Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
The Idea of The God
The idea of God even in the twenty first century rules the global human mind more than the state, and the constitutional laws. There is also fear and reverence of God more than just the idea of God. Though rationalism, secularism and liberalism emerged as a powerful alternative to human consciousness, the broad spectrum of human ideas still dominantly operate around the notion of God more than anti-God or out of the domain of the God. Four major religions of the world–Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism–have varied visions of the God. Though the idea of the God existed for several millennia ever since that vision of the God was written into spiritual books, by and large, it is the book view of the God that governs human consciousness as of now, as human knowledge level has grown into written discourse. And that will be around for several centuries to come. However, I would like to look at the vision of the God that Jews of Israel institutionalized and also the vision of the God that the Brahmins of India institutionalized.
How Does The Jewish and Brahmin Ideas of The God Clash?
The Jewish vision was constructed in the Old Testament to start with and expanded into an advanced form in the New Testament. The Brahmin vision got constructed in the Rigveda to start with, and expanded in the Puranas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. The first difference is that Jews visualized God in an abstract mode, without any form, without human relationship, as a creator of the entire universe, including Adam and Eve as first humans. God was neither Jew nor Israelite. Also the first Man and Woman that the God created were not created in any modern nation state. They were created in the universal garden. They were created neither as Jew, nor were they created white or black; nor were they created in any caste or creed. They were created as Man and Woman, as universal beings.
The Brahmins’ first idea of God was that of Brahma and his wife Saraswati as man and woman, as God/Goddess themselves. They have names and human form. There is no God above them. It could be easily traceable that Brahma is an Indian Aryan. They called India Bharata Khanda or Bharata Varsha in their Sanskrit books. It was from the mouth of this Brahma—the Purush, (man)- Brahmins were created, not from his wife’s womb. So the first God that they visualized was from their own Brahmin caste. Colour wise, in all portraits and also in statue forms, both Brahma and Saraswati are shown as brown in colour, or what is known as Aryan racial colour. He has three heads and four hands. There are temples for Brahma with a statue of this image inside the temple, the most famous being Pushkar temple, Rajasthan.
Racism and Casteism
Racism and casteism were written into the very origin of the creator God, Brahma. This was the beginning of the caste system in India. God himself belonged to a caste. India became a country with a caste system thereafter. Even in our times, such a caste based human society does not exist in other countries in the world. The Brahmin God exempted the Brahmins from physical labour. Brahma’s story also does not talk about his involvement in physical work.
The God of Jews worked for six days to create the universe including all life on the earth. And on the seventh day the God took rest, guiding humanity that they should live by working and also resting. If God worked to create the universe and life, the humans have to work on the land and in the nature that God created to eat, drink and live. Human body, according to the Jewish divine imagination, is meant to work and at the same time it needs rest in the nights as well as one full day in a week. This process is to recreate energy in the human body as long as he/she lives. In the case of the Brahmin God, there is no notion of working or resting. Rigveda is silent about Brahma’s own work culture. Once work culture is not part of the creation, only the culture of resting remains as a divine method of living. This process of living without working goes against the very philosophical foundation of spirituality and also religion.
But this very Brahma was said to have created a separate varna–Shudra– (varna in Sanskrit, in which the Rigveda was written, means colour) maybe in black or dark colour to be different from Brahmins. It appears that the pre-Aryan Harappans who built the Indus Valley Civilization were described as Shudras, as their colour was darker than Aryans. They were also said to have been born from the feet of Brahma. They were condemned to be the slave/labour force by the Brahmin divinity. There were two other groups called Ksatriyas and Vaisyas in the very creation story, whose colour in some narrations comes out as blue. Later on, Vishnu was created in blue colour in the Ksatriya caste. In a series, other God-Heads were added up to the divine narratives of Brahminsm. They were given both Ksatriya and Brahmin caste identity. Rama, for whom they are building a temple now, which is being described as the Vatican of Hinduism, is part of the Ksatriya caste. The spiritual ideology that the Brahmin writers constructed created God images from Brahmin and Ksatriya castes. In the life process they believe that physical labour is pollution. One who believes in Brahmin and Ksatriya gods should live without soiling their hands. By implication, the Brahmin spiritual theory says that the earth itself is untouchable as it consists of dust and mud. How do human beings survive with this philosophy?
