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Title: Hindu Gods And Heroes - Studies in the History of the Religion of India
Author: Barnett, Lionel D.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                    The Wisdom of the East Series

                              EDITED BY

                           L. CRANMER-BYNG

                          Dr. S. A. KAPADIA

                          WISDOM OF THE EAST

                            HINDU GODS AND


                      STUDIES IN THE HISTORY OF
                        THE RELIGION OF INDIA


                    LIONEL D. BARNETT, M.A., LITT

       *       *       *       *       *


The following pages are taken from the Forlong Bequest lectures which
I delivered in March last at the School of Oriental Studies. Owing to
exigencies of space, much of what I then said has been omitted here,
especially with regard to the worship of Śiva; but enough remains to
make clear my general view, which is that the religion of the Aryans
of India was essentially a worship of spirits--sometimes spirits of
real persons, sometimes imaginary spirits--and that, although in early
days it provisionally found room for personifications of natural
forces, it could not digest them into Great Gods, and therefore they
have either disappeared or, if surviving, remain as mere Struldbrugs.
Thus I am a heretic in relation to both the Solar Theory and the
Vegetation Theory, as everyone must be who takes the trouble to study
Hindu nature without prejudice.

L. D. B.

_May 29, 1922._

       *       *       *       *       *



Popular Religion, p. 9--Ṛig-vēda and priestly religion, p.
11--Dyaus-Zeus, p. 14--Ushās, p. 18--Sūrya, p. 19--Savitā, p.
19--Mitra and Varuṇa, p. 19--Agni, p. 22--Sōma, p. 23--Indra, p.
25--The Aśvins, p. 35--Vishṇu, p. 37--Rudra-Siva, p. 42--Summary, p.


Growth of Brahman influence in expanding Aryan society, p. 45--System
of priestly doctrine: theory of Sacrifice and mechanical control of
nature thereby, p. 48--Its antinomianism: partly corrected by the
growing cult of Rudra-Śiva, p. 53--The Upanishads: their relation to
the Brāhmaṇas, p. 59--Brahma the Absolute, p. 60--Karma-Saṃsāra, p.
63--Results: Śaiva Theism, p. 65--Kṛishṇa: early history and legends,
p. 66--Teachings, p. 68.


I. The Great War and the Pāṇḍavas, p. 70--Vishṇu-Kṛishṇa, p.
74--Nārāyaṇa, p. 76--Bhagavad-gītā and Nārāyaṇīya, p. 77--Growth of
church of Vishṇu-Kṛishṇa, p. 79--Worship of Pāṇḍavas, p. 92--New
erotic and romantic Kṛishṇaism, p. 94.

II. Rāma: legend of Rāma and constitution of Rāmāyaṇa, p. 98.

III. Some later Preachers, p. 103--Religions of Vishṇu-Kṛishṇa and
Śiva in Southern India, p. 103--Śaṃkara Āchārya, p. 105--Rāmānuja, p.
107--Nimbārka, Madhva, Vallabha, p. 108--Jñānadēva, p. 109--Nāma-dēva,
p. 109--Tukārām, p. 109--Rāmānanda, p. 110--Tulsī Dās, p. 110--Kabīr,
p. 110--Nānak, p. 110--Chaitanya, p. 110.

IV. Brahmā and the Trimūrti, p. 111--Dattātrēya, p. 114.

V. Two Modern Instances, p. 116.


       *       *       *       *       *


The object of the Editors of this series is a very definite one. They
desire above all things that, in their humble way, these books shall
be the ambassadors of goodwill and understanding between East and
West--the old world of Thought and the new of Action. In this
endeavour, and in their own sphere, they are but followers of the
highest example in the land. They are confident that a deeper
knowledge of the great ideals and lofty philosophy of Oriental thought
may help to a revival of that true spirit of Charity which neither
despises nor fears the nations of another creed and colour.






       *       *       *       *       *




Let us imagine we are in a village of an Aryan tribe in the Eastern
Panjab something more than thirty centuries ago. It is made up of a
few large huts, round which cluster smaller ones, all of them rudely
built, mostly of bamboo; in the other larger ones dwell the heads of
families, while the smaller ones shelter their kinsfolk and followers,
for this is a patriarchal world, and the housefather gives the law to
his household. The people are mostly a comely folk, tall and
clean-limbed, and rather fair of skin, with well-cut features and
straight noses; but among them are not a few squat and ugly men and
women, flat-nosed and nearly black in colour, who were once the free
dwellers in this land, and now have become slaves or serfs to their
Aryan conquerors. Around the village are fields where bullocks are
dragging rough ploughs; and beyond these are woods and moors in which
lurk wild men, and beyond these are the lands of other Aryan tribes.
Life in the village is simple and rude, but not uneventful, for the
village is part of a tribe, and tribes are constantly fighting with
one another, as well as with the dark-skinned men who often try to
drive back the Aryans, sometimes in small forays and sometimes in
massed hordes. But the world in which the village is interested is a
small one, and hardly extends beyond the bounds of the land where its
tribe dwells. It knows something of the land of the Five Rivers, in
one corner of which it lives, and something even of the lands to the
north of it, and to the west as far as the mountains and deserts,
where live men of its own kind and tongue; but beyond these limits it
has no knowledge. Only a few bold spirits have travelled eastward
across the high slope that divides the land of the Five Rivers from
the strange and mysterious countries around the great rivers Gaṅgā and
Yamunā, the unknown land of deep forests and swarming dark-skinned

In the matter of religion these Aryans care a good deal about charms
and spells, black and white magic, for preventing or curing all kinds
of diseases or mishaps, for winning success in love and war and trade
and husbandry, for bringing harm upon enemies or rivals--charms which
a few centuries later will be dressed up in Ṛigvēdic style, stuffed
out with imitations of Ṛigvēdic hymns, and published under the name of
Atharva vēda, "the lore of the Atharvans," by wizards who claim to
belong to the old priestly clans of Atharvan and Aṅgiras. But we have
not yet come so far, and as yet all that these people can tell us is a
great deal about their black and white magic, in which they are hugely
interested, and a fair amount about certain valiant men of olden times
who are now worshipped by them as helpful spirits, and a little about
some vague spirits who are in the sun and the air and the fire and
other places, and are very high and great, but are not interesting at

This popular religion seems to be a hopeless one, without ideals and
symbols of love and hope. Is there nothing better to be found in this
place? Yes, there is a priestly religion also; and if we would know
something about it we must listen to the chanting of the priests, the
_brahmans_ or men of the "holy spirit," as they are called, who are
holding a sacrifice now on behalf of the rich lord who lives in the
largest house in the village--a service for which they expect to be
paid with a handsome fee of oxen and gold. They are priests by
heredity, wise in the knowledge of the ways of the gods; some of them
understand how to compose _ṛiks_, or hymns, in the fine speech dear to
their order, hymns which are almost sure to win the gods' favour, and
all of them know how the sacrifices shall be performed with perfect
exactness so that no slip or imperfection may mar their efficacy.
Their psalms are called _Ṛig-vēda_, "lore of the verses," and they set
themselves to find grace in the ears of the many gods whom these
priests worship, sometimes by open praise and sometimes by riddling
description of the exploits and nature of the gods. Often they are
very fine; but always they are the work of priests, artists in ritual.
And if you look heedfully into it you will also mark that these
priests are inclined to think that the act of sacrifice, the offering
of, say, certain oblations in a particular manner with particular
words accompanying them, is in itself potent, quite apart from the
psalms which they sing over it, that it has a magic power of its own
over the machinery of nature.[1] Really this is no new idea of our
Vēdic priests; ten thousand years before them their remote forefathers
believed it and acted upon it, and if for example they wanted rain
they would sprinkle drops of water and utter magic words. Our Vēdic
priests have now a different kind of symbols, but all the same they
still have the notion that ceremony, _ṛita_ as they call it, has a
magic potency of its own. Let us mark this well, for we shall see much
issuing from it.

[Footnote 1: Cf. e.g. RV. III. xxxii. 12.]

Who are the gods to whom these priests offer their prayers and psalms?
They are many, and of various kinds. Most of them are taken from the
religion of the people, and dressed in new garb according to the
imagination of the priest; and a few are priestly inventions
altogether. There is Dyaush-pitā, the Sky-father, with Pṛithivī Mātā,
the Earth-mother; there are Vāyu the Wind-spirit, Parjanya the
Rain-god, Sūrya the Sun-god, and other spirits of the sky such as
Savitā; there is the Dawn-goddess, Ushās. All these are or were
originally deified powers of nature: the people, though their
imagination created them, have never felt any deep interest in them,
and the priests who have taken them into their charge, though they
treat them very courteously and sing to them elegant hymns full of
figures of speech, have not been able to cover them with the flesh and
blood of living personality. Then we have Agni the Fire-god, and Sōma
the spirit of the intoxicating juice of the sōma-plant, which is used
to inspire the pious to drunken raptures in certain ceremonies; both
of these have acquired a peculiar importance through their association
with priestly worship, especially Agni, because he, as bearing to the
gods the sacrifices cast into his flames, has become the ideal Priest
and divine Paraclete of Heaven. Nevertheless all this hieratic
importance has not made them gods in the deeper sense, reigning in the
hearts of men. Then we find powers of doubtful origin, Mitra and
Varuṇa and Vishṇu and Rudra, and figures of heroic legend, like the
warrior Indra and the twin charioteers called Aśvinaā and Nāsatyā. All
these, with many others, have their worship in the Ṛig-vēda: the
priests sing their praises lustily, and often speak now of one deity,
now of another, as being the highest divinity, without the least

Some savage races believe in a highest god or first divine Being in
whom they feel little personal interest. They seldom speak of him, and
hardly ever worship him. So it seems to be with Dyaush-pitā. The
priests speak of him and to him, but only in connexion with other
gods; he has not a single whole hymn in his honour, and the only
definite attribute that attaches to him is that of fatherhood. Yet he
has become a great god among other races akin in speech to the Aryans
of India: Dyaush-pitā is phonetically the same as the Greek [Greek:
Zeus patêr] and the Latin _Iuppiter_. How comes it then that he is
not, and apparently never was, a god in the true sense among the
Indian Aryans? Because, I think, his name has always betrayed him. To
call a deity "Sky-father" is to label him as a mere abstraction. No
mystery, no possibility of human personality, can gather round those
two plain prose words. So long as a deity is known by the name of the
physical agency that he represents, so long will he be unable to grow
into a personal God in India. The priests may sing vociferous psalms
to Vāyu the Wind-spirit and Sūrya the Sun-spirit, and even to their
beloved Agni the Fire-god; but sing as much as they will, they never
can make the people in general take them to their hearts.

Observe what a different history is that of Zeus among the
Greeks--Zeus, Father of Gods and Men, the ideal of kingly majesty and
wisdom and goodness. The reason is patent. Ages and ages before the
days when the Homeric poets sang, the Greeks had forgotten that Zeus
originally meant "sky": it had become to them a personal name of a
great spiritual power, which they were free to invest with the noblest
ideal of personality. But very likely there is also another reason: I
believe that the Olympian Zeus, as modelled by Homer and accepted by
following generations, was not the original [Greek: _Zeus patêr_] at
all, but a usurper who had robbed the old Sky-father of his throne and
of his title as well, that he was at the outset a hero-king who some
time after his death was raised to the seat and dignity of the old
Sky-father and received likewise his name. This theory explains the
old hero-sagas which are connected with Zeus and the strange fact that
the Cretans pointed to a spot in their island where they believed Zeus
was buried. It explains why legends persistently averred that Zeus
expelled his father Kronos from the throne and suppressed the Titan
dynasty: on my view, Kronos was the original Father Zeus, and his name
of Zeus and rank as chief god were appropriated by a deified hero.
How natural such a process was in those days may be seen from the
liturgy of Unȧs on the pyramids at Sakkarah in Egypt.[2] Here Unȧs
is described as rising in heaven after his death as a supreme god,
devouring his fathers and mothers, slaughtering the gods, eating their
"magical powers," and swallowing their "spirit-souls," so that he thus
becomes "the first-born of the first-born gods," omniscient,
omnipotent, and eternal, identified with the Osiris, the highest god.
Now this Unȧs was a real historical man; he was the last king of the
Fifth Dynasty, and was deified after death, just like any other king
of Egypt. The early Egyptians, like many savage tribes, regarded all
their kings as gods on earth and paid them formal worship after their
death; the later Egyptians, going a step further, worshipped them even
in their lifetime as embodiments of the gods.[3] What is said in the
liturgy for the deification of Unȧs is much the same as was said of
other kings. The dead king in early Egypt becomes a god, even the
greatest of the gods, and he assumes the name of that god[4]; he
overcomes the other gods by brute force, he kills and devours them.
This is very like what I think was the case with Zeus; the main
difference is that in Egypt the _character_ of the deified king was
merged in that of the old god, and men continued to regard the latter
in exactly the same light as before; but among the forefathers of the
Greeks the reverse happened in at least one case, that of Zeus, where
the character of a hero who had peculiarly fascinated popular
imagination partly eclipsed that of the old god whose name and rank he
usurped. The reason for this, I suppose, is that even the early
Egyptians had already a conservative religion with fixed traditions
and a priesthood that forgot nothing,[5] whereas among the forefathers
of the Greeks, who were wandering savages, social order and religion
were in a very fluid state. However that may be, a deified hero might
oust an older god and reign under his name; and this theory explains
many difficulties in the legends of Zeus.

[Footnote 2: Sir E. A. W. Budge, _Literature of the Ancient
Egyptians_, p. 21 ff., and _Gods of the Egyptians_, i, pp. 32 f., 43.]

[Footnote 3: Erman, _Handbook of Egyptian Religion_, p. 37 f.]

[Footnote 4: Budge, _Lit. of the Egyptians_, p. 21; Erman, _ut supra_,
p. 37 f.]

[Footnote 5: It is even possible that in one case, that of Osiris, a
hero in Egypt may have eclipsed by his personality the god whom he
ousted. See Sir J. W. Frazer's _Adonis, Attis, Osiris_, ii, p. 200,
and Sir W. Ridgeway's _Dramas and Dramatic Dances, etc._, p. 94 ff.]

As to the Roman Iuppiter, I need not say much about him. Like all the
genuine gods of Latium, he never was much more than an abstraction
until the Greeks came with their literature and dressed him in the
wardrobe of their Zeus.

Coming now to Ushās, the Lady of the Dawn, and looking at her name
from the standpoint of comparative philosophy, we see that the word
_ushās_ is closely connected with the Greek [Greek: heôs] and the
Latin _aurora_. But when we read the literature, we are astonished to
find that while the Greek Dawn-lady has remained almost always a mere
abstraction, the Indian spirit is a lovely, living woman instinct with
the richest sensuous charms of the East. Some twenty hymns are
addressed to her, and for the most part they are alive with real
poetry, with a sense of beauty and gladness and sometimes withal an
under-note of sadness for the brief joys of life. But when we look
carefully into it we notice a curious thing: all this hymn-singing to
Ushās is purely literary and artistic, and there is practically no
religion at all at the back of it. A few stories are told of her, but
they seem to convince no one, and she certainly has no ritual worship
apart from these hymns, which are really poetical essays more than
anything else. The priestly poets are thrilled with sincere emotion at
the sight of the dawn, and are inspired by it to stately and lively
descriptions of its beauties and to touching reflections upon the
passing of time and mortal life; but in this scene Ushās herself is
hardly more than a model from an artist's studio, in a very Bohemian
quarter. More than once on account of her free display of her charms
she is compared to a dancing girl, or even a common harlot! Here the
imagination is at work which in course of time will populate the Hindu
Paradise with a celestial _corps de ballet_, the fair and frail
Apsarasas. Our Vēdic Ushās is a forerunner of that gay company. A
charming person, indeed; but certainly no genuine goddess.

As his name shows, Sūrya is the spirit of the sun. We hear a good deal
about him in the Ṛig-vēda, but the whole of it is merely description
of the power of the sun in the order of nature, partly allegorical,
and partly literal. He is only a nature-power, not a personal god. The
case is not quite so clear with Savitā, whose name seems to mean
literally "stimulator," "one who stirs up." On the whole it seems most
likely that he represents the sun, as the vivifying power in nature,
though some[6] think that he was originally an abstraction of the
vivifying forces in the world and later became connected with the sun.
However this may be, Savitā is and remains an impersonal spirit with
no human element in his character.

[Footnote 6: See Oldenberg, _Religion des Veda_, p. 64 f.]

Still more perplexing are the two deities Mitra and Varuṇa, who are
very often associated with one another, and apparently are related.
Mitra certainly is an old god: if we go over the mountains to the west
and north-west of the country of our Indian Aryans, we shall find
their kinsmen in Persia and Bactria worshipping him as a power that
maintains the laws of righteousness and guards the sanctity of oaths
and engagements, who by means of his watchmen keeps mankind under his
observation and with his terrible weapons crushes evil powers. The
Indian Aryans tell almost exactly the same tale of their Mitra and his
companion Varuṇa, who perhaps is simply a doublet of Mitra with a
different name, which perhaps is due to a variety of worship. But they
have more to say of Varuṇa than of Mitra. In Varuṇa we have the
highest ideal of spirituality that Hindu religion will reach for many
centuries. Not only is he described as supreme controller of the order
of nature--that is an attribute which these priestly poets ascribe
with generous inconsistency to many others of their deities--but he is
likewise the omniscient guardian of the moral law and the rule of
religion, sternly punishing sin and falsehood with his dreaded noose,
but showing mercy to the penitent and graciously communing with the
sage who has found favour in his eyes.

