Charvaka – Jamming Against Brahminism  Since Eons Before The Brahmins Happened

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The Ancience

The Charvaka wisdom is all about materialism. It is so much into materialism that it believed only in the four elements. For them, the quint essence, that is the sky, is the absence of the other four elements. For them, the material world, with its fire, earth, water and air, go through processes & systems to make things happen. Even life, for them, was not, a ‘force’ but a process of nature. Their reality involved the human body and the universe. Sounds ‘modern’ and ‘scientific’, does it not? Guess what, they have been evolving since the Stone Ages. This implies that these human philosophies began to spread roots since our hunting-gathering ancience. These visions, in some ways, are connected to ‘fertility magic’ – which is to say, they sprang up at a time when our hunting gathering and pastoralist ancestors were, slowly, taking to agriculture.

For them, what can be felt through direct experiences was true. Everything else, spirituality included, was trash. And they pre-date all the casteist doctrines & dogmas, all the Vedas, the Vedanta, Manusmriti, the epics, that the Aryans had unleashed. Hindu, Buddhist & Jain dogmas refer to them as ‘purva-paksha’ – the prior side. And, unable to stomach the raw materialism, these spiritualist texts & discourses spew venom on them.

The Attack

The Mahabharata describes Charvaka as a monster who tortured Brahmins. Among the Hindu scholars, Kautilya (3rd century BC, Arthashastra) Jayanta Bhatta from the theist Nyaya or ‘Methodic’ school of thoughts (9th century AD, Nyaya-Manjari or the Flower-cluster), Shankaracharya (9th Century AD, Shankara-bhashya/Commentaries of Shankara) and Madhavacharya (14th CE, Sarva-Darshana-Samgraha/Compendium of All Philosophies) pour vitriol on the Charvakas. A derogatory term used for Charvaka philosophies by these proud Brahmin scholars was ‘Lokayatika’s or the Lokayats, being Those Who Follow the Ways of the Common People. Of course, for the ‘head’s of the caste-divided society, they materialist ways of the common people were ‘bad’, were to be shunned. What was ‘good’ for them was the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that enabled their caste-dominance. Shankaracharya makes the mindset of the Brahmins clear in shloka 11 of his Commentaries:

Uneducated ‘itara’ people

And the Lokayatiks

Say that there is no spirit

That only the material-body is real

Even the so called anti-caste religions like Buddhism & Jainism had lost their materialistic & anti-caste ethos by the middle of the first millennium AD. Thriving under royal patronages, those, too, had become detached from the people. Their clergy too, like the Brahmins of Hinduism, sought their pounds of flesh in the power-game of ancient subcontinental imperialism. Thus from Jain scholar Haribhadra Suri (8th century AD, Shadha-Darshana-Samuccaya/ Collection of the Six Philosophies), to the Buddhist Master-Pupil duo Shantarakshita-Kamalashila (8th century AD, Tatva-Samgraha-Panjika/Almanac-Compendium on Reality) who tore into the works and visions of 7th century AD Charvaka scholar Purandara, we find the Jain and Buddhist clergy attacking the Peoples’ Way, in vanity-laced attempts to establish respective philosophical superiorities.

Bitter anger of the clergy & royalty of those days singed the Lokayata wisdom of the Charvakas for real. Such was their acrimony towards the People’s Way that was clearly more ancient than theirs and that had spoken staunchly against their ways of power, against the gotra-endogamy of casteist orders since the beginning, that they destroyed all literary resources of the Charvaka. Thus, we have no books, scrolls, parchments, plates or plaques that reveal primary sources. All we have are names of scholars like Purandara and several quotations, intentional misquotations, explanations and intentional mis-explanations coloured by religious-imperial power-play of the times. However, if we sort the grain from the chaff, which is to say, if we sieve out only those quotations that are directly attributed to the Charvaka people leaving out all the misquotations and subjectively biased explanations and arrange them, a strange reality evolves:

Broken Verses

Around 60 such verses, in couplet-form, can be and has been arranged. They have been named ‘Charvaka-Shashthi’. They can only be found in Sanskrit because that wisdom survives only through quotations made by hostile Sanskritic texts. However, the nature of those verses, in terms of both form and import, differ from that of those that the Brahminical order of those days would spew while indulging on the surplus labour of those very common people for whose ways of wisdom they had only scorn to offer. Verses from Charvaka scholars that survive are more like the people’s verses – the Gathas, Kathas, Vratas, Vrata-Gaans etc. Such people’s verses exist in many vernacular languages of the subcontinent, including the one I inherit.

These verses are dedicated to gods and goddesses of the Dalit people, and are sung by the women from such communities. The rituals and the material ingredients involved deeply involve nature. These bear memories and the collective unconscious from far ancient times. Once, we were all hunter gatherers. The first division of labour came when men prominently took to hunting and the women to gathering. But the meat component would not be as crucial as the vegetable and crop/seed component for bodily nutrition. The earliest agrarian wisdoms cropped from the gathering. The women became the priests of the ancient rituals of faith. Seeking kindness from the earth was crucial for survival. This was before the age of the metals. And this tradition survives through the Vratas etc., dedicated to deities like Shitala, Shashthi, Itu & other mother goddesses who are being worshipped continually, in different names, across the subcontinent & across the world, since the Stone Ages that began when we learned to walk straight and use our thumbs – roughly 3.4 million years from today. In form & import, the Charvaka verses resemble these vernacular verses that hold such ancient wisdom and are scoffed at by the upper castes till date. Ergo the nomenclature ‘Charvaka-Shashthi’ was chosen, by anonymous compilers from latter times who had sought to hold on to this ancient wisdom of the People’s Way or the Lokayata in face of the hitherto-rising tyrannies of the spiritualists.

One look at the verses and we would know why the proponents of the spiritualism backed caste-order hated the Charvakas:

(The Brahmins say that)

Pure-blood of father and pure-blood of mother

leads to pure lineage of child

(And thus the Brahmins)

Build faultiness among races

Based on purity of descent

(Charvaka-Shashthi: Verse 4)

The Brahmins impose

Strict moral restraints on sexual actions

(And yet, their Vedas,)

Venerate licentious gods like Indra & Chandra

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verses 7-8)

Pursue happiness

The Brahmic scholars are never united

In their approaches to the Vedas,

to the Smriti-precepts & Shastras

Approaches should be based on

the strength of intelligence

Could they ever refute the intelligence

behind the pursuit of pleasure?

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verses  14-15)

The dead can remember their past lives

Deeds of the dead impact lineages & afterlives

Others eat & the dead feel happy

All these are cunning talk of the shrewd

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 17)

The Vedas use cunning ploys

Normally, people know their bodies

through a sense that: ‘I exist’

But the Vedas tell them: “you are not this”

Seeking to make them yearn for things that,

unlike their bodies, do not exist’

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 18)

Stop using cruel words for women

(like the Brahmins have taught you to)

You, human person,

are just like all the common people

And yet, for so long long a time

why do you seek to deceive people?

(Charvaka-Shashthi, Verse-22)

Religion cannot be acquired

Irreligion cannot be rejected

Cunning Manu,

has twisted the topic

To lay down on how the State

Shall impose Punishments

And so, the Vainglorious Pundits venerate him.

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse-27)

For some,

books by the Brahmins,

attributed, often, to their gods,

are like manuals that teach respect

And they bow to the cows

How low can they stoop?

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse-31)

The Brahimns say that

if you restrain from sex on this birth

And devote yourself to fire-worship

and other rituals

You will go to heaven

And have sex with doe-eyed celestial apsaras

The Brahmins have not shunned lust from their minds

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse-32)

O dunces,

What on earth do you mean by peace?

Instead of thinking of re-arrival

of life on corpses burnt to char

Work towards making your beloved happy

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 33)

If the dead

Play in heaven

Then let the Asuras

Killed by Vishnu

Go there and battle him!

