The puruSha and the superorganism

yat puruṣaṃ vyadadhuḥ katidhā vyakalpayan |
mukhaṃ kimasya kau bāhū kā ūrū pādā ucyete ||
brāhmaṇo.asya mukhamāsīd bāhū rājanyaḥ kṛtaḥ |
ūrūtadasya yad vaiśyaḥ padbhyāṃ śūdro ajāyata ||

Recently the ecologists Wilson and Hoeldobler claimed that group selection and not kin selection was the major force in the origin of eusociality. Eusociality fascinates us because in many ways it parallels our own societies though we are not eusocial ourselves. So when W and H claimed that eusociality is more likely an outcome by group selection rather than kin selection (as the standard model posits), I was puzzled and wondered what its full implications were. In fact W and H go as far as to suggest that the genetic relatedness seen in ant and bee colonies is a consequence rather than cause of eusociality. They further mused that kin selection may actually be disruptive rather than favorable to the emergence of eusociality because it would result in the formation of kin cliques that would war against other such cliques and reduce cohesion. So eusociality is seen in terms of group selection with all organisms of the eusocial group working as a superorganism and it is the superorganism that propagates itself.

This group selection and the superorganism concepts got me wondering about the theoretical social system that describes such scenarios. Theoretically, genetic caste formation is central to origin of eusocial behavior. Such a theoretical scheme that was conceived for human society was the puruSha concept of the Hindus. The first great Indo-Aryan state in India was that of the pUrus, led by their dominant tribe the bhAratas. Upon founding their state they provide it with a constituition and a theoretical frame work which was first expressed in the great puruSha sUktaM (RV 10.90). This was expanded further by the authors of the dharma shAstra who built upon the concept. While the macranthropic puruSha motif is commonly used by Indo-Europeans and other bronze age civilizations, in India we encounter it as an unique social theory:

1) The great hymn describes the pUru state as a superorganism with the head made of the brAhmaNa, the hands with the kShatriya, the middle body by the vaishya and the feet by the shudra.

2) The four varNas (castes) which comprise the superorganism the puruSha are produced from a single “genetic blueprint” through differential “expression” or particular guNas (as elucidated in the bhR^igu smR^iti).

Thus one may posit that in deriving a social theory, the Indo-Aryans had actually converged on a formulation that in its ideal formed resembled a eusocial society derived through strong group cooperation. Kinship actually is hardly mentioned in the descriptions of the puruSha. This I find pretty remarkable- almost as though given a chance we would lapse into a eusocial condition. I find the implications of this pretty interesting in terms of the origin of eusociality.

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