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Manvantaras and Kalpas

The Hindu notion of cosmic time consists of four major cycles, yugas, manvantaras, kalpas, and the full life of the creator deity Brahma. There are four yugas with decreasing lengths [satya yuga (the most dharmic yuga), treta yuga, dvapara yuga, and kali yuga (the least dharmic yuga)], and each cycle of four is called mahayuga. Seventy one mahayugas is equal to one manvantara, and fourteen manvantaras is equal to one kalpa. The life of Brahma is made up of 36,000 kalpas and the same amount of nights. This is the “traditional Puranic model” (Morales) and is the most widely agreed upon.

A manvantara is ruled by a Manu, and “each Manu has a distinct group of sages, gods, Indra, and so on to help him with his duties” (Saraswati 33). Manus are the first man of each manvantara. They are of the ksatriya class and are the father to that human race. The Brahma Purana, [the Puranas are a genre of non-Vedic texts] lists each Manu of the manvantaras of the present yuga by name. In chronological order they are Svayambhuva, Svarocisa, Uttama, Tamasa, Raivata, Caksusa, Vaivasvata, Savarni, Raibhya, Raucya, “and four Merusavarnis” (Shastri and Bhati 29-30), although some of these names are different in other Puranas. The Manu of our present manvantara is Vaivasvata. The Brahma Purana also outlines the children of each Manu as well as the sages that will accompany them. Svayambhuva is believed to be the son of Brahma, and is sometimes called Manu, because he was the first Manu of the first manvantara of the present yuga. He believed by some to be the author of the Dharmasastra [also sometimes called the The Laws of Manu. This book outlines how to live dharmically, and includes details on the class and caste systems, the stages of life, and the goals of life]. The Encyclopedia Britannica compares Svayambhuva to the figures of Adam and Noah in Abrahamic texts, because he was the first man, like Adam, and he also survived a great flood with the help of a fish [an avatar of Visnu], like Noah (Encyclopedia Britannica: “Manu”).

Along with a Manu, each manvantara has a new Indra as well. Indra is generally known as the Vedic god of thunder and storms, father of Arjuna in the Mahabharata, and the king of heaven. However, Indra is also a title that can be earned through extreme dedication. Just like humans and animals, gods and demons are subject to karma and samsara (the cycle of rebirth), and so those who do extremely good actions, receive a good rebirth, like the role of Indra (Zimmer 7). The role of Indra is the king of the gods. In the myth “The Parade of Ants,” a brahmin boy visits Indra and tells him about the cosmic time cycles, and how there have been many Indras before him, and there will be many more after him. He tells him that “when twenty eight Indras have expired, one Day and Night of Brahma has elapsed” (Zimmer 6). There is also an old man that comes into Indra’s palace, and says that for every Indra that falls, one of his chest hairs falls out. The reason behind the title is that there is a parade of ants walking through the palace, and the brahmin boy tells Indra (after some prying), that the ants all used to be Indras themselves. The story concludes with a summary of how Indra was too prideful, was taken down a notch, and learned his role in the grand cycles of time (Zimmer 11). It is not only a summary of the cosmic cycles, but also an existential look at life.

These units of cosmic time are not exclusive to Hinduism. Jainism and Buddhism also use them, but they are slightly different. Jains believe in cyclical time, but without periods of destruction between any divisions, and they also use terms like koti and sagaropamas (Rocher 96). There is no specific amount of human or god years in either of these divisions. In Buddhism, they use mahakalpas, which are similar to yugas in the way that their quality declines with each one, and that there are four in total (Rocher 96). They divide the mahakalpas into 20 antarakalpas. Ludo Rocher describes the 20th antarakalpa as containing “4 brief periods of increase, and 4 equally brief periods of decrease. These periods are, once again, designated with the names of the Hindu yugas: kali, dvapara, treta, and krta in an ascending period, and [the reverse order] in a descending period” (Rocher 97). However, of these three, cosmic time is the most important to Hindus. Rocher concludes that Jains seem to prefer to “live in the moment” and focus on what happens while they themselves are alive. Louis de la Vallee-Poussin also says that the cycles are not essential to Buddhist philosophy (Rocher 98).

With the exception of the yugas, at the end of each cycle there is an event of destruction marking it as such. Between the four yugas, there is no specific indication of the end. It is believed that the Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, not long after the war in the Mahabharata, an epic that describes a battle for the kingdom Kurukshetra between two groups of cousins. However, according to the Bhagavatam Purana, at the end of the Kali Yuga, “Displaying His [Visnu’s] unequaled effulgence and riding with great speed, He will kill by the millions those thieves who have dared dress as kings” (Bhagavatam Purana SB This passage signifies the belief that Visnu [the preserver deity] will manifest as the avatar Kalki and destroy those who do not act dharmically righteously. In doing so, he would leave behind only the most pious Hindus and thus would begin a new mahayuga, beginning with the new satya yuga.

At the end of a manvantara, the universe is partially destroyed, though there is some disagreement on what exactly happens during this period of destruction. In An Introduction to Esoteric Principles, McDavid describes this as “a reverse process of withdrawal” in which the universe is reverted to its simplest form (McDavid 7). However, the philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy (1967) believes the earth is flooded, and a few select beings are kept alive to repopulate the following manvantara (Morales). The Handbook of Hindu Mythology calls this destruction laya [dissolution], the destruction between kalpas pralaya, and the final destruction at the end of the life of Brahma mahapralaya (Williams 39). The period between manvantaras, when the universe is in a dissolved state, is called sandyaa (Mohapatra, Dash, and Padhy 436). There are fifteen sandyaa periods, one before a manvantara, fourteen in between them, and one before the end of a kalpa.

At the end of a kalpa, there is pralaya, which is often translated as “dissolution.” In the Brahma Purana, it is described as simply “the living beings will be burned by the sun” (Shastri and Bhati 32). Even this destruction is temporary, however, because the living beings from that kalpa can still be reincarnated in the next day or night of Brahma (Morales).

At the end of the life of Brahma [also sometimes called a mahakalpa (Williams 38)], everything is completely destroyed. After this mahapralaya, everything is fully absorbed into Siva  (Williams 161) and living creatures can no longer be reincarnated. In the myth called “The Annihilation”, there is a man and a woman who are dining on the eve of pralaya and are surrounded by natural disasters such as storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The woman, who is representative of Parvati, is worried about the end of her life, but the man, who is representative of Siva tells her not to worry and is very optimistic. He says “what imagined an independent form, different from you, that was not in existence, it was an aberration” (Williams 159). This is a reference to brahman [the true nature of reality], and how the destruction is meant to happen.

The Handbook of Hindu Mythology cites the Mahabharata and the Manu-Smrti as possibly the earliest “scriptures to record what later became the prevailing view of [Hindu] mythic time” (Williams 37). Ganita [a sage] is credited with the calculation of the four yugas into human years in the Anusasana Parva [a book in the Mahabharata that talks about the duties of the people, as well as certain laws and rules Hindus should follow]. Ludo Rocher also acknowledges these two texts as the possible origin for the yuga kalpa system (Rocher 98). That being said, he believes that the manvantaras were introduced later and “forced to fit” due to their inexact alignment with the yugas and kalpas (Rocher 95). Because of the lack of mentions of cosmic time in the Vedas, it is generally unanimously concluded that the system came into use in post-Vedic India, but scholars such as David Pingree think the system may have been adapted from other cultures such as the Babylonians or the Greeks (Rocher 99-100).

Cyclical time is not unique to Hinduism, but the specific Hindu version is very distinctive and certainly the most detailed of the other Indian time cycles. Yugas are especially relatable, as they are the most calculable, and the end of the third yuga is considered to be within “recent” history. Manvantaras and kalpas are a way to make the lives of gods easier to understand as well as creating an explanation for the beginning and inevitable end of the universe.


Board of Scholars (2001) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology Volume 33: The Brahma Purana.  Edited by J. L. Shastri and G. P. Bhati. Delhi: Motilal Banaridass Publishers Private Limited.

Dasa, Prahlada “Bhagavatam Purana: Symptomes of the Kali Yuga” in BhaktiVedanta Vedabase. SB 12.2.1- SB 12.2.44. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2010) “Manu” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 4, 2018.

McDavid, William Doss (2007) An Introduction to Esoteric Principles. Wheaton: Theosophical Society in America.

Mohapatra, Ratnaprava, S.K. Dash, and S.N. Padhy (2017) “Ethnobiographical Studies from Manusmrti: XII Facts on Dissolution (Pralaya) and Geological Time Scale.” Journal of Human Ecology 12:433-439. Accessed October 25, 2018. Doi: 10.1080/09709274.2001.11907650.

Morales, Joseph (1997) “The Hindu Theory of World Cycles in Light of Modern Science”. Karma and Reincarnation: a Philosophical Examination. Accessed October 15, 2018.

Rocher, Ludo. 2004. “Concepts of Time in Classical India” in Time and Temporality in the Ancient World. Edited by Ralph M. Rosen, 91-105. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

Saraswati, H. H. (2013) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. San Rafael: Mandala Publishing.

Williams, George M. (2003) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Richard A. and Sankar, Jaya (1978) “The Annihilation (Pralaya).” Journal of South Asian Literature 14:157-161. Accessed October 20, 2018.

Zimmer, Heinrich Robert (1962) “Eternity and Time: the Parade of Ants” in Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilisation. Edited by Joseph Campbell, 3-11. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


Related topics
















Related Readings

Sharma, P.R.P. (2007) Encyclopaedia of Puranas. New Delhi: Anmol Publications.


This article was written by: Sydney Savage (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its contents.



One of the most obscure goddesses in the Hindu religion is the Tantric goddess Kubjika. The obscurity is due to the fact that she is mainly worshipped by a small Newar cult called the Transmission of the Mother (avvakrama) in Nepal (Dyczkowski 2004: 253). Although recognized as a great Indian goddess (Mahadevi), comparable to Kali, she is practically unknown outside Nepal. The proof of her once being an Indian goddess comes from the Kubjika Tantras. They describe her as the goddess of the city of Candrapura and the land of Konkana, India (Dyczkowsi 2004: 129). While she is quite a unique goddess physically and figuratively, she also shares many common characteristics with other, better known goddesses, specifically those worshipped in India. Another cause of her obscureness is the fact that she is found only in the Kaula Tantras, specifically the Sakta Kaula Tantras, which are mostly unexplored to those outside the Newar cults (Dyczkowski 2004: 193). The unusualness of this is that these Tantras are very large for such an unknown goddess. Although it has been determined that Kubjika was at one point a Southern Indian goddess, most of the manuscripts dedicated to her, the most celebrated being the Kubjikamatatantra, come from Nepal, where Kubjika is primarily worshipped (Dyczkowski 2004: 175-176).

The Kubjikamatatantra is a very large Tantra with over 66 manuscripts. A Tantra is a text composed of many scriptures that describe techniques and rituals including meditative, sexual practices, yoga, and religious practices. As a great goddess, Kubjika is the energy of universal, absolute consciousness and is said to be both creative and destructive (Dyczkowksi 2001: 43). Today Kubjika is most well-known as an erotic goddess and a hunchback. Though there are other goddesses in Hinduism who are considered erotic and are ugly, Kubjika stands out among them, by the methods by which she is worshipped and those who worship her. She is also unique in that she incorporates other goddesses into her own appearance and actions.

Kubjika and the cult associated with her were not discovered until the late 1980’s due to the secretive nature of her story. In actuality, the first texts on Kubjika date back to 11th century, in the Kathmandu Valley in Central-Eastern Nepal. These are Tantric texts that describe the following and worshipping of the goddess Kubjika, such as the Kubjikamatatantra and the Manthanabhairavatantra. The schools dedicated to the worship and study of the goddess Kubjika are known as the Kubjikamata, where the Kubjikamatatantra is studied (Dyczkowski 2004: 112). These schools are most commonly found in Nepal, the center for the cult of Kubjika. This cult consists of the Newar people of Nepal.

The Newar people make up approximately half of the current population of the Kathmandu Valley (“Newar People”: 2007). Their language comes from the Tibeto-Burman family, compromising of 250-300 languages, spread throughout Asia. The Newar people were strongly influenced by Indian religious institutions as their population is mostly Hindu and Buddhist. Although influenced by India, the religious tendencies in Nepal were unique in their own right. They are known for combining older forms of practicing Hinduism with newer, more modern approaches as well (Dyczkowski 2001: 2). While they do still focus on more common, major, typically male gods such as Visnu and Siva who fit within the outer domain, the cults like those of the Newar people, have tendencies to put their religious focus on smaller, more obscure, typically female goddesses such as Kubjika, who are found within the inner domain (Dyczkowski 2001: 2).

