05 November 2019

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...) 

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.