Hindu Gods And Heroes, Studies in the History of the Religion of India
Lionel D. Barnett author
CHAPTER III - V
Two Modern Instances
In Northern India, and especially in Bengal, you will often find Hindus worshipping a god whom they call Satya-narayana and believe to be an embodiment of Vishnu himself. The observance of this ritual is believed to bring wealth and all kinds of good fortune; a Sanskrit sacred legend in illustration of this belief has been created, and you may buy badly lithographed copies of it in most of the bazaars if you like, besides which you will find elegant accounts of the god's career on earth written by quite a number of distinguished Bengali poets of the last three centuries. But curiously enough this "god," though quite real, was not a Hindu at all; he was a Bengali Moslem, a fakir, and the Muhammadans of Bengal, among whom he is known as Satya Pir, have their own versions of his career, which seem to be much nearer the truth than those of the Hindus. In their stories he figures simply as a saint, who busied himself in performing miracles for the benefit of pious Moslems in distress; and as one legend says that he was the son of a daughter of [H.]usain Shah, the Emperor of Gaur, and another brings him into contact with Man Singh, it is evident that tradition ascribed him to the sixteenth century, which is probably quite near enough to the truth.
The next instance belongs to the twentieth century. A few years ago there died in the village of Eral, in Tinnevelly District, a local gentleman of the Shanar caste named Arunachala Nadar. There was nothing remarkable about his career: he had lived a highly respectable life, scrupulously fulfilled his religious duties, and served with credit as chairman of the municipal board in his native village. If he had done something prodigiously wicked, one might have expected him to become a local god at once, in accordance with Dravidian precedent; but he being what he was, his post-mortem career is rather curious. For a legend gradually arose that his kindly spirit haunted a certain place, and little by little it has grown until now there is a regular worship of him in Eral, and pilgrims travel thither to receive his blessings, stimulated by a lively literary propaganda. He is worshipped under the name of "The Chairman God," in affectionate memory of his municipal career, and as Jagadisa, or "Lord of the Universe," a phase of the god Siva.
See H. Raychaudhuri, Materials for the Study of the Early History of the Vaishnava Sect, p. 27.
It must be admitted that ancient writers give different etymologies of the name: thus, a poet in the Mahabharata (III. clxxxix. 3) derives it from narah, "waters," and ayanam, "going," understanding it to mean "one who has the waters for his resting-place"; Manu (I. 10, with Medhatithi's commentary), accepting the same etymology, interprets it as "the dwelling-place of all the Naras"; and in the Mahabharata XII. cccxli. 39, it is also explained as "the dwelling-place of mankind." But these interpretations are plainly artificial concoctions.
RV. X. cxxix. 5, SB. VI. i. 1, 1-5. Cf. Charpentier, Suparnasage, p. 387.
It is obvious that this island lies in a latitude somewhere between that of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, and that the professors who have endeavoured to locate it on the map of Asia have wasted their time.
See Rapson, Ancient India, p. 156 ff., Cambridge Hist. India, i, pp. 521, 558, 625, H. Ray Chaudhuri, Materials for the Study of the Early History of the Vaishnava Sect, p. 59, and Ramaprasad Chanda, Archæology and Vaishnava Tradition in Memoirs of the Archæological Survey of India, No. 5, p. 151 ff., etc.
See R. Chanda, ut supra, p. 152 f.
It is noteworthy that Samkarshana is here mentioned first, as is also the case in the Nanaghat inscription of about 100 b.c., which mentions them as descendants of the Moon in a list of various deities. This order may possibly be due to the fact that in ancient legend Samkarshana, or Bala-bhadra, is the elder brother of Krishna Vasudeva, and it does not entitle us to draw the inference that he ever received equal honour with Vasudeva. Special devotees of Samkarshana are mentioned in the Kautiliya, the famous treatise on polity ascribed to Chanakya, the minister of Chandra-gupta Maurya, who came to the throne about 320 b.c. (Engl. transl. 1st edn., p. 485). I suspect that in its present form the Kautiliya is considerably later than 320 b.c.; but in any case the existence of special votaries of Samkarshana is no proof that he ever ranked as equal to Vasudeva, just as the presence of special worshippers of Arjuna is no proof that Arjuna was ever considered a peer of Vasudeva. On the Ghasundi inscription see R. Chanda, ut supra, p. 163 ff., etc.; for the Nanaghat inscription, ibidem and Memoirs of the Arch. Survey of India, No. 1, with H. Raychaudhuri's Materials, etc., p. 68 ff.
R. Chanda, ut supra, p. 169 f.
R. Chandra, ut supra, p. 165 f.
Rapson, Catal. of the Coins of the Andhra Dynasty, etc., pp. xliv, lxii, lxix, cxxxiii-cxxxvi, clxii; Indian Antiq., xlvii, p. 85, etc.
I regret that I cannot accept the ingenious hypothesis lately put forward by Rai Saheb Dineshchandra Sen in his Bengali Ramayanas. The story of the Dasaratha-jataka seems to me to be a garbled and bowdlerised snippet cut off from a possibly pre-Valmikian version of the old Rama-saga; the rest of the theory appears to be quite mistaken.
On this name see above, p. 86.
The student may refer to Sir R. G. Bhandarkar's Vaisnavas and Saivas (in Bühler's Grundriss, p. 74 ff.,) J. N. Farquhar's Outline of the Relig. Liter. of India, p. 234 f., 298 ff., and my Heart of India, p. 60 ff., for some details on these poets.
See Farquhar, ut supra, p. 323 ff.; Heart of India, p. 49 f., etc.
Those are at Pushkar in Rajputana, Dudahi in Bundelkhand, Khed Brahma in Idar State, and Kodakkal in Malabar.
This idea in germ is already suggested in Maitr. Upan., IV. 5 f., and V. 2.
See Vasudevananda Sarasvati's Datta-purana and Ganesa Narayana Karve's Dattatreya-sarvasva.
On these figures see Gopinatha Rau, Elements of Hindu Iconography, i. p. 252 ff. The dogs seem to be connected with the Vedic Sarama, on whom see Charpentier, Die Suparnasage, p. 91.
See Dineshchandra Sen, Folk-literature of Bengal, p. 99 ff.