It is MONDAY – Lord Shiva’s Day ! And therefore … something perhaps unexpected. A ‘Greek’ Rudra ! As pointed out to me by that eminent explorer of such finds, the sage Manasataramgini.
Now, in the course of our work we have frequently discussed how the north-western zone of the ancient Hindusphere formed quite the ‘convection zone’ – where influences from an array of Indo-European traditions came together and produced intriguing iconographic and other developments.
Quite some attention has understandably been paid to Indo-Greek sculpture depiction Herakles, or to Buddhist subjects – however there’s been a bit of a gap with some of the Hindu figures which exhibit signs of such ‘Ionian’ [‘Yavana’] influence.
Partially, this is because various of the features of said Hindu figures are so easily and so readily ‘renderable’ in Greek (or Central Asian) iconographic language that They are prone to being overlooked.
After all, to take one example, a figure with a bull and wielding a trident should hardly stand out as anything other than Hellenic – as these are strongly correlated with Poseidon under more usual circumstances.
I also maintain that it results from a seeming trenchant attitude in some corners of academia to insistently avoid reading clearly Hindu points of influence as such, instead proposing rather fanciful identifications as Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Classical … any possible combination so long as it is not Hindu in major saliency. You can see some … bemusing examples of this being discussed in my work featuring Oesho and Weshparkar.
All of this brings us to this present element under discussion – a substantial sculpted stone head from Mathura, approximately one foot tall (and likely from a sculpture that should have stood about six feet were its body fully standing), and dating from somewhere between 200 BC and 200 AD.
Now clearly, this is a Greek style – or, at least, heavily Greek influenced – sculpture. And yet … if we look at the center of the brow, we find an unmistakable Third Eye.
As it happens, the concept of the Third Eye is not unknown in the Hellenic world – per the travelogue of Pausanias, a temple housing Zeus Triophthalmos (‘Three-Eyed’) was to be found in Argos [and for more upon all of that, you can consult my earlier ‘Tryambaka Triophthalmos Triformis – The Three Eyes Of The Indo-European Sky Father As Seen Through Vedic & Hellenic Perspective’ ];
We have also demonstrated how in functional rather than just iconographic terms, certain details reported in the Hellenic canon going right the way back into the Iliad appear to match up quite strongly with the Hindu understanding for the Third Eye [see the aforementioned work, as well as my earlier ‘MahaShivRatri And The Mytholinguistics Of War [Part 3] – The Mind, The Mania, The Manyu’].
However, for obvious reasons, I think that the presence of a three-eyed Greek-style sculpture in North-West India is inordinately less likely to be conveying an understanding entirely endogenous to the Hellenic sphere. And much more likely to have ‘picked up’ something from the Hellenic’s Cousins in the more immediate area.
Unfortunately, there is not very much to go upon to overtly confirm the hypothesis from this fragment itself. The head’s literally all we’ve got left. Yet it should certainly seem entirely plausible that when it comes to Indo-Greek presentations of deities, a figure with a prominent Third Eye may so happen to be that God we even today hail as, simply, The Three-Eyed One (Tryambaka, Trilochana, etc.).
What we do have, however, is a most interesting silver votive vessel from sometime in the last two centuries of the first millennium BC over in nearby Gandhara which records a devotional inscription in both Greek and Kharosthi / Gandhari. (Again, pointed out by Manasataramgini)
I shall let Prof. Stefan Baums take over:
“The silver vessel in question belongs to a hoard of nine plates and bowls, three of which are inscribed: Kalliphin’s inscription is given in Greek (Καλλιφων µεριδαρχης ευξαμενος ανεθηκεν τωι Χαοσει “Kalliphön, making a vow, dedicated [this] to Khaos’) as well as in Gandhari (Kaliphonena meridarkhena pratisunita nirakate Boasa) […]
The inscriptions reveal that the whole set of vessels was dedicated in a Greek ritual in the sanctuary of a deity, but the deity in question was Indian rather than Greek.
Its name is given as Boa in the Gandhari version of Kalliph6n’s inscription (interpreted by Falk 2009a as Bhava, a primordial form of Siva) and translated as Khaos into Greek in an instance of interpretational Graeca.”
Now this is … unexpected, in and of itself – as for a start, ‘Chaos’ devotions in Greek inscriptions are vanishingly rare (and it is vitally important, I feel, to emphasize that ‘Chaos’ here is NOT the modern word “Chaos” as in opposite or opponent of ‘Order’; instead, it is ‘Open Space’ – ‘Chasm’, with which it is somewhat etymologically related).
This logically forces the question of just why, assuming Falk was correct, ‘Bhava’ ought be ‘translated’ as Χαος.
The most likely explanation, I suspect, is somewhere between the notion of a (quasi-)deific figure Who is a-priori to all else and found amidst such Black [‘Kaal’] – and Who is also identified with the Darkened Atmosphere, particularly of Night.
This is intriguing to us, as it doesn’t quite match up with various specific Greek understandings for Χαος which have come down to us from antiquity – however, does seemingly fit in amidst several of these simultaneously, drawing from all of them whilst not quite comfortably being any individual one. And,
However, if we know our archaic Hindu theology and cosmology – wherein yes, most definitely, we may find Rudra / Bhava existing afore the Morning of the World , giving rise to its form and situating Himself with His Tribe amidst the Atmospheric ‘Mid Regions’ and the Dark, Roiling Night … then it is not an entirely illogical comparanda to have invoked.
Even if it points, again, to a rather different and perhaps more ‘flexible’ approach than what we should often think of today.