I Have already given sufficient hints in the last issue that Comrade Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya possessed his own peculiar view on the tradition of Indian philosophy. He gave clean-chit to at least two philosophical systems, namely Purva Mimamsa and Naya-Vaisesika as materialist which were originated from the Vedas or at least declared their allegiance to the Vedas. He did not give much importance to Yoga since it was not a philosophy proper. The history of Samkhya philosophy we have already discussed according to the view of Debiprasad who did not accept this philosophy as a Vedic one. Therefore, there is only one Vedic philosophy left which Debiprasad declared as an out and out idealistic and that is Vedanta or Uttar Mimamsa. Along with that he added another philosophy, although non-Vedic in nature, in the list of idealist system, i.e. Mahayana Buddhism. Therefore he declared in the beginning of his another remarkable work, “What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy”: “At the same time when it comes to the question of a serious philosophical defense of idealism, the Advaita Vedantists eagerly borrow from the Mahayana Buddhists, just as the latter show no hesitation to work out the fundamental suggestions of the Upanisads, normally considered the scriptures of their aliens. This philosophical fraternity between the Vedantists and Buddhists is liable to be overlooked by us if we are misled by the face value of their own sectarianism.” Now let us see how Debiprasad described the fundamental tenets of the above mentioned philosophies and why he identified those as the most prominent idealist systems. I shall start with the Advaita Vedanta.

Debiprasad has divided the philosophical systems in idealist and materialist lines depending on the single issue, that is, whether the system recognizes the existence of the material world or not. The Vedanta philosophy opines that the material world is nothing but an illusion. We have already come to know that the Vedas are divided into four distinct portions, namely, Sanhitas, Brahmanas, Aryanakas and Upanisadas or Vedanta. The Vedic idealism took shape for the first time in the Upanisadas. Here, for the first time it was categorically asserted that actually there was nothing in this world but only Brahmo, the supreme idea due to which every creation was made possible. Whatever we see in this phenomenal world actually is nothing but only the manifestation of the Brahmo. However, we cannot recognize those as the one and same Brahmo due to our ignorance. Similarly all the human beings, or jibatman are actually another manifestation of the Brahmo or Paramatman.  Due to this monism the dominant school of the Vedanta is called Advaita Vedanta.

There are many Upanisadas so far discovered. The number might be around one hundred and eight. However, out of that only eleven Upanisadas are most important and sufficiently archaic in nature. Many Upanisadas are composed in the later period. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisada attributed idealist philosophy based on the concept of the Brahmo to one ancient sage called Yajnavalkya. Debiprasad wrote: “Such a philosopher is the great Yajnavalkya who declares that reality is just a mass of consciousness [vijnanaghana]. It can neither be grasped by the normal organs of knowledge nor described in normal language.” [What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy]

The same conception we can find in other major Upanisadas also. Apart from the Upanisadas another important source of Advaita Vedanta is Brahmosutra composed by some Badrayana. Later, in the eighth century CE, Acharya Samkara wrote a detailed commentary on Brahmosutra which actually became the main source of Advaita Vedanta philosophy. Although the Advaita tradition is pre-Buddhist and many Acharyas came into succession to uphold the view and establish it firmly into the people’s mind, Samkara became most prominent philosopher in this series. The upsurge of Samkara is described by Debiprasad in the following manner:

“In the subsequent history of Indian idealism, Advaita Vedanta becomes the most dominant philosophy, largely because of the marked decline of interest in philosophy proper among the Mahayana Buddhists after Santaraksita. The great prestige of Advaita Vedanta in later history of Indian philosophy is associated with the activities of Samkara, who is either a direct disciple of Gaudapada or a disciple of his disciple. Born in a village in Kerala he extensively travels in India and founds four monastic establishments in four corners of the country, the heads of which still bear the general title Samkara-acharya. In founding these monasteries, Samkara follows the organizational principles of the famous Buddhist monasteries which have provisions for wholetime religious and philosophical propagandists. In the context of his own times the establishments of these monasteries is surely an evidence of his exceptional organizational abilities, inclusive of his ability of mobilizing huge financial support for the purpose. Such organizational activities apart, his literary output is undoubtedly voluminous, just as the literary quality of his writings is exceptionally high. For sheer charm of lucid Sanskrit prose, none in Indian philosophy perhaps ever equals Samkara. And yet Samkara does not live a very long life. Born in AD 788, he dies at the age of only thirty-two. Judged by sheer personal gifts, therefore, this young philosopher has indeed a very imposing stature in the cultural history of the country.” [ibid]

This is an important fact, though Debiprasad did not give much importance to it, that all the major philosophies propagated by the Aryans, be it Vedic [namely Advaita] or non-Vedic [namely Buddhist], had started philosophical discourses with ignorance. Samkara also started his discourse with ignorance and “this behavior has for its material cause an unreal nescience and man resorts to it by mixing up reality with unreality as a result of superimposing the things themselves or their attributes on each other.”[Brahmosutravasya— Samkaracharya]. In Vedanta this superimposition is called nescience or avidya. Now, what is the consequence of avidya? As the result of this nescience lay persons perceive the material world and assume that it is real. According to Advaita this is the starting point of all problems.

But how can the felt reality actually be unreal? Here, the Advaita Vedantists reply that it is due to avidya a false perception takes place which is called Maya. Just as it is only because of ignorance that one saw a snake where there was just a piece of rope. Similarly the entire material world which we perceive is nothing but sense-illusion or Maya. However, the illusion is also a reality, but a different one. For a Vedantist illusion or Maya is illusory reality or pratibhasika-satta. But what about the perception of the rope in the rope? According to the Advaita Vedantists it is nothing but vyavaharika-satta or existence from the point of view of practical life. From the point of view of absolute reality both are false but the degree of their falseness differs. Debiprasad wrote: “The former [perception of a snake in the rope] not to speak of having any ultimate reality, could not serve even the purpose of practical life while the latter, though equally bereft of ultimate reality, could and did serve these purposes. From the point of view of ultimate reality or the paramarthika-satta both were of course utterly false, and as such, it would be wrong to imagine that the rope perceived in the rope had any more reality about it. In other words, there were degrees of untruth and unreality, though these were not to be confused with degrees of truth and reality. For there was nothing real excepting the Brahman and the whole structure of practical existence was false and unreal.”[Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya: Indian Philsophy]

Now, the question is why the Vedantists consider everything related to the material world is unreal?

No clear answer of this question is ever given in Vedanta, but there are enough indications. And Debiprasad too, did not pay much attention to it. However, it is an important subject which we must understand in order to follow the discussion of Debiprasad about the Indian career of Idealism. Let me quote a debate between Samkara and his opponent on a Sutra in Brahmosutra of Badrayana.

 The Sutra is: “Ante Caracagrahanat!”[He is the eater who consumes all that moves and does not move]. Now the question is, “who is the eater?” Samkara was in the opinion that the Eater was the supreme Self. Then the doubt was raised: “We read in Kathopanisad: ‘How can one know thus as to where It [the Self] is, for which both the Brahmana and the Ksatriya become rice [food] and for whom death takes the place of a curry [or ghee etc. poured in rice]?’ [I.ii.25]. Here we appraised of some eater indicated by the mention of rice and its adjunct [curry]. Now who can this eater be? Is it fire or the individual soul, or is it the supreme Self? This is the doubt, for no conclusive distinction is in evidence, and it is seen in this book that questions are put [to Death by Nachiketa] with regard to three entities——— Fire, individual soul, and the supreme Self. What should be the conclusion then?

