Much of the cultural output from the Mayura to the Gupta period reflects the themes of Lokayata. Though it had always been prevalent amongst the population, as an aspect of Arthashastra, a pragmatic, syncretic permutation of Lokayata contributed to the ruling ideology. (1) Shastri is fully convinced of their influence:
“The Lokayatikas were a creed of joy, all sunny. Through their influence, at that period of Indian history [broadly speaking, 200 BC – 400 CE], the temple and the court, poetry and art, delighted in sensuousness. Eroticism prevailed all over the country. The Brahmin and the Chandala, the king and the beggar took part with equal enthusiasm in Madanotsava, in which Madana or Kama was worshipped. Reverences to this festival are not rare in works of poets like Kalidasa, Bisakha, Datta and Sreeharsa.” (2)
Poetry of this period communicates the earthly, pleasure oriented, anti-clerical ethos extremely well. What follows are four representative samples of poetry from the era of Lokayata’s greatest influence:
Who was artificer at her creation?
Was it the moon, bestowing its own charm?
Was it the graceful month of spring, itself?
Compact with love, a garden full of flowers?
That ancient saint there, sitting in his trance,
Bemused by prayers and dull theology,
Cares naught for beauty: how could he create
Such loveliness, the old religious fool?
‘So, friar, I see you have a taste for meat.’
‘Not that it’s any good without some wine.’
‘You like wine too, then?’ ‘Better when I dine
With pretty harlots.’ ‘Surely such girls eat
No end of money?’ ‘Well, I steal, you see,
Or win at dice.’ ‘A thief and gambler too?’
‘Why, certainly. What else is there to do?
Aren’t you aware I’m vowed to poverty?’
Harder than a diamond, softer than a flower?
Who can tell
The minds of men held in religion’s power?
-Bhavabhuti (5) (6)
In this vain fleeting universe, a man
Of wisdom has two courses: first, he can
Direct his time to pray, to save his soul,
And wallow in religion’s nectar-bowl;
But, if he cannot, it is surely best
To touch and hold a lovely woman’s breast
And to caress her warm round hips, and thighs,
And to possess that which between them lies.
– Bhartṛhari (7)
Outside of this period, anti-clerical themes in poetry are rare, except perhaps to bolster a newer, more heterodox religion at the expense of the orthodoxy. Erotic and pleasure oriented themes do occur, but not usually in court poetry unless framed in the context of Bhakti.
The plays of Bhasa were also written in this period. Though his stories are from the Hindu epics, he often rewrites them to give them a definitively materialist outlook, and to create sympathy for the supposed villains. In his play entitled Pancharatra, he has the character Duryodhana state: “Heaven is won by the dead, they say, but that is an untruth – heaven is not beyond, but ripens here on earth in manifold variety.” (8)
Duryodhana also states: “Kingship is enjoyed by brave princes after conquering their foes in battle. It cannot be had by begging, nor is it conferred upon the poor in this world. If they desire to become kings, let them venture forth on the battlefield, or else let them at their will enter a hermitage, sought for peace by men of tranquil minds.” (9)
The last mention of Lokayatas as an active school is in the Ain-i-Akbar, written in the reign of Akbar (1556-1606). (10) However it is clear that they were on a pattern of decline since long before then. Some claim that the Lokayata were the victims of persecution, which is why none of their texts survive. There certainly is a record of violence surrounding Lokayata. The Mula Sarvasti Vada by Nikaya Vinaya mentions that debates between Buddhists and Lokayata often ended in violence. (11) There is a scene towards the end of the Mahabharata when a Lokayata Brahmin chastises Yudhishtra, and is electrocuted or immolated by the supernatural powers channeled through the angry Brahmins sitting in court. (12) The Laws of Brihaspati (not to be confused with the figure of Brihaspati of Lokayata) indicate that a sudra who insults a brahmin may have his tongue cut out, a law which probably would have disproportionately impacted Lokayatas. (13) Manu Smriti is less harsh on atheists, but still demands that those who disregard religion because they rely on “the teachings of logic should be excommunicated by virtuous people.” (14)
This all indicates that there was some level of violence towards Lokayatas, but whether this can account for their decline is unknown. Many groups have survived persecution in the past, and other factors such as the destruction of many of India’s libraries at the hands of the Ghaznavids Turks, and the lack of incentive to copy them over centuries, may be responsible for the loss of Lokayata texts.
Dalits and Marxists:
Lokayata’s status as an anti-clerical philosophy “of the people” has certainly caught the eye of the political left, and of writers on Dalit issues. Lella Karunyakara, a writer on Dalit issues states, “The first school of thought that professed ‘materialism’ was Charavaka philosophy also known as the Lokayata-darsana, belonged to the earliest Dalit materialistic tradition.” (15) She puts Lokayata in the same list as Indus Valley culture, “Gautam Buddha, Asoka, Kanishka, Harsh Vardhana, Kabir, Ravidas, Chokkamela, Jyotiba Phuley, Ramaswami Naicker, Bhimrao Ambedkar, and also Skkhism, Indian Islam and Indian Christianity” which is not at all unusual.
The emerging narrative in this community is premised on a strong Aryan invasion theory. In this narrative, Lokayata, like most non-Brahminical movements is Dalit or aboriginal in origin and represents an indigenous resistance to the political and religious oppression of Brahmins. Marxists typically follow a more moderate version of the same narrative, though their interest in the subject seems to have peaked in the 1960s. Indeed, it is this story, which drives the thesis of all Chattopadhyaya’s works on the subject.
