Page images
PDF
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

thigh with lustre and blinded the persecutors. From being produced from the thigh (urn), the child received the name of Aurva. The sage's austerities alarmed both gods and men, and he for a long time refused to mitigate his wrath against the Kshatriyas, but at the persuasion of the Pitris, he cast the fire of his anger into the sea, where it became a being with the face of a horse called Haya-siras. While he was living in the forest he prevented the wife of King Bahu from burning herself with her husband's corpse. Thus he saved the life of her son, with whom she had been pregnant seven years. When the child was born he was called Sagara (ocean); Aurva was his preceptor, and bestowed on him the Agneyiistra, or fiery weapon with which he conquered the barbarians who invaded his country. Aurva had a son named i?ichika, who was father of Jamadagni. The Hari-vansa gives another version of the legend about the offspring of Aurva. The sage was urged by his friends to beget children. He consented, but he foretold that his progeny would live by the destruction of others. Then he produced from his thigh a devouring fire, which cried out with a loud voice, "I am hungry; let me consume the world." The various regions were soon in flames, when Brahma interfered to save his creation, and promised the son of Aurva a suitable abode and maintenance. The abode was to be at Barfava-mukha, the mouth of the oceani for Brahma was born and rests in the ocean, and he and the newly produced fire were to consume the world together at the end of each age, and at the end of time to devour all things with the gods, Asuras, and Rakshasas. The name Aurva thus signifies, shortly, the submarine fire. It is also called Barfavanala and Samvarttaka. It is represented as a flame with a horse's head, and is also called Kaka-dhwaja, from carrying a banner on which there is a crow.

AUSANA, or AUSANASA PURAVA. See Puruna.

AUTTAML The third Mann. See Manu.

AVANTI, AVANTIKA A name of UjjayinI, one of the seven sacred cities.

AVATAR A 'A descent' The incarnation of a deity, especially of Vishnu. The first indication, not of an Avatara, but of what subsequently developed into an Avatara, is found in the i?t'g-veda in the "three steps" of "Vishnu, the unconquerable preserver," who "strode over this (universe)," and "in

C

[ocr errors][merged small]

three places planted his step." The early commentators understood the "three places " to be the earth, the atmosphere, and the sky; that in the earth Vishnu was fire, in the air lightning, and in the sky the solar light. One commentator, Aurnavabha, whose name deserves mention, took a more philosophical view of the matter, and interpreted "the three steps" as being "the different positions of the sun at his rising, culmination, and setting." Sayana, the great commentator, who lived in days when the god Vishnu had obtained pre-eminence, understood "the three steps" to be "the three steps" taken by that god in his incarnation of Vamana the dwarf, to be presently noticed Another reference to "three strides" and to a sort of Avatara is made in the Taittiriya Sanhita, where it is said, "Indra, assuming the form of a she-jackal, stepped all round the earth in three (strides). Thus the gods obtained it."

Boar Incarnation.—In the Taittiriya Sanhita and Brahmana, and also in the Satapatha Brahmana, the creator Prajapati, afterwards known as Brahma, took the form of a boar for the purpose of raising the earth out of the boundless waters. The Sanhita says, "This universe was formerly waters, fluid On it Prajapati, becoming wind, moved He saw this (earth). Becoming a boar, he took her up. Becoming Viswakarman, he wiped (the moisture from) her. She extended She became the extended one (Prithvi). From this the earth derives her designation as 'the extended one.'" The Brahmana is in accord as to the illimitable waters, and adds, "Prajapati practised arduous devotion (saying), How shall this universe be (developed)? He beheld a lotus leaf standing. He thought, There is somewhat on which this (lotus leaf) rests. He, as a boar—having assumed that form—plunged beneath towards it . He found the earth down below. Breaking off (a portion of her), he rose to the surface. He then extended it on the lotus leaf. Inasmuch as he extended it, that is the extension of the extended one (the earth). This became (abhuf). From this the earth derives its name of Bhuml." Further, in the Taittiriya Aranyaka it is said that the earth was "raised by a black boar with a hundred arms." The Satapatha Brahmana states, "She (the earth) was only so large, of the size of a span. A boar called Emusha raised her up. Her lord, Prajapati, in

[ocr errors]
[blocks in formation]

consequence prospers him with this pair and makes him complete." In the Ramayana also it is stated that Brahma "bebecame a boar and raised up the earth."

Kurma or Tortoise.—In the <Satapatha Brahmana it is said that "Prajapati, having assumed the form of a tortoise (karma), created offspring. That which he created he made (akarot); hence the word Karma."

Fish Incarnation.—The earliest mention of the fish Avatara occurs in the Satapatha Brahmana, in connection with the Hindu legend of the deluge. Manu found, in the water which was brought to him for his ablutions, a small fish, which spoke to him and said, "I will save thee" from a flood which shall sweep away all creatures. This fish grew to a large size, and had to be consigned to the ocean, when he directed Manu to construct a ship and to resort to him when the flood should rise. The deluge came, and Manu embarked in the ship. The fish then swam to Menu, who fastened the vessel to the fish's horn, and was conducted to safety. The Maha-bharata repeats this story with some variations .

