ALAIN DANIÉLOU’S TRIBUTE TO THE GODDESS: A NOTE ON THE GANGETIC TALE THE CATTLE OF THE GODS
Alain Daniélou’s The Cattle of the Gods (Le bétail des dieux) was incorporated into his Gangetic Tales in the French edition of 1983, but originally it was conceived independently of it, as a kind of novel – the rest of the Gangetic Tales being gathered under the title The Fools of God (Le fous de Dieu, first published in 1975). In this essay, Adrián Navigante explores the world portrayed by this story about the cult of the Goddess and its adepts in a small mountain village of the Himalayas, as well as the reflections triggered by its contents: the wisdom of local traditions usually looked down on as archaic and primitive, the role of violence in religion and history, the disparities and tensions between urban and rural cults, and the hidden and living traces of archaic civilizations in the cultural landscape of post-independence India.
Divine subsistence and human action
The dynamics of manifested reality is one of relation and interdependence. In modern Western culture, this has mainly been thought in terms of physicality with regard to the environment and of interiority when it comes to human interaction. The search for an organic bond between humans in post-secular society – from artistic and virtual tribes to spontaneous neo-mystical affinities – seeks to compensate what has become rusty in the sphere of religion (the vertical axis ‘man-God’) by means of a paradoxical mechanism: the human element replaces divine agency as ‘work of the spirit’ in the logic of (social) relations, and the divine comes back – this time with a-moral traits – as psycho-physiological blind spots through a series of symptoms and superstitions of both individual and collective nature. The main question is whether it is possible to sever the mind from the body, the spirit from nature, to the point of affirming the first to the detriment of the second and speaking of ‘ultimate truth’, ‘supreme reality’ or even ‘high culture’ to justify or enforce that affirmation. The philosophy of the Upaniṣads, even from its very beginning, has made a sort of bondage out of cosmic interdependence. In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad 1.4.10 it is said that those engaged in deity cults are just cattle of the gods [paśurevaṃ sa devānām]. The passage from ‘bond’ (with the gods) to ‘bondage’ (to the gods) lies in the perception that the divine agency being worshipped is something different from one-Self1. A fundamental unity should, at the same time, act as common ground and nec plus ultra of every individual existence. But the subtle reflections of the early Upaniṣadic tradition are not devoid of realism; they recognize the tension between the bond and the bondage, as well as the paradoxical aspect of radical solutions. In order to affirm true life in knowledge (vidyā or jñāna), the untrue knowledge in life (avidyā, which implies kāma, rāga, karma, rasa, icchā, prakṛti, etc.) has to be eliminated, even if the latter constitutes the whole spectrum of existence known to us so far – including not only our usual or unusual interactions with plants and animals, but also the old transactions with demons and gods.
The Bṛhadāraṇyaka is the oldest and longest of the Upaniṣads, a text still closely related to a rich tradition of sacrificial ritual and liturgic performance2, a world-configuration in which the cosmic forces still call for close attention. Its philosophical dimension (the Yājñavalkya section in the middle two chapters) moves away from the ambivalent, autonomous, and even dangerous aspects of those forces, following a direction of detachment, self-control and mastery of the spirit, trying to bring all the excessive vibrations of Life to silence and introspection. Yet those attempts cannot undo the ground-level, the stuff upon which such reflections are elaborated, the centuries of shamanic techniques, ritual procedures, magical formulae, knowledge of the natural environment and its cosmic extension as well as transactions with non-humans – from spheres above and below. Such philosophical intimations about the true reality [satyaṃ brahman](5.7.1.) or the primordial character of the purified spirit within the heart [manomayo’yaṁ puruṣāntar-hṛdyate](5.6.1.) may point to a considerable change, which Śaṅkara tries – many centuries after the composition of the early Upaniṣads – to bend almost exclusively in the direction of his Vedānta system – not only in his commentary to the Bṛhadāraṇyaka but also in that of the Vedānta Sūtras. Despite such vehement instances of reductionism, the great forest Upaniṣad remains quite resistant to watered-down versions of Neo-Vedāntic commentators who, with the excuse of a