Archaeology and Vaishnava Tradition, Part Three


Herakles as a boy, strangling a snake
Roman, 2nd century A.D., Marble

Oct 11, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — Part Three of a monograph by Ramaprasad Chanda, published by the Archaeological Survey of India, 1998.

In the last segment of this series, author Ramaprasad Chanda began arguing against a line of academic conclusion that essentially supplants Lord Krsna's place in early Vaisnava historical antecedent with the personality of Shiva. In this instance, the debate focuses on the source of the Greek Herakles, who Chanda argues is most likely Sri Krsna, not Shiva.

The author continues to argue his point:

"(2) Professor Bhandarkar and Dr. Fleet are of opinion that the incarnation of Siva as Lakulisa, 'the lord who bears the club', may go as far back as the time of Huvishka. But Greek accounts of the Indian Herakles are derived from the works of writers (the companions of Alexander the Great and Megasthenes) who visited India in the fourth century B.C. and to whom therefore a knowledge of the legend of Siva as Lakulisa cannot be reasonably attributed, unless this legend is older than has yet been shown.

(3) How the name Sibi -- the Sibai of the Greeks marks the people bearing that name as special worshippers of Siva is not explained by Mr. Kennedy. The Sibis are said to have derived their name from a king of old called Sibi, son of Usinara, who, according to the Mahabharata, sacrificed himself to save a dove from a hawk. [1]

According to the Pauranik geneology King Sibi had four sons, Vrishadarbha, Suvira, Kekaya and Madraka. [2] Usinara is the name of a people mentioned in the Aitareye-Brahmana, Samkhyayana-Aranyaka [3] and Panini, and Sibi, Kekaya and Madraka are also tribal names. The Pauranik genealogies indicate traditional relationship between these tribes or nations who lived in the north-west of India. But there is nothing in the epic or Buddhist legends to show that Sibi was a Sivaite.

(4) The story told by Megasthenes that the Indian Herakles had a daughter named Pandaia who was born in a land called after her Pandaia and was entrusted with the sovereignty of it cannot be connected with Siva, for Hindu [history] knows no legend about Siva which may be cited as even a remote parallel. The suggestion of Lassen and Weber that "the reference made by Megasthenes to the Indian Hercules and his daughter Pandaia can be best explained as a misunderstanding of the epic stories of Krishna and Draupadi, the spouse of the Pandavas [4] comes nearer the mark. An even better explanation is afforded by the stories of Krishna and his sister Subhadra, who was married to Arjuna. [5] In the epic and the Puranas the descent of the later Kuru kings including Parikshit and his son Janamejaya is traced to Abhimanyu, the son of Subhadra and Arjuna.

But another well-known statement of Megasthenes relating to the Indian Herakles furnishes us with decisive evidence for the identification of that deity with Krishna-Vishnu. It runs:

    "Herakles was worshipped by the inhabitants of the plains especially by the Sourasenai, an Indian tribe possessed of two large cities, Methora and Kleisobara (Krishnapura), and who had a navigable river, the Jobares, flowing through the territories. [6]

Methora is recognized as a transliteration of Mathura and Jobares a copyist's error for Jomanes, i.e., the river Jumna or Yamuna. It was at Mathura, as we shall see (p. 167), that the worship of Krishna-Vishnu had its origin. The Bhagavata Heliodorus who came to Vedisa from Taxila as ambassador of Antialkidas and erected the Garuda column either adopted Bhagavatism (Vaishnavism) after coming to Vedisa or was a Vaishnavite before he left his native town.

The latter alternative seems to be the more reasonable one, and leads to the inference that Vaishnavism flourished in the Western Punjab in the first half of the second century B.C. If this assumption is right, and if the Indian Herakles of the Greek writers may be identified with Krishna-Vishnu, we may conclude that the image (simulacrum) carried in front of the army of Porus that assembled on the eastern bank of the Jhelum was an image of Vishnu. [7]

In connexion with the Garuda column inscription of Heliodorus there arises this side issue, how could an alien, a Yona or Yavana like Heliodorus, become a Bhagavata (Vaishnava)? Early Indian coins and inscriptions reveal to us the names of other alien invaders and immigrants who were also Brahmanised in religion. It has already been stated above (p. 155) that on the coins of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares the king is called devavrata and Siva is represented with trident on the reverse. Siva is also figured on the coins of Wema Kadphises who calls himself mahisvara, meaning probably the worshipper of Mahesvara or Siva.

The successor of Huvishka has the Brahmanic name Vasudeva and is represented on the obverse of his coins as making an offering with his right hand over a small altar and holding a long trident in the left hand. The reverse of Vasudeva's coins bear the figure of Siva. The Buddhist caves of Nasik and Karle contain inscriptions of Ushavadata (Rishabhadatta) son of Dinika, and son-in-law of the Kshaharata Kshatrapa Nahapana, in one of which he calls himself a Saka (Luders' List, No. 1135), wherein is given a long list of donations made by him to Brahmans at various places of pilgrimage. [8]

Other inscriptions in the caves of Nasik refer to Sakas and Yonakas (Yavanas) bearing such orthodox names as Agnivarmman, Indragnidatta and Vishnudatta. [9] The Western Kshatrapas of the dynasty of Chashtana, so many of whom bear names beginning with Rudra, were probably early Brahminised. In his Junagadh inscription Radradaman, grandson of Chashtana, boasts "that he twice defeated Satakarni, the lord (pati) of Dakshinapatha, but on account of the nearness of their connexion did not destroy him. [10]

The ruthless Huna king Mihirakula was evidently a Saiva. On the reverse of his coins occurs the figure of a bull with crescent above and below the legend Jayatu-vrisha, "may the bull be victorious". Both bull and crescent are the symbols of Siva. Kalhana in his Rajatarangini (I. 306-307) says that Mihirakula founded at Srinagari the [shrine of Siva] Mihired-vara, and was a patron of the Gandhara Brahmans. With Mihirakula we come up to the first quarter of the sixth century A.D."

Krsna wrestling with Kaliya
Temple sculpture, Talakkadu, Karnataka


[1] See also Sivi-Jataka (409)
[2] Vayupurana, 99, 19-24; Vishnupurana, IV, 18
[3] Macdonell and Keith's Vedic Index
[4] Ind. Ant., Vol. XXX, p. 281
[5] Mahabharata, Book I, 221-223
[6] McCrindle, Ancient India as described in Classical Literature, Westminster, 1901, p. 64, note 3
[7] M. Foucher writes on this image (simulacrum) of Indian Herakles in L'Art Greco-Bouddhique du Gandhara, Tome II, (Paris, 1918) p. 283: "We have no evident proof that a true statue was brought in procession before the infantry of Porus; but one century later, images of Yuakshas and Nagas attest in Central India an already elaborated iconography of a very anthropomorphic appearance."
[8] Luders' List of Brahmi Inscriptions, Nos. 1099, 1131-1135
[9] Ibid, Nos. 1137, 1140, 1148
[10] Ibid, No. 965


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