Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual by Michael Willis

Michael Willis, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual: Temples and the Establishment of the Gods, Cambridge, 2009.


Considering the absence of temples in the Vedic period, the question of their origin and deities in them is an important one. Yet finding a conclusive answer to such a question is a difficult task for a student of Hinduism. Although many scholars have done considerable research on this subject, this is the first book I have read.

This is a remarkable work. However, given the way Willis has done his research, this is purely a work ‘of the specialist, for the specialists and by a specialist’. So, a student like me cannot generally write any review on such a scholarly work. But as a student of Hinduism, I cannot now share anything about the history of the origin of temples and gods in them without referring Willis. Unlike my previous thinking about the origin and importance of temple in India, Willis shows that it is not all about ‘ritual and religiosity (spirituality)’ of common people, but a deliberate attempt by the Rulers to promote their ‘political, social and economic’1 interests, in which both the (Brahmin) Priests and Kings cooperated with each other.2 And taking the Gupta period in general and Udayagiri rock cave temples in particular, and referring to many copper plates and rock edicts, what Willis unfolds is a remarkable scholarly work which will help us all to understand the origin and developments of Temples and the gods in them in a systematic way.

Though the origin of image worship could be traced back in Vedic culture, it was more a private affair there. When and how it become a public event was answered by Willis:

…The juxtaposition of the domestic world of the sutra-tradition with the public cult of the temple may be overdrawn—the two overlapped for centuries—but it highlights the degree of which ritual, social, and economic relationships were changing in the time of the Guptas.  As already noted, this was a change of configuration rather than components. The new relationship between puja, priest, image, patron, and land was a powerful synergism that produced temple-based Hinduism. This world-in part Vedic but radically different from what went before—did not emerge in an organic, subconscious, or accidental fashion from some sort of socio-religious plasma; it was consciously created by members of the priesthood—an intellectual and religious elite with clear aims and certain purposes…The temple priests of Gupta India established images in increasing numbers, accumulated endowments to support their work, and grew ever more powerful. As they did so, ancient forms of worship and everything they represented were displaced.  By the early sixth century, these priests and their temples had changed the religious landscape of India forever.3 (pp.121-22)

Having said this, the way Willis takes several pages to deal with minute details with a hair-splitting analysis (of even one word), and referring other works in this field,4 will discourage a student like me to keep reading. A non-scholar student of Indology should have a lot of patience5 to read all those pages of detailed analysis of the subject in this book. In a few places he quotes from books written in other languages without even translating them.6 But the one good thing about the way Willis handles the subject is that though it is highly scholarly work, it is not so difficult to understand his presentation for anyone who shows some interest on the subject of Temples and gods in them.  So a persevering student of Indology will be highly rewarded with a mine of minute information about the origin of temples and gods in them, though another scholar in the same field alone can evaluate this book.

Though the temple and the gods were a new phenomena and anti-vedic in its nature and scope, the way the Guptas and the Brahmins managed by incorporating several rituals (bali, caru and sattra)7 and invoking vedic mantras made it more like a transmission from the vedic world. Though orthodox vedic Brahmins never approved and even opposed temples and their gods, since they also could not get rid of them, these orthodox scriptures belong to the Mimamsa school and the commentaries help us understand the trend in the society.  For example, all these days I was wondering why those Brahmins related with temple and doing puja to the deities were excluded from sraadha and other special rituals related to vedic orthodoxy. Only after reading this book in which Willis clearly demonstrates the tension between the vedic and [agamic] non-vedic tradition by quoting from those text, I understand this clearly.

This book is divided into three major sections.  The introduction deals with the ‘The Archaeology and Politics of Time at Udayagiri’.  This introduction is mainly centered around the rock cave temples at Udayagiri and their leading and important role both for the Guptas and connecting it to the further development of temples. The next section, ‘The Establishment of the Gods’, deals elaborately with all the information centered around temples. The last section deals with the importance of the priest, not only their role in establishing the temples, but also in the political and economic interests of the kings—particularly the Guptas.


At Udayagiri cave, in order to depict Chandragupta, ‘himself, the “moon-protected” king’, by using an astronomical calendar of the rising of the sun and moon, on the day

Visnu was supposed to be “put to sleep”’ (in the days before the full moon in Aasaadha) was engraved in such a way that ‘At sunset—the prescribed time for the king’s matins according to the Arthasaastra—they would have seen the moon rising in the passage and, as night closed in, the moon’s rays falling on the sculpture of Narayana’ as ‘the royal worshipper bathed in the moon’s light just below the recumbent image.’ (p. 35)

In the same way the image of Varaha was engraved in such a way that after Vishnu’s ‘waking day’ in the month of Kaarttika,

the Varaha would have stood ankle-deep in water—a fitting announcement that the god has indeed risen from his watery sleep. (p. 45) …The sculptures of Narayana and Varaha at Udayagiri were conceived as a pair,8 that the images were iconographic indicators of the sleeping and waking of Visnu and, finally, that the two were physically positioned so the rising sun would accentuate their calendrical and ritual significance. (pp.45-46)

The reason for selecting Udayagiri is that as ‘the king’s lustration took place on the first day of Caitra, the very day on which the new Gupta calendar was inaugurated’ and  ‘because Udayagiri was a place where the year was known, it became the preeminent place for scheduling, visualizing, and memorializing the sacrifice.  The mythological ties that were developed between the sun, Visnu, and the sacrificial performance all heightened the potency of Udayagiri and drew ambitious kings inexorably toward it.’9 (p. 67)

In a similar way, to reinforce the ritual [varsaamaasavrata]10 and political aspirations of the Guptas, the image of Kaarttika in Cave was arranged in such a way that Visnu’s

waking day being the eleventh day of the bright fortnight of Kaarttika. On this day, the rising sun illuminated the figure of Kaarttikeya in Cave 7—the shrine located just a few steps from the Varaha image and the Sanakaanika inscription. The reason for this arrangement is not difficult to understand: Kaarttikeya derives his name from the month of Kaarttika, and he is Skanda, the god of war. Accordingly, the month of Kaarttika is the most auspicious time for military exploits. So Candragupta’s statement that he came to Udayagiri for the purpose of “total world conquest” can be tied to both to Kaarttikeya, the god of war, and the month of Kaarttika, the time of war. Candragupta’s campaign coincided, we would suggest, not only with the moment when Visnu was roused from his sleep but with the month when a war of ceremonial validation could be appropriately conducted. (p. 68)

The ritual of varsaamaasavrata must be done in the prescribed manner so that there won’t be any absurdity, because, ‘the logic of the Indian ritualist is nothing if inexorable.  Everything prescribed must be performed and performed correctly in due time.’ Otherwise the, ‘religious ideology, and the political order which it endorsed, could look absurd.’ (p.76) And for this purpose the large tank above the passage will be filled by the water from the River Bes and

At the right moment, a leading priest would have uttered appropriate mantras and given a signal for a floodgate to be opened. A refreshing flow of water would have rushed through the passage and down the stepped cascade, filling the tank at the foot of the hill next to the Varaha image—an impressive spectacle indeed.  The assembled gentry, farmers, and common-folk watching the theatrics would have come away convinced of the power of the rituals and those who controlled them.11 (p.77)



Through this story of Udayagiri we understand the importance of image worship and the active role of the king in initiating it. But to know how it was carried out in other parts of the country we have to now turn our attention to the next important act of dana by the kings to maintain and continue them. As we have noted above, this dana to the temples is not done exclusive to earn some merit, but done with the similar aim like that of constructing temples—for economic and political reasons.

