BRHASPATI and ROUT of FEUDALISM
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Bk 1-3)
Feudalism versus Liberalism
The Prajapati, the chief of the people who in the normative core Vedic polity convened the house of the nobles (sabha) and the council of the intellectuals and commonalty (samiti) had to take into account the two rival sections of the ruling elite, devas and asuras. He determined who belonged to which of these two sections.
The ruling class of the earlier times had the traits of the feudal warlords, asuras. As society became civilized and feudalism declined, the liberal nobles, devas, came to the fore. The asuras were senior (jyeshta) of the two and devas were junior (kaneeya) to them. That is, feudalism preceded liberalism.
There was a prolonged struggle between the two cadres for control over the (three) social worlds (divam, antariksham and prthvi, nobility, frontier society and commonalty).The gentle nobles (devas) exhorted all to join the sacrifice (yajna), pronouncing the rousing chant, udgitha, to overcome the cruel feudal warlords (asuras). (1-3-1)
The sages of the Vedic and post-Vedic period held that the liberal aristocracy rose later and that feudalism prevailed earlier. The nobles requested the priests and others who were uttering the prayer-chants to pray (speak) for them.
As the priests and others did so, all the affluence (bhoga) went to the share of the nobles (devas). The feudal lords got nothing. This resulted in the priests and others securing all benefits (kalyanam) for themselves (atmana).
The feudal lords (asuras) realized that this prayer for the success and affluence of the nobles (devas) would result in the latter getting the support of all and enable them to overcome the former. Hence they made these priests utter words of evil intent.
The sage explains that uttering a prayer for success of an evil intent when it is not in reaction to what is an evil intent is an evil.
The udgitha (who sang aloud the prayer) was thus faulted. He was a representative of the masses and was also one of them. He was voicing their common will and his personal ambitions, which he hoped to get fulfilled by the liberal nobles (devas) scoring over the authoritarian asuras.
The prayer for success of the liberal nobles, devas, was inspired by personal and selfish ambitions of these 'priests' and their followers. The sages who edited the Upanishad refused to approve such prayers. The nobles then asked the 'priests' and others to devote their life-breaths (prana) for them and they did so and they too benefited thereby.
The officers in charge of the needs of the ruling nobility were induced to mobilize the support of the population (the five essential sectors, pranas) that was able to obtain their bare needs in favour of the liberal aristocracy.
It is implicit that both the officials and the lower ranks of the commonalty were offered liberal gifts for pooling such support. This intent to gain personal benefit was a trait of the feudal elements and imbibing that trait was a sin.
So too is the desire to see pleasurable objects and hear pleasurable sounds a hedonistic one and the commoners and others desiring these while serving the nobles (devas) are to be treated as stained by the feudal (asura) culture.
Self-restraint, that is, restraint of ones desire for pleasurable experiences is what keeps man away from evil.
The mind too often gets carried away similarly. Not only the commoners of the larger society and the priests who induced them but also members of the elite (devatas) of the frontier society gave themselves to the pleasurable thoughts that passed through the minds of the aristocrats and their admirers and emulators.
The feudal culture represented by the asuras, infected the elite of the other society (devatas) too and distracted it from its purpose.
In other words, instead of placing ones services and wealth at the disposal of the commonalty and seeking their personal welfare in the welfare of others, these chiefs of the other society utilized for their personal benefit their acquisition of technical and economic power needed for social progress (2 to 6).
As both the commoners of the core society and the frontier society as a whole including its elite (devatas) came under the influence of the asura orientation, that is living for oneself and seeking ones happiness at the cost of others, the nobles of the core society then invoked the vital breath (prana) that has its seat in the mouth (that is, in the deep throat) to speak out. [We have to trace what the sage meant by the term, prana.]
The feudal elements tried to infect this breath too with evil intent but they failed. They were scattered in all directions and perished even as a clod of earth thrown at a rock gets scattered.
Udgitha chant: Positive Policy (aya) of Brhaspati
The udgitha chant was directed against the undesirable asura orientation and called for the union of all forces and all social sectors against it.
Thus the nobles (devas) began to flourish and the evil-minded feudal elements (asuras) were crushed. The poet-sage says that one who realizes the import of this battle between devas and asuras realizes his true self (atma) and the enemy who hates him is crushed. (7).
