The book, Who is the Supreme God; Visnu or Siva? Contains the translations of four Sanskrit manuscripts of the 16th and 17th centuries CE authored by Vaisnava, Saiva and Smarta polemicists in South India arguing out their respective theological positions with great dialectical skill, and with a remarkably encyclopedic knowledge of the Hindu scriptural lore. Vijayendra Tirtha of the Madhva-Vaisnava tradition and Appayya Diksita of the Sivadvaita tradition who are the two main theologicans were trenchant opponents who argued out their views, in style, at the court of the Nayaks of Tanjore.
S.D. Bahulikar received her M.A. from the University of Pune [India], in 1965, and Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indian Studies from Harvard University in 1972. She wrote her dissertation on Panini’s Astadhyayi and published several articles on the subject in Indian Linguistics. Her other work, Srimadbhagavatabodhamrtam, Pathway to God in the Bhagavata Purana, was published in 2003.
B.N. Hebbar was born in India and had his secular and seminarian schooling there. He has a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Utrecht, Netherlands, and a Doctor of Divinity degree from SGUI. He has lectured extensively on Hinduism and Buddhism in North America, Europe and Asia. He is the Academic Advisor to the DC Area International Buddhist Committee [an association of the 13 Buddhist-majority nations of the world]. He has authored articles in professional journals and has already written two books. He currently teaches at the George Washington University and in the Advanced Academic Program at Johns Hopkins University in the summer semesters since 2007. He also has taught at the Honors Program at the University of Maryland [1997-20071. He received the Bender Award in 2006 for Excellence-in-Education from the George Washington University.
This is a work that comes out of many years of thought and research on the part of Dr. Bahulikar and myself. We wanted to write on something that was important and relevant to present-day practical Hinduism and yet had medieval if not ancient roots in the Hindu tradition. Also, another incentive was that very little had been done by way of research works in English in this particular area. The gods Viu and iva in their opposition to each other to garner support from among their devout followers to become the Supreme Deity of Classical Hinduism reaches its intellectual peak in the works of the four authors on whose erudite polemical treatises that this work of ours is based on.
The theological opposition between the gods Visnu and Siva has its roots going back to Vedic times. Visnu is a solar and celestial deity. He is the replacement for Varuna who was the chief celestial deity of the Vedic pantheon. Siva, on the other hand, who is identified with the Vedic god Rudra, was a storm and atmospheric deity. He is the replacement for Indra who, in opposition to Varuna, was the chief atmospheric deity of the Vedic pantheon. Thus, Visnu and Siva are merely carrying on the fight for supremacy as their Vedic predecessors Varuna and Indra had done in the earlier Vedic times. In the earliest Indo-European period in South Asia, when the northernmost Indians and Iranians were one people, one of the reasons for the split between the Vedic Indians and Avestan Iranians was perhaps over the issue of whom to acknowledge as the chief of the deities. The Avestan Iranians eventually chose Varuna, and Vedic Indians chose Indra who became the chief of the gods in later Hinduism. Visnu and Siva soon rose to prominence with the rise of the Bhakti period of post-Buddhistic Hinduism. These four authors represent the peak of that intense rivalry among the followers of Visnu and Siva in the late Bhakti era. The common saying among the followers of a certain brand of Vaisnavism that one ought not to enter the shrine of Siva (which, in their view, is akin to an impure precincts of a cemetery) even if being chased by an elephant, or the equally trenchant saying among the followers of a certain brand of Saivism that one ought to ring a bell near his or her ear everytime the horrible and unholy name of Visnu is heard; or the unabashed and caustic remark of a certain Saiva canonical poet: “smack that one, hard on the cheek, that says that Han [Visnu] and Hara [Siva] are one and the same”, all very clearly show the populist influences that authors like these must have had on the devout and overly partisan followers of Visnu and Siva respectively.
Most of the arguments of the four authors center around certain passages of the Svetavatara Upanisad and the linguistically and grammatically technical gymnastics around the various ways that the term “narayana” can be interpreted. Perhaps these authors never looked at the doubting and faith-challenging phrase found in that very upanisad that they argue so much about. It is the phrase: “kasmai devaya havisa vidhema” [Svetavatara Upanisad IV:13] meaning “to what god shall we offer our oblations?”
By looking at the title and perhaps after reading this book, if one comes from a non-Hindu background, one perhaps will feel that neither of these gods is the Supreme Being, and that it is definitely their particular deity [whoever that be] who is the true Supreme Being. Even among the sectarian Hindus, there is a third option, i.e., the Saktas who regard the Mother-Goddess, Sakti or Durga, as the Supreme Being. Theism, particularly monotheism, is not without its faults and pitfalls. Last but not least, there are within the Hindu fold the Advaitins who hold that the Supreme is the Absolute beyond name, form, attributes, etc., and outside the Hindu fold, the Taoists who hold an almost similar view with regard to the Tao.
Perhaps, the best solution is the Buddhist one which regards everything as impermanent [anitya] and essenceless [anatman] or lacking being. Everything is becoming. So, when there is no being, it is useless to talk about a Supreme Being. The brilliance of the teachings of the Enlightened One is not without its attractions. Yet in spite of all this, one must admire the learned authors of these excellent treatises, especially Vijayendra Tirtha and Appayya Diksita, in terms of the depth of their erudition, the zeal of their faith and for the courage of their convictions.
I hope that the Vaisnava and the Saiva traditions will continue to engage, enrich, enliven and enlighten each other to seek harmony and common ground in the future. I would like to thank Mr. Stephen Mulcare of Georgia who with his expert knowledge in the Mac and the PC systems was able to convert all my files from an outdated to a current format. Without his technical savvy, this work would not have been where it is today. For that, I also would like to thank Mr. Jonathan Mulcare, my graduate student in Hindi, who was the one who put me in touch with his brother in Georgia.
I would like to thank our editor Mr. Ashok Butani, our printer Mr. Tarun Beri, our editorial proofreader Mr. B.D. Diwan, and last but not least our publishers, Messers Yashpal, Vinod and Salil Mahajan of Nataraj Books, Springfield, VA, USA.
Finally, it is to Dr. Bahulikar, whose o-author I am, that all the credit goes for so arduously working and patiently putting up with someone like me. In a work of this scope, size and nature, there are bound to be errors in spelling, style and syntax. We, as authors, crave the indulgence of the readers in this matter.
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