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The Goddess of Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature Author(s): Edward C. Dimock, Jr.

Reviewed work(s): Source: History of Religions, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Winter, 1962), pp. 307-321 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 27/10/2012 00:54
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and ProfessorSukumar Sen. Dimock. "poetry. nor does it refer here to the type of classical poetry often indicated by the term. Siva. Jr. the Manasa-maigal of 307 . The mangal poems have been sung for many centuries as part of the worship of the divinity they celebrate. among others.e. itihds They are ProfessorAsutos Bhattacarya. and Sltala. and are so sung today. Bdagaldsahityeritihds (2d ed. 2 The term kdvya.My indebtedness to various scholars will be noted in appropriateplaces in the body of the paper. the pancdli-gdn [i.The term means something like "eulogistic poetry."2 The poems classed as mangal do in fact eulogize one or another of the gods and goddesses-Candi. 483: "in western Bengal. Manasa.To these two scholars especially my indebtednessis very great. among the lower social groups.3 1 This article is the first of three on the Manasa legend. 1948). Calcutta: ModernBook Agency... however. and the third of a translation and more detailed study of the Dhanvantaripdla of the Ketaka-dasa Manasa-mangal. how man prospers by the worship of that divinity and suffers by denying it. 476. like to make special referencehere to two scholars whose work is basic and pioneering in this area of the history of Indian religion. 3 Sukumar Sen." does not have the technical significance that it does in Sanskrit poetics. the maigal poem] of Ksemananda [i.. The second article will consist of an outline of the full myth. I would.Edward C. whose work Bhigld maigal-kdvyer is a gold mine of information. whose high standards of scholarshipand vast knowledgehave been applied to an edition of Vipra-dasa's Manasd-vijaya. pp. THE GODDESS IN OF SNAKES MEDIEVAL BENGALI LITERATURE1 There has been current in Bengal for many centuries a type of literature known as mangal-kdvya. They tell of the power and magnificence of a particular divinity.e.

Asuto1 Bhattacarya. Vratasare now practiced primarily by women (see CulturalHeritageof India.. Vipra-ddsa'sManasa-vijaya(Calcutta: Asiatic Society. when the king Hosein Shah was reigning in Gaur. See in Indian Folklore. version of the Manasa saga.. but there is much in the poems themselves which is indicative of great antiquity. perhaps in the mid-seventeenth century (Sen. Manasa] gave to me this order. This was in the saka year measured (parimana) as the moon. four. and in worship of different gods. seven]. Bdgdald sahityer itihds. 514).The Goddessof Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature Authorities differ on whether or not they constitute an essential part of the ritual. 2 also D.pala 1. On the The maigal-kdvya occasionof the pujdof a particular divinity. 516 ff. C. p.e. though perhaps not the oldest. 25.. 252). it is significant for our present purposes that they are simultaneously part of the oral and the written traditions. Accordingto his own testimony. "Evolution of Hinduism in Medieval Bengali Literature. "LaksmT vrata-katha.t. 4 Bdingl mahgal-kdvyer itihds (hereinafterreferred to as "MKI") (Calcutta: A. says: is not an intrinsicpart of the ritual activity. p. At the same time. they are current among illiterate people.. that I should compose her pdacali [i. 1958).. Manuscriptsdo not last long in the humid heat of Bengal. v. The term vrataindicates a whole range of ritual activity to be performed at different times of the year. and D. he wrote his work in 1495-96 A. yet his version seems to contain elements which are older than their parallels in Vipra-dasa (T. one." Ketaka-dasa (Ksemananda)."5 Whatever the function of the mangal poems. vi. (saka 1417). No. Haridas Bhattacharya [Calcutta: RamakrishnaMission. Sen. even thoughthe deity's mangalsong is sung. W. Clark.).6 It is likely that they were passed Ksemanandaor Ketaka-dasa]is revered . the earth.") The Introduction is in English. part 4 (p.. These manuscripts are not old." Bulletin of the School of Orientaland African Studies. Vaisnava Faith and Movement (Calcutta: GeneralPrinters and Publishers. Mukerji & Co. and they have internal characteristics which identify them with the oral tradition. p. even the ritual is able to be carriedout. Let it sufficefor the moment to say that Sen feels that a part of the story at least "existed in some form in the early centuries of the Christian era" See also SukumarSen (ed. R. 5 MV. song].." but there is little similarity between vrataand what are usually thought of in the West as religious vows. 1920]. or "ritual song. 1953)..see S.e. another writer of the Manasa saga." (1956). (This work will be referredto hereinafter as "MV. XVII. They are recited as part of worship. p. the Vedas. pp. 308 . ed. 375 ff. De.. 3 of Sen's text).. But the relative recentness of the manuscripts tells us no more about the date of composition of the poems than the date of composition tells us of the antiquity of the sagas themselves. it is never integralto the conductof the puja proper.4 if the mangalsong is not performed.I. and the seas [i.. 476). The term vratais usually translated as "vow. Sukumar Sen points out that at least one poet of the Manasa-maigal calls his poem vrata-g. for example." The antiquity of parts of the songs will be demonstrated in the body of the paper..e. 1942). Mitra-Majumdar. On the other hand.D. For a descriptionof some Vaisnava vratas. on the 10th day of the light fortnight (sukla dasamz). lived later. he writes: "In the month of Baiskh. Folk Literatureof Bengal [Calcutta: University of Calcutta. 43-57. K. one. and currenteven in the most distant villages. sitting at the head of my bed Padma [i. 1956]. we have manuscripts of many of the mangal songs. p. Vipra-dasagives us an old. IV. for different purposes. In his Manasd-vijaya. 6Most of the manuscriptsdo not antedate the middle of the eighteenth century.

