There are many in India, especially the self-righteous Hindu supremacists, who seem to fantasize that intolerance and brutality towards other religions were somehow the sole preserve of Muslim rulers and that the Hindu Rajas lived in an idyllic state of tolerance protecting other religions. Unfortunately, a closer examination of Indian history does not support such an opinion.
If one rewinds in to the history of the Indian sub-continent, one discovers that after Emperor Ashoka’s battle at Kalinga (262-261 BCE), Northern India entered a thousand year phase of relative tranquility under its predominantly Buddhist rulers. This relatively peaceful phase lasted until the time of Harshavardhan (606 to 647AD).
However around 7th century AD, the Indian sub-continent witnessed a vigorous Brahmanical revivalism both theological and political that rapidly gathered momentum. Many local rulers, at the coercion of their Brahmin ministers and priests, began to ruthlessly exterminate the previously dominant Buddhist and Jain faiths. Although the earlier class of Kshatriyas had become obscure from history during the thousand years of mainly Buddhist rule, they were soon re-invented at this time to serve Brahmin interests using rich lands and treasures of Budhist and Jain monasteries/temples as material incentives. Many examples where Buddhist and Jain stupas and monasteries were plundered and Hindu temples supplanted at their sites exist in the history of the sub-continent .
A Shaivite scholar Kalhana in his treatise Kalhana’s Rajatarangani (1149 AD) provides the description of the antics of the Hun ruler Mihirikula, who was converted by Brahmins in 515 AD. He then unleashes a wave of violent destruction on Buddhist monasteries in Punjab and Kashmir to compensate for his elevation of rank within the Vedic religion. The same Rajatarangani also cites another example of a Buddhist ruler of Kashmir named Chandradip and his successor Tarapida who were both assasinated by the Brahmins in 722 and 724 AD respectively. The newly Brahmin anointed Rajput rulers soon replaced them and were anointed paramount rulers in the Kingdoms of Sind and Kota. Another glaring example from Indian history is that of King Sasanka of Gauda (Bengal) who treacherously kills King Graha Varman Maukhari (husband of Harshavardhan’s sister), and destroys several stupas , even cuts down the sacred Bodhi tree at Gaya to appease the custodians of Vedic religion, the Brahmin priests for an elevation in rank. Xuanzang, who visited India (629 to 645 AD), describes the influence of a particular Southern Indian Brahmin queen over her husband, coercing him into executing thousands of Buddhists including 8,000 in Madurai alone. A similar Brahmin inspired vandalism and brutality spree in Southern India is described in the treatise Shankara Dig Vijaya (Shankara´s world-victory) where the destruction of a huge Buddhist complex at Nagarjunakonda in modern-day Andhra Pradesh is detailed. The newly Brahmin anointed Kshatriya kings not only killed every Buddhist young and old alike but even killed any Kshatriya who refused to kill the Buddhists. Several Budhists and Jain shrines were then rapidly transformed into Hindu shrines of worship. Such examples of conversion into Hindu Shrines are plenty in Southern India from the Padmanabha Swamy temple in Kerala to the Tirupati Balaji Shrine in Andhra Pradesh. Al-Biruni (973-1048 AD) who travelled and studied India in his compilation Ta’rikh al-Hind (regarded as the most comprehensive pre-modern encyclopaedic work on India) specifically mentions another Southern Indian ruler, King Vira Goggi Deva, who boasts himself as – “a fire to the Jain scriptures, a hunter of wild beasts (in the form of Jains) and an adept at the demolition of Buddhist canon” !!. He also records “the deliberate destruction of non-Brahminical atheistic literature like books of Lokayat / Carvaca philosophy by Brihaspati.
E.S Oakley (Holy Himalaya), Rhys Davids (Buddhist India) and Daniel Wright (History of Nepal) cite several Nepalese and Kumoani documents that validate Buddhism as the prevalent religion of the Himalayas with Badrinath and Kedarnath being Buddhist temples until Adi Shankara usurped them in the 8th century and converted them into Hindu sites of worship. While there is no direct evidence that Adi Shankara personally directed such persecution, local power-hungry rulers lured by the incentives of loot used his name to lend legitimacy to their own destruction and looting. Following such destructions, many local hill Rajas invited Brahmins to their domains to get themselves elevated to the rank of Kshatriyas as a reward, which was duly rewarded to them in recognition of their allegiance to the Vedic religion. This incentive of loot and elevation in rank promised by Brahminism encouraged wide-spread attack on Buddhist monasteries in the sub-continent. Followers of Buddha were ruthlessly persecuted, slain, exiled and forcibly converted – many converted rather than face death, humiliation or exile. The attackers were often tested for their faith by making them perform “Hinsa” (violence), or the sacrifice of live animals, that was so abhorrent to Buddhists and Jains. Many Bhikshunis (Budhist nuns) were forcibly married and the learned Grihasthas (married scholars) were forced to tonsure their distinguishing knot of hair from their heads. 84,000 Buddhist works were searched for and destroyed. It is believed that Adi Shankara then introduced pilgrimages to these newly converted Hindu shrines in the Himalayas for the first time to prevent their relapse into Buddhist or animist ways. As sufficient local Brahmins could not be found who were willing to preach in such remote places he imported Nambudri Brahmin priests from Kerala who, to this day, officiate at Badrinath, and Kedarnath. Later as the mountain settlements grew, other Brahmins communities such as the Joshis and Pants from Maharashtra, Gairolas from Bengal and Negis from Gujarat were also invited to settle in these hills. Holy pilgrimages that ensured a constant influx of Hindu pilgrims were then achieved with the aid and presence of many traders, priests and rulers who had vested economic interest in sustaining Hindu pilgrimages to these shrines.
Many people still genuinely believe that the Vedic religion has always been a tolerant religion that assimilated other peoples and ideas without a bloody conflict. Atleast that is how modern day Hindu revivalists and supremacists teach it and the ugly scars of brutalities in the history of Hindu India are sanitized in the curriculum. As religious polarization engulfs today’s India, the only factor holding India’s secular nature is our secular constitution and the mutual respect between our multi-cultural ethnicities. Hence belligerence towards other religions by Hindu supremacists should and must be countered and negated through an honest revelation of the Vedic religion´s brutal history – to prove that none has been above sins in the past. For those that still linger in the fantasies of a peaceful Hindu past, I quote – “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”