Why Buddhist-Brahmin Poets Tampered with Ramayana and the Shambuka Episode by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay SignUp
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Hinduism Share This Page
Why Buddhist-Brahmin Poets Tampered
with Ramayana and the Shambuka Episode
by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay Bookmark and Share

Academically, the antiquity and dating of Rama’s Itihasa and original Rama-katha is not yet resolved. The Valmiki’s Ramayana (Ram.) was composed about 5th century BCE, its first stage of development completed within 300 BCE (Brockington 2006) and interpolations and additions to it continued for centuries, at least upto the Gupta Age. [1]

So, Valmiki’s Ramayana contains Ramayana-tradition. Besides, Ramayana has been interpreted and retold many times down the ages, [2] and they are also part of the Ramayana-tradition. However, to confuse tradition with Valmiki’s Ramayana would be akin to taking Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Karna Kunti Samvada’ as authentic Mahabharata.

Going by the 5th century BCE dating of Valmiki’s Ramayana, it is thus more or less contemporary if not earlier to Gautama Buddha and Mahavira (c. 5th to 4th century BCE). The 6th-5th century BCE was a Golden Age and many Dharma-Teachers like Purana Kassapa (Amoralism), Makkhali Gosala (Ajivika), Ajita Kesakambali (Lokayata), Pakudha Kaccayana (Shashvatavada, Anuvada), and Sanjaya Belatthaputta (Agnosticism, Amaravikkhepavada) flourished. All were teaching Dharma – which is the original name of Sanatana Dharma or Vedic Hindu Dharma. [3]

Many intellectual and spiritual giants in an age and almost same locale facilitated cultural exchange as well as sectarian rivalries. Both Gautama Buddha and Mahavira were not only claiming their path and Dharma-Teachings to be best, they also denounced each other in competitive spirit. Gautama Buddha says, “I am now a teacher who has appeared in the world, I do not see any other teacher who has attained supremacy in terms of gains & supremacy in terms of status equal to what I have… And I do not see that (Mahavira’s) doctrine is even equal to mine, so how better? In fact, my doctrine is the better one.” [4] Similarly Mahavira says, “the Nigantha Nataputta is all-knowing, all-seeing, and claims total knowledge & vision." [5]

Such sectarian claims like “I am Right, You are Wrong” or “My Path is the only Right Path” or “My Dharma-teaching is best” or “I am the best Dharma-Teacher” are of course symptomatic of any religion and sect. [6]

Buddhism and Jainism have their doctrinal origin in Vedas, Upanishads in particular, the messages on Dharma and Ahimsa in particular, [7] and have been deeply influenced by Ram. and Mbh.. For example, Ashvaghosha (c. 80 – c. 150 CE) in his Vajrasuci acknowledges Gautama Buddha’s indebtedness to Yudhishthira in his Reform Movement against Hereditary Varna System (later Caste-System). Gautama Buddha said that in one of his previous incarnations, he was Vyasa (Kanhadipayana-Jataka, No 444) and in another previous birth he was Rama [Dasharatha Jataka (No. 461)]. He was also known as Rama to many people [8] (obviously they saw him as Rama’s incarnation).

In such a scenario where Gautama was explaining Vedic Dharma with great reverence to Vedic Rshis [9] , Vedic past [10] and declaring his Dharma-legacy to Rama, but at the same time trying to establish a separate sect with followers, the clash of Symbols was inevitable. And in such scenario, it is common and true to human nature that attempts would be made to add value to the preferred symbol by subverting the less preferred one.

Here I shall discuss that while ‘adding value’ meant transforming Gautama Buddha into THE BUDDHA, for replacing the Vedic-Hindu Symbol/ Icon of Rama by THE BUDDHA, it was a necessary strategy of the Buddhists to corrupt and subvert Ramayana by creating narratives re-constructing Rama; and this was done by Buddhist-Brahmin poets and/or by Brahmin-Buddhist poets.

Some important facts to remember:

i. Gautama Buddha and Mahavira did not found any religion. Remaining within the umbrella of Dharma, they interpreted the Vedas and Dharma in their own ways, added new modes of analytical and spiritual wisdom, and suggested their preferred paths

ii. There was no Buddhism or Jainism, or Buddhists and Jains in Ancient Bharatavarsha. The epithets Brahmana and Shramana of Vedic origin [11] were the common ideology of all

iii. There was no conversion from Vedic- Hinduism to Buddhism or Jainism and vice versa. ‘Conversion’ is an Abrahamic concept alien to Bharatiya culture. Any individual was free to follow one or many Dharma-Teachers of his/her preference

With the further clarification that I have used ‘Buddhist’ in the title for convenience of communication to suggest ‘followers of Gautama Buddha’, just as I would use ‘Buddhism’ to suggest Gautama Buddha’s Dharma-Teachings and not Religion unless otherwise specified, let us now understand, who were the Buddhist-Brahmins and Brahmin-Buddhists?

