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INDIA, the primitive home of religion and philosophy, exhibits as strong a tendency for monism as the Persian nation has shown for dualism. But the ancient monism of India is apt to lose itself in pantism,--a theory according to which the All alone (or rather the conception of the absolute as the All) is possessed of reality, while all concrete existences are considered as a mere sham, an illusion, a dream. 1

The polytheism of the popular Hinduism 2 is practically a pantheism in which the various deities are regarded as aspects of the One and All in which a discrimination between good and evil is entirely lost sight of. Thus the struggle between good and evil is contemplated as a process of repeated God-incarnations made necessary, according to the idea of the Brahmans, by the appearance of tyranny and injustice, lack of reverence for the priests, encroachments of the warrior caste

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on the supremacy of the Brahmans, or some other disorder. While the enemies of the gods-giants, demons,

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THE BRAHMAN TRIMURTI. Underneath the marks of the sects of Vishnu (1-12), Siva (13-30), Rama (36), Durga (31-32), and the Trimurti (33-35). (After Coleman.)

and other monsters--are not radically bad, and cannot be regarded as devils in the sense of the Christian Satan,

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the Brahman gods in their turn are by no means the representatives of pure goodness. Not only do they frequently assume shapes that to the taste of any Western nation would be exceedingly ugly and diabolical, but the same deities who in one aspect are beneficent powers of life, are in another respect demons of destruction.

Brahm, the highest god of Brahmanism, represents the All, or the abstract idea of being. He is conceived as a trinity which is called Trimurti, consisting of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva.

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(Fragment of a car. Musée Guimet.)

Brahma, the first-originated of all beings, the lord of all creatures, the father of all the universes, is the divine mind who is the beginning of all. He is called Aja, the not-born, because he has originated, but was not begotten.

Brahma originated from tat, i. e., undifferentiated being, in which he existed from eternity in an embryonic form.

Brahma's consort, Sarasvati, also called Brahmi or Brahmini, is the goddess of poetry, learning, and music.

Brahma is the creator of man. We are told in the Yajurveda that the god produced from himself the soul, which is accordingly a part of his own being, and clothed it with a body-a process which is reported in the reverse

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order in the Hebrew Genesis, where Elohim creates first the body and then breathes the life into the body, which makes of man a living soul.

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(Reproduced from Hermann Göll.)

Brahma is pictured with four heads and four hands, in which he holds a spoon, a sacrificial basin, a rosary, and the Vedas. One of the four hands is frequently represented as empty. He sits on a lotus which grows from Vishnu's navel, representing the spirit that broods over the waters.

Brahma keeps the first place in the speculations of philosophers, where he is identified with the life-breath of the world, the Atman or self that appears in man's soul, but he has not exercised a great influence on the people. The gods of the people must be less abstract, more concrete and more human. Thus it is natural that Vishnu, the second person of the trinity, the deity of avatars or incarnations, is, for all practical purposes, by far more important than Brahma.

Vishnu appears in the following ten incarnations: 1

In the first incarnation, called the Matsya-Avatar, Vishnu assumes the form of a fish in order to recover the Vedas stolen by evil demons and bidden in the floods of a deluge that covered the whole earth. This incarnation

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is of interest because we read in the Pistis Sophia (one of the most important gnostic books) that the books of Ieou, which were dictated by God to Enoch in paradise, were preserved by Kalapatauroth from destruction in the deluge." 1

In order to enable the gods to procure the immortality-giving drink, amrita, Vishnu appeared as an immense

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[Vishnu reclines on a flower, supported by the serpent Ananta (a symbol of eternity), floating on the primeval waters of the undifferentiated world-substance.] After a native illustration, reproduced from Hermann Göll.

tortoise in the kurm-avatar, his second incarnation. He lifted on his back the world-pillar, the mountain Mandaras, and the world-serpent, Vasuki (or Anantas, i. e., infinite), was wound about it like a rope. The gods seized the tail, the demons (daityas) the head, and they

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began to churn the ocean, which produced Vishnu's gem, Kaustubha; Varunani, the goddess of the sea; the Apsaras, lovely sprites, corresponding to the Greek nymphs; Indra's horse, with seven heads; Kamadhenu, the cow of plenty; Airavata, Indra's elephant; the tree of abundance; Chandra, the god of the moon; Sura, the goddess of wine; and, filially, Dhanvantari, the Indian Æsculapius, who is in possession of the water of life. The serpent began now to spit venom, which blinded the demons, while the gods drank the Amrita.

