Early Tantric Vaisnavism: Three Newly Discovered Works of the Pancaratra.
This is a volume in the Early Tantra Series published jointly by the French Institute of Pondicherry, the Ecole fran9ais d'Extreme Orient, and the University of Hamburg. The series aims at publishing the fruits of research funded from a Franco-German project from 2008 to 2011 whose purpose was to study the interrelationship between the early tantric traditions. This important series seeks to publish critical editions, studies, and translations of texts preserved in the vast archive of Nepalese manuscripts that have been microfilmed by the Nepal-German Manuscript Preservation Project and catalogued in Kathmandu and Hamburg. In researching into this archive, while cataloguing manuscripts. Professor Acharya came across three early works of the Pancaratra or tantric Vaisnavism that he has edited for this edition. These texts are important because they provide evidence to show how Vaisnavism remodelled itself on tantric Saivism in the early medieval period but also show evidence of Vedic and Smarta influence. Thus the Pancaratra while modelling itself on Saivism nevertheless aligns itself with Vedic orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
One of the important things established by this publication concerns dating. One of the "three gems" of the Pancaratra is the Jayakhya-samhita, regarded as a foundational scripture that Alexis Sanderson has shown to be modelled on the Saiva ritual system. This text was dated by its editor to around 700 A.D. But Professor Acharya has shown the Jayakhya to be of much later date as it contains classifications such as the fourfold typology of the initiate not found in the earliest Saiva sources such as Nihsvasa. The texts of the present edition represent an earlier stage of the tradition's development, earlier than the Jayakhya and its source text the Jayottaratantra, that Professor Acharya has found. The earliest of these texts, the Svayambhupancaratra contains elements that have affinities with two of the latest five books of the Nihsvasa. That is, the Pancaratra texts postdate the Nihsvasa. Although Acharya does not offer a precise dating, assuming the very earliest layers of the Saiva text to be sixth century, these Pancaratra texts could be as early as around 700 C.E.
The edition describes the palm leaf manuscripts--the Svayambhuvapancaratra, for example, being written on nine folios in three columns separated by two string holes, all of which have some damage at the edges. A colophon dates the copying of the manuscript to 1027 C.E. Acharya gives full details of the manuscripts, particularly how the Astadasavidhana is contained as an interpolation within the Svayambhuvapancaratra that he has separated and placed after the conclusion of the latter text. The Devamrtapancaratra is preserved in a single incomplete manuscript along with two transcripts and can be dated on paleographic grounds to the twelfth century. The latter contains similar material to the former while the Astadasavidhana is a paddhati of the Svayambhuvapancaratra. Chapters three and four of the Svayambhuvapancaratra are missing but they may have been reproduced in chapters five and six of the Devdmrtapancaratra.
In his editorial policy Professor Acharya tells us that even though there are only single manuscripts of the texts, he has tried to establish "a readable text," which means he has corrected minor mistakes and often offered conjectural readings that he thinks to be more in accordance with authorial intention. especially as the texts are full of scribal errors. The text is therefore not a diplomatic edition but a critical one with all emendations recorded in a positive apparatus. The emendations are justified not only on grammatical grounds but when the Vedic pratikas used in a text are corrupt they can be emended from similar ritual texts. The edition records all variations, before (ante) and after correction (post correctionem), and parallel texts are also recorded in three layers of notes. The thorough description of editorial policy allows fairly straightforward manoeuvring through the edition. The edition records peculiarities of language, such as irregular sandhi, the loss of the anusvara, and dropping of a last syllable of a word for the sake of metre, but the author has amended the endings if allowed by the metre. Thus he has restored the final t/d at the end of optative singular verbs and a-stem ablative singular nouns. Some of the usual grammatical differences to standard grammar, the tantric Aisa language, are evident in these texts, such as conflating masculine and neuter nouns.