Since Gautama Buddha regarded ‘Brahmana’ the ideal of life, many Vedic-Hindus who became Buddha followers retained their erstwhile caste-Brahmin identity; similarly, there is Jain-Brahmin too (Bronkhorst 2018). How could that happen had Gautama and his followers been really opposed to Vedic-Hindu Varna SystemGuna-Karma-based or hereditary (Caste-System)? We shall see, such simplistic narrative does not hold ground.

Many Caste-Brahmins came to Gautama with spiritual quest or to discuss on Dharma, but left without submitting to him; for example, the Brahmin Sonadanda, [xii] or the two Brahma nas, [xiii] or the Brahmana Drona. [14] These Brahmins, I call Brahmin-Buddhist. And the Brahmin s, who submitted to Gautama Buddha and became his declared followers, yet retained the Brahmin-identity, I call Buddhist-Brahmin. The third category are the Brahmanas, who were Brahmana by Guna-Karma and not just by birth, and were looked upon by Vedic-Hindu and Gautama Buddha’s followers alike as following Gautama Buddha’s Brahmana-Ideal, I call Buddhist-Brahmanas. [Henceforth, all three categories would be mentioned as Buddhist-Brahmin for convenience]

Similar happened to Jainism and the sects of other Dharma-Teachers. Thus proponents of Ajita Kesakambali’s philosophy or Carvaka philosophy were also Brahmins, and they could conveniently trace the origin of Carvaka/ Lokayata philosophy to the Vedic Brahmana of Brahmanas, Brhaspati.

The Buddhist-Brahmins thus maintained dual identity, footing on two boats. It would not be wrong to say that the survival of Caste-System in Bharata-India owes much to Buddhist-Brahmins (also Jain-Brahmins). Vedic- Hinduism upheld Hereditary Varna System but with check-and-balance. For example, other than liberal definition of Varnas that permitted Varna-identity on Guna, Karma and conduct, the Gautama Dharmasutra and Apastamba Dharmasutra prescribe Varna promotion and demotion in every 5th-7th generation; the Hereditary Varna System was thus not a static system. There was scope of moving up or sliding down the Varna hierarchy. However, with the advent of these dual-identity dual-loyalists, the check-and-balance was lost. [15]

All known giant intellectuals and poets who composed Gautama Buddha’s life-story and constructed THE BUDDHA [xvi] and elaborated and developed the ‘Buddhist philosophy’ were Buddhist-Brahmins: Ashvaghosha (c. 80 – c. 150 CE), Buddhaghosha (5th century CE), Nagarjuna (c. 150 – c. 250 CE) and many others.

The motive of the Buddhist-Brahmins cannot be bracketed as homogenous; however, two broad categories can be comprehended –

1. The Buddhist-Brahmins who wanted to synthesize Gautama Buddha’s teachings with the messages of other streams of Vedic-Hinduism and even ‘Jainism’. This often had the purpose to return to the original Vedic messages but through Gautama Buddha’s mode.

2. The Buddhist-Brahmins who wanted to subvert Vedic- Hinduism to establish and propagate a separate religion – Buddhism. One common strategy was to subvert Vedic-Hindu Symbols/ Icons like the Vedic Rshis, Rama and Krshna. The process of subverting, however, cannot be conceived as a flat-narrative. Because of dual-identity dual-loyalty of the Buddhist-Brahmins, there is assimilation even in subversion.

Complexer motives worked when these Buddhist-Brahmin poets were subverting the Ram. and Mbh. because otherwise establishing Buddhism as a separate sect and religion would have been impossible under the overwhelming influence of Ram. and Mbh.

From the fact that Buddhist Jatakas narrate Rama, Krshnadvaipayana Vyasa and Vidura as Gautama Buddha’s previous incarnation, but not Vasudeva-Krshna, rather they are harsh on Vasudeva-Krshna, we may understand that influence of Krshna was a greater perceived threat to them. Whereas, Vasudeva-Krshna has numerous mentions in different records, it is significant to note that outside Buddhist sources nowhere the name ‘Gautama’ is to be found in the BCE range. Even Ashokan Inscriptions do not mention ‘Gautama.’

Krshna’s overwhelming influence is also evident from similar attitude of Jains to Krshna. In this article, however, we shall keep our discussion confined to Buddhism and Ramayana.

Now I shall take here three key events of Ramayana as found in the present-Text and show how and why Buddhist-Brahmin poets tampered with them to construct Rama either as lesser to Gautama Buddha or to make Gautama Buddha’s conduct and action appear justified at the cost of Rama’s similarly constructed conduct and action.

1. Buddhist depiction of Rama and Sita as brother-sister

Krshna’s influence was a greater ‘threat’, but Rama was a greater ‘problem’ because Gautama Buddha was of the same Vedic Ikshvaku dynasty (mentioned in Rgveda) [17] or Rama’s descendant [18] and said he was Rama in a previous incarnation.

