Editor’s Note: In this article, we develop our theory about the origin of the softness and weakness exhibited by Indian Society today and in the past. We need to discuss history to build up the context for our views. That is why this has turned out to be such a long article. Readers might want to look at the section titles and read the sections that interest them the most. We would be grateful for any feedback about our theory or the article. The source for much of the factual content and graphics for this article is wikipedia.
Eternal Battle Between Good and Evil
The battle between Good and Evil has been the cornerstone of Indian Society since its formation 5,000 odd years ago. Evil is synonymous with darkness and Good is synonymous with light, light that wipes out the darkness and purifies the soul. This was embodied in the famous Sanskrut Invocation “Tamasor Ma Jyotir Gamaya” (“Lead Me From Darkness To Light”).
This concept led to the ancient Rishis or Sages to praise the morning Sun as an agent of the Good and a symbol of eternal victory of light over darkness. This is why the Gayatri Mantra, probably the most famous of Sanskrut Invocations, ends with “Dhiyo Yo Nah Pracho Dayat” (“Illuminate Our Minds with Your Brightness”).
The eternal message of Indian society or Sanaatan Dharma, the religious philosophy it created, is that Good does eventually win over Evil. Yet, this was never a passive message. Sanaatan Dharma has always argued that Good has to do battle with Evil and destroy Evil. A corollary is the message that if Good does not fight Evil, Evil would win and take over the world and the soul of the society.
This necessary war, this morally justified war of Good over Evil was the moral, philosophical and religious foundation of the concept of Dharma Yudh (“Just War“). The finest hour of this original concept was the “Bhagwat-Geeta” (The “Poem or Words of God”) that was enunciated by Shri Krishna (considered to be the final avatar of God on earth) to Arjun at the start of the Maha-Bharat War.
This Sanaatan Concept of Dharma Yudh or Just War was adapted by every religion that followed. This concept is also the basis of every major Indian Festival, whether it be Diwali (or Deepawali) or Dasara.
Major Indian Festivals
(Deepawali lamps and Kandil – colored lanterns hung from every home)
Deepawali (literally a row of lamps, for Deep = lamp and Awali = row or line), or Diwali as it is popularly called, is the largest festival of India. It marks the victory of Good over Evil in a number of ways, the two main ones being the links to the two Great Epics of India. Specifically:
- The destruction of Narak-Asur is celebrated on the Narak Chaturdashi day, the 14th day of the Lunar month. Narak was an evil demon that had terrorized the earth. He was so evil that Hell or the netherworld came to be known as Narak. The execution of Narak-Asur by Shri Krishna and his wife Satya-Bhama (Narak could not be killed by a man) is an essential part of the Deepawali celebration.
- The return of Shri Ram after the destruction of the Rakshas Emperor Ravan – No story in India has the significance and the emotive appeal of Ramayan, the story of Shri Ram (an avatar of God on earth). No figure in Indian History is as venerated and loved as Shri Ram. The destruction of the Emperor Ravan and his Rakshas Kingdom by Shri Ram is probably the most celebrated event in Indian Society. Diwali celebrates the return of Shri Ram to his city, Ayodhya, in Ravan’s airplane Pushpak. The people of Ayodhya are believed to have lit lamps along the way to guide the airplane in the dark.
Dasara, the other major festival, is an even more explicit celebration of Good over Evil. It marks the actual victory of Shri Ram over the Demon Emperor Ravan. It also makes the day when the Pandav (the good cousins in Maha-Bharat) returned to stake their claims over the Kaurav (the evil cousins). The Pandav had hidden their celestial weapons in a huge tree and on this day, they retrieved these weapons. This is why, during Dasara, people exchange leaves of this tree as a celebration of good over evil.
The timing of Dasara is just after the end of the monsoon season in India and the beginning of the cool weather of Autumn. So Dasara marked the day when armies would begin their march for conquest beyond their borders. That is why, in many places in India, people ritually cross the border of their villages or towns as a ritual celebration of the concept of conquest. This ceremony is called Seema-Ullanghan, which literally means crossing the border. (In contrast, today’s Indian Army is prohibited from its crossing the border to pursue escaping terrorists or to interdict terrorists infiltrating into India.)
