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When The Cigar Becomes A Phallus - Part 1 by Vishal Agarwal And Kalavai Venkat

Published on Monday, December 8, 2003
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  • Contents of Part I

    1. Introductory Remarks

    · Who wrote the Mahabharata?

    2. Misuse of Textual Sources

    · Dubious Vedic textual references
    · Mythology of Ganesa and abuse of Pauranic Texts
    · Questionable methodology
    · Elephant Mythology & Omission of Important texts
    · (Mis)-Dating of the Pauranic texts
    · A Beheading by the Compassionate One (Buddhacarita)
    · Eroticization of Gajalakshmi (Vishnu Purana)
    · Creation of Mankind from The Arse (Bhagavata Purana and Linga Purana)
    · Misinterpretations of Kurma Purana
    · 'Sexual Fluids' (Vamana Purana)
    · Misrepresentation of Gajendra Moksa episode (Bhagavata Purana)
    · Imagining an Incestuous Rape (Devibhagavata Purana)
    · Creator of Obstacles or Remover of Obstacles?
    · Puranas and Conspiracy Theories (Vamana Purana)
    · Parvati's aggression against Ganesa – Dubious passage in Varaha Purana
    · Who is elder – Ganesa or Skanda?

    Contents of Part II

    3. The Cigar now becomes a Phallus

    · Opening remarks
    · Paul Courtright invents a 'Limp Phallus'
    · Indian Males in relation to Ganesa's Sexuality, Celibacy and Incest
    · Ganesa as a Eunuch
    · Modaka as a 'Toy'
    · Sexualizing Hindu Initiation Ceremony (Upanayana)
    · Marriage of Ganesa
    · Ganesa as a trickster

    4. The Worship of Ganesa

    Acknowledgements

    1. Introductory Remarks:

    Sigmund Freud had a lifelong relationship with cigars. He was rarely photographed without one on his lips. It is said that he enjoyed as many as twenty of them every day. In the declining years of his life, he was beset with some ailments such as arrhythmia, which were blamed on his passion for cigars. On medical advice, he often tried to quit his obsession, but he would always experience withdrawal symptoms. During one such period of abstinence, he even exhibited hysterical behavior in a letter to his physician. When his friends suspected that he was addicted to them, he argued that cigars were a very private aspect of his life, insulated from psychoanalysis by others. And this supposedly resulted in his famous statement, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” The implication perhaps was that people should not see something else in his cigar; it was really just a cigar.

    Little did Freud know that, several decades later, a 'gutsy' Indian novelist and high-profile socialite Shobha De would write a novel in which a woman sees a cigar lying on a table in front of her, only to discover that it is actually the phallus of her paramour standing nearby. While Freud's cigar was just a cigar, Shobha De's was certainly a phallus. But lest one credits steamy-fiction writers with too much wild imagination, let us hasten to add that some Indologists and other academics on Hinduism in the United States foreshadowed Shobha De's innovative use of cigars by at least a decade, although in the guise of scholarship. What we are referring to is the complete 'Freudizing' of Indological parlance or lingo by a small band of academics. The phenomenon has advanced to such an extent that words and phrases like 'castration', 'flaccid-penis', 'sexual-fantasy' and so on have become a sort of 'lingua-franca' through which the intellectual intercourse of these closely-related scholars is effected in their academic publications. Wendy Doniger, the Czarina of academic studies on Hinduism, has summarized the Weltanschauung of these scholars in the following penetrating words, “Aldous Huxley once said that an intellectual was someone who had found something more interesting than sex; in Indology, an intellectual need not make that choice at all.”

    After all, did not Courtright's book on Ganesa precede Shobha De's novel by several years?

    Who wrote the Mahabharata?

    The Foreword to Courtright's book is written by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty. In her typical colloquial, superlative, ecstatic, juicy style, she praises the book of Courtright to the seventh heaven, without adding anything substantial. Except one thing: she bares the secret of the Hindu lore about the writing of the Hindu epic Mahabharata:

      “…the Mahabharata tale in which the Ganesa dictates the epic to Vyasa!”

    The Hindu tradition is unanimous in informing us that it was Sage Vyasa who had dictated the epic to Ganesa rather than the other way around as Doniger states. Moreover, Indological scholarship has so far informed us that the tradition itself is attested only in some interpolated later verses not included in the critically constituted text of the Mahabharata. No, this is not a slip of tongue on Doniger's part, unless it is some kind of a Freudian slip, because she actually constructs a pseudo-psychology out of her erroneous version of the tradition –

      “…every book exists in toto in the mind of the elephant-headed god, and we scribes merely scramble to scribble down those bits of it that we can grasp, including the “knots,” the obstacles to full comprehension, that the god of obstacles throws in on purpose to keep us on our toes and to keep us in awe of him.”

    While an informed reader may consider this as glaring ignorance on the part of Doniger, Courtright sees it differently. He writes,

      “A special word of gratitude goes to Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, who not only shared her vast knowledge of the Pauranic literature and Hindu mythology and made many valuable suggestions on several drafts of this book, but also graced this undertaking with her inexhaustible enthusiasm and confidence in its value.”

    Indeed, Wendy's children have a unique way of seeing things – so unique that it is not tainted by reality and objectivity. Doniger, for her part, reciprocates the lavish praise. She writes,

      “This is a book that I would have loved to have written.”

    The mutual admiration club completes its protocol.

    In Courtright's defense, we must point out that he himself has correctly referred to the tradition in his book. Perhaps, Doniger herself did not read the book thoroughly even though she wrote the ecstatic Foreword to it. It is curious though that Courtright didn't correct his mentor's ignorance. It would be a cruel irony of sorts that he intentionally allowed his mentor to advertise her ignorance, especially when she had showered praise on him.

    Lord Ganesa doesn't get to bask in the glory of his surprise, albeit ephemeral, promotion from a scribe to the narrator of the epic for long. Courtright, the protégé, reverses his mentor's profligacy by bringing Ganesa down from the heavenly realms to the earth and transforms him into a eunuch, an incestuous son and a homosexual. Had Ganesa indulged in the ephemeral glory bestowed on him by Doniger, then one must indeed pity his naiveté, because Doniger had earlier forewarned, “Ganesa has everything that is fascinating to anyone who is interested in religion or India or both: charm, mystery, popularity, sexual problems, moral ambivalence, political importance, the works.”

    Well, Doniger had essentially made the same universal claims for Lord Siva, when she herself wrote one of her first major books on him in 1973:

      “The mythology of Siva forms only a part of the material of the Puranas, but it is an ideal model which reveals a pattern which pertains to the material as a whole. Siva is not only an extremely important god; he is in many ways the most uniquely Indian god of them all, and the principles which emerge from an intensive study of his mythology lie at the very heart of Hinduism.”

    But that was then, when there were no Wendy's children. Now she is the Matriarch, who will shower her anugraha on any of her children and sakhis who write anything on anything: on the Rgveda, Kathasaritsaagara, Ganesa, Caste etc. Euphoria and superlatives ooze from her numerous Forewords that she has written in the last 18 odd years. Perhaps, the author of these forewords is an ideal subject for Freudian studies in their own right.

    Anyway, after we have witnessed Wendy Doniger bare her jewels of scholarly wisdom, let us review the contents of the book.

