Copyright
Donald Alexander Mackenzie.

Indian myth and legend online

. (page 5 of 38)
Online LibraryDonald Alexander MackenzieIndian myth and legend → online text (page 5 of 38)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"Tivar". (Pronounce Dyaus as one syllable rhiming with mouse.)



INDRA, KING OF THE GODS -



Odin) of the Germanic peoples, whose wife was th Vf .
earth-goddess Jord, mother of Thor. The Hindu earth-
mother (Terra mater) was Prithivi. Dyaus is sometimes
referred to as a ruddy bull, whose bellowing is the
thunder; as the Night heaven he is depicted as a black
steed decked with pearls which are the stars; in one of
the Vedic hymns reference is made to his " thunder-
stone ". Prithivi, who is sometimes symbolized as a cow,
is the source of all vegetation, the supporter of earth, the
female principle. She never assumes the importance of
the Assyrian Ishtar, or the north Egyptian "earth-mother"
Neith, or the "earth-mothers' of Europe. The Vedic
Aryans were Great Father worshippers rather than Great
Mother worshippers : their female deities were Night,
Dawn, Earth, and the Rivers, but they were not sharply
individualized until late ; they are vague in the Vedas.

As the Greek Cronus (Roman Saturn) slew his father
Uranus (Heaven), so did Indra slay his father Dyaus
(Heaven). His earth -mother addresses him, saying:
"Who has made thy mother a widow? Who has sought
to slay the sleeping and the waking? What deity has
been more gracious than thou, since thou hast slain thy
father, having seized him by the foot?" 1

The Indian father-slaying myth appears to be con-
nected with the doctrine of reincarnation. In the Laws
of Manu it is stated that <c the husband, after conception
by his wife, becomes an embryo and is born again of
her; for that is the wifehood of a wife, that he is born
again by her". 2 In the famous story of Shakuntala, the
husband is similarly referred to as the son of his wife,
the son being a reincarnation of the father. 3 This belief

1 Rigveda, iv, 18. Wilson, vol. iii, p. 153.

2 The Laws of Manu, ix, 8; p. 329. (Sacred Booh of the East, vol. xxv.)

3 Adi Par<va, sect. Ixxiv of Mahabharata, Roy's translation.



12 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND



Resembles the Egyptian conception which is summed up
in the phrase "husband of his mother". 1

At the barley harvest in spring and the rice harvest
in autumn offerings were made to the gods. A sacrificial
cake of the new barley or rice was offered to Indra and
Agni, a mess of old grain boiled and mixed with milk
and water was given to the other gods, and a cake was
also offered to Father Heaven and Mother Earth in
which clarified butter was an important ingredient; or the
offering might consist entirely of butter, because " clari-
fied butter is manifestly the sap of these two, Heaven
and Earth; ... he (the offerer) therefore gladdens these
two with their own sap or essence ".

The reason for this harvest offering is explained as
follows : The gods and the demons contended for su-
premacy. It chanced that the demons defiled, partly by
magic and partly by poison, the plants used by men and
beasts, hoping thus to overcome the gods. Men ceased
to eat and the beasts stopped grazing; all creatures were
about to perish because of the famine.

Said the gods: "Let us rid the plants of this."

Then they offered sacrifices and "accomplished all
that they wanted to accomplish, and so did the Rishis".

A dispute then arose among the gods as to who
should partake of the offerings of the firstfruits that
is, of the new plants which replaced those the demons
had poisoned. It was decided to run a race to settle the
matter. Indra and Agni won the race and were there-
fore awarded the cake. These two gods were divine
Kshatriyas (noblemen), the others were "common people".
Whatever Kshatriyas conquer, the commoners are per-
mitted to share ; therefore the other gods received the
mess of old grain.

