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Linga and Phallic worship

Gustav Oppert and Swami Vivekananda � An Historical Encounter at The Paris Congress of History of Religions


Introduction: Gustav Oppert (1836-1908) has been famous through his writings on Dravidians, Dravidian tribes, Dravidian linguistics and connected topics. His renderings have been mostly on the philological interpretations coming to forced conclusions, which he himself had confessed about his methodology of proposing and propounding hypothesis on hypothesis and building theories out of them1. He had heavily depended on the Robert Caldwell�s interpretation and followed him to give a twist to turn the linguistic Dravidian into racial one. In fact, Caldwell himself showed the way for such racial interpretation2. But, Indian scholars without taking the warnings, they have gone to take them as historical truths in interpreting historical processes of India.


Interestingly, when he presented a paper on the origin of Shaligrama worship, he was completely refuted by none other than Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). In fact, Swami Vivekananda had not only exposed the fallacies contained in his paper, but also that of others. It all happened in the Congress of History of Religions held at Paris in 1900.


Ironically, when Gustav Oppert�s works are again reprinted, the publishers do not mention the facts, but simply reprint with the same old views without any correction, editing or updating3.


The Background of the Paris Congress of History of Religions: The First Congress of History of Religions under the auspices of International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) was held in August 1900 in Paris4. The French affiliate to the IAHR is named after Ernest Renan. It was organized just like the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago. The European Orientalists had planned and come there with their pre-conceived and pre-programmed manner with their papers to establish the antiquity of Christianity over other world religions, as the Parliament of Religions accommodated eastern religions which jeopardized the safety of orthodox Christianity. A biographer5 of Swami Vivekananda recorded in this way:


This Congress, compared with the Parliament of Religions of Chicago, was a rather tame affair. The discussion was limited to technical theories regarding the origin of the rituals of religion; for the Catholic hierarchy, evidently not wanting a repetition of the triumph of Oriental ideas in the American Parliament, did not allow any discussion of religious doctrines�.


Here, the scholars were to study the origin and history of different religions. In fact, Swami Vivekananda was also invited by the organizers to present a paper. But, because of his ill-health, he could not do so, but he had two occasions to present his views refuting the misinterpretation of the western orientalists about Indian religion.


He was just 37, when facing Gustav Oppert, who was 64 and other scholars were all above 60 and so on. In deed, they were totally amazed and spellbound to listen to his scholarly explanations given supported with Sanskrit quotations. His Chicago address had already earned him a lot and they were very much captivated by his speech.


Swami Vivekananda and Gustav Oppert in Madras6: Interestingly, when Swami Vivekananda came to Madras in 1893, Gustav Oppert was also there. He was noting the Swami Vivekananda�s fame and his plan to visit America as Alasinga Perumal and others were virtually begging for money in Triplicane and adjoining areas for his visit. Again after his Chicago visit, when he came to Madras, he was given a warm welcome at Egmore railway station, when he returned from USA through Colombo in 1897. His lectures were arranged two at Victoria Hall, one each at Pachaippa�s and Harmston�s circus pavillion on February 9, 11, 13 and 14, 1897. Teaching from the Presidency College, that too Sanskrit, definitely, Gustav Oppert must have attended his lectures at least at Victoria Hall. On Feb.12, a young European lady, daughter of a Christian Missionary in Madras came to Swamiji and asked many questions and Swamiji clarified all points. The audience was thrilled by the intellectual conversation. His stay at Madras for nine days was considered as a nine days� festival � Navaratri from Feb.7 to 16. The leading dailies, The Madras Times, The Madras Mail, The Hindu etc., covered his visit vividly. After the success of his Chicago visit, Oppert was thinking to counter Swamiji. Therefore, the meeting of both at Paris was probably an expected one and known at least to one of them.


Swami Vivekananda in Paris : He left India on July 20, 1900 and reached Paris on August 1, 1900. Staying at Paris, he visited Lannion in the province ofBrittany, Vienna, Constantinople, Athens and Egypt. He was the first guest of Mr. And Mrs. Francis Leggert at their residence in the Place des Etats Unis. He met many scholars � poets, philosophers, professors, sculptors, painters, scientists, singers, actors, and actresses and moralists. He utilised the opportunity effectively to spread his message and exchange ideas with many leading thinkers of the west. On his return from Brittany, he was the guest of Mrs. Ole Bull, where he met Monsieur Jules Bois, a famous philosopher, journalist, writer and student of comparative religion. For two months, he learned French so that he could deliver his lectures in French.


