[INDOLOGY] Vīraśaivas and Vedas, etc. (was: bhakti)

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at uni-muenchen.de
Mon Nov 14 12:47:44 UTC 2016

Nagaraj Paturi wrote:

> Thanks Robert for bringing in the Veerashaiva Veda learning fact into the discussion. […]

> I heard many Virashaiva boys here in Telangana, where I stay now and in Rayalaseema(southern Andhra Pradesh ) where I used to stay earlier, recite Vedas melodiously with authentic confident voices. […]

> You already have the Virashaivas from the premodern context.  Still many contemporary sources on Virashaivas describe them as opposed to the Vedas. Thanks for providing reference to establish that they are not and they learn the Vedas and fought to retain the right to learn when that right was challenged. […]

For the sake of completeness and clarity (or, as some may think: complexity and confusion), I must add a few words.

(1) To begin with: there are Vīraśaivas of various kinds, who also have organized themselves in different ways. One significant division among the maṭhas is whether a maṭha is one of the so-called pañcapīṭhas (of which there are five) or a viraktamaṭha (innumerable). The relationship between these two groups is a difficult one. Depending on one's point of view, one may say that the section of the Vīraśaiva community that predominantly associates itself with the small group of five consists of (a) descendants of former brahmins, or (b) they are quasi-brahmins, or (c) they are brahmin infiltrators in the Vīraśaiva community who distort and betray the teachings of Basava.

This brings us to questions concerning what constitutes 'real' Vīraśaivism, what Basava really thought about the Vedas and brahminical literature in general, and what is the composition of the Vīraśaiva community with its sub-communities.

To my knowledge, Basava did not really reject the Vedas, but thought them unnecessary (just like temple worship). What he did reject was blind scripturalism, and this made him say scathing things about the Vedas and Vedic learning. (Bhakti, however, is essential.)

A widely held opinion in Karnataka is that the Vīraśaiva families with brahminical airs and aspirations (known as 'ārādhyas') are the descendants of brahmins from Andhra Pradesh (the Śrīśailam area) – so that fits your [Nagaraj's] observation quite well.

(2) The sub-communal distinction also shows in the attitude toward foreigners (as an example of people from outside). I have always been treated politely and hospitably in viraktamaṭhas. But when I once visited one of the pañcapīṭhas, not far from Sringeri, in search of their publications (a learned Bangalorean devotee of that maṭha advised me to go there), the personnel did everything to chase me away as soon as possible. I was not allowed to buy books, not allowed to meet the maṭhādhipati, not allowed to use the toilet. Therefore I will most probably not go there again (life being too short to waste on such characters). Those people behaved more 'brahminically' than any brahmins I have ever met.

(3) The satisfaction among Vīraśaivas that the court has acknowledged their vedādhikāra can be interpreted in more than one way. The aforementioned book by Naṃjuṃḍārādhya goes into theological details like the validity of iṣṭaliṃgapūje vs. sthāvaraliṃgapūje (i.e., 'our practices are just as good as brahmin practices!').

> Gayatri Parivar, Svaadhyaaya, Sri Aurobindo organizations, Chinmaya Mission etc. Most of the 'modern' 'Hindu' organizations do not recognize the exclusive right of Brahmins over Veda learning.

But please note: vedådhyayana (Veda learning) has always been open to all brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas and vaiśyas. Vedādhyāpana (Veda teaching) was the prerogative of brahmins. I.e., brahmins determined what the Vedas are and mean.

> Post-Independent Indian governments and courts have been repeatedly questioning the exclusive right of Brahmins over Veda learning or priestly activities in temples.

Here I would say: we know that social practice is not so easily changed. E.g., the Indian government has also banned caste discrimination.

> Gujarat is predominantly vegetarian. Udupi Brahmin tag is not used, not required there.

Perhaps because Udupi is simply too far away from Gujarat? ;-)

> Milk is sold exclusively by a non-Brahmin milk-vendor.

Milk (because it comes from a cow) is the one drink which even an orthodox, purity-minded brahmin may receive from the hands of a non-brahmin. Therefore I could serve it (together with fruits with thick peels) to some young brahmin pāṭhaśālā students who had the courage to enter my house.

> In a marriage is instrumental music is played by non-Brahmin music player and so on. […] In all these cases, Brahmin is not equal to good. It can be said that in all these cases, Brahmin is equal to not good also.

I am not convinced that this is a good argument. Of course society depends on the services of more than the few percent of the populace with brahmin status, who traditionally did not perform certain kinds of labour.

We also seem to have a logical misunderstanding. I do not wish to say 'the brahminical label is always good, is the only good, and should be put on anything that is good'. What I wish to say is (using the language of set theory): 'what is vaidika / brahminical' is a subset of 'what is good'.

> Today, for something to be 'good' in India, it need not be 'Brahmin' nor 'Vedic'.

Agreed (cf. my previous statement). But then why is there this proliferation of 'Vedic' this-and-that-and-the-other? Even if there are modernistic fringe groups (around Sri Aurobindo etc.) that ignore the old rules (Aurobindo indeed wrote on the Vedas, although he was a kāyastha, not a brāhmaṇa), the association of vaidikatva with brāhmaṇatva and social prestige seems beyond debate.


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