It is known that Rama was Dasharatha’s son and Sita was Janaka’s daughter. The Dasharatha Jataka (No. 461) however, depicts Rama and Sita as brother and sister, that is, the Jataka depicts Rama-Sita’s marriage as sibling marriage. Some Buddhist-Brahmin poet created the narrative for mainly three reasons:

a. To justify the Buddhist narrative of Gautama Buddha’s origin in Ikshvaku Dynasty with a similar sibling marriage narrative.

In Buddhist version of Ikshvakus, the Ikshvaku (Okkaka) king gave his daughter Madda-rûpî in marriage to Kanha, who was his son from a slave girl called Disâ. [19]

b. To justify Gautama Buddha’s marriage to his cousin sister Yashodhara.

Yashodhara was the daughter of King Suppabuddha, and Amita, sister of the Buddha's father, King Shuddhodana. She was born on same day in the month of "Vaishakha" as prince Siddhartha. The Gautama and Yashodhara marriage took place when both were 16 years of age, and their son Rahula was born when they were 29.

Thinking that the sibling marriage in Buddhist Ikshvaku history as well as in Gautama Buddha’s own life might not go well with lay Buddha followers and might not draw Vedic-Hindu householders to their fold, the Buddhist-Brahmin poets constructed Rama and Sita similarly. They were clever to understand that the Rama-Sita sibling marriage would feed on the positive value of Arjuna-Subhadra cousin marriage of Mbh. In other words, the Buddhist-Brahmin poets used Mbh too in reconstructing Ram. and Rama.

c. To subvert the overwhelming influence of Rama by making him marry his sister

Dasharatha Jataka glorifies Rama. The clever Buddhist-Brahmin poets understood that if one took Dasharatha Jataka as glorification of Rama then the fact of Rama marrying his sister would also have to be taken by him. The strategy is to give a positive narrative on Rama, and corrupt Valmiki’s Ramayana through that very glorification.

In similar vein, the Jains attempted to subvert Rama by creating narratives of polygamous Rama and Hanuman. And of course they didn’t forget to make Rama a Jain ascetic at the end of his life. These narratives became popular in different South-East Asian Ram.


2. Rama’s abandonment of Sita

This narrative concerns gender issue, so it has a special appeal particularly in our times. Those who question Rama’s action and say, ‘Rama should not have abandoned Sita despite public rumour’, may better imagine, ‘then what should Rama have done?’

But our concern now is not speculating on the episode and re-creating Rama, because the entire episode is in Uttarakanda which is interpolation and Rama has already been re-created in it. We better ask: why did the Buddhist-Brahmin poet construct this narrative?

There were mainly two reasons:

a. To justify Gautama Buddha’s abandonment of his wife and infant child.

Gautama Buddha abandoned Yashodhara and Rahula on the seventh night of Rahula’s birth to attain enlightenment. Lest Gautama Buddha appeared as negligent and uncompassionate, particularly to householders whose patronage and donation the Buddhists needed to empower Buddhism, the Buddhist-Brahmin poets constructed Rama similarly. Lay followers could no more blame Gautama Buddha without blaming Rama.

b. To make Rama appear lesser to Gautama Buddha

Bringing Rama at par with Gautama Buddha in abandoning wife and child was not enough. So, they further created the story of Rama doubting Sita’s character propelled by public rumour/opinion and subsequent Sita’s fire ordeal or Agni-Pariksha with the understanding that the fire odeal and Sita’s emergence from it unharmed would establish Sita as Mother-Veda (which she indeed is in Valmiki’s Ramayana) other than reinforcing the significance of Agni as purifier in Vedic-Hindu cultural memory.

The clever Buddhist-Brahmin poets knew that Sita’s purity being acknowledged by them, the narrative would thus have natural acceptability among Vedic-Hindu mass.

Contrary to popular belief, Gautama was not averse to Vedic Agni rituals or Yajna. He wanted to establish Yajna in its true significance – that relates to right Karma of conduct, Ahimsa and Medha (intellect and Vidya). [20] He was not against non-violent sacrifice. [21]

The true purpose of Vedic Agni-ritual is spelled, for example, in the Janaka-Yajnavalka conversation in the Shatapatha-Brahmana (11), and the metaphoric significance is already stated by Rshi Parvata Kanva: “The pious germ of sacrifice directly purifies the soul” (RV. 8.12.11ab). [22] It is natural then, Parvata Kanva is hailed as a great Rshi along with Narada in both Buddhism and Jainism.

Though later, one is reminded of the Buddhist fire ritual called Gomo in Japan. [23]

There is instance that Gautama Buddha bowed down to public opinion and refused to admit a slave in Samgha. [24] The story of Rama yielding to public opinion was invented to justify Gautama Buddha’s similar actions.

3. The interpolated narrative of Rama’s killing of Shambuka

The narrative is sometimes read as flat as: ‘Rama, the Kshatriya Upper-Caste, killed Shudra Shambuka, the Lower-Caste, to deprive him of his right to do Brahmanik Tapasya; therefore, Rama is upholder of Caste-System.” It is also favourite to Aryan Invasion (AIT) and Aryan Migration Theory (AMT) lobbists and propagandists: ‘Rama of the Arya race, exploiting Shambuka of the Anarya race, demonstrating Arya-hegemony.’