Gustav Salomon Oppert (1836-1908): He was a well known for Madras scholars, as he was teaching Sanskrit and Comparative linguistics at the PresidencyCollege for 21 years. He was the Telugu translator to the Government and Curator, Government Oriental Manuscript Library. He had collaborated with Robert Caldwell in the creation of �Dravidians�, as these scholars were operating as and as well as in connivance of the Missionaries. He quotes Caldwell in his works and vice versa. He was born in Hamburg, Germany. He took in Indian languages, particularly comparative linguistics and religion. Therefore, he was sent to India for the purpose.


Therefore, when the Paris Congress was planned, he went there with his paper. He presented his paper on the origin of the Shalagramashila tracing to the emblem of female generative principle - Yoni. According to him, the Shiva-Linga is the phallic emblem of the male, and the Shalagrama of the female, generative principle thus he tried to establish that the worship was nothing but worship that of Linga and Yoni!


Swami Vivekanda repudiated the above two views presenting facts based on the Vedic evidences: Quoting from Atharva Veda Samhita, a famous hymn sung in praise of Yupa-Stambha, the sacrificial post, which represents the beginningless and endless Stambha / Skambha i.e, Brahman. He expounded to show how the same symbol was incorporated in Buddhism as memorial toes, and Hindus erect wooden poles / staffs for worship. Shalagrama is the natural stones available taken to represent such symbolism naturally. Therefore, the attribution of phallic connotation to it is �the most thoughtless� and �ridiculous explanation�. The filthiest Tantrika literature of Buddhism, during its downfall and it was practiced in Nepal and Tibet. He also explained the commonness of Hindu and Buddhist religions by quoting from Krishna and Buddha and requested the western Sanskrit scholars to read the texts properly instead of writing �fanciful articles�. During his speech, he referred to Max Mueller, as he was considered as the father of the �Aryan hypothesis�, later, supplemented with Caldwell and others with their �Dravidian hypothesis�.


Refuting Max Mueller (1823 � 1900): Swami Vivekandanda refuted the western view of the Greek influence on India exhibited through Max Mueller by giving many evidences. Max Mueller says in one of his books that, whatever similarities there may be, unless it be demostrated that some one Greek knew Sanskrit, it cannot be concluded that ancient India helped ancient Greece in any way. Thus, turning his own premises against him, Swami argued, �It may be said as well until it is demonstrated that some one Hindu knew Greek some time, one ought not to talk even of Greek influence�. He pointed out that instead of producing evidences, the western scholars were simply proposing hypotheses that Greeks founded a small kingdom on the borders of India! He challenged them, �Not only so: one has been bold enough to declare that all Indian sciences as a rule are but echoes of the Greek!�.


Interestingly, Swami Vidyatmananda (John Yak) records7 that Swami Vivekananda met Max Mueller of Oxford University during his second visit to London. Therefore, by conversing with him, he would have understood him. Swamiji met him on May 28, 1896 at his residence8 by special invitation. Max Mueller too withdrew his views about Aryans:


I have declared again and again that if I say Aryan, I mean neither blood nor bones, nor hair, nor skull, I mean simply those speak Aryan language���To me an ethnologist who speaks of Aryan race, Aryan blood, Aryan eyes and hair, is as great sinner as a linguist who speaks of a dolicocephalic dictionary or brachycephalic grammar


But, neither the Aryan nor Dravidian racial interpretation of historical processes of Indian history has not died down, but taking metamorphosis into new dimensions of genetics and so on, that is scientists now, it is claimed, have discovered �Aryan genes� and �Dravidian genes�!


Aryans and Dravidians: At the Congress, the western scholars repeatedly put in the �Aryan invasion hypothesis� in all their renderings forcefully. Swami Vivekanda immediately pointed out the fallacy in their hypotheses, as they were merely misinterpretation of Sanskrit literature without going into the real meaning. He openly urged them �to hunt up their old books and scriptures and draw on their own conclusions�.


