By admin on Jun 4, 2016 | In Srividya
Bruton, the first English traveller to visit Purī and to see that mighty ‘pagoda’, “the mirror of all wickedness and idolatry”, made the strange observation in 1633 that the image of Jagannātha “is in shape like a serpent, with seven heads”. Thus the deity of Purī became known to Europeans as a pagan divinity of monstrous form. The iconography of Purī Jagannātha remained a mystery from the time of Bruton’s visit until the 19th century. Bernier, who visited Purī in 1667 and left the first reliable description of the Car Festival, gave no account of the image. Tavernier later on described in detail the priceless jewelry of Jagannātha , which however, he never saw. With the more enlightened views of the 19th century, the problem of the iconography of Purī Jagannātha became a fascinating field for speculation.
After the British occupation of Orissa in 1803, the great temple and its priests received special treatment from the East India Company, which decided to protect the institution for economic and political reasons. Europeans were still excluded from the great sanctuary and even General Cunningham had a rather vague knowledge of the appearance of the Purī images, chiefly based, its seems on secondary sources. The restrictions imposed on non-Hindus did not prevent a number of scholars from observing the rites at Purī, which included the suspension of caste-rules during the Car Festival, nor from drawing conclusions concerning the origins of the cult of Jagannātha. Since the ‘bloody rites of the Brahmins’ had given Christian scholars a low opinion of Hinduism they endeavored in their ignorance to explain the enlightened features of this cult by suggesting that it originated in the noble religion of the Buddha. It was thought, for instance, that the temple of Purī occupied almost certainly the site of an earlier Buddhist shrine, without any real evidence to support this view; While General Cunningham’s suggestion that the image of Jagannātha was derived from the Buddhist symbol of the triratna was duly accepted even by such eminent authorities as Coomaraswamy without proper examination of the facts.
Perhaps the first to suggest some connection between Jagannātha and Buddhism was Lt. Col. Skyes in 1841. His rather discursive article was apparently prompted by accounts of early Chinese travellers, notably Fa-Hien, to which he had access, it appears, in a French translation. He refers to the pilgrim’s description of a Buddhist procession in Khotan, with a car carrying images of the Buddha flanked by a Bodhisattva and devas on either side. At the same time he tentatively identified modern Purī with ancient Dantapura. This account recalled the great car festival of Purī whose temple at Purī was probably founded according to Skyes on that great caitya which previously had contained one of Buddha’s teeth.
Two years later, Stevenson added that the Purī icon was believed to contain the bones of Kṛṣṇa. He pointed out that it formed no part of the Brahminical religion to collect and adore dead man’s bones. However, it was a more meritorious act among the Buddhists to collect and preserve the relics of departed saints and places containing them were esteemed particularly holy. The other peculiarity to which Stevenson ascribed a Buddhist origin was the timing of the Purī car festival. As this comes just before the period of the monks’ retreat during the rainy season, he believed that it had once celebrated their annual triumphant return at the end of their peregrinations.
Laidley was also struct by the very close resemblance between the Buddhist procession described by Fa-Hien and that of Jagannātha. The time and the duration of the Purī festival corresponded to the Buddhist celebration of the coming back of the monks. In addition to the Purī triad was the very counterpart of the image of the Buddha flanked by a Bodhisattva on either side in his car. This writer also pointed to the supposed Buddhist site of the great temple at Purī, to the absence of caste rules, to the relic in the image of Jagannātha, and to the identification of the Purī deity with the ninth Avatāra of Viṣṇu. He concluded that the procession of Jagannātha had its origin in the observances of the Buddhist faith.
General Cunningham was absolutely convinced that the above details and the identification of the Purī deity with the ninth or the Buddha avatāra of Viṣṇu, all indicated the Buddhist origin of the deity. At the same time, he was informed by the future General Maisey of the existence of a symbol at Sanci which bore a marked resemblance to the figure of Jagannātha. This discovery was quickly seized upon by Cunningham as his own and led to his sensational claim that the three Purī icons were derived from the Buddhist dharma or triratna symbol. He writes:
“To these facts I can now add that of the absolute identity in from of the modern Jagannātha and his brother Balarāma, and sister Subhadrā, with the Buddhist monogram or symbol of Dharma. This identity is rendered much more striking and convincing by the occurrence of the symbol of Dharma in a triple form amongst the Sanci bas-reliefs”.