philosophical purification revealing the core of the message, follow a logic of increasing impoverishment3. They reduce the body to a thing (parallel to the reduction of Nature4 to an object) and transform the spirit into a prescriptive abstraction for salvation. This goes hand in hand with an increasing rejection of descriptive concreteness and relations in the field of Nature and becoming. After all, what can the dogmatic affirmation of the supremacy of the spirit over matter possibly mean, in the light of history, other than the denial or refusal of the spiritual meaning and scope of the energy-body and the whole set of relations with the autonomous and not fully-objectifiable forces of Nature? This dimension got lost, to a great extent, with excessive urbanization, expansive abstraction-processes and full detachment from everything that ultimately escapes the control of extraverted techniques of subjectivity. We think we reduce Nature – to the benefit of cultural expansion – when scientific and technical growth attains unprecedented records, but in fact we are reducing ourselves and unnecessarily destroying the only source of life we have. Wouldn’t it be necessary, good and perhaps reassuring to reflect on the reality behind such mental constructions and accept the logic of interdependence in order to regain some kind of harmony? Surely it is necessary to resituate oneself in a broader context, but most probably neither good nor reassuring, since to look into the reality of the world without ready-made veils of protection is sometimes quite disturbing. In the past, when oblations were offered to the gods, humans had an idea of the meaning – and the necessity – of divine subsistence. If the gods are not fed and taken care of, they may get angry and ravage our human setting. But, perhaps even worse, they can also abandon us; they can retreat beyond worldly reach, turning Nature into a wasteland devoid of entities and forces – as if holding a mirror before us to show our inner desert.
In the past, when oblations were offered to the gods, humans had an idea of the meaning – and the necessity – of divine subsistence. If the gods are not fed and taken care of, they may get angry and ravage our human setting.
The call of the other side
Alain Daniélou’s tale The Cattle of the Gods5 picks up the motif of the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad concerning the interdependence of beings, summarized in the equation ‘animal = cattle for humans, humans = cattle for gods’6, and explores its significance and range not only in the mainstream culture (as early Upaniṣadic thought does) but also in marginal areas where ritual specialists are not Brahmins but śūdras, and the deities involved are not exactly the epitome of the Vedic pantheon. I will try to summarize the plot – without fully revealing the intrigue of the tale – adding some important details the better to appreciate the intricacies of the story.
Prem Bagchi is a young Brahmin who works as university lector in Benares. His solitary, troubled and cynical spirit keeps him away from most of his colleagues, with the exception of Anil, a Westernized (atheist and Marxist-oriented) teacher from the same university. In view of Prem’s inaccessible character, Anil is his only friend, and as such he makes an effort to stay close to him – though with full awareness of his colleague’s problematic personality: “It seemed to me that there was a kind of unfathomable core in the life of this thin and defiant young man, as if he had been deadlocked by dramatic and extraordinary events”7. One day, Prem tries to commit suicide by throwing himself off a terrace. He is saved by Anil, and to calm him down the latter spontaneously recites a hymn to the Goddess, the female principle and Mother of the world. Anil’s spontaneous reaction is worthy of notice: firstly, he resurrects an old religious reference in spite of his radical atheism; secondly, his hymn is not addressed to family deities (typical of Brahmanical cults) but to an aspect of the divine related to rural and mountains areas; thirdly, the religious content (the Goddess) comes as an abrupt inspiration to him and – even more surprisingly – soothes down his friend: “After having completed that strange recitation, I remained motionless, surprised by myself and also by the result, imagining the amusement of my colleagues had they seen Anil, the Marxist, invoking the Goddess like a rural priest in an attempt to exorcize one of his herd who had tried to kill himself”8. Prem feels for the first time in years a sort of relief, whereas Anil perceives with terrifying empathy the torment of his friend’s soul. He wants to know what the story behind it is and how Prem ended up in that state.
