Humanity’s route to ‘progress’ has been a faustian bargain. Every next level of organization, co-operation and productivity has mandated new choices, new sacrifices and new problems. In the Purāṇas, humans are listed alongside cattle, goats and horses as “domesticated animals,” implying that ancient Indians too perceived this bargain.
Every civilizational trajectory is different, but all deal with some common and fundamental problems. This is better understood when we realize that civilization is to the collective what consciousness is to the individual, and history is to civilization what memory is to consciousness. While our individual memories are different, and produce distinct felt-experiences, our consciousness works on a shared template and gives rise to common experiences. Similarly does history define a civilization’s character, but there are commonalities to the civilizational experience across space and time. All civilizations are fated to face the same problems, bottlenecks and existential dilemmas. What differentiates them is how they react to them.
These problems must be addressed for a civilization to progress or sustain itself. When viewed from this lens, we will find that there is a good case to consider that the Indian civilization is furthest ahead on ‘trajectory’, having already resolved problems that other civilizations continue to face and struggle with. For this very reason, the inherent and specific problems of the Indian civilization are for it to solve on its own. Civilizations like the West, which are behind us in trajectory, can give us no real solutions. This argument acknowledges that civilizational-India is today in an advanced state of decay, but makes the point that our reviving wisdom will come only from within, not without.
We should begin with a working definition of civilization, and understand what makes it different to culture, clan, tribe, country and/or family. Civilization is an aggregation of humanity with distinct features absent in lesser cultures- monumental architecture, writing, organized agriculture and industry, long-distance trade, a common unit of weights and measures. Not that lesser cultures cannot have one or more of these elements, but that the full combination compounds to a civilizational condition of existence. In some cases, a culture may turn into a civilization pending further discovery. Take the example of the Ochre-Coloured Pottery Culture (OCP) found in parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan. Though it is still called a culture, new findings lead us to believe that it was as fledged a civilization as its contemporary- the Harappan- and even that the two need not be considered mutually exclusive. On occasion we may find a singular artifact, like the monumental megalith of Gobekli Tepe in modern Turkey, but till we know more we have no way of identifying what ‘civilization’ it was a part of.
And yet this is but the external definition of civilization, or how it would be defined from outside. As a felt-experience, Yasuda Yoshinori provided a different definition of civilization. He asserted that a principle to identify civilization was a respect for and co-existence with nature-
Civilization begins to appear when a workable system for living, that is a proper relationship between man and nature, is established in accord with the features of a given region.
Viewed this way, it should not be too difficult to see how the capitalist-consumerist-materialistic-individualistic model of Western civilization is unsustainable, and does not possess a true workable system for living. If nothing else, Yoshinori’s definition reminds us that a civilization is not measured by its shiny objects, rising towers and fast modes of transport, but by how it has solved fundamental problems of co-existence with the rest of reality (or nature, in the local sense)- both for society and individual. We may create technical definitions like ‘negative externalities,’ ‘carbon-offset’ and even ‘sustainability.’ But these more represent desperate coping mechanisms than workable systems.
As its most fundamental unit, civilizational proto-trajectory begins at the individual. But given that our species is a social animal from the eras of primate ancestry, we can bypass the individual unit for a macro historic exercise. Understanding even the family unit this way, we arrive instead at the smallest treatable unit- the clan or tribe. This is an aggregation of families, united through common descent and consequently a shared ancestral memory. Inevitably, a shared ancestral memory implies a shared belief system, or worldview. It also includes a harmony of vocations- defined and complementary roles for different members of the tribe. From the POV(point of view) of civilizational trajectory, no fundamental problems arise for a single tribe, united by blood and ancestry. Leadership structures and hierarchies are relatively simple, and there isn’t much complexity or variation in vocations. The group size is small enough for conflicts to be transparently resolved, and competition is managed within a healthy intra-tribe ecosystem.
The problems begin when we deal not with one but at least two tribes. What we have in this situation is two separate ancestry sets, and likely separate deities, values and vocations. Now fundamental questions arise- how are these two tribes to interact? What ought to be the power equation? Given their interaction they are now likely upon a common resource pool- how should it be shared? And to put it realistically- how are multiple tribes to interact in these circumstances?
1: The Fundamental Problem of Multiple Tribes
Viewed in very broad strokes, humanity’s solution to this problem has been ethnocide, slavery, and genocide (though the problem does not disappear). The history of homo sapiens begins not only with tribal genocide but the eradication of entire human species, so at the earliest layer we must concede to amorality and not hasten to judge. But clearly by ~2000 BC our species had figured out other solutions, workable enough to allow for grand civilizations to exist in India, Sumer and Egypt. If we are being honest, we only have guesswork to explain how these civilizations organized themselves, and we simplistically prop imperial monarchy as the route. The standard explanation is this- as humans began to grow crops, granaries were needed to store the surplus. In turn, armies were needed to protect these granaries. The armies would have to be paid and fed, and this was done by the king- the imperial authority.
The explanation skips past the important part. Why were armies needed to protect granaries? It alludes to the fundamental problem of multiple tribes- of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ in-groups and out-groups. Clearly, the mainstream model has this problem solved through imperialism, force and military. But is that the only solution?
Indian civilization acutely remembers the fundamental problem of multiple tribes, and in Paurāṇika tradition the memory is captured in twelve Deva – Asura wars. Beginning in the 1st manvantara with the belligerent Daitya brothers, Hiraṇyākṣa and Hiraṇyakaśipu, our early history is the story of amoral, bloody, visceral and gory battles between the many nomadic tribes of Mesolithic and proto-Neolithic India. We call them amoral because, at the earliest stages, there is no binary divide of good and evil between Daityas and Ādityas. On more than one occasion the Ādityas resort to underhanded means to gain the upper hand, and indeed in the association of Śukra with Daityas we may speculate that dhārmika order first arose among them- while the Ādityas remained amoral for a longer time. But we also remember novel, alternative solutions, so distant from today that they are parsed only as mythology.
An early example of this is the Samudra Manthana myth, and the larger story around Mahābali and his conflict with Mantradruma Indra. Given in genealogy as the son of Virocana and grandson of Prahlāda, Bali is born in the line of the Daitya greats- Hiraṇyakaśipu and Diti. Each of his named ancestors, sans the matriarch, died in previous wars or to avatāras of Mahāviṣṇu. Among the Ādityas, Śakra Indra gave way to Śatakratu who rivaled Prahlāda, and by Bali’s time the position was held by Mantradruma. Ancestry on both sides is rife with near-ceaseless conflict, not excluding a range of other named tribes- Dānavas, Gandharvas, Yakṣas, Kinnaras, Kiṃpuruṣas, Piśācas, Uragas, Siddhas, Caraṇas, Rākṣasas and more. Paurāṇika tales of the eras preceding Bali show a clear engagement of ancient Indians with the fundamental problem of multiple tribes- and no lasting or non-violent solutions.
