Indus Valley Civilisation - Pride of Indigenous Dalits


 During earlier colonial times it was thought that the Aryans 'civilised' India, but this has long since proved to be wrong. Indus Valley culture which started with village settlements some 8000 BCE flourished between 2300 to 1700 BCE over nearly a million square kilometers. Some of the achievements that belong to this civilisation are city planning, pictographic script, standardised weights and measures, seals, pottery, ornaments, cultic artwork, secular artwork, baths and drainage system and much more. Scholar now believe that there is even evidence of silk manufacture at HarappaDalits can be justly proud of their forefather's and foremother's achievements.

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Valmik the Unbowed


 Valmik- Bandit or Divine Poet?

According to later (but not earlier) Hindu texts Valmik was a reformed bandit.

Valmiki community, however, reveres him as the divinised poet-saint who composed two of the most important sacred texts of India: Valmiki Ramayana and the Yogavisistha Ramayana. The above controversy has been detailed in a very scholarly manner by the late Professor Juila Leslie of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Professor Leslie's findings are contained in her book (See Source below). To date no one has refuted this work which establishes Shri Guru Bhagwan Valmik Ji's credentials as the adi-kavi, fighter for justice and possibly the first anti-caste eco-warrior who opposed Aryan expansion into the indigenous Indian adivasi territory. In one of our future articles we will be looking at true story of Ramayana.

Source: Authority and Meaning in Indian Religions - Hinduism and the Case of  Valmiki by Julia Leslie, published by Ashgate Publishing Limited, UK 2003. 

Indeginous Indian Tribal Society


Indian Tribal Society - the building blocks of Indian society

Indigenous Indian or adivasi tribal clans were the original building blocks of the castes or caste-clusters. Every aspect of the caste system, with the obvious exceptions of absence of hierarchy and of sexual inequality is found in the true tribal society.

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Race, Racism and Caste

It has been claimed e.g. in Dalit Voice journal that Dalits (Untouchables) are the Blacks of India. There is an element of truth in this, but this is not the whole truth.

Race has been discredited as a scientific concept and physical features  were only one factor in the evolution of the caste system. Caste has many components out of which skin colour is but one and it can be misleading one at times, as black Brahmins and fair skinned untouchables do exist and not in small numbers either. Generally speaking most people from the same area in India tend to have similar physical features. Taking race as the major factor in the evolution of the caste system fails to answer the question of why racism in Africa and Aryanisation/Brahminisation in India should have led to two different types of social systems although the exploitative nature of the two was the same. Africa had also produced its own version of the caste system although not on the same scale as in India. Exclusively focusing on 'race' also leads to the denial of class as a factor in caste formation. The common feature between racism and casteism is that the first one is the product of 19th and 20th century Western colonialism and the second one being the product of internal colonisation of India.

These 2 theoretical conceptual issues came up in practice in Durban South Africa in 2001 at WCAR when as a tactical measure, the Indian Government claimed that caste could not be equated to race. This was countered by Dalit activists by raising the slogan "Caste is Racism and Worse".

For differences between caste and race see video by Prof Rachel McDermott of Harvard.

See the blog on caste and race and on Indian Government sponsored anthropologists. See also Tehelka news item on WCAR controversy and the Rafto Prize, and Dag Erik Berg's academic paper on WCAR .


      Siddha Gorakh Nath

Image by V&A

Tribals, Ordinary Folk and Women and not any god as the originators of Ayurveda

The Vedas refer to mainly elite priestly ritualistic charms, amulets and incantations and for mainly demon caused diseases.It has been suggested that Buddhist monastic medicine is the missing link between the charms and mantras of the Vedas and the later classical Ayurvedic texts.

Rather it would be more correct to say that the link between the herbal medicine practiced by ordinary people and that of the Buddhist medicine has not yet been explored. After all, neem, tulsi, aloe vera, pipal and many other plants and trees have always been well known to the common folk. The earliest roots and herbs were found by women, another missing area of research. This was the position in the tribal society all over the world as it was gardening which led to non plough and later plough based patriarchal agriculture. Since the interaction between the caste based settled society and the adivasi society has been an interactive process, the settled society must have learnt from the adivasi society; for the latter also has its own fairly sophisticated system of medicines developed by shamans and healers in common with the rest of the ‘primitive’ world. The study of Indian medicine had in the past only focused on the textual evidence alone, thus excluding the contribution of common people, especially women women and that of the Adivasi society.

Early Indian Physician - Ritually Impure and Polluted

In the late Samhitas and early Brahmanas (ca 900-500BCE) the physician is denigrated because he has a plebeian, sarmanic roving background and as such he mixes with all manner of people. However the royal physician could be ritually purified. Basically Indian medical epistemology is opposed to brahamincal ideology of touch-me-not, pollution taboos and idealistic world outlook i.e. the gods teaching the mankind about the knowledge of medicinal plants rather the mankind discovering it for itself the world around them by trial and error and practice over many millennia as has been the case for the Ayurveda.
Buddhist Mpnastic Medicine - the missing link in Ayurveda

Hetrodox i.e Buddhist, Jains, non-Vedic physicians were on the other hand encouraged to observe the putrifying dead bodies in order to learn about the human body organs and the functioning of the human body. Such body functions such as menstruation blood, puss etc.and the use of various meats are described without any embarrassment or hesitation and as such the origin of such ideas could not have had a place in the domain of brahaminical ideological system.

