with last month's article on
the "lesser" Gods of Hinduism, we follow
with the next set of these deities. As explained earlier, there
are supposedly about three hundred and thirty crore Gods in Hinduism,
and we will be discussing only a few amongst all these deities.
Yama, in Hindu mythology, is the lord of death. First recorded in the Vedas, Yama was considered to have been the first mortal who died and discovered the way to reach the celestial abodes. Becuase he was the pioneer, he became the ruler of the departed. According to some Hindu chronicles, however, Yama has been regarded as the god of death from time immemorial. The term, "Yama", could be interpreted to mean "twin", and in some myths he is paired with a twin sister Yami or Yamuna. Interestingly, this is traditionally the first human pair in the Vedas.
Yama is also known
as Dharma or the Dharmaraja, the Lord of Justice, as a mark of respect
to his unswerving dedication to maintaining order and harmony in the
Yama is assisted by
Chitragupta, who is given the task of keeping records of all actions of
human beings during their on the earth. Upon their death, this record
of Karma decides whether or not to have them reincarnated as a superior
or inferior organism.
Yama could be likened to the Greek deity, Hades or Pluto, the Lord of the Netherworld.
Yama is a Lokapaala
or caretaker of the world and an Aditya as well. He is the son of
Surya, the Sun God. He is also one among the Digpaalas or the Guardians
of the Directions and represents the south. It is believed that Yama is
one of the wisest of the devas. In the Katha Upanishad, Yama is
portrayed as a wise teacher. He is the father of Yudhisthira (also
known as Dharmaraja), the oldest of the 5 Pandava brothers and is
believed to have incarnated as Vidura, the wise minister, by some
accounts in the Mahabharata epic. Yama is also referred to as Kaala or
The Rigveda mentions
Yama as the son of Vivasvat and of Saranyu. Only three hymns of the
Rigveda address Yama. In the Rigveda, Yama's name is mentioned almost
exclusively in the first and more often in the tenth book.
Agni, the God of
Fire, who is also the conductor of the dead, has close
relations with Yama. Agni is said to be the friend of Yama. Agni is
also supposedly Yama's priest, serving as the burner of the dead.
IN THE BOOK
"STORIES FROM INDIAN MYTHOLOGY"
Certain Sanskrit sources state that Yama is dark in color, resembling rain-clouds, with two arms, fire-colored eyes and sharp side-tusks. He is often shown draped in red clothing, and seated either on a lion throne or a buffalo. The Vishnudharmottara, on the other hand, depicts Yama with four arms, wearing golden yellow garments. He holds a pasha (noose of rope) in one hand.
he is one of the most powerful deities of the Hindu pantheon, Yama is
still subordinate to Shiva and Vishnu, as they are part of the Divine
Trinity. The story of Markandeya aptly describes this aspect.
Markandeya is an
ancient sage, born in the clan of sage Bhrigu. Markandeya, whose name
features in many Puranas, was a devotee of both Shiva and Vishnu. One
legend relates the story of how Shiva protected Markandeya from Yama.
Sage Mrikandu and
his wife, Marudmati, performed a penance to Shiva to beget a son. Shiva
appeared before them and gave them the choice of either a gifted son,
but with a short life on earth or a child of low intelligence but with
a long life. Mrikandu Rishi chose the former, and Markandeya was born.
He was an exemplary son, ordained to die at the age of 16.
Markandeya was a
great devotee of Shiva and on the day of his supposed death, he
continued unruffled with his worship of Shiva in the form of the
Shivalinga. Yama's messengers tried to claim him, but were unable to do
himself came to take Markandeya's life away. He wound his noose around
the young boy's neck. The noose landed around the Shivalingam by error.
Out of it sprang Lord Shiva, in all his fury, attacking Yama for his
aggression. Shiva defeated Yama to the point of death and then revived
him, under the condition that his bhakta, Markandeya, would live
forever. Shiva, hence, is also referred to as Kaalakalaya, meaning 'the
one who brought death, to death himself'.
