gavis.t.i, saramA – evolution and continuation from saMhita-s to itihAsa-s

The evolution of civilization and warfare in the Vedic period can be viewed through the use of ‘gavis.t.i’. Cattle raids were very prominent in r.g veda (see 1.36.8, 1.91.23, 5.63.5, 6.31.3, 10.147.2 etc). Some pray for success in gavis.t.i , while others simply use it in a simile or seem to describe it. marut-s are likened to heroes of gavis.t.i battles. Neighing of horses during fight for cattle is mentioned. The great indra kills kuyava in a gavis.t.i (though it is debatable whether this gavis.t.i stood for cattle-raid or more the generic meaning of war). The duo indrAgni is propitiated for support during gavis.t.i. The r.g vedic Arya-s were divided on the lines of their tribes. Each tribe was involved in an attempt to expand their area and increase resources. Warfare was very common. Cattle raiding seem to have been one of the most favorite forms of warfare.

It is to be noted that gavis.t.i means ‘searching/looking for cows’. The word was used in this sense as well. In r.g veda 6.47.20, garga bhAradvAja prays to br.haspati and indra to show him a path leading to civilization. The r.s.i was stranded in a desert and prays so that he could find cows (which were considered a sign of civilization – cows, being domesticated, would be present only in an inhabited region).

Cattle raids were becoming rare in subsequent periods (e.g. in taittiriiya saMhita, there is only one clear mention of gavis.t.i that we could find – The last vestiges of this practice in north india are found in the epics. Though, in the south even as late as sangam age (300 bce), cattle raids were popular.

mahAbhArata also mentions a cattle raid based battle at virAt.a (where arjuna laid to waste the vast kuru army single-handedly). The episode of vis’vAmitra trying to forcibly seize the cow of vas’is.t.ha seems to have an echo of gavis.t.i

With the advent of the historical janapada age, cattle raids had become history. In the early period, cattle were the main wealth of a tribe. Though agriculture was widespread, cattle formed the main wealth of the Arya-s – providing milk and their various other uses as draught animals for carts, to plough the land etc. But with the passage of time, sedentary lifestyle became the norm. Rather than just a tribe, geographical territory became the standard of the large janapadas. They had expanded from their initial phase of a nuclear tribe based units to become large kingdoms. Conquering an enemy territory brought with it the people, cattle and other resources. Borders of a janapada were guarded well and customs levies, entry passes etc. were the norm of the day as can be seen from arthas’Astra. On the other hand in early Vedic age, a tribe used to expand into new territories – conquered tribes must have been forced to move out and find new lands. The purAn.a-s remember an early period of such tribal movements – e.g. druhyu-s emigrated en-masse to the north.

By the time of magadha empire (under bimbisAra, ajAtas’atru etc.), gavis.t.i was not practiced in the north anymore. And it was not the practice in mauryan empire either. Thus, we have to place the age of the epics several centuries before mauryan era (based on the grand gavis.t.i mentioned in virAt.a battle of mahAbhArata) at the very latest. To place them in post-buddha era is not a sensible approach.

In the r.g veda, indra helps the heroes during gavis.t.i. When cows are lost, he helps in recovering them (refer to the saramA episode of r.g veda and br.haddevatA). The later usurper of indra’s supremacy, kr.s.n.a , is titled as gopAla perhaps to bestow this activity on him. In the epics, it is the son of indra (arjuna) who saves the cows from the clutches of kaurava-s. Another instance of direct vedic influence on epics is that of arjuna being helped by kr.s.n.a during the war. It reminds us of r.g veda 8.100.12 where indra entreats vis.n.u to help him defeat vr.tra. It is to be noted that indra addresses vis.n.u as his friend (sakhe vis.n.o). The story is also mentioned in br.haddevatA (6.121-124). The vedic duo of indra and vis.n.u are subsumed into the arjuna-vAsudeva pair of friends in mahAbhArata.

The saramA episode of r.g veda is elaborated in br.haddevatA (8.30-36). saramA was sent by indra to search for the cows stolen by the pan.i-s. saramA gave in to greed and drank the milk at pan.i-s’ place and on returning, lied to indra that she was not able to find the cows’ location. Getting enraged, indra kicked her upon which she vomited the milk. Then, she led indra to pan.i-s’ place. indra killed the asura-s and released the cows. This episode shows the ancient Arya belief about how food affected one’s character. Drinking the milk given by asura-s made saramA become disloyal to her master. When she was forced to vomit it, she came back to her senses. In mahAbhArata, when kr.s.n.a went as a dUta to the kaurava court, he refused to eat at duryodhana’s house (mahAbhArata 5.89. 18-32), it reminds us of the saramA story from br.haddevatA.