Above agenda-readings were popularized by Jyotirao Govindrao Phule (11.4.1827 – 28.11.1890) and later by Erode Venkatappa Ramasamy, or ‘Periyar’, [25] who started the ‘Self Respect Movement’ and Dravidar Kazhagam centered around Dravidian identity. Rama, with Ayodhya in North India, had to be his natural target.

Jyotirao Phule saw Rama as a symbol of oppression stemming from the Aryan conquest. [26] Needless to say, Phule and Periyar’s agenda-filter provided much impetus to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (14.4.1891 – 6.12.1956) and the Leftist-Marxists to extend the narrative as far as ‘Rama, the Bourgeoisie, exploiting Shambuka, the Proletariat, demonstrating class struggle at its worst.’

Gail Omvedt in his paper on Jyotirao Phule narrates ‘many’ Maharashtrians’ perspective as follows: “(Rama) a ruler whose support of the orthodox caste system involved the killing of a Shudra boy, Shambuka, for the sin of trying to follow a Brahman path to selfimprovement.” [27] Quite ludicrous that Tapasya is equated with ‘Brahmana path’, and Shambuka’s self-centricity with self-improvement!

The irony and paradoxes in such interpretations cannot be and should not be missed:

i. Admitting Shambuka as historic would mean accepting Rama as historic – however, the former is accepted and the latter is not [Similar cases: Ravana, Shurpanakha and Ekalavya are accepted as historic to boost Dravida-politics and Dalit-politics, but Rama, Yudhishthira etc are not accepted as historic by these very people. By curious logic it is also forgotten that Ravana and Shurpanakha were Brahmins, while Ekalavya was a Kshatriya prince]

ii. Sympathising with Shambuka would mean the reality of Tapasya is accepted and the Tapasvi is accepted as an ideal mode of life. However, Shambuka is accepted as real but Tapasya is labeled as Opium of the People.

iii. Sympathising with Shambuka and defending him would mean the reality of Devata and Svarga. However, Shambuka is accepted as real at the cost of other details of the story. A curious hypocrisy: the same Leftist-Marxist would not see Opium des Volkes in Shambuka’s desire to attain Svarga.

Rigid or orthodox Varna system did not exist in Rama’s times and there was no such so-called bar on Shudra’s performing Tapasya. The RgVeda testifies to that with many non-gotra-affiliated Rshis and Rshikas. Notably, Rama finds mention in RgVeda [28] and Avesta. [29]

Earlier, Dasharatha had accidentally killed a boy of a blind Muni couple of whom the father was Shudra and the mother was Vaishya or opposite. [30] Later in exile, Rama met the Ni shada Guha and Shramani Shabari. Rama, though Kshatriya, performed Jatayu’s death-rites in full Brahmanik mode. Casteism never existed in Rama’s consciousness.

Now we would read the relevant part of the Shambuka episode from Uttarakhanda, and then we shall try to understand why some Buddhist-Brahmin poets created the story.

Even going by the narrative, we find, Narada clearly predicts and approves that Shudras will do Tapasya in Kali Yuga. [31] So, people who criticize the episode or Rama anachronistically without going into details forget that the event has its setting in Treta Yuga, and thereby end up in an ironic self-contradiction. Standing in Kali Yuga, they should then acknowledge that Ramayana sanctions Shudra’s Tapasya in Kali Yuga, their age; and so Ram. is to be considered a manifesto of our time. However, this appreciation is absent in them; otherwise they would end up praising the very opponent (Ram.) against whom they are shadow-fighting.

 


Contradictions are bound to abound so long one reads Ramayana through some agenda-filter and cannot read the text as it is.

The story goes, following the death of a Brahmana’s son, Narada, explaining his idea on the status of Shudra in different Yugas, suggested that Rama should punish crime wherever he saw (dushkrtam yatra pashyethas), [32] because the untimely death was caused by some Shudra’s Tapasya (7.65.23e). [33]

Narada was a RgVedic Rshi, [34] and the irrational words in Narada’s voice are in any case a poorly imagined tale. Actually, introducing Narada as causer of important events is a favourite trope of narrators, and used by Buddhist and Jain poets.

Here, the Buddhist-Brahmin poet because of his dual-identity dual-loyalty has kept many clever clues that deconstruct the very narrative:

i. Rama’s Itihasa is in Treta Yuga, but Narada already speaks of even Dvapara Yuga in past tense (7.65.19c), [35] that would imply this Narada is in Kali Yuga

ii. Narada even seems to recount his locale in Dvapara Yuga [36]

iii. Narada says Vaishyas are permitted Tapasya in Dvapara Yuga; and only Brahmana-Kshatriyas are permitted Tapasya in Treta Yuga. [37] And in that case, again a case of self-contradiction, how could Narada single out Shudra’s Tapasya only as cause of the Brahmana’s son’s death? He should have mentioned Vaishya’s Tapasya too

All these self-contradictions are not only clear indication that Uttaraka nda was interpolated long after Valmiki’s Ramayana, but also clearly deliberate (unless we believe that a very wretched poet could make entry in Ram. canonical tradition).

