What The DMK Chief Doesn’t Get About Vedic Marriage Mantras

What The DMK Chief Doesn’t Get About Vedic Marriage Mantras

by Aravindan Neelakandan - Tuesday, February 5, 2019 05:31 PM IST
What The DMK Chief Doesn’t Get About Vedic Marriage MantrasA wedding ceremony. (Agence Tophos/Flickr)
  • An old video has surfaced which shows DMK chief M K Stalin denigrating vedic marriage mantras. Here’s why he seems to have got it all wrong.

Election times bring out all kinds of churning and most of the time a lot of filth and poison come out. Now, with social media, making old memories surface at will with a little digital archaeology is quite easy.

It is no wonder then that a video of M K Stalin, the present supremo of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), denigrating Hindu marriage mantras as obscene and marriage style as uncivilised, has surfaced on the social media in a big way. According to one report, the video is two years old.

In the video, Stalin is seen praising the way the bride and groom are seated in chairs in the marriage functions of another religion. He observes that as against this, in Hindu marriages, the couple is made to sit on the floor in an uncivilised manner and the purohit starts a fire between them. This fire, he says, creates irritation in the eyes of the bride and groom, making them shed tears and it soon also creates irritation in the eyes of the people who are standing around witnessing the marriage ceremony. But the part most people found objectionable was the one where he repeats a Dravidian urban legend that the mantras are said in a language that none in the crowd understands nor the couple understands, but only the Brahmin understands.

This part is full of obscenity. "If you take the priest aside and inquire, he will reveal the meaning and you will find that they are unimaginably obscene.”

It does not matter if the video is two weeks old or two years old. What it betrays is that the present supremo of the DMK is no different from the previous one; his father, who took a perverse pleasure in hurting the religious sentiments of the Hindus. This specific urban legend is part of the anti-Sanskrit narrative that was nurtured by the British colonialists. It is part of the Protestant stereotyping that sees Brahmins as spiritual despots cheating the masses.

It is interesting to see that not all but a significant number of ‘social reformers’ of the colonial period had accepted the evangelical stereotyping of Brahmins. The concept of ‘tyranny of priestcraft’ which was effectively used by Protestant propagandists against the Catholic church was unleashed in India against the Brahmins, who were seen as the chief obstacle to Christian proselytisation.

Often, colonial ‘secular’ historiography as evidenced by James Mill's History of British India (1817) and fanatical rhetoric of a missionary apologist, as it manifests in the works of Charles Grant (Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain, Particularly with Respect to Morals; and on the Means of Improving it, 1792) converge in their hatred of Hinduism.

Characterising Mill’s History of India as "the single most important source of British Indophobia”, Indologist Thomas Trautmann points out that Mill's history was actually "a secularized version of Grant" giving "the whole project a theoretical base drawn from the social evolutionism of the Scottish Enlightenment”.

Both the works of Mill and Grant were extensively used in training British officers in India and later Mill's history would serve as official Indian history under the British colonialism.

According to Mill, "despotism and priestcraft taken together, the Hindus, in mind and body, were the most enslaved portion of the human race”. Grant wrote of entire Hindu law books as "the work of a crafty and imperious priesthood, who feigned a divine revelation and appointment, to invest their own order, in perpetuity, with the most absolute empire over the civil state of the Hindoos, as well as over their minds".

Trautmann states that "Grant's view, secularized into a notion of progress, dominated the apparatus of British rule until 1947”. Charles Grant stated that large sections of Indian population were pushed to "the lowest rank" that was "doomed to perpetual abasement and unlimited subjection" having to serve "the most ignorant and vicious of the Brahmins". He called this the "singular species of despotism”.

A prominent evangelical magazine from London, Missionary Register described how the "Brahmins have seized on everything" by appealing to the metaphor of the Hydra (a metaphor that William Howitt used for the same purpose one year later, in 1833). Soon this metaphor of Hydra would be used in missionary discourse. The Missionary Register would use the same metaphor against the Jewish rabbis in Jerusalem. And this deserves a closer scrutiny.

Presenting the whole argument as an obituary written for "a well educated Jew" converted to Christianity, the article complains that the rabbis were responsible for every Jew, who enters hell because they blind the Jews with tradition and that Talmud "deforms the law of Moses" while "Rabbinism ... heaps upon the Jew a thousand burdens” and "commands the most senseless customs". Rabbinism further "stupifies the people, keeps them in ignorance and produces within them coldness toward the truth”.

