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out opening the house burn it to the ground. Persons
who die afterwards and during the Summer months are
carried to the forest, placed on a funeral pile, and burned
immediately. The horse is killed just as in the first in-

When the dead are buried without being burned, the
corpse is either carried on a wagon, or it is placed upright
in front of a living man on horseback so as to ride to its
last resting place. The saddle is broken up and laid at
the bottom of the grave, while the body is turned to face
the south-east. In this case they also sacrifice the horse
which is believed to have "gone to his master, ready for


Cremation spread throughout Europe, as we have said,

1 A Journey in Southern Siberia, Jeremiah Curtin, p. 101.


in the Bronze Age. It was not practised by the early folk-
waves of the Alpine race which, according to Mosso, 1
began to arrive after copper came into use. The two
European Bronze Age burial customs, associated with
urns of the "food vessel' and "drinking cup' types,
have no connection with the practice of burning the dead.
The Archaeological Ages have not necessarily an ethnic
significance. Ripley is of opinion, however, that the
practice of cremation indicates a definite racial infusion,
but unfortunately it has destroyed the very evidence, of
which we are most in need, to solve the problem. It is
impossible to say whether the cremated dead were "broad
heads" or "long heads'*.

" Dr. Sophus Mailer of Copenhagen is of opinion that
cremation was not practised long before the year 1000 B.C.
though it appeared earlier in the south of Europe than in
the north. On both points Professor Ridgeway of Cam-
bridge agrees with him." 2

The migration of the cremating people through Europe
was westward and southward and northward; they even
swept through the British Isles as far north as Orkney.
They are usually referred to by archaeologists as "Aryans";
some identify them with the mysterious Celts, whom the
French, however, prefer to associate, as we have said, with
the Alpine "broad heads' especially as this type bulks
among the Bretons and the hillmen of France. We must
be careful, however, to distinguish between the Aryans and
Celts of the philologists and archaeologists.

It may be that these invaders were not a race in the
proper sense, but a military confederacy which maintained
a religious organization formulated in some unknown area
where they existed for a time as a nation. The Normans

1 The Daivn of Mediterranean Civilization, A. Mosso, London Trans., 1910.

2 British Museum Guide to the Antiquities of the Bronze Age, pp. 23, 24.


who invaded these islands were Scandinavians 1 ; they settled
in France, intermarried with the French, and found allies
among the Breton chiefs. It is possible that the cremating
people similarly formed military aristocracies when they
settled in Hindustan, Mitanni, and in certain other Euro-
pean areas. " Nothing is commoner in the history of
migratory peoples," says Professor Myres, 2 " than to find
a very small leaven of energetic intruders ruling and or-
ganizing large native populations, without either learning
their subjects' language or imposing their own till consider-
ably later, if at all." The archaeological evidence in this
connection is of particular value. At a famous site near
Salzburg, in upper Austria, over a thousand Bronze Age
graves were discovered, just over half of which contained
unburnt burials. Both methods of interment were con-
temporary in this district, " but it was noticed that the
cremated burials were those of the wealthier class, or of
the dominant race." 3 We find also that at Hallstatt "the
bodies of the wealthier class were reduced to ashes ". 4 In
some districts the older people may have maintained their
supremacy. At Watsch and St. Margaret in Carniola " a
similar blending of the two rites was observed . . . the un-
burnt burials being the richer and more numerous ". 5 The


descent of the Achaens into Greece occurred at a date
earlier than the rise of the great Hallstatt civilization.
According to Homeric evidence they burned their dead;
" though the body of Patroklos was cremated," however,
" the lords of Mycenae were interred unburnt in richly
furnished graves". 6 In Britain the cremating people
mingled with their predecessors perhaps more intimately

1 Associated, some authorities urge, with Germans from the mouth of the Elbe.

2 The Daivn of History, J. L. Myres, p. 199.

J British Museum Guide to the Antiquities of the Bronze Age, p. 98.
4 British Museum Guide to the Antiquities of the Early Iron Age^ p. 8,
6 ibid. p. 6. 6 ibid. p. 8.













