Category Archives: Vaisnavism

Vrindavan (Vrndavana)

India is a country with a varied and rich mythology. Vrindavan (aka Vrndavana) is located in Northern India around fifteen kilometres from Mathura and is considered to be one of the seven holiest cities for Hindus (Haberman, 272). The city features many sacred land and water features such as the Yamuna River, sacred groves (vanas), ponds (kundas) and ghats (holy steps leading down to a river) (Luthy, 4). It is also referred to as Vrindavan or Vrindivana city. The name Vrindavan is derived from ‘Vrinda’ which is another name for the sacred tulsi (i.e. basil) plant. It is one of the most holy cities within the Hindu tradition and is commonly known as the “The City of Temples” with allegedly five thousand in total.

Major religious routes within the forests of Vrindavan were first established in the sixteenth century based on the Sanksrit text Vraj Bhakti Vilasa written by Narayan Bhatt (Shah, 41). Bhatt is responsible for mapping out a large portion of the religious sites that are worshipped to this day. Bhatt more specifically mapped out the place-names found within the Puranas onto the physical terrain where these sites are found (Ghosh, 193) Pilgrimages are religious and cultural phenomena that are important features the Hindu religion. In the Hindu religion, a pilgrimage is referred to as a tirtha yatra and is a liminal process that establishes participation in the spiritual realm (Singh &Haigh, 783). A pilgrimage has been defined as a journey resulting from religious causes, externally to a holy site, and internally for spiritual purposes and internal understanding (Barber, 1). Today, pilgrimage is defined differently, as a traditional religious or modern secular journey (Collins-Kreiner, 440). For example, the Krsna Balrama Madir Temple, established in 1975 by His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has now become Vrindavan’s most popular temple and has one of the highest standards of deity worship and cleanliness. It has become one of the most popular temples and Hare Krsna devotees can be found here throughout the year (Jacobsen, 143).

Vrindavan is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for devotees of Krsna as the city is well-known as the forested region where the deity Krsna grew up as a humble cowherd (go-pala). The city itself is said to be where Krsna spent his childhood and many say that he still resides within the city itself.  It is located in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. The area of Vrindavan is described in the Puranas as the childhood home of the deity Krsna. This mythologized place was located geographically when the Bengali Saint Caitanya travelled there to rediscover Krsna’s childhood home where he then experienced visions of the deity in the uninhabited forest (jangala) which is now modern day Vrindavan (Ghosh, 194). Caitanya and his followers began to construct temples in the holy city that can still be found today. For example, the Madan Mohan Temple is the oldest temple in Vrndavan today and is closely associated with Caitanya.

Mathura (just outside of Vrindavan) is a little town and a major place of pilgrimage on the banks of the Yamuna River. It attracts about a half of a million pilgrims each year, especially during major festivals such as Krsna Janmastami, Holi, and Radhastami. These journeys are made to sacred places as an act of religious devotion (Nash, 101). Pilgrimage sites are places that people consider sacred and maintain their sanctity by visiting them regularly and relating them into their religious framework (Eck, 8). In India more than one hundred million people visit around two thousand major pilgrimage sites annually (Shinde, 449). During ritualized pilgrimages individuals travel to a sacred place and perform rituals considered necessary to appease the sacred object in that place. These ritual acts of worship acts by pilgrims (individual and collective) of worship and rituals are regarded as part of their normal their religious duties (Shinde, 450). Pilgrimages are crucial in the Hindu religion in order for an individual to engage all of the senses when to experiencing the sacred sites Vrindavan has to offer. The believer “sees” the sacred sights (temples, churches, relics, icons, monuments), he/she “hears” the sacred sounds (church and temple bells, drum beats, chanting, singing, the call to prayer), “touches” the sacred artifacts (icons, deities, texts), “eats” special food (such as consecrated food); and “smells” specific aromas (incense, fresh flowers) (Eck, 9). All of these experiences vary depending on the individual’s participation in the religious culture developed around the pilgrimage site itself (Shinde, 451).

Although there are thousands of temples erected within Vrindavan there are a few that stand out. Since the establishment in the fifteenth century, Vrindavan has continued to be a center for devotional pilgrimages dedicated to the deity Krsna. Vrindavan is a place for pilgrims to visit Krsna temples, participate in worship and rituals, listen to narration of stories from the religious epics of Krsna, and perform poetry, art, dance, song, and drama dedicated to Krsna’s glory (Shinde, 452). For example, these everyday rituals involve dressing the idol in finery and darshan, communal singing of hymns, and food offerings to the deity depending on the temple of worship. Today you can find a live video stream of the Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir which has now become one of the most popular and visited temples in the world.

Vrindavan is also a major site for Vaisnava groups. For example, widows (mostly from Bengal) have been congregating in Vrindavan for years to live out the rest of their lives. In India, social mores inhibit women from remarrying and they are shunned because they are viewed as inauspicious. Nilakantha Braja (The Blue-necked God) written by Assamese writer Indira Goswami highlights the plights of the widows who reside in the sacred city by depicting the despicable and undignified life and death experiences of these women. Known as the Radheyshamis (widows who sing devotional songs in temples for a pittance) these widows sing bhajans (hymns) in order to accumulate money to survive (Bhushan, 138). Whether young or old, widowed women leave behind their colorful saris, jewelry, and even shave their heads if they are part of the more conservative Hindu traditions (Jamadar, Melkeri, & Holkar, 57). Although these women are not forced to die in ritual sati (burning themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) they are still expected to mourn until their own deaths. Therefore, these women find refuge in Vrindavan where they lead miserable lives surviving by begging and singing hymns in praise of Gods (Pande, 209).

Today, the city of Vrindavan has become more of a tourist attraction than a pilgrimage site. Pilgrimages, themselves, are being transformed into mere sightseeing tours and can now be more accurately labeled as ‘religious tourism’ (Shinde, 184). Annually, Vrindavan receives more than six million visitors, who are no longer visiting strictly for religious reasons (Shinde, 448). Places that were once Hindu holy sites may be accessed with a simple search on Google where the best flight deals and top places to visit are a click away. However, some temples remain constant to modern Hindus such as the Banke-Bihari Temple which is considered to be the most popular shrine and is associated with Swami Haridas and Nimbarka. Another is Nidhi Van Temple where Krsna and Radha are said to come out after midnight and indulge in raas-leela (dance found in the Puranas) and then rest in the Rang Mahal Temple which is decorated daily for the two deities.

In conclusion, Vrindavan is gaining popularity due to its numerous temples. Construction and development are ongoing which includes temples, guest houses, and apartments. Simply wandering around Vrindavan allows one to see the vast beauty of the holy city and share vicariously in the myths of Krsna.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READINGS

Barber, R. (1993) Pilgrimages. London: The Boydell Press.

Bhushan, Ravi. (2014) “Estranged Identity: The Problem of Hindu Widows in Indira Goswami’s Nilakantha Braja.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 5 #2:138-141.

Collins-Kreiner, N. (2010) “Researching pilgrimage: Continuity and transformations.” Annals of tourism research, 37(2): 440-456.

Eck, D. L. (1981) “Darsan: Seeing the divine image in India.” Chambersberg, PA: Anima Books: 8-9.

Ghosh, P. (2002) “Tales, tanks, and temples:the creation of a sacred center in seventeenth-century Bengal,” Asian Folklore, 61 #2:193-222.

Haberman, D. (1994) Journey through the Twelve Forests: An encounter with Krsna. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luthy, T. (2016) “Few people know that Krishna was the first environmentalist”. Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment.

Jacobsen, K. A. (2015) “Book review: Modern Hindu Personalism: The History, Life, and Thought of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, written by Ferdinando Sardella.” Numen, 62(1): 143-146.

Jamadar, C., Melkeri, S. P., & Holkar, A. (2015) “Quality of Life among Widows”. #1: 57-68.

Mostafanezhad, M., Norum, R., Shelton, E. J., & Thompson-Carr, A. (2016) “Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, Power and the Environment”. Routledge: #2.

Pande, Rekha (2015) “Widows Of Vrindavan-Feminisation Of Old Age In India.” Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies Vol. 10: 209-223.

Shah, B. (2006) “The Pilgrimage of the Groves: Reconstructing the Meaning of a Sixteenth-Century Hindu Landscape”. Arnoldia: 39-41.

Shinde, K. A. (2015) “Religious tourism and religious tolerance: insights from pilgrimage sites in India.” Tourism Review, 70(3): 179-196.

Shinde, K. A. (2011) ““This is a religious environment”: Sacred space, environmental discourse, and environmental behavior at a Hindu pilgrimage site in India””. Space and Culture. 14: 448-463.

Shinde, K. A. (2008) “The environment of pilgrimage in the sacred site of Vrindavan, India.” PhD diss., Monash University: 449-451.

Shinde, K. A. (2007) “Case study 6: Visiting sacred sites in India: Religious tourism or pilgrimage.” Religious tourism and pilgrimage festivals management: An international perspective: 184-197.

Singh, R. P., & Haigh, M. J. (2015) “Hindu Pilgrimages: The Contemporary Scene.” The Changing World Religion Map: 783-801

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Banke-Bihari Temple

Bhagauata Purana

bhahjans

Chaintanya

dham

ghats

go-pala

Hare Krsna

Holi

jangala

Janmashtami

kundas

Krsna Balrama Madir Temple

Madan Mohan Temple

Mathura

Nimbarka

Nidhi Van

Nilakantha Braya

raas-leela

Radhahtami

Radheyshamis

Rang Mahal

sati

Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Madir Temple

Swami Haridas

tirtha yatra

tulsi

vaisnava

vanas

Vraj Bhakti Vilasa

Yamuna River

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.vrindavan-dham.com/vrindavana/ (Sri Vrindavan Dham, 2016).

http://daily.bhaskar.com/news/JM-a-secretive-place-in-vrindavan-where-radha-krishna-indulge-in-raas-leela-every-n-4874572-PHO.html?seq=5 (Daily Bhaskar, 2016).

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/concepts/mathura.asp (Hindu Website, 2016).

http://www.stephen-knapp.com/vrindavana_the_holy_land_of_lord_krishna.htm (Vrindavana: The Holy Land of Lord Krsna, 2009).

http://www.krishna.com/vrindavan (Krishna.com, 2016).

