How to Behave like a Bull? New Insight into the Origin and Religious Practices of Pāśupatas

in Indo-Iranian Journal
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This paper begins with the identification and analysis of some earliest textual references to Pāśupata ascetics, their tenets, and behaviours. Then it inquires into the genesis of Pāśupatism by analysing some critical passages of the Pāśupatasūtra, going beyond Kauṇḍinya’s Bhāṣya. It analyses relevant passages from the Jaiminīyabrāhmaṇa, Mahābhārata, and Brahmāṇḍapurāṇa, and shows how the Vedic govrata or anaḍudvrata has been first adopted and then adapted in Pāśupata tradition, and how Indra, a deity associated with the original vow, comes to be depicted as the primaeval observer of the newly defined pāśupatavrata. It argues further that the conception of the celestial bull as a divinity and the idea of imitating the bull’s behaviour to please that divinity are at the heart of the Pāśupata praxis, in all stages of its development. This paper also argues in favour of recognising “Megasthenes’ Heracles” as Indra, and the Sibae people mentioned in his report as the Śibis.

How to Behave like a Bull? New Insight into the Origin and Religious Practices of Pāśupatas

in Indo-Iranian Journal




See Sanderson 2006Goodall & Isaacson 2007. Similarly the Pāśupatavidhi of the Atharvapariśiṣṭas paraphrases a large number of sūtras from the Pāśupatasūtra; See Bisschop & Griffiths 2003. But like any of chapter of the Atharvapariśiṣṭas it is very difficult to tell which time period this chapter belongs to.


See Bakker 2002 and Bisschop 2006a.


See Pasadika 1989: citation no. 366 for the identification of this citation from the Jñānaprasthānaśāstra one of the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma texts believed to be composed around 150bce.


Oberlies 2000: 178–179.


Oberlies 2000: 179fn. 18.


Ingalls 1962: 295.


Rau (1983) suggested to correct upāvahāya to upāhvarya in this passage. But that does not seem right to me. First of all the meaning of the verbal combination upāvahā- ‘to lean down close’ fits better in this context because here the sacrificer who imitates the bull is supposed to lean down close to the water-source and drink water directly with his mouth. On the other hand the suggested combination of upāhvar- which is not attested must remain close to the meaning of the attested combination of upahvar- which is connected with the movement of a river. It means ‘to reach or approach the end by an uneven and deviative course curving and turning here and there’ and this meaning does not fit our context. Besides Vasubandhu quotes a passage (bhāṣya on Abhidharmakośa 4.68cd) from some otherwise unknown Brāhmaṇa or Śrautasūtra text as he criticises Brahmanical perversions. That passage agrees with our passage up to this point. There the descriptive noun upahā derived from the same root hā- with the preverb upa is used. This supports the reading of the edition upāvahāya formed from the same root and prefix with one more prefix ava in the middle. Let me cite and translate that passage which Vasubandhu quoted: yathoktam: brāhmaṇo gosaveneṣṭyā saṃvatsaragovratī bhavati | upahā udakaṃ cūṣati tṛṇāni chinatti upaiti mātaram upa svasāram upa sagotrām iti | As it is said: by the Gosava [sacrifice] a brahmin assumes for one year the vow of the bull. As he is leaning down he sucks up water cuts grasses [with his teeth] [and sexually] approaches his mother sister or a lady of the same family. Yaśomitra comments on upahā and says that it signifies the sacrificer. Rau is not aware of this passage from the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya but of a part of it cited in Kamalaśīla’s commentary on Tattvasaṃgraha 2786 (cf. Rau 1983: 143). There the text has been corrupted but still the word upahā is intact. Nevertheless without any argument Rau proposes to read upahva in place of upahā. Thus as far as I can see all the evidence goes against Rau’s proposal: i) the reading upāvahāya of the edition is grammatically perfect ii) its meaning fits best in the context iii) the Vedic passage Vasubandhu quoted comes from an independent source and involves the same root hā- with one of the preverbs present in the above reading iv) Vasubandhu Yaśomitra and Kamalaśīla all read upahā udakaṃ… in the passage they quoted v) the combination of upāhvar- that Rau suggested is unattested and the closest combination of upahvar has a different nuance. On the other hand Rau himself has informed us that “upāvajihīte seems to reoccur” in the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa (Kāṇva) I would say it is quite certain though it is emended from three manuscript readings: upāvajjihīte uyāvajjihīte and upājjihīte (cf. Rau 1983: 143). First of all the first two manuscript readings are very close to the emended reading. And more we can be sure about the emendation by reading the passage in its context. There a person as he is breathing out leans (jihīte) down (ava) closer (upa) to the ground and we know from the context that the avāna aspect of breathing is implied. Then nearby in the same paragraph the same verb jihīte appears in the same fashion with two preverbs: the first preverb is the same but the second one ut is the opposite of ava and this time the udāna aspect of breathing is concerned. Thus the verb jihīte is confirmed as are the preverbs.


Parpola 2002: 365.


Dahlquist 1962: 73–93.


See Oberlies 2000: 183 for further arguments on Indra-Rudra affinity in the Pāśupata sphere.


Cf. Acharya 2005.


Cf. Mylius 1976.


For details see Bakker 2010.


See Ingalls 1962.


Bhattacharya 1957: 517–518: yathāpīhaikatyaḥ kukkuravratena śuddhiṃ manyate govratena nakulavratena nagnavratena bhasmavratena


Ingalls 1962: 296. At that early stage of research he was very clever to “imagine both the cynic and the Pāśupata cults to have derived from sects of men who performed beast-vows” (Id 297). But there he has gone a bit far in his imagination and sought the roots of “the dishonest transfer of hidden forces by the Pāśupata” and the resultant dishonour of him in the black side of Shamanism. Now since we have seen that the roots of the Pāśupata vrata reaches the Vedic Saṃhitās it is clear that it might in fact even be an Indo-European custom developing in parallel but slightly differently on either side of the India-Europe divide and there may be no need of involving the black side of shamanism.


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