    2. Misuse of Textual Sources:

    Courtright obviously attempts to base his study on the contents of Hindu texts, and then interprets them to derive a particular thesis. The two major classes of texts dealt with by him are the Vedic texts and the Puranas. The Tantras and the Upanishads are largely left out, except for a stand-alone translation of the Ganapati Atharvasirsa Upanishad in the appendix. In this section, we examine the validity of Courtright's use of Hindu texts in his study.

    2.1 Dubious Vedic Textual References:

    In Chapter I, titled 'The Making of a Deity', he explores the evolution of Ganesa as a deity in the Hindu pantheon from a historical perspective. He starts with the antecedents of the deity in the Vedic literature and makes questionable statements. For instance, while dismissing all Vedic references as evidence that the worship of Ganesa was known when the Vedic texts were in vogue, he says,

      “A similar invocation in another Brahmanic text addresses “the one with the twisted trunk (vakratunda)” (TÂ 10.1.5), also leaving it uncertain whether it is Ganesa or Siva who is being addressed.”

    This is puzzling, because vakratunda is distinctly another name for Ganesa and, moreover, the last portion of the mantra reads – “tanno dantih pracodayaat', where the reference is clearly to the tusk of Ganesa. Courtright also mistakenly classifies the text as 'Brahmanic', whereas in reality it is a 'mantra'. Another reason why the mantra containing the word 'vakratunda' does not refer to Siva is that the preceding mantra is in fact addressed to Mahadeva and Rudra, and the mantra after the 'Vighnesvaragayatri' is addressed to Nandin. Moreover, the mantra after the Nandigayatri is addressed to Karttikeya, who is the brother of Ganesa. So, from the words of the mantra and from its context as well, it should be understood that the mantra is clearly addressed to Sri Ganesa and not to Lord Siva. The parallel mantra in Maitrayani Samhita 2.9.1 reads 'hastimukhaaya' in lieu of 'vakratundaaya'.

    Again, referring to the occurrence of the word Ganapati in Aitareya Brahmana 1.21, Courtright claims that the reference is to Siva. The actual text reads 'ganaanaam tvaa ganapatim havaamah iti brahmanaspatyambrahma vai…” showing that here ganapati actually refers to Brahmanaspati (=Brhaspati) and not to Siva. In fact, the Brahmana text is clearly referring here to Rgveda 2.23.1 that reads,

      “ganaanaam tvaa ganapatim havaamahe
      kavin kaviinaam upamasravastamam
      jyeshtaraajam braahmanaam brahmanaspata
      aa nah srnvann uutibhih siida saadanam”

    The mantra is addressed to Brhaspati, who is indeed the devataa of this mantra according to Saunakiya Brhaddevata.

    Finally, he says TB 10.15' contains the word 'dantin'. This reference by Courtright is problematic because Taittiriya Brahmana is divided into 3 books that are further divided into smaller sections. Therefore, TB 10.15 does not make much sense. The Vedic Word Concordance of Visvabandhu also does not point to any occurrence of the word 'dantin' in the entire Taittiriya Brahmana. Courtright attributes this textual reference to a publication of Louis Renou. However, when we checked Renou's article, we did not find any mention at all of the Taittiriya Brahmana in it. The reference in Renou's article is in fact to Maitrayani Samhita 2.9.1. The presence of so many errors of textual citations in just about 1 page of the book is simply unacceptable from an academic perspective.

    Errors of Vedic citations are seen in other parts of the book as well. For instance, in Chapter II of his book, Courtright claims, “The association of the thigh with the phallus in the Indian tradition dates from the Rg Veda (RV 8.4.1).” The mantra in question reads,

    yadindra praagapaagudam nyag vaa uuyase nrbhih
    simaa puruu nrshuuto asyaanave.asi prashardha turvashe |
    Ralph Griffith's translation reads –

    “Though Indra, thou are called by men
    eastward and westward, north and south,
    Thou chiefly art with Anava and Turvasa,
    brave Champion! urged by Men to come.”

    We do not see any reference to penis and thighs here, and therefore wonder what Courtright was thinking here.

    So, we see that a majority of references to Vedic texts by Courtright in Chapter I, and many others in the subsequent chapters are either interpreted incorrectly, or they are non-traceable. Therefore, we question if Courtright had a first hand, or even a reasonable second hand, knowledge of Vedic texts when he wrote his book..

    The examples we have cited here are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute the entire list of errors in his Vedic citations.

    Despite the sloppiness of textual citations, Chapter I has two merits. First, it dismisses various prevalent theories about the origin of the worship of Ganesa as variations of the Dravidian hypothesis, which are nothing but speculations not based on any concrete evidence. This does not mean that he does not use the myth of 'Aryan' and 'Dravidian' divide as a hermeneutic tool in his book. He uses it several times. But in the case of Ganesa, he elaborates later,

      “The demon lineage from raaksasa, marut, and vinaayaka to Ganesa further supports the argument that Ganesa emerges from within the network of Aryan and Vedic symbolism in contrast to the view that he is an outsider from a Dravidian or non-Aryan folk tradition.”

    The second merit of this chapter is that, he proposes an alternative, novel hypothesis to explain how the worship of the deity came into vogue. The explanation is pure speculation as well, but could nevertheless be treated as another possible alternative hypothesis by future researchers.

    2.2 Mythology of Ganesa and Abuse of Pauranic Texts:

    Chapter II of the book, titled 'Mythology of Ganesa', deals with the different ways in which academics studying religion can approach the mythology of the deity. Courtright lists five such levels, of which Wendy Doniger is credited for explicating the first four while the fifth is Courtright's own contribution. This particular chapter seems to focus on the first level – the narrative level -- in which the story of the deity is stated in all its versions. Chapter III primarily deals with material critiqued in section 3 of our review.

    2.2.1 Questionable Methodology

    The various divergent and convergent versions of the story of Ganesa are scattered in a diverse set of texts belonging to different centuries. Courtright treats these texts in a combined, holistic manner to explore the thematic, structural and interpretative dimensions of these myths. He claims that his analyses are only peripherally affected by chronological considerations of these texts. Courtright says that he has treated all Pauranic accounts as belonging to a single ongoing tradition to paint his picture of Ganesa. We believe that this is not a sound approach because each of the Puranas has catered to the needs of a particular sect, and each of them is also very much known for its sectarian rhetoric against other sects and their deities. Some of these Pauranic depictions tend to project the deities of a rival sect in less than glorious light. Each sect had its own traditions that influenced the Puranas they wrote. A tradition was not necessarily influenced by the way their deity was portrayed by the Puranas belonging to a rival sect.

    Winternitz presents a very relevant example to demonstrate this sectarian bias, bordering on the absurd, as reflected in the Puranas with regard to the deities of a rival sect. He draws the readers' attention to the Uttarakhanda of the Padma Purana that narrates a story regarding Siva. Once a quarrel arises among the sages as to which of the three gods, Brahma, Vishnu or Siva, is the greatest, and Bhrgu is made the adjudicator. He repairs to Mount Kailasa where Siva is enjoying the love of his wife. Nandin, Siva's janitor, prevents Bhrgu from entering. Bhrgu takes this as an insult and curses Siva to take on the shape of the generative organs, and to be worshipped not by the Brahmins, but only by the heretics.

    Often, such narratives turn out to be later day interpolations, as is the case with this example cited by Winternitz. The question one must ask is, “What impact did this narrative of Padma Purana have on the practitioners of Saivism?” The answer is, “None.” They just ignored it, and were quite content interpreting the meaning and significance of the Linga according to the Puranas of their own tradition. This is true of any Indian tradition, including the tradition of worshipping Ganesa. So, to interpret a tradition using the divergent narratives found in the text of a rival tradition would be incorrect methodology and a very uncritical approach.

