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The Agastyas- Hindu Missionaries of Ancient India

Among the rishi families who composed the Rig Vedic hymns, it was the members of the Agastya family who first crossed the Vindhya Mountains and established ashrams in south India. The members of this family acted as preceptors of royal dynasties, propagated Shaivism and played an important role in introducing Hindu religion and culture in south-east Asian countries.

In ancient Indian literary works there are references to the activities of Agastya in relation with characters appearing in different time frames. This indicates that a single Agastya could not have achieved all these feats single handedly and unaided. He was therefore the progenitor of a large family and founded a long surviving generation of representatives known by the name of Agastya gotra. The originator of this family Agastya was the brother of sage Vasishta. His descendants composed hymns in the Rig Veda of which we find 27 hymns in the first mandala, one each in the fifth and eighth mandala, two hymns in the ninth mandala and four hymns in the tenth mandala.

Agastya and Lopamudra

One prominent figure among this family was the one who married Lopamudra and was a contemporary of Alarka, grandson of Pratardana of Kashi. This Alarka was a contemporary of king Dushyanta the father of the famous Paurava ruler Bharata after whom our country is named.

Agastya of Ramayana

In Valmiki’s Ramayana, Aranyakanda sarga II describes the beautiful hermitage of Agastya situated at Nasik, a few miles from Dandakaranya where a peaceful atmosphere prevailed. When Rama and Lakshmana visited his ashram, Agastya presented Rama a bow of Vishnu and later Agastya accompanied Rama and his followers on his return journey to Ayodhya from Lanka with Seeta after killing Ravana.

Exploits of Agastya

According to K.D. Abhyankar, the Puranic story of the Vindhya mountain trying to compete with the Himalayas in height by becoming taller and taller and sage Agastya ordering the Vindhya mountain to lie prostrated till he returned from the south is an allegory to the actual crossing of the Vindhyas by Agastya, a prominent rishi of north India for the first time in history. In ancient times, it was easier to cross the seas by navigation. But it was quite difficult to traverse the mountainous land covered with thick forests and inhabited by wild animals. Hence it was a great feat on the part of Agastya to cross the Vindhya Mountain. Similarly the story of Agastya drinking the water of the ocean is another allegory of his crossing the sea and as we know sage Agastya is quite popular in Indonesia, the land beyond the Indian Ocean.

Star Canopus named after Agastya

The star Canopus is named after Agastya as it was first sighted by him. Around 5000 B.C. this star was visible from the south of the Vindhyas, but not from the north of it. As a member of sage Agastya’s family was the first to cross the Vindhyas from the north, he would have been the first northerner to see the star. Hence the star has been named after his family.

Agastya and Tamil

There is no clear and specific mention of Agastya and his exploits in any of the early Tamil works and reference to his work on Tamil grammar called Agattiyam first occur in Iraiyanar Agapporul Urai, a work of the 8th or 9th century A.D. This work mentions Agastya as a member of the first and second Sangams.  Just like the Europeans who have written works on Indian languages after learning them, probably a member of the Agastya clan settled in south India, had learnt Tamil and written a grammatical work which probably has now gone into oblivion.

Founder of Siddha System of Medicine

A daitya named Ilvala who had a grouse against sages used to invite them for lunch, serve the flesh of a goat (which was actually his brother Vatapi turned into a goat) and later call his brother who used to come out ripping the stomach of the diner. Agastya who had gone to Ilvala to seek financial help was also fed in a similar manner but when Ilvala called him, Vatapi could not come out as Agastya had digested him. This incident is probably an allegory to indicate that Ilvala used to kill sages by serving them with poisoned food. A member of Agastya family who was served with poisoned food came out unharmed as he knew about antidotes for food poisoning and was probably the founder of the Siddha system of medicine.

Discoverer of River Cauvery

According to a Tamil work Manimekhalai, Cauvery stream was released by Agastya from his water pot at the request of Chola king Kantan for perennial water. Agastya overturned his pitcher from which Cauvery flowed towards the sea in the east. The Purana also says that Agastya had compressed the River Cauvery and held the water in his water pot and Ganapathi came in the form of a crow and toppled the water pot and got released the river Cauvery. These stories can be interpreted as a member of Agastya family discovering the river Cauvery or naming the discovered river as Cauvery.

Oversea connections of Agastya

Members of this family even migrated to distant lands and introduced Shaivism there. A statue of sage Agastya is found in a Shiva temple in a temple complex at Pramban in Java. Similarly at a cave in Kombeng situated to the north of Muara Kaman in east Borneo we find the image of sage Agastya. Indradevi the queen of the ruler of Kambuja Empire, Indra Varman I (877-889 A.D.) is said to have descended from sage Agastya. In the old Javanese literature we have a work Agastya Parva, where Agastya describes to his son Driddasyu the creation of the world in puranic style.

Cult of Agastya

Members belonging to the Agastya family became the preceptors of royal dynasties. For instance the Pandya king Sundara Pandya is referred as Agastya Shisya ‘disciple of Agastya’. An inscription of Chalukya Kirtiraja of Lata (Gujarat) says that their spiritual preceptor was Agastya. As a preacher and preceptor of Shaiva religion and guru of many princes, Agastya soon came to be regarded as the object of personal worship and a cult of Agastya was soon formulated and his images consecrated in many temples began to receive the honour of worship. The mode of his worship is laid down in the Skanda Purana and Agni Purana. The Agasteshwara temple at Thodnavada in Chittor district, the Meenakshi Agasteshwara temple at Wadapally in Nalgonda district, the Agasteshwara temple at Guntur district all in Andhra Pradesh, the Agasteshwara temple at T.Narasipura in Mysore district of Karnataka and the Agasteshwara temple at Chennai to name a few are some of the temples dedicated to Agastya.

Agastya’s name has often been cited as an example of courage and wisdom which implies that the members of this family were known for their enterprising nature and intelligence. The members of this family played an important role in national integration by synthesizing the culture of north and south India.

References

  1. A.Nilakanta Sastri- A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the fall of Vijayanagara
  2. D.Abhyankar – Folklore and Astronomy: Agastya a Sage and a Star, Current Science, Vol- 89, No. 12, 25th December, 2005
  3. C.Majumdar- Hindu Colonies in the Far East
  4. Swami Parmeshwaranand- Encyclopedic Dictionary of Puranas, Vol-I
  5. C.Gangoly- The cult of Agastya and the origin of Indian colonial art, Quarterly Journal of Mythic Society, Vol-XVII, No.3, January 1927
  6. Shrikant Talageri- The Rig Veda- A Historical Analysis
  7. N.Saletore-Encyclopedia of Indian Culture

 

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Samkhya Shastra – The World first Philosophical System on Metaphysics

The Samkhya is the first and the oldest among the philosophical systems of India and the whole spiritual life of Hindus was strongly influenced by the Samkhya ideas. John Davies in his work Hindu Philosophy says that the Samkhya system is the first recorded system of philosophy in the world- the earliest attempt on record to give an answer from reason alone to the mysterious questions which arise in every thoughtful mind about the origin of the world, the nature and relations of man and his future destiny.

Philosophical background of Samkhya

Like the other Indian philosophical schools, the object of Samkhya’s philosophical enquiry is to alleviate human sufferings which are of three kinds, namely

  • Aadhyaatmika- Pain caused by disease of the body and mind
  • Aadhibautika- Pain due to extraneous causes like men or beasts and
  • Aadhidaivika- Pain caused by supernatural agencies like nature.

Meaning of Samkhya

Samkhya means number and hence enumeration. As Samkhya system enumerated 25 tattvas (categories) it is likely the philosophy came to be called Samkhya. In Amarakosha the sentence ‘charcha Samkhya vicharana’ means rational examination or discernment and the word Samkhya may be derived from it in the sense of ‘system of rational examination’. Samkhya in general sense means tattvajnana that is knowledge of ultimate reality or a person who know the ultimate reality.

Founder of Samkhya Philosophy

Sage Kapila, son of Prahlada is said to be the originator of Samkhya philosophy. He was a contemporary of king Sagara of Ikshawaku dynasty of Ayodhya and according to Baudhayana Dharma Sutras; it was Kapila who devised the scheme of the four ashramas, namely Brahmacharya, Gruhasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. Two books, Tattwa Samaasa and Samkhya Pravachana Sutra are attributed to him. In Bhagavata Purana, Kapila is regarded as an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu; the one who burnt the sons of Sagara to ashes and the author of Samkhya philosophy. His name also occurs in the Sveteshvara Upanishad.

Origin of Samkhya

Scholars are divided in their opinion regarding the origins of Samkhya. All agree that references to what appears as Samkhya-Yoga doctrines are found in the Upanishads, especially in the later ones among them. But while some are of the opinion that the Samkhya system is independent in origin and almost as old as the Upanishads, others maintain that it is an off shoot of the teachings of Upanishads. As the works of Kapila, his direct disciple Asuri and that of Panchashiksha are all lost, the tenets of this philosophical system is found only in Samkhya Karika of Ishvarakrishna whose work is dated around 4th century A.D. Reference to this system is also found in Vachaspati’s Samkhya-tattva-kaumudi and Vijnanabhiksu’s commentary on Samkhya Pravachana Sutra.

