Questions for those familiar with Tamil History

Anand V. Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 17 09:53:30 CDT 1999

On Wed, 16 Jun 1999 18:47:38 -0400, Vidyasankar Sundaresan
<vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM> wrote:

>>Some believe that only those portions of the MB which teach
>>"brahminism by conduct" show Buddhist influence (i.e, they were
>>added later on), just as some believe that the Giitaa was a later
>>addition to the MB.
>Such arguments ignore the very complexity of the structure of the epic.
>There is almost no character in the epic whose birth is sufficient to
>determine caste. Vyasa's mother is a fisher woman, Dhritarashtra and Pandu
>are Vyasa's biological sons, as is Vidura. However, Vyasa is a Brahmana and
>Vidura is a Sudra, but the other two are Kshatriyas. The epic is designed
>fundamentally on the complexity and fragility of caste considerations. To
>argue that its portions on how conduct makes a brAhmaNa are Buddhist
>influenced ignores the basic theme of the epic. Similarly, van Buitenen, a
>seasoned Sanskrit scholar, argues that the story is designed to put the
>where it currently occurs. His arguments are also based on the structure of
>the core myth. Opinions there are galore, but arguments about
>into an original text need to be made carefully. This is where I find that
>only a few scholars make any sense. The rest seem to base their conclusions
>on the thinnest possible grounds.

 This is an excellent observation. Every key character in the MahabhArata
 has something that seems to conflict with established notions of caste or
 other orthodox ideals. In fact, the point that conduct determines whether
 one is a Brahmana or not is one of the important themes that runs through
 the whole epic. In some episodes, such as the nahushha episode, the point
 is made explicit. YudhishhThira points out that intermixing of castes
 based on birth alone is inevitable, and so it is the conduct that really
 determines whether one is a Brahmana. His birth alone does not guarantee

 Also, droNAchArya who is born a brahmana is shown to have accepted
 the profession of a Kshatriya. But Vidura born of a Sudra mother is
 shown to be a true jnAnI. Also, the DharmavyAdha episode makes a mockery
 of orthodoxy of Brahmanas and depicts a butcher as being more knowledgeable
 than a brahmana in matters of Dharma.

 KarNa who is born of a Kshatriya mother, Kunti, out of wedlock, is
 brought up by a charioteer and his wife. For the most part of his life,
 he thinks that he is a only a "sUta-putra." BhagavAn Krishna Himself is
 born a Kshatriya but grows up as a Vaishya in the house of Nanda.
 And BhIshhma undergoes a kind of self-imposed, life-long brahmacharya,
 quite uncharacteristic of powerful Kshatriyas who always had easy access
 to women.

 Someone like Buddha who looks for ways to criticize Brahamana
 orthodoxy and caste-ism, will find plenty of support in the MahabhArata.
 So it is hard to believe it when someone, scholar or otherwise, says
 that parts of the Mahabharata were added under Buddhist influence.
 Also, we should remember that as an itihAsa, the epic enjoys a higher
 position than the purANa's. The MahabhArata is also regarded as the fifth
 Veda. As such, it is not as easy to tamper with the 'bhArata as it would
 be with some of the PurANas where one would not be surprised to find


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