Some thoughts on Sanskritization or Tantrification?

Palaniappa at Palaniappa at
Wed Jun 11 06:56:40 UTC 1997

Dear Vidyasankar,
Due to unavoidable circumstances, I could not respond to your posting earlier
than this. But you have raised several important issues. I shall try to
address them a few at  a time.

In a message dated 97-05-08 10:00:16 EDT, you write:

 <We already have a name for the syncretic religion that resulted from such
 interplay, don't we? It is called Hinduism! I'm not sure if the word
 tantrification explains or describes anything better than the word
 Hinduization, or Sanskritization, or any of the other terms used by those
 who talk of the Great Tradition and the Little Traditions.>
The reason why I think 'tantrification' would help is this. While scholars
might posit two waves of Aryans entering India and interacting with Indus and
other cultures, for most Hindus and even some Sanskritist scholars, Indian
cultural history begins with the Vedas which are 'eternal' and of non-human
origin. The role of the pre-Vedic Aryans (or Aryan speakers) in the Indian
cultural history is not duly recognized. What I was trying to do was
explicitly recognize a two step process of Indo-Aryan interacting with
Dravidian and other cultures in India. 

I was not trying to equate all non-Aryan with Dravidian either. I have always
suspected the complete Dravidianness of the Indus culture if the so-called
'proto-ziva' was an important god there. Considering the relative
non-importance of ziva in the Classical Tamil literature, I believe ziva was
not a Dravidian god even though many Tamils, especially religious Tamil
nationalists, fervently believe that. (I grew up in a milieu of zaivism.)
  Therefore, I believe that ziva was a contribution from some culture other
than Dravidians.

In this connection, the usage of the Tamil word 'maRai' has not been paid
attention to. As far as I know, that is the most-widely used Tamil/Dravidian
word to refer to the Vedas or any scripture. (Other words such as 'kELvi' or
'ezutAk kaRpu' or 'ezutAk kiLavi' etc, are used much less. 'kELvi' means that
which is heard and the latter two terms refer to the oral nature of the
scripture.) In my opinion, the usage of 'maRai' meaning 'secret' must have
possibly preceded the Vedas. It must have meant the 'secret' tantric texts
before it came to be applied to the Vedas in the sense of 'scripture'. Today,
in Tamil, Christian and Islamic scriptures are also referred to by the word
'maRai'. Similarly, 'vEtam' (Veda) also means scripture in general and
Christians are called 'vEtakkArar' in Tirunelveli dialect. There are some
tantalizing clues suggesting this possibility. But before we finalize our
conclusion, one will have to see if all Vedic hymns were thought of as
'secret' texts in the Vedic culture. If not, we consider at the upanishadic
material. Why did they acquire an attribute of secrecy? And was the elevation
of 'rudra' and 'hari' related to this 'secret' culture or just coincidence ?
I hope Vedists may shed some more light on this.

In any case, before I get into other issues raised by you, I want to discuss
some passages from the vETTuvavari section (Chapter 12) of CilappatikAram
related to the worship of 'Goddess'. I think this vETTuvavari section perhaps
has one of the earliest 'Goddess'/Durga worship material. 

"She wears moon as ear-ring. 
She has an eye in the forehead which does not blink.
She has coral mouth and bright smile.
Having eaten poison, her neck is black.
She made the angry snake as the rope and bent the mountain.
She wears the snake with hollow teeth to cover her breasts.
She carries the trident in the hands with bangles.
She covers herself with the skin of the elephant.
She wears the tiger skin around the waist.
Her feet have female-anklet and male anklet which are tinkling.
She is koRRavai with victory arising from her strength  and sharp sword.
She is the female who stood on the head of the asura with two different
physical forms (human body with buffalo head) and muscular shoulders.
She is worshipped by many.
She is amari, kumari, kavuri (Gowri), camari,
cUli, nIli, younger sister of the dark one,
Iyai, ceyyavaL (Lakshmi), the one with sword in hand,
the pAvai (goddess?) riding the leaping stag, pAvai wearing ornaments,
the pAvai of arts/sciences which are studied, and pAvai wearing rare jewelry.

You covered yourself with the elephant skin, wore tiger's skin
and stood on the black head of the forest buffalo.
With the gods worshipping, as the maRai(?) above maRai (Veda)
you stand as the flame of knowledge without shaking.
Carrying a sword in your bangled-hands, you killed Mahisha
and stayed on top of (ride) the stag with twisted horns.
You stand as the light with spreading rays in the hearts of Hari, Hara, and
Holding in your lotus hands the conch and the discus, you stay on top of
(ride) the red-eyed angry bull.
You stand in the form of the part of the one who has the eye on the forehead
and Ganges in the hair, with maRai (?) praising you."

I am not sure if 'maRai' is to be translated as Vedas in all instances. My
feeling is 'tantric' texts could have been meant here in some instances.

In another section of CilappatikAram, a 'maRaiyOn' (brahmin) tells the hero
about the benefits of his "reciting  with concentration the two mantras ,i.e,
the maRai (?) letters, five (pancAkshara) and eight (aSTAkshara) of the rare
maRai (?)". 

Is the sacredness of 'pancAkshara' and 'aSTAkshara' Vedic concept or tantric
concept? That will help us to translate 'maRai' in this passage correctly.

Answers to some of the questions raised here may help us to address other
issues raised by you.


S. Palaniappan


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