Victory of Good over Evil does not come easy – Lesson of Maha-Bharat
Indian Society has always known this fact and in the past, it has been willing to suffer the hardships of war to fight evil. It recognized that appeasing evil or shirking from a war with evil ends up with greater damage to the society both materially as well as spiritually.
On this blog, we take every opportunity to write about Maha-Bharat. It is simply the greatest story ever told, the longest epic in history, and it ends with the most destructive war in history (over 3 million soldiers died in a span of 18 days). It is a panoramic tale of the society at that time with every human virtue or vice embodied seamlessly in the fabric of the story. In our humble opinion, those who have not read The Maha-Bharat have not lived.
We write about Maha-Bharat on this blog because in it we see an Indian Society that understood the meaning of victory; the lesson that a society has to propagate its message all over the world; the lesson that a society has to go beyond its borders to vanquish those who would seek to attack it. It understood that this might prove costly and damaging but that it was absolutely essential for the society’s survival, growth and prosperity.
We note with sadness that these qualities of Indian Society have been jettisoned by today’s India.
Chanakya (350-283 BCE) and Chandra-Gupta (340-298 BCE)
The next time in history we see the purest implementation of Sanaatan Dharma is in the great mission of Chanakya and the establishment of the Maurya Empire by his student, Chandra-Gupta.
The main empire of North India at that time was the decaying Nanda Empire ruled by a weak, pleasure-seeking Dhan-Anand (aptly named as “one who takes pleasure in wealth”). The capital of the empire was Patali-Putra or Patna as it is called today. Patna is in Bihar, an eastern state of India. Patali-Putra was far away from Afghanistan, the western border of the Nanda empire.
Nanda Empire Alexander’s Empire – (crude) red lines & Nanda Empire – (crude) blue lines
Vishnu-Gupta, or Chanakya as he is known in history (he was born in Chanak), was a teacher at Taksh-Shila*, the greatest University on earth at that time. Taksha-Shila, located 50 miles from Islamabad, the capital of today’s Pakistan, was much closer to Afghanistan and Persia. Vishnu-Gupta saw Alexander’s army enter Persia and knew that the Nanda empire had to march westwards to combat Alexander.
At that time, the border areas of North India were practicing democracies or Gana-Rajya (literally the rule of the people). Each state or even city-state managed its affairs democratically and the sovereignty of the Nanda Empire was often in name only.
Vishnu-Gupta realized that a decentralized India of democratic states was not suited for defense against Alexander. So, he traveled all the way east to Patali-Putra to convince Dhan-Anand of the need to march to the western borders. The pleasure-loving Dhan-Anand laughed at Vishnu-Gupta and had him thrown out of the Palace.
In the best Vedic tradition, Vishnu-Gupta or Chanakya swore that he would destroy the Nanda Empire and restore India to its old glory. Vishnu-Gupta then took on an exceptional young man, Chandra-Gupta Maurya (Maurya because he was the son of Mura, a servant girl of a Nanda Prince).
As Alexander’s army entered Afghanistan after defeating Persia, Chanakya and Chandra-Gupta traveled all across North India to persuade the various democracies to accept Chandra-Gupta’s rule and raised a large army. With this army, Chanakya and Chandra-Gupta marched on Patali-Putra and captured the seat of the Nanda Empire.
By this time, Alexander had left Afghanistan and the Indus belt with his soldiers in open rebellion at the prospect of facing the large Indian armies of the Gangetic plain. But, his successor, the great Selecus I (or Selecus Nicator) ruled Alexander’s territories.
