Category Archives: g. Other Deities, Demons, and Entities

Mahisa


The origin of the Demon Mahisa, also known as the Buffalo Demon, has many different accounts in Hindu literature. There are varying accounts in the Mahabharata, the Skanda Purana, the Varaha Purana, the Kalika Purana and the Vamana Purana, to name a few of the sources. However, there are a number of central themes that exist in all of the versions. These include: Mahisa having extraordinary power and strength, Mahisa being able to change form, his future act of overtaking heaven and gaining revenge on Indra and allusions to his being slain by a woman. There are fewer accounts of Mahisa’s actions throughout his life until the point when he overthrows Indra and the other gods and expels them from Heaven. At this point, the myths of Mahisa become more uniform in that he is slain by the Mother Goddess Durgain a great battle.

The Birth of Mahisa

The three accounts make it clear that Mahisa’s destiny is to overthrow Indra and be slain by Durga; this is a strong commonality between the Skanda Purana, the Vamana Purana and the Kalika Purana.

The Skanda Purana

At the beginning of time, there was a great battle between the gods and demons where the demons were defeated. Diti, the mother of the demons, was very distraught and told her daughter to go away and perform severe asceticism in hopes she would bear a son powerful enough to gain revenge on Indra and the other gods. Diti’s daughter takes the form of a she-buffalo and goes off to the forest. There she performs such horrible acts of asceticism that it was said that the earth shook and “…the gods were stupefied…” (Chitgopekar 13). Eventually the gods became so afraid that they sent one of the chief sages of heaven, Suparshva, to beg her to stop. In return, she was promised a son with the head of a buffalo and the body of a man, who would be so powerful that he could defeat the gods. That child is Mahisa (Chitgopekar 14). This version foreshadows Mahisa’s eventual defeat of Indra and the other gods as well as infers that Mahisa’s powers were the result of a boon from Siva or Brahma (Chitgopekar 15).

The Vamana Purana

Rambha and Karambha were both sons of King Danu. Neither one of the bothers had sons to continue their lineage so the went away to perform asceticism to try and solve this problem (Berkson 29).While praying near a river, Karambha is killed and eaten by a crocodile that is an incarnation of Indra. Rambha is so distraught that he propitiates Agni and offers to cut his own head off. Agni stops Rambha and grants him a boon in the form of a son that can assume any form and will conquer the three worlds (Dahl 41). After his encounter with Agni, Rambha sees Syama, the she-buffalo, and is overcome with desire, has intercourse with her. Mahisa is the offspring of their coupling and is described as “…a fair complexioned buffalo capable of assuming any form at will…” (Berkson 36). This version also sets up Mahisa’s destiny as exacting revenge on Indra.

The Kalika Purana

The demon Rambha prays to Siva with passion and enthusiasm that he should have a son, “I am without sons, O great god: if you are kindly disposed towards me, you should be my son, O Siva, in three births; a son who cannot be killed by all the living beings, and who will be victorious over all the gods; who has a long life, and who will be famous and fortunate, O Siva.” (Berkson 37). Siva acquiesces to Rambha and agrees to incarnate himself as the son of the demon in three different births. The first birth is in the womb of a she-buffalo, whom Rambha sleeps with out of sheer lust (Dutta 9). This myth also has the inference that Mahisa will one day overthrow the gods in heaven. More importantly, it introduces the idea that it is in the first incarnation of Mahisa that he acquires the curse of only being able to be slain by a woman. This is foretelling of Mahisa’s battle with Durga.

The Death of Mahisa

Mahisa’s death appears to be of more importance in the Hindu tradition than his birth was. While there are many differing accounts of Mahisa’s death in many different texts, the underlying story remains the same. It becomes clear that the creation of Mahisa is secondary to the importance of the events surrounding his death. Mahisa is given great strength and power so he may overtake the gods in heaven but this is for the purpose of the eventual incarnation of Durga and a great battle between the gods and demons. The Vamana Purana, Varaha Purana and the Skanda Purana present the same essential story, a great battle between good and evil personified by gods against demons. The Kalika Purana expands on those versions and adds two previous incarnations and deaths of Mahisa. Perhaps the most vivid account of the demise of Mahisa at the hands of Durga is contained in the Devi Mahatmya of the Markandeya Purana.

The Goddess Durga on her lion battles the Buffalo Demon Mahisa (Mahabalipuram)

The Kalika Purana

In Mahisa’s first incarnation, he has all the vices of his father Rambha, including lust. Mahisa also has the ability to change form and he transforms himself into a young nymph to seduce Randrasava who is a disciple of the sage Risi Kattyayana. The great sage is so outraged by this act that he curses Mahisa to die at the hands of a woman. Thus, Durga manifests herself as the 18-handed Ugracandi incarnation and slays Mahisa (Dutta 9). According to the boon granted by Siva at his birth, Mahisa is incarnated a second time. This time Swayambhuva Manu is in charge of protecting the universe. Mahisa’s oppressions are so intolerable that once again Durga is called upon to slay the demon. She incarnates herself as the 16-armed Bhadrakali and slays Mahisa once again (Dutta 9). In his third and final incarnation, Mahisa fulfills his destiny of driving the gods from heaven and controlling the universe. This time Mahisa foresees his own demise in a dream where he sees Durga cutting his head off and sucking the blood out of his neck (Dutta 10). Indra and the other gods go to Siva, Brahma and Visnu to plead for help in defeating Mahisa so they regain control of the universe. The trio is so enraged by Mahisa’s acts that energy masses emerged from their faces and the third incarnation of Durga is created. This incarnation, Dasabhuja, possesses 10 arms and all the strength and powers of the 3 great gods. In a great battle between Durga and her maidens and Mahisa and his demon army, Mahisa is defeated and order is returned to the universe (Dutta 11).

