Four hundred yajnas or sacrifices are said to be mentioned in the Vedas. Of these, aupasana alone is to be performed by all the four varnas. Though the first three varnas have the right to all the other sacrifices, in practice these were performed mostly by Brahmins and Ksatriyas only. But later Ksatriyas too neglected to perform them. There are yajnas to be conducted specially by them to earn physical strength, victory in war, and so on. Sacrifices like rajasuya and asvamedha were performed by imperial rulers. They are yagas that have to be performed by Vaisyas for a good agriculture yield, for wealth, etc. As mentioned before, the yajamana of a sacrifice may be a Ksatriya or a Vaisya but the four priests must be Brahmins. (The idea behind it is that if members of these two castes were to participate directly in the sacrifices their duties like protecting the country and looking after agriculture would suffer.)
Not all sacrifices need be performed by all Brahmins. A number of them are meant to serve one specific purpose or another. For instance, you must have heard of the putrakamesti in the Ramayana, the sacrifice performed to beget a son.
Any rite meant to fulfil a wish is "kamya-karma" and it comes under the optional category. Then these are rites that are obligatory on your part to conduct for the good of your Atman as well as of the world. They come under the category of "nitya-karma", but the word "nitya" here does not denote "daily".
In the category of nitya-karma there are 21 sacrifices. There is no compulsion with regard to the rest of the 400. But the 21, included in the forty samskaras, must be performed at least once in a life time. As we have seen, these are divided into groups of seven - pakayajnas, haviryajnas and somyajnas.
Marriage is conducted with offerings made in the fire, is it not? Aupasana, which must be performed every day, is commenced in this fire and it must be preserved throughout one's life. The seven pakayajnas, rites like upanayana and sraddha must be conducted in the aupasana fire. The son lights his aupasana fire during his marriage from his father's aupasana fire. The son's aupasana fire, like his father's must be maintained throughout his life. Thus, without any break, the sacred fire is kept burning in the family generation after generation.
All rites in which the aupasana fire is used and pertain to an individual and his family are "Grhyakarmas". The seven pakayajnas also belong to this category. They are related exclusively to the family and are not very elaborate. Even so they are conductive to the good of the world outside also. Grhyasutras deal with such rites. They belong to the Smritis and are called "Smarta-karmas".
The elaborate works that are especially meant for the well-being of mankind are called "Srautakarmas". They are so called because their procedure is directly based on the authority of Sruti or the Vedas. The sastras dealing with them are "Srautasutras".
I told you, do you remember, that there was no question of Sruti being superior to Smrti or vice versa? Similarly, the Srautasutras and the Grhyasutras are of equal importance. In the sanatana dharma that goes under the name of Hinduism both are to be cared for like our two eyes.
The aupasana fire (lighted at the time of marriage from that of the groom's father) is divided into two in a ceremony called "agniyadhana". One part is called "grhyagni" or "smartagni": it is meant for rites to be performed at home. The second part is srautagni and meant for srauta rites. These two sacred fires must be preserved throughout.
Grhyagni is also called aupasanagni since the daily rite of aupasana is performed in it. This is the fire contained in one "kunda" and so it is called "ekagni". Rites conducted in the family are included in the chapter called "Ekagni-kanda" in the Apastamba-sutra. The samskaras and other rites I have so far mentioned are mostly in accordance with this work since the majority of Brahmins in the South are Krsna-Yajurvedins following this sutra. Rigvedins and Samavedins who constitute a minority follow the Asvalayana and Gobhila-sutras respectively. These differences, however, relate only to the rites performed at home. There are no differences in the srauta rites with regard to the different Vedas.
Srautagni meant for the srauta rites is in the form of three fires burning in three mounds. So it is called tretagni. The section in the Apastamba-sutra dealing with rites performed in it is called "Tretagni-kanda". One who worships the three Agnis is called a "tretagni" or "srautin" and, if he worships the srauta and grhya fires, he is called an "ahitagnin". One who performs an elaborate sacrifice like a somayajna is called a "yajva", "diksita" or "makhin". And one who conducts the greatest of the somayajnas, vajapeya, is known as a "vajapeyin". Sacrifices are called variously "kratu", "makha", "isti", "stoma", "samsta". There are some difference between these. Ancient Tamil works contain references to "mutti" (tretagni or srautagni).
One of the three sacred fires, one of the tretagni, is called "garhapatya" and it belongs to the master of the household. It must be kept burning in the garhapatya mound which is circular in shape. In this no oblations are to be made directly. Fire must be taken from it and tended in another mound for the performance of rites relating to the fathers (this is different from the usual sraddha and is ritual performed to the manes every new moon) and also for certain deities. This mound is in the south, so it is called "daksinagni" and it is semicircular in shape. Offerings to deities are made generally in a third fire in the east called "ahavaniya" and it is also to kindled from the garhapatya fire. In the North any yaga or sacrificial rite is called a "havan", the word being derived from "ahavaniya". The ahavaniya mound is square in shape. Big sacrifices like somayajnas and other meant to propitiate deities are to be conducted in the fire taken from the ahavaniya mound to the yagnasala or the hall where a sacrifice is held.
If aupasana is a grhyakarma, agnihotra is a srauta ceremony and it too must be performed twice a day. Agniyadhana mentioned before and agnihotra are the first two of the seven haviryajnas. Those who perform agnihotra are called agnihotrins. (Nowadays smoking is referred to as agnihotra and going to the races as asvamedha. Such references are intended to be humorous but are indeed blasphemous.)
If the agnihotra fire is extinguished for whatever reason, it must be kindled again through a new adhana (agniyadhana) ceremony. The same applies to the aupasana fire. Now in the majority of houses neither the aupasana nor the agnihotra fire burns. I have mentioned here how these fires can be renewed since most of you perhaps must not have kept them after your marriage.
In aupasana unbroken rice grains are offered in the fire and in agnihotra milk, ghee or unbroken rice grains. (It has become customary now to offer milk in the agnihotra. )
As already mentioned, the daksinagni and the ahavaniyagni are made from the garhapatyagni. When srauta rites for the fathers have been performed in the daksinagni and other srauta rites in the ahavaniyagni, the two fires no longer have the exalted name of "srautagni" and are just like any other ordinary fire and they have to be extinguished. Only the garhapatya and aupasana fires are to be kept burning throughout.
On every Prathama (first day of the lunar fortnight), a pakayajna and a haviryajna have to be performed in the grhyagni and srautagni respectively. The first is called sthalipaka. "Sthali" is the pot in which rice is cooked and it must be placed on the aupasana fire and the rice called "caru" cooked in it must be offered in the same fire. The rite that is the basis of many others (the archetype or model) is called "prakrti". Those performed after it, but with some changes, are known as "vikrti". For the sarpabali called sravani and the pakayajna called agrahayani, sthalipaka is the prakrti.
The haviryajna performed on every Prathama is "darsa-purna-isti", "darsa" meaning the new moon and "purna" the full moon. So the "istis" or sacrifices conducted on the day following the new moon and the full moon (the two Prathamas) are together given the name of darsa-purna-isti. The two rituals are also referred to merely as "isti". This is the prakrti for haviryajnas.
For soma sacrifices "agnistoma" is the prakrti, the word "stoma" also meaning a sacrifice. In conjunction with "agni", the "sto" becomes "sto" -- "agnistoma". "Sthapita" becomes "establish" in English: here the " sta" of the first word becomes "sta" in the second. Some unlettered people pronounce "star" and "stamp" as "istar" and "istamp". Such phonetic changes are accepted even in the Vedas.
I will now deal briefly with the remaining paka, havir and soma sacrifices.
Pakayajnas are minor sacrifices and are performed at home. Even srauta rites like the first four haviryajnas - adhana, agnihotra, darsa-purna-masa and agrayana - are performed at home. The last three haviryajnas - caturmasya, nirudhapasubandha and sautramani - are performed in a yagasala.
The yagasala is also known as a "devayajna". The Kalpa-sutras contain a description of it, not omitting minute details. There are altars called "cayanas" to be built with bricks. (There are no cayanas for havir and pakayajnas.) As I said before there is the application of mathematics in all this. Several kinds of ladles are used in making offerings in the fire, "tarvi", "sruk" and "sruva". Their measurements are specified, also the materials out of which they are made. No detail is left out. In a nuclear or space research laboratory even the most insignificant job is carried out with the utmost care, so is the case with sacrifices which have the purpose of bringing forth supernatural powers into the world.
To repeat, pakayajnas are simple, "paka" meaning "small", "like a child". Cooked food is also "paka"; that is why the art of cooking is called "pakasastra" and the place where cooking is done is called "pakasala". Just as in sthalipaka cooked rice is offered in the fire, so too in pakayajnas cooked grains are offered in the fire. The watery part is not to be drained off - this rite is called "caruhoma". But in aupasana unbroken rice (not cooked) is offered. In the pakayajna called "astaka" purodasa is offered in the fire. Astaka is performed for the fathers. The bright half of a month (waxing moon) is special to the celestials while it is the dark half (waning moon) for the fathers. The latter is called the "apara-paksa" since during this fortnight rites for the fathers are performed. The eighth day of the dark fortnight (Astami) is particularly important for them. The astaka sraddha must be performed on the eighth day of the fortnight during the Sisira and Hemanta seasons (the first and second half of winter) - in the [Tamil] months of Margazhi, Tai, Masi and Panguni. The astaka performed in Masi is said to be particularly sacred. The rite gone through on the day following the astaka is "anvastaka".