From that moment onwards, the story takes a turn, and Prem becomes the narrator in the first person. Anil will pick up the thread of the narration only in the last part of the tale – to close its well-structured frame. Prem’s account is a reconstruction of his past, a fantastic and unachieved story, the denouement of which required from the very beginning Anil’s intervention, not as an agent but rather as an instrument and mediator of the very deity that puts them both – and some other characters that populate the story – under its yoke. In the second part of the story, Daniélou resorts to regional folk traditions in order to depict that deity. Since Prem’s narration is located in the mountain region of Koshi, associations with the dark aspect of Pārvatī39 (known as Kauśikī10) are unavoidable to the reader: Mahādevī as Kālikā or Cāmuṇḍā, the reverse-side of the conventional aspects of the ‘golden wife’ of Śiva, as depicted in the figures of Gaurī or Kāmākṣī. What can this Great Mother be other than a unified expression of the whole spectrum of śaktis, that is, those powerful, ambivalent and unpredictable forces of Nature originally stemming from indigenous traditions and incorporated, to a great extent, into the ritual universe of early Tantra? Throughout the story narrated by Prem, the world of the mountain Goddess reveals itself little by little, like pieces composing a mysterious and threatening puzzle: through her victims (who appear as dialogue partners of Prem, for example the couple of old painters who live in the neighboring mountain area), her sacred places (which are exhumated little by little as the story unfolds), and Prem’s increasing awareness of the history of the place – in spite of his resistance to accept that the forces at work are neither merely human nor the product of rural superstition. With considerable narrative mastery – The Cattle of the Gods is by far the best of Daniélou’s Gangetic Tales –, the author discloses a hidden thread composing the dynamics of events: At first, the reader learns that Prem has traveled from Benares to Koshi with the aim of taking a cure in the mountains, since he has continuous health problems due to overwork. Being a modernized and highly intellectualized brahmin, he thinks that the change of context merely implies a difference in landscape and air. For a symptomatically urbanized brain, Nature is merely a combination of colors and objects, and air is related to temperature, pressure and degree of pollution, but the inhabitants of Koshi share another world-configuration, not unknown to Prem’s forefathers – though absolutely alien to him. As the narration progresses, the reader begins to notice that Prem becomes impregnated by the forces at work – which will show him the other side and ultimately the hidden plot of the story. The peasants he comes across are not merely ignorant and superstitious, but carriers of an archaic wisdom. The old sacrificial tradition (involving human victims for the Goddess) is not the horror of a barbarous folk, but a coherent way of distributing the energies of creation and renewing Life11. Despite his personal involvement in the context, Prem’s position remains that of an outsider, therefore he cannot be but threatened by the world of the living Goddess as soon as he gains access to it. The process of being influenced by those forces acquires a double status: revelation and condemnation. Little by little, he turns into a receptor of the Goddess, but his skeptical behavior and his deep-rooted resistance prevent him from understanding what is really happening. The story unfolds in the obscure breach between the workings of invisible powers and the logic of historical events, and that gap is bridged by the thread of individual destinies sprinkled with blood.
Magic, ritual and resistance
During his sojourn at Koshi, Prem meets Little Tea12. This sixteen-year-old boy, son of a Brahmin established on the premises, becomes Prem’s lover and guide in that foreign territory. Little Tea familiarizes the university scholar with a world that, at least for modern intellectuals, has fallen into oblivion: “We took long promenades together. With him I managed to get familiar with the whole surrounding area and get in touch with a strange archaic world of customs and rites as well as social and religious concepts”13. Not only does Prem become acquainted with the abandoned houses and hidden corners of the hills, but also with the history of Koshi – which in the context of the tale serves as a paradigmatic example of the destiny of tribal and rural traditions during the colonial period. Daniélou reshapes the socio-religious history of the Indian subcontinent from an obliterated standpoint, certainly not the self-narration of the Brahmanical textual tradition, nor the discourse of modern Indian elites ideologically functional or allied to the British Raj. He focuses instead on the standpoint of marginalized local populations and their own systems of beliefs and practices. The reader is progressively led back in time towards what might have preceded the configuration of Brahmanism and the urbanization process leading to the official doctrines of mainstream Hinduism. Like what is known through Tamil Sangam literature, the religious and political model of the mountain village of Koshi is presented as that of ritual kingship, “based around the ritual power of the king supported by a group of ritual and magical specialists of low social status”14. That model, and especially the tribal elements composing the oldest layers, were dissolved with the coming of the British: “When the English took possession of the country, they sent the Rajah – who was also a sort of religious leader – in exile to a solitary house, isolated on the side of a hill some miles away from here”15, explains Little Tea. Prem learns that the village, thus culturally and spiritually beheaded, regressed to a fragmented tribal configuration in which the remaining ritual specialists were scattered among the population, carrying out typical low-caste chores beyond official reach. A clear example in the tale is the old śūdra (who appears as a feeble, humble and silent man in the twilight of his life) hired by Prem to clean the house where he stays. In reality, he is a powerful Goddess priest whose occult knowledge involve manipulation of natural elements and entities from plants to animals, as well as highly-elaborated binding witchcraft techniques to soak up the vital energy of sacrificial victims. The reader learns – through Prem’s curiosity and observation – that the cult of the Goddess was perpetuated amidst the debris of an archaic world alien to the Veda, a world that became invisible in the face of modern Brahmanism16 and the British Empire.