Then the followers of nobles who sought to share in the pleasures that the nobles were entitled to wanted to know what caused the defeat of the warlords (asuras) who had only evil intent for others.
The poet explains that it was the positive policy (aya) of the nobles that the son of Angirasa [who is the essence (rasa) of the limbs (angas), the organs of the social polity of the mega society] had pronounced that led to the collapse of the feudal order (1-3-8).
Positive policy of nobles (Aya) and of commoners (Naya)
Brhaspati, the son (disciple) of Angirasa, represented the commonalty (prthvi). He recommended that the nobles (devas) should consent to honour the wishes and desires of the commonalty and permit it autonomy if the former were to survive as a respected higher stratum.
According to Brhaspati, the positive policy (aya) of the nobles (devas) would command more respect than the policy of pragmatism (naya) adopted by the enlightened commonalty (prthvi, manushyas) and the different organs (angas) of the new state.
This accord between the nobles (devas) and the commonalty of the mega society that included the agro-pastoral core society and the industrial frontier society led to the liquidation of the feudal (asura) order.
Modern Indian scholars and the commentators of the medieval times whom they followed had failed to take note of this aspect of the social polity of the Vedic era.
Kautilya who was junior to Brhaspati and resorted to Samkhya dialectics has described with respect to the social project proposed, the policy supported by the nobles (devas) as aya and not supported by it as anaya and the policy supported by the commonalty (manushyas) as naya and not supported by it as apanaya.
Brhaspati's New Assignment
The nobles and their beneficiaries wanted to know what happened to the disciple of Angirasa who had helped them to overcome the evil intentions of the asuras.
This social thinker-cum-activist had been granted a status next only to the nobles (devas) as a devata and he had gone far away from the scene.
He is referred to as the distant personage as the commonalty, the insentient society (mrtyu), is far away from him and is no longer able to retain his guidance only for itself. Brhaspati (identified later with the planet, Jupiter) is known as the great teacher (guru) of the nobles, devas.
Though in several regions ofAryavarta (area south of Himalayas and north of Vindhyas) during the later Vedic era Brhaspati instead of Agni represented commoners, in the setup which Upanishadic sages envisaged, he had no place. (These were later referred to as gods).
One who has a correct appreciation of the role and status of Brhaspati as the activist who voiced the positive policy (aya) of the nobles and ensured co-ordination between the liberal aristocracy and the docile and pure larger commonalty can keep away from inactivity (mrtyu) bordering that of the dead.
It may be noted that the terms, amrtvam and mrtyu were used to denote the nobles and the commoners. They have later been interpreted as immortality and death respectively. Both nobles and commoners were mortals. This realization is imperative if we are to break through the shroud of mysticism in which medieval and later commentators have wrapped the Vedas and Upanishads. (1-3-9)
Brhaspati, the disciple of Angirasa, defined the positive policy of the nobles and guided both the nobles (devas) and the larger commonalty (prthvi). He wiped out the evil intents of the feudal lords (asuras) that the other elite (devatas) and the commoners (mrtyu) had fallen victim to. He chased these evil elements to the distant borders of the different directions and settled them there.
The poet-sage says that as the evil feudal culture and outlook has been pushed out of the mega society to the distant regions, it is not advisable for one to go to the people (jana) of those regions. (10)
This refers to the times when the remnants of the feudal order were chased out of Aryavarta (north India) and were confined to the region known as Janasthana, located in the Narmada valley. Of course they took refuge in other distant pockets too. [The sage hints that the materialism, which Brhaspati upheld was not identical with the one that the feudal lords (asuras) hailed.] The people (of Aryavarta) were advised not to go to these regions that were infested by evil elements .
Brhaspati and reformation of the other elie, devatas
Brhaspati, who had acquired the status of a devata, a status marginally lower than that of an aristocrat (deva), freed the devatas, members of the elite of the other society of the forests and mountains from the evil that they had been infected with by the feudal (asura) culture.
He helped them to reach a level far above that of the commoners, of the insentient (mrtyu) sections of the mega society (1-3-11). (Vide Ch.4. Atharvan Polity in my thesis Evolution of Social Polity of Ancient India for an outline of Indra-Brhaspati agreement and the campaign against the asuras.)
[Radhakrishnan has transliterated this epigram as, That divinity (devata), verily, having struck off the evil (papa), the death (mrtyu), of those divinities (devatas), next carried them beyond death (mrtyu). He has not explained or elucidated it.]
