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developed greatly in the course of three or four centuries.
Powerful tribes have established kingdoms, and small
states are being subjected to the larger. The hardened
system of social organization is reflected by the references
to the four distinct castes. Hitherto the Kshatriyas have
controlled the destinies of the people, but now the Brah-
mans achieve an intellectual conquest and impose their
sway over kings and nobles. The holy men are no
longer the humble servants of generous patrons; they are
the human representatives of the all-controlling deities.
"Verily, there are two kinds of gods; for the gods them-
selves, assuredly, are gods, and those priests who have
studied and teach Vedic lore, are the human gods."

The offerings to the deities are " consecrated by the
feeding of priests ". 2

Even the gods become dependent upon the priests,
who provided them by offering sacrifices with the "food'
they required, and also with the Soma which gave them
length of years. Indra could not combat against the
Asuras without the assistance of the priests who chanted
formulas to ensure victory; it was, therefore, due to the
power exercised, in the first place, by the priests that the
drought demon was overcome and rain fell in abundance.

Priests might also accumulate in heaven credit balances

1 i Kings, x, 22.

2 Satapatha Brahmana, translated by Professor Eggeling, Part I, p. 374 (Sacred
Books of the East).


A n example of present-day austerities


of Celestial power by undergoing penances for long periods.
A heavy debt was also due to them by the gods for their
sacrificial offerings. When a Brahman desired to exercise
his accumulated power, he might even depose the deities,
who were therefore placed under compulsion to fulfil his
demands; his Celestial credit might exceed the "paying'
possibilities of the supreme Powers. In the sacred tales
Brahmans were credited with performing rigid penances
for centuries.

In the fourth Veda, the Atharva-veda^ the revival of
belief in formulas is emphasized. This book, which did
not receive recognition as an inspired work at first, is in
the main a collection of metrical charms of great antiquity.
Many resemble closely those which have been collected
by folk-lorists during late years in the Scottish Highlands
and elsewhere throughout Europe. The Rigveda hymns
reveal the religious beliefs and aspirations of the advanced
thinkers of their age; the Atharva-veda contains the germs
of folk religion the magical formulas chanted to dispel
or invoke the vague spirits who helped or thwarted man-
kind. It teaches that the Universe is upheld by sacrifice
and the spiritual exaltation of Brahmans, and that Brah-
manic power may be exercised by the use of appropriate
charms. Human beings might also be influenced by the
spirits invoked by means of formulas.

Primitive man believed that all emotions were caused
by spirits. When the poet sang, he was "inspired'' -he
drew in a spirit; ecstasy was "a standing outside of one-
self ", the soul having escaped temporarily from the body.
Wrath was caused by a demon, and " battle fury ' by
the spirit of war which possessed the warrior. When a
human being was "seized" by a fit, his convulsions were
believed to be caused by the demon who had entered his
body. Love was inspiration in the literal sense, and an


Indian lover might compel a heedless lady to regard him
with favour by reciting an Atharva-vedic spell. Appa-
rently the love spirit had a weakness for honey. The
lover chanted:

Honey be mine at the tip of my tongue,
May sweetness of honey pervade my speech,
So that my love may come under my spell
So that my lady may yield to my will.

Atharva-veda, i, 34.

As the grass is shorn from earth by the wind,
So may thy soul be shorn to my will,
And then, O lady, thou'lt give me thy love,
$ Nor be averse to me as thou wert.

Atharva-vedd) ii, 30.

A lover, we find, can invoke the lady to embrace him
"as the creeper embraces a tree"; if she clings to his
arm he can cause her to cling to his heart; his influence
over her mind is like the influence of a wing-beating eagle
over the wind. It may be, too, that a neglected girl finds
it necessary to prepare a love potion with " salve, sweet
wood, and spikenard ", and to cause the heart of an un-
gallant swain to suffer from " a parching heart ", which
"languishes for love", and experiences the "yearning of
the Apsaras".

Warriors were charmed against spells, cattle and sheep
were charmed against wild beasts, a house was charmed
against evil spirits and demons. 1 Greedy demons of dis-
ease, who devoured the flesh of patients, were greatly
feared: Brahmans performed ceremonies of riddance and

1 There are formulas in Gaelic for blessing a house, &c. The customs of nailing
horse-shoes upon doors and hanging up holly at Christmas for protection against evil
spirits indicate the persistence of ceremonial practices long after ancient beliefs have
been forgotten.


