Satnami Commandments

The Satnami Chamars who were the forerunners of the militarised anti-caste saint soldiers-the Sikhs, have been marginalised in Indian history. They find mention in Manucci's Historia as having rebelled against Auranzeb's rule. The following is taken from Tara Chand's Influence of Islam on Indian Culture,detailing their history and link with Guru Ravidas and their commandments.



A CONTEMPORARY of Dadu was Birbhan, who founded the 
famous sect of the Saddhs or Satnamis. He was born in 1543 
A.D. at Bijesar near Narnaul in the South-eastern Punjab. 
He was affiliated through Udhodas to Raidas (or Ravidas. He was a 
strict monotheist, he called God by the name of Satnam the 
true name. 

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Hinduttva groups both inside India and outside of it have put forward the thesis that the Aryans originated from India itself and that they were the authors of the Indus Valley civilisation. Dalit and other mainly Western and progressive Indian historians are of the opinion that the Aryans came from the outside. The latter viewpoint is accepted by the vast majority of scholars. Although some aspects of the Indus Valley/Aryan debate may have to be revised in the future, however some broad conclusions can be formulated.

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Not many scholars of the caste system mention the Arthasastra of Kautilya. Most mainstream scholars do not make this connection. Why this is so is not abvious but one thing is clear; only those scholars who believe that the caste system may have some connection with the real material conditions have highlighted this nexus and these scholars tend to be the type who do not rely on religious texts alone.

It is instructive to look at  some background details of the book. Like Plato's Republic Arthsastra and similar works were intended for those in power. Kautilya was believed to be the friend, counsellor, and prime minister of Chandargupta Maurya and reputedly the brain behind the Maurya Dynasty which was established in 322 BC It is not possible to date the book exactly although a time period between the Mauryan and the post-Mauryan period is suggested i.e. from the fourth century BC to the third century AD. The Arthasastra text pre-supposes a  tradition stretching some way back in the science of politics which could only develop during the course of several centuries. This fact is acknowledged by Kautilya himself, who mentions 13 predecessors in his field. In his introduction to the book, the author mentions many of the past masters who had put the theory expounded in the book, to practice and from their experience had composed the Arthasastra. Some of the tactics mentioned in the book were used practically, with meticulous detail, before the time of Buddha ie before 483 BC. Hence we may say without fear that the some of the details described in that book refer to a much earlier period namely the period of the rise of state powers in north India in the 6th century BC Kautilya left a lasting impression on the political minds in India. Even as late as the early medieval times he had many followers. Kamandka in 800 AD clearly acknowledges Kautilya as his master.

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Ekalavaya - The Reality

When ordinary Dalits read the story of Ekalavaya, they feel sympathy for him for the way he was treated by Drona, the teacher of the Pandvas in the epic Mahabharata.

Adivasis by the nature of their lifestyle have been excellent archers. Numerous references testify to the fact that the Nishad tribe was militarised and that the Nishads were not part of the Aryan society but they had contact with it. In the earlier texts Nishads were not disdained, but were seen as warriors, but not as Aryan warriors. It is in the latest theological texts that the Nishads came to be seen as outside of the pale of the Aryan society, untouchables in fact.

There was no need for Ekalavaya to seek a teacher outside of his own tribe, unless he was going to ask for the  new iron metal weapons. Only in this technological sense the Aryans could be seen as superior to the Nishads. But it was unlikely that such secrets would be given away simply just by asking. Drona never taught Ekalavaya anything so the question of teacher's fee should have never arisen. Ekalavaya could have refused this unreasonable and cruel gurudakshina or teacher's fee. Considering that the story was written by the Aryans so what is the myth of Ekalavaya trying to tell us?

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Eklavaya - The Myth

The story of Ekalavaya is known to most Dalits. This is the story of an Adivasi warrior archer whose aim is so sure that he can shoot arrows in the mouth of a barking dog, by just hearing the sound of the barking dog, without seeing the dog. He does this in order to silence the animal to a whimper without hurting it. Even the famous hero of the epic Mahabharata Arjuna feels that he is unable to duplicate such a feat. Arjuna is so afraid of this Nishad Ekalavaya that he involves his archery teacher Drona into a treacherous plot which would see Ekalavaya cut off his own thumb and offer it as a teaching fee to Drona who had in the past refused to teach Ekalavaya, on the grounds that Ekalavaya is of low-caste tribal person, after which Ekalavaya had taught himself how to shoot arrows.

This is the story of Ekalavaya detailed below exactly as it appears in Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus. The analysis of this myth is to be found under Ekalavaya - The Reality under Dalitica.

Ekalavaya Cuts off his Thumb

Drona was the Pandava’s archery tutor, and Arjuna was his star pupil. One day a boy named Eklavaya, the son of a tribal Nishada chieftain, came to them. When Drona who knew dharma, refused to accept the son of a Nishada as a pupil,  Ekalavaya touched his head to Drona’s feet, went out into the jungle and made a clay image of Drona, to which he paid the respect due to a teacher. He pracitced intensely and became a great archer. One day the Pandavas went out hunting with their dog. The dog  wandered off, came upon Ekalavaya, and stood their barking at him untill the Nishada shot seven arrows almost simultaneously into the dog’s mouth. The dog went whimpering back to the Pandavas, who were amazed and went to find the man who had accomplished this feat. They found him and asked him who he was, and he told them that he was Nishada Ekalavaya, a pupil of Drona’s.

They went home, but Arjuna kept thinking about Ekalavaya,  and one day he asked Drona why he had a pupil, the son of a Nishada, who was even better archer than he, Arjuna. Drona then resolved to do something about this. Ho took Arjuna with him to see Ekalavaya, and when he found him, he said to Ekalavaya, “If you are my pupil, pay me my fee right now”. Ekalavaya, delighted said, “Command me, my Guru. There is nohting I will not give my Guru”. Drona replied “Give me your right thumb”. When Ekalavaya heard this terrible speech from Drona he kept his promise. His face showed his joy in it and his mind was entirely resolved to do it. He cut off his thumb and gave it to Drona and after that when the Nishada shot an arrow his fingers were not as quick as before. Arjuna was greatly relieved.


The Hindus-An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK – 2010, Page 288. 


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