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Upon this foundation the most discordant fictions have been erected, from which priestcraft and superstition have woven a mythology of the most extensive character. The reverend missionary Ward describes the Hindus as possessing three hundred and thirty millions of gods, or forms under which they are worshipped. Certain it is, that the human form in its natural state, or possessing the heads or limbs of various animals; the elements, the planets, rivers, fountains, stones, trees, &c. &c. have been deified, and become objects of religious adoration. The Brahmans allege, “ that it is easier to impress the minds of the rude and ignorant by intelligible symbols, than by means which are incomprehensible.” Acting upon this principle, the supreme and onmipotent God, whom the Hindu has been taught to consider as too mighty for him to attempt to approach, or even to name, has been lost sight of in the multiplicity of false deities, whose graven images have been worshipped in his place. To these deities the many splendid temples of the Hindus have been erected, while, throughout the whole of Hindustan, not one has been devoted to Brahm, whom they designate as the sole divine author of the universe.
It has, it is true, been asserted, that the Hindus blend the material and visible form with the invisible spirit; and that, in the outward worship of the idol whom they dare to name, they are mentally addressing the Creator of the universe, whom they dare not. Whatever this may be in doctrine, in popular practice it appears to be decidedly incorrect; or it must be imagined that they have formed extraordinary opinions of the god whom they contemplate as so sacred, if they can entertain a momentary belief that the external abominations at the festivals of Siva, J uggarnat’h, Durga, Kali, and others of their idols, can at all harmonize with that pure and spiritual worship, which they are supposed (according to the argument in question), to be, at the same instant, offering to the supreme being. Upon thissubject, much, indeed, has been written; but it may, I think, be comprehended in a few words. The religion of the Hindu sage, as inculcated by the Veda, is the belief in, and worship of, one great and only God-—omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, of whose attributes he expresses his ideas in the most'awful terms. These attributes he conceives
are allegorically (and allegorically only), represented by the three personified powers of Creation, Preservation, and Destruction ;—Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva. But this consistent monotheism, this worship of God in unity, is bounded here; as the religion taught to the common herd is polytheism, accompanied by the most disgusting of abominations, profanations, and inconsistencies; for the deities most honoured, and the worship most practised, are of the least beneficent character. Thus Siva, Durga, Kali, Surya, Mungula, and the baneful Sani, are held in far higher veneration than those deities whose attributes are of a more mild, but less imposing description.
A compilation of a history of such a host of deities would be a work of no small difficulty, were we not enabled to trace most of these inferior objects of worship, either as incarnations or in some other shape, back to the superior gods of this hydra-headed mythology.‘
Mr. Colebrooke has observed, in a note to his admirable essay on the religious ceremonies of the Hindus, that five sects exclusively worship a single deity; and that one sect recognises the five divinities which are adored by the other sects respectively. These five sects are the Saivas, who worship Siva ; the Vishnaivas, who worship Vishnu ; Saurias, Surya, or the Sun; the Ganapatyas, who adore Ganesha; and the Sactis, who worship Bhavani, or Parvati: the last sect is the Bhagavatis. These deities have their different avatars or incarnations, in all of which, except that of the Sactis themselves, they have their sactis (wives), or energies of their attributes. These have again ramified into the numerous names and forms which will be described in the following pages.
* To enable the reader to form a proper idea of the power assumed by the Hindus to belong to their respective deities, I need only quote the following from the Karma Pumn, from the work of Colonel Vans Kennedy. Siva (as Ishwara) says, “ though I am the sole self-existent God, incorporeal and immutable, still do I assume various forms. Amongst the skilled in divine knowledge,I am Brahma; amongst those exempt from Maya, I am that ancient god Hari; amongst Yogis, Shambha; amongst females, the mountain-born goddess; amongst the Adityas, Vishnu ; amongst the Vasdevas, Vani; amongst the Rudras, Shankara; amongst birds, Garuda; amongst elephants, Airavati; amongst warriors, Rama; amongst the Rishis, Vasisht; amongst the gods, Indra; amongst artificers, Viswakurma ; amongst mountains, Meru; amongst serpents, Sesha ; amongst animals, the lion," &c.
“ Spirit of spirits, who through every part
Bade uproar into beauteous order start.”
Brahm, the supreme being, created the world; but it has not been agreed upon by the Hindu mythologists, in what manner that important event took place. Some imagine that he first formed the goddess Bhavani, or nature; who brought forth three sons, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, whom, having converted herself into three females, she married. The first (or Brahma) was called the creator; the second (Vishnu) the preserver; the third (Siva) the destroyer. To these the future arrangement and government of the world were entrusted.
Others believe, that the elements of the world were enclosed in an immense shell, called the mundane egg, which burst into fourteen equal parts, and formed the seven superior and seven inferior worlds. God then appeared on the mountain Meru, and assigned the duties of continuing the creation to Brahma; of preserving it to Vishnu; and of again annihilating it to Siva.
Others again assert, that'as Vishnu (the preserving spirit of God) was sleeping on the serpent Ananta, or eternity, on the face of the waters, after the annihilation of a former world, a lotus sprung from his navel, from which issued Brahma; who produced the elements, formed the present world, and gave birth to the god Rudra (or Siva) the destroyer. He then produced the human race. From his head he formed the Brahmans or priests; from his arms, the Khetries or warriors; from his thighs, the Vaisyas or merchants; and from his feet, the Sudras or husbandmen.
It will thus be seen, that under either of these systems, on which the creation of the world has been fabled to have been founded, the three great operations of nature, to produce, to preserve, and to destroy, have been