- 4.1 Introduction
- 4.2 The Story of Enkidu
- 4.3 The Tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga in the Mahābhārata
- 4.4 Anomalies in the Tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga
- 4.5 Parallel Elements in the Stories of Enkidu and Ṛśyaśṛnga
- 4.6 Summary of the Comparison of the Two Narratives
- 4.7 Description of the Various Indic Versions of the Tale
- 4.8 Assessment of the Relative Ages of the Variants of the Tale
- 4.9 Summary and Conclusions Regarding the Chronology of the Ṛśyaśṛnga Story
- 4.10 Internal Analysis of the Mahābhārata’s Ṛśyaśṛnga Account
- 4.11 Narrative Layers in the Mahābhārata
- 4.12 The Relationship of the Preamble to Other Versions of the Tale
- 4.13 Origins and Transmission of the Tale
- 4.14 The Tale’s Incorporation into the Mahābhārata
- 4.15 Mode and Time of Transmission
- 4.16 Conclusion
Elsewhere, the Akkadian
Throughout the last century there have been scholars who have regarded the remarkable similarity between the two episodes as ample justification for the belief in a connection between the two tales. But in some scholarly circles, parallels are viewed with skepticism, and the existence of any form of connection may even be denied. We therefore feel it is necessary to revisit the topic of the relationship of the Babylonian
4.2 The Story of Enkidu
The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Mesopotamian account of the deeds and struggles of Gilgamesh
The epic recounts how Gilgamesh
The tale of the wild man and courtesan
Unfortunately, this episode is only partially preserved in the Old Babylonian
4.3 The Tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga in the Mahābhārata
We will now discuss the tale as it occurs in the Mahābhārata
One of these is the “Story of Ṛśyaśṛnga,” narrated at MBh. 3.110–113.9 The tale runs essentially as follows: A fearsome ascetic
The above re-telling, however, only describes the central portion of the tale as it occurs in the epic. This central portion is that part found at MBh. 3.110.30–113.10 and is hereafter referred to as the “body” of the piece.10 Appended to the front of the tale is a brief preamble (MBh. 3.110.1–10) in which the narrator, Lomaśa, attempts to loosely summarize the story and the eldest Pāṇḍava brother, Yudhiṣṭhira, responds with a set of leading questions. The relationship of the preamble to the rest of the Mahābhārata
4.4 Anomalies in the Tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga
At the end of the nineteenth century, Heinrich Lüders (1897) attempted to explain a number of puzzling anomalies in the “Story of Ṛśyaśṛnga,” as narrated at MBh. 3.110–113. The “body” of the narrative, as we have sketched it out above, is quite straightforward, but a closer study of the body in conjunction with the preamble reveals a number of irregularities and contradictions; body and preamble simply do not seem to refer to the same story. Lüders carefully analyzed various versions of the tale for comparison and concluded that the discrepancies in the Mahābhārata
2The Bengali Recension of the Padma-Purāṇa added the role of the prostitute
3Finally, a later redactor of the Mahābhārata
While we concur with Lüders on the importance of the preamble/body textual problem, we do not accept his conclusions regarding the story’s developmental trajectory. Lüders regarded the identity of the seductress as the primary key to understanding the evolution of the tale, a bias which, in our view, severely limited his ability to take other even more significant disparities between preamble and body into account, disparities regarding, inter alia, the power of Ṛśyaśṛnga, the righteousness of King Lomapāda, the god Indra’s fear of Ṛśyaśṛnga, the nature of Ṛśyaśṛnga’s actions in ending the drought, whether Ṛśyaśṛnga “lived as a deer,” and details of his conception (each of these points will be discussed in detail below). While the preamble addresses some motifs not utterly dissimilar to those in the body of the tale, it is our contention that the preamble was initially created for a different story about a character named Ṛśyaśṛnga.13 This figure, Ṛśyaśṛnga, the son of Vibhāṇḍaka, is known from quite early Hindu
We believe that at some early point in history the Mesopotamian tale of Enkidu
Our solution to the mystery of the mismatched preamble differs, therefore, from that of Lüders. Whereas we believe that the present tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga was created by the superimposition of a Near Eastern borrowing upon an earlier Indian
4.5 Parallel Elements in the Stories of Enkidu and Ṛśyaśṛnga
We note the following fourteen parallel elements in the two texts. These elements suggest the existence of a relationship between the two episodes. While many tales may share common elements and themes, these stories are composed of nearly identical sets of motifs that form the fundamental building blocks of both tales. Even more significant is the fact that this set of motifs is a heterogeneous collection in that the individual motifs generally do not lead inevitably to the ones which follow them. Thus, their appearance en masse in two otherwise-unrelated traditions strains the likelihood of coincidence.
4.5.1 The Wild Man’s Miraculous Birth
Both wild men are the product of miraculous births, and both births are “typical” within their respective canons. Enkidu
4.5.2 The Wild Man has an Animal Appearance
Both wild men are represented as being a combination of animal and human and as having a connection to wild deer.18 Enkidu’s animal nature is reflected in his hairiness
4.5.3 The Plot Precipitated by the Actions of a Hubristic King
Though they are a part of the natural world, the wild men are actually linked to the human social order. In both narratives, the wild man’s very existence, certainly his role, is necessitated by a crisis brought about by offenses on the part of the king. Both stories preserve a similar ambiguity regarding the king’s character and manner of rule. The significance of this parallel is deepened by the fact that both kings are eventually rehabilitated.
4.5.4 The King’s Offenses are Unclear and Possibly Sexual
In both narratives, the nature of the king’s misdeeds is obscure. As noted above, in the Sanskrit
The account of Gilgamesh’s
4.5.5 The King’s Offenses Require the Intervention of the Gods
In both tales, the king’s actions have cosmic repercussions. Lomapāda’s misbehavior angers the gods and causes them to withhold the rains, leading to the suffering of his people. As for Gilgamesh
4.5.6 The Wild Man is an Innocent
In direct contrast to the king, the wild man is innocence personified. Not only is he ignorant of sexual
All his body is matted with hair,
he is adorned with tresses like a woman:
The locks of his hair grow as thickly as Nissaba’s,
he knows not at all a people nor even a country.