1 See Egyptian Myth and Legend.



INDRA, KING OF THE GODS 15

After the magic spell was removed from the plants
by the gods, men ate food and cattle grazed once again.
Ever afterwards, at the beginning of each harvest, the
first fruits were offered up- to Indra and Agni. The fee
of the priest was the first-born calf " for that is, as it
were, the firstfruits of the cattle ". l

The popular Thunder god of the Vedic period bears
a close resemblance to the hard-drinking, kindly, and
impulsive Thor, the Teutonic god of few words and
mighty deeds, the constant " friend of man ' and the
inveterate enemy of demons. In the hymns Indra is
pictured as a burly man, with " handsome, prominent
nose", "good lips", and "comely chin"; he is "long-
necked, big-bellied, strongly armed ", and has a weakness
for ornaments. He is much addicted to drinking "sweet,
intoxicating Soma"; he "fills his stomach"; he quaffs
" thirty bowls ' at a single draught ere he hastens to
combat against " hostile air demons ". Sometimes he is
placed in a difficulty when two tribes of his worshippers
are in conflict: both cry to him for victory, but

The god giveth victory unto him

Who with generous heart pours out

The draught he thirsts for

Nor feels regret in giving;

Indra joins with him upon the battlefield.

Rigveda, iv, 24. 2-6.

The Aryans, who were as notorious cattle lifters as
the Gauls and the Scottish Highlanders, were wont to
invoke the god ere they set out on a raid, chanting with
loud voices:

Indra, whose riches are boundless, O grant us
Thousands of beautiful cows and horses :

1 The Satapatha Brahmana, translated by Professor J. Eggeling, Part I, pp. 369, 373.
(Sacred Books of the East, vol. xii.)



1 6 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

Destroy, thou mighty one, all who despise us,

Visit with death all those who would harm us, and

Indra, whose riches are boundless, O grant us,
Thousands of beautiful cows and horses.

Wilsons translation.

In other hymns the Thor-like character of Indra, the
war god, is naively depicted. A sceptic is supposed to
say: "Many men declare that there is no Indra. Who
ever saw him? Why should we adore him?"

The god makes answer: "O singer, I am: behold me!
I am here now, and I am greater than any living being.
I delight in the performance of holy rites. I am also
the Destroyer ; I can hurl creation to ruin." Rigveda.
viii, 89.

I never knew a man to speak so to me,
When all his enemies are safely conquered ;
Yea, when they see how fierce the battle rages,
They even promise me a pair of bullocks.

When I am absent in far distant places,

Then all with open hands their gifts would bring me . . .

Lo ! I will make the wealthy niggard needy,

Seize by the foot and on the hard rock dash him.

x, 27.



The lord of both the worlds hates all the haughty,
He cares for those who feel themselves but human.

Rigveda^ vi, 47^

These verses recall: "Silence, thou evil one," roared
Thor, "or else with my hammer shall I strike thy head
off and end thy life."

Then did Loke answer humbly : " Silent indeed I
shall be now, O Thor, for I know full well thou wilt
strike." 2

1 Arrowsmith's translation. 2 Teutonic Myth and Legend t p. 173.




s

2



w

en



Q



EH 5



Or'



INDRA, KING OF THE GODS 17

The human qualities of Indra are illustrated in epic
narrative. Arjuna, the Indian Achilles, is his son, and
pays a visit to the brilliant Celestial city on the summit
of Mount Meru, where flowers are ever blooming, and
pretty nymphs dance to pleasure battle-slain warriors.

Arjuna saluted his divine sire. "And Indra there-
upon embraced him with his round and plump arms.
And taking his hand, Shakra (Indra) made him sit on a
portion of his own seat . . . And the lord of the
Celestials that slayer of hostile heroes smelt the head
of Arjuna, bending in humility, and even took him upon
his lap . . . Moved by affection, the slayer of Vritra
touched that beautiful face with his own perfumed hands.
And the wielder of the thunderbolt, patting and rubbing
gently again and again with his own hands, which bore
the marks of the thunderbolt, the handsome and large
arms of Arjuna, which resembled a couple of golden
columns and were hard in consequence of drawing the
bowstring and shooting arrows, began to console him.
And the slayer of Vritra . . . eyeing his son of curling
locks smilingly and with eyes expanded with delight,
seemed scarcely to be gratified. The more he gazed, the
more he liked to gaze on. And seated on one seat, the
father and son enhanced the beauty of the assembly,
like the sun and moon beautifying the firmament to-
gether." 1

Indra was attended in his heaven by vague spirits,
called Vasus, who appear to have acted as his counsellors.
When Bhishma, a hero of the great Bharata war, was slain
in battle, he was given a place among the Vasus. The
Thunder god's queen is a shadowy personality, and is
called Indrani.

