4.1. Narayana in Rig Veda is not the name of a god; but is the name of the Rishi to whom the hymn Purusha- Sukta was revealed. Purusha Sukta running into sixteen riks occurs in the last book (mandala 10: 7.90.1-16) of Rig Veda. Purusha- Sukta is the only hymn dedicated to Purusha; and is repeated in other Vedas with slight modifications.
The devatha invoked in the Sukta is Purusha the transcendental “primordial person” from whose body the universe was created. He was both sacrificer and the sacrificed, and his rite was the simulated prototype for all later Vedic sacrifices.
It is said, the Rishi and his deity (devatha) merged into one; and thus Narayana became the Purusha (Satapatha Brahmana 13. 6. 1.1). [This perhaps is just as Rishi Vamadeva merged into Shiva becoming one of the five faces of Shiva to represent the aspect of Vama or “preserver” associated with the element of water.]
4.2. Purusha Sukta visualizes the universe as a cosmic person. The universe visualized in human imagery is the Purusha (purusha evedam vishvam). He is endowed with countless heads and limbs. He has Agni in the face and mouth; the sun in eyes; moon in the mind; directions around as ears; vayu as his vital currents; Vedas as his speech; and the whole universe is settled in his heart. The space and time, the years, seasons, all creation and the very earth itself emanates from his feet.
Purusha is cosmic in nature, fills and enlivens the entire universe; yet, he also dwells hidden in heart-cave of each being as its essence, spirit and strength. He is the antaryamin, the very life of life. Purusha in this sense is the Atman. The essentials of our existence are all settled in the Purusha, like the spokes of the wheel in its hub.
Visualizing the cosmos in the image of a person is a grand analogy; and no other device appears to match that . A reciprocal reflection of that image is the man who finds in his own being a miniature universe. He finds within him the ‘sun’, the ’moon’, the ‘earth’, the ’fire’ and the ‘space’. Man is the fragmentary universe (vyasti); and Purusha is the totality (samasti). The man and universe exist in one another. ”The potency of the whole is contained in each fragment. Hence they are in me; and I am in them” (Bhagavad Gita 9.29)
Purusha is not a personal deity who creates out of nothingness. It is the cosmic process that creates and destroys because that is in its nature; just as a man’s blood creates new cells; his hair on head and body spring forth and wither away; and his stomach digests other forms of life. The acts of devouring and being devoured are successive states of everything. The processes of life and death are entwined, each giving rise to the other.
4.3. In the Samkhya context the term Purusha has the meaning of pure consciousness or spirit, as compared to matter (prakrirti) which includes our senses and intellect. Prakriti evolves, changes and binds; yet, it is inert and needs the presence of Purusha to enliven, push and impel. Purusha here is the stimulator who causes creation. It is through Prakrti that Purusha manifests himself. And, every form of creation bears this sign of duality.
When he is animated by the desire to create, Purusha is Prajapathi the creator (srashta) of all beings. Some scholars explain the giving up (sacrificing) his innate nature of purity, formlessness and transcendence is indeed the sacrifice of Purusha. In a sense, Purusha was dismembered. Prajapathi could become the creator only as a result of Purusha’s sacrifice; and all the innumerable forms of creation emanated from a common foundation, the fire of desire (Kama) of the Prajapathi. Sri Ramanuja described him as the primordial creator adi-karta cha bhutanam.
4.4. Purusha Sukta had enormous impact on the development of Vishnu; as also in molding the Vaishnava doctrines, theology and world-view.
The concept of Purusha pre-dates the emergence of Vishnu or Shiva forms. The Purusha imagery comprehends the powers associated with Agni, Indra, Vayu, Surya and yajna; and transcends, pervades all existence. For instance, it was said, the power, energy and splendor of the sun are derived from Purusha the resplendent spirit dwelling inside the solar orb, brilliant like the burnished gold. Purusha in the solar orb and the Purusha abiding in the eye were said to be established in one another. Prajapathi, who is the form of Purusha when animated, was considered the Agni on earth. Purusha was the very essence and the purpose of the yajna. Purusha pervades all existence and also resides in heart-cave of all beings.
During the later periods, Purusha came to be recognized as Vishnu and Purusha Sukta the eulogy of Vishnu, because the all-pervading Vishnu by then was identified with Surya, Agni, and Yajna (yajno vai vishnuh). The virtues and powers of Purusha and his associations with elements in nature were analogues to Vishnu relations with the Vedic deities. And, with that, Vishnu, Narayana and Purusha were all treated as one.