The incarnations of the boar, the tortoise, and the fish are thus in the earlier writings represented as manifestations of Prajapati or Brahma. The "three steps" which form the germ of the dwarf incarnation are ascribed to Vishnu, but even these appear to be of an astronomical or mythical character rather than glorifications of a particular deity. In the Maha-bharata Vishnu has become the most prominent of the gods, and some of his incarnations are more or less distinctly noticed; but it is in the Puranas that they receive their full development. According to the generally received account, the incarnations of Vishnu are ten in number, each of them being assumed by Vishnu, the great preserving power, to save the world from some great danger or trouble.

1. Matsya. 'The fish.' This is an appropriation to Vishnu of the ancient legend of the fish and the deluge, as related in the iS&tapatha Brahmana, and quoted above . The details of this Avatara vary slightly in different Puranas. The object of the incarnation was to save Vaivaswata, the seventh Manu, and progenitor of the human race, from destruction by a deluge. A small fish came into the hands of Manu and besought his protection. He carefully guarded it, and it grew rapidly until

[ocr errors][merged small]

nothing but the ocean could contain it. Manu then recognised its divinity, and worshipped the deity Vishnu thus incarnate. The god apprised Manu of the approaching cataclysm, and bade him prepare for it. When it came, Manu embarked in a ship with the Itishis, and with the seeds of all existing things. Vishnu then appeared as the fish with a most stupendous horn. The ship was bound to this horn with the great serpent as with a rope, and was secured in safety until the waters had subsided. The Bhagavata Purana introduces a new feature. In one of the nights of Brahma, and during his repose, the earth and the other worlds were submerged in the ocean. Then the demon Haya-griva drew near, and carried off the Veda which had issued from Brahma's mouth. To recover the Veda thus lost, Vishnu assumed the form of a fish, and saved Manu as above related. But this Purana adds, that the fish instructed Manu and the ifrshis in "the true doctrine of the soul of the eternal Brahma;" and, when Brahma awoke at the end of this dissolution of the universe, Vishnu slew Haya-griva and restored the Veda to Brahma.

2. Kiirma. 'The tortoise.' The germ of this Avatara is found in the iS'atapatha Briihmana, as above noticed. In its later and developed form, Vishnu appeared in the form of a tortoise in the Satya-yuga, or first age, to recover some things of value which had been lost in the deluge. In the form of a tortoise he placed himself at the bottom of the sea of milk, and made his back the base or pivot of the mountain Mandara. The gods and demons twisted the great serpent Vasuki round the mountain, and, dividing into two parties, each took an end of the snake as a rope, and thus churned the sea until they recovered the desired objects. These were—(1.) Amnta, the water of life; (2.) Dhanwantari, the physician of the gods and bearer of the clip of AmWta; (3.) Lakshmi, goddess of fortune and beauty, and consort of Vishnu; (4.) Sura, goddess of wine; (5.) Chandra, the moon; (6.) Rambha, a nymph, and pattern of a lovely and amiable woman; (7.) Uchchai/i-sravas, a wonderful and model horse; (8.) Kaustubha, a celebrated jewel; (9.) Parijata, a celestial tree; (10.) Surabhi, the cow of plenty; (11.) Airavata, a wonderful model elephant; (12.) Sankha, a shell, the conch of victory; (13.) Dhanus, a famous bow; and (14.) Visha, poison.

[merged small][ocr errors]

3. Varaha. 'The boar.' The old legend of the Brahmanas concerning the boar which raised the earth from the waters has been appropriated to Vishnu. A demon named Hiranyaksha had dragged the earth to the bottom of the sea. To recover it Vishnu assumed the form of a boar, and after a contest of a thousand years he slew the demon and raised up the earth .

4. Nara-sinha, or Nri-sinha. 'The man-lion.' Vishnu assumed this form to deliver the world from the tyranny of Hiranyakasipu, a demon who, by the favour of Brahma, had become invulnerable, and was secure from gods, men, and animals. This demon's son, named Prahlada, worshipped Vishnu, which so incensed his father that he tried to kill him, but his efforts were all in vain. Contending with his son as to the omnipotence and omnipresence of Vishnu, Hiranya-kasipu demanded to know if Vishnu was present in a stone pillar of the hall, and struck it violently. To avenge Prahlada, and to vindicate his own offended majesty, Vishnu came forth from the pillar as the Nara-sinha, half-man and half-lion, and tore the arrogant Daitya king to pieces.

These four incarnations are supposed to have appeared in the Satya-yuga, or first age of the world.

5. Vamana. 'The dwarf.' The origin of this incarnation is "the three strides of Vishnu," spoken of in the ifrg-veda, as before explained. In the Treta-yuga, or second age, the Daitya king Bali had, by his devotions and austerities, acquired the dominion of the three worlds, and the gods were shorn of their power and dignity. To remedy this, Vishnu was born as a diminutive son of Kasyapa and Aditi. The dwarf appeared before Bali, and begged of him as much land as he could step over in three paces. The generous monarch complied with the request. Vishnu took two strides over heaven and earth; but respecting the virtues of Bali, he then stopped, leaving the dominion of Patala, or the infernal regions, to Bali.

The first five incarnations are thus purely mythological; in the next three we have the heroic element, and in the ninth the religious.

6. Parasu-rama. 'Rama with the axe.' Born in the Treta, or second age, as son of the Brahman Jamadagni, to deliver the Brahmans from the arrogant dominion of the Kshatriyas. See Parasu-Rama.

« PreviousContinue »