But Mitra and Varuṇa will not enjoy this exalted rank for long. Soon
the priests will declare that Mitra rules over the day and Varuṇa over
the night (TS. II. i. 7, 4; VI. iv. 8, 3), and then Varuṇa will begin
to sink in honour. The "noose of Varuṇa" will come to mean merely the
disease of dropsy. His connection with the darkness of the night will
cause men to think of him with fear; and in their dread they will
forget his ancient attributes of universal righteousness, justice, and
mercy, and remember him chiefly as an avenger of guilt. They will
banish him to the distant seas, whose rivers he now guides over the
earth in his gracious government of nature; and there he will dwell in
exile for ever, remembered only to be feared. And Mitra will become
merely another name for the sun.

What is the origin of this singular couple? And why are they destined
to this fall? Neither of these questions can be answered by anything
but conjectures. There is no evidence either from Indian or from
Iranian religion that Mitra or his double Varuṇa grew out of the
worship of the sun or the sky, although in their worship they were
sometimes connected with the sun and the sky. However far backwards we
look, we still find them essentially spirits of natural order and
moral law, gods in the higher sense of the word. But their character,
and especially the character of Varuṇa, it seems to me, is rather too
high to survive the competition of rival cults, such as that of the
popular hero Indra and the priests' darling Agni, which tend to
engross the interest of worshippers lay and cleric, and to blunt their
relish for more spiritual ideals. So Mitra and Varuṇa become stunted
in their growth; and at last comes the fatal time when they are
identified with the sky by day and night. This is the final blow. No
deity that is plainly limited to any one phase or form of nature in
India can be or become a great god; and speedily all their real
divinity fades away from Mitra and Varuṇa, and they shrivel into

Next we turn to a spirit of a very different sort, the Fire-god, Agni.
The word _agni_ is identical with the Latin _ignis_; it means "fire,"
and nothing else but fire, and this fact is quite sufficient to
prevent Agni from becoming a great god. The priests indeed do their
best, by fertile fancy and endless repetition of his praises, to lift
him to that rank; but even they cannot do it. From the days of the
earliest generations of men Fire was a spirit; and the household fire,
which cooks the food of the family and receives its simple oblations
of clarified butter, is a kindly genius of the home. But with all his
usefulness and elfish mystery Fire simply remains fire, and there's an
end of it, for the ordinary man. But the priests will not have it so.
The chief concern of their lives is with sacrifice, and their deepest
interest is in the spirit of the sacrificial fire. All the riches of
their imagination and their vocabulary are lavished upon him, his
forms and his activities. They have devoted to him about 200 hymns and
many occasional verses, in which they dwell with constant delight and
ingenious metaphor upon his splendour, his power, his birth from
wood, from the two firesticks, from trees of the forest, from stones,
or as lightning from the clouds, his kinship with the sun, his
dwelling in three abodes (viz. as a rule on earth, in the clouds as
lightning, and in the upper heavens as the sun), his place in the
homes of men as a holy guest, a friend and a kinsman, his protection
of worshippers against evil spirits and malignant sorcerers, and
especially his function of conveying the oblation poured into his
flames up to the gods. Thus they are led to represent him as the
divine Priest, the ideal hierophant, in whom are united the functions
of the three chief classes of Ṛigvēdic sacrificial priests, the
_hōtā_, _adhvaryu_, and _brahman_, and hence as an all-knowing sage
and seer. If infinite zeal and ingenuity in singing Agni's praises and
glorifying his activities can avail to raise him to the rank of a
great god, we may expect to find him very near the top. But it is not
to be. The priests cannot convince the plain man of Agni's
super-godhead, and soon they will fail to convince even themselves.
The time will shortly come when they will regard all these gods as
little more than puppets whose strings are pulled by the mysterious
spirit of the sacrifice.

The priests have another pet deity, Sōma. For the sacred rites include
the pressing and drinking of the fermented yellow juice of the
sōma-plant, an acid draught with intoxicating powers, which when mixed
with milk and drunk in the priestly rites inspires religious ecstasy.
This drinking of the sōma-juice is already an ancient and important
feature in the worship of our Aryans, as it is also among their
kinsmen in Iran; so it is no wonder that the spirit of the sacred
plant has been made by the priests into an important deity and
celebrated with endless abundance of praise and prayer. As with Agni,
Sōma's appearance and properties are described with inexhaustible
wealth of epithets and metaphors. The poets love to dwell on the
mystic powers of this wonderful potion, which can heal sickness of
soul and body and inspire gods and men to mighty deeds and holy
ecstasy. Most often they tell how the god Indra drank huge potions of
it to strengthen himself for his great fight with the dragon Vṛitra.
Most of this worship is of priestly invention; voluminous as its
rhetoric is, it makes no great impression on the laity, nor perhaps on
the clergy either. Some of the more ingenious of the priests are
already beginning to trace an affinity between Sōma and the moon. The
yellow sōma-stalks swell in the water of the pressing-vat, as the
yellow moon waxes in the sky; the _sōma_ has a magical power of
stimulation, and the moon sends forth a mystic liquid influence over
the vegetation of the earth, and especially over magic plants; the
sōma is an ambrosia drunk by gods and heroes to inspire them to mighty
deeds, and the moon is a bowl of ambrosia which is periodically drunk
by the gods and therefore wanes month by month. The next step will
soon be taken, and the priests will say that Sōma _is_ the moon; and
literature will then obediently accept this statement, and, gradually
forgetting nearly everything that Sōma meant to the Ṛigvēdic priests,
will use the name Sōma merely as a secondary name for Chandra, the
moon and its god. A very illuminating process, which shows how a god
may utterly change his nature. Now we turn to the hero-gods.

Indra and the Aśvinā at the beginning came to be worshipped because
they were heroes, men who were supposed to have wrought marvellously
noble and valiant deeds in dim far-off days, saviours of the
afflicted, champions of the right, and who for this reason were
worshipped after death, perhaps even before death, as divine beings,
and gradually became associated in their legends and the forms of
their worship with all kinds of other gods. Times change, gods grow
old and fade away, but the remembrance of great deeds lives on in
strange wild legends, which, however much they may borrow from other
worships and however much they may be obscured by the phantom lights
of false fancy, still throw a glimmer of true light back through the
darkness of the ages into an immeasurably distant past.

Indra is a mighty giant, tawny of hair and beard and tawny of aspect.
The poets tell us that he bears up or stretches out earth and sky,
even that he has created heaven and earth. He is a monarch supreme
among the gods, the lord of all beings, immeasurable and irresistible
of power. He rides in a golden chariot drawn by two tawny horses, or
many horses, even as many as eleven hundred, and he bears as his chief
weapon the _vajra_, or thunderbolt, sometimes also a bow with arrows,
a hook, or a net. Of all drinkers of sōma he is the lustiest; he
swills many lakes of it, and he eats mightily of the flesh of bulls
and buffaloes. To his worshippers he gives abundance of wealth and
happiness, and he leads them to victory over hostile tribes of Aryans
and the still more dreaded hordes of dark-skins, the Dāsas and Dasyus.
He guided the princes Yadu and Turvaśa across the rivers, he aided
Divōdāsa Atithigva to discomfit the dark-skinned Śambara, he gave to
Divōdāsa's son Sudās the victory over the armies of the ten allied
kings beside the river Parushṇī. Many are the names of the devils and
demons that have fallen before him; but most glorious of all his deeds
is the conquest of Vṛitra, the dragon dwelling in a mountain fastness
amidst the waters, where Indra, accompanied by the troop of Maruts, or
storm-gods, slew the monster with his bolt and set free the waters, or
recovered the hidden kine. Our poets sing endless variations on this
theme, and sometimes speak of Indra repeating the exploit for the
benefit of his worshippers, which is as much as to say that they, or
at least some of them, think it an allegory.

In all this maze of savage fancy and priestly invention and wild
exaggeration there are some points that stand out clearly. Indra is a
god of the people, particularly of the fighting man, a glorified type
of the fair-haired, hard-fighting, hard-drinking forefathers of the
Indian Aryans and their distant cousins the Hellenes; and therefore he
is the champion of their armies in battles. He is not a fiction of
hieratic imagination, whom priests regale with hyperbolic flattery
qualified only by the lukewarmness of their belief in their own words.
He is a living personality in the faith of the people; the priests
only invent words to express the people's faith, and perhaps add to
the old legends some riddling fancies of their own. Many times they
tell us that after conquering Vṛitra and setting free the waters or
the kine Indra created the light, the dawn, or the sun; or they say
that he produced them without mentioning any fight with Vṛitra;
sometimes they speak of him as setting free "the kine of the Morning,"
which means that they understood the cows to signify the light of
morning, and it would seem also that they thought that the waters
mentioned in the story signified the rain. But why do they speak of
these acts as heroic deeds, exploits of a mighty warrior, in the same
tone and with the same epic fire as when they sing of Indra's battles
in times near to their own, real battles in which their own
forefathers, strong in their faith in the god, shattered the armies of
hostile Aryan tribes or the fortresses of dark-skinned natives? The
personality of Indra and the spirit in which his deeds are recounted
remind us of hero-sagas; the allegories which the poets read into them
are on the other hand quite in the style of the priest. How can we
explain the presence of these two voices? Besides, why should the
setting free of the rain or the daylight be a peculiarly heroic
attribute of Indra? Other gods are said to do the same things as part
of their regular duties: Parjanya, Mitra and Varuṇa, Dyaus, dispense
the rain, others the light.

The explanation is simple. Indra, it seems to me, is a god of just the
same sort as Zeus, whose nature and history I have already explained
according to my lights. In the far-away past Indra was simply a hero:
very likely he was once a chieftain on earth. The story of his great
deeds so fascinated the imagination of men that they worshipped his
memory and at last raised him to the rank of a chief god. Now they had
previously worshipped two very high gods; one of these was
Dyaush-pitā, the Sky-father, of whom I have spoken before, and another
was Tvashṭā, the All-creator. So some of them, as the Ṛig-vēda
proves, declared that Dyaus was the father of Indra, and others appear
to have given this honour to Tvashṭā, while others regarded Tvashṭā as
Indra's grandfather; and some even said that in order to obtain the
sōma to inspire him to divine deeds Indra killed his father, which of
course is just an imaginative way of saying that Indra was made into a
god and worshipped in place of the elder god.

The puzzle now is solved. Indra has remained down to the time of the
Ṛig-vēda true to his early nature, an epic hero and typical warrior;
but he has also borrowed from the old Sky-father the chief attributes
of a sky-spirit, especially the giving of rain and the making of
light, which the priests of the Ṛig-vēda riddlingly describe as
setting free the waters and the cows. He bears the thunderbolt, as
does also Zeus; like Zeus, he has got it from the Sky-father, who had
likewise a thunderbolt, according to some Ṛigvēdic poets, though
others say it was forged for him by Tvashṭā, his other father. I even
venture to think that there is a kernel of heroic legend in the story
of the slaying of Vṛitra; that at bottom it is a tale relating how
Indra with a band of brave fellows stormed a mountain hold surrounded
by water in which dwelt a wicked chieftain who had carried away the
cattle of his people, and that when Indra had risen to the rank of a
great god of the sky men added to this plain tale much mythical
decoration appropriate to his new quality, turning the comrades of
Indra into the storm-gods and interpreting the waters and cows to mean
rain and daylight. Since most of us are agreed that stories such as
that of Indra defeating Śambara for the benefit of Divōdāsa refer to
real events, it seems unnatural to suppose that the Vṛitra-legend is a
purely imaginary myth. We can thus explain why the ideas of Indra
setting free the rain and the light fit in so awkwardly with the
heroic element in the legend: for they are merely secondary
attributes, borrowed from the myths of other gods and mechanically
attached to Indra on his elevation in the pantheon. But we can explain
much more. There is a regular cycle of hero-saga connected with Indra
which is visible or half-visible at the back of some of the Vēdic
hymns and of the priestly literature which is destined to follow them.

The truth is that the priests of the Ṛig-vēda on the whole have not
quite made up their minds about Indra's merits, and we shall find them
a few generations hence equally uncertain. They praise his heroic
deeds lustily and admire his power immensely; but they are keenly
aware that he is a god with a past, and sometimes they dwell on that.
Their favourite method is to relate some of his former questionable
deeds in the form of a reproach, and then to turn the story to his
credit in some way or another; but as time goes on and the priests
think less and less of most of their gods, Indra's character will
steadily sink, and in the end we shall find him playing a subordinate
part, a debauched king in a sensuous paradise, popularly worshipped as
a giver of rain. But this is to anticipate. As yet Indra is to the
Ṛigvēdic priests a very great god; but how did he become so? If we
read carefully the hymn RV. IV. xviii.[7] we see at the back of it a
story somewhat like this. Before he was born, Tvashṭā, Indra's
grandfather, knew that Indra would dispossess him of his sovereignty
over the gods, and therefore did his best to prevent his birth (cf.
RV. III. xlviii.); but the baby Indra would not be denied, and he
forced his way into the light of day through the side of his mother
Aditi, who seems to be the same as Mother Earth (cf. _Ved. Stud._, ii,
p. 86), killed his father, and drank Tvashṭā's sōma, by which he
obtained divine powers. In v. 12 of this hymn Indra excuses himself by
saying that he was in great straits, and that then the sōma was
brought to him by an eagle. What these straits were is indicated in
another hymn (IV. xxvii.), which tells us that he was imprisoned, and
escaped on the back of the eagle, which he compelled to carry him; the
watchman Kṛiśānu shot an arrow at the bird, but it passed harmlessly
through its feathers. Evidently in the story Indra had a hard struggle
with rival gods. One poet says (RV. IV. xxx. 3): "Not even all the
gods, O Indra, defeated thee, when thou didst lengthen days into
nights," which apparently refers also to some miracle like that
ascribed to Joshua. Another tradition (MS. I. vi. 12) relates that
while Indra and his brother Vivasvān were still unborn they declared
their resolve to oust the Ādityas, the elder sons of their mother
Aditi; so the Ādityas tried to kill them when born, and actually slew
Vivasvān, but Indra escaped. Another version (TS. II. iv. 13) says
that the gods, being afraid of Indra, bound him with fetters before he
was born; and at the same time Indra is identified with the Rājanya,
or warrior class, as its type and representative.[8] This last point
is immensely important, for it really clinches the matter. Not once,
but repeatedly, the priestly literature of the generations that will
follow immediately after that of the Ṛig-vēda will be found to treat
Indra as the type of the warrior order.[9] They will describe an
imaginary coronation-ceremony of Indra, ending with these words:
"Anointed with this great anointment Indra won all victories, found
all the worlds, attained the superiority, pre-eminence, and supremacy
over all the gods, and having won the overlordship, the paramount
rule, the self rule, the sovereignty, the supreme authority, the
kingship, the great kingship, the suzerainty in this world,
self-existing, self-ruling, immortal, in yonder world of heaven,
having attained all desires he became immortal."[10] Thus we see that
amidst the maze of obscure legends about Indra there are three points
which stand out with perfect clearness. They are, firstly, that Indra
was a usurper; secondly, that the older gods fought hard but vainly to
keep him from supreme divinity, and that in his struggle he killed his
father; and thirdly, that he was identified with the warrior class, as
opposed to the priestly order, or Brahmans. This antagonism to the
Brahmans is brought out very clearly in some versions of the tales of
his exploits. More than once the poets of the Ṛig-vēda hint that his
slaying of Vṛitra involved some guilt, the guilt of _brahma-hatyā_, or
slaughter of a being in whom the _brahma_, or holy spirit, was
embodied[11]; and this is explained clearly in a priestly tale (TS.
II. v. 2, 1 ff.; cf. ŚB. I. i. 3, 4, vi. 3, 8), according to which
Indra from jealousy killed Tvashṭā's son Viśvarūpa, who was chaplain
of the gods, and thus he incurred the guilt of _brahma-hatyā_. Then
Tvashṭā held a sōma-sacrifice; Indra, being excluded from it, broke up
the ceremony and himself drank the sōma. The sōma that was left over
Tvashṭā cast into one of the sacred fires and produced thereby from it
the giant Vṛitra, by whom the whole universe, including Agni and Sōma,
was enveloped (cf. the later version in Mahābhārata, V. viii. f.). By
slaying him Indra again became guilty of _brahma-hatyā_; and some
Ṛigvēdic poets hint that it was the consciousness of this sin which
made him flee away after the deed was done.

[Footnote 7: I follow in the interpretation of this hymn E. Sieg, _Die
Sagenstoffe des Ṛgveda_, i. p. 76 ff. Cf. on the subject _Ved. Stud._,
i. p. 211, ii. pp. 42-54. Charpentier, _Die Suparṇasage_, takes a
somewhat different view of RV. IV. xxvi.-xxvii., which, however, does
not convince me; I rather suspect that RV. IV. xxvi. 1 and 4, with
their mention of Manu, to whom the sōma was brought, are echoes of an
ancient and true tradition that Indra was once a mortal.]

[Footnote 8: The other legend in MS. II. i. 12, that Aditi bound the
unborn Indra with an iron fetter, with which he was born, and of which
he was able to rid himself by means of a sacrifice, is probably

[Footnote 9: E.g. AB. VII. xxxi., VIII. xii. Cf. BA. Up. I. iv.

[Footnote 10: AB. VIII. xiv. (Keith's translation).]

[Footnote 11: Cf. Sāyaṇa on RV. I. xciii. 5.]

These bits of saga prove, as effectually as is possible in a case like
this, that Indra was originally a warrior-king or chieftain who was
deified, perhaps by the priestly tribe of the Aṅgirasas, who claim in
some of the hymns to have aided him in his fight with Vṛitra, and that
he thus rose to the first rank in the pantheon, gathering round
himself a great cycle of heroic legend based upon those traditions,
and only secondarily and by artificial invention becoming associated
with the control of the rain and the daylight.

