Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Cārvākas and The Jains: An Overview

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya


The Cārvākas, the Buddhists and the Jains share a common platform in the Indian philosophical scene in as much as they all refused to accept the Vedas as an instrument of cognition on a par with perception and inference. Hence the Brahminical philosophical schools call all of them nastika, that is, negativists, on believers in the Vedas. Curiously enough, the Jains and the Buddhists in their turn brand the Carvakas as nastika for an altogether different reason, viz. the Cārvākas deny the existence of the after-world and the concept of rebirth.1

Ambiguity in the use of the two terms, āstika and nāstika is a pointer to the antagonistic relations between the pro-Vedic (Brahminical or orthodox) philosophical schools, such as the six traditional systems of philosophy, namely Mimamsa, Nyaya, etc on the one hand, and the non-Vedic (anti-Brahminical or heterodox) systems on the other. At the same time all the three heterodox systems had very little in common to them. In their acceptance of after-life, the Jains were akin to the Brahminical school, but in their opposition to animal sacrifice in ritual performances and post-mortem rites (śrāddha), their views tally with that of the Buddhists.

This leads us to an interesting question: what was the attitude of the Cārvākas towards non-violence? Being uncompromising materialists, quite naturally they had nothing to do with the Vedic sacrificial act (yajna) or performance of post-mortem rites. In a number of verses attributed to the Cārvākas, satirical references are made to the futility of such senseless acts. 2 One of these verses cited in Sāyana-Mādhava’s SDS reads as follows

               mrtānām api jantunām śrāddham cet trptikāranam /
               nirvānasya pradipasya snehah samvardhayec chikhām //.3

Sāyanā-Mādhava most probably got the verse from the PC (2.21), where Cārvāka himself is made to speak these words. Yet Hemacandra too quotes this couplet in denouncing Vedic sacrifices in the auto-commentary on his YS (2.43), with a minor variant in b. Similarly Mallisena quotes the verse in his commentary on Hemacandra’s AYVD. There is only a minor variant in c. In all other respects the verse quoted is similar to the reading found in the PC.

It is difficult to believe that Hemacandra would borrow the verse from the Cārvākas, although he preferred to have a pronounced nāstika like Cārvāka rather than Jaimini, whom he calls “a demon, in the disguise of an ascetic, mouthing the words of the Vedas.”
Moreover it is worth noting that both Hemacandra and Mallisena have quoted from the Manusmriti. (3.268) in the same context in which the mrtānām api verse is quoted. Manu enjoins which kinds of animals are to be offered as food for the ancestors: fish for two months, deer for three months, sheep for four months and foul for five months. Hemacandra does not attribute the authorship of the mrtānām api verse to anyone in particular. Mallisena however refers rather vaguely to some “great rsi” (paramarsah). It is therefore conceivable that both Hemacandra and Mallisena knew the verse to be of Jain origin and unhesitatingly employed it against the Vedic ritualists in general. Krsnamisra apparently made no distinction between the Cārvākas and the Jains insofar as both were anti-Vedic; hence he could make his Cārvāka echo the Jain view vis-à-vis non-violence, or rather opposition to violence as such, even if it was violence sanctioned by the Vedas.


Like all other philosophical systems of India the Cārvāka-s too had a sūtra work and several commentaries thereon. Unfortunately none of them has survived. Attempts have been made to reconstruct the basic tenets of the system by assiduously collecting all fragments that lie scattered in the works of other philosophical schools. Jain authors right from Jinabhadra down to Gunaratna and others provide us with an invaluable source of information. No fewer than seventeen authors of original philosophical works, commentators of Jain canonical texts and compilers of digests/compendia have quoted almost verbatim both from the now-lost Cārvākasutra and its commentaries.4 Not that Jain philosophical works alone refer to them but the readings of the aphorisms are confirmed by comparing them with other Brahminical and Buddhist books of the same nature. The names of Anantavīrya, Haribhadra, Hemacandra, Prabhācandra, Siddharsi, Vādidevasūri, and Vādirājasūri deserve special mention.
As regards the commentators of the Cārvākasūtra, three of them have been mentioned and quoted more or less extensively by the Jain savants. Without their help we would have no supporting evidence about the commentaries of Aviddhakarna, Purandara and Udbhatabhatta. Vādidevasuri refers to Udbhata as jarad-dvijanmā-mahānubhāvah, “respectable veteran twice-born”.5 This also proves that the Cārvāka-s were taken as serious philosophers and not merely as propounders of an eat-drink-and-be-merry attitude to life. The logical acumen of Aviddhakarna and Udbhata is clear from the extracts quoted in Jain philosophical works.
Similarly at least six verses attributed to the Cārvāka-s also occur in the works of Jain writers. They also help us to determine the original reading of the couplets.


