“The Vedas are a worthless set of books. There is no reason either to call them sacred or infallible...come when the Hindu mind must be freed from the hold which the silly ideas propagated by the Brahmans have on them. Without this, the liberation of India has no future.” - B.R. Ambedkar (Riddles In Hinduism). Riddles In Hinduism is one of Ambedkar's many works that did not get published during his lifetime. He started writing this book in the first week of January, 1954 and completed it by the end of November, 1955. When this book was published by the Government of Maharashtra in 1987, the Shiv Sena sought a ban, but it was published under BAWS Volume 4 and featured twenty-four riddles and eight appendices. The genre of this text is Politics, Society, Religion, and Spirituality. Hinduism appears to have about one billion followers. To all those who are followers of this religion, B.R. Ambedkar presents many riddles in this text and raises questions like, “Is it even a religion?” and “Who is a Hindu?”. This book shows a real image of how Hinduism has existed before and continues to. He shows how the Shudras have been deprived of their rights, how they were made to serve the upper three castes, and how they were caught in the vicious circle of suffering in the name of religion. This book has been divided into three parts - Religious, Social, and Political. Ambedkar brings up questions like “[w]hether the contents of the Vedas have any moral or spiritual value” and “[a]re the Brahmins sure of their origin?”. He also asks “[w]hy the Brahmins had made Kali Yuga unending”. He also speaks about heinous practices like human sacrifices. In this paper, I aim to speak more about the riddles brought up by Ambedkar in his book. I will discuss five riddles from among the fifteen in Part I (Religious).
(In Pic: Front Cover of the Navayana edition of Riddles of Hinduism. Image Courtesy: Website of Navayana)
RIDDLE NO.1 (THE DIFFICULTY OF KNOWING WHY ONE IS A HINDU)
There is a confluence of cultures in India. It is a congeries of communities that consist of different religions’ followers like Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Christians, etc. Now, if a Parsi is asked why he is so, he will answer that it is because he is a follower of Zoraster. The same goes for a Muslim. He will say that he is a follower of Allah, and thus a Muslim. But when the same question is asked to a Hindu and if he says that he worships the same God as his community does, his answer cannot be true as all Hindus do not worship the same God. There are divisions of Hindus as well - monotheists, polytheists, and pantheists where monotheists believe that there is only one God. Polytheists believe that there is more than one God and pantheists worship all the Gods including Vishnu, Shiva, Rama, Krishna, Kali, Parvati, Laxmi, etc. If someone says that he is a Hindu because he holds the same beliefs of other Hindus, his answer is not right. This is because Hinduism has no definite creed and there is a complex collection of creeds and doctrines in Hinduism. It shelters people who propitiate their deity by bloody sacrifices. If someone claims that he is a Hindu because he follows the same customs as other Hindus, then also he is wrong, as all Hindus do not follow the same customs. In the North, near relatives are forbidden to marry whereas in the South, cousin marriage is allowed. There are places where people make it a rule to dedicate a daughter – and sometimes, sons - to a life of religious prostitution in the name of Devdasi. We can clearly see that Hinduism is not based on one particular God. It exploits the lower classes in the name of the 'caste system'. The managers of this religion i.e., the Brahmins, decide what the other castes can do and what cannot. They decide who can go to the temple and who cannot. Even in earlier times, it was also decided by the Brahmins who can take education and who cannot. Even Brahmins do not worship the same God. It is ridiculous that most followers of Hinduism cannot answer this simple question, “Why is he a Hindu?” thus this riddle remains unsolved.
RIDDLE NO.2 (WHY SUDDENLY THE BRAHMINS DECLARE THE VEDAS TO BE INFALLIBLE AND NOT TO BE QUESTIONED?)
The Vedas hold a very high position in the religious literature of the Hindus. Besides being a sacred book, its authority cannot be questioned and any statement based on the Vedas is final and conclusive. The Brahmins claim that “the Vedas are Apaurusheya” (Riddles in Hinduism) which means that they are not written by any man and thus it is infallible. It is ridiculous that Hindus accept this and believe that Vedas were not written by men. Then the question arises, “Who wrote the Vedas?” because it is not possible that God came down from heaven to write the Vedas. According to the Gautama Dharma Sutra, “The source of dharma is the Veda, as well as the tradition(Smriti), and practice of those who know the Veda.” (Gautama dharma-sūtra, 1.1-1.2). The Vasishtha Dharmasutra says, “The dharma is set forth in the Vedas and the traditional texts(Smriti). When these do not address an issue, the practice of cultured people becomes authoritative.”(Vasishtha Dharmasutra, 1.4-1.5). During the time of Baudhayana Dharma Sutra, an agreed decision of the assembly was considered as the sole authority. The Baudhayana says, “The sacred law is taught in each Veda. We will explain it in accordance with that. ‘(Those are called) Sishtas, who accordance with the sacred law, have studied the Veda together with its appendages, know how to draw inferences from that, (and) are able to adduce proofs perceptible by the senses from the revealed texts.’ On failure of them, an assembly consisting at least of ten members (shall decide disputed points of law).”( The SACRED LAWS OF THE ÂRYAS,BAUDHÂYANA, 143-144).
