chapter  5
9 Pages

Reading Bhikshu Bodhanand’s Mool Bharatvasi Aur Arya

Reflections on an alternative history of the “beginnings” of “Indian civilization”
WithTapan Basu

This chapter examines the radical possibilities of certain subversive narratives directed against the varna-based social order upheld by Hinduism. These heterodox narratives, which date back to the early decades of the twentieth century, though somewhat similar in theme to that of Jotiba Phule’s Gulamgiri (1873), the iconic anti-caste statement from Western India, are different insofar as they emanate from locations within the United Provinces of North India. I shall focus particularly upon the writings of Bhikshu Bodhanand (1874–1952), the renegade Brahmin who became a Buddhist monk, which have not received much attention. Bodhanand’s tract, Mool Bharatvasi Aur Arya (1930), is a critical reflection on the “beginnings” of varnavyavastha, the caste order of Hindu society, and, like several other fellow-travellers, he believed that the hierarchies of caste had emanated out of a ruthless defeat and dispossession inflicted on the indigenous populations of India by marauding alien tribes. What is unique to Bodhanand’s thesis is that he finds his archives in classical Sanskrit texts, many of them Hindu scriptures, as well as in opinions expressed by well-known public figures during the nationalist period, all of which he reads against their grain.