Category Archives: H. Major Hindu Sects, Deities and Purāṇic Myths

Mahanirvana Tantra

The Tantras are texts that deal with an assortment of ritual methods used to control and manipulate the cosmic powers, belonging to the literature of the Saktas. The Tantras deal with a wide variety of subject matter such as yoga practice, dharma behavior, the prescribed stages of life, the realms of heaven and hell, and importantly, worship ritual. The Mahanirvana Tantra was composed in the 18th century and is the most well-known Tantra in the west (Payne 53-55). It is regarded as the revelation of Siva, the destroyer of the world and god of the Yogis, to his wife, Parvati, at the summit of Mount Kailasa.

It was on Mount Kailasa that Parvati found her husband, Siva, described sitting silently on the mountain surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The text begins with Parvati asking Siva a question relating to the liberation of beings. Siva’s answer to Parvati is then answered in the chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva begins the first four chapters by relating the importance of worshiping Brahman, the ultimate reality. Siva explains when good is done to the universe, He will be pleased, as He is the soul of the universe and it depends on Him (Avalon 3). Siva tells her that by worship of Brahman, there will be no need for any other religious observances (Avalon 4). Due to Siva’s strong affection to Parvati, he tells her more about the Supreme Brahman, and the secrets of worshiping Him by prescribed mantra to attain siddi, the enlightenment and understanding possessed by a siddah, or accomplished one. Siva states that liberation “does not come from the recitation of hymns, sacrifice or a hundred fasts… man is liberated by the knowledge that he is Brahman himself” (Payne 10). Pleased by what Siva has bestowed on her, Parvati asks another question concerning worship of Supreme Prakrti in union with Supreme Brahman. This delights Siva and he spoke unto Parvati how everything in the universe owes its origins and manifestations to the Supreme Prakrti and Supreme Brahman in motion with each other (Avalon 5). He relates the Supreme Prakrti to the Deva herself, informing her that she is everything in all forms and manifestations, and everything is her. Siva explains that success is solely achieved by Kaulika worship, the most supreme doctrine, and the merit achieved by honoring a Kaulika, is enough to protect one from all the harm the Kali Age has to offer (Avalon 5).

In the fifth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra, Siva speaks to his wife of the formation of mantras, composed of single letters, syllables, a word, or an entire phrase to make a sacred sound (Feuerstein 191) and the preparatory acts to be done each day. Mantras are creative forces that act upon one’s consciousness when empowered and communicated to a disciple (Feuerstein 191). Siva explains to Parvati that there are countless mantras for worship, presented in the various Tantras but he only states twelve of them, because these twelve are for the pleasure and benefit of all humanity (Avalon 6). After presenting the twelve mantras to Parvati, he moves on to explain worship of Sakti by the five elements, wine, meat, fish, grain, and union of man and woman to attain the position of vira (Bhattacharyya 121). After which he describes placing of the jar, which is called a kalasa, because Visva-karma, son of Brahma, composed it from various parts of each of the Devatas (Avalon 6). He explains the measurements in fingers, and that it is to be made of gold, silver, copper, metal, mud, stone or glass free from any imperfections and on the left side a hexagon enclosed by a circle, enclosed by a square. In detail Siva speaks of the proper worshipping and mantras to be recited important in all power of creation, preservation and destruction of the universe.

The sixth chapter of the text Parvati asks Siva about the Pancha-tattvas and the appropriate worship of the Deva. The Pancha-tattvas, or five elements, are given in sacrifice to propitiate the Deva (Avalon 7). Siva declares that there are three kinds of wine, made from molasses, rice, or the juices and flowers of plants, that are first tattva and no matter how it has been made, is equal in the worship of the Deva. The second tattva is meat from three kinds of animals, those of the earth, sky and water. Siva explains that to please the Deva it does not matter where or by whom the animal was killed, so long as the animal being decapitated is male and not female (Avalon 7). The third tattva is three kinds of fish, ranked in superiority and quality due to their bones. Fish with the most amount of bones, considered inferior, must be well fried before being offered to the Devi. Parched food is the fourth tattva and contains three categories. Superior food is white rice, barley and wheat all fried in butter, the middle being a fried paddy, and the most inferior food consists of any fried grain that is not contained in the superior category (Avalon 7). After explaining the first four features, Siva looks unto Parvati and says “O Great Devi! when the weakness of the Kali Age becomes great, one’s own Shakti or wife should alone be known as the fifth tattva”(Avalon 7). Thus, making sexual union between man and women the fifth and final Pancha-tattva. Before revealing the mantras to Parvati, Siva warns her that man who offers these sacrifices to the Devas without proper purification will not please the gods and one will go to hell for it (Avalon 7).

The seventh chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva addresses the Goddess Kali as the supreme yogini, for at the end of time she devours Siva, the devourer of time himself (Feuerstein 35). Kali, who’s name relates to the words “time” and “death”, is the dark goddess and the Destroyer. Siva recites a hymn to Parvati, containing the Hundred Names of Kali, all beginning with the letter Ka, entitled Adya-Kali-Svarupa. By worshiping Kali and repeating her Hundred Names, one will enjoy a happy life and becomes suffused with the presence of the Devi (Avalon 8). Only when one is in the presence of the Goddess, does he reach the hearts of women, attain his desires, conquer his enemies, master his caste and enjoy good fortune. For once she suffuses him “there is ever victory, and defeat never” (Avalon 8).

Parvati asks Siva in the eighth chapter to hear of the castes, the prescribed stages in life, and the mode they should be observed in, having just heard the different dharmas and union with the Supreme. Siva tells her in the Kali age, there are five castes, Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra and Samanya (Avalon 9) and each of these castes has two stages of life. He begins first by describing the householder stage, with devotion to Brahman. He tells Parvati the importance of pleasing one’s mother and father, raising obedient and educated children, being kind to neighbors and cherishing his wife, so she will be ever devoted to him. Siva after explains the exclusive mantras to be performed only by the twice-born, and the other mantras to be used for the lower castes. Siva relates to Parvati the duties of the king, that he is to watch his subjects and protect his people and describes the manner in which he should present himself. The king is to be the courage of his warriors, highly knowledgeable, discriminatory, and honorable, but never arrogant, when awarding both reward and punishment (Avalon 8). Agriculture and trade, are only appropriate for the vaishya class and all acts of negligence, laziness, untruthfulness and deceit should be avoided. Finally, servants should be clean, skillful, alert and careful, they should treat their master with the uttermost respect as the servant should be aspiring for happiness in this world and their next incarnation.

In the ninth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva explains the ten kinds of Purificatory Rites, or sangskaras to Parvati. He tells her that each caste has their own specific rites that need to be performed to purify the body. These ten ceremonies deal with the events of conception, pregnancy, birth of the child, naming of the child, the child’s first view of the sun, its first eating of rice, tonsure, investiture and marriage (Avalon 10). Following the introduction of the events for the ceremonies, Siva recites all the sangskara mantras to Parvati. After listening to the mantras, she inquires about the rites dealing with funerals, Vriddhi Shraddha and Purnabhisheka, thus beginning the tenth chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra. Siva informs Parvati of the importance of offering Pinda, a cooked ball of flour, butter and seeds, along with repeating the mantras to please the ancestors. The Vriddhi Shraddha is the ritual performed during special occasions to get the blessings of the ancestors, and the Purnabhisheka is the rite of initiation (Avalon 11). Siva presents the funeral rites and mantras to Parvati, explaining the period of uncleanliness dependent on the caste system. Brahmanas are unclean for ten days, Kshatriyas twelve days, Vaishyas a fortnight, Shudras and Samanyas are unclean for an entire month (Avalon 11).

In chapter eleven Siva introduces the expiatory rites, and explains to Parvati the types of sins and their accompanying punishments. Siva tells her that there are two types of sin, both which lead to pain, sorrow and disease. The first sin is one that leads to injury of one’s own self, and the second being one which leads to injury of others. Siva informs Parvati that men who sin and who are not purified by the form of punishment or expiation will be doomed to hell, and will not be incarnated into the next world (Avalon 12). In this chapter of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva recites no mantras to Parvati, alternately he explains each sinful act one could perform and the accompanying punishment for each caste. The twelfth chapter entitled “An Account of the Eternal Immutable Dharmma” is the outline for the regulations which deal with property, inheritance and wealth. Siva explains to Parvati of the inheritance hierarchy, and how it is to be distributed among the living members of the family or the spouse’s family. Siva tells her of the rules in agriculture, mercantile transactions and other monetary dealings so that they may be deemed Dharmmic (Avalon 13). At the close of the chapter, to enforce the greater purpose of the accounts of Dharmma, Siva claims “The Lord protects this universe… Therefore should one act for the good of the world” (Avalon 13).

In the final two chapters of the Mahanirvana Tantra Siva reveals the installation and worship of the Devata and Shiva-linga. Siva tells Parvati that all beings have qualities of the goddess Kali, and to worship Kali one must form images in adherence to her. Siva says that there are two types of men, those who act with a view to the fruits of action, and those who act without a view to the fruits of action and the latter will attain final liberation (Avalon 14). He recites the mantras of this chapter to Parvati, dealing with the worship and meditation of Vastu and Dhyana. Siva concludes the thirteenth chapter by telling Parvati that by worshipping the gods with immense devotion and act, without a view of reward, will be released from rebirth (Avalon 14). In the final chapter, Parvati asks Siva to tell her of the distinct features of the four classes of Avadhutas. There are two kinds of Shaivavadhutas and Brahmavadhutas, either purna or apruna, meaning perfect and imperfect, respectively. The first three classes practice yoga, have enjoyment, and are liberated. The fourth chaste is known as the hangsa, and does not touch metal nor women (Avalon 15).

The Mahanirvana Tantra is described as noble work, probably produced in the latter half of the eighteenth century in Bengal, and belongs to the left hand school (Payne 55). Until the twentieth century, the Tantras had not been seriously studied or translated in the west, and there was little access to the religious materials in them. The Mahanirvana Tantra was translated to English by Arthur Avalon in 1913, and has since gained much more recognition in western cultures. The Mahanirvana Tantra is known as the Great Tantra because it contains all the Dharmmas, while the others deal with one subject only. The Lord Siva tells Parvati in the conclusion of the Tantra that man who knows the book, knows also the three worlds of past, present and future, and by worship of the Tantra will be liberated (Avalon 15). “What further shall I tell Thee of the greatness of the Mahanirvana Tantra? Through the knowledge of it one shall attain to Brahma-nirvana” (Avalon 15).