He was clad in a garment like Šakkan’s,
feeding on grass with the very gazelles.
Jostling at the water-hole with the herd,
he enjoys the water with the animals.
Similarly, Ṛśyaśṛnga lives a simple existence in the forest. The text mainly emphasizes his state of perfect and uncompromised celibacy:
na tena dṛṣṭapūrvo ‘nyaḥ pitur anyatra mānuṣaḥ
tasmāt tasya mano nityaṃ brahmacarye ‘bhavan nṛpa.
He had never before seen any other person than his father
and because of this, his mind was always that of a brahmacarin, Oh King.
Ṛśyaśṛnga’s innocence is so profound that he is not even aware that the courtesan
dvau cāsya piṇḍāvadhareṇa kaṇṭham
majātaromau sumanoharau ca.
vilagnamadhyaśca sa nābhideśe
And he had two round globes below his throat,
hairless and charming.
And he was slender-waisted in the region of his navel,
and his hips were exaggerated in size.
4.5.7 The King Arranges for a Courtesan to Seduce the Wild Man
The hallmark of both tales, the sexual
4.5.8 The Seduction Occurs Adjacent to Water
Both seduction scenes take place beside a body of water. Enkidu
4.5.9 The Transformation is Cultural as Well as Sexual
Once existentially transformed, Enkidu
akalam iškunū maharšu
iptēqma inaṭṭal u ippallas
ul īde dEnkidu
akalam ana akālim
šikaram ana šatêm lā lummud
harīmtum pīša īpušamma
issaqqaram ana dEnkidu
akul aklam dEnkidu simat balāṭim
šikaram šiti šīmti māti
īkul aklam dEnkidu adi šebêšu
šikaram ištiam sebe assammī<<m>>
ittapšar kabtatum inangu
īliṣ libbašuma pānūšu ittamrū
ultappit gallābum šu’’uram pagaršu
šamnam iptašašma awīliš īwi
ilbaš libšam kīma muti ibašši
ilqe kakkašu lābī ugerre
(Gilg. OB P col. iii 87–11228)
They put bread before him,
he watched intently, gazing and staring.
Enkidu did not know how to eat bread,
how to drink ale he had never been shown.
The harlot opened her mouth,
saying to Enkidu:
“Eat the bread, Enkidu
, the thing proper to life;
drink the ale, the lot of the land.”
Enkidu ate the bread until he was sated,
he drank the ale, seven jugs (full).
His mood became free, he was singing,
his heart became merry and his face shone bright.
The barber treated his body so hairy,
he anointed himself with oil and became a man.
He put on a garment, becoming like a warrior,
he took up his weapon to do battle with the lions
Just as Shamhat cares for Enkidu
4.5.10 The Wild Man is Taken Willingly
Though the purpose of the mission in both texts is to capture the wild man, in both stories the creature himself is more than willing to be taken away to the city following his consciousness-raising encounter with the woman. So Enkidu
4.5.11 The Wild Man’s Transformation Sparks Alienation from his
After his awakening to human consciousness, Enkidu
4.5.12 Interaction with Herdsmen Marks the Transition from Country to City
4.5.13 City/Country Dichotomy Echoes King/Wild Man Dichotomy
At its heart, the tale of the wild man and courtesan
4.5.14 The Wild Man and the King Complete One Another
As Ṛśyaśṛnga’s story comes to a close, its similarity to Enkidu’s
4.6 Summary of the Comparison of the Two Narratives
In view of the overwhelming number of shared motifs, there can be little doubt that the two stories are related.31 Furthermore, in our view, acceptance of the relationship leads inexorably to the conclusion that the Near Eastern tale is the older. Certainly the age of the Gilgamesh
Our case is strengthened by a recent analysis of the Enkidu episode (Abusch 2005), for that analysis suggests that earlier versions of the Enkidu
4.7 Description of the Various Indic Versions of the Tale
There is, however, one obstacle to this otherwise straightforward identification of a parallel: the Mahābhārata’s
The story has been productive in India
As related above. At just over 100 verses, this is the longest of the Sanskrit
Rāmāyaṇa, I, 8–10
The Bengali Recension of the Padma Purāṇa
This third Sanskrit
The Mahāvastu’s Jātaka of Nalinī
In this Sanskrit
Naḷinikā-Jātaka, no. 526, Bk. XVIII of the Jātakas
In this Pali Buddhist
Alambusā-Jātaka, no. 523, Bk. XVII of the Jātakas
This second Pali Buddhist
The variants, though diverging widely in some respects, conform to certain observable trends of type and presentation, many of which involve motifs found elsewhere in Indian
4.8 Assessment of the Relative Ages of the Variants of the Tale
The issue of priority among the versions was, of course, the primary focus of Lüders’ 1897 study, which study has stood as the flashpoint of the discussion on chronology for some time. Lüders concluded, as discussed above, that the Mahābhārata’s
4.8.1 The Nature of the Seductress
The seduction of the youth is performed by one or more prostitutes
4.8.2 The Number of Seductions in the Tale
Lüders regarded the identity of the seductress as the key to understanding the evolution of the tale, a bias which, in our view, severely limits his ability to take other even more significant variations (such as the number of seductions) into account. There are three distinct acts which might be termed “seductions” in the Mahābhārata
The first of the Mahābhārata