Indra was attended by a dog, as befitted a deity of

1 Vana Par-va section of Mahabharata, sect, xliii, Roy's translation.
( C 569 ) 5



1 8 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

primitive huntsmen. After the early Aryan period, he
showed less favour for his bays and chariot, and seated
himself upon a great white elephant, " the handsome and
ever victorious", named Airavata; it "was furnished with
four tusks" and "resembled the mountain of Kailasa with
its summits "



CHAPTER II
The Great Vedic Deities

Agni the Fire God Source of Life The Divine Priest Myths regarding
his Origin The Child God Resemblances to Heimdal and Scyld Messenger
of the Gods Martin Elginbrodde Vayu or Vata, the Wind God Teutonic
Vate and Odin The Hindu "Wild Huntsman" Rudra the Howler The
Rain God Sublime Varuna The Omniscient One Forgiver of Sins Mitra,
an ancient Deity Babylonian Prototype A Sun God A Corn God Mitanni
Deities Surya, the Sun God The Adityas Ushas, Goddess of Dawn Ratri,
Night Chandra, the Moon Identified with Soma The Mead of the Gods
A Humorous Hymn Sources of Life Origin of Spitting Ceremonies.

AGNI, the fire god, was closely associated with Indra, and
is sometimes called his twin brother. The pair were the
most prominent deities in Vedic times: about 250 hymns
are addressed to Indra and over 200 to Agni.

Indra gave the "air of life" to men; Agni symbolized
the "vital spark", the principle of life in animate and
inanimate Nature; he was in man, in beast, and fish; he
was in plants and trees; he was in butter and in intoxicat-
ing Soma. The gods partook of the nature of Agni. In
one of the post-Vedic Creation myths he is identified with
the Universal soul ; Brahma existed in the form of Agni
ere the worlds were framed and gods and men came to
be. Agni was made manifest in lightning, in celestial
sun flames, in the sacred blaze rising from the altar and
in homely household fires. The fire god was the divine
priest as contrasted with Indra, the divine warrior.

In the Vedic invocations there are evidences that

19



20 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

several myths had gathered round the fascinating and
wonderful fire god. One hymn refers to him as a child
whose birth was kept a secret; his mother, the queen, con-
cealed him from his sire; he was born in full vigour as a

' O

youth, and was seen sharpening his weapons at a distance
from his home which he had forsaken. 1 Sometimes he is
said to have devoured his parents at birth: this seems to
signify that he consumed the fire sticks from which holy
fire was produced by friction. Another hymn says that
" Heaven and Earth (Dyaus and Prithivi) fled away in
fear of (the incarnation of) Twashtri when he was born,
but they returned to embrace the lion ". 2

Agni was also given ten mothers who were "twice five
sisters", 8 but the reference is clearly explained in another
passage : " The ten fingers have given him birth, the
ancient, well-loved Agni, well born of his mothers ". 4

Dawn, with its darkness-consuming fires, and starry
Night, are the sisters of Agni; "they celebrate his three
births, one in the sea, one in the sky, one in the waters
(clouds)". Typical of the Oriental mind is the mysterious
reference to Agni's "mothers" owing their origin to him.
The poet sings:

Who among you hath understood the hidden (god) ?
The calf has by itself given birth to its
mothers.

