Monday, November 13, 2006

Narayana (Glossary)

The deity Narayana appears as a form of the Hindu god Visnu fused together with the Vedic primordial being known as Purusa. Narayana is often depicted as floating on a bed of serpents in the Milky Ocean, an imagery found also in the Vedas were a cosmic Yaksha (tree spirit) floats on the primordial waters prior to creation.

Narayana can be broken down etymologically into nara "man" and ayana "coming, arrival," in reference to the deity as the cosmic man and pantheistic cause of creation. The word "nara" might also refer to water and Narayana's association with the ocean.

During the rainy season in the summer months, Narayana is said to fall asleep on the Milky Ocean, connecting his name also to the coming or arrival of water i.e. the summer rains.

Narayana and Pangu/Panhu

Like Narayana in the form of Purusa, the Chinese primordial being Pangu is portrayed as a cosmic being from which the world is created. Panhu, the dog king, is probably identical with Pangu, both having the same father Hundun -- the cosmic dumpling or gourd that floats on the ocean.

The dog-shaped Hundun, and the imagery of Panhu swimming across the flood, or over the ocean to the Dog Tumulus Country (Quan-feng-kuo), brings to mind Narayana's floating over the Milky Ocean.

Indeed, the dog imagery associated with Pangu, appears as horse imagery in association with Narayana. While Narayana as Purusa is closely linked with the Asvamedha horse sacrifice, the lei dog sacrifice to Shang-ti has some related pantheistic aspects.

Shang-ti refers to the Shang dynasty kings' sacrifice of their ancestors and was specifically connected with the location of the Fusang Tree. Instituted by Shun (Di Jun), the Shang-ti ritual was closely connected with dogs and rice, and the lei sacrifice mirrors some of the imagery of the Pangu/Panhu story of dismemberment during the world's creation.

In the Asvamedha, a swimming dog is sacrificed during the opening ceremony. Rice also plays an important part in the Vedic horse ritual. Wendy Doniger notes the rice links mentioned in the Satapatha Brahmana:

The Adhvaryu cooks the priests' mess of rice; it is seed he thereby produces...For when the horse was immolated, its seed went from it and became gold; thus, when he gives gold (to the priests) he supplies the horse with seed...For the ball of rice is seed, and gold is seed; by means of seed he thus lays seed into that (horse and sacrificer) (SB 14.1.1.,1-4)

During the Mahisi ritual of the Asvamedha sacrifice, fried rice grains are thrown at the horse. Rice also plays an important part in an Assam horse ritual in which a dance with a horse image lasts throughout the night after which the body of the image is thrown into a river and the head preserved for another year. During the river ritual, rice is eaten by the participants.

Horse's head

There are various tales of Visnu having a horse's head and human body. Not surprisingly these horse forms are closely linked with Narayana-Purusa.

Narayana is said to have taken the form of the sage Vadavamukha, the submarine mare's head that devours the salty waters of the ocean turning them into fresh water. He also is associated with Hayasiras, the horse-headed deity who saves the Vedic texts after they are stolen by demons.

Kalki, the final avatar of Visnu, is also associated with Narayana and often portrayed with a horse's head.

Kalki with horse's head, source:

Narayana as horse-headed Hayagriva, source:

Thus did the blessed Hari [Visnu] assume in days of old that grand form having the equine head. This, of all his forms, endued with puissance, is celebrated as the most ancient. That person who frequently listens or mentally recites this history of the assumption by Narayana of the form equipt with the equine head, will never forget his Vedic or other lore.

-- Mahabharata 12:47

In China, Panhu, the culture hero who brings rice agriculture, and his descendents in Quan-feng-kuo are often described as having dogs' heads. In medieval times, the Dog Tumulus Country is conflated with Fusang, where we now find the dog-headed men together with the associated kingdom of women.

That this is not a coincidence is also supported by the fact that both Narayana and Panhu are located in the same general region, and at times in the same specific area. If we equate the Vourukasha Sea with the Milky Ocean as we have done previously using the story of Trita, then we know that at least in medieval times these oceans were identified with the "Sea of Chin."