As it is oral literature. makes attempts at analysis of the maigals both vexing and challenging. The second type of verse pattern is the tripadi. Over the centuries. the tale of Behula and Lakhindar gains great currency and is treated in detail. Like that of Sita. with rhyme scheme aa bb. As literature. 1954). the verse structure of the mahgal is simple. in some versions of the story. p. the devotion of Behula to her husband is an ideal of Indian womanhood. ix-xxix. which is not in the strict sense a metrical form since the lines may vary in number of syllables. Vexation comes with the attempt to separate layer from layer of elements of myth. in detail and technique. For a full introduction to the imagery. The challenge is in the sure knowledge that within the mangal poems lies a great store of information about a little-known area of the history of Indian religion. the maigal poems are interesting for their form'?and 7 MV. together with the layered structure of the individual poem. Not only has there been accretion of detail to the central myth over the centuries. These are regular meters. Jatindramohan Bhattacarya (Calcutta: Calcutta University. and social forces and events. 40-53. the concern of the individual poet. at the expense of other episodes. ed. 9 For example. 10My remarks in this connection refer specifically to the Manasd-mangal of Ketaka-dasa (Ksemananda). Sukumar Sen describes in detail some fifteen versions of the Manasd-mangal and suggests the peculiarities of each of them. particularly the later ones.from mouth to mouth over many centuries before ever being written down. which has the structure 8-8-10. of which one usual rhyme pattern is aa b cc b. and the dZrghatripadi. Such variety of treatment. simple and fit for oral recitation. The first is the couplet. they have been modified or expanded according to currency of myth and legend. The language of the mangal poems is also simple and direct. As oral and non-canonical literature. 249-63. but also in the form of the myth they record. pp. the part which is extant running to about eleven thousand lines (cf. xxix and n. language. The bulk of the sections written in this couplet form are in the old Bengali meter called paydra. there is a basic story frame which remains constant. at least by this Westerner. but there are many and differing versions of the same mangal poem from the pens of poets living at approximately the same time.9 Yet. The tripadi form is usually reserved for the more lyric sections of the poem. Calcutta: University of Calcutta."8 Each of these writers and versions differs not only in style and language. A certain amount of the couplet verse is also in pdncali.). Sen lists fifty-eight writers of the Manasd-mangal "known up till now. and meter see the Introduction to the text. the couplet for the narrative. being for the most part rhymed verse of two basic patterns. The Ketaka-dasa poem is quite long. 8 History of Bengali Language and Literature (2d ed.. pp. despite such variations. MV.7 D. The tripadi has two basic varieties. C. pp. the laghutripadi. 1949). 309 . though an abundance of obscure forms and textual corruptions assure the poems of never being read for relaxation. the mangal songs are not of fixed form. a line of fourteen syllables with cesura after the first eight. in which the three sections of the line have the syllabic 6-8.

310 ." in McKim Marriott (ed. pp. esp. "Little Communities in an Indigenous Civilization. In speaking of the character of Siva in a mangal poem. They are quite different from the highly stylized and sophisticated court poetry in Bengali and Sanskrit. The is in fact court poetry: Bharatcandrawas court poet to the Raja Annada-mangal Krnacandra of Navadvip. Srinivas. as is Cando. see McKim Marriott. In some of the maigal poems he is the simple farmer. This overlay or adoption of "Sanskritic" ritual or. he is merely overcome by superior forces. Their characters are not bodiless suggestions of reality but the lusty and good-humored people of field and village. deceiving his wife and chasing after young women. his fist in the air. which are highly stylized and sophisticated and akin to the classical kavya. Religionand Societyamongthe Coorgs Oxford University Press.. 506. however. Even the gods partake of this essential humanity. as here. 12 That is. For a discussion of both this tendency and its opposite.. a farmer-god. he says: Such episodesand the authenticityof their setting are . I think it is fair to say.howevermuchthey may be overlaidwith Puranic accretions. shouting oaths and imprecations. VillageIndia (Chicago:University of ChicagoPress. The imagery of the mangal poems is based upon the ordinary things of the world.12 There are maigal poems. I think. not so much with the distillation of poetry. 1955). is not usual." The concern of the writers of the mangal poems was not so much with imagery and beauty of language. In the end. but who stands and defies her. sometimes he is overly fond of country liquor.). He is never beaten. such as the trilogy Annadd-maigalof Bharatcandra. belief is a tendency which has also been noted by modern anthropologists of SouthIndia [London: (see M. as it was with the simple glorification of a god and the entertainment of unsophisticated people. Their language is blunt and to the point. W.See "Evolution of Hinduism in Medieval Bengali Literature. 197-206. who is afflicted like Job with all the misery the goddess can bring upon him.. 1952]. Siva in the mangal poems is not the lofty ascetic of the Puranas. sitting in austere solitude and meditation." op.the worship by farmingpeopleof a krsakdevatd. Such a view of humanity. that Bharatcandra form as a tour de force.The Goddess of Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature especially for their characterizations. passim). N. there is the flavor of folk literature in their poetic conceptions. Clark finds in them an indigenous Bengali mythology and religious belief overlaid by Brahmanism.lie the earliestrecordsof Siva worshipknownin Bengal. the influx of local ritual and belief into the Sanskritic stream. cleartestimony that in [themangalpoems]. such a concept of man's dignity and strength. sweating in the fields. cit. but he goes down with dignity. he is a bit of a rake. Though they cannot be considered folk literature in the strict sense. It is more a vehicle for his urbane and uses the maingal sophisticated wit than a truly religious poem. in Indian literature. he is overwhelmed. T. p. The people who inhabit the Manasa poems in particular are both weak and proud. The richness and suggestiveness of the maigal poems is indicated by the type and variety of questions they have raised in the minds of scholars who have examined them.

