Monday, May 16, 2011

Deconstructing the New Brahmin Academy: An Essay on Sasenarine Persaud’s poem, Letter to Gargi

Deconstructing the New Brahmin Academy:
An Essay on Sasenarine Persaud’s poem, Letter to Gargi

By Sushila Patil and Moses Seenarine1
(Published by on June 1, 1996)

                A great householder man named Shaunaka once came to Angiras and reverently asked:
                “What is that by knowing which all is known?”
                Angiras replied:
                                The illumined sages say,
                                Knowledge is twofold, higher and lower.
                                The study of the Vedas, linguistics,
                                Rituals, astronomy, and all the arts
                                Can be called lower knowledge. The higher
                                Is that which leads to Self-realization.
                                The eye cannot see it; mind cannot grasp it.
                                The deathless Self has neither caste nor race.
                                                                (The Mundaka Upanishad)2

            A critical reading of Angiras’s answer to Shaunaka in the Mundaka Upanishad3, reveals that brahmanic constructions of ritual, race, caste and gender had a defining influence in south asia at the time. Aurobindo concurs in describing the upanishads as, “a revolt of philosophic minds against the ritualistic materialism of the Vedas.”4
            Angiras’s reference to the study of rituals and the vedas, in particular, suggests that brahmanic ideology was formalized among the landed class. In employing the “great householder” Shaunaka for his audience, Angiras critiques brahmanic practices of the privileged classes of the time, using the guise of “illumined sages.”
            By placing the study of rituals and the vedas as part of lower knowledge, not higher knowledge5 as brahmins claimed, Angiras addresses crucial issues around spiritual authenticity and representation. Male brahmanic hegemony is constructed primarily on these two aspects of lower learning. However, this ideology neglects the importance of forms of learning like the arts, astrology, languages and communication.
            Angiras expands on this issue of spiritual representation further, stating that higher knowledge, or self-realization, neither depends on caste nor race.6  Since Angiras’s critique, brahmanic hegemony has been repeatedly contested by sages, reformers, and activists in the sub-continent and elsewhere.7
            In his poem, Letter to Gargi, Persaud takes up this criticism by using the trenchant voice of another upanishadic philosopher, Gargi Vachaknavi. While the poem can be read at various levels, this essay explores gender and caste issues as they were interpreted by the two authors in a reading of, and beyond, the lines of the poem. But first, an exploration of Gargi’s role in the upanishads is presented in order to provide some background information for the reader.
Gargi’s Role in the Upanishads
            In contrast to the submissive, voiceless portrayal of women in the vedic cannon,8 for example, as depicted in “The Imperishable” in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads,9 one gets quite a different representation of female spirituality in the voice of Gargi. Gargi Vachaknavi was a female philosopher who gained legendary repute for successfully debating prominent male philosophers during the upanishadic period, including Yajnavalkya. She, like countless women, represented a challenge to males of her period. This challenge, as documented in the vedas, has been critiqued upon by many european and indian vedic scholars, hindu reformers and writers. However, an exploration of the different portraitures of Gargi are beyond the scope of this paper.
            Gargi’s role as a woman in the upanishads is an exceptional one; as such, this discussion should not be viewed as a discussion on the status accorded to women in the vedic period. Gargi’s example is simply not representative of the status of even indian upper class and caste women at that time. Pandita Ramabai was one of the first indian feminist and sanskrit scholars who argued that there never were any glory days of indian ‘hindu’ womanhood, wherein women were equal in status to men.10 Her insights need to be carefully examined. This discussion of Gargi should therefore be viewed with respect to the large numbers of working class women stigmatized with lower caste status in the vedic period; known as the vedic dasi,11  whose exploitation continues.