So the Opponent said: “The eater is Fire. Why? Because this is gathered from the familiar use in such text as, ‘Fire is the eater of food’ [Brihadaryanaka Upanisada, I.iv.6], as well as common parlance. Or the individual soul may be the eater, for there is the text, ‘One of them eats the fruits of divergent testes [sweet or sour]’ [Mundaka Upanisada, I.1]. But it cannot be the supreme Self, for there is the text, ‘The other looks on without eating’ [ibid].

Samkara replied: This being the position, we say: The eater here should be the supreme Self. Why? Because of his appropriation of all that moves and does not move. For all movable and immovable things appear here as the eatable thing with death as its [pouring] adjunct. None but the supreme Self can consume such a food fully. As for the supreme Self, it is quite possible to assert that He devours all, inasmuch as He withdraws everything into Himself during dissolution.

Opponent: But the appropriation of all that moves and does not move is not stated here. How can then the appropriation of all movable and unmovable things be accepted as an established fact to be advanced as a ground [for inferring God]?

Samkara: That creates no difficulty, because when Death is mentioned as the curry, all beings present themselves along with it, and because the Brahmanas and Ksatriyas are cited by way of suggesting [all beings], they being the chief among them.

As for the arguments that even the supreme Self cannot be the eater in the face of the Upanisadic revelation, “The other looks on without eating”, we say: This revelation is meant to deny the enjoyment of the fruits of action, for that is near at hand [to the text]. That is not a denial of the dissolution of all things [figuratively denoted by eating], inasmuch as Brahman is well known in all the Upanisads as the cause of creation, sustenance, and dissolution. Therefore, the supreme Self can be the devourer here.” [Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya of Sankaracharya/ Trans by Swami Gambhirananda/ Advaita Ashrama/ Kolkata].

Although written in little obscure language, but it is very clear from the passage that Vedanta accepts the fact that in this world everything is perishable, impermanent. We have already seen that the materialists [Lokayatikas] also were in this opinion. But is there anything which is not perishable? The materialist answer is No. However, the Advaita Vedanta as the leader of idealism in our country strongly advocates the notion that there is the supreme Self which is not perishable. It is permanent [nitya]. Therefore, “He” is the “eater of all the things which moves and does not move”. Hence “He” is only real. And rest of the world which is impermanent and perishable is not real, only illusion or Maya. For the idealists, impermanent is unreal. And the permanent is only real, the absolute truth.

If the Mayavada [the theory of illusion] is the first basic tenet of Advaita, the second one is based on its denial of the valid means of knowledge [pramana]. Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya rightly pointed out, “Above all, any real allowance to the normal sources of knowledge carried the danger of imputing reality to the body and the external world. Therefore, to fortify his own position Samkara had to deny the validity of all possible sources of knowledge—— the senses, reason and even the Veda.” [Indian Philosophy].

Now, this conception needs some discussions. According to Samkara and Advaita philosophy only real thing is the supreme Self, which is called Brahmo. Therefore, the entire material world is unreal. A person is unreal. His or her body is unreal. Therefore, his sense-organs are unreal. So, his perceptions, inference and other means of knowledge are unreal. Therefore, all pramanas are unreal or invalid. All sense-organs are operating under the general boundary of ignorance or avidya. Therefore those are doing nothing but super-imposing one entity upon another. So, Debiprasad wrote:

“Samkara opens his Sariraka-bhasya with the declaration that the claim of all sources of knowledge like perception, inference, etc. as giving us real knowledge has to be rejected outright, because we can use these as instruments of knowledge only so long as we are under the general spell of ignorance. But why is it so? Samkara says that the basic function of ignorance— as is evident from the patent cases like seeing a snake in a rope —is to ‘super-impose’ something on something else, or, in simpler language, falsely imagining something to be what it is actually not. Without such a ‘super-imposition’ no source of knowledge can at all operate. The very precondition of all the alleged sources of knowledge is ignorance. Instead of giving real knowledge, all these so-called sources of knowledge keep one under the spell of ignorance.” [What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy].

This same long speech Samkara gave in his Brahmosutrabhasya, too. Now the question is, how then a person can come out from the all-pervading grip of ignorance in order to achieve salvation or mukti? This is another question to which Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya once again did not pay much attention. He is only happy to identify idealism and not really interested into the social consequences of the same. According to Advaita since ignorance or avidya is the root cause of bondage and false knowledge, then the actual knowledge is the only way out. And what is the actual knowledge? It is nothing but the knowledge of the supreme self which is called Brahmogyana. However, since Brahmogyana is also a gyana or knowledge [actually supreme knowledge] then if there is no valid means of knowledge then how can one obtain this? Advaita philosophy has a specific answer to this question. In Kath Upanisad, when Nachiketa requested Yama [the god of death] to render him the knowledge of Brahmo [Brahmogyana], Yama at first expressed doubts whether he was a fit person for the job. He said that if this knowledge was rendered by an ordinary person then it would not be understood because this particular knowledge did not depend on debates and discussions, or on some other means of knowledge. Only a fit person [Brahmogyani] can render this knowledge [“Na narebarena prokto esa subigyea, bahudha chintyamanah/ Ananyoprokte gatiratra nastanian hi atarkam anupramanat”— Kath Upanisad/ 1.2.eight]. Therefore, as far as the philosophy is concerned, Advaita finally accepted the advices of the supreme teacher who possesses the knowledge of Brahmo as the only valid means of knowledge, since the knowledge of Brahmo— the only true knowledge—— is beyond of any debate or discussion [atarkam]. Same thing is repeated many times in different Upanisadas and other Vedantic literatures. As a result the grip of the Brahmins over the religious matters was firmly established. And it is a well known fact that the control over the religious matters was the key to control the society including its economy and politics. 

Here, Debiprasad unfolded a magnificent discussion that how the religious matters became the key to control the economy and society which in return played a pivotal role to develop the backdrop of idealist insurgency.  Yajnabalkya, the great sage at that time once called his two wives to divide his wealth between them as he was about to leave the family in order to pursuit for a higher life. Then Maitreyi, one of his wives asked him, “If now, Sir, the whole earth filled with wealth were mine, would I be immortal thereby?” The core philosophical discussion in the Brihadaryanaka Upanisada starts with this question. The question undoubtedly is thought-provoking mainly for two reasons.

Firstly, it is interesting to note that at that time in the realm of human thought one question was already present, i.e., how to become immortal! Debiprasad pointed out that in the Vedic age the thinking to be immortal did not occur at all in the human minds. However, in the Upanisadic age, when the surplus production had appeared and a propertied class was born then arising of this thinking at first among them and next to spread in the entire society became absolutely natural. Debiprasad said, “Nothing is more attractive for the kings than the prospect of overcoming death or attaining immortality. It is basically the same temptation that leads the Pharaohs of Egypt to waste colossal amount of wealth to build pyramids.” [What is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy/ page 127]. Now the question is what is the connection between immortality and the idealist Vedantist philosophy? It is interesting to see that when Maitreyi asked Yajnabalkya the above mentioned question he replied, “No, as the life of the rich, even so would your life be. Of immortality, however, there is no hope through wealth.” Then what is the path for immortality? Then Yajnabalkya started to render the “secret knowledge” on Barhmo to Maitreyi and the core philosophical discussion in Brihadaranakyaka Upanisada began.