 

Article written by: Lindsay Tymchyna (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

 

 

 

 

 

The Vaisnava Samhitas

The Vaisnava Samhitas are a genre of scriptures that revolve around the god Visnu.  Historians are unable to determine the exact age of the Samhitas because not all of the texts have been published (Matsubara 16). It is said that these texts emerged after the popularity of the Puranas grew, and devotional Hinduism became more attractive to the masses (Matsubara viii). Those who worship Visnu and have read the Vaisnava Samhitas are referred to as Bhagavatas, or vaisnavas (Matsubara 20). The Vaisnava Samhitas are known for being the canonical scriptures for the Bhagavatas (Matsubara 15). Followers of Visnu have a specific sect mark they wear to express to others that they are a Vaisnava. In Ritual Art of India by Mookerjee (1998), the sect mark is described as “perpendicular, and includes a center line with a stroke on either side, sometimes a dot in the middle, denoting the footprint of Visnu” (p 108). Vaisnavas are very close to their god Visnu, and this could be another reason why they carry this sect mark.

Another name for the Vaisnava Samhitas is Pancaratra Samhitas. The origin of the word ‘Pancaratra’ is unknown. No one has been able to provide a convincing explanation for the original meaning of the word (Matsubara 4). The only conclusion historians are able to agree on is that the word ‘Pancaratra’ is a compound. This means that the word ‘Pancaratra’ alone does not represent a group of people who worship the Pancaratra Samhitas. Visnu, who is referred to as the Supreme God in the Vaisnava Samhitas (Matsubara 86), also carries more than one name. In fact, there are multiple divine and cosmic forms the god takes in his transcendent spiritual realms (Vapey 16). Within the Vaisnava Samihitas, Visnu is also referred to as Hari, Narayana, and Vasudeva (Matsubara 80). Other names such as Adhoksaja and Janardana are found in the Samhitas, but are usually the names given to Krsna (Matsubara 80). Krsna is the human incarnation of the god Visnu. It is said in the Vaisnava Samhitas that Visnu performs Sattra, which is a five successive day sacrificial ritual (Matsubara 2). Before Visnu performed this ritual he appears in the Satapatha Brahmana as a student of Prajapati (Matsubara 117) Performing this ritual meant that Visnu had surpassed all beings (atyatisthat sarvani bhutani) and becomes the entire universe (idam sarvam abhavat) (Matsubara 2). Those who devote themselves to the worship of Visnu agree that he is the universe, but as a being who has surpassed all, he simultaneously exists far beyond it.

Visnu is the main god in the Samhitas, but he is not the only important figure. The Vaisnava Samhitas have a very unique cosmology that describes the opening stage of the creation of this world (Matsubara 119). Theologians base this creation of the world, known as the Vyuha Theory, on the self-sacrifice of Purusa. In the early Vaisnava Samhitas there is a text named Ahirbudhnya. In this text, the Purusa self-sacrifice is viewed as the creation of this world (Matsubara 119). The hymn in the Ahirbudhnya that describes Purusa’s self-sacrifice has sixteen stanzas, and describes not only the greatness of Purusa, but how one fourth of him was able to manifest the entire universe (Matsubara 118). This is the earliest expression of the idea of self-immolation. This idea of self-immolation is believed to be the influence for the Pancaratrikas creating the Vyuha theory (Matsubara 119).

The Pancaratrikas, who teach the Pancaratra Samhitas, hold Brahman as their supreme reality, but this differs from the actual Samhitas (Matsubara 67). In Matsubara’s (1994) book, he says that “Brahman seems rather to represent the transcendent or nonpersonal aspect of the supreme God and reveals its borrowed metaphysical character in the Pancaratra theology” (67-68). Detailed explanations are scarce in the texts of the Vaisnava Samhitas, as well as Brahman does not appear on the list of God’s epithets in the Samhitas (Matsubara 68). In addition to this, transcendent and personal features are thought of as interchangeable. In the text Jayakhya, the characterizations of Brahman and God are interlaced (Matsubara 68). Matsubara (1994) concludes this to mean that Brahman cannot be viewed as a nonpersonal principle separate from God (pg 68). In the Vaisnava Samhitas, Brahman is stated to be man’s pure intellect (Matsubara 75). This contributes to the contrast Brahman has with God because a man’s intellect is limited, but God is not.

The earliest texts in the Vaisnava Samhitas are known as the extant Pancaratra Samhitas. The Sasvatasamhita, Ahirbudhnya Samhita, and the Isvara Samhita are the texts that make up the extant Pancaratra Samhitas (Quinn 322). These beginning texts primarily deal with the worshipping rituals. Matsubara (1994) adds Pauskara to the list of texts in the extant Pancaratra Samhitas. The printed Pauskara begins abruptly, which has lead theologians to believe that a part of the theology is missing from the text (Matsubara 38). It is also said that Srivaisnava theology was supposed to be the primary influence for the theology of the Vaisnava Samhitas, but it was eventually deemed inessential. This Srivaisnava influence was consequently lost as the Pancaratra Samhitas were established (Matsubara 40).

The extant Pancaratra Samhitas are divided into two kandas. The two kandas are jnana and kriya. Within the first kanda, the summary of its contents uses fourteen slokas. In the second kanda though, there are only four slokas (Matsubara 37). An important characteristic of the earliest Vaisnava Samhitas is the lengthy explanation of the mantras (Matsubara 36). These earlier Samhitas put an emphasis on the disciplined practice of mantra meditation and recitation (Valpey 47-48). The later texts did not put as much focus on the mantras though. Later texts had the tendency to focus on rituals, and the addition of extra rituals and ceremonies. These texts may have been referred to for instruction on the practice of rituals, especially for the more recent vaisnavas (Matsubara 36).

In the book Pancaratra Samhitas: Early Vaisnava Theology, Matsubara (1994) says that when it comes to the theology of the Pancaratra, there are eight critical subjects according to Paramesvara: 1) Essential Nature (sva-rupa) of God; 2) His six supreme qualities (sadgunya); 3) The first Vyuha, Vasudeva, and the other three, which are Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha; 4) Creation, the preservation and destruction of the worlds; 5) Sub-Vyuhas; 6) The Vibhavas and secondary manifestations; 7) Essential form of Laksmi and Pusti; 8) Essential form of jivatman, divided into mukta, amukta, and ubhaya, and the goal (gati) of each state. You can find traces of these subjects in the earlier Vaisnava Samhitas, though a more detailed written description of these subjects can be found in the Ahirbudhnya (Matsubara 39).

When other names are used to refer to Visnu, it is usually because he is the object of worship. In the Vaisnava Samhitas, Visnu is known for being the best recipient of offerings. Visnu is also frequently compared to parents, and is known as a welcome guest (Matsubara 80). This comparison to parents and being welcomed into worshipper’s home suggests a personal aspect to Visnu. This personal relatability is also referenced in the worship of him. Those who worship Visnu seek to attain a closeness to him, a type of union (Valpey 47). Worshippers achieve this closeness with repeated disciplined practice of mantra meditation. Matsubara (1994) calls the Pancaratra Samhitas a “devotional lingurical school”, and discusses the numerous times worship and meditation are mentioned in them (p 81). One of the most important rituals in the Vaisnava Samhitas is puja (Matsubara 81). The reason puja is one of the most important is because it is a foundation for all other ceremonies. From the daily routine worship that vaisnavas do, to the occasional initiation ceremonies, as well as abhiseka, puja is a part of it all (Matsubara 81). Puja is described as beginning with invocation (avahana), concludes with dismissal (visarjana), and normally includes sixteen services which are known as upacara (Matsubara 81). In puja, God is seen as a physical being who presents himself before the worshipper. This form of worship and meditation, therefore, provides access to God when done correctly. In the Vaisnava Samhitas, God in this form is accessible to all people, including lay people (Matsubara 82). It seems that one of the main purposes of the Vaisnava Samhitas is to provide an easier access to a personal God (Matsubara 88) through meditation and recitation.

The Vaisnava Samhitas hold a high importance to all vaisnavas who continually seek a personal connection and union with their god, Visnu. The Samhitas are accessible by people of all classes, and God presents Himself to those who worship him. This genre of scriptures is used to form a connection with Visnu, achieve Brahman, and eventually reach Moksa using meditation and the recitation mantras. The mantras within the Samhitas are expected to be followed precisely and practiced with discipline in order to reach these goals. Those who become vaisnavas, follow the teaching of Pancaratrikas, and recite and meditate following the Vaisnava Samhitas, will achieve everything they wish to achieve.

 

Bibliography

Matsubara, Mitssunori (1994) Pancaratra Samhitas And Early Vaisnava Theology. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass.

Mookerjee, Ajit (1998) Ritual Art Of India. Vermont: Inner Traditions Inc.

Quinn, Edward (2014) Critical Companion to George Orwell: A Literary Reference To His Life and Work. New York: Facts On File, Inc.

Valpey, Kenneth (2013) The Hare Krishna Movement: The Post Charismatic Fate Of A Religious Transplant. New York: Columbia University Press.

 

Related Research Topics

Visnu

Puranas

Bhagavan

Shatapatha Brahmana

Rama

Krsna

Sasvatasamhita

Ahirbudhnya

Ishvara

Srivaisnava

sva-rupa

sadgunya

Vyuha

Sankarsana

Pradyumna

Aniruddha

jivatman

Puja

 

Related Websites

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/vishnu.htm#.VtZVVpwrLIU

http://www.krishna.com/info/about-krishna

http://www.britannica.com/topic/Rama-Hindu-deity

http://www.ramanuja.org/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vyuha

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moksha

 

Article written by: Ronai Schafer (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Garuda

Garuda, in Hindu mythology, is the name for the large bird-like vehicle, or vahana, of the great Vedic god Visnu. The name Garuda is often said to come from the word garutmat, the winged one, from the root garut, which is the word for a wing (Fausboll 79). Garuda is often associated with power and morality, and both Hindus and Buddhists revere him across the world for his strength and speed. His physical appearance is often inconsistent in texts written describing him. At times, he is described as having the head and wings of a bird, with a human body; other times, he has a human face and the body of a bird (Wilkins 456). In one text, he is described as being emerald in colour with a beak, golden wings, talons, and four human arms. Most commonly, he is described as having the beak, wings and talons of a bird with a human head and body. Although there are some discrepancies to his true form, he is always described as being so brilliant upon his birth that the gods mistook him for a reincarnation of Agni, the Vedic god of fire. (Williams 139).

