A Rajput Sage
The Theosophist, September, 1895
re-printed from the Madras Mail
The story of this Rajput Sage is a very ancient and very significant one. We have two versions of it, both very ancient; and from their points of difference, as well as of agreement, it, is practically certain that neither of these versions is a mere copy and repetition of the other, but that both are taken from a still older original. One of the two versions, perhaps the older, is now found in the Brhad-Aranyaka Upanishad; that is, in the Book of Hidden Wisdom, appended to the prose liturgy that properly belongs to the White Yajur Veda collection of hymns. These White Yajur Veda hymns were developed from the older Black Yajur Veda hymns, partly by arranging, partly by separating verse from prose,—which are mixed up together in the Black Yajur Veda collection,—and partly by adding new verses. Both sets of Yajur Veda hymns, and the Sama Veda hymns as well, are made of shreds and patches of the old songs and poems of the Rig Veda; of odd lines chosen with no very great critical insight, and put together for reasons not clearly comprehensible, so that, in the words of a great and profound critic:—
“All that is left of the oldest Veda in the Sama Veda and the Yajur Veda, is a Rig Veda piecemeal; its hymns scattered about; verses of the same hymn transposed; verses from different hymns combined, and even the compositions of different poets brought into one and the same hymn, as if they belonged to the same authorship.”
Now this mangling of the old songs and poems of the Rig Veda was carried out with a clear and definite purpose: to provide the liturgy of a complicated sacrificial ritual, the ceremonies of which were carried out by the Brahminical priesthood. In virtue of their position as masters of the ceremonies, the Brahmins gradually gained for themselves a whole series of powers and privileges which are set forth to their best advantage in the Code of Manu, where the Brahmins are declared to be a little higher than the gods.
The story of the Rajput Sage that we have spoken of, shows the other side of the picture; points to quite a different line and type of culture than that of Brahminical ritual; and suggests many profoundly interesting problems connected with a period of Indian history before the rise of the Brahmin caste, a period when the Brahmins sat at the feet of the Kshatriyas, in the words o£ the Upanishad itself. Now to the story itself. The hero of it, the Rajput Sage, is Pravahana, Jibila’s son. In both versions of the story,—in the Chhândogya and Brhad-Aranyaka-Upanishads,—he is called a Rajanya: and this word, we know, is a synonym of Râjaputra or Rajaput. Again, from the Chândogya Upanishad, it is to be inferred that he is a Kshatriya; so that the identity of Râjanya or Rajput and Kshatriya is here clearly shown. The two minor heroes of the story are Svetaketu, the grandson of Aruna, and his father Uddâlaka the son of Aruna, who are Brahmins of the clan of the Gautamas, and well skilled in sacrificial rites. The two, father and son, are the heroes of another story in the Upanishads, which contains the magnificent refrain—That thou art—the declaration of oneness of the individual self with the eternal self, which is the last word of Indian wisdom. If both stories are historical, as in essential facts they probably are, then the teaching of the Rajput Sage bore good fruit, and his Brahmin pupil worthily handed on his wisdom to his son. The story begins with the son’s adventure; and, as another Upanishad tells us, he was proud, vain and conceited, it must have been an unpalatable one. We shall follow the narrative in the Brhad-Aranyaka-Upanishad. The young Brahmin Svetaketu, Aruna’s grandson, came to the assembly of the Pânchâlas, and approached King Pravâhana, Jibila’s son, the Rajput Sage, who was seated in the midst of his courtiers. The King addressed Svetaketu:
“Is it you, youth?”
The youth answered: “It is I, Sir!”
“Have you received instruction?” continued the King.
“I have been taught by my father,” Svetaketu replied.
Then the King asked: “Do you know how beings here go forth at death?”
“No!” replied the youth.
“Do you know how they come back to this world again?” the King continued.
“No!” said Svetaketu.
“Do you know how they overcome this world again?”
“No!” he replied.
“Do you know why the other world is not filled up by the innumerable dead? Do you know at what sacrifice the waters rise and speak with human voices?”
“No!” he answered.
“Do you know how the divine path is gained, and how the path of the fathers is gained?—As the seer says: ‘I have heard of two paths, the path divine, and the path of the fathers, that men must tread; as wide apart as father heaven and mother earth.’”
“This also I do not know!” Svetaketu confessed, and, profoundly humiliated, ran away to his father.
