[INDOLOGY] bhakti

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at uni-muenchen.de
Sun Nov 13 23:35:43 UTC 2016

Nagaraj Paturi wrote:

> Dear Robert,
>>It is basically simple: the brāhmaṇa varṇa claims the exclusive right to vedādhyāpana, in other words: traditionally, brahmins decide what the Vedas and ‘Vedic’ literature are and what their meaning is.
>> The words ‘Veda’ and ‘Vedic’ at some point in time acquired a special halo, and this is associated with the brāhmaṇa varṇa in its idealized, mythical form (cf. BhG XVIII.42: śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṃ, etc.).
> ------- Not after Arya Samaj and other organizations similar to that which are in vogue in huge numbers today. 

Here I beg to disagree.

In all my years of living in India I have not been able to see that either the Arya Samaj in "huge numbers", or other organizations (which ones?) in "huge numbers", have been anywhere near to giving the term 'Vedic' a new, non-brahminical twist. With all due respect: in 'my' significantly big part of India, the Arya Samaj is just an obscure club with a shabby office in a lost corner of Bangalore city where intercaste couples get married according to a 'Vedic' rite, only to quickly forget all about the Samaj after the wedding.

Perhaps things are different in some corner of northern India. Yet I am still firmly convinced that for the vast majority of Hindus, 'Vedic' = brahminical.

> People moving away from their traditional caste occupations (right cum responsibility occupations) is happening for all those occupations which are no longer givers of either a worldly benefit or a social status. Number of Brahmin families  moving away from their Vedaadhyayana and Vedaadhyaapana is on huge rise. Priestly Brahmins are depressed that they are not able to get marriage alliances. 

That may be true, but it is not relevant. Those who traditionally have the right to vedādhyāpana may choose not to exercise that right. But they still have that right. Those who traditionally do not have the right remain without that right.

Many years ago, there was a curious legal case in Karnataka over the question whether Vīraśaivas have vedādhikāra (this was objected to by certain brahmins). The court finally decided in 1935, after a tortuous discussion about the relative standing of different communities, that Vīraśaivas do have that right, and a book about this matter was published (in Kannada: Āsthānavidvān M.G. Naṃjuṃḍārādhya, _Vīraśaiva Vedādhikāra Vijaya_. Mysore: Sree Panchacharya Electric Press, 1st ed. 1969, 2nd ed. 1981. 85 pp.).

THAT is relevant. Irrespective of what the worldwide scholarly community and you and I may think about the right to vedādhyāpana, the fact is that there are brahmins who believe it their privilege as a matter of birthright, and they decide what is 'Vedic' and what isn't, as well as about who else is allowed to decide what 'Vedic' teachings are. Their belief is so strong that they are willing to go to court over it, and the court needs a lot of time to decide. It was considered so important by the victors that a book was written about it, and when I bought my copy in 1996 it had already gone into a second edition.

There are other, similar, labels that are intended to serve as a kind of indications of quality linked to brahmins. Throughout southern India, one finds restaurants bearing the sign 'Brahmins Hotel' (or 'Udupi Hotel', because Mādhva brahmins from the Udupi region have the reputation – in my view fully justified – of being good cooks).

The associations seem clear: 'Vedic' = 'brahmin' = 'good'. Whether we agree or not, is something else. :-)


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