"Parvani", one of the pakayajnas, is the prakrti (or the archetype) for sraddhas. Since it is performed every month it is called "masisraddha". (This is according to the Apastamba-sutra. According to the Gautama-sutra "parvana" denotes the sthalipaka performed during each "parva" ).
The pakayajna "sravani" is also called "sarpabali". On the full moon of the month of Sravana caru rice and ghee are placed in the fire and flowers of the flame of the forest are offered similarly by both hands. Designs have to be drawn with rice flour over an anthill or some other place and offerings made to snakes with the chanting of mantras. This ceremony must be held every full-moon night up to Margazhi (mid-December to mid-January).
On the Margazhi full moon, apart from completing the sarpabali, the pakayajna called "agrahayani" must be performed. Like "sravani", the name "agrahayani" is also derived from the name of the month of the same name - Agrahayani is Margazhi. "Hayana" means "year" and the first month of the year is "Agrahayana". In ancient times the year started with this month. The first of January [of the Gregorian calendar] falls in mid-Margazhi. It was from us that Europe took this as their new year. Though we changed our calendar later, they stuck to theirs. There are two more pakayajnas called "caitri" and "asvayuji": these fall respectively, as their names suggest, in Cittirai and Aippasi.
Caitri is conducted where four roads meet. Since it is performed for Isana it is called "isanabali" : Isana is Paramesvara (Siva). In the other pakayajnas the deities worshipped are different but through them Paramesvara is pleased. It is like a tax paid to the ruler through the sub-collector. In Caitri it is as if the tax is paid directly to the ruler.
In Aippasi, kuruva rice is harvested [in Tamil Nadu]. This is first offered to Isvara in the rite called "asvayuji" before it is taken by us. Similarly samba rice is eaten only after agrahayani is performed in Margazhi.
The haviryajnas are more elaborate, though not so large in scale as the somayajnas. Anything offered in the sacrificial fire is called "havis". In Tamil works like the Tirukkural it is referred to as "avi". However, ghee is specifically referred to as "havis". Sacrifices in which the soma juice is offered are called somayajnas and those that are not elaborate are categorised as pakayajnas. Now the other srauta sacrifices among the forty samskaras are called haviryajnas.
When I spoke to you earlier about sacrifices I referred to the men who conduct them. The sacrificer is the yajamana and those who perform the sacrifice for him are rtviks (priests) who consist of the hota, adhvaryu, udgata and brahma.
In pakayajnas there are no rtviks; the householder (as the yajamana) performs the rites with his wife. In haviryajnas there are four rtviks and the yajamana. But the udgata's place is taken by the agnidhra. The udgata is the one who sings the Saman. It is only in somayajnas that there is Samagana, not in haviryajnas. In caturmasya and pasubandha there are more than the usual number of priests. But there is no need to deal with them here. I wanted to give you only a basic knowledge of the important sacrifices that had been conducted for ages until recently.
"Agrayana" is performed on the full moon of Aippasi. In this syamaka grains are offered in the fire. Caturmasya gives the impression that it includes a number of sacrifices. Some of you probably know that "caturmasya" is a term that refers to sannyasins staying at the same place during the rainy season. But it is also the name of a haviryajna to be performed by householders once every four months, in Karttigai, Panguni, Adi. From this onwards the sacrifices are to be performed in a yagasala [built in a public place].
The haviryajna called nirudhapasubandha (or simply "pasubandha") is the first yajna in which there is animal sacrifice, "mrgabali". Though I have used the word "bali", technically speaking - or according to the sastras - it is not strictly a bali. "Bali" means that which is offered directly - and not in the fire. What is offered in the fire is ahuti or havis. The floor offered in the anthill for the snakes is sarpabali. In what are called panca-mahayajnas there is a rite called "vaisvadeva": in this offerings are made in the fire or they are thrown inside and outside the house with the chanting of mantras. The latter are meant for various creatures of the earth and are termed as bali.
When we make an offering to a deity with mantras we must say "svaha". When it is made to the fathers we must say "svadha". The corresponding word to be said when offerings are made to various creatures is "hanta". Here we have something like the gradation of authority: "your majesty", "your honour", and so on.
There are rules to determine which part of the sacrificial animal's body is to be offered in the sacrificial fire. This is not the same as bali. What is offered in the fire is "homa". In pasubandha only one animal is sacrificed.
In yajnas involving animals there is a yupa-stambha or sacrificial post of bamboo or khadira to which the animal is tethered.
In the last haviryajna called "sautramani" sura (liquor or wine) is offered to appease certain inferior powers or deities for the welfare of the world. Our government, which otherwise strictly enforces prohibition, relaxes the rules to entertain foreigners with drink, considering the gains to be had from them. The oblation of liquor in sautramani is to be justified on the same grounds. It is never offered in the sacrifices meant for higher deities. What is left over of the liquor - what is purified by mantras - is imbibed by the performers of the sacrifice, the quantity taken in being less than a quarter of an ounce. To say that Brahmins drank the soma juice and sura to their heart's content on the pretext of performing sacrifices is an outrageous charge. I have already spoken about the falsehood spread about the partaking of the meat left over from a sacrifice.
I will now deal briefly with somayajnas or somasamstas. What is a samsta? The conclusion of the Samavedic hymns chanted by the udgata is called samsta. Compositions recited in praise of deities are generally known as stotras. But in the Vedic tradition the Rgvedic hymns are "sastras". In the Samaveda such hymns which suggest the seven notes or saptasvara are called stotras. In soma sacrifices it is this, singing of the stotras of the Samaveda, that is the major feature. Homa (placing oblations in the fire) is the dominant feature of paka and haviryajnas while in somayajna it is the singing of stotras.
The name somayaga is derived from the fact that the essence of the soma plant, so much relished by the celestials, is made as an oblation. Apart from this, animals are also sacrificed. Even so the singing of the Saman creates a mood of ecstasy. When a musician elaborates a raga and touches the fifth svara of the higher octave the listeners are transported to the heights of joy. So in the singing of stotras of the Samaveda during the samsta all those assembled for the sacrifice feel as if heaven were upon earth. This is one reason why somayajna is also known as "somasamsta".
In such soma sacrifices there is the full complement of priests - the hota, the adhvaryu, the udgata and the brahma. Each priest is assisted by three others. So in all there are sixteen priests in a soma sacrifice. Agnistoma which is the first of the seven somayajnas is the prakrti (archetype) and the other six are its vikrti. These six are: atyagnistoma, uktya, sodasi, vajapeya, atiratra and aptoryama.
Vajapeya is regarded as particularly important. When its yajamana (sacrificer) comes after having had his ritual bath (avabhrtha snana) at the conclusion of the sacrifice, the king himself holds up a white umbrella for him. "Vaja" means rice (food) and "peya" means a drink. As the name suggests, the vajapeya sacrifice brings in a bountiful crop and plentiful water. The name is appropriate in another sense also. This sacrifice consists of soma-rasa homa, pasu-homa (23 animals) and anna - or vaja-homa. The sacrificer is "bathed" in the rice that is left over. Since the rice is "poured over" him like water the term "vajapeya" is apt.
In the old days a Brahmin used all his wealth in performing the soma sacrifice. Much of this was spent in daksina to the priests and the rest for materials used in the sacrifice. Now people are concerned only with their wealth and do not perform even sandhyavandana which does not cost them anything. Among Namputiris, until some forty or fifty years ago, at least one family out of ten performed the somayajna. Since only the eldest member of the family could conduct the sacrifice he alone had the right to property.
There was also a time when even poor Brahmins performed this sacrifice every spring ("vasante vasante ") by begging. A Brahmin who conducted the sacrifice every year was thus called "prati-vasanta-somayajin".
The Vedas will flourish in the world if at least the somayajna called agnistoma or jyotistoma is performed
There are certain rites common to all Hindus though they are not included in the forty samskaras. the ears of a child must be pierced ceremonially ( "karna -vedhanam" ). Initiating a child into the alphabet ("aksarabhyasa"). is another samskara.
Cremation is not included in the forty samskaras but, as already pointed out, it is also a sacrifice, the last one, antyesti, and performed to the chanting of mantras by the son or a close relative of the deceased.
An ahitagnin 's cremation must be performed with the sacred fires he had tended, that is by bringing together his grhyagni and tretagni. The four fires will consume his body and transport his soul to a sacred world. If a person has not worshipped the tretagni and kept only the aupasanagni, his cremation must be performed with that fire.
There is no cremation, of course, for a sannyasin.
Since cremation is regarded as the last sacrifice, it follows that it is a rite that belongs to all except the inwardly mature and enlightened who take to sannyasa. If sannyasa were compulsory for all there would be no dahana-kriya or cremation mentioned in the sastras.