This secret knowledge of Barhmo is nothing but the world denying idealism which is called Vedanta. Debiprasad remarked, “The metaphysical discourse attributed to him [Yajnabalkya— present writer] is a long one. Its main point is the gradual unfolding of the idealist outlook. But how is this outlook supposed to overcome death and ensure immortality? There is only one way of doing this and that is to remove from the realm of reality the physical world as a whole, and along with this the physical facts of birth and death. As Yajnabalkya argues, the soul, which is pure consciousness and bliss, is the only reality. Being completely uncontaminated by anything material, it is by nature aloof from what appears to mortal eyes as birth and death. This death, like birth, is completely unreal. How can one who knows this be any longer haunted by the fear of death? This is not ensuring oneself against the fact of death, before which the philosopher is as helpless as any other mortal. But it is a way of inducing a subjective change in oneself which helps one to overcome — though only in ideas and imagination — the sense of death and the terrors thereof.” [ibid/page:131].

Thus, according to the observations of Debiprasad, Indian idealism took up the task to make a subjective change in the minds of the people to deny the material world in order to deny the actual facts related to the birth and death of human beings. This observation is important and at the same time it is interesting to note that Rabindranath Tagore, a staunch follower of Upanisada for quite a long time in his life, finally landed in the same conclusion in a different perspective although. Travelling Iran by airplane at the backdrop of the war-ridden events between the World Wars was a turning point in the life of Tagore. Most probably it was the first ever experience for him to travel through an airplane in his life. He wrote that when the plane took off and reached in certain height the houses, roads and localities on the ground suddenly became a map only which in return exhausted the human relations centering round the ground reality. He exclaimed that probably for that reason it made so easy for a pilot of a bomber plane to drop bombs in order to create mass destruction. He said further that in the beginning of the Kurukshetra war when Arjuna did not want to enter into the war fearing mass killing, Krishna rendered him the knowledge of Brahmo. And what it did? Tagore said that it actually lifted the mind of Arjuna in such a height that from that above, the facts related to who killed and who were killed became absolutely cloudy. Tagore named this treatment of Vedanta as “theoretical airplane”.  [“As the flying machine goes higher and higher ... the signs that tell us the earth is real are gradually obliterated and a three-dimensional picture is flattened into two-dimensional lines. ... Thus deprived of its substantiality, the earth’s hold on our mind and heart is loosened. And it is borne in on me how such aloofness can become terrible, when man finds it expedient to rain destruction on the vagueness below. Who is the slayer and who the slain? Who is kin and who is stranger? This travesty of the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita is raised on high by the flying machine.” Persia, 1932]

Now, let us back to the time of Yajnabalkya once again. We have already discussed the first point which we can understand from the question of Maitreyi to Yajnabalkya, that, the idea and aspiration to be immortal already appeared in the human minds at that time. The second important point is that how much wealth a sage who used to propagate a world-denying philosophy could have at that time, and what was the source of that wealth? Debiprasad tried to calculate the amount which a world-denying sage philosopher could earn at that time and indicated the source of that.

Yajnabalkya was a philosopher from Advaitva Vedanta school, according to which the material world was not real, only illusion. However, it is interesting to note that it did not prevent Yajnabalkya to accumulate wealth. This wealth was accumulated from the King. Debiprasad quoted Brhidaranyaka [Br] Upanisada: “Janaka, king of Videha, was seated. Yajnabalkya came up. To him the king said, ‘Yajnabalkya, what brings you here? Is it because you want cattle or hair-splitting discussion?’ ‘Indeed both, your majesty’, he said.” Debiprasad said further: “Thus this great idealist philosopher, with his intense contempt for the material world, shows no hesitation to admit that he is not interested merely in philosophy; he is also interested in the payment for it.” [ibid/ page:128].

 Now, Debiprasad took an attempt to calculate the amount of the wealth of Yajnabalkya. We all know the famous incident which is narrated in Br Upanisada: Once the king Janaka organized a massive yajna [Vedic ritual] where many Vedantist priests and philosophers participated. Janaka was curious that who possessed the highest knowledge on Brahmo [Brahmistha]! So he declared one thousand cows with ten pieces of gold [padas: 1/400th of a tula — ancient Indian measurement] tied to the horns of each as prize. [janako ha baideha bahudakshiena yajneneje tatra ha kurupanchalanam brahmana avisameta bavubustasya ha janakasya baidehasya bijiggisa bavuba kahswidesham brahmananamanucanatama iti sa ha gabam sahasramabarurodha dasa dasa pada ekaikasya srimgorabadha bavubah— Br Upanisada: 3.1.1]

Undoubtedly, it was a big amount. So everybody hesitated to advance. However, Yajnabalkya immediately ordered his disciple Samasraba to lead those cows towards his home [Yajnabalkya’s]. Naturally, it initiated resentments among the Brahmins present there and one of them came forward to challenge Yajnabalkya and a hair-splitting debate started. Yajnabalkya finally defeated Aswal [the Challenger] and won the prize.

This is a known fact. However, Debiprasad went on further investigation. He said: “In the account of the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad just quoted, Yajnabalkya’s pupil drives away for him one thousand cows, with ten padas of gold tied to the horns of each. In the next account of the same Upanisad, king Janaka——awed by Yajnabalkya’s breath-taking flights of pure reason—— four times offers him ‘a thousand cows and a bull as large as an elephant’. This is followed by another account of the same text in which the same philosopher receives from the same donor for the same reason five thousand cows, in installments of one thousand each……… Let us try to be clearer about the property accumulated. Not to speak of other accounts, the three that we have just mentioned tell us of a total of ten thousand cows, besides the ten thousands padas of gold.” [ibid, page 132]

Now, was it the total amount of Yajnabalkya? No. Debiprasad further remarked: “But this is only elementary arithmetic, and lest we are misled by it the Upanisad tells us also of the bulls as big as elephants. The cows accumulated by the priest-philosopher also multiply.” So now it is clear that why king Janaka did not give Yajnabalkya only the cows but also big bulls. Bulls were used to multiply the cows by reproduction. But what was the rate of that reproduction? In order to have a rough understanding regarding the rate of reproduction, Debiprasad quoted a story from Chandagya Upanisad. Let us read that portion:

“Satyakama Jabala goes to Haridrumata Gautama, desiring to be a student of sacred knowledge. After having received him as a pupil, he [the priest-philosopher] separated out four hundred lean, weak cows and said, ‘Follow these, my dear.’ As he was driving them on, he said, ‘I may not return without a thousand.’ So he lived away a number of years. When the number reached a thousand the bull spoke to him, saying: ‘Satyakama!’ ‘Sir’, he replied. ‘We have reached a thousand, my dear. Bring us to the teacher’s home’.” [ibid, page 133]

Then Debiprasad said again: “If this rate of increase satisfies the Upanisadic calculation in one case, there is no reason why it should not be applicable to another. The ten thousand cows received by Yajnabalkya only according to three accounts of the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad are soon supposed to multiply into twenty five thousand. It does not take much time again for the twenty five thousand to multiply into 62,500 and so on.” [ibid, page 133].

Yet the amount of wealth of Yajnabalkya cannot be restricted with cows only. At that time since the cattle were main form of wealth it is often overlooked that to maintain this huge number of cattle a vast portion of land was also required. So, indicating the text of Chandogya Upanisad, Debiprasad said, “Whatever may be the system of land tenure in Upanisadic India, there are in these texts unmistakable accounts of the gift of villages by the kings and the nobles to the custodians of secret wisdom.”

