Category Archives: B. Vedic Religion and the Sanskrit Language

The Katha Upanisad

            The origin of the Katha Upanisad is disputed. Scholars are undecided whether this Upanisad is associated with the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda or the Atharva-Veda. There is however, a story of Nichiketa (the protagonist of the Katha Upanisad) in the Brahamana of the Taittiriya Yajur-Veda, so it may be likely that the Upanisad is from the Yajur-Veda, but we do not really know(Nikhilananda 67). The Upanisad is composed in two chapters or adhyaya, each made up of three sections or vallis. It is disputed whether the first adhyaya was written well before the second, therefore negating the necessity of the second. The dispute is due to literary variances, such as metre, grammar, language, and thought (Muller, introduction xxiii). Muller goes on to say that “we know so little of the time and the circumstances when these half-prose and half-metrical Upanisads were first put together, that I should hesitate before expunging even the most modern-sounding lines from the original context of these Vedantic essays.” (Muller introduction xxiv).

            The first valli of the Upanisad tells the story of a rsi named Vajasravasa who performs a sacrifice wherein he must sacrifice all of his possessions. His son, Nichiketa, points out that as he also is property of his father he too must be sacrificed. Vajasravasa becomes angry with Nichiketa, and perhaps out of fear of losing his son, he hesitates. Nichiketa has to prompt his father three times before Vajasravasa, in order to stay true to his word and complete the ritual fully, angrily declares he will sacrifice his son to Yama, the god of death. Nichiketa travels to the abode of Yama and after three days of solitude, Yama arrives. As compensation for his waiting, Yama offers Nichiketa three wishes. The first wish is to appease his father’s anger and to return joyfully to him, the second is lifelong morality (that he can live the rest of his life morally upright) (Deussen 270), and the third is to know if there is a part of the body (Atman) that is immortal and lives after death (Nikhilananda 68). The first wish is granted easily, Yama says Vajasravasa will sleep peacefully and be free from anger (Muller 4). Yama fulfills the second wish by teaching Nichiketa a fire sacrifice and then naming the sacrifice after the boy. It is said in verse 17 of the first valli, that when one learns this sacrifice and learns “all that is born of Brahman, which is venerable and divine, then he obtains everlasting peace.” (Muller 5). For the final wish, Nichiketa has to implore Yama who admits that even the gods have doubts about death. Yama tries to entice his guest to choose wealth, prosperity, women, land or the whole earth rather than ask about death. Nichiketa persists, stating that no amount of worldly possessions compare to knowing about the eternal soul. As the god of death, Yama knows that if Nichiketa achieves liberation (moksha) he will be out of his reach, whereas if Nichiketa succumbs to the temptations, he would die and be trapped by Yama (Kath. Up. II.6).

            This is where the second valli starts, and Yama begins his teaching. He starts by differentiating between what is good and what is pleasant. Wise men pursue what is good, fools pursue what is pleasant. Evidently Nichiketa is a wise man for pursuing what is good and dismissing what is pleasant when offered. It turns out, Yama is pleased to have such a wise guest enquiring of him (Chakravarti 97). Yama articulates the existence of Atman in this single verse:

“He (the Atman), difficult to be seen, full of mystery, the ancient primeval one lying concealed deep in the cavern,- He who, with self surrender or devotion, comprehends that Atman in one’s own innermost self as God, leaves behind (goes beyond) joy and sorrow” (Deussen 283).

Atman or The Self is described as invisible and small. It is hard to obtain if taught by an “inferior man” (Muller 9). Since Nichiketa is being taught by Yama, the god of death, he is fortunate to have a skilled teacher and he successfully acquires this knowledge. The concept of ‘Om’ is then introduced by Yama. Described as meaning Brahman, and “[anyone] who knows that syllable, whatever he desires, is his.” (Muller 10). Atman is described according to its own essential nature (Deussen 272). It is eternal, uncreated, incorruptible, and immortal. One cannot attain it through the Veda, nor understanding, nor through learning. One must be chosen by the eternal Self in order to gain the eternal Self (Muller 11). There is a call to morality at the end of this valli. Yama states that in order to obtain the Self, one must turn from his wickedness, one must be tranquil, and subdued. Otherwise one cannot receive the Self even by knowledge. Action precedes reception.

            The third valli emphasizes Atman in the physical body and returning out of it (Deussen 272). In verse 3 Atman is described as a rider in a chariot, the body as the chariot itself, and the senses as the horses of the chariot. The union of these three elements forms one into an ‘enjoyer’ (Deussen 287). Because this may take place inside of an individual (as stated in valli II, one must be chosen by the Self) this has ethical implications for that individual. One must be wise and use his intelligence properly, and if he fails to do so, he will remain trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth, (samsara). But if one is wise, and self-controlled, he will “reach the end of his journey,  and that is the highest place of Visnu” (Muller 13). Yama then describes Purusa as the highest goal; there is nothing beyond him, he is the final goal (Deussen 288). All beings are indwelt with Atman, which is concealed from view, and can only be obtained by the upright. Yama then dismisses Nichiketa to pursue this highest goal. It is a difficult path that he must depart on but to get to the end “he becomes full of glory in the world of Brahman” (Deussen 290).

            Atman as the subject of knowledge is the focus of the fourth valli. It denies that there are differences between beings,  asserting that everything is part of Atman. Verse 10 states: “he who sees any difference here (between Brahman and the world), goes from death to death” (Muller 16). This denial of plurality must be central to achieving Atman, otherwise one will not escape samsara. Atman exists whether one is awake or asleep, it is great and all pervading, even the gods are connected to Atman. One who knows Purusa will not feel alarmed at anything, as rain falls down on a mountain and scatters down all sides, so does a man who does not know Purusa. However, pure water poured into pure water remains pure (Deussen 293). Again, asserting that one must be in a sense, righteous before one can understand or attain Atman.

            The fifth valli continues to expound on the omnipresence of Atman.

“He (Brahman) is the swan (sun), dwelling in the bright heaven;he is the Vasu (air), dwelling in the sky; he is the sacrificer (fire), dwelling on the hearth; he is the guest (Soma), dwelling in the sacrificial jar; he dwells in men, in gods (vara), in the sacrifice (rita), in heaven; he is born in the water, on earth, in the sacrifice (rita), on the mountains; he is the True and the Great” (Muller 18).

This verse references the Rgveda 4.40.5, it is almost a direct quote, the original meaning of which was unknown, it is here applied to Atman (Deussen 293). Atman is described as the essence of life, even more important than the breaths humans take every second of every day (Kath. Up. V.5). After death, one’s fate is determined by his actions and knowledge. He may return as another human, or he may “migrate into plants” (Deussen 294). However, the presence of Atman is independent of one’s actions. Atman is always working, even if one does not know they possess Atman. Yama uses three similes to illustrate the omnipresence of Atman, and show that despite being present in all creatures, Atman also exists independently from all creatures. It is as light penetrates all space and clings to all the forms in that space. Or as air is all around us, and also within us, and as the sun exists, it is free from imperfections, so too is Atman. In the transcendent place where Atman dwells, nothing shines. Not the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars. “He alone shines; all else takes its splendour from him, the whole world shines by his splendour” (Deussen 296).

            The banyan tree is a famous tree that looks as though its roots are growing upwards into the sky, and its branches downwards into the Earth. This is the way that Yama describes Brahman in the sixth and final valli, as a transcendent tree that reaches its branches down from the transcendent place to this world, and into all beings (Deussen 296). Yama goes on to talk about fear of prana (vital breath), which has been interpreted as analogous to ‘fear of God’ in Christianity. However that is not entirely accurate, as ‘fear of God’ is a fear of the divine that exists outside of oneself, whereas prana exists in all objects, animate and inanimate. To fear Brahaman within oneself is to fear the only thing. Yama is saying that those who fear the manifestations of Brahman; wind, water, fire, the sun, and even death are those that are unaware of the existence of Brahman and will remain trapped in the endless cycle of rebirth. (Deussen 296-297).Yama then emphasizes again how Brahaman cannot be sensed, but only attained through devotion or yoga. The valli ends with an assertion that one who achieves unity with Brahman will gain immortality. After one has relinquished all desires and fears, then he becomes liberated, then he becomes part of the one. It is asserted that the remaining 3 verses in the Katha Upanisad are there as an appendix(Whitney 111). After his time spent with the god of death, Nichiketa departs, having been enlightened, obtaining Brahman, and likewise “another who is thus knowing as to the self” (Whitney 112). Yama concludes the final verse with a request for the two of them to continue to be united with Brahman. As he said previously, even the gods are part of Brahman, and now that Nichiketa is as well, and the boy is free from death, perhaps the god now sees them as equals when he says “let us not be at odds” (Whitney 112).

Bibliography and Further Recommended Reading

Deussen, Paul (1980) Sixty Upanishads of the Vedas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Chakravarti, Sures Chandra (1979) The Philosophy of the Upanishads. Delhi: NAG Publishers.

Muller, F. Max (1975) The Upanishads. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

(1963) The Upanishads. Translated by Swami Nikhilananda. New York: Harper & Row publishers.

Whitney, W. D. (1890) “Translation of the Katha Upanishad.” Transactions of the American Philological Association Vol. 21 88-112

Related Topics for Further Investigation










Taittiriya Upanisad



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Graham Jantz (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.


Divine Artificer, Visvakarman

Visvakarman is a rather enigmatic Hindu deva. His role in Hinduism has changed greatly over the millennia he has been worshipped. In the Vedic context, Visvakarman is said to be “the maker of the universe” (Narayan & George 478). However, in more contemporary iterations, he is more of a “divine architect” responsible for only certain types of worldly creation since before the dawn of time (Narayan 111). Sometimes he is compared to the Roman god of fire and smithery, Vulcan (or Hephaestus, as he is known in his Greek variant). His place in modern Hinduism is as the patron of craftsmanship and artisanship, and the patriarch of tools and machinery (Mukharji 31). Though there was some prior interest in Visvakarman, it is truly thanks to the historian Dipesh Chakrabarty that scholarly attention was drawn to the significance of the artificer deva (Mukharji 31, Narayan and George 487).

Visvakarman has two well-known iconographic depictions: one, the most common, is mostly found in northern and western regions of India, and the other more so in the east (Narayan and George 479-480). The northern regions depict him as an old man with long white hair and a matching beard. He has four arms in which he holds various tools—a measuring stick, a plumb bob, a water pot, and a treatise on building (Narayan and George 479). He is often shown surrounded by his five sons, and his mount is a white swan. A halo of simple tools, such as hammers and chisels, encircle his head (Narayan 111-112). The eastern depictions show a much younger looking deva, with short, curly, black hair, and only a moustache on his face. In these he typically has an elephant as his mount. The tools he holds in his hands are far less standardized in this iteration, ranging from an axe, a hammer, occasionally even a kite or a bow and arrow. The halo above his head shows more complex mechanical devices rather than simple tools (Narayan and George 480). While the majority of Hindu devas hold weapons in their hands, Visvakarman is always shown holding tools instead. This directly relates to his role as a divine artificer. In fact, all of the weapons that the other devas are known for (i.e. Indra’s vajra, Siva’s trisula, etc.) were said to have been created by Visvakarman (Narayan 112).