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Varunani, when conceived as goddess of beauty, is called Lakshmi or Shri; and it is noteworthy that like Aphrodite of the Greeks she originates from the froth of the ocean.

The third incarnation is the Varâha-avatar, in which Vishnu, in the shape of a wild boar, kills, with his tusks, the demon Hiranyaksha, who threatened to destroy the world.

Hiranyaksha's brother, Hiranya-Kasipu, had a son by the name of Prahlada, who was a pious devotee of

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Vishnu. The unnatural father tried to kill his son, but the latter escaped all danger because he did not cease to pray to Vishnu. When Hiranya-Kasipu expressed a doubt of Vishnu's omnipresence, mockingly declaring that he could not possibly be in a column to which he pointed, the wrathful god decided to punish the scoffer. The column rent in twain, and Vishnu, proceeding from its interior in the shape of a monster half man half lion, tore Hiranya-Kasipu to pieces. This fourth incarnation is called the Narasinha-avatar. Its moral is to impress upon the people the sad fate of those who do not believe in Vishnu.

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(Fragment of a car. Musée Guimet.)

Pralada's grandson, Balis, was a pious king, but on that very account dangerous to the gods, for he was just about to complete the hundredth grand sacrifice, by which he would have acquired sufficient power to dethrone Indra. Vishnu came to the assistance of the god of heaven and appeared before Balis as a dwarf in guise of a Brahman mendicant. Balis honored him with presents and promised to fulfil his desire, whereupon the dwarf requested three paces of ground. This was gladly granted under a rigid oath that would be binding on gods and men. Then the dwarf assumed a huge shape and stepped with the first pace over the whole earth, with

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the second over the atmosphere, with the third into the infinity of the heavens. This is the reason why Vishnu is called Tripadas, or Trivikramas, the three-paced god. Thus Balis was prevented completing the hundredth sacrifice, and Indra was again safe on his throne. This dwarf incarnation is called the Vamana-avatar.

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The sixth incarnation, called the Parashura avatar, is historical in its character, for it reflects the struggles between the warrior-caste and the Brahmans for supremacy. It is said that Jamadagni, a pious Brahman, had received from the gods the miraculous cow, Kamadugha (or Surabhi), which provided him, his wife, Renuka, and their son, Râma, with every luxury. Karttavirya, a king of the warrior-caste, visits him, and seeing the
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Vishnu and his incarnation in Râma Chandra, assisted by the Monkey King Hanuman, vanquish Ravana

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Vishnu is born as Krishna and miraculously saved from the prosecutions of the tyrant of Mathurâ


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wealth of the Brahman, tries to take the cow from him, but the cow kills all who dare to approach her, and rises into heaven, whereupon Karttavirya in his wrath slays the pious Jamadagni. Râma, the son of the murdered Brahman, invokes Vishnu's help for the punishment of the wicked king, and the god not only presents him with a bow and a battle-ax, which latter is called in Sanskrit paracus, the Greek πέλεκυσ (hence the name of this avatar), but also incarnates himself in Râma. Karttavirya is described as being in possession of a thousand arms, wielding a thousand weapons, but Râma, endowed with the divine powers of Vishnu, conquers him after a decisive struggle.

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THE MONKEY KING SUGRIVA FIGHTING. (Reproduced from Coleman.)

The Râma Chandra avatar has taken a firm hold on the Indian mind, and is described in the Ramayana, an epic which is the Hindu Odyssey, to the narrative of which the legend of Râma. bears a great resemblance.

Râma Chandra lived with his wife Sita (frequently regarded as an incarnation of Lakshmi) and with his half-brother Lakshmana in the wilderness of the south, where he had withdrawn in order to obey his father, who had unjustly banished him and appointed Bharata, another son of his, as heir to the throne. The demon-king, Ravana, waged war against Râma, and carried off Sita while he and his brother were hunting. It is impossible to relate here Rama's adventures in detail, how he fought

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with giants and demons, how the monkey kings, Lugriva and Hanuman, became his allies, how Hanuman jumped

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over to Lanka, the island of Ceylon, to reconnoitre the enemy's country, how the monkeys built a bridge over the strait by throwing stones into the water, bow Râma

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pursued Ravana to Lanka, and finally how he vanquished Ravana and recovered his faithful wife Sita.