�And what your European Pandits say about the Aryan�s swooping down from some foreign land, snatching away the lands of aborigines and settling down in India by exterminating them, is all pure nonsense, foolish talk! Strange, that our Indian scholars, too, say amen to them: and all these monstrous are being taught to our boys! This is very bad indeed. I am an ignoramus myself; I do not pretend to any scholarship; but with the little that I understand, I strongly protested against these ideas at Paris Congress��..Wherever the Europeans find an opportunity, they exterminate the aborigines and settle down in ease and comfort their lands; and therefore they think the Aryans must have done the same!


It has to be noted that in Indian books, before the introduction of such hypotheses by the western scholars and Christian missionaries, there was no mention about �Aryans� and �Dravidians�. The interpretation of the words �Aryan� and �Dravidian� has led to the creation of racial �Aryans� and �Dravidians� pitted against each other for all social, religious and political processes. Therefore, the refutation to such hypotheses done by Swami Vivekananda shoiuld be taken into account by the researchers.


Gustav Oppert wrote �On the Origiginal Inhabitants of Bharatvarsa or India � The Dravidians� in 1888 and published in Madras Journal of Literature and Science, purely based on philological interpretation taking similar words found in different South Indian languages. Mainly delving on the linguistic interpretation of Caldwell, he proceeded to develop his hypothesis with full of surmises. Therefore, Swamiji must have known about his interpretation and thus, he took the opportunity and repudiated their hypotheses.


Ramayanic Conflict of �Aryans and Dravidians�: He refuted the Ramayanic interpretation of the conquest of the savage aborigines of Southern India by Aryans by pointing out the following important points:


1.     The civilized status of Ravana and his capital Lanka.


2.     In fact, he compared Lanka with Ayodhya.


3.     Vanaras and other South Indians were allies of Rama and the kingdoms of Vali and Guha were not annexed to Ayodhya.


4.     Ayodhya, Kishkinda and Lanka had been independent always.


But, scholars continue to quote the wrong premises and secondary biased views, without verifying the source materials, which is exhibited even in the current research and writings.


Mahabharata and Bhagavat Gita: Another view presented by the western scholars during the Congress was that Bhagavat Gita and Mahabharata could not be contemporaneous. In other words, Mahabharata was ancient to Bhagavat Gita, as the latter contains ideas of post-Mahabharat period. The points presented by Swami Vivekananda are as follows:


1.     The Vedas as the common basis of Hindu and Buddhist religions and every other religious belief in India and proved the priority of Krishna to Buddha.


2.     The Gita was prior to, if not contempronaeous with, the Mahabharata.


3.     Both the thought and language of the Gita were same as thoise of Mahabharata; therefore, how could Gita have been later than Mahabharata?


4.     And if it had been compiled much later, in the Buddhist period, why, when it attempted the reconciliation of all the religious creeds prevalent in India at that period, should the Gita not have mentioned Buddha and Buddhism, if Buddhism were in existence?


5.     Krishna was several centuries prior to Buddha, and that the worship of Krishna was much older than that of Buddha.


Indeed, all accepted his arguments but the President of the Congress.


Here, the background of putting Krishna after Buddha was due to the facts discussed by the western scholars at that time about the origin of Christianity from Buddhism and even the origin of the word Christ from Cristna as pointed out by Count C. F. C. Volney, and others. The French intelligentia started proving the antiquity of Indian civilization over the others. This had alarmed the missionaries to counter.


The Greek Influence: During the Paris Congress of the History Religions, when the so called western-orientalists started misrepresenting and misinterpreting Indian historical facts, particularly about the origin of worship of Shiva and Krishna, astronomy, drama, sculpture etc., Swami Vivekananda refuted them point by point9:


�In the same manner, if on finding mention of the word Yavanika (curtain), in the dramas of Kalidasa and other Indian poets, the Yavanika (Ionian or Greek) influence on the whole of the dramatic literature of the time is ascertained, then one should first stop to compare whether the Aryan dramas are at all like the Greek. Those who have studied the mode of action and style of the dramas of both the languages must have to admit that any such likeness, if found, is only a fancy of the obstinate dreamer, and has never any real existence as a matter of fact. Where is that Greek Chorus? The Greek Yavanika is one side of the stage, the Aryan, diametrically on the other. The characteristic manner of expression of the Greek drama is one thing, that of the Aryan quite another. There is not the least likeness between the Aryan and the Greek dramas; rather the dramas of Shakespeare resemble to great extent the dramas of India. So the conclusion may also be drawn that Shakespeare is indebted to Kalidasa and other ancient Indian dramatists for all his writings, and that the whole western literature is only an imitation of the Indian�


Though, the scholars accepted Swami Vivekananda, the President of the Congress did not agree about the contemporaneity of Bhagawat Gita with that of Mahabhrata10.


