J. Estlin (Joseph Estlin) Carpenter.

Theism in medieval India; lectures delivered in Essex hall, London October-December, 1919 online

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or demon), man or ape, let each one worship Rama, who is Hari
in human form."^ In the demand for human revealers in
whom God might share the life of man, Rama and Krishna are
again and again presented as the two chief objects of the
Bhakti-cult, which in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries
gained new and impassioned expi-ession in Northern India.*
How had Rama acquired so eminent a position that he could
ultimately become the sole Deity for ninety millions of people ?


Rama was the eldest son of King Da9aratha, sovereign of
Kosala, whose capital Ayodhya (the modern Oude) was still one
of the lai-gest cities of India in the reign of Akbar in the
sixteenth century. The story of his marriage with the lovely
princess Slta, the daughter of the king of the Videhas, Janaka
of Mithila, of his banishment from his father's court through an
intrigue of the second of the old king's three queens, of Sltil's
devoted companionship amid the hardships of the forest life, of
her abduction by the demon Ravana, of the defeat of her
captor and his wicked horde with the help of Hanumat the

1 iii. 25, 32ff. 2 ij 4^ 15, ?. ^ 19^ g.

* On the Bhakta-Mdld of Nabha-dasa (about IGOO) see the important
articles of Sir Q. A. Grierson in the JRAS, 1909 and 1910.


monkey-chief and his faithful host of monkeys and bears, of the
rescue of Sita and the restoration of the reunited pair to
sovereignty and earthly happiness — these are the themes of
Valmiki's poem, the Rdmdyana.

Hardly a quarter of the Great Epic in length,^ it is distin-
guished by greater unity of theme and design. It has of
course its numerous irrelevancies, its myths and legends, its
moral and religious discourses, after the manner of the Maha-
bharata. Like the story of the Five Brothers, it has undergone
expansion and interpolation by later poets. Not only are the
first and last of its seven books universally recognised as
additions in the Vaishnava interest, but other passages in the
main narrative in ii.-vi. are palpable insertions, betrayed by
incongruities of style and detail. The literary process through
which the poem assumed its present form does not concern us.
It is generally accepted as the forerunner of the later art-poetry,
emerging out of an earlier and simpler style of ballad narrative.
So freely might it be handled, as travelling reciters found
different episodes awaken the interest of different audiences,
that it exists at the present time in three separate recensions,
belonging to Bengal, Bombay, and West India. In each of
these texts about a third of the verses do not appear in the
other two.^ Whatever was its original scale, there seems no
reason to question its composition by a poet named Valmiki.
From what sources he drew his tale can no longer be determined.
Ayodhya lay 350 miles south-east of Hastinapura, the capital
of the Kurus ; ^ the Aryan immigration had advanced much
further along the Ganges valley ; some of the antique traits of
the Great Epic (such as the marriage of DraupadI to the Five
Brothers) have no parallel in the Kamayana, which nowhere
alludes to the incidents of the great strife. The poem may
therefore have sprung out of a later historical situation. But

1 It comprises about 24,000 verses, compared witli 100,000 in the
Mahabliarata. For what follows, cp. "Winternitz, Gesch. der Ind. Lit., i.
p. 404 ff., and Macdonell, " Ramuyana," in Hastings' EEE, x. p. 574.

2 "Winternitz conjectures that only about 6000 verses are original, op. cit.,
p. 426.

3 The modern city known as Ajudhia stands on the right bank of the
river Gogra, in the Fyz:ibad district of the United Provinces. Cp, Imp.
Gaz. V. p. 175.

RAMA 425

on the other hand there is little doubt that it was completed
before the last additions were made to the Mahabharata, whose
poets seem acquainted with some of its latest details. Its
composition, therefore, probably falls within the limits of the
larger work. On metrical grounds Oldenberg places it after
the poetry of the early Pali literature of Buddhism, and
Professors Winternitz and Macdonell appear practically agreed
in assigning it to the centuries between 350 b.c. and a.d. 200.