So the educated Jewish youths are dissatisfied: "This hydra” as he (the Jew converted to Christianity) calls Rabbinism, "must be extirpated from among Israel, if this nation is ever to advance in spiritual things”. The converted Jew then wants the Jews to renounce the Talmud and asks the German governments to extend their co-operation, to the best of their power so that Talmud "would cease to be a book of religion among the Jews”. Of course, this "well-educated Jew" who found the Rabbinism a Hydra keeping the Jewish nation in spiritual slavery, has no name. ('Obituary notice of a Jewish defender of Christianity', Missionary Register, November 1854 )

If one replaces ‘Rabbinism’ with ‘Brahminism’, Jews with ‘Hindoos’ and Talmud with ‘Hindu scriptures’ then we have the abuse of Hindu religion as a conspiracy of ‘Brahminical priestcraft’ which has become part of the academic, media and political narrative.

Of course, to this was added the Aryan race theory. While in pre-Holocaust Christendom the hatred for rabbis got enlarged to include all Jews in a racial way (though Christian antisemitism was always there as an undercurrent), in India, Brahmins as ‘Aryans’ were singled out — the cunning racial other.

This historical understanding is necessary to place in context the invention of ‘obscenity’ in Hindu rituals officiated by Brahmins, by Dravidian racial politicians. Just as how evangelical antisemitism often recruits one or two ex-rabbis at its service, the same way, political-evangelical-academic Hinduphobics also recruits some Brahmins.

One such recent recruit was the late Agnihotram Thathachariyar, once a venerable shastra scholar, who in his old age simply regurgitated the colonial-Dravidianist propaganda on vedic mantras. In a series of interviews given to a sleaze magazine Nakeeran, the venerable old man showed signs of clear intellectual collapse.

Here, it should be mentioned that earlier, his work on Sri Vaishnavism was condemned as shallow and full of intentional distortions by Vaishnava scholars. However, now in his old age, he had become an instrument in the hands of Dravdian racial politicians. In another way, this can be seen as a kind of Stockholm syndrome — a symptom of the psychological damage the Dravidian hate rhetoric creates.

So let us now look at the so-called obscene wedding mantra alluded to by the current DMK supremo. The verses said by the purohit and repeated by the bridegroom, which the latter is made to say to the bride, are hymns from Rig Veda — mandala 10, hymn 85. Here are the verses in context :

... Happy be thou and prosper with thy children here:
be vigilant to rule thy household in this home.
Closely unite thy body with this man, thy lord;
So shall ye, full of years, address your company. [27] ...
Agni hath given the bride again with splendour and with ample life.
Long lived be he who is her lord; a hundred autumns let him live.[39]
Soma obtained her first of all; next the Gandharva was her lord.
Agni was thy third husband: now one born of woman is thy fourth.[40]
Soma to the Gandharva, and to Agni the Gandharva gave:
And Agni hath bestowed on me riches and sons and this my spouse.[41]
Be ye not parted; dwell ye here reach the full time of human life.
With sons and grandsons sport and play, rejoicing in your own abode.[42]
So may Prajapati bring children forth to us;
May Aryaman adorn us till old age come nigh.[43] ...
O Bounteous Indra, make this bride blest in her sons and fortunate.
Vouchsafe to her ten sons, and make her husband the eleventh man.[45]
Over thy husband's father and thy husband's mother bear full sway.
Over the sister of thy lord, over his brothers rule supreme.[46]
So may the Universal Gods, so may the Waters join our hearts.
May Matarisvan, Dhatar, and Destri together bind us close.[47]

In the Dravidian urban legend, the verses 40 and 41 are highlighted as proof for the obscenity of priestcraft cunningly created by diabolic Aryans to humiliate and subjugate the native Dravidians. In truth, what do these verses mean?

In Hindu traditional science of commentaries their meaning is well defined. The Smriti of Atri Maharishi, Atri-Smriti explains this verse so beautifully: "Soma gives the women purity; Gandharva bestows sweet speech: and Agni gives her Sarvamedhatva — genius or innate intelligence in all domains (of knowledge). So the woman is always in possession of purity and in-depth insightful intelligence (sarvamedhatva)." One can see that this gels well with the Bhagavad Gita verse 10:35, which ascribes to women the qualities of fame (kirtihi), auspicious wealth (sri), sweet speech that proclaims truth and is beneficial to all (vak), memory (smritihi), insightful intelligence (medha), strength of resolve (dhrithi) and forgiveness (kshama).

The flow of the verses indicates that when a girl becomes a wife she also assumes the role of the queen of the house. She becomes a ruler. She gets the right to command over the in-laws. And she is also reminded of the biological dimension of marriage and meta-biological dimension considering the husband himself as a child.

