[Editor’s Note: It is a grand thing when we find our efforts to have sparked an impact. In this case, a few weeks prior we had had a most energetic conversation with a lad, Utsav Sambhava, who had a few thoughts in relation to some pieces I’d sketched out in 2021 pertaining to a pattern in the mythology of the Striker/Thunderer clade of deifics (particularly in ‘Demigod’ expression) – specifically, he’d gone off and compiled a whole bunch of notes about something I had, in fact, missed which presented a yet-further exemplar for that same typology in motion. I was impressed.
So naturally, I told him to write them up and we’d run it as a guest piece. Reproduced below with only some very minor editing for grammar – and a few annotations of my own on particular points. I’ve also put a brief conclusion on the end with my own synopsis of how that which he has uncovered ought be viewed in light of the broader structures of Indo-European myth and theology. But let’s put it over to him: [-C.A.R.]]
In a previous post we demonstrated how the All-Mother Who was the consort of the All-Father of the Skies had verses in support that identified Her as presiding over the Waters. Vedic verses in RV X 125 identifying the home of Devi Vak being in the Waters. The Vedas also attest to the Waters, the Earth and Aditi (Mother to the Gods i.e, the Adityas) being the same element. [I’d have phrased this slightly differently – in terms of i) the various explicit co-identifications for ‘Earth’, Aditi, etc. found in the Shruti; ii) the interesting statement of RV X 63 2, viz. Waters, Aditi, and Earth, as ‘Three Mothers’, it should seem, for the Vishvedevas at large; iii) relevant points pertaining to Danu in broader IE situation ; that is to say … not so much ‘Waters’, ‘Earth’, and ‘Aditi’ as ‘Same Element’ – but rather, same ultimate Goddess [-C.A.R.]
Puranic Hinduism reveals something very similar. Sati (the Universal Mother) Who is wed to the the All-Father deific Shiva is reborn as Two Goddesses, Daughters to the King of Mountains- Himavat. They are Parvati (or Uma) and Her Sister Ganga (according to the Mahabhagavat Devi Puran) and both these forms of the Universal Mother are married to Shiva. [c.f. Shri Mahabhagvat Puran I 13, Sri Ganesh Durga Society edition [-C.A.R.]] Here we see the elements of the All-Mother taking on two different Masques, with Ganga being identified as the Great Goddess presiding over the mighty river that is named after Her. She has the power to grant salvation and is the Sustainer of Civilizations, Mother to All.
Much like an earlier post of ours attests to the All-Mother (or Her Facings or Masques) and All-Father (or His Facings or Masques) giving birth to heroic Sons (like Perseus being born to Zeus [and Danae – note the overt coterminity viz. Danu encountered in Vedic, Scythian, and Celtic spheres [-C.A.R]] and Krishna being born to Vasudeva [and Devaki, an incarnation of Aditi; note also the rather direct meaning for ‘Vasudeva’ as ‘Shining God’ (inter alia) [-C.A.R.]]), we have an interesting case of Bhishma being born to Ganga and the king Shantanu (who is none other than Samudra or the Ocean God Who is but another Masque of the All-Father Roudran Theonymic Himself, much like Poseidon in the Greek pantheon). [U.S. points toward AV-S XV 7 1, upon this score – which does, indeed, have Shiva as AdiVratya becoming Samudra, the Ocean; and also configures this with Srimad Devi Bhagavatam IV 22 29 & 35 in relation to Shantanu & His Wife as Ocean & Ganges [-C.A.R.]]
Bhishma, much like Krishna, is the only surviving son of his parents with his seven elder brothers having to die early in order to fulfill a curse. Bhishma [a theonymic of Rudra also, Himself; and we would also note the acquisition, at Bhishma Charita V 20, of the ‘Raudrastra’ [‘Weapon of Rudra’] from Parashurama by the eponymous Bhishma [-C.A.R.]] had originally been the chief of 8 Vasus (none other than Dyaus Himself) and despite being immortal, the eight were cursed to incarnate on Earth as Sons of Ganga and King Shantanu and live mortal lives for the crime of having stolen the Celestial Cow of Rishi Vashishtha. The other brothers were eventually forgiven (for having been accomplices only ) and allowed to return to Their Celestial Realms earlier with Their Mother, Ganga, being Their Deliverer. Dyaus however was cursed that He would have to spend an entire lifetime with mortals for having hatched the plot for theft.
