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Vishnu and Rudra - Siva By J. Gonda


J. Gonda

[Jan Gonda (b.1905) was Professor of Sanskrit and Indology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands. It is from his pen, the article here printed, issued.


He is an honorary member of the Bhankarkar Oriental Research Institute and under his directions Indian scholars have indited theses. Ed.]

ONE OF THE ARGUMENTS which could be adduced in favour of the usual division of Indian culture into an older period. Vedism, and a later period, called Hinduism, would be that the former, at least at first sight, presents itself as a unity, whereas the latter is a varied and, already in the Mahabharata, a confused spectacle of beliefs and practices. On closer inspection it becomes clear however, first that many features of Hinduism have their roots in the Vedic past, and in the second place that it has been a few main currents which, from the very beginning up to the present day, have come into prominence and have largely determined the character of that many sided and all-enfolding culture which we in the West have chosen to all Hinduism. There can be no doubt whatever that these currents must, when viewed from their doctrinal and philosophical aspects be considered first and foremost soteriologies, and that they also present many aspects which make them worth studying from the angles of philosophy and sociology. This does not however prevent us from calling Vishnuism and Saivism as they presented and still present, themselves to their adherents, religiouns, Saivism and Vishunism. That is not say that I shall overlook the fact that neither current is in itself a unity There is, within Vishnuism, a considerable, difference between, for instance, the theories and the ritualism of the Vaikhanasas in the South and the devotionalism of the followers of Caitanya in Bengal, and Virasaivism, flourishing in Karnataka, has rejected the traditional brahmanical rites which the Saiva Siddhanta has in many respects, retained. Nevertheless there is a Saivism and there is a Vishnuism and it will be part of my task-while comparing these religions and drawing attention to parallel or divergent developments, to the common heritage and interrelations- to bring out what is common to all forms of each of the two great religious currents.

Considering myself absolved from the obligation to give a regular account of the main relevant facts such as those relating to the history of Vishnu and Siva worship from the earliest time, the mythological concepts to which their figures have given rise, their iconography in plastic arts and the philosophical and theological doctrines developed in the communities of their worshippers, I would like to make an attempt at instituting, in a series of more or less condensed studies, a somewhat detailed comparison between those aspects of both religious currents which in the last years have attracted my special attention. Since it cannot even be my purpose to treat all important questions or to deal adequately with all periods of the religious history of India, I intend to dwell especially upon some significant points which have perhaps not been sufficiently stressed in the publications of my predecessors. I hope that a certain personal preference for definite problems and definite periods or phases in the development of Saivism and Vaishnavism will not be beyond forgiveness.

I may be true in our oldest documents, the Rigveda, Vishnu occupies but a subordinate position, his personality-to use this term in this connection-is at the same time not only more important there that would appear from the number of the occurrences of his name in this text, but is also in its striking features sufficiently clean-cut and moreover, in remarkable harmony with the god’s image as given by the later sources. Rudra also has from the very beginning a character and even a position of his own and some important features in the later Siva can likewise be said to emerge from the Vedic texts with all clearness desirable.

It is therefore interesting to compare the most important traits of character of both gods as far as they appear from the Vedic samhitas. It has long ago been observed that the only anthropomorphic traits of Vishnu are his often-mentioned three strides and his being a youth (RV.1,155,6). These essential features of his character, to which he owes epithets such as ‘swift’ and ‘wide-striding’, make him known to us as the immense (RV.7,99,1;2) god of far-extending motion who-for man in distress, to make his existence possible- penetrates and traverses the spaces whereas his highest step or abode is beyond mortal ken, in his dear and highest resort, the bring realm of heaven. While all beings dwell in these three strides or footsteps (RV.1,154,2) the highest is the place of a well of honey, where rejoice the gods and those men who turn to the gods. Of Rudra, the terrible, dreadful one, on the other hand, quite a number of physical features are recorded: arms, hand, limbs, lips, eyes, mouth, tongue, etc., he wears braided hair (1,114,1;5,) his colour is brown (e g.2,33,5), his belly black and his back red. Frequent mention is made of his weapons, and these are weapons of offence. On Vishnu’s disk and club the oldest texts are, however, silent. Rudra is clothed in a skin and haunts and dwells in mountains, an abode also attributed to Vishnu. But while the passage VS. 16, 2-4 in which his feature is emphasized tries to induce Siva to show his auspicious aspect and to prevent him from injuring men, and while forests, mountains and wilderness are the sphere of his destructive activities, Vishnu’s association with the mountain’s where he is said to have been born and of which he is the ruler, impresses us as beneficial to human interest: the defeat of Vrta is, for instance, repeatedly said to have taken place in the mountains, which, however, seem to be an element of the scenery of the ‘Urzeit’.

