Bharat ki Chhap - Episode 5: The Age of Codification
Director: Chandita Mukherjee; Cinematographer: Ranjan Palit
Duration: 00:49:36; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 8.594; Saturation: 0.050; Lightness: 0.340; Volume: 0.322; Cuts per Minute: 4.616; Words per Minute: 74.400
Summary: This episode discusses Buddhism and its influence in the North and the Southern rulers and kingdoms. We travel from the Sarnath to Kanheri caves near Mumbai to understand our Buddhist past and then to Pondicherry where we encounter a trade relationship with Rome, to Tiruchirapalli to understand the water reservoir system and the Grand Anaicut and finally to the Saraswati Mahal Library in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu where we understand the texts of the times and their orthodoxy.
Maitreyi: As we saw last time the iron age cities came up around the 7th century BC. There was also a new ferment in ideas which lasted into the first few centuries AD.
Nissim: This ferment is reflected in the new anti-orthodox schools of thought of the time. These had the courage to question the old texts, and to move away from well-trodden paths. Buddhism and Jainism were the important new schools.
In a sense, Buddhism began in the Gangetic plains – at Sarnath, near Varanasi. In a few centuries it had spread all over the land, and had become a new cultural link.
Sarnath, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
After his enlightenment, it was here at Sarnath that Gautam Buddha preached his first sermon. Buddha understood the sorrows of people, weary of being oppressed by kings and priests and showed them a new path. Dominated for centuries by brahminical ritual,
people found in Buddha's message a new freedom. In this unequal society, he founded sanghas
which welcomed king and commoner alike. This way of life brought about a new openness. Buddha's teachings soon became very popular. In the Kashi region, as elsewhere an anarchy of ideas prevailed. Trade was looked down upon. Buddha brought some order to this scattered society. In the next few centuries, monks took his message to all corners of the country. But isn't it a paradox that this philosophy went on to become part of the rituals it had opposed?
By now the cities of the Iron Age were flourishing. Some 250 years later, Ashoka adopted Buddhism. These lions in Sarnath Museum could stand for Ashoka's Maurya empire triumphing on all sides. Buddhism too was spreading within India, and abroad. Thus new directions opened up for trade as well.
Ashoka's rock edicts and inscriptions on slabs and pillars throughout his empire, are famous. One such inscription was recently discovered in Pangoraria village, Madhya Pradesh.
Pangoraria, Sehore Dist., Madhya Pradesh
This refers to Ashoka as “beloved of the gods”. All such inscriptions are in the local scripts. In the northwest, Kharoshti - a form of Persian. Further west, in Greek. Elsewhere, the Brahmi script is used for Pali or the local Prakrit languages. Interestingly, after Harappa the first evidence of a script is from this time.
Nissim: For centuries after writing became common teaching and learning was an oral tradition. Thus different versions of mythological tales are found in different times and places. Yet certain things did not admit of any change and these had to be remembered correctly.
So a style was evolved that made memorizing easy. This was the sutra
form - maximum information in as few words as possible. This method is of great scientific interest. One person who used this device successfully was Panini.
Maitreyi: Panini, like Buddha, was a product of the new cities. He lived in Takshashila in the northwest and thought deeply about the structure of language. Indo-Aryan speech was then just bhasha
or language, from which Sanskrit evolved. Panini composed a set of rules for grammar - the Ashtadhyayi
or chapters) - a complex and unprecedented work
Shehnaaz has been studying its scientific aspects and has made some charts.
I'm no languages person, like Amrita! But I've really enjoyed doing this assignment. What is grammar? In a way, we all know. If I say -
'The bird flied', you'll say, 'No, the bird flew
'. What are these rules, so much a part of us? Panini found them out and expressed them in sutras
. I'll attempt to convey a sense of his work using these charts I've made Panini's students first had to learn a sutra
called the Shivastura.
The legend is that Panini heard Shiva's damru
and the sutra
came to him.
I've recorded a Sanskrit expert reciting it. Doesn't it sound like a drumbeat? Now let's hear a slower version.
Actually, it's just the alphabet – in a new order. Each group end with a consonant of the type we called 'inverted foot' letters, as children.