" plagued them as the tiger plagues the cattle owners ".
The following is a charm against cough:

As the soul with the soul's desires swiftly to a distance flies,
Thus do thou, O cough, fly forth along the soul's course of

As a well-sharpened arrow swiftly to a distance flies,

Thus do thou, O cough, fly forth along the expanse of the

As the rays of the sun swiftly to a distance fly,

Thus do thou, O cough, fly forth along the flood of the sea.

Atharva-<veda, vi, IO5. 1

A Scottish Highland charm similarly invokes the
Powers, or the "King of the Elements":

To cause the wrath of men to ebb,

Like to a wave from the sea to the floodtide,

And a wave from the floodtide to the ebb.

Occasionally a mantra is infused with high religious
fervour. A Brahman might pray:

From the sins which knowingly or unknowingly we have
committed, do ye, all gods, of one accord release us.

If awake or asleep, to sin inclined, I have committed a sin,
may what has been, and what shall be, as if from a wooden post,
release me. Aiharua-veda^ vi, 115. I-2. 2

Another hymn of this character concludes:

In heaven, where our righteous friends are blessed,
Having cast off diseases from their bodies,
From lameness free and not deformed in members,
There may we see our parents and our children.

Atharva-veda, vi, I2O. 3

While the tribes were spreading southward and east-

1 Bloomfield's Atharva-'veda (Sacred Booh of the Easf, vol. xlii).

2 Bloomfield's translation.

3 A Hhtory of 'Sanskrit Literature, Professor Macdonell, p. 199.


ward, Madhyadesa, the "middle country", remained the
centre of Brahmanic culture. In that district came into
existence the earliest sacred prose works which constitute
the basis of classic Hinduism. The first were the oldest
Brahmanas\ these comment on and expound the doctrines
of the Vedic hymns, especially in their relation to the
ritual of sacrifices. To the Brahmanas were added the
Aran'yakas^ "forest books", which are more speculative in
tendency. The expository appendices to the Aran'yakas
are called the Upanishads> " the sittings down ", or " the
sessions " the pupil sat at his master's feet and in
these a high level of thought is attained. " For the first
time", says Professor Macdonell, "we find the Absolute
grasped and proclaimed."

All the tribes were not infused with the same degree
of culture. In the Tajur-veda period there were various
schools of thought, and these continued to exercise their
influence into historic times, even after Upanishadic doc-
trines became widespread.

Ere we deal, however, with the new theological

J 3 O

doctrines of the Brahmanic teachers, we should follow
the development of sacrificial practices, because from
these evolved the bold Pantheism which characterized
the conception of the World Soul, Brahma.

The two greatest sacrifices were the purusha-medha,
the human sacrifice, and aswa-medha^ the sacrifice of the
horse. Both were prevalent in early times, and in
simpler form than they survive to us in the doctrinal
works and the Epics. A human sacrifice was believed
to be of highest potency, but it became extremely rare,
as in Egypt, among the ruling and cultured classes. It
was perpetuated .in India, however, until about half a
century ago, by the Dravidian Khonds in Bengal and
Madras, and had to be suppressed by British ofBcers.


Human sacrifices, in historic times, were " offered to the
earth goddess, Tari Pennu or Bera Pennu, and were
believed to ensure good crops, and immunity from all
diseases and accidents ". One official record states that
the victim, after being stabbed by the priest, was
" literally cut to pieces ". Each person who was " so
fortunate as to procure it carried away a morsel of the
flesh, and presented it to the idol of his own village 'V
From the practice of sacrificing human beings arose
the conception that the first act of Creation was, if not
human sacrifice, at least the sacrifice of the first being
with human attributes. The Universe is the giant
Purusha ("man"); he is "all that hath been and shall
be ". In a Rigvedic hymn, which is regarded as being
of later composition than the Rigvedic period, it is set
forth :

" When the gods performed a sacrifice with Purusha as the
oblation, the Spring was its butter, the Summer its fuel, and the
Autumn its (accompanying) offering. This victim, Purusha, born
in the beginning, they immolated on the sacrificial grass."

