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Wendy Doniger O'Fbherty


Heresy is the lifeblood of religions. There are no heresies in a dead

r e l i g i o n - A ~ ~ ~SUAR~S

Hinduism has always been noted for its ability to absorb potentially schismatic developments; indeed, one of the prime functions
of the caste system has been to assimilate various tribes and sects
by giving them a place within the social hierarchy. And although
the Rgveda is regarded as a closed canonical collection, in actual
fact this canon is not read by the vast majority of Hindus, most
of whom (non-Brahmins, women, etc.) are forbidden to read it
and almost all of whom are incapable of comprehending the many
archaic passages which have baffled scholars. This general inaccessibility of the canon has facilitated an almost endless
reinterpretation of doctrine.
A particularly striking manifestation of this flexibility of Hindu
tradition may be seen in the manner by which it has assimilated
various heresies, a process so wide-ranging that, as Louis Renou
remarked, "It is quite difficult in India to be completely heretical."l This flexibility has not even necessitated the element of
masquerade, the ability to change without appearing to change,
that usually characterizes adaptations within a tradition; the
myths of heresy make explicit note of the changes in doctrine. I n
1 Louis Renou, Hinduism (New York, 1961), p. 46. I am grateful to Dr. Rodney
Needham of the Institute of Social Anthropology, Oxford, for this reference.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

part, this is made possible by the open-ended quality of the religion itself; in part, it is due to the vagueness of the Hindu definition of heresy.



The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines heresy (from the

Greek aEp40par, "to choose") as "theological opinion or doctrine
held in opposition to the 'catholic' or orthodox doctrine of the
Christian Church. Hence, opinion or doctrine in philosophy,
politics, science, art, etc. in variance with what is orthodox." The
Sanskrit term most closely corresponding in negative tone as well
as in denotation to the English "heretic" is pGsanda. The QabdaEalpadruma gives several false etymologies for this term : (a) from
pi(pam) san(oti), "He gains evil"; (b) from p i ("protection [of the
dharma of the Vedas]") khanda(yanti), "They shatter the dharma
of the Vedas." The lexicographer adds that these people perform
various rites opposed to the Vedas, wear several types of clothing,
and bear the marks of all castes ; they are Buddhists, Jains, etc.2
The contradiction of the Vedas remains the basis of heresy in
the Hindu viewpoint. MedhZtithi glosses pisapdin as an outcaste
(Saiva?) ascetic (bihyalifigin), one who wears a red robe, goes
naked, or wanders about, etc.3 but Kulliika specifies that heretics
bear marks (or the lifiga) of vows outside the Vedas (vedabihyavratalifigad&ripah), like Buddhist monks, Jains, etc., while RZghava
merely says that they do not believe in the Vedas.4 VijiiZneivara
defines heretics as those who have taken to an order of life opposed
to the dictates of the three Vedas,5 and the Tantridhikiranirnaya
refers to heretics born of evil wombs, who proclaim doctrines
transgressing the Vedas.6 According to the Padma PurGna, heretics are those who perform non-Vedic rites as well as those who do
not perform the actions enjoined by the Vedas.7 A Vis?zu Puripa
commentary describes the heretic as a man who has fallen from
his own dharma and performs unlawful, prohibited acts (vi8abdakalpadruma of Raja Sir Radhakant Deb Bahadur (Calcutta, 1886;
Delhi, 1961).
MedhEttithi's commentary on the Mdnavadharmm'&tra, Bibliotheca Indica
(Calcutta, 1932), 4.30 (numbers refer t o chapter and verse).
The Laws of Manu, trans. Georg Biihler, Sacred Books of the East no. 25
(Oxford, 1886), p. 133.
Mitiik+-are of VijfiEtneBvara, commentary on Yajfiavalkya Smrti (Bombay,
1909), 1.130.
6 ~antrEdhikdranirna~a
of Bhattoji Diksita (Benares, 1888), p. 25.
7 Padma Purdna, h a n d S r a m a Sanskrit Series no. 131 (Poona, 1894), 6.263.3-5.


History of Religions
karmastha, nisiddhakyt).g VijiiLneivara defines heretics as those
Nagnas, Saugatas, etc., who deny the authority of the Vedas.9


The importance of caste (which is what is particularly meant by

the need to obey one's own dharma) has led to a distinction
within the general ranks of heretics. The "orthodox" heresies are
those sects, such as the KLpLlika, Kaula, and PL4upata sects of
Saivism and the PLficarLtra and SLhajiyL sects of Vaisnavism,
which pay lip service, at least, to the Vedas and thus remain
technically within the Hindu fold. The Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists, however, deny the Vedas and are complete outcastes.
Some texts include both groups in their definition of heretics:
those who act against the Vedas, as well as those who carry
skulls, are smeared with ashes, and wear matted locks (i.e., the
Saiva sects).lO The Kzirma P u r w a offers this list of heretics:
Buddhists, Nirgranthas, PLficarLtras, KLpLlikas, and PL4upatas.11When Manu mentions heretics,lZ MedhLtithi interprets this
as a reference to KLpLlikas and those wearing red garments (probably Buddhists). NLrada glosses it as "Buddhists, and so forth."l3
Most texts, however, make a clear distinction between the two
levels of heresy. The sectarian heresies are sometimes said to
propound doctrines which emanate "more or less directly, from
the doctrines of the original creed,"l4 in spite of the fact that
certain aspects of their rituals are clearly antagonistic to Vedic
religion. The acceptance of these heresies is rationalized by some
Hindus who consider that, although the KLpLlikas, for instance,
live contrary to the Vedas, they were formerly Brahmins.15 The
"orthodox" heresies themselves, of course, are eager to maintain
this dichotomy ; a KLpLlika in a Sanskrit play refers to the Jains'
useless and false philosophies and evil shrines, and he wishes t o
cleanse his mouth (with wine, anathema to an orthodox Hindu)
for having mentioned them.16
Commentary on Visnu Purcina, 3.18.95 f f . ; cited in gabdakalpadruma.
VijfibeBvara on Yajfiavalkya, 2.192.
10 Padma PurcZna, 6.263.3.
11 KQrma Purcina (Benares, 1967), 2.21.32-33.
l2 MCinavadhamaBcTStra, 5.90.
13 Medhiitithi and Ngrada on Manu, 5.90; cited in Biihler, p. 184.
14 Horace Hayman Wilson, Sketches of the Religious Sects of the Hindus, Essays
and Lectures on the Religions of the Hindus, vol. 1 (London, 1861-62), p. 265.
l5 Jan Gonda, Der jiingere Hinduismus, Die Religionen Indien, vol. 2 (Stuttgart, 1963), p. 219.
l6 Mahendravarman, Mattavil&aprahasana, Trivandrum Sanskrit Series no.
50 (Trivandrum, 1917), act 1, prose between verses 8 and 9.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

A further distinction is made even within the "orthodox"
heresy itself between Brahmin and non-Brahmin KZpZlikas.17
PLBupatas are similarly divided into "Tantric" (heterodox) and
"Vedic" (orthodox).lg The latter consider the presence of the
former a t funeral ceremonies polluting and hate even to mention
them.19 Orthodox PLBupatas are forbidden to talk to Siidras.20
This division appears in the L$afilcaravijatja, in which the great
gaiva philosopher Saiikara confutes heresy on both levels-the
"orthodox" heresies (VZmLciiras and KLpZlikas) as well as Jains,
Buddhists, and Carvakas.21 The Brahmin KZpLlikas are heretics
but can be enlightened. To the ~ ~ d KBpZlika,
r a
however, who
says that there are only two castes (men and women), Saiikara
merely replies, "Go where you wish. We have come to chastise
Brahmins who adhere to evil doctrines, but what are your standards, you who have fallen from caste ?"22
This caste dichotomy within the heretic sects serves to explain
certain apparently contradictory statements which may be understood in the light of the particular status and affiliation of the
author of the text. Thus, the strictly orthodox sects refer to the
KLpLlikas and PLBupatas as heretics pure and simple.23 AparZrka,
in rebutting the Mahiibhtirata passage in which Siva states that
he himself established the PZBupatas, cites a verse instructing the
orthodox Hindu to gaze a t the sun after seeing a KLpBika,
PLBupata, or Saiva and to bathe after touching such a person.24
Orthodox PLBupata texts, such as the RCrma PurZna, describe a t
great length the merits of the PZBupata vow while they state elsewhere that PLBupatas (by which one must understand Tantric
PZBupatas) are wicked heretics. Thus, 6iva himself states in this
text :25
Formerly I created the PBhupatavow, auspicious, subtle, and containing the
essence of the Vedas, for the sake of enlightenment. The adept should
remain chaste, study the Vedas, smear his body with ashes, go naked or
Gonda, p. 219.
Rajendra Chandra Hazra, Studies in the Puranic Records on Hindu Rites and
Customs (Dacca, 1948), pp. 67-68 ; Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, T h e Evolution of
Theistic Sects in India (Calcutta, 1962), pp. 69-76.
19 Ktirma Purcina, 2.16.15.
20 Pciiupatastitra with the Panch&rthabh&shyaof Kaundinya, Trivandrum
Sanskrit Series no. 143 (Trivandrum, 1040), 1.13-17.
21 fia~karavijayaof Anandagiri, Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1868), chap. 23.
2 2 Ibid., chap. 24.
23 KathharitsEgara of Somadeva (Bombay, 1930) 26(3.5).204, -.218, -.249-50.
24 Apargka's commentary on Yajfiavalkya ~ r n $ i , ' h a n d & ~ r a m
no. 46 (Poona, 1903-4), p. 18.
25 Long citations from Sanskrit texts are often summarized in this paper rather
than translated in full ; I have so indicated in the appropriate footnotes.



History of Religions

wear a loincloth, control his mind perfectly, and practice the P a u p a t a

yoga. . But there are other texts which, though narrated by me, cause
delusion in this world and are contrary to the statements of the Vedas, such
as the VBma [left-hand or perverse] PLtbupatas, the Soma, the Liikula
[another PBAupata sect], and the Bhairava [KBpBlika]. These doctrines are
not to be practiced, for they are outside the Vedas.26


Siva emphasizes that his PBBupata sect is based upon the Vedas,
just as he remarks, in the MahGbhGrata, that the PBBupata vow
which he revealed occasioiially agrees with orthodox var?zG&rama
religion, though it is basically contrary to it.27


I n almost every case, the subtle distinction between the two

levels of heresy hinges upon the sect's actual or professed relationship to the Vedas. The sect whose name is almost synonymous
with heresy in India, the CBrvZkas or Materialists, is guilty of no
offensive behavior, for it is simply a philosophical movement ; but
the philosophy condemns the Vedas as "a pious fraud."28 MBdhava summed up the CBrvaka doctrine thus : "The Veda is tainted
by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology ;
the imposters who call themselves Vedic scholars are mutually
destructive ; and the three Vedas themselves are simply the means
of livelihood for those devoid of wit andvirility."29 Such an explicit
denial of the Vedas and Brahmins caused this philosophy to be
ranked with Buddhism and Jainism as prime heresy.
But there is danger of contradiction and confusion when the
touchstone of the Vedas is applied to other potential heresies.
Certain Tantric sects which say that they agree with the Vedas,
though actually propounding anti-Vedic, or a t least non-Vedic,
doctrines, may be accepted on the basis of their own statements of
orthodoxy. On the other hand, doctrines which, like Buddhism,
maintain that they are not derived from Vedas, though they
agree in fact with many essentials of orthodox Hinduism, are rejected. This situation is made possible by the Hindu belief that
religion consists more in adherence to ritual than in correct belief;
one might commit almost any act or believe almost any doctrine,
as long as one professed allegiance to the Vedas and the caste
system. The complications arising from this point of view are
K a r m a PurEpa, 2.37.142-48.
MahZbMrata (Poona, 1933-), vol. 12, appendix I, no. 28, 1.405.
28 D. R. Bhandarkar, Some Aspects of Ancient Hindu Polity (Benares, 1929), 4.
Z9 Sawadardanasajigraha of Mdhava, Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1868), p. 3 ;
cf. Prabodhacandrodaya of m s n a m s r a (Bombay, 1898), act 2, verse 26, and
Arthas'cZstra of Kautilya (Bombay, 1960), 1.2.6.



The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

apparent in Kumiirila's discussion of certain heretics' claims t o
follow doctrines based upon the Vedas or upon a "lost" branch of
the Vedas :
The Sliiikhyayoga, PBficarBtra, PBiupata, Buddhist, and Jain teachings
have a very little bit in common with the Vedas and orthodox lawbooks
[lruti and smyti], such as the doctrines of noninjury, speaking truth, control
of the senses, charity, and pity; [but these doctrines occur only occasionally
and incidentally], just as herbs and mantras occasionally succeed in curing
and expelling poison; and [they occur in small proportion] like [much] water
fragrant with [a little] perfume. Their major portion consists in other
teachings, outcaste texts mixed with barbarian practices; and since they
contradict the Vedas and are skeptical [haituka], they are not to be accepted.
Even if these sects were based upon a lost branch of the Vedas, they are
to be rejected, for they do not themselves accept the fact that the Vedas are
the basis [of their teachings], just as an evil son who hates his parents is
ashamed to admit his descent from them.
With the exception of a few doctrines like self-control and charity, the
teachings of the Buddhists, etc., are altogether contradictory to the teachings of the Vedas and were composed by the Buddha and others like him
whose behavior is contradictory to the Vedas; they were then taught to
people beyond the pale of the Vedas, people who do not follow the rules of
the four varnas, and it is thus inconceivable that they could be based upon
the Vedas.
These are heretics who perform unlawful acts and produce skeptical

Here Kumiirila rejects, among other arguments, the "lost Vedas"

theory of the origin of heterodoxy. The MattavilGsa similarly
satirizes the theory as it appears in the mouth of a corrupt
Buddhist monk :
Why did [the Buddha] not think of sanctioning the possession of women and
the drinking of surE? Since he knew everything, it must be that the smallminded and spiteful Elders [du&abuddhasthaviraih], envying us young men,
erased the sanction of women and sur6 in the books of the pitaka. Where
now can I find an uncorrupted original text [avina+tamiilapE~ham]

Thus, the strictly orthodox view, which was well established by

the time of Kumiirila, rejects both levels of heresy in spite of their
partial affinity with Vedic doctrine.


Popular Hinduism, as it appears in the Purlnic texts, does not

maintain a strict or even a consistent attitude toward the various
Indian heresies. Confusions of doctrine are further complicated by
a tendency to equate the heretic with another religious figure well
80 Tantriivarttika of Bhatta Kumiirila, commentaryon 6abaraaviimin's~ a i m i n i ~ a
commentary, Benares Sanskrit Series (Benares, 1903), pp. 11617 ;
commenting on 1.3.4.
31 Mattavilcisaprahasana, act 1, prose between verses 11 and 12.

History of Religions

known to the lawbooks and myths: the hypocritical ascetic. The

Sanskrit dictionaries themselves maintain this confusion. Apte
gives "hypocrite" as a secondary meaning of ptisanda,32 and
Monier-Williams includes in his definition of this term "any one
who falsely assumes the characteristics of an orthodox Hindii, a
Jaina, Buddhist, ib &c.[sic]."33 The Maitrtiyaniya Upanisad juxtaposes the hypocrite and the heretic : "There are those who falsely
wear the red robe, earrings, and skulls. And moreover, there are
others who wish to erect themselves as judges concerning Vedic
matters by weaving illusions with logic, illustrations, and sophisms."34
The term nagna ("naked") was originally applied to the Buddhists and Jains, who were "clothed in the sky," that is, nude
(digambara). But certain Hindu sects went naked as well, while
most Buddhists did not, and the term was later interpreted metaphorically as the rejection of "the raiment of holy writ."35 Thus,
the Vtiyu Purtina extends the word to naked Brahmins who
"practice austerities fruitlessly, that is, heretically or hypocritically": "The Brahmin who falsely bears a staff, shaves his head,
goes naked, undertakes a vow, or mutters prayers-all such persons are called 'Nagnas,' etc. [vythL dandi vythL mundi vrthii
nagnaica yo dvijah / vythii vrati vythL jLpi te vai nagniidayo
The Visnu Purtina excoriates "heretics . . . by whom the three
Vedas have been abandoned, evil ones who dispute the doctrine
of the Vedas, . . . those who perform evil rituals, hypocritical
'cat' ascetics, skeptical 'crane' ascetics. These are the evil heretics,
men who falsely wear matted locks or shave their heads."37 The
commentator notes that the "cat" ascetic seems pleasant a t first
but then acts very unpleasantly; the "crane" is a rogue who is
falsely polite. Manu similarly defines the "cat" as one who is
covetous, deceitful, injurious, and hypocritical ; the heron is cruel,
dishonest, and falsely gentle. Manu does not refer to these two
types as heretics, however, but merely as Brahmins, and he groups
them with those who have sinned and hide their sins under a preV. S. Apte, Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Poona, 1957).
Sir Monier Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Oxford, 1899).
a4 The Maitrciyaniya Upanisad, text and trans. by J. A. van Buitenen
('s-Gravenhage, 1962), 7.8.
35 Horace Hayman Wilson, trans., The Vwhnu Purcina, 3d ed. (Calcutta, 1961),
pp. 267-68 n.
3% Vciyu Purcina, cited by Wilson, The Vishnu PurEpa, p. 268.
37 V k n u Purcipa (Gorakhpur, 1962), 3.18.95-104.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindzc Mythology

text of asceticism.38 The MErkandeya PurEna also omits any
explicit reference to heresy but groups the "cat" ascetics with
those who retire to the woods like ascetics but continue to enjoy
"country pleasures" [grEmyabhujEn] and those who have fallen
from the rituals appropriate to their var.~a-one of the usual
criteria of heresy." Yajiiavalkya states that one should avoid
hypocrites, skeptics, heretics, and those who act like ~ranes.~O
The Kfirma PurEna lists "cat" ascetics with heretics who perform
evil rites, and the left-hand Piiiicargtras and Piisupatas. An alternativereadingsubstitutesfor "cat" ascetics (vaiddavratinah)outcastes
(canpZ1avratinah)-the polar opposites of Brahmin hypocrites.41
The animal nicknames probably derive from the extensive antiascetic folklore of India.42 The cat appears in the TantropGIchyEna :
A certain cat lived like an ascetic a t the entrance t o a mousehole, eating
fallen fruits and leaves as if he had refrained from all sins. The mice made
pious circumambulations around him and the cat grabbed and ate the last
of the mice returning to the hole each day. The mice, noticing that their
number was diminishing, decided to test the cat by sending a mouse named
Romaia ("Hairy") t o the cat, who ate him. When the rest of the mice saw
the bones and hair of Romaia in the faeces of the cat they went t o him and
said: "This is not virtue or proper behavior, to make a living by performing tapas. Hairy faeces do not come froin one who eats roots and
fruits." And so, after calling the cat a hypocrite and a heretic, the mice
went axvay.43

It may be noted here that even in the folk literature the confusion between hypocrisy and heresy persists. The cat ascetic appears on the famous seventh-century bas-relief of the Descent of
the Ganges at Mamallipuram ; the cat stands on one leg with his
paws above his head in imitation of the human ascetic who appears nearby, and he is surrounded by mice.44 The heron appears
in a Sanskrit court poem :
The ugly vulture eats the dead,
Guiltless of murder's taint.
The heron swallows living fish
And looks like an ascetic saint.45
MCnavadharmaBristra, 4.192-98.
MCrkandeya PurC?za (Bombay, 1890), 47.58-60.
40 Yajiiavalkya Smrti, 1.130.
41 KCrma PurEna (Benaresed.), 2.16.14-15 ;KErma Pz~rEpa,Bibliotheca Indica
(Calcutta, 1890), p. 444.
42 See my two-part article, "Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of
hive," History of Religions 8 (1969): 300-337 and 9 (1969): 1-41, esp. pp. 321-25.
43 "Ten Tales from the Tantropiikhyiina," text and trans. by George T. Artola,
Adyar Library Bulletin, 29 :1-4 (Madras, 1965); my summary.
44 Heinrich Zimmer, T h e Art of Indian Asia, 2d. ed. (New York, 1960),pl. 276.
45 John Brough, Poems from the Sanskrit (London, 1968),verse 21 ;SubhBsitCvali
of Vallabhadeva (Bombay, 1886), verse 755.