Rama directed Lakshmana to keep the corpse of the boy fresh with oil and ointments. Rama’s preparation to bring back the child to life is to contrast the Parable of the Mustard Seed in Buddhism where Gautama Buddha teaches the inevitability of death and accepting the reality. One motive of the Buddhist-Brahmin poet is, therefore, to introduce elements of irrationality in Ram. and Rama but playing with the religious sentiment that Vishnu’s Avatara could bring back the dead to life. Surely, the narrative of Krshna giving life to Parikshita had been in the poet’s mind.

Now, Rama set out on his Pushpaka Ratha in search of the miscreant. He did not find any Shudra-Tapasvi in the North, West and East but in the South (7.66.12-13a). Seeing the Tapasvi performing penance in an elongated head-down posture (lambamanam adho mukham; 7.66.13c), Rama not only spoke with him respectfully but also hailed and glorified him reverentially, appreciating his maintaining strict Dharmika vow: dhanyas tvam asi suvrata (14c).

Rama introduced himself as Dasharathi Rama and told Shambuka that he was asking out of curiosity what Yoni he belonged to (kasyam yonyam), the reason of his Tapasya, whether it was to gain Svarga or boon. [38]

The question kasyam yonyam is to be noted. It means Rama first asked him about his mother and not his social identity of Varna. It is also evident Rama had no reason to ask Shambuka about his Yoni-identity and purpose of Tapasya except out of his own curiosity.

It is only after asking about the purpose of Tapasya, Rama asked his Social Varna identity, whether he was a Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra. [39] This explicit query proves that kasyam yonyam and Varna-identity are not same.

Evidently, the Social Varna identity did not matter to Rama because he was already open to receiving the answer that Shambuka was a Shudra. Had there been any Varna hierarchy filter in Rama’s mind, and had he really been believing in Narada’s belief that only Brahmana and Kshatriya were permitted Tapasya in Treta Yuga, he would not have asked kasyam yonyam or whether Shambuka was a Brahmana or Kshatriya.

To emphasize the point, let me note again. Rama asked Shambuka’s mother’s identity first and then queried about his Varna only after being impressed by his Tapasya. Obviously, Rama did not have any a priori Varna-filter to form his impression; otherwise he would not have hailed Shambuka reverentially. This negates any imagination of ‘Shudra should not do Tapasya’ orthodoxy in his consciousness. This is a very subtle clue on Rama’s great liberality left by the Buddhist-Brahmin poet. Flat-readers would miss this (the dual-identity dual-loyalty poet intended that too), but not those who know reading a Text.

Now the question arises, if Rama had been liberal, and had no objection to a Vaishya or Shudra or any mother’s son performing Tapasya, why would he then kill Shambuka?

The answer lies in Shambuka’s answer.

Hearing Rama’s query, and remaining in that headlong position (avakshiras; 7.67.1a), Shambuka replied that he was born in Shudra Yoni (Shudrayonyam prasuto 'smi, 2a), that is, his mother was Shudra. Now, that negates the absolutist interpretation that Shambuka was Shudra, because a Brahmana Kshatriya or Vaishya could take Shudra wife; that is, his father could have been of any other Varna.

Now Shambuka explained that he was doing extreme Tapasya aspiring to be Devata in his own body and earn great fame (devatvam prarthaye rama sashariro mahayasha?) and also aspiring to conquer Devaloka (devalokajigishaya; 7.67.2c-3a).

It is only after spelling out his self-centric aspiration that Shambuka said, “know me as a Shudra” (Shudram mam viddhi; 3c) but did not say directly “I am a Shudra.” And then he introduced himself as Shambuka. In other words, either Shambuka preferred matrilineal identity or being aware of his own self-centric desire, he called himself a Shudra in derogatory sense. Both are possible and no flat-narrative can be constructed.

Shudra is not an absolutist Varna-identity and may be suggestive of moral lapse depending on context and sometimes used as alternative to Anarya in derogatory sense. Gautama Buddha used the term Outcaste in similar sense. [40] The Buddhist-Brahmin poet narrates the tale of Shambuka to demonstrate Outcaste in the sense of immorality that Gautama Buddha endorsed.

Hearing his words, Rama immediately beheaded Shambuka with his Khadga (4). [41] It is evident from the narrative –

i) Rama did not behead Shambuka because he was a Shudra by Social Varna Identity

ii) Rama beheaded Shambuka because of his immorality and self-seeking desire and thereby corrupting the true meaning of Tapasya

iii) Shambuka was Shudra because of his moral lapse.