Another unusual practice of the Newar people is that they believe strongly in ancestral worship. They believed that elderly men and women had the opportunity to achieve the level of a deity by going through specific rites of passage (Dyczkowski 2001: 17-18). This belief caused the uncommon and odd religious tendencies of the area. This abnormal form of faith explains why said cults were not discovered by outsiders until quite recently, as they remain to this day, quite secretive. It is common practice in Hinduism to keep the teachings of the Tantras a secret and the Newar people are strong believers in this tradition (Dyczkowski 2001: 2). Mark Dyczkowski was one of the first outsiders who discovered Kubjika in 1981 when he received a copy of the Kubjikamatatantra as a wedding gift from another scholar, which inspired him to further investigate the subject. He found that Kubjika was a Hindu Tantric goddess who originated in India but is mostly unknown to all those except the Newar people. The proof of worship was not existent until Dr. Dyczkowski found himself as part of the Kubjika cult in 1987. Dr. Dyczkowski’s acceptance into the cult allowed him to share their traditions and beliefs with the world, allowing other people and scholars to explore it aswell.

The initiation into the Newar cults of Kubjika was not a simple nor common occurrence. Intiation was restricted to only high caste, or twice-born Newar people. Another restriction is that only the Rajopadhyaya Brahmins, the former family priests of the Malla kings, can give initiation to those who do not belong to their own family. The Malla kings ruled Nepal from 1201-1779CE and declared themselves Ksatriyas (“Malla”: 2018). Also known as Karmacaryas, they were able to initiate their own family members into the cult. The Karmacaryas were also unique in the sense that they focused their worship on the mother goddesses, such as Kubjika, who were believed to be protecting their community. These initiates made up a small group who were the sole worshippers of Kubjika and other goddesses. They worshipped in private shrines that were only accessible to the cult members. The worship of Kubjika is not traditional in the sense that she does not have a clear iconic form and is mainly only worshipped in her mandala. At home initiates perform daily worship by tracing a triangular diagram into the palm of their hand with one of their fingers and at the beginning of the rite, imaging said triangular diagram as the yoni (vulva) of Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2004: 176).

Another unusual aspect of the cult is that it consists primarily of householders. The householder stage (grhastha) is the middle/second stage of life. It is the stage for marriage and achieving kama (pleasure) and artha (skill/power) which appeals to the erotic tendencies of the goddess Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2004: 176).  In addition to all the specifics, Kubjika was also regularly worshipped through stones (pitha) instead of the more common methods of openly worshipping other Hindu gods and goddesses in temples (Dyczkowski 2001: 19). The stones were found in human settlements and the countryside and were believed to be watching over and protecting the area in which they are found.  The size of the protection zone was dependant on the status of the stone.

Kubjika was a goddess who was described with many identities and forms, although there is little photographic/artistic evidence of said forms. The Tantras describe her origin as an embodiment of the creature of desire (iccha) of the god Bhairava [her “father”] (Dyczkowski 2001: 41). In one of her iconic forms she is shown with six faces. Amongst those six faces, the uppermost face is the goddess Para and is described to be as white as milk and possessing 17 energies (Dyczkowski 2004: 182). The top head is Malini, the face of the sky and is white to represent peacefulness. The eastern face is Siddhayogesvari, a face described to be full of rage, which is also adorned with the form of the mantra. The southern face is Kalika, the worst looking face with large protruding teeth and described like a dark-blue lotus. The northern face is that of the goddess Tripura. This face is red like a pomegranate flower and is round like a full moon, portraying peace and bliss. The last face is the face of Umakhecari and is also white.  Each of the six faces was said to have three eyes, one for the sun, one for the moon, and the one in the middle was for fire.

Although there are stories in the Kubjikamatatantra describing her origin, there are no stories or myths as to how and why these other goddesses came about as Kubjika’s faces. In this form she had 12 arms each carrying a different item. These items included, the stick of the world, a great lotus [symbol of beauty and fertility], an ascetic’s staff (khatvanga), a noose, a rosary, a bouquet of brilliant jewels, a number of scriptures held along with a conch (sankhapala), a skull, a trident, the gesture of fearlessness, the gesture of granting favours, the mirror of Karma, and the five immortal substances (Dyczkowski 2004: 182). She is depicted sitting on a lion throne, adorned with many ornaments. The lords of snakes serve as her anklets (connection to Siva), zone, belt, chock, and tiara. She also wore scorpions as rings on her fingers. On her head she wears a garland of vowels and a necklace of letters along with a necklace of 50 scorpions around her throat (Dyczkowski 2004:182).

Kubjika’s iconic form is generally described as bright and often blue, and the goddess Kali and her darkness is the shadow-like counterpart of Kubjika (Dyczkowski 2001: 39). Her heart shines like a clean mirror, her face shines like a newly risen sun, her hair in a topknot made of light that emulates lightning, and her breast place made of brilliant energy. Her weapon is the Fire of Time that was known to lick up the worlds and was hard to bear which starts to describe her destructive side (Dyczkowski 2004: 182)

Some of the most interesting aspects of Kubjika is how she is described as many different goddesses. The primary being the goddess of pottery which is still very known today but the others being more definitive. In her Kubjikamata schools, she is known as a tree goddess (Dyczkowski 2001: 70). She is also considered a lunar goddess, similar to the goddesses Kali and Tripura, who she shares connections with. Kubjika’s creative and destructive tendencies are perpendicular to the shift between light and dark we see with the moon. Her lunar whiteness is also representative of Sukra which means female sperm, thus matching her eroticism. Along with these two qualities, she is also considered a goddess of fire which closely relates to her destructive side.

Kubjika is known as a creator, as described in her erotic ways, but also a destroyer, comparative to the goddess Kali (Dyczkowski 2001: 62). She had darkness within her that was feared. The creator aspect of Kubjika’s personality is also associated with her hunchback figure. The purpose of her being hunchbacked is so that she was able to impregnate herself without a second party by licking her own vulva and creating her own bliss and pleasure (Dyczkowski 2004: 242). This benefits the goddess and makes it easy for Kubjika to expand the universe as she can do it independently. As explained in her origin myth found in the first three chapters of the Kubjikamatatantra, she becomes hunchback due to the embarrassment of being asked to be the god Bhairava’s teacher by giving him a favour of empowerment (ajna), which in simple terms, comes from her vulva (Dyczkowski 2004:179). This event also explains how the goddess Kubjika is androgynous. During her realization (as told in the myth, see Dyczkowski 2004: 176-184) she takes the form of Linga (phallus). During her embarrassment, she must transition from Linga to Yoni (vulva). This transition explains how she is capable of being male and female, thus meaning androgynous. When Kubjika is in the form of Yoni she is aroused and fertile and the energy that comes with this is the flow of her emission, which is Sukra (female sperm) and Sukravahini (she who causes sperm to flow) (Dyzckowski 2004: 181). These factors are what makes her the most well known as being an erotic, hunchbacked goddess.

The goddess Kubjika, although widely unexplored, is very unique and full of depth. The small Newar cult that worships her has chosen to remain secretive and exclusive. Still centered in a small region in Nepal, they embody Hindu orthodoxy while also creating and following their own methods of practicing Hinduism and worshipping the gods and goddesses. The Newar people have very strict initiation rites and keep to themselves which explains why the goddess Kubjika was not made known to the rest of the world until the 1980’s. The goddess herself has very few evidential forms and is worshipped primarily by her mandala, stones, and very small, private shrines, very unlike the large one’s seen dedicated to better known Hindu gods and goddesses. She is know known mainly as the erotic, androgynous, hunchbacked goddess who embodies the faces and characteristics of other goddesses such as Tripura. She has a very detailed iconic form that is similar to other great goddesses in India, as represented by her multiple heads and arms, which indicate power. It is proven that she was originally from India, though she is practically unknown in that region today. The goddess of pottery, trees, and fire is very important in the Sakta Kaula Tantras and the Hindu religion in general.


Avantazi, Beatriz and Gutman, Alejandro (2013) Tibeto-Burman Languages

Dyczkowski, Mark (2001) The Cult of the Goddess Kubjikā. Stuttgart: Nepal Research Centre; No. 23

Dyczkowski, Mark (2004) The Journey in the World of the Tantras. Varanasi: Indica Books

Goudriaan, T. and Schoterman, J. A. (1988) The Kubjikamatatantra; Kulalikamnaya Version. Leiden: Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gupta, Kanchan and Prine Pauls, Elizabeth (2007) Newar People. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Setis, Veenu and Matt Stefon (2009) Tantra; Religious Texts. Encyclopaedia Britannica

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 28) “Malla” (Kathmandu Valley). Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, October 31) Hindu iconography. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

Wright, Daniel (1990) Malla (Kathmandu Valley). Wikipedia


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Kathmandu Valley

Kaula Tantra





Malla Kings


Newar people

Rajopadhyaya Brahmins

Sakta Kaula Tantras


Transmission of the Mother





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Shay Routly (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Abhiseka/Abhisheka (Consecration)

Abhisheka (Abhiseka) means the ritual arts of consecration (Rodrigues 345). The term Abhisheka occurs many times in the Atharva Veda and not in the Rig Veda or Sama Veda. It is a ceremonial anointing, sprinkling, and baptizing of a person (Kapoor 3), and may be performed during religious practices such as puja.  It is also performed on daily basis at houses or during visits to the temple. The Agamas Shastras gives the basis and method of how this rite should be completed.  In this scripture, there are steps given how rituals such as Abhisheka should be performed.

The Abhisheka ceremony is a bath or sprinkling of water. It is the procedure of giving a ceremonial bath to a king during his coronation (Murdhabhiseka), to a Tantrik devotee during the several stages of his initiation (Saktabhiseka, Mahabhiseka), or to an icon (Bimbabhiseka) (Ramachandra Rao 52).   There are very little data shown of this practice performed by common maharajas or kings.  The Kausika Sutra of the Atharva Veda distinguishes the Abhisheka of a simple king (Ekaraja) from that of a higher (Varsiyas) (Kapoor 4).  Many details about the performance of Abhisheka is taken from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Agni-Purana, and Manasara. At the time of their composition, this ceremony had undergone multiple modifications, even though it was a special priestly ceremony.  There were two different Abhisheka performed by Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata: first, Sabha, which is led by successful expeditions in all directions and celebrated as part of a rajasuya in the presence of minor kings. The second one is performed as a follow up of the conclusion of the great war (Kapoor 4).  Abhisheka was also performed for some ministers of state or counselors of royal rank.

An animal that is sacred in Hinduism is a cow. It said that all 33-crores of gods and goddesses are present in a cow. Therefore, it is worshipped and the ingredients for Abhisheka are also derived from a cow. When performing the Abhisheka of a deity during puja or on a daily basis there are various materials that may be used, However, the main materials that must be present during Abhisheka are water from a river, ocean, mountains or rain along with Pancamrta. Pancamrta is made of five ingredients including milk, curds, ghee (clarified butter), honey and sugar. The way to bathe a deity is with rich ingredients that are sign of purity. Each ingredient in Pancamrta is linked to the five elements and senses. Milk is associated with the element water and the sense taste. Curd is associated with earth and touch, ghee with fire and sight, honey with ether and hearing, and sugar with air and smell (A Practical Guide to Understanding Hindu Abhishekam).  In the scientific world, it has found that ingredients of pancamrata help remove toxins from the body. This ritual of Abhisheka is performed on many occasions such as Adhivasa (installation), Pratistha (when its installed) and , Netronmilana, when eyes are delineated, Arcana: when  its formally worshipped, Pravitra: when it is purified after a defilement, Yatra:when the processional image is about to return to the temple after sojourn around the town or at avabhrta: when the festival is undertaken  for the icon completed (Ramachandra Rao 52).

There are many festivals in Hinduism that are associated with worshipping a deity. On every festival or occasions, Abhisheka of a deity can be performed with a different material. For example, during a special ceremony of Durgapuja, ingredients are added along with pancamrta including pure water, water in a conch, water from a sacred river, water in which sandal paste (gandha) is mixed, cow urine, cow dung, water in which kusa grass is immersed, dew water (sisirodaka), water from flowers (puspoodaka), sugar-cane juice (iksurasa), coconut water (phalodaka), eight kinds of mud (astamrttika) hot water and water form eight jars specially consecrated (kalasa). There are also regional and limited differences in the ingredients used for ritual baths given to a deity (Ramchandra Rao 52).

