Manichaeism in India

Excerpted from a lecture by Dr. Char Yar, D.D., M.A., Ph.D.
University for Historical and Cultural Research

"Manichaeism was well established in Northern India and had a strong Buddhist expression in its internal working along with a strong traditional Hindu imagery."

"It would appear that Manichaeans existed throughout India, north to south, as late as the latter 20th century in small pockets among their Hindu neighbors."

"Under the direction of Mani, a missionary post was established in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu not too far from Chennai."

"Manichaeans in India saw a mutual binding of Hinduism and Buddhism."

"Vishnu, Krishna, Buddha, Mani and various others were identified as Messengers of Light or a manifestation of one of the previous Messengers."

"Two major texts used by Manichaeans in India included the Gospel of Thomas and later the Dhammapada."

"Most of the communities, it would seem, recited prayers four times per day as the standard form of worship in a household. However, there appear to have been additional prayers for corporate worship."

"Manichaeans in India observed numerous festivals and made many pilgrimages alongside Hindus."

"Along with physically making pilgrimages and wanderings, Manichaeans practiced a 'spiritual pilgrimage' once each month during the new moon, where they believed they were communing with the Divine Teacher (the current Messenger of Light) in the spirit. They believed their spirit, or perhaps a particle of light, was able to leave the body, as it were, temporarily and be raised up to the heights where the Divine Teacher resided."

"The regular pilgrimages included visiting sacred spaces such as rivers, streams, shrines and other places of religious significance to Manichaeans."

"According to the Manichaean expression of the Religion of Light in India, Maitreya is a manifestation, or emanation, of Mithra. In this form, within Monijiao, He is referred to as Mitri Burxan. Not only is Mani the Apostle of Light referred to as 'Buddha Mani' but he is also identified as being one and the same as Mitri Burxan or at least an emanation of Mithra, the Divine Teacher (Mir Izgadda, the Third Messenger)."

"Mani was often symbolically represented with the image of a peacock and sometimes as with the imagery of Murugan. At least some Manichaean circles strongly identified Mani with Murugan Kartikeya. There are prayers referring to the 'Vel' (spear) of the Messenger Mani which he uses to pierce the darkness and evil; the prayers speak of the Mother of Life giving the spear to him for divine work. Murugan is often depicted as holding the Vel."

"Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu, and Ganesha are four aspects which were highly regarded by Manichaeans of India. These were viewed as aspects of the supreme God and of the Divine Teacher:

    Brahma: Purity, Thought, Spirit
    Shiva: Light
    Vishnu: Power, Fire, Reason
    Ganesha: Wisdom, Understanding, Water."
"Ganesha is also associated with Mithra and Mani, serving as a symbol of the 'Lord of Wisdom' sent from the supreme God as the Divine Teacher (Supreme Guru) and the King of Truth and Light, Apostle of Light, Messenger of Truth."

"Vishnu (or Narayana), Ganesha, Buddha and Mani were four of the most common images or statutes found in homes just as imagery depicting Vishnu could be found in homes of the Manichaeans in Cambodia and Thailand."

"Manichaeans did not worship the actual statues, but gave reverence and adoration to that which each of the physical objects represented, thus they can not be accused of idolatry."

"When incense or offerings were made before (but not to) the various shrines with statues or figures, it was with the thought that such offerings were out of thankfulness for the presence of the one the figure represented, but also given as a thanksgiving offering to the One God for sending the one being honored."

"The Third Messenger is also depicted as the 'Kalki Avatar.'"

"The Ten Commandments are similar as those presented in other Manichaean communities around the world, only presented in a different order."

    "1. Do not worship false gods, there is one true God.
    2. Do not lie.
    3. Do not be greedy.
    4. Do not steal.
    5. Do not murder humans and do not kill plants and animals without necessity.
    6. Do not mislead others.
    7. Do not practice sorcery.
    8. Do not be a hypocrite because you shall always walk in the truth.
    9. Do not be unfaithful to the one you love (spouse, partner) in words or [sexual] relations.
    10. Do not despise a person because of their country, race, gender, sexuality or association with other religions.
An additional injunction was practiced which included not harassing or disturbing animals during Sabbath."

"In most cases, the Manichaeans in India were rather strict concerning the practice of vegetarianism, however, in other cases, some associated groups abstained from eating meat six days out of the week and permitted it on at least one day, while there is some indication that meat was permitted among others but not on the Sabbath and certain days of fasting, new moons and full moons. Yet others permitted themselves to eat meat only one day out of the year, but again, not on the Sabbath."

"The full moon was seen as an auspicious day of healing and prayers were recited specifically in honor of this night."

"Manichaeans developed an elaborate puja ritual that was practiced on Friday evening before sundown in anticipation of the blessing of Sabbath and the presence of God's Messenger."

"In almost every case, marriages were arranged by parents or other elder family members, but the partners were permitted free will and ultimately were the ones to make the final choice in the matter."

"There were two groups of Elect and two groups of Hearers. The Elect consisted of Intercessor Elect and General Elect. The Hearers consisted of the Hearer Sadhus who practiced asceticism and there was the General Hearers. There is indication that the Sadhus did not practice extreme asceticism, but rather were more familiar with the teachings of the Religion of Light and served as missionaries. Not all the Sadhus traveled in carrying out their missionary work, but some worked in a local area, usually from their home."