In Tama Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya, 4.85), Buddha shows that Varna System is inevitable in society; if Hereditary Caste System is abolished then moralistic or conduct-based Varna System would still remain. Similar to the four Varnas, Buddha categorizes four types of people [42] : The first category is the “person in darkness who is headed for darkness (who) is born into a lowly family—the family of a scavenger, a hunter, a basket-weaver, a wheelwright, or a sweeper—a family that is poor” [43] engaging in misconduct and “after death—reappears in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, Hell.”

Shambuka is that person. The Buddhist-Brahmin poet portrays Shambuka as such.

Sidelight: Gautama Buddha uses the term Dalit in the sense of ‘poor’ or financially weak in Tama Sutta. Dalit, originally connoted ‘broken or scattered’ in Sanskrit. Jyotirao Govindrao Phule first used the word in the sense of oppressed and downtrodden but synonymous to Low-Caste Untouchable; and thereafter this latter sense has become part parcel and whole of Dalit-politics, rather Indian politics.

4. The Buddhist-Brahmin poet’s strategy

The dual-identity dual-loyalty Buddhist-Brahmin poet had to create a story in a way that would be Rama-like to the extent that people would naturally accept it as part of Valmiki’s Ramayana. He could not just villainize Rama because Gautama Buddha himself bore and acknowledged Rama’s Dharma-legacy and also believed in Sanatana Dharma in tradition of Vedic Dharma. [44]

After Gautama Buddha’s followers successfully transformed Gautama Buddha into THE BUDDHA or the Constructed Buddha (effectively erasing from cultural memory that there were many Buddhas in Gautama’s contemporary and past, [45] and that Mahavira too was Buddha [46] ), the achievement surely endowed with a complacency that allowed Buddhist Texts to remain intact. It is from these texts we understand that Buddhism despite preaching against stratified Hereditary Caste System was actually strongly upholding both Caste-Hierarchy and Gender-Hierarchy in their social outlook and in the monastic system.

For example, Buddha takes side with a Caste-Brahmin, and expresses compassion for him (and therefore, approves his action) that he did not get joy or laughter because he had taken improper food from a Candala, whom Buddha considers Low-Caste (Satadhamma-Jataka, No.179). Buddha discriminated against woman in decision-making power of the democratic set up of Samgha. He said that “If, in a transaction requiring a quorum of four to 20, the transaction is done with a bhikkhuni as the fourth member or the 20th member, it is not a transaction and is not to be done.” [47] The prescription of the Qur'an that woman is to be considered half of man in matters of witness sounds similar: “And call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not [at hand] then a man and two women, of such as ye approve as witnesses, so that if the one erreth [through forgetfulness] the other will remember.” [48]

One finds that despite Bodhisattvas sometimes being born as animals and Low-Caste family in Jatakas, a parallel stream of Buddhism endorses casteism in that, the Bodhisattva is always born in Caste-Brahmin or Caste-Kshatriya family, and in families which have slaves and women. [49] Even past Buddhas are either Brahma na or Kshatriya.

In Assalayana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya, 93), Buddha is portrayed as accepting the social reality of four Caste-Varnas, and prescribing purity for all Caste-Varnas. Gautama did not oppose the concept of Purusha Sukta Varna origin. He replaced ‘Purusha’ with Tathagata, he replaced Brahma with Tathagata. [50] He retained the Gotra system, which is therefore, a recognition of Hereditary Varna System. Gautama said: “Monks, I allow one to be mentioned in the proclamation by clan name (anujanami bhikkhave gottenapi anussavetunti).” [51] Gautama (like Mahavira) retained his own Gotra-identity. [52]

From Faxian (337 – c. 422)’s account [53] we find how the Buddhist Viharas maintained Varna System with the Shramanas at the top of hierarchy as the priestly class with labourers and peasants working for them. From Hsuan-tsang or Xuanzang’s (fl. c. 602 – 664) [54] accounts we know of many Buddhist-Brahmins. Most importantly, we know, meritorious monks rode “caparisoned elephants, with hosts of attendants preceding and following behind them.” Both Faxian and Hsuan-tsang say nothing about the rights of these working class people.

Our Buddhist-Brahmin poet of this part of Uttarakhanda surely had the awareness of self-contradiction in Buddhism, and that was another reason why he felt it necessary to construct Rama to make him appear as a defender of Varna hierarchy. His awareness that intelligent people might understand the self-contradictions in Buddhism and discard it for Vedic- Hinduism, motivated him to attempt to create a block to this intelligent people. The Shambuka narrative is that attempted ‘block’ by corrupting the Vedic-Hindu Symbol/ Icon of Rama, so that Vedic- Hinduism might not appear an alternative to Buddhism.

