A Brahmin historian at work


Thanks to a Historian, I now see the sublime where I merely saw superstitions

The district gazetteers provide a good background to the important events of a district in a historical perspective.  They were originally written by British civil servants and was then taken over by people appointed for the task with India’s independence.  The British “manuals” (as they are often called) offer colourful details about the wars, positions taken by various parties, etc.  The post independence gazettes (at least in the Madras Province) have a greater slant towards understanding development in a historical perspective.  I was going through some of these to provide a background for my field work when I came upon an interesting portion on lesser and higher gods.

B S Baliga wrote extensively about various ‘local gods’ and local practices in his South Arcot Gazette published in 1962.  After giving colourful details, he wrote, “it would however be a great mistake to suppose that this belief in demons, gods and superstitions constitute the essence of the religion of the Hindus.  A belief in these has never prevented them from also professing also a belief in the higher gods of the Aryan pantheon.  Nor has it prevented such of them as our sincere aspirants and deep thinkers from rising to the higher levels of philosophy – even to the highest summit of Vedanta philosophy”.

I am greatly comforted by Baliga’s assurance that Hinduism is not all about demons, gods and superstitions…there are “higher gods” and I guess, higher demons and higher superstitions of the Aryan pantheon.  There indeed are higher superstitions unlike those held by poor villagers.  An architect friend worked with a ‘US return’ software engineer who was heavily into sashtras of various kinds (the Aryan end of Hinduism).  He insisted that his water tank had to be separate from other houses in the apartment since the (presumably Aryan) spirits in it would be diminished if he shares it with others.  There are those who have argued with me that saying the gayatri mantra reduces the bacterial count in the environment.  The list goes on and on.  I had merely considered them superstitions so far, but thanks to Baliga I now realise their sublime nature and that they are ‘higher (Aryan) superstitions’ deserving greater respect and attention.  I am a convinced Hindu now.


About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

Leave a comment