Hinduism And Buddhism, Volume II. (of 3) - An Historical Sketch
by Charles Eliot
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The worship of goddesses, though found in many sects, is specially connected with Sivaism. A figure analogous to the Madonna, the kind and compassionate goddess who helps and pities all, appears in later Buddhism but for some reason this train of thought has not been usual in India. Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Sita are benevolent, but they hold no great position in popular esteem,[353] and the being who attracts millions of worshippers under such names as Kali, Durga, or Mahadevi, though she has many forms and aspects, is most commonly represented as a terrible goddess who demands offerings of blood. The worship of this goddess or goddesses, for it is hard to say if she is one or many, is treated of in a separate chapter. Though in shrines dedicated to Siva his female counterpart or energy (Sakti) also receives recognition, yet she is revered as the spouse of her lord to whom honour is primarily due. But in Saktist worship adoration is offered to the Sakti as being the form in which his power is made manifest or even as the essential Godhead.


Let us now pass on to Vishnu. Though not one of the great gods of the Veda, he is mentioned fairly often and with respect. Indian commentators and comparative mythologists agree that he is a solar deity. His chief exploit is that he took (or perhaps in the earlier version habitually takes) three strides. This was originally a description of the sun's progress across the firmament but grew into a myth which relates that when the earth was conquered by demons, Vishnu became incarnate as a dwarf and induced the demon king to promise him as much space as he could measure in three steps. Then, appearing in his true form, he strode across earth and heaven and recovered the world for mankind. His special character as the Preserver is already outlined in the Veda. He is always benevolent: he took his three steps for the good of men: he established and preserves the heavens and earth. But he is not the principal solar deity of the Rig Veda: Surya, Savitri and Pushan receive more invocations. Though one hymn says that no one knows the limits of his greatness, other passages show that he has no pre-eminence, and even in the Mahabharata and the Vishnu-Purana itself he is numbered among the Adityas or sons of Aditi. In the Brahmanas, he is somewhat more important than in the Rig Veda,[354] though he has not yet attained to any position like that which he afterwards occupies.

Just as for Siva, so for Vishnu we have no clear record of the steps by which he advanced from a modest rank to the position of having but one rival in the popular esteem. But the lines on which the change took place are clear. Even in his own Church, Vishnu himself claims comparatively little attention. He is not a force like Siva that makes and mars, but a benevolent and retiring personality who keeps things as they are. His worship, as distinguished from that of his incarnations, is not conspicuous in modern India, especially in the north. In the south he is less overshadowed by Krishna, and many great temples have been erected in his honour. In Travancore, which is formally dedicated to him as his special domain, he is adored under the name of Padmanabha. But his real claim to reverence, his appeal to the Indian heart, is due to the fact that certain deified human heroes, particularly Rama and Krishna, are identified with him.

Deification is common in India.[355] It exists to the present day and even defunct Europeans do not escape its operation. In modern times, when the idea of reincarnation had become familiar, eminent men like Caitanya or Vallabhacarya were declared after their death to be embodiments of Krishna without more ado, but in earlier ages the process was probably double. First of all the departed hero became a powerful ghost or deity in his own right, and then this deity was identified with a Brahmanic god. Many examples prove that a remarkable man receives worship after death quite apart from any idea of incarnation.

The incarnations of Vishnu are most commonly given as ten[356] but are not all of the same character. The first five, namely, the Fish, Tortoise, Boar, Man-Lion and Dwarf, are mythical, and due to his identification with supernatural creatures playing a benevolent role in legends with which he had originally no connection. The sixth, however, Parasu-rama or Rama with the axe, may contain historical elements. He is represented as a militant Brahman who in the second age of the world exterminated the Kshatriyas, and after reclaiming Malabar from the sea, settled it with Brahmans. This legend clearly refers to a struggle for supremacy between the two upper castes, though we may doubt if the triumphs attributed to the priestly champion have any foundation in fact. The Ramayana[357] contains a singular account of a contest between this Rama and the greater hero of the same name in which Parasu-rama admits the other's superiority. That is to say an epic edited under priestly supervision relates how the hero-god of the warriors vanquishes the hero-god of the priests, and this hero-god of the warriors is then worshipped by common consent as the greater divinity, but under priestly patronage. The tenacity and vitality of the Brahmans enabled them ultimately to lead the conqueror captive, and Ramacandra became a champion of Brahmanism as much as Parasu-rama.

Very interesting too is the ninth avatara (to leave for a moment the strict numerical order) or Buddha.[358] The reason assigned in Brahmanic literature for Vishnu's appearance in this character is that he wished to mislead the enemies of the gods by false teaching, or that out of compassion for animals he preached the abolition of Vedic sacrifices. Neither explanation is very plausible and it is pretty clear that in the period when degenerate Buddhism offered no objection to deification and mythology, the Brahmans sanctioned the worship of the Buddha under their auspices. But they did so only in a half-hearted way. The Buddha was so important a personage that he had to be explained by the intervention, kindly or hostile, of a deity.[359]

In his tenth incarnation or Kalki,[360] which has yet to take place, Vishnu will appear as a Messiah, a conception possibly influenced by Persian ideas. Here, where we are in the realm of pure imagination, we see clearly what the signs of his avataras are supposed to be. His mission is to sweep away the wicked and to ensure the triumph of the pious, but he comes as a warrior and a horseman, not as a teacher, and if he protects the good he does so by destroying evil. He has thus all the attributes of a Kshatriya hero, and that is as a matter of fact the real character of the two most important avataras to which we now turn, Rama and Krishna.

Rama, often distinguished as Ramacandra, is usually treated as the seventh incarnation and anterior to Krishna, for he was born in the second age of this rapidly deteriorating world, whereas Krishna did not appear until the third. But his deification is later than that of Krishna and probably an imitation of it. He was the son of Dasaratha, King of Ayodhya or Oudh, but was driven into banishment by a palace intrigue. He married Sita, daughter of the King of Mithila. She was carried off by Ravana, the demon tyrant of Ceylon, and Rama re-captured her with the aid of Hanuman, King of the Monkeys, and his hosts.[361] Is there any kernel of history in this story? An examination of Hindu legends suggests that they usually preserve names and genealogies correctly but distort facts, and fantastically combine independent narratives. Rama was a semi-divine hero in the tales of ancient Oudh, based on a real personality, and Ceylon was colonized by Indians of Aryan speech.[362] But can we assume that a king of Oudh really led an expedition to the far south, with the aid of ape-like aborigines? It is doubtful, and the narrative of the Ramayana reads like poetic invention rather than distorted history. And yet, what can have prompted the legend except the occurrence of some such expedition? In Rama's wife Sita, seem to be combined an agricultural goddess and a heroine of ancient romance, embodying the Hindu ideal of the true wife.

We have no record of the steps by which Rama and Krishna were deified, although in different parts of the epic they are presented in very different aspects, sometimes as little more than human, sometimes as nothing less than the Supreme Deity. But it can hardly be doubted that this deification owes something to the example of Buddhism. It may be said that the development of both Buddhism and Hinduism in the centuries immediately preceding and following our era gives parallel manifestations of the same popular tendency to deify great men. This is true, but the non-Buddhist forms of Indian religion while not objecting to deification did not particularly encourage it. But in this period, Buddhism and Jainism were powerful: both of them sanctioned the veneration of great teachers and, as they did not recognize sacrifice or adoration of gods, this veneration became the basis of their ceremonies and easily passed into worship. The Buddhists are not responsible for the introduction of deification, but the fact that it was to some extent the basis of their public ceremonies must have gone far to make the worship of Rama and Krishna seem natural.

It is commonly said that whereas the whole divine nature of Vishnu was embodied in Krishna, Rama was only a partial incarnation. Half the god's essence took human form in him, the other half being distributed among his brothers. Krishna is a greater figure in popular esteem and receives the exclusive devotion of more worshippers. The name of Rama commands the reverence of most Hindus, and has a place in their prayers, but his figure has not been invested with the attributes (often of dubious moral value) which most attract sectarian devotion. His worship combines easily with the adoration of other deities. The great temple of Ramesvaram on Adam's Bridge is dedicated not to Rama himself but to the linga which he erected there, and Tulsi Das, the author of the Hindi Ramayana, while invoking Rama as the Supreme Lord and redeemer of the world, emphatically states[363] that his worship is not antagonistic to that of Siva.

No inscriptions nor ancient references testify to the worship of Rama before our era and in the subsequent centuries two phases can be distinguished. First, Rama is a great hero, an incarnation of Vishnu for a particular purpose and analogous to the Vamana or any other avatara: deserving as such of all respect but still not the object of any special cult. This is the view taken of Rama in the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the Raghuvamsa, and those parts of the Ramayana which go beyond it are probably late additions.[364] But secondly Rama becomes for his worshippers the supreme deity. Ramanuja (on the Vedanta sutras, II. 42) mentions him and Krishna as two great incarnations in which the supreme being became manifest, and since Krishna was certainly worshipped at this period as identical with the All-God, it would appear that Rama held the same position. Yet it was not until the fourteenth or fifteenth century that he became for many sects the central and ultimate divine figure.