History of Religions

Saiva ascetics are particularly liable to this kind of satire.

The charlatan Kiipiilika in the fiafikaravijaya has adopted the
character of an ascetic as an excuse for throwing off all social and
moral restraint.46 The Kiipiilika in the MattavilCsa consort,^ with a
female member of the sect in a surG bar which he likens to a sacrificial temple : The surti is the Soma, the drunks are the priests, the
drunken cries the hymns, and the bartender the sacrificial sponsor.47 NO particular sect is mentioned in most of the examples of
this genre, which is based not so much upon doctrinal offenses
(although these do contribute to a certain extent) as upon a deepseated antiascetic tradition in orthodox Hinduism.48 Even the
Rgveda satirizes Brahmins who croak like frogs" and priests
greedy for gold.50 The ascetic's position was further weakened by
the practice of kings, from the time of the Mauryan empire at
least, who employed as their spies men who masqueraded as
ascetics.51 That this tradition has persisted for more than 2,000
years is apparent from the recent accusation made by a inember of
the Indian Parliament who charged that the United States
Pentagon and the C.I.A. were infiltrating into the Himalayas spies
disguised as yogis.52
The folk motif of the hypocritical ascetic should not be taken as
a literal index of the existence of such figures, for the motif is a
naturally attractive and humorous one, not only in India. Mockery, and even self-mockery, rather than fanatical disapproval is
the motivating spirit of many Indian discussions of the religious
hypocrite :
"So, friar [bhilcso], I see you have a taste for meat."

"Not t h a t it's any good without some wine."

"You like wine too, then?" "Better when I dino

With pretty harlots." "Surely such girls eat

No end of money." "Well, I steal, you see,

Or win a t dice." "A thief and gambler, too?"

"Why, certainly. What else is there t o do ?

Aren't you aware I'm vowed t o poverty ?"53

Wilson, Essays, p. 21.

MattavilcZsaprahmana, act 1 , prose between verscs 9 and 10.
Louis Dumont, "World Renunciation in Indian Religion," Contribzctions to
Indian Sociology 4 (1960) : 33-62.
48 Rgveda with the commentary of SByana (London, 1800-92), 7.103.1-10.
50 Rgveda 9.112.1.
5 1 ArthaJEstra, 1.11.13. The commentator interprets munda as a reference to
$&kyas,Bjivakas, etc., and ja.tila as a reference to Psiupatas, etc. ; he thus includes both types of heretics.
5 2 New York Times, August 14, 1968.
53 Brough, p. 105; Otto Bohtlingk, Indische Spruche (Saint Petersburg, 1872),
4, 588 ; Subhdsitrivali, 2, 402.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology



The fact that doctrines so widely divergent as those of the ClrvLkas, Buddhists, Saiva PLiupatas, and Brahmin hypocrites are
all subsumed under the term "heretic" indicates the extent to
which this term was used simply as a catchall for condemning
anyone who challenged the religious and social status quo, that is,
the authority of the Vedas and the Brahmins. In Hinduism,
heresy connotes a failure of the understanding more than a
deliberate embracing of wickedness ; similarly, the more general
concept of evil (pEpam), under which heresy was eventually subsumed, was originally considered primarily in terms of darkness
and delusion (tams, moha) rather than sin. This, coupled with the
general moral relativity of caste ethics-the notion that different
moral codes apply to different social groups-made possible an
infinitely elastic toleration of religious deviation. The vagueness of
the term for heresy served not only to exclude various groups of
heterodox thinkers but also to include many of them under the
equally vague aegis of Hinduism itself. If the bounds of heterodoxy ballooned over into the mainstream of religion, so too the
bounds of orthodoxy proved extremely flexible.
The whole tradition of ascetism, as seen in the Upanisads, the
sannyEsa or ascetic stage of life, and the goal of moksa, was
originally a violent challenge to the Brahmanical sacrificial
system, which managed nevertheless to assimilate it by making
the sannyzsin the fourth stage of life (after the original three:
brahmaczrin, gyhapati, and vanaprastha) and moksa the fourth goal
(after dharma, artha, and kcma). Moreover, various non-Vedic
rites practiced by the indigenous population of India were absorbed by the "Aryan" religion and practiced "without incongruity or contradiction being felt by the participant."54 Many of
the teachings of the Buddha were assimilated by Hinduism and
influenced the Bhagavad-GZtE,and the Buddha himself came to be
regarded as an avatar of Visnu,55 a process which Keith described
as "a curious example of the desire to absorb whatever is good in
another faith."56
6aiva cults, in particular, betray an obviously heterodox
origin. As Eliot writes, although certain 6aiva rites are "if not
antagonistic, at least alternative to the ancient sacrifices, yet far
54 D. D. Kosambi, A n Introduction to the Study of Indian History (Bombay,
1956), p. 8.
55 See below, sec. C2.
513Arthur Berriedale Keith, Indian Mythology, The Mythology of all Races,
vol. 4 (Boston, 1917), p. 169.


History of Religions

from being forbidden they are performed by Brahmans, and

modern Indian writers describe Siva as peculiarly the Brahman's
god."57 The dichotomy between the two groups of PZBupatas
may be explained in the light of the possibility that the orthodox
sect, as represented by the PGiupata SCtra and its commentary by
Kaundinya, is the work of a reformer who attempted to cleanse
the sect of its heterodox elernent,sg the element represented by the
older description of 6iva which appears in the MahcFbhcFrata.59
The bowdlerized nature of the PcFiupata XCtra is obvious: The
devotee is instructed to "pretend" to be drunk, to make indecent
gestures toward women, etc., but not actually to violate any caste
strictures. By this means he obtains the unjust censure of passersby, and thereby his bad karma is transferred to them and their
good karma to him.60 Ingalls remarks, "One suspects that the
sfitras concerning lechery, improper action and improper speech
once referred to actions less innocent than those specified by the
commentator Kaundinya."Gl Since the whole logic of the expressed purpose of the PLBupata rites turns on this point-that
the actions should seem to be more immoral than they actually
are-this seems most likely. It may even be that the expected
remarks of the bystanders ("This is no man of chastity, this is a
lechern)6z have reference to the original sect from which the
PZSupatas were descended, a sect which conscientiously offended
orthodoxy. The PEiupata sdtra then substituted mere symbolic
gestures for the original rituals, and rationalized these as well.
As the heretical sects were willing to make compromises in
order to be accepted in traditional circles, so too these circles
willingly stretched a point in order to accept the prodigal movements back into the fold. Even Parsis and Rluslims were allowed
to qualify as Hindus under certain circumstances.63 Moreover,
according to the Satsang ruling, a Hindu might even become a
baptized Christian "without ceasing to be a Hindu in both social
and spiritual terms."64 The wording of the present legal definition
of a Hindu involves this toleration for heresy : "Acceptance of the
Sir Charles Eliot, Hinduism and Buddhism, 3 vols. (London, 1921), 2 : 192.
Sudhakar Chattopadhyaya, The Evolution of Theistic Sects in Ancient India
(Calcutta, 1962), p. 69.
5Wahcibhdrata, 13.17.45 ff.; cf. vol. 13, appendix 1, no. 4, 11. 66-67.
60 Pciiupatastitra, 3.6-10.
61 Daniel H. H. Ingalls, "Cynics and PBLupatas, the Seeking of Dishonor,"
Harvard Theological Review 55 (1962) : 291.
62 Kaundinya's commentary on Pciiupatasiitra, 3.15.
63 J. D. M. Derrett, Religion, Law and the State in India (London, 1968), pp.
64 Ibid., p. 49.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

Vedas with reverence ; recognition of the fact that the means or
ways to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that
the number of gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the
distinguishing feature of Hindu religion."65
One of the texts cited in justification for this viewpoint is the
Bhagavad GCtE, in which Krsna says that he is reborn whenever
righteousness wanes and that those who worship other gods are
actually worshiping him.66 Together, these texts may be interpreted to imply that "any genuine religious reformer may be
treated as an abode of divinity."67 Visgu's incarnation as the
Buddha is by far the most important example of this process.
The Muslim sect of the Imam Shahis believed that the Imam himself was the tenth avatar of Visnu and that the Qur'Bn was a part
of the Atharva Veda.68 This view was supported by the traditional
argument that only fragments of the Vedas still exist.69 Christ is
sometimes included among the avatars of Visnu,70 a practice that
was once "a cause of great alarm among Christian missionaries."71
Even Queen Victoria found a place in the Hindu pantheon ; when
a plague broke out in Bombay just after her statue had been
insulted, it was believed by certain pious Hindus that the disease
was "the revenge inflicted by her as insulted divinity."72 A religion which can accommodate both Queen Victoria and the
orgiastic goddess of Tantric worship is indeed a spacious abode.
6. THE



By this process of assimilation, many non-Brahmin ministers of

non-Vedic cults, such as the VrBtyas, came to claim Brahmin
status and were finally admitted to that status but with the
stigma that "they had committed sins." Similar reasoning allowed
certain eighteenth-century Hindus to speak of the English as
"fallen Ksatriyas." Even Manu considered the Yavanas, gakas,
Pahlavas, KirLtas, and other foreigners to be giidras who had
sunk from their former status as Ksatriyas when they disregarded
Ibid., p. 51.
Bhagavad-Gitd [Oxford, 1969),
. 4.7,. 9.23.
Derrett, p. 50. '
W. Ivanow, "The Sect of Imam Shah in Gujurat," Journal of the Bombay
Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1937, pp. 19-70, esp. pp. 62-64. I am indebted
to Dr. Peter Hardy of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of
London, for this reference.
69 See above, sec. A3.
70 Alain DaniBlou, Hindu Polytheism (London, 1964), p. 12.
71 Charles Drekmeiar, Kingship and Community in Early India (Stanford,
Calif., 1962). D. 120.
7 2 ~ d w a =washburn
Hopkins, "The Divinity of Kings," Journal of the A,merican Oriental Society 51 (1913) : 309-16, esp. p. 314.

History of Religions
Brahmins.73 This theory completely mirrors the historical process ; sects which had in fact risen to their position on the borders
of orthodox Hinduism were said to have fallen from a yet more
orthodox position to their ambivalent status. Yet there is probably
some truth in the legends as well. Certain scriptures were said to
have been revealed for the benefit of Brahmins whose sins had
rendered them incapable of performing Vedic rites, and Brahmins
who were excommunicated may have become the ministers of
non-Vedic cults.74 Certainly this is the Hindu viewpoint ; KgpLlikas are thought to have been Brahmins in former times.75 According to Jain theory, all castes once professed Jainism, but
certain groups fell into false ways and became Brahmins who
formulated a cult sanctioning the slaughter of animals.76
Many castes consider themselves fallen Brahmins and justify
their change of occupation when they move up the scale by stating
that they are merely resuming their former status. Ambedkar
revived the traditional myth when he argued that the untouchables, and many Siidras, were Buddhists who had suffered from
the hatred of Brahmins when the Hindu renaissance occurred.77
Many untouchables claim in their myths that, when fighting the
Muslims, their Kqatriya ancestors pretended to be untouchables
and were cursed to remain in that state as punishment for their
cowardice.78 This "pretenseJ' neatly mirrors the PLiupata mime
which derives from the actual sin, in contrast to the untouchable
legend in which the pretense leads to the sin. According to the
MahiFbZrata, all castes were once Brahmins, but those who
abandoned their own dharma and fell prey to passion and anger
became Ksatriyas, those who took to agriculture and cattle rearing became Vaiiyas, and those who indulged in falsehood and
injury became Sfidras.79 According to one myth, certain "Brahmin giants" (the most mischievous of the race) were Brahmins
who had been turned into giants as a punishment for former
crimes : "Occasionally they adopted a hermit's life, without
thereby changing their character, or becoming better disposed."so
Mhnavadharmaicistra, 10.43-44.

Eliot, 2 :193.

Gonda, p. 219.

Beni Prasad, Theories of Government i n Ancient India (Allahebad, 1927),

p. 225.
77 Bhimrao Remji Ambedker, The Untouchables (New Delhi, 1948), p. 78.
78 I am indebted to Dr. David Pocock of the University of Sussex for this
7 9 MahBbhBrata, 12.181.10-13.
80 Abbe Dubois, Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, 3d ed. (Oxford,
1966), p. 516.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

I n this myth, the "fallen Brahmin" plays the role of another
familiar figure in the mythology of heresy-the
ascetic. The belief that impure status is the result of former
crimes appears in the myths of the cycles of evil ; and the concept
of a fall from grace, whether or not it reflects historical development, is central to the mythology of the origin of evil.


In spite of, or perhaps because of, the conservative strength of

Brahmin orthodoxy, heretical doubts are raised in the mainstream of traditional Hinduism from the earliest records. Atheistic
sentiments are expressed within the Rgveda itself: "Whence this
creation developed is known only by him who witnesses this world
in the highest heaven-or perhaps even he does not know."8l
One hymn is addressed "to Indra, if Indra exists."82 Vasistha
defends himself against charges of being a heretic and a demon:
"If I were a follower of false gods, or if I regarded the gods
wrongly. . . ."83 Anti-Vedic ideas appear frequently in the
Upanisads and Aravyakas. The Bhagavad-GitE rejects the goals
of the Vedas and considers the Vedas as much use to a wise
Brahmin as a water tank in a flood.84In the Aitareya Bra?zyaka,
certain sages remark: "Why should we study the Vedas? Why
should we sacrifice ?"55
According to Heesterman, the nEstika or atheist was originally
an integral part of the agnostic structure of the Vedic sacrifice.
The term denoted one who confronted the Cstika as well as one
who followed any of a variety of different teachings of materialism.86 The doubts expressed in the Rgveda87 are merely part of
the verbal contest with the official "reviler,"88 who does not reject sacrifice as a matter of abstract doctrine but merely rejects his
opponent's sacrifice. Later these complementary ritual roles gave
way to mutually exclusive doctrines denying the abstract institution of sacrifice.89Even then, the nEstika remained on the fringes
of orthodoxy. Yudhisthira, whose ideas of nonviolence owe much
Rgvede, 10.129.7.

Rgvede, 8.100.3.

83 Rgvede, 7.104.14.

84 Bhagavad-Gitci, 2.41-46.

85 Aitareya Arapyaka (Oxford, 1909), 2.1.2.

8 6 J. C. Heestermen, "On the Origin of the NBstika," Beitrage zur Geistes-

geschichte Indiens, Festschrift fiir Erich Freuwdlner, Wiener Zeitschrift ftir die
Kunde Siid- und Ostasiens 12-13 (1968-69) : 171-85, esp. p. 171.
8 7 Rgveda, 5.30.1, 6.18.3, 6.27.3, 8.64.7, 8.100.3, 10.22.1.
88 Heesterman, pp. 180-81.
89 Ibid., p. 184.


History of Religions
to Buddhism, is accused by the warrior Bhima of having nestika
A famous controversy over the sanctity of the Vedas appears in
the Nirukta of YBska; "'The Vedic stanzas have no meaning
[anartha&], ' says Kautsa. . . . 'Moreover, their meaning is contradictory [vipratisiddhtirthli].' "91 A later commentator, Durga,
regerded Kautsa as a convenient invention used by YBska in order
to express Vedic skepticism.92 But Kautsa appears in an ancient
list of Brahmin teachers and may have been a historical rationalist.93 Sarup argues in support of the latter view : "It is inconceivable that the learned theologians would reproduce, in their orthodox books, a controversy which challenges the most fundamental
beliefs of their religion."94 Yet this is precisely what theologians in
India have always done ; the "false" view is given first and is then
rebutted by the favored doctrine. Moreover, many originally
controversial views have eventually been reproduced in orthodox
books as accepted doctrine.
From Vedic times to the present day, heresy has been present
within Hinduism. Politically, heresy has played a significant role ;
heretical creeds appealed to kings for assistance, and Brahminism
called upon royal support for the status quo.95 As Aiyangar
remarks : "The heretic might be a nuisance, but an administrator
could not ignore his existence in society, especially when he had a
powerful following. . . . Heterodoxy was often believed to possess
a mystic power which was the source of its confidence. The rule
is thus merely one of prudence."96 The Seventh Pillar Edict of
ABoka states : "I have arranged that some [Dhamma Mah&m~tas]
will be occupied with the affairs of the [Buddhist] Sangha.. .
some with the Brahmins and Ajivikas . . . some with the Nirgranthas . . . with other religious sects [pGsandesu]."97 This apparent
religious toleration may be viewed, however, in the context of the
Buddhist legend that ABoka a t first attempted to destroy all the
Nirgranthas and was unwittingly responsible for the decapitation
of his own brother, who was staying in the home of a Nirgrantha.

YBska, Nirukta, ed. Lakshman Sarup (Oxford, 1921), 1.15.

9 2 John Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts, 5 vols., 2d ed. (London, 1872), 2 : 169-72.

9 3 F. Max &fuller, A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature (London, 1859), pp.

142 and 181.

9 4 Sarup, p. 72.

95 Hara Narayana Sinha, T h e Development of Indian Polity (New York, 1963),

p. 70.

96 K. V. Rangaswami Aiyangar, RCjadhamna (Adyar, 1941), p. 12.

97 Dines Chandra Sircar, Select Inscriptions, 2d ed. (Calcutta, 1965), pp. 62-64.




T h e Origin of Heresy in H i n d u Mythology

When A.Boka learned of his error, he was profoundly saddened and
issued an edict forbidding the execution of any monks, Buddhist or
heretic.98 A4oka's successor, Dasaratha, also patronized the
Ajivikas,99 and various lawbooks state that the king must support
the customs of heretics.100 BaudhLyana cites the view that nonVedic local practices may be allowed in their own territory, but he
immediately counters with his own opinion that one must never
follow practices opposed to the tradition of learned authorities.101
Most of the lawbooks, however, represent the strict orthodoxy
that was unbendingly opposed to all forms of heresy. This bias is
clear from many of the definitions of heresy and from such statements as Manu's "Let not the householder honor. . . heretics"l02
and Yajfiavalkya's "One should avoid. . . heretics."l03 Yajfiavalkyal04 and NBrada105 disqualify heretics and atheists as witnesses. Kautilya allows the king to confiscate the property of
heretics in an emergency106 and advises him to fine people who
entertain $Bkyas, Ajivikas, or heretical ascetics [v?.salapravrajita]
at feasts of the gods or the manes.107 This attitude grew more and
more strict as Brahminism developed, and the late text of the
~ u k r a n i t i s ~ exhorts
the king to punish atheists and those who
have fallen from caste.108
By the tenth century A.D., heresy was so widespread and so
abhorred that giva himself was believed to have become incarnate
as the philosopher gaiikara in order to explain the Vedas, destroy
the temples and books of the Jains, and massacre all who opposed
him,l09 particularly the followers of the Jain sect which he himself
had taught in his previous incarnation.110
The Prabodhacandrodaya, a remarkable allegorical play written
during the following century, described the battle between good
and evil, orthodoxy and heresy: "The PLgandas placed the
98 Adokcivadcina and Divydvadcina, cited by ~ t i e n n eLamotte, Histoire du
Bouddhisme Indien (Louvain, 1958), pp. 267-69.
99 A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India (London, 1956), p. 295.
100 NBrada Smrti (Calcutta, 1885,) 10.1-2; Yajfiavalkya, 2.192.
1 0 1 BaudhByana Dharmaszitra, Kashi Sanskrit Series no. 104 (Benares, 1934),
102 Mcinavadharm&&tra. 4.30.
103 Yajfiavalkya, 1.130.
104 Ibid., 2.70.
105 NBrada, 4.180.
108 ArthadGstra, 5.2.
107 Ibid., 3.20.
10s i5hkranitiscira (Calcutta, 1882). 4.1.97-98.
109 ~afikaraprcidu~bhd~a,
cited by Francis Wilford, "On Egypt and other
countries. . . from tho ancient books of the Hindus," in Asiatick Researches
(Calcutta, 1792), 3:295-468, esp. p. 411.
110 See below, sec. C2.

