Category Archives: Demons

Spiritual Healing Practices in Hinduism

In western culture, different forms of possession, mental illness, and spiritual disorders are often categorized as pathological and abnormal; these pathologies are usually treated with psychoanalysis, psychiatry and mass amounts of medication with less frequent attention paid to spiritual treatment. In the east, and more specifically, in the Hindu tradition, spiritual abnormalities and anomalies are oftentimes treated using various religious practices and spiritual healing techniques that date back to the time of the Vedas (Frawley 1997).

Many forms of spiritual healing exist in the Hindu tradition, from the time of the Vedas to Hinduism in its contemporary form, and this article will only scratch the surface. Historically, the Ayurveda—which is an ancient, five thousand year old Vedic system of medicine known as the “Science of Life” (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007)—placed emphasis on the pure self (Atman) and true consciousness and its relation to the universe (Brahman). Essentially, the Ayurveda gave Hinduism a guide for medical and spiritual healing and enlightenment (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007). Furthermore, exorcisms have always played a fundamental role in cleansing and ridding the soul of unwanted negative possession (Sax 2011; Crapanzano 1987), and gemstones, Soma, sacred ash, and healing amulets also serve a symbolic healing purpose with respect to protecting the soul from demonic and ghostly entities (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009).

The Ayurveda is the oldest of traditional healing guides that Hinduism has to offer us. “Diet, herbs, water, minerals, and other treatments are [typically] used for cures” (Jones and Ryan 58) in this system of healing. Traditionally, yoga (which has presently become popularized in the west) was therapeutically used as a part of Ayurvedic practices to delve into the actualization of the true self (atman) and the nature of reality (Brahman). Spiritually speaking, the Ayurveda and the practice of yoga ultimately seek to liberate the soul (jiva) from the cycles of rebirth (samsara) and the tremendous constraining moral principle that is karma (Frawley 1997).

To understand spirituality and spiritual healing in Hinduism one must first understand the ultimate goal in Hindu philosophy, which is to free oneself from the cyclical nature of existence. This liberation is termed moksa—which is essentially the same ultimate goal in the practice of yoga, termed kaivalya. Techniques such as mantras and meditations used in yoga, which have been adopted from the Ayurveda, attempt to spiritually link the self and consciousness to the natural world that surrounds it (Frawley 1997). This broad look at the spiritual focus of Hindu philosophies to maintain the well being of the self is linked to the spiritual healing that accompanies anomalies in one’s spirit, such as spiritual possession.

Possession can be understood as an altered, unusual or extraordinary state of mind due to the controlling power of a spirit, god, goddess, or demon over an individual’s consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Spirit possession can be distinguished into two broad categories: positive possession and negative possession (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009; Sax 2011). Positive possession is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a deity, a god or a goddess (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). Negative possession, on the other hand, is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a devil, a demon or a ghost-like figure (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). When an individual’s spirit is possessed, the individual will display behaviours that are uncharacteristic of it; this is due to the fact that the body is possessed by some other entity—one that is no longer the normal self (Sax 2011). The possessed body may actually experience pain and various symptoms of disease and illness while under possession (Crapanzano 1987). In the Hindu tradition, spiritual healing (with regards to curing these aversive mental and physical symptoms) comes in many practices, objects and materials, including but not limited to: exorcisms, temples, healing amulets (tabiz), healing ash (vibhuti), gemstones, and Soma (Crapanzano 1987; Jones and Ryan 2007; Sax 2009; Sax 2011).

Healing, in the form of an exorcism, can be a one-on-one ritual (puja) between the patient and the exorcist, or it can be a pubic affair, involving the whole community (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). In William Sax’s chapter “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice (Sax 2011) he outlines a specific instance of fieldwork in which he witnessed, and contributed to, a communal exorcism. Possession is an uncommon phenomenon in the west and in Europe, but in India, possession is a relatively frequent occurrence, and as such, exorcisms are often a site of public gathering (Sax 2011). Holistically, Sax describes his fieldwork as “psychologically demanding […] because the rituals were so exciting and dramatic: the drumming and singing, the ecstatic dancing of possessed people, the awesome appearance of fearsome deities, and the ghosts from the past, wailing and shrieking in a stuffy, crowded room” (Sax 154). In general, musical sounds, singing, and dancing are important ritual components in the process of exorcizing an unwanted spirit from a body (Crapanzano 1987). There are three important roles in the musical background of the Himalayan exorcism as studied by Sax: (1) the huraki, which is an unusual sounding drum that effectively invokes spiritual awakening; (2) the thakalyor, “who plays a metal platter with two wooden drumsticks” as a background beat (Sax 150); and (3) the bhamvar, who sings the final lines of each verse of the exorcism song—the bhamvar is known in English as “the bumblebee” (Sax 2011).

In the exorcism that Sax describes, multiple spirits uncontrollably possesses multiple people; these possessions are often observable via shrieks, screams, unconsciousness, odd bodily positioning and violence (Sax 2011).  This state of mind, this altered state of consciousness, can be best described as a trance; that is: “[t]he subject experiences a detachment from the structured frames of reference that support his usual interpretation and understanding of the world [around] him” (Crapanzano 8688). These altered states of consciousness are not only healable with drums, chants, songs and dancing, as is found in the practice of exorcism, but spirit possession can be cured via other spiritual methods as well.