Bibliography

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Avalon, Arthur (1918) Shakti and Shakta. London: Luzac & Company.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (1987) History of the Tantric Religion. New Delhi: Manohar Publications.

Feuerstein, Georg (1998) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Payne, Ernest A. (1997) The Saktas: An Introductory and Comparative Study. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Woodroffe, John (1980) Introduction to Tantra Sastra. Madras: Ganesh & Company.

Related Readings

Avalon, Arthur (2010) Mahanirvana Tantra of The Great Liberation. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing.

Hugh B. Urban (2001) “The Path of Power: Impurity, Kingship, and Sacrifice in Assamese Tantra.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 69, No. 4 pp. 777-816. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Pechilis, Karen (2016) “Bhakti and Tantra intertwined: the explorations of the Tamil Poetess Karaikkal Ammaiyar.” International Journal of Dharma Studies 4: 2. doi:10.1186/s40613-016-0024-x

Related Research Topics

  • The Saktas
  • Hindu God Siva
  • Hindu Goddess Parvati
  • The Tantras

Related Websites

www.hinduwebsite.com

http://hinduonline.co

http://yoniversum.nl

This article was written by: Emily Sim (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content

The Durga Puja

Durga Puja is an annual festival that celebrates the Great Goddess, better known as Durga. Although the true origin of the worship of Durga is still unknown, today’s form of the Durga Puja festival can be dated back to the 16th century, during the Mughal era (Banerjee 31). During this time, the mythical figure of Rama and his worship of Durga in the Ramayana were brought to the center of attention. The Ramayana says that Rama wanted to destroy the evil demon, Ravana, but needed aid because he was not strong enough to kill the demon on his own. By worshipping Durga, she provided him with the strength he needed to win against Ravana (Ghosha 14). This epic brought a large amount of influence to Raja Udaynarayan and he held the first Durga Puja to show his strength against the Mughals. Although many historians believe that he was not successful against the Mughals, the festival began to spread and quickly became one of the most important festivals (Banerjee 31-32). Many believe that the reason this epic had such a great influence was due to the resistance many kingdoms, on the Indian sub-continent, had against Mughal rule (Rodrigues 19). This epic also changed the time when the festival was to be held. It is said that Rama worshipped the Great Goddess during the autumn instead of the spring months, done by King Suratha (Banerjee 2). Therefore Raja Udaynarayan held the festival in autumn in the16th century causing the festival to be held in the autumn month of Asvina, during the nine-day Navaratri festival, today.

Puja, a form of devotional worship, is normally only performed for one or two days; the Durga Puja spans over a four-five day period (Banerjee 18). During this period, many complex rituals are held in the worship of Durga. The Great Goddess is not a particular goddess but is a single supreme form of divine femininity. This causes the Great Goddess to have many names; for example the most popular names used are Devi, Ma, or Sakti (Rodrigues 17). Therefore, all goddesses are worshipped during this time and every temple that houses a goddess is lively and closely attended too. Expensive home pujas are also put within each home for personal worship. Clay images (murti) and temporary shrines (pandals) are even more closely attended to and observed at this time because they are the focal points for worship (Rodrigues 10). Many pujas, forms of worship, are needed each day during this festival for ritual worship. Each day has a different assortment or food, cloth and puja items, such as flowers, iron, shells, or bark. These items are needed each day to invoke the Great Goddess her for aid among the people and the community.

This time is also known as an important to restore old items and relationships; it is an important time built on caring for others, sharing when one is in need, and keeping a strong bond with family members (Banerjee 61). Many married daughters are able to come home to their parents and spend time with their families; most women live with their husband’s family, once they are married, due to Hindu tradition (Rodrigues 28). Much time is spent worshipping the Great Goddess hoping to invoke her upon the things that not only a single person needs but also the things others and the community is in need of. One of the most important figures during these rituals is the purohita, the central role to the entirety of the pujas (Rodrigues 29). The purohita prepares and purifies water (jala suddhi), flowers (puspa suddhi), his seat (asana suddhi), and the elements (bhuta suddhi) as his preliminary duties in preparing for the rituals to come (Rodrigues 38). The purohita uses this purification ritual to create a link with the divine nature and enables the Great Goddess to manifest in the purohita; he then transfers her into different abodes (Rodrigues 277). This creates a strong bond between the Great Goddess and the people observing and worshipping her.

Another sacred ritual is that of an animal sacrifice in order to keep cosmic stability. This ritual is used as a re-enactment of the battle between Durga and Mahisa in which the cosmos was regulated by Durga once she slayed the beast (Kinsley 112). In today’s Durga Puja, blood sacrifice is disappearing and many communities are substituting fruits, such as melons, for animals. Even though melons are used, Hindus go to great lengths to change the melons, such as put vermilion paste and effigy on them, to ensure it represents a blood sacrifice. Blood sacrifice is also representative of the most important food offering to the Great Goddess. Even though true blood is not always spilt, it is meant to symbolically represent the beheading of Mahisa (Rodrigues 278).

As Durga Puja spans over four to five days during the Navaratri festival, it adds two very different central roles to the Great Goddess and why she is being worshipped at this time. This most popular depiction of Durga is that of a strong warrior, wielding many weapons and is victorious over evil. One of the most popular legends that this depiction arises from is of Durga battling the powerful buffalo-headed demon, Mahisa, to regulate the cosmos, which she comes out victorious by killing him. This depiction causes many people to associate the worship of Durga with military success and victory of good over evil. Military success is also attributed to the month of Asvina itself because it occurs at the end of the rainy season, in which the season of warfare begins. During this season of warfare, the worship of weapons, ayudha-puja, and the worship as Aparajita are conducted. The ayudha-puja takes place in the temples of Devi and is done by soldiers and military rulers, as it marks the beginning of military campaigns. Durga is also worshipped as Aparajita, she who is invincible, to invoke the power of Durga that cannot be conquered or controlled to ensure military success among the people (Rodrigues 290). Durga in all forms in representative of formidable power and how it is to be wielded; to battle adversity and conquer what is in the way of ones path to succession (Rodrigues 289).

Durga is symbolically represented in many different forms; the most important of these forms are the jar (ghata), the cluster of nine plants (navapatrika), the clay image, and the virgin girl (kumari). The jar (ghata) is the most recognizable of these forms and Devi’s embodiment in the jar resembles a pregnant woman. The jar is composed of two natural elements, the earth and the divine waters; these elements have been associated with the Great Goddess for a long period of time. This natural element within the jar and the representation of the pregnant woman symbolize Durga as the form of the mother of creation and she is giving birth to the cosmos. Other elements, such as flowers, earth, fruit, water, and fragrant paste, are placed around or on this form of Durga to be served as the beauty of nature that comes from creation (Rodrigues 262). Next, the cluster of nine plants (navapatrika) and a wood-apple tree branch, to serve as the breasts of the Great Goddess, are placed with the jar for worship within the house. Where as the wood-apple branch symbolizes Durga herself, the cluster of plants represents the different aspect of the Great Goddess and the feminine identity. These aspects incorporate different goddesses and their symbols as aspects of the Great Goddess such as the Nim tree and the Tulasi plant that serve as an embodiment of goddesses (Rodrigues 264).

The most striking and influential of these forms is the clay image. The clay image is the Great Goddess as a young and beautiful goddess. She has a strong and beautiful body that showcases the femininity of her character but she also wields the weapons of the male gods with her ten arms to exemplify her unconquerable power. In the clay image is also the human form of Mahisa as Durga impales him with her spear (Rodrigues 265). A large amount of blood is also portrayed in this image and shows the importance the blood sacrifice and to re-enact the spilling of the evil blood. Ganesa and Kartikeya are also presented within the clay image as aspects of the Great Goddess. Ganesa is worshipped as the Lord of Obstacles and Kartikeya is worshipped as the divine warrior. These aspects put together are representative of Durga as a strong warrior that is a great obstacle that stands in the way of her opponents (Rodrigues 266). This clay image in very complex and represents the whole of the different aspects of Durga. The last form of Durga is served as a virgin girl. Any pure, young girl can serve as this form of Durga and is used as a vehicle for the manifestation of Durga in human form. The use of a virgin girl is also linked to the blood sacrifice and gathering of women. During this time, women of all ages, including married daughters, come together to celebrate this festival. This showcases all the stages of a woman, from a virgin girl, to a young married woman, to an older mother or grandmother. The blood sacrifice is also representative of the stages in a woman’s life as well. Whereas a young virgin girl represents youth, the blood sacrifice also represents the fertility to come into the girl’s life, as she grows older. This is represented by Durga during the virgin girl embodiment as well as she is a young beautiful girl that causes the flow of blood (Rodrigues 297).

These rituals create a bond with Durga, the divine, and the people. As Durga embodies these different forms it creates a high level of devotional worship among the devotees. The embodiment of a virgin girl creates a strong link between the Great Goddess and the people because they recognize Durga as a daughter and someone they have a strong relationship with (Banerjee 87). This festival also brings families together once again to celebrate fertility, power, and success together. The Durga Puja is one of the few festivals that adjust to the changing times and but also keeps and passes down the sacred rituals to ensure the festival remains.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Banerjee, Sudeshna (2004) Durga Puja: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Rupa and Co, Calcutta.

Ghosha, Pratapachandra (1871) Durga Puja: With Notes and Illustrations. Calcutta: Hindoo Patriot Pres.

Kinsley, David (1987) Hindu Goddesses. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Rodrigues, Hilary Peter (2003) Ritual Worship of the Great Goddess: The Liturgy of the Durga Puja with Interpretations. Albany: State University of New York Press.

RELATED TOPICS FOR FUTHER INVESTIGATION

Durga

Devi

Sakti

Puja

Rama

Ramayana

Ravana

Ganesa

Kartikeya

NOTEWORTHY WESITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

http://www.durga-puja.org

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

https://www.thoughtco.com/ten-days-with-the-mother-goddess-1770197

Article written by: Kaitlynn Poworoznyk (March 2017) who is solely responsible for this content.

Markandeya Purana

There are eighteen or nineteen major Puranas also referred to as Mahapuranas in the hindu texts (see Rodrigues 207). There are also other Puranas which are referred to as upapurana, there are many more of these puranas compared to the major puranas. The Markandeya Purana is known to be one the Mahapuranas. All of the Puranas are claimed to deal with five distinctive subjects which includes the creation, renewal, genealogies, and manvantara or the periods of Manu(see Rodrigues 208). These five subjects apply to all of the Puranas including Markandeya Purana. The Markandeya Purana is one of major hindu texts, it is named after the rsi (sage) Markandeya who is said to be credited for this Purana. This Purana is also translated by many religious scholars including scholars like Manmatha Nath Dutt, and Frederick Eden Pragiter. This text is also highly studied for the section about the Devi-Mahatmaya in the text.