Antiquity of Samkhya Philosophy

References to Samkhya speculations in the Mahabharatha and the Bhagavad Gita show the great antiquity of this school of philosophy. It is further attested by the fact that the fundamental doctrines of Samkhya School have been elaborately criticized in the Nyaya-sutra and the Brahma-sutra and its thought reproduced in the Caraka-samhita. In Ashvaghosa’s Buddha-carita also similar Samkhya doctrines have been expounded.

Nature of Reality

Samkhya postulates two ultimate realities, Purusha and Prakriti; the interaction of which produces the activities of the universe including those of life.

Purusha

Purusha stands for ultimate selves or spirits which are eternally free, unchanging and absolutely independent entities whose nature consists of pure consciousness alone. Purusha as the self, the subject, the knower is intelligent and makes all knowledge possible. It is not to be confused with the mind, ego or intellect, since these evolutes of Prakriti are material. Purusha is beyond time and space, neutral and a non-agent.

Plurality of Purushas

The Samkhyas believed in the plurality of Purushas on the following grounds. Birth, death and mental and physical capabilities are different for each person. If the atman is the same for all, then birth, death and the endowments must be the same for all. If the atman is the same then when one sleeps, the others also must sleep and so on. There are different kinds of sentient beings, men, birds and beasts. If the atman is the same, these differences cannot be true. But they are true. If the atman is the same, when one atman is liberated, the others also must be liberated. But they are not liberated. If the atman is the same, when one man enjoys the fruits of his action, then other men also must enjoy them. As the Samkhya teaches the existence of many Purushas each living eternally separate from the rest, this system is also described as a school of individualism.

Prakriti

Prakriti (nature or matter) is one, real and is independent of Purusha. The word Prakriti means the original or original nature. All objects are present in Prakriti in a latent form and the world around us with its diversities is the product of Prakriti. In other words, the world is a manifest state of the unmanifest Prakriti (also known as Pradhana). Prakriti or the primordial substance or energy give rise to all material forms, from atom to man. Prakriti is of two forms, one homogeneous (avyakta) or noumenon and the other heterogeneous (vyakta) or phenomena.

The Three Gunas

The three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas are the constituent elements of the Prakriti. These gunas will either be in the state of equilibrium or in the opposite state in which one or two gunas preponderate over the rest. If they are in the state of equilibrium, they constitute what the Samkhya call Pradhana or avyakta Prakriti. But as soon as their equilibrium ceases, the process of evolution (vyakta) commences. We can never know the real nature of the gunas and Pradhana in its avyakta (noumenon) form; but only in the vyakta or phenomena state.

Causes for Evolution

Evolution begins when the equilibrium of the three gunas are disturbed due to the interference of Purusha which is not through volition as Purusha is devoid of any agency or capacity for action. Hence as the mere contiguity of the cow and the calf is enough to set the milk flowing from the cow; so the mere contiguity of Purusha and Prakriti causes the movement of the latter. The relation between the two is much like the one existing between a magnet and a piece of iron: the influence of Purusha acts like a magnet, setting Prakriti in motion. The cooperation between Purusha and Prakriti is similar to the necessary cooperation between a lame person and a blind person- the blind person carrying the lame person on the shoulders and following the directions given by the latter until they reach their common destination. Prakriti is blind and Purusha like the lame person is unable to move; and hence only their cooperation makes the world-objects possible.

Denied the role of a Creator

The Samkhyas do not believe in a creator or God as according to them God who can have no desires unfulfilled can desire to gain nothing from the creation of the world. The atmans are all perfect originally and are eternal; there is no need of God to create them. Nor can his engaging himself in creation be due to benevolence for before creation jivas have no sense organs, bodies, objects and hence cannot experience pain. In the absence of pain how can there be a benevolent desire to remove it? Hence the Samkhya system is called ‘Nirishvara’ or atheistic system.

The 24 Categories of the Evolution

The first product of evolution is Mahat which is the cosmic intelligence not to be confused with pure intelligence, the Purusha. Next comes Buddhi, its function is to discriminate; to distinguish objects enabling Purusha to experience them. Its intelligence is the reflected intelligence of the Purusha. The next product is Ahankara or self-sense (ego). Ahamkara is said to have three aspects; sattvika ahamkara which contains a high degree of sattva guna and produces the manas (mind), the five jnanendriyas (sense organs- namely sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) and the five karmendriyas (motor organs- namely tongue, the feet, the hands, the organs of excretion and of generation). The tamasika ahamkara which contains a high degree of tamas produces the five tanmatras (subtle elements- namely sound, touch, form, flavor and odour) and the five Bhutadi (gross elements- namely ether, air, fire, water and earth). The rajasika ahamkara does not directly produce anything but helps the other two gunas in their function to produce the evolutes.

Purpose of Evolution

The purpose of evolution is for the Purusha to enjoy and suffer, to experience and interpret and thereby become capable of distinguishing between himself and Prakriti so that he could dissociate himself from the binding Prakriti. Prakriti therefore functions for the enjoyment and liberation of Purusha and their association is thus temporary.

Bondage and Emancipation

According to Samkhya the cause of misery is wrong knowledge, by which one identifies Purusha with Prakriti. There is bondage and misery as long as a Purusha mistakenly identifies itself with buddhi, ahamkara and manas in which it is reflected. As soon as the Purusha realizes that it is not the intellect or ego or mind, that it is not Prakriti- it is liberated. The discriminatory knowledge which makes liberation possible is obtained through right knowledge, reflection and spiritual discipline. As for spiritual discipline, Samkhya relies on the practical steps developed fully in Yoga, which is referred as the practical aspect of Samkhya.

Significance of Samkhya Philosophy

  • Several millennium before Darwin, the Samkhya School of philosophy propounded the theory of evolution. But unlike Darwin theory which believed in the linear growth of organism from primitive to refined, Samkhya propounded the cyclic theory of evolution followed by dissolution.
  • The giant among European philosophers, Immanuel Kant spoke about ‘a thing in itself’ called noumenon which cannot be known and only the attributes of its opposite, phenomenon can be known. This view was articulated centuries earlier by the Samkhyas who called noumenon as avyakta or the real nature of Prakriti and its traits can never be known.
  • Reference to the three gunas and the practice of meditation as enunciated by Samkhya-Yoga school are also found in the Bhagavad Gita.
  • The Jains believe in the plurality of souls as enunciated by the Samkhyas and along with Buddhists accept meditation, a kind of yogic practice for attaining Nirvana or salvation.
  • Today Yoga has been acclaimed worldwide as a practice for the wellbeing of body and mind. And the philosophical basis of Yoga is provided by Samkhya.
  • Bibhu Padhi and Minakshi Padhi in their work Indian Philosophy and Religion say that Samkhya contains the seeds of the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.
  • The Tantra system was also influenced by the Samkhya philosophy.
  • Finally regarding the significance of Samkhya philosophy the Mahabharatha (Shanthiparva) say that whatever knowledge is found in the Vedas, Yoga, in the various Puranas, in Ithihasa and Arthashastra and whatever knowledge exists in the world, all are derived from the Samkhya.

Reference

  1. Bibhu Padhi and Minakshi Padhi – Indian Philosophy and Religion
  2. T.Raju- The Philosophical Traditions of India
  3. Shantaram Anant Desai- A Study of the Indian Philosophy
  4. Radhakrishnan- Indian Philosophy
  5. T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Outlines of Indian Philosophy
  6. Swami Prabhavananda- The Spiritual Heritage of India
  7. Yogi Ramachakra- The Inner Teachings of the Philosophies and Religions of India
  8. Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam, Edited- Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy
  9. P.V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, Vol- 2, part-I and Vol-5, part-II
  10. Erich Frauwallner- History of Indian Philosophy, Vol-I, Translated from original German into English by V.M.Bedekar

 

Manu Vaivasvata – The Progenitor of Hindu Royal Dynasties

The Puranas give the names of the 14 Manus. The life span of each Manu is said to be one Manvantara consisting of 71 chaturyugas (each yuga consisting of Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali). Manu Vaivasvata is said to be the seventh Manu and the Manu of the present age from whom all ruling dynasties of ancient India trace their origin. The unreasonable life span assigned to the predecessors of Manu Vaivasvata makes their very existence a myth. Also the mentioning of the future Manus when the present age is still in vogue shows that the information is just prophesy. Hence only Manu Vaivasvata can be consider as a historical person.

Manu was the son of Vivasvan and Savarna. His father Vivasvan was the brother of Indra and son of sage Kashyapa and Adithi. In the Rig Veda Manu is spoken as the father of mankind and was the first to offer sacrifice. Manu had his capital at Ayodhya on the banks of river Sarayu. Kautilya reveals that people suffering from anarchy first elected Manu Vaivasvata to be their king and allotted 1/6th of the grains grown and 1/10th of the merchandise as sovereign due. Fed by this payment kings took upon themselves the responsibility of maintaining the safety and security of their subjects. His eldest son Ikshavaku succeeded him and he was the founder of the solar dynasty. Manu’s daughter (adopted) Ila married Budha and their heir was Pururava, the originator of lunar dynasty. Manu was a good administrator and peace and prosperity prevailed in his kingdom. He was a great lover of learning and religion. Kalhana has recorded that even during the reign of Kashmir monarch, Jayapida, the 5th successor of Lalitaditya Muktapida (712-750 A.D.) Manu along with Mandhatra, Rama and others was remembered as a great sovereign.

