Some meanderings on early medieval history from the view point of nAstika compositions

A image of the goddess vajreshvarI from a Dilwara temple built by a jaina banker-businessman of the chAlukya period later embellished by bhAmA sAH

This epistle is a brief discussion on the socio-political developments in early medieval India emerging from philological comparisons between jaina sources, other nAstika material and Astika sources. To give some background we point to some jaina and other nAstika narratives, some of which were posted on these pages such as:
1) A tale from the samarAichcha kahA
2) Some anti-Astika tales of the jaina-s
3) dharmakIrti’s anti-Astika polemics
4) A narrative from the ma~njushrIya mUlakalpa
5) To the above we may also add the famous novel on the hero varA~Nga written by the naked jaina jaTAsiMhanandin (those unfamiliar with it can easily find the plot online)

These tales come from a time when the Astika deva-dharma was resurgent – it had evolved a strategy that no longer depended on royal patronage. Rather royalty needed to adopt some form of the Astika deva-dharma for its ultimate legitimacy. On the philosophical front despite the great ingenuity and sophistication of both the clothed and naked nAstika-s, they were again on the back-foot with respect the Astika counter-polemics. No longer were the Astika-s limited by the confines and pitfalls of the prAjApatya tradition of the veda – their deva-dharma had evolved new strategies that spanned a wide spectrum of thought suitable for a wide range of human proclivities in religiosity. These included the resurgent mImAMsaka-s, rising vedAntin-s and the great waves of sectarian traditions, starting with the newer versions of the shaiva, vaiShNava and kaumAra mata-s that had already swept across jaMbudvIpa and beyond, spawning the tantra-age. Under these circumstances the jaina-s and bauddha-s adapted differently. The former were simply unable to break the patronage model, which heavily depended on the third varNa. Yet they longed for royal patronage – occasionally they did get it (e.g. chAlukya emperor pulakeshin-II’s wife) but they had to be content sharing it with the dominant Astika-s and evolving mantrayAna bauddha-s, that too typically receiving only the smaller share.

● A key motif running through a large body of the jaina texts is the merchant-hero – the shreShThin – a banker and merchant (the pan-Indian surname, Neo-Indo-Aryan: seTh, seThI, sheTTi[ar], is an attestation of their spread throughout the subcontinent). In the jaina lore he is typically a devote lay jaina on the path to jaina perfection that he would attain later in his life. He has come a long way from his precursor the 3rd varNa of the veda. In the older layers therein, the 3rd varNa was much more the general cattle/land-owning laity than specifically the merchant – cognates of the Iranian vAstryo-fshuyant. While having adhikAra to vaidika rituals and serving as yajamAna-s, they were not exactly part of the Indo-Aryan elite circles or aristocracy comprised of brAhmaNa-s and kShatriya-s. Only few among them contributed to vaidika compositions (albeit some important ones, e.g. vatsapri and bhAlandana). However, by the time the Indo-Aryans had settled in India they were probably socially dominant in urban localities, especially by way of channelizing production by the service castes (e.g. maNikAra, rajjusarja, takShaka, rajayitrI, etc., mentioned in the yajurveda; today often included in the OBC category of the Indian reservation system). Their trade systems appear to have been subservient to the protection and organization offered by the mobile and militarily dominant trans-regional 1st and 2nd varNa-s – a phenomenon that probably ensured the dominance of the Indo-Aryan languages in the sindhu-sarasvati-valley system of cities and towns. Whatever the case, by the so called second urbanization of the India the vaishya-s had expanded their role beyond the old pastoralist-agrarian economy and were now part of a booming trade system that not only spanned the subcontinent of jaMbudvipa but spread beyond via both the east and the west coasts. Thus, they were in possession of a new-found status as financial elites, in competition with the old Indo-Aryan elite. Indeed, their early active participation in the veda-virodhaka traditions such as jaina and bauddha might have represented their attempt at coopting alternative religious identities, specifically to rival the two old Indo-Aryan elite varNa-s.