The Markandeya Purana like any other Puranas is written in a form of dialogue where one is the one questioning while the other answering. All the Mahapuranas are classed into three different groups: Satwika, Tamasa, and the Rajasa. All three referring to three different gods, but the section that the Markandeya Purana belongs to is the Rajasa which refers to the stories of the Brahma. The Rajasa Puranas also said to be oriented towards the Shaktas, worshippers of the female principle Sakti (see Dutt 3). This Purana has approximately six thousand and nine hundred verses, also not many prayers are seen in this text for the dities compared to the other Puranas (Dutt 3-4). This shows that the text is more oriented towards the narrative aspect compared to the bhakti aspect with less prayers and more myths. The author of the Purana is said to be Brahma himself because it is said to have come from Brahma’s mouth.

The text has been said to be specifically divided into five different parts, each part referring to something different than the other. For example, Chapters 1-9 are indicating the talk between Markandeya and Jaimini in which sage Markandeya refers to the wise birds to answer four questions asked by Jaimini. The other parts refer to 14 manvantaras, the Devi-Mahatmaya and many other conversations and tales (see Pargiter iv). This text also brings along the fact that unlike most Puranas this text is not credited to rsi Vyasa but to the sage Markandeya. Jaimini is said to be a disciple of Vyasa and but is seeking answers for his questions from rsi Markandeya (Wilson xxxiv). So coming back to the four questions asked by Jaimini, these questions are “Why was Vásudeva born as a mortal? How was it that Draupadí was the wife of the five Páńd́us? Why did Baladeva do penance for Brahmanicide? and why were the children of Draupadí destroyed, when they had Krishńa and Arjuna to defend them?” quoted from The Visnu Purana translated by Wilson. To answer these questions Markandeya tells Jaimini about some sapient birds from the Vindhya mountain (see Wilson xxxv) This is all in the first part of the Purana. The other parts of this text includes stories about the Devi-Mahatmaya, and the 14 Periods of Manu. The last part of the text is a conversation between Markandeya and Kraustuki. Kraustuki is a disciple of Markandeya, the conversation between them carries on in chapters 93-136 (Pargiter iv). The Purana also describes the Vedas and also gives information on the origins of the patriarchal families (Dutt 4).

The Markandeya Purana is important in a way for the fact that it criticizes the Mahabharata and also for the inclusion of the Devi-Mahatmaya. The Mahabharata is an important text for the production of the Puranas, one of the reasons for this can be the fact that it is credited to sage Vyasa who is also given credit for the epic Mahabharata (Rocher 83). As mentioned in the four questions by Jaimini most of the characters indicated are from this epic. This leads to the inclusion of the epic in the text frequently. The Purana doesn’t just criticize but also tries to explain some unanswered questions in the epic. The questions are answered through the reference of the wise birds in the text. The Purana (Pargiter iii-xxii). Another important aspect of the text is the Part indicating the Devi-Mahatmaya (Pargiter iii-xxii). The Chandipatha in this part is said to be the most important section. This contains about seven hundred verses which describes the actions and avatars of the goddess Chandi while it combats demons and the ‘evil’ (Dutt 4). The Devi-Mahatmaya is studied a lot compared to the purana itself, it shows the importance of the Sakti the female principle (Dutt 3-4). This is different from the male centered texts in Hindusim.

The Markadeya Purana is hard to date according to the many scholars because most of the Sanskrit text are undated and uncertain (Dutt 3, Pragiter xiii). The Purana includes the Mahabharata therefore it is dated after that but also prior to the Brahma, Padma, Naradiya, and Bhagvata Puranas (Pragiter xiii-xiv). This is later modified and the Puranas are said to have been composed much earlier. This is provided through Jain writings because it has literature that has been composed after the Puranas. This makes the scholars date the text closer to the 5th or 6th century A.D (Pargiter xiii-xxii). As the Puranas are composed with a similar intent therefore they have probably been dated close to each other. These Puranas are dated using the “religious and philosophical ideas embodied in it” (Pargiter xiii-xxii).

According to Pargiter this literature is known to have originated from the Western India. To get to these results different aspects have been considered from the text itself. One of the aspects that were considered were the fact about what regions some of the characters were from from the text. For example using the fact that Markandeya was a Bhargava, which gives information about the region Markandeya came from (Pargiter viii-xiii). This then gives the insight on what region is to be considered while giving a place of origin for the Purana. This is not the only aspect that has been considered, another aspect that is considered is the types of plants, birds and animals that are found in the text (Pargiter viii-xiii). This then gives further information on the area where the text originates because they can be specified by certain areas as well. This helps the scholars find an area that is described by the text.

The Markandeya Purana as described before is also said to be different than other texts because of the fact that it is not a bhakti oriented text with less prayers. Another conclusion that can be came upon is the fact that it lies parallel with the Vedas and the Epics because the Markandeya Purana is trying to explain many things from the Epics and the Vedas. An example of this was given while describing the four questions asked by Jaimini. This Purana also puts Vyasa and Markandeya as equals because of the fact that Jaimini, Vyasa’s disciple is seeking answers from the sage Markandeya.

REFRENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Dutt, Manmathanath (1896) A Prose English Tanslation of Markandeya Purana. Kolkata: Elysium Press.

Pargiter, Frederick (1904) The Markandeya Purana. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal.

Rocher, Ludo (1986) The Purana. Virginia: Otto Harrasowitz Verlag.

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

Wilson, Horace (1840) The Vishnu Purana. Santa Cruz: Evinity Publishing Inc.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Arjuna

Baldeva

Chandi

Chandipatha

Devi-Mahatmaya

Draupadi

Epics

Jaimini

Krsna

Mahabharata

Manvantaras

Markandeya

Padma Purana

Pandus

Puranas

Rajasa

rsi

Satwika

Tamasa

Vasudeva

Vedas

Vyasa

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hindu2/2014/09/markandeya-purana-pdf-english-hindi-sanskrit/

http://hinduonline.co/Scriptures/Puranas/MarkandeyaPurana.html

http://www.allaboutbharat.org/post/Markandeya-Puran-Download-PDF

http://www.kamakoti.org/kamakoti/details/markandeyapurana5.html

Article written by: Neer Patel (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content

The Savitri and Satyavat Myth

The myth of Savitri and Satyavat is the fictional love story of a Hindu wife following her husband through death and saving him with her great dharmic wisdom. The origin of the story dates back to the Mahabharata. The sage Vyasa had written the Mahabharata with the help of the god Ganesa to give to the world as a gift. Within Vyasa’s telling of the Mahabharata the ideology of dharmic character is clarified and expanded on through side stories such at Savitri and Satyavat. The Mahabharata tells the epic story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas were battling each other, and at one point, the Pandavas were exiled to live in the forest for 13 years. During this time, the brothers meet with the rishi Markandeya. The most dharmic brother, Yudhisthira, was lamenting the kidnapping of Draupadi, the Pandava’s wife, as she had been taken by Jaydratha (Anand 2). He asked the rishi if he had ever met a more dharmic woman than Draupadi. The rishi responded with the myth of Savitri and Satyavat, answering his question by telling of the most dharmic woman possible.

The king Asvapati of the land Mudra had no heirs. Worried that he would die before his bloodline would be carried on, he devoted himself to prayers and sacrifices, asking the gods for many sons. After eighteen years, the sun Goddess Savitri answered Asvapati’s hundred thousand hymns to her (Narayan 182). The goddess explained that although she knew he requested for many sons, she would instead bless him with a single daughter, for whom he should be grateful (Anand 3). Soon after, Asvapati’s eldest wife gave birth to a baby girl, whom he named Savitri after the goddess. When Savitri had grown up, her beauty was so astounding that suitors would not ask for her hand in marriage. When the king requested a reason, they responded she must be an incarnation of a goddess and could not be married. The princess Savitri then began a penance, as she waited for a proposal. However, none appeared. The king decided Savitri must be married, and came up with a plan for her to find a husband. Savitri was told to search for her own husband that was well suited and that was as good to her as she was to her father (Narayan 183). Savitri was unsure how to do so, but agreed to do his bidding. The king sent an assembly of his men to accompany his daughter who were under the order not to interfere with her decision.

A year later, she returned to her father who was with the heavenly sage Narada. Narada did not understand why she did not have a husband yet, but the king was ready to receive her answer. Savitri reported that she named Satyavat her husband [often called Satyavan]. Narada strongly advised against her decision. He explained that although Satyavat was perfectly suitable, he was cursed to die in exactly one year from that day. Asvapati tried to persuade his daughter to find another husband, but Savitri refused. Satyavat was her first and only choice for husband, and she would not choose again.

Satyavat was son of the exiled, blind king Dyumatsena, and he took care of him and his mother in their forest hermitage. Before the wedding, Asvapati asked the exiled king for his blessing on the marriage (Nadkarni 2012:np). Dyumatsena was hesitant but agreed. Once the blessing was given, Savitri married Satyavat and joined him in his forest home. Savitri was the ideal wife and daughter in-law, and brought joy to the household (Narayan 185). However, she always remembered the curse and silently counted down the days. When four days were left before the cursed day, Savitri began a triratra vow, a severe penance of fasting, praying, and standing, for three days and nights. Her parents in-law were worried for her and insisted she end this penance, but Savitri refused. On the fourth day, when Satyavat was to begin his daily journey into the forest, Savitri begged him to allow her to join him. Satyavat was hesitant but agreed only if Savitri gained approval from her in-laws. Asking her parents in-law, they granted her wish as Dyumatsena knew she had never asked for anything before (Narayan 186). Travelling deep into the forest, Satyavat was unaware of his fate, but Savitri could not focus on anything else (Narayan 186). As Satyavat was swinging the axe to cut trees, he suddenly felt fatigued. Savitri went to his aid and brought him to rest his head in her lap. She realized this must be the hour that Narada had foretold. Satyavat soon fell into a deep sleep. Savitri continued to hold him when a figure came to hover over them. As Savitri focused on this figure, she saw that it was the God of Death, Yama, coming to take Satyavat’s soul. Savitri rested Satyavat’s head on the ground, and rose to address the God of Death. Savitri asked the God why he himself had come (Dutt 423). Yama answered that because Satyavat was such a distinguished person, he wanted to honour Satyavat in his death by bringing him to death’s halls himself. Yama recognized Savitri as an auspicious wife with a rare gift of being extraordinarily sensitive. But unwavering, Yama continued to take Satyavat’s soul to his kingdom against Savitri’s requests.