The theological significance of the poem lies in the presenta-
tion of Rama as an incarnation of Vishnu. He is at first a
local prince, the hero of his own people. In the warfare with
Ravana he becomes an impersonation of Indian humanity
against the demonic powers. These are only finally defeated
when Indra lends Rama his chariot, armour, and weapons, and,
after fighting unceasingly for seven days and nights, Rama
discharges at his adversary an arrow made by Brahma out of
wind and fire, sun and sky. The demon falls to the ground
and expires ; his stricken spouse Mandodari recognises the
tremendous truth ; and the Devas chant the praises of Rama
who had thus saved them from destruction. Rama is no other
than the Great Yogin, the Supreme Soul, the Eternal, without
beginning, middle, or end, the Most High, whose conch, discus,
and club identify him with Vishnu.^ Here the banished prince
is presented in a yet higher light. He is one of the " Descents "
of the Preserver of the universe.

The story is told in the first book. The king's three queens
had borne him no son, and solemn rites were celebrated to
secure one. The ancient gods who had received their offerings
tlaen went to Brahma with Indra at their head, and complained
of their oppression by the demon Ravana. Brahma in turn led
them to Vishnu, who promised himself to come to their aid by
dividing himself into four parts and taking birth as the four
sons of Da9aratha.- The divine essence is conveyed in a
mysterious drink,'^ so that Rama, born of the first Queen with
the wondrous marks of Vishnu, possesses half of it ; Bharata,
son of the second Queen, a quarter ; while the fourth portion is

• vi. Ill, 112 f. (ed. Bombay, 1888). ^ i_ i5_

' For conception through a potion or drug, cp. Hartland, Legend of
Perseus (1894), i. p. 83.


divided to produce the two sons of the third.^ But when the
Devas praise the conqueror of Ravana as Vishnu, it is the whole
Godhead whom they laud. And when at the close of the seventh
book, his reign on earth being ended, he ascends to heaven in
his Vishnu-form, he is welcomed by the Grandsire Brahma and
the heavenly powers as " the Refuge of the world, surpassing
thought, the Great Being who decays not, nor grows old."' ^

The poets of the Mahabharata know Rama in this exalted
character.^ The Vishnu Purana refers (iv. 4) to the fourfold
appearance of Vishnu in Rama and his brothers ; and about the
same time the epic poet Kalidasa tells once again the story of
Vishnu's promise to be born as a son of Da^aratha for the de-
struction of the demon Ravana.* But no cultus seems to have
then gathered round his name. For many centuries the figure
of Rama stood out in Epic grandeur before Indian imagination
as the loyal son, obedient to the promise extorted from his aged
father by the ambition of an unscrupulous and designing queen ;
as the model of morality, the conqueror of the demons, and the
righteous ruler of his realm — but he did not, like Krishna, draw
believers to his feet. Devotion to him is first illustrated in the
traditions of Raman uj a in the twelfth ceutury.^ The devout
Madhva in the thirteenth century sent two of his disciples all the
way from LTdipi up to Purl in Orissa to fetch what wei-e supposed
to be the original images of Riima and Sita.*'' How old they were,
how they were placed in the temple of Jagannatha, or on what
grounds they were entrusted to ISIadhva's messengers, we are not
told. But the worship of Rama was slowly establishing itself,^

1 i. 18. - vii. 110, 10 f.

^ Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 212, quoting Mhh., iii. 151, 7.

* Eaghuvamsa, x., quoted by Macdouell, "Ramaism," in Hastings' ERE,
X. p. 567.

"> " In Rfima the Supreme Being becomes manifest," SBE, xhiii. p. 525.
The philosopher's name shows that Rama was at last becoming more promi-
nent. The Rftmayana was translated into Tamil in the twelfth century, and
was thus known in Southern India. In 1197 a Buddhist prince named
Ramadeva rebuilt a shrine which had been burnt at Arigom, fifteen miles
S.W. of Crinagar, in Kashmir. Epigr. Bid., ix. p. 300.

c Cp. a7ite, p. 408.

