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Statue of the Hindu Moon God Chandra

Statue of the Hindu Moon God Chandra

Hinduism is broadly divided into the Puranic Period and the more recent, Vedic period. The Puranic period entailed worship of the Gods of the elements of nature, such as Surya, the Sun God Indra, the God of rain and thunder Chandra, the moon God, etc. Worship was generally in form of yagnas or elaborate rituals conducted by the priest caste known as the Brahmins. The three Gods of the Hindu trinity ascended into prominence during the Vedic period, at the same time that idol worship in temples was popularized. Consequently, the representations of the Puranic Gods (or the old Gods) are rare, while the Vedic Gods are heavily represented in architectural reliefs, sculptures, as well as paintings.

Detail from Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma Adoring Kali, ca. 1740, Basohli (India).
Source: LACMA, Los Angeles.

19 LGBT Hindu Gods

For centuries, Hindu literature, mythology, and religious texts have featured deities that defied the gender binary.

The notion of gender as a spectrum may feel to some a modern revelation, but Hindu literature and mythology for centuries has taught of the figures who defied the binary. And while the reproductive connection between man and woman has always been revered in the faith, Hinduism, unlike most Western faiths, historically treats homosexuality as a natural behavior, one documented in folk tale and religious text alike. Behold, this incomplete list of Hindu deities and divine descendants who defied gender and sexual norms back in the day.

1. Shiva and Parvati
The supreme god of Shaivism, Shiva has often been held as the ultimate embodiment of masculinity, but as far back as the Kushan era, there have also been depictions of Shiva in the Ardhanarishvara form, an androgynous composite of Shiva and his wife, Parvoti. The form originated when Parvoti, desiring to share Shiva’s experiences, asked for their forms to literally be joined. “What is being said is that if the inner masculine and feminine meet, you are in a perpetual state of ecstasy,” explains Hindu scholar Sadhguru. Most often, the Ardhanarishvara is depicted with the female form of Parvoti on the left and the masculine attributes of Shiva on the right.

2. Vishnu/Mohini
A major deity of the religion regarded as protector of the world, Vishnu is clearly depicted in the faith as gender-fluid. This major Hindu deity frequently took on the female avatar of Mohini. Vishnu even procreated with Shiva in the Mohini form, resulting in the birth of Ayyappa, a major figure still worshipped by millions who make pilgrimages to shrines in India. The avatar Mohini frequently gets describes as an enchantress who maddens lovers.

3. Krishna
An incarnation of Vishnu, the popular deity Krishna also took the form of Mohini in order to marry Aravan to satisfy one of the hero’s last requests, according to the Mahabharata. After Aravan’s passing, Krishna stayed in the form as the hero’s widow for a significant period of mourning.

4. Shikhandi
This warrior in the Kurukshetra war in most tellings of the Mahabharata was female at birth but changed gender later in life. Born Shikhandini, the girl in one version of the story was raised as a male by King Drupada, the girl's father. The king even had her married to the princess of Dasharna. Upon complaints from the new bride, Shikhandini fled into the forest and met a Yaksha and exchanged genders. Now taking the name Shikhandi, he remained a man until his death at the battle of Mahabharat.

5. Bahuchara Mata
Bahuchara Mata was traveling with her sisters and threatened by the marauder Bapiya. After she and her sisters self-immolated their own breasts, Bapiya was cursed with impotence until he began to dress and act as a woman. Today, the Hindu goddess is worshipped as the originator and patron of the hijras, trans and intersex Bangladeshis considered in the faith to be of a “third gender.”

6. Rama
Another origin story for the hijras comes from the Ramayana, which tells the tale of Rama gathering his subjects in the forest before his 14-year adventure. He tells the men and women to return to their appropriate places in Ayodhya, but upon his return from his epic journey, Rama finds some have not left the place of that speech and instead merged together in an intersex fashion. He grants hijras the ability to confer certain blessings, the beginning of the badhai tradition.

7. The Khajuraho Temples
These medieval temples famously include depictions of people in sexual congress, a demonstration of the importance of sexual interaction within the Hindu faith. Included in the carvings are a number of depictions of gay sex, sometimes in orgy situations where several women are involved in intercourse with a single man, but there also are images of men having sex and engaging in fellatio with one another.

8. Agni
The god of fire, creativity, and wealth is depicted in the Hindu faith as married both to the goddess and Svaha and with the male moon god Soma. Connor and Sparks relate that Agni importantly received Soma’s semen orally. British scholar Phil Hine says Agni gave a divine blow job to Shiva as well, resulting in the birth of Skanda, the god of war.

9. Mitra and Varuna
These sons of Aditi from Vedic literature are depicted frequently as icons for brotherly affection and intimate friendship between men, according to the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association. Ancient texts of the Brahmana in fact depict the two as alternate phases of the moon who join in same-sex relations. On nights of the new moon, Mitra injects his semen into Varuna to start the moon cycle, with the favor returned upon the full moon.

10. Budha Graha
In addition to providing a pivotal role in Hindu astrology as one of the planets, specifically Mercury, Budh Graha also represented a huge blow to the paradigm of gender roles millennia before the current vogue. Raised as the child of Sage Brihaspati and Tara, Budha was actually the product of adultery between Tara and the moon god Chandra. Sage Brihaspati, angered at this revelation during Tara’s pregnancy, cursed that the child would be born neither male nor female, and established the tradition that the husband of a child’s mother would be considered its father.

