A Vision of India's History*



Rabindranath Tagore

When individual communities, who come to dwell in the same neighbourhood, differ from each other in race and culture the first attempts at unity become too obviously mechanical in their classified compartments. Some system of adjustment is needed in all kinds of Society, but in order that a system should be successful it most completely submit itself to the principle of life and become the organ for the vital functions.

The history of India has been the history of the struggle between the constructive spirit of the machine, which seeks the cadence of order and conformity in social organisation, and the creative spirit of man, which seeks freedom and love for its self-expression. We have to watch and see if the latter is still living in India; and also whether the former offers its service and hospitality to life, through which its system can he vitalised.

We know not who were the heroes of the day when the racial strife between Aryan and Non-Aryan was at its height. The significant fact is, that the names of such conquering heroes have not been sung in Indian epic. It may be that an episode of that race war in India lies enshrouded in the mythical version of King Janamejaya’s ruthless serpent sacrifice,— the attempted extermination of the entire Naga race. There is, however, no special glorification of that king on this account. But he who strove to bring about the reconciliation between Aryan and Non-Aryan is worshipped to this day as an Avatar.

As the leading figures of the grand movement of that age, which sought to embrace both Aryan and Non-Aryan in a larger synthesis, we find the names of three Kshatriyas standing out in the story of the Ramayana. There Janaka, Visvamitra and Rama-chandra are not merely related by bonds of kinship or affection, but through oneness of ideal. What if it be possible that Janaka, Visvamitra and Rama may not have been contemporaries as a matter of historical fact? That does not take away from their nearness to one another in the plane of idea. Viewed from the stand-point of intervening space, the distance between the earth and the moon may loom large, and tend to obscure the fact of their relationship. There are many double stars in the firmament of history, whose distance from each other does not affect the truth of their brotherhood. We know, from the suggestion thrown out by the poet of Ramayana, that Janaka, Visvamitra and Rama, even if actually separated by time, were nevertheless members of such a triple system.

In the history of idea, as distinguished from the history of fact, a hero often comes to mean, for his race, the ideal, and ceases to be an individual. In Aryan history, Janaka and Visvamitra as well as Rama have become historical symbols. They arc composite pictures of numerous personalities having a common purpose. Just as King Arthur, from the Christendom of the Dark ages, represents the Christian Knight, the valiant champion of the faith against all challengers, so in India we get glimpses of the Kshatra ideal gathering round its champions for a determined and prolonged crusade against its opponents. Proofs are not wanting, that often these opponents were the Brahmins.

The idea, which was behind the neo-Kshatriya movement of old, cannot be known to-day in its full meaning, but still it is possible to make out the lines along which the divergence of Brahmin and Kshatriya had occurred.

The four-headed god Brahmaa represents the four Vedas with all their hymns and regulations of sacrifice. The Brahmin Bhrigu, one of the most renowned priests of the ancient days, is said to have sprung from the heart of Brahmaa, thereby showing that he occupied a prominent part in the cult of Vedic ceremonialism. It is said in the BhagavataPurana that the Kshatriya king, Kartavirya, stole a sacrificial cow from Yamadagni, a priest of the same Bhrigu clan which was the cause of the class-war led by Parasu-rama, the son of Yamadagni, against the whole Kshatriya community. Unless the stealing of the sacrificial cow stands for an idea, such a crusade of the Brahmin against the entire Kshatriya class misses its meaning. It really indicates that among a great body of Kshatriyas there arose a spirit of resistance against sacrificial rites, and this gave rise to a fierce conflict between the two communities.

It has to be noted that the series of battles, begun by Parsu-rama, the descendant of Bhrigu, at last came to their end with his defeat at the hands of Rama-chandra. This Kshatriya hero, as we all know, is accepted and adored as an incarnation of Vishnu, the deity of the monotheistic sect of Bhagavatas. It certainly means that this fight was a fight of ideals, which terminated in the triumph of the religion in which, at a later date, Rama-chandra occupied a central place.

It is well known that Rama had an intimate relationship with the great king Janaka, which also we consider to be a relationship of ideals. Janaka has won from the people of India the title of Rajarshi, the kingly prophet. It has been said about him in the Bhagavad-Gita:



Janaka and others of his kind have attained their fulfilment through the performance of duty.


This means that Janaka, and others who had the same faith as he, followed the path of moral action for attaining spiritual perfection. This was specially mentioned because it was not the path of the orthodox religion, which laid stress on ceremonials performed for the sake of averting injuries or acquiring merit or wealth. It was evidently a revolutionary movement one of whose leaders was Janaka, and Rama-chandra obtained his inspiration from him. Therefore when we find that it was the Kshatriya Rama-chandra who defeated the Brahmin Parasu-rama, we feel certain that the battle which was fought was the battle of two differing ideals.

Those institutions which are static in their nature, raise their fixed walls of division. This is why, in the history of religions, priesthood has everywhere hindered the freedom of man and maintained dissensions. The moving principle of life unites. It deals with the varied, and seeks unity in order to be able to deal truly. The Brahmins, who had the static ideals of Society in their charge, spun into elaboration the different forms of ritualism and set up sectarian barriers between clans and classes. Of the two original deities of the Indo-Aryan tribe, the Sun and the Fire, the latter specially represented the cult of Brahmins. Round it different forms of sacrifice gathered and grew in number, accompanied by strict rules of incantation; with it came to be intimately associated the pluralism of divinity, since the fire had always been made the vehicle of oblation to numerous gods.

The Kshatriyas, on the other hand, as they sallied forth in their endeavour against all obstacles, natural and human, developed in their life the principle which was for expansion and inclusion. Born and bred amidst the clash of forces, hostile and favourable, in the field of life’s strenuous conflict, the superfine complexities of the external forms of religious worship could have no special significance for them. With them the Sun-god seems to have a special connexion. From him, Manu, the law-giver who was a Kshatriya, and also the great kingly line of Raghu, to which belonged Rama-chandra, are said to have sprung. This Sun-god, in course of time, developed into the personal god, Vishnu, the god of the Bhagavata sect, the god who principally belonged to the Kshatriyas.

