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Friday, January 20, 2012

Āgamas and "Aboriginals"

Are the Āgamas the product of a non-Aryan and, hence, anti-Vedic influence in Indian culture? Are they just an evolution of the Aryan thought responding to new stimuli?

Personally, I tend to disagree with both sides of the argument. I do not think that arguments are bound to races ("Aryan" and "Dravidian" or "Aboriginal"). Ideas tend to travel faster than people and in this sense it makes (in my opinion) hardly any sense to speak of a "Dravidian" argument.

However, I could not resist writing about it after having read a statement about it by V. Varadachari in his Āgamas and South Indian Vaiṣṇavism. I do not know well Varadachari's work, but I tend to have a positive opinion of it. Anyway, here is the statement:

Suggestions have been made by some writers that the Āgamas are antivedic and should have arisen under the impact of the ways of life of the aborigines of India. It is to be observed here that borrowing, whether, linguistic, religious or cultural, is always from those who are spiritually and morally superior or politically dominant in power: minor impacts could have been there on the cultured class coming from the tribes but wholesale concept of the Āgama way of worship could not have emanated from the tribes: the Āgamas must therefore be treated as supplementary to the Vedas (vi-vii).

I understand Varadachari's agenda and his dissatisfaction with the opponents' argument. But I think he should have rather asked "What does anti-vedic mean?" instead of throwing himself into hot water. In fact, an opponent may easily reply that the non-Aryan aborigenals were the large majority of the population in South India and that they could hence easily influence the general culture through their religious beliefs and habits. A parallel could be that of a linguistic substratum. Hence, the conclusion might be true, but the second premiss (the non-Aryans were a minority) does not hold.


Jayarava said...

Hi Elisa,

Yep. This is dangerous territory. It seems that ethnicity, language, material culture, ideas, and territory can all change independently of each other, especially in India.

If one looks at parts of Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad one can read it (following Signe Cohen) as challenging the authority of the Ṛgveda. So to some extent it is anti-Veda, but written in a Vedic context. It seems like an error to see Vedic thought as one thing, and non-Vedic thought as another. Both are complex, and both have internal tensions as well as external.

Dravidian South India does have extra tensions it seems to me, as it is a different culture and territory.

I would challenge Varadachari's assumption that borrowing is always from the dominant power or morally superior. Everyone borrows from everyone!

Best Wishes

BTW it's spelt aboriginal.

elisa freschi said...

Dear Jayarava,

I agree with your point that seeing every "thought" as monolithic is at least unrealistic and at worst mistifying. I am annoyed by arguments such as "since there is no hint at rebirth in the Ṛgveda, this idea must be non-indoeuropean". Why should the people who used the Ṛgveda have held only one set of beliefs, whereas today's societies are all repleted with different sets of beliefs, held by different social or cultural strata (or by different age- and gender-groups)? Why should the world have been "simpler" in, say, the year 600 b.C.? If one were to say that it was simpler, because it lacked the last 2400 years of human evolution, it could be easily replied that human history had already accumulated thousands of years of evolution even before the year 600 b.C. This does not amount to say that the idea of rebirth was Indoeuropean, but rather that it is hardly possible to determine what the "pure indoeuropean Weltanschauung" was.
(thanks for the emendation).

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