Goal of Samskaras
I have dealt with a large number of samskaras, indeed more than forty of them. The Brahmin is expected to perform sacrifices almost all through his life, thereby making his life itself a sacrifice in the cause of mankind. On his death his body is cremated with the chanting of mantras and this rite also bring good to the world. While the samskaras refine a man, purify him, the mantras chanted at the time create benign vibrations in the world. And, while each karma is apparently meant for the performer as an individual, it also brings benefit to the entire world. In truth there is no karma that does not benefit mankind in general. All rites begin with the prayer, "Jagat--hitaya Krsnaya". When we chant the Gayatri we do not say, "may the sun god quicken or inspire my intelligence", but "our" intelligence. So the gayatri is a prayer made on behalf of all creatures (It would be perverse to argue that it should be enough if one Brahmin did the Gayatri-japa for the benefit of all--the word "our" is not to be construed thus. Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas must mutter the Gayatri not only for their own good but for that of all castes, all creatures including animals, birds, insects, all sentient beings. )
You must have seen that sacrifices constitute the major portion of the samaskaras. There is a mantra in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad(4. 4. 22) which describes the benefits derived from their performance. It says that Brahmins endeavour to realise the Self through Vedic learning, through the performance of sacrifices, through charity, through austerities and through fasts. But when this purpose has been accomplished they renounce all (rites including sacrifices) and become sannyasins. It follows that all the elaborate sacraments are performed for the cessation of these very sacraments. Of all the benefits derived from the rituals like sacrifices this is the highest, the very abandonment of rituals. How does a big karma like a sacrifice prepare you for the renunciation of that very karma, that very sacrifice?
There are two types of karma. One is doing what we like. This, instead of purifying the mind, muddles it and make our burden of karma heavier. The second is the performance of rites without any expectation of rewards, dedicating them to Isvara in a spirit of sacrifice. In the second type we are cleansed inwardly and the burden of our karma is made lighter and ultimately we are taken to the point beyond which it is not necessary to perform any rites. A man who has renounced all works in this way may, with the compassion of Parasakti, continue to work for the good of mankind. But even though he is a doer he will not be conscious of that ability.
How is the impurity of the mind washed away? If you perform a big sacrifice without any desire in your heart, without any feelings of hatred against anybody and without any consideration of loss or gain, success or failure, your mind will be cleansed. The mind, body and speech must be totally involved in it and must remain fixed on a single goal. Then all the impurities will be burnt away. It is like the rays of the sun passing through a magnifying glass and converging on a piece of paper and burning it. There are a hundred thousand things to do in a sacrifice; there are so many mantras to be chanted; so many different materials to be collected. So the performer's mind will be fixed on a single goal.
If a king is to perform a horse sacrifice(asvamedha), he has to look into so many different requirements. Different animals have to be brought to the place of sacrifice including even a tiger. If a man devotes himself for a number of years with a single-minded purpose and devotion to some work or other his mind will be made pure and he will reach the stage when there will be no need for him to perform any more rites. To build a gopuram, to dig a large pond or to be engaged in some other public work is to make one's mind taintless. In fact the mental purity so achieved seems to my mind to be a reward greater than anything else.
Even if a man does not take to sanyasa after performing sacrifices as a householder, he goes to the meritorious world. With the grace of Isvara he becomes one with that very Isvara. And, when Isvara himself is absorbed in the Brahman as the Paramatman, he too becomes one worth him. When Isvara emerges to create the world he does not become trapped in it. Or there is another way of putting it. Krsna Paramatman speaks of the "yoga-bhrasta ", one who dies without realising the Self in spite of practising yoga. In his next birth such a man starts where he left off in the earlier birth and ascends to a higher state. What is said about people who practise yoga applies also to those who perform sacrifices. It means that a man who conducts sacrifices but dies before becoming a sannyasin is born again with a greater sense of discrimination in his next birth and with enough maturity to forsake all karma and become a sannyasin.
Those who are not entitled to all samskaras will reach state by doing their work properly, by being devoted to God, by reciting his praises, by performing aupasana and by offering libations to their fathers
A Day in the Life of a Brahmin
"How can any Brahmin perform so many samskaras these days?" is perhaps a natural question. "What is the use of speaking about things that are not practicable?"Suppose I myself give two lists, the first containing the samskaras that are easy to perform these days and the second containing those that are not so easy. What will happen then? You will keep on adding items to the second from the first list and, eventually, I am afraid nothing will be left for you to perform. So, on your retirement at least, you must perform all the religious rites imposed on you as Brahmins. You must not ask for an extension of service with your present employers nor look for a new job.
Let me now speak about a Brahmin's daily religious life according to the sastras. It is indeed a harsh routine. A Brahmin must get up five nadikas, or two hours, before sunrise. "Panca -panca-usatkale", so it is said. "Panca-panca" means five*five - "panca-panca usatkale"denotes during the 25th nadika". From sunset to sunrise is 30 nadikas. So a Brahmin must rise during the 25th nadika- from this time to sunrise is "Brahma muhurta".
After getting up, he cleans his teeth, bathes in cold water and performs sandhyavandana and japa. Next he goes through aupasana and agnihotra. These rites come under "devayajna", sacrifices to the gods. Next is "Brahmayajna", the daily study and chanting of the Vedas. As part of this rite there are some tarpanas or libations to be offered. (For people following certain sutras these come later). If daytime is divided into eight parts one part would have been over by now.
In the second part of the daytime, the Brahmin must teach his disciples the Vedas-this is adhyapana. Afterwards, he must gather flowers himself for the puja he is to perform. Since he is not expected to earn a salary- and if he does not own any land received as gift - he must beg for his food and also for the materials for the conduct of various sacrifices. The Brahmin has the right to beg, but it is a restrictive right because it means that he can take only the minimum needed for the upkeep and what is required for the performance of the rituals. A considerable part of what he receives as gifts is to be paid as daksina to the priests officiating at the sacrifices he performs.
Of the six "occupations" of the Brahmin one is "pratigraha" or accepting gifts. Another is "dana", making donations to others. It is asked why Brahmins alone have the right to receive gifts. The answer is that they are also enjoined to make gifts to others. Indeed, the Brahmin accepts gifts for the purpose of the charity he himself has to render. This apart, he has also to make gifts during the rites to be mentioned next, "atithya" and "bhutayajna".
After the second part of the day and a portion of the third have been spent thus, the Brahmin must bathe again and perform madhyahnika. Next he does pitr-tarpana, that is he offers libations to the fathers; and this rite is followed by homa and puja. In the latter rite he must dedicate to the deities all those objects that he perceives with his five senses(the five jnanendriyas). It must now be midday and the fourth part of the daytime will have been over and the Brahmin must have completed the rites meant for the deities, the Vedas and the fathers.
Of the five great sacrifices or panca-mahayajnas, two remain- manusyayajna or honouring and feeding the guests and "bhutayajna" which includes bali to the creatures of the earth and feeding the poor (vaisvadeva). Rice is offered in the sacrificial fire and also as bali( that is without being placed in the fire). In bali, food is placed in different parts of the house to the chanting of mantras- food meant for outcastes, beggars, dogs, birds, etc. In the manusya-yajna, guests are entertained and it is also known as atithya. The Brahmin has his mealtime only after going through these rites. Until then he must not take anything except perhaps some milk or buttermilk, but never coffee or any snacks. If he has any other sacrifices to conduct, paka, havir or soma, his mealtime will be further delayed. If he has a sraddha to perform also he will have to eat later than usual. A sraddha ceremony must be commenced only in the "aparahna": I will tell you what it means.
Daytime, we have seen, is divided into eight parts. But it can also be divided into five, each of six nadikas. If the sun rises at 6, 6 to 8. 24 is morning or "pratah-kala"; 8. 24 to 10. 48 is "sangava-kala"; and 10. 48 to 1. 12 is "madhyahnika". From 1. 12 to 3. 36 it is "aparahna"; and from 3. 36 to 6 (or sunset) is "sayam-kala". (The time close to sunset is "pradosa". "Dosa" means night, the prefix "pra" meaning "pre" or "before". The English "pre' is derived from "pra". Pradosa thus is the time before night).
I said that the time for sraddha is aparahna. Rites meant for the gods may be performed only after the completion of the sraddha. After his meal, the Brahmin must read the Puranas. Next he has the duty of teaching members of other castes their hereditary vocations, arts and crafts. He does not have a moment for rest or relaxation. For soon it will be time for his evening bath, sandhyavandana, sacrifices and japa. Vaisvadeva has to be performed at night also before the Brahmin has his meal and retires to bed. On most nights he takes only light food consisting of fruits, milk, etc. On Ekadasi he has to fast the whole day.
There is not a moment without work. It is clear that, if the Brahmin created the sastras, it is not because he wanted to live a life of ease and comfort. On the contrary, the sastras impose on him a life of hardship and austerity, a life of utter physical and mental discipline.
Even today Brahmins who work in offices or other establishments must try to live according to the sastras. They must get up at 4 a. m. (Brahma muhurta), perform aupasana, agnihotra, Brahmayajna, etc, in the traditional manner. They may perform puja and madhyahnika during the sangava time (8. 24 a. m. to 10. 48 a. m. ). "Madhyahnika" as the name suggests is a midday rite but, making allowances for present-day life, it may be performed during the sangava kala. In the evening too the rites may be gone through in the sastric manner. as they say, if there is a will there is a way. On holidays it must be possible for a Brahmin to perform all the rites expected of him.