Visvakarman is a much different deva in the Vedas than he is nowadays. In the Rg Veda, the deva that we now know as Visvakarman is more associated with the name Tvastr (“the fashioner”) (Narayan 112). Tvastr is given very minimal physical description, with only his arms and hands being talked about with any semblance of clarity, but his actions and purpose are very much in line with our contemporary Visvakarman (MacDonell 116). The name Visvakarman does, however, appear in the Rg Veda, though rather uncommonly. It is used as the name of the creator deva, along with the name Prajapati. This is especially so in the Brahmanas. His Vedic depictions describe him in a very similar way to the more modern creator god, Brahma: having a face on every side, four arms, and wings. The fact that both Brahma and Visvakarman have a white swan for a mount also suggests a historical connection. As a word, Visvakarman seems to have been an adjective for other devas, such as Indra or the Sun, emphasizing their creative ability. It was not until post-Vedic times that Visvakarman became a god in his own right, seemingly taking the place of Tvastr, similar to the way Brahma took the place of Prajapati (MacDonell 118).

Like any Hindu deva, there are a plethora of legends and myths surrounding Visvakarman. He has five sons, each of which are forefathers of specialist craftsperson castes: “carpenters, stonemasons, goldsmiths, copper or mixed metal smiths, and blacksmiths” (Narayan 112). He is also said to have a daughter named Saranyu, who marries the Sun. Together, Saranyu and the Sun give birth to three sons: Yama, Yami, and Manu. Saranyu realizes that the Sun is too bright to be around, so she creates a perfect duplicate shadow-version of herself, who then bears three more children with the Sun: Shani, Tapati, and a second named Manu. When the Sun realizes that this Saranyu is a shadow, he asks that Visvakarman shave off his excess brightness so that the real Saranyu can bear to be in his presence. Visvakarman does so, and uses the excess brightness taken from the Sun to create weapons for all of his fellow devas. Upon the reunion of Saranyu and her newly dimmed husband, they produce three more children: Revanta, and the twins known as the Asvins. In certain western parts of India, Visvakarman’s daughter is more associated with the double-goddess Randal Ma (Narayan 119).

Many groups of Hindu craftsmen claim direct lineage to Visvakarman, despite being of entirely different castes. They all consider themselves “Sons of [Visvakarman]” (Narayan 119). Craftsmen view their ability to create as a gift revealed to them by Visvakarman rather than a skill that has been perfected over many ages (Ramaswamy 549). The influence that Visvakarman has over the tools used by his descendents is somewhat vague, though it is generally understood that he is physically tied to them (Mukharji 36-37). There are many different kinds of craftsmen that claim lineage to Visvakarman, including: architects (sthapati), masons (kal tachchan), blacksmiths (kollan), carpenters (achchan), etc. (Ramaswamy 567). Interestingly, many groups of Visvakarman’s craftsmen use an image of the Hindu deva Hanuman, who played an integral role in the Ramayana, as a banner. It is said that Visvakarman accompanied the army of Rama to the kingdom of Lanka, which Hanuman had earlier burned down. Visvakarman helped rebuild the kingdom after Rama was victorious (Ramaswamy 565).

The direct worship of Visvakarman as a deva seems to be a rather recent development. For a long time—and still to this day in most cases—worship of Visvakarman is done as worship of the tools themselves. The common belief is that Visvakarman’s creative will is manifested through the actions of the workers who use his tools in their everyday lives (Narayan and George 479). The tool is more than just a man-made implement; it is a gift from Visvakarman, his own creation, and it is revered as such. Visvakarman’s sons are held in high devotional regard as the founding fathers of the craftsmen communities. There are also instances of groups who worship Visvakarman’s daughter, either as Saranyu or Randal Ma (Narayan 119).

The biggest Hindu celebration in honour of Visvakarman is the Visvakarman Puja. Celebrated on the 17th of September every year, it is a rather unusual Hindu celebration, as it falls on a day of the solar calendar as opposed to the more commonly used lunar calendar (Melton 908). The use of a specific date for such a celebration has caused some controversy, as many pujas are meant as a sort of birthday celebration for the deva that is being honoured. In the case of Visvakarman, however, many believe he has no birthday. Having played a key role in the creation of the world, he is said to have existed before there were such things as days. Most Hindu practitioners have no problem with this, simply desiring a day in honour of the divine architect. A response to the controversy has been the conception of another devotional day, Rsi Panchami Dinam (“The Day of the Five Rsis”). The five rsis in question are the five sons of Visvakarman (Melton 908). The celebration of either of these days is generally done by the craftsperson community—those that owe their livelihoods to Visvakarman. Because Visvakarman has few temples dedicated to him, common practice is to hold the celebration at the workplace in the presence of one’s tools (Melton 908).

Although his history is vague and detailed by several differing accounts, Visvakarman is nonetheless a highly regarded deva with an intricate mythology and a devout following. All Hindu devas have gone through revisional instances—such is the nature of being a part of an ancient tradition—but this does nothing to disenfranchise the reverence of his followers. We can see the different depictions that Visvakarman has gone through historically, as well as the different iterations that exist to this very day. We can come to understand him through anecdote and legend, as well as the role his children and grandchildren took. We can study his place in the lives of his devotees, and how they show reverence and respect for the one they call their divine patriarch. There is no simple one-way street to approaching something as complex as a Hindu deva, and Visvakarman is no exemption from this rule. But whether he has one head or five, white hair or black, a swan or an elephant, he is dearly beloved by those who wield the tool.











References and Further Recommended Reading

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1995) Vedic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

Pvt. Ltd.

Melton, J. Gordon (2011) Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays, Festivals,

Solemn Observances, and Spiritual Commemorations, Volume 1. Santa Barbara:


Mukharji, Projit Bihari (2018) “Occulted Materialities.” History and Technology 34:1, 31-40.

Accessed October 3, 2018. doi:10.1080/07341512.2018.1516851

Narayan, Kirin (2014) “Narrative Creating Process.” Narrative Culture 1:1, 109-123.

Accessed October 2, 2018. doi:10.13110/narrcult.1.1.0109

Narayan, Kirin and George, Kenneth M. (2017) “Tools and world-making in the worship of

Vishwakarma.” South Asian History and Culture 8:4, 478-492. Accessed October 2,

  1. doi:10.1080/19472498.2017.1371506

Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2004) “Vishwakarma Craftsmen in Early Medieval Peninsular India.”

Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 47:4, 548-582. Accessed

October 15, 2018. doi: 10.1163/1568520042467154

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Dipesh Chakrabarty

Sons of Visvakarman

Saranyu/Randal Ma









kal tachchan 





Visvakarman Puja

Rsi Panchami Dinam


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This article was written by: Chase Arsenault (October 2018), who is entirely responsible for its content.



Aditi and the Adityas

Though Aditi has many definitions, synonyms and interpretations, the most common and general understanding is that Aditi is the mother of all the Hindu Gods (Wangu 33). Some common terms used to translate this Sanskrit term are boundlessness (Wangu 33), freedom (Wangu 33), innocence (Brereton 5), heaven, or the universe (Brereton 4). Aditi may also be interpreted as the mother of the Adityas, as the guardian of rta, or “social order” (Bose 18); the source of past, present, future, of all things that ever have, or will be born; as well as the entrance and exit of the original source (Wangu 33). It has also been thought that the goddess Aditi is merely a personification of the concept of aditi; a notion that lacks a specific definition itself (Brereton 4). While having a variety of interpretations, Aditi, alongside her sister Diti, presents the divide between good and evil. Her legend also indicates a turning point in Hinduism towards a more patriarchal design.

Many scholars have attempted to narrow the definition through speculation about the Vedas and its implementation of the phrases Aditi and Adityas. The use of Aditya throughout the Rg and Artharva Vedas has assisted scholars in specifying what the concept of aditi is referring to. The common interpretation of the Adityas is found through the study of Sanskrit grammar, in that when a derivation of a term ends in –ya– that it is expressing the presence of a metonymic relationship (Brereton 324). However, the term Adityas is not used consistently, and is at times replaced with Aditeya, which is a more common way of expressing a metonymic relationship (Brereton 324). This may be because the term Aditya was insufficient to suggest a relationship of familial ties but rather was implemented to show the relationship between a noun and an adjective, as is also common with Sanskrit terms of this style (Brereton 324).

Whether a representation of the concept or an actual son of the Goddess, the interpretation of Aditya is contingent upon the interpretation of Aditi (Brereton 4). An Aditya may be a son of innocence, upholding it and the “principles of ethical purity” (Brereton 22). Mitra, Varuna and Aryaman are excellent examples for how the Adityas uphold innocence as they personify the principles of justice through contract, commandment and custom, respectively. (Brereton 184). Being a son of freedom, it has been speculated that they do not make freedom but are themselves “free” in the sense that they are free from the bounds of human existence (Brereton 9). This definition is appropriate for eternally sovereign gods such as Mitra and Varuna. A son of heaven may apply to any god; however, a son of the universe may apply to either a triad or heptad; based on different understandings on how the universe is divided: whether into two sections – heaven and earth -or into three – heaven, earth and atmosphere (Brereton 4).

Many theorists have speculated on the notion that the term Adityas could be referring to only a specific group of gods, or that it may allude to any god who personifies the concept Aditi represents (Brereton 9). ‘Adityas’ has referred to a group of seven, a pair, a triad, but also innumerable number of gods, and none of which are suggested as all-inclusive list (Brereton 13). One speculator came to a reasonable conclusion that the term Adityas mainly refers to the triad of Mitra, Varuna, Aryaman (Brereton 12). This does not mean that each of them are synonymous with the term; but that they may be interchanged when they resemble inherent characteristics of Aditi (Brereton 21). Adityas are, essentially, personifications of the principles that govern the social order (Brereton 20) and the term is applied to those who adopt the personification (Brereton 320).

While the Rg and Atharva Vedas are the main source for hymns and insight into Aditi, the Bhagavata Purana has vital information pertaining to Aditi, her sons, and the moral order. Svayambhuva, the son or creation of Brahma, married off his 3rd daughter, Prasuti, to Daksha. Together they had 13 daughters, one of which was Aditi, all of which married Kasyapa (Bhagavata Purana FTR 70). These 13 daughters, or wives, are thought to be the primary beings from which all living species descended (Bhagavata Purana 1356). Aditi and Kasyapa bore their first son, Indra, who became Lord of the Vedas. Diti, one of Aditi’s sisters, was jealous of the superior son that Aditi had created. Diti, unlike Aditi, was a slave to her sexual passion. She wanted a more powerful son and demanded it of Kasyapa; forcing herself on him during his meditation (Bhagavata Purana 473). Due to Aditi’s virtuous nature she produced devas, or heavenly, divine beings, also known as Adityas, who were ruled by sattva (Bhagavata Purana FTR 70). However, Diti’s defiling of holiness lead Kasyapa to declare that she would give birth to two Asuras, who will be ruled by the passion of rajas, cause suffering to the innocent and be killed by the “Supreme Personality” in anger (Bhagavata Purana 475).  When Diti’s first two sons were killed she again demanded of Kasyapa another child. Once again pregnant, Diti laid asleep while Indra cut the fetus into 49 pieces, which resulted in 49 sons known as the Maruts. Over time the Maruts opted to serve Indra as his soldiers. Through these events Aditi and Diti have created the divide between the good and evil of all creation (Bhagavata Purana FTR 55).

