Monday, July 06, 2009

Sasana -- Village and Worldview

When I now go to Orissa, I like to spend much of my time in villages. These villages are known as Sasana, much like the Agrahara of South India.
I was born and raised a brahmin, and both my families on the maternal and paternal side were priests and astrologers to one of the erstwhile kings in Orissa. When the king invited them from Varanasi or other places of higher study, he gave them considerable land as an annuity stream. This was common practice in the creation of Sasanas in the period between the 10th and 18th centuries, and resulted in a certain cultural construct but also an important part of Brahmin social identity in many parts of India, continuing to this day.
Looked at through a western lens, these villages may seem to suggest the classic proof for homo heirarchicus and separateness but the reality is somewhat deeper. Religious ritual and meditation required an environment that was focussed on study, discipline, debate, voice modulation for Sanskrit chants, and purification of body and mind. A key learning for me as a child was how much internal focus and self-awareness there was in these villageworlds. I still remember my great-grandfather providing detailed notes on his examination of Sanskrit papers from Oxford University where he was a designated external examiner explaining to me (and the student who was being examined) what grammatical logic meant in the various schools of linguistic philosophy and how that might translate into a framework understandeable to a native English speaker.
Many of my interactions with people in the West or in nearly-West urban India these days suggests the opposite: the defensive-aggressive posture, the lack of scholarship and self-awareness, superficial discourse, and above all externalization of ignorance and even a righteous defense of these when questioned resulting in Ad Hominem fallacies. Westerners who are increasingly interacting with India, see only the urban social construct which is largely a diluted reflection of their own mindset from the colonial age reinforced by the globalization of western media. They have not for the most part interacted with rural India where in places it has been independent of these globalizing forces.
Thus in the Sasana there was an appreciation of difference that is not directive, and there was a contentment that came from great introspection. The chants still speak in an ancient tone of the oneness of self and the universal divine. The crumbling palm leaf manuscipt next to the salegram points the way through meditation to fulfilment. All that is slowly changing now as cable wires intrude ever deeper into this Indian psyche.
For now, these villages still provide a view of the world.


Priyamvada said...

This was good. I feel it would be a big loss if all indigenous cultures lost much of their positive elements to the negative forces of globalization. I'm hoping that at some point we as humans will be able to distill the positive essence of all things and filter out the negative.

I guess for me a question would be, why do people who live in idealic village settings, or at least have the oppurtunity to due to family connections, leave such environments and to pursue lives in foreign countries?

I would personally rather live in a beautiful tropical village and focus on spiritual matters and personal development rather than enter the rat race.

So, I guess that is my question for you.

Svaha said...

Not everyone in these villages goes to other countries; however, many leave these villages for urban areas and other states in India. Partly, this is due to the decline of royal patronage and the availibility of educational and professional opportunities outside these villages. A very common practice a couple of generations ago was to have one of the siblings stay in the homestead while others ventured out. Today, the situation has worsened to the point where entire families have left. Change is constant!