So, like the temples, which are created for the permanence of king’s fame, the dana done to the temples (and so to the Brahmins) were also made in copper plates, with an aim to make the grants remain permanent, even in case of change of kingdoms. As the,

merit of a grant is passed from king to king; that is, the current ruler, whoever he may be, enjoys the benefit of grants made in the past. He thus has no reason to disturb earlier grants or confiscate land already given. (pp. 84-85)

And to keep such grants secure, both a kind of blessing and curse is also recorded in copper plates:

On this point, two verses sung by Vyasa should be taken as authoritative:

The giver of land rejoices in heaven for sixty thousand years (but) he who confiscates (granted land) and he who assents (to such action) shall reside in hell for that period!  Whosoever confiscates land that has been given, whether by himself or by another, he incurs the guilt of the slayer of a hundred thousand cows! (p. 85)

Thus, apart for religious merits and fame, once the economic power and maintenance of social dominance also become part of these grants, the copper charters ‘possessed a degree of constitutive power’12 (p. 125). And thus, according to Willis:

The switch to copper from palm-leaf was not a technological improvement of a coincidental nature. The change was driven forward by a desire on the part of donors, donees, and the state to make their endowments permanent, stable, and perpetual. This intention is highlighted by the frequent statement that benefactions were to be enjoyed by the recipient, and the line descending through his son and grandson. Temple-gods held land on similar terms…The point is that if a donee and his descendants could be parted from their holding only when their lineage was extinguished, then a temple-god’s holding could only be alienated if the god and his temple were destroyed… (p. 126)

The reason for the temple destruction by the Muslims could be understood from this perspective rather than from the popular assumption that this is done due to religious fanaticism:

…a living temple had to be attacked again and again: in order for the religious and juridic vitality of the god to be effectively and finally destroyed, the temple had to be razed to the ground and its very location expunged from local memory. (p.126)  Only then could the god’s land be liberated and assigned to new owners and new causes. Such efforts could fail however, Sultanate troops entered the temple of Jagannath at Puri and consigned his wooden image to the flames. But Jagannath was not so easily polished off. Through a temporary image that had to be constantly remade and reconsecrated, the temple priests at Puri turned impermanence into permanence—a reincarnating god who was so unassailable that his vast land-holdings survived even to the twentieth century. (pp. 126-27)

But the connecting link between these grants and temples is the role played by the priests.  It is important for us to understand the way the kings managed to exercise their political and economic dominance using the religious acts to carry out his plan rather smoothly and easily. Thus, unlike the Sutras which focused on the domestic rites and ‘on their literary traditions, and, in some cases, carried out the worship of Visnu Narayana in the privacy of their homes and village shrines,’ the copper plates put the ‘priests at centre stage, politically connected and socially dominant’ (p.121) and ‘…the ways in which priests shaped the edifice of Gupta civilization is a subject that has not drawn much attention. Side-stepping the reason why—it may be put down to a modern need for secular and political histories….’ (p. 168)

However, Willis cautions that

… The copper-plates give some insight into priests and their work, while the Brhatsamhitaa furnishes a general introduction to the rituals…these sources do not provide information about the priesthood as a social organization (p.168) or information abut its relationship with royal power. And no text otherwise is explicit on these matters. This obliges us to reconstruct the situation from indirect evidence, much of it fragmentary … My purpose here, therefore, is to explore the institutional identity of the purohita, rtvij and acarya and to outline their respective domains of knowledge, action, and power.’ (pp. 168-69)

It is interesting and very rewarding to read all that Willis says about the role of priests in general and purohita, rtviji and acarya in particular in shaping the religious-political-economic and social period of Gupta, and their importance in the establishment of temples. But the way he analyzes all the details is extremely minute, and takes many pages, each (main) point leading to sub-points.13 All the points shared by Willis cannot be analyzed here in this review for two reasons. First, they are very detailed and we have to quote all of them verbatim here, which is impossible for a review. Second, as Willis himself says,

Before turning to the priests with whom the purohita interacted I would like to deal with the epigraphic and archaeological evidence for the position. Such evidence is, prima facie, nonexistent (p.171) …inscriptions are few in number and none explicitly Gupta…Arthasaastra does not describe this explicitly…. we can draw relevant conclusions….(pp. 171-72)

So only another scholar in this field can comment on all of Willis’ theories and conclusions. I have left all those points related with priests, purohita, rtviji and acarya, in the notes, as they are very important for our understanding not only this book but also the origin and development of temples and land grants (both devaagrahaara and agrahaara).14 But any student on Hinduism, particularly interested in the origin of temple worship, should read all these points, as he presents all the facts in such a way that we have to agree with him. Because:

The problem here is neither the grammatical correctness nor historical veracity of our sources, but what modern commentators have come to expect from them.  Some historians, informed by a delightfully naïve literalism, have attempted to extract “kernels of factual truth” from these quasi-historical narratives. This may yield homogenized accounts suitable for schoolboys, but the texts are rather more rhetorical in their purpose and sophisticated in their literary structure than the classroom setting will allow.  Buddhist, Jaina, and Hindu texts look back to the Mauryan period as a great imperial age and arrange memories of it according to their particular agendas. These agendas determined what was possible and what was not, and what kind of lessons could and should be drawn from historical precedent….(p. 202)



Now, as we have some understanding about the link between the donor (king) and donees (priests), we can understand how and why those religious rituals were pressed into the service to carry out their respective aims and interests. For example, temple construction and installing gods in them is considered as the substitute of yajna, as it will

gain the same result as if he15 had built a Vedic fire-alter. The various stages of the undertaking produce increasingly elevated results: when the “lotus of Brahma” is deposited in the soil at the centre of the building site, he obtains Visnu’s world (saalokyam); when the image has been established, closeness to Him (saamiipyam); when the temple is completed, equality in form to Him (saaruupyam); when the sacrificial ceremony for Visnu is completed, enjoyment and dominion (bhogaisvaryam); when the consecration ceremonies are finished, communion with Him (saayujyam)…. (pp. 139-40)

At the same time, such transition was not easily carried out without opposition. Because such land-grants were not approved by all among the Brahimns, the Mimamsakas, ‘took exception to this’ because it was not sanctioned by the Vedas as it only promotes yajna as the means to attain heaven.16 One reason for their lack of support is the increasing importance of temples and related rituals to it, including land-grants at the cost of yajna.

