Friday, April 3, 2015

Myth of Lord Vishnu!

It’s fascinating to see how a minor Vedic God like Vishnu was elevated to a supreme God Lord Vishnu! A mere secondary companion of Indra in Rig Veda, Vishnu was adorned with entirely new character to make him a preserver of the universe who incarnates from time to time to eradicate the evil forces and restores the religion!

He is a God who has surpassed his original humble character in the later mythologies! Lord Vishnu was cunningly made a part of the Hindu trinity, with the constant elevations to attain the present position, so much so that he surpassed the positions of the supreme Vedic God’s like Indra, Varuna and Mitra! Originally it was only Lord Shiva who was creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. How Brahma and Vishnu were added to partake Shiva’s tasks is another story of mythological corruption.

Vaishnavism is a cult that worships Vishnu as a supreme God. His abode is sea-floor where he is in half-sleep on the coil of Shesh Naga (serpent) with his consort Laxmi sitting at his feet humbly.

To know how Vishnu reached to this high status, let’s have a brief look at his history right from Rigveda to Puranas.

In Rig Veda Vishnu appears as a mere secondary companion, assistant of supreme Vedic God Indra. There are only three and half Sukta’s (Verses) dedicated to him. He also is seen in a form of sunbird and also the sun that crosses the whole universe in his three steps.

In Rig Veda there is no mention of his consort Laxmi. His abode also is not mentioned anywhere. “Shri” a Goddess mentioned in a Shri Sukta, a later addition to Rig Veda, is thought to be Laxmi, but the scholars believe Laxmi never was a Vedic Goddess but was assimilated from the Non-Vedic tradition in the later course. "Shri" has nothing to do with Laxmi, as far as Veda's are concerned!

In Rig Veda we can notice that the task of incarnations is originally ascribed to Prajapati, not Vishnu! Mention of three incarnations in Rig Veda, those later on, were attributed to Vishnu, originally were of Prajapati. Lord Prajapati seems to have completely vanished from the Vedic tradition as we do not find any mention of Prajapati in the later Vedic literature.

Vishnu's another name is Narayana, but Narayana was a different God or seer. Mahabharata's Narayaniya Upakhyan is very much clear about this. And the name "Narayana" has not any convincing Vedic etymology, hence some scholars believe that he had Dravidian origins. The name “Narayana” cannot be derived from any Sanskrit root but Dravidian. In Mahabharata Krishna clearly tells Arjuna that in the past birth he himself was Narayana, a seer, and Arjuna a “Nar” (Male), his pupil. He doesn’t seem to relate himself with Vishnu anywhere in Mahabharata. Still, people believe Krishna is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, which is unhistorical and contrary to the tradition.

In the days, when Aryan Invasion Theory was popular, the scholars though that Vishnu must have been originally the non-Aryan god who was later assimilated in Vedic pantheon. This thought appeared because Vishnu has bluish complexion, whereas Aryans were white with blue eyes and golden hair. But this idea now sounds rubbish in absence of any proof of the Aryan invasion. Even the very concept of the Aryan race has been now debunked by the anthropologists.

In Satvata (Clan of Krishna) originated a cult that was famous and widely in vogue until second century BC, known as “Pancharatra” that worships five elements like Vasudeva, Pradhumna, Sankarshana, Balarama and Aniruddha. This cult was non-Vedic and devotional in nature, and here too Vishnu finds no mention in Pancharatra philosophy or rituals. This history clearly shows that the Krishna never belonged to the Vedic tradition though he too clearly seems being hijacked by the later Vedic tradition, declaring him incarnation of Vishnu.

The Pancharatra Cult was famous for centuries, so much so that a Garuda (Eagle) pillar dedicated to Lord Vasudeva was erected by Greek Ambassador Heliodors near Vidisha in first century BC. From the inscription on the pillar, it proves that Vasudeva (of Pancharatra cult) worship was prevalent in those times. Vishnu, as a supreme God was not emerged on the cultural horizon till that period.

We find Vishnu appearing as a supreme God only in Gupta period, the fourth century till sixth century AD. Gupta era is very significant, not just from the point of its being epitome of political power they achieved but from the socio-religious point of view as well. In Gupta era newly developed Sanskrit language started getting eminence over other Prakrit languages. Most of the Puranas and ancient epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata were recomposed and theologically reconstructed in Sanskrit during this period.

Vishnu and Laxmi were joined together to create a new divine couple. Origin of Vaishnavait Laxmi is still unknown though we find another Laxmi in non-Vedic pantheon. The task of the incarnations that was dedicated to Prajapati was now transferred to Vishnu. The Vaishnav cult borrowed “devotion” (Bhakti) from Pancharatra cult. They borrowed idol worship from Shaivait religion, which in fact was anti-Vedic practice. Idol worship was never a part of Vedic tradition, rather it is prohibited.

The fact should be understood that prior to Gupta period, not on a single coin or inscription neither God Vishnu nor his consort Laxmi is mentioned or depicted in any image.

What could be the purpose? Was it a new religious revolution to bring forward a minor Vedic God to be idolized when Vedic tradition doesn’t allow idol worship? The fact is otherwise. The elevation of Vishnu was required to subjugate spread of the Shaivait tradition that had survived through the millenniums. Also because of the spread of the Buddhism Vedic fire sacrificial rituals had become rare. Because of the wave of Buddhism the violence in Vedic fire sacrifices were being attacked. The complexities of the Vedic rituals and huge expenditures and huge time it consumed made it difficult to find patrons.