Thus, there is a continuation of traditions, myths and legends from vedic texts to the epics. The myths and legends evolve and take new forms with the evolution of civilization just as practices of warfare also evolved with time.

Expansionist Emperor – s’rii lalitAditya muktapiid.a of kAs’miira

We read about the great Hindu dynasties of Gupta, Maurya, Chalukya and Cola. We even read about Chandellas, the various other rajaputra dynasties, the rAs.t.rakUt.a-s and other dynasties. But the dynasties of kAs’miira are completely overlooked by our textbooks. Perhaps the greatest of all Hindu emperors who carried his flag to various foreign kingdoms was born in kAs’miira – the great lalitAditya muktapiid.a, the conqueror of Tibetans, Dards, Turks

kalhan.a writes about this conqueror:

 “rAjA s’rii lalitAdityaH sArvabhaumastatobhavat ! prAdes’ikes’vara sras.t.ur vidher buddher agocaraH !”

 (rAjataran~gin.ii 4-126)

Then, the king s’rii lalitAditya became the ruler of all lands. He was much beyond the range of the intellect of vidhi (fate) who creates the rulers of regions/provinces. (kalhan.a says that lalitAditya created his own destiny for he was beyond the purview of fate).

4.132 refers to his conquest of antarvedii (gan~gA-yamunA doab).

4.134-145 refer to his conquest of yas’ovarman’s kingdom. Yas’ovarman was the benefactor of bhavabhUti and vAkpati.

Verses 4.146-162 refer to his vijaya yAtra through the lands of kalin~ga, gaud.a, karn.At.a, dravid.a, kon~kan.a, dvArakA and avanti. (footnote 1)

From 4.163, kalhan.a describes lalitAditya’s foreign conquests. He entered the vast pathless regions of uttarApatha.

4.165 – the kAmboja-s (of Afghanistan, tajikistan) were deprived of their horses.

4.166 – tuhkhAra-s (turks of central asia) ran away from the battlefield leaving their horses and escaped to the mountain peaks

4.167 – He defeated mummuni (a lord of turks?) thrice in battlefield (triinvArAn samare jitvA)

4.168 – bhaut.t.a-s (Tibetans) also faced his strength in battle. kalhan.a writes that their cintA was not visible on their face due to their pale complexion (one’s face pales when in fear but the Tibetans being already pale complexioned people, such a reaction cannot be identified through skin color).

4.169 – the darada-s (of gilgit, swat and peshawar regions) were conquered.

4.172 – refers to the emperor’s sojourn through taklamakan desert.

4.173-174 – his conquest over a strii-rAjya in the region

4.175 – uttara kuru-s ran away in fear.

4.185 – he built a temple for nr.simha in striirAjya. Thus, it was not only a physical conquest but also resulted in spread of dharma.

4.367-368 – the warrior emperor’s death occurred during one of his expeditions into foreign lands. It was believed by some that he died due to snow fall in a country called AryAn.aka (iran). While some others believed that he entered the flames in order to save his prestige during some san~kat.a (san~kat.e kvApi dahanam prAviks.aditi kecana). In our opinion, it could be a combination of both. His army might have suffered losses due to untimely heavy snowfall. This might have put him in a precarious situation within the enemy territory. Rather than being captured, he must have preferred to end his life on his own terms. Even his death sings his glory. By the time of lalitAditya’s reign, iran was under the control of arab muslims. lalitAditya had taken the fight into enemy lands and even his ultimate demise seems to be a result of a freak snow storm.

This emperor burst through the passes of the northern mountains and humbled the tribes of tibet, central asia and afghanistan). He was a conqueror who never lost a single battle. As kalhan.a says he was an emperor who wrote his own destiny and what a destiny it turned out to be. Where the cola emperors sent expeditions to south east asia and established their over lordship there, the kAs’miira monarch did the same from tibet in the east to central asia and iran in the west, from xinjiang in north to the Indian subcontinent in the south.