From Brahma’s four mouths had issued the four Vedas, revealed for all time, jealously sealed against outsiders, as unchanging as the passive features of Brahmaa himself rapt in meditation. This was the symbol of Brahmanism, placid and immutable, profoundly filled with the mystery of knowledge. But the four active arms of Vishnu were busy, proclaiming the sway of the Good; expanding the cycle of unity; maintaining the reign of law; supporting the spirit of beauty and plenitude. All the symbols carried by Vishnu have the different aspects of Kshatriya life for their significance.

Brahma-vidya— the knowledge of Supreme Truth,— had its origin in the seclusion of the primaeval forest of India, where the human mind could intensely concentrate itself in the depth of things and the reality of spiritual existence. The world must acknowledge its debt to the contemplative Indo-Aryan for this profound vision of truth which he has revealed to man. This Brahma-vidya in India has followed two different courses. In the one, the Supreme Soul is viewed as monistic, absolutely negating the phenomenal world; in the other as dualistic in creative imagination, yet one in essence. Unless duality is admitted there can be no worship; but, if at the same time, fundamental unity be not recognised, the worship cannot be intimate and loving.

The original gods of the Vedas were separated from man; they received worship which consisted only of external ceremony, not the homage of love. When the relationship between God and man came to be known as based on their spiritual unity, then only the worship of love became possible. That is how the mystic Brahma-vidya brought in its train the Religion of Love, of which the god was Vishnu. There is no doubt, that the religion of love had its origin, or at least its principal support among Kshatriyas, whose freedom of movement had the effect of liberating their minds from the coils of established forms of sacrifice.

That, naturally; there was a period of struggle between the cult of ritualism, supported by the Brahmins, and the religion of love, is evident. The mark of the Brahmin Bhrigu’s kick, which Vishnu carries on his breast, is a myth-relic of the original conflict. In the fact, that Krishna, a Kshatriya, was not only at the head of the Vaishnava cult, but the object of its worship; that in his teaching, as inculcated in the Bhagavad-Gita, there are hints of detraction against Vedic verses; we find a proof that this cult was developed by the Kshatriyas. Another proof is found in the fact, that the two non-mythical human avatars of Vishnu,— Krishna and Rama-chandra— were both Kshatriyas, and the Vaishnava religion of love was spread by the teaching of the one and the life of the other.

The ideal which was supported by the Kshatriya opponents of the priesthood, is represented by the Bhagavad-Gita. It was spoken to the Kshatriya hero, Arjuna, by the Kshatriya prophet, Krishna. The doctrine of Yoga which it advocates,— the doctrine of the disinterested concentration of life, with all its thoughts and deeds, in the Supreme Being,— had its tradition, according to Krishna, along the line of the Rajarshis, the kingly prophets. He says:




This, handed on down the line, the king sages knew. This Yoga, by great efflux of time, decayed in the world, O Parantapa.**All the translations of the verses from the Bhagavad-Gita are in the words of Annie Besant.


That this religion of Yoga, as revived by Krishna and inculcated in the Bhagavad-Gita, was not in harmony with Vedic scriptures is directly affirmed by the Master in his teaching to his disciple Arjuna, when he says:



When thy mind, bewildered by the scriptures, shall stand immovable in contemplation, then shalt thou attain unto Yoga.


Krishna undoubtedly takes his stand against the traditional cult of sacrificial ceremonies, which according to him distract our minds from the unity of realisation when he speaks thus:


The flowery speech that the unwise utter, O Partha, clinging to the word of the Veda, saying there is nothing else, ensouled by desire and longing after heaven, the speech that offereth only rebirth as the ultimate fruit of action, that is full of recommendations to various rites for the sake of gaining enjoyments and sovereignty— the thoughts of those misled by that speech cleaving to pleasures and lordship, not being inspired with resolution, is not engaged in contemplation.


These words are evidently of him, who in his teachings has for his opponents the orthodox multitude, the believers in Vedic texts.

The Kurukshetra war, described in the Mahabharata, was a war between two parties, one of whom had rejected Krishna, and the other of whom were his followers, guided by him in the war. The motive of this conflict, which had attracted all the great ruling powers of that age into one or other of the two opposing parties, could not have been a mere scramble for land between cousins. In this latter version of the epic the fact is suppressed, that it was an unorthodox religious movement, acknowledging Krishna to be its prophet that gave rise to the most desperate fight in the ancient ages in India. The very fact, that Krishna was the charioteer of Arjuna, is proof enough that it was a war of rival creeds; and for that very reason the battle ground of Kurukshetra has ever remained a sacred spot of pilgrimage.

It is significant to note that the lives of great Brahmins of the olden times, like that of Yajnavalkya, have the association of intellectual profundity and spiritual achievement, while those of great Kshatriyas represent ethical magnanimity which has love for its guiding principle. It is also significant, that the people of India, though entertaining deep veneration for the Brahmin sages, instinctively ascribe divine inspiration to the Kshatriya heroes, who actively realised high moral ideals in their personalities. Parasu-rama,— the only historical personage belonging to the Brahmin caste who has been given a place in the list of avatars,— has never found a seat in the hearts of the people. This shows that, according to India, the mission of divine power in this country is, to bring reconciliation, through moral influence, between races that are different,— never to acquire dominance over others through physical prowess and military skill.

The most important aspect of Rama-chandra’s life, which has made the Vaishnava accept him as the incarnation of divine love, has been missed by the current version of the Ramayana. There he is depicted merely as an ideal son, brother and husband, a paragon of domestic virtues, a king who holds that cultivation of popularity is a duty higher than doing justice in the teeth of clamorous disapprobation. I have no doubt that the real story of his life, which has become dim in the course of time and with the growth of conventionalism, is concerned with his sympathy for the despised races, his love for the lowly; and that this made him the ideal of the primitive people whose totem was Hanuman.