Dharma Sutras show that there was a time when the Vedas were not considered as infallible and that time was represented by the Vasishtha and Baudhayana Dharma Sutra. The Vedas were not at all regarded as a book of authority, until the time of Gautama, when the Vedas came to be considered as the sole authority. It is evident that the Brahmins used the names of the Vedas ultimately to establish themselves as the sole authority after a period of time. They introduced fear in the minds of people by saying that if they did not follow the rules of the Vedas and work according to what the Brahmins say, they would be deprived of the joys of heaven. The Brahmins, according to their needs, changed the rules and regulations of the Vedas and thus became the managers of God. Thus, we can see why the Brahmins declared the Vedas as the sole authority and said that the statements made by the Vedas cannot be questioned.
RIDDLE NO.3 (THE RIDDLE OF AHIMSA)
The name of the four Yugas or Periods were Krita, Treta, Dwapara, and Kali. The Aryans did not consider marriage as a permanent tie. There was a practice where many men shared a woman and no one had a right over a woman in particular. In such cases, the woman was called Ganika which means belonging to many. Vatsyayana wrote, “A courtesan who has good character, beauty and virtue, will get, on account of her increased worth due to a knowledge of these 64 kalas, the rank of ganika (a more honourable class among vesyas) as well as an honourable place in a gathering of persons. Such a woman will always be rewarded by kings and praised by gifted persons and her connection will be sought by many people. She thus becomes an example to be followed by the women of her class.” (Kama Sutra, Book I, Chapter III).
Though it is said that the women were respected highly during the Vedic Period, they could attend meetings and gatherings, it is my personal view that every woman was not given that respect, if so, then how could a woman be considered as a 'ganika' or 'vesya'? Women were exploited by giving them such status and which they considered as an 'honourable status' and then also the Brahmins claim that they followed a path of Ahimsa. If they really followed it then women and men would have the same respect and status in the society, which was not there. The ancient Aryans along with Vedic Gods drank wine named Soma. There were dual limitations on divisions. A Hindu will not eat food cooked by a non-Hindu even he will not accept the food cooked by a Hindu unless he is a Brahmin or a man of his caste. The non-vegetarian Hindus were divided into two categories - those who will eat the flesh of any animal except the cow. Then come Hindus who will eat the flesh of any animal including that of the cow and then those who will eat flesh but not of a cow nor chicken. Every Hindu believes in the so-called Ahimsa. Even today, the butcher is a Muslim and any Hindu who wants to kill an animal for food has to seek the services of a Muslim. Now the question arises, is this really called Ahimsa? May it be directly or indirectly, when the animal is slaughtered for the purpose of a Hindu, then how can he claim that he is an Ahimsak? Hindus including Brahmins used to sacrifice animals to please the Goddess Kali and then they used to eat that flesh in the name of “devi’s prasad”. Hence, the Brahmins brought changes in the rules and regulations of Hinduism according to their necessity and still claim themselves to be Ahimsak.
RIDDLE NO.4 (WHY DID THE BRAHMINS MAKE THE HINDU GODS FIGHT AGAINST EACH OTHER?)
Hindu theology is based on the dogma of Trimurti. According to this, the world undergoes three stages - it is created, preserved and destroyed. These three functions are discharged by the three Gods - Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh. This doctrine postulates that the three Gods are equal in status and they are allies. But when studying literature that depicts the deeds of these three Gods, the difference between the theory and practice can be found. The Gods instead of being friends, appear to be the worst enemies competing for supremacy. Brahma is said to be the creator of the Universe - the first Prajapati. He was said to assume two Avatars - Boar and Fish but the followers of Vishnu are not ready to accept it. The story related to Skanda Purana says that Brahma assumed himself to be the First Born. He was punished by Shiva for this false claim. To avenge this Brahma tried to create a rift between Shiva and Vishnu to elevate his own position. By the story of Bhasmasura, it is shown that Shiva was a fool and Vishnu saved him from his folly.
Greek philosopher Xenophanes in his fragment B 23 says: “One god, greatest (heis theos...megistos) among gods and human beings,/ Not at all like all mortals in either body or thought”. This remark suggests that Xenophanes was a monotheist i.e., “he held both that one god exists and that there are no other gods of any kind or description.” (Xenophanes of Colophon, Ancient History Encyclopedia). According to him, the only true doctrine is monotheism but in a society where several Gods exist and people believe in them, monotheism cannot exist, and thus, polytheism prevails. Hinduism is a collection of different tribes and communities where they have faith in many Gods. But the strange part is that Gods fought with each other for wisdom and power.