After consolidating his power, the young Chandra-Gupta marched westwards and finally met the armies of Selecus I. The battle was one-sided. Not only did Chandra-Gupta win the battle but Selecus I was captured and sued for peace. He gave up all the territories conquered by Alexander and gave away his daughter in marriage to Chandra-Gupta. The ancient Greek author, Pliny the Elder, describes Chandra-Gupta’s army as one with 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry and 9,000 war elephants. Chandra-Gupta was about 20 years old at that time.
(Chandra-Gupta Maurya Empire)
Chanakya had achieved his goal of uniting all of India under one federal rule and restored the glory of Vedic India.
This is not just a historic tale but is directly relevant to the main theme of this article as you will see shortly. As a hint, look at the point on the map called Bodh Gaya, south-east of Patali-Putra. Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautam reached “Buddhi” or “Enlightenment” and so became known as Gautam Buddha.
Ashok – The Greatest Emperor of Post-Vedic India
Emperors have come and gone, but the glory of Ashok remains forever. Ashok, the grandson of Chandra-Gupta Maurya, was one of the greatest emperors the world has ever seen.
Chandra-Gupta Maurya Ashok The Great Original Sculpture at Sarnath – 250 BCE
India clearly considers Ashok as the greatest post-Vedic Emperor. The Chakra and the Four Lions Symbols of Ashok are the official symbols of today’s India. The Ashok-Chakra adorns the center of the Indian Flag and the Four Lion Ashok-Mudra is engraved on every Indian passport.
Ashok-Chakra Indian Flag with Ashok-Chakra Ashok’s 4 Lion Mudra (Symbol)
Ashok was not born great. In fact, the young Ashok would be considered as totally anti-Indian by the Nehruites of today’s India. In his young age, Ashok was called “Chanda-Ashok” or the Nasty, Evil Ashok. He was a physically powerful man and a great warrior. He was the greatest general of his time and he was the one dispatched by his father to quell any rebellion from the outskirts of the Mauryan empire. He was also a shrewd statesman, a man who embodied all the great virtues of a King by his grandfather’s teacher, the great Chanakya.
The Mauryan empire reached its zenith under Ashok and his fame as well as his sovereignty was accepted by the known world at that time from Greece in the West to Soth East Asia in East. The Greek court sent the veteran Megasthenes as ambassador to the court of Ashok.
The pivotal event of Ashok’s life was his conquest of Kalinga, a democratic republic that was fervent in its desire for independence. Ashok tolerated this desire for a long time. But, as legend has it, Kalinga gave refuge to a cousin of Ashok who had rebelled against Ashok. Ashok was enraged and launched a brutal attack on Kalinga. In that war, over 100,000 people died and the whole of Kalinga was plundered or destroyed.
As the legend goes, one day after the war, Ashok ventured out to roam the city and all he could see were burnt houses and scattered corpses. This sight made him sick and he cried the famous monologue, “What have I done? … Are these marks of victory or defeat?…What have I done! What have I done!”.
The brutality and the utter senselessness of that war changed Ashok. He adopted the new Dharma of Buddhism and used his vast energy to propagate that Dharma all over the world.
At that time, Buddhism was only a couple of hundred years old and still a niche religion. It was Ashok that made it the international Dharma it is today. This is why, according to Wikipedia, Ashok is situated just next to G
autam Buddha in the history of Buddhism.
Ashok converted much of the known world to Buddhism, including the Hellenistic Kings of that period. His edicts include descriptions of his successes such as – “The conquest by Dharma has been won here, on the borders, and even six hundred yojana (5,400-9,600 km) away, where the Greek king Antiochos rules, beyond there where the four kings named Ptolemy, Antogonos, Magas and Alexander rule, likewise in the south among the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamrapani (Sri Lanka)” – Ashok the Great, Edicts of Ashok, Rock Edict 13 (S. Dhammika).
(The march of Buddhism under Ashok) (Ashok Pillar at Wat U Mong, Thailand)
The “Chanda-Ashok” or “Evil Ashok” of his youth had transformed himself into “Dhamma-Ashok” or “Moral Ashok” as he is known in Buddhist literature. In the process, he changed the known world of his time and changed the nature of Indian Society for ever.