However, given that the founders in both cases were kShatriya-s, and that both cults drew Brahminical participation, meant that, to a degree, there was still the remnant of the “old order” despite the occasional protestations within these heterodox traditions. Examination of the older sthaviravAda traditions shows that the early bauddha did not extensively perform classical Indo-Aryan rituals. For instance, we do not find specific homa vidhAna-s or importance attached to homa-s. This perhaps represents the phase when, despite the presence of the first two varNa-s in high positions, the praxis of bauddha-mata was still catered primarily to groups not deeply embedded in the old ritual performance. But with the rise of bauddha brAhmaNa-s and the Sanskritization of the bauddha dharma, homa rites and mantra practice became increasingly important in the mahAyAna and subsequent phases of bauddha tradition. Thus, bauddha fell more in line with the Astika tradition. Consequently, it started competing for the same niches as the Astika traditions. However, in contrast, the jaina-s appear to have stuck with the vaishya patronage and increasingly coopted them as a vehicle for their alternative identity. Both the bauddha-s and Astika-s in their early medieval formulations also valued the vaNij vaishya-s and accorded them a respectable position. For example, in the case of Astika-s we see the respectable depictions of vaishya-s as early as the pa~nchatantra itself and this continues subsequently in the early medieval period like in daNdin’s dashakumAra-charita. However, unlike in the jaina tradition, vaishya-s were rarely, if ever, cast as the primary heroes. Thus, the high incidence of vaishya heroes in their tradition is a departure from what is seen in the Astika or bauddha traditions of the same time. Not surprisingly, even today the jaina tradition is still primarily associated with the tradesmen caste.

● As a consequence of the above situation jaina lore tells us much more about the ways of the vaishya-s than any other Indian tradition. One theme that repeatedly emerges in the jaina tales is the attack by predatory forest tribesmen on traveling vaNij-s (merchants) on business trips as well as their settlements. For example, a central event in the varA~nga-charita is the conflict between the pulinda-s and the shreShTin-s. Here a band of 3-4000 pulinda-s attack the caravan of the merchant chief sAgaravR^iddhi and were close to completing the plunder of his goods, when the jaina hero of tale, varA~Nga enters the fray and kills the pulinda chief and his son. Similarly, other tales (see those linked above) mention attacks by shabara-s and in yet other places they are called dasyu-s. In the anti-astika tale of hariSheNa we hear of the attack and arson by predatory tribesmen on a town populated by vaishya-s in Gujarat. Thus, attacks on and arson of both mobile caravans and frontier towns by plundering tribesmen often organized in to fairly large groups appears to be an persistent feature of the jaina experience.

● The jaina tradition was already moving away from the absolute ahiMsa of tIrthaMkara mahAvIra and violent retribution towards rivals of the jina-mata or violent action towards enemies of the mata by jaina-s was becoming acceptable. From their own sources we hear that haribhadra sUri had his bauddha rivals jump into cauldrons of boiling oil and die as revenge to the bauddha killing nephews after defeat in debate. We also hear jaina sources themselves of the naked jaina akala~Nka physically thrashing his bauddha rival after defeating him in a debate. Likewise, we hear in the prabandha-koSha that the jaina tAntrika mahendra used his abhichAra to behead the brAhmaNa administrators of pATalIputra and force them to convert to the jina-mata. However, as is typical of the nAstika-s, when there is real danger they are quick to fall in line in collaborating with their Astika rivals: The 13th chapter of the bhadrabAhu-saMhitA attributed to the legendary bhadrabAhu a contemporary of chANakya but composed much later calls upon jaina ritualists to operate in conjunction with brAhmaNa-s to perform apotropaic and prognostic rites before military operations [Footnote 1]. Given this backdrop, it is not surprising that with much higher stakes at hand, the jaina vaNij were pragmatic in their response to the above-described depredations and formed private armies to protect their caravans. This is indeed the central theme in the story of varA~Nga where the vaNij private army is overwhelmed by the marauding force of pulinda-s before the jaina hero varA~Nga arrives to shore up the former and slaughter the pulinda-s. Some jaina-s have made the bold claim that certain local shrines of mailAra (i.e. khaNDobA) near the gigantic monolithic monument of the nagna in the karNATa country are actually vIrakal-s or commemorative shrines of a sword-wielding jaina fighter from such a private army who died while trying to save vaNij caravans from predators. Indeed, in the shvetAMbara polemical literature we hear of a temple ritualist jaina of the vaishya caste named padmaprabha in the court of pR^ithivirAja ChAhamAna. This jaina is said to have been a good wrestler and a warrior. Just on the eve the Islamic assault on the ChAhamAna-s another rival ascetic shvetAMbara jaina, who was opposed to the temple ritualist jaina-s, had padmaprabha excommunicated from the court. The loss of such merchant warriors could have contributed among other things to the outcome of the battle with the Mohammedans that followed.

