The Sanatana Conception of Skin Colour Contrasted with The Biblical Darkness of Racism

Examining the Western theory and practice of skin colour-based racism from the prism of Sanatana philosophy.
The Sanatana Conception of Skin Colour Contrasted with The Biblical Darkness of Racism

WILLIAM BLAKE’S The Little Black Boy is a highly significant poem for historical, cultural, social, political, and religious reasons. If a rough assessment can be made, the poem is an attempt at course correction, in a way. It was written by a White English man at the time when skin-based racial discrimination was peaking.

The poem ostensibly talks about the futility of discriminating people based on skin colour superiority but the underlying theme is the beneficence of the Male Christian God because as the Black Boy says:

When I from black and he from white cloud free,

And round the tent of God like lambs we joy.

But while Blake feels for the black boy, he doesn’t forget to assert the fact that he, the White English boy, is the Master condescending to “love.” The last two lines of this haughty poem written in a sissy tone hammer this point. It is the sorry lot of the poor black boy to “shade” the white boy

from the heat till he can bear,

To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.

And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,

And be like him and he will then love me.

The last line is truly chilling: “and be like him and he will then love me.” Blake’s macabre poem is one of the literary proofs demonstrating the Biblical origins of white racism. Its greatest success happens to be the generationally deracinated Hindus who continue to prance like monkeys desperately seeking to be like the white man so that “he will love me.”

But this goes far beyond the spiritual and cultural detritus caused by the psychological grip imposed by racism. It has led to genocides across the globe and we can leave it at that.

Every country and culture have historically taken pride in what it regards as its highest ideals and values which in turn shape its civilisation and culture. By this yardstick, it is reasonable to conclude that skin colour was the highest civilisational and cultural “ideal” that the White Race could take pride in for over three centuries. Indeed, that pride has made a perverse, backdoor entry into India. The phenomenal sales of skin lightening products reveal more than it conceals. And this insane rush to out-white the white skin has accelerated after “independence.” Our downfall couldn’t have been swifter or more tragic. Almost every chronicle and travelogue written by Europeans make this uniform observation about the unanimous Indian attitude to white skin – we associated white skin with a specific ailment: leprosy.

Which brings us to the subject of this piece: how important was skin colour in ancient Indian thought?

The answer: almost zero. When analysing questions like this, it is important to take a holistic and wholesome view rather than a reductionist or isolationist view of the subject.

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THE NOTION OF ASSOCIATING COLOUR with specific human traits such as good and evil holds a negligible or no significance in the Sanatana philosophical framework. On a fundamental plane, our philosophy has no place for a rather juvenile question that continues to vex Western minds: the so-called “problem” of eternal evil. This is because in the Vedantic view, both good and evil are seen as deriving from the same source. They are two sides of the same coin. The problem of evil is merely another expression of an immature mind, the consequence of looking at the world from a Dvandva (dual, separate) perspective. The story of Prahlada illustrates this best. When his demonic father, Hiranyakashyipu, asks him where Vishnu is, Prahlada simply says that “he’s within you; I seek him through love while you seek him through hatred.” The backstory to Hiranyakashyipu’s hatred for Vishnu is eminently logical. He is Jaya, the former gatekeeper of Vaikunta, cursed to be born as an Asura to atone for his arrogance. The force that reunites him with Vishnu is his own son, Prahlada. This extraordinary story works at multiple layers and is what has made it immortal. Analysing this story from a mundane perspective, evil is a fallen good and the harder it fights with good, it ultimately becomes good. Its source lies within us, in the Arishadvarga.

And so, when we understand skin colour-based racism from this philosophical prism, it becomes clear that using mere colours like black and white to denote behavioural and cultural attributes is a product of the selfsame Arishadvarga. In other words, racism is the outcome of Arishadvarga systematised by an inferior culture and imposed upon others through the force of arms. The outcome of calm argument and serene deliberation leads to acceptance, not strife. This is the method of our Sastrartha or Vakyartha.

In several of his essays in The Dance of Shiva, Ananda Coomaraswamy severely condemns Western critics of Indian art for holding the view that Indian sculpture was not artistic because they were “hideous and grotesque.” Needless, a major element in this pseudo criticism emanated from the Western prejudice of associating black with evil. We can also consider the famous phrase, “black magic,” a Christian concept, which has wholly evil connotations.

But to be more specific, there’s not a single text in the whole corpus of Sanatana literature which intrinsically treats black as evil or inauspicious. There is ample evidence to the contrary.  

Why Bhagavan Veda Vyasa or Valmiki Maharshi chose to portray Rama, Krishna, Draupadi, Arjuna, and Hanuman in their respective colours is best known to them but it certainly has nothing to do with the superiority of their skin colour.

That the word “Krishna” means “black” is common knowledge. It is derived from the Krush root, which means “to attract,” “to rub,” etc. From this root is derived the word, Aakarshana or attraction. It also means the colour black. Therefore, the word Krishna means, one who attracts, who is capable of attracting, and so on. Clearly, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata and the Puranic lore perfectly echo this fundamental character of Krishna: there was none who escaped his charms.

The literal meaning of the word, “Arjuna” is “white,” “clear,” “of the lightning,” “of milk,” etc. One of Arjuna’s ten names also happens to be Krishna, which is an apparent contradiction. But the contradiction is resolved when we go beyond the narrow framework of colour. Thus, when we recall the same root Krush, we see that Arjuna is described as an extremely handsome, and attractive man, i.e., Aakarshaka. Hence the synonym, “Krishna” for Arjuna, too.

Interpreted purely in skin colour terms, the contrast is rather interesting: “black” and “white,” which are placed side-by-side, close friends and confidants, master and pupil. This is exactly the opposite of Western thought which regards black and white as eternal, irreconcilable foes.

Black also has connotations of the mysterious, which again is entirely consistent with the conception of the character of Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata. His words and deeds appear rather mysterious and inexplicable but always culminated in upholding Dharma. But to crude and tamasic minds like those of Wendy Doniger et al, Krishna is an evil character because he gave us the Gita, a book that advocates war.  

Basic laws of Physics also serve to illustrate our point further. White disperses colours while all colours merge themselves in black. Sri Krishna as the human incarnation of the Eternal Cosmic Consciousness symbolizes black. In his life, which is basically an unfurling of a Cosmic Play of his own authoring, Sri Krishna showed the whole cosmos to two people: his foster mother Yashoda and his friend and disciple, Arjuna. The Christian God is inaccessible and is an object to be feared. Sri Krishna is our friend or foe but he is always accessible. Therein lies the fundamental difference between Bharatavarsha and the West.

“Black” and “dark” are fundamentally two different things. The West continues to advertise its philosophical darkness by associating it with a mere colour. The fact that a hideous entity called Black Lives Matter continues to run amok simply shows that the West remains incapable of tackling the roots of racism on the plane of philosophy.    

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