Shrines and sanctuaries had long been an accepted part of Indian life and we find them mentioned coincidently and unproblematically in several sutra-texts. What disturbed the status quo was royal patronage and the creation of permanent endowments in favour of the deities in these shrines. This diverted resources away from traditional forms of Vedic worship. To their discomfiture, the Mimamsakas discovered that they could not buck the trend…the distinction between Vedic and non-Vedic cults was becoming blurred as the Vedic Purusa was conflated with Visnu Narayana in a consecrated image, an agenda advanced by the use of Vedic mantra-s in the puja-framework. This was both a theological and economic threat to Vedism.  Sabara’s commentary shows that the practitioners and upholders of the Vedic tradition understood this perfectly well and were determined to take a stand against the innovations.17 (pp. 213-14)

Our understanding to such opposition to the idol within Hindu (orthodox) tradition is clearly reflected in some Dharma Sutras and Sastras for prohibiting inviting those Brahmins18. For important samskaras like sraadha,19 which are involved with image worship etc. we need listen to Sabara’s apologetic20 against idol worship based on his interpretation on those parts of the Veda which others (particularly those claiming Vedic sanction for their rituals) related with image worship. The analysis that Willis offers here is important for this:

…A cornerstone of Sabara’s argument is that the gods do not have material bodies like human beings…Citing Vedic statements that seem to show that the gods have bodies—for example, “O Indra, I take your right hand”—Sabara argues that this does not mean that Indra has a body.  This is proven by the simple fact that the offerings made to Indra and other gods do not perceptibly diminish in size when the offering is made.  So the statements about Indra and the other gods are either absurdities or eulogistic declarations21…On this point, Sabara argues that a god can only be invoked for the purpose of speaking to him, but because there is no recognized means whereby one might speak of a god, and no Vedic evidence that this ever happened, the process of innovation is necessarily useless.22 Thus the vocatives in the Vedic texts can serve only to indicate the deity and have a eulogizing purpose.  As a consequence, there is no scriptural authority to support the idea that the gods have material bodies like sentient beings.  Indeed, Sabara asserts, the essential form or character of anything consists in the word only, thus a divinity is nothing but a word forming part of a (p.209) mantra that may be used in a prescribed ritual setting.  The deities, in other words, are only words.  Outside this context they are nothing. (pp.209-10)

At the same time, those who introduced image worship managed to bring the change making it as a continuity of vedic orthodoxy:

Those responsible for introducing the powerful theistic vision of the godhead in the temple—and for introducing puja as an appropriate form of divine service—attempted to link their cult to the Veda and refer it to Vedic tradition. This was because the Veda and its ancillaries were accepted as the final source of authority with regard to sacred knowledge. The point is that religious “innovation” could not be defined as such—it had to be understood in terms of the Veda rather than vice versa.  The aim was not to show that new practices were superior to the old, or even to shroud new cults in ancient clothing.  Rather, the aim was to prove that the new was nothing more than the old, a simple rephrasing of the old using contemporary terminology.23 (pp. 106-07)

And the kings on their part managed to impart the view that by this new endeavor they are only bringing back the golden age through the image worship because of the ills of kaliyuga, and for this, the service of his acarya was important one for our understanding the way slowly temples replaced yajnas:

… Pravarasena (circa CE 419 (-55) asserts in his inscriptions that he had “established the golden age (krtayuga) by the grace of Sambhu.”24  He was not alone in making this kind of assertion.  The Maitraka ruler Dharapatta, a near contemporary, is recorded to have been “a most devout worshipper of the Sun, who, by the water of his very pure actions washed away the stains of the Kali age.” 25  In north India, the Bilsad inscription of Kumaaragupta I describes Dhruvasarman, the donor of a sattra26 and builder of a temple gateway, as “a follower of the path of true religion and of the customs of the Krta age.” 27  The implications of these statements are clear and important: the golden age can be brought back by worshipping images and supporting religious activities connected with them.  The Gupta king as paramabhaagavata was effecting just this end through his worship of Visnu.  The representations at Udayagiri, like the inscriptions just cited, show that the medicine for curing the ills of kaliyuga came neither from the purohita, with his incantations and bag of magical tricks, nor from the rtvij-s, with their formidable yet antiquated ritual machine.  Rather, regeneration was effected by holy men who, thanks to yoga and devotion, had a direct link to the redemptive power of god.  So although the Bhaagavata acarya followed Manu’s patters in his spiritual and social relationships…he absorbed and surpassed the old Vedic paradigm.  Standing above the sacrificial framework, this “new acarya derived authority from the highest possible source: Visnu as the living embodiment of both Veda and sacrifice.28 (p. 237)

The way Willis connects this concern of Mimamsakas based on Vedic authority at the same time the way the kings (particularly Guptas) managed to handle these issues by accommodating all schools of thought is remarkable one.29 After quoting Aitreyabrahmana, where earth ‘plunge into the midst of the water’30 opposing ‘the gift of the earth as a sacrificial fee’31 he points that ‘gifts of villages were made from an early time, as we learn from Chaandogya Upanisad’ (4:2:4-5) and says:

These were serious matters. The earth had to be rescued from the waters and Mimamsaka concerns had to be addressed.  The earth was rescued, firstly, by Varaaha who, as the theistic embodiment of sacrifice, raised the earth from the murky deep.  This was done so sacrifices could be offered on the earth once again.  Picking up the narrative thread of Visvakarman Bhauvana, the Varaaha myth can be read as an expiatory rite made manifest—a mighty remedy for a situation gone wrong on a cosmic scale.  At Udayagiri, the Varaaha also announces (p.215) a new age with new rules; the earth is now possessed of Varaaha and the king has a special relationship with that god—and so also to the earth. (pp. 215-16)

The reason for Gupta to address the concern of the Mimamsakas while introducing the change gradually from Vedic yajna to temple worship is that they were in need of the service of the Vedic priests, particularly Maitraayaniiyas, who were specialists in doing royal rituals like Raajasuya and asvamedha. Thus,

It was a marriage of necessity born of a quest for Vedic legitimacy.  In their official representations, therefore, the Guptas needed to articulate their claims in a Mimamsaka framework.  The Varaaha panel represents the god’s hold over the earth as supreme and the king’s relationship to Varaha as special….The maintenance of the earth after the withdrawal of the incarnation falls to those who do their duty and uphold the varna-system.  Because the king is the prime guarantor of dharma and varna, the care of the earth is largely his responsibility. For Mimamsakas, this was well and good, but it still gave the king no absolute title to the earth: individual parcels of land are in the hands of individual men, if the king wanted these lands, he was obliged to purchase them.

