Druidism and the Ancient Religions of India
Many followers of Druidry today feel a great affinity with one or more of the religions of India, and research shows that this feeling may be based upon more than simply a sense of spiritual or philosophical resonance. There is now considerable evidence to suggest that Celtic and European cultures share a common origin with cultures which emerged in India thousands of years ago, and which gave birth to the ‘Dharmic religions’ of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Spiritual seekers who find their inspiration in both Druidism and the Dharmic religions may well be reuniting strands of a common cultural and spiritual heritage.
The Order of Bards Ovates & Druids has initiated a research programme to explore these connections in detail, and we hope to add more material to this section of the website as this programme develops. We held the first 'One Tree Gathering' at the Balaji Temple in Birmingham, England in 2010, jointly with the International Center for Cultural Studies, to explore and celebrate these connections. You can see photos of this event in the gallery below.
Here in a brief interview in Nagpur, India, in 2009, Philip Carr-Gomm gives a summary of the possible connections:
The Theory of Common Origins
There are at least five theories currently mooted that attempt to explain the extraordinary connections and resemblances that can be found between European and Indian languages and culture. The most widely held theory, based on linguistic, archaeological and genetic evidence is the Kurgan hypothesis, which suggests that the Indo-European peoples migrated west to Europe and south-east to India from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, which comprises the vast steppelands stretching from north of the Black Sea as far as the east of the Caspian Sea, from central Ukraine across the Southern and Volga Federal Districts of Russia to western Kazakhstan. Some linguists and archeologists, however, favour the Anatolian hypothesis, which suggests the Indo-Europeans originated in Asia Minor (now Turkey) and there are other, less favoured theories that suggest Armenia or India (the Harappan Theory) were the source-lands, or that the similarities can be explained by looking further back, to our common origins in Africa. Wikipedia is a good starting point to explore these theories.
Buddha & Boudicca – Linguistic Parallells
The Indo-European or Proto-Indo-European theories of origin were developed as the result of the discovery of the similarities between certain languages. As an example, there are many similarities between Old Irish and Sanskrit:
Old Irish - aire (freeman),Sanskrit - arya (noble)
Old Irish - noeb (good), Sanskrit - naib (holy)
Old Irish - bodar (deaf), Sanskrit - badhirah (deaf)
Old Irish - nemed (sacred/privileged), Sanskrit - names (respect)
Old Irish - ri (king), Sanskrit - raja (king)
Peter Beresford-Ellis in his essay ‘Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument’ highlights a fascinating parallel:
‘Boudi and the stem budh appear in all the Celtic languages. It means - all victorious, gift of teaching, accomplished, exulted, virtue and so forth. In Breton today, for example, boud means 'to be'. You will see the stem in the name Bouddica, more commonly referred to in English as Boadicea, the Celtic warrior queen of the Iceni who led an uprising against Roman rule in 60 AD The important thing is that the word occurs in Sanskrit and Buddha is the past participle of the stem budh, to know or enlightened. This is the title given to Sakyamuni Gautama - the Enlightened One. What is important is that in the Vedas the planet Mercury is also known as budh.' [Beresford-Ellis in the same article notes: The idea that these 'signposts' might lead to the fact that ancient Celtic astrology and Vedic astrology also had a common link, another surviving parallel, was thrown into sharp relief by a small gloss on a 9th Century Irish manuscript at Wurzburg. The word budh was glossed by 'point of fire' and 'planet Mercury'.]
Common motifs are found in folk-tales all over the world. Themes and details from Celtic stories can be found in India. Where did they originally come from? See 'In Search of the Folktale' by Doug Lipman.
The Twenty-Seven Star-Wives of King Aillil
'Celtic cosmology is a parallel to Vedic cosmology. Ancient Celtic astrologers used a similar system based on twenty-seven lunar mansions, called nakshatras in Vedic Sanskrit. Like the Hindu Soma, King Ailill of Connacht, Ireland, had a circular palace constructed with twenty-seven windows through which he could gaze on his twenty-seven "star wives."
There survives the famous first century bce Celtic calendar (the Coligny Calendar) which, as soon as it was first discovered in 1897, was seen to have parallels to Vedic calendrical computations.' Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument by Peter Berresford Ellis
The Horned God - Cernunnos, Shiva or Pashupati?