South Asian Secularism:
The resurgence of secularist interest in Lokayata in the 2000s may have started with the publication of the novel The Tale of Carvaka: The Hindu Hedonist-Philosopher by Manga Randreas in 2005. (17) The novel is a fictionalized account of Carvaka’s life, which is highly sympathetic to hedonist values, skepticism, anticlericalism, and the entire Lokayata system. However it attracted very little attention outside the internet.
The following year, Carvaka Musings the first significant Lokayata blogger started, (18) but he or she was alone until 2012. In that year the blog carvaka4india started, which promotes secularism and collects secondary source material on Lokayata. This remains the most significant Lokayata online presence. (19) Later in 2012, lokayata.info started. In 2013 nashtika.wordpress.com (20) and lokayat.org.in started, though the latter focuses mostly on populist issues.
There is still much work to be done in modern Lokayata studies. From cursory research, it seems as though interest in Lokayata may be as significant or perhaps greater in the Bengali language blogosphere, despite the threats which secularists now face in Bangladesh. It would be interesting to know if any of the atheists involved in the recent Shahbag protests have done any writing on the subject. At least one Bangladeshi, a poet named Shobuj Taposh claims to have founded a philosophy called Drishtantoism, which is largely based on Lokayata, probably of the Jayarasi Bhatta variety (i.e. the epistemological nihilist variety.) (21) A Bengali language researcher would need to investigate to see how well known this is in reality.
Historical research on Lokayata is a very young field of study as well. Chinese documents referring to the school have not been thoroughly explored Chinese records indicate that at least one Lokayata scholar traveled to China between 650 and 680 C.E. (22) There is also supposedly a Chinese document on Lokayata called the Guang-zhu-Jin though scholars have thus far been unable to procure or translate it. (23) There are also the Gandhari manuscripts, which may contain valuable references. Tamil documents pertaining to the obscure Bhutavadin School have also been brought to light, which lead to the intriguing possibility of Lokayata prevalence in the south. (24)
The Brahma Jala Sutra and Matangi Sutra are also difficult to procure in English, but may yield more clues about the relationship between Lokayata and medicine. A closer look at the debates between Shankara and the Samkhyas is also warranted, to see if the Advaita notion of anubhava owes anything to Samkhya epistemology. Finally, I have not attempted to untangle the Kama-Sutra in this work due to its intricate past and numerous influences. However, its hedonistic bent does make it likely that is has been influenced by Lokayata beliefs.
Without more documentary evidence it is extremely difficult to conclusively prove the influence, which Lokayata may have had on other schools of thought. I can only rely on correlation and ironically, inference. Still, the preponderance of evidence seems to suggest that Lokayata formed the materialist bedrock upon which much of later naturalist Indian philosophy, science, and culture developed.
1: Shastri, A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism, 28
2: Shastri, A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism, 44
3: Various, Poems from the Sanskrit, trans John Brough (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1968), 63.
4: Various, Poems from the Sanskrit, 79.
5: Various, Poems from the Sanskrit, 137.
6: “Bhavabhuti’s Indebtedness to Kautilya,” Journal of the Ganganath Jha Research Institute, 8, no. 3 (1951), Note: This poem is later than the height of Lokayata, but the author was certainly influenced by Kautilya, as evidenced by the cited article.
7: Various, Poems from the Sanskrit, 113.
8: David Gitomer, “The Mahabharata Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama.” Journal of the American Oriental Society April-June 112.2 (1992): 227-228
9: Gitomer, “The Mahabharata Discourse of Sinning and Virtue in Epic and Drama.” 26.
10: ibn Mubarak Abu Al-Fazl, The Ain i Akbari, Volume 3, trans. Jarrett H.S. (Calcuta: Baptist Mission Press, 1894)http://books.google.com/books?id=WjhbAAAAQAAJ (accessed October 27, 2013), 217-218.
11: Joshi, “Lokayata in Ancient India and China,” p 397
12: Internet Sacred Text Archive, trans. Kisari Mohan Gangul, “The Mahabharata, Book 12: Santi Parva, Section XXXIX” 1896. Accessed October 25, 2013. http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m12/m12a038.htm
13: Internet Sacred Text Archive, trans. Julius Jolly, “The Minor Law Books, Fragments of Brihaspati” 1889. Accessed October 25, 2013. http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe33/sbe3378.htm
14: Manu, The Laws of Manu, trans. Wendy Doniger, ch. 2 v. 11.
15: Karunyakara Lella, Modernisation of Buddhism: Contributions of Ambedkar and Dalai Lama XIV, (New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 2002), 33-34.
16: Lella, Modernisation of Buddhism: Contributions of Ambedkar and Dalai Lama XIV, 12.
17: Randreas Manga, The Tale of Carvaka: The Hindu Hedonist-Philosopher , (iUniverse, Inc., 2005). Kindle edition
18: “Carvaka Musings.” Accessed October 29, 2013. http://carvakamusings.blogspot.com/.
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21: “দৃষ্টান্তবাদ.” Accessed October 29, http://archive.is/www.dristantobad.fineartsbd.com
22: Joshi, “Lokayata in Ancient India and China,” 397.
23: Joshi, “Lokayata in Ancient India and China,” 405.
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