Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Loss of the Aryavarata Consciousness: Or the Lessons that 10th Century Sanatana Bharata Teaches Us

Ancient India vanished with the arrival of the barbaric Turkish Muslim hordes most notably led by the Islamic zealot and the proud destroyer of Hindu temples, Mahmud of Ghazni. He also wiped out whatever remained of the Arab Muslims in Sindh and wrote a darker, bloodier chapter than what Muhammad bin Qasim had written in the region. The Turkish Muslim domination in Central Asia was built on the smoking embers of the Abbasid Caliphate, Tahirids, and Samanids. In the 990s decade, two Turkish families divided the remnants of the Samanid Empire between themselves. The Ilak Khans of Turkistan captured Bukhara and by 999 CE, finished off whatever remained of the Samanids and gained absolute control of all territories to the north of Oxus[1]. The territories lying the to the south were pocketed by the Yaminis, popularly known to Indians as the Ghaznavids. The founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty was Sabuktigin, a 15-year old boy-slave purchased by Aliptigin in the thriving slave market[2] at Bukhara. Aliptigin was so infatuated with this handsome young lad that he eventually raised him to the status of a general, which in due course led to the founding of the Ghaznavid Empire. His son Mahmud was its most barbaric but gifted military leader. And in 1000 CE, when he turned his attention to India after capturing Ghazni in 998 CE, he intuitively recognized that it was vulnerable as never before and decided to exploit it to the fullest extent.

This is what he saw.


The Hindu kingdoms in mainland India were blissfully unaware of Mahmud’s Islam-fueled imperial vision and design from the vantage of Ghazni. Centuries of civilizational amnesia had crept into their civilizational consciousness by then. They had largely forgotten what K.M. Munshi calls[3] the ‘”Aryavarta Consciousness” which threw up values and institutions of great vigour and tenacity’ and for centuries, had enabled them to easily ward off and drive away alien invasions from the time of Alexander, the Bactrian Greeks, the Kushanas, the Sakas and the Huns. It was the same Aryavarta Consciousness that had produced the ascetic Chanakya-Kautilya, one of the world’s greatest political philosophers, economists, and statesman-strategists. This Aryavarta Consciousness had endowed India with a continuous vigour and vitality, which was precisely what enabled them to swat away the Arab incursions in Sindh for three centuries.

However, by the mid and late 10th Century, these Hindu kingdoms had recklessly squandered this millennia-old civilizational vigour through mindless, unnecessary infighting. All they now possessed were the mere outward trappings and not the spirit embodied[4] in the Vedas that

Aryavarata was the sacred land of Dharma,
the elevated path to Heaven and to Moksha;
where men were nobler than the Devatas themselves;
where all knowledge, thought and worship
were rooted in the Vedas, revealed by the Devatas themselves.

Even worse, these Hindu kingdoms naively, literally, and foolishly took for granted, for example, Medhatithi’s dictum[5] that

Aryavarta was so called because the Aryas sprang up in it again and again. Even if it was overrun by the mlechchhas, they could never abide there for long.

Apart from Medhatithi, there was also the widespread belief[6] among Hindu rulers (and the general populace) that ‘whenever a crisis arose, a chakravartin, a world-emperor, would rise in the land and re-establish Dharma.’ In the 10th Century, this belief was a precursor to the pervasive fatalism that afflicted the Hindu psyche across large parts of an India under a five-century Muslim domination. 

However, this belief in the assured, future rise of a Chakravartin had a solid basis in the reality of Bharatavarsha’s history so far, where the ancient Dharma had repeatedly triumphed (for example, the successful repulsions of Greeks, Huns, and other foreign invaders). This was for a fundamental reason, which is again rooted in the Vedic genius: the victory of Dharma was guided, complemented, and sustained by Kshatra or the spirit of valour. One of the core elements or qualities of the spirit of Kshatra[7] is to maintain equilibrium at all levels: political, social and individual. The quality of civilizational stability and sustenance is also built into this spirit of Kshatra. Or, in a more contemporary[8] idiom,

In the history of the world, it is only Hinduism that gave not only to India but to all her neighbours an organic conception of society based upon economic as well as spiritual needs…it attempted to mitigate the evil consequences of great disparity by aiming at only the essentials…Liberty and law were synthesized to achieve spiritual freedom.