More importantly, Jain works, both philosophical and non-philosophical, make us aware of the existence of two materialist schools in India: pre-Cārvāka and Cārvāka / Lokayata. The basic difference lies not so much in the doctrine itself but in the number of elements to be admitted. The earlier school noted in the SkS was bhūtapancakavādin, who professed their belief in five gross elements, viz. earth, water, fire, air, and space. The Vasu. and the SKa too refer to this proto-materialist school.6 The existence of such a school is corroborated by the Mbh and Manimekalāi. The Cārvāka-s on the other hand were bhūtacatustayavādin-s, who did not consider space as a separate element, presumably because space was not susceptible to any sense-organ.
Thus, in the task of reconstructing the history of materialism in India the service rendered by the Jain authors and commentators is invaluable. Earlier scholars like D. R. Shastri and Mamorn Namai utilized several Jain sources, but many more Jain works have been published in the recent past. Farther exploration will certainly yield fruit.7

1For different meanings of āstika and nāstika, see, besides the standard Sanskrit dictionaries, Hopkins, 86- 
2 For a collection of such verses see R. Bhattacharya, 2002 d.
3 For a detailed discussion of the variant readings of this verse, see R. Bhattacharya, 2003 b.
4 See n2. All sources are to be found here.
5 SVR, 764, lines 24-25.
6 For sources etc., see R. Bhattacharya, 2004 a.
7 I have tried to incorporate some sources in my article (2002 d).

Works Cited

AYVD. Hemchandra. Anyayoga-vyavaccheda-dvātrimsikā with Mallisena’s Syādvādamanjari. Ed.
A.B.Dhruba, Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), 1933.
Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. “Cārvāka Fragments: A New Collection”. Journal of Indian Philosophy
            (Dordrecht), 30:6, Dec. 2002 (2002 d)
———. “ A Probable Jain Source for a Verse in Sarva-Darśana-Samgraha, Chapter 1”, Jain Journal
            (Kolkata), 38:1, July 2003 (2003 b)

———. “Jain Sources for the Study of Pre-Carvaka Materialist Ideas in India”. Jain Journal (Kolkata),
            38:3, Janu.2004 (2004 a)
Hopkins, E. Washburn. The Great Epic of India (1910). Delhi: MLBD, 1993.
Manimekalai/Silappattihasam by Ilanko Adigal and Sattanar. Retold by Laksmi Holmstörm. Hyderabad:
            Orient Longman, 1996.
Manu. Manusmriti. Ed. J.H. Dave. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1972-84.
PC. Krsnamisra. Probodhacandrodaya. Ed. Sita Krishna Nambiar. Delhi: Matilal Banarsidass, 1971.
SDS. Sayana-Madhava, Sarvadarsanasamgraha. Ed. Vasudeva Sastri Abhyankar. Poona: Bhandarkar
            Oriental Research Institute, 1978.
SKa. Haribhadra. Samaraicca Kaha. Ed. Hermann Jacobi. Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1926.
SKS and SKSVr. Silanka. Sutrakrtanga sutra-vrtti. Re-ed. Muni Jambuvijaya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass
            Indological Trust, 1979. 
SVR. Vadidevasuri. Syadvadaratnakara. Ed. Matilal Ladhaji Osval (Delhi: Bharatiya Book Corporation,  
Vasu. Vasudevahindi, Part 1, Sanghadasaganivacaha. Ed. Caturvijaya and Punyavijaya (1930-31).
            Gandhinagar: Gujarat Sahitya Academi, 1989.
YS. Hemacandra. Yogasastram (with auto-commentary). Bhavnagar: Srijainadharma Pracarasabha, 1926.