4.5. Some concepts emanating from Purusha Sukta appear to have guided the doctrine and theology of Vishitadvaita. For instance, the Purusha Sukta put forward the premise of the formless absolute entity (amurta) voluntarily assuming a cognizable form (murta) in order to be accessible to the aspirants. It was an act of boundless compassion (karunya) and love for the beings. Purusha is cosmic in nature and pervades all universe; yet, it resides in each being as its very essence (antaryamin).
Similarly, in Vishistadwaita, Narayana the Parama Purusha (the supreme person) is the embodiment of the Absolute the Brahman who assumed the divinely auspicious charming form (divya mangala vigraha) out of compassion for all beings. The transcendental Para Vasudeva assumed the Vyuha forms and Avatars for the benefit of all beings. Narayana Paramatman dwells in all beings and matter as the Antaryami or ‘Suksma Vasudeva’ like the ‘Smokeless flame’ seated in the ‘lotus of the heart ‘. Narayana just as the Purusha is the source of all existence and all that exists resolves in to him.
In the process Purusha, Narayana , vasudeva and Vishnu all merged in to each other.This became the basis for the Bhagavatha Dharma
Narayanaya vidmahe Vasdudevaya dhimahi
Tanno Vishnuh prachodayath
4.6. According to Sri Ramanuja, whatever is, is Brahman. His Brahman is not an impersonal Absolute but a Savisesha Brahman, a saguna Brahman i.e., Brahman endowed with countless auspicious attributes (ananta kalyana guna). He is the infinite ocean of compassion (apara karuna sindhu). He is eternal (nitya); His nature is truth (satya), knowledge (jnana) and bliss (ananda).
He is Narayana, he who originated from ‘that which has all forms and no form’. Narayana Paramapurusha alone exists; the entire existence dwells in him and he abides in all as antaryamin. Loving devotion and surrender to Narayana is the only path to Moksha, the liberation; and even that is possible only with the loving grace of Narayana. Sri Ramanuja explains Narayana as “He who is the dwelling place, i.e., the source, support and dissolving ground of all Jivas, including inert matter.” Moksha consists in the jiva remaining in undisturbed bliss in presence of Narayana in Vaikunta.
4.7. Sri Ramanuja’s concept of the Supreme is closer to that of the Rig Veda, which primarily follows Saguno-pasana. The Supreme Reality of Rig Veda, though it is beyond description or definition, is the abode of all auspicious qualities; he is sat-chit-ananda. He is the omniscient and the original cause of the world (tasyedu visva bhuvanadhi mrudani). He manifests himself as the world (Visvarupah). He is Jagat_pati, the Lord of the Universe, of all beings. He is the sustainer and the protector. He is omniscient, compassionate and easily accessible to devotees (Niyanta sunrutanam). Rig Veda firmly believes in grace of God; and calls upon all humans to establish a relationship with Deva as one would do with a son, a friend, a father or a mother. There is faith that the Devas respond to prayers and fulfill the desires of the devotees.
5.1. The famous philosopher Dr.Surendranath Dasgupta in his monumental History of Indian philosophy makes an interesting observation. In the Rig Veda, he observes, Vishnu is called as Gopa, Sipivishta, Urukrama, etc., but not as Narayana. Then he goes on to say, similarly, Bhagavad Gita does not use the term Narayana; but, the Mahabharata identifies Narayana with Vishnu. This, according to him, could show that Bhagavad Gita was composed much before Mahabharata tale was reduced to writing. He opines, Bhagavad Gita was composed when Narayana was yet to be equated with Vishnu. The name Narayana, he says, appears for the first time in the Satapatha Brahmana (xii, 3.4. L,) where, however, it is not connected with Vishnu.
6.1. The term Narayana is a compound of Nara (Man, more particularly the foundation of all men) and Ayana (the goal); meaning, Narayana is he who directs towards the ultimate goal moksha of the humans. In Mahabharata, Krishna is often referred to as Narayana and Arjuna as Nara. Here Narayana guides Nara the man towards true understanding and liberation. The epic, in fact, commences with salutations to Narayana and Nara.
6.2. The expression Narayana also suggests several other meanings; the more common of which are: ‘that which does not perish’; ‘the spirit that abides (ayana) in the water (Nara, apah) of existence’ and being the ‘goal of all knowledge’. Narayana’s association with water is very intimate. Narayana, it is said, not only resides in water but is the very essence of water. These explanations are meant to suggest that Narayana is an infinite cosmic ocean from which all creation arises, in which all beings live and into which all that exists resolves.