11. Ila
The chief progenitor of the lunar dynasty, Ila appears in many stories alternately as female or male. In the Ramayana, a meeting with Shiva and Parvati results in Ila alternating between genders every month. Ila ultimately marries Budha, producing the offspring Pururavas during one of the months when anatomy allowed, thus producing a lunar dynasty. In the Vishnu Parana, it is said Ila’s manhood was ultimately made permanent, upon which he took the name Sudyumma.

12. Narada
A Vedic sage and a Job-like figure in Hindu myth, this devotee of Vishnu once boasted he was above being a victim of maya. Vishnu encouraged Narada then to take a dip in a pool, which erased the sage’s memories and turned him into a woman. In that state, Narada would marry a king and produce several sons and grandsons doomed to die in war. While Narada was in mourning, the sage’s gender was restored to male, and he had a greater understanding of the power of maya.

13. Nammallvar
One of the 12 alwar saints of Tamil Nadu, this mystic poet often expressed as female and wrote as many as 1,000 devotional songs in the persona of a woman pining for her lover, Lord Vishnu. Indeed, at an annual festival, an icon of Nammallvar in drag is brought into a sanctum of Vishnu to unite to the literary lover with her lord.

14. Radha
The Radha Krishna are collectively known within the Hindu faith as the aspects of the male and female facets of God. Radha is regarded as the supreme goddess in control of the god Krishna, and members of a Vaishnava sahajiya sect of the faith that identified with Radha dressed and lived as women as a way of perfecting their love of Krishna, according to Vedan literature. In fact, a 15th-century leader, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, claimed to be a manifestation of Krishna in union with Radha. As in, “I am Chait”? OK, maybe that’s a stretch.

15. The Kama Sutra
Want proof to show your homophobic uncle that same-sex unions have been recognized by faith leaders for thousands of years? Tell him to grab that copy of the Kama Sutra he keeps in a dresser drawer and read Chapter 9, which in addition to offering instruction on fellatio makes clear that this skill can also be used acceptably in homosexual interactions. It’s even been cited by the Human Rights Campaign. Of note, the Kama Sutra existed as a religious text celebrating the union of individuals in sexual interaction.

16. Arjuna
A protagonist in the Mahabharata, Arjuna spent a year in exile, cursed by a rejected Urvashi to live as a eunuch. But on the request of King Indra, that sentence was reduced and Arjuna lived just a year as a woman, taking the name Brihannala and teaching princesses to dance.

17. Samba
The son of Krishna today is considered the patron of eunuchs and transgender people, but his history sounds like modern myths about Target bathrooms. Connor and Sparks write that Samba, or Shamba, would dress in women’s clothes to more easily sneak into the company of women in order to seduce them.

18. The mothers of Bhagiratha
The Hindu king Bhagiratha was credited with bringing the Ganges River to Earth, but his arrival on Earth originated in the sapphic and the divine. Historians Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kiswai note the king’s name indicates he was born of two vulvas, and discovered a story of Maharaja Dilipa, the king of the Sun Dynasty, dying with no heir. Shiva declared the king’s two widows could make love to one another to produce a true offspring, and Bhagiratha was conceived.

19. Bhagavati-devi
Bhagavati-devi is considered today to be the goddess of cross-dressing, and more than 5,000 male worshippers dress as women each year for the ritual Chamayavilakku festival in Kollam. Temple leaders say the tradition has been in place for hundreds of years.

The Brother of Goddess Lakshmi (Chandra)

Astronomically, the moon is the earth's only known natural satellite. It revolves round the earth from west to east in about 291/2 days with references to the Sun or about 271/2 days with reference to the stars and has a diameter of 2160 miles and a mean distance from the earth of about 238,857 miles, a mass about one eightieth that of the earth and a volume about one forty-ninth.

The people of the Indian subcontinent have bestowed on the planets powers both good and evil since ancient times and that belief is still current. The Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike share in this belief and in all three religious systems the planets are deified and they given a form, attributes and mount or vehicle.

There are many legends pertaining to the origin of the Moon-god. According to one version, chandra is the child of the sage Atri (conceptual offspring of Brahma). Another legend makes moon one of the emergents from the mythical milky ocean, when it was churned by the gods and anti gods. Thus he is the brother of Lakshmi, who also emerged from the ocean on the same occasion. A Purana mentions that chandra had married the twenty-seven daughters of Daksha, but was exclusively in love with one of them, Rohini. Incensed by the complaint of his other daughters, Daksha cursed chandra to be afflicted with a consumptive disease (kshaya). Later the curse was modified that during one fortnight in the month he would wane and during the other wax. Another account tells of chandra having performed a penance in Avimukta-Kshetra, for which Shiva rewarded him with a place on his own head and thenceforth he (Shiva) came to be known as Chandrashekhara.

Chandra or Moon god is the guardian of the north-west direction. His complexion is white. The sojourning spot of chandra is water as he and Shukra move about in water. The bodily constituents associated with the chandra-Deva are vata, pitta and kapha. He produces happiness in the life of creatures.

