The Genius of the Sanatana Social Organization: A Bird’s Eye View
There is a profound and dateless reason that Sanatana civilization and culture continues to survive in a largely unbroken fashion as the last and only non-Abrahamic civilization. When we examine the phenomenon on the philosophical plane, it becomes clear that the term “civilization” cannot be accurately or meaningfully applied to Abrahamic systems, which are essentially predatory cults devoid of the innate human impulse for spirituality that manifests itself in cultural creativity, and are therefore intolerant of any expression of said creativity. This profound and dateless reason owes to the Sanatana conception of creation and life itself, and how Hindu society was organized on the basis of these eternal and immutable philosophical principles. In his characteristic manner of self-assured and confident humility, the formidable titan of prodigious scholarship on the Dharmasastras, P.V. Kane gives us the contours of the ideals underpinning the Hindu social organization after casually mentioning that he has gone through “most of the classical works and the most prominent writers on Dharmasastra during a period of twenty-five centuries.”
The number of authors and works on Dharmasastra is legion. All these numberless authors and works were actuated by the most laudable motive of regulating the Hindu society in all matters, civil, religious and moral, and of securing for the members of that society happiness in this world and the next. They laid the greatest emphasis on the duties of every man as a member of the whole…society…and very little emphasis on the privileges of men. They created great solidarity and cohesion among the several classes of the…society in India in spite of their conflicting interests and inclinations and enabled Hindu society to hold its own against successive aggressions of foreign invaders. They preserved Hindu culture and literature in the midst of alien cultures and in spite of bigoted foreign domination…But living as, most of the later [Dharmasastra] writers did, in the midst of aggressive and violently unsympathetic cultures and rulers and possessing no powerful central government that sympathized with their ideals…they could not see far in order to regulate society in a free and buoyant spirit. [Emphasis added]
In similar vein, P.V. Kane’s much junior contemporary and an equally towering scholar, Dr. S. Srikanta Sastri unequivocally declares that the Sanatana social organization is unparalleled in world history because in its original conception, our society was organized chiefly, according to Guna (Temperament), Karma (Duty), Vritti (Occupation or Profession), and later, Mata (sect), and not along racial lines. No matter which category a person belonged to, the end goal of life was, as P.V. Kane says, “happiness in this world and the next,” by living a life of Dharma whose essential component is duty, and not rights and privileges, which generate bitterness and cynicism in our inner life and an unending cycle of strife in society and gives birth to the kind of political system that we have followed since “independence.”
When we survey the history of Hindu social organization even at a very high level, we’re astounded at the sheer genius inherent in its application to practical life. In very simple terms, there’s a reason this social organization has endured for more than two millennia at the very least. Or the fact that when the British had run out of options to break Hindu unity, they devised the depraved system of Census as a subtle but highly effective tool to classify the Hindu society only in order to divide it. The interested reader may peruse the first three chapters of Arun Shourie’s masterful work, Falling Over Backwards for firsthand accounts of the truly nauseating motivations behind the Census. At any rate, here is a summary of what the genius of Hindu social organization achieved for the Sanatana civilization.
Hereditary occupations and professions ensured generational improvements in skill, trade, and crafts and led to an extraordinary degree of consistent excellence in each of these occupations. This in turn not only contributed to the economy but created the fabled wealth of Hindustan, which attracted all manner of traders, invaders and conquerors all over the world. Community-funded education in each of these occupations ensured that the knowledge was perpetually transmitted to successive generations. Business guilds and institutions like Shreni, Puga, and Sangha, the forerunners of modern business federations like FICCI, etc, were also the progenitors of the principles of management, decentralization, delegation, and democracy. The mobile business outfit, the Saartha (Caravan) was a wholly homegrown, pan-Indian institution that had no parallel anywhere in the world and was run entirely on trust and the sanctity of the given word. A Saartha was a world in itself comprising people of all professions and varnas: large and small traders, skilled workers, artisans, freelance labourers, dance-drama troupes, musicians, clowns, astrologers, doctors, teachers, random travelers, pilgrims, soldiers-for-hire, cloth merchants, jewelers, prostitutes…A beautiful miniature of the Saartha system is available in Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s landmark TV series, Chanakya and in a detailed fashion in Dr. S.L. Bhyrappa’s Saartha, a historical novel set in its backdrop. All these institutions also helped to deeply inculcate, propagate, and safeguard Dharma and timeless Sanatana values throughout Bharatavarsha. This sort of all-encompassing and organic economic and social organizational genius immensely contributed to the growth, development and excellence in the arts.