Probable Period of Manu Vaivasvata

Two probable dates arrived by scholars on the occurrence of Mahabharatha war are 3067 B.C. and 2449 B.C. In Vayu Purana we have a total of 94 kings from Manu to Bhrihadbala belonging to the Ikshavaku dynasty. According to D.R.Mankad the Puranas computed the number of kings of a dynasty on the basis of units of 40 years or caturyugas. Hence the date of Manu can be arrived if we multiply 40 years (that is the number of years each ruler lived) X 94 generations = 3760 and add either 2449 or 3067 (dates of Mahabharatha War) to calculate the date of Manu, that is 6209 if the date of Mahabharatha War is taken as 2449 or 6827 if the date of Mahabharatha War is taken as 3067.

Manu Smrti – Code of Manu

Manu Vaivasvata is the author of Manu Smrti the first book on Hindu jurisprudence. As he had to organize his state composed of different groups of people, he probably had drafted the dharma shastras (codes). It is said to be based on an earlier work entitled Svayambhuva Sastra written by Svayambhuva Manu. But as Svayambhuva Manu appears to be a mythical person, the authorship of the said work could be given to Manu Vaivasvata. According to P.V.Kane the extant Manu Smrti was composed between 2nd century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. and it is almost impossible to say who composed it. Probably the extant Manu Smrti was based on the original Manu Smrti composed by Manu Vaivasvata and a person who had access to the original manuscript, made additions to it and suppressing his identity published it as Manu Smrti with a view to invest the work with a halo of antiquity and authoritativeness. This interpretation we can deduce if we critically analyze the extant Manu Smrti. The present work contains 12 chapters. Except the seventh and eighth chapters which deal with the duties of kings and ministers and with law and justices, the rest of the chapters deal with castes, duties of Brahmins, pure and impure food, about vratas, shradda, yagas, kinds of marriages, etc. As we know the growth of caste system, the rituals associated with various ceremonies like yagas, marriages, etc. was a later development. So except those dealing with law, justice and governance, the rest of the topics could be interpolations. The Bible in India says that the Manu Smrti was the foundation upon which the Egyptian, the Persian, the Grecian and the Roman codes of law were built.

References

  1. Ganga Ram Garg- Encyclopedia of the Hindu World, vol-I, Concept Publication Company, New Delhi, 1992
  2. Har Bilas Sarda- Hindu Superiority, Rajputana Printing Works, Ajmer, 1906
  3. V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, vol-I, Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona, 1930
  4. Kumar Mazumdar- Early Hindu India, A Dynastic Study, Vol-I, Cosmo, New Delhi, 1981.
  5. K.Pruthi (Edited) – Vedic Civilization, Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi, 2004
  6. N.Saletore- Encyclopedia of Indian Culture, Sterling Publishers Private Limited, New Delhi.
  7. C.Singhal and Roshan Gupta- The Ancient History of India, Vedic Period, a New Interpretation, Atlantic Publishers and distributors, New Delhi, 2003
  8. Vettam Mani- Puranic Encyclopedia, Motilal Banarsidass, 1975

 

Interpreting the Myths in the Puranas and Epics

 The epics and the Puranas constitute an important source of the cultural history of India as they throw a flood of light on the various aspects of the life of the time1. To reconstruct the history of ancient India many information contained in the Puranas have to be critically analyzed and poetic exaggerations and inventions which have been interpolated have to be purged2. Similarly both Ramayana and Mahabharatha abound in numerous Brahmanical myths and legends which frequently interrupt the thread of the narrative3. There are several stories or episodes in ancient Indian literature which are absurd if taken literally. It would certainly be unwise to reject the entire story on account of such apparent absurdities; and one should try to look deeper beyond the literal meaning to extract the wisdom of the ancient. For instance the gods and goddesses having three, four and five heads and four, eight and sixteen hands are interpreted to be divine, immensely more powerful than man with the usual number of heads and hands4. Similarly some of the ancient nomadic tribes were called by the names of Sarpas (serpents) and Garudas (eagles) on account of their constant movement and migratory habits5.Hence there is a need of reading a new meaning in the sacred tradition in order to protect it from the satire of critics6. A critical study of the epics and Puranas shows four types of interpolations like

  1. Factual incidents which were blown out of proportions by fanciful writers of subsequent period
  2. Hilarious stories inserted to amuse people
  3. Facts twisted to cover up customs considered as inappropriate at later times or blunders committed by famous historical characters and
  4. Stories inserted to establish the supremacy of Brahmanas

Through a critical analysis of incidents in the various types of interpolation mentioned above, we can find the actual historical facts. Some of the episodes which have been exaggerated in the first type of interpolation are –