His successors proved to be of much less mettle and his show of power was not consolidated. But lalitAditya must be promoted as one of those conquerors who can be an inspiration for every generation of Hindus.


footnote 1: While lalitAditya’s expedition up to gaud.a seems to be based on actual fact, the description of his vijaya yAtra (digvijaya) through south india, dvArakA and avanti seem to be poetic imagination. Or maybe kalhan.a wanted to bestow the digvijaya of entire indian subcontinent on his hero. One evidence proving the claim that it is a result of poetic imagination is this: kalhan.a says that karnAt.a was ruled by rat.t.A (rAs.t.rakUt.a-s). And he calls rat.t.A as a lady, a queen. Moreover, lalitAditya ruled during the early half of the eighth century CE. cAlukya-s were very powerful during this time and they dominated the region to the south of vindhya parvata. vikramAditya II is credited to have won every battle. But we need not doubt lalitAditya’s expedition to the north beyond the himAlaya. annals of tang refer to his conquest of tibet. al-berUnii (in chapter 76 of his book on india) states that kAsmiira people celebrated the anniversary of the victory of emperor muttai (muktapiid.a) over the turks on the second of caitra. Thus,  his invasion of foreign territories beyond the borders of the indian subcontinent is well established.

bhagavad giitA, evolution of bhAgavata system and buddha


The evolution of philosophical and theological ideas in ancient India is a matter of great interest and use to those who chalk out the movement of thought process in any pagan society.

On one hand, we have a direct lineage from the Vedic r.s.i-s to modern AcArya-s of various sampradAya-s. On the other hand, we have the s’raman.ic traditions which were given definite shape by Buddha ad mahAviira. Their ideas evolved further and have given rise to several shoots and branches as well.

We have to keep in mind that none of the sampradAya-s have grown in a vacuum. They have been constantly influenced by the other theologies and philosophies. The ancient Vaidika system has been influenced by the para-vedic worship systems involving mUrti pUjA, various local deities, bhAgavata system etc and has given rise to the present strand of hindu dharma over a period of several millennia.

Our current post is about the origin of bhAgavata sect’s impact on vaidika traditions as well as its subsequent effect on the nAstika philosophies. One common statement made by many so called ‘indologists’ is that giitA is a post-buddha innovation. Some enthusiasts go to the extent of stating that giitA is anti-varn.As’rama system as it opens the door of moks.a to everyone. Elst feels that the text supports the varn.As’rama system as ‘varn.asan~kara’ is considered as the main point of argument by both kr.s.n.a and arjuna. Some, like Aravindan, make much of the fact that krs.n.a had used only the word ‘san~kara’ and not ‘varn.a san~kara’ – thus, in their opinion, the bhagavAn was not enamored with varn.a divisions. Trouble arises when these people begin to use the so-called ‘anti-varn.a’ statements of the giitA as an evidence for giitA post dating buddha. Evidence in support of this low date of giitA is given as follows – the use of nirvAn.a in giitA and the supposedly more egalitarian approach of the giitA.

Let us analyze the two evidences – one by one:

  1. The use of ‘nirvAn.a’ means nothing. The word is found throughout mahAbhArata. The ‘mainstream Indologists’ are bound by the problem of trying to compress the vast vaidika and itihAsa-purAn.a literature into a short time frame. As such, they place the in 6th century BCE and thus, buddha is just a century away from the upanis.adic age. But the change in language is too vast between early and buddha’s pAli-prAkr.t-s. Moreover, these indologists tend to place mahAbhArata as post-buddha literature or at least a major portion of it is considered as post-buddha. But there is not a single mention of buddha or hisphilosophy anywhere in mahAbhArata text. The text seems to have been written down before the age of buddha. The only clear post-buddha references in mahAbhArata are the names of various tribes who invaded India after the time of buddha, cities from later date etc (e.g. name of Antioch) found in some of the verses. But the mention of tribes and cities of later period could have easily been the result of addition by copying scribes – they are simply found in the list of the countries/tribes/cities. These post-buddha items are found very rarely and mostly in lists. Whereas, the word ‘nirvAn.a’ is found throughout the mahAbhArata. The word is very much a part of the language of the text.  As’valAyana gr.hya sUtra (3-4-4) mentions both bhArata (24000 verses epic) and mahAbhArata (100000 verses ‘expanded’ epic). The sUtra literature predates buddha. Sethna has pointed out that the Sutra literature reflects the material culture of the Mature Harappan times. Also, they mention about the presence of a pole star – which gives the date of 3rd millennium BCE as established by RN Iyengar (see Thus, the sUtra literature predates buddha and we can place the mahAbhArata prior to buddha. Dharma (dhamma) was very much an essential part of the language of buddha and he had not coined the term. Rather, he had simply borrowed the term from vaidikas. Similarly, we can conclude that ‘nirvAn.a’ was another term which was borrowed by buddha (we place the origin of the term ‘nirvAn.a’ in the post-early upanis.adic period but before buddha’s arrival).


