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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Shanti Parva - Book 12 - Maha Bharatha Series 60

           Section 65 reiterates the interdependency between the four varnas and that between the people and the gods. The gods depend on the sacrifices performed by the people for them to stay in “heaven” and the people have to perform their duties as assigned by their varnas as one of their sacrifices. In turn, the gods give rain and prosperity to people on earth.
People cannot stay within their varna duties (kula dharma) if the society is in chaos. A strong king is needed to maintain law and order. That is why the king is a representative of the gods. King’s duties are the most important ones since that allows people to perform their duties and thus keep the gods in their secure place. Both the King and the people need the Brahmans to help perform the sacrifices.  I do understand the logic and can also see how people followed these ideas. What is surprising is that this logic is still defended.

Section 66 addresses the ashrama dharma (stage of life). One interesting observation is that Bhishma says that a good king should control his emotions so that he can act on the basis of reason (understanding).

Section 68 states that a king is not just a human, but god in the form of a human. It is therefore, god in the form of human who administers justice. It goes on to say that without someone to wield the rod and maintain law and order, there will be chaos and there can be no society. No one’s life will be safe; the strong will eat the weak just as a large fish swallows a small fish. No one’s property will be safe. No one can practice their trade or duties. A king makes it possible for everyone follow their duties. Therefore, if a group of people do not have a king, they should choose one. By giving him a special place and special ornaments etc, and make sure everyone can recognize him as the king.

The king needs a learned Brahmana to help please the gods. Brahmana needs to help the other varnas to do their duties and also perform sacrifices to please the gods whose representative the king is. All of this makes logic sense, given the time these puranas were written.  In section 74, it goes even further to state that the Brahmana and the Kshatriya have a common origin in Brahma. Each one separately is not as powerful as together. It also says that the power of the mantras of the Brahmana and of the weapons of the kshatriya together are needed to protect the people.
“The preservation and the growth of a kingdom needs a king. The preservation and the growth of a king requires a Brahmana” states Maha Bharata (Book 12 Section 74).

Other advice includes the idea that a good king should not go to war to acquire territory; but acquire it by conciliation, gift or creating discord. (sama, dana and beda). He should be prepared for war but should be ready for peace. The tax rates mentioned include 1/6th to 1/10th of the value.

When a student asks why sinful people get away with their acts, the answer is that they get away with it in this life – since earth bears the honest and wicked equally, the sun shines on the honest and wicked equally, the wind blows on the honest and wicked equally and the water washes the honest and wicked equally – but they will suffer in the “other” world. So, here is an answer that satisfies most people.

After section 73, several sections are devoted to listing the "do's and don'ts" for people of the four varnas. This whole section is praised by several people as the essence of varna dharma since they are attributed to Bhishma at his death-bed.
We do not know whether these were in the original writings. To me, it is all distraction since I am of the opinion that the one big mistake our ancestors made was to perpetuate this varna (and therefore, the caste system) dharma based on birth. They perpetuated the error by placing it in the midst of the puranas. May be, they did not.  It is difficult for me to believe that the noble souls who saw the divine in every sentient being and even in stone thought that some individuals are less than others, just because of birth. May be, someone inserted this section later?

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

Thought I would comment here, since I completely agree with your summation of the perpetuation of the varna bring a distraction (I would have characterised it stronger !)

Its very likely that the puranas evolved over time and were modified keeping in mind the social construct as well as the preferences of the more influential in the society.

I have often wondered as to how much a set of values and moral guidance (the essence of much of religion) are relevant over large swathes of time. Values also tend to change over time , especially now, considering the rapidity of change in the social construct. Hence absolutism is such a danger in interpreting writings or sayings - a key problem with the extremely devout who tend to take the scriptures literally. Take for example the four stages in life which you have written about. Literally they are meaningless now. As a concept they are of immense wisdom. But how will they be applicable when human life spans get enormously elongated ?