However, Savitri had begun to follow him to the land of death, a place where she could not go. Yama tried to persuade her to turn back, but Savitri was refused, knowing that where her husband went, she went, as it was her dharmic duty as a wife to accompany her husband through life and death. Impressed by her knowledge of dharma, Yama told her to ask for any boon other than the life of her husband and he shall grant it (Nadkarni 2012:np). Savitri asked for the return of her father in-law’s sight. They continued their conversation and Yama is repeatedly impressed, granting 3 more boons. Savitri asked for Dyumatsena’s kingdom to be restored, her father to have a hundred noble sons and for a hundred sons for herself and Satyavat. Yama granted these, but then realized too late that for the final boon to be granted Satyavat must be returned to earth. Yama kept his word and gave his blessing and Satyavat’s soul back to Savitri to return to his body (Nadkarni 2012:np).

Restoring his soul to his body, Savitri and Satyavat hurried home to his parents’ hermitage as they were late to return. Dyumatsena, with his sight recently restored, and his wife were worried when Satyavat and Savitri had not returned at their normal time. Neighbours had come to comfort them. When Savitri and Satyavat finally arrived, a celebration was thrown in their honour. Questioned on their reason for such a late arrival, Savitri began her story of all the transpired events, beginning with Narada’s prophecy up until their return home. She explained in detail her interactions with Yama, the God of Death, and the boons he had granted her (Dutt 429). The next day, Dyumatsena was informed his enemy, who had seized the throne, had been killed by the hands of one of his own ministers. Dyumatsena was once again declared king of the Shalwa kingdom. Savitri and Satyavat had their 100 sons who were brave, noble, and never fled from war (Dutt 430). Asvapati was also blessed with 100 sons who kept his bloodline and lineage strong for generations.

Savitri is used as the example of the ideal Hindu wife; a woman who is willing to follow her husband through death and back. Savitri symbolizes the dharmic wisdom that overcomes death (Anand 2). The perfect wife is to maintain her position beside her husband for all of time. In each dharmic marriage the man has the responsibility to take care of his family in all the physical aspects of life, while the wife “embodies the power to sustain their existence” (Rodrigues 125). She must maintain this power by being as auspicious as possible, and by being loyal by following orders from her husband. This enhances her personal spiritual power, or sakti. Her whole family depends on this spiritual power for their survival. By having this power, she is responsible to take part in sati, the ritual where the wife is required to lie on her deceased husband’s pyre, showing that she is willing to die with him and to use her sakti to cleanse his soul in a spiritual sense (Pitchman 26). Savitri is the ideal wife because when she completed sati she brought Satyavat back to life with her, proving she was purely dharmic. Her higher understanding of the dharmic teaching and her commitment to Satyavat is what brought her husband back to life (Verma 67). As they are two parts of a whole, both the husband and wife rely on each other to live a dharmic life. Their devotion to each other, especially Savitri’s, deems her the ideal wife in Hindu culture.

REFERENCES AND RECOMMENDED READING

Anand, Subhash (1988) Savitri and Satyavat: A Contemporary Reading. Pune: Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

Dutt, Manmatha Nath (1895) A Prose English Translation of the Mahabharata: (translated Literally from the Original Sanskrit Text). H.C. Dass.

Nadkarni, Mangesh V. (2012) Savitri-The Golden Bridge, The Wonderful Fire: An introduction to Sri Aurobindo’s epic. Auroville: Savitri Bhavan

Narayan, R. K. (1964) Gods, Demons, and Others. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Pintchman, Tracy (2011) Woman and Goddess in Hinduism: Reinterpretations and Re-envisionings. New York: Palgrave Macmillan

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism–The e-Book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Verma, K.D. (1977) Myth and Symbol in Aurobindo’s “Savitri”: A Revaluation. Michigan: Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University

Related Topics for Further Investigation

dharma

Draupadi

Ganesa

Kauravas

Mahabharata

Markandeya

Narada

Pandavas

sakti

sati

Sati

Vyasa

Yama

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Aśvapati

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

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/index.htm

https://books.google.ca/books?id=wFtXBGNn0aUC&redir_esc=y

http://www.rsvidyapeetha.ac.in/mahabharatha/summary/eng/3.pdf

http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/vyasa/page10.htm

Article written by: Abby Neudorf (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Savitri and Satyavan

The Hindu myth of Savitri and Satyavan, found in the Mahabharata, is a tale of the love and devotion a Hindu wife was expected to have for her husband. In the Hindu tradition women are expected to show this devotion to their husbands above all else, and the tale of Savitri’s devotion is one of the most poignant and significant examples of this.

The story begins with Aswapati, a king, who was virtuous and lived what could be considered a perfect dharmic lifestyle. Despite this, Aswapati could not conceive a male heir; as he grew older this became more and more of a concern. After 18 years of a perfect dharmic lifestyle, including performing ten thousand oblations daily and reciting Mantras in honour of Savitri, Aswapati was visited by the goddess Savitri herself, who is also called Gayatri. Savitri could not grant him a son, but instead granted him a daughter, who the king named Savitri after the goddess. In some versions Savitri did not grant him the child herself, but informed Aswapati that Brahma was granting him a child (Sarma 329). Savitri grew up to become a beautiful woman, compared by the people to a goddess, and because of her intimidating beauty none would marry her. Aswapati sent her off in search of a husband, as none in his land would marry her. (Ganguli 570-571)

When she returned, she tells her father of another king, Dyumatsena. Dyumatsena was a wise, virtuous kshatriya king. Dyumatsena grew blind, and thus his kingdom was overthrown by an old enemy, ousting Dyumatsena and his family and forcing them into a hermitage. Dyumatsena’s only son, Satyavan, grew up in this state of hermitage. Savitri met the adult Satyavan, and chose him as the one she would marry. She praised his virtues to her father, listing his energy, wisdom, bravery, and forgiveness. She compared his noble attributes to those of various gods, to further emphasize just how perfect a match Satyavan was. Her father’s counselors, who accompanied Savitri on this journey supported her statements. The king asked his trusted advisor if this seemingly perfect youth had any defects, and it is revealed that Satyavan was to die exactly one year from this meeting. Aswapati urged Savitri to choose another, but she had already made up her mind and refused to change it, stating that she had already selected Satyavan and will not select again. The king relented on seeing the full extent of her devotion, and the two were wed. (Ganguli 572-574)

As the day of Satyavan’s death approached, Savitri offered prayers and ascetic observances for the three days prior to Satyavan’s preordained demise. Savitri and Satyavan went out in the woods on the day in question to pick fruits and cut down tree branches. Satyavan began to feel weak, and Savitri laid him on the ground with his head in her lap. The next moment, Yama, the god of death, appeared to Savitri. He had come to personally take Satyavan’s soul. He did so and departed, but Savitri proceeded to follow him out of her devotion to her husband. She spoke to Yama of Satyavan’s virtues, and he was impressed by her words and her devotion and granted her a boon, anything she wanted except Satyavan’s life. She requested that her father-in-law, Dyumatsena, regain his eyesight and his strength. Yama granted this, and continued on his way. Savitri followed him still, telling Yama more of Satyavan. Yama granted her a second boon, and she asked for Dyumatsena to regain his kingdom. She continued to follow him, this time speaking of mercy, and Yama granted her a third boon. She asked to beget children to continue her father’s line, and Yama granted her that she may have a hundred sons. She proceeded to speak about justice. Yama had heretofore been very impressed with Savitri’s devotion and extensive wisdom, and he granted her a fourth boon. She asked for a century of sons, begat by her and Satyavan, and Yama granted this before realizing the implication. He realized Savitri had tricked him and, impressed with her cunning, granted Satyavan’s life back, as she could not father sons with him if he was dead. This differs, as in some versions it is not by Savitri’s cunning, but by her continued devotion that she convinced Yama to give Satyavan back (Sarma 334). When Savitri and Satyavan returned, they found Dyumatsena’s eyesight and strength had returned, and he ascended once again to his rightful place at the head of his kingdom. Savitri and Satyavan had many children, and all was well (Ganguli 576-585).

Savitri’s devotion to her husband is the key theme of this myth. Even before they are married, she is unshakeable in her conviction to stand by Satyavan despite his impending death, and this devotion is what impresses her father so much that he allows the two to be wed. This is especially significant due to the inauspicious status of widows in the Hindu tradition, and the prohibition of remarriage (Rodrigues 127-128). She also shows devotion towards her husband’s family, who in the Hindu tradition essentially becomes her new primary family. Her requests of Yama to return her father-in-law’s sight, strength, and kingdom exemplify this ideal. Lastly, her devotion to Satyavan even in death is impressive. She follows Yama, death himself, and he grants her multiple divine boons, eventually even giving her Satyavan back. It is interesting to note however, that Savitri is not a helpless damsel following Yama because she is incapable of anything without her husband. If anything, after Satyavan’s death she shows her many other impressive characteristics in convincing Yama to bring Satyavan back.

The ideal of pativrata is described by Rodrigues as “ascetic dedication to [the woman’s] husband” (Rodrigues 124). It is the highest vrata, or ascetic observance, that Hindu women follow. The pativrata is closely related to sakti, spiritual power, and the husband was dependent on this spiritual power for his survival and strength. The story of Savitri exemplifies this, as Savitri’s devotion is very closely tied to her husband’s strength and survival, literally bringing him back from death. Savitri initially tries to prevent his death, performing vrata for three days just prior to the promised time. When this fails, she follows Yama, an extraordinary display of ascetic devotion, and her spirituality is a key factor in convincing Yama to bring Satyavan back.

Some scholars explore the similarities and differences between Savitri and Draupadi. Indeed, the entire reason this myth was told in the Mahabharata was in response to Yudhisthira asking if there had ever been a woman whose devotion matched Draupadi’s (Ganguli 570). Weiss looks at Savitri’s marriage as a sort of inversion of Draupadi’s. Savitri is an ascetic wife, while Draupadi is married to five men, both deviations from the Hindu norm. As Weiss states: “Savitri lowers her social status by an act that creates social discontinuity (ascetic practices terminate social lineage), and Draupadi limits the natural capacities of her husbands by marrying all of them.” (Weiss 268-269).  The feminist scholar Lohia gently criticizes Savitri in comparison to Draupadi, stating that loyalty was important, but only as a single aspect of a woman’s personality (Yadav 110). Ultimately, both women represent distinct aspects of the Hindu ideal.