    One gets a feeling that the selection of such questionable methodology is intentional and was done with ulterior motives. Courtright uncritically uses every source, including those that are anecdotal and hence not verifiable, to taint Ganesa.

    2.2.2 Elephant Mythology and Omission of Important Texts:

    Courtright initiates the discussion by first devoting a section to the symbolism related to elephant in the Indian culture. The treatment is rather sketchy, and a surprising omission is of texts specifically referring to elephants – the Gajasastra or the Hastyayurveda. The omission is unfortunate because Courtright primarily relies, amongst other texts, on the Puranas, when some of them (e.g., Agni Purana) actually refer to the authority of Palakapya Muni, the author of the Hastyayurveda. Courtright enumerates the various symbolisms related to elephants in the Indian culture but omits two very important attributes of the creature, for which they are especially well respected – their profound memory and their longevity. The elephant is also counted as one of the nine types of wealth or treasures (navanidhi) in the Hindu tradition. A discussion on all these would have enriched Courtright's study considerably because these themes are very important in how Hindus perceive this noble creature.

    Even more detrimental to the quality of his study is the scarce use (if not a total omission) of the two Puranas that specifically deal with Ganesa – the Mudgala Purana and Ganesa Purana. Courtright mentions editions of both of them in his bibliography, but practically ignores the former, and uses the latter very rarely. The scanty use of his texts detracts from the comprehensiveness and objectivity of his analysis. We shall give a few examples here and there in our review, showing how data from these two Puranas invalidates some of the conclusions arrived at by Courtright.

    The elephant is also considered a noble animal and a symbol of devotion (bhakti) via the story of Gajendramoksa in Bhagavata Purana, skandha VIII, Chapter 204. Courtright leaves this aspect of elephant mythology here, dealing with it later in relation to Ganesa, where it really does not belong. In his zeal to force-fit this story into the model of tension between asceticism and eroticism, he interprets it in a very inconsistent and illogical manner. We will discuss his interpretation of the Gajendramoksa episode a little later.

    Instead of discussing these ways in which Hindus look at the creature, Courtright says,

      “Elephant trunk and serpent share certain undeniable characteristics and carry associations of force and power, both political and sexual.”

    Why this association is 'undeniable', we are not told. This baseless assertion would serve as his launching pad for declaring elsewhere,

      “The elephant trunk, which perpetually hangs limp, and the broken tusk are reminiscent of Siva's own phallic character, but as these phallic analogs are either excessive or in the wrong place, they pose no threat to Siva's power and his erotic claims on Parvati.”

    Courtright says that an elephant, even if it were a male, can't be assigned any definitive sex because its movement is often compared to the graceful movement of a woman, and its temple, like a woman's breasts, gives forth a different but no less desirable fluid. If this hypothesis sounded unreasonable, then it is outsmarted by the ensuing inference that since Ganesa is an elephant-headed god, his gender too must remain less than precisely articulated. An illogical premise invariably leads to ridiculous conclusions, and Courtright doesn't fail to disappoint on this count. He concludes that Ganesa's head symbolizes phallic masculinity and feminine grace.

    Though Courtright uses several dubious, peripheral, regional myths of doubtful veracity, and non-verifiable antiquity to construct his thesis (we shall refer to some of these below), he practically leaves out the Tantric texts. This omission is again unfortunate, because these texts clearly distinguish between the deity's trunk and the phallus (whereas Courtright equates the deity's trunk to a limp phallus) and also describe clearly the functionality of the former. But then, incorporation of data from Tantras would have dealt a death-blow to his 'celibate-eunuch-limp phallus' thesis on Ganesa. If one chooses data from Sanskrit texts in the piece-meal manner that Courtright does, any thesis can be 'proven' from them.

    2.2.3 Dating of Pauranic Texts:

    In the sole appendix to his book, the author claims that the Sri Ganapati Atharvasirsa Upanishad probably belongs to the sixteenth or the seventeenth century. He assigns no reason for this late date, something that other scholars have also noted and have found inconsistent with their own views. Elsewhere, Courtright claims that the Mudgala Purana should be dated between the fourteenth and the seventeenth century, but again assigns no reasons. In fact, the Mudgala Purana (2.31.12; 2.72.5 etc.) clearly mentions the Ganapati Atharvasirsa text, and therefore is before the Upanishad, contrary to what Courtright implies. Courtright certainly recognizes the difficulty of dating Pauranic texts but he should have been more careful before assigning his own dates to them.

    Earlier, we saw that Courtright's references to the Vedic texts were largely dubious. Chapter II and III of his book rely mainly on the Puranas. To ascertain whether Courtright has shown sufficient fidelity to the Pauranic texts, we crosschecked his descriptions of the story of Ganesa with the original texts of the Puranas. To illustrate our findings, we chose only a few of these texts below, for the sake of brevity. We have also chosen a text from the Buddhacharita that is misinterpreted by Courtright.

    2.2.4 A Beheading by the Compassionate One (Buddhacharita):

    In Asvaghosha's Buddhacharita, there occurs a story in which Devadatta sends a mad elephant to kill Bhagavan Buddha. However, when the elephant approached the Buddha, the latter's spiritual power tamed the creature. The Buddha then stroked the head of the elephant, according to the text, as quoted by Courtright.

    One would normally interpret the Buddha's 'stroking the head' of the tamed mad elephant as an act of blessing, or benevolence, of compassion and love. However, Courtright suggests,

      “…his hand strokes the head in what may be a faint echo of a gesture of decapitation.”

    Coupled with the fact that the words 'decapitation', 'beheading', 'castration' are used interchangeably by Courtright and given a sexual connotation in his book, one wonders if the use of the words 'strokes the head' is itself not a double-entendre. 2.2.5 Eroticisation of Gajalakshmi in Vishnu Purana:

    Courtright rightly quotes the Vishnu Purana 1.9.103, according to which, when Devi Lakshmi emerged during the churning of the ocean, Ganga and other sacred rivers appeared at the site. The celestial elephants then poured water from these sacred rivers on her with golden vessels. A few pages later, he transforms this into an erotic narration,

      “The male attributes of the elephant are so obvious as to need no comment. Not only the trunk but the tusk has phallic associations in some of the Ganesa stories. The myth of the elephant guardians anointing Lakshmi by spraying water over her seems the fullest expression of male fertility surrounding female fecundity. As O'Flaherty has shown, moreover, rain tends to be associated with male seed in the Indian tradition, whereas rivers appear as symbolic expressions of the feminine aspect of water…”

    As per the conventions of the Hindu tradition, Lakshmi and Ganesa would stand in relation to each other as mother and son. Courtright's erotic explanation has in effect transformed the innocuous description of the Puranas into a tale of incest. In fact, it was and is fairly common in India for holy men, princes and other great men to be honored by flowers and water poured on them by elephants. Would Courtright interpret all these as suggestive of homosexual encounters? Moreover, the Vishnu Purana text clearly states that the elephants took the waters of rivers (feminine according to Courtright + Doniger O'Flaherty). So it is surprising that the water from feminine rivers would get transformed suddenly into virile semen after the elephants poured it over Lakshmi. What we are trying to suggest is that the so-called analysis by Courtright is nothing but his own perverse imagination. We are in fact surprised why he failed to see the connection between 'hiranyam' (=gold, light, brightness) and 'retas' (=seed, semen) in the Hindu tradition to argue that the feminine river water changed its sex to masculine semen in the gold-pitchers used by the elephants to pour river waters over Lakshmi!