This essay was first published in Jain Journal, Vol. 42 No. 4, April 2008a, pp. 178-83.

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of PAVLOV Institute, Kolkata.

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Transplanting Elephant Head on Human Body - The Magic of Mythological Fiction

Ram Puniyani

One of the best parts of childhood for me was to enjoy the mythological tales and become aware of the world where Lord Hanuman could fly, as the emergency herbal treatment is to be delivered to his master’s brother; Laxman. Lord Ram travelling by Pushpak Viman (aero plane), Lord Ganesha being planted with the head of elephant as his human head was chopped off by his father, all this was uncritically digested. Karna is born from the ear of his mother; Kauravas are born from the mass delivered by Gandhari, the mass being divided into 100 pieces and being preserved. Such fanciful imaginations were so engrossing that questioning them never came to my mind. With growing up years, some exposure to science and then rigorous training for close to decade in a medical school forced one to revisit the childhood fantasies built around mythological fictions. Realization gradually dawned as to how to distinguish between fact and fiction, history and mythology. The beauty of imagination; fiction of the pre-Historic times, does still remain etched somewhere but is not a guiding principle for understanding of social phenomenon and processes.
While going through the tough medical discipline, one came to see the complexity of human body, histopathology, immune systems, blood groups, bio-compatibility and what have you. A mere thought that Lord Ganesha could carry an elephant head if taken logically will lead you to so many questions. If the head is severed from the body; for how many minutes one can survive? The head houses the brain with higher centers for control of breathing and heart pumping amongst others, so how long can one remain alive to be a recipient for other’s organs, and that too the head of an elephant? What is the difference in the immune system of human body and elephant? Even while transplanting kidney to one human being to another there are battery of tests carried on meticulously to assess the compatibility between recipient and the donor. So there was all this paraphernalia, if Mr. Modi is to be believed?

A mass delivered from uterus; can it be divided into 100 pieces? What type of micro surgery is required for splitting the fertilized ovum? Can uterus be located near ear? I am sure all these questions must have cropped up in the minds of the doctors, who had the privilege of listening to their Prime Minister in person when he was inaugurating their hospital. They heard, “We can feel proud of what our country achieved in medical science at one point of time. We all read about Karna in Mahabharata. If we think a little more, we realize that Mahabharata says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb… We worship Lord Ganesh. There must have been some plastic surgeon at that time, which got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”.

Hope the hospital he inaugurated is not planning to undertake such miraculous surgeries and splitting of the ovum in to hundred pieces! Many in the country surely must be feeling happy that their PM has given glory to ‘our’ past achievements! By all accounts it was a pastoral society or might have been the beginning of agricultural times, with hunting stage still lurking somewhere. The facts are very different from the utterances of the PM.

The practical impossibility of these fictional tales being true cannot be overemphasized. As understood with great pain and scientific enterprise the fictions of mythology of Mahabharata or Ramayana do not stand even a chance of being actualized. All this requires a huge infrastructure, body of scientific knowledge of human body, physics, astronomy, and myriad other components of knowledge which have been growing from the past but have taken definitive contours in last few centuries only. With all this progress in scientific enterprise today none of these ‘glorious achievements’ can even be dreamt of even today. The World of science has taken giant strides and built up on the cumulative knowledge of human society as a whole. Surely there are many contributions which came up in ancient India, and they need to be underlined, and their wisdom and logical method highlighted. Some of these are the ones related to Charak Samhita (Medical science), Sushrut (Surgical techniques); contributions of Aryabhatt in astronomy and discovery of zero. What is important is to build a method of thinking and logic which can take us to the next step of the knowledge, ultimately leading to techniques and applications, which in turn can be used to enhance and enrich existing scientific knowledge.