The story of Savitri and Satyavan exemplifies Hindu ideals of a wife’s devotion to her husband. Savitri marries the man she chooses regardless of his impending death, and refuses to let him go. When he does die, it is her devotion and strength of character that brings him back to life. In my opinion, she epitomizes the ideal of pativrata, and is an example of how the Hindu epics teach how one should live through tales with simple moral principles.

Bibliography

Ganguli, Kisari Mohan (1990) The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa Vol.III (5th Edition). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism – The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sarma, Bharadvaja (2008) Vyasa’s Mahabaratam. Academic Publishers.

Weiss, Brad (1985) “Mediations in the Myth of Savitri.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 53, No. 2: 259-270. www.jstor.org/stable/1464922

Yadav, Kumkum (2010) “Draupadi or Savitri: Lohia’s Feminist Reading Of Mythology.” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 45, No. 48: 107–112. www.jstor.org/stable/25764190

Related Research Topics

pativrata

sakti

sati

Aswapati

Dyumatsena

Yama

Gayatri (goddess)

Brahma

Yudhisthira

Draupadi

Mahabharata

kshatriya

Related Websites

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

http://www.apamnapat.com/entities/Savitri.html

http://www.aaronshep.com/stories/006.html

http://www.kidsgen.com/fables_and_fairytales/indian_mythology_stories/satyavan_and_savitri.htm

This article was written by Thomas Hill (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.


The Apsaras

The name, “Apsaras” is derived from the Sanskrit word, apsa meaning water (Pattanaik 22). While the origins of these heavenly water nymphs vary, the most common version of the myth claims the Apsaras were born as a result of the churning of the milky ocean. Other versions, specifically found within the Manu Sastra claim the Apsaras were created in part with the seven Manus to serve as wives of the gods and daughters of pleasure (Williams 57). Originally believed to have emerged as a group of thirteen, the Apsaras are understood to have grown in numbers reaching up to 35 million (Williams 57). The ambiguity of the Apsaras does not stop with the myths of their origin; rather, the Apsaras are also ambiguous in their purpose. However, the commonality between the varying myths regarding the Apsaras purpose is that each Apsara is “skillfully versed in the 64 ways to please the senses” (Pattanaik 22). For example, certain myths claim the purpose of the Apsaras creation was to pleasure the gods, and occasionally the warrior heroes, as dancers in Indra’s court. Alternate myths depict the Apsaras as the wives of the Gandharvas or temptresses of sages. Regardless of their relationships, the indisputable feature of the Apsaras is that they are beautiful and seductive heavenly charmers (Williams 57).

According to the Mahabharata, the Apsaras play a major role in the act of war (Hara 139). The Apsaras are believed to accompany fallen soldiers into Indra’s heaven, where they and the Gandharvas embody all aspects of desire. Therefore, it is believed that heroic warriors would race into battle, braving any outcome in hopes of receiving the ultimate reward, an Apsara lover. This passive imagery of the Apsaras is only one half of the myth; the Apsaras are also understood to be active and aggressive in their search for a lover. The battlefield is a war zone to the Apsaras as well. Thousands of Apsaras descend the fields, playing instruments and singing songs. The Apsaras wait for the slain solders to fall, and then fight one another for the honor of marrying a fallen hero and accompanying him to Indra’s Court. Multiple kings used this imagery of the ascending and descending Apsaras in order to entice their men into battle (Hara 139).

Just as there are multiple versions of the myths regarding the origins and the role of the Apsaras, there are multiple versions of the myth regarding the soldiers’ ascent to the Apsaras. The Kumarasambhava claims that the Apsaras do not descend to earth in order to obtain their fallen heroes. Rather, a wild elephant uses its tusks to throw the fallen soldiers to the Apsaras waiting in heaven (Hara 142). The Kumarasambhava also details the results pertaining to two opposing soldiers who die in battle simultaneously. It is believed that their battle continues in heaven, this time for the Apsara herself (Hara 143).

Although the Apsaras are often seen as object of desire, they do face some hostility. The myth of the Apsaras creates a rivalry between the beautiful nymphs and the jealous widows of the fallen solders. The Mahabharata details the aforementioned wars from the point of view of the war wives and widows. One story tells of a widow’s prayer to her husband as to not forget of her love and service to him when he meets and becomes enchanted with his new Apsara (Hara 143). Additional stories describe the jealousy that the wives felt even before battle, witnessing their husband’s excitement to be slain and thus, rescued by an Apsara (Hara 144). Many women desire to follow their husbands into heaven, therefore they perform the act of sati, in which the wife immolates herself atop her husband’s funeral pyre to prevent the Apsaras from reaching the fallen solider. However, many Apsaras are believed to be aware of this tactic, and so they aim to entrap the solider before the arrival of the wife (Hara 146).

In regards to the historical content of these myths, it is important to note that throughout the early Vedic period, women possessed societal agency not necessarily associated with women of the later Vedic period. Therefore, this powerful representation of women through the Apsaras would not have been unusual (Wangu 40). It is also important to note that the Apsaras were “expected to behave outside the norms of society…as [they are] creature(s) of power much stronger than that of mortal men” (Pollock and Turvey-Sauron 141). Thus, their agency to choose their husbands and ascend or descend the heavens as they please was easily believed.

Multiple prominent Apsaras appear in their own specific myths told inside larger texts such as the Mahabharata or the Rg Veda. Some examples of these Apsaras are Urvashi, and Tilottama. According to the Mahabharata, Tilottama is an Apsara created by Visvakarman (Williams 282). Visvankarman combined all the elements of beauty found in the world, both animate and inanimate, in order to create Tilottama. Thus, Tilottama was so beautiful that Siva spouted faces on all sides of his head so that he may always see her and Indra grew one thousand eyes so that he may never lose sight of her. Aside from impressing the gods, Tilottama’s beauty was created in order to seduce the Asuras (demons), Sunda and Upasunda. Ultimately, in this seduction, Tilottama’s goal was to entice the two Asuras into battle. Tilottama successfully seduces both Asuras, causing them to kill each other over her love (Williams 282).

Urvashi (the one born of a thigh) is an Apsara who was created from the thigh of a mortal as a result of a conflict between Indra and Narayana, a sage. Indra attempted to distract Narayana as he was performing austerities over Indra’s throne. One of Indra’s distractions included summoning all the existing Apsaras to tempt Narayana. However, rather than allow himself to be distracted from his auspicious task, Narayana slapped his thigh and created Urvashi, whose beauty surpassed all the previous Apsaras. Indra accepted Urvashi as a gift and apologized to the sage, bringing Urvashi home where she became the eleventh Apsara (Williams 286). Urvashi’s myth does not stop here. It is believed that either Brahma or Mitravaruna cursed Urvashi to be born on earth, where she would eventually fall in love and marry a king named Pururavas under three conditions. First, Pururava was expected to provide Urvashi with two lambs. Secondly, Urvashi was to only eat ghee and finally, Pururava was to never allow Urvashi to see him naked. Although Urvashi was happy and in love, Indra began to miss her and so he sent a group of Gandharvas to retrieve her. In order to do so, they forced Pururava to break two of his three promises. While the couple was making love, the Gandharvas stole Urvashi’s sheep causing Pururava to jump out of bed. At this moment, they illuminated the sky causing Urvashi to see him naked and thus, leave him. Pururava spends the rest of his life searching to see Urvashi again (Williams 286).

As figures of beauty and seduction, the Apsaras are depicted in many art forms. Traditionally, in paintings the Apsaras were artistically depicted as swans, due to their mutual connection with water (Wangu 38). Eventually, the swan symbolism is replaced with the symbolism of Yakshas and Yaksinis, embodiments of “luminosity and awe-inspiring manifestation of a mysterious power which must be worshiped” (Wangu 38). This new depiction of the Apsaras through the Yaksha and Yaksinis imagery was created in order to parallel the pairing of the Apsaras to the Gandharvas and were often used as “decorative elements’ in ancient paintings (Wangu 38-39).

As statues, the Apsaras are depicted in the female form, beautiful and often emulating signs of a lover or seductress. Examples of these signs include a coy, turned away face, fingernail markings on the face or shoulder and little to no clothing (Slaczka 216). In statue form the Apsaras are also depicted as wearing many expensive articles of jewellery and hair ornamentation to expresses their luxurious qualities (Slaczka 216).

One of the most popular artistic mediums used to represent the Apsaras is dance, originating with the Devadasis (servants of God). The Devadasis were groups of women, living and working in temples, who provided services to the temple gods and devotees. However, the primary role of the Devadasis was to preserve and present the arts, specifically dance (Rodrigues 284). The Devadasis performed in large dance halls, located inside the temples, in order to pleasure the gods. Thus, the Devadasis were understood to emulate the myth of the Apsaras as beautiful and erotic embodiments of pleasure. Unfortunately, the Devadasis tradition fell victim to sexual exploitation and colonial ignorance. The tradition was outlawed and thus, the sacred dances and rituals were lost (Rodrigues 284). However, Nijhawan does argue that through the awakening and support of academics, the story of the Devadasis was revived and brought into the twentieth century (102). Nijhawan goes on to clarify that, while Devadasis image is echoed in the modern styles of Bollywood dance, it is again faced with the unfortunate fate of sexual exploitation of women and lack of female agency (103).

Unlike the rites and traditions of the Devadasis, the Cambodian ballet managed to keep the traditional myths of the Apsaras alive well into the modern day. The Apsara figurines located in the temples of Angkor-vat inspire the origins of the Cambodian ballet. The choreography performed by the dancers themselves emulates the gestures of the statues, while the costumes replicate the original ornamentation and colours of the figurines. Both dancer and costume working together to preserve and express the traditional beauty and praise of the mythological figures (Strickland-Anderson 226-227).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Encyclopædia Britannica (2010) “Apsara.” Britannica Academic academic.eb.com.ezproxy.uleth.ca/levels/collegiate/article/94889.

Hara, Minoru (2001) “Apsaras and Heroes.” Journal of Indian Philosophy Vol. 29: 139-146.

Nijhawan, Amita (2009) “Excusing The Female Dancer: Tradition and Transgression in Bollywood Dancing.” Journal of South Asian and Popular Culture, Vol. 7: 102-103. Doi: 10.1080.

Nut, Suppya H. (2014) “The Legend of Apsara Mera”: Princess Norodom Buppha Devi’s Choreography for the Royal Ballet of Cambodia.” Asian Theatre Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1: 280-288. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1523423949?accountid=12063.