Malaysia and the Philippines retain concepts, now confined to the area of demonology, that could explain the theme of animal and bird-headed humans. The Penanggalan in Malaysia and the Manananggal in the Philippines are now a type of vampire known to detach their heads from their bodies. These heads, often trailed by the person's entrails, fly around at night and come back to rejoin the body during the day.

Thus, the flying detached heads are quite similar to the principle of the kaladua or spirit-double but with a more anthropomorphic twist. The names of both head-detaching creatures are derived from the word tanggal which means "to detach or remove." As the kaladua spirit roams away from the body mostly at night so the detached head flies from the body of the Penanggalan, Manananggal and the Asuang.

In the case of a bird or animal double, the head represents the person's other self. So for the Asuang, the detached head is in principle that of a dog. While in modern Christianized culture, the Asuang has become an enemy of children and childbirth, originally it can confidently be said that the situation was reversed. The dog was seen as a protector of children, something that still survives in the use of dog-teeth necklaces to protect young ones from evil, including protection from the Asuang!

Indian lore often explains the horse's heads of gods and sages as coming after the original head is cut off. Various explanations are given for this procedure. In some cases, the human head is seen to represent bodily desire, while the horse's head contains the knowledge of the Vedas. Some view the horse's head as a symbol of the Sun.

However, even with other animal incarnations of Visnu, we see often that they are sometimes represented as humans with animal heads. This indicates the idea of a double nature.

Sa-Huynh-Kalanay bicephalous pendants may connect with this idea of the double self. There are other indications of dual thinking in this culture including the lingling-o earrings with decorations at each of the four quadrants, and the hexagonal and octagonal cut jade beads.

Object of pilgrimage

Classical sources mention journeys to the eastern island of Svetadvipa to visit Narayana by personages such as Narada, Trita, Rama, Ravana, and the four Kumaras.

Such pilgrimages may link with the Tibetan Buddhist journeys to Shambhala, which in Hindu tradition is linked with horse-headed Kalki. Indeed the Garuda Purana mentions Shambhala as a pilgrimage destination:

"...the village of Shambhala is a good place of pilgrimage. The sanctuary of Narayana is a great shrine, whereas a pilgrimage to holy forest Vadarika leads to the emancipation of self."

Despite the number of Tibetan guidebooks for journeys to Shambhala, the location is not specifically mentioned in the Kalacakratantra as a pilgrimage destination. It may have been included in the location of Suvarnadvipa, that is listed as one of the pilgrimage sites known as upamelapaka in the Kalacakratantra.

Mention has been made of expeditions by Chinese emperors and kings to find the fabled island of Penglai. In messianic Buddhist-Daoist texts that started appearing in the sixth century CE, savior kings known as Prince Moonlight (Yueguang tongzi) and the King of Light (Mingwang) came into being. Writings like the Scripture of the Monk Shouluo and the Scripture of the Realization of Understanding Preached by the Boddhisattva Samantabhadra told of voyages to Penglai to visit Prince Moonlight's kingdom.

The messianic king of Penglai may be the same as the Rigden king of Shambhala, who also figured in millenarian prophecy. Penglai is frequently mentioned together with Fusang in Chinese texts, and the latter seems to be fused with Dog Tumulus Country in the latter literature. Today, for example, Chinese often ascribe the origin of Taiwan's indigenous people either or equally to Panhu and/or the inhabitants of Penglai, as the related locations are hard to distinguish from each other.

Shambhala's rigden kings were identified with incarnations of Visnu in Kalacakra texts. For example, the commentator Mipham says Rigden Manjushrikirti is the same as the Matsya or fish incarnation of Visnu. So, the Shambhala kings are easily connected to Narayana also and to the savior Kalki.

Messianic kingdom

Hindu texts say that Kalki, the last avatar of Visnu, comes from the village of Sambhala (Shambhala), and many researchers equate this with Tibetan prophecies of the messianic king Raudracakrin, the 25th Rigden of Shambhala.