In the more liberal sects the worship of Rama passes easily into theism and it is the direct parent of the Kabirpanth and Sikhism, but unlike Krishnaism it does not lead to erotic excess. Rama personifies the ideal of chivalry, Sita of chastity. Less edifying forms of worship may attract more attention, but it must not be supposed that Rama is relegated to the penumbra of philosophic thought. If anything so multiplex as Hinduism can be said to have a watchword, it is the cry, Ram, Ram. The story of his adventures has travelled even further than the hero himself, and is known not only from Kashmir to Cape Comorin but from Bombay to Java and Indo-China where it is a common subject of art. In India the Ramayana is a favourite recitation among all classes, and dramatized versions of various episodes are performed as religious plays. Though two late Upanishads, the Ramapurvatapaniya and Ramauttaratapaniya extol Rama as the Supreme Being, there is no Ramapurana. The fact is significant, as showing that his worship did not possess precisely those features of priestly sectarianism which mark the Puranas and perhaps that it is later than the Puranas. But it has inspired a large literature, more truly popular than anything that the Puranas contain. Thus we have the Sanskrit Ramayana itself, the Hindi Ramayana, the Tamil Ramayana of Kamban, and works like the Adhyatma-Ramayana and Yoga-Vasishtha-Ramayana.[365] Of all these, the Ramayana of Tulsi Das is specially remarkable and I shall speak of it later at some length.


Krishna, the other great incarnation of Vishnu, is one of the most conspicuous figures in the Indian pantheon, but his historical origin remains obscure. The word which means black or dark blue occurs in the Rig Veda as the name of an otherwise unknown person. In the Chandogya Upanishad,[366] Krishna, the son of Devaki, is mentioned as having been instructed by the sage Ghora of the Angirasa clan, and it is probably implied that Krishna too belonged to that clan.[367] Later sectarian writers never quote this verse, but their silence may be due to the fact that the Upanishad does not refer to Krishna as if he were a deity, and merely says that he received from Ghora instruction after which he never thirsted again. The purport of it was that the sacrifice may be performed without rites, the various parts being typified by ordinary human actions, such as hunger, eating, laughter, liberality, righteousness, etc. This doctrine has some resemblance to Buddhist language[368] and if this Krishna is really the ancient hero out of whom the later deity was evolved, there may be an allusion to some simple form of worship which rejected ceremonial and was practised by the tribes to whom Krishna belonged. I shall recur to the question of these tribes and the Bhagavata sect below, but in this section I am concerned with the personality of Krishna.

Vasudeva is a well-known name of Krishna and a sutra of Panini,[369] especially if taken in conjunction with the comment of Patanjali, appears to assert that it is not a clan name but the name of a god. If so Vasudeva must have been recognized as a god in the fourth century B.C. He is mentioned in inscriptions which appear to date from about the second century B.C.[370] and in the last book of the Taittiriya Aranyaka,[371] which however is a later addition of uncertain date.

The name Krishna occurs in Buddhist writings in the form Kanha, phonetically equivalent to Krishna. In the Digha Nikaya[372] we hear of the clan of the Kanhayanas (= Karshnayanas) and of one Kanha who became a great sage. This person may be the Krishna of the Rig Veda, but there is no proof that he is the same as our Krishna.

The Ghata-Jataka (No. 454) gives an account of Krishna's childhood and subsequent exploits which in many points corresponds with the Brahmanic legends of his life and contains several familiar incidents and names, such as Vasudeva, Baladeva, Kamsa. Yet it presents many peculiarities and is either an independent version or a misrepresentation of a popular story that had wandered far from its home. Jain tradition also shows that these tales were popular and were worked up into different forms, for the Jains have an elaborate system of ancient patriarchs which includes Vasudevas and Baladevas. Krishna is the ninth of the Black Vasudevas[373] and is connected with Dvaravati or Dvaraka. He will become the twelfth tirthankara of the next world-period and a similar position will be attained by Devaki, Rohini, Baladeva and Javakumara, all members of his family. This is a striking proof of the popularity of the Krishna legend outside the Brahmanic religion.

No references to Krishna except the above have been found in the earlier Upanishads and Sutras. He is not mentioned in Manu but in one aspect or another he is the principal figure in the Mahabharata, yet not exactly the hero. The Ramayana would have no plot without Rama, but the story of the Mahabharata would not lose its unity if Krishna were omitted. He takes the side of the Pandavas, and is sometimes a chief sometimes a god but he is not essential to the action of the epic.

The legend represents him as the son of Vasudeva, who belonged to the Sattvata sept[374] of the Yadava tribe, and of his wife Devaki. It had been predicted to Kamsa, king of Mathura (Muttra), that one of her sons would kill him. He therefore slew her first six children: the seventh, Balarama, who is often counted as an incarnation of Vishnu, was transferred by divine intervention to the womb of Rohini. Krishna, the eighth, escaped by more natural methods. His father was able to give him into the charge of Nanda, a herdsman, and his wife Yasoda who brought him up at Gokula and Vrindavana. Here his youth was passed in sporting with the Gopis or milk-maids, of whom he is said to have married a thousand. He had time, however, to perform acts of heroism, and after killing Kamsa, he transported the inhabitants of Mathura to the city of Dvaraka which he had built on the coast of Gujarat. He became king of the Yadavas and continued his mission of clearing the earth of tyrants and monsters. In the struggle between the Pandavas and the sons of Dhritarashtra he championed the cause of the former, and after the conclusion of the war retired to Dvaraka. Internecine conflict broke out among the Yadavas and annihilated the race. Krishna himself withdrew to the forest and was killed by a hunter called Jaras (old age) who shot him supposing him to be a deer.

In the Mahabharata and several Puranas this bare outline is distended with a plethora of miraculous incident remarkable even in Indian literature, and almost all possible forms of divine and human activity are attributed to this many-sided figure. We may indeed suspect that his personality is dual even in the simplest form of the legend for the scene changes from Mathura to Dvaraka, and his character is not quite the same in the two regions. It is probable that an ancient military hero of the west has been combined with a deity or perhaps more than one deity. The pile of story, sentiment and theology which ages have heaped up round Krishna's name, represents him in three principal aspects. Firstly, he is a warrior who destroys the powers of evil. Secondly, he is associated with love in all its forms, ranging from amorous sport to the love of God in the most spiritual and mystical sense. Thirdly, he is not only a deity, but he actually becomes God in the European and also in the pantheistic acceptation of the word, and is the centre of a philosophic theology.

The first of these aspects is clearly the oldest and it is here, if anywhere, that we may hope to find some fragments of history. But the embellishments of poets and story-tellers have been so many that we can only point to features which may indicate a substratum of fact. In the legend, Krishna assists the Pandavas against the Kauravas. Now many think that the Pandavas represent a second and later immigration of Aryans into India, composed of tribes who had halted in the Himalayas and perhaps acquired some of the customs of the inhabitants, including polyandry, for the five Pandavas had one wife in common between them. Also, the meaning of the name Krishna, black, suggests that he was a chief of some non-Aryan tribe. It is, therefore, possible that one source of the Krishna myth is that a body of invading Aryans, described in the legend as the Pandavas, who had not exactly the same laws and beliefs as those already established in Hindustan, were aided by a powerful aboriginal chief, just as the Sisodias in Rajputana were aided by the Bhils. It is possible too that Krishna's tribe may have come from Kabul or other mountainous districts of the north west, although one of the most definite points in the legend is his connection with the coast town of Dvaraka. The fortifications of this town and the fruitless efforts of the demon king, Salva, to conquer it by seige are described in the Mahabharata,[375] but the narrative is surrounded by an atmosphere of magic and miracle rather than of history.[376]

Though it would not be reasonable to pick out the less fantastic parts of the Krishna legend and interpret them as history, yet we may fairly attach significance to the fact that many episodes represent him as in conflict with Brahmanic institutions and hardly maintaining the position of Vishnu incarnate.[377] Thus he plunders Indra's garden and defeats the gods who attempt to resist him. He fights with Siva and Skanda. He burns Benares and all its inhabitants. Yet he is called Upendra, which, whatever other explanations sectarian ingenuity may invent, can hardly mean anything but the Lesser Indra, and he fills the humble post of Arjuna's charioteer. His kinsmen seem to have been of little repute, for part of his mission was to destroy his own clan and after presiding over its annihilation in internecine strife, he was slain himself. In all this we see dimly the figure of some aboriginal hero who, though ultimately canonized, represented a force not in complete harmony with Brahmanic civilization. The figure has also many solar attributes but these need not mean that its origin is to be sought in a sun myth, but rather that, as many early deities were forms of the sun, solar attributes came to be a natural part of divinity and were ascribed to the deified Krishna just as they were to the deified Buddha.[378]