  1. In ancient India there was a continuous conflict between the forces of good and evil, the former representing by the Devas (Manavas) and the latter represented by the Asuras/Rakshasas.
    Fact– Ancient India was inhabited by Devas (Manavas), Daityas, Danavas, Vanaras, Rakshasas, Yakshas, Nagas, Panis (Dasas), etc7. All of them were human beings and claim descent from mythical Rishis. The Devas, Daityas, Danavas and Nagas were descendants from Rishi Marichi, while the Vanaras, Rakshasas and Yakshas were descendants from Rishi Pulastya. Further the Devas, Daityas, Danavas and Nagas were step brothers born to a common father Kashyapa. While the mother of Devas was Aditi, that of Daityas was Diti, that of Danavas was Danu and that of Nagas was Kadru. The Daityas and Danavas were called as Asuras by the Devas. Some of the prominent Asuras were Vrtra, Hiranyakashyapu, Prahalada and Bali. The Devas were advised by Brihaspati son of Rishi Angirasa and the Asuras by Shukracharya son of Rishi Bhrigu8. The Nagas supported both the Devas and Asuras depending upon the relations with them. Sesha and Vasuki were the allies of Vishnu (who always supported the Devas). Some of the Naga girls married the Devas. There were many Naga Rishis like Arbudkadraveya Naga (Rig Veda 10/94), Jatakarna Erwata (Rig Veda 10/76) and Sarprajni (Rig Veda 10/182) who composed Vedic mantras9. With regards to the Yakshas, as long as they supported the Devas in their fight against the Asuras, they were called Rakshak (protectors) by the Devas; but after the fall of the Asuras, when the Yakshas became the rival of the Devas, the Yakshas were called Rakshas and depicted as ugly. Some of the important Yakshas were Kubera and Ravana10. Another important group living in ancient India was the Panis who were businessmen and were very wealthy. If the Panis lent money to the Devas, they (Panis) earned their favour otherwise they earned they wrath and were condemned as niggardly or miserly Asuras. As the moneyed class is generally physically weak, the Panis lost to the Devas in the power struggle. Being vanquished the Panis were assigned the status of Dasas11.
    As the practice of hero worship (ancestor worship) was prevailing in ancient India, personalities like Indra, Varuna and Agni became celestial beings after their death and were addressed as Devas (gods) by their descendants. People performed yajnas and invited them to their aid in times of distress and wants12. The composers of Rig Vedic hymns developed the cults of Indra, Agni and Soma13. In the beginning the Rig Vedic hymns described the heroic deeds of their leader Indra and those who aided him in the conflict and were meant to be taken in the literal sense without any symbolism. When the conflict was over and when its authors (Manavas) sought to make a religion out of the events of the conflict, the process of myth making set in. The process of myth making is apparent though in a subtle manner in the Brahmanas which contain the detailed instructions and explanation for performing certain rites in a stated manner. Because Indra acted in a certain manner in a certain battle and was victorious, a sacrificer seeking to obtain the same result should perform the sacrifice in a symbolic manner14. Thus when the Manavas created a religion out of these events, they defied their leaders and arrogated to themselves the title of cosmic good. The opponents naturally became demons and represented the cosmic evil15. As the Rakshasas had lost the battle, the ancient historians (Puranic writers) depicted them as wicked people and their ladies ugly. If they had married the sages they were shown as beautiful16. Hence after the subjugation of various powerful races like Danavas, Daityas, Rakshasas and Nagas, even their names became scornful until at length they ceased to possess any ethnological force and turned into purely evil appellations. For instance the word Asura became synonymous with the meaning demon and Pishacha, the original name of a tribe was turned to mean an impish goblin17. Thus the conflict between the Devas (Manavas) and Asuras/Panis/Rakshas was for power and kingship and nothing to do with ideology or morals.
  2. Sathyavrata (Trishanku), son of Trayyaruna once carried away a bride from a Brahmin house on the eve of her marriage. This act of his resulted in his father expelling him from the palace. Sathyavrata spent his days roaming in the forest and helped the family of Vishwamitra who were in distress on account of the absence of Vishwamitra who had gone to do penance. Once hunger drove Sathyavrata to killed Nandini a cow belonging to Vasishta and consumed its flesh. On knowing this incident Vasishta cursed him to become a Chandala (an outcaste) and called him Trishanku ( trayi- three and shanku- sins) as he had committed three sins; incurring the wrath of his father, for abducting another man’s wife and for consuming cow’s flesh. Later Sathyavrata (Trishanku) was crowned the ruler of Ayodhya as he was the sole heir for Trayyaruna. After some times Sathyavrata (Trishanku) desired to go to heaven with his mortal body and approached Vasishta for help but the latter refused. Meanwhile Vishwamitra returned from penance and was told by his wife of the help rendered by Sathyavrata (Trishanku) in their difficult period. As gratitude Vishwamitra decided to fulfill the desire of Sathyavrata (Trishanku) to go to heaven with his mortal remains. When Sathyavrata (Trishanku) reached the heaven, the Devas refused to allow him and he began to fall back to earth. Vishwamitra then created a separate heaven for Trishanku (Trishanku swarga). As the Devas did not want a duplicate heaven, they agreed to allow Sathyavrata (Trishanku) into the heaven18.
    Fact– Sathyavrata (Trishanku) was expelled by his father at the instance of his family priest (Vasishta) on account of some excesses. For twelve years Sathyavrata (Trishanku) wandered in the woods. While in the forest a severe famine occurred lasting for nine years. At that time Sathyavrata (Trishanku) supported the family of Vishwamitra who were starving as the latter had gone to perform penance. When Vishwamitra returned after his penance and heard about the help rendered by Sathyavrata (Trishanku), he intervened and saw that Sathyavrata (Trishanku) was installed as the king of Ayodhya. Probably this incident has been blown out of proportion by an interpolator by writing that Vishwamitra created a heaven called Trishanku19. It is also likely that Vasishta the family preceptor with whom Trishanku was not in good terms had probably refused to perform Trishanku’s obsequies. This could have forced Trishanku’s son Harishchandra take the help of Vishwamitra to conduct his father’s last rites by paying a heavy fee (dakshina). These facts were blown out of proportion by the Puranic writers of the later period. Hence we find all those fanciful stuff like Vishwamitra creating a heaven for Trishanku and later harassing his son Harishchandra for dakshina, etc.
  3. Arjuna son of Haihaya ruler Kartavirya through a boon granted by his guru Dattatreya, son of sage Atri had 1000 arms (sahasra baahu). Once he visited the ashrama of sage Jamadagni where he and his followers were given a sumptuous feast. This was done through a divine cow, Susheela which Jamadagni possessed. Kartavirya Arjuna wanted the cow and sent Chandragupta to bring it. But Jamadagni refused to part with it and when Chandragupta tried to seize it, the cow suddenly vanished into the sky. Then Chandragupta tried to capture her calf. When Jamadagni intervened he was beaten to death. Parashurama, son of Jamadagni then took a vow to go round the world 21 times and extirpate the Kshatriya kings. At the gate of Mahismati, he chopped off all the 1000 arms of Kartavirya Arjuna and beheaded him with his axe (parashu) 20.
    Fact– The story of the Bhrigu-Haihaya conflict may be interpreted in the following way. The Haihayas, scions of the Yadava family were great warriors and Bhrigus though belonging to the priestly class were great navigators, expert mariners and enterprising tradesman who controlled the trade between India and the western world, acting as intermediaries between Indian and the foreigners such as Assyrians. They had amassed great wealth by helping foreigners at the cost of indigenous population. Mahismati on the Narmada River was a great trading center which was the focus of the routes running north and south and hence prized by ancient rulers. The Karkotaka Nagas has seized it from the Haihayas, but Kartavirya had recovered it. In order to secure the allegiance of the Bhrigus and to alienate them from the Nagas, Asuras, etc., Kartavirya bestowed wealth on them. Arjuna, son of Kartavirya was a great warrior who spread the Haihaya sway far and wide. He wanted the trade and commerce of India to be under the control of Indians and did not like the Bhrigus who were the agents of the foreigners. This was the main reason of the Bhrigu-Haihaya conflict. The Haihaya were in need of money for continuing their military operations and demanded the return of wealth from the Bhrigus and on their refusal pursued them and recovered the wealth buried by them. The Bhrigus ran helter-skelter for safety. In order to counter attack, the Bhrigus entered into matrimonial relationship with the ruling families. One Richika belonging to Bhrigu family approached Gadhi for his daughter and his son was Jamadagni and his grandson was Parashurama. Meanwhile the Haihayas made alliance with the Atris, rivals of the Bhrigus and sought the help of Dattatreya who helped Kartavirya Arjuna by building him a 1000 oared ship (or a fleet of 1000 ships). (The Atris were experts in ship building) 21.
    Kartavirya Arjuna’s effort at getting control of the sea trade was an eyesore to the Bhrigus. Parashurama carried a ruthless war and entirely eliminated the Haihayas from the Naramada valley. He founded new cities and also colonized the region known as Aparanta on the west coast where Surparaka became a great trading center22. Parashurama was the first colonizer of the tract (the present Konkan and Kerala region) which probably erupted out of the sea due to seismic disturbances23. Another rational interpretation for the epithet sahasra baahu which Kartavirya Arjuna possessed was that he was so called because he had the power and strength to wield 500 bows together or a single bow equal to them24.
  4. Sagara the predecessor of Bhagiratha had lost his 60,000 sons due to the wrath of sage Kapila who had reduced them to ashes in the fire which emanated from his eyes for disturbing his penance. The responsibility of performing the last rites of these 60,000 sons of Sagara fell upon Bhagiratha who did penance to bring River Ganga to earth. Ganga was pleased but said that the earth would not be able to withstand the impact of her powerful flow and this could take place only if Shiva agreed to allow her to flow into his matted hair. Bhagiratha then did penance for 1000 years on Shiva and being pleased Shiva agreed to allow Ganga to flow on his matted hair and from then gently to the earth. Then Bhagiratha performed the funeral rites of Sagara’s sons25.
    Fact– The story of Bhagiratha bringing the River Ganga to earth refers to directing the course of the Ganga from the Himalayas to the eastern regions to water and fertilize the tract. One of the greatest irrigation works in the world, it involved the efforts of four generation of the rulers of Ayodhya dynasty, namely, Sagara, Anshuman, Dilipa and Bhagiratha to construct a channel more than a thousand miles in length26. Bhagiratha perhaps was also the originator of the Ganga worship27.

With regards to hilarious stories inserted in the Puranas and epics to amuse people we have incidents of Hanuman flying with  a mountain in one hand, Bhishma laying upon a bed of arrows in the battle field awaiting death, Krishna’s son Sambha giving birth to a iron rod, etc.

  1. During the battle between Rama and Ravana at Lanka, Indrajit, son of Ravana shot an arrow at Lakshmana who became unconscious. To revive him Jambavan told Hanuman to bring the herbal plant Mrtasanjivini from the Himalayas. Hanuman flew to the Himalayas but could not identify Mrtasanjivini from other herbal plants. Hence he brought the whole mountain which grew these types of plants to Lanka. Jambavan then used the Mrtasanjivini to bring back Lakshmana back to sense28.
    Fact– Hanuman brought the Sanjivini herbs from the Dronachana hill (Mahodaya Mountain) which must be one of the three hills surrounding Lanka where herbal medicines are available29. Hanuman bringing the herbs on time and Lakshmana being brought back to senses thrilled the author of the epic to use metaphor to describe this incident and one should not take the explanation literally.
  2. During the battle Bhishma fell down after Arjuna shot his arrow at him. Bhishma decided to stay alive until the sun came to uttarayana. Till then he lay on a bed of arrow and begged for a pillow to the kings. When he found that they were not paying any heed to his entreaties he asked Arjuna for a pillow and also begged for water from him. Later he taught Rajadharma to Yudhisthira resting on a bed of arrows30.
    Fact– A careful study of the critical edition of the Mahabharatha shows that Bhishma died on the tenth day of the battle or soon after. His laying on the bed of arrows simply means that he fell on the ground that was strewn with arrows. This was later mythologized to mean that he lay on a bed of arrows as he waited for the auspicious time of the year to die. The main purpose of this story was to keep Bhishma alive long enough to advise the new king Yudhisthira on rajadharma and introduce other didactic and sectarian material31. Today in the Kali age if common people come across an injured animal, they show sympathy and try their best to get it medical facilities. Hence it is hard to believe that neither the Pandavas nor the Kauravas and also their respective allies lacked conscience and continued to fight when the great patriarch was lying down on a bed of arrows that too in the battle field.
  3. With regards to the destruction of the Yadu race it is said that one day some of the Yadus to have fun with three great Rishis Vishwamitra, Kanva and Narada who had come to Dwaraka dressed Samba, one of the sons of Krishna in female attire and taking him to the Rishis asked them what child the supposed woman would give birth. The Rishis at once knew what mischievous pranks the impudent Yadus were playing. They grew fearfully angry and cursed them saying that an iron bar would be produced from the womb of the woman and this bar would destroy the entire Yadu race. The next day Samba delivered an iron rod. The Yadavas pounded it into powder and threw it into the sea. This powder was washed ashore and it grew up like arrow like grass. Krishna who was angry due to the death of Satyaki, Pradyumna and others plucked a handful of that grass and it transformed itself into an iron rod with which he beat to death those around him. Then other people plucked up the grass which turned into iron rod. They fought among themselves and all of them got killed32.
    Fact– Probably the story of Samba being pregnant was added by the interpolator to make the Mahabharatha amusing to the masses33. First of all Samba’s existence itself appears fictitious as his mother is said to be Jambavanti, daughter of Jambavan, a bear. Can a man (Krishna) marry a she-bear and having contact with a man; can a she-bear deliver a human being? Being the son of Krishna, would Samba stoop to such low level as to get himself dressed as an pregnant woman and play such silly pranks? Perhaps Samba could have been the first and last man in the history of mankind to deliver that too an iron rod. Also the interpolator has depicted Krishna as a mentally deranged for killing all those around him just because his son had died.

