Are the gods literate?

beitel beitel at GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU
Mon Nov 1 16:30:41 UTC 1999

Allen, An interesting question and I hope lots of answers come in. I think
first, after Ganesa of course, of Brahma, who in Tamil "writes" one's "head
fate" (talai viti), I believe with the helpful recording assistance of the
divine accountant Citragupta. Then of the story Whitehead tells near the end
of his VILLAGE GODS IN SOUTH INDIA of a village deity in Tamilnadu who
receives accounts of injustices (unresolved as legal cases) to be rectified on
a pike. And Periyar (E. V. Ramasami) is said (by my friend S. Ravindran) to
have expressed his relief that the British had not also inspired such deities
as "Milestone Sami" (which at least would require reading numbers) and "High
Court Sami." There are also oleographs of Durga holding palm leaf
manuscripts.... Alf

>===== Original Message From Indology <INDOLOGY at LISTSERV.LIV.AC.UK> =====
>Does anyone have any evidence over whether it is clear whether in
>Hinduism or other Indian religions the gods (or other supernatural
>beings) are literate?  Are they ever represented as reading books, or
>written messages of any sort?  Several of course are routinely
>represented iconographically as holding books (Brahma and the Vedas,
>Sarasvati and a book, etc.).  The only example of a god writing that
>comes to my mind is the story of Ganesa taking down the Mahabharata by
>dictation.  Mantras written down by themselves or as part of yantras
>have power with the gods, but is that because the gods read the
>messages and heed them or because they are overwhelmed by the power of
>the spoken words of which the writing is a sort of coagulation, or
>that the written mantras are themselves manifestations or forms of the
>gods, or that they work on the gods the way they might work on human
>beings or even inaminate objects?  Are some supernatural beings,
>groups or individuals, literate, and others (e.g. females, or less
>high class and more oafish beings, such as bhutapretapisacadayah)
>illiterate?  Any comments would be appreciated.
>Allen Thrasher
>Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
>Senior Reference Librarian
>Southern Asia Section
>Asian Division
>Library of Congress
>101 Independence Ave., S.E.
>Washington, DC 20540-4810
>tel. 202-707-3732
>fax 202-707-1724
>email: athr at
>The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the
>Library of Congress.

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