Sunday, 19 April 2015

How old is the idea of Vishnu?

In Hindu thought, the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, preserver or protector and Shiva the destroyer or transformer. These are the Trimurti (three forms). These are the different forms or manifestations of the Supreme Being (Narayana/Svayam Bhagavan).

It is something of a surprise to find that a head of Vishnu was found in Vietnam, and that archaeologists date it to somewhere between 2000 and 1500 BCE.  

So if this dating is correct, there must have been a body of thought about the Hindu Pantheon some 3,500 to 4,000 years ago. Was that body of thought philosophical? It is hard to say one way or the other, on the basis of a sculpted head. But the existence of such an old sculpted head may point to an extreme age for philosophical thought, if there is a connection between philosophy and the use of divine images. That there was such a connection between the two phenomena is one of the themes of The Sacred History of Being.

Of course the conventional academic dating of both the Vedas and the Upanishads is just that. These compositions were transmitted orally long before they were written down, so they could in fact be immensely old. It is very hard to determine the actual age of composition of many of them on the basis of internal evidence.

The referenced article has been written by someone with an outdated understanding of modern western scholarship on the subject of Hinduism. Nevertheless the author (Vrindavan Parker) does have an understanding of the enormous importance of the find:

The significance of this discovery cannot be overestimated. The entire history of Hinduism and Vedic culture, as taught in the academic institutions of the world, has been built upon a false construct.
Parker tells us that ‘there are no other ‘officially’ recognized Vedic artifacts that have been dated back to such an early date. This would make Vietnam home to the world’s most ancient Vedic artifact. While there are indeed many other ancient artifacts that represent the same Deity, they are not presented in the ‘Indic’ tradition and cannot be directly recognized as the Vishnu of the Indic Vaishnava tradition’.

The Vietnamese Vishnu sculpture was shown as part of an exhibition featuring some of Vietnam’s most ancient artifacts. It was discovered in the region of Southern Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Parker says that: ‘the entire region was once the home to several ancient and prosperous Vedic Kingdoms’.

The sculpture ‘was officially presented during the 5th Quang Nam Heritage Festival which opened on June 21, 2013 in Hoi An City. The exhibition highlights many ancient objects dated from the Dong Son – Sa Huynh – Oc Eo eras of Vietnam’s ancient history’.

“Entitled “Dong Son – Sa Huynh – Oc Eo cultures”, the exhibition put on display over 1,000 ancient objects which come from across the country and are made from diverse materials, from pottery to copper, including jewelry and farming tools, from the pre-ancient period belonging to the three cultures'.

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