Sunday, June 3, 2007

26 Origin of the concept of Brahma

The story of Brahma, the deified hero who is considered as the creator and one of the Trinity (Trimurthy) and ultimately the generally forgotten God, is a very interesting episode in the origin and evolution of culture and religious beliefs in the Indian subcontinent as well as Asia Minor and Africa.

Brahma is also one of the earliest Gods in India. Early Vedics who initially worshipped natural forms like mitra (sun), agni (fire), varuna (sea) and indra (atmosphere) switched over to the brahman, the invisible and absolute force. The Brahma worship is an initial step in the evolution of religious concepts and transition from the primitive spirit/hero worship to the concept of divine worship.

The Brahma worship initiated in the present northwestern India and the concept migrated and spread wide in southern India, possibly along with the migration of tribes in the early historical period. In north India, the only Brahma temple remaining is at Pushkar in Rajasthan. However, in Tulunad (southwestern coastal Karnataka) and in Konkan coast (northwestern coastal Karnataka), the remnants of ancient Brahma worship remain even today as Bermer and Bommaya devaru respectively. Coastal townships by names like Brahmavara, Brahmagiri etc remain fossils of Brahmas erstwhile popularity. Brahmasthanas (=Brahma temple) and garodis (=ancient style gymnasia) of Tulunad still worship Bermer, the Tulu form of Brahma. In the Kannada mainland, some of the ancient names like Brahmasandra, Bommasandra, Bommadevarahalli etc carry the long forgotten relics of Brahma worship. There is a Brahma temple at Uttamar Koyil, Tamilnadu, indicating the span and spread of the Brahma concept in southern India.

The Tulu Bermer (e in bermer is pronounced as initial e in ‘eligible’) [‘berme’(< brahma) is the singular form andbermer’ is the plural or respective form of address] is a dialectical corruption of the Vedic word Brahma. This leads to the suggestion that Tulu tribes then living with Vedic scholars were mostly ‘illiterate’ folks, who modified the high sounding Vedic words to suit their preferred pronunciation styles. The possible coexistence of Tulu tribes with Vedic scholars at Pirak during Rigvedic times is suggested in the previous posting (No. 25) on Pala and antiquity of Tulu words.

We go back in the timeline to about 1900 BC in search of the origin of Brahma. Then Indus valley civilization at Mohenjodaro and Harappa came to an end almost abruptly because sudden changes in the course of Rivers Indus, Saraswati and its tributaries. River Saraswati dried up or changed its morphology and was partly captured by River Yamuna due to tectonic earth movements. The rivers migrated and changed their courses abruptly in tune with earth movements and the appalled inhabitants were forced to abandon their carefully built townships in favour of safer habitation. They migrated to Pirak and surrounding areas, which form parts of the present day Baloochistan State in Pakistan. At Pirak, the human society at that time was a mixed one consisted of proto-Dravidian, Proto-Tulu and proto-Kannada and Vedic tribes who were all migrants from different surrounding areas or States. They spoke all proto-Dravidian languages, Prakrit, (possibly the official language of Pirak area) and Indo-Aryan language. The proto Dravidian languages, Tulu, Kannada and Tamil borrowed heavily from Prakrit and also lent many words and enriched the Prakrit language. The general population was not educated and the few educated ones, may be about a dozen rishis, orally composed Vedic hymns, estimated around 1700-1500 BC, that became parts of the Rigveda. Writing was not properly developed at that time. The Tulu tribes probably composed their own paD-dana, (oral folk songs). Similarity of many Tulu and Tamil words and their presence in Vedas suggest coexistence of Tulu-Tamil tribes in the area. Iruvattam Mahadevan suggested that Indus valley civilization was proto-Dravidian in nature.

The educated few (Vedic tribes) initially composed hymns of Veda in their native Indo-Aryan language. Similarity of Indo-Aryan Vedic hymns and hymns of Iranian Avesta have lead experts like Michael Witzel to suggest that Indo Aryans might have migrated from Iran area ca.1700 BC. Subsequently they borrowed words from proximal languages and also refined the native Prakrit and introduced the Sanskrit language for composing the Vedic hymns.

The character of Abraham has been described in the Bible (Genesis) and later retold in the Anacalypsis. Abraham (or the Brahma) was actually a mass hero, an uncommon leader of early tribes, born ca. 1900 BC, more or less during the chaotic time of earth movements, migration of major rivers and mass exodus of tribes from the Indus Valley civilization.

Abraham is said to have been lived for a period of 175 years. (The cited lifespan appears to be an exaggerated figure, characteristic of hero worship societies, nevertheless may imply that Abraham was a strong, dynamic character and had considerably long healthy lifespan.) Different tribes called him slightly differently depending upon the style of pronunciation native to them. He was called Abraham by Jews and subsequently by Christians. Arabs called him ‘Ibrahim’ whereas IndoAryans referred to him as Brahma. His father, ‘Terah’ originally came from a place known as Ur of Chaldees or Culdees, a part of Asia Minor.

Terah had a beautiful daughter called ‘Sara’ (or ‘Saraswati’ for Indo- Aryans and cohabitants of Pirak and northwest India) born to another wife who was not Abraham’s mother. Abraham or the Brahma fell in love with Sara and married her. For this or other reasons the Abraham and Sara left Ur and settled in Mesopotamia. There he organized Jews and became a venerated hero figure. Abraham has been considered as the founder of Jews. Similarly, Muslims believe ‘Ibrahim’ to be one of their early leader or founder. The original Kaba temple (later a mosque) at Mecca is said to have been built in honour of Abraham or the Ibrahim.