    Courtright misses some relevant passages in the Ganesa Purana (Upasanakhanda 15.1-7) according to which Brahmaji once had a vision of a banyan tree. Brahmaji saw Baalaganesa (baby-Ganesa) playing on a leaf of the tree and wondered how a human baby with an elephant head arrived there, and how the tree itself could survive the waters of the deluge. Suddenly, Baalaganesa lifted his trunk and sprinkled the water on Brahmaji's head, whence Brahmaji was filled with joy as well as anxiety and burst into laughter. According to Courtright's and Doniger's methodology, Brahmaji's dream should perhaps be interpreted as a homo-erotic fantasy because an 'erect' trunk is shedding 'semen' on Brahmaji's 'head'. In any case, such passages clearly negate Courtright's 'limp-phallus' fantasy, which we would discuss in more detail later.

    4.2.5 Creation of Mankind from the Divine Arse (The Linga Purana and The Bhagavata Purana):

    Courtright claims,

      “Some Pauranic sources maintain that demons and humans have come from the divine rectum (BhP 2.6.8; LP 1.70.199; cf. O'Flaherty 1976, p. 140).”

    This claim of Courtright and Wendy Doniger does not stand scrutiny. Neither the Linga Purana nor the Bhagavata Purana indicates that mankind was derived from the divine arse.

    Let us consider the relevant passages of the Linga Purana first. Prajapati desires to produce four kinds of creatures, so he merges with waters and meditates on creation. In the meantime, darkness set in, and out of his anus were produced the asuras. The text also explains the etymology of 'asura'. Then he cast off that body, created another one that was resplendent. From the mouth of that body were born the devas. He cast off this divine body as well and assumed another one full of goodness. Pitrs were created from the sides of this body. Finally, he cast of that body of goodness, and created another one characterized by passion. From the mind of this body were born men.

    Coming to the Bhagavata Purana, the context deals with the mythical procreation of various parts of the universe from different parts of the mythical body of the Creator God. The verse cited by Courtright and Doniger actually reads,

    apam viryasya sargasya parjanyasya prajapateh
    pumsah sina upasthas tu prajaty-ananda-nirvrteh |
    According to this verse, the genitals of God are the source of water, semen, rains, procreative power of humans, the pleasure associated with coitus etc. There is no mention of anus or of men.

    The next verse then continues,

    payur yamasya mitrasya parimoksasya narada
    himsaya nirrter mrtyor nirayasya gudam smrtah |
    Here, the penis and the rectal region of the Creator are related to death, violence, ill fortune, hell etc.

    Apparently, Doniger (and following her, Courtright) misread 'mitrasya' as 'marttyasya'. The text of the Purana published by ISKCON has the reading we have reproduced above. We also crosschecked the reading of another edition of the Bhagavata Purana. In that edition, the words “payur yamasya mitrasya parimoksasya narada” form the second half of verse 8. But in this edition also, the text is 'mitrasya' in this verse and human beings are mentioned much later.

    In short, the creation of mankind from 'The Arse' is not stated or implied in the texts cited by Doniger or Courtright. It is pure fiction invented by them.

    2.2.7 Misinterpretations of the Kurma Purana:

    2.2.7.a: The Dropping of Shiva's Phallus:

    Following a 1975 book of Wendy Doniger, Courtright interprets a tale in the Kurma Purana 2.37 in the following words,

      “The variant of the beheading tale introduces the act of self mutilation by which Ganesa tears out his own tusk and holds it like a yogin's staff, like his father holds the trident. The gesture is reminiscent of the time his father broke off his own phallus when he saw it was no longer of use except to create progeny (KP 2.37; O'Flaherty 1975, pp. 137-141). This act of self-mutilation makes Ganesa more like his father.”

    The claim that “(Siva) broke off his own phallus when he saw it was no longer of use except to create progeny” is a contrived interpretation of the Kurma Purana 2.37. The context is actually this: Once upon a time, several thousands of seers, along with their wives and sons, practiced intense austerities in a forest, while also remaining engaged in worldly life. Lord Siva wanted to demonstrate the great fault in mixing worldly life with penances, and therefore he and Vishnu respectively assumed the form of a handsome man and a beautiful woman. They approached the settlement, with Lord Siva naked and Lord Vishnu (in the form of a woman) dressed beautifully. Upon seeing them, the wives of the sages were filled with passion for Lord Siva, while the sages and their sons themselves were attracted to the woman. Soon the sages realized what was going on and they approached Lord Siva in great anger, asking him to put on his clothes and abandon his own wife (the female form of Lord Vishnu). They also cast suspicions on the character of the lady (the female form of Lord Vishnu). Lord Siva replied that he was an ascetic and rules of modesty did not apply to him. Moreover, he argued that his wife was pure and that the sages' accusations were unfair. The sages started assaulting Lord Siva physically and asked him to castrate himself. Lord Siva replied that he would gladly do so if their enmity were with his linga. However, as soon as he did so, the world became dark, and the Sages were unable to see Lord Siva, Lord Vishnu and even the linga. The story thus continues and eventually Lord Brahma explains to the sages that all their sacrifices, Vedic learning and meditation are fruitless if they do not aspire to know Mahaadeva, and also describes the glory of the worship of Sivalinga and so on.

    Therefore, the statement of Courtright-Doniger that “The gesture is reminiscent of the time his father broke off his own phallus when he saw it was no longer of use except to create progeny…” has no relationship to the context of the relevant passages in the Kurma Purana.

    2.2.7.b: Beheading of Daksa: In another case of misinterpretation of the same text, Courtright says,

      “He [Siva] attacks Daksa's sacrifice, beheading him and turning his head into the sacrificial offering, thus completing the rite that he had originally set out to destroy (KP 1.14).”

    The Kurma Purana actually says quite the opposite. Daksa conducts a sacrifice but does not offer anything to Lord Siva. Sage Dadhici urges him to include Lord Siva also but Daksa refuses saying that all the other devatas are already present and he does not recognize Lord Siva as a deity. All deities and sages then leave, boycotting the yajna. Only Lord Vishnu stays back and Daksa seeks refuge in him. Nevertheless, Lord Siva does arrive, with his attendants. The latter go on a warpath, ruining the sacrifice and attacking minor deities. At this juncture, Daksa, realizing his mistake, offers homage to Parvati, who intercedes on his behalf with Lord Siva. Lord Siva instructs Daksa to include all deities and also Himself in his sacrifices. This is followed by a sermon to Daksa by Lord Brahma who describes the greatness of Lord Siva and then asks Daksa not to differentiate between Lord Siva and Lord Vishnu because they are not separate, and therefore he should be devoted to both of them.

    2.2.8: The Vamana Purana on the Birth of Ganesa and 'Sexual Fluids':

    Describing a version of the story of the birth of the deity, Courtright states,

      “The first type of story is represented by the accounts of Ganesa arising out of the sexual fluids of Siva and Parvati after their bath, but outside Parvati's body (Vamana Purana 28.64-66)….”