Even those who are on the morning shift and have to rush to their places of work must perform the rites as best they can. In the evening the Gayatri-japa be extended to compensate for non-performance in the morning. If it is morning shift for a week, will it not be mid-shift or night shift in the subsequent weeks? There could be adjustments made to suit these timings.
Brahmins must feel repentant if they fail to perform the rites they are duty-bound to perform. They must devote the years of their retirement to the pursuit of their dharma instead of feeling sorry for not going out to work. There are rare cases ---perhaps one in a lakh---of people who have learned the Vedas during their retirement and lived the rest of their life according to the tenets of the sastras.
The rites of our religion go back to a time when no other faith was prevalent. We must make every effort to ensure that they do not cease to be performed. They are not meant for our sake alone [as individuals] but for the welfare of all mankind.
Hindu Dharma: Varna Dharma For Universal Well-Being
Jatis - Why so many Differences ?
There are four varnas - Brahmin, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. We identify "varnas" with "jatis". In point of fact, varna and jati are not the same. The varnas are only the four mentioned above, that is Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras. Within each there are many jatis. Among Brahmins there are Ayyars, Ayyangars, Raos, and so on. In the fourth varna there are Mudaliars, Pillais, Reddis, Naikkars, Nayudus, Gaundars, Padayacis.
In common parlance jati is used for varna. I am also using the two as interchangeable terms.
The sastras lay down separate rites and practices for the four jatis (that is the four varnas). This means that within the fold of the same religion, Hinduism, there athe vre numerous differences. Food cooked by one caste is not to be eaten by the another. A young man belonging to one jati is not to marry a girl belonging to another. The vocation practised by one jati is not to be practiced by the another. The differences are indeed far too many.
Apart from the large number of divisions in each varna already existing, more and more divisions (or jatis) are coming into being. Thus Hinduism appears to be a strange religion.
Hindus today feel ashamed of the fact that a religion of which they have otherwise reason to be proud (because it once belonged to the whole world) should have so many differences in it. Other religions too have their dos and don'ts. The Ten Commandments are meant for all Christians. So are the injunctions of the Quran for all Muslims. But in Hinduism the dos and don'ts are not the same for all. What one man does as part of his dharma becomes adharma if done by another. For instance, it is dharma for one man to wear the sacred thread and chant the Vedas, while the same is adharma for another. If the person who chants the Vedas does not bathe and keep his stomach empty he will be guilty of adharma. Another, however, need not necessarily bathe nor observe fasts. When I see that our religion is still alive with all these differences, I am reminded of the words of a great man. . "That one day all of us will die is not to be wondered at. The real wonder is that we have nine openings (or gates) in our body but our life do not escape through any of them. "
Navadvare sarire' smin ayuh sravati santanam
Jivatityadbhutam tatra gacchatiti kim adbhutam
Similarly one must wonder at the fact that our religion is still alive in spite of all its differences and in spite of the fact that people are troubled by doubts about the same.
For the same it is offence to chant the Vedas, while for the others it is an offence not to chant the same. Why should there be so many differences in our religion and why should it seem to be discriminatory? Some feel that it is shameful even to speak about the differences and believe that they are a blot on our faith, which has otherwise many worthy features. While some Hindus try to satisfy themselves about these somehow, many find them to be a constant irritant. Then there are also people who feel angry about these differences and turn atheists as a reaction to the same.
Some are at heart proud of Hinduism but want the varna system to be scrapped and all Hindus to form a single class without any distinction as is the case with the followers of other religions. "The Vedas must be thrown open to all and there must be one common form of worship for all", they declare. "We must do away with the system of separate religious rites and practices." Some go further and claim that such was the concept obtaining in our religion during the time of our forefathers. "The original thinkers of our religion who proclaimed the oneness of the individual self and the Paramatman, "they argue, "would not have believed in such differences among the individual souls. Krsna Paramatman says in the Gita that the vocations are assigned to people according to differences in their nature, not according to their birth." So they hold caste to be a blot on our religion and believe that the system of hereditary occupations did not originally obtain but was a later invention.
We must examine these views in some detail.
Character and Vocation by Birth
It is jatidharma that goes to make the inner guna (inner quality or nature) of an individual. So Sri Krsna's dictum in the Gita that the caturvana division is in accord with the gunas and the idea that the caste is based on birth are one and the same. There is no conflict between the two. You cannot find fault with Sri Krsna for his practice being at variance with his precept.
Parasurama and Dronacarya were Brahmins but they were Ksatriyas by nature. On the other hand, Visvamitra, a valorous Ksatriya king known for his violent and passionate temperament, became a Brahmin rsi. Cases like this are extremely rare, and are exceptions to the rule of jati dharma. On the whole we see that the Lord functions on the basis that, whatever be the outward qualities of individuals, their inner quality is in keeping with their hereditary vocations.
How can birth be the basis of the quality on which one's occupation is based? Before a man's individual character develops, he grows in a certain environment, the environment evolved through the vocation practiced in his family from generation to generation. He adopts this vocation and receives training in it from his people. It is in this manner that his guna is formed, and it is in keeping with his work. Everybody must have the conviction that he is benefited by the occupation to which he is born. When people in the past had this attitude in the past they were free from greed and feelings of rivalry. Besides, though they were divided on the basis of their vocations, there was harmony among them. Children born in such a set-up naturally develop a liking and aptitude for the family vocation. So what is practised according to birth came to be the same as that practised according to guna. Whatever the view of reformers today, in the old days an individual's ability to do a job was in accord with his guna; and in the dharma obtained in the past a man practised his calling according to his guna. Now it has become topsy-turvy.
What is the view of the psychologists on this question? According to them, heredity and environment play a crucial part in determining a man's character, abilities and attitudes. In the past all vocations were handed down from grandfather to father and from father to son. Besides, each group practising a particular occupation or trade lived in a separate area in the village. The Brahmins, for instance, lived in the agrahara and, similarly, each of the other jatis had its own quarter. So the environment also helped each section to develop its special skills and character. These two factors - heredity and environment - were greatly instrumental in shaping a person's guna and vocation.
Instead of speaking about the subject myself, I will cite the views of Gandhiji who is much respected by the reformists: "The Gita does talk of varna being according to guna and karma, but guna and karma are inherited by birth." So the fact that Krsna Paramatman's practice is not at variance with his doctrine is confirmed by Gandhiji. Modernists should not twist and distort the Vedas and sastras and the pronouncements of Krsna Paramatman to suit their own contentions.
Krsna is usually imperative in his utterances. "I speak, you listen," such is his manner. But when he speaks of people and their duties, he does not inpose himself saying "I speak thus", but instead he points to what is laid down in the sastras to be the authority. During Krsna's own time the various castes were divided according to birth: we learn this, without any room for doubt, from the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the Visnu Purana. I mention this because some research scholars today are likely to put forward the view that caste based on birth evolved after the time of Krsna. The epic and the Puranas mentioned above declare categorically that during the age of Sri Krsna Paramatman the sastras dealing with varnasrama were the authority for dharma. It was at such a time, when an individual's vocation was determined by birth, that the Lord declared in clear terms :
Yah sastra -vidhim utsrjya vartate kama-karatah
Na sa siddhim avapnoti na sukham na param gatim
Tasmacchastram pramanam te karyakaryavyavasthitau
Jnatva sastravidhan oktam karma kartum iha'rhasi
-Bhagavadgita, 16. 23 & 24.
Who so forsakes the injunctions of the sastras and lives according to his own desires does not obtain liberation, finds no happiness. (The Sastras determine your work, what is right and what is wrong. You must know the way shown by the sastras and pursue the work - vocation - according to them.)
Sri Krsna establishes that an individual owes his caste to his birth. There should not be the slightest doubt about it.
Vocations according to Guna not in Practice
Critics of varna dharma will perhaps argue thus: "Let the pronouncements of the Vedas and of Krsna be whatever on the subject of jati dharma. We do not accept them because they represent a partisan view. We must devise a system in which vocations are determined according to one's guna or quality and mental proclivity and not according to birth. Caste systems must be done away with."
What is the relationship between a man's vocation on the one hand and his guna - his character and natural inclination - on the other? If you pause to think about the question, you will realise that this relationship is highly exaggerated these days. Everybody suffers from the sense of self-importance and want a great measure of freedom for himself in all things. That is the reason why people insist that their feelings and thoughts must be respected. They do not pause for a moment to consider whether such feelings are helpful to society, whether they are good or harmful for it. And if they are harmful, should they not be checked for the sake of the community? Freedom is demanded for everything without such questions being taken into consideration.
If we examine how far the natural inclination and character of a man have to do with the work he likes to do, we will discover that in 90 out of 100 cases there is no connection at all between the two. A person of vairagya (that is one who is detached and without any passion ) would not like to stick to any job. Another who is full of energy and enthusiasm and who does his work after careful planning would be averse to any job of a routine nature. Some are keen to join army and some the navy and, in contrast, there are some others who would turn their face against either even if compelled to do so. Those with a flair for writing, music or painting would discountenance any type of drab work.
But how many get the job for which they think that they are fitted and for which they have a natural aptitude? Not even 10 per cent.