At that time, the present day Asia minor-Indian subcontinent region consisting of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (though had different individual provincial names at that time) were all contiguous states where communications and concepts freely exchanged among diverse townships. The Abraham (or the Brahma) was a dynamic leader of the masses and the ordinary people believed that he was the creator of the tribes. The legend of Abraham continued after his death and continued to inspire or haunt memories of the tribes living in the Asia minor-Indian subcontinent region. The legend of Abraham inspired Vedic tribes and others alike. This is the initiation the concept of Lord Brahma the creator of universe in Hindu mythology. Abraham became the Brahma the supreme God after couple of centuries following his demise. In the primitive cultures accustomed to spirit worship, the legendary Brahma, who organized tribes, represented a supreme hero capable of creation of tribes and later the universe itself. Legends turned into myths and Brahma was deified and considered supreme God.

The people of Pirak worshipped him as a hero, the creator of the tribes. Thus original Brahma as worshipped by Tulu tribes was a hero straddling on a horse. This leads me to suggest that Abraham was a horse rider. The original concept of horse seated Brahma was transported by migrant proto-Tulu tribes from Pirak to Tulunad. (see postings 4 and 5).The Bermer idol in garodis of Tulunad even today consist of idol of brahma (abraham>berme) in the form of soldier seated on a horse. The garodis, the ancient institutions of Tulunad, established to propagate the art of body building, physical development and techniques of warfare, continue to have brahma as worshipping idols. The legendary Tulu heroes Koti and Channayya worshipped the Bermer according to the paD-dana folklore. There were many brahmasthans in Tulunad in olden days that have been dilapidated or destroyed on the wake of people changing over to Shiva, Shakti or Krishna worships in later times. The primitive form of brahma worship among Tulu people suggest that these tribes migrated southward into Tulunad, before the Brahma the God was transformed into a ten-headed or four-headed concept in the post Vedic Ramayan period.

Vedic tribes venerated his legends as Brahma, the almighty, the creator of universe and incorporated the concept into Vedas. The word ‘Brahma’ gave rise to ‘braahman’(=educated person), ‘brahmaanDa’ (=universe), ‘brahma kalasha (=the holy pot used in the installation of temples and also the connected ceremony)’, brahma-ratha (=large temple chariot), brahma-rakshsa (= a huge demon), brahma-sthana (=temple of brahma) etc. The words root ‘brih’ to mean big or great was developed as a consequence of Brahma worship.

Brahma worship was at its peak during the composition and writing of Ramayana (ca.300 BC to 200AD). Then Brahma became a fusion of a creator deity with the impersonal absolute Brahman in a more popular and personalized form according to indology experts. S.S.N.Murthy (2003) of J.N. University of New Delhi, analyses that Ramayana is composed in praise of Brahma the God. Brahma is eulogized as a ten headed or four headed deity. Then onwards Brahma was worshipped as four headed God.

However, the subsequent ascent of Shiva and later Vishnu worships sent the initial God Brahma into the background.

Thus the Tulu concept of horse riding Brahma may be older than the ten or four headed Brahma depicted in Ramayana and the Tulu tribes were not aware of the transformation of initial horse riding Brahma into four headed God. In that case, it appears that Tulu tribes migrated from Pirak and northern India into coastal Tulunad before composition of the Ramayana.

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Books for Reference

  • A Comparative Study of Tulu Dialects By Dr. Padmanabha Kekunnaya. Govinda Pai Reserach Centre, UDupi. 1994
  • Koti Chennaya: Janapadiya Adhyayana. By Dr. Vamana Nandavar. Hemanshu Prakashana ,Mangalore.2001.
  • Male kudiyaru. Dr B. A.Viveka Rai and D.Yadupathi Gowda, Mangalore University,1996.
  • Mogaveera Samskriti By Venkataraja Punimchattaya. Karnataka Sahitya Academy.1993.
  • Mugeraru:Jananga Janapada Adhyayana. By Dr Abhaya Kumar Kaukradi.Kannada & Culture Directorate,Bangalore & Karnataka Tulu Academy, Mangalore,1997.
  • Puttubalakeya Pad-danagalu. Ed: Dr B.A.Viveka Rai,Yadupati Gowda and Rajashri, Sri Dharmasthala Manjunatheswara Tulu Peeta. Mangalore University.2004
  • Se'erige. Ed:Dr K.Chinnapa Gowda.Madipu Prakashana,Mangalagangotri,2000.
  • Studies in Tuluva History and Dr P Gururaja Bhat (1975).Milagres College,Kallinapur,Udupi.
  • Taulava Sanskriti by Dr.B.A.Viveka Rai, Sahyadri Prakashana,Mysore 1977
  • TuLu naaDu-nuDi By Dr.PalthaDi Ramakrishna Achar, Puttur.
  • TuLu NighanTu. (Editor in Chief: Dr U.P.Upadhyaya, Govinda Pai Research Centre,Udupi. Six volumes. 1988 to 1997
  • Tulu Patero-A Philology & Grammar of Tulu Language by Budhananda Shivalli.2004.Mandira Prakashana Mangalore. p.317. (The book is in Tulu Language using Kannada script)
  • TuLunadina ShasanagaLa Sanskritika Adhyayana. By Shaila T. Verma (2002) Jnanodaya Prakashana,Bangalore, p.304.(Kannada)
  • Tuluvala Baliyendre. Compiled by N.A.Sheenappa Hegde,Polali,Sri Devi Prakashana,Parkala,1929/1999

A Coastal estuary

A Coastal estuary
Holegadde near Honavar,Uttara Kannada dist, Karnataka

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