than in other areas where there were large states to con-
quer. A characteristic find on Acklam Wold, Yorkshire,
may be referred to. In this grave " a pile of burnt bones
was in close contact with the legs of a skeleton buried in
the usual contracted position, and they seemed to have
been deposited while yet hot, for the knees of the skeleton
were completely charred. It has been suggested in cases
like this, or where an unburnt body is surrounded by a
ring of urn burials, the entire skeleton may be those of
chiefs or heads of families, and the burnt bones those of
slaves, or even wives, sacrificed at the funeral. The prac-
tice of suttee (sati) in Europe rests indeed on the authority
of Julius Caesar, who represents such religious suicides
as having, at no remote period from his own, formed a
part of the funeral rites of the Gaulish chiefs; and also
states that the relatives of a deceased chieftain accused his
wives of being accessory to his death, and often tortured
them to death on that account." * If this is the explanation,
the cremating invaders constituted the lower classes in Gaul
and Britain, which is doubtful. The practice of burning
erring wives, however, apparently prevailed among the
Mediterranean peoples. In an Egyptian folk-tale a
Pharaoh ordered a faithless wife of a scribe to be burned
at the stake. 2 One of the Ossianic folk tales of Scotland
relates that Grainne, wife of Finn-mac-Coul, who eloped
with Diarmid, was similarly dealt with. 3 The bulk of the
archaeological evidence seems to point to the invaders, who
are usually referred to as "Aryans" having introduced the
cremation ceremony into Europe. Whence came they?
The problem is greatly complicated by the evidence from
Palestine, where cremation was practised by the hewers
of the great artificial caves which were constructed about

1 British Museum Guide to the Antiquities of the Bronxe Age, pp. 16, 17.

2 Egyptian Myth and Legend, p. 143. 3 Campbell's West Highland Tales, vol. iii, p. 5$.


3000 B.C. 1 As cremation did not begin in Crete, how-
ever, until the end of period referred to as "Late Minoan
Third" (1450-1200 B.C.) 2 it may be that the Palestinian
burials are much later than the construction of the caves.

It seems reasonable to suppose that the cremation rite
originated among a nomadic people. The spirits of the
dead were got rid of by burning the body: they departed,
like the spirit of Patroklos, after they had received their
" meed of fire ". Burial sites were previously regarded as
sacred because they were haunted by the spirits of ancestors
(the Indian Pitris = " fathers "). A people who burned their
dead, and were therefore not bound by attachment to a
tribal holy place haunted by spirits, were certainly free to
wander. The spirits were transferred by fire to an or-
ganized Hades, which appears to have been conceived of
by a people who had already attained to a certain social
organization and were therefore capable of governing the
communities which they subdued. When they mingled
with peoples practising other rites and professing different
religious beliefs, however, the process of racial fusion must
have been accompanied by a fusion of beliefs. Ultimately
the burial customs of the subject race might prevail. At
any rate, this appears to have been the case in Britain, where,
prior to the Roman Age, the early people achieved ap-
parently an intellectual conquest of their conquerors; the
practice of the cremation rite entirely vanished.

We have gone far afield to find a clue to assist towards
the solution of the Aryan problem in India. The evidence
accumulated is certainly suggestive, and shows that the
conclusions of the early philologists have been narrow in
the extreme. If the long-headed Kurds are, as Ripley

1 A History of Civilization in Palestine, R. A. S. Macalister.

2 The Discoveries in Crete, Professor R. M. Burrows, p. 100. Dating according to
Crete the Forerunner of Greece^ C. H. and H. B. Hawes, p. xiv.


believes, the descendants of the Mitanni raiders, then the
Aryans of history must be included in the Brown race.
As, however, cremation was not practised by the Berbers,
the Babylonians, the early Cretans, or other representa-
tives of the ancient brunet dolichocephalic peoples, it may
be that the custom, which still lingers among the Mon-
golian Buriats, was not in the narrow sense of Aryan
origin. It may have been first practised among an un-
known tribe of fire-worshippers, who came under the
influence of a great teacher like Zoroaster. We cannot
overlook in this connection the possibility of an individual
origin for a new and revolutionary system of religious doc-
trines. Buddhism, for instance, originated with Buddha.
As we have said, the Vedic religion of the Aryans in
India was characterized by the worship of male deities,
the goddesses being of secondary and even slight im-
portance. A religious revolution, however, occurred
during the second or Brahmanical Age the age of
priestly ascendancy. Fresh invasions had taken place
and the Aryans were divided into tribal groups of West-
erners and Easterners, on either side of a central power
in Madhyadesa, the " Middle Country ' which extended
between the upper reaches of the Saraswati and the
Ganges and the Jumna rivers. The Westerners included
the peoples of the Punjab and the north-western frontier,
and the Easterners the kingdoms of Kasi (Benares) and
Maghadha as well as Kosala and Videha, which figure
prominently in the Ramdyana epic, where the kings are
referred to as being of the "Solar race". The Middle
Kingdom was the centre of Brahmanical culture and in-
fluence: it was controlled by those federated tribes, the
Kuru Panchalas, with whom were fused the Bharatas of
the "Lunar race". It is believed that the military
aristocracy of the " Middle Country ' were late comers


