pots, brahmin names, and potters

Sudalaimuthu Palaniappan Palaniappa at AOL.COM
Mon Dec 28 21:48:44 EST 1998


In a message dated 12/28/98 4:06:29 PM Central Standard Time, hart at POLBOX.COM
writes:

>  Conditions prevailing in the "potter's compound" stand in sharp contrast
>  with the  epithet/title the narrator gives to its owner. The situation from
>  Bakavadhaparvan undergoes a specific transformation here: 'deserving guests
>  and deserving host' become 'deserving guests and undeserving host'....
>
> ... The narrator leaves
>  several clues ("winks") that should be sufficient to establish the real
>  status of the "BhrRguid": he is a potter, who - although unable to receive
>  guests - would like to be considered as belonging to the priestly line of
>  the descendants of BhRgu.

I do not know why potters should be considered "undeserving hosts". J. A.
Schoterman says, "Being the offspring of an illicit union of a Brahmin and a
Vaizya-female (Kane II-1: 78) they are regarded as bhojyAnnas, i.e., food
prepared by them could be paratken by Brahmins (Kane II-1:122)".(SaTsAhasra
saMhitA, p. 8)  Note however that the marriage is still anuloma.

There is also another origin given for the potters. Monier Williams gives the
meaning of kumbhakAra, as "a potter (being according to some authorities the
son of a brAhman by a wife of the kSatriya caste) yAjJ5. iii , 146 MBh. &c.
Compare this with "Gods, Priests, and Warriors: The Bhrgus of the
Mahabharata", in which Robert Goldman says the following, "The sages descended
from Cyavana are further remarkable for the fact that, despite the tension
between them and the warrior class, they almost unanimously take kSatriya
wives.....The tendency to marry nonbrahmans is not restricted to the line of
Cyavana. In fact it is difficult to find a single case in the literature of
any bhRgu marrying a brahman." (pp. 97-99) The parallel between the kumbhakAra
definition and the bhRgu tradition is striking.

Even if one concedes that the bhArgava author/s of the svayamvaraparvan were
mocking the pretensions of the potters, consider the following. In The Book of
the Kindred Sayings", part III, p. 101, venerable Vakkali was staying in a
potter's shed and Buddha visits him there.

Rhys Davids in the Commentator's introduction to "Psalms of the Early
Buddhists: I-Psalms of the Sisters", p. 4, writes, "Mounting his horse
Kanthaka, and with Channa as his companion, at midnight, though the gate set
open by spirits, he went forth on the Great Renunciation. During the remainder
of that night he traversed three kingdoms, and coming to the bank of the river
anomA, and taking the outward marks of an arahant, brought to him by the
brahmA-god ghaTikAra, he left the world. Thereupon, as though he were already
an Elder with the eight requisites, comely in appearance and of graceful
deportment, he came in due course to rAjagaha, and there going round for alms,
he ate his meal in the cave of Mount paNDava. There the king of magadha
offered him his kingdom. but he, refusing it, went to bhaggava's hermitage and
learnt his system; thence to ALAra and uddaka and learnt their systems."
Compare this story with the one in ghaTikArasutta.

kikI, the king of kAzi has invited Lord Kassapa to his rains-residence in
Benares. But Kassapa refuses. The majjhima nikAya text translated by I. B.
Horner reads, "Then, Ananda, kikI, the king of kAzi thought: 'The Lord Kassapa
[51]... does not consent to (accept) my rains-residence in Benares, ' and he
was depressed and grieved. Then Ananda, kikI, the king of kAzi, spoke thus to
the Lord Kassapa...: 'Then, have you, revered sir, some other supporter than
me?'
'There is, sire, a village township called vebhaLiGga. There is a potter there
called ghaTikAra; he is my supporter-the chief supporter." After describing
the potter's qualities, Kassapa continues, "At one time I, sire, was staying
in the village township of vebhaLiGga. Then I, sire, having dressed in the
morning, taking my bowl and robe, approached the parents of the potter
ghaTikAra; having approached, I spoke thus to the parents of the potter
ghaTikAra: "Now where has this potter [bhaggava] gone?" "Revered sir, your
supporter has gone out, saying:Now, having taken conjey from the pot, having
taken curry from the cauldron, enjoy them." Then I, sire, having taken conjey
from the pot, having taken curry from the cauldron, enjoyed them, and rising
up from my seat I departed." I do not know why the use of bhaggava in this
story should be taken as ironic. In fact, according to Horner's footnote,
bhaggava seems to have been a generic name for all potters. According to PED
bhArgava in the sense of potters occurs also in other texts such as mahAvAstu.

On the other hand, I think what the mahAbhArata story reveals is a rare
glimpse of what the society really had been instead of what the brahminic
authors usually wanted it to be. It will be a mistake to rely on the  status
of castes as propounded by brahmanic law-givers. The far-reaching
ramifications of a similar misguided adoption of brahmanic law by the British
as the basis for the establishment of Indian legal system is discussed in the
chapter "The Modernity of Brahmanic Law" in the book "The Modernity of
Tradition" by Lloyd I. Rudolph and Susanne H. Rudolph. According to the
Rudolphs, Mayne, the author of "A Treatise on Hindu Law and Usage", criticized
those judges and pandits who "seem to imagine that those rules which govern
civil rights among Hindus, which we roughly speak of as Hindu law, are solely
of Brahmanic origin." They admit that conflicting customs exist and must be
respected; but he emphasized, "these are looked on as local violations of a
law which is of general obligation, and which ought to be universally
observed; as something to be checked and put down, if possible, and to be
apologized for, if the existence of the usage is proved beyond doubt".

I would like to know why the BrahmA-god who brings to Buddha the outward marks
of an arhant is called ghaTikAra.

Regards
S. Palaniappan



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