CHAPTER VIII. EARLY HINDU DIVINITIES COMPARED WITH THOSE OF OTHER ARYANS
Aryan, Vedic, Gods, Veda, Varuna, Iranian
Nothing is more usual than to attempt a reconstruction of Aryan ideas in manners, customs, laws, and religious conceptions, by placing side by side similar traits of individual Aryan nations, and stating or insinuating that the result of the comparison shows that one is handling primitive characteristics of the whole Aryan body. It is of special importance, therefore, to see in how far the views and practices of peoples not Aryan may be found to be identical with those of Aryans. The division of the army into clans, as in the Iliad and the Veda; the love of gambling, as shown by Greeks, Teutons, and Hindus; the separation of captains and princes, as is illustrated by Teuton and Hindu; the belief in a flood, common to Iranian, Greek, and Hindu; in the place of departed spirits, with the journey over a river (Iranian, Hindu, Scandinavian, Greek); in the after-felicity of warriors who die on the field of battle (Scandinavian, Greek, and Hindu); in the reverence paid to the wind-god (Hindu, Iranian, and Teutonic, V[=a]ta-Wotan); these and many other traits at different times, by various writers, have been united and compared to illustrate primitive Aryan belief and religion.
The traits of the Five Nations of the Veda for this reason may be compared very advantageously with the traits of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Indians, the most united and intelligent of American native tribes. Their institutions are not yet extinct, and they have been described by missionaries of the 17th century and by some modern writers, to whom can be imputed no hankering after Aryan primitive ideas. It is but a few years back since the last avat[=a]r of the Iroquois' incarnate god lived in Onondaga, N.Y.
First, as an illustration of the extraordinary development of memory among rhapsodes, Vedic students, and other Aryans; among the Iroquois "memory was tasked to the utmost, and developed to an extraordinary degree," says Parkman, who adds that they could repeat point by point with precision any address made to them. Murder was compromised for by Wehrgeld, as among the Vedic, Iranic, and Teutonic peoples. The Iroquois, like all Indians, was a great gambler, staking all his property (like the Teutons and Hindus). In religion "A mysterious and inexplicable power resides in inanimate things … Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls are sometimes the dwelling-place of spirits; but more frequently they are themselves living beings, to be propitiated by prayers and offerings." The greatest spirit among the Algonquins is the descendant of the moon, and son of the west-wind (personified). After the deluge (thus the Hindus, etc.) this great spirit (Manabozho, mana is Manu?) restored the world; some asserting that he created the world out of water. But others say that the supreme spirit is the sun (Le Jeune, Relation, 1633). The Algonquins, besides a belief in a good spirit (manitou), had also a belief in a malignant manitou, in whom the missionaries recognized the devil (why not Ormuzd and Ahriman?). One tribe invokes the 'Maker of Heaven,' the 'god of waters,' and also the 'seven spirits of the wind' (so, too, seven is a holy number in the Veda, etc.).
The Iroquois, like the Hindu (later), believe that the earth rests on the back of a turtle or tortoise, and that this is ruled over by the sun and moon, the first being a good spirit; the second, malignant. The good spirit interposes between the malice of the moon and mankind, and it is he who makes rivers; for when the earth was parched, all the water being held back from earth under the armpit of a monster frog, he pierced the armpit and let out the water (exactly as Indra lets out the water held back by the demon). According to some, this great spirit created mankind, but in the third generation a deluge destroyed his posterity. The good spirit among the Iroquois is the one that gives good luck (perhaps Bhaga). These Indians believe in the immortality of the soul. Skillful hunters, brave warriors, go, after death, to the happy hunting-grounds (as in India and Scandinavia); the cowardly and weak are doomed to live in dreary regions of mist and darkness (compare Niflheim and the Iranian eschatology?). To pass over other religious correspondences, the sacrifice of animals, use of amulets, love-charms, magic, and sorcery, which are all like those of Aryans (to compare, also, are the burying or exposing of the dead and the Hurons' funeral games), let one take this as a good illustration of the value of 'comparative Aryan mythology':
According to the Aryan belief the soul of the dead passes over a stream, across a bridge, past a dog or two, which guard the gate of paradise. The Hindu, Iranian, Greek, and Scandinavian, all have the dog, and much emphasis has been laid on the 'Aryan' character of this creed. The native Iroquois Indians believed that "the spirits on their journey (to heaven) were beset with difficulties and perils. There was a swift river to be crossed on a log that shook beneath the feet, while a ferocious dog opposed their passage." Here is the Persians' narrow bridge, and even Kerberos himself!
