To see Upanishads as a revolt against Vaidic Brahmanical orthodoxy is a flawed notion

Right from Max Muller, Swami Vivekananda, and to Jawaharlal Nehru all have used a premise one way or other that are a revolt against or a departure from Vaidic Brahmanical orthodoxy. But is it true? And what does it signify?

The utterly incoherent and fallacious sequence of Indian civilization popular in mainstream discourse is increasingly coming under scanner. For example, majority of popular paperbacks and scholarly treatises claim that Upanishadic thought represent a revolt against orthodox Brahmanic ritualism of Veda. Right from Max Muller, and S.N. Dasgupta to Jawaharlal Nehru all have used this premise one way or other.

We submit that apart from German romanticism another important reason responsible for popularization of this thought was dominance of Sankara’s interpretations of Prasthana-Trayee texts. Later it became standard argument with left-leaning historians for whom history in a story of domination, revolutions and counter revolutions. Similar phenomenon happened a century ago when suddenly one fine day the West discovered a prophet Buddha and invented Buddhism. Modern Buddhism is greatly influenced by Sino-Japanese Bauddha dharma.

This is so because when all this was happening Buddha’s luster was nowhere visible in India. Buddha had become one Avatar of supreme spirit and his individuality and teachings inseparably merged in the continuum; from where it had emerged. Westerners also saw Buddha in mold of revolutionary, iconoclastic Jewish prophets perhaps more like Jesus. No wonder, in absence of Dharmic milieu what is being taught and practiced in name of Buddha today would be a novel thing for Buddha!

The Upanishad’s charm is unique. Being part of Veda, they encapsulate manifold connotations signifying different layers of consciousness experiences of microcosm and macrocosm. It is an established fact in tradition that to understand Vaidic literature, along with authentic traditional source a disciplined lifestyle is a must. Elaborate rules and regulations covering moral-ethical conduct, physical and mental restraints, austere lifestyle, etc. are enjoined for students of Veda. Veda as Bhagwan can be experienced only by a disciplined and purified mind.

But is there any Indologist who followed such Aachaar-before undertaking studies in Veda? They brought down the Veda to the levels of monolithic Bible or Kuran. Such mischiefs lead to strange inconsistencies that are being carried unashamedly in academics till date.

The exaggerated difference between philosophical ramblings of so-called forest dwelling contemplative seers and ritualistic Brahmanas is one such issue. For the life-style and thinking of both groups hardly differed; the cosmogony, rules and regulations, rituals and value paradigm of Upanisadic seers were similar to that of household Brahmanas.

The examples cited to support this claim are selective, scattered and untenable. For instance one oft quoted example is of Chhaandogya Upanisad which records pupil Baka Dalbhya and Glaava Maitreya finding ritualistic Brahmanas engaged in as dogs. Now in all probability it appears as a satire questioning effectiveness of rituals, if these were not performed sincerely.

Another example of revolt cited is of Brahadaranyaka Upanishad. Here Brahma-Vidya of Kshatriya kings is glorified over and above the Brahmanical knowledge of Yajna rituals.
Pravahana Jaivali tells sage Gautama that this superior knowledge is with Kshatriya kings and don’t have this knowledge.

This argument doesn’t prove anything unless one presupposes existence of strong watertight Varna Vyavastha in Vaidic Samhita Period and even if true it cannot be generalized sweepingly without more instances. Thirdly, instances of Satyakam (son of maid Jabala) and Raikva (cartman) attaining supreme knowledge of Brahman are also presented.

These are seen as revolt against Orthodox Varnashrama dharma and Brahmanical supremacy. But fact is that such examples glorify Jnana (experiential knowledge) and in no way counters the Vaidic values and order. In a way they appear more as a correction to arcane ritualism and inspire them towards the supremacy of Karma with knowledge.

There is no denial of the fact that Upanishads are bold, adventurous and different from the ritualistic thoughts that we come across in Samhita part of Veda; it is obvious since they record contemplations over Jnana and Karma (knowledge and ritual-actions). But they essentially remain part of the Veda and despite of all boldness they never digress from the Vaidic paradigm.

Upanishads make sense only when read with preceding Brahmana or Aaranyaka. Upanishadic conceptions, imagery and thoughts are so firmly rooted in the Samhita texts that we cannot infer any coherent meaning out of them if they are studied in isolation from that particular Vaidic tradition.

The modern practice of reading Upanishads together is bound to confuse the readers. The specious sequencing of Veda, Aaranyaka, Brahmana and Upanishads on artificial timeline too is a futile exercise. These assertions of modern exponents reeks of implanting experience of abrahamic tradition where religious thought have been supplanted upon the earlier one. It also presumes a single cohesive doctrine of Vaidic or Brahmanic religion, Upanishads as a Smriti like text expounding some speculative philosophical theory.

The exaggerated importance given to Upanishads and looking it in isolation of Vaidic Samhita tradition by academics and neo-Vedanta followers etc. has some serious repercussion on whole Indian tradition. Academics with little experience of traditional Vaidic learning, without any compunction produce imaginative theories.

More shocking a theory or interpretations, better sale and critical appreciation the book commands; such perversion has become rule of the today. Thus ,modern translation and commentaries churned out by academia remain superfluous, tangential and of little worth. The wonder is that despite of numerous shortcomings and inconsistencies such conjectures are taught as truth. This exposes the domination of Western paradigm on other civilizations.

Summing up, we feel that rebuttal of this misrepresentation is need of the day. If major 8 or 11 Upanishads are taken together and number of words, concepts, theories and imageries are correlated with corresponding categories of Vaidic rituals, such falsehoods peddled in guise of scholarship can be exposed. Not only this, it may also help us understand the Vaidic Samhita in a new light.

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