The Age of Fable eBook

Thomas Bulfinch
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 980 pages of information about The Age of Fable.

Siva is the third person of the Hindu triad.  He is the personification of the destroying principle.  Though the third name, he is, in respect to the number of his worshippers and the extension of his worship, before either of the others.  In the Puranas (the scriptures of the modern Hindu religion) no allusion is made to the original power of this god as a destroyer; that power not being to be called into exercise till after the expiration of twelve millions of years, or when the universe will come to an end; and Mahadeva (another name for Siva) is rather the representative of regeneration than of destruction.

The worshippers of Vishnu and Siva form two sects, each of which proclaims the superiority of its favorite deity, denying the claims of the other, and Brahma, the creator, having finished his work, seems to be regarded as no longer active, and has now only one temple in India, while Mahadeva and Vishnu have many.  The worshippers of Vishnu are generally distinguished by a greater tenderness for life, and consequent abstinence from animal food, and a worship less cruel than that of the followers of Siva.

JUGGERNAUT

Whether the worshippers of Juggernaut are to be reckoned among the followers of Vishnu or Siva, our authorities differ.  The temple stands near the shore, about three hundred miles south-west of Calcutta.  The idol is a carved block of wood, with a hideous face, painted black, and a distended blood-red mouth.  On festival days the throne of the image is placed on a tower sixty feet high, moving on wheels.  Six long ropes are attached to the tower, by which the people draw it along.  The priests and their attendants stand round the throne on the tower, and occasionally turn to the worshippers with songs and gestures.  While the tower moves along numbers of the devout worshippers throw themselves on the ground, in order to be crushed by the wheels, and the multitude shout in approbation of the act, as a pleasing sacrifice to the idol.  Every year, particularly at two great festivals in March and July, pilgrims flock in crowds to the temple.  Not less than seventy or eighty thousand people are said to visit the place on these occasions, when all castes eat together.

CASTES

The division of the Hindus into classes or castes, with fixed occupations, existed from the earliest times.  It is supposed by some to have been founded upon conquest, the first three castes being composed of a foreign race, who subdued the natives of the country and reduced them to an inferior caste.  Others trace it to the fondness of perpetuating, by descent from father to son, certain offices or occupations.

The Hindu tradition gives the following account of the origin of the various castes:  At the creation Brahma resolved to give the earth inhabitants who should be direct emanations from his own body.  Accordingly from his mouth came forth the eldest born, Brahma (the priest), to whom he confided the four Vedas; from his right arm issued Shatriya (the warrior), and from his left, the warrior’s wife.  His thighs produced Vaissyas, male and female (agriculturists and traders), and lastly from his feet sprang Sudras (mechanics and laborers).

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The Age of Fable from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.