History of Religions
Lokiiyatas in front, and they perished in the fight. After this defeat, the piisanda books were uprooted by the sea of orthodox
teachings [sadiigama]; the Piisandas, Saugatas, Digambaras,
Kiipiilikas, etc., concealed themselves among the most abject men in
the countries of Piiiiciila, Miilava, etc."lll Yet the very vehemence
of these orthodox texts hints a t the strength of the threat, the
degree to which heresy had penetrated Hinduism by this time.
Much of the assimilation took place in an earlier, more tolerant
period, and more continued to take place on a popular level-as
expressed in the mythology of the Puriinas-in spite of the exhortations of the orthodox Brahmins.


The problem of the origin of evil and heresy has troubled Indian
thinkers from the most ancient times. The early texts are less concerned with the specific problem of heresy than they are with the
more general concept of evil (pGpam), which originally included
natural misfortunes such as hunger, death, and ignorance, and
only later assumed the connotations of sin and vice. The meaning
of heresy developed in a similar way, from the original concept of
the nGstika who merely played the devil's advocate, as it were, in
the sacrifice, through the notion that the heretic was simply deluded (mohita), to the later view in which he is a vicious social
The concept of evil in Hinduism is only incidentally pertinent to
a discussion of Hindu heresies. However, the mythology of the
origin of evil provides an essential background to the mythology
of the origin of heresy. The myths discussed below demonstrate
the manner in which episodes of heresy arose from and gradually
superseded the more general mythology of evil. The first group,
dealing with the natural origin of evil, concerns men described
simply as evil men and atheists. No explanation for this evil is
provided; it simply appears a t a certain point in primeval creation.
Hardly more satisfactory is the later view which relegates the
cause to some earlier evil whose cause remains obscure. Here sin
and virtue are mentioned, but without the doctrinal details which
distinguish heresy from evil. A turning point is reached in the
Manichean myths which cast the blame onto the demons. Here the

Prabodhucandrodaya,act. 5, prose between verses 10 and 11.


T h e Origin of Heresy in H i n d u Mythology

concept of a "different" (i.e., wrong) philosophy of the soul may
represent a heresy, and one rather atypical myth explicitly attributes heresy to the demons. The myths which blame the gods
rather than the demons for the origin of heresy deal at first with
the older concept of delusion but then enumerate actual heresies.
And finally, with the concept of the necessity of evil, the full
transition to heresy is reached ; the "seed of evil" leads to a denial
of the Vedas, and the twofold universe provides explicit heresies.
A similar transition may be seen in the group of myths in which
the necessity for death (evil) yields to the necessity for corruption
(heresy) to maintain a balance of population. The final series of
myths details the origin of specific heresies taught to the demons
of the Triple City, the sons of Raji, and the Pine Forest sages, and
the general and specific concepts merge finally in the concept of
the Tantric heresies of the evil Kali age.


The earliest extant myths of the origin of evil appear in the

Brghmanas, which describe the manner in which gods and
demons, originally twin, became differentiated : "The gods and
demons both spoke truth, and they both spoke untruth. They were
alike. The gods relinquished untruth, and the demons relinquished
truth. The truth which was within the demons beheld this and
went over to the gods, and the untruth of the gods went to the
demons."ll2 The spark of evil develops in terms of the Hindu
concept of the transference of personal merit, or karma, which may
be taken from or increased in an individual by the action of someone else as well as by his own moral behavior. I n this myth, the
demons' good karma (truth) is stolen by the gods as a result of the
gods' spontaneous moral choice, just as the bystanders' good
karma is stolen by the Pgbupatas.
The ~ a t a ~ a t Brtihmana
describes the self-reinforcing effects of
evil among mortals as well as gods:
Those [mortals] who made offerings in former times touched the altar
while they were sacrificing. They became more evil. Those who washed
their hands became righteous. Then men said, "Those who sacrifice become
more evil, and those who do not sacrifice become righteous." No sacrificial
food then came to the gods from this world. . . . The gods went to Brhaspati
[their guru] and complained that unbelief [draddhcZ] was rife among men;
112 8atapatha BrGhmana of the White Yajur Veda, Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta,
1903),, ; cf. ChGndogya Upan@ad, 8.10, in One Hundred and
Eight Upanishads, 4th ed. (Bombay, 1932).


History of Religions
he told them to sacrifice without touching the altar and they would become
more righteous.113

I n this passage-possibly the earliest Indian discussion of the

origin of evil-the evil (piipam) results from a ritual defilement,
and unbelief then results from the misunderstanding of the true
cause of the evil. The myth fails to provide a true answer to the
problem, since the evil is quickly and superficially corrected.
The Ma&b&rata contains several descriptions of the origin of
evil demons :
Sri, the goddess of good fortune, dwelt among the demons in former times;
the demons were then firm in their own dharma and honored their gurus
and the gods. But then, with the passage of time and the change in their
quality, their dharma was destroyed and they were in the grip of desire
and anger. They became sinners and atheists, evil men with no moral
bounds. Then Sri left them.114

This "passage of time" may refer to the appearance of the Kali

age or may simply describe the eventual appearance of the new
element, evil. Elsewhere, the Epic relates the fall of man in similar
terms :
Formerly, Prajtipati, the creator, brought forth pure creatures, virtuous
and truthful, who joined the gods in the sky whenever they wished and
lived and died by their own wish. Then, in another time, those who dwelt
on earth were overcome by greed and anger, and they were abandoned by
the gods. Then by their evil deeds they were trapped in the chain of rebirth, and they became atheists.115

A similarly automatic perversion is described in the Buddhist

Sutta Nipiita :
At first, all rsis were virtuous ascetics, but then came a reversal [tesam tki
vipa2ldso1, and they began to covet one another's wealth, wives, and horses,
and to slaughter cows. Indra, the gods, asuras, and rdksasas cried out
against this adharma; and thus the three original diseases (desire, hunger,
and old age) developed into ninety-eight.116

The text does not make clear whether the plague of evils arises
directly from the loss of virtue of the sages or from the subsequent
wrath of the gods;ll7 but the seed of corruption is merely inevitable change.
Another myth of the origin of evil appears in the Ma&b&rata :
In former times there was no need for a king or for the rod of chastisement;
of their own accord, and by their dharma, all creatures protected one
113 8atapatha BrBhmana,

114 MahBbZrata, 12.221.27-28; emphasis added.

Ibid., 3.181.11-20; my summary; emphasis added.

Brshmana-dhammikaSutta, Sutta NipBta, Pali Text Society (London, 1913),

11. 284 ff. ; my summary.

117 See below, secs. B7 and B8.

The Origin of Heresy in H i n d u JIythology

another. But then they wearied of this [khedam paramam cljagmus] and then
delusion entered them. Under the influence of this delusion, their dharma
was destroyed, greed and desire overcame them, and the gods became
afraid, saying, "Now that dharma is destroyed, we will become equal with
the mortals, for they will rise and we will fall when they cease to perform
the rituals [of sacrifice on which the gods depend]." Then, for the benefit of
the gods, BrahmB established the science of Protection on earth, and V i ~ n u
created the first king on earth.118

Sheer boredom, i t would seem, suffices in this myth to sow the

seed from which corruption inevitably develops.
Several lawbooks use the assumption of the corruption of man
to justify the force of the coercive authority, the chastising rod
of the king.119 The Vtiyu Purii?za relates this story of man corrupted by nothing but time :
I n the beginning, people lived in perfect happiness, without class distinctions or property; all their needs were supplied by magic wishing trees.
Then because of the great power of time and the changes it wrought upon
them, they were overcome by passion and greed. It was from the in$uence
of time, and no other cause, that their perfection vanished. Due to their
greed, the wishing trees disappeared; the people felt heat and cold, built
houses, and wore clothes.120

Civilization-property and clothing-is a source of further greed

and sin, not a solution for them. This much the Hindu philosopher
shares with Rousseau, but clearly his basic attitude lies with
Hobbes : With the passage of time, man's inherent evil must come
to the fore. The inevitable sin of greed, the killing of the golden
goose, destroys the magic fruit of paradise.
Many Christian scholars have seen in this degenerative process a
similarity to the doctrine of original sin and the fall from grace.
But the Hindu concept lacks the vision of pristine innocence and
the Manichean attitude toward evil which underlie the myth of
Eden. To the Hindu, the original state of grace is doomed to quick
exiinction from within, without the need for a serpent or devil to
corrupt it. Weber interpreted this Hindu relativity of paradise
and sin in sociological terms :
The conception of an "original sin" was quite impossible in this world
order, for no "absolute sin" could exist. There could only be a ritual offense
against the particular dharma of the caste. I n this world of eternal rank
orders there was no place for a blissful original state of man and no blissful
h a 1 kingdom. Thus there was no "natural" order of men and things in
contrast to positive social order.121
MahBbhkata, 12.59.13-30 ff. ; my summary; emphasis added.
Niirada, 1.1-2.
120 VGyu PurBva (Bombay, 1867), 1.8.77-88, esp. verse 80; my summary;

emphasis added.
1 2 1 Max Weber, The Religion of India (New York, 1958), p. 144.

History of Religions
Yet, although the individual could only offend against caste law,
the caste as a whole could violate a more universal law-the law of
dharma-as may be seen in the myths of Brahmins who "fell" to
untouchability or became demons.122 Moreover, there are Hindu
myths in which individuals fall from paradise and in which devils
are responsible for this fa11.123 It is, rather, the fleeting and insubstantial nature of the original paradise, and the pessimistic
view of the nature of man, which distinguish the Hindu myths. I n
these myths, men-and even demons-are originally good, but
evil passions inevitably appear soon after creation, and this is the
natural (albeit not original) state of man.


An important element of the myths of the fall-the apple-appears in another series of Hindu myths. Men remain virtuous until
the source of food begins to diminish, and only then do they
become evil. This is perhaps the closest that the ancient Indians
ever came to the concept of a virtuous natural state of man ; only
when an external force threatens him does he violate the moral
The connection between hunger and evil is a natural and
ancient one. The Rgveda says : "The gods did not give [us] hunger
as [an instrument of] slaughter ; for [various] deaths overcome one
who has eaten."l24 But the intention of the creators often miscarries in matters of evi1,125 and by the time of the 8ataPatha
BrEhma~aa more realistic and cynical attitude toward hunger
prevailed: "Whenever there is drought, then the stronger seizes
upon the weaker, for the waters are dharma."lZs When Brahmz
began to create in his rEjasa form, he produced hunger, whence
was born anger and the starving rcFlcsasas.127
I n human terms, hunger is the epitome of Epaddharma, the
extremity in which the moral law ceases to function:
Once there was a twelve-year drought, when Indra sent no rain. All dharma
was destroyed and people ate one another. Sages left their &'ramas and
wandered about; the great sage Viiviimitra came to a place where outcastes
lived who ate dogs; the place was strewn with skulls and bloody bones.
Viiviimitra begged but was given no food; seeing a dead dog he tried to
122 See above, sec. A6.
123 See below, sec. B5.
124 Rgveda, 10.117.1.
125 See below, sec. B6.
126 fiatapatha BrGhmana,
127 V i p u PurGna, 1.5.41-43.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

steal it, reasoning that theft was permissible in time of 6 p d . A Ca~d%l,la
tried to stop him from committing the sin of eating a dog, but in vain.
ViAviimitra ate the dog and burned away his sin by performing tapas, and
eventually Indra sent rain.128

The initial premise of a twelve-year drought is a frequent motif

in later myths of heresy,l29 as is the complete reversal of moral
roles-the sage being instructed by the outcaste.
I n fact, the satisfaction of hunger, rather than hunger itself, is
often considered the cause of the evil: "When the starving creatures had devoured one another Adharma was born. His wife was
Nirfii [Wickedness], who had three terrible, evil sons-Fear,
Terror, and Death."l30 Improper eating (which is of course the
basic caste tabu) is the source of sin. A fairly late myth seems explicitly to connect the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good
and evil with the fall from grace, as in the myth of Eden. Schrader
considered this myth to correspond to "the Fall of Man in Jewish
and Christian theology,"l31 but Eliot pointed out the significant
difference : "Here the ground idea seems to be not that any devil
has spoilt the world but that ignorance is necessary for the world
process, for otherwise mankind would be one with God and there
would be no world."132 The myth itself is brief but obscure :
Knowledge became a cow, with a portion of herself, that is, she became a
cloud. Then the milk called "the year" flowed from her and became food.
But all the Manus, who had been omniscient, ate that milk of knowledge
[vaidyam payah] and lost their knowledge [jridnabhram'am prapadyante].
Thereupon the Mstra was promulgated by the Manus.133

The dtistra is a PSiicarLtra text, regarded as a heresy by the

orthodox Hindus though not by the Piificargtra author of the
myth, of course. Eliot interprets the myth as an indication that
"souls have naturally unlimited knowledge" which "for some
reason becomes limited and obscured, so that religion is necessary
to show the soul the right way."134 I n fact, these absolute statements must be qualified: Souls once had unlimited knowledge
for a brief time, but the casual manner in which this knowledge
was destroyed indicates the necessity of religious law (just as
128 MahCbhZrata, 12.139.13-92; my
129 See below, sec. C6.
130 MahcZbhBrata, 1.60.52-53.
Otto Schrader, Introduction



to the Pancaratra, Adyar Library no. 3

(Madras, 1916), p. 78.

132 Eliot, 1 : lxxx, n. 1.
133 Ahirbudhnymamhita, rev. by V . Krishnamacharya, 2d. ed., Adyar Library
nos. 4-5 (Madras, 1966), 7.59b-63a.

134 Eliot, 1 :lxxx.


History of Religions
it justifies regnal law)-particularly the PZiicarZtra law which is
appropriate to the low estate of man.135


The vague concept of the corrupting effect of the passage of time is

expanded in another series of texts into the belief that "former
sins" cause the fall of man. The apparent logical fallacy in this
view is somewhat resolved in the context of the doctrine of
karma; evil is a chain which has no beginning or end. Thus, the
Buddhist Digha Nikiiya myth of the origin of evil ultimately falls
back upon a still earlier evil to explain the fall :
In the beginning, the earth was spread out upon the cosmic waters for the
original creatures, who had no distinctions of sex. The earth was fragrant
and sweet as honey. At first no one touched it, but then a certain being,
born greedy [annataro satto lola-jdtiko (Commentator: greedy from a former
birth)], said: "What can this be?" and tasted it, and craving overcame him.
The others followed his example and tasted the earth in greed. Then women
were differentiated from men, and passion arose; men built huts to conceal
their sexual intercourse. Then someone of a lazy disposition decided to store
rice instead of harvesting it. . . Then someone of a greedy disposition
appropriated another field that had not been given to him.
From such
beginnings arose theft, censure, false speech, and punishment.136

. ..

Here again punishment itself is considered an evil institution

rather than a satisfactory solution to the evil nature of man,
which results from various wicked dispositions from former
births. Property, the direct result of passion or greed, introduces
all the evils of civilization. Elsewhere, the need for houses arises
directly from the increased sensitivity to pain, heat, and cold
which afflicts mortals when human nature is no longer perfect.137
As long as food is infinite and there is no need for individual
property, man remains virtuous ; but when the supply is limited,
when the wishing trees disappear, men are overcome by greed.138
I n a Buddhist description of a much later stage of society, one
of the Universal Emperors fails to rule properly :
He did not give wealth to the poor, and so poverty became widespread.
Soon a certain man took what had not been given to him, and this was
called theft. They caught him and accused him before the king, who gave
him wealth. People heard of this and thought that they would do the same
in order to receive wealth from the king. To put a stop to this, the king
135 See below, see. C8.

1 3 Aggafifia

Digha NikBya, Pali Text Society (London, 1911),

3 :85 ff. ; my summary ; emphasis added. Anonymous commentator's remarks

are in original Pali text.
137 V i ~ PurBna,

138 Ktirma PurBpa, 1.29-30.

T h e Origin of Heresy in Hindu 2lIythology

began to execute thieves. Thus came poverty, theft, murder, and falseh00d.l~~

Once need has caused men to sin, the cycle has begun and cannot
be arrested, even by the correction of need. The king's belated
generosity only inspires further wrongdoing, and coercive authority (though considered yet another evil, murder) must take
effect. Since need is originally responsible for man's fall, since
hunger is man's eternal condition, temporary satisfaction merely
masks the flaw.
Interesting evidence of the antiquity of the Digha NihGya
myth of the origin of evil appears in the report which Strabo attributes to Onesicritus, who entered India with Alexander in
327 B.C. and heard this tale from a naked "sophist" named
Calanus :
I n olden times the earth was full of barley and wheat; fountains flowed with
water, milk, honey, wine and olive oil. But man's gluttony and luxury
[ ~ ~ v ~led
r j him
into boundless arrogance [Gfip~s],and Zeus, hating this
state of things, destroyed everything. When self-control and tho other
virtues reappeared, blessings were again abundant, but the state of man is
again increasing in arrogance and the destruction of all existence is imminent.140

The basic elements of the Indian myth are faithfully reproduced

here, in spite of the apparent Hellenization evident in the olive
oil and Zeus : Food is at first limitless ; greed appears naturally ;
the gods hate man and destroy his welfare ;I41 virtues reappear142
but man is near his ultimate destruction (i.e., the end of the Kali
yuga). This degeneration, preordained in spite of all episodes of
virtue, is inherent in all the Indian versions of the myth. When
the magic trees disappear, creatures are reborn as Brahmins,
Kyatriyas, VaiSyas, and 6iidras according to their respective
deeds in previous births.143 Not time alone, nor hunger alone,
but both of these coupled with the individual predilection to sin
destroy the golden age.


The crimes of demons are cited surprisingly seldom as a cause of

evil on earth, primarily because the demons are by no means
clearly representative of the powers of evil. They are indeed the

Cakkavatti Sihangda Sutta, Digha Niktiya, 3 :65-70; my summary.

Strabo, Geography (Loeb Classical Library ed.), bk. 15,chap. 1, para. 64.
See above, sec. B3, and below, secs. B6 and B7.
See below, sec. C8.
VEyu PurEpa, 1.8.154-59.

