Chidbhavanandar etc.,

S Krishna mahadevasiva at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun Mar 22 04:04:46 UTC 1998

N.Ganesan writes:

>I will come to Origins of Bhakti later. There is a Padmapuranam quote
>that Bhakti was born in the tamil country and went northward.
>In all the stories that S. Krishna writes, Tamil stories are
>the *earliest*. Like folk tales being grouped, is there any typology
>and comparative bhakti stories. Any referencses?)

  Sorry for the long post!

 I realise that in all cases, Tamil stories may have been the earliest
and I myself have read this poem about Bhakti spending her child hood
in the Tamil country, her teenage years in the Kannada country and her
old age in the North etc. The northward diffusion of the Bhakti movement
can also be traced in terms of the earliest poets belonging to this
school- by the 8th century CE this school was strong in Tamil
Nadu, by the year 1100 it had started in KArnataka, Dyaneshwar, the
first well known Marathi poet belonging to this genre was from the 13th
century ...and by the 15th century this school was also strong in what
are now the Hindi speaking areas.

  However, can the fact that this school started in Tamil NAdu
also mean the the stories/legends  in other parts be all offshoots
/inspired by Tamil legends? I am not sure if this is the case ; it has
to be seen if the stories really diffused with the movement and were
adopted to local conditions or if the stories were independently
developed  in each case. The factors supporting the later argument are:

1. In all the legends, there is some degree of historicity. I find it
difficult to believe that if the story originated in one part of
India and diffused, then  traces of this diffusion in the end product
would be hidden so well. Note that people who talk about Aesop's fables
being inspired by the hitOpadEsa point out that the animals that Aesop
refers to are unusual by Greek standards and do not occur in any other
Greek story,but are common in India and do occur in other legends also.
However, in this case i.e. Bhakti movement, we find that each legend
fits in very well into the environment in which it is said to have
evolved and there are no such incongruities surroundingswise. In
addition, if the stories were spread thru diffusion(instead of
independent birth) then one would also expect to see a much larger
number of common stories as opposed to isolated examples i.e. one would
expect to hear of 63 Shaiva saints in other parts of India also, but
this is not the case. Within Tamil NAdu, itself one can see a parallel
between the cases of the nayan2mAr nan2dan2Ar and the AzhvAr
tiruppANAzhvAr. Yet both of them exist independently of each other as
opposed to duplication.

2. There are examples of similar legends existing in different parts of
the world independent of each other. Let us compare ancient Jewish
history with that of ancient India. Examples are:
a) Waters parting in order to help a chosen person(s) to safety:
occurs in the case of Krishna when being taken across the yamunA
by  his father just after his birth, also occurs in the case of
the Red Sea opening up when the Israelis were brought out of Egypt by

b)  God accepting to be one/equal to his devotees and participate in a
ritual: This occurs in Chidambaram where the priests are called the
"mUvAyiravar"(3000), there was a head count held and it turned out that
there were  only 2999 where upon Shiva is supposed to have appeared in
person and proclaimed that he was one with the priests i.e. the 3000th
Surprisingly, the same story is told about a synagogue called "Eliahu
Hanavi" in Jerusalem where Elijah the prophet is supposed to have
appeared in person to complete a minyan when the gathering was one short
of an eligible candidate.

c)There are similarities( however insignificant) between mAdhvA's
interpretation of vAyu's status in dvaita philosophy and the Holy Ghost
in Christian theology. This was a source of endless speculation in the
19th century about mAdhva being influenced by Christianity which was
*flourishing* in nearby KErala. However, since the whole story of St
Thomas is believed now to be a fabrication( even by the Church) and
Christianity was not as influential in mAdhva's days in Kerala as
thought earlier, it can only be concluded that such similarities that
exist are entirely accidental.

  I have noticed the interesting concept of people inviting physical
infliction upon themselves in order to demonstrate their devotion to
a person both in Tamil literature and Hebrew. As examples, one has
in akanAn2URu 166( translation by Geroge Hart), the hero swearing
to his beloved "May I be tormented by a terrifying God if I made
love to a courtesan"( The nature of torment, while not specified in this
poem is described in other poems: kuRuntokai 308 eg refers to an
elephant who rubs his head on plaintain leaves, is afflicted by a spirit
living on the leaf and then sleeps fitfully in pain). Compare this with
Psalm 137 i.e. the lament of the exiled children of Israel about

 "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strangle land?
 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget it's cunning
 If I don't remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my highest joys!"