Vishnu is benevolent, never inimical (RV.1,186,10), and a friend and ally of Indra whom he assists in slaying the great friend and antagonist Vrtra, the representative of chaos and in spreading out the spaces between heaven and earth (RV.6,69,5). Both gods are sometimes so intimately associated as to form a sort of dual deity, Indravishnu and to participate in each other’s qualities and activities Rudra, on the other hand, has no special friend among the gods. Only once he appears associated with Soma (RV.6,74), not directly because of his formidable nature but because he is supposed to be able to avert illness, destruction and other manifestations of evil. And he enjoys this reputation owing to his dreadful power of sending and causing fever, evil and disaster, to his fierceness, malevolence and destructiveness. However, much the poets try to deprecate his wrath-impending also when there is no offence- they do not hesitate to mention his bad points: he is a cheat, deceiver and lord of robbers, and most statements of his power occur in appeals from mercy.

Their relation to the demoniac powers and the Maruts is in this connection of special interest. Whereas Vishnu is engaged in vaniqishing the demos, Rudra does not come into conflict with them. As to the not-individualized group of the Maruts, as Indra’s brilliant allies and attendants they enter into association with Vishnu, but Rudra, who is repeatedly said to be their father, is never drawn into the warlike activities of these deities who, though occasionally showing the malevolent traits of their father, are on the whole benefactors of man and world Rudra is, on the contrary, the chief of an indefinite host of partial manifestations of his own nature which, like this god (in the singular) himself may make their numinous presence felt everywhere and at any time. He moreover maintains intimate relations with the great mass of demoniac beings. In this connection it is interesting to notice also that, whereas Vishnu-he may assume various forms-is so to say one single individual, Rudra has in these ancient texts some doubles, which are sometimes identical with him thus Sarva and Bhava in VS 16,18;28- sometimes are described as distinct from him.

There is one god with whom both Rudra.(e.g.A.V. 7,87,1) and Vishnu (e.g. RV.2,1,3) are identified. But here also the difference is obvious. Rudra is said to be, i.e., to manifest himself in, or as, fire: ‘Agni is Rudra; just as a tiger stands in anger, so he also (stands)’ (TS. 5,5,7,4)- Vishnu’s relations with the god of fire are co-operative and complementary in nature: they are for instance invoked conjointly and both of them are, in a brahmana, it is true (AIBA 1,4,10,) lords and guardians of the consecration, which they confer on man. Besides, Agni is the sacrificial fire and Vishnu the sacrifice (TS. 2,29,1), and both gods rejoice in the sacrificial butter (AV.7,29).

Extending our inquiries to the later parts of Vedic literature we see that Rudra’s malevolence still more prominent. He houses in forests and jungles, in places where man falls a victim to fright and terror. He is the lord of the wild animals, which are said to be a manifestation of his cruel nature (SB. 12,7,3,20), and the parton of those who hold aloof from the Aryan society and its way of living. In contradistinction to the other gods who are believed to live in the East, Rudra dwells in the North, the region of dangerous mountains. His isolated position is emphasized by the myth according to which he remained behind when the other gods succeeded in attaining heaven by ritual means (SB. 1,7, 3,1). He is indeed exclude from the normal soma cult, but receives informal balis (offerings of food thrown on the ground), often also the remainders of oblations, or what is injured in the sacrifice (SB. 1,7,4,9); besides, he has some sacrificial rites of his own His cult requires precaution and he is appeased (RV.2, 33, 5, etc.), that is to say one gives him offerings in order to get rid of him. The benevolent or rather merciful aspects of his ambivalent nature find on the other hand expression in some epithets such as Sambhu ‘the beneficent or kind one’ and Siva: (vs 3,59;63) ‘Siva is thy name; thou art a healing medicine, forbear to do me harm’. This epithet-which is already given to him at RV.10,92,9 – is however also applied to other gods without being peculiar to any particular figure.

With regard to Vishnu it is important to notice that in the brahmanas his relations with the sacrifice are evident and of special practical consequence for the Vedic worshipper: he is the sacrifice itself (e.g. SB. 14,1,1,6) and the sacrifice who imitates his great cosmic act, by which he obtained for the gods the ability to manifest their power everywhere, viz, his three strides, gains, whilst identifying himself with the god, the three provinces of the universe to attain heaven (SB. 1,9,3,9f.;15).

