Book review by Pradakshina
The book Sivasya Kulam talks about the colonial narratives and distortions along with the actual dimensions of caste, untouchability and Dravidianism, exposing the Christian onslaught on Hindu society.
This book is divided into two parts. The first part mainly deals with Varna/ Kula and untouchability. The second part deals with Dravidian identity, Āyurveda and the occupational aspect of the Varna/ Kula.
In the book, the author deliberates into the concepts of varna/Kulam/jati, the distortions the British effected, and unravels new unknown dimensions, delving deep into the old Hindu literature. Of special interest is his study on how British came up with the `Neo-caste system’ and their categorization of `Panchamas’ and their mega experiment of caste in the census. He also discusses the mobility among Kulas and Varnas and elaborates on how British juggled and experimented on the Hindu castes with utterly no understanding of any of the traditions. Then he begins to address the vexatious question of `untouchability’. The crux of the book consists of the entire false construct of `Dravidianism’ by a series of British Christian clergy –Caldwell and many others.
As the author says, In this quest to get to the root of this festering issue, Hindus must decode not just the elusive concept of ‘caste’ but also those of untouchability and Dravidianism as per the Sāstras. All these are major issues that have been used to demonize Hinduism.
From the start, the author points out to the existence and practices of a variety of acharas, which don’t belong to the varna /kula based system. He methodically removes the veils, layer by layer to indicate hidden dimensions emerging out of Tantra with its sources posited elsewhere. He also establishes that kulas were based on a set of practices or acharas, there was never any system of high or low castes; and never any mention of untouchability. As he succinctly puts it, `Everyone had their own way of imagining greatness’ 1871 census officials were themselves quite clear that there are no upper or lower castes, yet colonial rulers went on play their divide and rule game. After the 1901 census, the British threw the various communities into a perpetual mode of conflict, vying for status or countering others.
The author leads you into the premise that “then we can see two models of hierarchy in Hindu society, one follows the Varna system based on the Vedic framework, and the second model follows the Kula system under the Tāntric framework”. Elsewhere he states, “Apart from the practice of mutual untouchability, the Hindu Varna and Kula systems also consist of a mechanism that would allow all castes to attain higher religious-social respectability”. An entire section deals with the grama-devata traditions closely linked to sakteya- tantric practices, and also the healing systems connected to the grama devata ammavaru traditions.
The author states that “It is no surprise that the 19th- 20th-century colonial and missionary writings spew venom on the low caste spiritual systems. The low caste or Tāntric theology is so advanced that the missionaries of the 19th century had no clue or understanding of its dynamics completely”. Interestingly, the author makes the perceptive connection between the missionaries converting the people into Christianity using the innate tantric belief systems under the garb of Suvarna etc. The author rightly states that `It is sad to see that the present Indian researchers use Āyurveda and feed its ideas to western medicine’.
The book with a very intriguing title `sivasya kulam’, presents a cohesive convincing argument, and would be a fascinating study for scholars as it details the existence and survival of a plurality of institutions and practices. Perhaps for the first time, it also brings out many hidden unexplored dimensions of the caste/kula system linking it to the sakteya/tantric traditions.
This book comes at a critical juncture in our national history as the caste conundrum continues unabated, every dimension of it is exploited systematically by political, financial and other forces tearing into the social fabric, especially in southern India. It is also played up by people inimical to the interests of the country, working from within and without.
We would like to invite scholars to delve into this immensely well-researched and highly referenced book, review and debate it extensively to raise awareness on the plurality of Indian society. As the author pertinently states “The path toward true freedom lies in reclaiming these same institutions which will put a stop to centuries of colonial Christian brainwashing. The first step in the decolonization process is our spiritual freedom’.