Re: [INDOLOGY] saśarīra

Aaron Sherraden aaron.sherraden at
Wed Dec 18 15:56:11 UTC 2019

Dear all,

Dr. Goldman's great insights into the subtleties behind the failure of
someone's bodily (or otherwise embodied...) entrance into heaven open up
the conversation into a very interesting web of compositional and reception
histories of the Śambūka story.  Indeed, the reexamination of the Śambūka
story has been mobilized in many different ways by many different
communities throughout the millennia.  For example, some Jain (and some
vernacular non-Jain) *Rāmāyaṇa* poets relocate the responsibility of
Śambūka's death onto Lakṣmaṇa, thereby absolving Rāma of that violence.
Scores of medieval Hindu poets (generally on the model of Kālidāsa and
Bhavabhūti) portray Śambūka to immediately attain his heavenly aims due to
his contact with Rāma, who shows pity on Śambūka despite his kingly
obligation to carry out the execution -- I might even argue that this
rehabilitates Rāma's portrayal after *Vālmīki* as much as it does
Śambūka's.  More recently, several Dalit and Non-Brahmin activists,
authors, and playwrights have equated Śambūka's practice of *tapas *and his
subsequent punishment for it with Dalit and Non-Brahmins' struggles in
pursuit of an education.

Of course, much of this is very nicely synthesized in none other than Dr.
Goldman and Dr. Sutherland Goldman's introduction to the *Uttarakāṇḍa.
my dissertation is on the developmental history of the Śambūka story from
the *Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa* through today and I'd be happy to share it with
anyone who might be interested.

With best wishes,

On Tue, Dec 17, 2019 at 2:52 PM Robert Goldman <rpg at> wrote:

> Dear Aaron et al.,
> What is equally interesting as the question of who is able to enter the
> heavenly worlds in their own bodies and how they are able to do so, is the
> question of those who try to do so and fail.  You mention Yudhiṣṭhira and
> his purported sinlessness. But then there are his four younger brothers and
> Draupadī who fail in their attempts because of offenses that seem quite
> minor compared with some of the other things they have done in the course
> of the epic story. One of these which gets little notice in the text, its
> commentaries and epic scholarship is the Pāṇḍava’s calculated and heartless
> murder of a *niṣāda* woman and her  five sons to cover their escape from
> the lacquer house. This, of course bears on the epic ideology of social
> class and status, an issue that is highly relevant to the question of
> *saśarīra* entry into heaven.
> Other notable  failures in this attempt are, of course the two you
> mention, Triśaṅku and Śambūka. These figures both attempt to employ a
> powerful means to accomplish this goal, the enormous power acquired through
> asceticism. In the first case it is the *tapobala* of Viṣvāmitra and in
> the second, the in-progress asceticism of Śambūka himself. Both episodes
> appear to indicate that the attempts of these two figures would have been
> successful had they not been abruptly thwarted, in the first case by Indra
> and in the second through execution at the hands of Rāma. In both cases the
> reason the aspiring ascetics are prevented from achieving their goal is
> their social status. In the case of Triśaṅku, Indra objects to  the entry
> of a lowly Caṇḍāla, one cursed to suffer in that state through his act of
> *gurvaparādha*, into the pure, heavenly worlds. In the case of Śaṃbūka,
> his crime is not so much his *tapas*, per se, as the fact that, as the
> text and its copious commentaries on this episode indicate, as a *śūdra*
> in what is generally agreed to be the Tretāyuga, he is a *tapasvin* *avant
> la lett*re, as it were. For a discussion of the question of who is
> permitted to perform *tapas* in which *yuga*, see the notes to the
> Śambūka episode in my and Dr Sally Sutherland Goldman’s 2017 Princeton
> Univerity Press translation of the *Uttarakāṇḍa*.
> Interestingly, although neither Vālmīki nor his commentators waste any
> more pity on what they regard as a rogue *śūdra* than the *Mahābhārata*
> commentators do on the hapless Niṣāda family, later poets of the
> *Rāmacarita* make efforts to rehabilitate them, so to say.
> Thus Kālidāsa, in his *Raghuvaṃśa*, observes that through his death at
> Rāma’s hands the *śudra* attained an even higher heavenly world than he
> could have attained through his unauthorized penances.
> *kṛtadaṇḍaḥ svayaṃ rājñā lebhe śūdraḥ satāṃ gatim* /
> * tapasā duścareṇāpi na svamārgavilaṅghinā // *RV 15.53
> Then, too, famously, Bhavabhūti thoroughly rehabilitates the executed
> Śambūka in the second act of his *Uttararāmacarita* by showing him to be
> transfigured into a heavenly being as a result of his decapitation by Rāma
> and one, moreover who is given some of the most beautiful descriptive
> verses in the play. So perhaps in the long run it's worth the effort. no
> matter the obstacles, to shoot for *saśarīrasvargārohaṇa*.
> *iti viramāmi vistarāt*. . .
> (except to thank Christophe for sharing his excellent and interesting
> article on Triśaṅku.)
> Best wishes to all for the holiday season.
> Bob Goldman
> Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South
> and Southeast Asian Studies
> Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies MC # 2540
> The University of California at Berkeley
> Berkeley, CA 94720-2540
> Tel: 510-642-4089
> Fax: 510-642-2409
> On Dec 16, 2019, at 6:23 PM, Aaron Sherraden <aaron.sherraden at>
> wrote:
> Thank you very much for all these helpful responses -- I have a few great
> new paths to explore and look forward to hearing about any more that this
> list may conjure up.
> My mistake with regards to the role of *tapas *in the Triśaṅku story --
> it was, of course, Viśvāmitra whose *tapas *caused a bit of a stir, not
> Triśaṅku's.  Many thanks to Dr. Goldman for steering the list in the right
> direction.
> All the best,
> Aaron
> On Mon, Dec 16, 2019 at 3:56 PM Robert Goldman <rpg at> wrote:
>> Of course, technically, Triśaṅku does not seek to enter the heavenly
>> world(s) through *tapas*, but rather by having a sacrifice performed on
>> his behalf for this purpose. Thus he first approaches Vasiṣṭha,
>> then Vasiṣṭha’s sons and finally, in his cursed form, Viśvāmitra. Then
>> there are also various accounts of mortals who are able to travel to heaven
>> in their earthly  bodies on a temporary basis, such as Arjuna at Mbh. 3.43
>> ff.  and Dilīpa at *Raghuvaṃśa* 1. 75 ff. etc.
>> Dr. R. P.  Goldman
>> Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South
>> and Southeast Asian Studies
>> Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies MC # 2540
>> The University of California at Berkeley
>> Berkeley, CA 94720-2540
>> Tel: 510-642-4089
>> Fax: 510-642-2409
>> On Dec 16, 2019, at 12:18 PM, Uskokov, Aleksandar via INDOLOGY <
>> indology at> wrote:
>> Hi Aaron,
>> Perhaps not relevant directly, but you could look at Sabara's commentary
>> on Mimamsa-sutra 1.1.5, where a statement from the Brahmanas that the
>> ritualist attains heaven in his own body along with the ritual implements
>> is discussed.
>> Best
>> Aleksandar
>> Get Outlook for Android <>
>> ------------------------------
>> *From:* INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at> on behalf of
>> Tieken, H.J.H. via INDOLOGY <indology at>
>> *Sent:* Monday, December 16, 2019 3:14:20 PM
>> *To:* Aaron Sherraden <aaron.sherraden at>;
>> indology at <indology at>
>> *Subject:* Re: [INDOLOGY] saśarīra
>> Dear Aaron,
>> In my article "The Mahābhārata after the Great Battle", WZKS XLVIII
>> (2004, app. 2005) I deal with Yudhiṣṭhira, who is the only one of the
>> Pāṇḍavas to arrive in heaven with his body because he is without sin (see
>> p. 36).
>> I think (but am not certain) you may find a pdf of this article on my
>> website.
>> Herman
>> Herman Tieken
>> Stationsweg 58
>> 2515 BP Den Haag
>> The Netherlands
>> 00 31 (0)70 2208127
>> website:
>> <>
>> ------------------------------
>> *Van:* INDOLOGY [indology-bounces at] namens Aaron
>> Sherraden via INDOLOGY [indology at]
>> *Verzonden:* maandag 16 december 2019 21:02
>> *Aan:* indology at
>> *Onderwerp:* [INDOLOGY] saśarīra
>> Dear list members,
>> I am wondering about appearances of the word "saśarīra" and/or
>> "svaśarīra" in various contexts.  I have encountered saśarīra/svaśarīra in
>> the episodes of Triśaṅku and Śambūka from the *Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa*, but
>> would be curious to know of other places where these or similar concepts
>> show up.  In both of these episodes, the goal of Triśaṅku and Śambūka is to
>> enter some sort of heavenly realm or divine form (variously referred to as
>> divam, gatim, svargam, devatvam etc.) with their body.  Also in these
>> episodes, Triśaṅku and Śambūka have gone rogue to engage in *tapas *as a
>> way of achieving this goal.
>> An example from each of the *Rāmāyaṇa* episodes:
>> guruśāpakṛtaṃ rūpaṃ yad idaṃ tvayi vartate |
>> anena saha rūpeṇa saśarīro gamiṣyasi || VR 1.58.4 (Triśaṅku episode)
>> śūdrayonyāṃ prasūto 'smi tapa ugraṃ samāsthitaḥ |
>> devatvaṃ prārthaye rāma saśarīro mahāyaśaḥ || VR 7.67.2 (Śambūka episode)
>> I am especially curious about the use of "saśarīra" in similar ways, but
>> I am open to any use of the term from the literature at large.
>> With thanks in advance,
>> Aaron
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