Saturday, November 26, 2011

What was wrong with the physicians?


Vol. 13, Anusasanika Parva - Book of Administration and Discipline.
Chapter 24, Verse 15.

Context: Bhishma was on his death bed of arrows.
He was advising the King Yudhishthira, on how to conduct worship of ancestors (funerals and monthly/yearly worship thereafter).
He was telling Yudhishthira, which Brahmins (Priests) to invite and whom not to invite.
The following are Priests who are not to be invited.

cikitsakaa devalakaa vrithaa niyama dhaariNah-

somavikrayiNaS caiva Sraaddhe naarhanti ketanam

Doctors.
Temple priests appointed to worship idols.
persons who take pledges for causes not worthwhile.
persons who sell soma (a liquor from soma).
These are some of the Brahmins who are not entitled for an invitation.



Ganguli's translation:
Those Brahmanas that practise the calling of physicians, those that receive regular pay for worshipping the images of deities established by the rich, or live upon the service of the deities, those that are observant of vows from pride or other false motives, and those that sell Soma, do not deserve to be invited.



ybrao a donkey's observations
*The greatest tangible service done by Brahmins from the days of yore, till the recent past, was medical practice, particularly the herbal medicine. Though, it is not on par with the work done by a farmer, still the work of a doctor is something is really tangible. Hence, they deserve greater worship, than the priests who just recite scriptures which is mostly intangible.
Denying them their due respect is not reasonable on the part of Bhishma's preaching.


*Soma liquor sellers: This verse shows that there was a practice of Priests selling soma liquor, either during the Mahabharata times or during the Gupta dynastic rule.


*Temple idol worship: This verse indicates that temple priests were looked down upon. I am , so far, unable to trace any direct evidence that there were temples and temple idol worships during Ramayana or Mahabharata period. This word 'devala' gives an indication. But the extent of idol worship is not known.

Some Brahmins of today, like other classes of society, run liquor businesses and they command great respect in today's society.


In the current 20-21st Century scenario, temple priests are revered. The priests who attend to funeral and ancestor worship are looked down upon today. Very often, the priests who perform auspicious ceremonies like birth - naming, marriages tend to be different from the priests who perform inauspicious ceremonies like funerals.

There are some temple priests, marriage priests and funeral priests today, who move on mopeds and bikes. But they do not own cars, whereas liquor trading brahmins own cars also.


In Telugu language, we have a proverb. On approx. translation, it works out something like this: Ships become carts and carts become ships. The idea conveyed is respected roles become disrespectable and vice versa. Doctors, particularly the allopathic variety are greatly honoured today, when compared to temple priests, and temple priests are honoured more when compared to funeral priests.

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