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The other migrations

Ila

1.1. It is said; the Vedic region broadly comprised three areas:  Ila the western regions, Bharathi the tracts of the alluvial plains of the Ganga and Jamuna do-ab, and the third region being of course the Sindhu or the Sarasvati.

1.2. There is a view which asserts that ’Ila’, in fact, refers to the Land’s End  of the Sothern India the parts of which were rescued from the Great Flood  of  the very distant past. It also mentions about the migration of people from the lands threatened by flood waters towards safe upper reaches and to regions in the North. The ancient texts such as Shatapatha Brahmana and the Puranas as also the ancient Tamil texts seem to support that view. Let’s talk of Ila of the South.

Yayathi and sons

2.1. Yayathi the legendry king of the Vedic people is said to have had two wives: Devayani the daughter of Shukrachaya of the Bhrigu clan; and Sharmishta the daughter of Vrisha Parvan, the King of Asuras in the south west (Gujarat area) bordering the central region ruled by Yayathi. Vrisha Parvan too was a follower of the Bhrigus.

Devayani had earlier fallen in love, desperately, with Kaccha the son of Brihaspathi of the Angirasa clan. But her love was rejected.

2.2. Turvasha and Yadu were sons of Yayathi (an Angirasa) by Devayani of the Bhrigus; while Anu, Druhyu and Puru were his sons by Sharmishta of the Asuras.

2.3. Yayathi’s story indicates that the five great lines of Vedic rulers were born of an alliance of Deva and Asura kings, the followers of Angirasa and Bhrigu seers. Yayathi’s marriage with the Bhrigu women was perhaps an attempt to bring together the two rival clans.

2.4. According to Vishnu Purana (4.10.17-18) the king Yayathi divided his kingdom among his five sons . To Turvasha he gave the south-east; to Druhayu the west; to Yadu the south and west in the Narmada –Godavari region; to Anu the north; and to Puru the centre. Purus ruled as the Supreme king of all earth.

dhanāśā jīvitāśā ca jīryato ‘pi na jīryataḥ // ViP_4,10.17 //
pūrṇaṃ varṣasahasraṃ me viṣayāsaktacetasaḥ /
tathāpy anudinaṃ tṛṣṇā mamaiteṣv eva jāyate // ViP_4,10.18 //

2.5. In the lineage of the Puranas, the Purus and Yadus rule famously, for long years, as the prominent kings of Chandra-vamsha, the lunar dynasty. The descendents of Puru and Yadu branched into Pauravas and Yadavas, respectively. Dushyanata followed by his son Bharata was the pioneer of the Puru clan in which line descended the Kuru and Pandava princes. While, Krishna son of Yadava prince Vasudeva was the culmination of the Yadu clan.

The west and the south combine

3.1. Turvasha and Yadu, the two sons of Devayani of the Bhrigus were said to be twins; and were particularly close. The kings of the Dravida region were the descendents of Turvasha, while the kings of the island of Sri Lanka were Yadus. The regions ruled by the two clans stretched from the upper regions of the Narmada to the end of Southern land mass which perhaps extended   beyond the present-day Sri Lanka. The entire region was ruled practically as one kingdom, because the ruling families in the South had very friendly relations with the Yadus of the Narmada region in the west. All were in the line of the Bhrigus.

3.2. The later legends mention of the sizable presence of the Asuras- Yadus – Brighus in the Narmada and Godavari region. It is said that Lavana, a Yadu and a disciple of the Brighus controlled that region. Lavana was related to Ravana who was a Yadu; a militant Yadu just as Kamsa of Mathura in the much later era. The followers of Lavana (including Ravana’s sister) roamed freely in the region. It was from this area that Ravana abducted Sita.

The Deluge and after

4.1. The Shatapatha Brahmana (I.8.1.1) describes the floods that swept the lands of the Vedic people, the rescue of the lands from the advancing floods; and of moving people and animals threatened by waters to the upper regions in the North. The other Vedic texts too carry similar legends of floods and the rescue. The later Puranas   and Srimad Bhagavatam turned the great event associated with the rescue from the floods into the legend of Matsya-Avatara of Vishnu, his emergence as a Fish, the first of his ten principal incarnations.

manave ha vai prātaḥ | avanegyamudakamājahruryathedam
pāṇibhyāmavanejanāyāharantyevaṃ tasyāvanenijānasya matsyaḥ pāṇī āpede (I.8.1)

4.2.The Shatapatha Brahmana (I.8.1.5) says that a little fish (a shaphari crap fish)  asked a  king to save its life while he was performing his early morning- austerities  standing in the river : and it kept growing bigger and bigger. The fish also informed the King of a huge flood which would soon hit and sweep away his land. The King thereafter built a huge boat to rescue his people, nine types of seeds, and animals in order to repopulate the earth. Accordingly, the king was taken to a Northern Mountain, where all were saved from the flood.

tamevam bhṛtvā samudram abhyavajahāra | sa yatithīṃ tatsamām paridideṣa tatithīṃ samāṃ  nāva mupakalpyopāsāṃ cakre sa augha utthite nāva-māpede taṃ sa matsya
upanyā pupluve tasya śṛṅge nāva pāśam pratimumoca tenaitam uttara
girim
atidudrāva 1.8.1.[5]

[H.S. Bellamy in his Moons, Myths and Men, estimates that altogether there are over 500 Flood legends worldwide. Ancient civilizations such as – China, Babylonia, Wales, Russia, India, America, Hawaii, Scandinavia, Sumatra, Peru, and Polynesia- each has its own version of a giant flood].

5.1. The common features of most (not all) of the Indian legends of the Great Flood are: The king who rescued the land and its people from the encroaching flood waters was Satyavrata of Bhrigu clan, perhaps a king in line of Yadu or Turvasha. He ruled in the Southern region — Dravida Desha. When the little fish jumped into his palms holding water as offering to gods, the king Satyavrata was standing in the waters of the river Kritamala flowing down from Malaya Hills .

Bhagavata Purana (8.24.12-13) also mentions that a fish jumped into the palms of King Satyavrata  of Dravida Desha (Dravieśvara), holding water – Satyavrato añjaligatā saha toyena Bhārata.

Tasyā añjalyudake kācic chaphary ekā abhyapadyata / Satyavrato añjaligatā saha toyena bhārata / utsasarja  nadītoye śapharī Dravieśvara BhP_08.24.012-13

After he built the boat, Satyavrata sailed north, away from the floods, and he rescued humans, nine types of animals and plants by taking them to safety in the regions of north and west.

Ila is the name of Satyavrata’s daughter; she is described as Maitra-Varuni (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: 6. 4.28) suggesting she descended from the line of the Bhrigus.  Ila is also the name of the land the parts of which were rescued from the flood waters.

athāsya mātaram abhimantrayate — ilāsi maitrāvaruṇī vīre vīram ajījanat |
sā tvaṃ vīravatī bhava yāsmān vīravato ‘karad iti 

5.2. The Malaya hills mentioned in the legends refer to the ranges in the peninsular region of India stretching south from Sri Sailam to the southern end of the Western Ghats, which could be the border areas between the Nilgiri Hills and the Anaimalai Hills. An account of the pilgrimages undertaken by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534) mentions: “The Lord next visited the places known as Pandya-Desa, Tamraparni…, Panangudi, Carntapura, Sri Vaikuntha, Malaya-parvata and Kanya-kumari”.  As regards the Kritamala River, it is believed to be the Vaigai River or its tributary. The river Kritamala is mentioned in Mahabharata in the context of Balarama’s pilgrimage: “After the Setubandha (Ramesvaram) Lord Halayudha then visited the Krtamala and Tamraparni (of the Tirunelveli district) rivers and the great Malaya Mountains”. Kritamala is also mentioned in the travel accounts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Satyavrata might have therefore been a Yadu king of the Pandya country.

The king Satyavrata later became the progenitor of this eon: Vaivasvata Manu. He then was described as being in the line of the Vivasvan, an Aditya, a solar deity. Here too, Ila is his daughter.

The Rig Veda (I.31.11) mentions that Ila  , the daughter of Manu was the first teacher to the sons of mortals. She is associated as a River, and also with Agni.

tvām agne prathamam āyum āyave devā akṛṇvan nahuasya viśpatim | Iām akṛṇvan manuasya śāsanīm pitur yat putro mamakasya jāyate || RV_1.031.11||

5.3. All these suggest that king Satyavrata came from the South (Draviḍeśvaraḥ). And, the lands and people rescued from the deluge were part of a large landmass called Ila or Ilavar or Ilam named after the daughter of king Satyavrata who became Vaivasvata Manu. The people rescued from Southern waters were moved to north and west. And, the Vedas existed before and after the deluge.

The Land of Ila

6 . 1. That fuels the argument that ancient Ila – mandalam ‘The Land of Ila’ lay to the South, and its Vedic- tradition of the Aryans was rescued by the efforts its king and his people. And thereafter   , following a great migration, it rejoined the Vedic culture on the banks of the Saraswati River and flourished afresh. Since the rescue was by means of a huge boat that could sail over turbulent waters, the rescued population of the South could have reached the Saraswati basin by setting sail from a port situated along the west coast, nearer to the Pandya country. That possibility seems to give wings to the view that some of the early Vedic people in the Sindhu valley were migrants from Ila of the South; and that an early form of Dravidian language was one of the languages of the Indus people. Scholars assert that the Dravida influence was certainly present in north-western India by around the middle of the second millennium BC.

Shri Bhadriraju   Krishnamurti in his ‘The Dravidian Languages  Cambridge University Press, 2003 ; mentions that the Rig Vedic society consisted several different ethnic components who all participated in the same cultural life; and that the Rig Vedic Sanskrit had several borrowed-terms from the Dravidian e.g. ulukhala (mortar); kunda (pit); khala (threshing floor); kana (one eyed); and mayura (peacock).

dravidian languages

Dravidian languages

6.2. A Russian Indologist, Nikita Gurov, claims that there were as many as eighty words of Dravidian origin in the Rig-Veda, ‘occurring in 146 hymns of the first, tenth and the other mandalas , e.g. RV 1.33.3, vaila (sthana-) -open space : wayal– open space , sunlight ; RV. 10.15, kiyambu –a water plant; RV 1.144, vril – finger: RV 1. 8.40, vilu- stronghold; witu – house, abode, camp; sira – plough; and kanuka –gift. Gurov also cites some proper names, namuci, kıkata, paramaganda; and suggests these could be of Dravidian origin.

6.3. The legends of Ila thus help to bind together the Vedic tales and the tales from the old Tamil texts.

The ancient Tamil legends

7.1. The ancient Tamil texts recall legends of a sunken kingdom that lay to the South-East of India. This land was known as Kumari Kandam ‘The Virgin Landmass’ or Ilam; and it included other parts of the now visible lands of Sri Lanka. That could be quite possible, since in the scale of geological time, the mountain ranges in the south-central Sri Lanka are regarded the oldest in the world. The geologists believe that these mountains existed while the Himalayan regions were still under water.

The Silappadhikaram, one of the Five Great Epics of Tamil Literature   said to have been written in first few centuries BCE, states that the ‘cruel sea’ took the Pandiyan land that lay between the rivers Pahruli and the mountainous banks of the Kumari.

Adiyarkkunallar, a 12th-century commentator on the Silappadhikaram, explains that there was once a land to the south of the present-day Kanyakumari, which stretched for 700 kavatam from the Pahruli River in the north to the Kumari River in the south. the precise modern equivalent of a kavatam is not known. The speculations about the extent of the lands devoured by the ocean range from 6-7,000 square miles;  or  a smaller area .

lemuria-kumari-kandam-mapcropped-maxresdefault

(https://pparihar.com/2014/01/17/the-kumari-kandam/)

7.2. The deluge and its consequences caused large movements of people towards the upper regions in the north and to west. Early Tamil texts  mention that the present-day Madurai came up as  the new capital in remembrance of the old  capital Ten-Madurai sunken underwater (the ruins of Ten-Madurai are supposed to be lying under water in the region of the Great and Little Bases in the Indian Ocean off the south eastern coast of Sri Lanka).

7.3. Even several centuries after its  surrounding lands submerged under the sea , the author of The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (dated around the first century) names the island of Sri Lanka as  Palaisimoondus  , which actually meant Palaya –ila- mandalam, meaning the old-land – of Ilam.

(please see the map or  click here for an enlarged version).

[ After a deadly tsunami hit the coast of Mahabalipuram on 26 December 2004; and, uncovered some stone remains of a structure , the BBC, on 11 February 2005 , reported that the Archaeologists  believe these could be the remains of an ancient port city that flourished off the coast in southern India, housing the famous 1200-year-old rock-hewn temple.]

Sage Agastya

8.1. The sage Agastya a revered seer of the South was the brother of sage Vasistha. The two are described as Bhrigus and carried the name Maitra-varuni; say like, Agastya Maithravaruni. The Puranas describe them as born out of water (children of Varuna), perhaps to suggest that the brothers escaped the flood waters and sailed out of it.

The brothers helped in controlling the floods and in rescuing the people. Thereafter Vasistha sailed back north along with the rescued people, while his brother Agastya stayed in the South. He then settled down at an ashram in the lower regions of   Western Ghats.

Vasistha seemed to have enjoyed his voyage back home and recalls the happy days on board the ship:

“Boarding the ship, when Varuna and I entered the mid-ocean and floated with other vessels on water we indeed very much enjoyed the delightful rocking of the ship “(RV 7. 88. 3-4).

 ā yad ruhāva varuṇaś ca nāvam pra yat samudram īrayāva madhyam |
 adhi yad apāṃ snubhiś carāva pra preṅkha īṅkhayāvahai śubhe kam |7,088.03|
vasiṣṭhaṃ ha varuṇo nāvy ādhād ṛṣiṃ cakāra svapā mahobhiḥ |
 stotāraṃ vipraḥ sudinatve ahnāṃ yān nu dyāvas tatanan yād uṣāsaḥ |7,088.04|

8.2. Agastya seems to have been a remarkable sage. He is described as ‘born small, not more than a span in length”; nonetheless he travelled from north to south along with eighteen groups of disciples chartering a new land route to South; and for that feat, he was accorded the epithet Vindhya-kuta, the one who tamed the Vindhyas . Until then, the chain of the Vindhya mountains,  though by no means as impressive as the Himalayas, formed  a formidable  barrier between the North and the peninsula . And, the people were forced to use mainly the rivers or the coast to move about within the sub-continent. There were of course no regular roads during those times; and travel by land routes was very hazardous. The position remained so until about late 19th century.

[The Sea route

sea route

I reckon even the people of Harappa used the river or canal transport wherever expedient. With Himalayas being a vast stretch of high mountains, horribly cold and inhospitable, India’s trade and contacts with other countries had to be mainly through the sea routes, particularly through the ports along its west coast. Even during the earliest periods, it is said, the Bhrigus who dwelt in the Indus and the lower Narmada valley were great navigators, expert mariners, and enterprising tradesmen who controlled the trade between India and the peoples to its west, such as the Assyrians.

[As Prof. AL Basham  mentions in his monumental work – The Wonder That Was India- :

The importance of the mountains to India is not so much in the isolation which they give her, as in the fact that they are the source of her two great rivers. The clouds drifting northwards and west¬ wards in the rainy season discharge the last of their moisture on the high peaks, whence, fed by ever-melting snow, innumerable streams flow southward, to meet in the great river systems of the Indus and the Ganges. On their way they pass through small and fertile plateaux, such as the valleys of Kashmir and Nepal, to debouch on the great plain…

The roads were dangerous to the merchant-caravans. Many of the trade routes linking centers of civilization passed through dense jungle, and over hills where wild tribes dwelt. ..The great rivers were used to carry both goods and passengers in vessels  large and small. Chief of these was the Ganges, the artery of the Great Plain, but the Indus and the rivers of the Deccan were also important as trade routes.

*

The chief ports of ancient India were on the West Coast—Bhrgukaccha, Supara, not far from the modern Bombay, and Patala, on the Indus delta. Hence coastal shipping plied to the South and to Ceylon, and westwards to the Persian Gulf and the RedSea until, in the 1st century a.d., seamen took to using the monsoon winds to sail straight across the Indian Ocean to the ports of South India. In the East the Ganges Basin was served by the river port of Campa, from which ships sailed down the Ganges and coasted to the South and Ceylon.

The merchants and seamen of Roman Egypt knew India well, and there survives a remarkable seaman’s guide, compiled in Greek by an anonymous author towards the end of the 1st century a.d.. The Periplus of the Erylhrean Sea. From the Periplus, Ptolemy’s Geography, of the following century, and the early Tamil poems which look back to this period, we learn much of the trade of the Tamil lands. Here many flourishing ports are mentioned, the three chief being  iVfuÿiri, known to the Greeks as JVfusiris, in the Cera country (Malabar), Korkai, in the land of the Panclyas, not far from the modern Tuticorin, and Kavirippattinam, the chief port of the Cola country, at the mouth of the Kaviri.

 In the early centuries of the Christian era maritime trade became most vigorous, especially with the West, where the Roman Empire demanded the luxuries of the East in great quantities. With the fall of the Roman Empire the trade with the West declined somewhat, though it was maintained by the Arabs, and improved gradually with the rising material standards of medieval Europe. Before the time of the Guptas contact was made by sea between South India and China, and as trade with the West declined that with China increased, the Chinese demand for Indian spices, jewels, perfumes, and other luxury commodities continuing down to the present day]

****

The ancient Indian naval ships protected trade and carried troops to war zones. Kautilya (c. 4th century BCE) in his Arthashastra mentions the protection of the kingdom’s shipping and destruction of those threatening it, such as pirate ships (himsrika). However, while Kautilya devotes many pages on to how to fight on land and on wartime espionage and siege warfare, he is completely silent on naval warfare. While the army and forts are part of the seven constituents (saptanga) of a king’s sovereignty, without which he could not call himself king, the navy is not. The navy created by Chandragupta Maurya (321 BCE – 297 BCE) thus most likely performed these coast guard functions in keeping with Kautilya’s views.

In the Mauryan Empire where the 30-member war office was made up of six boards, the first board looked after shipping and was headed by the navadhyaksha (Superintendent of Ships). The navadhyaksha is tasked by the Arthashastra with examining accounts related to navigation and maintaining security over different kinds of water bodies. He is not given any direct military role. No naval battle fought by the kingdom of Magadha (6th century BCE – 4th century BCE), the Mauryas, or any other succeeding dynasty like the Guptas (3rd century CE – 6th century CE), has as yet come to light. Neither do the contemporary works elaborate on or discuss in detail the naval aspect of warfare.

The main aim was thus to protect maritime trade, merchant ships, port towns, and shipping in general. Any naval operation, whenever carried out, would have been very small-scale and on inland rivers rather than the high seas, since the maritime trade of most of these kingdoms was through rivers. The navy, when created by a dynasty based in the landlocked northern or eastern parts of India, does not seem to have been used aggressively or for conquest. In case of the Guptas and later dynasties, ships did exist as part of the army, but their use was much limited and not as extensive as the land forces. They were mostly used to conquer islands, as has been presumed for the campaign of the Gupta emperor Samudragupta (335 CE – 380 CE), or for fighting seafaring peoples as the Satavahanas (1st century BCE – 2nd century CE) did. 

In the western, southern, and (coastal) eastern parts of India, the situation was markedly different. Being situated on the sea coast, the dynasties there relied heavily on maritime trade and the sea and built navies that were used in war. To them, the navy was an essential part of the military establishment along with the land forces. It was in these parts and the adjacent high seas that ancient India saw most of its naval warfare in practice. The most compelling reason was the capture of the highly lucrative foreign trade of the enemy; it was necessary to destroy the navy that protected it. Combined with land warfare, war on the sea became a prerequisite for defeating the seafaring enemy.

The dynasties which had well-developed navies were:

    • Mauryas (4th century BCE – 2nd century BCE)
    • Pallavas (3rd century CE – 9th century CE)
    • Cholas (4th century BCE – 13th century CE)
    • Early Cheras (3rd century CE – 9th century CE)
    • Later Cheras or Kulashekharas (9th century CE – 12th century CE)
    • Chalukyas of Vatapi (6th century CE – 8th century CE)
    • Palas (8th century CE – 12th century CE) 

Western coast  

Local dynasties like the Mauryas of Konkan maintained a navy as well as coastal forts. The navy of the Early Cheras was developed to protect trade as most of the ports involved in international trade, particularly with Rome, fell under Chera territory. This fleet was extensively used in fighting foreign (exact identity unknown) pirates and against the rival kings supporting them. The Later Cheras or the Kulashekhara dynasty continued this naval tradition. Their war fleet was stationed near Kandalur Salai (modern-day Valiasala, Kerala state). Port towns, such as Vizhinjam (present-day Vizhinjam, Kerala state), were also heavily fortified. The Vatapi Chalukyas maintained a vast fleet that was used to transport thousands of troops to the war zones on land.

Southern & south-eastern coast

The Cholas, in time, became ancient India’s leading naval power. Beginning with Raja Raja I (985 CE – 1014 CE) who triumphed over the fleet of the Kulashekhara king Bhaskara Ravivarman I (962 CE – 1019 CE), successive Chola kings destroyed the Kulashekhara fleet off Kandalur Salai, conquered islands such as Lakshadweep (part of India) and the Maldives, and sent overseas expeditions to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

The existence of the navy did not always help either. Despite being the prime maritime power, the Cholas were beaten many times on land by land-based powers such as the Rashtrakutas (8th century CE – 10th century CE) and the Kalyani (Western) Chalukyas (10th century CE – 12th century CE). As these powers existed outside the Chola naval zone of influence and operation, the navy could not be used against them and thus could not help in avenging or preventing the disastrous losses on land.     

Ships & crew

The ancient Indians had a good knowledge of the materials, varieties, and properties of wood which went into the making the different classes of ships. The Yuktikalpataru written by King Bhoja (c. 1010 CE – 1055 CE) of Malwa is the only ancient Indian work dealing in detail with the subject of shipping. It mentions a kind of vessel called agramandira, which had its cabins towards the prows and was thus seen as being suitable for naval warfare (rane kale ghanatyaye). One such ship is depicted in the Ajanta paintings (Cave II). It is a seagoing vessel with high stem and stern and has three oblong sails attached to three masts and ports. Steering-oars hang in sockets or rowlocks on the side, with an oar behind.

Ships were single, double, or triple-masted. The mast was known as naudandaka. The shipbuilding harbours were known as navataksheni. Ships were both large and sturdy, equipped with up to a hundred oars, as they had to carry thousands of troops across many nautical miles.

In the Arthashastra there is a mention of large boats (mahanavah) provided with a captain (sasaka), a steersman (niyamaka), and servants to hold the sickle and the ropes and to pour out water. It is quite possible that the same terminology would have been used for naval ships too. The naval ships would have had a number of oarsmen depending on the size of the vessel and warriors who went into combat.

Naval battles    

No direct references are available as to how naval battles were actually fought. Based on whatever little evidence is available, as well as patterns of land warfare and ancient Indian warfare in general, some assumptions can be made. It is likely that the ships or boats carried warriors who were equipped with the standard-issue weapons of the period, swords, javelins, maces, and spears. Archers would have been heavily involved in the fighting, shooting fire arrows. The Ramayana mentions men waiting in 500 ships displaying full sail to obstruct the enemy’s passage.

As soon as the enemy ships or boats came in range, soldiers of both the sides could engage in hand-to-hand combat and attempt to jump onto the enemy vessel in order to kill the enemy, destroy their ship, and then return (if still alive) to their own. The main aim was to destroy the enemy ships, as contemporary authors make no reference to capture, unlike in the case of enemy forts and elephants. This destruction was accomplished by breaking the ships or setting fire to them. There is no mention of war engines, but it is likely that some kind of contraption would be on-board to pelt stones on the enemy ships so as to break them. At the first battle of Kandalur Salai, Raja Raja I Chola is expressly mentioned as killing the Kulashekhara or Chera warriors, splitting in two a naval vessel belonging to their king and destroying a number of boats (or ships).

Legacy

Naval developments on the west coast continued well into the medieval and colonial periods, with the dynasties there giving a tough time to their enemies, including the Portuguese and the Dutch. The arrival of the British and their virtually unquestioned naval superiority led the Indian powers to concentrate on fighting on land. The decline of the indigenous Indian navy was then complete. The naval traditions built over time and especially in the ancient period, however, continued to influence the development of the navy undertaken by independent India. The biggest contribution of the ancient Indians was that they created an unbroken seafaring tradition. Though seen as being secondary to the land forces, the various navies in ancient India did leave a mark and leave on naval warfare.

[Source; I gratefully acknowledge the source: Naval Warfare in Ancient India by Dr. Avantika Lal ]

satavahana ship

Satavahana ship

The Archaeologists state that based on terracotta tablets and a graffito on a potsherd secured from Mohenjo-Daro, Harappans were the builders of large ships and their maritime trade extended up to Mesopotamia during third millennium BCE. From the terracotta models and the engraved seals unearthed, five types of sailing vessels have been identified. It is also said; the Harappans had built tide-docks for berthing and servicing ships at the port town of Lothal.

There are also abundant references in ancient Indian literature, including Rig-Veda, Baudhayana Dharmasastram, Manava-dharma-sastra, Kautaliya’s Arthasastra, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka tales in Pali, and in the Sangam works of the ancient Tamils about the maritime activity of the Indian people in ancient times for domestic, trade and naval war.

The celebrated Grammarian Panini (about sixth century BCE) in his Astadhyayi refers to various types of river crafts and ships during his , such as  utsagna, udupa, udyata, utputa, pitaka etc. A large boat was called Udavahana or Udakavahana. He mentions about cargo transport (dvaipya) form a nearby island and about large (dvaipa or dvaipaka) vessels coming in from mid-ocean. Panini makes brief mention of the ferry changes, cargoes, marine trade etc of his days.

ancient Indian ship

There is also abundant material on ship building in ancient India

A  Sanskrit work of the post-Gupta period Yukti-Kalpa-Tatru, a compilation ascribed to one Bhoja Narapati (King Bhoja ?) provides amazing details about the Indian shipping and ship-building of the ancient period. It deals with the characteristics of  different types of wood that are best suited for construction of ships . (For more, please do read the paper produced by Dr. Mamata Chaudhuryof  Indian National Science Academy)

Under three broad categories, Bhoja mentions the details of about twenty-seven types of vessels. The River-going ships are treated as Samanya (general) and ocean going ships are treated as Visesa (special).   The three classes of ships described by Bhoja were: Sarva-mandira, a peace-time , large cargo  vessel meant for goods , animals and common people ; Madhya- mandira with a covered deck or living quarters in the middle to provide shelter from sun and rain; and, Agra-mandira  , a large vessel with the living room located in front or at the top of the vessel, meant   for distant voyages and carrying up to   about seven hundred passengers. The commentators mention that the largest vessel measured about 276 ft. X 36 ft. X 27 ft. weighing roughly 2,300 tons.

The treatise also gives elaborate directions for decorating and furnishing the ships with a view to making them comfortable for passengers. Also mentioned are details about the internal seating and accommodation to be provided on the ships.

Three classes of ships are distinguished according to their length and the position of cabins. The ships having cabins extending from one end of the deck to the other are called Sarva-mandira vessels.

These ships were recommended for the transport of royal treasure and horses. The next are the Madhya-marnandira vessels which have cabins only in the middle part of their deck. These vessels are recommended for pleasure trips.

 And finally there is a category of Agra-mandira vessels, these ships were used mainly in warfare.

 (http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/vimanas/esp_vimanas_11b.htm _)

Please also read : Indian Shipping, a history of the sea-borne trade and maritime activity of the Indians from the earliest times.djvu/71

And, https://sanatansinhnaad.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/ancient-root-of-navigation/

*

Further, because of the established trade route in the western sea, the Yadu people used the Harappan port cities such as Lothal or Dholavira in Gujarat and Kutch to trade with Sri Lanka. That trade went back to the third millennium BC. Therefore, migration of large number of people from Pandya Desha in south India to the Sind – Gujarat region, after the great deluge, does not seem improbable.

ancient Indian ship2

During the times of the recorded history, the Indian direct trade in textiles, minerals, gems, perfumes and spices   with Egypt and Rome could flourish because the sea routes from Maziris (Pattanam?)  along the Malabar Coast as also the monsoon trade (Hippalus) winds helped avoiding the middlemen, the Arabs. I believe the Greek/Egypt trade with India and the Roman one that followed thereafter came as a culmination of the relations that existed between India and the West several centuries prior to Christian era.

 Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history, mentions that historical records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. According to Dr. Casson, they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast. The researchers said the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

The trade on the eastern side somehow came about much later; and was confined to the islands of near east and China . It maintained contacts with Cambodia (Kambuja); Java (Chavakam or Yava dwipa);Sumatra; Borneo; and, Socotra (Sukhadhara)

But   Japan being mostly insular having a culture of its own remained a distant proposition; India had very limited direct contact with Japan.

Pandya desha to Fareast sea route ]

As regards the naval battles , on the east coast facing the Bay of Bengal maritime activities led to colonizing expeditions to Southeast Asia. The navies of the South Indian powers were geared towards launching invasions in Sri Lanka, separated from India by the Palk Straits. The warships were used in battles which, compared to land battles, remained low in proportion.

ancient Indian ship3

 

***

Now, coming back to the very ancient Vedic period: 

8.3. Agastya too had a role in controlling the flood waters. That was turned into a legend of his drinking up the ocean (Pitabdhi . He also perhaps devised ways to divert the Cauvery River to Chola-mandalam. or Samudra-chuluka)

Bali – Vamana legend

9.1. There is also a talk of another migration at a later era. It relates to the migration of the Brighus – the Yadus from the Saraswathi and Narmada regions to far south and to Sri Lanka. And, that has to do with the Bali – Vamana legend.