The name Aśvinā means "The Two Horsemen"; what their other name,
Nāsatyā, signifies nobody has satisfactorily explained. But even with
the name Aśvinā there is a difficulty. They are described usually as
riding together in a chariot which is sometimes said to be drawn by
horses, and this would suit their name; but more often the poets say
that their chariot is drawn by birds, such as eagles or swans, and
sometimes even by a buffalo or buffaloes, or by an ass. I do not see
how we can escape from this difficulty except by supposing that
popular imagination in regard to this matter varied from very early
times, but preferred to think of them as having horses. At any rate
they are very ancient gods, for the people of Iran also have
traditions about them, and in the far-away land of the Mitanni, in the
north of Mesopotamia, they are invoked together with Indra, Mitra, and
Varuṇa to sanction treaties. In India the Aryans keep them very busy,
for they are more than anything else gods of help. Thrice every day
and thrice every night they sally forth on their patrols through earth
and heaven, in order to aid the distressed[12]: and the poets tell us
the names of many persons whom they have relieved, such as old
Chyavāna, whom they restored to youth and love, Bhujyu, whom they
rescued from drowning in the ocean, Atri, whom they saved from a fiery
pit, Viśpalā, to whom when her leg had been cut off they gave one of
iron, and Ghōshā, to whom they brought a husband. Many other helpful
acts are ascribed to them, and it is very likely that at least some of
these stories are more or less true. Another legend relates that they
jointly wedded Sūryā, the daughter of the Sun-god, who chose them from
amongst the other gods.[13]

[Footnote 12: Cf. _Ved. Studien_, ii. p. 31, RV. I. xxxiv. 2.]

[Footnote 13: Cf. _Ved. Studien_, i. p. 14 ff.]

Amidst the medley of saga and facts and poetical imagination which
surrounds the Aśvinā, can we see the outlines of their original
character? It is hard to say: opinions must differ. The Aryans of
India are inclined to say that they are simply divine kings active in
good works; but the priests are perhaps beginning to fancy that they
may be embodiments of powers of nature--they are not sure which--and
in course of time they will have various theories, partly connected
with their rituals. But really all that is certain in the Vēdic age
about the Aśvins is that they are an ancient pair of saviour-gods who
ride about in a chariot and render constant services to mankind. We
are tempted however to see a likeness between them and the [Greek:
Diòs kórô] of the distant Hellenes, the heroes Kastor and Polydeukes,
Castor and Pollux, the twin Horsemen who are saviours of afflicted
mankind by land and sea. There are difficulties in the way of this
theory; but they are not unsurmountable, and I believe that the
Aśvinā of India have the same origin as the Twin Horsemen of Greece.
At any rate both the pairs are hero-gods, whose divinity has been
created by mankind's need for help and admiration for valour. Whether
there was any human history at the back of this process we cannot say.

Now we may leave the heroes and consider a god of a very different
kind, Vishṇu.

The Ṛig-vēda has not very much to say about Vishṇu, and what it says
is puzzling. The poets figure him as a beneficent young giant, of
unknown parentage, with two characteristic attributes: the first of
these is his three mystic strides, the second his close association
with Indra. Very often they refer to these three strides, sometimes
using the verb _vi-kram_, "to step out," sometimes the adjectives
_uru-krama_, "widely-stepping," and _uru-gāya_, "wide-going." The
three steps carry Vishṇu across the three divisions of the universe,
in the highest of which is his home, which apparently he shares with
Indra (RV. I. xxxii. 20, cliv. 5-6, III. lv. 10; cf. AB. I. i., etc.).
Some of them are beginning to imagine that these steps symbolise the
passage of the sun through the three divisions of the world, the
earth, sky, and upper heaven; certainly this idea will be held by many
later scholars, though a few will maintain that it denotes the sun at
its rising, at midday, and at its setting. Before long we shall find
some priests harping on the same notion in another form, saying that
Vishṇu's head was cut off by accident and became the sun; and later on
we shall see Vishṇu bearing as one of his weapons a chakra, or discus,
which looks like a figure of the sun. But really all this is an
afterthought: in the Vēda, and the priestly literature that follows
directly upon the Vēda, Vishṇu is _not_ the sun. Nor do we learn what
he is very readily from his second leading attribute in the Ṛig-vēda,
his association with Indra. Yet it is a very clearly marked trait in
his character. Not only do the poets often couple the two gods in
prayer and praise, but they often tell us that the one performed his
characteristic deeds by the help of the other. They say that Vishṇu
made his three strides by the power of Indra (VIII. xii. 27), or for
the sake of Indra (Vāl. iv. 3), and even that Indra strode along with
Vishṇu (VI. lxix. 5, VII. xcix. 6), and on the other hand they tell us
often that it was by the aid of Vishṇu that Indra overcame Vṛitra and
other malignant foes. "Friend Vishṇu, stride out lustily," cries Indra
before he can strike down Vṛitra (IV. xviii. 11).[14] The answer to
this riddle I find in the Brāhmaṇas, the priestly literature which is
about to follow immediately after the Vēda. In plain unequivocal words
the Brāhmaṇas tell us again and again that _Vishṇu is the
sacrifice_.[15] Evidently when they repeat this they are repeating an
old hieratic tradition; and it is one which perfectly explains the
facts of the case. Vishṇu, I conceive, was originally nothing more or
less than the embodied spirit of the sacrificial rites. His name seems
to be derived from the root _vish_, meaning stimulation or
inspiration; and this is exactly what the sacrifice is supposed in
priestly theory to do. The sacrifice, accompanied by prayer and
praise, is imagined to have a magic power of its own, by which the
gods worshipped in it are strengthened to perform their divine
functions. One poet says to Indra: "When thy two wandering Bays thou
dravest hither, thy praiser laid within thine arms the thunder" (RV.
I. lxiii. 2); and still more boldly another says: "Sacrifice, Indra,
made thee wax so mighty ... worship helped thy bolt when slaying the
dragon" (III. xxxii. 12). So it would be very natural for the priests
to conceive this spirit of the sacrificial rites as a personal deity;
and this deity, the Brāhmaṇas assure us, is Vishṇu. Then the idea of
the three strides and the association with Indra would easily grow up
in the priestly imagination. The inspiring power of the sacrifice is
supposed to pervade the three realms of the universe, earth, sky, and
upper heavens; this idea is expressed in the common ritual formula
_bhūr bhuvas svaḥ_, and is symbolised by three steps taken by the
priest in certain ceremonies, which are translated into the language
of myth as the three strides of Vishṇu.[16] Observe that in the
Ṛig-vēda the upper heaven is not the dwelling-place of Vishṇu only;
Agni the Fire-god, Indra and Sōma have their home in it also (RV. I.
cliv. 6, IV. xxvi. 6, xxvii. 3-4, V. iii. 3, VIII. lxxxix. 8, IX.
lxiii. 27, lxvi. 30, lxviii. 6, lxxvii. 2, lxxxvi. 24, X. i. 3, xi. 4,
xcix. 8, cxliv. 4). Later, however, when their adventitious divinity
begins to fade away from Agni and Sōma, and Indra is allotted a
special paradise of his own, this "highest step" will be regarded as
peculiar to Vishṇu, _Vishṇōḥ paramam padam_.

[Footnote 14: A later and distorted version of this myth appears in
AB. VI. xv.]

[Footnote 15: E.g. MS. 1. iv. 14, ŚB. I. i. 1, 2, 13, TB. I. ii. 5, 1,
AB. I. xv., KB. IV. ii., XVIII. viii., xiv.]

[Footnote 16: ŚB. I. ix. 3, 8-11. Cf. the three steps of the
Amesha-spentas from the earth to the sun, imitated in the Avestic
ritual (Avesta, transl. Darmesteter, I. 401).]

As soon as this spirit of sacrifice was thus personified, he at once
attached himself to Indra; for Indra is pre-eminently the god of
action, and for his activities he needs to be stimulated by sacrifice
and praise. As the priests will tell us in plain unvarnished words,
"he to whom the Sacrifice comes as portion slays Indra" (AB. I. iv.).
Therefore we are told that Vishṇu aids Indra in his heroic exploits,
that Vishṇu takes his strides and presses Sōma in order that Indra may
be strengthened for his tasks. Now we can see the full meaning of
Indra's cry before striking Vṛitra, "Friend Vishṇu, stride out
lustily!"; for until the sacrifice has put forth its mystic energy the
god cannot strike his blow. We are told also that Vishṇu cooks
buffaloes and boils milk for Indra,[17] for buffaloes were no doubt
anciently offered to Indra. The vivid reality of Indra's character has
clothed Vishṇu with some of its own flesh and blood; originally a
priestly abstraction, he has become through association with Indra a
living being, a real god. The blood which has thus been poured into
his veins will enable him to live through a critical period of his
life, until by combination with another deity he will rise to new and
supreme sovereignty. But of that more anon. Meanwhile let us note the
significance of this union of Vishṇu and Indra in the Vēda. Vishṇu,
the spirit of Sacrifice, is in a sense representative of the Brahman
priesthood, and Indra, as I have shown, is commonly regarded as
typical of the warrior order. In the Ṛig-vēda Indra is powerless
without Vishṇu's mystic service, and Vishṇu labours to aid Indra in
his heroic works for the welfare of men and gods. Surely this is an
allegory, though the priests may so far be only dimly conscious of its
full meaning--an allegory bodying forth the priestly ideal of the
reign of righteousness, in which the King is strong by the mystic
power of the Priest, and the Priest lives for the service of the King.

[Footnote 17: RV. VI. xvii. 11, VIII. lxvi. 10; the myth in RV. I.
lxi. 7, VIII. lxvi. 10, and TS. VI. ii. 4, 2-3 is expanded from this
original idea. Cf. Macdonell, _Vedic Myth._, p. 41.]

There is another god who is destined to become in future ages Vishṇu's
chief rival--Rudra, "The Tawny," or Śiva, "The Gracious." He belongs
to the realm of popular superstition, a spiteful demon ever ready to
smite men and cattle with disease, but likewise dispensing healing
balms and medicines to those that win his favour. The Ṛigvēdic priests
as yet do not take much interest in him, and for the most part they
leave him to their somewhat despised kinsmen the Atharvans, who do a
thriving trade in hymns and spells to secure the common folk against
his wrath.

There are many more gods, godlings, and spirits in the Vēdic religion;
but we must pass over them. We have seen enough, I hope, to give us a
fair idea of the nature and value of that religion in general. What
then is its value?

The Ṛigvēda is essentially a priestly book; but it is not entirely a
priestly book. Much of the thought to which it gives utterance is
popular in origin and sentiment, and is by no means of the lowest
order. On this groundwork the priests have built up a system of
hieratic thought and ritual of their own, in which there is much that
deserves a certain respect. There is a good deal of fine poetry in
it. There is also in it some idea of a law of righteousness: in spite
of much wild and unmoral myth and fancy, its gods for the most part
are not capricious demons but spirits who act in accordance with
established laws, majestic and wise beings in whom are embodied the
highest ideals to which men have risen as yet. Moreover, the priests
in the later books have given us some mystic hymns containing vigorous
and pregnant speculations on the deepest questions of existence,
speculations which are indeed fanciful and unscientific, but which
nevertheless have in them the germs of the powerful idealism that is
destined to arise in centuries to come. On the other hand, the priests
have cast their system in the mould of ritualism. Ritual, ceremony,
sacrifice, professional benefit--these are their predominant
interests. The priestly ceremonies are conceived to possess a magical
power of their own; and the fixed laws of ritual by which these
ceremonies are regulated tend to eclipse, and finally even to swallow
up, the laws of moral righteousness under which the gods live. A few
generations more, and the priesthood will frankly announce its ritual
to be the supreme law of the universe. Meanwhile they are becoming
more and more indifferent to the personalities of the gods, when they
have preserved any; they are quite ready to ascribe attributes of one
deity to another, even attributes of nominal supremacy, with
unscrupulous inconsistency and dubious sincerity; for the
personalities of the different gods are beginning to fade away in
their eyes, and in their mind is arising the conception of a single
universal Godhead.



Centuries have passed since the hymns of the Ṛig-vēda were composed.
The Aryans have now crossed the fateful ridge on the east of their
former settlements, and have spread themselves over the lands of
Northern Hindostan around the upper basins of the Ganges and Jamna,
reaching eastward as far as Bihar and southward down to the Vindhya
Mountains, and in the course of their growth they have absorbed not a
little of the blood of the dark-skinned natives. The old organisation
of society by tribes has come to an end, though the names of many
ancient tribes are still heard; the Aryans are now divided laterally
by the principle of what we call "caste," which is based upon a
combination of religious and professional distinctions, and vertically
by the rule of kings, while a few oligarchic governments still survive
to remind them of Vēdic days. In these kingdoms the old tribes are
beginning to be fused together; from these combinations new States are
arising, warring with one another, constantly waxing and waning.
Society is ruled politically by kings, spiritually by Brahmans. With
the rise of the kingdom an Established Church has come into existence,
and the Brahman priesthood works out its principles to the bitterest
end of logic.

The Brahmans are now, more than they ever were before, a close
corporation of race, religion, and profession, a religious fraternity
in the strict sense of the words. While other classes of the Aryans
have mixed their blood to a greater or less degree with that of the
natives, the Brahmans have preserved much of the pure Aryan strain.
They, moreover, have maintained the knowledge of the ancient Vēdic
language in which the sacred hymns of their forefathers were composed,
of the traditions associated with them, and of the priestly lore of
Vēdic ritual. Proud of this heritage and resolved to maintain it
undiminished, they have knitted themselves into a close spiritual and
intellectual aristocracy, which stands fast like a lighthouse amidst
the darkness and storms of political changes. They employ all the arts
of the priest, the thinker, the statesman, and even the magician to
preserve their primacy; and around them the manifold variety of the
other castes, in all their divisions and subdivisions, groups itself
to make up the multi-coloured web of Indian life.

In course of time this priesthood will spread out octopus-like
tentacles over the whole of India. Becoming all things to all men, it
will find a place in its pantheon for all gods and all ideas,
baptising them by orthodox names or justifying them by ingenious
fictions. It will send forth apostles and colonies even to the
furthermost regions of the distant South, which, alien in blood and in
tradition, will nevertheless accept them and surrender its best
intellect to their control. It will even admit into the lower ranks of
its own body men of foreign birth by means of legal fictions, in order
to maintain its control of religion. Though itself splitting up into
scores of divisions varying in purity of blood and tradition, it will
still as a whole maintain its position as against all other classes of
society. That the Brahman is the Deity on earth, and other classes
shall accept this dogma and agree to take their rank in accordance
with it, will become the principle holding together a vast
agglomeration of utterly diverse elements within the elastic bounds of
Catholic Brahmanism.

But as yet this condition of things has not arrived. The Brahmans are
still comparatively pure in blood and homogeneous in doctrine, and
they have as yet sent forth no colonies south of the Vindhya. They are
established in the lands of the Ganges and Jamna as far to the east as
Benares, and they look with some contempt on their kinsmen in the
western country that they have left behind. They are busily employed
in working out to logical conclusions the ideas and principles of
their Ṛigvēdic forefathers. They have now three Vēdas; for to the old
Ṛig-vēda they have added a Yajur-vēda for the use of the sacrificant
orders of priests and a Sāma-vēda or hymnal containing Ṛigvēdic hymns
arranged for the chanting of choristers. The result of these labours
is that they have created a vast and intricate system of sacrificial
ritual, perhaps the most colossal of its kind that the world has ever
seen or ever will see. What is still more remarkable, the logical
result of this immense development of ritualism is that the priesthood
in theory is practically atheistic, while on the other hand a certain
number of its members have arrived at a philosophy of complete
idealism which is beginning to turn its back upon ritualism.

The atheist is not so much the man who denies the existence of any god
as the man to whom God is not God, who looks upon the Deity as
subordinate to powers void of holiness and nobility, the man who will
not see in God the highest force in the world of nature and in the
realm of the spirit. In this sense the Brahmans are thorough atheists.
According to them, the universe with all that is in it--gods, men, and
lower things--is created and governed by an iron law of soulless
natural necessity. It has arisen by emanation from a cosmic Principle,
Prajāpati, "the Lord of Creatures," an impersonal being who shows no
trace of moral purpose in his activity. Prajāpati himself is not
absolutely the first in the course of nature. The Brāhmaṇas, the
priestly books composed in this period to expound the rules and mystic
significance of the Brāhmanic ceremonies, give us varying accounts of
his origin, some of them saying that he arose through one or more
intermediate stages from non-existence (TB. II. ii. 9, 1-10, ŚB. VI.
i. 1, 1-5), others deriving him indirectly from the primitive waters
(ŚB. XI. i. 6, 1), others tracing his origin back to the still more
impersonal and abstract Brahma (Sāmav. B. I. 1-3, Gōp. B. I. i. 4).
All these are attempts to express in the form of myth the idea of an
impersonal Principle of Creation as arising from a still more abstract
first principle. We have seen the poets of the Ṛig-vēda gradually
moving towards the idea of a unity of godhead; in Prajāpati this goal
is attained, but unfortunately it is attained by sacrificing almost
all that is truly divine in godhead. The conception of Prajāpati that
we find in the Brāhmaṇas is also expressed in some of the latest hymns
of the Ṛig-vēda. Among these is the famous Purusha-sūkta (RV. X. 90),
which throws a peculiar light on the character of Prajāpati. It is in
praise of a primitive Purusha or Man, who is, of course, the same as
Prajāpati; in some mysterious manner this Purusha is sacrificed, and
from the various parts of his body arise the various parts of the
world. The idea conveyed by this is that the universe came into
existence by the operation of the mystic laws revealed in the
Brahmanic rituals, and is maintained in its natural order by the same
means. The Brāhmaṇas do not indeed often assert on their own authority
that Prajāpati was himself sacrificed in order to produce the world,
and in fact they usually give other accounts of the creation; but as
their authors live in a rarefied atmosphere of mystical allegory in
which fact and fancy are completely confused with one another and
consistency ceases to have any meaning, none of them would have
difficulty in accepting the Ṛigvēdic statement that he was sacrificed.
Hence they tell us on the one hand that Prajāpati has created the
world from a blind will for generation or increase, producing from
each of his limbs some class of beings corresponding to it (e.g. MS.
IV. vi. 3), or copulating with the earth, atmosphere, sky, and speech
(ŚB. VI. i. 2, 1), or that he brought it into existence indirectly by
entering with the Triple Science or mystic lore of the three Vēdas
into the primeval waters and thence forming an egg from which was
hatched the personal Demiurge Brahmā, who actually created the world
(ŚB. VI. i. 1, 10); and on the other hand they relate that he created
sacrifice and performed it, making of himself a victim in order that
the gods, his offspring, might perform the rites for their own
benefit, forming an image of himself to be the sacrifice, by which he
redeemed himself from the gods (ŚB. XI. i. 8, 2-4; cf. AB. VII. 19,
KB. XIII. 1, ŚB. III. ii. 1, 11), and that after creation he ascended
to heaven (ŚB. X. ii. 2, 1). The thought that lies underneath these
bewildering flights of fancy is one of mystic pantheism: all created
existence has arisen by emanation from the one Creative Principle,
Prajāpati, and in essence is one with Prajāpati; Prajāpati is an
impersonal being, a creative force, in which are embodied the laws of
Brahmanic ritual, which acts only in these laws, and which is above
the moral influences that affect humanity; and the whole of created
nature, animate and inanimate, is controlled in every process of its
being by these laws, and by the priest who possesses the knowledge of
them. Thus there lies a profound significance in the title of "gods on
earth" which the Brahmans have assumed.