I've chosen a tiny sutra - ikoyanachi.
This is a rule for the combining of words - a formula, like all Panini's sutras.
split up, is Ikaha, yan, achi
which means, ik
on meeting ach
Let's return to the Shivasutra Ik
is the letters i
Here they are in a vertical row - excluding the 'inverted foot' markers. Thus yan
is the letters ya
That leaves ach,
which we'll see on a new sheet. The letters a
are in the top row. Ik
remain in vertical rows. Let's pick any letter from ach
- say, a
This is how the ik
group letters change on combining with the letter a
Shehnaaz: Now we'll take a word - atyanta.
This formed from two words - ati
must combine. Ikoyanachi
combine to form ya.
joined, become atyanta.
The formula ikoyanachi
contains 32 such rules.
Maitreyi: And it's so brief! Students must have found these sutras
easy to learn.
Shehnaaz: Another thing. Along with rules, he has expections which are also rules. This applies to ikoyanachi
too. Take the word ateendriya.
It's the words ati
join to form ya
so the word should be atyindriya
Doesn't that sound wrong?
When we say ateendriya,
what rule do we apply? Panini tells us - akaha savarne drighaha,
a rule for the letters a
of the Shivsutra.
When any of these vowels, long or short, is repeated, this makes a long vowel. So i
Thus akaha savarne dirghaha
limits the ikoyanachi
Maitreyi: So he studied language, formulated its rules, arranged these in a sequence and, in this way, understood language as a logical system!
Shehnaaz: Exactly. And this method can be used in any field.
Shehnaaz: To fully understand any subject, it's necessary and recognise the rules that link them.
Maitreyi: Computer scientists today are therefore paying special attention to Panini's work. Dividing data into groups, and using markers to separate these groups, that's what we do in computer programming.
Nissim: In his Ashtadhyayi,
Panini described how people spoke. But later, the Brahmins named his bhasha
and gave it the status of an elite language. Panini's rules were made into fetters. The lower castes and women were denied the right to learn Sanskrit. The Prakrits which evolved from their speech became the forerunners of many modern languages. All Buddhist literature was in Pali and the Prakrits - the languages spoken by common people. These texts reflect how close Buddhism was to people's lives
Take the Jataka tales, which began to be written in the second century AD. Here we sense the links between Buddhism and trade, and get a glimpse into the society of that time.
Nagarjuna Konda, Guntur Dist., Andhra Pradesh
Hear this ancient story not without glory
In Kashi on a happy morn the Bodhisatva was reborn
One day by the road he sat lost in thought. He saw...
a rat lying dead...
Looking at the stars he said -
“This rat to someone bold shall bring wealth untold”
A young man heard his words and did what was proper
He took the rat and sold it for a coin of copper
Some sugar he bought and filled water in a pot
For the flower pickers who were thirsty and hot
The flowers they gave him he sold in a trice
Eight coins he earned – a very good price!
Then all night through a storm did rage
That laid the royal gardens waste
The garderner was in a daze not knowing what to do
The young man, quick on the uptake
Seeking wealth and on the make
Said, “I'll tell you what to do
I'll clear away the debris too
But will you be so good as to let me have the wood?
And there the king's chef was looking for fuel
The youth seized his chance and sold him every branch
Another sixteen coins he gains
Wealth increases with the use of brains
Word reached him one day that a ship was on its way
So the clever young man made an unusual plan
In a horse-drawn carriage like a merchant of the town
He reached the shore dressed in the finest gown
And spoke with such zeal, he struck a splendid deal
And bought the cargo entire!
The other merchants came – they'd never heard his name!
“Guards – let us see who this rich man can be!”
“In business so astute – the best, beyond dispute!”
Each asked to be a partner, all wanted him as friend
Two lakhs was his profit – but that is not the end!
With an offering of wealth to where the Wise One dwelt
He went and explained how he had fortune gained
The Bodhisatva thought – the lad is smart, in truth
He gave his daughter's hand in marriage to the youth!