e. Below her seat is a pot for worship 311 . and though her actions are sometimes snakelike. xxxi-xxxii. If what I have to say suggests the potential richness of this type of study in the maigal texts. Obscure Religious Cultsas a Background Literature(Calcutta: University of Calcutta. one of which is as follows: "The image is found in a village named Bhadisvara. 17 Bhattacarya gives descriptions of several Manasa images.Other scholars. Indeed. complex. 1926). The devz is seated on a full-blown lotus in an elegant posture [lalitdsana bhangite]. pp. 1894)." Her image does not. 1946). 296 ff. Bhattacarya feels that she is an import from South India. It is not surprising to find a goddess of snakes in Bengal. On one side of her is the figure of a female companion. The salient points of Sen's argument will be given below. 14 MKI. Vogel. This argument and Sukumar Sen's rebuttal will be presented in the body of the paper.15 All scholars agree on one thing: that the mangal poems are ancient. Ph. I shall be satisfied. there is a long history of serpentworship and ndga-worship in India. she herself is a goddess who has a human form.. B. that she is non-Vedic and non-Aryan.'6 What is somewhat surprising is that though Manasa has control of snakes.. Dasgupta. It is fully intact. pp. Indian Serpent Lore (London: Arthur Probsthain. on the other a male [possibly Neta and the rsi Jaratkaru: see below]. such as S. and in the fist of her left hand she is holding another serpent. by the fact that it reallyrepresents the sa-mafigalas struggle of decaying Saivism of Bengal against the growth and spread of Saktismrepresented by the Manasacult. the Goddess. 15See. Her breast is covered by a bodice made of serpents [sarpa-nirmita kaculite baksa acchadita]. and vital for an understanding of the development of Hinduism in the medieval period. like those of nagas or other serpent-divini13Shashibhushan to Bengali Dasgupta. pp.14 Sen feels that there is not enough evidence for a conclusion of that kind and that in fact there is much in her makeup to connect her with the Vedic tradition. 186-87. not far from the Murarai railway station in Birbhum district.. 16 Clearly there is no place in this paper for extensive discussion of serpentworship as a whole. I do not intend in this brief paper to contest or support any of the interpretations of these broad and important historical problems. and William Crooke. feel that the poems represent just the opposite-a struggle between an established Puranic religion and the encroaching non-Brahmanical cults: The humaninterestof the life-longstruggleof CandSadagarof the Manahas been minimized. Folklore of Northern India (Allahabad. My purpose in writing is merely to examine some of the characteristics of the goddess Manasa in the hope that such an examination will add a little to our understanding of the complex of religious concepts and beliefs which is called the Devi. MV. Manasa is the goddess of snakes.g. Over the head of the devl seven serpents are spreading their hoods. and her body is covered with ornaments. I would refer those interested to two old but most worthwhile books: J.l3 There is equal divergence of opinion on the origin of the goddess Manasa herself.

Bhattacarya feels that these more extensive referencesin the later Vedic texts "indicate that in the meantime snake-worshiphad been established in the Aryan society in India. though in such cases there are traces of the serpent along the backbone of the figure.20.. This occult knowledge later became personified as visahari vidyd (Mahabhdrata1. p. 19There are female ndgas (see n.7. 20 21 Rg-veda 4. MV.p. one of the striking features of all of them is that while the goddess is always depicted as holding snakes and surroundedby them.2' In the Grhyasutras. Female ndgas have only one hood..however. cit. they do not have the power of full divinity. 18 Vogel mentions a serpent-goddess from South India who is half-serpent: "Finally.a village in Burdwan district. they are fully human in form. retain any serpentine characteristics. Many examples of Manasa images could be cited. This hybrid is a female and in all probability represents the serpent-goddesswho in Southern India is known by the name of Mudama.. 7. he goes to the east and. we must notice a type of snake-stonein which the serpent-deity appears as a hybrid being. Over her head she wears the usual hood combined of three. .20there are no substantial indications that serpents were worshiped.. P1. X). 272). there are indications that snakes are not only to be revered and propitiated but to be worshiped: "Having taken and filled vessels from the kalasa pot. and MV. and those which are in heaven . Sen describesa similarimage from Mandalgram.11.and Yajur-vedas. sarpavidyd and sarpaveda are .especially prominent and the Buddhist Jataka tales. pp. The significance [puja-ghatl. 4. Sen interprets this vidyd as occult knowledge of poison cure. and in each arm she has a baby snake" (Indian Serpent Lore.The Goddess of Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature ties. Bhattacarya feels that the sculpture is of the eleventh Christiancentury. Usually they are depicted as in the Mahdbhdrata semi-human and semi-serpentine.however.l8 A goddess of snakes in human form seems to have little basis in the Brahmanical tradition. Poison cure is of course an aspect of Manasa's character. and 6. 169). however. 190). pouring water on a clean place. with a crest of five or seven serpent hoods.and the devm's of much of this will be seen below. op. In the Atharva. its upper half being human and the lower half serpentine. 39-42. cf. texts are such as 4. that ndgas are themselves serpents. 293-94).15) reads: "Homage be to those snakes which move upon the earth. etc. It must be remembered. Atharva-veda quoted in part below. in It was in this age that snake-worshipbecame firmly established [bidhibaddha] Aryan society" (MKI. She holds both hands joined in front of her breast. or seven snakes' heads. mentioned as two types of knowledgeworthy of attainment [duitijndtavyabisaya].6. or were so originally. pp. she herself has nothing of the snake about her person." See Vogel. Manasa does not have less than seven (see Vogel.Sometimes.mentions of snakes are usually in connection with methods of propitiating them. as will be seen below. in the rays of the sun. even when they are depicted as having fully human form. Some of these will be p. five.18.16.13. and to those which dwell in the waters. 312 . p.though there are mentions of such serpents as the demon Vrtra slain by Indra. p. The ndgasare a race of serpent demi-gods. though immortal and possessing certain other divine characteristics.12. 5.. worships the foot is placed over it" (MKI. xxxii). In the age of the Brahmanas. 18 above). adding that the left eye of this image is blind (MV. A passage from the Yajur-veda (Maitrdyan{-samhitd 2. and in mantras for the control of snakes and the cure of snake bites. ibid.7.'9 In the Rg-veda.

