Question on bhRgus

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Sat Nov 8 22:18:43 UTC 1997

In a message dated 97-11-06 05:43:56 EST, jds10 at CUS.CAM.AC.UK writes:

<< The MBh ref. in the critical edition is 1.182-185. The Pandavas return
 after Draupadi's svayamvara to tell Kunti what has happened: they enter
 "bhArgavasya nivezanam"/"bhArgavakarmazAlAm" and say "Look what we got!",
 and Kunti replies without looking up, "Make sure you all share it!". The
 commentator Nilakantha (on the variant reading "bhArgavavezma tat" at
 crit. ed. 1.181.40) glosses this as "kulAlagRham" - "potter's house" - and
 this has been accepted by the translators Ganguli and van Buitenen. >>

That mahAbhArata, a bhRgu text shows the word "bhArgava" as meaning "potters"
is very interesting. Robert P. Goldman in his book, "Gods, priests, and
warriors: the bhRgus of the mahAbhArata" (p. 144-147), says the following.

"Therefore, it seems more probable to speculate that in the rAma complex, if
not in fact the whole kSatriya subcycle of the bhArgava corpus, is preserved
a mythic record of the earliest attested case of Sanskritization in India. It
may well be that the kSatravRttir brAhmaNaH rAma can be explained in the same
way as his counterpart vizvAmitra, as a mythic projection of either the
elevation of a kSatriya caste or the incorporation of a non-Aryan (or
non-Vedic) clan into the fold of orthodox  brahmanism.  It is possible that
the bhRgus, a caste or clan who were masters of martial activities and
possessed customs prohibited to orthodox brahmans, entered the ranks of a
dominant  or orthodox tradition, and that some of their abandoned practices
might be preserved in their myths.......The myths of zukra are suggestive of
one more bhRguid affiliation that may shed some light  on their history. This
is the continued association of the bhArgavas with the AGgirasas, another
major brahmanical family of the mythological literature..... The association
and even the possible confusion between the bhArgavas and the AGgirasas is
traceable to the Veda in contexts wholly unconcerned with zukra. In the
zatapatha brAhmaNa version of the important cyavana myth, the authors are
unable to decide the affiliation of the sage. He is called "cyavana the
bhArgava or the AGgirasa." Moreover, the atharvaveda, a text notoriously
given over to spells, demonology, and black magic, is commonly referred to in
the Atharvan literature as the bhRgvAGgirasa, the Veda of the bhRgus and the

Asko Parpola in his book Deciphering the Indus Script (p.217), while
discussing the so-called priest-king statue, suggests a possible connection
between Tamil cULai/cuLLai meaning "potter's kiln, furnace, funeral pile" and
between "cUl" to be pregnant. He sees this connection as the basis for the
Vedic idea that "the  'fireplace' is a 'womb'."  (What Parpola does not note
is a traditional Tamil custom called "cuLLaipirittal/cULaipirittal" according
to which when a pregnant woman dies, a kilnful of baked pots is purchased and
distributed for propitiating the spirit of the woman.) All these associations
suggest that the Indus culture had not a priest-king, but a
potter-priest-king. Such a hypothesis would explain all the different facts
we find in Sanskrit, Pali, and Tamil texts.  I think bhRgus and AGgirasas are
descendants of these potter-priest-kings, vELkOs or iruGkOvELs .  Also, as
Parpola notes in p. 231, "vEL" may be derived from the root "vE" (DED 4540)
with associated meanings "to burn, to be hot, to glow, anger or desire".
 Thus the words aGgiras and bhRgu could be different versions of
loan-translations of vEL.  The root vE can connect potter, hunter, king,
sacrifice, heat, etc. (The root "iru" in iruGkOvEL also means "black/dark"
which Parpola associates with yama and varuNa.) There simply seem to be too
many interlocking connections.

The wheel which symbolizes royal authority or law (dharmacakra) in India may
very well have originated in the potter's wheel. The special place given to
the potter's shed as a place for philosophers to stay will also be explained
by our hypothesis. It will also account for the expertise of the kings in
philosophical speculation as indicated in the upaniSads. If this is right,
when Ambedkar included the wheel of dharma in the Indian flag, he was
actually including the derivative of the potter's wheel which goes back to
the Indus Valley!   I would appreciate any comments on this hypothesis, which
at least to me, seems to explain neatly many of the facts known to Indology.


S. Palaniappan

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