Essentially, the goal of spiritual healing in Hindu philosophy seeks to protect the soul from demonic spiritual powers; the influence of this negative spiritual energy can be, and should be, warded off. Negative spiritual possession can be counteracted by the use of Soma, which is an intoxicating, mind-altering, hallucinogenic drink that is perceived as divine and therefore connects the spirit of the ingesting person to higher understanding and consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Negative influences on the mind and spirit in general have been understood as celestially caused; the inauspiciousness that is associated with the universe at certain times is counteracted by the wearing of specific gemstones that repel negative spirits from interacting with the body (Sax 2009). Along the same lines as the wearing of gemstones, the protection from evil spirits is also sought in other objects such as sacred healing ash (vibhuti/bhasman/bhabhut), and healing amulets (tabiz). Vibhuti is ash derived from the cremation of humans or from the excretion of a sacred animal in the Hindu tradition—the cow (Sax 2009). The sacred ash is not only seen as protection from evil spirits but also as rejuvenation and revitalization of the material and spiritual aspects of one’s life (Sax 2009). Rituals that invoke the use of vibhuti essentially serve as a purification of the mind and the spirit. Tabiz, on the other hand are lockets in which sacred Vedic or other Hindu textual verses are held, they are usually made of copper, brass or iron, similar to the ta’wiz in the Islamic tradition (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Interestingly, the sacred healing ash (vibhuti) to which I made reference above is oftentimes placed inside the amulet for the same spiritual protection purposes (Dwyer 2003). Most importantly, the amulets serve as a force that diverts evil, malevolent and harmful spiritual entities (Sax 2009). Tabiz and vibhuti are both ritual symbols that are commonly used in exorcisms (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). As we discussed earlier, exorcisms can take place privately, but they are just as likely to be performed publically—sometimes at a shrine (Crapanzano 1987).

There are many shrines in India that are dedicated solely to the curing of the spirit and the mind. A famous symbolic site that is renowned for spiritual healing in the Hindu tradition is the Balaji Mandir—this temple is located in Rajasthan, a north Indian state near the village of Mehandipur (Sax 2009). The shrine is dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, who is a mythical destroyer of demons and Pretraj, who is the “King of Ghosts” (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Demonic and ghostly possession, trances and exorcisms are all commonplace at the Balaji temple—the temple is notorious for the healing of mental illness (Sax 2009). Daily, thousands of pilgrims, devotees and spiritually suffering persons visit the shrine in the hopes of having their soul cured from any negative spiritual possession (Sax 2009).

Contemporarily, exorcisms, gemstones, intoxicating substances and yoga still play important spiritual healing roles not only in India but in the west as well. Mindfulness, spiritual awareness and yoga are implicated in contemporary western conceptions of spiritual well being (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The present psychological healing that Hindu rituals have on positive thinking and spirituality worldwide shows that spiritual healing should not be underestimated as a powerful tool in curing mental illness (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The most vital aspect to understanding our own consciousness is to understand how the spirit can be healed and refurbished with guidance from the spiritual healing practices of the Hindu tradition.

 

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Crapanzano, Vincent (1987) “Spirit Possession: An Overview” in Encyclopedia of Religion. Jones, Lindsay (ed.). United States: Thomas Gale. pp. 8688-8694.

Dwyer, Graham (2003) The Divine and the Demonic: Supernatural Affliction and Its Treatment in North India. London: Routledge.

Frawley, David (1997) Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness. Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

Jones, Constance A. and James D. Ryan (2007) “Ayurveda” in Encyclopedia of Hinduism. J. Gordon Melton (ed.). New York: Facts on File Publishing. pp. 58.

Sax, William (2009) “Healers” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Jacobsen, Knut, A. (ed.)  Leiden: Brill.

Sax, William (2011) “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice. Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). New York: Routledge. pp. 146-157.

Srivastava, Kailash Chandra and K. C. Barmola (2013) “Rituals in Hinduism as related to spirituality.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 4.1:87-95.

 

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Exorcism

Karma

Tabiz

Vibhuti

Gemstones

Astrology

Ayurveda

Soma

Spiritualism

Pretaraj (King of Ghosts)

Siddha

Spirituality

Possession

Inauspiciousness

Mehandipur Balaji Temple

Hanuman

Yoga

Consciousness

Spiritual Healing

Moksa

Oracles

Yama

Jagar

Huraki drum

Bhamvar

 

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism/healers-BEHCOM_9000000034?s.num=1&s.f.s2_parent=s.f.book.brill-s-encyclopedia-of-hinduism&s.q=healing

http://www.mahavidya.ca/?s=healing

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

http://www.vanamaliashram.org/Balaji_Menhendipur.html

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

https://www.youtube.com/user/babaramdev

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ta%27wiz

https://www.makemytrip.com/blog/thats-strange-mehandipur-balaji-temple-ghosts

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3012952/pdf/IJPsy-23-247.pdf