Maitreyi: In the small towns and cities of the time many merchants and traders were followers of Buddha. Buddhist monasteries were coming up with their help. Takshashila in the northwest, Sarnath in the Gangetic plains, Amravati in Andhra.
Nissim: Travel was frequent, interaction was growing. Gradually the subcontinent as linked together. The Dakshinapath
route opened up - merchants and preachers began to travel south. The Satavahana kingdom in the Deccan was like a bridge between north and south. In this region we find many Buddhist caves.
Kanheri Caves, Borivali, Mumbai
Shehnaaz: Binda Paranjpe and I have come to see the Kanheri caves near Bombay. Binda teaches history and knows ancient languages.
Binda: Only Prakrit! And I can read the Brahmi script. There's a Brahmi inscription here.
It says here -
has donated this cave for
Sangarapralokan to the Buddhist
Shehnaaz: What is sagarapralokan?
Binda: Sit, and look there! It means “to look at the sea”. In the old days there were many ports near Kanheri - Sopara, called Shurparaka, Kalya – known as Kalliena, Chaul, of which the old name was Chemulya. All these names are found in the inscriptions here. Many merchants lived in these port towns.
Shehnaaz: What did those merchants have to do with the monks?
Binda: They came here to make donations.
Shehnaaz: Who are these people?
Binda: These are important donors
Shehnaaz: So that's why many inscriptions refer to donations by merchants and craft guilds?
Binda: Yes. The donations were for the monks' garments, cells, water tanks, medicines, books too. An inscription mentions merchant guilds from Sopara and Chaul. This refers to a donation by merchants of Sopara.
Shehnnaz: And what does this say?
Binda: It mentions a donation by a goldsmith from Chaul.
Shehnaaz: Weren't these caves built during Satavahana rule?
Binda: Yes, work began in Yagyashri Satkarni's time,
in the 2nd century AD, and continued upto the 10th. All through this period, monks lived here. A woman called Damila donated this cave. And look – there's a podhi
here as well.
Shehnaaz: What's a podhi?
Binda: A water tank
Shehnaaz: The status of women must have been high if could make donations?
Binda: One can't say that about women in general, but yes, Buddhist nuns were respected.
Shehnaaz: And artisans?
Binda: Well, there are some names in these inscriptions - a goldsmith, a tanner, a blacksmith. But these were just a few wealthy people
The status of the rest must have been quite low.
Binda: This cave has a statue of the Avalokiteshwara. This is he, and here are Tara, and Bhrikuti.
Shehnaaz: What is this Bodhisatva known for?
Binda: He liberates humans from 'the eight great fears'
Shehnaaz: What are those?
Binda: One is a child's death. Then here – fear of wild elephants or hasti bhaya.
Shehnaaz: Fear of lions!
Binda: Yes, vyaghra bhaya.
Below that, sarpa bhaya
Shehnaaz: Fear of snakes. And this? It's a ship!
Binda: Right. They feared shipwreck as well.
Maitreyi: Further south reigned the Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas. The sangam
literature of the period, in Tamil, contains anecdotes of life in the south. We also learn that many Jain preachers and Buddhist monks from the north had reached there.
Nissim: Overseas, as well as inland, trade was growing. Roman ships came here, and our ships voyaged as far as Egypt, China and the Southeast. Everyone wanted our silks, spices, ivory, peacocks - all of which our merchants exchanged for gold!
Maitreyi: A Greek sailors' guide book of the time. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea -
mentions many Indian ports, including Poduca.
Artefacts found at Arikamedu village near Pondicherry, suggest this was ancient Poduca.
Here, centuries ago, our ancestors waited for Roman ships to arrive. Where Pondicherry town stands today, they traded with Rome, Greece, Egypt. On the other bank of the Aryanakupam river, near its confluence, is the village of Arikamedu. Nothing remains here but for the ruins of this French colonial bungalow. Everything found in the digs is now in the museum.
These are amphora sherds. They still have traces of dried-up wine.
-These marks here?
-How was this discovered?
Don't you have an intact amphora?
Not a genuine one- but we got a local potter to make one. Observe its shape – broad on top and ending in a point like a conch shell. There's another thing – see these seal impressions? These indicate that the pottery comes from Latium and Campania in the Roman Empire.
