Incarnations of Vishnu - A Mystery of Indian History

Published: 16th February 2010
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One of the most important questions of Indian history has never been asked! So it has never been answered as well!



Indian religion is made up of the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. Brahma is the creator of this universe, Vishnu is the preserver and maintainer, and Siva is the destroyer. Since Brahma's job was done as soon as he created this universe, he no longer has any importance in the scheme of things - he is, therefore, not worshipped; worship is offered only to either Vishnu or Siva. So, Hinduism is made up of primarily two sects - Vaishnavites who worship Vishnu, and Saivites who worship Siva. Vishnu, in his role as preserver, keeps descending to earth every now and then to restore and preserve righteousness. Four supposedly historical figures got associated with him as his incarnations on earth - Parasuram, Ram, Krishna, and Buddha. Vishnu is primarily worshipped in the form of Ram or Krishna. After linguistic and cultural studies were done on Indian history about two centuries ago, western historians have pointed out that India is primarily made of two ethnic groups - Indo-Europeans, termed as Aryans, who belong to the Vedic religion and Vaishnavite school of thought; and Dravidians, who belong to the Saivite school of thought. After some further study, they propounded that Dravidians and Saivism are native to India; while Indo-Europeans, Vedic religion, and Vaishnavism came from outside India, when these Aryans invaded or migrated into India around 1800 BC. Even though there is much controversy over this theory, this has become the mainstream argument of the Indo-European history; and it has generally been agreed by one and all that Saivism, supposedly the religion of the native Dravidians, is much older than Vaishnavism, and is dated to at least five thousand years ago, if not more.



Now to probably the most important question of Indian history - a question that can have a significant impact on the Indo-European historical studies as well. Why have Parasuram, Ram, Krishna, and Buddha been associated with Indo-European God Vishnu as his incarnations? Why have they not been associated with Dravidian God Siva as Siva's incarnations? The question is extremely important; yet it has never been asked!



As per the tradition of India, Vishnu is the preserver; so only he descends to earth and incarnates in order to preserve and restore righteousness in this world. Since Siva is the destroyer of the religion, he never incarnates. This answer, steeped in religious beliefs, has been accepted by one and all, including the rational and erudite historians who are not supposed to be easily carried away by religious beliefs.



Is this explanation for Vishnu's incarnations admissible? Even though Siva does not have popularly known incarnations, a deeper look into the scriptures tells us that Saivite religion, or Saivism, is not averse to incarnations. Saivite scholar Sankara has been declared to be an incarnation of Siva, even though worship is not offered to him. Linga Purana, a Saivite scripture, talks about 28 incarnations of Siva, four more than any Vishnu incarnations ever listed in any scripture! As per scriptures, Siva has more number of incarnations than Vishnu! So, how can we say that Siva does not incarnate because he is the destroyer? We cannot. The explanation that Ram, Krishna, and Buddha got associated as incarnations of Vishnu because Vishnu is the preserver, has absolutely no validity. Likewise, the explanation that Siva does not incarnate because he is the destroyer, also has absolutely no validity. So, given that Saivism is not averse to incarnations, why did these godly figures of Ram, Krishna, and Buddha get associated with Vishnu and not with Siva? Why have these godly figures not been declared as Siva's incarnations?



Take the case of Sai Baba in India. After Krishna and Buddha, probably no other godly figure has ever had such an influence on the religious ethos of India. Sai Baba, a nineteenth century Saint from the Maharashtra region of India, is being revered as God's incarnation by many - he has thousands and thousands of temples all over India today, with his worship even overtaking the worship other Hindu gods at some places. Is he associated with Vishnu? No. Is he associated with Siva? No. He is associated neither with Vishnu nor with Siva; yet he is considered to be a Hindu God. So why has he not automatically been associated with Vishnu like the other historical figures before him? Why has he not been molded into the Vaishnavite concept of incarnations?



The reason is because, when there are two strongly competing sects, it is not possible to associate a godly figure with any one sect as each sect will claim the godly figure to be the incarnation of their own God. When north Indian saint Kabir died, both Hindus and Muslims fought for his dead body, with each sect claiming Kabir to be affiliated with their own faith. Similarly, if Saivism and Vaishnavism were both extant during the time of Ram, Krishna, or Buddha, both the sects would have claimed them to be the incarnations of their own God. There would probably have been a bitter fight as well between the two sects, with each sect trying to appropriate the legacy of the godly figure. Suppose some person claims today that Sai Baba is an incarnation of Vishnu and not of Siva - he would immediately get a reply from erudite looking Indian society of today, which would look somewhat as follows:



"What rubbish? Siva and Vishnu are just two different visualizations of one and the same Supreme God. It is all just our visualization about the absolute reality. In heavens, there is no separate Siva from Vishnu - God is one. So it is foolish to say that Sai Baba is an incarnation of Vishnu alone and not of Siva."



This same retort must have been applicable then also? When someone at that time tried to claim that Ram was an incarnation of Vishnu and not of Siva, the society must have retorted in a similar manner - right? So why did these figures get associated with Vishnu alone?



The answer would then be that the religious integration that we see today - with Vaishnavism and Saivism integrated into one religion in trinity form - might not have existed at the time of Ram or Krishna. Aryans strictly worshipped Vishnu, Dravidians strictly worshipped Siva - the integration between the two sects was not yet present. So Ram and Krishna being Aryans, automatically got associated with Vishnu, the Aryan God. This would be the explanation.



However, when we peak into the scriptures, we get several problems to this explanation as well. Firstly, Ram and Krishna are always described to be of pitch-dark color, an attribute more of Dravidians than Aryans. Secondly, the scriptures related to these incarnations show that there was already a very tight integration between the two sects at their time. In fact, these figures are associated in the scriptures more with Siva than with Vishnu! Parasuram is portrayed in scriptures as a staunch devotee of Siva! Ram never talked of himself to be God. He was never associated with any miracles. His claim to fame is because he delivered people from a certain oppression and then taught people about morality and righteousness though his example. And he is claimed to be a strong devotee of Siva with a large number of temples all over India claiming to have Siva Lingas that were worshipped by Ram during his lifetime. As per legends of the Indian epic Mahabharat, Krishna is supposed to have acquired his lethal weapons by worshipping and propitiating Siva. He is supposed to have got his wives and sons by worshipping Siva's consort (wife) Parvati. Added to this, in Indian holy scripture Gita, Krishna does not talk of himself as an incarnation of Vishnu. He does not explicitly associate himself either with Vishnu or with Siva - he just talks of himself as God who is not associated with any sect of Vaishnavism or Saivism.



So, going by all of this, the explanation that the religious integration between the two sects was not yet present at their time is fraught with difficulties that need further exploration. In case of Buddha, Buddha was not even a follower of Vedic religion; he propounded his own religion of Buddhism; yet, he got associated as an incarnation of Vishnu! Given the personality affinity between Siva and Buddha, with both of them always shown in meditative postures, one would have expected Buddha to have been declared as an incarnation of Siva; yet, he is declared as an incarnation of Vishnu! It makes no sense that he is declared as an incarnation of Vishnu. Why have these godly figures got associated with Vishnu and not with Siva? The question is quite intriguing, as much as it is extremely important; yet, no historian ever asked himself of the question.



The answer to this question can have significant impact on Indian, and subsequently Indo-European historical studies. It can, forever, change the way we look at Indian history.





Source: Excerpts from "19000 Years of World History: The Story of Religion" by Prithviraj R - a reconstruction of 19,000 year world history, based on the historical content of the scriptures and theologies of ancient religions including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions and cultures. The book is now available on Amazon, Lulu, and other online stores. Prithvis blog- http://19000years.blogspot.com

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