'Siva and Avalokitezvara

Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Wed Dec 16 15:24:28 UTC 1998

Dear Sri. N. Ganesan,
from your many messages on the above topic I should like to quote:
>  The Bodhisattva doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit literature,
>  Har Dayal (author), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1932
>p. 47
>"It has been objected that avalokita-svara is a queer
>sort of compound, which would convey no clear meaning
>to an Indian [71]".
>[71] E. J. Thomas, JRAS, 1929, p.359
What is so queer about a bahuvrIhi "svaro 'valokito yena sa" (he by whom
the sound has been perceived)?

> I read that "avalokita" is to gaze, to look down, to perceive.
> I do not understand why Mahayanists would coin a name
>"to look down at the Sounds (svara)". Rather,
>"One who hears sounds of the world" sounds natural.

But ava-lok- usually does not mean "to look down", but "to look at,
perceive". One could object, of course, that sound and the root ava-lok-,
to see, perceive, do not fit together. But didn't the Vedic RSis see (paz-)
the Veda, which is sound? See about this subject J. Gonda, The Vision of
the Vedic poets. And svara, meaning more specifically the Vedic accent,
would indeed point into the direction of the god Brahman, whose chief wife
was the goddess svarA (for reference see Shabdakalpadruma) so that (if the
myth is old enough, which by no means is certain)  avalokitasvara might
also mean "He by whom svarA has been looked at/perceived". See also the
compound svarabrahman, "brahman as manifested in sound: the sacred texts",
BhAgavatapurANa (see Monier-Williams). And for the Buddhists such a
compound with -svara in the end, preceded by a ppp. would probably not
sound peculiar, see e.g. the name of a Bodhisattva in Gandavyuha 4.9:
sAgaranigarjitasvara (acc. to Edgerton's Buddhist Hybrid Skt. Dict.).

> Before Hsuan Tsang's times, are there any
> Buddhist sanskrit texts where avalokitezvara
> is linked to Brahma but not 'Siva in the same text?
> It will be good for the theory of avaolokita-svara
> originating from Brahma if there is an earlier strata of texts
> where avalokitezvara is linked to Brahma
> and  not 'Siva.

If avalokitasvara, as Lokesh Chandra has made probable, is a further
development of brahman, you cannot expect that the two are mentioned

  Concerning the form avalokita-Izvara, this compund, on the other hand,
looks more odd to me. Because almost all compounds having Izvara as the
second member are genitive tatpurushas, like  gaNezvara, nandIzvara,
yogezvara etc. But what should *avalokitasya/avalokitAnAm Izvara mean? Is
it not easier to assume that the name was changed (after the prestige of
the god Brahman had declined and 'Siva had risen to the most prominent
place) so that the name reminded more of this latter god? Because Izvara
like Iza are indeed often used to designate 'Siva.

>I would rather take the Japanese Scholar Daiyo Goto's
>and Har Dayal's view that Avalokitezvara is the original
>Indian name. Chinese translator KumarajIva delinks
>the 'Saivaite connection at 400 AD. Hsuan Tsang (630 AD), the
>Pilgrim Prince makes the necessary correction to restore
If you are firmly determined not to give up your theory of the *original*
identity of avalokitezvara and ziva (do I understand you right?), you can,
of course, follow this idea of KumArajIva delinking the zaivite connection
which than later on was restored by Hsuan Tsang - to me it sounds a bit

>Sanskrit texts portray 'Siva as horrifying and terrorful.
>Further we go back in time, 'Siva appears to be more
>terrible according to Sanskrit texts. May be 'Siva is
>a late incomer into Vedic Aryan society.
>But 'Siva is very benign in Classical Sangam texts;
>A joyous dancer all the time in Tamil texts.
>He is very compassionate in literally 1000s
>of poems in the Tamil Saiva texts (from 5th century).
>Tamil stalapurANams, 1200 in all, must contain
>about 200,000 extant viruttams on 'Siva. Even their
>surface has not been scratched academically.
>"anbE 'Sivam" - Lord 'Siva is Love, Tirumantiram, 5-6th century.
>"appan nI, ammai nI, anbuDaiya maaman nI .." tEvAram (7th century).
>  - Lord 'Siva is my father, my mother, my beloved
>    maternal uncle.

To solve the problem of the seeming incompatibilty of the cruel Vedic god
and the benign South-Indian 'Siva = avalokitezvara, there are probably more
than one way to go. What about the following (not very original or
idiosyncratic, I hope) sketch: Let us assume there was a Great (and benign)
God (mahAdeva) in the (linguistically Dravidian?) IVC. And the later
South-Indian god 'Siva would be a direct successor of this ancient god.
When the Aryans arrived (I am stubborn enough to keep to the Aryan invasion
theory), they identified their (rather cruel) god Rudra with this native
mahAdeva, because 1) both were regarded as powerful and 2) the dreaded god
Rudra was not a participant of the Vedic sacrifice and could therefore more
easily be identified with a god of non-Vedic origin than any other god they
brought with them. When Buddhism arrived in South India, the popular
bodhisattva avalokitasvara could without major difficulties be adapted to
the benign South-Indian god 'Siva (dakSiNamUrti).
   We all have to invent our models of understanding the hard, chaotic, and
unstructured reality (like archaeological finds, text-fragments from
Central Asia and so on).
   Is this model still far away from yours?

Best regards,

Georg v. Simson

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list