Like the sixth avatar, the Rama Chandra avatar probably contains historical reminiscences. It also resembles both the Trojan War and the Gudrun Saga, the epics of Western nations that relate the story of an abducted wife. The mythical part of all these stories describes the wanderings of the sun god in search of his consort, the moon.

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In his eighth incarnation, the Krishna avatar, Vishnu has reached the ideal man-god of the Hindus. Kansa, called Kalankura (i. e., crane), the tyrant of Mathura, receives the prophecy that the eighth son of his sister, Devaki, will take his throne. He therefore decides to kill all the children of his sister. Her eighth son, Krishna, however, was an incarnation of Vishnu, who spoke at once after his birth, comforted his mother, and gave directions to his father, Vasudeva, how to save him. Vasudeva carried the infant, protected by the serpent king, over the river Jamuna, and exchanged him in Gokula for a girl which Yasuda had just borne to the cowherd Nanda. Kansa seized at once the girl baby, but before he could kill her she raised herself into the air, explained to the wrathful king that Krishna had been saved, and disappeared in the form of lightning. Kansa now decided

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After an old and richly-colored Hindu painting. (Reproduced from Moore's Hindu Pantheon, plate, 59.)

to have all the babies in his empire killed, but Krishna escaped again. A demon nurse was sent to poison him with her venomous milk, but be bit and killed her, while his stepfather decided to remove to a more distant country in order to escape the continued hostilities of the king. Krishna slew the huge serpent, Kali-naga, overcame the giant Shishoo-polu, killed the monster bird that tried to peck out his eyes, and also a malignant wild ass. He also burnt the entrails of the alligator-shaped Peck-Assoort who had devoured him, and choked Aghi-Assoor, the dragon who attempted to swallow him. When Krishna had grown to youth he became the favorite of the lasses of Gokula. When he played the flute every one of the dancing girls believed that the swain whom she embraced was Krishna himself. He fell in love with the country girl Radha, the story of which is sung in the Jagadeva's poem, Gitagovinda. He protected the cowherds against storm and fire, and finally marched against Kansa, killed him and took possession of his throne.

Krishna plays also a prominent part in the Mahabharata,

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As a shepherd lad playing the flute [the flute is missing]. (Bronze statue. Musée Guimet.)

the Iliad of the Hindus, which describes the war between the Kurus and the Pandus, 1 both descendants of Bharata and both grandchildren of Vyasa. Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kurus, was king of Hastinapur, but being blind, Bhishma, his uncle, reigned in his stead. After a test of the faculties of the young princes, in which the Pandu Arjuna, the skilled bowman and the Hindu Tell, showed himself superior to all the others, the oldest Pandu-prince, Yudhishthira, was installed as heir apparent. The Kurus, however, who managed to remain in power, tried to burn the Pandus, but they escaped and lived for some time in the disguise of mendicant Brahmans. Having allied themselves, by marriage with Draupadi, 2 the daughter of Drupada, king of Panchala, with a powerful monarch, the Pandus reappeared at Hastinapur and induced Dhritarashtra to divide the kingdom between his sons, the Kurus, and his nephews, the Pandus; but at a festival, held at Hastinapur, Yudhishthira, the chief

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of the Pandus, staked in a game of dice his kingdom, all his possessions, and Draupadi herself, and lost everything. The Kurus promised their cousins to return their share of the kingdom after thirteen years, if they would live twelve years with Draupadi in the forest and remain another year in exile; but when this period had elapsed the Kurus refused to give up the country or any part of

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(Reproduced from Coleman.)

it, and thus the war became unavoidable. Then Duryodhana, the Kuru prince, and Arjuna, the main hero of the Pandus, called on Krishna for succor and assistance. Krishna decided not to take an active part in the fight himself, but left to Arjuna, whom he had seen first, the

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choice between his (Krishna's) company as a mere adviser or his (Krishna's) army of a hundred million warriors.

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KRISHNA'S ADVENTURES. (Reproduced from Coleman.)

Arjuna chose Krishna himself, and left the hundred million warriors to his rivals, the Kurus. The two armies met on the field of Kurukshetra, near Delhi.

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[paragraph continues] During the battle, as we read in the Bhagavadgita, Krishna accompanies Arjuna as his charioteer and explains to him the depth and breadth of the religious philosophy of the Hindus. The Pandus conquer the Kurus, and Yudhishthira becomes king of Hastinapur.

After sundry additional adventures the Pandus die and go to heaven, where they find that rest and happiness which is unattainable on earth.