It is interesting to note that all the wealth of the priest-philosophers at that time was accumulated from the kings or the nobles. Therefore, it is clear that a portion of extracted surplus from the real producers by the ruling classes in our country at that time went to the hands of these idealist philosophers. The kings and the nobles used to pay these amounts to them as the reward of the ‘secret knowledge’ which was supposed to make them ‘fearless and immortal’. Therefore, there was a clear and definite relation between the world-denying idealist philosophy and the surplus sharing between the kings and the priests, i.e. between the Brahmins and the Khsatriyas.

However, in this course the biggest challenge emerged in front of the idealist philosophical theories to bridge between illusion and reality. If the material wealth was an illusion then why an idealist priest-philosopher was interested to accumulate wealth? How, Yajnabalkya solved this question which became the landmark of idealism according to Debiprasad, I shall discuss it in the next issue. In this course of discussion it is also an interesting point that how Debiprasad accused the Mahayana Buddhists to follow the path of Vedanta.

Vedic Society and Vedic Philosophies

As a stark contrast of the matriarchal society of the Indus Valley Civilization the Aryans, who started to pour in the ancient India since roughly 15OO BCE, had a society which was heavily dominated by the male. As soon as they formed a civilization of their own in this land, an inevitable struggle broke out between two civilizations. Debiprasad depended on the Rig Veda to accumulate the evidences of this struggle. So he pointed out some hymns in the Rig Veda where Indra, the war god, was praised for defeating Mother Usa [Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya/ Indian Philosophy/ Bengali Edition]. Interestingly Usa was not simply defeated, but, she was raped by Indra and was driven out from the valley of the river Indus. Let us read those hymns:

 “Inasmuch, Indra, as you have displayed such manly prowess, you have slain the woman, the daughter of the sky, when mediating mischief.”  [4:3O:eight]

“You Indra, who are mighty, have enriched glorious dawn, the daughter of heaven.” [4:3O:nine]

“The terrified Usas descended from the broken wagon when the [showerer of benefits] had smashed it.” [4:3O:1O].

“Then her shattered wagon reposed [on the bank] of the Vipas [river], and she departed from afar.” [4.3O.11].  {English translation taken from RGVEDA SAMHITA/ Edited by Raviprakash Arya and K.L. Joshi/ Parimal Publication/ New Delhi, translation done by H.H.Wilson}

In the hymn number ten it is said that Indra smashed the wagon of Usa and terrified Usa descended from the wagon and fled. The Sanskrit text says: apasa anasah saratasangpistadaha bivushi/ ni yatasim shishnathadbrisa. Wilson translated “shishnathadbrisa” as “the showerer of benefits”. However, Debiprasad straight translated it as “applied his penis [shishna] like shower”. It clearly means that Indra raped Usa terribly. Many modern writers also admitted that Indra raped Usa at that war [see Heaven, Heroes, and Happiness: The Indo-European Roots of Western Ideology/ Shan M.M. Winn].

Now, Debiprasad raised the question that who was this Usa? He again pointed out another hymn where Usa was described as the mother of the gods, but rival of Aditi. The hymn reads as follows:

“Mother of the gods, rival of Aditi, illuminator of the sacrifice, mighty Usas, shine forth; approving of our prayer, dawn upon us.” [1:114: ninetten].

This again appears as a riddle. She in the one hand is described as the mother of the devas, however, on the other she is identified as the rival of Aditi, the mother of the devas, “mata devanam Aditeh anikam”! From the Vedic mythology we know that Dayus [the god of the sky], the most ancient god of the Aryans had two daughters, Diti and Aditi. Diti was the mother of the asuras and Aditi was the mother of the devas. Usa was described as the mother of the devas but at the same time she was the rival of Aditi. Then who was she? Debiprasad took help of Kosambi to solve the riddle. In an article published in the Journal of the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society [JBBRAS] he said that Usa was not the mother of the Aryans, rather she was the mother goddess of the more ancient people in this country. Usa was no one else but Diti, the mother of the asuras. [With the discoveries made by Bachofen and Morgan we can now understand that it was not unnatural to the poets of the Rig Veda to have the memory of more archaic group marriage within their clan, so calling the sister of mother as “mother” was a natural outcome.]

 So Indra unleashed his ruthless attack on Usa and raped her terribly to destruct her completely. According to Kosambi it was the reflection of the fierce battle which was broke out in the valley of the Indus between the male dominated savages and the people of the ancient matriarchal society. Debiprasad showed that it was not an isolated passage in the Rig Veda, but this description of the war was cited in many hymns in the Rig Veda. What was the outcome of this war between Indra and Usa? Usa was defeated and fled and the whole valley of the Indus came under the domination of the Aryans. Debiprasda cited some more hymn from the same Sukta where Indra was praised by the following words:

“You have spread abroad upon the earth, by your contrivance, the swollen Sindhu when arrested [on its course].” {The Swollen Sindhu when Arrested: Sayana says that it means when it is full of water, sampurnajalam.} [4:3O:12]

“By valour you have carried off the wealth of Susna, when you had demolished his cities.” [4:3O:13]

“You have slain the slave Sambara, the son Kulitara hurling him from off the huge mountain.” [4:3O:14]

“You have slain the five hundreds and thousands [of the followers] of the slave Varchin, [surrounding] him like the fellies [round the spokes of the wheel].” [4:3O:15]

So, it can be easily understood, when the defeat of Usa and subsequent killings of the asuras are described at a stretch in a same Sukta, that, Usa’s defeat played the pivotal role behind the domination of the Aryans on the valley of the Indus.

Indra’s second important win was to defeat and killing of Vrtrasura which was heavily praised in the entire Rig Veda. It can be assumed from the Rig Vedic evidences that killing Vrtra was one the major achievements of Indra. In many places of the Rig Veda he was called as Vrtrahan, i.e. the killer of Vrtra. Debiprasad showed that this qualification was used seventy times in the Rig Veda. Now, who was the Vrtra? Let us listen to Debiprasad: “Vrtra is usually taken as the name of a dragon, destroying whom often with the aid of other gods, specially of the hoard of semi-deities called the Maruts, was considered one of his major performances. But there are certain peculiarities about this performance which cannot be easily overlooked. Vrtra literally means the Obstructor, and is also described as ahi, literally ‘serpent’. In other words, it is an obstructor, which also lokked like a huge serpent. Many things are said by the Vedic poets about this serpent-like obstructor, among which some are extremely interesting. Vrtra, it is said, was complacent with the idea that its real vulnerable part was known to none; however, along with the Maruts, Indra discovered its vulnerable part [iii.32.4; v.32.5] and thus he struck and destroyed the ‘obstructor’ with such fierceness as to shake the heaven and world. And what was the result? The whole area was flooded with water which was being obstructed by the serpent-looking obstructor.” [Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya/ Religion and Society]

While the Hindu religion-traders were busy to construct myths on Vrtra-killing the Marxist philosophers and historians of our country and abroad found out the real story behind the myth. Debiprasad took help of Kosambi to uncover the mystical glory of Indra and found out how the savage Aryans demolished a much higher civilization in India. Debiprasad quoted Kosambi which is as follows:

“Vedic India is described again and again as freeing the streams. This was taken as a nature-myth in the days of Max Muller, a poetic representation of the rain-god letting pent-up water loose from imprisoning clouds. Recorded but ignored details of the feat make such an explanation quite impossible. Indra freed the rivers from the grip of a demon Vrtra. The word has been analysed by two most competent philologists [with full knowledge of Iranian {Aryan} as well as Sanskrit records] who did not trouble to theorise about the means of production. Their conclusion from purely philological considerations was that vrtra meant ‘obstruct’, ‘barrage’, or ‘bloquage’, not a demon. This actual Rgvedic description independently bears this out in full. The demon lay like a dark snake across the slopes. The rivers were brought to a standstill [tastabhanah]; when the ‘demon’ was struck by Indra’s shattering weapon [vajra], the ground buckled, the stones rolled away like chariot wheels, the pent-up waters flowed over the demon’s recumbent body [cf. R.V. 4.nineteen.4-eight; 2.15.3]. This is a good description of dams [not embankments as Piggott would have it] being broken up, while such pre-historic dams, now called Gebr-band, are still to be found on many water-courses in the western parts of the region under consideration. The evidence for Indra’s breaking up dams is not merely rationalization of the Vrtra myth. RV. 2.15.eight: rinag rodhamsi krtrimani = ‘he removed artificial barriars’ makes this clear; rodhas means dam elsewhere in the RV, as in the later Sanskrit. Indra is praised for restoring to its natural course the river Vibali, which had flooded land along its banks. That is, the Pre-Aryan method of agriculture depended upon natural floods and flooding the lands on the banks of smaller rivers by means of seasonal [RV. 5.32.2] dams [without regular masonry], to obtain the fertilizing deposit of slit to be stirred by the harrow. The Aryans shattered this dam system, thereby ruining the agriculture of the region and the possibility of continuing city life for long, or of maintaining the urban population. The fact of the ruin is undeniable: the causes have to be deduced from whatever date is available, which includes numerous heavy flood slit deposits that are visible in Mohenjo-daro excavations. The very floods which endangered city and hamlet had made possible the agriculture which supported the inhabitants.”

It is still a debatable issue in India that how the Indus Valley Civilization became collapsed around 15OO BCE! While a section of the historians say that the attacks of the savage Aryans were one of the major reasons behind it, the Hindutva-vadins never accepted it. Recently RSS influenced historians have started again to alter the history with renewed enthusiasm. Debiprasad convincingly established and proved that with the invading India by the Aryans at that time a fierce conflict took place and subsequent attacks on Harappan civilization were the natural outcome of this conflict.

However, it does not mean the Aryan civilization was a savage civilization in European sense. On the contrary it had a lot of bright aspects. The Vedas are not only the description of the conflict between the Aryans and the pre-Aryan people, but, a great literature on human life and thought. However, again it is not like a sacrosanct religious text as the Hindutva-vadins want to portray. A deep and thorough research of Debiprasad on the Vedas revealed that it was like all other successful literature nothing but the mirror of human life at that time.

Conventionally, it is assumed that in our country six major mainstream philosophical systems had come out from the Vedas. Literally, “Veda” means knowledge. However, Debiprasad showed that in the Vedas there is nothing which can be called as philosophy. It is mainly related to the prayers to the various gods for various worldly matters, especially, the food. Food is the central theme in the Vedas, specially, in the Rig Veda. Why? It was so because that the Aryans did not have any knowledge of agriculture in the beginning. They were nomadic people based on cattle rearing activities. Gradually they learned agriculture from the pre-Aryan people, however, due to lower techniques agriculture was always uncertain and the scarcity of foods was a day-to-day matter for them. Therefore, throughout the Rig Veda we see prayers for food to the gods. For an example:

“Protected by that destroyer [of foes], who is united in praise with the Maruts, we may receive sustenance from Indra; and may Mitra, Varuna, Aditi——— ocean, earth and heaven, preserve it to us.” [1:1O1:11]

Before going into the discussion of the Vedic philosophies we must understand what type of society the Aryans built at that time. It will be helpful for us to understand the real nature of Vedic philosophical system. From the above discussion one can easily understand that a society with extreme scarcity of food and other material objects for subsistence class division was impossible to exist. Debiprasad also very naturally considered the early Vedic society as a classless society or primitive communist society. In his famous book “Indian Philosophy” [Bengali edition] he gave a long description that how the Vedic people at that time based on communistic ideas.

In Rig Veda the word barsha was used frequently to denote property or wealth. Plural application of the word as barshanam or barshani can be found in many places of Rig Veda. Sayana, the most prominent commentator of the Vedas, explained the word as wealth or property. However, most interesting fact according to Sayana’s commentary is that the word barsha originated from another word (daturupa) brng adding nyat (brng+nyat= barsha). Here, the meaning of the word brng is ‘to distribute’. So Debiprasad reached in the conclusion that at the time of Rig Veda wealth or property were generally meant something which must be distributed. (see Debiprasad Chattopadhyay/ Indian Philosophy/ Bengali Edition/ K.P. Bagchi &Co). 

Praising Indra it is said in Rig Veda: “The purpose of Brahmanaspati, engaging in a great work, has been successful, according to his wish; for he it was who recovered (the stolen) cattle for (the dwellers in) heaven; and distributed them; so that of their own power they took different directions, like (the branches of) a mighty river.” (Mandala 2/ hymn 24/ verse 14. English translation is taken from H.H. Wilson, edited and revised by Ravi Prakash Arya and K.L. Joshi/ Parimal Publication/Delhi/ Fourth Reprint Edition/2016). Praising Agni it is said: “You, Chitrabhanu, are the distributor of riches, as the waves of a river are parted by interjacent (islets), you ever pour (rewards) upon the giver (of oblations).” (ibid/1/26/6). Praising Savita it is said; “We invoke Savita, the enlightener of men, the dispenser of various home-insuring wealth” (ibid/1/22/7). Praising Usa it is said: “Well-born and divine Usa, who are the protectress of mortals; whatever share (of light) you apportion to men, may the radiant Savita be disposed (to confirm) the gift, and declare us free from sin; so that (he) the sun (may come to our sacrificial hall).” (ibid/1/123/3. Here, Sayana said that the bhagam (the share) is not only applicable to prakasasya (light), but to all the offerings, as the sacrifice is offered at dawn, the dawn may be said to be its distributor). Praising Indra and Agni: “I have heard, (when you were present) at the division of the treasure (among the worshippers), that you two, Indra and Agni, were most vigorous in the destruction of Vrtra: beholders of all things seated as this sacrifice upon the sacred grass, be exhilarated, (by drinking of the effused libation).” (ibid/1/109/5). Praising Indra: “We offer the Soma libation to him who is the performer of many exploits, the beasts (of the gods), the showerer (of benefits), the possessor of true strength, the hero who, holding respect for wealth, takes it from him who performs no sacrifice, like a footpad (from a traveler), and proceeds (to give it) to the sacrificer.” (ibid/1/103/6). Praising Indra: “The upholder of heaven and of the firmament, the wind, like a chariot traversing the upper (region) accompanied by the Vasus; the clother of the night (with gloom), the parent of the sun, the distributor of the portion (allotted to the pious), like the words (of the wealthy appropriating to all) the food.” (ibid/3/49/4). Praising Savita and Bhaga: “For you, (worshippers), I approach today the divine Savita and Bhaga, the distributor of precious (wealth) among men: Asvins, (leaders of rites), enjoyers of many (good things), desiring your friendship, I solicit your daily presence.” (ibid/5/49/1. The interesting development in this verse is ‘the sharing activity’, i.e., Bhaga is deified. This may be the possible source of the term bhagaban, i.e., the God). Praising Bhaga once again: “Or may the glorious mountains, the beneficent rivers, be to us for our preservation: may Bhaga, the apportioner of wealth, come with abundance and protection: may this wide-pervading Aditi hear my invocation.” (ibid/5/46/6).   