The pre-Rigvedic spiritual philosophy of Harappans, who built a great civilization of agriculture and animal economy, much before the arrival of the Aryans, was made to be forgotten as it survived without a written text. Perhaps that spiritual philosophy would have operated around the idea of a productive God. The Brahmins later seem to have treated all those labouring masses as Shudras and their spiritual philosophy was discarded. The Shudras in reality were forced to be the slaves who toiled for the well being of the Brahmins, Ksatriyas and Baniyas. The modern Dalits, who not only suffered slavery along with the rest of the Shudras also suffered human untouchability. The Brahmin divinity stamped a seal of approval on this unusual barbaric civilizational practice and forced the rest of the Shudras to practice and enforce it. The state administration till 1947 was under the rule of both Ksatriya and Shudra (who were given ksatriya status after they became rulers; this happened till the princely states were abolished after independence) rulers, who were made to implement the caste laws codified by Manu, a Brahmin himself. The Brahmin head priest and prime minister were overseeing the implementation of the caste laws. Every caste practice was given a written codification with a direction that it was Gods’ command, as those Gods themselves were rooted in the caste system. Their books did not allow any re-interpretative gateway also. Thus, India as a nation was made a jail with a full blown caste structure and the head of the jail was always a Brahmin. Within this jail the Shudra/Dalits were forced to produce food, other goods and commodities and the other three castes, Brahmin, Ksatriya and Baniyas, consumed that food, goods and commodities. Knowledge hybridization was completely arrested therein. The Jewish spiritual textuality, on the other hand, allowed scope for interpretation and re-interpretation and each prophet went on changing the spiritual, social and economic knowledge system based on the need, geography, times and conditions as it became global.
This being the central philosophy of the Brahmin spiritual books one does not have to laboriously read those books in terms of contradictions, positive and negative ideas that they contain. Their fundamental thesis is anti-labour and caste centered: that automatically goes against human advancement. The great spiritual, legal and socio-political thinker of modern India, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, very laboriously examined those books and said that they would not allow change in the Indian spiritual and social system. Hence they would not allow human equality and economic development. What needs to be studied very carefully is: how among the Shudras/Dalits and Tribals of India an alternative spiritual philosophy still exists. The Brahmin literature, both spiritual and social, does not mention about the parallel existence of a positive productive spiritual philosophy in India. However, it exists, otherwise Indian people would have starved and disappeared from the earth.
This also shows that the early Jewish spiritual literature like Genesis of the Bible could have been written much earlier than Rigveda, otherwise they too would have been influenced by the Brahmin spiritual thought of God being anti-labour. The Jewish spiritual book related ideas spread far and wide in the world, whereas the Brahmin spiritual literature remained confined only to India.
Producers and Prophets
Jewish spiritual thought talked about the narratives of humans as commoners and prophets. After Adam and Eve their children–Cain and Abel– were born as commoners from Eve’s pregnancy. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Both of them are equivalent to Shudras in Brahmin sacred books. Agriculture and animal economy became part of the Jewish sacred book, the Torah or the Old Testament. This follows the whole development of human productive labour, struggles, and advancement of human civilization, as it happens in the human history of any society.
Abraham, a shepherd (in Indian context, a Shudra), emerges as a prophet and a leader, who built the first society or nation. He was a human and a member of Adam and Eve’s dynasty. Both shepherding and agriculture remain part of his and his children’s life. Then, of course, the population multiplies in a system of human production and procreation process. Labour, human and animal positive relations, conflicts, and advancement of society remain part of the Bible.
The Brahmins have excluded themselves, in all their writings, from production. The other caste group, Ksatriyas, was assigned the role of ruling the society and state strictly under the guidance of Brahmins. The Shudras had no spiritual, social and economic rights. The Vaisya caste was assigned the work of agriculture and business in the beginning. Gradually the Baniyas also eschewed productive work and started confining themselves to business and accumulation of wealth. The Shudras were spiritually given the role of producing food of all varieties without allowing an access to Brahmin Gods. The Jewish spirituality assigned all varieties of food production to all humans, including prophets. Thus, it left scope for the emergence of social classes but not social castes. And also it led to creative thinking about productive science. Historically social classes competed in discoveries and social castes had no way to compete with other castes. The Brahmin spiritual theory arrested humans by binding them to caste boundaries. Caste became part of Brahmin blood, bone and body.