It is also interesting to note that, as the Hindus identify with the sun so many of their great gods, so the Iroquois "sacrifices to some superior spirit, or to the sun, with which the superior spirits were constantly confounded by the primitive Indian."
Weber holds that because Greek and Hindu gave the name 'bear' to a constellation, therefore this is the "primitive Indo-Germanic name of the star." But the Massachusetts Indians "gave their own name for bear to the Ursa major" (Williams' 'Key,' cited Palfrey, I. p. 36; so Lafitau, further west).
Again, three, seven, and even 'thrice-seven,' are holy not only in India but in America.
In this new world are found, to go further, the analogues of Varuna in the monotheistic god Viracocha of the Peruvians, to whom is addressed this prayer: "Cause of all things! ever present, helper, creator, ever near, ever fortunate one! Thou incorporeal one above the sun, infinite, and beneficent"; of the Vedic Snake of the Deep, in the Mexican Cloud-serpent; of the Vedic Lightning-bird, who brings fire from heaven, in the Indian Thunder-bird, who brings fire from heaven; of the preservation of one individual from a flood (in the epic, Manu's 'Seven Seers') in the same American myth, even including the holy mountain, which is still shown; of the belief that the sun is the home of departed spirits, in the same belief all over America; of the belief that stars are the souls of the dead, in the same belief held by the Pampas; and even of the late Brahmanic custom of sacrificing the widow (suttee), in the practice of the Natchez Indians, and in Guatemala, of burning the widow on the pyre of the dead husband. The storm wind (Odin) as highest god is found among the Choctaws; while 'Master of Breath' is the Creeks' name for this divinity. Huraka (hurricane, ouragon, ourage) is the chief god in Hayti. An exact parallel to the vague idea of hell at the close of the Vedic period, with the gradual increase of the idea, alternating with a theory of reincarnation, may be found in the fact that, in general, there is no notion of punishment after death among the Indians of the New World; but that, while the good are assisted and cared for after death by the 'Master of Breath,' the Creeks believe that the liar, the coward, and the niggard (Vedic sinners par excellence!) are left to shift for themselves in darkness; whereas the Aztecs believed in a hell surrounded by the water called 'Nine Rivers,' guarded by a dog and a dragon; and the great Eastern American tribes believe that after the soul has been for a while in heaven it can, if it chooses, return to earth and be born again as a man, utilizing its old bones (which are, therefore, carefully preserved by the surviving members of the family) as a basis for a new body.
To turn to another foreign religion, how tempting would it be to see in Nutar the 'abstract power' of the Egyptian, an analogue of brahma and the other 'power' abstractions of India; to recognize Brahm[=a] in El; and in Nu, sky, and expanse of waters, to see Varuna; especially when one compares the boat-journey of the Vedic seer with R[=a]'s boat in Egypt. Or, again, in the twin children of R[=a] to see the Açvins; and to associate the mundane egg of the Egyptians with that of the Brahmans. Certainly, had the Egyptians been one of the Aryan families, all these conceptions had been referred long ago to the category of 'primitive Aryan ideas.' But how primitive is a certain religious idea will not be shown by simple comparison of Aryan parallels. It will appear more often that it is not 'primitive,' but, so to speak, per-primitive, aboriginal with no one race, but with the race of man. When we come to describe the religions of the wild tribes of India it will be seen that among them also are found traits common, on the one hand, to the Hindu, and on the other to the wild tribes of America. With this warning in mind one may inquire at last in how far a conservative judgment can find among the Aryans themselves an identity of original conception in the different forms of divinities and religious rites. Foremost stand the universal chrematheism, worship of inanimate objects regarded as usefully divine, and the cult of the departed dead. This latter is almost universal, perhaps pan-Aryan, and Weber is probably right in assuming that the primitive Aryans believed in a future life. But Benfey's identification of Tartaras with the Sanskrit Tal[=a]tala, the name of a special hell in very late systems of cosmogony, is decidedly without the bearing he would put upon it. The Sanskrit word may be taken directly from the Greek, but of an Aryan source for both there is not the remotest historical probability.
