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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/810

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BRAHMINISM


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BRAHMINISM


morals of the primitive age that first sounded liis praises. The narrative portions of the epic show him to have been sly and imscrupulous, guilty in word and deed of acts which the higher Brahmin conscience would reprove. But it is in the fuller legendarj- story of his hfe as given in the so-called " Hari-vansa ", a later supplement to the epic, and also in some of the Puranas of the ninth and tenth centuries of our era, that the character of the popu- lar Krishna appears in its true light. Here we learn that Krishna was one of eight sons of noble birth, whom a Herod-like tjTant was bent on destroying. The infant god was saved from the wicked designs of the king by being secretly substituted for a herds- man's babe. Ivri.shna grew up among the simple coimtrj'-people, performing prodigies of valour, and engaging in many amorous adventures with the Gopis, the wives and daughters of the herdsmen. Eight of these were his favourites, but one he loved best of all, Radha. Krishna finally succeeded in killing the king, and brought peace to the kingdom.

Between this deified Hindu Hercules and Our Divine Lord, there is no ground for comparison, one only for contrast. That the idea of incarnate deity should be foimd in pre-Christian Hindu thought is not so remarkable ■« hen we consider that it answers to the yearning of the human heart for union with God. But what is at first sight astonishing is to find in the religious \\Titings subsequent to the " Mahabharata " legendarj' tales of Krislma that are almost identical with the stories of Christ in the canonical and apocrj'phal Gospels. From the birth of I\Tishna in a stable, and liis adoration by shepherds and magi, the reader is led on through a series of events the exact counterparts of those related of Our Di\'ine Lord. Writers hostile to Christianity seized on this chain of resemblances, too close to be mere coincidence, in order to convict the Gospel WTiters of plagiarism from Hindu originals. But the verj' opposite resulted. All Indianists of au- thority are agreed that these Krishna legends are not earlier that the seventh century of the Cliristian Era and must have been borrowed from Christian sources.

VI. L.\TER, OR Sect.\hian-. HiXDtnsM. — The steady ■weakening of Brahmin influence, in consequence of the successive waves of foreign conquest, made it possible for the religious preferences of the huge, heterogeneous population of India to assert them- selves more strongly. Both ^ivaism and Vishnuism departed more and more from traditional Brahmin- ism, and assumed a decidedly sectarian character towards the older religion and also towards each other. With this weakening of Brahmin influence they absorbed the grosser elements of low-grade popular worship, and became debased by the ac- cretion of immoral rites and grovelling superstitions. Wliile, on the one hand, the practice of asceticism was pushed to the utmost extremes of fanaticism, on the other, the doctrine of Bhakti was perverted into a system of gross sexual indulgence, for which the amours of Krishna and the Gopis served as the model and sanction. The Brahmin caste-distinctions were broken down, and an eqtiality of all men and women was asserted, at least during the ceremonies of public worship. The Brahmin rites were in great measure replaced by others peculiar to each cult and held to be all-sufficient for salvation. EverjT\-here splendid temples arose to Siva, Vishnu, and his two human avatars; idols and phallic sjinbols innumera- ble filled the land; and each rival cult lauded its own special deity as supreme, subordinating all others to it, and looking do\\Ti with more or less contempt on forms of worship other than its own. One factor which contributed strongly to the degradation of these sectarian forms of religion was the veneration of the kakti. or female side, of these deities. Popular


theologj' would not rest till each deity was supple- mented with a wife, in whom the active nature of the god was personified. With Bralima was asso- ciated an ancient river-goddess. Sarasvati, honoured as the patroness of letters. Vishnu's Sakti was Sri, or Lakshmi, patroness of good fortune. With Siva the destroyer, was associated the terrible, blood- thirsty, magical goddess, Durga, or Kali, formerly delighting in human victims, now appeased with sacrifices of goats and buffaloes. Rama had his consort. Sita, and Krishna his favourite Gqpi, Radha. The worship of these Saktis, particularly Siva's con- sort, Durga-Kali, degenerated into shocking orgies of drunkenness and sexual immorality, which evea to-day are the crj-ing scandal of Hinduism.

Such were the sectarian developments of post-epic times. They found expression in the inferior, quasi- historical Puranas, of the seventh and following- centuries, and in the Tantras, which are niore modern still and teach the symbolic magic of Sakti-worship. Neither of these classes of writings is regarded by the orthodox Brahmin as canonical.

Of the two himdred million adherents of Hinduism, to-day, only a few hundred thousand can be called orthodox Bralunin worshippers. I^ivaism and Vish- nuism have overshadowed the older religion like a rank growth of poisonous weeds. In their main outlines, these two great sects have retained the characteristics of the Purana period, but difTerences of view on minor points have led to a multiplication of sciiismatic divisions, especially among Vishnu- worshippers. Both sects, which to-day are fairly tolerant of each other, have a number of de\"Otional and liturgical practices that are alike in kind, though marked by differences of sectarian belief. Both i^ivaite and Vishnuite lay great stress on the frequent recital of the numerous names of their respective supreme gods, and. to facilitate this work of piety, each carries with him, often about his neck, a rosarj', varj'ing in material and the number of beads ac- cording as it is dedicated to Siva or to Vislmu. Each sect has an initiation-rite, which is conferred on the young at the age of reason and in which the officiating guru puts a rosarj- around the neck of the applicant and whispers into his ear the matitra, or sacred motto, the recital of which serves as a profession of faith and is of daily obligation. Another rite common to both is that in which the presiding officer brands on the body of the worshipper with hot metal stamps the sacred sjinbols of his sect, the trident and linga of iiiva, or the discus and conch-shell (or lotus) of Vislmu.

But in their highest act of ceremonial worship the two sects differ radically. The Sivaite takes his white stone pebble, the conventional phallic emblem which he always carries with him, and while mutter- ing his mantra, sprinkles it with water and applies to it cooling Bilva leaves. Owing to its simplicity and cheapness, this rite is much in vogue with the ignorant lower classes. The Vishnuite rite is less degrading but more cluldish. It consists in an elab- orate and costly worship of the temple image of Vishnu, or more often, of Rama, or Krishna. The image is daily awakened, undressed, bathed, decked with rich robes, and adorned with necklaces, brace- lets, crowns of gold and precious stones, fed with choice kinds of food, honoured with flowers, lights, and incense, and then entertained with vocal and instrumental music, and with dancing by the temple- girls of doubtful \irtue, consecrated to this service. As Krishna is generally worsliipped in the form of a child-image, his diversion consists largely in the swinging of his image, the spinning of tops, and other games dear to the heart of the child.

Siva, too, has liis temples, \ying in magnificence with those of Vishnu, but in all these the holy place is the linga-shrine, and the temple worship consists