Icono-plastically he has been represented in many material postures and gestures. Here he has been shown seated on an antelope, placed on a pedestal. He has four hands the upper right hand is holding a noose(?), while the lower one is in varada-mudra (gesture of charity). He is adorned with a crown, necklace, earrings, armlets, bracelets, anklets and waist-band. He is also wearing a scarf and dhoti which is decorated with designs. There is a halo behind the head. The saddle on the back of antelope is incised with stylized designs.

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INDIA, the primitive home of religion and philosophy, exhibits as strong a tendency for monism as the Persian nation has shown for dualism. But the ancient monism of India is apt to lose itself in pantism,--a theory according to which the All alone (or rather the conception of the absolute as the All) is possessed of reality, while all concrete existences are considered as a mere sham, an illusion, a dream. 1

The polytheism of the popular Hinduism 2 is practically a pantheism in which the various deities are regarded as aspects of the One and All in which a discrimination between good and evil is entirely lost sight of. Thus the struggle between good and evil is contemplated as a process of repeated God-incarnations made necessary, according to the idea of the Brahmans, by the appearance of tyranny and injustice, lack of reverence for the priests, encroachments of the warrior caste

on the supremacy of the Brahmans, or some other disorder. While the enemies of the gods-giants, demons,

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THE BRAHMAN TRIMURTI. Underneath the marks of the sects of Vishnu (1-12), Siva (13-30), Rama (36), Durga (31-32), and the Trimurti (33-35). (After Coleman.)

and other monsters--are not radically bad, and cannot be regarded as devils in the sense of the Christian Satan,

the Brahman gods in their turn are by no means the representatives of pure goodness. Not only do they frequently assume shapes that to the taste of any Western nation would be exceedingly ugly and diabolical, but the same deities who in one aspect are beneficent powers of life, are in another respect demons of destruction.

Brahm, the highest god of Brahmanism, represents the All, or the abstract idea of being. He is conceived as a trinity which is called Trimurti, consisting of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva.

Brahma, the first-originated of all beings, the lord of all creatures, the father of all the universes, is the divine mind who is the beginning of all. He is called Aja, the not-born, because he has originated, but was not begotten.

Brahma originated from tat, i. e., undifferentiated being, in which he existed from eternity in an embryonic form.

Brahma's consort, Sarasvati, also called Brahmi or Brahmini, is the goddess of poetry, learning, and music.

Brahma is the creator of man. We are told in the Yajurveda that the god produced from himself the soul, which is accordingly a part of his own being, and clothed it with a body-a process which is reported in the reverse

order in the Hebrew Genesis, where Elohim creates first the body and then breathes the life into the body, which makes of man a living soul.

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(Reproduced from Hermann Göll.)

Brahma is pictured with four heads and four hands, in which he holds a spoon, a sacrificial basin, a rosary, and the Vedas. One of the four hands is frequently represented as empty. He sits on a lotus which grows from Vishnu's navel, representing the spirit that broods over the waters.

Brahma keeps the first place in the speculations of philosophers, where he is identified with the life-breath of the world, the Atman or self that appears in man's soul, but he has not exercised a great influence on the people. The gods of the people must be less abstract, more concrete and more human. Thus it is natural that Vishnu, the second person of the trinity, the deity of avatars or incarnations, is, for all practical purposes, by far more important than Brahma.

Vishnu appears in the following ten incarnations: 1

In the first incarnation, called the Matsya-Avatar, Vishnu assumes the form of a fish in order to recover the Vedas stolen by evil demons and bidden in the floods of a deluge that covered the whole earth. This incarnation

is of interest because we read in the Pistis Sophia (one of the most important gnostic books) that the books of Ieou, which were dictated by God to Enoch in paradise, were preserved by Kalapatauroth from destruction in the deluge." 1

In order to enable the gods to procure the immortality-giving drink, amrita, Vishnu appeared as an immense

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[Vishnu reclines on a flower, supported by the serpent Ananta (a symbol of eternity), floating on the primeval waters of the undifferentiated world-substance.] After a native illustration, reproduced from Hermann Göll.

tortoise in the kurm-avatar, his second incarnation. He lifted on his back the world-pillar, the mountain Mandaras, and the world-serpent, Vasuki (or Anantas, i. e., infinite), was wound about it like a rope. The gods seized the tail, the demons (daityas) the head, and they

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began to churn the ocean, which produced Vishnu's gem, Kaustubha Varunani, the goddess of the sea the Apsaras, lovely sprites, corresponding to the Greek nymphs Indra's horse, with seven heads Kamadhenu, the cow of plenty Airavata, Indra's elephant the tree of abundance Chandra, the god of the moon Sura, the goddess of wine and, filially, Dhanvantari, the Indian Æsculapius, who is in possession of the water of life. The serpent began now to spit venom, which blinded the demons, while the gods drank the Amrita.

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Varunani, when conceived as goddess of beauty, is called Lakshmi or Shri and it is noteworthy that like Aphrodite of the Greeks she originates from the froth of the ocean.

The third incarnation is the Varâha-avatar, in which Vishnu, in the shape of a wild boar, kills, with his tusks, the demon Hiranyaksha, who threatened to destroy the world.