    The second ‘evidence’ is more a fantasy than evidence. We can even question whether buddha had a purely universal outlook. Elst seems to say otherwise (see Weber has opposed it as well (see ). Buddha had even stated that a buddha can be born only in brAhman.a or ks.atriya clans. A few statements about how anyone can attain nirvAn.a or moks.a do not make a person anti-varn.a. mahAbhArata has the famous story about dharmavyAdha wherein a butcher teaches the subtle truths about dharma to a brAhman.a. vyAsa himself was born to a fisherwoman. Vedic literature has a dAsiiputra (kavas.a ailUs.a) among its r.s.i-s. But it does not mean that varn.a system was opposed or discarded by these generations. There are s’Udra and pan~cama saints among the Tamil bhakti saints (AzhvAr-s and nAyanmAr-s) but these traditions were not anti-varn.a either. Rather, they simply accepted exceptional persons of the lower castes as venerable AcArya-s. Moreover, buddha was a staunch supporter of gender based differentiation and a huge supporter of patriarchal system (look at the eight garudhammas for the bhikkuni-s). In majjhima nikAya (bahudhatukasutta – see, buddha says that it is impossible for a woman to become a cakravartin, attain buddhahood, be the king of Gods, the king of death or brahmA. Thus, to paint buddha as an egalitarian modern liberal is certainly not correct.


In the ghat.a jAtaka, buddha claims that he was born as ghat.a pan.d.ita, a brother of vAsudeva. The jAtaka mentions ten brothers and a sister – an~janAdevii (ekAnAMs’A), vAsudeva, baladeva, candadeva (candra), suriyadeva (sUrya), aggideva (agni), varun.adeva (varun.a), ajjuna (arjuna), pajjuna (pradyumna), ghat.apand.ita (buddha’s previous birth) and an~kura (akrUra). The jAtaka also states that vAsudeva taught a vijja (vidyA) before his death. Thus, it is clear that buddha knew about a highly developed bhAgavata pantheon which included vAsudeva, his vyUha-s and also ekAnAMs’A. GiitA must have been popular by his time – which explains why he states that vAsudeva taught a vidyA. To claim giitA as a post-buddha Vedic reaction is unwarranted. GiitA clearly preceded buddha and it is not a vaidika but a bhAgavata-sAttvata text with clear sectarian marks which shall be seen below.

Bhagavad giitA, unlike the brahma sUtra-s, opens the door of moks.a to all castes and genders. GiitA is a bhAgavata text. Its sectarian orientation can be clearly seen from statements in 7.17, 7.19-20, 11.43, 18.62, 18.66 etc. where the exclusive worship of vAsudeva as well as the supremacy of vAsudeva are enunciated. The biija of bhAgavata dharma is found in nArAyan.iiya section of mahAbhArata. The development of sAttvata-bhAgavata dharma is seen in this section. The oldest upAkhyAna of this section is that of uparicaravasu (12.322-324). The story does not even mention the word vAsudeva. It calls vis.n.u by various names such as nArAyan.a, vis.n.u, hari etc. vAsudeva and his vyUha-s are not mentioned in this story. It is mentioned in the upAkhyAna (12.324) that there was a dispute between brAhman.a-s and the deva-s regarding the oblations to be used in yajn~a-s. brAhman.a-s maintained that only grains shall be offered in sacrifice whereas deva-s maintained that meat must be offered (pAn~carAtra system advocates use of pis.t.a pas’u in the place of animals for yajn~as – thus, the avoidance of animal sacrifice seems to have been an ancient innovation of bhAgavata tradition and it predated the advent of nAstika AcArya-s like mahAviira and buddha). uparicaravasu, a king who followed sAttvata dharma, was asked to mediate. Due to his partiality towards deva-s, he declared that meat must be offered in sacrifice. But the brAhman.a-s got angry and cursed him to fall into a deep pit. There, uparicaravasu prayed to nArAyan.a (only to nArAyan.a – beginning of ekanti dharma). It is stated that only purus.a hari (vis.n.u) was worshipped by the king by means of which he succeeded in attaining liberation from the curse and attained brahmaloka.

