| Where Recherche duTemps Perdu
---- meets Kirchliche Dogmatik
Yesterday (Monday) certainly started out on a dubious note. I was scheduled to lead a discussion group with some faculty members of the Marion, IN campus of IVY Tech (a vocational college). Unfortunately the college had moved to a new location, whose description was not all that dissimilar from the previous one, only about six miles away. I'll skip the details of my itinerary, but by the time I got there about half an hour late, everyone had taken off, as they should have. I was told that the GPS wouldn't have helped.
I've been working on Max Müller and Indo-European (IE) mythology for the book on original monotheism. Last night around this time, I put together a chart of IE languages. Needless to say, there are a lot of such charts and tables on the web, and I used them as sources. Mine is very rough and approximate, but it covers the relationships that I'm particularly interested in. The two major divisions "centum" and "satem" are based on the word for "hundred" and concomitant variations derived from an apparently very early split among the original IE-speaking tribes. Some linguists are now trying to find the common language behind the large families, such as IE, Semitic, Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, etc. but I'm afraid their efforts aren't very convincing to me. I suspect that what's behind proto-IE and the rest is the Tower of Babel. Click on the miniature map if you're interested in the whole collection of names and arrows. "Tocharian" is an extinct language once spoken in an area in the vicinity of Afghanistan. In order to maintain some visibility, I ignored the Celtic, Norman, and French influences on Middle English. How does one diagram "Norman"? Note that Low German, which is actually a growing language in quest of official governmental recognition, actually occupies a different branch from High German.
Hindi, according to the introductory pages of my Oxford Hindi/English Dictionary, had a really interesting history. During the Mughal empire in India, Persian (eventually Farsi) was the lingua franca for politics and high culture. Urdu was a popularization of this language within the south-Asian context. Then, in the nineteenth century, to be able to increase the potential for better communication across the sub-continent, modern Hindi was formed by 1) supplementing Urdu with content derived from local Indic languages, even reaching back to Sanskrit as needed, and b) using the ancient Devanagari script for writing.
Let's think about the deaths of Jesus and Krishna respectively. The website under our consideration, About.com/Hinduism/Christ-Krishna, written by Mr. Subhamoy Das, says: "Both died of wounds caused by sharp weapons — Christ by nails and Krishna by an arrow." I have also seen an additional apparent similarity adduced: both of their deaths involved trees; it takes Stretchman of Saturday morning cartoon fame to make that last idea work.
Again, I'm assuming a basic knowledge of the story of Christ as recorded in the gospels. Let me give a quick summary, and, if anyone has any specific questions, please e-mail me. The point that I want to make is that Jesus' death had a significant purpose. After spending several years teaching and working miracles, Jesus was captured by the authorities in the garden of Gethesame and tried before the council, the San Hedrin. Having been found guilty of blasphemy, he was put on trial before the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate. Although Pilate could not find any crime of which to convict Jesus, he gave in to the mob that had gathered in the square, who wanted Pilate to pass the ultimate death sentence on him--crucifixion. The Roman soldiers mocked and tortured Jesus, and then they crucified him, flanked by two murderers. Later in the day, Roman soldiers discovered that Jesus had died earlier than expected, and they made sure of his death by piercing his heart with a lance. Pontius Pilate gave permission to Joseph of Arimathea to place Jesus in Joseph's cave-like tomb (pre-planned obviously), and Pilate himself put his seal on it. However, on the third day of his entombment (counting in the traditional Jewish manner), Jesus was resurrected from the dead. His tomb was found to be empty by some women who wanted to finish embalming his body, but were unsure how to get past the large (and sealed) boulder that served as closure for the tomb. When they got there, the tomb was empty (and there has yet to be a plausible explanation on normal historical grounds of how it got to be empty other than due to his supernatural resurrection). Jesus showed himself from time to time to his disciples over the next forty days and then ascended bodily into heaven. Jesus had predicted his death and resurrection (e.g., Mark 8:31), and that his death was necessary for us to be reconciled to God (John 14:6). So, Christianity has understood the death of Christ to be a positive thing because it constitutes an atonement for our sin. His resurrection and ascension assure us that we have a living Lord, who is available for us to forgive us our sins, make it possible for us to go to heaven, and to be our constant Friend.