I shall not repeat here what has in many books and articles been said on the so-called original character of these gods, or rather what has a bearing on the kernel of the Rudra and Vishnu conceptions. Let it suffice to say that in my opinion the essence of the former was, in the minds of Vedic men, power of the uncultivated and unconquered, dangerous, unreliable, unpredictable, hence much to be feared nature, experienced as a divinity. His very character lent itself admirably to splitting up into partial manifestations as well as to assimilation or divine to demoniac powers of cognate nature, was they Aryan or non-Aryan. It hardly needs saying that the class poetry of the Rig-Veda does not show us the whole Rudra and that the later Veda has recorded more popular traits; the conclusion that those features which are foreign to the earliest corpus did not exist at the time of its compilation is, I am convinced, inadmissible.

The solution of the much debated and often wrongly posed question as to the so-called origin of the Vishnu conception-we had better inquire after the core and essence of the go’s nature as understood by Vedic man-has very often on too one-sidedly naturalistic lines of argument been supposed to lie in an interpretation as a solar deity. Yaska (Nir. 13,19) cited already an authority who identified the go’s striding with the diurnal course of the sun. I must confess that in the course of time my own ideas of this question have considerably evolved. Although I am still inclined to assume that there is much truth in the time-honoured interpretation of the god’s character as representing pervasiveness and spatial extensiveness, and especially that pervasiveness which is essential to the establishment and maintenance of our cosmos and beneficial to the interests of men and gods, I would now hesitate to add that ‘the general idea originally underlying this central mythical act seems to have been the eternal phenomenon of the pervading the omnipresent, mighty and blessing stream of celestial light, warmth, and energy’. At the moment I would lay greater emphasis upon the pervasiveness as such which was believed to manifest itself in a great variety of phenomena and on the god’s relations to the axis mundi.

This is not to say that I am convinced by that interpretation of the function and significance of the god which was some years ago proposed by my esteemed colleague and compatriot Kuiper, who, focussing his readers’ attention almost exclusively on the Rgveda there to find the truest image of the god’s significance, regards him as the ambiguous mythological figure which, occupying the central place in the cosmic classificatory system and thus standing between the two parties of the Vrtra-fight, nevertheless turned the scale in favour of Indra. It is true that Vishnu is closely associated with the dhruva dik – which is not the nadir, but the fixed or central quarter, that is the central place on the earth under the zenith –but one does not see in the texts that the relation between Indra in the South (AV.3,27,2), Varuna, the great asura – who however plays no part in the Vrta combat-in the West and Vishnu ins the centre is developed into a coherent system or has any significance in Indra’s great cosmogonic achievement and the ensuing organisation of our cosmos. I am rather inclined to suppose that Vishnu’s undeniable relations with the centre may be interpreted otherwise. Although I am disposed to admit that the centre represents ‘the totality of the parts distributed over the four quarters’, I do not think that this is its full import. We now know that from the point of view of archaic religions this centre or navel (_____________ pg 126___________ ) is the place in which the axis mundi, the central pillar or frame of creations, reaches the earth, putting the cosmic levels into communication and constituting a means of travelling’ to heaven as well as a canal through which the heavenly blessings may penetrate into the abode of men. Vishnu may even be considered as representing this cosmic pillar itself: he is for instance (RV. 7,99,2) explicitly said to sustain the upper component of the universe, a well-known function of that pillar. His vertical pervasiveness is moreover illustrated by the universe, a well-known function of that pillar. His vertical pervasiveness is moreover illustrated by the fact that the yupa –the sacrificial post which in definite rites is mounted by the sacrifice to reach heaven and which may be considered a representative of this axis-belongs to him and that he lives in the mounts, another manifestation of the axis and a place where heaven and earth meet.

Nor is it clear to me why Vishnu should be the ‘unity’ of the two antagonistic parties, upper world and nether worlds’, standing in, and being of each of these two world, and belonging consequently also to the gods of the nether worlds, whom he could not fight, as Indra did ‘because’- I quote Kuiper – ‘these two were part of his essence’. But even the Rgveda describes him as destroying demons (7,99,4 f.) and states (1,155,6) that Vishnu goes to war, that accompanied by Indra he forces open the cattle-shed of Vala, the mythological duplicate of Vala, the mythological duplicate of Vrta (1,156,4). As far as I am able to see there is no textual evidence of Vishu’s arising from the nether world and subsequent standing on the mountain or mountains. I would rather say that Vedic man considered him to be present in any part of the cosmic axis: his is, at the lower end, the yupa, and the brahmans constantly identify him with the sacrifice which is located in the navel of the earth; at the upper end is his high domain or ‘protectorate’; as the god of three seats (trisadhastha : __________ pg 127___, 156,5) he manifests himself also in the middle. Hence also, I would suppose, Vishnu’s relations- sometimes even matrimonial relations-with Aditi, whose womb he protects; this womb, which is explicitly identified with the navel of the earth ( vs: 1,11), but which is more than that, namely the ‘place of universal creation’, because Aditi-whose name in all probability means ‘Freedom-manifests her nature not only in the earth but in any broad and wide expanse in the generative and life – sustaining nature, in any expansion of phenomenal life. Vishnu on the other hand, far from being a static representative of the axis, creates, while striding widely and traversing the universe, the room, which is indispensable to that expansion.