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(Reproduced from Wilkins.)

The Mahabharata, like the Wars of the Roses, shows neither party in a favorable light; but the epic is written from the standpoint of the Pandus, whose demeanor is always extolled, while the Kurus are throughout characterised as extremely unworthy and mean.

Krishna is the Hindu Apollo, Orpheus, and Hercules in one person, and there is no god in the Hindu Pantheon who is dearer to the Brahman heart than he. Many

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of his adventures, such as his escape from the Hindu Herod, the massacre of babes, his transfiguration, etc., reappear in a modified form in Buddhist legends and bear some resemblance to the events told of Christ in the New Testament.

In his ninth incarnation Vishnu appears as Buddha, the enlightened one, to be a teacher of morals, of purity, charity, and compassionate love toward all beings. It is

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difficult to state the differences between the Buddha avatar of the Brahmans and the Buddha of the Buddhists. The latter, there can be no doubt, was a historical personality, by the name of Gautama, the son of Shuddhodana of the warrior caste, while the former is a mere ideal figure of ethical perfection. Burnouf 1 proposes to regard both as quite distinct, and he is right, but we need not for that reason deny that, on the one hand, the ideal of a

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Buddha avatar was a prominent factor in the formation of Buddhism, while on the other hand Gautama's teachings have, since the rise of Buddhism, powerfully affected and considerably modified the Buddha ideal of the Brahmans. Whatever may be the historical relation between the Hindu Buddha and the Buddha of the Buddhists, this

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On Nanda, the sacred bull (Musée Guimet.)

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Leaning on the linga, the symbol of the creative faculty. (Musée Guimet.)


much is sure: the Buddha has been received by the Brahmans as one of the members of the Hindu Pantheon.

The Hindu deity that is nearest in spirit to the Buddha avatar is Jagannath, the god of love and mercy.

The tenth avatar has not yet been completed. Vishnu is expected to appear on a winged white horse to reward the virtuous, convert the sinners, and destroy all evil.

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The horse has one foot raised, and when it places its foot down, the time of the incarnation will find its fulfilment.

The third person of the Indian trinity is Siva, the Auspicious One, representing the end of the world and its regeneration. He is commonly represented by the linga as a symbol of the creative faculty and by the all-devouring fire, the tongued flame of which is pictured in a triangle turning its point upwards
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Sir Monier Monier Williams (in Brahmanism and Hinduism, p. 68) says of this deity, which is "more mystical and less human than the incarnated Vishnu," that his symbol, the linga, is "never in the mind of a Saiva (or Siva-worshipper) connected with indecent ideas, nor with sexual love." The linga, or, as the Romans called it, the phallus, the male organ of generation, becomes at the first dawn of civilisation, almost among all the nations of the world, an object of great awe and reverence. As the symbol of the creative principle it is regarded as the most essential attribute of both the God-Creator himself and all those who hold authority in his name. The linga develops in the hand of the medicine man into a wand, in the hand of the priest into a staff,

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SIVA WORSHIP. (Reproduced from Picart.)


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and in the hand of the king into a sceptre. The yoni, or female organ, is regarded as the symbol of Siva's consort, Parvati, and is worshipped in connexion with the linga by the sect of the Sactis. Perforated rocks are considered as emblems of the yoni, through which pilgrims pass for the purpose of being regenerated, a ceremony in which Hindus place great faith for its sin-expelling significance. (See Charles Coleman, The Mythology of The Hindus, p. 175.)

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SIVA AND PARVATI. (Reproduced from Hermann Göll)

Siva's consort, Kali, is one of the greatest divinities of India. She is the goddess of a hundred names, representing not only the power of nature, but also the ruthless cruelty of nature's laws. She is called Parvati, the blessed mother, and Durga, which means "hard to go through," symbolising war and all kinds of danger. She is in the pantheon of modern Hinduism the central figure; and in spite of the universality of Brahma in philosophical

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speculations, in spite of the omnipresence of Vishnu and his constant reincarnations as told in ancient

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KALI, After an Indian picture. (Reproduced from Schlagintweit.)

myths and legends, in spite of the omnipotence of Siva, and the high place given him in Hindu dogmatology, she

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is the main recipient of Hindu worship all over the country. As Kali she is identified with time, the all-devourer, and is pictured as enjoying destruction, perdition, and

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DURGA. Indian sculpture, (Reproduced from Schlagintweit.)

murder in any form, trampling under foot even her own husband. There is scarcely a village without a temple devoted to her, and her images can be seen in thousands of forms. Her appearance is pleasant only as Pavarti; in

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all other shapes she is frightful, and it is difficult to understand the reverence which the pious Hindu cherishes

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mKHA' sGROMA, THE TIBETAN KALI. Bronze. (Musée Guimet.)

for this most diabolical deity, who among the Buddhists of Thibet is changed into a devilish demon under the name of mKha' sGroma.

