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Theism in medieval India; lectures delivered in Essex hall, London October-December, 1919 online

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no very prominent personality ; only three entire hymns are
addressed to him ; his name is said to occur about seventy-five
times. He is associated with the destructive energies of the
storm, and is the father of a group of violent winds known as the
Maruts or " pounders." - A curious double character is, how-
ever, assigned to him. In one aspect he is a man-slayer, full of
malevolence. The hymns deprecate his wrath ; he is entreated
not to use the celestial fire (the lightning), or attack the
worshipper with fever, cough, and poison. On the other hand,
as the storm clears the air, and fresh breezes revive drooping
energies, he is implored to bestow blessings for man and beast ;
he grants remedies for disease ; from his hand come restoration
and healing. This secures for him the euphemistic epithet
^iva ; and the baleful god, in virtue perhaps of the purifying
action of the thunderstorm, becomes the helpful and beneficent.
So many different attributes are assigned to him that it is
difficult to determine his original character. Oldenberg sug-
gested that he was a forest deity ; von Schroeder pictured him
as the "chief of the souls of the dead, leading the hosts of
spirits storming along in the wind." Prof. Berriedale Keith
derives him from a god of vegetation.^ In the hymn known as
the (^ata-rudriya * he is addressed as the Mountain-dweller with
a thousand eyes and braided hair ; he is lord of trees and grass,
and ruler of cattle ; concerned with lakes and streams, with
paths and roads ; to be seen in sunshine and cloud, in lightning,
rain, and fair weathei'. Like other deities, he may be identified
with Agni, a great cosmic power. Already in the Rig Veda

1 In the neuter it denoted welfare, good fortune, happiness.

2 The origin of his name is uncertain. Sayana derived it in the four-
teenth century from a root rud, to " cry " or " howh" Modern philologists
have sometimes connected it with "ruddy" and "red," and have seen a
possible reference to the colour of forked lightning. Cp. Macdonell, Vatic
Mythology (1897, in Biihler's Grundriss), pp. 74, 77.

3 JRAS (1907), pp. 933, 948.

* In the Yajur Veda ; cp. Muir, Sanskrit Texts^- iv. p. 322 ff.



RUBRA IN THE VEDAS 227

he can be described as " Lord {i(;nna) of the world " (ii. 33, 9) ^
and father of the universe (vi. 47, 10), who by his sovereignty
knows all things, divine and human (vii. 46, 2). So in the
Atharva Veda, under the name of Bhava, he is lord (7() of the
heavens and the earth, and has filled the wide atmosphere ; ^ all
breathing things are his upon the earth, men and the animals
of the homestead, the wild beasts of the forest and the eagle in
the air. But withal he has a strangely local character. Homage
must be paid to him at cross-roads, at the passage of a river,
the entry into a forest, the ascent of a mountain. Awe and
terror gathered round his name. His arrows were plagues, he
commanded poisons and snakes, lightnings and thunderbolts.
He came out of the common life of the people ; he was the
product of experiences of dread in lonely places amid Nature's
violences. While Vishnu might be loved, Rudra must be feared.
When such a god was brought into the higher religion what
could be made of him ? As he came dancing down the moun-
tain slopes with a coil of snake.s round his neck and a troop of
frenzied devotees behind him, he was identified by Megasthenes
(300 B.c.^) with Dionysus. And just as the Greek god became
to some of his worshippers the symbol of an exalted spiritual
reality, so (^"iva, in spite of the grotesqueries and brutalities
which mythology piled around him, became an accepted type of
Supreme Deity. Already in the second century the grammarian
Patanjali mentions a sect of ^^iva-Bhagavatas.* The mono-
theistic movement in the name of Bhagavat^ had attracted
worshippers of ^'iva, who boldly overcame the differences between
the two deities by identifying them. In the schools of theology
a corresponding assimilation was effected, and in the (^!vetd^va~
tara Upanwhad Rudra is presented as Brahman. It is a short
poem of only six cantos and 113 verses. It embodies numerous
quotations from the Vedas and the Katha Upanishad. There

^ In an early Buddhist text he is named Tsdna, cp. Rhys Davids,
Dialogues, ii. p. 310, associated with Indra, Soma, Varuna, Prajfipati, and
Brahma.