Garuda’s father was the ancient sage Kasyapa and his mother was Vinata, who was the rival wife to her sister Kadru. Kadru and Vinata were said to be such good wives to Kasyapa that he awarded them each with a boon. Kadru asked for 1000 snake (naga) children and Vinata asked for only two children, each stronger and more powerful than any of Kadru’s (Fausboll 77-78). Five hundred years later, Kadru’s eggs had all hatched but Vinata’s showed no sign of hatching. Shamed by this embarrassment Vinata cracked open one of her eggs and Garuda’s elder brother was born. Aruna, only half developed, cursed his mother with servitude and left to become the charioteer for Surya (Williams 62-63). Garuda was born from the second egg and upon his birth he burst forward, flew up into the sky and spread his golden wings. He was so brilliant that it hurt the gods’ eyes and he was worshipped as Agni by mistake (Williams 139). In Wilkins’ Hindu Mythology, Garuda is described as being born with eyes of lightning, rays that set the world on fire, and powerful wings that caused the mountains to be driven away (451). [Other versions of his birth story told of Garuda as the product of Kasyapa’s practices combined with the magical practices of the Balakhilayas, a class of tiny sages (Williams 138)].

Garuda’s role in Hindu mythology is quite limited, aside from accompanying Visnu, thus he is most known for the story of Garuda and the amrita told in the Mahabharata. This legend tells of the origin of the animosity between Garuda and serpents, and also tells of how Garuda met and pledged his loyalty to Visnu. When the horse Uccaisravas was obtained from the ocean, Vinata and Kadru disagreed on the colour of the horse; Vinata declared that the horse was white, while Kadru said the horse had a black tail. Kadru proposed they make a bet and whoever was incorrect about the true colour of the horse would become a slave to the winner. That night, Kadru went to her sons and told them to transform themselves into black hair and cover the hair on the horse’s tail. The next morning, as they examined the horse, they found it to be white but with a tail dark and black. Kadru cheated and Vinata was now a servant to her and her serpent children (Choudhuri 143).

Once Garuda was born, he was determined to free his mother from slavery, so he went to the snakes asking what he could do to free Vinata. They agreed to free Vinata if Garuda retrieved the divine nectar, amrita, which granted immortality. [In other versions of the story he is told to retrieve the moon (Chandra), whose bright spots are filled with amrita (Wilkins 451)].  Garuda flew to the heavens where the amrita was being guarded, and fought off the gods and obtained the nectar by blinding them with a sandstorm formed by his wings. As he was leaving, Indra threw a thunderbolt that struck Garuda but did not weaken him (Choudhuri 145). Visnu was so impressed with Garuda that he offered him a boon of immortality and Garuda pledged he would serve Visnu and become his vehicle. Indra also admired Garuda’s strength, and the two of them came up with a plan to free Garuda’s mother, and keep the amrita away from the nagas. Garuda took the amrita back to the snakes, exchanged it for his mother and told them that before they could drink the nectar, they must first be ritually pure. As the serpent children went to bathe, Indra stole back the amrita and returned it to the devas (Williams 139). As the amrita was taken a few drops of nectar spilt onto the grass. The nagas, desperate for immortality, licked the darbha grass, which split their tongues. The small amount of nectar they got gave them the ability to shed their skins and have partial immortality (Wilkins 450).

In the Ramayana, it tells of a great conflict between Ravana and Rama. Rama and his brother were badly injured and close to death, due to a flight of serpents sent by Indrajit. As they lay dying, Garuda appeared and healed them, allowing them to continue with their war (Wilkins 455). Another myth describes Garuda’s role in the birth of Airavata, the divine elephant. When Garuda came into existence, Brahma took two half- eggshells from which Garuda had hatched and sang over them seven holy melodies. From this, Airavata came forth and became the mount of Indra.

Since the quarrel between Vinata and Kadru, the mother of serpents, Garuda has been the natural enemy of serpents. When Vinata was still a slave to Kadru, Garuda was ordered to carry Kadru’s naga sons over a sea. As Garuda was transporting them, he flew too close to the sun. As the hot sun began to scorch the serpents, Kadru prayed to Indra who sent clouds and rain to save her sons (Choudhuri 144). Garuda is often referred to as “Destroyer of Serpents” as he devours snakes as his preferred food. Vausboll’s Indian Mythology declares that from the time of the creation the serpents are intended by the creator for Garuda’s eating (80). On the day of Garuda’s marriage, the serpents, so afraid of the idea of Garuda having children, attacked him. Garuda slew all but one, which he saved and wears as an ornament around his neck (Wilkins 451).  Garuda had six sons who are also sworn enemies to the serpents (Fausboll 79). To this day, as a protection against snakes, certain Hindus may repeat Garuda’s name three times before going to sleep (Wilkins 451).

Although Garuda is not strictly divine, he appears alongside Visnu in his exploits, and is seen as a symbol for Visnu and worshipped together with his lord (Wilkins 449). As Hinduism spread to Southeast Asia and Nepal, the independent worshipping of Garuda became more popular. Many started to believe that Garuda was a personification of sacred mantras, and that on his wings, one was transported to the realm of the gods (Williams 138). As Buddhism started to adopt Hindu ideas, Garuda became a symbol of royalty in many Buddhist countries. In Buddhist Thailand, Garuda the sun eagle represented the royal power and divine approval given to royalty (Williams 139).  Garuda is also seen as representing the mind, which can instantaneously soar skyward, pervade all creatures and is immortal. Garuda is so powerful “his haste and violence is so great that he seems to drag the earth itself with its waters, mountains and forests after him”(Fausboll 79). If he ever boasted of his power and strength, Visnu would often punish him, thereby keeping Garuda humble.

Garuda is often depicted carrying Visnu on his shoulders or back.  He also holds a sharp –rimmed battle discus called “Fair to see” or sudarsana. He uses this fiery, sun battle discus against his opponents by hurling it at them (Zimmer 76). In other depictions he stands in meek obedience with his right palm placed on his mouth and his other hand held reverently close to the chest. When Garuda is paired like this with Visnu, he personifies Vedic knowledge. As Garuda and the serpents are enemies, they represent balance and harmony, one of the most important aspects of Visnu (Bunce 103).

Interestingly enough wings, although often seen in western tradition, are not commonly seen as physical characteristics of Hindu gods. The gods either float or are carried by vehicles or vahana (Zimmer 93). Garuda is an exception of this, and is therefore used as a symbol for flight in many different countries. We can see examples of this today as the national airline of Indonesia is called Garuda Indonesia.

It is very rare to find a temple dedicated to Garuda alone, as he is often worshipped alongside Visnu. Near the city Mulbagal, India, a temple dedicated to Garuda was found named Koldevi. It was said to have been built under the supervision of Sri Ramanujacharya, a Hindu theologian and philosopher, and has an idol of Garuda seen kneeling on one knee while carrying Lord Visnu and Goddess Laksmi in his hands. There are other temples that have depictions of Garuda, but they are often dedicated to Visnu. In Cambodian architecture, instead of just carrying Visnu, Garuda is depicted as supporting the entire temple. Images of Garuda are multiplied and arrayed in rows bearing the structure and are seen along the entire temple. This temple is regarded as an earthly copy of Vaikuntha, the god’s celestial dwelling (Zimmer 76).

Although Garuda is not regarded as entirely divine, he symbolizes power, strength, morality, immortality, and much more.  He is an important icon in many countries in Southeast Asia, and is even the national symbol for Indonesia and Thailand. He is not only an essential figure in Hinduism, but Buddhism as well. Therefore, many depictions of him can be seen in many Buddhist and Hindu countries. Garuda is regarded as the King of the Birds and, most importantly, the mount of Lord Visnu.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Bunce, Fredrick W (1997) A Dictionary of Buddhist and Hindu Iconography: Illustrated: Objects, Devices, Concepts, Rites and Related Terms. New Delhi: Printworld.

Choudhuri, Usha (1981) Indra and Varuna in Indian Mythology. Delhi: NAG.

Fausboll, V (1981) Indian Mythology: According to the Indian Epics.  Delhi: Cosmo.

Wilkins, W. J (1900) Hindu Mythology, Vedic and Purānic. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink.

Williams, George M (2003) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Zimmer, Heinrich (1974) Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Airavata

Amrita

Indra

Kadru

Kasyapa

Mulbagal

Ramayana

Ramanujacharya

Vahanas

Vaikuntha

Vinata

Visnu

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garuda

http://www.britannica.com/topic/Garuda

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/garuda.htm#.VtamnowrL_U

http://www.mythicalcreaturesguide.com/page/Garuda

http://webonautics.com/mythology/garuda.html

http://www.ancient.eu/Garuda/

 

Article written by: Carissa Peterson (April 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.

Mohini and the Churning of the Ocean of Milk

Mohini is a manifestation of Visnu in the myth of the churning of the ocean of milk. The myth starts out with a war between the devas (representation of good) and the asuras (representation of bad), but the devas were losing due to an unfair advantage on the asuras’ side (Glucklich 158). The asuras got help from Siva who had given them the ability to resurrect from the dead after the devas had killed them (Glucklich 158).  Because of this, the devas sought after Brahma to help them. He suggested that instead of fighting with the asuras they should partner up with them to summon Visnu to help them churn the ocean of milk in order to gain “the nectar of immortality” (Glucklich 158). Visnu plays a vital role in this myth because he manifests in many forms to help the devas and the asuras to churn the ocean. Visnu takes on forms to be: the foundation for the churning stick (a tortoise), the churning rope (a serpent), and of course Mohini (Kinsley 67).

While the ocean was churning, various other things emerge before the nectar of immortality. Once it appeared out of the ocean the devas drank, which is when Mohini appears as a seductive woman who distributes the nectar and beheads Rahu, an asura disguised as a deva, before he can swallow the nectar (Glucklich 159-160). With the nectar and Visnu’s weapons, the devas defeat the asuras as they retreated (Glucklich 160). Some believe that the nectar of immortality was a euphemism for Soma (Glucklich 160) while others interpret it as a “representation of the abundance of earth” (Kinsley 68). This shift between sexes often has bad or negative connotations in religious myths. Normally, when a god, or anyone for that matter, is turned into a different sex (usually men turning into women) it is form of punishment or a curse, with the exception of Mohini (Parasher-Sen 45). Earlier versions of the myth were short and did not use Mohini’s name but rather spoke of an anonymous woman (Visnu in disguise) who took back the immortality nectar that the asuras had stolen (Parasher-Sen 48). A different rendering of this myth believe that Mohini’s role was to cheat the asuras out of their share while distributing the immortality nectar (see Parasher-Sen 48). In the Vayu Purana version of the myth, Brahma says a mantra that brings Mohini out of the ocean, and when he sees her he is so pleased by her looks (Parasher-Sen 48).