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The Pantheism which lies at the bottom of the whole Hindu mythology finds expression in the worship of HariHara, who is a combination of Vishnu and Siva. In

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KALI-DURGA IN THE HINDU PANTHEON. (Reproduced from Wilkins.)

the Mahatmya, or collection of temple legends of the HariHara, a town in the province of Mysore, Isvara says:" 1

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"There are heretics among men who reject the Vedas and the Shastras, who live without purificatory ceremonies and established rules of conduct, and are filled with hatred of Vishnu: so also there are heretical followers of Vishnu, who are similarly filled with hatred of Shiva. All these wicked men shall go to hell so long as this world endures. I will not receive worship from any man who makes a distinction between Vasudeva and my own divinity: I will divide every such man in two with my saw. For I have assumed the form of HariHara in order to destroy the teaching that there is a difference between us: and he who knows within himself that HariHara is the god of gods, shall inherit the highest heaven."

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HARIHARA. (Reproduced from Wilkins.)

HariHara is depicted as a combination of the two gods in one figure, which is half male and half female, for according to the Southern version of the legend Vishnu assumed the form of a beautiful woman who was embraced so fervently by Siva that both became one.

There are in Hindu mythology innumerable other deities, among whom Indra, the thunder-god, is the greatest, as the hero among the gods of secondary rank, reminding us of the Thor of the Norsemen; but Varuna, the Hindu Kronos, Agni the god of fire, have also at times been very prominent.

There are in addition gods of third degree, such as

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GANESA. (Reproduced from Wilkins.)

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AGNI. (Reproduced from Hermann Göll.)

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KAMA. (Reproduced from Wollheim da Fonceka)

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SIVA SLAYING A DEMON. (Reproduced from Wilkins.)


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Kama, the Hindu Amor, Ganesa, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, 1 and Karttikeya, 2 the leader of the good demons., on the peacock, both sons of Siva, and others. In addition, we have a great number of devas, sprites, and goblins. Some of them are good, as the Gandharvas, others at least not naturally ill-intentioned, as for instance the Apsaras (a kind of Hindu elves), but most of them are dangerous and demoniacal. Such are the general mischief-makers, the Asuras, the Pretas, or ghosts, the Bhutas, or spook-spirits, the baby-killing Grahas, the Rakshasas, who are either giants or vampires, not to mention all the other demons of less power and importance.


74:1 Pantism, the theory of the All (from πᾶν, root ΠΑΝΤ), is different from Pantheism, the theory which identifies the All (πᾶν) with God (ϑεόσ).

74:2 Sir Monier-Monier Williams distinguishes between Brahmanism, the old faith of the Indian Aryas, and Hinduism, the modern form of this same religion, as it developed after the expulsion of Buddhism from India.

77:1 Since it is our intention to be brief, we do not enter in this exposition of the ten avatars into any details that could be omitted and neglect to mention the variants of the myths.

78:1 MS., P 354, English translation from Schwartze's latest translation by G. R. S. Meade, p. 354.

79:1 All the Avatar pictures are from Picart.

88:1 The Pandus are also called Pandavas, and the Kurus Kamavas.

88:2 That the five Pandus held Draupadi in common as their wife, proves the high antiquity of the story. Polyandry was apparently a practice not uncommon in ancient times. It prevails still to-day among the less cultured hill tribes. But being at variance with the Aryan customs of the age in which the Mahabharata was versified, p. 89 Vyasa (the Homer or "arranger" of the poem, and its supposed author) tries to explain it allegorically by declaring that Draupadi is Lakshmi, and the five Pandu brothers represent five different forms of one and the same Indra.

92:1 Histoire du Buddhisme, I., 338.

100:1 The legends of the shrine of HariHara, translated from the Sanskrit by Rev. Thomas Foulkes.

103:1 Ganesa, which means the lord (isa) of hosts (gana), is originally Siva himself, and he was invoked under that name by writers of books to drive away evil demons.

103:2 Karttikeya is also called Subrahmanya and Skanda.

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