Sunday, January 27, 2008

Buddhism and Jainism in South India - 5

Blogger Ravi Mundkur discusses about the Natha cult and its influence in south-west coastal India. My interest stems from the fact that it appeared to have bridged Brahmins and Buddhists in the Tantra aspect.

But even today Natha cult is alive in small pockets as an independent movement. Therefore, any argument that Buddhists turned Brahmans because of this cult in this region can not be ascertained for surety. But there are couple of things that I find rather intriguing.

There is a rather curious tradition among Malayali Brahmins. The Namboodiris who are temple priests were excluded from Vedic studies. The Vedic beginning of Tantra has always been suspect. In fact, it rather sounds like ghostistic than godistic in its worship of a deity. That is, the priest gets possessed by the deity before the ritual.

Ravi Mundkur gives the following account on origin of Matsyendranatha, a dominant figure of Natha cult(by legends),
Macchendra (Matsyendra) Natha hailed from a fisher community of probably Bengal area. (However, the sculptures show him riding on fish and the legends metaphorically describe his birth from the semen of Shiva swallowed by a fish).


Then we have Grama Paddhati account, a manuscript belonging to Tuluva Brahmins, on the dual origin of Tuluva brahmins(probably, both Tulu and Malayali Brahmins). According to legends;
-> Parashurama upgraded fishermen to Brahminhood
-> Kadamba kings brought Brahmin families from Godavari region and settled them here

If one understands the polluting character of fish and in turn fishermen in caste system then Parashurama account sounds rather strange. Why fishermen?

That, in my opinion, can be explained if those are Matsyendranatha's Brahmins.

Update:
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10 comments:

Ravi Mundkur said...

Regarding Tuluva Brahmins: 1. The Kadamaba king is said to have brought male Brahmins for worshipping in the temples newly constructed by him. Some of the immigrants were not comfortable in the new environs and wanted to return.So they had to be settled locally.Thus the immigrant Brahmins were married to native girls.And the girls were selected from the fisher community,according to popular legends.
2.Vadiraj Acharya converted fisher folks from Matti village.That fact was adapted into the lores and credited to the legendary Parasurama.

Manjunat said...

Thanks for the info. Ravi.

Vadiraj Acharya converted fisher folks from Matti village.That fact was adapted into the lores and credited to the legendary Parasurama.

That certainly appears to be plausible scenario. Probably, we need chronological order of the events.

Vadiraja -> 15-16th century
Grama Paddhati -> 15th century
Kerala Mahatmya -> ?
Keralolpati -> 17-18th century

Now, the legend of Parashurama elevating fishermen to brahminhood must be post 16th century. However, it is known in Kerala region where Tamil Brahmins supposedly downplayed Namboodiri superiority in the society by pointing to the legends that they were originally fishermen.

Therefore, whether the legend is post 16th century that spread to Malabar (along with Tulu Brahmins who migrated around 17th century) must verified.

It appears Grama Paddhati is the basis for another Malayalam work Keralolpati. But Malayali Brahmins already had their own version of Grama Paddhati, known as Kerala Mahatmya. I wonder whether this fishermen origin legend is part of Kerala Mahatmya or Keralolpati.

Ravi Mundkur said...

It appears to me that the original Parasurama was prehistoric and was somewhere around nw India.
Kadamba Mayura Sharma/Varma revived the Parasurama legend around 4th Century Ad after he became a King.The new King(Mayura)asked his writers to recompose the legend of Parasurama Sristi!There are parallels between Parasuram's and (Mayura's lifestories! Mayura(Brahmin) was earlier insulted by Pallava kings(Kshtariya) at Kanchi. Hence Mayur takes revenge on them and builds a kingdom at Banavasi.So the 'Sahyadri Purana' (containing Parasuram's esacpades) must have been sponsored by Mayura!(date ca. 4to 5th centu. CE).Note that Kadamba Banavasi forms a part of the Sahyadri.The original Gramapaddathi may be slightly later ca. 5 to 7th Centuries.But both these texts are likely to have been re-edited several times subsequently,depending on the whims and fancies of the copier/editor as the texts were recopied each time manually on palmyra leaves.
Tulu Brahmins were sent to Kerala also almost at the same time or slightly later 4th 6th Cent.
Fisher legend 1(marriage with natives)is ca. 4to5th C,dating bak to original arrival of priests to Karavali.That is not included in any texts but local fisher communities remember that distinctly and recount it(oral tradition).Vadiraja event is 13-14 C (life time of Vadiraja). That (event2) apparently has been included in one of the re-edited texts.
Downplay of Namboodiris by Tamil Brahmins may have been based on the first fisher event(origin 1) that dates back to 4-5th C.
By 11 or 12th C, Travancore King adopted the Malayalam script for the first time, based on the Tulu script used by Tulu Brahmins.

