Sunday, September 16, 2012

The evolution of the vAsudeva system

The vAsudeva system, which later merged with mainstream vaiShNavism,  is perhaps one of the oldest surviving theistic systems in India, and most definitely predating Buddhism. However, during the course of its evolution, it got associated with three different traditions:
a. the tradition of the vedic kRRiShNa ghaura A~Ngirasa, a RRitvij (priest) who composed RV 8.74
b. the tradition of the nArAyaNa, which developed in the period of the latter brAhmaNas and AraNyakas
c. the tradition of gopAla kRRiShNa (about which we will talk later)

Early References to vAsudeva:
1. The oldest reference to vAsudeva as the "worshipful one" (and not as a kShatriya) is in pANini 4.3.98 - which indicates that the worship of vAsudeva is as old as pANini (~700 B.C.E / ~ 600 B.C.E) and must have been an established system in pANini's time.
2. Megasthenes, the Macedonian ambassador at the court of Chandragupta Maurya (~375 B.C.E), mentions that vAsudeva-kRRiShNa worship was prevalent in Mathura.
3. Niddesa of the Buddistic Pali canon, dated to around ~350 B.C.E makes a refenece to the cult of vAsudeva (along with that of baladeva, jaTila, Ajivakas etc)
4. The ghosuNDi Inscription dated to 200 B.C.E, metnions the construction of a wall around the hall of worship of saMkarShaNa and vAsudeva.

bhAgavatas of sAtvata (vRRiShNi) race - the followers of vAsudeva
The followers of vAsudeva were known as bhAgavatas. By ~100 B.C.E, vAsudeva cult was an established theistic system, prevalent in north-western part of Indian sub-continent (democratic India and Islamic Pakistan) and had even been adopted by the Greeks. The vAsudeva sect was associated with the race of the sAtvatas (bhIShmaparvan Mbh), which is believed to be the same as vRRiShNi race, of which vAsudeva, saMkarShaNa and aniruddha were members. The name expressive of the Supreme Spirit was, in this early period, vAsudeva alone.

Stages of development of the vAsudeva system
There are two stages in the development of the vAsudeva system.
1. In the first stage, the chitrashikhaNDins were the original promulgators of the religion. The wirship of vAsudeva and his three other forms is not known. The supreme God is named hari.
2. In the second stage, the system is connected to vAsudeva, his brother, his son and grandson.

vAsudeva as a person
In the Buddhist ghatajAtaka, vAsudeva is mentioned as belonging to the kaNhAyana gotra. In a commentary on mahAummaggajAtaka, jambAvAti is mentioned as the beloved queen of vAsudevqa kaNha. Thus, vAsudeva appears to be a proper name and not a patronymic, and when the vAsudeva religion or bhAgavvat school took its rise, that was the name by which the deity was known.

Association with  the Vedic kRRiShNa
kRRiShNa was not a vRRiShNi name and was hence subsequently ascribed to vAsudeva. The gotra, kArShNAyana, corrresponding to the kaNhAyana, is a brAhmaNa gotra of the vAshiShTha group of pArAshara subdivision, but could still be used by kShatriyas for sacrificial purposes. Thus vAsudeva came to be known as vAsudeva kRRiShNa, and all the attributes of the vedic kRRiShNa (the original founder of the gotra) were ascribed to vAsudeva.

Association with nArAyaNa
The idea of nArAyaNa as an all powerful all-pervading Supreme Soul was already present by the time of the RV 10 - hence was much earlier to vAsudeva cult. However there is also another tradition of RRiShis nara and nArAyaNa, who are often compared to arjuna and vAsudeva (Mbh). This may have given rise to the identification of vAsudeva with nArAyaNa. And it is also possible that there may indeed have been a RRiShi named (or with a gotra) nArAyaNa, the propounder of the philosophy of RV  10.90, who may later have been diefied.

By the time of the writing of vanaparvan of MBh, vAsudeva had been identified with nArAyaNa.

Association with viShNu
Between the period of the bhagavad gItA ( ~500 B.C.E to ~200 B.C.E) and anugItA ( of the Ashvamedhikaparvan, M.Bh), the identity of vAsudeva kRRiShNa with viShNu is an established fact.

Final Observations and Conclusions:
a. In the earlier stages, the chitrashikhaNDins were the original promulgators of the religion, with hari as the chief God
b. Subsequenly, vAsudeva kaNha or vAsudeva kRRiShNa, elaborated on the system, and came to be diefied.
c. vAsudeva system must have become popular as early the time of pANini (~700 B.C.E / ~600 B.C.E) where vAsudeva alone was known as the "worshipful one"
d. By  the time of Chandragupta Maurya (~375 B.C.E), the Vedic kRRiShNa and his legenda had fused with that of vAsudeva kRRiShNa and the cult was referred to as the vAsudeva kRRiShNa cult.

Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Other Minor Religious System
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Thanks for for reading The evolution of the vAsudeva system. Feel free to leave your comments and do share this post with those who might find it useful.
Subhodeep Mukhopadhyay | Mkerj  |  Hooray For Life  |   The Tiny Man

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