The religion represented by the third human avatar of Vishnu, who is Buddha, has in it the same moral quality which we find in the life and teaching of Rama and Krishna. It clearly shows the tendency of the Kshatra ideal, with its freedom and courage of intellect, and above all its heart, comprehensive in sympathy, generous in self-sacrifice.

Foreign critics are too often ready to misread the conservative spirit of India, putting it down as the trade artifice of an interested priestcraft. But they forget that there was no racial difference between Brahmin and Kshatriya. These merely represented two different natural functions of the body politic, which, though from the outside presenting the appearance of antagonism, have as a matter of fact co-operated in the evolution of Indian history. Sowing seed in one’s own land and reaping the harvest for distant markets are apparently contradictory. The seed-sowers naturally cling to the soil which they cultivate, while the distributors of the harvest develop a different mentality, being always on the move. The Brahmins were the guardians of the seed of culture in ancient India and the Kshatriyas strove for putting into wide use the harvest of wisdom. The principle of stability and the principle of movement, though they depend upon each other for their truth, are, in human affairs, apt to lose their balance and come into fierce conflict. Yet these conflicts, as meteorology tells us in the physical plane, have the effect of purifying the atmosphere and restoring its equilibrium. In fact, perfect balance in these opposing forces would lead to deadlock in creation. Life moves in the cadence of constant adjustment of opposites,— it is a perpetual process of reconciliation of contradictions.

The divergence of ideals between the Brahmins, dwellers in the forest, and the Kshatriyas, founders of cities, often led to prolonged fights, a fact which is revealed by the story of the struggle between Vasishtha and Visvamitra. The Brahmins were not all on one side, nor the Kshatriyas all on the other. Many Kshatriyas esponsed the Brahmin cause. We are told how the BrahmanicVidyas, as personified in the form of three maidens, outraged by Visvamitra, were sore distressed, and how the chivalrous Kshatriya King, Harischandra, came to their rescue, losing his all for their sake. Then, again, Krishna in the course of his endeavour to liberate the Kshatriya victims from a dread ceremonial, slew King Jarasandha with the help of the Pandava braves. This Jarasandha, himself a Kshatriya, was on the other side and had defeated and imprisoned many Kshatriya kings. Krishna and the Pandavas had to disguise themselves as Brahmins in order to gain entrance within the walls of his stronghold. Many other legends bear this out. The spiritual movement started by Krishna had something in it, which went against the orthodox forms of worship. This is further hinted at by the legend, belonging to a later period, of his taking the part of the Abhiras against their persecution by Indra, the king of the Vedic gods, and preventing the devastation of the pasture land, Govardhana, held by that tribe.

Anyhow, it is abundantly clear that the ideals represented by Krishna had divided the Aryan community into two rival camps. When king Yudhishthira, as overlord, summoned a RajasuyaYajna in order to heal those dissensions, King Sisupala tried to wreck the proceedings by publicly insulting Krishna, the acknowledgment of whose precedence over all assembled Brahmins and Kshatriyas was the object of that great conclave. The main motive behind the devastating Kurukshetra war was this very internal strife within the community,— the party which opposed Krishna being generalled by Drona, the famous Brahmin warrior, with his kinsmen Kripa and Asvatthvama. It is a notable fact that Drona himself was a disciple of Parasu-rama; and Karna, one of the most important fighters who stood against Krishna’s party, also had Parasu-rama for his teacher.

There can be no doubt that the period of history, covered by the main incidents related in the Ramayana, and that of the Kurukshetra war, are widely apart in time; and therefore we have no other alternative but to admit that Parasu-rama, who takes part in both the narratives, represents a long continued Brahmin movement, anti-Kshatriya in character; and Rama and Krishna, who come out victorious in this conflict, have some common ideal, which also had a long period of struggle for its manifestation and development.

Any number of such stories show, that the two Epics of India were concerned with this same social revolution, that is to say, with the conflict of the new and the old within the Aryan community. We have its analogy in comparatively modern days, when the Bengali epic, KavikankanChandi, was written. In this poem is also described the conflict of religious ideals, with the god Siva on one side, and the goddess Chandi on the other. It represented the tragedy of the downfall of a higher principle of religion, which had its devotees in the cultured classes, and the usurpation of its altar by the vindictive deity Chandi, patron of wild animals, who was worshipped by the aboriginal Vyadha tribes, as is described in the poem.

In the age of which the Ramayana tells, Rama-chandra was the champion of the new party. Rama was born in the orthodox creed at the head of which was Vasishtha, the priest of the royal house. But from his boyhood he was won over by Visvamitra, the implacable antagonist of Vasishtha. From this Kshatriya sage, the Kshatriya prince received his initiation into a path of adventure, which evidently had behind it a mighty movement led by the great personalities of the age. It appears to me that Rama’s banishment had its cause in some conflict of ideals between Vasishtha, who stood as the symbol of the Brahmanic tradition, and Visvamitra, who had fought against it and had wrenched Rama-chandra away from the clasp of the unwilling royal household.

When later, for sectarian reasons, the story of the great movement was retold as the Ramayana— a dynastic history,— the absurd reason was invented about the weak old king yielding to a favourite wife, who took advantage of a vague promise which could fit itself to any demand of hers, however preposterous. This story merely reveals the later degeneracy of mind, when form assumed a greater value than spirit, and some casual words uttered in a moment of infatuation could be deemed more sacred than the truth which is based upon justice and perfect knowledge.

Janaka is considered to be an embodiment of the kingly virtues of an ideal Kshatriya. In the history of the colonisation of India by the Aryans, his life must have served a great purpose. We can guess from his own position in the story of the Ramayana, that he was the principal inspiration in an enterprise which had a large meaning, and that Rama accepted his mission of life from Janaka. If we pierce through the mist which has gathered round the original narrative, we shall see that there is a general challenge to all Kshatriyas of that time in the story of Sita’s wedding.