The tale’s second seduction, the primary narrative element of the tale, is that performed in the Hindu
Our assessment of the Alambusā and Naḷinikā Jātaka versions, therefore, is that the Mahābhārata’s
4.8.3 The Name of the Wild Man
The changing name of the wild man (Ṛśyaśṛnga, Ekaśṛnga, Isisinga) should be taken into account in the evaluation of priority. It is true that inexplicable name changes are not that uncommon in Indian literature, but, in this instance, the change in the wild man’s name is, in our estimation, a critical issue in determining the time sequence of the tales. The name of Ṛśyaśṛnga (lit. “antelope-horn
Further evidence that the Buddhist
The “Isisinga” form is of particular interest to us, as it actually reflects a misunderstanding of the meaning of the original Sanskrit
4.8.4 The Nature of the Crisis
In the Mahābhārata
4.8.5 The Wild Man’s Animal Characteristics
The texts’ attention to the wild man’s animal characteristics also varies. The three versions which utilize prostitutes
4.8.6 The Nature of the Wild Man’s Transformation
Perhaps the most compelling evidence for the direction of the tales’ evolution lies in the shifting presentation of the transformation that the boy undergoes as a result of the seduction. In the Mahābhārata
4.9 Summary and Conclusions Regarding the Chronology of the Ṛśyaśṛnga Story
The motif of the tempted or besotted ascetic
4.10 Internal Analysis of the Mahābhārata’s Ṛśyaśṛnga Account
Finally, we must turn to one more issue with which Lüders’ analysis was also concerned, that is, the issue of the preamble-body disconnect, and then to an analysis of the relationship between Mahābhārata’s
eṣā devanadī puṇyā kauśikī bharataṛṣabha
viśvāmitrāśramo ramyo eṣa cātra prakāśate 1
āśramaś caiva puṇyāravyaḥ kāśyapasya mahātmanaḥ
ṛśyaśṛngaḥ suto yasya tapasvī saṃyatendriyaḥ 2
tapaso yaḥ prabhāvena varṣyāmāsa vāsavam
anāvṛṣṭaryāṃ bhayādyasya vavarṣa balavṛtrahā 3
mṛgyāṃ jātaḥ sa tejasvī kāśyapasya sutaḥ prabhuḥ
viṣaye lomapādasya yaś cakārādbhutaṃ mahat. 4
nivartiteṣu sasyeṣu yasmai śāntāṃ dadau nṛpaḥ
lomapādo duhitaraṃ sāvitrīṃ savitā yathā 5
ṛśyaśṛngaḥ kathaṃ mṛgyām utpannaḥ kāśyapātmajaḥ
viruddhe yonisaṃsarge kathaṃ ca tapasā yutaḥ. 6
kimarthaṃ ca bhayāc chakras tasya bālasya dhīmataḥ
anāvṛṣṭaryāṃ pravṛttāyāṃ vavarṣa balavṛtrahā. 7
kathaṃ rupā ca śāntābhūd rājaputrī yatavratā
lobhayāmāsa yā ceto mṛgabhūtasya tasya vai. 8
lomapādaś ca rājarṣir yadāśrūyata dhārmikaḥ
kathaṃ vai viṣaye tasya nāvarṣatpākaśāsanaḥ. 9
etan me bhagavan sarvaṃ vistareṇa yathātatham
vaktum arhasi śuśrūṣor ṛśyaśṛngasya ceṣṭitam. 10
1. This, O Bull of the Bhāratas is the divine sacred river Kauśikī;
and here shines forth the charming hermitage of Viśvāmitra,
2. And also, O Great-Souled One, the hermitage called Puṇyā, of Kāśyapa’s son, Ṛśyaśṛnga, powerful, and of controlled senses,
3. Who, by the power of his tapas, caused Vāsava to rain
in a drought; from fear of him the slayer of Bala and Vṛtra rained.
4. That ṛṣi was conceived upon a deer, the powerful son of Kāsyapa.
He performed this great wonder in the kingdom of Lomapāda.
5. When the crops had been restored, the king gave Śāntā to him—
Lomapāda [gave] his daughter as Savitṛ did Sāvitri.
6. How was Ṛśyaśṛnga, the son of Kāśyapa, born from the deer
in prohibited sexual
congress, and how was he engaged with tapas?
7. Why, out of fear of the boy, endowed with wisdom, did Śakra,
the slayer of Bala and Vṛtra, rain in the ongoing drought?
8. How great was the beauty of the strict-vowed princess
she who seduced his consciousness, when indeed he was living as a deer?
9. It has been heard that Lomapāda was a dharmic royal ṛṣi—
Why indeed did the Chastiser of Pāka not rain in his kingdom?
10. Lord, all of this to me carefully as it happened
you ought to tell; I want to hear the ways of Ṛśyaśṛnga.
In contrast to the body of the story, the tale anticipated by this preamble is one in which Lomapāda is a law-abiding king, both Ṛśyaśṛnga and Śāntā play active roles, the gods involve themselves, and fear generated by Ṛśyaśṛnga’s powers is a critical element. All of the above hallmarks of the preamble are absent from the body of the story in the Mahābhārata
4.10.1 Ṛśyaśṛnga Was Extremely Powerful (śl. 2, 3)
The body of the tale contains no suggestion of Ṛśyaśṛnga’s power whatsoever. If anyone in the tale generates fear, it is Vibhāṇḍaka, not the harmless and gentle Ṛśyaśṛnga. Śl. 6 of the preamble also asks “how was he engaged with tapas?” another issue that is never really adequately addressed by the tale.
4.10.2 Indra Was Afraid of Ṛśyaśṛnga
Indra’s fear is expressed twice in the preamble, in śl. 3 (Indra rained “out of fear of [Ṛśyaśṛnga]”) and śl. 7, Yudhiṣṭhira’s second question (“Why did Śakra, slayer of Bala and Vṛtra, out of fear of the wise boy, rain in the ongoing drought?”).43 These statements anticipate a tale that describes some form of interaction or an ongoing relationship between Ṛśyaśṛnga and Indra. However, no mention is made of Indra’s fear of the boy in the body of the tale, where Indra’s role is nearly nonexistent (only one verse at MBh. 3.113.10).