…For this, the Udayagiri inscription had a ready reply: Candragupta bought the earth with the “purchase-money of his prowess” (vikramaavakrayakriitaa).32  This statement is of utmost importance.  We could not ask for a clearer justification of Gupta claims to the earth within the framework of Mimamsaka thought.  The inscription unambiguously addresses the Mimamsaka assertion that if a king wanted title then he was legally bound to pay an appropriate price.33 (pp. 215-16)

[Thus,] sruti, smrti, and ithihaasa…were manoeuvred into a self-validating triad.  This triad was used to manufacture an encyclopaidic endorsement of the land-granting system.(p.218) …Co-opted through royal patronage and grants of land, sruti-holders could neither resist the new classifactory structure of knowledge nor the harnessing of their authority to the land-granting system. (pp. 218-19)

However all that is related with the temple construction with the aim of political and economic advancement of the kings is not the pioneering attempts of the Guptas, but all their efforts along with copper plate charters, present us with a mature cult in almost every particular way. Nothing about them seems “formative” says Willis, because:

… Without images, there would be no need for puja offerings; without puja offering, no need for specialist priests; without specialist priests, no endowments to support their ritual work.  And without all these things working together, there would be no economic or religious basis for monumentalisation: no inscribed stone tablets chronicling the construction of temples; no copper-plates recording endowments; no manuals and commentaries explaining the nature, purpose, and meaning of temple ritual; no architecture, sculpture, and attendant arts; no parading of gods on festival days; no great religious centres with their myriad shrines; and no pan-Indian networks of pilgrimage.  So living images are essential and necessary.  The student of Indian religion will not find this an insightful observation—indeed the obviousness of the point is more noteworthy than not. We highlight the matter because the copper-plate charters of the Gupta age provide the first written evidence of these living images. This is not immediately obvious from the records themselves: they present us with a mature cult in almost every particular—nothing about them seems “formative.”(p. 122)

And Willis points out that unlike the modern apology34 to explain away idol-worship with rationality of realizing the divine presence and power through the idols, all these process were carried to assure that ‘gods were encouraged to take up actual and living residence in their respective images….’ So that the images are ‘entitled to receive offerings and legitimately hold the property assigned to it by its patrons.’ (p.143)

Above all,

… the argument in favour of temple puja was carried forward by analogy and appropriation: just as important guests were traditionally welcomed in well-to-do homes and offered things that pleased them, so too were the gods welcomed in temple-homes and offered things that pleased them.  This, if nothing else, settles the origin of puja. (p. 6)

[and], This is clearly laid out in the Vaikhaanasasmaartasuutra…. (p. 123)


…when a representation (pratimaa) was changed into a living image (muurti) it became a juridic personality with permanent legal rights to the property given to it by donors. This change of the image—to focus on the religious aspect of the event—was achieved by establishment rituals that transformed an inanimate object into a sentient being…. (p. 168)


The statement of Willis that, ‘…the Gangetic plain seems to have been a place of special importance for the development of image worship….’ (p. 234) is bit surprising to me, because already in South India, particularly in Tamilnadu, there are plenty of references for the existence of Temples in Sangam literature. Even if we tentatively assign 3AD for Sangam Literature35 then one could find the origin of idol worship based on temple could have moved from South. This is again proved by the fact that the influence of Vaikhaanasa36 school in the origin of image worship and their geographical location in South India.37 Above all, the wide-spread habit of erecting stone for those heroes killed in war for protecting the herds known as ‘Nadukal’ in Tamil also were worshiped in Tamil country from time in memory. So, though we might agree with Willis for this conclusion about the development of image worship in the Gangetic plain, I wonder why such a scholar who meticulous explains every point forgot to take this point from Tamil Sangam literature along with temples and worship of ‘hero-stones’ (Nadukal) in Tamilnadu?

The main thesis of Willis is that the temples and land grants to them by the kings were done more for political and economic reason than for religious purpose. Religious causes were pressed into their service to achieve this purpose.  And in his words:

…This may be framed as follows: If the king already received a share of the land’s produce by tradition, what motivated him to introduce a new layer of bureaucracy—in the form of brahmanas and other settlers—and to alienate some of his entitlements as a result?  The answer is both political and economic.  The establishment of agrahaara-s and devaagrahaara-s created a network of individuals who would support the king politically because he had settled them on the land and guaranteed their tenure. On the economic side, brahmanas and the varna-system (i.e., landlords with attendant specialists and supporting technologies) had the potential to generate new forms (p.162) of wealth through pastoral and agrarian development, banking, trade, and micro-management.  Quite apart from the entitlements the king may or may not have retained, there was an obvious incentive to innovate and develop: as each new estate prospered, so the economy expanded as a whole.   The royal share would thus increase, either directly or by proxy.  This is actually stated in the Baigram copper-plates.  These record that when the land is granted to the donee, there will be no loss to the king’s interest, but rather a possibility of gain in addition to the acquisition of religious merit… This analysis is based on the assumption that villages were not some kind of sacrosanct, timeless, and fundamental element of Indian culture.  Rather, historical agents consciously changed the constitution of villages for specific and clearly understood reasons.  Their actions show, more generally, that religion and its cultural apparatus directly structured political and economic relationships rather than simply reflecting or expressing them. (pp.162-63)

Though this analysis looks attractive and interesting, the question that comes to my mind is the fact that, again in Willis’ own words in the above citation, ‘This analysis is based on the assumption that villages were not some kind of sacrosanct, timeless, and fundamental element of Indian culture.’ Is this a theory formed based on the study of villages and their importance and role in India, or superimposing one’s theory on them from the top and also from outside? His deep study and clear presentations of the facts with a number of authentic references compels a student of Hinduism to accept it. 38

On the other hand, the hypothesis which often appears in these analyses raises these questions in our mind. Though one can agree with A. M. Shah that, ‘…sometimes speculations is essential for academic advancement….39’, my personal conclusion is that unless I read another scholarly critique on Willis’ thesis, his thesis clears all the doubts, and links several unconnected views (religious, economic, political and social) of ancient India in a more systematic way.

To sum up the main point of this book, let us look again to Willis:

… By the fourth century, significant speculation about the nature of ritual and the godhead had developed outside the core of Vedism, the Vaisnavas in particular advancing a new understanding of the sacrifice. Drawing on older Vedic ideas in which the deity was understood as present in the sacrifice, early Vaisnava thinkers developed the idea that the sacrifice could become a kind of epiphany—indeed that the transcendent Purusa created the ritual as an immanent representation or pratimaa of himself. This allowed the traditional power of Vedism to be linked with theism, devotion, and the worship of images. The combination of these themes…sits at the heart of Udayagiri and the disposition of its sculptures: Chandragupta II was both yajamaana and bhakta (i.e., the patron of an old-style sacrifice and the (p.227) devotee of a god who was the living physical embodiment of that sacrifice)…. (pp. 227-28)




1. ‘…each king was supposed to make grants of land, yet each king was required to respect grants made in the past. With land increasingly encumbered in this way—and the possibility of confiscation more or less excluded—the only option was to push into the hinterland. In other words, the whole system was inherently expansionist’ (p. 158).

‘… The central issue for the historian of social and religious institutions is that the new estates—whether agrahaara or devaagrahaara – were a means by which the state could insinuate its authority into the hinterland and establish there an infrastructure that would develop the economy and, in due course, increase the revenues of the treasury. A crucial part of this infrastructure was the encouragement of a stable and complex social structure (i.e., the varna-system).’—ibid. p. 159

2. ‘…Arthasaastra 13:5:3-18…advocates that a king should…make grants of land, money, and exemptions to men of learning and piety….The ways in which this policy was enacted can be understood from the distribution of Vaakaataka charters—…that the Vaakaataka kings strove “to extend their sphere of influence by means of brahmanical colonization.”’334—ibid. p. 159. Quote from Hans T Bakker. “Throne and Temple: Political Power and Religious Prestige in Vidarbha.”  In The Sacred Centre as a Focus of Political Interest.  Edited by Hans T. Bakker, Groningen, 1992. 99. 83-100. p. 92.—p. 308