Hiranyaksha's brother, Hiranya-Kasipu, had a son by the name of Prahlada, who was a pious devotee of

Vishnu. The unnatural father tried to kill his son, but the latter escaped all danger because he did not cease to pray to Vishnu. When Hiranya-Kasipu expressed a doubt of Vishnu's omnipresence, mockingly declaring that he could not possibly be in a column to which he pointed, the wrathful god decided to punish the scoffer. The column rent in twain, and Vishnu, proceeding from its interior in the shape of a monster half man half lion, tore Hiranya-Kasipu to pieces. This fourth incarnation is called the Narasinha-avatar. Its moral is to impress upon the people the sad fate of those who do not believe in Vishnu.

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(Fragment of a car. Musée Guimet.)

Pralada's grandson, Balis, was a pious king, but on that very account dangerous to the gods, for he was just about to complete the hundredth grand sacrifice, by which he would have acquired sufficient power to dethrone Indra. Vishnu came to the assistance of the god of heaven and appeared before Balis as a dwarf in guise of a Brahman mendicant. Balis honored him with presents and promised to fulfil his desire, whereupon the dwarf requested three paces of ground. This was gladly granted under a rigid oath that would be binding on gods and men. Then the dwarf assumed a huge shape and stepped with the first pace over the whole earth, with

the second over the atmosphere, with the third into the infinity of the heavens. This is the reason why Vishnu is called Tripadas, or Trivikramas, the three-paced god. Thus Balis was prevented completing the hundredth sacrifice, and Indra was again safe on his throne. This dwarf incarnation is called the Vamana-avatar.

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The sixth incarnation, called the Parashura avatar, is historical in its character, for it reflects the struggles between the warrior-caste and the Brahmans for supremacy. It is said that Jamadagni, a pious Brahman, had received from the gods the miraculous cow, Kamadugha (or Surabhi), which provided him, his wife, Renuka, and their son, Râma, with every luxury. Karttavirya, a king of the warrior-caste, visits him, and seeing the
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Vishnu and his incarnation in Râma Chandra, assisted by the Monkey King Hanuman, vanquish Ravana.

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Vishnu is born as Krishna and miraculously saved from the prosecutions of the tyrant of Mathurâ.

wealth of the Brahman, tries to take the cow from him, but the cow kills all who dare to approach her, and rises into heaven, whereupon Karttavirya in his wrath slays the pious Jamadagni. Râma, the son of the murdered Brahman, invokes Vishnu's help for the punishment of the wicked king, and the god not only presents him with a bow and a battle-ax, which latter is called in Sanskrit paracus, the Greek πέλεκυς (hence the name of this avatar), but also incarnates himself in Râma. Karttavirya is described as being in possession of a thousand arms, wielding a thousand weapons, but Râma, endowed with the divine powers of Vishnu, conquers him after a decisive struggle.

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THE MONKEY KING SUGRIVA FIGHTING. (Reproduced from Coleman.)

The Râma Chandra avatar has taken a firm hold on the Indian mind, and is described in the Ramayana, an epic which is the Hindu Odyssey, to the narrative of which the legend of Râma. bears a great resemblance.

Râma Chandra lived with his wife Sita (frequently regarded as an incarnation of Lakshmi) and with his half-brother Lakshmana in the wilderness of the south, where he had withdrawn in order to obey his father, who had unjustly banished him and appointed Bharata, another son of his, as heir to the throne. The demon-king, Ravana, waged war against Râma, and carried off Sita while he and his brother were hunting. It is impossible to relate here Rama's adventures in detail, how he fought

with giants and demons, how the monkey kings, Lugriva and Hanuman, became his allies, how Hanuman jumped

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over to Lanka, the island of Ceylon, to reconnoitre the enemy's country, how the monkeys built a bridge over the strait by throwing stones into the water, bow Râma

pursued Ravana to Lanka, and finally how he vanquished Ravana and recovered his faithful wife Sita.

Like the sixth avatar, the Rama Chandra avatar probably contains historical reminiscences. It also resembles both the Trojan War and the Gudrun Saga, the epics of Western nations that relate the story of an abducted wife. The mythical part of all these stories describes the wanderings of the sun god in search of his consort, the moon.

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In his eighth incarnation, the Krishna avatar, Vishnu has reached the ideal man-god of the Hindus. Kansa, called Kalankura (i. e., crane), the tyrant of Mathura, receives the prophecy that the eighth son of his sister, Devaki, will take his throne. He therefore decides to kill all the children of his sister. Her eighth son, Krishna, however, was an incarnation of Vishnu, who spoke at once after his birth, comforted his mother, and gave directions to his father, Vasudeva, how to save him. Vasudeva carried the infant, protected by the serpent king, over the river Jamuna, and exchanged him in Gokula for a girl which Yasuda had just borne to the cowherd Nanda. Kansa seized at once the girl baby, but before he could kill her she raised herself into the air, explained to the wrathful king that Krishna had been saved, and disappeared in the form of lightning. Kansa now decided

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After an old and richly-colored Hindu painting. (Reproduced from Moore's Hindu Pantheon, plate, 59.)

