Where is the Brahmin, seeker of the highest truth? – Makarand Paranjape


Prof Makarand R. ParanjapeIndia is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. … The main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” – Prof Makarand Paranjape

No right-thinking Indian can justify the ancient régime of varna vyastha, whose injustices, inequalities, and indignities have survived into our own times. Yet, arguably, it is caste, not ideology, that is still the driving force in Indian society and politics. This contradiction of repudiation-reification makes us pose the moot question, “Has the Brahmin disappeared from India?”

Some 20 years ago, Saeed Naqvi, in The Last Brahmin Prime Minister of India, conferred that dubious distinction on P. V. Narasimha Rao. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s ascension to the august office proved Naqvi wrong. Rani Sivasankara Sarma’s autobiographical account in Telugu, The Last Brahmin, published soon after Naqvi’s, also asks similar questions, though from a socio-religious, rather than political, standpoint.

I was startled to learn that on his last visit to India in 1985, the great philosopher and teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti raised the same question in his conversation with Professor P. Krishna at Rajghat, Varanasi (A Jewel on a Silver Platter: Remembering Jiddu Krishnamurti by Padmanabhan Krishna). Krishnamurti is quick to clarify that “Brahmin” is “Not by birth, sir, that is so childish!” As the conversation unfolds, Krishnamurti narrates a story to illustrate.

After defeating Porus, Alexander is impressed by the efficiency of the former’s administration. Alexander hears that the person responsible, Porus’s Brahmin Prime Minister, has left the capital after the loss. Sending after him, Alexander is further surprised at the Brahmin’s refusal to call on him. Deciding to visit him instead, Alexander asks, “I am so impressed with your abilities. Will you work for me?” “Sorry,” says the Brahmin, “I must teach these children; I no longer wish to serve emperors.”

Krishnamurti’s tale is a variation of the story of Alexander the Great and the Stoic. The latter refuses to give up philosophy even in face of the monarch’s threats or blandishments; clearly, this story has both Greek and Indian versions. Krishnamurti concludes: “That’s a Brahmin—you can’t buy him. Now tell me, Sir, has the Brahmin disappeared from this country?”

In thus defining a Brahmin, Krishnamurti is following a tradition as old as the Buddha. In Canto 26 of the Dhammapada titled, “Who is a Brahmin,” the Tathagata says, “who is devoid of fear and free from fetters, him I call a Brahmin.” Verse after verse clarifies, enumerates, and explains the qualities: “He who is contemplative, lives without passions, is steadfast and has performed his duties, who is free from sensuous influxes and has attained the highest goal—him I call a Brahmin” (386). “Not by matted hair, by lineage, nor by birth (caste) does one become a Brahmin. But the one in whom there abide truth and righteousness, he is pure; he is a Brahmin” (393).

Traditionally, those born in the Brahmin jati were supposed to aspire to and espouse such high ideals, whether Vedic or Buddhist. But in these contentious times, the Buddha’s words themselves have been politicised. There are many “modern” translations of the Dhammapada where the word “Brahmin” has been removed completely. The Vedas, of course, are rejected altogether for being “Brahminical.” The object is clearly to attack, denigrate, and destroy the abstract category called “Brahmin.”

Often, the main strategy is to ascribe all the evils not only of the caste system but of Hinduism itself to “Brahminism.” Actually, the latter word was invented by Orientalists to refer to the worship of “Brahman” in contra-distinction to the Buddha, which was called Buddhism. The rule of Brahmins, though there was possibly never such a thing in actual Indian history, should more properly be termed “Brahminarchy”, a term no one uses. Much misinterpretation has also entered our own languages through the back translation of “Brahminism” as “Brahmanvad.” The latter is understood as the ideology of Brahmin domination promoting a hierarchical and exclusionary social system.

