Tam Brahms and Nirvana

A Tam Brahm friend who got married recently used to claim back in college that Tam Brahms are the highest possible form of life, and that it is the last birth before one achieves Nirvana. Contrary to that, I argue here that Tam Brahms are are condemned to an eternal cycle of death and rebirth. It’s because they are #kogul.

I’ve talked about #kogulness several times before on this blog, including the first ever post (speaking of which, at the wedding last week they actually served “Gopi Fry”) . The sad thing is that back then Twitter wasn’t invented, and consequently the term “#kogul” wasn’t invented, so I wasn’t able to expound as much as I wanted to on this topic. Every blog post on the topic then had to spend half its length describing the phenomenon of kogulness. Thanks to twitter and hashtagging, that is no longer required.

Coming back to the point, Fritz Staal in his classic book Discovering the Vedas talks about mantras being similar to songs of birds, in the sense that pronunciation and intonation need to be exact. In order to argue this, Staal points out that for ages together, the learning of the Vedas simply involved learning them by rote, both the words and the intonation, and there was little emphasis on the actual meaning of the words. In fact, analyzing some of the Rig-Vedic texts now, it is understood that they have been composed in some form of proto-Sanskrit, and the meaning of several of the words used have been lost for ever. Now, if the “value” in the vedic mantras was about the meanings, and the words, these words wouldn’t have been allowed to be lost. Instead, this emphasis on learning by rote and intonation only seeks to affirm Staal’s hypothesis (btw the last time I spoke about Staal’s hypothesis on this blog, some right wing bloggers really blew up in the comments section).

Again returning from the digression, the point is that the whole point about Vedic mantras is about pronunciation and intonation. There is little in the words or in the meanings that will get you divine retribution, but if you can repeat the mantras the way they were composed it will put you on the path to nirvana (again, the assumption of this post is a belief in the Sanaatana Dharma). If you were to dismiss Staal as a “foreign imperialist” (which he was not, RIP), several Hindu Vedic scholars also talk about the importance of pronunciation, and the Gayatri mantra is known to improve one’s pronunciation and reduce stammer (I realized this why the other day when I was singing it rather loudly. The number of Mahapraana consonants in that mantra helps make your tongue more flexible. Ok don’t get dirty thoughts now. And that was around the same time I got material for this post).

So, if you have been born a Brahmin and seek to attain nirvana the vedic way, the way to proceed would be to learn the Vedas properly and sing them with accurate pronunciation and intonation. Where does that leave a Tamil Brahmin? I bet most of you would have heard of Tamilian Carnatic Singers singing “magaa gaNabathim.. “. Tams, having learnt their simplified alphabet, are incorrigible #koguls. For starters they just don’t get the concept of mahaapraaNa. All mahaapraaNa consonants are suitably suppressed in their speech and song. Do you imagine it being better when they were to sing the Vedas?

Tying all this together, the point is this. Tam Brahms are so #kogul that they can never get the pronunciation of the Vedic mantras right. Intonation they might, since several of them are excellent singers, but pronunciation they never can. For this reason, the Gods will never be pleased with their Vedic recitals, and they shall never attain Nirvana. They will instead be condemned to multiple births (likely all of them as #kogul Tam-Brahms) on this earth. And they will continue to fail to learn that it’s their #kogulness that’s holding them back from attaining salvation.

Tailpiece: Thengalai Iyengars seem to have figured out their problem. Having figured that they can never get their practitioners to sing the Vedas in a non-kogul way, they have done the next best thing. They have declared that the power of the Vedas are in the words, and in their meanings, and simply translated them into Tamil, thus preventing kogulness from being a hindrance. Of course, the assumption of power being in meanings is a huge one, so one doesn’t really know if this allows the Thengalais to attain salvation. However, they’ve at least tried.

Tailpiece 2: kogulness is not restricted to Tamil priests alone. The last few times I’ve organized my parents’ death ceremonies, I’ve noticed that the priests (most of them Gult) have been unfailingly #kogul, and being a believer in the power of the Vedic rituals being in pronunciation and intonation, I’m convinced that mantras uttered by these kogul priests have absolutely no impact on bringing upon salvation to my parents’ souls. In fact, given my sample size is rather large, I’ve given up all hopes of finding priests who will do the death ceremonies in the proper way, with proper pronunciation and intonation. For this reason, henceforth I’m not going to waste money on such priests, and will not try to observe my parents’ death ceremonies in a Vedic manner.