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Dravidian Elements in the Upanisads
DrK.Loganathan

First of all I wish to thank Dr Kannan for the words of appreciation  (and agreement) with  what I have said very briefly about the symbolic meaning of Garuda and Snake   in the mythologies associated with Thirumaal.  It is also  available in its essence in Sumero-Dravidian literature and one cannot but lament the negligence of such studies on the part of Tamil scholars.  It is not an exaggeration  of a romantic fool to say that the world moves on the foundations laid down by the ancient SumeroDravidian, who are , in my view,  also the  Tamils of First Sangam.  The tracing of Dravidian elements in the Old Testament accounts such as that of Dr Selvanayakam and the scholarly works of Heinrich Zimmer, Kinnier Williams,  Kamil Zvelebil  and a host of others is slowly but surely breaking down the Aryan Theory of the origins of Dravidian culture( and Hinduism, whatever that means) and I am sure (just an intuition) the future will further  enlighten us regarding the enormous role the Dravidian folks have played in shaping world culture.

As an addition to this kind of study I want to bring to the attention of scholars the presence of SumeroDravidian elements in the Upanisads, something I noted more than twenty years ago when I studied the Upanisads, transliterated and translated into English by Prof. Radhakrishnan himself along with Sumero-Dravidian studies.  The Upanishads,  not only abound with Sumero-Tamil lexical items but also with vivid descriptions of traditions and doctrines of ancient Dravidianas  also prevalent in ancient Sumeria. In this article I want to  show the  presence of distinctive  MATRIARCHAL elements , which by universal acceptance is the essence of ancient Dravidian culture.  Polyandry and Marukakkttaayam system of lineage and property transfer , so characteristic of this system is still practised widely among the Todas of Nilgiri and till recently  widely practised in Kerala specially among the Nayar women. The exceptional importance of Maman, male siblings of a Tamil women , more important than even the husband , in practically every aspect of cultural life points to an ancient matriarchy, perhaps defunct now,  even among Tamils.

We may note here the word 'Upanishad' may itself be Sumero-Tamil where  'upa' is Tamil 'uppar. umpar" 'ni' the same as Sumerian  'ni" and ancient Tamil locative-genitive case marker' -in' and 'sad' a variant of ancient 'saaRRu" also available in Sumerian. What it means is : declarations coming from the heavens i.e. mystical disclosures. a meaning that fits well the essence of the Upanishads.

With these preliminaries , let me point out the following.

1. Female Guru Parampara.

Among the Egyptians we do not find female Pharaohs though women played important roles in politics. However in Sumeria we find  females erecting temples for their own  with  contributions coming from themselves. We also have women as Temple Priestess, in conflict quite often with the male rulers of the city states.  Enhuduanna, the Daughter of Sargon, said to be the first man to rise to the status of an Emperor, was not  only the head of a famous temple in  Ur, but a mighty philosopher/mystic of her own reputed to have authored  the famous   "Exaltations of Innana"  and numerous Temple Hymns widely recited  for thousands of years in the whole of the ancient Middle East. Neither the Aryans or the Semitic are known to have fostered matriarchy and along with it the worship of the Woman ,  the Mother just as divine as Man or Father.

In Brhad- AraNyaka Upanishad, the Fourth Brahmana that deals with Procreation Ceremonies (  very ancient Tantric practices are described here)  ends up with a succession of Teachers and Pupils   as listed below ( only a part is given)

" Now the line of teachers . The son of PautimAsi (received this teaching) from the son of KAtyani, the son of  KAtyani from the son of Gautami, the son of Gautami from the son of Bharadvaji, the son of Bahradvaji from the son  of Parasari, the son of Parasari from the son of Aupasvati....."  and so on.

Notice here that though the teachers are MALES but they are noted as sons of certain woman, their mothers. i.e.. their identity follows from the mother and not  father, and in this discloses the matriarchal system of lineage and hence culture. Radhakrishnan notes that Sankara tries to account for this peculiarity by providing an excuse: that a mother plays an important place in the training  of children which is ridiculous because in the same Upanishad there are other lists where the sons are known after their fathers and not mothers.

But despite the Parampara hailing from a matriarchal system,  the doctrines are ultimately traced to divine principles and hence equally sacred as any other: .. Kasyapa Naidhuri from Vac( speech), Vac from Ambhini, Ambhini from Aditiya (the sun).

Here Ambhin(>ambuli: the moon?) is probaly the Moon, as Aditya is clearly the Sun. Here we have references to ParaBindhu and ParaNatham, the TWO fundamental Siva Tatvas from which emerge Speech or Vac and hence all mystical doctrines.

2  Satyakama, the Son of JAbAla,  a woman.

Internal evidences for the prevalence of polyandry  and hence the identity of siblings in terms of the mother who bears them , is also  available in the story of Satyakama , as recorded in Chandogya Upanishad, another  famous Upanishad just as ancient as the Brihad Aranyaka.

The story goes as follows:

1. Once upon a time SatyakAma JAbAla addressed his mother JAbAla, " Mother, I desire to live the life of a student of sacred knowledge. Of what family am I?"