4.10.3 Ṛśyaśṛnga’s Power Ended the Drought
Śloka 3 of the preamble specifically says that it was “by the power of [Ṛśyaśṛnga’s] tapas he caused Vāsava [Indra] to rain.” This does not accord with MBh. 3.113.10, in the body of the tale, where there is no further mentions of Indra’s fear, and no actions on the boy’s part are ever narrated. Indra simply sends the rain as soon as Ṛśyaśṛnga has been installed in the women’s quarters. Similarly, the preamble’s assertion in śl. 4 that Ṛśyaśṛnga “performed a great wonder,” also suggests more activity on the boy’s part than merely being abducted and locked up as a kind of talisman.
Ṛśyaśṛnga’s apparently passive role in the bringing of the rains also ties in with a general imbalance in the import of the drought as it is presented in the preamble and in the body. Though the drought is the central issue of the preamble and looms large in the opening of the tale, by the conclusion of the narrative it has been largely replaced by the issue of the pacification of the irate ṛṣi, and the actual account of its resolution at MBh. 3.113.10 occupies only half a verse.44
4.10.4 Antelope/Deer Alteration
Ṛśyaśṛnga’s name, “Antelope-Horn
kathaṃ rupā ca śāntābhūd rājaputrī yatavratā.
lobhayāmāsa yā ceto mṛgabhūtasya tasya vai.
How great was the beauty of the strict-vowed princess Śāntā,
she who seduced his consciousness when indeed he was living as a mṛga?
But the alteration of terms is only one facet of the difficulties we encounter in 3.110.8, and below we continue a discussion of this problematic verse.
4.10.5 Ṛśyaśṛnga’s Life as a Deer
While the body of the Sanskrit
4.10.6 Princess Śāntā Was the Seductress
Another crux to be found in the introduction to the story regards the seduction of Ṛśyaśṛnga. MBh. 3.110.8 suggests that it was the princess
tato duhitaraṃ veśyā samādhāyetikṛtyatām
dṛṣṭvāntaraṃ kāśyapasya prāhiṇodbuddhisaṃmatām
sā tatra gatvā kuśalā taponityasya saṃnidhau
āshramaṃ taṃ samāsādya dadarśa tam ṛṣeḥ sutam
Then the [chief] veśyā, having considered what needed to be done,
seeing the departure of Kāśyapa, dispatched her daughter known for her intelligence.
The clever girl, having gone there, to the vicinity of the ascetic
having entered the hermitage, she saw the Ṛsi’s son.
The contradiction between 3.110.8 and 3.111.5–6 cannot be resolved. It forms a significant crux and provides clear evidence of a disconnect between the preamble and the body of the episode.48 The seduction by the prostitute
4.10.7 Lomapāda Was a Just King (śl. 9)
Though Lomapāda has apparently redeemed himself by the end of the tale, disrespectful treatment of Brahmins is a serious crime. As discussed above in Section 4.5, “Parallel Elements in the Stories of Enkidu
4.10.8 Vibhāṇḍaka Had Intercourse with the Deer
Śl. 6 has Yuddhiṣṭhira ask “How was Ṛśyaśṛnga, the son of Kāśyapa, born from the deer in prohibited sexual
4.10.9 The Desertion of the Brahmins
etacchrutvā vaco rājan kṛtvā niṣkṛtim ātmanaḥ
sa gatvā punar āgacchat prasanneṣu dvijātiṣu
rājānam āgatam dṛṣṭvā pratisaṃjagṛhuḥ prajāḥ
Upon hearing these words the king performed expiation for himself,
Having gone away again, he returned when the brahmins were satisfied,
Having seen the king returned, the subjects took him back.
The presence of two sets of brahmins seems excessive. Where does the second group of Brahmins come from? To be sure, nothing in the narrative is irresolvable, but it is unnecessarily cumbersome as it stands.49 Moreover, though MBh. 110.21 refers to the subjects’ misery, it does not anticipate the suggestion at MBh. 3.110.27f. that the subjects may actually have been on the brink of rebellion as well.
Prominent among the above irregularities are a number of elements that are portrayed differently in the preamble and in the body of the story (dharmic Lomapāda/unjust Lomapāda, dynamic Ṛśyaśṛnga/passive Ṛśyaśṛnga, mṛga/ṛśya, living as a deer/living as a brahmacārin, Princess
In our opinion, the issue of the preamble’s difficulties is also connected to a similar awkwardness at the ending of the tale. While the body forms a seamless whole with no internal contradictions, after MBh. 3.113.11 the ending of the episode undergoes another puzzling shift. Ṛśyaśṛnga is whisked off to the harem, and the focus shifts to Vibhāṇḍaka’s journey to the city and the abatement of his wrath. We are never given any particulars about the resolution of the drought or Ṛśyaśṛnga’s role in stopping it, issues that are rather important in the Buddhist
4.11 Narrative Layers in the Mahābhārata
We believe that the best way to explain these discrepancies is to assume that the present text is made up of two accounts, the later superimposed upon the earlier. In our reconstruction, the story of a wild man seduced by a prostitute
110.1–15 Preamble and Opening
This section includes the opening questions plus the establishment of the locus of the tale and is a vestige of the original Indian
110.16–29 First Transitional Area
Here, the two narrative layers are spliced together, resulting in minor redundancies: the two sets of Brahmins, as well as the uncertainty as to whether the subjects are also in revolt.
