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presses the unity of Creation, Destruction, and Restoration. A foundation for this already existed in a Vedic saying, that the highest being exists in three states, that of creation, continuance, and destruction.
Neither of these three sup me deities of Brahmanism held any high rank in the Vedas. Siva (Çiva) does not appear therein at all, nor, according to Lassen, is Brahma mentioned in the Vedic hymns, but first in a Upanishad. Vischnu is spoken of in the Rig Veda, but always as one of the names for the sun. He is the Sun-God. His three steps are sunrise, noon, and sunset. He is mentioned as one of the sons of Aditi ; he is called the “ wide-stepping," measurer of the world,” “the strong,” “ the deliverer,” renewer of life,” “ who sets in motion the revolutions of time," “ a protector," " preserving the highest heaven.” Evidently he begins his career in this mythology as the sun.
BRAHMA, at first a word meaning prayer and devotion, becomes in the laws of Manu the primal God, first-born of the creation, from the self-existent being, in the form of a golden egg. He became the creator of all things by the power of prayer. In the struggle for ascendency which took place between the priests and the warriors, Brahma naturally became the deity of the former. But, meantime, as we have seen, the worship of Vischnu had been extending itself in one region and that of Siva in another. Then took place those mysterious wars between the kings of the Solar and Lunar races, of which the great epics contain all that we know. And at the close of these wars a compromise was apparently accepted, by which Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva were united in one supreme God, as creator, preserver, and destroyer, all in one.
It is almost certain that this Hindoo Triad was the result of an ingenious and successful attempt, on the part of the Brahmans, to unite all classes of worshippers in India against the Buddhists. In this sense the Brahmans edited anew the Mahabharata, inserting in that epic passages extolling Vischnu in the forin of Krishna. The Greek accounts of India which followed the invasion of Alexander speak of the worship of Hercules as prevalent
in the East, and by Hercules they apparently mean the god Krishna.* The struggle between the Brahmans and Buddhists lasted during nine centuries (from A. D. 500 to A. D. 1400), ending with the total expulsion of Buddhism, and the triumphant establishment of the Triad, as the worship of India.t
Before this Triad or Trimurtti (of Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva) there seems to have been another, consisting of Agni, Indra, and Surya. This may have given the hint of the second Triad, which distributed among the three gods the attributes of Creation, Destruction, and Renovation. Of these Brahma, the Creator, ceased soon to be popular, and the worship of Siva and Vischnu as Krishna remain as the popular religion of India.
One part, and a very curious one, of the worship of Vischnu is the doctrine of the Avatars, or incarnations of that deity. There are ten of these Avatars, - nine have passed and one is to come. The object of Vischnu is, each time, to save the gods from destruction impending over them in consequence of the immense power acquired by some king, giant, or demon, by superior acts of austerity and piety. For here, as elsewhere, extreme spiritualism is often divorced from morality; and so these extremely pious, spiritual, and self-denying giants are the most cruel and tyrannical monsters, who must be destroyed at all hazards. Vischnu, by force or fraud, overcomes them all.
His first Avatar is of the Fish, as related in the Mahabharata. The object was to recover the Vedas, which had been stolen by a demon from Brahma when asleep. In consequence of this loss the human race became corrupt, and were destroyed by a deluge, except a pious prince and seven holy men who were saved in a ship. Vischnu, as a large fish, drew the ship safely over the water, killed the demon, and recovered the Vedas. The second Avatar was in a Turtle, to make the drink of immortality. The third was in a Boar, the fourth in a Man-Lion, the fifth in the Dwarf who deceived Bali, who had become so powerful by austerities as to conquer the gods and take possession of Heaven. In the eighth Avatar he appears as Krishna and in the ninth as Buddha.
* See Colebrooke, Lassen, &c. + Lassen, I. 838 ; II. 446. I See Muir, Sanskrit Texts, Part IV. p. 136.
This system of Avatars is so peculiar and so deeply rooted in the system, that it would seem to indicate some law of Hindoo thought. Perhaps some explanation may be reached thus :
We observe that,
Vischnu does not mediate between Brahma and Siva, but between the deities and the lower races of men or demons.
The danger arises from a certain fate or necessity which is superior both to gods and men. There are laws which enable a man to get away from the power of Brahma and Siva.
But what is this necessity but nature, or the nature of things, the laws of the outward world of active existences ? It is not till essence becomes existence, till spirit passes into action, that it becomes subject to law.