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 37)


Enemies become so

because of some reason or other

But for the Hindus

Their gods,

By making people born again

and again

Into worldly samsara replete with sadness

Based on deeds from lives past

become enemies (of people stuck in rebirth)

Without any reason

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 42)

Earth, water, fire, air

These are the four elements

Natural processes

turns matter to bodied life

impart consciousness unto bodies

just like natural processes

that make grape-juice

turn into mead

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 48)

Be happy as long as you live

Life never come back on corpses dead & burnt

Take loans in need be,

but drink buttermilk

Believe not in marriage

Believe not in Gurus

Real heaven

Is how you feel when you make love

Pain of hell

Is when (real) thorns dig into (real) flesh

A chieftain popular among the people

Is like god, utmost

There is no other god.

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verses 55-56 & 58)

The fraudulent (Brahmins) lay down,

that penises of horses

in horse sacrifice rituals

have to be taken in by women

These cheats and frauds make much ruse

To acquire things that belong to others

(But) the dwellers of the night

Speak, (merely,) of eating meat

(Charvaka Shashthi, Verse 57)


Now we know why the Brahmins were angry on the Charvakas. Their very scheme of dividing the society up based on endogamy and pure-bloodry in the name of non-existent mumbo-jumbos like spirit and soul was being exposed by the materialist the latter. After all, the People’s Way was way more ancient than the caste-defined ways of the Aryan Vedic race supremacists. Proponents of the way, thus, would never step back from criticizing the ways of the Brahmins. And the Brahmins would burn their books, denigrate the people who adhered to such ancient ways as belonging to ‘Itara’ – the lowly, ‘impure born’ untouchable races and castes, pour vitriol on the People’s Way, on the Philosophy of the Lokayatiks. But the Brahmins were not entirely successful in wiping out these ancient streams of materialistic wisdom founded on easy causalities and replacing them with the caste-based order backed by spiritualist justifications of karma, past-life, rebirth and other unscientific irrationalities.

The Survival

All the adivasi people of the central parts of the subcontinent respect two tribal races – the Baigas & the Bhuinas, most. The reason is simple. These two groups were there in those geographies – those hills & forests – from before the times when the other races came to be, through migration as well as through the framing & attempted homogenization of cultures that all races go through to eke out singular racial identities & signifiers for themselves. Thus, these latter-day tribes respect people those two ancient tribes as people who know the hill, forests & rivers betters, as people with more wisdom. These latter-day groups, which themselves are ancient tribes with origins resting in nigh-untraceable abysses of prehistory, look up to the groups older than them for their wisdom. The Baigas and the Bhuinas are thus the healers, magic-healers and king-poets for the other tribes – the ancient-most shamans among them. In fact, an ancient folk-tale from the Kanvar adivasi people tells the tale of a strange wedding. The groom was from the Kanvar people who knew the use of basic metallic tools. The bride was from the Baiga people who did not know the use of metals. The tale recounts tensions that such cultural differences led to. Despite all the differences, the respect is still there.

This is a major difference between the Aryan orders based on caste-discriminating gotra-endogamy and the adivasi orders following totemic, that is, nature worshipping, orders of exogamy & endogamy. The former pursues ruthless area dominance. The latter seeks to learn from ancience. Thus, after roughly four thousand years of caste supremacist domination, the Baigas and Bhuians are ‘classified’ as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, facing extinction. Once, not so long ago, they were similarly ‘classified’, as ‘criminal tribes’, by the colonial & post-colonial state machinery. One major ‘crime’ of this people has been their survival capacity. They have survived since the Stone Ages, if what we learn from the Kanvar folktale is something to go by.

