India, then and now
Perhaps one of the most significant fundamental changes between
Vedic India and the modern era is the change in the social
structure. The Aryan social structure was a meritocracy, with people
able to change their status in an upward or downward direction based
on their accomplishments or lack thereof. Someone who had no job,
had no status and was therefore worthless. If they get a job, they
become a member of the relevant caste and now they have worth.
Somehow over the years, this system became rigid: caste was
foreordained by birth and, once set, was almost impossible to
change. Marrying outside one's class became a social disgrace - at
least for the one "stepping down" unless he (almost always the male)
had the power and status to withstand the social disgrace. In
today's India, the caste system has been legally banned. Only the
outlying, less modernised regions still follow it although remnants
of social attitudes still echo even in the most cosmopolitan cities.
Another fundamental change is the status of women. During the Vedic
period, women were very much more respected than they are today.
Although modern attitudes are quickly catching up, gender-based
crimes such as dowry murder, honour killing, and the ostracisation
of widows still continue in the name of "preserving culture".
Bharata himself would be shocked at the way women are often treated
- in his day, they were not chattel to be shunted about at the
husband's pleasure nor were they cast aside as useless upon the
death of a husband. They had standing, they had rights, and they
were respected. One only has to look at the stories of Draupadi and
Sita to know this is true.
The Aryans loved story-telling and entertainment: how they would
have loved Bollywood! It's likely they would have recognised it
completely, with its family dynasties such as the Kapoors, and kings
such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. There is even a caste
system in miniature, where "item girls" perform necessary functions
that no one wants to acknowledge and "decent" female actors are
either young, unmarried, and virginal (the "maiden" archetype) or
older, matronly, and wise (the "mother" archetype) although in an
Aryan-run Bollywood, the item girls would have every opportunity to
improve their social standing by moving up through the ranks to
become a leading actress. This does not happen except in a few very
exceptional cases, although it is common enough for leading actors
and actresses to perform in item numbers. Typically, they are
modestly clothed, if we overlook SRK in Om Shanti Om's "Dard-e-Disco",
John Abraham in Dostana's "Shut Up and Bounce", and Aishwarya Rai
Bachchan in Bunty aur Babli's "Kajra Re".
When it comes to politics, Aryan women were not front and centre in
the committee - going by the stories in the Veda, their work was
done behind the scenes, acting rather as a campaign manager to
consolidate and increase their husband's power and authority. In the
story of Draupadi, she had five husbands who more than once turned
out to be completely incompetent leaving it incumbent upon her to
save the day by being wise, virtuous, and solid with Lord Krishna.
Only recently has India recaptured the idea that women have
intrinsic value and are not merely chattel belonging to a husband.
Hopefully, by revisiting Bharata's world with a fresh eye, India
will adopt the best of the old world and the new to create a fusion
that gives the best life possible for all its citizens, regardless
of gender or social standing.
Bharata of Kanvashram
Religion during the reign of Bharat
Life during the
early Vedic period