Varna, Dvija, Grihastha, Kama, Moksha New Insights into Some Common Indian Institutions: Varna, Dvija, Grihastha, Kama, Moksha

By Patrick Olivelle

Some social institutions like Varna, Grihastha etc. have significant bearings on the history of the Indian subcontinent. Often it is assumed that these institutions have existed in Indian society from the very beginning and their nature have remained unchanged. In this lecture Prof Olivelle explores the semantic history of some of these institutions. For this purpose, he brings into discussion range of texts like different Brahmanical literatures composed in Sanskrit and Ashokan edicts composed other languages than Sanskrit. Not only the presence but often the absence of these institutions that appear as very central and hegemonic from contemporary perspective, are underlined here. We see that a term like Varna has minimal presence in Brahminic Sanskrit and Grammatical texts before the composition of Manavadharmashastra, popularly known as the Manu smriti and in fact completely absent from Ashokan edicts. Terms like Dvija and Grihastha also had different connotation in these texts. Olivelle examines the linkages between the development of some of these institutions and the the historical trajectory specific to the Magadhan region that witnessed the emergence of state and religious groups like the Buddhists, Jains and Ajivikas in the second half of the first millennium BCE.