pots, brahmin names, and potters

N. Ganesan naga_ganesan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 30 19:32:15 UTC 1998

Dr. S. Palaniappan writes:
I do not know why potters should be considered "undeserving hosts". J.
Schoterman says, "Being the offspring of an illicit union of a Brahmin
and a
Vaizya-female (Kane II-1: 78) they are regarded as bhojyAnnas, i.e.,
prepared by them could be paratken by Brahmins (Kane
saMhitA, p. 8)  Note however that the marriage is still anuloma.
On the other hand, I think what the mahAbhArata story reveals is a rare
glimpse of what the society really had been instead of what the
authors usually wanted it to be. It will be a mistake to rely on the
of castes as propounded by brahmanic law-givers.
[Explanation of how the brahmanic law as applied to every Hindu
all Non-Muslims) may have undesirable rigidity - snipped]

> From another followup mail by SP
While I have not researched the heritage of other artisans as much as
the potters, I am on firmer ground when it comes to potters and
brahmins. My
analysis of the words suggest, that the culture of pre-Vedic Dravidian
was not hierarchical as the tri-partite Aryan culture was supposed to
semantics of the word vEL signifying priests, warriors, and potters
this. (On the other hand  according to the IA system, each of these
had to belong to a separate class.) The earliest technologists of the
Dravidian culture might have been potters who were also priests.
other artisans developed out of this group later on.) A section of these
native potter-priest-warriors must have adopted the IA culture very
These became the bhRgus, etc. The entry into brahminhood must have been
on even after Vedic period.  These acculturated potter-brahmin-warrior
Dravidians must have adopted the tri-partite Aryan class system (later
expanded to four classes) and manufactured enough textual "evidence"
succeeded in elevating themselves above the rest of their original

        I think these thoughts are essential to the understanding
       of the varNa formation. The modification of Indian society
       into what L. Dumont calls as Homo Hierarchicus society would
       have been accomplished along these lines.

       Pl. see B. K. Smith, Classifying the Universe, Oxford UP, 1994.
       Prof. Smith notes in p. 10 that Vedic literature represents
       a world view of its authors, the Brahmins which need not
       reflect the world views of other strata, particularly the lower
       strata of Shudras.

       Even yesterday in Indology, quite an elitist view of Hindu
       religion was presented from an Ivory tower. As I try to
       explain, these are not the majority Indian viewpoint.
       In my view, "outsiders" view for the last few centuries
       have revealed the real India much more than if it was
       left to ahistorical thinking of Hindu dominant elites
       whose views on advaita is understood very little even by
       themselves. eg., They will brush aside Tamil as a mere Prakrit!
       They often claim Dravidian language family is "Maayaa", a
       sabotage on India let loose by Missionaries (cf. Indigenous
       Aryan school publications). I have not seen any Hindu elite
       "Money is Pure Maayaa". It is a lipservice then and now.
       Show me one if there is any. For example, Sankara mutts,
       true heirs to advaita,  seek big money and (polical) power all
       time. They hobnob  with politicians frequently. (cf. major
       newspapers from India's cities). While there is pushing
       down the throats of unwilling people, a date of Giitaa
       as 3102 BC (not at all accepted by the West), there is heavy,
       rush to emigrate and get the money/job from the West whose

       directly come from scientific thinking and which all humankind
       With a date of Giitaa as 3102 BC or for Bodhayana as 8000 BC,
       will e-mail sattra like this become ever possible??
       So, Hindu elites compartmentalize their actions:
       1) to get a job in the West; 2) to push unsustainable
       dates for Veda, Giitaa, Westward expansion of Sanskrit from IVC
       These are two different things. I think one should practice
       what s/he preaches. Once an Indologist wrote here something like
      "if Rajaram designs an aeroplane, it will fall like rain drops".

       The pioneering studies from Prof. B. K. Smith, data from Indus
       valley, and Sangam Tamil texts must be co-studied together.

       It is interesting that farm laborers are asked: "What vakuppu
       are you?" by Landlords, usually Vellala castes. vakuppu is
       division in Tamil. Jaati and varNa are based on birth and
       color (race) respectively and are Aryan words. These foreign
       loans exist in Dravidian. The horizontal emerging divisions
       ('vakuppu') based on labor differentiation is transformed into
       a vertical, rigid hierarchy, obviously for the benefit of
       those at the top of the caste pyramid.

