Pūṣan, Kṛṣṇa and the Āṅgirasas-Part 2

Part 2: Pūṣan, Vāsudeva in the Harivamśa and Bhāgavata, and Sańkarṣaṇa

In the previous article, we had discussed the possibility of a transference of memes from Pūṣan to Kṛṣṇa in the Mahābhārata. In this article, we would discuss the commonalities between Pūṣan and Kṛṣṇa in the Harivamśa and Bhāgavata.

As we had noted in the conclusion of the first part, one of the most well-known attributes of Pūṣan is his association with cattle. In several verses of the Rg Veda, mention is made of his function of guiding the cattle and protecting them

yā te aṣṭrā goopaśāghṛṇe paśusādhanī |
tasyāste sumnamīmahe || 6.53.9

Here, Pūṣan holds an aṣṭrā that is goopaśa (go + opaśa, Cow + tuft). In my opinion, the “tuft” probably refers to the cow’s tail (the cow’s “tuft of hair”) which can be interpreted as a goad or whip whose thong is probably made or, or resembles a cow’s tail. In any case, that is irrelevant to the matter considered here. A sample of a few more verses showing Pūṣan

pūṣā ghā anvetu naḥ puṣā rakṣatvarvataḥ |
pūṣā vājaṃ sanotu naḥ || 6.54.5

“May Pūṣan follow our cows; may Pūṣan protect the horses. May Pūṣan obtain the treasure for us”

ajāśvaḥ paśupā vājapastyo dhiyaṃjinvo bhuvane viśve arpitaḥ |
aṣṭrāṃ pūṣā śithirāmudvarīvṛjat saṃcakṣāṇobhuvanā deva īyate || 6.58.2

“Goat-Rider, the lord of cattle, he whose dwelling is with treasures, promoter/impeller (jinvo à jinvati) of thought (dhiyam), pervading all the world; turning around his loose (śithira) weapon, beholding all of the world, Pūṣan the deva proceeds.”

The epithet, “paśupā” is only used for Pūṣan in the whole of the Rg Veda, making him the definitive lord of cattle. His lordship of cattle is also stated in Yajur and Atharva Vedas.

In the Harivamśa, after Indra is defeated in his attempts to punish the Gopagana and their cows with incessant showers for abandoning their sacrifice to him, there is a bit of a long monologue by Indra to Kṛṣṇa, of which I am presenting selected verses with translation from here. (The translation by Śri    Desiraju Hanumanta Rao is quite accurate. Hence, I am not translating these verses myself to save some trouble. J)

mayotsR^iShTeShu megheShu yugAntAvartakAriShu |
yattvayA rakshitA gAvastenAsmi paritoShitaH ||2-19-14

Even though the clouds sent by me showered incessant rain, like at the end of the ages (yuga), you protected the cows. I am highly pleased with this.

brAhme tapasi yuktAnAM brahmalokaH parA gatiH |
gavAmeva tu goloko durArohA hi sA gatiH ||2-19-34

brahmaloka is meant for people who are engaged in penances of brahma. The goloka is meant only for cows where no others can enter.

sa tu lokastvayA kR^iShNa sIdamAnaH kR^itAtmanA |
dhR^ito dhR^itimatA vIra nighnatopadravAngavAm ||2-19-35

kR^iShNa! When that world was weakened (when the cows were oppressed by incessant rainfall) , you, vIra, eliminated all the distresses and saved them.

ahaM bhUtapatiH kR^iShNa devarAjaH puraMdaraH |
aditergarbhaparyAye pUrvajaste purAkR^itaH ||2-19-37

kR^iShNa! I am the lord of all living beings, the king of gods, puraMdara (indra). Earlier I was your elder brother, when you entered the womb of aditi.

svatejastejasA chaiva yatte darshitavAnaham |
devarUpeNa tatsarvaM kShantumarhasi me vibho ||2-19-38

Lord! I tried to display my powers as a god before you. Kindly forgive all my offences.

ahaM kilendro devAnAM tvaM gavAmindratAM gataH |
govinda iti lokAstvAM stoShyanti bhuvi shAshvatam ||2-19-45

I am indra of the gods. Let you be the king of cows. From today, the entire people on the face of earth will praise you eternally as govinda.

mamopari yathendrastvaM sthApito gobhirIshvaraH |
upendra iti kR^iShNa tvAM gAsyanti divi devatAH ||2-19-46

kR^iShNa!, cows have installed you, above me, as their god, indra. At heaven, gods will sing —-praising you as upendra.

————————————————–END OF TRANSLATION——————————————————

Note the etymology behind the words, “Upendra” and “Govinda”. The former term is typically explained by the story of Viṣṇu being born as the younger brother of Indra (upendra=upa+indra, upa=small) in Vāmanāvatāra. The latter term, Govinda was derived in the Mahābhārata on entirely different grounds:

nastāṃ ca dharaṇīṃ pūrvam avindaṃ vai guhā gatām

govinda iti māṃ devā vāg bhiḥ samabhituṣṭuvuḥ Mbh 12.330

 “The world that was lost (nastāṃ ca dharaṇīṃ); I first retrieved (avindam-obtained), it (having) gone into oblivion (guhā gatām). Therefore, the Devas praise me as Govinda.”

It is irrelevant to inquire into the question as to the correct etymology for the term, “Govinda” or which one came earlier. In fact, the particular passage quoted from the Mahābhārata actually mentions Sri Yāska in the context of obtaining lost Nirukta-s from Viṣṇu (Mbh 12.330.7-8) and might indeed be a much later interpolation as compared to the Harivamśa passage in question. The point to note is that the Kṛṣṇa of the Harivamśa has been woven into a bovine-centred framework.

Specifically with reference to this association with cows, we note a striking parallel between Pūṣan’s function of protection of cows from danger and loss, and Kṛṣṇa’s act of retrieving the lost cows. The following verses from the Rig Veda highlight this key characteristic of Pūṣan:

mākirneśan mākīṃ riṣan mākīṃ saṃ śāri kevaṭe |

athāriṣṭābhirā ghahi || 6.54.7

“Let none be lost, none injured, none sink in a pit and break a limb.
Return with these all safe and sound.”

pari pūṣā parastād dhastaṃ dadhātu dakṣiṇam |

punarno naṣṭamājatu || 6.54.10

“From the distance, let Pūṣan put his right hand around,

And drive to us our lost.”

pūṣā tvetaścyāvayatu pra vidvānanaṣṭapaśurbhuvanasya ghopāḥ |10.17.3a

“May Pūṣan cherish you; the wise one (vidvān) whose cows are never lost (anaṣṭapaśur) and the protector of the world.

Compare these verses with this account in the Bhāgavata where Brahma steals the calves and cowherd boys to test Kṛṣṇa.

ambhojanma-janis tad-antara-gato māyārbhakasyeśitur
draṣṭuṃ mañju mahitvam anyad api tad-vatsān ito vatsapān
nītvānyatra kurūdvahāntaradadhāt khe ‘vasthito yaḥ purā
dṛṣṭvāghāsura-mokṣaṇaṃ prabhavataḥ prāptaḥ paraṃ vismayam
tato vatsān adṛṣṭvaitya puline ‘pi ca vatsapān
ubhāv api vane kṛṣṇo vicikāya samantataḥ
kvāpy adṛṣṭvāntar-vipine vatsān pālāṃś ca viśva-vit
sarvaṃ vidhi-kṛtaṃ kṛṣṇaḥ sahasāvajagāma ha
tataḥ kṛṣṇo mudaṃ kartuṃ tan-mātṝṇāṃ ca kasya ca
ubhayāyitam ātmānaṃ cakre viśva-kṛd īśvaraḥ
yāvad vatsapa-vatsakālpaka-vapur yāvat karāṅghry-ādikaṃ
yāvad yaṣṭi-viṣāṇa-veṇu-dala-śig yāvad vibhūṣāmbaram
yāvac chīla-guṇābhidhākṛti-vayo yāvad vihārādikaṃ
sarvaṃ viṣṇumayaṃ giro ‘ṅga-vad ajaḥ sarva-svarūpo babhau Bhāgavata 10.13.15-19

 To summarize, Brahma stole the calves and the cowherd boys in Kṛṣṇa’s absence and when Kṛṣṇa realized this ploy of Brahma, he himself manifested as the calves and cowherd boys for the sake of their respective mothers and eventually Brahma apologizes to Kṛṣṇa and returns the calves and boys back to Kṛṣṇa. There are many interesting correspondences between Rg Vedic mantras pertaining to Pūṣan and Paurānika narratives relating to Kṛṣṇa. But since they are often similarities between a mere singular verse from the Veda and a mythic account, they cannot be considered as solid evidence. Hence, I prefer to see those “correspondences” as a product of my fertile imagination and creativity, much in the likes of my fellow Āṅgirasa clansman of the Gautama gotra, Nīlakaṇṭha Caturdhara, who saw Paurānika and Itihāsika narratives buried in the words of the Rg Veda. Not to display audacity, but I believe the “correspondences” I see are much more straightforward than Nīlakaṇṭha’s attempts to find Kāśi Māhātmyam in the Rg Veda!

In any case, I shall return to the main topic of Pūṣan-Kṛṣṇa similarities which can be adduced as tangible evidence in support of my hypothesis that the Kṛṣṇa concept was in part based on Pūṣan. The above accounts from the Harivamśa and the Bhāgavata depict Kṛṣṇa as a cowherd among many cowherds. This strongly pastoral element could have been a contribution by Bhāradvājas whose association with pastoralism and particular fondness for cows may not have been limited to the Rg Veda but might have continued by their descendants well into the post-Mahābhārata era (Refer, for instance, to Bhāradvāja Grhya Sūtra, 2nd praśna, 8th Adhyāya, which prescribes an offering of cooked rice (sthālīpāka in lieu of cow sacrifice in the Sūlagava). Apart from this transposing of pastoral characteristics onto Kṛṣṇa, there seems to have been another transference from Pūṣan to Kṛṣṇa’s brother, Sańkarṣaṇa, the mighty Balarāma of the plough (Halāyudha).

Although there is no mention of Pūṣan using the plough, the Rg Veda at RV 4.57, which is an agricultural hymn that mentions the plough several times, states that Pūṣan guides the course of the furrow pressed down by Indra.

indraḥ sītāṃ ni ghṛhṇātu tām pūṣānu yachatu | RV 4.57a

“May Indra hold down the furrow; may Pūṣan guide her”

More interestingly, Sītā, the personified furrow as a goddess, who is associated with Pūṣan, is the wife of Balarāma in Jaina Harivamśa.

Also, Pūṣan in the later Vedic texts happens to be the presiding deity of Revati as the Taittiriya Samhita records it at 4.4.10 (revátī nákṣatram pūṣā́ deváta). The relationship between Pūṣan and Revati is mentioned in other sources such as the Gopatha Brāhmana and Taittiriya Brāhmana and also reinforced in the Puruṣamedha and the Nakṣatreṣṭi as noted by the Ārya in his blog post on Revati. Sańkarṣaṇa’s main wife is Revati as recognized in the Mahābhārata (1.211), Harivamśa (2.89) and also the Bhāgavata (9.3). This strengthens the hypothesis that Pūṣan may have played a significant role in the shaping up of Vārṣṇeya mythology centred on Kṛṣṇa and Sańkarṣaṇa.

For now, we conclude our study here.

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