Samudra Manthana shows an attempt to come up with a sustainable, working solution- a sharing of resources and ownership. It shows a stage in our civilizational past when the proto-Neolithic tribes, finally tiring of war, tried to sit down and work it out among themselves.
How can we say this? Even singular, literal examples such as Mantradruma taking Airāvata (domesticated elephant?) and Bali taking Ucchaiśravas (domesticated horse?) indicate an agreement of sharing (Aryan migration enthusiasts may note that Indra chose elephant, not horse). The conflicting tribes together negotiated halāhala, or proto-metallurgical ash and lava, and their disparate worldviews were reconciled by the ‘priests’ among them- Śukra and Bṛhaspati. This represents a unique, antique and continuing Indian ritual tradition. When there are two ways of doing things, the representatives among us talk it out and agree on the common way together- one that gives requisite accord to both ways. It is found even in modern Indian marriages, between any two people who hail from different regions. More fundamentally, in context of civilizational trajectories- the solution is not predicated on the eradication of one by the other, whether through genocide or through conversion. This is not to say that India bypassed the genocidal phase. Only that it eventually did look beyond, long back in our history.
Given the same vein, the final conflict over amṛta tells us that this attempt, though ancient and memorable, was neither lasting nor satisfactory. And this is the expected situation. Leveling-up on a civilizational trajectory isn’t a one-hit solution. There are false starts, broken attempts, lost opportunities and underlying it all- a macro historic critical path. How is organization and agreement to sustain itself in a world where communication takes months and years to spread? If at all an enforcing agency develops, how could it actually enforce itself in eras without efficient transport? How could cultural continuity even embed itself if record-keeping, writing and preservation were not yet extant, organized or patronized endeavours?
No doubt, these are problems that humans have grappled with across time and geography. It is rarely introspected upon that anatomically modern human beings are known to have walked this planet from at least 3,50,000 years ago. An ‘anatomically modern’ human being implies the same level of capability, complex thought and conscious reflection that any among us can muster today. However we may articulate fundamental questions about life, the universe and everything, we should realize that these questions have been articulated by homo sapiens for hundreds of thousands of years. If a homo sapien near 8000 BC could look at a round object and conceive the utility of a wheel, his/her ancestor in 250000 BC was no less capable of this realization. And these implications compound at the level of organization and large-scale co-operation, such that our conditioning to dismiss the notion of ‘kings’ and ‘rulers’ in the ancient eras is unfounded. The reality is indeed as Nicholas Kazanas put it:
There is nothing remarkable about a tribe of gatherers and hunters having a ‘monarch’ in 6000 or 60000 years BP. If there is a group of people, someone of necessity will be ‘first among equals’ and if his leadership proves good he is bound to pass into history/legend.
It bears consideration at this point that a myth like Samudra Manthana clearly speaks of a proto-Neolithic era, which asserts a continuity of civilizational wisdom in India not attested anywhere else on the planet. We need to break this point down to disassociate it from the appearance of chauvinism. Macro historically, the memory and experience of multiple tribes (conflicting interests) trying to negotiate a peaceful co-existence no doubt existed in all parts of this planet where homo sapiens have been extant. But by the year 2022 of Gregorian Common Era reckoning, our species has only the Indian tradition for any continuing memory on this matter. As a species, we can accept intellectually that ancient tribes realized that coexistence is the way forward. But in records, this handed-down wisdom has the most ancient continuity in India. So the point is never whether the final, great, totemic tribal leaders were literally named Mahābali and Mantradruma Indra. It is that even in a pre-Neolithic, or pre-‘civilized’ era, ancient Indians had realized that the solution to the fundamental problem of multiple tribes is assimilation and syncretic harmony, based on deeper and more common values.
In the modern world too we understand this problem, which is why we cherish ideas like ‘free speech’ and ‘secularism;’ or why a Shermer talks of the “moral arc.” The ancient, totemic and ancestral tribes may have disappeared, but humankind appears no lesser a tribal creature than its ancestors of millennia ago.
Now, all said and done, what if this harmony does not last? If it dies with Mantradruma or Bali? If the cultural continuity established between Śukra and Bṛhaspati disappears a few generations later? The fact is that it takes great leaders, great personalities and civilization movers- or cakravartins- to establish authority and legacy. And neither authority nor legacy can have existence without leadership. Modern laudations of democracy hide the deeper questions, for they pretend that the only thing of importance is that we choose our leaders (through a convoluted democratic process). Instead, beyond how we choose the leader(s), more important is how the leadership authority conducts itself. The Western civilization has understood this, even as it retains pride and possessiveness for its solution called democracy. This is why the great Western hero, Churchill, said that “democracy is the worst system there is. Except for all the others.” More fundamentally, this is why all modern democratic systems try to enshrine what they call “checks and balances.”
2: The Fundamental Problem of Leadership
Before we dive into the Indian trajectory on this fundamental problem, let us assess where the modern world stands. We have the Western solution of democracy, which argues that there is a way to select leadership that reflects what the citizenry wants. Further, the vesting of power and authority isn’t absolute. Thus, all democratic nations have some kind of separation of power and/or functions. But we live in a world where a democratically elected president of the USA was hounded for all the years of his presidency, and banned from the world’s foremost social platform while still in office. In this same world, the democratically elected prime minister of India can be accused of trying to overthrow democracy and bringing in fascism. This indicates that for all its gloss, democracy tends to exist in our minds only when we agree with its decisions.
A different solution is one being followed by China, or arguably manifest through Putin in Russia. This is one of absolutism, though democratic cultures prefer calling it dictatorship/tyranny/fascism. We examine the notion only for civilizational trajectory, so we leave judgemental nomenclatures aside. The fundamental difference between China and the West here is in their approach to civilizational leadership. In China there is no separation of powers, and no checks or balances. There is one authority, presenting itself as being in service to the cause of nation-state and civilization-state.
To find the positives accrued to China under its incumbent model, we must leave aside the incalculable human misery behind its imposition of the one-child policy. We would have to delay the consideration that is due to eradication of local traditions in service of national infrastructure. What this tells us is that the leadership/authority problem, from within, is about the balance between group-benefit and individual-autonomy. This part is important, for we need to assess even democracy through the same lens.
Think what you may about the economic implications of this, but fact is we now live in a world where the nation-state can invalidate a form of currency overnight- as did happen in 2016 with demonetization in India. We now live in a world where when to stay home, when to mask up, and how many booster shots to take is determined for us, in effect, by state authority. The point isn’t what we think about the effects/intent/impact of demonetisation. The point isn’t even whether we all ought to cooperate with each other on being safe and responsible during a pandemic.