Part of the churning the ocean myth is the chase of Mohini by Siva. There are several versions of this part of the myth. In the Bhagavata Purana, after seeing Mohini, Siva loses his senses and runs after Mohini. He becomes so overwhelmed with passion that only after he ejaculates, he realizes that Mohini is really just a manifestation of Visnu and that he had been fooled (Parasher-Sen 48).  In the Agni Purana once Mohini turns back into Visnu, Siva asks him to turn back into his female form. When he does, Siva becomes naked and grabs Mohini by the hair until she frees herself and runs away. He follows her and it is unclear if he catches her again but whereever his semen drops is where sacred places of lingas and gold appear (Parasher-Sen 48). These ‘connections’ between Mohini (Visnu) and Siva was said to have created a child (Aiyanar) which turns Mohini into a mother figure instead of a temptress (Parasher-Sen 49).

The final part of the myth is the binding of Visnu and Siva which creates Harihara. Harihara is an androgynous figure which is created by Visnu who is often, but not always, composed as feminine and Siva who is always depicted as masculine (Parasher-Sen 45). Even though Visnu reverts back to his masculine form before the binding with Siva, he is still considered to be the feminine side (Parasher-Sen 45). Although the Harihara is described as being androgynous, with Visnu possessing the female body parts, it is rare to find a depiction of this (Parasher-Sen 51). It is hard to find sculptures of Harihara with Mohini on the side of Visnu, although there are instances of this representation (Parasher-Sen 51). The feminine side (Visnu/Mohini) is often depicted holding either a wheel, a conch, or a mace in one hand and a crab in the other, while wearing a crown and crocodile earrings (Parasher-Sen 51). While the masculine side (Siva) is often holding a trident, sword, drum, rosary, battle-axe, or a skull while wearing serpent earrings and a ‘top-knot of hair’ with a crescent moon (Parasher-Sen 51).

Mohini can be considered many things: the seducer of Siva (Parasher-Sen 46), the nectar distributor (Parasher-Sen 48; Glucklich 159-160; and Kinsley 67), the mother of Aiyanar (Parasher-Sen 49), and the deceiver of asuras (Parasher-Sen 46). Some scholars think that Mohini is important to the Hindu culture because she helps show women in a more positive light, and that the transformation from a male to female is not always a curse but rather a gift (Parasher-Sen 56), and in the case of Mohini, a necessity to stop the bad from becoming more powerful than the good.

REFERENCES AND RELATED READINGS

Glucklich, Ariel (2008) The Strides of Visnu. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kinsley, David R. (1986) Hindu Goddesses. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Parasher-Sen, Aloka (1999) “Images of Feminine Identity in Hindu Mythology and Art: The Case of Visnu-Mohini.” Indian Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1: 43-60.

 

RELATED TOPICS

Visnu

Siva

Asuras

Devas

Vayu Purana                                                                                                                            

Immortality

Bhagavata Purana

Agni Purana

Androgynous

War

Seduction

Sculpture/Art Work

Aiyanar

 

RELATED WEBSITES

http://www.qualiafolk.com/2011/12/08/mohini/

http://hinduwebsite.com/churning.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kshir_Sagar

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohini

 

Article written by: Michaela Klein (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Demons defeated by Krsna

The myths pertaining to Krsna’s destruction of demons begin before he was born. It all started with a prophesy that was foretold at his mother’s wedding, while his mother and father were being driven by King Kamsa, his mother’s brother. As they were driving a voice was heard in the sky calling Kamsa a fool because he is driving the chariot of his sister; whose eighth son will kill him ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 1). These events led Kamsa to be fearful of the offspring of his sister which caused him to imprison his sister’s family, and murder her children as they are born. One of the main reasons that Kamsa was so afraid of his sister’s future child is because a sage, Nanda, informed Kamsa of his old life. He told him that in a past life Kamsa was a demon, named Kalanemi, who was defeated by Visnu. Then Kamsa learns that his sister’s child will be the God Visnu who had already killed him before (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 1).

Because he had been murdering his own sister’s children, Visnu ensured that when he incarnated as Krsna, Kamsa would be powerless to kill him. Visnu appeared to his parents upon Krsna’s birth, and had his father switch Krsna with a female infant, to escape the grasps of Kamsa  (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 3, Bryant p.240). But Kamsa was not content with letting the child live, so he gathered his Demon ministers who advise him to kill all the children that were recently born. Kamsa approved of this plan which led to Krsna’s first encounter with a demon (Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 4).

One of the demons dispatched by Kamsa’s kill order was Putana. Putana had the abilities to fly and shapeshift; with these powers she roamed the lands, devouring infants. While searching for more infants to slaughter, Putana happened upon the house where Krsna resided. Krsna closed his eyes to avoid Putana’s wickedness as Putana approached him and placed him on her lap.  Putana then gave Krsna her breast which was covered in poison in an attempt to kill the infant.  Krsna accepted the milk, but also sucked away Putana’s life breath. Losing her life breath caused Putana to collapse and lose control of her powers as she was dying. While Putana lost control of her power she transformed back into her original, grotesque form extending over miles; her transformation destroyed everything in it’s path.  As Putana collapses there is a loud noise and everyone nearby is astonished by the sudden appearance of this defeated demon. While everyone is in disbelief, the Gopis see Krsna playing on Putana’s lap, they then quickly came and picked him up ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 6, Bryant 120-121).

The second Demon defeated by Krsna was Trnavarta, a servant of Kamsa’s, who was sent to devour Krsna. Trnavarta appeared before Krsna in the form of a whirlwind, to create a dust storm in order to hide himself while kidnapping Krsna. But as Trnavarta was flying away with Krsna, baby Krsna assumes a huge weight so that Trnavarta could fly no further. Burdened by this weight Trnavarta crashed to the ground and immediately died under the weight of Krsna. Again the Gopis saw Krsna playing on top of this dead demon’s body ( Bhaktivedanta  Ch. 7).

As Krsna grew up, he assumed duties to help his father, such as watching the calves. One morning Krsna was playing with his brother, Balarama, by the river while they were watching the calves. Eventually a demon by the name of Vatsasura arrived taking the shape of a cow in an attempt to hide from Krsna’s sight. However, Krsna noticed the imposter and followed him with his brother until Krsna saw his chance to defeat Vatsasura; Krsna took the demon from behind and threw him into a tree, immediately ending his life (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 11).

On another occasion, while Krsna was watching the calves with some of the other boys they noticed a giant duck-like creature or the embankment. This creature was the demon Bakasura, a friend of Kamsa’s. As soon as Bakasura saw Krsna, he attacked him and attempted to swallow him whole, but eventually fails and threw him up. After Bakasura failed to devour Krsna, he tried to crush him between his beak. Krsna fearing for his life, grabs the beaks of Bakasura and breaks his mouth into two. This is how Krsna killed his fourth demon (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 11, Bryant 240).

Early one morning, Krsna, accompanied by his cowherd friends went into the forest (Bryant 125-126). While in the forest, they came upon the Demon Aghasura, who was the brother of Putana and Bakasura that Krsna has already killed, so he wanted revenge for his brother and sister. Aghasura was a giant serpent, and he wanted to devour Krsna, his friends, and all of their calves. To reach his ends, Aghasura opened his mouth extending it from the land to the sky; eventually, all of the calves and all of the children, enter his mouth. Krsna entered last and as Aghasura was closing his mouth to devour the children, Krsna expanded his body, causing Aghasura to choke and eventually suffocate to death (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 12). A Sourcebook recognizes the trip into the forest and repeatedly acknowledges that Krsna has defeated Aghasura, but does not talk about the specific fight (Bryant 117, 170, 424, 557).

Krsna’s friends approached him telling him about the demon named Dhenukasura and his friends, and how they kept people and animals from the fruit in an area of the forest. While talking about this area, Krsna’s friends asked him to slay the demon, so that they may have access to that area. Krsna, wanting to please his friends, went to the forest with his brother and his friends; as they arrived in the forest, Balarama pushed the trees, causing the fruit to fall which alerted Dhenukasura of their arrival. Dhenukasura is in the form of an ass and runs at the boys, arriving at Balarama first; upon his arrival he kicked Balarama in the chest, and on the second time that he tried to kick him, Balarama grabbed the demon’s hind legs, swirls around and threw him into the treetop, killing him. This causes Dhenukasura’s demon friends to attack Krsna and Balarama, but they are defeated in the same manner as Dhenukasura (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 15). Sourcebook again references Krsna’s the defeat of Dhenuka (Bryant 170, 333). Earlier in the story Bhaktivedanta made the claim that Balarama was the incarnate of Anata Sesanaga, a god with great strength, that carries a mountain giving him a great weight, this is what allowed Balarama to fight demons next to Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 12).

In the river Yamuna, housed a giant black serpent named Kaliya, the hundred and one headed snake, who was poisoning the river. For this reason, Krsna decided that he would defeat Kaliya. Krsna jumped into the Yamuna river and made a very loud noise; he was successfully in getting Kaliya to approach and when Kaliya arrived he grabbed Krsna in his coils. At the same time, the Gopis had been searching for Krsna and found him in this same instant. When they saw Krsna in the coils of the snake, it made all of the Gopis distraught, to such an extent that Krsna’s parents attempted to enter the lake to help him, but were stopped by Balarama. Krsna noticed how distraught his community was becoming by thinking he was in peril, so he rose up from Kaliya’s grasp; this angered the snake and allowed Krsna to circle behind Kaliya head. Krsna then bent the snake’s neck, climbed on his head and started dancing. Kaliya tried to lift his other heads, but every time he did, Krsna kicked that head back down while dancing, slowly killing Kaliya (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 16, Bryant 126-127). Kaliya’s wives, known as Nagapatnis, saw their husband getting defeated by Krsna, so they decided to pray to Krsna and offer things to him in an attempt to free their husband from his impending death. They started begging Krsna for Kaliya’s mercy and eventually Krsna granted this mercy and demanded that Kaliya and his family leave the river and go to the sea, so that they could no longer harm people (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 16).