2 Atharva Veda, xi. 2, 27 ; cp. Whitney- Lanman in he.

3 Ante, p. 200.

* Sir R. G. Bhandarkar, Vaimavism and S'aivi^m, p. 115, quoting
Patanjali on Pilnini's Sutras, v. 2, 76.
° Cp. below, p. 244.



228 THE TRIMURTI

are references to Sankhya and Voga ; in the last two verses,
which have the air of an addition (after the ascription of the
poem to ^'veta^vatara), the Vedanta i.s designated by name ;
and stress is laid upon bhakti, piety and devotion, to bring it
into the sphere of the new religious thought and life. The
eternal souls, Prakriti in its two states, undeveloped and
developed, the Three Strands, all belong to the Sankhya.
Yet the foundation both of thought and language rests on the
Brahman of the older Upanishads. The Atman is the ground
of all certainty and reality. Here is the Hiranyagarhha, the
"golden germ" of ancient Vedic terminology, as first-born of all
creation. Here is Brahma as creator and ender of the world,
and here its renewal out of the impersonal Brahman.

The poem opens with an inquiry. What, after all, is the
truth.? Is Brahman the cause.'' The ultimate principle of
existence, the real source of all causation, is it personal or
impersonal t Is it Time, is it intrinsic Nature, or Fate, or
Chance, the Elements, or Spirit .'' ^ The answer takes us at once
into the heart of the disciplines of " concentration." They who
have practised dhydna and yoga have beheld God's own power -
hidden by its own g^inas. Nature and its Three Strands are
there and real, but God is within them ; they are not self-
subsistent ; " He it is who, as the One, superintends all these
causes. Time, Self, and the rest." The whole scene of existence
is one vast Brahma-wheel, at once all-living and all-resting —
for the true seer always discerns "central peace subsisting at
the heart of endless agitation," — and therein flutters a swan
(the human being), thinking itself and the great Mover to be
different. Here seem to be three terms of a realist ontology :
God, the world, and souls. But suddenly we are told that this
Triad is included in the Most High Brahman. God, after all,
is not the ultimate reality. The perishable and the imperish-
able, the manifest and the unmanifest, are alike sustained by
God : but the riddling verses go on to tell how still behind the
three terms of his Triad is an Absolute. " Two are there, one
know^ing, one not-knowing ; both unborn, one Lord, the other

1 i. 1, 2, Purusha.

2 Devdtma^akti ; cp. the notes of Roer, BiUiotheca Ind., xv. (1853), p. 46,
and Max Miiller, SEE, xv. p. 252.



RUBRA AS BRAHMAN 229

no-Lord."^ In his ignorance the subject of experience is
attached to the objects around him, and receives the reward of
his action ; he does not recognise the Infinite Self under the
vesture of the Three Strands. But at last he finds out these
three, and knows the Brahman. Then by union Math him - the
illusion of separateness (not necessarily of individuality) is
ended.

God is here at one time subordinated to the Absolute, and
at another resolved back into it. Thought moves with swift
transitions from one point of view to another. Already in i. 10
a fresh hint has been given: "Perishable is Nature, immortal
and imperishable is Hara.'" For who is Hara ? He is the one
who seizes and carries away the spoil, no other than the storm-
god Rudra, who is exalted as " sole Sovereign with sovereign
powers " (iii. J ).^ By these he rules the worlds, sublimely One
while they arise and fulfil their course. One Rudra only, they
allow no second. He dwells within all beings'* till the end-
time, and then in wrath commingles everything. Here is a
personal God, depicted in ancient Vedic language with eyes,
face, arms, and feet in every place. Like a mighty smith, he
forges a new universe; he is invoked as the Mountain-Dweller,
and entreated not to hurt man or beast. But he is more than
creator or destroyer ; the believer prays, " May He endow us
with good thoughts."^ The poet, however, is not content to
rest there. Imagination ascends to something higher, Brahman
Most High and vast, hidden within all creatures and encom-
passing the world ; they who know Him as Lord become

1 i. 9, ig and anig ; Max Miiller, " one strong, the other weak."