The Devi Mahatmya

This version portrays Mahisa as the lord of the demons and Indra is the lord of the gods. There is a great battle between the two sides and Mahisa and his demon army emerge victorious, driving Indra and the other gods from heaven. Led by Brahma, the gods seek out Visnu and Siva for help (Brown 96). From the energy (sakti) of the gods’ fury, an incarnate of Durga is created. The gods then present her with their divine weapons to go battle Mahisa (Dhal 48). Durga then gives a dreadful roar that “…made the worlds shake, the seas tremble, the earth quake and the mountains rock.” (Chitgopekar 23). Mahisa, puzzled by the commotion in the universe, gathers his army and rushes to see who is causing the disturbance. The demon and his asuras meet Durga and her army in a great battle, “Others, though rendered headless, arose again. The headless trunks fought with the Divine with their best weapons in their hands. Some of these headless trunks danced to the rhythm of the musical instruments.” (Chitgopekar 24). As Mahisa’s army fell one by one, he assumed the Buffalo form and killed many of Durga’s troops with his tail, hooves, horns and blasts of his breath (Chitgopekar 25). Durga became enraged and rushed upon the buffalo and he changed shape to a lion, a man and then an elephant. When he could not defeat Durga in those forms, Mahisa returned to his buffalo form. Durga then leapt on Mahisa and holding him under her foot, struck him with her spear. Mahisa then returned to his human form and Durga chopped off his head with her sword (Dhal 49).

The death of Mahisa at the hands of Durga is an important myth in the Hindu tradition. While there are many versions of the story of Mahisa’s birth and death, they all contain the consistent themes of the triumph of good over evil as well as the Great Gods abilities to restore order to the universe. Mahisa becomes a symbol of the dharmic circle of birth, death and rebirth. His destiny is determined from the time of his birth at the hands of the gods, as is his destruction. The lesson to be learned from Mahisa is that the divine is present in everything and one must accept that wisdom and live the Vedic way of live to gain salvation (Dhal 50).

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Berkson, Carmel (1995) The Divine and Demoniac. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Bhatt, Dr. G.P. and J.L. Shastri ed. (2002) Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology: The

Skanda Purana. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

Brown, C. Mackenzie (1990) The Triumph of the Goddess. Albany: State University of

New York Press.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2003) The Book of Durga. New Delhi: Penguin Book India Ltd.

Dhal, Dr. Upendra Nath (1991) Mahisasura in Art and Thought. Delhi: Eastern Book

Linkers.

Dutta, Abhijit (2003) Mother Durga. Kolkata: Tandrita Chandra Readers Service.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Agni

Asuras

Brahma

Boons

Devi Mahatmya

Diti

Indra

Kalika Purana

Markandeya Purana

Mother Goddess Durga

Rambha

Risi Kattyayana

Sakti

Siva

Skanda Purana

Suparshva

Syama

Varaha Purana

Vamana Purana

Visnu

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/db/bk05ch06.htm

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

http://blogs.ulethbridge.ca/mahavidya/files/2008/06/larkin-kristina-great-goddess.pdf

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

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

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

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

http://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_purana/doc_purana.html

Written by Dione Bansley (Spring 2009) , who is solely responsible for its content.


Ayyappan (God)


One of the most widely worshipped deities in the Hindu world is Ayyappan, although where and when this particular god emerged is still very obscure. Ayyappan has a number of different names he is known by, such as: Sasta, Arya, Hari-Hara-putra, Ayya, among many others. This variety of epithets suggests many different versions of his mythic adventures and origins. Ayyappan is probably most well known the Kerala state of South India (Smith and Narsimhachary 221) and as far away as Bombay.

It is intriguing that in some versions Aiyyappan is not truly a god, but merely a demi-god or magic child. In one such version he is the son of Siva and Mohini (female avatara of Vishnu) and after birth he is left on a stream bank to be found by a childless tribal king. Ayyappan (named Ayappa in this version) goes through life healing and slaying demons up until he enters the inner sanctum of Mt. Sabri and disappears.

Another version of Ayyappan’s myth is as follows. Siva calls on Vishnu for help, who appears in the form of Mohini (seductress) to lure away asuras (demons) from the Elixir of Immortality (amrta) when it was extracted from the Ocean of Milk. Siva is then finds himself attracted to Mohini and they mate and produce a child named Ayyappan. Then he is left in the forest and found by a childless king of Madura, who is also part of the royal family of the Pandyas, and named him Manikantha (“mani”, jewel or bell and “kantha”, neck) because the king either had seen the jewel sparkle or heard the bell sound, which was on a string around his neck. He then grew up noble and honorable becoming the king’s Commander in Chief of the army, and doing a great many of other things including healing people and slaying demons. Eventually Ayyappan became the center of jealous attention. A plot was made by the queen and his fellow officers to kill him; they would send Ayyappan on a perilous journey into a jungle known for the abundance of man-eating tigers and leopards. A traitorous physician approached the king telling him that the only way to heal the queen, who had been pretending to be very ill and fainting, was to bring him leopard’s milk within an hour and a half. The king told Ayyappan of the situation he undertook to everyone’s surprise with no hesitation, showing him to be truly dharmic and fearless. Ayyappan entered the jungle and returned to the palace riding a tiger leading many she-leopards. The king then realized that Ayyappan was not an ordinary person. Ayyappan when questioned about this by the king replies that his father and whole world is God (Siva). Ayyappan then returns to Kerala and thereupon meets Parasurama (human incarnation of Vishnu) at the summit of Sabarimala. In the days that followed the kings received a dream from Ayyappan to come to Sabarimala to meet him. The king obeys the request to building a temple to Ayyappan on the mountain (Parmeshwaranand, 5 1120).