The many administrative and societal achievements of Ashok are beyond the scope of this article. These are legendary and show a great mind devoted to the betterment of his citizens and the prosperity of his kingdom.
Ashok also created a new model for the relationship between Buddhism and the State. Under this model of ‘Buddhist kingship’, the king sought to legitimize his rule not through descent from a divine source, but by supporting and earning the approval of the Buddhist sangha. Following Ashok’s example, kings established monasteries, funded the construction of stupas, and supported the ordination of monks in their kingdom. This development ultimately lead to a close association in many Southeast Asian countries between the monarchy and the religious hierarchy, an association that can still be seen today in the state-supported Buddhism of Thailand and the traditional role of the Thai king as both a religious and secular leader. You see it in today’s Myanmar, where peaceful Buddhist monks have taken to the streets in revolt, because the generals have broken the model. The Ashok model has also been demolished in Tibet by the Chinese Occupation and you see that Tibetan peaceful monks are leading the global protests against Chinese Policies.
The combination of the peaceful, non-violent teachings of Buddha and the all encompassing influence of Ashok made Buddhism the dominant belief system of the world and supplanted the Vedic Dharma in India.
The Change in Sanaatan Dharma and Indian Society
Ashok’s children were more engrossed in the spread of Buddhism rather than governing the enormous kingdom of their great father. It is not surprising that Mauryan Empire ended a mere 50 years after the death of Ashok, when a Mauryan general killed the passive emperor and formed his own dynasty.
The Sanaatan Dharma eventually shook off the Buddhist hegemony inposed by Ashok and again became the central Dharma of India. But, it was not the same as it was prior to Ashok. The influence of Ashok and the peaceful, non-violent teachings of Buddha had forever blunted the firm concepts of Sanaatan Dharma, the concepts of Bhagwat-Geeta, the concepts of Dharma Yudh (Just War) and the necessity of destroying evil.
Instead Sanaatan Dharma began to preach the necessity of “man-parivartan”, or the necessity of changing evil into good. After all, if the “Chanda-Ashok” or Evil-Ashok could transform himself into “Dhamma-Ashok” or the “Moral Ashok”, why should society not try to transform all evil persons. In other words, the onus on transforming evil fell on the good and good was chastised for its failure to transform evil.
This was a 180 degree turn from the Vedic Sanaatan Dharma which blamed the evil and praised the good, and exhorted the good to destroy evil.
This new “tolerant” approach was used to re-interpret the Bhagwat-Geeta and other Vedic texts during the next 2,000 years. Witness the invocation of the Great Dnyan-Eshwar (1275-1296), the founder of Bhagwat-Dharma in Maharashtra and the founder of the Marathi Language. Dnyan-Eshwar created the modern language of Marathi by reinterpreting the Bhagwat-Geeta into the great Marathi poem Dnyan-Eshwari. At the end of his work and before his Samadhi (or self-chosen life’s end), Dnyan-Eshwar makes his famous invocation to God. In that invocation, he asks, “Je khalanchi Vyankati Sando, Taya Satkarmi Rati Lago” (or “let the evil among the bad people wither away, let them engage in good deeds”).
This shows the transformation of Sanaantan Dharma from the pre-Ashok “evil needs to be destroyed for good to emerge victorious” philosophy to the post-Ashok “good needs to work to transform evil and change it into good” philosophy.
We believe that the transformation of Ashok from “chand” to “dhamma” presented a clear and glorious example to the proponents of “transform evil” philosophy. This may be the most long-lived legacy of Ashok the Great.
It is worth noting that the “evil needs to be destroyed” philosophy of Sanaatan Dharma can be found in Christianity in its “Just War” concept and much later, in a more radical form in Islam in its “Jihad” concept.
India During 1,000 Years After Ashok
We do not mean to suggest that Indian Society rolled over after the death of Ashok. Indian dominance and prosperity continued for about 1,200 years after Ashok with major empires including the Satvahan Empire, Gupta Empire, Chola Empire, Pandya Empire among others.