If is be permitted to prolong this digression for a moment, I would repeat that I am unable to read in the texts that Vishnu rose up from the nether world to which he originally belonged at the very moment when the dual world was, by Indira’s great achievement created. It is Indra who called on his companion and associate for co-operation, asking him to stride, for him, Indra, over ta great distance, or as the Brhaddevata (6,122f.)has it: Going to Vishnu Indira said: ”I wish to slay Vrtra. Stride forth to-day and stand at my side. Heaven must make room for my outstretched bolt.’ Saying “Yes”, Vishnu did so………..’So Vishnu’s activity preceded Indras fight with Vrtra which in its turn made the organization of our world possible.

It is also in this connection that mention is (RV. 8,12,27) made of three strides, the well-known and obviously most important feature in Vishnu’s traversing moment. From the Rgvedic references to this activity it does not however emerge that the first step or only the first step, was taken in the nether world or corresponds to it. ON the contrary’ the poets do not omit stating that Vishnu has taken his strides from the same place as the Maruts who exert their influence in the higher atmosphere (RV. 5,87,4) and from that place from which the gods are expected to promote man’s interests (1,22,16). Although the poets do not indeed lay much stress on the exact places where the steps were taken, they are quite explicit in describing them as establishing the broad dimensional actuality of the earthly space, or in stating that the god strode out on the earth(AV. 12,1,10). There is no doubt much truth in the explication of the number three as expressing the idea of totality and therefore referring to the expansion of the whole earth or even of the whole universe, but it is very doubtful whether the relevant texts may be supposed to point to an ascending movement of the god,. Yet one of the poets (RV. 7,99,1) makes a distinction between ‘both terrestrial spaces’ of the god known to men-which has been rightly explained as earth and atmosphere-the highest, of which Vishnu himself has knowledge. The texts do not say that the third step represents all three movements; they state that there is a highest step, station or abode of Vishnu-the term padam admits of all these translations-which may be seen for ever by the successful sacrificers (RV, 1,22,20), and is also called his hear domain or protectorate; there is a spring of honey, i.e., the draught of immortality (1, 154, 5) and there is the god’s bandhu, which means that the god who is active in the universe is closely and mysteriously connected with that ‘place’, which is practically ‘heaven’. There is nothing to prevent us from assuming that there is the ‘place beyond space’ (7,100,5), where the god is said to reside.

As is well known there has been a tendency ,even since the oldest Yajurvedic texts and the pre-Yaska interpreters of the Rgveds, to connect Vishnu’s strides with the triple division of the universe (sky or heaven, earth and what is between them). It is however doubtful whether this interpretation can be called a merely naturalistic one. And it may, one the other hand, be true that the poets of the Rgveda, in connection with these strides, never refer to this triple division, it is dangerous to rely on the argumentum esilentio and to isolate the Rgveds toe much from the other Vedic literature. We should moreover always be aware of the fact that the Rgveds is first and foremost a religious document and that the cosmographic and cosmogonic details contained in it are not represented with a view to describe the universe or to explain its origin in a scientific or philosophical way. What was relevant was to know it the Great Pervader has really pervaded the whole universe in which he is worshipped and if men also were safe in these three steps (VS. 23, 49 f; cf. RV. 1,154, 2), that is, in this world, as it was relevant to know for certain that out of the primordial chaos Indra – I do not mention other gods whose names are sometimes recoded in this connection – with Vishnu’s help produced and organized this cosmos. This fact must always be commemorated and celebrated because thus man substantially contributes to the maintenance, renewal and reproduction of the creation of this god who always remains, hic et nunc, an active promoter of positive values and beneficial processes in this world.