Sometimes stories in the Puranas and epics were interpolated to cover-up customs considered as inappropriate at later times and blunders committed by famous historical characters.

  1. For instance it is said that in the svayamvara of Draupadi, the Pandavas participated disguised as Brahmanas. There Arjuna was successful in hitting a target, thereby fulfilling the condition imposed for becoming eligible to marry Draupadi. After marrying her he returned home along with his brothers. When the Pandavas returned home, they cried at the door- ‘mother, we have got splendid alms today’. The mother replied whatever it be my sons, divide it among all of you. So that their mother’s right might not become false, they married the princess all together34.
    Fact– The Pandavas had passed their early life in Tibet. It was a prevalent custom of that country for the women to have a plurality of husbands. This custom prevailed among many Hindu castes in many parts of India. Over a period of time this custom disappeared and the writers of the epic could not bear the idea that such custom prevailed among their forefathers. Thus several chapters in the Adi parva of Mahabharatha were interpolated and the story above is one of them35.
  2. Kunthi had served sage Durvasa and being pleased, the latter had taught her a mantra by which she could invoke any deva and get children from them. To test the efficiency of this mantra, she invoked the sun god with the mantra. Thereupon the sun god came and she was blessed with a son who later became Karna. As Kunthi had not been married she put the child in a box and floated it in the Yamuna. Kunthi later became the wife of Pandu, who also had another wife, Madri. Once while hunting, Pandu killed a sage Kindama, who was making love with his wife in the forest; both of the sage and his wife having assumed the forms of deer. The sage cursed Pandu that he would die the instance he touched his wives. Pandu became dejected as he would be heirless and asked his wives to become mothers through some noble persons but they declined. At that instance Kunthi told about the boon she had got from sage Durvasa and by uttering the mantra bore three sons, Yudhisthira, Bhima and Arjuna from Dharma, Vayu and Indra and Madri bore two sons, Nakula and Sahadeva from the Ashwini devas36.
    Fact– Karna was a Kanin (a child born to an unmarried damsel was called Kanin) born to Kunthi before her marriage. To hide her shame, she placed the child in a basket and floated it in the river. The interpolators have related an extraordinary story to save Kunthi’s honour37.

Another type of interpolation in the Puranas and epics was stories intent to convey the superiority of Brahmanas. For instance it is said

  1. During Rama’s rule infant’s death was very much on the increase in Ayodhya. It was believed that such deaths increased when shudras did tapas (penance). To find out if any shudra was engaged in penance, Rama flew over the Dandaka forest in his Pushpaka Vimana where he found a shudra called Shambuka performing penance hanging down from the branch of a tree with his head down. Rama killed him and Shambuka’s spirit got salvation38.
    Fact– This story is found in the Uttara Kanda, a later addition to Valmiki’s Ramayana which contained only five kandas. Nowhere in the sacred books of Hindus it has been mentioned that shudras should not do penance. Valmiki, a hunter had performed penance and became a sage. It is a clear case of interpolation to convey the masses that spiritual practices was only for the upper castes and if one transgress this rule he will have to face the consequences. Unfortunately this story has tarnished the image of Rama.
  2. When Yudhisthira performed the Rajasuya yajna, he invited kings and chiefs from across the country including Krishna to participate in the yajna. It is said that at the yajna Krishna with a desire of gaining the excellent fruits willingly took upon himself the task of washing the feet of Brahmins39.
    Fact– On the advice of Krishna, Yudhisthira performed the Rajasuya sacrifice only after defeating Jarasandha. In the said sacrifice, when the question arose as to who should be offered the Agra puja (first worship, where the honoured person is offered things like sandal paste, blade of grass, flowers, etc.), Bhishma said that as the sun shines among all luminous objects, so shines Krishna among all men present here. Therefore Agra puja (first worship) should be first presented to Krishna40. These being the case it is impossible to believe that Krishna invited as a chief guest at a function would wash the feet of Brahmanas. In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of nishkama karma, that is action without desire, how come the same Krishna desire of anything. In fact he had refused to ascend the throne after the death of Kamsa, in spite of his kinsmen plea. Moreover would the Brahmins who had come to receive gifts (dana) dare to allow Krishna to wash their feet or would Bhishma allowed Krishna whom he considered as an incarnation of God to wash the feet of Brahmanas? This incident of washing the feet of Brahmanas is another instance of interpolation to show that even Gods worship Brahmins to gain merit.

Indian scholars have untiringly bringing out the critical editions of our ancient texts containing historical information by rejecting absurd stories and incidents which have been inserted. For instance Vyasa taking the help of Lord Ganesha as a scribe to write the Mahabharatha and Krishna clothing Draupadi when she was being disrobed by Dushshasana have been rejected as interpolations in the critical edition of the Mahabharatha41.

Bibliography

  1. D.Pusalker- The Epic and Puranas, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1955, p. xviii
  2. P.Mittal- History of Ancient India (7300 B.C.-4250 B. C.) Vol-I, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 2006, p.xix
  3. D.Pusalker- Op.cit, p.xxxv
  4. D.Pusalker- The New Style Puranas in Mahendra Kulasrestra- Edited, Culture India– A Compendium of Indian Philosophy, Religion, Arts, Literature and Society contributed by authorities in various areas, Lotus Press, New Delhi,2006, pp: 64,65
  5. Abinas Chandra Das- Rig-Vedic India, R.Cambray & Co, Calcutta, 1927,148
  6. D.Pusalker- The New Style Puranas, Op.cit, p. 65
  7. K.Pruthi (Edited) – Vedic Civilization, Discovery Publishing House, New Delhi, 2004, p.91
  8. Vettam Mani- Puranic Encyclopedia, Motilal Banarsidass, 1975, pp: 162,396,612,760
  9. P.Mittal- Op.cit, p.44
  10. Ibid, p.67
  11. C.Singhal and Roshan Gupta- The Ancient History of India, Vedic Period, a New Interpretation, Atlantic Publishers and distributors, New Delhi, 2003, pp:142,143
  12. Ibid, pp: 2,3
  13. Thaneswar Sarmah- The Bharadvajas in Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, New Delhi, 1991, p.xxiii
  14. Malati J Shendge, The Civilized Demons: The Harappans in Rigveda, Abhinav Publication, New Delhi, 1977, p.8
  15. Ibid, pp:3,4
  16. P.Mittal- Op.cit, p.249
  17. E.Pargiter, Ancient Indian Historical Tradition, Oxford University Press, London, 1922, p.290
  18. Vettam Mani- cit, pp: 794,795
  19. K.Pruthi- Op.cit,p.59
  20. Vettam Mani- cit, pp: 393,394
  21. D.Pusalker- The New Style Puranas, Op.cit, pp:70,72; R.K.Pruthi- Op.cit, pp: 55,56
  22. Ibid
  23. D.Pusalker- The New Style Puranas, Op.cit, p. 67
  24. Ratilal N Mehta- Pre Buddhist India, Examiner Press, Bombay, 1939, p.11
  25. Vettam Mani- cit, p. 114
  26. D.Pusalker- The New Style Puranas, Op.cit, pp:65,66
  27. K.Pruthi- Op.cit,p.62
  28. Vettam Mani- cit, p. 638
  29. P.Mittal- Op.cit, p.244
  30. Vettam Mani- cit, pp: 137,138
  31. S.Rajaram- Mahabharata Date: A Word of Caution, QJMS, vol- XCIV, 1958, No:1-2, 2003, pp:56,57
  32. Dhirendra Nath Pal- Sri Krishna- His Life and Teachings, Published by C.C.Basak, The Research Home, Calcutta, 1923, p. 448; Vettam Mani- cit, p.428
  33. Dhirendra Nath Pal, cit, p.448
  34. Ibid, p.124
  35. Ibid, pp: 123,124
  36. Vettam Mani- cit, pp: 442, 443
  37. Dhirendra Nath Pal, cit, p.112
  38. Vettam Mani- cit, pp: 639,678
  39. Dhirendra Nath Pal, cit, p.171
  40. Ibid, pp: 172,173
  41. D.Pusalker- Op.cit, pp: xxiii, 97

Demythologizing the Historic Krishna

Sri Krishna the hero of the Yadavas and counselor of the Pandavas was the main character in the epic Mahabharatha.  If not for his teachings contained in the Bhagavad Gita, now a part of Mahabharatha, the said epic would have been a bland story of a quarrel between cousin brothers. In the annals of ancient Indian history, Krishna possessed a unique personality. A master political strategist, he refused to ascend the throne of Mathura, though it was the wish and plea of his fellowmen1. Krishna was a master of various arts like the art of healing2 and in the art of driving chariots3. He was also a good singer and musician4. He invented a new weapon; the Sudharshan Chakra5. Krishna was the first socio-religious reformer of India who questioned the significance of the dry rituals of the Vedas6 and in its place founded an egalitarian and universally applicable religion called Bhagavatism7. Its philosophy now contained in the Bhagavad Gita teaches paths to salvation through selfless action (karmayoga), devotion (bhaktiyoga) and meditation (dhanyayoga). In fact the vast literature known as Upanishads, which the whole world admires, contains the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as its kernel8.