3. ‘From the perspective of medieval and modern India, the workings of puja are so unremarkable that those reading this essay might wonder why I have paid so much attention to them. The reason is that the copper-plate inscriptions are the oldest historical and extra-textual records of puja. This is significant….Yet if the Gupta charters do not record the actual origin of temples and puja, what do they mark as the very first documents of these religious phenomena? To answer this question, a central one for the religious life of the Gupta period and the themes explored in this book, we need to look at the proto-history of temples, that is, the history of temples before they became permanent and monumental structures in the fifth century….’—ibid. p. 113

4. See for example what he says about this:

‘That the Varaha might be read as a political metaphor was first suggested by K. P. Jayaswal in a stimulating article published in 1932.76…After Jayaswal, a number of writers have touched the subject of political metaphor at Udayagir, but a survey of the relevant publications shows serious academic flaws.  Subsequent authors, to judge from (p.46) their citsdation apparatus, have failed to work through earlier writing in a methodical fashion, have frequently put forward interpretations without due acknowledgement, and have been content to make or repeat assertions without testing the validity of their proposals against the primary and secondary evidence. These problems necessitate an historiographic review to help us judge the degree to which the key issues have been properly researched, analysed, and interpreted.’—p. 46-47

The entire section ‘1.7 Varaha in Historiographic Perspective’ (pp. 46-55) deals with the historiographic analysis and interpretation by Willis.

5. See what the author himself says about this: ‘Further meanings of the Varaha image will attract us in due course (Section 1.11), but before turning to that I should test the patience of my readers by citing some supporting evidence that shows the degree which the Varaha incarnation was connected with the king and his dominion over the earthy during the post-Gupta period….’—p.64

To prove the main analysis, Willis will further go to other sub-points related with the main theme and will give a detailed and hair-splitting analysis.

6. See Odette Viennot’s Les divinites fluviales, published in 1964, in page 51[French I think] and by Adalbert J. Gail, by a German scholar in page 53.

7. ‘… bali, caru, and sattra appear in epigraphic (p.110) accounts of both temple worship (puja) and the five great sacrifices (pancamahaayajna).  Now I hope the date given so far is enough to show that when bali, caru, and sattra are mentioned in the puja context, they are not simply parts of the pancamahaayajna…So to imagine that bali, caru, and sattra were elements of the pancamahaayajna that have slipped their domestic moorings and drifted willy-nilly into the temple framework would be to miss the point entirely.  Something rather more important has happened: priests have carefully and deliberately moved sacrifices from the domestic environment to the temple and attracted funding to support these rites in the new location.  This has happened because priests were directing the offerings towards certain deities….’—ibid. pp. 110-111

[for more on bali, caru and sattra see notes. 26 below]

8. ‘… one of the main themes of this chapter, namely our attempt to show that a coherent cosmological, religious, and political programme informs the images, inscriptions, and shrines at Udayagiri. As we have noted already, Narayana, Nrsimha, and Varaha can be linked in various ways: through the flow of water and the position of water bodies, through the annual cycle of the seasons and its ritual reenactment, through the passage of cosmic time and the mythic events marking that time. The system of aeons connects Narayana and Varaha in an especially close way: Narayana belongs to the kalpa that has just closed and is forever past, while Varaha presides over the present age. In the annual cycle, too, Narayana and Varaha are intimately linked: Narayana represents Visnu’s formless sleep during the rainy season, while Varaha represents Visnu’s dynamic awakening in the month of Kaarttika. These meanings, and the political metaphors that can be associated with them, are reinforced by the configuration of Udayagiri and the epigraphic texts that were (p. 55) incised on the hill at key places….We cover this ground only to show that the Vaisnava images at Udayagiri have a definable relationship with each other and, more generally, that the theology we now find in the Visnu and Matsya Purana was prevalent in central India when the images were being made.

The foregoing material is enough to show that Narayana is the theological starting point for the iconographic programme at Udayagiri just as Varaha is its end-point and culmination….’—pp.55- 56

9. Thus the importance of selecting Udayagiri by Guptas is pointed by Willis:

‘… In the pages that follow, my aim is to describe the legal, religious, and political workings of this dispensation and to elucidate the role that Udayagiri played, as an imperial centre, in its constitution.’—p. 81 and…

‘The special relationship of the king to these gods affirmed the king’s power to divide the earth, sanctioned the creation of landed estates, and advanced the social order that supported divine service. This is how Udayagiri can be fittingly called a sacred landscape—a place that sustains and authenticates cosmology and religious belief far beyond oral or textual traditions, beyond even the individual icons of the gods and goddesses that are carved into the rocks at the site…More historically, Udayagiri is a place were the rising power of theism was harmonized with ancient systems of ritual and knowledge, a place where the gods were established and made ready to dominate the religious landscape of later India. In every way, then, Udayagiri is the starting point for all that is fundamental to the temple culture, social dispensation, and political constitution of the medieval world.’ p. 166

10. See Section 1.6 for all the details about this ritual.

11. However, Willis is honest in saying that ‘some suggestions about the festival cycle at Udayagiri and the place of the Gupta kings in it…is [on] speculative ground…but worth entering because it has the potential to explain how a number of features at Udayagiri functioned in the early fifth century.’—p. 74

12. ‘…the copper-plates are important sign-posts on the route to mature Hinduism and its temple practices.  Yet they are even more: if the temple as a (p.119) socio-political institution is the palladium of mature Hinduism, then the copper-plates announce the birth of medieval India.

Another feature of the copper-plates that anticipates the beginning of the medieval world is the public nature of their contents and the publicly visible results the grants were intended to produce.’ (pp. 119-20).

13.  For example, ‘Before turning to the historical implications of priests in government, we need to examine the sources that appear to contradict our suggestion that the Gupts were brahmanas.’ (p.201)  And Willis will discuss about the caste issues of Guptas as Brahmans in section 3.4. pp. 198-206 all the important points on this subject.  And while discussing this topic, he will take another sub-point about the date of Manavadharmasastra in pp.204-05.  All these, though are very important for the entire thesis of this book, discussing one point and taking a sub-point within it will demand our extra attention all through this book.

14. (1). The Arthasastra calls on the prospective purohita to come from an exalted family and have a good reputation…(p.170)…(2) to be trained in the Veda and its supplements; (3) to be versed in divine portents, omens, and the administration of justice and (4) to be capable of counter-acting divine and human calamities using the special techniques of the Atharvaveda. (pp. 170-71)

‘…To put the four qualities of the purohita in general perspective, then, the Arthasastra can be said to present the theoretical; the Niitisaara, practical….(p. 171)

‘The information given in the preceding pages about the purohita is far from encyclopedic, but it is enough to show that this priest moved in two very different worlds….[he] mediated between the tightly circumscribed world of orthodoxy and the dangerous but necessary power of everything that lay outside the varna-system. And while the purohita’s work involved ways and things deemed impure by the orthodox world, his motivation was, ironically, the well-being, (p.180) betterment, and expansion of that world. As the Arthasaastra declares in the opening verse of Book 14: “For the sake of protecting the four varna-s, he should use secret practices against the unrighteous.” To put the matter in socio-political terms, the activities of the purohita were part of the strategies formulated by the king and his circle to extend their power and influence, expand the compass of dharmic acts, and shape the destiny of their subjects….(pp. 180-81)

[Quote is from R. P. Kangle, The Kautiliya Arthasastra. 3 Parts.  Bombay, 1960-65. (14:1:1)]

‘But before taking up these points we need to complete our review of the glosses put forward for[asvamedha was regarded as incomplete] utsanna.’ (p.185)

[It took more than three pages for this.  But Willis says further on the epigraphic statements are important.  See the following point.]

