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Sahyadrikhand: The story of the Bramhan

The story of the bramhan is an enigma. As per tradition, they arrived in the ‘graveyard’ of the Sarasvati valley civilisation after being driven out of their Central Asian steppes. What really happened? Let’s trace their footsteps


The story of the bramhan is an enigma indeed. Going by the best of the traditions, the bramhan chose to arrive in the ‘graveyard’ of the Sarasvati valley civilisation around 2,000 BCE, after being driven out of their Central Asian steppes by the 4.2 ka BP(2,200 BCE) aridity event. Did the bramhan really settle in the Sarasvati valley? Or, did they just push to the upper reaches of the Yamuna, and then down along its course into the Yamuna-Ganga doab – the Kuru-Pancal, ‘the land of spotless spiritual pre-eminence’, ‘where the black antelope roams free’ (Vasistha Dharma Sutra, 1 14-15)? We do not really know. We have seen that the literary evidence from Samskrt texts seems to suggest that there was little love lost between the bramhan and the Sarasvati valley; most of the texts seem to look down upon the Sarasvati valley. But then, what about the sarasvat, who clearly bear the name of their ‘best mother’ (Rig Veda 2.41.16)?

Let us now cut to the other end; let us explore the texts that claim to tell the story of the ‘sarasvat’ bramhan who made their home in Komkan; along with the stories of the other bramhan. Let me confess, the task is arduous; it shall take us long to get a convincing picture; leave alone reach the truth; that may never happen. But we need to launch on that daunting task, to complete our tapestry of the komkni identity. Let us begin with what has since long been believed to be the definitive purana of the bramhan from Brhatkomkan: the Sahyadrikhand. However there is not one definitive SHK, but many; not unexpected, given the fact that there is not one story of bramhan, but many; often mutually inconsistent, substantially contradictory, even mutually hostile.

We use Gajanan Shastri Gaitonde’s ‘corrected’ edition (1992) of J Gerson Da Cunha’s text (1877) for the SHK as the starting point. For the sake of brevity we shall call Gerson Da Cunha’s text SHKD and Gaitonde’s text SHKG. We begin by taking an easy tour through Gaitonde’s text to familiarise ourselves with the landscape of SHK. But first a note on the manuscripts on which the extant SHK edited by Gerson Da Cunha is based; that would give us an idea of the ample ambiguity that characterises SHK. The manuscripts as listed by Gerson Da Cunha are : (1) a MS from Cochin in the possession of Swami Bhuvanendratirtha containing ninety chapters; (2) a MS from Junnar in the possession of Raghunatha Sharma containing hundred chapters; (3) a MS from the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, divided into two sections, the first containing 88 chapters, and the second 32; (4) another MS belonging to the same society, incomplete, consisting of one section only, apparently written by a Gujarati Brahman; (5) a MS from Kota, a village in the Karnataka, consisting of 111 chapters, with several shortcomings; (6) a MS from Sidhapur, another village in Karnataka, consisting of one section, not divided into chapters; (7) a MS from Chempi, another village in the same district, with several chapters missing in the middle; (8) a MS from Goa consisting of two sections together accounting for hundred and eight chapters, and bearing the date 1,700 AD; (9) a MS from Benares containing a hundred chapters; (10 – 14) five MS from Mumbai, that appear to be copies, and have abundant errors. With the exception of the MS at number seven, which is written in Kannada character, all the others are in Devanagari; they are, also with one exception, undated. Gerson Da Cunha has added to the core text of the SHK the mahatmya or legends in connection with the foundation of temples along the Sahyadri which are considered to be its supplements; mahatmya connected with the principal deities in Goa – Mangesh, Mhalsa, Nagesh, Kamakshi – can be found in it.

Gaitonde claims to have further verified the Gerson Da Cunha’s SHK text with the additional MS available during his time. Among these he mentions : (1) a MS from the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society containing chapters one to 21 of uttararahasya; (2) a MS from Bombay University library containing  a hundred chapters; (3) a MS from the Saraswati Mahal library, Tanjavur, containing just one mahatmya, which has not been included in his text; (4) another MS from Saraswati Bhavan, Varanasi, containing several incomplete chapters; (5) a MS from the Calcutta Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society containing some incomplete and defective chapters.

Gaitonde has reorganised the text of Gerson Da Cunha’s SHK into seven books. He places the Renukamahatmya up front; he follows this with the uttarardha, or uttararahasya, ‘the latter secret doctrine’ of SHK, which he calls the Sahyadrikhand. He then follows with other mahatmya in the same order as given by Gerson Da Cunha. This is then supposed to be followed by the purvardha or adirahasya, ‘the initial secret doctrine’ of SHK, according to Levitt [Levitt, 2017: Reflections On The Sahyadrikhand’s Uttarardha, in Studia Orientalia Electronica, Volume 5, 152]. But I could not locate the purvardha in the copy I am using; Gaitonde’s preface too seems to suggest that he did not edit and publish this section; all that one can find in the extant edition is an index of 67 chapters of the purvardha, following the index of the uttarardha.

Our interest lies principally in the uttarardha of the Sahyadrikhand, which deals with the creation of Komkan coast by Parsuramand the settling of the different bramhan. We shall come to the mahatmya when we study the evolution of the different deities in Komkan. According to Levitt, purvardha is the same text as the Jnanayogakhanda of Skandapurana, ‘within which there is interpolated a large section, on the origin of ksatriya groups in the Mysore area’ (Levitt’s ‘Mysore area’ could actually be what we have called the Brhatkomkan) [Levitt, 1982: The Sahyadrikhand: Style And Context As Indices Of Authorship In The Patitagramanirnaya, in Purana, Volume 24, Number 1, 128]. We are also interested in the stories of the ‘origin of ksatriya in the Mysore area’ as enunciated in the purvardha, but that is when we can lay our hands on that.

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