In other religions, God is that Protector who protects his people, without thinking of His own good. But in Hinduism, it seems that the Gods are more interested in thinking of personal benefits and are busy fighting against each other for power. Brahmins made them fight against each other to fulfill their needs and also to create a rift to some extent. They changed the rules of the Vedas according to their necessity, introduced the caste system, made the Gods fight - all to fulfill their own desires and to establish themselves as the sole authority of the society.
RIDDLE NO.5 (HOW DID THE BRAHMINS WED AN AHIMSAK GOD TO A BLOODTHIRSTY GODDESS?)
The Brahmins started to drink and eat flesh, therefore they didn’t hesitate to write Puranas supporting animal sacrifices. One such Purana is called Kali Purana where there is a chapter named “Rudhir Adhhyaya” which means “The Bloody Chapter”. The Dharma which the Kali Purana preaches is Himsa sanctioned by the Tantras in its worst form - Animal and Human Himsa. There was a time when human sacrifice was prevalent in India, and still, there are nooks and corners where victims are slaughtered for the gratification of Devi. The important point to note is Kali is the wife of Shiva. Now the question arises is does Shiva accept animal sacrifices? The answer is, there was a time when Shiva did live on animal sacrifice. The Brahmins say that sacrifices give the Goddess immense pleasure. It is believed that she destroys the enemies if she is pleased with the sacrifices. It is ridiculous that a Goddess who is considered as a mother, who is called Maa Kali, how can she be pleased by the blood of her own children? “Rudhir Adhhyaya” says that a Brahmin must not sacrifice himself or his own blood because then his sin would be equal to that of the slayers of a Brahmin. This shows that the Brahmins made the rules of sacrificing in such a way so that they do not have to face any problem and not have to put their own life at risk.
Today Shiva does not accept animal sacrifice and this is because the Brahmins changed themselves from Himsa to Ahimsa so they changed Shiva from a Himsak God to an Ahimsak God. Kali came long after Shiva was changed into an Ahimsak God. There are still some sacrificial rituals performed in different parts of India and performed majorly by Hindus. Rituals dedicated to Gods like tongue piercing with sharp needles, fire walking, sacrificing humans and animals, etc. are performed and it is believed that the sufferings of the performer will help to wash away the sins. These sacrifices are heinous activities performed by some people, killing animals insensitively in the name of God. It is clear that Brahmins supported all these sacrifices because they turned non-vegetarians after a point of time. Maybe they feared that they would be criticized if they suddenly started eating meat so they brought the idea of Tantra and animal sacrifices. Therefore, after the animal was offered to the Goddess, the flesh was eaten by them in the name of Prasadam. It is a riddle that as to how the Brahmins wed an Ahimsak God to a bloodthirsty Goddess. All these questions arise but there is no accurate answer to it. The only answer to it can be that to become superior, the Brahmins brought changes in the Vedas and the Puranas. In short, they used the name of Gods and Goddesses to gain wisdom and power.
Ambedkar had the courage to raise his voice against such bold and fundamental questions about the concepts of Hinduism, in the times dominated by orthodox Hindu communities. There are hardly any accurate answers presented so far to the objections brought up by Ambedkar in his book. In 1936, Ambedkar wrote, “The Hindu religion, as contained in the Vedas and the Smritis, is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political and sanitary rules and regulations, all mixed up. What is called religion by the Hindus is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions.” Growing up in a society where we are taught since our childhood that we are bound to follow the rules of the Vedas and cannot raise any question as the Vedas are infallible, it becomes difficult to raise the voice against the Vedas and its authority. But Ambedkar, with years of his research and knowledge, manages to expose the contradictions in the Vedas. Ambedkar shows how Brahmins turned the tide and declared the Vedas to be inferior, how the Upanishads declared war on the Vedas, how they made the Hindu Gods suffer rise and fall. He also shows how the Brahmins made the four Varnas and the caste system and how they exploited the lower castes according to their needs. I think this book is a must-read one and we should read it with an open mind, without any preconception.
Ambedkar, Bhimrao R. Riddles in Hinduism,1987, Education Department, Government of Maharashtra
Iliah, Kancha. Riddles In Hinduism: The Annotated Critical Edition. Navayana, 2016.
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XENOPHANES OF COLOPHON: ANCIENT HISTORY ENCYCLOPAEDIA. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 02 Dec 2016. Web. 28 Jun 2020.
Bakshi, S.R., Gajranj, S., Singh, HARI. Early Aryans to Swaraj.
Sayanti Sikder studies English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. She is interested in Dalit Studies.