When we speak of sacrifice in India, we must clear our minds of the
ideas which we have formed from reading the Bible. The Mosaic
conception of sacrifice was that of a religious ceremony denoting a
moral relation between a personal God and His worshippers: in the
sin-offerings and trespass-offerings was symbolised a reconciliation
between man and his God who was angered by man's conscious or
unconscious breach of the laws which had been imposed upon him for
his spiritual welfare, while meat-offerings and peace-offerings
typified the worshipper's sense of gratitude for the Divine love and
wisdom that guarded him. Of such relations there is to be found in the
Brāhmaṇas no trace. If we may use a modern figure of speech, they
conceive the universe of gods, men, and lower creatures as a single
immense electric battery, and the sacrifice as a process of charging
this battery with ever fresh electricity. The sacrifice is a process,
at once material and mystic, which preserves the order of nature as
established by the prototypic sacrifice performed by Prajāpati. The
gods became divine and immortal through sacrifice (TS. VI. iii. 4, 7,
VI. iii. 10, 2, VII. iv. 2, 1, ŚB. I. vi. 2, 1, MS. III. ix. 4, AB.
VI. i. 1, etc.); and they live on the gifts of earth, as mankind lives
on the gifts of heaven (TS. III. ii. 9, 7, ŚB. I. ii. 5, 24). The
sacrifice is thus the life-principle, the soul, of all gods and all
beings (ŚB. VIII. vi. 1, 10, IX. iii. 2, 7, XIV. iii. 2, 1); or, what
amounts to the same thing, the Triple Science or the knowledge of the
ceremonies of the Three Vēdas is their essence (ŚB. X. iv. 2, 21). As
Prajāpati created the primeval sacrifice, and as the gods by following
this rule obtained their divinity, so man should seek to follow their
example and by means of sacrifice rise to godhead and immortality. As
one Brāhmaṇa puts it, the sacrifice leads the way to heaven; it is
followed by the _dakshiṇā_, or fee paid by the sacrificer to the
sacrificant priests, which of course materially strengthens the
efficacy of the sacrifice; and third comes the sacrificer, holding
fast to the _dakshiṇā_. This ascent of heaven is symbolised in the
ceremony called _dūrōhaṇa_, or "hard mounting" (AB. IV. 20, 21, KB.
XXV. 7), and it is ensured by the rite of _dīkshā_, or consecration,
in which the sacrificer is symbolically represented as passing through
a new conception, gestation, and birth, by which he is supposed to
obtain two bodies. One of these bodies is immortal and spiritual; the
other is mortal and material, and is assigned as a victim to all the
gods. He then ransoms his material body from the obligation of being
sacrificed, as did Prajāpati, and thus ranks literally as a "god on
earth," with the certainty of becoming in due course a god in heaven.

When the student on reading the Brāhmaṇas finds them full of
interminable ceremonial rules with equally interminable commentaries
interpreting them by wildest analogies as symbolical of details of
myths or of laws of nature and hence as conferring mystic powers,
besides all kinds of myths, some forcibly dragged into the
interpretation of the ritual because of some imaginary point of
resemblance, others invented or recast on purpose to justify some
detail of ceremony, and when moreover he observes that many of these
myths and some of the rites are brutally and filthily obscene, and
that hardly any of them show the least moral feeling, he may be
excused for thinking the Brāhmaṇas to be the work of madmen. But there
is some method in their madness. However strangely they may express
them, they have definite and strictly logical ideas about the
sacrificial ritual and its cosmic function. It is more difficult to
defend them against the charge of want of morality. It must be
admitted that their supreme Being, Prajāpati, is in the main lines of
his character utterly impersonal, and where incidentally he shows any
human feelings they are as a rule far from creditable to him. He
created the universe from mechanical instinct or blind desire, and
committed or tried to commit incest with his daughter (the accounts
are various). He has begotten both the gods and the demons, _dēvas_
and _asuras_, who are constantly at war with one another. The gods,
who are embodiments of "truth" (that is to say, correct knowledge of
the law of ritual), have been often in great danger of being
overwhelmed by the demons, who embody "untruth," and they have been
saved by Prajāpati; but he has done this not from any sense of right,
but merely from blind will or favour, for he can hardly distinguish
one party from the other. The gods themselves, in spite of being of
"truth," are sadly frail. Dozens of myths charge them with falsehood,
hatred, lust, greed, and jealousy, and only the stress of the danger
threatening them from their adversaries the demons has induced them to
organise themselves into an ordered kingdom under the sovereignty of
Indra, who has been anointed by Prajāpati. True, many of the offensive
features in this mythology and ritual are survivals from a very
ancient past, a pre-historic time in which morals were conspicuously
absent from religion; the priesthood has forgotten very little, and as
a rule has only added new rituals and new interpretations to this
legacy from the days of old. Nevertheless it must be confessed that
there is a tone of ritualistic professionalism in the Brāhmaṇas that
is unpleasing; the priesthood are consciously superior to nature, God,
and morals by virtue of their "Triple Science," and they constantly
emphasise this claim. It is difficult for us to realise that these are
the same men who have created the Brahmanic culture of India, which,
however we may criticise it from the Western point of view, is
essentially a gentle life, a field in which moral feeling and
intellectual effort have born abundance of goodly fruit. Yet if we
look more closely we shall see that even these ritualists, besotted as
they may seem to be with their orgies of priestcraft, are not wholly
untouched by the better spirit of their race. Extremes of sanctity,
whether it be ritualistic or anti-ritualistic sanctity, always tend in
India--and in other countries as well--to produce supermen. And if
our priesthood in the Brāhmaṇas feel themselves in the pride of
spiritual power lifted above the rules of moral law, they are not in
practice indifferent to it. Their lives are for the most part gentle
and good. Though "truth" in the Brāhmaṇas usually means only
accordance with the ritual and mystic teachings of the Triple Science,
it sometimes signifies even there veracity and honesty also.
Truthfulness in speech is the hall-mark of the Brahman, says
Hāridrumata Gautama to Satyakāma Jābāla (Chhānd. Up. IV. iv. 5); and
even in the Brāhmaṇas a lie is sometimes a sin. If conservatism
compels the priests to keep obscene old practices in their rituals,
they are not always satisfied with them, and voices begin to be heard
pleading that these rites are really obsolete. In short, a moral sense
is beginning to arise among them.

Now the moral law, in order that it may be feared, needs to be
embodied in the personality of a god. Most of their gods inspire no
fear at all in the souls of the Brahmans; but there is one of whom
they have a dread, which is all the greater for being illogical.
Prajāpati is a vast impersonality, too remote and abstract to inspire
the soul with either fear or love. The other gods--Indra, Agni, Sōma,
Varuṇa, Vishṇu, and the rest--are his offspring, and are moved like
puppets by the machinery of the ritual of sacrifice created by him.
However much they may seem to differ one from another in their
attributes and personalities, they are in essence one and negligible
in the eyes of the master of the ritual lore. In the beginning, say
the Brāhmaṇas, all the gods (except Prajāpati, of course) were alike,
and all were mortal; then they performed sacrifices and thereby became
immortal, each with his peculiar attributes of divinity.[18] Thus at
bottom they are all the same thing, merely phases of the universal
godhead, waves stirred up by the current of the cosmic sacrifice. They
have no terrors for the priesthood. But there is one deity who
obstinately refuses to accommodate himself to this convenient point of
view, and that is Rudra, or Śiva. By rights and logically he ought to
fall into rank with the rest of the gods; but there is a crossgrained
element in his nature which keeps him out. As we have seen, he comes
from a different source: in origin he was a demon, a power of terror,
whose realm of worship lay apart from that of the gods of higher
class, and now, although it has extended into the domains of orthodox
religion, an atmosphere of dread still broods over it.[19] Rudra
wields all his ancient terrors over a much widened area. The priests
have assigned him a regular place in their liturgies, and fully
recognise him in his several phases as Bhava, Śarva, Ugra, Mahā-dēva
or the Great God, Rudra, Īśāna or the Lord, and Aśani or the
Thunderbolt (KB. VI. 2-9). Armed with his terrors, he is fit to be
employed in the service of conscience. Hence a myth has arisen that in
order to punish Prajāpati for his incest with his daughter the gods
created Bhūta-pati (who is Paśu-pati or Rudra under a new name), who
stabbed him. The rest of the myth is as immaterial to our purpose as
it is unsavoury; what is important is that the conscience of the
Brahmans was beginning to feel slight qualms at the uncleanness of
some of their old myths and to look towards Rudra as in some degree an
avenger of sin. In this is implied an immense moral advance.
Henceforth there will be a gradual ennoblement of one of the phases of
the god's character. Many of the best minds among the Brahmans will
find their imaginations stirred and their consciences moved by
contemplation of him. To them he will be no more a mere demon of the
mountain and the wild. His destructive wrath they will interpret as
symbolising the everlasting process of death-in-life which is the
keynote of nature; in his wild dances they will see imaged forth the
everlasting throb of cosmic existence; to his terrors they will find a
reverse of infinite love and grace. The horrors of Rudra the deadly
are the mantle of Śiva the gracious. Thus, while the god's character
in its lower phases remains the same as before, claiming the worship
of the basest classes of mankind, and nowise rising to a higher level,
it develops powerfully and fruitfully in one aspect which attracts
grave and earnest imaginations. The Muni, the contemplative ascetic,
penetrates in meditation through the terrors of Śiva's outward form to
the god's inward love and wisdom, and beholds in him his own divine
prototype. And so Śiva comes to be figured in this nobler aspect as
the divine Muni, the supreme saint and sage.

[Footnote 18: For the original mortality of the gods see TS. VII. iv.
2, 1, ŚB. X. iv. 33 f., XI. i. 2, 12, ii. 3, 6; for their primitive
non-differentiation, TS. VI. vi. 8, 2, ŚB. IV. v. 4, 1-4.]

[Footnote 19: Cf. e.g. KB. III. 4 & 6, VI. 2-9, and Āp. ŚS. VI. xiv.

While the worship of Śiva is slowly making its way into the heart of
Brahmanic ritualism, another movement is at work which is gradually
drawing many of the keenest intellects among the Brahmans away from
the study of ritual towards an idealistic philosophy which views all
ritual with indifference. Its literature is the Upanishads.

The passing of the Ṛigvēdic age has left to the Brahmans a doctrinal
legacy, which may be thus restated: a single divine principle through
a prototypic sacrifice has given birth to the universe, and all the
processes of cosmic nature are controlled by sacrifices founded upon
that primeval sacrifice. In short, the ritual symbolises and in a
sense actually _is_ the whole cosmic process. The ritual implies both
the knowledge of the law of sacrifice and the proper practice of that
law, _both understanding and works_. This is the standpoint of the
orthodox ritualist. But there has also arisen a new school among the
Brahmans, that of the Aupanishadas, which has laid down for its first
doctrine that _works are for the sake of understanding_, that the
practice of ritual is of value only as a help to the mystic knowledge
of the All. But here they have not halted; they have gone a further
step, and declared that _knowledge once attained, works become
needless_. Some even venture to hint that perhaps the highest
knowledge is not to be reached through works at all. And the knowledge
that the Aupanishadas seek is of Brahma, and _is_ Brahma.

The word _brahma_ is a neuter noun, and in the Ṛig-vēda it means
something that can only be fully translated by a long circumlocution.
It may be rendered as "the power of ritual devotion"; that is to say,
it denotes the mystic or magic force which is put forth by the
poet-priest of the Ṛig-vēda when he performs the rites of sacrifice
with appropriate chanting of hymns--in short, ritual magic. This
mystic force the Ṛigvēdic poets have represented in personal form as
the god Bṛihaspati, in much the same way as they embodied the spirit
of the sacrifice in Vishṇu. Their successors, the orthodox ritualists
of the Brāhmaṇas, have not made much use of this term; but sometimes
they speak of Brahma as an abstract first principle, the highest and
ultimate source of all being, even of Prajāpati (Sāmav. B. I. 1, Gōp.
B. I. i. 4); and when they speak of Brahma they think of him not as a
power connected with religious ceremony but as a supremely
transcendent and absolutely unqualified and impersonal First
Existence. But the school of the Aupanishadas has gone further.
Seeking through works mystic knowledge as the highest reality, they
see in Brahma the perfect knowledge. To them the absolute First
Existence is also transcendently full and unqualified Thought. As
knowledge is power, the perfect Power is perfect Knowledge.

Brahma then is absolute knowledge; and all that exists is really
Brahma, one and indivisible in essence, but presenting itself
illusively to the finite consciousness as a world of plurality, of
most manifold subjects and objects of thought. The highest wisdom, the
greatest of all secrets, is to know this truth, to realise with full
consciousness that there exists only the One, Brahma, the infinite
Idea; and the sage of the Upanishads is he who has attained this
knowledge, understanding that he himself, as individual subject of
thought, is really identical with the universal Brahma. He has
realised that he is one with the Infinite Thought, he has raised
himself to the mystic heights of transcendental Being and Knowledge,
immeasurably far above nature and the gods. He knows all things at
their fountain-head, and life can nevermore bring harm to him; in his
knowledge he has salvation, and death will lead him to complete union
with Brahma.

The Aupanishadas have thus advanced from the pantheism of the orthodox
ritualists to a transcendental idealism. The process has been gradual.
It was only by degrees that they reached the idea of salvation in
knowledge, the knowledge that is union with Brahma; and it was
likewise only through slow stages that they were able to conceive of
Brahma in itself. Many passages in the Upanishads are full of
struggles to represent Brahma by symbols or forms perceptible to the
sense, such as ether, breath, the sun, etc. Priests endeavoured to
advance through ritual works to the ideas which these works are
supposed to symbolise: the ritual is the training-ground for the
higher knowledge, the leading-strings for infant philosophy. Gradually
men become capable of thinking without the help of these symbols:
philosophy grows to manhood, and looks with a certain contempt upon
those supports of its infancy.

The nature of Brahma as conceived in the Upanishads is a subject on
which endless controversies have raged, and we need not add to them.
Besides, the Upanishads themselves are not strictly consistent on this
point, or on others, for that matter; for they are not a single
homogeneous system of philosophy, but a number of speculations, from
often varying standpoints, and they are frequently inconsistent. But
there are some ideas which are more or less present in all of them.
They regard Brahma as absolute and infinite Thought and Being at once,
and as such it is one with the consciousness, soul or self, of the
individual when the latter rids himself of the illusion of a manifold
universe and realises his unity with Brahma. Moreover, Brahma is
bliss--the joy of wholly perfect and self-satisfied thought and being.
Since Brahma as universal Soul is really identical with each
individual soul or _ātmā_, and vice versa, it follows that each
individual soul contains within itself, _qua_ Brahma, the whole of
existence, nature, gods, mankind, and all other beings; it creates
them all, and all depend upon it. Our Aupanishadas are thoroughgoing

Another new idea also appears for the first time in the early
Upanishads, and one that henceforth will wield enormous influence in
all Indian thought. This is the theory of _karma_ and _saṃsāra_,
rebirth of the soul in accordance with the nature of its previous
works. Before the Upanishads we find no evidence of this doctrine: the
nearest approach to it is in some passages of the Brāhmaṇas which
speak of sinful men dying again in the next world as a punishment for
their guilt. But in the Upanishads the doctrine appears full-fledged,
and it is fraught with consequences of immense importance. Saṃsāra
means literally a "wandering to and fro," that is, the cycle of births
through which each soul must everlastingly pass from infinite time,
and Karma means the "acts" of each soul. Each work or act performed by
a living being is of a certain degree of righteousness or
unrighteousness, and it is requited by a future experience of
corresponding pleasure or pain. So every birth and ultimately every
experience of a soul is determined by the righteousness of its
previous acts; and there is no release for the soul from this endless
chain of causes and effects unless it can find some supernatural way
of deliverance. The Aupanishadas point to what they believe to be the
only way: it is the Brahma-knowledge of the enlightened sage, which
releases his soul from the chain of natural causation and raises him
to everlasting union with Brahma.