Pattanaik, Devedutt (2006) Myth = Mithya: A Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: Penguin.

Pollock, Giserelda. (2007) The Sacred and the Feminine: Imagination and Sexual Difference. Victoria Turvey-Sauron (Ed.). New York: I.B.Tauris.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism-The Ebook: An Online Introduction (2nd ed.). PDF e-book. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online.

Slaczka, Anna A. (2012) “Temples, Inscriptions and Misconceptions: Charles-Louis Fábri and the Khajuraho “Apsaras” The Rijksmuseum Bulletin, Vol. 60, No. 3: 212-33. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41703571.

Strickland-Anderson, Lily (1926) “The Cambodian Ballet.” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2: 226-227. www.jstor.org/stable/738462.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses: Myths, Meanings and Models. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Angkor-vat

Asura

Cambodia

Cambodian Ballet

Devadasis

Gandharvas

Kumarasambhava

Mahabharata

Sura

Tilottama

Urvashi

Visvakarman

Yakshas

Yaksinis

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Apsara

http://ezproxy.uleth.ca/login?url=http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/bloommyth/apsaras/0

http://www.ancient.eu/Apsaras_and_Gandharvas/

http://mag.artisansdangkor.com/apsara-dance.html

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

Demons defeated by Siva

In this article we examine myths of various Asuras defeated, by Siva and Rudra “The Howler, Roarer and the Terrible,” a fierce form of Siva. (Williams 248). Asuras are demons, and not every demon is evil. In the past, the Aryans believed demons not to be evil but that they opposed Devas. Siva is known to “encompass three seemingly contradictory planes of truth: Beauty, Wisdom, Power” (Williams 267). To define Avesta, which translates to demons, is known as daeva also known as deva in sanskrit (Bhattacharyya 10). It was seen at first that both Devas and Asuras had similar traits, but it wasn’t till after their fall, Asuras had come to be the evil demons (Kramrisch 394).

The first demon Siva defeated was Andakha. Andakha was Siva and Parvati’s son. Siva and Parvati were married. Andakha is defined as blind, he was created when Siva called Parvati’s skin colour dark, which caused her to leave her home and, that would have been the time the demon entered her (Kramrisch 384). The Asura then became blind when “Parvati placed her hands over Siva’s eyes in jest, only to throw the universe into total darkness. But her touch heated Siva so that a drop of sweat fell from his brow and became an angry, deformed, dark demon…” (Williams 54). The demon named Hiranyanetra practiced austerities to win a boon from Siva, and asked him for a heroic son. Siva granted Hiranyanetra, his own son Andakha. Andakha then started to desire Parvati, and decided to abduct her. He made his way to Mount Mandara, where Parvati was at the time while Siva was away. Andakha attempted to molest Parvati; Siva then appeared and impaled Andakha with his trident (Williams 54).

Adi was another demon that was defeated by Siva. This Asura was Andakha’s son and wanted to avenge his father’s death. To do so Adi performed austerities to be granted a boon, which he received. He asked for invincibility in battle. What led to Adi’s ultimate destruction by Siva was the way he had asked for the boon. Adi then went to Siva, and transformed into a serpent form. Siva is known as lord of all creatures, he is a friend to all snakes (Williams 45). Once Adi had entered the palace via snake form, he changed into the form of Parvati. Parvati was Siva’s wife at the time, and had left Siva to come back with renewed austerities. Siva recognized that this in fact was not Parvati, but rather an Asura. This was due to his realization that Parvati wouldn’t come back without fulfilling her purpose, and he also noticed the demon (in form of Parvati) did not have her mark of a lotus. To kill the demon Adi, Siva then put a thunderbolt on his penis, which “rendered ineffective the strong sharp teeth that Adi had put into the vagina of his Parvati disguise” (Kramrisch 385). This was possible because Adi was in a different form at the time, which meant he wasn’t invincible (Williams 45). “Siva administered death to the demon by means of sex, a method the demon had meant to practice successfully on Siva” (Kramrisch 386).
As noted in the beginning, many Asuras aren’t always bad. We look at Daksa, who started out as “the right thumb of Brahma”(Williams 105). Daksa was once a positive figure that became a negative figure, as he attempted to humiliate Siva. Daksa does not approve of his daughter Sati’s relationship with Siva, even though they are married, because Siva was not Vedic and it would pollute Daksa’s ritual (Williams 106). Sati then sacrificed herself and became Sati. Siva became angered at this, which resulted in two Asuras to be created, named Virabhadra and Bhadra-Kali who then killed Daksa. As noticed, it was through demons, which Siva produced to be able to defeat Daksa (Williams 106).

Siva defeats the demons through Parvati, by using her beauty as bait for the Asuras. At one time, Parvati was playing ball, and the demons that saw her became excited as they watched her play. The demons that watched Parvati full of lust were named Vidala and Utpala. Parvati then threw the ball at and was able to hit both of the demons at the same time, in which case the demons collapsed, as if being struck by a thunderbolt and then the ball changed into Siva’s linga (Kramrisch 388). “The thunderbolt power of Siva’s linga directed against demons by Parvati’s hand protected Parvati’s chastity” (Kramisch 388).

In the legend of the Tripura, the three different demons whose names differ throughout the stories represent the coordination of the Asura clan in three cities. “The legend had it that the demons were destined to be exterminated when under special circumstances the three puras or forts would be joined together and pierced by a single shaft” (Bhattacharyya 144). Siva was the one to ultimately destroy the Tripura, by piercing it (Bhattacharyya 144).

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

Bibliography:

Primary sources:

Kramrisch, Stella (1981) The Presence of Siva. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

William, George (2003) Handbook Of Hindu Mythology: Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio Inc.

Bhattacharyya, N.N. (2000) Indian Demonology: Delhi: Replika Press.

Related reading:

Hackin, J., Huart, Clement., Linossier, H., Wilman-Graabowska, De., Marchal, Charles-Henri., Maspero, Henri., Eliseev, Serge., Couchoud, Paul-Louis (1994) Asiatic Mythology: A Detailed Description and Explanation of the Mythologies of All the Great Nations of Asia: London: George G. Harrap & CO. Limited.

Doniger, Wendy, (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology: Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Article written by: Avneet Sidhu (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Dhumavati

The goddess Dhumavati is one of the ten Mahavidya goddesses, whose origin stories have been part of Hindu literature since the early medieval period (Kinsley 1997:1). Known as the widow, Dhumavati represents the last stage of the Hindu female life. She is perhaps the most feared of all the Mahavidya goddesses, known as the very opposite of the great goddess Sri or Laksmi (White 472). This formidable goddess, also commonly referred to as “The Smoky One,” is frequently depicted with dark, matted hair, sickly complexion, wearing white or soiled clothes, holding a winnowing basket, and riding a chariot with her animal companion, the crow (Kinsley 1997:182). Dhumavati is known as an inauspicious goddess in Hindu culture, due to her widowhood after consuming her husband, Siva, in a fury (White 472). Duhmavati often takes the form of smoke from which her names possibly derives and, like her form smoke, is able to drift anywhere at will; furthermore, she is attracted to smoke, such as that from burned incense (Kinsley 1997: 186). In the Phetkarini Tantra, Dhumavati is described as pale, angry, and deceitful; a goddess who arouses horror and conflict, wears dirty clothes, and rides in a cart with a crow banner (Zieler 218). The crow in Hindu culture is often seen as an inauspicious animal, a bearer of evil and bad omens. The crow is often representative of recently departed souls, and is a vehicle, vahana, of many inauspicious gods and goddesses (Zeiler 214). As well, rituals performed to the goddess often use crows, such as burning them and scattering their ashes, so that Dhumavati may render one’s enemies as ineffective, harmless, or in order to destroy them (Zieler 224). Dhumavati herself is occasionally said to resemble a crow. In Hindu culture, it is prescribed that widows are to dress without elaborate adornments or colours; therefore, Hindu widows typically wear white saris with no jewelry or other ornamentation, such as how Dhumavati is commonly pictured (Rodrigues 128). Widowhood in Hindu culture is considered the most inauspicious state a woman can be in, and widows are typically banned from celebrations, especially weddings, as they are considered bad omens (Mukherjee 37).

Dhumavati is typically considered the seventh goddess incarnation out of the ten Mahavidya goddesses (Kinsley 1997: 9). The origin myths of these Tantric goddesses sets forth that all ten goddesses originate from one goddess, most often Sati. Although they represent separate goddesses, the ten goddesses are often considered to be one, as opposed to ten separate beings, and they are often shown in a group in temple paintings (Kinsley 1997:15). The origin myths differ, however, with the original goddess being either Sati, Parvati, Kali, Durga, or Sataksi, although most myths depict the goddess as Siva’s partner (Kinsley 1997: 22). The most common Mahavidya origin story depicts Sati and Siva, in which Sati’s father decides to host a sacrifice, but declines to extend an invitation to Sati and Siva. Sati declares to Siva that she will attend regardless, to which Siva protests and forbids her to attend. This causes great fury in Sati, who proceeds to transform into the ten different forms of the Mahavidyas. Sati attends the sacrifice, eventually burning herself on her father’s sacrificial fire (Kinsley 1986: 162). The nine Mahavidya goddesses other than Dhumavati are Kali, Tara, Chinnamasta, Bhuvanesvari, Bagala, Kamala, Matangi, Sodasi, and Bhairavi (Kinsley 1986: 162). Some Mahavidya goddesses are well known and are worshiped outside of their existence within the group of Mahavidyas, such as Kali and Tara, however others are not well known outside of the Mahavidya story, as is the case with Dhumavati (Kinsley 1986: 161). Unlike Visnu’s ten different incarnations, the Mahavidyas do not seem concerned with upholding dharma, the cosmic order of the universe. Many of the Mahavidyas are depicted as being frightening, such as Kali, Tara, and Dhumavati, and the goddesses as a whole are commonly interpreted as being either sister goddesses, different elements or stages of a female Hindu life, or different stages of creation and destruction (Kinsley 1997: 40-41). The Mahavidyas are most commonly associated with tantra and tantric worship, although they are also worshiped in Hindu temples. Dhumavati, however, is not particularly well known and there are not many temples dedicated solely to the goddess. Each Mahavidya goddess has a unique mantra dedicated to each individual goddess, which is spoken during worship to invoke the goddess (Kinsley 1997: 63).