Note:
All citations are from <http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil>

References

1. Bandyopadhyay, Indrajit. 2017. “Sita and Draupadi: The Shyama Characters of Mahakavya.” Saravrddhih: Proceedings of the 1st ABSLA (National Level) State Sanskrit Conference [Refereed Volume]. Kolkata: Sanskrit Book Dipo

2. Brockington, John & Mary Brockington. 2006. Rama the Steadfast: An Early Form of the Ramayana. England: Penguin Books

3. Bronkhorst, Johannes. 2018. Were Buddhist Brahmins, Buddhists or Brahmins? Mitrasampradanam: A collection of papers in honour of Yaroslav Vassilkov. Saint Petersburg

4. Krshnadvaipayana Vyasa. Mbh. Critical Edition. 1919-1966. Pune: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. ‘The Machine-Readable Text of the Mbh’ Based on the Poona Critical Edition, Produced by Muneo Tokunaga, Kyoto, Japan

5. Monnier Williams. 2002 (reprint). A Dictionary of Sanskrit-English. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal

6. Richman, Paula (edited). 1991. Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia. Los Angeles: University of California Press

7. Valmiki. Ramayanam (Bengali). 2000. Trans. into Bengali with Bengali transcriptions of Shlokas by Shri Pancanan Tarkaratna. Kolkata: Benimadhav Shil’s Library

Endnotes

  1. This paper has no concern with discussions on dating of Rama’s and Ramayana’s Itihasa
  2. These multiple versions are sometimes called nowadays ‘300 Ramayanas’ courtesy A. K. Ramanujan’s paper bearing that phrase in the title
  3. Vedic Dharma evolved into modern Hinduism through assimilation and synthesis. Throughout this article, I shall use the term Vedic Hindu Dharma or Hinduism because that is the legally accepted term in Bharata-India
  4. Digha Nikaya, Pasadika Sutta (DN 29)
  5. Majjhima Nikaya, Cula-dukkhakkhandha Sutta
  6. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [Bible, John 14:6]. Mohammad says, “This is My path, straight, so follow it. And do not follow the other paths, lest they divert you from His path.” [Qur'an, Surah Al-An'am [6], 153] SHri Ramakrshna sums up the Vedic liberality: “Yata Mat Tata Path” (As Many Opinions, So Many Paths).
  7. Chandogya Upanishad teaches Ahimsa to all beings (ahimsan sarvabhutany; 8.15.1) and mentions Ahimsa as one of the five virtues(3.17.4)
  8. Lankavatara Sutra, LXXVI: Buddha says: “I come within the range of hearing of ignorant people, in this world of patience, under many names, … as Rama, as Vyasa, as Suka, as Indra, as Balin, as Varuna, as is known to some; while others recognise me as One who is never born and never passes away, as Emptiness, as Suchness, as Truth, as Reality, as Limit of Reality.” (193)
  9. Buddha and Mahavira reverentially mentioned Vedic Rshi Asita Devala of Kashyapa gotra who is composer of RV. Suktas 9.5-24. Buddha owed his teachings on liberal Varna system to Asita Devala too [Assalayana Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya, 93)]. In Shvetaketu Jataka No. 377, Buddha in incarnation of a Brahmin priest said: “Nay, Vedas are not useless utterly:/ Though works with self-restraint true doctrine is:/ Study of Vedas lifts man's name on high,/ But ’tis by conduct that he reaches Bliss.”
  10. For example, in Ariyavasa Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya, 10.20), Gautama says: “"Monks, there are these ten noble dwellings in which noble ones have dwelled [in the past]” – the ‘past’ obviously referring to Vedic past. For example, in Brahmanadhammika Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 2.7), Buddha regards the ‘ancient Brahmanas’ (brahmana porananam - obviously Vedic) the ideal model of Brahmanas.
  11. Shramana is first mentioned in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad- 4.3.22; then Gautama Dharmasutra -1.3.26
  12. Sona-Danda Sutta (Digha Nikaya No.4)
  13. Anguttara Nikaya 3.51, Dvejana Sutta.
  14. Anguttara Nikaya 4.36, Dona Sutta
  15. Not being the topic of discussion here, I am putting it a bit simplistically. In fact, many other historical factors worked including the Islamic Invasion and British Colonial Rule.
  16. There were many Buddhas before Gautama Buddha and in his contemporary. Mahavira was also known as Buddha. The Vedic-Hindu Puranas speak of other Buddhas and the Vishnu’s Avatara Buddha is not Gautama Buddha. If, despite multiple Buddhas, we at present know Gautama Buddha as THE BUDDHA, then surely THE BUDDHA is the Constructed Buddha courtesy the power Buddhism once enjoyed; so much so that there is cultural memory loss that Mahavira was also hailed as Buddha.
  17. RgVeda 10.60.4 [also in Baudhayanashrautasutra 2, 5, 61.0]
  18. In Nrsimha Purana 21.5-14, Buddha is Rama’s direct descendant (Rama – Lava – Padma – Anuparna – Vastrapani – Suddhodhana – Buddha)
  19. Digha Nikaya, 3. Ambattha Sutta
  20. Samyutta Nikaya, Yanna Sutta (SN 3:9)
  21. Digha Nikaya, 23, Payasi Sutta
  22. RV_08.012.11.1{03} garbho yajnasya devayuh kratum punita anushak
  23. “The sacred cleansing fire ritual was held as part of Kokujo-ji’s traditional Goma fire ceremony, conducted to neutralize the harmful negative energies of human desires and emotions. Kokujo-ji, one of the oldest temples in Japan, is associated with the Shingon school of Japanese Buddhism. In the Goma ceremony, fire symbolizes the wisdom of the Buddha and the wooden sticks or tablets used as fuel represent human desires (the root of suffering).” [Craig Lewis. 2018-10-15. Japanese Buddhist Temple Holds Fire Ritual to Purge Online Hatred. < https://www.buddhistdoor.net/news/japanese-buddhist-temple-holds-fire-ritual-to-purge-online-hatred>]
  24. Mahavagga, I mahakhandhako, vinayapitake mahavaggassa pathamo bhago; 34. dasavatthu (Mv.I.47.1)
  25. 17 September 1879 – 24 December 1973
  26. Omvedt, Gail (2011). Understanding Caste: From Buddha to Ambedkar and Beyond. Orient Blackswan. p. 62.
  27. Gail Omvedt. Jotirao Phule and the Ideology of Social Revolution in India.

