Page images

Brahma is represented in a human shape, with four heads looking to the four quar

Hindū Triad, viz. Brahma, Vishnu, and Iswara (or Siva). The name of the first is derived from a root signifying to expand : to him was assigned the task of creation. The name of Vishnu comes from the root vis, which means to penetrate, or pervade : the world, after its creation, was entrusted to him to preserve. The word Iswara signifies powerful. His is the power of destruction, or rather, as the Hindūs consider it, of renovation, or mutation of form, which implies the destruction of that which precedes. Hence, the phallus, the emblem of production, becomes that of the god of destruction. The Roman poet has distinctly expressed the idea, which led the Indians and Egyptians to assign this apparently incompatible symbol to Iswara :

“ Hand igitur penitus pereunt quæcunque videntur :
« Quando alia ex alio reficit natura, nec ullam
“ Rem gigni patitur, nisi morte adjutam aliena.”

And again

“ Nam quodcunque suis mutatum finibus exit,
“ Continuò hoc mors est illius, quod fuit ante.”

From his own substance, the Divine Being then formed the goddess Pracriti, or nature. She, under different forms and names, is the consort of the three gods who govern the universe. Ist. As Sareswati, she is the consort of Brahma, the patroness of learning, the goddess

ters of the world : Vishnu and Siva, under various forms, but no emblem or visible sign of Brihm, the omnipotent, is to be found. Those who openly profess deism in India, justly consider the great mystery of the existence of the Supreme Ruler of the universe, as beyond human comprehension, as much as space without limits, or time without beginning or end: man can conceive and measure parts of time and space; but, , would he carry histhoughts to extension that has no bounds, and to duration that never began and will ever continue, he must be lost and confounded in the maze that presents itself. Every creature, however, who is endowed with the faculty of thinking, must be conscious of the existence of God, a first cause : the attempt to explain the nature of that Being, or in any way to assimilate it with our own, the Hindu deists consider not only as a proof of folly, but also of extreme impiety.

of eloquence, and the inventress of the lyre. 2dly. As Sri, she is the beloved of Vishnu, the goddess of abundance and of fertility. 3rd. As Isā, she is the companion of Iswara, and the vanquisher of the giants. These were the gods (deva) produced by the volition of the deity. All other beings were produced by Brahma, after creating the world.”-Edinburgh Review, vol. xvii. p. 321.

The system of representing the attributes of God by ostensible objects, as practised by all the believers in the doctrines of the Vedas, once established, was afterwards nourished, extended, and involved in mystery, by an ingenious and artful priesthood As the Brahmins rigidly monopolized learning and the sciences, all others were naturally exposed to receive implicitly what was promulgated by them; and things the most simple in themselves, were held out to, and believed, by the multitude, as proceeding from supernatural causes. The aid of priests, as the only agents between man and the divinities, became constantly wanted, either to procure their protection or avert their wrath. In multiplying divinities, they found new sources of wealth ; every one had some deity to fear, or to solicit, and who on those occasions

was to be approached with some offering. But in a country, where the food of the people consists almost entirely of vegetables, and where, as 'in India, no part of the

year is sterile, perhaps no divinity has been so productive to the Brahmins as Lacshmi, who as Sris, corresponds with the Grecian Ceres ; to whom must be added Bhavani, who in one of her attributes is likewise named the goddess of abund


The making of pious vows in case of escape from danger, or of success in some projected enterprize, seems to be as much encouraged by the priesthood, and practised by the people of India, as it was formerly in Greece, and in modern times by pious Catholics.

The book of the Hindu Scriptures, named Veda, is supposed to be of divine origin, revealed by Brahma to Menu, by him communicated to a holy personage, or demigod, named Bhrigu, and afterwards arranged in its present order by a learned sage, who obtained the name of Vyasa, or Veda-vyasa, compiler of the Vedas. He divided it into four parts, named Rich, Yajush, Saman, and At'harvana; each of which bears the denomination of Veda, Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, and Atharva-veda; but doubts exist whether the last be really a part of the original Veda, or whether it be not a chapter added to it. *

* See article on “the Vedas, or sacred writings of the Hindūs,” by Mr. Colebrook, Asiat. Res. vol. viii. p. 337.--and a note, by M. Langlès, in the first translation into French of that work, vol. i. p.

393. A complete copy of the Vedas, in eleven volumes in folio, in the Devanagary character, and Sanscrit language, was presented to the British Museum by the late Colonel Polier, who is several times mentioned in the Asiatic Researches, and in Rennell's Memoir of a Map of Hindūstan. Colonel Polier had resided a number of years in India, first in the military service of the English, afterwards at Delhy in that of the Emperor Shaw Allum, and during his stay in that country, had bestowed much pains in acquiring a knowledge of the learning and religion of the Hindūs. Sir William Jones says,

66 That the Vedas are very ancient, and far older than any other Sanscrit compositions, I will venture to assert from my own examination of them, and a comparison of their style with that of the Purana, or Dharma Sastra."

« PreviousContinue »