The Syncretism of Tykhe Hariti


A brief survey of early Ghandharan Buddhist art will show that one of the most popular Greco-Buddhist deity is that of Tykhe. This Tykhe can be depicted alone though she also has a tendency to be paired alongside the Buddha. The famous Hadda Triad sculpture for example to the eyes of any Western classicist would be that of a triad of Herakles, the Buddha and Tykhe.

Yet how does Tykhe fit into the early Buddhist pantheon? How does a religion and philosophy that advocates personal responsibility have a Goddess of fortune so revered at such an early stage in its history? One of Buddhism’s fundamental tenet is after all cause and effect which is famously known to the West as the concept of karma. As one sow, so do one reap. Every single thing experienced now in this life is resultant from a cause that can either find its root in this life or in the cycle of innumerate other life. Fortune as a concept played little role in early Buddhist literature, except the exhortation that ones action and worldview can very much affect ones fortune.

Buddhologist from the late 19th and early 20th century initially puzzled over this question when the areas around Gandhara (Alexandria on the Arachosia ) and Kapisa ( Alexandria of the Caucasus ) and Taxila ( Taxiles ) were excavated and numerous Indo-Greek artifacts were discovered. They very quickly realized that the Tykhe statues in early Greco-Buddhist art were synonymous with another early Buddhist Goddess, that of Hariti. In fact by the mid 20th century Japanese Buddhologist realized that the modern worship of the various sinicized and syncretized variants of Hariti in Japan and China was slightly different from the Hariti worship in Nepal. Whilst both in East Asia and Nepal Hariti is revered as Goddess of Children and of childbirth the difference in East Asia is that in worship there lies a strong cult which honors her for luck and fortune. This is far less prominent in the Nepal cult, with her auxillary cult being until recently that of smallpox. The cult of fortune and luck in the modern period seems very much an East Asian variant.

This lends support to the idea that Tykhe and Hariti were in fact syncretized by early Buddhist in Ghandhara, Taxila and Kapisa and the East Asian version of Hariti was one that was already syncretized. This is further supported by the fact that the dominant form of Buddhism that entered China and Japan was the Mahayana school which is now believed to have originated in these three areas. Buddhism despite having a presence in China in the first century CE really did not make much inroad into China until the end of the Han Dynasty. By then Mahayana was already a dominant school in Central Asia and it was this variant of Buddhism that was transmitted and embraced in China. This later became the Buddhism in both Japan, Korea and Northern Vietnam.

Yet here is the puzzle, how did Tykhe get syncretized with Hariti in the first place?

On the surface it seems extremely strange that such a syncretism could even come into being. Tykhe is after all the Goddess of Fortune and of Luck. She was a deeply popular city Goddess, being seen as the Goddess who guides the fortune and destiny of the polis. Tykhe is however rarely associated with children in both cult and in myth and she is virtually never depicted with a pomegranate nor is she associated with fecundity. If she does bring about fecundity or many children it will be through her function as Goddess of Luck and Fortune, but not anything specifically in the fertility direction.

Hariti on the other hand is Goddess whose worship predated Buddhism. She is a matara, a mother Goddess who provides children and protects children. In fact her early worship even among Buddhist in Northern India seem to be more of a fertility Goddess. In her surviving cult in Northern India up till the modern period however she is not seen as a Goddess of Luck or Fortune. However she is definitely seen as a city Goddess, a protector of cities.

Modern scholars are of the opinion that it is both Goddesses role as protector of cities and their simultaneous popularity which resulted in the syncretism. This was facilitated most likely by cities like Kapisa ( Alexandria on the Caucasus ) and Taxila ( Taxiles ) where there was a large Indian population that worshiped Hariti as the Goddess of the city and an equally dominant migrant Greek population that worshiped Tykhe as protector of the polis. With the withdrawal of the Seleucids and the governance of these two cities falling under the Mauryans ( who were friendly to the Greeks ) for over a century and the subsequent governance of these two cities under the rule of the Indo-Greeks after Demetrius I expansion in 180BCE this left wide open an oppurtunity for both populations to mingle and interact. It is very likely that interaction between the various ethnic group in the city would have been great in the Mauryan period as there would have been no group with the upper hand in that period. The Mauryans clearly in the time of Asoka and his father Bindusura ruled the city of Taxila for example by sending governors from their court in Paliputra, and one of the reason for the two revolts in Taxila was owing to the incompetence of the governors sent.

As populations intermingle and interact there would have been a lot of cross cultural exchanges, and one of them would have been cross cultural exchange of cults of deities, which in time would lead to equation of deities than later syncretism.

In fact we know that interaction between Greeks and Indians were very high. For one, the Greek Kings unlike in other part of the Hellenic kingdom stamped their coins both in Greek and in the local Kharosthi and some even took on distinctly Indian mintage. What limited inscriptions we have found between the 1st century BCE to the 1st century CE indicates that cross cultural interaction between Greeks and Indians were high indeed. Unlike other Hellenic cities which tended to have districts for various ethnicities cities like Taxila for example clearly had Hindu and Greek temples located side by side with each other, further facilitating interaction between the two ethnic groups.

This is further supported by the Milinda Panha which describes Menander I Soter as a person who is both fluent in Greek and in the local languages, and interacted it seemed directly with the Indians and is aware and was proficient in the custom of the Indians. Menander I is also the only Indo-Greek King who we know of his place of birth, that is of Alexandria of the Caucasus ( Kapisa ). Menander I also is likely to have been born and raised in Alexandria of the Caucasus ( Kapisa ) predating its governance under Demetrius I since it is suggested that Menander I was one of the generals of Demetrius I.

The question as to how either Tykhe or Hariti found their way into the Buddhist pantheon is one that cannot be answered with any degree of accuracy. There is a Buddhist tendency to make popular local deities Buddhist deities. We know that the worship of Tykhe and Hariti were popular in Taxila, Gandhara and Kapisa with the worship of Hariti in fact being popular all the way along the Ganges river and thus their integration into the Buddhist pantheon could be due sheer popularity of their cult where Buddhism was growing.

There is a question raised that if Hariti was truly syncretized with Tykhe why is it that we have no myth resonating with Tykhe in the Hariti myths? Unlike say Vajrapani whose connection with Herakles is alluded in the Samyuktavastu where he acted as the guardian of the city of Indra, a role which is not present in other Hindu or Buddhist myth, there is nothing in written literature that would allude to Hariti having been syncretized with Tykhe. Barring the promise to protect and bring good fortune to Buddhist in the later sutras which could be interpreted as luck there is nothing else in the Buddhist Hariti myths that could be equated with Tykhe.

The answer may lie in the nature of Tykhe herself. Tykhe, despite being widely worshiped in Hellenistic period had very little myths or a distinct personality associated with her. The most extensive tales surviving about Tykhe in fact comes from the Aesop’s Fable. The role of Tykhe is definite, a Goddess of Fortune, Chance and of Luck, but this is defined more by expectation of her cultus than by myth.

This means that when Tykhe, a Goddess that has limited myth and limited personality development was syncretized with Hariti, a Goddess who likely already has an extensively developed myth and personality, the nature of Hariti would dominate over that of Tykhe. Of course the Mahayana Buddhist Hariti would not escape unchanged from the syncretism. With her being equated with Hariti she would also be seen as a luck giver, but in keeping with her Buddhist nature she would be the dispenser of good luck.


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