A popular tale from
the Bhagavata Purana shows how Yama was also under the control of
Vishnu. There was a time when the entire earth was about to be engulfed
by water. Markandeya prayed to Lord Vishnu. The Lord appeared in the
form of a child floating on a leaf, and declared to the sage that he
was Time and Death. He requested Markandeya to enter into his mouth and
save himself from the surging water. Inside the gigantic stomach,
Markandeya discovered all the worlds, the seven regions, the seven
oceans and all living beings.
Not knowing what to
do, Markandeya prayed to Vishnu. He immediately came out of the child's
mouth and Vishnu now appeared before him and blessed him. The legend
goes on to state that the sage spent a thousand years with Vishnu and
also composed the Bala Mukundashtakam on the Lord.
The concept of Yama exists in many other cultures of the world too. Buddhists also consider Yama as one of the major Gods. Yama is also a fundamental part of Iranian, Javanese, Chinese and Japanese mythology, though he has different functions to perform in different religions of the world.
TALES OF NARADA
Narada or Narada
Muni, as he is also called, is a divine sage in Vaishnavism, who
features as a central character in many Puranas and the Ramayana as
well. Narada is depicted as a wandering mendicant, who has the unique
ability to easily visit distant worlds or planets. He carries his Veena
(musical instrument) known as the Mahati. This he uses as accompaniment
when he sings prayers and mantras in the name of his Lord, Sri Maha
The Vedas describe
Narada as a saintly traveler who is so devoted to his Lord, that he
sometimes expands so much bodily, that he ends up breaking the sacred
thread on his body. Such is his bhakti that it fills and suffuses him
The word, "Naara"
means "knowledge" and "da" means "giver". So the name, Narada, aptly
signifies the sage's function as the one who spreads knowledge among
people. The Vaishnavaites tradition hold him in great reverence for his
chanting the names Hari and Narayana, as also his propagating bhakti
yoga as an easy way to attain God's grace. Sage Narada has himself
stated this in the Narada Bhakti Sutra.
Narada is considered
the Manasaputra of Brahma, as he is supposed to have taken birth from
the mind of The Creator. He is also the first living being as described
in the Puranic universe. He was also the first to learn about the Natya
Yoga or dance. Narada is commonly referred to as the Triloka sanchaari,
the one who has easy access to all the three lokas, namely, Swarga
(Heaven), Mrityuloka (earth) and Patalaloka (Netherworld).
He is also known as
Kalahapriya, as he playfully creates petty quarrels amongst Gods,
Goddesses and people. But in whatever Narada does, he only thinks of
the ultimate welfare and well-being of the people. Hence, the final
result of his actions is in the best interest for everyone concerned.
The Puranas list
Narada as one of the twelve Mahajanas, or great devotees of Vishnu. As
he was a gandharva in his previous birth, he also falls into the
category of a devarishi.
The Bhagavata Purana beautifully narrates the story of Narada's spiritual enlightenment. Narada was a gandharva (divine being) in his previous birth. He had been cursed to be born on earth, due to a sin he committed. Accordingly, he took birth as the son of a maid-servant to some particularly saintly Brahmin priests. The priests, being pleased with his mother's devoted service, blessed Narada and asked him to partake of the Prasad that had been offered to Vishnu during prayer.
Narada moved with
them more often and often heard them discussing many spiritual topics.
After the death of his mother, he decided to go in search of
Reaching a tranquil
forest location, he drank from a nearby stream and then sat under a
tree in meditation, concentrating on the Paramatma form of Vishnu
within his heart. Narada suddenly experienced a vision of Vishnu
appearing before him. Vishnu then disappeared as suddenly, leaving the
boy both thrilled and disappointed.
Narada then focused
his entire life on Vishnu's devotion, constantly meditating upon and
worshipping to Vishnu. After his mortal death, Vishnu blessed him with
the spiritual form of Narada, as he was known later. Several Hindu
scriptures consider Narada as a saktyavesa-avatara or
partial-manifestation of God.
There are many, many
stories and legends that revolve around Sage Narada. We bring you two
One day Narada came
upon a mystic yogi who had been undergoing severe austerities and
penance. Upon seeing Narada, the yogi, sensing that he was a spiritual
person, and asked Narada who he was. Narada introduced himself and the
Yogi paid his respects. He then asked Narada if he would ask the Lord
when the Yogi's cycle of birth and death would stop and he would get
liberated. Narada agreed and walked away.