When, however, one comes to the Lord of the Dead he finds himself already in a narrower circle. Yama is the Persian Yima, and the name of Kerberos may have been once an adjective applied to the dog that guarded the path to paradise; but other particular conceptions that gather about each god point only to a period of Indo-Iranian unity.
Of the great nature-gods the sun is more than Aryan, but doubtless was Aryan, for S[=u]rya is Helios, but Savitar is a development especially Indian. Dy[=a]ús-pitar is Zeús-pater, Jupiter. Trita, scarcely Triton, is the Persian Thraetaona who conquers Vritra, as does Indra in India. The last, on the other hand, is to be referred only hesitatingly to the demon A[=n]dra of the Avesta. Varuna, despite phonetic difficulties, probably is Ouranos; but Asura (Asen?) is a title of many gods in India's first period, while the corresponding Ahura is restricted to the good spirit, . The seven [=A]dityas are reflected in the Amesha Çpentas of Zoroastrian Puritanism, but these are mere imitations, spiritualized and moralized into abstractions. Bhaga is Slavic Bogu and Persian Bagha; Mitra is Persian Mithra. The Açvins are all but in name the Greek gods Dioskouroi, and correspond closely in detail (riding on horses, healing and helping, originally twins of twilight). Tacitus gives a parallel Teutonic pair (Germ. 43). Ushas, on the other hand, while etymologically corresponding to Aurora, Eos, is a specially Indian development, as Eos has no cult. V[=a]ta, Wind, is an aboriginal god, and may perhaps be Wotan, Odin. Parjanya, the rain-god, as Bühler has shown, is one with Lithuanian Perkúna, and with the northern Fiögyu. The 'fashioner,' Tvashtar (sun) is only Indo-Iranian; Thw[=a]sha probably being the same word.
Of lesser mights, Angiras, name of fire, may be Persian angaros, 'fire-messenger' (compare ), perhaps originally one with Sk. ang[=a]ra, 'coal.' Hebe has been identified with yavy[=a], young woman, but this word is enough to show that Hebe has naught to do with the Indian pantheon. The Gandharva, moon, is certainly one with the Persian Gandarewa, but can hardly be identical with the Centaur. Saram[=a] seems to have, together with S[=a]rameya, a Grecian parallel development in Helena (a goddess in Sparta), Selene, Hermes; and Sarany[=u] may be the same with Erinnys, but these are not Aryan figures in the form of their respective developments, though they appear to be so in origin. It is scarcely possible that Earth is an Aryan deity with a cult, though different Aryan (and un-Aryan) nations regarded her as divine. The Maruts are especially Indian and have no primitive identity as gods with Mars, though the names may be radically connected. The fire-priests, Bhrigus, are supposed to be one with the . The fact that the fate of each in later myth is to visit hell would presuppose, however, an Aryan notion of a torture-hell, of which the Rig Veda has no conception. The Aryan identity of the two myths is thereby made uncertain, if not implausible. The special development in India of the fire-priest that brings down fire from heaven, when compared with the personification of the 'twirler' (Promantheus) in Greece, shows that no detailed myth was current in primitive times. The name of the fire-priest, brahman = fla(g)men(?), is an indication of the primitive fire-cult in antithesis to the soma-cult, which latter belongs to the narrower circle of the Hindus and Persians. Here, however, in the identity of names for sacrifice (yajna, yaçna) and of barhis, the sacrificial straw, of soma = haoma, together with many other liturgical similarities, as in the case of the metres, one must recognize a fully developed soma-cult prior to the separation of the Hindus and Iranians.