29 4

History of Religions

enemies of the gods, but this is a matter of power politics rather

than morals, and the gods themselves are often far more wicked
than the virtuous demons whom they trick and cheat. Nevertheless, there are some references to the role of the demons in the
origin of evil, particularly in myths of the fall. I n the Pali canon,
asuras are fallen beings, "devas in opposition or in revolt or disgrace."l44 Some eighteenth-century Hindus encountered by the
Danish mission at Tranquebar were said to have believed that
human souls are "heavenly spirits, which for their sins are driven
out of heaven."l45
Holwell recorded a t greater length a myth of this type, from
"Brahmiih's Shastah," but his interpretation is obviously clouded
by Christian attitudes :
[The initial creation was a state of joy and harmony] which would have
continued to the end of time, had not envy and jealousy taken possession
of Moisasoor [Mahi~iisura]and other leaders of the angelic bands.
spread their evil imaginations amongst the angelic host, deceived them,
and drew a large portion of them from their allegiance. . The eternal
One then commanded Sieb [Siva] to go armed with his omnipotence, to
drive them from Mahah Surgo [Mahiisvarga], and plunge them into the
Onderah [Andhatgmisra?, a hell], there doomed to suffer unceasing sorrows.
Part of the angelic bands rebelled and were expelled from the heavenly
regions; . . the leaders of their rebellion, . . . in process of time, regained
their influonce, and confinned most of tho delinquents in their disobedience.146

.. .

. .


Holwell's assumption that paradise "would have continued to the

end of time" conflicts with the general Hindu view of original
creation, which is more closely represented in the statement that
the demon rebels regained their influence "in process of time."
(The statement that giva was to drive the demons from heaven
corresponds with another pattern of Hindu myths in which the
demons are the victims rather than the initiators of corruption.147)
According to the MahZb&rata, all creatures were righteous and
obedient until the demons caused a decrease in dharma, since they
were filled with anger and greed.148 It is probably only their own
virtue that is destroyed in this way, though they may have been
responsible for general corruption as well. The demons' willing
144T. 0. Ling, Buddhism and the Mythology of
145 Robert Orme, India Office, Orme MSS, 1 :179.

Evil (London, 1962), p. 22.

I am indebted t o Dr. Peter

J. Marshall of King's College, University of London, for the transcript of the Orme
manuscript as well as for the citations from Holwell.
146 J. Z. Holwell, Interesting historical events relative to the Provinces of Bengal,
. (London, 1766, 1767, 1771), pp. 9-10,42-43.

147 See below, secs. C1, C2, and C3.

148 MahBbhBrata 12.160.26.



The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

participation in their own corruption and the subsequent corruption of others is implicit in this Maitrtiyaniya Upanisad myth :
"The gods and asuras came to BrahmB and asked him to tell
them the titman. He thought to himself, 'These asuras desire an
titman different [from the true titman].' Therefore a very different
doctrine was taught to them, a doctrine which fools here adhere to,
praising what is false."149 The "different titman" may imply a
heretical doctrine, but the terminology is still rather vague. The
V"8yu Purtina, however, contains a unique episode which specifies
both the heresy and the demons' intention: During the battle
between gods and demons, the conquered demons changed all
men into heretics; this was not part of the creation by PrajBpati.150 This brief statement is the only clearly Manichean doctrine that I have ever found in Indian sources, but there are
episodes of a Manichean type, dealing with evil rather than heresy,
in other Puriigas :
A rfiksasa carried off the wife of a Brahmin, but he did not eat her. A king
questioned him about this and received this reply: "We are not man-eaters;
that is another kind of demon. We eat the fruit of a good deed. When we
eat the patience of men, then they become angry; when we have eaten
their evil nature [bhukte du&e svabhfive ca], they become virtuous."l51

The demon in this story is responsible for the disruption of the

chain of h r m a in both directions. He destroys the power that
causes men to pay for their past actions and thus changes evil
men to good, as well as the reverse. An interesting inversion of this
concept appears in the statement of another rtilc+-asawho maintains that it is mankind who make demons evil, not vice versa :
We are all hungry and eternally devoid of dharma. We do not do all the
evil that we do because of our own desire; it is because of your evil karma
and your disfavor toward us. Our faction increases because of the Brahmins
who behave like rfiksasas and the evil actions of the other three classes.
Those who dishonor Brahmins become rfiksasas, and our ranks are swelled
by the sins of lascivious women.152

Thus, the force of karma may be transferred in either direction ;

the demons cannot be made to bear the stigma by themselves. I n
fact, by far the more common view is that demons are given as
their food various groups of sinners, thus ultimately destroying
evil rather than producing it.153
Maitrciyapiya Ujani?ad, 7.10.
VByu Purepa, AnandBQramaSanskrit Series 49 (Poona, 1905), 78.29-30.
MBrkandeya PurBna, 67.16-18; my summary.
Vcimana Purcina, All-India Kashiraj Trust (Benares, 1968) ;Saromdhcitmya,

History of Religions



Far more typical than the Manichean myths are those in which
evil is the work of god himself, created by him sometimes on
purpose, sometimes in error. Forster recorded a conversation with
the Maharajah of Dewas Senior which reveals the persistence of
this attitude :
When I asked him why we had any of us ever been severed from God, he
explained it by God becoming unconscious that we were parts of him,
owing to his energy at some time being concentrated elsewhere. . If you
believe that the universe was God's conscious creation you are faced with
the fact that he has consciously created suffering and sin, and this the
Indian refuses to believe. "We were either put here intentionally or unintentionally," said the Rajah, "and it raises fcwer difficulties if we suppose
it was unintentionally."154


The unintentional creation of evil is apparent in this early text:

Prajiipati produced the golden egg of the universe. He created the gods,
and there was daylight. Then, by his downward breathing, he created the
demons, and they were darkness for him. He knew that he had created evil
for himself; he struck the demons with evil and they were overcome. Therefore, the legend which tells of the battle between gods and demons is not
true, for they were overcome because Prajiipati struck them with evi1.155

Here we encounter a logical inversion which haunts these myths:

Because the demons were evil, PrajZpati made them evil, a corollary to the theory of the chain of evil karma. The apparent
nonsense of this concept is somewhat offset by the Hindu view of
selfcorrecting cycles,l56 but this is certainly a weak point which
betrays the constant confusion that the origin of evil generated in
the Hindu mind.
Similarly circular logic pervades another myth recorded by
Holwell :
[After the revolt of the demons] the eternal One spoke again and said, "I
have not withheld my mercy from. the leaders of the rebellious Debtah
[DevatBs]; but as they thirsted for power, I will enlarge their powers of
evil; they shall have liberty to pervade . and the delinquent Debtah shall
be exposed and open to the same temptation that f i s t instigated their
revolt: but the exertion of those enlarged powers, which I will give to the
rebellious leaders, shall be to them the source of aggravated guilt, and
punishment; and the resistance made to their temptations, by the perverted Debtah, shall be to me the great proof of the sincerity of their sorrow
and repentance."l57


. .

The temptation in this episode is contrary to the general pattern

of Hindu mythology, in which the evil man who is tempted with
154 E. M. Forster, The Hill of Dewi (London, 1965), p.
155 L?atapatha BrChmapa, ; my summary.
156 See below, sec. C8.
157 Holwell, pp. 57-58.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

further evil is meant to succumb in order that the god may
conquer him.158 But, whatever the intention, the net result is the
same: The punishment is merely an enlargement of the sin, in
this instance with the consequent guilt that is a moral torture in
the Christian context and a source of the progress to a cycle of
improvement in the Hindu context.
Although the secondary corruption of the "rebellious leaders"
is clearly intentional in the Holwell myth, the source of the original sin is not specified and may have been a mistake on the part
of god. One Sanskrit text actually states that god was deluded by
his own power of delusion,l59 and the Prabodhacandrodaya
describes a t some length the manner in which delusion overcomes
god.160 I n most of the creation myths, delusion simply appears and
continues to generate evil forces :
When BrahmB was thinking about creation, a t the beginning of the kalpa,
there appeared a creation preceded by ignorance and made of darkness;
from it was born fivefold ignorance, consisting of darkness, delusion, great
delusion, gloom, and blind-darkness [tamo moho makmohaa tcimisro
hyandhasamjriitah]. Seeing that this creation was imperfect [as&dhakam],
Brahmii began to create again.
His fourth creation produced creatures
in whom tamas and rajas predominated, afflicted by misery; these were


The qualities of passion and darkness appear in the course of

creation as the natural complement to the third basic qualitysattva, light and truth-and they influence subsequent creation
until another force predominates.
Evil is an integral part of god and stems from him. This is
apparent from a passage in the BhZgavata Purtina which describes
the parts of the creator which correspond to and produce the
parts of the universe: His rectum is the origin of injury, misfortune, death, and hell ; his back is the source of defeat, adharma,
and ignorance.162 I n a multiform of the creation myth, the goddess
of misfortune, JyesthB, appears from the ocean when it is churned
by the gods, who instruct her to dwell wherever there are quarrels
or false speech and to eat people who lie and who fail to wash their
feet.163 The existence of the evil goddess on earth is the fault of the
gods, who produce her-as they produce the Kglakiita poison
which immediately precedes her-when their greedy determina158 See below, secs. C1, C2, and C3.
159 Kcirikci of Gaudapada (Poona, 1953),
160 Prabodhacandrodaya, act 1.



u urcina, 1.5.4-8, -.16-18 ; my summary.
Bhcigavata Purcipa (Gorakhpur, 1962), 2.6.8-9.
Padrna PurCpa, 6.260.22-33.

History of Religions

tion to obtain the Soma causes them to churn the ocean too fast.
But she may only prey upon those who are already evil, like the
demons whom Prajiipati corrupts.
I n the ParGiara PurEna, heresy arises through the mistaken
ideas of the sectarian gods Vienu and BrahmL, who have replaced
Prajapiiti. This late text specifies heresy rather than the older,
general evil :
BrahmFi and V i ~ g uwere arguing, each shouting that he was supreme. I n
anger, Brahmii cursed Vicnu: "You will be deluded and your devotees will
have the appearance of Brahmins, but they will be against the Vedas and
the true path to release. They will be Tantric Brahmins, initiated into the
PBiicarFitra, ever averse to the Vedas, lawbooks, and the proper rituals that
give release."l64

One variation upon this theme is seen in the many myths in

which sin, conceived of as a physical entity like karma, arises in a
god who is then forced to rid himself of it by transferring it to
mankind. This is the reverse of the motif-very rare in Hinduism
-in which god takes to himself the sins of mankind. Indra, king
of the gods and most immoral of them, often places the burden of
his sins on mankind or, more usually, womankind, for women are
prominent in the creation of evil. Indra's lechery creates adultery
on earth,l65 and the Fury of Brahminicide which pursues him is
distributed among fire, water, grass, and the apsarases (this
portion to be transferred to any man who makes love to women
in their menstrual season), while the sin placed in women appears
as the blood of their menstrual flow.166 A similar transfer of evil
was made by the wicked king Vena, from whose left thigh there
was born a small dark man who was the first of the NisLdas. By
this means, the king's evil (pEpam) left his body, and his sins
(kalmqa) were destroyed. Then from Vena's body there appeared
fishermen, wild mountain tribes, and those who delight in adharma
-barbarians and outcastes. Vena was thus purified and able to go
to heaven.167




It would seem that god has no choice; part of him is evil and must
create evil. Other Hindu myths seem to imply, however, that it is
god himself who wills us to sin, a concept in direct opposition to the
ParGSara PurGna, chap. 3 ; cited by the Tantrdhikaranirnaya, p. 34.

16Qirniyapa of VBlmiki (Madras, 1958), 7.30.35.

MahibhGrata, 12.273.26-54, 5.13.17; Bhcigavata P u r i n a , 6.9.6-9.

167 Hariva&a (Bombay, 1833-76). 1.6.15-20; V i s p u PurGpa, 1.13.37.



The Origin of Heresy i n Hindu Mythology

Manichean ideology. According to the Jairniniya BrGhmana, the
gods were displeased with man and visited upon him the evils of
sleep, sloth, anger, hunger, and the love of dice and women.168
Whether through jealousy or mere incompetence, it is the gods,
rather than the demons, who are responsible for man's evil.
Holwell compares the implications of the view that god creates
evil against his will and the more typical Indian view that he
creates it willingly:
God would have made all things perfect, but . . . there was in matter an
evil bias, repugnant to his benevolence, which drew another way; whence
arose all manner of evils. . . . To produce good exclusive of evil, is one of
those impossibilities, which even infinite power cannot accomplish. . . .
How much more rational and sublime the text of Brahmah, which supposes
the Deity's voluntary creation, or permission of evil, for the exaltation of
a race of beings, whose goodness as free agents could not have existed without being endued with the contrasted, or opposite powers of doing evi1.169

The Abbe Dubois described the advaita philosophy that "neither

good nor evil exists; that, in fact, all crimes, even parricide,
adultery, fraud and perjury, are but acts incited by the divine
power."l70 I n this view, god creates evil not through his own
incompetence but rather purposely, to perpetuate a basic flaw in
the cosmic order. Once again, the ultimate responsibility is
merely pushed back one step farther. Eliade once noted that in
India there is not only no conflict between good and evil, but
there is in fact a confusion between them.171 This is particularly
true of Saiva philosophy, which denies the very existence of evil
by stating that "God is the director of the universe, and under His
rule nothing untoward can happen."l72 Agrawala has written:
"In the body of Siva the devas and the asuras become reconciled
and their coexistence is expressed as the rhythmic dance of the
Great God. I n the scheme of the creator darkness also has a place
as inevitable as light." 1 7 3
Several texts describe a t some length the manner in which the
creator purposely incorporated evil into his world: "BrahmZ
created the pairs of opposites, virtue and sin. Moreover, to distinguish actions, he separated merit from demerit, and whatever
he assigned to each a t the first creation, noxiousness or harmless168 Jaiminiya [Talavarka] BrGhmana, Sarasvati VihBra Series no. 31 (Nagpur,
1954). 1.97.



Dubois, p. 403.

Mircea Eliade, "Notes de d6monologie," Zalmoxis 1 (1938): 202 ff.

P. Shivapadasundaram, TheSaivaSchool of Hinduism (London, 1934), p. 67.

V. S. Agrawala, 8iva Mahtideva, the Great God (Benares, 1966), pp. 4-5.

History of Religions
ness, truth or falsehood, that quality clung spontaileously to
The Visnu Purtina contains a key passage in which evil results
in the basic heresy-the denial of the Vedas:
That portion of Visnu which is one with Death [IiBla] caused [created
beings] to fall, creating a small seed of adharma from which darkness and
Those in whose
desire were born, and passion urns brought about.
minds the seed of evil [pEpabindu] had been placed in the first creation,
and in whom it increased, denied Vedic sacrifices and reviled the gods and
the followers of the Vedas. They were of evil souls and evil behavior.175

. ..

The Lifiga PurGna also attributes to god the explicit wish to make
the universe ambivalent by means of heresy as well as evil fortune
NBrByana made the universe twofold [dvaidhan~]
-for the sake of delusion.
He made the Brahmins, Vedas, and the goddess Sri, and this was the best
portion. Then he made Alakgmi and the lowest men, outside the Vedas,
and he made adharma. When the goddess Jyesth8176 appeared from the
ocean, the sage Markandeya said, "Jyestha is Alaksmi." She must dwell
far from where men follow the path of the Vedas and worship NBrByana
and Rudra. But she may enter wherever husband and wife quarrel,
wherever there are people who delight in heretical practices and are beyond
the pale of the Vedas, wherever there are atheists and hypocrites, Buddhists or Jains.177

This myth accounts for the presence of wicked people on earth by

making them "food" for the goddess JyesthB in the usual manner,
but i t also accounts for the actual heresies of Buddhism and
Jainism. I n a similar manner, Hinduism describes the origin of the
"left-hand" Visaraga sect: "Formerly Prajgpati, in order t o conceal [the true] teaching, created the branch of the Visaragas,
which deluded even the Munis, let alone ordinary men."178
The statement that Prajzpati acted "in order to conceal" the
truth (upade&agBhanbrtham)does not satisfactorily explain his
motivation; but this may be implicit in the Hindu belief in the
necessity of evil. I n justifying the wickedness of kings, Arjuna
argues: "I do not see any creature in this world that lives without
injuring others; animals live upon animals, the stronger on the
weaker. . .. No act is entirely devoid of evil." 1 7 9 This doctrine is
further developed and more specifically related to 6iva in a
Tantric hymn describing Biva's cosmic dance: "By the stamping
174 MBnuvadhamnas'cZst~a,1 .26, -.29.
175 V i ~ PurBpa,
1.6.1P15, -.29-31.

See above, sec. B6.

177 Liiiga PurBna (Calcutta, 1890), 2.6.1-57; my surnmary.

178 VaikhBnasas~rtas.Litra,
Bibliotheca Indioa (Calcutta, 1927),
I79 MahEbhBrata, 12.15.20, -.50.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

of your feet you imperiled the safety of the earth and scattered
the stars of the heavens. But you dance in order to save the
world. Power is perverse [vtimaiva vibhuta]." 180 The commentator
explains that 6iva behaves in the manner of a king protecting his
subjects, an allusion to the view that, if a village is troubled by
robbers or demons, the king's army will protect it, but the village
will then have to tolerate the evils resulting from the presence of
the army itself (rape, pilfering, etc.). This argument, that god
cannot but do evil, appears in Hinduism with the corollary that god
does not wish to avoid evil. Sin is necessary for the balance of
earthly society. Just as the gods become demons, so it is necessary
for there to be untouchables in order for there to be Brahmins;
purity depends upon impurity. Goddesses of disease and filth are
worshiped throughout India despite their impurity; the Hindus
recognize the necessity of coming to terms with evil. Within this
wide scope, each member of the society has his svadharma, his own
particular role to fulfill, and of necessity some of these must be
evil roles-the slaughterer of animals, the presser of seeds, the
benefits of whose labors are enjoyed by castes too pure to indulge
in them themselves. As these tasks are necessary, they are not
considered to conduce to damnation. On the contrary, it is only by
abandoning one's own impure svadharma in aspiration to a higher
way of life that, in the classical Hindu system, the individual is
A striking illustration of the doctrine of svadharma may be seen
in the myth of the rciksasa SukeBin, who abandoned his demon
dharma of rape and plunder in order to devote himself to the
higher goals of truth and compassion; for forsaking his appointed
role, he was cast down from the sky by the envious sun god.181
Yet this myth occupies a turning point in the moral evolution of
the concept of evil. Though the demon is weakened by his violation
of the strict caste law of svadharma, nevertheless the higher ideal
of an absolute morality appears as well. This is due to the influence
of the medieval bhakti movement which subordinated caste law
and ritualism to the power of a direct bond of love between the
worshiper and his god. Thus, SukeBin is eventually vindicated and
restored to heaven in spite of his admitted lapse. Traditional
ritualism continued to exert its power alongside the new devotional
180 Mahimnastot~a of Puspadanta, with the commentary of MadhusEdana
(Benares, 1924), verse 16. He glosses v8mB as pratikiil8 and compares the svadedopad~avaresulting from the king's army.
181 V8mana PurGva, chaps. 11 and 16.