2 Tattva-bhdvdd, "by becoming Thatness," a reference to the ancient
formula Tat tvam asi, cp. ante, p. 197. In the last line the famous term
mdyd appears for the first time, cp. iv. 10, but not yet in the full meaning
which it acquired later. The world is a product of Mdyd, God's magic
power ; he is the great Enchanter ; but, as Oldenberg has observed, Lehre
der Upan., p. 280, the world is, after all, really there.

3 Igita iganlhhih. The preceding epithet jdlavdn, " the net-spreader,"
recalls the figure of the spider and its threads (first in Brihad-Ar. Up., ii.
], 20: SBE, XV. p. 105; Deussen, Sechzig Upanishads, p. 297), cp. ante,
p. 19S". There is no need to interpret it with Qahkara by the later Mdyd ;
cp. vi. 10.

* Gods as well as men, and animals. * iii. 4 ; iv. 12.



230 THE TRIMURTI

immortal. He is the infinite Spirit (purusha), All-pervading,
the Bhagavat, the omnipresent (^^iva.^ And he who is freed
from grief beholds, by the Creator's grace, the Unselfish, the
Majesty, the Lord.^

So do theism and pantheism alternately melt into each other
in this strange blending of philosophy and religion. The age
of the poem cannot be determined, but it is universally regarded
as older than the Bhagavad Glta, and it endeavours to do for
(j^iva (as Sir R. G. Bhandarkar has remarked) what " the Lord's
Song " afterwards did for Vishnu. It did not, indeed, like its
more famous counterpart, secure admission into the Great
Epic. But it marks an important stage of advance towards
the eminence there ascribed to him.

The figure of ^iva in the Epic is of bewildering complexity.
The most incoherent attributes are freely combined in his
person, but the steps of the process are beyond our power to
trace. In the Ramayana he is a god of the North, the mountain
region, but he rises to no supremacy above other devas.^ The
Mahabharata, upon the other hand, presents him in the most
diverse characters, and finally seats him on the throne of the
universe and identifies him with the Absolute. He has one
aspect as the hero of mythological imagination, a second as an
object of personal devotion, a third as the supreme goal of
religious and philosophical intuition. The study of the strata
of poetical deposit has not proceeded far enough to establish
any definite series of developments. But it is suggested that
the praises of (^^iva (for example in xii. 285, and xiii. 14, 16, 17)
were among late interpolations into a work originally conceived

1 iii. 11. The epithet occurs seven times, and seems to me to liave
become more than a mere adjective. It is the title of the supreme God
who is identified with the Purusha dwelling in the heart of man, the
mysterious cosmic figure with a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, a thousand
feet (iii. 14). Ri^f Veda, x. 90, 1.

2 iii. 20, cp. Kath. Up., iii. 20. The term akratu, " without kratu," con-
veys the idea of having no personal ends to serve in the creation and
maintenance of the world. So in iv. 6, where two birds cling to the same
bough, one eats the sweet fruit, in mundane enjoyment, the other looks on
unallured by desire. It is a parable of man and God (anlga and Jfa, cp.
p. 229 ^), here figuratively distinct.

^ Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 219.



^IVA IN THE GREAT EPIC 231

in the interest of Vishnu, whose worshippers in their turn added
the song of his thousand names (xiii. 149).^ Different stories,
for example, describe his origin from Brahman. Like Athena
iVom the brow of Zeus, (^'iva springs from Brahman's forehead."^
Or under the name Sthanu he is the seventh of the mind-born
sons of Brahman, who begets eleven Rudras, himself the tenth
among them ! ^ He is, however, of yet more ancient and
august descent, coeval with Brahman himself, born like him
out of the huge primordial Egg.* And finally he will become
Brahman's creator, the Manifest and Unmanifest, the Change-
less and Eternal.^

