Monday, 7 January 2013

Barzakh & the Avestan Ram Yasht

Salman H.Bashier has suggested that the Quranic 'barzakh'- that isthmus between two bodies of water, one salt, one sweet- derives ultimately from the Persian 'purdah'. The importance of the 'rending of the veil- or apocalypse'- in Christianity makes this poetically interesting. However, I still couldn't see any really fundamental connection between barzakh and purdah till I read the Ram Yasht- the 15th chapter of the Avesta- i.e. the Zoroastrian Scripture-

I will sacrifice to the Waters and to Him who divides them....
To this Vayu do we sacrifice, this Vayu do we invoke....
We sacrifice to that Vayu that belongs to the Good Spirit, the bright and glorious Vayu.

It has been suggested that the parting of the Red Sea by Moses is related to a still observable phenomenon somewhere in that region whereby the wind, from time to time, rises up to divide the freshwater of the Marshes from the salt water of the sea and maybe this was confused with the isthmus at Lake Mareotis or something of that sort.

For the Indians, the equivalent of 'barzakh' is 'antarabhava' which is associated with the Gandharvas whose Iranian form is highly suggestive-

aom jaidhyat,
avat âyaptem dazdi-mê
vayush ýô uparô-kairyô
ýat kaêna nijasâni
azem brâthrô urvâxshaya
ýat janâni hitâspem
raithe paiti vazaidhyâi,
uiti asti gafyô âhûirish uiti aêvô gafyô paitish uiti gañdarewô upâpô.


I will sacrifice to the Waters and to Him who divides them....
To this Vayu do we sacrifice, this Vayu do we invoke....
To him did the manly-hearted Keresaspa offer up a sacrifice by the Gudha, a channel of the Rangha, made by Mazda, upon a golden throne, under golden beams and a golden canopy, with bundles of baresma and offerings of full-boiling [milk].
He begged of him a boon, saying: 'Grant me this, O Vayu! who dost work highly, that I may succeed in avenging my brother Urvakhshaya, that I may smite Hitaspa and yoke him to my chariot.'
The Gandarewa, who lives beneath the waters, is the son of Ahura in the deep, he is the only master of the deep.
Vayu, who works highly, granted him that boon, as the Maker, Ahura Mazda, did pursue it.
We sacrifice to the holy Vayu....
For his brightness and glory, I will offer unto him a sacrifice worth being heard....

In Ram Yasht 7.28- asuiti asti gafyô âhûirish uiti aêvô gafyô paitish uiti gañdarewô upâpô- the Gandharva is described as the son of Ahura and master of the deep- nevertheless the hero is able to avenge his brother's death on it.
However, a brother is also a double, like a reflection in water. Without playing up a Rene Girardian notion of 'mimetic desire' and the sacrifice of the twin (Gemini obviously relates to King Jam- i.e. Yama though, actually, it is the Ashwins who are more profitably invoked in this context) it is enough to mention 'Adi Vigyan' (the original science- of casting off illness or blemish onto one's reflection) to realize that it is the esoteric aspect of a ritual, rather than a clear cut mythology, which underlies this.

Buddhist 'bardo' (unlike its Vedantic equivalent which just concentrates on erotic 'karmic residues' impelling to further re-birth) is as richly suggestive as Sufi barzakh.
Interestingly, the Zoraostrian 'Ilm e Khushnoom' school synthesizes Sufism and Zorastrian ideas in a suggestive manner.
Indeed, there are plenty of Sufi Buddhists of Iranian origin and, perhaps, Central Asian culture can only be understood from this perspective.
Returning to classical Buddhist understanding of the Gandharva, it might be worth our while to look again at the strange role they play in the Mahabharata.
The Kuru war only happened because a Gandharva resented the rightful heir possessing the same name as himself. Apparently, Gandharvas have to change their name if defeated in battle. This happens when Arjuna defeats a Gandharva. The upshot is that Arjuna gains 'caksuchi vidya'- the ability to see anything he wants in the form he desires, this is a type of omniscience but one that only grants you the knowledge you actually desire. The Bhagvad Gita gains poignancy because Arjuna has this gift. He can see that he will prevail even over his 'chiranjeevi' (unkillable) foes but can't see that his enemy is his eldest brother (because Karna does not want him to see this and Arjuna, after all, is a good younger brother who wants to obey his eldest brother).
As everybody knows, the Gita ends with a theophany and the proclamation of a pure Occassionalist metaphysics (like that of Ghazzali and the Sufis). However, both the Sufis and the Buddhists have a doctrine of momentariness such that Occassionalism is empty. Vedanta too embraces 'Mayavadi' doctrine such that all that exists is a Gandharva dream- much music and drama and superb poetry and powerful incense but it is all a shadow play, that is all.
I may mention that Jainism, thanks to Umaswati (who started off as a Mathematician) becomes 'observationally indistinguishable' from Nagarjuna's Buddhism or Sankara's Vedanta because of a subtle property of the sort of maths used in 'matching problems'- essentially this links to entropy.
'Karmic-obstructors' (i.e the matching problem for the writer of an Epic- or indeed a Kabbalistic interpretation of Scripture) run out of steam because though the sort of Maths used in Combinatorics soon yields very very big numbers, still those numbers are infinitely small relative to the decimal expansion of the vast majority of 'real' numbers.  
The sort of 'discrete maths' used by ancient tax gatherers and Monastery bursars meant that 'state space explosion' was as familiar to the literati back then as it is to us now. What was aberrant was the brief period when calculus flourished and intellectuals believed in a Laplacian universe.

The koranic term barzakh, of Persian provenance (presumably from *burz-axw "high existence"), was also used in the Islamic tradition in a similar sense. The term has not survived in extant Persian sources (cf. also Bölken, pp. 57 ff.). 

I mention all this because, it seems to me, something new comes into the poetic reception of the Ramayana- that is Riti type poetry- at about the time when Akbar, or perhaps his mother, ordered the translation of the Ramayana into Persian.
Abu Fazl tells us that the Emperor wanted to end the hatred between Hindu and Muslim by dispelling their mutual ignorance but, it seems, the barzakh between them was one that Vayu had made to go through and overtake both.
As to Ayodhya's Apocalypse, for us contemporary poets, what is it if not this?

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