6.3. Further, the creation and destruction of the universe, it is believed, is neither its beginning nor its end. They are just segments of a long spread out cyclical process. When creation is withdrawn, the universe does not totally cease or is it wiped out. The universe that was destroyed persists in a subtle form as a reminder of what once was; and as a germ of what will be the next universe. That potent reminder (Sesha) of the destroyed universe is embodied in Sesha the serpent coiled itself and floating upon limitless ocean of casual waters. Sesha whose other name is Anantha (the endlessness) represents the non-evolved form of nature (prakrti).Vishnu the pervader and preserver rests on Sesha floating on water, until he wills the next cycle of creation. Vishnu then is Narayana the one who abides in water. Narayana also means ‘the abode of man and of all existence’
[There is an interesting sidelight to Narayana’s association with water. It was mentioned to me; and am not sure if it is based in a text. This has reference to the ever –going conflict between two powerful sages of the early Vedic era – Brighu and Angirasa. Brighu was the son of Varuna the Vedic deity of water-principle. The Brighu clan and followers were close to life on rivers and seas. The vast stretch of the mouths of the mighty Sarawathi as it branched into number of rivulets and joined the occasion was the domain of the Brighus. The Brighus were the people of the sea. The Angirasas were, on the other hand, closely associated with mountains, hills, dales, and vast open spaces; they lived mainly in the foothill regions of the Himalayas. The Angirasas were mountain dwellers.
The myth of churning sea-water with a mountain-head is largely seen as a symbolic representation of the oscillating conflict between the people of the sea (Brighus – Asuras) and the people of the hills (Angirasas- Devas).The Angirasas eventually won the battle; Vishnu the leader of the Angirasas (Devas) took Lakshmi (aka Bhargavi meaning Brighu’s daughter), the daughter of the vanquished sea-people, as his wife. Vishnu also derived his riches like the Kaustuba gem, Panchajanya etc from the sea; and resided among the people of the sea (Brighus). Vishnu who in early Rig Veda was a mountain dweller (giristha) eventually made his home in water. He became Narayana. ]
C. Vasudeva –Krishna
71. Krishna son of Vasudeva of the vrishni-yadava clan is the soul and spirit of the Mahabharata. Krishna alone rescued the epic from degenerating into internecine family feud; and elevated it into a conflict of great significance in order to uphold Dharma. He taught the world that the ultimate conflict was not about land, riches or power but about the human spirit, the Dharma.
7.2. Towards the end of Mahabharata, Vishnu came to be equated with Narayana and with the Supreme Being. At many places in the epic Krishna and Vasudeva are mentioned as forms of Vishnu/Narayana (MB Udyoga parva and Shanthi parva). In Bhagavad- Gita, Krishna is the virtual Supreme Being. The Anu-gita which appears at the end of Mahabharata reveres Krishna as Vishnu. There are at least six instances in Mahabharata (including the one of Bhagavad Gita) where Krishna displays his awe inspiring cosmic form (vishva rupa) to demonstrate his divine essence.
8.1. Krishna has long been worshipped and revered as Supreme god. The great grammarian Panini (8th century BCE) in his Astadhyayi explains the term vasudevaka as the devotee of Krishna –Vasudeva. Later, Patanjali (3rd century BCE) in his Maha-bhashya too defines the term bhakta (devotee) as the ‘follower of Vasudeva, God of gods’. Patanjali quotes a verse: “May the might of Krishna accompanied by Samkarshana increase!”
8.2. The Artha-shastra of Kautilya, of fourth century BC, refers several times to Krishna; while the Baudhayana Dharma Sutra of the same century gives twelve different names for Krishna, including popular ones like Keshava, Govinda, and Damodara.
8.3. The Jain god Halabhrit referred to in Jaina Puranas is identified as Baladeva or Balarama, elder brother of Krishna. He is shown with snake-hood, a club or ploughshare or both, and a wine cup.
8.4. The Ghata-jataka of the Buddhist Canon (5-6th century) carries the story of a certain Krishna who belonged to a royal family of Matura. He is the son of king Upasagara and queen Deva-garbha; but was given to the foster care of Nandagopa wife of Andaka-vrishni. This Krishna is described as a virtuous and revered person; a Rishi.
8.5. The noted historian Dr. D.C. Sircar, quoting Quintus Curtius Rufus (c. 41-54 AD) says that an image of Vasudeva-Krishna was carried in front by the army of King Paurava, as it advanced against the Greeks led by Alexander the Great (The Cultural Heritage of India, vol. 4. p. 115).
9.1. The archaeological evidences too indicate prevalence of Krishna – Vasudeva worship centuries before Christ. For instance, a stone pillar with a Garuda sculpture on top dedicated to the god Vasudeva the “God of gods”, was erected in front of Vasudeva temple by Heliodorus the Greek ambassador to the court of King Bhagabhadra (around 113 BCE, near Vidisha or Besnagar in MP).