History of Religions
movement, but in a similar story in another text the theory of
svadharma, though clearly stated, is again challenged:
There was a y a k ~ anamed Harikeia, who devoted himself to asceticism,
dharma, and h a , behaving like a Brahmin. His father said to him, "This
is not the behavior of our family. We are crucl by nature, harmful flesh
eaters and scavengers. Pour behavior is not what the creator instructed
you t q do." But Harikeia went to Benares, where he performed asceticism
until Siva accepted him as a great yogi, one of Siva's own hosts.ls2


One great evil which can never be superseded is death. That death
was in fact considered an evil is clear from many explicit statements as well as from the contexts of the myth. That the possibility
of its absence was considered, though inevitably rejected, is also
Once the sages made Death their slaughterer of sacrificial animals. No one
died then except those animals slaughtered for the sacrifice; mortality
became immortality. Heaven became empty and the mortal world, ignored
by death, became overcrowded. The gods said to the demons, "Destroy the
sacrifice of the sages." The demons attacked the sacrifice, but the sages
begged Biva to help them, and he himself completed their sacrifice. The sages
then said to the gods, in anger, "Since you sent the demons to destroy our
sacrifice, let the evil demons be your enemies." And thenceforth the demons
became the enemies of the gods.183

I n this late myth, evil originates in the absence of death; supposedly there were no evil demons until the gods sent them to
interfere with the sages. Without death, the balance of heaven
and earth, good and evil, is upset, and only the creation of another
evil-the demons-can right it again. Sometimes Siva indulges in
a kind of preventive euthanasia, refusing to create beings subject
to the fear of death and karma, while Brahmii, the creator, is
ironically the one who sees the need for death: "Only that creation
which is composed of good and evil is auspicious. . . . Creatures
free from death will undertake no actions."la4
Death and evil are similarly related in another series of myths
in which people become virtuous, heaven is full, and hell, the
abode of Death, is empty. I n fact, this is a recurrence of the
problems posed by the original golden age, but here it is the excess
of virtuous people, not of immortals or people in general, that
upsets the balance, and therefore heresy, rather than death, may
182 Matsya Purtina, ~%nandi$ramaSanskrit Series no. 54 (Poona, 1907),
180.5-99, esp. 8-13; my summary.
183 Brahma Purtina (Calcutta, 1954), 116.1-21 ;my summary.
184 Matsya Purtipa, 4.30-32; Liiiga Purtipa, 1.70.315.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

be used to solve the problem. There are many early texts dealing
with the basic disinclination of the gods to allow crowds in heaven.
The datapatha BrEhnzana states that the gods, having conquered
heaven, tried to make it unattainable by men; they drained the
sacrificial sap and concealed themselves.ls5 A similar episode
occurs in the JlahEbhErata:
Formerly, all creatures were virtuous, and by themselves they obtained
divinity. Therefore the gods became u orried, and so BrahmB created women
in order to delude men. NOIVwomen, formerly virtuous, became
witches by the will of Brahmg, who filled them with wanton desires which
they in turn inspired in men. He created anger, and henceforth all creatures
were born in the power of desire and angcr.18"

Once again, women are the root of evil, though not through their
own fault. Elsewhere, V i s ~ uuses books of heresy to thin out the
ranks of heaven:
Formerly, the inhabitants of the earth all worshiped Visnu and reached
heaven, filling the place of mukti. The gods complained, "How will creation
take place, and who will dwell in hell ?" Visnu assured them that in the Kali
age he would create a great delusion, causing Siva to teach the Sbtras of
Naya Siddhlnta and PBiupata in order to delude those outside the path of
the Vedas.187

Other examples of this motif occur in several medieval texts,

often in order to demonstrate the miraculous efficacy of some
local shrine:
The mere sight of Skanda was sufficient for anyone to reach the world of
heaven, no matter how sinful he might be-women, Biidras, dog-cookers,
all went to heaven. Learning of this, Yama went to Siva and complained,
"Each of the gods has his own job to do; but now that even the most evil
are transported to heaven by a sight of your son, leaving my kingdom of
hell, what am I to do ?" Biva enlightened Yama with a speech teaching the
unity of all the gods, and Yama departed.188

This text stretches the doctrine of pantheism to overrule svadharma

(as it is overruled in the myths of SukeSin and Harikeha) and the
necessity of death. I n other texts, however, the problem posed by
Skanda's grace is overcome by the creation of GaneSa, the second
son of giva, who is usually worshiped as the remover rather than
the inciter of obstacles: "Heaven became overcrowded with
pilgrims. So Parvati made Ganesha, who created obstacles to men
going to heaven by diverting their longing for pilgrimage to desire
for the acquisition of wealth."lsg I n yet another version of this
ls5flatapatha BrBhmapa,
lsGMahabhdrata, 13.40.5-12; my summary.
Is7 Vardha Purdna, Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1893), 70.29-42 ; m y summary.
Skanda Purdna (Bombay, 1867), ; my summary.


History of Religions
motif, it is Siva whose kindness grants universal access to heaven
and causes the consequent overcrowding of heaven, disuse of hell,
and expulsion of the gods from heaven. PLrvati then creates
GaneBa to "occasion obstacles to men, and, deluding them, . . .
deprive thein of all wish to visit Somnsth, [so that they would] fall
into hell." 1 9 0
The PiificarLtras, in keeping with the usual sectarian biases of
this motif, have their own version:
The original religion (Bdhyadharma, to wit the PBficariitra) was first in the
Krta age proclaimed by god BrahmBn to the sages of sharpened vows, who
taught it to their disciples. All people followed the P&licar&traand were
liberated or went to heaven; hell became naught and a great decrease of
creation took place [gr$iksayo mnhdn &sit]. [BrahmB complained to Vienu,]
"All men, being full of faith and masters of their senses, sacrifice as prescribed in the Great Secret; and so they go to the Place of Vienu from which
there is no return. There is (now) no heaven and no hell, neither birth nor
death." This, however, was against the plan of the Lord, and so He started,
with the help of Brahmhn, Icapila and Siva, five more systems (Yoga,
SBfikhya, Bauddha, Jaina and Saiva), conflicting with each other and the
PBficarBtra, for the bewilderment of men.191

I n spite of their obvious axes to grind, these myths demonstrate

an underlying assumption that it is not good for everyone to go t o
heaven. A peculiar example of this line of thought may be seen
in the episode in which the mountain HimLlaya, personified as a
king, becomes so devoted to Siva that he is about to leave earth
and go to heaven. This would deprive the earth of all the valuable
gems and magic herbs of which HimBaya is the prime source, and
to prevent this Siva himself comes to Himslaya, disguised as a
Vais~avaBrahmin, and reviles himself just enough to make
HimLlaya lose his pure devotion and remain on earth.192
I n many of these myths, it is not entirely clear for whose sake
the gods inspire evil-sometimes it is for mankind, or to preserve
the balance in the universe, but more often it is simply in order
that the gods themselves may remain supreme. Even in the
oldest texts we find the notion that the gods protect their own
interests by corrupting their enemies:
The gods, speaking the truth, were very contemptible and very poor, but
the demons, speaking untruth, were very prosperous. The gods then began
to do the sacrifice, and each time the demons came where they were prels9 p. Thomas, Epics, Myths and Legends of India (Bombay, 1958), p. 25.
lQo W. J. Wilkins, Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Puranic, 2d ed. (Calcutta,
1900), p. 330 ; he cites the Skanda Purcina.
lQ1 Schrader, p. 83 ; citing the Padma Tantra, pt. 1, chap. 85, and Visnt~tilaka,

1.146 ff.
lQz 8iva PurEpa (Benares, 1964),,


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

paring it, the gods snatched up the sacrifice and began doing something
else. And the demons went away, thinking, "It is something else that they
are doing." Then the gods completed the sacrifice and they prevailed, and
the demons came to naught.193

Here the demons do not neglect the sacrifice of their own will,
as they do in other texts cited above, but are tricked into their
evil by the gods.
I n the Prabodhacandrodaya, heresies themselves, personified,
are said to attempt the corruption of orthodoxy in order to
preserve their own race, just as the gods act for their own preservation. Yet this episode may perhaps better be viewed in the context
of the Manichean myths of the demons: 1 9 4
Hypocrisy [Dambha] enters and says, "Great Delusion [MahBmoha] has
commanded me thus: Discrimination [Vivelia] and his ministers have sent
Tranquility, Self-control, and the others to various holy shrines in order to
encourage Enlightenment [Prabodha]. The destruction of our race is
imminent and you must take pains to prevent it. Go to the city of Benares,
the holy place where beatitude is obtained, and interrupt the religious
performances of those of the four dd~amaswho are engaged in asceticism

1. THE


I n the Buddhist tradition, Indra is said to have brought about

the fall of the demons from heaven because of his own jealousy
and greed. Thinking, "What good to us is a kingdom which others
share?" he made the demons drunk and hurled them from
heaven.196 Indian mythology abounds in stories in which Indra's
throne is heated by the powers generated by ascetics on earth,
causing the god to send apsarases to corrupt the sages. Only by
destroying their virtue can Indra overpower them. Siva uses his
own wife, PBrvati, to corrupt the virtuous demon Jalandhara.197
Against the demon Ghora he uses the heresy of sensuality as well:
The demon Ghora conquered the universe and usurped t,he place of the
gods in heaven. Visnu sent the sage NBrada to corrupt him; NBrada said to
Ghora, "The best way to propitiate the gods is by the enjoyment of sensual
objects. Indra and all the other gods pursue pleasure." Thus NBrada
inspired Ghora with a fraudulent dharma and convinced him to carry off
PBrvati. Ghora then abandoned Brahmins, Vedas, Visnu, and dharma, and
he delighted in the wives of other men. Ghora's queen became corrupted by
the Jains and other heretics, and NBrada corrupted all of Ghora's soldiers
193 satapatha BrGhmana, 9.5.16-27 ; m y summary.

194 See above, sec. B5.

195 Prabodhacandrodaya, act 2, before v . 1.

lg6 KuMvaka JEtaka, ed. V . Fausboll (London, 1877), vol. 1,

lg7 Padma PurEpa, 6.3-19, 98-107 ;Siva Purcina,

no. 31, pp. 198 ff.


History of Religions
and servants. Thus weakened, Ghora tried to abduct Pgrvati, but she slew

The more traditional means-the use of a woman to seduce the

enemy-is here combined with the details of heresy; together,
they destroy the demon.
I n certain Saiva texts, it is Siva who commands Viynu to preach
heresy to the demons of the Triple City, whose virtue is so great
(since they worship ~ i v a that
even Siva himself cannot destroy
them until they have been corrupted. (Hinduism is not the only
religion in which the demons worship the true gods; cf. James 2: 19:
"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well; the devils
also believe, and tremble.") The virtuous demon king watches
helplessly as his people fall prey to greed and lechery and are
ultimately destroyed.
This destruction is brought about in various ways. According
to the Matsya PurZ?, the demons remained orthodox-chanting
the Vedas, worshiping the gods, and honoring Brahmins-until
Alakymi, Asiiyb, thirst, hunger, Kali, and quarrels entered the
city.199 No further motivation is given for this sudden change of
fortunes, which may be assumed to have developed "in the course
of time." Yet after the evil has spread through the city, bringing
sexual immorality, dishonor of gods and Brahmins, and the
destruction of temples and hermitages, the text remarks that the
demons had been corrupted by Indra.200 This may be a vestige of
another version in which Indra, rather than fate, was responsible
for the corruption of the city. Elsewhere in the Matsya Puriina,
Siva (at the request of Indra and the gods) sends NLrada to
corrupt the Triple City by means of a change of doctrine (matim
alzyti~iil?zpracodaya; alternate reading, prabodhaya).201 NBada
teaches Anupamb, the wife of the demon Bgna, the vow by which
Piirvati came to share Siva's body. I n this way, he destroys her
chastity, thus creating a "chink" in the virtue of the city, so that
Siva is able to destroy it. The nature of the heresy taught here is
not clear. It may simply be the old motif of the corruption of
virtuous women, or it may represent a form of Tantrism. Among
the evil omens that appear in the city are dreams in which people
wear red garments,202 a possible reference to Buddhism.
Two other versions of the Triple City myth state the necessity
Devi PurBna (Calcutta, 1896), chaps. 8, 9, 1 3 ; my summary.

Matsya Purepa, 131.10-50.

200 Ibid., 131.50.

201 Ibid., 187.1-52, 188.1-77, esp. 187.18.

202 Ibid, 188.12.



The Origin of Heresy in Hindu ilfythology

for the corruption: "Indra and the gods and Brahmins were
burnt by the fire of the Triple City like trees burnt by a forest
fire, and in fear of the demons they went to Vis~u."203 This fire
is the heat of asceticism, tapas, particularly connected with the
worship of Siva: "All the demon women were true to their husbands, and the demons worshiped ~ i v devotedly.
By their tapas
they caused Indra and the other gods to wane away and to be
burned by the demon tejas."204 There is no moral contradiction
here; V i s ~ ustates that "the asuras are durmada and evil, .. . but
they cannot be slain by the gods, because by their worship of
Siva they are freed from all sins."20Vn order to corrupt the
demons, who are said to be most righteous, Visnu created a man
of delusion, nliiyin:
t aught MByin a ddstra which deluded everyone; it was opposed to the
Vedas and lawbooks, devoid of caste and the four &'ramas, teaching that
heaven and hell are nowhere but right here [Saura PurBna : that the body
is the Btman, that there is no other way to the Other World, and that one
should gratify one's own desire by theft, etc.]. Visnu sent MByin to destroy
the dharmas, Vedas, and lawbooks of the Triple City; NBrada assisted
MByin, and all the women of the city became unchaste and corrupt. Then
by Siva's command, Alakemi entered the city, and Lakemi, who had been
won by their tapas, departed. Thus heresy was established by Visnu, and
tho demons were abandoned by Siva, who was then able to destroy them.
The demons went on the path of heretics, outside the path of the Vedas and
the worship of Siva.206

I n this version, Alaksmi's appearance is clearly motivated and

NBrada is, as usual, associated with the loss of chastity. The
heresy in the Saura Pur6na is slightly more specific than that of
the Li6ga Purana, with possible elemeilts of materialism: "Men
and women desired only visible fruits [dy:rstaphal6rthinah]." 2 0 7


Often the heresy taught to the demons is merely a vague sensualism

and materialism. Usually, however, the heresy is specifically
identified as Buddhism or Jainism. Hindus came to regard the
Buddha as an avatar of Visqu a t about A.D. 450,208 and within a
few centuries the pattern of the Visnu-Buddha myth was well
enough established to serve as the model for historical writings.
The Skanda PurGna relates that, in the beginning of the Kali age,

L i q a PurBna, 1.71.38.
Saura PurBna (Calcutta, 1910), 34.23-24.
LiAga PurBna, 1.71.48, -.66, -.69.
Ibid., 1.71.75-96; Saura PurB?za,34.42-72; my summary.
Saura Purtina, 34.70.
Hazra, p. 103.


History of Religions

and under the influence of monks known as Ksapanas, the people

of King Ama's kingdom renounced their Vaisnava faith and
became followers of the Bauddha dharma. The king's daughter was
influenced by the Jivika (sic; Ajivika?) named Indrasfiri, and the
people followed the Jaina dharma and disregarded the Brahmins.
King Ama was surrounded by heretics and refused to shelter
Brahmins who were deprived of their villages, for he considered
them guilty of himsZ in their animal sacrifices.209 According to
RSjaiekharays Prabandhakoia, a Jain monk converted Amariija,
son of YaSovarman of Kanauj (A.D. 728-53) to Jainism.210 This
historical fact is embroidered with all the standard motifs in the
Skanda PurGna tale.
The BhZgavata PurGqa refers to the Buddha incarnation in the
form of a prophesy: When the Kali yuga has begun, in order to
delude the enemies of the gods, Visnu will be born as the Buddha,
son of Ajana, among the Kikatas;211 "homage to Buddha, the pure,
the deluder of the daityas and the dZnavas."212 The confusion of
Buddhists and asuras in these references, and in the myths, stems
in part from the superimposition of the Buddha myth upon the
older model of the dev6sura conflict but may also represent an
attempt by orthodox Brahminism to slander the Buddhists.
Wilson suggests, "We may have in this conflict of the orthodox
divinities and heretical Daityas some covert allusion to political
troubles, growing out of religious differences, and the final predominance of Brahmanism."213 Thus, the Buddha incarnation,
accomplishing the delusion of the Asuras-Buddhists, was to be
followed by the avatar of Kalki, who would exterminate the
heretics and barbarians.
Yet, some Hindus accepted the Buddha incarnation as a positive
contribution by Visnu. Ksemendra's DaiZvatZracarita describes
the Buddha avatar in a straight, heroic tale based upon the
standard episodes of Gautama's life as related in the Pali canon.214
Agrawala equates the Buddhists with the aszcras, but he remarks,
"In spite of their Asura appellation, . . . no one could shut one's
20s DharmBranyakhanda of the Rrahmakhanda of the Skanda PurEna, chaps.
31-38, cited by D. C. Sircar, Studies in the Society and Administration of Ancient
and Med;ewal India (Calcutta, 1967), p. 149.
210 R5ja4ekhara1s Prabandhakos'a, Singhi Jaina Series no. 6 (Santiniketan,
1935), pp. 27-45, 9.36-52.
2 1 1 Bhcigavata PurEna, 1.3.24.
212 Ibid., 10.40.22.
213 Wilson, T h e Vishnu PurEna, p. 272.
214 Ksemendra's Das'EvatEracarita, KBvyamQlB Series no. 26 (Bombay, 1891),
canto 9, 11. 1-74.


The Osigin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

eyes that they were also good religious people believing in an
ethical and moral religion."215 Yet, in the myth of the conversion
of the demons to Buddhism, the teaching is almost always clearly
intended to be destructive, to be preached by god in bad faith.
I n the Agni PurGna, Vispu uses a combination of various
heresies to cbrrupt the demons:
When, during the battle between the gods and demons, the gods sought
refuge with Ibvara, he became the son of Suddhodana and deluded the
demons ; they became Buddhists and abandoned the Vedas. Afterward he
became an drhata and made others into drhatas. Thus the heretics came into
being ; at the end of the Kali yuga, Kallii mill suppress the barbarians and
establish dharma.216

The Vignu Purgna gives the usual reason for the delusion:
The demons had stolen the sacrificial portions of the gods, but they were so
full of svadharma, Veda worship, and tapas that they could not be conquered. V i ~ n ucreated a man of delusion to lead the daityas from the path
of the Vedas ; the man was naked, bald, carrying a peacock-feather fan [as
the Jains did], and he made them all into drhatas, discouraging them from
their tapas and teaching them contradictory tenets about dharma. Then the
man put on red garments and taught the rest of the demons that the
sacrifice of animals was an evil act, saying, "If the animal slaughtered in
the sacrifice is assured of arrival in heaven, why does the sacrificer not kill
his own father?" Then the demons became Buddhists, and they caused
others to become heretics, abandoning the Vedas and reviling the gods and
Brahmins, discarding their armor of svadharma. The gods attacked them
and killed them.217

Certain arguments, such as the satire on the Hindu rationalization

of animal sacrifice and the appeal to "words of reason [yuktimadvacanam]," 218 may refer to a third heresy, that of the CBrvBkas.219
I n the diva PurGna, V i s ~ ucreates only one man of delusion,
a Jain named Arihan who is described at some length:
The man was bald, wore dirty clothes, carried a whisk broom which he
moved gently and constantly for fear of harming living creatures, moving
his hand with a piece of cloth on his mouth [i.e., masked]. He taught a great
idstra of delusion, opposing iruti and smyti, written in dialect [apabhramia],
teaching the doctrine of karma. He had four pupils who aided him in the
spreading of his heretical dharma.220

At first, due to the strength of the demons7 devotion to Siva,

the Jain made no headway. Then Siva sent N~rada,'whocorrupted

V. S. Agrawala, VEmana Purdna, a S t u d y (Benares, 1964), p. xi.

Agni PurEna, AnandBArama Sanskrit Series no. 41 (Poona, 1957). 16.1-10;

my summary.

V @ n u Purcina, 3.17.9-45, 3.18.1-34 ; my summary.

Ibid., 3.18.30.
219 Wilson, T h e Vishnu PurEna, p. 272.
220 Siva PurEna, 2.5.3-6, esp., -.lo-11, - . 2 P 3 0 ; JAcZna SamhitE of the
Siva Purcina (Bombay, 1884), 21.3-24 ; my summary.