With the downfall of the Gupta Empire, this integrated and holistic vision of Indian civilization was lost forever[9] and the successive Hindu Empires that emerged upon its wreckage were uniformly, consistently one-eyed. The Hindu kingdoms on the anvil of the barbaric raid of Mahmud of Ghazni were not lacking in Kshatra. What they had lost was the integral spirit of Kshatra so inevitable for sustaining their ancient Dharma. K.M. Munshi echoes[10] this tragic spiritual loss of civilization in the following words:

The consciousness in [the] political aspect [of the Aryavarta consciousness] had all but disappeared during the few decades which preceded A.D. 1000 on account of the recurring upheavals in North India. The empire of Kanauj, which had stabilised North India for well-nigh 150 years and supported the Shahi kings of the North-West, had disintegrated. Now Raghukulabhuchakravarti, ‘the World-Emperor of Raghu’s race’, was merely a symbol of a vanished greatness, ruling over a small territory around Kanauj on the sufferance of his erstwhile feudatories.         

But there was something even worse that the Hindu kings were endowed with: the noble code of Hindu war ethics. If belief in a future liberating Chakravartin was in the realm of hope, this sort of war ethics was in the realm of sheer physical survival. As history shows, these Hindu kings went to war armed with the following sacrosanct weapons:

  • No matter how grave the enemy’s provocation, the temple, the Murti, the Shrine, the cow, and the Brahmana were not to be touched.
  • War was a privilege accorded only to the Kshatriyas (or those who enrolled for a life of military honour) and harming civilian population was a serious lapse of Kshatriya Dharma. Although there is plenty of evidence that shows that all classes of the Hindu society participated in the repeated wars to save their Dharma.  
  • The chastity of women, which was held in divine reverence[11]  by the Kshatriyas, was inviolable.

When we survey this aspect of our history, we also find that the Hindu kings on the threshold of Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasion had apparently learnt no lessons from the bestial appetizer of a Muslim raid that Muhammad bin Qasim had served about three centuries ago.  

And so, when Mahmud surveyed this scene from his fortress in the city of Ghazni, the Jewel and capital of the Ghaznavid Empire, he smiled at the prospect of the assured victories and the splendid wealth that was ripe for his picking. As far as he was concerned, he was a staunch practitioner of the Islamic tradition of war in which there was no honour, only victory—absolute, and total.

The rest is…well, history.


Notes

[1] Amu Darya

[2] For a fuller discussion, see for example: Hindus beyond the Hindu Kush: Indians in the Central Asian Slave Trade.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 12: C Scott Levi, 2002

[3] Foreword by K.M. Munshi to The History and Culture of the Indian People: Vol 5: R C Majumdar: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2015: p viii.

[4] Vishnupurana: II, 3, 4. Paraphrased by the author.

[5] Medhaithi’s commentary on Manusmriti: II. 22

[6] Foreword of K.M. Munshi to The History and Culture of the Indian People: Vol 5: R C Majumdar: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2015: p x

[7] For a detailed and in-depth discussion on Kshatra from the Vedic era up to the modern times, see: The Tradition of Kshaatra in India at https://www.prekshaa.in/series-list/The%20Tradition%20of%20Kshaatra%20in%20India, the English translation of the Kannada original, Bharatiya Kshatraparampare by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

[8] Geopolitcs of India and Greater India: Dr. S Srikanta Sastri: Madhu Publishers, 1943. Emphasis added.

[9] See the Foreword by K.M. Munshi to The History and Culture of the Indian People: Vol 3: R C Majumdar: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2015.

[10] Foreword of K.M. Munshi to The History and Culture of the Indian People: Vol 5: R C Majumdar: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2015: p x. Emphasis added.

[11] Devi-Swaroopa: akin to a Mother Goddess

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