India from the Time immemorial has been known to be the land of religion where the Rsis or priestly institutions played a prominent role. The earliest sources of Indian religions history are said to be the Harappan culture and the Vedic literature. Both these sources have sufficient carried out during such a remote past. But the priests were more conspicuous and dominant in the Vedic period as compared to the Harappan culture. The Vedic evidence points to strong priestly institutions who could compose verses not only for the daily worship of the people but also for the performing of homas or yajnas besides other religious rites relating to the birth marriage and death of the people in the contemporary society some of which have come down to the present times.
The Rsis though were mostly the Brahmanas but it was not confined to a particular caste and did not go by birth but by inner worth achieved by a person with the performing of tapas. For instance ambarisa, trasadasyu, Tryaruna, Asvamedha, Purumilha and Ajamila were the royal rsis. The women also had full religious rights and were known as Rsikas or Brahmavadins of these Rosmasa, Lopamudra, Apala, Kadru, Visvavara and several others are quite well known. The Brahmavadins were the products of educational discipline of brahmacarya for which women were also eligible.
Interestingly the study reveals that with the passage of time the Rsis or Acarayas of the earlier times faded into oblivion and their places were taken by their sons or disciples as would be evident from the face that most of the Vedic Rsis are no more to be seen in the past vedic period and those of that period are hardly found in the Upanisads the Ramayana the Mahabharata or the Puranas.
A Gradutate of the Punjab University has served the Archaeological Survey of India and the Ministry of Home Affairs for over four decades in curatorial and other capactities. He has to his credit the scientific documentation of over fifty thousand antiquities like, sculptures, bronzes, paintings pottery and beads etc. ranging from the earliest times to the late medieval period. He was given an award by the government of Himachal Pradesh in 1983 for his monograph on the antiquarian remains of that state. He was also awarded a fellowship for his monograph on the temples of Himachal Pradesh in 1987-89 by the Indian council of Historical Research New Delhi. He was given Anuvada Shri Award for 2007-2008 by the Bhartiya Anuvada Parishad New Delhi.
He has been associated with the Government of Sikkim as a Consultant for the setting up of the Scultprues at Siddesvara Dhama for over four years and has to his credit publication of nearly ninety books including ancient Indian art, archaeology, and translation of various regional Ramayanas and Puranas.
India is believed to be the sacred land of the gods who have been held in adoration, here from the time immemorial. The Aryan culture, has to its credit, a large number of gods, which were held in high esteem by not only the elite of the society but also the common man, who could seek their help in case of dire need or the other horrible situations. These deities were found in abundance in the Indus valley civilization, commonly known as the Harappan culture and dates back to over 3,000 B.C. of the various deities of the Harappan culture, like Paupati Siva and his vehicle bull, besides the mother goddess was the next popular one. She was the beloved deity of the poorest of the poor who commonly worshipped her figurines made of clay which could be within the reach of the people of the lower strata of the society This would also mean that the Harappan people were quite religious one, though no religious shrines of the deities could be found. Possibly these deities were worshipped in every household, which have been discovered in large number.
With the presence of the cult objects in such a large number, there is every possibility that there should be cult men or the priests as well, though exclusive evidence of the presence of the priests too, is absent. But a bearded figurine discovered from Harappa, has been interpreted by the scholars to be of a priest, and the inference could be based of factual justification.
Besides the archaeological evidences, we have to take into consideration, the evidence of the Vedic literature which was composed by the Rsis or priests. These Rsis were considered to be quite forceful personalities in more than one way. They were the composers of the Vedic hymns, which were passed on by them to their sons or disciples and so on. The hymns composed by each one of the I4i were acknowledged initially by mentioning their names. But strangely enough the absolute accuracy was fully maintained when the hymns were taught from father to the son or from the preceptor to the disciple. Even in the field of religious practices, these Rsis were quite strict in following the ancient traditions, besides spreading the Aryan culture in the entire length and breadth of the country.
