Vedic influence on the Sun-worship in the Puranas

by Goswami Mitali | 2018 | 68,171 words

This page relates ‘Semi-Vedic Religious System’ of the study on the Vedic influence of Sun-worship in the Puranas, conducted by Goswami Mitali in 2018. The tradition of observing Agnihotra sacrifice and the Sandhya, etc., is frequently observed among the Hindus. Another important innovation of the Sun-worship in the Puranas is the installation of the images of the Sun in the temples.—This section belongs to the series “General Characteristics of the Puranic Religion and its Link with the Vedic Tradition”.

There arose some other religious movements in ancient India, which were, not fully Vedic or not non-Vedic or anti-Vedic; but they were semi-Vedic. The Bhāgavatism, Vaiṣṇavism and the Śaivism were the prominent semi-Vedic religious systems prevalent in ancient India. The earliest records of these systems were found in the great epic Mahābhārata. As the Mahābhārata is a work exploring the ideas and belief of its author in the Vedas and the rules of castes and āśramas, the influences of the same are also seen in the systems.


The Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva is regarded as the founder of the Bhāgavata religion. The existence of Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva, as a founder of a religious sect was doubted as because the scholars hold Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva as not a human being, but a popular deity, belonging to the solar family or a vegetation deity or a tribal deity. But there is no scope of such doubt as it has been proved by the researches that the Kṛṣṇa Vāsudeva of Mathurā was a human teacher belonging to the republican Kṣatriya clan, known as Sātvatas or Vṛṣṇis, a branch of the Yādava tribe who was popular in the age of the Brāhmaṇas.[1]

The Bhāgavatism substituted a personal god Hari, in place of the abstract idea of the Brahman. He was believed to be beyond the ken of logic or argument. Only by means of whole hearted devotion or bhakti, he could be apprehended. The Nārāyaṇīya section of the Śāntiparvan and the Bhagavadgītā were regarded as the source of bhakti cult. In the Nārāyaṇīya section, Hari is mentioned as worshipped by King Uparicara Vasu according to the sāttvata rules that were proclaimed by the sun.[2]

In the Nārāyaṇīya section of the Mahābhārata, the revelation of god to man is mentioned as the highest boon granted by him to man.[3] Meditation is mentioned as the way to achieving the deity.[4]

In the Śāntiparvan, Sāttvata and Pañcarātra are identified thus:

kāmyanaimittikā rājan yajñiyāḥ paramakriyāḥ/
sāttvatamāsthāya vidhiṃ cakre samāhitaḥ/
pāñcarātravido mukhyāstasya gehe mahātmanaḥ/
bhagavatproktaṃ bhuñjate vāgrabhojanam//[5]

The Bhāgavatism is also called Nārāyaṇīya or Ekāntika, as well as, Sāttvata or Pāñcarātra.[6]

In the Bhāgavatism, an irreverent attitude towards the varṇāśramadharma and the Brāhmaṇas was observed. The casteless tradition of Bhāgavatism was seen when the casteless foreigners were mentioned as admitted into the Bhāgavata fold. The foreigners accepted Vaiṣṇavism.[7] They were mentioned as sinners,[8] or mlecchas[9] or abrāhmaṇya.[10] It is observed that, the common people were warned not to disclose the contents of the holy books to these casteless people.[11]


In the Vaiṣṇavism, Viṣṇu was regarded as the supreme divinity. The follower of this religion was called Vaiṣṇavas. The most important development of the system was the growth of the Pāñcarātra Saṃhitās. The Pāñcarātra Saṃhitās contained the complete exposition of the faiths, beliefs, and practices of the Vaiṣṇavas. The Nārāyaṇīya section of the Mahābhārata[12] was regarded as the earliest document of the Pañcarātras. In the Mahābhārata, the seven Citra Śikhaṇḍin Ṛṣis were mentioned as the narrator of a śāstra along with the four Vedas containing one lakh of verses to direct the people both in activity and inactivity.[13] The scripture composed by the Citra Śikhaṇḍin Ṛṣis was regarded as the forerunner of the Pañcarātra Saṃhitā.[14] The Mahābhārata itself admits that Pañcarātra system was different from the Vedas and the Vedic tradition.[15] In the early Saṃhitās of this sect, the influence of the Vedas and the varṇāśramadharma, etc., were seen hardly, which had decreased with the development of time in later date.


Śaivism was another semi-Vedic religious system prevalent in ancient India. Lord Śiva was regarded as the supreme deity in the Śaivism. This religious tradition did not recognise the Veda as authoritative and it had only a little place for the varṇāśramadharma in early date.

The irreverent character of Śaivism was seen in the dialogue between Dakṣa and Śiva in the Mahābhārata where Śiva is mentioned as the founder of the Pāśupata system, which was mostly contradictory to the rules of varṇāśramadharma:

apūrvaṃ sarvatobhadraṃ viśvatomukham avyayam/
abdair daśārdha-samyuktaṃ
gūḍham aprājñaninditam//
kvacit samam/
gatām tairadhyavasitam atyāśramam idaṃ
pāśupatam dakṣa śubham utpāditam purā/[16]

The Pāśupatas remained naked or used only a piece of rag called kaupīna.[17] The casteless foreigners were admitted into this fold and Śūdras and women were also allowed to have dīkṣā and worship lord Śiva. Different inscriptional records are sufficient to throw light on the worship of Lord Śiva among different tribes in ancient India. The dynasties like Śaka, Kuśāna, etc., those reigned over India from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D., were either Śivaites or Buddhists.[18]

Though the two sects, the Vaiṣṇavism and the Śaivism are non-Brāhmaṇical in character, yet among the early worshippers of these two sects there were some, who, believed the Vedas as authoritative and had great attraction towards the varṇāśramadharma and the rules of Smṛtis. They were called as Smārta Vaiṣṇavas and Smārta Śaivas.

Besides the religions, called the Bhāgavatism, Vaiṣṇavism and Śaivism, there was also another one that inculcated the worship of Brahmā. No enough evidences of this sect are found in the earlier records. But, later on, in the Mārkaṇḍeyapurāṇa and the Sṛṣṭikhaṇḍa of Padmapurāṇa, a little about the Brāhma sect is found. This sect attached great importance to asceticism.

Footnotes and references:


Vide, Bhattacharyya, H.(ed.), Op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 37


Vide, Kane, P.V., Op. cit., Vol. V, Part-II, p. 953


cf., antarikṣagataḥ koʹyaṃ tapasā siddhimāgataḥ/ adhaḥ kāyordhvavakraśca netraiḥ samativāhyate// tataḥ paramadharmātmā triṣu lokeṣu viśrutaḥ/ bhāskaraṃ samudīkṣañca prānbhukho bhāgyato


Ibid., 12.340.19


Ibid., 12.335.24,25


Vide, Bhattacharyya, H.(ed.), Op. cit., Vol. IV, p.146


cf., kirātahūṇāndhrapulindrapukvasābhīrasuhmā yavanāḥ khaśādayaḥ/ yeʹnye ca pāpā


Ibid., 2.4.18; 2.7.46


Ibid., 4.24.18


Vāmanapurāṇa, 103.69-70


Mahābhārata, 12.335-351


cf., loka tantrasya kṛtsnasya yasmād dharmaḥ pravartate/… Ibid., 12. 335.39 loka dharmam anuttamam/ Ibid., 12. 335.29


Vide, Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., p.198


cf., yūyaṃ hi bhāvitā yajñaiḥ sarvayajñeṣu mānavaiḥ/ māṃ tato bhāvayiṣyadhvameṣā vo bhāvanā mama// ityarthaṃ nirmitā vedā yajñāścauṣadhibhiḥ saha/ ebhiḥ samyakprayuktairhiḥ prīyante


Ibid., 12.284.121-124


Kūrmapurāṇa, 1.33.8; 2.37.100


Hazra, R.C., Op. cit., p. 202

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