What Cunningham appears to have seen at Sanci are the three Buddhist symbols set side by side in the upper panel, east face, of the left pillar of the southern gateway. He must have been led to his conclusion by a fortuitous conjunction of two quite different things: a certain schematic resemblance between the triratna and the primitive individual figures of Jagannātha, Balarāma and Subhadrā, on the one hand; and on the other, the appearance, in his particular image, of the three triratnas grouped together in the same way as the three well-known Purī images.
The fact remains that these Buddhist symbols set side by side bear little resemblance to the wooden Jagannātha icons and there can be no question of the latter being derived from the former. Cunningham’s own sketch of the Purī images reproduces neither the one nor the other; it can only be called an imaginative synthesis of the two. The whole theory rests on ignorance of the actual appearance of the triad enshrined in the great temple. Cunningham, furthermore, does not mention the wooden Sudarśana cakra in stambha form which is found by the side of Jagannātha on the main altar and which is periodically renewed with the other three icons.
Fergusson agreed in principle with Cunningham’s theory and accepted the identification of Dantapura with Purī. Mitra also thought that the Jagannātha figures were derived from a Buddhist emblem for he believed that the Sudarśana cakra originated in the Dharma chakra. Ananda Coomaraswamy noted that “the crude Vaiṣṇava trinity which forms the principal icon bears a strong resemblance to a modified triratna symbol”. Mahtab in turn refers to a bas-relief discovered at Bhuvaneshwar and now in the Asutosh Museum at Calcutta. It shows some ancient emblems which are identified by him as modified forms of the triratna and which he suggests resemble the Purī figures. He points out that Jagannātha is almost certainly of Buddhist origin because the deity is mentioned in the Jñānasiddhi of Indrabhūti, a Buddhist king in the 8th century.
Jitendranath Banerjea, who does not take sides either for or against the Buddhist theory, writes:
“The advocates of the Buddhist theory have, however, more in their favor than those of others. In many of the Orissan versions of the Daśāvatāra slabs, the figure of the Jagannātha occupies the ninth place, the place of Buddha; in various Orissan works of the late medieval and modern periods as well as in many comparatively old Bengali manuscripts, the identity of Jagannātha and Viṣṇu’s Buddha form is accepted”.
It should be pointed out that there is no evidence to support the belief that the great temple at Purī occupies a former Buddhist site. Nor do any of the manifestations of the cult of Jagannātha, such as the great car festival, the icon with the supposed relic of Kṛṣṇa, the absence of caste rules in the temple, or the identification of the deity with the Buddha avatāra of Viṣṇu, suffice to establish a Buddhist origin of the worship of Jagannātha. Nor can Purī be identified with Dantapura. So far no Buddhist remains have been discovered inside the Purī temple or in the neighborhood of the town, with the exception of a life-size stone image of a seated Buddha evidently brought to the temple from elsewhere.
With regard to the site of the shrine of Jagannātha it should be stated that the temple stands on a mound known as the Blue Hill which rises about 20 ft above the level of the surrounding terrain. In the past scholars liked to imagine that the hill concealed a former Buddhist shrine. In fact the mound is almost entirely composed of a high platform, probably built in imitation of the similar base which supports the temple of Varadarāja at Kāñcī. The platform at Purī appears to have been built over a ridge, possibly on the site of a smaśāna or burial ground. At its foot is located an artificial cave shrine dedicated to Shiva which is probably memorial in natural for it is placed on the northern side of the inner enclosure.
As for the very close resemblance between the Buddhist car procession described by Fa-Hien and that of Jagannātha, it would appear that this does not indicate a specifically Buddhist origin, but that both ceremonies stem from a common religious ritual. Thus, like so many other aspects of Indian art and religion, the car in which the deity is taken out in procession is not of sectarian derivation. It is true that early historical and literary references to cars are more often Buddhist than Hindu, but then Buddhism is, in some ways, better documented in the early historical period than Hinduism. In fact there is clear evidence of Brahmanic influence in Buddhist canonical literature. For instance, Brahmā and Indra are continually associated with the main events of the life of the Buddha. Again, the assembly of the gods who controlled the world was held under the Brahmin Sanatkumāra and it was Brahmā who persuaded the Buddha to preach. It is interesting too that the 4th edict of Ashoka, in the Girnar version, refers to festivities of the Dhamma which are not distinctively Buddhist but were evidently traditional in India at that time. Filliozat notes that what this record enumerates in connection with the festivities “are clearly the ordinary elements of festivals and processions of a type still contemporary in Hinduism, and it appears that the content of this Edict constitutes direct evidence of their usage in the middle of the 3rd century B.C.”