    Unfortunately, the bibliography section of Courtright's book shows that he used the non-critical edition of the Purana. We compared this edition with the critical edition of the Vamana Purana. The relevant text clearly reads,

    “snaatastasya tatoadhastAt sthithah sa malapUrushah
    umasvetam bhavasvedam jalamrtisamanvitam”
    Vamana Purana 28.65

    Now, the text clearly says that the drops of sweat of Uma and Bhava (=Siva) fell on moist earth and from this combination sprang Ganesa (verse 66). There is no explicit mention of 'sexual fluids', which seems to be Courtright's Freudian addition. Later in the chapter too, he terms their sweat as 'fluids of their lovemaking' and as 'sexual fluids'. Courtright may argue that various erotic Indian texts do mention passionate lovemaking causing the lovers to sweat. The text however directly stresses the asexual birth of the deity. Thus, it states that when the intercourse of Siva and Parvati was interrupted by the machinations of the gods, Siva discharged his semen as an oblation to Agni, and after Ganesa is born, Siva names him as 'Vinaayaka' because Parvati gave birth to him without the help of a naayaka or a husband. Hence, to see the birth of Ganesa from 'sexual fluids' of Parvati and Siva is a bit farfetched. The text certainly does not say so or hint at it. Rather, the text seems to glorify Siva and Parvati by suggesting that even the sweat and dirt of their bodies is so potent that their combination can result in the birth of a great deity such as Ganesa. Courtright's interpretations merely seek to amplify (if not invent altogether) the sexual connotations of these sacred stories.

    Another example of over-interpretation is his insistence that the story of Ganesa growing to the size of the earth after Parvati threw him into the river is reminiscent of the luminous Sivalinga growing to an infinite size in the Siva Purana version so that both Lord Vishnu and Lord Brahma were unable to reach its ends. After all, he must eventually link everything to a linga. The description of particular deities growing to an infinite size is in fact a generic theme in Hindu sacred lore. Thus, we also have the case of Yasoda seeing the entire universe inside Krsna's mouth, of Krsna assuming an infinite form (the Visvarupa) in the Gita or of the Vamana Avatara of Lord Vishnu growing from a dwarf to a stupendous size whereby he measures the three worlds in two strides.

    2.2.9: Misrepresentation of the Gajendramoksa Episode (Bhagavata Purana, skandha VIII):

    The Gajendramoksa narrative, occurring in the eighth book (skandha) of the Bhagavata Purana, is a beautiful tale of devotion and divine grace that continues to inspire millions of Hindus even to this day. The central theme of the narrative is that no measure of worldly power and happiness can save us in the time of dire calamity, only God can. Here is how Courtright looks at the story,

      “Once, the king of the elephants, along with his wives and children, came to a splendid garden at the foot of the mountain that was surrounded by an ocean like the ocean of milk. With musk fluid oozing from his forehead, with bees swarming around it, the elephant plunged into the ocean to cool himself. He sprayed water over the females and the females and the young ones bathed and drank. Then a mighty alligator, who had become angry at this intrusion into the ocean, seized hold of the elephant's foot and held it fast in his jaws. When the wives of the elephant king saw that he was being dragged further and further into the ocean, they tried in vain to pull him back out. As the alligator and the elephant struggled with one another, the elephant became increasingly weaker while the alligator grew stronger. When he saw that he could not free himself from the trap of the alligator's jaws, the elephant called out to Vishnu for refuge. When Vishnu saw the elephant's plight, he came there and pulled the elephant and the alligator out of the water. He transformed the alligator back into Huhu, the celestial gandharva who had been cursed by the sage Devala [Narada] because he had been sporting in the water with some women when Devala wanted to bathe. When Huhu pulled Devala's leg, he was cursed to take the form of an alligator, only to be rescued from it by seizing hold of the leg of an elephant. (BhP 8.204)”

    Apparently, the address “BhP 8.204” is a typographical error in place of BhP 8.2-4. Anyway, after summarizing a longish story considerably, Courtright then interprets the tale in the following manner,

      “In this myth of conflict between the alligator and the elephant, we see some similarities to the myths of Airavata and Durvasa. At the conclusion of the myth, we learn that the alligator is really a disguise of an erotic gandharva, who had been cursed by the ascetic Devala for touching him while he was bathing, much as the flying elephants had been cursed by the sage Dirghatapas when they brushed against the tree under which he was sitting. By transforming the gandharva Huhu into an alligator, the ascetic reverses their roles, for now the alligator is the one whose watery territory is invaded by the elephant. His biting the leg of the elephant echoes the theme of beheading, which we have seen at work in other myths. The conflict between the alligator and the elephant surrounded by his entourage of cows – like the conflicts between the sage and the gandharva, between Siva and Gajasura, and between Durvasa and Indra – draws on the important theme in Hindu mythology of the tension between the powers of eroticism and asceticism. The tension between the alligator and the race elephant cannot be resolved, and so they both edge their way to destruction. At this desperate moment, the myth turns to the solution of bhakti…”

    And in this manner, Courtright goes on and on with his racy language, bringing disparate, unrelated facts picked up selectively, and then force-fits them together artificially and unconvincingly into models of 'beheading', 'tension between the powers of eroticism and asceticism' and so on. How does he do it exactly?

    First, he enhances the sexual connotations of the passage in the Bhagavata Purana. Though his summary is fairly short, considering that the text extends to over 92 verses, Courtright does not refrain from amplifying the aspects that suit his theory. An example is the use of the words 'with musk fluid oozing from his forehead.' The original text reads,

    sa gharma-taptah karibhih karenubhir vrto madacyut-karabhair anudrutah
    girim garimna-paritah prakampayan nisevyamano 'likulair madasanaih saro | nilam pankaja-renu-rusitam jighran viduran mada-vihvaleksanah
    vrtah sva-yuthena trsarditena tat sarovarabhyasam athagamad drutam |

    Now, in these verses, the word 'madacyut' could certainly mean that the elephant king was in rut, and this meaning is supported by the mention of 'intoxicated black-bees' ('likulaih madasanaih) following him. However, what needs to be kept in mind is that, in accordance with the excellent poetical character of the Bhagavata Purana, the narrative in Chapter 2 merely conforms to the 'embellished kaavya style' and a “somewhat pallid erotic tinge, derived from stereotypical landscape descriptions in the Sanskrit courtly kaavya…emerges in one or two verses…”. In other words, the so-called 'eroticism' in these verses is 'formulaic', and only incidentally a part of the long narrative of this chapter, whose main intent is to describe the lordliness, the arrogance, the marital bliss and familial happiness of Gajendra, in conjunction with the beauty of his surroundings. Moreover, Gajendra is surrounded not only by his wives, but also his children. He is happy with his life, and even arrogant, crushing numerous creepers and thickets on his way to the ocean (verse 20), terrifying the large animals of the forest (verse 21) but showering his grace on the smaller creatures (verse 22). Yet, when the powerful lordly elephant, supported by his wives (and also his male elephant friends as per verse 28 – a detail that Courtright leaves out) fights the alligator without any success, he realizes,

    na mam ime jnataya aturam gajah kutah karinyah prabhavanti mocitum
    grahena pasena vidhatur avrto'py aham ca tam yami param parayanam|
    yah kascaneso balino 'ntakoragat pracanda-vegad abhidhavato bhrsam
    bhitam prapannam paripati yad-bhayan mrtyuh pradhavaty aranam tam imahi|

      “These other elephants, my relatives, are unable to save me in my misery – how much less so can my wives! Caught in destiny's snare embodied by this monster, I shall take refuge in the Supreme. There must be some god who protects a frightened person who turns to him from powerful Death, running after him like a vicious serpent – I seek refuge with that god, Whom Death himself flees in fear.”