From this universal sacrifice issued forth all that
exists. The Brahman rose from Purusha's mouth, the
Rajanya (Kshatriya) from his arms, the Vaisya from his
thighs, and the Sudra sprang from his feet. Indra and
Agni came from his mouth, and Vayu from his breath.

u When the gods, performing sacrifice, bound Purusha as a
victim, there were seven sticks (stuck up) for it (around the fire).
. . . With sacrifice the gods performed the sacrifice. These were
the earliest rites." 2

" From his (Purusha's) navel arose the air, from his
head the sky, from his ears the four quarters; in this

1 Omens and Superstitions of Southern India^ by Edgar Thurston, p. 199 tt 3eq. t 1912.

2 Muir's Original Sanskrit Texts, vol. i, pp. 9-10.


manner (the gods) formed the worlds." This concep-
tion resembles closely the story in Teutonic mythology
of the cutting up by the gods of the body of the chaos
giant Ymer ; his skull became the sky, his bones the
rocks, his blood the sea, and so on. One of the Chinese
P'an Ku 1 myths is of similar character; the world is com-
posed of different parts of his body. The Babylonian
Merodach also divided the body of the chaos demon,
Tiawath or Tiamat; her head became the sky, her body
the earth, and her blood the rivers which fill the sea.
Purusha, the chaos giant of India, had " a thousand
heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet"; the earth
was equal to the space covered by ten of his fingers ; he
was " the whole universe ".

The horse sacrifice was also infused, like the human
sacrifice, with symbolic significance. It was probably
practised in the early Iranian period by the Aryan horse
tamers, who may have substituted man's fleet-footed
friend for human beings. The Mongolian Buriats in the
vicinity of Lake Baikal, Siberia, are the latest surviving
sacrificers of the domesticated animal. Their horse sacri-
fice (Tailgan) was held on 2 August on a sacred hill
inhabited by their gods, the Burkans, " the masters ".
The horse was bound, thrown upon its back and held
tightly by ropes, while the officiating person cut open
its breast and pulled out the pulsating heart like the
sacrificers of human beings in Ancient Mexico. The
animal's bones were burned on the altars, and the flesh
was cooked and devoured by the worshippers. Portions
of the flesh, and some of the broth prepared, were given
to the flames, which also received libations of the liquor
called tarasun, distilled from sour milk. Tarasun was

1 P'an Ku in his giant form. Like the Egyptian Ptah, he is now a dwarf and anon
a giant.


the Soma of the Buriats, and their fire spirit was, like the
Indian Agni, a ready drinker of it. Bits of food were
also flung to aerial spirits, while oblations were poured
on the hill, the belief prevailing that these offerings
multiplied sufficiently to permit of the gods feeding
sumptuously. As each of the worshippers of the spirits
of nature accepted a portion of sacrificial food, a prayer
was chanted, entreating the gods to cause increase of all

"Let our villages be one verst longer," they said;
"create cattle in our enclosures; under our blankets
create a son; send down rain from high heaven to us;
cause much grass to grow; create so much grain that the
sickle cannot raise it, and so much grass that the scythe
cannot cut it."

After the sacrifice, the food was divided and the frag-
ments that remained were carefully burned, " for none
of it must be eaten by dogs; that would be desecration,
and misfortune would follow in its wake ". 1

The purpose of this annual sacrifice was evidently to
secure fertility and prosperity generally, and we refer
to it here so fully because of the light it throws on the
Indian ceremonial which it resembles closely in some of
its details.

There are two direct references to the horse sacrifice
in the Rigveda? The animal is "covered with rich
trappings' and led thrice round the altar. It is accom-
panied by a goat, which is killed first to " announce the
sacrifice to the gods". A goat was also slain at a burial
to inform the gods that the soul was about to enter

In the Story of Nala and in the Ramdyana, the horse

1 A Journey in Southern Siberia^ by Jeremiah Curtin, pp. 44-8.
a Rigveda, i, 162, and i, 163.


sacrifice is performed to secure human offspring. A
second Ramdyana horse sacrifice is offered as an atone-
ment after the slaying of the demon Ravana. An elabo-
rate account of this great ceremonial is also given in the
Mahdbhdrata. It was performed after " the great war '
on the advice of the sage Vyasa to atone for the slaying
of kinsmen. The horse was let loose and an army
followed it. Whichever country the animal entered had
to be conquered for the owner of the horse, so that only
a powerful monarch could fulfil the conditions of the
sacrifice. A hundred such sacrifices might enable a king
to depose Indra.