to have all the babies in his empire killed, but Krishna escaped again. A demon nurse was sent to poison him with her venomous milk, but be bit and killed her, while his stepfather decided to remove to a more distant country in order to escape the continued hostilities of the king. Krishna slew the huge serpent, Kali-naga, overcame the giant Shishoo-polu, killed the monster bird that tried to peck out his eyes, and also a malignant wild ass. He also burnt the entrails of the alligator-shaped Peck-Assoort who had devoured him, and choked Aghi-Assoor, the dragon who attempted to swallow him. When Krishna had grown to youth he became the favorite of the lasses of Gokula. When he played the flute every one of the dancing girls believed that the swain whom she embraced was Krishna himself. He fell in love with the country girl Radha, the story of which is sung in the Jagadeva's poem, Gitagovinda. He protected the cowherds against storm and fire, and finally marched against Kansa, killed him and took possession of his throne.

Krishna plays also a prominent part in the Mahabharata,

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As a shepherd lad playing the flute [the flute is missing]. (Bronze statue. Musée Guimet.)

the Iliad of the Hindus, which describes the war between the Kurus and the Pandus, 1 both descendants of Bharata and both grandchildren of Vyasa. Dhritarashtra, the father of the Kurus, was king of Hastinapur, but being blind, Bhishma, his uncle, reigned in his stead. After a test of the faculties of the young princes, in which the Pandu Arjuna, the skilled bowman and the Hindu Tell, showed himself superior to all the others, the oldest Pandu-prince, Yudhishthira, was installed as heir apparent. The Kurus, however, who managed to remain in power, tried to burn the Pandus, but they escaped and lived for some time in the disguise of mendicant Brahmans. Having allied themselves, by marriage with Draupadi, 2 the daughter of Drupada, king of Panchala, with a powerful monarch, the Pandus reappeared at Hastinapur and induced Dhritarashtra to divide the kingdom between his sons, the Kurus, and his nephews, the Pandus but at a festival, held at Hastinapur, Yudhishthira, the chief

of the Pandus, staked in a game of dice his kingdom, all his possessions, and Draupadi herself, and lost everything. The Kurus promised their cousins to return their share of the kingdom after thirteen years, if they would live twelve years with Draupadi in the forest and remain another year in exile but when this period had elapsed the Kurus refused to give up the country or any part of

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(Reproduced from Coleman.)

it, and thus the war became unavoidable. Then Duryodhana, the Kuru prince, and Arjuna, the main hero of the Pandus, called on Krishna for succor and assistance. Krishna decided not to take an active part in the fight himself, but left to Arjuna, whom he had seen first, the

choice between his (Krishna's) company as a mere adviser or his (Krishna's) army of a hundred million warriors.

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KRISHNA'S ADVENTURES. (Reproduced from Coleman.)

Arjuna chose Krishna himself, and left the hundred million warriors to his rivals, the Kurus. The two armies met on the field of Kurukshetra, near Delhi.

[paragraph continues] During the battle, as we read in the Bhagavadgita, Krishna accompanies Arjuna as his charioteer and explains to him the depth and breadth of the religious philosophy of the Hindus. The Pandus conquer the Kurus, and Yudhishthira becomes king of Hastinapur.

After sundry additional adventures the Pandus die and go to heaven, where they find that rest and happiness which is unattainable on earth.

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(Reproduced from Wilkins.)

The Mahabharata, like the Wars of the Roses, shows neither party in a favorable light but the epic is written from the standpoint of the Pandus, whose demeanor is always extolled, while the Kurus are throughout characterised as extremely unworthy and mean.

Krishna is the Hindu Apollo, Orpheus, and Hercules in one person, and there is no god in the Hindu Pantheon who is dearer to the Brahman heart than he. Many

of his adventures, such as his escape from the Hindu Herod, the massacre of babes, his transfiguration, etc., reappear in a modified form in Buddhist legends and bear some resemblance to the events told of Christ in the New Testament.

In his ninth incarnation Vishnu appears as Buddha, the enlightened one, to be a teacher of morals, of purity, charity, and compassionate love toward all beings. It is

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difficult to state the differences between the Buddha avatar of the Brahmans and the Buddha of the Buddhists. The latter, there can be no doubt, was a historical personality, by the name of Gautama, the son of Shuddhodana of the warrior caste, while the former is a mere ideal figure of ethical perfection. Burnouf 1 proposes to regard both as quite distinct, and he is right, but we need not for that reason deny that, on the one hand, the ideal of a

Buddha avatar was a prominent factor in the formation of Buddhism, while on the other hand Gautama's teachings have, since the rise of Buddhism, powerfully affected and considerably modified the Buddha ideal of the Brahmans. Whatever may be the historical relation between the Hindu Buddha and the Buddha of the Buddhists, this

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On Nanda, the sacred bull (Musée Guimet.)

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Leaning on the linga, the symbol of the creative faculty. (Musée Guimet.)

much is sure: the Buddha has been received by the Brahmans as one of the members of the Hindu Pantheon.

The Hindu deity that is nearest in spirit to the Buddha avatar is Jagannath, the god of love and mercy.

The tenth avatar has not yet been completed. Vishnu is expected to appear on a winged white horse to reward the virtuous, convert the sinners, and destroy all evil.