The succeeding chapters mention the various vyUha-s as well as vAsudeva. Thus, we can see that sAttvata tradition begun as exclusive worship of vis.n.u-nArAyan.a. It considered vis.n.u as the supreme deity, the paramAtman. Later, the vAsudeva cult was absorbed into this sect and vAsudeva was identified with vis.n.u (it is also possible that vAsudeva cult of yAdava-s was itself an evolution of vis.n.u worship where vAsudeva is a developed form of vis.n.u-nArAyan.a). But at this time, rudra worship had begun to gain popularity among the masses – pAs’upata mata was born. As a subversive method to co-opt and coalesce this path into their own system, bhAgavata-s used a form of hari-hara sAmyavAda but still keeping hari as the source of hara and thus, ultimately hari alone being the supreme being (though rudra was seen as an emanation of this supreme being). mahAbhArata (12.330.44-49) mention how nara-nArAyan.a and rudra fought each other in the aftermath of daks.ayajn~a. the verses show that they were in a stalemate – the s’Ula of rudra was wasted by nArAyan.a (it caused a mark on nArAyan.a’s chest and turned his hair green) while the paras’u hurled by nara was broken. nArAyan.a held the throat of rudra and his throat became blue as a consequence. In mahAbhArata (12.330.59), brahmA says that nArAyan.a created him as well as rudra (rudra was born from the anger of nArAyan.a). He entreats rudra to calm down. On hearing brahmA’s request, rudra calms down and begins to propitiate nArAyan.a. In mahAbhArata (12.330.64), nArAyan.a tells rudra that there is no difference between rudra and himself. Thus, a form of harihara sAmyavAda had begun here. But typical of any vais.n.ava literature, rudra is still shown as being born from vis.n.u and he also worships vis.n.u.

In mahAbhArata (12.337.59), the five major philosophical systems are identified as sAn~khya, yoga, pAn~carAtra, veda and pAs’upata. mahAbhArata (12.337.64-66) state that all these systems identify nArAyan.a alone as the supreme being and the sole being worthy of worship. It also states that there is no other being like nArAyan.a.

But ekAnAMs’A is not mentioned anywhere in the nArAyan.iiya section. She is first mentioned as a goddess and sister of vAsudeva in harivaMs’a where she is developed as a mighty devii on her own.

Thus, we can see three stages of bhAgavata dharma:

(a)    ekAnti dharma – where exclusive worship of nArAyan.a as the supreme being is the most important directive


(b)   caturvyUha system – a system of caturvyUha mUrti-s came up with vAsudeva, pradyumna, aniruddha and being the four vyUha-s


(c)    addition of ekAnAMs’A – ekAnAMs’A , the sister of vAsudeva. She is the bhAgavata adaption of vaidika lunar goddess, kuhU (new moon goddess)


Ghat.a jAtaka belongs to an age which is posterior to above three stages. Thus, by the time of buddha, the evolution of the above three stages of bhAgavata system was complete. nArAyan.iiya section of mahAbhArata belongs to the completion of second stage. But the upAkhyAna of uparicara vasu is older than the second stage. Bhagavad giitA belongs to the period of early second stage. ekAnti dharma is found in giitA. But caturvyUha system was not well developed yet. And ekAnAMs’a was non-existent.

On the basis of the above analysis, we conclude that giitA predated buddha. bhAgavata tradition begun as exclusive worship of vis.n.u and developed into a mighty philosophical system which freely borrowed from vedAnta and molded itself into an Astika tradition. Its greatest philosophical text, bhagavad giitA, attempted to bring about a synthesis between sAn~khya, yoga and vedAnta traditions with a definite sectarian theistic leaning towards vAsudeva-vis.n.u-nArAyan.a. The text was successful in achieving its goal and with its popularity came to be included as one of the three pillars of vedAnta – the prasthAnatrayii (other two being and brahma sutra-s).