" Cp. the invocation of Rama with the moon in an inscription of 1225 in
a temple on an island in the Nerbudda river, Central Provinces, Epigr. Ind.,
ix. p. 113.

RAMA 427

and before the end of the thirteenth century a festival of his
birth was described by Hemadrl.^ The first ti-anslation of
the Ramayana into Bengali was made by Krittivilsa (boiii
in 1346), who began his studies in Sanskrit, grammar, and
poetry in a school on the banks of the river Padma in his
eleventh year.^ In the Adhyatma-Ramdyana before the six-
teenth century the story is re-told with the utmost elevation
of Rama's divine character. When the Devas uttered their
praises on the death of Ravana, they beheld with astonishment
a small flame issue from his mouth and enter Rama's foot.
It was the demon's soul, saved from his sins and united with
God, because, as Nflrada explains, he had listened piously to the
tale of Rama's wondrous works, and though outwardly at
enmity had ever worshipped him in his heart and remembered
his name."^ So Rfima could be incorporated into the philosophy
of the Vedanta ; his nature was Knowledge ; the medieval
formula Sachchiddnanda, " Being, Intelligence, and Bliss,"
identified him with the Infinite and Absolute.* Sita, type of
the faithful wife, steadfast and pure under every trial, becomes
in her turn the incarnation of Vishnu's consort LakshmT, and
the moving picture of the princely pair enduring unmerited
hardship with patience and courage now exhibits the divine
compassion with which Deity takes his share in the suffering
and sorrow of the world. Read in this light, it is hardly
surprising that the Ramayana should be credited with a pro-
founder influence on the life of a people than any other work
of secular origin in the whole literature of the world. ^

The spread of Rama -worship was largely promoted by a

1 Macdonell, ERE, x. p. 567. In 1387 Vinlpaksha, son of Harihara II.,
weighed himself against gold in the presence of the god Rfimanatha at
RruneQvaiam (Tanjore distict), Ejoigr. Ind., viii. p. 305.

^ Sen, Bengali Lang, and Lit., p. 170, who states that this translation is
still the most popular book in Bengal, where nearly 100,000 copies are sold
annually. " It is, in fact, the Bible of the people of the Gangetic valley."
On the Rfimayana of Tulsl Dfisa, see Lect. VIII., p. 507 tt'.

3 J. Talboys Wheeler, History of India, vol. ii. (1869), p. 375. Cp. the
trans], by Baij Nath, Allahabad, 191.3, xi. 78 flf., p. 167.

* Inscription at Vijayanagara, 1515, where Vishnu is invoked as Boar
and Rama, Epigr. Ind., vi. pp. 109, 127.

^ Macdonell, ERE, x. p. 574 ; similarly, Winternitz, oj). cit., i. p. 405.


follower of Ramanuja's teaching, who took the name of
Ramananda. Born (according to one tradition^) in 1299 at
Prayaga (Allahabad) in a Brahman family, he showed such
aptitude for learning that he was sent at twelve years old to the
great seat of philosophical study at Benares. There he attached
himself first of all to the Advaita school of ^'ankara, but eventu-
ally became a disciple of the " Qualified Advaita " under the
instructions of Raghavananda, who initiated him into the fellow-
ship of the (5,'rl Vaishnavas. In due time he went on pilgrimage
through India, and his experience among men of different
castes may have led to the wider outlook which prompted his
subsequent movement. The discipline of Ramanuja confined
the function of teaching to Brahmans, and further imposed on
the followers of his rule the duty of cooking and eating their
food in private, so as to avoid all danger of caste-pollution.
Tradition told that after Ramananda's return to Benares the
members of the religious house objected that in the vicissitudes
of travel this practice must have been violated, and they
required him to purify himself by penance. Refusing to submit
to this demand, Ramananda quitted the order, and began to
gather followers of his own.