Ranjan: Is there proof of local industries too? Yes, many beads were found – raw materials as well as semi-finished and polished beads.
-So it was an industry?
-A flourishing one!
Ranjan: The Greeks wrote of their association with India but does our literature refer to this interaction?
Guide: Yes – do you know of the Sangam
Tourist: You mean the ancient Tamil?
Guide: There's a text, the Purananur
which has a poem about lovely maidens wearing beautiful gold bangles and drinking Grecian wine.
The monsoon winds were used for swifter sailing - a secret perhaps first discovered by the Arabs. Yet it was a long voyage. To sail to Greece and back about a year. The local people exported many things but imported only glass, or amphorae of wine and oil. Pliny speaks of big Indian ships with a capacity of 3000 amphorae. Rome usually paid for its imports in gold. Such was the demand for Indian goods that the Roman treasury began to be depleted!
Emperor Tiberius of Rome complained to his Senate -
How to restore the simplicity of the old days?
How do we deal with the items of female vanity,
that rage for jewels and precious trinkets which drains the empire of its wealth, sending our money to foreign nations in exchange for baubles?
Towns like Poduca in the south came up after the cities of the north, mainly because agriculture came up later. The south, unlike the north, lacks a perennial water supply - so agriculture grew only with irrigation facilities. Small irrigation works are typical of the south
Amrita and Ramanathan toured the Kaveri delta.
Vijayagopalapuram, Thiruchirapalli Dist., Tamil Nadui
This is Vijayagopalapuram, in Tiruchirapalli district of Tamil Nadu. When I was in school, I'd often come here to visit my grandparents. They were farmers, and had to work very hard. They're not here any more. Later, the house, fields, coconut trees everything was sold. But - these people aren't here to make a film about me! We've come to study the old irrigation methods. Isn't that so? Yes! Let's go
There are no snow-capped mountains here. In the north, the melting snows keep the rivers full. Few rivers – the Kaveri, Krishna, Godavari and Tamraparani – have water all year round. And the fields must have water!
Building a reservoir may not be the solution. Some fields are higher and to lift water from a reservoir isn't easy. Stone Age people would cup water in their hands and toss it into their fields. Later, people invented a simple lever device. The etram
saved human energy and made it easy to lift water to a height.
I was asking them about their song. It says -
A girl had promised to meet me here
I have grown weary, emptying buckets of water
I'm nearing the twentieth but she's yet to arrive!
I'd never have imagined that when I grew up I'd be discussing the etram
I saw every day on a science programme!
Thirukkattupalli, Tamil Nadu
Reservoirs are common in Tamil Nadu's villages. Ancient Tamil literature often alludes to these. Besides domestic uses they served for irrigation too. This use of stored water for irrigation is unique to this part of the subcontinent. Tamil Nadu's network of reservoirs and canals enabled higher crop yields. But who built, and looked after, these reservoirs? The answers point to certain unique features.
Village temples often have stone inscriptions to do with local matters, including instructions for the upkeep of some reservoir. They also refer at times, to eripatti
lands, the revenue from which was used for the maintenance of the reservoirs. And a special committee, the eriwaram
saw to it that all got an equal share, and those who wanted extra water paid for it. It also managed the income from the eripatti.
These brick and stone reservoirs are the result of community cooperation, the benefits of which went to everybody.
Nissim: The etram
is useful when water is available when and where required, but below field level. But if there's no water when and where required then reservoirs come in handy. And for water available only at a distance there's a technique widely used in Tamil Nadu.
Amrita: And it's based on the anaicut -
an ordinary bund
of mud or stone that farmers contruct on streams. Some of the water rises, and is taken by canals to distant fields. The Grand Anaicut on the Kaveri river uses the same principle, but on a huge scale.
Kallanai Dam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu
Ramanathan: We were travelling by the banks of the Kaveri. Here, at Kallanai, the river splits in two the Kaveri and the Vennar. To the north flows the Kollidam. This is the dam on the Kaveri and the sluice gates are open today.