His home is on Kailasa, one of the loftiest of Himalayan
peaks ; or sometimes on the summit of Meru ; he bears the
Ganges on his head ; yet he condescended also to dwell among
the Kurus ^ as their maker. He is still the forest-god, familiar
with all wild creatures, Kirata, the huntsman (the name of
forest tribes of rude ways in the East and West and North).
Down the slopes he comes dancing furiously,'^ his naked person
ringed with snakes, laughing and singing like a drunkard or a
madman,^ attended by a frenzied crew of revellers. It was in
this guise that Megasthenes knew him, and identified him with
Dionysus. In loftier style he fights in the forest with Arjuna.^
Most prominent in his character is the element of anger, from
which he was fabled to have drawn his being. When he is not
invited to Daksha's mighty sacrifice, to which the other gods are
bidden, provoked by his consort Uma to vindicate his outraged
honour, he summons all his ijoga powers and extinguishes the
offering. In his wrath a drop of sweat falls from his forehead,
a vast conflagration breaks out, and from the flames issues a
giant, Fever, who rushes to attack the gods. Brahman inter-
venes, and entreats that this terrible person may be divided into
parts, and ^'iva yields, and produces a wondrous crop of ills

1 Cp. Hopkins, E^nc Mythologij, p. 222.

2 xii. 341, 74. 3 i 66, 1-3 ; xii. 341, 33.

* i. 1, 32. 5 xiii. 14, 4, 189 ; 17, 142.

6 The people of the Five Brothers, cp. ante, p. 131, xiii. 17, 107, kurv-
kartri, kuru-vdsin. Cp. Hopkins, Epic Mythology, p. 220.
"^ xiii. 17, 50, nritya-priya.
8 xiii. 14, 151 ff. 9 iii. 39.



282 THE TRIMURTI

down to sores in bulls' hoofs, maladies of sheeps' livers, and
parrots' hiccups.^ So he is the agent of destruction. Not
only disease but also death is under his control ; - and
among his favourite haunts are the cremation ground and the
cemetery.-^ Death, however, is but a form of Kala, Time ;
and ^iva is accordingly the cause of the Great Dissolution
which closes a world-age. With fire, water, and wind, the
universe is finally devoured by immeasurable Space; Manas
consumes Space, Ahamkara Manas, and " the Great Soul "
(Buddhi) Ahmakara, and this in turn is devoured by ^ambhu
(giva), Lord of all.^

But in the cosmic rhythm there was no finality. In due
season the wondrous renewal would begin, and into the darkness
Qiva would bring light and life once more. So he is extolled as
Maker and Creator of the world,'' Maker and Producer of all
beings ; ^ he is the wondrous Golden Germ (Hiranyagarbha)
from which all things proceed ; the divine Architect, conversant
with every art.^ In this act of generation he is united with his
consort, the Mountain-goddess Parvati or Uma, " Mother of the
world " ; and it was said that he showed in his own form dual
marks of sex. His person was actually represented as half
male, half female;^ and the linga was adopted as the sacred
emblem of his productive power. Among his thousand names

^ xii. 283. Another story, occasionally cited in later temple inscrip-
tions, told of his wrath with Kama, god of love (xii. 190, 10), who sought
to inspire him with amorous passion for his consort Parvati while he was
engaged in the practice of austerity. Flames from the third eye on his
forehead consumed Kama to ashes. An efKgy of Kama is burned in
commemoration at the close of the Holi festival following Kama's new
moon (Jan.-Feb.), cp. Epiyraphia Indica, vol. v. p. 13.

2 He is himself Death, xii. 285, 68 ; xiii. 16, 49.

^ vii. 203, 115. Cp. Cunningham, Mahdbodhi (1892), p. 55, for sculpture
at Buddha Gaya representing ^iva as god of Death, dancing on a corpse,

4 xii. 313.

^ Loka-kartri, loka-dJultri, xiii. 17, 79, 48.

6 Bhuta-krit, xii. 285, 82 ; bhuta-bhavana, xiii. 17, 34, 105.

7 xiii. 17, 37.