More importantly, the hymn reminds the husband the greatness of the wife. She has been nurtured by the celestial and that he himself is born of a woman (now one born of woman is the fourth). That the woman nurtured by Agni has in her the same fire. This has become part of collective psyche of Hindu civilisation.

So, in Hindu epics when a woman is harassed or denied justice, the fire comes to her rescue. When Sita was suffering in Lanka, it was Agni set to the tail of Hanuman that manifested justice for the grieving feminine. When Kannagi was denied justice in the court of Pandyas, her breast milk turned into Agni and burnt Madurai, says Tamil tradition. Thus Agni being the saviour or companion of the woman is very much an integral part of our tradition.

Incidentally, this vedic verse which was wrongly and in a perverted manner shown by anti-Hindu propagandists to denigrate priestcraft was actually used as a weapon by genuine social reformers in India to liberate women from social stagnation. Because of Islamist invasions and natural gravitating towards patriarchy, child marriages became rampant in India. Hindu sanghatanist, Harbilas Sarda, was fighting for increasing the marriage age — particularly for girls. A section of orthodoxy was using the 1858 Victoria proclamation to claim that child marriage was essential part of Hindu religion and so there should be no legal intervention. Hindu sanghatanists were in the forefront of fighting for the legislation to stop child marriage.

At that time, these vedic verses and the central vedic ritual of the marriage, saptapadi or taking seven steps around the fire, were the ones used by the social reformers to prove that child-marriage was not vedic.

Sanskrit scholar Raghunatha Rao, in his monumental work, went through the verses and explained them from the point of view of psychological and physiological development of human being. He pointed out how the so-called obscene verse was actually a clear indication that there was no child marriage sanctioned in vedic age. Each deva represented a particular stage in the life of the child and thus, the girl being handed over to Agni meant the girl obtaining puberty.

These statements contain profound truths; let us understand them. Three Devas are mentioned: Soma, Gandharva and Agni. Who is Soma and what are his functions? Soma is Sasyadhipati, the lord of the Vegetable World and He presides also over the mind. ‘First Soma had thee’ — this means that the physical growth of the girl, including that of the hair, was under the care of Soma, The mind of the girl also developed under his guidance. Soma gave thee to the Gandharva — when? When the body had grown, and when hair had appeared on all the parts where it could appear, and when intelligence had fairly increased. Why did he give over? Because to his work something more was to be added, and it was not in his province to do it. Thus the Gandharva becomes her second lord. What is the work of the Gandharva.  The Gandharva is the master of the graces. It is his function to make the woman’s body beautiful, and to add richness of tone (svarasampattu). Under his care the pelvis develops, the busts become round and attractive, the eyes begin to speak the language of love, and the whole body acquires a rich hue. His work is advanced, and he hands her on to Agni. Who is Agni ? He is the Lord of Fire, the Lord of the Agni Tattva. ... Agni is the Fructifier. It is he who brings about the menstrual flow, and woman then can bear children.
The Aryan Marriage with Special Reference to the Age Question : A Critical and Historical Study,  1908,Madras : Natesan & Co., pp. 26-7

So, the social reformers argued that the verses proved that marriage of a girl should happen only after complete psychological and physiological maturity of the girl. They asked the pro-child marriage traditionalists if child marriage actually satisfied the conditions of Saptapadi or the ceremony of walking seven steps together:

Without Saptapadi there cannot be any Aryan marriage. How very glaring the inconsistency is when the marriage is a pre-pubescent one! “Apart from thee now I cannot live ; apart from me do thou not live,” says the mantra. The bridegroom is made to say also — combine I now thy mind, thy actions, thy senses with mine.” We request the advocates of pre-pubescent marriage (child marriage) to act according to these rules. Can they do so ?
ibid. p.30

This helped in the acceptance of the famous Sarda Act. Thus, these verses actually liberated generations of women from child marriage, which was the most crucial step in women empowerment.

Apologists for the DMK try to justify the statement of Stalin by saying that this had been the stand of the Dravidian movement for the last 100 years. It may be true. But then, the Dravidian movement should refrain from calling itself ‘rationalist’.

Throughout the world, rationalists try to read poetry and symbolism in the ancient religious scriptures. On the other hand, religious fundamentalists would peddle the literal meaning of the text aggressively. In India, traditional Hindus and true humanists show that their sacred texts are profound poetry with rich inner symbolism but the so-called rationalists insist on damning them by twisting them and ascribing to them literal meaning in the most absurd way.

This is not rationalism.

This is pure irrational prejudice and hatred — a disease of the mind.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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