ekAnaMshA in nAstIka myth-making and implications for AstIka Paurano-Tantric history

buddhagosha declared that the bauddha zealots should not listen to public narratives of the rAmAyaNa or mahAbhArata that the Astikas delight in. Yet, the nAstikas both jaina and bauddha have their own versions of several core narratives and branching AkhyAnas found in the canonical itihAsa and purANa literature of the Astikas. One striking feature is that their versions differ strikingly from the Astika versions. The bauddha ones, typically, are even more divergent than the jaina ones. Examining them one gets the clear impression that some of them were explicitly created in order to present their polemical view point vis-a-vis the Astika-s. Others are not openly polemical, yet they have subtle opposition to the Astika view point. Yet, the main point that strikes one is their extreme divergence relative to the Astika forms. Now, two theories can be proposed to explain this divergence:
1) It was a natural process of divergence that resulted in several versions of the myth and the nAstikas and Astikas drew different versions from this naturally diversified population for their purposes. Here the striking uniformity of the Astika versions throughout bhAratavarSha and beyond may be explained as a result of the brahminical reinforcement of canonical forms.
2) The Astika versions are the originals and the nAstika-s purposefully distorted Astika narratives for asserting their viewpoint.
I favor the second viewpoint due a variety of reasons, the chief being: 1) the natural diversity postulated by the first theory is not recovered to that extant in areas not under brahminical stricture 2) The nAstika versions are often “stylized” forms that do not have the natural flow of the Astika forms, suggesting that they were created from more detailed pre-existing templates for purely illustrative purpose.
Here we shall consider the narrative of the bauddha harivamsha from the pAlI ghatajAtaka that supports the above theory and provides examples of divergent and confused aspects of nAstika myth making. We shall use this in comparison with Astika itihAsa purANa to trace the early interactions between the shAkta and vaiShNava mata with respect to ekAnamshA.

King kaMsa of mathura had a sister named devagabbA, whom he married to upasAgara. There was then a heavenly pronouncement that devagabbA’s son will kill him. So he arrested upasAgara and devagabbA. They had 10 sons including vAsudeva and baladeva and exchanged instead for the 10 daughters of devagabba’s maid nandagopA. Hence, they came to be known as the sons of the maid’s husband who was called andhaka-veNhu. The brothers names are instructive: 1) vAsudeva (eldest) 2) baladeva 3) ghata-paNDita (the main nAstika hero) 4) aMkura (Astika: akrUra) 5) chandadeva (chandra) 6) jayasuriya (surya deva) 7) aggideva (agni) 8) varuNa deva 9) ajjuna (arjuna) 10) pajjunna (pradyumna) (It is very clear that the bauddha-s are on purpose trying to fit in a good part of the Astika pantheon along with the bhAgavata heroes into the tale). Then they had a daughter named a~njanA-devI (note the equivalence to ekAnaMshA. According to the mahAbhArata ekAnamashA is the same as kuhu — the new moon goddess. ekAnamsha means without having even a single portion- which means the new moon. a~njanadevI means the devI dark as collyrium). The sons of devagabbA attack and raid kamsa’s kingdom led by vAsudeva or kaNha. He realized that they are the sons of devagabbA and invited them to a wrestling match to kill them. However, kaNha and baladeva killed the wrestlers and then kamsa. The 10 brothers then conquered the world and made dvaraka their capital. Then they divided their conquests amongst themselves each getting his own share and decided to live with what they got. It was then that they realized that they had not provided a share for a~njanadevI and wondered how they might re-divide their conquests (again note the mythologized parallel to the name ekAnamsha- one without any part). At this point one of the brothers aMkura decided to give up his share to their sister a~njanadevI and he instead became a vaNija. Soon thereafter kaNha’s son died and ghata, one of the ten brothers, consoles him by giving a buddhistic lecture, which is the main teaching of the story. Thereafter some youths of dvAraka decided to test the bodhisattva named kaNhadipAyana (Astika: kR^iShNa-dvaipAyana) by tying a pillow to the belly of a guy dressed as a girl. kaNhadipAyana decreed that he would give birth to a pestle made of khadira wood that would kill them. Enraged they jumped on the sage and killed him. This resulted in general melee in which by way of the club delivered by the youth, kaNha, ghata and baladeva are all killed. a~njanAdevI alone survives and continues to live on.

