Douglas47
Hi everyone.

I am very interested in the history of India, and especially the early first century.  Please forgive my ignorance in my understanding of your country.

If I understand correctly, the Brahmins taught the Vedas.  The Kshatriya would learn from them.  The Vaisya could hear the words of the Vedas on special holy days, but were not allowed to read them.

But the Sudra could neither read, nor hear the words of the Vedas.  And the untouchables (did you call them Asprushya?) could not even come near a Vedic ceremony.

My question is, did the Sudra have no religious practices at all?  If so, what did they believe, and how did they practice their beliefs?  Who taught them?  Where did they worship?

I read somewhere (on the internet) that the uneducated poor, and I'm guessing that in early first century this would be the Sudra, could not understand an abstract "God" that could not be seen.  So they were given idols.  The mind would be concentrated on the idol, and thus ascend to God.

Is this so?

Once again, pardon my ignorance.  I truly wish to learn.

Douglas

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JayaramV

 

Hi Douglas,

Very good questions. Thank you for you interest in the growth and development of Hinduism, which is a complex tradition, difficult to generalize. I will try to be brief in my answer and cover the important points. Hinduism has many sects such as Vedism or Brahmanism, Saivism, Vaishnavism, Tantrism, Smartaism and so on. In addition to these there are several teacher traditions, folk traditions and tribal traditions, whose influence are seen across the breadth of Hindu society. Then, encompassing all these is popular Hinduism or mainstream Hinduism, which is some kind of a hotchpotch, which is practiced by a vast majority of Hindus, who do not follow any particular sect or tradition but worship numerous popular gods and celebrate all festival of Hinduism in a traditional or non-traditional manner.  Of these numerous sects, caste is an important issue in Brahmanism, Vaishnavism and Smartaism where the Brahmana caste dominates noticeably.

 In the early phases of development of Hinduism, higher castes had access to the Vedas and the lower castes were denied even an opportunity to hear them. The Brahmanas maintained a strong hold on the ritual part and the Kshatriyas maintained some hold on the knowledge of the Upanishads. The Brahmanas worshipped fire and the Sun. The Kshatriyas worshipped Prajapati, Indra, Varuna, Mitra, who were reckoned Kshatriya gods. The knowledge of the Self originated in the Kshatriya circles and was occasionally taught to Brahmana students upon request. Then the Kshatriya clans disappeared gradually and the entire body of the Vedic knowledge became the sole property of the Brahmanas. They made sure that the knowledge stayed with them.

 They imposed caste restrictions upon the teaching of the Vedas mainly for two reasons: to prevent the corruption of the Vedas and to protect the ownership rights, upon which their livelihood depended. It is similar to the manner in which the phone companies and IT companies today keep fighting to protect their trademarks and inventions. Since there was no legal system to protect intellectual property rights in those times, they invoked fear and divine authority to keep people from acquiring the knowledge.

 Finally, the word Sudra is a very lose term. Whoever could not be classified as a Brahmana or a Kshatriya by profession and whose profession was not trade or commerce was put into this category. The result over 90% of the people in the subcontinent were Sudras, including several kings, high ranking officials, feudal lords, people who did not acknowledge the Vedas, atheists, foreign immigrants and so on. Then there were hundreds of tribes, village communities and local republics, who never submitted to the Brahmana's superiority. All these were also lumped together in this category. The classification of the Sudras was therefore a Vedic expediency, to distinguish the owners of a specific body of knowledge from the rest. The Brahmanas thrived if the local people and the kings respected their knowledge and authority. If not, they migrated to another place.

Now this 90% population practiced their faith in numerous ways. They followed folk or rural traditions, which involved worship of ancestors, trees, animals, serpents and village deities, even Vedic gods such as Vishnu, Siva, Kartikeya, Ganesa, Hanuman, saints and seers and so on. In course of time, these traditions morphed into what we call today popular Hinduism. This is also why today we do not have the traditional caste system of consisting of four principal castes. There are thousands of castes and their origin and true classification are difficult to determine.

Thanks

Jayaram V

Hinduwebsite.com 

 

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Douglas47
Thank you so much for your reply, Jayaram.  This clears up a lot of things in my mind.

I was in Allahabad in 2001 during the Maha Kumbha Mela and stayed for 28 days.  My yoga teacher's training was from the Himalayan Institute, and they owned a piece of land just outside Allahabad.  I was in admiration of the taxi drivers, who each had an altar on their dashboard which contained whatever deity they worshiped.  I'm guessing that as a taxi driver, you would want to pray to Ganesh, the remover of obstacles!!!

Thank you again,
Douglas
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JayaramV

Ganesha and Hanuman are very popular gods both in north and south. Their Images are kept in vehicles for protection and for good things to happen. Mahakumbh is a very large event. I read that a team from Harvard went there to study how such a large event was organized. If you have not attended it before, it would be overwhelming. I would be happy if you share your first impressions and your experience of it.

Jayaram V

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Douglas47
Hi Jayaram.

I kept a diary of sorts, and put it all in a 14-page MSWord file.  If you let me know how to send it to you, I would be most happy to share it with you.

I could also cut and paste it into this forum if you wish, but I don't know if it would be too long.
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JayaramV
Thanks for your response. I am sure you can post the information on the board, if you are comfortable with it. You can even divided it in to two or three chunks and post them in the same thread. If you have a problem, please let me know. I will send you a dropbox link or my email link.

Jayaram V
Hinduwebsite.com
                 
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