Another second century inscription of Ghosundi (Rajasthan) mentions a pujā-silā-prākar (stone enclosure for worship) in Nārāyana-vata (park of Nārāyana) by king Gājāyana Sarvatāta constructed in service of gods Vasudeva and Sankarshana described as ‘Lords of all’.
And the Mora –well inscription assigned to first century found near Mathura (UP) refers to five heroes of vrishni clan viz Baladeva (Sankarshana), Vasudeva (Krishna), Samba (son of Krishna), Pradyumna (son of Krishna) and Aniruddha (son of Pradyumna).
Heliodorus was a Greek ambassador to India in the second century B.C. He was sent to the court of King Bhagabhadra by Antiakalidas, the Greek king of Taxila. The kingdom of Taxila was part of the Bactrian region in northwest India, conquered by Alexander the Great in 325 B.C. By the time of Antialkidas, the area under Greek rule included what is today Afghanistan, Pakistan and Punjab.
Heliodorus was presumably not the only foreigner who took to Vaisnava devotional practices ; certainly there must have been many others
The column Heliodorus erected at Besnagar in central India in about 113 B.C is considered one of the most important archaeological finds on the Indian subcontinent.
The inscriptions on the Heliodorus pillar read:
Devadevasa Va[sude]vasa Garudadhvajo ayam
karito i[a] Heliodorena bhaga
vatena Diyasa putrena Takhasilakena
Yonadatena agatena maharajasa
Amtalikitasa upa[m]ta samkasam-rano
Kasiput[r]asa [Bh]agabhadrasa tratarasa
vasena [chatu]dasena rajena vadhamanasa
Trini amutapadani‹[su] anuthitani
nayamti svaga damo chago apramado
“This Garuda-column of Vasudeva (Vishnu), the god of gods, was erected here by Heliodorus, a worshipper of Vishnu, the son of Dion, and an inhabitant of Taxila, who came as Greek ambassador from the Great King Antialkidas to King Kasiputra Bhagabhadra, the Saviour, then reigning prosperously in the fourteenth year of his kingship.”
“Three immortal precepts (footsteps)… when practiced diligently lead to heaven: self-restraint (dama), charity, (thyaga) consciousness (apramada).”
10.1. The exact relationship between Krishna and Vishnu is complex; and is a subject of endless debate. Strangely, Krishna became the point of departure for Vaishnava Schools of the North and the South. In the older traditions of the South, Narayana or Vishnu is the summum bonum , the source, support and dissolving ground of all Jivas. Krishna is an aspect or an avatar of Vishnu; not necessarily subordinate to Vishnu. However, the traditions of Gaudiya (Bengal) Vaishnavas, the Nimbarka Sampradaya and follower of Vallabha-charya consider Vasudeva-Krishna as Svayam Bhagavān “The Lord Himself “; and not different from the ultimate and absolute Brahman. Vasudeva-Krishna is the source of all avatars, and is the source of Vishnu or Narayana and all other gods.
11.1. The central doctrine of the Pancharatra ideology is that the absolute, formless Brahman, out of loving- compassion, voluntary assumed bodily forms so that the devotees may gain access to his subtle form. He manifests himself in five-fold forms: Para or the supreme form of his transcendent being; Vyuha or the group of his forms called Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha brought together in worship and adoration as a complete body of divine power, and who represent the cosmic consciousness, intellect, mind, and the ego respectively; Vibhava or his glory seen through his incarnations or Avatars; Archa or his presence manifest in his idols and images worshipped by devotees; and Antaryamin or his immanent presence within the Universe.
11.2. The approach to the divine is graded. The devotee worships the Vibhava form or the incarnation of God such as Rama and others; then moves on to worship the Vyuha forms. And, from Vyuha form he progresses to worship the subtle forms of Vasudeva. Only the Suris the truly wise ones (gods and emancipated souls) can experience and enjoy His Para form abiding in the highest realm paramapada
He is called Para because he is free and pure, altogether unconditioned by phenomenal process. Para is often referred to as ‘the first form’, ‘the best of the Purushas’ and ‘the Highest Light’ etc; But, Para is not the Absolute –Supreme –formless Brahman. Para is a representation of Brahman.
12.1. Adi – murti or Adi-Vishnu or Para-Vasudeva represents the Pancharatra ideology of the transcendental form (para) of godhead Narayana (Vishnu) abiding in the highest realm paramapada. He is called para because he originated from ‘that which has all forms and no form’, ‘Brahman without beginning, middle and end’; and because he is the all pervading divinity and the primal source of all other divine forms and manifestations. He is visualized as pure and resplendent like a clear crystal; and as the divinely auspicious charming form.