The content of these texts comprises mostly ritual procedures although there is some theological reflection. Visnu is envisaged as all pervasive and all deities are incorporated into his body, an idea that echoes the Bhagavadgita and is not found in later Pancaratra texts that have been more severely re-modelled on Saivism. Thus Rudra, Brahman, and Janardana are not different. The main deity of the Svayambhuvapancaratra and the Devamrtapancaratra is the single-headed Visnu with two, four, or eight arms, the latter being a form that goes back to the pre-Gupta period. Indeed, the eight-armed form is pan-Indian and the image, with slight variation, is attested in the archaeological record from an early period (an inscription from Nagarjunikonda dated 278 C.E.). The colored frontispiece of the book is a fine representation of the eight-armed Visnu dated to the ninth century from the Kathmandu museum. Acharya offers a detailed summary of each chapter in all texts, thereby allowing the reader to read the text with a pre-understanding of its contents. The Svayambhuvapancaratra opens with Brahman approaching Isvara, who responds to his questions about how images of the deity should be made, how the temple constructed, and so on. Isvara tells Brahman that the scripture has been composed for the acquisition of worldly goods (yogasastra) and liberation (moksasastra), a typically tantric theme. The Devamrtapancaratra prescribes the worship of five images, Narasimha, Varaha, Vamana, Trivikrama, and Vasudeva in his Visvarupa form, who are attested in a eighth-century image in Gwailor Museum.
The texts present a single ritual system. The Svayambhuvapancaratra describes the mandala with three retinues of mantra deities. On the outer layer are the eight weapons of the deity, the second retinue comprises the twelve names of Visnu, and the innermost layer comprises a lotus of eight petals on which are established the anga mantras of Visnu, including an extra pingalastra with the hrdayamantra, usually the first in the series, transposed to the pericarp of the lotus and identified with Visnu himself. The Astadasavidhana presents a more complex mandala, although at the center of the cult is the same lotus of nine ancillary mantras with the first mantra placed in the pericarp, as we found in the Svayambhuvapancaratra. Due to some variations of detail it is probable that the Astadasavidhana does not know the Devamrtapancaratra, although the ritual system attested is reflected in other texts. The Saiva Siddhanta Somasambhupaddhati, for example, seems to be familiar with it, as does the Netratantra, whose chapter thirteen refers to an eight-armed form of Visnu seated on a goat (or a ram, mesa), although the weapons held in the eight arms are not precisely the same in other texts or images.
This is an important edition in reconstructing the history of Vaisnavism in relation to its ambient culture. These Pancaratras show an early stage of the tradition adapting to a Saiva model, as we see, for example, in the way the texts adopt their own version of the five brahmamantras in the series of ritual impositions (nyasas), mantras first found with the Pasupatas and adapted by the Saiva Siddhanta. The famous four Vyuhas or emanations, characteristic of the Pancaratra, are adapted to a series of nine deities and the editor suspects two sets of deities are conflated in this group, one from the standard Vyuha classification, another relating Narasimha and Varaha to Visnu. The nyasas reflect the history of the tradition and the texts say that the Vedanyasa, the ritual imposition of Vedic hymns, is the same in the religious systems of the Saiva, Vaisnava, Saura, and Bhagavata (p. lxiii). Thus the text distinguishes the Vaisnavas that it associates with the Pancaratra from the Bhagavatas. Although reflection on this history is outside the remit of Professor Acharya's text, this is interesting because it reflects an older distinction through the history of Vaisnavism that identifies the Bhagavatas with the cult of Vasudeva/Krsna and the Pancaratra with Narayana. Indeed the relationship between this medieval tantric form of the Pancaratra and the earlier tradition as reflected in the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata is one in which the religion has become completely transformed from its origin, in a parallel way to the Vajrayana being almost unrecognizable in early Buddhism. We often associate the Tantras with goddesses, but these Pancaratra texts attest to a non-feminized form of Tantrism in which the Goddess is not highlighted, in this way reflecting the earlier phase of the Saiva Siddhanta.
This is a significant contribution to the history of the Pancaratra, first established by Otto Schrader in his still useful Introduction to the Pancaratra. The explanation of the texts is lucidly clear with extremely useful notes that help the reader relate the text to the broader history of the tantric religions. Full facsimiles of the manuscripts are provided that enable readers to practice their manuscript reading skills and excellent indices are included of padas, Vedic and Tantric mantras, and a general index. Professor Acharya has performed a great service to the scholarly community in rendering these texts accessible to a wider audience. I look forward to the next two texts in the genre promised by the author, the Jayottaratantra, the source of the famous Jayakhyasamhita, and the Vdsudevakalpa.
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|Publication:||The Journal of the American Oriental Society|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2017|
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