9.2. The Mahabali – Vamana episode is at times explained in the context of Brighu- Angirasa rivalry. Maha-Bali (aka Indrasena) the son of Virochana and the grandson of the legendry devote-prince Prahlada, was an Asura. Shukra the son of Brighu was his preceptor. The king Mahabali, whose preceptors were the Brighus, ruled and controlled vast area called Brighu Desha or Brighu Kakshya – the domain of the Brighu (Brighu kaccha – Baruch) that covered the west, the north-west and the south west of the Indus. He performed a sacrifice on the southern banks of the Narmada situated in Brighu Kakshya.

9.3. Vamana represents the arrival of Angirasas into the kingdom of Mahabali. Vamana the son of sage Kashyapa, in the linage of the Angirasa, initially asked the king for a small piece of land for their settlement; and the king consented to his request despite warning from his priest (Shukra).  The Bhargava Shukra seemed to be aware of the designs of the Angirasas. The Kashyapas, starting from their small settlement, spread throughout the kingdom of Mahabali and eventually overthrew him from his kingship. The story of Vamana, perhaps, signifies the transfer of power from the Asura kings and their Brighu priests to the Devas and their Angirasa priests.

9.4. The Brighus and Yadus who earlier formed the majority in the Bhrigu country were now overwhelmed by the fresh immigrants. They were thereafter resettled – through sea route – by Bhargava Rama (in the linage of the Brighus) along the western coast and in what is now Kerala. The resettled Brighus carried to their lands the legend of their beloved King Mahabali and also the Krishna cult.

[Some of these are views; may not necessarily be verifiable facts. Chronology and ordering the events in sequences is the other issue.]

References and Sources

http://assets.cambridge.org/97805217/71115/excerpt/9780521771115_excerpt.pdf

http://www.tamilwritersguild.com/edited_Ilamurid.pdf

http://www.indianetzone.com/47/pandyas.htm

http://www.harekrsna.com/sun/features/01-10/features1629.htm

http://bulfinch.englishatheist.org/flood/Indian-Flood1.htm

https://www.jstor.org/stable/41694126?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1259/naval-warfare-in-ancient-india/

All pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in General Interest, Speculation

 

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Saptamatrka – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Saptamatrka in texts

In the early references to Matrkas they are mentioned as groups of goddesses. Their numbers vary from text to text and from episode to episode. Their natures and dispositions too are varied.   They function as a group; and all references to them are as a group. They are generally characterized as inauspicious and dangerous.

Mahabharata

26. There is no mention of Matrkas in Ramayana. The earliest references to a group of Matrkas goddesses known as Matraha or Matragana appear in Mahabharata. Its Sections in Vanaparva and Shalyaparva – narrate various versions carrying copious descriptions of Matrka in the context of the conception, birth, abhishekha* and marriage of Skanda. Of the two sets of references, the one in Vanaparva is considered older and more helpful in understanding the concept of Balagraha. These narrations, in general, portray Matrkas as dangerous and fearsome goddesses.

[*The varied versions of Skanda’s origins seem to be shrouded in a range of tribal legends of martial nature. Skanda, it appears, established his superiority over many other gods by his sheer power; and was eventually accepted as their commander – in – chief, replacing Indra. To celebrate the occasion a formal Abhishekha was held.]

Vana parva

26.1. Vana-parva mentions a group of goddesses called Lokamata, Mothers – of – the world (Mbh: VP: 215.216). All the Lokamata, numbering about sixteenare said to be of inauspicious qualities and loathsome habits. Two of these goddesses are described. One of them (Vinata) is born of anger and carries a spike. The other (Lohitayani) – a daughter of sea, red in complexion and of bad temper – is said to live on blood. It is likely that the others in the group were also of inauspicious nature. They were sent by Indra to kill the newborn Skanda. When they approached the infant, their maternal instincts raise, their breasts ooze milk and they cannot bring themselves to kill Skanda, as commanded by Indra. They then request Skanda to adopt them as his mothers (215.18).

26.2. In the other accounts narrated in Mahabharata surrounding Skanda’s birth, a host of goddesses emerge from Skanda, when Indra strikes him with his thunderbolt (vajra). Skanda adopts all of them as his mothers and divides them into Shiva and a-Shiva, groups of good and evil spirits. The auspicious Matrkas – Devasena –   are said to be: Sasti, Laksmi, Asa, Sukhaprada, Sadvrtti, Aparajita, Sinivali and Khuhu. The eight ferocious and terrifying   goddesses of malicious nature given to stealing children (asiva-matrka) are: Kaki, Halima, Malini, Brhali, Arya, Brahmata, Palala and Vaimitra.

26.3. The dangerous nature of the Matrkas is elaborated in another version of the episode that is also related to the birth of Kartikeya or Skanda. It   says that the six wives of sages (among the wives of Sapta-rishis; excepting Arundhati) were alleged to be the biological mothers of Skanda; hence banished by their husbands on suspicion of being adulterous. The forlorn wives approach Skanda and beg him to adopt them as his mothers. He agrees to their request. The six ask Skanda to grant them two boons. One, to be recognized and worshipped by all as Maha-matrkas , Great Mothers; and two , to be allowed to pester and harm children , since they have been banished unjustly and have no further chance of bearing children. Skanda accepts to the first; but is reluctant to grant the second request as it pains him to see the children hurt. He asks Matrkas to protect children instead of harming them. They agree. But in the closing lines of that episode, Skanda allows the Matrkas to afflict children until their age of   sixteen: “In your various forms, you may torment children until they are sixteen. Thereafter you have to protect them“. Further, he grants them his terrible form Skanda-Apasmara (identified with Vishakaha) who torments (graha) children. They continue to have their violent nature. These six Rishi-patnis who turned into Matrkas are identified or associated with Krittika; the constellation of fiery nature [Pleiades (star cluster)] presided over by Agni. Skanda comes to be known also as Kartikeya or Krittikaputra or Krittikasuta.

[The classical literature mentions Krittikas as six. The earlier tradition counted them as seven. It was said: “The Krittikas are six. But when they ascended into heaven they became seven stars (Saptasirasabham)”.They are also known as many (bahula) emphasizing their plurality; and hence Skanda is celebrated as Bahuleya. The seven stars as named in Taittareya Brahmana (TB: 3.1.4.1) are: Amba; Dula; Nitatni; Abhrayanti; Meghayanti; Varshayanti; and Chupunika.]

26.4. Another list of ten female sprits is mentioned in the subsequent episode of the story. All of them serve inauspicious purposes; and have hideous forms. They are described as given to eating flesh, drinking strong intoxicants, prowling about in the confinement chamber where birth takes place. They torment pregnant women, and are also a threat to the newborn’s life, especially,   during its first ten days. They torment children until they are sixteen years of age in various ways; but later, they act as positive influences. The ten are named as: Vinata, Kadru, Putana, Shita Putana, Revathi, Diti, Surabhi, Sarama, Lohitayani and Arya. Elsewhere they are listed as: Sakuni, Revathi, Mukhamadika, Vinata, Putana, Sitaputana, Lohitayani and Sarama. They all are classified as grahas (seizers) or Rakkasi (demons) or Pisachas (ghouls). All but two of these (Vinata and Lohitayani) are blood thirsty. But, all harm pregnant women and attack children by surprise. Apart from these ten spirits, eighteen other grahas are mentioned, without naming them specifically.

26.5. Notable among the female spirits is Putana Rakshashi who appears in Bhagvata Purana as the stalker in the night and as one who kills children by poisoning them. She tried to kill the infant Krishna by suckling him with poisoned breast milk. But, she was eventually destroyed by Krishna. Another evil goddess Jara is mentioned in Sabha Parva (Mahabharata: 16.40-17.45).She joins together (sandhi) two pieces of a newborn and makes it into a whole baby-boy. He is named Jarasandha (the one who is put together by Jara); and he later becomes the powerful king of Magadha.

26.6. Among the other grahas, it is said, Sakuni harms children and Kadru assumes subtle forms to enter into pregnant women. The mothers of the afflicted children, praying for relief, are recommended to worship Karanjeya tree. Lohitayani, the daughter of Red sea, who nursed Skanda, is to be worshipped under Kadamba tree. Arya is to be worshipped for fulfilment of desires. All these goddesses that are harmful to children till they are sixteen are classified as the grahas of Kumara (Skanda).They are to be worshipped along with Skanda.

[Many have wondered about Matrka’s obsession to attack children. Some say; these beliefs originated in the fear that women who die childless or in childbirth might linger on as evil spirits envious of other women and their children. Matrkas are therefore feared. And that fear continues to haunt even today. The mothers are chary of talking too much about the charm and attraction of their   pretty looking little ones. It is not considered safe for children to attract the attention of the evil ‘eyes’ of the goddesses. And, sometimes; the mothers mark their well adorned children with a spot of collyrium or other dark substance on their cheeks to hide their beauty. These practices mixed with hope and fears are meant to safeguard the children .The mothers fondly hope to prevent spiteful goddesses from noticing their good-looking children, lest the jealous might harm the dear little children.]

The myth of the genesis of Skanda in the Vana parva of Mahabharata establishes the emergence of Skanda cult in association with the heterogeneous Matrkas. The same theme appears in the later Puranas. If read together, they outline the evolution and the widening of Skanda cult.

Shalya Parva

27.1. The Chapter 46 of Shalya Parva of Mahabharata narrates the elevation of Kartikeya as the Supreme Commander of the godly forces (Deva-senapathi). There is a long list of 213 Matrkas (the text says there are many more female beings whose names are not mentioned) or warriors who fight under the command of Kartikeya in his battles against the demons. Please click here for the list.

As a group, this host of female warriors is described in different ways. Mahabharata gives a graphic description of their appearances: Some of them are lovely to look at, with fair skin, cheerful and youthful; while the others are of inauspicious qualities and have long nails, broad teethe, red eyes and protruding lips, inspiring fear. They all fight valiantly like Indra in the battle.

27.2. It said; “These and many others Matrkas numbering by thousands… of diverse forms become the followers of Kartikeya. Their nails are long; their teeth are broad and their lips protruding. Of straight forms and sweet nature all of them endowed with youth, were decked in ornaments. Possessed of ascetic merit, they were capable of assuming any form at will. Not having much flesh on their limbs, they were dark and looked like clouds in hue and some were of the color of smoke. The braids of some were tied upwards; and the eyes of some were tawny; and some had girdles that were very long. Some had long stomachs, some had long ears; and some had long breasts. Some had coppery eyes and coppery complexion; and the eyes of some were green.

They all have their abode in inaccessible places away from human settlements, on trees and open spots and crossings of roads. They also live in caves and crematoriums, mountains and springs. They of hideous appearance are adorned with weird ornaments, they wear diverse kinds of attires and speak different strange languages. These and many other tribes of mothers are all capable of inspiring foes with dread, followed by high souled Kartikeya the chief commander of the celestials.” (Book 9: Shalya Parva: Section 46).

And some others were endued with the splendour of the morning sun and were highly blessed. Possessed of long tresses, they were clad in robes of white. Of invincible power and might their prowess was also invincible. Capable of granting boons and of travelling at will; they always were cheerful. Possessed of great strength, some amongst them partook of the nature of Yama, some of Rudra, some of Soma, some of Kubera, some of Varuna, some of Indra, and some of Agni. And some partook of the nature of Vayu, some of Kumara, some of Brahma, and some of Vishnu and some of Surya, and some of Varaha. Of charming and delightful features, they were beautiful like the asuras. In voice they resembled the kokila and in prosperity they resembled the Lord of Treasures. In battle, their energy resembled that of Shakra (Indra). In splendour they resembled fire. In battle they always struck their foes with terror. Capable of assuming any form at will, in fleetness they resembled the very wind. Of inconceivable might and energy, their prowess also was inconceivable.

27.3. Most other references in Mahabharata depict the Matrkas as inauspicious, fearful looking and dangerous to children. Though they eventually serve Kartikeya as his mother, their initial task was to kill him.

Devi Mahatmya

28.1. The first literary version of the group is mentioned in Devi Mahatmya. Here again, there are various versions about the origin of the Matrkas.

28.2. According to a latter episode of Devi Mahatmya and the one in Vamana Purana, Durga created Matrkas from herself; and with their help slaughtered the demon army.

28.3. In another important chapter of Devi Mahatmya, it is said, the Matrka goddesses were created by male Gods in order to aid Mahadevi in the battle against the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. The Matrkas emerge as Shakthis from out of the bodies of the gods: Brahma, Shiva, Skanda, Vishnu and Indra. The texts describe their appearances and the destruction of the demons:

“Shakthis having sprung from the bodies of Brahma, Shiva, Skanda, Vishnu, and Indra; and having the form of each approached Chandika. Whatever, form, ornament and mount a particular god possessed, with that very form did his Shakthi go forth to fight the Asuras. In a heavenly conveyance drawn by swans with rosary and water pot came forth the Shakthi of Brahma: she is known as Brahmi. Maheshwari sallied forth, mounted on a bull, bearing the best of the tridents, with serpents for bracelets, adorned with the crescent of the moon. Ambika having the form of Guha (Skanda) as Kaumari went forth to fight the demons, with spear in hand, having the best of peacocks as her mount. Then Shakthi known as Vaishnavi went forth, mounted on Garuda, with conch, discus, club, bow and sword in her hand. The Shakthi of Hari who has the matchless form of a sacrificial Boar then came forth bearing the body of a sow. Narasimhi having the form like the man-lion then came forth with many a constellation cast down by the tossing of her mane. Then Aindri with thunderbolt in her hand, mounted upon the lord of elephants went forth; she had thousand eyes just like Indra. Then Shiva surrounded by the Shakthis of the gods said to Chandika: “may the demons quickly be slained by you in order to please me”. Then from the body of the Goddess came forth the frightening power of the Shakthi of Chandika herself, gruesome, yelping like thousand jackals. And she the invincible one spoke to Shiva of smoky matted locks:” You yourself become messenger to Shumbha and Nishumbha”.

[Because the Devi appointed Shiva himself as the messenger she gained renown as Shiva-duti.]

The Narayani Stuti, narrated in chapter 11 of the Devi Mahatmya, is sung with great gusto charged with intense devotion and a blessed sense of fulfilment. The verses 13 to 21 of Narayani Stuti are dedicated to Matrkas – Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Narasimhi, Indri, Shivaduti, and Chamnda. In salutations to the Matrkas, the verses describe, in brief, the splendour, virtues, powers and vahanas of these deities which are but the aspects of the Maha Devi, the Great Mother Goddess.

Salutations to you Oh Narayani who assumes the form of :  Brahmi riding celestial Chariot Yoked with Swans; Maheshwari adorned with the moon , riding the Great Bull and holding the trident; Kaumari of great virtue holding the powerful spear, surrounded by peacocks , cocks and bears; Vaishnavi the most excellent holding shankha , chakra , gadha and the dhanus; Varahi appearing as a ferocious Boar sporting awesome tusks , rescuing Mother Earth from her distress; Narasimhi as lioness in fearsome rage , destroying the enemies and protecting the three worlds; Indri the glorious queen of thousand eyes , destroyer of the Demon Vritra , in all her splendour decorated with a diadem and holding a blazing thunderbolt; Shivaduti roaring loudly  who sent Shiva himself as messenger and destroyed the Demons; and, Chamuda the most ferocious and invincible  with dreadful face and sharp protruding fangs , adorned with garland of severed heads, the destroyer of Demons Chanda and Munda.

.

Hamsa yukta Vimaansthey brahmaani rupa dharini!
Kau shaambhaha ksharikey devi narayani namosthu they!!

Trishula chandraahidhare mahaa vrisha bhavaahini !
Maaheswari swarupena narayani namosthu they!!

Mayura kukkuta vrithey mahaashakti dhare naghe!
Kaumaree rupa samsthaane narayani namosthu they!!

Shankachakra gadhaa shaangaha griheetha paramaayudhey !
Praseeda vaishnavi rupey narayani namosthu they!!

Griheetho gramaha chakra damshtro dhritha vasundarey!
Varaaha rupinee shive narayani namosthu they!!

Nara simha rupenogrena hanthu daithyaan krithodhyamey !
Triylokyathraana sahithey narayani namosthu they!!

Kireetini mahaavajrey sahasna nayanojwale !
Vrithapraana hare chaindri narayani namosthu they!!

Shiva dhoothee swarupena hathadaithya mahabale!
Ghorarupey mahaaraave narayani namosthu they!!

Damshtraa karaala vadaney shiromaalaa vibhooshaney!
Chamundey munda mathaney narayani namosthu they
!!

29.1. Following this episode, the later texts largely adopted the standard group of seven Matrkas consisting: Brahmi, Maheshwari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. At times, Narasimhi is mentioned in place of Chamunda. The Varaha Purana names Yami – the Shakthi of Yama, the power of regulation and withdrawal as the seventh; and Yogishwari as the eighth Matrka, created by flames emerging from Shiva’s mouth. The Devi-Purana mentions nine Matrkas, by including Gana-nayika or Vinayaki – the Shakthi of Ganesha, and Mahabhairavi to the standard set of seven.

29.2. There is also a tradition of Ashtamatrikas, eight Matrkas, which is prevalent in Nepal region. In Nepal, the eighth Matrka is called Maha-Lakshmi (she is different from Vaishnavi). Narasimhi does not figure in the lists of Devi Purana and Nepal.

29.3. By about the seventh century Matrka’s and names and number– seven or eight- gradually began to get standardized. They took on the characteristic of their corresponding male gods; and came to be worshipped as Shakthis or energies of gods.

30.1. But, when you look across the various versions of the origins, evolution and development of the Matrkas you find that their names, numbers and attributes had been highly inconsistent. Most of the relevant texts that speak of the early stages of their development referred to Matrkas primarily as a group of goddesses, unspecified in number, inimical in nature and dangerous to children. None of the Matrka was significant in herself. The group was largely viewed and feared as hordes of malicious spirits harming pregnant women and children. In the later texts they were projected as troops of female warriors of ferocious nature assisting gods and goddesses in their battles against the demons. It was under the auspicious of the Tantra and Shaktha theology that the Matrkas were thoroughly reformed and rendered into worship-worthy benevolent mother-like goddesses of great spiritual merit.

30.2. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to put together, in one place, their names and numbers as they appear in various texts spread over the centuries.

Inconsistent names and numbers

Mahabharata

31.1. In Vana Parva of Mahabharata the Matrkas referred to as Lokamata of inauspicious qualities and habits are said to be a group of about sixteen.

31.2. In another episode narrated in Vana Parva when Indra strikes Skanda with his thunderbolt many Matrkas emerge from Skanda’s body. Skanda groups them into Shiva and a-Shiva, good and evil Matrkas.

31.3. The auspicious Matrkas –Devasenas- are said to be eight: Sasti, Laksmi, Asa, Sukhaprada, Sadvrtti, Aparajita, Sinivali and Khuhu.

31.4. Another version of the episode mentions the eight auspicious Matrkas as: Sinivali, Anumati, Raka, Gungu, Sarasvathi (Dhata), Indrani, Varunani and Khuhu. Among these, Raka (subhaga) the rich and bountiful granter of offspring and Sinivali the sister of gods (devanam svasa) are prominent, while Gungu is rather an obscure name; and some say, Gungu could be another name for Khuhu. All these goddesses are related with fertility, as also with different phases of the moon. Among these, Anumati personifies the night before the full -moon night; Raka the full–moon night; Sinivali the night before new-moon night; and Khuhu the new-moon night. And, later these goddesses also come to be identified with metres (Chhandus): Anumati with Gayatri; Raka with Trishtubh; Sinivali with Jagati; and Khuhu with Anushtubh.

31.5. The inauspicious Matrkas of malicious nature (asiva-matrka) are also said to be eight: Kaki, Halima, Malini, Brhali, Arya, Brahmata, Palala and Vaimitra. In some versions the names of Raudra and Rshabha are added.

31.6. From among the groups of goddesses who came to be associated with the birth of Skanda the most important are the Krittikas. Another legend in Vana Parva of Mahabharata says that the six who were the wives of sages (among the Sapta-rishis) were accepted by Skanda as his mothers. And they prayed to Skanda to be named as   Maha-matrkas, Great Mothers. These six goddesses are identified or associated with the constellation Krittika, presided over by Agni. It is said; The Krittikas are six. But when they ascended into heaven they became seven stars (Saptasirasabham): [Amba; Dula; Nitatni; Abhrayanti; Meghayanti; Varshayanti; and Chupunika.].

31.7. Yet another list of ten Matrkas, inauspicious grahas (seizers) having hideous forms are mentioned in Vana Parva of Mahabharata. They are named as: Vinata, Kadru, Putana, Shita Putana, Revathi, Diti, Surabhi, Sarama, Lohitayani and Arya. Another version lists them as seven: Revathi, Mukhamadika, Vinata, Putana, Sitaputana, Lohitayani and Sarama. Apart from these, eighteen other grahas are mentioned, without naming them specifically.

31.8. Shalya Parva of Mahabharata provides a long list of 213 Matrkas associated with Skanda (the text says there are many more that are not mentioned).These Matrkas are troops of female warriors who fight under the command of Skanda (Deva-senapathi).

Puranas

32.1. In the Devi Mahatmya the Saptamatrkas (seven Matrkas) mentioned are: Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda. At times, Narasimhi is mentioned in place of Chamunda.

32.2. In some versions the, Martkas are counted as eight (Ashta-Matara) by including Narasimhi.

32.3. Nepal follows the tradition of eight Matrkas (Ashta Matara) but it counts Maha-Lakshmi as the eighth Matrka and omits Narasimhi.

32.4. Devi Bhagavata Purana (Book five; Chapter 28) while describing the battles fought by the Devi names ten Matrkas; and mentions that the Shakthis of the other gods (the wives of Kubera, Varuna, and other Devas) also came there with proper forms and joined the battle. The ten Matrkas mentioned are: Brahmi; Vaishnavi; Maheshwari; Kaumari; Indrani; Varahi; Narasimhi; Kalika; Shiva-duti; and Chandika.

32.5. Devi Bhagavata mentions that when Parvati approached to bless Skanda, she was accompanied by six Matrkas: Gauri, Vidya, Gandhari, Kesini, Mitra and Savitri.

32.6. Devi-Purana mentions nine Matrkas, by including Gana-nayika or Vinayaki – the Shakthi of Ganesha; and Mahabhairavi – Shakthi of Bhairava, to the standard list of Saptamatrkas.

32.7. Devi Purana also describes a pentad of Matrkas (Matra-panchaka), who help Ganesha in killing the demons. The five mothers named are: Kaumari, Rudrani, Chamunda, Brahmi and Vaishnavi.

32.8. The Varaha Purana names Yami – the Shakti of Yama, as the seventh; and Yogishwari created by flames emerging from Shiva’s mouth, as the eighth Matrka. These two replace Indrani and Narasimhi.

32.9. Vamana Purana (57; 27-29) gives a long list of 49 Matrkas accompanying Skanda.

32.10. Agni Purana (299.4950) mentions 38 female divinities. Of these, the Balagraha that affect the children day-wise are called Putana; and those that affect children year-wise are called Sukumarika.

Tantra

33.1. The Tantra counts nine Matrkas by including Chandika and Mahalakshmi to the standard list of Saptamatrkas (Brahmi, Maheshvari, Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamunda).The Yoginis, who are the attendants of the Goddess Devi, are regarded as daughters of the Matrkas. Each Matrka is said to have nine daughters, thus bringing up a total of eighty-one Yoginis.

However, the tradition following the cluster of eight Matrkas (Kaula Tantra) counts sixty-four Yoginis (Chaushatti Jogini); each Matrka having eight daughters. And, each of the 64 yoginis is also associated with currents or ‘winds’ in human astral body.

[In certain traditions, each Matrika is also a yogini. The Tribal roots of Hinduism by Shri Shiv Kumar Tiwari (page 129-130) mentions that Mother goddesses are categorized in two ways. In one, as given in Kalika –purana, Matrkas and yoginis are listed together; they are of same family (kula). And, the other list (as given in Agni-purana) excludes Matrkas. The former list assigns high position to yoginis, while the other list relegates yoginis to lower positions. The list of 64 yoginis (which excludes Matrkas) belongs to the latter category. ]

[Incidentally, in the Tantra–tradition, the eight Matrkas represent the eight tattvas, the eight powers of the manifested universe. At the micro level, the eight Matrkas are said to manifest (prakata)  in their gross form (stula-rupa) as  eight body-constituents : skin (Brahmi); blood (Maheshwari); muscle (Kaumari); fat-tissue (Vaishnavi);bone (Varahi);bone-marrow (Indrani);semen (Chamunda);and vitality (Mahalakshmi) . Another text Sethu-bandha (8 – 123) mentions that the eight are located in the human body at the : meet of the eyebrows (Brahmi);breasts (Maheshwari);navel (Kaumari);heart (Vaishnavi);face (Varahi); nose (Indrani);neck((Chamunda) and forehead (Mahalakshmi).

Even otherwise the number eight has a special significance in the Tantra.  It is associated with: the eight directions with four cardinal and four intermediate points (digbandahs); the eight types of  yogic  powers  or attainments (siddhis); the eight primary mystic symbols (mudras) ; the eight limbs  of Yoga (astanga) ; and of course eight forms of the Divine Mother (Matrkas) .Further , the 64 (8×8) celled square Manduka/ Chandita Mandala is regarded as the Mandala of the Siddhas where in its 64 chambers (kalas) Shiva and Shakthi reside (Thirumandiram V. 1418).]

33.2. The Uttara Tantra Shastra (Chapter 27) names eight graha-s (seizers) as: Skanda-apasmara (Vishakaha), Shakuni, Revathi, Putana, Andhaputana, Shitaputana, Ukhamandika, and Naigamesha.

33.3. The Shakthi – sangama – Tantra (Upatti-khanda) gives a list of fifty Matrika kalas : Nivritti, Pratishtita, Vidya , Shanthi , Indhika , Dipika , Mochika , Para , Sukshma , Sukshmamrita , Jnanamrita , Apyayani , Vyapini , Vyomarupa , Ananta , Srishti , Riddhi , Smriti , Medha , Kanti , Lakshmi , Dyuthi , Sthira , Sthithi , Siddhi , Jada , Palini , Shanthi , Aishvarya , Rati , Kamika , Varada , Ahladini , Prithi , Dirgha , Tikshna , Raudri , Bhaya , Nidra , Tadra , Kshudha , Krodini , Kriya , Utkari , Mrityurupa , Pita , Sheveta , Asita , and Ananta.

Other references

34.1. Utpala (ninth century) commentator of Varahamihira‘s (fifth – sixth century) Brihat Samhita refers to Matrganah, the group of eleven Matrkas as Brahmi, Vaishavi, Raudri, Kaumari, Aindri, Yami, Varuni, Kuberi, Narasimhi , Varahi and Vinayaki.

34.2. The Devi Puja vidhi (a religious text of the middle centuries) mentions sixteen Matrkas (Shodash Matrika) and names the sixteen as : Gauri; Padma; Sachi ; Medha; Savitri ; Vijaya; Jaya ; Devasena; Svaha;   Svadha ; Matru : lokamatru; Dhriti; Pusti; Tushti; Kuladevi.

[The Shodash Matrika along with Ganapathy are invariably worshipped at the commencement of the marriage rituals.]

34.3. There are two other lists of the Shodash Matrkas:

: Savitri; Gayatri; Sarasvathi; Jaya; Thristi; Megha; Puasti ; Tushti ; Dhriti; Vijaya; Devasena; Svadha; Svaha ; Matara; Lokamatara; Kuladevi.

: SavitriI; Kaumari; Rudrani ; Brahmani ; Gayatri; Tridhi ; Dhiriti; Vijaya; Jaya; Chandravigraha; Bhima; Chamunda; Varahi; Indrani; Narayani; and Narasimhi.

34.4. The Puja Vidhi also mentions seven home deities Grihamatrikas: Lakshmi; Shree; Dhriti; Medha; Pragya; Svaha; Sarasvathi.

35.1. Thus, the numbers, names and the order of the Matrkas have been highly inconsistent throughout. These are spread across the centuries covering their varied appearances, such as: the Balagraha, the female warriors, Krittikas, the mothers related to Skanda legend, Purana-deities, Tantra–shakthis, ritual-goddesses, the Vedic heptads etc. But, their numbers were eventually restricted to seven; and a set of Saptamatrkas was accepted as the standard. Such crystallization of the Saptamatrka possibly occurred in the late fourth century or early fifth century.

saptamatrikas

Why Seven?

36.1. Some argue that the restriction of the number of Matrkas to seven is somewhat arbitrary. But, there also are many explanations which try to rationalize the formation of the close knit group of seven. These elucidations are essentially based in the Vedic belief in heptads.

36.2. It is said; the idea of Matrka as group of seven goddesses is linked fundamentally to the Vedic preference for number seven; and to the symbolisms associated with heptads. The other ancient cultures such as Babylonians, Greeks and Hebrew seemed to have similar fixations with the number seven.

In the Vedic context, seven was conceptually rendered into a single unit. It represented the sense of completeness. To go beyond number seven was to be born into a new sphere of existence; either to enter into a new cycle or to enter into a higher order of existence. Seven was employed as a notional unit to count, to gauge and to map out the material world as also the components of life. Structuring the world into units of seven seemed to be an attempt to impose order on the seemingly chaotic.