‘…The crux of the mater may be summarized as follows: because Gputa inscriptions say that Samudragupta restored the horse-sacrifice, yet because other inscriptions show the horse-sacrifice was performed repeatedly in the run up to Gupta hegemony, we are obliged either to reject the epigraphic statements as “exaggerated bombast” or invent a new meaning for the word utsana.  Because historians are fearful of rejecting inscriptional statements—they provide our only historical data—and because the Guptas represent a paradigmatic high-point in Indian art and culture, it becomes an urgent matter to invent a new meaning for the word utsana as this is the only way to defend the integrity of the sources and high status of the Guptas.  There is a simple and obvious exit from this conundrum: inscriptions are not to be read as statements of empirical fact but rather as political rhetoric.

‘This is not an innovative suggestion.  Most historians have accepted this dimension of the epigraphic sources and have accepted additionally that it was only our Victorian predecessors who were obsessed with extracting “the facts” from the sources that might then “speak for themselves.”’…. — (p. 185)

15. ‘The naming of Vaisnava temple-gods after specific individuals brings us to the relationship between Visnu and his worshippers through the medium of (p. 139) images…Because the temple is the pre-eminent place for contact between man and god, the builder of a temple, he who makes this contact possible, will be the first to profit. He is the yajamaana—the terminology is deliberately archaic….’ (pp. 139-40)

16. ‘The Mimamsakas took exception to this not because land-grants were necessarily a bad thing—Vedic pundits were frequent beneficiaries—but because the conceptual framework was inherently flawed…..The Vedas say svargakaamo yajeta, “he who desires heaven should sacrifice”; the Vedas do not say that “he who desires heaven should make grants of land.”  So the propositions in the charters are entirely bogus.’ (p. 212)

17. ‘…The amount of attention Sabara gives to these issues is indicative of the ways in which the new cults were seen by him as eroding the centrality of Vedic worship. For Sabara this was anathema… (p. 208)

Sabara deals with the gods in a detailed manner, attacking their alleged corporeality, their supposed consumption of offerings, and their apparent ownership of wealth.  Here I will deal with these issues point by point, rephrasing the relevant arguments in a modern style for the sake of historical clarity.  It should be noted at the outset that Sabara does not target temples and temple-gods in a direct fashion.  His main preoccupation appears to have been with the Vedic schools that had begun to incorporate image-worship into their ritual repertoire…Our view is that Sabara sought to correct what he understood to be misconceptions within the Vedic fold; once these were addressed the larger problems connected with image worship would be resolved by default.’ (pp. 208-09)

18. ‘… there were real tensions between sacerdotal groups [Vedic vs. Agamic] is perfectly evident from the Sabarabhaasya. We also find hints elsewhere, for example in the Maanavadhaarmasaastra, which does not countenance temple service (devalaka) as a suitable livelihood for brahmanas—by which Manu means proper Vedic brahmanas.  Medhaatithi, the ninth-century commentator, understood the term devalaka to mean pratimaaparicaarakaah, those who attend on images.227  Then there is Krsna’s celebrated critique of the “flowery words” of the Veda in Bhagavad Gita (2:42-43).  The energy of Krsna’s attack leaves little doubt that the traditionalists were intransigent and hidebound in the extreme…That Vedic brahmanas were effective in defending these life-ways is evident from the copper-plate charters that were issued in their favour well into the medieval period.  In contrast, the new world of the temple reveals, as Jan Gonda has so succinctly said, “a religious life considerably different from that recommended in the Veda.”…Enriched by endowments and supported by the state, the temple advanced a pan-Indian programme of image-worship and innovative institutions like the Sattra, the operation of which involved social engineering and new forms of production and exchange.’— (p. 217)

[First Quote is from Medhaatithi ad Manavadharmasastra (3:152). I couldn’t find any reference for this in bibliography. But there is one: Maanavadharmasastra with the commentaries of Medhaatithi and others, ed. Vishvanaath Narayan Mandlik.  But I could not find the publisher information and year for this in Bibliography.  This reference on Mandlik is found in notes. 239. p. 330

Second Quote is from Jan Gonda, Visnuism and Sivaism: A Comparison. London, 1970. 75.—p. 329]

19. ‘…Temple priests are comparatively a later institution and they were generally looked down upon in olden times and are regarded as inferior even in modern times. Manu [III.152] says that a devalaka i.e. a braahmana who took [p.109] remuneration to perform service before the image in temple for three years continuously was unfit to be invited at a sraaddha or to officiate in a sacrifice for gods.’—P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, Vol.II. Part.I. Ch.III. Teaching the Vedas. pp. 109-110. and also see Vol. IV. Ch.IX. Sraaddha pp.392-94. for the long list of the braahmana who should not be invited in a Sraaddha.

20. ‘…Sabara is concerned with the nature of deities only to the extent that they play a part in ritual performance….Sabara notes that it is the act of sacrifice and not the deity that accomplishes the desired result. The gods and the substances to be offered are accomplished entities and produce nothing; it is only when they are brought together by a sacrificial act that there is some kind of result. From this Sabara concludes that the gods are subordinate. Like the substances that are going to be offered, the gods are mentioned only for the purpose of achieving heaven or some other end.  So contrary to popular belief, the worshipped entity is not the principal factor. Rather, the worshipping of the worshipped entity is the principal factor: na lokavad iha bhavitavyam, iha puujamaanapuujaa pradhaanam.’—ibid. p. 210

[Quotes are from Ganganaatha Jha, Shabara-Bhaasya. 3 vols. Baroda, 1933-36. 3:1432.—p.328, and Mahescandra Nyaayaratna, ed. Sabara ad Jaimini, Mimamsasutra.  With the commentary of Sabarasvaamin. 2 vols. Calcutta, 1863-89. 2: 141; Jha, ibid. ShabaraBhaasya, 3: 1433.—p. 328]

21. Notes. No. 201. Ganganaatha Jha, Shabara-Bhaasya. 3 vols. Baroda, 1933-36. 3:1434.—p.328

22. Notes. No. 202. ibid. 3: 1434.

23.. ‘… But a king, however influential, and a priest, however charismatic, and a merchant, however rich, were not enough to guarantee the longevity of a temple.  The vibrancy of a cult in the longer term—its hold over the hearts of devotees and its grip on the resources from granted lands—rested on succeeding generations acceding to the authority of the god and the priests who managed that god’s religious service.  How this was achieved is a crucial historical and religious question.