The Bible gave the story of Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah and finally the birth and growth of Jesus. Of course, from Abraham to Jesus their nationality was shown as Israelite and Israel is written about as the chosen land of God. But at the same time the Israelites were said to be slaves in the hands of Egyptians and hence God took the responsibility of liberating them. But all of them were humans and by their conduct, acts and teachings have come to be known as that of prophets but not of God. Prophets taught about God’s commands or teachings to shape the moral and ethical conduct of people in a manner that the human society lived with civilized relations. Moses and Jesus’ teachings show humanity how societies were moralized. Each human being lived a life of poverty, struggle, survival by sharing everything with other human beings. From there the societies moved towards prosperity. Labour was integral to their life. Many things in those stories resemble the human life stories of modern times–tilling the land and cultivating, heavy rains and droughts, human quarrels and dispute resolution were written about, in the form of stories and parables. Men and women shared everything. There is a social science in that spiritual narratives. There was no race preference in God and prophets. However, gender inequality was written into the Jewish spiritual books. But commoners became kings and prophets in the Bible. Moses was an ordinary shepherd and King David too was a shepherd who becomes a king by displaying courage and sacrifice. These are outstanding examples. In the Brahmin spiritual writings, quite opposite to the Jewish spiritual system, God enslaves the Shudras from the very beginning. Thus, in the Brahmin spiritual narrative God is an enslaver but not liberator. Commoners’ life struggles, pains and pleasures do not figure at all. The Shudras and Dalits remain invisible and history-less in those narratives all through.
Priest and Labour
The Brahmin books were always concerned about Brahmin labour-free life, and also their hegemony over the rest of Indians. Of course, the Brahmin books negotiated with colour questions by constructing Gods as blue and black also. The third major God, Shiva, appears in black colour, though his wife Parvati is shown in brown Aryan colour. All Brahmin books depicted women only in brown colour. We, therefore, get a doubt that black or blue women are not fit for marriage. In the Jewish portraits, men and women appear in the same white Israelite colour.
In the visual portrayal of Vishnu, Rama’s blue colour was shown as God’s colour. But never were they said to have compromised with the caste system.
In the Brahmin spiritual literature caste was constructed as part of its blood, roots, bones and body. Caste was made an inescapable institution by the divine agencies themselves. Labour was not allowed to be a universal human survival base but forced upon the Shudra/Dalit social forces. The tribal communities were left to themselves without giving them any scope to come into the spiritual domain of Brahmins. Hence there is still tribal society within the forest zones in India, which does not exist in Africa or Latin America where the Jewish Bible spread. The Jewish spiritual literature gave scope to any human being to enter into God’s domain. A tribal could come into religion and become a priest without any social hurdles. In Brahmin literature and practice such entry is strictly prohibited with a fear that the new entrants could claim equality and change the spiritual and social structure they constructed in their spiritual books. Thus, the spiritual books that they wrote were made fortresses to sustain their unproductive living process.
Jesus and Shambuka
The rich and high powered people controlling God without allowing the poor to enter the high pedestal of the religious system was broken by Jesus in the Jewish system. He was an ordinary shepherd woman’s son (equivalent to the Indian Shudra), who worked as a carpenter with his father, Joseph, who adopted him, though he was born before his marriage with Mary. He broke that powerful class controlled spiritual system with a spiritual and social revolution. He did that by declaring himself as the son of God. He walked most of the time on bare foot or rode a donkey. He lived in tattered clothes. He had no chariots and no weapon wielding armies. He lived among fishing folks, shepherds and broken women. No Shudra in Brahmin literature could declare that he/she was son or daughter of Brahma or Vishnu or Rama because of their caste location. No Brahmin saint lived among fishing folk, shepherds and helped women who were condemned and suffering with object poverty and exploitation because of caste and isolated food culture–pure vegetarianism.
Jesus changed the class status of poor into rich and rich into poor. He lived in poor people’s houses and ate whatever food they offered. He never believed in the theory of purity and pollution of human occupations and food items. This revolutionary process is seen in the New Testament.
Contrary to such practices of Jews, any attempt to change in the Brahmin religious system was violently stopped. The case of Shambuka, a Shudra, in Ramayana is a case in point. Shambuka was a Shudra who wanted to realize God through tapasya. The Brahmin gurus of Sri Rama advised him to kill him, as he was Shudra hence not permitted to negotiate directly with God. Rama kills him. The whole of Brahmin literature is silent about Shudra/Dalit hunger for spiritual equality and liberation. Or it tells the stories of tortures and killings of Shudras who asserted their right to religion. If Jesus were to be born in India he would have been killed at an early stage in life. He would not have had any Brahmin followers. But many Jews, including a royal Jew like Paul became his followers and spread his message across the world. Saint Thomas who came to India as a follower of Jesus was a Jew and was killed by a Brahmin.