  There is a remarkable resemblance here in terms of cause( lack
of faithfullness) and effect(physical pain), yet nobody has  posited
that the Old Testament has influenced the puRanAn2URu or the akanAn2URu,
leading me to conclude that the resemblance is accidental
and not the result of diffusion.

In a different context, The episode of the Sun being made to stop over
the valley of Ayalon in the Bible, I'm told, has parallels in China and
Mayan writings which developed this legend/story independently.

  I realise that there is some speculation about the Tamils and the
Jews trading with each other, but this has been debunked by many people,
all the way from the 1950s by Basham. The only defence that
I've read of this theory is by one Parasuraman ( in the book
that I read, he  doesn't indicate whether he is talking about B.C. or
C.E., in which case it is possible to come up with all kinds of
parallels) which is very unconvincing. In view of this the only way of
explaining this is to conclude that the two civilizations developed the
same concept independent of each other.

  My experience has been that it is also possible to see this concept
of independent development of the same theme by two unrelated cultures
in literature. For example, on comparing the literature of the 16th-17th
century of Andhra i.e. kSEtrayya with punjabi literature of
say Bulleh Shah,(both unrelated) one sees that both visualise the
relationship between a devotee and God as the same as that of two
lovers. IF this is not impressive enough, let us take into consideration
the fact that both Sufi literature(from IRan) and Bhakti movement(India)
independently arrive at the concept of a normally  prohibited activity
representing a union between the devotee and God
on a more sublime plane (Sufism always talks about intoxication(
normally prohibited) about God, Bhakti movement talks about
indiscriminate love making(normally prohibited) with God.) There was no
contact between say IRan in the 12th century and Tamil NAdu for this
idea to have diffused from place to another.

  The last illustration of  this concept of  independent development
utilizes a story that I read sometime ago in the Encyclopedia of
Tamil culture which refers to the king Krishnadevaraya (the Vijayanagara
king) who is bailed out by a clever minister. A rival king sends a
dancer to Krishnadevaraya who impresses him with her dance; she is
allowed to "ask for anything and the King will provide it". In order to
humiliate the King, she expresses her desire to
defecate on the throne. The king ( who's now caught in a quandry)
is bailed out by his minister who (noting that since she didn't say
anything about urinating) tells her that she can defecate on the throne
but not urinate during defecation. This story parallels the logic of
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, where Portia does the
same thing to Shylock. ( i.e. the villain in both cases asks for B.
which is linked to some event A; since there is no mention of A in the
pre-condition, the rescuer asks the villain to perform B without doing
A and thereby traps them). Now, it is impossible for Shakespeare to have
known about Indian history and the Vijayanagar empire(He was born in
1564, the battle of Talikota took place in 1565) and the contact
was minimal even when Shakespeare passed away in 1616; again the only
alternative is independent development.

  The last argument that would support indepedent development is:
In India, where one poet from one part of India has influenced another
in a different part of India, there is some mention of this influence
textually. As examples, Tyagaraja mentions the names of NAmdev, Eknath
and Tulsidas( all non-Telugu) in the prelude to his opera the "Nouka
Charitamu", some of the Kannada Saiva poets acknowledge the influence
of the nayan2mArs and the Guru Granth Sahib acknowledges the
contributions of the Marathi poet Namdev. The Gaudiya Vaishnava
Sampradaya in Bengal acknowledges the influence of Ramanuja(?) and
MAdhva. While lack of such acknowledgement does not rule out diffusing
influence automatically, it does present a strong argument to counter
it. In none of the cases brought up by me would any one notice any such
acknowledgement by one saint or a reference to another which
would preclude diffusion.

  I therefore believe that one will have to find very strong evidence
supporting diffusion before accepting it as the cause of commonality.

  As always, ideas, criticism and discussion are welcome. I apologize
once again for the length of the post.


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