Conclusion: The topic is related to just less than 150 years old and surprisingly why historians do not concern about in spite of the relevance attached. As the important issues, which historians now debate, had already been discussed, why such details are not taken into consideration or known to the present generation. Why the publishers go on reprint the refuted / disputed hypothesized / theorized writings without giving the details? When Right Reverend Robert Caldwell writes from the Office of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, 19, Delahay Street, Westminister, London, it is accepted as established historical truth, but, when Swami Vivekananda refutes his theories right inside their forums outside India, it is not even whispered. Why this difference or what such difference connotes and accounts for?



Notes and References


1.     Gustav Oppert records about his research methodology as follows:


�Where there is so much room for conjecture, it is easy enough, of course, to fall into error, and I shall be prepared to be told that many of my conclusions are erroneous and the hypotheses on which they are built fanciful. But, though much of what I have written may be shown to beuntenable, I shall yet be satisfied if, in the main, I establish my contention, and I shall deem myself amply repaid for my labour if I succeed in any degree in resorting the Dravidian to those rights and honours of which he has so long been deprived�.


In his preface to Part.I, of the following book. (AES reprint).


Gustav Oppert, On the Original Inhabitants of Bharatvarsa or India � The Dravidians, Madras Journal of Literature and Science, Vol.85, 1888-89;

������., The Ancient Commerce of India,

      ������.., Die Gottheiten der Indier (The Gods of the Indians), 1905.


2.     Robert Caldwell, A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian or South Indian Family of Languages, University of Madrras, 1976, pp.108-120, 636.


When the University of Madras publishes the book getting permission from Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London in 1956 and thereafter, the editors record (pp.v-vi of Editor�s Preface to the Third Edition) that �


i.                 �We decided to omit so much of Bishop Caldwell�s Introduction as it relates to the History of Dravidian Literature.


ii.               �we have also omitted many pages of purely controversial matter in which Bishop Caldwell was at pains to controvert the  vierws of writers now forgotten or negligible.


iii.             �Our task has been in the main, one of pious conservation, and our sole object has been to enable students to obtain access to so much of the author�s work�.�


3.     The Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1988. Though, it is reprinted by the publishers, they give none of the details.



The Official website of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), which gives all details of the earlier Congresses, proceedings etc.


Ernest Renan was the popular writer of a book on Jesus Christ, which created a lot of controversy in the Christian circles and debated even today.




6.     Brahmavaddin, June 6, 1896.


Swami Vidyatmananda, The Making of a Devotee, Centre Vedantique Ramakrishna77220 GretzFrance. In Chapter.Six, The Devotee as Friend of Vivekananda, the interesting information is available.


7.     Valentine Strcho-Roshin, German Indologists: Biographies of Scholars in Indian Studies Writing in German, pp.81-82.


8.     Swami Vidyatmananda, The Making of a Devotee, Centre Vedantique Ramakrishna77220 GretzFrance. In Chapter.Six, The Devotee as Friend of Vivekananda, the interesting information is available.


9.     Swami Vivekananda, The Paris Congress of the History of Religions, in The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1955, Vol.IV, p.42


10.   Max Mueller, Biography of Words and the Home of Aryans, London, 1888, p.120.


11.  Jean Reville (Ed.), Actes du Premier Congr�es International d�Histoire des Religions, (Proceedings of the First Cogress of History of Religions) (Part.1: Senaces generales, Part.2: seanas des sections, 3 fasc) 2 vols, Ernest Leroux, Paris, Part.1: 1901 and Part.2: 1902.


12.  Eastern and Western Disciples, The Life of Swami Vivekanda, Chapter.XXXVI, The Paris Congress and A Tour in Europe, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1960, pp.683-698.

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