History of Religions
the king with a doctrine of uhimsti and the irrelevance of caste 2 2 1
and corrupted the chastity of the women, as well. Then, for good
measure, giva sent Alaksmi to the city, and Laksmi departed.
When the demons had thus been made evil, the gods praised giva
for having driven the demons to take refuge in Buddhism,222
though the doctrine used to corrupt the demons seems far more
like Jainism and is identified as such by the commentator.223
Finally, Brahmz praised Siva for having taught the heresy himself: "There is no evil [in this act] because you, the greatest of
yogis commanded it. By your command they were deluded; you
were the initiator. Now you must kill the hosts of mlecchas in order
to protect the good."224
I n spite of this rationalization and the implication that the
heresy is less evil because of its association with giva, the demons
are damned. Yet the Padmu Purtina version of the corruption of
King Vena twists the myth to the credit of the god:
When Vena was ruling virtuously, a man came there naked, bald, carrying
a broom of peacock feathers, and reading the &/larut-s(6strawhich is contrary to the Vedas. He was named Papa [Evil], but when Vena aslred his
name he said, "I am Dharma and Moksa. I have taken the form of a Jain,
the embodiment of the dharma of truth. The Arhats are the divinity and
day6 the highest dharma. There is no use for sacrifices or meditation on the
Vedas or tapas; only meditation upon the Arhats." Vena was deluded by
that most evil man, and he abandoned the dharma of the Vedas. His
mother, Sunitha, told her husband the king, "In my girlhood I (lid an evil
thing to the sage SuQafikhawhile he was performilig tapas. In his anger, he
cursed me to have an evil son, and it is because of this that Vena has
fallen upon these evil ways." The seven sages tried in vain to enlighten
Vena ; a t last, they killed him, and from his left hand was born the Ni~Bda
king, lord of mlecchas; thus the evil came out of his body and Vena was
able to go to heaven. Arriving at Vi~nu'spalace in heaven, Vena was
asked, "What has become of the MahBmoha by whom you were deluded?"
Vena said, "I was deluded by my own evil deeds of the past [yan me
pCrvakytam p6pam ten6ham mohito vibho]." Vignu said, "When Suhaiikha
cursed your mother, I gave a boon to your father, promising that you would
be a good son. I was the naked monk who caused you to lose your dharma,
so that the words of SuBafikha could be realized." Visnu then instructed
Vena in the way of salvation.225

The myth still relies upon the chain of evil, the cause that is
sought one link back-first in Vena's own evil deeds of the past,
then in the curse of Suiaiikha and, in the Visnu PurCna, in the
evil nature of Sunithg's father, Death, who is blamed for Vena's

Siva Purcina,

JWcina Samhitci of the Siva Purcina, 21.7-8.
Siva Purcina,
Padrna Purcina, 2.36.1-45 ; V@nuPurcina, 1.13.11-12 ;my summary.

31 1

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

wickedness. But the Yadma Puriina version also expresses the
belief that the heresy taught to Vena is not truly evil because it is
taught by god, who also effects Vena's salvation.
Vispu becomes incarnate as the Buddha in yet another myth in
the Skanda PurZna, in which his motives are not nearly so
laudable, his enemy being a completely righteous king whose only
fault lies in occupying a city which ~ i v ahappens to fancy for
6iva lived on Mount Mandara, but he wished to live in Benares, which was
a t that time ruled by the virtuous King DJvodiisa. Hoping to destroy
Divodiisa's virtue and thus overpower him, Siva sent his female ascetics
[yoginis]to seduce the king and cause him to fall from his own dharma,
but they failed. Ganeia took the form of a Brahmin astrologer and deluded
many of the people in the city, including the king's wife, but the king then
spoke to Ganeia and converted him. Finally, Vivnu took the form of a
Buddhist named Vinayakirti, and his wife became a Buddhist nun named
VijiiSLnakaumudi; they taught the Buddhist doctrine that ahivsti is the
highest dharma, that caste distinctions are meaningless, that the pleasures
of the body [are important]; thus they corrupted the women of the city
and the harem. Deeply upset, the king sent for a Brahmin to advise him.
V i ~ n ucame to him in disguise and Divoditsa said, "How shall I find rest?
Two sides are striving against one another in my mind. I have worshiped
the gods and followed dharma, but I know how many have been destroyed
because of the hostility of the gods. The demons of the Triple City, though
true to their vows of dharma and devotees of &a, were destroyed by 6iva.
I have no wish for hostility with the gods, and I do not fear them, for my
tupas is greater than theirs." Visnu said, "It is true that you have never
been hostile to the gods, nor indulged in adharma. The fault seems to me
to lie in your heart, that you have kept the Lord of Benares [&a] far away.
Now your life is fulfilled, and you may go to heaven to dwell eternally."
Divodiisa mounted to heaven, where he became a servant of Siva, threeeyed and adorned with serpents like giva himself.226

DivodBsa explicitly notes the parallel with the myth of the Triple
City, and Visnu attempts to f k d a flaw in the king-that he did
not truly worship Siva-but there are obvious inconsistencies in
the development of the plot. I n fact, this complex myth combines
several episodes of heresy. The simple seduction by the apsarases
(here yoginis), the traditional technique of Indra, fails. The
second strategem, the masquerade of Ga~eba,fails too, but in an
earlier version in the VGyu PurZna, Ganeba successfully tricks
DivodLsa into an act of impiety, and it is not necessary for Siva
to use the heresy of Buddhism.227 Moreover, in the VZyu Pur8na
nothing is said about Divodlsa's virtue; 6iva instructs GaneSa to
use "gentle wiles" because the king is very mighty, and DivodBsa
is described as evil-minded and foolish. When GaneSa's shrine

Skanda PurEna, 4.1.43-58 ; my summary.

Hariva@a, 1.29.36-62; VEyu PurEna, 2.30.25-55.

History of Religions
grants sons to all the men in the city but the king himself, Divodgsa
loses his temper and destroys the shrine, whereupon ~ i v promptly
moves into Benares. But in the Skanda PurEna, both Siva and
Divodzsa are whitewashed almost beyond recognition. (The king
not only fails to be corrupted but teaches Ganeda the true religion,
and Siva never comes to occupy the city a t all, though this is the
motivation for the whole myth.) Into this rnklanga, the myth of the
Buddhist heresy is introduced, though still without effect upon
DivodBsa. This is a rare instance of resistance to the heresy taught
by god as a test of virtue which he hopes will be resisted, as in the
Christian motif of temptation. I n Hinduism, the gods usually
employ temptation in circumstances when they mean it to meet
with no resistance.


The heresy of Jainism is used in yet another series of myths in

which Indra enlists the aid of his preceptor, Brhaspati, rather
than one of the supreme gods, to overcome his demon enemy:
"The sons of Raji, full of virtue and ascetic power, usurped
heaven. Indra sought the aid of Brhaspati, who deluded them
with the Jain dharma which is outside the Vedas, though he
himself knew the Vedas. Then Indra killed them all." 228 Here is an
explicit reference to the conscious intent of perversion; the heretic
knew the Vedas. The presence of B~haspati,the Vedic priest-god,
in place of the sectarian gods suggests that this is an early myth;
yet the use of Jainism as the heresy is late. The problem is solved
by the existence of two earlier versions of the myth, one in the
Maitrzyaniya Upanisad: "Brhaspati became ~ u k r a[the guru of
the demons], and for the sake of Indra's security he created a
doctrine of ignorance [avidyG] for the destruction of the asuras. By
this doctrine, which is false and should not be accepted, men confuse the inauspicious and auspicious."229 The avidyG taught by
Brhaspati may well be the materialist doctrine known as BBrhaspatya and traditionally attributed to him. I n the Viiyu Puriina
version of the myth, the heresy is simply that the sons of Raji
become deluded fools, full of passion, haters of the Vedas and of
Brahmins.230 Later, the myth was expanded along the lines of the
myths of Buddha and the Triple City:
As the gods were winning supremacy over the demons, ~ u k r awent to seek
special incantations from Siva, and during his long abscrrcc the demons


Matsya PurEpa, 24.43-49 ; my summary.

MaitrEyaniya Upanisad, 7.9.
Vciyu PzwEipa, 2.30.92-100; Vi!?u Purcipa, 4.9.16-22.

T h e Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

made a truce with the gods. But Indra, finding out the true reason for the
truce, sent his daughter Jayanti to Sukra ; at her request, Sukra cast a haze
around them so that no one could witness their lovemaking. When the
demons then sought their guru to obtain the incantations, they could not
see him, and went away disappointed. Meanwhile, Brhaspati took the form
of ~ u k r and
a went to the demons ; they mistook him for their own guru and
he instructed them. After some time, the real Sukra returned to tho demons
but they failed to recognize him ; then he cursed them, saying, "Since yon
reject me, your wits will be destroyed and you will be defeated." Brhaspati
vanished, and t h e demons realized that they had been deceived by him.
They begged Sukra to forgive them, and he promised that they would
regain their wits and conquer the gods.331

The earliest method-the use of a woman, Indra's daughter, to

seduce a powerful sage-is supplemented here with the form of
the myths of heresy, but Brhaspati does not utilize the opportunity
that he has to corrupt the demons. It is their own guru, Sukra,
who curses them to lose their knowledge, though Brhaspati sets
up the curse.
The Padma PurEna version of this myth develops this possibility
and introduces the heresy of Jainism:
Brhaspati, disguised as Sukra, said to Sukra, "You are Brhaspati, author
of the heresy of materialism; you have taken my form to come here and
delude the demons." Furious, Sukra departed ; Brhaspati then taught the
demons to despise the Vedas and the gods ; he made the demons Jains and
Buddhists. Brhaspati departed and Indra approached the demons, who
told him that they had renounced the world to become monks, and that he
might have the rule of the universe. Indra agreed, and the demons, thus
deluded, dwelled on the banks of the NarmadB until, awakened from their
vow by Sukra, they again resolved to steal the triple world.232

Several interesting variations may be seen here. Brhaspati, with

notable nerve and presence of mind, accuses Sukra of his own
treachery and his own heresy, materialism. The double heresy of
Buddhism and Jainism is used not merely as a technicality by
which the demons are weakened, but as an actual philosophy
which causes them to renounce their kingdom, a far more perceptive use of the doctrine. The gods are quite content to let the
demons have the spiritual merit (especially as, being heretical, it
will do them no good), while they, the gods, maintain the secular
The Devibhiigavata interpolates an interesting conversation
between Vyasa, who tells the myth, and the king, who hears it:
The king asked VyBsa, "How could the guru of the gods trick the demons
so ? If he, who taught the dharma of truth, lied to the demons, then who
231 V d y u Purdpa, 2.35.95-203; 2.36.1-50; Matsya PurcZna, 47.69-226; m y
232 Padma Purdpa, 5.13.205-420; m y summary.

History of Re1igion.s

can be truthful ?" Vyssa said, "All creatures are subject to emotions ; the
gods are all subject to passion. Otherwise the universe, composed as it is of
good and evil, could not continue to deve10p."Z~~

The basic justification for the gods' involvement in heresy is here

explicitly expressed by the narrator of the myth of heresy.
One final myth in the series is a reversal of almost every principle
discussed here, though i t is based upon the same philosophical
assumptions :
The demon Raktiisura conquered the gods and ruled the triple world. One
day he said to the demons, "Sacrifice to me and honor me. I u,ill kill anyone
who defends the gods. Abandon all contributions to Brahmins and enjoy
the wives of the gods as much as you please." Thus the ritual of sacrifice
was destroyed, the world was without dharma, and Indra's strength was
therefore reduced. The demons, knowing this, attacked Indra and conquered him. B~haspatisought the help of the goddess, who killed the demons,
and the gods rejoiced.234

Here the demons pervert themselves, and the result of their

corruption is the weakening not of their power but of Indra's,
since the power of the gods is here considered to be derived
directly from the sacrifice (as it is in the philosophy of the Vedas
and in the gataptha BrEhmana and MahEbhErcLta myths of the
origin of evil) 235 and not from the weakness of their enemies (as it
is in the Puriinas). Here, as in the second version of the B~haspatiSukra myth, the content of the heresy is taken into account and
used to produce a violeilt rearrangement of the plot. If the demons
fail to sacrifice, it may indeed weaken them but not as directly as it
weakens the gods. The ultimate result is that heresy strengthens
the demons, who must then be overcome by an entirely different
force, the goddess.


A final series of myths employs yet another reversal; the heresy

itself is taught not as a curse but as a release from a previous
curse. The heresy appears in two stages: First, Daksa curses Siva
to be denied a share in the sacrifice, to be impure and banished
from heaven, and a chain of curses occurs:
Daksa called Siva a heret'ic and cursed him to be outside the Vedas;
Nandi, the servant of Siva, said that Daksa's curse was false; Daksa then
cursed Nandi and all the servants of Siva to be beyond the Vedas, heretics,
233 Devibhdgavata PurGpa (Benares, 1959), 4.11.1-4, 15.50, esp. 4.13.1-35 ;
my summitry.
234 Saura Purdna, 49.7-143 ; my summitry.
235 See above, sec. B2.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

outcastes. Nandi cursed Daksa to be a hypocrite, full of lust and greed, a
false Brahmin.236

I n other versions of this myth, Dadhica (who assumes the role of

Nandi) curses the Brahmins who hate 6iva to be beyond the pale of
the Vedas, taking pleasure in the behavior of heretics;237 to be
reborn in the Kali yuga as Sfidras; to say prayers for Sfidras,
going to he11;238 to be outside the three Vedas.239
Devotional developments a t this time have an interesting
effect upon the subsequent episodes of the myth. Siva, through
his mercy, forgives Daksa and allows him to find release. He even
promises that Daksa will someday become a Ga~eSLna.240When
Nandi curses Daksa's priests to be poor and greedy-BrahniarLksasas-6iva chastises him for losing his temper with Brahmins.241
But Daksa's curse takes effect, as the sects which he curses,
KLlamukhas and KLpLlins, were actual Saiva sects. Those who
are not cursed to become heretics are condemned to something
worse (from the partisan Saiva standpoint): They are doomed to
hypocritical Vaisvava orthodoxy:
Nandi said, "May those who hate Siva be averse to the true, attached to
houses of fraudulent dharmas, because of a desire for country pleasures,
practicing ceremonies with a mind dulled by Vedic formulas, indulging in
ignorant rituals, deluded by the flowery speech of the Vedas; let them be
magicians and ascetics, omnivorous, delighting in wealth and sensuality,
wandering beggars."242

The myth is not content with this exchange of imprecations,

however, and seeks to trace a more basic cause in the source of
Daksa's hatred of 6iva. A number of different reasons are stated
in different versions, indicating that this was a problem that the
PaurLqikas found difficult to resolve. The Brahmavaivarta falls
back upon fate to explain it: "There arose an enmity in Daksa
toward 6iva for no reason, by chance [nirarthakam daivayogtit]." 243
Hardly more explicit, and equally reminiscent of the classical
Hindu myths of evil, is the Lifiga Purtina statement that Daksa
reviled Siva "because of the curse of NiiradaH;244but the curse of
d i v a P u r i n n , ; my summary.

Saura PurcZna, 7.39-40.

TantrcZdhikBranirpaya, p. 35 ; McZrkandeya PurBpa, 49.13; Skanda PzcrBpa,

7.29.90 ff.
239 Kiirma P u r 6 ? ~ a1.1.5.28-33.
240 Ibid., 1.15.76-77.
241 Skanda P u r i n a , 1.1.38.
242 BhcZgavata PurBna, 4.2.21-26; my summary.
243 Brahmavaivarta PurcZna, Anand~gramaSanskrit Series no. 102 (Poona,
1935), 4.38.5.
244 Lifiga PurBpa, 1.99.14-15.

History of Religions
Dadhica is also invoked in this text. The giva PurEna explains the
conflict between Daksa and giva by a previous conflict between
their representatives, Ksuva (a king) and Dadhica (a Brahmin),
who are assisted by Visnu and Siva, respectively, during an argument about the relative importance of kings and priests.245 AS a
result of this conflict, Dadhica curses Visnu and the gods to be
burned by the fire of Siva's anger,246 a sequence which seems to
explain the myth as one of sectarian and class conflict.
Many versions of the myth attribute Daksa's hatred of Biva
to the fact that Biva married Sati, the daughter of Daksa. These
conflicts may be traced in turn to the Vedic episode in which Biva
punishes Prajgpati (the ancestor of Daksa) for committing incest
with his daughter,247 a connection which persists in those passages
in which Siva curses Daksa to become incestuous.248 The more
immediate source of Daksa's irritation, however, is expressed in
texts which describe the manner in which $iva came to Daksa's
house disguised as a ragged old beggar and carried Sati away.249
He married her and transformed her from golden to black, much to
Daksa's shock and disapprova1.250 I n the course of his many
tirades, D a h a frequently objects to the excessive sexuality of
his son-in-law, who is constantly engaged in sexual dalliance
with his ~ i f e . ~ 5Overtones
of incest may be seen in another
explanation of Daksa's enmity toward Siva:
Daksa took a garland which the goddess [another form of Sati] had given
to Durvgsas [an incarnation of Biva] ; he placed it on his marital bed and,
excited by the perfume of the garland, he made love to his wife that night
in the manner of a beast [ p d u k a r m a r a t o ] . Because of that evil sin, D a k ~ a
conceived a hatred for giva and Sati.252

Aside from the particular obscurities of causation, this myth falls

in the category of those which explain sin by previous sin.
Slightly more straightforward are those myths which attribute
Daksa's antipathy toward Biva to a former slight, or imagined
&iva Pur+a, ;

Lijiga Purdna, 1.36.72-74.

247 Rgvede, 1.71.5, -.8 ; 1.164.33 ; 3.31.1 ; 10.61.4-7 ; Tdpdya IllahdbrBhmana,

Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1869-74), 8.2.10 ff. ; Aitareya BrBhmapa, (Bombay

and London, 1863), 13.9-10 ; Satupatha BrBhma.~a, ; Siva Purdpa,
248 Bhcigavata PurBea, 4.2.22-23;
Karma PurcZna, 1.14.61; Vciyu Purdna,
1.30.61 ; Skanda Purdpa,
249 Brhaddharma PurBna, Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1888-97), 2.34.1-52,
250 Ibid., 2.37.30-35.
2 5 1 Siva Purdpa,
252 Devibhdgavata Purdva, 7.30.27-37 ; my summary.



The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

slight. Once Biva honored Daksa as was customary, but Daksa
wished for more honor than he deserved, and he reviled Sati,
saying, "All my other sons-in-law are better than your husband
Biva."253 Other texts state that Rudra actually did slight Daksa
by failing to bow to him.254 Daksa complained to Sati, "My
other sons-in-law honor me more than your husband does; Biva
vies with me and dishonors me always, going against my grain." 255
Similarly, Daksa admits, "Although I know that Siva is the
Puriina Purusa, I have always been unable to brook him
[astiy~nzi]," but he then goes on to explain "the root of it: I
command the eleven Rudras, who are a part of Rudra; yet
BrahmL has made me give my daughter to him; therefore I hate
him." 256

This apparent nonsequitur arises from the fact that the text cited
above is a misquotation of an earlier text in which Daksa explains
to Dadhici (sic) that he does not honor Biva because, although
he knows eleven Rudras, he does not know Mahedvara.257 This is,
in fact, the actual historical basis of the mythological conflict:
Although the eleven Rudras (or Maruts) are Vedic storm gods,
the individual Rudra who eventually subsumes them all is nonVedic in almost all essentials-a combination of the Indus Valley
Pagupati, a tribal god of destruction, a Vriitya ascetic, the Agni of
the Briihmanas, and various other local strains all grafted onto
the shadowy Rudra of the Rgveda (himself a foreign god hated and
feared, worshiped with offerings at crossroads but never with a
share in the Vedic sacrifice). Thus, the apparent result of Daksa's
curse is actually its cause: Because Biva was always a heretic,
denied a share in the sacrifice, Daksa curses him to be such. This
circular reasoning is apparent from most versions of Daksa's curse:
The Brahmins will not sacrifice to you along with the other gods; when
anyone offers an oblation to you he will touch water in his rites.258 ~ i v a
has defiled the path followed by good men; lie is impure, an abolisher of
rites and demolisher of barriers, [who gives] the word of the Vedas to a Siidra ;
he wanders like a madman, naked, laughing, the lord of ghosts, evilhearted. Let Siva, the lowest of the gods, obtain no share with Indra and
253 Karma PurEna, 1.14.53-65.