       What is striking about Indus valley culture is the total
       absence of palaces and temples there. No Kings' tombs either.
       I hear that IVC is different from other ancient civilizations
       in that there is not much social stratification found
      by archaeology.

      The earliest IA texts are full of varNa hierarchy (cf.
      G. Dumezil, W. Doniger, B. K. Smith, J. C. Heesterman, ....)
      Read Sangam texts. Not much of social stratification. The
      PaaNar, musician-bards are often poor, but they dine
      and party with the highest of kings. The great poet,
      Kapilar, a brAhmaNa says that his teeth are worn out
      by eating fat, tender meat at the king's feasts;
      he enjoys fine liquor, exchanging 'cheers` with the

      The IVC data, Sangam Tamil texts, IA text studies
      (eg Smith), etymological/textual pointers (eg. S. Palaniappan's
     posts) all point to a good understanding of the earliest
     India. This territory is mostly uncharted and new paths
     are just beginning to emerge.

      Summary: In the dominant Aryan worldview, 'potters'
      are "undesrving hosts" while it is NOT so in the subaltern
      Dravidian worldview.

      Any corrections, additions, references are welcome.

      With kind regards,
      N. Ganesan

      History of Religions, May 1997 v36 n4 p393(3)
      Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian
     "Varna" System and the Origins of Caste. (book reviews)
                 By Brian K. Smith. New York: Oxford University Press,
                 1994. Pp. xv + 408. $24.95 (paper).

                 In the five years that have passed since publication of
                 his splendid Reflections on Ritual, Resemblance, and
                 Religion, Brian Smith has brought out a number of
                 that suggest he is expanding his research on the logic
                 homology and preparing to engage a vast and daunting
                 topic--the Vedic classificatory system of varna
                 or, more literally, "color") in all its diverse
                 applications, with particular attention to its
                 of (and importance for) the social order.(1)
                 the Universe fulfills the promise of that earlier work,
                 and it does not disappoint. Indeed, even those who
                 see that Smith was up to something big, and who hold
                 scholarship in high regard, may not have been prepared
                 what an extraordinary piece of work this book would be.
                 my mind, it is nothing short of a landmark achievement,
                 for here he demonstrates in absolutely conclusive
                 first, that Vedic knowledge was no hodgepodge of random
                 details but was absolutely systemic and, second, that
                 system served to anchor and buttress a rigid social
                 hierarchy by providing it with an elegant ideological
                 justification of virtually all-encompassing scope.

       The Journal of the American Oriental Society, April-June
       1996 v116 n2 p344(3)
       Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian
       Varna System and the Origins of Caste. (book
       reviews) Frederick M. Smith.

                 The next time you run into a neo-Hindu chauvinist - say
                 a train between Varanasi and Lucknow, or at a health
                 store in New Mexico - who delivers an impromptu (and
                 unwanted) lecture on the unity of all the peoples of
                 ancient India and the absence of the evil of the caste
                 system in the Vedas, you can come prepared to beat this
                 benighted perpetrator of bliss and harmony into
                 with a copy of Brian K. Smith's Classifying the
                 For B.K.S.'s primary contention, which he pursues
                 relentlessly, is that not only was the varna system
                 thoroughly in effect in the "Vedic Age," but it served,
                 least in the Vedas, as the primary means of organizing
                 thinking about nearly everything imaginable. Varna was,
                 contends, "a totalistic classificatory system" (p. 8).
                 More generally, accepting as
                 support Dumezil's tripartite division of religion and
                 society, B.K.S. advocates that religious discourse can
                 reduced to its social bases.

                 J. C. Heesterman's Broken World of Sacrifice: An Essay
                 Ancient Indian Ritual (Chicago: University of Chicago
                 Press, 1993; [...]
                 Heesterman reads Vedic myth as thinly veiled history,
                 Brian Smith as thinly veiled sociology. Both studies
                 however, strongly influenced by the idea that violence
                 lies at the root of their subject: physical,
                 violence in Heesterman's case ("anthropophagy cannot be
                 ruled out" [p. 176]), and the violence of word,
                 and class oppression in Brian Smith's case ("the vis or
                 'masses' are regarded as the special delicacy of the
                 Kshatriyas" [p. 47]). Heesterman's Veda seems guided by
                 the intoxicating aroma of roast beef, Brian Smith's by
                 insatiable quest for status and power. Nevertheless,
                 and sacrifice commingle closely in the Veda, as both
                 Heesterman and Brian Smith are fully aware. So there is
                 complementarity in their work, even if neither would
                 bandhuta with the other.


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