When Aditi is visited by a presence in the form of the Supreme Lord, she is shocked and begins praising him. He speaks to her about her sons and how he wishes to help her as he is pleased with her virtue (Bhagavata Purana 1873). She is told she will bear The Supreme Lord as a son but is advised not to tell anyone. Pleased with the news she is given, Aditi went to her husband filled with devotion. Kasyapa, entranced in his yoga practice, envisioned that the Lord had injected a part of Himself in Kasyapa. With just his mind he was able to penetrate Aditi with his sperm, possibly due to the chaste restraints he had practiced for so long (Bhagavata Purana 1874). Lord Brahma began to pray over the pregnancy, knowing that Aditi’s womb carried the Supreme Lord (Bhagavata Purana 1875). Visnu manifested himself as Vamana, the brahmacari dwarf incarnation (Bhagavata Purana 1877), and at that moment all was filled with happiness. “The Beauty of the Liberated Souls was thereupon with words of welcome worshiped by Bali Mahārāja who honored Him by washing His feet” (Bhagavata Purana 1883). As the water used to wash His feet washes away the sin of the world (Bhagavata Purana 1883).

Throughout many of the texts related to Aditi and other goddesses, scholars have commented on the presence and importance of females throughout the Hindu tradition. As discussed in Women in the Hindu Tradition, the highest respect one can pay to a woman is to regard her as a devi (Bose 13). Just below the status of devi is to refer to a woman as “mother.” However, in the context of common human interactions, the word devi is essentially written off and inapplicable; making this highly regarded status unattainable for women. This has been viewed as a form of marginalization of women in Hindu society (Bose 13). Also, a goddess is almost always referred to by their relations with male figures; being reduced to merely a sister, wife, or a daughter, having her whole identity depend on her relationships with men (Bose 14). The attitude towards females in the Rg Veda differs from that of later texts. In the first book of the Vedas it was not customary for a woman to have a male counterpart, this is made evident by Aditi’s lack of consort in early texts (Bose 18).

Some scholars have analyzed the patriarchy within Hinduism and its effects on the representation of goddesses. Chitgopekar claims that patriarchy tends to subordinate female deities to ‘superior’ male gods (Chitgopekar 77). This analysis relates to the phenomenon of how Aditi can be the mother of multiple highly regarded gods, and yet she was only regarded in the first few texts of Hindu scripture before her acknowledgement began to deteriorate. This likely occurred as Aditi’s popularity was surpassed by the recognition of Prajapati, the male creator deity (Foulston 6). Chitgopekar also recognized the way in which the patriarchy affected the image of devis, especially through the way in which Aditi’s representation changes. In the Rg Veda she is the boundless, mother of all things, however in further readings she is referred to as subordinate to her husband, Kasyapa and her father Daksa, even though she is also the mother of Daksa. He also notes that if devis make it to further texts, they are never representative of the whole society, they are merely representations of the values and functions imposed on women. She is continued to be upheld as the mother of gods, however, her functional aspects are deserted, and she is treated as a minor deity with minor influence (Chitgopekar 77).  The structures that relate to the female goddess will likely contribute to shaping the cultural view of female gender, the behavior and attitude towards women in Hindu society as well as the allocation of gender roles.










Berkson, Carmel (1995) The Divine and Demoniac. New York: Oxford University Press.

Bose, Mandakranta (2010) Women in the Hindu Tradition. New York: Routledge.

Brereton, Joel (1975) Aditi and the Adityas in the Rig- and Artharva- Vedas. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International.

Chitgopekar, Nilima (2002) Invoking Goddesses. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications Ltd.

Foulston, Lynn (2002) At the Feet of the Goddess. Portland: Sussex Academic Press.

Wangu, Madhu Bazaz (2003) Images of Indian Goddesses. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Vyâsadeva, K. D. (2018, Aug 10). Śrimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana). October 20, 2018

Vyâsadeva, K. D. (2014, Feb 01). The Bhagavata Purana For the First Time Reader. October 20, 2018

Related Readings:

Vesci, Uma Marina (1992) Heat and Sacrifice in The Vedas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Hawley, John (1996) Devi Goddesses of India. Los Angeles: University of California Press Ltd.

Related Topics:






















Related Websites:


Article written Angelina Carbage (Fall 2018) who is entirely responsible for its contents.

Veda Vyasa, The Great Indian Sage

Vyasa was a central and admired figure of the Hindu Tradition. He was a famous Rsi in the longest epic (Rodrigues 177), The Mahabharata, and was also credited for the Epic (Rodrigues, 145).

Vyasa’s Birth and Family

According to the mythic sources, Vyasa was the son of Satyavati, the Daughter of a fisherman and Parashara who was a wandering sage. Satyavati used to row boats for passengers from one end of the shore to another. That was where Parashara and Satyavati met. Since Satyavati was the daughter of a fisherman, she smelled of fish hence Parashara gave her a boon that she would never smell like she had been around fishes ever again, she then gave birth to Krishna Dvaipayana on the shore of River Yamuna. At birth, he was given the name Krishna Dvaipayana (Ramesh 1-2). The name Krishna Dvaipayana came from his dark complexion meaning Krishna and Dvaipayana-came from the place he was born. He was born on the shore of Yamuna (which is a river in India) Dvipa (meaning island). He was married to the daughter of Rsi Jabali, named Vaachika. After marriage, he entered the stage of Grahasthashram and then fathered a son named Shuka.

Vyasa’s Achievements

According to legends, Veda Vyasa was the type of character that always had full loyalty and faith for the Vedas meaning he had Veda Niṣṭha. We know that he had full faith on the Vedas since at a very young age he had mastered Vedas as well as the Sastras, literature, mythology, history and other branches of knowledge. Another meaning of Nistha is steadiness, we see that he had steadiness in his life, he was always successful in what he wanted to do, we don’t see many obstacles coming in the way of his success in his lifetime. Later, then went on to Badarikashrama to perform ‘tapas’ meaning meditation. According to Vyasa, the Veda was not stabilized, since there was only one Veda, they weren’t separate at the time, it was hard for people to understand it due to which not many people would be able to read them. This caused the essence of the Veda to go down in society therefore the Veda was not stable. Vyasa wanted to restore Vedic Saahitya (literature) by doing the punar uddhar (revival) of the Vedas. To stabilize the Vedas, he decided to divide the Vedas into four sections. The Vedas were divided in such a way that all the hymns were grouped based on their requirements in the sacrificial rites. Each of the four Vedas were given to four different Rsis. Vyasa taught these four Vedas to his four disciples. Rg Veda was given to Paila Rsi, Atharva Veda was given to Sumanthu Rsi, Sama Veda was given to Jaimini Rsi and lastly Yajur Veda was given to Vaishampayana Rsi. As the Vedas were divided, the respective Rsis taught their part of the Vedas to their disciples who then passed down the knowledge to the society, and restoring the values and information of the Vedas among the society. It was easier to pass on the knowledge of the Vedas now since they were all divided (Sullivan 11-15). Two events took place after Vyasa had divided the Vedas. First was when he got the name Veda Vyasa; until then he was known as Krishna Dvaipayana. Second even was when Vyasa decided to write the Puranas. The Puranas were a way to spread the thoughts of the Vedas in the form of stories to the general people. Puranas contain stories about the Vedas for easier understanding, since the Vedas are too complex to understand by general people. There is a total of 18 Puranas, Vyasa did Sansodhana (research) and Adhyayana (study) in detail to achieve his goal. It takes such immense knowledge for a person to achieve so many achievements in life, like writing such great Epics that are still known till date. After writing the Puranas, he started writing the Brahma Sutra. The Brahma Sutra consists of four chapters, 16 Padas, and 555 Sutras. The Brahma Sutras are part of the Vedantas, which include Sankara’s Radical Non-dualism, Ramanujan’s Qualified Non-Dualism and Madhava’s dualism (Rodrigues 155-159).

It is said that Vyasa first composed the entire story of The Mahabharata in his head for years, after which he was encouraged by Lord Brahma that Vyasa should now write the story (Rodrigues 2016, 177). Vyasa asks Ganesha to aid him in writing the text, but Ganesha imposed a condition that he would do so only if Vyasa narrated the story without pause. Vyasa replied with a counter-condition, that Ganesha must understand the verse before he wrote it. Thus, Vyasa narrated the entire Mahabharata and all the Upanishads and the 18 Puranas, while Lord Ganesha wrote. At one point while writing, Ganesa ran out of ink, therefore he broke one of his tusk and continued writing The Mahabharata (Rodrigues 224). He had also composed the Great Bharata, which tells the story of Janamejaya’s, Pariksit’s son and Arjuna’s grandson. The book talked about Janamejaya’s ancestors, the descendants of King Bharata (Rodrigues 182).

What is The Mahabharata about?

The reason that The Mahabharata is a great epic is that it enlightens the 5 main aspects of human life, namely: psychology, sociology, economics, politics and philosophy. It also offers a vision on the four goals of life: Righteousness (Dharma), Wealth (Artha), Enjoyment (Kama) and Salvation (Moksa) (Ramesh 1). Vyasas way of representing these qualities to the society was through the characters of the Epic. The Mahabharata has characters such as Bhiṣma, Krṣṇa, Draupadi, The Paṇḍava and The Kaurava. Rsi Vyasa’s characters are said to be Padachyuta and Dhyeyachyuta. This means that none of them lost their focus from their goals. If we look at The Paṇḍava’s, their goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura with the help of Dharma in place, whereas The Kaurava’s goal was to keep the kingdom of Hastinapura using Adharma. Even if all these characters were on opposite sides, they all stuck to their goals, no matter the situation and stayed focused on that goal. These characters teach us that we should stay focused to achieve our goal. They are the types of characters that even if death was headed their way, they stay focused and loyal to their beliefs. An example can be Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna). During the big Kuruketra war, there was a point that the Kauravas were planning an evil game to hurt the Paṇḍava’s, but despite no proper knowledge of how to escape the trap known as the ‘Chakra-Vyooha’ (Chaturvedi 5-6) which the Kauravas had set, he went into that trap and fought against all the evil until his last breath. He knew he was not coming out alive, before going in, but he still went in and fought for Dharma. All these characters make us feel like we can achieve something in life if we stay focused. They also show us the true meaning of Tyaga (sacrifice). The characters that were on the side of Dharma made many sacrifices to do the establishment of Dharma, no matter what the situation. These are the types of character that Vyasa gave us and through them we can learn many lessons in life. There is something to learn from every character despite them being evil or good and Dharmic (Righteous) or Adharmic (Non-Righteous), all characters were able to keep their goals through the Epic, this shows us their loyalty towards their goals and that they can go to any level to stay focused on their goals.

Vyasa’s involvement in Politics

In Ancient Indian Culture Legislation was in the hands of Rsi, and the execution was with the king. There are some examples from Vyasa’s life where we can see how he was related to politics.

One example was about the almost extinct Hastinapura kingdom. Satyavati (Vyasa’s mother) had two other sons Chitrangada and Vichitravirya. Vichitravirya was married to Ambika (had a maid named Parishrama) and Ambalika. Vichitravirya dies leaving the kingdom of Hastinapura without a heir. This was when Vyasa was called by Satyavati because at that time, if anyone other than the Rsi wife had a child with a Rsi, it was considered big. Vyasa decided to surrogately father the heirs of Hastinapura (Rodrigues 177). Vyasa visits the three queens of Vichitravirya. Since he was a Rsi, he had a beard, long hair with a bun on top. He was there to grant the three queens a boon so they can have children, and the boon was dependent on how the queens react when they see Vyasa. When the first queen Ambika saw Vyasa, she closed her eyes, which meant that her son was going to be born blind who came to be known as Dhritarastra, father of the Kauravas. Then, when the second queen Ambalika saw Vyasa, she got sick meaning her son would stay unfit for life; her son was Pandu, father of the Pandavas (Rodrigues 177). Since the two queens were not able to give birth to kids that will be very suitable for the throne, due to their disabilities, he decided to give a boon to Ambika’s maid as well. When Parishrama (the maid of Ambika) saw Vyasa, she didn’t react in a bad way, she was herself and gave birth to a son, Vidura, who was normal and was brilliant. However, he would never be considered to rule the throne since he was the son of a maid. This was the political step taken by Vyasa to save a dynasty from becoming extinct (Ramesh 3). With no descendant, there will be no king therefore Satyavati called Vyasa, even though he was a Rsi. Vidura, despite being a maid’s son, was honest and was against injustice. Therefore, according to Vyasa’s ‘political move’, Vidura was one of the ministers in the kingdom so he can give honest advice to the king. This shows his involvement in politics and since the legislation was in the hand of Vyasa he was authorized to punish the king, if king made any mistakes.

