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  • ANCIENT HISTORY – CASTE SYSTEM – 04

ANCIENT HISTORY - CASTE SYSTEM - 04

The Vasudeva-Bhagavata cult was a steadily growing religious movement, absorbing within its fold other Vedic and Brahmanic divinities like Visun (primarily as aspect of the sun) and Narayana (a cosmic god). It is a fact that the doctrinal aspect of the cult developed in the early centuries of the Christian era, when one of the names given to it was Pancaratra.

The history of the Vaisnava movement from the end of the Gupta period till the first decade of the 13th centry A.D. is concerned mostly with South India. Vaisnava poet-saints known as Alvars) a Tamil word denoting those drowned in Visnubhaskti) preached one-souled and loving adoration (ekatmika bhakti) for Visnu and their songs were collectively named prabandhas.

The most famous of the 12 Alvars were Nammalvar and Tirumalisai Aivar, while those noted among the early Acaryas were Yamunacarya and Ramanuja. The Alvars represented the emotional side of South Indian Vaisnavism and the Acaryas its intellectual aspect. The two great Acaryas developed between themselves the doctrine of the Visistadvaita (qualified non-dualism) on the basis of some Upanisadic texts in opposition to Sankaracarya’s Advaitavada. Two other Vaisnava teachers of the South, who lived shortly after Ramanuja (c. 11th century A.D), were Madhvacarya and Nimarka, the founders of the Brahma Sampradaya and Sanakadi Sampradaya respectively. They were the preachers of Dvaitavada 9dualism) and Dvaitadvaitavada (dualistic non-dualism) in Vaisnavism. Nimbarka, though a native of the Deccan; lived most of the time in Mathura and his Vaisnavism had a marked emphasis on Radha-Krsna workship.

Panini in his sutra on the formation of words like Saiva probably refers to a group of Siva-worshippers of his time (c. 5th century B.C.). Patanjali in his commentary on one of the sutras of Panini describes a class of Siva – worshippers named by him as Siva-Bhagavatas, who were characterized by the iron lances and clubs they carried and their skin garments.

160. Patanjali’s testimony is all the more interesting for the manner in which it has been given. He refers indirectly and briefly to the forceful and outlandish ritualism of these worshippers of Siva.

161. The Pasupata doctrine as amended and organized by Lakulisa was dualistic in character. Pasu, the individual soul was eternally existing with Pati, the supreme soul, and the attainment of Duhkhanta (cessation of nusery) by the former was through the performance of Yoga and Vidhi. The Vidhior means consisted mainly of various apparently senseless and unsocial acts. The Kapalikas and Kalamukhas were no doubt off-shoots of the Pasupata sect and there is clear epigraphic evidence to show that these were already flourishing in the Gupta period.

162. The secluded valley of Kashmir became the venue of the Pratyabhijna and Spandas astra schools founded respectively by Vasugupta and his pupils Kallata and Somananda (c. 9th century A.D). Other teachers prominent in the propagation of the monistic tenets of the philosophical types of Saiva religious movement were Utpalacarya, his prasisya Abhinavagupta and Abhinava’s pupil Ksemaraja (10th, 11th and 12th centuries A.D. respectively.)

163. A sect of moderate Saivas known as Mattamayuras flourished at the same time in Central India, and later in some parts of the Deccan.

164. The Saiva movement in the South, like the Vaisnava, flourished at the beginning through the activities of many of the 63 saints known in Tamil as Nayanars (Siva-bhaktas). Their appealing emotional songs in Tamil were called Tavaram Stotras, also known as Dravida Veda and ceremonially sung in the local Tirujnanasambandhar having the greatest respect for his much older contemporary. Tirunavukkarasu (Appar) another Siva-bhakta of a low caste. Manikkavasagar though not included in the list of the 63 Nayanars, was also a great Saiva devotee and his Tamil work Tiruvasagam is one of the best devotional poem of India.

165. It was later in the Upanisadic period that sages, kings, and common men and women indulged in philosophical speculation. There was speculation about the nature of the Ultimate Reality, the process of Creation, the nature of Self and its relation with the Ultimate Reality, the Highest Value of life and the Right Way of living. The recorded discussions on these and similar topics came to be called Upanisads, which became a favourite word for all deep and speculative writings. The number of Upanisads is large, but onoly eleven are considered to be of the proper Upanisadic age. They are: Isa, Katha, Kena, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandukya, Taittiriya, Aitareya, Chandogya, Brhadaranyaka and Svetasvatara. These truly represent the philosophical speculations of the Upanisadic age. There seems to be a general agreement on the following:

a. The Ultimate, Enduring and Unitary Peality in the individual is Atman (Self) which pervades and transcends the waking, dreaming the deeply sleeping experiences of man. It is characterized by Consciousness and Bliss, intuited in the fourth state of experience which is free from awareness of objects and ignorance.

b. The Ultimate Reality in and behind the objective world is called Brahman. It is from Brahman that the entire world originates; it is in Brahman that it exists; and it is in Brahman that is merges. Brahman is real, infinite and blissful Consciousness. The multiplicity of the world objects sprang from it as sparks from fire. The world comes out of it and goes back to it. it can only be negatively described as “not this, not this.”

c. The Atmanbehind the individual and the Brahmanbehind the Universe are identical. This is indicated in the Maha-Vakyas (great statements) of the Upanisads, such as “I am Brahman” (Aham Brahmasmi).

d. The Universe being a manifestation or objectification of Brahman, everything in nature is in its ultimate essence Brahman and should be felt as such. In the ultimate analysis there is no pluratity of beings (neha nanasti kincana.) The One appears as many on account of Its wonderful power Maya.

e. All Unhappiness and sufferings of man are due to ignorance of the fact that man is the Atman which is the same as the Brahman, free from all limitations, wants, changes and death and full of unalloyed joy. To realize oneself as Atman or Brahman is the highest purpose and goal of human life. It is called Moksa-freedom from ignorance, suffering, limitations, sorrows and experience of unlimited Consciousness and Absolute Happiness.

f. To realize the Atman, one has to give up all desires for worldly and finite objects, purity one’s intellect live a righteous life, long for the Atman and hear, read, think and meditate on the nature of the Atman and pray for the grace of the Atman to reveal Itself.

g. One who has realized oneself to be Brahman, becomes freed from all suffeerings, bonds, responsibilities births and deaths. He lives in amity with all his fellow beings, feeling the presence of the same. Atman in all. After the death of the physical body he enters Brahman and enjoys the bliss inherent in it.

These doctrines have been echoed and re-echoed throughout Indian history and even today they form the basic principles of our national philosophy as expounded by Vivekananada, Ramatirtha, Aurobindo, Tagore and Radhakrishnan.

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