    The besieged creature then bursts forth in a splendid hymn of praise and entreaty to Lord Vishnu. Hearing the prayers of his devotee, the deity appears, mounted on Garuda, his vehicle bird. Gajendra is freed of course, but so strong is the salvation-granting power of God that even the alligator is released from his ugly body and transformed into a gandharva. The narrative then reveals the tale of the previous life of Gajendra, when he was a pious king of the Pandya kingdom, and ends with verses describing the fruit of hearing this tale of devotion.

    So, when Courtright emphasizes the incidental 'erotic' aspects of the inspiring tale of devotion, there is a 'sexual' purpose behind it. Why? Because Courtright compares the scene of Gajendra's struggle with the alligator with the episodes of the 'sage and the gandharva', 'Siva and Gajasura', and 'Durvasa and Indra' to force-fit the Gajendramoksa narrative into the schemes of beheading and “tension between the powers of asceticism and eroticism.”

    We feel that the analogy between the beheading and the biting of the leg of Gajendra by the alligator is farfetched. The gandharva was cursed because, while indulging in amorous sports with women in a lake, he had accidentally disturbed Sage Devala. What Courtright omits to mention is the past life of Gajendra, narrated in the Bhagavata Purana 8.3.7-13. The text says that in his previous life, Gajendra was a pious Vaishnava King Indradyumna of the Pandyan dynasty in the Dravida country. He renounced his kingdom and went to meditate as an ascetic. He was so lost in meditation that he forgot to offer his respects to a sage who happened to pass by. Therefore, the sage cursed the ascetic Indradyumna, and he became Gajendra. So what we see here is a conflict between a king who had become an ascetic himself but is reborn as king-elephant, and an ugly alligator that was a gandharva who was cursed when he was sporting in water with women. Courtright tries to project Gajendra as the 'erotic' personality and the alligator as the 'ascetic' personality in his model of 'tension between asceticism and eroticism' when in reality the roles of Gajendra and the alligator can actually be reversed when the entire range of facts are taken into consideration. In any case, the 'erotic-ascetic' dichotomy does not exist between Gajendra and the alligator.

    The episode of Indra and Durvasa is also not analogous to the Gajendramoksa tale. Here, Indra indirectly insults Durvasa while engrossed in sexual acts with a heavenly nymph. Indra was having sex with an apsaraa, when the sage visits him. Indra hurriedly offers his respect whereupon the sage gifts him a paarijaata flower with the ability to bestow power, glory and wealth to the owner if it is worn on the head with respect. Indra however throws the flower on his elephant Airavata's head as soon as the sage leaves so that he can promptly resume his amorous activities with the nymph. In doing so, Indra insulted Sage Durvasa, whereupon the latter cursed him. Gajendra was not exactly doing the same thing when the alligator caught his leg. The alligator was not an ascetic either. So where are the parallels that Courtright claims?

    The Gajasura episode is also not related to Gajendramoksa through the model of tension between asceticism and eroticism. Durga killed Gajasura's father Mahisha. To avenge his father's death, Gajasura practices asceticism and is granted a boon by Brahma that no one overcome by lust would be able to defeat him. Invincible, he became arrogant and sinful and conquered the gods. A battle ensued between Siva and Gajasura, in which the latter was killed. Here too, while Gajendra and Gajasura were both elephants and intoxicated with their power, the alligator was not exactly Lord Siva. Thus, there is only a superficial and limited resemblance between the Gajendramoksa tale and the story of Gajasura.

    The entire book of Courtright is similarly filled with irrelevant parallels, loose or non-existent methodologies, superficial comparisons drawn by considering selective data and ignoring or explaining away divergent facts.

    2.2.10: Imagining an Incestuous Rape (The Devibhagavata Purana VII.30):

    Courtright narrates two tales to elaborate upon the erotic power of the paarijaata (Coral Tree) flower. He cites the first one from supposedly related accounts in Brahmavaivarta Purana 3.20.41-62 and Devibhagavata Purana 9.403-23. In this tale, which we repeat here from the previous section for the sake of continuity, Sage Durvasa presents a beautiful paarijaata flower with the ability to make the possessor powerful, wealthy etc to Indra. The sage says that the powers of the flower manifest only when it is placed on his head by its possessor with reverence. When the sage had arrived, Indra was busy in lovemaking with a heavenly nymph named Rambha. When the sage leaves, Indra continues his lovemaking and throws the flower on the head of Airavata, his elephant mount. Airavata immediately transforms 'into a form of Vishnu' according to Courtright, abandons Indra and runs into the forest, whereas Indra is completely deprived of his power and glory. When Sage Durvasa learns that Indra has insulted and has defiled his holy gift to him, he curses Indra to loose all his powers.

    Courtright then continues his analysis,

      “This story also concerns the rivalry between Indra and Siva, who here takes the form of Durvasa. The powers of the sage make short work of Indra's wealth and sexual prowess. The parijata flower is an emblem of riches and erotic power, one of the flowers from the five coral trees that arose out of the churning of the ocean at the beginning of the cosmic cycle. In another story, the goddess gave this flower to Durvasa, who in turn gave it to Daksa, who became so aroused by the scent of the flower that he made love to his daughter Sati “in the manner of a mere beast.” This shameful action drove her to burn her body, that is, commit sati, and provoked Siva to such a rage that he beheaded Daksa (DBP 7.30).”

    Courtright thus links the two stories through the supposed common motif of the paarijaata flower. However, when the relevant passages of the Devibhagavata Purana are checked, there is no mention of the paarijaata flower at all. Verse 7.30.28 of the text reads,

      tatah prasannaa devesii nijakanthagataam srajam
      bhramabhradamarasamsaktaam makarandamadaakulaam |

    The verse merely means that, pleased with the Muni, the Devi gave him the fragrant garland that was on her neck, attracting clusters of bumblebees with its fragrant juice (makaranda). Now, the word 'makaranda' is typically used for the juice of 'jasmine' flower, which is also very fragrant and attracts bees, wasps, insects, bumblebees as can be seen in the gardens in India. No other verse in the chapter clarifies that the paarijaata flowers were in her garland, and so the artificial linkage between the two stories by Courtright is brought about by an unjustifiable insertion of 'paarijaata' flowers into the context by him.

    Before coming to Courtright's claim of an incestuous rape, let us recapitulate the story of Daksa's sacrifice for the readers. The story is very popular, and is found in numerous Puranas in differing versions. Apparently, the story was so well known in the milieu of the author of this Purana that the reader's knowledge of the same was presumed. This is clear from the extremely brisk narrative in the Devibhagavata, and from the paucity of allusions to the incident, which serves as a background of sorts. In most versions of the story, Daksa organizes a grand Vedic yajna and calls all deities except Siva. Thrilled by the prospect of meeting her siblings and mother, Sati, who is the daughter of Daksa and an ideal and devoted wife of Siva, nevertheless persuades her husband to participate in the yajna as well. In some versions, Siva agrees and they go together to the yajna, whereas in other versions, she proceeds alone. In the yajna, Daksa insults Siva, and unable to bear the insults to her husband, Sati immolates herself by her yogic powers. The recurrent theme in these various versions is that the cause of Sati's death is the insult heaped on her husband by her father. When Siva sees the charred body of Sati, his rage knows no bounds. He and his followers destroy the sacrifice, and he beheads Daksa, replacing his head with that of a goat.