“Although considered to be extremely polluting and defiling, medicine was now (4th to 5th century) was now included among the Hindu sciences and came under brahmanic influences, perhaps of out of necessity as the need for healing and care of the sick and injured cut across the existing social and religious barriers or, more likely, as a result of the general process of brahamanical assimilation.” [Wujastyk page 26]

It were the Buddhists who exported the knowledge of Indian medicine to Tibet, Khotan and China. Those who may be subjected to arduous conditions, and those who could afford to pay for any subsequent illness or ailment would have been the one who had the incentive to take medicine knowledge further. These people were the Buddhist long distance international traders. There was thus a practical need to develop and codify the existing system of medicine and pool of knowledge existing amongst the common people. This formed the framework for the latter classical texts.
Buddhsit Natha Siddhas - Masters of Hatha Yoga
One of the cornerstone of the Ayurveda is yoga and the practice of hatha yoga not only goes back to the Indus Valley but some of the most well known yogis were subaltern, a well known example is that of Guru Gorakh Nath and his disciples. To this we may add the galaxy of Tamil Siddhas (Cittars) with their worship of the female principal and that of the indigenous gods i.e. Shiva and Murugan, their extraordinary knowledge of yoga, meditation, herbal medicine and their quest for eternal life and liberation. Gorakh Nath and Tamil Siddhas were also staunch anti-caste and therefore there are not many people wishing to take up their study although Ayurveda is extremely well known in the West. According to Meera Nanda

There are, of course, asana-centred hatha yoga texts in the Indic tradition. But they definitely do not date back 5,000 years: none of them makes an appearance till the 10th to 12th centuries. Hatha yoga was a creation of the kanphata (split-eared) Nath Siddha, who were no Sanskrit-speaking sages meditating in the Himalayas. They were (and still are) precisely those matted-hair, ash-smeared sadhus that the HAF wants to banish from the Western imagination. Indeed, if any Hindu tradition can at all claim a patent on postural yoga, it is these caste-defying, ganja-smoking, sexually permissive, Shiva- and Shakti-worshipping sorcerers, alchemists and tantriks, who were cowherds, potters and suchlike. They undertook great physical austerities not because they sought to achieve pure consciousness, unencumbered by the body and other gross matter, but because they wanted magical powers (siddhis) to become immortal and to control the rest of the natural world.

Buddhist Material Cause and Effect or Karma and not Tridosha humours

Buddhist medicine is based on karma in the sense of cause and effect and middle path between indulgences and the self denial. This is one of the reoccurring theme in the Ayurveda. Buddhist monastaries worldwide have still links with healing arts. This is not the case with 'Hindu' Ayurveda.

In many countries the ancient herbal medicine practitioners were often ordinary women. Herb Goddess, later to be identified with Sukhambri, first shows up in an Indus seal where she is shown with a plant issuing from her yoni. As most families tended to have their favourite formula for a particular ailment indicating that the Ayurveda originated with people and not with any god. Vedas are the works of ruling classes and as such we do not expect to find credit being given to the ordinary people and women at that..

Vedic chants, amulets and mantras dominated the medical knowledge between the Vedic period (800 to 100BCE). The later Indian texts such as the treaties and texts of Ayurveda show a distinct distinction or a paradigm shift. The later texts show a clear theoretical underpinning vis a vis the tri dosha theory. It is noticeable that in classical Ayurveda texts; excluding paediatrics, women’s medicine, injury and poison, the emphasis is on tri dosha ie theory of 3 humours vata, pitta and kapha being wind, phlegm and bile.

"Explanation of diseases arising from the season (rtu), from unusual or irregular activities, objects or foods [from visama) and from past actions (karman) occur in the early treatises of Caraka and Susruta."[Wujastyk page 30]

All three causes have material reasons related to actual conditions in India and not some mystical humours the concept of which has now been scientifically discredited, as it is not possible to demonstrate the tri-dosha or its effects, in a double blind trial. And yet for preventive medical system, Ayurveda and its southern sister system the Sidhha (Cittarr) Ayurveda  system is par excellent. In Siddha philosophy, food itself is medicine. Siddha medicine was unfettered by the brahminical ethos and therefore it developed the metallic compounds for use in herbal medicine but most of the Siddha literature was written down in codes as the opposition was likely to burn their works.
Ayurveda Progress negated by Brahaminical Feudal Revival

Thus it is not surprising that Ayurveda stopped developing when it was given a divine origins and a Hindu veneer. Although presently India has many Ayurveda colleges and schools and many Ayurveda herbs have been found useful for a variety of diseases and ailments, especially those related to the lifestyle problems, Ayurveda has stopped developing as the theoretical foundations of this system had atrophied nearly two millennia ago. What is needed is a scientific enquiry into this holistic approach to medicine. Western multinational have taken this approach and have tried to patent a number of Ayurvedic remedies for their own profit but the Indian Government could make Ayurveda and yoga 'public property' thus saving it from the clutches of profiteers.

Main Sources

Asceticism and Healing in Ancient India by Kenneth G. Zysk - Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 1998.

The Roots of Ayurveda by Dominik Wujastyk, Penguin Calssics India 1998.

The Poets of Power by Kamil V. Zvelebil, Integral Publishing, California 1993.

The Siddha Quest for Immortality by Kamil V. Zvelebil, Mandrake, Oxford UK 2003.


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