Little Tea is Prem’s only dialogic partner in the absence of Anil. He attends high school and is familiar with the world of written culture, but he is also attached to the place where he grew up and very respectful of the archaic substrate of that place. For Prem the Goddess is a terrible deity demanding blood. He regards the practices of local villagers as a token of regression and brutality: “I told Little Tea how astonished I was at his believing such stories of superstitious peasants. I also pointed out to him that the conception of a bloodthirsty Goddess was for me hideous and absurd”17. In fact, Prem takes it for granted that such practices and conceptions have to be abolished, not only by Brahmanical domestication and monopolization of state and kinship rituals, but also by a confluence of Indian intellectual development and Western scientific progress. Little Tea, much younger than Prem and certainly not so cultivated, retells the story of the taming of the Goddess from the standpoint of the Koshi villagers. Through that particular account, quite another reality is revealed to the reader: The British occupants built fortified posts with military weapons on the ancient hills (changing the natural setting out of recognition) for the purpose of suffocating any possible rebellion the locals might attempt after the destitution of the village head. They invaded the sacred mountain summits and had a great number of mansions and roads built by the locals, many of whom died at work as a result of exhaustion or accidents. The immemorial tradition of the place forbade building anything but temples for the Goddess on the summit of the mountains, but foreign officials desecrated those places by building residences for themselves and their families. Through Little Tea’s account of the events, Daniélou anticipates what ethnological research later on helped to elucidate as well as the whole debate that ensued: In the Western context, one is immediately shocked by the literal dimension of sacrificial violence (and the peculiarities of its magico-religious setting), but genocides in the name of ‘civilization’ pass unnoticed18. Good and evil, progress and regression, light and darkness as well as further oppositional pairs (so dear to universalists) are ultimately relative magnitudes. Cruelty is not abolished when it is carried out surreptitiously; it is perpetuated in a surreptitious and hypocritical way, allowing the perpetrators to go beyond any limit. The Goddess cult became the shadow-side of the new world oriented towards cultural progress, but for the peasants the Goddess’ thirst to avenge the inflicted atrocities remained a promise of justice. Little Tea, who individually fears the Goddess as well as the darkest aspects of her cult, confesses to Prem: “The Goddess is not terrible, she is fair. She is our only justice and protection […]. The Goddess takes revenge and helps us get our revenge”19. In Daniélou’s The Cattle of the Gods, Mahādevī is not only an ambivalent synthesis of the powers of Nature, an awe-inspiring symbol of the archaic divine as well as the reverse-side of both the Vedic heritage and newly urbanized Brahmanism, but also an icon of resistance against colonial power among oppressed local minorities.