Manjunat said...

I have come across claims that Tantris in Tulu region are migrants from Kerala. They came along with Sankara (around 8-9th century). I wonder if this claim is verifiable.

The Namboodiri identity is post Chera period. Early Cheras ruled southern Kerala. If they had migrated from Tamil region(Kongu) then I would think they brought Tamil Brahmins along with them. The Grantha script could have moved from Tamil region -> Malayala region -> Tulu region (along with Tantris). Of course, this route depends upon antiquity of Grantha in Malayala and Tamil region as a script for Sanskrit works.

Kerala Mahatmya, according William Logan, is treatise of "Malabar"(north and central Kerala) Brahmins.

Manjunat said...

Fisher legend 1(marriage with natives)is ca. 4to5th C,dating bak to original arrival of priests to Karavali.That is not included in any texts but local fisher communities remember that distinctly and recount it(oral tradition).

By the way, that can be (dis)proven by mtDNA testing. There has already been a study on Havyaka lineages. They do have diverse set of matrilineages. Probably, Shivalli and Havyaka have distinct origins. But Havyakas also cite Kadamba Mayurasharma legend.

Chris said...

Matsyendranath is also closely associated with Newar Buddhism in Nepal. There are two famous Lokeshvara images known as the "White Matsyendranath" (in Kathmandu) and the "Red Matsyendranath" (in nearby Patan).

Matsyendranath is also credited with establishing the temple architecture of Nepal which has many similarities with the wooden temple architecture of Kerela.

Manjunat said...

Thank you very much for the information Chris.

Jayaprakash Mallay said...

on jan-2008 Nahthan said "If one understands the polluting character of fish and in turn fishermen in caste system then Parashurama account sounds rather strange. Why fishermen?
That, in my opinion, can be explained if those are Matsyendranatha's Brahmins."

In my opinion if only Mr.Nahthan were to read a detailed narrative on tha fish in 12th century Chalukya king Swameshwaradeva's Rajamanasollasa he would perchance alter his stand in the light of brilliant analysis on fishy convin cingly prsented. Also one would read with profit learned papers of German Indologist Richard Pischel Stephen P. Lewitt,Charles Coleman, Sundar Lal Hora and a host of other scholars of repute on this issue.View my Blog Malayala Brahmins.

Nahthan said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Mallay. It would be helpful if you could summarize your findings here or at your blog.

J.Mallay said...

In continuation of my e- mail comment posted to you sometime in 2008, in connection with Matsyendranath Brahmins, and by way of further elaboration to my blog Malayala Brahmins Autochthon Theory, both of which are invariably related to Brahmanisation of Kerala as per the sahyadri khanda of the Skanda Purana, I just happened to come across a Doctoral Thesis submitted to the University of Sorbonne (Paris) in 2007 by Prof. Nicholas Dejenne. Another similar Doctoral Thesis by Steven H. Levitt submitted to the University of Pennsylvania in 1973 makes strident remarks about Parasurama's association with the fisherfolk in Kerala. Still in furtherance thereof in 2007 an Indologist from Tuebingen University, Henreich von Stietencron leans heavily upon the same Parasurama tradition to reinforce his case. Be that as it may, there is nothing to feel shy or sorry regarding a particular class of Brahmins at a particular period in history being elevated from fisherfolk which, viewed in the light of acculturation process is only indicative of social mobility concern. After all, were they not the Ardha Brahmins of Epic fame? One has to shrug off one's value judgment in this regard for a proper appraisal of Brahmanisation of Kerala.