It’s not that it’s only in our country that such mythological fantasies developed. All old civilizations have such interesting myths. In Egypt, in prehistoric times the tales of Cleopatra tell us that she had belief, like probably many other Egyptians, in the supreme power of many gods who had animal’s heads, like Baboon God head Hedj-Wer and Annubis the jackal headed God. Had the likes of Modi known about this Egyptian belief, the claim of ‘export of our knowledge’ claim would have been registered by now. What a coincidence with our own Lord Ganesh? Is it again a case of plastic surgery or flight of imagination? In Greek mythology, Chinese mythology and many other traditions such fictional characters do merrily abound.

The hope and prayer is that in order to prove the point, those in seats of power do not divert and waste social funds for investigations of these fantasies. While an average person can believe in Lord Ram’s travel in Pushpak Viman or someone else travelling on a flying mat, if those in power believe in these things; the danger of public money and state funds being diverted for ‘research’ in these fantasies is very frightening. One recalls that during Zia Ul Haq’s regime in one of the conferences was on ‘how to solve the power shortage’. Encouraged by the atmosphere where it is supposed that all knowledge is already there in our holy books, one ‘scientist’ presented a ‘research paper’ which argued that jinns are an infinite source of energy and that should be harnessed to solve the power crisis in Pakistan! Mercifully, one hopes that state did not allocate funds for such a research! Any way science is a universal knowledge not owing allegiance to any country or religion. There cannot be anything like a Hindu science or a Muslim science!

While individuals can harbor the reality of mythology, the matters will be difficult if the chief of state has belief in these fictions being part of History. That will be a big set back to the progress of scientific, rational thinking and enterprise. This combination of mythology, religion and politics will make the matters worse. Many competing mythologies will be struggling with each other for their acceptance and being encouraged by such utterances. And the fantasies of power of jinn’s and plastic surgery for Lord Ganesha will a have field day.

Targeting Nehruvian Legacy?

Ram Puniyani

The debates about India's partition, Gandhi murder and politics of Nehru have been a matter of ceaseless debates. Each political tendency has their own interpretation of these events, which in a way are landmarks of sorts in modern Indian History. As such the phenomenon of Partition of India and assassination of Gandhi are interwoven in the sense that Godse held Gandhi responsible for appeasement of Muslims. Godse constructed his story around warped understandings of the events of the time to create the ground for murder of the Mahatma. These views are shared by many Hindu nationalists, who are in and around RSS-BJP. Now with the ascendance of BJP to the seat of power many of its leaders are coming out more boldly with Hindu nationalist interpretation of the events, but a twist is being added. This twist is apparent in the article by a BJP leader from Kerala in the RSS mouth piece Kesari. This article indirectly suggests that Nathuram Godse should have killed Jawaharlal Nehru instead of Mahatma Gandhi, as according to him the real culprit was Nehru and not Gandhi. 

The BJP leader who wrote this is B Gopalkrishnan. He says "If history students feel Godse aimed at the wrong target, they cannot be blamed. Nehru was solely responsible for the partition of the country.” What does one make of it? Is it the official RSS line? To be on the safe side RSS spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya has distanced the RSS from the statement of its leader. Still it is not difficult to guess that there may be prevalence of such thinking within the RSS circles on the lines of the author of RSS mouthpiece article. This Kesari article is significant as it is trying to shift the blame from Gandhi to Nehru. It may not be too difficult to understand the reason for the same. Before we have a look at who was responsible for partition, let’s try to understand why the blame is being shifted from the Mahatma to Nehru. Recently Narendra Modi launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India campaign) on 2nd October as a tribute to the father of the nation, Gandhi. This move has two shrewd aims. One is to appropriate Gandhi for the politics of Hindu nationalism; two is to reduce Gandhi’s contribution to mere cleanliness and hygiene. This over projection of cleanliness associated with Gandhi as such dwarfs the major contribution of Gandhi, Hindu Muslim unity and national integration in the deepest possible sense.

Nehru’s staunch and principled commitment to Indian nationalism, pluralism, secularism and scientific temper make him a figure totally unacceptable to Hindu nationalists, as Hindu nationalism stands for the values totally opposed to these. So the attempts like this article are planned attempts for tasting of waters by throwing up Nehru’s name as the culprit for the partition tragedy.