who arrived by a new route and thrust themselves be-
tween the groups of early settlers. 1 The Bharatas wor-
shipped a goddess Bharati who was associated with the
Saraswati river on the banks of which the tribe had for
a period been located. Saraswati became the wife of
Brahma, the supreme god, and it would seem that she
had a tribal significance.

If the Bharatas of the "Lunar race" worshipped the
moon and rivers, it is possible that they belonged to the
Brown race. The folk-religion of the tribe would be
perpetuated by the people even although their priests be-
came speculative thinkers like the unknown authors of the
Upanishads. It is significant to note, therefore, that the
goddesses ultimately came into as great prominence in
India as in Egypt. This change took place during the
obscure period prior to the revival of Brahmanism. In
the sixth century before the Christian era Buddhism had
origin, partly as a revolt of the Kshatriya (aristocratic)
class against priestly ascendancy, and the new faith spread
eastward where Brahmanic influence was least pronounced.
When the influence of Buddhism declined, the Pantheon
is found to have been revolutionized and rendered
thoroughly Mediterranean in character. The Vedic gods
had in the interval suffered eclipse; they were subject to
the greater personal gods Brahma, with Vishnu and Shiva,
each of whom had a goddess for wife. Brahma, as we
have said, had associated with him the river deity Saras-
wati of the Bharatas; the earth goddess, Lakshmi, was the
wife of Vishnu; she rose, however, from the Ocean of
Milk. But the most distinctive and even most primitive
goddesses were linked with Shiva, the Destroyer. The
goddess Durga rivalled Indra as a deity of war. Kali,
another form of Durga, was as vengeful and bloodthirsty

1 Vedic Index of Names and Subjects.


From a bronze in the Calcutta Art Gallery


as the Scottish Cailleach, or the Egyptian Hathor, who, as
the earlier Sekhet, rejoiced in accomplishing the slaughter
of the enemies of Ra. 1 Kali, as we shall see (Chapter VIII)
replaced the Vedic king of the gods as a successful demon
slayer. As the Egyptian Ra went forth to restrain Hathor,
so did Shiva hasten to the battlefield, flooded by gore, to
prevail upon his spouse Kali to spare the remnant of her

The rise of the goddesses may have been due in part
to the influence of Dravidian folk-religion. This does
not, however, vitiate the theory that moon, water, and
earth worship was not unconnected with the ascendancy
of the Brown race in India. The Dravidian brunet lone


heads were, as we have said, probably represented in the
pre-Aryan, as well as the post- Vedic folk-waves, which
mingled with pre-Dravidian stocks. Mr. Crooke inclines
to the view that the Aryan conquest was more moral and
intellectual than racial. 2 The decline of the patriarchal
religion of the Vedic military aristocracy may thus be ac-
counted for; the religious practices of the earlier people
might ultimately have attained prominence in fusion with
imported ideas. If the Aryan racial type was distinctive,
as it appears to have been, in colour at any rate, the pre-
dominant people who flourished when the hymns were
composed, may have greatly declined in numbers owing
to the ravages of disease which in every new country
eliminates the unfit in the process of time. Even if
Aryan conquest was more racial in character than Mr.
Crooke will allow, the physical phenomena of the present
day can be accounted for in this way, due allowance being
made, of course, for the crossment of types. In all
countries which have sustained the shock of invasion, the
tendency to revert to the aboriginal type is very marked.