Some authors hold that the historical Krishna was a teacher, similar to Zarathustra, and that though of the military class he was chiefly occupied in founding or supporting what was afterwards known as the religion of the Bhagavatas, a theistic system inculcating the worship of one God, called Bhagavat, and perhaps identical with the Sun. It is probable that Krishna the hero was connected with the worship of a special deity, but I see no evidence that he was primarily a teacher.[379] In the earlier legends he is a man of arms: in the later he is not one who devotes his life to teaching but a forceful personage who explains the nature of God and the universe at the most unexpected moments. Now the founders of religions such as Mahavira and Buddha preserve their character as teachers even in legend and do not accumulate miscellaneous heroic exploits. Similarly modern founders of sects, like Caitanya, though revered as incarnations, still retain their historical attributes. But on the other hand many men of action have been deified not because they taught anything but because they seemed to be more than human forces. Rama is a classical example of such deification and many local deities can be shown to be warriors, bandits and hunters whose powers inspired respect. It is said that there is a disposition in the Bombay Presidency to deify the Maratha leader Sivaji.[380]

In his second aspect, Krishna is a pastoral deity, sporting among nymphs and cattle. It is possible that this Krishna is in his origin distinct from the violent and tragic hero of Dvaraka. The two characters have little in common, except their lawlessness, and the date and locality of the two cycles of legend are different. But the death of Kamsa which is one of the oldest incidents in the story (for it is mentioned in the Mahabhashya[381]) belongs to both and Kamsa is consistently connected with Muttra. The Mahabharata is mainly concerned with Krishna the warrior: the few allusions in it to the freaks of the pastoral Krishna occur in passages suspected of being late interpolations and, even if they are genuine, show that little attention was paid to his youth. But in later works, the relative importance is reversed and the figure of the amorous herdsman almost banishes the warrior. We can trace the growth of this figure in the sculptures of the sixth century, in the Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas and the Gita-govinda (written about 1170). Even later is the worship of Radha, Krishna's mistress, as a portion of the deity, who is supposed to have divided himself into male and female halves.[382] The birth and adventures of the pastoral Krishna are located in the land of Braj, the district round Muttra and among the tribe of the Abhiras, but the warlike Krishna is connected with the west, although his exploits extend to the Ganges valley.[383] The Abhiras, now called Ahirs, were nomadic herdsmen who came from the west and their movements between Kathiawar and Muttra may have something to do with the double location of the Krishna legend.

Both archaeology and historical notices tell us something of the history of Muttra. It was a great Buddhist and Jain centre, as the statues and viharas found there attest. Ptolemy calls it the city of the gods. Fa-Hsien (400 A.D.) describes it as Buddhist, but that faith was declining at the time of Hsuean Chuang's visit (c. 630 A.D.). The sculptural remains also indicate the presence of Graeco-Bactrian influence. We need not therefore feel surprise if we find in the religious thought of Muttra elements traceable to Greece, Persia or Central Asia. Some claim that Christianity should be reckoned among these elements and I shall discuss the question elsewhere. Here I will only say that such ideas as were common to Christianity and to the religions of Greece and western Asia probably did penetrate to India by the northern route, but of specifically Christian ideas I see no proof. It is true that the pastoral Krishna is unlike all earlier Indian deities, but then no close parallel to him can be adduced from elsewhere, and, take him as a whole, he is a decidedly un-christian figure. The resemblance to Christianity consists in the worship of a divine child, together with his mother. But this feature is absent in the New Testament and seems to have been borrowed from paganism by Christianity.

The legends of Muttra show even clearer traces than those already quoted of hostility between Krishna and Brahmanism. He forbids the worship of Indra,[384] and when Indra in anger sends down a deluge of rain, he protects the country by holding up over it the hill of Goburdhan, which is still one of the great centres of pilgrimage.[385] The language which the Vishnu Purana attributes to him is extremely remarkable. He interrupts a sacrifice which his fosterfather is offering to Indra and says, "We have neither fields nor houses: we wander about happily wherever we list, travelling in our waggons. What have we to do with Indra? Cattle and mountains are (our) gods. Brahmans offer worship with prayer: cultivators of the earth adore their landmarks but we who tend our herds in the forests and mountains should worship them and our kine."

This passage suggests that Krishna represents a tribe of highland nomads who worshipped mountains and cattle and came to terms with the Brahmanic ritual only after a struggle. The worship of mountain spirits is common in Central Asia, but I do not know of any evidence for cattle-worship in those regions. Clemens of Alexandria,[386] writing at the end of the second century A.D., tells us that the Indians worshipped Herakles and Pan. The pastoral Krishna has considerable resemblance to Pan or a Faun, but no representations of such beings are recorded from Graeco-Indian sculptures. Several Bacchic groups have however been discovered in Gandhara and also at Muttra[387] and Megasthenes recognized Dionysus in some Indian deity. Though the Bacchic revels and mysteries do not explain the pastoral element in the Krishna legend, they offer a parallel to some of its other features, such as the dancing and the crowd of women, and I am inclined to think that such Greek ideas may have germinated and proved fruitful in Muttra. The Greek king Menander is said to have occupied the city (c. 155 B.C.), and the sculptures found there indicate that Greek artistic forms were used to express Indian ideas. There may have been a similar fusion in religion.

In any case, Buddhism was predominant in Muttra for several centuries. It no doubt forbade the animal sacrifices of the Brahmans and favoured milder rites. It may even offer some explanation for the frivolous character of much in the Krishna legend.[388] Most Brahmanic deities, extraordinary as their conduct often is, are serious and imposing. But Buddhism claimed for itself the serious side of religion and while it tolerated local godlings treated them as fairies or elves. It was perhaps while Krishna was a humble rustic deity of this sort, with no claim to represent the Almighty, that there first gathered round him the cycle of light love-stories which has clung to him ever since. In the hands of the Brahmans his worship has undergone the strangest variations which touch the highest and lowest planes of Hinduism, but the Muttra legend still retains its special note of pastoral romance, and exhibits Krishna in two principal characters, as the divine child and as the divine lover. The mysteries of birth and of sexual union are congenial topics to Hindu theology, but in the cult of Muttra we are not concerned with reproduction as a world force, but simply with childhood and love as emotional manifestations of the deity. The same ideas occur in Christianity, and even in the Gospels Christ is compared to a bridegroom, but the Krishna legend is far more gross and naive.

The infant Krishna is commonly adored in the form known as Makhan Chor or the Butter Thief.[389] This represents him as a crawling child holding out one hand full of curds or butter which he has stolen. We speak of idolizing a child, and when Hindu women worship this image they are unconsciously generalizing the process and worshipping childhood, its wayward pranks as well as its loveable simplicity, and though it is hard for a man to think of the freaks of the butter thief as a manifestation of divinity, yet clearly there is an analogy between these childish escapades and the caprices of mature deities, which are respectfully described as mysteries. If one admits the worship of the Bambino, it is not unreasonable to include in it admiration of his rogueries, and the tender playfulness which is permitted to enter into this cult appeals profoundly to Indian women. Images of the Makhan Chor are sold by thousands in the streets of Muttra.

Even more popular is the image known as Kanhaya, which represents the god as a young man playing the flute as he stands in a careless attitude, which has something of Hellenic grace. Krishna in this form is the beloved of the Gopis, or milk-maids, of the land of Braj, and the spouse of Radha, though she had no monopoly of him. The stories of his frolics with these damsels and the rites instituted in memory thereof have brought his worship into merited discredit. Krishnaism offers the most extensive manifestation to be found in the world of what W. James calls the theopathic condition as illustrated by nuns like Marguerite Marie Alacoque, Saint Gertrude and the more distinguished Saint Theresa. "To be loved by God and loved by him to distraction (jusqu'a la folie), Margaret melted away with love at the thought of such a thing.... She said to God, 'Hold back, my God, these torrents which overwhelm me or else enlarge my capacity for their reception'."[390] These are not the words of the Gita-govinda or the Prem Sagar, as might be supposed, but of a Catholic Bishop describing the transports of Sister Marguerite Marie, and they illustrate the temper of Krishna's worshippers. But the verses of the Marathi poet, Tukaram, who lived about 1600 A.D. and sang the praises of Krishna, rise above this sentimentality though he uses the language of love. In a letter to Sivaji, who desired to see him, he wrote, "As a chaste wife longs only to see her lord, such am I to Vitthala.[391] All the world is to me Vitthala and nothing else: thee also I behold in him." He also wrote elsewhere, "he that taketh the unprotected to his heart and doeth to a servant the same kindness as to his own children, is assuredly the image of God." More recently Ramakrishna, whose sayings breathe a wide intelligence as well as a wide charity, has given this religion of love an expression which, if somewhat too sexual to be perfectly in accordance with western taste, is nearly related to emotional Christianity. "A true lover sees his god as his nearest and dearest relative" he writes, "just as the shepherd women of Vrindavana saw in Krishna not the Lord of the Universe but their own beloved.... The knowledge of God may be likened to a man, while the love of God is like a woman. Knowledge has entry only up to the outer rooms of God, and no one can enter into the inner mysteries of God save a lover.... Knowledge and love of God are ultimately one and the same. There is no difference between pure knowledge and pure love."[392]

These extracts show how Krishna as the object of the soul's desire assumes the place of the Supreme Being or God. But this surprising transformation[393] is not specially connected with the pastoral and erotic Krishna: the best known and most thorough-going exposition of his divinity is found in the Bhagavad-gita, which represents him as being in his human aspect, a warrior and the charioteer of Arjuna. Probably some seventy-five millions to-day worship Krishna, especially under the name of Hari, as God in the pantheistic sense and naturally the more his identity with the supreme spirit is emphasized, the dimmer grow the legendary features which mark the hero of Muttra and Dvaraka, and the human element in him is reduced to this very important point that the tie uniting him to his worshippers is one of sentiment and affection.