            The unusual image of Gargi as an expert in spiritual discourse as represented in the vedic text, is that of a woman who defies the construction of gender roles; she confronts brahmanic patriarchy in a spiritual and intellectual struggle for her own empowerment. However, Gargi is only mentioned in a few places in the upanishad texts. In “The Imperishable,” Gargi confidently warns Yajnavalkya: “As a warrior from Kashi or Videha rises with a bow and arrow to fell the opponent, I rise to fell you with two questions.”12
            For her first question, Gargi riddles, “that which is above heaven and below the earth, which is also between heaven and earth, which is the same through past, present and future, in what is that woven, warp and woof?” Yajnavalkya answers easily, “in space.”13 For her second question, Gargi asks, “in what is space itself woven, warp and woof?” Yajnavalkya’s answer: “the imperishable.”14
            Gargi’s questions reveal a clear and poetic mind. She discusses profound concepts, such the science and unity of the material and non-material world, and the illusion of time, in a way which is accessible to all. Astutely, she follows Yajnavalkya’s simplistic answer to her first question with the same line of inquiry in her second question. She employs a feminine metaphor, like ‘the womb,’ as a symbol for her discussion on the source of creation, for instance, “in what is that woven, warp and woof?” “Warp” suggests wrapping, or creating an enclosed area; while “woof” alludes to the surrounding effect of sound. “Woven” hints at being covered by a garment, as well as other domestic arts.
            When Gargi asks Yajnavalkya what pervades the world of the imperishable, defeated, he concedes and threatens: “Do not question me beyond that. You may get crazy, because you are questioning about a deity who cannot be known through mere reasoning.”15  One of the implications of Yajnavalkya’s statement, is that instead of conceding defeat in the debate, he was trying to dissuade Gargi from going into the construction of the belief system itself. If this assumption is correct, Yajnavalkya may have acted because he felt that his own understanding, and that of the brahmanic religious doctrines also, could not survive Gargi’s critical examination.
            His command: “Do not question me beyond that,” shows clearly the unequal power dynamics in the debate in which Gargi’s role as questioner was further contingent on Yajnavalkya’s willingness to participate in a discussion with her. Nevertheless, Gargi’s questions reveal that she was rejecting the blind faith of the vedas for her own spiritual journey. Her depiction as a high caste hindu woman, is therefore, dubious.
            In this exchange between the “greatest” upanishadic sages, Gargi represents a powerful icon countervailing the trend of devaluating women in vedic texts while avoiding a glorification of them at the same time. Gargi’s voice provides an exception of gender roles vedic studies and brahmanic hinduism that are historically patriarchal and male dominated. Sasenarine Persaud reminds us of Gargi’s powerful voice in his poem.
Letter to Gargi
by Sasenarine Persaud

Ah, ancient mother                                                                   
up creeps the cold on red leaves                                              
will fade like lipstick you never knew                                       
But your tongue was red, Gargi                                               
your breath hot.                                                                       
I owe you nothing except the arrows                                        
you gave me for the Brahmin-Academy                                              
Now as then cold creeps up.                                                  
The literary critic,                                                                   
the academy-writer and the baker                                           
all hustle for the warmth:                                                          
Men learn from women - you were the best.                           
Remember that ancient time?                                                  
Yagnavalkya put his tail between his teeth                               
and begged for PEACE..                                                      
Even King Janaka taught the priests until they                          
concocted rules,                                                                       
Cast these out as the words of god: at the tip sits a                  
Brahmin! All the while you knew                                              
not only Brahmins knew they alone did not know...                   

These days Gargi, ashrams become
university chairs
and daughters think of tenure
more dogmatic than old brahmins
more formalised than caste
more accepted...

Quickly send me that tongue to keep me warm
in the coming cold. I can sharpen
for Yagnavalkya
And we can laugh when he pleads our
health -
He put his tail between his teeth:
“If you ask too many question your head will burst!”
Whose head Gargi, whose head?
Your bastard son
who needs your tongue?

Interpreting Letter To Gargi
            Like waves rippling across distant shores, Letter to Gargi operates at several levels and spheres. On one plane, the poem is concerned with the relationship between Gargi and the author of the letter, while at another, it is about a spiritual contest between Gargi and Yajnavalkya. “Hot” and “cold” images in the poem are illustrative of gender dichotomies constructed between female and male, and of caste differences between non-brahmin and brahmin, which are the focus of this paper. “Hot” and “cold” are also metaphors for the western and non-western word, in indian politics and culture, and the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ world; some of these issues will be explored in this essay.
            The poem also reflects historical continuities and changes between ancient and contemporary periods, and advantaged and marginalized groups. At another level, it can be interpreted as a series of alienated relationships between: (1) Gargi and her son-student; (2) Gargi and her contemporaries; (3) the poet, as an Indo-Guyanese Canadian immigrant, and other “Indians”; and finally, between (4) the poet and the western academy.
