Amid an internet rage that a “Pakistani Dalit woman” has made it to the senate in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Krishna Kumari Kohli had to come clean on the issue, saying that she and her tribe aren’t Dalits. Kholi’s rebuttal has opened up a new debate: who are Pakistani Hindus?
Hinduism in Pakistan is NOT the same as Hinduism in India. They differ so much, that the two might as well be different religions altogether!
To make the long story short – all Hindu communities in Pakistan reject the caste system.
The term “indigenous” was used by Krishna Kumari Kholi purposely to highlight the distinction between Indus Vedic ideology and Gangetic Puranic ideology.
“We are not Dalit in Pakistan,” Kohli said. “…the issues in India are not directly related to us, because we are indigenous Hindus in Pakistan. I am from Nagarparkar, Tharparkar, so I can’t say much for what is going on in India, but what I can say is that these lines don’t exist in Pakistan – even though some members of the local community do want to establish them.”
For those of you who want a detailed insight into the differences, I advise you to read my article What is the difference between Hinduism in Pakistan vs Hinduism in India.
When we read the Vedas, it tells us of a land called Sindhu and Sapta Sindhu (or Sindh and Punjab), which is considered as ‘the sacred homeland’ of the Vedic tribes – the Vedas also tell us of Vedic society (civilization), that developed in the Indus Valley following the collapse of the Harappan (Indus Valley) Civilization in around 1500 BC.
During this collapsing period, the Aryan people migrated into the Indus Valley between 1800 BC to 1000 BC, and along with them came their distinctive religious traditions and practices which appears to have syncretised (fused) with native Indus (Harappan) beliefs.
This essentially gave rise to Vedic civilization (Vedic tribes, Vedic religion and Vedic Sanskrit).
Vedic society differed greatly from what we know as “Hinduism” today. For example, the Vedic people ate beef, buried their dead, and had no idols and no caste system. In fact, the Vedas forbade idolatry and the term “varna” (caste) is nowhere to be found.
“There is no evidence in the Vedas for an elaborate, much-subdivided and overarching caste system,” Joel Brereton, a professor of Sanskrit and Religious studies, states.
“The Vedic society was neither organized on the basis of social division of labour nor on that of differences in wealth,” Ram Sharan Sharma, an eminent historian and academic of Ancient and early Medieval India, states. “… [it] was primarily organized on the basis of kin, tribe and lineage.”
The Vedic gods mentioned in the Vedas are also starkly different what we consider “modern Hindu gods” today. The Vedic gods are the most important differentiating factor – they were mainly adopted from the Bactria-Margiana Culture, Zoroastrianism (and its derivatives Mithraism, Saurism, Manichaeism) and local Harappan beliefs.
These Vedic gods included:
Mitra (borrowed from Iranian Avestan deity “Mithra”)
Varuna (borrowed from Iranian Avestan deity “Ahura Mazda”)
Indra(borrowed from Iranian Avestan deity “Verethraghna”)
Sorya (borrowed from Iranian Avestan deity “Hvare-Khshaeta”)
Agni or Matarisvan (borrowed from Iranian Avestan deity “Atar”)
Soma(borrowed from the Bactria-Margiana culture)
If anything, the Vedic people were more culturally and religiously related to the Avestan Iranians in the west than the Gangetic Dravidians in the east. Most strikingly, Vedic society made a strong point to differentiate themselves (Sindhu and Sapta Sindhu) from the Ganges plain and Deccan, which the Vedas referred to as “Dasya Varta”.
What we call the caste system today began developing in the Ganges plain some time around 800 BC, with the publishing of the Puranas and Mahabharata, which mentions Varna, a Sanskrit word for type, order, colour or class. Varna is also mentioned in Brahminical books like the Manusmriti. The term refers to 4 social classes—
Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers.
Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators.
Vaishyas: agriculturalists and merchants.
Shudras: laborers and service providers.
Communities, which belong to one of the four classes, are called Savarna. The Dalits are people who do not belong to any class, and are called Avarna. Hence, Dalits are looked down upon and regularly discriminated against in India.
So you’re thinking, why didn’t the Vedics just adopt the caste system? Well, the story is more complex than that.
Both Indus Vedic and Gangetic Puranic sources clearly point to ethnic, cultural and religious differences and a ‘clash of civilizations and nations’ between the two, indicating that the Vedic people did not accept the Gangetic priests, Gods, shastras, religion, culture, Brahmanical caste ideology or the Puranas. Vice versa, the Puranic Hindus did not accept Vedic priests, Gods, culture or the Vedas either.
None of the Dravidian and Gangetic gods such as Ram, Krishna, Vishnu or Brahma are mentioned in Vedic texts, Avestan texts or Hittite tablets.
Moreover, central Gangetic religious texts like the Mahabharata and Varna Ashram Dharma of Manu refer to the Indus Vedic people as ‘Mlechas’, ‘Sudras’ and ‘Vratyas’. These texts forbade Brahmans from even visiting the Indus Valley, which they referred to as “Vahika-Desa”. Mahabharata texts also depict Dravidian gods like Krishna clashing with and defeating Vedic gods like Indra. With such a clear clash of ideologies, it’s no wonder why the Puranic caste system would have been rejected by the Vedic Indus.
Fast forward to today – most Pakistani Hindus still incorporate some aspect of the Vedic faith. This can be proven from the Gods that are worshiped among the different communities of Hindus in Pakistan:
– In Sindh, the most revered god among Sindhi Hindus is Jhulelal(Ishta-Deva). They regard Jhulelal to be an incarnation of Varuna, an early Vedic god who was adopted from the Iranian Avestan deity Ahura Mazda.
– In Kashmir, Pandits worship a Vedic god known as Kheer Bhawani.
– In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Kalash tribe (although not Hindus) revere an Indra-like figure as the central part of their religion. Indra was adopted by the Vedic culture originally from the Zoroastrian deity Verethraghna.
In comparison, Hinduism in India can also be defined by the Gods which are revered and worshiped. These include Karthikeya, Ganesha, Shakti (Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Meenakshi) and Hanuman – all these gods were originally from Dravidian/South Indian culture, which were worshiped by them long before the Vedic faith had even been established. The Vedic gods such as Indra, Mitra, Varuna and others are not mainstream at all among Hindus in India, as they are among most Hindus in Pakistan.
Vedic culture is still prevalent among the Hindus in Pakistan and the Kalash.
A large percentage of Hindus in Pakistan are non-vegetarian and some Hindu clans in Pakistan bury their dead. In Hyderabad you can find the famous graveyard of Thakur Jaati Hindus. Laal Chand Raybari, the first Pakistani Hindu soldier to be martyred, was buried rather than cremated.
So think carefully the next time you use terms like “Dalit” to describe a Pakistani Hindu – indeed, Pakistani Hindus (along with the Kalash) are the true indigenous Pakistanis and a foreign word like “dalit” is considered an insult by them .
The author is a Masters student of Archeology at the University of Punjab, Pakistan.
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