How the Buddhists and Jains were Persecuted in Ancient Brahmin India


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“… Hiuen-Tsang, who visited India from 629 to 645 AD, describes the influence of a south Indian Brahmin queen on her husband who ordered the execution of many thousand Buddhists including 8,000 in Madurai alone. Kalhana’s Rajatarangani (written by a Shaivite scholar about 1149 AD and the first Brahmin account of India’s historic past from the time of Yudishthira) relates that Mihirikula, the Hun ruler was converted by Brahmins (in 515 AD) and unleashed a wave of violent destruction on Buddhist monasteries in Punjab and Kashmir. He reports (verse 290 in book 1) that “crows and birds of prey would fly ahead eager to feed on those within his armies reach”. He proudly proclaimed himself as the killer of three crores. … … – Buddhism that had been strong in India in the 7th Century was completely obliterated a century later.”

There are many who seem to believe that brutality and bloodshed were the sole preserve of Muslim rulers and that Hindu rajas lived in an idyllic ocean of peace and tranquility. Unfortunately, an examination of the history of the Indian sub continent does not support such an uninformed opinion.

Buddha Statue at Sarnath

Buddha Statue at Sarnath Destroyed by Brahmins

Gaining and retaining power is a brutal business all around the world, and has been so, all through history, with the possible exception within Buddhist societies where brute violence is rare. Many people genuinely believe that Hinduism has always been a tolerant religion that assimilated other peoples and ideas without bloody conflict. That is how they teach it! The ugly scars of brutality in the history of all peoples, are sanitized in school history books. The ruling powers, everywhere, want to play down the politics of past racial or religious persecution. This has the result in our case that many people hold the opinion that brutality and violence in India were exclusive to ‘invaders’ like the Greeks, Mongols, Turks and even the British. While these were the `invaders’ easily condemned by the history books, it can be mentioned that most of the Arya, Scythian and Jat tribes, who came to India probably from central Asia, could also be described as ‘invaders’.

For those tribes the word ‘invasion’ is an exaggeration. Most of north western India was fairly sparsely populated in ancient times and the great Indian cities (after the Harappan period) were mainly in the region of present day Bihar until the 6th century BC, so many alien tribes from less fertile areas of the north simply entered with little opposition, unnoticed even, by the local inhabitants. Pastoralists never made wars on each other and it was only with growing populations and urbanization that rulers of the evolving city states had to keep standing armies that were dedicated to protect but also attack for plunder!

There were therefore not many major conflicts in ancient times. But historians and story tellers, as usual, would exaggerate small tribal skirmishes to become great legends of prowess and minimize murderous bloodshed on their part.

After Ashoka’s reportedly bloody battle against Kalinga, north India entered a thousand year period of relative peace under predominantly Buddhist rulers until the time of Harshavardhan who ruled from 606 to 647AD. But there had been many local wars between domestic kingdoms like the Cholas, Pallavas and Pandyas competing with the Satvahanas and the Guptas or the Rashrakutas, Gurjara Pratiharas and Palas in later times. There must have been considerable bloodshed in all these conflicts even if not much is recorded in Brahmin texts. These battles were however territorial and for loot, and religion does not seem to have been used to justify aggression.

Then there was a heady period of vigorous Brahmanical revivalism that rapidly gathered strength after the 7th century AD. It has to be remembered that this was not a `Hindu’ revival because the idea of Hindu as a religion was not known at this time. During this Puranic period most people worshipped numerous animist deities usually presided over by Brahmin priests who chanted elevating Vedic hymns even though all the Vedic deities like Indra, Rudra and Nasatyas had now vanished. Many animist deities including and several goddesses were absorbed into a new Puranic Hinduism that included non Vedic deities like Shiv, Ganesh, Hanuman, Kubera, Kali, Durga and others and new philosophies like reincarnation, Karma and Dharma were borrowed from Buddhism and Jainism. Even the Vishnu of the Puranas was very different from the Vedic Vishnu. At this time Ram or Krishna were still heroes of legend and had not yet become deities for worship. A. R. Mujumdar in The Hindu History (1979) observes … “From 650 AD, perhaps to suit the needs of the age, Hindus suppressed true history and invented nice legends instead”.

Many local rulers, probably at the urging of their Brahmin ministers and priests, now began to ruthlessly exterminate the previously dominant Buddhist and Jain faiths. Although the class of Kshatriyas had completely vanished from history during the thousand years of mainly Buddhist rule they were reinvented at this time to serve Brahmin interests. No doubt the rich lands and treasures of their defenseless monasteries and temples also gave material incentives to this religious fervor and many Buddhist and Jain stupas and monasteries were plundered and Hindu temples established at their sites.

Similar material motives had actuated religious persecutions in many lands including those by the Catholic and Protestant nobles in England during the much more recent period of the Reformation. There are many Hindu references to support this looting and plunder including the unedited versions of the original Puranas even though most Buddhist and Jain accounts were destroyed. Hiuen-Tsang, who visited India from 629 to 645 AD, describes the influence of a south Indian Brahmin queen on her husband who ordered the execution of many thousand Buddhists including 8,000 in Madurai alone. Kalhana’s Rajatarangani (written by a Shaivite scholar about 1149 AD and the first Brahmin account of India’s historic past from the time of Yudishthira) relates that Mihirikula, the Hun ruler was converted by Brahmins (in 515 AD) and unleashed a wave of violent destruction on Buddhist monasteries in Punjab and Kashmir. He reports (verse 290 in book 1) that “crows and birds of prey would fly ahead eager to feed on those within his armies reach”. He proudly proclaimed himself as the killer of three crores.