The horse has one foot raised, and when it places its foot down, the time of the incarnation will find its fulfilment.

The third person of the Indian trinity is Siva, the Auspicious One, representing the end of the world and its regeneration. He is commonly represented by the linga as a symbol of the creative faculty and by the all-devouring fire, the tongued flame of which is pictured in a triangle turning its point upwards .

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Sir Monier Monier Williams (in Brahmanism and Hinduism, p. 68) says of this deity, which is "more mystical and less human than the incarnated Vishnu," that his symbol, the linga, is "never in the mind of a Saiva (or Siva-worshipper) connected with indecent ideas, nor with sexual love." The linga, or, as the Romans called it, the phallus, the male organ of generation, becomes at the first dawn of civilisation, almost among all the nations of the world, an object of great awe and reverence. As the symbol of the creative principle it is regarded as the most essential attribute of both the God-Creator himself and all those who hold authority in his name. The linga develops in the hand of the medicine man into a wand, in the hand of the priest into a staff,

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SIVA WORSHIP. (Reproduced from Picart.)

and in the hand of the king into a sceptre. The yoni, or female organ, is regarded as the symbol of Siva's consort, Parvati, and is worshipped in connexion with the linga by the sect of the Sactis. Perforated rocks are considered as emblems of the yoni, through which pilgrims pass for the purpose of being regenerated, a ceremony in which Hindus place great faith for its sin-expelling significance. (See Charles Coleman, The Mythology of The Hindus, p. 175.)

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SIVA AND PARVATI. (Reproduced from Hermann Göll)

Siva's consort, Kali, is one of the greatest divinities of India. She is the goddess of a hundred names, representing not only the power of nature, but also the ruthless cruelty of nature's laws. She is called Parvati, the blessed mother, and Durga, which means "hard to go through," symbolising war and all kinds of danger. She is in the pantheon of modern Hinduism the central figure and in spite of the universality of Brahma in philosophical

speculations, in spite of the omnipresence of Vishnu and his constant reincarnations as told in ancient

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KALI, After an Indian picture. (Reproduced from Schlagintweit.)

myths and legends, in spite of the omnipotence of Siva, and the high place given him in Hindu dogmatology, she

is the main recipient of Hindu worship all over the country. As Kali she is identified with time, the all-devourer, and is pictured as enjoying destruction, perdition, and

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DURGA. Indian sculpture, (Reproduced from Schlagintweit.)

murder in any form, trampling under foot even her own husband. There is scarcely a village without a temple devoted to her, and her images can be seen in thousands of forms. Her appearance is pleasant only as Pavarti in

all other shapes she is frightful, and it is difficult to understand the reverence which the pious Hindu cherishes

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mKHA' sGROMA, THE TIBETAN KALI. Bronze. (Musée Guimet.)

for this most diabolical deity, who among the Buddhists of Thibet is changed into a devilish demon under the name of mKha' sGroma.

The Pantheism which lies at the bottom of the whole Hindu mythology finds expression in the worship of HariHara, who is a combination of Vishnu and Siva. In

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KALI-DURGA IN THE HINDU PANTHEON. (Reproduced from Wilkins.)

the Mahatmya, or collection of temple legends of the HariHara, a town in the province of Mysore, Isvara says:" 1

"There are heretics among men who reject the Vedas and the Shastras, who live without purificatory ceremonies and established rules of conduct, and are filled with hatred of Vishnu: so also there are heretical followers of Vishnu, who are similarly filled with hatred of Shiva. All these wicked men shall go to hell so long as this world endures. I will not receive worship from any man who makes a distinction between Vasudeva and my own divinity: I will divide every such man in two with my saw. For I have assumed the form of HariHara in order to destroy the teaching that there is a difference between us: and he who knows within himself that HariHara is the god of gods, shall inherit the highest heaven."

HariHara is depicted as a combination of the two gods in one figure, which is half male and half female, for according to the Southern version of the legend Vishnu assumed the form of a beautiful woman who was embraced so fervently by Siva that both became one.

There are in Hindu mythology innumerable other deities, among whom Indra, the thunder-god, is the greatest, as the hero among the gods of secondary rank, reminding us of the Thor of the Norsemen but Varuna, the Hindu Kronos, Agni the god of fire, have also at times been very prominent.

There are in addition gods of third degree, such as

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KAMA. (Reproduced from Wollheim da Fonceka)

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SIVA SLAYING A DEMON. (Reproduced from Wilkins.)

Kama, the Hindu Amor, Ganesa, the elephant-headed god of wisdom, 1 and Karttikeya, 2 the leader of the good demons., on the peacock, both sons of Siva, and others. In addition, we have a great number of devas, sprites, and goblins. Some of them are good, as the Gandharvas, others at least not naturally ill-intentioned, as for instance the Apsaras (a kind of Hindu elves), but most of them are dangerous and demoniacal. Such are the general mischief-makers, the Asuras, the Pretas, or ghosts, the Bhutas, or spook-spirits, the baby-killing Grahas, the Rakshasas, who are either giants or vampires, not to mention all the other demons of less power and importance.


74:1 Pantism, the theory of the All (from πᾶν, root ΠΑΝΤ), is different from Pantheism, the theory which identifies the All (πᾶν) with God (ϑεός).