It is a conventional belief that the Vedas are religious texts. The Hindutva-vadins propagate glory of the Vedas. However, Debiprasad showed that those are not really religious texts because most parts of the Vedas were composed at a time when proper religion was not at all originated. One may ask that the texts are full of prayers to the gods, then how come those are non-religious? When there are gods then it must be religion, one may think. However, Debiprasad does not agree. Here, we see that Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya again displayed the rare quality of a scholar and theoretician who did not restrict himself in the custody of dry formulas in order to seeking truth from the facts. Debiprasad opined that religion is something which must be a feature of class-divided society, not a society like primitive communist one. “A religion may be defined as a system of practices and beliefs resting on the assumption that the world is subject to the control of a supernatural force or agency, which can be influenced by prayers and sacrifice and is apprehended by faith as opposed to knowledge…”, Debiprasad quoted George Thomson in order to provide a definition of religion. However, the gods in the Vedas are not that type of super-natural entities who created the world and controlled the world. Here is a Sukta from the tenth mandala of the Rig Veda which describes the creation of the universe:

  1. There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
  2. There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
  3. Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.
  4. Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.
  5. Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giving-forth above.
  6. Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows when it has arisen?
  7. Whence this creation has arisen——— perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not—— the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows——— or perhaps he does not know.

[The Rig Veda: An Anthology/ Wendy Doniger]

This is one of the very important Suktas in the Rig Veda where it is clearly said that the gods were originated with origination of the universe, hence they are not the originators. Debiprasad opined several times that the gods in Rig Veda were not the gods proper, but the advanced elements of the human society whose higher abilities in battle, in morality (rt) and responsibility were praised and gradually deified in the imagination of the Vedic poets.

In the Rig Veda there was a pair of gods, Asvins, later called as Asvin brothers were addressed in a verse by the following manner which can be considered as some kind of reminder: “O Asvins, our friendship with you comes down from our fathers; in friendship you are equal with us; know your and our grandfather to be the same.” (7/72/2. English translation is taken from “Religion and Society”/Chattopadhyay/pp 110). Debiprasad wrote about Indra: “Indra was a friend indeed! He was a friend with friends; the friend and benefactor and protector (i.63.4). He was a friend coming from the heaven and honouring ‘us’ as his friends (i.63.4); a friend accompanied by faithful friends (iii.39.5); listening as a friend to the praises of his friends. (iii.43.4).The friends of Indra poured out Soma for him (iii.30.1)” (ibid/110). Regarding Agni it is said in the Rig Veda that he is the greatest friend (sakha sakhye varenyah). Debiprasad noted that all these concepts about the gods in the Rig Veda are extremely ancient which the early Aryans developed as their cultural fabric which corresponded with their communistic life. Using the philological tools he again proved it from another angle. Debiprasad wrote: “Philological considerations, too, corroborate this. Here is a rk of immense significance: ‘O Agni, O Asura, this rituals (yajna) of ours is full of cows, of sheep (aviman), of horses, of food, of offspring, may thou be always without anger being in our assembly (sabhavan), a friend, like a human being (nrvat-sakha), possessing huge wealth and vast waters (iv.2.5).’ Agni being addressed as an asura is indeed remarkable; Sayana found it too inconvenient to comment upon. It indicates that the rk dates back to a period when to the poets of the Rgveda the word asura had not fallen into disrepute. Probably, more significant than this is the use of the word aviman, ‘one full of sheep’. This is the solitary use of the word in the whole of the Rgveda, the only reference to the sheep as a form of wealth. This again indicates that the rk dates back to a period when the Vedic sheers were still raising and tending the sheep, a practice they must have eventually given up. These, therefore, are evidences of the rk belonging to the most archaic stratum of the Rgveda. And it is also the rk in which the word nrvatsakha, ‘a friend-like-a-human being’, occurs; in the comparatively earlier periods, the comradely relations felt by the Vedic poets for their gods were indeed overtly human.” (Chattopadhyay, ibid, 113-114).

In another verse Agni was addressed as jananam jamih (1/75/4). Debiprasad explained that the meaning of the word jamih is ‘a comrade’. Agni was called as ‘a comrade of the people’. And who is a comrade according to the Vedic poets? Sayana explained that the word came from another word jama which was meant ‘to eat’. So Sayana explained the word as follows: Jama adane jamanti saha ekasmin patre adanti iti jamavah, bandhavah. That means those who eat together from the same plate are friends, jamih. Agni used to eat together with all the people from the same plate without any discrimination.

Therefore, it is amply clear that the gods in the Vedas are not the gods proper and the texts are not religious in the strict sense of the word. Or, more appropriately the texts can be called as pre-religious. There were gods but no religion. Gods without religion.

Then how the religion was originated? Debiprasad showed that at some point of time the surplus production started to take place in Aryan society. Now the question is what should be the mechanism by which this surplus was extracted and accumulated at the hands of a tiny portion of the population? This is a vital question at which the communists never paid sufficient attention. Debiprasad Chattopadhyay put forward a magnificent answer for this question. He said: “There were three conceivable alternative techniques that could make this possible: 1) direct plunder, 2) purchase and 3) persuasion by ideological devices. We are going to see why the third of this presumably best suited the city governors and that moreover we have the clue in this to the making of religion.”(Chattopadhyay/ Religion and Society/pp 53). Debiprasad convincingly showed that out of three probable alternatives, i.e., plunder, purchase and persuasion why only persuasion had to be the only method to extract the surplus production from the hands of its direct producers. At this point in societal development the actual and proper religion as the most powerful ideological device for surplus extraction was originated. The earlier gods like Agni, Varuna, Indra, Mitra, Sabita, Bhaga, Ashvins, Maruts and many others who were considered as the friends or comrades of the people (jananam jamih) mostly disappeared from the realm of reality. In the Later Vedic Period even the concept of the individual gods was abundant and the concept of the abstract, impersonal force or power like Brahmo was originated. Now, the God was neither a friend nor he knew anyone other than his representatives in the human society that is the Brahmins. The prerogative of one section of the people was born in the spiritualistic matters who maintained a ‘living connection’ with the God. Therefore, all offerings to the God must have been handed over to his representatives on the earth. We can visualize that with the breaking of the primitive communist society of the Aryans, the Aryan society as a whole was going through huge and far-reaching changes at this point of time. The division of labour started to take place and the momentum of that was increasing in every passing day. The division of labour was started in the Aryan society much earlier as some indication can be found in the Rig Veda (The dawn rouses one man to acquire wealth, another to earn food, another to achieve greatness, another to sacrifices, another to his own (pursuits), another to activity, and lights all men to their various means of maintaining life. Usas has given back all the region. /1/113/6, Parimal Publication, see 1/113/5 also). However, Purusha-Sukta gave the division of labour such a permanent and some kind of divine structure which obviously led to a society where the Brahmins and the Rajanyas acquired the political power and accumulated surplus wealth at their hands.

Therefore, now we can understand that the Vedas covered most of the timeframe when the ancient primitive communist society of the Aryans transformed into a class society and since these huge literatures were composed through quite a long time, nearly eight hundred to one thousand years, the transition from one society to another is reflected in the Vedas. From this angle, too, the Vedas have immense importance which might have no parallel in the world.

