The Theft of the Pārijāta Tree in Early Sanskrit Sources
Christopher R Austin
Dalhousie University, CA
Christopher Austin completed his BA and MA degrees in Religious Studies at Concordia University in Montreal, and PhD at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He is presently an Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Classics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he teaches widely across all major religious traditions of South and East Asia. His principal areas of research are in the Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata and particularly its supplement the Harivaṃśa, the biographical traditions of Kṛṣṇa's life and his son Pradyumna, and early Vaiṣṇavism.
The Pārijātaharaṇa or theft of the magical Pārijāta tree is a well known episode in the life of the Hindu god Kṛṣṇa. The earliest Sanskrit sources of the incident consist largely of short or passing references to the deed, and mainly understand the seizure of the tree to have involved a fight between Kṛṣṇa and Indra. The actual episode is narrated in the critical text of the HV, but there no fight occurs. This piece follows up on and responds to a recent publication in this journal in which the narrative discontinuity surrounding the Pārijātaharaṇa is treated briefly in connection with the problem of textual emendation. After identifying and contextualizing the relevant epic passages, I take up the key sources of the myth in the following centuries, and reflect briefly on the issue of the Sanskrit tradition's own work of narrative emendation, as well as some of the implications thereof for readers and translators.