of snakes with special divinity or with any female.6-7. and a thousand ndga sons. The snakes were compelled by the 313 . the divine bird. finally. 181 ff. RV 10.74. certain stipulations: that the girl he married must be given to him as alms. also named Jaratkaru. He made.snake-deities with the formula: To the divine serpents. 12.g. and.38 and 45-48. The pot is the symbol of Manasa even in the Bengali saga (see.26 22 Asvdlayana-grhyasutra 2. that she must have the same name as his. opposite p.4. p.9.1. etc. It also happened that the Maharaja Janamejaya25was preparing As the snakes.22 It is neither pertinent nor possible to try to trace here the development of snake-worship in India.33. his ancestral spirits were disturbed.7. Vasuki also had a sister named Jaratkaru. Kadru and Vinata. the charioteer of the sun god.28. pp.8). which is elaborated in Satapatha Brdhmana 1. the worship of a goddess of serpents seems to be well attested in northern and eastern India only in Bengal. 190-91. The pot is the pot of poison or perhaps soma. To Vinata were born Garuda. pp. enemy of snakes. 25Mahdbhdrata 1. MV. Because of this. within the Brahmanical tradition at least.11. There is strong evidence that Vasuki. however. n.1. It is pertinent to note. to the indications that she had incestuous relations with her father. and Aruna. to the fact that she is one-eyed. 299-300). that he would not be responsible for her care and protection. to eradicate the ndga race by a great snake-sacrifice. was born into the family of a certain rsi.61.).24 The sage Kasyapa had two wives. But none of these parallels have to do with snakes. king of the ndgas. however. that it is not until epic times that there seems to be any connection.8. was worshiped throughout northern India (see MKI. RV 9. is in the present day completely intertwined with that of Manasa. Sen says: "The cult of the sacred pot is connected with Dhanvantari [see Parts II and 1II of the present study] and ndga worship and goes back still further to vedic soma-kalasa (cf. In the early votive sculpture of the ndga cult the pot is the most important item" (MV. The cult of the sacred kalasa. 182 ff. though there have been suggestive fragments found in the Panjab and in Bihar (MKI. or pot. he agreed to marry. homage [svaha]. It happened that a muni. the demoness Arayi in RV 10. 205). Sen points as parallel RV 7. To Kadri was born Vasuki. in deference to them. See also 4. who came to be king of the ndgas. Even after epic times. pi.1-3.23A brief summary of the Mahabharatastory in question will have relevance to what comes later. and she is always depicted with the pot nearby (MKI. 17. e. the Manasa-maigal of Ketaka-dasa. 24 Mahdbhdrata 1. see above. For southern India. and MV. p.. This muni was from birth free from all desires and remained unmarried..40-43 and 49-58.155. and that he could abandon her whenever he wished. "Manasa as Custodian of the Poison Pot"). 301). 26Because Pariksit had been bitten by the great ndga Taksaka. Some mystery surrounds this snake-sacrifice (sarpa-sattra). pp. 23 Many of Manasa's characteristics have possibly pre-epic sources: to the story of her birth (conceived in a lotus by Siva's spilled seed). pp.