At the same time this peculiarity, however, gave birth two contradictory philosophies, namely materialism and idealism. In the previous chapters we have seen how Debiprasad proved that India is not a country of idealist and religious thought, but, a land of early materialism. Now discussing the Vedic philosophies he showed how materialism sprang out from the Vedas, too, in order to contradict the idealist world outlook. I shall discuss Vedic materialism and the origin of idealism under separate sub-headings from the works of Debiprasad Chattapadhyaya in the following issuers of Red Star.

(To be continued...) 


Debiprasad threw new light on the question of the transition from matriarchy to patriarchy and its relation with materialism in our country. His investigation have problematized the apparently organized, however, a linier theory that the primitive communist society was matriarchal and the class-societies were patriarchal. He devoted two chapters for this subject in his Lokayata, under the title of Ganapati and Gauri. He showed that in the initial stage of hunting-gathering society where gathering was more prominent than hunting, there the society was matriarchal in nature. However, in the higher stage of hunting-gathering society where hunting was more prominent especially hunting by bow and arrow was introduced there the domination over the society was shifted to the hands of the male-folks from the women. Why? Debiprasad did not enter into a detailed discussion, but he indicated towards a huge socio-cultural- psychological and economical shift of the society. While Morgan and Engels both relied on the economic cause behind this transition in a strict sense, Debiprasad found it unsatisfactory, though, he never challenged it openly rather restricted himself in some indication, probably for the reason that he was a Marxist in such a time when economic determination was recognized as an essential component of Marxism and any deviation from it used to be considered as a deviation from the philosophy itself.

Similarly, Debiprasad showed that when the society advanced from the higher stage of hunting-gathering society to the initial stage of agricultural society again the domination over the society was changed and a reverse journey from patriarchy to matriarchy took place. Why? Why a gathering based society was generally matriarchal and a hunting based society was patriarchal? And why the initiation of primary agriculture re-established the domination of the women once again? Debiprasad employed one simple sentence to indicate the reason of the change. He said, “Hunting was the job of the male”. It is a well-accepted fact among the Marxists that the division of labour between male and female was the most primitive division of labour in human history. However, the Marxists never studied deeply the consequences of this division of labour in a society. Debiprasad restricted himself only in some indications which must be studied and elaborated by a new generation of the Marxists. In the chapter of Ganapati Debiprasad showed that the main weapon of the god was bow and arrow. In our country there are eighteen forms of the god Ganapati are found, with the common weapon of bow and arrow. It establishes sufficiently that the god emerged at the tribal hunting-gathering stage of the society which must have been pre-Indus Valley Civilization. 

Before the discovery of the remnants of Indus Valley Civilization in the beginning of the last century it was thought that the Vedic civilization was the earliest civilization in India. However, the discovery extended the horizon of human knowledge about the history of civilizations of our country. More the study of this newly discovered civilization proceeds it has been revealed that it was an early agriculturist society where no definite evidence of ploughing is found. The inhabitants of this society learned to use floods and river water wisely as well as learned to erect dams for agricultural use. This civilization was a bronze-age civilization and mainly depended on agriculture. Debiprasad showed that this civilization was a matriarchal society where Ganapati lost its importance and in that place goddess Durga or Sakamvari or Gouri emerged.

Debiprasad discussed elaborately with an ancient ritual which is still observed in a large part of our country, called, Ganesha Chaturthi Vrata. This is a ritual related to agriculture where the presence of Ganesha or Ganapati is mainly namesake. The main character in this vrata is Gauri. The vrata is observed at the session of sowing the seeds. In the first day of the ritual the image of Ganesha is placed at the site of the ritual as simply the representative of the new moon but actually he is nothing to do with the ritual itself. From the second day he is totally absent and the ritual take a complete feminine character where Gauri replaced Ganesha. However, Gauri is not the Gauri of our familiar Puranic pantheon; instead, she is a bundle of plants, along with her human representative: a virgin. Debiprasad wrote: “The plants are collected by women, placed on a diagram drawn with turmeric powder. While wrapping these up in a bundle, married women are served with vermilion. Only women remain to participate in the rest of the ritual centering round this bundle of plants. The plants, along with the virgin, are carried from room to room and asked, ‘Gauri, Gauri what do you see?’ The virgin answers, ‘I see prosperity and plenty.’ To make this dramatic visit of Gauri realistic, her supposed footprints are actually drawn on the floor showing that she did enter the rooms.”

The people of Bengal and other eastern states know very well that these types of rituals and festivals take place throughout the months of September, October and November which are essentially related to faith, magical believes and conventions connected to agriculture. It is very clear to understand that all these rituals and festivals were originated in a society where hunting was no more the main economic activity. It was already replaced by agriculture, however, agriculture remained in its initial stage. At that point of time sufficient development in natural science was absent. As a result the human did not know the biological mechanism of a plant which produces crops. Agricultural production was still mere a mystery for them. At that uncertain state of affairs for production, for rain, for fertility of the ground and overall agricultural success the human needed to depend on magic and magical beliefs. These rituals and festivals related to agriculture were mere reflection of this fact. But what is the relation between agricultural rituals and the women? Why in all the agriculture related rituals and festivals are dominated by the women? Why in the brata like Ganesha Chaturthi the presence of the god Ganesha is only namesake? What is the significance of exit of Ganesha from the scene from the second day of the festival?

According to Debiprasad the answers of these questions lie in the fact that agriculture was invented by the women. Therefore, agriculture, especially, in its initial stage was the job of the women. As the hunting was the job of the men and the society mainly depended on hunting was invariably male-dominated, similarly, the society depended on early agriculture was invariably dominated by the women. Debiprasad quoted Briffault, “In the primitive division of labour the gathering and the cultivation of the vegetable food are the special occupation of the women as hunting is that of the men.” (Lokayata/252). Debiprasad quoted Giles from Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics: “Primitive agriculture is not altogether nor to any large extent, in the hands of males. As Von Den Steiner remarks of the Bakairi of Central Brazil, it is women that has invented agriculture….” (ibid/252).

At the first stage of societal development when gathering was the main economic activity women was the driving force of the society. When economic dependency was shifted on hunting the women were dislodged from their dominating position and the male folks came in the fore. The women were deputed to perform the household activities, childbearing, child-rearing and animal husbandry. In the course of performing these duties, especially animal husbandry, someday women invented agriculture. And it happened so naturally that not only in India, but in a large part of the globe it is evident that all the early agriculturist societies were characterized by female domination, matriarchal and matrilineal elements based on mother-right. Obviously India played the key-role to develop early agriculture and matriarchal system based on that. Debiprasad quoted Ehranfels: “Women here not only invented systematic tilling of the soil, but also put this into practice, which can be no means have been an easy task, as conservatism was so strong in primitive society, specially, in the primeval culture-circle, that some remnants of these pre-agricultural groups have been preserved to the present day. In consequence of the tilling of the soil the people of this first matriarchal culture-circle gave up roaming in the forest and became first settlers.” And again, “The mutual relations between Indian and non-Indian mother-right cultures are manifold. The general geographical and also the archaeological situation favours the theory that the world-culture of mother-right originally emanated from India.” And the mother-right of Indian society “appears to have created the ancient matriarchal civilization in the Mediterranean Basin, Oriental Africa, the Near-East and specially Southern Arabia.” Therefore, it was not an accident that the early materialism or proto-materialism found its early home in India and India was a land of materialism, quite contrary to the claim of the Vedantists that it is a land of spiritualism and idealism. 