The sage then came
upon a humble cobbler who lived under a tree. As soon as the cobbler
saw Narada Muni, he stood up to pay his respects and requested Narada
to ask Maha Vishnu the same thing the Yogi had asked him. Narada agreed
to that too and left.
Narada Muni told
Vishnu what he had experienced. The Supreme Lord said that the yogi
would be liberated only after one hundred lifetimes, while this would
be the cobbler's last, as he was a pure devotee. Vishnu also told
Narada to tell them that he was threading elephants through the eye of
a needle when Narada went to meet him.
When the Yogi learnt
he had a hundred more lifetimes before liberation, he was very angry
and refused to believe that Narada had actually met the Lord. Then he
asked the Sage what Vishnu was doing at that point of time. The Yogi
had a good laugh when Narada told him that he was threading elephants
through the eye of a needle. Then the Yogi walked away snorting
scornfully at Narada.
When Narada met the
cobbler met him and gave him his message, and also told him that Vishnu
was threading elephants through the eye of a needle, the latter started
shedding tears of joy and danced in sheer bhakti. Narada was surprised
the cobbler believed the story. On asking him, the cobbler said, "There
are countless thousands of these little fruits that fall off this
banyan tree. And in each of these fruits you will find there are
hundreds and hundreds of little seeds. In each of these little seeds
the Supreme Lord has placed a giant banyan tree. For the Supreme Lord,
nothing is inconceivable. He is truly wonderful." So saying, the
cobbler, who was the true devotee of the Lord, went dancing and singing
Sage Narada, a
confirmed bachelor, once went to meet Sri Krishna. Both of them talked
for a long time, after which they went for a walk. After walking a
great distance, Krishna requested Narada to bring him some water from a
nearby village. Glad to be of service to Krishna, proceeded to the
first house in the village to procure water for his Lord.
A young, beautiful
girl opened the door and Narada was stupefied by her. Forgetting all
about Krishna and the reason he came here, he enquired as to who the
girl was and who her father was. Introducing himself, he also expressed
a desire to marry her. Her father was overjoyed and immediately agreed
to the proposal.
The wedding took
place and Narada had fathered many children in 12 years of marriage.
Narada was very happy and peaceful throughout his married life.
One day, though, heavy rains lashed the village where he lived. Narada decided to leave the village like all the others residing there. Taking some necessary items, he took his family and waded through the waters. He could not see where he was going and tripped on the way. Losing all his belongings, he desperately held onto his family. But his children too slipped away into a vicious whirlpool. Even his wife was not spared and she too was pulled into the waters.
A flash of lightning almost blinded Narada. When it cleared up, though, Narada was astonished to see that he was standing near Krishna, where he had left him to go in search of water. There was no wife, no family, no rain, nothing at all.
Narada immediately understood that it was all the work of Maya or illusion and that the only real, permanent thing was the Lotus Feet of the Lord. He immediately fell at Krishna's feet and shed bitter tears, repenting his folly. He also requested to be free of Maya forever. Krishna granted Narada the boon and fondly, walked back with him to his palace.
SOMA - THE MOON GOD
IN THE BOOK
Soma was a ritual
drink of importance among the early Indo-Iranians, and then, the later
Vedic and greater Persian cultures too. This gets frequent mention in
the Rigveda as well, whose Soma Mandala contains many hymns praising
its energizing qualities.
potion is gotten by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain
plant, called Soma. In both Vedic and Zoroastrian tradition, the drink
is identified with the plant, and also personified as a divinity, the
three forming a religious or mythological unity.
There has been much speculation about the exact identity of the original plant. There is still no consensus on the subject, although most experts now seem to favour a species of Ephedra.
Soma is depicted as
a deva in the Vedas. Then, the god, the drink and the plant were
presumably used interchangeably - the line of differentiation was
ambiguous. There are wo holy drinks. One is Soma for the immortal soul
and the other, the Amrita for the immortal body. Amrita could be
likened to the Greek Ambrosia. Hindu texts often portray Indra and Agni
consuming Soma in rather large quantities!