The Poem as a Letter
            At the level of a relationship between Gargi and the author of the letter, Persaud pays homage to Gargi’s intellectual and spiritual quest for truth and for providing him with proverbial “arrows” to fight against the “Brahmin-Academy.” On this plane, it is not only a letter written with regards to the poet’s own oppression and alienation, but one that exposes the effects of domination upon the oppressed and subaltern.
            The poem is set on the eve of winter with the backdrop of moral decay in a cycle of caste, class and gender oppressions.  The setting and related imagery reflect harsh social inequalities. Just like trees, sensing the coming cold and withdrawing pigment from their leaves into their limbs and trunk to fortify themselves in winter, the writer internalizes Gargi’s fiery arguments to fortify his own defense against the coming of a “cold,” rigid and frozen brahmanic conservatism. For instance, he entreats Gargi at the beginning and end of the letter to provide inspiration for him, her “bastard son” (more on this later).
The Poem as a Spiritual Debate
            At the level of spiritual debate between upanisadic sages, Gargi and Yajnavalkya, the imagery created by Gargi’s burning tongue reminds us of another symbol of supreme female power, the mother goddess Kali. Gargi’s hot breath, a symbol of her prowess at spiritual debate against male brahmins, defies the unyielding and paralyzing winter and suppression it represents. Like melting ice, her powerful eloquence flows over the rigid constructions of caste and gender barriers that would limit her voice.
            As his loss of face becomes apparent, Yajnavalkya makes a desperate appeal for Gargi’s health in a plea for intellectual lenience. What is significant here is that Yajnavalkya’s call for conformity and maintenance of the status quo is cloaked in the appeal for Gargi’s own health and welfare, and masks a veiled threat to sacrifice Gargi’s head. This provides insight into the construction of hegemony, for instance, the justification of capitalism, anti-terrorist laws and “defensive” security forces in terms of economic prosperity, “public safety” and other benefits for the oppressed masses.
            Persaud suggests that in her spiritual quest, Gargi humbly accepts she does not know the answers to the mysteries of life, and herein lies her honesty, integrity and strength. In this rejection of dogma, Gargi’s example offers the possibility of empowerment to men and women from all castes and classes;“the literary critic, the academy-writer and the baker all hustle for the warmth” she lends.
The Poem as a Contest Between the Sexes
            Viewed from the perspective of a contest between the sexes, the poet agrees with other 19th century writers who argued that in the area of spirituality, women were not inferior to men during the vedic period.16 In the poem, Persaud goes on further to denigrateYajnavalkya, the male brahmin sage, who is portrayed as an animal with a tail. By having the male shamefully, “put his tail between his teeth” and ‘bites his tongue,’the poet renders Yajnavalkya obsolete. Interpreting the tail as an extension of the phallus - and therefore, as a symbol of patriarchal control and domination - there is the implication of brahmanic self-castration.
            In this sense, Gargi’s victory and Yajnavalka’s demise as a philosopher of men can be interpreted as a victory for women as she witnesses Yajnavalkya bite off the very symbol of patriarchy, the penis.  Self-castration is also suggested as Yajnavalkya practices that which is antithetical to spiritual learning, a rigid hierarchy with brahmins at the top, at the expense of the spiritually oppressed and dispossessed. Gargi, as a woman and non-brahmin, delivers a blow against patriarchy and brahminism.
            Yet, in regarding Gargi as a heroic figure, it should be borne in mind that Gargi may not necessarily be regarded as an attainable role model by the oppressed indian fe(male). Issues of class, gender, caste, and education are obscured by the fact that Gargi was still privileged as an educated, skilled and accomplished woman. One could infer that Gargi quite probably had female domestic servants herself.
            This is not to say that only someone with her background could have achieved what she did. The point is that not all oppressed women can become like Gargi, taking into consideration the double-burden and triple oppression many contemporary working women face by virtue of their class, caste and gender.  The voices of poor women like Gargi’s unmentioned maid-servants of the vedic period, and those of the present, are silenced in a preoccupation with the ‘glory days’ of upper class/caste indian womanhood.17
Gargi as an Early Feminist Teacher
            The poet’s recognition that “men learn from women,” reverses gender roles to that of wife-teacher and husband-student. Gargi’s example serve to teach others on how to question and deconstruct male brahmins’ claim as spiritual representatives of god. As heroine and revolutionary, Persaud paints Gargi in a fierce image, like that of Kali, with her “red tongue” and “hot breath” being weapons which she uses to hurl proverbial arrows at her oppressors in the brahmin academy.