The eighth demon defeated by Krsna was Pralambasura, who disguised himself as a cowherd boy, with the intent of kidnapping Krsna and his brother while they were playing with the other boys.  Krsna saw Pralambasura as the demon he was and tricked Pralambasura into joining them for game. The boys split into two teams, Krsna was one leader and Balarama the other. The game eventually ended with Balarama’s team winning. The losers had to carry the winners on their backs, which ended up with Pralambasura carrying Balarama on his back. Pralambasura took this chance to kidnap and devour Balarama, but he was unaware that Balarama was the incarnation of Anata Sesanaga, giving him a great weight which prevented the asura from easily taking him. In an attempt to escape with Balarama on his back Pralambasura transformed into his normal body which was monstrously big, and gave him more strength to carry Balarama. At first Balarama was scared, but then he realized that this was a demon trying to kill him, so Balarama used his great strength and struck him on the back of his head, killing him (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 18).

One evening, Krsna and Balarama entered the forests near Vrndavana, with many beautiful women accompanying them. While they are enjoying each other’s company, the demon Sankhasura appeared. Sankha meaning white conch, this demon was called Sankhasura because of a marvelous gem on his head that resembled a conch shell. This demon was driven by greed; he saw the beautiful woman surrounding Krsna and Balarama and became jealous. Sankhasura saw himself to be wealthier than these two boys, so he saw himself as deserving of the company of these woman. With this thought, he came before Krsna, Balarama, and the women and he started to lead all of the women away, almost as if he were their husband. While he leads the women away, they call for help so Krsna and Balarama chase down the demons. Fearing for his life, Sankhasura releases the damsels and ran from Krsna and Balarama. While Balarama stays to take care of the women, Krsna continued to chase Sankhasura with the desire of defeating him and taking the sankha from his head. Eventually, Krsna caught up to Sankhasura and hit him in the head, killing him; Krsna then took the sankha and presented it to Balarama (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 33).

One day, a demon in the form of a giant bull, Aristasura, came to Vrndavana and as he entered the city, he started to make a terrifying amount of noise (Bryant 426). This led the animals to run in fear, and the inhabitants to call Krsna for aid. Krsna confronted this giant demon trying to pacify the situation, but this only angered Aristasura. The demon charged towards Krsna, but Krsna simply grabbed him by his horns and tossed him to the side. Aristasura became injured, but was so enraged that he mustered enough strength to stand again and again he attempted to charge Krsna, but Krsna again tossed him aside. Krsna, then, approached the demon that he knocked down and kicked him until he perished (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35).

The sage, Nanda, wanted to rush the prophesy along; he noticed Kamsa’s plan of killing the children born around the time of Krsna to be ineffective, so he told him of the location of Krsna. This led Kamsa to order the Kesi demon to kill Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35). So Kesi went to Vrndavana in the form of a horse, and when he arrived there, he stormed around the town to challenge Krsna to a battle. Once Krsna arrived Kesi charged at him with the intent of stomping on him; Krsna used his strength to grab hold of the demon’s legs and, spinning around the horse, Krsna throws Kesi. This stuns Kesi for a moment, but when he regains his senses, he attempted to run at Krsna again. This time Krsna shoved his arm down Kesi’s throat, while using his powers to make his arm expand, suffocating Kesi. After a few moments of this Kesi perished (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 36).

Later that same day, Vyomasura appeared. He was a demon with the ability to fly through the sky, as Vyomasura passed over, he saw the boys playing a game. The demon desired to kidnap and devour these children so he hid himself among the boys and slowly took many of the boys that were playing with Krsna, and hid them in the hills for later. Krsna noticed what was happening and caught Vyomasura as he was trying to take another child; Vyomasura began to fear for his life and expand himself, Krsna then threw him to the ground with such force that he died immediately. Then, Krsna went and freed his friends (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 36).

Kamsa decided on a new plan; he organized a wrestling match, telling his servants that this will be their chance to kill Krsna (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 35). Krsna and Balarama decided to go to the wrestling match and when they arrive, Kamsa set a Giant elephant to try to kill Krsna. In a heroic feat of strength Krsna overpowered the elephant, killing him and his handler (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 42). Now that Krsna has displayed his strength, the wrestlers had an opportunity to challenge Krsna; this led to two simultaneous fights, Canura fighting Krsna and Balarama fighting Muskita. After the matches began, the people in the audience started doubting the boy’s strength due to their size and boyish beauty, which caused Krsna and Balarama to no longer wish to wrestle and they decided to kill their opponents. In Krsna’s fight, he quickly struck Canura, briefly stunning him, Canura began fearing for his life and started punching Krsna in the chest with both his hands. Krsna was not disturbed by these attacks and simply grabbed Canura’s arms and swung him, throwing him and killing him instantly. In Balarama’s fight, it began with Balarama getting struck, but then returned the blow with tremendous force causing Muskita to die (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 43).

While the crowd cheered for Krsna’s victory, Kamsa became angry, and ordered that Krsna and Balarama be driven from the land, and everyone who came with them should be robbed. Kamsa also orders for the people whom he sees as related to Krsna to be killed, namely Krsna’s father, the sage Nanda, and Krsna’s grandfather (Kamsa’s father). Hearing these atrocious commands, Krsna became angered with Kamsa and attacked him; Krsna threw Kamsa to the ground, got on top of Kamsa’s chest and repeatedly struck his face until he dies. This ends the prophesy of Krsna killing Kamsa (Bhaktivedanta Ch. 43). Later Krsna is referred to as the slayer of Kamsa during later expeditions (Bryant 186).

 

Bibliography

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Los Angeles: ISKCON.

Bryant, E. F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1970) Nectars of Devotion. Los Angeles: ISKCON.

 

Related Research Topics

Anarthas

Visnu

Gopi

Nagas

Hare Krsna

Balarama

 

Related Websites

http://www.iohu.org/demons-killed-by-krsna-and-the-anarthas-they-represent-p-8.html (list of demons defeated by Krsna and the anarthas they represent)

http://www.krsnabook.com/ (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead)

http://vedicilluminations.com/downloads/Academic%20General/Bryant%20Edwin%20F/Bryant_Edwin_F._(editor)_-_Krishna__A_Sourcebook.pdf

 

Article written by Jeffrey Freedman (April 2016), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Avatara (Divine Descent) Concept in Hinduism

Divine descent is a Hindu phenomenon that has often been misinterpreted or misunderstood. It is widely associated with the Christian doctrine of Docetism (Sheth 12), however the Sanskrit word avatara more closely relates to words such as descent or manifestation (Matchett 4-6). The earliest written record of this doctrine comes from the Bhagavad-Gita. In it, Krsna begins to explain the mysteries of his incarnation in order to clear the warrior Arjuna’s confusion. Krsna explains his previous births (janmani) as being the lord of the individual selves, yet one with all around him. He goes further into saying that he is fully aware of his many previous births and at any point of his choosing he may generate himself in order to touch foot in the mortal world. In the context of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krsna spawns himself a completely new body while still maintaining his personal divinity and understanding of Purusa (see Matchett 102-103).

Krsna finally states, “Whenever law of righteousness withers away and lawlessness arises, then do I generate myself ” (Bhagavad-Gita 4.7-8). This underlines the main purpose for divine descent in the Hindu tradition. The goal is restoring cosmic balance to the realm of humans by maintaining and enforcing dharma while eliminating and defeating adharma or destruction of social order (Sheth 99). In general, the preserver god visnu is the main source of divine descent into the human realm however avatars of gods such as Shiva or Ganesh have also been said to manifest themselves (Courtright 175). It is through the many incarnations of Visnu that the wills and actions of the gods may be fulfilled. This is a vehicle for which the deities may be fully appreciated and their wills fully upheld. Many Hindus believe that meditation on the divine incarnation and the human deeds performed by these avatars can help in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Pillar with bas-reliefs depicting some of Visnu's avataras (Mahabalipuram, India)
Pillar with bas-reliefs depicting some of Visnu’s avataras (Mahabalipuram, India)

Many Hindus hold these avatars (avatara) close in thought through their days. These divinely descended deities have personified themselves in a way that allows Hindus to more accurately understand their importance. Rama and Krsna are both avataric figures that have remained beloved for thousands of years (Roshen 250). These heroes take the most underlying key concepts of Upanishadic texts and personify them in an understandable vehicle for learning. In common belief, many believe these avatars are just heroes responsible for the safeguarding of our existence, making them worthy of praise.

Many sects of Hinduism have been devoted to the teachings and actions of particular avatars. Vaishnavism is one of the main sects of Hinduism that gives focus to Visnu and his descents as supreme lord. One of the most prominent figures in Vaishnava teachings is the eighth avatar of Visnu, Krsna. Many Hindus participate in celebrations dedicated to these prominent figures. One such celebration is that of Rama Navami, a very popular and well-known festival dedicated to the birth of the 7th avatar and protagonist of the great Ramayana epic, Rama (Abbe 111). The teachings of Rama and his actions throughout the epic make him a model for dharmic action and a guide for the perfect man. The Rama Navami is a particularity important festival that honors the birth date of the great deity and is attended by the thousands every year.

Among some of the most important Puranic texts associated with Hinduism is the Bhagavata-Purana. Often considered the purest of the Puranas, the Bhagavata-Purana is one of the great Hindu texts that focuses very clearly on bhakti towards Visnu but often uses Krsna as a vehicle through which Visnu can be more clearly interpreted. Bhakti is a central focus for the attainment of enlightenment and is often expressed as an ongoing devotion and personal love to a god, often associated with monotheistic Hindu views such as Vaishnavism (Gupta 12). Devotees of Krsna consider him to be the only pure expression of Visnu through divine descent. Therefore the great hero of the Mahabharata, Krsna, is often shown tremendous amounts of bhakti throughout Hindu tradition. In some specific schools of Vaishnavism, Krsna is said to be so overwhelmingly important that he is considered the source of all other avatars. This notion gave birth to the school of Krsnaism, a sect devout in their worship to lord Krsna as the Bhagavan himself (Matchett 52).