But over the centuries, various myths were built around Krishna’s personality with some of the events associated with him being exaggerated and interpolated with stories which blemished his character. Some of his views/opinions on statecraft and ethics were also appropriated and its credit given to other historical characters9. In this article, an attempt has been made to demythologize some of the myths associated with Krishna and to find the reason behind this act of interpolating his history with absurdities.

Critical evaluation of Sources

Is it possible to write objectively on Krishna’s history? Yes if we critically evaluate the sources which give us information about him, namely the Puranas and the epic, Mahabharatha.  First we will critically examine the Puranas. Amara Simha in his lexicon Amarakosa spoke of the five characteristics which Puranas possessed, namely-

  1. Sarga- about creation;
  2. Pratisarga- about recreation;
  3. Vamsa- genealogy of gods and sages;
  4. Manvantara- cosmic cycles and
  5. Vamsanucharita- accounts of royal dynasties.

Except for the Vishnu Purana, none of the present Puranas have these five characteristics10.

By the middle of 4th century A.D. the Puranas gradually began to lose their original character and turned into important codes of Hindu rites and customs by including chapters on varnashramadharma, achara, shraddha, prayashichita, dana, puja, vrata, thirtha, diksha, utsarga, etc11.  Consequently the accounts of the genealogies of kings and sages were little cared for and often fabricated. People also took absolute liberty in making changes in the text resulting in the increase of textual corruption in the Puranas12.

With regards to information on Krishna, except for the Vishnu Purana, Brahma Purana, Bhagavata Purana and Brahma Vaivarta Purana, the story of Krishna is very briefly told in the other Puranas and their accounts is in no way different from those given in the first four Puranas named above13. Even among these four Puranas, the original Brahma Vaivarta Purana is lost and the present Brahma Vaivarta Purana is a modern creation of some enthusiastic religious scholar14, while the Bhagavata Purana is based on some other older Purana15. Coming to the Brahma Purana, the account of Krishna given in this Purana and Vishnu Purana is identical word for word in 26 chapters. This means that both the Puranas have quoted these 26 chapters narrating the career of Krishna from some other older work16. As Vishnu Purana is the only one which has retained some characteristics which a Purana should possess as mentioned by Amara Simha, only this Purana can be relied for reconstructing the history of Krishna.

Coming to the Mahabharatha, Vyasa had composed only the essence of Mahabharatha comprising 8800 shlokas and that work was known as Jaya. Vaishampayana added a few verse of his own and brought the number of shlokas to 24,000 and gave the book the name, Bharata Samhita. It was Suta who made many more addition and made the book so big as to fetch it the name Mahabharatha. It took perhaps centuries to get this transformation of the book from Jaya to Mahabharatha17.

Hence on the nucleus of the family feud of the Kauravas and Pandavas, in its present form the  Mahabharatha contains myths and legends pertaining to Brahmanical philosophy, ethics and law stressing the superiority of Brahmins, myths of Vishnu and Siva, fables, parables, fairy tales and moral stories18. With regards to information on Krishna, he appears for the first time in the epic at the svayamvara of Draupadi where he had come from Dwaraka and the epic is silent as to his earlier life. This is because the Mahabharatha is principally concerned itself with the history of the Bharatas. The Harivamsha which forms the supplement of Mahabharatha deals exhaustively and exclusively with the life and history of Krishna on which the Mahabharatha is silent19.

A critical study of the Harivamsha reveals that the descriptions of things in the Vishnu Purana are all expanded in the Harivamsha. The Harivamsha is a later work than Vishnu Purana and the story of Krishna that it gives is apparently borrowed from Vishnu Purana20.

Hence it is quite apparent that the works such as the Puranas and the Mahabharatha were made the vehicles by various enthusiastic writers of different cults at different times to promulgate their own dogmas and doctrines. They became the store houses of writings of all sorts of men of all shades of opinions, nay of any and everyone who thought that he had written something clever. From big books to single couplets, everything was thrust into them by every sort and grade of men who desired to publish their composition and to secure for them a wide circle of readers21.

Therefore the story of Krishna’s life is chiefly found in the Vishnu Purana and the Mahabharatha; one about the early life and the other about his later life. But both of them in their present form are mixed with annals, legends and fictions22. But by putting the searching light of history, analysis and logic, it would not be difficult to find out which portions of it are fictions and stories and which are after-interpolations23.

Why interpolation/slander of Krishna took place?

Bhagavatism the religion founded by Krishna was not very favourably inclined towards the varnashramadharma and the Brahmins. This religion freely admitted women, shudras and even foreigners into its fold.24 And from about the beginning of the 5th century A.D. if not earlier, the Vaishnavas (Bhagavatas and Pancharatras) and probably the Shaivas came to be influenced by Tantricism. It is not yet definitely known how and when Tantricism arouse but that it is of considerable antiquity cannot be denied. Tantricism was purely of non-Vedic in origin and its ideas and practices were also non-Vedic. In its early character it did not seem to have recognized the varnashramadharma and the authority of the Vedas25. The ideas, rites and practices of Pancharatras (the aagamic literature of the Vaishnavas), aagamic Shaivas and the Tantriks amply testify to their non-Brahminical or rather anti- Brahmanical character. These sectarian faiths discouraged priesthood, and its rituals which were all non-Vedic affected the Brahmins very seriously26 (in terms of their livelihood). The rise and propagation of these rival faiths proved very fatal to the sacrificial religion of the Vedas which was already on the decline27. To reestablish the varnashramadharma and the authority of the Vedas, the Brahmins introduced smrti materials into the Mahabharatha and the Puranas28.

The varnashramadharma and Vedic rituals must have had been proved quite sophisticating, stifling for all and sundry of the ancient Indian society. The people and society was wallowing in the grip of superstitions, rituals and cumbersome process of prestation society. Moreover, the priestly class must have had been interfering in every walk of life as they had woven such intricate web of ‘dry rituals’ in each and every aspect of individual and collective life that it might have had been quite exasperating. The rigid and stratified social order might have had been proving to be anathema to the progress and development. Krishna had not only broken the backbone of this prestation society by establishing a monotheistic sect Bhagavata and propounding Samkya yoga, but also virtually abolished the varnashramadharma and the stratification thereof. The Samkya Yoga and Bhagavat Sect that Krishna founded had led to the loss of power and privilege of the priestly classes. He punished and dethroned anti-people, cruel and selfish kings and emphasized on debate and discussion, making ruling elites sensitive to public opinion29.

Krishna had ushered in social revolution by stopping the worship of serpents, ghost and superstitious figures like Indra30. Krishna had become the biggest threat to the two classes or castes of Indian society- social and political elites (priestly and political class). He gave an open challenge to the priestly class by opposing the system of worshiping based on fear and greed (of getting heaven or birth in a rich and prosperous family) and terming Vedas and Vedic ritual as obstruction instead31. Hence they (priestly and political class) started the greatest farce of the humanity. Gita was distorted, Krishna was mystified and made god so that nobody could dare to repeat his great acts. There were many insertion made in the Gita related to the varnashrama based caste system which was against the very principle and values of Krishna. The Avatar system was concocted to prevent any repetition of Krishna like acts by any human being in future32.

Interpolation also took place as the authors who revised the Puranas and epics wanted to make them amusing and interesting to the masses before whom they were recited and sung. Hence fanciful and poetic descriptions and extraordinary miracles were added to them over the years33.

The priests of Shiva were the last to retouch the Mahabharatha and as there is as much Shaivism in the Mahabharatha as there is Vaisnavism; sectarian rancor may have been responsible for inventing some incidents and darkening the character of Krishna34.

Myths on Krishna decoded

Now we shall scrutinize some of the myths/exaggerated accounts related to Krishna’s life mentioned in the Puranas and Mahabharatha and through logic and critical analysis find the actual facts.

Myth– Putana a rakshasi was deputed by Kamsa to kill Krishna. She went to his house in disguise as a gopa woman and fed him on her breasts. But Krishna the child extracted her life also with her breast milk and she assumed her original form and fell down dead35.

Fact– During his childhood Krishna was attacked with a fatal disease named Putana which has been referred by Susruta in his work Uttara Tantra, chapter 27 and 3736.

Myth– A fierce serpent called Kaliya lived in Kalindi. The trees on the banks of the river were withered and dried up on account of the poisonous breadth emitted by him. One day the Gopalas and their cattle drank water in the Kalindi and fell down dead. Krishna then jumped into the river, fought with kaliya, who being defeated begged for mercy. At the instance of Krishna, Kaliya with his family left the place37.

Fact– At Vrindavana lived a settlement of Nagas whose chief was Kaliya. The Gopas were in great fear of the fierce Nagas. Krishna challenged the Naga chief to a single combat and in a fierce encounter defeated Kaliya. Krishna then commanded him to leave the forest which the Nagas did38.

Myth– Once Krishna picked up the clothes of Gopa women bathing in Yamuna river39.

Fact– The incident of Krishna removing the clothes of the maidens when they were bathing described in the Bhagavata Purana is the creations of the author of Bhagavata Purana according the Dhirendra Nath Pal40. Whether this incident is fictitious or real, a more reasonable explanation which one can give is that having seen some maidens bathing all naked in river Yamuna, Krishna collected their clothes lying under a tree and placed it up in the tree. Later when the maidens expressed their regrets; Krishna returned their clothes with a warning not to repeat the act of bathing naked in public places41.