254 &
%a Purdna,

255 V d y u PurBna, 1.30.42-49; Brahmnndn P~iriina(Bombay, 1857), 2.13.44.

25s B~haddharmaPurdna, 2.35.24-33 ; cf. 2.33.34-50.

257 MahBbhErata, vol. 12, appendix 1, no. 28,ll. 40-45 ; Brahma PurEna, 39.30-

33 ; cf. B~haddharmaPurEna, 2.37.50-66.

2 x 1 Brahma

P u r d ~ a 2.13.70-73.


History of Religions
V i ~ n ua t the sacrifice of the gods; let all the followers of h a be heretics,
opponents of the true icistras, following the heresy whose god is the king of

The temporal ambiguity of the curse is clear from other versions

of the myth in which Daksa explicitly curses Siva to be a heretic
because he is already a heretic:
You are excluded from the rituals and are surrounded by ghosts in the
burning ground ; yet you fail to honor me, while all the gods give me great
honor. Good men must scorn all heretics ; therefore I curse you to be outside the sacrifice, outside caste; all the Rudras will be beyond the Vedas,
endowed with heretic doctrines, KBpBlikas and KBlam~khas.~GO

I n particular, Daksa says that he hates Biva because Biva is a

KZpLlika,261 and when, for all of these various reasons, Daksa
refuses to invite Biva to his sacrifice, the KCrma PurEna gives
the true cause: Daksa says, "In all sacrifices, there is no share
ordained for Biva, . . . the naked Kapiilin." 262
I n Bhavabhiiti's MElatlmEdhava, Biva is a horrible Kapalika,
and the manner in which he originated the KBpLlika vow is well
known throughout India: I n the course of an argument, Biva
beheaded BrahmB, whose skull stuck to Biva's hand. giva wandered
for years performing the KZpZlika vow, naked, until a t last he
reached the shrine of Kapglamocana in Benares and was purified.263 I n the Prabodhacandrodaya, Anger cites this as an instance
in which he overpowered Biva,264 and in spite of the fact that later
texts insist that Biva established the vow "for the sake of his
devotees," that he could have made the head fall from his hand
had he not wished to suffer for the sake of his worshipers, it is
clear that most Baiva theologians consider the episode to reflect
to the discredit of Siva. Daksa has a particular reason to object
to the Kapalika Siva, for the KapLla myth is a multiform of the
Vedic myth of the beheading of the incestuous Brahmii-Daksa by
Thus, throughout Indian literature, giva is an outcaste. He
appears in the Mahabhiirata as a naked Kirata, an outcaste
hunter.265 He is said to be an outcaste, lower than a ~iidra.266He

BhBgavata PurBna, 4.2.10-32; my summary.

Skanda PurBna, ; Siva PurBna,, ; my

Padma Purdpa, 5.5.42-50; KBlilcd Purepa (Bombay, 1891), 16.29ff.,
17.1-16; Skanda PurBna,
262 Ktirma PurBpa, 1.15.8, -.11 ; cf. Vcimana Purcina, 2.17, 4.1.
263 Vardha PurBna, 97.1-27 ; Siva Purcipa, 3.8.36-66 ; 3.9.1-57 ; Jltdna
SamhitB, 49.65-80; Bhavigya PurBna (Bombay, 1959),
264 Prabodhacandrodaya, 2:31.
265 MahBbhBrata, 3.40.1-5.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

is involved sexually with outcaste women.267 Banerjea describes
an image of Siva with a bell tied to his leg, a common form of his
BhiksBta~amtirti.As bells were worn by outcastes in order to
warn the upper castes of their approach, the iconography "emphasizes in a way the belief that the god was outside the pale of
orthodox Vedism." 268 I n this form, Siva is often accompanied by a
dog, the scavenger outcaste of the animal world.
When Siva was eventually accepted into the orthodox pantheon, his antisocial behavior raised serious problems when
regarded as a possible model for the worshiper. The evil actions of
the god were used to explain the vice that is in the world, justified,
as Vygsa justifies Brhaspati's dishonesty and heresy, by the
accepted analogy between human and divine emotions:
8iva1s cobra, hungry, wishes to eat the r a t of G a ~ e L a ;
And the peacock of Skanda wishes to eat the cobra.
The lion of PBrvati is greedy for the snake-eatkg bird.
Since there is such strife even in the house of Siva,
How could it be otherwise in the universe which is
The form of that household ?269

A similar problem is expressed in the Prabodhacandrodaya: "If

Brahmii be unceasingly employed in the creation of worlds; if the
eye of the god who destroyed the sacrifice of Daksa burn with desire
when he embraces Gauri; . . . how can tranquility be obtained by
men? " 270 Yet the next step, from the model of explanation to the
model for imitation, is never taken, and Hinduism provides
adequate hierarchical precedents to allow the theologians a
doctrine of "quod licet Jovi non licet bovi." The gods are said to
commit serious sins in order "to awaken people to a sense of the
dangers of adharma"271-that is, as a negative moral example.
The extremes of Tantrism are only considered suitable for people
at the extremes of the moral scale-the gods and truly enlightened
sages, on the one hand, and the degraded mortals of the Kali age,
on the other. Thus, Siva is said to have remarked, "The vcima
ritual, although declared by me, was intended for ~ f i d r a sonly.
Skanda Purcipa, 4.2.87-89.
ManasBbijay of BipradBs, pp. 1-235 ; cited by Pradyot Kumar Maity, Historical Studies i n the Cult of the Goddess ManasB (Calcutta, 1966), p. 79.
268 Jitendra Nath Banerjea, The Development of Hindu Iconography, 2d ed.
(Calcutta, 1956), p. 483.
269 Paficatantra, Bombay Sanskrit Series no. 4 (Bombay, 1885), 1.159; cf.
SublzZ+itaratnakosa of Vidyiikara, IIarvarcl Oriental Series no. 42 (Cambridge,
Mass., 1957),verses 70 and 97.
270 Prabodhacandrodaya, 2 :28.
2 7 1 C. Rajagopalachari, Ramayana, 5th ed. (Bombay, 1965), p. 40.


History of Religions

A Brahmin who drinks liquor is no longer a Brahmin; let it not be

done."272 The usual justification for Tantric practice-that the
enlightened may achieve salvation by the very acts that cause
common men to burn in he11273-was obviously the occasion for
much license. I n explicit recognition of this, Pgrvati remarks to
giva, "I fear that those rites which were enunciated by you for
the welfare [of men] have been perverted [vipuritcini] [in the Kali
age]."274 Thus, men of the Kali age are considered too low to
imitate the heresies of god, even though it was on their account
that he created them.275
One of the effects of this dilemma was that Giva became dissociated from some of the more extreme members of his own sects.
This is implicit in his statement that, although he declared the
vGma ritual, it was intended only for giidras-that is, that he did
not indulge in it himself. I n the ~ a ~ k u r u v i j u the
~ u , KLpLlika
whose practices are contrary to the Vedas, who drinks wine, kills
Brahmins, and breaks the moral laws, summons Rhairava (giva)
to defend him against gaiikara. But Bhairava says to gaiikara:
"One must perform the dharma of the Vedas, dcistras, and PurL~as.
gaiikara, teach these KLp5likas how to act like Brahmins. I n the
confusion of the Kali age, they did whatever they pleased; I was
overcome by mantras and no longer present in dharma."276
The difficulties that arise from the attempt to dissociate the god
from the heresies that he creates are indicated by a statement made
by giva in the Var6ha Purcina, when he has taught the Navasiddhanta heresy and the PLSupata doctrine a t the request of
Visgu:277 "In order to delude those outside the Vedas, I propounded these diistras. But I am the very form of the Vedas, and
my true form is not known by those who speak the doctrine of
other dcistras. I am to be known by the Vedas." 278 A more lengthy
discussion of this point of view appears in the Padma Purcina:
Piirvati said to &a, "You have said that one sbould avoid conversation
with heretics. What sort of people are they ?" Siva replied, "Those who
carry skulls and bones and wear ashes and matted locks, those who use
non-Vedic rites and do not follow the lawbooks, they are all heretics."
PZrvati was amazed and said, "But you yourself carry skulls and bones and
272 Wilson, Essays, 1 :262 n. ; citing KiiAinZtha's DakginBcara Tantra Raja.
273 Indrabhuti's Jricinasiddhi, chap. 15; cited by Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom (New York, 1958), p. 263.
274 MahBnirvcina Tantra, Tantrik Texts no. 13 (Madrag, 1929), 1.64-65.
275 See below, sec. C8.
276 fiafikaravijaya, chap. 23.
277 See above, sec. B8.
278 VarEha PurBna, 70.41-43.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

ashes ; why is this reviled?" Biva then told the great secret about his own
behavior, which must not be told among men :
"Formerly the demons delighted in Vienu and were pure, devoid of all
evils; Indra and the gods were disturbed and full of fear, for the demons
shook off their sins by means of tapas and were invincible. Visnu then told
me, 'Create a heretical dharma in order to delude the enemies of the gods ;
narrate PurBnas of darkness to the ten sages, Gautama, Jaimini, Kapila,
DurvBsas, Jamadagni, KanBda, Sakti, Upamanyu, M~kaqdu,and B ~ h a s pati. Enter into them with your dakti and teach the Piidupata diistra and the
schism of the KafikBla Baiva heretics. Bear the skull, ashes, and bones
yourself, to cause the people in the triple universe to worship you in this
form, and I will worship you in this form in order to delude the creatures
of darkness.' I was very upset about this, fearing that it would destroy me,
but Visnu said, 'Do as I say, for the sake of the gods, and you will revive
yourself by reciting my thousand names.' Then for the sake of the gods I
created the way of heretics, entering Gautama and the other Brahmins.
They all became attached to sense objects, devoid of truth and strength,
and they were conquered by the gods, falling from all dharma to the lowest
place. Thus I created this reviied sect of outcastes proclaiming the Saiva,
PBBupata, Vaiiegika, Nygya, SBtikhya, CBrvBka, and Buddhist heresies by
entering into various sages. I n the Kali yuga I took the form of the Brahmin
Jaimini and taught that senseless argument was the basis of the words of
the Vedas,279 and I taught the unity of the highest lord and the jiva, a great
d&stra having the essence of the Vedas but non-Vedic, in order to delude
the entire universe in the Kali yuga. The six Puriinas of darkness, which
lead to hell, are the Matsya, Kiirma, Liiiga, Biva, Skanda, and Agni; and
the S&stras of darkness are the Gautama, BBrhaspatya, Siimvarta, Yama,
SBxikhya, and A~&anasa."~gO

This myth accounts for the teaching of almost every known

heresy by 6iva, who manages to clear himself by completely
denying any value at all to any of them, taking refuge himself in
the worship of Visnu, and falling back upon the final argument
that he was only obeying orders. This rationalization is also used
by the Varfiha Purfina, which, like the Padma, has a Vaisnava bias
which leads it to attribute all the deeds of Siva to Visnu's ultimate
I n the context of this historical background of 6iva as an
outcaste and heretic, the Daksa myth which seems a t first to
exclude Siva actually represents his assimilation into the orthodox
pantheon. After the curses have been exchanged, 6iva comes to
the sacrifice and destroys it, and ultimately forces Daksa and his
faction to acknowledge him and to give him a share in the sacrifice.
The first part of the myth, however, containing the tirades
against Siva, represents an earlier stage a t which the more
obviously non-Vedic characteristics of Siva had not yet been
rationalized philosophically. Thus, from the initial premise of

See above, sec. A3.

Padma Purcina, 6.263.1-91 ; my summary.

History of Religions
Rudra's heresy, the myth comes full circle to the episode in which
Daksa curses 6iva to be an outcaste and his followers to be
heretics, while Dadhica1Nand.i (the representative of 6iva himself)
produces yet another group of heretics, the followers of Daksa. A
third rank is said to have arisen as a result of the curse of the sage
Gautama, and all three meet in a final episode in the Pine Forest.


The curse of Gautama is an accepted source of heresy: "Either

because of the curse of Gautama and the others, or because of the
great evil [pEpEdvE mahato], men who are outside the Vedas and
those who are born of mixed castes, as well as women and siidras,
take the Tantras as their text." 281 "The curse of Gautama and
the others" may be interpreted objectively or subjectively-that
is, a curse given by Gautama or to him-for there are two myths
of heresy in which he figures, first as author of the curse and then
as its recipient.
The f i s t set of myths attempts to trace the seed of evil back
a t least one step, as usual, to explain why Gautama cursed the
sages :
Formerly in the Pine Forest there were householder sages who did tapas
for Siva. One day a terrible drought destroyed all living creatures, and the
sage Gautama fed the Pine Forest sages, a t their request, for twelve years.
Then the drought ended and the sages wished to leave Gautama, but he
wished them to stay; they created the illusion of a cow who died at Gautama's touch, and used this as an excuse to refuse his food and return to
the Pine Forest to do tapas. When Gautama discovered that the cowslaughter was an illusion, he cursed them to be beyond the pale of the

Even in this myth, which is an attempt to find a cause for the

later curse in the Pine Forest, the curse of Gautama is taken back
yet another step and attributed ultimately to a drought and hunger, the source of original sin.283 Several versions of the episode
emphasize the force of famine:
Once Indra sent no rain for fifteen years. Because of the drought, food was
scarce; it was not possible to count the corpses in every house. Some
people ate horses and others even ate human corpses ; a mother would eat
her child, and a husband his wife, all were so tortured by hunger and
famine. .284 Formerly, in the ripening of time and by the force of the
karma of living creatures, there was a twelve-year drought. Men behaved in


Tantrtidhikhranirnaya, p. 25.
Kfirma Purhna, 1.16.95-108; my summary.
283 See above, sec. B3.
284 DevibhEgavata Purcina, 12.9.1-10.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Alythology

evil ways because of their desire for food; some, deluded, killed and ate
others; some ate elephants and h0rses.~85

Once more, the cause of the drought is further sought in time and
karma, but the narrator dwells upon the inevitable evils of hunger.
The Skanda Purtina centers wholly upon the famine, even to
the point of omitting the curse of heresy which is the point of the
Once there was a twelve-year drought in the hermitage of the seven sagesAtri, Vasi~tha, Kdyapa, Bharadvaja, V s v h i t r a , Jamadagni, and
Gautama. They abandoned all dharrna and vows and rituals and ate improper things ; mothers abandoned their sons, men their wives, kings their
dependents, and everyone stole grain shamelessly, oppressed with hunger.
The seven sages wandered until they found a dead male child ; they cooked
and ate him. As they continued to wander, they found a lake full of lotuses ;
collecting the delicious lotus filaments they left them on the bank while
they performed their lustrations, but upon emerging from the lake they
found that the filaments ware gone. Furious and tortured by hunger, they
suspected one another and cursed the unknown thief to be omnivorous,
hypocritical, a drinker of wine and eater of meat, to have unlawful intercourse with women, to sell the Vedas, to be a whoremaster, a horse dealer,
to question Sfidras about dharma, to revile his guru, and to dishonor his
parents. At length, a wandering ascetic named Sunomukha admitted to the
theft, which he had only done in order to test their dharma, for he was
Indra in disguise. Indra said that he was satisfied by their lack of greed;
the sages remained there doing tapas and obtained immortality.286

Here, as in other versions, Gautama is himself one of the cursed

sages. The original myth, in which the drought sent by Indra
causes the sages to become heretics, is reworked to the credit of
the sages. The drought is merely Indra's trial of their goodness,
and the curse of heresy is left without any object, since the god's
purpose here is not to tempt them in order to make them evil (as is
usually the case) but to tempt them in order to prove their virtue.
The DevEbhZgavata PurG?za, however, dwells a t length upon the
nature of the heresy which Gautama brings upon the other sages:
When Gautama learned what the sages had done, he was furious and cursed
them to be averse to Siva and the eternal rituals, outside all sacrifices,
Vedas, and lawbooks, to be evil men, adulterers, averse to the gods, sellers
of the Vedas, initiated in the KBlamukha, SBkta, Buddhist, Jain, PBBupata,
and SBmbhava sects, and into other heresies and paths outside of the
Vedas.287 He cursed them to turn from all traditional religious acts and
beliefs ;to be attached to the KBptpQika,Bauddha, PBiicarBtra, KhaBBstra,
and various heretic doctrines and rituals ; to commit adultery and incest.
When the sages begged for mercy, Gautama said, "You will be reborn in the
Kali yuga, and if you honor the feet of GByatri you will be released from the

TantrMhikEirani~a?/a,p. 29; from the Skanda P u ~ t i ~ Yajiiavaibhava


Khanda, p. 32 ; my summary.

Skanda P u r E ~ a 6.32.1-100;
my summary.
TalZtrCdhikCrani~aya,p. 31.

History of Religions

curse." Therefore the sages were born in the Kali yriga outside the Vedas,
followers of Kaulika, KGpiilika, Buddhist and Jain heresies, doomed to
return to the Kumbhipaka hell because of their karrna.288

Although there is an apparent moment of mercy, when the sages

are promised salvation if they worship the Ggyatri (i.e., return to
the Vedic rituals), the curse of heresy would seem to make such
worship impossible, and they are finally doomed to hell anyway.
The V a r E h PurEna version of the myth, however, provides
explicitly for the sages' release from heresy:
When Gautama had cursed the seven sages, they went to 6iva and said,
"In the Kali age, sages will have your form, with matted locks and the
clothes of corpses ; some 46stras should be given for their sake." Siva then
made a 48stra related to Vedic ritual, called NiBvasa,289 which is the true
PiiBupata 48stra; the sages became hypocrites and made their own $Estrus,
which, since they departed from the Vedas, were lowly rites devoid of
purity. 6iva dwells only in the NiAvSsa Batra, not in those made by fickle
students of Vedanta in the Kali age. By the curse of Gautama, the Brahmins
will be born in the line of Raudras ; but those of them who delight in Siva's
command will obtain heaven, while those Vediinta philosophers who revile
the Saiva sect are the Brahmins who were burned by Gautama's fire; they
will go to hell by Siva's command, for they are heretics.290

This text, like that of the Padma PurEna, is narrated by Giva

himself to explain why he made delusory JEstras. But, unlike that
Vaisnava text, the VarEha PurEna raises one heretical dEstrathe "orthodox heresy" of the PZ8upatas-to the level of the god
himself, instead of stating that all the heretical JEstras were taught
by him in bad faith. The text is inconsistent about the fate of the
sages, assigning some of them to hell and some of them to heaven,
allowing some to worship Giva correctly in spite of their heresy,
just as the Devibhtigavata allowed the heretics to worship the


The final stage of the Gautama myth combines with the Daksa
myth to offer the h a 1 justification for the gaiva heresy: It is
taught by giva to release the sages from the previous curses of
heresy, just as Visnu teaches the Buddhist heresy to Vena to
release him from a curse.291 This episode is foreshadowed in the
KCrma PurEna version of the Gautama myth which seeks, like

Devibhiigavata Purtina, 12.9.1-97 ; my summary.

A $aka PBBupata
according to V. S. Apte.
Varciha Purcipa, 71.48-62; my summary.