36.3. The Vedic people therefore viewed the world around them as composed of units of seven. For instance, the Universe was understood as having seven layers , each with seven Adityas (Suns) ; and the Sun’s rays having seven colours (sapta varna). Similarly ,the planet earth was seen as made of: seven islands (sapta-dweepa-Vasundhara); seven regions (sapta loka); seven communities (sapta kula); seven seas (sapta samudra); seven mountains (sapta parvatha); seven deserts (sapta arania); seven cities (sapta pura); and seven holy trees (sapta vriksha) and so on.

36.4. The number seven was found significant in understanding the composition of human body , which is made of seven types of substances (sapta dhatu); seven senses (sapta indriya); seven energy centres including the final Sahasrara chakra (sapta chakra); seven phases of existence or seven states of consciousness (Bhu; Bhuvaha ; Suvaha; Mahaha; Janaha; Tapaha and Satyam)  and so on.

36.5. The Vedic poets composed verses in seven meters (sapta-chandasmi) having seven syllables (saptaream bhavathi) and sang in seven notes (sapta swara).Their most highly respected sages were seven (sapta rishi) . In certain yajnas seven altars were constructed (sapta-chitikagni) and altars had seven layers of bricks. Agni has seven tongues of flames.

36.6. The most important aspect of Vedic life was its perennial river systems. The seven rivers Sapta Sindhu (Iravathi, Chandrabhaga, Vitasta, Vipasa, Satadru, Sindhu and Sarasvathi) were venerated as the life giving Mothers; and, Sarasvathi was the best of the mothers. It was from the depths of these waters that life arose; and the sun emerged and ascended the sky. Those waters   were not mere physical features of their land; but were the very source of their life, of their divinities and of the meaning to their life. All their songs, myths and legends surround these seven rivers, the seven mothers (sapta matarah).

37.1. It was not therefore surprising that in the later ages when attempting to bring in a sense order into the chaotic world of Matrkas the ancient unit of seven was employed. It signified authenticity and ‘completeness’. It also, perhaps, suggested belief in the auspiciousness of odd numbers. And, by refining their natures, attributes and appearances; and by linking them to the older Vedic concept of the heptads, the Matrkas were invested with an aura of sacredness and spiritual authority.

37.2. Just as the seven mother-like rivers (sapta matarah) of Rig Veda, the Saptamatrkas, the mother-like goddesses, came to be characterized by their maternal nature and movement. The concept of Saptamatrka, the seven mothers, is thus an extension of the idea of visualizing the seven rivers as mothers. The Krittika constellation, incidentally, marked the beginning of a new yearly time cycle. Krittikas the Mothers of Skanda are, thus, also the mothers of time and of regeneration; and are initiators of the next epoch.

Iconography

38.1. The iconography of Saptamatrkas presents a very interesting study. Normally, an icon or image of a god or a goddess is visualized and presented in a standard form following the descriptions of its attributes, dispositions, postures and features as narrated in the related texts. And, the salient aspects of the icon–to be-sculpted are, usually, epitomized into pithy Dhyana Slokas, for the guidance of the Shilpi.

38.2. But in the case of the Matrkas, their concepts, appearances and nature change rapidly from period to period, from text to text and from tradition to tradition. Their individual portrayals too vary from their group presentations. When portrayed individually they are depicted as benevolent and graceful mother-like goddesses. But, in group they appear as warriors; and their names and numbers also differ. Further, there are the regional variations in their depictions. These again are guided by the then current theological interpretations, the sculptural styles of the period and the ingenuity of the sculptors. Thus, when you look across their evolution and development spread over the centuries you find there is no single standardized universally recognizable form of the Matrkas. Each period, each region and each tradition developed its own iconographic interpretations.

38.3. Another interesting feature of Matrka- iconography is that their sculptural depictions are in no way linked to their descriptions narrated in the Puranas and other literary sources. The icons are hardly related to the narrative content. The Matrkas of the Puranas are invariably gruesome warrior females fighting the Demons. The ferocious, blood-drinking Matrkas are not referred to as mothers; nor is there a reference to their ‘motherly-qualities’. The early Balagraha deities called as Matrkas in the Kushana period were dangerous to children .Even the Matrkas associated with Skanda were inimical to children up to their age of five or sixteen. Thus, there is an obvious mismatch between the Matrkas described in the Puranas and the sculptural depictions of ‘mother-goddesses’ of the later periods.

38.4. It is only in the post-Gupta period and the medieval centuries the numbers, names and natures of the Matrkas started getting standardized .That was mainly due to the influence of the Tantra and Shaktha cults. In the depictions that followed thereafter, Matrkas were portrayed as goddesses, radiant, graceful, benevolent and caring mothers. Each Matrka came to be associated with a particular divine or mystic aspect in Tantra or Yoga. In sculptures, their motherliness was often emphasized by their playful attitude towards the children they carried on their laps. But, they held on to the weapons of war. And, yet their associated symbolisms were retained; harmony in their overall structure and countenance were ensured. The later Sculptures of mother goddesses exhibit aesthetic maturity and divine charm

39.1. The coexistence of male and female principles in the Saptamatrka depictions is yet another instance of dichotomy. Sometimes; Matrkas are described as feminine forces that derive their names and attributes from male gods. Hence, they are taken to imply the coexistence of male and female principles. Yet the female is dominant. In fact, the male is completely replaced. It is the feminization of the male personalities. Shaktha tradition achieves this through transformation of the already existing male gods into independent goddesses, female principles, Shakthis; thus, reinventing an absolutely new conception of a Goddess.

39.2. Speaking of the later times, the general descriptions of the Matrkas are given in various other  texts. The vast body of references includes Purana, Agama, Tantra and Shilpa texts. The various texts of Shipa shastra:

Aparajitaprccha, Rupamandana and Manasollasa provide iconography – details of Matrka sculptures. There is, of course, the authoritative  Vishudharmottara. Further, Agamas like Amsumadbhedagama,  Surabhedagama  and Ruruvarnagama also contain instructions  for making Matrka images.  In addition, several Tantra texts such as Svachhanda  Tantra and Yogini Hridaya contain detailed  descriptions of the Saptamatrkas.

39.3. Brihat-samhita (sixth century) says that the Matrka images are to be made with the emblems, banners, ayudhasvahanas and ornaments that are associated with the male gods after whom they are named. Brahmi should be sculpted like Brahma; Maheshwari like Maheshwara; Vaishnavi like Vishnu; Varahi with boar-face like Varaha; Indrani (Aindri) like Indra; and Kaumari like Skanda. But, Chamunda is herself, a terrifying war goddess with dishevelled hair and fearsome countenance.

40.1. The following is a brief summary of the Matrka descriptions as given, mainly, in Rupamandana, in Aparajitapuccha of Bhuvanadeva and in Vishudharmottara:

When the Matrkas are sculpted on a panel or arranged in a row they should be placed between Gananatha and a form of Shiva such as Vinadhara or the fierce Bhairava or Virabhadra at the other end. All the Matrkas are to be seated (asana) in comfortable lalithasana with the right leg stretched down (lambaka padam) and the left leg bent and kept on the seat (sayanam padakam); or in ardhaparyankasana with the right leg folded and the left bent perched on the edge of the seat; or in the formal padmasana .All are shown seated on their respective vahanas. Sometimes, the child-motif is etched on the pedestal or a child is placed on their laps [In many south Indian sculptured panels of later times the child or the child-motif is not depicted].

Two of their hands gesture protection (abhaya) and blessing (varada) while their other hands hold weapons and emblems associated with their male counterparts. They are well adorned with ornaments like a suitable simple crest (makuta or mouli) or a wreath of flowers around jatamakuta, flower garlands (vanamala), necklaces (haara), circular ear-rings (rathna kundala), simple armlets (ekavali), bracelets, anklets, jewelled waist-bands (kati–mekhala or kati-bandha) etc. “Matrikas should be endowed with beautiful breasts, a slender waist and full hips so that female beauty may be celebrated.”

40.2. In the row of seated Matrkas, Brahmi is depicted as bright as gold, four faced riding swan (hamsa) holding akshamalapusthaka and kamandalu. Maheshwari fair in complexion, her hair (jatamakuta) adorned with crescent moon rides a bull holding in her six hands akshamalashula, khadgakhatvanga and maatulinga fruit (a kind of sweet lime with seeds inside). Vaishnavi of dark complexion with a lovely face, adorned with ornaments and garlands of flowers (vanamala) rides Garuda , holds shankha, chakra, gadha, and padma; and in her two other hands gestures abhaya and varada. The six faced Kaumari rides a peacock and holds in her ten hands shakthi, dwaja, danda, dhanus, bana, akshamala, kukkuda and kamandalu; and in her other two hands gestures varada and abhaya. Varahi of the complexion of storm-cloud, boar-faced rides a buffalo holding danda, khadga, khetaka and pasha. Aindri of red complexion is seated on an elephant holding sutra, vajra, kalasha and paatra. Chamunda of dark red complexion, deep-set eyes, fierce looks, dishevelled hair bristling upwards, emaciated body, bright tusk-like teeth; wearing garland of skulls , rides a preta ghoul holding a trishula, kapala, khatvanga and fire.

40.3. The descriptions summarized above are rather the classic features as narrated in texts. But, in most cases when Matrkas are etched in a row over temple walls or in small niches, they all are made to look alike with a single face each. They are distinguished from each other by the ayudhas they carry or the emblems (lanchanas) etched below the figures on countersunk panels. In some cases, each Matrka might be provided with a child; either in the lap or made to stand by the side. The group usually is flanked by Vinayaka and Virabhadra.

Let’s look at the Matrkas, individually, in the next part.

Continued in Part Four

References and Sources

The iconography of the saptamatrikas: by Katherine Anne HarperEdwin Mellen press ltd (1989-10)

Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures by Shivaji K Panikkar; DK Print World (1997).

The Roots of Tantra by Katherine Anne Harper (2002)

Hindu Goddesses: Vision of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Traditions by David Kinsley; (1987)

Tribal Roots of Hinduism by SK Tiwari; Sarup and Sons (2002)

The Portrait of the Goddess in the Devī-māhātmya by David Kinsley

The Little Goddesses (Matrikas) by Aryan, K.C; Rekha Prakashan (1980)

Goddesses in Ancient India by P K Agrawala; Abhinav Publications (1984)

The Tantra of Sri Chakra by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao; Sharada Prakashana (1983)

Matrikas:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrikas

Sapta Matrikas and Matrikas

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/Frames/forumframebodyindex.html

The mother goddess in Indian sculpture By Cyril Veliath

http://www.info.sophia.ac.jp/fs/staff/kiyo/kiyo37/veliath.pdf

Some discussions on the Skanda – Tantra and Balagrahas

http://manasataramgini.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/some-discursion-on-skanda-tantra-s-and-balagraha-s/

The Mahabharata of Krishna –Dwaipayana Vyasa (Book 3, Part 2) Section 229

http://www.bookrags.com/ebooks/12333/180.html

Devis of the first enclosure

http://shaktisadhana.50megs.com/Newhomepage/Frames/gallery/Khadgamala/1stenclosureB.html

 All pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2012 in Devi, Saptamatrka

 

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Vishnu – Dwadashanamas – Part Two

Continued from Part One— Vishnu

B. Narayana

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 – commencing with the line sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt – 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.

The Rishi of the Purusha Sukta is Narayana; and , its Devata is Purusha. It is said, the Rishi and his deity (devatha) merged into one; and , thus Narayana became the Purusha (Satapatha Brahmana 13. 6. 1.1).

puruṣo ha nārāyaṇo’kāmayata atitiṣṭheyaṃ sarvāṇi bhūtānyahamevedaṃ sarvaṃ
syāmiti sa etam puruṣamedham pañcarātram
yajña kratum apaśyattamāharattenāyajata teneṣṭvātyatiṣṭhatsarvāṇi bhūtānīdaṃ
sarva mabha vadatitiṣṭhati sarvāṇi bhūtānīdaṃ sarvam bhavati ya evam
vidvān puruṣamedhena yajate yo vaitadevam veda

[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.

candramā manaso jātaś cakṣoḥ sūryo ajāyata |  mukhād indraś cāgniś ca prāṇād vāyur ajāyata ||

chandāṃsi jajñire tasmād yajus tasmād ajāyata ||

 pādo ‘sya viśvā bhūtāni tripād asyāmṛtaṃ divi ||

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” (mayi te teṣhu chā api aham – 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 (prakriti) 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)  and protector (Palaka) of all beings. Some scholars explain the giving up (sacrificing) his innate nature of purity, formlessness and transcendence is indeed the sacrifice of Purusha (Purusha medha). 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. Though Purusha was dismembered , he fills, enlivens all this Universe ; and,  lies hidden in all forms of existence.  Sri Ramanuja, therefore,  described him as the primordial creator adi-karta cha bhutanam.

ime vai lokāḥ pūrayameva puruṣo yo’yam pavate so’syām puri śete tasmāt puruṣastasya yadeṣu lokeṣvannaṃ tadasyā nnam medhas tadyadasyaitadannam medhas tasmāt puruṣamedho’tho  yadasminmedhyānpuruṣānālabhate tasmādveva puruṣamedhaḥ //Sh.Br.13.6.2.1//

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  

(Mahanarayanopanishad)

 

4.6. According to Sri Ramanuja, whatever is, is Brahman. His Brahman is not an impersonal Absolute;  but, is 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 Parama-purusha 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.

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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 (Narayanam namaskrutyam naram chaiva narottamam).

6.2. The expression Narayana also suggests several other meanings; the more common of which, as given in Manu Smriti (1.10) are: ‘the primal waters’; ‘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, Narayana as Purusha not only resides in water  in his natural state (prui sete) ; 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.

āpo narā iti proktā āpo vai narasūnavaḥ / tā yad asyāyanaṃ pūrvaṃ tena nārāyaṇaḥ smṛtaḥ // Mn_1.10 //

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.

mysore-painting

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 Mahabhashya too defines the term bhakta (devotee) as the ‘follower of Vasudeva, God of gods’- ke cit kaṃsa-bhaktāḥ bhavanti ke cit vāsudeva-bhaktāḥ (P_3,1.26.6).  Patanjali quotes a verse: “May the might of Krishna accompanied by Sankarshana increase! – saṅkarṣaṇa-dvitīyasya balam kṛṣṇasya vardhatām iti  -(P_2,2.24.4) “

8.2. The Arthashastra of Kautilya, of fourth century BC, refers several times to Krishna; while the Baudhayana Dharma Sutra  (Baudh 2.5.9.10) 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).

4th–6th century CE Sardonyx seal representing Vishnu

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:

brahmi-on-columnDevadevasa 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.

D. Para-Vasudeva

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.

Adi Murthi

 

Let’s talk about the Vyuha of the Pancharatra School in the next post.

Continued in

Part Three

The Vyuha

 

Iconography

Narayana

(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.

Krishna

krishna with gods

Krishna is the 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.

[It is said in Vaikhanasa agama: Krishna‘s forms are indeed infinite; and,  are beyond enumeration . Whoever desires to worship Krishna, let her/him choose one of Krishna’s forms ; and , devote to it entirely, diligently and lovingly – Krishna rupani asankyanivaktum asaktyani; tasmad ethestya rupam karayeth]

(i) To start with, the Krishna iconographic depictions are conceived in three broad forms. They are his Saumya or Lalita-rupa – gracious, delightful and beautiful form; the Aradhya-rupa– worship-worthy divine form , either two-armed , four-armed or eight-armed (Trilokya-mohana)  carrying various ayudhas ; and, the third  is the Vishwa-rupa, or his cosmic form displaying his infinite form as Vishwa or Virat  Purusha pervading every element of the  entire cosmos .

[However, the spectacular Vishwa-rupa depictions and themes are mostly confined to Bhagavad-Gita illustrations]

It is mostly the blend of his two forms – the Saumya and the Aradhya – that have given rise to his Lila –rupa (depicting his various playful deeds and adorable sports) that is widely illustrated and painted in various Schools of art. The Lila Krishna is the most lovable infant/ boy/ and lover. Every mother loves to see Krishna in her little son; and every girl pines to see her lover in the image and spirit of Krishna.

The Lila-rupa is now the prime form of Krishna images. It combines in itself the three other Rupas or forms (Saumya, Aradhya and Vishwa) of Krishna; and projects him as Lila-Krishna or Lila-Purusha.

Again, Krishna’s icons in Lila-rupa may be classed under three broad groups :

: – The first one comprises of his sanctum images, the images installed in temples to which formal worship is offered. For instance:   the universally revered mage of Venu Gopala or Banke Bihari at Vrindavana standing in Tribhangi, with flute on his lips. He is richly decorated with Kaustuba jewel and Srivatsa mark on the chest; and Swastika insignia on his feet.

The sanctum-images of Krishna, Aradhya rupa, try to mirror his cosmic nature. The blue or dark bodied  like a rain-bearing cloud (abhravapu) Krishna corresponds to the sky and the ocean; one defining cosmic vastness and the other cosmic depth; and, both conjointly the Infinity, which as Vishnu’s incarnation Krishna represented [except in Tanjore and Mysore paintings where his figure glows with golden lustre].

: – The second relates to his deeds as the protector of the virtuous and the destroyer of the evil.

The icons depicting Krishna eliminating the evil form another group of Krishna’s iconographic visualization. He subdues the evil ones, such as Kalinga the python, puts an end to agents of death such as Baka, Puthana and Kubalyapitha and others. Here, the detached Krishna eliminates evil, protects environment and Yamuna; removes the polluting venom; puts out forest fires and so on.

As Govardhana-dhari, Krishna lifts mount Govardhana on his left hand little finger for protecting Vrindavana, its people, animals, nature and so on, from Indra’s ire.

His major act of valour in his adolescence was the elimination of Kamsa and Chanura; and establishing a just social order.

Apart from these acts of bravery, Krishna also dispels misgivings and imparts true understanding and knowledge. [Much later in his life, Krishna, as Partha Sarathi,  on the battle field, teaches Arjuna the true perspective of life; and the ways that wise persons act in life].

krishna chatustala0005

: – And, the third is his human forms, where he is the highly  ideal and most beloved  boy, youth and son; and, the sublime, divine lover

In this category of Lila rupa, Krishna as an infant is shown either on the swing or on the lap of Mother Yashodha or on a banyan leaf (vata-patra-shayi) or enjoying a lump of fresh butter (Navaneetha Krishna). In his childhood, Krishna as Bala Krishna is depicted variously as the most lovable ever mischievous little boy stealing butter, breaking pots and playing pranks; as Gopi-Krishna, he plays, sings and dances merrily with the village girls; and in the Radha – Krishna rupa he is with Sri Radha, idealized Love.

As Venu-Gopala or Madana-Gopala or Dhenu Gopala, Krishna adorned with pea-cock feather, vanamala (garland of forest flowers) and a string of gunja-seeds (gunja-avathamsam – siki-pincha),   playing on flute tends the cows (Gopalaka) and plays happily with his mates (Gopala-sukhavahanam).

Krishna Gopala

In Indian tradition, cow (gau) also represents the earth; for, she has earth-like forbearance and capacity to feed mankind. Allegorically, Krishna protects the earth from evils and sustains it. ‘Gau‘ also means the five ‘senses’ that human beings have. Thus, Gopala (Gah palayanti) is he who sustains and controls senses (indriyani). At another level, Krishna stands for the Supreme Self and Gopis for ‘jivatmas‘ or individual selves pining to unite with it. Radha defines the culmination of this longing before she unites with the Supreme Self.

Krishna Kalinga mardhana

(ii) Now, a well respected text of the Shilpa Shastra – Sri Brahmiya Chitra karma Shastram – of Vaishnava orientation devotes the entire of its chapter nine – Sri Krishna Lakshanam – to discuss the various iconographic representation of Krishna.

According to this text:

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).

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).

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.

Krishna radha 3Krishna radha2

Krishna is depicted with two hands as also with four or eight hands. Bedecked with ornaments (sarva-abhara-bhushitam)   Trailokya–mohana form may have eight or sixteen arms carrying various ayudhas , such as shakthi (sphere), kumbha (pot), srunga (horn), musala ( pestle) , bana (arrow) , goad (ankusha) , noose ( pasha)  ; and gesturing boons (varada-hasta) or in meditative pose (dhyana-hasta)

 

Rangoli222

(iii) Another text – Vidyarnava-tantra – mentions that Krishna could be represented differently according to the three segments of the day: morning, afternoon and evening.

In the morning, Krishna is seated on a jewelled throne (ratna-simhasana) in Padmasana (lotus-posture). He is shown as a small boy, blue in complexion; holding a ball of fresh butters; and, surrounded by cows, his fellow cowherd-friends and maidens. He looks happy and cheerful (hasantam) with an enchanting smile playing on his lips (manda-smita-mukhambuja)

In the afternoon, he is a grown-up boy, in his teens, wearing pea-cock feathers on his crown (Shikhi-pincha); bejewelled (ratna-kundala); adorned with Vanamala garland; and, draped in yellow silken garments (Pitambara). He holds a flute in his right hand; and in his left hand he has either a conch (shankha) or a stick (krida vetra) for sport.

And, in the evening, he is resplendent as a monarch of Dwaraka (Dwarakadisha), seated on a jewelled throne in an elegant pavilion surrounded by water bodies. He well decked, adorned with variety of ornaments and a handsome crown. Sometimes, he is depicted with four arms carrying the ayudhas associated with Vishnu – conch, discus, mace and lotus (shankha, chakra, gadha, padma). He is served by many beautiful looking women (surupani) and wise sages. Rukmini of blue complexion holding a red lotus flower (padma or rakta-indīvara) stands to his right; while Satyabhama of golden complexion holding a blue lotus flower (utpala,nīlotpala ) stands to his left.

Krishna symbolism

(iv) There is also a rare depiction of Krishna in the Tantric tradition.

Para Vasudeva

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.

lotus blue

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

http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/archives/advaita-l/2003-May/032971.html

http://www.gosai.com/chaitanya/saranagati/html/vedic-upanisads/vedic-archeology-2.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasudeva

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svayam_bhagavan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliodorus_pillar

http://www.gosai.com/chaitanya/saranagati/html/vedic-age_fs.html

http://hinduismhome.com/shop/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=16

http://4krsna.wordpress.com/2009/04/10/the-pancharatra-agamas/

http://www.ibiblio.org/sripedia/cgi-bin/kbase/Pancaratra/Modeshttp://www.srivaishnavan.com/ans_iswara.html

http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/spiritual-discussions/35835-enclyopedia-visistadvaitam-sri-vaishnavam.html

Krishna with cow drawings from http://www.drdhaarts.com/portfolio/?q=node/8

 Other pictures from internet

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Vishnu

 

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Greek comedies, Sanskrit drama and Bollywood

This follows a discussion we (a bunch of old goats) had on the ancient drama forms , which led to the question why there are no well known Greek comedies and why there are not many “ Tragedies” in the Indian theatre.

Greeks

1. The Greek tragedies are of course unsurpassed in their grandeur and in depiction of the failings of the mighty. They are the inspirations for countless works of merit in all other languages.

Before going into the their Dramas ; it appears to me that the ancient Greeks were a rather inward looking people and did not interact with other cultures in their (other’s) terms. You do not come across many instances of ancient Greeks learning the language of the Egyptians, Persians or the Indians. They preferred to look at the world through the Greek prism and turned everything around into a Greek term or a Greek name or Greek pronunciation.

Even, during the times (ca. 500 BCE) when Greece was a part of the Persian Empire and when large number of Greeks served the Empire as its officials , it appears they transacted in Greek and  not in the language of Persia. For instance Ktesias who served the Persian king Artaxerxes Mnemon (404–358 B.C.) as his personal physician for eight years (405-397 B.C.) mentioned that he invariably wrote and transacted in Greek language. The two books he authored on the events in Persia (Persika), and the events in India (Indika) were in Greek. Similarly, Skylax of Karyanda who served as a naval commander in the army of the Persian Emperor Darius Hystargus (512–486 BCE) also managed in Greek.

Old comedies of Greece

2.1. The Greek tragedies are of course widely appreciated the world over. But, what is commonly not known is that the so-called “old comedy” was in fact the favorite entertainment of the common Greeks. It is not that the ancient Greeks loved only tragedies and nothing else. The Greek people witnessed the vicissitudes of life as any other people of those times; and loved all forms of drama. It is just that the Greek tragedies travelled abroad, in translations, and gained great fame.

2.2. The ‘old comedy’ was more popular among common Greeks. The comic plays were performed at the village festivals with jovial gaiety and jesting license in honor of Dionysus the god of wine and fertility. The comedies were    mostly vulgar ballets with male actors wearing masks and gaudy costumes enacting indecent farce and satire about phallic jokes. Sometimes, young fellows disguised grossly as beasts or birds broke out into riotous phallic dances.

2.3. It was however later during the times of Menander, the first of the great writers of Greek comedy, and Aristophanes (between about 456 BCE and 380 BCE) that Greek comedy gained some credibility. It is said that the comic playwrights produced their works for dramatic competitions at two festivals in honour of  Dionysus Lenaius held in the cities Dionysian (in March) and the Lenaea (in January), on the same stage as the tragedies.

Aristophanes and Menander
 **
2.4. At these festivals, comedies were more important and popular than tragedies. It is said, at least five comedies entered the competition each year (except during the Peloponnesian war when only three comedies were performed). The comedies included singing and dancing performances of Dithyramb (hymns in honor of the god of wine Dionysus). It is not clear when these festivals were abandoned; but it is believed the competitions at Lenaea continued into the second century BCE.

Attic relief (4th century BCE) depicts a qulos player and his family standing before Dionysus and a female consort, with theatrical masks displayed above.

 **
Aristophanes and the comedies

3.1. Aristophanes, I reckon was a sort of stand-up comedian of his times. His performances were packed with pungent political satire and abundance of sexual and vulgar innuendo. He was also fond of drinks ; and used to say at his performances  : Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever. 

He was adept in stringing together several words into a long unpronounceable compound word that confounded the listeners .

“In my opinion,” he said , “producing comedies is the hardest work of all.”

” How many are the things that vex my heart! Pleasures are few, so very few – just four -“

Aristophanes lampooned the most important personalities and institutions of his day. His ridicule was feared by influential contemporaries. Talking about the politicians of the day, he said ” “You cannot teach a crab to walk straight. Under every stone lurks a politician” . 

He described the Characteristics of a popular politician as : a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner. “Politics, these days, is no occupation for an educated man, a man of character. Ignorance and total lousiness are better.”

But , “Ignorance can be cured; but,  stupidity is forever”. 

‘Look at the orators in our republics; as long as they are poor, both state and people can only praise their uprightness; but once they are fattened on the public funds, they conceive a hatred for justice, plan intrigues against the people and attack the democracy.’

You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troubled times that you line your pockets.’

He quipped : “they looked like rascals when seen from the heavens and, seen up close, they look even worse”.

And , when Amynias who had lost money in gambling was appointed ambassador, Aristophanes sang:

Way up there in Thessaly /  Home of the poor Penestes/ Happy to be where everyone/Is as penniless as he is.

**

3.2. Plato, as all know, was a studious philosopher. But, his favorite dramatist was Aristophanes, the writer of comedies. Plato, it is said, endorsed to his friends the comedies of Aristophanes. Plato, in his Symposium, made Aristophanes deliver a discourse on love, which the latter explained in a sensual manner. Aristophanes, in his work The Clouds, ridiculed Socrates; and, in his lyrical-burlesque The Frogs, he lampooned Euripides. Yet, Aristophanes was well regarded; and, his plays were very popular.

3.3. The ‘old comedy’ survives today in the form of about eleven plays of Aristophanes. The later historians described those plays as ‘the last of the great species of poetry Greece gave to the world’.

3.4. The philosopher Aristotle (c.335 BCE) was, however, not much amused by the antics of the ‘old comedies’. He wrote in his Poetics that those plays were representations of laughable people, their blunders and their ugliness. He softened the blow by adding that the comedies did not however cause pain or disaster.

3.5. If the Greek tragedies notably of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are better known and admired world over, it was because of their superior script, treatment of the subject and the conflict they depict between the human will and the Greek idea of fate. Had the conflict been between the will of two humans it would have turned the play into a social drama or even a comedy. [Perhaps, it is  here the genius of Shakespeare shines forth].

The ancient Sanskrit drama

4.1. The ancient Indians did not consider catharsis as a legitimate purpose of a play. The tragic plays did not flourish as they did in Greece or in England. The reasons for this are many.

But, the prime objective of a Drama was considered to be to  provide wholesome entertainment (ananda) . Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka,  taunts; and mocks at one who naively believes that Drama, like history (itihasa), is there only to give knowledge. He wryly remarks ‘ I salute  (tasmai namah) that simpleton  (alpabuddhih) who has averted his face from what is delightful ..!’

anandanisyandisu rupakesu / vyutpattimatram phalam alpabuddhih/ yo ‘pitihasadivad aha sadhus/  tasmai namah svaduparah mukhaya//DR.1.6//

Much earlier to that; Bharatha, in a way, had summed up the virtues and merits of Nataka , a dramatic work that captivates the hearts of the spectators and brings glory to its playwright , producer and the actors .

The work of art that satisfies all classes of spectators ; and is a happy and enjoyable composition, which is graceful on account of being  adorned with sweet and elegant words; free from obsolete and obscure meaningless verbose ; easily grasped and understood by the common people ; skillfully arranged ; interspersed with delightful songs and dances; and,  systematically  displaying varied types of sentiments  in its plot devised into Acts, scenes, junctures etc.

mdu-lalita-padārtha gūha-śabdārtha-hīna ;   budha jana sukha bhogya,  yuktiman – ntta-yogyam  bahu rasa kta mārga , sandhi-sandhāna-yukta  bhavati  jagati  yogyaaka  prekakāām  16.130

That does not mean that the Sanskrit Dramas were all about fun and laughter; nor were they tales of sorrow. The Rupaka, is a fine combination of the two; as it reveals the sorrow as well as pleasure in proper perspective.

