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Acharya's Call Part-II
H.H. JAGADGURU’S Madras Discourses
33 Simple Living
In all ancient Tamil works, wherever reference is made to a good king, he is described as one who “does not deviate from Manu neeti (duties of kings as laid down by Manu) and as one who collected only “one-sixth” of the produce from his subjects. When agriculturists in olden days paid kist in kind, and when the quantum of the kist was fixed as one-sixth of the produce actually harvested, there was plenty and contentment in the land. All kings constructed capacious granaries in their forts, and grain collected as kist was stored therein. With the advent of the British rule, revenue settlements were effected, and kist was fixed in terms of cash. The foreign ruler had a motive in changing the kist from kind to cash; obviously he could not transport grain to his country. But the introduction of the system of paying kist in cash worked havoc on our agricultural economy. When prices fell, a cultivator, in spite of a good harvest, was obliged to borrow to meet kist dues, even after selling out the entire crop. This changeover from kind to cash has been responsible for many of the ills from which we are suffering.
In ancient days, the bulk of the internal trade was carried on through a system of barter. Grain was the wealth of the people. Gold or silver figured only in our trade with foreign countries, and hence, the saying, tiraikadal odiyum diravvium tedu (திரை கடல் ஓடியும் திரவியம் தேடு). Kings and the merchant community alone possessed wealth in the form of gold, silver and precious stones. The Brahmins lived, like the common man, in a hut, parnasaala, used mud pots (chatti and paanai, சட்டி, பானை) as utensils, and wore the most ordinary kind of cloth. The women of the community had only black beads around their necks. The names like venkalapaanai (வெங்கல பானை), kal-chatti, and vaira olai (வைர ஓலை) now in vogue, remind us of the old customs and ways of life. It is also to be noted that in Navaratna maala, Kalidasa describes Ambika as wearing earrings made of palm leaves (taaleepalaasa taatankaam, तालीपलाश ताटङ्काम्). The Brahmins of old who lived such simple lives were neither envied nor hated by others. A Brahmin, who strictly adhered to his varnaasrama dharma, was welcomed everywhere, and society saw to it that the Brahmin families, which had settled down in any village, found no necessity to move away.
When the Brahmin discarded his traditional ways and succumbed to the glamour of an artificial life, he not only swerved from aachaara (observances pertaining to his station in life), but also laid himself open to envy and hatred. He is now wanted nowhere, and instead of being welcomed as a necessary part of society, he is being despised, if not driven away. A chain of evil consequences has resulted from his deviation from the path of dharma.
If we examine how society fared in the old system, under which the tax or the king’s share was fixed as one-sixth of the yield, we will find that each producer had with him much more than he could consume and consequently, he diverted his surplus produce for religious and charitable purposes. No one went hungry in those days. When famine conditions prevailed, as a result of drought or other natural calamities, the king’s granary was thrown open for feeding the needy. We also find that the five-sixth of the crop retained by the producer was spent on a well-defined basis. The Kural provides us with the clue to understand the Vedic injunction in this regard. According to the Kural, of the grain retained by him, a producer sets apart a fifth for the tenpulathaar, meaning as offerings to the manes (souls of the ancestors), a fifth for deivam (religious purposes), a fifth for guests, a fifth for relations, and the remaining fifth for himself and the members of his family.
The Kural in question is:
தென்புலத்தார் தெய்வம் விருந்தொக்கல் தானென்றாங்கு
Tenpulathaar, deivam, virundu, okkal, taanenrangu
The region of the South is believed to be the direction in which the souls of the dead, destined to be born again, travel. From that, the term tenpulathaar, the occupants of the southern region, came to be used to denote the dead ancestors. The dictum of Tiruvalluvar in the Kural is also in accordance with the Vedic teachings. According to the Vedas, we are required to worship Isvara by doing our duties to the devas (gods), and the pitrus (deceased ancestors). That is why in all our karmaas, designed to propitiate the gods, we say in the sankalpa or the preamble portion of the mantra, that we are doing such and such a thing for propitiating Naarayana or Paramesvara (Naaraayana preethyartham or Paramesvara preethyartham). God is One, but He manifests Himself in different forms according to the nature of the functions. As the tax to the government has to go through the tax collector, our offerings to Isvara have also to go through these functional deities. It is this feature that distinguishes Vedic religion from other religions.
From the identity in the injunctions of the Vedas and the Kural, it is clear that there is nothing like a separate Tamil culture or a separate Aryan culture. We have only one culture and one religion and that is Vedic culture and Vedic religion. If this basic principle is understood, many of the present misunderstandings will disappear.
There is an inscription of Karikala Chola which reads
पात्राकलित वेदानाम् शास्त्रमार्गानुसारिणाम्
Paatraakalita vedaanaam saastramaargaanusaarinaam,
This inscription means that the order of Karikala, who is the kaala (death) of enemies, is that those who follow the Vedic path should be protected and those who pursue evil paths should be punished. Unfortunately, we forget the basic unity of the country and quarrel over words. The First Book in Tamil, i.e., Kural, and the First Book in Sanskrit, i.e., the Vedas tell the same thing. The same kalaachaara prevails from Kanyakumari to the Himalayas. In fact, archaeological findings confirm the view that at one time the Vedas prevailed all over the world, each country following a particular branch of a particular Veda.
There can be no better communism than the injunctions contained in the Kural regarding the utilization of one’s wealth, than in the form of grain. By the performance of the various karmaas, both daiva and pitru karmaas, a portion of the grain is distributed among different sections of society. The feeding of the guests, namely, atithi, अतिधि, meaning those we invite) and abhyaagata, (अभ्यागत) meaning those who come to our house accidentally. By feeding the guests also there is distribution of wealth. A householder is further enjoined to provide for his indigent relations. It is only what is left over after meeting all these requirements that a person can utilize for his personal and family use.
If life to-day has become complex and out of gear with the Vedic conception of an integrated social and political life, it is because we have allowed ourselves to deviate from the Vedic path. In absolute reliance of the Vedas, let us try to retrace our steps. First of all, let us simplify our food, clothing and shelter requirements, by sticking to mere essentials and giving up all non-essentials. This change cannot come all on a sudden, but a beginning in that direction has to be made. That is the only way for each community rehabilitating itself in the eyes of society. There is no question of one caste being superior to another. This complex of superiority and inferiority will disappear only when Brahmins revert to the life of the rishis to whom they trace their origin. Thereby we will retreat from sinful acts, gain the grace of Isvara, and contribute to lokakshema, लोकक्षेम- welfare of the world as a whole.
February 12, 1958.