Amrita: So today the farmers on that
side will get water. The Kaveri delta sloped northward and, in the east, towards the sea.
Here, near Tiruchirapalli, the river splits in two - the somewhat low-lying Kollidam in the north, and the higher, main Kaveri in the south
Further downstream, near Kallanai, the Kaveri splits again to forn the Vennar and the Kaveri. This is where, today, the Grand Anaicut stands. But the concrete and steel hide an older dam below. A dam that was built in the 2nd century in Karaikal Chola's time.
It was an attempt to solve some problems caused by the Kaveri. When the Kaveri was in flood, the flood waters flowed into the low-lying Kollidam, near Kallanai. These waters cut a channel that grew deeper each year. The Kaveri's normal waters would also, at this rate, have drained into the Kollidam. And the farmers would have lost this water! So they paved the channel to stop it getting deeper. Then where the breach was, they build a 300m long and 15 or 20m wide wall of stone. The flood waters still flowed into the Kollidam, but there was no danger of further soil erosion. The height of the wall was 5 or 6 metres - enough to contain the usual amount of water. It wasn't made higher or the flood waters would simply have breached the bank elsewhere.
Kallanai Dam, Tiruchirapalli, Tamil Nadu
Ramanthan:This Grand Anaicut of concrete and steel was built, after all, over the old stone and mud dam. First the British improved it, then we did using modern techniques.
Amrita: It's like that saying we have - “The son's mansion, where stood the father's hut”.
Nissim: This period saw the spread of Buddhism, growth of trade, and rise of cities in the south. Trade served also as a vehicle for the exchange of ideas. The new school of thought of the early centuries BC now came into their own. Writing was known, but was perhaps confined to public records and long distance communication. Learning was still based on the oral tradition and so Panini's sutra
style proved ideal for containing and disseminating knowledge.
Maitreyi: Every subject was being thus codified - the religious lawbooks, politics, medicine, maths, astronomy. Every school of thought to grow popular later, had its roots in the sutra
compositions of this time. These oral sutras
were written down much later. The manuscripts are preserved in a handful of libraries. At the Saraswathi Mahal Library in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, many texts of the period may be found.
Saraswati Mahal Library, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
Amrita: Every book in this library is hand-written. Some manuscripts are 1,000 years old, others were written barely two centuries ago. The oldest book here is the Phalwati
written on palm leaves about 1,000 years ago. Shehnaaz, look – they use oil to preserve the books.
Shehnaaz: These are palm leaves
-What oil is that?
-Lemon grass oil
Amrita: I'll go and look at the Natyashastra
Shehnaaz: And I'll see if I can talk to somebody
Shehnaaaz: Do you speak Hindi?
Librarian: A little
Shehnaaz: May I ask you some questions? How old is the library?
Librarian: It goes back to the Chola and Naik dynasties. It was begun in the thirteenth century and was rebuilt in the eighteenth under the Maratha ruler, Serfoji Maharaj.
Shehnaaz: Are there other such centres in India?
Librarian: Yes – but none so old
Books one had heard about since childhood - to see them all together is like finding treasure. Patanjali's Yogasutra,
and there on the table - the Sushruta Samhita
and the six major Indian philosophies. Other books, that took shape 2,000 and more years ago. Of course, all these were written down much later, and copies were made from time to time. Some manuscripts are just one or two centuries old. That ancient past still casts its shadow on society - the way we think, our customs, ideas about caste. In recent times our society has undergone fundamental changes and our experiences are perhaps different. But until not so long ago the brahminical tradition dominated this land.
Like the Manusmriti
here says -
She must, in childhood, be protected by her father,
in youth, by her husband and, after he dies,
live under her son's jurisdiction
Under no circumstances may a woman be given freedom
Nissim: Most works of the time were religious texts. Even scientific works reflect the new orthodoxy. But two texts are almost free from these signs - Kautilya's Arthashastra,
and the ayurveda
Maitreyi: The Arthshastra
is concerned with the science of society and the art of politics. But this knowledge was finally, for a select few. It was meant only for princes. It was different with ayurveda
which is what we'll discuss the next time!