Ayyappan is portrayed in depictions as varied as his many legends. In most depictions he is in a seated posture called paryankabanhana or utkutikasana with a band of cloth called yogapatta around his knees (Smith and Narsimhachary 221). He is also invariably dressed in bracelets, armlets, necklaces, crowns, gem studded waistband and a cincture on his chest. Ayyappan is always depicted with one head, which according to Brunce suggest that the god could not lie, for he could only show one face to the world. By contrast to the demon Ravana, with his ten or more heads, deceit comes easily to one who has more than one face to show (Brunce 2000:5470). Ayyappan is also shown as being youthful. Yet sometimes his portrayed fierce to represent the boundless energy of youth and the power to succeed in all things. Ayyappan is also depicted as being white in color according Brunce (54). May suggest his purity and honor, exemplifying his dangerous quest to save a woman he thought was in need of his help. Ayyappan’s vahana is the tiger, although at times he is seated on the lotus flower. The tiger may represent his triumph on his jungle quest and the lotus flower represents his connection to Siva, with whom the lotus is always associated. The urdhva-pundra is depicted upon Ayyappan’s forehead, which connects him to Vishnu. The urdhva-pundra is called the third eye and represents enlightenment and an all seeing awareness according to Smith and Narismhachary (372). Worshippers of Ayyappan undertake a pilgrimage to Mt. Sabarimala twice a year, once in August and September and again with greater numbers from November to January. The pilgrims dress in blue or black, and carry a special cloth bag called irumudi on their head. Within the bag are two compartments, one for items of worship (idols, dhupa). While the other compartment is for personal belongings, such as pictures of their family for the pilgrimage can be extensively long. In some cases the pilgrimage can be long and pilgrims pack pictures of family, books, and clothes. Around each worshipper’s neck are tulasi or rudraksa-beads (Smith and Narsimhachary 224) [Rudraksa- beads symbolize Siva’s tears for Sati, and Tulasi-beads both connect Ayyappan to the gods who fathered/mothered him]. Prior to undertaking these pilgrimages the worshippers fast, eat simple meals, and are not allowed sex or alcohol (Parmeshwaranand, 1121). Upon reaching the mountain temple devotees call aloud Svamiye Saranam Ayyappan! (Oh! Lord Ayyappan! You are our only refuge!)(1120). After reaching the temple the devotee climbs eighteen steps and give offerings of ghee and vibhuti through the priests, the prasadam which is the remnants of the offering are believed by some to have amazing curative powers. After the worshipper has completed prayers to Ayyappan they then retreat back down the eighteen steps backwards. The temple is to be the last thing seen on this pilgrimage by the worshipper. An aspect that is unique to Ayyappan is that all castes and classes are welcome to worship Ayyappan. However women between the ages of six and sixty are not allowed entering the inner sanctum of the temple. The belief behind this tradition is that women may tempt Ayyappan away from his dharmic lifestyle. This is one of the few instances in which all males are free of class restrictions and an attempt to bring unity among Hindu classes and sects in the Kreala region, pulling them together under one god who embodies both Siva and Vishnu. However today we note that Ayyappan did not replace Siva or Vishnu. Rather he accents both of those great gods, for the Ayyappan shrines can be found within temples to both Siva and Vishnu (Smith and Narsimhachary 226).

Indra (God of Thunder and Lightning)

 In Hindu mythology, the god Indra “is viewed as the king of all the gods to whom most of the Vedic hymns are dedicated” (Jansen 66), and is regarded as the god of the Aryan people. Indra’s name is unlike most of the other Vedic gods, and does not have any particular connection with a natural phenomenon. For this reason, it is possible that Indra could have been an actual historic figure, a leader of the Aryan people who after the defeat of the indigenous people of India was deified (Embree 17).

Indra: The Vedic God of Thunder and Lightning with his distinctive horizontal third eye (Bronze masterpiece, Patan Museum, Nepal).

The god Indra has come to take on many meanings in Indian culture. Indra is not only viewed as the king of the Vedic gods, but is widely recognized by most Sanskrit specialists and comparative mythologers as a god of the sky, the god of storms and lightning. Indra is viewed as the “personification of the thunderstorm” (Embree 17), with his weapon being a bolt of lightning.He is regarded secondly as the god of battles (the warrior-god), the protector of human beings, whose power and rule are directly connected to the life of mankind (Perry 125). Furthermore, he has come to represent the god cried out to for protection by men rushing into deadly combat (Embree 17).

In the Rg Veda, the most important deeds of Indra are celebrated. Among these deeds the most prominent is Indra’s fight against the evil spirits of the air, the demoniac rain stealers who are thought to have stopped the rain from reaching the earth. In the Vedas, Indra is viewed as the unconquerable hero and warrior, who is the defender of Aryan worshippers against their non-Aryan enemies. In India thunderstorms holds high significance, especially in Northern India among the gigantic mountains where rain is eagerly prayed for because of its beneficial effects. Rain/water in the Vedic thought was believed to be the highest heaven, thus signifying the importance of Indra among the Aryan people (Perry 133 – 134).

In the Vedas, Indra is closely associated to soma, an intoxicating plant that causes hallucinations. Soma was the primary ingredient used in Vedic rituals, and offerings of soma are often associated with Indra’s character, which is often depicted as a drunken brawler. Various myths and legends have developed about Indra and his complex character. One of the most important is the story of him slaying Vrtra, a demon, the great enemy, who is often thought of as a dragon (Embree 17 -18, 21). Vrtra is viewed as the arch-demon among the rain-stealers (Perry 134). It is said when the earth dried up, Indra was offered the intoxicating soma plant. Under the influence of the plant, Indra fought against the demon drought, Vrtra (Jansen 66). Vrtra shut off the waters and the sun, imprisoning them in caves in the cloud-mountains. However, “commissioned by the gods to set the waters free” Indra appears on the scene (Perry 134). After a fierce battle, Indra was able to expel Vrtra with his weapons of thunder (vajra) and lightning. Thus releasing the life-giving forces, and saving the earth and all its inhabitants. From this myth it can also be gathered that Indra has come to represent the force against spirits of darkness. When Indra conquered the rain-hiding demons he also expelled the spirits who concealed the light. The black storm clouds that had once concealed the light of heaven where driven away by Indra, thus the heavenly radiance once again shone on earth (Perry 139). Many interpretations of this myth have arisen. It is suggested that the battle between Indra and Vrtra represents the renewal of the year, the ending of winter or the beginning of the monsoons. Other possibilities suggest it represents the conflict that arose between the Aryans and the Indus Valley civilization. However, in another sense it can stand for the chaos brought by Vrtra, “upon which Indra imposes form and order” (Embree 18).

Various deities appear in the Rg Veda, however, among these deities Indra and Agni (God of Fire) have the most hymns dedicated to them, each receiving around 200. This suggests their importance and status among the Aryans (Rodrigues 26). While Indra is above all viewed as the god of victory in battle, he also plays a role for women. At a first glance this might seem irrelevant since women do not take part in battle, however, there are some isolated verses in the Rg Veda that provide some evidence that Indra played a role in women’s lives. In epic literature, Indra is not only a god of battles but can also be viewed as a god of fertility, who can bestow children on women (Hopkins 242- 243). Within the wedding hymn, expectations and hopes of what Indra was suppose to do for newly married women appear. Verse 10.85.45 in the wedding hymns says, “You, O generous Indra, make this one rich in sons and fortune! Bestow ten sons upon her, make her husband the eleventh!” (Sohnen 68). As a God Indra, has the capacity to help a woman become pregnant and is an example of one of the “gods who can assure the birth of a male child” (Hopkins 244). Since women’s positions within the family deal largely with the number of sons she bears it can be concluded that women may have addressed the wish to bear a son to Indra. The Apala-hymn (RV 8.91.4) suggests another connection between Indra and women. The verse states “(I ask) whether he will be able (to do it), whether he will (really) do it, whether he will make us more happy and prosperous; whether we who are disliked by our husbands will, through Indra, come together with them” (Sohnen 68). This particular verse demonstrates women’s wishes directed to Indra to help them become desirable and attractive to their husbands, to help create bliss between them and their husbands, along with helping them to bear sons by their husband (Sohnen 70).