Bharatha explains: when the nature of the world, possessing pleasure and pain both, is depicted by means of representations through speech, songs, gestures , music and other (such as, costume, makeup, ornaments etc ) it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita  som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  119

Thus, according to Bharatha, the Drama is but a reflection or a representation of the actions of Men of various natures (Prakrti) –avastha-anikrtir natyam . That is to say; the Drama, in its various forms of art, poetry etc., strives to depict the infinite variety of human characters.

A Rupaka is that which delights and gladdens the hearts of the Sahrudya, without shaking their moral fiber. Its characters might, momentarily, be tempted by an illusory wickedness; but, eventually the goodness triumphs.

In Indian Dramas, characters like Karna, Rama, Hariscandra, Sakuntala, Sita or Draupadl face severe adversities in their life; and, no one thinks of putting an immediate end to their miseries by terminating their life. They face the adversities with courage and confidence.

The principal characters  are  not caught on the horns of a moral dilemma – ‘To be or not to be’– ; they impulsively are rooted in the accepted norm of their Dharma, depending upon the stage and their standing or status in life – as the son, friend, King or Wife etc. The conflict is not always between a good and an evil; but, often between a good and another good. The heroes and heroines always choose what they deem to be the greater-good, in the larger interest.

Unlike in the Greek tragedies, the Nayakas and Nayikas of a Rupaka are neither daunted by the fear of death; nor are they confronted by an obscure Fate in an unequal battle. In fact, not many seem to blame the Fate as the cause of their strife and struggles. Interestingly, the concept of fate is a rather late entry into to the Indian ethos. (For more on that, please check here.)

The evil, if any, was personified as Ravana, Shakuni or Shakara (btw, Shakara, the villain who also provides comic relief, later turned into a sort of role-model in the Indian movies). They are deemed evil because they shake ones faith in goodness and in the very roots of life. Apart from these, there are not many truly evil characters, acting as unprovoked malign agencies wrecking havoc.

For instance; the ever impatient irascible Durvasa who hurls a curse, causing the separation of Dushyanta and his Love Shakuntala, is not an antagonist. In fact , he is external to the story-line. Similar is the case with the impulsive Sage Vishvamitra, the cause for the dethronement and exile of Harishchandra. But,  towards the end , their curses are amply compensated by generous boons.

**

4.2. The ancient Sanskrit drama  distinguished one form of drama (Rupaka)  from its other forms  on the basis of its Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) – vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako .

It did not recognize classification based on how the drama ended, on whether the characters lived happily ever after or whether the characters struggled in vain against almost impossible odds and eventually failed. There is no clear classification of happy or sad ending.

For instance, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata end in a somber note; the evil undoubtedly was vanquished in the end, but the virtuous victors were neither jubilant nor were they at peace. It is not a tragic ending in the sense the evil did not triumph; and it is not a comic ending either because the heroes did not seem to have ‘lived happily ever after’. Rama, Krishna and Pandavas, all ended their earthly sojourn on a rather solemn note; and, returned to their heavenly abode.

Even after winning the Great War, Yudhisthira is not happy; for, none could enjoy the fruits of his victory; the death had cast its shadow everywhere. There was no joy.

Krishna, the incarnate of the Divine, died of a hunter’s arrow. And, the whole of his clan was drowned in a Tsunami. Even the sinless (Parama-pavani) Sita, the ideal of womanhood, finally disappears into the depths of mother-earth; as if returning Home. And, she never unites with her husband again. Rama spends his later years in loneliness.

And, all those fabulous characters were on the side that won the wars.

4.3. The struggle depicted in the ancient dramas, based on the epics, was not about a person’s comfort; but, it was about what they stood for and the values they represented. The pith of the story was in the manner the virtuous men and women faced their adversaries and adversities, within the frame work of Dharma; and, finally triumphed after sustained fighting. At the end, it was hailed as the triumph of the Dharma.

The object of the play was to demonstrate the proper way to live; a way which the generations to come can follow and adopt as a benchmark or a norm of attitude and behavior , while grappling with the conflicts confronting them in their lives.

4.4. It also had to do with the perception of life in general. One’s view of death is related to what one regards as life. One way of looking at death is as a dreaded terminator, which irrevocably puts an end to ones relation with all existence. There are however beliefs that prefer to treat “life” not as an interval between two extremities; but, as a continuum in space and time; and, that space could be elsewhere and not necessarily here on earth.

4.5. The life jivita on this earth, according to their beliefs, is a continuum propelled by causes and effects (karman) spread over several jivitas. The disappointments and miseries that one has endured in this life can be put behind; and, one can always look forward with hope. There is no “End” or “Finis” to life.

Take for instance; Banabhatta’s classic novel Kadambari (c.seventh century) re-rendered by Ms. Kalpita Raj as PunarmilanThe reunion… (Love-story From Ancient India) , a torturous love story filled with frustrations , disappointments and failures as each character passionately strives for love. The story spills into three re-births; and finally love triumphs. It is perhaps a way of saying that love defies death. In fact, it is the persistence of love through a series of re-births that holds the story together.

*

In all these cases, the Death is viewed only as a temporary phase in the continuous life of man. If a person suffers, his suffering is on account of his misdeeds or sins in his previous life. Such suffering is a means to test  man’s character and his integrity. There is nothing disastrous about  it.

The theme of tragic suffering is not excluded from the story-line; but only a tragic closure or the ending is avoided . No one turned his back on the tragic experiences in life , as also in Drama. Sanskrit poets were not escapists. They depicted all tragic elements in life; but, softened it with the experience of happiness.

By rejecting death as the ultimate end, the significance of sorrow, suffering and confrontation with the evil in life, are reduced in their magnitude and in their effect to cause irrevocable harm.

Here, in all such cases, the Tragedy raises the question of the ultimate meaning of human existence; and, its resilience to fight back adversities. Most of the Indian Dramas  deal with the set of similar problem.

The central idea of Greek Tragedy is that man learns through suffering; and, it is through suffering that he becomes modest and humble. Man realizes the futility of ambitions and accepts his own insignificance. But before he learns this lesson, he has to pay heavily for it; having done that he becomes a nobler and purer soul. That is precisely what happens in Urubhanga also.

The heroes and heroines of the Sanskrit Dramas, placed within their limited confines battle extraordinary situations with courage and conviction; but, finally , they emerge out of the ordeal with composure and dignity, though a bit bruised .

Though we do not have technical tragedies , in the Western sense, we have serious tragic situations in our literature, where man is at grips with adversities; as also with the  inter-play of characters and circumstances . But, here again , the Good eventually triumphs.

This is the Indian way or approach to life; whereas, the Western approach to life is altogether different; and, when they face severe complexities in their life, they think of putting an end to their life. For them death is the liberation from the serious problems of life. Perhaps, this difference in outlook towards life is one of the main reasons for the happy-ending in Sanskrit dramas.

 

4.6. The ancient Sanskrit plays generally portray four categories of heroes: dhirodatta (ideal person like Rama); dhiralalitha (lover boy like Dushyantha); dhirashanta (calm and collected like Charudutta); and dhirodhhata (the tragic hero like Ravana, Duryodhana or Karna).

The tragic hero is endowed with all virtues such as good looks, wealth, strength and power;  but, is afflicted with a single gnawing flaw in his character, which brings about his ruin.

For instance; Ravana with lust; Duryodhana with greed and jealousy; Karna with embitterment were the classic examples. The tragic hero is all the while aware of his tragic flaw; he fights with himself; nevertheless, embraces his fate, death and destruction in a strange mixture of detachment and bravado.

He is heroic in most ways and he is very important to the play; but, he is a counterpoint to the hero. And, In Sanskrit drama, the good always triumphs over the evil.

It was Bhasa the celebrated playwright (ca. 2nd century BCE to 2nd century AD) who in his plays uru-bhanga and karna-bhara treated Duryodhana and Karna with great sympathy and appreciation. Bhasa was the first to break away from the conventions of Natyasastra to show physical violence on the stage; and to end his plays in pathos and in the death of his heroes. In his prathima-natakam he treats Kaikeyi, the deluded queen of the old king, with sympathy and understanding. Bhasa was the first significant Indian writer of what you might call the tragic plays.

***

4.7. Coming back to the question of tragic plays, There is no unhappy ending in Sanskrit Natakas; and, that is why most of the commentators say  that no tragedy has been written in Sanskrit drama.There is a faith that  Good is bound to triumph ; Truth will survive and last long. Suffering is not the final end of life. That is perhaps why we do not have tragedies.

*

Perhaps, a major Sanskrit Drama that could have been turned into a Tragedy is Bhavabhuthi’s Uttara-Rama-Charitra, narrating the woes, sufferings and separation of Rama and Sita. Such an unfortunate situation rudely befalls them after they had gone through an acutely distressing  life of exile, separation and battles; and, when they were just about to settle down to a peaceful , normal conjugal life. 

This cruel blow is struck, when a washer man flippantly comments about the plausible infidelity of Sita, during her confinement in Ravana’s garden. The then social norm demands that Rama should send Sita away; and, he promptly dispatches the pregnant Sita far away into the woods. And, what follows thereafter is bitter agonizing suffering for both. Vasanti, the presiding deity of the forests, rebukes Rama for having abandoned Sita; and, Rama becomes remorseful and experiences untold agony.

Over the centuries, many have been troubled by the strange exit of the unhappy Sita from her life .

Bhavabhuthi questions, and cries out ‘why?’: How could Rama ever think of abandoning such a wife as Sita? And, having abandoned her for whatever reason, how could they be again united in any real sense until all clouds, all vestiges of doubt and distrust, had been entirely banished from their minds ?

If Rama’s moral conflict had been between his kingly duties and his love for his wife; and , had it been kept as the central theme; and, if the  play had  been based upon it; and, if the banishment of Sita, after much inward struggle , suffering, had come toward the end of the play, we might then have had a worthy tragedy .

Apparently, Bhavabhuthi was not satisfied with such inadequate motivation: he was not content to bring, somehow, the estranged pair together; and then leave them to settle their causes of dispute later amicably or otherwise.

He felt that a reunion, to be meaningful, must first be a reunion of hearts; and this was the psychological problem which he deliberately proposed to himself in this play; especially, in the first three Acts. The complicated chain of events leading to the actual reunion and the recognition of the princes forms the burden of the last four Acts

Remarkably, Bhavabhuti’s major concern in his play, is the healing of Sita’s mind and bruised heart. Her doubts about Rama’s love and her anger at the repudiation have to disappear. Her own capacity for love, benumbed by her long suffering has to be revived before any reconciliation with honor is possible. Only then would justice be rendered to Sita,  and to all Indian womanhood.

The play ends on a happy note.

*

Similarly,  some of the Sanskrit plays like Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa ; Nagananda of Harsha; Malatimadhava of Bhavabhuthi;  etc. could have been rendered as  tragedies , had their authors followed the original story line. Instead, they preferred to slightly re-adjust the scene; and, altered the endings.

Let us take, for example, the Vikramorvasiya of Kalidasa. Although he had a fine tragic plot ready  for his poetic touch, in order to avoid the tragedy; and, to arrive at an assured  happy conclusion, Kalidasa  greatly changed the original story of  Urvasi and King Pururavas. In the original , they were allowed  to remain together so long as the King did not behold the son to be borne to him by Urvasi.

Kalidasa changed the story ; and lowered the heroine from her celestial status into a mortal; and, allowed her to live happily with her Lover and her child.

Had Kalidasa  followed the original story-line, in the last scene, king would have been placed  in a tragic conflict of emotion between his joy of  beholding, for the first time, his son and heir; and, his agony of sorrow at the loss of Urvasi,  resulting from the sight of this same child.

*

Similarly, the Nagananda of Harsha could quickly  have been  transformed into a tragedy by altering some of the lighter scenes slightly and eliminating the intervention of the gods at the end. Had not  Jimutavahana been  restored to life, the play would  not only have been more tragic; but it would also have been more artistic. A fine contrast could have been made between the hero’s love for his bride and his devotion to what he felt to be his compelling duty. The hero would have sacrificed his life willingly for the greater good.

**

If we take away the last Act or scene of these plays, they could certainly become good examples of Tragedies, in a formal or technical sense.

But, perhaps , due to certain established traditions of the  Sanskrit dramatic theory and practices ; the outlook which mold the life and attitudes of people; the response of the audience;  the outlook of the Sanskrit dramatists , and, of the  producers of the plays,  these dramas were converted  into ‘happy-endings’.

The study of tragic consciousness in Sanskrit drama is a fascinating problem from the literary and aesthetic point of view. ‘Tragedy,‘ basically, is a western concept; and, therefore, it has to be viewed in the framework of the Aristotelian aesthetics. However, the tragic consciousness (Karuna) is a universal notion and sentiment; and, it can be traced in the classical Sanskrit drama and aesthetics , as well.

The Indian scholars opine that  a drama, which above all, embodies Karuna Rasa or the sentiment of pathos is essentially a Tragedy , in as much as it excites the feelings of pity and terror, which according to Aristotle are the essence of tragedy.

Bhavabhuthi considers Karuna as the only sentiment; and, all other sentiments as  its different forms (Eko Rasaha Karuna eva nimita bhedam bhinna pruthak pruthavashrayate vivartan). This Karuna or, pathetic sentiment is the basis of tragedy.

And, there is abundance of Karuna Rasa in the Sanskrit Dramas; and, has been a source  of aesthetic enjoyment for  the Sahrudayas. There is a close relationship between tragedy and tragic consciousness (Karunya).

In fact, the Ramayana Epic commences with a poignant note, when the poet Valmiki cries out, empathizing (Karunyam) with the pain and the mournful lament of the Kranunchi bird, whose mate had just been shot down by a hunter’s arrow. Valmiki gives voice to the inarticulate painful, heart wrenching shrill of the mourning female bird. That Karunya permeates the Epic throughout.

Anandavardhana says, the sorrow (Shoka) of the First Poet, which arose out of the separation of the couple of the krauncha birds, took the form of a verse (Shloka).

Kavyasyatma sa evarthas tatha cadikaveh pura/ Kraunca dvandva viyogottha sokah slokatvamagatah (Dhyanyaloka.1.5)

Abhinavgupta explains; the Shoka which took the form of Shloka is the sthayibhava of karuna-Rasa that was experienced by the Adi Kavi Valmiki. And, that sorrow is not to be taken merely as the personal sorrow of the sage-poet (na tu muneh soka iti mantavyam); but , it belongs to the Muni and the bird alike; and, indeed, it is also the generalized (Sadharinikarana) or the universal form of sorrow that is experienced  by the aesthetes (Sahrudaya) of all the generations.

Bollywood

5.1. Though the Sanskrit plays are virtually dead in India, they live and thrive in the spirit of the Indian movies, popularly labelled as Bollywood movies.

5.2. In the structure of their plots, depiction, treatment and conclusion of the story , most Indian movies that have done well at the Box office follow , consciously or otherwise, the time-tested formula prescribed by the ancient Sanskrit theater.

Just as in the Sanskrit plays, our movies too are stuffed with navarasas; embellished with virtuous heroes having comic sidekicks; good-hearted loving mothers blessed with obedient sons; adorable heroines with plain-Jane friends; good-looking  and powerful villains toying  with vamps and sometimes providing comic relief ; loose script studded with chorus, songs and dances as also some fights; and the story always ends on a happy note with the good and love triumphing over the bad and loveless.

The initial scenes are always auspicious and happy-feeling (adi-mangala); and as the story unfolds , unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted by the crafty villain on the virtuous hero or at times the unsuspecting good-hearted hero walks into a snare specially designed for him by the  dark-hearted bad guy. In the midst of all the heart wrenching misery, near about the mid-point of the story, inevitably, something good happens to the hero or his family (madhya-mangala); and after a bitter and suspenseful struggle in which the gentle heroine, for no fault of her, is somehow drawn in. Eventually the good and love triumphs; and all ends well (antya-mangala).

Somewhere in the second-half of the story when the hero is wedged in a tight spot, the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka  (immortalized by Rajendranath and tribe) comes handy and aids the struggling hero.

5.3. The Sanskrit plays are thus the forerunners of the Bollywood formula movies. Now, any film that deviates from that time-honored formula , depicting realism, stands, out like a sore thumb ; and , acquires the unenviable title of an Offbeat. And , what is even worse is that it might be dubbed an Art film.

[That , I feel , is rather unfortunate. Because, it fails to recognize and applaud the innovative and path-breaking spirit  that augurs well for the future of the Indian Cinema.  It is particularly so , as such ventures are taken at risk to ones  career; though after  much introspection . The least we can do is to encourage such creative trends, which allow the Indian Cinema to reinvent itself.] 

*

5.4. The song and dance “item-numbers” which are unique to Indian movies, also seem to be inspired by the ancient Sanskrit drama.

Bharata, the author of Natyasastra and also a producer of plays, in the middle of one of his plays, introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharata “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?”- 

yadā prāpty artham arthānāṃ tajjñair abhinayaḥ kṛtaḥ / kasmān nṛttaṃ kṛtaṃ hyetatkaṃ svabhāvam apekṣate । na gītak ārtha sambaddhaṃ na cāpy arthasya bhāvakam ॥ 262॥

Bharata agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even  perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyasastra : 4.267-268)

maṅgalamiti kṛtvā ca nṛttame tat prakīrtitam । vivāha prasavā avāha pramodā abhyuadayādiṣu ॥ 4.265॥ vinoda kāraṇaṃ ceti nṛttame tat pravartitam । ataś caiva pratikṣepā adbhūta saṅghaiḥ pravartitāḥ॥ 4.266॥

Bollywood

5.5. And, finally what is remarkable about Bollywood is that it is notional or abstract; it exists only in the mind and has no physical location or existence. Yet, it is close to all. Its primary form exists in what used to be called Bombay; but it has no specific location and could be anywhere in India, since the outside world has come to know all branches of Indian cinema as Bollywood. Truly, Bollywood is closer to Indian concepts of abstraction and phenomenon, than anything else we know.

abstract-forms-

 
 
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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Art, General Interest

 

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Who were the Vratyas – the searching wanderers?

[This article attempts to trace the meaning that the term Vratya acquired  at various stages in the unfolding of Indian history; and, wonders how well that meaning mirrored the state of Indian society at that  given stage.]

Every civilization has certain unique features, which differentiate it from the rest. Indian civilization is distinguished by its resilience; continuity with change; and its diversity. The composite fabric of Indian civilization is woven with strands and shades of varying textures and hues.

Rig Veda repeatedly refers to the composite character of its society and to its pluralistic population. It mentions the presence of several faiths, cults and languages; and calls upon all persons to strive to become noble parts of that pluralistic society.

The pluralistic character of that society was characterized not merely by its composition but also by the divergent views held by its thinkers. There were non -conformists and dissenters even among the Vedic philosophers. In addition, there were individuals and groups who were outside the pale of the Vedic fold; and who practiced, the pre-Vedic traditions; and rejected the validity of the Vedas and its rituals.

The prominent among such dissenters and rebels were the Vratyas. They were an atrociously heterogeneous community; and defied any definition. Even to this day, the meaning of the term Vratya is unclear; and is variously described. The amazing community of the Vratyas included magicians, medicine men, shamans, mystics, materialists, vagrant or mendicant (parivrajaka), wandering madmen, roaming- footloose warriors, mercenaries, fire eaters, poison swallowers , libidinous pleasure seekers and wandering swarm of austere ascetics.

Some of them were violent and erotic; while some others were refined and austere; and a lot others were just plain crazy. It was a random assortment of nuts and gems.

[ Even in the later times , Vratya was used as derogatory term. For instance ; in the Drona parva of the Mahabharata (07,118.015) the Vrishni-s and Andhaka-s were branded Vratyas – uncouth and uncultured- vrātyāḥ saṃśliṣṭakarmāṇaḥ prakṛtyaiva vigarhitāḥ / vṛṣṇy andhakāḥ kathaṃ pārtha pramāṇaṃ bhavatā kṛtāḥ]

The Rig Veda mentions Vratyas about eight times (e.g. 3:26:6; 5:53:11; 5:75:9; 9:14:2); and five groups of the Vratyas are collectively called pancha-vrata (10:34:12). The Atharva Veda (15th kanda) devotes an entire hymn titled vratya- suktha (AVŚ_15,3.1 to AVŚ_15,18.5) to the “mystical fellowship” of the Vratyas. The Pancavimsa-brahmana Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas too talk about Vratyas; and, describe a sacrifice called Vratya-stoma, which is virtually a purification ritual.

The Rig Veda, generally, employs the term Vratya  to denote: breakaway group or an inimical horde or a collection of men of indefinite number; living in temporary settlements. The Atharva-Veda too, uses the word in the sense of a stranger or a guest or one who follows the rule; but, treats it with a lot more respect. Apparently, the perceptions changed a great deal during the intervening period.

The Jaiminiya Brahmana (2:222) describes  Vratyas   as ascetics roaming about themselves in an intoxicated state; and speak impure speech (Vacha hy avratam amedhyam vadanti) . The Tandya (24:18.2) , however, addresses them as divine-Vratyas (daivā vai vrātyāḥ sattram āsata budhena). The Vajasaneyi-samhita refers to them as physicians and as guardians of truth. They seem to have been a community of ascetics living under a set of strange religious vows (Vrata).

Interestingly, Shiva –Rudra is described as Eka –Vratya* (AV 10.8.1.9.1).Shatha-rudriya celebrating the glory of one- hundred – and- eight forms of Rudra hails Rudra as Vrata-pathi, the chief of the Vratyas (TS.4.5.6.1)

[ The Atharva-veda (AV: 15. 1-7) speaks of seven attendants of the exalted Eka Vratya, the Vratya par excellence  : Bhava of the intermediate space in the East;  Sarva in the South; Pashupati in the West; Ugra of the North; Rudra of the lower region; Mahadeva of the upper region ; Asani of  lightening ; and, Ishana of all the intermediate regions. It is said; though they are named differently they in truth are the varying manifestations of the one and the same Eka Vratya. While Rudra, Sarva, Ugra and Asani are the terrifying aspects, the other four: Bhava , Pashupathi a, Mahadeva and Ishana are peaceful aspects.

Of these, Bhava and Sarva by virtue of their rule over sky and earth protect the devote against calamities, contagious diseases and poisonous pollution.

sa ekavrātyo ‘bhavat sa dhanur ādatta tad evendradhanuḥ ||6||nīlam asyodaraṃ lohitaṃ pṛṣṭham ||7||nīlenaivā priyaṃ bhrātṛvyaṃ prorṇoti lohitena dviṣantaṃ vidhyatīti brahmavādino vadanti ||8|| (AVŚ_15,1.6a to 8a)]

[*  However, Dr.RC Hazra in his work Rudra in the Rg-veda (page 243) remarks that Eka-Vratya is to be identified with Prajapathi ; and , not with Rudra,  as some scholars seem to think.]

The Atharva Veda (15.2.1-2) makes a very ambiguous statement: “Of him in the eastern quarter, faith is the harlot, Mitra the Magadha, discrimination is the garment, etc…..” in the southern quarter Magadha is the mantra of the Vratya; in the other two quarters Magadha is the laughter and the thunder of the Vratya. (Mitra, maAtm, hasa and stanayitnur).  It is not clear what this statement implies. But it is taken to mean that the Magadha tribes were friends, advisers and thunder (strong supporters) of the Vratyas.

tasya prācyāṃ diśi śraddhā puṃścalī mitro māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ  – (AVŚ_15,2.1[2.5]e) ; tasya dakṣiṇāyāṃ diśy uṣāḥ puṃścalī mantro māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ – (AVŚ_15,2.2[2.13]e) ; tasya pratīcyāṃ diśīrā puṃścalī haso māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ -(AVŚ_15,2.3[2.19]e); tasyodīcyāṃ diśi vidyut puṃścalī stanayitnur māgadho vijñānaṃ vāso ‘har uṣṇīṣaṃ rātrī keśā haritau pravartau kalmalir maṇiḥ – (AVŚ_15,2.4[2.25]e)

The implication of this is rather interesting. The breakaway group from among the Vedic people (including the Pre-Vedic tribes), that is, the Vratyas left their mainland and roamed over to the East; and ultimately settled in the regions of Magadha, where they found friends and supporters. The reason for that friendly reception appears to be that the Magadha tribes in Eastern India were not in good terms with the Vedic people in the Indus basin; and saw no difficulty in accommodating the Vratyas. And, more importantly, the Magadhas did not follow or approve the Vedic religion; and they, too, just as the Vratyas, were against the rites, rituals and sacrifices of the Vedic community.

The Vedic people too did not seem to regard the Brahman of the Magadha region. They were considered not true Brahmins, but only Brahmins by birth or in name (brahma-bandhu Magadha-desiya)- (Latyayana Srauta sutra . 8.6)

The Vratyas roamed about, mostly, in the regions to the East and North-west of the Madhya-desha, that is, in the countries of Magadha and Anga . That is to say; the Vratyas were more in the East.  But, that does does not mean that they were confined only to the East. The Atharva Veda confirms that they traveled to all directions. However, their movements were restricted by the Himalayas in the North; Vindhyas in the South; and , by the unfriendly tribes in the West. But, in the East , they were free to roam about , without hindrance

They spoke the dialect of Prachya, the source of the languages of Eastern India. It is also said ; the Vratyas  also spoke  the language of the initiated (dīkṣita-vācaṃ vadanti) , though not themselves initiated (a-diksita), but as’ calling that which is easy to utter (a-durukta)  ‘ (Panchavimsa Brahmana, 17.1.9 aduruktavākyaṃ duruktam ) . This may mean that the Vratyas were familiar and comfortable both in Sanskrit and Prakrit.

garagiro vā ete ye brahmādyaṃ janyam annam adanty aduruktavākyaṃ duruktam āhur adaṇḍyaṃ daṇḍena ghnantaś caranty adīkṣitā dīkṣitavācaṃ vadanti ṣoḍaśo vā eteṣāṃ stomaḥ pāpmānaṃ nirhantum arhati yad ete catvāraḥ ṣoḍaśā bhavanti tena pāpmano ‘dhi nirmucyante

They lived alone or in groups, away from populated areas. They followed their own cult-rules and practices. They drifted far and wide; roamed from the Indus valley to banks of the Ganga. They were the wandering seekers.

 [According to Mahamahopadhyay Haraprasad Sastri,the vast territory to the South of the Ganga and North of the Vindhya ranges extending from Mudgagiri (Monghyr) in the East to the Charanadri (Chunar) in the West was called the land of Magadha tribes. The Anga region was around Bhagalpur area.]

The Kesi-suktha  of Rig Veda (10:13:6); Latyayana- sruta-sutra (8.6-7); Bahudayana –sruta- sutra (26.32); Panchavimsati Brahmana (17. 1.9-15) and vratya-sukta of Atharva Veda (15th kanda), provide graphic descriptions of these magis, the Vratyas. 

These descriptions, when put together, project a truly impressive, colorful and awe-inspiring image of the wandering Vratyas.

The Pancavimsa Brahmana of Sama Veda describes them as hordes , who rode open rickety chariots / carts, with planks (amargagamirthah) tied together with strings, suitable for rough roads (vipatha) drawn by  horses or  mules (LSS 8:6,10-11). The Vipatha was said to be in greater use in the Eastern regions (Prachyartha) – vipatha-vāhau vātaḥ sārathī reṣmā pratodaḥ kīrtiś ca yaśaś ca puraḥsarau – (AVŚ_15,2.2[2.14]f)

They carried lances (Pra-toda) , bows (AV 15.2.1)  and a goad (pratoda) .

They were distinguished by their black turbans (krishnam ushnisham dharayanti),  with flutters at the ends , worn in a slanting manner (LSS 8.6-7); wearing  garments with fringes of red (valukantani damatusam), two fringes on each side; a white blanket thrown across the shoulders (BSS 26.32); displaying long matted hair (kesi); a set of round ornaments for the ears (pravartau); jewels (mani) hanging by the neck;  rows of long necklaces of strange beads  (Kalmali) swinging across the chest ; two (dvi) deer-skins /sheepskins folded double (dvisamhitany ajinani) , tied together, for lower garment; and, footwear (Upanah) of black hide , with flaps, for the feet (upanahau).

 valūkāntāni dāmatūṣāṇītareṣāṃ dve dve dāmanī dve dve upānahau dviṣaṃhitāny ajināni – (PB 17.1.15) – etad vai vrātyadhanaṃ yasmā etad dadati tasminn eva mṛjānā yānti

The Panchavimsati Bralhmana (17.1.9-15) further states that the Vratya   leader (Grhapati)   was distinguished by brown robes ; and, silver ornaments for the neck.  He wore a turban (Usnisa), carried a whip (Pratoda), a kind of bow (Jyahroda*), was clothed in a black (krsnasa) garment and two skins (Ajina), black and white (krisna-valaksa), and owned a rough wagon (Viratha) covered with planks (phalakastirna). He also wore garment lined of silver coins (Niska). His shoes were black and pointed.

uṣṇīṣaṃ ca pratodaś ca jyāhṇoḍaś ca vipathaś ca phalakāstīrṇaḥ kṛṣṇaśaṃ vāsaḥ kṛṣṇavalakṣe ajine rajato niṣkas tad gṛhapateḥ  – (PB 17.1.14)

[* The descriptions of the Jya-hroda, a sort of arms carried by the Vratya, occur in the Pancavimsa Brahmana (17.1.14) as also in the Katyayana (22.4.2) and Latyayana (8.6.8) Sutras. It is described as a ‘bow not meant for use’ (ayogya’ dhanus); and also as a ‘bow without an arrow’ (dhanushka anisu). It obviously was a decorative-piece meant to enhance the impressive look of the Chief.]

