Round Table India
You Are Reading
Buddha and Brahmam: A Brief Comparison
Heritage History

Buddha and Brahmam: A Brief Comparison

spva sairam

Dr. SPVA Sairam

This article aims to draw parallels between Buddha and Brahmam. As is known, Buddha was born in 563 B.C. and Potuluri Veera Brahmam lived during the 17th century in today’s Rayalaseema region. Both of them had revolted against the unjust social order of their times and embraced the oppressed into their fold.

Here are some of the parallels between Buddha and Brahmam

1] Gospel of Equality: Attacking Caste and Gender Inequalities

Speaking about Buddha’s revolt against Chaturvarna, Babasaheb Ambedkar observed:

“The Buddha opposed it root and branch. He was the strongest opponent of caste and the earliest and staunchest upholder of equality. There is no argument in favor of caste and inequality which he did not refute. There were many Brahmins who challenged Buddha on this issue. But he silenced them completely.” [1]

Buddha’s dialogues with Assalayana, Vasettha, Esukari and others bear ample testimony as to how Buddha attacked Chaturvarna with potent force [2].

The positive social impact created by Buddhism was later overturned by the Counter-revolution initiated by Pushyamitra Shunga. By the time Brahmam was born, society had been degraded further with the proliferation of innumerable castes. Humanity had sunk into its lowest level with the wide prevalence of untouchability.

Speaking about the moral state of his times, Brahmam remarked:

“By forgetting human values,

We have degraded into wild animals;

Without any morality and manners.”

Condemning the caste distinctions, Brahmam asserted:

“When the ‘same’ plough is used to produce food which is eaten by ‘all’,

Why should there be ‘differences’ on the basis of caste?

Everyone walking on this land has the same rights irrespective of their Caste!”

Interestingly, he used prophecy as a means to attack the so-called upper castes; he mocked them by saying:

“In future, those who babble of Caste

And gotra will suffer the fruit of their sin,

While those who desert the madness of Caste will reach the greater truth.”

“The day will come when people said to be of the highest birth will be less honored, while those said to be of the lowest birth will be greatly honored on earth.”

When the notorious doctrine of Karma professed that everything is predetermined, Brahmam attacked it by stating everything is subject to change and that change is the only constant.

There is also a need to understand his prophecies (Kaalagnanam) as attempts made by him to instill hope in the lives of the destitute, but not as some sily superstition.

Speaking about the profound impact of these prophecies on Scheduled Castes, author Vinodini has observed:

“His words continue to inspire the Dalit community even today. It gave them courage and self-reliance…  His words has created a great belief that in the future, they too will get recognition in the society as ‘humans’… This is the reason why the play (drama) ‘Sri Potuluri Veerabrahmendra Swamy’ has been played lakhs of times in villages, especially in Dalit colonies.” 

He offered a similar sense of hope to the suffering women; he said :

     “Throughout the three yugas,

      Women have been severely afflicted

      Under male chauvinism,

      But in this Kali Yuga,

      They will rule the earth.”

2] Opposition to superstitions, sacrifices and Idolatry:

Condemning sacrifices and ceremonies in his own style, Gautam Buddha remarked [3]:

“Sacrifices are a waste. Animal sacrifices are cruelties. Sacrifices cannot be part of religion. It is a worst form of religion which says you can go to heaven by killing an animal.”

Buddha believed that ceremonies and sacrifices lead to superstition. In the words of Babasaheb [4]:

“He was against religious rites, ceremonies, and observances. He was against them because they were the home of superstition and superstition was the enemy of Samma Ditthi, the most important element in his Ashtang Marg.”

Speaking nearly 2000 years after Buddha, Veera Brahmam reminded the thinking humanity of their responsibilities to fight against superstitions and ceremonies.

 He said:

“A true ‘Buddha’ is the one who seeks freedom for those who are deeply doused in the ocean of superstitions.”+

He abhorred idolatry. He questioned why should an idol made of a lifeless stone be given priority over the lives of poor people? (5)

Attacking the mad worship of idols, he retorted:

“Ye, the ignorant and the innocent! Hark! Salute not the stones insignificant

 For thou shalt spoil thine own conscience!”

Condemning the wrongful ways of seeking refuge, he remarked:

“When mind becomes impassioned,

Why all this irrelevant dialogue?