There are other ways of performing the ceremony which also can be varied, such as using a plate is taken with thousand holes held over a deity’s head. Water is poured into it so that it creates a water fall called Sahsra-Dhara (thousand streams). In some daily based Abhisheka, water is made to tickle down continuously up the Siva-linga. When Abhisheka is being performed, mantras are chanted in Sanskrit. Sanskrit is an ancient language that is said to be a language of the gods as its every syllable carries with it potent vibrations which are capable of uplifting and energizing. Sanskrit is used in order to create an ambiance which will please the deity that has graced us with his presence (A Practical Guide to Understanding Hindu Abhishekam).


Unknown (2018) “A Practical Guide to Understanding Hindu Abhishekam.” Bhakti Marga UK. Accessed October 6, 2018.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism-The Ebook. Toronto: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd

Snehashree Bhat (2016) “Importance Of Abhishekam In Hindu Religion.” Most Inside. Accessed October 8, 2018.

Unknown (2007) “Why temple?” Yoga magazine. Accessed October, 8 2018.

Subodh Kapoor (2000) The Hindus Encyclopedia of Hinduism 1 volume A-C. Published by Rani Kapoor. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Prof. S.K. Ramachandra Rao (2003) Encyclopedia of Indian Iconography volume 1. Delhi: Shri Satguru Publications.

Related Topics for further investigation

Rig Veda

Atharva Veda

Soma Veda




Agamas Shastra

Kausika Sutra



Noteworthy websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Rutu Prajapati (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Prambanan Temple Complex

The Prambanan Temple Complex with the three towers dedicated to Siva, Visnu, and Brahma (Prambanan, Java, Indonesia)

Prambanan, located in the special district (daerah istimewa) of Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is a complex of temples dedicated to the Hindu Trimurti. Also known as Candi Prambanan or Lara Jonggrang, this complex is Hinduism’s largest site of temples in Indonesia (Bhargava 1440). Prambanan gets its name from its proximity to a nearby village. The name Lara Jonggrang directly translates to “slender maiden” and refers to the statue of Durga, the wife of Siva, within the temple (Levy 2018). Prambanan was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999.

Prambanan’s history dates to around 850 CE when Rakai Pikatan, a king of the Sanjaya dynasty Medang Kingdom, built the first temple on the site. The site was later drastically expanded by Dyah Lokapala and Balitung Maha Sambu, the Sanjaya king of the Mataram Kingdom (Bhargava 1440).  With Prambanan being the center of most of the Mataram Kingdom’s sacrificial ceremonies (yajnas), it is believed Prambanan was the Mataram Kingdom’s royal temple. At the height of the Mataram Kingdom, Prambanan was home to many brahmins. Prambanan’s original name was Siwagrha, the house of Siva, and was originally designed to imitate Siva’s home, Mount Meru (Bhargava 1441). According to the Shivagrha Inscription of 856 CE, the temple was also dedicated to Siva.

Contemporary political perspectives suggest the construction and subsequent expansion of Prambanan was in response to the completion of Borobudur, a massive nearby Buddhist complex. Borobudur is Java’s largest Candi, or complex of temples, attributable to the Buddhist dynasty of Sailendra (Lanti 429-430). Contemporary thought also hypothesizes Prambanan’s construction to have been made in celebration of Hindu rule returning to Java following the fall of the Sailendra Dynasty (Lanti 430).

According to Prambanan’s entry on UNESCO, as well as discussed by Jordaan, Prambanan was abandoned sometime between the tenth and eleventh century for a multitude of hypothesized reasons (Jordaan 20). It is suggested that a combination of natural disasters and a shift in political power pushed life in Prambanan to eastern Java, leaving Prambanan behind to decay (Jordaan 20). Prambanan was not rediscovered until the early nineteenth century when Lieutenant-Governor Raffles’ team came upon the temples by chance (Bhargava 1440). It is possible that when C.A. Lons toured Javanese temples in 1733, he could have possibly included Prambanan in his description of overgrown temples (Jordaan 13). However, it is generally agreed that Raffles takes the honour of discovering Prambanan.

Though it was discovered, and a full survey was commissioned, Prambanan was not cared for properly, with locals taking what they needed from the site without consideration for Prambanan’s preservation (Bhargava 1440). Furthermore, the first archeologist to lay his hands on the excavation process was J. W. IJzerman, an engineer and chair of the local amateur archeological association (Jordaan 14). He did so with poor methods by today’s standards and as such, lost important and irretrievable information (Jordaan 14). Even worse, the successor of the operations, Groneman, saw it fit to dispose of a substantial portion of Prambanan’s excavated rubble into the nearby river (Jordaan 15). This rubble included a considerable number of fragments of reliefs and statues from various parts of Prambanan (Jordaan 15). Due to this irreversible loss, scholars at the time considered reconstruction an impossibility (Jordaan 15). Thankfully the magnitude of loss was less than anticipated and in 1918, reconstruction on the main temple dedicated to Siva commenced (Jordaan 16). The main temple’s reconstruction finished in 1953 while ongoing reconstruction and restoration of Prambanan continues to this day (Kempers 197).

Prambanan consists of roughly two hundred and forty temples. Soekmono provides a physical description of Prambanan: “The complex consists of more than 200 shrines of varying sizes, distributed over 2 concentric square courtyards enclosed by walls with gateways on all 4 sides. The inner courtyard is 100 m square and contains the main shrines of the compound. The outer courtyard is 200 m square and contains subsidiary temples built on four tiered platforms that descend gradually from the walls of the central square. The entire compound is enclosed by a further, lower-lying square of 365×365 m, the walls of which are not parallel to the other two enclosure walls” (Soekmono 1). Located in the inner courtyard, there are three major temples dedicated to Siva, Visnu and Brahma, as well as three temples parallel with the three major temples, which are referred to as the vahana temples (UNESCO). The word vahana roughly translates to “mount,” meaning each of these temples are believed to have housed worship to each respective member of the Trimurti’s mount. However, evidence of such worship and dedication to the respective mounts is only found in Siva’s opposing temple (Kempers 193). It is believed that the temple opposite of Siva’s temple is for Nandi, the bull (Kempers 193). The other two temples are referred to as A and B, as there is no evidence of either Brahma’s or Visnu’s vahana in their respective opposing temple.

Statue of Siva in the central tower at Prambanan (Java, Indonesia)

The temple dedicated to Siva stands the tallest measuring in at forty-seven meters. Within the temple dedicated to Siva there are five chambers, four of which are in each cardinal direction while the last is in the middle, accessed via the eastern chamber (Jordaan 5). Within the eastern chamber lies a statue of Siva in his four-armed form. In the southern chamber there is a statue of Agastya, a revered Vedic sage and avatar of Brahma. In the western chamber is a statue of Siva’s elephant son, Ganesa. Lastly, in the northern chamber is the previously mentioned statue of Durga, depicted as the demon buffalo slayer, also referred to as Lara Jonggrang (Kempers 197). This statue gave rise to Javanese folktales surrounding the lore of the statue (Jordaan 12). It is said that long ago a war broke out between the kingdoms of ogre king Ratu Boko and neighbouring Pengging. Following king Ratu Boko’s defeat, a Pengging warrior named Bandung Bandawsa fell in love with Ratu Boko’s human daughter, Lara Jonggrang. After countless proposals of marriage, Lara gave in on one condition – Bandung Bandawsa would construct a complex of a thousand temples in one night. Being the warrior he was, Bandung accepted and began to summon spirits to aid him in his efforts. As the night progressed, Lara came to realise Bandung may complete the task. To fool him and his peons, Lara constructed a fire in the east, giving the illusion the sun was rising. As well, she rounded up all the women she could and began morning practices. When Bandung’s assistants heard the women preparing for the day and saw the “sun” was rising, they fled in fear of the light. Having completed only nine hundred ninety-nine temples (today’s Sewu), Bandung had failed. Upon finding out about Lara’s ploy, Bandung cursed her into becoming part of the thousand requested temples: she became the statue of Durga to be found in Siva’s temple. Also found within Siva’s temple, which spreads into Brahma’s temple, are bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Indonesia’s take on one of the great Hindu epics, the Ramayana.

Detail of Visnu image holding the discus and conch (Prambanan temple complex, Java, Indonesia)

To the north and south of Siva’s temple are two twin temples, both with only one room (Jordaan 7). To the south is Brahma’s temple; to the north is Visnu’s temple. Within both temples, a statue of either Brahma or Visnu can be found which is what gave rise to each temple’s association with their respective god. On the walls of Brahma’s temple is the continuation of the Ramayana from Siva’s temple. Carved into the walls of Visnu’s temple is the story of Krsna as the hero of the Mahabharata (Jordaan 7).

Detail of multi-headed Brahma image (Prambanan, Java, Indonesia).

Along with the six previously mentioned temples that fill the center of Prambanan are two apit temples or “flank” temples, the use of which is yet to be determined. They are positioned at the north and south entrances of the square and they face the center of the square, to cover the main six temple’s “flanks” (Jordaan 7). In the outer courtyard, remains of some two hundred smaller subsidiary temples reside, all of which are similar in make and decoration (Jordaan 9). In the further, lower lying square no remanence of temples have been found. It is hypothesized this was the area used to accommodate those practicing within Prambanan (Jordaan 9).


References and Further Recommended Readings

Bhargava, P. (2012) “Prambanan: A group of hindu temples in central java.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 73:1440-1441.

Jordaan, R. (1996) “Candi Prambanan; An Updated Introduction.” In Praise of Prambanan: 3-116. Leiden: Brill.

Kempers, Bernet (1996) “Prambanan 1954” in Praise of Prambanan: 191-226. Leiden: Brill.

Lanti, Irman G. (2002) “Candi of Java.” Encyclopedia of Modern Asia: 429-430. Great Barrington: Berkshire Publishing Group.

Levy, Michael (2018) “Prambanan.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed on October 28th, 2018.

Soekmono, R. (2003) “Loro Jonggrang.” Oxford University Press. Accessed October 29th, 2018. (1991) “Prambanan Temple Compounds.” Unesco. Accessed October 28th, 2018.

Related Topics for Further Investigation












Hinduism in Java


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Nick Davis (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Mircea Eliade

Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) was a widely respected intellectual whose prolific writings embraced a multitude of genres, from creative novels and short stories written in his native Romanian, to the scholarly works for which he is most renowned as an eminent historian of religions, orientalist, and interpreter of myths and symbols (Allen and Doeing vii). His writing style appealed to a wide audience beyond the halls of academia to embrace readers interested in the arts, literary criticism, journalism, travel or simply a good story line (Beane and Doty xvii). Indeed, Eliade enjoyed two productive careers throughout his seventy-nine years. In Romania prior to World War II, he was lauded as a major literary figure while his scholarly work went relatively unnoticed. In the West after World War II, he was hailed as an important historian and phenomenologist of religions while his Romanian literary works remained unknown, untranslated from Romanian and unpublished (Allen 545).

Mircea Eliade was born in Bucharest on March 9, 1907. His father, Captain Gheorghe Eliade, was a career army officer and was often away from home. Mircea’s mother, Joana Stoenescu, was left at home to raise three children, Mircea being the middle child. He was not an easy child to control, preferring to roam the streets rather than attend school which he found boring. However, with the help of a few of his respected teachers who took an interest in their wayward student, he managed to get through his secondary school studies and to enrol in the University of Bucharest in 1925 in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy (Ricketts 10). His favorite professor, Nae Ionescu, guided Eliade’s progress through university to a master’s degree in Philosophy in 1928 with a dissertation on Italian Philosophy.

Given his past, one might assume that Mircea Eliade had been an unproductive student as well as an undisciplined one. This was far from being the case: during his formative years in Bucharest, Eliade had been honing skills and interests which would serve him well in his professional life. By far the most important skills he attained were those of reading and writing. Blessed with educated parents who wanted the best for their children, Eliade had learned to read at an early age (Ricketts 12). He read widely but primarily materials that stimulated his imagination and interests. His mother willingly supplied her son with reading material, having discovered that a book kept her wayward son at home, off the streets and out of mischief (Ricketts 20). He did not confine himself to reading only Romanian works. While still a teenager, Eliade learned Italian in order to read the works of G. Papini and V. Macchioro and English to read Max Muller and Frazer. He also studied Persian and Hebrew (Allen and Doeing xiii). Eliade was curious about everything and took pains to satisfy that curiosity through the printed word.

