Shiva – The God of Harappans
- SAI PAPINENI
|Tripurantaka - Annihilator of Three Cities|
Adherents of Aryan Invasion paradigm explain the religion of IVC as non-Vedic and that it belongs to the same set of aboriginal belief systems, latter assimilated into the mainstream. Today the imagery around Shiva is so complex it can be used to explain every, and any, word, picture or artifact, – not only of Indian origin but from anywhere in the world of any period – as in some way or other, connected to it. Therefore, it is convenient to label every pictogram or the script symbols as non-Aryan and somehow connect them to this godhead. Even the new age fiction writers with no understanding of mythology or history have not spared him, trying to portray him as an aboriginal character fighting invading barbarians is height of absurdity.
Nevertheless, the progress of Rudra complex within Vedic literature gives us clues to the identity of the God of the Harappans. Rudra primarily is a minor beneficent god in its earliest books, especially the second mandala of Ṛgvéda. He is called fair-lipped, youthful, tawny, decked with golden ornaments, rides a chariot and a physician of physicians. But in the later sections of the same codices, the first and the last, his character begins to mutate – prayers are addressed to him, instead of asking for favor, they are aimed at seeking deliverance from his wrath. This wrathful imagery takes a definite shape in the latter books and is developed into a huge theistic complex towards the end of the Vedic age. The logical way to fix a chronology for the events in the Vedic tradition and the Gods of IVC is to find correspondences from historical sources and the evolution of sacred complexes in contemporary cultures.
We are reasonably sure that the earliest sacred complex of the human beings is built around a female entity – the Mother Goddess – and the Venus figurines found across the globe bear evidence. In the Paleolithic – Hunter-Gatherer – societies, the subsistence depended on whatever the Earth Mother provided. Woman was the main bread-winner. Human being, per say, is not a big game hunter. It had been the woman that gathered trapped and processed food and produced offspring. Man had been a subservient adjunct and probably contributed an insignificant morsel as a result of a communal sport called hunt. It was only with the coming of Neolithic subsistence system, an understanding of male component in the process of procreation dawned on the collective consciousness. Animal breeding and cultivation had made the ‘seed’ as important as the ‘womb’. When did this process begin in Indian context?
Preparing the Seed - Mehrgarh
Megasthenes gave us the first clue. Dionysius came to India into its northwestern hills in circa 6363 BCE – based of course on existing native tradition then. The date coincides with the beginnings of Neolithic complexes in the region. Do we have any corresponding reference in Ṛgvéda to support this statement? In the creation hymn of Ṛgvéda the first job of Rudra was to prepare the seed for ‘the father’. Who was this Rudra? He was an archer, poised to shoot the very same father when he wanted to waste it on his virgin daughter. It was this act of shooting – an attempt at parricide – that allows the earth to receive the spilled seed. He was called Vāstoşpati, Lord of Vāstu – The Site. Vasusthali was the name of the city at the foot of Méru. So-po-fa-so-to (Subha-Vāstu) was the name given by Hsuen Tsang to the Zhob Valley.
Doesn’t this give us a reason to assume that the Vedic tradition has the remembrance of this very early event?
Tryambaka and Tri-Puras
This primordial understanding of sacred male began to grow with the progresses in subsistence technology. Even in the Early Neolithic milieu, the woman’s contribution to the community table continued to be predominant. It was only the child bearing and rearing compulsions that had taken some of the productive activities away from the female domain.
The female became house-bound and the male a wanderer. When the early urbanization reached the Indus-Saraswati basin, three subsistence systems came together – Three peoples, Three Lokas and Three Mothers. The river system was an amalgam of male and female – they were called the Twins, Ila and Ilā – or Yama and Yami and their union Yamuna the Twin River. Tāntrik tradition still remembers them as two parallel streams – they called them nāḍi – between them rose Kunḍālini, the field of Siddhi. Ila and Ilā are the primordial twins whose incestuous union resulted in the rise of the civilization. In time, the male stream Ila came to be known as Indu, a single conspicuous dot in the night sky, moon, by dropping the semi vowel ‘V’ from Vindu/Bindu. But there was no threat yet to the primordial sacred feminine. She continued to be the queen in the collective consciousness even today – and addressed as such – a position reserved only to the goddess Saraswati. The Bālā Tripura Yantra, an esoteric representation of the primordial virgin mother begins with three equally-spaced dots – a symbol vocalized as the syllable ‘i’ in Brahmi. Brahmi is another name for Ilā/Saraswati. The syllable ‘i’ pronounced as English letter ‘E’, for Ilā became its first letter, with reason, at least until the male god asserted his dominance and the ‘Man’ sign for ‘A’ (ʞ) took precedence.