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

 

Article written by: Tanner Layton (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Demons defeated by Krsna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bibliography

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

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

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

 

Related Research Topics

Anarthas

Visnu

Gopi

Nagas

Hare Krsna

Balarama

 

Related Websites

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

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

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

 

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

Siva and Demons

Siva is regarded as one part of the Great Hindu Trinity, alongside Brahma and Visnu. Brahma is the creator, Visnu the preserver and Siva the destroyer of the universe (Ghosh 13). Siva resides on Mount Kailasa along with his wife, Parvati. While he is known as the destroyer of the universe, Siva possesses a myriad of contradicting qualities. He is both terrible and benign; the supreme ascetic, yet a symbol of sensuality; granter of boons to those who are most devoted to him, and destroyer of those who displease him. It is these qualities which result in some interesting encounters with various demons.

While we can call some of the beings that Siva encounters and battles with “demons” in English, there is not always a clear-cut line between good and evil in Hinduism. Although gods are supposed to be different from demons, there is not always a clear cut distinction between the good characteristics of one and the evil characteristics of the other. While most Hindu demons behave in the way that is expected of them in the West – stealing, killing, raping, generally being evil – there are some demons in Hindu mythology that are righteous and practice asceticism. It is through this asceticism that the gods grant boons to these “good” demons, and it is through the abuse of these boons that they become evil. Siva’s mythology tells of encounters of both “evil” demons and “good” demons, and has even granted boons to some “good” demons, only to have them turn around and use their boons against him.

It is possible for demons to be born from gods, and for gods to cleanse demons of their “demon-ness”. The story of Andhaka illustrates both concepts. Once, Parvati covered Siva’s two eyes, and a drop of sweat fell into his third eye. From this, the demon Andhaka was born, with Parvati as his mother and Siva as his father. Siva saw the evil that Andhaka was capable of and gave him away to the demon king Hiranyaksa to raise. When Andhaka was older, he inherited Hiranyaksa’s kingdom. After meditating and sacrificing pieces of his own flesh, Andhaka was able to request a boon from Brahma. Andhaka wanted to live forever, but as all things must eventually die, Brahma could only grant him near immortality; Andhaka had to declare the conditions for his death. Wanting to make the conditions near impossible, Andhaka wished that his death would only come when he developed feelings for his own mother and that even if he desired his own mother, only Siva could kill him. One day, while in the forest, Andhaka encountered an ascetic and his beautiful wife. Andhaka tried to seduce the woman and demanded that the ascetic surrender his wife, as a man who had renounced his worldly ways would have no need for a beautiful woman. The ascetic refused, to which Andhaka sought to do battle with him, not knowing that the beautiful woman he lusted after was Parvati, his mother. This meant that the ascetic with whom he challenged to battle was Siva. Siva impaled Andhaka with his trident and burned him with his third eye. Siva’s third eye was so powerful, he not only burned away Andhaka’s body, but also his sins and demonic ways. Then Siva gave Andhaka a form with three eyes, a blue neck, and matted hair, and Parvati adopted him as her son (O’Flaherty 1973:191).

When seduction is used by both Siva and his enemy, Siva emerges supreme by virtue of his sexual powers (O’Flaherty 1973:184). Siva once commented on Parvati’s dark complexion, which angered her. She left to perform austerities to lighten her skin color and assigned her attendant, Viraka, to guard the door, fearing her husband’s lust would get the better of him and he would sleep with another woman before she could return. While she was gone, Adi, the shape-shifting son of Andhaka, learned of her absence, and devised a plan to avenge his father’s death by killing Siva. Adi figured that if he could destroy Siva’s linga (phallus), Siva himself would be ultimately destroyed. He snuck into Siva’s palace by transforming himself into a snake and slithered past Viraka undetected. He then transformed himself into Parvati, but placed sharp teeth inside the vagina. When Siva saw Adi in his Parvati form, he embraced him/her, but was suspicious that Parvati would return before completing her austerities. He began to look at his wife more closely and seeing that the Parvati in front of him was missing a birthmark, Siva suspected that it was a demon in disguise. He then placed a thunderbolt on the tip of his linga, and while making love to Adi, killed him with it.

