Ever since the highly civilized powers took it in mind to primitive people and to "uplift" them culturally, their efforts, even if well intended, turned disastrous for the colonized. The actual results were wholesale oppression and exploitation, even physical annihilation. The surviving primitive peoples usually suffered a complete break-down of their original culture and a total confusion of their traditional values. But after a certain time the colonised people s felt the desire for a traditional values asserted themselves. Yet duc to their predominantly magical world - outlook this revitalization often took an esoteric turn. It also required a leader allegedly possessed with superhuman power and in close contact with the ancestors or old gods - a Messiah or Saviour.
Such revival movement arose all over the world wherever high civilizations clashed with primitive cultures. It is to the credit of the author of Godmen on the Warpath, to have discovered numerous such "messianic" movements in India and to have described them here. Another important and eminently practical result of the author's analysis of such movements is that he convincingly proves that wherever their leaders were able to guide their followers to a gradual and peaceful amalgamation of the new with the original beliefs and practices of the colonized people they were largely successful. But here the godmen yielded to the temptation to liberate their people by violent means, they generally were defeated, with disastrous consequences for their people.
About the Author:
Dr. Stephen Fuchs is an eminent anthropologist. He has doctorate from Vienna University and from 1950-54 was professor of cultural anthropology at St. Xavier's College, Bombay. He has also taught at several other Catholic institutions in Indian. During 1961-62 he was in the Philippines at the San Carlos University, Cebu City, as visiting professor of anthropology and Indian philosophy. Since 1967 until recently he has been Director of the Institute of Indian Culture, Bombay.
A Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Fuchs is a member of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and of the Anthrops Institute, St. Augustin, Germany. He has made a special study of the Baiga, Gond, Korku and Bill tribes in Central India and of the Balahi and Chamar castes in Madhya Pradesh and Eastern U.P. His other Publication are : The Children of Hari; Social Origins; The Gond and Bhumia of Eastern Mandla; Tales of Gondarana; The Origin of Man and His Culture; Rebellious Prophets; The Aboriginal Tribes of India; Origin of Religious; and At the Bottom of Indian Society.
The term 'Messiah' is derived from the Hebrew word Mashiah, 'the anointed one'. It is used quite generally in the Old Testament as an epithet, both for priests and of kings. Because of this combination of the priestly office with that of a ruler it could be used by anthropologists as an apt term for the particular phenomenon which arises from a clash of a rather simple and primitive culture with a highly superior and overpowering one.
Almost in an religions and mythologies, of primitive peoples as well as of highly developed ones, there exists the memory of a Golden' Age or' Paradise, which the first ancestors of a particular people or community enjoyed. This Golden Age was created by a divine or semi-divine so-called 'culture hero', but it was lost through some human wickedness or stupidity, and the heaven-sent benefactor was forced to leave them or even punish them with all kinds of trials and tribulations. But invariably he left them with the promise to return in the distant future and to restore their lost paradise.
Thus all these peoples and races tenaciously clung to the hope that in a time of greatest distress and despair the heaven-sent saviour or Messiah would return and re-establish his dominion provided they repented and earnestly strove to put themselves in the right disposition to receive once more the same benefactions. This usually included a return to their ancient values and traditions, virtues and customs, a revival of their original religion and culture.
In the state of utter despair and perplexity in which a defeated society finds it self after a violent clash with a vastly superior conquering people, it can easily be persuaded to expect salvation only from such a divine or semi-divine saviour or messiah. Such a disheartened society is quite ready and willing to fulfil all conditions believed necessary to receive the visitation of such a heaven- sent benefactor.
In the past it has often been assumed that the frequent appearance of such messiahs among primitive and culturally backward peoples must be attributed to specifically Christian Messianic conceptions. Even if these peoples and races had refused to accept the Christian religion, they must more or less unconsciously have accepted the Messianic hopes and expectations of the Christian Faith.
But today, with a more detailed knowledge of the religions and mythologies of the peoples of the world, anthropologists are aware that the belief in the existence of a primordial Golden Age or Paradise and in a divine or semi-divine saviour and Messiah is not at all a specificum of the Christian Faith, but is shared by many other religions of the world. We find it among many tribes, peoples and nations in many parts of the world, but especially in North and South America, Asia and Africa. Most striking examples of such beliefs are the heroes of the early American high-civilisations, such as Quetzalkoatl of the Aztecs, Itzamna and Kukulcan of the Mayas, and Viracocha of the Peruvians. A dazzling god-like hero arrives in a mysterious manner, bestows many wonderful gifts on the people, teaches them cultivation and other useful skills, gives them a new code of moral behaviour and, with the promise of returning in a distant future, departs again to an unknown destination. He leaves behind him an ineradicable longing for his return.
And living high religions too entertain a strong belief in Messianism. In Islam, for instance, the belief in Muhammed as God's prophet may in itself be potent enough to create Messianic movements. This belief in Islam is mainly based on alleged prophecies of Mohammed regarding the advent of a mujaddid, a restorer of the faith after a decline of religion. Beyond this, the sectarian belief of the Shiahs in divinely-ordained religious leaders or Imams encouraged Messianic hopes, and many self-styled Imams claimed this dignity for themselves, as we shall see.
Hinduism also has its traditions of Messianism. In Vaishnavism the idea of a future saviour is intimately connected with the doctrine of the avatars or incarnations of god Vishnu. In fact it is believed that Vishnu incarnates himself whenever justice in the world is crushed by wicked men and evil triumphs. As there were in the past, so there will be numerous avatars of Vishnu in the future. But the last and most important one is that of Kalki. His life and deeds are minutely described in various Hindu scriptures, but expressly in the Kalki Purana. Kalki will be born as the son of a Brahmin. He will destroy all evil and all evil-doers in gigantic battles and holocausts. He will then perform the great horse-sacrifice (ashvamedha) and hand over the earth as a gift to the Brahmins. He will reinstate the old orders, and then go to live in a lovely forest, with the whole world in peace and happiness. The earth will produce abundantly; justice will reign, and all the people will be happy, contented and prosperous. The kings will protect the earth in justice and all men will fulfil their duties as prescribed by their caste. After a thousand years of happy rule Kalki will return to heaven.
Saivite texts are not lacking which maintain that god Shiva too has many times taken human form in order to rescue sinful mankind. The Linga Purana lists twenty-eight avatars of Shiva and the Kurma Purana (1,53) enumerates twenty-six incarnations of Shiva in the present world period. But these texts seem to be mere imitations and copies of the Vaishnava doctrine and consequently have not found such general acceptance among the Shaivites as the avatars of Vishnu among all Hindus.
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