Of demigods of evil type the Y[=a]tus are both Hindu and Iranian, but the priest-names of the one religion are evil names in the other, as the devas, gods, of one are the daevas, demons, of the other. There are no other identifications that seem at all certain in the strict province of religion, although in myth the form of Manus, who is the Hindu Noah, has been associated with Teutonic Mannus, and Greek Minos, noted in Thucydides for his sea-faring. He is to Yama (later regarded as his brother) as is Noah to Adam.
We do not lay stress on lack of equation in proper names, but, as Schrader shows (p. 596 ff.), very few comparisons on this line have a solid phonetic foundation. Minos, Manu; Ouranos, Varuna; Wotan, V[=a]ta, are dubious; and some equate flamen with blôtan, sacrifice.
Other wider or narrower comparisons, such as Neptunus from náp[=a]t ap[=a]m, seem to us too daring to be believed. Apollo (sapary), Aphrodite (Apsaras), Artamis (non-existent [r.]tam[=a]l), P[=a]n (pavana), have been cleverly compared, but the identity of forms has scarcely been proved. Nor is it important for the comparative mythologist that Okeanus is 'lying around' ([=a]çáy[=a]na). More than that is necessary to connect Ocean mythologically with the demon that surrounds (swallows) the waters of the sky. The Vedic parallel is rather Ras[=a], the far-off great 'stream.' It is rarely that one finds Aryan equivalents in the land of fairies and fays. Yet are the Hindu clever artizan Ribhus our 'elves,' who, even to this day, are distinct from fairies in their dexterity and cleverness, as every wise child knows.
But animism, as simple spiritism, fetishism, perhaps ancestor-worship, and polytheism, with the polydaemonism that may be called chrematheism, exists from the beginning of the religious history, undisturbed by the proximity of theism, pantheism, or atheism; exactly as to-day in the Occident, beside theism and atheism, exist spiritism and fetishism (with their inherent magic), and even ancestor-worship, as implied by the reputed after-effect of parental curses.
When the circle is narrowed to that of the Indo-Iranian connection the similarity in religion between the Veda and Avesta becomes much more striking than in any other group, as has been shown. It is here that the greatest discrepancy in opinion obtains among modern scholars. Some are inclined to refer all that smacks of Persia to a remote period of Indo-Iranian unity, and, in consequence, to connect all tokens of contact with the west with far-away regions out of India. It is scarcely possible that such can be the case. But, on the other hand, it is unhistorical to connect, as do some scholars, the worship of soma and Varuna with a remote period of unity, and then with a jump to admit a close connection between Veda and Avesta in the Vedic period. The Vedic Aryans appear to have lived, so to speak, hand in glove with the Iranians for a period long enough for the latter to share in that advance of Varuna-worship from polytheism to quasi-monotheism which is seen in the Rig Veda. This worship of Varuna as a superior god, with his former equals ranged under him in a group, chiefly obtains in that family (be it of priest or tribe, or be the two essentially one from a religious point of view) which has least to do with pure soma-worship, the inherited Indo-Iranian cult; and the Persian Ahura, with the six spiritualized equivalents of the old Vedic [=A]dityas, can have come into existence only as a direct transformation of the latter cult, which in turn is later than the cult that developed in one direction as chief of gods a Zeus; in another, a Bhaga; in a third, an Odin. On the other hand, in the gradual change in India of Iranic gods to devils, asuras, there is an exact counterpart to the Iranian change of meaning from deva to daeva. But if this be the connection, it is impossible to assume a long break between India and the west, and then such a sudden tie as is indicated by the allusions in the Rig Veda to the Persians and other western lands. The most reasonable view, therefore, appears to be that the Vedic and Iranian Aryans were for a long time in contact, that the contact began to cease as the two peoples separated to east and west, but that after the two peoples separated communication was sporadically kept up between them by individuals in the way of trade or otherwise. This explains the still surviving relationship as it is found in later hymns and in thank-offerings apparently involving Iranian personages.