    Now, the Devibhagavata Purana is a Sakta sectarian text extolling the Devi primarily, and secondarily Siva, her consort. It narrates this entire episode in a distinctive manner. Sage Durvasa receives the divine garland from the Devi, reverentially places it on his head and proceeds to meet Daksa. In Daksa's home, he meets Sati and offers his homage to her. Daksa asks for the garland, and thinking that Daksa himself is a devotee of the Devi, Sage Durvasa gives the garland to him. The text then says,

    grhiitaa sirasaa maalaa munina nijamandire
    sthaapitaa sayanam yatra dampatyoratisundaram |

      “Receiving the garland given by the Sage on his head, in his own chamber, Daksa then places it reverentially on the beautiful bed prepared for the couple.”

    It is very important to pay attention to the word 'dampati' in this verse because the word normally stands for 'husband and wife'. It seems implausible that he would have placed the garland on a bed meant for Sati and her husband Siva, whose presence is not even mentioned so far, although verse 23 does mention her betrothal with Siva – an incident that is clearly not contemporaneous with the yajna of Daksa. It is more likely that it was the bed meant for Daksa and his wife, Sati's mother. There is no evidence in the text that the bed is meant to be shared by Daksa and his married daughter.

    What happens then is very evil (verse 35cd),

    pasukarmarato raatrau maalaagandhena moditah |

      “Aroused by the fragrance of the garland, Daksa was engrossed in animal-acts during the night.”

    There is no hint what these bestial acts were, but it is reasonable to conclude that Daksa engaged in sex, and perhaps other activities such as liquor etc. The text certainly does not say that “he made love to his daughter Sati in the manner of a mere animal” as Courtright claims. The word pasukarma is used in several senses in Sanskrit texts, and in this context, the sexual connotation is clearly implied. The general sense of 'pasukarma' in Sanskrit texts is non-regulated activity that violates the norms the scriptures – such as unwarranted sex, violence, destruction and so on. Rape and incest are more specific, euphemistic, limited meanings of the term which are not necessarily warranted by this particular context, and are in fact totally negated by parallel versions in other Puranas.

    But why is indulgence in sex by Daksa considered a pasukarma? For three reasons. First, he has defiled the divine garland given by the Devi (and remember that the Purana is a Sakta Purana, dedicated to the Devi) by allowing it to act as an aphrodisiac. Second, he is in the midst of a yajna, when the yajmaana (sacrificer) and his wife are to remain celibates. Sex during the period of a yajna defiles the rite. And more than that, the verses following this clarify further,

    abhavatsa mahipaalastena paapena sankare
    sive dveshamatirhaato devyaam satyaam tatha nrpa |

      “O Great King! Owing to (or under the influence of) that sin (of sexual intercourse), Daksa spoke evil of Siva, and he was filled with an intense enmity for Siva as well as for his daughter Devi Sati.”

    So we come to the standard narrative wherein Daksa speaks ill of Siva, and is filled with hatred for him (and here, also for Sati, who is, but an incarnation of the Devi).

    Now, the beginning verses of chapter 7.30 narrate how Daksa was a pious king who had pleased Devi by intense austerities in the Himalayas. When the Devi appeared before him, he requested her to take birth in his family. The Devi granted that wish and was born in his family as Sati. The Daksa now is a totally transformed man. He has insulted the same Devi he had worshipped in the past. He is filled with enmity for Sati, who is not only his own daughter but also the incarnation of the Devi he had worshipped. And therefore Sati, who is but Devi that has incarnated as Daksa's daughter, can no longer stay in the body that is born of her father Daksa. So the text continues,

    rajanastenaaparaadhena tajjanyo deha eva ca satyaa yogaagninaa dagdhah satidharmadidrksayaa |

      “O King! Because of Daksa's crime, Sati immolated her body, that was generated from him (Daksa), with her yogic fire, so as to preserve the dignity of the eternal dharma (of devotion to her husband).”

    The crime of Daksa was that he had spoken ill of Siva and that he was filled with enmity towards him and his own daughter under the influence of sin. The text then states that the Sakti of Sati returned to the Himalayas (7.30.38ab), the abode of Devi where Daksa had meditated and had had her darsana in the first place. The narrative continues in the standard manner – Siva is infuriated with the death of Sati and destroys the yajna (7.43). Daksa is beheaded and his head is replaced with that of a goat and so on.

    So what we see here is a variation of the standard theme in which Sati commits suicide because she cannot bear the insult of her husband by her father. And since the text is a Sakta text, it adds its own details that Daksa had defiled the gift of Devi, and was filled with enmity towards her own essence in his daughter Sati. The text certainly does not say, “This shameful action [of Daksa's incestuous rape of Sati – reviewers' addition] drove her to burn her body.” This 'scholarly' version is but Courtright's own invention. The manner in which Courtright gives a sexual kink to Pauranic passages reminds of how his gurubandhu Jeffrey Kripal had interpreted the Kathamrta to make out Ramakrshna Paramahamsa into a homosexual pedophiliac.

    It would not be an exaggeration to say that Courtright has left behind even his mentor Wendy Doniger in eroticisation of Sanskrit texts. Let us consider this very example. Doniger has summarized these verses of Devibhagavata in the following words –

      “And so he [Durvasa] gave the garland to that man, Daksa, who received the garland upon his head and placed it upon the exquisite marital bed in his own palace. At night, the man was so delighted by the perfume of the garland that he made love in the manner of a mere beast; and because of this evil, the king conceived in his mind a hatred for Siva, Sankara, and even for the Goddess Sati. Because of this offence, Sati burnt that body, which the man had begotten, in the fire of her yoga, with a desire to demonstrate the dharma of 'suttee'…”
    Suffice it to say that, if the text had any hint of rape, much less an incestuous rape, as Courtright claims, Doniger would not have failed to notice it and would have certainly discussed it. The fact that she herself does not do so merely confirms our assertion that the description of an incestuous rape in Devibhagavata Purana 7.30 is nothing but Courtright's own fantasy. There is not even a cigar, yet Courtright sees a phallus!

    2.2.11: The Remover of Obstacles or the Creator of Obstacles?

    Ganesa is known as 'Vighnesvara' that Courtright translates as 'the Lord of Obstacles'. The name is generally understood to mean 'remover of obstacles' by lay Hindus, but Hindu tradition itself associates some ambiguity with the name. In some Hindu texts, Ganesa is actually stated to be the 'creator of obstacles'. Courtright cites a version in Skanda Purana VII.1.38.1-34, according to which the heavens become crowded with people when even sinners start attaining salvation by visiting the temple of Somanatha. The gods then become alarmed and approach Siva for a way out of this quagmire. He is unable to help them and therefore Parvati creates Ganesa out of the dirt of her body. She remarks that Ganesa will place obstacles before (sinful or undeserving) men so that they will get deluded and will go to hell instead of to Somanatha.

    The notion that Ganesa creates obstacles with a just cause is merely meant to demonstrate his power as well as the fact that he does not allow sinners to take short cuts to reach the heaven – this is what the above story from the Skanda Purana also demonstrates. Linga Purana 105.12-16 says the same in a more elaborate fashion,

      “Hear Parvati, what this son of yours will become. He will be like me in might, heroism, and compassion. This son of yours will become one just like me because of these qualities. He will make obstacles that last until death for those evil and impious ones who hate the Veda and dharma. Those who fail to pay homage to me and Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, will go to great darkness by the obstacles laid before them by the lord of obstacles. In their houses there shall be quarrels without end. Because of the obstacles your son makes, everything perishes utterly. For those who do not worship, who are intent upon lies and anger, and are committed to fierce savagery, he will create obstacles. He will remove obstacles from those who revere the traditions, knowledge and teachers. Without worshipping him, all actions and laws will become obstructed.”

