Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Vol. 4): Riddles on Brahmanic Theology
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar (1891-1956), or Babasaheb Ambedkar, was a scholar, social reformer, powerful advocate of the rights of Dalits and women, chairman of the Constituent Assembly of India, and the country’s first law minister.
In 1976, the government of Maharashtra set up the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Source Material Publication Committee to compile Dr. Ambedkar’s complete works. The Committee consisted of the state’s then education minister and noted scholars and writers. In 1978, when Vasant Moon (Dalit activist, author and Officer on Special Duty) joined the Committee, it decided to procure and publish Dr. Ambedkar’s unpublished writings too.
The state’s Education Department started to publish a 22-volume series titled Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches in 1979, and it brought out this fourth volume in 1987. The series was re-printed by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in January 2014.
The fourth volume contains Dr. Ambedkar’s reflections on Brahmanic theology. The pieces in this volume (which has three parts) are written in the form of riddles in which one of Brahmanism's inconsistencies remains unexplained. Part I features Dr. Ambedkar’s thoughts on the religious aspects of Brahmanism; Part II contains his writings on the social implications of Brahmanism (specifically, the caste order and untouchability); and Part III is an exposition of the kind of politics that accompany a Brahmanic worldview.
Part I: Religious
In the first part, Dr. Ambedkar makes a note of Brahmanism’s many inconsistencies, from how the Vedas are infallible to why a non-violent god like Shiva was married to a 'bloodthirsty' goddess like Kali. In Riddle 3, Dr. Ambedkar says there are eleven different origin stories about the Vedas, and none of them relate to each other in any direct way. He observes in Riddle 5 that while the hymns of the Rig Veda are considered eternal, the hymns themselves distinguish between ancient rishis and modern rishis. This would imply, Dr. Ambedkar argues in Riddle 4, that the hymns were composed by humans, however they came to be seen as the only infallible authority in the time of the Gautama Dharma Sutra (600-200 BC).
In Riddle 6, Dr. Ambedkar asks if the Vedas have any spiritual or moral value. He mentions that the Atharva Veda is filled with descriptions of sorcery, black magic and medicine, and that the Vedas are more as ‘a picture of primitive life’ rather than a source of spiritual or moral values. If the Vedas did not provide a framework for morality then, what, Dr. Ambedkar asks, were the sources of customary law and who formulated them? Similarly, Dr. Ambedkar asks why Hinduism’s gods are always fighting with each other and how one explains the fall of gods such as Brahma and the subsequent rise of Shiva, Krishna and Rama.
Part II: Social
In this part, Dr. Ambedkar talks about what the Brahmanical texts prescribe for social life. In Riddle 17, he discusses the Varnashram Dharma and the necessity of going through the ashrams or four stages of life (Brahmacharya, Grahasthashram, Vanaprastha and Sannyas) in a particular order. He poses questions about the necessity of marriage, sanyasis not being able to discuss the Shastras, and why Manu distinguished between two very similar stages of life – Varnaprastha and Sannyas.
In Riddle 16, Dr. Ambedkar discusses the various explanations given for the Varna system of the classification of castes. The Rig Veda describes the caste system in the 90th hymn of the 10th book as arising out of different parts of the Purush (cosmic being). However, Dr. Ambedkar notes that none of the other Vedas or the Brahmanas mention or support this theory. It is only in the Manu Smriti and the Vishnu Purana that this theory was given a philosophical basis in the form of Sankhya philosophy.
In Riddle 18, Dr. Ambedkar enumerates Manu’s elaborate systems of classification that categorise people into the ‘mixed’ castes, the ‘fallen’ castes and so on. He asks why Manu spoke of mixed castes like the Chandalas (the progeny of ‘illegitimate intercourse’ between a Shudra male and a Brahman female) when the castes were ‘independent in their existence’?
Part III: Political
In the last part of this volume, Dr. Ambedkar provides evidence for the non-democratic nature of Brahmanism. He notes that for Brahmanism to have become successful, Brahmaism had to be defeated. (Brahmaism is a strand of Hindu religious thought distinct from Brahmanism and Vedanta.) Dr. Ambedkar says that Brahmaism and Vedanta agree that every person is divine and the Atman (self) is the same as the Brahma. So everyone is a part of the Brahma and therefore, equal and should enjoy the same liberties in a democracy. However, Dr. Ambedkar points out that this is in stark contrast to Brahmanism, which lays down strict rules for the hierarchy of castes and the interactions of people, and he explains how a democratic government can only arise from a democratic society.
In Riddle 23, Dr. Ambedkar talks about the absurd way in which the different ages in Hinduism are distinguished from one another and how the Brahmins made Kali Yuga almost unending. One of the dogmas associated with Kali Yuga is Kali Varjya, which is scattered across the Puranas. It prohibits the customs of older eras from being practised in Kali Yuga but does not completely condemn them. As a result, these practices are not condemned as immoral, sinful or harmful to society. Dr. Ambedkar asks: “Why did the Brahmins invent this new technics – forbid and not condemn?”
Focus by Swayam Bagaria.
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
First edition compiled and edited by Vasant Moon
Second edition edited by Hari Narke
The first edition was published by the Education Department, government of Maharashtra, in 1987. This is a 2014 reprint by the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Delhi, an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.