See above, sec. C2.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

the episodes of the Variiha and the Devibhiigavata, to temper the
curse with the mercy of a hope of salvation:
When Vignu learned that Gautama had cursed the sages to be outside the
pale of the Vedas, he went to Siva and said, "There is not even a drop of
merit in a man who is beyond the Vedas. But nevertheless, because of our
devotion to them, we must protect them even though they will go to hell.
To protect and delude the evil ones beyond the Vedas, let us make Bcistras
of delusion." Siva agreed, and they made the KBpEtla, Nakula, VBma,
Bhairava, PtirvapaQcima, PEtficarEttra, PBQupata, Mudgala, and other
Biistras. For the sake of the sages, Siva descended to earth and begged alms
from those who were outcaste, deluding them as he came there adorned
with skulls, ashes, and matted locks, saying, "You will go to hell, but you
will then be reborn and gradually work your way to the place of merit."292

The end of the myth of Daksa and Dadhica contains a similar

prediction: "Siva promised that those sages who read the Vedas
would go to heaven; that those who did not would become householders, and he would release them from their sins by coming to
them a t noon, smeared with ashes, and begging alms from them;
whoever gave him alms would go to heaven."293 The Devibhiigavatu explains how i t is that Siva hopes to free them from heresy by
teaching another heresy:
There are various non-Vedic Bcistras in the world, such as the VBma,
KBpEtlika, Kaulaka, and BhairavBgama. They were expounded by Siva for
the sake of delusion and have no other cause ; they were taught because of
the curse of D a k ~ aBhrgu,
and Dadhica. I n order to raise up, in the manner
of stairs, step by step, those Brahmins who were burned by the curse and
forced outside the path of the Vedas, Siva expounded the Saiva, Vaisnava,
Saura, SBkta, and Ganapatya cigamas ; even though there is here and there
a bit which is opposed to the Vedas, there is no sin in their being taken up
by Vaidikas.294

The Kfirma Pur@za explicitly connects the curses of Dadhica and

Formerly in the sacrifice of Dakqa, Brahmins were burned by the curse of
Dadhica, who said, "These Brahmins and those others who were burned
by the curse of the noble Gautama will be born in the Kali age and will
follow vows outside the Vedas, evil ways. Then in the Kali age Rudra will
bring salvation to men and gods. He will become incarnate in order to
establish Bruti and smgti, for the sake of his devotees."295

Siva releases both groups of sages from the curse of heresy by

begging from them in the Pine Forest. Although Gautama's curse
is responsible for the sages' presence there, Gautama himself is
Ktirma PurBna, 1.16.109-20; Tantrcidhikiiranirnaya, p. 27 ; my summery.
Skanda Puriina, 7.2.94-96, -.136-142 ; my summary.
294 Dewibh~igavata
Puriina, 7.39.26-32 ; my summary.
295 Ktirma Purcipa, 1.29.27-34; my summary.

History of Religions

often included among them, just as he is the author of the NyBya

heresy in the Padma PurZna and one of the seven sages who are
guilty of eating the dead child.
The Pine Forest sages are often said to be heretics of various
sorts, atheists and followers of the Mimamsa, to whom Siva comes
to teach the truth.296 I n the true context of the original myth,
however, the heresy is of secondary importance. Once in the forest,
Siva seduces the wives of the sages, and the heresy is merely a
later rationalization of the adulterous behavior which Siva
inherited from the epic myth of Agni and the sages' wives.297
Thus, i t is said that Siva was made mad when he had cut off the
head of Brahmii: "This madness went so far as to make him
commit various strange actions, such as the seduction of the wives
of the anchorites in the forest of Taragam [Devadiiruvana, the
Pine Forest]-though, to be sure, the anchorites were heretics."29*
Here the heresy is in its proper perspective-as an afterthought
to justify Siva's licentious behavior-but
the fact that this
behavior is preceded by Siva's appearance as the KBpZlika, with
the skull of BrahmB, shows with what persistence the motif of
heresy was attached to the Pine Forest episode. Skulls appear in
another version of this episode which is also reminiscent of the
myth of Daksa's sacrifice:
~ i v aentered the sacrificial grounds to beg, carrying a great skull and
adorned with skulls. The priests reviled him and threw out the skull he
was carrying, but more and more skulls appeared to replace it. The priests
accused him of coming there for their women, and they beat him until he
cursed them, saying, "You will be beyond the Vedas, devoid of the Vedas,
wearing matted locks, adulterers without progeny, begging for alms and
living on the scraps of others. But those who live without egoism or wealth
will be born again in good families. And those who are peaceful and constrained and devoted to me will not lose their knowledge, wealth, or
descendants." Thus he gave them a curse and a boon, and he vanished.299

Once again he curses them to be heretics in his own image, and he

tempers his curse with mercy.
I n spite of these connections with the KBpiilika cult, the most
important heresy associated with the Pine Forest myth is the
PBSupata cult, which is explicitly taught a t the end of several
versions, after Siva has "pretended'' to seduce the sages' wives296 Oroon Ghosh, The Dance of Shiva (New York, 1965), p. 108 ; Sister Nivedita,
Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists (London, 1913), pp. 310-11 ; Gopinatha Rao,
Elements of Hindu Iconography (Madras, 1916), 2 :i, 235.
297 See my article (n. 42 above), pt. 2, pp. 5-7; cf. also $atupatha Brdhmapa,; Mahdbhdrata, 3.213.41-52; -.214.1-17; -.219.1-15.
298 Ren6 Grousset, The Civilization of India (New York, 1931), pp. 191-92.
299 Padma Purdpa, 5.17.75-84; my summary.

The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

an action which is in itself typical of the PiiSupata ritua1.300
Thus, Siva explains to the sages the PBSupata vow and the Kiipiila
vow.301 He instructs the sages in the worship of the Zifiga and
creates four Saiva castes with four iEstras-the Saiva, PBSupata,
Kiilavadana, and KBpBlika.302
How can Siva give the sages salvation by teaching them a new
heresy ? The myths offer several answers based upon the concept
of moral relativity. Though the sages are doomed to hell, Visnu
and Siva decide to help them by giving them some religion, albeit
a heresy, since they are to be denied the Vedas. "In order to raise
up, in the manner of stairs, those Brahmins who were outside of
the Vedas, Siva expounded the Baiva doctrines which, though
occasionally contradictory to the Vedas, are not sinful for
Vaidikas."303 Because of the curse, the sages needed something
to bridge the gap between true religion and complete darknessthey needed an orthodox heresy. This is reflected in Agrawala's
view that the Pine Forest sages were Buddhist monks, hypocrites
and sexual perverts, who were "ultimately converted" to the
PiiQupata faith and Zifiga worship.304 A more reasoned view is
expressed by Nilmaw Mukhopadhyiiya:
Mention is made of certain Brahmanas who had lost the privilege of studying the Vedas through the curse of the sage Gautama, and who were
directed by [Siva and Visnu] to write on and teach other sciences of a
perverted character, showing their utility for the confounding of the wicked,
and thereby find a way to the expiation of their sins. It is not easy to
describe what these sciences were, but one thing is clear, that all this means
a covert attack aimed a t the schisms consequent on that nascent spirit of
innovation exhibited in the various forms of S ~ k t aVaisnava,
and Saiva
worship which sprung up in medieval India after Buddhism had been
stamped out.305

How the sages are to expiate their sins by corrupting others into
their own heresy-whether that heresy was Buddhism or a consequent schism-is not clear. Perhaps their own guilt was to absolve
them, as it was to torture the demons described by Holwell.306 It is
rather in the "lost privilege" of Vedic worship that the usefulness
of their heresy should be sought.
The basic principle in these chains of heresy is that of "homeo300

See above, sec. A5.

BrahmciMa Purzna, 2.27.1 16 ff.

Vcimana Purcipa, 6.87.

DevibhEqavata Purcina, 7.39.26-32.

304 Agrawala, Vcimana Purcina, pp. 86 and xiv.


305 Nilmani Mukhopadhyiiya Nyiiyiilankara, preface to Karma PurBpa,

Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1890), p. xxv.

306 See above, sec. B6.

History of Religions
pathic" curses: One can only teach heresy to a heretic; "you can't
cheat an honest man." The curse merely emphasizes the fault
which inspires it. Thus, the goddess says that she created the
Kapala, Bhairave, Yamala, Viima, Damara, Kapila, Paiicariitra,
and Arhata ktistras which are opposed to iruti and sm?.ti,in order to
delude those who delude others by contact with evil k~stras.307
Only corrupt people are susceptible to corruption (the "good"
demons are a notable exception to this),308 and only they can
profit by it, as it is better than the corruption in which they
already dwell. Visnu is said to have become the Buddha because
of the lack of enlightenment, the force of heresy, and the madness
prevalent at the time309-that is, to root out evil with evil, just as
Prajapati cursed those demons who were already evil. I n one text,
giva says that he reveals himself primarily for the sake of atheists,
to keep them from being evildoers.310 Were there only believers,
god would not need to partake in religious life. Similarly, giva
teaches heresy as a favor to the prodigal sages.311 This serves
either to make them slightly better, so that they may start on the
path back to the Vedas, or to make them so evil that they must
reach the farthest point of the cycle and rebound from the extreme,
to become good again.


Heresy is thus the first step to salvation for those who are not yet
capable of proceeding on the higher paths. This is the philosophy
underlying certain rationalizations of Tantric religion; it is the
path for those incapable of higher (Vedic) religion. The Tantras
are said to be useful even for those who are excessively evil.
Those who abandon the Vedas will be initiated into the Piiiicariitra,
Kiipiila, and other heresies.312 The difficulty of understanding the
Vedas is accepted by exponents of Vedic religion: Vispu, knowing
that the Vedas were difficult to grasp, became incarnate as Vyiisa
Vitapaia and divided the Vedas into branches.313
Ktirma Purcina, 1.12.256-59.
See above, secs. B5, C1, C2, and C3.
309 B h k a v a t a Purcipa, 6.8.19.
310 Padma Pur@a, 4.1 10.244 : "kim tu nBstikajantun5m pravrthyartham idam
mays darsaniyam hare te syur anyathB pBpakBrinah."
311 $iva
Purcina, 4.12.11 ; Brahmcinda Purcina, 2.27.2; Darpadalana of
K~emendra,KBvyamBlB no. 6 (Bombay, 1890), 7.70-71 ;Nilakantha's commentary
on Mahdbhcirata (Bombay, 1862), 13.17.202 (13.17.99in Poonaedition) ; Yciggisbaramcihcitmya, India Office &IS no. 3719, reproduced by Wilhelm Jahn, Zeitschrift
der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 70 (1916) : 310-20, verse 26b.3.
312 Tantrcidhikciranirnaya, p. 37; citing P a r d a r a Purcina, chap. 11.
313 Bhcigavata Purdna, 2.7.3&39.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

What may thus appear as a doctrine which allows immorality
to members of a religion is considered by the Hindus themselves
more as a doctrine which allows religion even to those who are
immoral. As Eliot writes, "An immoral occupation need not be
irreligious; it simply requires gods of a special character."314
Thus, the Karma Purli?a remarks that each man worships a
divinity who appeals to him.315 Blood-drinking demons excuse
themselves on the grounds that evil acts and sexual faults in their
past have given them a nature unfit for higher action,slG thus
justifying immorality by immorality in the classical Hindu manner.
Ling, in a discussion of the role of native demonology in the
Buddhist church in Burma, speaks of the retention of the figure
of MLra in Buddhism: "Such a symk~olwould have a particular
appropriateness for the purpose of leading towards the ultimate
truth those whose native mental world was largely colored by
demonological ideas."317 This is precisely akin to the concept
of "weaning" expounded by apologists for the Tantras:
Siva knowing the animal propensity of their common life must lead them
to take flesh and wine, prescribed these [Tantric] rites with a view t o lessen
the evil and to gradually wean them from enjoyment by promulgating
conditions under which alone such enjoyment collld be had, and in associating
i t with religion. "It is better to bow to NBrByana with one's shoes on than
never to bow a t a11."318

fhdras and the victims of curses are forbidden to study the Vedas;
certain others are incapable. Out of pity for all of them, Siva
teaches heresy, raising them up "step by step."
The Tantras are particularly suited for Kali yuga men, who
are so stupid that they can neither understand nor appreciate the
Vedas. People fallen from Vedic rites and afraid of Vedic penances
should resort to the Tantras.319 The Ggamas should not be used,
however, by good men; the steps work in both directions, and the
gods often use them to bring good men down, just as they use them
to bring heretics back to the Vedic fold.320 The Karma P u r z ~ a
tells of an outcaste PLiicarStra Vaisnava, a SLtvata, who was
314 Eliot, 1 :lxxxix.

315 Karma PurBna. 1.22.39.

316 Edward ~ a s h b b r n
Hopkins, Epic Mythology (Strassburg, 1915), p. 45.

317 Ling, p. 78.

318 Sir John George Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon), Shakti and Shakta (Madras,

1959), p. 577.
319 SBmba PurBna, quoted in the Vxramitrodaya of Mitramiira, 1 :24; cited by
Chintaharan Chakravarti, The Tantras: Studies in Their Relioion and Literature
(Calcutta, 1963), p. 32.
320 Hazra, p. 227.

History of Religions
prompted by Niirada to teach a iEstra suitable for bastard sons
of married women and widows, for their welfare.321
This argument-that only lowly men should follow heretical
texts-is somewhat undercut by the important doctrine which
states that in the Kali age, the present age, all men have fallen
below the spiritual level necessary for Vedic religion and must
proceed by the "stairs" of heresy. This doctrine, which is foreshadowed in the Br%hmanas,322is only fully developed in much
later texts. It is significant that 8iva is said to be the god of the
Kali yuga,323 as this is the age in which the ~ a i v heresies
I n the Kali age, Brahmins and Kyatriyas become Vamas, PaBupatas, and PLii~ariitras;3~~
Siidras become heretic as~etics,3~5
shaving their heads, wearing ochre robes, and propounding false
doctrines;326 Kapiilikas are omnipresent ;327 and all kinds of heresy
are rampant.328 8iidra kings support heretics, who teach evil rituals
and sell the Vedas;329 men become heretics, thinking themselves
wise.330 Under the influence of the Kali age, man of his nature
becomes wicked and inolined to all sins.331 I n fact, the degree to
which the Kali age is upon us may be measured precisely by the
degree to which heresy thrives.332 It is in the Kali age that the
curses of Dadhica and Gautama are to take effect.333 Wilson
interprets the Kali age heresies as Buddhist or Saiva and remarks:


The complaints of the prevalence of heterodox doctrines. indicate a

period of change in the condition of the Hindu religion, which it would be

important to verify. If reference is made to Buddhism, to which in some

respects the allusions especially apply, it would probably denote a period

not long subsequent to the Christian era; but it is more likely to be of a

later date, or in the cighth and ninth centuries, when Saiikara is said to have

reformed a variety of corrupt practices, and given rise to others.334

Two interesting arguments develop from the premise of the

natural wickedness of man in the Kali age. One is the doctrine of

Ktirma Purcina, 1.24.31-34.

Satapatha BrBhmana,
KGrma Purciw, 1.28.18.
TantrBdhikciranirnaya, p. 36; Ktirma Puriina, 1.29.25.
V i s n u Purcina, 6.1.37.
Byahma Puriina, 230.13 ; Vciyu Puriina, 1.58.59 ; Brahmcinda Puriina, 2.31.
327 Tantrcidhikciranirnaya, p. 37.
32s Matsya Purcina, 144.40; Vciyu PurBna, 1.58.31 ; BrahmBp$a Purcipa,
2.31.65-66 ; Karma Purcina, 1.29.16.
329 V@U Purciea, 1.58.40-65.
330 Mahiinirvcipa Tantra, 1.45.
331 Ibid., 1.66.
332 V @ n u Puriipa, 6.1.45.
333 Tandrcidhikciranirnaya, p. 35 ; from Ktirma Puriipa, 1.27.
334 Wilson, The Vishnu Purcina, pp. 489-90.


The Origin of Heresy in Hindu Mythology

the Kalivarjya, or the actions such as widow remarriage which,
though previously acceptable, are only to be considered immoral
in the present Kali age, when men are not strong enough to
indulge in them without ill effect. By this circular reasoning, a
higher level of morality is to be striven for, since man himself is
lower. Another inversion of values appears in the Vis?u PurZna
statement that the Kali age is the best because by a small effort
one will win the merit that would require great tapas in the Kfla
age.335 Wilson considers that this is not said in irony, but is taken
literally by the commentator, who interprets it as an allusion to
the worship of Kryga; here the "easiest" path is equated with the
A third argument exalts the Kali age because it is the last stage
before the return to the K ~ t aage. At the end of the Kali age,
Visnu will come as Kalki, riding on a white horse, and he will
uproot the barbarians and heretics and usher in the golden age
again.336 Here the cyclic nature of evil becomes apparent. Individuals prone to evil may be cursed to become so evil that they
must eventually reform. At the end of the Pine Forest myth, Siva
deludes the sages further, making them so wicked that they
realize their sins and repent. Similarly, mankind in general may
be delivered from the sins of the Kali age only by being corrupted
so completely by heresy that true enlightenment is the only
possible consequence. This cyclic effect may be seen in the Dggha
NilcCya myth of evil:
When virtue is a t its lowest ebb, there will not even be a word for good,
let alone good deeds. Then for Seven Days of the Sword, men will look on
each other as wild beasts and kill each other. But a few will think : "We do
not want anyone to kill us, and we do not want to kill anyone. Let us hide
and live on the fruits of the forest." Thus they will survive. And after the
Seven Days of the Sword they will come out and embrace one another and
say, "My friend, how good it is to see you still alive. We have lost so many
of our kinsfolk because we took to evil ways ;now we must do good. We must
stop taking life." Then they will increase in age and beauty and virtue.
India will be as crowded then as purgatory is now.337

And so the next cycle begins with overcrowding on earth or in

Optimistic reformers might think it possible to hasten this
inevitable turning point in the cycle of evil, and indeed Manu
states that the king, by his good or bad behavior, produces the


VGnu PurEna, 6.1.60 ; cf. 6.2.34-36.

BhZigavata Purepa, 2.7.36-39.

Cakkavatti S-hand&Suttanta, Digha NikEya, 3 :73-75 ; my summary.

History of Religions

character of the Kali or golden age, not vice versa.338 Similarly,

the Artha&istra suggests that the king, by maintaining the code of
the Vedas, may cause the world to progress and not to perish.339
But there is a Hindu myth which warns against the dangers
inherent in this challenge to cosmic order:
The demon Bali, ruling in the Kali age, protected the universe with great
virtue. When Kali saw this he sought refuge with BrahmB, for his own
nature was being obstructed. BrahmB said, "Bali has destroyed the nature
of the whole universe, not merely your nature." Then Kali went to a forest,
and the golden age took place; asceticism, noninjury, truth, and sacrifice
pervaded the world. Indra complained that his kingdom had been taken ;
Vignu conquered Bali and made him rule in he11.340

Underlying the doctrine of individual karma (for Indra must

expiate his own former sins and transfer them to a savage tribe
before Bali can be overcome)341 is the deeper need for the karma of
the universe, for evil to come when it is ripe. It is inevitable that
the universe should be destroyed at the end of the Kali age, and
for god to destroy us he must first weaken us with sin, just as he
must corrupt the demons with heresy before he can destroy them.
It must be done, and only god can do it. Just as, when it was
necessary to corrupt Himzlaya's love for giva, only Siva himself
could revile himself, so only god is great enough to undertake the
responsibility for the creation of the necessary evil that is in the

MciwvadharmaiBtra, 9.301-2.
ArthaiBtra, 1.3.14-17.
Vdmana Purcina, 49.1-14; my summary.
Ibid., 50.1-26.

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