Not only was he a voracious reader in his youth, he was also a prolific writer. At age fourteen, he began a diary, Jurnalul, which he maintained throughout his life and from which much of his creative writing flowed (Allen and Doeing xiii).  He was the main character in many of his stories, which described events that had actually happened to him with perhaps a few added fictional details. While still a youth, he wrote articles for newspapers and magazines, articles which demonstrate his early interests in entomology, orientalism, folklore, alchemy and travel (Allen and Doeing xiii). His first autobiographical novel, Romanul adolescentului miop, was written in 1925, followed by a sequel, Gaudeamus, in 1928. Neither of these novels were published and are now almost completely lost (Allen and Doeing xiv).

Another trait that was to serve Eliade well was a genuine interest in meeting people and learning from them. He had no qualms about deliberately getting in touch with people he admired. On his first trip to Italy in 1927, for example, he visited G. Papini in Florence and V. Macchioro in Naples (Allen and Doeing xiv). He possessed a certain brashness and genuine friendliness that opened doors for him. It seemed that he was destined to do something great with his life and he himself was convinced of it from an early age.

In 1928, Eliade, already steeped in the folklore of Romania and the iconography of the Eastern Orthodox Church, decided that he might profit from experiencing life in India. Some scholars suggest that the multi-media atmosphere of the Eastern Church prepared Eliade for his experiences with India (Rennie 2640). Eliade himself, however, admits that his real introduction to the “other” began with India (Beane and Doty xviii). He had been reading Surendranath Dasgupta’s A History of Indian Philosophy when he decided to write to the professor to inquire if he might study Sanskrit and Indian philosophy under him at the University of Calcutta. At the same time, he wrote to the Maharajah of Kassimbazar to acquire funds for his proposed stay in India. Both men agreed to sponsor him and he set out on the journey on November 20, 1928. The journey, via Egypt and present-day Sri Lanka, took him to Madras where he met Dr. Dasgupta and on December 26, he arrived in Calcutta, taking up residence in a boarding house for foreign students (Ricketts 346).

Eliade’s studies at the University of Calcutta began successfully but old habits die hard and his studies seemed increasingly interrupted by the pleasures of student life and by the many new sights and sensations that India had to offer. In January 1930, Dr. Dasgupta took his Romanian student into his own home where Mircea at last made every effort to live like an Indian (Ricketts 347).   Studying Sanskrit and Indian philosophy by day, Eliade nevertheless continued to write novels in his native Romanian by night. Most of Eliade’s fiction featuring Indian themes was written and published while he was in the country or shortly after returning to Romania (Calinescu 559). This ideal arrangement, however, was to end abruptly when Dr. Dasgupta discovered that his daughter Maitreyi was romantically involved with Mircea. Immediately he was banished from the professor’s home and from the university (Ricketts 347).

Eliade had already decided that his doctoral dissertation would be a comparative history of the techniques of Yoga. With this in mind, he set out to learn all he could from Swami Sivananda at the asrama at Rishikesh, Himalaya (Allen and Doeing xv). Many of the results of his six-month crash course in Yoga techniques and philosophy can be inferred from Eliade’s mystical short story “The Secret of Dr. Honigberger.” It is a riveting story, a mixture of fact and fiction, through which Eliade is able to relate his personal experiences with yogic practices on an emotional level. He admits freely that he could not find scientific words to describe the same experience (Ricketts 1186).

Eliade was called back to Romania for compulsory military service in January of 1932, but the lessons he learned in India, along with the subject matter of his doctoral dissertation, set his subsequent career path through academia as an expert of the Orient and oriental philosophy (Azim 1035). He believed that he had discovered great truths while in India. He had discovered a spiritual dimension in Indian life in Samkhya Yoga and Tantrism that he had never encountered before. He had discovered insights into symbolism and what he called “cosmic religion” among peasants that applied worldwide (Ricketts 363).

In 1933, he successfully defended his Ph.D. with a dissertation in Yoga and was appointed Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Bucharest where he taught courses on India and Hindu philosophy (Allen and Doeing xvi). His theories on the significance of symbols, rites and myths became part of the growing discipline of the history of religions. In 1933, his novel Maitreyi, based on his ill-fated love affair, was a huge success in Romania (Ricketts 537). Indeed, many of Eliade’s writings are autobiographical and are based on the extensive journals that he kept throughout his life.

Eliade could well have stayed at the University of Bucharest for his entire academic career, had peace prevailed. However, he was sent to London as part of the Romanian diplomatic corps, at the outbreak of World War II. He was transferred to Portugal in 1941 and remained there as a cultural attaché until 1945. With a communist government now in control of Romania, Eliade found himself in exile and looking for a university teaching position. In 1945 through his friendship with Georges Dumezil, a scholar of comparative mythology, Eliade secured a position as a professor at the Sorbonne in Paris where he taught courses in comparative religion until 1956 (Rennie 266).

The years between 1945 and 1956 proved to be a very productive time for Eliade. In addition to his teaching, he became a member of the Asiatic Society and was a regular attendee and presenter at the International Congresses of Orientalists and the International Congresses of the History of Religions during those years (Allen and Doeing xviii). It was in Paris that Eliade wrote many of his best known works; English translation would follow. The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949) was Eliade’s first major work in his new position at the Sorbonne. In it he discusses “fundamental characteristics of archaic societies” and “nostalgia for a periodical return to the mythical time of the beginning of things” (Allen and Doeing 16). Images and Symbols followed in 1952. It is a collection of case studies analyzing the structures of different symbols. It was highly controversial containing some of Eliade’s boldest statements about the history of religions (Allen and Doeing 22). The Sacred and the Profane (1956), which expresses Eliade’s view of the sacred and the profane as two planes of being in the world, became very popular with the general public, just as Eliade had intended from the outset. It was to become his best known work, encompassing a wide range of sacred phenomena, space, time, myth, symbolism, cosmic religion, etc. (Allen and Doeing 24).

In the autumn of 1956, Eliade was invited by Joachin Wach (1898-1955), the chair of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago, to deliver the prestigious Haskell Lectures. After Wach’s sudden death the following year, Eliade accepted a position as a regular professor and Chairman of the History of Religions department at the University of Chicago, a position which he held, publishing and continuing to write his Romanian fiction, until his own death in 1986 (Rennie 266).

At the time of his death, Mircea Eliade was one of the most renowned and revered men in his discipline. He received many accolades from his peers including the compendium Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade in honor of his sixtieth birthday (Popescu 87). He was awarded many honorary titles at universities throughout the world (Allen and Doeing xx). However, change is inevitable if progress is to be made, and a new generation of young scholars was waiting to question the findings of the old. Mircea Eliade was to come under severe scrutiny and criticism for his position on a variety of religious topics. Young anthropologists, in particular, who had spent many months in the field living with their subject tribe, noting every nuance of daily life, rite and ceremony, complained that Eliade was not quite so thorough (Saliba 3). These new disciplines laid more emphasis on fieldwork and objective reporting, whereas Eliade was comfortable with generalizations and subjectivity and he freely admitted that to be the case.

John Saliba was one such anthropologist who viewed the religious man in a totally different light from Eliade’s (Saliba 2). Saliba felt that Eliade’s view of the religious man appealed more to the theologian or the literature student than to the anthropologist who had never actually encountered such a man in the field (Saliba 141). In Saliba’s opinion, Eliade had given up on the search for the true origins of religion, the holy grail of the discipline (Saliba 103) and  most of Eliade’s conclusions he found to be  “highly questionable” and “sweeping generalizations” or “overstating his case” (Saliba 140).

Saliba was not alone in his criticism. Thomas Altizer also held that Eliade’s methods were  “mystical” and “romantic” when they should have been “rational” and “scientific” (Allen 548). He too saw Eliade’s methodology as “uncritical, arbitrary and subjective” (Allen 545). It is not surprising that Eliade’s prolific writings became the focus for a whole new generation of Religious Studies’ scholars bent on reassessing the theories of past generations and adding to the discipline’s position in academia.

Eliade died in 1986, leaving generations of students with a wealth of materials, often difficult to understand and internalize, requiring thoughtful interpretation. He has left the world much food for scholarly critical discussion as well as a wealth of literature written in his native Romanian that warrants translation and appreciation by the Western World (Ricketts 1216). His legacy lives on in his writings, in the accolades of his peers, and in the thought-provoking ideas that flowed from a lifetime of study.


Allen, Douglas (1988) “Eliade and History.” The Journal of Religion 68:545-65.

Allen, Douglas, and Dennis Doeing (1980)  Mircea Eliade: An Annotated Bibliography. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

Azim, Firdaus (1996) “Review of Bengal Nights: A Novel by Mircea Eliade.” The Journal of Asian Studies 55:1035-37.

Barth, Christine (2013) “In illo tempore, at the Center of the World: Mircea Eliade and Religious Studies’ Concepts of Time and Space.” Historical Social Research 38:59-75.

Beane, Wendell C., and William G. Doty (1975) Myths, Rites and Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader. New York: Harper and Row.

Calinescu, Matei (1978) “The Disguises of Miracle: Notes on Mircea Eliade’s Fiction.” World Literature Today 52:558-64.

Eliade, Mircea (1992) Mystic Stories: The Sacred and the Profane, edited by Kurt W Treptow. New York: Columbia University Press.

Popescu, Mircea (1971) “Eliade and Folklore.” In Myths and Symbols: Studies in Honor of Mircea Eliade, edited by Joseph M. Kitagawa and Charles H. Long, 81-90. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Rennie, Bryan (2013) “Mircea Eliade’s Understanding of Religion and Eastern Christian Thought.” Russian History 40:264-80.

Ricketts, Mac Linscott (1988) Mircea Eliade: The Romanian Roots, 1907-1945. New York: Columbia University Press.

Saliba, John A. (1976) ‘Homo Religiosus’ in Mircea Eliade: An Anthropological Evaluation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Sarbacker, Stuart Ray (2002) “Enstasis and Ecstasis: A Critical Appraisal of Eliade on Yoga and Shamanism.” Journal for the Study of Religion 15:21-37.

Wasserstrom, Steven M. (1990) Religion after Religion: Gersham Scholem, Mircea Eliade, and Henry Corbin at Eranos. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Nae Ionescue


  1. Papini
  2. Macchioro

Max Muller



Eastern Orthodox Church


Samkhya Yoga


Haskell lectures




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This article was written by Mary E. Anderson (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.


Vaikuntha Visnu with avatar heads (Kashmir, 7th century CE), Museo Del Arte Orientale (MAO), Turin, Italy.

The core concept of Vaisnavism is the worship of Visnu as the supreme deity of the Vedic pantheon and ultimate reality in a panentheistic sense. This essential idea appears in one way or another in most Vaisnava sects today, however  not all groups practice the religion the same way nor do they point to the same literature as the most important source material (Chari 31-34). The actual period during which Vaisnavism arose is unclear, however there is inscriptional evidence of a Vaisnava sect as early as the 2nd century B.C. (Chari 21) and there was certainly a well-established tradition by the 6th century A.D. (Jash 933). To understand Vaisnavism and its many faces it is necessary to understand its history, including what texts it derives its theology from.

A monotheistic approach centring on a single god within the Hindu multiplicity can be traced all the way back to the Rg Veda (Chari 4). Although this text praises many deities – recognizing the individuality of them all – there are a few verses which have been pointed out as evidence for a monotheistic take on the pantheon, such as the much-quoted line “There is one Being (sat) but wise men call it by different names (ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti)” (Chari 5). The Upanisads offer an even clearer description of this idea in the form of Brahman and Narayana, which constitute the Supreme Reality that Visnu is associated with (Chari 4). Narayana specifically refers to a very panentheistic concept of ultimate reality as apart from and a part of creation (Chari 13-14). This concept gives a solid Vedic base for the later vision of Visnu; in fact, the Ramayana directly associates him with Narayana: “Rama, you who have truth as your valour. You are the god Narayana…. Sita is Laksmi and you are Visnu” (Doniger 202-203). Because of these monotheistic readings of the Vedas, Vaisnavas often retrospectively cite them as a true source of Vaisnava doctrine (Chari 13), however in reality Visnu is a very minor character until later in Hinduism (Jash 933). After the Vedas, the Agamas – religious treatises surrounding proper modes of religious worship – realize Vaisnavism in full, elaborating on concepts of the Supreme Deity found in the Vedas. The Vaisnava Agamas emphasized exclusive worship of Visnu and introduced practices of arca (worshipping the god in an image form), the consecration of icons, the building of temples, and prescription of daily rituals, all in a specific Vaisnava style (Chari 15).