In the following chapters I shall treat of this worship when describing the various sects which practise it. A question of some importance for the history of Krishna's deification is the meaning of the name Vasudeva. One explanation makes it a patronymic, son of Vasudeva, and supposes that when this prince Vasudeva was deified his name, like Rama, was transferred to the deity. The other regards Vasudeva as a name for the deity used by the Sattvata clan and supposes that when Krishna was deified this already well-known divine name was bestowed on him. There is much to be said for this latter theory. As we have seen the Jains give the title Vasudeva to a series of supermen, and a remarkable legend states[394] that a king called Paundraka who pretended to be a deity used the title Vasudeva and ordered Krishna to cease using it, for which impertinence he was slain. This clearly implies that the title was something which could be detached from Krishna and not a mere patronymic. Indian writings countenance both etymologies of the word. As the name of the deity they derive it from vas to dwell, he in whom all things abide and who abides in all.[395]


Siva and Vishnu are not in their nature different from other Indian ideas, high or low. They are the offspring of philosophic and poetic minds playing with a luxuriant popular mythology. But even in the epics they have already become fixed points in a flux of changing fancies and serve as receptacles in which the most diverse notions are collected and stored. Nearly all philosophy and superstition finds its place in Hinduism by being connected with one or both of them. The two worships are not characteristic of different periods: they coexist when they first become known to us as they do at the present day and in essential doctrines they are much alike. We have no name for this curious double theism in which each party describes its own deity as the supreme god or All-god, yet without denying the god of the other. Something similar might be produced in Christianity if different Churches were avowedly to worship different persons of the Trinity.

Siva and Vishnu are sometimes contrasted and occasionally their worshippers quarrel.[396] But the general inclination is rather to make the two figures approximate by bestowing the same attributes on both. A deity must be able to satisfy emotional devotion: hence the Tamil Sivaite says of Siva the destroyer, "one should worship in supreme love him who does kindness to the soul." But then the feature in the world which most impresses the Hindu is the constant change and destruction, and this must find a place in the All-god. Hence the sportive kindly Krishna comes to be declared the destroyer of the worlds.[397] It is as if in some vast Dravidian temple one wandered through two corridors differently ornamented and assigned to the priests of different rites but both leading to the same image. Hence it is not surprising to find that there is actually a deity—if indeed the term is suitable, but European vocabularies hardly provide one which meets the case—called Harihara (or Sankara-Narayana), that is Siva and Vishnu combined. The Harivamsa contains a hymn addressed to him: fairly ancient sculptures attest the prevalence of his worship in the Deccan, especially at Badami, he was once the chief deity of Camboja and he is still popular in south India. Here besides being worshipped under his own name he has undergone a singular transformation and has probably been amalgamated with some aboriginal deity. Under the designation of Ayenar (said to be a corruption of Harihara) he is extensively worshipped as a village god and reputed to be the son of Siva and Vishnu, the latter having kindly assumed the form of a woman to effect his birth.

Another form of this inclination to combine and unite the various manifestations of the Divine is the tendency to worship groups of gods, a practice as old as the Vedas. Thus many temples are dedicated to a group of five, namely, Siva, Vishnu, Durga, Ganesa and the Sun and it is stated that every Hindu worships these five deities in his daily prayers.[398] The Trimurti, or figure of Brahma, Siva and Vishnu, illustrates the worship of groups. Its importance has sometimes been over-estimated by Europeans from an idea that it corresponded to the Christian Trinity, but in reality this triad is late and has little significance. No stress is laid on the idea of three in one and the number of persons can be increased. The Brahma-vaivarta Purana for instance adds Krishna to Brahma, Siva and Vishnu. The union of three personalities is merely a way of summing up the chief attributes of the All-God. Thus the Vishnu Purana[399] extols Vishnu as being "Hiranyagarbha, Hari and Sankara (i.e. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva), the creator, preserver and destroyer," but in another passage as him who is "Brahma, Isvara and spirit (Pums), who with the three Gunas (qualities of matter) is the cause of creation, preservation and destruction...." The origin of the triad, so far as it has any doctrinal or philosophical meaning, is probably to be sought in the personification of the three Gunas.[400]


[Footnote 334: See especially Dig. Nik. XX. and XXXII.]

[Footnote 335: But the lists may be pieces of folk-lore older than the suttas in which they are incorporated.]

[Footnote 336: The Dionysus of Megasthenes is a deity who comes from the west with an army that suffers from the heat of the plains. If we could be certain that he meant Siva by Dionysus this would be valuable evidence. But he clearly misunderstood many things in Indian religion. Greek legends connected Dionysus with India and the East.]

[Footnote 337: Macdonell seems to me correct in saying (J.R.A.S. 1915, p. 125) that one reason why Indian deities have many arms is that they may be able to carry the various symbols by which they are characterized. Another reason is that worship is usually accompanied by dhyana, that is forming a mental image of the deity as described in a particular text. E.g. the worshipper repeats a mantra which describes a deity in language which was originally metaphorical as having many heads and arms and at the same time he ought to make a mental image of such a figure.]

[Footnote 338: But some forms of Sivaism in southern India come even nearer to emotional Christianity than does Vishnuism.]

[Footnote 339: I cannot discover that any alleged avatara of Siva has now or has had formerly any importance, but the Vayu, Linga and Kurma Purana give lists of such incarnations, as does also the Catechism of the Shaiva religion translated by Foulkes. But Indian sects have a strong tendency to ascribe all possible achievements and attributes to their gods. The mere fact that Vishnu becomes incarnate incites the ardent Sivaite to say that his god can do the same. A curious instance of this rivalry is found in the story that Siva manifested himself as Sarabha-murti in order to curb the ferocity of Vishnu when incarnate in the Man Lion (see Gopinatha Rao, Hindu Icon. p. 45). Siva often appears in a special form, not necessarily human, for a special purpose (e.g. Virabhadra) and some tantric Buddhas seem to be imitations of these apparitions. There is a strong element of Sivaism borrowed from Bengal in the mythology of Tibet and Mongolia, where such personages as Hevajra, Samvara, and Mahakala have a considerable importance under the strange title of Buddhas.]

[Footnote 340: The passage from one epithet to the other is very plain in R.V. I. 114.]

[Footnote 341: Book XVI.]

[Footnote 342: In the play Mricchakatika or The Clay Cart (probably of the sixth century A.D.) a burglar invokes Kartikeya, the son of Siva, who is said to have taught different styles of house-breaking.]

[Footnote 343: A similarly strange collocation of attributes is found in Daksha's hymn to Siva. Mahabharata, XII. Sec. 285.]

[Footnote 344: Atharva, V. xi. 2. 24.]

[Footnote 345: It is not certain if the Sisnadevah whom Indra is asked to destroy in Rig. V. VII. 21. 5 and X. 99. 3 are priapic demons or worshippers of the phallus.]

[Footnote 346: VII. secs. 202, 203, and XIII. sec. 14.]

[Footnote 347: The inscriptions of Camboja and Champa seem to be the best proof of the antiquity of Linga worship. A Cambojan inscription of about 550 A.D. records the dedication of a linga and the worship must have taken some time to reach Camboja from India. Some lingas discovered in India are said to be anterior to the Christian era.]

[Footnote 348: See F. Kittel, Ueber den Ursprung der Linga Kultus, and Barth, Religions of India, p. 261.]

[Footnote 349: As is also its appearance, as a rule. But there are exceptions to this. Some Hindus deny that the Linga is a phallic emblem. It is hardly possible to maintain this thesis in view of such passages as Mahabh. XIII. 14 and the innumerable figures in which there are both a linga and a Yoni. But it is true that in its later forms the worship is purged of all grossness and that in its earlier forms the symbol adored was often a stupa-like column or a pillar with figures on it.]

[Footnote 350: Such scenes as the relief from Amaravati figured in Gruenwedel, Buddhist art in India, p. 29, fig. 8, might easily be supposed to represent the worship of the linga, and some of Asoka's pillars have been worshipped as lingas in later times.]

[Footnote 351: But not of course the soul which, according to the general Indian idea, exists before and continues after the life of the body.]

[Footnote 352: Crooke, Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India, I. 84; II. 219.]

[Footnote 353: They are however of some importance in Vishnuite theology. For instance according to the school of Ramanuja it is the Sakti (Sri) who reveals the true doctrine to mankind. Vishnu is often said to have three consorts, Sri, Bhu and Lila.]