But this tradition was not lost in the rAjput lands especially among the war-like haldiyA-s a guild of jaina banker-businessmen of the khaNDelvAl vaNij clan. Indeed, the jaina vaNij experience with private armies and warfare was to have a crucial role in Hindu history in the form of two figures from Mewar bhAmA sAH, friend of mahArANA pratApa during the Jihad of the tyrant Akbar and minister dayAl sAH during the Jihads of tyrant Awrangzeb. bhAmA sAH and his brother tArAchand were sons of a vaishya businessman who had served the valiant mahArAnA sangA. They fought with their vaishya private forces alongside pratApa siMha and organized the traders to join the Hindu struggle against the the army of Islam. Later, after pratApa siMha’s defeat in great battle of Haldighati (1576 CE), they retreated and hatched a plan to help the rAnA revive his struggle. Even as they retreated the vaishya brothers and their sons made 5-6 sorties on the Mogol forces to fight off their attempts to encircle pratApa siMha. They stopped the renovation of the large temple to the first tIrtha~Nkara at Dilwara and diverted the money from this venture and their personal finances from their business to reorganize their private vaishya army numbering several thousand men. They then launched a series of mobile cavalry attacks on the two ghazi-s Shihab-ad-din and Qutb-ad-din who were appointed by Akbar in Malwa. After constant fighting for about two years they either killed or deposed (the records are uncertain) the two jihadists and captured their hoard of Akbari gold coins amounting to 2.5 million rupees. This they gave to the mahArANa along with horses bought from their own wealth as well as their own contributions of personal wealth. This allowed pratApa siMha and his son amara siMha to continue their struggle against Akbar and Jahangir. bhAmA sAH also helped organize the finances of the Mewar kingdom and for these services he was raised to prime minister under pratApa siMha and amara siMha.

In the 1600s, rANa rAja siMha revived the martial spirit of his ancestors like hammIra, kumbha and pratapa to fight against the Islamic yoke. Legend has it that the conflict was precipitated with a kShatriya woman, whom Awrangzeb had demanded in marriage for a Mogol, having sent a message that for a kShatriya woman to mate with a monkey-faced Mohammedan is like having a swan mate with a stork. rAja siMha decided to intervene seeing this as a moment when the honor of the Hindus was in utmost danger from the Mohammedans. This was followed by further events that Awrangzeb assembled a mighty force to attack Mewar. Importantly, the death of Chatrapati shivAjI in mahArAShTra gave Awrangzeb the much needed breather to concentrate his entire force against Mewar. He called all his sons to join the effort along with the veteran jihadi Dilir Khan who had killed shivAjI’s kAyastha general at purAMdara to reduce shivAjI to a surrender. He was also joined by an artillery brigade of Portuguese Christian allies who hoped to wage holy war on the infidels (note the mlechCha-marUnmattAbhisaMdhi). Several fierce encounters took place around 1680-81 CE. In spring of 1681 CE, even as Awrangzeb was besieging Chittor with his sons, sUryadAs (sawaldAs) descendant of the valiant rAya jayamalla (rai jaimal, who fought tyrant Akbar during his invasion of Chittor) swiftly attacked the Mogol rear. Awrangzeb fearing sandwiching between two rAjpUt forces retreated dispatching the Rohillas to attack sUryadas. He was joined by the forces of durgAdas and together they slaughtered the Rohillas. In the mean time to relieve the pressure of the Mogol attack, the rANa’s son bhIma siMha launched an invasion of Mogol-held Gujarat and in course of the campaign slew several Mullahs and demolished 30 Masjids. Another counter-attack was launched by the jaina dayAl sAH; he was a financial adviser of the rANa but deployed his private vaishya army, which he had used to protect his business caravans. He launched a ruthless attack on the Moslem forces in Malwa reaching Ujjain and gave them a taste of their own medicine. In his great sweep, the Mohammedans in the garrisons at Sarangpur, Dewas, Mandu, Chanderi and Ujjain were systematically slaughtered to man and all their settlements were burnt down, civilians included. He is said to have converted captured mullahs to Hindus and burnt all copies of the Qoran that fell into his hands. He too like his predecessors captured the Mogol treasury at Mandu and gave it to the rANa to finance his war against the Mogols.