The ghata jAtaka myth while a confused version of the Astika harivaMsha myth purposely adapted to accentuate a nAstika sermon, it provides interesting corroboration regarding the evolutionary history of early vaiShNava and shAkta elements. The jaina nAstikas also have adapted the harivaMsha in their purANas and explicitly mention baladeva and vAsudeva’s sister, ekAnaMsha, (corrupted there as ekanAsA) and identify her with vana-durgA or vidhyAvAsinI, albeit in a virulent anti-Astika polemic (she becomes a jaina sAdhvi in the tale). Some prAkR^itic jaina ritual manuals also mention the worship of ekAnaMshA as a dikpAla devI. What these features point to is that a form of the vaiShNava-mata with a transfunctional goddess ekAnaMshA and elements of the chaturvyUha was well in place by the time bauddha pAlI works like niddesa and ghata-jAtaka was written. These pAlI works belong to a time-slice that approximately corresponds to the visit of the yavana ambassador Megasthenes to India (~300BC). Megasthenes mentions the active bhAgavata worship (Indian Heracles) in Kleisbora (kR^iShNapura) and Methora (Mathura). These observations are consistent and suggest that by that time the bhAgavata-mata with elements such as vyUha worship and ekAnaMsha worship were already in place.

However, if we examine the Astika vaiShNava purANas and itihAsa sections we observe a very distinctive feature: There is one class of texts that prominently support ekAnaMshA worship. They include harivaMsha and viShNudharmottara (also the much latter varAhamihira’s bR^ihatsaMhitA). The other class of texts namely, the mahAbhArata, bhAgavata, viShNupurANa do not mention ekAnaMshA worship or at best have a passing mention of her. The classical pA~ncharAtra tantra-s too fall in this category, in that they have a prominent role for the male vyUhas but not for ekAnaMshA. Of all of these the mahAbhArata is clearly the oldest and has no ekAnaMshA worship though it identifies her with the goddess kuhu. The mahAbhArata however has many elements of the early vaiShNava-mata such as 1) the bhagavad-gItA 2) the ekAntika dharma of the nArAyaNIya section 3) viShNusahasranAma. In the chatur-vyUha of pA~ncharAtra is incipient but hardly developed here, though the core elements of bhAgavata religion are already developed. This suggests that there was an early phase of bhAgavata vaiShNavism in which the ekAntika dharma and the concepts of the bhagavad-gItA were dominant, but the chaturvyUha was not. This was followed by the next phase where the identification of balabhadra with saMkarShaNa (or deva rudra) as typified by the ananta-section the bhAgavata was complete. This phase saw the rise of baladeva as a mighty parallel deity (the rudra of the vaiShNavas).

After this point we see a bifurcation one stream of bhAgavata vaiShNava-mata continued along these line maintaining some vague allegiance to the ekAntika dharma (or ekAyana shAkhA) while developing a full-fledged chaturvyUha theory that incorporated the kR^iShNa clan into its scheme. The second stream in the bifurcation of bhAgavata-s followed a similar course but they incorporated a goddess- ekAnaMshA in addition to the core vyUhA structure. It is their tradition that is seen in the harivaMsha and viShNudharmottara. While the mahAbhArata already has a sister of kR^iShNa, subhadrA, as a central figure (the ancestor of parIkShit and janamejaya), she was not deified as a goddess. Instead, ekAnamshA, who is not at all mentioned as a sister of kR^iShNa in the Mbh, is the primary goddess of these bhAgavatas. Her name as discussed above clearly suggests that she was a goddess with lunar connections. Thus, she was a distinct lunar deity brought secondarily into the kR^iShNa family as a part of the incorporation of a shaktI into the bhAgavata stream. The connection between the main (trans-functional) Indo-Aryan goddess and the lunar digits is an ancient and persistent one. We note even in the vedas are mentioned a series of lunar digit goddesses (for example worshipped with a mantra of gR^itsamada shaunahotra in the R^ig itself): gu~Ngu or kuhu: new moon (=ekAnamshA in the Mbh list); sinIvAlI: the shukla pratipAd goddess; anumati: shukla chaturdashi; rAkA (full moon). This remarkably persistent theme of lunar digit goddess is at the heart of chandrakAla in shrIvidyA. Thus, ekAnamshA was the ancient gu~NgU/kuhU who was brought in as a goddess of one stream of bhAgavatas.

However, the harivaMsha mentions another connection that is hardly unique to this stream of bhAgavatas. This is the equivalence of ekAnaMshA with yoganidrA and vidhyavAsinI. vidhyavAsinI occurs independently of the bhAgavata context in other purANas too. Her myth is narrated in the mUla-skanda purANa, matsya-purANa, vAmana purANa and in abridged form in shiva purANa. In these paurANic narratives, she is mainly called vindhyavAsinI or kaushiki, though in the matysa purANa she is also called ekAnaMshA. However, in this cycle she emerges from the kosha of pArvatI who became white in color (gaurI) by shedding her black skin (said to be given by rAtrI devI when she was in menA’s womb). This shed skin became the goddess kaushikI who killed shumbha and nishumbha. This motif of the shedding of black skin and the emergence of the white gaurI is a clear mythic description of the same lunar phenomenon of the shukla pakSha after the kuhU moon. Thus, the black kaushikI emerging from the shed kosha was indeed the black new moon. This provides the link between the lunar digit goddess and the origin of vindhyavAsinI/ekAnaMshA.