All sorts of people come to the Matha to see me. They pay their respects and tell me about what they want to do in life. I gather the impression that most of them are in jobs that are not in keeping with their interests or aptitude. A father comes and tells me: "My son has applied for admission to the engineering college as well as to the commerce college. If he fails to get admission to the first he will join the second. If he join the engineering college there is nothing like that. I seek your blessings." Is there any connection between the job of an engineer and that of a commerce graduate? Even so the boy in question is prepared to the work of an engineer (like surveying) or of a commerce graduate (like auditing). A young man tells me: "I have passed myIntermediate" I am not sure whether I should join the medical college or prepare for the IAS examination. " Again what is the connection between the work of a doctor and that of a collector perhaps? If one's profession is based on one's qualities, how is it that a young man who wants to become a doctor also contemplates a career in the IAS?
What would you say of a lawyer or an industrialist joining a political party and eventually becoming a minister? Among ministers today we see not only lawyers and industrialists but also ex-officials, doctors, professors, and so on. Are the qualities required for a minister the same as those required for a doctor, lawyer or professor?
There being no compatibility between a man's job and his qualities and natural inclination is a phenomenon not confined to the "higher" levels. Sometimes a devotee comes and tell me: "I was a counter clerk in a cinema. Now I have joined in the army. Please bless me". Another says: "I was a waiter in a restaurant but now I manage a Kiosk." What is the connection between the job of a cinema assistant and a soldier or between that of a waiter and that of a wayside shopkeeper?
Today the government professes to be "socialistic". Its view is that appointments are to be made not on the basis of caste but on the basis of character and educational qualifications of the candidates. But when it conducts examinations for big positions some are selected for IAS and some for IPS from the same group of candidates. Now from the point of view of natural inclination what is the relation, say, between a collector and a police superintendent? So long as no technical work is involved, employees of one department are transferred to another where the work is entirely different. In these instances there is nothing to support the theory of quality and mental proclivity in the allotment of work.
The majority of people do not choose their jobs according to their inborn character. They somehow learn to adjust themselves to their work whatever it happens to be. On the whole there is competition for such jobs are very paying. To talk of inborn nature, quality or mental outlook is all bunkum. Would it not be ridiculous if "svadharma" comes to mean the job or vocation that brings the maximum money for the minimum of work?
A Wrong Notion
A wrong notion has gained currency that in the varnasrama system the Brahmins enjoys more comfort than the others, that he more income, that he has to exert himself less than the others.
In the order created by our sastras the Brahmin has to make as much physical effort as much physical effort as the peasant. Since, at present, there is ignorance about the rites he has to perform, people erroneously believe that he makes others work hard and himself lazes about and enjoys himself. The Brahmin has to wake up at four in the morning and bathe in cold water, rain or shine, warm or cold. Then, without a break, he has to perform one rite after another: sandhyavandana, Brahmayajna, aupasana, puja, vaisvadeva and one of the 21 sacrifices. If you sit before sacrificial fire for four days you will realise how difficult it is with all the heat and smoke. How many are the vows and the fasts the Brahmin has to keep and how many are the ritual baths.
Other castes do not have to go through such hardships. A Brahmin cannot eat "cold rice"in the morning like a peasant - he has no "right" to it. The dharmasastras are not created for his convenience or benefit, nor to ensure that he has a comfortable life. He would not have otherwise imposed on himself the performance of so many rites and a life of such rigorous discipline. When he has his daytime meal it will be 1 or 2. (On the day of a sraddha it will be three or four). This is the time the peasant will have his rest after his meal under a tree out in the field where he works. And the Brahmin's meal, mind you, is as simple as the peasant's. There is no difference between the humble dwelling of the peasant and that of the Brahmin. Both alike wear cotton. The peasant may save money for the future but not the Brahmin. He has no right either to borrow money or to live in style.
In the "Yaksa-prasna" of the Mahabharata the simple life of Brahmin is referred to:
Pancame' hani saste va sakam pacati svegrhe
Anrni ca' pravasi ca sa varicara modate
If day time is divided into eight parts, the Brahmin may have his food only in the fifth or sixth part after performing all his rites. Before that he has neither any breakfast nor any snacks. And what does he eat? Not any rich food, no sweets like almonds crushed in sweetened milk. "Sakam pacati" - the Brahmin eats leafy vegetables growing on the banks of rivers, such areas being no one's property. Why is he asked to live by the river side? It is for his frequent baths and for the leafy vegetables growing free there and for which he does not have to beg. He should not borrow money: that is the meaning of the word "anrni", because if he developed the habit of borrowing he would be tempted to lead a life of luxury. Poverty and non-acquisitiveness (aparigraha) are his ideals. A Brahmin ought not to keep even a blade of grass in excess of his needs.
Now even the government and big industrialists are in debt. If there any people who live according to the sastras, without being indebted to anybody and without bowing to anybody and at the same time maintaining their dharma, it is the tribe called narikuravas.
"Apravasam" (mentioned in the verse) means that a Brahmin must not leave his birth place and settle elsewhere. Honour or dishonour, profit or loss, he must live in his birth place practising his dharma. Nowadays, for the sake of money, people settle in England or America abandoning their motherland and their traditional way of life - and they are proud of it. Such a practice is condemned severely by the sastras.
If all the castes worked hard and lived a simple life there could be no ill-will among people and there would then be no cry that caste must be done away with. One reason for the "reformist view" is that today one caste is well-to-do and comfortable while another is poor and has to toil. Simplicity and hard work bring satisfaction and inward purity. Such a state of simple and happy life prevailed in our country for a thousand, ten thousand years.
I said that in these days too vocations are not chosen on the basis of a man's qualities or natural inclinations. The only considerations are income and comforts. All the people are on the lookout for all kinds of jobs and this has resulted in increasing rivalry and jealousy, not to speak of growing unemployment.
In the beginning, when vocations were determined on the basis of birth, everyone developed an aptitude for the work allotted to him as well as the capacity to learn it easily. This is no longer the case now. In the past a man's vocation was like a paternal legacy and he was naturally very proficient in it. Now there is a universe inefficiency and incompetence
As we have already seen, we cannot sustain the claim that vocations are determined today according to the qualities of individuals and their inclinations or aptitudes. Also untenable is the demand for equal opportunities for all. To take an example: there are a certain number of seats in medical and engineering colleges. For highly specialised and new subjects like nuclear science the seats are very few. When the candidates possessing the same qualifications (or merit) apply for admission to the colleges teaching these subjects only a fixed number are selected. Naturally, it is not practicable to choose all. Would it be right to contend that all candidates, even though equally qualified, who want to do research in a new science like atomic physics, should be given an opportunity? All those who apply for high positions in the government will not be selected for appointment even though they possess more or less same qualifications. The government decides that we need so many doctors in the country, so many scientists, so many specialists and so many officials. In choosing them, a number of candidates are naturally rejected. This system is accepted by all.
It is in the same way as candidates are selected for seats in the colleges or for appointments in the government that a certain percentage of people are thought to be sufficient for the purpose of conducting the rites meant to invoke the heavenly powers for the happiness of mankind - and these few function on a hereditary basis. Not more are needed for such a task since all the other work required for the proper functioning of the society will otherwise suffer. This is the principle on which vocations are divided. People agitate for the application for the principle of equality (a product of French Revolution) to scriptural matters without realising that it has hardly any place even in worldly affairs.
Strength of Unity
When there are so many jatis and each lives separately from the rest, how can the community remain united as a whole? But the fact is unity did exist in the past. Indeed it is now that our society is divided because of ill-will among the various groups. The binding factor in the past was faith in our religion and its scriptures. The temple strengthened this faith and the sense of unity, the temple which belongs to the whole village or town and which is situated at its centre. People had the feeling of togetherness in the presence of Isvara as his children. In festival all jatis took part contributing to their success in various ways.
In the rathotsava (car festival) of a temple, all sections including Harijans pulled the chariot together. On returning home they did not bathe before eating. This practice has the sanction of the sastras. [Talking of the past] it was a time when people were divided in their callings but were of one heart. Though stories are concocted that there was no unity since society was divided into a number of jatis, the fact is people then had faith in the sastras and in the temples and this faith was a great unifying force. Today, ironically enough, hatred and enmity are spread between the various jatis in the name of unity. That is the reason why nowadays the cry against the caste has become a cry against the vedic dharma and temples.
The vedas themselves proclaim that when a man attains to the highest state [that is jnana] he does not need either the Vedas themselves or the temples. The Upanisads too have it that in the state of jnana or supreme awareness the Vedas are not Vedas, the Brahmin is not a Brahmin, the untouchable is not an untouchable. It is to reach this state - the state in which the Vedas and all the differences in society cease to be- that you need the very Vedas, temples and caste differences. The condition of utter non-difference, may it be noted, is realised through these very means.
He who constantly strives to be free from worldly existence ultimately discovers that everything is one, so proclaim the Vedas. Krsna Paramatman pronounces the same truth when he says that in the end there is worklessness -"Tasya karyam na vidyate".
In the phenomenal world with its works and day-to-day affairs, it does not make sense to claim that there are no differences. The sastras, however, teach us that even in such a world we must be filled with love for all castes, for all creatures and we must look upon all as the same without regarding one as inferior to the rest or superior. It means the attitude of non-difference is in love, not in karma. "We must always feel inwardly that all are one and we must be permeated with love for all. But in karma, in action there must be differences," such is the teaching of the sastras.
