Apr 10, 2013

The Dasyu-Dāsa dynamic vs. "class struggle" theory

What is the relationship between conflict and service? Anything on social justice and political transformation in the Vedas (supposedly accused of feudal casteism)? Actually I think understanding the injustices of politics, economics and ideology/religion as a Dasyu-Dāsa dynamic from all angles is far more enlightening as a theory than the demagoguery of half-baked "class struggle" semantics found in Marxist historiography. The former offers an insight, the latter only incites. The former is a truer observation and is psychological, the latter is opportunistic and based on justified thought conceived in an unstable condition.

There is a prominent sentiment in the Veda that calls upon the divinity Indra, Thunder-wielder, for help in liquidating those corrupt crackpots who play power games solely on the strength of being high-born, exclusive esoteric mystics, saviors from an oppressive foe, charismatics, fortuitous chosen races, and whatnot, and who instigate or mobilize large numbers of brainwashed orcs to wield political power:

Rg Veda 6.42.04:
अस्मा अस्मा इदन्धसोSध्वर्यो प्र भरा सुतम् ।
कुवित्समस्य जेन्यस्य शर्धतोSभिशस्तेरवस्परत् ॥

"To him, Adhvaryu! yea, to him give offerings of the juice expressed.
Will he not keep us safely from the spiteful curse of each presumptuous high-born foe?"

Rg Veda 6.19.12:
जनं वज्रिन्महि चिन्मन्यमानमेभ्यो नृभ्यो रन्धया येष्वस्मि ।
अधा हि त्वा पृथिव्यां शूरसातौ हवामहे तनये गोष्वप्सु ॥

"Give up the people who are high and haughty to these men and to me, O Thunder-wielder!
Therefore upon the earth do we invoke thee, where heroes win, for sons and kine and waters."

This "high-born" foe is apparently the "Dasyu", who often lead the "Dāsas". A friend explained: The problem starts with development of personality-cults, whether in the form of deities or their spokespersons on earth. Elite sense of entitlement to power, but marginalization within the elite, leads to search for mobilization outside the elites. Once the non-elite has been mobilized to destroy intra-elite competitors, the new-power goes back to older elite drives. This is when personality cult develops - and a new elite base forms, often accompanied by sequential purges to reduce the number of competitors for power, and a coterie reinforces the personality cult. Net result - a society of "dāsas" under an elite super-personality. A slave society in more ways than one.

[Later in the Pauranic shift of Indian civilization, Indra is humiliated and sidelined, especially in the Vaishnava tradition which is historically associated with a birth-based, feudalistic, agrarian, hierarchical caste order. I wondered whether this change in Indra's popular image has anything to do with changing sociological circumstances or necessities of the time, but I am not qualified to comment on it.]

But "dāsa" in the Veda doesn't always mean the enemy, though it most often refers to an enemy. Yet, its greatest heroes also have "dāsa" in their names. The central Bhārata protagonist of the War of Ten Kings is called Sudās, and his illustrious father is called Divodāsa. The Vedic root "dās" (दास्) is understood by most to have the sense of "being used up" or "to yield up". A friend explained: "Dāsa" has a self-deprecating connotation when used in a proper name. But original usage for 'dāsa' is not as a collective noun meaning captive slave who provides service. It's originally used for enemies in Rg Veda. Even the root of this verbal noun is 'dāsati' which is used in the sense of destroy/assail/attack. The verb used in RgVeda for captive or fettered is gṛbhīta; and it's never used for 'dāsa'.

He adds: Leave alone the question of religious sanction for slavery; even if someone were to use secondary texts to assert slavery as a mainstream institution in Vedic India, the burden of proof is on them to corroborate it with actual archaeological evidence. Just compare the pictorial evidence of slavery in Pompeii for instance; evidence in Egypt; Scythian slave trade. There is just no comparison in India. Since Vedic India did not have monumental construction; instead it had strict rules for food and ritual and other spiritual disciplines, what could these hypothetical slaves do for the owners?

In Vedic spirituality, there seems to have been a warning against associating any permanent material property with a so-called divine significance. No grandiose stupas, temples, mosques, cathedrals. Even the custom altar for the Fire ritual was itself burned down after the exercise was completed. Ritual was drilled and performed as a sensory training routine and an interpersonal objective process. Thus, the spiritual foci of Vedic civilization were logical and honest, and not meant to be based on ways and means of priest-craft, politics, and mass hypnotism.

The Vedic foci were not merely elevationist, nor mainly salvationist, but rather noetic - i.e., it has components for regressive, progressive, linear and cyclical motion on the Time line, and is therefore able to be holistic in its understanding and holographic in it mental map and imagination. This is different from those spiritual/ideological cultures or cults (religious or Marxist, etc.) built around just an elevationist-salvationist dipole. The political dynamics of Vedic civlization was meant to be a discourse around holistic civilizational purpose rather than solely around economic gain, or social stability, or annihilation in a metaphysical ideal.

But how would one connect the transformation of the root dās'  meaning from "destroy/assail" to "servant", especially when humble servitude is different from humiliating, forced slavery? My sense is that dās has the sense of 'to punish' or 'to use up'. Just like in English one can say, 'to punish a jar of whiskey'. So then dās could mean either to destroy something by force, or to use it up in willing service. So "Divodāsa" would mean 'one who is used up in service by the divinities'. After all, this body is wasted by Time anyways, better to offer it to be used up in conscious service by the divinities, for the sake of Divine Civilization.

