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January 22, 2023

First published January 21, 2023

 in Economic Times

View: Privilege to Saraswati at the cost of Durga & Lakshmi is an old Brahmanical hangover

Published on 21st January, 2023, in Economic Times.

In America, the state serves the rich. In China, the rich serve the state. The American politicians get the military to ensure American businesses have access to resources and markets. The Chinese politicians restrain most successful businessmen from gambling away the country’s future in speculative stock market trading. In other words, in America, Durga serves Lakshmi, while in China, Lakshmi serves Durga. For America, controlled by Capitalists, power is the means to generate wealth. In China, which replaced the traditional order with Communism, power is the means to distribute wealth. Neither country bothers about Saraswati. For both, knowledge is but a handmaiden of wealth and power.

India’s focus currently is about being respected globally as a civilisation – source of knowledge, stemming from mysterious Vedas. This mindset amongst nationalists reveals how Indians privilege Saraswati at the cost of Durga and Lakshmi. It is an old Brahmanical hangover, which is why Chanakya, the impoverished king-maker, has more fans than Chandragupta, the rich and powerful emperor, who actually got men to die for him.

At first, three thousand years ago, Brahmins were merely transmitters of Vedic hymns. Knowledge of these hymns were supposed to grant wealth and power. Indra therefore needed Brihaspati. Asuras needed Shukra, The Ikshavaku, ancestors of Ram, Buddha and many Jain Trithankaras, needed Vasistha and Vishwamitra.

This Vedic world came to an end, by 5th century BCE, with the rise of mercantile cities of the Gangetic plains and the rise of imperial orders situated in Pataliputra, which controlled the highways radiating out of their capital in the East of India towards the Northwest. These merchants favoured Buddhists and Jains who did not care for castes , and saw life in terms of balance sheets. Here the currency was karma. Debts were bad. Hoarding was bad. Investments were good. In Buddhist stupas we find the earliest images of Lakshmi, standing on a lotus,adored by elephants.

Brahmins returned to prominence in royal courts, after the Mauryan empire was gone. Through everyone, including Buddhist and Jains, try to take credit for the Mauryan Empire. Buddhists claimed Ashoka, Jains claimed Ashoka’s father Chandragupta, and Ashoka’s grandson, Samprati. Hindus spotlighted Chanakya. Though Brahmin, Chanakya was different from the earlier Vedic Brahmins – his power was not in occult Vedic hymns (mantra); it was in strategy and other forms of organised knowledge (shaastra) that was superior to weapons (shastra).

In the new Brahmanical lore that emerged after 500 CE, known as Puranas, to succeed a king needs wealth (Lakshmi), strategy (Saraswati) and military (Durga). Of these the military is most important. A sovereign is one who bows to no one: he is the alpha. He only bows to goddess Durga, the war-goddess, who has Chamunda feasts on the blood of his enemies and adorns herself with their blood. Lakshmi and Saraswati are visualised as the consorts of the ideal king, Vishnu. Lakshmi is his treasury, taxes and tribute. Saraswati, the consort of the king, is equated with song, dance and the arts. This was a lower form of Saraswati distinguished from a higher invisible Saraswati, visible only to Brahmins like Chanakya.

Puranic texts described paradise (Swarga) as a place overflowing with abundance, information and status. Hell (Naraka) is a place of starvation, ignorance and helplessness. The king was encouraged to gather around him those who accumulate knowledge (Brahmin), power (Kshatriya) and wealth (Vaishyas). These three groups were referred to as twice-born (dvija) in Manusmriti and other Dharma Shastras, distinguished from the labour (Shudra). In this world view, the higher Saraswati (pragmatic statecraft, linked to Vedic mysticism) was with Brahmins while the lower Saraswati (song and dance and arts) was with entertainment-providing Shudras.

Then came the Turks, and the Mughals, after the 12th century. They had no need for Brahmins. They came with the sword, and they brutally established power. For their administrative needs they hired Persians. Brahmins had to accept that power rested not with the weapon (shastra) not scripture (shaastra). It was the Rajputs who were needed to defend India. Many Brahmins found space in the courts of Mughals and Rajputs, but had to compete with Kayasthas, traditional bookkeepers, and Jains, who provided similar services in the administrative, legal and financial departments, to manage Lakshmi. All kings loved the lower form of Saraswati. Dance, music and arts thrived in Mughal and Rajput palaces. Mantra and shastra, the higher form of Saraswati, was waylaid.

Later, during Maratha rule of the 18th century, the ruling class were displaced by the Brahmin courtiers. Peshwas of Pune became de facto rulers of the land, and even took up arms. They claimed descent from Parashurama, a Brahmin who took up weapons against unrighteous kings, and thus broke the traditional divisions. Peshwas patronised Brahmin clerks, and were wary of song, dance and arts, which they saw as frivolous distractions and temptations. Durga thus triumphed over Saraswati.

This Brahmin hegemony was destroyed when the British insisted on English speaking clerks and found the caste-based bureaucracies very inefficient and annoying. Unlike the Brahmin and Kayastha clerks, who refused to eat with each other, Parsi clerks had no problems working with Muslims, or low-castes, or with people who ate eggs and meat, making them more amenable employees. This explains the rise of the Parsi community during the British Raj. The British did not care for the higher Saraswati of Brahmins or the lower Saraswati of Shudras. They despised Indian arts, dance and arts. They only wanted to plunder India for its Lakshmi. They had adequate Durga: the army, the technology of railways and bureaucracy.

With the British gone, India has been torn between Capitalism and Communism. Neither values Saraswati, except as input for generating more technology for more wealth and power. The kings today value Lakshmi to get votes. Vote is the currency of Durga. Durga is used to grab Lakshmi. Creating a vicious cycle.

Saraswati that matters today seems to be in the coaching class that will get you a visa to USA, or a job in the IT industry, or gets you a permanent ‘babu’ posting in the government, much valued in the marriage market. The other Saraswati that matters is in media houses who are being asked to function like bards and minstrels. Dance, music and arts are seen as waste of time, indulgences of the idle rich, distractions that stop voters from asking difficult questions. Mantra and shastra are fossilised, hollow content, something for intellectuals to fight about on social media, or talk about in international forums to regain ‘civilisational’ prestige.

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