So far, Siva has been shown to be able to spawn demons and to kill demons, but Siva also from time to time helped demons out. The demon Bana is one of these cases. Bana was the son of the demon Bali, but Siva and Parvati adopted him as their own son. With the backing of Siva, Bana became strong and hungered for war. He once complained to Siva that there were no wars to fight and that he was depressed. Siva smiled and told him that when his flagstaff fell, a great war would come to him. When Bana’s flagstaff broke, he happily relayed Siva’s message to his minister, Kusmanda, but Kusmanda, who was more level headed than Bana, could sense trouble brewing. Bana’s daughter, Usa, wanted a husband and Parvati told her that one night she would have a dream where a man would come to her and join with her in sexual union. The man in that dream would be her future husband. Sure enough, one night she had this dream and the man was Aniruddha, the grandson of Krsna. The problem lay in the fact that Krsna and Bana were sworn enemies. Usa asked her friend Citralekha to find Aniruddha and bring him to her, which she did. The two had a secret love affair, but Bana found out and sought to punish Aniruddha. Aniruddha proved to be an experienced fighter and Bana could not defeat him in physical combat. Under the advice of Kusmanda, Bana resorted to magic instead and managed to tie Aniruddha down with ropes made from snakes. Bana was about to kill Aniruddha, but the wise Kusmanda suggested that since the boy was such a great warrior, it might be better to inquire as to who he was and to protect him instead of killing him. If he did manage to secretly marry Usa, it would not look good if Bana killed his own son-in-law. Meanwhile, Krsna heard about Aniruddha’s capture and mobilized a great army to Bana’s capital, set on either rescuing his grandson or avenging his death. Bana’s army and Krsna’s army collided on the battlefield, but Krsna’s force proved to be the better and Bana was forced into a corner. This was unacceptable to Siva, who felt he needed to protect his adopted son, so he sent his own army to help Bana and even stepped on the battlefield himself. The war turned into a battle between Siva and Krsna, who was an avatar of Visnu. The Earth was under great stress from the war and Brahma requested that Siva step out of the fight, since both Siva and Visnu were invincible, so the fight would be never-ending. With Siva gone, Bana had no chance of victory and was facing defeat, but Siva took Bana away with him and granted him immortality. Aniruddha was rescued and was married to Usa and Bana’s kingdom was given to Kusmanda to rule.

These were only three examples of Siva’s encounters with demons. With Siva’s unique contradicting characteristics and the ambiguity of evilness of demons in Hindu mythology, there are a vast number of demon encounters that were not mentioned. Even the three examples given were only one version each of a myriad of versions for the same story. However, unlike Western mythology, where there is usually a distinct black and white aspect to good and evil, where gods are good and demons are bad, in Hindu mythology, sometimes the gods are good and the demons are bad, but other times, the gods do terrible things and the demons are righteous. Similar to India’s class system, “god” or “demon” is like a class that one can be born into. How one acts in that class is of their own volition.

REFERENCES AND RELATED READINGS

Bhattacharji, Sakumari (2000) The Indian Theogony. New Delhi: Penguin Books India.

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (2000) Indian Demonology: The Inverted Pantheon. Daryaganj:  Manohar Publishers & Distributors.

Ghosh, Mandira (2007) Shiva and Shakti in Indian Mythology. Gurgaon: Shubhi Publications.

Michaels, Axel (2008) Siva in Trouble. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1973) Siva The Erotic Ascetic. London: Oxford University Press.

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

RELATED TOPICS FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Adi

Andhaka

Aniruddha

Asura

Bali

Bana

Brahma

Hiranyaksa

Krsna

Kusmanda

Mount Kailasa

Parvati

Siva

Tripura

Usa

Viraka

Visnu

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

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

http://www.harekrsna.com/philosophy/associates/demons/siva/andhaka.htm

http://www.bronzecreative.com/shiva-hindu-god-statue-nataraja-lord-siva.htm

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

http://www.tamilstar.org/mythology/krishna/

Article written by Allan Chiem (March 2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Ravana

To individuals who are familiar with the Hindu epic Ramayana, the name Ravana has come to mean the main antagonist of the epic, the demon king of Lanka who was manipulated into kidnapping Sita, the wife of Rama. In the epic Ravana is described as the mighty king of the Raksasas with ten heads, twenty arms, and copper-colored eyes, and bright teeth like the young moon (Valmiki, Vol 2: 94-95). He gained control of his kingdom by banishing his half-brother Kubera who was the rightful king. His kingdom was the Kingdom of Lanka, which was said to be at the southern tip of India and some believe that it may be the current state of Sri Lanka as Hanuman, the monkey god, is depicted jumping over a sea to reach the kingdom.

In terms of Ravana’s ancestry, he was a Brahmin by birth as he was born the Visrava, a Brahmin sage and Kaikesi, a Raksasa princess. It is believed that Sumali, Kaikesi’s father who was the king of the Daiteyas, wanted her to marry the most powerful man in the world and chose Visrava as he was the son of Rishi Pulastya, one of the six human sons of Brahma. Ravana also had quite a large number of brothers and sister, the most famous being Surpanakha, who manipulated him into kidnapping Sita because she was insulted by Laksmana and Rama; other siblings are listed as Kumbhkarna, the sleeping giant who was quite skilled at war, Vibhisana, the dharmic Raksasa who eventually helped Rama and older half-brother Kubera, the god of wealth. Even though it is said that Ravana had quite a large of number of queens and a great harem, his favorite queen was said to be Mandodari, a woman of great beauty and wisdom. Mandodari was a pious women who was always apologetic for the misdeeds of her husband. He was the father to several children; Trisiras and Indrajit, who were killed in the battle of Lanka, and Ravani, Aksa, Devantaka, Atikaya, and Narantaka. It is recorded that all of Ravana’s wives performed Sati after his death and died at his funeral pyre.