            However, although Persaud does not specifically mention it, certainly Gargi must have had to face the male brahmins’ own arrows, cast out against her in the guise of  “the words of god”, in personal attacks, acts of character assassination and other insults to disgrace her as a woman. This was because the brahmin academy did not want to accept her (unto now) as their teacher. However, she was not dissuaded from confronting and exposing them.
            At another level, the poet’s use of provocative symbols and fantasies about Gargi could be interpreted as sexist. Words like “lipstick,” “who needs your tongue,” “hot,” “breath,” etc., could be interpreted as having sexual connotations. This kind of double-meaning is typical of many male writers’ romanticized depiction of women either as maternal figures or as sexual objects. Even though well-intentioned, these writers reinforce gender stereotypes and limit feminist consciousness among both men and women.
Recasting the Upanishads
            Historically, Persaud reclaims the spiritual and intellectual power of the non-brahmanic origins of the upanishads by recounting a period when Janaka18 and other kings from the kshatriya (warrior) caste were spiritual leaders, and “taught the priests.” Indeed, the true spiritual leaders in the early vedic period may have been women like Apala, Ghosa, and Visvavara.19 These assertions serve as a contradiction to later “concocted rules” for caste and gender hierarchies, and points to a period in which brahmin males were not considered superior by virtue of notions of reincarnation, biological sex, karma (duty), divine ordination and pollution.
            The poet criticizes the brahmins’ formalized rituals, claims and “concocted rules” as the literal “top” or head of a caste-divided body. As the sole possessors of  various spiritual texts, this enabled members of one group to become the dominant caste in a rigid, institutionalized caste hierarchy. This consequently led to marginalization of the discourse on self-actualization of all people, regardless of race, caste, gender and class.
            One important critique of the poem is the contradiction represented by the poet’s location within the cultural and social world view of hinduism. Although he chastises brahmins for their excess, Persaud nevertheless remains supportive of a hinduism largely defined by an amalgamation of brahmanical and kshatriya values. This results in a critique from a reformist hindu position, not a revolutionary one. Like Dayandada Saraswati, Vivekandana, Gandhi, and others, Persaud views the liberation of indian women, the lower castes and non-hindus through the lens of upper caste hindu liberalism, with its aversion towards disturbing the status quo and giving power to dalits and poor women. 
The Perils of Hindu Chauvinism
            Individuals who oppose brahmanic hegemony but nevertheless accepts dominant hindu ideology and chauvinism, inadvertently ends up supporting brahmanic-kshatriya ideology. This reality led Pandita Ramabai, as an upper caste hindu woman, to convert to christianity; she rejected the notion of liberation of indian women through a reformist hindu ideology that had oppressed her and millions of other women and girls. Similarly, as regards to untouchables or dalits, Ambedkar’s decision to convert to buddhism suggests that he too saw male, upper caste hinduism as too corrupt for reform.
            Another issue could be complacency in perpetuating the ideology that pre-vedic people were part of one dominant hinduism, rather than a combination of different south asian traditions (hindu and non-hindu). A third and related issue is that of indifference to the ongoing conflict between a dominant hinduism and marginalized non-hindu cultures in south asia and elsewhere. For example, being blind to the continued colonization of tribal cultures and the everyday acts of the violence against women, muslims, dalits, buddhists, christians, sikhs, and so on, in the face of hindu cultural and political domination.
            There is a real danger that unconscious support of brahmin male standards of caste and cultural “purity” could lead to a perverted hindu chauvinism as different caste, gender and class groups all compete to be the ‘true’ indians. This process can be seen in the actions of the brahmin fascist organizations like Siva Sena, whose leaders recruited poor, lower caste dalits to violently force muslims (many who were poor and former lower caste themselves) out of Bombay in 1992. In a climate of hindu euphoria and hysteria, all non-hindus are casted as anti-nationalist collaborators with the enemy. 
            This process is perverted among the diaspora as caste hindus become the new “dalits” in the christian west.  As an immigrant minority community facing a different form of ‘casteism’ in white racism, hindu revivalism is used as a defense mechanism against attacks on indians and their religion, culture and personal identity.  As a result, many wealthy indians (brahmins, sikhs, etc.) in the west become ardent supporters of Overseas Friends of the BJP, the hindu nationalist party in India.