The point is that we are at a critical flashpoint between group-benefit and individual-autonomy. Put more broadly, the entire financial-wealth system of modern civilization favors the benefit of power groups over the autonomy of individuals. This is why debt traps like credit cards can be portrayed as financial instruments, and sovereign wealth like Bitcoin can be defamed from 2009 to now. It is also why we are supposed to mask up while entering a restaurant, but once inside we wine and dine masks off, with reutilised cutlery, while masked up servers cater to us.
That digression done we return to the fundamental problem, which the digression lays bare- Who is in control? Who gets to decide? Who validates and invalidates? As is evidently clear by 2022, neither the Western nor the Chinese civilizations have a working solution to this. But now we may think of a new civilization, the latest entrant to the scene- Islam. What answer does Islam give to this problem? Put simply- a Higher Order. Remember again the macro historic lens. Our question isn’t whether Islam’s higher order is right or wrong. Our question is whether adherence to a “Higher Order” can solve all problems. In fact, Islam gives the answer- No. The higher order of Muhammad and Allah has not prevented a deep and violent schism between Shias and Sunnis. Further, in using Higher Order to solve this problem, Islam regresses on the previous problem of multiple tribes. In all the centuries of its existence, the religion of peace is yet to prove that it can coexist with other tribes when it is in control. In the Higher Order that Islam establishes to solve the fundamental problem of leadership, there is neither a place for any other “tribe,” nor any dimension of individual-autonomy.
Our examination of civilizational trajectory so far summarizes to this:
Modern homo sapiens, once they had eliminated all competing human species, were left to deal with competing tribes of same competence/ability/motivation. In broad, our history on this emerges violent and genocidal. But surely humans across the planet attempted peaceful solutions- ones that recognised both shared interests and differing paradigms. The Indian civilization contains vivid records of this.
But a deeper problem is of control and authority- for who is to enforce any and all agreements made in the previous stage? We have extant examples through the West, China and Islam. To the West the answer is democracy, and Indians too live under this solution. But anyone honestly observing trends in democratic countries can conclude that it is the system itself that’s failing- not the threat of “fascists” like Trump or Modi. China has a solution, yes- but it involves the death of individual autonomy- a faustian bargain so steep that our morality insists it cannot be imposed. The Islamic solution, when examined to detail, is no solution at all. On this problem, the Indian experience is now to be visited.
It is good to be reminded here that Paurāṇika tradition remembers Mahābali as a generous and benevolent king. In fact, his rival Mantradruma Indra contended with a general decay in Āditya culture (and a curse from ṛṣi Durvasa to boot). The preserved tradition of Indian civilization is trying to tell us something here. It tells of Bali’s ancestry, so we know of his distant patriarchal uncle, the brutish and destructive Hiraṇyākṣa. His own patriarch, Hiraṇyakaśipu, evidences the early schisms between conflicting belief systems- a fundamental problem we will get to. The death of his genealogical grandfather, legendary Prahlāda, in ordinary battle tells us something about the material manifestations of even Mahāviṣṇu’s beatitude. Bali may be born to a line of ‘rulers,’ but he is made to submit to a higher order of duty and responsibility.
His guru, Śukrācārya, teaches him to be benevolent and indiscriminate. He cannot be rapacious like Hiraṇyākṣa, nor bigoted like Hiraṇyakaśipu. Appropriately enough, he worships both Devī and Mahāviṣṇu, and conducts himself with generosity. This shows to us that by his era, a deeper consciousness had arisen on the ‘responsibilities’ of a ruler. Also crucial is the fact that Bali is informed in this by his guru, and one of Dharma’s most ancient known ṛṣis- Śukrācārya, a Bhārgava.
But of course, few among us would truly have a problem with dictatorship if it were benevolent, and further- if the son of the benevolent dictator were not a tyrant. Indian civilization remembers this problem. Some time after the era of Mahābali, still in the 6th manvantara, the ruler turns tyrannical- Veṇa. Complacent and arrogant, he bans the study of Vedas and rituals of all kinds (the reference to Vedas here is retroactive, and does not mean that the Ṛgveda existed then). He commands his subjects to pray only to him, and denies ancient tribes like the Ādityas the use of soma. In other words, he acts in contradiction to how a ruler ought to conduct himself. The distraught citizenry appeals to the ṛṣis to intervene, and under the latter’s leadership a rebellion foments. In the coup that follows, Veṇa is deposed and a boy named Pṛthu is established on the throne. The Purāṇas describe that Pṛthu is formed from Veṇa’s thigh, and list him as the latter’s son.
There is a memory of civilizational trajectory in this story.
For one, it reiterates that solving the first fundamental problem of multiple tribes is only the beginning of a journey. The second, a problem of leadership, even if solved momentarily needs to be rooted to something deeper if the solution is to be sustained. And so the replacement to the incumbent, Pṛthu, arrives to his position not through divine right or ordained birth. Two aspects are important here. For one, Pṛthu is fashioned from Veṇa’s thighs by the ṛṣis- indicating that he was selected by a group of elders. Second, the ṛṣis are moved to do this by the appeal of common people- indicating the salience of citizens’ will. This is why Pṛthu emerges from the thigh- the same part of Puruṣa’s body from which emerge the Vaiśyas. Veṇa is remembered by tradition as an example of the dangers to embedding leadership and/or power in one source. It tells us that even the supreme ruler must submit to a core duty, one enshrined not in the personality but the position. This is not the Western coalition between ‘priestly’ and ‘royal’ classes (or Church and King), and neither is it the Islamic derivation from a higher order/bloodline.
Yes, the ruling authority must submit to a higher order. But the order is one emergent from below, and thus placed as the ideal. At its focus is the society, the larger population, and their many needs. The Purāṇas tell us that before Pṛthu there was no organized agriculture, no large towns and no markets. This is to be expected, for the Neolithic trajectory begun by the Samudra Manthana needed further development. The ocean churning represents the emergence of animal domestication and proto-metallurgy, but Pṛthu’s era represents the arrival of true civilization- the kind seen at Mehrgarh, Bhirrana and Rakhigarhi by 6000 BC.
Also notable is the rare title afforded to Pṛthu, making him the first of that name- cakravartin. The Purāṇas, for all their chronologies of thousands of years, for all the genealogies they give from various Manus, and for all the kings and rulers listed of dozens of tribes, list only sixteen cakravartins- or civilization movers. This tells us that even as notions may form around how one ought to rule or lead, not all live up to the ideals. Veṇa was by no means the last ‘evil’ ruler in Indian memory, and in the 7th manvantara we are met with names such as Kārtavīrya- a ruthless conqueror who violated all rules of war and conquest.