Here, the story of a wild man who is seduced by a prostitute
113.11–113.18 Second Transitional Area
Here, the visit to the herdsmen
Here, the text retains the climax and resolution of the original underlying tale—the marriage to the princess
The suggestion that the body of the Ṛśyaśṛnga story is a borrowing is also generally supported by the context in which the tale is found in the Mahābhārata
4.12 The Relationship of the Preamble to Other Versions of the Tale
We cannot leave this part of our discussion of the Ṛśyaśṛnga tale and take up the question of borrowing before raising and discussing the issue of whether or not the preamble might simply reflect other versions of the Ṛśyaśṛnga story, which, as we have seen, in some cases stray quite profoundly from the tale as it is found in the body of the Mahābhārata’s
In fact, some of the elements in the preamble are quite reminiscent of those in the other tales. For example, the assertions in śl. 2–3 that Ṛśyaśṛnga was extremely powerful would be an accurate description of the character as he appears in the Naḷinikā and Alambusā Jātakas. The preamble’s statement that the princess
However, other elements featured in the preamble are equally out of place in the other versions, including the idea that Ṛśyaśṛnga’s power was somehow directly instrumental in ending the drought: śl. 3 declares that “from fear of him the slayer of Bala and Vṛtra rained,” which is at odds with the Naḷinikā Jātaka’s account, in which it is the breaking of Ṛśyaśṛnga’s power that satisfies the god; and the Mahāvastu and the Alambusā Jātaka contain no drought at all. The statement that Ṛśyaśṛnga was seduced “while his being was that of a deer,” is also not found in any of the other versions of the tale, nor is the idea that Vibhāṇḍaka may have had intercourse with the deer; in fact, every other version of the tale is careful to explain away any possibility of sexual
Therefore, in view of the fact that every narrative element shared between the Buddhist
4.13 Origins and Transmission of the Tale
Especially in view of the absence (as far as we know) of an Indo-European or earlier Indic version of a wild man prostitute
The Mesopotamian source of the Ṛśyaśṛnga tale is probably some form of the Enkidu
Two final questions remain to be addressed: first, when was the story incorporated into the Mahābhārata
4.14 The Tale’s Incorporation into the Mahābhārata
We have already discussed at length the evidence that we perceive for the existence of “layers” in the Indian tale. Whatever the time period of the tale’s introduction to India
As was noted earlier in Section 4.11, “Narrative Layers in the Mahābhārata,” a number of the tales found in this section of the Mahābhārata
4.15 Mode and Time of Transmission
The matter of the tale’s arrival on the subcontinent is a thorny one. While it is possible that a folktale version simply diffused from West to East in a slow overland crawl, more direct contact may also be suggested. Two broad possible periods for transmission between Mesopotamia and India
4.15.1 Later Scenario: Approximately 500 BCE–200 CE
This scenario carries the advantage of allowing ample opportunity for the story to move from the Near East to India; for the period from the Achaemenid domination of Gandhara
To our minds, however, a more serious obstacle to transmission within this time period is the issue of the figure of the hunter in the Epic of Gilgamesh. As discussed above (Section 4.6, “Summary of the Comparison of the Two Narratives”), we believe the absence of a hunter in the Indian version strongly suggests that the Indian tale was drawn either from a free-standing folktale without a hunter or from the Gilgamesh
Written versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh
These two factors (the absence of a hunter figure in the Indian
4.15.2 Earlier Scenario: 2400–1700 BCE
Contact between Mesopotamia and the civilizations of the Indus Valley
Though the advanced level of society represented at Harappa
In summary: the tale of the wild man seduced by the courtesan
Our explanation for the similarities between the wild man tale in the epic of Gilgamesh
Abusch, T. (2005). The Courtesan, the Wild Man, and the Hunter: Studies in the Literary History of the Epic of Gilgamesh. In: `An Experienced Scribe Who Neglects Nothing:' Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Jacob Klein Ed. by Y. Sefati al.. Bethesda, Maryland: CDL Press 413-433
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Versions of this paper were read to the American Oriental Society, San Antonio, in 2007 and to the Melammu conference in Sophia, Bulgaria, in 2008. Please note throughout that due to a difficulty in obtaining proper fonts, diacritics on the Sanskrit velar n and the Akkadian uvular h have been omitted throughout the paper.
We wish to call attention to two works which we were not able to incorporate into our argument. One is Y.V. Vas[s]ilkov, “Zemledel’českij mif v drevneindijskom epose: Skazanie o Riš’jašringe,” an article which we were unable to obtain. The other is Daniel E. Fleming and Sara J. Milstein, The Buried Foundation of the Gilgamesh Epic: The Akkadian Huwawa Narrative (Brill, Leiden 2010), which appeared only after we submitted this paper. We should mention, however, two aspects of their discussion that are relevant to the present work: the first is their argument that a distinction be drawn between the Enkidu of the OB Penn tablet // SB tablets I–II (who is a wild man), on the one hand, and the Enkidu of the Huwawa episode of the OB Yale tablet // SB tablets III ff. (who is a herdsman), on the other. This distinction, which we find persuasive, does not affect our present argument, for our wild man corresponds in the main to the character of the wild man found in that part of the epic that comes before the Huwawa episode. Furthermore, in composing our study we were already aware of some of the tensions between the parts, see (Abusch 2005, 430–433). The second is their contention that the superimposition of the story of the wild man and prostitute (found in the Penn tablet) upon the story of the prostitute and the herdsman (found in the Yale tablet) is responsible for the creation of the first part of the OB epic. For the significance of this point for our argument, see below fn. 53.
This opinion was first expressed by Jensen (1913, 528): “Edvard Lehmann hat Greßmann auf die Analogie zwischen der indischen Geschichte von Ṛśyaśṛnga und der “Hierodulen”-Episode des Gilgamesch-Epos aufmerksam gemacht und Greßmann erwähnt dies auf Seite 95 seines Buchs. Weder Lehmann noch Greßmann denken natürlich an mehr als eine bloße Analogie‚ obwohl die Analogie zwischen beiden Episoden schon allein für sich eine historische Abhängigkeit doch wohl mehr als nahelegt. Greßmann’s Anmerkung mußte mich nun aber dazu veranlassen, die Ṛśyaśṛnga-Geschichte ins Auge zu fassen. Und das Ergebnis war: Auch die indische Rāmā- yaṇa-Sage, durch die Ṛśyaśṛnga-Geschichte eröffnet, geht in der Hauptsache letztlich auf das Gilgamesch-Epos mit der “Hierodulen”-Episode in seinem Anfangsteil zurück, ebenso aber vor allem diejenigen Stücke des Mahābhārata, die diesem mit dem Rāmāyaṇa gemein sind.” See also, e.g., (Albright 1920, 331): “But it is very probable that our story goes back eventually to a Mesopotamian origin; in no other case that I have seen is the likelihood so great.” (Williams 1925–1926, vol. 1, 30–31; Schlinghoff 1971, 58–60 (our thanks to Oskar von Hinüber for this reference); Schlinghoff 1973, 303–305; Panaino 2001, 152–153, 170.) Also cf. (Abusch 2005, 425 n.23).
