“I looked into a Hindu temple this morning while I was walking about,” said Louis Belgrave, after the jugglers had been discussed a while. “I saw some very ugly-looking idols; and I should like to ask if they really represent individuals, or are creatures of the imagination.”
“Both,” replied Sir Modava with a smile; “there are, as you have been told before, a great many different sects, and a system of mythology. About all the gods and goddesses known to the Greeks and Romans have an existence in the Indian mythology more or less similar to them. Indra, the counterpart of Apollo in some of his functions, drives the chariot of fire that lights the day.
“Rhemba was born of the sea, and is the Indian Venus; Cama is Cupid; Parvati, whose image you saw at Elephanta, is Ceres; and so on to the end of the chapter. These divinities are represented in the temples, but they are without form or comeliness.”
“They are not much like the beautiful statues of the Greeks,” added Louis.
“The most prominent Indian sects are the Saivas, or worshippers of Siva; the Vaishnavas, who bow down to Vishnu under his several incarnations, like Krishna, whom you could not greatly respect; and the Jains, allied to the Buddhists, found mostly in the northern sections of India. They occupy important positions, and possess wealth and influence. There are subdivisions into sects among them, and it would be quite impossible to follow them through the mazes of belief to which they adhere. There is a great deal of philosophy among many of the sects.”
“But what are the Buddhists?” inquired Dr. Hawkes.
“Buddhism is quite as much a philosophy as a religion. It is not as prevalent in India proper as formerly; though it is still dominant in Ceylon, Napaul, Burma, and in the more northern countries of Asia. Its history is somewhat indefinite. Gautama, of whom a great many pretty stories are told, is sometimes regarded as the founder; though some who have studied the history of the sect, or order, do not believe that the Buddha was a real person, but an allegorical figure.
“Those who give a personal origin to the system, now said to be the religion of one-third of the human race, begin with Prince Siddhartha, a young man disposed to be an ascetic, and inclined to retire from the world. In order to wean him from his meditative tendency, his father, in order to cure him, and prevent him from forsaking his caste, married him to a beautiful princess, and introduced him to the splendid dissipation of a luxurious court. A dozen years of this life convinced him that ’all was vanity and vexation of spirit,’ and he became a sort of hermit, a religious beggar, and spent his time in dwelling upon the miseries of human life.