All worshippers of Vishnu-Rama, he proclaimed, of whatever
occupation or tribe, animated by true devotion, might share
their meals and eat together. It was a bold departure. He
threw down the walls of caste-division, and called his followers
the avadhutas or " emancipated," who had rid themselves of the
bands of ancient prejudice. This admission of degraded classes
to full religious equality involved another step. Ramanuja, like

1 Cp. Bhandarkar, Vaisnavism, p. 66 ; Grierson, ERE, x. p. 569. His
birth-name was Kamadatla, afterwards changed to Eamananda by his
preceptor. Ananda is a very frequent element in the names of bhakfas, a
significant indication of their inward joy. Macauliife, The Sikh Religion,
vi. p. 100, places his birth at Mailkot in South India (Mysore), where
Ramanuja had induced the Brahmans to renounce Civa-worship for
Vishnu, and supposes him to have flourished in the end of the fourteenth
and first half of the fifteenth century. In the JRAS (1900, April), p. 187 ff.,
Dr Farquhar also brings him from the South, but discards the tradition of
his connection with Ramanuja's sect, and supposes him to have belonged to
a school of Rama worshippers, using the Adhydtma Rdmdyana, which he
took with him to the North about 1430.


^ankara, had taught in Sanskrit, and only the Twice-born, to
whom the study of the Veda was permitted, could attain
Deliverance in this life. Ramananda and his little band of
disciples freely preached in the vernacular, and opened the way
to men and women of every race. " Let no man," said he, " ask
a man's caste or sect. Whoever adores God, he is God's own."
This broad sympathy has been ascribed to Christian influence.
But it had been the characteristic of the Buddhist and the
Jain for eighteen hundred years, though not expressed in that
religious form, and in the discussions in which Ramananda
engaged with them this view was common to them both. He
left nothing in writing, but hymns attributed to him are still
sung among the peasants.^ Accompanied by a few followers,
he resumed his travels through North India. The lists of his
apostolate (like those in the Gospels) vary in later authors.^
But what is important is not their number but the variety of
castes which they included. One was a barber, another a
Brahman, a third a despised leather- worker, a fourth a Rajput, a
fifth a woman. Kabir, weaver and poet, if he may be included,-*
was a ^udra brought up by a Mohammedan. Using the dialects
of Hindi, they taught and sang from village to village, and
awakened an enthusiasm destined to spread through all North
and Central India. Tradition prolonged Ramananda's life
through the fourteenth century to 1410. Two hundred years
were yet to pass before the divinity of Rama was to receive
exalted epical expression in the Ramayana of Tulasi Dasa.^

1 Grierson, Modern Vernacular of Hindustan (Calcutta, 1889), \). 7.

3 Grierson, .TEAS {\^01\ p. 319, who thinks tliat Ramananda "drank
afresh at the well of Christian influence," gives twelve ; Bhandarkar,
thirteen. Grierson significantly says, " Note the number."

» Cp. below, Lect. VIII.

* Cp. below, Lect. VIII. Sir G. A. Grierson estimates the present
number of the sect between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000. All Ramanandis are
said to place on their foreheads the distinguishing Vishnu mark, three
upright lines, the centre one red, the other two white ; J. C. Oman, Mystics,
Ascetics, and Saints of India (1905), p. 188. Mr Oman further states that
they have large and wealthy monasteries in Upper India, and names four
subjects or orders, all professing celibacy, but the Bairagis are said often to
violate this rule. Cp. Wilson, Religious Sects, i. p. 185 ; J. N. Bhattacharya,
Hindu Castes ami Sects (Calcutta, 1896), p. 444 f.