"Bhavadvaitam sada kuryat, kriyadvaitam na karayet", so it is said. Oneness must be a matter of our feelings, not our actions. Unless differences are maintained outwardly the affairs of the world will be conducted neither in a disciplined nor in a proper manner. It is only then that Atmic inquiry can be practised without confusion and without being mentally agitated, In sanatana dharma worldly life has been systemised as though it were real for the very purpose of its being recognised and experienced as unreal.
In this worldly life, the four varnas developed branches and many jatis came into being. From the saptasvaras (the seven notes) are formed the 72 melakarta ragas. And from them have developed countless musical modes called janya ragas. In the same way, from the four varnas the numerous jatis were born. Separate dharmas separate customs and rites, evolved for these jatis.
Hinduism and Other Religions
We feel apologetic about the differences in Hindu society especially since we think that the followers of other religions are not divided in the same way as we are. The latter are scornful of Hinduism on this score and some Hindus themselves feel that the differences in our society are unjust. But, if you pause to reflect on the subject, you will realise that if our civilization has survived from prehistoric times until today it is only because of these very differences in our society, the differences according to varna dharma.
In other religions too, even if there is no caste according to their scriptures, the communities are divided. Some of the divisions are almost like jatis and they do not intermarry. Muslims are divided into Sias (Shias), Sunnis and Ahmadiyas. In the south the Pattanis (Pathans) and Labbai Muslims do not intermarry. Among Christians there are Catholics, Protestants and followers of the (Greek) Orthodox Church. Hindus are divided on the basis of labour or work, but are united on another level. But followers of other religions, though themselves divided, speak ill of us. Yet we do not respond properly to their criticism.
The Eternal Religion
The moral and ethical ordinances in other religions are applicable to all their followers. In Hinduism too there is a code of conduct meant for all varnas and all jatis. But in addition to this, there are separate dharmas for jatis with different vocations. There is no intermingling of these vocations and their corresponding dharmas. This fact is central to Hinduism and to its eternal character.
This religion has flourished for countless eons. What is the reason for its extraordinarily long history. If Hinduism has survived so long it must be due to some quality unique to it, something that gives it support and keeps it going. No other religion is known to have lasted so long. When I think of our religion I am reminded of our temples. They are not kept as clean as churches or mosques. The latter are frequently whitewashed. There are so many plants sprouting from the gopurams and our temples support all of them. The places of worship of other religions have to be repaired every two or three years. Our sanctuaries are different because they are built of granite. Their foundations, laid thousands of years ago, still remain sturdy. That is why our temples have lasted so long without the need for frequent repair. We do so much to damage them and are even guilty of acts of sacrilege against them, but they withstand all the abuses. All are agreed that India has the most ancient temples. People come from abroad to take photographs of them. These temples still stand as great monuments to our civilization in spite of our neglect of them and our indifference. It is not easy to pull them down. Perhaps it is more difficult to demolish these edifices than it must have been to build them.
Our religion to repeat is like these temples. It is being supported by something that we do not seem to know, something that is not present in other faiths. It is because of this "something" that in spite of all the differences, it is still alive.
This something is varnasrama dharma. In other religions there is a common dharma for all and we think that that is the reason for their greatness. These religions seem to touch the heights of glory at one time but at other times they are laid low. Christianity supplanted Buddhism in some countries. Islam replaced Christianity or Christianity replaced Islam. We know these developments as historical facts. The civilizations and religions that evolved in ancient Greece and China no longer exist today. Hinduism is the witness to all such changes in other religions and it is subject to attacks from inside and outside. Yet it lives-it refuses to die.
There was a palm-tree round which a creeper entwined itself. The creeper grew fast and within months it entwined the entire tree. "This palm has not grown a bit all these months", the creeper said laughing. The palm-tree retorted: "I have seen ten thousand creepers in my life. Each creeper before you said the same thing as you have now said. I don't know what to say to you." Our religion is like tree in relations to all other faiths.
Although there are separate duties and religious rites for the different castes in our religion, the fruit of the rites are same for all.
Brahmins are not a Privileged Caste
It is alleged that Brahmins created the dharmasastras for their own benefit. You will realise that this charge is utterly baseless if you appreciate the fact that these sastras impose on them the most stringent rules of life. There is also proof of the impartiality of the dharmasastras in that the Brahmin who is expected to be proficient in all the arts and all branches of learning can only give instruction in them but cannot take up any for his livelihood however lucrative it be and however less demanding than the pursuit of the Vedic dharma.
Now it is claimed that all people are equal in all spheres, that all are equal before the law. But members of legislative bodies, judges, etc, enjoy certain privileges and cannot be treated on the same footing as the common man. These privileges have indeed been codified. If anyone criticises a judge he will be charged with contempt of court. Even I may be hauled up for contempt for my remarks. People who call themselves democrats and socialists have managed for themselves special allowances, special railway passes, etc, that the common people are not entitled to. In contrast, the Brahmins who have preserved the dharmasastras have bound themselves to vigorous discipline, roasted themselves, as it were, in the oven of ritual practices. If the Brahmin's purity is affected by someone he punishes himself by bathing and fasting.
The Brahmin must be conversant with the fourteen branches of the Vedic lore. He must be proficient even in Gandharva-veda or music and must be acquainted with agricultural science, construction of houses, etc. At the same time he must give instructions in these subjects to pupils from the appropriate castes. His own vocation is the study of the Vedas and he must have no other source of income.
Visvamitra was the master of Dhanurveda (military science). When he performed sacrifices, the demons Subahu and Marica tried to play havoc with them. Though a great warrior himself he did not try to drive away the demons himself. Instead, he brought Rama and Laksmana for the purpose. Visvamitra thereafter gave the instruction to the two in the use of astras and sastras.
If the Brahmin is asked, "Do you know to wield a knife? " he must be able to answer, "Yes, I know". If he is asked, "Do you know to draw and paint" again he must say, "Yes". But he cannot wield a knife or become an artist to earn his livelihood. All he can do is to learn these arts and teach others the same according to their caste. He is permitted to receive a daksina to maintain himself and he must be contented with it however small the sum may be. The Brahmin's speciality' his true vocation, is Vedic learning.
If members of certain castes are seen to enjoy certain privileges there must be some reason for the same. The man selling tickets has a room to himself and those who buy them have to stand outside and cannot complain about it saying that the practice offends against the principle of equality. If everybody gets in on the pretext of equality how can the ticket seller function? Will the man be able to sell the tickets properly? Everybody needs some special convenience to carry out his duties. A member of a joint family who falls ill has to be afforded certain special comforts- other members are not justified in demanding the same. In our religion there are many duties and rites that are common to all. But to carry out one's special duties certain conveniences are needed: as a matter of fact what are called conveniences are actually not conveniences or privileges, and also they are necessary to carry out the duties of the caste concerned for the welfare of the society as the whole. It is important to accept this truth: the special dharma of any jati is meant not only for those who constitute that jati but for society as a whole.
Love must spring from the heart, so too the sense of unity. Unity is not achieved by all jatis becoming one. What do we see in Western countries where intermarriage is not prohibited and where all people mix together? There is much rivalry and jealousy among people there. According to our sastras, everyone in the past performed his duty and helped others to perform theirs and this was how they remain united. The daughter-in-law does not speak to the father-in-law out of respect for him. Would you call such respect ill-will? If someone close to us and belonging to our own caste has some "pollution", we do not touch him. Does it mean that we dislike him? It seems we all are mentally confused and do not have a proper appreciation of our different dharmas.
According to the canonical texts, the Brahmin must perform vaisvadeva everyday in front of his house-the offering of bali to the Pancama is a part of this rite. The goal of Vedic works is the happiness of all mankind, indeed the happiness of all the worlds ("Lokah samastah sukino bhavanthu"). The sound of the Vedas creates universal well-being, so too Vedic sacrifices.
As a ruler, the Ksatriya wages wars and does policing work for the security of all citizens. The Vaisya too serves society - to think that he takes home all the profit he makes is unfair. The lord speaks of the dharma of Vaisyas in the Gita. "Krsi-gauraksya-vanijyam Vaisya-karma svabhavajam." The third varna has three duties- raising the corps, cow protection and trading - and it carries them out for the welfare of all people. The Vaisya ploughs the field and grows crops for the benefit of the entire community. Similarly, the milk yielded by his cow is meant for general consumption and for sacrifices. A Vaisya must also take care to see that the calves have their feed of milk. As a trader he procures commodities from other places to be sold locally.
However rich a man may be, he cannot sustain himself with money alone. He has to depend on traders for essential goods. Trading is the dharma of Vaisyas and it is an offence on their part not to practise it. Similarly, Brahmins would be committing a sin if they gave up Vedic rituals and earned money by doing other types of work. It is wrong to think that the trader carries on his trade for his good alone. Just imagine what would happen if there were a hartal and all shops were closed for a week. Surely people would suffer when essential goods are not readily available. Vaisyas must conduct their business in the belief that their vocation is one that is ordained by the Lord and that is for the good for the entire community.
