A Hindu polemic against the pretamata
When the English gained ascendancy after the defeat of the marATha-s and the sikh-s they had gained military control over India but they knew well that their hold was still tenuous. Hence, in the period leading to the first war of independence in 1857 CE they realized that to control India they need to undermine the Hindu dharma and “storm the fortress of brahminism”. To achieve this they deployed all manner of white missionaries to plant churches and bring in the harvests for the religion of love. They also saw this as a civilizing mission in which the barbarism of the Hindu dharma was to be purified by the shavamata. In particular, they sent European writers to denigrate the dharma in native languages of India. This attack from the pretamata could have well poisoned the wells of dharma had not :1) Hindu polemicists spear-headed by brAhmaNa-s not launched a counter-attack on the pretamata. 2) The military mobilization taken place for the first war of independence. One of these polemics was composed by the by the proponent of the navanyAya school tarka-pa~nchAnana. Key to his approach, unlike that of several mahArAShTrI brAhmaNa-s, was to engage in a direct counter-attack on the preta himself and expose the jejuneness of the primary belief of the pretamata. In this he was similar to kumAra-kArttikeya ayyar, another brAhmaNa, who launched a similar counter-attack on the pretamata in lankA. This approach was critical because otherwise a Hindu could be lost in being defensive, thereby conceding an advantage to the enemy right away. It also directly exposed the foundational principle of the shavamata to be flaky and thereby showed it as not meriting consideration as a serious cult. He also realized the real intention of the English pretAcharin-s, like John Muir who challenged the dharma, and explicitly warned people that he was a hindu-dharmAtivairin. It is clear that his arrow had hit its mark because the pretAcharin-s declared: “If the enemies we shall by and by have to contend in India are not more formidable than this brahman, our task will be an easy one” – clearly a sense that they did not have an answer but only a boast. This smashing critique of the pretamata served as a model for later critiques by other brAhmaNa-s in Hindi composed in response to the missionary attempts at vArANasi.
tarka-pa~nchAnana’s devastating attack on the preta:
meri-nAmnI khR^iSTamAtA bahubhir yAjakair vR^itA |
ekadevAlaye .atiShThat ShoDaShAbda vayo .avadhi ||
The mother of the preta, named merI, was loved by many worshipers when she lived in a certain temple till the age of sixteen.
tatra garbhAhvitA bhUtvA janayAm Asa saMshayam |
svAmino nishchayaM vApi tataH so .acintayat sadA ||
Then having become pregnant, she gave rise to doubt in her husband, who, therefore, constantly bothered with the uncertainty of whether it was him or not.
svapne chintAkulatvena tena dR^iShTah samAgatah |
devadUto jagAdochchair mA chintA kriyatAm iti ||
Unhinged with worry, he dreamed of a godly messenger coming to him from heaven and told him “do not worry”.
IshvareNaiva dharmAtmA janito .asti striyAm tava |
na sha~NkA vyabhichArasya tasmAt kAryA tvayA naya ||
“By the lord, indeed, this holy one is conceived in your woman. Therefore, there should no suspicion of adultery in her actions by you.
evam svapnasya vR^ittAnte sarvatra prakaTi kR^ite |
svIya-doShApahArAya yAjakAs te .api saMmatAh ||
Thus, when the rumor of the dream was made known to all, to conceal their own offense those same worshipers [in the temple] colluded.
vichArayantu vidvAMso yuvatyAH puruSaiH saha |
vAso garbhasya hetuH syAt svapno vA syAt pramAtmakaH ||
The knowledgeable should think whether sleeping with men could be the cause of the fetus or whether the dream could be believable.
tayA chet svIya-doShasya gopanArthaM niveditam |
svapne dR^iShTam evam evaM tena kiM satyatA bhavet ||
Either she has announced [this rumor] to conceal her offense, or he actually saw what he did in the dream. Who would not the reality?
evaM sa jAra-jato .api yAjakair api saMstutaH |
dharmAtmA .aham iti j~nAtvA dharmaM vaktuM prachakrame ||
Thus, though he was a bastard, even the worshipers [at the temple] praised him. He thinking “I am a holy soul” he began to preach a religion.
kR^itva tad vAchi vishvAsam avichArya katha~nchana |
alpa-buddhi janAs tasya jAtAH sevA-parAyanAH ||
Placing belief in his words, hardly giving thought to anything, dim-witted people became his flock and servile followers.
svIya-doShAchChAdanArtham Uchur adbhUtacheShTitam |
tathA tan mAyayA te .api mohitA hata-buddhayaH ||
The worshipers [from the temple] hide their own offense claimed miracles for him. Thus they too deluded by their own falsehoods became deprived of sense.
Ishvaro .ayam iti granthe varNanAm chakrur adbhutAm |
evaM krameNa dharmasya prachAro janito bhuvi ||
In their book they made the tall claim: “This [i.e. the preta] is the lord”. Thus was this cult was publicized over the earth!
With the direct attack on the preta tarka-pa~nchAnana had put back the ball in the court of the enemies and had exposed the chicanery at the heart of the preta cult.
Further tarka-pa~nchAnana also launches a criticism of the way the pretasAdhaka-s earn their converts:
kevalaM dhUrta-pR^iShtAnAm mAyAjAle patan janaH |
madya-mAmsAdi-lobhena pR^iShtA-kanyAdirUpataH ||
Only a person falling in the web of delusion woven by roguish pretAcharin priests, driven by the greed for liquor, meat or the beauty of the daughters of pretAcharin priests and the like,
mohito bhoga-lAbhechChur avichArya svakaM mataM|
khR^iSTa-dharmasya doShaM vA nAvekShya khR^iSTako bhavet ||
One who is deluded by the urge for acquiring pleasures, who has not studied and contemplated his own religion nor looked at the flaws of Isaism, would become an Isaist.
These keen criticisms raised by tarkapa~nchAnana are strikingly consonant with the criticisms of the great yavana polemicist Celsus suggesting that the heathens have had a rather similar vision of the preta-mata over great distances in space and time. Many of tarkapa~nchAnana’s criticisms of people falling to the moha of the pretamata are valid even today: how often one sees Hindus becoming shavasAdhaka-s for imbibing mada and consuming mAMsa in the saMgha of the mlechCha-s. Likewise, one also encounters Hindus falling to the delusions of the pretamata in order to consort fair-skinned strI-s. Indeed these Hindus turn out to be those who have failed to study the dharma and look into the lunacy of the West Asian cult. If we had truly regained our freedom this work of tarkapa~nchAnana would be published in full and taught as part of our history of the struggle against the attacks we faced. Unfortunately, it is not easy at all to get a full copy of his work in bhArata today.