With the introduction of early agriculture there happened the exit of male and again the female-folks came in the fore. The main economic activity again came back in the hands of the women and the male-folks took the backbench. This social phenomenon is reflected in the brata like Ganesh Chaturthi where the presence of the god Ganesha is only namesake and he actually exit from the scene from the second day of the festival. Debiprasad here clearly deviated from the picture presented by Morgan and Bachofen, and also to some extent Engels regarding the transition from matriarchal to patriarchal society. Morgan explained the transition as a general point of view which very often seems as a linear development. However, contrary to that Debiprasad offered a comprehensive theoretical framework which actually contains the zigzag path of societal development. The initial matriarchal society based on gathering and hunting, where the main emphasis was laid on gathering, not hunting, was replaced by the higher stage hunting-gathering society where hunting by bow and arrow was the main economic activity. We have already seen that this type of society was invariably a patriarchal one. From this stage society developed further, somewhere in the globe to the early agriculturist society and somewhere into the pastoral society. Debiprasad wrote: “The categories do not constitute a fixed chronological sequence. Food gathering and hunting have come first everywhere, but the higher grades depend on the local fauna and flora and other environmental factors. Thus, after food-gathering and hunting, some of the people of the ancient times moved towards the pastoral economy while some others discovered agriculture.” (ibid/236) In the pastoral society patriarchy continued, however, in the early agriculturist society the matriarchy came back which was again replace by patriarchy when agriculture rolled on into the higher stage of agriculturist society.

These observations of Debiprasad solved the age-old riddle regarding the early Vedic society. From the theoretical framework put forward by Morgan and Engels we came to know that the classless society was matriarchal society based on mother-right but when the private property came in dominance the ancient clans had to be broken and the mother-right must be destroyed to pave the way patriarchy in order to retain the property within the family. Therefore the uncertainty in the identification of the father of a newborn baby must have been vanished. As a result monogamy was imposed on the women while polygamy in case of the male-folks continued. Therefore, class societies must be patriarchal according to this theoretical understanding. In the main classless society was matriarchal and class societies were patriarchal. This was a clear-cut characterization put forward by Morgan and Engels. How then can we explain the presence of the class divided early agriculturist society like Indus Valley Civilization which was matriarchal in nature? And how can we explain the presence of classless pastoral society like the early Vedic society which was patriarchal in nature? Morgan-Engels formula does not provide an answer. Here is the significance of Debiprasad that he solved these riddles with more elaborated observations which in return developed not only the general philosophical understanding but the Marxist theory on the questions related to the transition from pre-history to the civilization.

What was the main reason behind the transition from classless matriarchal society to class divided patriarchal society? According to the Morgan-Engels theory although the classless matriarchal society had its own dynamics and constant changes can be seen throughout the history of classless society, however, it was the origination of private property which put the last nail on the coffin of the matriarchal society based on mother-right. On the contrary Debiprasad put forward a different idea. The gathering-hunting society was matriarchal because gathering was in the main the job of the women. The higher stage of hunting-gathering society was patriarchal because hunting, especially, by bow and arrow was the job of the men. Pastoral society was patriarchal but early agriculturist society became matriarchal because agriculture was invented by the women and it was their job. Now what does it all mean? How far this psycho-economic and cultural approach can be considered as a Marxist approach? These questions deserve an elaborated discussion which we like to address in opportune moment. However, it can now be said at least that if the Communists of country already would have taken up these valuable observations of Debiprasad and addressed these questions there was a chance to develop the Marxist theory in order to combat the mechanical Marxist ideas which have played very important role to develop revisionism. 

Anyway, according to Debiprasad early agriculturist Indus Valley Civilization was the source of matriarchal society and consequently proto-materialist beliefs like Tantra. Tantra like doctrine which gives immense importance to the concept of awakening the female power was originated in a matriarchal society. The deities like Kali, Durga, Gauri or Sakamvari came into the imagination of the people at that type of society, Debiprasad explained. In order to describe the origination of Shakta cult (related to goddess Kali) he quoted many times from The Indo-Aryan Races written by Ramaprasad Chanda: “The Shakta conception of the Devi, as Adya Shakti, ‘the primordial energy’, and Jagadamva, ‘the mother of universe’, also very probably arose in a society where matriarchate or mother-kin was prevalent.” It is a well accepted fact the Aryan society was not this kind of society; neither matriarchal nor matrilineal. That was the reason why Debiprasad asserted so confidently that Tantra or ancient materialism in India was originated in Indus Valley Civilization and had a close connection with matriarchy.  

Debiprasad considered this magic-based belief-system which had its lot many deities and rituals as pre-spiritualistic or proto-materialist? He remarked, “Ganapati, indeed, leads us to presume that the nature of this pre-spiritualistic, or at least proto-materialistic, that is, Lokayatika, in the sense in which we have understood it.” But the question is why Debiprasad did not want to identify these belief-systems with religion proper? Why he called these notions pre-spiritualistic or proto-materialistic? A thorough reading of his texts suggests that one of the major reasons behind this understanding Debiprasad was that these belief-systems worked in order to develop the productive power of the society through more confident and enthusiastic human action while the religious doctrines always undermine human action and teach to suspend human efforts as the supreme goal of humankind is never related to this-worldly phenomena.

Since the time around 15OO BCE the Aryan tribal groups started to enter ancient India or Jambudwipa. We have already seen that the Aryans were pastoral and nomadic groups based on patriarchal social system. As a result a ferocious conflict started to open up in this part of the globe between matriarchal early agriculturist people and nomadic pastoral patriarchal tribes. Since the Indus Valley script is yet to be decoded and on the other hand the Aryans had no script at all at that point of time, the history of this conflict is not readily available. Debiprasad tried to reconstruct this history from myths, puranas and ‘religious’ texts. Bachofen applied this same method in his famous work Mother Right. Debiprasad reminded us that Marx too admitted this method: “As is well-known, we have abundant data from the religious and mythological point of view, but hardly much from the point of view social history proper. So we propose to begin from a different end. If it true that religious ideas are ultimately conditioned by concrete material factors, it should be possible for us to discover something about these material factors by examining the religious ideas in which these are reflected. As Marx said, ‘the reality of the past seems reflected in mythological fantasy’. We may therefore examine the mythological fantasies in order to arrive at the ancient reality.” (ibid/126)

In order to understand the history of this conflict Debiprasad resorted to Rig Vedic evidences. He described elaborately how Indra, the war-god of the Aryans defeated, raped and drove Usha, the mother-deity of matriarchal Harappa from the valley of Indus to the banks of Bipasha. From the narratives of killing Vrta by Indra Debiprasad described how the Aryan destroyed the dams built by the people of Harappa civilization in order to destroy their agricultural system. However, the materialism of Indus could not be destroyed by the Aryans. The stiff battle of this notion with the Aryan idealism continued even after the destruction of Indus Valley Civilization. And it is a more interesting fact that the materialism which came into being in the Indus civilization became popular among the oppressed masses in the Vedic society when it broke down into warring classes. His struggle is continuing even today. Debiprasad opined that the fate of present class struggle in India depends on how this age-old contradiction will be handled by the present generations of the toiling masses. We will try to understand the view of Debiprasad on this immensely important subject in the following chapters.

(Next: Chapter — III, Vedic Society and Vedic Philosophy)

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.