But, whatever we might think of the geographical and ethnical background of the traditional account, it perhaps reflects more accurately the method and the process of Aryan civilization, as described in ancient literature which deserves special mention. The Aryans extended their sway and colonized fresh lands not by force alone, but with the aid of huge armies of priests. The colonization was also affected by the small groups of adventurous Brahmanas and Katriyas from different Aryan kingdoms, who went to new countries and after clearing the forests, made the track habitable, set up their hermitages and ãiramas there. The territories surrounding the Aryans occupied Madhyadeãa, the Vindhyas and Vidarbha were colonized in this fashion. The Aryans colonized under the leadership of the Katriya tribes and new settlements were named after these tribes. The spread of Aryan expansion was necessarily slow at the places where they received opposition from the aborigines or non-Aryans, as in the case of their eastwards progress.
Rama, in Ayodhya, has been made to play an important part in the expansion of the Aryan culture in the south. It was probably on account of the signal services attributed to him in colonizing the Deccan and spreading the Aryan religion far in the south, rendering it free from the harassment of the semi-barbarious tribes that had been included among the incarnations of lord Visnu. The expansion of Aryan culture in the south was due to the hearty cooperation of the Brahmapas and Katriyas in carrying out the banner of the an culture. The Brahmana missionaries, who accompanied the Katriya army, introduced the essentials of Aryan culture and traditions to the masses, converted the principal figures and paved the way for social and cultural contact by allowing the high-born Aryans to marry the non-Aryans.
Agastya, who had been the pioneer among the Rsis to erect a hermitage in the trans-Vindhyan region, preceded Rama by many generations, but he paved the way for the adventurers. The story of Agastya reveals the important part played by the is in the spread of Aryan civilization over southern India. He also set an example of marrying Lopamudra, a damsel of the same region which stands to the intermixing of the cultures.
The Rsis undertook missionary enterprise and helped the propagation and diffusion of the Aryan culture by their active efforts often at a considerable risk to their lives. They moved in large numbers to distant lands and performed sacrifices, observing the religious rites in their new settlements. Their genuine missionary spirit, coupled with their peaceful character, without using any force of resorting to retaliation, despite provocation, helped in creating a favorable atmosphere for the reception of the Aryan religion.
Indeed, the & is totally mixed with aboriginals and then civilized them. The Aryan spirit was kept alive by the Ris and not by Katriyas, but without the protection of the chief, the & is were powerless and it was not the peaceful penetration of the Rsis but the military exploits of the military chiefs that enthralled the popular imagination. Rama’s expedition as has been brought out in the Ramayana did not put the non-Aryans in the south under the political subjugation of Aryans, but it brought the southern territories of Vanaras and Rakasas as protectorates under Aryan influence. A deep study of the epics of Ramayana and Mahabhãrata would reveal that Rama, while roaming in the forest met many Rsis, who guided him in various ways which resulted in his great success in his expedition. The names of Agastya, Atri, Bhardvaja, Cyavana, Gautama, Garga, Jajali, Kapila, Kayapa, Markaçreya, Vivamitra, Matanga, Sarabhanga, Sutiksna, besides Anusuyã, Ahalya, Arundhati, Sabari and several others, are quite important.
According to Nirukta, the word Ii means the rays of the sun and these are said to be seven in number. By the extension of the meaning the term came to be applied to is, the seers. Just as the sun’s rays spread everywhere and disclose the presence of all the things, the seers or the Rsis are able to perceive everything. Again the Satapatha Brähmana considers the &is breath and derives the word Rsis thus, “In as much as before all the universe, they, desiring this universe, were worn out (arisan) with toil and austerity, therefore, they are Rsis.
The Brahmanda Purana provides a slightly different account of the &is. According to this Purana, Marici was born first. At the time of yajña Kratu was born. A third came into existence saying aham tritiyä or I am the third and was therefore known as Atri. Then again a fourth with a thick hair was born and came to be known as Pulastya. A fifth emerged with flowing hair and was called Pulaha. From the drops of coins and other daksinas placed in the sacrificial ground, was born another Rsi, who was called Vasitha. All of these were taken to be the mind born sons of Brahma. It is from these fisis that all other beings including the Pitrs were born.
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