Why gossip with others?

Pooh! Reeling and falling down

Under the intoxication of

The toddy and the opium and the arrack?

Why pilgrimage to temples?

Tush spiritual knowledge!

Nay, seek not refuge

At the feet of vain, false preceptors and harlots!

Why is the little knowledge you gained, be lost in no time?”

If taking refuge in aforementioned things is wrong, then what is the right way?

 He advised us by saying:

“Well, well and good, if thine looks are kept steady on the splendid light, shining from within thyself.”

It is needless to mention that he was echoing the spirit of Buddha who said “Atta Deep Bhava” (Be thy own light).

2] Admission of oppressed and destitute into Sangha:

It is easy to preach but difficult to practice. That is why the great Tukaram has said:

“I shall fall on the feet of those who practice what they preach.”

What makes Buddha, Brahmam and other emancipators unique and great is the fact that they were able to apply or practice the principles they preached.

As is well known, when Shudras and Women were denied rights of humanity in the Indo-Aryan society, it was Buddha who embraced them by admitting into his Sangha.

The significance of this event was profoundly explained by Dr Ambedar when he wrote [6]:

“According to Hinduism, neither a Shudra nor a woman could become a teacher of religion nor could they take Sannyasa and reach God. Buddha, on the other hand, admitted Shudras to the Bhikkhu Sangha. He also admitted women to become Bhikkhunis. Why did he do so? Few people seem to realize the importance of this step. The answer is that Buddha wanted to take concrete steps to destroy the gospel of inequality.”

Naturally, the caste society began to hate Buddhism, as Babasaheb noted [7]:

“The elevation of the status of the Shudras and women was so much the result of the gospel of Buddhism that Buddhism was called by its enemies as the Shudra religion (i.e. the religion of the low classes).”

 If admitting oppressed into Sangha signifies ‘concrete steps to destroy the gospel of inequality’, then Veera Brahmam must be bestowed with similar praises, for he had not only admitted Shudras [8] and women but also Untouchables into his fold.

For this, he had to face severe opposition from the caste society, but no amount of animosity was able to stop his resolution to disseminate equality in the society.

The great Buddha didn’t mind about the qualifications of women before admitting them into his fold, as Rhys Davids observed [9]:

“Buddha did not place any premium on virginity as such. He kept his way open to all classes of women— married, unmarried, widows and even to prostitutes. All could acquire merit, freedom, dignity and equality along with the man.”

Same is the case with Brahmam; going against the dictates of his day, he said:

“One shouldn’t feel ashamed to receive wisdom either from a widow or an Untouchable woman. Wisdom belongs to all and it must be accepted from anyone irrespective of sex.”

He put this into practice by declaring his daughter and granddaughter as his successors. As has been observed by Vinodini:

“Though he had five sons, he left the math to his only daughter, Veeranaryanamma, an inspirational figure herself.”

His granddaughter Isvaramma was equally remarkable. Caste society couldn’t tolerate the fact that an unmarried woman from a non-Brahmin background was preaching a vision of egalitarian society, therefore it had subjected her to severe criticism. Despite facing the wrath from caste society, she went on to propagate the ideals of Brahmam in different regions of Telugu land. In this process, she has inspired countless people, notable among them was an extraordinary untouchable saint-poet called Dunna Iddhasu (he hailed from Nalgonda district).

Besides Isvaramma, some of the well known followers of Brahmam were Kakkayya (an untouchable) and Siddhhayya (a lower caste mussalman).

3] Dedicating their lives to masses:

During their lifetime, Buddha and Brahmam were invited by many kings to accept their royal privileges, but they had rejected them. They proudly proclaimed that they would live and die amidst the poor masses. Defying all odds, they traveled extensively to innumerable places to preach their gospel of common good.

