Middle Kingdoms of India, Part 3


BY: SUN STAFF - 7.1 2021

Surya-deva from Ayodhya

 A serial presentation of India's great history, religious movements and temple architecture.

The Indo-Scythian Sakas

In his exposition on the history of Orissa's Mayurabhanja District, author Nagendranath Vasu gave a interesting description of the ancient Scythians, the first group we are surveying in our study of India's Middle Kingdoms. He writes:

"From a study of the Bhavisya, Varaha, and Samba Puranas, we learn that after the great battle of Kuruksetra, Samba, one of the several sons of Sri Krsna, was attacked with leprosy, that he got rid of this loathsome disease by worshipping Mitra the Sun-god, and that some Brahmanas came from Sakadvipa (Scythia) to do puja to that deity. We learn further from the Bhavisya Purana that the Saura Brahmanas of Sakadvipa were at first known as Magas, but were afterwards divided into three classes according to their different modes of worship and religious faiths. They were subsequently known as Slagas, Somakas and Bhojakas. Those, who were fire-worshippers and followed the religious teachings of Zarathustra, were known as Magas. Those who traced their origin from Soma were known as Somakas or Dvijas, while others who worshipped the Sun-god and professed to be descended from the Sun were designated Bhojakas.

Though the Scythian Brahmanas thus came to be divided into three classes, in ancient India they were commonly known as Magas or Bhojakas. The circumstances under which these people migrated to this country have been described in several ancient works. [1]

Bhavisya Purana relates that Zarathustra, who acknowledged the superiority of fire, was born of that element. He also used to interpret the Veda in a perverted way which led to a quarrel between him and the Magas who worshipped Mitra, the Sun-god. We also learn that Zarathustra never admitted the superiority of the Sun. In the Zand Avesta, the oldest record of the fire-worshippers, Mitra is known as only one of the minor gods. But on the other hand in Mihir Yast, we find a faint reference to the effect that at one time Mitra (Mithra in the Avesta) was worshipped as the highest god.

Be that as it may, on a dispute arising between the followers of the Mitra cult and the Fire-worshippers, those of the Sakadvipi Brahmanas who belonged to the former sect, migrated to India with their families. Although there is a difference of opinion as to the time when Zarathustra flourished, we may rely on the opinion of Berosus, the distinguished historian of Babylon, that the dynasty of Zarathustra reigned between 2200 and 2000 B.C., and that Spitama Zarathustra, the founder of Mazdaism, lived before that time, i.e., more than 4100 years before the present era. [2]

On the other hand, if we are to accept the views of the great Indian astronomer Varaha Mihira and that of Kalhana, the author of Raja-tarangini we find that the Kurus and the Pandavas flourished at the time when 653 years of the Kaliyuga had passed away, ie., about 1357 years back. We find in the Bhavisya and other Puranas, as we have already stated, that Samba appointed Brahmanas of Sakadvipa to offer pujas to Mitra after the Kuruksetra war was over.

Considering the above facts mentioned in the history of the two places, it appears that Samba brought the Maga Brahmanas to India at the time when Zarathustra was flourishing. So it will not be very far from the truth if we say that the Maga or the Brahmanas of Sakadvipa established themselves in this country more than 4000 years ago.

The figure of the Sun-god under the name of Mitra was for the first time set up by the Maga Brahmanas for puja at a place called Mulasambapura, which is identical with the modern Multan. The place derived its name from that of the prince Samba.* Magas or Saura Brahmanas first settled in Cambapur. [3] We find in the Varaha Parana and Samba Parana that they had spread so far as Mathura and even to Konarka on the Orissa coast. Magadha seems to have derived its name from these Maga Brahmanas."


Students of the Vedas will surely take pause and wonder, when reading the opening passage above by Nagendranath Vasu:

"It is now admitted by scholars that the Magas or Scythic Brahmanas were the first to introduce the worship of the image of the Sun into India."

He suggests that these Scythic Brahmanas migrated to India and settled in Eastern India well before the emergence of Buddha worship there, and that the origin of Sun worship is further established by Puranic references to Sri Krsna's son, Samba, bringing Maga Brahmanas to India around the time of Zarathustra, after the Kurukshetra war.

In our previous segment, we listed the periods of religious influence in Mayurabhanja, Orissa (the topic of Vasu's book), with the Saura (Sun worship) period followed by, respectively, the Saiva, Naga and Early Vaisnava periods, then the Jaina, Buddhist, Shakta, and Tantrika Buddhist, and finally the Later Vaisnava era heralded by the Appearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. So we can understand that on a very long timeline, Sun worship is held to be the earliest religious influence in the area, at least in the context of Vasu's study.