1 See Egyptian Myth and Legend. 2 The North-Western Provinces of India, 1897, p. 60.


At any rate, this is the case in Egypt and Crete as present-
day evidence shows. In Great Britain, which was invaded
by the broad heads of the Bronze Age, the long-headed
type is once again in the majority; a not inconsiderable
proportion of our people show Stone Age (Mediterranean)
physical characteristics.

In this connection it is of interest to refer to imme-
morial beliefs and customs which survive in representative
districts in Britain and India where what may be called
pre-Aryan influences are most pronounced. A people may
change their weapons and their language time and again,
and yet retain ancient modes of thought. In Devon,
which the philologists claim to be largely Celtic like
Cornwall, the folk-lore shows marked affinities with that
of Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, suggesting the survival
of ancient Mediterranean racial influence, for much of what
we call Celtic links with what belongs to ancient Greece
and the Egyptian Delta. Mr. Gomme has shown 1 in an
interesting summary of recorded folk-practices that the
"ram feast' of Devon resembles closely in essential de-
tails similar ceremonies in ancient Greece and modern
India. At the beginning of May the people of Devon
were wont to sacrifice a ram lamb to the deity of waters.
The animal was tied to a pillar, its throat was cut, and
young men scrambled to obtain pieces of its flesh for girls.
The devourer was assured of good luck during the year.
After the ceremony, dancing, wrestling, and drinking were
indulged in. A comparison is drawn between this and
similar rites among the ancient Semites and ancient Greeks.
In India a Dravidian Paria acts as the temporary village
priest. He uses a whip like the "gad whip " in Lincoln-
shire, and kills the lamb by tearing its throat with his
teeth. A scramble takes place for the flesh, the people

1 Ethnology in Folklore, George Laurence Gomme, p. 34 et seq.


circulate the village, as some communities in our own
country still perpetuate the ceremony of "riding the
marches' of ancient burghs; then universal licence pre-
vails. Similarly law was suspended at the ancient Scot-
tish Hallowe'en celebrations; in some districts even in our
own day Hallowe'en and New Year practical jokes and
rowdyism is still prevalent. Herodotus refers to the
universal licence and debauchery which characterized the
I sis festival in Egypt.

A remarkable feature of post-Vedic religion in ancient
India is the prominence given to the doctrine of metem-
psychosis (transmigration of souls) and the conception
of the yugas or ages of the universe.

In the ( RJgveda the soul of the dead proceeds at once,
or at any rate after burial, towards the next world. In
one passage only is it spoken of " as departing to the
waters or the plants", and this reference, Professor Mac-
donell suggests, 1 " may contain the germs of the theory '
of transmigration. In the speculative prose treatises, the
Upanishads, which were composed in the Middle Country,
the doctrine of metempsychosis is fully expounded. It
does not follow, however, that it originated in India al-
though it may have obtained there unrecognized by the
priestly poets who composed the hymns to the deities,
long before it became an essential tenet of orthodox or
official religion. Other representative communities of the
Brown race professed this doctrine which appears to have
evolved from the vague belief shared by more than one
primitive race, that the souls of the dead, and especially
of dead children, were ever on the outlook for suitable
mothers. Even in Central Australia a particular tribe has
perpetuated "the germs of the theory", which may also
be traced in the widespread custom of visiting standing

1 A History of Sanskrit Literature, p. 115.


stones at a certain phase of the moon to perform a cere-
mony so that offspring may be obtained. The Upani-
shadic doctrine of metempsychosis is less likely to have
been so much coincidental as racial when we find that it
is restricted to those areas where definite racial influences
must have been at work. The Greeks believed in trans-
migration. So did also a section of the Egyptian people
as Herodotus has stated and as is proved by references
in folk-tales, temple chants and inscriptions. 1 As we show
(Chapter VI), the Irish conception closely resembled the
Indian, and it also obtained among the Gauls. There is
no trace, however, that the Teutonic peoples were ac-
quainted with the fully developed doctrine of metem-
psychosis; the souls of the dead departed immediately
to Valhal, Hela, or the loathsome Nifelhel.

The doctrine of the world's ages is common to the
Indian, Greek, and Irish mythologies, but is not found
in Teutonic mythology either. 2 There are indications
that it may have at one time obtained in Egypt, for there
was an Age of Ra, then a deluge, an Age of Osiris, an
Age of Set, &c.; but the doctrine, like other conceptions
in Egypt, probably suffered from the process of priestly
transformation in the interests of sectarian propaganda.