Sita is said to have been no ordinary mortal. She came out of the soil itself when King Janaka was employed in ploughing, as was his wont. “Furrow-line” is the meaning which the name “Sita” bears. This daughter of the soil he promised to give in marriage to him who could break the bow of Siva. Rama was led to this trial by Visvamitra, and he succeeded first in bending the bow and then breaking it, thereupon being declared worthy of receiving Sita from the hand of Janaka. A great fact of history, which very probably occupied a large expanse of time and was borne along by several generations of heroes, appears to have been condensed in this story. Janaka was one of those sublime figures who could focus in himself all the significance of an epoch-making endeavour, scattered through time and space.

The fact that Janaka’s personality comprehended in its inner realisation the Brahma-vidya, and in its outer activity the cultivation of the soil, indicates that the Kshatriya kings developed the art of agriculture, on which the civilisation of the Aryans of India was established. Originally the tending of flocks had been the main occupation of the Aryan tribes. This pastoral life likewise suited the forest tracts of India, and Brahmins in their forest retreats continued to regard the cow as their principal wealth. But though tending cattle was fit for the nomad life, or for that of small groups of individuals living in forests, the concentration of large bodies of men in cities required the organised production of food. Naturally the necessity of such organisation was more keenly felt by Kshatriyas, who were founders of cities, than by the others. Therefore, in the life of Janaka, the ideal king of ancient lndia, are seen, side by side, Brahma-vidya,— the philosophy which, if truly accepted, could be the spiritual support of the unity of races,— and Agriculture, which could be the material support of the economic union effected by the large communities. And just as the European colonists in America, while cutting down its forests, had to contest every step with the aborigines, who depended on the chase for their living, so also in India the pioneers of agriculture encountered the opposition of the non-Aryans living in its wildernesses, whose fierce onslaughts made their task far from easy.

It is interesting to note in this connection that Zarathushtra, the great spiritual master of ancient Iran, had, like Janaka himself, an ideal which combined spiritual wisdom with a faith in agricultural civilisation. And it also became his mission to save agriculture from the depredation of nomadic hordes.

Let me quote from “Zarathushtra in Gathas,” translated from Dr. Geiger’s book on the subject, a passage which bears strong analogy to the aspect of the old Aryan history in India as revealed by the legend of Janaka. “The Iranian people of the Gathic period,” he says, “were, in fact, subdivided into husbandmen and nomads, and in the sharp opposition which obtained between the two, the prophet Zarathushtra played a prominent part. In a number of Gathic passages we see him standing as an advocate of the settled husbandmen. He admonishes them not to be tired of their good work, to cultivate diligently the fields, and to devote to their cattle that fostering care which they deserve. And far and wide spreads the dominion of husbandmen and ‘the settlements of the pious people increase, in spite of all molestations, all persecutions, and violence, which they have to suffer from the nomads who attack their settlements in order to desolate their sown fields and to deprive them of their herds.”

King Janaka reigned over Mithila, which shows that the Aryan colonies had extended along the North to the easternmost natural boundary of India. But the Vindhya hills were then inaccessible, and the forest regions to their South remained intact. Here the Dravidian culture had reached its height, proving a formidable rival to that of the Aryans, and here the puissant Ravana had established the Dravidian god, Siva, defeating Indra and other Vedic deities.

The question which then arose in the Aryan community as to who should be the champion of their civilisation, proving his competency to carry his standard forward by success in the preliminary trial of the breaking of Hara-dhanu, Siva’s bow, is to be read in the same light. He who could break the strong resistance of the Siva-worshippers and carry into the South the civilisation which had Brahma-vidya for its spirit, and for its body Agriculture, would verily win, for his spouse, Janaka’s earth-born daughter Sita.

When Rama-chandra set out under his master, Visvamitra on what became his life-mission he started, even at that early age, by emerging triumphant through three severe tests. First, he slew the foremost of the obstructive barbarians in the vicinity. Next, at his skilled touch, the desert soil, which had lain for long years bound in the hardness of stone,— becoming ahalya, not fit for ploughing— resumed the bloom of life. It was the self-same soil, which Rishi Gautama, the foremost of the early Aryan pioneers who had striven to drive the plough southwards, had found treacherous and had abandoned in despair. Thirdly, to the prowess and wisdom of this disciple of the Kshatriya sage was due the subduing of the virulence of the anti-Kshatriya movement, personified in the Brahmin, Parasu-rama.

Both in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, the wedding of the principal heroes is connected with the story of a preliminary trial. This is not a mere chance coincidence. It is the crystallisation, in the memory of the race, of a great fact which had an epoch-making character. In both cases, it was the acknowledgment of a difficult ideal, which involved the heroic responsibility of upholding it in the teeth of desperate opposition. In both cases the bride was not a mortal woman, but a great mission. The trial described in the Mahabharata is the piercing of a disc in the sky, difficult to discern, fixed in the centre of a revolving wheel, which has to be reached by concentrating one’s attention on its shadow reflected in a vessel of water. This trial is obviously of a spiritual nature. The fixed centre of Truth, in the heart of the revolving wheel of the World (Samsara), is reflected in the depth of our own being, which can be reached by the one-pointed concentration of Yoga. Is not this the doctrine of the Gita in a language of picture? The symbolism of the piercing of the target is well known to us, as it is used in the Upanishad:


The bow is omkara,— the utterance of the sound Om, which helps mental concentration,— the soul is the arrow, and the Infinite the target.


Though it was Arjuna who originally won the maiden whose name was Krishna, she was accepted in marriage by all the brothers. It is ridiculous to try to establish, on the strength of this fact, that the Pandava clan came from the Himalayan regions, where polyandry is tolerated. As a matter of fact, it was a sacred rite of ideal polyandry which came to be shared by all the brothers. Krishnaa is the impersonation of the truth taught by Krishna himself, which had some association with the Sun-worship which was the original meaning of Vishnu-worship. It is related in the epic, that in the vessel carried by Krishnaa, food would become inexhaustible when she invoked the sun to help her. This must refer to the unlimited spiritual food ready for all guests who chose to come and enjoy it.