Thus, at critical junctures, the vaishya army of the jaina-s played an important role in the defense of the dharma. It is said that the shvetAMbara Acharya of bhAmA sAH even told pratApa siMha that it was important they stand together in the fight so that the veda and jina dharma might be saved. In this they differed from the sthaviravAdin bauddha-s who betrayed the Hindu defenses to the Mohammedans on multiple occasions and also the vajrayAna bauddha-s. The latter initially boasted that the mantra-powers of their siddha lIlAvajra would destroy the Mohammedans but then came running to the Astika-s for help even as nAlandA and jagaddala were going up in smoke.

● The break down of the gupta unification and the emergence of the tripartite struggle between northern (e.g. harShavardhana), central (e.g. pulaskeshin) and southern (e.g. pallava-s) power centers appears to have allowed the expansion of predatory tribal activity in the interstitial zones. The jaina experience regarding the predatory attacks of tribal groups is likely to be genuine because Astika sources from the same time period also allude to such attacks albeit at a much lower frequency. For example, we encounter such predatory tribesmen in the great novel of daNDin (dasha-kumAra-charita) or the works of vAkpati-rAja from the neo-maurya yashovarman’s court. It should also be noted that these predatory activities were not solely the domain of tribals as they also drew renegades from Arya society as indicated by the feral brAhmaNa in daNDin’s novel. Indeed, the tradition of such feral brAhmaNa-s continued into the Islamic period especially in mahArAShTra, parts of which became an interstitial zone then. We have the well-known case of the marAThI brAhmaNa brigand murAri rAu who alternately worked as a private thief or lent his services to Moslem marauders. Among his many predatory actions was the raid on Ahobilam, where he stole the golden and gem-studded idol of nR^isiMha and sold it to the Qutb at Golconda. He also joined various tribal brigands and laMbADI-s after the fall of Hampi to loot the city. This predatory tendency persisted among certain marAThI brAhmaNa-s down to the marATha period, where we may mention the example of kR^iShNa rAu khATAv. He was an educated brAhmaNa who had even written a commentary on pA~ncharAtrika worship of viShNu in the various vaiShNava bhuvanAdhvan-s but upon the murder of shaMbhAjI by Awrangzeb he set himself up as a brigand. He soon drew the attention of the Mogols, who offered him recognition and weaponry as a captain in their ranks, and he expanded his extortion and plundering operations while giving the Mogols a cut from his spoils. After the marAThA-s defeated the Mogols and expelled them from mahArAShTra he again set himself up as an independent brigand with a band of hill-tribe assistants. Finally, Chatrapati shAhu in his bid to restore law and order in mahArAShTra had him arrested in major military operation and quietly assassinated (since he was a brAhmaNa) while in custody.