Iconographically, Indra has been represented in various ways. “He is not a giant of the mountains, as represented by some scholars, but rather a cosmic giant” (Hopkins 256). His greatness surpasses that of Varuna (Sky God) and encompasses the earth, the sky and beyond. He is the conception of an all-god, whose rule and will the other gods follow (Hopkins 256). Indra is sometimes viewed riding the “royal elephant, which is often depicted with three trunks and/or four tusks” (Jansen 66). Indra’s attributes include four arms, and he is often presented alongside a bolt of lightning, however, he can also be depicted with a lance, sword, bow and arrow, spear, and a net and conch shell. However, this is not always how Indra is depicted; he can also be represented with two arms, with eyes covering his entire body (Jansen 66).

Over time Indra’s position weakened, and he became the “king of only the lesser gods and the lord of heaven (svarga) where the gods dwell” (Jansen 66). This can often be associated with the sramana movement, which was the beginning of meditative practices in India “which began to compete with sacrificial religion” (Rodrigues 190). With the rise of Epics and Puranas, a new assortment of deities began to arise, which displaced the gods of the Vedic Samhitas and reduced their significance. However, it did not erase the worship of Vedic deities from Hindu society altogether (Rodrigues 190).

Bibliography

Embree, Ainslie T (1966) The Hindu Tradition: Readings in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House, Inc.

Hopkins, E Washburn (1916) “Indra as God of Fertility”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 36. Pp. 242 – 268.

Jansen, Eva Rudy (2004) The Book of Hindu Imagery: The Gods and their Symbols. Holland: Binkey Kok Publications BV.

Perry, Edward Delavan (1882 – 1885) “Indra in the Rig-Veda”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 11. pp. 117-208.

Rodrigues, Hillary ( 2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York & London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Sohnen, Renate (1991) “Indra and Women”. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 54, No. 1. pp. 68 – 74.

Related Readings

Brown, Norman W (1942) “The Creation Myth of the Rig Veda”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 62, No. 2. pp. 85 – 98.

Buck, Harry M (Sep., 1968) “Lord Rama and the Faces of God in India”. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 36, No. 3. pp. 229 – 241.

Chakraborty, Uma (1997) Indra and Other Vedic Deities: A Euhemeristic Study. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld.

Edgerton, Franklin (1920) “Counter-Rejoinder to Professor Fay”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 40. pp. 100 – 102.

Gonda, J (1967) “The Indra Festival According to the Atharvavedins”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.87, No. 4. pp. 413 – 429.

O’Flaherty, Wendy (Jul. – Sep., 1985) “The Case of the Stallion’s Wife: Indra and Vrsanasva in the Rg Veda and the Brahmanas”. Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol.105, No.3. pp. 485 – 498.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Agni

Dyaus-pitr

Rama

Rg Veda,

Soma

Surya

Varuna

Vayu

Vedic rituals

Vritra

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

http://hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/vedicgods.asp

http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/indra.htm

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

http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix4/indrathor.htm

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

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/deities/vedic_gods.htm

http://www.craftsinindia.com/indian-art-culture/indra.html

http://temples.newkerala.com/Temples-of-India/More-Hindu-Gods.html

Article written by Sara Smith (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content

Skanda (The God of War)

Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)
Skanda (Karttikeya), 5th century, Gupta Period (Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi)

Also known as Kumara, Subrahmanya, and Murukan, Skanda “has been hunter, warrior, philosopher… He is teacher… He is the eternal child as old as time itself” (Clothey 2005b:1). Obeyesekere writes that Skanda is viewed as possessed of having six faces, twelve arms, and riding a peacock (382). Throughout Skanda’s history, he has been worshipped for several different reasons. He has been worshipped “as a god of hill and hunt… and avenger of ananku and cur, malevolent spirits of the hills” (Clothey 2005a:6240). During the Cankami period of Tamil India “Murukan was known … as the lord of the hunt” (Clothey 2005b:36). According to Clothey, he has also been worshiped in South India as the son of Siva (Clothey 2005a:6240). Through this several other deities related to vegetation and hunting embodied the name Murukan (Clothey 2005b:36). Clothey also writes that the name Murukan has become commercialized with an array of different industries using his name, for songs and films (Clothey 2005b:1).

Kartikeya

Skanda’s origin comes from several different epics, most prominently from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The story of Skanda in the Mahabharata is quite long and can be summarized as follows. Indra, god of lightning and thunder and general of the devas, rescued a damsel named Devasena, who wanted a husband that could protect her. Indra felt the Agni, god of fire, had the ability to generate a son suitable to be Devasena’s husband. Agni went to Brahma, the creator god, for his help. While with Brahma and through the aid of seven rsis, seers, thought to compose the Vedas, Agni fell in love with the rsis wives. Svaha, a nymph, loved Agni. She tricked him by assuming the form of six of the rsis wives. After each session of intercourse with Agni, Svaha turned into a garuda bird and carried his semen to Mt. Sveta, where she deposited it into a golden pot, in a place covered with sara reeds. Kumara (Skanda) was born and was strong enough for battle within six days. The gods fearing Kumara would become more powerful than Indra, enticed Indra to slay him. Indra, trying to slay Kumara with his vajra [thunderbolt], managed to only cut off a portion of Kumara’s right side. Through this side of Kumara, Visakha was born bearing a sakti [lance], which causes Indra to surrender. The gods are pleased with how fearless Kumara was. Through the same piece of Kumara that Visakha was born, several more children were then born coming forth to serve Skanda’s army (Clothey 2005b:51-53).

Clothey writes that “Skanda thus comes to be known as a father, and persons wishing children are exhorted to worship him” (Clothey 2005b:52). The story continues with Skanda declaring Svaha to be his mother, and with Brahma’s advice, identifies Rudra “the howler” as his father. Rudra along with Indra, Varuna, the god of the heavens and water, and Yama, the god of death, come to welcome Kumara in a procession. As Kumara is leaving a Deva – Asura, god and demon, battle begins. Mahisa, the chief of the Asuras was causing the Devas to flee, and is about to crush Rudra’s chariot when Kumara comes to his aid and kills Mahisa with his sakti. This story also shows events in a span of Skanda’s life. He is conceived on the first day, visible on the second day, takes form of a child on third day, grows limbs and becomes the general of the army on the fourth day. He bears Siva’s bow, and is regarded by the devas as the one to save their cosmos on the fourth day, and he takes his emblems of war on the sixth day (Clothey 2005b:51-53). This is one account of the origin of Skanda. The author Vyasa, is represented to be the composer of the Mahabharata.