[Footnote 354: E.g. Sat. Brah. I. 2. 5. See also the strange legend Ib. XI. 1. 1 where Vishnu is described as the best of the gods but is eaten by Indra. He is frequently (e.g. in the Sata Brah) stated to be identical with the sacrifice, and this was probably one of the reasons for his becoming prominent.]

[Footnote 355: See many modern examples in Crooke, Popular Religion and Folk Lore of Northern India, chap. IV. and Census of India, 1901, vol. VI. Bengal, pp. 196-8, where are described various deified heroes who are adored in Bengal, such as Goveiya (a bandit), Sailesh, Karikh, Larik, Amar Singh, and Gobind Raut (a slayer of tigers). Compare too the worship of Gopi Nath and Zinda Kaliana in the Panjab as described in Census of India, 1901, vol. XVII. pp. 118-9.]

[Footnote 356: The Bhagavata Purana (I. iii.) and the Bhaktamala (see J.R.A.S. 1909, pp. 621 ff.) give longer lists of 22 and 26, and the Pancaratra gives 39. See Ahirbudhnya Samhita, V. 50-55.]

[Footnote 357: Book I, cantos 74-76.]

[Footnote 358: A parallel phenomenon is the belief found in Bali, that Buddha is Siva's brother.]

[Footnote 359: For Brahmanic ideas about Buddha see Vishnu Purana, III. 18. The Bhagavata Purana, I. 3. 24 seems to make the Buddha incarnation future. It also counts Kapila and Rishabha, apparently identical with the founder of the Sankhya and the first Jain saint, as incarnations. The Padma Purana seems to ascribe not only Buddhism but the Maya doctrine of Sankara to delusions deliberately inspired by gods. I have not been able to find the passage in the printed edition of the Purana but it is quoted in Sanskrit by Aufrecht, Cat. Cod. Bib. Bodl. p. 14, and Muir, Original Sanskrit Texts, p. 198.]

[Footnote 360: See Norman in Trans. Third Int. Congress of Religions, II. p. 85. In the Ind. Ant. 1918, p. 145 Jayaswal tries to prove that Kalki is a historical personage and identical with King Yasodharman of Central India (about A.D. 500) and that the idea of his being a future saviour is late. This theory offers difficulties, for firstly there is no proof that the passages of the Mahabharata which mention Kalki (III. 190, 13101; III. 191, 13111: XII. 340, 12968) are additions later than Yasodharman and secondly if Kalki was first a historical figure and then projected into the future we should expect to hear that he will come again, but such language is not quoted. On the other hand it seems quite likely (1) that there was an old tradition about a future saviour called Kalki, (2) that Yasodharman after defeating the Huns assumed the role, (3) and that when it was found that the golden age had not recommenced he was forgotten (as many pseudo-Messiahs have been) and Kalki again became a hope for the future. Vincent Smith (Hist. of India, ed. III. p. 320) intimates that Yasodharman performed considerable exploits but was inordinately boastful.]

[Footnote 361: Another version of the story which omits the expedition to Lanka and makes Sita the sister of Rama is found in the Dasaratha Jataka (641).]

[Footnote 362: But this colonization is attributed by tradition to Vijaya, not Rama.]

[Footnote 363: See especially book VI. p. 67, in Growse's Translation.]

[Footnote 364: See Muir's Sanskrit Texts, vol. IV. especially pp. 441-491.]

[Footnote 365: Ekanatha, who lived in the sixteenth century, calls the Adhyatma R. a modern work. See Bhandarkar, Vaishn. and Saivism, page 48. The Yoga-Vasishtha R. purports to be instruction given by Vasishtha to Rama who wishes to abandon the world. Its date is uncertain but it is quoted by authors of the fourteenth century. It is very popular, especially in south India, where an abridgment in Tamil called Jnana-Vasishtha is much read. Its doctrine appears to be Vedantist with a good deal of Buddhist philosophy. Salvation is never to think that pleasures and pains are "mine."]

[Footnote 366: Chand. Up. III. 17.6]

[Footnote 367: The Kaush. Brahm. says that Krishna was an Angirasa XXX. g. The Anukramani says that the Krishna of Rig Veda, VIII. 74 was an Angirasa. For Ghora Angirasa "the dread descendent of the Angirases" see Macdonell and Keith, Vedic Index, s.v.]

[Footnote 368: E.g. Dig. Nik. V. The Pancaratra expressly states that Yoga is worship of the heart and self-sacrifice, being thus a counterpart of the external sacrifice (bahyayaga).]

[Footnote 369: Pan. IV. 3. 98, Vasudevarjunabhyam vun. See Bhandarkar, Vaishnavism and Saivism, p. 3 and J.R.A.S. 1910, p. 168. Sutra 95, just above, appears to point to bhakti, faith or devotion, felt for this Vasudeva.]

[Footnote 370: Especially the Besnagar column. See Rapson, Ancient India, p. 156 and various articles in J.R.A.S. 1909-10.]

[Footnote 371: X. i, vi.]

[Footnote 372: III. i. 23, Ularo so Kanho isi ahosi. But this may refer to the Rishi mentioned in R.V. VIII. 74 who has not necessarily anything to do with the god Krishna.]

[Footnote 373: See Hemacandra Abhidhanacintamani, Ed. Boehtlingk and Rien, p. 128, and Barnett's translation of the Antagada Dasao, pp. 13-15 and 67-82.]

[Footnote 374: Apparently the same as the Vrishnis.]

[Footnote 375: III. XV.]

[Footnote 376: It would seem that the temple of Dvaraka was built between the composition of the narrative in the Mahabharata and of the Vishnu Purana, for while the former says the whole town was destroyed by the sea, the latter excepts the temple and says that whoever visits it is freed from all his sins. See Wilson, Vishnu Purana, V. p. 155.]

[Footnote 377: A most curious chapter of the Vishnu Purana (IV. 13) contains a vindication of Krishna's character and a picture of old tribal life.]

[Footnote 378: Neither can I agree with some scholars that Krishna is mainly and primarily a deity of vegetation. All Indian ideas about the Universe and God emphasize the interaction of life and death, growth and decay, spring and winter. Krishna is undoubtedly associated with life, growth and generation, but so is Siva the destroyer, or rather the transmuter. The account in the Mahabhashya (on Pan. III. 1. 26) of the masque representing the slaughter of Kamsa by Krishna is surely a slight foundation for the theory that Krishna was a nature god. It might be easily argued that Christ is a vegetation spirit, for not only is Easter a spring festival but there are numerous allusions to sowing and harvest in the Gospels and Paul illustrates the resurrection by the germination of corn. It is a mistake to seek for uniformity in the history of religion. There were in ancient times different types of mind which invented different kinds of gods, just as now professors invent different theories about gods.]

[Footnote 379: The Krishna of the Chandogya Upanishad receives instruction but it is not said that he was himself a teacher.]

[Footnote 380: Hopkins, India Old and New, p. 105.]

[Footnote 381: Bhandarkar. Allusions to Krishna in Mahabhashya, Ind. Ant. 1874, p. 14. For the pastoral Krishna see Bhandarkar, Vaishnavism and Saivism, chap. IX.]

[Footnote 382: The divinity of Radha is taught specially in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana and the Narada pancaratra, also called Jnanamritasara. She is also described in the Gopala-tapaniya Upanishad of unknown date.]

[Footnote 383: But Kamsa appears in both series of legends, i.e., in the Ghata-Jataka which contains no hint of the pastoral legends but is a variant of the story of the warlike Krishna.]

[Footnote 384: Vishnu Purana, V. 10, 11 from which the quotations in the text are taken. Much of it is repeated in the Harivamsa. See for instance H. 3808.]

[Footnote 385: The Muttra cycle of legends cannot be very late for the inscription of Glai Lomor in Champa (811 A.D.) speaks of Narayana holding up Goburdhan and a Cambojan inscription of Prea Eynkosey (970 A.D.) speaks of the banks of the Yamuna where Krishna sported. These legends must have been prevalent in India some time before they travelled so far. Some of them are depicted on a pillar found at Mandor and possibly referable to the fourth century A.D. See Arch. Survey Ind. 1905-1906, p. 135.]

[Footnote 386: Strom, III. 194. See M'Crindle, Ancient India, p. 183.]

[Footnote 387: Vincent Smith, Fine Art in India, pp. 134-138.]

[Footnote 388: In the Sutta-nipata Mara, the Evil One is called Kanha, the phonetic equivalent of Krishna in Prakrit. Can it be that Mara and his daughters have anything to do with Krishna and the Gopis?]

[Footnote 389: Compare the Greek stories of the infant Hermes who steals Apollo's cattle and invents the lyre. Compare too, as having a general resemblance to fantastic Indian legends, the story of young Hephaestus.]

[Footnote 390: Mgr. Bongard, Histoire de la Bienheureuse Marguerite Marie. Quoted by W. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 343.]

[Footnote 391: Vitthal or Vittoba is a local deity of Pandharpur in the Deccan (perhaps a deified Brahman of the place) now identified with Krishna.]