**

Vratyas used a peculiar type of reclining seats (asandi)

Vratya Asandi

[A-sandi is a generic term for a seat of some sort  , occurring frequently in the later Samhitas and Brahmanas, but not in the Rig-Veda.  In the Atharvaveda (AV. 15.3.2) the settle brought for the Vratya is described at length. It had two feet, lengthwise and cross-pieces, forward and cross-cords. It had a seat (Asada) covered with a cushion (Astarana) and a pillow (Upabarhana), and a support (Upasraya)- āsandīm āruhyodgāyati devasākṣya eva tad upariṣadyaṃ jayat.

so ‘bravīd āsandīṃ me saṃ bharantv iti ||2||tasmai vrātyāyāsandīṃ sam abharan ||3||tasyā grīṣmaś ca vasantaś ca dvau pādāv āstāṃ śarac ca varṣāś ca dvau ||4||bṛhac ca rathantaraṃ cānūcye āstāṃ yajñāyajñiyaṃ ca vāmadevyaṃ ca tiraścye ||5||ṛcaḥ prāñcas tantavo yajūṃṣi tiryañcaḥ ||6||veda āstaraṇaṃ brahmopabarhaṇam ||7||sāmāsāda udgītho ‘paśrayaḥ ||8||tām āsandīṃ vrātya ārohat ||9||(AVŚ_15,3.1a- 9a)

The Satapatha Brahmana (Sat.Brh.5.4.4.1) also describes the Asandi as an elaborate low seat, with diminutive legs; and, of some length on which a man could comfortably stretch himself, if he chose to. And, more than one person could sit on such a seat. It was said to be made of Khadira wood, perforated (vi-trinna), and joined with straps (vardhra-yukta). It perhaps meant a long reclining chair/ rest. The Asandi is described in the Satapatha Brahmana, as a seat for a king or a leader.

maitrāvaruṇyā payasyayā pracarati | tasyā aniṣṭa eva sviṣṭakṛdbhavatyathāsmā āsandī māharant yuparisadyaṃ vā eṣa jayati yo jayatyantarikṣasadyaṃ tadena muparyāsīnamadhastādimāḥ prajā upāsate tasmādasmā āsandī māharanti saiṣā
khādirī vitṛṇā bhavati yeyaṃ vardhra -vyutā bharatānām ]

**

They moved among the warriors (yaudhas), herdsmen and farmers.  They did not care either for the rituals or for initiations (adhikshitah); and not at all for celibacy (Na hi brahmacharyam charanthi) . They did not engage themselves in agriculture (Na krshim) or in trade (Na vanijyam). They behaved as if they were possessed (gandharva grithaha) or drunk or just mad.

hīnā vā ete hīyante ye vrātyāṃ pravasanti na hi brahmacaryaṃ caranti na kṛṣiṃ vaṇijyāṃ ṣoḍaśo vā etat stomaḥ samāptum arhati – (PB 17.1.2)

The scholars generally believe, what has come down to us as Tantra is, in fact, a residue of the cult-practices of the Vratyas. The Tantra, even to this day, is considered non-Vedic, if not anti-Vedic.

The Atharva Veda (Vratya Kanda) mentions that Vratyas were also a set of talented composers and singers. They found they could sing a lot better- and probably hold the notes longer – if they practiced what they called pranayama, a type of breath control. They even attempted relating their body-structure to that of the universe. They learnt to live in harmony with nature. There is, therefore, a school of thought, which asserts, what came to be known as Yoga in the later periods had its roots in the ascetic and ecstatic practices of the Vratyas. And, the Vratyas were, therefore, the precursors of the later ascetics and yogis.

It is said, the theoretical basis for transformation of cult-practices into a system (Yoga) was provided by the Samkhya School. Tantra thus yoked Samkhya and Yoga. Over a long period, both Samkhya and Yoga schools merged with the mainstream and came to be regarded as orthodox (asthika) systems, as they both accepted the authority of the Vedas. Yet, the acceptance of Samkhya and Yoga within the orthodox fold seemed rather strained and with some reservation, perhaps because the flavor -the sense of their non-Vedic origin rooted in the Vratya cult practices of pre  Vedic period –  still lingers on.

The German scholar and Indologist Jakob Wilhelm Hauer (1881 –1962) – who had made the beginnings of Yoga in India the theme for his doctor’s thesis –   in his Der Yoga als Heilweg  (Yoga as a way of salvation) traces the origin of Yoga to the wandering groups of the Vratyas.

JW Hauer, who represented the leading commentators on Eastern thought in the days of CG Jung, mentions that many of the groups that had roots in the Vratya tradition (such as: Jaiminiyas, Kathas, Maitrayaniyas and Kausitakins) were eventually absorbed into the orthodox fold. He also remarks that Chandogya and Svetasvatara Upanishads are closer in spirit to the Vratya- Samkhya ideologies.

It is the Svetasvatara Upanishad which declares Rudra as the Supreme, matchless and one without a second – eko hi rudro na dvitiiyaaya tasthu – SV.3.2. It establishes Rudra as the Absolute, the ultimate essence, not limited by forms and names – na tasya pratima asti yasya nama mahadyasha – SV.4.19)

eko hi rudro na dvitīyāya tasthe ya imāṃl lokān īśata īśanībhiḥ / pratyaṅ janās tiṣṭhati saṃcukocāntakāle saṃsṛjya viśvā bhuvanāni gopāḥ // SvetUp_3.2 // 

nainam ūrdhvaṃ na tiryañcaṃ na madhye parijagrabhat / na tasya pratimā asti yasya nāma mahad yaśaḥ // SvetUp_4.19 // ]

**

The Samkhya school, in its earlier days, was closely associated two other heterodox systems, i.e., Jainism and Buddhism. In a historical perspective, Samkhya-Yoga and Jainism – Buddhism were derived from a common nucleus that was outside the Vedic tradition. And, that nucleus was provided by the Vratya movement.

Interestingly, Arada Kalama, the teacher of Gotama who later evolved in to the Buddha, belonged to Samkhya School. Gotama had a teacher from the Jain tradition too; he was Muni  Pihitasrava a follower of Parsvanatha. The Buddha later narrated how he went around naked, took food in his palms and observed various other rigorous restrictions expected of a Sramana  ascetic. The Buddha followed those practice for some time and gave them up, as he did not find merit in extreme austerities.

The Buddha, the awakened one, was a Yogi too. His teachings had elements of old-yoga practices such as askesis (self-discipline), control, restraint, release and freedom. The early Buddhism, in fact, preserved the Yogi – ideal of Nirvana.

Thus, the development of religions and practices in Eastern regions of India, in the early times, was inspired and influenced – directly or otherwise – by the Vratyas.

The contribution of the Vratyas, according to my friend Prof. Durgadas Sampath, was that they gave a very time and space based approach to the issues.  They were the initial social scientists with rationality as the anchor, he says.

Some of the characteristics of the Vratya-thought found a resonant echo in Jainism and Buddhism. Just to mention a few: Man and his development is the focal interest; his effort and his striving is what matters, and not god’s grace; the goal of human endeavor is within his realm; a man or a woman is the architect of one’s own destiny ; and there is nothing supernatural about his goals and his attainments. There was greater emphasis on contemplation, introspection, pratikramana (back-to-soul),; and a deliberate shift away from  exuberant rituals and sacrifices seeking health, wealth and happiness.

The Vratya was neither a religion, nor was it an organized sect. It was a movement seeking liberation from the suffocating confines of the establishment and searching for a meaning to life and existence. The movement phased out when it became rather irrelevant to the changed circumstances and values of its society.  The Vratyas, the searching wanderers, the rebels of the Rig Vedic age, faded in to the shadowy corners of Vedic religion, rather swiftly; yet they left behind a lingering influence on other systems of Indian thought.

*****

The Jain tradition claims that it existed in India even from pre- Vedic times and remained unaffected by the Vedic religion. It also says, the Jain religion was flourishing, especially in the North and Eastern regions of India, during the Vedic times.

Because of the basic differences in their tenets and practices, the two traditions opposed each other. As a part of that ongoing conflict, certain concepts and practices appreciated by one religion were deprecated by the other. The term Vratya was one such instance.

The term Vratya has a very long association with Jainism; and its connotation in Jainism is astonishingly different from the one implied in the Vedic tradition where it is employed to describe an inimical horde. On the other hand, Vratya in Jainism is a highly regarded and respected term. The term Vratya, in the Jaina context, means the observer of vratas or vows.

Thus, while the Vedic community treated the Vratyas as rebels and outcasts, the tribes in the eastern regions hailed Vratyas as heroes and leaders (Vratya Rajanya).

The Vedic and the Jain traditions both glorify certain Kings who also were great religious Masters. In the Hindu tradition, Lord Rsabha – son of King Nabhi and Merudevi, and the ancestor of Emperor Bharata (after whom this land was named Bharatavarsha) is a very revered figure : ततश्च भारतं वर्षमेतल्लोकेषुगीयतेभरताय

The Rig Veda and Yajur Veda, too, mention Rishabhadeva and Aristanemi.

According to the Jain tradition Rishabhadeva is the first Tirthankara of the present age (avasarpini); and, Aristanemi is the twenty-second Tirthankara.

The Jain tradition refers to Rishabhadeva as Maha-Vratya, to suggest he was the great leader of the Vratyas.

Further, the Mallas, in the northern parts of the present-day Bihar, with their capital at  the city of Kusavati or Kusinarawere a brave and warlike people; and were one of the earliest independent republics (Samgha). The Jaina Kalpasutra refers to nine Mallakis as having formed a league with nine Lichchhavis, and the eighteen Ganarajas of Kasi-Kos’ala.They were also said to be  a part of a confederation of eight republics (atthakula)  until they were vanquished and absorbed into the Magadha Empire, at about the time of the Buddha. The Mallas were mentioned as Vratya – Kshatriyas.

Similarly, their neighboring tribe, the Licchhavis who played a very significant role in the history and development of Jainism were also called as the descendants of Vratya-Kshatriyas. Mahavira was the son of a Licchhavi princess; and he had a considerable following among the Licchhavi tribe. In the Jaina Kalpa Sutra, Tris’ala, the sister of  Chetaka – the Lichchhavi chief of Vesali, is styled Kshatriyani  .

The Buddha too visited Licchhavi on many occasions; and had great many followers there. The Licchhavis were closely related by marriage to the Magadhas.

The Buddhist tradition has preserved the names of eminent Lichchhavis like prince Abhaya, Otthaddha, Mahali, general Siha, Dummukha and Sunakkhatta. The Mallas, like the Lichchhavis , were ardent champions of Buddhism. In the Mahaparinibbana Suttanta they are sometimes called Vasetthas

Pundit Sukhlalji explains,  the two ethnic groups of ‘Vratva’ and ‘Vrsala’ followed non-Vedic tradition; and both believed in non‑violence and austerities.  He suggests that both the Buddha and Mahavira were Kshatriyas of Vrsala group. He also remarks that the Buddha was known as ‘Vrsalaka’.

It is not surprising that the Lichchavi, Natha and Malla clans of Eastern India proved fertile grounds for sprouting of non-Vedic religions such as Jainism and Buddhism.

Thus, both Buddhism and Jainism were in tune with  the philosophic atmosphere prevailing in Magadha, around sixth century BCE. Apart from his philosophical principles, the Buddha’s main contribution was his deprecation of severe asceticism in all religions and acceptance of a sensible and a rational approach to life.

The nucleus for development of those non Vedic religion was, reputedly, the ideas and inspiration derived for the Vratya movement.

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In the mean time Vedic perception of Vratyas had undergone a dramatic sea- change.

Latyayana –srauta-sutra (8.6.29) mentions that after performing Vratya-homa the Vratya should Tri-vidya-vrti the threefold commitment to study of Vedas, participating in the performance of Yajnas; and giving and accepting gifts. These three were the traditional ways of the priestly class.

Apasthamba (ca. 600 BCE), the Lawgiver and the celebrated mathematician who contributed to development of Sulbasutras, refers to Vratya as a learned mendicant Brahmin, a guest (athithi) who deserves to be welcomed and treated with respect. Apasthamba, in support of that, quotes sentences to be addressed by the host to his guest from the passages in Atharva Veda (15:10 -13).

According to Atharva Veda, Vratya is a srotriya, a student of the scriptures, (of at least one recession), and a learned person  (Vidvan) faithful to his vows (vratas). In summary, the passages ask:

” Let the king , to whose house the Vratya who possesses such knowledge comes as a guest , honor him as superior to himself, disregarding his princely rank or his kingdom.

Let him, to whose house the Vratya possessing such knowledge comes as a guest, rise up of his own accord to meet him, and say “Vratya, where didst thou pass the night? Vratya, here is water; let it refresh thee .Vratya let it be as thou pleasest. Vratya, as thy wish is so let be it done.”

[From Hymns of the Atharva Veda, by Ralph T.H. Griffith…Hymn x and xi of Book 15]
http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/av/av15011.htm

[ tád yásyaiváṁ vidvān vrā ́tyo rājñó ’tithir gṛhān āgáchet  // – 15.10.1

Śréyāmsam enam ātmáno mānayet táthā kṣatrāya  nā ́ vṛścate táthā rāṣṭrāya nā ́ vṛścate // -1510.2

tád yásyaiváṁ vidvān vrā ́tya úddhṛteṣv agníṣu ádhiśrite agni hotré ’tithir gṛhān āgáchet // – 1`5.12.1

tád yásyaiváṁ vidvān vrā ́tya ékāṁ  rā ́trim átithir gṛhé vásati  / yé pṛthivyā ́ṁ púnyā lokā ́s tān evá ténā ́va rundhe// — 15.13.1 ]

There is, thus, a gulf of difference between the perception of the early and later Vedic periods. This amazing transformation seems to have come about as a result of sustained and successful contacts between the Upanishads and the systems of Samkhya and Yoga. There was a healthy interaction between the two streams of the Indian tradition. The Samkhya-Yoga ideas found a place in the Upanishads. At the same time, the Upanishads brought its impact on Buddhism and Jainism. The savants of orthodox tradition such as Kumarila Bhatta (ca.6th century AD) accepted the Buddhist schools as authoritative because they had their roots in the Upanishads. (Tantra vartika)

The ideologies of the two traditions moved closer during the period of Upanishads. It was a period of synthesis.

shamrock-small

The term Vratya acquired a totally different meaning by the time of the Dharma Shastras. Manu Smruti (dated around third or second century BCE) states that, if after the last prescribed period, the twice-born remain uninitiated, they become Vratyas, fallen from Savitri. (Manusmriti: verse II.39)

Manusmriti (verse X.20)  also informs that those whom the twice-born  ( Brahmin , Kshatriya and Vaishya ) beget from  wives of equal caste, but who, not fulfilling their sacred duties, are excluded from the Savitri (initiation), must also designate by the appellation Vratyas.

The samskara of initiation or upanayana (ceremony of the thread) was considered essential for the dvijas (the twice-born). Manusmriti mentions the recommended age for upanayana and for commencing the studies. It also mentions the age before which these should take place.

In the eighth year after conception, one should perform the initiation (Upanayana ceremonies of sacred thread) of a Brahmana, in the eleventh year after conception (that) of a Kshatriya, but in the twelfth year that of a Vaisya. (MS: II.36)

The initiation of a Brahmana who desires proficiency in sacred learning should take place in the fifth year after conception, that of a Kshatriya who wishes to become powerful in the sixth, and that of a Vaisya who longs for success in his business in the eighth.(Ms: II.37)

The time for the Savitri initiation of a Brahmana does not pass until the completion of the sixteenth year (after conception), of a Kshatriya until the completion of the twenty-second, and of a Vaisya until the completion of the twenty-fourth. (MS: II.38)

After those (periods men of) these three (castes) who have not received the sacrament at the proper time, become Vratyas (outcastes), excluded from the Savitri (initiation) (MS. II.39)

garbhāṣṭame’bde kurvīta brāhmaasyaupanāyanam | 
garbhādekādaśe rājño garbhāt tu dvādaśe viśa || 36 ||

brahmavarcasakāmasya kāryo viprasya pañcame | 
rājño balārthina aṣṭhe vaiśyasyaihārthino’ṣṭame || 37 ||

ā odaśād brāhmaasya sāvitrī nātivartate | 
ā dvāviśāt katrabandhorā caturviśaterviśa || 38 ||

ata ūrdhva trayo’pyete yathākālamasask | 
sāvitrīpatitā vrātyā bhavantyāryavigarhitā || 39 ||

Oddly, the insistence on upanayana and making it compulsory seems to have come into vogue in the post-Upanishad period. During the Atharvana period, initiation was regarded as second-birth; and was associated with commencement of studies or as a requirement for performing a sacrifice. The significance of the second birth in the Vedic time was, therefore, largely, religious and not social. Not everyone was required to obtain the Upanayana samskara. The upanayana was a voluntary ceremony for those who wished to study or perform a sacrifice.

It was only after the Grihya-sutras crystallized, upanayana turned into a samskara, as a recognition of ones position in the social order.Some scholars , however , suggest, Vratya does not necessarily denote a person who has not undergone upanayana samskara; but, it refers to one who does not offer Soma sacrifice or keep the sacred fire(agnihotra).

(http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/edu1.htm)

 [ Dr. Ananat Sadashiv Altekar  ( 1898-1960)- who was the Professor and Head of the Department of Ancient Indian History and Culture at Banaras Hindu University –  (in his Education in Ancient India, 1934) explains that it was in the times of the Upanishads that the Upanayana ceremony gained greater importance. Upanayana literally meant taking a young boy to a teacher in order to hand him over to the latter for his education in the Vedas.  Thus, the Upanayana occasion  marked the entry of a student, as an inmate (Antevasin), into Guru-kula to pursue Vedic studies. The Upanayana was thus primarily linked to pursuit of studies; and, it was not compulsory for all.

And, again, an Upanayana had to be performed every time a student approached a new teacher; or, when he embarked upon a new branch of study. Dr. Altekar mentions that there were occasions when even married men had to undergo Upanayana while approaching a renowned teacher for learning a new subject (Br. Up.6.2.4). And, such a ceremony that was so often repeated, Dr. Altekar opines, could not have been an elaborate one. It was, by its very nature, a domestic and simple performance. The student had to approach the Teacher, holding the sacred fuel (Samitt), and indicating his complete willingness to learn and to serve the Teacher, as also to tend his sacred Agni-s (Ch.Up.6.5.5 and 5.11.7; and Mu. Up. 1.2.12).

An ardent young student entering a new phase of life after Upanayana was said to be born a second time – Dvija. (A similar notion of a ‘second-birth’ came into vogue in Buddhism when lay person was admitted into the Sangha)

According to Dr.Altekar,  for several centuries, Upanayana was not regarded as a Samskara ritual. And, it seems to have become a popular Samskara – ceremony only in the later times. In the earlier times, one was called a Vratya if he was not offering Soma sacrifice or if one was not tending to sacred fires. But, in the later times, the one who had not undergone a Upanayana Samskara came to labelled a Vratya. Subsequently, such a Vratya was re-admitted into the orthodox fold (even if his past three ancestors had failed to undergo Upanayana altogether- Vratya pita pitamaho va na Somam priveshya Vratyah – Sri Madhava’s commentary on Parasara Smriti), provided he underwent the purification ritual of Vratya –stoma (Paraskara Grihya Sutra 2.5)

In course of time, Upanayana came to be regarded as an essential bodily Samskara (Sarira samskara) for all the three classes. And, the non-performance of Upanayana would disqualify one from entering into a valid wedlock.

Although Manu prescribed 8th, 11th and 12th year as suitable for performance of the Upanayana for the Brahmana, Kashtriya and Vaishya boys, it was not taken by the later Law-givers as an absolute norm. For instance; Baudhayana considered anytime between 8 and 16 years of age, for all classes, as suitable. The change in the norm perhaps came about because of the change in the conception and the nature of the Upanayana. In the earlier times, Upanayana marked the commencement of Vedic education ; and, therefore, the child had to start learning at a quite young age. But when Upanayana became a bodily Samskara, any age between 8 and 16 was considered good enough. In any case, commencement of  Vedic studies after the age of 16 was discouraged, perhaps because it was thought that the boy’s capacity to absorb and learn a new subject might have by then gone rather slow.

*

Since the Upanayana ceremony was linked to commencement of education, the Upanayana of girls was as common as that of boys. There is ample evidence to show that such was the case. The Atharvaveda (XI. 5. 18) expressly refers to maidens undergoing the Brahmanharya discipline (brahmacaryeṇa kanyā yuvānaṃ vindate patim ) ; and, the Sutra texts of the 5th century B. C. supply interesting details in its connection. Even Manu includes Upanayana among the sanskaras (rituals) obligatory for girls (II. 66).

After about the beginning of the Christian era, the Upanayana for girls went out of vogue. But, Smriti writers of even the 8th century A. D. like Yama admit that in the earlier times the girls had the privilege of Upanayana and Vedic studies.

The discontinuance of Upanayana was disastrous to the educational and religious status of women. The mischief caused by the discontinuance of Upanayana was further enhanced by the lowering of the marriageable age. In the Vedic period girls were married at about the age of 16 or 17; but by Ca. 500 B. C. the custom arose of marrying them soon after the attainment of puberty. Later writers like Yajnavalkya (200 A. D.), Samvarta and Yama, vehemently condemn the guardian who fails to marry a girl before the attainment of the puberty. Therefore, the Smritis written by 11th century began to glorify the merits of a girl’s marriage at the age of 7, 8, or 9, when it was regarded as an ideal thing to celebrate a girl’s marriage at so young an age, female education could hardly prosper. ]

***

In any case, during the period of Dharma sastras, those who did not adhere to the prescriptions of the sastras and did not perform the prescribed rites and ceremonies were termed Vratyas.There were, obviously, many people who didn’t bother to follow the rules.

The smritis therefore, provided a provision for purification of the errant persons through a ritual (vratya stoma); and created a window for taking them back into the fold; and for rendering them eligible for all rites and rituals.

[ In the Puranas , the Sisunaga kings are mentioned as Kshattra -bandhus, i. e., Vratya Kshatriyas.]

The object of the entire exercise undertaken by the sastras, seemed to be to build and preserve a social order, according to its priorities .But, in the later periods these smaskaras lost their social significance, entirely. The social conditions deteriorated rapidly during the medieval period.  Even in the religious life, upanayana remained just a routine ritual, often meaningless. Agnihotra vanished almost entirely.

In a way of speaking , almost all of us are Vratyas, in terms of the smritis.

[.. Let me digress, here, for a little while.

In the Vedic era, women were initiated into the thread ceremony. It was essential for both sexes who wished to study [Atharva Veda 11.5.18a, Satpatha Brahmana.1.2.14.13, and Taittariya Brahamana II.3.3.2-3]

Yama, a Law-giver even prior to Manu, upheld education for women, but stipulated the female students should not engage in begging their meals, wearing deer-skins or growing matted hair (as male students might do) [VirS.p.402]

All that changed radically, for worse, during the period of Dharma sastras. The woman lost the high status she once enjoyed in Vedic society. She lost some of her independence.  She became an  object to be protected.

The harsh prescriptions of the Dharma shatras have to be placed in the context of its times, in order to understand why such changes came about.

The period after 300 B.C witnessed a succession of invasions and influx of foreigners such as the Greeks, the Scythians, the Parthian, the Kushans and others. The political misfortunes, the war atrocities followed by long spells of anarchy and lawlessness had a disastrous effect on the society. Fear and insecurity haunted the common people and householders.

Sons were valued higher than the daughters because of the increased need for fighting males, in order to survive the waves of onslaughts. It was   imperative to protect women from abductors. The then society deemed it advisable to curtail women’s freedom and movements. The practice of early marriage perhaps came in as a part of those defensive measures. The education of the girl child was no longer a priority. The Sastras compromised by accepting marriage as a substitute for Upanayana and education. The neglect of education, imposing seclusion and insecurity that gripped their lives, had disastrous consequences upon the esteem and status of women .The society in turn sank into depravity.

The Manusmruti and other Dharmasastras came into being at the time when the orthodox society was under dire threat and when it was fighting for survival. The society had entered in to self preservation – mode. The severity of the Dharma Shastras was perhaps a defensive mechanism, in response to the threats and challenges thrown at its society.

Its main concern was preserving the social order and to hold the society together. Though the sastras pointed out the breaches in observance of the prescribed code of behavior, it was  willing to condone the lapses, purify the wayward and naughty; and admit them back into the orthodox fold. Further, It even readily took  under its fold the alien hordes such as Kushans, Yavanas (Ionians or Greeks), Sakas (Scythians) and others; and recognized them as Vratya – Kshatriyas…]

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To sum up, Vratya in the early Rig Veda denoted an amorphous collection of heterogeneous groups of pre- Vedic tribes and  the dissenters from among the Vedic community, who rejected the Vedic concepts and extrovert practices of rites, rituals and sacrifices seeking from the gods gifts of health, wealth and glory. The Vratyas turned in to nomads and drifters. The wandering seekers roamed the land and finally settled down in the Magadha region, in the East, where they found acceptance.

The Vratyas appeared to be a set of extraordinarily gifted and talented people, who brought fresh perspectives to life and existence; to the relations between man and nature and between nature and universe. Their innovative ideas spawned the seeds for sprouting of systems of thought such as samkhya and Yoga. Those systems in turn inspired and spurned the movement toward rationalism and man -centered – non Vedic religious systems Jainism and Buddhism.

What the Vratyas did, in effect, was they deliberately moved  away from the extrovert and exuberant rites and rituals; brought focus on man and his relation with the nature and his fellow beings. Their scheme of things was centered round reason (not intuition). They turned the mind inwards, contemplative and meditative.

It is clear that in the ancient times, the two religious systems – one in the Indus valley on the west and the other along the banks of the Ganga in the east- developed and flourished independent of each other. Their views on man – soul –world – god relationships, differed significantly. Because of the basic differences in their tenets and practices, the two traditions opposed each other. They seemed to have even stayed away from each other. That, in a manner, explains why the Saraswathi is referred over fifty times in the Rig Veda, while the Ganga hardly gets mentioned.

Towards the later Vedic era something magical (chamathkar) appears to have taken place. By the time of Atharvana period, the concepts and perceptions of the two traditions seemed to have moved closer.The later Vedic traditions recognized and and accorded Vratyas a place of honor. That was  the result of  sustained and successful contacts between the Upanishads and the systems of Samkhya and Yoga; and the impact that Upanishads brought  on Buddhism and Jainism. It was the age of understanding and  synthesis.

The interaction between the two systems heightened during the period of the Buddha and Mahavira. In the later centuries, the texts of the orthodox school (e.g. Brahma sutras, Yoga Sutra, Panini’s grammar, Anu Gita etc.) devoted more attention and space for discussing the Buddhist principles, especially the theories relating to cognition.

The shift towards East was symbolized by the transfer of the intellectual capital of ancient  India from Takshashila (Taxila) to Pataliputra (Patna) and Nalanda, when Taxila was overrun by the invading Persians (third century BCE).That provided an impetus not merely for fresh activity within the orthodox schools , but also for greater interaction with the heterodox religions.

Both the traditions inspired, influenced and enriched each other over the centuries; absorbing and complementing each other’s principles and practices; and finally synthesizing into that fabulous composite culture, the Indian culture.

That synthesis was symbolized when the post Vedic tradition hailed and worshipped its god Ganapathy with the joyous chant Namo Vratapataye – salutations to the chief of the Vratyas.( Ganapaty-atharva-shirsha)

The Dharmasastras mark a period of degeneration in the orthodox society, as it reeled under the onslaught of hordes of successive invaders and plunderers. The concerns of security and survival took precedence over innovation, development and expansion. It became an inward looking society seeking for right answers and remedies to preserve its form and structure. It’went in to a self-preservation mode. Its society metamophasized and shrank into a pupa:  cautious and ultra conservative.

Vratya then meant someone naughty and unmanageable ( It appears , it is only the Marathi language that still retains such meaning of the term). Yet, the society could ill afford to abandon him to his whims and wayward manners. It was willing to pardon, purify and welcome him back in to its fold, clasping him dearly to its bosom. It was ready to accept even   the foreigners as its own.For instance ;  the medieval Rajput families descended from immigrant races from West in the distant past were treated Vratya-Kshatriyas ; and given pedigrees going back to Rama, Yadu, Arjuna and such other heroes of the mythologies

Thereafter, for a long period of time, the term Vratya went off the radar screen of the Indian religious life; because the samskaras and their associated disciplines had lost their sanctity and significance.

Shivaji Coronation

The only other occasions when Vratya came in to play , were in the context of the vratya stoma purifying ceremonies.

*. Vratya stoma ceremonies were performed before anointment and coronation of kings, in the middle ages. For instance, Shivaji went through Vratya stoma and upanayana ceremonies, on May 29, 1674, before he was crowned.(For details , please refer to Malhar Ramarao Chitnis – Siva chatrapathiche charitra Ed by K N Sane , 1924 – based on the reports of eyewitnesses and court officials – page 197 of the Book / page 228 of the link )

*. Even as late as in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hindus returning from foreign lands were purified through Vratya stoma.

*. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan stated that individuals and tribes were absorbed in to Hinduism through vratyastoma.(The Hindu View of Life)

*. Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami cites many instances of people forcibly converted to other faiths  re -admitted to Hinduism and issued Vratya stoma certificates.

lotus-design

At each stage in the evolution of Indian History, Vratya was accorded a different meaning; and that meaning amply mirrored the state of Indian society at that stage.

