Vāsudeva in late canonical Pali

It was long ago remarked by TW Rhys Davids that the Pali texts represent a period of Indian religion when many of the Vedic deities had slipped from popularity, many new deities were worshiped, and many of the deities familiar from developed Hinduism had not yet appeared. The divinities mentioned in the suttas might represent gods who are currently worshiped, or they might recall deities who are only remembered in ancient texts and legends.

What they can’t do, though, is see the future. Thus we don’t find mention of later deities.

Vedism was fading in the time of the Buddha, and in the centuries that followed, the Brahmins sought a modernized approach. For the most part we know this through the later Hindu texts. But certain records reveal a distinctive divinity of the post-Buddhist period: Vāsudeva.

He is not, so far as I know, mentioned in any pre-Buddhist texts. But several of the oldest Sanskritic Brahmanical inscriptions mention him, and he is acknowledged by Panini. These references date him to not long after the Buddha. And he extended over quite a large area, too, encompassing much of the region that was at the time dominated by Ashokan Buddhism.

Vāsudeva is mentioned in Ja 542 Ummagga:*

  • (numbered 546 by Anandajoti; to add to the confusion there is a bug on his site making it show as 545)


“The mother of the king of Sivi is named Jambāvatī, and she was the beloved queen consort of Vāsudeva the Kaṇha.”

Now the king of Sivi’s mother, Jambāvatī, was an outcaste, and she was the beloved queen consort of Vāsudeva, one of the Kaṇhāgaṇa clan, the eldest of ten brothers. The story goes, that he one day went out from Dvāravatī into the park; and on his way he espied a very beautiful [6.217] girl, standing by the way, as she journeyed on some business from her outcaste village to town. He fell in love, and asked her birth; and on hearing that she was a Caṇḍālī, he was distressed. Finding that she was unmarried, he turned back at once, and took her home, surrounded her with precious things, and made her his chief queen. She brought forth a son Sivi, who ruled in Dvāravatī at his father’s death.

There are sufficient details to be certain this is the same Vāsudeva:

  • he is called Kaṇha (= Krishna)
  • he rules at Dvāravatī
  • he has many brothers

Vāsudeva is also mentioned in the Niddesa (mnd13:26.2, mnd4:38.3, cnd7:13.4), where his devotees appear alongside many other religious practitioners. It would be interesting to study the other figures mentioned in this list, too.

Both these Pali texts are from the post-Ashokan period, maybe 2–4 centuries after the Buddha’s passing. This is the same period as we find the archeological references to Vāsudeva and also the earliest Sanskrit textual reference in Panini.

Given the massive popularity and influence of Vāsudeva—he was even worshipped by Greeks—it is no surprise to find him included in Buddhist texts. It also makes sense that he was not added to any early texts, as these were mostly closed before the ascension of Vāsudeva. I’m not sure if this detail about Vāsudeva has been noticed before, but in any case, it adds a further detail to the interrelationship between the evolving religions of Buddhism and Brahmanism.


Thank you Bhante for your sharing.

May I ask you what do you think of the Mahāsamaya-sutta ?

Is there any texts that you know which tells that saying the devas’ names is a way to call or please them and thus gain their protection ?

Thank you very much Bhante.

You certainly may! But could you give me something more specific? Meanwhile, here are my notes on the text:


Well, the Mahāsamaya, Atanatiya, and Isigili Suttas are three main examples. Then there are shorter examples, such as the verses spreading metta to creatures at AN 4.67.

I think it makes sense to share good vibes, right?