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Hinduism And Buddhism Vol. 2

An Historical Sketch

Part 2

[Page 140] Though alike in their grandeur and multiplicity, Vishṇu and Śiva are not otherwise similar. In their completely developed forms they represent two ways of looking at the world. The main ideas of the Vaishṇavas are human and emotional. The deity saves and loves: he asks for a worship of love. He appears in human incarnations and is known as well or better by these incarnations than in his original form.

But in Śivaism the main current of thought is scientific and philosophic rather than emotional.1 This statement may seem strange if one thinks of the wild rites and legends connected with Śiva and his spouse. Nevertheless the fundamental conception of Śivaism, the cosmic force which changes and in changing both destroys and reproduces, is strictly scientific and contrasts with the human, pathetic, loving sentiments of Vishnuism. And scandalous as the worship of the generative principle may become, the potency of this impulse in the world scheme cannot be denied.

Agreeably to his character of a force rather than an emotion Śiva does not become incarnate2 as a popular hero and saviour like Râma or Kṛishṇa, but he assumes various supernatural forms for special purposes. Both worships, despite their differences, show characteristics which are common to most phases of Indian religion.

Both seek for deliverance from transmigration and are penetrated with a sense of the sorrow inherent in human and animal life: both develop or adopt philosophical doctrines which rise high above the level usually attained by popular beliefs, and both [Page 141] have erotic aspects in which they fall below the standard of morality usually professed by important sects whether in Asia or Europe.

The name Śiva is euphemistic. It means propitious and, like Eumenides, is used as a deprecating and complimentary title for the god of terrors. It is not his earliest designation and does not occur as a proper name in the Ṛig Veda where he is known as Rudra, a word of disputed derivation, but probably meaning the roarer. Comparatively few hymns are addressed to Rudra, but he is clearly distinguished from the other Vedic gods. Whereas they are cheerful and benevolent figures, he is maleficent and terrible: they are gods of the heaven but he is a god of the earth.

He is the "man-slayer" and the sender of disease, but if he restrains these activities he can give safety and health. "Slay us not, for thou art gracious," and so the Destroyer comes to be the Gracious One.3 It has been suggested that the name Śiva is connected with the Tamil word çivappu red and also that Rudra means not the roarer but the red or shining one. These etymologies seem to me possible but not proved. But Rudra is different in character from the other gods of the Ṛig Veda.

It would be rash to say that the Aryan invaders of India brought with them no god of this sort but it is probable that this element in their pantheon increased as they gradually united in blood and ideas with the Dravidian population. But we know nothing of the beliefs of the Dravidians at this remote period. We only know that in later ages emotional religion, finding expression as so-called devil-dancing in its lower and as mystical poetry in its higher phases, was prevalent among them.

The White Yajur Veda4 contains a celebrated prayer known as the Śatarudrîya addressed to Rudra or the Rudras, for the power invoked seems to be now many and now one. This deity, who is described by a long string of epithets, receives the name of Śaṅkara (afterwards a well-known epithet of Śiva) and is blue-necked.

He is begged to be Śiva or propitious, but the word is an epithet, not a proper name.
He haunts mountains and deserted, uncanny places:
he is the patron of violent and lawless men,
of soldiers and robbers (the two are evidently [Page 142] considered much the same),
of thieves, cheats and pilferers,5 but also of craftsmen and huntsmen and is himself

"an observant merchant":

he is the lord of hosts of spirits,

"ill-formed and of all forms."

But he is also a great cosmic force who

"dwells in flowing streams and in billows and in tranquil waters and in rivers and on islands ...
and at the roots of trees ...":


"exists in incantations, in punishments, in prosperity, in the soil, in the threshing-floor ...
in the woods and in the bushes, in sound and in echo ...
in young grass and in foam ...
in gravel and in streams ...
in green things and in dry things....
Reverence to the leaf and to him who is in the fall of the leaf, the threatener, the slayer, the vexer and the afflicter."

Here we see how an evil and disreputable god, the patron of low castes and violent occupations, becomes associated with the uncanny forces of nature and is on the way to become an All-God.6

Rudra is frequently mentioned in the Atharva Veda. He is conceived much as in the Śatarudrîya, and is the lord of spirits and of animals.

"For thee the beasts of the wood, the deer, swans and various winged birds are placed in the forest: thy living creatures exist in the waters: for thee the celestial waters flow. Thou shootest at the monsters of the ocean, and there is to thee nothing far or near."7

These passages show that the main conceptions out of which the character of the later Śiva is built existed in Vedic times. The Rudra of the Yajur and Atharva Vedas is not Brahmanic: he is not the god of priests and orderly ritual, but of wild people and places. But he is not a petty provincial demon who afflicts rustics and their cattle. Though there is some hesitation between one Rudra and many Rudras, the destructive forces are unified in thought and the destroyer is not opposed to creation as a devil or as the principle of evil, but with profounder insight is recognized as the Lord and Law of all living things.

