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Part Two : On the relations between the old Slavic religion and the Vedic religion of India – Rastko Kostić

Part Two : On the relations between the old Slavic religion and the Vedic religion of India – Rastko Kostić

“So spoke the Blessed Mary / Oh, my brother, Elijah of Thunder! / How shall I not weep /  When I’m coming from the lands of India …” – Serbian Epic Folk Poetry, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić,  Pjesme, 1814

Rastko Kostić1.

Arabian traveller, historian and geographer Al Massoudi (around 896 – 956), who we remember for his testimony that early Slavs practiced suttee, also wrote these very interesting words about the Slavs, their ancient religion and their religious monuments in his book The Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems (Muruj adh-dhahab wa ma’adin al-jawahir): 

 “Slavs had many holy monuments: according to the philosophers, one of them was built upon the highest mountain on Earth. That monument had many qualities: architecture, skilfully arranged stones of different colours, artificial mechanism which spins and chimes during the sunrise, set at the top of the building; expensive and artificial works preserved there, which hinted at future and protected the faith from ill outcomes; finally, they state voices they heard from the top of the temple and the effect they left on the people who were present. Another temple was built by a king in Montenegro (Montaigne Noire). It was surrounded by miraculous springs whose waters had a myriad of colours and many different tastes. It had many good properties…. The deity worshipped in this temple was a colossal statue which represents an old man holding a stick pointed at the skeletons above their graves. Under his right foot there were some kind of ants, and under his left foot there were some black-feathered birds, like ravens, and other birds, and people belonging to the Abyssinian race. The third temple stood upon a cliff surrounded by an estuary, It was built of red corals and green emeralds. In the middle there was a high tower under which there was an idol, whose parts were made of four precious stones: beryl, red ruby, yellow agate, and crystal quartz. Its head was of pure gold. Another statue placed next to this one was a girl making sacrifice to him. Slavs believed this temple had been built by their wise man who lived a long time ago…..”  (Meadows of Gold, Ch. LXIV, Vol. IV) 

Science undoubtedly links the Slavs with their ancestral land of India. According to some sources, the Slavs (alongside the Baltic peoples, Lithuanians and Latvians) are the only ones among European nations whose mythology is based on Hindu-Iranian beliefs. We discussed this in more depth in our previous essay, citing plenty of evidence from comparative mythology, linguistics, archaeology and genetics to support our thesis. The “highest mountain in the world” that Al Massoudi writes about has always been only one. We believe that, according to our very cautious and rational analyses, the Slavs could be the Vedic Danavas (दानव in Sanskrit), who are the sons of the primordial Hindu goddess Danu (daughter of Daksha, Brahma’s first son and the brother of Dharma) whose name means “river” and who, according to one interpretation, would have to be the mythical first mother of all Slavs since it has been scientifically confirmed that the Slavs named the largest European rivers, in regions they occupy to this very day, after her: Don, Dnieper, Dniester, Donets and Danube (there is also the River Dhanu in Nepal). The word “danu” describes ancestral waters which this goddess personifies. Her husband is the famous rishi (wise man) Kashyapa (we can only speculate whether he is that particular Slavic “wise man” who Al Massoudi describes?). The word “danu” means “river”, “liquid”, “rain” and corresponds to the Iranian danu, “river”. Danu is also connected to the heavenly waters. The names of the rivers listed here reflect the peoples’ movement from the areas of India and Iran to Europe, either after the ice age or after some big natural disaster in the ancestral India (for example, the drying out of the river Saraswati in the fourth or third millennium BCE). American linguist Stoney, whose essay is included in the book Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Heathenism, writes: “… there are many similarities between the Hindu and the early Slavic world: cremation, belief in reincarnation, karma, similar begetting similar, the existence of vampires, phallic deities as well as polycephalic deities in their mythologies in which the sun is presented as the Sanskrit Surya and the Slavic Zora, and in waving iron to drive away the demons. Women also played an important role in religious ceremonies.”  

One of the evidences which goes in favour of our hypothesis is the linguistic fact that the Slavs and the Indians belong to the same subgroup of Indo-European languages—more precisely, to the satem subgroup, which also includes Iranian and the languages of the Baltic peoples (Lithuanians and Latvians), while the remaining Indo-European languages belong to the centum subgroup (Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Tocharian, etc.).

Human migration out of Africa to India and then to Europe.

2.

In the first half of the XIX century the German-speaking region saw the emergence of the Serbian lyrical and afterwards also epic folk poetry (gathered by the gifted, self-taught scribe from the rebelling Serbia, Vuk Stefanović Karadžić). Literary Europe (in the beginning Vienna, Weimar, Leipzig …) and then other European literary centers with their leading figures (J.V. Goethe, J. Grimm, A. Mickiewicz, W. Scott, A. Lamartine, Madame de Staël, and others) were amazed by the beauty, artistic power and ethics of that literary occurrence which simply could not be adequately described: how is it possible for an illiterate people to compose and commit to memory poems of such beauty and ethical strength, steeped in an uncompromising love for justice and belief in the “higher order” of things?

