More from Danielou
Another passage from Danielou’s A Brief History of India about the probable pre-Aryan source of the Ramayana (!) and the basic orientation of primordial Saivism predated the Aryan phase of India, and the source of the basics of Indian religion in its archetypal yoga/tantra polarity.
The argument makes sense in general terms, despite my reservations (I simply don’t know) about the comparison of Shiva and Dionysus, or any specifics about an early Indo-Mediterranean cultural matrix.
Nonetheless, such an idea, details apart, makes sense of the Neolithic in human history: we are missing the key seminal innovations that predate the onset of higher civilization.
The narrative that gives a particularly interesting view of the pre-
Aryan world is the Ramayana. This narrative, of which several shorter
versions are given in the Puranas, was based on ancient sources, drawn
up in the form of a long epic poem in Sanskrit by a sage called Valmiki,
whose Yogic power allowed him to “see” the events of this distant past.
The period in which it was drawn up is uncertain, though very ancient.
The Ramayana was later incorporated among the sacred books of the
Hindus. Although the Valmiki version was adapted in order not to
offend the concepts of Aryanized Brahmanism, none of the chief ele-
ments of the narration allow it to be dated within the Aryan period.
The Ramayana is assuredly an adaptation of very ancient non-Sanskrit
According to the genealogies of the Puranas, as also according to tra-
dition, Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, lived at least five centuries
(Pargiter) before Krishna who took part in the great war of the
Mahabharata. Like Krishna, Rama is a dark-skinned prince. Hindu
chronology places the Mahabharata war at about 3000 years before our
era, and places Rama at about 3500 B.C.E. Western chronology proposes
2000 B.C.E. At the time of the Ramayana, many sites, such as the con-
fluence of the Ganges and the Jumna, were still covered by forest, whereas
in the Mahabharata they are the sites of major cities.
The Ramayana is the story of a prince of Ayodhya (to the north of
Varanasi), called Rama, who, as the result of the intrigues of one of his
father’s young wives, goes into exile in the forest. His wife, Sita, is kid-
napped by Ravana, the king of Lanka (Sri Lanka). Rama means “charm-
ing” and the hero is the prototype of the “Prince Charming” of European
legend. With the aid of the army of monkeys (the aboriginal Munda
tribes), Rama conquers Lanka and rescus Sita.
We shall speak elsewhere of Krishna-the other divine hero of the
ancient Dravidians-and of the great epic poem called the Mahabharata,
since the “great war” which is its main theme symbolizes the one between
the Dravidians and the Aryan conquerors.
The religion of the Indus civilization included the cults of the Mother
and of Shiva-of which phallic emblems similar to those used today are
found, as well as images in Yoga posture. It should be remembered that
in Hinduism, Yoga is a discipline created by Shiva and that its philoso-
phy and technique have maintained a strictly Shaivite character that
tends to sublimate and utilize sexual energies for spiritual and magical
ends. Here we are dealing with religious forms and practices wholly
unknown to the Vedas and the Aryans. The word shiva merely means
“favorable.” This adjective is used to avoid pronouncing the god’s magi-
cal name, a name that appears to have been An in ancient Dravidian (and
may have been the origin of the cult of St. Anne in Brittany).
According to the Puranas, it was toward the sixth millennium B.C.E.
that the god Shiva manifested himself in India and taught men religion,
philosophy, and the arts and sciences. Shaivism remained the dominant
religion in India until the arrival of the Aryans, who violently attacked
the Shiva cult and phallus worship in particular. Gradually, however,
Shaivism-which continued to be the religion of the people-was
integrated into Brahmanic religion, of which it now forms an essential
aspect. In fact, in the concepts known today as Hindu, the contribution
of ancient pre-Aryan philosophy is much more important than that of
the Vedic Aryans.
The religion known as Shaivism in India seems to have expanded
immensely in Indo-Mediterranean protohistory and, under different
forms, played a major role in the ancient world. The myth of Osiris in
Egypt, for example, is a variation on one of the stories of Shiva described
in the Puranas. The Egyptians, moreover, considered that Osiris had
come from India riding on a bull, the vehicle of Shiva. The ithyphallic
god Min was also considered to be of Asian origin.
The cults of Dionysus in Greece and of Bacchus in Latin countries
are also branches of Shaivism. Furthermore, the Greeks speak of India as
the sacred homeland of Dionysus, and the historians of Alexander iden-
tified the Indian Shiva with Dionysus and mention the histories and
dates of the Puranas as referring to Dionysus. We also know that
Alexander’s Greeks came into contact with Indian Shaivites in the town
of Nysa, close to modern Djelalabad in the Kabul valley. Homer also
speaks of this center of Dionysian worship. He mentions Lykurgos the
Edonian who “formerly furiously pursued the nurses of Dionysus at the
holy mountain of Nysa.” In actual fact this is a mythological account
concerning Shiva’s son, Skanda, and the seven nurses. Skanda (god of
beauty and war) and Shiva are often mistaken for each other in the tra-
ditions of the Middle East, Greece, and Rome. In his Guide to Geography
Ptolemy calls the town of Nysa both Nagara (the town) and
Dionysopolis. The god’s Greek name, Dio-nysos, appears to mean the
“god of Nysa, ” the name being derived from the center of his cult.
The Edonians were a Thracian people, living on the banks of the River
Strymon. Their customs were also bacchanalian. Megasthenes, speaking of
philosophers, tells us that some of them who live in the mountains are wor-
shippers of Dionysus. As proof that the god lived among them they cite the
fact that the vine grows wild only in their country, and that neither ivy, nor
laurel, nor myrtle, nor box, nor other evergreen plants exist beyond the
Euphrates, except in gardens where they need a lot of care. The vine, which
is native to India, must thus have been a contribution of the ancient Indo-
Mediterranean civilization to the Western world.
In Hindu texts Shiva is shown as a lustful, naked adolescent, wan-
dering through the primeval forest and seducing the wives of ascetics. His
emblem is the phallus. His feasts are orgiastic. Although he is the god of
procreative forces, Shiva is also the priest who teaches how to master
them and transform them into intellectual and spiritual powers. He is the
inventor of Yoga and its extraordinary methods of physical and mental
The invention of the arts, and music in particular, is also attributed
to Shiva. He is the central figure of pre-Aryan Dravidian religion in India
and in all its branches in the Near East and around the Mediterranean,
as far as pre-Celtic Europe. Although-due to the scarcity of documen-
tation-the importance of this great fundamental religion in the forma-
tion of later religions has been largely under-estimated, it was almost
universal. The body of its tradition has been preserved down to our own
times only in India. However, anyone familiar with Shaivite rites, sym-
bols, and festivals would easily recognize evident survivals in the rituals
of the major religions, as well as in the customs of all peoples, whether
Breton “pardons,” Druidic rites, legendary narratives, carnivals, or popu-
lar dances, rites, and superstitions. Most of the Dionysian rites described
by the Greek authors still exist today in India. The dithyramb, with its
ecstatic dances, is still today called the kirtana (song of glory). The name
of Bacchus, common to both the god and his followers, the Bacchants,
certainly derives from the term bhakta (participant), and is still employed
to designate the adepts of divine love who sing and dance to the point of