In a similar way Vishnu’s activity for the welfare of gods and men is celebrated in the hope that he will continue to create safety and room to live in for the latter and to win vikranti, i.e., the power to display their beneficent activities for the former. Moreover, as the traversing and pervading god par excellence Vishnu does not only make room for man’s sacrifice to reach the powers of heaven (RV. 7,99,4), but also helps the sacrifice (1,156,5), brings him wealth and other valuables and conducts him along undangerous paths to a state of safety (6, 69, 1;8,77,10). He is also often allied with that important power of life which circulates in the universe, is the main element of the sacrifice and imparts divine life, that is to say, with the soma. He is therefore on the one hand implored to fill his hands from the sky, the earth and the vast wide atmosphere, and to bestow objects of value from the right and from the left (AV, 7, 26, 8)- his traversing movement was no doubt supposed to expand also on the horizontal plane – and on the other expected to lead, as the sacrifice- or simply as the traverser,-,man upwards so as to rescue him from all evil. For last but not least Vishnu is the god who acquired for the sacrifice that all – pervading power which is characteristic of his own nature: by ritually imitating the god’s strides the sacrifice gains the earth, the aerial expanse, and heaven, to reach ‘the goal, the safe foundation (pratistha) , the highest light’. The sacrifice, duly consecrated and taking these strides, is Vishnu and the strides lead him to the highest goal. Although in his connection these three strides ay impress us as symbolizing an analysis for ritual purposes of the totality expressed by the three strides, they are in my opinion not exactly coordinated with the three parts of the visible universe, because the third stride does not lead to the firmament, but into heaven. That that highest step or place is also described as being extended like the eye in heaven (RV. 1, 22, 20) is of course no counter-argument.

As far as I can see now, the power complex experienced by Vedic man as the presence and the activity of a personality called Vishnu may to sum up, best be described as the ‘idea’ of universal penetration or pervasiveness, as the axis mundi and otherwise, of the omnipresence of a mighty and beneficent energy, in which all beings abide and which essentially contributes to the maintenance of those conditions and those processes in the universe on which man’s life and subsistence depend. Among these are also the processes connected with fertility and procreation which I have not stressed in the foregoing.

Let us continue our exposition of the main facts relating to the development of both divine figures in the following centuries.

As to Rudra the tendency to adopt this outsider by emphasizing his benevolent aspects and putting him on a part with other gods continues. Already in the Rgveda a deprecation, a request not to send disease but to approach kindly, may combine with the expression of his sovereign might, which enables him to come into contact with the race of the celestial powers (RV. 7,46,2). Wilst, in the Pravargya ritual, the formula ‘Hali to Rudra’ is even without offering, pronounced, ‘lest the god should do harm’ (SB. 14, 2, 2, 38), in the ritual of the royal consecration Rudra Pasupathi is beside Agni Grhapati, Soma Vanaspati, Brhaspati Vak, Mitra Satya, ect., one of the receipients of oblations (SB,5, 3, 3, 1 ff). The frequent appeal to him for help in case of disease-of which he may be the originator-may have contributed much to his gaining access, as the god who grants remedies, to a circle of honourable deities who preside over other spheres of human interest: one must, for instance, sacrifice to Agni, the despoiler, if one finds a forests fire in one’s way; to Pusan the pathmaker, if one is to undertake a journey: to Rudra, if there is a multitude of disease, etc., in the morning litany he should (according to the Sankhyayana-Srautasutra, 6, 3, 4,) be addressed, together with Soma, as the regent of the North, on an equal footing with Mitra and Varuna the regents of the West, Indra and Brhaspathi and other powers who are besought to grant their protection in the other regions of the universe. Moreover, as the leader of a host of minor deities Rudra is, according to the Satapath-Brahmana, to be considered a chief Ksatrah. In some important brahmanas his figure indeed appears to have acquired special importance and a reality different from that of many other members of the pantheon. Later on, the author of the Brhadaranyaka-Upanisad (1,4,11) regards him as one of the ksatrah among the gods, his colleagues being Indra, Varuna, Soma, Parjanya, Yama, Mrtyu and Isana. These gods, it is said, represent ksatram, ruling power, which is called “an excellent manifestation’. Elsewhere in the same text Parjanya, Aditya and INdra admit him as a partner (2,2,2,). An important factor in the process of Rudra’s growth-which should not however be one-sidedly emphasized – is his identification with the mighty god of fire, Agni, and which may, in a sense, point to a process analogous to Vishnu’s appropriating part of the greatness of Indra. In a later Upanisad (PrU. 2,9) the god is together with INdra, Surya and other gods said to be an aspect of the universal life or vital power, the most essential of all powers, on which everything is firmly established (2,6),whereas another upanisadic author, discussing the nature of the Atman-that is the Supreme universal Soul, identical with Brahman, of which every intelligent being is partial individuation-equates him with a considerable number of divine powers, among whom are not only Indra and Savitar, but also Isana, Bhava and Sambhu-aspects or partial manifestations of Rudra’s nature-Prajapati, Vishnu and Narayana (MaiU. 6,8;,7,7). Meanwhile theis development had culminated in those particular circles which produced the Svetasvatara-Upanisad. This work will claim our special attention in the next lecture.