The teaching of the Upanishads has had two very different practical
results. On the one hand, it has moved many earnest thinkers to cast
off the ties of the world and to wander about as homeless beggars,
living on alms and meditating and discoursing upon the teachings of
the Upanishads, while they await the coming of death to release their
souls from the prison of the flesh and bring it to complete and
eternal union with Brahma. These wandering ascetics--_sannyāsīs_,
_bhikshus_, or _parivrājakas_ they are called--form a class by
themselves, which is destined to have an immense influence in
moulding the future thought of India. The teaching of Brahmanism is
beginning to recognise them, too. It has already divided the life of
the orthodox man into three stages, or _āśramas_, studentship, the
condition of the married householder, and thirdly the life of the
hermit, or _vānaprastha_, to which the householder should retire after
he has left a son to maintain his household; and now it is beginning
to add to these as fourth stage the life of the homeless ascetic
awaiting death and release. But this arrangement is for the most part
a fiction, devised in order to keep the beggar-philosophers within the
scheme of Brahmanic life; in reality they themselves recognise no such

The other current among the Aupanishadas is flowing in a very
different direction. We have seen how the worship of Rudra-Śiva has
grown since the old Ṛigvēdic days, and how some souls have been able
to see amidst the terrors of the god a power of love and wisdom that
satisfies their deepest hopes and longings, as none of the orthodox
rituals can do. A new feeling, the spirit of religious devotion,
_bhakti_ as it is called, is arising among them. To them--and they
number many Brahmans as well as men of other orders--Śiva has thus
become the highest object of worship, Īśvara or "the Lord"; and having
thus enthroned him as supreme in their hearts, they are endeavouring
to find for him a corresponding place in their intellects. To this end
they claim that Śiva as Īśvara is the highest of all forms of
existence; and this doctrine is growing and finding much favour. Among
the Aupanishadas there are many who reconcile it with the teaching of
the Upanishads by identifying Śiva with Brahma. Thus a new light
begins to flicker here and there in the Upanishads as the conception
of Śiva, a personal god wielding free grace, colours the pale
whiteness of the impersonal Brahma; and at last in the Śvētāśvatara,
which though rather late in date is not the least important of the
Upanishads, this theistic movement boldly proclaims itself: the
supreme Brahma, identified with Śiva, is definitely contrasted with
the individual soul as divine to human, giver of grace to receiver of
grace. Later Upanishads will take up this strain, in honour of Śiva
and other gods, and finally they will end as mere tracts of this or
that theistic church.

Yet another current is now beginning to stir men's minds, and it is
one that is also destined to a great future. It starts from Kṛishṇa.

The teaching of the Upanishads, that all being is the One Brahma and
that Brahma is the same as the individual soul, has busied many men,
not only Brahmans but also Kshatriyas, noblemen of the warrior order.
Some even say that it arose among the Kshatriyas; and at any rate it
is likely that they, being less obsessed with the forms of ritual than
the Brahmans and therefore able to think more directly and clearly,
have helped the Brahmans in their discussions to clear their minds of
ritual symbolism, and to realise more definitely the philosophic ideas
which hitherto they had seen only dimly typified in their ceremonies.

Kṛishṇa was one of these Kshatriyas. He belonged to the Sātvata or
Vṛishṇi tribe, living in or near the ancient city of Mathurā.
Sometimes in early writings he is styled Kṛishṇa Dēvakīputra, Kṛishṇa
Dēvakī's son, because his mother's name was Dēvakī; sometimes again he
is called Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva, or simply Vāsudēva, which is a patronymic
said to be derived from the name of his father Vasudēva. In later
times we shall find a whole cycle of legend gathering round him, in
which doubtless there is a kernel of fact. Omitting the miraculous
elements in these tales, we may say that the outline of the
Kṛishṇa-legend is as follows: Kṛishṇa's father Vasudēva and his mother
Dēvakī were grievously wronged by Dēvakī's cousin Kaṃsa, who usurped
the royal power in Mathurā and endeavoured to slay Kṛishṇa in his
infancy; but the child escaped, and on growing to manhood killed
Kaṃsa. But Kaṃsa had made alliance with Jarāsandha king of Magadha,
who now threatened Kṛishṇa; so Kṛishṇa prudently retired from Mathurā
and led a colony of his tribesmen to Dvārakā, on the western coast in
Kathiawar, where he founded a new State. There seems to be no valid
reason for doubting these statements. Sober history does not reject a
tale because it is embroidered with myth and fiction.

Now this man Kṛishṇa in the midst of his stirring life of war and
government found time and taste also for the things that are of the
spirit. He talked with men learned in the Upanishads about Brahma and
the soul and the worship of God; and apparently he set up a little
Established Church of his own, in which was combined something of the
idealism of the Upanishads with the worship of a supreme God of grace
and perhaps too a kind of religious discipline, about which we shall
say more later on. It must be confessed that we know sadly little
about his actual doctrine from first hand. All that we hear about it
is a short chapter in the Chhāndōgya Upanishad (iii. 17), where the
Brahman Ghōra Āṅgirasa gives a sermon to Kṛishṇa, in which he compares
the phases of human life to stages in the _dīkshā_ or ceremony of
consecration, and the moral virtues that should accompany them to the
_dakshiṇā_ or honorarium paid to the officiating priests, and he
concludes by exhorting his hearer to realise that the Brahma is
imperishable, unfailing, and spiritual, and quoting two verses from
the Ṛig-vēda speaking of the Sun as typifying the supreme bliss to
which the enlightened soul arises. This does not tell us very much,
and moreover we should remember that here our author, being an
Aupanishada, is more interested in what Ghōra preached to Kṛishṇa than
in what Kṛishṇa accepted from Ghōra's teaching. But we shall find
centuries later in the Bhagavad-gītā, the greatest textbook of the
religion of Kṛishṇa, some distant echoes of this paragraph of the

The beginnings of the religion of Kṛishṇa are thus very uncertain. But
as we travel down the ages we find it growing and spreading. We see
Kṛishṇa himself regarded as a half-divine hero and teacher, and
worshipped under the name of _Bhagavān_, "the Lord," in association
with other half-divine heroes. We see him becoming identified with old
gods, and finally rising to the rank of the Supreme Deity whose
worship he had himself taught in his lifetime, the Brahma of the
philosophers and the Most High God of the theists. As has happened
many a time, the teacher has become the God of his Church.




We now enter upon an age in which the old gods, Indra and Brahmā,
retire to the background, while Vishṇu and Śiva stand in the forefront
of the stage.

The Hindus are of the same opinion as the Latin poet: _ferrea nunc
aetas agitur_. We are now living in an Iron Age, according to them;
and it began in the year 3102 B.C., shortly after the great war
described in the Mahābhārata. The date 3102, I need hardly remark, is
of no historical value, being based merely upon the theories of
comparatively late astronomers; but the statement as a whole is
important. The Great War marks an epoch. It came at the end of what
may be called the pre-historic period, and was followed by a new age.
To be strictly correct, we must say that the age which followed the
Great War was not new in the sense that it introduced any startling
novelties that had been unknown previously; but it was new in the
sense that after the Great War India speedily became the India that we
know from historical records. A certain fusion of different races,
cultures, and ideals had to take place in order that the peculiar
civilisation of India might unfold itself; and this fusion was
accomplished about the time of the Great War, and partly no doubt by
means of the Great War, some ten centuries before the Christian era.

The story of the Great War is told with a wild profusion of mythical
and legendary colouring in the Mahābhārata, an epic the name of which
means literally "The Great Tale of the Bharata Clan." It relates how
the blind old King Dhṛitarāshṭra of Hastināpura had a hundred sons,
known as the Kuru or Kaurava princes, the eldest of whom was
Duryōdhana, and Dhṛitarāshṭra's brother Pāṇḍu had five sons, the
Pāṇḍava brethren; how the Pāṇḍavas were ousted by the Kauravas from
the kingdom, the eldest Pāṇḍava prince Yudhishṭhira having been
induced to stake the fortunes of himself and his brethren on a game of
dice, in which he was defeated; how the five Pāṇḍavas, with their
common wife Draupadī (observe this curious and ugly feature of
polyandry, which is quite opposed to standard Hindu morals, but is by
no means unparalleled in early Indian literature[20]) retired into
exile for thirteen years, and then came back with a great army of
allies, and after fierce and bloody battles with the Kauravas and
their supporters in the plain of Kurukshētra at last gained the
victory, slew the Kauravas, and established Yudhishṭhira as king in
Hastināpura. Among the Pāṇḍavas the leading part is played by the
eldest, Yudhishṭhira, and the third, Arjuna; of the others, Bhīma, the
second, is a Hercules notable only for his strength, courage, and
fidelity, while the twins Nakula and Sahadēva are colourless figures.
Kṛishṇa plays an important part in the story; for on the return of
the Pāṇḍavas to fight the Kauravas he accompanies Arjuna as his
charioteer, and on the eve of the first battle delivers to him a
discourse on his religion, the Bhagavad-gītā, or Lord's Song, which
has become one of the most famous and powerful of all the sacred books
of India.

[Footnote 20: See H. Raychaudhuri, _Materials for the Study of the
Early History of the Vaishnava Sect, p. 27_.]

Now if the Mahābhārata were as homogeneous even as the Iliad and
Odyssey, which give us a fairly consistent and truthful picture of a
single age, we should be in a very happy position. Unfortunately this
is not the case. Our epic began as a Bhārata, or Tale of the Bharata
Clan, probably of very moderate bulk, not later than 600 B.C., and
perhaps considerably earlier; and from that time onward it went on
growing bigger and bigger for over a thousand years, as editors
stuffed in new episodes and still longer discourses on nearly all the
religious and philosophic doctrines admitted within the four walls of
Hinduism, until it grew to its present immense bulk, which it claims
to amount to 100,000 verses. Thus it pictures the thought not of one
century but of more than ten, and we cannot feel sure of the date of
any particular statement in it. Nevertheless we can distinguish in a
general way between the old skeleton of the story, in which the theme
is treated in simple epic fashion, society is far freer than in later
days and no one objects to eating beef, from the additional matter, in
which the tale is recast in a far more grandiose vein and is padded
out with enormous quantities of moral, religious, and philosophic
sermons. The religion too is different in the different parts. In the
older portions the gods who are most popular are Indra, Agni, and
Brahmā--not the neuter abstract Brahma, but the masculine Brahmā, the
Demiurge, who corresponds more or less to Prajāpati of the Brāhmaṇas
and is represented in classical art as a four-headed old man reciting
the Vēdas--and Kṛishṇa seems to figure only as a hero or at best as a
demigod; but the later parts with fine impartiality claim the
supremacy of heaven variously for Śiva, Brahmā, and Vishṇu; and
Vishṇu, as we have seen, is sometimes identified with Kṛishṇa, notably
in the chapters known as the Bhagavad-gītā.

The gods have changed somewhat since earlier days. Indra has settled
down in the constitutional monarchy of Paradise assigned to him by
the Brāhmaṇas; he now figures as the prototype of earthly kings,
leading the armies of the gods to war against the demons when occasion
requires, and passing the leisure of peace in the enjoyment of
celestial dissipation. His morals have not improved: he is a debonair
debauchee. Brahmā the Creator, a more popular version of Prajāpati, is
still too impersonal to have much hold on the popular imagination; the
same is the case with Agni the Fire-god. Plainly there was a vacancy
for a supreme deity whose character was powerful enough to move men's
souls, either through awe or love; and for this vacancy there were two
strong candidates, Vishṇu and Śiva, who in course of time succeeded to
the post and divided the supremacy between them.

Vishṇu has altered immensely since last we met him. First, after an
extraordinary change in his own character, he has been identified with
Nārāyaṇa, and then both of them have been equated with Kṛishṇa. The
development is so portentous that it calls for a little study.

We have seen that in the Vēdas Vishṇu appears to be, and in the
Brāhmaṇas certainly is, the embodied Spirit of the Sacrifice, and that
ritual mysticism has invented for him a supreme home in the highest
heaven. But in the Epics he has developed into a radiant and gracious
figure of ideal divinity, an almighty saviour with a long record of
holy works for the salvation of mankind, a god who delights in moral
goodness as well as in ritual propriety, and who from time to time
incarnates himself in human or animal form so as to maintain the order
of righteousness. Symbolism has further endowed him with a consort,
the goddess Śrī or Lakshmī, typifying fortune; sometimes also he is
represented with another wife, the Earth-goddess. The divine hawk or
kite Garuḍa, who seems to have been originally the same as the eagle
who in the Ṛigvēdic legend carried off the sōma for Indra, has been
pressed into his service; he now rides on Garuḍa, and bears his figure
upon his banner. I have already suggested a possible explanation of
this evolution (above, p. 41): owing to his close association with
Indra, the most truly popular of Ṛigvēdic deities, the laic
imagination transfused some of the live blood of Indra into the veins
of the priestly abstraction Vishṇu. To the plain man Indra was very
real; and as he frequently heard tales of Indra being aided in his
exploits by Vishṇu, he came to regard Vishṇu as a very present helper
in trouble. The friend of Indra became the friend of mankind. The post
of Indra had already been fixed for him by the theologians; but the
functions of Vishṇu, outside the rituals, were still somewhat vaguely
defined, and were capable of considerable expansion. Here was a great
opportunity for those souls who were seeking for a supreme god of
grace, and were not satisfied to find him in Śiva; and they made full
use of it, and wholly transformed the personality of Vishṇu.

One of the stages in this transformation was the absorption of
Nārāyaṇa in Vishṇu. Nārāyaṇa was originally a god of a different kind.
The earliest reference to him is in a Brāhmaṇa which calls him Purusha
Nārāyaṇa, which means that it regards him as being the same as the
Universal Spirit which creates from itself the cosmos; it relates that
Purusha Nārāyaṇa pervaded the whole of nature (ŚB. XII. iii. 4, 1),
and that he made himself omnipresent and supreme over all beings by
performing a _pañcha-rātra sattra_, or series of sacrifices lasting
over five days (ib. XIII. vi. 1, 1). Somewhat later we find prayers
addressed to Nārāyaṇa, Vāsudēva, and Vishṇu as three phases of the
same god (Taitt. Āraṇ. X. i. 6). But was Nārāyaṇa in origin merely a
variety of the Vēdic Purusha or our old acquaintance Prajāpati? His
name must give us pause. The most simple explanation of it is that it
is a family name: as Kārshṇāyaṇa means a member of the Kṛishṇa-family
and Rāṇāyana a man belonging to the family of Raṇa, so Nārāyaṇa would
naturally denote a person of the family of Nara. But Nara itself
signifies a _man_: is the etymology therefore reduced to absurdity?
Not at all: Nara is also used as a proper name, as we shall see.[21]
Probably the name really means what naturally it would seem to mean,
"a man of the Nara family"; that Nārāyaṇa was originally a divine or
deified saint, a _ṛishi_, as the Hindus would call him; and that
somehow he became identified with Vishṇu and the Universal Spirit.

[Footnote 21: It must be admitted that ancient writers give different
etymologies of the name: thus, a poet in the Mahābhārata (III.
clxxxix. 3) derives it from _nārāḥ_, "waters," and _ayanam_, "going,"
understanding it to mean "one who has the waters for his
resting-place"; Manu (I. 10, with Mēdhātithi's commentary), accepting
the same etymology, interprets it as "the dwelling-place of all the
Naras"; and in the Mahābhārata XII. cccxli. 39, it is also explained
as "the dwelling-place of mankind." But these interpretations are
plainly artificial concoctions.]

This theory really is not by any means as wild as at first sight it
may seem to be. Divine saints are sometimes mentioned in the Ṛig-vēda
and Brāhmaṇas as being the creators of the universe[22]; and they
appear again and again in legend as equals of the gods, attaining
divine powers by their mystic insight into the sacrificial lore. But
there is more direct evidence than this.

[Footnote 22: RV. X. cxxix. 5, ŚB. VI. i. 1, 1-5. Cf. Charpentier,
_Suparṇasage_, p. 387.]

In the Mahābhārata there are incorporated two documents of first-rate
importance for the doctrines of the churches that worshipped Vishṇu.
One of these is the Bhagavad-gītā, or Lord's Song (VI. xxv.-xlii.);
the other is the Nārāyaṇīya, or Account of Nārāyaṇa (XII.
cccxxxvi.-cccliii.). Their teachings are not the same in details,
though on most main points they agree; for they belong to different
sections of the one religious body. Leaving aside the Bhagavad-gītā
for the moment, we note that the Nārāyaṇīya relates a story that there
were born four sons of Dharma, or Righteousness, viz. Nara, Nārāyaṇa,
Hari or Vishṇu, and Kṛishṇa. In other places (I. ccxxx. 18, III. xii.
45, xlvii. 10, V. xlviii. 15, etc.) we are plainly told that Nara is a
previous incarnation of Arjuna the Pāṇḍava prince, and Nārāyaṇa is, of
course, the supreme Deity, who in the time of Arjuna was born on earth
as Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva, and that in his earlier birth Nara and Nārāyaṇa
were both ascetic saints. This tradition is very important, for it
enables us to see something of the early character of Nārāyaṇa. He was
an ancient saint of legend, who was connected with a hero Nara, just
as Kṛishṇa was associated with Arjuna; and the atmosphere of
saintliness clings to him obstinately. Tradition alleges that he was
the _ṛishi_, or inspired seer, who composed the Purusha-sūkta of the
Ṛig-vēda (X. 90), and represents him by choice as lying in a
_yōga-nidrā_, or mystic sleep, upon the body of the giant serpent
Śēsha in the midst of the Ocean of Milk. Thus the worship of Vishṇu,
like the worship of Śiva, has owed much to the influence of live yōgīs
idealised as divine saints; though it must be admitted that the yōgīs
of the Vaishṇava orders have usually been more agreeable and less
ambiguous than those of the Śaiva community.

We must briefly consider now the religious teachings of the
Bhagavad-gītā and the Nārāyaṇīya, and then turn to the inscriptions
and contemporary literature to see whether we can find any sidelights
in them. We begin with the Bhagavad-gītā, or The Lord's Song.