In terms of Ravana’s kingdom, Lanka was initially ruled by Sumali, Ravana’s maternal grandfather. The ruling was then taken over by Ravana’s half brother Kubera, also known as the god of wealth, who was given the kingdom as a prize because of the austerities he performed to Brahma. Ravana eventually took over the kingdom forcibly, however it is recorded that Lanka flourished under his rule and after Ravana’s defeat; the kingdom was then turned over to his dharmic brother Vibhisana. It is believed that Lanka is the current state of Sri Lanka as the island of Sri Lanka is at the southernmost tip of India. There is also remains of a land bridge that connected Sri Lanka and India, which is known as Rama’s Bridge to this day, and some consider this as proof that Sri Lanka is connected to the Ramayana.

Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India
Bas relief depicting Ravana trying to topple Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva and Parvati; Mahabalipuram, India

In the Ramayana there are many references to Ravana’s wickedness and evilness. First of these can be seen as his defeat of his half-brother to gain control of Lanka. This was not done through normal means as he performed asceticism for Brahma, the god of creation, and a boon was granted to him for his perseverance (Pollock 509). Ravana in turn asked for the ability to defeat gods in battle and with this ability he was able to defeat his half-brother and win his kingdom. Ravana was also well known for forcing himself upon women and it is believed Kubera had cursed Ravana after such a conquest and that is why he was not able to force himself upon Sita. The greatest misdeed of Ravana in the Ramayana is the abduction of Sita who is seen as the image of righteousness. The abduction was caused by Surphanakha’s need for revenge because of Rama’s reaction after her proclamation of love as well as Laksmana cutting off her nose and ears as punishment for insulting Rama. Ravana in turn sent fourteen thousand Raksasas to Rama, Sita, and Laksmana’s dwellings yet they were all defeated. Ravana then decided to take matters further by flying to Rama’s dwellings and abducting Sita after distracting Rama and Laksmana (Kishore 1995: 69-71). As Sita was in captivity for approximately a year, during which time Ravana repeatedly tried make her his wife using many tactics; meanwhile, Rama had prepared an army of monkeys to rescue Sita. This lead to the Battle of Lanka in which the vast army of Raksasas were defeated by Rama’a army and Ravana was slaughtered by Rama himself. However, the demise of the demon king did not come easily, as Rama had to acquire extraordinary weapons in order to slaughter him, the reason for this pertains to Ravana’s boon granted by Brahma.

Even though Ravana is depicted mainly negatively in the Ramayana, there are also positive aspects of his embedded in the epic. He is shown as a great scholar who mastered the Vedas and the arts as well. He was knowledgeable in Brahmin skills as well as Ksastriya skills. Ravana was also a great ruler, which was seen by the prosperousness of Lanka during his reign. When Hanuman first visits Lanka, he was amazed the “splendid yellow-white palaces, like to a city stationed in the sky” (Valmiki, Sundarakandam: 15) He also was said to be a fair ruler and this was cemented by the loyalty of his subjects which is seen many times in the epic. Ravana was a firm devotee of the destructor god, Siva and this devotion seems to stem from his meeting with the god at Kailash. It is said that Ravana may have written a devotional hymn to Siva, the Siva Tandava Stotra. When analyzing the epic the battle of Lanka could be seen as the clash of the two great devotional sects, Saivism and Vaisnavism because of Ravana’s devotion to Siva and Rama being the incarnation of Visnu himself.

When discussing the great demon king, Ravana, one must always consider his positive and negative aspects. Even though he is depicted as evil and wicked in the epic and his effigies are burned even today where as Rama is seen as righteousness, one must realize that for all of Ravana’s negative aspects, positive aspects must be present as well.

REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING

Dowson, John (1879) A classical dictionary of Hindu mythology and religion, geography, history, and literature. London: Trübner

Kishore, B.R. (2005) Ramayana. Diamond Pocket Books

Pollock, Sheldon (1984) The Divine King in the Indian Epic. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Richman, Paula. (1991) Many Ramayanas: The diversity of a narrative tradition in South Asia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rocher, Ludo (2006) The Ramayana Revisited. Journal of the American Oriental Society.

Roy S.B. (1982) Mohenjodaro and the Lanka of Ravana: a new hypothesis. New Delhi: Institute of Chronology.

Valmiki. Dutt, M.N. trans., Arya, Ravi. Eds. – Ramayana (Volumes I,II,III,IV)I. New Delhi: Parimal Publications.