[Footnote 392: Life and Sayings of Ramakrishna. Trans. F. Max Mueller, pp. 137-8. The English poet Crashaw makes free use of religious metaphors drawn from love and even Francis Thompson represents God as the lover of the Soul, e.g. in his poem Any Saint.]

[Footnote 393: Though surprising, it can be paralleled in modern times for Kabir (c. 1400) was identified by his later followers with the supreme spirit.]

[Footnote 394: Mahabhar. Sabhap. XIV. Vishnu Pur. v. xxxiv. The name also occurs in the Taittiriya Aranyaka (i. 31) a work of moderate if not great antiquity Nazayanaya vidmahe Vasudevaya dhimahi.]

[Footnote 395: See. Vishnu Pur. VI. V. See also Wilson, Vishnu Purana, I. pp. 2 and 17.]

[Footnote 396: Thus the Saura Purana inveighs against the Madhva sect (XXXVIII.-XL.) and calls Vishnu the servant of Siva: a Puranic legal work called the Vriddha-Harita-Samhita is said to contain a polemic against Siva. Occasionally we hear of collisions between the followers of Vishnu and Siva or the desecration of temples by hostile fanatics. But such conflicts take place most often not between widely different sects but between subdivisions of the same sect, e.g., Tengalais and Vadagalais. It would seem too that at present most Hindus of the higher castes avoid ostentatious membership of the modern sects, and though they may practise special devotion to either Vishnu or Siva, yet they visit the temples of both deities when they go on pilgrimages. Jogendra Nath Bhattacharya in his Hindu Castes and Sects says (p. 364) that aristocratic Brahmans usually keep in their private chapels both a salagram representing Vishnu and emblems representing Siva and his spouse. Hence different observers vary in their estimates of the importance of sectarian divisions, some holding that sect is the essence of modern Hinduism and others that most educated Hindus do not worship a sectarian deity. The Kurma Purana, Part I. chap. XXII. contains some curious rules as to what deities should be worshipped by the various classes of men and spirits.]

[Footnote 397: Bhag.-gita, XL. 23-34.]

[Footnote 398: See Srisa Chandra Vasu, Daily practice of the Hindus, p. 118.]

[Footnote 399: II. 1 and I. 1.]

[Footnote 400: See Maitrayana Up. V. 2. It is highly probable that the celebrated image at Elephanta is not a Trimurti at all but a Mahesamurti of Siva. See Gopinatha Rao, Hindu Iconog. II. 382.]




In the last chapter I traced the growth of the great gods Siva and Vishnu. The prominence of these figures is one of the marks which distinguish the later phase of Indian religion from the earlier. But it is also distinguished by various practices, institutions and beliefs, which are more or less connected with the new deities. Such are a new ritual, the elaboration of the caste system, the growth of sects, and the tendency to make devotion to a particular deity the essence of religion. In the present chapter I shall say something of these phenomena.

Hinduism has often and justly been compared to a jungle. As in the jungle every particle of soil seems to put forth its spirit in vegetable life and plants grow on plants, creepers and parasites on their more stalwart brethren, so in India art, commerce, warfare and crime, every human interest and aspiration seek for a manifestation in religion, and since men and women of all classes and occupations, all stages of education and civilization, have contributed to Hinduism, much of it seems low, foolish and even immoral. The jungle is not a park or garden. Whatever can grow in it, does grow. The Brahmans are not gardeners but forest officers. To attempt a history or description of Indian creeds seems an enterprise as vast, hopeless and pathless as a general account of European politics. As for many centuries the life of Europe has expressed itself in politics, so for even longer ages the life of India, which has more inhabitants than western Europe,[401] has found expression in religion, speculation and philosophy, and has left of all this thought a voluminous record, mighty in bulk if wanting in dates and events. And why should it chronicle them? The truly religious mind does not care for the history of religion, just as among us the scientific mind does not dwell on the history of science.

Yet in spite of their exuberance Hinduism and the jungle have considerable uniformity. Here and there in a tropical forest some well-grown tree or brilliant flower attracts attention, but the general impression left on the traveller by the vegetation as he passes through it mile after mile is infinite repetition as well as infinite luxuriance. And so in Hinduism. A monograph on one god or one teacher is an interesting study. But if we continue the experiment, different gods and different teachers are found to be much the same. We can write about Vishnuism and Sivaism as if they were different religions and this, though incomplete, is not incorrect. But in their higher phases both show much the same excellences and when degraded both lead to much the same abuses, except that the worship of Vishnu does not allow animal sacrifices. This is true even of externals. In the temples of Madura, Poona and Benares, the deities, the rites, the doctrines, the race of the worshippers and the architecture are all different, yet the impression of uniformity is strong. In spite of divergences the religion is the same in all three places: it smacks of the soil and nothing like it can be found outside India.

Hinduism is an unusual combination of animism and pantheism, which are commonly regarded as the extremes of savage and of philosophic belief. In India both may be found separately but frequently they are combined in startling juxtaposition. The same person who worships Vishnu as identical with the universe also worships him in the form of a pebble or plant.[402] The average Hindu, who cannot live permanently in the altitudes of pantheistic thought, regards his gods as great natural forces, akin to the mighty rivers which he also worships, irresistible and often beneficent but also capricious and destructive. Whereas Judaism, Christianity and Islam all identify the moral law with the will and conduct of the deity, in Hinduism this is not completely admitted in practice, though a library might be filled with the beautiful things that have been said about man and God. The outward forms of Indian religion are pagan after the fashion of the ancient world, a fashion which has in most lands passed away. But whereas in the fourth century A.D. European paganism, despite the efforts of anti-Christian eclectics, proved inelastic and incapable of satisfying new religious cravings, this did not happen in India. The bottles of Hinduism have always proved capable of holding all the wine poured into them. When a new sentiment takes possession of men's souls, such as love, repentance, or the sense of sin, some deity of many shapes and sympathies straightway adapts himself to the needs of his worshippers. And yet in so doing the deity, though he enlarges himself, does not change, and the result is that we often meet with strange anachronisms, as if Jephthah should listen appreciatively to the Sermon on the Mount and then sacrifice his daughter to Christ. Many Hindu temples are served by dancing girls who are admittedly prostitutes,[403] an institution which takes us back to the cultus of Corinth and Babylon and is without parallel in any nation on approximately the same level of civilization. Only British law prevents widows from being burned with their dead husbands, though even in the Vedic age the custom had been discontinued as barbarous.[404] But for the same legislation, human sacrifice would probably be common. What the gods do and what their worshippers do in their service cannot according to Hindu opinion be judged by ordinary laws of right and wrong. The god is supra-moral: the worshipper when he enters the temple leaves conventionality outside.

Yet it is unfair to represent Hinduism as characterized by licence and cruelty. Such tendencies are counterbalanced by the strength and prevalence of ideas based on renunciation and self-effacement. All desire, all attachment to the world is an evil; all self-assertion is wrong. Hinduism is constantly in extremes: sometimes it exults in the dances of Krishna or the destructive fury of Kali: more often it struggles for release from the transitory and for union with the permanent and real by self-denial or rather self-negation, which aims at the total suppression of both pleasure and pain. This is on the whole its dominant note.

In the records accessible to us the transition from Brahmanism—that is, the religion of the Vedas and Brahmanas—to Hinduism does not appear as direct but as masked by Buddhism. We see Buddhism grow at the expense of Brahmanism. We are then conscious that it becomes profoundly modified under the influence of new ideas. We see it decay and the religion of the Brahmans emerge victorious. But that religion is not what it was when Buddhism first arose, and is henceforth generally known as Hinduism. The materials for studying the period in which the change occurred—say 400 B.C. to 400 A.D.—are not scanty, but they do not facilitate chronological investigation. Art and architecture are mainly Buddhist until the Gupta period (c. 320 A.D.) and literature, though plentiful, is undated. The Mahabharata and Ramayana must have been edited in the course of these 800 years, but they consist of different strata and it is not easy to separate and arrange them without assuming what we want to prove. From 400 B.C. (if not from an earlier date) onwards there grew up a great volume of epic poetry, founded on popular ballads, telling the stories of Rama and the Pandavas.[405] It was distinct from the canonical literatures of both Brahmans and Buddhists, but though it was not in its essential character religious, yet so general in India is the interest in religion that whole theological treatises were incorporated in these stories without loss, in Indian opinion, to the interest of the narrative. If at the present day a congregation is seen in a Hindu temple listening to a recitation, the text which is being chanted will often prove to be part of the Mahabharata. Such a ceremony is not due to forgetfulness of the Veda but is a repetition of what happened long before our era when rhapsodists strung together popular narratives and popular theology. Such theology cannot be rigidly separated from Brahmanism and Buddhism. It grew up under their influence and accepted their simpler ideas. But it brought with it popular beliefs which did not strictly speaking belong to either system. By attacking the main Brahmanic doctrines the Buddhists gave the popular religion its opportunity. For instance, they condemned animal sacrifices and derided the idea that trained priests and complicated rites are necessary. This did not destroy the influence of the Brahmans but it disposed them to admit that the Vedic sacrifices are not the only means of salvation and to authorize other rites and beliefs. It was about this time, too, that a series of invasions began to pour into India from the north-west. It may be hard to distinguish between the foreign beliefs which they introduced and the Indian beliefs which they accepted and modified. But it is clear that their general effect was to upset traditional ideas associated with a ritual and learning which required lifelong study.