74:2 Sir Monier-Monier Williams distinguishes between Brahmanism, the old faith of the Indian Aryas, and Hinduism, the modern form of this same religion, as it developed after the expulsion of Buddhism from India.

77:1 Since it is our intention to be brief, we do not enter in this exposition of the ten avatars into any details that could be omitted and neglect to mention the variants of the myths.

78:1 MS., P 354, English translation from Schwartze's latest translation by G. R. S. Meade, p. 354.

79:1 All the Avatar pictures are from Picart.

88:1 The Pandus are also called Pandavas, and the Kurus Kamavas.

88:2 That the five Pandus held Draupadi in common as their wife, proves the high antiquity of the story. Polyandry was apparently a practice not uncommon in ancient times. It prevails still to-day among the less cultured hill tribes. But being at variance with the Aryan customs of the age in which the Mahabharata was versified, p. 89 Vyasa (the Homer or "arranger" of the poem, and its supposed author) tries to explain it allegorically by declaring that Draupadi is Lakshmi, and the five Pandu brothers represent five different forms of one and the same Indra.

92:1 Histoire du Buddhisme, I., 338.

100:1 The legends of the shrine of HariHara, translated from the Sanskrit by Rev. Thomas Foulkes.

103:1 Ganesa, which means the lord (isa) of hosts (gana), is originally Siva himself, and he was invoked under that name by writers of books to drive away evil demons.

Why There is Moon on Lord Shiva’s Head?

Lord Shiva has many symbols and one of them is the crescent shaped moon on his head. There is an interesting tale from our mythology that illustrates why Lord Shiva has a crescent moon on his head.

Twenty-seven of Daksha’s daughters were married to the moon-god Chandra. One of them was named Rohini and Chandra loved Rohini more than he loved the other wives. The other wives felt neglected and they complained to their father. Daksha repeatedly warned his son-in-law to devote himself equally to all twenty-seven wives. But Chandra was in no mood to listen. Daksha thereupon cursed Chandra that he would gradually fade away.

After the curse, Moon started losing it’s luminescence each day, Chandra didn’t know what to do. It got afraid and ashamed and thereafter disappeared into the ocean. As a result of this, there were many herbs which require the light of the moon to grow, which started suffering in the absence of the moon.

Moreover, due to the moon disappearing in the ocean, there was a lot suffering in the entire world and it was to end. The celestials advised the Moon to take refuge in the Lord Shiva. He also went and sought advice from Brahma and Brahma told him that the only rescourse was to pray to Shiva. Chandra went to Prabhasa tirtha and made a linga on the banks of the river Sarasvati. He prayed to Shiva for six months.

At the end of the tapasya Shiva appeared before Chandra and offered to grant him a boon. Chandra explained what the problem was. Listening to this, Shiva replied that Daksha’s curse cannot be entirely ignored and, thus, proposed a compromise. “During krishnapaksha you will wane. And during shuklapaksha (the bright part of the lunar fortnight) you will wax. That should satisfy everybody”, said Shiva. Chandra was delighted. He took refuge in Lord Shiva and being the graceful Almighty, Lord Shiva wore the moon crescent on His head, making him grow for 15 days and decay for 15 days periodically.

The linga to which Chandra prayed is Somnath, the first of the jyotirlingas. Shiva is always present at that tirtha.

Somnath means the “Protector of the Moon God”. Legend has it that the first temple at Somnath was built by Chandra Dev himself.

Shiva, therefore, bears on his head the crescent of the moon.

  • The crescent moon indicates that He has controlled the mind perfectly.
  • The crescent moon is shown on the side of the Lord’s head as an ornament. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time and has complete control over it.
  • The epithet Chandraśekhara (“Having the moon as his crest” – chandra = Moon, śekhara = crest, crown) refers to this feature. The placement of the moon on his head as a standard iconographic feature dates to the period when Rudra rose to prominence and became the major deity Rudra-Shiva. The origin of this linkage may be due to the identification of the moon with Soma, and there is a hymn in the Rig Veda where Soma and Rudra are jointly emplored, and in later literature Soma and Rudra came to be identified with one another, as were Soma and the Moon. Because the moon adorns the head of Lord Shiva, which is the peak -point of any human being, he is called Chandrashekhara.
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Stories from Hindu Mythology

Very nice blog. Am please to see these kinds of blogs and learn from them.

One of my favorite stories of Ganesha :)

I thought it was Parvathi who cursed the Moon for laughing at Ganesha.

Well I guess there are different versions of Hindu mythology :-). Like, in the case of Ganesha's one tusk, one version I read is, he broke his tusk in writing mahabharatha. In another version I read, he used his tusk as a weapon to slay a mouse demon.

But wasnt it daksh prajapati cursing moon ?

Thanks for sharing us a great blog about Ganesha Puja. We learn lots of things from hereBuy Ganesha Staue

Do you have any scriptures to back/support this story. Or is it just a folklore?

We have scriptures and evidence for it.

It's really amazing story about Ganesha Glory. I studied your blog many times to get more knowledge about god.
Great blog post. "Buy Brass Statues of Ganesha idol" , Pooja Accesorries and make this Ganesh Chaturthi auspicious.