As such Gandhi, Nehru and Patel were the most prominent leaders of the anti colonial freedom movement. Gandhi was the central pillar, who built up the anti-British-Indian nationalist mass movement, gave it solid foundations and then gradually became the moral guide for the same. He passed the major mantle of his responsibilities to Nehru and Patel. Most of the times Hindu nationalists, Hindu Mahasabha-RSS, were critical of Gandhi’s efforts for Hindu Muslim unity. The Muslim communal stream, Muslim League looked at Congress as a party representing Hindus alone. The truth is that majority of people from all religions were with the Gandhi led movement for Indian nationalism. It is only after 1940s that more Muslims started shifting to Muslim League due to the rise of communalism.

Gandhi was criticized by both communal streams, Hindu communal stream criticized him for appeasing Muslims, and Muslim communalists called him a Hindu representative. Partition was due to multiple factors. The first and foremost of these was the machination of British policy of ‘divide and rule’ which strengthened the communal streams-Muslim and Hindu both. Secondly British had an agenda of colonial masters. They perceived that a united India will be a power in its own right, more likely to ally with Soviet Union in global bipolar world. Their perception was due to the presence of a significant Left wing in the Indian National Congress led by Nehru himself.

Partition tragedy was multi layered phenomenon, which cannot be reduced to a single incident. Many such incidents had their own impact on the totality of the phenomenon of course. We need to see the deeper differences between the Indian nationalists on one hand and Religious nationalists (Muslim League-Hindu Mahasabha) on the other and the clever role of British in partitioning the nation. That should be central to understanding the process, rather than putting the blame on any single individual.

As per the perception of Hindu communal stream so far it was supposed to be Gandhi who was responsible for partition and for appeasement of Muslims, now this stream is trying to shift the blame on to Nehru as they need Gandhi as an icon, though freed from his core virtues of truth and non violence, reduced to mere ‘cleanliness man’. In no way they can appropriate Nehru, as Nehru lived after Independence to nurture the values of Indian nationalism, pluralism, liberalism and diversity, the principles which were the cementing factors of Indian national movement, the biggest ever mass movement in the World. So this Keasri, RSS mouthpiece article and the façade of its being disowned!

Doctoring History for Political Goals: Origin of Caste System in India

Ram Puniyani

Caste hierarchy is the major obstacle to the goal of social justice and it continues to be a major obstacle to social progress even today. There are many a theories, which have tried to understand its origin. The latest in the series is the attempt of RSS to show its genesis due to invasion of Muslim kings. Three books written by RSS ideologues argue that Islamic atrocities during medieval period resulted in emergence of untouchables and low castes.  The books are "Hindu Charmakar Jati", "Hindu Khatik Jati" and "Hindu Valmiki Jati".

The Sangh leaders claimed that these castes had come into existence due to atrocities by foreign invaders and did not exist in Hindu religion earlier. According to Bhaiyyaji Joshi, number two in RSS hierarchy, 'shudras' were never untouchables in Hindu scriptures. 'Islamic atrocities' during the medieval age resulted in the emergence of untouchables, Dalits. Joshi further elaborated, "To violate Hindu swabhiman (dignity) of Chanwarvanshiya Kshatriyas, foreign invaders from Arab, Muslim rulers and beef-eaters, forced them to do abominable works like killing cows, skinning them and throwing their carcasses in deserted places. Foreign invaders thus created a caste of charma-karma (dealing with skin) by giving such works as punishment to proud Hindu prisoners."

The truth is contrary to this. The foundations of the caste system are very old and untouchability came as an accompaniment of the caste system. The Aryans considered themselves superior, they called non-Aryans krshna varnya (dark skinned), anasa (those with no nose), and since non-Aryans worshipped the phallus, they were considered non-human or amanushya. (Rig Veda: X.22.9) There are quotes in the Rig Veda and Manusmriti to show that low castes were prohibited from coming close to the high castes and they were to live outside the village. While this does not imply that a full-fledged caste system had come into being in Rig Vedic times, the four-fold division of society into varnas did exist, which became a fairly rigid caste system by the time of the Manusmriti.