At the same period, in which Rudra-Siva was gradually reaching the supreme rank, the Vishnu of our texts had likewise been advanced to a higher position. His relations, or community of interests, with Prajapati, which date already from Rgvedic times, are intensified. Whereas the oldest upanisads added nothing important to his history, those of the second period which possibly were, roughly speaking, complied about the same time as the Bhagavadgita or somewhat later, begin to recognize him as a supreme monotheistic God. IN the Maittrayaniya – Upanisad he is not only one of the chief ‘bodies’ of Prajapati or a manifestation of that one overlord who is the totality (sarvah kascit prabhuh), but is also called the Supreme Light, which is unmoving, free from death, unwavering and stable, pure griefless bliss. One place is of special interest, because it contains a stanza which with slight variation occurs also in the Brhadaranyaka: “The face of the True-and-Real is covered with a golden vessel; uncover it, O Pusan, in order to see him whose (that of which the) normal behaviour-and-ovservance is the True-and-Real.’ Instead of the last words (satyadharmaya drstaye) the Maitrayaniya reads satyadharmaya vishnave which must mean ‘in order to (establish contact with) Vishnu whose normal and fundamental conduct consists in being the Ture-and-Real. Satyadharman, in the Rgveda an epithet of Agni, Varuna, Savitar, is, in the Mahabharata, among the thousand names of the Vishnu. Nevertheless it is quite true that many phases in the long process of Vishnu’s rise to the highest position have completely disappeared from our sight. That his ancient functions, known to us from a regrettably limited number of references in the samhitas, have, in their totality and as a whole, contributed much to this process seems indisputable.

There would be little sense in repeating what may be read in every History of Hinduism on these gods as they present themselves to us in the epic period. Suffice it to say that both Vishnu and Siva are, in the epics, ambiguous figures, being on the one hand deities with heroic traits of character and, on the other rising to supramundane dignity, representing or tending to represent the Supreme Being. Not rarely it is not all clear whether they are to be regarded as devas or as the supreme God, whether, for instance, Siva’s protection is to be sought because he is the boon-giving Lord, the omnipresent soul and creator of the universe and the embodiment of its three divisions or because he is the great deva of frightful aspects who has now also become a conqueror of demoniac power- Both gods are now endowed with all divine qualities imaginable and have become the central characters in mythical tales which will enthral the minds of many generations to come. Both are adored by other gods, Vishnu also by his fellow Adityas of whom he is the youngest and in accordance with the well-known ‘youngest-smartest’ motif of mythical takes also the greatest Neither of them had however, in the last centuries before and the first centuries after the beginning of our era, ascended to the zenith of his power and dignity.

Leaving Krishna and the other doubles of his personality out of consideration Vishnu plays, in his own name, a less important part in the epics than his rival who-although mention is still, but rarely made of a distinct deity Rudra-is now almost generally known as Siva, notwithstanding, it is true, his ‘doubles’ or partial manifestations continue to be distinguished: ‘To Pasupati, to Siva, to Samkara,. Both of them retain striking features which they possessed already in the Vedic past, but absorb, as supramundane figures, other divine beings. Those who adore the Sun are for instance said actually to worship Siva and Vishnu has now taken over Indra’s task to fight demons and perform heroic deeds. Becoming the typical fighter for the gods it is he who after recovering the amrta from the asuras defeated them with his discus. The idea of avataras- incarnations in order to rehabilitate the world-is in course of development, but his benevolence is rearely in doubt and he essentially remains actively interested in the welfare and prosperity of man and the world. Siva, uncanny, wrathful and incalculable, not rarely terrible, fierce and impetuous, famous fro his preponderantly destructive energy, is still a much feared author of mischief. That certain circles continued to regard him as an outsider standing apart from the other gods may appear from the popular story of Daksa’s sacrifice. But he is an ambivalent god: the early epic recognizes him as an ascetic, rapt in the contemplation of his own unfathomable being who, though performing terrific austerities, is also often willing to grant boons and to confer favours upon his worshippers. His phallic aspect, attesting to his ability for unlimited production, which archaeological finds show us to have existed already in the 1st century B.C., is not unknown to the Mahabharata. IN the Ramayana references to his divine power and greatness are not wanting, but most of these occur in similes referring to his destructive activities in batter, etc.; in any case they do not indicate that he was regarded as supreme. In short Vishnu is, generally speaking, a friend nearer to man, Siva a lord and master, ambivalent and many sided.

