Posts Tagged ‘Hinduism’

Tarini, the boat-Devi

June 20, 2008

Pratima Kamat writes about Tarini, a goddess worshiped in Goa, and the shared, syncretic ethos of the region that gave rise to the goddess and her worship:

The worship of Tara and Tarini is found in Orissa’s Ganjam district (which has the famous Tara-Tarini temple), Ghatgaon and Ratnagiri (where the Astamahabhaya Tara is worshipped). These are the patron deities of sailors and merchants. Tara is worshipped by sailors for safety and success at sea along the Orissa coast. The Ratnagiri Tara is believed to save her devotees from eight great fears, one of which is of shipwreck. Yet another fear, jalarnavabhaya, is of drowning in a sinking vessel.

Unlike in Orissa, the ‘boat deities’ of Goa, Tarini and Tar-Vir, are found away from the coast, in the sub-Ghat talukas of Sattari and Sanguem, against the backdrop of the Sahyadri mountains, in the villages of Keri, Bhuipal, Nagvem, Zarme, Sonal, Sanvarde, Bhironda, Dhamshe, Guleli, Shayll-Melauli, Malpann in Sattari; Ganjem in the Ponda; and Barabhumi, Surla and Talldem of Sanguem.

The spots where the sculptures have been found are almost always located along the banks of the Mhadei and its tributaries, lying either inside a temple or, weather-beaten in the open, amidst lush greenery, in the vicinity of a stream, and often in the periphery of the devarai or the sacred grove, and, in one instance, outside the Bondla wildlife sanctuary.

The boat-Devi is most commonly found to possess the attributes of an eight-armed Mahishasuramardini, though a couple of sculptures that contain interesting maritime information are chaturbhuja — with four arms. She is either seated on an asana in a boat, or on the boat itself, or is depicted standing in the boat. Almost all the sculptures exhibit human heads in the boat, with boatmen on either side of it, and in the Nagvem sculpture, the oarsmen are actually shown in the act of rowing the vessel.

Other than the ubiquitous boat, most of these sculptures contain related nautical and marine motifs, such as oars, anchors, mast, sail, pennant, fish and crocodile.

The Tarini and Tar-Vir sculptures of the Mhadei, Ragada and Valvanti river valleys provide valuable clues about ancient trade routes and practices, manufacturing centres, riverine ports, types of watercraft used, boat-building traditions and locations, trading communities and cultural interactions that took place as a consequence of thriving commerce.

The discovery of these sculptures has helped me give visibility to the hitherto-largely-undocumented contribution of the talukas of Sattari, Bicholim, Sanguem and Ponda to the commerce of ancient and early medieval Goa and the Konkan coast. Links may even be established between the east and west coasts of India on the basis of the resemblance of the Goan Tarini to Orissa’s Tara-Tarini. The similarities are not confined to the concept of a saviour-deity and the iconography of a goddess-in-a-boat, but extend to other cultural parallels such as boat festivals, and derivation of place-names.

The Tarini and Tar-Vir not only provide valuable clues about the Western Ghats-Arabian Sea trade, of which Goa (Sattari, in particular) had served as an important conduit, but also about the coming together of folk, Sanskritic, Buddhist and Jain traditions, as locally crafted syncretic saviour-deities for the river traders and boatsmen of the Mhadei.

Influenced by the play of varied cultural elements, the Mhadei river valley serves as the crucible of the syncretic Tarini. The goddess who is depicted as either standing or seated in a boat, is a rarity in Indian art. The commercial worthiness of the Mhadei, the Buddhist and Jain settlements that dotted the trade routes in the sub-Ghat region, the presence of the local Chari community as divine sculptors — all these contributed to the creation of the unique representation of the goddess-in-a-boat.

The Tarini is thus a syncretic vision of the Shakti of the Mhadei river valley, a saviour-goddess epitomizing the “shared faith” that characterized the cosmopolitan Sattari in the early medieval period. This taluka brought within its fold a surprisingly wide range of local, Sanskritic, Buddhist and Jain traditions — yet another reminder of the inclusive civilization that India once was.

A wonderful, and must-read essay!

Dharmanand Kosambi: continued

April 12, 2008

Ram Guha’s piece on Dharmanand Kosambi that I liked to a fortnight ago has become the first of a series; in the latest Sunday magazine edition of the Hindu, Guha writes about the letters exchanged between Gandhi and Kosambi:

After I wrote my last column on the Kosambis, father and son, I decided to check for references to them in that capacious repository of relevant knowledge, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG). The Marxist historian D.D. is not mentioned, but there are as many as 29 entries pertaining to his father, the Buddhist scholar Dharmanand.

One of the letters also contains a curious view of Gandhi that a temple for Buddha is “an advanced type of Hindu temple”:

In 1930 the professor returned to India to participate in the Salt Satyagraha. He went into jail, and after he came out, started work on a temple devoted to the Buddha. It was to be called Naigaum Vihar, and the Mahatma had been asked to help. Gandhi, in turn, wrote to the Maharashtra Congressman B.G. Kher, urging him to oversee the collection and disbursal of the money for the project. Kher answered that he could do the job (of monitoring expenses) until the temple was built, but after that had to excuse himself. For, “how am I to work on a Buddhist Vihar committee?” enquired Kher: “Are they all going to become Buddhists? Where is the need?”

To this Gandhi replied: “There is no question of anyone becoming a Buddhist. The temple is meant to be one dedicated to Buddha as temples are dedicated to Rama, Krishna and the like. There is no proselytising taint about this movement. At the most it is to be a Hindu temple of an advanced type in which a very learned man will be keeper or pujari. That is how I have understood the whole scheme of Prof. Kosambi. You may share this with the Professor, and if he endorsed my position, with Shri Natarajan [presumably another promoter of the temple idea] so that there may be a common understanding about the temple”.

We do not know whether Kosambi agreed with this interpretation of the proposed temple to Buddha — would he have accepted that it merely represented Hinduism “of an advanced type”?

I am wondering if the Natarajan that is being referred to is the A L Natarajan (அ லெ நடராஜன்) who translated Dhammapada into Tamil.

In any case, whatever be the view of Prof. Kosambi, I am sure that Buddha himself, who was very careful to denounce all metaphysical speculations about God, would not have agreed either for the temple or for the interpretation.

Having said that, I know that some Hindu schools do consider Buddha to be a part of Hindu pantheon (and even hold him responsible for some of the present day Hindu practices — Bharathiar, for example, in his introduction to the translation of Bhagavad Gita blames Buddha and Sankaracharya (whom he calls a prachchanna bouddha — a hidden Buddhist) for the strong emphasis on monkhood, while Vivekananda traces some of the Vamachara practices to tantric Buddhism). It is also clear that some of the schools of Buddhism (the Tantric ones at least) both borrowed from and contributed to Hinduism — see David Gordon White’s Tantra in practice, for example.

Finally, Guha promises another piece next fortnight on what the passing away of Prof. Kosambi meant to Gandhi, which, needless to say, I am looking forward to.