Another story about his involvement in politics was that when the Paṇḍava’s had grown up, he sent them to Drupada’s kingdom, where the swayamwara of Draupadi was going on (Rodrigues 179). His intention was that the Pandavas should have a wife like Draupadi who would be a great strength for the Paṇḍavas. He always wanted a powerful woman like Draupadi behind the Paṇḍavas, because she was the type of person who could stand up against injustice, as well as she was the daughter of the Agni. Draupadi was said to be the daughter of Lord Agni, since she came out of the fire pit. After Arjuna had won Draupadi in the swayamwara, Vyasa’s wanted Draupadi to be the wife of all five Paṇḍava’s, not just Arjuna’s wife. At a time when The Mahabharata took place, people thought what a female could not have more than one husband. But once Vyasa made the decision that Draupadi will have five husbands, no one had the audacity to say anything against Vyasa. He also wanted to keep all the brothers together, and so his strategy to make Draupadi the wife of the Pandavas was so that there will be no rift between them in the future. This incident shows us that Vyasa was given great respect from the people of the villages that they did not say anything about what he had done. Their culture did not allow such a practice, but their trust in Vyasa was so deep that they did not utter a word against him. This incident also shows Vyasa’s vision in favor of Dharma and the Pandavas, because if Draupadi was married to Pandavas her father kingdom will support Pandavas in the final battle for Dharma. Thus, by sending the Pandavas to the swayamwara, he had already played his ‘political move’ for the betterment of the Hastinapura kingdom, and the fact that he made Draupadi the wife of all the Pandavas would bring positive changes to the society where women will be given respect, not just considered lower than men, which is the M-1B state (Rodrigues 90).

The third example can be seen when the Pandavas were in exile for thirteen years, and in disguise for one year (Rodrigues 180). This was when Vyasa goes to give them a visit in the forest. When Vyasa paid the Pandavas a visit, he was furious at them for just sitting around, and not preparing for the future war of The Mahabharata in advance. Vyasa already knew there was going to be a war and to prepare the Pandavas he sent Arjuna to do Tapa (tenacity). This was his ‘political move’, by sending Arjuna to sit in meditation for Lord Siva, and by doing the meditation Arjuna would be able to impress Lord Siva, so when Arjuna impressed Siva, Siva gave Arjuna some Celestial weapons that would be useful for the war (Rodrigues 180).

What is the importance Guru Purnima and why is it celebrated?

This day dedicated to the great Sage Vyasa. A Guru is someone who removes our ignorance. The meaning of Guru comes from ‘Gu’ meaning ignorance and ‘Ru’ meaning remover of ignorance. Guru (teacher) Purṇima (full moon day) is also known as Vyasa Purnima because on that day Vyasa was born as well as he started writing the Brahma Sutras. Vyasa is considered as the original Guru of the Hindus. This festival is a symbol of the Guru and Sisya (student) relationship. Gurus are considered a link between the individual and the immortal. This festival falls in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August). This is the day for the disciples to pay respect to their Gurus, since Gurus are given great importance in Hinduism. On this day, the disciples or devotees provide seva (service) to their Gurus which grants the disciples their Guru’s grace for their spiritual progress. If the Guru has passed away, then their portrait is worshipped instead. We pick our Guru based on their Gyan (knowledge) and Shraddha (faith) not the age. The word Upanishad also means sitting down with a Guru to gain knowledge. A famous philosopher Adi Sankaracharya has said that “If a person, despite possessing a disease-free body, fame, wealth, and studied the Vedas and Scriptures, and even if he wrote many scriptures, but has not surrendered himself to a Guru, then he would have achieved nothing” (Tumuluru 17-20). A Guru is someone who guides his disciple on the path of self-realization and strengthens their faith. On this day, Bhajans (songs for festivals and special occasions) and performances are organized by ashrams (hermitage). Kabir (Indian poet) said that “If we put God and Guru side by side, we have to pray the Guru first because he is the one through who you can realize God” (Tumuluru 17-20).

The study of the text the Guru Gita (Tumuluru 17-20) is recommended on this day as well as meditation at the Guru’s feet by waking up at 4am to obtain God’s grace. After waking up to do the meditation the devotees place flowers by the Guru’s picture and light a lamp, some may even keep moun (silence).

This day is observed by Monks when they give offerings to the Guru, they also start a four-month seclusion period (a four-month rainy season period) known as the Chatur Masa where they stay at a selected spot and have discourses. This is also an important day for Farmers because it marks the start of rainy season. This festival is also celebrated by Buddhists because it is the day that the Buddha gave his first sermon.

The best way to worship a Guru is to follow their teachings and do their seva by helping the Guru achieving their mission, by spreading the message of their teachings.


Chaturvedi, B.K. (2002) Abhimanyu. New Delhi: Diamond Pocket Books (P) Ltd.

Ramesh, Sri B.G. (2012) Vyasa: Volume 3. Karnataka: Sapna Book House (P) Ltd.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism—The Ebook. Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Sullivan, Bruce (1990) Krsna Dvaipayana Vyasa and the Mahabharata: A New Interpretation. Leiden: E.J.Brill.

Tumuluru, Kamal Kumar (2015) Hindu Prayers, Gods and Festivals. Haryana:Partridge Publishing India.

Related Research Topics for Veda Vyasa:

History and Family

Involvement in the Mahabharata

The types of characters he wrote about compared to Shakespeare

Guru Purnima

What kind of politics did Vyasa play throughout Mahabharata

His Achievements- Vedas, Puranas, and Brahma Sutras

Related Websites for the Topic:

This article is written by: Aastha Patel (Spring 2017), and I am entirely responsible for the content.


There is a multitude of miracles and myths associated with Agastya, a famous Vedic sage, beginning with his miraculous birth by two godly fathers, Mitra and Varuna (Dallapiccola). The Matsya Purana’s account of Agastya’s birth is as such: in a fight between Indra and Visnu, a celestial nymph named Urvasi (Mahadevan 25) was created from Visnu’s thigh and upon seeing her, Mitra and Varuna cast their semen into a water pot, from which Agastya and his brother, Vasistha, were born (Bolon 76). Agastya was described as dwarfish, about the size of a thumb and born “white in colour with four hands, a sacred thread, a vessel, and a garland” (Bolon 76). Over the span of his lifetime, Agastya is given many names, however, the one he is known by, around the time of his birth, is Kumbhayoni, or jar-born (Mahadevan 25). There is little proof of Agastya’s formal education in life, however, it is widely accepted that he knew a great deal about the Rg Veda, the sciences, and weaponry (Parmeshwaranand 4).

As Agastya grew older, he took on an ascetic lifestyle, becoming a hermit and wandering the forests (Parmeshwaranand 4). It was not until one day, in the forest, he came across his ancestors. After some conversation, they told Agastya they were waiting to go to heaven, but they were not allowed until Agastya had a son. Upon their urging, he became invested in finding a wife (Parmeshwaranand 4). The story goes that Agastya created a beautiful baby girl named Lopamudra and gave her to the King of Vidarbha. Once she was of marrying age, Agastya asked the king for her as his wife (Parmeshwaranand 4). The king was not sure he wanted to give her up; he had concerns about Agastya’s asceticism and what that would mean for his daughter, but Lopamudra went willingly (Parmeshwaranand 4). After they got married, a hymn in the Rg Veda depicts their ascetic married life and the desires of Lopamudra. She pleads with him to give up their asceticism and have a child (Patton 27). The hymn depicts some disagreement between the two, but eventually, Agastya yields and Lopamudra becomes pregnant and gives him a son, Drdhasyu, who supposedly chanted the Vedas immediately at birth (Parmeshwaranand 5). Agastya would later go on to participate in various activities that would become certain myths of the Rg Veda, (Parmeshwaranand 6) which will be discussed later.

While there are little physical depictions of Agastya in the Rg Veda, there are many statues that have survived from cults in Nepal that give a glimpse of what he is believed to have looked like. In one instance, depicted in bronze and only three and a half inches tall, Agastya is seated with crossed ankles and elevated knees. Water sprays out of the pot, in which he is seated, on either side – perhaps giving homage to his birth. He wears a short, pointed beard and the hair on his head is tied on the top in eight loops. Agastya is also depicted as having a vertical third eye on his forehead and in each of his four hands, a symbol is portrayed: a rosary in the upper right, a miniature staff in the upper left, the lower right making a teaching gesture and the lower left holding a water pot (Bolon 75). While this is only one depiction, a later myth tells of Agastya being unable to run away from a king and being whipped (Parmeshwaranand 6), corroborating his small stature. Alternatively, other myths tell the famous story of Agastya ingesting the ocean (Abhyankar 2174), perhaps proving his size was greater.

Throughout his life, Agastya has also been the subject of many Hindu myths and important stories that helped to develop the land in which he lived. Agastya was once known by the name “Mover-of-Mountains” (Danielou 322) after “forcing the Vindhya Mountains to prostrate themselves before him” (Dallapiccola). This act itself is miraculous, but it also gives Agastya credit for connecting the civilizations in the north and south of the mountain range. In a Puranic story, it is said that the Vindhya Mountains were competing with the Himalayans to see who could grow the tallest. The Vindhyas began to block out the sun for villages below and Agastya was called in to help. He told the mountains to lie down until he returned from his journey south. However, he never returned and the mountains stayed down and allowed those people in the north and south an easy passage between (Abhyankar 2174). Not only does this story have a great cultural significance, joining the people on both sides of the mountain, but it also gives way to the story of Agastya’s star, also known as Canopus. The star is considered the brightest in the southern Indian sky (Dallapiccola). Since it is believed that Agastya was the first to see it when he moved the mountains down and was the first to cross them from the north to the south, it is associated with him (Abhyankar 2174).

Agastya is also subject to a myth that involves him drinking the ocean, either as another way across the vast distance (Abhyankar 2174) or to aid Brahmin hermits (Mahadevan 26). As the story goes, he swallowed all of the ocean’s water to expose the Kaleyas, in order that the Devas could remove them easily. The Kaleyas were supposedly killing the hermits and needed to be stopped (Mahadevan 26). Finally, perhaps one of the most famous myths surrounding Agastya is his assistance to Rama in the legendary epic, the Ramayana. In the story, Agastya gives the hero Rama a divine weapon, the “arrow of Brahma” (McLeish), to save Sita, Laksmana, and himself (McLeish) from the demons of the forest in which he was exiled (Danielou 323). Agastya is described as a “friend, advisor and protector of Rama” (Dallapiccola) in this story, making him recognizable even to this day by those that know the story. Given Agastya’s alleged extensive knowledge of weaponry (Parmeshwaranand 4), the myth seems all the more plausible.