The Indians were always inclined to father religious, philosophical or sociological doctrine upon superhuman authorities. IN the great epic it is not only Krshna who himself preaches his religion and soteriology, but also Vishnu who, appearing, atter a sacrifice, in the form of Indra, expounded the dharma of the ksatriyas, resolving the doubts of the kings about the application of the dandaniti. Sivaite parallels are not wanting: Siva is described as promulgating the Pasupata doctrine and the science of dandaniti, the administration of justice.

Part of the events narrated in connection with these gods is to explain epithets or traits of their character and these tales are of special interest because-though as a rule etymologically or historically wrong-they are a welcome source of information on the beliefs and convictions of those who invented and divulged them. Thus Siva is also called Nilakantha because he swallowed the poison kalakuta, or, according to a variant tale explaining the colour of his neck, Sitikantha because Narayana seized him by the throat which became dark. Part of these explanations actually are reinterpretations: thus his name Sthanu-which characterizes him as the motionless one and is often connected with his ascetic performances-is also attributed to his ithyphallic character, and his name Tryambaka to his love for three goddesses, viz the sky, the waters and the earth.

The names and epithets attributed to these two figures are indeed especially instructive. WE may, to begin with, distinguish between those names which are of more orless frequent occurrence and those which are only rarely given to them. As to the former category it strikes us that only a few names of a very general character and applicable to any divine being of rank are given to both figures: Aja ‘the unborn One, i.e., the Eternal; Ananta ‘the infinite One’ the untranslatable Bhagavat;’ Devasrestha ‘the best of the gods’; Isana ‘the Lord’; Yogesvara; Satya, i.e., he who is and acts in conformity with the true and real. To those other names which rae really distinctive belong in the first place some that are old and traditional; Bhava, Pasupati, Rudra, Sankara, Sarva in the case of Siva, Hari, and Vaikuntha in the case of Vishnu, and for the most part these originally belonged to doubles or Teilwesen-heisten of the gods or to manifestations of divine power which in the course of time came to fuse with them. In Siva’s case some pre-epic (originaly adjectival) names reveal to us various aspects of his nature; Ugra ‘the Powerful’; Bhima ‘the Formidable’; hara the Seizer’, but also Midhvas ‘the Bountiful’. Interestingly enough, authorities observe that names such as Brahman, Paramatman and Bhagavan, when applied to Vishnu, do not refer to three persons but to one divine person in different aspects. Other names are indicative of their relations with other gods: thus Vishnu is Indranuja ‘Indira’s younger brother’, Siva Bhutapati ‘the lord of divine and demoniac beings of lower rank’; of their outward appearance: Siva, the ascetic, wears matted locks, braided or tufted hair and is therefore called Jatila, Kapardin, Sikhin; is naked: Digvasas or clad in skins: Krittivasas; he has three eyes: Trayaksa. Vishnu has four arms: Caturbhuja; is lotus-eyed: Padmalocana and from his navel he produces the lotus form which arouse the creator Brahma: Padmanabha The naes may be related to their weapons or attibutes: Siva is armed with the trident or hs peculiar weapon called pinaka, hence his being Sulabhrt, Sulapani, etc., Pinakin, etc. (also Dhanvin ‘the one with the bow’) Vishnu with the discuss: Cakrapani etc. Siva is also, and frequently, Vrsabhadvaja ‘the one with the bow’) Vishnu with the discus: Cakrapani etc. Siva is also, and frequently, Vrsabhadhvaja ‘the one who has a bull on his Nandi’, or Vrsabhavahana ‘the one who has a bull as hi vehicle’, or Nandisvara ‘the master of the bull Nandin’, Vishnu however is only once called Garudadhvaja. Part of their names are connected with their deeds or achievements, thus Siva is the destroyer of Tripura, the triple city of asuras, and hence called Tripuraghna etc., and Vishnu is known as Janardana, because, an epic poet says (bh. 5,68,6), he strikers terror into, the demons, or as the killer of Madhu: Madhuhan Siva is also called after the divine woman with whom he now has entered into a regular alliance: Umapati, Gaurisa, and Vishnu is in his epithets variously associated with Sri. Interestingly enough Vishnu, not Siva is, in the great epic, known as Acintya ‘the Inconceivable’, Anadi ‘the Eternal’, Vibhu ‘the one whose might and sovereignty extend far and pervade all’, a term applied in the Mundaka-Upanishad (1,1,6) to the imperishable source of all existence, the substantive viphuti coming into use for Vishnu’s divine and universal power and dignity and as Achyuta which characterizes him as the Immovable and Unwavering One. Siva is one the other hand often known as the great god or lord: Mahadeva, Mahesvara, and incidentally, Mahaghora, Mahakarman, etc., although epic authors give these names sometimes also to Vishnu Krsna.