Vedic people had to find an alternative without losing their own identity. It was obvious that to the masses idol worship was too simple to follow. In Buddhism also Idol worship had entered by then. To have something new for livelihood, that could attract immediate attention and acceptance from the masses, Vedic people had no choice but to adopt to the popular tract. Hence Vishnu was chosen from Veda’s to adorn him entirely new character.

Also, this shift in Vedic religion can be attributed to the Vedic converts who brought in their old traditional Hindu traits. Ghurye suggests after studying copper-plate inscriptions of that time that the rate of conversion to Vedic fold had increased enormously during this era. These new entrants did not abandon their old practices though converted, as it happens with all the converts. However, they needed a new god who can be idolized and worshiped without harming sentiments of the original Vedics. They found all they needed in the obscure god Vishnu, however, his character needed to be highly elevated to stand opposite to Lord Shiva.  

To do this all popular ancient cults and heroes been needed to be assimilated in the character of Vishnu! Idea of incarnations, originally belonging to Prajapati came to their rescue. Right from Rama to Krishna (later on even Lord Buddha), almost all originally Non-Vedic Hindu personalities of the ancient past, were gradually consolidated with Vishnu as his incarnations. This was in a way cultural hijacking but not new to the Vedic religious character.

Lord Shiva worship was main hurdle in the way of Vedic people. To divert people from Shiva to Vishnu was not an easy task. Many Shaivait shrines like Pandharpur and Tirupati also were gradually hijacked with the help of the rulers to convert them to Vaishnavait shrines. New myths needed to be created to justify such transformation and it was done in the course of the time. This could be done only because of the new converts, who originally were the part of that ancient tradition.

The Vaishnavait Bhakti (Devotion) cult thus was originated and began spreading from north to south. Main reason for the decline of Buddhism in India can be attributed to the rise of Vishnu. Most of the hero’s of the past were preached being incarnations of Vishnu, thus making Vishnu even popular. Vishnu offered what people needed. Many of non-Vedic God’s this or that way were associated with Vishnu through new fictitious, freshly composed myths. Though actual Vishnu shrines are very few in India, only because such assimilations, a picture got created that the Vaishnavait cult was popular in India.

Thus Vishnu was made a supreme God for the Vedic’s while Shiva too remained highly revered God for the non-Vedic people. The tussle between Shaivaits and Vaishnavaits has seen bloodbath, deceit and hateful propagandas in the past. The devout converts to the Vedicism, to retain their supremacy used almost every tool, but could not much succeed except for polluting the traditions and dividing the people in two sects.

Vishnu was gradually elevated and adjusted in the concept of the trinity; Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh…creator, preserver and destroyer… It is speculated that Brahma originally belonged to the Yaksa tradition of Gangetic plains. In Upanishads too, the term Yaksa is used as a synonym to Brahma. There is no God Brahma in Vedic tradition though the word Brahma is used several times to denote chant, not god. It only is in Yaksa tradition that the concept of a miraculous, wondrous and omnipotent lord creator is used. Still, it is a concept and that is not treated as god. In many tribal mythologies god Brahma is considered to be their creator. The Upanisadas use the term Brahma, equivalent to Yaksa, as a basic principle responsible for creation. This tradition has no relation whatsoever with the Vedic religion, hence treating many Upanishads being Vedic is erroneous as they does not show any link between Vedic doctrine and the philosophy of Upanishads.  

The fact that appears from the mythologies, Shiva was only God responsible for creation, preservation and destruction. The concept of the Brahma was completely philosophical to carry intellectual debate on creation. But in an order to demean Shiva, to pose him in destroyer form, to elevate Vishnu, what term would suit other than preserver to Vishnu? Thus modifications were made through the Purana’s to establish the rule of the Vishnu thus creating a wider rift between Indian societies. The attempt, if we look back at the religious history of India, has been too successful!

Why Vishnu was chosen over other supreme Vedic Gods like Indra or Varuna? The characteristics of Indra and Varuna or other supreme Vedic God could not be used as they were already known to the masses. All religious texts, including Buddhist or Jainist, are loaded with their mention. They had turned already very minor Gods in the eyes of the people. Providing them a new look, a new character would be highly impossible. Hence an obscure God was needed to be chosen, polished, and glorified with newly invented myths while associating him with the popular heroes of the past. Meticulously this was done in Gupta era, who had provided patronage to them. In this era, the banking rights of the traditional occupational guilds were transferred to the Vaishnavait shrines thus breaking the backbone of the professions and occupations.

In the later era, after tenth century AD, when the conflict between two religions, Vedic and Non-Vedic, reached to the violent levels, the unification of Vishnu and Shiva was proposed by many saints. It succeeded to some extent, though the religious differences never could be bridged. The philosophy of both the religions has distinctly been different. Vishnu shrines are rare in India whereas Shaivism maintains its supremacy with millions of Shiva and his consort’s shrines.

However, Vishnu has been proved as the rescuer of Vedic people, if not for the rest of the masses!

2 comments:

  1. Look was superb... thanks to admin for precious article... provide hanuman chalisa too

    ReplyDelete
  2. (Om shri hari vishnu) this is very simple and weal mantra of bhagwan vishnu.

    ReplyDelete