Untouchability became the accompaniment of the caste system sometime around the first century ad. The Manusmriti, written in the second–third centuries ad, codifies the existing practices which show with utmost clarity the type of despicable social practices that the oppressor castes were imposing upon the oppressed castes. The first major incursions of Muslim invaders into India began around the eleventh century ad, and the European conquests of India began in the seventeenth–eighteenth centuries.

Over time, the caste system became hereditary. The rules for social intercourse as well as establishing marriage relations were laid down by the caste system. Caste hierarchies also became rigid over time. The shudras began to be excluded from caste society, and ‘upper’ castes were barred from inter-dining or inter-marrying with them. Notions of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’ were enforced strictly to maintain caste boundaries. Shudras became ‘untouchables’. It is this rigid social division that Manu’s Manav Dharmashastra (Human Law Code) codified.

Golwalkar, the major ideologue of RSS ideology defended it in a different way, ‘If a developed society realizes that the existing differences are due to the scientific social structure and that they indicate the different limbs of body social, the diversity (i.e. caste system, added) would not be construed as a blemish.’ (Organiser, 1 December 1952, p. 7) Deendayal Upadhyaya, another major ideologue of Sangh Parivar stated, ‘In our concept of four castes (varnas), they are thought of as different limbs of virat purush (the primeval man)… These limbs are not only complimentary to one another but even further there is individuality, unity. There is a complete identity of interests, identity, belonging… If this idea is not kept alive, the caste; instead of being complimentary can produce conflict. But then that is a distortion.’ (D. Upadhyaya, Integral Humanism, New Delhi, Bharatiya Jansangh, 1965, p. 43) 

Social struggles to oppose this system and the struggles to escape the tyrannies of caste system are presented by Ambedkar as revolution and counter-revolution. He divides the ‘pre-Muslim’ period into three stages: (a) Brahmanism (the Vedic period); (b) Buddhism, connected with rise of first Magadh-Maurya states and representing the revolutionary denial of caste inequalities; and (c) ‘Hinduism’, or the counter revolution which consolidated brahman dominance and the caste hierarchy.

Much before the invasion of Muslim kings, shudras were treated as untouchables and were the most oppressed and exploited sections of society. The rigidity and cruelty of the caste system and untouchability became very intense from the post-Vedic to Gupta period. Later, new social movements like Bhakti, directly, and Sufi, indirectly, partly reduced the intensity of the caste oppression and untouchability. This doctoring of the history by Sangh ideologues is motivated by their political agenda and tries to hide the truth.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Carvaka Darsana ki Sastriya Samiksa: Sarvananda Pathak

Published in 1965, 'Carvaka Darsana ki Sastriya Samiksa' (A Critical Study of Carvaka Philosophy) gives an overview of Carvaka philosophy. 

Though the author, Dr Sarvananda Pathak (who was a lecturer in Sanskrit, Nava Nalanda Mahavihara, Nalanda, when the book was written) is critical of Carvaka philosophy (the title of the sixth chapter, in fact, is 'Carvakavad ka nirakaran'), he has reproduced, in the 5th chapter, a wide collection of original writings (in Sanskrit with meaning in Hindi) of Carvaka/Lokayata philosophers selected from ancient texts still extant - ranging from the writings of Kapila, Gouthama, Jaimini, Vatsyayan, etc. The books from which he reproduced the selections include Ramayanam, Vishnupuranam, Thathvasangraha (Santharaksita), Sarvamathasangraha, Prabhodachandrodaya, Naishadhacharitam, Sarvadarsanasangraha, etc).

Dr Ramkrishna Bhattacharaya, an authority on Carvaka/Lokayata Philosophy, however says (in an email sent to us today, 2nd November 2014) that "The only plus point of Pathak's book is the assemblage of a number of primary sources that contain long or short references to materialism. As to his approach, etc. it is almost worthless (as is another book by Kar recently published by Indian Council of Philosophical Research). His collection of fragments is plagiarized from D.R. Shastri. I've mentioned all this in my 'Carvaka Fragments' included in my "Studies in Carvaka/Lokayata".

Though the book is no more available in print, it can be downloaded from the Digital Library maintained by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Here is the link:


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