Agastya is also known for his hymns in the Rg Veda. The author of about 25 hymns in the first mandala (Abhyankar 2174), Agastya “became a kind of heavenly historian, writing the gods’ stories down and passing them to mortals in the form of the [Rg Veda]” (McLeish). Not only was Agastya an author of many of these hymns, but he also was the subject of a select few, being referred to by name approximately eight times throughout, along with members of his family who are referred to as the Manas (Mahadevan 25). Agastya’s ability to connect the northerners and southerners (Mahadevan 25) is also depicted in the hymns, validating his journey from the north to the south, regardless of the possible fictional liberties taken with the Mountain Mover myth.

Centuries after the life of Agastya, he is still revered and worshiped by Hindus around the world. Because of his affinity for grammar, medicine and other sciences, Agastya “represents the power of teaching” (Danielou 322), and is worshiped for success in such fields. According to a passage in the Matsya Purana, there are, like in the instances of other rsis, many rites that must be done in order to properly worship Agastya. The ritual, repeated for seven days, must start early in the morning, at the rising of Canopus, after the devotee has bathed and dressed in white. While wearing a garland of white flowers, the worshipper must fill a pot with five gems and adorn it with cloth and flowers. Another pot filled with clarified butter must be placed on top of the first pot, and finally, a golden statue with four heads and many arms must be made and placed at the top of both pots. Both pots should be donated to a Brahmin after it has been filled with seven grains, and while the worshipper faces the south, the gold figure should also be given away (Bolon 76). The worship takes into account the number seven, a holy number in Hinduism, as well as the practices of purification before a worship ritual, underlying the connection between the cults of Agastya in Nepal and the significance of Agastya in Hinduism as a whole.

Agastya’s presence also had a lasting impact on societies outside of Hinduism, influencing both the Tamil and Nepalese traditions. Specifically in Tamil, Agastya made an extremely important impression. He is regarded as being crucial in the establishment of the language and literature in Tamil (Dallapiccola), and many Tamil people “believe that Agastya still dwells on the sacred mountain Agastya Malai” (Dallapiccola) in South India. He is so vital in Tamil language and literature that he is venerated as the “father of Tamil” and has his name included in the titles of many works in the Tamil Saivite hymns (Thompson 762). Within these hymns, there is a section specially entitled the Agastya Selection, which includes many of the Tamils most recognizable hymns (Thompson 763). In the myths that describe Agastya’s interactions with the people of the south, there are comments praising him for giving “the gift of the Cauvery river and Tamil language to the people” (Abhyankar 2174). Not only was Agastya’s connection of the north and south important, but him giving the Tamil people their language is also a crucial detail. Because of this advancement, Agastya was “given a very different role by the Tamil tradition,” and labelled “Tamil muni… [or] Tamil sage” (Mahadevan 27). As a Tamil scholar, Agastya was so well known and highly regarded “that for centuries [,] many works on astrology and medicine written by others were fathered on him” (Mahadevan 27). The Tamil even created a cult worshipping Agastya (Danielou 323), and it has spread from South India to Southeast Asian countries (Mahadevan 27).

In the spread across the globe, Agastya is also associated with cults in Nepal. Artefacts such as images and inscriptions of Agastya can be found there, providing evidence of the extended range of his worship (Bolon 75). Agastya’s association with Siva not only helped him bring language to the Tamil people – it is said “Agastya received the Tamil language from Siva… and gave it to the world” (Mahadevan 27) – but also helped validate Agastya’s presence in Nepal. The image of Siva and Agastya also seem to be related: “Agastya is identified with Siva as his devotee and therefore partakes of some of his nature and attributes” (Bolon 88). Images of Agastya in Nepal are similar in appearance to those of Siva, showing their connection as well as Agastya’s significance within Nepalese society in relation to the god Siva. There is also a connection between the two in terms of the importance of the pot imagery; Agastya gets his from his miraculous birth in a pot, being known in images from Nepal as “Kumbharsi Agastya, the rsi of the pot,” and Siva, in some instances being called “Kumbhesvara Siva, Siva Lord of the pot” (Bolon 88).

The life of Agastya, beginning with his miraculous birth, depicts a full life of asceticism, marriage, and fatherhood (Parmeshwaranand 4); myths of moving mountains (Danielou 322) and drinking oceans (Mahadevan 26); writing the histories of the gods (McLeish); and being hailed as the father of a society and its language (Thompson 762). Agastya was a vital figure, not only in the Hindu tradition but other ideologies and civilization developments as well, shaping both the Tamil culture (Abhyankar 2174) and Nepalese worship of him (Bolon 88). As such, he remains an important figure in many of these traditions to this day.

Bibliography and Further Recommended Reading

Abhyankar, K.D. (2005) “Folklore and Astronomy: Agastya a sage and a star.” Current Science 89:2174-2176. Accessed January 31, 2017. Retrieved from

Bolon, Carol Radcliffe (1991) “Images of Agastya in Nepal.” Artibus Asiae 51:75-89. Accessed February 2, 2017. doi: 10.2307/3249677.

Cush, Denise, Catherine Robinson, and Michael York (2008) “Agastya.” In Encyclopedia of Hinduism, 16. London: Routledge.

Dallapiccola, Anna. L. (2002) “Agastya.” In Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Danielou, Alain (1985) “The Mover-of-Mountains (Agastya).” In The Myths and Gods of India, 322-323. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Mahadevan, Iravatham (1986) “Agastya Legend and the Indus Civilization.” Journal of Tamil Studies 30:24-37. Accessed January 31, 2017. Retrieved from

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Agastya.” In Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. London: Bloomsbury.

Parmeshwaranand, Swami (2001) “Agastya.” In Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Puranas, 3-12. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Patton, Laurie L. (1996) “The Fate of the Female Rsi: Lopamudra and Agastya.” In Myth and Mythmaking: Continuous Evolution in Indian Tradition. Edited by Julia Leslie, 27-30. Florence: Routledge.

Thompson, M. S. H. (1928) “The Agastya Selection of Tamil Saivite Hymns.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 4:761-768. Accessed January 31, 2017. doi:10.1017/S0041977X00123675.

Williams, George M. (2003) “Agastya, Agasti.” In Handbook of Hindu Mythology, 47-48. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.

Related Topics for Further Investigation:

Agastya Malai

Arrow of Brahma





King of Vidarbha

Kumbharsi Agastya

Kumbhesvara Siva




Nepalese cults



Ritual worship





The Matsya Purana




Vindhya Mountains

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Article written by: Ryley Gelinas (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.

Agni (God of Fire)

Agni is said to be one of the closest connected gods with humans than any of the other deities in the Hindu tradition. The god Agni is identified with being the producer of fire and referred to as being Indra’s (god of thunder and lightning) brother (Macdonell 57). There are many different myths as to how Agni was born; some say that the deity was born three times, once from water, then air and last on Earth. A common myth is that Agni was made from the coupling of the god of the earth (Prthivi) and god of the heavens (Dyaus) and is said to be the son of Brahma. Agni was born fully-grown and was said to be ravenously hungry which led him to devour his parents (McLeish 1996). Agni is the intercessor between the deities and humankind, and is of the few gods in the Hindu tradition that has retained its power to this day (Chandra 9-10).

Agni is identified as one of the first deities to take human form. He is said to be a red man who has seven tongues with which he licks up the butter offered in sacrifices. He is also portrayed as having seven arms, three legs and two heads. Agni is almost always portrayed with a ram as his vehicle, and is occasionally shown riding in a chariot with fiery horses or goats (Jansen 64). His eyes and hair are both black, and on his head he often bears the horns of a bull. He is usually seen wearing a yellow waistcloth. He appears to be young man, which is due to his rebirth everyday through the friction of two sticks. Agni is immortal and lives amidst humankind, yet in heaven he is portrayed as the sun. Agni’s image of fire is a symbol of destruction, which explains why his attributes include an axe, torch and flaming spear, as well as prayer beads (Jansen 64).

Soma (the moon) is a deity who is regarded as a link between the human and the divine, just like Agni. Soma is identified with the moon, which is said to “contain the ambrosia of immortality” (Flood 46). Agni and Soma are said to be the most significant gods (devas) placed at the level of the Earth. They are connected in the sense that the moon is identified with Soma, as Soma is with Agni, and Agni is with the Sun. The public (srauta) rites are primarily focused on Agni and Soma in which vegetarian and non-vegetarian items are offered into multiple sacrificial fires. The (srauta) rites require the burning of three sacred fires. Items such as milk, animals, vegetable cakes and stalks of the soma plant are all offered into the fires (Flood 41-54).

Agni is addressed in approximately one third of the hymns in the Rg Veda. He was central in sacrificial ritual because it was the fire that transformed the offerings into something accessible to the gods (Fowler 98). Agni was a very important deity, and this was evident through the high degree to which he was worshipped. He is described as a divine sage and a swift messenger between the gods and humans, which is why he is still widely worshipped to this day. His worshippers are said to thrive and have a prolonged life (Wilkins 24). He announces hymns to immortals and brings them down from heaven above to sacrifice them. Without Agni, the deities do not experience any satisfaction. Agni is worshipped in many forms such as, a wise director, a protector of all ceremonies and a successful accomplisher (Wilkins 23).

Agni is portrayed in the Mahabharata as being drained of all his energy. Through devouring the Khandava forest he regains his strength. In that story, Indra attempts to stop Agni, but with the assistance of Krsna, Agni ends up consuming the forest (Wilkins 27). Agni is known by multiple names such as, Vahni which means “burnt sacrifice”, Jivalana as “He who burns”, and Dhumketu which is “He whose sign is smoke” (Wilkins 27). Agni is said to have formed heaven and earth and is spoken of as the son of both worlds. He is said to have created the sun and decorated heaven with stars.

The importance of fire in Hindu rituals remains today, as does the deity Agni. Among the directional guardians, Agni was in control of the southeast, which is where dawn breaks. Agni was born fully mature and was able to consume everything, pure and unpure.  (Andrews 8). Fire was widely worshipped because it represented heat and light and was believed to have come from the sun. Fire was a very important part in Hindu rituals because it allowed people a way to give sacrificial offerings to the gods. This is why Agni is still important in today’s society. Agni is known to forgive sin, and offers boons that usually have to do with offspring, prosperity and domestic welfare. Indra’s boons give power, glory and victory (Macdonell 98). All gods had equal power at one time, but after acquiring immortality through sacrifices, Agni, Indra and Surya became grander than the other gods (Jansen 63). The god of war, Skanda, later became the successor of Agni and Indra.

In the epic Ramayama, the king of demons abducted Rama’s wife Sita. After Rama wins a battle with the army of demons, he is able to take his wife home, but doubts her loyalty. He accuses her of being unfaithful while she was away from him and in response, Sita throws herself into a fire to prove herself loyal. Agni, god of fire, did not harm Sita in any way and placed her into Rama’s arms without injury. This led Rama to believe his wife’s words (Jansen 78). This reveals aspects of how Agni has the power to control outcomes such as Sita being harmed or not.

Agni takes part in blessings at occasions such as marriages and deaths, and he commands riches in earth and heaven. He is prayed to by individuals and worshipped as a forgiver of sins, and it is said that he surrounds other gods as the “circumference of a wheel does the spokes” (Wilkins 24). The god Siva has three eyes: the sun, the moon and fire. His third eye is the eye of inner vision and is often invoked at the time of meditation. The third eye also burns with desire (Kama) (Badlani 95).