Evidently, the Panchala kingdom was one of the great centres of this unorthodox religion led by the Kshatriyas. It is to be noted that it was in Panchala that the Brahmin student, Svetaketu, went to the Kshatriya King, PravahanaJaibali, for instruction in the mystic philosophy consisting in the doctrine that the creative process, going on in the world of stars, in sky and earth, and in man himself, is a perpetual ceremony of sacrifice, for which the sacrificial fire appears in different aspects and forms. We know the story of how the Brahmin, Drona, had a grudge against the King of Panchala owing to the latter not recognising the right of his Brahmin comrade to an equal share in his kingly wealth and power. It is not unlikely that in this legend lies hidden the history of the conflict between the power of the priesthood and that of the religious movement started by the Kshatriyas.

It can be surmised that it was from the province of Panchala, in the close neighbourhood of Mathura, that the Pandava brothers received the new creed preached by Krishna. It is significant that the Brahmin, Drona, who originated the quarrel, was the first general on the side of the Kurus. Krishna was insulted by the Kuru brothers, as was Sita by Ravana, and she was rescued from her humiliation by Krishna. It was proved to those who tried to expose her to indignities, that her veil of honour was of unlimited length, just as the food in her vessel was inexhaustible. It was proved, in like manner, that Ravana had not the power to defile Sita, though, for a time, she was under his dominance, for ideal truth is inviolable even though it may remain for a time in obscurity. That the hero of the Ramayana, the rescuer of Sita, and the hero of the Mahabharata, the friend of Krishna, both occupied the same exalted position in the later Vaishnava religion, is not a mere accident. This fact itself gives us the clue, that the original narration in the case of both the epics had for its motive the great fight for the ideal, which ushered in a new age with its new outlook upon life.

It is evident that the sun, which is the one source of light and life to us, had led the thoughts of the Indo-Aryan sages towards the monotheistic ideal of worship. The following prayer addressed to the sun, with which the Ishopanishat is concluded, is full of the mystic yearning of the soul:


O Sun, nourisher of the world, Truth’s face lies hidden in thy golden vessel. Take away thy cover for his eyes, who is a devotee of Truth.


When according to the Chandogya Upanishad, the teacher Ghora, after having explained to his disciple Krishna, who had become apipasa, free from desire, the consecration ceremony which leads to giving oneself a new spiritual birth,— in which austerity, almsgiving, harmlessness, truthfulness, these are one’s gifts for the priests,— he winds up his teaching with these words: “In the final hour one should take refuge in these three thoughts: You are the Indestructible; you are the Unshaken, you are the very Essence of Life.” On this point there are these two Rig verses:—


ज्योतिष्पश्यन्त  उत्तरम्


Proceeding from primeval seed,

The early morning light they see,

That gleameth higher than the heaven,

From out of darkness all around,

We, gazing on the higher light—

Yea, gazing on the higher light—

To Surya, god among the gods,

We have attained the highest light!

—Yea, the highest light! (The thirteenth principal Upanishads, pages 212-213.)


We find a hint here of the teaching which was developed by Krishna into a great religious movement, which preached freedom from desire and absolute devotion to God, and which spiritualised the meaning of ceremonies. That this religion had some association with the sun can be inferred from the legend of Krishnaa finding an inexhaustible store of food in her vessel after her worship of the sun, and also the one about the piercing of the target of the disc by Arjuna, which very likely was the mystic disc of the sun, the golden vessel that holds Truth hidden in it, the Truth which has to be attained by piercing the cover.

It is interesting to see how, in the history of religion, the sun has also had a strong monotheistic suggestion in civilisations other than the Aryan. The great Egyptian King, Akhenaten, belonging to the 14th century B. C., struggled against the congregated might of the priestly polytheistic ceremonials, substituting for them the purer form of worship of “the radiant energy of the sun”. Here also we find the significant analogy of a religious revolution, initiated by one belonging to the kingly caste, against the opposition of the orthodox priestly sect of the land. This Egyptian King, like other prophets of his type, speaks of the truth coming to him as a personal revelation, when he sings:

Thou art in my heart, there is none

Who knoweth thee excepting thy son;

Thou causest that he should have understanding,

In thy ways and in thy might.


“In ethics a great change also marks this age,” says Prof. Flinders Petrie. “The motto ‘Living in Truth’ is constantly put forward as the keynote to the king’s character, and to his changes in various lines.”**‘A History of Egypt’, by W. M. Flinders Petrie, page 218.Thus we find that History is a plagiarist that steals its own ideas over and over again.

In connection with this we have to note that the spiritual religion which Krishna preached must have ignored the exclusiveness of priestly creeds and extended its invitation to peoples of all classes, Aryans and non-Aryans alike. The legend of his intimate relationship with the shepherd tribes supports this view and we still find the religion, of which Krishna is the centre, to be the great refuge of the lower castes and outcastes of the present Indian population. The most significant fact of Indian history is, that all the human avatars of Vishnu had, by their life and teaching, broken the barriers of priestcraft by acknowledging the relation of fellowship between the privileged classes and those that were despised.

There came the day when Rama-chandra, the Kshatriya of royal descent, embraced as his friend and comrade the lowest of the low, the untouchable chandala, Guhaka,— an incident in his career which to this day is cited as proof of the largeness of his soul. During the successive period of conserative reaction, an attempt was made to suppress this evidence of Rama-chandra’s liberality of heart in a supplemental canto of the epic, and in order to fit it with the later ideal, its votaries did not hesitate to insult his memory, by having it in their rendering of the episode, that Rama beheaded with his own hands an ambitious Sudra for presuming to claim equal status in the attainment of spiritual excellence. It is like the ministers of Christian religion, in the late war, taking Christ’s name for justifying the massacre of men.

However that may be, India has never forgotten that Rama-chandra was the beloved comrade of a chandala; that he appeared as divine to the primitive tribes, some of whom had the totem of monkey, some that of bear. His name is remembered with reverence because he won over his antagonists as his allies and built the bridge of love between Aryan and non-Aryan.

This is the picture we see of one swing of the pendulum in the Aryan time. We shall never know India truly unless we study the manner in which she re-acted to the pull of the two opposite principles, that of self-preservation represented by the Brahmin, and that of self-expansion represented by the Kshatriya.

