The bhR^igu-s, the country and the national epic

The imprint of the bhR^igu-s is not just all over the literature of bhAratavarSha but also dotting the very expanses of the land of the bhArata-s. While being a bhR^igu, I may be biased to see this imprint more than others, the fact has been observed by many others. The following is a purely parochial view of history seen through the lens of my ancestry, yet I believe there are elements of real significance for the history of the Hindu nation. Shrines of the bhArgava hero, the son of jamadagni are seen throughout the country. The most hallowed and the oldest to which we trace our antecedents [real or mythical] is the shrine in Kangra with the inscription mentioning the members of the bhArgava clan involved in the study of the paippalAda shAkha of the atharva veda. These bhArgavas performed not only the shrauta rites as but also the peculiarly atharvanic later day rites like the skanda yAga, the saucer of nirR^iti, the making of the cake called the Aditya maNDaka to indra and viShNu and yearly invocation of the terrifying kR^ityA of the bhArgava-s, that first emerged from the fire of bhR^igu and then from that of chyavAna, also worshiped as the goddess pratya~NgirA. The muni visited this primal shrine and offered the sacraments for the gotra-kR^it-s.

There are other shrines of the great bhArgava and some of jamadagni or his wife that are considered places of pilgrimage throughout bhAratavarSha. Foremost of these is the tirtha associated with the five lakes of blood that were created from the slaughter of the vItahavyas by the bhArgava hero and his warriors. In the middle of this circle of lakes, the samanta pa~nchaka or the rAmahrada, was the sacrificial altar of rAmo bhArgava, where he performed the final sacrifice to the great indra and offered tarapaNaM to the dead bhArgavas. On this sacrifice of rAma to indra, we model all our sacrifices to the devas. Then one goes to the shrine of reNukA near modern day Nahan. It was in the sylvan setting the bhArgava-s are supposed to have had their ancestral hermitages. From there one performs the pilgrimage of the shrine of jamadagni in Batahar in the cold Kullu valley. His shrine is even to this date maintained vigorously by the locals. From there one may move eastwards towards the Ganga and the Ghaghara stream and in between the two visit the shrine of the founding father bhR^igu himself.

Then one may do the circuit of tIrthas starting with Markundia in Rajasthan and Kanyakumari where rAma is supposed to have bathed to purify himself of the sins of slaughtering the vItahavyas. In the middle of the above journey one arrives at the great temple of the founder bhR^igu in bhR^igupura in the lATa pradesha. From Kanyakumari one finally goes to Lakshmipur in the east in Assam to visit the tank where rAma gave up his axe after the destruction of the kShatriyas. Before that, there are other shrines in the Chera country that may be visited if one has the opportunity. On route to the eastern outpost one sees the temple of the axe in Kunjaragiri in Karnataka. The jamadagni hill is the next destination near Kolhapur and then one visits the reNukA temple near Chandreshvari. From there one proceeds to the vidarbha country, to the shrine famous shrine of the eternal bhArgava mArkaNDeya (Near Nagpur). This shrine is best visited on shivarAtri, for it was the day that mArkaNDeya was saved by rudra from the clutches of vaivasvata. There is one further shrine beyond Lakshmipur in Arunachal Pradesh that combines rAma, reNukA and jamadagni. Only one member of our clan successfully reached it, but performed the rites on all our behalf.

Beyond these shrines to the bhR^igu-s themselves, they appear in the sthala-purANas of various shrines with great regularity. The sthala-purANa of the most famous temple in the country, venkaTAdrI, begins with the conflict of bhR^igu with the gods. Next most famous shrine in the country, that of shAstA on the shabari hill, has ramo bhArgava as a prominent protagonist. Soothsaying quacks all over the country claim to forecast the future for all and sundry in the name of bhR^igu and ushanA kAvya. Thus, the imprint of the bhR^igus is seen throughout the land of bhAratavarSha.