Professor Oldenberg, who suggests that the waters are
the "mothers", reasons in Oriental mode: "Smoke is
Agni, it goes to the clouds, the clouds become waters ". 5

In his early humanized form Agni bears some resem-
blance to Heimdal, the Teutonic sentinel god, who has

1 R:g-veda, v, 2. 2 Rig-veda, i, 95.

3 Rigveda, iv, 6. 8. 4 Rigi-eda, iii, 23. 3.

5 Rigveda, i, 95. 4, and note, Oldenberg's Vedic Hymns (Sacred Books of the East,
vol. xlvi).




AGNI, THE FIRE GOD

From a painting by Nanda Lall Base
(By permission of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, Calcutta)



THE GREAT VEDIC DEITIES 21

nine mothers, the daughters of sea-dwelling Ran, and is
thus also a "son of the waters"; he is clad in silvern
armour, and on his head is a burnished helmet with ram's
horns. Horsed on his swift steed, Gulltop, he watches
the demons who seek to attack the citadel of the gods. . . .
His sight is so keen that he can see by night as well as by
day. . . . Heimdal is loved both by gods and by men,
and he is also called Gullintani because his teeth are of
gold. There was a time when he went to Midgard (the
earth) as a child; he grew up to be a teacher among men
and was named Scef. Scef is identified as the patriarch
Scyld in Beowulf^ who came over the sea as a child and
rose to be the king of a tribe. Mankind were descended
from Heimdal-Scef : three sons were born to him of
human mothers Thrall, from whom thralls are descended;
Churl, the sire of freemen, and Jarl from whom nobles
have sprung. 1

In Mahabharata there is a fragment of an old legend
which relates the origin of Kama, the son of Queen
Pritha and the sun god: the birth of the child is con-
cealed, and he is placed in a basket which is set afloat on
the river and is carried to a distant country. 2

One of the Vedic references to Agni, as we have seen,
suggests an origin similar to Kama of the epic period.
He was connected with the introduction of agriculture
like the Teutonic Scef, which signifies "Sheaf". Agni
is stated to have been "carried in the waters. . . . The
great one has grown up in the wide unbounded space.
The waters (have made) Agni (grow) ". 3 Agni is " sharp
faced' (i, 95); he is "the bright, brilliant, and shining
one' (iv, i. 7); he is "gold toothed' (v, 22); he sees
even over the darkness of night ' ' (i, 94. 7) ; he " makes

1 Teutonic Myth and Legend, pp. 16 and 187-9.

2 See Chaoter X. 3 Oldenberg, Rigveda, iii, I.



u



22 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

all things visible"; he conquers the godless, wicked wiles;
he sharpens his two horns in order to pierce Rakshasas
(giants) (v, 2). " O Agni, strike away with thy weapons
those who curse us, the malicious ones, all ghouls, be
they near or far' (i, 94. 9). Heimdal blows a trumpet
in battle; Agni is "roaring like a bull" (i, 94. 10).

As Heimdal, in his Scef-child form, was sent to man-
kind by the gods, " Matarisvan x brought Agni to Bhrigu
as a gift, precious like wealth, of double birth, the carrier,
the famous, the beacon of the sacrifice, the ready, the
immediately successful messenger. . . . The Bhrigus
worshipping him in the abode of the waters have verily
established him among the clans of Ayu. The people
have established beloved Agni among the human clans
as (people) going to settle (establish) Mitra ' (i, 60).
Oldenberg explains that people going anywhere secure
safety by ceremonies addressed to Mitra, i.e. by con-
cluding alliances under the protection of Mitra. Another
reference reads, " Agni has been established among the
tribes of men, the son of the waters, Mitra acting in the
right way". Oldenberg notes that Mitra is here identified
with Agni; Mitra also means "friend" or "ally" (iii, 5. 3,
and note). Scyld in Beowulf, the mysterious child of the
sea, became a king over men. Agni " indeed is king,
leading all beings to gloriousness. As soon as born from
here, he looks over the whole world. . . . Agni, who has
been looked and longed for in Heaven, who has been
looked for on earth he who has been looked for has
entered all herbs' (i, 98). 2 To Agni's love affairs upon
earth there are epic references, and in the " Vishnu
Purana " he is mentioned as the father of three human



sons.



1 A demi-god.

2 Vedic Hymns, trans, by Oldenberg. (Sacred Books of the East, vol. xlvi.)






THE GREAT VEDIC DEITIES 23

The reference to the Bhrigus, to whom Agni is carried,
is of special interest. This tribe did not possess fire and
were searching for it (Rigveda, x. 40. 2). In another
poem the worshippers of Agni are " human people de-
scended from Manush (Manu) " (vi, 48. 8). The Bhrigus
were a priestly family descended from the patriarch Bhrigu:
Manu was the first man. Two of the Teutonic patriarch
names are Berchter and Mannus.

