How Arunachal Pradesh’s Dharmic Heritage Negates China’s Claims Over The State

How Arunachal Pradesh’s Dharmic Heritage Negates China’s Claims Over The State

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Monday, March 27, 2023 08:51 PM IST
How Arunachal Pradesh’s Dharmic Heritage Negates China’s Claims Over The StateUnion Law Minister Kiren Rijiju at the Malinathan temple in Arunachal Pradesh (Twitter)
  • From legends related to Krishna and Shiva to Shakti peethas, Arunachal Pradesh is an integral and inalienable of not just the political, but also the cultural, geography of India.

China skipped a G20 Research Innovation Initiative Gathering in Arunachal Pradesh Sunday (March 26). That was because China lays claim to the Northeastern state and calls it ‘south Tibet’. 

China’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh is based on the premise that the 6th Dalai Lama, Tasangyang Gyatso, belonged to the Monpa tribe from Tawang in western Arunachal Pradesh. The Monpas are Buddhists and have ethnic and religious ties to the Tibetans. 

Beijing contends that since Tibet exercised control over Tawang and other areas of Arunachal Pradesh inhabited by Buddhists who owed allegiance to the Dalai Lama and practised Tibetan Buddhism, Arunachal Pradesh was part of Tibet. 

And since Tibet is now part of China--it is a different matter that China forcibly annexed Tibet in the 1950s--ergo, Arunachal Pradesh should also be part of its territory. 

China also claims that Tibet exercised control over other parts of present-day Arunachal Pradesh inhabited by tribes such as the Sherdukpens, Khambas, Apatanis, Nyishis, Tagins, Adis, Galos, Nahs, Mishmis and Misings

But all these tribes had only trade ties with ‘free’ Tibet (prior to its annexation by China). Just as they used to trade with the Ahoms and other people of Upper Assam. 

However, the strongest and most conclusive refutation of China’s fraudulent claims over Arunachal Pradesh lies in the fact that the Northeastern state has strong links with Sanatan Dharma

Arunachal Pradesh has a number of ancient mandirs and other Hindu pilgrimage sites. And the indigenous faith of most of the tribes--Donyi Polo--has very strong similarities with ancient Sanatani traditions and rituals. 

Here are some of Arunachal Pradesh’s Sanatani links:

  • Bhagwan Krishna’s Rukmini believed to belong to the Idu-Mishmi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh

The Mishmis trace their ancestry to Rukhmavir, elder brother of Rukmini.

Krishna, after establishing his kingdom in Dwarka, came all the way to present-day Arunachal Pradesh to marry Rukmini, whose famed beauty and grace had reached his ears. But Rukmini’s family and tribe refused to allow the marriage, and the two then eloped.

The love song that’s still very popular among Mishmis refers to the elopement of Rukmini with Krishna:

Dear Remseiba (beloved), Sri Krishna of Mathura carried off Rukmini,

I do not want to carry you off, but still you do not love me….

Plays and dances of Rukmini haran (the ‘abduction’ of Rukmini by Krishna) are lovingly enacted by the Mishmis

The Mishmis are known as ‘chulikata’ (chuli is hair and kata means cut), a reference to the ‘cut your hair’ punishment imposed by Krishna on the tribe for not allowing him to marry Rukmini.

  • Parashuram Kund

Located in the Lohit district of eastern Arunachal Pradesh, legend has it that Parashuram, the sixth incarnation of Bhagwan Vishnu, could free the axe with which he killed his mother from his hand by taking a dip in the waters of the Lohit river here. 

On the orders of his father Rishi Jamadagni, Parashuram beheaded his mother Renuka with an axe. Pleased with his obedience, Jamadagni granted him a boon and Parashuram asked that his mother be restored to life.

The boon was granted but the axe remained stuck in Parashuram’s hands as a reminder of the grave sin he had committed. It came unstuck only after he took a dip in the Lohit river on the advice of some sages. 

The place where he took the dip is known as Parashuram Kund and is an important Hindu pilgrimage site. Every year on Makar Sankranti, tens of thousands of pilgrims converge there to take a dip in the belief that it will wash away their sins. 

The tribes of the surrounding areas have traditionally participated in and facilitated this pilgrimage. 