When the first overtures towards social union were being made, it became necessary for the Aryans to come to an understanding with the non-Aryan religion as well. In the beginning, as we have seen, there was a state of war between the followers of Siva and the worshippers of the Vedic gods. The fortune of arms favoured sometimes one side, sometimes the other. Even Krishna’s valiant comrade, Arjuna, had once to acknowledge defeat at the hands of Siva of the Kiratas, a hunter tribe. Then there is the well known record of a refusal to give Siva place in a great Vedic sacrifice, which led to the breaking up of the ceremony by the non-Aryans. At last, by the identification of Siva with the Vedic Rudra, an attempt had to be made to bring this constant religious antagonism to an end. And yet in the Mahabharata we find the later story of a battle between Rudra and Vishnu, which ended in the former acknowledging the latter’s superiority. Even in Krishna worship we find the same struggle, and therefore in the popular recitation of Krishna legends we often hear of Brahmaa’s attempt at ignoring Krishna, till at last the ancestor god of the Aryans is compelled to pay homage to the later divinity of the populace. These stories reveal the persisting self-consciousness of the new-comers, even after they had been admitted to the privileges of the old-established pantheon.

The advent of the two great Kshatriya founders of religion, Buddha and Mahavira, in the same eastern part of India where once Janaka had his seat, brought into being a spirit of simplification. They exercised all their force against the confusing maze of religions and doctrines, which had beset the bewildered country and through which it could not find its goal. Amidst the ceremonial intricacies on the one hand, and the subtleties of metaphysical speculation on the other, the simple truth was overlooked that creeds and rites have no value in themselves; that human welfare is the one object towards which religious enthusiasm has to be directed. These two Kshatriya sannyasins refused to admit that any distinctions between man and man were inherent and perpetual; according to their teaching, man could only be saved by realising truth, and not by social conformity or non-ethical practice. It was wonderful how the triumph of these Kshatriya teachers rapidly overcame all obstacles of tradition and habit, and swept over the whole country.

Long before the full flood of the Buddhistic influence had subsided, most of the protecting walls had been broken down, and the banks of the discipline, through which the forces of unification had been flowing in a regulated stream, had been obliterated. In fact, in departing, Buddhism left all the numerous aboriginal diversities of India to rear their heads unchecked, because one of the two guiding forces of Indian history had been enfeebled, which with its spirit of resistance had been helping the process of assimilation.

In the midst of the Buddhistic revolution only the Brahmins were able to keep themselves intact, because the maintaining of exclusiveness had all along been their function. But the Kshatriyas had become merged into the rest of the people, and so in the succeeding age we find that most of the kings had ceased to belong to Kshatriya dynasties. Then there were the Sakas and the Hunas, repeated hordes of whom flowed into India and got mixed with the elder inhabitants. The Aryan civilisation, thus stricken to the quick, put forth all its life force in a supreme attempt at recovery, and its first effort was directed to regain its race consciousness, which had been overwhelmed.

During the long period of this social and religious revolution, which had the effect of rubbing out the individual features of the traditional Aryan culture, the question “What am I?” came to the forefront. The rescue of the racial personality from beneath the prevailing chaos, became the chief endeavour. Aroused by the powerful shock of a destructive opposition, it was then, for the first time, that India sought to define her individuality. When she now tried to know and name herself, she called to mind the empire of Bharata, a legendary suzerian of by-gone days, and defining her boundaries accordingly, she called herself Bharatavarsha. She tried to pick up the lost threads of her earlier achievements, in order to restore the fabric of her original civilisation. Thus collection and compilation, not new creation, were characteristics of this age. The great sage of this epoch, Vyasa, who is reported to have performed this function, may not have been one real person, but he was, at any rate, the personification of the spirit of the times.

The movement began with the compilation of the Vedas. Now that it had become necessary to have some common unifying agent, the Vedas, as the oldest part of Aryan lore, had to be put on a pedestal for the purpose, in order to supply a fixed centre of reference round which the distracted community could rally.

Another task undertaken by this age was the gathering and arranging of historical material. In this process, spread over a long period of time, all the scattered myths and legends were brought together, and not only these, but also the beliefs and discussions of every kind, which still lingered in the racial memory. And thus a great literary image of Aryan India of old was formed which was called the Mahabharata— the great Bharata. The very name shows the awakened consciousness of the unity of the people struggling to find its expression and permanent record.

The eager effort to gather all the drifting fragments from the wreck, resulted in the overloading with indiscriminate miscellanies of the central narrative of the epic. The natural desire of the artist to impart an aesthetic relevancy to the story, was swamped by the exigency of the time. The most important need of the age was for an immortal epic, a majestic ship fit to cross the sea of time, to serve the purpose of carrying various materials for the building of a permanent shelter for the race mind.

Therefore, though the Mahabharata may not be history in the modern western definition of the term, it is, nevertheless, a receptacle of the historical records which had left their impress upon the living memory of the people for ages. Had any competent person attempted to sift and sort and analyse this material into an ordered array of facts, we should have lost the changing picture of Aryan society which they present,— a picture in which the lines are vivid or dim, connected or confusedly conflicting, according to the lapses of memory, changes of ideal, and variations of light and shade, incident to time’s perspective. Self-recording annals of history, as they are imprinted on the living tablet of ages, are bared before our sight in this great work.

The genius of that extraordinary age did not stop short at the discovery of the thread of unity on which were strung the variegated materials scattered through its history; it also searched out the unity of a spiritual philosophy running through all contradictions that are to be found in the metaphysical speculations of the Vedas. The outline presentation of this philosophy was made by the same Vyasa, who had not only the industry to gather and piece together details, but also the power to visualise the whole in its completeness. His compilation is a creative synthesis.

One thing, which remains significant, is the fact that this age of compilation has insisted upon the sacredness of the Brahmins and Brahminic lore by constant reiteration in exaggerated language. It proves that there was a militant spirit fighting against odds, and that a complete loss of faith in the freedom of intellect and conscience of the people had come about. Its analogy can be found in the occasional distrust of Democracy which we observe among some modern Intellectuals of Europe.