In fact, due to the emissaries of the Great Ashok, the knowledge and awareness of India had spread to all corners of the known world. You see that in the increase in world trade with India and the steady influx of dignitaries, authors and visitors to India.
The Gupta Empire (280-550 CE) is often called the “golden age” of North India. Not only was this period the most prosperous in Indian history, but India made great strides in Mathematics, Astronomy, Culture and Philosophy.
Aryabhatta, the mathematician came up with the concept of Zero. He and others postulated the theory that the Earth was not flat and revolved around the sun on an axis (almost 1,000 years before Galileo). They made discoveries about gravity and the planets of the solar system. The Indian Numerals, the first positional base 10 numeral system originated in Gupta India. Chess originated in Gupta India as “Chaturang”, after the four formations of Indian armies – infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots – which later evolved into pawn, knight, bishop and rook of modern chess.
Kalidas, the greatest poet in history, belonged to this period**. It is during this period that Vatsyaan is considered to have written the Kama Sutra, the legendary text of human sexual behavior.
Indian Success was not limited to the north. The Chola and Pandya empires of South India were major empires for about 1,500 years after Ashok. The Pandya Empire was a trading partner of Rome and exchanged ambassadors with Augustus and Caesar of Rome.
Just as pre-Ashok north India had done, the Chola Empire extended the reach of India and Indian civilization to South East Asia up to the Malay peninsula.
(The Chola Empire at its zenith )
The Cholas left a lasting legacy of literature and architecture. They were avid builders and envisioned the temples in their kingdoms not only as places of worship but also as centers of economic activity.
In fact, you can argue that post-Ashok, the southern Indian Empires were the more successful ones and showed more of the pre-Ashok Vedic influence. We wonder whether this is because they were not influenced by Buddhism the way north Indian empires were.
The Decline of India
The Central Asian and Afghan kingdoms began attacking north India around 800-900 CE. These were plundering attacks to loot the immense wealth of India. For the most part, Indian Kingdoms were generally successful in either repelling these attacks or dealing with them.
But, none of these powerful kingdoms ever crossed their borders to attack the invaders in their own havens. The Sanaatan Dharma concept of fighting evil had been jettisoned for about 1,000 years ago and North India had become fat, prosperous and happy. The Indian Kings did not even conceive of the need to attack the invaders before they attacked India; they did not see the need to create a buffer state between their kingdoms and the Uzbek/Afghan kingdoms and they certainly did not try to instill fear among the attackers.
The crowning stupidity of this supine philosophy can be seen in the actions of PrithviRaj Chahaun against Muhammad Ghori of Afghanistan. In 1191, Muhammad Ghori attacked PrithviRaj Chauhan who ruled the North Indian region of Rajanstan and Haryana. Ghori was soundly defeated and according to legend, captured and brought before PrithviRaj.
Ghori was a famous and ruthless general. He had enabled his brother to conquer all the territories of the Ghazanavi Empire of Afghanistan and Eastern Persia. In 1187, Ghori had attacked and conquered the great city of Lahore, the heart of Panjab, a neighbor of PrithviRaj’s kingdom.
(Statue of PrithviRaj Chauhan in Ajmer)
Muhammad Ghori begged forgiveness for his rash actions and appealed for mercy. PrithviRaj, in a historic act of noble but utterly misguided stupidity, accepted Ghori’s pleas and let him go. This was consistent with the “learn to transform the evil into good” philosophy of the post-Ashok India.
Ghori returned to Afghanistan. Next year, he raised a larger army and attacked PrithviRaj Chauhan again, this time with deep knowledge of PrithviRaj’s tactics. Like the first battle, the second battle took place at Tarrain. This time Ghori won. PrithviRaj was captured and brought in chains before Ghori.