In modern times, the largest and most common denomination of Hindus are Vaishnavas with more than 550 million practicing today (Abbe 115). The sects’ overwhelming emphasis on the power of bhakti and worship, as a whole, has lead to the creation of many discernable religious practices. Vaishnavism holds representations of Visnu and his avatars, most commonly Rama or Krsna, as reality and essential in showing daily bhakti (Gupta 14). Representations of the preserver god and his avatars are absolutely necessary for reverence and worship. Many will pray to these representations several times a day, often offering material objects as offerings. One of the most discernable of these practices is the marking of the tilak on the forehead of a Hindu. These tilaks vary enormously across different sects but all are characterized by a symbolic connection to Visnu and his avatars (Abbe 163). With such strong emphasis on personal devotion to a single deity, it is easy to see how many elaborate and beautiful temples have been created in order to aid the process. Thousands of temples are scattered across India, adorned beautifully with artwork and sculptures as praise towards the many avatars who descended in order to keep cosmic balance. Thousands attend these intricate temples; dedicated to the many vehicles in which lord Visnu extends his love to his devotees.

When pertaining to avatars in the Hindu tradition, the most widely associated deity is clearly Visnu. Among these incarnations are the ten widely known Dashavataras who are the most important and fundamental in the understanding of avatara. However, there exist many more then just ten manifestations of Visnu: as stated by the Bhagavata Purana there exists an innumerable and infinite number of avatars. Divine descent is not only restricted to Vaishnava deities. The Linga Purana contains manifestations from other gods such as Ganesh and Shiva who sent forth avatars in order to keep the cosmic balance by slaying evil demons and performing dharmic action. Many times we also see the descent of Visnu’s consort Laksmi into the realm of humans; often as consorts for the various avatars of Visnu himself such as Sita, the beautiful and dharmic wife of the hero Rama.

Of the Vaisnava avatars, the most prominent are grouped into a list of ten appropriately named the Dashavatara. Each of these ten incarnations are from one of four yugas or eras in Hindu tradition. The first of these yugas is that of the satya yuga where human action was dictated and governed by the god. Also known as the Golden Age or age of truth, this is when the first four of the dashavatara. Matsya the fish is typically listed as the first of Visnu’s avatars and is often associated with the comparable genesis narrative of Abrahamic tradition (Sheth 113). Matsya descends to earth in order to alert Manu, the first man, of an impending storm that will wipe out the earth and all who reside on it. The flood myth is common across most cultures and many comparisons can be made. Matsya orders Manu to gather all the grain and in many accounts animals as well, and board an arc, which Matsya pulls to safety. Many times, Matsya is said to defeat a demon after saving Manu. From the demon he recovers the holy Vedas and bestows them to man.

From this story a lot can be said about the other nine Dasavataras and the many symbols they represent. From the tale of Matsya, we see the very first supposed avatar of Visnu. Comparatively, Matsya is vital to genesis of human life and in many ways is held to explain our very origins. The subsequent 9 avatars following Matsya seem to all follow this theme of evolution and the creation of human existence. The remaining 3 avatars from the satya yuga are all forms of beasts, including Narasimha who begins to take human characteristics, as well as lion. The evolution from a scientific stand point of the water dwelling fish to the amphibious turtle and subsequently by a boar or more broadly a man beast. Visnu’s avatars seem to clearly represent the process of human evolution in an order that follows scientific reason. The subsequent treta yuga, begins with what could be interpreted as the first proto man, Vamana or the dwarf god. From here, Visnu only chose to incarnate himself into humanly forms each slightly further into the development of human thought. Parasurama lives a life of forest dwelling and using early weapons; his successor Rama is an example of humans organizing themselves into communities and kingships. The evolution extends into a period of more politically advanced systems with Krsna and stops at the catalyzing ninth avatar Buddha who depicts the age of human realization and enlightenment. Hindus had, in a way, shown a Darwinian and evolutionary understanding thousands of years before the very birth of Darwin (Brown 227).

Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting Visnu in his tortoise avatara (Ranganathaswamy temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India)
Bas-relief on a temple pillar depicting Visnu in his tortoise avatara (Ranganathaswamy temple, Srirangam, Tamil Nadu, India)

Kalki, the final avatar, is the most unique incarnation of the Dashavatara. Unlike his predecessors, Kalki has not yet descended upon our realm. Of the ten avatars, Kalki is described as the destroyer of filth and the final avatar in the current mahayuga. It is said that Kalki will descend upon the earth following the end of the Kali yuga, the same yuga we reside in today. This moment will mark the end of our current mahayuga where Kalki generates in order to rid the world of the “filth” that has been acquired during this current age of misery and spiritual degeneration (Mahony 333).

The avatars of Ganesh are an interesting comparison to the highly discussed incarnations of lord Visnu. The Mudgala Purana regards Ganesh as the most revered and holy of the gods for his constant involvement in the well being of humans. The incarnations of Ganesh are often used as models for the creation of the world and are used to describe theological concepts of the Hindu tradition. Each incarnation of Ganesh is sent to eradicate a demon typically symbolic with malicious qualities (see Courtright 176). The actions stated in both the Ganesa Purana and Mudgala Purana have lead many to a life of bhakti towards Ganesa.

Divine descent is a truly intricate and substantial process in the Hindu tradition. Its complexities and origins are deeply rooted in the theological Hindu thought that has shaped the lives and practices of countless cultures. These avatars offer a vehicle for which all those wishing to extend their love and devotion to gods, may do so. A universal language of devotion is achieved through these enormously impactful figures. Perhaps the complexities associated with divine descent are truly a measure of the complexities of the gods themselves most undoubtedly characterized by an infinite number of avatars. Divine descent is truly a phenomenon that expresses the extent of love felt by the gods towards their people; love that could not exist without the enduring bhakti of their people.

 

References and Further Readings

Brown, Mackenzie (2010) “ Vivekanda and the Scientific Legitimation of Advaita Vedanta.” Handbook of Religion and the Authority of Science, Vol.10, No.1: 227-230.

Dubois, Abbe (2007) Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Paris: Cosimo Incorporated.

Gupta Raui (2007) Caitany Vaisnava Vedanta of Jiva Gosvami: When Knowledge meets devotion. Edinburgh: University of Sterling.

Mahony, William (1987) “Perspectives on Krsna’s Various Personalities.” History of Religions 26, Vol. 26, No.3: 333-335.

Moffit, John (1977) “Incarnation and Avatara: An Imaginary Conversation.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol.13, No.2: 456-461.

Matchett, Freda (2001) Krishna, Lord or Avatara? : The Relationship between Krishna and Vishnu. Surrey: Routledge Publication.

Courtright, Paul (1987) “ Ganesha: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings.” The Journal for Asian Studies, Vol.26, No.1: 175-177.

Roshen, Dalal (2011) Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide. Delhi: Penguin Books India.

Sheth, Noel (2002) “ Hindu Avatara and Christian Incarnations: A Comparison.” Philosophies of East and West, Vol.52, No.1: 98-125.

Related Topics:

Vaisnavism

Visnu

Bhagavad-Gita

Bhagavata- Purana

Dasavatara

Treta Yuga

Dvapara

Kali Yuga

Satya Yuga

Linga Purana

Ganesa

Rama

Krsna

Cosmic Balance

Bhakti

Janmani

Laksmi

Rama Navami

Upanishads

Trimurti

Garuda Purana

 

Noteworthy websites:

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/southasia/Religions/Avatars/Vishnu.html

http://vaishnavparivar.info/

http://www.hinduism.co.za/vedas-.htm

 

Article written by: Zachery Sanderson (March 2015), who is solely responsible for its content

 

The Swaminarayan Movement

The Swaminarayan religion was founded by Sahajanand Swami in the 19th century. Though two hundred years old the Swaminarayan religion is still considered new, “a modern development in Hinduism” (Williams 1984:xi), for the Hindu religions of India are very old, reaching back as far as 1500 BCE in the case of the Vedic religions. The faith took form in India’s western most state of Gujarat during a time when the British still held control. As the British developed political supremacy Sahajanand also spread forth his movement in the area. Sahajanand Swami’s movement was one of reform that came about when Gujarat was in the midst of rebellion, famine, social and political change. During this time Sir John Malcolm, the British governor of Bombay, also sought out similar reforms and looked for aid from respected Indian leaders such as Sahajanand Swami to help institute these reforms. The meeting between the two figures is today displayed in pictures in many Swaminarayan temples showing that two men of very different worlds both strived for the common goals of social order and harmony. In 1830 Sahajanand Swami died and left his disciples the teachings and ideas that he had tried to pass onto to others. The Swaminarayan faith is called a sampradaya, “a tradition which has been handed down from a founder through successive religious teachers and which shapes the followers into a distinct fellowship with institutional forms” (Williams 1984:xii).

The Swaminarayan religion is categorized as one that follows Vaishnaivism. This is to say that the followers are worshippers of the Hindu God Visnu and the avatars associated with him such as Rama or Krsna. During the beginning of the 19th century the Indian state of Gujarat was experiencing civil war, famine, and disaster. It was also going through political and social change under the influence of the British who had established control in the area. Followers of the Swaminarayan faith believe that these times coincide perfectly with the rise of Sahajanand Swami his movement. As Vaishnavites it is traditionally believed that “such periods of decay and despair call forth a great religious teacher, a manifestation of god, to bring peace and order” (Williams 2001:8). Sahajanand Swami was born in a village outside of Gujarat called Chhapia. Chhapia is located near Ayodhya, the birth place of Rama in the Hindu epic Ramayana. His day of birth falls upon the day of the festival that celebrates the birth of Rama. His birth name, Ghanashyam, is also known as one of the childhood names of Krsna who in the Hindu epic Mahabharata is an avatar of Visnu. All this reaffirms the belief of Swaminarayan followers that Sahajanand Swami, also called Swaminarayan, was an incarnation of Visnu manifested on Earth to bring balance. It was during this time of depression and plight that the Swami took stage and developed a following of people, guided by the ideas of reform that he brought into action in the state of Gujarat.