Maharaja NandakumarThe history of anti-Brahminism should not, however, be traced to Phule, Periyar, or even Ambedkar, who were all trying to reform rather than destroy Hindu society. The real culprit was more likely British imperialism. If the Muslim invaders tried to annihilate the Kshatriyas, the British attempted to finish off the Brahmins. After the East India Company assumed the overlordship of Bengal, their first execution was of “Maharaja” Nandakumar, a leading Brahmin opponent of the Governor-General, Warren Hastings. On 5 August 1775, Nandakumar was hanged for forgery, a capital crime under British law. But how was such a law applicable to India?

Macaulay, though an imperialist, called the execution a judicial murder. He accused Elijah Impey, the first Chief Justice of the Calcutta Supreme Court, of colluding with Hastings.

The hanging of Nandakumar took place near what is now the Vidyasagar Setu. The entire Hindu population shunned the British, moving to the other bank of the river, to protest against British injustice and to avoid the pollution caused by the act.

Today, India is filled not only with Brahmin-baiters and Brahmin-haters, but also of brainwashed and de-brahminised Hindus. My own university, JNU, is full of pamphlets and posters against Brahminism, one even blaming “Brahminical patriarchy” for the disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed, who went missing on 15 October 2016. Anti-Brahminism, however, is never considered hate-crime or hate-speech. Why? Don’t Brahmins have human feelings or rights? Brahmins, moreover, are soft targets, scripturally and culturally enjoined not to retaliate. As the Dhammapada (389) puts it, “One should not strike a Brahmin; neither should a Brahmin give way to anger against him who strikes.”

Is it time intellectually to re-arm Brahmins so that they maintain both their own dignity and the veneration of their inherited calling? Does the ideal of the Brahmin continue to be relevant to India, whether we define a Brahmin as one who cannot be bought, a seeker of the highest truth, or a teacher and guide? Shouldn’t such a person, regardless of the jati she or he is born in, continue to be a beacon of light and leadership? As to those born into the community, they may well remember the Kanchi Paramacharya’s sage advice: Fulfill the responsibilities but do not expect the privileges of your birth. – Swarajya, 6 January 2017

» Prof Makarand Paranjape is an author and teaches English at JNU, New Delhi. 

Brahmin & Moghul

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6 Responses

  1. Nice article. Thanks.

    It is very unfortunate the treatment meted-out to brahmins. but I would personally seek no special status because my community, on its part, has as well fallen down in a number of ways.

    Many are sold to westernism big-time and they indeed care less about their principles. For many brahmins it’s the pressure of survival (brahmins are arguably the most maligned and endangered species in all of human history, yet it is so astonishing no serious research has ever been commissioned on the topic) and they would rather fall in love with the make-up that devastated them.

    If you ask me, the brahmin should have given-up his desire to reincarnate in Kali yuga; if he did, then, he deserves what he is going through now. But on the other hand the society is totally wrong to dismiss the brahminical values, for THAT is the only way by which humanity can ever balance the hard-to-resist worldly life with the inevitable-necessity-to-discover the larger human purpose.

    I am confident the imperatives of finding this balance will gravitate all—even those who bitterly detest the brahmins and their dharma—to embrace these values. the more fanatic the detesting, the equally more fanatic will also be the re-building.

    This point draws Sri Vishnu’s comments made to his doorkeepers, who because of a curse by Mahalakshmi have to assume human life. Well aware of both the irrevocable nature of a curse as well as the pains of human life, the doorkeepers plead with Vishnu to make their period on earth the shortest. Sympathising with which Vishnu suggests they become his enemies and so atrocity against the good will gain speed and enormity and Vishnu will then intervene and finish them off to reveal their previous status, when reunion in sheerasagar will be completed in the shortest possible time. One of the keepers ends-up playing the highly talented demon Ravana.

    Those who destroyed the brahmins will for sure have to come back to rebuild what they previously ruined. But that will not happen very soon because the world is a drama in slow motion and it takes hundreds of years for many folks to correct themselves.

    But I am happy with Paranjape (a Marathi brahmin). At least someone in the main education of the age has begun to come closer to the facts.


  2. most respected sir ,

    point 1.