The transcriptions of the Akkadian text of the Old Babylonian (OB) and Standard Babylonian (SB) versions of the Gilgamesh epic are based upon the transliterated text in (George 2003); the translations are his as well.
Tablet XII contains the end of a different account of Enkidu’s death. On an errand for Gilgamesh, Enkidu descends into the netherworld. He is seized by the netherworld and cannot escape death; he returns only as a shade in order to describe to Gilgamesh the state of the dead.
The episode is now also known from a tablet provisionally dated to the beginning of the Middle Babylonian period; see (George 2007, for the dating see p. 63).
As far as we can see, nothing in the new “Middle Babylonian” version (cited above, fn. 6) contradicts this statement.
In regards to the Mahābhārata, all passages cited here are from the Critical Edition (Sukthankar 1942), and all translations are EBW’s. In regard to the composition of the epic, we concur with others that the epic was assembled slowly over an extended period, roughly between 400 BCE and 400 CE; see (van Buitenen 1973–1975, vol. 1, xxv) or (Brockington 2003, 116).
A complete translation of the Ṛśyaśṛnga episode may be found in (van Buitenen 1973–1975, vol. 2, 431–441).
It is the narrative contained in the body of the Mahābhārata’s tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga to which we refer whenever we discuss the Mahābhārata’s version in general terms. See below, Section 4.11. “Narrative Layers in the Mahābhārata,” for our division and characterization of the sections of the final text.
Thus we agree with Lüders regarding the originality of the preamble; however, in contrast to Lüders who sees the Mahābhārata tale as essentially a coherent whole which underwent a few contradictory revisions, we maintain that the present body of the tale (MBh. 3.110.30–113.10) is a later addition.
The Ṛśyaśṛnga tale as it occurs in the Mahābhārata may not be the direct progenitor of other variants of the tale in India, but we believe it to be the earliest version of the tale of the seduction of the wild man in India for two reasons: First, because the other tales all contain elements that appear to be alterations of the Mahābhārata’s version, and second, the Mahābhārata contains the evidence of superimposition. For further analysis of the variations in the tales see (West 2010).
In 1897, when Lüders published “Die Saga von Rśyaśrnga,” the story of Enkidu and the prostitute might not yet have been widely known, but the story had been translated and re-told, for example, in (Jeremias 1891, 16–18).
See, for example, the similar conceptions of Satyavatī (MBh. 1.57), Agastya and Vasiṣṭha (Matsya Purāṇa 61, 20–32), Droṇa (MBh. 1.121), and Kṛpa (MBh. 1.120).
In this section, we refer to Ṛśyaśṛnga’s animal characteristics as they are portrayed in the body of the tale, not to the use of mṛgabhūtasya in the preamble at 3.110.8. As stated in Section 4.10.5, “Ṛśyaśṛnga’s Life as a Deer,” we believe the use of mṛgabhūtasya in the preamble relates to the class of tales within the Mahābhārata in which an ṛṣi assumes, or appears to assume, deer-form. Ṛṣis with animal characteristics such as those exhibited by Ṛśyaśṛnga in the body of his tale are not a standard type in the epic (cf. MBh. 1.109), supporting the idea that his animal-ṛṣi character is largely a borrowing from elsewhere.
Cf., e.g., the terrifying matted hair of Vyāsa at MBh. 1.100.5.
Williams also finds Vibhāṇḍaka’s hairiness provocative, and reaches conclusions similar to ours: “That there should be two beast-men, father and son, in this legend seems at first peculiar. They may indicate a coalescing of two traditions, or rather the development of an original story of the seduction of a partly beast-like hero of fertility into a legend containing two hermits.” (Williams 1925–1926, 33)
Remnants of the motif of hairiness may exist elsewhere in the tale, however. The name of the Sanskrit story’s king, Lomapāda, “he whose feet are covered in body hair,” is somewhat suggestive, though certainly not definitive. We observe here, in anticipation of later discussion, that nearly all of these references to animal characteristics are lost in other versions of the tale.
For the athletic activities in “Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld,” cf., e.g., (Klein 2002, 187–201). These activities are no longer evident in the Akkadian, where instead such lines as SB tablet I 76–77 suggest that his demands are sexual. This would agree with the nature of the situation that occasioned the encounter and battle of Gilgamesh and Enkidu (SB tablet II 100–115, OB P cols. iv–vi).
Text: itiq; cf. I 60.
Others iṭīb. Von Soden and Röllig (1991, p.18* s. 293) retracted the value ṭàb for DAB, which von Soden had earlier based on our text; however, because of the durative forms in the preceding lines, we believe that von Soden (1959, p.222, and p. 58 s. 293, of the original Syllabar) was right to have read iṭâb in our passage, in spite of the variant i-ṭi-bu in the parallel lines SB tablet I 173 and 177. Note that in the translation we have replaced George’s “enjoyed” with “enjoy.”
SB tablet I 201–202: umtaṭṭu dEnk[idu u]l kī ša pāni lasānšu / u šū īši ṭ[ēma r]apaš hasīsa (George 2003, 551).