Devotees of the Swaminarayan movement must all take vows, which Sahajanand required of all those who followed him. All followers are required not to steal, not to commit adultery, not to eat meat, not to drink intoxicants, and not to receive food from another person who belonged to a caste that was lower than their own. Those devotees who desired to become ascetics out of devotion to the Swami were required to take further vows such as the renunciation of worldly goods, abstaining from all forms of violence, and a vow of absolute celibacy. The reasoning for this high level of discipline required of the Swaminarayan followers was due to the chaotic state of Gujarat society that Sahajanand believed was the cause for the breakdown of ascetic discipline. The Swaminarayan faith sought reform and change from the disorganized and uncontrolled state that many people had fallen into, requiring committed discipline that its followers must adhere to. Some ascetics during the beginning of the movement and at the point of greatest resistance were initiated to the Swami’s highest state of asceticism. This state was known as Paramhansa, a state of “total renunciation, no rules or regulations that are prescribed in the scriptures applied to them and they had no actions to perform” (Williams 2001:22). This extreme from of asceticism was used so that the members of the Swaminarayan movement would go unnoticed by their enemies. By ridding themselves of all outwardly marks they would be invisible to those around them. Those of the Paramhansa status were characterized by ending their names in “ananda” to signify this status. These high class ascetics, however, were only temporary for the beginning of the movement. They were no longer ordained by Sahajanand after the Swaminarayan became more established and less targeted by those that did not support the movement. At this point, the movement was aided by the British who had established solid control in Gujarat during this time.

Further reform developed in the Swaminarayan works that strived to benefit the social welfare of the area. Followers of the movement helped rebuild destroyed buildings, dig new wells, and repair roads. This broke from regular custom found in Hindu society. Devotees of higher caste found themselves helping those of lower class. Ascetics who were believed to be above the station of those who did manual labor were found doing just that. All followers of the Swaminarayan movement were found working as carpenters, masons, and other professions to build homes, temples, and any other structures thought needed to construct a better society. During times of famine and plague the ascetics opened what could be called early day soup kitchens to provide aid for the sick and hungry affected by disaster. In this way the Swaminarayan faith and its followers are characterized by their project works to benefit social welfare. This particular show of compassion also resulted in converting many people to the faith once the realization was gained that even the ascetics, those who some considered a burden, were laboring just like everyone else. The people were attracted to the ideas put forth by the movement, “Sahajanand followed a strict moral code and had a profound influence for good in the lives of his followers, many of whom came from the least restrained portion of the population” (Williams 2001:69). The idea of those of higher caste giving aid in those places of lower caste was an alluring aspect.

The Swaminarayan movement experienced a lot of controversy because of its reforms. One such aspect that caused others to frown upon the movement was its attitude towards the caste system. Although prescribed in their vows not to accept food from those of lower caste, the Swaminarayan movement still acts in a manner as to help others, which includes the high class ascetic Brahmins helping those of lower classes. Being a vegetarian and being against all forms of violence were both vows that needed to be taken by all followers. With these ideals held high and strictly followed, many traditional customs and practices of regular Hindu society were considered for change. Sacrificial rituals, for instance, could not be done by the Swaminarayan. To ritually sacrifice an animal involved both the killing of an animal and an act of violence. Such actions were condemned by the faith. Sahajanand believed that rituals could be done in a different manner, “In AD 1808 he staged a large sacrifice (yajna) without animal sacrifice in Ahmedabad” (Williams 2001:24). This was not taken well by more traditional Hindus. Other large bloodless sacrifices were performed as demonstrations to others that such traditions could still be done without the need for spilled blood. Eventually it was decided upon that sacrifices would no longer be used to preach the ideals of the Swaminarayan. Instead it was decided upon that the Swaminarayan would congregate in organized meetings of members of the faith that would be held twice a year. Other ritual such as the sati, a ritual in which the wife of a dead husband burns herself on the funeral pyre along with the deceased is also condemned by the Swaminarayan sect.

The Swaminarayan is a monotheistic group, but not in the Western religious sense. As stated the Swaminarayans are Vaishnavites or followers of Visnu. As a reformer, Sahajanand moved away from several traditional beliefs and practices that other Hindu religious sects followed. Not all people were ready to throw away such beliefs and their worship of more than one God but some were. Although the Swaminarayan devotion focused mainly on Visnu, they still gave worship to four other deities that were deemed very important “Siva, Ganapati, Parvati, and Surya, the major deities worshiped by Smarta Brahmins” (Williams 2001:25). This did not mean that they did in fact worship more than one God. In March of 1825 Sahanjanand Swami met with the Bishop Heber and discussed the Swaminarayan religion with him. The main focus that the Bishop was interested in and topic they discussed most was the monotheistic ideals that the Bishop had heard the Swaminarayan followed. In Sahajanand’s opening statements to the Bishop he said “Many names there may be, and have been, given to him who is and is the same, but whom we as well as other hindoos call brihm” (Williams 2001:70) which is to say that there are many ways to say the name God or as the Hindu people call it, Brahman. To identify God with another name such as Visnu is only to give character to one aspect of that which is Brahman. It is not to say that all deities they give worship to are called God.

Today the Swaminarayan movement is still thriving. In 2001 it was estimated that the faith was numbering upwards of five million members, the bulk of which reside in the homeland of Gujarat. However, it is important to note that there are two main divisions of the Swaminarayan movement. At the time in 2001 it was believed that “3.5 million associated with Vadtal and Ahmedabad and 1.5 million associated with the Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushattam Sanstha” (Williams 2001:68) but it is hard to tell exactly how many belong to each division and how many follow both. It is difficult to judge just how many there are but it is reasonable to believe that there may be even more devotees today. One thing that is now used to gather hundreds of thousands of people are modern mega-festivals. These festivals attract “both faithful followers and the idly curious – to religious events that concentrate the transmission of tradition in various media at a single site over a specific period of a few days or a month” (Williams 2001:176) which relates all the way back to when Sahajanand Swami decided to have large organized meetings with the members of his faith instead of non-violent sacrifices. The Swaminarayan are mostly consolidated in India but have expanded all over the world in smaller numbers.

References and further recommended readings

Williams, R. B. (1984) A New Face of Hinduism: The Swaminarayan Religion.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Williams, R. B. (2001) An Introduction to Swaminarayan Hinduism Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press

Related topics for further investigation

Ahmedabad

Vadtal

Bochasanwasi akshar purushottam sanstha

Muktas

Smarta Brahmin

Paramhansa

Sampradaya

Gujarat

Vaishnavism

Note Worthy Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swaminarayan#cite_note-73

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/sects/swaminarayana.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaishnavism

http://www.indianetzone.com/8/sahajananda_swami.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/sects/vaishnavism.htm

http://philtar.ucsm.ac.uk/encyclopedia/hindu/devot/swamin.html

Article written by: Kevin Storoz (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

(Revised on April 10, 2010)

The Baul Religion

The Bauls of Bengal are people who practice the Baul religion. The Baul people are mostly known for singing because singing is one way in which they project their beliefs (Thielemann 1). This religion is a combination of Hindu and Islamic beliefs and is based on the Upanisads and the Vedas (Capwell 255). To be Baul requires not only studying, but an emersion in the knowledge acquired (Thielemann 20). In order for the Bauls to be consumed with this knowledge, they must learn by experience. The most important aspect is self-realization, sadhana (1). The Baul does need guidance from a spiritual master, sadguru; the only way for a person to fully achieve sadhana is by attempting it themselves, not just learning about it.

The main component of the Baul religion is that the true divinity, maner manusa (the man of the heart), dwells within the human heart (17). The Bauls believe that the human body is the temple of the gods, so they must take care of and properly cultivate their bodies. Before one can unite with the Supreme Divinity, his soul must be completely purified. A person must be purified through body and heart; means of attaining this includes having good thoughts, company, conversation, and environment. One must also completely give up his ego. The main goal for a Baul adherent is to surrender himself to the divinity within himself. Once the human and Supreme Soul has united, he or she is able to attain infinite reality; this is Baul sadhana (21).

The path to attaining sadhana is not easy; it takes much control and selflessness. One of the most important aspects of Baul sadhana is aropa sadhana (the fundamental process of implementation). This is achieved by mastering breath- control (38). Within this process there are three stages to perform: “drawing the breath upwards, suspending it for some time, and finally releasing it again” (39). There is a whole process on how one performs these steps which takes a great deal of strength and control. The first step is called Puraka and it consists of using one’s finger to close the right nostril and breathing through the left, then switching and breathing through the right. The next step, Kumbhaka, is when the Baul holds the breath within him by holding his nose and mouth closed with his right hand. The final step is Recaka, where the breath is released through one nostril. This is a very specific procedure but it helps the Baul gain strength to attain sadhana. The amount of time one is supposed to hold their breath is not specified but being able to train and hold it for long periods of time shows that person has full control over the vital air and their inner strength (40). Another aspect that goes along with the vital air is ajapa (the soundless incantation). After one is fully conscious of the supreme divinity within them, this incantation is automatically pronounced while that person breaths in (41). When the Bauls have achieved the highest level of control, which is done through their breathing, they are able to pursue more in their sadhana (43).

Once the Baul has found his true self, a brilliant light shines before him. This light allows him to see everything within himself by illuminating the inner self. Man’s own self is this light, it is atma (the self – illuminating human soul) (81). To attain the spiritual goal of atma the Baul must have total knowledge of their body and have achieved proper sadhana (Capwell 260). Also, for one to see their inner self they have to tune – out everything outside of their own body.

Baul philosophy is mostly known for the songs that the Baul people sing; in the Samsad Bengali – English Dictionary the definition of Baul is “one of a class of Hindu stoical devotees singing songs in a special mode illustrating their doctrine (Thielemann 1).” Although the Bail religion may be synonymous with singing, it is not the totality of the Baul religion. The reason the Bauls are known for their singing is because it is one way they are able to share and attain sadhana, which people hear and therefore relate to them. The Baul’s song comes completely from his heart. Through his song he can express his feelings and sing them to everything around him. The Baul becomes engrossed in the song he is singing and nothing else around him matters. This is because while singing he has become one with the Supreme Being within him (36). Becoming one with the maner manusa is the ultimate goal for the Bauls, which explains the prevelance of singing within the Baul religion.

While singing the Baul plays a one – stringed plucked drum called the ekatara. This instrument symbolizes union of the body (deha) and the mind (mana). The clothes worn by the Baul also symbolizes unity. Their guduri is a dress that is made of many different pieces and colors of fabric that are sewn together. Each of the pieces is supposed to represent every caste and every religion and they are being brought together in unity and equality in the dress (35 – 36).