Agni was the messenger of the gods ; he interceded
with the gods on behalf of mankind and conducted the
bright Celestials to the sacrifice. The priest chanted at
the altar:

Agni, the divine ministrant of the sacrifice, the
greatest bestower of treasures ; may one obtain
through Agni wealth and welfare day by day,
which may bring glory and high bliss of valiant
offspring.

Agni, whatever sacrifice and worship thou encom-
passest on every side, that indeed goes to the
gods. Thou art King of all worship. . . .
Conduct the gods hither in an easy-moving
chariot. 1

Like Indra, Agni was a heavy consumer of Soma; his
intensely human side is not lost in mystic Vedic poetry.

Agni, accept this log, conqueror of horses, thou who
lovest songs and delightest in riches . . .

Thou dost go wisely between these two creations
(Heaven and Earth) like a friendly messenger
between two hamlets . . .

His worshippers might address him with great famili-
arity, as in the following extracts:

If I were thee and thou wert me, thine aspirations

should be fulfilled. Rigveda^ xiii, 44. 23.

1 Rigveda, i, 13 and i, 26 (Oldenberg).



24 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

If, O Agni, thou wert a mortal and I an immortal,
I would not abandon thee to wrong or to
penury : my worshippers should not be poor,
nor distressed, nor miserable. Rigveda, viii, 19.

These appeals are reminiscent of the quaint graveyard
inscription :

Here lie I, Martin Elginbrodde.
Hae mercy on my soul, Lord God,
As I wad dae were I Lord God,
And ye were Martin Elginbrodde.

The growth of monotheistic thought is usually evinced
in all mythologies by the tendency to invest a populai
deity with the attributes of other gods. Agni is some-
times referred to as the sky god and the storm god. In
one of the hymns he is entreated to slay demons and
send rain as if he were Indra :

O Agni, overcome our enemies and our calamities;

Drive away all disease and the Rakshasas

Send down abundance of waters

From the ocean of the sky. Rigveda, x, 98. 12.

Indra similarly absorbed, and was absorbed by, the
wind god Vayu or Vata, who is also referred to as the
father of the Maruts and the son-in-law of the artisan
god Twashtri. The name Vata has been compared to
Vate, the father of the Teutonic Volund or Wieland,
the tribal deity of the Watlings or Vaetlings ; in old
English the Milky Way was " Watling Street". Com-
parisons have also been drawn with the wind god Odin
the Anglo-Saxon Woden, and ancient German Wuotan
(pronounced Vuotan). "The etymological connection in
this view ", writes a critic, " is not free from difficulty."

1 Art. "Aryan Religion ", Hastings' Ency. ReL and Ethics.



THE GREAT VEDIC DEITIES 25

Professor Macdonell favours the derivation from "va" =
" to blow ".

The Indian Vata is invoked, as Vayu, in a beautiful
passage in one of the hymns which refers to his " two
red horses yoked to the chariot": he had also, like the
Maruts, a team of deer. The poet calls to the wind:

Awake Purandhu (Morning) as a lover awakes a sleeping

maid. . . . Reveal heaven and earth. . . .
Brighten the dawn, yea, for glory, brighten the dawn. . . .

These lines recall Keats at his best:

There is no light
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown . . .

Ode to the Nightingale.

A stirring hymn to the wind god loses much of its
vigour and beauty in translation:

Sublime and shining is the car of Vata;

It sweeps resounding, thundering and crashing;

Athwart the sky it wakens ruddy flashes,

Or o'er the earth it sets the dust-clouds whirling.

The gusts arise and hasten unto Vata,

Like women going to a royal banquet;

In that bright car the mighty god is with them,

For he is rajah of the earth's dominions.

When Vata enters on the paths of heaven,

All day he races on; he never falters;

He is the firstborn and the friend of Ocean

Whence did he issue forth ? Where is his birthplace ?

