Some Aspects of The Varaha-Katha In Epics and Puranas (An Old Book)


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This book is a significant contribution to studies in the Indian folklore, textual criticism and history of religion. The Varaha-katha has been chosen as a case study and the enquiry has been limited to its early phases so that the problems it poses may be studied intensively with attention to methodological question. The present study investigates how the Varaha-katha, which was a cosmogonical myth in the beginning, gets associated with Visnu in course of time and it transformed under the influence of the Avatara doctrine. It throws a welcome light on the interrelationship and relative chronology of the relevant parts of the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the cosmogonical sections of the Puranas. The successive stages of the Varaha-katha present a clear-cut stratigraphy of the history of religion, viz. the growth of Vaisnavism, the vicissitudes in the worship of Brahma and the growing revival of the Vedic tradition.

Dr. Maheshwari Prasad earned his B. A. and M. A. degrees from the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and Ph. D. from the Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen (F. R. G.). He was awarded Rai Bahadur Dayara Sahni Gold Medal for securing first position at M. A. examination in Ancient Indian History, Culture & Archaeology in 1959 and had the distinction of earning the predicate magna cum laude at the viva voce for the Ph. D. degree in 1973. Dr. Prasad is a widely travelled person. He was in West Germany as a German Academic Exchange Service Scholar from 1968 to 1973. He visited G. D. R. and U. S. S. R. under Cultural Exchange Programmes in 1981. Besides, he also paid brief visits to several academic centres in Europe including Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Holland, Italy, U. K. and Switzerland. Dr. Prasad joined the Department of Ancient Indian History, Culture & Archaeology, Banaras Hindu University as teacher in 1960 and has been running courses mainly in History of Indian Religion and Epigraphy. Dr. Prasad has the credit of organizing the department of History, Culture & Archaeology at the Avadh University, Faizabad, where, on leave from B. H. U., he served as Professor and Departmental Head for about three years (1985-88). He presided over the Archaeology Section at the 34th Session of the All Indian Oriental Conference held at Visakhapatnam in 1989 and has been elected President of he History Section of 35th Session of the same Conference. Besides some very important contributions in learned Journals, Dr. Prasad has published Vaisnava Saiva aru anya Dharmika Mat (1967; Hindi translation of R. G. Bhandarkar's Vaisnavism, Saivism and Minor Religious Systems) and a concordance of the birch bark manuscript of the Bhagavata Purana (Ed. H. Bechert, 1976)


Hinduism abounds in myths and legends and these have frequently been used for the interpretation of its different aspects. However, their importance as a source for the history of religion cannot be emphasized unless they are systematically studied. As the problem of individual myths and legends may differ, we have to multiply the case studies to arrive at proper conclusions.

As a case study the Varaha-katha has been selected and the enquiry has been confined to its early phases to that the problems it poses may be studied intensively with attention to methodological questions. It investigates how the Varaha-katha, which is a cosmogonical myth in the beginning. Undergoes changes in course of time and gets associate with Visnu.

Our main sources to study the early history of the Varaha-katha are epics and Puranas. Unfortunately, these works cannot be assigned to a definite date. One finds in them material belonging to the early and late periods either mixed or put together. However, for the reconstruction of the development of the Varaha-katha it is necessary to have the relevant passages in a chronological scheme. Textual analysis is applied to bring such passages into a comprehensive chronological order. Sometimes the Katha itself gives clues to the sequence of the passage. Once a relative chronology is ascertained, it can be used to delineate the development of the religious ideas.

In the present study we have confined ourselves mainly to the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the cosmogonical sections of the Puranas. It is generally held that the texts of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are earlier than the Puranas. However, the cosmogonical parts of the puranas belong to an earlier stratum of he Purana complex. The present study investigates into the interrelation o relevant pars of the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the cosmogonical sections of the puranas. It is not that the Varaha-katha does not appear in the non-cosmogonical sections of the Puranic texts. On the contrary, these sections are even richer in that respect. But they require an independent study which we propose to take up later.

Kirfel has collected the common texts of the cosmogonical sections of the individual puranas and classified them into three groups, which he calls Texgruppe I, II and III'. One may now go further and see the development of this section in the individual puranas. A study of the text of the Varaha-katha in this section partly fulfils this aim. Kirfel's 'pure deductive method of text comparison' has been used where possible. However, going beyond the mechanical comparison of two or more verbally similar texts. The texts concerned have been put to a critical examination. It is not always the case that the shorter version is earlier than the longer one, and that all the verses common to two text-groups, which are shown by means of interspaced type by Kirfel, belong to the common text-kernel. Some of them may be borrowings or contaminations from one groups to the other. On the other hand, extra verses in one text may not necessarily be interpolations because the other text might have dropped them. These problems can be settled only by a critical study of the text.

The absence of critical editions of many of the texts required was a great handicap in this study. Their existing editions exhibit a wide range of discrepancies. Therefore, I had to make use of more than one edition of the Purana texts and consult a number of manuscripts in many instances. This has given a sound basis for the statements regarding interrelationships of texts under study. Leading to conclusions significant for the history of Hinduism. It is hope that future studies will supply with further evidence to examine the questions which have remained untackled here due to many limitations.

I should like to note the following points for the benefit of the reader: 1. In case more than one edition has been used, the references are, unless otherwise stated, to the edition mentioned first in the bibliography. 2. The script of the mss. In the bibliography is stated only when it is not Devanagari. 3. In referring to mss. Mentioned in the critical editions of the Mahabharata and the Harivamsa I have followed the abbreviations given in those editions. 4. 'Brahman' as the name of a god is written as 'Brahma'. 5. Padas of verses are referred to as a, b, c, d, etc., e.g. 10ab means first two padas of verse 10.

The present study was originally submitted for the award of
Doctor of Philosophy is the University of Gottingen (R. R. G.) in 1973. it is my pleasant duty to express my indebtedness to Prof. Heinz Bechert, under whose supervision this study was conducted, for his expert guidance and warm encouragement. My thanks are also due to Dr. Gustav Roth, Prof. George Von Simson, Prof. Claus Vogel and Prof. J. N. Tiwari for discussions and suggestions relating to several points in this research. I owe a special debt of gratitude to my friends Dr Heinz Braun, and Mr. Dieter Hildebrandt, and my wife Shashibala for help too great to recount. I wish to record my sincere appreciation to the following libraries for making me available the Purana manuscripts for my research: Staatsbibliothek, Berlin (West); Niedersachsische Staats - und Universitatsbibliothek Gottingen, Universitatsbibliothek, Heidelberg, Staatsbibliothek,

Item Code: IDI828
Cover: Hardcover
Edition: 1989
Publisher: Pratibha Prakashan
ISBN: 8185268118
Size: 9.1" X 6.2
Pages: 197