Myth– The people of Vrindavana used to perform yajna every year in favour of Indra for rainfall. Krishna opposed it and instead asked them to worship mount Govardhana. Angered by this Indra let loose heavy rains on Vrindavana. Krishna uprooted and held mount Govardhana like an umbrella and people took shelter under it. Beaten at this own game, Indra sang the praises of Krishna, came and saluted him42.

Fact– It is impossible to believe that a boy of ten years of age or for that matter any being in human form could have lifted a mountain and held it on his finger. Probably Krishna might have dug a big cave in which his people and cattle took shelter during the rains. It might be an allegory signifying that the Indra worshippers finding their god slighted attacked the Gopas and made an attempt to destroy their new sacrifice and that Krishna in this armed attack protected the hill on which the Gopas took shelter43. It is also probable that there occurred heavy during the time of the yajna which flooded the Yamuna and Govardhana. Krishna while grazing cattle near the Govardhana Mountain might have gained good knowledge about the terrain of the said mountain which had large caves there. At the time of the floods, Krishna shifted the residents to the caves in Govardhana and saved them. For that he was given the title, ‘Giridhar’44.

Myth– At the advent of spring the melody of Krishna’s flute rendered the Gopa women lovelorn. Gopa women both married and unmarried mad with love roamed about Vrindavana with Radha calling ‘o Krishna’, ‘o Krishna’. Krishna appeared, entered the waters of Yamuna with them and satisfied them45.

Fact– Raasa means simply a dance. Sridhara Swami the great commentator of the Bhagavata, thus explains the word. ‘It is a circular dance of men and women by holding one another’s hand’. Such dances were very popular amongst the people in which Krishna was born. There was nothing wrong in these amusements and none was charged with carnality who joined in them. Hence the Raasa leela of Krishna is nothing but the innocent sports of merry boys and girls at Vrindavana. Krishna was a mere boy about eleven years of age when these sports were held. It is possible for a boy of eleven to entertain any idea of carnality? When Krishna was most foully abused by Shishupala, he was never charged by him with sensuality. If Krishna really did what some of the Puranas wanted us to believe, he would not have been spared by Shishupala. Nowhere in the Mahabharatha, which is a much earlier work than any one of the Puranas, have we found Krishna described as a man of lewd character46.

Radha is a poetical creation. She is not to be found in the Mahabharatha, or in Vishnu Purana or Harivamsha or Bhagavata ⃰. Perhaps she is the creation of the author of the original Brahma Vaivarta Purana which is now lost. It is possible that the author of this Purana picked up one of the many gopa maidens who sported with Krishna in the Vrindavana and giving her a name, he painted her in the highest flight of poesy. Since then innumerable poets have used their great powers to develop the character of Radha. Her love for Krishna has been painted as the highest development of devotional love of the human soul for the supreme one47. Bhasa in his two dramas Balacharita and Panchasatra refers to Hallisaka dance of the cowherd boys and girls. The latter’s names are Ghosa, Sundari, Vanamala, Candrarekha and Mrigaksi and Radha is conspicuous by her absence even in Harivamsha and Vishnu Purana48.

Myth– Krishna went to Pragjyotisa the kingdom of Narakasura, defeated him and released his 16,000 daughters from captivity. After returning to Dwaraka along with them, Krishna assumed the guise of 16,000 men and married these 16,000 girls49.

Fact– In the Mahabharatha, Harivamsha, Vishnu Purana and other Puranas there are many accounts of Krishna’s various wars. But they are narratives, full of extraordinary descriptions and it would be mere waste of time to make an attempt to pick up from them any historical facts and this include the story of Krishna’s war with Narakasura and his rescuing and marrying the sixteen thousand women imprisoned by Naraka50.

But some historians who believe in this story opine that it is not sixteen thousand but 16 wives of Narakasura whom Krishna married. According to them sixteen thousands of the Puranas mean 16 only. Shata and sahasra (100 and 1000) are very often meaningless addition in the Vedic parlance51. This story is also interpreted in another way where Narakasura is depicted as a dacoit who looted brides and marriage parties. Krishna killed him and liberated all the women. But neither their parents nor husbands were willing to accept them. Krishna told the Yadavas to take these women so that they get a home and a name for their children. But none agreed. Hence Krishna married them and gave them a home. Thus he set an example for the relatives of these women who are raped and are then left alone either to commit suicide or to become a prostitute52.

Myth– Krishna had 80 sons, ten each born to his eight wives namely Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Satya, Bhadra and Lakshana53.

Fact– The list of wives of Krishna given in the various chapters of Vishnu Purana and Harivamsha differs in numbers and names. Except Rukmini and Satyabhama none of these wives ever appear on the scene of action. Satyabhama appears only once or twice, but those places of the Puranas or Mahabharatha in which she appears are apparently interpolations. Again none of the sons of these wives except of Rukmini and Jambhavati is to be met with in any period of Krishna’s life. Jambhavati was a bear’s daughter and therefore it is impossible to believe that she gave birth to a human being. It is said this son Samba carried away the daughter of Duryodhana name Lakshana. This story is mentioned only in the Puranas; no mention is made of it in the Mahabharatha. If this story had any truth in it, it must have a place in the Mahabharatha which is the history of Duryodhana and the Kurus. Rukmini’s son Pradumna however is present all through Krishna’s career. It is his grandson, Vajra, who finally ascended the throne of the Vrisnis. Under the circumstances we shall not be very wrong if we doubt the very existence of any other wives of Krishna except Rukmini54.

Myth– Krishna taught Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna on the eve of the battle at Kurukshetra.

Fact– It is hard to believe that the armies of Pandavas and Kauravas were waiting till Krishna recited the eighteen adhyayas (chapters) of Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna55. As we know the Gita is in verse form and nowhere have we found people talking in verse. It is nowhere mentioned in the Mahabharatha that the Rishi Vyasa was present when Krishna told it to Arjuna or when Sanjaya recited it to the king Dhritarashtra. Thus we can by no means trace the Gita as it now exists to Krishna56. Moreover the present Gita contains innumerable interpolations and grafting of Brahmanical discourses, particularly in respect of Vedic authority, rituals and varnasharama. This has distorted the Gita and has transformed it into a confusing treatise with several passages contradictory with one another. How could the same Krishna adhere to the supremacy of the Vedas and the Vedic rituals which he considered as obstruction for, liberation57?

It has also been proved by many great oriental scholars that the present Gita is a work written many years subsequent to the time when the original Mahabharatha was written. But by whomsoever written it was written based on the teachings of Sri Krishna. Krishna delivered a lecture to the Pandavas just before the great battle and Vyasa must have briefly mentioned it in the original Mahabharatha he wrote. It was quite natural that Arjuna and the Pandavas should be filled with great despondency when they came face to face with their dearest friends and relatives whose death meant their victory. To remove this despondency Krishna had lectured them and this was briefly mentioned by Vyasa in the original Mahabharatha. A subsequent writer wrote the present Gita in verse based on these teachings. It is evident from the meager accounts that we get of Krishna in the Puranas and the Mahabharatha that he founded and preached a new religion; but neither the Puranas nor the Mahabharatha clearly say what it was. The little of his teachings that we meet with in the Puranas and the Mahabharatha leads one to conclude that his religion could not but be that which has been told in the Gita 58.

Myth– During the Mahabharatha war Drona was killed deceitfully on the advice of Krishna. It is written that when Krishna found it impossible for the Pandavas to kill Drona, he advised them to leave the path of righteousness and kill Drona by a most shameful stratagem. He advised them to go and tell Drona that his son Ashwathama was killed. It he hear this news, he would be overwhelmed with grief and he would surely give up arms. Arjuna flatly refused to do it but Yudhisthira hesitatingly agreed. Bhima then killed an elephant named Ashwathama and went to Drona and told him that his son was dead. Drone did not believe Bhima’s words and said that he would believe none except that embodiment of virtue, Yudhisthira. So Yudhisthira went and said-‘Ashwathama was dead’, adding in a low voice, ‘Ashwathama the elephant’. On hearing this Drona left his arms and Dhristadumna cut off his head59.

Fact-This story is a palpable fiction as it is impossible to believe that Yudhisthira who went to exile only to keep his word would tell a lie or Krishna who spoke of the Gita would advise him to do so. It is written in the Mahabharatha itself that Ashwathama obtained immorality by his asceticism. Drona was fully aware of it. It is not possible that he should take even Yudhisthira’s words as truth knowing fully well that his son could not die. It is also impossible that a man like Krishna should advise to say something which was in the face of it could not be taken as true. It is also impossible that Drona would not ask anyone of his party to enquire whether Ashwathama was really dead of not. Drona’s death was due to fatigue and his great religious devotion for which he gave up arms and concentrated his mind on god, determined to die instead of retiring from the field with ignominy and shame. This story was subsequently added to save the great Panchala dynasty from the reproach of their prince having killed a Brahman, – an act which in later age became one of the greatest sins amongst the Hindus 60.

