Visvakarma’s Celestial Manifestatations in Asia and Sri Lanka

Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai, in, 17 September 2018, where the title reads “Vishwakarma, the celestial architect who built Sri Lanka”

The Vishwakarma puja, which was observed on September 17, is not restricted to India but is observed in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. The puja closely follows the celebration of the Ganapati festival. In some places, it is performed the day after Diwali in October or November.

Vishwakarma puja or Kanya Sankranti is celebrated in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand in North India; Karnataka in the south; and Assam, West Bengal Odisha and Tripura in the east, in honour of Vishwakarma – the celestial architect.

Vishwakarma idols of Bengal made of clay

In Nepal, the Vishwakarma puja is celebrated on the first of the month of Ashoj according to the Nepali Bikram Sambat calendar. A remarkable thing is that the Vishwakarma puja is performed invariably on September 17 while most traditional festivals across the Indian sub-continent follow a lunar calendar and the system of tithi or auspicious period, which change annually.

The date of the Vishwakarma puja is based on the movement of the sun. It is  observed  when the sun transits from Singha (Leo) to Kanya (Virgo). September 17 is the last day of the traditional month of Bhadon (Bhadro in Bengali). However, this transit is not always fixed. It might vary by a day or two, at times.

The association with solar transit is not echoed in all oral traditions in other parts of India.  Mention may be made here of the dialogue between Muni (sage) Kalhasti (an incarnation of Shiva), and a certain King Suvrata in a small Up Purana in South India. This does not mention any solar transit but places the community of Vishwakarma, and the various trades associated with him, in the higher echelons of traditional society.

This is echoed in the Vishwakarma Upanishad, and a few other works in praise of Vishwakarma. None of them associates the celebration with the solar transit to Virgo. In India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh too, the Vishwakarma puja is observed as a celebration of creation. In all of these countries, Vishwakarma is worshipped in factories,  by artisans, architects and engineers.

Over the years, the puja is associated with flying kites. Kite flying is seen as a harbinger of a festive season.

The Vishwakarma puja connects the India with its neighbours through various traditions. Similar celebrations, rites and rituals reverberate across India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan.

The Vishwakarma caste has mythological stories connecting the community to the deity. The community calls itself Vishwabrahmin. The community comprises five sub-groups: carpenter, blacksmithsbronze smiths, goldsmiths and stonemasons.

In Nepal the Kami/Bishwakarma have a similar lore. This is an ethno-linguistic group. They are essentially blacksmiths and are credited for being the original makers of the famous Nepali drum, the Madol and the Nepali Kukri (knife). The Kukri which is a short curved knife used by the Gurkha troops. The community’s traditional dance, Maruni Nritya is  also famous. The Kami/Biswakarmas are found  in the mountainous regions of Sikkim and Darjeeling District of West Bengal also.

In Sri Lanka, oral traditions connect the origin of the Navandanna caste to Vishwakarma. Artisans, known locally as Vishwakarma, comprise Kannar (brass-workers), Kollar (blacksmiths), Tattar (goldsmiths), Tatchar (carpenters) and Kartatchar (sculptor).

Vishwakarma puja in Bengal

Oral traditions across South Asia also trace the connection with Vishwakarma. He finds mention in the Rig Veda as the creator, having eyes, faces, arms, feet and wings on every side.The description brings him close to Brahma. The world is said to have come out of Vishwakarma’s navel, which mirrors the story of Brahma giving birth to the universe.

The Yajur Veda portrayed him as the Prajapati. And the Atharva Veda mentions him as Pashupati. Later Puranas identify him as the Vedic Tvastar (artisan god or heavenly builder). As a creator, Shilpi Vishwakarma, is an architect who is credited to have built flying chariots and weapons for the Gods. He is regarded as the very essence of quality craftsmanship.

He is also credited with the creation  of heaven (swarg) in the Satya Yuga, Lanka (the city of gold) in Tretayuga, the city of Dwarka in Dwapar Yuga and Hastinapur and Indraprastha in the Kali yuga. In Sri Lankathe Mahavamsa of Theravada Buddhism mentions him as an architect.

Builder of Lanka

Oral traditions explain the association of Vishwakarma with the creation of Lanka. The story of Lanka is described in the Uttarakanda of Valmiki’s Ramayana, which says that Lanka was created by the celestial architect Vishwakarma for the Gods in heaven.

However, Lanka was seized by the Rakshasha brothers, Malyavan, Sumali and Mali. These three had obtained a boon of invincibility from Lord Brahma and had instructed the celestial architect to “erect a mansion for us- resembling the mansion of Maheshwara (Shiva)”.

Accordingly, on the mountain Suvela, Vishwakarma constructed the city of Lanka with the fortress being between three mountain peaks known as the Trikuta mountains.This has been described as- “having an area of thirty yojanas, and measuring a hundred in length, surrounded by a golden wall and furnished with golden gateways … having a strong wall and a moat, abounding in hundreds of golden edifices”.

The centre of the complex (which was finally occupied by Ravana) has been mentioned as a collection of several edifices that reached over one yojana (8 miles or 12.88 kms) in height, one yojana in length and half a yojana in breadth.

Colorful kites used as part of Vishwakarma puja

The three brothers, Malyavan, Sumali and Mali, ruled Lanka for many years. But  when they invaded the heavens, the they were defeated by Lord Vishnu. Mali was killed and Sumali and Malyavan, along with their Rakshasha comrades, were driven out of Lanka.

After this, upon instructions from the sage Vishrava, Kubera, who was also the God of wealth, moved into Lanka and established the Yaksha kingdom. His capital was guarded by Rakshashas. However, it was not long before Kubera’s half-brother Ravana (son of Vishrava and Sumali’s daughter Kaikesi), fought with Kubera and took Lanka from him.

Though  Ravana had usurped Lanka he was a benevolent ruler and Lanka flourished under him. He was a devout worshipper of Shiva, a great scholar and a maestro of a kind of Veena referred to as the Ravanhatta. In order to expand his kingdom- Ravana had proceeded on a series of campaigns conquering humans, celestials and demons.

Another oral tradition tells of a different beginning of Lanka. After Lord Shiva married Parvati,  he instructed Vishwakarma to construct Lanka so that they might reside there. Vishwakarma constructed a palace made of gold. Ravana, who was a devout worshipper of Shiva, was invited for the Gihapravesh puja (housewarming ceremony).

After the completion of the rituals, Ravana was asked by Shiva to seek anything as a Dakshina,  Ravana asked for the golden palace and the city itself, since he was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the place. Shiva was obliged to accede to Ravana’s wish, and Golden Lanka became Ravana’s palace.

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