"The observance of Alms-giving by the Hearers was practiced with the view of presenting vegetables and fruits to the Intercessor Elect with the understanding that this group of Elect would make intercession on behalf of the Hearers. Alms were presented first as a puja to the Divine Messenger and then blessed, and thereafter presented to the Intercessor Elect. This included, as already mentioned, vegetables and fruits, usually brighter in color. Some Manichaean circles would also offer butter with their Alms. With the Alms-giving was an elaborate abhisheka (devotional rite) as a part of worship of the One God, honoring the Messenger of Light and the Teacher Mani. This often involved a number of altars and shrines."

"During the most important festivals devotees were given a portion of the prasad (food offering), in the form of bread if it was available, after it was blessed by the Intercessor Elect."

"Separate from the alms was another type of donation, similar to the tithe, or ten percent of one's personal funds or crops or other possessions for the benefit of the entire body of devotees (believers)."

"The Intercessor Elect practiced what was known as the Three Seals: Mouth (speech), Hands (labor) and Heart (abstinence). The latter Seal was also related to the mind and purification and the practice of the Twelve Virtues. The Three Seals were often conveyed as the Three Pillars: Sacred Texts, Sacred Tradition and Sacred Revelation."

"Japa, the chanting of the names, titles and attributes of the One God was a daily practice, mentally during quiet meditation (ajapa japa, awareness), vocally during household chores or during the work day and at other times vocally during corporate worship."

"Fire was considered sacred."

"Incense was regularly offered before the main altar and before the various shrines in the temples."

"Individual dwelling places did not usually have an altar, as this was reserved for the temple, but they did have various shrines (referred to in Syriac as the 'bema') dedicated to the Third Messenger and the King of the Religion of Light (Mani), the Buddha (Gautama), Vishnu, Krishna and Ganesha. Some homes also included a shrine to Christ. The use of the shrines was always accompanied with silent and audible prayers and chants, offering of incense, fire, water and other offerings. Writings from the late 19th century indicate that not all shrines were exactly the same; apparently some freedom was permitted."

"Images of animals were not permitted on the main altar, but these were permitted on various temple and household shrines."

"There was at least one image of Ganesha present in every home where sandalwood incense was offered on a daily basis."

"'OM Gum Ganapatayei Namaha' eventually became a popular and accepted chant among Manichaeans throughout India. This was chanted anytime during the year, but with greater fervor during the Memorial Festival (Bema Fest) of Mani."

"Elephants were highly regarded as being symbolic of not only wisdom but also as symbols of majesty, protection and guardianship, thus the prolific use of this imagery in temples and homes."

"Crosses adorned Manichaean temples, shrines and homes. The Manichaean Cross, often mistakenly identified as the 'Marthoma Cross' was brought to India (specifically to Kerala) by the Prophet Mani. Some Christian cults banned the use of this particular cross but it later reappeared among the Saint Thomas Christians."

"Altars and shrines were never approached without the devotee first rinsing the mouth from another room or some distance from the altar or shrine, washing the hands, arms and feet. Usually a ritual bath took place before approaching the shrines, but especially before standing before the altar in the temple."

"A book of prayers and chants was composed, which most of the text now appears to be lost to us."

"Some Manichaean circles accepted or adopted parts of the Guru Granth Sahib (the sacred book of Sikhism) as part of their own texts. In some cases texts were adapted according to the Manichaean belief system."

"It appears on the surface that some remnants of the Religion of Light as practiced in India in more ancient times, still exists in some forms in Sri Lanka among a minority of Buddhists."

"Later in the 20th century (around 1970), Manichaeans saw Haidakhan Babaji as a Messenger or emanation of one of the previous Messengers. Babaji promoted love and charity toward all souls and the chanting of the name Shiva, which was understood by some to indicate that a great change was coming, or some type of spiritual revolution. Babaji taught that the world would be destroyed, and Manichaeans understood this, as they have stated in commentaries on divine revelation, to mean that old spiritual paths would become irrelevant with the coming 'change' or spiritual revolution and restoration of divine truth in the world. They fully expected to witness at least the beginning of this revolution in their own lifetime."

"In discussing the Religion of Light as it was practiced in India by Manichaeans in earlier times, it would appear the belief system was identical to that of the modern day revival of the religion, however, the cultural expressions differ from place to place as would be expected and as it did in ancient times. There is one outstanding difference and this seems to be the belief that the Third Messenger presents Himself as two manifestations - one where He is referred to as 'Father' and one simply as 'Messenger', that is, Mir Fratama and Mir Izgadda, but that the two are still ultimately from one or source and are of the same substance. This was confirmed to my staff with the Manichaean headquarters in Iran but they also added that both are able to manifest individually or simultaneously as per the need."

Copyright © 2012, Dr. Yar, D.D., M.A., Ph.D.,
University for Historical and Cultural Research. All rights reserved.
Quotation is permitted as long as proper attribution is given with the link intact.