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Greeks; the Osiris of the Egyptians; and the Axieros of the Cabiri of the Phenicians. Each of these is the personification of the solar fire, and the spirit of all created things.
In his destructive character he is Saturn, or the Destroyer, Time. He is also worshipped as Shankara, or the beneficent deity, as his followers attribute to him the benefits they enjoy from the mighty stream of the Ganges, which is fabled to have sprung from his plaited locks. This, however, the Vishnaivas deny, urging that it first flowed from the foot of Vishnu in Vaicontha (the heaven of Vishnu), when Brahma poured water over it as it was extended to compass the heavens, as related in the Nara Singha avatar; from whence it ran on the head of Siva, and descended from thence to fertilize the earth.
The Vishnaivas claim for their deity, Vishnu, the title of Iswara, or the supreme lord : the Saivas contest his claim to this pre-eminence, and have bestowed on Siva that of Bhuban Iswara, or the lord of the universe. The title of Iswara was first enjoyed by Brahma, until the sect of Siva overpowered the worshippers of that god; when Bhairava, the son of Siva, cut off one of his heads. After this, the Saivas, for a time, possessed the supreme power ; but it is alleged that the Vishnaivas have since contested the palm of supremacy, and that sanguinary conflicts, attended with alternate victory and defeat, in consequence, ensued between the two sects, which continue even at the present day among their mendicant worshippers, who assemble at stated periods in immense numbers, at the fair at Hurdwar. The subject of their animosity on these occasions I have just related, being no other than the very important, but highly apocryphal point, whether the sacred Gunga issued from the foot of Vishnu or the head of Siva.
Colonel Vans Kennedy ascribes the loss of Brahma's head to Siva himself. It would appear that, immediately after the existence of these two deities, a quarrel of no heavenly character ensued between them, in consequence of Rudra (Siva) asking Pitamaha (Brahma), “whence camest thou, and who created thee?” Brahma's fifth head being more voluble than the others, indignantly replied, “and whence art thou? I know thee well, thou
form of darkness, with three eyes, clothed with the four quarters of heaven (i. e. naked), mounted on a bull, the destroyer of this universe !” Siva became incensed, and while he viewed the contemptuous head, his own five heads became white, red, golden, black, and yellow, and fearful to behold. But although Brahma observed these heads, thus “ glowing like the sun” before him, the flippant tongue still continued to urge on the destruction of the head which contained it, by telling Siva, “why dost thou agitate thyself, and attempt to appear powerful; for, if I chose, I could this instant make thy heads appear like bubbles of water ?" Which so inflamed the deity to whom it was addressed, that he immediately cut off the offending member with the nail of his left thumb. Having performed this operation, Siva would have thrown the head to the ground, but it would not fall from his grasp. We thus see him, in his destructive character, usually pourtrayed with one in his hand.
Siva is principally worshipped under the form of the linga ; for the understanding of which I must refer the reader to that article, and to figs. 1, 2, and 3, plate 33. Some of these emblems, usually of basalt, are of an enormous size; and they are also made morning and evening of the clay of the Ganges, which, after worship, are thrown into the river. The linga is never carried in procession. The temples dedicated to it are square gothic buildings, the roofs of which are round, and tapering to a point. In many parts of Hindustan they are more numerous than those dedicated to the worship of any other of the Hindu idols; as are the numbers of the worshippers of this symbol, beyond comparison, more extensive than the worshippers of the other deities or their emblems. The Binlang stone is also sacred to Siva.
Besides the daily worship of the linga in the temples, there are several other periods in which the image of Siva is worshipped under the different forms which I have before described : but it is not correct to suppose that images of him are not now made, as they are seen in numbers, like figs. 1 and 2, plate 16, conveyed through the streets of Calcutta, after the festivals in honour of Siva, to be cast into the river. In the month Phulgunu he is worshipped for one day as a mendicant. On the following day the
images of him, with a bloated countenance, matted locks, and inflamed eyes, are, as I have just stated, carried in procession, attended by a large concourse of people, dancing, singing, and playing on various instruments, and thrown into the river. In the month Mughul there is another festival in honour of him, called Hari Gauri, in which he is represented riding on a bull, with Parvati on his knee, as in fig. 1, plate 16. But the most celebrated occasion of his worship is in the month Choitru, at the time that the ceremony of the churaka, or swinging by hooks fastened in the flesh of the back, is performed.
This festival derives its name Churuk (or chakra), a wheel or discus, from the circle performed in the swinging part of it, that terminates the ceremonies, which should properly last a lunar month; but the term is now much shortened, and the observances of it are limited to the followers of Siva. The higher classes do not engage in it, although they contribute towards the expense of, and countenance it. The initiatory ceremonies of purification, abstinence, and exercises of devotion, take place several days before the commencement of the rites, during which time the Sanyasis, or worshippers, form themselves into parties, and wander about the streets with horns, drums, &c., making a most intolerable and horrid din. The first exhibition is that of suspension, which is performed by two posts being erected, on the top of which is placed a strong bar, from which the Sanyasi, or worshipper, is suspended by his feet over a fire kindled beneath him, into which rosin is occasionally cast. His head is then completely enveloped in the smoke, though sufficiently high to be beyond the reach of the flame. On the following day the Sanyasis dance and roll themselves upon the downy beds of various descriptions of prickly plants. Their next ceremony is called the Jamp Sanya, or jumping on a couch of pointed steel, which has been thus described :
“ A bamboo scaffolding of three or four stages is erected, on which the Sanyasis stand, tier above tier, the principal and most expert occupying the upper row, which is sometimes between twenty and thirty feet high. A kind of bedding, supported by ropes, is stretched beneath the scaffolding by a number of men. Upon the mattrass are attached several bars of wood, to which are fixed very loosely, and in a position sloping forward, semicircular knives, upon which the Sanyasis throw themselves, in succession. In general, the effect of the fall is to turn the knives flat upon the bedding, in which case they do no harm; but occasionally severe wounds, and even death, are the consequences of this rite. Before they take their leap, the performers cast fruits, as cocoa-nuts, bels, plantains, &c. among the crowd, in which there is a great scramble for them, as they are supposed to possess much virtue. Women desirous of progeny are very anxious to get these donations; and those of the first families send persons to obtain and bring them for their private eating.”* The ensuing day is spent in revelling and dancing among burning ashes, and afterwards casting them at each other. On the following one they again infest the streets, attended by music of such an abominable description, that our old national instruments of hymeneal serenade (now, like many other good old things, become obsolete from the march of intellect) would be almost celestial harmony to it.
In the immediate neighbourhood of Calcutta, at Kalighat, stands the celebrated temple of Kali: the energy of Siva in his destructive character of Kal, or Time, on the altar of which myriads of animals are annu sacrificed. To this temple the collected crowds, from miles round our Indian metropolis, pour, like a living stream of frantic bacchanals, exhibiting in their progress sights which the imagination of those who have not witnessed them could scarcely form a conception of. On this occasion they practise the most painful self-inflicted tortures; piercing their tongues and sides, and sticking in the holes heavy pieces of iron, arrows, canes, living snakes, &c. &c., with which they dance, with indecent gestures, to the obscene songs of the surrounding multitude. Mr. Ward says that, in one year, a man thrust his finger through the tongue of another, and they thus proceeded dancing with much indecency together through the streets ; and that another had his breast, arms, and other parts stuck entirely full of pins, as thick as nails or packing-needles. These acts are devotional, and are considered proofs of holiness and merit. The tortures, however, thus inflicted are temporary: but some of these religious mendicants impose
* Asiatic Journal.