It is significant, however, that the animal was re-
leased to wander from kingdom to kingdom on the
night of the full moon in the spring month of Choitro,
and that it returned in the following year at the close
of the winter season. When the ground was prepared
by being ploughed by the king, the queen followed
him, sowing the seeds of every kind of vegetable and
curative herb which grew in the kingdom. A countless
number of representative animals were sacrificed before
the sacred horse was slain, the rain drum and trumpet
were sounded, and the king and queen were drenched
with holy water.

The flesh of the horse was cooked and eaten, and
Indra and the other gods appeared and partook of their
portions. Pieces were also flung in the fire, and the fire
received also its meed of Soma. When the sacrifice was
completed, the king divided the herb offerings among
the people; what remained over was burned.

In the Mahdbhdrala a white horse is sacrificed, but
in the Ramdyana a black victim is offered up. White
horses were sacrificed to Mars by the Romans; the
Greeks sacrificed white horses to the sun by throwing


them in the sea; the Spartans offered up their horses,
like the Buriats, on a hilltop.

There can be little doubt that the Greek and Roman
horse sacrifices were also intended to ensure fertility.
A horse was offered up to Diana at the August harvest
festival, and we know that that popular goddess gave
plentiful crops and was the guardian of flocks and herds
and wild animals of the chase; she also presided at birth,
and women invoked her aid. Virgins and youths took
a prominent part at this harvest festival. The Roman
horse sacrifice took place on 15 October. The animal
was offered to Mars; the head was conveyed to the
king's house 1 and decorated with loaves, and the blood
was preserved until April, when it was mixed by virgins
with the blood of calves; this mixture was given to
shepherds to ensure the increase of flocks which were
fumigated. In the Mahdbhdrata the king and the princes
stand for a time in the smoke belching from the altar,
to be cleansed of their sins.

The Persians, and other peoples of Aryan speech and
custom, sacrificed horses regularly. But the custom was
not confined to Indo-Europeans. The Scythians, 2 who
were probably Mongols, not only offered horses to the
Spirit of Fertility, but also, like the Buriats, to the dead.
The Patagonians sacrificed horses to tree spirits. In this
connection it may be noted that some European horse
sacrifices took place in sacred groves; the Buriats tied
their horse to a birch tree, which was carried to the
mountain top and fixed to a stake; the Indian sacrificial
posts were probably substitutes for trees.

In the Upanishads the sacrifice of the horse is infused,
as we have indicated, with mystic symbolism. We read:

1 That is, the so-called "royal house", or house of the "king of the sacred rites".

2 A broad-headed people.


"The dawn in truth is the head of the sacrificial horse.
The sun is the eye; the wind the breath . . . the year
the body, the heaven is the back . . . the constellations
the bones; the sky the muscles; the rivers, arteries and
veins; the liver and spleen, the mountains; the herbs
and trees, the various kinds of hair." The horse is
also identified with the sun: "The sun, as long as he
rises is the fore part of the body; the sun, as long as he
descends is the hind part of the body, &c." The horse
is also day and night in turn, and its birthplace is the
sea; it carries the gods and the Asuras; it is the symbol
of Death, " who is voracity ", from whom all things
came. " There was not anything here before." Death
first "created this mind, desiring, May I have a soul.
He went forth worshipping. From him, when wor-
shipping, the waters were produced. . . . The froth of
the waters which was there became consistent. This
became the earth. . . . He made himself threefold.
His eastern quarter is the head ... his western quarter
is the tail, &c."

The work of Creation proceeds, and then " he (Death
as the Creator) resolved to devour all that he had created ;
for he eats all. . . . He is the eater of the whole universe;
this whole universe is his food."

After a year of purification the Creator slaughtered
his horse body. " He gave up the animal to the gods.
Therefore they (the gods) slaughter the purified animal,
representing in its nature, as Prajapati, all deities. He
(the Creator) is the Ashwameda 1 who shines."

The gods performed the sacrifice to overcome the
demons, the representatives of sin. Therefore the horse
sacrifice removes all sin.

After much fantastic symbolism the following lesson

1 Horse sacrifice.


in the form of a mantra is extracted from the parable of

" From the unreal lead me to the real, from darkness lead me
to light, from death lead me to immortality."

The Upanishadic treatment of the Purusha myth
differs somewhat from the Vedic, and is intended to
strengthen the Monotheistic tendencies displayed in some
of the hymns.

When the Universal soul, according to this later
doctrine, took at the beginning "the shape of a man' . . .
he " beheld nothing but himself".