This survival capacity led them to hold on to the naturalism where life-forms of nature are conserved and worshipped as totems, to refuse to accept concepts of property and ownership of resources in their life-visions, to learn to cohabit even with tigers before whom dominators from the nature-destroying power worshipping metal age orders cower in mortal fright. Thus when a Baiga shaman-chieftain from the Chhattisgarhi highlands of the centralmost reaches of the subcontinent, following their traditional norms, refuses food and contact from Brahmins, it is that ancient wisdom in live-action resistance against the Brahminical orders that attack their very foundations of existence. Their survival capacity lay in their ancience. The trick has always been to learn from time.

The same applies for the Charvaka wisdom. They bear touches from times when women were priests and nature was worshipped for its yield and holding capacity of life – from the earliest conceptions of religion: Fertility Magic. New crops would pop out when humans worked the earth and sowed seeds. New human life would come to be through binary lovemaking. Ideas of father god & mother goddess developed as the hunter gatherers turned to rearing and then to agriculture. Like the first artistic expressions, the first religious ones, too began with imitations. Imitate farming with making love. Imitate making love through rituals. Imitate farming through rituals. And these expressions had to be celebrated out in the open. Thus began the carnivals.

However, when people kept on turning up in different geographies & turning everywhere into melting pots, different ideas, including of there being one or many other more powerful entities out there – gods, demons, ghosts, began coming up. All that the people had to do was survive; and tell tales.

The Aryans

With the advent of the Iron ages came the Aryans with the Vedas, with their Indra & other warrior gods. They came tearing down into seats of Bronze Age glory like those of the Ashuras of ancient Syria, the Meluhas of the Indus Valley. New tales began replacing the old. Spirituality was replacing bodily realities. Suddenly, the sacred-body was turning into vulgar. Even the Doctor Gods of the Vedic Aryans – the Ashwani Kumar twins who were highly revered in the Rg Vedas lost their castes in the Yajur Vedas – all because they dealt with bodies, owing, strictly to professional reasons. Clearly, even the gods are not beyond caste! The Vedas have no mother goddess. It is only Arvachina, that is, latter-day inputs that add the suffix ‘-Ni’ after names of the Vedic gods to denote their wives, creating characters like Indrani, Varuni et al, having absolutely no role in the Yajna rites & rituals. Of course, they had Ratri, the Night, who arrives when:

The travelers

The birds that live on trees

The hawks that swipe fast

Fall silent

And lie down

Taking her sister Usha, Day,

In her arms

(Rg Veda Hymn 10/127)


As for Usha, she was a warrior princess from the Indus Valley. Indra had attacked her kingdom, the Rg Veda proclaims in glory:

Usha rides a chariot

She is the colour of the sun

The bulls that drag her chariot

Are the colour of the sun

She is the daughter of the Universe

Oh Indra, through heroic power

You slay evil Usha who lusts to kill

Under you

You press Usha, worshipped by all

Having turned into a bull

Mad with desire,

When you press her with your phallus

Afraid, she seeks to run away

From her broken chariot

Ground to dust

Afraid, she seeks to run away

To the shores of the Beas

And lie down beside the river

And, with magical power, O Rapist Indra

you establish yourself on the land

All around Indus – they river that is so big

That it is like a Sea, filled with water

You attack this Indus

from the North

Your armies move fast

Opposition is week

You crush Usha’s chariot

With your thunderbolt

Drunk on Soma

You unleash destruction in great joy

(Rg Veda Hymns 5/80, 4/31, 2/15/6, 10/73/6)

In hymn after hymn, the Rg Vedas glorify rape, as they glorify killing and destroying ‘dark complexioned’ (Hymn No. IV – 16/10) dasa, dasyu and Asura – the non-Aryan people and their cities. The Vedas had no Mother Goddesses. Those were written around a thousand years before the birth of Christ. The Indus valley had fallen around half a millennium before that. The Meluha people there had many Mother Goddesses and Father Gods, as evident from the seals and tiny dolls and idols found in its ruins. One representation had a sapling coming out of a Goddess – a depiction of Mother Earth that even the gotra-Hindu orders began to acknowledge a good two millenniums down the line – that is, when these gotra-orders began co-opting Mother Goddess Worship. It was only a good one and a half millenniums after the Vedas that the first Sanskritic text, the Vrihat-Samhita (6th century AD) came up that acknowledged the worship of Mother Goddess and the need to build temples for the same. The naturalists people who worship mother and father goddesses do not build temples – they have their seats, sites and shrines. Even in the Vrihat Samhita, Mother-Goddess worship was alluded to as a secret cult. Legend has it that this Varahamira was the husband of an Oracle – a Daakini, meaning a witch or a wise woman in Tibetan – named Khawna. Legend also has it that they hailed from around the delta region, where the Ganges, having split into countless distributaries, meets the Bay of Bengal.