The role and status of this Vedic official needs to be described correctly. Many have presented him as the proponent of lokayata, which they have misunderstood as materialism.
This term meant social control, especially the control over the relations within the social world of commoners and between this social world and that of its governing patriciate.
Brhaspati gave importance only to the science of economic activities (varta) and the science of political control (dandaniti) and ignored (but did not condemn) the humanities that dealt with ethics and social customs and were incorporated in the anthologies known as the three Vedas (Trayi). This school followed the constitution as prescribed in the Atharvaveda, which is known also as Brahma.
In the Rgvedic polity, the head of the house of nobles (devas) was designated as Indra and the head of the house of scholars and elders as Agni. In the polity based on the earlier Atharvan constitution, Indra headed the house of the nobles and Brhaspati the house of the commoners. The two systems coexisted.
The constitution, which the Vratya Prajapati, Mahadeva, proposed, recommended forming four statutory bodies, sabha, sena, samiti and sura, (house of nobles, army, house of scholars and treasury) representing the nobles (Devas), the warriors (Kshatriyas), the intelligentsia (Brahmans) and the commonalty (prthvi), especially the bourgeoisie. These bodies functioned under officials designated as Indra, Aditya, Agni and Brhaspati respectively.
Why was the control over the commonalty placed under Brhaspati instead of under Agni and which areas was the latter asked to look after as the civil judge, are questions that need answer.
Brhaspati as civil judge, Agni in the distant settlement
As he resettled the feudal elements and those in the distant lands, who shared their outlook, the Atharvan-Angirasa ideologue-cum-activist who had functioned as Brhaspati carried with him (in his boat, as it were) the spokesman (vacha) of the commonalty (mrtyu).
In the distant land, which had earlier no stratum of insentient commonalty (mrtyu), this spokesman functioned as the representative of the newly settled commonalty that still had traits of the discredited feudal (asura) culture and functioned as civil judge (Agni).
The erstwhile advocate of self-regulated economy found it imperative to insist on application of civil laws based on ethics and strict adherence to truth as he took over the new assignment as Agni of the land of resettlement.
Agni had more authority and power in those borderlands than he had among the commonalty of the core society. The commonalty in the agro-pastoral areas had come under the rules prescribed by Brhaspati who had a good rapport with the nobles (devas). And the economic laws proposed by Brhaspati over-rode the earlier laws based on ethics insisted on by the civil judge, Agni. In the new settlements retrieved from the influence of the feudal lords, Agni had sway over the commonalty. (12)
Why did the arrangement by which Indra and Brhaspati shared powers instead of Indra and Agni disappear? Why was neither allowed to dominate the polity as envisaged in the Upanishads? Was Brhaspati virtually relegated to the borderlands? These questions need to be answered. The ensuing passages are seen to provide a clue.
Vayu in charge of distant colonies
These distant lands were brought under the jurisdiction of the official designated as Vayu. Vayu which is external to the body of the man, who breathes (prana), exercises more harsh powers than as it does as soft breath, prana, in the core society.
The earlier core society had the pastoral lands, which were open to all, very close to the agrarian tracts. As more lands were brought under the plough, the open lands had to be pushed back. These pastoral lands were under the jurisdiction of the official designated as Vayu.
The intent of this epigram (1-3-13) is to distinguish between prana, the commoner of the core society who faces no difficulty in his life though poor and the concept, vayu, which envelopes the notion of a struggle for survival in the unhelpful open areas that the individuals in the distant lands face.
Aditya in charge of the cadre of observers, chakshus
Similarly what was under the jurisdiction of the alert observers (chakshus) of the conduct of the individual in the core society now comes under the jurisdiction of the official, Aditya.
The polity proposed by an Indra had a large council of chakshus, intellectuals who reported to the house of nobles (sabha) what they had observed. This council of observers was placed under the official designated as Aditya.
Aditya as Surya (often presented as the Sun God worshipped by the pantheistic Vedic society) or General of the Army aided by these reports exercised coercive power on behalf of the ruling aristocracy of the core society over the exiled feudal elements.The new laws recommended by the school of Brhaspati have effected this arrangement (14).
Reorientation of the anti-social elements
The borderlands in the different directions were brought under the influence of the teachers of Vedas (sruti). The bad elements, which were taken away from the midst of the commonalty (mrtyu), were relocated in the borderlands where these teachers taught them noble ways of life (1-3-15).