Ashoka, himself styled ‘deva’ as well as ‘Royal Majesty’, quite naturally had the proclamation of the Dhamma accompanied by Brahmanic pomp. It is generally believed that in Ashoka’s time there were no images as yet, neither of gods nor of Buddha. However, Filliozat suggests that arcās of divine images were almost certainly displayed in vimānas or cars taken round in processions to the sound of drums and to the announcement of the Dhamma, of which the gods were the protectors.
There are a few early Hindu cave reliefs which depict Sūrya, the Sun God as a royal figure, riding in his chariot. One well-known example is at Bhaja, and another can be found at Khandagiri in Orissa. Both date probably from the early 1st century A.D. In fact from the 12th century onward the god or goddess in his or her sanctuary was surrounded by regal pomp and taken out in procession. Almost every large temple in South India possesses a temple car and car festivals are connected with both Shaiva and Vaiṣṇava shrines in Orissa. It seems likely that the Eastern Gangas, who were of southern origin, instituted the great car festival at Purī. They appear to have been so fond of car festivals that both the shrine of Bhāskareśvara and particularly, of course, that of Sūrya of Konak are modeled on the processional car. Thus there is no reason to take the car procession at Purī as of Buddhist origin.
There is also no reason to attribute a specifically Buddhist origin to the idea of the relic which is found in the body of Jagannātha. The Jainas too seem to have venerated relics of departed saints, and in fact the Hathimgumpha inscription of Kharavela refers specifically to worship of a relic memorial at Udayagiri-Khandagiri in the vicinity of Bhuvaneshwar. In fact, the relic in the body of Jagannātha has not been examined and it is not clear whether the object is simply a piece of wood or perhaps a sālagrāma (ammonite).
As for the argument that the suspension of caste restriction is the survival of a Buddhist tradition, it should be pointed out that similar customs elsewhere are usually connected with Tāntric practices. The degree to which caste is recognized and restrictions correspondingly imposed varies enormously from temple to temple. The celebrated shi=rine of Shiva at Chidambaram, for instance, is virtually an open temple; it must be admitted that Shaiva holy places are generally less restricted than Vaiṣṇava. In the case of Jagannātha the reason for the suspension of caste rules is probably to be found in Hindu Tāntric elements. The presence of the ancient chlorite figures of the Aṣṭamātṛkās near the Mārkaṇḍeśvara Lake at Purī indicates the existence of a tāntric cult of śakti in the period before Codaganga. The tāntric Goddess Vimalā at Puruśottama (not the wooden Kṛṣṇa) is mentioned in the Matsya Purāṇa. Tradition also relates that the great Shaṅkara defeated the Buddhists at Purī, established the ritual worship of Jagannātha, and founded the Govardhanapīṭha where the ādyāśakti is the Goddess Vimalā. It should be remembered, of course, that Shaṅkara himself is traditionally credited with the composition of the Saundaryalaharī, which is considered the canonical text of Srīvidyā. Some of the most important Tantras like the Mahānirvāṇa refer to him as the ādiguru.
It would appear that the Blue Mountain founded by King Anantavarman Codaganga at Purī was a shrine dedicated to the worship of Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Shiva as well as the three aspects of śakti (Sarasvatī, Lakṣmī and Pārvatī or Vimalā). It was principally engaged in the cult of Srīvidyā and remained predominantly so until the 17th century. Important śākta and śaiva elements were thenceforward excluded from it progressively so that now only vestiges remain, and the appearance of exclusive Vaiṣṇavism prevails. It was not until the reign of King Narasimhadeva (1623-47) that worship of the Goddess Vimalā with daily offerings of meat and wine was abolished. In abut 1800, the image of Shiva Bhairava which stood alongside Jagannātha on the main altar was destroyed and removed by Vaiṣṇava fanatics. The offerings made to the trinity are in fact based on the tāntric ‘five makāras’ but now fish is substituted by green vegetables mixed with hinge, meat by ginger, wine by green coconut water, grain by kanti, a preparation of flour and sugar, and maithuna by the dance of the devadāsīs and the offering of the aparājitā flower. Somewhat elusive elements as the sprinkling of wine on the prasāda are definitely tāntric in origin and connotation. However, the relaxation of caste distinctions during the car festival may have been related to feeding the poor in memory of Codaganga by Smārtas.