    S’ri Bhagavan said He created the vyavastha ( not the individuals )– the organization called “chaaturvarn’yam ” — into which jivas are born as per their individual propensities — brought from their previous lives ;

    He did never explicitly say that birth does’nt at all have any role in deciding varn’a ;

    He exhorted Arjuna to head for the battle because he was a kshatriya — on the basis of what ? guna-karma ? birth ?

    one who believes in the basic tenet ” rebirth ” never really cares — this varna which is a ‘marker’ for the jiva in this body need not necessarily be the same in the previous and later births ;

    point 3.

    yes ; that is the truth in our Dharma — That Great Reality may manifest Itself even in animal forms ! leave alone non-brahmin human beings !

    please note that the jati into which they are born never counts for our reverence , though they are noted by their ” born status ” only

    S’ri Rama was nevertheless a kshatriya only , though revered by the great brahman sages —

    this clearly shows that varna is a vyavastha intended to build a great society through lineage , to remind people of ( and establish them firmly in ) their duties and responsibilities ;

    of course , this never precludes great people to be born into other varnas ; so , let us be great ! and never bother about varna !


  3. Points to consider:

    1. Sri Krishna in the Gita defines a Brahmin by character, not by birth in a particular jati.

    2. A Brahmin can be made by ritual initiation (giving of yajnopavita, Gayatri mantra, etc). This is done for many sannyas candidates (brahmacharis) who are not born in the Brahmin jati but must perform a number of Vedic rituals before renouncing (after which their acquired Brahmin identity is given up; a sannyasi has a gotra but not a jati).

    3. A large number of our avatars, rishis, mahatmas, and siddhas were not born in the Brahmin jati and, conversely, today, a large number of persons born in the Brahmin jati do not have or manifest the Brahmin samskara or defined shastric character.


  4. I beg to disagree with the author when he mentions that Brahmin is not by birth. This is not true. He has quoted Kanchi Paramacharya but not sure if he has read him on this matter. The fundamental requirement for a Brahmin to be one is to be born in that clan (jathi), without which he cannot claim himself to be a Brahmin. But I agree that just being born in a Brahmin jathi alone does not make him one. He has responsibilities that needs to be fulfilled to maintain his status.
    The author is also blatantly wrong in portraying periyar as a reformist. He is a European stooge and he wanted to destroy Hinduism at any cost. He even begged the British to stay back during independence and he announced independence day as a black day for the country.


  5. “Apart from anti-Judaism (anti-Semitism), the anti-Brahmin campaign started by the Christian missionaries is the biggest vilification campaign in world history.” — Dr. Koenraad Elst


  6. St. Francis Xavier: The Scourge of the Coromandel Coast!

    “There are in these parts among the pagans a class of men called Brahmins. They are as perverse and wicked a set as can anywhere be found, and to whom applies the Psalm which says: ‘From an unholy race, and wicked and crafty men, deliver me, Lord.’ If it were not for the Brahmins, we should have all the heathens embracing our faith.” — “St” Francis Xavier

    Spanish Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier was the pioneer of anti-Brahmanism, which was adopted in due course as a major plank in the missionary propaganda of all Christian denominations in India.

    Lord Minto, Governor General of India from 1807 to 1812, submitted a Note to his superiors in London when the British Parliament was debating whether missionaries should be permitted in East India Company’s domain under the Charter of 1813. He enclosed with his Note some “propaganda material used by the missionaries” and, referring to one missionary tract in particular, wrote: “The remainder of this tract seems to aim principally at a general massacre of the Brahmanas” (M. D. David (ed.), Western Colonialism in Asia and Christianity, Bombay, 1988, p. 85).

    Anti-Brahminism is the counterpart of anti-Semitism. Both originate in Christian theology and 18th century European race theory. Tamil Dravidian ideologues in South India—along with Jotirao Phule and Ambedkar—have shamelessly borrowed their anti-Brahminism from Christian missionaries.

    But whereas anti-Semitism is proscribed with severe penalties in the West today, anti-Brahminism still has a free run in India.

    Anti-Brahmanism is the dominant theme in the speeches and writings of Indian secularists of all colours and kind—even some of the victims have adopted it (Stockholm syndrome)!


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