He is the breath 1 of gods : all life is Vata:

He cometh, yea, he goeth as he listeth:

His voice is heard; his form is unbeholden

O let us offer sacrifice to Vata. Rigveda, x, 168.

1 The air of life = the spirit.



26 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

Another wind or storm god is Rudra, also the father
of the Maruts, who are called " Rudras ". He is the
" Howler ' and " the Ruddy One ", and rides a wild
boar. Saussaye calls him " the Wild Huntsman of
Hindu Mythology". He is chiefly of historical interest
because he developed into the prominent post-Vedic god
Shiva, the "Destroyer", who is still worshipped in
India. The poets invested him with good as well as
evil qualities:

Rudra, thou smiter of workers of evil,
The doers of good all love and adore thee.
Preserve me from injury and every affliction
Rudra, the nourisher.

Give unto me of thy medicines, Rudra,

So that my years may reach to a hundred ;

Drive away hatred, shatter oppression,

Ward off calamity. Rigveda^ ii, 33.

The rain cloud was personified in Parjanya, who links
with Indra as the nourisher of earth, and with Agni as
the quickener of seeds.

Indra's great rival, however, was Varuna, who sym-
bolized the investing sky : he was " the all-enveloping
one ". The hymns impart to him a character of Hebraic
grandeur. He was the sustainer of the universe, the law-
giver, the god of moral rectitude, and the sublime sove-
reign of gods and men. Men worshipped him with
devoutness, admiration, and fear. " It is he who makes
the sun to shine in heaven ; the winds that blow are
but his breath; he has hollowed out the channels of the
rivers which flow at his command, and he has made the
depths of the sea. His ordinances are fixed and un-
assailable ; through their operation the moon walks in
brightness, and the stars which appear in the nightly sky,







ro
D_



(3

o



EH

U



H

C/2
W

Q

fe
O

w
o

Z

<

Q






J



THE GREAT VEDIC DEITIES 27

vanish in daylight. The birds flying in the air, the rivers
in their sleepless flow, cannot attain a knowledge of his
power and wrath. But he knows the flight of the birds
in the sky, the course of the far-travelling wind, the paths
of ships on the ocean, and beholds all secret things that
have been or shall be done. He witnesses men's truth
and falsehood." 1

He is the Omniscient One. Man prayed to him for
forgiveness for sin, and to be spared from the conse-
quences of evil-doing:

May I not yet, King Varuna,
Go down into the house of clay:
Have mercy, spare me, mighty Lord.

O Varuna, whatever the offence may be
That we as men commit against the heavenly folk,
When through our want of thought we violate thy laws,
Chastise us not, O god, for that iniquity.

Rigveda, vii, 8Q. 2

His messengers descend

Countless from his abode for ever traversing
This world and scanning with a thousand eyes its inmates.
Whate'er exists within this earth, and all within the sky,
Yea, all that is beyond, King Varuna perceives. . . .
May thy destroying snares, cast sevenfold round the wicked,
Entangle liars, but the truthful spare, O King !

Rigveda, iv, i6. 3

In contrast to the devotional spirit pervading the
Varuna hymns is the attitude adopted by Indra's wor-
shippers ; the following prayer to the god of battle is
characteristic:

O Indra, grant the highest, best of treasures,
A judging mind, prosperity abiding,

1 Muir's Original Sanscrit Texts, v, 58, ff.

- Professor Macdonell's A History of Sanskrit Literature.

3 Indian Wisdom, Sir Monier Williams.



28 INDIAN MYTH AND LEGEND

Riches abundant, lasting health of body,
The grace of eloquence and days propitious.

Rigveda^ ii, 21. 6.

The sinner's fear of Varuna prompted him to seek
the aid of other gods. Rudra and the Moon are ad-
dressed:

O remove ye the sins we have sinned,

What evil may cling to us sever

With bolts and sharp weapons, kind friends,

And gracious be ever.

From the snare of Varuna deliver us, ward us,



Online LibraryDonald Alexander MackenzieIndian myth and legend → online text (page 5 of 38)