That is how Bhishma came to incarnate on Earth and perform the glorious feats He was born for. One of His most glorious achievements was the destruction of that King of Neepavamshis named Ugrayudha who had usurped the throne of Panchala and terrorized the masses. This man wanted to marry Queen Satyavati, the widowed stepmother of Bhishma by force and seize the throne of Hastinapura [note the overt resemblance to Polydectes in the mythology of Perseus in that former detail; and Kamsa, the villainous uncle of Krishna, in the latter [-C.A.R]]. Bhishma, being guardian to His stepbrothers and an able warrior went to war with this upstart and killed him and his henchmen in a legendary battle which came to recorded as one of His most glorious exploits.
Other exploits of this legendary hero include His phenomenal prowess in battle even at a very advanced age and His firm resolve to protect His father’s kingdom from all sorts of threats that arose both externally as well as inside its walls. Blessed with a long life, he was an able guardian to His stepbrothers, His nephews and to their children as long as He walked the Earth. When challenged by attempts to push the kingdom into anarchy, He stood tall in the face of every blow and even faced His Own invincible Guru Parashurama ( an Incarnation of Vishnu and one of the most formidable warriors of that time) bravely in battle when external forces tried to turn teacher against student. The battle ended in a draw with His Guru realizing that His Student Bhishma was not at fault. An able statesman, a watchful guardian and a mighty warrior who chose to dedicate His life to the service of His kingdom, Bhishma does remind us of many of the virtues of most of His parallels across the Indo-European pantheon.
Another interesting similarity that Bhishma and His tale bear with the rest of the Indo-European pantheon becomes evident if we observe the case of Shantanu’s father King Pratipa, who was approached by Ganga with a marriage proposal. Being married already, the King declined and promised that his son Shantanu would be the one to marry the Goddess (this too reminds us of Prajapati’s role in the Shiva-Sati wedding) officiating as father to Rudra Shiva.
— Utsav Sambhava
[Editor’s Note: Now, in terms of how all of the above could be viewed … it becomes immediately apparent that we have a bit of a paradox on our hands. For, as noted at the introduction, in principle what we have here is a suite of overt resemblances to a typology which I had sketched out with the Striker/Thunderer deific complex foremost in mind. Indeed, the exemplars we had chosen to illustrate those pieces – or, rather, which had made themselves known and then the pieces and the nascent typology congealed around them – were just so: Perseus and Krishna have been mentioned above, yet Indra, too, had key details concordant with what we had observed. We also (importantly) found reason to incorporate Hanuman to some extent into the analyses in question. And, of course, Karna – whilst not conventionally thought of as a Striker/Thunderer deific expression, is nevertheless typologically concordant with what was going on inside this specific skein of myth in key detailings, as well.
However, here is the interesting thing. An obscure telling for the Birth of Dionysus, as reported in Pausanias’ Travelogue of Greece [III 24 3], mentions the following:
” The inhabitants [of Brasiae, a town of the Free Laconians] have a story, found nowhere else in Greece, that Semele, after giving birth to her son by Zeus, was discovered by Cadmus and put with Dionysus into a chest, which was washed up by the waves in their country. Semele, who was no longer alive when found, received a splendid funeral, but they brought up Dionysus. “
[Jones & Ormerod translation]
This detail – of a figure carried upon waters, often locked in a box, and ostensibly the Son of the Sky Father deific … is quite crucial to the aforementioned overarching typology. It occurs in, as noted above, various of those quite definitely Striker/Thunderer deific expression ‘origin stories’ (ref. Perseus, Indra, Krishna, etc.) … yet here we have it in a rather different fashion which is recognizably the same story – except it’s about that other Son of the Sky Father … Who is the Sky Father, as a sort of ‘Descended Incarnation / Emanation’.
Is this with precedent anywhere else?
Well, funnily enough … yes.
Cast your eyes up a few lines, you’ll see me make mention of Hanuman.
Various scriptural sources [c.f. Shiva Purana III 20; Skanda Purana V III 84] refer to Hanuman as an ‘Avatar’ or ‘Form’ of Rudra / Shiva.
Now, the manner in which Hanuman is incarnated is the result of an investiture of the ‘Essence’ of Shiva being sent down as part of the suite of Royal ritual for Dasharatha (which finds its clear correlates in the Apple sent to Rerir by Odin which enables the conception of the eponymous Volsung of the Volsung Saga, inter various alia – several further exemplars are to be found amidst the Classical world) undertaken to beget the divinely empowered Son … with this having been ‘diverted’, in part, via divine design to the Vanara woman, Anjani.