It has been well said[406] that Buddhism did not waste away in India until rival sects had appropriated from it everything they could make use of. Perhaps Hinduism had an even stronger doctrinal influence on Buddhism. The deification of the Buddha, the invention of Bodhisattvas who are equivalent to gods and the extraordinary alliance between late Buddhism and Sivaism, are all instances of the general Indian view overcoming the special Buddhist view. But Buddhism is closely connected with the theory of incarnations and the development of the Advaita philosophy, and in the externals of religion, in rites, ceremonies and institutions, its influence was great and lasting. We may take first the doctrine of Ahimsa, non-injury, or in other words the sanctity of animal life. This beautiful doctrine, the glory of India, if not invented by the Buddha at least arose in schools which were not Brahmanic and were related to the Jain and Buddhist movements. It formed no part of the Vedic religion in which sacrifice often meant butchery. But in Hinduism, it meets with extensive though not universal acceptance. With the Vaishnavas it is an article of faith nor do the worshippers of Siva usually propitiate him with animal sacrifices, though these are offered by the Saktas and also by the small class of Brahmans who still preserve the Vedic ritual.[407] Hardly any Hindus habitually eat meat and most abhor it, especially beef. Yet beef-eating seems to have been permitted in Vedic times and even when parts of the Mahabharata were composed.

Apart from animal sacrifices Buddhism was the main agent in effecting a mighty revolution in worship and ritual. One is tempted to regard the change as total and complete, but such wide assertions are rarely true in India: customs and institutions are not swept away by reformers but are cut down like the grass and like the grass grow up again. They sometimes die out but they are rarely destroyed. The Vedic sacrifices are still occasionally offered,[408] but for many centuries have been almost entirely superseded by another form of worship associated with temples and the veneration of images. This must have become the dominant form of Hindu cultus in the first few centuries of our era and probably earlier. It is one of the ironies of fate that the Buddha and his followers should be responsible for the growth of image worship, but it seems to be true. He laughed at sacrifices and left to his disciples only two forms of religious exercise, sermons and meditation. For Indian monks, this was perhaps sufficient, but the laity craved for some outward form of worship. This was soon found in the respect shown to the memory of the Buddha and the relics of his body, although Hinduism never took kindly to relic worship. We hear too of Cetiyas. In the Pitakas this word means a popular shrine unconnected with either Buddhist or Brahmanic ceremonial, sometimes perhaps merely a sacred tree or stone, probably honoured by such simple rites as decorating it with paint or flowers. A little later, in Buddhist times, the Cetiya became a cenotaph or reliquary, generally located near a monastery and surrounded by a passage for reverential circumambulation.

Allusions in the Pitakas also indicate that then as now there were fairs. The early Buddhists thought that though such gatherings were not edifying they might be made so. They erected sacred buildings near a monastery, and held festivals so that people might collect together, visit a holy place, and hear sermons. In the earliest known sanctuaries, the funeral monument (for we can scarcely doubt that this is the origin of the stupa)[409] has already assumed the conventional form known as Dagoba, consisting of a dome and chest of relics, with a spire at the top, the whole surrounded by railings or a colonnade, but though the carving is lavish, no figure of the Buddha himself is to be seen. He is represented by a symbol such as a footprint, wheel, or tree. But in the later school of sculpture known as Gandhara or Graeco-Buddhist he is frequently shown in a full length portrait. This difference is remarkable. It is easy to say that in the older school the Buddha was not depicted out of reverence, but less easy to see why such delineation should have shocked an Indian. But at any rate there is no difficulty in understanding that Greeks or artists influenced by Greeks would think it obvious and proper to make an effigy of their principal hero.

In these shrines we have if not the origin of the Hindu temple, at any rate a parallel development more nearly allied to it than anything in the Vedic religion.[410] For the Buddhist shrine was a monument built over a receptacle containing relics and the essential feature of Hindu temples is a cell containing an image or emblem and generally surmounted by a tower. The surrounding courts and corridors may assume gigantic proportions, but the central shrine is never large. Images had no place in the Vedic sacrifices and those now worshipped in temples are generally small and rude, and sometimes (as at Bhuvaneshwar and Srirangam) the deity is represented by a block or carved stone which cannot be moved, and may have been honoured as a sacred rock long before the name of Vishnu or Siva was known in those regions.[411] The conspicuous statues often found outside the shrine are not generally worshipped and are merely ornaments. Buddhism did not create the type of ritual now used in Hindu temples, yet it contributed towards it, for it attacked the old Brahmanic sacrifices, it countenanced the idea that particular places and objects are holy, and it encouraged the use of images. It is strange that these widespread ideas should find no place in the Vedic religion, but even now-a-days whenever the old Vedic sacrifices are celebrated they are uncontaminated by the temple ceremonial. More than this, the priests or Pujaris who officiate in temples are not always Brahmans and they rarely enjoy much consideration.[412] This curious and marked feature may be connected with the inveterate Indian feeling that, though it is well to multiply rites and rules for neophytes, no great respect is due to men occupied with mere ceremonial. But it also testifies to a dim consciousness that modern temples and their ceremonies have little to do with the thoughts and mode of life which made the Brahmans a force in India. In many ways the Brahmans dissociate themselves from popular religion. Those of good family will not perform religious rites for Sudras and treat the Brahmans who do so as inferiors.[413]

The simplest ceremonial in use at the present day is that employed in some Sivaite temples. It consists in placing leaves on the linga and pouring holy water over it. These rites, which may be descended from prehistoric stone worship, are generally accompanied by the reading of a Purana. But the commonest form of temple ritual consists in treating the image or symbol as an honoured human being.[414] It is awakened, bathed, dressed and put to bed at the close of day. Meals are served to it at the usual hours. The food thus offered is called prasad (or favour) and is eaten by the devout. Once or twice a day the god holds a levee and on festivals he is carried in procession. These ceremonies are specially characteristic of the worship of Krishna whose images receive all the endearments lavished on a pet child. But they are also used in the temples of Siva and Parvati, and no less than twenty-two of them are performed in the course of the day at the temple of Bhuvaneshwar in Orissa. It is clear that the spirit of these rites is very different from that which inspires public worship in other civilized countries at the present day. They are not congregational or didactic, though if any of the faithful are in the temple at the time of the god's levee it is proper for them to enter and salute him. Neither do they recall the magical ceremonies of the Vedic sacrifices.[415] The waving of lights (arati) before the god and the burning of incense are almost the only acts suggestive of ecclesiastical ritual. The rest consists in treating a symbol or image as if it were a living thing capable of enjoying simple physical pleasures. Here there are two strata. We have really ancient rites, such as the anointing or ornamenting of stones and offerings of food in sacred places. In this class too we may reckon the sacrifice of goats (and formerly of human beings) to Kali.[416] But on the other hand the growing idea of Bhakti, that is faith or devotion, imported a sentimental element and the worshipper endeavoured to pet, caress and amuse the deity.

It is hard to see anything either healthy or artistic in this emotional ritual. The low and foolish character of many temple ceremonies disgusts even appreciative foreigners, but these services are not the whole of Hindu worship. All Hindus perform in the course of the day numerous acts of private devotion varying according to sect, and a pious man is not dependent on the temple like a Catholic on his church. Indian life is largely occupied with these private, intimate, individual observances, hardly noticeable as ceremonies and concerned with such things as dressing, ablution and the preparation of food.

The monastic institutions of India seem due to Buddhism. There were wandering monks before the Buddha's time, but the practice of founding establishments where they could reside permanently, originated in his order. There appears to be no record of Hindu (as opposed to Buddhist) monasteries before the time of Sankara in the ninth century, though there must have been places where the learned congregated or where wandering ascetics could lodge. Sankara perceived the advantage of the cenobitic life for organizing religion and founded a number of maths or colleges. Subsequent religious leaders imitated him. At the present day these institutions are common, yet it is clear that the wandering spirit is strong in Hindus and that they do not take to monastic discipline and fixed residence as readily as Tibetans and Burmese. A math is not so much a convent as the abode of a teacher. His pupils frequent it and may become semi-resident: aged pilgrims may make it their last home, but the inmates are not a permanent body following a fixed rule like the monks of a Vihara. The Sattras of Assam, however, are true monasteries (though even there vows and monastic costume are unknown) and so are the establishments of the Swaminarayana sect at Ahmedabad and Wartal.