Interestingly, the Ninth Mandala of the Rigveda, which consists of hyms addressed to Soma Pavamma, is known as the Soma Mandala. The drink Soma was kept and distributed by the Gandharvas. In the Vedic ritual Agnistoma (or Somoyaga), Soma is to be presented as the main offerings to the presiding deity.
In Hinduism, the god
Soma, also referred to as Chandra or the Moon God, was depicted as a
bull or bird, and sometimes even as an embryo, but rarely as an adult
human. This deity evolved into a lunar deity. Hence, the full moon is
considered the right time to collect the divine drink. The moon is also
the cup from which the gods drink Soma. This identifies Soma even more
with the Moon God, Chandra.
A waxing moon meant Soma was recreating himself, ready to be drunk again. Monday is referred to as Somavaram in Sanskrit and Hindi and most other Indian languages.
meaning, "the creator of the Universe", is the presiding deity of all
craftsmen and architects in Hindu culture. He is the "Carpenter of the
Gods", the architect who designed the architecture of the entire
Universe. He is called 'Devashilpi' or 'The Architect of Gods'.
Vishwakarma is also the designer of all the flying chariots of the
gods, and all their weapons and divine attributes. He is said to have
revealed the Sthapatyaveda or fourth Upa-veda, and presides over the
sixty-four mechanical arts.
Vishwakarma, the son
of Prabhas, the eighth hermit of the legendary Astam Basu, is also
credited with creating the missiles used in the mythological era,
including Indra's Vajra from the bones of sage Dadhichi.
describes Viswakarma as a Virad purusha, from whose navel the divine
smith Tvastar originated. It is commonly believed that Vishwakarma
created 5 Brahmas from each of his 5 faces, namely, Sanaga Brahma
Rishi, Sanaathana Brahma Rishi, Abhuvanasa Brahma Rishi, Prathnasa
Brahma Rishi and Suparnasa Brahma Rishi.
Vishwakarma is hence
identified with Prajapati, or the Lord of Creation. He is often
portrayed as the universal Father and Generator, who has on every side
eyes, faces, arms, and feet.
The Rig Veda
venerated Vishwakarma as the only one beyond the Seven Rishis. It also
describes him as the god with multi-dimensional vision and supreme
strength, who can easily predict in which direction his creation will
Virat Viswakarma as
appears with five tilakamarked faces sadyojaatha, vaamaka, aghora,
tathpurusha, and eesaana. Interestingly, Shiva's five faces also have
the same names, so it is possible he was also considered equal to that
deity as well.
He appears with ten
arms holding a book and stylus, sword, adze, citron, cup, water-pot,
rosary, cobra and noose. Vishwakarma's hands represent sternness and
beneficence (one closed and one open).
represents Vishwakarma as having built the island of Lanka and also as
having created the ape Nala, who built Rama's bridge from the continent
to the island.
(Blacksmiths), Kamsya Shilpis (Bronzesmiths), Daru Shilpis
(Carpenters), Rathi Shilpis (Architects/Masons/Sculptors) and Swarna
Shilpis (Goldsmiths) are all considered to be the descendants of this
commemorated on Rishi Panchami. The above-mentioned five groups among
of the Vishwakarma community celebrate this as an auspicious day,
spending it in prayer of Vishwakarma.
Jayanthi, which is widely celebrated by industrial houses, artisans and
craftsmen, is observed on the Kanya Sankranti Day, which falls on
September 17 every year. It is believed that on this day, the
forefathers of the Vishwakarma people invented the plough and gave it
to humanity. The plough represents agriculture and therefore becomes
the most vital symbol of the ancient Indian civilization. This also
happens to be the birthday of Vishwakarma.
JAGANNATH TEMPLE IN PURI
created many architectural wonders. He had built several towns and
palaces for the gods through all the four yugas. The Jagannath Temple,
a sacred Hindu temple in Puri, is famous for its huge sculptures of
Krishna, Subhadra and Balarama, of which Vishwakarma is considered the
Dwarka, the capital
of Lord Krishna, is also one among the many towns Viswakarma built.
