Salivahana vs Jesus

Our next "copycat Christ" is from the land of India, and his name is Salivahana. One critic tells us he was a "divine child, born of a virgin, and was the son of a carpenter," was also called "The Carpenter" himself, and his name means "cross-borne" or "Salvation."

Oddly enough, modern books on the history of India don't know of any of this, but some, like the Dictionary of Indian History (746) and the Encyclopedia of Indian Culture (1278) do have a story, and it's not even close. Salivahana is somewhat of a legend, according to the former -- there is neither epigraphic nor numismatic evidence of his existence, and the deeds of other Indian kings have been attributed to him. No one knows anything about being a divine child, or a virginal mother, or his name meaning anything like crosses or salvation.

We get something marginally close to a "carpenter" job in a story related by the Encyclopedia. As it goes, one day Salivahana was walking on a riverbank and saw a beached fish that was laughing at him. He asked some clever people what was up with that, and no one know until finally one hermit told him the fish had been someone in a former life whom Salivahana in one of his own former lives, as a wood-carrier, had done a favor to. So the fish was laughing because he was happy to see Salivahana doing so well.

Now just add some bread and 5000 people and we'll have a Christ connection, except we'll have to call it the Monologue on the Mount.

So where does this come from? A reader passed us some further stuff on Salivahana, from an older item titled Origin and Decline of the Christian Religion in India published in the 1800s and written by one "Captain F. Wilford."

The material appears in Vol. 10 of a set called Asiatic Researches (Cosmo Pub., 1979) This appears to be the ultimate source for the copycat claims, though filtered through Kersey Graves [page 87 of the edition here], who uses Wilford's work directly, but failed to note some of Wilford's points, notably that Wilford dates Salivahana to around the year 676 [97], well after Christ and Christian missions to India and despite attempts to backdate Salivahana's birth to the year 5 B. C. (which would cut copycatting kind of close!). Graves even lies outright and says that Wilford (and others) confess that the story pre-dates Christ.

I can vouch for none of the accuracy of Wilford's material, which seems overwhelmingly to be an account of his personal investigations and does not document any of his assertions. Wilford gives as his source for the designation of Salivahana as a "carpenter" a "treatise of the Jainas" in his possession titled the Calpa-druma-Calica. He adds that "carpenter" translated into Sanskrit is tacshaca, which is what the Hindus called Salivahana, and notes as well that Salivahana was the son of a carpenter [39] who was the chief of a tribe of expert artisans.

Wilford also offers a linguistic connection of Salivahana's name: the word salib meaning a stake, cross, or gibbet, and relates as well a story of Salivahana being crucified. But again he states that the idea of Salivahana as crucified would have come late and through the Manicheans.

Finally Salivahana is indeed, according to Wilford, "virgin born" but not virgin-conceived: his mother was impregnated by a snake gliding over her while she was asleep -- in her cradle, at 1 1/2 years of age! (The author also notes a story copycatters may parallel to King Herod chasing after Jesus: a local king went after Salivahana, with a large army, to destroy Salivahana and any followers he had; the child, however, beat the king back and killed him, though he was a tender 5 years of age at the time! But again, Wilford saw none of this pre-dating the Christian era.)

A helpful reader has offered this to us as further information:

Concerning Salivahana, I found a book which gives a brief but important note on him. The note reads "Satavahana is usually considered synonymous with Salivahana, the enemy of Vikramadiya, and the prince whose juvenile career those miracles are narrated, which appear to be derived from the Evangelium Infantiae, and other spurious gospels. (As. Res. Vol. X, p. 42) At the same time, it is to be observed, that these stories are not to be found in the Puranas.

The chief authority cited by the late Colonel Wilford is the Vikrama Charitra, a compilation of fables of uncertain date, and no consideration. He quotes also the Kumarika Khanda of the Skanda Purana, for some circumstances of a less miraculous character; but even here the authority is very disputable, as even the Khandas, or detached sections of the Puranas, have been multiplied at pleasure, and are in many instances decidedly modern. The last work noticed is the Appendix to the Agni Purana, which is no part of that Purana, and is a modern composition.

The legends relating to Salivahana may therefore, as it is most likely, have been borrowed from the spurious gospels; but they do not, therefore, bear unfavorably upon the antiquity of the Puranas, as they are not found in the body of those works: how far they may be traced, even in the books cited, is a little doubtful, at least as applicable to Salivahana; for in the legend said to be extracted from the Raja Tarangini, it is true, that the story is correctly given; but the person is not, as is said, Salivahana, nor in any way connected to his character.

[The errors into which Wilford had fallen are fully exposed by Lassen, Ind. Alt., II, 881 ff. See also Append, VI, p. xxvii.]" This is a footnote attached to a brief section on Satavahana. It is found in the book "Essays Analytical, Critical and Philological On Subjects Connected with Sanskrit Literature, H.H. Wilson, Collected and Edited by Reinhold Rost" at the bottom of pages 181-182. This book was originally published in 1864. The book that I looked at is a reprint by Asian Educational Services, New Delhi, 1984.

The note confirms our statement (see below -- JPH) that Sali and Samditi are not the same person. The reference As. Res. Vol. X, p. 42, refers to that article by Wilford...asS for the statement that the Khandas of the Puranas are usually modern, this would be only partially correct. According to scholars most of the Puranas were put into writing after the beginning of the Christian Era, typically in the Middle Ages.

But Christianity arrived in India even before the Middle Ages, according to this Catholic Encyclopedia article on the St. Thomas Christians . See particularly section one of the articles titled "Their early traditions and their connection with the Apostle St. Thomas." For the dates of the Puranas see "Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit" by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. Penguin Books, copyright Wendy Doniger O’Flahery 1975. pages 16-18.

We would now add an appendix on the subject of a related character named Samhdimati, who has been confused with Salivahana. A reader sent a copy of pages from Stein's Kalhana's Rajatargini: A Chronicles of the Kings of Kasmir, the second book of which relates the tale of Sam, "the greatest of sages, who was distingiushed by his wonderful life and devotion to Siva." The book tells of Sam being ordered executed "on the stake" by the king.

Samhdimati's guru, Isana, came to perform funeral rites, found Sam's skeleton still attached to the stake, and noticed an inscription on the skull which predicted: "He will have a life of poverty, ten years' imprisonment, death on the stake, and still thereafter a throne." Isana wondered about this, but later, in the middle of the night, smelled incense, heard bells ringing and drums beating, and saw witches outside on the burial ground.

Isana pulled out his sword and went outside, and saw the witches rebuilding the body with their own limbs and flesh, then calling Samhdmati's spirit back to the body. Thereafter, they covered him with ointments and "enjoyed themselves with their full desire."

Wilford in his work apparently confused Samhdimati and Salivahana a bit. However, as can be seen, there isn't much similar here, and tons of differences (rather, ahem, obnoxious ones at that). The reader who sent me the photocopies from Stein notes: "Sir M.A. Stein who translated Kalhana's Rajatarangini into English provides the dates of the life of Samdhi among the list of the dates of the kings of Kashmir in volume one page 135 of his translation.... Stein puts the dates of Samdhi's reign according to Kalhana as starting in the year 3041 of the Laukika Era, and lasted for 47 years.

Stein doesn't give the equivalent of the Laukika Era in correspondence with the Christian Era for the dates of Samdhi but later in the table (on page 137) he shows that the year 855 AD corresponds to the year 3931 of the Laukika Era. This would mean that Samdhimati started ruling Kashmir in the year 35 BC and ended his reign in the year 12 AD. This means that Samdhimati and Salivahana are probably not one and the same person."