It is after the Agamas, however, that perhaps the biggest development occurs. That is with the two great epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, both of which feature Visnu as their hero.  In the Ramayana, dharma is of key importance but in terms of Vaisnava doctrine the most valuable concept in this story is self-surrender or prapatti (Chari 263). An example of this tenet is the episode wherein Vibhisana deserts his worldly life for the refuge of Rama, visualizing the spiritual process of total surrender to God. This epic is also a great celebration of Laksmi. In most sects of Vaisnavism Laksmi, or Sri, is inseparable from Visnu, so the celebration of her firm dharmic character in the Ramayana is as much a testament to her as it is to Srivisnu (Chari 17). In the Mahabharata, Vaisnava doctrine is broadly consolidated, and this is particularly compelling evidence for Vaisnavites as Visnu himself in the guise of Krnsa is expounding much of these beliefs. The Bhagavad Gita especially reads almost like an encyclopedia of Vaisnava doctrine when read from that perspective; it points out three different potential paths of worshipping Visnu (jnana, karma, bhakti), it describes the essence of his endlessness, it lays out the state of complete focus on Visnu that is necessary to be a Vaisnavite, and it contextualizes many of the existing forms of Hindu worship in a Visnu-centric way (Chari 123-138).

Visnu directly associates himself with Narayana and the Bhagavan (the ultimate soul that is one with Brahma), and heavily endorses bhaktiyoga – an essential element of Vaisnavism – in this text. Bhakti worship is a huge development not just in Vaisnavism but in all of Hinduism. Although there is evidence of a concept like bhakti worship in older sources, it is not until the Bhagavad Gita that bhakti is focused explicitly on (Prentiss 17). As well, this text is the very first to prescribe the practice as a direct path to moksa. Bhakti gained popularity and was transfused into many different sects due to its ability to satisfy multiple spiritual goals at once, and appeal to most people:

“…bhakti presented an alternative to dominant forms of religiosity, both the asocial sannyasin [renouncer] and the temporally defined practice of ritual. In the former, religious experience was engendered by physical separation from society; in the latter, time was the mechanism by which religious experience was set apart from social formations. In contrast, bhakti represented the possibility of religious experience anywhere, anytime” (Prentiss 20).


The essential practice of bhakti is characterized by devotion and love for God for no other purpose than to the loving itself. The philosophy of bhakti is fundamentally simple:  “…those who honour me [Visnu] with devotion, are within me, and I am also in them.”  (Patton 109). A devotee must be entirely committed to and entrenched in thoughts of Visnu and in doing so they will become one with Visnu as the absolute reality. But within this simplicity, there is much room for debate regarding what constitutes such a state of focus, what is or is not devotion, and many other aspects of the practice (Prentiss 9). However, despite the uncertainty surrounding much of it, the essential goal of bhakti is always the same, and that is to be united with God in a loving union – not just to enter into the Supreme Reality that is him through moksa, but also to culminate a relationship of mutual love during ones human life.

Somewhat contemporary to the epics are the Puranas, companion literature for the Vedas that contain stories of the conception of the universe and the lives of important Hindu figures, such as Krsna. The oldest Purana is the visnupurana which provides precedents for all the basic Vaisnava doctrines. Some of these important precedents include explicitly titling Visnu as the Godhead – that which all emanates through – and associating him with Brahman of the Upanisads (Chari 18-19). The six attributes of Visnu are also introduced in this text. These attributes are not the only in Visnu’s possession, as the Bhagavan he has an unlimited amount of attributes but they are simply seen as the six most important qualities. The first is jnana, which here means omniscience, then sakti meaning power, bala meaning strength, aisarya meaning lordship, virya meaning energy, and tejas meaning splendour (Chari 188-190). Another key contribution of the Puranas is affirmation of the inseparability of Sri and Visnu, although Sri provides different skills and qualities apparently, Sri and Visnu are one so they actually share all their traits (Chari 19).

A key figure in the development of Vaisnavism is the acarya Ramanuja. He was a major contributor to Vaisnava literature, propagating Vaisnava cult through the written forms and apostles (Chari 23). Much of his works owes its basis to his predecessors, Nathamuni and Yamuna. Nathamuni rediscovered the hymns of Alvars, composers of Tamil verses dedicated to Visnu, and arranged them into four parts. He also introduced recitation of Vaisnava hymns as part of worship and advocated for self-surrender as the more important aspect of devotion to God as opposed to rigid bhakti-worship(Chari 23). Yamuna expanded on some of this, especially the concept of self-surrender which he wrote a concrete doctrine for (Chari 23-22). From this, Ramanuja ventured to carve out a solid space for Vaisnava worship in the orthodox schools of Hinduism which were evolving simultaneously. He criticized the advaita vedanta, which was popular at the time, especially because it did not recognize bhakti as a legitimate way to moksa. He worked to establish Visnu as the supreme Ultimate Reality, and the worship of Visnu for the sake of a blissful divine experience as the best goal for humankind. His discussions and doctrines also elaborated on a key aspect of Vaisnavism, the organic relationship between God, the soul, and cosmic order in the “body-soul” (Chari 25). In addition, he also described moksa and bhakti in explicit terms, especially how combining jnana, karma, and bhakti creates the most effective path to moksa (Chari 24-26).

After Ramanuja propagates Vaisnavism throughout India there is a blossoming of distinctive sects with unique beliefs and practices. Madhvacarya began the Dvaita school which is dualistic and supports bhakti as means to moksa; it also promoted the Dasa-kuta devotional movement that saw bands of saintly persons singing devotional songs (Chari 32). Ramananda instigated a school in Northern India that saw Rama especially to be Brahman. He did not believe in the caste system and instead supported universal brotherhood (Chari 32-33). Nimbarka started the Dvaita-dvaita school which maintained that Brahman was Radha-Krnsa and did not advocate temple worship; he saw self-surrender more than bhakti as means to moksa (Chari 33).

An especially distinct sect of Vaisnavism was founded by Sri Krsna Caitanya (Chari 33-34). The unique element of this sect is the concept of a devotees relationship to God, which is framed as bhakti but in a particularly loving and somewhat romantic-erotic in nature. The pivotal imagery for this concept comes from the tales of Krsna as a boy playing with the gopis as they are found in the Bhagavata Purana. The central allegory made in these stories is that the gopis long for Krnsa as an image of the devotee longing for their god, the erotic themes of the stories accentuate the metaphysical overtones implied beneath the descriptions (Doniger 228). The intimacy between lovers is seen as a parallel for the ideal closeness between one and one’s God: as such the use of sexual imagery visualizes this nebulous concept. When Krnsa steals the gopis clothes and forces them to stand before him naked there are obvious erotic themes playing out involving submission and vulnerability. These exact same concepts can are mirrored in the implied spiritual counterpart of the scene where a devotee is stripped of their concealing features to reveal their fundamental self in the face of God. “Though they were greatly deceived and robbed of their modesty, though they were mocked and treated like toys and stripped of their clothes… they were happy to be together with their beloved” (Doniger 230). The gopis are perfect devotees, even after having their identity and pride taken away by God – in other words, after having performed self-surrender – they find joy in the presence of God. This heightened emotional attitude towards Vaisnavism began a large movement, associated with Radha-Krsna, that affected multiple sects, but is perhaps most prevalent still in Caitanya Vaisnavism (Chari 34).

Despite the differences in all these different sects and schools of Vaisnavism, there are still overarching themes. Bhakti and self-surrender are always prevalent concepts, urging devotees to give up the cemented concepts of the self in favour of love for Visnu in hopes of joining with him eventually. The basic metaphysical concept of Visnu’s absolute presence and being is always involved. Krsna describes himself as: “… whatever powerful being there is – be it splendid or filled with vigour, it comes to be from only a small part of my brilliance,” (Patton 122). Indeed this is essentially the belief of Vaisnava philosophy and theology. The human being is just a small aspect of the indescribable enormity of Visnu, and so to pay reverence to him and to love him is to accept the truth of existence. Only through reflection on Visnu in this insurmountable way can one become joined with him spiritually and when one is properly joined with him it becomes clear that there truly is nothing else but Visnu. “Joined in this way, with me as the highest goal – you will come to me alone.” (Patton 110).



Chari, S.M. Srinivasa (1994) Vaisnavism: Its Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Discipline. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Patton, Laurie L. (trans.) (2008) The Bhagavad Gita. London: Penguin.

Prentiss, Karen (2000) The Embodiment of Bhakti.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Doniger, Wendy (1994) Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit. New Delhi: Penguin.

Sarbadhikary, Sukanya (2015) Place of Devotion: Siting and Experiencing Divinity in Bengal-Vaishnavism. Oakland: University of California Press.

Jash, Pranabananda, and Prabananda Jash (1979) “Vaisnavism in Ancient Southeast Asia” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 40: 932-942

Sircar, Mahendranath, and Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2000) Studies in Vaisnavism and Tantricism. New Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan.

Mishra, Kishore Chandra (2002) “The History of Vaisnavism in Western Orissa” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 63: 181–190.

Toffin, Gerard (2012) “A Vaishnava Theatrical Performance in Nepal: The Katti-pyakhã of Lalitpur City” Asian Theatre Journal  29:126-163.

Glucklich, Ariel (2008) The Strides of Vishnu: Hindu Culture in Historical Perspective. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation











Tamil Hymns














Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Margaret Kieper (November 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram

Kailasanatha Temple in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, from the inner courtyard.

Kanchipuram is one of the holiest and most sacred cities in India (Jayapal & Amiratham 239). It is branded for being a temple city, home to the Kailasanatha temple, Vailkunta Perumal temple, Varadharaja temple, Kamakshi Amman temple and many others (Jayapal & Amirtham 242). During the 3rd to 9th century C.E., the Pallava Dynasty ruled South India from Kanchipuram, during which king Rajasimha built the Kailasanatha temple (Rao ed al. 594). Hinduism in South India was developed by the Pallava dynasty by building temples to worship the gods and devote to the gods (Rao et al. 595). Kailasantha temple is dedicated to Lord Siva, which honours Siva’s mountain home, Mount Kailasa (Dehejia 200). The temple is known for its Dravidian style architecture, the design mainly used for temples across South India. Most temples in the south are dedicated to specific deities and Rajasimha’s admiration for Siva was what led Kailasantha temple to be a Siva devoted temple.

In India, dynasties frequently changed, each one was conquered by another. Thus, over time, when new rulers would come into power they would build temples, monuments, caves, etc. that reflected their own political power and authority (Jayapal & Amirtham 240). The Kailasanatha temple was built during the time of The Pallava dynasty, more specifically when king Rajasimha was in power and used the Shore Temple in Mahabalipuram as inspiration. Kailasantha temple is known for its stone foundation and sandstone framework. A major influence on the design of the temple was based upon “dimensions of the heavenly land – lord of the cosmic mountain” (Jayapal & Amirtham 242). Therefore, the Kailasanatha temple is considered to be one of the oldest temples that exist today amongst the many temples in Kanchipuram.

Dravidian style architecture/temples are very distinctive from Northern India. The shapely design of the sikhara or ‘peak’ differ between the two architectural structures. The sikhara of southern (Dravida) temples/architecture is that you can discriminate between all of the arising horizontal levels whereas in northern (Nagara) temples/architecture they are typically masked (Dehejia 207). The outside walls of Nagara temples typically feature many female figurines, couples, and/or erotic imagery compared to Dravida temples which emphasize the importance of deities and may mention kings, saints, and legendary devotees (Dehejia 207). Before stone carving was introduced, most temples were built using deteriorating brick, lime, wood, and metal materials (Jayapal & Amirtham 240). The stone-carving technique in the South compared to western India was not a well-established technique therefore less familiar. A rationale for why stone may have taken its time before being embedded into their structures is “because the South had first to disassociate it from the funerary connotations acquired in an area where ancient megalithic tomb cultures had once prevailed” (Dehejia 185).

Courtyard and rectangular walled structure surrounding Kailasanatha temple (Kanchipuram).