By the last half of the last to last millennium, many royal lineages of non-Aryan origin, despite being Hinduised, began to assert their ancient identity through Mother Goddess worship. Thus, an ancient shrine of Mother Goddess worship in modern day Axhom, with its ancient Mother Goddess deity being worshipped by the Khasi and other indigenous people from those parts, started taking shape as a Hindu Mother Goddess temple – as Kamakhya of Kamarupa, under the Varmana kings, who, despite their distinctly adivasi origins, took to Hinduism with time. This was from the first half of the millennium before the last one. Again, an inscription found close to Jhalarpatan in central India speaks of yet another feudal lord bearing the title Varmana, speaks of yet another Mother Goddess temple being built in AD 424. Again, in less than two hundred years from that time, Xuanzang finds himself visiting an ancient site of Mother Goddess worship at Bhimadevi in Gandhara, close to modern-day Peshawar. Soon after, two powerful dynasties from peninsular India, the Kadambas and the Chalukyas, proclaimed themselves as the Children of Hariti – an ancient mother goddess appropriated by the Thunder Vehicle Buddhists of the Pala era (8th-12th centuries AD).

The Pala empire than ruled the eastern subcontinent had its origins in totemic groups but soon took to Buddhism, having appropriated multiple indigenous mother goddesses. This included the ancient healing deity Shitala and the deity Parna-Shabari whose name literally meant and denoted ‘A Woman From the Shabar indigenous people who dons leaves as clothes’. Another such ancient Mother-Goddess was Janguli – Goddess of the Jungle, who, according to medieval Buddhist texts, was to be imagined as a Shabar Adivasi woman. Even for Buddhism, the process of assimilation of folk religion had begun with its need to expand with the empires. Asanga (4th century AD), while assimilating the body-oriented religious disciplines of the common people, had termed it as Yogachara. By then, the Hindu orders had also begun to assimilate body praxis rituals under the same name.

This body praxis was continued by the Koula-Tantrics, Kapalikas, Naths, Avadhootis and other off-shoot cults that emerged from latter day Buddhism in the subcontinent. These sects thus continued with the ancient shamanic processes. Due to Brahminical aggression, much of it had to be practiced in secrecy. Nonetheless, the body Praxis continued, and, when Buddhism waned away for good from the subcontinent, the Tantric rituals begun to be assimilated by Hinduism – a process which continued throughout the Middle Ages. Thus, since the Pala eras till right up to when the European empires were knocking at the doors of their soon to be subcontinental colonies, the process of assimilation of mother goddess worship, bearing continuities with primitive ancience, was complete for Hinduism as we understand it today. One of the many classic instances of this continuity can be found when, even in the 17th Century AD, we find Tantric Bhaskara Ray writing about ancient Mother Goddesses like Shitala, Tara, Parna-Shabari et al – all of whom have indigenous origins and many of whom were taken within the folds of Buddhism when that religion had flourished in the subcontinent. Likewise, when we see or hear the Bauls of Bengal today, whom/what we see or hear bear cultural continuities from the shramanas of Easy Vehicle Buddhism who used to roam in the same lands a thousand years ago, and who, in turn, through their body-praxis, philosophical visions reflected in music & other means of existence, continue with the culture of the shamans who roamed the lands many thousand years before that period.