The favoured mechanism for guaranteeing the life of a temple and its cult was to make appeals to an authority that transcended the particular circumstances of the ruler, temple priest, and economic patron, to make appeals, in short, to the authority of the Veda…because the Veda is deemed timeless, eternal, and perennially valid, anything that depends on the Veda or is derived from the Veda, is necessarily timeless, eternal, and perennially valid.  Strategies of validation thus involved showing that particular undertakings were essentially (p. 150) “Vedic”—especially undertakings that might be called into question because they appeared to depart from the Veda…puja-offerings were understood in terms of the Veda and referred to Vedic tradition: the use of Vedic forms—bali, caru, and sattra—demonstrated that this type of worship was faithful to received tradition.  Similarly, the use of Vedic invocations to accompany the offering of flowers, incense, and lamps—as we find in Visnusmrti 65: 3-14—showed that these offerings “unpacked” meanings inherent in the mantra-texts.  Land-grants were, by a circuitious route, subject to the same hermeneutic….’— pp. 150-51

24. Notes. No.300. V. V. Mirashi, Inscriptions of the Vaakaatakas, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. 5. Ootacamund, 1963.—ibid. p. 335

25. Notes. No. 301. Maaliaa copper-plate of Dharasena II, J. F. Fleet, Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and Their Successors, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. 3 (Calcutta, 1888): 165 (lines 9-10)…..—p. 335

26. On bali: ‘But what, exactly, is the meaning of bali, caru, and satra?  Here I am not proposing to study the long and sometimes contested history of these words…The material collected by Jan Gonda in his annotated digest Vedic Ritual shows that a bali was used to please or appease various deities in a number of different settings…Early sources, both textual and epigraphic indicate that bali meant the tribute paid to a king, a meaning confirmed by later lexicographers who understood bali and bhaaga as synonyms. Although this may seem confusing, the basic idea is that bali is a portion of food that is presented to whomsoever it (p.102) is due, be it a king, a god, or some other deserving creature. This is how Manu came to define bali as bhuutayajna, the “sacrifice made to beings of all kinds.”…Manu also classed bali as prahuta, an offering that is meant to be scattered or cast away…to appease or propitiate the gods, and to ask them to deter or control malevolent agencies, especially evil spirits….’ (pp. 102-03)

[First quote is Jan Gonda. Vedic Literature.  A History of Indian Literature, vol. 1. fasc. 1. Wiesbaden, 1975.—p. 287

Second quote is D. C. Sircar, Studies in the Political and Administrative Systems of Ancient and Medieval India, Delhi, 1974. 6; Indian Epigrapical Glossary, s.v., bhaaga, meaning  a “share,” refers to the king’s share of the crops, which are payable by his tenants.  U. N. Ghoshal, Contributions to the History of the Hindu Revenue System (Calcutta, 1972): 393. I could not find the publisher ref. for Indian Epigraphical Glossary but Indian Epigraphy. Delhi, 1965 is there—db]—p. 287

Third Quote is Patrick Olivelle, Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra. Oxford, 2005. (3: 74)—p. 287

On Satra: ‘… In the old ritual literature, sattra referred to a long sacrificial session, normally one performed by priests for their own benefit and thus without a yajamaana’. (p. 104)

[Quote is from Jan Gonda. Vedic Literature.  A History of Indian Literature, vol. 1. fasc. 1. Wiesbaden, 1975. p. 115; P. V. Kane, History of Dharmasastra, 5 Vols. Poona, 1930-62.  2: 1133—p. 288]

‘… This conclusively shows that if a sattra was a long sacrificial session undertaken for the benefit of the officiants, and if eating and charitable hospitality were equal to sacrificing, then any long-term arrangement that allowed brahmanas to provide food and clothing to need brahmanas, wandering mendicants, and the destitute could be deemed a sattra’. (p. 108)

On Caru: ‘…caru… is described in textual sources as a thick porridge prepared from un-pounded rice or barley grains, cooked in water with butter or milk…In the epigraphic lists, however, the word caru was used to describe a ritual rather than a substance, just as bali is actually short for baliharana, the offering of bali.  Manu clarifies the fact that bali refers to a ritual process by saying that it is also bhuutayajna. But what sort of yajna lies behind caru?  The problem is that caru, as a ritual rather than a substance, is peculiar to epigraphic usage, at least as far as I have been able to determine….caru ca only be homa/devayajna.

‘The conclusion that caru referred to a homa or burnt offering is confirmed by textual sources….when all the evidence is taken into account, the indication is that the caru was offered as a homa. This means that the temple-gods mentioned in our copper-plate charters were offered cooked porridge as a burnt offering.  Although Vedic in origin, the homa has (p.108) been retained in nearly all extended puja ceremonies, and homa-s are still actively performed in south India with the particulars preserved in ritual manuals.’ (pp. 108-09)

27. Notes. No. 302. J. F. Fleet, Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and Their Successors, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. 3 (Calcutta, 1888): 44 (line 8).—p. 335

28. ‘… because there are no fourth-or fifth-century Vaisnava ritual texts in the north, the Vaikhaanasa school provides the best evidence by analogy.  The usefulness of Vaikhaanasa literature is reinforced by the school’s persistent effort to create a religious system that combined Vedism and the worship of Visnu Narayana.  This synthesis was developed theologically and ritually.  The Vaikhaanasa are indeed convinced that their form of image-worship is nothing but a continuation of the Vedic sacrifice…The school does not reject fire offerings and other forms of Vedic ritual that are “shapeless” or “imageless” (amuurtaa).  Rather they combine the two, making the worship of Visnu-in-an-image obligatory  at the close of every domestic fire rite…in the offering of bali to Narayana…the Vaikhaanasasuutra prescribes that the priest should recite the well-known verse, “I shall proclaim the might deeds of Visnu,” that is Rgveda 1:154:1, the famous Visnu suukta. This effectively fused the Purusa of the old Vedic hymns with Visnu Narayana as a consecrated image.’ (p. 118)

[Quote is from W. Caland, ed. Calcutta, 1927. Vaikhaanasasmaartasuutra (10: 10) and similarly the Visnubali (3: 13), which is also centred on an image.—p. 295]

‘… The flowers, incense, lights, garments, food, and drink offered to this god are accompanied by mantra-s drawn mainly from the Kaathakasamhitaa.  This use of ancient mantra-s is meant to show that puja-offerings are not a religious innovation but actually inherent in the Veda—despite every appearance to the contrary.  To confirm that this was the case, the officiant was instructed to mutter the Purusasuukta at the close of the performance (VSm 65:15).  So the Kaathakas—like their Vaikhaanasas contemporaries—were fusing the Vedic Purusa with Visnu in a consecrated idol….’(p. 119)

29. ‘The wording of the Udayagiri inscription shows that Candragupta II and his chief minister Viirasena…understood the necessity of engaging with the Mimamsakas in a public forum. (p.216)…Epigraphic “readers” would have included a wide range of people, some of whom may have been unable to read but who would have been told the import of what was written. A public understanding that the king had indeed paid the necessary price and met all the requirements allowed the Guptas and their subordinates to develop the hinterland through the system of temple-building and brahmanaical colonization…The Guptas were obliged to pursue this course to increase their networks of power and revenue collection and so face down competing kings who might follow similar programmes of development.

‘To achieve this complex end, the Guptas had to mediate between different factions in the priesthood, specifically between traditional Vedic ritualists—who legitimated their kingship—and priests in newly established temples—who insinuated royal power into the hinterland and advanced social and economic change….’ (pp.216-17)

30. See for this Matsya Purana 248:64-78.

31. Aitreyabrahmana, 39:7

32. Notes. No. 226. J. F. Fleet, Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and Their Successors, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. 3 (Calcutta, 1888): 35 (line 2).

