« PreviousContinue »
gether. Indra retains a place of some dignity; but Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu have, in the Epics, risen to the chief place. Even of these three, the first is comparatively insignificant . His work of creation was over, and if he was ever an object of great adoration, he had ceased to be so. Vishnu and Siva both appear in these poems; and although Vishnu is the god who holds the most prominent place, still there are many passages in which Siva is elevated to the supreme dignity. The Vish?m who, in the Vedas, was the friend and companion of Indra and strode over the universe, has become the great deity of preservation, and the terrible and howling Budra is now Siva, the deity of destruction and renovation. Each of these two gods in his turn contends with and subdues the other; now this, now that, receives the homage of his rival, and each in turn is lauded and honoured as the chief and greatest of gods.
The Avataras or incarnations of Vishnu assume a prominent place in the poems, and still more so in the Puranas. The first three, the Fish, the Tortoise, and the Boar, have a comical character, and are foreshadowed in the hymns of the Vedas. The fourth, or Man-lion, seems to belong to a later age, when the Worship of Vishnu had become established. The fifth, or Dwarf, whose three strides deprived the Asuras of the dominion of heaven and earth, is in its character anterior to the fourth Avatara, and the three strides are attributed to Vishnu in the Veda. The fifth, sixth, and seventh, Parasu-rama, Ramachandra, and Krishna, are mortal heroes, whose exploits are celebrated in these poems so fervently as to raise the heroes to the rank of gods. The ninth Avatara, Buddha, is manifestly and avowedly the offspring of the preaching of Buddha; and the tenth, Kalki, is yet to come.
When we reach the Puranas there is found a very different condition of things. The true meaning of the Vedic myths is entirely lost, their origin is forgotten, and the signification and composition of many of the mythic names are unknown. Marvellous legends have gathered round the favourite divinities, and many more have been built upon fanciful etymologies of the old names. The simple primitive fancies suggested by the operations of nature have disappeared, and have been supplanted by
the wild imaginings of a more advanced civilisation, but of a more corrupt state of society and religion. The Trimurti or triad of deities has assumed a distinct shape, and while Brahma has quite fallen into obscurity, Vishnu and Siva have each become supreme in the belief of their respective followers. Vishnu, in his youthful form Krishna, is the object of a sensuous and joyous worship. The gloomy and disgusting worship of <Siva, in his terrible forms, has grown side by side with it. The worship of his fierce consort, Devi, has become established, and the foundation has been laid of the obscene and bloody rites afterwards developed in the Tantras.
The Veda, in modern Hinduism, is a mere name,—a name of high authority, often invoked and highly reverenced,—but its language is unintelligible, and its gods and rites are things of the past. The modern system is quite at variance with the Vedic writings out of which it grew, and the descendant bears but few marks of resemblance to its remote ancestor.
The Puranas and later writings are the great authorities of modern Hinduism; their mythology and legends fill the popular mind and mould its thoughts. The wonderful tales of the great poems also exercise a great influence. The heroes of these poems are heroes still; their exploits, with many embellishments and sectarial additions, are recounted in prose and verse, and the tales of Rama and the Pawrfavas, of Hanumat and Ravana, are still read and listened to with wonder and delight. A host of legends has grown up around the hero Krishna; they attend him from his cradle to his pyre; but the stories of his infancy and his youth are those which are most popular, and interest all classes, especially women and young people. The mild and gentle Rama, "the husband of one wife," pure in thought and noble in action, is in many places held in the highest honour, and the worship paid to him and his faithful wife Sita is the purest and least degrading of the many forms of Hindu worship.
This later mythology, with its wonders and marvels, and its equally marvellous explanations of them, is the key to modern Hinduism. It is curious to trace its descent, to contrast such legends as are traceable with their simple beginnings in the Vedic hymns, and so to follow the workings of the mind of a
great people through many centuries. Such a survey supplies important and interesting matter for the history of religion, and gives a clear and complete view of the degradation of a mythology. But for the purposes of comparative mythology the Pauranik legends are of trifling importance. The stories of the Epic poems even are of no great value. It may be, as has been maintained, that they "are simply different versions of one and the same story, and that this story has its origin in the phenomena of the natural world and the course of the day and the year;" but still they are of later date, and afford no direct clue for unravelling the mythology of the Aryan nations.
The most ancient hymns of the iftg-veda are the basis upon which comparative mythology rests, and they have already supplied the means of unfolding the real source and signification of several Greek and Zoroastrian myths. The science is young, and has a wide field before it. Some of its results are beyond doubt, but there are other deductions which have not advanced as yet beyond conjecture and speculation. In the present work some of the more obvious identifications, or proposed identifiestions, have been mentioned as occasion offered; in a work of reference like this it would be out of place to have done more. The reader who wishes to pursue the study must consult the writings of Max Miiller and the "Aryan Mythology" of the Rev. Sir George Cox. In them and in the books to which they refer he will find ample information, and plenty of materials for investigation and comparison.
TRANSLITERATION AND PRONUNCIATION.
If this work answers the purpose for which it is intended, it will be used by students who are acquainted with the alphabet in which Sanskrit is written, and by readers to whom that alphabet is unknown. Its system of transliteration ought then to be such as to enable a student to restore any word to its original letters, but the ordinary reader ought not to be embarrassed with unnecessary diacritical points and distinctions. The alphabet of the Sanskrit is represented on the following plan:—.