What one feels one cannot "have" (possess with satisfaction), one must make better use of. What one feels one is unable to even use freely, one must first be made able to waste. The perspective of knowledge is that there is no scarcity of bodies (or material) - though Life is precious. The perspective of Ignorance is that all economics is based on scarcity and that in turn influences psychology.

My friend corroborates: I agree with you. Turns out dāsa' isn't the only word with this dual meaning. Even the word 'aryaḥ' (plural) and 'ariḥ' (singular) are often used in two ways:
- devout or suppliant when used for oneself before Gods
- then in some verses as a generic collective for enemies.

E.g., Rg Veda 8.48.8: ... mā no aryo anukāmaṃ parādāḥ
Addressed to Indu: "Give us not to our enemy's will/wish."

Rg Veda 2.12.6 ... so aryaḥ puṣtīrvija ivā mināti
"He (Indra) diminishes the possessions of the enemy like (a gambler) reduces the stake."

Now that's interesting. Usage of "ariḥ" as enemy is common, but I don't often come across it used for devotee!

Coming back to the point - So "dāsa" can be good or bad. How so? It depends on who/what is being served, or rather who or what is using up one's resources and body. If the Dasyu is your master, then surely it is a negative term in the Veda. If the Devas are one's beloved, then it is positive. (See also a previous post on this blog: "Human command potentials and roles in Civilization".) So every mobilization, religious or not, has a particular context and an undercurrent that deserves attention. One cannot draw a false moral equivalence.

Given that in its Vedic fundamentals, Hinduism has a clear antipathy to the Dasyu-Dāsa dynamic, it is strange that one finds so many manifestations of this dynamic that crept into Hindu civilization over the last 14 centuries. Something went rotten at the political heart of the civilization, some ethical Condition was mis-handled, something was displaced, first subtly from within, and later overtly and brutally under foreign occupations. It has been a long and humiliating 14 century exile, but one which has its treasures of devotion, purpose, identity, learning and being able to discriminate good from evil.

Some more on these fundamentals:
- Agniveer: Vedas and Dāsa.
- Agniveer: Vedas and Dasyu in Hinduism.

Lastly, as tiresome as it is, one can't put the pen down without a note about the spurious "Aryan-Dravidian" Apartheid race theories used by European colonial historians to misinterpret the Veda. "Dāsa" doesn't mean a "Dravidian" race. In fact, the heroic King Sudās calls several of his enemies "dāsa", including those who are "Arya". Arya was a cultural term. Thus, the large coalition of enemy nations ranged against our Sudas were depicted as an army of Dāsas lead by Dasyus, and they included some clans that were Arya and some that weren't. Whereas Sudās' own allies included Arya and non-Arya too. The Veda is far too complex and subtle for the tendentious interpretations of baser motivations to fly too far for too long.

...aaand the necessary disclaimer - All this is assuming one can reasonably assign Sanskrit meanings to the sonic data stream of the Veda - in itself a highly creative and speculative exercise based on cognitive states and scientific observation, as well as the strictest grammatical analysis of sound patterns. In one sense one can say that the poor speculative Vedic derivations of older colonial Western Indologists and Indian Marxists is also valid, as a reflection of their own metacognitions on life and the world and its interpersonal semantics.

Thus again, understanding the Dasyu-Dāsa dynamic from all angles is far more enlightening as a theory than the incitement of half-arse "class struggle" semantics found in Marxist historiography. This Marxist narrative is used by all manner of inimical forces in India today, to attack the core. (See a previous blogpost on this: "Psychohistory vs. Dumb Dialectics".) In India, the field of work associated with the political Left is ripe for an injection of better ideologies, and the emergence of a genuine "Hindutva" Left is much needed.

Already a lot of grassroots work is being done. K.N. Govindacharya, after he withdrew from the BJP and took a sabbatical, has been involved in a certain direction which is noteworthy. Per Wiki: Today he believes that challenges before the nation have to be confronted on three fronts - creative, intellectual and agitational. Therefore, he founded three organizations to fight on the following fronts:

1. Bharat Vikas Sangam: This is a working for needed model of economic development directed towards swadeshi and decentralisation.
2. Kautilya Shodh Sansthan: This is a research organisation working in the civilization context of Bharat.
3. Rashtriya Swabhiman Andolan: This organisation opposes the anti people and anti nature policies of the governments without having any political aspiration of its own.

One hopes such efforts proliferate. There are a lot of sincere individuals doing grassroots work to relieve social and economic injustices, but they are often duped into swallowing the narrative woven by well-funded NGOs and their ideological networks that are frankly ignorant or actively inimical to India's civilizational interests. Therefore, ideological creativity and better networking are essential. Vedic textual memes such as the Dasyu-Dāsa dynamic offer a more mature narrative for the benefit of all.

Here is an elaborate sculpture at Thailand's Bangkok International Airport, depicting the churning of the Milk Ocean by the tug of war between the Devas and the Asuras. [Would funding such a public cultural artifact be possible for the Government of India? Or is only a photo of the Taj Mahal "secular" enough to be included in all its cultural advertisements?]

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