Archaeology and Vaishnava Tradition, Part Eight


Krishna Protects the Pandavas from the Kauravas

Dec 18, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — Part Eight of a monograph by Ramaprasad Chanda, published by the Archaeological Survey of India, 1998.

Kautilya in his Arthasastra says:

    "Spies disguised as ascetics with shaved head or braided hair and pretending to be the worshippers of god Samkarshana, may mix their sacrificial beverage with the juice of the madana plant (and give to the cowherds) and carry off the cattle." [1]

This passage incidentally bears witness to the existence of a special order of ascetics devoted to Samkarshana and, taken together with the Ghasundi and Nanaghat inscriptions, indicates that the Pancharatra or Bhagavata religion originated in the worship of the Yadava (Vrishni) brothers Samkarshana and Vasudeva as hero-gods of equal rank. Samkarshana came to be consigned to a secondary place when the worship of Vasudeva as devadeva, 'god of gods' superseded the worship of the Yadava hero-gods. That the worship of Vasudeva as 'god of gods' was prevalent even before these two epigraphs were engraved is evident, as we have already seen, from the Besnagar pillar inscription of Heliodorus.

The existence of two different varieties of Vasudevism side by side, the worship of Vasudeva as 'the god of gods' and also as a god second to Samkarshana, in the second century B.C., indicates that the basic cult originated in a much remoter antiquity. The second of these two varieties of Vasudevism is undoubtedly the older of the two. Now the question is, how did these cults originate? Garbe's answer to this question is ingenious and elaborate. He writes:

    "It may be assumed as probable that Krishna was originally the leader of the warrior and pastoral tribe of non-Brahman race, and that he lived long before the Buddha. He became the eponymous hero of his people, not only because of his prowess in war, but also probably because he was the founder of the religion of his race a religion independent of the Vedic tradition and monotheistic, in which a special stress was laid on ethical requirements. The adherents of this religion were called 'Bhagavatas,' adopting other names later on.

    As the form of Krishna within the race to which he belonged was advanced from the position of a demi-god to that of god (identified especially with the god of the Bhagavatas), Brahmanism claimed as its own this popular and powerful representation of the Deity, and transformed it into an incarnation of Vishnu. In this way Brahmanism succeeded in gaining over the entire community of the Bhagavatas, and the latter (a still existing sect) were merged in Brahmanism. The Bhagavadgita was originally a text-book of this sect, and in the course of time has won a position of such significance for the whole of Brahman India that in recent years educated Hindus have put it forward as a rival to the New Testament." [2]

In this statement we have a kernal of truth with much that is not quite accurate. According to Brahmanic, Bauddha and Jaina traditions, Krishna-Vasudeva was the chief of a warrior tribe, the Yadavas (Vrishnis and Andhakas), who were Brahmanist Kshatriyas and in the epic period represented the Rigvedic Yadus. But at Mathura and at Dvaraka (in the Kathiawar peninsula) the Vrishnis and the Andhakas lived amidst Abhiras and Saurashtras who are said to have been outside the Brahmanic pale. It may, therefore, be presumed that from the very outset, Vasudevism might have had two distinct phases, one Brahmanic professed by orthodox Brahmanist tribes and castes and the other un-Brahmanic, professed by the Abhiras and the Saurashtras.

The present writer has elsewhere collected and discussed texts that condemn a phase of Vasudevism called Bhagavata or Pancharatra as un-Vedic. [3] The un-Vedic or un-Brahmanic Pancharatra evidently grew out of the primitive worship of Samkarshana, Vasudeva and other Vrishni chiefs such as Vasudeva's son Pradyumna and his grandson Aniruddha as hero-gods by the barbarian Abhiras and Saurashtras. The religion of the Bhagavadgita, on the other hand, represents the orthodox phase of Vasudevism in its fully developed form. If we may assume any basis of fact in the epic legends and traditions, we must believe that the worship of Vasudeva, as the founder of the religion of the Bhagavadgita and Anugita originated among the Vrishnis, Andhakas and Kuras and was handed down by them to the Surasenas.


[1] Shamastry's English translation, p. 485
[2] Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Vol. 2, pp. 535-536
[3] The Indo-Aryan Races, Pt. I, Chapter III


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