Prices, Collaterals

Survival comes at heavy price. Even those among the Hindu orders who sought to follow the body praxis and mother goddess & father god worship to its naturalist, human & sentience-equality oriented continuities, the axe of de-casting came down. Thus, even among the Nath mendicants, those groups who took to power-backed identities of Shaivite Brahmins held their high position in the caste-Hindu society, but those who continued with the naturalism driven hatha-yoga involving bodily disciplines were hurled down the caste-ladder by the Brahmins. In Bengal, a Dalit caste, ‘Yugi’, with their caste-assigned profession as weavers, bears that history of indignation. Yet another Dalit people, the Doms, bear history from ancient times when they used to be great drummers. Legends hold their warrior status. Certain indigenous ritual-memories recall them as high priests. Faced with caste-oppression, some of these people left the subcontinent and became gypsies – the Domari people. Those who did not leave, were assigned the profession of burning corpses, and declared untouchable by the Brahmins.

Yet another example of the heavy price of humiliation, indignation and defeat lies in how the ancient Mother Goddess Worship of the indigenous people was twisted through tales by the Brahmins while co-opting the same. In the Bronze Ages, the Ashura kings like Banipal had ruled over the Mediterranean shores. Their Bull Totem King would worship their Lion Totem Queen. Those would be their father god & mother goddesses, locked in fertility magic. When the Iron Ages unleashed, these people were pushed down, south-east bound, by the Aryans. They sought to hold on to their ancient faiths. But the Aryans, having conquered their kingdoms, sought to incorporate their gods & goddesses too. They also sought to rub the indignation of defeat deep into the consciousnesses of the castes & tribes they conquered and ruled. Thus, the Bull Father God turned into a Demon, slain by the Lion Mother Goddess. The Brahmins preached this tale far & wide, seeking to wipe out the older tales. After all these, Brahminical scriptures, narrate, in cold stoicism –

Village dwelling barbarians

Sacrificing animals

Worship the Durga of Difficult Tracts with blood

Worship the King of the Fields below trees

When evening falls,

Their women sing, dance and make merry

drinking from containers

made of dried wood-apple skin

(Saduktikarnamrita/ Good Sayings That Are Ambrosia for the Ears – verse collection by Sridhara Das, 11th Century AD)

Again, Brahmin scholar Jimutvahana, from the 11th Century AD in his Kaal-vivek (The Conscience of Time), refers to the worship of Durga as the Worship of the Shabars. That book, and Kalika-Purana or the Mythology of Kali (10th century AD), both narrate how the Shabar indigenous people celebrate Mother Goddess through naturalistic rituals, jubilant music, dancing and sexual innuendos. Sex never escapes the stern gaze of the Brahmins without being morally noticed. Keeping all these in mind, seeking to impose rules on gender, sexuality & castes, Brahmins seek to steer humanity away from the People’s Way of the Charvaka. They keep on spinning tales. There is this thing about tales when it comes to the subcontinent

The Thing About Tales

As Alberuni had noted in the 11th century AD, the history of the subcontinent is indeed a series of tales. That is how the people here seek to recall their past. Five centuries after Alberuni, Lama Taranatha had sought to write down the history of Buddhism in the subcontinent. All he could stitch up were countless overlapping tales.

Indeed the Brahmins had the script and scriptures, the resources and the channels to get their tales scripted, preserved, provided with patronage and distributed through readings by the pundits. Scripts of the vanquished were destroyed, as were their scriptures. They burned the Library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. They destroyed all the books of the Charvaka Lokayatics – philosophers who had stood against them. And yet, the Aryan racial supremacists could not destroy it all. They never can, because what they are up against is the collective unconscious. Therein lies the victory of Charvaka – nestled safely within the very roots of its own ancience. They Brahmins may be there, spewing their caste-venom for four millenniums, but Lokayata, the People’s Way exists since when the wisdoms of nature were sought to be learned by our ancestors – since the verily Paleolithic beginnings of humanity.

Atindriyo Chakrabarty is a poet from Kolkotta



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