S’veta tvaca rAks.asA-s (Portuguese) in Malabar, religious intolerance and treachery of Syrian Christians

The Syrian Christians had entered Kerala as refugees in the fourth century. They were given refuge and even recognition by the Hindu Rajas of Kerala. Tharisapalli Copper Plates (9th century) confer several rights and privileges to the Syrian Christians. This magnanimous conduct of the Hindus was rewarded with treachery. When the Portuguese visited Malabar (Gama being the first of the inhuman white rascals to set foot on Malabar), they were able to gain the allegiance of the Syrian Christians almost immediately. Kerala Pazhama and Manuel de Faria e Sousa mention this treachery.  KM Panikkar notes:

“they surrendered their privileges and authority to Portugal and undertook to conduct their affairs only in the name of the Portuguese King. The ancient records and insignia which the Chief possessed were also handed over to Gama. More than even this, they suggested to him that with their help he should conquer the Hindu Kingdoms and invited them to build a fortress for this purpose in Cranganore. This was the recompense which the Hindu Rajahs received for treating with liberality and kindness the Christians in their midst” (Malabar and the Portuguese, pg.185).

Add to this, the treachery of the Muslims troops of Vijayanagar in the Battle of Talikota, Hindus have enough reason to not employ either of these communities in their armed forces. Of course, Hindus have failed to learn from history time and again leading to more failures from same mistakes (look at how Haider Ali usurped the throne of Mysore from his Hindu sovereign much later).

The religious intolerance of Portuguese is well established by the high handed nature of Goan Inquisition and the way the Hindu populace of Goa was systematically destroyed and converted by this new variety of rAks.asA-s. King Joao III of Portugal wrote:

“the great concernment which lies upon Christian princes to look to matters of Faith and to employ its forces for its preservation makes me advise how sensible I am that not only in many parts of India under our subjection but even in our city of Goa, idols are worshipped, places in which our Faith may be more reasonable expected to flourish; and being well informed with how much liberty they celebrate their heathenish festivals, we command you to discover by diligent officers all the idols and to demolish and break them up In pieces where they are found, proclaiming severe punishments against anyone who dare to work, cast, make in sculpture, engrave, paint or bring to light any figure of idol in metal, brass, wood, plaster or any other matter, or bring them from other places; and against who publicly or privately celebrate any of their sports, keep by them any heathenish frankincense or assist and hide the Brahmins, the sworn enemies of the Christian profession… It is our pleasure that you punish them with the severity of the law without admitting any appeal or dispensation in the least.” (ibid, Pg 186-7)

– So much for the vaunted European/Christian human values.

For a century, the Portuguese tried to capture and subjugate the Malabar Kingdoms. But it ended with their pathetic exit and the victory of the SamUtiri (Zamorin of Kozhikode). Any serious Portuguese attempt to subjugate ended within 75 years of their landing at Kozhikode. With their defeat at Chaliyam in 1571, the Portuguese dream about Malabar was forced to remain a dream forever. But the Hindu Rajahs of Malabar had still not understood the danger of ‘pious treachery’. When Haider Ali and Tipu invaded Malabar, the local Moplah Muslims joined hands with the invading Mohammedan army. This was their behavior despite the fact that the Hindu Rajahs had always ensured that Muslims enjoyed absolute religious freedom in their territories. History has shown that the liberality of Hindu Kings was almost always compensated with treachery on the part of the Abrahamic religionists. Exceptional cases were just that – exceptions. The dangers of having such easily malleable troops in one’s army need not be emphasized. As late as 1947, its effect was seen. The Muslim troops of Kashmiri army in Muzaffarabad and Gilgit joined hands with the invading armies of Pakistan. Gilgit scouts had simply joined the invading forces and went on to capture more territories for the Islamic state and even came close to capturing Leh before they were forced to retreat by Indian army. Thus, the pattern of history is very similar – trusting the ekarAks.asa religionists with positions in the army has always led to disaster for Hindus. The question of the day is: have we learned our lesson or not? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be NO.

SamnyAsa is not the central point of Vaidika Dharma

For some reason, modern day Hindus are indulging in the tomfoolery of considering samnyAsa as the greatest stage of dharma. They even claim that it is the ‘most profound and exemplary invention’ (used by several so-called Hindu Right friends of mine) of Hindu dharma. These ‘modern Hindu scholars’ are of the opinion that samnyAsa is the central point, the very axis, of Hindu dharma.