The main reason for this was that, during the period of alternating ascendancy of Brahmin and Kshatriya, the resulting synthesis had its unity of Aryan character, but when during the Buddhist period, not only non-Aryans, but also non-Indians from outside, gained free access, it became difficult to maintain organic coherence. A strong under-current of race-mingling and religious compromise had set in, and as the mixed races and beliefs began to make themselves felt, the Aryan forces of self-preservation struggled to put up wall beyond wall in order to prevent successive further encroachments. Only those intrusions which could not be resisted found a place within extended barriers.

Let no one imagine, however, that the non-Aryan contributions were taken in by sheer force of circumstance only, and that they had no value of their own. As a matter of fact, the old Dravidian culture was by no means to be despised, and the result of its combination with the Aryan, which formed the Hindu civilisation, acquired both richness and depth under the influence of its Dravidian component. Dravidians might not be introspective, or metaphysical, but they were artists, and they could sing, design and construct. The transcendental thought of the Aryan by its marriage with the emotional and creative art of the Dravidian gave birth to an offspring, which was neither fully Aryan, nor Dravidian, but Hindu.

With its Hindu civilisation, India attained the gift of being able to realise in the commonplaceness of life, the infinity of the Universal. But on the other hand, by reason of this dual strain in its blood, whenever Hinduism has failed to take its stand on the reconciliation of the opposites which is of its essence, it has fallen a prey to incongruous folly and blind superstition. This is the predicament in which Hindu India has been placed by its birthright. Where the harmony between the component differences has been organically effected, there beauty has blossomed; so long as it remains wanting, there is no end to deformities. Moreover, we must remember that, not only the Dravidian civilisation, but things appertaining to primitive non-Aryan tribes also, found entrance into the Aryan polity; and the torment of these inassimilable intrusions has been a darkly cruel legacy left to the succeeding Hindu society.

When the non-Aryan gods found place in the Aryan pantheon, their inclusion was symbolised by the trinity, Brahmaa, Vishnu and Siva,—Brahmaa standing for the ancient tradition, exclusive externalism; Vishnu for the transition when the original Vedic Sun-god became humanised and emerged from the rigid enclosure of scriptural texts into the world of the living human heart; and Siva for the period when the non-Aryan found entrance into the social organisation of the Aryan. But though the Aryan and non-Aryan thus met, they did not merge completely. Like the Ganges and the Jumna at their confluence, they flowed on together in two separately distinguishable streams.

In spite of Siva’s entry amongst the Aryan gods, his Aryan and non-Aryan aspects remained different. In the former, he is the lord of ascetics, who, having conquered desire, is rapt in the bliss of nirvana, as bare of raiment as of worldly ties. In the latter, he is terrible, clad in raw, bleeding elephant hide, intoxicated by the hemp decoction. In the former, he is the replica of Buddha, and as such has captured many a Buddhist shrine; in the latter, he is the overlord of demons, spirits and other dreadful beings, who haunt the places of the dead, and as such has appropriated to himself the worshippers of the phallus, and of snakes, trees and other totems. In the former, he is worshipped in the quietude of meditation; in the latter, in frenzied orgies of self-torture.

Similarly in the Vaishnava cult, Krishna, who became the mythological god of the non-Aryan religious legends, was not the same in character as the brave and sagacious ruler of Dwaraka who acted as the guide, philosopher and friend of the valiant Arjuna. Alongside the heights of the Song Celestial are ranged the popular religious stories of the cowherd tribes.

But in spite of all that was achieved, it was quite impossible, even for the Aryan genius, to bring into harmony with itself and assimilate each and every one of the practices, beliefs and myths of innumerable non-Aryan tribes. More and more of what was non-Aryan came to be not merely tolerated, but welcomed in spite of incongruities, as the non-Aryan element became increasingly predominant in the race mixture. This led to the formulation of the principle, that any religion which should satisfy the capacity of a particular sect was enough for its salvation. But in consequence, the organising force was reduced to the mere compulsion of some common customs, some repetition of external practices, which barely served loosely to hold together these heterogeneous elements. For the mind which has lost its vigour, all external habits become tyrannical. The result for India is, that the tie of custom which is extraneous has become severely tight, hardly leaving any freedom of movement even in insignificant details of life. This has developed in the people an excessively strong sense of responsibility to the claims of the class tradition which divides, but not the conviction of that inner moral responsibility which unites.

We have seen how, after the decline of Buddhism, a path had to be cleared through the jungle of rank undergrowth which had been allowed to run wild during the prolonged inaction of the Brahmanic hierarchy. At the latter end of its career in India the mighty stream of Buddhism grew sluggish and lost itself in morasses of primitive superstitions and promiscuous creeds and practices, which had their root in non-Aryan crudities. It had lost its depth of philosophy and breadth of humanity, which had their origin in the Aryan mind.

Therefore the time came for the Brahmins to assert themselves and bring back into the heart of all this incongruity some unity of ideal, which it had always been their function to maintain. It was now a difficult task for them because of the varied racial strains which had become part of the constitution of the Indian people. And so, in order to save their ideals from the attack of this wild exuberance of heterogeneous life, they fixed them in a permanent rigidity. This had the reactionary effect of making their own ideals inert, and unfit for adaptation to changes of time; while it left, to all the living elements of the different races included in the people, their freedom of growth, unguided by any dictates of reason. The result has been our huge medley of customs, ceremonials and creeds, some of which are the ruins of the old, and some merely the anomalies of the living outgrowths which continue clinging to them and smothering them out of shape.