Dhumavati is best known in Hindu culture for her ferocious nature, ugly appearance, and her widowhood. Other characteristics of Dhumavati include her association with poverty and need, hunger and thirst, bad luck, and a poor temper. Unlike some of the other Mahavidya goddesses, such as Kali and Laksmi, there is little known about Dhumavati except for what is written about her in the Mahavidya text. She is often associated with, or said to be, the same goddess as Nirrti, Jyestha, and Alaksmi, all goddesses associated with inauspiciousness, misfortune, and sorrow (Kinsley 1997: 176-181). All three goddesses are similar in character to Dhumavati, although Jyestha is most similar in appearance, including having sagging breasts and a banner depicting a crow. As well, Jyestha’s name means “elder,” and Dhumavati is most often depicted as an elderly woman (Kinsley 1997: 178-179). Alaksmi, sister of the goddess Sri, also possesses a crow banner, and is characterized in similar ways to Dhumavati, such as her poverty, hunger, and thirst. Nirrti is similar to Dhumavati because she is associated with destruction and misfortune.

Aside from the Mahavidya origin myths, Dhumavati has her own origin myth. One such myth gives a possible origin for the name she is commonly referred to, The Smoky One. In the myth, Dhumavati was created out of the smoke of Sati’s burning body after Sati immolated herself on her father’s funeral pyre; therefore, Dhumavati is a form of Sati in smoke (Kinsley 1997: 181). In the second origin myth, Sati asks Siva, her spouse, for something to eat. When he declines to feed her, she eats Siva instead, who curses her, sentencing her to assume Dhumavati’s form. As well, by consuming Siva, Sati has made herself into a widow (Kinsley 1997: 181-182). Dhumavati is said to dwell in inauspicious places, such as the homes of widows, in cremation grounds, and deserts. Dhumavati is said to instill in her followers a distaste for the world and for material or worldly desires, similar to those in the renouncer stage of life, free from the social obligations and responsibilities of society. Therefore, Dhumavati is not a suitable goddess for married couples to worship, as it is said she creates a desire for being alone in her devotees. There is also a distinct prominence placed on describing the features of Dhumavati’s appearance in the Mahavidya story, specifically that she is exceedingly unattractive, described as being old and wrinkled, having sagging breasts, and missing teeth among other attributes. Despite her fearsome appearance, some suggest that she is gentle on the inside, as she will grant devotees any wish (Kinsley 1997: 183). As well, some scholars believe that Dhumavati’s perpetual hunger and thirst is a representation of unsatisfied desires (Kinsley 1997: 182).

Most Hindus, especially married couples, are advised not to worship Dhumavati. Nevertheless, many married couples worship her in hopes of attaining blessings from the goddess, such as male offspring. The gift of Dhumavati bestowing children onto devotees is implied in her hundred-name hymn (Kinsley 1997: 187). Dhumavati has very few temples dedicated to her in India. There is one located in Varanasi, in which she receives offerings such as flowers, fruit, liquor, meat, and cigarettes, as well as occasional blood sacrifices (Kinsley 1997: 186). Dhumavati is often said to be fond of blood, to crush bones in her mouth, and to wear a garland of skulls (Kinsley 1997: 180). Any offerings made to Dhumavati must be offered in a very smoky fire, as she is represented in the form of smoke, which is indicative of destruction. In the Varanasi temple, Dhumavati is seen as a village deity who looks after those in the area, contradictory to the very fearsome and furious character usually attributed to her (Kinsley 1997: 187). It is also said that she grants siddhis, or special powers, to those who do worship her (Kinsley 1997: 183). Dhumavati is often said to rule during four months prior to sukla ekadasi, the eleventh lunar day, of the month Kartik, which is the month Visnu wakes up from a four month nap (Kinsley 1997: 180). This time is known as being particularly inauspicious to Hindus, and events and celebrations, such as weddings, are typically not held.

There are a few recent depictions of Dhumavati outside of her typical form of an ugly, elderly widow. In a recent painting by Molaram done in the eighteenth century, Dhumavati is depicted typically, but with elaborate ornamentation and a colourful sari. Moreover, as opposed to the usual depiction of long, pendulous breasts, and an elderly and withered face, hers are round and high, with her face appearing youthful and unlined (Kinsley 1997: 188). Another eighteenth century painting of Dhumavati from Nepal depicts her as naked with long, braided, and light coloured hair, wearing pearls and hair decoration, and standing on a peacock, which is unusual for typical descriptions and depictions of Dhumavati (Kinsley 1997: 189). The third unusual painting was done in the early twentieth century by artist Batuk Ramprasad, in which she is once again dressed elaborately with intricate adornments. These three paintings may represent the notion that young widows in Hindu culture are dangerous to society, in that the young women are still sexually attractive to men and able to produce children, therefore potentially tempting to Hindu men.

References and Related Readings

Benard, Elisabeth A (2000) Chinnamasta: The Aweful Buddhist and Hindu Tantric Goddess. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Kinsley, David (1986) Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David (1997) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Mukherjee, Tutun (2008) “Deepa Mehta’s Film Water: The Power of the Dialectical Image.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies Vol. 17: 35-47.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism: The eBook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books.

White, David G (2001) Tantra: In Practice. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Zeiler, Xenia (2013) “Dark Shades of Power: The Crow in Hindu and Tantric Religious Traditions.” Religions of South Asia 7:212-229. doi: 10.1558/rosa.v7i1-3.212

Related Research Topics

Mahavidyas

Widowhood in Hindu culture

Animal vehicles (vahana)

Kali

Tara

Chinnamasta

Bhuvanesvari

Bagala

Kamala

Matangi

Sodasi

Bhairavi

Siva

Related Websites

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

https://bairaveebalasubramaniam.com/2014/08/22/dhum-dhum-dhumavati-the-mahavidya-wisdom-goddess-of-detachment-smoke-and-the-eternal-void/

http://www.drikpanchang.com/vedic-mantra/goddesses/parvati/mahavidya/dhumavati/goddess-dhumavati-mantras.html

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

http://isireddy.blogspot.ca/2013/08/dhumavati-dhoomavati-temples-in-india.html

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

Gandharvas

The Gandharvas are a very difficult idea to define, but simply, they are supernatural beings strongly tied to music. They are celestial bards, demi-gods, demons, but predominantly celestial musicians (Thite 52-53). They preside in many places but are mostly seen in the heavenly courts or looking over Soma; they can even reside on earth. They are recognized as being beneficial in life but also destructive, life giving and life taking. They are related heavily with the Apsara, occasionally even mating with each other. As an overview, they can be seen as the duality force of Hindu mythology. They are both the good and the bad, they are double-natured in nearly every way (Thite 54).

The origin of the Gandharvas seems to follow two different paths: they were created, or they were born. The idea of them being born also has two sides to it. The least dominant of the two theories is the idea that there was only one Gandharva in the beginning, and all others are descendants of him (Barnett 704). This original Gandharva is hypothesized to have been created but there is no record by whom. The more dominant theory is that there were many born from different deities for the purpose of serving them. Their names indicated the deity in which they served (Mehendale 130). The creation theory for the emergence of the Gandharvas also has two sides to it; that they had a creator, and that they were created from seemingly nothing. In the creation theory, it is unclear what the purpose of their creation was. Their creator is said to be Brahma but gives no reason for their creation (Mehendale 130). As Gandharva is usually translated to “music” or musician” their creation likely had to do with music. The other hypothesis is that they were created aimlessly; rather, they were created by the cosmos, (Mehendale 130). In both of the theories of emergence, birth and creation, the justifications contradict each other; they were created for a purpose versus, them being created for no reason at all. There seems to be constant controversy regarding the emergence and Gandharvas and there purpose in the Hindu religion.

The idea of mortality is familiar to the Gandharvas, unlike most deities. Their mortality has two hypotheses, in some texts they are seen as mortal, whereas in other texts they are immortal due to their consumption of Soma. The source of their immortality can be split into two different causes: sacrifice and consumption of Soma. The consumption of Soma was done at the same time as the other deities. At that time, the Gandharvas requested to be the protectors of Soma not only in the heavens, but also on earth. This request was granted, causing the gods to look down on them as lesser beings (Thite 53). Human sacrificial practices are seen as the second source of the Gandharvas (and Apsaras) immortality. Because of Gandharvas dual-nature they are seen as both benevolent and malevolent. Because of this, they have a specific sacrifice dedicated to them and the Apsaras. The Aupashada sacrifice is said to belong to the Gandharva and the sacrificial offerings to the Apsara (Thite 54).

The mortality of the Gandharvas is depicted in the killing of thousands of them by Arjuna. In the Mahabharata epic, the Gandharvas are seen as demi-gods fighting in the Mahabharata War and the main character, Arjuna, kills them by the thousands. Indra revives them later using “nectar”; this is believed to be Soma (Mehendale 133). This shows that Gandharvas are mortal but that they are able to be resurrected by Indra. Their seemingly immortal mortality shows just how diametric their existence seems to be.

As every other aspect of their being, the life, role, and depictions of the Gandharvas are also diametric. Their most important role seems to have been as the guardians of the sacred Soma, however, this has differing depictions. In some depictions, they are the guardians of Soma, guarding it from all the other gods. In these depictions, they are protective and even greedy regarding it (Thite 53). The other side of the story is that they had Soma stolen from them and in their deprivation decided to steal it back; their attempt very decisively fails. In comparison to the other deities, they can be seen as demi-gods rather than full deities themselves (Barnett 707). In their failure, they were viewed by the other deities as being malevolent in nature and as such are seen in a more demonic light. Though “Soma guardians” seems to be the primary depiction of the Gandharva’s role, it is not the only one. A less prominent view of the Gandharvas is that they are tied with the Apsaras as nature spirits. The duality of them is seen through their ties with both fertility and death (Thite 57). When thinking of fertility and life, ideas of greenery and forests are ever present, because it links such ideas with the Gandharvas. The tie with death seems to be ancestral because not only are they tied with the idea of death, but they are tied with the god of death himself; the Gandharvas and the Apsaras are seen as being the parents of Yama and his siblings (Berriedale 18). One more role of the Gandharvas is to accompany the souls of soldiers who died in battle. It was not regular soldiers, but war heroes that were accompanied into the afterlife. These heroes were not only accompanied by the Gandharvas, but the Gandharvas also played music while the Apsaras surrounded the heroes with dance (Mehendale 129). In this view, they are still tied to the dual-nature of their being. In general, the Gandharva can be seen as neither good nor bad but rather both; they can be seen as having a nature similar to that of humans because they have the capacity to be both good and evil.