Survival of Jews in Europe
After Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection Christianity was formed as a religion. Some Jews accepted it and some did not. Once Islam got constructed as a separate religion from the very source of the Jewish Old Testament, conflicts between Christianity, Islam and Jeudaism got sharpened. Finally Jews of Israel lost their nation. The Jews spread all over Europe just with the hope of surviving with labour and their spiritual books in their hands. Until the 1948 resettlement in Israel, their knowledge was used in Europe in many spheres. They produced great intellectuals, scientists, industrial innovators even in that torturous life. Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein are just a few outstanding examples. They worked for global transformation, human enlightenment and progress. After resettling back in Israel they built their nation within a short time with a combination of hard labour and creative knowledge. Today’s Israel is a powerful nation with just 9.2 million people. With a combination of labour, science and wisdom the Jews built a very powerful modern nation within just 70 years. India is dependent on Israel for many scientific innovations.
The Brahmins were never displaced from this land. They lived a comfortable life with the labour of the Shudra/Dalit/Tribals. As of now a rough estimation of the Brahmin population is about 4 per cent of the total Indian population of India. In other words the Brahmins constitute roughly about 50 million. Their labour power contribution in the agrarian and other productive economy of India is negligible. They have not contributed by educating the actual tillers as they believed that if the Shudras get education they will not accept a slavish life and live under their control. Not allowing Shudras to educate themselves was to see that skilled intellectual leadership could not emerge from the agrarian masses. An organized rebellion would then be possible against the comfortable leisurely spiritual and social life of Brahmins. No Jewish leader could think of such a strategy because everyone in the Jewish community could work in any field of life. In one Jewish family there could be a shoe maker, there could be a rabbi, and there could be a shepherd. A Brahmin household cannot think of having in the same family a shoe maker or a shepherd or even a tiller together.
Does a Brahmin nation survive?
The Brahmins opposed soiling their hands with a theory that the Vedic Gods treated soil itself as a polluting substance for hands, thereby the human body. Hence the entire production work was forced on the Shudras since then. Till today that theory is alive and operates as a spiritual norm. They have also not produced intellectuals who could match the Jewish intellectuals, with all their spiritual literature at their command. Historically they were against combining physical labour and mental labour. As I said earlier they treated physical labour as spiritually polluting. Let us ask a hypothetical question: can these 50 million Brahmins constitute a nation and develop it as Israel was developed by Jews? Can they develop that nation like the Jewish nation and make it globally visible? The Jews built enormous vitality in themselves by combining physical and mental labour power as historical spiritual and social processes. The Brahmins, on the other hand, reserved intellectual work but could not advance because of the disconnect between physical labour and mental labour. Neither in the realm of God nor in the realm of nature such a disconnection is acceptable and allowed.
In my opinion it is impossible because of the Brahmin anti-labour casteist intellectuality, which does not allow them any open creative thinking. Their knowledge and literature never were positive. Lot of Brahmins in the twenty first century migrated to various countries in the world, not as labourers but as middle class intellectuals with the same caste controlling spiritual literary heritage as their property. Does the Western world treat them as valuable as Jews? I do not think so. The Jews suffered holocaust and barbaric German fascist attacks, humiliation, labour camps yet sustained their civilizational strength. They retained their positive will of spirituality, humanity, labour and scientific approach to life. Would Brahmins have recovered form that holocaust trauma and built a nation of their own? I do not think so. Given their negative spiritual history of caste, anti-labour and human untouchability they would have lost their historical existence. Unless one’s spiritual book gives that strength and positive will to work, suffer, eat and rest and start working again no human community can reconstruct themselves as the Jews did.
In my sixty nine years of life, I have worked with many Brahmins. I have seen the Brahmins who are known as spiritual, left, liberal and so on. Some claimed thems to be secular, democratic, radical, rationalist and so on. But I have not found them honest reviewers of their spiritual and social history. I have not known even one Jew personally. But I read their writings and their history. Their commitment is to physical labour, intellectual honesty and positive will for human equality.
The communist Brahmins knew that there is something fundamentally problematic with their ancient civilizational roots. Many of them read Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Einstein and other Jewish thinkers who changed the civilizational paths of the world. But they have not tried to look at their own anti-production divine, social and cultural ethic. They know that many Jewish scholars and thinkers contested their own philosophical evolution, in spite of its inclusive culture and positive production and labour ethic. But no Brahmin in such a long history opposed their living process and the kind of spiritual, social philosophy they constructed. Thus, India was made to be a stagnant nation. Theirs is not love for the nation but it is love for their own community. This ancient civilizational nation is built by the Shudra/Dalit/Adivasi labour. But they were never allowed to emerge as thinkers, philosophers and prophets. It is their turn to change the nation and the world with a positive spiritual, social and scientific thinking and writing in a globally understandable language, English.
Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is the author of Why I am Not a Hindu, Post-Hindu India, The Shudras–Vision for a New Path (edited along with Karthik Raja Karuppusamy) and other books. He is a political theorist, social and spiritual reformer and a follower of Mahatma Phule and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar.