The cults of Ganesa and Karttikeya have been dealt with by competent scholars ever since serious studies on Indian religion, art and iconography began but still the need for a proper systematization of existing knowledge on the subject has been acutely felt in recent years. This is largely because of the regional and chronological aspects of the studies made. This book is a modest attempt at fulfilling this need. This seeks to summarise the existing state of our knowledge on the religious cults of the two famous sons of Siva in Hindu mythology and tries to shed fresh light on some of the problems associated with the subject. Largely drawing from literary and archaeological sources of pan-Indian nature the book weaves together a coherent picture of the complex development of the veneration of two of the significant strands in popular Hinduism. In short the analysis attempted here relates to religious history, mythology, art and iconography.
V.R. Mani was curator for Art and Archaeology in the Government Museum, Madras and later a fellow in Musicology when he worked on some minor Deities in Indian Religion and Art. From 1973-to 1982 he was Research Officer in the Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi and during a part of this period, he worked in the ICHR project on the preparation of A Source Book of Indian Culture which is being published by the ICHR. His research papers written in journals or presented in different Congresses, Conferences and Seminars cover such areas as art history, iconography, epigraphy and numismatics. He has also published a monograph on The Cult of Weapons: The Iconography of the ayudhapurushas. At present he is Senior Research Officer in the Union Public Service Commission, New delhi.
Most of the studies on Hindu iconography are essentially attempts at descriptions of images and some show a tendency to interpret the attributes of the icons. Real studies on the contextual background in which the iconographic developments took place are rare and difficult to attempt. Here in lies the justification for examining the historical circumstances in which the religious developments took shape. In the following pages an attempt has been made to trace the history of the worship of two of the most popular and widely venerated deities of Puranic Hinduism- Ganesa and karttikeya. The study is not only a systemization of known data but also the presentation and analysis of a mass of fresh information. The limited objective of this study is to show regional and the chronological variations and developments and the manner in which some popular beliefs of a local and regional nature were absorbed in later day Hinduism. This being a brief monograph the sketch provided here is not exhaustive but it is hoped that in so far as the presentation of major lines of historical development is concerned the account is sufficiently detailed. I an thankful to the Archaeologoical Survey of India for the illustrations.
The Hinduism of today is the happy flowering of a long course of evolution, crystallization and development in the successive historical periods during which it has undergone many vicissitudes. An amazing feature in this is that it has absorbed ‘within itself the basest superstitions and devil worship as well as the noblest and purest forms of worship and meditation.’ With the rise of the new social environment and the resultant appearance of a changed religious atmosphere in the ages of the Upanishads and the Puranas many deities who were dominating the pantheon in the Vedic age got accommodated in the ante-chamber of Hinduism though a few were conceptually integrated with some new and evolving gods. It is difficult to say unequivocally whether the deities Ganesa and Skanda- Karttikeya who are dealt with briefly in the following pages have conceptual antecedents in the Vedas though the words Ganapati and Skanda are demonstrably ancient and that there is a persistent belief that their worship can be dated back to the Vedic Period. However, from about the beginning of the Christian era these two deities were holding hegemony on the Saiva strand of Hinduism and the worship of Ganesa continued through the centuries, that of Skanda disappeared in the greater part of northern India after the late medieval period while in the south its popularity increased obviously on account of its merger with the local cult of Murugan.
As in all cults studies the main sources of our investigation are literary and archaeological. While some of the archaeological specimens and literary works have been accurately dated, no two scholars are agreed on the chronology of a vast array of archaeological antiquities and literary pieces. For example, the ancient Sangam classics of the Tamil country have been studied at some length and the data they afford on the subject have been advantageously utilized, but this data will remain unscientific in the absence of a chronological skeleton for the body of the literature. While on the one hand, some would pace some of the Sangam works in about the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. and the Silappadikaram and the Manimekalai in as late a period as the seventh century there are others who take the works to the pre- Asokan days. Our object has been to go by the generally accepted dates which are mor4e in the nature of relative chronology. But even on this relative chronology opinions are sharply divided which are being considered at length at appropriate contexts.
The archaeological data for the subject is voluminous as it is varied. Its range is as wide as between the coins of the Yaudheyas and the post-Vijayanagara sculptures. Mainly the archaeological evidences consist of inscriptions on stone and metal, numismatic finds and sculptures in both stone and metal. Here also the determination of date, a vital factor for purposes of art- historical and cult studies, is a problem. For example, while some scholars believe that the cult of Ganesa in the Tamil country was a Chalukyan import during the seventh century, others date a cave at Pillaiyarpatti with a unique and early carving of Ganesa to the fifth or sixth centuries A.D. on the basis of the palaeography of a proto- Vatteluttu inscription in one of the pilasters of the cave. In the realm of sculpture we find a prolific variety of representations some of which do not conform to known Agamic injunctions. These and other problems of similar kind are noticed or discussed at appropriate places.
The basic thematic unity of this brief monograph is that it relates to the history of the worship of the two and more widely known sons of Siva. Siva, however, has another son the prevalence of whose worship is at present restricted to three southern States viz., Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. It would be appropriate to say a few words about the third son of Siva here.
He is known by the name of Sasta and is also called Aiyanar and Aiyappan. His veneration is a succinct example of how local cults in different part of India are woven into Puranic Hinduism. In the Amarakosa Sasta is mentioned as a name for the Buddha which has led some to associate this deity with Buddhist contexts. Unlike Ganesa and Karttikeya, Sasta is not mentioned in any early work in Sanskrit but referred to in the some- what later Visnupurana, Bhagavatapurana and Suprabhedagama. The Bhagavata describes the story of his birth. He is the son of Siva and Visnu and hence known as Hariharaputra. He was born to them when Visnu took the form of Mohini. In the Coorg region of Karnataka there is a belief that he was born on Saturday in the month of Sagittarius under the constellation Uttaram in the birth house scorpio. Through his worship started later than the worship of Ganesa and Karttikeya it soon spread all over Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the southern parts of Karnataka and acquired characteristics that are normally associated with cults in Puranic Hinduism.
The emergence of Sasta as a deity had taken place already in the eighth A.D. One of the earliest sculptures of the deity of this period – a loose stone sculpture- is found in one of the cloisters in the Pallava temple of Kaliasanatha at Kancipuram. The fact that this icon is a sculpture in the round and is found loosely kept at present suggests that it was probably a cult icon and that there was a shrine for him. This is not unlikely because in the Tamil literature of the earlier period there are several references to the worship of Sasta who is referred to as Sattan. In one of the verses in the Purananuru, Nkkirar refers to one Perum- Sattan of Pidavur in Colanadu. Sekkilar in his Periyapuranam mentions Maha- Sattan who brought poetry to earth and mad3e it available to the Tamils. Appar refers to Sattan as the son of Siva. The Divakaram, the oldest Tamil dictionary, mentions five names of this deity: Sattan, Kolikkodiyon (he who has a chicken on his banner), Satavahanan (he who has the elephant as his mount), Kari (night or black one) and Kada- niravaiyan (the deity who is of the colour of the sea ).
One of the earliest inscriptions recording the worship of Sasta is from Uttiramerur, a town in the Chingleput district in Tamil Nadu. The antiquity of this inscription can be traced back to the Pallava days. Inscriptional references to the construction of temples for this god and for provision of offerings become more frequent from the tenth century onwards. Though Sasta is essentially a Saiva deity, occasionally one notices sculptures of Sasta in the temples of Visnu also in the Tamil country. There is nothing unusual about it as he is the son of both Siva and Visnu. In Kerala a shrine for Aiyan is found in the temple of Visnu supposed to have been constructed in the ninth century by an Ay chieftain. In later times Sasta came to be known as Aiyanar and became a village deity side by side with his status as a god of Puranic Hinduism. But it was in Kerala that his worship became extremely popular. Even in the earliest known piece of Malayalam literature like Unnunilisandesam there is unmistakeable evidence of the popularity of this cult. Today the god has millions of devotees in southern India.
The historical development of the worship of Sasta as the third son of Siva necessitated the making of his images in stone, metal and wood. This resulted in Agamic stipulations relating to the features of the god. He is generally seated in the sukhasana pose with one leg bent. The foot of the bent leg is resting on the thigh of the other leg. He holds a whip in one hand while the other hand is stretched across the knee of the raised leg. This pose is in accordance with the description provided in the Karanagama. In some sculptures, particularly those of later periods, a yogapatta circling the waist and the knee of the raised leg is seen. Another Agama, the Suprabhedagama states that Aiyanar should be depicted with two consorts.
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