Shamhat provides clothing for Enkidu by dividing her garments in two and sharing them with Enkidu. The greater preparations made for the capture of Ṛśyaśṛnga obviate the need for a similar action on the part of the veśyā, as the barge has been equipped to provide for him. We do, however, find the motif of the divided garment elsewhere in the Mahābhārata, and in close textual proximity to the story of Ṛśyaśṛnga. Immediately preceding the Pāṇḍavas’ decision to tour the sacred fords, they listen to a recitation of the story of Nala, another king who lost his kingdom through addiction to dicing. Eventually, reduced to nakedness, Nala must share the single garment of his wife, Damayantī (MBh. 3.59.1–5). Initially, the two wrap themselves in it together. But Nala’s story takes an even more tragic turn when he secretly cuts the garment in two after Damayantī falls asleep and then abandons her in the forest (MBh. 3.59.12–26).
Schlinghoff identifies a Jain reflex of the tale in which the wild man is actually the king’s long-lost brother (Schlinghoff 1973, 302–305.)
As an aside, we may mention that the dependence of the secondary layer of the Ṛśyaśṛnga story on a Mesopotamian prototype thus also provides further—though perhaps circular—proof of the existence of a form of the wild man-courtesan account without a hunter in Mesopotamia. Here, we may also note that the fact that the capture of the wild man by the courtesan is carried out at the suggestion of the king in both stories further supports the notion that the hunter was not part of the original Near Eastern story and that the hunter’s father’s suggestion was a duplication of Gilgamesh’s idea that he take along a courtesan and not the original source of the plan. That the suggestion originated with Gilgamesh and was then carried over to the hunter’s father, see (Abusch 2005, 425–428, 432–433 n. 45).
Two additional sources make brief mentions of Ṛśyaśṛnga, placing him as one element in a list of unusual births: the Skanda Purāṇa (III.iii.19.65) and the Buddhacarita of Aśvaghoṣa (IV: 19).
As told to Duḥṣanta by Śakuntalā at MBh. 1.65.20–66.10.
Others who disagree about the nature of the original seductress include (Pauly 1987–1988, 304–305): “Though Lüders has shown that two of the brahmanical versions of the legend (in the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa) have substituted a courtesan for the princess of their own earlier versions, it cannot be taken for granted that a courtesan was not originally the seductress in the story. The two versions existed along with each other for a long time, and our texts do not permit us to decide which of the two versions is original in this respect.” (Panaino 2001, 151 n.20; Schlinghoff 1973, 302–303; Williams 1925–1926, vol. 1, 34.)
We remind the reader once again that when we talk of the tale of Ṛśyaśṛnga in the Mahābhārata in our comparison of the Indian variants we are referring to the body of the Mahābhārata tale at MBh. 110.30–113.10.
This occurs at MBh. 3.231.10: śakaṭāpaṇaveśyāś ca yānayugyaṃ ca sarvaśaḥ, a description of the camp-followers of an army.
Albright (Albright 1920, 330) also asserts that the corruptive power of the seduction is a Buddhist contribution to the tale: “The hermit relates the experience to his father, who admonishes him, and draws him back to his ascetic career; the last is naturally a Buddhistic modification, quite foreign to the original tale.”
In the Mahābhārata alone we have Viśvāmitra (1.65–66), Cyavana (3.122), Sunda and Upasunda (1.201–204), Triśiras (5.9). In the Rāmāyaṇa, cf. Māṇḍakarṇi 3,11. The motif is particularly fascinating because it can be associated with a variety of positive or negative outcomes for ṛṣi, temptress, and any potential offspring.
Cf. the various other preambular statements attached to the front of stories in this section: Agastya 3.94.2–3; The Meeting of the Vṛṣṇis and Pāṇḍavas 3.119.1–2; Cyavana 3.121.20–25; Māndhātar 3.125.23, 126.1–4; Jantu 3.127.1; Aṣṭāvakra 3.132.1–5; Bharadvāja 3.135.9–11. None of these exceed five verses, and none contain material that contradicts the story about to be told.
Note also that the Indra’s relationship to the drought and rain is also constructed differently in the MBh. preamble than it is in the Buddhist versions that contain a drought; in the Buddhist tales the drought, not the rain, is caused by Indra’s fear of the ascetic’s powers, whereas the MBh. preamble claims that Indra sends the drought as punishment for the king’s lack of sacrifices and rains out of fear of Ṛśyaśṛnga.
Schlinghoff (1973, 304–305), too, felt that the drought and its resolution seem extraneous to the tale; in order to provide a motivation for the abduction, he adduces the Jain tale of Valkalacīrin, which he believes to be cognate with the Ṛśyaśṛnga story and which features a wild man seduced and brought to the city by prostitutes because he is the king’s long lost brother.
Mss Ś1, K1, and K2 read mṛgarūpasya, “in the form of a deer,” a variant equally far removed from the actual content of the body of the tale.
In a similar passage at MBh. 3.139.1–10, an unwitting son sees his ascetic father wrapped in a black antelope skin walking at night in the hermitage and, mistaking him for an actual antelope, kills him with an arrow. There are profound and widespread associations between ṛṣis and antelope/deer, from their propensity to assume deer form to the black antelope skins that formed part of the standard accoutrements of a ṛṣi (as in Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa 1:1:4:11: “He now takes the black antelope skin, for completeness of the sacrifice. For once upon a time the sacrifice escaped the gods, and having become a black antelope roamed about. The gods having thereupon found it and stripped it of its skin, they brought it (the skin) away with them”). This issue of ṛṣis living as deer may perhaps even be one of the details that precipitated the adoption and modification of the tale; the transplanted wild man character may very well have fallen into the role of an ṛṣi because of this longstanding association between ṛṣis and antelopes.
Buitenen (1973–1975, vol. 2, 443) renders cetas here with the more contextually conventional “heart,” but “consciousness” is the more common meaning.
