The temporal sequence of texts and emergence of later Hindu deities

The idea here is not trace the history of Hindu deities to their proto-Indo-European past, but only to investigate their relative times of emergence and the chronology of the texts referring to them. Further, all Hindu texts including the vedic saMhitA-s are layered texts- that is they have material from different chronological strata. Yet well defined coherent chronological cores can be identified in them.

-In the vedic period one major transition, which might be termed the prajApati transition, is observed. The old vedic pantheon shared with the Iranians gained the first major addition in the form of the prajApati. There is no or hardly any mention of prajApati in any of the family maNDala-s. He appears first in the maNDala 10 in the hiraNyagarbha sUktaM. In the yajur veda he is again not prominent in the old core of the soma and fire-kindling rites. However, he is prominent in the canonized late shrauta ritual laid out in the YV and the associated gAnaM-s composed in the sAman collection. Thus, prajApati rises tremendously prominence through the canonization of the shrauta ritual and becomes very prominent in the brAhmaNa-s. In the brAhmaNa period we get the first hints of him challenging indra’s preeminent position.

-In the very late brAhmaNa period or late upaniShadic period we see hints of the rise of the two great gods of sectarian Hindu dharma – rudra and viShNu. This is observed in texts like the shvetAshvatara, maitrAyaNi brAhmaNa upaniShat, atharvashiras and nArAyaNa-valli.

-In the earliest post-vedic texts we see two new deities rise to prominence: kumAra and brahmA. Of these the four-headed brahmA is clearly a homolog of the vedic prajApati and shares numerous attributes with him. While there are some allusions to brahmA in the vedic hymns themselves, it is not immediately clear if in every context they imply brahmA as in the deity or the power of mantras brahman. In the atharva vedic tradition we find a mention of brahmA as “bhUtAnAm prathamaM”, in a late hymn used in shaunakIya kANDa homa. This supports the beginnings of prajApati as brahmA were in the late vedic world. He appears in the itihAsa-s in his full-blown form. The late vedic prajApati assumes forms like the fish and turtle which were later associated viShNu, but never associated with brahmA.

-kumAra appears in the late vedic texts: 1) nejameSha in the khila of the RV in connection to a rite performed in pumsavana. 2) skanda sanatkumAra the teacher of nArada in the chAndogya upaniShat. In both the earliest post-vedic texts rAmAyaNa and mahAbhArata is he is a prominent deity. The skanda-yaga of the atharva veda parishiShTha appears to be coeval with the rise of skanda in the itihAsas.

-Of the itihAsas the core of the rAmAyaNa appears clearly older (of course leaving out the uttara-kANDa). The former is mentioned by the bhArata not vice versa. Further, the prominence of indra is much greater in the rAmAyaNa, with him probably standing slightly ahead of brahmA in prominence. In the mahAbharata the decline of indra and the meteoric rise of viShNu and shiva has set in full scale.

-In both the itihAsa-s the trans-functional shakti as kAli or durga or the 8 mothers have a very limited presence or are non-existent. The first hints of this shakti in the classical form is seen in the harivaMsha as ekAnaMsha who is also vindhyavAsini. The trans-functional shakti-s precursors may be seen in the AsurI durgA of the atharvanic tradition (AsurI kalpa) and pratya~NgirA.

-The later layers of the mahAbhArata and the harivaMsha mark the beginnings of the rise of the proto-pA~ncharAtric pantheon of viShNu as kR^iShNa, balabhadra and associated manifestations of viShNu or avatAra-s. However, the full-blown dashAvatAra concept is not in place.

-The core bhAgavata purANa marks the emergence of rAmachandra as an avatAra of viShNu.

-The mArkaNDeya purANa marks the full-blow emergence of the trans-functional shakti and the 8 mothers (Though this might belong to the latest layer of the purANa).

-One of the biggest anchor points is the emergence of one of latest classical Hindu deities- the classical gaNesha. The texts containing the classical vinAyaka and those which do not thus mark a major chronological divide in the Hindu world. The itihAsa-s do not mention the classical gaNesha. vinAyaka-s of the 4-fold form emerge in the gR^ihya sUtra-s and the AV-parishiShTha, and allusion to these seizing vinAyaka-s are seen scattered in the mahAbhArata but they are distinct from the elephant-headed deity. The same seizing vinAyaka is mentioned in the mArkaNDeya purANa as a raudra-vighnarAT-perhaps marking the beginnings of his direct association with deva rudra. In the yAj~navalkya smArta prayoga-s the seizing vinAyaka-s are merged as one and is mentioned as being installed by rudra as a vighna-rAja. Here ambikA, the wife of rudra is also mentioned as his mother. This marks the first emergence of the prototype of the deity, though not mention of his elephant head is still made. But the classical gaNesha is clearly missing in the core bhAgavata purANa, mArkaNDeya purANa and harivaMsha. This suggests that the purANas as they survive today belong to two age categories- the older group that does not mention vinAyaka and the newer group where he is mentioned or is a prominent deity. kAlidAsa does not mention vinAyaka and hence appears to belong in age closer to the earlier group. In this period skanda was very prominent in northern India especially in centers like Mathura. Thus, it is quite clear that kAlidAsa did not live in the gupta (or worse paramAra court), but lived much earlier, prior to the common era. Thus, even the extant Hindu purANa-s represent a much longer tradition than commonly believed. Early iconography of classical vinAyaka shows him in the company of the 8 mothers, and this is first mentioned in the gobhila smR^iti. This suggests that that smR^iti is in the least coeval with these early images of gaNesha. The vinAyaka shAnti of the baudhAyana gR^ihya sheSha sUtra appears to belong to the period after the emergence of the classical gaNapati. The mAnava gR^ihya sUtra, arthashAstra, yAj~navAlkya smR^iti in contrast belong to an earlier period with with seizing vinAyaka graha-s.

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