There is a passage in the Vipra-dasa version of the saga which I cannot resist translating here. p. The marriage of Manasa and Jaratkaru has taken place.27The story could be interpreted as an attack by Brahmanism on the serpent cult. and that after this the nagas sometimes appear as snakes and sometimes as completely different from them (MKI. 28 29 See MV. Manasa]decorated herself with many kinds of snakes. A son was born and named Astika. It had been decreed that the son of his sister Jaratkaru would be able to put an end to the sacrifice. In the Bengali maigal poems Jaratkaru is identified with Manasa. though it should be noted that neither has a special regnal role with respect to the ndgas in the story. awake. p.e. nor any special divinity. in mortal terror [tardse] "Just at that time Candika came creeping quietly. Manasa (underthe influenceof Bad Thought. But originally it was probably a prothe Mahdbhdrata pitiatory rite.and the nagas were fearful of a sacrifice which would affect snakes. sec.1-4. and of her having a son named Astika.The Goddessof Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature compelled by the powerful charm. The identification is clear.. and preparedherself in such beautiful dress to go to the muni's side. n.29 power of the mantrato burn themselves up in the sacrificialfire.28Further. Clearly. It occurs in pala 3. and they are about to retire on their wedding night.]. though the ndgas themselves most frequently feels that this story representsa turnappearas at least semi-human.. taking advantage of his stated conditions of marriage. But fear had seized the r~i's mind. This is how the sarpasattrais presented in Pan25. Kadrui the mother of nagas. and. 11). and from the doorway of 314 . p. cavimsa-brdhmana 27 It was because of a snake bite that the sacrificewas performed. were being destroyed. the Mahdbharatastory has been incorporated into the Manasa saga. She put a ciraniydsnake in her hair [or:combedher hair with . In it clearly the ndgas are themselves considered snakes. For him there was no sleep. Shortly afterward.. Vasuki became greatly disturbed. xxxii. he prevailed upon Janamejaya to stop the sacrifice. an elaborate Vedic ritual of the ndga worshipersfor the well-being and satisfaction of the nagas. So Vasuki presented her to the muni Jaratkaru. This is perhaps an argument in favor of Clark's interpretation (see above. But she had been impregnated by him. But even more interesting for our present purposes is the connection of two females. the muni was awakened too rudely from sleep by his wife. and Jaratkaru the sister of Vasuki and mother of Astika. with the snakes or ndgas. 15 (p. Sen (MV. 43 of Sen's text). he lay of the snakes. there is in the Vipra-dasa version a story of the marriage of Manasa to a sage named Jaratkaru and his abandonment of her.15. Manasa is called Jaratkaru in the Vipradasa version of the saga. There are several interesting aspects of this story. the cult of ndgas. 171). In delight [hariee] her lord. she lay down beside and then presented herself in the bedroom. naga-worship is directly related to a snake cult. 299) feels that the snake-sacrificeappears as a retaliative measure against snakes in and in the Manasa saga. he abandoned her. sent by Candi) decks herself out in her best serpents: "So Padma [i. As predicted. Clearly.Bhattiacarya ing point in the ndga cult. and the ndga race was saved.

From this Manasa-amma. p. Whitehead describes her this way: "The Mane Manchi shrine . it has not been proven that the Sena kings did actually come from the south. Mane Maficamma is also mentioned in Henry Whitehead's Village Godsof South India (Calcutta: Association Press. but is the name of an invisible [adryya]snake. He says. stopped him [rahdila]at the door.Die Supar. probably rightly. it is clear that. "Banglay manasa puja. p. 16. Following Ksitimohan Sen. See above. the door keeper. From this time.nasage [Uppsala. contains a hole resembling an ant-hill. occurs in neither of the great epic texts nor in any of the early Puranas. "Cengamuri") from the Dravidian. pp.. being perhaps herself the room threw in a frog. the epithet ceigamuri-kdan is very frequent and very perjorative. is that in one tradition Kadrui. pp.e. as is Manasa. 185-87).g.. The r~i said: "'There is no deliverance from this fear of snakes.... pp. But the snake is fancied as a female. In these also. n. e. However.The r?i sat bolt upright in the bed [uthildbasiyd]. a water-pot in his hand. 1329 B. 174) that the Telugu name for a plant associated with serpent worship is cetgmur. I am abandoning Padmavati' [i. saying that in the first place the Telugu jemmudu does not signify the plant in question.30 There are other aspects of Manasa's complex and mysterious ancestry. and that in the second place there is nothing in the Bengali texts which indicates that the epithet ceigamuri signifies a plant at all. Manasa]. where she is addressed as kdne. assigning it the meaning either "repulsive as a dirty shroud" or "destroyer of young men. 82-83. in no way structural to the myth itself. xxxiii) argues against this. Mane Maficammais not a god or goddess." 30 See the Suparnddhydya111:2. the mother of snakes. some details of his argument are tenuous.. "And so the timid rsi took to his heels [dilen eriyd] and hid himself deep in a conch-shell in the sea.Though in the Manasa saga the story is only an interlude. and below).S." in PrabdsZ for Asdrh. . which is said to be the abode of an unknownserpent. 31Ksitimohan Sen. He says (MKI. that the Sena kings probably brought the South Indian aspects of the Manasa cult when they came to Bengal from the Kannada region." Bhattacarya seeks to establish another of the names of the goddess (namely. pp. there is certainly a direct connection of certain trees with the cult of Manasa.his mind completely numbed. 315 . In some pronunciations. .the Manasa-maor Manasadevi of Bengal arises" (MKI. with divine characteristics[deba-kalpa]. Bhattacarya contends that there are Dravidian elements on at least one side of her family.. Dhamai. This is not an unreasonable thesis. Sen derives the word from Indo-Aryan. "One-eyed one" (Jarl Charpentier. however.31 There is justification for this argument in the fact that a South Indian divinity named Manchamma is associated with snakes.. The name Manasa. In the Ketaka-dasaversion of the saga. this term maicdmmdis manacdammd. to which the name of Mane Manchammais given. In terror he got up and crept quietly out.or Manaca the Mother. is considered to be one-eyed. he says.. he feels that the goddess and her name Manasa come from the Kannada region of South India. c is pronouncedlike s. at least in the mind of one poet of the Manasa saga. When they saw the frog the snakes began to hiss and roar [garjayesaghana]. Jaratkaru is related to Manasa. 1920]. Bhattacarya writes: "In one place in the Kannada region the name Mane Maicamma is found. To my knowledge. Sen (MV." Bhattacarya's derivation fits his general thesis of the development of the snakecult through the association of living snakes with vegetation. 1922). As a matter of fact. Perhaps even more significant. 218-19. as we shall see. 391-92.