When we look at modern democracy, we want to believe that we have found the perfect working solution. We think of the primitive eras of the past- when kings ordained divine rights to rule, and their sons inherited it from them. We think that those in the past were ruled against their will, exploited to the hilt, and possessed none of the fierce desire for autonomy that we of the modern era do. Now, one need not give too large a list of political dynasties in USA and India- the world’s largest democracies- to make the point on children inheriting the right to rule from their parents even today. In reality, our hyperfocus on the ‘process’ of selecting leadership has blinded us to the ‘qualities’ required of it. And on this count, we need look no further than an Indian hero par-excellence, a veritable maryādā puruṣottam. As culturally embedded as the Rāmāyaṇa is in our civilizational consciousness, it is but a small part of Rāma’s full tale. In fact it ends where the imperial journey begins- at Rāma’s coronation. It thus tells us little about the man that tradition remembers as a cakravartin.
Rāma’s imperial record comes to us from the Purāṇas, where at the end of long reign he advises Lakṣmaṇa on the qualities of a king. We may replace king with ‘democratically elected government’ here, but the requisite qualities hold salience nonetheless. Rāma advises-
- A king should acquire wealth only by rightful means, develop it, guard it, and give it to the deserving.
- He should possess humility in statesmanship, knowledge of the scriptures and control of his senses.
- He must contain fortitude, dexterity, proficiency, reticence, energy, eloquence, generosity, endurance, amity, truthfulness, good conduct and self-control.
- He must denounce lust, anger, greed, delight, pride and arrogance.
- He should abstain from causing injury to living beings, be courteous in speech and show compassion to all.
- A poor man in anger can kill the king, so a king must be doubly sure to keep the least privileged in his kingdom happy.
- He should guard to his best ability the seven parts of a kingdom- king, ministry, territory, fortress, treasury, army and allies.
- Ministers should be native to the country and at least a few spies should be from foreign lands.
- The kingdom itself should have good crops and plenty of water, sacred sites, wildlife and water courses independent of rains.
The sermon runs long, listing not only the kinds of kingdoms but the kinds of allies, enemies, treaties and war. When to conduct what treaty, and when to conduct war. How to motivate an armed force, and when to negotiate peace with the enemy. And now we can bring in the great running thread through the entire civilizational journey so far.
DHARMA. IT IS THE BHĀRATĪYA ETHOS.
It is the endeavor to conduct life and society in harmony with ṛta- the eternal order of reality. It is a naturalist civilization’s character.
It is the means, formulated over countless generations, to navigate the absurd life. To deal with the fundamental problems faced by individual and collective- both. And thus when the ocean was churned, when the ancient tribes attempted truce under the spiritual preceptorship of Śukra and Bṛhaspati, what they finally churned out was Dharma. It was the means to prevent mṛta, or the unbecoming/crumbling of ṛta. They called it a-mṛta.
Through amṛta they learnt to share. To co-exist. To assimilate each other’s cultural practices and find deeper synthesis. They learnt how to conduct themselves- whether as a ruler, a teacher, a tradesman or a workman. They had embarked upon a dhārmika path. But these were still the tribal times, and the focus was on the collective. The jana, not the jīva. Not yet at least. But jīvas deviating from the jana dharma highlighted the problem- dharma needs to be maintained, and in the sense of collective-security and well-being it even needs to be imposed. So it is doubly problematic if those charged with doing this stray themselves.
But if the dharma-vṛkṣa is strong, if the leaves and branches are well-rooted, then it is jīvas who bring us back to dharma. We call them cakravartins and avatāras. Through them we learnt that dharma needs to be embodied in the jīva too. By the time of Rāma, he- the rājā himself- would expound on rāja dharma- the code to appraise him against.
Thus develops a mesh network of ideas, synthesized over many millennia, layers built atop layers into a fractal maṇḍala, and decentralized among the collective. It is called Dharma. It is the Bhāratīya Ethos. But more problems await the civilizational trajectory.
3: The Fundamental Problem of Conflicting Ethos
Petty religions, ever anxious and insecure, their pettiness always causing internal rifts, do not rise above the level of us-vs.-them. They remain grappling with the fundamental problem of multiple tribes, their solutions no more sophisticated than wiping out those that are not “us.” But viewed from the level of civilizational trajectory, once multiple tribes have united under a common ethos, they must then face the ethos of other tribal collectives. It is easy to call this a problem of conflicting religions, but in reality it is the problem of conflicting dharmas- or rather of dharma vs. adharma.
Indian civilizational memory of course has grappled with this problem many times over. It began with Hiraṇyakaśipu, who could not accept the dharma of his son and resorted to adharma to impose his will. It happened again with Veṇa, who grew vain and oppressed his people. But these were individual jīvas straying from dharma, and even the great Deva – Asura rivalry was not one of conflicting ethos. It is relatively convenient when dharma is stable, and there are the odd deviations from it now and then. It is vastly more complicated when the other side plays with a different dharma, or rather without dharma at all.
By the 7th manvantara, our ancestors were well on the path to being an advanced civilization of their time. They developed writing, planned architecture, advanced geometry and mathematics, organized large-scale agriculture, Bronze Age metallurgy, hydraulic engineering, long-distance trade and more. It was a significant level-up on civilizational trajectory, having formulated resolutions for the above-listed fundamental problems. But as populations increased, as the people diversified and as the mesh network developed more and more stray ends, the spread of dharma diluted- and emerged those who did not play by it.
We could take the case of the Haihayas, an ancient Indian collective descended from Yadu, himself one of the 5 sons of Yayāti. We will come to the other branches shortly, but for now it must be noticed that the Haihayas are remembered unambiguously as adhārmika people. When they waged war, they spared neither women nor children. When they attacked cities they did not just drive out the incumbent rulers, they razed the cities to the ground and displaced their inhabitants. They showed no regard to the keepers of dharma, wantonly burning entire forests to destroy the āśramas within them. So great was their power and spread that one among them, Kārtavīrya Arjuna, is remembered as a samrāṭ- a clear acknowledgment of his conquest. But crucially, he is not called a cakravartin. He may have conquered civilization, but he was not a mover of it. He did not turn the wheel of time forward, rather he set it back.
With the Haihayas, Indian civilization learnt a new lesson. In resolving the first fundamental problem, it learnt the value of tolerance, acceptance, co-existence and pluralism- such that even today it stands as the best example of these values. But the Haihayas forced it to understand the problem with tolerating intolerance. It is all well and good to consider the whole world one family, but when dharma itself is in danger a different strategy must be adopted. It is a lesson we would be made to learn again and again. And again.