In India the ages are called the yugas, and this term
has a totally different meaning in Vedic and Upanishadic
times. Evidently the Bharata invasion and the establish-
ment of the middle country power of their allies, the
Kuru-Panchalas, was not unconnected with the intro-
duction of the doctrines of metempsychosis and the
yugas, and the prominence subsequently given to the
worship of female deities.

1 See Egyptian Myth and Legend.

2 The " Golden Age " of the gods, and the regeneration of the world after Rag-
narok, do not refer to the doctrine of the world's ages as found in other mythologies.


If this theory can be established, we are confronted
by an extremely interesting problem. It would appear
that the mythology of the Vedic period bears a close
resemblance to Teutonic, while that of the post-Vedic
period connects more intimately with Greek, Celtic, and
Egyptian. Assuming that the Vedic people were in-
fluenced by what we recognize as Teutonic modes of
thought, do we find here proof that the Aryans came
from Europe? In Chapter II it is shown that the Norse
Heimdal displays points of resemblance to Agni. The
former, however, has been developed almost beyond re-
cognition as a fire god, and it is evident that we find him
in northern Europe in his latest and most picturesque
form. On the other hand, there is no dubiety about the
origin of the Vedic Agni.

The evidence afforded by archaeology is highly sug-
gestive in this connection. Scandinavia received its culture
from the south at a comparatively late period in the
Bronze Age, and it certainly exercised no intellectual


influence in Europe in earlier times. Bronze is, of
course, of less ethnic significance than beliefs, but it is
difficult to believe, at the same time, that an isolated and
poorly armed people could have imposed its intellectual
culture over a wide area without having received any-
thing in return. It is more probable that the northern
Germanic peoples were subjected to the same influences
which are traceable in their mythology and in the Vedic
hymns, from a common source, and there may be more
than mere mythology in the persistent tradition that the
ancestors of the Teutons immigrated from Asia led by
Odin. We need not assume that the movement was so
much 'a racial as a cultural one, which emanated from a
particular area where religious conceptions were influenced
by particular habits of life and " immemorial modes of


thought ". Among the settled and agricultural peoples of
the Brown race, the development of religious ideas followed
different lines, and were similarly controlled by early ideas
which sprang from different habits and experiences.

In the opening chapters we present various phases
of Aryan life and religion in India, beginning with the
worship of Indra, and concluding with the early stages
of modern Hinduism. From the ancient tribal struggles
of the Middle Country accumulated the hero songs which
received epic treatment in the Mahdbhdrata, while the
traditions of the " Easterners ' were enshrined in the
Rdmdyana. Although neither of these great works can be
regarded as historical narratives, they contain a mass of
historical matter which throws much light on the habits
and customs and beliefs of the early peoples.

These epics were utilized by Brahmanical compilers
for purposes of religious propaganda, and survive to us
mainly as sacred books. In our pages we have given
prominence to the heroic narrative which remains em-
bedded in the mass of doctrinal treatises and mythological
interpolations. The miraculous element is somewhat
toned down in the accounts of conflicts, and the more
dramatic phases of the heroic stories are presented in as
full detail as space permits, so as to afford our readers
glimpses of ancient life in northern India at a time when
Vedic religion still held sway. This applies especially
to the Mahdbhdrata, the kernel of which, no doubt, con-
tains the hero songs of the Bharata and other tribes. The
mythical conflicts of the 'Rdmdyana appeal less to western
minds than its purely human episodes. We cannot help
being impressed by the chivalrous character of the leading
heroes, the high sense of honour displayed by the princes,
and the obedience shown by sons to their parents. We
may weary of Rama's conflicts with giants and demons,


but will long remember him as the child who pronounced
his name as " 'Ama ' and cried for the moon, or sat on
his father's knee at meetings of the State Council. Our
interest will also abide with him as a lover and a faithful
husband who suffered wrong. His brothers are noble
and heroic characters, worthy of Shakespeare. But even
the Bard of Avon never depicted more wonderful and
fascinating women than the heroines of the Mahdbhdrata
and r Rdmdyana. Our gallery includes, among others, the
noble and self-sacrificing Savitri, who rescued her husband

Online LibraryDonald Alexander MackenzieIndian myth and legend → online text (page 3 of 38)