Sakka as "Lord Indra, King of the Gods" in the Rig Veda. Razmanama MS, Akbar School, 1598.
Mantras of Anti-Brahmanism: Colonial Experience of Indian Intellectuals
"Christianity did not come with tidings of great joy, but with a message of eternal grief. It came with the threat of everlasting torture on its lips. It meant war on earth and perdition hereafter" - A Christmas Sermon 1891.
Anglicists considered India to be corrupt. They believed that its culture was degenerate and its population irrational, retarded, superstitious, and morally depraved. The Orientalists, on the other hand, genuinely sought to understand the foreign culture. Surely, they wanted to bring reform. But they were certain that a transformation could only be successful if it resonated with the mores of the natives. Hence, they studied the Indian culture, learned its local languages, collected and preserved what belonged to its cultural inheritance, and discovered a grand past that presented an India excelling in the political, social, religious, and intellectual domains.
However, we would like to highlight that they turn out to be superficial when it comes to the assessment of the fundamental structure of the Indian society. Unerringly, both identified brahmins as the "priests." They both were convinced that these "priests" had a negative influence on religion and society. Brahmins were held responsible for the creation and sanctification of the caste system, which brought social development to a halt. They accepted as true that this system consisted of a rigid social compartmentalization and that it was created to preserve religious and social privileges of the brahmin caste. They were convinced that the brahmins used their religious authority to dominate those in civil power which explained why the system of hierarchical castes was not contested by those in power as well, and so on.
In this article, we propose that both the idea of religious degeneration and the role played by the priests in this process are derived from deep seated Christian conceptions of religion. On the one hand, the biblical story of a god-given religion that was subsequently corrupted through the course of time was the general framework that structured the history of Christianity and of all the other so-called religions. On the other hand, because Christianity assigned a primary role to the clergy, religion was an affair of the priests only.
If this suggestion is convincing, the prevalence of Europe’s conceptualization in the modern Indian intellectual’s reflection on his own society is nothing but remarkable. Even though there existed a long tradition of criticism of brahmins and caste in India itself, Rammohun Roy, for example, while criticising contemporary brahmanism vigorously, merely echoed the assessment of the British. Similarly, Babasaheb Ambedkar did the same a century later when he took up its sacerdotal invention of caste along familiar lines. By doing so, both accepted exactly that which Orientalists and Anglicists shared: they ended up criticizing "brahmins" as "priests" and "brahmanism" as a deprived "religion of the priests."
(Source: Mantras of Anti-Brahmanism by Raf Gelders, Willem Derde). Refer to Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress by Howard Zinn
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