The vast and complicated organization of caste is mainly a post-Vedic growth and in the Buddha's time was only in the making.[417] His order was open to all classes alike, but this does not imply that he was adverse to caste, so far as it then prevailed, or denied that men are divided into categories determined by their deeds in other births. But on the whole the influence of Buddhism was unfavourable to caste, especially to the pretensions of the Brahmans, and an extant polemic against caste is ascribed (though doubtfully) to Asvaghosha.[418] On the other hand, though caste is in its origin the expression of a social rather than of a religious tendency, the whole institution and mechanism have long been supported and exploited by the Brahmans. Few of them would dispute the proposition that a man cannot be a Hindu unless he belongs to a caste. The reason of this support is undisguised, namely, that they are the first and chief caste. They make their own position a matter of religion and claim the power of purifying and rehabilitating those who have lost caste but they do not usually interfere with the rules of other castes or excommunicate those who break them.[419] That is the business of the Pancayat or caste council.

Sometimes religion and caste are in opposition, for many modern religious leaders have begun by declaring that among believers there are no social distinctions. This is true not only of teachers whose orthodoxy is dubious, such as Nanak, the founder of the Sikhs, and Basava, the founder of the Lingayats,[420] but also of Vallabhacarya and Caitanya. But in nearly all cases caste reasserts itself. The religious teachers of the sect receive extravagant respect and form a body apart. This phenomenon, which recurs in nearly all communities, shows how the Brahmans established their position. At the same time social distinctions make themselves felt among the laity, and those who claim to be of good position dissociate themselves from those of lower birth. The sect ends by observing caste on ordinary occasions, and it is only in some temples (such as that of Jagannath at Puri)[421] that the worshippers mix and eat a sacred meal together. Sometimes, however, the sect which renounces caste becomes itself a caste. Thus, the Sikhs have become almost a nation and other modern castes arising out of sects are the Atiths, who are Sivaites, the Saraks, who appear to have been originally Buddhists, and the Baishnabs (Vaishnavas), a name commonly given in Bengal to those followers of Caitanya who persist in the original rule of disregarding caste regulations within the sect, and hence now form a separate community. But as a rule sect and caste are not co-extensive and the caste is not a religious corporation. Thus the different subdivisions of the Baniyas belong to different sects and even in the same subdivision there is no religious uniformity.[422]

Caste in its later developments is so complex and irregular, that it is impossible to summarize it in a formula or explain it as the development of one principle. In the earliest form known two principles are already in operation. We have first racial distinction. The three upper castes represent the invading Aryans, the fourth the races whom they found in India. In the modern system of caste, race is not a strong factor. Many who claim to be Brahmans and Kshatriyas have no Aryan blood, but still the Aryan element is strongest in the highest castes and decreases as we descend the social scale and also decreases in the higher castes in proportion as we move from the north-west to the east and south. But secondly in the three upper castes the dividing principle, as reported in the earliest accounts, is not race but occupation. We find in most Aryan countries a division into nobles and people, but in India these two classes become three, the priests having been able to assume a prominence unknown elsewhere and to stamp on literature their claim to the highest rank. This claim was probably never admitted in practice so completely as the priests desired. It was certainly disputed in Buddhist times and I have myself heard a young Rajput say that the Brahmans falsified the Epics so as to give themselves the first place.

It is not necessary for our purpose to describe the details of the modern caste system. Its effect on Indian religion has been considerable, for it created the social atmosphere in which the various beliefs grew up and it has furnished the Brahmans with the means of establishing their authority. But many religious reformers preached that in religion caste does not exist—that there is neither Jew nor Gentile in the language of another creed—and though the application of this theory is never complete, the imperfection is the result not of religious opposition but of social pressure. Hindu life is permeated by the instinct that society must be divided into communities having some common interest and refusing to intermarry or eat with other communities. The long list of modern castes hardly bears even a theoretical relation to the four classes of Vedic times.[423] Numerous subdivisions with exclusive rules as to intermarriage and eating have arisen among the Brahmans and the strength of this fissiparous instinct is seen among the Mohammedans who nominally have no caste but yet are divided into groups with much the same restrictions.

This remarkable tendency to form exclusive corporations is perhaps correlated with the absence of political life in India. Such ideas as nationality, citizenship, allegiance to a certain prince, patriotic feelings for a certain territory are rarer and vaguer than elsewhere, and yet the Hindu is dependent on his fellows and does not like to stand alone. So finding little satisfaction in the city or state he clings the more tenaciously to smaller corporations. These have no one character: they are not founded on any one logical principle but merely on the need felt by people who have something in common to associate together. Many are based on tribal divisions; some, such as the Marathas and Newars, may be said to be nationalities. In many the bond of union is occupation, in a few it is sectarian religion. We can still observe how members of a caste who migrate from their original residence tend to form an entirely new caste, and how intertribal marriages among the aborigines create new tribes.


Sect[424] must not be confounded with caste. Hindu sects are of many kinds; some, if not militant, are at least exceedingly self-confident. Others are so gentle in stating their views that they might be called schools rather than sects, were the word not too intellectual. The notion that any creed or code can be quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus, is less prevalent than in Europe and even the Veda, though it is the eternal word, is admitted to exist in several recensions. Hinduism is possible as a creed only to those who select. In its literal sense it means simply all the beliefs and rites recognized in India, too multifarious and inconsistent for the most hospitable and addled brain to hold. But the Hindus, who are as loth to abolish queer beliefs and practices as they are to take animal life, are also the most determined seekers after a satisfying form of religion. Brahmanic ritual and Buddhist monasticism demand the dedication of a life. Not everyone can afford that, but the sect is open to all. It attempts to sort out of the chaos of mythology and superstition something which all can understand and all may find useful. It selects some aspect of Hinduism and makes the best of it. Sects usually start by preaching theism and equality in the sight of God, but in a few generations mythology and social distinctions creep in. Hence though the prevalence of sect is undoubtedly a feature of modern Hinduism it is also intelligible that some observers should assert that most Hindus belong to the same general religion and that only the minority are definitely sectarian. The sectarian tendency is stronger in Vishnuism than in Sivaism. The latter has produced some definite sects, as, for instance, Lingayats, but is not like Vishnuism split up into a number of Churches each founded by a human teacher and provided by him with a special creed.

Most Indian sects are in their origin theistic, that is to say, they take a particular deity and identify him with the Supreme Being. But the pantheistic tendency does not disappear. Popular religion naturally desires a personal deity. But it is significant that the personal deity frequently assumes pantheistic attributes and is declared to be both the world and the human soul. The best known sects arose after Islam had entered India and some of them, such as the Sikhs, show a blending of Hindu and Moslem ideas. But if Mohammedan influence favoured the formation of corporations pledged to worship one particular deity, it acted less by introducing something new than by quickening a line of thought already existing. The Bhagavad-gita is as complete an exposition of sectarian pantheism as any utterances posterior to Mohammedanism.

The characteristic doctrine of sectarian Hinduism is bhakti, faith or devotion. The older word sraddha, which is found in the Vedas, is less emotional for it means simply belief in the existence of a deity, whereas bhakti can often be rendered by love. It is passionate, self-oblivious devotion to a deity who in return (though many would say there is no bartering) bestows his grace (prasada or anugraha). St. Augustine in defining faith says: "Quid est credere in Deum? credendo amare, credendo diligere, credendo in eum ire, et ejus membris incorporari."[425] This is an excellent paraphrase of bhakti and the words have an oriental ring which is not quite that of the New Testament. Though the doctrine of bhakti marks the beginning of a new epoch in Hinduism it is not necessary to regard it as an importation or due to Christianity. About the time of the Christian era there was felt in many countries a craving for a gentler and more emotional worship and though the history of Bhaktism is obscure, Indian literature shows plainly how it may be a development of native ideas. Its first great text-book is the Bhagavad-gita, but it is also mentioned in the last verse of the Svetasvatara Upanishad and Panini appears to allude to bhakti felt for[426] Vasudeva. The Katha Upanishad[427] contains the following passage:

"That Atman cannot be gained by the Veda, nor by understanding nor by much learning. He whom the Atman chooses, by him the Atman can be gained. The Atman chooses him as his own." Here we have not the idea of faith or love, but we have the negative statement that the Atman is not won by knowledge and the positive statement that this Atman chooses his own. In the Rig Veda[428] there is a poem put into the mouth of Vac or speech, containing such sentiments as "I give wealth to him who gives sacrifice.... I am that through which one eats, breathes, sees, and hears.... Him that I love I make strong, to be a priest, a seer, a sage." This reads like an ancient preliminary study for the Bhagavad-gita. Like Krishna the deity claims to be in all and, like him, to reward her votaries. It is true that the "Come unto me" is not distinctly expressed, but it is surely struggling for expression.[429] Again, in the Kaushitaki Upanishad (III. 1 and 2) Indra says to Pratardana, who had asked him for a boon, "Know me only: that is, what I deem most beneficial to man, that he should know me.... He who meditates on me as life and immortality gains his full life in this world and in heaven immortality." Here the relation of the devotee to the deity is purely intellectual not emotional, but the idea that intellectual devotion directed to a particular deity will be rewarded is clearly present. In the Rig Veda this same Indra is called a deliverer and advocate; a friend, a brother and a father; even a father and mother in one. Here the worshipper does not talk of bhakti because he does not analyze his feelings, but clearly these phrases are inspired by affectionate devotion.

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