Agni is also said to be the son of Angrias and grandson of Sandila who is one of the great sages. Agni is the eldest son of Brahma and his wife is Swaha. Through this marriage, he has three sons, Pavak, Suchi and Pavman, and forty-six grandsons for a total of forty-nine descendants (Chandra 10). Agni’s attendant, Matarisvan, is a minor messenger god (Chandra 220). Agni symbolizes a spark in nature through the image of two pieces of wood being rubbed together. This produces the fire in that Agni dwells. (Andrews 8).

Another story in the Mahabharata is one in which Bhrigu curses Agni. Bhrigu married a woman named Puloma who was promised to a demon. Through seeing her exquisiteness, Bhrigu decides to take her away without the knowledge of anyone. Agni assists the demon in finding the bride’s hideaway and claims her back. Bhrigu curses Agni because he helped the demon and says, “from this day you shall eat everything.” Agni did not understand why he was being cursed because he had been honest and accomplished his task of assisting the demon in finding the bride’s hideout. He refers to himself as the mouth of the gods and ancestors. Bhrigu alters his curse by changing it so that Agni purifies all that is passed through him (Wilkins 366). Agni is a Kravyad (flesh-eater), and is represented under an unsightly form. He is called upon to devour meaning he places his enemies into his mouth and engulfs them. He sharpens his tusks and eats his enemies (Wilkins 27).

Agni is the lord of knowledge and fire; he is the chief deity and he is the power of inner and outer illumination. He is the mouth of the gods and the wealth giver (Danielou 64). He is said to have two shapes: one being fearful and the other benevolent. He is called Rudra. Agni is known as a devourer and a god of many powers, one being fire. He is of great importance and is highly worshipped. He is one of the highest gods in the Hindu tradition.


References and Related Readings

Andrews, Tamra (2000) Dictionary of Nature Myths: Legends of the Earth, Sea and Sky. Santa Barbara: Oxford University Press.

Badlani, Hiro G (2008) Hinduism: Path of the Ancient Wisdom. New York: iUniverse Inc.

Chandra, Suresh (1998) Encyclopaedia of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons.

Danielou, Alain (1991) The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series. Rochester: Inner Traditions International.

Findly, Ellison B. 2005. “Agni.” In Encyclopedia of Religion 2nd Edition, edited by Lindsay Jones, 178-179. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Accessed February 3, 2016.

Flood, Gavin D (1996) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fowler, Jeaneane D (1997) Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.

Jansen, Eva Rudy (1993) Gods, Manifestations and Their Meaning. Havelte: Binkey Kok Publications.

Leeming, David (2005) The Oxford Companion to World Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lochtefeld, James G (2002) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group

Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1898) Vedic Mythology. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Agni.” Bloomsbury Dictionary of Myth. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc: Accessed February 4, 2016.

Wilkins, W.J (2003) Hindu Gods and Goddesses. London: W. Thacker and Co.


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Article written by: Kimberly Sitter (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Vedangas

The word Vedangas in Sanskrit means “limbs of the Vedas” which is appropriate because it is a collection/genre that is an appendage of the Vedas. The origin of the Vedangas can date back to as early as 1200 BC but some speculate on an even earlier date of 1800 BC. The jyotisa collection for instance refers to the beginning of the Vedangas during a winter solstice, which may have occurred closer to 1800 instead or 1200 BC (Achar 173).  The Vedangas consist of six appendages: siksa, chandas, vyakarna, nirukta, jyotisa [oldest in Hindu history], and kalpa. The first four of the appendages are considered exegetical, meaning they are used as aids to help understand the Vedas. The last two appendages are regarded as ritual because they deal with rites and laws as well as the proper time and place to perform the appendages (Bhat 10).


The first appendage of the Vedangas is siksa, which is the category related to correct pronunciation and accentuation. Siksa is proper pronunciation and in order to have proper phonics, there have to be rules. A major rule under this category pertains to the sound of syllables because being off pitch by even a slight degree would alter the result and therefore the effect of the word trying to be pronounced (Tiwari 1).  There are four main pratisakhya; which deals with the phoenics of the Sanskrit language. Pratisakhya also falls under siksa: Rgveda-Pratisakhya of Rgveda, Taittiriya-Pratisakhya of Krishna Yajurveda, Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya of Shukla Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda-Pratisakhya of Atharvaveda. These pratisakhya are responsible for determining the relationship between Samhita; the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, litanies and benedictions, to Padapathas; which are recitation styles designed to complete and memorize a text,  and also vice versa. They are also important for the interpretation of the Vedas (Bhat 11).


The second appendage of the Vedangas is kalpa, which is the category related to Vedic rituals. If the Vedas were imagined as a person (Purusa), this section would be known as the arms. Rules referring to sacrifice, excluding things that are not directly connected to the ceremony are found in the Kalpa-sutras [contents directly connected to the Brahmanas and Aranyakas] (Tiwari 1). The Kalpa-sutras is broken down into three categories (1) the Srauta-sutras, (2) the Grhya-sutras, and (3) the Dharma-sutras. The Srauta-sutras consist of great sacrificial rites, where the most priests were employed. The Grhya-sutras consist of household rituals that do not need a priest’s assistance. The Dharma-sutras consist of customary law prevalent at the time (Bhat 13).


The third appendage of the Vedangas is vyakaraṇa, which is the category related to Vedic grammar. Parts of this section have been lost over time because of pratisakhya, which also connects to grammar but has surpassed Vyakarana (Bhat 11). However, one major figure when Vyakarana is being discussed is Panini, primarily because he was one of the most, if not the most significant grammarian alive. His book the Astadhyayi is possibly the reason Panini surpassed all other grammarians of the period. Vyakarana is called the mouth of the Veda Purusha and is also seen as crucial for understanding the Vedas (Tiwari 1).


The fourth appendage of the Vedangas is nirukta, which is the category related to why certain words are used. This section is known as the ears of the Veda Purusa. Under this category, there has only been one text that is based on “etymology” that has survived known as the Nirukta of Yaska. In this text, it explains words found in the Vedas are explained and then assigned to one of three sections based on the type of word. The first category are words that were collected under main categories, the second category are more difficult words found, and the third category are words based on the three regions (earth, sky, and heaven) and the classification of deities (Tiwari 1). These three categories are known as the Naighantuka-kanda, Naigama-kanda, and the Daivata-kanda. The Vedangas put lots of emphasis towards this category for increase growth in the grammatical science in India (Bhat 12).


The fifth appendage of the Vedangas is chandas, which is the category related to meter, which covers the sense of the Mantra. Even though there has been no exclusive Vedic meter that survived there is the Chandas-shastras (book by Pingala). This section is often referred to as the feet of the Veda Purusha. This is because the Vedas are known as the body, which relies on the chandas [feet]. The use of this appendage is so reading and reciting is done properly (Tiwari 1). The chandas discuss the number of syllables in texts and poems which is linked to meter. This category is connected to the Brahmanas, which created the syllable and verse, however research could not find a meter in it. There are also two different types of meters based on the Rg Veda and the Yajur Veda based on the recessions (Bhat 12).


The sixth appendage of the Vedangas is jyotisa, which is the class related to the knowledge of astronomy. This section is the oldest text about astronomy in Hindu literature and dates back to around 1300 BC (Abhyankar 61). Since this category was supposedly created during a winter solstice when the sun and the moon were aligned, the date of 1820 BC has been proposed and is said that astronomy started shortly after (Achar 177). Jyotisa is known as the eye of the Veda Purusha. Jyotisa is not the teaching of astronomy, but the use of astronomy to fix the appropriate time [days and hours] for sacrifices (Tiwari 1). The most substantial sources of knowledge on astronomy can be found early in the Brahmanas. Jyotisa is especially useful because it can give positions of the moon and sun for solstices as well as other useful information (Bhat 13).


Since the Vedangas are appendages of the Vedas they can be seen as equally important in the studying and learning of the Hindu culture. Siksa provides the phonics of the Sanskrit, and without it speaking and understanding would be near impossible. Kalpa provides the proper steps towards performing rituals and when to do them. Vyakaraṇa is similar to the phonics but provides proper grammar for words that are used in the Vedas. Nirukta contains etymology (ie. meaning of usage). Chandas provide the meters in Vedic hymns to help proper reading. Jyotisa is the knowledge of astronomy to help with dating events in Hindu history and other useful information. The origins of the Vedangas can also be traced to the Brahmanas, which are a collection of ancient commentaries based on the Vedas. This connection can be made because the Brahmanas also have discussions on grammar, meter, etymology etc. (Bhat 10).


References and Further Readings

Abhyankar, K. D (1998) “Antiquity of the Vedic Calendar.” Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India, Vol. 26, 61-66.

Achar, B.N (2000) “A Case For Revising The Date or Vedanga Jyotiṣa” Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 35, No. 1: 173-183.

Arnold, E.V (1905) Vedic metre in its historical development: Cambridge, UP.

Bhat, M. S (1987) Vedic Tantrism: A Study of R̥gvidhāna of Śaunaka with Text and Translation: Critically Edited in the Original Sanskrit with an Introductory Study and Translated with Critical and Exegetical Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Brockington, J. L (1989) “Review of Literature in the Vedic Age.” The Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, Upaniṣads and Vedāṅga Sūtras. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52(3), 569–570.

Tiwari, Sashi (2014) “The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage.” The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage. Delhi: Delhi University.


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Nirukta of Yaksa




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Article written by: Ryan Loman (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Spiritual Healing Practices in Hinduism

In western culture, different forms of possession, mental illness, and spiritual disorders are often categorized as pathological and abnormal; these pathologies are usually treated with psychoanalysis, psychiatry and mass amounts of medication with less frequent attention paid to spiritual treatment. In the east, and more specifically, in the Hindu tradition, spiritual abnormalities and anomalies are oftentimes treated using various religious practices and spiritual healing techniques that date back to the time of the Vedas (Frawley 1997).

Many forms of spiritual healing exist in the Hindu tradition, from the time of the Vedas to Hinduism in its contemporary form, and this article will only scratch the surface. Historically, the Ayurveda—which is an ancient, five thousand year old Vedic system of medicine known as the “Science of Life” (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007)—placed emphasis on the pure self (Atman) and true consciousness and its relation to the universe (Brahman). Essentially, the Ayurveda gave Hinduism a guide for medical and spiritual healing and enlightenment (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007). Furthermore, exorcisms have always played a fundamental role in cleansing and ridding the soul of unwanted negative possession (Sax 2011; Crapanzano 1987), and gemstones, Soma, sacred ash, and healing amulets also serve a symbolic healing purpose with respect to protecting the soul from demonic and ghostly entities (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009).

The Ayurveda is the oldest of traditional healing guides that Hinduism has to offer us. “Diet, herbs, water, minerals, and other treatments are [typically] used for cures” (Jones and Ryan 58) in this system of healing. Traditionally, yoga (which has presently become popularized in the west) was therapeutically used as a part of Ayurvedic practices to delve into the actualization of the true self (atman) and the nature of reality (Brahman). Spiritually speaking, the Ayurveda and the practice of yoga ultimately seek to liberate the soul (jiva) from the cycles of rebirth (samsara) and the tremendous constraining moral principle that is karma (Frawley 1997).

To understand spirituality and spiritual healing in Hinduism one must first understand the ultimate goal in Hindu philosophy, which is to free oneself from the cyclical nature of existence. This liberation is termed moksa—which is essentially the same ultimate goal in the practice of yoga, termed kaivalya. Techniques such as mantras and meditations used in yoga, which have been adopted from the Ayurveda, attempt to spiritually link the self and consciousness to the natural world that surrounds it (Frawley 1997). This broad look at the spiritual focus of Hindu philosophies to maintain the well being of the self is linked to the spiritual healing that accompanies anomalies in one’s spirit, such as spiritual possession.