The death of Krishna, according to the mythology, was Kafkaesque. After the death of Kamsa and the events of the Mahabharata, Krishna spent further time on earth, killed a few more demons, enjoyed numerous affairs, shared some adventures with his brother, Balarama, and slowly got weary and cynical. He had fulfilled the mission for which he had become an avatar, and his life appeared to hold no further content. He seemed to have moved from the epitome of joie de vivre to being downright moribund. A part of the burden he was bearing was that he had come under a curse. We mentioned earlier that Krishna played an important role in the Mahabharata, guiding Arjuna and the Pandavars in their victory over the Kauravars. Gandhari, mother of the Kauravars, took the defeat of her one hundred sons personally and announced that Krishna's entire clan, the Yadavas ("the descendants of Yadu") would be annihilated.
Krishna now lived in the city of Dwaraka. In the nearby countryside there dwelled a holy man called Narada, who is sometimes considered to be a partial avatar. Some boys in Dwaraka decided to play a trick on Narada and dressed up Samba, one of Krishna's sons, as a pregnant girl. They took him to Narada to test his spiritual powers and asked the saint about the supposedly coming child. He was annoyed at this importunity and declared: "It will be an iron rod, and it will serve as cause for the annihilation of your race."
The boys thought that this was really hilarious as they went home. However, it stopped being funny when Samba actually manifested symptoms of impending motherhood. When the time came, he gave birth (don't ask me how) to an iron rod, just as Nanda had predicted. Ugrasena, who was again on the throne of Matura, ordered that the rod should be ground to powder. His workmen complied, but there was one piece at the end of the rod that resisted being pulverized. They had to give up and, on Ugrasena's order, the powder and the left-over inch or so of the rod were dumped into the sea.
The problem with supernatural iron rods is that you can't get rid of their supernatural nature just by grinding them up. So, all the powder washed ashore and grew into rushes. But, of course, these were not your ordinary rushes; they were your iron-fortified weapons-grade rushes, as we shall see shortly. As to the indestructible piece, it was swallowed by a fish, which was caught by a fisherman, who sold it to a hunter named Jala, who was able to turn it into an arrowhead.
Right about then Krishna received a message from the gods that the time had come for all of the Yadavas to be eradicated. Krishna was not willing to accept that verdict without attempting to avoid it. He counseled all of the people of Dwaraka, which was populated by his clan, to leave the city and emigrate to the nearby Prabhasa. Somehow Krishna thought that evacuating the city could avert the disaster. The Dwarakites thought that such a journey would be a fun thing to undertake, and, as they were walking along the seashore, they stopped to hold a walking-to-Prabhasa party (--reminds me of people holding hurricane parties in Florida--). So, the liquor flowed, and the times were hot, and everyone was having a great time until somebody said something that irritated someone else, which really ticked off a third person, and, as these things go, pretty soon the scene became a free-for-all exhibition of modified mixed martial arts. Then somebody picked up one of the iron-fortified rushes and discovered that it made a good weapon, and pretty soon everyone followed his example, and a lot of blood began to flow. Krishna and Balarama were horrified and attempted to intervene, but the people would not listen to them. The descendants of Yadu just kept on massacring each other, until none was left standing. Ghandari's curse and Narada's prophecy were almost fulfilled; all but two Yadavas were dead.
After this agonizing event, Krishna and Balarama sat by a river in the forest, contemplating their sorrow. All of a sudden, as Balarama opened his mouth, the white serpent, Shesha, emerged. It slid out between his lips, slithered onto the ground, and slipped away into the forest. Since Shesha had been Balarama's life force, her departure meant that he had died. More grief for Krishna.
But Krishna would not have to suffer long. The hunter Jala, who had made an arrowhead out of the indestructible piece of iron, was not having a good day finding game animals. He saw Krishna, who may have been partially obscured by a tree, and thought he was a deer. Jala let loose the special arrow, and it killed Krishna, thereby ending the eighth incarnation of Vishnu.
So, at the end of Krishna's life we find him killed accidentally by a hunter's arrow, which was initially the result of a stupid prank played by one of his sons, but not before he saw all of his people slaughter themselves before his eyes. Remember that it was to save these people from Kamsa that Krishna had become an avatar to begin with. It was a death with no meaning, and one can't help but ask how much meaning had remained to his life's work by that point.
Next time: Some closing comments on avatars and Christ's incarnation.