The fact that Jagannātha is often represented in place of the Buddha avatāra of Viṣṇu in Orissan painting and sculpture of more recent times cannot be accepted as evidence for a Buddhist origin of his cult at Purī. There is not a single known Eastern Ganga inscription which identifies Jagannātha specifically with the ninth incarnation of Viṣṇu. However, it was the custom in the 12th century to identify Hari as Puruṣottama with the Buddha. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that a temple of the God Puruṣottama may be associated with reliefs depicting the Buddha, a form taken by Viṣṇu to deceive the chief among the demons. The carvings which represent Jagannātha in the place of the Buddha avatāra of Viṣṇu appear to be found on fairly recent additions to the great temple such as the Eastern gateway of the outer enclosure.
There remains the argument in favor of the Buddha avatāra of Viṣṇu in the form of Jagannātha which is based on the supposed conversion of King Prataparudra (1497 - 1540) to Vaiṣṇavism. It is well known of course that Chaitanya favored the works of Jayadeva and the incarnations of Viṣṇu which were praised by the latter in a hymn composed in the 12th century. Although the king supported the introduction of the singing of Jayadeva’s Gītagovinda in the great sanctuary, this cannot be taken as an indication that Prataparudra was converted by Chaitanya, or that the cult of Jagannātha was completely Vaiṣṇavized. Professor S K De notes that “Prataparudra’s connexion with Chaitanya has probably been much exaggerated. As a man of devout inclinations, he was probably impressed by the religious personality of Chaitanya and paid a willing homage; but beyond this there is no evidence of Prataparudra’s actual conversion”. The Gītagovinda was much admired by various authors in this period independently of their own religious beliefs. Apparently it was in the spirit of the age for writers to introduce into their plays songs set to various tunes, in imitation of the compositions of Jayadeva. Rāmānanda did this for instance, in his Jagannāthavallabha. The influence of Chaitanya on the cult of Jagannātha occurred much later, during the 17th century. It was principally due to the zeal and personality of Shyāmānanda and his disciple Deva Gosvāmī, who visited Purī in about 1623 and secured the patronage of Narasimhadeva.
Buddhist influence in Oriya Literature of the late medieval period cannot be used as a serious argument for the Buddhist origin of Jagannātha. Saraladāsa identified Jagannātha first with Kṛṣṇa, and later said that the three icons without hands and feet resembled the Buddha, apparently in their formlessness. The later Panchasakahs or five famous writers who lived during the time of Chaitanya, believed the numinous Brahman to be identical with śūnyatā, for both ere philosophical ultimates. Hindu Tāntrism is replete with yogic practices and terms used by both Buddhist and Hindu tāntrics. It is moreover, a convention of Tantra to associate Shiva and Viṣṇu with the Buddha. Note, for instance, that in the Hindu Brahmayāmala Viṣṇu reveals in the appearance of the Buddha that the “five makāras” are constituents of Cīnācāra or left-hand worship. Similarly, in another text the Rudrayāmala, Mahādeva is identified with the Buddha. There is no doubt, therefore, that the identification of Jagannātha with the Buddha or with śūnyatā is the result of the influence of Hindu Tāntrism in the works of the Panchasakhas.
It should be pointed out also that the five writers did not identify Jagannātha exclusively with any particular avatāra whether Kṛṣṇa or the Buddha. As Brahman, they considered Jagannātha to be the embodiment and creator of all avatāras. Acyutānandadāsa, perhaps the most famous of the five authors, himself followed the tāntric yoga practices connected with the raising of the vital force. He writes: “Having thus lifted life up, I was soon sitting in the Void and lost in the contemplation of Paramahamsa”. His identification of śūnya with Paramahamsa shows that he considered the experience of the void to be identical with Brahman. From the foregoing it is clear that the argument for the tāntric tendencies in the works of Acyutānandadāsa and the other four writers cannot seriously be taken as evidence for the Buddhist origin of Jagannātha. It is quite usual in tāntric sādhanas to identify the experience of the Innate Light with the realization of the Unborn Void, and to equate the Buddha with Shiva and Viṣṇu.
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