The identification of Vasudeva-Krishna with Vishnu or Para –Vasudeva had enormous impact on the Pancharatra theology.
Let’s talk about the Vyuha of the Pancharatra School in the next post.
Continued in Part Three
(i) Narayana being one of the most popular forms of Vishnu, number of texts and dhyana-slokas carry the iconographic details of Narayana. The more prominent of such texts are: Chitra-karma sastram; Parasara Samhita; Sesha Samhita; Rupamandana; and Aditya hrudaya. While the general features of Narayana resemble that of Vishnu , Sesha Samhita says, Narayana image should be placed in a solar orb (savitr –mandala) ; he should be seated upon a white lotus; and bedecked with armlets, crocodile-shaped earrings (makara – kundala) , a rich crown , the kaustubha gem and Srivatsa on the chest; and decorated with flowing garlands (vanamala) . He should be dressed in bright yellow or red garments; and holding conch and discus in his hands. The expression on his face should be bright, beautiful, smiling and evoking happiness in the hearts of the viewers. His complexion should resemble molten golden –hue or luster of blue cloud. (Sesha Samhita 34, 16)
(ii) The usual descriptions of Narayana are that he has four arms representing four vyuhas; and carrying conch, discus, mace and lotus. His complexion is blue like that of sky. His countenance is tranquil (shanta). His bearing is dignified, standing in equipoise (sama-banga) on a white lotus. He wears yellow silk garments (pitambara) and is richly adorned with gems, ornaments and flower garlands.
(i) Krishna is most adorable of all gods. There are virtually countless forms of Krishna-depictions; and can hardly be enumerated. The texts therefore suggest, Krishna may be visualized in whatever form one desires. But they lay down some broad guidelines. Krishna, it is said, is usually depicted as an adorable, lovable lad of less than fifteen years; or as a handsome and graceful young man. The boyhood of Krishna, it is suggested, could be split into five segments of three years each. The general prescription is , the images of Krishna of the age of less than three be scaled to five (pancha) tala measure (sixty angulas); the images of three to six years in six (shat) tala measure (seventy two angulas);the images of the age up to nine years in seven (sapta) tala measure (eighty-four angulas); the images of the age from nine to twelve years in eight (asta) tala measure(ninety-six angulas); and, the images of the age from twelve to fifteen years be scaled in nine (nava) tala measure( one hundred and eight angulas).
(ii) Certain depictions of boy-Krishna are stylized and are ichnographically well recognized; these are : Bala_Krishna (infant Krishna playing in mother’s lap or on leaf of banyan tree , sucking his toe); Navanita-tandava (three-year old Krishna standing on his slightly bent left-leg in a dancing pose, the right-hand holding afloat a ball of butter) ;Kaliya-mardana( a seven to nine year Krishna dancing on the hoods of the Kalia serpent , holding in his left hand the tail of the serpent); Govardhana-dhara( twelve year Krishna holding up the Govardhana hill on the tip of his little finger) and Venu-gopala (twelve-fifteen year Krishna under a tree playing on the flute , he stands in tri-bhanga posture and wears a peacock feather in his hair).
(iii) Krishna as a young man is depicted lovingly in company of Rukmini or Radha or other gopis;
or as Govardhana or as Partha-sarathy the teacher of Arjuna on the battle field.
The image of Krishna as a young person is scaled in ten (dasa) tala measure (120 angulas). His complexion resembles light-blue sky; he is clad in garments of golden-hue (the colour of Radha); lovingly adorned with ornaments, flowing garlands swinging across his chest, a beautiful light crown with a peacock feather tucked on top. He could be holding a flute or a baton (danda); his left hand bent at elbow and slightly lifted up in jest. He has a gentle, sweet smile playing on his lips and face; and a sparkle glowing in his eyes.
(iv) Krishna is depicted with two hands as also with four or eight hands.
(v) There is also a rare depiction of Krishna in the Tantric tradition.
Isvara Samhita (4: 80 to 102) gives a detailed description of the Para Vasudeva. He has four arms and is resting on Adi-sesha, attended by Garuda, Visvaksena, Nitya-suris and others. He carries lotus (symbolizing creation), discus (protection), conch (salvation) and mace (destruction).He is shining like a clear crystal; and is dressed in golden yellow garments. His other features are similar to that of Vishnu.
Sources and References
I gratefully acknowledge the line-drawings and notes from Brahmiya Chitrakarma Sastram
by Prof G Gnanananda
Vishnu Kosha by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao
Krishna with cow drawings from http://www.drdhaarts.com/portfolio/?q=node/8
Other pictures from internet