REFERENCED WEBSITES

Life and Character sketch of Ravana. http://www.indiaparenting.com/stories/krishna/rama15.shtml

RELATED TOPICS

Rama

Sita

Laksmana

The Ramayana

Hanuman

Valmiki

Dasaratha

Kaikeyi

Kingdom of Lanka

Ayodhya

Siva

Visnu

Laksmi

Visvamitra

Kusa

Lava

Bala Khanda

Ayodya Khanda

Aranya Kanda

Kiskindha Kanda

Sundara Kanda

Yudda Kanda

Uttara Kanda

NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES RELATED TO THE TOPIC

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

http://www.mythfolklore.net/india/encyclopedia/ravana.htm

http://www.answers.com/topic/ravana

http://www.bolokids.com/ramayana/11.htm

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/492219/Ravana

http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/vibheeshana/page4.htm

http://www.hindubooks.org/david_frawley/arjuna/ancestry_of_ravana/page1.htm

Written by Savini Suduweli Kondage (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Demon Bali

The story of the demon Bali appears many times throughout Hindu literature, showing that this figure has significance in the development of Hindu culture. For example, Bali’s tale appears in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Vayu Purana. While Bali appears in Hindu literature many times, the most important story of Bali comes from the tale of his interactions with Visnu’s avatar Vamana. Another important myth surrounding Bali is his role as a teacher of Indra. Both of these myths are significant to Hindu literature, and both myths will be discussed here.

In the Bhagavad Gita Bali is reborn as a demon after his previous life as Kitava. Kitava is branded as an evil man in this literature; however, by the grace of Siva he is granted the throne of Indra for a time. During his reign on Indra’s throne, Kitava proceeds to give away all of the possessions of Indra, including Indra’s elephant, horse, and wishing cow (O’Flaherty 127). When Indra was returned to the throne, Indra was clearly displeased by what had happened and pleaded to Yama, the god of death, to curse Kitava to hell. However, through his karma, Kitava was reborn as the son of Virocana, the demon Bali (O’Flaherty 128).

According to Hindu literature, a war began between the devas (gods) and the asuras (demons) for control over the heavens and the earth. Bali had been proclaimed king by the other asuras and was charged with removing Indra from power over the three worlds, and restoring the prestige of the demons. Bali was chosen as the king because he had virtuous qualities, and was considered to be grateful and wise. Many of the important figures of Hindu demonology were granted powerful armies to fight for Bali against the gods (Bhattacharyya 151). At the end of the war, the asuras were victorious in driving the devas from heaven. The throne that had belonged to Indra was now given to Bali, the son of Virocana (Hospital 25).

The devas, angered by the loss of their kingdom, appealed to the god Visnu for help in regaining their lost lands. It was understood by the gods that Bali was a very generous ruler, and would give his subjects any possession they asked for. With this knowledge, Visnu is reborn as the dwarf Vamana and seeks an audience with the king Bali, while he is performing a sacrifice to celebrate his victory over Indra and the other gods (Bhattacharyya 152). It is during this meeting that the main flaw of Bali is exposed. Vamana asks Bali for all of the land that he can walk in three steps. Bali is pleased with this request, seeing only a dwarf in front of him. However, as it is stated in the Vaya Purana, Vamana “…with three strides stepped over the sky, the mid-region and the earth – this entire universe.” (Hospital 28). For Bali, his generosity would be his demise as he is forced to give the kingdom to Vamana, the avatar of Visnu, who returns Indra to the throne of the universe. In O’Flaherty’s book, she quotes a Sanskrit aphorism as saying “Because of his excess of generosity, Bali was captured… Excess should always be avoided” (O’Flaherty 131).

Visnu's Vamana (Dwarf) avatara sends the demon Bali to the underworld

According to O’Flaherty, the actions of Bali in this myth go against what is considered to be Bali’s svadharma. That is to say that the duty of a demon is to interfere with sacrifice, and to kill gods (O’Flaherty 127). While it is true that the armies of Bali were responsible for the death of gods, in the myth, Bali is seen as performing a sacrifice ritual when he is approached by Vamana. Performing this ritual causes a disruption in the cosmic order of things, which Vamana is praised for restoring. O’Flaherty states in her book that “…the dharma of the whole world – owls and stars and lotuses are disturbed by the sudden imbalance in the social order, for cosmic order is maintained by the proper performance of all svadharmas.” (O’Flaherty 130). This could be understood as one of the main reasons that despite all of Bali’s virtues, he is considered to be a force of evil that disrupts the cosmic order.

In the second important myth about Bali, Indra is seeking Bali out for instruction. According to the myth, Indra finds Bali reborn as an ass. During their conversation Bali attempts to explain to Indra the significance of time and of prosperity (Hospital 74). This entire myth is centered on helping to explain the ideas of dharma in its relation to samsara. In his teachings to Indra, Bali attempts to show Indra that until an individual achieves atman, all things are transitory. Materialistic possessions, such as jewels, as well as possessions such as armies, are all subject to time (Hospital 61). The discussion continues with Bali describing his understanding of life and death as such: “Death is the end of creatures as the ocean is for rivers” (Hospital 61).

The story of Bali’s discussion with Indra contains a number of examples of behaviour that would have an impact on one’s rebirth. Bali lectures Indra on how it is wrong to mock someone who has been reborn into a lower status than they were previously. In the case of Bali and Indra, Bali says “You mock me who am in adversity. When you are as I am, then you will not talk like this” (Hospital 61). However, it is not Bali’s plan to lecture Indra on how to have a positive rebirth, rather, Bali aims to advise Indra on how to achieve atman. Understanding that time will eventually remove prosperity from one individual, and grant it to another, and that a person should not grieve at the loss of prosperity, nor celebrate the gain of it is ultimately what Bali is attempting to teach to Indra.