The Fourth Varna has its own Advantages
The dharma of the fourth varna involves much physical exertion and effort in its practice. Outwardly it may seem that its members do not enjoy the same status and comforts as others do. But we must note that they are comparatively free from the discipline and rituals to which the rest are tied down. In the past, they knew more contentment than the other castes, living as they did by the side of the lord. Vyasa himself says: "Kalih saduh, Sudrah saduh" (The age of Kali is no way inferior to other ages nor the sudras inferior to other castes. Kali is indeed elevated and Sudras exalted. ) In other yugas or ages Bhagawan is attained to with difficulty by meditation, austerities and puja, but in Kali he is reached by the mere singing of his names. The Brahmin, the Ksatria and the Vaisya are likely to have self pride, so they cannot attain atmic liberation easily. The Brahmin is likely to be in vain about his intellectual superiority, the Ksatria about his power as a ruler and the Vaisya about his wealth. So these three varnas will tend to stray from the path of dharma. A member of the fourth varna, on the contrary is humble.
Has not Valluvar said, "Humility raises one to gods"? This is the reason why the Sudra, being humble, resides by the side of the lord. One must not be subject to one's ahamkara or ego-sense. It is as a means of effacing their ego and making them deserve the grace of Isvara that the first three castes are authorised to learn Vedas and to perform the Vedic rites. Performing Vedic rites implies a number of restrictions in the matter of food, habits, etc. It is only with the "pathya" of this discipline that the medicine called the Vedic dharma will be efficacious. Any lapse in the observance of the rules of personal conduct and religious life will be a serious offence and it will have to be paid for by suffering. So the first three castes must be ever careful about their religious practices. The fourth varna is free from most of these restraints. The labour put in by the Sudra will cleanse him inwardly: it is his Vedic observance; it is his God; and through it he easily achieves perfection. This is why Vyasa proclaimed, raising both hands, "Sudrah sadhuh"
If a Sudra does not have enough food to fill his belly, if he does not have enough clothing, and if he does no roof over his head to shelter him from rain and sun, the whole community and the government must be held responsible- and both must be held guilty.
I repeat that the Brahmin's means of livelihood was in no way better than the Sudra's, nor did he enjoy more comforts than members of the fourth varna.
Removal of Ego
"All that is fine. But what about the question of self-respect?" ask reformers who profess to be socialists. For them, however, to raise such a question is to remain untrue to their own ideals. They talk a great deal, don't they, about dignity of labour? They proclaim that no job, no work, is degrading. Gandhiji cleaned his toilet himself. Rajagopalachari washed his clothes himself when he was premier. To demonstrate the principle of dignity of labour VIPs like the mayor sweep the streets one day in a year. Photographs of important men doing such work are published in the newspapers. If the reformists think that manual work is degrading it means that they are opposed to the ideals they themselves uphold.
If you ask me, "ahamkara" or ego-feeling is a cover for all such ideas as "status", "self -respect", etc. If you look at the question from the angle that the Sudra does not have the self-pride associated with the Brahmin, the Ksatriya and the Vaisya, you will realise the truth of Vyasa's dictum, "Sudrah sadhuh". The sastras are one with the socialists in proclaiming that all types of work are equally noble. If the socialists say so from the worldly or material point of view, the sastras say the same from the spiritual point of view. To explain, since the well being of mankind is dependent on the performance of variety of jobs, there is no question of one job being inferior to another job or superior to it. If everybody does the work allotted to him thinking it to be an offering to Isvara, all will be rewarded with inner purity, so say the sastras. When work is accomplished in a spirit of dedication to God, the consciousness will be cleansed. And this, inner purity, is a means to becoming aware of the Self.
You may look at your work from two angles. One is from that of dignity of labour according to which principle no work is degrading. The second is from that of consecrating your work, whatever it be to God. In either case "self-respect " has no place in it. If there is neither vanity nor ego-sense in doing one's duty or work, there will be no cause for anger, no reason to feel that one is assigned a particular set of religious practices that is humiliating. One should then be willing to accept the religious ordinances prescribed according to one's vocation. It must be noted that if a Brahmin enjoys bodily comforts in the same manner as a Ksatriya or a Vaisya, his mantras will cease to be efficacious. If a labourer keeps fast like a Brahmin he will not be able to do his duty, that is he will not able to do physical work satisfactorily.
"According to the sastras, " once a learned man told me, "the Brahmin must wear white, the Ksatriya red, the Vaisya yellow and the Sudra blue. At first, I wondered whether in this order one caste was regarded as inferior to another. On reflection, I saw the reason behind it. "Until then I myself had not given any thought to the subject. So I asked the pandita to explain the principle behind the arrangement he has spoken about. He said: "Even the slightest stain will be visible on the white. When a Brahmin performs a sacrifice he has to be careful that he does not spill anything or waste anything. If he does, his white clothes will show it. He has necessarily to be frugal since he must not bother others for money or material. The Ksatriya, as a warrior, spills blood, but the bloodstains on his dress should not show, nor should it be a cause of fear for others- that is why he wears red. A Vaisya handles a variety of commodities in the bazar but it yellow that sticks to his clothes the most. That is why the Vaisya must wear yellow so that the yellow stains will not show easily. Blue is most suitable for those who work in dust and grime. Even in modern days workers wear blue uniforms. So blue is the most suitable colour for Sudras". You will thus appreciate the reason behind each type of wear. The sastras are indeed mindful of the conveniences and comforts of each jati. If you realise this, you will understand the meaning of saying, "Sastraya ca sukhaya ca." You will thus also appreciate the reason behind many a sastric rule and realise that there must be an inner meaning to those rules the significance of which you have yet to grasp.
Today even intelligent people do not know the meaning behind different caste duties. "How can the work done by one man be according to dharma and meritorious while the same done by another is contrary to dharma and sinful?" they ask. In the olden days even unlettered people knew that it was a sin to adopt the vocation and duties of another jati because it was injurious to society. They worked together during temple festivals and in carrying out public duties but in matters like food and so on they did not mix together since such mixing, they knew, was harmful to their traditional vocations. The mingling of castes, they realised, would damage the system of vocations, the system that was devised for the good of all society. For thousands of years all castes have lived according to this system, finding happiness and fulfilment in it. If they had not found such happiness and fulfilment, they would have surely rebelled against the system.
After the inception of British rule, Brahmins lost their royal grants of land but got jobs in the government. With the introduction of machines and increased urbanisation, the handicrafts were destroyed and village life received a setback. While other communities found it difficult to get jobs, Brahmins were able to earn their upkeep without any physical exertion. This shook the very foundations of the system of four varnas and the British now used the opportunity to introduce new principle of egalitarianism and the race theory. People lost their faith in the sastras and with it there was a change in the outlook. If by the grace of Isvara, the old system is restored, the work done by every individual - from the Brahmin to the Pancama - will bring inward purity to all. Besides there will the realisation that each, according to his hereditary occupation, will contribute to the general welfare of the mankind. If we pause to reflect on the subject, we will feel proud of varna dharma instead of feeling ashamed of it-and we will also develop a deep respect for those who created it.
The Ultimate Purpose of Varna Dharma
When factories took the place of handicrafts and cottage industries, the small village communities became urbanised. The needs of people multiplied, so too the number of occupations. Today when the old way of life is gone, it seems impossible to revive the system of hereditary vocations. Is it any longer practicable how to insist that only Ksatriyas ought to man the defence services, that only Vaisyas can transact trade and business, that the members of the fourth varna must continue to remain labourers? Is it at all possible to revive the old system? I am not unaware of the state of affairs now prevailing. If so why do I keep extolling varna dharma? There are two reasons.
Whatever be the situation today - and whether or not we can return to the old order - it is not right to claim as people nowadays do that the old order was utterly unjust, that it was created by the vested interests for their own good and convenience. We must be able to convince the critics that the old order was not unjust at all and that there is nothing like varna dharma to help people to attain inner purity. They must also be made to realise that this dharma, apart from helping society to function in a disciplined and harmonious manner, will bring well-being to all and give an impetus to culture.
There is even more important reason. Today the functions of Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras have changed and become mixed Even so the work of the government goes on somehow. Defence, the manufacture of various articles, trade, labour - all these go on somehow. But, unlike in the past, there is jealousy as well as rivalry in all fields. Even so, the duties of the three castes are carried out despite the fact that varna dharma has broken up. They are a practical necessity for day-to-day life as well as for the functioning of the government. So they are performed, albeit unsatisfactorily.
There is, however, a function higher than all these. It is that of taking all of them - all these functions - to their ultimate point. And this function belongs to the Brahminic way of life and it has become almost extinct. To teach dharma by precept and practise, the dharma that is the foundation of all activities, to invoke the divine powers through the vedic chant for the good of all mankind, to create high ideals through their own austere life, to nurture the Atmic strength of the community, to promote the arts, to nourish culture- these embrace the dharma of Brahmins and it is now on the verge of extinction.
The need for the Brahminic dharma is not widely recognised because of its subtle and intangible character. There is no realisation of the other three varnas. Indeed, it is this dharma that gives meaning to life and creates a path for the fulfilment of life. We ignore it and devote ourselves solely to the functions of the varnas. If any improvement is made in them we are happy. But what use is material prosperity without Atmic and cultural advancement? Material progress is no progress at all. Americans have realised this truth - we ought also to realise the same. So however confusedly the functions of other castes are carried out, the Brahmin must function in the right manner as a pathfinder for others by living a life of simplicity and sacrifice, performing Vedic rites and creating worldly and Atmic well-being for mankind. In this way the soul of India will be kept alive.