In the earliest strata – Ṛgvéda, Yajurveda and the Brahmana of Hundred Paths, he was called Tryambaka – he was associated with a lady or three ladies. Some called them his mothers, some consorts and still some his sister. In classical Sanskrit, Ambaka meant ‘Eye’. He added a third eye on his forehead – a vertical representation – a symbol for the female generative organ and a source of fire, Agni. Purānas called him Tripurāntaka, the annihilator of the Tripuras and built a myth around it. But the kernel of the memory was not lost. The archer shoots only when the three dots converged to become one – The Bindu. A confused account of Nāda and Bindu as the brother of the sacred feminine continues in our Tāntrik tradition even today. Nada with a short second letter means a male river as opposed to Nadi, the female.
Iśāna and Sthānu
The conflict was real and the man relentless, he was not satisfied until he received his wont. As the civilization began to grow, he also began acquiring new cognomens. He cried and howled until they are granted. Śatapatha Brahmaṇa relates his ascent in a story …
When the Child cried, the Father said to him “Thou art Rudra”. And Agni took that form. Rudra and Agni became one. But the Child is not content. He cried for more. Then the Father said to the Archer, “Thou art Śarva”. And he became one with the Waters. Because from water comes everything*. But the child is not happy. Then the Father gave more names, called him Paśupati, Ugra, Aśani, Bhava, and Mahadeva. And the plants, wind, lightning, rain, and moon became one with him in that order. Yet he is unhappy. Finally, the child smiled, when the Father called him Iśāna, making him one with the Sun, Lord of all, that he surveyed.
(*Here is a blunder committed by the authors of SB … Sarva and Śarva are two different words. Śarva comes from the root Śaru, the arrow while Sarva (without the diacritical mark) means ‘All’. Where is the connection between arrow and waters? I shall address this later.)
|Mukhalingam- Phallus with a Face|
|Gudimallam 1st Century CE|
He called himself Sthānu, a column a pillar a symbol of male productivity. The sacred feminine – the mother goddess becomes a consort of the male god. The father of the river – Lord of the People – Prajāpati will be forced to acknowledge his preeminence. This new consort is called Umā or simply ‘His Companion, Sati’. But their matrimony doesn’t last long. Unfortunately, she leaves him.
Where did she go?
There are many clues left scattered across different historical milieu. One of them is a quarter stater of the Kushān emperor, Hüvişka. It has on its obverse surface a pair of gods, male and female, and the legend ‘Oesho and Nana’. It is accepted as an early-historic material reference to the existence of the divine couple, Shiva and Pārvati. The engraver of another coin struck in gold by the very same emperor, now in British Museum, was a little more helpful. He called the lady ΩΜΜΩ – OMMO. This is not an unfamiliar name. In Babylon she is called Ummu or Ummi. The Akkadians also called her Ummi. Scythians, of course pronounced it as Ommo. In South India we call her Amma. And, in the north she’s called Mā.
The clue is in the unity of Ummi and Nana.
Here let us travel laterally for a few hundred miles to the west, to another Twin River and a different civilization – Mesopotamia. En Merker legend states that goddess Inanna deserted the people of Araṭṭa during the reign of Al Suguir-anna and her disfavor led to a famine. The civilization tottered on the brink of collapse. If we identify this king of Araṭṭa with Sagara, we may get some clues to the economic and political state of the civilization. For details you may read my earlier post on a new paradigm of Pargiter’s genealogies called … http://saipapineni.blogspot.in/2012/12/history-of-indus-valley-civilization.html
For the discussion here it may suffice to say that Sagara, an Ikşvāku king of Ayodhya was instrumental in annihilating the Asura overlords and also during his reign, there occurred a riparian crisis due to the drying up of lower river basin in which 65000 households of his subjects suffered from a prolonged drought. An irrigation channel that he had planned to build to revive the old course failed and was only completed after a few generations. This period also foreshadows the rise of an indigenous movement of a sacrificial cult, led by Viswāmitras and their descendents called Bharatas. It was in the hands of these Bharatas, the religious and historical tradition of antiquity was codified.