33. ‘… Candragupta and his circle had rather large ambitions: through a massive reworking of the site, they sought to transform Udayagiri from an aniconic observatory into an astro-political node where the royal path of the Gupta king intersected the ecliptics of the sun and moon.  The purpose was to magnify Candragupta’s greatness as he embarked on a campaign of universal conquest. The final goal in this grand scheme was the establishment of Candragupta as a paramount sovereign in the Vaishnava mould. This was achieved in several ways: by the performance of royal rites, notably the raajasuuya, which combined the forces of the sun and moon in the king’s person, by situating the king in a place where the movement of these celestial bodies was charted and thus captured, and by a suite of Vaisnava images that developed astronomical and cosmological themes. The culmination and centerpiece of this project—at once ritual, geographical, and visual—was the colossal figure of Varaha cut into the side of the mountains just a few metres from Virasena’s cave.’ (p. 41)

34. ‘…Modern apologists, embarrassed by idol-worship, have sought to explain the establishment process as a symbolic undertaking, something that ennobled the worshipper so he or she could realize the presence of divine power through the instrument of an image.  But this was not the ancient understanding. In Gupta times, the term pratisthaa meant “to place a definite power in an object, to endow an object with faculties, etc.”—at least for those who did not subscribe to the Mimamsa school of thoughts…took considerable exception to images and their worship.  Beyond their ambit, the pratishthaa-process made the idol a living entity—a real being entitled to receive offerings and legitimately hold the property assigned to it by its patrons.’(p.143)

35. ‘…the Sangam Age, the oldest body of works now known in the Tamil language.  That literature was the result of the meting and fusion of (p.330) two originally separate cultures, the Tamil and the Aryan.  Its beginnings are no longer traceable, and the schematic anthologies that have been handed down doubtless represent a relatively late phase in the epochal literary movement, and to this phase we have suggested the period A.D. 100-300….’— K. A. Nilakanta Sastri. A History of South India, From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar. With a new introduction by R. Champakalakshmi. Oxford India Paperbacks (1955), 26th impression, 2007. pp. 330-31

36.  ‘The veneration of Visnu Narayana in an image is central to the daily cycle of Vaikhaanasa observance…..’—p. 118

37. ‘The Vaikhaanasa ….school is confined to south India and, more particularly, by the fact that the Vaikhaanasasmaartasuutra shows Dravidian influences in it Sanskrit.  This proves that by the time of the sutra—about the fourth century CE—the custodians of this tradition had long resided in Andhra and Tamil Nadu…..’—p. 226

38.  For example, ‘… In a recent volumes, Sheldon Pollock has captured the general disillusionment of academics with legitimation theory and rejected the notion that royal inscriptions and Sanskrit literature were written to legitimate royal power.5  Nonetheless, Pollock is prepared to admit that poetry (kaavya) and power (raajya) were mutually constitutive, even if the relationship presents “interpretive challenges”.6  What Pollock advocates is that the autonomous aesthetics becomes, in this view, the study of power, even if a simple causal relationship did not exist between the two.’ (p. 4)

[First Quote is from Sheldon Pollock, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India (Berkeley, 2006): 18 and 511-24.

Second quote is Ibid. 9.]

39.  A. M. Shah, The Structure of Indian Society; then and now. New Delhi, Routledge, 2010. p. 120

A Good Speaker

On November of 2013, during the morning Sun TV program, my favourite speaker, Sri Suki Sivam, talked on the subject of who is a good speaker. ‘Merely babbling something or making sound is not the mark of the good speaker. He should know the pulse of the society and tell the truth to the people why and where we went wrong’, he said.

In order to ‘communicate’ his view, he quoted two important thoughts of the famous Tamil writer Azhagiri. One is from Kambaramayana. Kammban used the same tune (sandam) to describe the walk of both Sita and Surpanaka. What is the difference between them? While Sita naturally walked beautifully, Surpanaka tried to walk beautifully (to seduce Rama).

Another thought of Azhagiri is about children. While a child loves us naturally, we pretend or act with them as if we love them. Children don’t act unnaturally, whereas we do it all the time.

Then Sivam said that he learnt a good point from this thought; he too should not pretend with children but should treat them as a fellow human. To further illustrate his point, he quoted one incident from a Zen Master. When that Zen master was playing hide-and-seek with some children, he hid in some hay. Since the children could not find him even late into the evening, they all went back to their homes. But the Zen master continued to remain inside the hay. The next day, when the owner of the hay came to feed to his cattle, he saw the Zen master. The Zen master told him not make any sound since the children were looking for him outside.

According to Sivam, that Zen master did not act or pretend to be a child, but really behaved like a child with the children. ‘This is the true mark of a jnani (wise man). Thayumanavar also said that a true wise man will become like a child’.

My question is: can we actually treat a child as an equal to us? For example when we feed a child, according to Sivam, we use certain words imitating the child’s words. But for me this is not acting, or pretending, or not showing our love to the child. This is what is called “the art of communication.” We should become ‘childlike’ to communicate with a child.

If a child refuses to eat, then can we rebuke him as we do with a grown-up child? Above all, when we temporarily act or pretend like a child, not only does the child enjoy it, but we and other members of the family enjoy it too. We should rather treat a child as a child and never as our equal to our respective stage.

When a grown-up person actually acts or pretends using words or mannerisms with a child, she can do that because of her love the child. If she does the same with grown-up, they will think something is wrong with that person, but not the child. This is a universal phenomenon with all grown-up people in the whole world, particularly parents.

Coming back to the Zen master, if I were in his place, I would never have remained inside the hay while disappointing the children because they couldn’t find me. I did this one time at Varanasi when I was staying with one family. I was playing the same hide-and-seek game with two children. They kept a mattress on an easy chair, and I hid inside the mattress.

The children searched the whole house. The house was locked inside, so they know that there was no chance for me to go outside and the terms and conditions of the game were that we should hide somewhere inside the house. As they failed to found me, they sought the help of their father. He too joined, and to his amazement they could not found me.

At that point, the children started to get disappointed. Since I didn’t want that, I gave them a small hint where I was hiding. Then one child saw that, and he ran and found me. After that, there was a lot of joy and shouting as they finally won the game after searching the whole house in which their father had also failed.

Similarly, if the Zen master was serious about becoming or behaving like a child, he shouldn’t have disappointed the children but helped them find him. This is not cheating, or acting, or teaching the children something wrong. When we play with children, the aim is to make them happy and they should win. At that time, the ethics of the game given by grown-ups won’t work there.

A wise grown-up person will always see that the child wins the game even by pretending that she is losing it. For this, she will give some concession. When the child finally wins, she will run and tell her father she has defeated her mother with a beaming smile and lots of laughter. By giving such a concession, a mother is not teaching the child something wrong by not following the rules of the game strictly. When we play with a child the only rule in that game is that the child should win.

Suki Sivam is one of my favourite speakers in Tamil. Though I agree with him that a good speaker should know the pulse of the people and time and tell the truth, a speaker should not pretend that she is a different one just for the sake of saying something different.

Db. 23-11-2013