44. and Manasa-devi." This Kirata-girl is she who "digs up the [poison] remedy. In another place in the text. deity in the Vinayavastu He feels that the derivation is from manas." 34 For example. is Jfniguli-devi. on the mountain's back" (AV 10. In one hand she holds a vzad. when the masculine noun manasa is found in Rg-veda 5. of the nature of the ten Dharanis.. xxx: "The masculine name Manasa occurs in RV 5. Sen contends that there is little reason to derive the name from the Dravidian.44." and sees the goddess in this connection as the terrible projection of Rudra's mind (MV. . with four arms. 176-77. P1.10 (according to Sayana). XXVI.nmjndydm). . accordingto Bhattacarya. of which the manuscriptcopy is sixth century. XXX. 122 (namo bhagavatyai Sddhana-mlad dryyajdigulyai (Gaekwad's Oriental Series. p. of which we shall see more below. A more profitable line is perhaps the following. 1950]. 6-7) of the Jafiguli is one of "the ten goddesses in the north Kriyd-samgraha-nama-panijikd.). with golden spade. "mind.4. Indian SerpentLore. Vols.34 Assuming that there was borrowing. however. In one place.33He also says that the name Manasa. ornamented with serpents. manaso namni. The poison remedy is perhaps soma." 36 MKI.6. corresponding to Panini's manaso sa. of course. mentions that in the manuscript (pp. a Vajrayana text) a goddess named Jaiguli. the full name of the goddess. Sen (MV. facing the south.36 feels that as a goddess of poison-cure she traces her ancestry to the Atharva-veda:"In the Atharva-vedathere is mention of a Kirata-girl who is adept at curing snake-bite.he says that Manasa occursas the name of the poison-removing Gilgit text. 33 MV. "which renders poison powerless" (AV 4. and that among the Nagakals at Anekal are three which seem to represent a serpent-goddess. however. the Sddhana-mald. and the other is raised in a gesture of safety and She is a goddess of poison-cure.26. 82). is found in other early texts.14). as well as her physical appearance. p. an indication of connection with Sarasvati. Jaiguli is described as white in color. pp.g.32Neither this nor the argument of the derivation of the name Manasa from Manchamma is conclusive. as the name of a goddess. S. 1925-28]). Dasgupta (Introductionto Tantric Buddhism [Calcutta: University of Calcutta. . Bhattacarya peace (abhaya-mudrd). the conqueror of all poisons. p. p.35 From the Sddhana-mald certain details of the worship of this goddess are known. This Kirata-girl. There is in Buddhist Tantric texts (e. 293) lists Buddhist Janguli and other goddesses who are possibly involved in the Manasa tradition occurs. Unlike Manasa.10. is cited by Candragomin as an aphorism of his grammar (5. she is described as holding a trident and as mounted on a peacock. in two of her hands are snakes. XLI [Baroda. 177. B. Bhattacarya feels that this goddess of poison32 Vogel. See of texts in which mention MKI. pp.1). it could as well have gone from Indo-Aryan to Dravidian as the other way around. The presence of the vtnd is. 35 106 (jadguli tdrdyainamah). with snakes in her 316 other hands.The Goddessof Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature a snake. the lower parts of their bodies are serpentine. . xxx ff.

.g. 97-98. The relevant part of the Jiaguli mantra is: "Glory to the goddess. 1. one to Jfaguli and one to Manasa. In various mantras Janguli is termed visahari. She is full of wrath and violence. to her I make obeisance. She herself is like a snake. Especially in view of the connection between running water and the cure of poison. "The Serpent in Folk-Belief in Bengal.. of Sarasvati. like the moon"): "who is ornamented with gold and jewels and serpent-jewels [kanakamaniganair ndgaratnair]. "lotus-seated" for Bhattiicirya's padmananam. Nanigopal Bandyopadhyaya. the basic line of argument has some relevance. 235. "destroyer of poisons. her name being changed to Manasa after the disintegration of Buddhism in Bengal.1). one of the oldest of the Manasa poems. the innocent with the guilty. is given in the Dharma-pujabidhan of Ramai Pandit (ed. 1323 B.. The name of the goddess is given as Jafiguni in the Ramai Pandit text.39 Finally. 178-79.37 Whether or not the connection of Jaiguli with the Kirata-kanyd of the Atharva-vedais direct. refers to Manasa as "Jaguli.S. It accounts. As a goddess of snakes her power of destruction needs little explication. incidentally. 39 See also Ketaka-dasa's Manasa-mangal. the source of which I have not been able to find. Bhattacarya (MKI. it is not surprising that Sarasvati is associated with Jafiguli and thus with Manasa. Janguli/Manasa is the daughter of Siva (Sankara). . p. 4 Asutosh Bhattacharyya. But she has a strange and equally wanton compassion. pp. now spreading its hood over the face of a sleeping child. 9.23.41 MKI. ." Indian 38 37 317 . AV 5. p. She has the power to bring her victims back to life. and this she often does once she has conquered them.the lotus-born Janguli." The full text of this mantra. Manasa is frequently described as mounted upon a swan. This text gives some variant readings..). following the usual conventional description ("whose face is the container of nectar. pp.. in slightly different form.38 Further. of which we shall see more. It is of interest that in this mantra as in the Bengali saga. pp."40 Her heredity has had an effect upon Manasa's character.cure was adopted by the Mahayana Buddhists and worshiped under the name Janguli. to demonstrate her might. whose diadem is made of the hoods of serpents [krta?ekharam phanimayzm . Manasa was conceived in a lotus by the spilled sperm of Siva. Throughout the Atharva-veda Sarasvati is considered as a heavenly physician (e. 231: bi$ahari jaguli bikhyata tribhubana." an epithet applied also to Manasa in the maigal poems. now striking out randomly and angrily. The association of the goddess Sarasvati with rivers is well-known. daughter of Safikara. such as padmasana. She destroys ruthlessly and wantonly. at least in part. 179-80) gives two mantras." It is interesting that the eight nagas of the epic stories have come to be associated with Manasa. which is the vehicle of Jiniguli and. mounted on a swan [hamsarudha].m. "lotus"). with the eight ndgas (sastanagam) . for her two most obvious characteristics: destruction and regeneration. The other mantra given by Bhattacarya. where Manasa is described as "mounted on a swan" (hamsa-bahane). conqueror of poisons [vi?aharZm]. Calcutta: Bafgiya sahitya parisad. it is probably because of this that one of her most common names is Padma (padma. applies the following interesting epithets to Manasa. 40 MV. that of Vipra-dasa.