In essence – the ritual is supposed to … I hesitate to suggest ‘divert’, but it is supposed to establish a ‘linkage’, between two planes and two ‘parallel’ events (two ‘fathers’, in fact): and, in so doing, give a human king a worthy successor that is imbued with an appropriately ‘imperial’ (Divine) essence to enable the radiant glory of the Rta-immanent lineage to continue. Hence, in part, why the ‘waters are muddied’ to some extent in some of the tellings which we encounter – and one version of the mythology has the Mother of the Striker/Thunderer deific, say, be a Goddess (ref. Aditi, Prithvi) … another have a human (or otherwise mortal) woman, often of a suspiciously similar naming (c.f. Danae – ref. ‘Danu’ (i.e. ‘Waters’, ‘River/Flowing-‘) … and others, still, attempt to ‘split the difference’ and present a Goddess in mortal incarnation (e.g. Aditi incarnated as Devaki), a mortal that later ascends to become a Goddess (i.e. Semele – a term for “Earth”, presumably), and so on and on it goes. Because in ideal circumstances, this is partially a ‘space’ for the human queen to ‘step into’. ‘Become as the Goddess’, we might suggest. How else to have the fittingly Divine Son?
However, this is not the only area in which some ‘confluence’ might be suggested to have occurred.
Hanuman carries an array of key features of the Striker/Thunderer deific complex – yet is also an incarnation of Rudra (Manasataramgini, from memory, has also made the decent case that just as Lord Rama ‘carries forward’ the situation of Indra, indeed quite expressly at various points within the Ramayana; so, too, does Hanuman ‘carry forward’ the situation of Vayu as Aid to Indra, therein – and Vayu, as we all know, is another correlate of Rudra via the AshtaMurti conceptry, etc.).
Dionysus, too, as we can see – has this lesser-known mythic origination which appears to ‘piggy-back’ upon the better-attested Striker-Thunderer typological expression. Except there is no suggestion for Dionysus being, well, a Striker/Thunderer deific. Hades, yes, but not Herakles. Even though Aristophanes’ Frogs springs instantly to mind as applies a God Who Goes (even into the depths of the Underworld) in Disguises. Masques, you might say … very handy when coming down amongst His Folk.
All of which brings us to this scenario ref. Bhishma.
It should seem clear to me that the situation of Bhishma as an incarnation of Dyaus means that we are, once again, observing an ‘incarnation’ of the Sky Father in this ‘Demigod’ typology of expression. Both ‘Demigod’ in the more abstract sense of our schema – as well as the more literal (i.e. Hellenic) sense bequeathed via Goddess Ganga as Mother. Ish.
Evidently, that which this means is – much as with Hanuman, and, apparently, Dionysus (and, if we are going a bit further out there into some more … speculative scenarios of conceptry, Alexander the Great as an ‘incarnate’ of Dionysus, per the feelings of some upon this score) – the typology I had earlier articulated is not (simply) a Striker/Thunderer applicable one.
But rather can also be deployed in a ‘predictive’ fashion to a broader range of potential deific expressions / incarnations, as well. Specifically, in this case, Sky Father deific expressive-investitures, likewise. And, I should also note, it is very handy that we have a few points viz. Bhishma in relation to Rudra that , once again , help us to underscore that Rudra is Dyaus. Something interestingly also of pointed pertinency when we consider that i) Hanuman, ii) Dionysus (our other lead exemplars for a Sky Father correlate deployment for the concept in Hindu and Hellenic terms, it should seem) … are expressly and Interpretatio’taly ‘Rudra’ expressions or emanations, as well.
In any case, I said this was going to be a brief conclusionary note … and upon that score I have rather dismally failed.
But I could not easily resist.
It is not every day, after all, that I get to sit back and have somebody else come to me with a sheaf-full of research, typed up into something that sets out the ‘nuts-and-bolts’ as to the application of something, and then presents the sustained opportunity for more speculative / analytical commentary from yours truly as the result.
Kudos, once again, to Sambhava for his efforts in this area. Perhaps we shall hear more from him in future.
ॐ नमः शिवाय
4 thoughts on “On Bhishma As Sky Father Incarnate – A Guest-Post With Annotations”
Wonderfully impressive research into this topic! Inspiring and interesting, Well done Sambhava!
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I was thinking about this great post when I suddenly realised how many parallels exist between the story of Bhishma and Irish stories of Lugh. Both are born as a direct result of the theft of a wondrous cow. Both survive despite the deaths by drowning of their brothers soon after their births. Both are trained from childhood by great beings so that they become skilled and wise war-leaders. There are probably more parallels that could be found with a little research but this is all I could remember off the top of my head. Anyway I’ve come across other links between the Irish and Hindu cultures in the past and this probably won’t be the last time I have this kind of realisation. Hope this is of some interest to anyone besides myself.
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