Possession can be understood as an altered, unusual or extraordinary state of mind due to the controlling power of a spirit, god, goddess, or demon over an individual’s consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Spirit possession can be distinguished into two broad categories: positive possession and negative possession (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009; Sax 2011). Positive possession is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a deity, a god or a goddess (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). Negative possession, on the other hand, is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a devil, a demon or a ghost-like figure (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). When an individual’s spirit is possessed, the individual will display behaviours that are uncharacteristic of it; this is due to the fact that the body is possessed by some other entity—one that is no longer the normal self (Sax 2011). The possessed body may actually experience pain and various symptoms of disease and illness while under possession (Crapanzano 1987). In the Hindu tradition, spiritual healing (with regards to curing these aversive mental and physical symptoms) comes in many practices, objects and materials, including but not limited to: exorcisms, temples, healing amulets (tabiz), healing ash (vibhuti), gemstones, and Soma (Crapanzano 1987; Jones and Ryan 2007; Sax 2009; Sax 2011).

Healing, in the form of an exorcism, can be a one-on-one ritual (puja) between the patient and the exorcist, or it can be a pubic affair, involving the whole community (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). In William Sax’s chapter “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice (Sax 2011) he outlines a specific instance of fieldwork in which he witnessed, and contributed to, a communal exorcism. Possession is an uncommon phenomenon in the west and in Europe, but in India, possession is a relatively frequent occurrence, and as such, exorcisms are often a site of public gathering (Sax 2011). Holistically, Sax describes his fieldwork as “psychologically demanding […] because the rituals were so exciting and dramatic: the drumming and singing, the ecstatic dancing of possessed people, the awesome appearance of fearsome deities, and the ghosts from the past, wailing and shrieking in a stuffy, crowded room” (Sax 154). In general, musical sounds, singing, and dancing are important ritual components in the process of exorcizing an unwanted spirit from a body (Crapanzano 1987). There are three important roles in the musical background of the Himalayan exorcism as studied by Sax: (1) the huraki, which is an unusual sounding drum that effectively invokes spiritual awakening; (2) the thakalyor, “who plays a metal platter with two wooden drumsticks” as a background beat (Sax 150); and (3) the bhamvar, who sings the final lines of each verse of the exorcism song—the bhamvar is known in English as “the bumblebee” (Sax 2011).

In the exorcism that Sax describes, multiple spirits uncontrollably possesses multiple people; these possessions are often observable via shrieks, screams, unconsciousness, odd bodily positioning and violence (Sax 2011).  This state of mind, this altered state of consciousness, can be best described as a trance; that is: “[t]he subject experiences a detachment from the structured frames of reference that support his usual interpretation and understanding of the world [around] him” (Crapanzano 8688). These altered states of consciousness are not only healable with drums, chants, songs and dancing, as is found in the practice of exorcism, but spirit possession can be cured via other spiritual methods as well.

Essentially, the goal of spiritual healing in Hindu philosophy seeks to protect the soul from demonic spiritual powers; the influence of this negative spiritual energy can be, and should be, warded off. Negative spiritual possession can be counteracted by the use of Soma, which is an intoxicating, mind-altering, hallucinogenic drink that is perceived as divine and therefore connects the spirit of the ingesting person to higher understanding and consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Negative influences on the mind and spirit in general have been understood as celestially caused; the inauspiciousness that is associated with the universe at certain times is counteracted by the wearing of specific gemstones that repel negative spirits from interacting with the body (Sax 2009). Along the same lines as the wearing of gemstones, the protection from evil spirits is also sought in other objects such as sacred healing ash (vibhuti/bhasman/bhabhut), and healing amulets (tabiz). Vibhuti is ash derived from the cremation of humans or from the excretion of a sacred animal in the Hindu tradition—the cow (Sax 2009). The sacred ash is not only seen as protection from evil spirits but also as rejuvenation and revitalization of the material and spiritual aspects of one’s life (Sax 2009). Rituals that invoke the use of vibhuti essentially serve as a purification of the mind and the spirit. Tabiz, on the other hand are lockets in which sacred Vedic or other Hindu textual verses are held, they are usually made of copper, brass or iron, similar to the ta’wiz in the Islamic tradition (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Interestingly, the sacred healing ash (vibhuti) to which I made reference above is oftentimes placed inside the amulet for the same spiritual protection purposes (Dwyer 2003). Most importantly, the amulets serve as a force that diverts evil, malevolent and harmful spiritual entities (Sax 2009). Tabiz and vibhuti are both ritual symbols that are commonly used in exorcisms (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). As we discussed earlier, exorcisms can take place privately, but they are just as likely to be performed publically—sometimes at a shrine (Crapanzano 1987).

There are many shrines in India that are dedicated solely to the curing of the spirit and the mind. A famous symbolic site that is renowned for spiritual healing in the Hindu tradition is the Balaji Mandir—this temple is located in Rajasthan, a north Indian state near the village of Mehandipur (Sax 2009). The shrine is dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, who is a mythical destroyer of demons and Pretraj, who is the “King of Ghosts” (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Demonic and ghostly possession, trances and exorcisms are all commonplace at the Balaji temple—the temple is notorious for the healing of mental illness (Sax 2009). Daily, thousands of pilgrims, devotees and spiritually suffering persons visit the shrine in the hopes of having their soul cured from any negative spiritual possession (Sax 2009).

Contemporarily, exorcisms, gemstones, intoxicating substances and yoga still play important spiritual healing roles not only in India but in the west as well. Mindfulness, spiritual awareness and yoga are implicated in contemporary western conceptions of spiritual well being (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The present psychological healing that Hindu rituals have on positive thinking and spirituality worldwide shows that spiritual healing should not be underestimated as a powerful tool in curing mental illness (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The most vital aspect to understanding our own consciousness is to understand how the spirit can be healed and refurbished with guidance from the spiritual healing practices of the Hindu tradition.



Crapanzano, Vincent (1987) “Spirit Possession: An Overview” in Encyclopedia of Religion. Jones, Lindsay (ed.). United States: Thomas Gale. pp. 8688-8694.

Dwyer, Graham (2003) The Divine and the Demonic: Supernatural Affliction and Its Treatment in North India. London: Routledge.

Frawley, David (1997) Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness. Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

Jones, Constance A. and James D. Ryan (2007) “Ayurveda” in Encyclopedia of Hinduism. J. Gordon Melton (ed.). New York: Facts on File Publishing. pp. 58.

Sax, William (2009) “Healers” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Jacobsen, Knut, A. (ed.)  Leiden: Brill.

Sax, William (2011) “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice. Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). New York: Routledge. pp. 146-157.

Srivastava, Kailash Chandra and K. C. Barmola (2013) “Rituals in Hinduism as related to spirituality.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 4.1:87-95.


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Pretaraj (King of Ghosts)





Mehandipur Balaji Temple




Spiritual Healing





Huraki drum



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Article written by: Tanner Layton (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Kubera: God of Wealth

Kubera holds a variety of titles within Hinduism, most notably being the god of wealth and riches. He is also regarded as the god of fertility, a tutelary household spirit, the protector of sailors and god of the dead (Coulter and Turner 283). In the Satapatha Brahmana, he is the lord of thieves and criminals (Sutherland 63), and these are but a few different titles he possesses. Despite having various titles and responsibilities, he is often associated with having a lesser role in Hindu mythology in relation to other deities (Wilkins 388). However, this does not mean that Kubera does not have a rich history and importance within the mythological realm of the Hindu tradition. One of the main reasons that Kubera is not regarded as being a prominent deity is due, in part, to the lack of images and monuments dedicated to him. When he is depicted in images, which mostly come from the Himalayan regions, Kubera has a large potbelly and he holds a mongoose that vomits jewels when he squeezes it (Buswell). Another way he is depicted is as the guardian of the north and is portrayed as a dwarfish figure with a large paunch, holding a money bag or a pomegranate. He is also sometimes depicted riding on a man (Britannica), which makes him unique in relation to other gods, who usually are mounted on animals. Kubera is a lokapala or “world guardian” (Sutherland 65), deities who are usually illustrated as being mounted on animals such as elephants, whereas Kubera is described as being a naravahana or “one whose mount is a man”(Sutherland 67). Although Kubera is regarded as a god in Hindu mythology, he is also often depicted as a demon. The classification of Kubera being a demon, therefore, cause some discrepancies in his physical appearance, with some illustrations of him depicting a more hideous, monster-type of figure. In these portrayals, Kubera is described as being a pot-bellied, three-legged, one-eyed dwarf with eight snaggle-teeth (McLeish). He is also often illustrated as having ugly, black skin, again with a potbelly and is heavily jeweled, sits cross-legged and holds a purse (Coulter and Turner 283). Despite these more unsightly physical attributes associated with the demonic side of Kubera, many depictions of him offer a gentler, appealing visual of the god, illustrating him with gold coloured skin and studded with gems (McLeish), a visual representation of his role as the lord of wealth and prosperity.

Kubera’s lineage can be a bit confusing, as different sources and literature state different familial lines. In the Artharvaveda, Kubera is said to be the son of Vaisravana. In the Mahabharata, he is son of Vaisravana and Idavida, and brother of Visravas; this is further complicated by the Puranas, which states that Kubera was born to Visravas and Ilibila (Williams 190). He also has a half brother named Ravana, who is the notable demon in the Ramayana (Williams 190). Kubera also has a wife, named Hariti (Werner 51) and a daughter named Minaksi, who becomes one of Siva’s wives (Werner 73). He also had a son, named Nalakubera (Williams 219). In addition to his family, Kubera had a few close companions. Kubera is usually accompanied by two friends named Yaksa and Yaksi (Coulter and Turner 283). He is also associated socially with Charvi, Danava and Rambha (Coulter and Turner 282). According to most accounts, Kubera is said to reside in a palace in the country of Sri Lanka. However, Kubera does not live there permanently, as he is driven out of his palace and the country by his power hungry half-brother Ravana (Britannica). The relationship that Kubera and Ravana have with one another does not prove to be very hospitable and cooperative, as they are often depicted in feuds with each other. This hostile relationship ultimately causes Kubera to relocate to a residence on Mount Kailasa, which is also home to other deities, such as Siva (Britannica).

Kubera is most notably known as being the lord of riches and wealth, which includes the resources and elements that are contained within the earth (Williams 190-191). As the ruling god of wealth and riches, Kubera is responsible for possessing and distributing the wealth, as well as guarding the earth’s treasures (Kinsley 226). He is granted the power to move the earth’s riches from one place to another, and he often brought gems and precious metals near the surface during the rule of righteous kings and hid them during times of wickedness (Williams 190-191).  Kubera exercises this power over the elements when he sides with Rama in the war between Rama and Ravana, Kubera’s half-brother. Kubera decides to align himself with Rama, rather than be loyal to his brother, because Ravana dethrones and exiles Kubera from his palace in Sri Lanka (McLeish). Ravana does this in order to try and win himself a queen and kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita, causing there to be a war between the two men (McLeish). Rama wages war on Ravana for the actions taken against Sita, and by the end of the feud, Rama is victorious (McLeish). Kubera, who remained loyal to Rama throughout the feud, is granted the responsibility of being the shepherd of all the precious stones in the world, as a reward for his assistance in the war against Ravana (McLeish). Kubera was, therefore, allowed to dictate over these stones and control their movements (McLeish), which meant he could determine who had access to them.

