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Bh sma on the Plain of Vgrr: Indic Perspectives on the Death of Heimdallr

Patrick Taylor Cambridge, Massachusetts


Cet ensemble cohrent de rencontres prcises qui touchent au fond des personnages
[Heimdallr, Dyu, et Bh smaP.T.] ne peut tre leffet du hasard : elles assurent que le
Ciel, le Dyu dont Bhisma est la transposition pique avait, la diffrence du celui
du gveda, une riche mythologie, et que cette mythologie tait hrite des temps indoeuropens. Cette constatation est dune trs grande porte. (G. Dumzil 1968: 190)
Georges Dumzils comparison of the Norse god Heimdallr with the Indic god Dyu and
Dyus incarnation in epic, Bh sma, has established the Indo-European status of the figure
cadre, a god or hero who is born or present at the very beginning of an eschatological
conflict and is the last to die at its end. Heimdallr, the dieu cadre of Norse myth, finds his
earthly counterpart in the superhuman hros cadre of the Mah bh rata, Bh sma.
Dumzils comparison is supported by a remarkable series of agreements between the
two figures, of which only a few can briefly be mentioned here: both are born from
watery sources; their birth is associated with a motif of multiple mothers or a series of
births; both are the greatest and eldest of their line but do not reign directly; both are
unmarried but play a role in assuring the continuity of generations (Dumzil 1968: 176190). Furthermore, Skjrv (1998) has shown that Dumzils hros cadre appears within
Iranian epic cycles in the figure of Rostam.
Although the similarity between Bh smas birth and Heimdallrs forms a cornerstone of
his analysis of the two figures, Dumzil does not extend his comparison to encompass the
other end of the career of the dieu/hros cadre: his death. Both Bh sma and Heimdallr,
however, meet their death in the final eschatological battle through the actions of a longstanding personal enemy. The Indic heros death is brought about by Amb , a jilted
princess whose intense hatred of Bh sma stretches across her own death into her next
incarnation, during which she is transformed into a man and faces Bh sma in battle on the
plain of Kuruk etra. Amb s story, one of the most fascinating subplots of the great
Indian epic, shares a number of striking details with the career of Heimdallrs adversary,
Loki. A comparison of Amb and Loki allows us to discern another aspect of the riche
mythologie of Dyu, the outlines of the death-tale of the Indo-European sky-god.
References:
Dumzil, G.
1968 Mythe et pope. I. Lidologie des trois fonctions dans les popes des
peuples indo-europens. Paris: Gallimard.
Skjrv, P. O.
1998 Eastern Iranian Epic Traditions II: Rostam and Bh sma. Acta Orientalia
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, 51 (1-2): 159-170.