The story of Bali in these two myths can be seen as being related. In the first myth, Bali is responsible for actions that result in his rebirth in a lower status than he had previously. This rebirth allows Bali to understand that all things are subject to the power of time, and that without a realization of the transitory qualities of time, a person cannot achieve atman. Developing the relationship between these two myths also proves to be important, as it becomes obvious that the second myth would not have the influence it has without understanding the first myth. Having a former demon king who was reborn as an ass, to teach the god Indra about the fickleness of possessions is a much powerful lesson than one taught by someone else.

References and Further Reading

Bhattacharyya, Narendra Nath (2000) Indian Demonology: The Inverted Pantheon. New Delhi: Manohar Publishers & Distributors

Hospital, Clifford (1984) The Righteous Demon: A Study of Bali. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy (1988) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Singh, Balbir (1984) Hindu Ethics: An Exposition of the Concept of Good. New Delhi: Gulab Vazirani

Stietencron, Heinrich von (2005) Hindu Myth, Hindu History: Religion, Art, and Politics. Delhi: Permanent Black

Related topics for Further Investigation

Vamana

Visnu

Karma

Moksa

Dharma

Svadharma

Kerala

Bhagavad Gita

Vaya Purana

Indra

Devas

Asuras

Atman

Samsara

Kitava

Websites Related to the Topic

http://www.boloji.com/hinduism/042.htm

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

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/622527/Vamana

http://www.experiencefestival.com/bali_demon

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

Written by Kris Duncan (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

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.


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.