8 So Bardesanes recorded in the second century a.d. Cp. the fragment
quoted by Stoba;us, tr. M'Crindle, Ancient India (1901), p. 173. Monier
Williams describes one which he saw at Elephanta, Religious Thought and
Life in India (1883), p. 85.



giVA IN THE GREAT EPIC 233

Avas lingadhyaksha^ " linga-overseer." ^ Whence this element
entered into ^aiva worship is uncertain; many eminent scholars^
have suggested that it was derived from forest-tribes to which
the cult of (j'iva may have been indebted. It takes a lofty
place in mythic fancy, for as the symbol of generation the god's
linga-form is said to be the origin of all forms.^ It is revered
in heaven to his joy by devas and sages and other celestial
ranks.^ The earlier epic does not reckon it among his traits ;
it seems to make its literary appearance late.^ It has escaped
association with the passion element in ^-iva's nature, and
Monier Williams testifies that it is never connected with in-
decent ideas.*^ On the contrary, it became a philosophical type
of the production of the universe from two eternal principles,
Purusha and Prakriti, spirit and matter, or Atman and Maya.

The energy required to destroy and renew the universe is
accumulated by intense austerities. In the creation stories of
the Brahmanas Prajapati must practise tapas before he can
produce this visible scene, ^'iva had only attained his deity
by offering himself up in an All-sacrifice.'' So he must re-
invigorate his powers by the severest concentration ; ^ he alone
as the Great Yogin knew what was the cost of the dissolution
and reproduction of the world.^ Heroes and sages who visit
him on the summit of the Himalaya, find him immersed in
meditation. Krishna himself conducts Arjuna thither to obtain
a celestial weapon for the destruction of the foe.^'^ The god is
lost in contemplation. He burns with his own fervour like a
thousand suns. On his head are the matted locks of an ascetic ;
he wears the bark dress and the tiger skin of the devotee. Or
he belongs to the air-clad order, with space for his garment and

1 xiii. 17, 77. The word ^Migra means simply "mark" or "sign," but was
apijlied specially to denote the phallus.
^ Bhandarkar among the latest, Vaisnavism and S'aivism, p. 115.
3 vii. 202, 92, 97. « vii. 203, 123 f.

5 B. C. Mazumdar, JRAS (\901), p. .337 ; Bhandarkar, p. 114 ; Hopkins,
Einc Mythology, p. 222.

6 Op. cit., p. 68.

^ xii. 20, 12 ; Sarva-yajria, apparently a collective sacrifice, or totality
embracing all forms of offering ; cp. ante, p. 43.

* Thus he stood on one foot for a thousand divine years, xii. 328, 23.
9 xiii. 17, 39. lo vii. 80.



234 THE TRIMURTI

the horizon for his vesture ; he performs asceticism in the waters,
and is devoted to the study of the Vedas. He is in truth their
real author,^ and naturally knows their meaning ; from him
come also the Upanishads, the law-books, all tales of old time,
and even the Mahabharata itself.- He is thus the Supreme
Preceptor, the Revealer of all truth, the door of Deliverance,
and to those who have purified their hearts by piety (hhakti) he
vouchsafes to appear and let himself be known. When his consort
Uma asks of him the essentials of religion and morality, he
names first "Abstention from taking life, truthfulness of speech,
compassion towards all creatures, charity " ; there are pro-
hibitions of adultery and theft, and each caste has its special
obligations.^ Thus moralised as the guardian of social righteous-
ness, he is the first to receive the new created sword from Brah-
man, and is charged to suppress all wrong.^ The strain of
praise rises higher and higher above ancient myth, till he is
presented as Mahadeva, the All-inclusive God. Transcending
both Prakriti and Purusha, he comprehends both spheres of
permanence and change, the eternal and the transient, sat and
asat.'' He is the Unmanifest, the ultimate ground of all
existence, and the Manifest, creator of this passing scene. He
can assume an infinite variety of forms, divine, human, or
animal ; he is the soul of all beings, dwelling in their hearts.
To him the desire of every worshipper is known ; " Seek then the
protection of the King of the gods."*' One and Many, he is
omnipresent and conversant with all thoughts. For who but
^'iva, asks Upamanyu in answer to Indra, according to the aged
Bhishma, could have made fire and water, earth, and air and
sky ; ' who but he produced the senses and their corresponding
subtle elements, Manas and Buddhi and "the Great ".?^ The
whole range of intellectual and moral experience lies in him.
In the " lauds "''' of Tandi he is identified with the Three Strands
and desire ; he is the region of the highest truth ; he embraces

1 xiii. 14, 134. 2 xiv. 17, 92, 78.