Another foundation of Skanda’s beginning comes from Valmiki’s Ramayana. Valmiki tells the story to Rama and Laksmana, two young princes. His telling of the story encourages the young princes to heroic aspirations (Clothey 2005b:53). The summary of the story is as follows. Rudra marries Uma, daughter of Mt. Himavat. One hundred years pass and no son is born to them. The devas like it this way, and fearing that a son born to Rudra would be more powerful then them, they plead with Rudra to not have a son. Rudra’s seed however remains on the ground. Dhara, the earth, can bear his sons. Because of this, the devas ask Agni and Vayu, the wind god, to enter Rudra’s seed. Through Rudra’s seed Mt. Sveta is created, and on Mt. Sveta, in the forest, Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

A variation to the story above, also in the Ramayana, begins with Rudra retiring as the general of the army. With no one left to lead, Brahma asks Agni to give his seed, along with the waters of the Ganga River to Uma to bear a son. Unable to contain the power of the waters a flood of golden seed escapes from Uma. This golden flood turns everything in its path into gold. In a golden forest Kumara is born (Clothey 2005b:53-54).

The Ramayana epic also tells how those who worship Skanda will “attain long life, happiness in the family, and ultimate union with the god” (Clothey 2005b:54). How Skanda received some of his names is also recorded in this epic. One of his names Gangeya was given to him because he came from the Ganges water. He gets the name Karttikeya because he was raised by the Krttikas (Clothey 2005b:54).

One of the books of the Mahabharata depicts who Skanda would embrace as a father. Vyasa writes that Rudra, Parvati, she of the mountain, Agni, and Ganga each claim to be Skanda’s parent. In order to embrace all these gods Skanda assumes four forms: Sakha, Visakha, Naigamaya and Skanda. Sakha embraces Ganga, Naigamaya to Agni, Visakha to Parvati, and Skanda to Rudra. The devas give Skanda gifts. He receives a dart and banner from Indra, an army of 30,000 warriors from Siva, a cloth from Uma, a garland from Visnu, along with several other gifts from other gods (Clothey 2005b:55). These accounts of Skanda in the epics are but a few of the rich and varied myths telling of Skanda origins.

The worshipers of Skanda in Tamil India celebrate a festival in October or November called Skanda-Sasti. It is celebrated for seven days reenacting the six day cycle of the gods vocation. Sasti is the sixth day of the lunar cycle, representing the sixth day of the god. Sasti is also important because according to the myth of Skanda, he is born on the night of a new moon. Sasti is also the name of Skanda’s wife. She is known “as the giver of lingering (yapya) disease” (Clothey 2005a:242). Clothey writes that the event takes place through “rhythmical patterns” (Clothey 2005a:242). Some of these patterns are repeated daily. Priests preside over each ritual on each day of worship. One such ritual is the lighting of oil lamps. These lamps represents the “the emergence of the god and the cosmos from primordial darkness” (Clothey 2005a:244). Another daily ritual is the reciting of Skanda’s 1,008 different names. Reciting his names reenacts the words that were uttered at the beginning, thus bringing the divinity of Skanda into current time. One of the high points in the festival is the ornamenting the sacred symbol of Skanda. This is known as vastram. The next step is adorning the symbol. This can be done through offerings of song, holy ash or vermillion. These rhythmical steps occur once to twice a day during the Skanda-Sasti festival.

Skanda is the most popular deity in Tamil Nadu , a state in South India. “Three of the six busiest and wealthiest temples in Tamil Nadu are dedicated to Murukan” (Clothey 2005b:1). Gananath Obeyesekere conducted research in Tamil Nadu which shows that the Skanda deity is the most popular in that area. He found that a total of 1,956 of 2,670 worshipers went to the Skanda shrines over the next three most popular shrines (Obeyesekere 379). Obeyesekere’s research also shows that “for every one person visiting the Visnu and Pattini shrines there are five and six persons respectively, visiting the Skanda shrine” in Tamil India (Obeyesekere 379). His research shows that the popularity of Skanda has been on the rise, and continues to rise.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Clothey, Fred (1969) Skanda-Sasti: a Festival in Tamil India. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Obeyesekere, Gananath (1977) Social Change and the Deities: Rise of the Kataragama Cult in Modern Sri Lanka. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Clothey, Fred (1987 and 2005a) Murukan. Detroit, Macmillan Reference USA

Clothey, Fred (2005b) The Many Faces of Murukan. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Related Research topics for Further Investigation

Agni

Mahisa

Skanda-Sasti

Indra

Uma

Rudra

Mahabharata

Ramayana

Varuna

Vayu

Yama

Websites Related to the Topic

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

http://www.murugan.org/

http://www.highgatehillmurugan.org/

http://www.dlshq.org/download/shanmukha.htm

http://kataragama.org/

http://www.kaumaram.com/contents.html

http://www.palanitemples.com/

Written by Matt Marchesin (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kamadeva (God of Desire)

Useful knowledge about the qualities of desire can be gathered from the stories and artwork involving Kamadeva: the god of sensual love. For instance, readers and viewers learn that love and desire are rooted in the mind and penetrate the body’s senses, can be lost but found, and are evoked through memory (Benton 181, 182). In contrast, love and desire are deceptively beautiful, manipulative, maddening, difficult to control, and can cause pain even when they are not visible (Benton 182). Therefore, Kamadeva is called many names, including Madana, which connotes an enthralling and even maddening aspect, Ananga, the intangible, Kandarpa, suggestive of pride, and Manmatha, he who makes the intellect uncertain (Fausboll 164 and Doniger O’Flaherty 157).

