IN THE GUNDLUPET INSCRIPTION mentioned in the previous episode, this is how the Vira Pancaḻas describe themselves:
“…all the Vira Pancaḻas, the originals of the Manu race, of incomparable character . . . delighting in Parabrahma, creators of the fourteen worlds, of unshaken joy, of daily pure and enlightened salvation, self-known and self-manifest; by their authority as the original men, making (?) in Tungala (or Tungalale) of Bendukaliyur, hundreds and thousands of inquiries of all manner of seeds and plants; well-versed in weighing and comparing, in Vedas, science, logic, grammar, poetry, in pronouncing distinctly the palatals and labials, in training horses and elephants, and in holding the breath charged with perfume; masters in reading, writing, arithmetic, and the deception (?) of skilful people… perfumers of Sarasvati with rare jasmine, ornaments in the ears of Sarasvati; distinguished for cities, island forts, hill forts, forest forts… Five Principles [pancha-tattva]… domes, pinnacles; they create the sixteen signs of the original house, the sign of the sacrificial hall, the sign of the pit for the consecrated fire, the sign of slopes, etc., according to standard rules, for these and all other signs; they are authorities for the creation of . . . mansions… adorners of Sriparvata deeply learned in all the science of language and the puranas to the utmost limits; fond of and merciful to war elephants.... accomplished as Rama; boon-lords of Pindotipura, devotees of the lotus feet of Sri Kāḻikā-Devi and Kamaṭeśvara — such were the Vira Pancaḻas of Terakanambi.”
The first thing that clearly strikes us is the pride that the Vira Pancaḻas took in their educational and professional accomplishments. The list of subjects that they claim mastery over, embraces all knowledge systems prevalent in Bharata since time immemorial: the traditional caturdaśa-vidyās (14 branches of knowledge) and the catuṣaṣṭhi-kalās (64 Arts).
It wouldn’t be farfetched to claim that this one inscription is enough to puncture the concocted colonial and Marxist narratives regarding an alleged caste system forged in cast iron. The aforementioned components of the Vira Pancaḻas include those communities which are today recognised by our Constitution as “backward classes” — carpenters, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, stone-cutters, braziers, washermen, barbers, etc. Yet, here is an inscription which tells almost the opposite story. We must remember that the Vira Pancaḻas were the authors of this inscription. And here, when they describe their educational qualifications, it reads like the resume of a typical Brahmana Pandit or Vidvan: “well-versed in” the Vedas, Tarka, Vyākaraṇa, āgama, śikṣā, Kāvya… This educational accomplishment is also the basis on which they justify their preeminence in society. Clearly, nobody had denied them education in any subject: Vaidika (Vedic) and Laukika (worldly or professional).
Interestingly, the Vira Pancaḻas claim that they — and not the Brahmanas or other so-called “higher castes” — are the “originals of the race of Manu.” They also supply the reasoning for it: they are of “incomparable character,” which is the outcome of their immersion in the “Parabrahman,” which is “self-known and self-manifest.” The emphasis on character is thoroughly consistent with the Sanatana ethos of Bharatavarsha. To spell out the obvious, the Vira Pancaḻas — like other communities — had attuned themselves to and took pride in the shared values that built the Hindu civilisation and society.
On the macro canvas, this inscription, like hundreds others related to the Vijayanagara era, is but a tiny slice that shows the fluid and harmonious social system in that great kingdom. B.A. Saletore, one of the top authorities on Vijayanagara describes this flexible social structure in words embossed in gold:
“… we may observe that the adjustment of the duties of, and the distribution of patronage to, the four varnasramas was indeed a problem which called forth the ingenuity of the Vijayanagara rulers. For, in addition to the need of reconciling the differences between the various communities, without lowering in any way the prestige of the Hindu monarchs as promoters of the Dharma, there was the grave question of defending the country against an ever-watchful enemy who was waiting for an opportunity of crushing the Hindu Empire. The fact that the monarchs of Vijayanagara were able to achieve both these ends for a considerable length of time, in spite of the many short-comings in their political system, is enough to prove that, so far as the social side of their history is concerned, they must have conferred on the people those advantages of person, property and religion which assured them the heartiest co-operation of the people in times of grave political crisis. The existence of the four great varnasramas and the eighteen subsects proved no barrier to them. On the other hand, their public avowal to promote sakala-varnasrama-dharmas, may have been partly responsibe for their success…The history of the Hindu State viewed from this standpoint becomes interesting as the record of a people who, although divided into four main groups with their numerous subdivisions, yet lived to turn the times in which the monarchs struggled to maintain the honour of the land, into an age of intense social and intellectual activity.”
Even from this valuable perspective, the story and precept of the Vira Pancaḻas is a brilliant case study that demonstrates how the so-called representative democracy worked in action under a monarchial system. Almost the same thing holds true for all the other so-called “lower castes” that existed in the period.
Unfortunately, the colonial-Marxist stranglehold over history and popular narrative has proven quite enduring and hard to break. Its spurious proposition of Hindu society = caste and caste = evil, has remained the Iron Curtain that has scared three generations of scholars, authors and novelists from delving into the profound truths ensconced in the real-life stories represented by the Vira Pancaḻas. Thus, the pride that the Vira Pancaḻas took in the Vedas and Sanatana Dharma is interpreted as “an aspiration for Brahminism,” as the “savarnaisation of marginalised groups,” and other fraudulent nonsense spewed by the hate factories of sociology and anthropology. Salman Rushdie is the latest villain who has discharged substantial textual excreta in this gutter in his foul novel, Victory City.
In the next episode, we will examine some details related to the range of activities of the Vira Pancaḻas and their geographical spread using real-life examples.
To be continued
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