However, there was another lambent side to this, best reflected in the manner in which this organizational genius faced crises. Daana (loosely speaking, charity) is an essential part of Dharma—till recently, beggars across the country used to beseech fellow Indians to “do some Daana, Swami.” Significant portions of the Daana that members of every community regularly performed as part of Dharma went into building a corpus of reserves. These reserves would be used during times of crises—for example, famine, aftermath of war, natural calamities, etc—to help the destitute, infirm, and the unemployed. The entire community or society did this as a sacred calling of duty and required no intervention of the law. The notion of Daana envisaged in the Sanatana culture proved to be a great social binding force and an inseparable ingredient of our economic life. At a very fundamental level, there is a subtle connection between Daana, Artha (in the sense of wealth, its acquisition, disbursement, and value), Swartha (selfishness, also used in the sense of avarice), and Ahankara (arrogance, ego). All of these in turn, stem from the quality of Rajas (extreme activity, energy, ego, fighting spirit, aggression, etc). Thus, by prescribing Daana as a sacred duty, the Sanatana conception helped reduce or mitigate the negative consequences of an excess of Swartha and Ahankara, and tempered and channelized the Rajasic energy in service of the larger society. It is the same impulse that operates behind the tenet that, for example, once a King made donations or gifts to a temple or a charitable work, it became Devasva or the property of the Deity or the community and he had no right over it thereafter. The King was the ruler of the land but he was ruled by the inviolable code of Dharma.
Thankfully, in our own time, some vestiges of this genius of Hindu social organization have survived mostly intact. But they have largely lost the vigour and selfless, spiritual nobility required to sustain them for at least say, the next thirty years. Our trading guilds vanished soon after the fatal brush with the venal forces of the hideous East India Company. Whatever fraction of traditional Hindu choultries and rest houses in urban India that remarkably continue to exist, exist as portentous signboards announcing their own impending extinction. Even those that exist in ancient Sanatana Tirtha-Kshetras are badly maintained—in some cases, the appalling maintenance is not related to lack of funding but the pervasive Hindu mindset of indifference to their innate value or plain greed.
But the fact that these continue to exist offers that flickering flame of hope. Some endowments to institutions, traditional schools, etc in such sacred Kshetras as Kashi, Mathura, Naimisharanya, and Ayodhya date back to hundreds of years reflective of the aforementioned genius of our social organization. What is needed is just a small reawakening to the innate value they represent, on a mass scale.
The same genius is also found in systems such as contributing to mass marriages, which is still regarded as a pious act. A familiar phenomenon observable in routine life is this: one of the first acts that a former goon who gets “elected” as a corporator or legislator does in order to seek electoral legitimacy and social respectability is to conduct a lavish mass marriage. Or sponsors an annual Annadanam at a famous temple or Tirtha-Kshetra. You cannot completely wipe out some things from your own Sanatana DNA. They surface despite your stubbornest opposition.
Other vestiges of said genius continue to thrive in the form of annual Jaathras, Melas, the weekly Santhe (community or village market), community festivals, performing arts like Yakshagana, all-night plays based on stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas, not to mention the spectacular gatherings like the Kumbh Mela, the Warkhari and Kanwariya Yatras and so on. The profound, common theme underscoring all these is the fact that there is no “founder” or central authority organizing them. Nor does anybody care about your background or social or economic standing. The numbers they attract are in lakhs, and in a world obsessed with crime and therefore “safety,” there is barely any incident of violence or chaos or mismanagement because every attendee is subconsciously renewing the sacred vows his ancestors bequeathed to him or her in a spirit of piety, devotion, and more importantly, goal-less celebration.
The hugely popular documentary series on the National Geographic channel titled India’s Mega Kitchens has another side to it. The other side is evident right in the title itself. By characterizing such sacred Kshetras as Dharmasthala, Hola Mohalla, Shirdi, Amritsar, and Puri Jagannath as merely “mega kitchens,” National Geographic treads familiar territory: of documenting and archiving ancient and spiritual traditions as case studies in cultural anthropology. In other words, the selfsame attempt at delinking and de-sanctifying them. A basic question needs to be asked: do Hindus regard the food they eat at Dharmasthala etc as merely a product of a mega kitchen? Do they visit Shirdi or Amritsar to merely eat? But then, there is enough evidence to show that National Geographic is no friend or respecter of Hindus. For example, in a 2003 piece, it conducted a hitjob on what it called caste system; in 2017, another hitjob demonizing the Indian army in Kashmir…there is enough material in its toxic anti-India archives.
But the fact that they thought of doing a documentary on these Kshetras holds the key: how does this third world country of idol-worshippers with its oppressive caste system and its corrupt politicians manage to feed lakhs of people across its geography on a daily basis for free, no questions asked? They have no Harvard or Stanford and lag behind in scientific progress and technological innovation. What is their secret?
See what I meant when I called it the genius of Sanatana social organization? It is a selfless, invaluable gift of our Rishis for which there is no substitute. Wipe the accumulated dust of the sloth and negligence of centuries and bask in the glow of the resplendent gem underneath.
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