Armed with flowery arrows, Kamadeva is thought to have been born of the creator god Prajapati’s heart without the aid of any female component (Dimmitt and van Buitenen 34). Figuring prominently in depictions of Kamadeva are his two wives Rati and Priti – the personifications of sexual delight and affectionate pleasure, respectively (Benton 35). Rati, who was created from Daksa’s sweat, possesses beauty that is able to distract even the sages (Benton 28). She carries a discus and lotus and is Kamadeva’s assistant, who she was mutually in love with upon meeting. As Kamadeva’s aide, Rati enthralls others with desire and satisfies his own sexual needs but does not take on any other wifely duties (Benton 31, 32). Less is known about Priti as she found more often in art than literature; however, she is present in the story of Karnotpala, an aging woman who had not been able to find a husband (Benton 35). Kamadeva also has three voluptuous daughters that are described as temptresses (Campbell 195).

Discussing the nature of Kamadeva’s consorts offers further knowledge about this deity’s characteristics. Gandharvas and Apsarases, which are male and female heavenly creatures, respectively, are usually found in illustrations beside Kamadeva and Rati (Benton 131, 132, 135). The innumerable gandharvas and apsarases are related to the air and water components of clouds, as they move between earth and Indra’s heaven, where they reside, taking on various appearances to aid Kamadeva’s work (Benton 132, 133, 135, 137). The mesmerizing beauty, erotic nature, and seductive skills of the apsarases have even been called on by Indra to weaken the power certain yogis and ascetics have cultivated (Benton 133, 134). These creatures are thought to provoke madness, yearning, and disappointment but are also thought to be auspicious because they convey the possibility for joy and prosperity (Benton 135). Gandharvas are believed capable of seducing women with their attractive bodies and beautiful singing, which may also induce feelings of madness. These celestial beings share a connection with horses and are purported to have the ability to restore virility, sometimes through the use of herbal remedies (Benton 137).

In addition to the gandharvas and apsarases that are depicted with Kamadeva, his green parrot vehicle, or vahana, is traditionally shown at his feet and a mythical sea animal called a makara is depicted on his banner (Benton 131, 132). The appropriateness of Kamadeva’s vehicle is demonstrated by the affectionate nature parrots show toward one another and their human-like capability for speech (Benton 132). These two qualities, along with the fact that parrots are monogamous, give credit to the notion that parrots are wise to matters of the heart (Benton 141). The relation between Kamadeva and the makara is less clear although speculations can be made by examining the character of the Indian crocodile and river dolphin (Benton 142, 144). [For example, the oil of the Susu river dolphin is sought after as an aphrodisiac, love potion, and cure for impotence and its meat is consumed to increase virility (Benton 146, 148).] It is important to note, however, that neither the gandharvas, apsarases, parrot, nor makara play a role in the stories involving Kamadeva, although they are consistently portrayed in art of this deity (Benton 131).

According to the Silpa Sastras, Kamadeva is to be formally portrayed with the season of spring, Vasanta, and the makara banner is to be carried by a horse-faced being, whose appearance connotes the virility of horses (Benton 131, 132). Furthermore, Kamadeva should wear a garland of flowers, among other ornaments, and be armed with his sugarcane bow and five arrows made with flowers (Benton 131). These “five arrows are made of the sun lotus, the asoka flower, the mango, jasmine, and blue lotus, and they cause infatuation, excitement, parching or withering, heating, and paralysis (or stiffening)” (Doniger O’Flaherty 159). The Kamadeva also has gold coloring (Benton 16). In contrast to this iconographic description, it is rare to find the male deity Vasanta in images with Kamadeva, perhaps because his svelte body might divert onlookers’ attention. [For a discussion of Vasanta and the Maras as Kamadeva’s companions, see Benton 32-34]. Similarly, it is uncommon to find the banner-carrier in depictions with Kamadeva (Benton 132). [Certain similarities can be found between Kamadeva and the water god Varuna, who is called on by individuals suffering from unreciprocated love (Benton 137, 139). Like Kamadeva, Varuna is associated with the virility of horses and the makara (Benton 139).]

Perhaps Kamadeva’s most significant role in Sanskrit literature occurs in the Saiva Puranas (Klostermaier 152). Here, Kamadeva is characterized as Siva’s sexual opponent. As a great ascetic, Siva must refrain from desire, yet as the god of the linga and husband to Parvati, he must fulfill his sexual obligations and produce offspring (although he does this grudgingly) (Doniger O’Flaherty 154, 262). It is in this way that Kamadeva exercises power over the other gods. In these texts the god of love momentarily meets his demise after interrupting Siva’s meditations and being burned by his eye in an instance of fury (Klostermaier 152). Creating the context for this event is the granting of a boon by Brahma to the demon Taraka as a reward for his asceticism. More powerful than even Siva or Visnu, Taraka proceeded to steal the wives of all of the gods, creating much fear and despair among them. Upon fleeing to Brahma, the gods are informed that Taraka was rendered invincible to their powers but could be killed by an offspring of the childless Siva. After discussion occurs among the deities, Indra beckons Kamadeva, who cannot be destroyed by demons or gods and who permeates the entire cosmos, including Brahma. Indra instructs Kamadeva to fill Siva with desire and move him to marry Parvati so that they may have a child. With Rati and the spring season in tow, Kamadeva comes close to the place where Siva was deep in meditation but is first confronted by Sailadi, who was guarding the area. In order to by pass Sailadi, Kamadeva turned himself into a sweet-scented breeze. Finding Siva, Kamadeva stood with his bow drawn. At this time, Siva was distracted by Parvati and sensing that Kamadeva was present, burned him with his eye before he was able to release an arrow. Siva then offered Parvati a boon but she had no desire for it as she believed that without Kamadeva happiness could not be possible. Siva was then beckoned by Kali, to whom he granted a boon. She requested that he let Kamadeva live, which he did, although in a bodiless form (Doniger O’Flaherty 154-159). A slightly different interpretation of this story grants Parvati a more active role, as it is she who enlists Kamadeva’s skills to help her win Siva over (Klostermaier 152). Another version also comments on the influence of Rati when pleading for her husband’s rebirth (Benton 31). [Kamadeva also plays a role in the story of “Pradyumna and the Fish” (see Dimmitt and van Buitenen 141, 142) and the tale of how “Siva Engenders the Submarine Mare” (see Doniger O’Flaherty 159-161).]