As Lüders (1897, 90) remarks: “Wie kann der König die Brahmanen um Rat fragen, von denen eben gesagt ist, daß sie ihn im Zorn verlassen haben!”
E.g., Agastya (MBh. 3.94–108), Sukanyā (MBh. 3.121–125).
E.g., the irascibility of Mt. Ṛṣabha (MBh. 3.109).
Matsya (MBh. 3.185), which has pronounced similarities to the Mesopotamian Flood story, and the “Colloquy of the Brahmin and the Hunter” (MBh. 3.198–206), which resembles a great deal of Near Eastern wisdom literature.
See below under “Mode and Time of Transmission” for chronological parameters. Fleming and Milstein (The Buried Foundation of the Gilgamesh Epic) contend that the story of Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Huwawa is the nucleus around which the OB epic of Gilgamesh was created. They think that the prostitute was used in the original Huwawa narrative to bring Enkidu to Gilgamesh in Uruk; but this Enkidu was a herdsman and not a wild man, and therefore no process of humanization and acculturation was involved. Upon this earlier narrative was imposed the new construction that we find in the OB epic. This new construction that highlighted Enkidu the wild man and Shamhat the prostitute who humanizes him involved (among other things) the introduction of the tale of seduction and acculturation presently preserved in the OB Penn tablet. As for the harlot, though she originally served in the Akkadian Huwawa narrative to bring Enkidu to Gilgamesh, her role underwent a major expansion with the creation of the OB epic and the imposition of the new Enkidu character upon the older one. We find Fleming and Milstein’s argument convincing. More to the point, we believe that their argument supports our argument, and ours theirs, for we have argued that the Mahābhārata version underwent a similar transformation and that the wild man and prostitute were superimposed upon an earlier tale of a sage, king, and princess. Accordingly, parallel developments seem to have taken place in both the Mesopotamian and Indian spheres. While this may be only an interesting coincidence, the fact that literary developments along the same lines took place in this story in both Mesopotamia and India is generally supportive of the developments we have posited.
It is the hope of the authors that closer examination of the other possible Near Eastern borrowings from “The Tour of the Sacred Fords” (as described in fn. 52) may shed further light on this matter.
As noted above (fn. 7), the Mahābhārata seems to have been assembled and edited between the fourth century BCE and the fourth century CE. Here, we have chosen the date 200 CE as a terminus ante quem for the entry of the tale into India, on the basis of the evidence of the Physiologus (Schlinghoff 1973, 301), for that Greek text was composed circa 200 CE, and it already incorporates elements borrowed from our Indian story. Hence, the last date for the entry of the tale into India cannot be later than 200 CE, though of course the tale could have entered the Mahābhārata even later than it was taken up by the Physiologus.
For contact and borrowing during the first millennium BCE, see, e.g., (Pingree 1998, 127–128, 130–132).
But note that Moran (1991, 121–127) makes a case that a passage in Ovid may reflect the ancient Near Eastern tale’s central philosophical idea of sexual love as a civilizing/humanizing force. According to Moran, Ovid’s description of primitive man and his humanization derives from an earlier tradition of acculturation through sex in which the participants are a man and his wife, rather than a man or wild man and a prostitute. The tale of Enkidu and the prostitute may well have had its roots in similar Near Eastern tales of the civilizing of early man (cf. Abusch 2005, 429).
See, e.g., (Parpola 1993, 57–64), who gives a general survey of comparable elements in the two societies; cf. also (Dalley 1998, 14–15): “Contact deduced from goods found within Mesopotamia has been traced in the form of etched carnelian beads, stamp and cylinder seals featuring elephants and characteristically Indian cattle. There are no bullae of clay impressed with cylinder seals from the Indus, or terracotta cone mosaics, and it appears as if the contact between the two regions was both later in time and of a kind different from that which is traceable in Egypt and along the upper Euphrates. It seems to have lasted from around 2500 BCE until the Indus cities were destroyed after some 700 years of splendor, with textual evidence from the cities of lower Mesopotamia in particular revealing that textiles and foodstuffs flowed eastwards. Just as happened earlier, some of the ideas and skills of Mesopotamian society were adopted in an area which had already become quite cultured, but the resulting development looked very different from the form it took elsewhere.”
For example, Akkadian-style cylinder seals with Akkadian-style carving have been found in the Indus Valley, and the two cultures were avid trade partners. The archeologist W. A. Fairservis believed that a seal showing a male figure overpowering two tigers reflected a Gilgamesh motif imported from Mesopotamia (Fairservis 1971, 275). Note again the quote from Dalley, above.
This hypothesis may even be supported by material evidence. It is difficult to resist the temptation to connect the tale’s theme of the horned brahmacarin with the famous Indus Valley seals depicting horned and ithyphallic figures seated as if in meditation (such as DK 12050 from Mohenjo-daro, currently in the Islamabad Museum, NMP 50.296). Another seal depicts the meditating figure surrounded by an assortment of wild beasts, much as Enkidu was prior to his awakening to human consciousness (the “Proto-Shiva Seal,” M-304A, National Museum, New Delhi). A similar figure, and another with a similar headdress but bearing the body of a tiger, appears in several other contexts as well. All the above seals are discussed and pictured in (Aruz 2003, 402–408). Although these figures all have what appear to be two or more horns, the “unicorn,” a single-horned bull-like animal, is also popular, appearing on a total of 1,156 seals, more than half of all seals found. Our single-horned ṛṣi may represent a later conflation of these two distinctive motifs of the Indus civilization. It is important to acknowledge here that if the presence of such motifs in the Indus Valley can be used in support of the hypothesis that Indus Valley culture was the conduit of transmission from West to East, then it is equally possible that the tale originated in the Indus Valley and the role of the traveling merchants was to transmit it from East to West. Nevertheless, the only argument in favor of this is logical deduction. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we continue to favor the theory that the tale originated in the Ancient Near East on the basis of its entrenched position in Gilgamesh.