And, our Rudra suffers the biggest crisis in his career. To understand the crisis, we must understand the power complex of Rudra that drew its nourishment as much from the popular Neolithic substructure as from the political and economic superstructure of the urban culture. What was this political superstructure? Ikşvākus ruled from their capital Ayodhya (Harappa) and they lived for generations in a constant dread of the alien overlords called Asuras. There is a natal connection between the Asuras and the various cultures of Mesopotamia. Trade flourished between the cultures, but there seems to be a coercive element that favored the aliens. Tradition is thick with evidence of Rudra favoring these Asuras.
The sacred complex of Mesopotamia consisted of Anu the supreme male god and Ea the hermaphrodite Earth god – a clear parallel to Stha-Anu (Rudra) and his concert Umā/Nana. Inanna was the goddess of the river. With the annihilation of Asuras and the unprecedented famine, it is no wonder the general confidence in him dwindled. Figuratively, Rudra goes on a self-imposed exile and ceases to be the chief god of the civilization. In Mesopotamia, the preeminence of Anu also suffers. Marduk ascends the ziggurat as the chief.
Rise of the Sun God
Like Ra of Egypt and Marduk of Sumer a warrior solar god arose in India also.
He is Indra with his coterie of Dévas. The Solar powered Ādityas took over and Rudra is relegated to the frontier lands. He becomes the god of thieves, wanderers, aborigines and the dead. He survives there for a millennium and rises like phoenix with the revival of early historical civilization. Probably, the crisis forced his followers to fan out wide and identify themselves with the lower social strata that are more numerous, while the brāhmaṇic Indra becomes an instrument in the hands a handful.
By the first millennium BCE, in Kena-Upanishad, this primordial god takes a new name and a damsel from the mountains as his concert. For the first time in tradition, he’s called Shiva.
Ṛgvéda… if one still considers it as the earliest book of IE tradition, its memories go back to the earliest context of post Holocene events in the subcontinent. A reasonable connection can be made based on the references to Rudra-Agni complex with the Pre-Harappan events. Secondly, significant presence of Sumerian-Akkadian element in the early Ṛgvédic hymns is visible, only if one sheds the conventional colored glasses.
Before I set my case to rest, I want to draw your attention to some recent headway made in this direction – here I am not referring to the extreme jingoist views but some objective research – Sullivan Code, for one. Though I am not fully convinced about her reading of all the script values, I see some of the individual signs do have promise. Here, I want to bounce off two of the most common terminal signs – the Arrow and the Pot – as I feel that they are relevant to this post.
Sullivan’s reading of the Arrow sign as ‘Ni’ is the most common terminal letter for the feminine names in Ṛgvéda. Indra-ani, Varuna-ani, Rudra-ani and the names of Shiva’s consorts – Bhava-ani, Śarva-ani, Shiva-ani – the list is exhaustive. If the seals actually proclaimed the names, there is a good reason to assume that a significant number of legends ending with the Arrow are female names. The next is the Pot sign. To me it always looked like a stylized frontal view of a bovine head with a pair of horns and ears.
Sullivan and IM read this as ‘An’. If one looks at the Shiva-ite Tāntrik sects, there is a strong tradition of suffixing the proper names with that of the Lord – Shiva, Śambhu, Bhairava etc. If Shiva in Harappan context had carried the same name as his counterpart in Sumer, it is eminently possible that a good number of masculine PNs ended with the letter An, Anu or even Anna as in Suguir-anna.
Let me close this post with a caveat …
|A-Sh-Sh-Ani----Ma-Anu - Aśani-Manu|
We may not be able to find all the answers from the Vedic tradition since the tradition that is handed over to us is a result of codification that had taken place after the Mahabharata War – and the event or process could not have taken place earlier than IVC – and is clearly sectarian in character. We must draw data from other sources – Purānic, Tāntrik and contemporary records from the neighboring cultures – before making any inferences. With the current state of knowledge, the conclusions above will not pass muster – they can only be termed hasty speculations – but I am sure they point towards the need for some serious research in this direction.
Hail Aśani the Original Man!