If the Brahmin caste is restored to order, it might well be the beginning of the end of confused state of the other castes. In this land alone has there existed - and existed for ages-a jati for the protection of dharma and the Atmic uplift of all. If this jati becomes extinct there will be all-round decay. If I have spoken at length I have this purpose in view, that this jati must be revived in its true form so as to prevent the general decline of the nation. The Brahmin jati must not live a life of self-indulgence. On the contrary it must perform rites all through the day for the welfare of society. Brahmins must live austerely, with love for all in their hearts. If they are restored to their dharma our society in its entirety will be brought to the path of dharma and will be saved.
The Universal Remedy
In the past, though people were divided on the basis of caste, they were free from hared and ill-will. It is now that we see ill-will and hatred everywhere in the country. One state is at loggerheads with another; one state has dispute with another over the sharing of river waters; and again one state has a quarrel with another on the question of boundaries. In the past, Cettiars[of the South] built dharmasalas[free boarding and lodging houses] for pilgrims from Kasi. Correspondingly, the Sethjis constructed dharmasalas for pilgrims going to Kasi and Badrinath. People then were united as devotees of the Lord. Everything has gone awry today because of increased political activity and empty talk. So, as a medicine for our ills, as a sovereign remedy, we must pray that people become more devoted to the Lord.
The incessant cry that "Caste must go" has resulted in an aggravation of hatred between one jati and another. Though the propaganda against caste has been going on for 30 or 40 years, the caste factor comes to the fore even today during elections. Caste feelings run so high that violent clashes between communities are not infrequent. Here it is not hatred between Brahmins and non-Brahmins. Fortunately, the Brahmin has been made to distance himself from politics. It is a matter for some comfort that, even though they have not quit politics on their own, others have pushed them out of it. So the present quarrels are between other castes. In the Andhra Pradesh the Khammas and the Reddis are quarrelling between themselves; in Karnataka the Lingayats are at war with some other community. Ironically enough, it is in these days when the cry of equality is the loudest that we witness so many caste wars. This phenomenon is something unknown to the sastric tradition. Here [in Tamil Nadu] candidates are chosen for elections on the basis of jatis. Padayacis in one district, Gaundars in another, Tevars in a third, Mukkulattars in a fourth, and so on. Elections are fought not on the basis of ideology but on that of caste.
Sankara and Sanatana Dharma
There is a saying in English:" Give a dog a bad name and hang him." The dog is a faithful animal and full of gratitude for its master. Few would relish the idea of a dog being hanged. So if any dog is to be hanged, it is perhaps to be given a bad name.
Reformers who claim to be modern do the same with our dharmasastras. For ages these sastras have done this nation nothing but good. But the reformers want to sentence them to the noose on the plea that they have given rise to many an evil. Some feel that there is no need for the division of the society based on our ancient and eternal sastras. So they invent outrages ostensibly perpetrated in pursuance of the tenets of the dharmasastras. "In our country there is a stipulation about who can do what, " they say opposing the varna system. "As a result, the people have become divided. There is no unity among Hindus. This is a cause of our having frequently come under the heel of foreign powers."There is not an iota of truth in this allegation.
It may be that when a common adversary confronted us there was no unity among the rajas. But there is nothing to support the view that, because of differences arising out of caste, this or that section of the people helped the invader. Ironically enough, it is today that there is so much disunity and hatred with all the clamour for the abolition of caste differences. In the past, on the contrary, there was nothing but happiness in the society when caste distinctions were maintained. When there were disputes between two villages over a plot of land, boundary or canal, the inhabitants of either village remained united as one man-from the Brahmin to the untouchable. If it was the example of unity provided by a village, you could very well imagine how the country on the whole would have remained united.
People divided into small communities were enabled and encouraged to live together in a well-knit manner and the members of each community were proud of belonging to it. And these had also their headsman. If anybody was proved guilty of an offence he was excommunicated. Such a punishment was considered a disgrace since people were greatly attached to their respective communities apart from being proud of belonging to them. And this acted as a deterrent to crime. Now there is no institution to unite people together in this manner on a heart-to-heart basis. Perhaps it is not possible also to cement people together today since they are all part of a larger system which is not easy to control. What is the result? The incidence of crime is on the increase and correspondingly the responsibilities of the police. Those who are opposed to the sastras must pause to think about such developments.
There is bound to be opposition to any idea, any system and it is indeed to be welcomed. It is by respecting the views of the opposition that we discover our own drawbacks and prepare to remedy them. But it is quite another matter to oppose a system for its imaginary defects because the only consequence then would be that its good features would come under threat.
I will give you an example of criticism that is totally unfounded or imaginary. Some people think its "uncivilised" to wear any sacred marks on the forehead. It is given a bad name as a "caste mark". As a matter of fact the sacred ashes (bhasma or vibhuti), for example, are worn by all castes, from the Brahmin to the Harijan. So is the case with the Vaisnava namam(made of Tiruman or the sacred earth):it stands for truth that everything is of the earth and mingles with the earth, that all is Visnu. The ashes are the symbol of the Paramatman. When the body is cremated all that remains is the ashes which are the symbol of the eternal Brahman. Is it right to condemn the use of such symbols that stand for great truths?
All old dharmic traditions must be protected and kept alive. Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada has commanded us to do so. I bear his name. So it is my duty to remind you of his injunction. Whether or not you will heed it, I should impress upon you that the sastric customs have the purpose of ensuring the good of all mankind.
Cry 'Grow' - Don't Cry 'Perish'
To speak on the other hand of the glory of Tamil culture, constantly recalling the words of Tiruvalluvar and others who extol love and divine grace, and to raise on the other hand the cry of hatred against a certain community - with the display of posters everywhere proclaiming such hatred - does not seem to me right. It goes against the very spirit of Tamil land and causes me great anguish. If you cry "Grow", instead of crying "Perish", all the hatred and all the quarrels will vanish. Instead of agitating the abolition of the caste system, people must star a movement to build more and more temples and spread devotion.
If everybody joins in this endeavour, the devotion that brought all of us together in the past as one family will again become a powerful source to reunite us and create a sense of universal well-being. If there is devotion, there will be no caste hatred. Such was the case during all these centuries. There was caste in the old days but it did not cause bitterness amongst the communities. It is not caste itself that is to be faulted but the hatred arising from it. So to attempt to destroy this institution is like burning a house to kill a rat. The movement to put an end to the caste system has disrupted the old division of labour and together with it caused discontent, disquiet and jealousy among people. Hatred among the different communities has grown like a big tree with many branches.
It is time that we opened our eyes to the evil and started making effort to substitute the campaign with its cry of destruction with a movement to bring all classes and castes together so as to promote devotion to Isvara and service to humanity. It will be one way of ignoring caste hatred. Countering caste hatred as such might have the effect of refuelling it. If we ignore it and turn our minds to other matters - other noble matters - bitterness due to caste will cease by itself. Suppose you are admonished not to think of the monkey while taking medicine, you will perhaps be tempted to do the opposite(that is to think of the monkey). Similarly, when we keep all the while speaking against the caste hatred, the effect will be the opposite, that of reminding people of caste differences and of arousing feelings of inferiority among some sections and of superiority among others.
It is important for all to become involved in a good cause, like the construction of a temple, or some public welfare scheme. Good feelings like love will surely spring in the hearts of people; at the same time much good will be done to society in general. Today, it is because people are not involved together in such [constructive] work that they turn their minds to destructive ideas, to argumentativeness and to gossip and quarrels. Unfortunately, some people think that if they inflame hatred between the communities or instigate quarrels or disputes, they will be able to gather a crowd of admirers round them. If we are all the time engaged in constructive work there will be fewer opportunities for trouble-making; indeed people will not find the time to do evil.
People go in procession until their legs ache, raising cries against this and that. Would there not be all-round growth and prosperity if all this manpower were employed to good work, if all the energy of people were turned to some constructive task? There is one type of "growth" that is higher than all others, it is the love that springs in the hearts of people. I think there must be a "tight" time-table for all: performing religious rites; worshipping at temples; listening to religious discourses; all castes working together for a divine cause or being engaged in social service. Adhering to such a time-table would mean universal happiness and prosperity. Besides, it would obviate the necessity of raising the cry of hatred against any caste.
There are certainly no differences between one jati and another so far as "status" is considered; that is one jati is not inferior to another or superior to it. All jatis have produced great men - Appar, Nammazhvar, Sekkizar, Nandanar and Kannapar to name a few. The Acarya himself has sung the praises of Kannappar in his Sivanandalahari. The sastras declare that it is a sin for anybody to regard himself as superior to others. Great men have shown us the way in this matter. They have spoken, abasing themselves, "Nayinum kadaiyen"; "nayadiyen". People don't share this kind of humility in the present age of freedom - and that indeed is the cause of much of our trouble. We must regain the old sense of humility and modesty. If so, Jati will be confined to work, functions, and will not in the least be a cause of any feelings of differences. If all people adopt the same style of living that is simple and virtuous, there will be no cause for jealousy or heart-burning.
Whether or not we have the courage or the spirit of sacrifice to work towards this ideal, a way will open out for us if we at least recognise the ideal. May we have success in achieving this ideal with the blessings of Amba.
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)