The danger then is from the world of nature. The gods are pure spirit, and spirit is everything. But, now and then, nature seems to be something, it will not be ignored or lost in God. Personality, activity, or human nature rebel against the pantheistic idealism, the abstract spiritualism of this system.
To conquer body, Vischnu or spirit enters into body, again and again. Spirit must appear as body to destroy Nature. For thus is shown that spirit cannot be excluded from anything, - that it can descend into the lowest forms of life, and work in law as well as above law.
But all the efforts of Brahmanism could not arrest the natural development of the system. It passed on into polytheism and idolatry. The worship of India for many centuries has been divided into a multitude of sects. While the majority of the Brahmans still profess to recognize the equal divinity of Brahma, Vischnu, and Siva, the mass of the people worship Krishna, Rama, the Lingam,
other gods and idols. There are Hindoo atheists who revile the Vedas; there are the Kabirs, who are
& sort of
rpose all worship; the Ramanujas, an ancient sect of Vischnu worshippers ; the Ramavats, living in monasteries; the Panthis, who oppose all austerities; the Maharajas, whose religion consists with great licentiousness. Most of these are worshippers of Vischnu or of Siva, for Brahma-worship has wholly disappeared.
§ 8. The Epics, the Puranas, and modern Hindoo Worship.
The Hindoos have two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, each of immense length, and very popular with the people. Mr. Talboys Wheeler has recently incorporated both epics (of course much abridged) into his History of India, and we must refer our readers to his work for a knowledge of these remarkable poems. The whole life of ancient India appears in them, and certainly they are not unworthy products of the genius of that great nation.
According to Lassen,* the period to which the great Indian epics refer follows directly on the Vedic age. Yet they contain passages inserted at a much later epoch, probably, indeed, as long after as the war which ended in the expulsion of the Buddhists from India.t Mr. Talboys Wheeler considers the war of Rama and the Monkeys against Ravana to refer to this conflict, and so makes the Ramayana later than the Mahabharata. The majority of writers, however, differ from him on this point. The writers of the Mahabharata were evidently Brahmans, educated under the laws of Manu. But it is very difficult to fix the date of either poem with any approach to accuracy. Lassen has proved that the greater part of the Mahabharata was written before the political establishment of Buddhism. These epics were originally transmitted by oral tradition. They must have been brought to their present forms by Brahmans, for their doctrine that of this priesthood. Now if such poems had been
Lassen, Ind. Alterthum, I. 357. + Max Müller, Sanskrit Lit., 37. # Ibid., p. 46.
Ind. Alterthum, I. 483-439. Miller, Sanskrit Lit., 62, note.
composed after the time of Asoka, when Buddhism be. came a state religion in India, it must have been often referred to. No such references appear in these epics, except in some solitary passages, which are evidently modern additions.* Hence the epics must have been composed before the time of Buddhisin. This argument of Lassen's is thought by Max Müller to be conclusive, and if so it disproves Mr. Talboys Wheeler's view of the purpose of the Ramayana.
Few Hindoos now read the Vedas. The Puranas and the two great epics constitute their sacred books. The Ramayana contains about fifty thousand lines, and is held in great veneration by the Hindoos. It describes the youth of Rama, who is an incarnation of Vischnu, his banishment and residence in Central India, and his war with the giants and demons of the South, to recover his wife, Sita. It probably is founded on some real war between the early Aryan invaders of Hindostan and the indigenous inhabitants.
The Mahabharata, which is probably of later date, contains about two hundred and twenty thousand lines, and is divided into eighteen books, each of which would make a large volume. It is supposed to have been collected by Vyasa, who also collected the Vedas and Puranas. These legends are very old, and seem to refer to the early history of India. There appear to have been two Aryan dynasties in ancient India, — the Solar and Lunar. Rama belonged to the first and Bharata to the second. Pandu, a descendant of the last, has five brave sons, who are the heroes of this book. One of them, Arjuna, is especially distinguished. One of the episodes is the famous Bhagavat-gita. Another is called the Brahman's Lament. Another describes the deluge, showing the tradition of a flood existing in India many centuries before Christ. Another gives the story of Savitri and Satyavan. These episodes occupy three fourths of the poem, and from them are derived most of the legends of
* As of the Atheist in the Ramayana, Javali, who advises Rama to disobey his dead father's commands, on the ground that the dead are nothing.