The Bhagavad-gītā purports to be a dialogue between the Pāṇḍava prince
Arjuna and Kṛishṇa, who was serving him as his charioteer, on the eve
of the great battle. In order to invent a leading motive for his
teaching, the poet represents Arjuna as suddenly stricken with
overwhelming remorse at the prospect of the fratricidal strife which
he is about to begin. "I will not fight," he cries in anguish. Then
Kṛishṇa begins a long series of arguments to stimulate him for the
coming battle. He points out, with quotations from the Upanishads,
that killing men in battle does not destroy their souls; for the soul
is indestructible, migrating from body to body according to its own
deserts. The duty of the man born in the Warrior-caste is to fight;
fighting is his caste-duty, his _dharma_, and as such it can entail
upon him no guilt if it be performed in the right spirit. But how is
this to be done? The answer is the leading motive of Kṛishṇa's
teaching. For the maintenance of the world it is necessary that men
should do the works of their respective castes, and these works do not
operate as _karma_ to the detriment of the future life of their souls
if they perform them not from selfish motives but as offerings made in
perfect unselfishness to the Lord. This is the doctrine of
_Karma-yōga_, discipline of works, which is declared to lead the soul
of the worshipper to salvation in the Lord as effectually as the
ancient intellectualism preached in the Upanishads and the Sāṃkhya
philosophy. But there is also a third way to salvation, the way
through loving devotion, or _bhakti_, which is as efficacious as
either of the other two; the worshippers of Śiva had already preached
this for their own church in the Śvētāśvatara Upanishad. Besides
treating without much consistency or method of many incidental
questions of religious theory and practice, Kṛishṇa reveals himself
for a few instants to Arjuna in his form as Virāj, the universal being
in which all beings are comprehended and consumed. Finally Arjuna is
comforted, and laying the burden of all his works upon Kṛishṇa, he
prepares in quiet faith for the coming day of battle.

There are four main points to notice in this teaching. (1) The Supreme
God, superior to Brahma, he who rules by grace and comprehends in his
universal person the whole of existence, is Vishṇu, or Hari,
represented on earth for the time being by Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva. The
author makes no attempt to reconcile the fatalism implied in the old
theory of _karma-saṃsāra_ with his new doctrine of special and general
grace: he allows the two principles to stand side by side, and leaves
for future generations of theologians the delicate task of harmonising
them. (2) Three roads to salvation are recognised in principle, the
intellectual gnosis of the old Upanishads and the Sāṃkhya, the "way of
works" or performance of necessary social duties in a spirit of
perfect surrender to God, and the "way of devotion," continuous loving
worship and contemplation of God. In practice the first method is
ignored as being too severe for average men; the second and third are
recommended, as being suitable for all classes. (3) The way of
salvation is thus thrown open directly to men and women of all castes
and conditions. The Bhagavad-gītā fully approves of the orthodox
division of society into castes; but by its doctrine that the
performance of caste-duties in a spirit of sacrifice leads to
salvation it makes caste an avenue to salvation, not a barrier. (4)
The Bhagavad-gītā has nothing to say for the animal-sacrifices of the
Brahmans. It recognises only offerings of flowers, fruits, and the
like. The doctrine of _ahiṃsā_, "thou shalt do no hurt," was making
much headway at the time, and the wholesale animal-sacrifices of the
Brahmans roused general disgust, of which the Buddhists and Jains
took advantage for the propagation of their teachings.

I have previously spoken of the solitary passage in the Chhāndōgya
Upanishad in which Kṛishṇa's name is mentioned, as receiving the
teachings of Ghōra Āṅgirasa, and it will now be fitting to see how far
these teachings are reflected in the Bhagavad-gītā. Ghōra compares the
functions of life to the ceremonies of the _dīkshā_ (see above, p.68):
and this is at bottom the same idea as the doctrine of _karma-yōga_
preached again and again in the Bhagavad-gītā. "Whatever be thy work,
thine eating, thy sacrifice, thy gift, thy mortification, make of it
an offering to me," says Kṛishṇa (IX. 27); all life should be regarded
as a sacrifice freely offered. Then Ghōra continues: "In the hour of
death one should take refuge in these three thoughts: 'Thou art the
Indestructible, Thou art the Unfailing, Thou art instinct with
Spirit.' On this there are these two verses of the Ṛig-vēda:

    Thus upward from the primal seed
    From out the darkness all around
    We, looking on the higher light,
    Yea, looking on the higher heaven,
    Have come to Sūrya, god midst gods,
    To him that is the highest light, the highest light."

In the Bhagavad-gītā (IV. 1 ff.) Kṛishṇa announces that he preached
his doctrine to Vivasvān the Sun-god, who passed it on to his son the
patriarch Manu; elsewhere in the Mahābhārata (XII. cccv. 19) the
Sātvata teaching is said to have been announced by the Sun. Ghōra in
his list of moral virtues enumerates "mortification, charity,
uprightness, harmlessness, truthfulness"; exactly the same attributes,
with a few more, are said in the Bhagavad-gītā to characterise the man
who is born to the gods' estate (XVI. 1-3). Ghōra's exhortation to
think of the nature of the Supreme in the hour of death is balanced by
Kṛishṇa's words: "He who at his last hour, when he casts off the body,
goes hence remembering me, goes assuredly into my being" (VIII. 5; cf.
10). These parallels are indeed not very close; but collectively they
are significant, and when we bear in mind that the author of the
Bhagavad-gītā is eager to associate his doctrine with those of the
Upanishads, and thus to make it a new and catholic Upanishad for all
classes, we are led to conclude that its fundamental ideas,
sanctification of works (_karma-yōga_), worship of a Supreme God of
Grace (_bhakti_) by all classes, and rejection of animal sacrifices
(_ahiṃsā_) arose among the orthodox Kshatriyas, who found means to
persuade their Brahmanic preceptors to bring it into connection with
their Upanishads and embellish it with appropriate texts from those
sources. Very likely Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva, if not the first inventor of
these doctrines, was their most vigorous propagator.

Now what are the teachings of the Nārāyaṇīya? It appears to contain
two accounts. In the first we have the story of king Vasu Uparichara,
who is said to have worshipped the Supreme God Hari (Vishṇu) in
devotion without any animal-sacrifices, in accordance with doctrines
ascribed to the Āraṇyakas, i.e. the later sections of the Brāhmaṇas,
including the older Upanishads. This fully agrees with the standpoint
of the Bhagavad-gītā. The second account gives the story of a visit
paid by the divine saint Nārada to a mysterious "White Island,"
Śvēta-dvīpa, inhabited by holy worshippers of God who are, strangely
enough, described as having heads shaped like umbrellas and feet like
lotus-leaves and as making a sound like that of thunder-clouds[23];
they are radiant like the moon, have no physical senses, eat nothing,
and concentrate their whole soul on rapturous adoration of the spirit
of God, which shines there in dazzling brightness to the eye of
perfect faith. Nārāyaṇa there reveals himself to Nārada, and sets
forth to him the doctrine of Vāsudēva. According to this, Nārāyaṇa has
four forms, called _mūrtis_ or _vyūhas_. The first of these is
Vāsudēva, who is the highest soul and creator and inwardly controls
all individual souls. From him arose Saṃkarshaṇa, who corresponds to
the individual soul; from Saṃkarshaṇa issued Pradyumna, to whom
corresponds the organ of mind, and from Pradyumna came forth
Aniruddha, representing the element of self-consciousness. Observe in
passing that these are all names of heroes of legend: Saṃkarshaṇa is
Vāsudēva's brother Bala-rāma, Pradyumna was the son and Aniruddha the
grandson of Vāsudēva. Nārāyaṇa then goes on to speak of the creation
of all things from himself and their dissolution into himself, and of
his incarnations in the form of the Boar who lifted up on his tusk the
earth when submerged under the ocean, Narasiṃha the Man-lion who
destroyed the tyrant Hiraṇya-kaśipu, the Dwarf who overthrew Balī,
Rāma Bhārgava who destroyed the Kshatriyas, Rāma Dāśarathi, of whom we
shall have something to say later. Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva the slayer of
Kaṃsa of Mathurā, the Tortoise, the Fish, and Kalkī. Then follow some
further details, among them a statement that this doctrine was
revealed to Arjuna at the beginning of the Great War--a clear
reference to the Bhagavad-gītā--that at the beginning of every age it
was promulgated by Nārāyaṇa, that it requires activity in pious works,
that at the commencement of the present age it passed from him to
Brahmā, from him to Vivasvān the Sun-god, from him to the patriarch
Manu, etc., that it does not allow the sacrifice of animals, and that
for salvation the co-operative grace of Nārāyaṇa is necessary. Most of
this doctrine is already in the Bhagavad-gītā; what is not found in
the latter is the account of the mysterious White Island, the theory
of _vyūhas_ or emanations, which represents Vāsudēva as issuing from
Nārāyaṇa and so forth, and the details of Nārāyaṇa's incarnations. It
is therefore a distinct textbook of the Sātvata or Pāñcharātra church,
not much later than the Bhagavad-gītā. According to it, the Supreme
Being is Nārāyaṇa, the Almighty God who reveals himself as highest
teacher and saintly sage, whose legendary performance of a five-days'
sacrifice (above, p. 76) has gained for his doctrine the title of
Pāñcharātra. Next in order of divinity is Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva, whose
tribal name of Sātvata has furnished the other name of this church;
then follow in due order Saṃkarshaṇa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, all of
his family; and with Vāsudēva is closely associated the epic hero
Arjuna, a prototype for this mortal pair being discovered in the
legendary Nara and Nārāyaṇa.

[Footnote 23: It is obvious that this island lies in a latitude
somewhere between that of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, and that the
professors who have endeavoured to locate it on the map of Asia have
wasted their time.]

Comparing then the Bhagavad-gītā with the Nārāyaṇīya, we see that in
all essentials they agree, but in two points they differ. Both preach
a doctrine of activity in pious works, _pravṛitti_, in conscious
opposition to the inactivity of the Aupanishadas and Sāṃkhyas; but
the Nārāyaṇīya does not dwell much on this topic, and limits activity
to strictly religious duties, while the Bhagavad-gītā develops the
idea so as to include everything, thus sketching out a bold system for
the sanctification of all sides of life, which enables it to open the
door of salvation directly to all classes of mankind. Secondly, the
Bhagavad-gītā says nothing about the theory of emanations or _vyūhas_
in connection with Vāsudēva; probably its author knew the legends of
Saṃkarshaṇa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, but he apparently did not know
or at least did not accept the view that these persons were related as
successive emanations from Vāsudēva. We must therefore look round for
sidelights which may clear up the obscurities in the history of this

Our first sidelight glimmers in the famous grammar of Pāṇini, who
probably lived in the fifth century B.C., or perhaps early in the
fourth century. Pāṇini informs us (IV. iii. 98) that from the names of
Vāsudēva and Arjuna the derivative nouns _Vāsudēvaka_ and _Arjunaka_
are formed to denote persons who worship respectively Vāsudēva and
Arjuna. Plainly then in the fifth century Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva and Arjuna
were worshipped by some, probably in the same connection as is shown
in the Mahābhārata. Perhaps Vāsudēva had not yet been raised to the
rank of the Almighty; it is more likely that he was still a deified
hero and teacher, and Arjuna his noblest disciple. But both of them
were receiving divine honours; they had been men, and were now gods,
with bands of adorers.

Our next evidence is an inscription found not long ago on the base of
a stone column at Besnagar near Bhilsa, in the south of Gwalior
State,[24] and must have been engraved soon after 200 B.C. It reads as
follows: "This Garuḍa-column of Vāsudēva the god of gods was erected
here by Heliodorus, a worshipper of the Lord [_bhāgavata_], the son of
Diya [Greek _Dion_] and an inhabitant of Taxila, who came as
ambassador of the Greeks from the Great King Aṃtalikita [Greek
_Antialcidas_] to King Kāśīputra Bhāgabhadra the Saviour, who was
flourishing in the fourteenth year of his reign"; and below this are
two lines in some kind of verse, which announce that "three immortal
steps ... when practised lead to heaven--self-control, charity, and
diligence." Here, then, in the centre of a thriving kingdom probably
forming part of the Śuṅga empire, Vāsudēva is worshipped not as a
minor hero or teacher, but as the god of gods, _dēva-dēva_; and he is
worshipped by the Greek Heliodorus, visiting the place as an
ambassador from Antialcidas, a Hellenic king of the lineage of
Eucratides, who was reigning in the North-West of India. Doubtless the
act of Heliodorus was a diplomatic courtesy, in order to please King
Kāśīputra Bhāgabhadra. But observe the nature of his act. He caused to
be erected a Garuḍa-column, that is, a pillar engraved with the figure
of Garuḍa, the sacred bird of Vishṇu; and he added a verse about
"three immortal steps" (_trini amutapadāni_), as leading to heaven,
which sounds suspiciously like an attempt to moralise the old mythical
feature of the three Steps of Vishṇu. Plainly Vāsudēva had now risen
in this part of the country from being the teacher of a church of
Vishṇu-Nārāyaṇa to the rank of its chief god, with which he had become
fully identified.

[Footnote 24: See Rapson, _Ancient India_, p. 156 ff., _Cambridge
Hist. India_, i, pp. 521, 558, 625, H. Ray Chaudhuri, _Materials for
the Study of the Early History of the Vaishnava Sect_, p. 59, and
Ramaprasad Chanda, _Archæology and Vaishnava Tradition_ in _Memoirs of
the Archæological Survey of India_, No. 5, p. 151 ff., etc.]

Another inscription, a few years later in date, has been found in
Besnagar. It is a mere fragment, but it supplements the other; for it
states that a certain _bhāgavata_, or "worshipper of the Lord," named
Gōtama-puta (Gautama-putra in Sanskrit) erected a Garuḍa-column for
the Lord's temple in the twelfth year from the coronation of King
Bhāgavata. This king is perhaps the same as the person of that name
who appears in some genealogical lists as the last but one of the
Śuṅga Kings.[25]

[Footnote 25: See R. Chanda, _ut supra_, p. 152 f.]

Next in date is an inscription on a stone slab found at Ghasundi,
about four miles north-east of Nagari, in Udaipur State. It was
engraved about 150 B.C., and records that a certain _bhāgavata_, or
"worshipper of the Lord," named Gājāyana, son of Pārāśarī, caused to
be erected in the Nārāyaṇa-vāṭa, or park of Nārāyaṇa, a stone chapel
for the worship of the Lords Saṃkarshaṇa and Vāsudēva.[26] Here their
worship is associated with that of Nārāyaṇa.

[Footnote 26: It is noteworthy that Saṃkarshaṇa is here mentioned
first, as is also the case in the Nanaghat inscription of about 100
B.C., which mentions them as descendants of the Moon in a list of
various deities. This order may possibly be due to the fact that in
ancient legend Saṃkarshaṇa, or Bala-bhadra, is the elder brother of
Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva, and it does not entitle us to draw the inference
that he ever received equal honour with Vāsudēva. Special devotees of
Saṃkarshaṇa are mentioned in the Kauṭilīya, the famous treatise on
polity ascribed to Chāṇakya, the minister of Chandra-gupta Maurya, who
came to the throne about 320 B.C. (Engl. transl. 1st edn., p. 485). I
suspect that in its present form the Kauṭilīya is considerably later
than 320 B.C.; but in any case the existence of special votaries of
Saṃkarshaṇa is no proof that he ever ranked as equal to Vāsudēva, just
as the presence of special worshippers of Arjuna is no proof that
Arjuna was ever considered a peer of Vāsudēva. On the Ghasundi
inscription see R. Chanda, _ut supra_, p. 163 ff., etc.; for the
Nanaghat inscription, _ibidem_ and _Memoirs of the Arch. Survey of
India_, No. 1, with H. Raychaudhuri's _Materials, etc._, p. 68 ff.]

Passing over an inscription at Mathurā which records the building of a
part of a sanctuary to the Lord Vāsudēva about 15 B.C. by the great
Satrap Sōḍāsa,[27] we note that the grammarian Patañjali, who wrote
his commentary the Mahābhāshya upon Pāṇini's grammar about 150 B.C.,
has something to say about Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva, whom he recognises as a
divine being (on IV. iii. 98). He quotes some verses referring to him.
The first (on II. ii. 23) is to the following effect: "May the might
of Kṛishṇa accompanied by Saṃkarshaṇa increase!" Another (on VI. iii.
6) speaks of "Janārdana with himself as fourth," that is to say,
Kṛishṇa with three companions: the three may be Saṃkarshaṇa,
Pradyumna, and Aniruddha, or they may not. Another verse (on II. ii.
34) speaks of musical instruments being played at meetings in the
temples of Rāma and Kēśava. Rāma is Bala-rāma or Bala-bhadra, who is
the same as Saṃkarshaṇa, and Kēśava is a title of Kṛishṇa, which was
applied also to Vishṇu or Nārāyaṇa according to the
Bōdhāyana-dharma-sūtra, which may be assigned to the second century
B.C. The Ovavāī, or Aupapātika-sūtra, a Jain scripture which may
perhaps belong to the same period, mentions (§ 76) _Kaṇha-parivvāyā_,
wandering friars who worshipped Kṛishṇa. Thus literature as well as
inscriptions shows that Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva and his brother Saṃkarshaṇa
were in many places worshipped as saints of a church of
Vishṇu-Nārāyaṇa about 150 B.C., and that in some parts Vāsudēva was
recognised as the Almighty himself about 200 B.C.

[Footnote 27: R. Chanda, _ut supra_, p. 169 f.]