Soma and the thinking (manas) of the people of the borderlands
The borderlands peopled by the exiled feudal elements and their followers were under the jurisdiction of Soma (moon, in common parlance). This great official was in charge of moulding the minds of the people of the forest and mountain areas (antariksham). The greatness of this official is not as explicit and obvious in the core society of nobles and commoners as in these borderlands (1-3-16). The sage who edited this Upanishad prefers to use the term, Chandra, instead of Soma, to refer to this official who was in charge of moulding the minds (manas) of the people of the distant lands.
Earlier, he presented Vayu (wind) as an evolute of Prana (breath), Aditya (Sun) as an evolute of Chakshu (eye) and Disa (directions) as an evolute of Srotra (ear) and Agni (Fire) as an evolute of Vacha (speech).
Five officials of the distant pastoral colonies
To be precise, Vayu, Aditya, Disa, Agni and Soma were the designations of the officials in charge of the distant pastoral lands to which the feudal elements who had been defeated were consigned for changing their orientation towards life.
These officials would play the roles that were performed in the commonalty by officials and cadres assigned to look after the education of the commoners of the core society.
The sage says that then the individual (prana) who was barely able to remain alive sang asking for food and other things for himself (atma). The hymns were indeed pleas for food. He does not share the food he has begged for, with others.
There is no community or even family in these borderlands to which the former feudal elements and their selfish followers are exiled. The individual who has been reduced to subsistence level has been resettled (pratitishtha) there (1-3-17). He is unable to share his food with others for it is too meagre.
Brhaspati: Reoriening the ruling Aristocracy
The nobles (devas) pointed out to such individuals that whatever they had obtained was through hymns flattering their masters. They had not exerted themselves and earned their food. They were required to share this food with the nobles (who have replaced the feudal lords as their masters).
The social thinker and activist (of the school of Brhaspati) did not approve this demand of the nobles for a share in the subsistence food, which these individuals had been allowed. He advises these nobles to sit around him and on the same level as the other individuals are and be satisfied with only breath (prana) as food and experience what abject poverty is.
These individuals would be reduced to the level of starvation if the minimal food granted to them were to be taxed or given as a share to the ruling class of nobles.
The noble (deva) who realizes the implication of this exhortation and counsel is given the responsibility to look after the interests of these weaker elements of the borderlands. He becomes the best (sreshta) of the aristocracy (sva).
In the integrated society, the feudal lord, asura, was referred to as jyeshta and the plutocrat, yaksha, as sreshta. When the plutocrat was given the status of devata, his claim to personal property was approved and he could be known like the noble, deva, as an autonomous aristocrat, sva.
Earlier the term, sreshta was used to describe the rich plutocrat of the frontier society. The plutocrats were granted the status of devatas, a status lower in rank than that of the aristocrats, devas.
The better among the plutocrats, the sreshtas, who had not fallen victim to the feudal culture of the asuras (who were known as jyeshtas), were absorbed in the new liberal aristocracy of the mega society. This new noble, sreshta, gets the status of a leader (pura, purusha) and is made the chief supervisor (adhipati) of production of grains and distribution of food.
The social thinker points out that only a reformed plutocrat who mingles with the commoners who depend on him and shares his wealth with them will succeed.
Others in the aristocracy (sva) are not able to support their dependents. Only a person who recognizes how this leader has succeeded in supporting his dependents (by being with and amidst them as an equal) will be able to support his dependents.
The poet-sage was eager to create a new aristocracy that would have the wherewithal to support its dependents. (1-3-18) The creation of such an aristocracy (which some have charged with being materialistic in its orientation) was a contribution of the school of Angirasa, which was tuned to the above positive policy (aya).
All the organs of the social polity have to be imbued with this spirit (rasa) of social life, which is covered by the concept, prana. In the absence of such a spirit flowing through the body politic, its organs would wither away, lose their virility and become emaciated.
This warning is given to the ruling aristocracy of the mega society that has got rid of the feudal elements and their followers (19).
The poet explains that this was the policy pronounced (vag) by the great chief. This chief who belongs to the school of Angirasa is known as Brhaspati. He is also known as Brahmanaspati. The utterances in the Vedas, especially in Atharvaveda are known as Brahma. One who has mastered this social constitution is Brahmanaspati. (1-3-20,21).