But though the outline of Śiva is found in Vedic writings, later centuries added new features to his cult. Chief among these is the worship of a column known as the Linga, the emblem under which he is now most commonly adored. It is a phallic [Page 143] symbol though usually decent in appearance. The Vedas do not countenance this worship and it is not clear that it was even known to them.8

It is first enjoined in the Mahâbhârata and there only in two passages9 which appear to be late additions. The inference seems to be that it was accepted as part of Hinduism just about the time that our edition of the Mahâbhârata was compiled.10 The old theory that it was borrowed from aboriginal and especially from Dravidian tribes11 is now discredited. In the first place the instances cited of phallic worship among aboriginal tribes are not particularly numerous or striking.

Secondly, linga worship, though prevalent in the south, is not confined to it, but flourishes in all parts of India, even in Assam and Nepal.

Thirdly, it is not connected with low castes, with orgies, with obscene or bloodthirsty rites or with anything which can be called un-Aryan. It forms part of the private devotions of the strictest Brahmans, and despite the significance of the emblem, the worship offered to it is perfectly decorous.12 The evidence thus suggests that this cultus grew up among Brahmanical Hindus in the early centuries of our era.

The idea that there was something divine in virility and generation already existed. The choice of the symbol—the stone pillar—may have been influenced by two circumstances.

1) Firstly, the Buddhist veneration of stûpas, especially miniature stûpas, must have made familiar the idea that a cone or column is a religious emblem,13

2) and secondly the linga may be compared to [Page 144] the carved pillars or stone standards erected in honour of Vishṇu.

Some lingas are carved and bear one or four faces, thus entirely losing any phallic appearance. The wide extension of this cult, though its origin seems late, is remarkable. Something similar may be seen in the worship of Gaṇeśa: the first records of it are even later, but it is now universal in India.

It may seem strange that a religion whose outward ceremonies though unassuming and modest consist chiefly of the worship of the linga, should draw its adherents largely from the educated classes and be under no moral or social stigma. Yet as an idea, as a philosophy, Śivaism possesses truth and force.

It gives the best picture which humanity has drawn of the Lord of this world, not indeed of the ideal to which the saint aspires, nor of the fancies with which hope and emotion people the spheres behind the veil, but of the force which rules the Universe as it is, which reproduces and destroys, and in performing one of these acts necessarily performs the other, seeing that both are but aspects of change.

For all animal and human existence14 is the product of sexual desire: it is but the temporary and transitory form of a force having neither beginning nor end but continually manifesting itself in individuals who must have a beginning and an end.

This force, to which European taste bids us refer with such reticence, is the true creator of the world. Not only is it unceasingly performing the central miracle of producing new lives but it accompanies it by unnumbered accessory miracles, which provide the new born child with nourishment and make lowly organisms care for their young as if they were gifted with human intelligence. But the Creator is also the Destroyer, not in anger but by the very nature of his activity.

When the series of changes culminates in a crisis and an individual breaks up, we see death and destruction, but in reality they occur throughout the process of growth. The egg is destroyed when the chicken is hatched: the embryo ceases to exist when the child is born; when the man comes into being, the child is no more. And for change, improvement and progress death is as necessary as birth. A world of immortals would be a static world.

When once the figure of Śiva has taken definite shape, [Page 145] attributes and epithets are lavished on it in profusion. He is the great ascetic, for asceticism in India means power, and Śiva is the personification of the powers of nature. He may alternate strangely between austerities and wild debauch, but the sentimentality of some Kṛishṇaite sects is alien to him.

He is a magician, the lord of troops of spirits, and thus draws into his circle all the old animistic worship. But he is also identified with Time (Mahâkâla) and Death (Mṛityu) and as presiding over procreation he is Ardhanareśvara, half man, half woman. Stories are invented or adapted to account for his various attributes, and he is provided with a divine family.

He dwells on Mount Kailâsa: he has three eyes: above the central one is the crescent of the moon and the stream of the Ganges descends from his braided hair: his throat is blue and encircled by a serpent and a necklace of skulls. In his hands he carries a three-pronged trident and a drum. But the effigy or description varies, for Śiva is adored under many forms.

He is Mahâdeva, the Great God, Hara the Seizer, Bhairava the terrible one, Paśupati, the Lord of cattle, that is of human souls who are compared to beasts. Local gods and heroes are identified with him. Thus Gor Bâba,15 said to be a deified ghost of the aboriginal races, reappears as Goreśvara and is counted a form of Śiva, as is also Khandoba or Khande Rao, a deity connected with dogs.