As symbols of love and fertility, images of both Kamadeva and Rati are found in temples (Benton 131). Although vratas (conditional vows made to a deity), pujas (deity worship), and utsavas (festivals) involving Kamadeva are extremely rare, and perhaps have always been, they deserve mention because they demonstrate a connection between desire and spirituality that tends to be absent in many religions (Benton 93). It is important to note, however, that the sole worship of Kamadeva does not appear to be a widely acceptable practice today (Benton 102). Nonetheless, several pujas, described in the Agni Purana, can be performed by the devotee to attract a lost lover, or to increase one’s prosperity, among other things. Many other vratas and pujas devoted to Kamadeva are described elsewhere and include the worship of the damanaka plant (a symbol of this god) during the Kama Trayodasi. To gain the attention of Kamadeva and Rati, art and music are often used during these rituals. While the goals of the devotees can be quite diverse, certain vratas are performed for more specific reasons, as is the case in the vrata for prostitutes, who seek a successful rebirth. [For information on vratas for prostitutes and fertility, see Benton 96-99, and see Benton 99-101 for “Rituals for Beauty and Husbands: Tirthas for Couples.”] There is evidence of a festival, called Kamadeva’s Day, during which male followers would perform certain rituals to be reborn in a handsome, desirable body. Kamadeva’s Day would be held during March or April, which is the month of Caitra, at the Ahalya Tirtha (Benton 94). Indeed, the month of Caitra and Vaisakha (April-May) remain the most popular time for weddings, during which Kamadeva is often incorporated (Benton 102). [During Kamadeva’s Festival, which is mentioned in the drama Carudatta by Bhasa, many love-marriages took place (Benton 94).]

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

 Benton, Catherine (2006) God of Desire: Tales of Kamadeva in Sanskrit Story Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press.
 
 Campbell, Joseph (1974) The Mythic Image. Princeton: Princeton
               University Press.
 
 Dimmitt, Cornelia, and van Buitenen, J.A.B. (eds. and trans.) (1978) Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puranas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
 
 Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy (1975) Hindu Myths: A Sourcebook Translated from the Sanskrit. Ed. Betty Radice. London: Penguin Books Ltd.
 
 Fausboll, V. (1981) Indian Mythology: According to the Indian Epics. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.
 
 Klostermaier, Klaus K. (2000) Hinduism: A Short History. Oxford: One World Publications.
 
 
Related Topics for Further Investigation
 
Rati
Priti
Karnotpala
Gandharvas 
Apsarases
Makara
Parrots
Indian crocodile
Indian river dolphins
Vasanta
Varuna
Maras
Parvati
Taraka
Indra
Sailadi
“Pradyumna and the Fish”
“Siva Engenders the Submarine Mare”
Damanaka plant
Vrata for prostitutes
Horses
Kamadeva’s Day and Festival
Siva
 
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

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

http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/aa021201a.htm

http://www.thecolorsofindia.com/holi-legends/sacrifice-of-kamadeva.html

http://www.exoticindiaart.com/product/DC75/

http://www.indiaprofile.com/religion-culture/kama.htm

http://www.pantheon.org/articles/k/kama.html

Article written by: Katie Herzog (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Asuras

Early civilizations from around the world demonstrate that since antiquity there has been a fascination with the relationship between good and evil. This dual nature is apparent in the early Vedic literature contained within the Hindu tradition. The Vedic texts are believed to have been in composition around 5000 BCE; however, some scholars speculate that the texts had been written even earlier (Brown 1965: 23). One of the more prominent sections of the Vedic texts is the Rg Veda; a compilation of praises made to various deities who are to this day, worshipped by the Hindu people. There are many deities that are venerated by those who follow the Hindu tradition; some more eminent than others. The Hindu deities are divided into two opposing branches in the Rg Veda; the Asuras and Devas.

The Asuras are defined as being powerful titans or demons and are considered to be the gods of the primeval world and the predescendants of the Devas (Kuiper 112). In general, the Asuras are associated with the underworld and represent the malevolent nature of the Hindu tradition (Bodewitz 213). In most western religions the idea of the demon is in direct relation to all that is evil in the world, and much folklore is written about them. In Hinduism, despite the Asuras being composed of demons; they also possess the potential to create the truly wondrous, including life itself (Srinivasan 546). This ambivalent character of the Asuras is, on a small scale, a manifestation of the Hindu tradition as a whole.

An influential representative of the Asuras is the mighty demon Vrtra. In the Rg Veda, Vrtra is portrayed as being a three headed serpent, and thus all dragons or worms slain by heroes of Aryan mythology are seen as the embodiments of Vrtra (Wake 375). Vrtra is perceived to dwell above earth in the clouds, and when there is a draught, it is said that the Asuras are in rebellion against the Devas (Wake 375).

In contrast to the Asuras are the Devas. The term Deva stems from the old Indo-European word for Celestial gods (Kuiper 112). Included in the Devas are some of the deities such as Varuna and Indra (Embree 12). Many scholars insist that the Devas are the ‘sons’ of the primordial Asuras, and that there was a split that caused the formation of the two opposing forces. The Devas can be considered the more ‘honourable’ gods in comparison the Asuras who are thought to dwell in the underworld. Although there is a division amongst the Hindu deities, the two sectors overlap considerably. In the tale of the Battle between Indra and Vrtra, the two represent the Devas and the Asuras respectively. However there are many other characters that end up swapping sides mid battle such as Agni, Varuna, and Soma who desert the Asuras in favour of the Devas (Brown 101).

One of the more revered Devas is Indra. The Rg Veda contains approximately 1000 hymns dedicated to him. Indra is the god of storms and lightening and is also considered to be the king of the gods (see Rodrigues 487). When the Hindu people are facing a battle it is often Indra whom they revere. Indra is closely related to the intoxicating drink known as Soma; portrayed as ‘drunk’. Indra is the key representative of the Devas, for it is him who destroys Vrtra and frees the water that was trapped in the clouds.

The Battles that ensue between good and evil are apparent in many if not all of the worldly religions. It is this battle that keeps the forces aligned and produces a harmonic peace that we humans try to maintain. Across the earth there is many versions of the battle that is extremely similar to the one fought between Indra and Vrtra in Hinduism. For instance, the legend of Indra and Vrtra is reproduced in Latin mythology as that of Hercules and Cacus (Wake 376).

Bibliography

Brown, Norman W. (1942) “The Creation Myth of the Rig Veda.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 62, no.2 (June): 85-98.

Brown, Norman W. (1919) “Proselyting the asuras (A Note on the Rig Veda 10.124).” Journal of the American Oriental Society 39: 100-103.

Embree, Ainslie T. The Hindu Tradition: Reading in Oriental Thought. New York: Random House Inc, 1972.

Hopkins, Washburn E. (1916) “Indra as God of Fertility.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 36: 242-268.

Kramrisch, Stella. (1963) “ The Triple Structure of Creation in the Rg Veda.” History of Religions 2, no.2: 256-285.