Enter Sagara. Enter Pratardana. Enter Marutta. Enter the realization that dharma must be protected, sometimes by violent, aggressive and assertive means.
When Sagara Aikṣvāku sets out to reclaim land and region for his people, he takes on many enemies. The stories of his treatment to non-Haihaya enemies is exemplar of the Indian resolution to problem 1. He does not harm innocents, women or children. He does not destroy cities or property. He wages dhārmika war on the warriors among his enemies, and once they are defeated he accepts his guru’s counsel to exile them- not decimate them. He was battling different tribes here, but not people with a different ethos. This is why even those defeated people turned to Vasiṣṭha, and he endorsed their plea for mercy to Sagara.
With the Haihayas it is a different story. He grinds their cities to dust, he spares not a single Haihaya, and he ends their entire line. There is no rope here, no negotiation, no guru’s counsel for peace and no exile. There is, despite how distasteful the word may appear, only extermination. And we should be clear- this wasn’t Sagara’s project alone. This is what Pratardana did when he reclaimed Kāśi for his people, and what Marutta did when he drove the Haihayas back and re-established the janapada of Vaiśālī. This is what the Indian civilization did, for it understood that the fundamental problem of conflicting ethos requires firm solutions. We remember this firm solution as the story of Rāma Jamadāgneya, who wipes the kṣatriyas (Haihayas) from the face of this earth twenty-one times over.
Of all the lessons our civilization has learnt in its past, this is the one it has arguably forgotten the most. The only extant civilizations of the world today are those who have unapologetically defended their ethos, and continue to do so. Those that woke up to the danger too late, as dodo birds, now survive in museums or as tour-guides to the sacred spaces of their ancestors- parroting propaganda about their own history. Such is to be our fate, and in places already is, if we do not relearn past lessons.
And just to prove that the Indian solution to this problem is not simply wiping out those that do not play by the same rules as us, we turn to the other sons of Yayāti, or rather the branches descended from them. These too developed conflicting ethos, even as they drew from the same ancestral well and civilizational trajectory. Both the Pūrus and Ānavas considered fire to be sacred, and both mythologized ancestral names of the past, as both inherited the legacy of Śukra and Bṛhaspati, of Daityas and Ādityas. But while the Pūrus threw everything into the fire, including the dead, considering it to be a great purifier, the Ānavas considered fire itself to be of ultimate purity and refused to throw anything into it- including the dead.
This is not one tribe against another, or one religion against another. These were conflicting ethos, and add to this the Druhyus, Yadus, Turvaśas, Ālinas, Pākthas, Bhalānas, Ajas, Śighras, Dasas and more. Inheriting a leveled-up civilization, headed to the high days of Mature Harappan by 2500 BC, they held ownership over the accumulated wealth of Samudra Manthana and Pṛthu, of the many Manus, of Mehrgarh, Bhirrana, Rakhigarhi, Lahuradewa and more. Some among them were belligerent like the Haihayas, destroying canals and disturbing the irrigation of established cities- as chronicled in the dāśarājña of the Ṛgveda. Others paid no respect to the property and wealth of others, such that cattle-raiding was an ever-present concern. We see from the many campaigns of Divodāsa Atithigva, and the several battles of Sudās Paijavana, that this would have reduced to a state of incessant us-vs.-them, of multiple tribes always in conflict. We would have deprecated on the civilizational trajectory. Enter the Vasiṣṭhas, perhaps commencing with Maitrāvaruṇi. To quote Findlay, Vasiṣṭha’s Indra-Varuṇa hymns have an
“embedded message of transcending all thoughts of bigotry, suggesting a realistic approach of mutual coordination and harmony between two rival religious ideas by abandoning disputed ideas from each and finding the complementary spiritual core in both.”
The Śukras and Bṛhaspatis, the Bhṛgus and Āṅgirasas, the fire-bringers and the metallurgy-magicians, had done their job. They had laid down the palimpsest that is Bhārata, but much more was to be carved atop yet. Each layer of India’s civilizational trajectory builds atop another, and with the Vedic Indians it was time for yet another layer. It was time for our civilization to become fractal.
When you (re)embed the same wisdom and insights at every new level of civilizational trajectory, you give to your civilization a fractal character. No matter what level one zooms into, or out to, one finds the same themes playing out- the same civilizational ethos and archetypes.
What Vasiṣṭha did for the Vedic Indians was no different to what Śukra did for the Samudra Manthan-ing Devas and Asuras. But to do it all over again, at a higher level of civilization, is to embed fractal resilience. We call this resilience because, given this consolidation, when civilization was unsettled again- this time by geology itself- it gave birth to one of the greatest Indians of all time. But before we reach him, let us understand the next fundamental problem in civilizational trajectory.
4: The Fundamental Problem of Individual Well-being
Imagine a world that has suitably resolved all the problems we have listed above. Does that create a utopia then? Is civilizational trajectory over, the end of history? Western civilization would have us believe so. In its narrative, it has resolved all previous problems and history is over. The future only consists of those joining this civilizational consensus, or those losing their culture to European museums which descendants will pay handsomely to visit. But when the jana gets resolved with such hyper-chauvinistic focus, it is the jīva that suffers.
Take Korea, a civilization that has taken two opposing routes on the trajectory, and consider the jīva not in North but South Korea. This jīva lives in great economic and infrastructural prosperity. He/she lives under a healthy, functioning democracy. The jīva can participate in global discourse through mind-bogglingly high internet speeds, and the jīva can benefit from economic prosperity and travel to anywhere in the world he/she wants to. But Seoul, the capital of South Korea, also has one of the world’s highest depression and suicide rates.
Take USA, the capital of Western civilization. The pinnacle of democracy. The land of freedom, equality, liberty and justice. The shrine of jīva rights, the altar where individual liberty is given sacred stature. A place where women’s rights means an abundance of pornographic material by consenting women, while fascistic anti-abortion measures are imposed (let us not open a Pandora’s box on the morality of abortion here). A place where jīvas live alone, cut-off even from the family unit- a pre-civilizational condition of sapient existence. A place where people need pills to sleep, and opioids for everything else. A place where teenage parents feed their babies synthetic food designed for infants.
No great revelation of god, no civilizational prosperity, no amount of highways and high-speed internet prevent jīvas from torture and misery, for the fundamental jīva experience is separate from the fundamental jana experience. Civilization and individual consciousness may be comparable, but a former that gives no platform to the latter fails on a fundamental problem of civilizational trajectory- there is no happy jana without happy jīvas.