● A closer examination of the Astika sources also points to a notable difference with respect to the vaishya-centric jaina traditions on the matter of Arya-tribal relationships. As we have noted before, the Arya-s had long and varied interactions with the proto-Indian tribals after their invasion and settlement of India. While there were episodes of antagonism over time they evolved a symbiotic relationship as illustrated by the vaidika injunction granting the tribal chieftain (the niShada sthapati) rights to serve as a yajamAna in the shrauta ritual. The epics also reflect this symbiotic relationship in the tales of guha the ally of rAmachandra aikShvAkava and nala the nishAda chieftain. Thus, the Astika-s were clearly moving towards a gradual accommodation and partial Aryanization of the tribal groups. In period under discussion here this movement seems to have been expanded further, even as the newer forms of the Astika tradition represented by the smArta and sectarian tAntrika mantra-mArga-s started further accommodation and incorporation of tribal groups into the greater Hindu system. For example, in the famous smArta-kaula paurANika narrative, the lalitopAkhyAna we hear of how a predatory tribal chief and his wife in the Tamil country were given rights to deployment of vaidika mantra-s and domesticated as a honorary kShatriya who would protect the deva-dharma and urban travelers. This is consistent with a long history of “work” among tribal groups of shaiva mantra-mArga practitioners – e.g. one might consider the story of the siddha vidyAnandanAtha, son of the muni shIlAchiti, an early teacher of the kAlI-kula tradition, who lived among the shabhara-s at the shaiva-pITha of shrIshaila in the andhra country. The saiddhAntika shaiva-s also had a program for integration of the avarNa castes and tribesmensinto their framework. Thus, unlike the jaina-s, the Astika followed a subtle social program of integration of the predatory tribal groups to the extant possible rather than merely engaging in conflict with them. Likewise, the bauddha-s also followed their suit and appear to have made some efforts for incorporating tribal groups. The bauddha-s even appear to have invented two tantrika deities parNa-shAbarI and jA~NgulI both of whom are “forest goddesses” who appear to have been the focus of this interaction with the tribal groups.

This rapprochement of tribal groups by the Astika-s again came to help them in their struggle against the army of Islam. Whereas vIra hammIra was still putting down predatory bhilla tribesmen, mahArANa pratapa siMha had incorporated them as auxiliaries in his army and they played a key role in reconquering lost land in the battles following Haldighati.

● Thus, the alignment with the wealth-generating vanij class, raising of private armies by the vaNij-s, and instances of tactical alliance with the Astika-s resulted in jaina-s surviving the Islamic hurricane, whereas the bauddha-s died out. However, even before the invasion of the Indic heartlands by the Mohammedans, the jaina-s were facing an issue of relevance. The metaphors and the ritual systems of the rising mantra-marga Astika-s in the tantra-age were so gripping to the Indian mind and beyond that the old appeal of the two major nAstika systems to the masses began to decline. Indeed, the bauddha-s adapted to this evolving situation by creating their own parallel system based on shaiva and other Astika mantra-marga systems culminating in their mantrayAna system. In this ritually rejuvenated form the bauddha-mata acquired great following particularly in central and east Asia among Turks, Tibetans, Chinese, Mongols, Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Austronesians. The jaina-s too started widely adopting imitations of the Astika mantra-marga. In both cases they justified these innovations by presenting the founders their respective cults, the shAkhya-siMha and the mahAvIra, as great mantra-magicians who had beaten their brAhmaNa and AjIvIka (like the founder of that cult, maskarin goshAla) rivals. Thus, even though their middle-period jaina Acharya-s (e.g. haribhadra sUri) wrote scurrilous tracts on Astika gods and heroes their successors ended up producing mantra manuals to the imitations of those very Astika deities they had impugned.