    <https://indianculturalforum.in/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/jotirao_phule_and_the_ideology_of_social_revolution_in_india.pdf >
  28. In RgVeda in Rshi Tanva Partha’s 10.93.14
  29. Rama Hvastra mentioned in Avesta: Khorda Avesta: Ram Yasht (15)
  30. Shudrayam asmi vaishyena jato janapadadhipa R_2,057.037
  31. 7.065.022c bhavishya Shudrayonyam hi tapashcarya kalau yuge
  32. dushkrtam yatra pashyethas tatra yatnam samacara (7.65.25c)
  33. Shudras tapyati durbuddhis tena balavadho hy ayam
  34. Narada Kanva 8.13 (1 hymn; 33 verses). Parvata and Narada Kanva 9.104-105 (2 hymns; 12 verses)
  35. tato dvaparasamkhya sa yugasya samajayata
  36. tasmin dvaparasamkhye tu vartamane yugakshaye (7.65.20a)
  37. tasmin dvaparasamkhyate tapo vaishyan samavishat / na shudro labhate dharmam ugram taptam nararshabha (7.65.21)
  38. kasyam yonyam tapovrddhavartase drdhavikrama / kautuhalat tvam prcchami ramo dasharathir hy aham // manishitas te ko nv arthah svargalabho varashrayah / yam ashritya tapas taptam shrotum icchami tapasa (7.66.16)
  39. brahmano vasi bhadram te kshatriyo vasi durjayah / vaishyo va yadi va Shudrah satyam etad bravihi me (7.66.17)
  40. Vasala suttam (Sutta Nipata, 1.7)
  41. bhashatas tasya Shudrasya khadgam suruciraprabham / nishkrshya koshad vimalam shirash ciccheda raghavah (7.67.4)
  42. Ime kho bhikkhave cattaro puggala santo samvijjamana lokasminti
  43. nice kule paccajato hoti candalakule va venakule va nesadakule va rathakarakule va pukkusakule va dalidde
  44. Buddha says that Dharma is not dependent on Buddha or arising of Tathagata because “"Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands — this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant.” (Dhamma-niyama Sutta (Anguttara Nikaya 3.134)
  45. Gautama mentions one Tagarasikhin as the Private Buddha (paccekabuddham/ pratyekabuddha) [Udana, 5. Sonavagga, 3. Kutthi Sutta. Also mentioned in Darimukha-Jataka No. 378; Sonaka-Jataka No. 579]. Gautama refers to past Buddhas [Garava Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 6.2)]. Buddha acknowledged that there were more Buddhas in his contemporary times (buddhanam) [Mahavagga Contents, IX Campeyyakkhandhako (The Campa Khandhaka), 234. kassapagottabhikkhuvatthu (Mv.IX.1.1)]. Mahavastu Chapter-5: “Countless Tathagatas, Arhans, and perfect Buddhas did I adore.”
  46. For example, in Uttaradhyayana Sutra 10. The Leaf of the Tree; Uttaradhyayana- 18 (Sanjaya). 32
  47. Mahavagga, IX campeyyakkhandhako, 237. catuvaggakaranadikatha (Mv.IX.4.1)
  48. Shura al-Baqarah (2), 282 [trans. Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthal]
  49. Mahavastu, II.1.1
  50. Agganna Sutta (Digha Nikaya 27)
  51. Mahavagga. I mahakhandhako. 60. gottena anussavananujanana (Mv.I.74.1)
  52. “I who am now the Arahant and fully enlightened Buddha, am of the Gotama clan.” [Digha Nikaya, 14, Mahapadana Sutta]
  53. He travelled in India and Ceylon from 399 – 414 CE and wrote “A record of Buddhistic kingdoms; being an account by the Chinese monk Fa-Hien of his travels in India and Ceylon, A.D. 399-414, in search of the Buddhist books of discipline
  54. Hsuan-tsang or Xuanzang (fl. c. 602 – 664). Great Tang Records on the Western Regions. Taisho Volume 51, Number 2087. trans. Li Rongxi. BDK America, Inc. 1996
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