And yet the genius of India went on working, albeit through the tremendous obstacle of the shackled mind of the people. In the Vedic times, as we have seen, it was mainly the Kshatriyas who repeatedly brought storms of fresh thought into the atmosphere of the people’s life whenever it showed signs of stagnation. In later ages, when the Kshatriyas had lost their individuality, the message of the spiritual freedom and unity of man mainly sprang from the obscure strata of the community, where belonged the castes that were despised. Though it has to be admitted that, in the mediæval age, the Brahmin, Ramananda, was the first to give voice to the cry of unity, which is India’s own, and in consequence lost his honoured privileges as a Brahmin guru, yet it is none the less true that most of our great saints of that time, who took up this cry in their life and teaching and songs, came from the lower classes,— one of them being a Muhammadan weaver, one a cobbler, and several coming from ranks of society whose touch would pollute the drinking water of the respectable section of Hindus. And thus the living voice of India ever found its medium, even in the darkest days of our downfall, — the voice which proclaimed that he only knows truth who knows the unity of all beings in spirit.

The age in which we now live, we cannot see clearly in its true features, as from without. Yet we feel that the India of to-day has roused herself once more to search out her truth, her harmony, her oneness, not only among her own constituent elements, but with the great world. The current of her life, which had been dammed up in stagnation, has found some breach in the wall and can feel the pulse of the tidal waves of humanity outside. We shall learn that we can reach the great world of man, not through the effacement, but through the expansion of our own individuality. We shall know for certain that, just as it is futile mendicancy to covet the wealth of others in place of our own, so also to keep ourselves segregated and starved by refusing the gift which is the common heritage of man, because it is brought to us by a foreign messenger, only makes for utter destitution.

Our western critics,— whose own people, whenever confronted with non-western races in a close contact, never know any other solution of the problem but extermination or expulsion by physical force; whose caste feeling against darker races is brutally aggressive and contemptuous,— are ready to judge us with a sneering sense of superiority when comparing India’s history with their own. They never take into consideration the enormous burden of difficulty, which Indian civilisation has taken upon itself from its commencement. India is the one country in the world where the Aryan colonisers had to make constant social adjustments with peoples who vastly outnumbered them; who were physically and mentally alien to their own race; who were for the most part distinctly inferior to the invaders. Europe, on the other hand, is one in mind; her dress, custom, culture, and with small variations her habits, are one; yet her inhabitants, although only politically divided, are perpetually making preparations for deadly combats, wherein entire populations indulge in orgies of wholesale destruction unparalleled in ferocity in the history of the barbarian. It is not merely such periodic irruptions of bloody feuds that are the worst characteristic of the relationship between the countries of Europe, even after centuries of close contact and intellectual co-operation, but there is also the intense feeling of mutual suspicion generating diplomatic deceitfulness and shameless moral obliquities.

India’s problem has been far more complex than that of the West, and I admit that our rigid system of social regulation has not solved it. For, to bring order and peace at the cost of life, is terribly wasteful, whether in the policy of government, or of society. But all the same, I believe that we have cause to be proud of the fact, that for a long series of centuries, beset with vicissitudes of stupendous proportions, crowded with things that are incongruous and facts that are irrelevant, India still keeps alive the inner principle of her own civilisation against the cyclonic fury of contradictions and the gravitational pull of the dust.

This has been the great function of the Brahmins of this land, to keep the lamp lighted when the storm has been raging on all sides. It has been their endeavour gradually to permeate the tremendous mass of obstructive material with some quickening ideal of their own that would transmute it into the life-stuff of a composite civilisation; to discover some ultimate meaning in the inarticulate primitive forms struggling for expression, and to give it a voice. In a word, it was the mission of the Brahmin to comprehend by the light of his own mature understanding the undeveloped minds of the people.

It would be wrong for us, when we judge the historical career of India, to put all the stress upon the accumulated heap of refuse, gross and grotesque, that has not yet been assimilated in one consistent cultural body. Our great hope lies there, where we realise that something positively precious in our achievements still persists, in spite of circumstances that are inclement. The best of us still have our aspiration for the supreme end of life, which is so often mocked at by the prosperous people who hold their sway over the present-day world. We still believe that the world has a deeper meaning than what is apparent, and that therein the human soul finds its ultimate harmony and peace. We still know that only in this spiritual wealth and welfare does civilisation attain its end, not in a prolific production of materials, not in the competition of intemperate power with power.

It has certainly been unfortunate for us that we have neglected the cult of Anna Brahma,— the infinite as manifested in the material world of utility,— and we are dearly paying for it. We have set our mind upon realising the eternal in the intensity of spiritual consciousness so long, that we have overlooked the importance of realising the infinite in the world of extension by ever pursuing a path which is endless. And in this great field of adventure the West has attained its success, for which humanity has to be immensely grateful to it.

But the true happiness and peace are awaiting the children of the West in that tapasya, which is for realising Brahma in spirit, for acquiring the luminous inner vision before which the sphere of immortality reveals itself. If ever that time comes,— if the western world does not meet its catastrophic end under the trampling tread of contending commerce and politics, of monstrous greed and hatred,— then the world will owe its gratitude to the Brahmins for the faith in the infinitude of the human spirit, which they have upheld in the face of facts that spurned it, exultingly counting the skulls of their victims.

I love India, not because I cultivate the idolatry of geography, not because I have had the chance to be born in her soil, but because she has saved through tumultuous ages the living words that have issued from the illuminated consciousness of her great sons— Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam Brahma, Brahma is truth, Brahma is wisdom, Brahma is infinite; Santam, Sivam, Advaitam, peace is in Brahma, goodness is in Brahma, and the unity of all beings.


The householder shall have his life established in Brahma, shall pursue the deeper truth of all things and in all activities of life dedicate his works to the Eternal Being. Thus we have come to know that what India truly seeks is not a peace which is in negation, or in some mechanical adjustment, but that which is in Sivam, in goodness; which is in Advaitam, in the truth of perfect union; that India does not enjoin her children to cease from karma, but to perform their karma in the presence of the Eternal, with the pure knowledge of the spiritual meaning of existence; that this is the true prayer of Mother India:


He who is one, who is above all colour distinctions, who dispenses the inherent needs of men of all colours, who comprehends all things from their beginning to the end, let Him unite us to one another with the wisdom which is the wisdom of goodness.

* Rabindranath Tagore, A Vision of India's History, Visva-Bharati, 1962. 

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