The Ubiquitous Dharma-Cult

The so called Dharma-cult of Western Bengal is ubiquitous in that it incorporates heterogeneous religious strains from many diverse traditions, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and assorted indigenous deities. Its main Deity is recognized as the Lord Dharma, or its more popular title, Dharma-hākura. This Lord Supreme resembles more general Indian beliefs than representations of the Buddha. If it is in any way crypto-Buddhist, it would be so only directly related to later Buddhism, such as the Vajrayāna. Also, there is never to be found any yogic-influences. Certain Muslim alliances would be favored over any Hindu traits:

After the Mahomedan invasion of Bengal in the thirteenth century, the Muslims began gradually to settle in the land and to exert political, religious and cultural influence on the people. It seems that the followers of the Dharma cult with their monotheistic belief in the formless God could easily have friendly terms with the Muslims who had the same monotheistic belief in the formless God and who were particularly antagonistic to the politheistic belief of popular Hinduism.

There seems to be palpable influence of the Muslims in the description of Dharma of later days. The Muslims of Bengal were in their turn variously influenced by these minor cults of Bengal, and as a matter of fact we find that in the popular Muslim literature of Bengal the Muslims used all the terminology of the Dharma cult and the Nātha cult in their description of God. (ibid, pg.304)  

Their invocations to this formless God are most captivating:

“Let that Lord of the form of vacuity, who has neither end, nor middle, nor beginning, neither hands and legs, nor body and voice, neither form, nor any primordial shape, nor fear and death, nor even birth,—who is accessible only to the greatest of the yogins in deep meditation, who belongs to all the sects (or who permeates all the petals of the lotuses within the body), who is bereft of all mental construction, who is one, stainless, and giver of the boon of immortality, protect me.”

Again,—“I am invoking the Lord, who is the giver of all the fruits of desire, who has nothing like a shape, nor any seat to perform yoga, who is the absence of all and at the same time the abode of all, and who is adorned with all the postures and gestures (sarva-mudra-susobhitam). Come down, O the voidlord and take your seat here.”

He is the great, the Brahman of the beginningless-luminous form. He is adored in all the fourteen worlds and is of the form of perfect void. He is knowledge and consciousness, pure and changeless, innocent and formless and is to be known as the syllable “Om”; he transcends all qualities, is the underlying reality not yet manifest in existence (avyakta); he is the transcendent reality, he is the Brahman.

He is the Karatāra (the supreme lord), he comes from the void and has his support in the void. He himself is the unity of the triad Brahma, Viṣṇu and Mahādeva (i.e., Śiva). He is the supreme lord transcending both voidness and non-voidness. In the beginning the Lord was moving alone in great-void (mahāśūna), having only void as his support, and the whole cosmos came out of the great void only through the will of the Lord. (ibid, 332-335)

Out of this we can observe that this Supreme Dharma-ṭhākura does not represent any particular Deity, instead it is similar to the Western ideal of the Godhead, who is Sovereign Lord over the entire cosmos. Dharma in this sense means something to be adhered to, i.e., the deity entity Itself. Interesting how this is similar to Buddhaic constructions of the Dharma-kāya, meaning the thatness of all entities. It is in other words the dharma-dhātu or the primordial element underlying all that exists. In point of fact, this Dharma became identified with the Buddhist Stūpa which was worshiped as a symbol of the Dharma-Supreme. Hence, the Stūpa became the Dharma-ṭhākura of the Dharma-cult in the form of a tortoise. This magnificent tortoise is also a mythological figure in Hindu literature as well.

There are also some similarities in the lore of the Dharmites in envisioning their Dharma-Lord as an emanation of the dark blue Viṣṇu

In the Maṅgala literature we generally find Dharma in the form of Viṣṇu of dark blue colour with four hands with the conch-shell, disc (cakra), mace (gadā) and lotus; he has earrings, his Kaustubha jewel is suspended on his chest, he has his yellow garment and lotus-eyes and he is with his mount Garuda. Whenever we find the Lord appearing before the devotee, the devotee would never believe him to be Dharma unless and until he would appear before him in his form of Viṣṇu with four hands. (ibid, pg. 341)

IS.33-2006; IS.33-2006
Painting
Vishnu as Vishvarupa (cosmic or universal man)
Jaipur
ca.1800-1820

I also have some affinity for Vishnu as the Lord of healing. I suffer from severe eczema-psoriasis and in the winter my skin turns to a sandpaper-like texture. Daily I need to apply some Vaseline jelly-cream all over my body after showering, and then to sit in a portable Sunlighten Sauna:

There is a timed-setting in the Sauna for when it gradually climbs to 122° Fahrenheit. My own time spent in the Sauna is 20 minutes, during which I play the following Hindu Chant, Narayan Gayatri from the album, Gayatri Sangrah by Shubba Mudgal & Jitender Singh.

 

There is another description of Dharma as All-White:

One very significant point is that the complexion of Dharma-thākura is white, and not only that, everything associated with him is white. In the Dharma-pūjā vidhāna he has been saluted in his form of pure white colour resembling the colour of a fresh Kunda flower and the refreshed moon (dhauta-kundendu-dhavala). He wears white garment and bears a white umbrella. His throne or seat is also described white. In his white form he is associated with pure intelligence-stuff. He wears a white garland and also a white sacred thread. He has a white disc in his hand, white hair on his head and white horses with his white throne.

In the Sāṃkhya philosophy pure intelligence stuff (Sattva) has been spoken of as of pure white color. Also, recollect this Buddhaic association:

Coming to Buddhism we find that when Buddha began to be docetically conceived, he was conceived as the embodiment of perfect purity and perfect enlightenment. He was pure-consciousness as the ultimate reality,—he is perfect knowledge or wisdom.

He has often been described as effulgent by nature and as radiating light of knowledge. Round the physical form of historical Buddha as Siddhartha there has always been a glow of perfect purity and enlightenment. Before giving birth to Buddha, Maya,-his mother, dreamt that a white elephant entered her womb and this predicted the birth of Buddha who would attain perfect enlightenment. (ibid, pg. 348)

The most important trait of the Dharma-cult is its eclectic nature. From what we’ve just portrayed it exhibits this eclecticism in fine exotic fashion.

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