The Baul is always trying to achieve sadhana and by singing, dancing and playing his instrument he is able to perform his sadhana. The Bauls believe that worshipping alone is a form of selfishness because it is not universally shared. Therefore, an act of devotional selflessness can be found in the Baul interaction with the surroundings and audience (102). Being unified with all is very important to the Bauls and singing is claimed to unify all individual aspects into a whole. When sound (svara brahma), rhythm (tala brahma) and speech (vakya brahma), combine to make music, it becomes the highest point of emotion and at this point it has gained full strength and that is when everything is united (112).

Although it seems that plain singing is all that is needed to reach this great height of oneness, this is not the case. It is very important that the singer be in tune and be completely focused on praising the divinity within him. If the singer fails to do either of these then negative forces are able to enter his heart (114). Done correctly though, the Baul is able to show his worship to the Supreme Divinity within himself. Samkirtana is the congregational rendition of musical worship. This brings together many like – minded people to worship, which intensify the devotion to the Supreme Divinity.

Music is a way in which the Baul people are able to worship their inner deity and move closer to their ultimate goal of sadhana. Because the Supreme Divinity dwells within the hearts of men, sadhana (self-realization) as the greatest aspiration of the Bauls, is to become completely one with The One inside of them.

Bibliography

Capwell, Charles H. (1974) “The Esoteric Belief of the Bauls of Bengal.” The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 33, No. 2 (February): 255-264.

Thielemann, Selina (2003) Baul Philosophy. New Delhi: A.P.H. Publishing Corporation.

Related Reading

Capwell, Charles (1988) “The Popular Expression of Religious Syncretism: The Bauls of Bengal as Apostles of Brotherhood.” Popular Music, Vol. 7, No. 2, The South Asia/West Crossover (May): 123 – 132.

Related Topics

Sadhu

Sadhana

Baul Music

Sexual Rituals

Related Wedsites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baul

http://hinduism.about.com/od/artculture/a/bauls.htm

Written by Emily Kaun (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Hanuman

Hanuman is one of the many deities of the Hindu tradition. He is regarded as the monkey-general of a mythic monkey kingdom, known as Kiskindha. In Hindu tradition, Hanuman is most commonly known for his role in the Ramayana [A Sanskrit epic featuring the characters of Rama, Sita, Hanuman, and Laksmana], in which he is a great ally to Rama and Laksmana [Rama is the central character of the Ramayana epic; Laksmana is his brother who accompanies Rama during his banishment from his kingdom]. The Ramayana describes how Hanuman was devoted to Rama and willingly set off to Lanka [Many people believe Lanka to be the location of today’s Sri Lanka] to search for Sita. Rama is unable to go himself; he had been expelled from the city for his 14 year exile. Earlier in the Ramayana, Rama had said that “[e]verywhere, even among the animals, can be found good creatures that follow the ways of righteousness, that are brave and provide a sure place of refuge” (Regier 995). This statement fits the description of Hanuman, for he is a loyal and virtuous being, and he is willing to endure the risk of crossing into Ravana’s land to save Sita. Hanuman does find Sita, but she refuses to return with him because of her loyalty to her husband. She is unwilling to touch another man, and believes that it is Rama’s duty (dharma) to save her himself (Regier 995).

Hanuman also demonstrates a few great powers that are useful in his role in the Ramayana epics. In the Sundarakanda [5th book of the Ramayana], Hanuman becomes a major character, with a talent for jumping extremely far distances. This is demonstrated in his jump between Mount Mahendra to Lanka’s Mount Trikuta His duality as a monkey-hero is demonstrated in this leap between the two territories and his search for Sita. Hanuman’s essential presence in the story is indicated by “the fact that the poet devotes nearly two hundred verses to the description of his jump” (Goldman 13). Hanuman further demonstrates his unique powers by his ability to change his size at will, for example during Hanuman’s leap to Lanka “he takes on a size that is said to be immeasurable. As he flies along, his shadow on the sea below is said to measure ten leagues in breadth and thirty in length” (Goldman 44).

Hanuman demonstrates that his moods are constantly changing. “[I]n some ways parallel to Hanuman’s vast and sudden changes in size are his sharp swings of mood throughout the first half of the Sundarakanda” (Goldman 47). Hanuman begins his journey to Lanka with lots of enthusiasm and optimism, but when faced with difficulties he “lapses into gloomy thought” (Goldman 47). After finding Sita, Hanuman decides to cause mayhem in Lanka. Ravana sends his forces after Hanuman, but all are unsuccessful in restraining the monkey. Ravana finally sends out his son, a powerful warrior, Indrajit, who soon realizes that he too is unable to kill Hanuman. However, he was able to acquire a “divine weapon of the god Brahma” which was able to impede any further destruction caused by Hanuman (Goldman 10). The Ramayana never directly says that Hanuman was immortal, but

“both accounts of his birth , one in the Kiskindhakanda and one in the Uttarakanda, indicate that his is to be no ordinary life span. In the former, Jambavan reports that Indra had conferred on him the great boon of being able to choose the moment of his death. In the latter Brahma foretells that he will be long-lived” (Goldman 54).

If it is then true that Hanuman is able to decide when he will die, this may account for Indrajit’s realization that even as a mighty warrior he will never be able to kill Hanuman. This demonstrates that Hanuman is not like the other monkeys in the monkey kingdom, although he has a beast-like quality when it comes to his rashness and spontaneity, like the other monkeys. He demonstrates his god-like quality with his powers, his personality, and his being the first to find Sita.

Hanuman (The monkey god Hanuman serves as a guardian deity and flanks a palace entrance in Bhaktapur, Nepal)
Hanuman (The monkey god Hanuman serves as a guardian deity and flanks a palace entrance in Bhaktapur, Nepal)

According to Goldman, Hanuman is presented in a “dual nature” (47). He is represented as a monkey with monkey instincts, but is also represented as a hero in the way that he is continually attempting to save someone. His continual changing in size emphasizes this duality. He can appear in a gigantic size, representing his heroic/divine qualities. Or he can shrink down to a size that is smaller than the average human. The dual-nature of Hanuman can be compared with Rama’s contrasting personality,

“[If] the liminal nature of the avatara and the particulars of its associated boon-motif account for the ambiguity of Rama’s nature as a god-man, then the same factors would appear to determine the ambivalent status of Hanuman as both god and beast.” (Goldman 47)

Hanuman’s behaviour, and his powers are the result of his parentage. He is the “mind-born” son of Vayu, the wind god, and Anjana. It is said that he can move with the swiftness of the wind as a result of his family line. In the Sundarakanda, it is said that his father helps him leap between the two kingdoms on his search for Sita (Goldman 41).

Although the Ramayana is the text through which Hanuman gained his popularity, it is not the only epic in which he has appeared. In the Mahabharata, in the Kadali forest Hanuman meets his half-brother Bhima; the two are both sons of the wind god, Vayu. The two met when Hanuman was sleeping over a path on which Bhima was travelling. Bhima requested that Hanuman move out of the way so that he could pass. Hanuman replied by asking Bhima to move his tail to one side. Bhima, though the strongest of the Pandava Brothers, could not budge Hanuman’s tail. Hanuman then introduce himself to Bhima in the form that he took while crossing the ocean to Lanka (Nagar 386).

Hanuman is a widely worshipped deity in India; “[h]is images are smeared with the sacred colour vermilion, to denote the estimation in which he is held, and the universal admiration of his devotion as a model faithful servant” (Monier-Williams 140). He is looked up to, and is admired for his faithfulness to Rama. He went to rescue Sita a woman that he had never met, nor seen before, without any thought for his own well-being. Located in Delhi is the Sri Hanuman Maharaj (Great Lord Hanuman) temple, a building made of white marble dedicated to Hanuman (Lutgendorf 311). “According to many Hindus, the popularity of Hanuman—who in narrative often expands his physical from—has itself been steadily expanding in recent decades. Certainly its iconic manifestations have been growing, as groups of prominent patrons vie with one another to erect larger and larger murtis of the great monkey in highly visible locations” (Lutgendorf 312). “He [Hanuman] exemplifies both ‘sakti and bhakti’—briefly ‘power’ and ‘devotion’” (Lutgendorf 315). For this reason he is widely admired, and well-liked.

Hanuman is also widely popular because of his deviant childhood. Hanuman’s childhood stories appeal to many people because of its human-like quality. As a child he ascends towards the ‘rising sun’ in an attempt to grasp it. However, the god Indra sees this as a threat and sends him plummeting back down, breaking Hanuman’s jaw; hanu means jaw, giving Hanuman his name. Hanuman’s father Vayu then threatens the entire cosmos. To make up for what happened to Hanuman, each deity grants him with a unique boon, giving him his particular powers that are useful in his adventures during adulthood (Lutgendorf 317).

Hanuman played a key role in the Ramayana and other stories featuring him. He is widely well known in Hinduism, and by many other people around the world. Hanuman’s incredible dedication is what makes him an ideal character to respect and support.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Lutgendorf, Philip. “Monkey in the Middle: The Status of Hanuman in Popular Hinduism.” Religion 27.4 (1997): 311-332.

Monier-Williams, Monier (2003) Hinduism and its Sources Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi.

Nagar, Shantilal (2004) Hanuman: Through the Ages Vol. 2. India: B.R. Publishing Corporation.

Regier, Willis G. “The Ramayana of Valmiki. Volume 4. Kiskindhakanda.” The John Hopkins University Press. 112.5 (December 1997): 994-998.

The Ramayana of Valmiki: An Epic of Ancient India (1999) Vol. V Sundarakanda. Trans. R. P. Goldman & Sally J. Sutherland-Goldman. Princeton: Princeton University Press:

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Rama

Ramayana

Laksmana

Sita

Ravana

Lanka

Sundarakanda

Indrajit

Kiskindhakanda

Uttarakanda

Avatara

Mahabharata

Bhima and the Pandava Brothers

Vayu, the wind god

Sri Hanuman Maharaj

Dharma

Mount Mahendra

Mount Trikuta

Jambavan Reports

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sanatansociety.org/indian_epics_and_stories/the_life_of_hanuman.htm

http://www.webonautics.com/mythology/hanuman.html

http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa052801a.htm

http://mywebpages.comcast.net/scottandrewh/hanuman.html

http://www.dalsabzi.com/Wisdom_Scrip/sankat_mochan_hanuman.htm

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/article/hanuman

http://hinduwebsite.com/hanuman.htm

Article written by Kristin Barry (March 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.