Unravelling the hidden plot
From the standpoint of modernized India (which consciously or unconsciously follows the standards of the British colonizers), the cult of the Goddess at Koshi is a macabre remainder of savage superstition demanding innocent victims. That is what Prem says to Little Tea when the latter tells about the divine revenge of the mountain Goddess against the descendants of colonizers. Through the story, an inner change takes place in this skeptical Brahmin. He begins to take (or rather be taken by) the opposite standpoint, even if an unsurmountable distance remains as a consequence of incompatible cultural backgrounds. Prem’s curiosity leads him further into the world of the Goddess, although the gap constrains him to antagonistic reactions and the illusion of believing that he can save the victims – especially a young Indian woman, Shila, with whom he falls in love – from their sacrificial destiny. He explores the abandoned properties of the mountain summit and the surrounding area, he discovers what is left of the ancient temple of the Goddess, and little by little he is invaded by the forces at work. It is through Prem’s immersion in the local atmosphere that Daniélou passes from the outer plot of historical events, social conflicts and individual love-affairs to the hidden plot of magical workings, forest rituals and double personalities. Even the animals take on another connotation: when Prem wants to hunt the wild beasts surrounding his house at night, Little Tea raises a voice of protest: “Don’t you even try to have those tigers and panthers hunted […]. Animals of that kind are sacred in this region”20. Little Tea’s words anticipate a later revelation: The Goddess ritual carried out in a forest clearing on the night of the mid-autumn festival, where the chief priest conjures the Goddess in the form of a black panther. The overwhelming and even terrifying aspect of the Goddess, closely related to peripheral powers – of forests, hills and mountains – and clearly delimited from the religious practices of village settlements, is presented in animal form. Daniélou fuses elements from Śākta and Purāṇic sources as well as their iconographic elaborations (the lion- and tiger-riding Durgā) with aspects of tribal traditions in which the ancestral forces of Nature are concretized in the equation Goddess = man-eating wild beasts (as in the case of the deity of the earth Dharani Penu)21. The divine, in its archaic and most fundamental form, is for Daniélou essentially related to Nature, that is with the earth, the forests, the mountains and the spectrum of beings (visible and invisible) contained in that mysterious field of forces. Religious experience is not to be found beyond, but within that sphere, and the breakthrough to the energy-field of the living deity does not take place by elevation but by deepening the bond that brings humans and non-humans together in a beautiful and cruel harmony of the whole.
unraveled by Prem’s inquiry into local history, there is no way of restraining the succession of events that seal the fate of the characters in the tale, but at the same time there is a deeper understanding of the present, the past, and the archaic substrate: “In the old days, in an almost forgotten age, these mountains did not belong to the Aryan circle. Their dwellers were considered as barbarians by those of the plains […]. However, they had a civilization of their own. […]When the Brahmanical civilization enlarged its territory […], the ancient temples were ‘purified’ and taken over by Brahmins who banned entry to those who had built those buildings. A double religion arose as a result of this, of two civilizations ignoring each other which have survived as parallel worlds until our own days”22. The prodigiously ancient culture Little-Tea refers to consists of legends, myths and magical rites. The gods of that culture are not severed from Nature, hence they appear in the form of animals and they communicate with priests who ultimately do not differ so much from shamans. The Aryan intervention implied a change of world-configuration, a socio-cosmic structure built after standards of urbanization, written culture, high literacy and a form of religious asceticism turned against the ambiguous and unpredictable powers of the immediate past. The new pantheon of high Brahmanical culture is for Daniélou the beginning of a tragic loss. In spite of integration and unification attempts, that epoch-making transformation – severing gods from humans, humans from animals, and the spirit level [puruṣa-brahman]from all manifestations of Nature [prakṛti]– will open the doors to the intrusion of dichotomic standards stemming from the West, from the culture of evangelization and its opposition of good and evil, heaven and hell, spirit and matter, to the colonialist project with its predatory alternative: civilization or barbarism.
It is true that the Goddess demands sacrificial victims, and Daniélou deals with archaic forms of the cult in which there is no euphemism for the sacrificial act. He does not spare us the problematic and even sinister dimension of such rituals. But as the plot unfolds and we learn more about the world configuration, the reason and sense of the locals’ behavior and the intrinsic functioning of that universe hidden behind the veil of all its subsequent reforms, a feeling of coherence and harmony settles in the middle of what has been regarded as inacceptable and gruesome. Daniélou reveals not only magical rituals and esoteric procedures related to the practices of the Koshi peasantry, but above all the main paradox contained in the cult of the Goddess: the destruction of life as the only means of preserving life and caring for the sacred. If Daniélou’s tale can be for some readers bewitching and disturbing, it is at the same time an attempt to show a liberating aspect within that whole. The liberating aspect appears when the characters accept their fate instead of fighting against it. Accepting their fate is no act of resignation, but of deep understanding – the kind of substantial and overwhelming understanding that brings alienated human being back to their roots.
The divine, in its archaic and most fundamental form, is for Daniélou essentially related to Nature, that is with the earth, the forests, the mountains and the spectrum of beings (visible and invisible) contained in that mysterious field of forces.