2. Then she said to  him: " I do not know, my child, of what family you are. In my youth, when I went about a great deal, as a maid servant, I got you. So I do not know of what family you are. However , I am JAbAla by name and you are SatyakAma by name. So you may speak of yourself as SatyakAma JAbAla (the son of JAbAla)

3. Then he went to Gautama, the son of Haridrumat and said, "I  wish to become a student of sacred knowledge. May I become your pupil, Venerable Sir."

4. He said to him" Of what family are you, my dear?" He replied, " I do not know this ,sir, of what family I am. I asked my mother. She answered   " In my youth, when I went about a great deal as a maid-servant, I got you. So I do not know a of what family you are. I am JAbAla by name and you are Satyakama by name.So I am SatykAma JAbAla, Sir"

5. He then said to him, " None but a BrahmaNa, could thus explain. Bring the fuel, my dear, I will receive you, as a pupil. Thou hast not departed from the truth..."

A number  of conclusions can be made from this story.

a. Polyandry must be quite prevalent as such ways of conceiving a child as that JAbAla, was not considered a sin and SatyakAma a bastard son . Legitimacy was accorded through simply identifying the child in terms of the woman who bears him. Hence the practice of naming the child after the mother as in the Guru Parampara list above must have been widely prevalent pointing  out the strong presence of the matriarchal system .

b. Divine knowledge was NOT denied because of the accidents of birth as was promulgated in the Manu Smiriti etc. and hence at that time and perhaps within a dominant Matriarchy, the notion of Varnasrama Dharma was  NOT prevalent.

c. The original meaning of BrahmaNa is the seeker of Truth, who stands in Truth and lives in Truth and in which case  the root must have been  Brahma, true understanding.  Though SatyakAma was born OUTSIDE socially sanctioned marriage, that fact  was NOT brought in to deny admission to learn sacred knowledge. And in this sense the word BrahmaNa carries the same meaning as "  meykaNtaan"

d. It may possible that Varnasrama Dharma of Manu Smirti is a later day social stratification arising out of the imposition of Patriarchal  system of marriage and lineage. It may be possible that Varnasrama Dharma cannot exist within Matriarchy where women enjoy sexual freedom  and which the institution of marriage is rather different. Note :Troubathai of Mahabharata was  Aivarukkum Theevi and aziyaatha Paththini.  The kaRpu was here understood fidelity towards NOT one man but FIVE brothers

3. Equal Rights of Women for Sacred Knowledge.

Another aspect of Matriarchy shows itself the rights women enjoyed towards hearing, understanding and discussing sacred lore. This emerges in the story of Yajnavalkya, the most famous Rishi of the ancient world and the central figure in Brihad aryNyaka Upanisad.  We should note that the name is SumeroDravidian coming from 'ezen-bal-ki-a" meaning a man who hails from a place full of festivals. The  word" ezen" in Sumerian means festival and is still available in such words as "eje-maan"  meaning the leader of the yajna  in the Upanisads but now simply the leader.

This Yalnavalkya had two wives , KAtyAyani and Maitreyi  ( The rishies of the Upanishad periods  quite often had more than one wife.) Here  when Yajnavalkya expresses his desire to renounce the stage of householder and enter that  of anchorite, the vanasprastha, an interesting philosophical conversations transpires between  Maitreyi and Yajnavalkya. I give below only parts of it.

1. "Maitreyi," said Yajnavalkya, ' verily, I am about to go forth from this state (of householder). Look, let me make a final settlement between you and that KAtyAyani.

2. Then said Maitreyi: " If , indeed, Venerable Sir, this whole earth is filled with wealth were mine, would I be immortal through that?" " No," said Yajnavalkya: " Like the life of the rich even so would your life be. Of immortality, however, there is no hope through wealth."

3. Than Maitreyi said: " What should I do with that by which I do not become immortal?. Tell me that, indeed, Venerable Sir, of what you know (of the way to immortality)"

4. Than Yajnavalkya said: " Ah, my dear, you have been dear (even before), and you (now) speak dear words. Come sit down, I will explain to you. Even as I am explaining reflect (on what I say)

The dialogue continues but this much is sufficient for our purposes.  We should note the following:

1. Yalnavalkya did NOT hesitate to enter into a philosophic dialogue with Maitreyi just because she happens to be a woman,. The most profound  knowledge was NOT denied to her because of her femininity or because she happens to be his wife.  The only factor that is seen as qualifying her for instructions on Sacred knowledge was her INTEREST and readiness for seeking  such redeeming knowledge as opposed to earthly wealth.

2. There is unquestioning acceptance of the competency of Maitreyi for sacred wisdom  showing that Yajnavalkya (praise be to him)  recognized  that women are EQUAL to men  even in such matters. Of course the subsequent astute questioning of  her own Guru, validates thoroughly this estimation of Maitreyi. And Yajnavalkya demands that she REFLECTS on what he says and thus essentially Hermenetical; was keen to make her UNDERSTAND rather than simply memorize and later regurgitate.

I take it that such an attitude towards woman, not only with regard to their RIGHTS but also COMPETENCY  points towards  the strong presence of Matriarchal system and thought processes and values emanating from that kind of social structure, a fact that we note to this among the Dravidians especially among the Keralites who have recorded 100 % literacy even among the females. The  Tamil tradition retains this as well as a strong underscurrent to this day for there are   poets, mystics, linguists, philosophers and Siddars who are females.


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