A well-known literary and liturgical form of praise, adoration and magnification of a god consists in pronouncing his names and epithets. This is at the same time a device for meditatively identifying oneself with aspects of the god’s nature; Vishnu is even supposed to grant final emancipation to him who mentally recites his names. Shorter or longer enumerations are found already in the Veda. The names may, as in the Vedic Satarudriya hymn, be embedded in prayers, homage and references to the god’s might or consist, like the largely stereotyped sahasranamastotras of Hinduism, of of a sort of general description of the god’s character or of a mere enumeration of names and epithets. In many circles this ‘prayer of names’ came to be one of the most characteristic expressions of devotion, its mental recitation being an excellent protective against evil which however easily degenerated into verbal magic what strikes us in these enumerations of ‘a thousand names’ is that both gods have comparatively small number-about eighty of epithets and surnames in common. Some of these belong to well-known ancient deities who are equated to the tow representatives of the Highest (Vayu, Yama, Dhatar), or are ancient epithets of other exalted beings (Sahasraksa ‘with a thousand eyes’) some are divine titles of a more general character expressing aspects of divinity or superiority (Ananta, Ugra, Bhanu, Bhava, Santa, Srestha, Kala Danda, Dhruva, Guru, Gopati, Guha, Bambhira, Sarva, Sthira, Sthavira, Varada, Bhu, Bhutatman, Marga, Ksobhana, and of course Deva, Prabhu, Isana, Isvara); there is a honorific epithet such as Sumukha ‘fair-faced’ or a philosophical term such as Karana ‘the one who causes’; both gods are sometimes equated with brahman, and elsewhere Vishnu bears the names Rudra, Sarva and Siva, which traditionally belong to his colleague, a point worth investigating in full detail. The other manes, whose which are exclusively given to one god, help us again to understand the ideas fostered by the worshippers and the qualities attributed by them to the object of their adoration. Thus the number of negated nouns assigned in the great epic to Vishnu exceeds that used in connection with Siva; as the privative prefix often serves to emphasize the idea opposite to that expressed by the second member of the compound the former god was obviously believed to be firm and reliable (Acala ‘immovable’), happy and one who causes happiness (Asoka ‘free from sorrow’ and so a resort for those who are unhappy), humble and modest (Amanin). Other names do not fail to inspire trust and confidence: he is a physician (Bhisaj), and medicine (Bhesaja).

Thus it is not surprising that Asvatthaman in order to obtain Siva’s aid in entering the camp of the enemy does not find difficulty in combiing, in his prayer, a series of typically Sivaite names and epithets with a selected variety of appropriate references to the god’s readiness to grant boons, to his protective and destructive power and irresistibility as well as to his ability to assume any forms – the god will indeed manifest himself – and his being the chief of large hosts of minor deities who in fact are not long in appearing. Yudhistira, on the other hand, whilst extolling in a hymn of adoration Vishnu – Drshna as the author ofhis success, the recovery of his kingdom-which he ascribes to the god’s grace, prudence and force, intelligence and pervasive energy-addresses him not only appositely as ‘destroyer of enemies’ or Jisnu ‘the victorious one’, but also as Purusa, the True-and-Real (Satya), the universal sovereign (Vibhu Samraj), and he does not forget to add a considerable number of the god’s traditional epithets and to identify him with powerful deities and important concepts with whom he, the origin and dissolution of the universe, in the course of time has become intimately allied.

We must confine ourselves to these instances and to the remark that this nomenclature could suggest the headings under which to arrange the data relative to the god’s nature and deeds. Not only the epics but, to mention only thse, also have the works of the great classical authors admitted of the conclusion that the names and attributes which are preferentially assigned to these gods bring out the main aspects of their powerful and venerable character. The great diversity of names and epithets was a welcome means of throwing light, in a particular context, on someone or other side of a god’s activity or of voicing the feelings or conceptions of the authors with regards to his character. The preference of particular Saiva or Vaishnava schools or communities for one of the man names of their god for instance, of the Pasupati-Saivas for Pasupati, reinterpreted as ‘Lord of the (cattle-lie) souls’, and of many Vaishnavas for Hari,-is as illustrative of important trends of Indian religious life as the aversion of, for instance, exclusive Vaisnavas to using the most representative name, Siva, of their God’s rival.

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