And Daughters Think of Tenure
            At a further level of feminist interpretation, class differences divide both females and males, and social institutions serve to reinforce gender oppression. The line in the poem, “and daughters think of tenure,” could be interpreted as, (a) gender and class conflict, (b) tenure in the sense of the joining the academy (more on this later), and (c) tenure in the sense of marriage.
            There is continued underlying gender and class conflict between privileged women (like modern day Gargis, who “think of tenure” in the professions, business and academia) and the domestic servants they hire for childcare, housekeeping and so on. In marriage, “daughters think of tenure” in the patriarchal institution of the family. 
            Marriage is an institution in which father and sons are prized and daughters, widows, single-mothers and spinsters, are scorned and devalued. This tenure of marriage is “more dogmatic” because it is “more accepted” and legitimized. The suggestion being that patriarchal ideology has dominated to the point where women have internalized the doctrine of marriage and act to perpetuate and support it often to their own detriment.
Tenure and the Brahmin Academy
            The ancient ashrams that were dominated by brahmin priests are replaced in modern times, in the West, by university chairs seated primarily by brahmins and white males.  The line “ashrams become university chairs” could be interpreted as a comment on the trend among the brahmin community to fund university chairs at elite western universities.  This purchase allow for brahmins’ control over south asian spiritual and intellectual heritage in the west, and further legitimizes brahmanic patriarchal religious practices, cultures and traditions -  which now become a legitimate academic subject of study at western academies.
            The line: “And daughters think of tenure” may be interpreted as referring to tenure in academic studies dominated by western notions of philosophy, psychology and science.  The poet may be referring to a critique of this process in which indian women now become tenured professors and co-conspirators in western hegemony.  This process is typified by the worship of the upper class white male and “his” standards such as materialism, physical features (tall stature, blue eyes, light skin color, straight hair, etc.) and so on - to the detriment of those who have different characteristics (the poor, women, people of color, etc.).
The Poet and the Western Academy: The Language of Cultural Domination
            According to Sasenarine Persaud, “the entire educational/university system of the west is a cleaver reclothing of the Indian brahmin system.” He writes further, “the ritual of the brahmins of the west... (consist of) academics and intellectuals engaging in’ intellectual’ and polemic pyrogenics” (personal communication). While these criticisms are true of this essay as well, an attempt is still made to use language which is more accessible to readers outside the academy.
            As an extension of the brahmin academy, the western academy also acts to maintain the legitimacy of Western, male dominance and hegemony. This legitimacy is, in turn, based on use of a highly esoteric, abstract discourse, one that is constructed within ‘common indo-european’ languages, yet far removed from the root language spoken by the masses. An impression is created that the masses lack understanding of academic language, which suggests that their own language (and thinking) is ‘limited.’ Thus, the academy touts its own discourse as based on a more ‘rational,’ concrete, non-ambiguous language; the assumption being it is more advanced and ‘developed’ (i.e., better).
            However, this assumption masks the limitations within the nature of language itself, ‘high’ and ‘low,’ as a medium for the representation of reality. This limitation in language is addressed in the ordinary, daily discourse of the non-academic majority, where  mistakes and misunderstanding are seldom acknowledged and clarified. The lack of precise representation can also be seen in the intricate language of female, lower caste and tribal discourse with its rich use of symbols, metaphors and imagery, ambiguity, enigma, timelessness and spacelessness. Far from being irrational, this style represents an inherent recognition of the limitation of language in human oral (and written) communication.
            The western-academy’s class bias leads to a coopting and devaluation of local languages and silencing of the voices of the poor, whose communication in their own mother-tongue are re-casted as ‘superstitious,’ ‘mystical,’ and ‘unscientific.’ Few from the lower class can learn the constructed academic aspects of their language because of issues of access, cost, time, space, economic and other resources,. Even for those who can afford to participate in the academy, there are issues of racism, casteism, credentialism, employment discrimination, underemployment, and so on. Yet, resistance to academic hegemony exists inside and outside of the academia in the form of popular music and culture, grassroots discourse and activism, poetry and so on.