“This Rajput,” he said, “asked me five questions, and I was not able to answer one of them.”
Nor is this the only instance in the Upanishads where Rajputs are represented as putting awkward questions which the Brahmins were unable to answer. In the last part of the Prasna Upanishad, Bharadvâja says to his teacher:—
“Master, Hiranyanâbha Kanshalya the Rajaputra—Rajput—approached me and asked a question; I had to answer that I did not know it.”
To return to Svetaketu. His father, Uddalaka Aruna’s son, bore Svetaketu’s reproaches meekly, and set off himself to the Rajput Sage to learn the answer to the five questions. And the story of what then took place, as recorded in both Upanishads,—the Brhad-Aranyaka and Chhândogya,—is very remarkable. The Brahmin was courteously received by the Rajput, water was brought, and the guest was offered a wish, after the ancient custom which finds an echo in the book of Esther, and the story of Herodias. The Brahmin thanked him, and chose as his wish the answer of the five questions that his son Svetaketu had been so humiliated by.
“This is a wish for gods,” answered the Rajput; “choose a wish for men!”
One cannot but be reminded of the answer of Death, in the Katha Upanishad to a very similar question also granted as a wish:
“Even by the gods it was doubted about this,what becomes of a man who has died; choose some other wish than this.”
In both cases, the questioner stood firm, and resisted the offer of gold and elephants and horses and slave-girls. Then the Brahmin formally offered himself as the Rajput’s pupil, and was accepted, but with this protest.
“Herefore this wisdom was not possessed by any Brahmin; yet I tell it to thee, for it may not be refused to one who asks thus.”
In the other version, in the Chhândogya Upanishad, the protest is even more strongly put:—
“As this wisdom was not imparted to the Brahmins before thee, therefore amongst all people it was the teaching of the Kshatriyas.”
If we are to take this sentence literally, or indeed if we are to give it any consistent meaning at all, it will imply that up to this time the Brahmins were mere ritualists without wisdom: that they received what wisdom they possess as an act of favour from the Kshatriyas or Rajputs; and that these latter were the real originators and possessors of the intuitions of life which give its supreme value to Indian philosophy. The late Raja Rajendralala Mitra has a pretty clear conception of this when he wrote, in a note on this passage:
“Considering that the Brahmins have been the sole repositories of the sacred writings of the Hindus for more than three thousand years, the existence of this verse, so prejudicial to the interest and dignity of the priestly caste, speaks volumes in favour of the authenticity of the Chhândogya Upanishad. If any liberty had been taken, it is hard to suppose that the Brahmins would have spared a verse which ascribes the origin of the most important element of the Vedic theology, its dispensation of a future state, to their rivals the Kshatriyas. It would seem from it that the religion of the Brahmins once included only the ceremonials and sacrifices of the Veda and omitted its metaphysics.”
And these metaphysics, the learned scholar might have added, were supplied as a free gift by their rivals, the Rajputs, if we are to believe the record before us, for the authenticity of which Rajendralala Mitra so powerfully argues.
It is worth while, turning back to the five questions again, to examine them, and to see clearly what metaphysics are implied by them. Svetaketu is asked about the fate of those who go forth from this mortal coil, and how they return again and again to this world. Of all this he is ignorant, and, as a typical Brahmin, confesses his ignorance. In other words, he, as a Brahmin, was ignorant of the idea of re-birth. the doctrine of re-incarnation, which was well known to his Rajput questioner, and had been,—this Rajput affirms,—among all peoples the teaching of the Kshatriya alone. The other questions merely strengthen and continue this idea. Svetaketu is asked about the divine path,—that is, the paths of liberation, or Nirvana; and about the path of the fathers,—the sensuous Paradise from which, after a period, men are re-born into the world; and of these too, he, the Brahmin, is ignorant. In other words, these five questions imply the whole doctrine of divinity and liberation with its corollary of repeated re-births, pending final perfection and liberation. And this very doctrine, this piercing intention of life, the very head and crown of Indian wisdom, the soul of the Vedanta, the essence of the doctrine of Buddha, was the teaching of the Rajput Sages, and not of the Brahmin ritualists at all. If we are to give honour where honour is due, in the matter of Indian wisdom, then the significance of this story of the Rajput Sage cannot well be exaggerated.