Central topics of those heroic folk poems were the main Serbian hero, Marko Kraljević, and the Battle of Kosovo. And while Marko Kraljević was the type of hero that exists in the epics of all times and regions (Gilgamesh, Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, Arjuna, Rama, Cid, Roland, Siegfried, Sigurd, Beowulf, Rustem, Antara, Orlando, Ilya Muromets, Väinämöinen and others), the Kosovo Cycle and the Kosovo Myth held a puzzle not so easily deciphered nor solved from the otherwise slim Christian heritage of the Balkan Slavs. So, Marko Kraljević is a hero much like other epic heroes (especially based on two principles: fortitudo et sapientia—he is brave and fearless, but also wise, temperate and cautious). His third important trait is the indubitable humour in which he coats his deeds (in order to remove the stigma of a “Christian” hero from himself in the Muslim army: a warrior who spent his entire life as a Muslim vassal even though he was an Orthodox Christian)

The poem The Fall of the Serbian Empire tells of a choice between two options: a swallow brings news of the coming battle to Tsar Lazar in Serbia and offers to either defeat the Turks and win the kingdom on earth, and to rule his lands long and happily, or to lose the battle against the conquerors, lose his army as well as his own life, but earn himself a place in history, in the kingdom of heaven. (“Lazar! Lazar! Tsar of noble family, / Which kingdom is it that you long for the most? / Will you choose a heavenly crown today? / Or will you choose an earthly crown?“). 

Tsar Lazar weighs both options and in the end chooses “the kingdom of Heaven”, and gets killed alongside thousands of his people and soldiers.

The first scientist in this region who pointed out the analogies between the choice of Prince Lazar and the dilemma that Arjuna faces before the battle of Kurukshetra was Vojisav Đurić. A scholar of Mahabharata (he studied the book in German during his studies in Germany), he pointed out the mythical etiology of Arjuna’s and Lazar’s dilemma. Krishna, like the swallow from Jerusalem (the herald that came to Tsar Lazar), both speak of a kingdom of heaven: Indra Loka, the place for the worthy, brave warriors (Valhalla in Germanic mythology). Christian heaven itself is envisioned as the place where believers go (so, not necessarily warriors). Thus, the real goal for both Arjuna and Lazar is Indra Loka as a place in eternity (which, simultaneously, forever keeps the memory of their moral deeds, self-sacrifice for the sake of the community and future generations). We must note another interesting detail here: Indra loka, or Indra’s heaven, is also called swarga—a place for the warriors fallen in battle, those who haven’t yet earned their moksha—the release from the eternal cycle of reincarnation; we’re pointing out that, in our previous text, we described the Indian origins of two eastern Slavic deities: Svarog and Mokosh, and now we can not only see the meanings of their names but also, their possible relation within Slavic mythology. Arjuna faces Krishna’s arguments: he is a god, all people that Arjuna grieves for are already dead: in other words, the battle is unavoidable, there is no dilemma: the reward is the kingdom on earth or otherwise, glorious death and a place in Swarga.

Although Prince Lazar is the most quickly canonised saint in Serbian history (only two years passed between his death in 1389. and his canonisation; even though he died in battle as an already older man, at the head of his army, on his own land, against the conquerors from afar; also, as a father of multiple sons and daughters), the layer which gave the real shine to this archetype is not the Christian ethos but a much older one—the one of Indian heroes: the heroic topology which came with the migrations of Slavic people throughout at least three or four millennia from the plains of India.

Crusade against the Wends

Crusade against the Wends (1147)

3

The documented portrait of events of the Middle Ages in the book Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Heathenism presents one indisputable fact: Christian churches persecuted and destroyed Pagan Slavs and their places of worship while the opposite never happened, except in self-defence.