They that believe in a monotheistic Varuna-cult preceding the Vedic polytheism must then ignore the following facts: The Slavic equivalent of Bhaga and the Teutonic equivalent of V[=a]ta are to these respective peoples their highest gods. They had no Varuna. Moreover, there is not the slightest proof that Ouranos in Greece was ever a god worshipped as a great god before Zeus, nor is there any probability that to the Hindu Dyaus Pitar was ever a great god, in the sense that he ever had a special cult as supreme deity. He is physically great, and physically he is father, as is Earth mother, but he is religiously great only in the Hellenic-Italic circle, where exists no Uranos-cult. Rather is it apparent that the Greek raised Zeus, as did the Slav Bhaga, to his first head of the pantheon. Now when one sees that in the Vedic period Varuna is the type of [=A]dityas, to which belong Bhaga and Mitra as distinctly less important personages, it is plain that this can mean only that Varuna has gradually been exalted to his position at the expense of the other gods. Nor is there perfect uniformity between Persian and Hindu conceptions. Asura in the Veda is not applied to Varuna alone. But in the Avesta, Ahura is the one great spirit, and his six spirits are plainly a protestant copy and modification of Varuna and his six underlings. This, then, can mean—which stands in concordance with the other parallels between the two religions—only that Zarathustra borrows the Ahura idea from the Vedic Aryans at a time when Varuna was become superior to the other gods, and when the Vedic cult is established in its second phase. To this fact points also the evidence that shows how near together geographically were once the Hindus and Persians. Whether one puts the place of separation at the Kabul or further to the north-west is a matter of indifference. The Persians borrow the idea of Varuna Asura, whose eye is the sun. They spiritualize this, and create an Asura unknown to other nations.
Of von Bradke's attempt to prove an original Dyaus Asura we have said nothing, because the attempt has failed signally. He imagines that the epithet Asura was given to Dyaus in the Indo-Iranian period, and that from a Dyaus Pitar Asura the Iranians made an abstract Asura, while the Hindus raised the other gods and depressed Dyaus Pitar Asura; whereas it is quite certain that Varuna (Asura) grew up, out, and over the other Asuras, his former equals.
And yet it is almost a pity to spend time to demonstrate that Varuna-worship was not monotheistic originally. We gladly admit that, even if not a primitive monotheistic deity, Varuna yet is a god that belongs to a very old period of Hindu literature. And, for a worship so antique, how noble is the idea, how exalted is the completed conception of him! Truly, the Hindus and Persians alone of Aryans mount nearest to the high level of Hebraic thought. For Varuna beside the loftiest figure in the Hellenic pantheon stands like a god beside a man. The Greeks had, indeed, a surpassing aesthetic taste, but in grandeur of religious ideas even the daring of Aeschylus becomes but hesitating bravado when compared with the serene boldness of the Vedic seers, who, first of their race, out of many gods imagined God.
In regard to eschatology, as in regard to myths, it has been shown that the utmost caution in identification is called for. It may be surmised that such or such a belief or legend is in origin one with a like faith or tale of other peoples. But the question whether it be one in historical origin or in universal mythopoetic fancy, and this latter be the only common origin, must remain in almost every case unanswered. This is by far not so entertaining, nor so picturesque a solution as is the explanation of a common historical basis for any two legends, with its inspiring 'open sesame' to the door of the locked past. But which is truer? Which accords more with the facts as they are collected from a wider field? As man in the process of development, in whatever quarter of earth he be located, makes for himself independently clothes, language, and gods, so he makes myths that are more or less like those of other peoples, and it is only when names coincide and traits that are unknown elsewhere are strikingly similar in any two mythologies that one has a right to argue a probable community of origin.