Demons in Vedic Literature

In Hinduism, demons are often considered to be anthropomorphic. They can be classed into four basic categories; these are abstract, celestial, atmospheric, and terrestrial demons. Although demons may be classed in these groups the divisions between categories are not clearly delineated. They are often named by their appearance or activity (see Bhattacharyya 35) and it is thought that some groups of demons, such as the Dasas and Dasyus, may have been based on indigenous peoples that were in opposition to the Aryans (Bhattacharyya 44). There are a few demons of divine lineage. While, for the most part, these spirits were considered to be forces of evil there are some terrestrial spirits that were thought to be helpful at harvest, or in battle. Arbudi is an example of one such demon who was thought to assist tribesmen in times of war by causing fear in the enemy (see Bhattacharyya 35). The abstract demons are not often conceived as having a physical form. Rather they are usually thought of in a more impersonal way as hostile powers that fly about in the air. They are intangible substances that cause disease, problems in childbirth, and guilt. One of the primary tasks of sorcery was to deflect these demons (Bhattacharyya 35). The Aratis are abstract demons of illiberality mentioned in the Rg Veda (Bhattacharyya 36). They are always conceived as feminine. Nirriti is another example of an abstract demon thought of as the antithesis of Rta (Bhattacharyya 36). Another group of injurious spirits mentioned in the Rg Veda are the Druhs (Bhattacharyya 36). In the Atharva Veda fever is conceived as being a demon (Bhattacharyya 40). Although not necessarily considered as demons, disembodied spirits also may be considered hostile forces. The most common forms of such spirits are Bhutas, Pretas, and Pisacas. Bhutas are hostile spirits and although modern usage of the word denotes a malevolent spirit of the dead that is most likely not its early meaning (Bhattacharyya 36). The Preta are thought of as souls in waiting and are not necessarily evil or malignant (Bhattacharyya 38). The third group, the Pisacas, are described as being in opposition to the Pitrs in the later Samhitas (Bhattacharyya 39). (A common feature of different classes or groups of demons is that they are typically conceived as being in opposition to another specific class or group of beings. So the Pisacas are enemies of the Pitrs, the Asura enemies of the gods and so on.) The Pisacas are often referred to as kavyad, which means “eaters of raw flesh,” and are thought of as infesting homes and villages. There are many incantations against them (Bhattacharyya 39). Agni is often invoked to restore the sick whose flesh is eaten by the Pisacas (MacDonell 238). Examples of celestial demons are the Asura. They are considered to be the primary adversaries of the gods. They only appear as the enemies of men on rare occasion (MacDonell 226). In the Brahmanas the Asura are associated with darkness, thus the days belong to the gods and the nights to the Asura (Bhattacharyya 46). However, the term asura did not always mean demon. In early hymns in the Rg Veda the word appears to have been translated as lord, denoting a leader who is respected and commands some kind of fighting force. Those beings called asura may also have been believed to wield a kind of magical power called maya (Wash 52). It is not until the Atharva Veda and the Brahmanas that the term comes to mean demon exclusively (Wash 114, 170). The Asura are also described as the offspring of Prajapati and in many of the passages in the Brahamanas are represented as superior to the gods in the arts of civilized life. They are sometimes thought of as being the elder brothers of the gods (Bhattacharyya 47). The gods and the Asura are often fighting with each other and during fights between the two groups the gods are often repeatedly defeated by the Asura due to a lack of leadership (Bhattacharyya 47). However, ultimately the gods win the conflicts (O’Flaherty 58). The Asura are said to be defeated because they do not follow the correct method of sacrifice. The main contest between the gods and Asura is over immortality (Bhattacharyya 48). There is one legend where the gods and Asura collaborate and churn the ocean to produce an elixir of immortality. The gods then trick the Asura out of their share of the elixir (O’Flaherty 61). Counted among the atmospheric demons are the Panis. They are primarily considered to be enemies of Indra, although they are also enemies of Agni, Soma, Brhaspati, and Angirases. They are often mentioned as a group and are known for their cows and great wealth (MacDonell 227). One hymn in the Rg Veda describes how Indra steals the cattle belonging to the Panis (Bhattacharyya 43). Among the individual atmospheric demons mentioned, one of the most important is Vrtra. His name is derived from the root vr meaning “to cover” or “encompass”. Thus he is said to encompass the waters and rivers. He is conceived to be a serpent in form and references are made to his head, jaws, and hissing. He is also described as being without hands or feet. Vrtra is said to have powers over lightning, mist, hail, and thunder. His mother is Danu. His chief adversary is Indra. It is said that Indra was born to slay him. He is believed to have a hidden home where he escaped the waters that Indra released. Some scholars believe that Vrtra is possibly a demon of drought while others propose that he was originally a frost and winter demon (Bhattacharyya 43,44). In the Brahmanas Vrtra is interpreted as the moon and is believed to be swallowed by the sun (representing Indra) at the new moon (MacDonell 231). The Dasas and Dasyu are classed as either atmospheric (MacDonell 228,229) or terrestrial demons (Bhattacharyya 35). Both groups are considered to be enemies of Indra. The Dasas are mentioned in the Samhitas and Brahmanas and their name means “slave” or “servant”(Wash 161,162). Susna is a Dasas mentioned in the Rg Veda. He is described as a horned serpent and is thought to be a demon of drought. He shares some of the characteristics of Vrtra (Bhattacharyya 45). The Dasas are similar to the Dasyu. The Dasyu are described as vowless (avrata), and possessing tricks. They are not to be trusted. The Dasyu are said to seek to scale heaven and are defeated by Indra (Wash 146-150). The Raksasas are terrestrial demons. The term is often used as a generic name for all terrestrial demons. They are the enemies of mankind (Bhattacharyya 41). In the Rg Veda they are always said to be evil and are something to be rid of (Wash 140,144). They have the forms of vultures, dogs, owls, and other birds. As birds they are often thought of as flying around at night (MacDonell 236). They are also capable of taking human form. In human form they molest women, and hurt children (Bhattacharyya 41). They are considered dangerous during pregnancy and childbirth and at weddings. During a wedding little staves are shot in the air with the purpose of injuring Raksasas in the eye. They are believed to be able to enter a person through the mouth and cause disease, madness, and destroy the powers of speech (MacDonell 236). They are dominant in the evening and at night. Raksasas are described as dancing around houses in the evening making loud noises and drinking out of skullcaps. They hate prayer and often attack sacrifices (Bhattacharyya 41). Spells can be found in the Atharva Veda for nullifying the sacrifices of an enemy by using Raksasas to disrupt the sacrifice (MacDonell 237). The Rg Veda mentions people known as raksoyuj (yoker of Raksasas) who are believed to be capable of invoking a Raksasa to injure others (Bhattacharyya 42). When in human form, Raksasas typically have some gross deformity such as being three headed, two mouthed, bear necked, horned, five footed, or four eyed. They can be male or female and are often associated with the colors blue, yellow, or green. They can also have families and kingdoms and are considered to be mortal (MacDonell 236). In two hymns in the Rg Veda the Raksasas are more clearly defined as being either yatus or yatudhanas. Yatus are responsible for creating confusion at sacrifices and yatudhanas are eaters of the flesh of horses and men, and drink cow’s milk. Raksasas are considered to have no power in the east as the rays of the rising sun disperse them. A falling meteor was considered to be the embodiment of a Raksasa. Agni is the god most often invoked to oppose them by burning them (Bhattacharyya 42). The pantheon of demons is indeed varied and interesting. There are many different groups of demons each having unique roles in the world of myth and stories presented in the Vedic literature.

Resources

Bhattacharyya, N. N. (2000) Indian Demonology. Delhi: Manohar Publishers. MacDonell, A. (2004) History of Vedic Mythology. New Delhi: Sanjay Prakashan. O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Wash, Edward Hale (1986) Asura in Early Vedic Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Indra Agni Soma Demons in the epics Demons in Puranic literature

Rg Veda

Brahmanas Atharva Veda

Samhitas

Prajapati Vrtra Incantations against demons

Raksoyuj

Wedding rituals Rituals surrounding pregnancy and childbirth Battles between gods and asura Pitrs Maya

Noteworthy Websites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Hindu_demons http://larryavisbrown.homestead.com/files/xeno.mahabcomm.htm http://www.assiah.net/demonology-and-demons/dictionary/p/pretas.htm Article written by Jerrah Sawatsky (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.