Both Raudracakrin and Kalki are said to arrive on horseback, and Kalki is often portrayed as a horse or as a human with a horse's head. Raudracakrin defeats his enemies using the meditation of the "best of horses." Prince Moonlight also marches into the final battle on a "dragon-horse."

"Kulika," the name of Raudracakrin's dynasty and also possibly the name "Kalki" are derived from the words kaula and kula, derivatives of which can refer to "family" and "birth" and also mean "dog."

kulika -- "one of good family, noble birth"
kauleya -- "sprung from a good family, a dog"
kauleyaka -- "sprung from a noble family, pertaining to family, a dog"
kauleyakuTumbini -- "dog's wife, bitch"
kauleyakah -- "dog" (kula + dhakan, Panini As.t.a-dhya-yi- 4.2.96)

Chinese millenarian views date back at least to the sage Mencius who claimed that about every 500 years a sage would arise to restore the natural order. Daoists fused their seer Lao Tzu with the primordial Pangu/Panhu and beliefs arose that Lao Tzu would reincarnate periodically as the savior Li Hong during degenerate times.

Li Hong evolved together with the Buddhist-Daoist Prince Moonlight and the King of Light, the latter two possibly being the same person. These beliefs came to incorporate also the doctrine involving the coming Buddha known as Maitreya. Predicted dates for the coming of Li Hong and Prince Moonlight often matched.

According to the prophecies, a time of cosmic decay would arise leading eventually to a great final battle between divine and demonic troops. Prince Moonlight appears from his kingdom in Penglai, predicting the coming events and instructing in the means of salvation. Those elect few who hear his words are saved as Prince Moonlight leads them to Penglai, or in other versions to the Tushita Heaven, to escape the coming tribulation.

Some have claimed the millennial conflict betrays Manichean influence although cataclysmic dualistic battles are found in some of the oldest Chinese literature. In the Yaodian, which Joseph Needham has dated to between the eighth and fifth centuries BCE on philological grounds, but with astronomical data going back to the third millennium BCE, Emperor Yao battles the flood-ravaging demon Gong-gong. After defeating Gong-gong the earth is titled toward the Southeast causing rivers to flow into a maelstrom and hole in the Earth located in the Southeastern Ocean and known as the Weilu.

Likewise in the Huainanzi of the Han Dynasty, we hear of the battles of the fire and water gods before Nu Gua raises the sky from the earth.

After Prince Moonlight's apocalyptic victory, a new world is reconstructed having great peace and opulence.

The advanced millenarian movements in China were concentrated mostly in the South, with the first center at Nanjing. Cults like the White Lotus tradition were concentrated mainly in northern Fujian and northern Jiangxi. Later the messianic movements became strongly centered in southeastern coastal regions like Fujian and eastern Guangdong.

Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese millennial beliefs thus tend to cluster around Narayana or his cognates, and around the specific locations of the Milky Ocean and Svetadvipa, which act as a backdrop for the Visnu incarnations and as birthplace for the final messianic avatar. The geographic reference is of great importance and like Penglai and Shambhala the precise location is somewhat "hidden" adding to its mystery and allure.

Prester John's communications starting in the 12th century laid claim to the Indies including the Garden of Eden, which in the view of the Ptolemaic astronomers of Muslim Spain, would rest 180 degrees east of the Fortunate Isles in the Sea of Chin. According to Prester John himself, it was from his kingdoms that the final battle would break out, and there one could find both the lost Ten Tribes and apocalyptic Gog and Magog nations. A descendent of Prester John would lead the battle ushering in the Second Coming. Such messages sparked a new wave of voyages in search of the Milky Ocean and the island of Narayana.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Doniger, Wendy. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts, University of Chicago Press, 1980, p. 155.

Ownby, David. "Chinese Millenarian Traditions: The Formative Age," The American Historical Review 104.5 (1999): 38 pars. 14 Nov. 2006 <>.