That is why this place has become a well known pilgrimage for the
Hindus today. In the Kali Yuga, Viswakarma has built the town of
Hastinapura, the capital of Kauravas and Pandavas, the warring families
of the Mahabharata. After winning the battle of Kurukshetra, Lord
Krishna installed Dharmaraj Yudhisthir as the ruler of Hastinapura.
built the town of Indraprastha for the Pandavas. The other mystical
creator, according to Hindu mythology, is Maya. The Mahabharata has it
that King Dhritrashtra offered a piece of land called 'Khaandavprastha'
to the Pandavas for living. Yudhishtir obeyed his uncle's order and
went to live in Khaandavprastha with the Pandava brothers. Later, Lord
Krishna invited Viswakarma to build a capital for the Pandavas right on
this plot of land, which he called 'Indraprastha'.
The floors of this
palace were so well done that they had a reflection like that of water,
and the pools and ponds inside the palace gave the illusion of a flat
surface with no water in them. After the palace was built, the Pandavas
invited the Kauravas, and Duryodhana and his brothers went to visit
Indraprastha. The unsuspecting Duryodhan thought he was walking on the
floor and fell into one of the ponds. Draupadi, who witnessed this
scene, had a good laugh. This insult annoyed Duryodhan so much that
later on it became a major cause for the great Mahabharata war at
Kurukshetra, as described in the Bhagavad Gita.
Vayu is a Hindu
deity, presiding over the element of air. Vayu is hence the Lord of the
winds. Vayu, the father of Bhima and the spiritual father of Lord
Hanuman, is also known as Pavana, Vaata and Praana. Vayu is one of the
Panchamahabhutas or five elements. 'Vaata' literally means both
"atmosphere" and "blown", "Vaayu" means "blower", and "Praana",
"breath". Hence, this deity is also regarded as the "Deity of Life",
who is sometimes also referred to as "Mukhya-Vaayu" or "Mukhya Praana".
is however a separate set of five deities of Praana (vital breath) and
Mukhya-Praana is their chief. These five Vaayu deities, Praana, Apaana,
Vyaana, Udaana, and Samaana, control life, the wind, touch/sensation,
digestion, and excretion respectively.
SON OF VAYU
Pavan had played a vital role in Anjana begetting Hanuman as her child. Hence Hanuman is also called Pavan-Putra (son of Pavana) and Vaayu-Putra. In the Mahabharata, Bheema, another son of Vaayu, played a great role in the war of Kurukshetra. He utilised his formidable phyiscal power and skill in the Gada Yudhha (fighting with the mace) martial art to fight against the Pandavas.
Vayu is described as
an exceptionally beautiful deity, moving noisily in his ratha
(carriage), driven by forty-nine or thousand white and purple horses.
His main attribute is a white banner. Like the other atmospheric
deities, he is a warrior deity, powerful, heroic and destroyer of
The Upanishads gives
many illustrations on the greatness of Vayu. The Brihadaranyaka states
that the gods who control bodily functions once engaged in a contest to
determine who among them is the greatest. It was seen here that when a
deity such as that of vision left a man's body, that man would still
continue to live, albeit as a blind man. He would regain the lost
faculty once the errant deity returned to his post. One by one, the
deities all took their turns leaving the body, but the man still
continued to live on, though impaired each time one of the deities left
Finally, when Mukhya
Prana started to leave the body, all the other deities were forced out
of the body as well. This caused the other deities to realize that they
could survive and function only when empowered by Vayu, and that Vayu
could easily overshadow them.
Followers of the Dvaita philosophy believe that Mukhya-Vayu incarnated as Madhvacharya, in order to fulfill his mission of teaching people to worship the Supreme Lord Vishnu and to correct the errors of the Advaita philosophy as well. In fact, Madhvacharya himself makes this claim, citing the Rig Veda as his evidence.
This article was written by:
Priya Viswanathan, a teacher/performer of Bharata Natyam, Classical Music and Classical Instrumental Veena. A recipient of several awards for both music and dance, Priya is also a freelance writer online. She currently writes for About.com, a subsidiary of IAC - the parent company of Ask.com. (http://mobiledevices.about.com)