Archaeology and Vaishnava Tradition, Part Nine


The Five Pandava Brothers

Dec 19, 2010 — CANADA (SUN) — Part Nine of a monograph by Ramaprasad Chanda, published by the Archaeological Survey of India, 1998.

According to the Mahabharata the venerable Bhishma, the mightiest and the most chivalrous of the Kurus, was its first champion, and the five sons of Pandu its foremost adherents. The story of the Indian Herakles and his daughter Pandaia told by Megasthenes, as we have [previously discussed] indicates that as early as the fourth century B.C. the connexion of Krishna-Vishnu with the Pandavas was an article of popular faith.

The obscure and damaged Mora stone slab inscription of the time of the Mahakshatrapa Rajuvula furnishes evidence of the prevalence of this faith before the beginning of the Christian era. From the few letters still legible on the slab and from Cunningham's facsimile (A.S.R., Vol. XX, Pl. V, No. 4) Dr. Vogel thus reads the first two lines: [1]

    1. Mahak(sha)t(rapasa Rajuvulasa putra)……
    2. Bhagavata Vri(sh)ne(na pancha Viranam pratinma…..

Dr. Vogel writes elsewhere: [2]

    "Apart from the mention of the son of Rajuvula the only certain point with regard to this inscription is that in the second line it refers to 'images of the five heroes' (pancha Viranam pratima). The words are distinct on Cunningham's facsimile ….. It seems quite plausible that these 'five heroes' were the five Pandava brothers whose exploits are extolled in the Mahabharata."

But the reading of bhagavata Vri(sh)ne(na) is open to objection. As pointed out by Vogel, all letters after the ha of maha in line 1 and after vri in line 2 are either partially or wholly damaged on the slab now in the Mathura Museum of Archaeology. It will be seen in a facsimile of the inscription published in the Memoirs A.S.I., No. I, Plate VI, No. 5, that in line 2 after vri the outline of sh and the subscript n are clear, and so the conjunct may be read as shne. But after shne there is no sign of na. So it seems more reasonable to read the name as Vrishne(h) instead of Vrishnena.

The letter that follows bhagava may also be read as to, for the vowel sign above t extends a little to the left as well. In a votive inscription the instrumental case indicates the donor. But a donor could not very well call himself Bhagavat, and nowhere else is he found to do so. So, for Bhagavat Vrishnena in line 2 we should read Bhagavato Vrishneh and understand the line as referring not only to the images of the five Pandavas but also to an image of the Blessed or Divine Vrishni, that is, of Krishna-Vasudeva, who belonged to the Vrishni branch of the Yadava tribe. [3]

Mora is a village 7 miles west of the Mathura city. The stone slab on which this inscription is engraved measures 11' 2" by 2' 11". It is probably one of the pavement slabs of a big temple in which the images of Krishna and the five Pandava brothers were enshrined.

From a passage of Megasthenes quoted [previously], it will be seen that in those days, Herakles (Krishna-Vishnu) was specially worshipped by the Sourasenai of Methora (Mathura). The Sourasenai are the Surasenas of the Brahmanic and Buddhist sacred books. Manu (II, 19) includes the country of the Surasenakas together with Kurukshetra and the lands of the Matsyas and the Pancalas within Brahmarshidesa or the country of the Brahmanical sages. The Surasenas are not named in the Vedic literature; but in the Puranas they are connected with the Yadavas.

The orthodox Brahmanic Vasudevism was probably handed on to the Surasenas by the Kurus and the Yadavas. The Bhagavadgita is the text-book of this religion. The framework of the Bhagavadgita, the association of Vasudeva and Arjuna as a divine pair, is, as we have already seen, as old as Panini and Megasthenes, so it may be as old as Buddhism or even older. The antiquity of Buddhist traditions is certified by nothing older than the edicts of Asoka.


[1] Catalogue of the Archaeological Museum at Mathura, p. 184 [2] A.S.R., 1911-12, Pt. II, p. 127 [3] In the Bhagavadgita X, Krishna is made to say Vrishninam Vasudevosmi, 'I am Vasudeva among the Vrishnis.' [4] Outlines of the Indian Philosophy, Berline, 1907, p. 36 [5] J.R.A.S., 1918, p. 321


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