Since Gandharva quite simply translates as “musician,” there have been cases in which people, places, or things, take on the name of Gandharva as a symbol of a linked to music. One example being The Gandharva Mahavidyalaya New Delhi which is an institution that tries to revitalize and maintain the tradition of Gandharva music and dance. Gandharva music is an ancient tradition that is still performed in India today (Kotwal et al. 195). As the Gandharvas are believed to have travelled back and forth between heaven and earth many times, it is believed that they may have intermingled with human women. One example of the Gandharva’s lust for women is when the gods prevented the Gandharvas from stealing sacrificial Soma by presenting their wives as distractions. Because of their lust for women, they lost interest in Soma and pursued the women, allowing the gods to escape with Soma (Thite 56). Some people believe that Gandharva music was passed on the humans by the Gandharvas. Others believe that people just take the name of Gandharva as a symbol of their trade. Musicians in Hindu society are of the lowest class, sudras, and are sometimes even untouchables. In ancient times, it is said that the Gandharvas had heavy ties with the sudra class, thus the gods looked down at them as lesser beings (Thite 54). In Hindu mythology, the Gandharvas are seen as having very little importance. When looking at their little importance, and their tie to sudras, it can be seen that the Gandharvas inhabit a different world then our own.

Though the Gandharvas were believed to traverse between earth and the heavens quite regularly, they did frequent different locales. When they are in the heavens, they have multiple set locales, and when they are on earth, they resided in many places. When in the heavens, there are two different mythologies; they serve the other deities, and they look over Soma. They share relations with many gods, including: Indra, Kubera, Sankara, and Manibhadra by: praising, worshiping, surrounding, and following them. They will also reside in the Gods’ heavenly courts; examples of such include praising Kubera as well as Indra. (Mehendale 131). A large amount of literature states that when the Gandharvas are in the heavens, they stand on a perch looking over Soma. When the Gandharvas reside on Earth, they typically reside in places of beauty, both in sight and in smell (Thite 55).

In general, the Gandharvas live a life of diametric opposition; they are gods and yet they are demons, they are Soma guardians yet they are the robbers of Soma. Their life is tied very heavily with that of the Apsaras as their abilities of music and dance tie together. Because of their dual-nature, the Gandharvas are seen as being benevolent demi-gods, but also as malevolent demons. Their link to the Sudra class significant ties with humans. It is logical that they would reside in many different locales, as they have many different purposes. When they reside in the heavens, they look over the sacred Soma or they follow different gods. When they walk on earth, they frequent beautiful places of nature. Just like the other aspects of their lives, the creation of the Gandharvas is also dual-natured; they were created and yet they were born. All this together emphasizes their dual-nature and shows them as the force of duality in Hinduism.

This article was written by: Michael Christensen (spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Bibliography

Barnett, L. D (1928) “Yama, Gandharva, Glaucus.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London Vol. 4:703-16

Berriedale, Keith (1964) The Mythology of all Races-Indian. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, Inc.

Kotwal, Rinchhen, and Vishwajeet V. Ringe (1997) “Stress Reduction through Listening to Indian Classical Music during Gastroscopy.” Diagnostic and Therapeutic Endoscopy Vol. 4:191-197

Mehendale, M (1985) “A Cultural Index to The Mahabharata Tentative Specimen Fascicule.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute Vol. 66:128-134

Thite, G (1987) “Gandharvas and Apsarasas in the Vedas.” Journal of the Indian Musicological Society Vol. 18:52-64

Related Reading

Basu, Anindita (2016) “Apsaras and Gandharvas.” Ancient History Encyclopedia Modified September 05, 2016. Accessed February 1, 2017.

Hara, Minoru (2009) “Divine Procreation.” Indo-Iranian Journal Vol. 52:217-49.

Viladesau et al (2014) “The Oxford Handbook of Religion and The Arts.” Edited by Frank Burch Brown. New York: Oxford University Press

 

Related Research Topics

Apsaras

Soma

Indian Music

The Mahabharata

Gandharva Veda

Related Websites

www.ancient.eu

www.newworldencyclopedia.org

www.mythfolklore.net/india/encyclopedia

www.pantheon.org

www.sacred-texts.com

www.mythologydictionary.com

Article written by: Michael Christensen (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.

Lila in Hinduism

Unlike the Abrahamic religions, where God is rigid with many laws and amendments for his devotees, in Hinduism, “God is playful. Like a child building sand castles on the beach, God creates the world and destroys it again. God plays with his (or her) devotees, sometimes like a lover, sometimes like a mother with her children, sometimes like an actor in a play” (Sax: 3). Gods of most religions are characterized by their otherness, spacelessness, timelessness, deathlessness, creativity and power however in Hindu religion Gods are further identified by their playfulness (Kinsley: x). This playfulness of Hindu Gods is called Lila. “Lila is a Sanskrit noun meaning ”sport” or “play” that has been the central term in the Hindu elaboration of the idea that God in his creating and governing of the world is moved not by need or necessity but by a free and joyous creativity that is integral to his own nature” (Sax: 13). About the third century C.E., Lila was first introduced as a theological term in the Vedanta Sutra of Badarayana where the author believes that “God who is all and has all cannot be credited with creation, because persons create only to come into possession of something that they do not already have” (Sax:14). The concept of Lila was primarily explained in the work of Vaisnava tradition especially by devotees of the young, cowherd and mischievous Krsna (Sax: 14). Lila has been used by some Hindus to appreciate the world in a spirit of religious wonder and to sustain joy in living (Sax). Lila or play as a symbol of divine activity and as cultic activity displays that play is a positive activity and demonstrate positive relationship to religion (Kinsley: x). However, other Hindus did not accept the positive application of God’s playfulness, instead they used the idea of Lila to domesticate the tragedies of life (Sax 1995). There are two different understandings of the conception of God’s playfulness and sportiveness. In the Bhagavad Gita, the playfulness of God is described as an action “to assist devotees, to maintain righteousness, and to preserve integrity of the world” (Sax: 15). But in the school of Caitanya, it is insisted that “God acts solely for his own sport and without thought of benefiting his creatures; creatures are in fact benefited by God’s sportive acts, but only because those acts are the pleasure of a supreme being whose nature includes compassion” (Sax: 15). These two explanations of Lila have been no different from each other in other Vaisnava circles because in both explanations, Gods act playful without scheming the selfish gain they might get out of the play (Sax 1995).

Despite these conflicts of the meaning and understanding of Lila, it mainly refers to the positive playful relationship between Brahman and the world. It is written in the Brahma sutra of Badarayana, “creation is not possible for Brahman on account of having a motive, but as in ordinary life, creation is mere sport to Brahman” (Radhakrishnan: 361-362). In the Vaisnava version of creation of the world, creation of the world is viewed as the play of God because the world is created by Brahma who was created in a lotus flower growing from navel of sleeping God, Visnu (Kinsley: 2). It is believed that there are ten different avatars as incarnations of Vishnu who came to correct the balance of good and bad in the world. However, Hindu scriptures expressed these avatars as playful act of Visnu to amuse himself (Kinsley: 4). In the Saivite tradition, creation of the world is also viewed as playful and spontaneous because the world is created by the dancing of Siva who is known to be the king of dancers (Kinsley: 5). Siva created the world by means of dancing hence he destroys the world by his continuous great dance (Kinsley: 6). As creation of the world by Visnu in the Vaisnava version is defined as playfulness of Visnu, Siva creating the world by means of dancing is also taken as playfulness of Siva.

The stories, tales or myths told about Krsna narrate that Krsna is the most playful than other Gods. There are two mainly known myths of Krsna: the young, carefree, playful and cowherd boy of Vrndavana and the counselor, politician and hero of Mahabharata (Kinsley: 57). When discussing the playfulness of Krsna, it is solely associated with the young cowherd Krsna. The story of young Krsna is widely told and narrated to youth of India. Young or child form of Krsna is the most worshipped and loved form of Krsna in India. Child Krsna was playful in his spontaneous play of the divine (Kinsley: 61). As an infant, Krsna played in his mother’s yard and covered himself with dirt; while as a child, he played by repeatedly stealing butter from his mother and other women. As an adolescent, he played with friends, teased girls and imitated animals (Kinsley: 62). Besides his playfulness, there are also stories told that prove Krsna as the divine lover. “This charming, youthful god who entrances all by his beauty is the hero of the love Lila of Vrndavana, the central episode of the Krsna cult” (Kinsley: 78). Even though his beauty alone is not considered as Lila, it plays an important role in Krsna’s playful relationships with gopis (cow herding girls) (Kinsley: 74-77). Krsna is referred as the divine lover as the result of his playful nature of love and lovemaking (Kinsley: 78). Krsna’s devotees should feel like lovers of Krsna by amusing him and be amused by him (Kinsley).

In Hinduism, the play of gods in its abundance and variety shows the play is an appropriate means of expressing the otherness of the divine sphere” (Kinsley: 122). In South Asia, Lila has different meanings such as play, game, theatre, sport, and creativity. South Asian devotees perceive god as individual with personality and passions (Mason: 52). The playfulness, sportiveness and silliness of god appeal to most devotees. Hindu celebrations of gods such us Holi and Diwali hence are filled with colors, games and fireworks. In conclusion Lila contributes to the understanding of Hindu culture and religion.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHUR RECOMMENDED READING

Allen, George, and Unwin (1960) The Brahma Sutra: The Philosophy of Spiritual Life. Translated and edited by S. Radhakrishnan. London.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A study of Krishna Lila. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Mason, David V. (2009) “Krishna, Lila, and Freedom.” Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage 43-56. Accessed February 05, 2017. doi: 10.1007/978-0-230-62158-9_3.

Misra, Ram S. (1998) The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Nelson, Lance E. (1998) Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu Indi. New York: State University of New York Press.

Sax, William S. (1995) The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. London: Oxford University Press.

Zimmer, Heinrich, and Joseph, Campell. (1969) Philosophies of India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brahma Sutra

Vedanta Sutra

Badarayana

Vaisnava Tradition

School of Caitanya

Saivite Tradition

Mahabharata

Vrndavana

Gopis

 

 

 

 

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lila_(Hinduism)

https://www.britannica.com/topic/lila

https://nithinsridhar.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/the-two-aspects-of-creation-maya-and-lila/

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Leela

http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Meditation_and_Reflection_on_the_divine_play

http://www.sanatansociety.org/yoga_and_meditation/hinduism_philosophy_leela_lila_lilla.htm

http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/essays/maya.asp

Article written by: Blen Chiko (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.