Anil, who witnesses how the story unfolds and is in no way spared its tragic aspects, epitomizes this process. At the beginning of the tale, he is a skeptical Marxist totally severed not only from the archaic world of the Himalayan mountains but also from the official religion of his own university colleagues in Benares. However, Daniélou gives a sign that is also a bridge to the concluding section of the story: the hymn he spontaneously recites to the Goddess to calm down his friend when the latter attempts to commit suicide. At the end of the tale, after Anil has experienced the denouement of the plot and the ravages taken to feed the Goddess, he experiences a radical change of attitude, as if the episodic role of that hymn had fully occupied his mind. He also regains the first person in the narration, which confirms his status as final and valid witness of the events. When he sees the old śūdra priest at the bottom of the hill, he understands “all of a sudden the meaning of that presence” and he throws himself at his feet murmuring: “Father, may the Goddess protect me”. This time the prayer is not spontaneous and episodic, but fully conscious, sincere, solid. This conversion, seen from the optics of Anil’s former belief, should be characterized as the worst of regressions. He has realized the price to be paid for the sacralization of violence. Why does he take part in it, then?
Anil has come to know that there is no way of escaping the hidden plot of the Goddess, because she unshakably accomplishes and fully encompasses the beautiful and cruel wisdom of Nature. Accepting that hidden plot of events is, in the context of Daniélou’s tale, the only way humans are able to reject the predatory alliance between absolute religion (monotheistic proselytism) and mass-murder in the name of the good, the elevated and the pure (colonialist expansion). In Daniélou’s tale, being ‘cattle of the gods’ does not exactly mean an existential bondage in which human voices call for liberation, but a deep bond and organic relationship with the mystery of Nature. Surprisingly enough, he inverts the value of a key sentence in Śaṅkara’s commentary to the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad, extracting a philosophy of Nature out of it: “the gods protect their cattle like their own bodies”23.
It takes courage to develop the kind of attitude to Nature that Daniélou describes in his tale, accepting its ambiguous workings and striving to respect its own economy of forces. It is also very easy to mistake that kind of acceptance with an opposite (individualist, selfish, cynical) attitude that disguises itself in that ‘animistic wisdom’: social Darwinism, lack of empathy, and an active exercise of cruelty and indifference towards others are also a form of alienation and have little to do with Daniélou’s philosophy. The intricate substance of The Cattle of the Gods and the reflections triggered by the tale show quite clearly that Alain Daniélou’s thought is a pharmakon: it can awaken and instruct the unprejudiced and open-minded, almost as much as it can confuse and even poison the self-infatuated and jaundiced.
- That is why the sentence reads atha yo’nyāṃ devatām upaste’nyosavanyo’ham asmīti. The contrast anyo’sāvanyo’ham means ‘I am one and he/she (the deity being worshipped) is an-other’, the pronoun sā referring to its antecedent devatā (a term previously mentioned in the Upaniṣadic passage). By contrast ‘one-Self’ refers to the point of junction between the individual self already detached from all bondages – ātman, which is also the self to which the gods can be awakened: tadyo yo devānām pratyabudhyata sa eva tad abhavat [who among the gods became aware of this, he/she became that]– and the ontological principle named brahman, which is the true self beyond the manifold illusions of fragmentation.
- One thinks immediately of the liturgy related to urban settlements, but the word āraṇya (contained in the title of the Upaniṣad) points in another direction: the exteriority of the forest, and some practices related to that place where the most powerful and dangerous forces were located.
- To parody the Marxian verdict in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, we could say that if the a-cosmic reduction of Advaita Vedānta is a tragedy falling upon the heritage of Upaniṣadic philosophy, there is no reason to avoid calling the Neo-Vedānta for the export of pseudo-gurus and spiritual diplomats – especially in the last part of the XX century – a farce.
- When I write ‘Nature’ in capital, it is to emphasize its non-objectifiable aspect, i. e. the very dimension that goes beyond any scientific reduction. This aspect becomes ostensible in other cultural settings (for example the animistic one among indigenous populations) and shows us the ethnocentric character of the Western concept of ‘nature’ – as a field devoid of or lacking in spirit.
- This text was incorporated into a collection of short stories called ‘Gangetic Tales’ (cf. Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, Paris 1983), but it might have very well been published separately as a novel, since it runs to 99 pages (in the aforementioned edition) and is divided into several sections forming a coherent and consistent unity. The first version of Daniélou’s Gangetic Tales does not include it (cf. Alain Daniélou, Les fous de dieu: contes gangétiques, Paris 1975).
