in the northwestem region of India, so they called it “Jambudwipa”.
The region had two large lakes, so they called this area “Dvigarttabhúmi”. Gartta means “lake”. As the northern part of India was inhabited by people of the Kash tribe, the area was called “Kashmeru”. Meru means “land” or “geographical area”.
Thus, because the Aryans considered that Bharatavarsa possessed wonderful qualities and vast resources, they came it to be known has “Bháratavarsa”. This name has nothing to do with the mythological king Bharata.
A group of people attach much importance to the traditional men’s custom of wearing a pigtail on the back of the head and the sacrificial thread across the body. They believe that a man cannot be considered virtuous unless he follows these two practices.
In ancient times, when the nomadic groups of so called Arya migrated and settled in Bharata, the country were indigenous population, Dravidians and Mongolian were naturally living. Later, there was racial mixing among the Dravidian, Aryans and Mongolian.
Eventually there was so much social blending that it was impossible to determine, who were the torchbearers of one culture and who were not.
How can there possibly be any relation between these external rituals and the observance of rituals?
Regarding the custom of wearing a sacrificial thread, one can easily find a connection between an ordinary cotton thread and one’s internal spiritual elevation. The fact is that the Aryas – who migrated from the northern part of Central Asia and Russia – were very inclined by nature to drinking.
Even after the Aryas came, during the Vaedic Age of India, they maintained some of their customs and traditions which can still be found in Central Asia of today.
In that undeveloped age of science, the Aryas has many tribes and races, who were basically animists. They considered the various natural forces as expressions of a divine entity, and attributed all their fortune and misfortune to these deities.
In order to save themselves from natural calamities, they used to chant hymns, offer their favorite food and burn sacrificial wood to propitiate their gods. This is how the custom of yajiṋas or sacrifices and the practice of offering ghee, animal flesh and other favorite food items arose among the Aryas.
As the colour of clouds and smoke appear similar, the Aryas incorrectly thought that the smoke rising from their sacrificial fires would climb high in the sky, form clouds and bring down rain. The Aryas wrongly thought that the diseases which originated and spread from stinking, filthy places could be counteracted by the scented smoke of sacrificial fires.
Goaded by mundane considerations, the undeveloped Aryas engaged in sacrificial rituals in an age of primitive science. Unfortunately, today a group of people still think that unless sacrificial rituals are performed, religious practices remain incomplete.
The five categories of brahmin priests – hotlá, rtvik, udgátá, adhvaryu and bráhmana, who engaged in sacrificial rituals were supposed to perform their religious duties with perfect calmness and mental serenity. This is how the Aryas expected their priests to conduct themselves.
Obviously, the priests of socalled Arya religion would scrupulously avoid drinking alcohol and shun the company of drunkards during a ritual or sacrifice started wearing a pig tail. To keep themselves aloof from drunkards, they used to wear a piece of deer skin across their left shoulder as a distinguishing mark. As this symbol was used during sacrificial rituals, it was called a yajinopaviita.
Likewise, when the priests wore the same symbol on the right shoulder during oblations to their departed forefathers, it was called a práciiráviita.
When they suspended the same symbol around their necks, it was called a niviita.
Women were entitled to perform religious sacrifices, therefore it can be presumed they also wore a yajinopaviita.
Later on, after deer had become somewhat scarce and the Aryas had come in acquainance with cotton, found in India, the custom of wearing a deer skin was replaced with the custom of wearing a cotton thread.
Subsequently, it became a part of their religious practice to always wear a cotton thread over the left shoulder.
Whatever might have been the importance of sacrificial rituals and a sacrificial thread to the ancient Aryas, today in this relatively developed age of science, where people fight against natural calamities through their intellectual power and developed technology and no longer propitiate deities by offering ghee to sacrificial fires, whether or not the custom of wearing a yajinopaviita is useful should be decided by the intelligentsia.
Many people become confused and indulge in various superstitions because they do not have a proper understanding of the correct meaning of words.
I have often seen people debating over useless, trivial matters such as whether Shiva or Krśńa is greater, or Rama or Narayana is greater.
The word Rama is derived from the Saḿskrta root verb ram. Etymologically, Rama means “the entity who is the embodiment of bliss” – that is, Puruśottama.
Narayana is a combination of two words – nara and ayana. Nará means Prakrti or “the Supreme Operative Principle” and ayana means “shelter”.
So Narayana means the shelter of the Supreme Operative Principle – that is, Supreme Consciousness. Thus Rama and Narayana are merely two names of one and the same Entity.
Similarly, the word Krśńa is derived from the Saḿskrta root verb krś. Krśńa means “the entity who attracts the entire universe towards Himself”, – that is, Puruśottama.
Similarly, the word Shiva means “the Supreme Consciousness.”
Hence, Shiva and Krśńa are only the two names of one and the same Entity.
So where is the scope for wrangling over this issue?
It is only due to their ignorance of etymology that people engage in unnecessary debates and arguments over the correct meaning of words and divide society.
If all human beings are the offspring of the Supreme Entity, how is it possible for only Muslims to be the favourite children of Allah and Hindus of Narayana?
The fact is that all the created objects in this universe are the children of Parama Brahma – all are His finite manifestations.
Nobody is inferior – nobody is insignificant.
All are bound by the ties of fraternity. We will have to move forward, shoulder to shoulder, together with all.
No one will benefit if human beings remain confined within the quagmire and filth of ignorance or the foggy atmosphere of superstition.
Superstition and a false sense of superiority will only pave the way for annihilation of human race.