gupta ? Some scholars regard it as an empty boast. But the expression in our opinion is susceptible of a better interpretation which has been set forth above on pages 37-41.
The second line of evidence adduced by R. G. Bhandarkar relates to “the gods and
goddesses adopted into the Brahmanic Pantheon.” “The worship of Śiva, Vishṇu, the Sun,
and Mahāsēna seems to have become popular with all classes from princes and chiefs to
ordinary individuals. To this pantheon ‘there was not even an allusion in the epigraphical
records of the country for more than five centuries.’ They suddenly present themselves to our
view about the end of the fourth century; and appear uninterruptedly for the whole of the
subsequent period of about two centuries covered by the inscriptions.” It is very doubtful
whether Śiva, Vishṇu, the Sun and Mahāsēna can be considered to be Brāhmanic deities
even in the Gupta period. In modern times there is hardly any important shrine of Vishṇu,
Śiva or Ambikā which is not in charge of a Brāhmaṇa priest who alone has the right to show
the god or goddess to the devotees on payment of money, or the making of offerings, or both,
which is a source of income to the priest. But there is no inscription of the Gupta period to
show that there was any temple or any shrine in the fourth, fifth or sixth century to which any
Brāhmaṇa priest was attached and which was a means of his living. Nor is there any evidence
to show that the deities noted above came down to the Gupta period from the Ṛigvedic times,
with the Brahmanical or original character stamped upon them.
Let us take Śiva first. Śiva, we find, is a god unknown to the Vēdas.1 His name is a word
of not unfrequent occurrence in the hymns, but means simply ‘propitious.’ Not even in the
Atharvan is it the epithet of a particular divinity, or distinguished by its usage from any other
adjective. It is only in the Śvētāśvatara Upanishad that Śiva first occurs as another name of
Rudra. Whether he was originally a divinity from the mountains of the north it is difficult
to say. This much is certain that shortly before the time of Patañjali there had developed a
‘Śiva cult’, saturated with the worship of Skanda and Viśākha and possibly also Kumāra and
Mahāsēna as appears from the coins of Huvishka2 and that Śiva so overshadowed Rudra that
the latter himself came to be regarded as a form of the former. As regards Vishṇu, every
student of the Ṛig-Vēda knows that while the hymns and verses, dedicated to the praises of
Indra, Agni, Mitra, Varuṇa, etc., are extremely numerous, those in which Vishṇu is celebrated are much fewer.3 Not only is the power by which Vishṇu takes his three strides described
as being derived from Indra but also Vishṇu is represented as celebrating Indra’s praises.
We shall not be far from right if we say that Vishṇu occupied a subordinate place in the estimation and affections of the Ṛishis who composed the Ṛiks. It is again doubtful whether and
how far Vishṇu had maintained his original character as a solar deity in the Gupta period.
Why else does a divinity spring into existence called Sūrya or Bhāskara about this time? The
form of the image of the Sun worshipped in this epoch has been described by Varāhamihira.
The feet and legs of his icon, we are told, should be covered up to the knees and dressed in the
fashion prevalent in the north and his waist should be encircled with an avyaṅga. In fact, the
images of this Sun have boots reaching up to the knees and a girdle round the waist. “This
last is a Persian feature” according to R. G. Bhandarkar.4 He further points out that the
priests, in charge of the idols of this deity, were called Magas who also correspond to the
Persian Magi. This worship of the Sun was thus a foreign importation to a large extent. How
this divinity could be assigned to the Brahmanic pantheon in the Gupta period is far from
clear. As regards Mahāsēna, he stands or falls together with Śiva. And as the Brahmanical
1 Muir’s Original Sanskrit Texts, Vol. IV (1873 edn.), p. 399.
2 D. R. Bhandarkar’s Carmichael Lectures, 1921, pp. 22-23, Ind. Ant., Vol. XL, p 17.
3 Muir’s Original Sanskrit Texts, Vol. IV (1873 edn.), p. 98.
4 Vaishṇavism, Śaivism, etc., pp. 154-55.