The obscure term Vratya, in a strange manner, epitomizes and conceals in its womb the tale of unfolding of Indian thought through the ages.

rudra

Sources and references:

 Early Indian Thought by prof.SK Ramachandra Rao

http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/Books/ARHAT.htm

‘The Path of Arhat: A Religious Democracy’ by Justice T. U. Mehta

http://www.jainworld.com/jainbooks/life%20&legacy%20of%20mahavira/CHAPTER%20I.pdf

Jaina Tradition and Buddhism:

http://jainsamaj.org/literature/atharvaveda-171104.htm

Rsabha in the Atharvaveda by Dr. Satya Pal Narang

http://www.bihar.ws/info/History-of-ancient-Bihar/Mention-of-Magadha-in-vedic-literature.html

Mention of Magadha in Vedic Literature

http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/sources.htm

SanatanaDharma –sources

http://www.sanathanadharma.com/samskaras/edu1.htm#Vratya

Sanathana Dharma – Vratya

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/av/av15011.htm

Hymns of the Atharva Veda, by Ralph T.H. Griffith…Hymn x and xi of Book 15

http://www.himalayanacademy.com/resources/books/hbh/hbh_ch-5.html

Does Hinduism Accept Newcomers? Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami

http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/tree/21/pplmanu.htm 

The Vratyas and their references in the Brahmanical  and Buddhist Literature by Prof . L . B. keny  (proceedings of the Indian History Congress Vol.9 (1946); pages 106 to 113

https://www.jstor.org/stable/44137045?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2012 in History, Indian Philosophy, Rigveda, Vratya

 

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Rig Veda – Position of women (2/2)

The following is the second part of the article Rig Veda – Position of women (1/2)posted on Oct, 09 2007. The first part dealt comprehensively with the position of women in the Rig Vedic period; and , also discussed a comment posted on an earlier post. It was considered, that instead of imposing a later day’s priorities and prejudices on a society of a bygone era, it would be apt to take a holistic and an independent look and examine from the angles of (a) fair and equitable treatment of women ; and , (b) empowerment of women in the Vedic society.

Part one concluded that the social life portrayed in Rig Veda reveals a tolerant and moderately unbiased society characterized by the sanctity of the institution of marriage; domestic purity; patriarchal system;  equitable position in the society for men and women and high honor for women. The women did receive a fair and an equitable treatment ; and, they were empowered to deal with issues that mattered in the life around them.

The second part discusses the views of the Rig Veda on certain specific issues such as the status of the girl child; her education; her marriage;  married life’ her right to property; widowhood ; and, remarriage.

Read on..

Girl child

Many hymns in Rig Veda do  express the desire to beget heroic sons. There are no similar prayers wishing for a girl child. This perhaps reflected the anxiety of a society that needed a larger number of male warriors to ensure its survival. Sons were preferred to daughters; yet, once a daughter was born, she was raised with tender care, affection and love.

In the Rig-Veda, there is no instance where the birth of a girl was considered inauspicious.The celebrations and others samskaras were conducted with enthusiasm. In a particular case, the twin daughters were compared to heaven and earth. The daughters were not unpopular. They were allowed Vedic studies; and , were entitled to offer sacrifice to gods. The son was not absolutely necessary for this purpose.

There is a reference to the birth of an only daughter, who was assigned the legal position of a son; she could perform funeral rites of her father; and, she could also inherit the property. It indicates that the position of a girl in Rig Vedic times was not as low as it was to become in medieval times. (Shakuntala Rao Shastri, Women in the Vedic Age– : Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1954).

Kerry Brown in her book ‘Essential Teachings of Hinduism’ explains: “In ancient India a woman was  looked after not because she is inferior or incapable; but, on the contrary, because she is treasured. She is the pride and power of the society.  Just as the crown jewels should not be left unguarded, neither should a woman be left unprotected.  If there are costly jewels, we do not throw them here and there like brass vessels. Costly material is protected”.

Education

Education was an important feature in the upbringing of a girl child. Education was considered essential for girls and was therefore customary for girls to receive education. The girls with education were regarded highly.

The Vedic literature praises a scholarly daughter and says: “A girl also should be brought up and educated with great effort and care” (Mahanirvana Tantra). The importance of a girl’s education is stressed in the Atharva Veda which states,” The success of woman in her married life depends upon her proper training during the BrahmaCharya  (student period)”

According to Prof. A.S. Altekar (Education in Ancient India; Published by Nand Kishor & Brothers, Benaras – 1944), since the Upanayana ceremony was linked to the  commencement of education, the Upanayana of girls was as common as that of boys. The girls were entitled to Upanayana (to receive sacred thread); and, to the privilege   of studying Vedas, just as the boys.

The Atharvaveda (XI. 5. 18) expressly refers to maidens undergoing the Brahmacharya discipline; and, the Sutra works of the 5th century B. C. supply interesting details in its connection. Even Manu includes Upanayana among the sanskaras (rituals) obligatory for girls (II. 66).

brahmacaryeṇa kanyā yuvānaṃ vindate patim | anaḍvān brahmacaryeṇāśvo ghāsaṃ jigīṣati ||AVŚ_11,5[7].18||

amantrikā tu kāryeyaṃ strīṇām āvṛd aśeṣataḥ / saṃskārārthaṃ śarīrasya yathākālaṃ yathākramam // Mn_2.66 //

Women performed religious rites after completing their education under a Guru. They were entitled to offer sacrifices to gods. The son was not absolutely necessary for this purpose.

There is ample and convincing evidence to show that women were regarded as perfectly eligible for the privilege of studying the Vedic literature and performing the sacrifices enjoined in it. The Rigveda contains hymns composed by twenty different poetesses, such as:  Visvavara, Sikata Nivavarl, Ghosha, Romasa, Lopamudra, Apala and Urvasi.

For instance; Ghosa (Rv. 1-117; X-39-40); Lopamudra (Rv.1.179); Mamata (Rv. VI-10-2); Apala (Rv. VIII-91); Surya (RV.X-85); Indrani (Rv. X-86); Saci (Rv. X-24), Sarparajni (Rv. X-88) and Visvavara (Rv.V-28)

The woman seer Visvavara not only composed mantras, but also performed the functions  of a Rtvik (priest) at a sacrifice. Another seer Apala composed a hymn in honor of Indra, and offered to him Soma-juice herself.

Even later in her life, a man could perform the Vedic sacrifices only if he had his wife by his side. According to Shrauta and Grihya Sutras, women chanted mantras along with their husbands while performing rituals.  And, the housewife was expected to offer oblations in the household (grihya) fire unaided by the husband, normally in the evening and sometimes in the morning also. In the Srattararohana ritual of the Agrahayaga ceremony, the wife used to recite a number of Vedic hymns ; and , the harvest sacrifices could be performed by women alone, ‘because such was the long-standing custom’.

Women sometimes used to accompany their husbands in the battles against their rivals. the warrior queen Vispala, the wife of the king Khela, had lost her leg in a war; and in which place an iron (ayasi) one was implanted by the  Asvins. And, thereafter , she continued to fight on.

yu̱vaṁ dhe̱nuṁ śa̱yave̍ nādhi̱tāyāpi̍nvatam aśvinā pū̱rvyāya̍ |
amu̍ñcata̱ṁ varti̍kā̱m aṁha̍so̱ niḥ prati̱ jaṅghā̍ṁ vi̱śpalā̍yā adhattam || RV_1,118.08

Mudgalani or Indrasena, wife of the sage Mudgala helped her  husband in the pursuit of robbers who had stolen their cows, drove the chariot for her husband when he was put in a tight corner. Further, she taking up husband’s bow and arrow, fought the robbers; defeated them;  recovered and brought home her herd of cows.

There were eminent women in the field of learning and scholarship. These highly intelligent and greatly learned women, who chose the path of Vedic studies and, lived the ideal life of spirituality were called Brahmavadinis. And the women who opted out of education for married life were called ‘Sadyovadhus’. Co-education seems to have existed in this period; and,  both the sexes got equal attention from the teacher.

As many as about thirty Brahmavadins of great intellect and spiritual attainment are immortalized in the Rig Veda and are credited with hymns. They participated in philosophical debates with men and were highly respected. To name a few of those  significant women rishis   (rishikā)  who figure in the Rig Veda Samhitā:  Goshā Kakshivati, Lopamudra, Romasha,Sarama Devasuni , Yami Vaivasvathi , Rathir Bharadwaja  , Apala, Paulomi and others. Needless to say, they were held in high esteem  for their work to be included in the important religious text of the era. 

Incidentally, let me mention that, later, the Shatapatha Brahmana lists some 52 generations of teachers, of which some 42 are remembered through their mothers. The teachers were males. This list acts like a bridge between the end of the Rig-Veda time and the Shatapatha Braahmana time. It is remarkable that a patriarchal society should remember its teachers through their mothers. The preference over the names of their fathers indicates the important position of women as mothers in Vedic society. Their mothers were considered that valuable, as their sons were recognized through their names.

 http://www.surichat.nl/forum/index.php?topic=14696.65;wap2

Marriage

There is very little evidence of child (or infant) marriage in the Rig Veda. A girl was married at 16 or more years of age, when her physical development was complete. Marriage was solemnized soon after wedding ceremony. The Vedic rituals presuppose that the married pair was grown up enough to be lovers, man and wife, and parents of children (marriage hymn). These go to show that a girl was married after she attained puberty. Surya, the daughter of Surya (the Sun), was married to Soma (the Moon), only when she became youthful and yearned for a husband.

[ Prof. A L Basham , in his ‘The Wonder That was India” , writes :

The marriage of boys, whether before or just after puberty, is no¬ where suggested, but the idea) of a rigorous period of studentship before marriage is always maintained. The child-marriage of both parties, which became common in later times among well-to-do families, has no basis at all in sacred literature, and it is very doubtful whether the child-marriage of girls was at all common until the late medieval period. The heroines of poetry and fiction are apparently full grown when they marry, and the numerous inscriptions which throw much light on the customs of the time give little or no indication  of child-marriage. Ancient Indian medical authorities state that the best children are produced from mothers over sixteen, and apparently recognize the practice of child-marriage as occasionally occurring, but disapprove of it.]

The Rig-Veda (5, 7, 9) refers to young maidens completing their education as Brahmacharinis and then gaining husbands. The Vedas say that an educated girl should be married to an equally educated man  “An unmarried young learned daughter should be married to a bridegroom who like her is learned. Never think of giving in marriage a daughter of very young age’” – ā dhenavo dhunayantām aśiśvīḥ sabardughāḥ śaśayā apradugdhāḥ  (RV 3.55.16).

Young women of the time could exercise their choice in the matter of their marriage. “The woman who is of gentle birth and of graceful form,” so runs a verse in the Rig Veda, “selects among many of her loved one as her husband. The term for the bridegroom was vara, the chosen one. ”The happy and beautiful bride chooses (vanute) by herself (svayam) her own husband” – (bhadrā vadhūr bhavati yat supeśāḥ svayaṃ sā mitraṃ vanute jane cit – RV 10. 27.12). The swayamvaram of the princesses are of course well documented.

Many marriages, as in the later day Hindu society today, involved the intercession of the families on either side, but a maiden was consulted and her wishes taken into account when the matrimonial alliance was discussed. The marriage hymns 139 in the Rig-Veda and the Atharvaveda indicate that the parties to marriage were generally grown up persons competent to woo and be wooed, qualified to give consent and make choice.

Young girls had the freedom to go out to attend fairs, festivals and assemblies’; the seclusion of women was not practiced. There is a reference to certain occasional festivals or gatherings called Samanas organized to help young boys and girls to get together. Rig Veda described Samana as where:

Wives and maidens attire themselves in gay robes and set forth to the joyous feast; youths and maidens hasten to the meadow when forest and field are clothed in fresh verdure to take part in dance. Cymbals sound and seizing each other lads and damsels whirl a about until the ground vibrates and clouds of dust envelop the gaily moving throng.

A girl often chose one of the suitors whom she met in these Samanas as her husband.

The older texts talk of the seven steps  around the Agni ; and , the vows taken based on mutual respect, taken during marriage

Sakaa -Sapthapadha -bhava Sakaayov -Saptha padhaa -Bhaboova
Sakyam -the’ -Ghame’yam Sakyaath -the’ Maayosham -Sakyan me’
Maayosta -Samayaava -Samayaava Sangalpaavahai -Sampriyov
Rosishnu -Sumanasyamanov Ishamoorjam – abhi -Savasaanov
Managhumsi -Samvrathaas smu Chiththaani -Aakaram -Sathvamasi
Amooham -Amoohamasmi saa -Thvam -dhyowraham
Pruthivee thvam -Retho’ aham -retho’ Bhruthvam -Manohamasmi
-vak thvam -Saamaa ham asmi -Rukthvam -Saamaam
Anuvradhaa -bhava Pumse’ Pumse’ -Puthraaya -Veththavai
Sriyai -Puthraaya -Veththavai ehi -Soonrurute’||

By these seven steps that you have taken with me, you have become my best friend. I will never move out of this relationship. God has united us in this bondage. We shall perform all activities together with love and affection and with good feelings. Let us be friendly in our thoughts. Let us observe our duties and rituals together. If you are the lyrics, I am the music. If you are the music I am the lyrics. If I am the heavenly body you are the earthly world. While I am the life source and you are the carrier of the same. I am the thoughts and you are the speech. When you are like the words, you work with me who is like the meaning of it. With your sweet words, come with me to lead a prosperous life begetting our progeny with children.

(Source: Taittiriya Ekagnikanda, I iii, 14. ; Sastri, 1918.)

It  appears that the bride was given by her parents gold, cattle, horses, valuables , articles etc. which she carried to her new home .She had a right to deal with it as she pleased. No doubt the dowry a girl brought with her did render her more attractive. “Howmuch a maiden is pleasing to the suitor who would marry for her splendid riches? If the girl be both good and fair of feature, she finds, herself, a friend among the people. “(Rig-Veda X .27.12)

kiyatī yoṣā maryato vadhūyoḥ pariprītā panyasā vāryeṇa |bhadrā vadhūr bhavati yat supeśāḥ svayaṃ sā mitraṃ vanute jane cit ||

There were also the woes of a father,” When a man’s daughter hath been ever eyeless, who, knowing, will be wroth with her for blindness? Which of the two will lose on him his anger-the man who leads her home or he who woos her?” (RV 10.27.11)

yasyānakṣā duhitā jātv āsa kas tāṃ vidvāṃ abhi manyāte andhām |kataro menim prati tam mucāte ya īṃ vahāte ya īṃ vā vareyāt ||

Marriage was an established institution in the Vedic Age. It was regarded as a social and religious duty; and not a contract. The husband-wife stood on equal footing and prayed for long lasting love and friendship. At the wedding, the bride addressed the assembly in which the sages too were present. [Rig Veda (10.85.26-27)]

pūṣā tveto nayatu hastagṛhyāśvinā tvā pra vahatāṃ rathena |gṛhān gaccha gṛhapatnī yathāso vaśinī tvaṃ vidatham ā vadāsi ||iha priyam prajayā te sam ṛdhyatām asmin gṛhe gārhapatyāya jāgṛhi |enā patyā tanvaṃ saṃ sṛjasvādhā jivrī vidatham ā vadāthaḥ ||

[ The term Kanyadaan or the concept of the father gifting away his daughter does not appear in Rig-Veda  ]

Marriage was not compulsory for a woman; an unmarried who stayed back in the house of her parents was called Amajur, a girl who grew old at her father’s house. An unmarried person was however not eligible to participate in Vedic sacrifices.

A woman, if she chose, could marry even after the child bearing age. For instance Gosha a well known female sage married at a late stage in her life (her husband being another well known scholar of that time Kakasivan) as she earlier suffered from some skin ailment.

Monogamy normally prevailed but polygamy was also in vogue . Some scholars say that polyandry and divorce were also common. There are no direct references to that. I am not therefore sure of that.

[Polygamy, in ordinary circumstances, was not encouraged by the earlier legal literature. One Dharma Sutra  definitely forbids a man to take a second wife if his first is of good character and has borne him sons. Another later source states that a polygamist is unfit to testify in a court of law.  The Arthasastra  lays down various rules which discourage wanton polygamy, including the payment of compensation to the first wife. The ideal models of Hindu marriage are the hero Rama and his faithful wife Slta, whose mutual love was never broken by the rivalry of a co-wife. However, polygamous marriages are so frequently mentioned that wc may assume that they were fairly common among all sections of the community who could afford them .

 Polyandry, was not wholly unknown, though it was impossible for ordinary people of respectable class in most parts of India – Prof. A L Basham]

[ Prof. A L Basham (The Wonder That Was India) mentions :

Though the religious law books leave no room for divorce, the Arthasastra shows that it was possible in early times, at least in marriages not solemnized by religious rites. In this case divorce was allowed by mutual consent on grounds of incompatibility ; and one party might obtain divorce without the consent of the other if apprehensive of actual physical danger from his or her partner. The Arthasastra would allow divorce even after religious marriage to a wife who has been deserted by her husband, and lays down waiting periods of from one to twelve years, which vary according to circumstances and class. These provisions, however, do not appear in later law books, and were probably forgotten by Gupta times, when divorce became virtually impossible for people of the higher classes.]

Widows were allowed to remarry if they so desired, particularly when they were childless; and , faced no condemnation and ostracization socially.

Married life

A girl when she marries moves into another household where she becomes part of it. Her gotra changes from that of her father into that of her husband. She participates in performances of yagnas for devas and pitrs of her husband’s family. The bride takes charge of her new family that includes her husband, his parents, brothers and sisters; and others who lived there for some reason.

The Rig Veda hymn (10, 85.27) , the wedding prayer , indicates the rights of a woman as wife. It is addressed to the bride sitting next to bridegroom. It touches upon few other issues as well.

“Happy be you (as wife) in future and prosper with your children here (in the house): be vigilant to rule your household in this home (i.e. exercise your authority as the main figure in your home). Closely unite (be an active participant) in marriage with this man, your husband. So shall you, full of years (for a very long life), address your company (i.e. others in the house listen to you, and obey and care about what you have to say).” (Rig Veda: 10, 85.27)

iha priyam prajayā te sam ṛdhyatām asmin gṛhe gārhapatyāya jāgṛhi |enā patyā tanvaṃ saṃ sṛjasvādhā jivrī vidatham ā vadāthaḥ ||

The famous marriage hymn (10.85.46 ) calls upon members of the husband’s family to treat the daughter in law (invited into the family ‘as a river enters the sea’) as the queen samrajni.

samrājñī śvaśure bhava samrājñī śvaśrvām bhava I nanāndari samrājñī bhava samrājñī adhi devṛṣu ||

She is welcomed in many ways:

” Come, O desired of the gods, beautiful one with tender heart, with the charming look, good towards your husband, kind towards animals, destined to bring forth heroes. May you bring happiness for both our quadrupeds and bipeds.” (Rig Veda 10.85.44)

aghoracakṣur apatighny edhi śivā paśubhyaḥ sumanāḥ suvarcāḥ | vīrasūr devakāmā syonā śaṃ no bhava dvipade śaṃ catuṣpade ||                                                                       

Over thy husband’s father and thy husband’s mother bear full sway. Over the sister of thy lord , over his brothers rule supreme”(Rig Veda 10.85.46)

samrājñī śvaśure bhava samrājñī śvaśrvām bhava |nanāndari samrājñī bhava samrājñī adhi devṛṣu ||

“Happy be thou and prosper with thy children here; be vigilant to rule thy household, in this home ‘. (Rig-Veda 10.85.27)

iha priyam prajayā te sam ṛdhyatām asmin gṛhe gārhapatyāya jāgṛhi |enā patyā tanvaṃ saṃ sṛjasvādhā jivrī vidatham ā vadāthaḥ ||

The idea of equality is expressed in the Rig Veda: “The home has, verily, its foundation in the wife”,” The wife and husband, being the equal halves of one substance, are equal in every respect; therefore both should join and take equal parts in all work, religious and secular.” (RV 5, 61. 8)

uta ghā nemo astutaḥ pumāṃ iti bruve paṇiḥ |sa vairadeya it samaḥ |

She was Pathni (the one who leads the husband through life), Dharmapathni (the one who guides the husband in dharma) and Sahadharmacharini (one who moves with the husband on the path of dharma).

To sum up, one can say that the bride in the Vedic ideal of a household was far from unimportant and weak. She did have an important position in the family and yielded considerable influence.

http://groups.msn.com/hindu-history/rawarchives.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=181

           

Property –rights

The third chapter of Rig-Veda , considered its oldest part (3.31.1) commands that a son-less father accepts son of his daughter as his own son i.e. all properties of a son-less father shall be inherited by son of his daughter.

śāsad vahnir duhitur naptyaṃ gād vidvāṃ ṛtasya dīdhitiṃ saparyan |pitā yatra duhituḥ sekam ṛñjan saṃ śagmyena manasā dadhanve ||

 Rik (3.31.2) commands that if parents have both son and daughter, son performs pindadaan (after death of father) and daughter be enriched with gifts.

na jāmaye tānvo riktham āraik cakāra garbhaṃ sanitur nidhānam |yadī mātaro janayanta vahnim anyaḥ kartā sukṛtor anya ṛndhan ||

 Rik (2.17.7) also attests share of a daughter in property of her father .

amājūr iva pitroḥ sacā satī samānād ā sadasas tvām iye bhagam |kṛdhi praketam upa māsy ā bhara daddhi bhāgaṃ tanvo yena māmahaḥ ||

Married women inherited and shared properties. A Widow too was entitled to a share in the properties of the dead husband.

Widowhood and Remarriage:

Rig-Veda does not mention anywhere about the practice of the burning or burial of widows with their dead husbands. Rig Veda commands the window to return to her house, to live with her children and grand children; and confers on her the right to properties of her deceased husband. Rig Veda clearly approves marriage of the widow. Such women faced no condemnation or isolation in the household or society. They had the right to property inherited from the dead husbands. There are riks blessing the woman and her new husband, with progeny and happiness. Rig-Veda praises Ashwin gods for protecting widows.(X.40.8)

yuvaṃ ha kṛśaṃ yuvam aśvinā śayuṃ yuvaṃ vidhantaṃ vidhavām uruṣyathaḥ | yuvaṃ sanibhya stanayantam aśvināpa vrajam ūrṇuthaḥ saptāsyam ||

Ambassador O P Gupta, IFS has made an excellent presentation of the status of widows in Rig Vedic times

 (http://sify.com/news/othernews/fullstory.php?id=13170729 )

According to him:

None of the Riks in Rig Veda calls for the burning or burial of widow with body of her dead husband.

A set of 14 Riks in 18th Mandala of the 10th book deal with treatment of widows.

Rik (X.18.8) is recited by the dead man’s brothers and others, requesting the widow to release her husband’s body for cremation. The Rik also commands the widow to return to the world of living beings, return to her home and to her children and grand children, “Rise, woman, (and go) to the world of living beings; come, this man near whom you sleep is lifeless; you have enjoyed this state of being the wife of your husband, the suitor who took you by the hand.”

ud īrṣva nāry abhi jīvalokaṃ gatāsum etam upa śeṣa ehi |hastagrābhasya didhiṣos tavedam patyur janitvam abhi sam babhūtha ||

This rik also, confers upon her full right on house and properties of her deceased husband. [It was only in the year 1995 the Supreme Court of India interpreted Section 14(1) of the Hindu Succession Act to allow Hindu widow full ownership rights over properties she inherits from her deceased husband]

Rig-Veda not only sanctions survival of a widow and her right to property; but also approves her marriage with the brother of her dead husband; and to live with full dignity and honor in the family. Rig Veda therefore expressly sanctions widow-marriage. Some scholars say the widow could marry any person, not necessarily the brother of the deceased husband or a relative.

Rik (x.18.8) blesses a woman at her second marriage, with progeny and prosperity in this life time:: Go up, O woman, to the world of living; you stand by this one who is deceased; come! to him who grasps your hand, your second spouse (didhisu) ,you have now entered into the relation of wife to husband.

In rik (X.18.9) the new husband while taking the widow as his wife says to her: let us launch a new life of valor and strength begetting male children overcoming all enemies who may assail us.

dhanur hastād ādadāno mṛtasyāsme kṣatrāya varcase balāya | atraiva tvam iha vayaṃ suvīrā viśvā spṛdho abhimātīr jayema ||

AV(XVIII.3.4) blesses the widow to have a happy life with present husband ::O ye inviolable one ! (the widow) tread the path of wise in front of thee and choose this man (another suitor) as thy husband. Joyfully receive him and may the two of you mount the world of happiness.

prajānaty aghnye jīvalokaṃ devānāṃ panthām anusaṃcarantī |ayaṃ te gopatis taṃ juṣasva svargaṃ lokam adhi rohayainam ||4||

******

During the post-Vedic period, woman lost the high status she once enjoyed in society. She lost some of her independence. She became a subject of protection.

The period after 300 B.C witnessed a succession of invasions and influx of foreigners such as the Greeks, the Scythians, the Parthian, the Kushans and others. The political misfortunes, the war atrocities followed by long spells of anarchy and lawlessness had a disastrous effect on the society. Fear and insecurity haunted the common people and householders. Sons were valued higher than the daughters because of the need for more fighting males, in order to survive the waves of onslaughts. It was also imperative to protect women from abductors. It therefore became necessary to curtail women’s freedom and movements’ . Early marriage was perhaps employed as a part of those defensive measures. The education of the girl child was no longer a priority. Sastras too compromised by accepting marriage as a substitute for Upanayana and education.

After about the beginning of the Christian era, the Upanayana for girls went out of vogue. The discontinuance of Upanayana was disastrous to the educational and religious status of women. The mischief caused by the discontinuance of Upanayana was further enhanced by the lowering of the marriageable age. In the Vedic period girls were married at about the age of 16 or 17; but by Ca. 500 B. C. the custom arose of marrying them soon after the attainment of puberty. Later writers like Yajnavalkya (200 A. D.), Samvarta and Yama, vehemently condemned the guardian who failed to get his daughter married before she attained puberty. Therefore, the Smritis written by 11th century began to glorify the merits of a girl’s marriage at the age of 7, 8, or 9, when it was regarded as an ideal thing to celebrate a girl’s marriage. It is not surprising that with marriage at so young an age, female education could hardly take off or  prosper.

The neglect of education,early marriage ,  imposing seclusion and insecurity that gripped their lives, had disastrous consequences upon the esteem and status of women . The society in turn sank into depravity.

The social conditions deteriorated rapidly during the medieval period.

For nearly 2000 years from 300 B.C. to A.D. 1800, truly the dark ages of India, the development of woman steadily stuttered though she was affectionately nurtured by the parents, loved by the husband and cared by her children.

Now, it is the time of reawakening. Women of India are beginning to get opportunities to establish their identity and be recognized for their potential, talent and capabilities. That is a good rebegining. The process must improve both in terms of its spread and quality. The ancient principles of equal opportunities for learning and development, equitable position in place of work and right to seek out her destiny, with honor; that guided the Vedic society must soon find a place in all segments of the society. It may sound like asking for the moon. But, that is the only option India has if it has to survive as a nation.

img_lotus

References

http://www.stephen-knapp.com/women_in_vedic_culture.htm

http://www.vedah.com/org/literature/essence/women&Rishikas.asp

http://www.geocities.com/nemhasekka/statusofindianwomen.htm

http://sify.com/news/othernews/fullstory.php?id=13170729

http://www.surichat.nl/forum/index.php?topic=14696.65;wap2

http://groups.msn.com/hindu-history/rawarchives.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=181

 
23 Comments

Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Rigveda

 

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More on Ancient Egypt and India

More on Ancient Egypt and India

 The article “Ancient Egypt and India ” I posted on Sulekha, enjoyed a good response, and was even “featured”. Among the comments I received there were a couple remarking that I appeared to relay more on older sources and wondered whether were no recent archaeological information to strengthen the view that ancient Egypt and India did develop cultural and trade relations.

I consider that a fair comment .I have since come across some information on the subject; hence this post.

To my knowledge there are two recent Archaeological Projects concerning India and Egypt. They are significant particularly because they are taken up at either end of the India –Egypt trade. The India Project is in progress in the Malabar Coast of Southern India , while the other was taken up in Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea near the border with Sudan .

A. The excavations in India are ongoing at Pattanam in Kerala, believed to be the place where the ancient port of Miziris was located. . Dr. Shajan and V. Selvakumar are the archeologists. The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) has issued license to The Kerala Council for Historical Research (KCHR) to carry on further excavations.

Please see my post, “A note On Muziris” for more details on Muziris

1. Muziris, as the ancient Greeks called it, was an important port on the Malabar Coast in Southern India. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans frequented it.   Eudoxus of Cyzicus sailed into Muziris during his two voyages undertaken between 118 and 116 BC. Muzris, is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography and is prominent on the Peutinger Table. Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia . Pliny called this port primum emporium Indiae.

2. There is no doubt Muziris was a major port and was an Emporium, as Pliny called it. Roman imports from India were precious gems, aromatics , spices – specially the pepper , besides cotton. As regards Gems, Muzris acted as the collecting and clearing point. The garnets and quartz came from Arikamedu region (on the East coast of south India), the pearls were from Gulf of Mannar , while lapis lazuli beads were from Kodumanal in the neighboring region. The other stones included diamonds, agate, beryls, citrines etc.

3. An indication of the importance of Muziris as a place for finalizing business deals by Roman traders was brought to light by L. Casson, a scholar, in his paper” New light on marine loans” .He mentioned about a papyrus (called P. Vindob. G 40822 -for identification purposes ), discovered during the year 1985 in  Vienna , which sets out the details of a maritime loan agreement between a ship owner – possibly of the Hermapollon mentioned on the verso of the papyrus and a merchant using the ship as security. The document suggests that the loan arrangement was agreed to while the parties were in Muziris (though possibly signed on arrival at the Red Sea), indicating a rather active Roman merchant colony on the Kerala coast

(http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/zpe/downloads/1990/084pdf/084195.pdf

4. However, Muziris suddenly disappeared in around sixth century and no one has a clue to it. Moreover, by about the same time the trade between Rome/Egypt and India went into decline. I am NOT suggesting the two occurrences were related.