"It may be mentioned here that 'several tribes of the Gonds and Mundas have a legend that their earliest king was born of poor parents. . In this sense. As many men as you destroy. The snakesare your constantand powerfulcompanions. 102." He says that "watchfulness is a characteristic activity of Manasa. in which a ndga loses an eye. Charpentier. But it is not this aspect of her power which is of greatest interest. Sen (MV. Vogel (ibid. If he is not in trouble. n. Neta was created by Siva from a tear-drop. let us say. Vogel relates a curious story from the Kulu Valley in northwestern India.. O mercifulone. p." 4f Manasa-manigal of Ketaka-dasa.. Neta is Manasa's destructive power. 257) and Sen (MV.The Goddessof Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature Manasa's constant companion in the saga is a girl called Neta. but a victim of snakebite . 43 See above. It is by your snakes that your worship will be established on the earth. Neta is an aspect of Manasa herself. and poisonous insects. Indian Serpent Lore.. p. O Jagati:45you can defeat no one except by showing him the of your wrath. slaughteryour enemies!Show mercy only to those who worshipyou. Mahdvagga 1.3). and put the other half into her eye (ardhabhdga manasa purila eka cakse). I."43 Her other eye was put out by Candi with a hot coal or.. The other possible meaning is even more interesting. the jdtaka on the Kulu or Bengali stories.44 It is also from her eye that she deals death. pp. pp. having left the child under some tree while she went to work. as some versions have it. xxxiv-xxxv) derives it from the root jagr. one of the Nags had one eye burned. or between the Kulu and Bengali stories. 318 . Die Suparnasage. and is therefore known as Kana Nag" (Indian Serpent Lore. "to be awake or watchful. the snake-mother. p. is one-eyed (Suparnddhydya 3. It is Neta who urges Manasa to impose her worship upon mankind by the destruction of her enemies: Hearme. 45A common name for Manasii in the West Bengal versions of the saga. This name is interesting. with a needle. It is in this empty eye that her poison is stored. 40 of the text). the conclusion of which is: "On this occasion. pp. "eye. It is probably derived from netra. p. p. " man in all the three consequences worlds will worshipyou.543). so many more will worship you. 44 MV.O mother of serpents.' " There is also the famous story of the serpent-king Muchilinda sheltering the Buddha from the elements by his hood (Vinaya pitakam. Hear me. In one version of the Manasa saga it is said: "When a sage dies.. 218-19). p.. returned to find a cobra spreading its hood over the child to guard it from the heat of the sun.. 137 ff. 296. She gave half the poison to the snakes. No.10 (p. 22."42In one version of the story. viii) both note the curious parallel to this in the Pali Bhtridatta-jataka (6. he goes to the sun . and this is one possible meaning of the name. goes to the doFolklore. 42MV. What is more likely is that all three are based on the tradition that Kadru. it said. 3. 29. Therefore. scorpions. 257).2. See Vogel. Manasa is called Kani. 2 (1956).46 Because of her power of death will Manasa be worshiped. and that his mother. It is unlikely that these isolated facts are indicative of any sort of influence by.

there is in most villages a place sacred to Manasa. Interestingly. cit. with the hope that it will float along until. 62 Bhattacharyya.. 150 ff. 1920]. if such it can be called. were also floated down the river.49 and this immortality is attested in a Bengali legend. p. The full passage reads: "A muni at his death goes to the sun [tisdmpatior tvisampati]. it comes under the influence of one who might restorethe dead to life.. There is a belief in Bengal. e.. recorded by Bhattacarya. 22. It regenerates itself periodically in the shedding of its skin. a slightly changed version of the one in Mahdbhdrata 6' See. They did become immortal but split their tongues in the process. p. A man who dies of snake-bite remains alive for at least a period of seven days." The other six sons of Cando.. The snakes licked the grass. Cando's argument against burning them is that the smoke from the pyres would be like a banner of victory for Manasa. op. 60 Bhattacharyya. 204. course. 49 See Mircea Eliade. pp. As Bhattacharyya further points out.. Cando. 219 ff. cit. that "due to the deadly venom which [pervades] the whole body of a victim of snake-bite."47The climax. The snake simultaneously represents life and death.50 The phallic character of the snake is a commonly accepted indication of its regenerative power. This is true in many cultures. op. 1959). of the Manasa story comes when the corpse of Lakhindar. 25. "The Serpent in Folk-Belief.main of Manasa. "The Serpent in Folk-Belief. The story is. p. George W. Once when Garuda was carrying nectar from heaven." op. for a discussion of the matter with respect to a tribal group in India. he remains in the house of Manasa [manasd-sadane].30-34. It is immortal."48 The regenerative power of Manasa is not separable from her role as goddess of snakes. is not burned but floated down the river on a raft. The body of one dying of snake-poisonis sometimes thrown into a stream. Since it is believed that the person who is bitten lives on for six months.. When the body reaches Manasa's domain. this is done not only by barrenwomen but by women who want male children (cf. p.[but] the husband of Behula died because of a snake [sarpa-upa."op.51 In Bengal. she washes it and brings it back to life. the body is not burned. Having gone to the place of snakes [sarpa- yoni payyd]. Briggs (The Chamars[Calcutta: Association Press. 219: "Wenn der Mann einer kinder319 .g. in the hope of becoming immortal. 1948). Nor is it wholly separable from the snakes themselves.52Women in Bengal take extraordinary 47 Manasd-vijayaof Vipra-dasa. also killed by Manasa. a few drops fell to the earth on a clump of kusa grass...tambhe].. p. who had been killed because of Manasa's anger at his father. Traite d'histoiredes religions (Paris: Payot. pp. Die Bhil in Zentralindien by Wilhelm Koppers (Horn-Wien:Ferdinand Berger. 179) recordsa similar belief among the Chamars:"Those who die of snake-bite are buried. 48 "The Serpent in Folk-Belief. 32. fire fails to consume it. This is usually a tree on the branches of which barren women hang pieces of rag with stones tied to one end. cit.. p. by some chance. 150. cit. though it is badly decomposed. Koppers.p." op.. cit. See also Eliade. of 1..