The old Indo-Aryan god indra depicted in a Dilwara jaina temple

In general, like the early bauddha-s, the early jaina-s tried not to upset the ground situation of the old Indo-Aryan religion by accepting the great god indra as the supreme leader of the pantheon, the good upholder of dharma, and coopting him as validating the jaina ford-makers and providing succor to the jina-mata. However, they attacked the chief deities of the sectarian system like rudra, skanda and viShNu as also brahmA of prAjApatya vaidika-s or tried to downgrade them as mere yakSha-s. But with the resurgence of Astika religion among the masses, they first they allowed imitations of Astika deities as shAsana-devatA-s (e.g. padmAvatI taken straight from the Astika pantheon) who protected the teachings of various ford-makers. Once they had opened the doors for the shAsana devatA-s they could no longer close it. Fundamentally, the Astika divinities in their original or imitated forms were more appealing to both the masses and a notable subset of the intellectuals than the naked ford-makers as they touched truly primordial chords in the human religious instinct. Soon many deities of the shaiva kaula-mantramArga pantheon like chakreshvarI, vajreshvarI, pratya~NgirA and the like made their entry with even notable jaina Acharya-s composing stotra-s to them and worshiping their yantra-s. They started taking a prominent place in jaina temples and among the laity they started displacing the prime position of the tirthaMkara-s.

Not surprisingly, this resulted in a resentment among the jaina fundamentalists especially in their naked sect. Textual justifications and down-gradations of the shAsana-devatA-s were suggested. Importantly, by this period the army of Islam had defeated the Hindu resistance over large tracts of northern India, demolishing Astika and jaina temples alike and placing severe restrictions on both religions. With the temple tradition dying out both jaina-s and Astika-s faced a great crisis in observing their religion. Many of the Astika-s retreated into a mental cocoon of taking solace in aniconic religion, bhakti cults, or an amalgam of the two, stating that the brahman is not ultimately limited by physical form and one does not need icons consecrated according the mantra-mArga traditions. Consequently, such anodynes opened the way for even more half-baked and ill-conceived constructs such as the uShnIShamoha in the pa~nchanada and satnAmI. Similar effects were also felt on the jaina-s. Ironically, the jaina fundamentalists saw the destruction of the temple religion as reaffirming their own opposition to it. As a result, a few started supporting Mohammedans against Astika-s and their own temple worshipers. One may in this context note the ironic case of the jaina Acharya who is supposed to have helped the Ghazi Ahmed Shah, the vandal of karNAvatI (Gujarat), by performing mantra counter-attacks on his behalf when kaula shaiva-s are supposed to have caused the Sultan to get possessed by a yoginI prayoga. Other jaina-s condemned the worship of any deity other than the ford-makers. While such a streak was always prominent in the digaMbara sect, the shvetAMbara-s also started adopting such views with the emergence of the anti-iconic sthAnakavAsin-s and the terapanthin-s thereafter. Here again, the connection with the vaNij networks that spread throughout the subcontinent resulted the wide dispersion of these “Protestant” sthAnakavAsin-type anti-iconic ideas through the jaina community. Thus, many of them were again pulled away from their ancestral deva-dharma roots closer to our times [Footnote 2].

Footnote 1: This prolonged contact with jaina-s is evidenced in the ways of a group of degenerate atharvavedin-s from Rajasthan known as the dAdhIcha brAhmaNa-s. From their tradition they were originally followers of the paippalAda branch of the AV tradition. However, unlike their Gujarati cousins (who recite and follow the AV-vulgate) they appear to have entirely lost the saMhitA. They are supposed to have performed apotropaic rituals for the rAjpUt rulers in the Marwad region. They are strict vegetarians who are supposed to have instituted a completely animal-free ritual abjuring animal sacrifices of the shrauta type or those specific to AV tradition. This animal-free ritual is emphasized in their origin mythology rather in contrast to their paippalAda affiliation – the AV having several distinctive animal sacrifices.

Footnote 2: Some years ago in the madhyama-mlechChavarSha the idol-worshiping shvetAMbara jaina-s were organizing a temple ritual to the goddess sarasvatI (or they might say shrutAdevI) in which each participant was given an idol of sarasvatI and the ritualist led them through the worship of their personal idol. This attracted much criticism from the anti-iconic jaina-s who felt these were not jaina-s at all and emphasized their “corruption” by Astika-s.

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