5. Excavations on the site stared around 2004/05 and reported in local and foreign press. Please check

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4970452.stm

http://nasrani.net/2007/03/24/muziris-pattanam-significant-evidences-boat-follow-up-on-ex cavations-iii/

6. The artefacts recovered from the excavation site include amphora (holding vessels) of Roman make and Yemenis, Mesopotamian, and West Asian ones too, indicating that Pattanam had trade not only with Rome but also with places in the Persian Gulf. The other artifacts recovered include pottery shards, beads, Roman copper coins and ancient wine bottles . In addition, a boat believed to be about 2000(?) years old, Glass and precious stones, roman pottery, bricks and a structure to keep the boat with five wooden structures to tie down the boat.

7. Roberta Tomber of British Museum who is involved in similar other projects visited the site. She remarked, several factors go to strengthen the belief that the objects found on site are remnants of first century Roman trade and similar objects were found during excavations in Egypt.

Excavations on the Pattanam site are in progress. The present findings are not conclusive enough.

8. I believe the Greek/Egyptian and the Roman trade ( that followed later) , with India, came as culmination of relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era.

B. The other project was at Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea . The Archaeologists were from UCLA and the University of Delaware USA . The Berenike project was funded by the Netherlands Foundation for Scientific Research, the National Geographic Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Utopa Foundation, Gratama Foundation and the Kress Foundation, and some private donors. Please check the following links for the Project details and findings.

http://www.archbase.com/berenike/

http://mailman.geo.uu.nl/pipermail/maphist/2002-July/000840.html

http://www.dickran.net/history/india_egypt_trade_route.html

http://www.hindu.com/2006/03/01/stories/2006030102540200.htm

1. In early Roman times, Myos Hormos was the most frequented of the Red Sea ports. However, Berenice began to rise in importance during the first century B.C. and became dominant in the first century A.D… Eventually Berenice replaced Myos Hormos as the most prominent port, because it had one great advantage over Myos Hormos: it was situated some 230 nautical miles further south and therefore spared the homebound vessels days of beating against the northerly winds.

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~jason2/papers/bnikeppr.htm

2. Berenike (Berenice Troglodytica) a Graeco-Roman harbor is located on the Red Sea Coast in the far south of the Egyptian Eastern Desert . It is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography . Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia . Eduxous set sail to India from Berenice in 118-116 BC. From here, ships sailed to India and to the East by taking advantage of the monsoon (Hippalus) winds in search of spices, precious stones and other exotic goods. The place where the port was located is now buried under desert. The Archeological teams say, they found here extensive remains of the ancient world’s sea trade between East and West.

3. Some of the finds of excavation at Myos Hormos and Berenike concerning links with India are briefly as under:

Among the buried ruins of buildings that date back to Roman rule, the team discovered vast quantities of teak, a wood indigenous to India and today’s Myanmar , but not capable of growing in Egypt , Africa or Europe .

The archaeologists were especially intrigued by the large amounts of teak, a hardwood native to India , found in the ruins. The presence of so much teak also suggested to the researchers that many of ships were built in India , one of the indications of a major Indian role in the trade.

Dr. Casson, a specialist in ancient maritime history , mentions that historical records refer to ships in the India trade being among the largest of the time. According to Dr. Casson, they could have been as long as 180 feet and capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo. Such ships had stout hulls and caught the wind with a huge square sail on a stubby mainmast.

In addition to this evidence of seafaring activities between India and Egypt , the archaeologists uncovered the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea , including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity – 16 pounds – ever excavated in the former Roman Empire . The team dates these peppercorns, grown only in South India during antiquity, to the first century. Peppercorns of the same vintage excavated as far away as Germany, indicating Egyptian export of Indian goods to West.

In a dump that dates back to Roman times, the team also found Indian coconuts and batik cloth from the first century, as well as an array of exotic gems, including sapphires and glass beads that appear to come from Sri Lanka and carnelian beads that appear to come from India. The excavations also yielded coins — one of King Rudrasena the third, that has been dated to the fourth century and pots with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. (I am not clear about Rudrasena the third. There is however a reference to rudrasenaII (380 to 385) and to Rudrasena (350 to 355) of Saka dynasty, in Malwa region)

As developed by Greeks and Egyptians, then expanded by the Romans, the Red Sea ports served as transfer points for cargoes to and from India and other places in Africa and Arabia

The co-directors of excavations at Berenike Dr. Steven E. Sidebotham, a historian at the University of Delaware , and Dr. Willeke Wendrich, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the research showed that the maritime trade route between India and Egypt in antiquity appeared to be even more productive and lasted longer than scholars had thought.

In addition, it was not an overwhelmingly Roman enterprise, as had been generally assumed. The researchers said artifacts at the site indicated that the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

4. Dr. Casson gives a summary of some of the trade goods mentioned in the Periplus. According to which the goods imported from / through India were: native spices and drugs and aromatics (costus, bdellium, lykion, nard, malabathron, pepper), gems (turquoise, lapis lazuli, onyx, diamonds, sapphires, “transparent gems”), textiles (cotton cloth and garments as well as silk products from China), ivory, pearls, and tortoise shell.

5. Commenting on the findings of the Berenike Project  Dr.Lionel Casson said,”It’s nice to have archaeologists find concrete evidence for what is attested in the texts.”

6. As in the case of Miziris, sometime before the mid-sixth century the Berenike harbor too silted over, vanished beneath theencroaching desert and was finally abandoned for good. The reasons  are unknown.

Around the same period (sixth century) shipping activities declined, mysteriously both at Miziris and Berenike. I am not suggesting the occurrences were related, in any manner.

****

7. Egypt and India , both , are ancient countries and it is not surprising if they did develop cultural and trade relations in the antiquity before what we call “recorded history” came into vogue. I believe the Greek/Egypt trade with India and the Roman one that followed thereafter came as a culmination of the relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era. Incidentally, the Hindi news bulletins carried over the Indian TV and Radio channels still refer to Egypt as Misr (from Mitsrayim in Hebrew?), perhaps reminiscent of those bygone eras.( The name Mizrain appearing in the List of Nations appearing in the Tenth chapter of the Book of Genesis is identified with Egypt.)

Both the countries had a rather rollercoaster type of histories .Their fortunes and affiliations have not been either consistent or uniform. They had their glorious days; they fell on bad days and had plenty of indifferent and forgettable periods. They drifted apart for long periods. Each had been open to foreign influences, in varying degrees, reshaping their appearances and destinies. However, they did influence each other in some ways; and amidst the then existing network, they did succeed in developing close trade and cultural relations.

Why they drifted apart again in sixth century, is another story.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on September 1, 2012 in History

 

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A Note on Muziris

A.Yesterday

1. Muziris, as the ancient Greeks called it, was an important port on the Malabar Coast in Southern India . It was frequented by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans.  Eudoxus of Cyzicus sailed into Muziris during his two voyages undertaken between 118 and 116 BC. Muzris,  is mentioned in the Periplous of the Erythraean Sea and in Ptolemy’s Geography and is prominent on the Peutinger Table. Pliny referred to it several times in his Naturalis Historia. Pliny called this port primum emporium Indiae.

*

The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which was written by an anonymous Greek merchant in the second half of the first century AD, shows a great increase in Roman trade with India.

The author of the Periplus, who probably visited India personally, described in detail the Roman trade with the ports of the Malabar Coast.

The most important port of the Malabar Coast was Muziris (Cranganore near Cochin) in the kingdom of Cerobothra (Cheraputra), which ‘abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia and by the Greeks’.

According to the Periplus, numerous Greek seamen managed an intense trade with Muziris:[29]

“Muziris and Nelcynda, which are now of leading importance (…) Muziris, of the same kingdom, abounds in ships sent there with cargoes from Arabia, and by the Greeks; it is located on a river, distant from Tyndis by river and sea five hundred stadia, and up the river from the shore twenty stadia.” – Paul Halsall. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, 53-54

They send large ships to the market-towns on account of the great quantity and bulk of pepper and malabathrum [cinnamon]. There are imported here, in the first place, a great quantity of coin; topaz, thin clothing, not much; figured linens, antimony, coral, crude glass, copper, tin, lead, wine, not much, but as much as at Barygaza [Broach]; realgar and orpiment; and wheat enough for the sailors, for this is not dealt in by the merchants there. There is exported pepper, which is produced in quantity in only one region near these markets, a district called Cottonora [North Malabar?]. Besides this there are exported great quantities of fine pearls, ivory, silk cloth, spikenard from the Ganges, malabathrum from the places in the interior, transparent stones of all kinds, diamonds and sapphires, and tortoise shell; that from Chryse Island, and that taken among the islands along the coast of Damirica [Tamil Nadu]. They make the voyage to this place in favorable season that set out from Egypt about the month of July, which is Epiphi.

This provides evidence for a great volume of trade in both directions. The Periplus reported the influx of coins; and, the largest number of Roman gold hoards has been found in the hinterland of Muziris;   most from the period of the Roman emperors Augustus (r. 27 B.C.E.–14 C.E.) and Tiberius (r. 14–37 C.E.).

Black pepper was a major item of trade with the West along both the western and eastern coasts. This rich trade continued on the Malabar Coast through the medieval period. Other items traded were spices, semiprecious stones, ivory, and textiles. Western products coming into India included wine, olive oil, and Roman coins—and in later centuries horses.

A text of the Sangam era highlights this, too: ‘The beautifully built ships of the Yavanas came with gold and returned with pepper, and Muziris resounded with the noise’

There is no doubt Muziris was a major port in its time and was an Emporium, as Pliny called it.

[Strabo was more interested in northern India and in the ports between the mouth of the Indus and present Bombay and he reported next to nothing about South India, Sri Lanka and the east coast of India.]

When Ptolemy wrote his geography around AD 150 Roman knowledge of India had increased even more. He wrote about the east coast of India and also had a vague idea of Southeast Asia, especially about ‘Chryse’, the ‘Golden Country’ (Suvarna-bhumi) as the countries of Southeast Asia had been known to the Indians since the first centuries AD. However, recent research has shown that this so-called Roman trade was integrated into an already flourishing Asian network of coastal and maritime trade.

Pliny the Elder also commented on the qualities of Muziris, although in unfavorable terms:[30]

“If the wind, called Hippalus, happens to be blowing, it is possible to arrive in forty days at the nearest market of India, called Muziris. This, however, is not a particularly desirable place to disembark, on account of the pirates which frequent its vicinity, where they occupy a place called Nitrias; nor, in fact, is it very rich in products. Besides, the road-stead for shipping is a considerable distance from the shore, and the cargoes have to be conveyed in boats, either for loading or discharging.” – Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturae 6.26

sea route

Regarding Muziris , Maddy in his webpage  writes:

Muchiri pattanam, a location close to today’s Kodungallur, was not really a sea port as some believed. It was a city on the banks of the Periyar somewhat inland and accessed through the maze of canals. Roman Ships anchored out in the sea and transported their goods in small boats guided by local pilots through the canals to Pattanam. From centuries in the past until the 14th, the city was well known to the Arab and especially the Roman sailors who conducted trade with Malabar. Sometimes the ships went to Barygaza or Baruch, sometimes to Nelycinda (will be covered in a separate blog) other times, they landed up in Muziris. They came in with Western luxury goods and gold and took away spices and Eastern goods. Sometimes the ships went around the Cape Comorin and docked at Kaveri Poompattinam close to Pondicherry.

The Romans had expatriate settlements or colonies in both places as I mentioned before and much information about them can be found in Sangam Era writings like the Silappadhikaram and Manimekhalai. The Peutinger table shows Muziris on the Roman map and even alludes to an Agustus temple (later studies assume it was an Agasthya temple) in Muziris. Writers like Ptolemy, Pliny and so on had written much about the trade, so also the Tamil poets. So let us conclude that robust trade took place, until the floods of the Periyar wherein the riverbed got silted in the 13th Century. Since that event and due to other issues at the Roman and Arab areas, the trade petered off and veered off to other places like the Cochin and Calicut. But by then the Arab traders had a stronghold on the route and they staved off any competition until the next aggressive bunch – the Portuguese came in – followed by the Dutch and finally the English who eventually settled down and colonized the lands they came to trade with. But we will not talk about all the events that took place in the process, we will instead focus on the Muziris papyrus, something that you do not see often mentioned in mainstream media. And so we go to the rather active Roman Colony or river port called Pattanam well before the advent of Christ

Tabula PeutingerianaIndo-Scythia.jpg

Image taken from De Tabula Peutingeriana de kaart, Museumstukken II (edited by A.M. Gerhartl-Witteveen and P. Stuart) 1993 Museum Kam, Nijmegan, the Netherlands

2. In what is called a third century map (perhaps a copy of an earlier map) Muziris is shown  prominently by drawing a circle round it. (Taprobane , indicated at the bottom of the map refers to Sri Lanka ). Pliny in his Natural History(6.26) mentioned that if one followed the wind Hippalus , one would reach Muziris in about forty days ( he was referring to the South West monsoon) . He also mentioned that the roadstead for shipping was at a considerable distance from the shore and that the cargoes are to be conveyed in boats, for either loading or discharging. He was indicating that Muziris was not along the coast but situated inland , reachable by a creek or a river. This was confirmed by the later Roman sources according to which “Muziris is located on a river, distant from Tindis – by river and sea, 500 stadia; and by river from the shore, 20 stadia”. Incidentally , Pliny did not recommended alighting at Muziris, as it was infested by pirates .

3. Since the days of Eudoxus, the Greeks and Egyptians established a flourishing trade with Southern India by taking advantage of what they called the Hippalus wind , meaning the South West monsoon winds. (Please see my post” Other Ancient Greeks in India ” for further details).The commodities the Greeks/Egyptians and Romans imported from India were precious gems, aromatics , spices – specially the pepper , besides cotton.

roman trade

4. According to Prof AL Basham (The Wonder That Was India) :

The main requirements of the West were spices, perfumes,jewels and fine textiles, but lesser luxuries, such as sugar, rice and ghee were also exported, as well as ivory, both raw and worked. A finely carved ivory statuette of a goddess oryaksi has been found in the ruins of Herculancum . Indian iron was much esteemed for its purity and hardness, and dye stuffs such as lac and indigo were also in demand. Another requirement was live animals and birds; elephants, lions, tigers and buffaloes were exported from India in appreciable numbers for the wild beast shows of Roman emperors and provincial governors, though these larger beasts went mainly overland through the desert trading city of Palmyra; smaller animals and birds, such as monkeys, parrots and peacocks, found their way to Rome in even larger quantities as pets of wealthy Roman ladies. The Emperor Claudius even succeeded in obtaining from India a specimen of the fabulous phoenix, probably a golden pheasant, one of the loveliest of India’s birds.

In return for her exports India wanted little but gold. Pottery and glassware from the West found their way to India, and many shreds of Arretine and other wares, mass-produced in Western factories, have been found in the remains of a trading station at Arikamedu, near Pondicherry.

As regards the Gemstones , Muzris acted as the collecting and clearing point . The garnets and quartz came from Arikamedu region (on the East coast of south India), the pearls were from Gulf of Mannar , while lapis lazuli beads were from Kodumanal in the neighboring region. The other stones included diamonds, agate, beryls, citrines etc. Please check the following links that carry abundant details on the Gem trade:          http://www.thebeadsite.com/abm-rio.html

There was some demand for wine, and the Western traders also brought tin, lead, coral and slave-girls. But the balance of trade was very unfavorable to the West, and resulted in a serious drain of gold from the Roman Empire. This was recognized by Pliny, who, inveighing against the degenerate habits of his day, computed the annual drain to the East as  lOO million sesterces, “so dearly do we pay for our luxury and our women”.30 The drain of gold to the East was an important cause of the financial difficulties in the Roman Empire from the reign of Nero on wards. Not only gold, but coinage of all types was exported to India; Roman coinage has been found in such quantities in many parts of the Peninsula and Ceylon that it must have circulated there as a regular currency.

[Indian traders were active at both the Indian and the foreign ends of this maritime trade. Archaeological sites on the Red Sea have turned up potsherds with the names of Indians written in Tamil  and in Prakrit. In India, archaeologists have identified the port of Arikamedu  as the site of an ancient southeast Indian port mentioned in The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

Excavations there revealed Roman pottery, beads, and evidence of wines imported from southern Italy and Greece. Arikamedu seems to have traded with the eastern Mediterranean region from as early as the first century B.C.E.]

There is good evidence that subjects of the Roman Empire, if not actual Romans, settled in India. There is mention of a temple of the Emperor Augustus at Muziris. Early Tamil literature contains several references to the Yavanas, who were employed as bodyguards by Tamil kings, or as engineers, valued for their knowledge of siege craft and the construction of war-engines. While the term Yavana was often used very vaguely, and, from its original meaning of “a Greek”, came to be applied to any Westerner, it is by no means impossible that the Yavanas of South India included fugitives from the Roman legions in their number.

Ptolemy's Geography

Ptolemy’s geography of Asia

Ptolomy's Geographia. Muziris empo-rium

A section of the map of India drawn after Ptolomy’s Geographia, showing Muziris emporium

5. An indication of the importance of Muziris as a place for finalizing business deals by Roman traders was brought to light by L. Casson , a scholar, in his paper” New light on marine loans” .He mentioned about a papyrus (called P. Vindob. G 40822 -for identification purposes ), discovered during the year 1985 in  Vienna , which sets out the details of a maritime loan agreement between a ship owner – possibly of the Hermapollon mentioned on the verso of the papyrus and a merchant using the ship as security. The document  suggests that the loan arrangement was agreed to while the parties were in Muziris (though possibly signed on arrival at the Red Sea), indicating a rather active Roman merchant colony on the Kerala coast

(http://www.uni-koeln.de/phil-fak/ifa/zpe/downloads/1990/084pdf/084195.pdf).

6. The heightened trade between Greece/Egypt and India came as a culmination of the trade relations that existed between India and the West even centuries earlier to Christian era.

7. Historians say Muziris, might be of significance in another way too. They say Christianity may have been introduced to the sub-continent through Muziris.

8. The successful run of the Greek/Egyptian trade with India suffered a temporary setback due to the rise of a new Parthian Empire that formed a sort of barrier between the Greeks and the Indians. However, when Rome  started to absorb the remnants of the Empire of Alexander, Egypt came under the control of Romans. Egypt became a Roman province in 30 B.C. Thereafter, Augustus settled down and took charge of Egypt , as his personal property.

Interestingly , According to Pliny , writing in about 51 AD , the use of monsoon winds to shorten the passage to /from India was made known to the Romans only in the days of Claudius .( Pliny, N. H., 8, 101, 86). This development, therefore, must have come around 51 AD.  There was, therefore, a long period of lull in the Egypt-India trade after 34BC.

9. The Roman trade with India, through Egypt, began in earnestness in the first century AD. Muziris then became an important Romans’ trading centre. The Rome/Egypt/India trade lasted famously until about sixth century.

10. Then suddenly and mysteriously, Muziris went off the radar. It was not mentioned again for a very long time. Dr  Roberta Tomber of British Museum said.

“What is interesting is that in the 6th Century, a Greek writer, writing about the Indian Ocean , wrote that the Malabar coast was still a thriving centre for the export of pepper – but he doesn’t mention Muziris”.

No one has  a clue how Muziris disappeared so completely.

[ Please read Indo-Roman trade by Ajoy Kumar Singh, Janaki Prakashan, 1988]

Roman coins

Regarding the trade in South India, Prof. Hermann Kulke and Prof. Dietmar Rothermund in their A History of India (Rutledge, London, Third Edition 1998-) write:

In the area around Coimbatore, through which the trade route from the Malabar Coast led into the interior of South India and on to the east coast, eleven rich hoards of gold and silver Roman coins of the first century AD were found. Perhaps they were the savings of pepper planters and merchants or the loot of highwaymen who may have made this important trade route their special target.

It also indicates that the South Indian ports served as entrepôts for silk from China, oil from the Gangetic plains which were brought by Indian traders all the way to the tip of South India, and also for precious stones from Southeast Asia. But, as far as the Eastern trade was concerned, the Coromandel Coast to the south of present Madras soon eclipsed the Malabar Coast. To the north of Cape Comorin (Kanya Kumari) there was the kingdom of the Pandyas where prisoners were made to dive for precious pearls in the ocean. Still further north there was a region called Argaru which was perhaps the early Chola kingdom with its capital, Uraiyur. The important ports of this coast were Kamara (Karikal), Poduka (Pondichery) and Sopatma (Supatama) (see Map 5). Many centuries later European trading factories were put up near these places: the Danes established Tranquebar near Karikal, the French Pondicherry, and the British opted for Madras which was close to Supatama

B.Today

1.BBC News in its edition of 11 June 2006 , reported an archaeological investigation by two archaeologists – KP Shajan and V Selvakumar – has placed the ancient port as having existed where the small town of Pattanam now stands, on India’s south-west Malabar coast. The team believes Pattanam as the place where Muziris once stood. Until recently, the best guesses for the location of Muziris centred on the mouth of the Periyar  River , at a place called Kodungallor – but now the evidence suggests that Pattanam is the real location of Muziris.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4970452.stm

2. Pattanam is a small town some 12 km south of the Periyar river mouth (present day Kodungallur) , in Kerala state. The artefacts recovered from the excavation site include amphora (holding vessels) of Roman make and Yemenis, Mesopotamian, and West Asian ones too, indicating that Pattanam had trade not only with Rome but also with places in the Persian Gulf . The other artefacts recovered include pottery shards, beads, Roman copper coins and ancient wine bottles.

http://www.hindu.com/lf/2004/03/28/stories/2004032800080200.htm

3.There is no doubt that Pattanam was a major port and was important to the Indo-Roman trade But more collaborative evidence is needed to support the view that Pattanam was indeed Muziris.

http://www.hindu.com/2006/03/01/stories/2006030102540200.htm

4. The remote sensing data revealed that a river close to Pattanam had changed its course .The port may have been buried due to earthquakes or floods. This may perhaps explain the disappearance of the Muziris port. However, there are no definite answers yet.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4970452.stm

5. Interestingly, while the excavations at Muziris are on, another set of archaeologists from UCLA and University of Delaware have excavated Berenike, a long-abandoned Egyptian port on the Red Sea near the border with Sudan . The team has uncovered the largest array of ancient Indian goods ever found along the Red Sea , including the largest single cache of black pepper from antiquity – 16 pounds – ever excavated in the former Roman Empire .

Dr. Willeke Wendrich, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said the research showed that themaritime trade route between India and Egypt in antiquity appeared to be even more productive and lasted longer than scholars had thought.

In addition, it was not an overwhelmingly Roman enterprise, as had been generally assumed. The researchers said artefacts at the site indicated that the ships might have been built in India and were probably crewed by Indians.

These again confirm the trade relations that existed between ancient Egypt and India

coins of Roman empire

http://mailman.geo.uu.nl/pipermail/maphist/2002-July/000840.html

http://historicalleys.blogspot.in/search?updated-max=2010-07-10T08:03:00-04:00&max-results=1&start=80&by-date=false

 
7 Comments

Posted by on September 1, 2012 in History

 

Tags: , ,

Sindhu- Hindu- India

Sindhu-Hindu-India

In paragraph, two of my post “Greece and India before Alexander” I mentioned about the origin of the word India. Please click here.

2. Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor. In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian term Hindu became the Greek Indos/(plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia .

With reference to the above, I received a message, from someone who read the post, saying that the word is a corruption of a corruption and India owes much to outsiders.

I have thought about the remark and this is what I have to say.

It is a fact that the word ” India ” is of foreign origin but this does not mean ,the very idea of an Indian nation is a contribution by outsiders.

There are many countries, as I know, bearing names of foreign origin. This is because of historical reasons. This does not in any way take away the identity of those nations or the nationalities of their people. These nations continue to bear the names given to them, with pride, and function as the honoured members of the International community. Let me cite a few examples.

  • France: The French are descendants of the ancient Gaulish people, who spoke languages that belonged to the Celtic family. The Gauls were conquered by Rome; and when Rome itself was taken over by Germanic people, the Gaul came under the influence of the Germanic Franks. The Franks gave their name to the country and called it France. Now, France has a language that had its origin in Latin and the people of France, largely, are of Celtic race. However, no one can sanely argue that French nation   owes its existence to Germany.
  • Germany: The word Germany   is of Latin origin and the Germans call their nation “Deutschland”. Hardly any non-Germans use this name. Germany is also known as Allemagne (after the name of a Germanic tribe). The Arabs and Iranians use this word.
  • Great Britain: Bulk of the British population speaks English, a Germanic language. However, the name “Britannia” celebrated in songs and legend by English poets is a Celtic name.
  • Basques: The French popularized the term ‘Basque’, but the Basques call themselves Euskera.
  • Similarly, America is named after an Italian. Spain takes its name from a Carthaginian word for “rabbit”.
  • I think Finland and a few East European countries like Armenia , Georgia also have their names derived from languages foreign to them. (I am not very certain about the exact details in these cases).

There may be number of other countries, that I may not be aware of, bearing names that either were derived from a foreign language or were given to them by outsiders.

The substance of my argument is, a nation’s identity does not depend merely on the name by which it is called. What matters is whether that single term can adequately capture its  ‘identity’. The term itself can be native or foreign.

Similarly, in the case of India too the terms ‘India/Hindu/Indus’ may not be of Indian origin. That alone does not mean, India has no culture of its own or the notion of India does not exist or that India owes its existence to outsiders etc.

No matter how the name India originated, India is a well-defined nation having a history, culture and identity of its own, like any other nation in the International community.

*****

After posting the blog I came across a wonderful web site that says most countries of the world have different names in different languages and that some countries have also undergone name changes for political or other reasons.

This web page gives all known alternative names for all nations, countries and sovereign states. Try this link .It is really good.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_country_names_in_various_languages

*****

Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor . In the Avesta of Zoroaster, what we today call as India is named as Hapta Hendu,   the Avesthan for the Vedic Sapta Sindhavah – the Land of Seven Rivers, that is, the five rivers of the Punjab along with the Sarasvati ( a river which has since disappeared) and the Indus. The word “Sindhu” not only referred to the river system but to the adjoining areas as well.

The name of Sindhu reached the Greeks in its Persian form Hindu (because of the Persian etymology wherein every initial s is represented by h).The Persian termHindu became the Greek Indos/ (plural indoi) since the Greeks could not pronounce “h” and had no proper “u”. The Indos in due course acquired its Latin form – India . . Had the Sanskrit word Sindhu reached the Greeks directly, they might perhaps have pronounced it as Sindus or Sindia.

This view is supported by the observations made by the Supreme Court of India .

The Supreme Court of India while dealing with the case  “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal” in the matter of the Ramakrishna Mission’s petition to be declared a non-Hindu, minority religion under the Indian constitution, discussed the term Hindu and also identified Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism. The petition was denied. The court determined that the RK Mission is Hindu and there is no religion of “Ramakrishnaism” as claimed by them.

(For full text of the ruling please see http://www.hinduismtoday.com/in-depth_issues/RKMission.html )

Hindu

Generally, one is understood to be a Hindu by being born into a Hindu family and practicing the faith, or by declaring oneself a Hindu.

 

There is also a judicial definition of Hinduism.

The following are the observations of the Supreme Court of India while dealing with the term Hindu:

 

(27). Who are Hindus and what are the broad features of Hindu religion, that must be the first part of our inquiry in dealing with the present controversy between the parties. The historical and etymological genesis of `the word `Hindu’ has given rise to a controversy amongst indo-logists; but the view generally accepted by scholars appears to be that the word “Hindu” is derived form the river Sindhu otherwise known as Indus which flows from the Punjab. `That part of the great Aryan race”, says Monier Williams, which immigrated from Central Asia , through the mountain passes into India , settled first in the districts near the river Sindhu (now called theIndus ). The Persian pronounced this word Hindu and named their Aryan brother Hindus. The Greeks, who probably gained their first ideas of India Persians, dropped the hard aspirate, and called the Hindus `Indoi’.

 (28). The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. VI, has described `Hinduism’ as the title applied to that form of religion which prevails among the vast majority of the present population of the Indian Empire (p.686). As Dr. Radhakrishan has observed: `The Hindu civilization is so called, since it original founders or earliest followers occupied the territory drained by the Sindhu (the Indus ) river system corresponding to the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab . This is recorded in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas, the Hindu scriptures which give their name to this period of the Indian history. The people on the Indian side of the Sindhu were called Hindu by the Persian and the later western invaders [The Hindu View of Life by Dr. Radhakrishnan, p.12]. That is the genesis of the word `Hindu’.

Hinduism

The Supreme Court of India discussed in detail the nature of Hinduism, citing several references and authorities. While laying down the characteristics of Hinduism, This is what the Hon. Court observed:

Features of Hindu religion recognized by this Court in Shastri Yaganapurushdasji (supra) as coming within its broad sweep are these:

(i) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.

(ii) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.

(iii) Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.

(iv) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

(v) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.

(vi) Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.

(vii) Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.

 

 **************

 Hinduism is a way of life.Some consider Sanatana Dharma (The Eternal Way) to be a better nomenclature as it represents those spiritual principles that are eternally true; in this sense it represents the science of consciouness. Hinduism is unique among religions in neither being polytheistic or monotheistic, but one with a universal vision.Dr. Radhakrishnan calls Hinduism a movement not a position; a process not a result; a growing tradition not a fixed relevation . There is therefore always a possibility of further development.The indian way is a process of balanced growth.It is a balance between tradition and change.