there is the persistent presence of water in the parts of the myth which deal with regeneration. This regenerative aspect of Manasa's power accounts for other peculiarities of the myth. But it might be of interest to note in passing that the relationship between water and serpent is as common in Indian mythology as it is in that of other cultures. Bhattacarya. especially by women who want children. pp.1.. 10. 67 They are described in this way throughout the Mahdbhdrata sections which deal with them.The Goddessof Snakes in Medieval Bengali Literature care not to harm any snake. n. pp. Mircea Eliade (Traite d'histoire des religion.3. R.. The antidotal effect of running water is recognized in the Atharva-veda (4.20. in speaking of certain images of Manasa which include children. 22). his wife and daughters-in-law. Monier-Williams (Sanskrit Dictionary) gives the form snuh. so wird ihm demnachst von seiner Frau ein Sohn geboren werden"). 3). As above.. 53Bhattacarya (MKI.56The ndgas dwell beneath the waters. The body is floated down the river to be revivified." 55The sij tree has not been identified. p. Joseph Campbell (New York. in the place indicated. cit. Water is such a familiar symbol of life-force that it need not be detailed.4. gives long lists of trees which have association with the Manasa cult. Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization ed.58 and there is the familiar Vignu Anantasayin. says: "The worship of serpents. 320 . which he identifies as Euphorbia antiquorum.57the serpent-demon Vrtra dams up the waters of life.54particularly with the tree known as the sij or Manasa-tree (Sanskrit snuhi-vrksa.. pp. 54 MKI. "the milky juice of which is used as an emetic. xlii). In almost all representations of Manasa a sprig of sij is present.53It is perhaps also relevant that in the Manasa saga itself. 97. 244) says: "La presence de la deesse a c6te d'un symbole vegetal confirme le sens qu'a l'arbre dans l'iconographie et la mythologie archaiques: celui de source inepuisable de la fertilit6 cosmique. points out that in many West Bengal villages the places of worship of the two goddesses are the same. p. are worshipped. It is perhaps an extension of this aspect of Manasa that she has become in some places identified with the goddess Sasthi. 96. is common all over South India. 507. This tree is also known for its qualities antidotal to poison. the goddess of childbearing and children. 1953). in his Village Gods of South India (p. according to Clark (op. p. 68 Heinrich Zimmer. 191). 3. there is a constant association of Manasa with trees. op. in repose on the serpent afloat on the cosmic waters. Mother-Right in India (London: Oxford University Press. Ehrenfels. p. In many towns and villages.7. were the first to worship Manasa. Sen calls it Euphorbia nivulia (MV.). 1941). p. cit. Whitehead. 183-85. 173-74. 32 ff. For example. etc.55 Finally." See also O. es in ein Tuch wickelt und verbrennt." 66 See Eliade. It is not clear what Bhattacarya is referring to as snuhi-vrkqa. losen Frau ein Stuck von einer Kobra nimmt. the place in the village sacred to Manasa is usually a tree. for a summary statement. the women of Cando's house. Indian Serpent Lore.. placed on top of the sacred pot. Bhattacarya). . large slabs of stones with figures of cobras . see Vogel. perhaps also fertility symbols. pp.. 245. especially the deadly cobra.

60AV 4. which destroys the poison of snakes.59 It can come from "visa-dhara.As Sen points out.60Her power in both aspects seems absolute." As Manasa. her names are many. she is the personification of the occult knowledge of poison-cure. "Mother. she is the devl. 321 . I have used them to sum up the seeming paradox of Manasa as a source of death and life." "destroying poison.13. as Neta. And in both her aspects. she is the power of destruction. The other etymology is from "visa-hara." 69 MV. In connection with this seeming paradox.4 should be noted: "With my eye do I slay thy eye. the wrath of Indra. the poison-filled glance of her eye. the epithet "visahari" offers two etymologies.6. with poison do I slay thy poison" (Bloomfield'stranslation). xxxii. AV 5." As Jaiguli. but the most persistent one is mdtd. p. the snake-mother." "holding poison.1. the sacred liquid. She is the guardian of soma. as Jaratkaru/Kadru.