There are several mythological motifs that are shared by the harivaMsha account and the versions from different pauraNas: 1) The dark new moon (kuhU) motif either in the form of the name or as an allusion in the kaushiki story (this element is even preserved by the confused bauddha account) 2)The killing of shumbha and nishumbha 3) In most of these accounts she is called indra’s sister, is given an abhisheka by the devas, is appointed as the ruler of the vindhyas by indra. The preservation of these elements across various accounts in texts with very different sectarian leanings suggest that the vindhyavAsini devI with a lunar digit symbolism and a sisterly connection to indra was a distinct mythological module that was incorporated into independent mythological narratives of very different origin- i.e. bhAgavata as well as shaiva. Her connection to indra especially his role in appointing her as the ruler of the vindhyas, while faithfully mentioned, is subservient to the role of viShNu (harivaMsha) or pArvatI (purANa-s) almost to the point of irrelevance. This suggests that the original mythological module emerged very early, at a time when indra’s role was still dominant, and upon it was superimposed the role of the later ascendant viShNu and pArvatI.

To understand the early evolution of this module we need to examine the ancient vedic precursors of the lunar digit goddesses. The lunar digit goddesses are an ancestral feature of the Indo-Aryan world, and are worshiped through a set of mantras that are used for oblations to the devI-s in all the major saMhitA-s. These mantra-s are RV 2.32; YV taittirIya saMhitA 3.1.11; AV-shaunaka 7.46-49. In all these there is the common phrase “sinIvAli pR^ithuShTuke yA devAnAmasi svasA”: sinIvAli with thick locks of hair, the *sister* of the deva-s. This shows that the bauddha version of the ghata jAtaka, though confused is merely preserving a really ancient concept of the lunar digit goddess as a sister of the gods who are the 10 brothers of that tale. There is also an allusion of sinIvalI being the sister of indra and wife of viShNu in the atharvavedic mantra:

yA vishpatnIndram asi pratIchI sahasrastukSbhiyanti devI |
viShNoH patni tubhyaM rAtA havIMShi patiM devi rAdhase codayasva ||
Mistress of the people, indra’s sister, the goddess with a thousand braids, come here. To you oblations are made, of wife of viShNu, stir up thy husband to give us [boons].

This mantra points to the fact that the connections of the lunar digit goddess to indra and viShNu were ancient. The possible implication of “stirring up viShNu to favor the yajamAna, is reminiscent of nidrA rising up from viShNu to stir him into action. kuhU is however called wife of the gods, rather than sister in the next sUktaM: “kuhUr devAnAM amR^itasya patni”: kuhU the wife of the immortal gods. Thus, the lunar goddess could be both sister as well as wife of the gods- something reminiscent of ambikA being called both the sister and wife of rudra.

The functional aspects of these goddesses include: 1) protection and fertility of cattle: AV-S 2.26 and RV-khila have mantras to anumati and sinIvAlI for this purpose. 2) more importantly all vedic saMhitA-s preserve a second mantra to the lunar goddess sinIvAlI with the phrase “garbhaM dehi sinIvAli”: O sinIvalI place the embryo. It is used in the famous saMskAra of puMsavana, a fertility rite. Further, in the atharva vedic marriage rite sinIvAlI and viShNu are made an oblation using AV-S 14.2.15 where viShNu is invoked for the male’s fertility and sinIvAlI to give the woman offspring. These features of the vedic sinIvAlI mirror the role of ekAnaMsha in the harivaMsha, where she places the dAnava embryos of hiraNyakashipu’s grandsons in devakI’s womb.

Thus, we note that several key elements of the lunar digit goddess ekAnaMshA/kaushikI were seen in the vedic lunar digit goddesses. This suggests that in the late vedic and post-vedic period the lunar digit goddesses evolved into the deity ekAnaMshA-kaushikI-vindhyavAsinI, the new moon dark sister of indra. The goddess had wide distribution and was acknowledged by different incipient sectarian groups in somewhat different forms. Given her ancient connections with viShNu, a branch of the bhAgavata-s associated with the redaction of the harivaMsha incorporated her into their systems as a sister and shakti of viShNu. Likewise, she was incorporated into the shaiva system as the shed skin of pArvatI (kuhU) and thereby her emanation – with gaurI being the actual sinIvalI. Interestingly, she was also incorporated into the kaumAra sect as the wife or sister or kumAra. The mahAbhArata explicitly mentions that kuhU and sinIvAlI are forms of ShaShThI or devasenA, the wife of kumAra. On her own she evolved as the great of the mistress of the vindhyas, the fierce warrior goddess, vana-durgA worshipped with blood, wine and meat, the precursors of the left-handed shAkta path.

~ by mAnasa-taraMgiNI on November 1, 2006.

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