For a long time the Gundestrop Cauldron has been hailed as one of the most beautiful examples of Celtic art, made in Thrace but found in Denmark. It is now considered possible that the image of the horned god is that of Pasupati, a Shiva prototype, found in the early Indus Valley civilization. Certainly a seal from the ancient city of Mohenjodaro in the Indus Valley looks remarkably like the scene depicted on the cauldron. Compare the cauldron image below with that of the Pasupati figure from Mohenjodaro, 2300-1750 BC.
The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality by Jason Kirkey, Hiraeth Press, 2009. An outstanding book that draws on insights from Buddhism to illuminate Druidry and Celtic Spirituality.
Indo-European Paleopaganism and Its Clergy by Isaac Bonewits
Meet the Brahmins of ancient Europe, the high caste of Celtic society by Peter Berresford Ellis
Early Irish Astrology: An Historical Argument by Peter Berresford Ellis
A comparison between Vedic and Celtic traditions by Torc, P.A.C. Bloos
To learn how Michael Tippett's opera 'the Midsummer Marriage' draws on Celtic and Indian sources of inspiration when exploring the union of Masculine and Feminine Principles, see the Seventh Mount Haemus lecture by Philip Carr-Gomm
The Celtic Buddhist Society: "The lineage of Celtic Buddhism was suggested in the 1970's during casual conversation between the reknowned Tibetan lama Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and his student John Perks. The actual development is the result of the mixing of their minds. The lineage was formally incorporated as a non-profit in 1989, when it took on an official status. After meeting for years in rented rooms Venerable Seonaidh Perks established the Anadaire Celtic Buddhist Center on 11 acres in Saxtons River, Vermont, where the sangha erected a stone circle which has aided in increasing and focusing energies of transformation.
Sangha members are encouraged to establish a daily meditation practice. Practices range from a host of traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices to the more contemporary practices of the Celtic Fire visualization and working with the mandala of the Celtic cross. Also, we encourage integrating everyday practices in art, music, healing modalities- including animals, and in the business world. As a group some of our members have gone on yearly retreats to Maine or, to further connect with the latent Celtic energies, Ireland and Scotland. One member has delved into thangka painting to explore the emerging Celtic Buddhist mandala. And in March 2010, we celebrated the ordination of Sister Griffin as Abbess of Glen Ard Abbey, the newly formed Celtic Buddhist monastery."
There is a rich vein of Celtic/British and Indian music fusions worth exploring:
Sheila Chandra - A stunning combination of Irish and English folk songs with Indian music and drones can be found in her album 'Weaving My Ancestors' Voices'. Sheila Chandra says: 'For me, this album is also a statement about going beyond Asian fusion. I do not want to be an Indian living museum piece here in England. Although I'm passionate about Asian music and culture, and though I involve the knowledge I have of Asian structure in my work, this album is more of a statement about me as a 'world citizen'. I believe that my heritage comes not specifically from my own culture. I believe I am a spiritual heir to a universal form of inspiration.'
Khanda - Uilleann piper from Dublin Martin Nolan and friends play with special guest Ramesh Shotam
Indian Alba - Two Indian classical musicians and two Scottish traditional musicians combine their influences to play music which shows that there are no boundaries between them. Starting with Reels and Ragas they have developed, over the past few years, a sound which reflects the broad common ground between their traditions. Many raga gats (themes), particularly those from the borders of the Himalayas, have close relatives in the melodies of the Scottish highlands and islands, and for both of them the drone sounds of the bagpipes or the tampura play an important part in the music.
Celtic Ragas - Celtic Ragas is a musical love affair between Celtic and Indian instrumentation. The strings of Dunster's sarod and Jamie's guitar eloquently meld into rich, flowing melodies making the similarities between the musical traditions of these two cultures apparent.
Four Shillings Short - Listen to their 'From Ragas to Riches'
Listen to an interview below with OBOD member James Nichol on Stroud FM on the connections between Druidry and Buddhism
Explore the significance of the Druid seasonal celebrations
Explore the practice of meditation in Druidry and listen to sample meditations
Explore the significance of sacred animals in the Druid tradition