The Known and the Unknown
            There are other limitations in this collegiate discourse as well. For example, academic bias towards experience and knowledge in science and ritual denies an awareness of the unknown, beyond experience. This leads to a silencing of silence itself, as in the scientific viewpoint, nothing exists beyond the realm of thought, knowledge and experience; silence or lack of thought is therefore viewed as inertia or a void. Perhaps the opposite is true and this state of meditation is full of energy. Similarly, a focus on individualism and difference in humanism and deconstruction theory inhibits the possibility of a non-relative truth, for example, the unity of thought, fear and desire.
            These very fundamental, non-relative issues are brought together with powerful imageries and typified in the hymns of women sages in the rgveda and in Gargi’s orations. However, the academy chooses not to acknowledge the sophistication and authenticity of the non-elite, non-academic discourse and this prejudice results in the continued marginalization of the voices of the spiritually, intellectually, and materially “colonized.”
Alienation Across Space and Time
            There is a sense of alienation reverberating across shores and with the passage of time. Alienation is felt by (1) the mother-teacher, or Gargi, and son-student, the poet, in the form of the letter’s which takes on the role of Gargi and her struggles. By describing himself as Gargi’s “bastard son,” the author implies that Gargi was his illegitimate mother. Like Karna the outcast son who is abandoned out of wedlock, the poet therefore considered himself as impure. Even though he is entitled to all the rights and privileges as her son, he is denied. Why? Almost at the end of the poem, the son asks his teacher about insanity, “whose head Gargi, whose head (will burst)?” The next line, “your bastard son” suggests that the son-student may be the one to go insane.
            Alienation is also felt by (2) Gargi as a powerful intellectual adversary in a sphere dominated by brahmin males who saw her as inferior by virtue of her sex, caste and consequently, her purity.  She is told by Yajnavalkya, “if you ask too many questions, your head will burst!” We can take Yajnavalkya to mean that Gargi may go insane from her own questioning; however, we must also consider the social and psychological oppression she faces as a woman in a gendered society. Her alienation results from this very silencing of the female voice typified in Yagnavalkya’s crude attempt; and, from the violence of brahmanic, male hegemony. Gargi’s proverbial arrows, which smart brahminic patriarchy in their sharpness, are rendered harmless when her presence is used to perpetuate the myth of the glory days of hinduism, but her voice still remains written out of vedic commentary.
            Another example of the devaluing of the Indian female is in the area of the arts. Courtesans were patronized, respected and praised for their learning and accomplishment. Today, female artists have been demonized and those who may have been referred to as courtesans in ancient history are now considered prostitutes, if not in deed, then in principle, especially according to brahmanical notions of pollution.
            In spite of this demonization, women are compelled to break the barriers of social segregation and isolation in the domestic and public spheres.  Lack of options and survival needs become significant motives to venture forth to the forbidden realm outside the home where the threat of violence is a constant fear. In contrast, higher caste women are esteemed, and oppressed, by their alienation within an inner courtyard.
            Finally, alienation is felt by (3) the author/poet as a canadian who has been denied some of his own history as many of his ancestors were indentured immigrants to the Caribbean from India. These transcultural/transnational immigrants are stigmatized - as compared to other south asian immigrants who came to North America by virtue of their education, class and caste advantages - by allusions to the purity of their caste, class, and cultural origins.20 In these three forms of alienation, each character experiences marginalization, peculiar for their differing reasons, but similar in that the roots of their conflicts lies in the oppression epitomized by the male and “brahmin academy.”
            This discourse around Gargi is not simply a struggle over authenticity, intellectual property rights or spiritual representation, but it is one of resistance to both patriarchal notions and consequently brahmanical traditions which have perpetuated it. Gargi survives the attacks of Yajnavalkya to inspire those who do not belong to the elite male brahmin academy, from ancient times to modern day. By virtue of her sex, she was inferior according to their ideology. However, Gargi resists them with that which cannot be contained nor denied, her wisdom and her humanity. 

1  The authors thank Sasenarine Persaud for permission to reprint his poem, Letter to Gargi, in this essay.
2  The Mundaka Upanishad, part 1, no. 1, translated by Eknath Easwaran. 1988. The Upanishads. Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press. p. 109.
3  Evidence show the Vedic literature began with the composition of the earliest prayers and hymns of the Rgveda, followed by the Samaveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharvaveda. These four Samhitas, were followed by works called Brahmanas and Upanishads. The Upanishads were composed during the period 1100 B.C. to 600 B.C., and the earliest Vedas, the Rgveda, during 2500 B.C. to 1800 B.C.