What forceful Christianisation of the Slavs looked like is best shown in the works of one of the chroniclers, Widukind of Corvey, a German author from the tenth century. He says that the Slavs never went into German territories to spread the cult of Svetovid or some other Slavic deity—to the contrary, it was always the Germans and other Christians who came to impose their religion of “peace and love” on to the Pagans. (In fact, in Slavic Paganism we see a faith in which, due to it being polytheistic, one deity more or less, including Christ, wouldn’t make much of a difference. Our chronicles testify that Pagan Slavs were inclined to accept Christ as long as their old religion and gods weren’t getting disturbed. Slavic world was a world of multitude of deities and spirits characterised by general religious tolerance, but that is precisely why it wasn’t compatible with the concept of Abrahamic monotheism in which one “jealous god” demands exclusive loyalty and worship). What did imposing such a religion look like? It looked like this: Widukind’s writings offer us a marked description of how it was done. When the future king Otto wanted to suppress the Sorbs uprising against forced Christianisation, on October 16th, 955. on the River Reknic in Mecklenburg, he and his men celebrated their victory at dawn first by impaling the severed head of Obodrite prince Stoynev (who died while attempting to run away) in the middle of the battlefield, then slaughtered 700 prisoners, and when they discovered the prince’s adviser among them, they saved him for last and then cut out his eyes and tongue and left him for dead among the corpses. In one place, Widukind mentions that on September 4th, 929. the Germans killed around 200,000 Pagans in a single campaign. We come across a similar fact in the writings of Olafur Thordarson, an Icelandic chronicler and the final chronicler in the book. He mentions in his writings that, during the attack on the Island of Rugen in the 12th century, Danish and Saxon Christians killed around 300,000 people.

Here we arrive to, perhaps, the most crucial question regarding our subject: did the disappearance of a polytheistic religion also mean the victory of a higher civilisation level? Or did the victory of Christianity perhaps send Europe backwards? It’s always been the case, in the world and in history, that the new and more functional overcomes the old and anachronistic. (We don’t say “new and better, new and more noble” etc.) Slavs should certainly be commended for being the last ones on the old continent to defend one modified Hindu-Iranian religion against the incoming, intolerant, force of Judeo-Christianity, with its more organised and supranational church. In regards to that, we can mention that, although the majority of German chroniclers in our book had a generally negative attitude towards the Slavs and Slavic Paganism, they did acknowledge (especially Helmold and Adam of Bremen) some of the main Slavic virtues such as hospitality and care for their elderly family members. But the most pointed testimony comes from Herbordus (who, together with Ebbo and another, anonymous monk, was the biographer of Otto of Bamberg, the apostle of Pomerania) who describes the social structure and morality of the Slavic and Pagan inhabitants of Pomerania as well as how did the Slavs see Christians. We will quote two such instances.

The first one is: “So great are the trust and confidence which prevail amongst the people that they have no experience of theft or fraud and possess no boxes or locked cases. We never saw there a lock or key and they were themselves astonished to see our pack saddles and our locked cases. Their clothes, their money and all their precious things they store in cases and large jars, which are merely covered with something, as they fear no fraud and have never had experience of such.”

The second quote tells us how Pomeranian Slavs saw Christians: “What have we to do with you? We shall not abandon the laws of our fathers, and we’re content with the religion that we have. Amongst the Christians there are thieves and robbers, and those who (for their crimes) have been deprived of feet and eyes: all sorts of crimes and penalties are found amongst them, and one Christian curses another Christian. Let such a religion be far from us!”

Lastly, let us mention another two interesting details or similarities between the old Slavic and the Hindu religion. The most famous preserved Slavic monument is the Zbruch idol which is thought to represent the god Svetovid. There is a Hindu symbol for dharma at the bottom of the fourth figure, which is connected to the god Brahma. We can see that symbol on a picture of Brahma-tree, which we borrowed from the book The Cult of Brahma by Tharapada Bhatacharia published in 1969. It is also interesting to mention that, later on, both Svetovid and Brahma were represented as four-headed gods looking at the four sides of the world.

Zbruch-Idol

Reliefs carved on the sides of the balwan of Zbruch

We notice another, very important religious connection between the Slavs and the Indians: there is a place on the Island of Rugen called Holy Hill (Sveta Gora). Even today, on the hill where the statues of the Slavic deities Rugevit,  Porenut and Porevit used to stand, there are plaques with this name. That is the evidence that in the Slavic world, this toponym is older than the more famous one—Mount Athos, the holy hill of the Orthodox Christian people of northern Greece. However, even this name—surprisingly—comes from an Indian toponym, the Sanskrit word śvetagiri (श्वेतगिरि), meaning “white hill”. This is the second mountain to the north of the Mahā Meru, which is situated in the middle of Jambūdvīpa. It is regarded as the principal mountain of the continent known as Hiranmaya-varṣa.

Everything that this text mentions is much more extensively written about in the book The Fall of Arkona or the Twilight of Slavic Heathenism which can be found in English on online platforms AmazonGoogle PlayApple Books as well as in paperback from the Belgrade-based publisher ATOS-DK. There are, of course, other relations between the Vedic religion (and culture) of India and the ancient Slavic culture but we shall limit ourselves to what has already been said for this the purposes of this short study. – Belgrade, April 2021.

› Dr Rastko Kostić is an author, linguist and historian of religion in Belgrade, Serbia.

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On relations between the old Slavic religion and the Vedic religion of India

On relations between the old Slavic religion and the Vedic religion of India -Rastko Kostić) (Serbo-Croatian Version)

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