My general disestablishmentarian disposition hides my fundamental conservativeness :) For what it is worth I sometimes hold forth on historical philosophical fragments to demonstrate the vast diversity in thought and action in this vast sub-continent of ours. The resurgence of the fundamental right wingers in the name of majoritarian rights often makes me question their locus standi in claiming to represent 'Indian' thought. While major rational systems of thought like Buddhism and jainism have its origins in India there are a number of lesser known systems that predate the vedantic hindusim that is served as a kind of one size fit 'Indian religion' today. This post is on the carvaka school of thought that is thought to have flourished at about 600 BC. A unique school of thought that has shaped modern India, it is attributed to its founder Brihaspath, who also finds place in the Indian pantheon of rishis (though they generally don't tell you why).
Wikipedia has the following to say:
The Sanskrit word Chaarvaaka is generally understood to be a compound of two words chaari and vaak; chaari means sweet, attractive and vaak means speaking. Some other meanings are also ascribed to the word, but 'sweet speaking' is the most plausible. This school of thought was also called Lokayata probably from pre-Vedic times. Lokayata would broadly mean 'prevalent among people' or 'prevalent in the world' (loka and ayata). Read the entire entry here.
Apparently the agnostics were the sweet talkers of the pre-vedic era. Guess they could not stop the cult of Soma for obvious reasons :) Booze is more attractive than relentless logic!
The humanistic text's site has the following to say
The system of philosophy named after its founder, Carvaka, was set out in the Brhaspati Sutra in India probably about 600 BCE. This text has not survived and, like similar philosophies in Greece, much of what we know of it comes from polemics against it and remarks by its critics. There is a further similarity with Greece in that this is a rationalistic and skeptical philosophy, thus undermining the widespread belief in the West that Indian philosophy is primarily religious and mystical. Amartya Sen has argued, in fact, that there is a larger volume of atheistic and agnostic writings in Pali and Sanskrit than in any other classical traditionÂGreek, Latin, Hebrew, or Arabic. He adds that this applies also to Buddhism, the only agnostic world religion ever to emerge.
CarvakaÂs philosophy developed at a time when religious dogma concerning our knowledge of reality, the constitution of the world, and the concept of an afterlife were being increasingly questioned, both in India and elsewhere. Specifically, the school of Carvaka contained within itself a materialism that ruled out the supernatural (lokayata), naturalism (all phenomena described in terms of the properties of the four elements), rejection of the Vedas (nastika), and a skepticism that included rejection of inferential logic, or induction.
One of the best sources for CarvakaÂs atheistic argument happens to be a book, Sarvadarshansamgraha (the collection of all philosophies), written in the Fourteenth Century by Madhavacarya, a Vaishnavite (Hindhu) scholar. You can read the entire entry here.
Fact of the matter is that Madavacharya is part of the bhakti movement that focused on getting vedic relegion into South India against the logical tide of Jaina beliefs & it appears carvaka logic. It was more geo-political than spiritual. In fact the southern branch of vaishnavism as represented by the iyengars (then kalai) was seeded with converts from other castes to overcome lack of support base. All our spritual leaders from the distant past to the present seem to be more interested in temporal affairs than spritual :-) Reminds me of the 'Bene Gessrit' of Frank Herberts opus 'the Dune'.