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This spawned a revival. Later, Brahmins paid killers to assassinate the Buddhist ruler Harshavardhana. With the plot discovered, as a Buddhist, he was unwilling to take life and so banished those 500 Brahmins involved in the conspiracy to a remote area south of the Vindhyas. Brahmins needed money for their purposes. Kalhan reports that several avaricious Hindu rulers looted the treasuries and even burned Hindu temples of the Shahi and Katoch rulers in neighboring areas long before the well known looting by the Muslim Mahmud Ghazni.

According to The Rajatarangani (IV/112), Chandradip, a Buddhist ruler of Kashmir, was killed by Brahmins in 722 AD. His successor Tarapida was killed two years later. The newly anointed Brahma-Kshastra (Rajput) rulers usurped power in the kingdoms of Sind and Kota. Graha Varman Maukhari, married to Harsha’s sister, was treacherously killed by Sasanka, king of Gauda (Bengal). He proudly destroyed many stupas and cut down the sacred Bodhi tree at Gaya.

According to Gopinath Rao (East & West Vol. 35) the old tribal shrine at Jaganath Puri was usurped by Vaisnavas and the walls of the temple even today displays gory murals recording the beheading and massacre of Buddhists.

Epigraphica India Vol XXIX P 141-144 records that Vira Goggi Deva, a South Indian king, described himself as… “a fire to the Jain scriptures, a hunter of wild beasts in the form of the followers of Jina (Jains) and an adept at the demolition of Buddhist canon”. It also records “the deliberate destruction of non Brahminical literature like books of Lokayat/ Carvaca philosophy by Brihaspati mentioned by Albaruni in the 11th century.” The huge Buddhist complex at Nagarjunakonda was destroyed. According to Shankara Dig Vijaya, the newly anointed Brahma-Kshastra kings ordered every Kshatriya to kill every Buddhist young and old and to also kill those who would not kill the Buddhists. A Jain temple at Huli in Karnataka had a statue of five Jinas (Jain heroes) that was re carved into a Shaivite temple with five lingas.

E.S Oakley (in his ‘Holy Himalaya’) Rhys Davids (in ‘Buddhist India’) and Daniel Wright (in ‘History of Nepal’) quote several Nepalese and Kumoani documents showing that Buddhism had been the prevailing religion of the Himalayas with Badrinath and Kedarnath as Buddhist temples until Shankaracharya (788 -820 AD) usurped them in the 8th century and the shrines at Badri and Kedar were then converted into shrines of Shiv and Vishnu. Wright records that “there had been a curious intermixture of the two religions with Buddhist priests officiating at the temples of Pashupati (Shiv) and all the four castes following the religion of Buddha.” There is no evidence that Shankaracharya directed such persecution but what is likely is that power-hungry local rulers may have used his great name to lend legitimacy to their own destruction and looting. Many local hill rajas now invited Brahmins to their domains to get themselves elevated to the rank of Kshatriyas. And many were encouraged to attack Buddhist monasteries.

Several Nepalese accounts state that the followers of Buddha were ruthlessly persecuted, slain, exiled and forcibly converted – many converted rather than face death, humiliation or exile. The attackers tested their faith by making them perform ‘Hinsa’, or the sacrifice of live animals, that was so abhorrent to Buddhists and Jains. Many bhikshunis, or Buddhist nuns, were forcibly married and the learned Grihasthas were forced to cut off the distinguishing knot of hair on top of their heads. 84,000 Buddhist works were searched for and destroyed.

It is believed that Shankara introduced pilgrimages to those new Hindu holy places in the Himalayas for the first time to prevent their relapse into Buddhist or animist ways. As sufficient local Brahmins could not be found who were willing to preach in such remote places he imported Nambudri Brahmin priests from Kerala who, to this day, officiate at Badrinath, and Kedarnath.

Later as the mountain settlements grew other Brahmins like the Joshis and Pants from Maharashtra, Gairolas from Bengal and Negis from Gujarat were also invited to settle in the hills. Holy pilgrimages then ensured a constant influx of Hindu pilgrims with the presence of many traders, priests and rulers who had a vested interest in sustaining Hindu pilgrimages to these sacred spots.

Long held opinions admit reluctantly to the fact that oceans of blood were shed in the quest for power even among those who now consider themselves peace loving and spiritual Hindus. In India, as in every country, the hunger for political power and masculine dominance, and looting for treasure and girls, led to many examples of bloodshed and this became even more vicious when rulers used and abused the power of God-based religion to motivate their followers. The worst examples were undoubtedly the bloodshed in the name Christianity and Islam but there are also many examples among other people and their religions. Buddhism that had been so strong in India in the 7th Century had been completely obliterated a century later.

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  1. 2
    Hindustani

    Wherever in India, you dig even today, you find statues of Buddha and Mahavira. Such was the violence by Brahminists that these religions were totally exterminated. Jains were more clever and posed as Hindus, their festivals made to fall on Hindu festivals to resemble them, the place of worship termed Mandir instead of Jinalaya and all other things, to appear as Banias and a sect of Hinduism to escape the violence.

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