4  Letter published in The Hindu (Madras) on August 27, 1914 in The Secret of the Veda. 1971:545.
5  The words “higher” or para and “lower” apara, means literally beyond or transcendent, and nontranscendent. Para, transcendent knowing, is self-realization.
6  The phrase “has neither caste nor race” literally means “has neither gotra nor varna.” Angiras’s use of the term gotra may be interpreted as a critique against the racism of what is now referred to as the ‘aryan’ conquest of south asia. However, many scholars doubt such a conquest ever took place, least of all by ‘white/aryan’ peoples from outside south asia.
7  By Buddhism, the Tantric and Bhakti movements, Basava, Chokhamela, Jotiba Phule, Ambedkar, etc.
8  For example, the spiritual and intellectual domination of women by men during the period of the upanishads is characterized in the text, “The Path to Immortality” in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads. In this commentary, Yagnavalkya, a brahmin sage, is describing the path to immortality to the second of his two wives, Sulabha Maitreyi.  The existance of polygamy among brahmin priests reveals the connection between the domination of women and patriarchal religious practice during the later vedic period. 
In another section of the text, we are informed that Maitreyi is a woman who is interested in spiritual debate and so she is Yagnavalkya’s favorite. In fact, Maitreyi was a great sage who knew the highest upanishadic truths.  Nevertheless, Maitreyi as a woman, is portrayed as someone who remains lacking in her understanding of the details of Yagnavalkya’s spiritual knowledge. The implication here is that all women were somehow less capable of spiritual learning than men. For example, after Yagnavalkya gives his explanation of the path to immortality, Maitreyi befuddles, “I am bewildered.” Maitreyi is also caste as the submissive female, one who refers to her husband as “my lord,” indicative of the power imbalance in their relationship. Her formal address also reveals the way in which gender roles were constructed within the marital relationship, loosely defined as husband-teacher and wife-student.
9  Ibid., Chapter III, section 8, p. 40.
10 Pandita Ramabai Saraswati. 1888. The High Caste Hindu Woman. n.p.
11  Dasi were women performing servile labor in the vedic period and brought for 100 peices of silver
12 Easwaran, p. 40-41.  That is, she (Gargi) will debate and defeat him (Yagnavalkya) with two questions (arrows).
13 The term “space” is literally akasa and refers to the nonmaterial universe.
14 Ibid. p. 40-41. The term “imperishable” is literally akshara and refers to an absolute diety
15  N. S. Subrahmanian. 1985. Encyclopaedia of the Upanisads. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers. p. 86
16  Writers like Mritunjay Vidyalankar, Rammohun Roy, Peary Chand Mitra, etc. during the early-mid 19th century. These indigenous writers’ view of Indian women contrasted sharply with Max Muller’s enormously influential writings on the vedas of the later 19th century, that argued women were not admiitted to the highest knowledge.
17  See Uma Chakravarti. 1985. “Of Dasas and Karmakaras: Servile Labor in Ancient India,” in Utsa Patnaik and Maniari Dingwaney, eds., Chains of Servitude: Bondage and Slavery in India. Delhi: Orient Longmann, pp. 35-75.
18 Janaka was a poverbial king and sage who often invited sages and held seminars to discuss philosophical questions.
19 Female deities and mother goddesses are portrayed as the most powerful and important gods in the texts of the early vedic period (2500 BC to 1800 BC).  The earliest writings of the vedas, the Rgveda, included many important female and natural deities, for example, Usas, the goddess of dawn portrayed as a young girl; Prthvi, the mother Earth; Aditi, a powerful abstract goddess; Prsni, a plant deity; Ratri, the night goddess; Sarsavati, the goddess of speech and learning; Dvaro Devi, the deity governing the house door; Aranyani, the goddess of the forests, and so on. There were also many deities who were wives of gods, including Indrani, Varunani, Surya, etc. Rastri, the most important mother goddess in the rgveda, describes herself as the sole ruler of the universe. (Vidyadhar S Guleri. 1990. Female Deities in Vedic and Epic Literature. Delhi: Nag Publishers).
20 Lots of Indo-Caribbean writing is critical of priests and brahmins

photo of  Anandamayi Ma

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