Vasu also notes that in the Zand Avesta (Zoroastrian scriptures), the Sun God, known as Mitra (Mithra) was but a minor god, yet in the Mihir Yast (from the same scriptural body), there is a 'faint reference' suggesting that Mitra was worshipped as the highest god.

We are reminded of the series we researched and presented here in the Sun a few years ago on the "Worship of Lord Brahma". That series, which was comprised of 108 segments, unfolded in a rather organic fashion. The progression was driven more by exploration and the research it continually inspired than by any real planning, and many unexpected themes came to light during the process.

One of these had to do with our opening thesis in the series: that worship of Lord Brahma was surprisingly absent when compared to the wealth of historic evidence of Shiva and Vishnu worship over the ages. How was it that the third member of the Trimurti was not worshipped in similar fashion? While trying to answer that question, we discovered a significant number of temple artifacts which demonstrated that Brahma worship had transformed over time, first into Surya/Sun worship, then into Shiva worship. For example, we discussed Brahmalingeshwara shrines at which lingam depicting Visnu, Brahma and Shiva also featured Surya, making the trimurti a caturmurti.

A similar example is found in the Hari-Hara-Pitamaha-Surya murti at Ambarnath Puratana Shivalaya in which these four transcendental personalities are depicted together. The Ambarnath example dates to around 1060 A.D.

Of course, the examples presented by Vasu significantly pre-date these Brahma/Surya depictions, focusing on Sauras (Surya) worship that preceded the Early Vaisnava period. But there is another compelling indication found in the 'Worship of Lord Brahma' series, in a segment about Lord Brahma and the Abrahamic Cult, which discusses evidence that the influence of Brahma worship traveled from India to the Middle East many hundreds of years before Zoroastrianism emerged, thus re-asserting the religion of santana-dharma (which at one time dominated the entire planet) into the Abrahmanic culture. Among the many pieces of evidence pointed to by historians making the case is:

"The tribe of Ioud or the Brahmin Abraham, was expelled from or left the Maturea of the kingdom of Oude in India and, settling in Goshen, or the house of the Sun or Heliopolis in Egypt, gave it the name of the place which they had left in India, Maturea." (Anacalypsis; Vol. I, p. 405.)

This is but one of many references to an association between Lord Brahma and the Sun, in the context of the Middle East, and at a time well before Saurus (Sun) worship could have been 'first conceived of', and thus transported to India by the Maga Brahmanas of Zarathustra's time. In other words, the evidence shows that Sun worship originated in India and traveled out to the world, not the reverse.

While it is not given prominent mention in the main text, author Vasu does make mention in a footnote [*] that there is some question about the Puranic texts which suggest that Sun worship came to India from the Middle East. He writes:

"Many portion of the Bhavisya Purana are no doubt of recent composition ; but the work as a whole cannot be rejected as unauthentic. On the other hand, we are inclined to hold that generally speaking it is the oldest book in which the interpolators find it to their advantage to make elaborate addition for giving them an authentic character. The Brahmaparvan which forms the first part of the Bhavisya Purana is evidently very old. Even such an ancient book as Dharmasutra of A'pastamba quotes slokas from the Bhavisya Purana. The Naradiya Purana (Chap. 100) gives a synopsis of this Brahmaparvan and the Varaha Purana makes on important reference to this portion of the Bhavisya Purana, while dealing with the Sun-god and his worshipper (Chap. 177).

The great astronomer Varaha Mihir quotes a passage (l38, 6) from it in his Brihat Samhita (60, 19). In this passage there is a mention of the following religious sects which flourished in ancient India: — Bhagavatas, Magas or Sauras, ash-besmeared Saivas, Matrika worshippers, white-clothed Jainas and the red-clothed Buddhist Cramanas. Under the circumstances we suppose that the Bhavisya Purana was compiled not later than the 2nd century B.C. For particulars see "Banger Jatiya Itihasa" or the History of the different Sub-castes of Bengal, Part IV (Cakadvipi Brahmana Vivarana), pp. 38-90."

Varaha Minir's mention of the Bhagavata (Krishna/Visnu) sect preceding the Magas or Sauras appears to coincide with the early worship of Lord Brahma, preceding both Sauras (Surya) and Saiva (Shiva) worship.



[1] Vide Bhavisya Parana, Brahmaparvan, Ch. 139-141; Samba Purana, Ch. 7-10; Govindapur Inscription in Epigraphica Indica, Vol. II, p. 333, and Maga-vyakti by Krisnadasa.
[2] See Hang's Essays on Parsis, p. 298
[3] The Chinese Pilgrim Hiuen Tsiang (Yuan Chuang) saw a golden image of the Sun when he came to Mula-Sambapura or Multan.— Vide Journal Asiatique (Paris) 1881, Tome X, p. 70.