    Courtright too is aware of the Siva Purana verse in which Parvati declares that Ganesa shall receive the worship of all and remove all obstacles. Yet, how could a deity, whose morality Doniger has judged as ambivalent and whose father Courtright himself would label a notorious womanizer, be depicted in such an exalted manner? So, Ganesa is presented as the Lord of Obstacles, turning Ganesa into some malevolent deity. Courtright interprets the verses in Linga Purana and Skanda Purana, in which Siva tells Ganesa that the latter shall help the gods and the Brahmins and create obstacles in the rites of those who fail to pay the priest his dakshina for performing the sacrifice, quite out of context, to bestow this dubious label on Ganesa. This label would later on come handy for psychoanalyzing Ganesa's supposed sexual ambivalence apart from adorning the cover of the book. Ganesa is then portrayed as a jealous deity who would inflict severe punishments on those who dare ignore his immanent manifestations. The joyous festival of Ganesa chaturthi, when women pamper Ganesa with sweetmeats just as they would pamper their own children, is portrayed as an attempt by the devotees to propitiate Ganesa, who, the readers are told, if not propitiated would turn demoniac and lay obstacles in their path.

    In the course of this discussion, Courtright compares Ganesa to St. Peter, who is the keeper of the gate to the heaven as per the Biblical legends. He is quick to point out one difference though: Ganesa is comparable to the devious St. Peter of folklore, and not to the sober and austere St. Peter of the New Testament and early Christian church. It becomes imperative for Courtright to differentiate between folklore and literature to present St. Peter in a positive light, but such scruples are dispensed with when it comes to using unreliable anecdotes to taint the Hindu deity Ganesa.

    Referring to the story of the Skanda Purana, Courtright suggests,

      “The pattern of Ganesa's ambivalent behavior at the threshold links him with the actions of demons....”

    This is a rather poor choice of words, and an unfair demonizing of the deity. Hindus interpret the deity predominantly as an embodiment of auspiciousness, benevolence and the like. He is invoked at the beginning of all endeavors – religious or secular -- because he is the remover of obstacles. If he places obstacles in front of the people or the gods, it is predominantly for the reasons stated in the passages from the Linga Purana and the Skanda Purana above. The essential character of Vighnesvara is that of vighnahartta, sukhakartta, dukhahartta and mangalamurthi. His obstacles are meant largely for people who want to take unethical short cuts in their lives, and is a minor aspect of his character.

    But even the Foreword writer Wendy Doniger sees only his 'obstacle-creator' aspect, in her Foreword to the book –

      “Every book exists in toto in the mind of the elephant-headed god, and we scribes merely scramble to scribble down those bits of it that we can grasp, including the “knots,” the obstacles to full comprehension, that the god of obstacles throws in on purpose to keep us on our toes and to keep us in awe of him.”

    Perhaps, Doniger and her progeny always want to say something that is 'new', 'different', 'exciting' and 'sexy'. Or as a Sanskrit proverb goes, the housefly ignores the entire clean body of its host and dwells only on the festering sore.

    2.2.12: The Puranas and Conspiracy Theories:

    Courtright revisits the theme of the problem of the Vedic origins of Ganesa. It is true that there are not many unambiguous references to Ganesa in the Vedic texts, in contrast with the exalted manner in which he is referred to in the texts of classical Hinduism – the Puranas. To explain this discrepancy, Courtright comes up with a conspiracy theory. He argues that the Puranas attempt to cover-up his demon ancestry and are uncomfortably aware of the discrepancy between the malevolent, obstacle-creating powers of Vinayaka and the positive, obstacle-removing actions of Ganesa. According to him, the Puranas seek to resolve this contradiction by various mechanisms such as “clever use of false etymologies for the name `Vinayaka'.” He says,

      “In one case, when Siva saw, much to his surprise, that Ganesa appeared out of the mixture of his and Parvati's sweat and bathwater, he exclaimed to her, “A son has been born to you without [vinâ] a husband [nâyakena]; therefore this son shall be named Vinâyaka” (VâmP 28.71-72). This etymological sleight of hand obscures the association of Vinâyaka with “those who lead astray” which is its etymologically prior meaning, and connects it with another meaning of nâyaka as leader or husband.”

    The Purana has really not indulged in any subterfuge because in the second half of this very verse (28.72cd), Lord Siva clearly says that Ganesa will create obstacles for devatas and others ('esha vighnasahasraani suradiinaam karishyati'). The meaning of the word vinaayaka given by the Purana is definitely possible grammatically, without any strain at all. The moot question pertaining to historiography is whether the meaning `creator of obstacles' for 'vinaayaka' was in vogue or the norm at the time the Vamana Purana was compiled. If not, then we cannot accuse the author of the Purana with a 'sleight of hand'.

    It may be noted that creation of such ad-hoc etymologies, mythologies and cosmologies is seen very frequently in Hindu texts – Brahmanas, Upanishads, Puranas and all other genres. These ad-hoc etymologies serve various purposes at hand, such as provide impromptu explanations or justifications for a ritual act, or thematic completion of the narrative and so on. One need not come up with conspiracy theories as Courtright has done, to describe this phenomenon.

    2.2.12: Maternal Aggression of Parvati against Ganesa – Dubious Pauranic Passage:

    Courtright says,

      “The theme of maternal aggression in the myths of Ganesa is more veiled; but it is there – as we have seen in the myth where Parvati curses Ganesa to be ugly and as we shall see in the myth where she places him at the doorway to be cut down to size by Siva...”

    We are not aware of any Pauranic text where Parvati curses Ganesa to be ugly. Courtright himself admits that this story is not found in any printed edition of Varaha Purana, although it is attributed to this text by a Christian missionary traveler to India, and by an old, ill-informed author writing in the first half of 1800s who may have relied himself on this missionary's work for this piece of information. We shall discuss this issue more later. It is also questionable if Parvati's asking Ganesa to stand guard at the doorway should be taken as a 'veiled' instance of 'maternal aggression'.

    2.2.13 Who is Elder: Ganesa or Skanda

    Hindu tradition is not unanimous on who is the elder brother of the two. Courtright however states that Ganesa is the younger brother in a somewhat absolute manner (page 109) –

      “The iconography is clear enough; Ganesa is a child, a baby. So he remains, never growing into the full youthful stage of his elder brother Skanda or the maturity of his father.”

    But later (p. 123), he contradicts himself and states that, in most areas, Skanda is considered the younger brother. So we see that even incorrect and inconsistent facts do not prevent Courtright from inventing psychological analyses.

    We have given just a few illustrations of the various ways in which Courtright has distorted data from the Puranas and the Vedas for his questionable psychoanalytical constructions. Many more instances of distortion could be cited in relation to texts such as Skanda Purana and Siva Purana, but we will leave them here for the sake of brevity, and move on to the next section.


     Comments on this article
    ramakrishnan n.a > Dec 11, 2003
    Achyut Saha > Dec 11, 2003
    sankar > Dec 11, 2003
    ramakrishnan n.a > Dec 10, 2003
    Karna > Dec 10, 2003
     About Vishal Agarwal And Kalavai Venkat
    Vishal Agarwal And Kalavai Venkat
    Vishal (age =33 yrs), has graduate degrees in Materials Engineering and Business Administration. Cur
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