[The social thinkers-cum-activists, who followed Brahma or Atharvaveda, were known as Brahmavadis. Angirasa and Atharvacharya were the main editors of the Atharvaveda.]
The Four Vedas
The poet-sage clarifies that his upholding the importance of the Atharvaveda should not be construed as overlooking the importance of the other Vedas, particularly that of the Samaveda. The Sama poetry is speech, vag, and has both the gentleness of the feminine (sa) and the vigour of the masculine (ama), he says. It treats as equal (sama) both the small creatures like termites and mosquitoes (which yet cause harm) and the large ones like the elephant (which yet are gentle).The weak are not all necessrily good and the mighty not all cruel.
The Samaveda treats as equal all the three social worlds (lokas). It equals the entire cosmos (sarva) that includes not only the three lokas but also the three social universes (jagats) and others who are outside these. Hence, it is called Sama Veda, the poet explains. Its ambit is very wide and all comprehensive. He who realizes this trait of Samaveda attains union (yuj) with its spirit and lives in the academic world (loka) of the experts in Samaveda. The poet lauds the broad and egalitarian outlook of the academicians of the Samaveda school of thought (1-3-22).
[It may be noted that both Krshna and Kautilya belonged to this egalitarian and liberal school though they were masters in Atharvaveda.]
He agrees that it has elevating poetry and music (udgitha), which upholds everything (sarvam, that is, all sections of the living beings and all noble systems and schools of thought) (1-3-23).
Did the poet treat the rousing music of the priests of the Atharva-Angirasa school and the balanced music of the scholars of the Sama school of thought as similar to each other? The former involved prana, vital breath and the latter involved vag, speech. The poet replies that Brahmadatta (a descendant of Chikitana) asserted that it was so.
This scholar who had been admitted to the Kings Council had heard Ayasya Angirasa, that is, Brhaspati, who propounded the Atharvan policy claim that the udgitha was indeed verse and not mere rhetoric.
Brahmadatta warned the detractors against objecting to equal status being given to Atharvaveda and Samaveda. The poet-sage of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad hence counsels that one who knows the wealth of the Samaveda knows that it is in its tone. People desire to see and hear at a sacrifice (yajna) the Rtvija, a priest-cum-regulator with a rich voice.
Such a priest who sang Samaveda was a recipient of rich rewards. The 'priest' (ensuring adherence to prescribed procedure) desires to have a rich tone to perform his duties well. The poet-sage holds that rhetoric (vag) serves as support (pratishta) for those priests who sing the hymns of the Samaveda. It is the life breath (prana) that chants these hymns. But not all members of his audience accepted this stand.
Some argued that it was the desire not for wealth or the need for self-expression that led to the singing of the Samaveda hymns. It was the basic need to secure food for survival that led the composer of these hymns to sing so eloquently its egalitarian themes (1-3-24 to 27).
[Asato ma sad gamaya;
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya;
Mrtyor ma amrtam gamaya]
Yajurveda is said to be prosaic. The Prastotr priest recites its purifying hymns. While he utters them the performer of the rites is asked to recite the following Yajur verses, From the unreal (asat) lead me to the real (sat); from darkness (tamas) lead me to light (jyoti); from death (mrtyu) lead me to immortality (amrtam).
This was in fact a prayer counseling all the members of the society that their conduct should be governed only by the rules of satya or truth, that all members should get educated and all should lead a full life as members of the cultural aristocracy.
They should not remain as but part of an uneducated (tamas) and insentient (mrtyu) society that does not know the value of the rules based on truth (sat).
The correlation among truth (satya), shining knowledge (jyoti) and pleasant cultural activism (amrtam) is pointed out. And similarly the correlation among falsehood (asat), ignorance (tamas) and insentience (mrtyu) is pointed out to the audience. Here there is no place for pursuit of wealth and even of food.
The poet-sage bypasses all other chants in the Yajur hymns, which are prayers for mundane benefits. The priest and also the performer may pray for any such benefit, as he desires.
One who knows this is said to be a conqueror of the social world (loka-jit). He gains the support of all the members of the social world (loka) to which he belongs.
One who knows the importance of the egalitarian Samaveda and sings its songs will not lose contact with his social world (loka) of the Sama school of academicians who are drawn from different sections of the mega society (1-3-28).