In another passage (on III. i, 26) Patañjali describes dramatic and
mimetic performances representing the killing of Kaṃsa by Vāsudēva.
Altogether his references show that the legend and worship of Vāsudēva
bulked largely in the popular mind at this time in India north of the
Vindhya mountains. Vāsudēva was adored as the great teacher and
hero-king, in whom the gods Vishṇu and Nārāyaṇa were incarnated; and
he was associated with two great cycles of legend, the one that
related his birth at Mathurā, his victory over the tyrant Kaṃsa, his
establishment of the colony at Dvārakā, and his adventures until his
death and translation to heaven, and the other telling of his share in
the Great War as ally of the five Pāṇḍava brethren. Both cycles
represented him as supported by princely heroes. The Mathurā-Dvārakā
legend gave him his brother Bala-bhadra or Saṃkarshaṇa, his son
Pradyumna, and his grandson Aniruddha, whom theologians about the
beginning of the Christian era fitted into their philosophical schemes
by representing them as successive emanations from him; and the
Mahābhārata furnished him with the Pāṇḍavas, whose heroic tale soon
created for them a worship everywhere. As we have seen, there were
adorers of Arjuna already in the fifth century B.C.; and in the first
century B.C. there seems to be evidence for a worship of all the five
together with Vāsudēva, for an inscription has been found at Mora
which apparently mentions a son of the great Satrap Rājuvula,
probably the well-known Satrap Sōḍāsa, and an image of the "Lord
Vṛishṇi," probably Vāsudēva, and of the "Five Warriors."[28] Already
the poets of the Mahābhārata have taken the first step towards the
deification of the Pāṇḍavas by finding divine fathers for each of
them, making Yudhishṭhira the son of Dharma or Yama, the god of the
nether world, Arjuna son of Indra, Bhīma son of Vāyu the Wind-god, and
Nakula and Sahadēva offspring of the Aśvins. Hundreds of caverns
throughout India are declared by popular legend to have been their
dwellings during their wanderings; and a noble monument to their
memory has been raised by one of the great Pallava kings of Conjevaram
who in the seventh century A.D. carved out of the solid rock on the
seashore at Mamallapuram the fine chapels that bear their names.
Doubtless all these heroes from both cycles were once worshipped in
the usual manner, with offerings of food, incense, lights, flowers,
etc., and singing of hymns on their exploits--chiefly in connection
with Vāsudēva; but all this worship is now utterly forgotten, except
where echoes of it linger in popular legend.

[Footnote 28: R. Chandra, _ut supra_, p. 165 f.]

Our survey of the religion of Vāsudēva has brought us down to a date
which cannot indeed be exactly fixed, but which may be placed
approximately in the second century of our era. This religion, as we
have seen, arose and grew great in the fertile soil of the spiritual
needs and experiences of India. It began by moulding a personal God
out of ancient figures of myth and legend, and it surrounded him with
a hierarchy of godly heroes. Though its doctrines were often
philosophically incongruous and incoherent, its foundation was a true
religious feeling; it gave scope to the mystic raptures of the ascetic
and the simple righteousness of the laic; and it claimed for its
heroes, Vāsudēva and his kindred and his friends the Pāṇḍava brethren,
a grave and dignified hero-worship. In short, it is a serious Indian
religion with an epic setting.

And now suddenly and most unexpectedly an utterly new spirit begins to
breathe in it. To the old teachings and legends are added new ones of
a wholly different cast. The old epic spirit of grave and manly
chivalry and godly wisdom is overshadowed by a new passion--adoration
of tender babyhood and wanton childhood, amorous ecstasies, a hectic
fire of erotic romance.

Of this new spirit there is no trace in the epic, except in one or two
late interpolations. But the Hari-vaṃśa, which was added as an
appendix to the Mahābhārata not very long before the fourth century
A.D., is already instinct with it. It adds to the epic story of
Kṛishṇa a fluent verse account of his miraculous preservation from
Kaṃsa at his birth, his childhood among the herdsmen and herdswomen
of Vraja (the Doab near Mathurā) with its marvellous freaks and
wonderful exploits, his amorous sports with the herdswomen, in fact
all the sensuous emotionalism on which the later church of Kṛishṇa has
ever since battened. About the same time appeared the Vishṇu-purāṇa,
which includes most of the same matter as the Hari-vaṃśa; and some
centuries later, probably about the tenth century, there was written a
still more remarkable book, the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, of which a great
part is taken up with the romance of Kṛishṇa's babyhood and childhood,
and especially his amorous sports. In the Bhāgavata the later worship
of Kṛishṇa found its classic expression. In the Hari-vaṃśa and
Vishṇu-purāṇa religious emotion is still held under a certain
restraint; but in the Bhāgavata it has broken loose and runs riot. It
is a romance of ecstatic love for Kṛishṇa, who is no longer, as in the
Vishṇu-purāṇa, the incarnation of a portion of the Supreme Vishṇu, but
very God become man, wholly and utterly divine in his humanity. It
dwells in a rapture of tenderness upon the God-babe, and upon the
wanton play of the lovely child who is delightful in his naughtiness
and marvellous in his occasional displays of superhuman power; it
figures him as an ideal of boyish beauty, decked with jewels and
crested with peacock's feathers, wandering through the flowering
forests of Vraja, dancing and playing on his flute melodies that fill
the souls of all that hear them with an irresistible passion of love
and delight; it revels in tales of how the precocious boy made wanton
sport with the herdswomen of Vraja, and how the magic of his fluting
drew them to the dance in which they were united to him in a rapture
of love. The book thrills with amorous, sensuous ecstasy; the thought
of Kṛishṇa stirs the worshipper to a passion of love in which tears
gush forth in the midst of laughter, the speech halts, and often the
senses fail and leave him in long trances. Erotic emotionalism can go
no further.

Where did this new spirit come from? Some have laboured to prove that
it had its source in Christianity; others have argued that it was
Christianity that was the debtor to India in this respect. Both
theories are in the main impossible. This cult of the child Kṛishṇa
arose in India, and, with the possible exception of a few obscure
tales, it never spread outside the circle of Indian religion. But how
and where did it arise? That is a question hard to answer; there is no
direct evidence, and we can only balance probabilities. Now what are
the probabilities?

The worship of Kṛishṇa as a babe, a boy, and a young man among the
herdsfolk of Vraja seems to have no relation with the older form of
the religion as set forth in the epic textbooks. It is a new element,
imported from without. The most natural conclusion then is that it
came from the people who are described in it, some tribe that pastured
their herds in the woodlands near Mathurā. Perhaps these herdsfolk
were Ābhīras, ancestors of the modern Āhīr tribes. If so, it would be
natural that their cult should attract attention; for sometimes
Ābhīras counted for something in society, and we even find a
short-lived dynasty of Ābhīra kings reigning in Nasik in the third
century A.D.[29] Be this as it may, it seems very likely that some
pastoral tribe had a cult of a divine child blue or black of hue, and
perhaps actually called by them Kṛishṇa or Kaṇha, "Black-man" (observe
that henceforth Kṛishṇa is regularly represented with a blue skin), a
cult in which gross rustic fantasy had free play; that it came in some
circles to be linked on to the epic cycle of Kṛishṇa Vāsudēva; and
that some Bhāgavatas, seeing in it latent possibilities, gave it
polished literary expression and thereby established it as a part of
the Vāsudēva legend. It quickly seized upon the popular imagination
and spread like wild-fire over India. For it satisfied many needs. The
tenderness of the father and still more of the mother for the little
babe, their delight in the sports of childhood, the amorist's pleasure
in erotic adventure, and, not by any means least, the joy in the
romantic scenery of the haunted woodlands--all these instincts found
full play in it, and were sanctified by religion.

[Footnote 29: Rapson, _Catal. of the Coins of the Andhra Dynasty,
etc._, pp. xliv, lxii, lxix, cxxxiii-cxxxvi, clxii; _Indian Antiq._,
xlvii, p. 85, etc.]


Rāma is the hero of the Rāmāyaṇa, the great epic ascribed to Vālmīki,
a poet who in course of time has passed from the realm of history into
that of myth, like many other Hindus. The poem, as it has come down to
us, contains seven books, which relate the following tale. Daśa-ratha,
King of Ayōdhyā (now Ajodhya, near Faizabad), of the dynasty which
claimed descent from the Sun-god, had no son, and therefore held the
great _Aśva-mēdha_, or horse-sacrifice, as a result of which he
obtained four sons, Rāma by his queen Kauśalyā, Bharata by Kaikēyī,
and Lakshmaṇa and Śatrughna by Sumitrā. Rāma, the eldest, was also
pre-eminent for strength, bravery, and noble qualities of soul.
Visiting in his early youth the court of Janaka, king of Vidēha, Rāma
was able to shoot an arrow from Janaka's bow, which no other man could
bend, and as a reward he received as wife the princess Sītā, whom
Janaka had found in a furrow of his fields and brought up as his own
daughter. So far the first book, or Bāla-kāṇḍa. The second book, or
Ayōdhyā-kāṇḍa, relates how Queen Kaikēyī induced Daśa-ratha, sorely
against his will, to banish Rāma to the forests in order that her son
Bharata might succeed to the throne; and the Araṇya-kāṇḍa then
describes how Rāma, accompanied by his wife Sītā and his faithful
brother Lakshmaṇa, dwelt in the forest for a time, until the demon
King Rāvaṇa of Laṅkā, by means of a trick, carried off Sītā to his
city. The Kishkindhā-kāṇḍa tells of Rāma's pursuit of Rāvaṇa and his
coming to Kishkindhā, the city of Sugrīva, the king of the apes, who
joined him as an ally in his expedition; and the Sundara-kāṇḍa
describes the march of their armies to Laṅkā, which is identified with
Ceylon, and their crossing over the straits. Then comes the
Yuddha-kāṇḍa, which narrates the war with Rāvaṇa, his death in battle,
the restoration of Sītā, the return of Rāma and Sītā to Ayōdhyā, and
the crowning of Rāma in place of Daśa-ratha, who had died of grief
during his exile. Finally comes the Uttara-kāṇḍa, which relates that
Rāma, hearing some of the people of Ayōdhyā spitefully casting
aspersions on the virtue of Sītā during her imprisonment in the palace
of Rāvaṇa, gave way to foolish jealousy and banished her to the
hermitage of Vālmīki, where she gave birth to twin sons, Kuśa and
Lava; when these boys had grown up, Vālmīki taught them the Rāmāyaṇa
and sent them to sing it at the court of Rāma, who on hearing it sent
for Sītā, who came to him accompanied by Vālmīki, who assured him of
her purity; and then Sītā swore to it on oath, calling upon her mother
the Earth-goddess to bear witness; and the Earth-goddess received her
back into her bosom, leaving Rāma bereaved, until after many days he
was translated to heaven.

Such is the tale of Rāma as told in the Vālmīki-rāmāyaṇa--a clean,
wholesome story of chivalry, love, and adventure. But clearly the
Vālmīki-rāmāyaṇa is not the work of a single hand. We can trace in it
at least two strata. Books II.-VI. contain the older stratum; the rest
is the addition of a later poet or series of poets, who have also
inserted some padding into the earlier books. This older stratum, the
nucleus of the epic, gives us a picture of heroic society in India at
a very early date, probably not very long after the age of the
Upanishads; perhaps we shall not be far wrong if we say it was
composed some time before the fourth century B.C. In it Rāma is simply
a hero, miraculous in strength and goodness, but nevertheless wholly
human; but in the later stratum--Books I. and VII. and the occasional
insertions in the other books--conditions are changed, and Rāma
appears as a god on earth, a partial incarnation of Vishṇu, exactly as
in the Bhagavad-gītā and other later parts of the Mahābhārata the hero
Kṛishṇa has become an incarnation of Vishṇu also. The parallel may
even be traced further. Kṛishṇa stands to Arjuna in very much the same
relation as Rāma to his brother Lakshmaṇa--a greater and a lesser
hero, growing into an incarnate god and his chief follower. This is
thoroughly in harmony with Hindu ideas, which regularly conceive the
teacher as accompanied by his disciple and abhor the notion of a voice
crying in the wilderness; indeed we may almost venture to suspect that
this symmetry in the epics is not altogether uninfluenced by this
ideal. This, however, is a detail: the main point to observe is that
Rāma was originally a local hero of the Solar dynasty, a legendary
king of Ayōdhyā, and as the Purāṇas give him a full pedigree, there is
no good reason to doubt that he really existed "once upon a time." But
the story with which he is associated in the Rāmāyaṇa is puzzling. Is
it a pure romance? Or is it a glorified version of some real
adventures? Or can it be an old tale, perhaps dating from the early
dawn of human history, readapted and fitted on to the person of an
historical Rāma? The first of these hypotheses seems unlikely, though
by no means impossible. The second suggestion has found much favour.
Many have believed that the story of the expedition of Rāma and his
army of apes to Laṅkā represents a movement of the Aryan invaders from
the North towards the South; and this is supported to some extent by
Indian tradition, which has located most of the places mentioned in
the Rāmāyaṇa, and in particular has identified Laṅkā with Ceylon. In
support of this one may point to the Iliad of Homer, which has a
somewhat similar theme, the rape and recovery of Helen by the armies
of the Achæans, the basis of which is the historical fact of an
expedition against Troy and the destruction of that city. But there
are serious difficulties in the way of accepting this analogy, the
most serious of all being the indubitable fact that there is not a
tittle of evidence to show that such an expedition was ever made by
the Aryans. True, there were waves of emigration from Aryan centres
southward in early times; but those that travelled as far as Ceylon
went by sea, either from the coasts of Bengal or Orissa or Bombay.
Besides, the expedition of Rāma is obviously fabulous, for his army
was composed not of Aryans but of apes. All things considered, there
seems to be most plausibility in the third hypothesis[30]. Certainly
Rāma was a local hero of Ayōdhyā, and probably he was once a real
king; so it is likely enough that an old saga (or sagas) attached
itself early to his memory. And as his fame spread abroad, principally
on the wings of Vālmīki's poem, the honours of semi-divinity began to
be paid to him in many places beyond his native land, and about the
beginning of our era he was recognised as an incarnation of Vishṇu
sent to establish a reign of righteousness in the world. In Southern
India this cult of Rāma, like that of Kṛishṇa, has for the most part
remained subordinate to the worship of Vishṇu, though the Vaishṇava
church there has from early times recognised the divinity of both of
them as embodiments of the Almighty. But its great home is the North,
where millions worship Rāma with passionate and all-absorbing love.

[Footnote 30: I regret that I cannot accept the ingenious hypothesis
lately put forward by Rai Saheb Dineshchandra Sen in his _Bengali
Ramayanas_. The story of the Dasaratha-jātaka seems to me to be a
garbled and bowdlerised snippet cut off from a possibly pre-Vālmīkian
version of the old Rāma-saga; the rest of the theory appears to be
quite mistaken.]


With all its attractions and success, the new Kṛishṇaism did not
everywhere overgrow the older stock upon which it had been engrafted.
There were many places in which the early worship of Vishṇu and
Vāsudēva remained almost unchanged. The new legends of Kṛishṇa's
childhood might indeed be accepted in these centres of conservatism,
but they made little difference in the spirit and form of the worship,
which continued to follow the ancient order. In some of them the
Bhagavad-gītā, Nārāyaṇīya, and other epic doctrinals still remained
the standard texts, which theologians connected with the ancient
Upanishads and the Brahma-sūtra summarising the latter; in other
centres there arose, beginning perhaps about the seventh century A.D.,
a series of Saṃhitās, or manuals of doctrine and practice for the
Pāñcharātra[31] sect, which, though in essentials agreeing with the
Nārāyaṇīya, taught a different theory of cosmogony and introduced the
worship of the goddess Śrī or Lakshmī, the consort of Vishṇu, as the
agency or energy through which the Supreme Being becomes active in
finite existence; and in yet other places other texts were followed,
such as those of the Vaikhānasa school. This worship of
Vishṇu-Vāsudēva on the ancient lines was peculiarly vigorous among the
representatives of Aryan culture in the South, who had introduced the
cults of Vishṇu and Śiva with the rest of the Aryan pantheon into the
midst of Dravidian animism. Hinduism, transplanted into the Dravidian
area, has there remained more conservative than anywhere else, and has
clung firmly to its ancient traditions. There is nothing of Dravidian
origin in the South Indian worship of Vishṇu and Śiva; they are
entirely Aryan importations. But they have become thoroughly
assimilated in their southern home, and each of them has produced a
huge mass of fine devotional literature in the vernaculars. In the
Tamil country the church of Vishṇu boasts of the Nāl-āyira-prabandham,
a collection of Tamil psalms numbering about 4,000 stanzas composed by
twelve poets called Ālvārs, which were collected about 1000 A.D.;
and the worship of 'Siva is equally well expressed in the Tiru-muṛai,
compiled about the twelfth century, of which one section, the Dēvāram,
was put together about the same time as the Nāl-āyira-prabandham. Both
the Tiru-muṛai and the Nāl-āyira-prabandham breathe the same spirit of
ecstatic devotion as the Bhāgavata-purāṇa; they are the utterances of
wandering votaries who travelled from temple to temple and poured
forth the passionate raptures of their souls in lyrical praise of
their deities. Through these three main channels the stream of
devotion spread far and wide through the land. Like most currents of
what we call "revivalism," it usually had an erotic side; and the
larger temples frequently have attached to them female staffs of
attendant votaries and _corps de ballet_ of very easy virtue. But this
aspect was far more marked in neo-Kṛishṇaism, which often tends to
intense pruriency, than in the other two cults. The Ālvārs pay
little regard to the legends of Kṛishṇa, and concentrate their
energies upon the worship of Vishṇu as he is represented in the great
temples of Srirangam, Conjevaram, Tirupati, and similar sanctuaries.

[Footnote 31: On this name see above, p. 86.]