Kuiper, F.B.J. (1975) “The Basic Concept of the Vedic Religion.” History of Religions 15, no. 2 (November): 107-120.

Srinivasan, Doris M. (1983) “Vedic Rudra-Siva.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103, no.3 (Jul.-Sep.): 543-556.

Wake, Staniland C. (1873) “The Origin of Serpent-Worship.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 2: 373-390.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Indra

Vrtra

Veda

Agni

Sita

Susna

Rudra-Siva

Upanisad

Mitra

Varuna

Soma

maya

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/

http://www.hinduism.co.za/

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/people/features/world_religions/hinduism.shtml

http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/cultural/religion/hinduism/hinduism.html

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

Article written by Kerri Norman (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.

Surya: The Vedic Sun-God

Introduction

Surya has been the object of Indian devotion since the early Vedic times and is considered to be the soul of the universe (Charak 9). Surya travels along the sky in a massive chariot which moves on a single wheel that is attached to the polar star, or the Dhruva (Charak 59). This chariot is pulled by seven green horses which move at an incredible speed (Charak 59). Surya does not travel alone but is accompanied by several other beings throughout his journey (Charak 59). These beings coincide with the zodiac and change from month to month (Charak 59).

Surya
Surya: The Vedic Sun god (Bharat Kala Bhavan, BHU, Varanasi)

Origin

The origin of the Sun-God Surya is complex. What follows is a brief summary of his mythic origins.

The origin of Surya begins with the creation of the universe through Brahmaa, the creator god (Charak 28). Bhrama begins the creation process by first creating the progenitor Daksa and his wife from the tips of his right and left thumbs respectively (Charak 28). One of the 13 daughters of Daksa and his wife was Aditi, mother of Surya (Charak 28). A succinct version of how Aditi came to be the mother of Surya follows.

Aditi was betrothed to a sage named Kasyapa with whom she gave birth to twelve sons (Charak 31). These sons were known as the twelve Adityas and their names include Indra, Dhata, Tvashta, Bhaga, Varuna, Mitra, Yama, Savita, Vivasvan (the Sun-God), Pusha, Visnu and Ansuman (Charak 31). Kashyapa also had other wives to whom were born many other children including the race of demons and also other species of animals and birds (Charak 31). Conflict arose between the demons and the gods when Bhrama allowed the gods to have a share of what was received from sacrificial offerings or the Yajnas (Charak 31). This did not sit well with the demons and, as a result, a war ensued in which the gods found themselves losing and were forced to give up their place in heaven and their portion of the Yajnas (Charak 31). Seeing her sons tormented this way grieved Aditi greatly and caused her to prostrate herself before the Sun-God, Vivasvan, and beg for his help (Charak 32). After several days of fasting and devotion, the Sun-God was pleased and allowed Aditi to make a request of him (Charak 32). Aditi requested that the Sun-God be born as a son to her and a brother to her children so that he could defeat the powerful demons and restore her children to their rightful place in heaven and also their allotment of the Yajnas (Charak 33). The Sun-God granted Aditi’s request but said that he was far too powerful to be born to her in his fullness and granted her a thousandth part of his essence to be born as a son (Charak 33). So it was that the Sun-God was born to Aditi and Indra then declared war against the demons and it was seen that Martanda (the Sun-God) turned the demons to ashes merely by looking at them (Charak 33). In the end the gods regained their place in heaven and partook of the Yajnas once again (Charak 33).

Myths

Surya’s mythology continues to expand in tales of his many exploits. One such myth involving Surya involves the gods and the demons joining forces in order to churn the great ocean to extract Amrita, or the Elixir of Life, from it (Charak 39). The churning of the great ocean proved very difficult indeed and, as a result, produced many cataclysmic events. It also gave rise to many other gods and demons by releasing them from the waters (Charak 41). Finally, after much churning, Dhanvantari came forth with a pitcher of Amrita (Charak 43). This caused a disturbance among the demons who stole the Amrita and took it back to the underworld with them (Charak 43). In order to get it back, Visnu disguised himself as a beautiful maiden, Mohini, and traveled to the underworld where the rest of the gods were petitioning Bali, the demon king, for the return of the Amrita (Charak 43). Bali was attracted to Mohini and requested that she distribute the Amrita amongst the demons (Charak 43). Mohini accepted but proceeded to give the Amrita to the gods only (Charak 43). In the process, Rahu, a powerful demon disguised himself as a god and partook of the Amrita, but before he could swallow, the Sun and the Moon revealed his identity, Visnu changed back to his original form, and lopped off Rahu’s head with his discus (Charak 43). As a result of the Amrita touching his tongue, Rahu’s head became immortal and he was given a planetary status. He is able to torment Surya to this day, blocking out his brilliance in the form of an eclipse (Charak 44).

There are many other myths associated with Surya, for instance, how he became the scriptural and spiritual teacher of Hanuman, the Monkey-God.

The Sun God Surya holding flowers in each of his hands with the seven horses of his chariot below; Pala Period; Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore
The Sun God Surya holding flowers in each of his hands with the seven horses of his chariot below; Pala Period; Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Surya in Modern Times

Surya does not receive much attention in this day in age, but did receive a resurgence of devotion during the period known as the classical period if Hindu tradition. We see examples of Surya worship within many temples dedicated to the Sun-God. One such temple is the Chitragupta Temple constructed in the early 11th century (Bradnock 292). This temple features Surya driving his chariot pulled by his seven horses (Bradnock 292). Another example of Surya worship today is found within a modern Orthodox Hindu sect known as the Smartas who worship Surya as one of the five gods who they regard as primary (Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions 1017).

Although Surya is no longer worshipped much today in Hindu culture, today he will yet remain part of Hindu society in the form of statues and other icons, waiting for the day when his name will once again be praised as it once was.

LITERATURE CITED

Bradnock, Roberta & Roma (2004) Footprint India. 13th Edition: Footprint Handbooks Ltd.

Charak, Dr. K.S. (1991) Surya the Sun God: 72 Delhi:UMA Publication.

Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions (1999)

Related Readings

Mackenzie, Donald A. and Goble, Warwick (2004) London: The Greshan Publishing Company.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

  • The Celestial Beings of the Hindu Zodiac
  • Bali, the demon king and Surya
  • Hanumana, the Monkey-God and Surya
  • The Twelve Adityas
  • Surya Temples
  • The worship of Surya

Notable Websites

·

Article written by Kevin Rasmussen (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.