It might be asked why this scandalous incident has been fastened on Krishna. It is very easy to explain. The answer would be ‘because he was God and to God, right or wrong, sin or virtue are all alike for nothing touches him’. The poetaster who made these foolish embellishments over the descriptions of great Vyasa has fastened on Krishna all wrongful acts done on the Pandava side; for the poor fellow thought that he would thereby save the reputation of the Pandavas without doing any harm to anybody; for nobody would blame Krishna for anything as he was the incarnation of God. Such writers have done the greatest possible injury to our great religion and great men61.

Myth– During his last days Krishna retired into the deepest forest and lay down on the ground with his feet raised. An asura called Jara mistaking Krishna’s raised feet for a deer, shot it with his arrow and Krishna expired. There is a story behind the reason why Krishna died after his feet was hit by an arrow. Once sage Durvasa went to Dwaraka as Krishna’s guest. One day he expressed his desire to taste pudding and accordingly was served the same. After tasting it Durvasa asked Krishna to smear his whole body with the leftover pudding. Krishna did so, except the region below his feet. Then Durvasa smeared the body of Rukmini with the remaining pudding, yoked her to a chariot, whipped her and rode on the streets of Dwaraka with Krishna running after him. After going some distance, Durvasa jumped out of the chariot and went to the forest. Before that he told Krishna that he was pleased with the service accorded to him by them and said that Rukmini would not be affected by old age and Krishna would never meet with death by being hit at those parts of his body which had been smeared with the pudding. As Krishna had not smeared his feet with the pudding, he was killed by the hunter’s arrow62.

Fact– This story is evidently an allegory. Jara means old age and Krishna died of old age in a forest63. With regards to the story of Durvasa smearing the body of Krishna and Rukmini with pudding we can easily make out that this is one among the numerous stories interpolated in the Mahabharatha to show that Brahmins had power to change the destiny of even Gods.

Need to bring critical editions on Krishna’s history

The teachings of Krishna contained in the Bhagavad Gita is universal in outlook and if we want to showcase his teachings to the world then we have to first expunge all absurdities and silly fables interpolated in the literary sources providing information about his life and times. Even the Gita which has been interpolated with contradictory statements has to be critically edited.

One reason why fables were interpolated and incidents exaggerated by editors of Puranas and epics was to amuse the masses to whom these were recited. But now times have changed and with access to modern education and information available at the touch of their fingertips, people no longer believe in things which defy commonsense and logic. Moreover all these texts are being translated into English and other languages of the world. If absurdities and silly descriptions contained in these texts are not removed, Hindus stand exposed in the world as those who are immature and believe in cock and bull stories.

By not bringing critical editions of the Puranas and the epics we are providing ammunitions to Hindu baiters who ridicule historic Hindu personalities and sages by citing the information provided in the Puranas and epics. It is no use blaming Marxists for depicting Hindu society in poor light as they do so by quoting the Puranas and epics.

Today only a minuscule percentage of Brahmins have priesthood as their calling. Majority of them have foraged into different professions. Just for the sake of protecting their main source of livelihood, that is through gifts (dana and dakshina) the Brahmins of yore had written about the merits of giving gifts to Brahmins and also about their superior status in the society in the Puranas and epics. Times have now changed and it is high time we get rid of these additions to make the Puranas and epics as the true history books of ancient India.

Compared to Muslims and Christians, the present Hindu society is not cohesive. The main reason is the caste system, in which some caste groups consider themselves as superior to other castes. This illusion of superiority among the upper castes especially the Brahmins is mainly due its reference in the Puranas and epics which majority of them believe as divinely sanctioned. They are not aware of the fact that these books have been revised several times by common people and unscrupulous men with ulterior motives had interpolated them with falsehoods.  The castes so considered as the lowest in the Hindu caste hierarchy fall easy prey to missionaries who take advantage of this schism in the Hindu society to convert them to their respective faiths. These missionaries in fact make use of the Puranas and epics which depict the Shudras and women in poor light to propagate their faiths in bright colours and claim that their faiths stand for equality.

 Bibliography

  1. During the time of Krishna, it was a practice for a person who dethroned a king to ascend the vacant throne. In the history of ancient India we find none who did not avail himself of this privilege except Krishna. For a cow herd boy to withstand the great temptation of becoming a king and to refuse the supplications of the whole Yadu race bespoke a strong will. Cited in Dhirendra Nath Pal- Sri Krishna- His Life and Teachings, Published by C.C.Basak, The Research Home, Calcutta, 1923, p. 84.
  2. Ibid, p.76
  3. Ibid, p.386
  4. Ibid, p.48
  5. The chief weapon of Krishna was a discus- a circular steel instrument with sharp edges all round which he used to throw at the enemy by whirling it on his finger. It was a tremendous weapon of offence. Ibid, pp:207,208
  6. Krishna was opposed to the sacerdotalism of the Vedic religion and preached the doctrines which he had learnt from Ghora Angirasa. His opposition to the Vedic cult comes out in passages where Indra when vanquished humbled himself before Krishna. S.Radhakrishnan, The Bhagavad Gita, George Allen & Unwin (India) Pvt Ltd, 1971, p.29.
  7. There is a consensus among scholars in favour of the view that Krishna, a warrior chief and religious teacher of the Yadava clan founded in ancient India a monotheistic religious system called Bhagavata or Sattvata Dharma. The cult gained momentum and flourished steadily and Krishna the nucleus of the cult was apotheosized even before 5th century B.C. Janmajit Roy- Theory of Avatara & Divinity of Chaitanya, Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2002, p. 26.
  8. Bhagavad Gita contains a total synthetic view of life and it would be more reasonable to accept the kernel of the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as forerunner of the vast class of literature known as Upanishad. Ibid, p.132
  9. Bhishma’s wisdom on the statecraft, war, thumb of the rules for conducting the stately affairs, the pro-people, just equalitarian rule and related subjects as imparted to Yudhisthira after his coronation as king of Hastinapur after the great war while he was lying on deathbed seem to be that of Krishna’s appropriated to the patriarch, perhaps to counter balance the latter. This also seems to be interpolation as to how a dying man could preach such wisdom and ideas on the statecraft. Moreover his teachings seem to be more of Krishna’s than that of Bhishma. Gopal Chowdhary – The Greatest Farce of History, Partridge India, 2014, p. 114
  10. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, pp: xv, xvi
  11. Rajendra Chandra Hazra- Studies in the Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and Customs, Motilal Banarsidass, New Delhi, 1987, p.6
  12. Ibid, p.7
  13. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p. xxiii
  14. Ibid, p. xxiv
  15. Ibid, p. xxv
  16. Ibid,
  17. Vettam Mani- Puranic Encyclopedia, Motilal Banarsidass, 1975, p.122
  18. D.Pusalker- The Epic and Puranas, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bombay, 1955, p. xxi
  19. Ibid, p.58
  20. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p. xxvi
  21. Ibid, pp: xxxi, xxxii
  22. Ibid, pp: xxiii, xxxiv
  23. Ibid, p. ix
  24. Rajendra Chandra Hazra- Op.cit, pp: 199, 200
  25. Ibid, p.218
  26. Ibid, p. 225
  27. Ibid, p. 194
  28. Ibid, p. 213
  29. Gopal Chowdhary – Op.cit, p. 203
  30. Ibid, p. 56
  31. Ibid, p.107
  32. Ibid, p. 154
  33. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p. xlix
  34. D.Pusalker- Op.cit, p. 60
  35. Vettam Mani- Op.cit, p. 421
  36. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, pp:25,26; A.D.Pusalker- Op.cit, p. 68
  37. Vettam Mani- Op.cit, p. 422
  38. D.Pusalker- Op.cit, p. 69; According to Dhirendra Nath Pal, Kaliya was a thief of the wild men who was driven out of Vrindavan by Krishna (p.43)
  39. Vettam Mani- Op.cit, p. 423
  40. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p.67
  41. P.Mittal- History of Ancient India (4250 B.C.-637 A.D.) Vol- II, , Atlantic Publishers and distributors, New Delhi, 2006, p.434
  42. Vettam Mani- Op.cit, p.423
  43. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, pp:60,61
  44. P.Mittal- Op.cit, p.433
  45. Vettam Mani- Op.cit, p. 423
  46. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, pp:68,69

⃰ Though traditional pandits try to find veiled references to Radha in the Bhagavata Purana, it is seen that the name occurs for the first time in the 9th century A.D. and that the Radha worship is a late growth in Bhagavatism. A.D.Pusalker- Op.cit, p. 81

  1. Ibid, p.70
  2. Venkatakrishna Rao – Krishna’s story in its various settings, QJMS, vol- XLIX, 1958, No.1, p.28
  3. Vettam Mani-Op.cit, p. 426
  4. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p.105
  5. C.Singhal and Roshan Gupta- The Ancient History of India, Vedic Period, a New Interpretation, Atlantic Publishers and distributors, New Delhi, 2003, pp:196,197
  6. P.Mittal- Op.cit, p.444
  7. Vettam Mani-Op.cit, p. 426
  8. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, pp:98,99
  9. Prof Vrinda Nabar and Shanta Tumkur- The Bhagavad Gita, Translated from the Sanskrit- Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1997, p.XIII
  10. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p. 285
  11. Gopal Chowdhary – Op.cit, pp:99,110
  12. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, pp:285-287
  13. Ibid, pp:415,416
  14. Ibid, pp:416,418
  15. Ibid, p. 418
  16. Vettam Mani- Op.cit, p. 429
  17. Dhirendra Nath Pal, Op.cit, p.450