Muhammad Ghori was not a believer in “learn to transform your enemies into friends” philosophy. Muhammad Ghori ordered for PrithviRaj’s eyes to be burnt with red hot iron rods as a punishment and threw him in jail for the rest of his life. PrithviRaj could not bear the disgrace of defeat and the pain of punishment, hence defeated, blinded and humiliated, he lost his will to survive and committed suicide in jail.
Muhammad Ghori marched unchallenged towards Ajmer. Rajput kingdoms like Saraswati, Samana, Kohram and Hansi were captured without any difficulty. Finally, he advanced on Delhi, capturing it soon after. Within a year Muhammad Ghori controlled northern Rajasthan and the northern part of the Ganges-Yamuna Doab.
This was the beginning of the end for North India. During this and subsequent conquests of North India, the central Indian Kingdoms of Gujarat and Maharashtra remained content to rule in their own territories rather than go north to defend their fellow Indians. Predictably, about 120 years later, the Yadav Empire of Maharashtra in central India was defeated by the forces of Allah-ud-din Khilji, then ruler of Delhi. The surrender of India was complete.
The modern Indian society exhibits the same post-Ashok philosophy that was responsible for India’s downfall 1,000 years ago. No one in today’s India believes that evil should be punished and destroyed. Appeaser, apologist authors and commentators praise Indian society for patiently tolerating attacks that kill hundreds of innocent civilians. The “educated” Indian elite cannot even countenance the thought of an aggressive action against the terrorists massed on India’s borders. The Indian Government has been in great haste to give up Indian territories in a futile attempt to buy peace.
Modern India has forgotten the Ashok who built the greatest empire of his time, the Ashok who secured unrivaled supremacy of his rule; the Ashok who ruthlessly destroyed all who intended damage to his country.
Jawaharlal Nehru forgot this side of Ashok when he elected to put the symbols of Ashok on the Indian Flag. That is why Nehru gave up Tibet, Aksai Chin and half of Kashmir in his wrongheaded celebration of post-Ashok nonviolent Indian tradition. His grandson Rajeev Gandhi was just as soft and their main political opponent, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, proved even softer when he voluntarily gave up India’s rights to Tibet.
If you do not believe us, perhaps you may believe Dalai Lama, the most revered Buddhist of our time. Dalai Lama, a lifelong believer in non-violence, said recently that “non-violence would not work against terrorists because their minds are closed”.
The situation around India is the same as it was around 1,000 years ago. India is wealthy and getting richer. Across the north-western borders of India, lies Afghanistan (including South Afghanistan under Pakistani or Taliban rule). Like their ancestors, its inhabitants are poor, aggressive young men unencumbered by “do not fight evil, transform it” philosophy imposed by India on itself.
These young attackers have nothing to lose by attacking India as their ancestors did 1,000 years ago. They are not small in number. Literally there are millions of hungry, poor, angry, aggressive young men in South Afghanistan who feel increasingly emboldened to attack soft, pliant India. With each successful attack, they get more confident in launching more spectacular attacks with greater firepower to inflict greater and greater damage. Like their ancestors, they are not afraid that India might send its army to their safe havens to destroy them.
Modern India, like Prithviraj Chauhan, waits patiently for these attacks, hopeful that it can resist the attackers or deal with them without too much damage to its society.
As we said, the transformation from “Chand-Ashok” to “Dhamma-Ashok” may be the most enduring but unintended legacy of Ashok The Great.
* For description and pictures of Taksha-Shila, see the Editor’s Note in our article “Attock – If you have not heard of Attock, Read this Article” – August 9, 2008 – http://www.cinemarasik.com/2008/08/06/democracy–a-terribly-misleading-word–a-trap-for-america.aspx
** For more description of Kalidas and his work, see our article “The Greatest Publishing P
roject of Recent Years – Conceived and Implemented in America” – June 28, 2008 – http://www.cinemarasik.com/2008/06/21/the-greatest-publishing-project-of-recent-years–conceived-and-implemented-in-america.aspx
*** Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood superstar, created a film version of the story of Ashok. We encourage readers to get a DVD of this film and watch it.