Among other roles and responsibilities that Kubera was attributed to was being the leader of the yaksas, creatures who dwell in the woods and forests and promote the growth of plants (Kinsley 226). It is understandable that Kubera would be well acquainted with the yaksas as they both have roles associated with prosperity, with the yaksas encouraging the growth of plans and Kubera being a symbol of richness. The yaksas are depicted as being sharp and cunning, with a benevolent earthly temperament, which Kubera is depicted as embodying (Sutherland 64). Kubera exudes this temperament most notably through his physical appearance, which includes a potbelly, a common Asian motif for good luck and more importantly, abundance (Sutherland 64). However, the yaksas also articulate a notion of ethical ambivalence, suggesting that they also possess a more corrupt, evil side (Sutherland 63). This can be associated with Kubera’s more unethical approaches that cause him to not only be classified as a god, but as a demon as well.

Within Hindu mythology, Kubera is depicted as being a rather unforgiving god. In one particular myth in the Padma Purana, Kubera is portrayed as being a devotionalist, who had an abundantly beautiful garden that contained flowers that are utilized in daily temple worship (Williams 153). Kubera had a hired gardener named Hemamali, who tended to the flowers everyday. One day, Hemamali took a trip to Manasasaras, the lake of the gods, and forgot that it was his duty to get the flowers to Kubera for worship. Kubera waited all day at the temple for Hemamali, but he did not show up, which caused Kubera to become very angry. Hemamali was summoned to Kubera’s palace, where he was punished for his absence by being cursed as a leper. To make things even worse, Hemamali was expelled from Kubera’s heaven, Alakapuri (Williams 153). This story illustrates some of Kubera’s less desirable personality traits, as he can be viewed as being an unforgiving and strict ruler. This can further demonstrate how he was often categorized as being a demon throughout different stories in Hindu mythology, as he could be a menacing and merciless god. However, Kubera has a benevolent and softer side to him as well that is revealed through his more noble actions. Through his protective guardianship and distribution of the earth’s secret resources, he is seen as a paternal, manipulatable figure (Sutherland 65). He is also regarded with holding the title of lokapalas, meaning he is a world guardian, as well as being a dikpalas, a guardian of the directions (Sutherland 65).

It is quite apparent that the Hindu god of wealth possesses many different traits and abilities. Kubera can be described as being a noble god, who possesses and distributes wealth and riches, protecting it from the less desirable, corrupt peoples of the world. However, he is regarded as having a more temperamental side showcasing a strict and menacing personality, which sometimes causes him to be depicted as a demon. Because of these dichotomies, it is difficult to fully comprehend what Kubera looked like physically, as he is depicted in many different forms. It is also unclear as to what his familial lineage looks like completely. Despite these discrepancies, it is clear that Kubera was an important god in Hindu mythology.



Buswell, Robert E. Jr., and Donald S. Jr. Lopez (eds.) (2013) “Kubera”. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Coulter, Charles Russell, and Patricia Turner (2000) Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.

Kinsley, David (1998) Tantric Visions of the Divine Feminine: The Ten Mahavidyas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.

McLeish, Kenneth (1996) “Kubera”. In Myth: Myths and Legends of the World Explored. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Sutherland, Gail Hinich (1991) The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yaksa in Hinduism and Buddhism. New York: State University of New York Press.

Wilkins, W.J. (2009) Hindu Mythology. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd.

Williams, George M. (2008) Handbook of Hindu Mythology. New York: Oxford University Press.

____(2016) “Kubera”. Encyclopaedia Britannica: Britannica Academic. Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc.

Werner, Karel (2005) Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Taylor and Francis E-Library.


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Padma Purana

Mount Kailasa

Satapatha Brahmana






Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic -of-Riches.htm


Article written by: Kara Johnston (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content



Bhartrhari (pronounced: BHUHR-tur-HUH-ree) was a famous Indian grammarian, philosopher, and poet. Many regard him as a linguistic philosopher (Bronkhorst 479).  He should not to be confused with the Ujjain ruler Bhartrhari, mentioned in many Indian folk stories, although there has been debate that the two men are linked in some way. The grammarian’s work is very well known, and many grammarians have often referred to his work when discussing a linguistic phenomenon (Murti 9). His most influential writings are the Vakyapadiya and the Satakatraya. The Satakatraya is a book based on his three collections of poems on political passion, renunciation, and wisdom (Coward 1976:12), while the Vakyapadiya is a Sanskrit treatise on semantics and the philosophy of language (Wright 388).

The tomb of Bhartrhari, who is here reputed to be the brother of an ancient king of Ujjain (Chunar Fort, Uttar Pradesh, India)
The tomb of Bhartrhari, who is here reputed to be the brother of an ancient king of Ujjain (Chunar Fort, Uttar Pradesh, India)

The “Personal” Life of Bhartrhari

There are very few records that contain information on the grammarian’s personal life, and his writings tend to avoid the subject as well. However, although exact dates are still unknown, it has been determined that Bhartrhari was alive during the 6th century CE. This was confirmed based on references made by Chinese traveller Yijing (635-713CE), who mentioned Bhartrhari in his travelogues (Murti 9). According to his notes, Bhartrhari was indecisive on choosing a life in the world of pleasure or the isolated life of a monk (Miller 766).

Due to the lack of information provided for his personal life, many narratives have been created to fill in the missing gaps of Bhartrhari’s private life. For example, in a drama written by Harihara, Bhartrhari is portrayed as a disciple of Goraksanatha from whom he learned yoga and renounced the world (Murti 9).

Famous Writings

The Satakatraya

Also referred to as Satakatrayam, this poetic ensemble is split into three parts (centuries): the Srngarasataka, the Nitisataka and the Vairagyasataka. In English, these subjects are: Passionate Encounters, Man in the World of Villains and Kings, and Refuge in the Forest (Teele 348). In the Srngarasataka you will find both bitter and affectionate stanzas dedicated to women. The ones that show fondness are similar to romantic poetry based on their soppy, compassionate qualities (More 9).  However, while these writings may be beautiful, they are not written to an individual woman, but to every woman. The stanzas treat women as “a symbol of sensual pleasure to be flattered or reviled” (More 10). The stanzas within the Nitisataka are designed to teach knowledge of men as individuals and instil sayings of worldly prudence (Tawney xii). This worldly wisdom occasionally contains sarcastic pitches at fools, pedants, flatterers, and babblers, sometimes to the point of highest morality (More 13). While the first two parts of the Satakatraya seem to agree with their English translations, the Vairagyastaka seems to have some different views. According to More, it seems to give the impression that Bhartrhari put his heart and soul into it, proven by the songs of true wisdom and finding peace, along with songs about the happiness of his new life (More 13). However, Tawney states that the Vairagyasataka contains poems about the king of Ujjain who was disgusted with his wife’s faithlessness (Tawney xiii). He also mentions that ‘vairagya’ translates to “disgust with the world,” indicating that both authors might be thinking of two different men that go by the name Bhartrhari.

The Vakyapadiya

The Vakyapadiya is thought to be Bhartrhari’s magnum opus (Aklujkar 547), and is based on his questioning of why something that exists comes into being and how something that does not exist comes into being (Bronkhorst 479). For him, language is the manifestation of Brahman, and it constitutes the world (Collins 230). His work of art is split into three kandas, respectively called Brahma-kanda (Agama-kanda), Vakya-kanda, and Prakirna-kanda, all of which are composed in karikas (Murti 11). The first two chapters discuss metaphysical ideas concerning the concept of sabdabrahman and the structure and meaning of sentences, while the third deals with issues relating to words (Coward 1976:31).  According to Bhartrhari, the sentence is indivisible and is the unit of expression, which is why the focus of first two kandas is on the vakya sentence (Murti 11). The real structure of language is formed from the words and sentences in our speech and written records (Murti 22), and from this, Bhartrhari notes that knowledge and the proper use of words reveals spiritual dharma, which leads to an understanding of pratyaya (Coward 1976:32). According to the Vakyapadiya, there are eight subjects within grammar that must be dealt with. These subjects are: sentences and words, word and sentence meanings, fitness or compatibility, spiritual merit, stems/suffixes (etc.), meanings of stems/suffixes (etc.), causality, and knowledge of the meaning of the correct words (Murti 23). These are each discussed in their respective chapters of the Vakyapadiya.

Sphota Theory

An important theory discussed in the Vakyapadiya is the Sphota Theory. Meaning “to burst forth,” this concept further analyzes word meanings and how the words’ knowledge is shown and communicated in everyday experience (Coward 1980:11). Modelled off the pranava, Bhartrhari states that the sphota is the cause of the actual word, while dhvani conveys the meaning (Coward 1976:36). Consider a person saying a word to you. Before they speak, the word exists as a unity (sphota). When they tell you the word, a series of different sounds are produced, which gives the impression of differentiation. At first you only hear the different sounds, but eventually you distinguish the utterance as a unity, the same sphota that the person talking to you began with, therefore indicating that the meaning has been transmitted (Coward 1976:36). Put even more simply, when you hear the word “baboon,” you initially hear the different sounds for the letters/syllables, before they are recognized as one word (baboon) that contains meaning (ex. animal). In this sense, the word-meaning (artha) and word-sound (dhvani) are what constitute the sphota (Coward 1980:12).

Under this theory, it is written that, aside from perception, means of knowledge will either reveal an object, or conceal it entirely (Coward 1976:37).  The Vakyapadiya as a whole functions on two levels, pratibha (sometimes pasyanti vak), an instinctive understanding of what something is and how to use it (Ho 404) and vaikharu vak, the uttered sounds that group together to form a sentence, book or poem (Coward 14). There is also a middle section, termed madhyama vak, the level of thought. At this level, the sphota is fragmented into a sequence of thoughts, words, and phrases that still have to reach the level of uttered sounds (Coward 15).


Aklujkar, Ashok (1969) “Two Textual Studies of Bhartrhari.” Journal of the American Oriental Society. Vol. 89, No. 3:547-563. Michigan: American Oriental Society.

Bronkhorst, Johannes (2001) “The Peacock’s Egg: Bhartrhari on Language and Reality.” Philosophy East and West. Vol. 51, No. 4:474-491. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Collins, Randall (2009) The Sociology of Philosophies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Coward, Harold (1976) Bhartrhari. Boston: Twanye Publishers

Coward, Harold (1980) The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Miller, Barbara (1978) Review of Harold Coward’s Bhartrhari. The Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. 37, No. 4:766-767.

More, Paul (1898) A Century of Indian Epigrams: Chiefly from the Sanskrit of Bhartrhari. New York City: Harper.

Murti, Mulakaluri (1997) Bhartrhari, the Grammarian. New Delhi: Sahitya Akad.

Tawney, Charles (1877) Two Centuries of Bhartrihari. Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, and CO.

Teele, Roy (1968) “Review of Far Eastern Chronicle.” Poetry. Vol. 112, No. 5:347-352. Chicago: Poetry Foundation.

Wright, J.C. (1980) Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya by Wilhelm Rau: Bhartrhari: The Vakyapadiya of Bhartrhari, Kanda II. London: Cambridge University Press.

Other Sources of Interest

Kennedy, J.M (1913) The Satakas or, Wise sayings of Bhartrihari. London: T.W Laurie

Todeschini, Alberto (2010) “Bhartrhari’s view of the pramanas in the Vakyapadiya.” Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East. Vol. 20, No. 1:97-109

Related Websites of Interest


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vaikharu vak



Article written by: Sydney Haney (March 2015), who is solely responsible for its content.