The truth is somewhat different. The origin of As’rama system is an interesting study. Brahmacarya is the first and compulsory As’rama. Olivelle feels that initially the As’rama system was one where in the snAtaka (graduate from a Vaidika school) selected an As’rama for his life rather than the sequential life stages that we see now. Olivelle makes a very compulsive argument for this view. It appears to be true that a snAtaka had the choice to select an As’rama. But ancient Vaidika texts themselves seem to show that the selection of one As’rama need not be for life. One could indeed become a gr.hastha and then, a samnyAsin.

Br.hadAran.yaka (2.4 – prathama maitreyii brAhmana) shows that YAjn~avalkya had entered gr.hasthAs’rama and then, entered into samnyAsa. The chapter begins with the r.s.i declaring to Maitreyii (his wife) about his desire to renounce. He says that he will divide the property between Maitreyii and KAtyAyanii (his two wives) before taking to samnyAsa. Hence, we will stick to the traditional interpretation of the various As’ramas being sequential stages (at least since the time of late and early period) though some snAtakas might have taken to samnyAsa directly. Also, just because a few snAtakas selected samnyAsAs’rama immediately after their graduation, it does not mean that the AcAryas were in favor of such action. One must remember that Hindu society had given lot of freedom to the individuals. Buddha and MahAviira were allowed to preach against the Vaidika dharma. Their ideas were opposed philosophically. Similarly, while some people might have practiced taking to samnyAsa directly after their brahmacarya period, it was certainly not a favored practice among the ancient AcAryas.

That some people held that one can enter any of the three As’ramas after becoming a snAtaka is confirmed by Gautama Dharmasutra (3.1) – “tasyAs’ramavikalpam ekebruvate” (eke – some people). But the same text (3.36) states that there is only one valid As’rama as only gr.hastha stage is expressly mentioned by the Vedas (entire Vedic literature from Samhita to mentions the importance of procreation – thus, gr.hastha As’rama is “the As’rama”).  Similarly, Apastamba Dharma sutra (2-9-21-5) also states that there was a practice where one can choose the As’rama to be followed after becoming a snAtaka. Combining these statements with the legend from Br.hadAran.yaka mentioned above, we may come to a conclusion like this: a snAtaka was able to select any of the As’ramas. But it need not be for life; a gr.hastha may indeed decide to become a yati (ascetic) in his later life. Thus, some students jumped the intervening As’ramas directly to samnyAsa. But it does not mean that one cannot enter gr.hasthAs’rama and then, proceed towards samnyAsa.

All said, the ancient dharmAcAryas were very categorical in stating their preference for gr.hasthAs’rama against others.  Apastamba (2-9-24-1) says that a person achieves amr.tatva (immortality) through his offspring. This sentiment is as old as that of R.g Veda. RV (5-4-10) prays “O Agnii, may I attain immortality through my children”. Apastamba (2-9-24-8) cites PrajApati and confirms that only those who take to procreation of children among other duties are those who are supported by PrajApati. Those who do not follow these duties (thus, anyone who fails to procreate – which can be done only in gr.hasthAs’rama) become dust and get destroyed. TaittirIya (1-11) orders a snAtaka thus: “..prajAtantum mA vyavacchetsIH” – “do not cut off the line of progeny”

Thus, the most important duty of any Hindu is to enter gr.hasthAs’rama. Gr.hasthAs’rama is the central point of Hindu dharma (certainly not samnyAsa). Taking to samnyAsa without fulfilling one’s debt to his ancestors (pitr. r.n.a) is not advised by the ancient AcAryas. Undue importance to asceticism is a characteristic of S’raman.a traditions (Bauddha and Jaina) which is also reflected in Advaita worldview later on (e.g. as.t.Avakra giitA). Advaitins viewed the world as an illusion and as such, they decided to give more importance to world denying asceticism (which is an innovation and not supported by the ancient dharmasutra texts). It is to be remembered that advaita had indeed appropriated some bauddha ideas with its philosophy being a result of combination of Buddhist and upanis.adic ideas (see The opinion of the dharmasutra writers is crystal clear. They were not in favor of ascetic traditions being given undue prominence. They were very much against any step taken by a snAtaka to become a samnyAsin without entering the gr.hasthAs’rama.