The religion of the Hindus is professedly founded on the Vedas. To these books of their scripture they attach the greatest sanctity, and state that Brahma himself composed them at the creation. But the present arrangement of the Vedas is attributed to the sage Vyasa, about five thousand years ago.
The Vedas undoubtedly teach the belief of one supreme God. The name of this deity is Brahma. His attributes are represented by the three personified powers of creation, preservation, and destruction, which under the respective names of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva form the Trimurti or triad of principal Hindu gods. Of the inferior gods the most important are: 1. Indra, the god of heaven, of thunder, lightning, storm, and rain; 2. Agni, the god of fire; 3. Yama, the god of the infernal regions; 4. Surya, the god of the sun.
Brahma is the creator of the universe, and the source from which all the individual deities have sprung, and into which all will ultimately be absorbed. “As milk changes to curd, and water to ice, so is Brahma variously transformed and diversified, without aid of exterior means of any sort.” The human soul, according to the Vedas, is a portion of the supreme ruler, as a spark is of the fire.
Vishnu occupies the second place in the triad of the Hindus, and is the personification of the preserving principle. To protect the world in various epochs of danger, Vishnu descended to the earth in different incarnations, or bodily forms, which descents are called Avatars. They are very numerous, but ten are more particularly specified. The first Avatar was as Matsya, the Fish, under which form Vishnu preserved Manu, the ancestor of the human race, during a universal deluge. The second Avatar was in the form of a Tortoise, which form he assumed to support the earth when the gods were churning the sea for the beverage of immortality, Amrita.
We may omit the other Avatars, which were of the same general character, that is, interpositions to protect the right or to punish wrong-doers, and come to the ninth, which is the most celebrated of the Avatars of Vishnu, in which he appeared in the human form of Krishna, an invincible warrior, who by his exploits relieved the earth from the tyrants who oppressed it.
Buddha is by the followers of the Brahmanical religion regarded as a delusive incarnation of Vishnu, assumed by him in order to induce the Asuras, opponents of the gods, to abandon the sacred ordinances of the Vedas, by which means they lost their strength and supremacy.
Kalki is the name of the tenth Avatar, in which Vishnu will appear at the end of the present age of the world to destroy all vice and wickedness, and to restore mankind to virtue and purity.