Q.6 Discuss the salient features of Indian society on the eve of the campaigns of Mahmud of Ghazni, with particular reference to the observations made by Al-Biruni.
The salient features of Indian society as mentioned by Alberuni in Kitab al-Hind
(1) Caste system
Alberuni in his Kitab al-Hind beautifully sums up theories and practices of Indian caste system.
He discusses the origin of the four varna (Chatuh-varna) system in the basis of the Purusha-Sukta hyms.
(a) The highest caste are the Brahmaṇa, who were created from the head of Brahma.
(b)The next caste are the Kshatriya, who were created from the shoulders and hands of Brahma.
(c) After them follow the Vaisya, who were created from the thigh of Brahma.
(d) The Sudra, who were created from feet of Brahma.
The four castes do not live together at the same place. Each of the four castes, when eating together, must form a group for themselves, one group not being allowed to comprise two men of different castes. Since it is forbidden to eat the remains of a meal, every single man must have his own food for himself.
Between the Vaisya and Sudra, there is no very great distance. Much, however, as these classes differ from each other, they live together in the same towns and villages, mixed together in the same houses and lodgings.
After the Sudra follow the people called Antyaja, who render various kinds of services and are not part of ‘Chatuh-varna’, but are considered as members of a certain craft or profession. There crafts included: shoemaker, juggler, the basket maker, the sailor, fisherman, the hunter, the weaver etc. They lived near the villages and towns of the four castes, but outside them.
The untouchables like Hadi, Doma, Chandala, and Badhatau are also not part of Chatuh-varna. They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleansing of the villages and other services. They are considered like illegitimate children; for according to general opinion they descend from a Sudra father and a Brahman mother; therefore they are degraded as outcasts.
Hindus are said to differ among themselves as to which of these castes is capable of attaining ‘moksha’. According to some, only Brahmanas and Kshatriya are capable of attaining moksha as others cannot learn the Vedas. Alberuni reports that according to the Hindu philosophers, moksha is attainable by all the castes and by the human race.
Al-Biruni tried to explain the caste system by looking for parallels in other societies. He noted that in ancient Persia, four social categories were recognized (a) knights and princes; (b) monks, fire-priests (c) lawyers, physicians, astronomers and other scientists; and (d) peasants and artisans.
He attempted to suggest that social divisions were not unique to India. At the same time he pointed out that within Islam all men were considered equal, differing only in their observance of piety.
Al-Biruni disapproved of the notion of untouchability.
(2) Indian customs and manners
Indian customs, manners, festivals are also vividly portrayed by Alberuni. Some customs described by Alberuni are the following:
(1) People divide the moustache into single plait to preserve it. They allow nails to grow long, glorifying their idleness, since they do not use them for any work.
(2) The Hindus throw away eaten plates if they are earthen.
(3) They have red teeth due to chewing of arecanuts with betel leaves and chalk.
(4) They sip the stall of cows, but they do not eat their meet.
(5) Men use turbans and trousers.
(6) The man wears article of female dress; they use cosmetics, wear ear-rings, arm-rings, golden seal-rings on the right finger as well as on the toes of the feet.
(7) Men take advice of woman in all consultations and emergencies. They do not ask permission to enter house but when they leave it, they ask permission to do so.
(8) They write title of the books at the end of it, not at the beginning.
These customs amuses and sometimes horrifies Alberuni.
(3) Indian festivals
Alberuni enlists all the important festivals without much comment on them. He mentions: 2nd Chaitra (a Kashmiri festival), Guru tritiya, Vasanta etc.
He takes an important note of the fact that most of the festivals are celebrated by women and children only.