Brahmins

Why change if you are in power?

Sociologically the pre-Axial Brahmins had been a dominant group representing and protecting the old Vedic society. This makes it difficult to explain why they alone would voluntarily develop controversial new ideas and practices: why should they now begin to undermine their power and status by introducing new rituals and religio-philosophical discourses? We have to consider the significant risk the Brahmins ran if they started to change their carefully prescribed rituals and practices. The rituals had enormous symbolic meaning for the community. They kept order in society, maintained the gods, kept evil demons at bay, protected the harvest, secured fertility and happiness. You do not just start to play about with practices, which have such an impact. It could have caused fear and panic in the local community and the liberal❠Brahmin would most probably have been replaced. So the Brahmins would have been very conservative and like their communities very reluctant to change practices that were meant to keep total anarchy at bay.

Following this line of argument we need to ask, what forced the Brahmins to change their rituals – to introduce meditationâ/ new rituals – and incorporate new ideas about the One into their existing discourses? Who and what were the new emerging social strata and institutions, which introduced the new and forced the Brahmins to adapt and change? Were the Brahmins inspired❠by other groups, who threatened the Brahmins’ power by employing for instance meditative❠techniques? Instead of responding to an intellectual urge to innovate, did the Brahmins respond to competing or dominating social groups invading their cultural field?

Based on such conflict sociological questions, we have to look for conflicts, competitors and social change initiating Brahmin institutional and discourse change. This sociological view does not deny that the Brahmins among themselves could have developed new discourses like meditation, internal sacrifices, the abstract One and yoga142. It only says that some external forces – social change and competition – must have triggered this evolution. It would not have happened on its own. Enter the Sramanas and the Kshatriyas.

With these reflections we are now ready to look at the third defining parameter of the emerging yoga discourses. With the discourse of liberation we move into a new way of thinking – an episteme – which would become typical of the emerging Axial Age civilisations. New codes and habitus emerge with the arrival of civilisations and they now start to clash and/or merge with preceding structures. These are exactly the processes we observe among the Sramanas. We will see how especially among the Jains dramatic innovations are taking place reflecting their epoch and their specific social position. We will also see how existing habitus and codes discussed in this chapter made the Jains and other Sramanas new discourses and practices understandable and acceptable to the surrounding society.

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