While being archetypal brahmins, rAmo-bhArgava as well as other great early bhArgava-s like bhR^igu, kAvya, jamadagni and mArkaNDeya inspire awe and reverence from all varNa-s and jAti-s across the land. Why are the bhArgavas a part of this pan-national memory of bhAratavarSha? The answer to this lies in one of the subtle but important contributions of bhArgava-s to the making of the Hindu nation. At first sight this contribution is skipped over and seen more of an aberration by many, but careful analysis reveals its importance. As we have seen before the bhArgavas have been a prominent clan with respect to orthopraxy, ritual and proto-science of the Hindus right from the days of the R^igveda.

But the most important activity of the bhR^igus was the drastic remodeling of the national epic the vijaya or the bhArata to generate what today has come to us as the mahAbhArata. After their conquest of the kuru realm the pANDu-putras, appear to have sanctioned a new national epic, that either re-modeled an ancestral epic of the kurus or created a it entirely new (I suspect there was an element of the former). This epic remained in the hands of the classical sUta bArds sung during sacrificial sattras to the people. It was this epic that the bhArgava-s took over and made into the great national epic. At first sight the activities of the bhArgava vis-a-vis the creation of the bhArata are seen as mere action of self-glorification — repeated insertion of the family tales of the bhArgavas with gross exaggerations and even egotistic irreverance. At one point the bhArgava-s are presented as greater than the gods and great kings. In the ShoDasha rAjika they deface the narrative of the haihaya arjuna and insert their own hero rAma jAmadagnya. In the bhagavad-gItA they appear as manifestations of nArAyaNa, as bhhR^igu amongst the maharShis, rAma amongst the weapon-wielders, and shukra amongst the kavi-s. An element of such remodelling is seen even in the rAmAyaNa.

However, what is over-looked is that the bhArgava-s were primarily encyclopaedists who were generators, collectors and systematizers of Hindu knowledge. They were deep into mythical lore, different lines of philosophical and proto-scientific speculation, and in more practical terms nIti and dharma (their role in redacting the manu smR^iti has been examined in the past). As a result in taking up the vijaya/bhArata and making it the mahAbhArata they inserted elaborate AkyAnas covering these topics. These insertions were veritable repositories of Hindu folklore and myth (e.g. the mArkaNDeya samasyA parvan), Hindu philosophy and protoscience (the lecture of the hunter to the vaishvamitra, the bhR^igu smR^iti, the lectures of the kShatriya woman sulabhA), dharma and nIti (the manusmR^iti and numerous other AkhyAna-s), folk religion (e.g. narratives of the deities and their worship, such as those of shiva, viShNu and skanda). In the process they created one encyclopaedia, where one will find, everything ranging from apparent diameters of bodies of solar systems, to early hindu Atomic theory, to early Hindu embryology, to the varNAshrama dharma, duties of a king, statecraft, gifts of sandals and umbrellas, expansion of new philosophical constructs like sAMkhya etc… Thus, all brahminical knowledge was being provided in one place – the first Hindu encyclopaedia, albeit a very peculiar one.

But the consequence of this went way beyond just creating an encyclopaedia. The resulting text that emerged was actually a relatively well-crafted one that actually held together despite all the bloating and digressions. As archetypal brahmins the bhR^igu-s were not going to give up their private collective ancestral knowledge- the shruti to all and sundry. Yet, in creating the mahAbhArata they generated a text that was by definition available to all varNa-s, providing Hindu knowledge for the education of the public. This was a text that was going to be heard through wandering storytellers of all types and with it was going to travel a package of all Hindu knowledge available to that point. There was a core storyline to capture the audience and spark an extraordinary interest, and with it came the AkhyAna-s imparting, dharma, nIti, philosophy and science from brAhmaNa to shUdra. We hence argue that when the fabric of the mahAbhArata left the loom of the bhArgava it was a vehicle of education and cultural unification unparalleled in world history. This epic with the absorbing story-line as the base spread on unifiying the country and firmly securing everyone in the Hindu dharma. It is not without reason that buddhaghosha the nAstIka pAShaNDa, called upon followers of the nAstIka-mata not to attend narrations of the itihAsa-s lest they fall back to the eternal dharma.

It was the spread of the national epic that embedded the bhArgava-s in national memory — in a sense a reward for their work on the creation of national identity. This is the very parochial dimension of why the Hindu national identity matters to me.

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