"He said first This, I am. Hence the name of 'I' was pro-
duced. Therefore, even now a man, when called, says first, c It is
I', and tells afterwards any other name that belongs to him. And,
because He, as the first of all of them consumed by fire all the sins,
therefore he is called Purusha. . . .

He was afraid; therefore man, when alone, is afraid. He then
looked round. Since nothing but myself exists, of whom should I
be afraid? Hence his fear departed; for whom should he fear, since
fear arises from another.

He did not feel delight. Therefore nobody, when alone, feels
delight. He was desirous of a second. He was in the same state
as husband (Pati) and wife (Patni). ... He divided this self two-
fold. Hence were husband and wife produced. Therefore was
this only a half of himself, as a split pea is of the whole. . . .
This void is thus completed by woman. He approached her.
Hence men were born."

The first two "mortals" then assumed the forms of
all creatures, male and female in turn. They were, in
order, the first cattle, the first horses, the first asses, the
first goats, the first sheep, and so on. " In this manner
He created every living pair whatsoever down to the
ants." Then he reflected and said: "I, am verily this
creation, for I created this all."


The lesson then follows. Men say, " Sacrifice to this,
sacrifice to this, sacrifice to one or the other god?" But
these words are " not proper", because " He is really this
creation; for he verily is all the gods".

Thus the first Being, as a commentator remarked,
" whose nature comprehended all elements, who is eternal,
who is not conceived by thought, sprang forth by himself.
. . . He consumed all sins, for unless one is in a worldly
state he cannot consume sins. . . . Being mortal he
created immortals." 1

From the myth of the chaos-giant Purusha we pass to
the higher pantheistic conception of Brahma, the soul of
the Universe.

1 The Brihad Aranyaka Upanhhad.


Mysteries of Creation, the World's Ages,

and Soul Wandering

The World Soul Vedic Hymn of Creation Brahma the only Reality
Doctrine of the Upanishads Creation Myths The Chaos Egg in India
and Egypt Ancestor Worship Celestial Rishis and Manus Influence of
Folk Religion Imported Doctrines The Yugas or Ages of the Universe
Ape God's Revelations The Ages in Greek and Celtic Mythologies Uni-
versal Destruction A Deathless Sage His Account of the Mysteries Nara-
yana the Creator and Destroyer Transmigration of Souls Beliefs in India,
Egypt, Greece, and among the Celts.

BEFORE the Vedic Age had come to a close an unknown
poet, who was one of the world's great thinkers, had
risen above the popular materialistic ideas concerning the
hammer god and the humanized spirits of Nature, towards
the conception of the World Soul and the First Cause
the " Unknown God ". He sang of the mysterious
beginning of all things:

There was neither existence, nor non-existence,
The kingdom of air, nor the sky beyond.

What was there to contain, to cover in
Was it but vast, unfathomed depths of water?

There was no death there, nor Immortality.
No sun was there, dividing day from night.

Then was there only THA3^-f-e9ting-jithi" itself.
Apart from it, there was not anything.

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At first within the darkness veiled in darkness,
Chaos unknowable, the All lay hid.

Till straightway from the formless void made manifest
By the great power of heat was born that germ.

Rigveda, x, 129 (Griffith's trans.).

The poet goes on to say that wise men had discovered
in their hearts that the germ of Being existed in Not
Being. But who, he asked, could tell how Being first
originated ? The gods came later, and are unable to
reveal how Creation began. He who guards the Universe
knows, or mayhap he does not know.

Other late Rigvedic poets summed up the eternal
question regarding the Great Unknown in the interroga-
tive pronoun "What?' (Ka). Men's minds were con-
fronted by an inspiring and insoluble problem. In our
own day the Agnostics say, "I do not know"; but this
hackneyed phrase does not reflect the spirit of enquiry
like the arresting "What?* of the pondering old forest
hermits of ancient India.

The priests who systematized religious beliefs and
practices in the Brahmanas identified "Ka" with Pra-
ja'pati, the Creator, and with Brahma, another name of
the Creator.

In the Vedas the word " brahma" signifies " devotion '
or "the highest religious knowledge". Later Brahma
(neuter) was applied to the World Soul, the All in All,
the primary substance from which all that exists has
issued forth, the Eternal Being "of which all are phases";

Online LibraryDonald Alexander MackenzieIndian myth and legend → online text (page 10 of 38)