Now this fundamental jīva experience is as old as humanity itself, and indeed perhaps older- so we do not claim civilizational primacy for India on that count. But when Western civilization today develops things like ‘goat-yoga’ and ‘retail-therapy,’ when the Chinese civilization decides how much and when to reproduce, and when the Islamic civilization considers deserters punishable by death, we will not be amiss in reflecting on what our ancestors did for similar problems. Problems that, by ~2000 BC, were certainly stark, present and real.
A great river was drying up, the totem river of the Ṛgveda no less- Sarasvatī.
Yet another wave of civilizational trajectory was coming to a close, triggered in no small part by the 4.2 kiloyear event- younger sibling of the 8.2 kiloyear event that gave rise to Pṛthu Vainya millennia before.
And a young man, son of a Vāsiṣṭha, set out to travel across his country. He noticed the fall of dharma. The despair of people. The prevalence of adharma. The decay of civilizational wisdom.
He could not bear it, and he resolved to do something about it. For reasons we do not know, he was not set upon the path by his father, who in turn was a Ṛgvedic ṛṣi.
Instead, the young man, born on an island and thus named Dvaipāyana, encountered a personality busy in compiling the knowledge of his land and assembling it into a coherent whole. This personality, named Jātūkarṇa, was the 27th of his line- the line of assemblers, or vyāsas.
But the disciple, the young Dvaipāyana, soon to become the 28th and final (known) of his line, was not content to simply compile and assemble. He was navigating through a more existential problem.
The problem of embedding dharma in jīvas, such that dilution at jana level would not lead to civilizational death. The problem was of building a dharma vṛkṣa- roots, shoots, leaves and branches all.
The wisdom existed, this much he knew. The accumulated tales of Indian sūtas and māgadhas, the folk songs of forest dwellers and riparine tribes, the esoteric sound-instruments of the Ṛgvedic ṛṣis, the hidden rituals of the mountain caves, the memories of great avatāras and cakravartins- all these and more contained the wisdom of how each jīva must live his/her life in accordance with ṛta- or in the most harmonious and prosperous way possible. But the wisdom was decentralized, diluted even, and decaying fast. The lessons that ancestral grandmothers and grandfathers had embedded into each level of civilization, creating the Fractal Bhārata, needed to be preserved.
What was needed was to bring civilization back home- to complete the circle. To form the śūnya. What was needed was the maṇḍala, the whole that both completes the journey and encompasses it.
It was this young man, the kṛṣṇa-tvaca Dvaipāyana, the Vyāsa of Bhārata’s Vidya, or Veda, who created the maṇḍala. And within it he embedded what was needed for civilization at this stage of trajectory. The Puruṣārthas- the means to jīva fulfillment. Only fulfilled jīvas could bring the jana revival that was now needed. The wheel of civilization moves on. The vartana is never-ending. It is the vartin that is always needed. This was Veda Vyāsa. A Vāsiṣṭha. A founding father of Dharma.
Thousands of years before Carl Jung mused on the idea of archetypes, and insisted that the fundamental human experience is the same for all humans, Indian ancestors had realized and internalized this, and come up with a solution. The Puruṣa, or the jīva, the ātman consigned to a physical existence of limited time, before the cycle repeats anew, needs a purpose in the physical realm. And the purpose must be in accordance with ṛta, if the life is to be harmonious.
There is so much of this condition outside our control. We cannot control what we are born into, or with what capacities. We cannot control what privilege or lack of it we are granted. The only thing in our control is the inner felt-experience. The saguṇa existence cast into our mind, within this nirguṇa reality. But even as all these stations are different for each of us, our impulses and desires are the same. We are all human, and we share human archetypes.
We desire wealth.
We desire pleasure.
We desire deliverance.
Artha. Kāma. Mokṣa.
And since ours is a ṛta-driven civilization, we know that the requisite is a balance of human impulses. Any desire chased to the extreme takes us away from ṛta. Only when all desires are given natural space, but managed with restrain, will we achieve what is the ultimate objective to begin with- dharma- existence in accordance with ṛta.
And so when Veda Vyāsa (re)created the Fractal, he knew to embed into every layer this Pauruṣārthika wisdom. No longer were the ballads historical or lore- they were appropriated for the dharma project. Finally, history was made important for the lessons it could teach to us.
And thus we learnt of the avatāras, the fractal containing Mahāviṣṇus and Mahāśivas at any zoom-level. We learnt of the cakravartins- but not of their imperial conquests. Of how they upheld or re-established dharma. Of the personal conducts and sacrifices they embodied. We learnt of the Samudra Manthana, but more than learning of how ancient Indians embarked on agriculture, animal domestication and metallurgy, we learnt how they consumed amṛta, or the ṛta-upholding dhārmika code.
We learnt of the centuries of conflict preceding the high civilization of Mature Harappan. Of Divodāsa, Sudās and others’ dozens of battles big and small, of the ways in which we might have reverted to the old tribal days of Daityas and Ādityas. But these were encoded into the same instruments of sound that would form the kernel of the Fractal Maṇḍala- the Vedas. No longer was any ancient Indian a historical personality alone. They were all elevated beings to learn from, to derive meaning such that us mortals of the ‘present’ could live our life with purpose and fulfillment. Ṛgveda. Sāmaveda. Yajurveda. Atharvaveda. Mahābhārata. Purāṇa.
Each a maṇḍala in itself. Each a whole, yet each forming one pearl in a string, the string itself a maṇḍala. A fractal at every layer, all re-iterating the same truth over and over again, from different angles, as if we are in a civilizational psychedelic trip of cosmic import. And yet, the trajectory is not complete. The maṇḍala is woven, the fractals are embedded. But what is the super-structure? What will mesh dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa into a stable whole that can become sanātana- or eternal?
5: The Fundamental Problem of Stewarding it All
What is capitalism? What is communism? What is an open market? What is a welfare state? What are taxes? What is Amazon? What is Elon Musk’s soon-to-come Starlink Satellite Internet? What is a patent, or a copyright? What is the Bilderberg meeting? What is a glass-ceiling, and what is nepotism?
You see, what a civilization does best is generate collective wealth. Not only of the physical kind, but also of the intellectual and aesthetic kinds. And if/when the preceding four fundamental problems are solved, civilization still faces the ultimate problem. What is to be done with this wealth? How is it to be managed? Who should own it? What checks to embed into the system?
Capitalism argues that we ought to just let it be. Give civilization a free reign, and in enough time it stabilizes and diffuses equity across the jana, such that no jīva need be born into a lack of opportunity. But given that with this free reign we are fast destroying the planet, and that the elite on Mars will be the descendants of the elite of Earth, and it anyway began with some already on a head-start over others, we must ask how many planets will be needed before we reach this utopian equity.
Communism argues that we must embed all control in a single entity, the State, and let the State take care of the rest. Let alone how contrary this is to the historical record, it effectively argues for us to grapple with the second fundamental problem all over again. It is no solution at all.