Meanwhile the cultus of Krishna was steadily acquiring a
higher religious meaning. There were, indeed, elements in the
story of his vouth which might seem difficult to harmonise with
his divine character. The tale of his sports with the wives of
the cowherds in the woods of Vrindavana was only endurable
when it was read (as the Vishnu Purana hinted) in the light of
the spirit.^ As he began to sing in the moonlight when the
air was perfumed with the fragrance of the water-lily in whose
buds the clustering bees were murmuring, the Gopis one after
another came forth. One called out his name, then shrank
abashed. Another, prompted by love, pressed close to his side.
A third dared not venture, but contented herself with meditating
on Krishna with closed eyes and entire devotion ; all acts of
merit were then effaced by rapture, and all sin was expiated by
sorrow at not beholding him ; while others again, reflecting on
the Most High Brahman as the cause of the world, obtained
final Deliverance. So through the lovely autumn nights they
danced and frolicked, and the illimitable Being, assuming the
character of a 3'outh, pervaded the herdsmen's wives with his
own essence, all diffusive like the wind ; and the way was
opened for the interpretation of sexual love upon the higher
plane of the relation of the soul to God. In the centuries
which followed, as the ethical strength of Buddhism seemed
stricken with decay, Bengal became the seat of a strange
movement issuing from the cults based on the conception of
(^akti, the divine Energy, personified as the wife of Tiva.-
The devotees of the " Left-hand '" ritual of sensuous indulgence
threatened to overthrow the moral fabric of society.^ Out of a
degraded Buddhism of this type came a perverted attempt to
reach Emancipation from continuous birth and death through
the love and worship of young and beautiful women. "'In
sexual love," says Prof. Sen, "there is surely a higher side
which points to love Divine. The Sahajia-cult was based upon
this idea." Its first exponent was Kanu Bhatta, a Buddhist
scholar of the latter part of the tenth century, who used the

1 Vishnu Purana, V. xiii. '^ Cp. atite, p. 278.

3 The Vdmdchdrins. Cp. Sen, Bengali Lang, and Lit., p. 38.


veiiiaciilar Bengali for his love-songs.^ The doctrine passed
into Vaishnava literature, and at the hands of Chandi Das in
the fourteenth century received a far higher spiritual tone.
He demanded of the woman perfect purity, while she must
sacrifice herself entirely to love. The lover, on his part, must
be able to make a frog dance in the mouth of a snake, to bind
an elephant with a cobweb, or suspend the highest peak of
Mount Sumeru by a thread. Under these austere conditions
of self-restraint — which only one in a million (Chandi Das
admitted) could fulfil — he addressed his daily prayers to a
washerwoman named Rami.'- But Rami was not the only
theme of his love-songs, of which before 1403 he had already
composed no fewer than 996.^ A new figure had been brought
into the Krishna story some centuries before. Unknown
among the 16,000 wives of the young god, with Rukhmini and
her seven companions at their head,^ the princess Radha, wife
of Ayan Ghosha, falls in love with the beautiful shepherd
youth. This was the theme of the famous lyrical drama
by the poet Jayadeva in the twelfth century, entitled the
GUagovmda or " the Cowherd in Song." ^ Radha is here,
indeed, no princess, but one of the cowherdesses in the woods of
Vrindavana. To the companion of her solitude as she waits for
Krishna she sobs out her hopes and fears. Here are raptures
and ecstasies, languors and despairs, the anguish of separation
and estrangement, the joy of restoration. She is impatient
under Krishna's neglect; he is penitent for his fall. The
whole is steeped in the soft airs of the forest with its moonlit
glades and solemn shadows. Adorned with every grace of

^ His work lias been recently recovered from Nepal, Sen, p. 38.

2 The results of sucli teaching were, of course, often disastrous. Chaitanya
and his followers (see below) condemned it unsparingly. But for a season
it had a considerable influence, and Sen reckons about thirty authors in
old Bengali literatiire who advocated the Saliajifi principles. Op. cit.,
p. 46.

3 Sen, p. 119.

* Vishnu Purdiia, IV. xv.

° Jayadeva was one of the five jewels of the court of King Lakshmana
Sena, one of the last centres of ancient Sanskrit culture. The Bengal
vilhige of his birth, Kensuli, still holds an annual fair in hie honour in
January, which is said to be attended by 50,000 persons.


language and metre,^ full of sensuous passion, though pitched
at a high level of imagination, the poem became a symbol of
the adventures of the soul with God.'- To this theme Chandl
Das, and his contemporary Vidyapati of Mithila in the days
of the glory of its university, dedicated their songs. They
brought all the resources of art to tell of the dawn of love, of
its messages, of the meetings and partings of lovers, of the
pains of yearning, and the peace of union. The dark blue
complexion attributed to Krishna was the colour of the sky,
itself the emblem of infinity. Vrindavana was no village on
the map beside the Jumna, it was the mind of man, where the
Deity had his abode and deigned to enter into converse with
his worshippers. The sonnets of Vidyapati, more brilliant in
metaphor and more elegant in expression, were recited en-
thusiastically by Chaitanya ; ^ but Prof. Sen designates Chandl
Das as " a far greater apostle of love." So free were some of
his hymns on " union of spirit " from all sectarian tincture, that
they have actually been adopted with slight changes for use in
the services of the Bengal Brahmo Samaj.^

Nimbarka, who had identified Krishna with the Supreme
Brahman, had gone to reside at Vrindavana in the twelfth
century. The popularity of the Bhagavata Purana naturally
increased the influence of the Krishna-cult. But its version
of the forest-scenes did not shrink from the coarsest representa-
tions of his embraces, laughter, and wiles, as the young god,
vehement as a maddened elephant, multiplied himself into as
many Krishnas as there were cowherdesses ! True, some of
them might break the bonds of Karma by concentrated medita-
tion ; others might be sent back to serve their husbands, suckle
their children, and tend their cows, while the husbands felt as
if their wives had been with them all the time. But the poet

1 Compare the metrical cliangea in Sir Edwin Arnold's version, the
Indian Song of Songs.

2 Two of his hymns in the Adi Granth are translated by Macauliffe, in
The Sikh Religion (Oxford, 1909), vol. vi. p. 15 f.

■' Grierson, The Modern Vernacular of Hindustan, p. 10. He adds that
" through him they became the house-poetry of the Lower Provinces." Op.
Krishna Das in Sen, p. 484 ; Sarkar, Ghaitanya^s Pilgrimages and Teachings
(Calcutta 1913), p. 112, including Jayadeva and Chandi Das.

i Sen, p. 134.


is conscious that his deity's conduct is not consistent with a
Descent for the suppression of evil and the propagation of the
true religion, and he invents a threefold apology. Brahma and
Indra do the same ; as those who are free from egoism acquire no
merit by good acts and incur no guilt by evil acts, how much
less can sin be imputed to the Lord of all creation ; and lastly
Krishna joined in the sports only to show grace to his devotees.^
Like the Vishnu Purana, the Bhagavata was silent about Radha.
It was significant that the first Bengali translator, Maladhar
Vasu, had to find a place for her in his version.^

The scenes of Krishna's youth covered the district now
known as Braj, extending along both banks of the Jumna for
some forty-two miles west of Mathura, with an average breadth
of thirty. Ancient devotion had adorned the city with temples
which early attracted the cupidity of the Mohammedan invader.
In the ninth invasion by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1017 it was
captured after a vigorous resistance, and given up to plunder
for twenty days. Five thousand Hindus were carried into
captivity, and orders were issued for the numerous sanctuaries
to be levelled with the ground. Five great images of pure gold
with eyes of rubies and richly jewelled were carried away, with
a hundred camel-loads of smaller statues mostly of silver.
The desolation cannot have been complete, and some pious

Online LibraryJ. Estlin (Joseph Estlin) CarpenterTheism in medieval India; lectures delivered in Essex hall, London October-December, 1919 → online text (page 42 of 55)