  • Akashi Ganga Mandir

This is one of the most important Shakti peethas. The mandir, located in West Siang district of central Arunachal Pradesh, is where Goddess Sati’s head fell when her lifeless body being carried by an incensed Bhagwan Shiva was cut into pieces by Bhagwan Vishnu with his sudarshan chakra

There is a sacred kund in this mandir, where local tribals as well as pilgrims from the rest of the country offer worship. 

  • Malinithan Mandir

Also located in the West Siang district, this is an important archaeological site and is associated with Krishna-Rukmini as well as Shiva-Parvati. 

According to local folklore, while Krishna and Rukmini were on their way to Dwarka, they stopped at this spot and were welcomed by God Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Devi Parvati presented Krishna and Rukmini with garlands she had made with flowers picked from her garden.

Krishna was so pleased with the garland that he offered it back to Devi Parvati and addressed Her as Malini, or the ‘garlanded one’. Krishna decreed that a mandir be built for worship of Devi Parvati at that site. 

The ruins of an exquisite stone temple built in the 13th century exist here. 

This mandir was built in the Kalinga style of architecture and a number of stone sculptures of Indra riding His mount Airavata, Kartick on a peacock, Surya riding a chariot, Ganesh on a mouse and a large Nandi were found here. 

A number of maithuna sculptures found here show that Devi was worshipped at this mandir in the tantric style, akin to the famous Kamakhya mandir in Guwahati. 

  • Menga Cave Mandir

Located in the Upper Subansiri district that borders Chinese-occupied Tibet, this ancient cave temple dedicated to Lakulisha, the 28th embodiment of Shiva, is another pilgrimage spot for Sanatanis

There are detailed carvings of Sanskrit scriptures and Hindu Gods and Goddesses on the walls of this cave shrine that is located near the scenic Ziro valley. The local Apatanis believe the shrine is over 5000 years old. 

Maha Shivaratri is a major celebration at this shrine.

  • Shiva Linga at Kardo forest

This giant Shiva linga, the world’s tallest natural Shiva linga, was discovered in the Hindu month of Shravan (considered to be a holy month by Shiva devotees) in 2004. It is located in the Kardo forest in Lower Subansiri district of central Arunachal Pradesh. 

Though the linga was discovered by a Gorkha resident of the area, one Prem Subba, while he was felling a tree, this linga finds clear and unequivocal mention in the 17th chapter of the ninth section of Shiva Puran . It was predicted that a huge linga will appear in the northeastern part of Bharatvarsha that will come to be known as Arunachal (land of the rising sun). 

The giant linga--25 feet tall and 22 feet wide--also has images of Devi Parvati and Ganesh etched on it. And a perennial stream flows at the base of the linga. A garland of sphatik (rhinestone) beads etched on the top of the linga is also visible. 

A mandir, called the Siddheshwaranath Shiv Mandir, has come up at the spot and draws many pilgrims. 

  • Close resemblance between Donyi Polo and Sanatani faith

Animism, which is central to the Donyi-Polo (meaning the sun and the moon) faith, is also very closely associated with Sanatan Dharma. There are a huge number of similarities in rituals, beliefs and practices between the Donyi-Polo faith and Sanatan Dharma

For instance, followers of the Donyi-Polo faith hold the peepal and banyan trees as the abode of spirits. Hindus revere these trees. 

In the Donyi-Polo faith, legends about the birth of the universe from the creator known as Sedi mirrors the legends of Sanatan Dharma that has Brahma as the creator.

All things and beings in the universe were born out of Sedi, His hairs begot plants, His tears became rain and water, His bones became rocks and stones and His two eyes became Donyi (sun) and Polo (moon). Hindus with knowledge of the scriptures will draw easy similarities between Sanatan Dharma and Donyi-Polo here. 

The teachings of Donyi-Polo--for mankind, purity, simplicity, honesty, righteousness, compassion and respect for nature and all its beings--replicate that of Sanatan Dharma.

As in Sanatan Dharma, the concept of the ‘other’ (like kafirs, non-believers, apostates etc in Abrahamic faiths) who needs to be either converted or killed or shunned, does not exist in the Donyi-Polo faith. 

Animism, which is central to Donyi-Polo, is inarguably ingrained in Sanatan Dharma, which is a syncretic faith. 

These are only some of the links between Arunachal Pradesh and its people, and the rest of Bharatvarsh and its Sanatanis. They show that Arunachal Pradesh has, for centuries, been an integral part of India.

These links are too powerful and inalienable to be negated or contested by propaganda of foreign powers. 

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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