Gaṇeśa, "the Lord of Hosts," the God who removes obstacles and is represented with an elephant's head and accompanied by a rat, is recognized as Śiva's son. Another son is Skanda or Kârtikeya, the God of War, a great deity in Ceylon and southern India. But more important both for the absorption of aboriginal cults and for its influence on speculation and morality is the part played by Śiva's wife or female counterpart.

The worship of goddesses, though found in many sects, is specially connected with Śivaism. A figure analogous to the Madonna, the kind and compassionate goddess who helps and pities all, appears in later Buddhism but for some reason this train of thought has not been usual in India.

Lakshmî, Sarasvatî and Sîtâ are benevolent, but they hold no great position in popular esteem,16 and the being who attracts millions of worshippers [Page 146] under such names as Kâlî, Durgâ, or Mahâdevî, though she has many forms and aspects, is most commonly represented as a terrible goddess who demands offerings of blood.

The worship of this goddess or goddesses, for it is hard to say if she is one or many, is treated of in a separate chapter. Though in shrines dedicated to Śiva his female counterpart or energy (Śakti) also receives recognition, yet she is revered as the spouse of her lord to whom honour is primarily due. But in Śâktist worship adoration is offered to the Śakti as being the form in which his power is made manifest or even as the essential Godhead.

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- Footnotes:


But some forms of Śivaism in southern India come even nearer to emotional Christianity than does Vishnuism.


I cannot discover that any alleged avatâra of Śiva has now or has had formerly any importance, but the Vâyu, Liṅga and Kûrma Purâna give lists of such incarnations, as does also the Catechism of the Shaiva religion translated by Foulkes. But Indian sects have a strong tendency to ascribe all possible achievements and attributes to their gods. The mere fact that Vishṇu becomes incarnate incites the ardent Śivaite to say that his god can do the same. A curious instance of this rivalry is found in the story that Śiva manifested himself as Śarabha-mûrti in order to curb the ferocity of Vishṇu when incarnate in the Man Lion (see Gopinâtha Rao, Hindu Icon. p. 45). Śiva often appears in a special form, not necessarily human, for a special purpose (e.g. Vîrabhadra) and some tantric Buddhas seem to be imitations of these apparitions. There is a strong element of Śivaism borrowed from Bengal in the mythology of Tibet and Mongolia, where such personages as Hevajra, Saṃvara, and Mahâkâla have a considerable importance under the strange title of Buddhas.


The passage from one epithet to the other is very plain in R.V. I. 114.


Book XVI.


In the play Mricchakaṭikâ or The Clay Cart (probably of the sixth century A.D.) a burglar invokes Kârtikeya, the son of Śiva, who is said to have taught different styles of house-breaking.


A similarly strange collocation of attributes is found in Daksha's hymn to Śiva. Mahâbhârata, XII. Sec. 285.


Atharva, V. xi. 2. 24.


It is not certain if the Śisṇadevâh whom Indra is asked to destroy in Ṛig. V. VII. 21. 5 and X. 99. 3 are priapic demons or worshippers of the phallus.


VII. secs. 202, 203, and XIII. sec. 14.


The inscriptions of Camboja and Champa seem to be the best proof of the antiquity of Linga worship. A Cambojan inscription of about 550 A.D. records the dedication of a linga and the worship must have taken some time to reach Camboja from India. Some lingas discovered in India are said to be anterior to the Christian era.


See F. Kittel, Ueber den Ursprung der Linga Kultus, and Barth, Religions of India, p. 261.


As is also its appearance, as a rule. But there are exceptions to this. Some Hindus deny that the Linga is a phallic emblem. It is hardly possible to maintain this thesis in view of such passages as Mahâbh. XIII. 14 and the innumerable figures in which there are both a linga and a Yoni. But it is true that in its later forms the worship is purged of all grossness and that in its earlier forms the symbol adored was often a stûpa-like column or a pillar with figures on it.


Such scenes as the relief from Amarâvati figured in Grünwedel, Buddhist art in India, p. 29, fig. 8, might easily be supposed to represent the worship of the linga, and some of Aśoka's pillars have been worshipped as lingas in later times.


But not of course the soul which, according to the general Indian idea, exists before and continues after the life of the body.


Crooke, Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India, I. 84; II. 219.


They are however of some importance in Vishnuite theology. For instance according to the school of Râmânuja it is the Śakti (Śrî) who reveals the true doctrine to mankind. Vishṇu is often said to have three consorts, Śrî, Bhû and Lîlâ.

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