Conclusion: Need to restore and reclaim Veera Brahmam

Counter-revolutionaries are experts in conflating reality with innumerable myths. To use the words of George Rylands: “The meagre facts fill a sheet of notepaper, myth and conjecture overstock a library.” [10]

Speaking about the same in the context of Brahmam and Vemana, K. Purushottam noted [11]:

“However, their writings (anti-caste icons) were made unavailable or misrepresented. Their lives too had been relegated to the margins. Veera Brahmam, for instance was said to have committed sajiva samadhi, burying oneself alive. There is however, an interpretation that he might have been buried alive or forced him commit sajiva samadhi… Another mystic poet, Vemana was brushed aside as mad during his social activism. About a hundred years after the death of Vemana, C.P. Brown (1798-1884), an English officer, who had learnt and served the Telugu language, could trace out Vemana’s lost verses. He had to depend upon the local educated Brahmins, who worked as his scribes for wages. In the process, the scribes had either suppressed or misrepresented most of the verses. What is available of Vemana’s verses today is the result of Brown’s efforts.”

There is a serious need to discard all these accretions that have grown over the compositions of Brahmam garu to exhume the truth.

Babasaheb had taken up this noble task for Buddha. He noted, “Mythology though it is history in hyperbole is still history.” [12] Based on this logical premise, he made serious analysis of Buddhism to discard all the accretions that have grown over it.

By doing so, he has not only rescued Buddha from the clutches of legends and myths but also restored his correct place in history by juxtaposing him against the degraded state of Aryan society.

Something similar ought to be done for Veera Brahmam, Basvanna, Akkamahadevi, Vemana, Ravidas, Chokhamela, Kabir, Nandanar and other emancipators.

Most importantly, we also need to reclaim our icons. No one has emphasized it better than Gorati venkanna when he said[13]:

“We must claim our icons and their legacy unequivocally, otherwise our enemies will claim them and use against us.”

By reclaiming our icons, we are reclaiming our history and as Dr Ambedkar said, “Those who don’t know history can not make history.” [14]



The following books are referred to understand the life sketch and poems of Veera Brahmam garu

* Saamajika Viplavakaarudu Potuluri Veerabrahmam (collection of essays) edited by Rachapalem Chandrasekhar Reddy

* Veerabrahmam Padyalu: Vyaakyanam by Rachapalem Chandrasekhar Reddy

*Potuluri Veerabrahmam: Vimarshana Vyasalu published by C. P. Brown bhasha parishidhana kendram, Kadapa.

*Swami Sri Veerabrahmendra by Dr V.V.L.Narsimha Rao (english)

General References

1] Buddha and his Dhamma, page 302, Volume 11 of BAWS

2] ibid, from page 303

3] Let no one assume that Buddha was against consumption of meat, he made a clear distinction between need to kill and will to kill. See from page 346, Volume 11 of BAWS

4] From page 254, Volume 11 of BAWS

5] Those enthusiastic people who accuse Ambedkarites of idol worship of the Buddha must read these words of Babasaheb, he wrote:

“There is nothing wrong in idolatry. Making an idol is nothing more than having a photograph of the deity and if there can be no objection to keeping a photograph what objection can there be to having an image. Real objection to Hindu idolatry is that it is not mere photography, not mere production of an image. It is more than that. The Hindu idol is a living being and is endowed with all the functions of a human being. A Hindu idol is given life by means of a ceremony called Pranapratishtha. The Buddhists also are idolatrous in as much as they too worship Buddha’s idol. But the idol they worship is only a photograph, a mere image. There is no soul in it.” (Riddle Number 11, Volume 4 of BAWS)

6]From page 100, Volume 17(2) of BAWS

7] From 310, Volume 3 of BAWS

8] It is incorrect to refer to these heterogeneous masses across sub continent as Shudras, but as Babasaheb observed though they were not Shudras in the original sense, they were subjected to those penalties that were originally devised for Shudras of Indo Aryan Society. (See Volume 7 of BAWS for more)

9] Preface to Therigatha by Rhys Davids, quoted in Volume 17(2) of BAWS (page 121)

10] The Ages of Man: A Shakespeare Anthology, selected and arranged by George Rylands

11]Vol. XV. No.1, Kakatiya Journal of Historical Studies

12] From page 419, Volume 3 of BAWS


14]  See Volume 1 of Dr. Ambedkar speaks, edited by Narendra Jadhav

+I guess that even the idol of Potuluri Veera Brahmam at Ravvala Konda cave was modified from Buddha’s image.

I need not stress the association of Snake with the sculptures of Buddha. It is interesting that Brahmam has used the word Buddha in this poem. There is an urgent need to study this connection.


Dr. SPVA Sairam is a dentist by profession.