In reality, some people work harder than others. Some are smarter than others. Some cannot get their heads out of the dirt, content to study small bugs for the rest of their lives. Some are always staring at the stars, asking a hundred existential questions simply for the joy of doing so. Some are greedy and desire power, with no qualms in oppressing others. Even others are content with family, kinship and the simple life. Some destroy their lives to create that one piece of art that defines them, even if no reward ever comes their way. Some look at their country’s flag and feel the desire to fight for it, to lay down their lives to defend it if need be. Some join the army anyway, curious to know what it is to kill a man. Some believe they have solutions to offer, they speak out and actively work to create the reality they believe in. Some feel no attachment to life, whether through some trauma or through dependence on substances that are slowly killing them. Some want to teach what they know, some want to learn forever. Some want to go to distant places and learn foreign languages, others never feel the desire to leave their humble village.
When the nirguṇa reality falls upon each of us, it takes a saguṇa shape. But each shape is different. Each jīva is different. We are all born with different qualia, into different conditions. We are all born with different varṇas, into different jātis. This is the human condition.
Having solved fundamental issues of tribal conflict and leadership, having established an emergent order aspiring to be harmony with ṛta, having understood what it takes to defend one’s civilizational ethos, and having embedded deep cultural wisdom relevant to the well-being of any jīva, this is the final super-structure our civilization understood.
It is not casteism, this much should be evident from the trajectory so far. Or if it is, then so is the fact that Trump’s daughter and son-in-law got to be in the government. So is the fact that the Indian National Congress has been ruled by a Gandhi dynast forever. So is the fact that the Kapoors now dominate Bollywood. So is the fact that there are families sending their sons and daughters into the military, generation after generation, and others that encourage their children to learn risk and profit from a young age on. And so is the fact that a son of academics finds interest in history and knowledge.
The jāti-varṇa superstructure was the Indian way to manage the fundamental problem of stewarding it all, and when combined with the four āśramas and puruṣārthas it was the very essence of dharma. It was OUR way of managing collective wealth and stability, as well as individual well-being and stability. A way to exorcize monopolies and allow for individual aspirations. A way to preserve balance in society, such that each fulfilled themselves regardless of the condition they were born into, and each gave back to the collective what they received from it.
But we messed up. Those who, through the varṇa of their ancient ancestors, were born into brāhmaṇa jātis, grew supremacist and forgot the duties that come with their privilege. Those who, through the varṇa of their ancient ancestors, were born into kṣatriya jātis, failed to perform their dhārmika duties to protect fellow-Indians from the ravages of north-western invaders that have plagued our civilization for untold millennia. Those who, through the varṇa of their ancient ancestors, were born into the vaiśya jātis, failed to live true to their responsibility as stewards of the civilization’s physical wealth. They colluded with foreigners for self-interest, forgetting that dharma never commended jīva-interest when in violation of jana-prosperity. And so the rest of us, especially those who through the varṇa of their ancient ancestors, were born into the śūdra jātis, were open to oppression, exploitation, ostracization and subjugation for centuries- often by our own countrymen- and doubly by the foreigners who had no stake in our civilization. Failure on this fundamental problem threw solutions for all previous ones into disarray.
This then presents us a fundamental problem that the Indian civilization has not satisfactorily solved. Yes, the jāti-varṇa-āśrama superstructure worked, for a long time. But it was also susceptible to decay and deprecation, to ossification and rigidity. But no sooner had we realized this that our civilizational trajectory was snatched away from our hands, and enslaved for centuries to the benefit of foreigners. So we did not even have breathing space enough to think of solutions, of the next layer to embed into the fractal, moving forward in our civilizational trajectory. When we stepped out of the dungeon again, a thousand years later, the world had changed. Industry and technology were upon us. The old systems were obsolete.
But no other civilization has the learnings to show us any path forward either, for no other civilization has solved this fundamental problem. Further, they show dangerous deprecations on the other fundamental problems, which threaten to inhibit the forward trajectory. The Western and Islamic civilizations are yet to prove that they have a workable system to co-exist either with differing tribes, and even more those with differing ethos. As for equity, equality, egalitarianism – the values that appeal to our good sense in some form or the other – do we really want to believe that the Western model is a workable solution, a ladder out of the inequity mess? Our was once a civilization that valued learning and education above all else, the Western model requires graduate students to pile on lifelong debt.
So while the solution of one (democracy) on the fundamental problem of leadership is beginning to show cracks, the solution of another (shariah/higher order) is no solution at all. On both these counts, the Chinese civilization stands in contrast. It is not that it cannot co-exist with other tribes and ethos, but rather that it demands to co-exist on equal ground and nothing less. With those it can bully and run over, it does so without remorse. Arguably, it understands the fundamental problem of conflicting ethos better than any other civilization does, having emerged resurgent from being at the receiving end of it.
And on the fourth fundamental problem of individual well-being, the results are for all to see. The West has now breached the barriers of extremity, its care for individual freedom festering into a fetish that has isolated jīva from jana. Sales for all kinds of anxiety pills, painkillers and opioids in USA are testimony to where it stands. And what is the jīva in the Islamic and Chinese janas? Does he/she fully exist, or are they invisible units in the larger collective, the collective being supreme? The balance is off, the solution is not working.
The Indian civilization has a deep well to draw from, one that truly runs back thousands of years, and through it all it has a near infinite amount of lessons on each of these fundamental problems. The sum total of these lessons is dharma, the Indian answer to life- both for civilization and for consciousness.
It is a Fractal Maṇḍala. It is Home.
The Fractal Maṇḍala
Zoom in to the level of the Ṛgveda, where experts will tell us we find semi-nomadic pastoralists composing hymns to the ‘Gods of Natural Phenomena.’ When they want rain, they pray to Indra, the God of Thunder. When they conduct a ritual, they pray to Agni, the God of Fire. For every need they might have, they have a God. A God of Water, and of Wind. A Goddess of Dawn, and of the Rivers. A God here, a Goddess there. Ah, such simple pastoralists, these Vedic Indians.
Now remove that foreigner lens, and use that of our own civilization. Focus again. The Vedic yajña is the ritual of life, of the individual felt-experience. The physical agni is the flame of consciousness within each of us. Indra, the clarified agency that moves us forward through will. Maruts, the many impulses within us, ready to be channeled at any cause, always at Indra’s vanguard. Soma, the purified consciousness that emerges from life’s yajña, if conducted well, as does ghee from the physical ritual. Uṣā, the radiance of insight that can pierce through our ignorance with beatitude. Sarasvatī, the flow of clear and unabated thinking we need to achieve any life goal.
