“Adi Deo Arya Devata” is a profound work by Sandhya Jain on the contribution of Adivasis to Hindu society. Unlike other cultures, the Adivasi peoples of India have given a distinct color and flavor to Hindu thought and philosophy.
This work illustrates how the Adivasi people shaped the spiritual and cultural landscape of India without confining themselves to the periphery of mainstream Hindu society. There has always been a deep symbiotic relationship between tribes and non-tribal people. The Mahabharata tells us how closely related the tribes were to the mainstream of the kingdoms of old.
Lord Shiva has always been revered by communities living in the forest with various forms of Shakti. Avatars of Lord Vishnu like Varaha and Narasimha or even Lord Ayyappan have tribal flavors for sure. Mata Vaishno and Lord Jagannath also fall into this category and enjoy preeminent status. Perhaps, considering all these factors that Mahatma Gandhi insisted on, the tribes were an inalienable part of Hindu society.
The Mahabharata embodies the Indian genre of historical literature, known as Itihasa. It is the country’s most famous historical and epic poem. Yet it is much more than an ordinary account of events leading up to a great war, and encompasses both a philosophy of life and a code of conduct.
German Indologist Hermann Oldenberg observed: “The Mahabharata exudes the united soul of India and the individual souls of its people.” The Mahabharata itself states that what is not there cannot be found elsewhere.
Two of the most popular Hindu prayers, the Vishnu Sahasranama (revealed by a dying Bhishma to Yudhisthira) and the Bhagavad Gita (uttered by Krishna to a distraught Arjuna on the battlefield, on the very eve of war), descended of Mahabharata.
As Sandhya Jain explains, the Mahabharata offers a panoramic view of the society, politics and culture of the subcontinent. When we look at the tribes of the Mahabharata period, we learn that most of them were pre-Buddhist. The epic has an excellent description of the demographics of the time.
Beside Vedas, Brahmanas and Puranas mention tribes from different eras to teach us how ancient and well developed our history is. The Rigveda deals with three categories of people, namely, Arya, Dasa and Asuras The Rig Vedic Aryas included several tribes, the number of which increased over time. Some tribes listed in the Rig Veda retain their names to the present day, such as the Yadu, Puru, Shiva, among others, while others have changed their names following division and migration to new lands. The famous Dasarajna yuddha probably recalls an intra-tribal feud. Brahmin literature also depicts ancient Indian ethnography. The Bhuvanakosa chapters of the Puranas deal with the ethnography of ancient India and are also included in the epic, explains Sandhya Jain lucidly.
While the Rig Veda shows little knowledge of the region apart from the Saptasindhu, the Epics and Puranas tend to use geographical names, such as Sindhu, Panchala, Matsya, Chedi, Kashi, Koshala, etc. The Mahabharata speaks not only of the Arya peoples, but of Deva, Danava, Gandhara, Yaksha, Rakshasa, Naga and other groups, although scholars are unsure if this was really a class of people who played a part in the events recounted in the epic. , or constitute the remnants of an ancient tradition that has been incorporated into history.
Mahabharata ethnographers have classified the natives of the earth into three broad categories, namely, Arya, Mleccha (alien) and Misra (mixed). The theory of one pure racial type in India no longer has academic credibility, and it is also now accepted that there was no Aryan race but an Aryan language and culture. The same is true for the Dravida. The term Arya as used in the Mahabharata denotes a way of life and cannot be used to delineate racial strains in ancient Indian tribes.
The incorporation of native tribes into the Arya culture began very early. From the new evidence unearthed about the tribal kingdoms in the Gupta and post-Gupta period, and their impetus for cultural homogenization in their region through the acceptance of the Sanskrit language and Brahmin priests and officers, we can speculate that this trend was most likely the result of natural socio-cultural-political evolution rather than external stimuli.
What makes the Mahabharata particularly interesting is the fact that it reveals a stage when the first tribal (kinship) grouping submitted to a larger regional national identity under the pressure of the emergence of certain powerful kingdoms Kshatriya. The epic thus reflects a decline in tribal culture and a transition to states. Another factor not to be missed is that most kings married the daughter of one tribal leader or the other, thus giving them equal status.
Those who call the Adivasis backward and claim to ‘modernize’ or ‘civilize’ them should now understand that they are far more advanced than us and lead more environmentally friendly lives.