Buddhism was a threat to Brahmanism and so was the Sanamahism for Hinduism in Manipur
By Madhu Chandra
Gautam Buddha renounced the religious practices, which was established by Brahmins and now it is known as Hinduism. The way of life he chose has become a Buddhism, which has different branches in different contexts of the world. The majority of the world that follows Buddhism has very little knowledge of the challenges, Buddha stood against the socio-religious system of his time.
To understand why Gautam Buddha’s ideology was a challenge to the Brahmanism, it will need to look at the historiography of India in brief. India has the Prehistoric until 1750 BC, followed by the Vedic Era from 1750 – 600 BC, the 2nd Urbanization from 600 – 200 BC, the Classical Era from 200 BC – 1200 AD, the Medieval Period from 1206 – 1858 AD, the Modern Era after 1850 AD, and then the Independent India from 1947. Brahmins who are originally Aryans migrated from Eastern Europe during the Vedic era and established the Vedic social, religious system and begun ruling over the indigenous people, who have been living with rich culture and civilization before the coming of the Aryans.
The challenges against the Brahmanism began during the end of the second Urbanization period. During the period, Gautam Buddha began challenging the Brahmanical system. It became greater challenges when Ashoka the Great embraced it and became the world’s greatest evangelist of Buddhism. During the Classical period after Ashoka embraced Buddhism, made the state religion, and spread to different parts of the world. The following 1000 years were the most peaceful era in the history of India. India at that time had Buddhism and its centers and monuments in different states, which still exist in many places in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and in many other states.
What had happened toward the end of the Classical Era to Buddhism will tell the history of how Buddhism was a challenge to Brahmanism. Following the Classical era is the medieval period. During the medieval period before the coming of the Mughals and the British, the Gupta Dynasty came during the fourth and sixth century. Buddhism began declining in India. The Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and many were butchered in different parts of India.
Today we have a different sect of Buddhism in India, which is different from the Buddhist world and Dalai Lama’s neo-Buddhism. It is the Buddhism adopted by Dr. B R Ambedkar in 1956 at Nagpur along with hundreds of thousands. He renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism, saying “I was born as a Hindu, will not die as Hindu”. Since then, his followers, India’s Dalits, the marginalized people have not stopped following the footpath of Ambedkar, renouncing Hinduism and embracing Brahmanism. That is why Buddhism is the greatest threat to Brahmanism today.
Coming back to what has happened in the soil of Manipur during the early 18th century. Manipur did not have the influence of Buddhism, but has its own indigenous religion, which is known as Sanamahism until today. When the Brahmin missionary Shantidas Gosai from Bengal, came to Manipur in 1717, converted then the king of Manipur, Pamheiba, and burnt the sacred writings of Meiteis in 1729. What was the need for him to burn the sacred writings of Meiteis and spread the religion he wanted? Did he realize the threat of the Sanamahism to his mission that he wanted to wipe out completely?
Looking the accounts of the burning Meitei sacred writings, not only the burning that took place at Kangla in 1729 but in other places like Wangoo, Chairel, Phayeng, Andro, Kakching and in other places, it is similar nature of what was done to Buddhism by Brahmanism during the end of a Classical era. What happened in Manipur following the burning of Meitei Puyas, the social, religious system came under the control of Brahmanism in Manipur, which most of the scholars and historians quote as Hinduism. The word Hinduism started appearing in the world of dictionary just little more than one hundred years ago, otherwise, the religion brought by Shantidas Gosai had no name, therefore the Royal Chronicle of Manipur – Cheithärol Kumbaba recorded it as Mayang Laining. Mayang means people from mainland India, which is derived from the word “Miya”, meaning “Mr.” used to the people from Bangladesh.
Why the Buddhism adopted by Ambedkar is a threat to Brahmanism is because it is a combination of social, spiritual, and political religion. So is also for the Mayang Laining the Sanamahism is a religion resurging with the quest of social, politic and spiritual reality.
[Madhu Chandra is National Secretary of All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations based at Hyderabad. He can be reached at [email protected]]