The Ṛgveda’s mantras lend themselves to many layers of interpretation, but at the deepest ones we find the flame of awakened consciousness – a manual for yoga, the union. It is a theme that is encoded in every level of Indian civilization. Agni, which rises from the earth and connects to the sky above, is called the great rodasi – connector. To relive Agni’s journey is the ultimate goal of Hindu life – the mokṣa in our puruṣārthas. In the endeavor of dharma to be in consonance with ṛta, in the eternal quest for harmony unique to our civilization, in our prayer to be led from darkness to light and from untruth to truth, we are constantly seeking the yajña.
It makes our civilization a fractal maṇḍala. No matter what level you look at, it reiterates the same truths. No matter what tangent you approach from, or what segment of the arc you start from, it always takes you back home.
Layers upon layers, each layer the same. Journey to the same Holocene onset, to the time when Svāyambhuva prays to Mahāviṣṇu as the floodwaters claim his lands. Incarnates Varāha and returns the earth above the water surface. A different layer, but still the victory of Indra over Vṛtra. The same story, but weaved onto a different thread. Some time during the era of the above Vedic Indians, in a different part of India, another man’s story will be added to the same thread- Rāma Dāśarathi. Another avatāra. Another layer. But Mahāviṣṇu again. This Rāma travels to southern India, and returns with an idol of Vāmana which he consecrates at Mathurā. Another layer, but Mahāviṣṇu again. Many centuries after Rāma, an Indian born in Mathurā will be added to this thread. We remember him as Kṛṣṇa, an epitome of Mahāviṣṇu. A fractal maṇḍala. Approach from any tangent, land at any level, but you will be returned to the source. To dharma. This is the true beauty of the Bhāratīya code.
Many centuries after Kṛṣṇa still, when Indian civilization briefly recedes, and the next layers are being added in the forests and the caves, as the Āraṇyakas and the Upaniṣads, our ancestors will look to these fundamental problems again, and draw from the fractal wisdom they inherit.
As light on its own, they will argue, is without attributes- or nirguṇa- such is consciousness itself. Pure and undifferentiated. And as light takes the shape and form of what it falls on, so does consciousness- it becomes saguṇa.
And this is what was being said in the Ṛgveda too, they will understand. This is why, they will come to realize, Soma is also called Candra, or the Moon. For the moon has no light of its own- it returns what is reflected onto it. And such is the nature of the purified consciousness that emerges in our mental yajña. It does not stand independent, it is what the yajña returns to us of our agni, our lamp of consciousness.
And so does the dharma vṛkṣa grow deeper, as generations of Indians build upon the wisdom of their ancestors to form an unbroken chain of civilizational memory and felt-experience. A fecund tree that continues to produce luminary leaves generation after generation, happy jīvas from a happy jana. Always fractal. Always a maṇḍala.
Embedded into every layer such that life becomes a yajña in any activity, for any jīva born to any varṇa and jāti, at any stage of their life. Dance becomes yajña, it becomes a part of dharma. Music becomes yajña, it becomes a part of dharma. To wake with the rising sūrya and prepare one’s physical vessel with namaskara becomes dharma, consonant as it is with ṛta. Every layer the same, the mission always the consonance. In the Ṛgveda this consonance comes through Agni- which rises from Prithvī and reaches Dyaus high above. It is the rodasi- the great connector. And when we kindle this sacrificial agni within us, the flame of our own consciousness, we are elevated beyond our physical bodies (prithvī) and taken to the transcendent consciousness (dyaus). This too is rodasi, the great connector. Asato mā sadgamaya, tamaso mā jyotirgamaya.
We also call this Yoga- the union.
A fractal at any level. A maṇḍala that always brings you home.
And here is the thing about a fractal maṇḍala. Land anywhere on it and ask the people- “where did you learn this from?”
“Oh, this is what we understand from the wisdom of our ancestors,” they will respond.
This is what the Upaniṣadic thinkers would have said, looking back to their Vedic forebears. This is what the Vedic Indians would have said, inheriting the learnings of the Mahābali and Pṛthu eras. Those eras in turn, we know, looked back at the primal days of Ādityas and Daityas. Long before the Śukra and Bṛhaspati of that time, there were Bhṛgu and Aṅgiras- and where did they get their wisdom from?
The Ṛgveda knows this. Who really knows where creation comes from? Perhaps even the gods do not, for they came after creation. There is no beginning to the maṇḍala, there is no end to it. As eternal as is ṛta, that eternal is dharma. Thus do we call it sanātana. Such were our ancestors, living the eternally dhārmika life.
It breeds comfort. It breeds complacence.
Close to two millennia after Veda Vyāsa, the lessons get forgotten again. The fundamental problems of civilizational trajectory again rear their ugly heads, and the jana shows signs of crumbling. Amṛta seems lost, so it is natural that mṛta approaches.
Came the Huns, the Scythians, the Greeks, the Iranians and more, and we were painfully reminded of the fundamental problem of conflicting ethos. Rose Kautilya. Rose Vikramāditya. Rose Skandagupta. We drew from our civilizational learnings and stood fast against the foreigners. They retreated, and those that didn’t became us, as Indra and Varuṇa once became one through Vasiṣṭha’s efforts. The fractal deepens such, the mesh grows stronger. The manthana is ever present.
The trajectory goes on. The cakra keeps moving. The vartana never stops. Only the vartins are needed. The śākhās proliferated, the dharma vṛkṣa grew vast and spread to distant shores. Bhārata Arrived.
Came the Arabs. Came the Turks. Came the Mongols. Again and again, wave after wave. Incessant challenges, for untold centuries. Breaking down every lesson our civilization had learnt, rupturing the formation of new layers of wisdom. Hijacking our civilizational trajectory and contaminating it. This was not one religion against another. This was adharma against dharma. For long centuries we were on the losing end. The wheel moves on. Bhārata became Hindustan.
And in the beautiful way that only the cosmos can joke with us, from the same part of India that once arose the adhārmika Haihayas- arose the dhārmika Marāthās. A historical maṇḍala if there ever was one. Reclamation was nigh, vindication was nigh. Almost, within grasp. Just a bit more.
Came the Europeans.
And to cut a long story short, we may skip forward to today, when the Hindustan has become India, and the Bhārata begs to be reiterated- to the question of civilization itself and that of civilizational trajectory. To the reality that ours is still a deeply colonized civilization, one where our trajectory is relegated as myth or worse- as Hindu revisionism. This grand civilization will not be in full bloom again without repairing all its synaptic connections- and no connection is arguably more important to civilization than its own history. There is no continuity of consciousness without memory, and there is no continuity of civilization without history. The project therefore to restore our history, and to understand the deep macrohistorical issues our civilization has already grappled with and possesses legitimate wisdom on, is a relevant project.