Before the Pallavas were known for their Dravidian style architecture and their greater influence on stone-carving in the South, there were the Chalukyas.  The Chalukyas mimicked their rock-cut temples to the stone mountains of Siva and Visnu, such as, Kailasa or Vaikuntha [celestial abode of Visnu], where the rock forms the temple’s foundation and peak or sikhara, similar to that of the Kailasantha design. The earliest of the stone temples in South India are considered to be constructed by the Early Western Chalukyas (Tartakov 39) and the edifices of Early Western Chalukyas are also considered to be some of the earliest forms of Dravidian style architecture (Tartakov 95). The third successor of the Pallavas, King Mahendravarman, was the first Pallava to experiment with the rock-cutting technique, going on to cut his first cave and several others thereafter (Dehejia 185). Some scholars think that the style that was established by the Pallavas may have been taken in by the Chalukyas during the reign of Vikramaditya II. Other scholars that believe Chalukyas established the Southern style and then the Pallavas adopted it (Tartakov 96). One scholar’s point of view is that the octagonal, rectangular, and apsidal sikharas in the South were created by the Pallavas, but the square dome variation was built by the Chalukyas (Tartakov 97). Some characteristics that set the Pallavas art/architecture from the Dravidian style of the Chalukyas is that there is no figurative imagery in ceiling panels, the doorways do not use prastara hara, or entablature garland, nor do they incorporate the use of lalata bimba or block in lintel’s center  [this is to just name a couple of the important stylistic characteristics of the two dynasties, there are more features that set them apart to help distinguish between the two Dravidian style imagery] (Tartakov 98).

The Kailasanatha temple is oriented from east-west, is held together within a rectangular enclosure wall and contains a sandstone shrine. The pyramidal scheme, or sikhara, shows us the development of it from the Dharmaraja ratha and the distinctive feature of Southern temples (Dehejia 200). Upon entering, there is a “compact, barrel-vaulted, rectangular shrine built by Rajasimha’s son, Mahendra,” once you walk past the entrance there are “eight miniature shrines,” and near the front of the temple is sculpture of “Siva’s bull seated within, facing the Lord” (Dehejia 200-202). The miniature shrines that cover the courtyard walls are further broken down into east and west walls and north and south walls. The east and west walls contain images of Somaskanda, an image of Siva with his consort and son Skanda; the north and south contain interior images including Siva’s family group or Uma on her own, and “a shallow niche on their façades to accommodate further images” (Dehejia 202).  The images are placed strategically where the south facing wall entails images of Siva as a destructive force and the north wall shows Siva in his benevolent form. Another feature of the temple is in the courtyard shrine along the bases, there are over 250 titles, or birudas, for Rajasimha, which are written four times on four separate levels of the building using various script styles (northern, southern and florid) (Dehejia 202). These birudas are meant to reveal the characteristics of how a model ruler should act when in political power. The titles or birudas at Kailasanatha temple written to celebrate Rajasimha. A few examples of the titles are, “He is the Ocean of Arts or Kala-samudra; Storehouse of Arts or Kala-nidhi; Sole Hero or Ekavira; Victor in Battle or Rana-jaya; Unconquered or Aparajita; Devastating in Battle or Atiranachanda; He who Showers Gifts or Dana-varsa” (Dehejia 202).

Detail of a temple relief depicting the god Siva in his mythic exploit as Gangadhara, entrapping the goddess Ganga in a strand of his matted locks (Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram)

Kailasanatha temple is known for its sole dedication to Lord Siva. The temple contains a main shrine, which is home to an eight-foot-tall Siva linga, and seven connected sub-shrines, which surround the outside of the main shrine. The main shrine contains important images of Siva, some of which are ten feet tall. One of these images shows a dancing Siva in the form of a beggar, who ended up slaying demons and was given the Ganges (Dehejia 200). The temple houses a few figures of Siva including Siva seen “defeating death (Kalarimurti),” “Siva as the Supreme Teacher (Daksinamurti),” and another one where he is seen “riding into battle (Tripurantakamurti)” (Padma 51-53). Inside the towered shrine, or vimana, the linga is placed in the centre along with other temples across South Asia that are dedicated to Siva (Padma 50,53). Alternatively, Padma (2005) suggests that the Kailasanatha temple is an adjoined temple dedicated to Siva and a goddess. It consists of the Kailasanatha vimana or “towered shrine” which is dedicated to Siva and the Kailasanatha prakara “rectangular precinct wall” which is dedicated to a goddess. While sexual imagery is not ideal amidst Dravidian architecture, it is argued that “sexual metaphor is one of the many layers of meaning in the forms of the Kailasanath temple complex” (Padma 54). Padma describes the prakara as a goddess temple, comparable to a yogini temple where “it embraces a symbol of Siva in its courtyard as the yoni or vagina embraces the linga or phallus in heterosexual intercourse” (54). Although, the endless number of images and figures of Siva across the temple allow for scholars to agree with the popular thought, that the Kailasanatha temple is solely dedicated to the deity.

The importance of Kailasantha temple is that it is considered to be a personal chapel of King Rajasimha. He was able to devote his time into constructing temples because there was little of conflict during his reign. Its stone structure has allowed it to withstand centuries, with some corroding due to environmental factors, thus making it a significant structure to preserve. The design of the Kailasantha temple was a setting stone for the development and evolution of the Dravidian style architecture which may have influenced many temples that were built there after in South India. In Dehejia (1997), it is stated, “We can see the unmanifest in the linga and the manifest in the anthropomorphic images both in the sub-shrines and in the many aedicules along the temple walls” (200). This tells us that even though Siva is worshipped and seen as a phallic object, the figures/images of Siva gives us a thought or feeling to hold on to.


 Dehejia, Vidya (1997) Indian Art. New York: Phaidon Press Limited.

Jayapal, Deepalashmi & Amirtham, Lily Rose (2016) “Conserve, Preserve, and Rejuvenate  Architectural aspects of Kanchipuram.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 225:239-246. Accessed October 25, 2018.

Kaimal, Padma (2005) “Learning to See the Goddess Once Again: Male and Female in Balance at the Kailāsanātha Temple in Kāñcīpuram.” Journal of American Academy of Religion 73(1):45-87. Accessed October 9, 2018.

Ed. Rao, K.L.S. & Ed. Kapoor, Kapil (2013) Encyclopedia of Hinduism. San Rafael: Mandala Publishing.

Tartakov, Gary Michael (1980) “The Beginning of Dravidian Temple Architecture in Stone.”  Artibus Asiae 42(1):39-99. Accessed on October 9, 2018. doi:10.2307/3250008.


Related Topics for Further Investigation



Mount Kailasa

Maha Shivratri

Pallava Dynasty

Shore Temple Mahabalipuram

History of Kanchipuram


Nagara Temple

The biruda


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Manvir Jadir (November 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

Statue of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, founders of the Theosophical Society, at its headquarters in Adyar, Chennai.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was a prominent nineteenth century occultist who, along with Henry Olcott, formed the American Theosophical Society in 1875 (Bevir 2003:100). Helena Petrovna Hahn wad born in Ekaterinslow, Russia on July 31, 1831 (Kingsland 32). The Hahn family was rather affluent, with both Helena’s father, Colonel Peter Hahn, and mother being descended from nobility, German and Russian respectively (Kingsland 32; Bevir 2003:100). When she was eleven years old, Helena was put in the custody of her grandmother living in Saratow, her mother having passed away a few years before, and her father traveling quite often due to his military position (Kingsland 37). After living with her grandparents for roughly five years she married General Nokifor Blavatsky; she was seventeen at the time and he was many years her senior (Kingsland 37; Prothero 202). Though the marriage did not last and the pair separated after three months, they were never legally divorced (Bevir 1994:749; Bevir 2003: 100; Kingsland 37).

After leaving her husband in 1948, Blavatsky traveled extensively while studying the occult (Kingsland 39). Blavatsky had previously toured through England and visited Paris with her father at the age of thirteen, but it was not until after the end of her marriage that she traveled outside of Europe (Kingsland 37). Though it is generally agreed upon that Blavatsky traveled a considerable amount after leaving her husband, the places to which she traveled, in which order, and at what dates are rather contested. There is a consensus however, that she traveled to Constantinople immediately after leaving Russia (Bevir 1994:749; Kingsland 37; Prothero 202). There is some speculation that after leaving Constantinople Blavatsky traveled to Greece and Egypt, but there is no overarching agreement one her destination upon leaving the city (Kingsland 37). Her extensive travels, which are occasionally referred to by some as a wanderjaher (Kingsland 53), are believed to include multiple visits to India and North America, as well as several countries in Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America (Kingsland 40-58). It is during this time that the title Madame Blavatsky begins to be used. Two of the places that Blavatsky is believed to have visited in search of occult knowledge are Quebec City, Canada around 1851 to consult with Indigenous tribes, and New Orleans to investigate reports of Voodoo practices (Kingsland 40, 42). As well, in the latter part of 1852, Blavatsky is speculated to have attempted to enter into Tibet for the first time in order to search for the physical location of her occult teachers, usually referred to as the Masters or the Mahatmas, but was denied entrance into the country, and thus in 1953 returned to England after having spent some time in Singapore and Java (Kingsland 43).

During her travels, Blavatsky fell ill a number of times. One such instance of illness was in 1858, while Blavatsky was in Russia visiting family, and was believed to be caused by an old internal injury that had re-opened (Kingsland 46). Blavatsky was again struck by illness while staying at Ozoorgetty in Mingrelia in 1863 (Kingsland 47). This bout of illness was very severe, and Blavatsky was escorted by servants to Tiflis, where her grandparents lived at the time, in order to receive medical treatment (Kingsland 48). During both of incidences of illness, Blavatsky was believed to be the source of strange phenomena reported by those around her at the time (Kingsland 46-49). Blavatsky is also speculated to have spent seven years in Tibet receiving occult training from her masters (Crow 695; Kingsland 50). However, this assertion is highly contested due to the uncertainty of Blavatsky’s whereabouts during certain years and speculation on whether she received the training over those years intermittently or consecutively (Kingsland 50). Additionally, there are some that believe that Blavatsky’s occult gifts allowed her to astral project and receive instructions from her Masters on an astral plane rather than the physical one (Kingsland 50).

Between 1863 and 1867 Blavatsky traveled around Europe, and in 1867 left Europe to, again, travel to India; during this time, she did not contact her family (Kingsland 50). In late 1870, Blavatsky’s aunt, Madame Fadeeff, received a letter from Mahatma K.H., one of Blavatsky’s masters, which is considered “the first record of any phenomenal letter from a Master” (Kingsland 51). Blavatsky’s family was informed that she was in good health and gave an approximate date for her return to Russia (Kingsland 50-51). Blavatsky is said to have completed her wanderjaher in 1873, at the age of forty-two, and in July of 1873 she traveled to New York (Kingsland 52-53).

In New York, during September of 1875, Helena Blavatsky, along with Henry Olcott, founded the Theosophical Society (Bevir 1994:751; Bevir 2003:100; Crow 693; Prothero 205). This, however, was not the first attempt by Blavatsky to create a social organization dedicated to studying the occult. In 1871, a few years prior to the founding of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky had formed the Société Spirite in Cairo, Egypt (Kingsland 51-52; Prothero 202). The purpose of this previous society was the investigation into spiritual phenomena and spiritual mediums (Kingsland 51). However, the Société Spirite was rather short lived, with some blaming its demise on Blavatsky’s deficit of organizational skills (Prothero 202), and others on the flawed character of other members of the group (Kingsland 52). At the start of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky was voted to be the Society’s Secretary, and Olcott was voted in as the Society’s first President (Crow 705; Bevir 2003:100). The focus of the Theosophical Society shifted over time, and it is believed that in the early days of the Society, its main purpose was to “attempt to reform spiritualism” (Prothero 198). It was only after the Theosophical Society’s Headquarters were moved to India in 1878-1879 that the Society began to express its “three basic aims [of]: [promoting] the brotherhood of man, [investigating] the hidden powers of life and matter, and [encouraging] the study of comparative religion” (Bevir 2003:100). This change in the purpose of the Society is often attributed to Blavatsky incorporating more aspects of Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, into the Society’s doctrine and practices (Bevir 1994:748, 756-759; Bevir 2003:104; Crow 695, 702, 710).