This does not mean that Hinduism has neither form nor certainty. Far from that; it is a vibrent, dynamic , living faith which has an ethos of its own.

Hinduism is neither fanatical nor undefined , as J commented.

I agree with V V Raman that those who “contrive spurious history to add even greater glory to their past” be they Western or Indian deserve to be condemned.

*****

As regards ITS, the book has served a purpose. It has given a wake up call.

It is an important step but only the first step.

They have left it to the enterprise of individuals, families and social groups to devise appropriate methods to preserve and propagate true versions of our history, culture and religion. We therefore have a task on our hands. The least we can do is to have wider public debate in all the forms of media, social groups and academia. If there is no wider debate on the major concerns of the book then its aspiration remains largely unfulfilled.

There is a mistaken belief that anyone who speaks of Hinduism is a fundamentalist. The apathy of the “secular minded” to join the debate is on the belief that it relates to religion. But the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem. Discussions and arguments are critically important to carry forward the agenda of the ITS.

I find no mention, reference let alone debate about the book in the print or electronic media in India .The reach of its appeal is presently limited to a few blog sites; and within those sites confined to a couple of small groups. Even here, I cannot help feeling that the discussions have been rather patchy.  They are highly repetitive, highlighting often repeated quotes from the book. Hardly any thought was expressed about what we need to do next? How do we carry forward the agenda? In addition, we have the points made out by Mr. Raman. The discussions did not also take into account the “Purva Paksha”.

The writings by some westerns cited in ITS is a symptom. The malady goes much deeper and has its roots in India ; in its schools, textbooks, Research organizations, Universities and in the “safe” set of historians patronized by the Govt.

It therefore  takes  a much greater effort and dedication to effectively deal with the issue in a holistic fashion and to find credible answers to questions gnawing at the root of our cultural identity,” What do we tell and how we tell our children, who we are?”. A well thought out long term strategy involving various segments of the academia, the Research Organizations, the Government and intellectuals looks inevitable. There are no quick fixes here. We have to have a road map or a vision.

The efforts at home to preserve the culture need to be supplemented supported and nurtured by organized exercises at schools, Universities, Research organizations and social groups. It would be a blessing if the best of our young minds take up and pursue studies in our History and culture. Because it is here our perceptions of History, culture and religion get defined, acquire a broader appeal and get propagated. It is here that myth and “nonsense” as Raman said, gets weeded out .The important break through, if any, should logically appear in the organized sector. The families can protect and nurture the values. But they need a space to grow in the outer world. Else, our young ones will live in a zone of confusing and conflicting identities.

While on the subject of Hinduism in Universities, I wish to reproduce a passage from Mark Tully’s book India’s unending journey, which makes a significant observation on  teaching of Hinduism in western universities :”( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational- or in the departments concerned with studying India as an area , which gives the impression it is peculiarly Indian and so irrelevant to western thinking…. Indian philosophers haven’t helped to improve matters, as many of them spend their time trying to identify the points at which their philosophy meets western philosophy rather than promoting an understanding on its own terms.”

 

Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in History and culture?

Addressing these questions, sanely, is not an easy task. The debate is likely to generate more heat than light. We have the “secular “experts who equate everything Indian with Hindu and shoot it down. We have also the exhilarated ones who over adulate everything Hindu and ancient. While the Establishment will predictably be cautious and timid. Can we strike a Golden Mean? How do we project our History in the best light in a balanced manner?

Any further debate on ITS would be purposeful only in case it addresses issues concerning : carrying forward the agenda; re structuring the way Indian History, culture and religion is written , taught and studied at the advanced levels; and how the cultural values are preserved and nurtured in our homes.

In any case, the least we can do is to initiate spread of awareness, broaden the debate and carry it forward in  forums like these , in social/informal groups and toenlarge the debate over a broader community.

Please also see the Comments received from Mr. Raman and Mr. de Nicolas

Message received from VV Ramanvvrsps@rit.edu

Dear Dr. Rao:

Thank you for your insightful comments.

Here are some thoughts on some of them.

1. Hindu’s wouldn’t really care to just “follow” some “vision” laid out by the Book team.

Well said. However, having recognized and exposed in detail a problem, it does not hurt to suggest some positive solutions.

Fair enough, that was not the intent of the book. So, now perhaps it is time to discuss these.

Then again, it is important to discuss two quite different, though in some ways interrelated questions:

(a) How do we change the negative perceptions and portrayals (intended or not) of Hinduism in the Western world?

(b) How do we enrich, enhance, and create more positive understandings and more enlightened practices of Hinduism within the Hindu world, both in India and beyond?

2. Absolutely. You may recall what I said in my reflections on the book: “Unfortunately, those who speak for the tradition are sometimes caricatured as mindless fundamentalists wearing trousers instead of saffron robes, and skeptical non-traditionalists are sometimes looked upon as unwitting agents of the colonizers, pathetic victims of Thomas Babington Macaulay, by their respective ideological adversaries. Mutual name-calling only hurts the larger cause.”

3This is an extremely important point, and needs to be fully analyzed. It is a fact, for the good or for the bad, that Hindu culture – like the Islamic – is still intricately intertwined with religion, as used to be the case in the West also. The decoupling of culture and religion began in the West only in the 18th century, with some very positive and some very negative consequences.

4. But, the fact is the debate aroused by ITS touches the more fundamental aspects of our being such as our identity, valuing our culture and its preservation and above all, it about self esteem.>

Very good point. But it is important to realize that the whole book is  in the context of Hinduism as written about by a handful of Western scholars, which is very relevant and important no doubt. But the book can also serve to provoke greater self-examination among thoughtful Hindus, ignoring Western perceptions of what we may or may not be.

5Excellent point. Just what I said above.

6. As to Mark Tully’s observation, “( Hinduism) is not usually taught in the departments of philosophy , but in the departments of religion-which invariably gives the impression that it is indeed irrational-…”

Hinduism IS a religion, so there is nothing wrong in this. But it need not give the impression of being Any religion CAN be taught without making it seem irrational.

7. < Such being the case, how do we spur the young bright minds to pursue studies in Indian philosophy, History and culture?>

 It seems to me that in the modern world (i.e. if the young are subjected to courses on science and mathematics, history and literature), this can only be done if and when culture, history, and philosophy are secularized, i.e. decoupled from religion. This is not to say that we should neglect or abandon our religion. But religion (as most Hindu sages knew) is an experiential aspect of being fully human. It is not for analytical inquiry and rational dissection. Meditation is different from metaphysics. Reciting the Gita is different from analyzing it. Engrossed in divine music (bhajans) is different from taking the puranas literally.

Unless we study the Vedas as poetry, the Upanishads as philosophy, and grand epics as literature, we cannot make them relevant, meaningful, and enriching to modern minds.

This is the challenge.

V. V. Raman

July 21, 2007

From

DIOTIMA245@aol.com

Great remark.at the end of your comment. It is a  shame philosophy
departments do not hold Hindu texts…I was one of the few able and
willing to teach in the Philosophy Department at Stony Brook and my
many books are philosophical. Very different from what is offered in
Religious studies. Prof, Raman, bring the discourse through
philosophical search.
Best.
Antonio de Nicolas

July 20, 2007

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your response .As you mentioned, tagging or assigning a name to this religion or the way of life is an elusive exercise. The name Hinduism coined as an operative term points at a much larger entity but does not exactly stand for it. The earlier names “Brahmanism” or “Vedic religion” might have served a similar purpose. Megastenese though mentions Brahmins and Sramanas does not mention the name of any religion.

I sometimes wonder whether even in the distant past it ever had a specific name or  did it needed one, perhaps because of the absence of a rival .It is also plausible that “Vedic religion” was a branch of a “ mother religion” , if there was one.

Buddha does not name, refer to or attack the religion of the day though he criticizes the Brahmanic attitude, the rituals and discourages ungainly speculations.

He sometimes refers to his disciples by their sect as Brahmins or Kshatrias. He addresses some of them by their Gotra like Vaccha (Vatsa), Kaashyapa, and Maudgalya etc. Some of the disciples address the Buddha by his Gotra-Gautama.

Buddhism did not start as a religion. The Buddha intended to offer true interpretations of the Dharma. (That perhaps was how the religion of the day was named.) It started as a free-thinkers- moment that attracted the seekers and the lay intellectuals, in much the same way as the Ramakrishna moment did at a much later time. During the Buddha’s time it was not a religion yet; the rituals related to births, deaths and weddings were presided over by the Brahmin priests. The Buddhist rituals and practices (vinaya) were collated from the teachings and the incidents in the Buddha’s life at a much later time, after his death.

What set apart the Buddhism and other school of thought (like Charukavas et al) from the main stream of the day was their stand on the relevance and on the authority of the Vedas.

It was this factor, again, that largely guided the Supreme Court of India in listing some criteria for Hinduism while handing down the ruling in Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengal case, which I reffered to in my earlier mail.While drawing up the criteria for indetifyong Hinduism the Court relied heavily on the views of Swami Vivekananda and Dr. Radhakrishnan that stressed tolerance, universality and a search for a fundamental unity as the virtues of Hinduism. It also reliedon B.G. Tilak’s view: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of Hindu religion.”Even in the earlier case (Yagnapurushdasji)the “acceptance of the Vedas” was a key element in the court’s decision.

Incidentally the Seventh in the list pf criteria leaves me a little perplexed. It reads ”Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such”. This in a way sums up the position but at the same time appears to knock down the earlier six criteria.

Perhaps it is because of this view ( of not being tied down to any definite set of concepts)  that many say “The term ‘ism’ refers to an ideology that is to be propagated and by any method imposed on others for e.g. Marxism, socialism, communism, imperialism and capitalism but the Hindus have no such ‘ism’. Hindus follow the continuum process of evolution; for the Hindus do not have any unidirectional ideology, therefore, in Hindu Dharma there is no place for any ‘ism’”

 

In any case Hinduism is now a nomenclature for the religious tradition of Indiaand the suffix is hardly noticed. Not many have qualms in accepting “Hinduism”.

The criteria drawn up in the Brahmachari Siddheshwar Shai v. State of West Bengalcase is a working rule evolved for a limited purpose. It cannot be construed as thedefinetion of Hinduism . Because Hinduism is described on variious occations depending on the context.Each time a “ context- sensitive” interpretation  has been put forth. For instance:

In the Indian Constitution, Explanation II appended to Article 25 says that the “reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”

The Hindu Code Bill (which comprises four different Acts), too, takes an undifferentiated view of Hinduism: it includes anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew under ‘Hindu’ as a legal category.

Any reform movements, including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, were seen as merely different sects within Hinduism.

 

There are legal pronouncements that Hindus are Indian citizens belonging to a religion born in India. This means Buddhists, Sikhs or Parsis, even those who did not recognize themselves as Hindus, are to be considered Hindus.

 The Supreme Court of Indiadealt with the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ or ‘Hinduism’ when used in election propaganda. The court came to the conclusion that the words ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ are not necessarily to be understood and construed narrowly, confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices unrelated to the culture and ethos of the People of India depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people. Unless the context of a speech indicates a contrary meaning or use, in the abstract, these terms are indicative more of a way of life of the Indian people and are not confined merely to describe persons practicing the Hindu religion as a faith. This clearly means that, by itself, the word ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Hindutva’ indicates the culture of the people of Indiaas a whole, irrespective of whether they are Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Jews etc.”
 

Here, the term somehow traveled a full circle and came back to Radhakrishnan’s view” ‘Hindu’ had originally a territorial and not creedal significance. It implies residence in a well-defined geographical area.”

All definitions so far have been “context -sensitive” (Ramanujan).

Coming back to the Buddha and Sri Ramakrishna, before I end, there is a remarkable similarity between the two greatest of men. Both spoke from experience. Both placed ones experience above scriptural authority and other modes of cognition. Both had a remarkably sane and expansive view of the religious experience. Both interpreted the existing Dharma in its true light and both did not intend to start a new religion or an Order. In both cases the disciples came to them in search of enlightenment and it was at their initiative the Sangha or the Missioncame into being. The life and teachings of both were recorded and propagated by their disciples in a remarkably similar manner. Neither master authored a book or a treatise.

 The reason Buddhism gained a wider reach and appeal was because of the Royal patronage it received in its formative years and the manner it spread among the populace. The disciples of Sri Ramakrishna largely came from the urban educated middle class. Their Missions were located in cities and the Master’s message was conveyed mainly through books addressed to the educated. The Ramakrishna Mission somehow came to be associated with the elite, at least out side of Bengal, though Sri Ramakrishna was a simple, lovable person accessible to all and came from a rural background. It took a while for the Sri Ramakrishna to become known in the rural parts out side Bengal.

 

 Buddha directed his disciples to teach “for the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world,” and this his disciples did. Early Buddhist evangelism usually consisted of a pair of monks entering a village, going from house to house with their begging bowls until they had enough for the one meal they ate for the day. The monks would then return to the outskirts of the town, where they would often be followed by those who had been impressed by their demeanor and wished to talk with them. The monks would share what they knew, then move on to the next village. Most of the monks hailed from far flung rural areas. The rapid growth of Buddhism probably had much to do with the way the monks closely lived with the people and tended to their spiritual needs.

It is a privilege conversing with you.

Thank you for the response

Regards

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 1, 2012 in General Interest, History

 

Tags: , ,

The Rig Veda and the Gathas-revisited

Near_East_1400_BCE

On 22 Apr, 2007, I posted a write- up  discussing the close relation between the Rig-Veda and the Gathas concerning the language, the locale, the names of the principal characters etc. I mentioned there in, the language of the Gathas (the older scriptures), known as Avesthan was remarkably similar to that of the Vedic Sanskrit of the Rig Veda. Further, in the Rig Veda the devas are worshipped as gods and the asuras are put down as demons, while in Zoroastrianism the treatment of these deities is reversed.   (Topic: Rig Veda and the Gathas )

The issues raised in the post of 22 Apr, briefly, were – when and why the terms deva/asura came to acquire different meanings in the two texts. Was this because of a conflict between the two sects? If so, when and where the” conflict “ took place?

Following that post there were a few comments and discussions in the Forum. I also looked around a few sites and read a few books on the subject because I was not totally convinced that there was a “conflict” per se. In the mean time, a friend on the Forum recommended an article entitled “Vedic Elements in the Ancient Iranian Religion of Zarathushtra “ written by Mr. Subhash Kak, a scholar from Jammu & Kashmir. The article was well written and it helped me to take a view on some, though not on all the issues raised in the post of22 Apr 2007. These efforts yielded additional information on the ancient kingdoms of Kassite s, Mittanis and Hattusa that existed sometime during 18th century B. C to 16th century B. C. in the Mesopotamian and North –West Syria regions. Based on the additional information I prepared a fresh article on the subject and hence this post.

Now, shall we resume our little talk about the Rig Veda and the Gathas?

1. I have veered to the view that the “conflict” was mostly surmised. There is no evidence pointing to any such “conflict”. I agree we may safely discard that hypothesis, at least for the present.

2. the Vedic religion, in some form, was present in the Mesopotamian region during the times of the Mitanni ,the Hittite, the Kassites (c 1750 BC) who worshiped Surya.

3. The Hurrian (1500 B C to 1270 B C) was located in the present-day western Syria , in the mountainous regions of Upper Euphrates and Tigris. The name Mitanni or Maitani first appears in the “memoirs” of a military officier who lived at the time of Amenhotep (1525 – 1504 BC). These memoirs were in connection with the Syrian wars (ca. 1480).

3.1 The ethnicity of the people of Mitanni is difficult to ascertain.The names of some Mitanni kings reveal Indo Aryan influence. They appeared to follow the Vedic religion. The ruling aristocracy was maryanni , meaning “young warrior” a derivative of the Sanskrit marya. The Mitanni warriors were called Marya, the term for warrior in Sanskrit as well.

3.2 Washukanni, or Waššukanni (also spelled Washshukanni, Wassuganni, Vasukhani, or a combination of these variants) was the capital of the kingdom of Mitanni from 1500 B C. The name is similar to the Sanskrit phrase for “a mine of wealth.” Washukanni flourished as a capital city for two centuries.

3.3 The names of the kings also point to the Indo-Aryan influence. The founder of the Kirta (1500 B c to 1490 B C). His name is also mentioned as “Krta” or with its element such as Krtadeva, Krtadhaja, and Krtadharman etc.

The names of the other Mitanni kings are also of Indo Aryan origin. For instance: Tushrata (Dasharatha–possessing ten chariots), Baratarna ( Paratarna-great sun); Biridaswa (Brihadashwa- possessing great horses); Artatama (Rtumna-devoted to the divine law, Rta); Rta-smara ( rooted in the Rta);  Sattura (Satvar – warrior); Saustatar ( Saukshatra-son of Sukshatra, the good ruler); Saumathi (Son of Sumathi); Sattawaza (he who has won seven prizes);Shuttarna (Sutarna – good sun); Sumaala ( having beautiful wreaths); Parsatatar(Parashukshatra-ruler with axe); and, Mattiwaza ( Mativaja -whose wealth is prayer) – are the Mitannian names of the kings and other males of the time.

220px-Royal_seal_of_Šauštatar_of_Mitanni.svg

Royal seal of Saustatar

Šattiwaza (c.1325-1280) before his accession to the throne carried a Hurrian name Kili-Teššup, like that of several of his predecessors. In his treaties, he invokes, among the many Hurrian and Mesopotamian deities, the Indo-Aryan deities Mitra, Varuna, Indra, and the Nasatyas.

http://www.hittites.info/history.aspx?text=history%2FEarly+Late+Empire.htm

3.4 A famous treaty entered between the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma and the Mitanni king, Mattiwaza,(Mattiraja) in about 1380 BC, at Boghazkoy, invokes not only the Babylonian gods to witness the treaty but also the deities of Vedic origin such as Mitra, Varuna, Indra and Nasatya (Ashwins). The names of these deities are in the forms that appear in the Rig-Veda (S. Konow: Aryan gods of the Mitani people, 1921).

They occur in the treaty as ila_ni Mi-it-ra-as-si-il, ila_ni A-ru-na-as-si-il In-da-ra, ila_niNa-sa-at-ti-ya-an-na. Since the form for Na_satya is quite different in the Avestan language (Naonhaithya), it is likely that the Mitannian did not speak Iranian but Indo-Aryan (E.Meyer: Sitzungsberichte der K. Preuss. Akad. Der Wissen, 1908). Of these gods, only Mitra (Mithra) is invoked in the Avesta (Indra and Nanhaithya appear in the Avesta as demons and Varuna may have survived as Ahura Mazda – Asura Mahat).This indicates that the religion of the royalty was Vedic and the Iranian influence was yet to spread to the Mitanni region.

The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have therefore materialized at a much later stage .Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

3.5 As regards the language of the Hurrian kingdom, the common language Hurrian was neither Indo Aryan nor Semitic but was closer to Urartian. The Hurrians adopted the Akkadian cuneiform script for their language in about 2000 BC . It appears there were different groups and sub groups who spoke different dialects and followed different sets of deities. The royal family of Mitanni was speaking Hurrian as well.

the horse drawn chariot

3.6 Kikkuli, a master horse trainer (assussanni, the Sanskrit form of which is aśva-sana) of Mittani, was the author of a chariot – horse training manual written in the Hittite language (an extinct language of Indo European family). The text (dated c1499 B. C) is notable for the information it provides about the development of Indo European language and for its content as well. Kikkuli’s horse training text includes numerical terms such as aika (eka, one), tuwa (dwe , two), tera (tri, three), panza (pancha, five), satta (sapta, seven), Na (nava, nine), vartana (vartana, round).The terms used to denote the horses of different ages or stages of training are – saudist– “foal” or “untrained”; yuga– “young horse”; dāyuga to mean “horse in its second year of training” etc. The text employs terms such as babru (babhru, brown), parita (palita, grey), and pinkara (pingala, red) to denote colors. These terms are of Sanskrit origin.

 

Further, Kikkuli’s text, though in Hittite, has a few loanwords from Luwian and Hurrian languages. Whenever Kikkuli found it difficult to put across the Mitanni concepts inthe Hittite language, he switched to his own language (Hurrian) and switched back to Hittite.
Mitanni Chariot with spokes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kikkuli#column-one

3.7 Hence, the Indo-Aryan element of the Mitanni could be placed 1500 BCE , if not earlier.

4. Hittites is the conventional English name for an ancient people who spoke an Indo European language and who established the kingdom of Hattusa in the North Western region of Syria in 14th century B C. Hittite is the earliest attested Indo European language. The Hittites referred to their language as Nesili (or in one case, Kanesili), meaning “in the manner of (Ka) nesa.” Jay Friedman, University of California,in his paper Verbs in the Rig-Veda and Old Hittite confirms the Indo European nature of the Hittite language.
*
4.1 A cognate appears in a Hittite text found at Bogazköy in the name Ak/gniš, a god of devastation and annihilation. This term refers to AGNI (Sanskrit), the god of fire in ancient and traditional . In the Gathas of Zarathustra, the term atar is used to denote the concept of fire. The term atar does not appear in Rig-Veda. This points to presence of Vedic type of religion in the region .

www.bookrags.com/Agni

5. kassites are the ancient people of the Middle East who established a dynasty that ruled for about 450 years, starting around 1600 BCE. Their capital was Dar Kurizgalu; about 150 km north of Babylon.The kassite spoke a language that was similar to Sumerian.

5.1 The names of some Kassite kings were of Vedic origin (for example: Shuriash = Surya, Maruttash = Marut, Inda-Bugash = Indra-Bhaga),

http://www.imninalu.net/myths-Huns.htm

5.2 The fifth king among the Kassite dynasty took the name Abirattas’ (abhi-ratha ‘facing chariots (in battle)’. (T. Burrow, The Sanskrit Language , London, Faber and Faber, 1955).

5.3 The tenth king of the Kassite dynasty Agum (II) (c.1595-1545) took the throne-name Kakrime derived from Sanskrit term KAK meaning “ to enable , to help”(Sanskrit – saknoti, he is able, he is strong: Shakti,)( The American Heritage Dictionary of the English LanguageIndo-European Roots)  

http://www.domainofman.com/book/chap-10.html

6. What is interesting in the case of Mitannis and Kassites is, the language of the common people was not Indo Aryan, the religion of the people did not appear to be Vedic. Yet, for some unknown reason many of the kings assumed Sanskrit – throne-names. It appears there were traces of Indo Aryan influence in the region.

The Indo-Aryans names do not appear in texts till 15th century BCE. The Mesopotamian texts of the 18th and 17th centuries BCE do not show evidence of this trend (of assuming Sanskrit-throne names). This trend, therefore, was comparatively recent.

What is not clear is, how these “traces of Indo Aryan influence“ came into being? When and why they faded away?

Ruins of Mittani palace

7. Mr. Kak in his paper makes a number of points:
(http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/zoro.pdf )

a) Following the collapse of the Sarasvati – river based economy around1900 BC, groups of Indians might have moved West and that might explain the presence of the Indic Kassites and the Mitanni in West Asia .

b) The old Vedic religion survived for a fairly long time in corners of Iran. The evidence of its survival comes from the daiva-inscription of Khshayarshan (Xerxes) (486-465 BC).

c) The ruling groups-Kassite and Mitanni – represented a minority in a population that spoke deferent languages. They, however, remained connected to their Vedic traditions. They were neighbors to the pre-Zoroastrian Vedic Iran . In addition, there were other Vedic religion groups in the intermediate region ofIran which itself consisted of several ethnic groups.

d) As per the Mitanni documents , the pre-Zorastrian religon in Iran included Varuna. Since Mitra and Varuna are partners in the Vedas, the omission of Varuna from the Zoroastrian lists indicates that Zarathushtra might be from the borderlands of the Vedic world where the Vedic system was not fully in place.

e) The pre-Zoroastrian religion of is clearly Vedic. Zarathushtra’s innovation lay in his emphasis on the dichotomy of good and bad The Zoroastrian innovations did not change the basic Vedic character of the culture in Iran. The worship ritual remained unchanged, as was the case with basic conceptions related to divinity and the place of man.

I also believe that Zarathushtra did not try to overthrow belief in the older Iranian religion, he did however, place Ahura Mazda at the centre of a kingdom of justice that promised immortality and bliss. He attempted to reform ancient Iranian religion on the basis of the then existing social and economic values

8. Now, let us come to the question of why the same set of deities came to be viewed differently and why there was division. This concerns mainly the asuras/ahuras versus the devas/daevas debate.

In the older texts, that is, in the Rig Veda and the Avesta, these differences are not quitesharp.In the Rig Veda, the asuras were the “older Gods”, a class of deities without negative connotations,who presided over the moral and social phenomena of the primeval universe; while devas the “younger gods” presided over nature and the environment. In the Vedic account of creation, some of the “older gods”(asuras) went over to join the ranks of the “younger gods” (devas). The remaining asuras were exiled to the nether world. While this distinction between asuras and asuras-who-became-devas is preserved in the texts of the Rig Veda, the later texts employ the term asura to represent allnon-devas or those opposed to devas.

In Zoroaster’s Gathas, where the battle between good and evil is a distinguishing characteristic of the religion ,the daevas are the “wrong gods”, the followers of whom need to be brought back to the path of the ‘good religion’

9. It is not clear what led to the rivalry between two groups and how rival groups perceived the same set of deities differently.It is possible that at some common point of time, the ancestors of both branches worshiped the same set of deities. Later, it is possible; each group supported its chosen set of deities, leading to rivalry between the two groups. The differences that appeared in the Rig-Vedic and Avestan terminologies must have materialized a long time after the demise of the Mittani and other kingdoms. Some of the important changes that took place on the Iranian side, might have come about just prior to or at the time of the Zarathrustra.

It is likely that the rivalry had its roots in the division of theIndic and Iranian branches of Proto-Indo-Iranian culture. However,the differences persist even today; while their causes have disappeared long ago, and even have been forgotten.

10. Mr. Kak states that the Vedic and the Zarathushtrian systems are much less deferent than is generally believed. He mentions the Kashmiri system which recognizes a three-way division consisting devas, asuras, and daevas. He also brings in the argument of three gunas –Satva, Rajas and Tamas- of Indian thought. I am familiar with the “Gunas” concept; But not as well as to comment on Mr. Kak’s argument.

11. I do believe that the Rig Veda and the Gathas have to be studied together to gain a fuller understanding of either of the texts. Parallel research on the Gathas and on the Vedic, religion prior to Zarathushtra will therefore be useful for better appreciation of the Zoroastrian and the Vedic texts.

mitannikingdom14

H.G. Rawlinson in his Book Intercourse between India and the Western World from the Earliest Times to the fall of Rome (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge – 1926) writes :

From prehistoric times, three great trade-routes have connected India with the West. The easiest, and probably the oldest of these, was the Persian Gulf route, running from the mouth of the Indus to the Euphrates, and up the Euphrates to where the road branches off to Antioch and the Levantine ports. Then there was the overland route, from the Indian passes to Balkh, and from Balkh either by river, down the Oxus to the Caspian, and from the Caspian to the Euxine, or entirely by land, by the caravan road which skirts the Karmanian Desert to the north, passes through the Caspian Gates, and reaches Antioch by way of Hekatompylos and Ktesiphon.

Lastly, there is the  circuitous sea route, down the Persian and Arabian coasts to Aden, up the Red Sea to Suez,  and from Suez to Egypt on the one hand and Tyre and Sidon on the other. It must not be supposed, of course, that merchandise travelled from India to Europe direct. It changed hands at great emporia like Balkli, Aden or Palmyra, and was often, no doubt, bartered many times on the way. This accounts for the vagueness and inaccuracy of the accounts of India which filtered through to the West in early times. A story is always vastly changed in passing through many hands.


Trade between the Indus valley and the Euphrates is, no doubt, very ancient. The earliest trace of this intercourse is probably to be found in the cuneiform inscriptions of the Llittite kings of Mitanni in Kappadokia, belonging to the fourteenth or fifteenth century B.C. These kings bore Aryan names, and worshiped the Vedic gods, Indra, Mitra, Varuna, and the Asvins, whom they call by their Vedic title Nasatya . They were evidently closely connected, though we cannot yet precisely determine how, with the Aryans of the Vedic Age, who were at that time dwelling in the Punjab.

It has been claimed that the word ‘Sindhu’, found in the library of Assurbanipal (668-626 B.C.), is used in the sense of ” Indian cotton,” and the word is said to be much older, belonging in reality to the Akkadian tongue, where it is expressed by ideographs meaning “vegetable cloth ’’ Assurbanipal is known to have been a great cultivator, and to have sent for Indian plants, including the “wool-bearing trees” of India.

At any rate, we know that the cotton trade of western India is of great antiquity The Indians, when the Greeks first came into contact with them, were dressed in “wool grown on trees” In the Rig Veda, Night and Dawn are compared to ” two female weavers.”

We may perhaps trace to this source the Greek, the Arabic ‘satin’ (a covering), and the Hebrew ‘sadin’. Similarly the Hebrew ‘karpas’ and the Greek Kap-aaos are identical with the Sanskrit ‘karpasa’. Logs of Indian teak have been found in the temple of the Moon at Mugheir (the “Ur of the Chaldees”) and inthe palace of Nebuchadnezzar, both belonging to the sixth century B c , and we know that the trade in teak, ebony, sandalwood and black wood, between Barygaza and the Euphrates, was still flourishing in the second century AD 6 In the swampy country at the mouth of the Euphrates, nothing but the cypress grows well.

please also check  A Kassite / Mitanni Kudurru Boundary Stone

 

All images are from Internet

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in History, Indian Philosophy

 

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