About the beginning of the ninth century the peaceful course of
Vaishṇava religion was rudely disturbed by the preaching of Śaṃkara
Āchārya. Śaṃkara, one of the greatest intellects that India has ever
produced, was a Brahman of Malabar, and was born about the year 788.
Taking his stand upon the Upanishads, Brahma-sūtra, and Bhagavad-gītā,
upon which he wrote commentaries, he interpreted them as teaching the
doctrine of Advaita, thorough monistic idealism, teaching that the
universal Soul, Brahma, is absolutely identical with the individual
Soul, the _ātmā_ or Self, that all being is only one, that salvation
consists in the identification of these two, and is attained by
knowledge, the intuition of their identity, and that the phenomenal
universe or manifold of experience is simply an illusion (_māyā_)
conjured up in Brahma by his congenital nature, but really alien to
him--in fact, a kind of disease in Brahma. This was not new: it had
been taught by some ancient schools of Aupanishadas, and was very like
the doctrine of some of the Buddhist idealists; but the vigour and
skill with which Śaṃkara propagated his doctrines threatened ruin to
orthodox Vaishṇava theologians, and roused them to counter-campaigns.
Among the Vaishṇava Brahmans of the South who won laurels in this
field was Yāmunāchārya, who lived about 1050, and was the grandson of
Nātha Muni, who collected the hymns of the Ālvārs in the
Nāl-āyira-prabandham and founded the great school of Vaishṇava
theology at Srirangam. In opposition to Śaṃkara's monism, Yāmunāchārya
propounded the doctrine of his school, the so-called Viśishṭādvaita,
which was preached with still greater skill and success by his famous
successor Rāmānuja, who died in 1137. Rāmānuja's greatest works are
his commentaries on the Brahma-sūtra and Bhagavad-gītā. In them he
expounds with great ability the principles of his school, namely, that
God, sentient beings or souls, and insentient matter form three
essentially distinct classes of being; that God, who is the same as
Brahma, Vishṇu, Nārāyaṇa, or Kṛishṇa, is omnipotent, omnipresent, and
possessed of all good qualities; that matter forms the body of souls,
and souls form the body of God; that the soul attains salvation as a
result of devout and loving meditation upon God, worship of him, and
study of the scriptures; and that salvation consists in eternal union
of the soul with God, but not in identity with him, as Śaṃkara taught.
The scriptures on which Rāmānuja took his stand were mainly the
Upanishads, Brahma-sūtra, and Bhagavad-gītā; but he also acknowledged
as authoritative the Pāñcharātra Saṃhitās, in spite of their
divergences in details of doctrine, and it is from them that his
church has derived the worship of Śrī or Lakshmī as consort of Vishṇu,
which is a very marked feature of their community and has gained for
them the title of Śrī-vaishṇavas. But Rāmānuja was much more than a
scholar and a writer of books; he was also a man of action, a
"practical mystic." Like Śaṃkara, he organised a body of _sannyāsīs_
or ascetic votaries, into which, however, he admitted only Brahmans,
whereas Śaṃkara opened some of the sections of his devotees to
non-Brahmans; but on the other hand he was far more liberal than
Śaṃkara in the choice of his congregations, for he endeavoured to
bring men of the lowest castes, Śūdras and even Pariahs, within the
influence of his church, though he kept up the social barrier between
them and the higher castes, and he firmly upheld the principle of the
Bhagavad-gītā that it is by the performance of religious and social
duties of caste, and not by knowledge alone, that salvation is most
surely to be won. He established schools and monasteries, reorganised
the worship of the temples, usually in accordance with the Pāñcharātra
rules, and thus placed his church in a position of such strength in
Southern India that its only serious rival is the church of Śiva.

Nimbārka, who probably flourished about the first half of the twelfth
century, preached for the cult of Kṛishṇa a doctrine combining monism
with dualism, which is followed by a small sect in Northern India.
Ānanda-tīrtha or Madhva, in the first three quarters of the thirteenth
century, propounded for the same church a theory of thorough dualism,
which has found many admirers, chiefly in the Dekkan. Vallabhāchārya,
born in 1479, founded a school of Kṛishṇa-worshippers which claims a
"pure monism" without the aid of the theory of _māyā_, or illusion,
which is a characteristic of Śaṃkara's monism. This community has
become very influential, chiefly in Bombay Presidency; but in recent
times it has been under a cloud owing to the scandals arising from a
tendency to practise immoral orgies and from the claims of its
priesthood, as representing the god, to enjoy the persons and property
of their congregations.

Besides these and other schools which were founded on a basis of
Sanskrit scholastic philosophy, there have been many popular religious
movements, which from the first appealed directly to the heart of the
people in their own tongues.

The first place in which we see this current in movement is the
Maratha country. Here, about 1290, Jñānēśvara or Jñānadēva, popularly
known as Jñānōbā, composed his Jñanēśvarī, a paraphrase of the
Bhagavad-gītā in about 10,000 Marathi verses, as well as a number of
hymns to Kṛishṇa and a poem on the worship of Śiva. To the same period
belonged Nāmadēva, who was born at Pandharpur, according to some in
1270 and according to others about a century later. Then came
Ēkanātha, who is said to have died in 1608, and composed some hymns
and Marathi verse-translations from the Bhāgavata. The greatest of all
was Tukārām, who was born about 1608.[32] In the verses of these
poets the worship of Kṛishṇa is raised to a level of high
spirituality. Rāmānanda, who apparently lived between 1400 and 1470
and was somehow connected with the school of Rāmānuja, preached
salvation through Rāma to all castes and classes of Northern India,
with immense and enduring success. To his spiritual lineage belongs
Tulsī Dās (1532-1623), whose Rāma-charita-mānasa, a poem in Eastern
Hindi on the story of Vālmīki's Rāmāyana, has become the Bible of the
North. The same influences are visible in the poems of Kabīr, a Moslem
by birth, who combined Hindu and Muhammadan doctrines into an eclectic
monotheism, and is worshipped as an incarnation of God by his sect. He
died in 1518. A kindred spirit was Nānak, the founder of the Sikh
church (1469-1538).[33]

[Footnote 32: The student may refer to Sir R. G. Bhandarkar's
_Vaiṣṇavas and Śaivas_ (in Bühler's _Grundriss_, p. 74 ff.,) J. N.
Farquhar's _Outline of the Relig. Liter. of India_, p. 234 f., 298
ff., and my _Heart of India_, p. 60 ff., for some details on these

[Footnote 33: See Farquhar, _ut supra_, p. 323 ff.; _Heart of India_,
p. 49 f., etc.]

By the side of these upward movements there have been many which have
remained on the older level of the Bhāgavata. The most important is
that of Viśvambhara Miśra, who is better known by his titles of
Chaitanya and Gaurānga (1485-1533); he carried on a "revival" of
volcanic intensity in Bengal and Orissa, and the church founded by
him is still powerful, and worships him as an incarnation of Kṛishṇa.


_Brahmā_, the Creator, a masculine noun, must be carefully
distinguished from the neuter _Brahma_, the abstract First Being. The
latter comes first in the scale of existence, while the former appears
at some distance further on as the creator of the material world (see
above, p. 60 f.). In modern days Brahmā has been completely eclipsed
by Vishṇu and Śiva and even by some minor deities, and has now only
four temples dedicated to his exclusive worship.[34] But there was a
time when he was a great god. In the older parts of the Mahābhārata
and Rāmāyaṇa he figures as one of the greater deities, perhaps the
greatest. But in the later portions of the epic he has shrunk into
comparative insignificance as compared to Vishṇu and Śiva, and
especially to Vishṇu. This change faithfully reflects historical
facts. During the last four or five centuries of the millennium which
ended with the Christian era the orthodox Vēdic religion of the
Brahmans had steadily lost ground, and the sects worshipping Vishṇu
and Śiva had correspondingly grown in power and finally had come to
be recognised as themselves orthodox. Brahmā, as his name implies, is
the ideal Brahman sage, and typifies Vēdic orthodoxy. He is
represented as everlastingly chanting the four Vēdas from his four
mouths (for he has four heads), and he bears the water-pot and rosary
of eleocarpus berries, the symbols of the Brahman ascetic. But Vēdic
orthodoxy had to make way for more fascinating cults, and the Vēdic
Brahman typified in the god Brahmā sank into comparative unimportance
beside the sectarian ascetics. Still the old god, though shorn of much
of his glory, was by no means driven from the field. The new churches
looked with reverence upon his Vēdas, and often claimed them as divine
authority for their doctrines; and though each of them asserted that
its particular god, Śiva or Vishṇu, was the Supreme Being, and
ultimately the only being, both of them allowed Brahmā to retain his
old office of creator, it being of course understood that he held it
as a subordinate of the Supreme, Śiva or Vishṇu as the case might be.
Meanwhile, at any rate between the third and the sixth centuries,
there existed a small fraternity who regarded Brahmā as the Supreme,
and therefore as identical with the abstract Brahma; but although they
have left a record of their doctrines in the Mārkaṇḍēya-purāṇa and the
Padma-purāṇa, they have had little influence on Indian religion in

[Footnote 34: Those are at Pushkar in Rajputana, Dudahi in
Bundelkhand, Khed Brahma in Idar State, and Kodakkal in Malabar.]

A love of system--unfortunately not always effectual--is a notable
feature of the Hindu mind in dealing with most subjects, from grammar
to _Ars Amoris_; and this instinct inspired some unknown theologian
with the idea of harmonising the three gods into a unity by
representing in one compound form or _Trimūrti_ Brahmā as creator,
Vishṇu as the sustaining power in the universe, and Śiva as the force
of dissolution which periodically brings the cosmos to an end and
necessitates in due course new cycles of being.[35] This ingenious
plan has the advantage that it is without prejudice to the religion of
any of the gods concerned, for all the three members of this trinity
are subordinate to the Supreme Being, or Param Brahma, whom the
Vaishṇavas identify with Vishṇu in his highest phase, Para-Vāsudēva,
and distinguish from his lower phase, the Vishṇu of this compound,
while the Śaivas draw a corresponding distinction between Parama-Śiva,
the god in his transcendent nature, and the Śiva who figures in the
Trimūrti. So the most orthodox Vaishṇava and the most bigoted Śaiva
can adore this three-headed image of the Trimūrti side by side with
easy consciences.

[Footnote 35: This idea in germ is already suggested in Maitr. Upan.,
IV. 5 f., and V. 2.]

This idea of the three gods in one, though it is embodied in some
important works of sculpture such as the famous Trimūrti in the Caves
of Elephanta, has not had much practical effect upon Hindu religion.
But it has given birth to at any rate one interesting little sect, the
worshippers of Dattātrēya, who are to be found mainly in the Maratha
country. The legend of the saint Dattātrēya, which is already found in
the Mahābhārata and Purāṇas and is repeated with some modifications
and amplifications in modern works of the sect,[36] relates that when
the holy Ṛishi Atri subjected himself to terrific austerities in order
to obtain worthy progeny, the gods Brahmā, Vishṇu, and Śiva visited
him and promised him the desired boon; accordingly his wife Anasūyā
gave birth to three sons, of whom the first was the Moon, an
incarnation of Brahmā, the second Dattātrēya, an incarnation of
Vishṇu, and the third the holy but irascible saint Durvāsas,
representing Śiva. Dattātrēya dwelt in a hermitage in the Dekkan: he
indulged in marriage and wine-drinking, which however were not
detrimental to his miraculous sanctity and wisdom, and he became
famous as a benefactor to humanity. He is said to have lived in the
time of Kārtavīrya Arjuna, the Haihaya king, and to have counselled
the latter to remain on his throne when he wished to resign it. In
older works of plastic art he is sometimes represented by the simple
expedient of placing the three gods side by side, sometimes by
figuring him as Vishṇu in the guise of a Yōgī with some of the
attributes of the other two; but in modern times he usually appears as
a single figure with three heads, one for each of the great gods, and
four or six arms bearing their several attributes (usually the rosary
and water-pot of Brahmā, the conch and discus of Vishṇu, and the
trident and drum of Śiva), while he is accompanied by four dogs of
different colours, supposed to represent the four Vēdas, and a
bull.[37] Observe that in all these types Dattātrēya is conceived as
an embodiment of the three gods, which is comparatively a later idea,
for in the oldest version of the legend he was simply an incarnation
of Vishṇu; but as Vishṇu was regarded not only as a member of the
Trinity but also the Supreme Being over and above it, Dattātrēya as
his representative has come to include in his personality the nature
of all the trio. There is, moreover, something curious in his
character. His love of wine and woman is a singular trait, and is
quite incompatible with the nature of an ideal saint. It smells of
reality, and strongly suggests that he was not a figment of the
religious imagination but an actual man; and this is supported by the
tradition of his association with Kārtavīrya Arjuna, who, in spite of
all the mythical tales that are related of him, really seems to have
been a king of flesh and blood. Thus we may venture to see in him yet
another example of the metamorphosis so common in India from a saint
to an incarnation of the god worshipped by him.

[Footnote 36: See Vāsudēvānanda Sarasvatī's _Datta-purāṇa_ and Gaṇēśa
Nārāyaṇa Karve's _Dattātrēya-sarvasva_.]

[Footnote 37: On these figures see Gopinatha Rau, _Elements of Hindu
Iconography_, i. p. 252 ff. The dogs seem to be connected with the
Vēdic Saramā, on whom see Charpentier, _Die Suparṇasage_, p. 91.]


In Northern India, and especially in Bengal, you will often find
Hindus worshipping a god whom they call Satya-nārāyaṇa and believe to
be an embodiment of Vishṇu himself. The observance of this ritual is
believed to bring wealth and all kinds of good fortune; a Sanskrit
sacred legend in illustration of this belief has been created, and you
may buy badly lithographed copies of it in most of the bazaars if you
like, besides which you will find elegant accounts of the god's career
on earth written by quite a number of distinguished Bengali poets of
the last three centuries. But curiously enough this "god," though
quite real, was not a Hindu at all; he was a Bengali Moslem, a fakir,
and the Muhammadans of Bengal, among whom he is known as Satya Pīr,
have their own versions of his career, which seem to be much nearer
the truth than those of the Hindus. In their stories he figures simply
as a saint, who busied himself in performing miracles for the benefit
of pious Moslems in distress; and as one legend says that he was the
son of a daughter of [H.]usain Shāh, the Emperor of Gaur, and another
brings him into contact with Mān Singh, it is evident that tradition
ascribed him to the sixteenth century, which is probably quite near
enough to the truth.[38]

[Footnote 38: See Dineshchandra Sen, _Folk-literature of Bengal_, p.
99 ff.]

The next instance belongs to the twentieth century. A few years ago
there died in the village of Eral, in Tinnevelly District, a local
gentleman of the Shanar caste named Aruṇāchala Nāḍār. There was
nothing remarkable about his career: he had lived a highly respectable
life, scrupulously fulfilled his religious duties, and served with
credit as chairman of the municipal board in his native village. If he
had done something prodigiously wicked, one might have expected him to
become a local god at once, in accordance with Dravidian precedent;
but he being what he was, his post-mortem career is rather curious.
For a legend gradually arose that his kindly spirit haunted a certain
place, and little by little it has grown until now there is a regular
worship of him in Eral, and pilgrims travel thither to receive his
blessings, stimulated by a lively literary propaganda. He is
worshipped under the name of "The Chairman God," in affectionate
memory of his municipal career, and as Jagadīśa, or "Lord of the
Universe," a phase of the god Śiva.


Can we trace any uniform principle running through the bewildering
variety of changes that we have observed?

Consider the changes through which Vishṇu has passed. At the beginning
a spirit of vaguely defined personality, he appears successively as a
saviour-god, as the mystic saint Nārāyaṇa, as the epic warriors
Kṛishṇa and Rāma, as a wanton blue-skinned herd-boy fluting and
dancing amidst a crowd of wildly amorous women, and as the noble ideal
of God preached by the great Maratha and Rāmānandī votaries, not to
mention the many other incarnations that have delighted the Hindu
imagination. What does all this mean? It means that the history of a
god is mainly moulded by two great factors, the growth of the people's
spiritual experience and the character of its religious teachers. As
the stream of history rolls on, it fills men's souls with deeper and
wider understanding of life. Old conceptions are pondered upon,
explored, tested, sometimes rejected, sometimes accepted with a new
and profounder content, and thus enlarged they are applied to the old
ideals of godhead. When Indian society had organised itself out of
tribal chaos and settled down under an established monarchical
government, it made Indra the king of the gods, ruling with the same
forms and under the same conditions as a human sovereign. When men of
finer cast realised that the kingdom of the spirit is higher than
earthly royalty, they turned away from Indra and set their souls upon
greater conceptions, ideals of vaster spiritual forces, mystic
infinitudes. Attracted thus to worships such as those of Śiva and
Vishṇu, they filled them with their own visions and imparted to these
gods the ideals of their own strivings, making them into Yōgīśvaras,
Supreme Mystics. And so the sequence of change has gone on through the
generations. Most potently it has been effected by the characters of
the preachers and teachers of religion. Almost every teacher who has a
personality of his own, whose soul contains thoughts other than those
of the common sort, stamps something of his own type upon the ideal of
his god which he imparts to his followers, and which may thereby come
to be authoritatively recognised as a canonical character of the god.
India is peculiarly liable to this transference of personality from
the guru to the god whom the guru preaches, because from immemorial
times India has regarded the guru as representative of the god, and
often deifies him as a permanent phase of the deity. Śaivas declare
that in the guru who teaches the way of salvation Śiva himself is
manifested: Vaishṇavas tell the same tale, and find a short road to
salvation by surrendering their souls to him. We have seen cases of
apotheosis of the guru in modern and medieval times; reasoning from
the known to the unknown, we may be sure that it took place no less
regularly in ancient ages, and brought about most of the surprising
changes in the character of gods which we have noticed. Sometimes the
gurus have only preached some new features in the characters of their
gods; sometimes, as is the Hindu fashion, they have also exhibited in
their own persons, their dress and equipment, their original ideas of
divinity, as, for example, Lakulīśa with his club; and their sanctity
and apotheosis have ratified their innovations in theology and
iconology, which have spread abroad as their congregations have grown.
Thus the gurus and their congregations have made the history of their
deities, recasting the gods ever anew in the mould of man's hopes and
strivings and ideals. There is much truth in the saying of the
Brāhmaṇas: "In the beginning the gods were mortal."

       *       *       *       *       *

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