Blavatsky remained in India from 1878 until 1887, when she moved to London England and began a new branch of the Theosophical Society known as the Esoteric Section (Crow 704). The inception of the Esoteric Section was publicized in Lucifer, a journal published by the Theosophical Society along with The Theosophist (Bevir 2003:102), in October of 1888 (Crow 704). The creation of this supposedly higher order group within the Theosophical Society was aimed at providing what was to be considered a more practical form of occult teachings and “a deeper study of esoteric philosophy” to a select group of students who would study directly under Blavatsky (Crow 704). Those of whom were chosen to be a part of the Esoteric Section had to take an oath wherein they were sworn to secrecy about the teachings that would transpire, as well as “a pledge of obedience to [Blavatsky] her[self]” (Crow 706), thus making Blavatsky the sole head of the Esoteric Section (Crow 706). However, Blavatsky did not stop at the creation of the Esoteric Section, which boasted a healthy number of students, and went on to create the ‘Inner Group,’ which was seen as being the next level above the Esoteric Section (Crow 707). The members of Blavatsky’s Inner Group were hand picked by her, and fit the description of the students from the Esoteric Section who supported Blavatsky most loyally; although, the justification given by Blavatsky for entrance into the Inner Group was based on a member reaching a certain point in learning the teachings of the Esoteric Section that they required more advanced teachings than other members (Crow 707). It is believed that the creation of the Esoteric Society, and subsequently the Inner Group, produced a rift between Blavatsky and Olcott (Crow 705). Blavatsky wanted the Theosophical Society to keep its membership more exclusive and hierarchal, thus making its teachings less accessible, and Olcott wanted the Society’s teachings to be more publicly accessible and to focus more on social reform (Prothero 207-208).

Blavatsky’s position within the Theosophical Society was not only as the Secretary to the Society at large, as well as the head of both the Esoteric Section and Inner Group, but she was also responsible for the Society’s doctrine and created a vast amount of literature (Bevir 2003:100). Prior to the founding of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky had wrote a number of journal articles that defended spiritualism (Bevir 2003:100). The first book of Blavatsky’s to be published was Isis Unveiled in 1877, which consisted of two volumes that “claimed to examine religion and science within the context of Western occultism and spiritualistic phenomena” (Crow 694), and it was through the publication of these volumes that Blavatsky established her position as the member in charge of the Theosophical Society’s doctrine (Crow 701). After the establishment of the Theosophical Society, Blavatsky continued to write articles on the occult which were run in journals published by the society, such as Lucifer and The Theosophist which was first published in 1879 (Kingsland 115, 252). The next substantial work put out by Blavatsky was The Secret Doctrine, which was published in 1888, and outlined Blavatsky’s beliefs on the evolution of humanity which she broke down into seven phases (Crow 696, 700). Before her death in 1891, Blavatsky was able to complete The Voice of Silence and The Key to Theosophy, both of which were published in 1889 (Kingsland 115, 237).

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky died on May 8th, 1891 (Henderson; Kingsland 252). In the years leading up to her death, Blavatsky had fallen gravely ill a number of times, and is said to have been healed by her Masters on more than one occasion (Kingsland 114-119). After Blavatsky’s death, Olcott is said to have re-ordered the Theosophical Society to better align with his vision of what the Society should be, thus moving away from Blavatsky’s highly esoteric structure (Prothero 210). Blavatsky’s death is still honoured by those who are a part of the Theosophical Society today (Henderson).



Bevir, Mark (1994) “The West Turns Eastward: Madame Blavatsky and the Transformation of the Occult Tradition.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 62:747-76. Accessed on October 2, 2018. doi: 10.1093/jaarel/LXII.3.747

Bevir Mark (2003) “Theosophy and the Origins of the Indian National Congress.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 7:99-115. Accessed on October 4, 2018. doi:10.1007/s11407-003-0005-4

Crow, John L. (2012) “Taming the Astral Body: The Theosophical Society’s Ongoing Problem of Emotion and Control.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 80:691-717. Accessed on October 2, 2018. doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfs042.

Henderson, Helene (Ed.) (2015) “Death of Blavatsky (Helena Petrovna).” In Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. Detroit: Omnigraphics Inc.

Kingsland, William (1985) The Real H. P. Blavatsky: A Stud in Theosophy, and a Memoir of a Great Soul. London: Theosophical Publishing House LTD.

Prothero, Stephen R. (1993) “From Spiritualism to Theosophy: ‘Uplifting’ a Democratic Tradition.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 3:197-216. Accessed on October 2, 2018. doi:10.2307/1123988.

Related Topics

Henry Olcott

Theosophical Society

Société Spirite

The Secret Doctrine

Isis Unveiled

The Voice of Silence

The Key to Theosophy

The Metropolitan Gentry

William Quan Judge

George H. Felt

This article was written by Krystal Goltz (Fall 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.

The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy): Review

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy tells a story about the twins Estha and Rahel. Their life is filled with many tragedies that are caused by their family. The novel continues to flash back between several events at different parts in their lives. Velutha is one of the most important characters and is an untouchable servant to Estha and Rahel’s family. Another significant character is Sophie Mol and she is the twins’ cousin. Her tragic death affects both of the twins for the rest of their lives. There are several events that contain the character Baby Kochamma, the twins’ aunt. She plays a large role in manipulating the children and altering their lives inevitably. Overall the novel twists through many years of Estha and Rahel’s lives and tells a tale of traumatic events that can lead to detrimental effects in the future. It is a novel that deals with a lot of issues in the Indian society, such as loss of close family members and discrimination due to class system. A constant issue that intertwines its way through the novel is the issue of abuse. From the beginning of the book straight through until the end there are constant instances of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. The novel not only deals with the corruption within the Indian society, but narrows it down to the corruption within a single family itself.

Estha and Rahel have dealt with a great deal of loss in their life. Sophie Mol, although she was only in their life for a short period of time, was one of the greatest losses that they had to experience. The reason behind this event being so traumatic is the fact that Baby Kochamma made them feel that they were the murderers of Sophie Mol. “She looked them in the eye. ‘You are murderers’ (Roy 300). In this quotation it is extremely evident that Baby is putting the blame directly on the twins for the accident that has happened. Baby is placing the blame on the twins to protect herself from the previous accusations she made towards Velutha. At the expense of two young, and innocent children, Baby chose to protect herself leaving traumatic scars on the young children. They were now weighed down with the death of another young girl, and for the rest of the rest of their lives were set to believe that they were murders.

Velutha was another important figure in the twins’ life, and he too was killed due to unreasonable circumstances. The caste system and the fact that Velutha was an untouchable were mostly to blame for this tragic event. Baby Kochamma sent the police after Velutha once she was made aware of his affair with Ammu. The twins were hiding inside the house when the police found Velutha and beat him within inches of his life. For two young children, listening to the sounds of this beating was unimaginably painful. Not only did they lose their dear friend Velutha but they had a front row seat to his torture. In the end they were forced to place false blame on him due to the fact that Baby made them believe that they were murderers. They now had to carry the weight of Sophie Mol’s death on their shoulders. On top of that they were also forced to blame Velutha for kidnapping them. Then finally in the end they had to take partial responsibility for Velutha’s untimely demise. That is a lot of blame placed on two young children. This incident is also a representation of the corruption within the police force: they were quick to act on Baby’s accusations, but when they realized that they had made a mistake they made someone else take the fall for their actions.

Another tragic death for the twins was the death of their mother Ammu. The most difficult part of this loss is the fact that Rahel went through it alone. Estha was away when Ammu passed and Rahel was unable to tell Estha: “There are things that you cannot do like writing letters to a part of yourself. To your feet or hair. Or heart” (Roy 156). This quotation not only shows the hardship that Rahel had to go through on her on but also how truly closely bonded the twins were. The fact that Rahel referred to him as another part of yourself really shows their connection. For Estha the loss of his mother was already heartbreaking enough but then on top of it all Rahel did not even write to him when it happened. This just adds to the number of things that happens to Estha that lead to his silence.

The class system in India deals a lot with the untouchables, people that are below the caste system and are said to ritually pollute those that come in contact with them (Rodrigues 87-88). There are many instances of Velutha particularly being treated in a very negative way due to his caste. “If only for he hadn’t been a Paravan, he might have become and engineer” (Roy 72). This quote shows that Velutha was a very intelligent man and if he had been born into a different family he would have been living a very different life.

The caste system in India is not only restricting people but is also harming their economy. There could be people that are capable of life changing things such as Velutha. He could have been a great engineer and could have contributed to society, but due to his caste he was unable to pursue anything other than being a carpenter. Now, even though the different castes are still treated differently, things have made a slight change. “Mammachi told Estha and Rahel that she could remember a time, in her girlhood, when Paravans were expected to crawl backwards with a broom, sweeping away their footprints” (Roy 71). Those days have now passed and the untouchables, although still treated poorly, have slowly become more and more accepted into society. Even though the caste system is not as rigid as it once was, it still plays a huge role in people’s lives. It controls who can work what jobs, and who is allowed to love who. This comes into play when Velutha and Ammu have their affair and eventually leads to Velutha’s death. Due to Baby Kochamma accusing Velutha of rape and sending the obviously corrupted police after him, Velutha is then beaten to death, all because of his caste. Baby was not happy that Ammu was sleeping with a Paravan and therefore made wrongful accusations towards him. Her discrimination towards another caste lead to the murder of an innocent man, and other traumatic events that trailed on afterwards. Throughout this novel you can see that the caste system is an issue and can lead to catastrophic events, like death in this case yet, it is still alive today in India and discrimination is still present towards those that occupy the lower levels of the caste system.

The last topic, and what appears to be the most frequent throughout the book, is abuse. The one instance of abuse that is most evident throughout the book is Estha’s encounter with the Orangedrink Lemondrink man. This event is one of the many reasons that Estha no longer speaks. It completely took away his childhood and also created a constant state of panic within Estha at all times. A study that took place in India in 2007 stated that 53.22% of 12,447 children were sexually abused and 21% of those children reported that it was a severe form of sexual abuse, (Kacker 74-75). This issue has been around for a long time and the numbers are astounding. For Estha this was a life altering moment, he was never the same again. He was constantly worried that his molester would one day come and find him again. This is happening to over fifty percent of the children in India and needs to be controlled.

Throughout the book it is shown that there is a lot of domestic violence between all members of the family, and the way that the book is written it makes it seem as though it is a normal thing to happen in the average household. When Pappachi retired and Mammachi was still in her prime he took a great offence to this. “Every night he beat her with a brass flower vase. The beatings weren’t new. What was new was only the frequency with which they took place” (Roy 47). This quotation leads us to believe that Pappachi was always an abusive man but the more that he felt insecure about himself or threatened he would take it out on his wife. Yet again, the wording of that quote made it out to seem as though abuse was a normal situation within this family, as if it was a societal norm.

Overall this book talks about a lot of issues within Indian society, so much so that I was unable to touch on all of them. The few that I did touch on seemed to be the most evident to me and also seemed that they are still issues in today’s society. The loss the twins endured is something that everyone will have to go through once in their life, but the corruption within their family and the police system made this loss significantly worse. The blame was placed wrongly in several circumstances and the twins were then forced to carry immense weight on their shoulders for the rest of their lives. The second issue that is alive and well in Indian society today is the caste system. Although it has come a long way from where it once began it is still a major issue. People are mistreated and discriminated against due to only the caste they were born into. No matter how smart, or presentable a person may be they will still be looked down upon if they were to be a part a lower caste or an untouchable. This novel shows how negatively someone can be treated and how it can eventually be taken as far as death such as in Velutha’s situation. The caste system is not only harming people but is allowing for services such as the police force to act unjustly. Today there is a lot of violence towards the untouchables. In the year 2000, 25,445 crimes were committed against people of the untouchable caste (Mayelle, 2003). The article states shocking things including “every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched” (Mayelle 2003). These statistics are shocking. There is still discrimination against the untouchables today and it is extremely violent. This article also goes into depth about how the police force is not doing their job to protect this lower level class and this can also be seen in the novel many times. The police force and that caste system is allowing for corruption and is said to be “ok” because they are of a lower caste and therefore are worth less than those above them in the system. Accusations are made and quickly accepted due to the fact that someone is an untouchable. This system has changed over the years but still leads people to be discriminated against in a very negative and sometimes harmful way.

The last subject deals with abuse, which is an issue not only in Indian culture but throughout the world. This novel approaches it in a way that makes it seem normal, or even like it is the right thing to do. Although abuse is a very well know topic it is still something that should not be portrayed as a normal thing. The only time in the book where it seemed to be a traumatic event was when Estha was subject to sexual abuse. Aside from that incident abuse came across as simple as sitting down for dinner, as if it was routine, making it evident that it is a norm in the Indian society and is something that every family deals with.