But even if the legend of the flood were Babylonian, and the Asuras as devils were due to Iranian influence—which can neither be proved nor disproved—the fact remains that the Indian religion in its main features is of a purely native character.
As the most prominent features of the Vedic religion must be regarded the worship of soma of nature-gods that are in part already more than this, of spirits, and of the Manes; the acknowledgment of a moral law and a belief in a life hereafter. There is also a vaguer nascent belief in a creator apart from any natural phenomenon, but the creed for the most part is poetically, indefinitely, stated: 'Most wonder-working of the wonder-working gods, who made heaven and earth'(as above). The corresponding Power is Cerus in Cerus-Creator (Kronos?), although when a name is given, the Maker, Dh[=a]tar, is employed; while Tvashtar, the artificer, is more an epithet of the sun than of the unknown creator. The personification of Dh[=a]tar as creator of the sun, etc., belongs to later Vedic times, and foreruns the Father-god of the last Vedic period. Not till the classical age (below) is found a formal identification of the Vedic nature-gods with the departed Fathers (Manes). Indra, for example, is invoked in the Rig Veda to 'be a friend, be a father, be more fatherly than the fathers'; but this implies no patristic side in Indra, who is called in the same hymn (vs. 4) the son of Dyaus (his father); and Dyaus Pitar no more implies, as say some sciolists, that Dyaus was regarded as a human ancestor than does 'Mother Earth' imply a belief that Earth is the ghost of a dead woman.
In the Veda there is a nature-religion and an ancestor-religion. These approach, but do not unite; they are felt as sundered beliefs. Sun-myths, though by some denied in toto, appear plainly in the Vedic hymns. Dead heroes may be gods, but gods, too, are natural phenomena, and, again, they are abstractions. He that denies any one of these sources of godhead is ignorant of India.
Müller, in his Ancient Sanskrit Literature, has divided Vedic literature into four periods, that of chandas, songs; mantras, texts; br[=a]hmanas; and s[=u]tras. The mantras are in distinction from chandas, the later hymns to the earlier gods. The latter distinction can, however, be established only on subjective grounds, and, though generally unimpeachable, is sometimes liable to reversion. Thus, Müller looks upon RV. VIII. 30 as 'simple and primitive,' while others see in this hymn a late mantra. Between the Rig Veda and the Br[=a]hmanas, which are in prose, lies a period filled out in part by the present form of the Atharva Veda, which, as has been shown, is a Veda of the low cult that is almost ignored by the Rig Veda, while it contains at the same time much that is later than the Rig Veda, and consists of old and new together in a manner entirely conformable to the state of every other Hindu work of early times. After this epoch there is found in the liturgical period, into which extend the later portions of the Rig Veda (noticeably parts of the first, fourth, eighth, and tenth books), a religion which, in spiritual tone, in metaphysical speculation, and even in the interpretation of some of the natural divinities, differs not more from the bulk of the Rig Veda than does the social status of the time from that of the earlier text. Religion has become, in so far as the gods are concerned, a ritual. But, except in the building up of a Father-god, theology is at bottom not much altered, and the eschatological conceptions remain about as they were, despite a preliminary sign of the doctrine of metempsychosis. In the Atharva Veda, for the first time, hell is known by its later name (xii. 4. 36), and perhaps its tortures; but the idea of future punishment appears plainly first in the Brahmanic period. Both the doctrine of re-birth and that of hell appear in the earliest S[=u]tras, and consequently the assumption that these dogmas come from Buddhism does not appear to be well founded; for it is to be presumed whatever religious belief is established in legal literature will have preceded that literature by a considerable period, certainly by a greater length of time than that which divides the first Brahmanic law from Buddhism.
|Written By Edward Washburn Hopkins|
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