- Cf. Yathā ha vai bahavaḥ paśavo manuṣyam bhuñjyuḥ, evam ekaikaḥ puruṣo devān bhunakti (As animals should serve a human being, a human being serves the gods). The verb bhuj-, whose first layer of meaning is ‘to bend’ or ‘to bow’, implies a vertical relation (superiority/inferiority, domination/submission), as if humans were domesticated animals – folded [herded?], as it were, under the power of the gods.
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 11.
- Alain Daniélou, Ibidem, p. 20.
- The literal translation of the name Pārvatī, a feminization of the Sanskrit word parvata, reads ‘she of the mountain’. This goddess is the daughter of the king Himavat or Himarāja (‘king of the mountains’).
- Kauśikī is a personification of the river Koshi according to the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa.
- Daniélou’s conception speaks through some of the character’s reflections, for example in the following passage: “You, modern people on the other side, believe yourselves very intelligent, but you don’t have the faintest intuition of subtle realities […]. Your desire of not believing is more vulgar and material that the beliefs against which you protest” (Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 65).
- In French Petit Thé. In Daniélou’s tale, this young man is known by that pseudonym due to his father’s owning a shop at the village of Koshi, very close to Prem’s house, where people can get food and drink.
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 41.
- Geoffrey Samuel, The Origins of Yoga and Tantra: Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge 2008, p. 84. Since Daniélou moves within a somewhat schematic dichotomy of Aryan vs. Dravidian, the religious models of Tamil, Odisha and the Himalayan villages are in his view essentially related because of the pre-Brahmanical features of the deities, the priests and the environment related to them.
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 45.
- In Daniélou’s tale, it becomes clear – through the psychology and the behavior of the main characters – that modern Brahmanism no longer represents what traditional India was, since the project of Brahmins who made a cultural and political alliance with the British, as well as of nationalists who vehemently reacted against the Westernization of the subcontinent, was based on the cultural vacuum caused by the total obliteration of traditional models.
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 49.
- Analyzing the case of the Khond tribe in Odisha, Stefano Baggiora writes the following: “From a historical point of view, we know that the tradition of human sacrifice in the tribal zones of Orissa was abolished and banned for ever by the English colonial power by means of military interventions in the colonial period during the first half of the XVIII century […]. The most terrible characteristic of that process was that in order to suppress human sacrifice – an atrocious rite in its form, without any doubt – a regular and systematic genocide of the tribal groups of the area was carried out” (Sacrifici Umani e Guerriglia nell’India Britannica: Dal Genocidio in Nome della Civiltà alla Civiltà come Genocidio, Bassano del Grappa 2010, p. 11). Human sacrifices in the context of the Khond tribe are carried out in honor of the Earth Goddess Dharani Penu, who shares many features with the Great Mother described in Daniélou’s tale, especially her transformation into wild felines (a tiger in the case of Dharani Penu, a black panther in Daniélou’s tale).
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, pp. 49-50.
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, p. 65.
- Cf. Stefano Baggiora, Sacrifici Umani e Guerriglia nell’India Britannica, p. 151. It is true that in the iconographic representations of the lion- and tiger-riding Durgā, which are intimately linked to the Devīmahāmātmya – a Śākta text that was later incorporated into the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa (IV to VI century CE) –, the link between the Goddess and the animal is not that of identification but rather an asymmetrical relationship: control over demonic forces. However, demonic nature is conquered by the Goddess because the latter, unlike any other deity, is deeply familiar with it and knows – precisely because of her fundamental resonance – how to neutralize it – by ingestion or incorporation. This mythical account may be read as the reverse of the historical process, in which the theriomorphic forms of the deity stands for an animistic background sealing the bond between human and non-human on the level of Nature powers without any need for heavenly or metaphysical elevation; whereas further accounts sever the divine from the demonic and establish a duality quite alien to the reality of natural settings. For the connection between Tantric and tribal traditions and the association of the Goddess Dharani Penu with Durgā, cf. Stefano Baggiora, Ibidem, p. 55.
- Alain Daniélou, Le bétail des dieux et autres contes gangétiques, pp. 92-93.
- Svapaśūnsvaśarīrānīva ca rakṣanti devāḥ, in: Prasthanathraya, Volume V (Brihadaranyaka), Kerala 2008, p. 241