In the end the novel takes the readers on a very twisted and corrupted journey of two innocent children who are faced with very challenging obstacles, that in the end, have negative effects on both of the children. From great loss, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and having to deal with the corruption in their family these two young children are left scarred for the rest of their lives. This book not only shows just how this one family is damaged but also mirrors what any family in an Indian society may go through in similar circumstances. It touches on real issues that real families, children, and individuals deal with on a daily basis. This book has a great amount of detail as to what people in these societies deal with day after day and the hardships that they must face. Overall this book is a true eye opener to the issues that are still intertwined in Indian culture today and shows that something needs to change.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Roy, Arundhati (1997) The God of Small things. Toronto: Penguin Random House.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism-The E-Book: An Online Introduction. Journal of Buddhist  Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Kacker, Dr. Loveleen., Varadan, Srinivas., and Kumar, Pravesh (2007). “Study on Child Abuse India 2007” Ministry of Child Development Government of India, Accessed October 30, 2018. Retrieved from:

Mayell, Hillary. (2003). India’s “Untouchables” Face Violence, Discrimination. Retrieved from


Further Topics to Research

  • Caste systems
  • Marxism
  • Untouchables
  • Politics within India
  • Corruption

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

This article was written by: Kassie Miller (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


The goddess Jyestha (9th century CE), National Museum, Delhi,

There are numerous gods and goddesses that are presently being worshipped, and/or have been worshipped in the past within Hinduism, and one of these goddesses is the deity Jyestha.  This goddess is distinctive because she is associated with inauspiciousness, disgrace, misfortune and discord.  She is recognized as the elder sister of the better known and worshipped goddess of good fortune and beauty Laksmi, and is acknowledged as the complete opposite of Laksmi (Orr 26).  Jyestha’s name is thought to derive from the female head of polygamous households, the senior wife, elder/eldest or jyestha wife (Lesley 120).  According to professor David Kinsley, in his book Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: the Ten Mahavidyas, Jyestha is one of three goddesses that the higher goddess Dhumavati identifies as or with; the other two being Nirriti, who is known specifically as the goddess of deadly hidden realms and sorrows, and Alaksmi, who is known specifically as the goddess of misfortune (1998:178-9).  Dhumavati, also known as the Widow Goddess, is one of the Ten Mahavidyas or Tantric Wisdom Goddesses, and her name translates to “she who abides in smoke” (Gadon 5).  None of these goddesses are particularly well known or worshipped in the current widespread Hindu tradition (Orr 31; MET; Kinsley 178).  Less often in India, Jyestha is also identified with Sitala who is known likewise as an inauspicious goddess, the goddess of smallpox, who carries a broom and rides a donkey just like Jyestha, as will be discussed below.

In all four versions or identities of the goddess Dhumavati (Nirriti, Jyestha and Alaksmi), she is associated with being ugly and frightening.  Kinsley describes Dhumavati as black-skinned, tall, wearing dirty clothes, having a long nose and teeth, and having sagging breasts.  She is associated with riding in a chariot that displays a banner depicting a crow, and usually she is seen carrying a skull bowl, a spear, a broom, winnowing fan, a torch, or a club (1998:176).  Similarly, in existing depictions of Jyestha, she is illustrated as older in age with black or red skin, having a wide face with a long, prominent nose; having large sagging breasts that rest upon her swollen stomach and wide waist.  Her hefty stomach matches her large and drooping lips, cheeks, arms, calves, and thighs. This goddess is typically seen holding a blue or white lotus, sometimes making the symbol of protection, and having a water pot somewhere in the depiction.  She is shown sitting at ease, graceless, legs apart, with her knees spread wide (Gadon 7).  She adorns a mark of marriage upon her forehead, which is an important aspect of her character, and many large pieces of jewelry.  She, too, is shown as having a banner with a crow on it, and having a bundle of sticks near her that are thought to be a broom.  In some cases she is seen riding a donkey, as is Alaksmi, a lion or a camel; in other depictions she is seen riding on a chariot being pulled by lions and is followed by tigers. The crow emblem that Jyestha is depicted with holds a negative association within the Hindu tradition.  Leslie Orr and Julia Leslie discuss in their writings that crows are symbols of bad luck, famine and are associated with being bringers of misfortune.  They are even believed to be evokers of other inauspicious deities such as Nirriti and Tama (Leslie 119; Orr 26).  The depiction of the assumed broom connects Jyestha directly to the household, this is because brooms are used by women and servants in the home in order to sweep away physical impurities, as well as to ward off misfortune (Leslie 120).

Two assistants can be seen following Jyestha, which are thought in some cases to be her son and daughter (Leslie 115-8; Kinsley 1998:178). The male attendant is depicted as having a bull’s head, wearing a crown and holding a stick or club in one hand and with the other hand either pointing or holding a cord or rope. The woman is presented as young, with an attractive bosom and holding a lotus while also wearing a crown.  Both of these figures are seen with one leg hanging and the other folded underneath their body (Leslie 118).  These characteristics of the two followers of Jyestha can be seen clearly in the sculpture that is currently on exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MET) in New York City.  As described on their website, the piece is dated to between 500 and 1000 CE and is noted to have come from South Asia (MET).  In addition to her bull-headed son and beautiful daughter, she is seen holding a blue lotus and is pictured with a crow.  Some of her other characteristics are not as notable in this piece as with others, but she is clearly seen as has having large arms as well as having a stomach that is protruding from the piece.  “The picture that emerges- of an unattractive older woman, unsmiling and indolent, flanked by the ideal offspring (a powerful son and a beautiful daughter), served by solicitous female servants, marked by the inauspicious, cawing crow and the protective, chastising power if the household broom- suggests a deliberate link with a real or at least archetypal human figure” (Leslie 120).

The widely accepted account or myth of how Jyestha was brought into existence is explained thoroughly by Leslie.  The gods and demons decided to churn the sea in an attempt to recreate the universe to try to obtain the nectar of immortality.  During this churning it is believed that Jyestha was created accidentally, as well as many other items and deities; such as the goddess Sri, the nectar of immortality, poison, the moon and the sun, to name a few (Leslie 120-1).  The story of her creation can be found in the Padmapurana, where it is explained that she is granted a place “in every home in which strife prevails, in which liars use harsh language, in which sinful and evil-minded men are asleep at the time of the twilight ritual.  Wherever skulls, long hair, ashes, bones, chaff or charcoal are to be found” there will be a place for her (Leslie 121).  It does not give an indication of how long ago this took place, but Kinsley notes that she seems to have appeared very early in the Hindu tradition (1998:178).

After Jyestha’s creation, there are conflicting myths or stories about her remaining life, and how she became associated with those who worship her.  In some myths, Jyestha marries a brahmin hermit who later seeks advice from the great sage Markandeya about what to do with his wife because she continuously runs away in fear covering her ears after seeing and hearing Vedic rituals (Leslie 121).  Markandeya tells the husband/brahmin that Jyestha cannot live amongst the people and places where the religious live and worship.  She is so irreligious, antisocial and inauspicious that her husband abandons her in an area where local divinities are worshipped and tells her that she must support herself on the offerings made by the women devotees.  This leads to her repenting her ways and turning to Visnu for help (Leslie 122).  A second myth of Jyestha’s life that is told holds some key similarities.  In this one, Jyestha marries a sage named Dussaha who quickly discovers that she cannot bear to witness or hear any religious activity (Kinsley 1998: 178).  Dussaha complains about this to Visnu, and is told to take her where inauspicious activities occur; such as homes where families fight, or parents do not care for their children.  Jyestha is eventually abandoned by Dussaha, and she again turns to Visnu to ask for help sustaining herself.  He tells her that she will be sustained by the offerings from women (Kinsley 1998: 179).

As noted in the myth of how Jyestha was created, she is attracted to homes in which chaos, unruliness and inauspiciousness occur.  She was rightfully abandoned by her husband, in both myths explored, and made to live off of the offerings left to her specifically by women devotees.  Leslie notes this importance because of the connection between those women who are making the offerings and this inauspicious goddess;  “…she is reduced to living off the offerings made by women, that is, the offerings made by the largest segment of society traditionally excluded from orthodox ritual and sacred knowledge” (Leslie 122).  Jyestha is able to sustain herself off of these female offerings because women in the Hindu tradition are thought to be less pure than their male counterparts, for the most part.  However, Leslie also notes that she is likewise worshipped by male devotees who ask for an increase in wealth, an end to misfortune and success to their wives and children (122).  Why draw attention to yourself from this ugly and inauspicious goddess at all?  It is believed that offerings made to Jyestha will leave the family who made the offerings alone and when leaving, take all of their inauspiciousness with her (Leslie 122-3).

Worship of this goddess has decreased immensely in the past centuries, however during some point of time in the past it seems that she had a widespread following (MET; Kinsley 178).  According to the MET website, her earliest appearance can be traced back to northern India in the fourth century.  There is also a chapter on the worship of Jyestha found in the Baudhayanagrhyasutra which is dated between 600 and 300 BCE.  Many images of her have been found in south India that date back to the seventh and eighth centuries, indicating that it was during this time that she was extremely popular (Kinsley 1998:178; Leslie 114).  The MET website also suggests that her cult following either began to diminish or was already in its downfall in the post-medieval era.  Orr, however, notes a specific case in Tamil Nadu where the worship of Jyestha can be dated from the eighth to the eleventh century, which would indicate that her cult following began to decline during the medieval era; it was through the eleventh century that the auspicious goddess Laksmi overtook her sister’s role and became more widely worshipped (Orr 26;31).

Today, the goddess Jyestha is very rarely worshipped.  Her image receives very little attention, and is hidden away in corners, removed or thrown away completely.  However, in the places that the deity Jyestha is still recognized, she is feared (Leslie 114). Leslie furthers this observation with an example from a temple in Uttaramerur, southern India where Jyestha is still recognized.  “In the Kolambesvara Temple in Uttaramerur, an image of Jyestha is kept with its face to the ground for fear that an upright image would bring death to the village.  Legend has it that this belief has been proven correct several times” (Leslie 114).

            The decline of Jyestha’s cult worship is hinted at in different articles, but Orr discusses it in detail.  In the Hindu tradition, changes were taking place in many different ways, including terminology related to the deities.  Specifically discussed is the term pitari, which now is understood to mean “village goddess,” whereas once, around one thousand years ago, it meant a goddess belonging to the “great tradition” (Orr 30).  More simply put, when talking about deities in the Hindu tradition, goddesses that were once worshipped as great goddesses turned into lesser known and worshipped village deities.  “From the eleventh century onward some of these goddesses were displaced even from this position; the images of saptamatrkas (seven mothers) were removed and installed as guardian deities in small village temples, becoming pitaris in the modern sense of the word” (Orr 30).  Jyestha, or one of her alternate identities, was one of these goddesses that was turned from a great goddess into a village deity.  Orr further suggests that this change in meaning could point to de-Sanskritization (Orr 30).  This is also an explanation as to why Jyestha is only worshipped in villages such as the aforementioned Uttaramerur, because she is known as the village deity to this southern India community.


Bibliography and Related Readings

Elgood, Heather (2004) “Exploring the Roots of Village Hinduism in South Asia.”  World Archaeology, Vol. 36, No. 3: 326–342. Accessed October 3, 2018.  doi: 10.1080/0043824042000282777.

Foulston, Lynn, and Stuart Abbott (2012) Hindu Goddesses: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton:    Sussex Academic Press.

Gadon, Elinor W. (1998) “Revisioning the Female Demon.” ReVision, Vol. 20, No. 3: 3-30.

K.G., Krishnan (1981) Studies in South Indian History and Epigraphy volume 1. Madras: New Era Publications.

Kinsley, David R. (2008) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press.

_____ (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: the Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Leslie, Julia (1992) Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (2011) “Jyeshtha Flanked by Her Children.” The Met’s   Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed October 09, 2018.

Orr, Leslie C. (2005) “Identity and Divinity: Boundary-Crossing Goddesses in Medieval South India Author.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol.73, No.1: 9-43.

Rao, Gopinatha, T.A. (1981) Elements of Hindu Iconography. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.


List of Related Research Topics

Dhumavati                              The Ten Mahavidyas

Nirriti                                     The Padmapurana

Alaksmi                                  The Baudhayanagrhyasutra

Sitala                                      The saptamarkas

Tama                                      Pitari

Laksmi                                   The Kolambesvara Temple

Visnu                                      The recreation of the universe



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Kaitlyn Haarstad (October 2018) who is solely responsible for its content.