3 xiii. 141, 25. ■* xii. 166, 45.

6 xii. 285, 10 ; xiii. 14, 5 f. « xiii. 14, 148, 149.

' Klia has various meanings, and is applied indefinitely to empty space,
air, ether, and sky.

* xiii. 14, 197 8. On these three technical terms, cp. ante, p. 207.



i



giVA IN THE GREAT EPIC 235

both knowledge and ignorance.' The fivefold way of religion
is his, crowning the paths of liberal sacrifice, of vows and
austerities, of renunciations of attachment and the fruit of acts,
of the quest of Deliverance by the surrender of enjoyments and
the extinction of the elements, of the lofty devotion to know-
ledge and science.2 With relentless consistency he enfolds all
opposites ; he lays on the world its fetters, he is the bonds
themselves, and his is the power that breaks them." The fruit
of the Deed, whether of virtue or guilt, is his, so that he is the
principle of Karma. By holy shrines and sacred waters he
purifies the sinner ;^ all forms of righteousness and skill are his ;
he is for ever seeki»ng the well-being of the worlds, and saving
all creatures from distress;^ and faith in him, proved by the
recitation of his names on the eve of death,*^ will enable the
worshipper to reach the Supreme goal. Endued with a mystical
body made up of all the gods, he is the Super-Sacrifice, the
Super- World, the Super-Knowledge, the Super-Soul, the Super-
Deity, the Super-Spirit.^ Who would shrink from confiding
his destiny to so wondrous a Being ? Like the Calvinist who
was ready to be damned for the glory of God, the true believer
can say, " At Mahadeva's command I shall cheerfully become a
worm ; at Hara's word I would even become a dog ! " ^

II
Over against ^iva stands Vishnu, identified in the solemn
opening of the poem with the eternal Brahman, ancient,
undecaying One, the Good, Guide of all moving and immov-
able. He, too, like (^!iva, has a long descent. He was an
ancient Vedic deity, whom later native etymology described as
the " Pervader," with reference to his omnipresent energy.-' A
modern interpietation conceives him rather as the divine
" Labourer "''' who daily climbed the skies, quickening all
vegetation, and providing food for man, — no other, of course,

1 xiii. 16, 20. 2 xiii. 16, 58-63.

' xiii. 17, 101. * xiii. 17, 132.

6 xiii. 17, 112. e ^iii. 17, 19.

' xiii. 16, 17. s xiii. 14, 182 f.

9 Giving to the root viih the meaning " to pervade."

*" Macdonell, " to be active," " to work."



236 THE TRIMCRTI

than the sun. Only five hvmns in the Rig Veda are addressed
wholly to him, but he is named about one hundred times. Once
associated with Indra in creation, his most famous feat earned
him the epithet " wide-going " or " wide-striding," for in three
steps he compassed the three divisions of the world, earth,
atmosphere, and sky.^ Many a poefs phrase dwells on the
beneficence with which he traversed the earth on man's behalf
when he was in distress. It was Vishnu who bestowed it for a
habitation on man ; he it was who propped up the lofty sky ;
he enveloped the world in light ; his three steps maintained the
steadfast ordinances.- Above all it was his sumati, his " good
thought," his benevolence, which embraced all mankind.^

The emphasis on his constancy and his compassion awoke
the trust and love of the believer. Vishnu was not the only
object of such feeling. To Agni, god of the hearth and home,
the dear house-priest, the worshipper prayed, " Be thou our
nearest ■* friend and guardian, our gracious protector."" When
the poet Vasishtha laments his estrangement from Varuna
through some offence, he boldly reminds the high heaven-God



Online LibraryJ. Estlin (Joseph Estlin) CarpenterTheism in medieval India; lectures delivered in Essex hall, London October-December, 1919 → online text (page 23 of 55)