The Brother of Goddess Lakshmi (Chandra)

Astronomically, the moon is the earth's only known natural satellite. It revolves round the earth from west to east in about 291/2 days with references to the Sun or about 271/2 days with reference to the stars and has a diameter of 2160 miles and a mean distance from the earth of about 238,857 miles, a mass about one eightieth that of the earth and a volume about one forty-ninth.

The people of the Indian subcontinent have bestowed on the planets powers both good and evil since ancient times and that belief is still current. The Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike share in this belief and in all three religious systems the planets are deified and they given a form, attributes and mount or vehicle.

There are many legends pertaining to the origin of the Moon-god. According to one version, chandra is the child of the sage Atri (conceptual offspring of Brahma). Another legend makes moon one of the emergents from the mythical milky ocean, when it was churned by the gods and anti gods. Thus he is the brother of Lakshmi, who also emerged from the ocean on the same occasion. A Purana mentions that chandra had married the twenty-seven daughters of Daksha, but was exclusively in love with one of them, Rohini. Incensed by the complaint of his other daughters, Daksha cursed chandra to be afflicted with a consumptive disease (kshaya). Later the curse was modified that during one fortnight in the month he would wane and during the other wax. Another account tells of chandra having performed a penance in Avimukta-Kshetra, for which Shiva rewarded him with a place on his own head and thenceforth he (Shiva) came to be known as Chandrashekhara.

Chandra or Moon god is the guardian of the north-west direction. His complexion is white. The sojourning spot of chandra is water as he and Shukra move about in water. The bodily constituents associated with the chandra-Deva are vata, pitta and kapha. He produces happiness in the life of creatures.

Icono-plastically he has been represented in many material postures and gestures. Here he has been shown seated on an antelope, placed on a pedestal. He has four hands the upper right hand is holding a noose(?), while the lower one is in varada-mudra (gesture of charity). He is adorned with a crown, necklace, earrings, armlets, bracelets, anklets and waist-band. He is also wearing a scarf and dhoti which is decorated with designs. There is a halo behind the head. The saddle on the back of antelope is incised with stylized designs.

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Statue of the Hindu Moon God Chandra - History

Could this famous Wonder of the World be an ancient Shiva temple?

Petra, the 'rose red city, half as old as time', located in modern day Jordan, is undoubtedly one of the most dramatic archaeological sites of the world.

In a recently conducted Internet poll, Petra was voted by internet users as one of the 'seven wonders of the modern world'. In this abandoned city, which lies hidden behind impenetrable mountains and gorges, magnificent rock-cut temples and palaces have been carved into towering cliffs of red and orange sandstone. The most famous of these structures is the 'Al Khasneh' (or the 'Treasury'), which was made famous in an Indiana Jones film.

Historians tell us that sometime during the 6th - 4th centuries BC, the Nabataeans, a nomadic tribe from north-western Arabia, entered the region of Petra, and established their cultural, commercial and ceremonial center at Petra. Petra was located strategically at the intersection of the overland Silk Route which connected India and China with Egypt and the Hellenistic world, and the Incense Route from Arabia to Damascus. It soon developed into a thriving commercial center.

Sometime during the 3rd century BC, the Nabataeans began to decorate their capital city with splendid rock-cut temples and buildings. [Right: The Khasneh or "Treasury"] Their economic prosperity and architectural achievements continued unabated even after they came under the control of the Roman Empire in 106 CE. The neglect and decline of Petra started soon after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire in 324 CE. A series of earthquakes crippled the region in the 7th - 8th centuries and Petra disappeared from the map of the known world, only to be rediscovered centuries later in 1812, by a Swiss explorer named Johann Burckhardt.

While the architectural grandeur of Petra continues to captivate us, the mysterious religious beliefs of the Nabataeans have puzzled historians.

Within the temple of Al Deir, the largest and most imposing rock-cut temple in Petra, is present an unworked, black, block of stone, like an obelisk, representing the most important deity of the Nabataeans -- Dushara.

The term Dushara means 'Lord of the Shara', which refers to the Shara mountains to the north of Petra. The symbolic animal of Dushara was a bull. All over Petra, Dushara was represented symbolically by stone blocks.

At the entrance of Petra there are three massive standing blocks of stone, known as Djin blocks, which were sacred to the inhabitants. There are nearly 40 such Djin blocks present throughout Petra. In addition, at religious sites throughout the city, the Nabataeans carved a standing stone block called a baetyl, literally meaning 'house of god'.

A baetyl physically marked a deity's presence. It could be a square [Above, left] or rounded like a dome [Above, right]. Some baetyls' were depicted with a lunar crescent on the top. The Nabataeans also appear to be snake worshippers. One of the most prominent structures in Petra is the snake monument, which shows a gigantic coiled-up snake on a block of stone. [Below]

This unusual array of symbolic elements associated with the chief god of the Nabataeans, Dushara, may have confounded historians, but to anyone familiar with the symbolism of the Vedic deity Shiva, the similarities between Dushara and Shiva will be palpable.

Shiva is still worshipped all over India in the form of a black block of stone known as a Shiva Linga. A Shiva Linga, which is essentially a 'mark' or 'symbol' of Shiva, sometimes appears as an unworked block of stone, much like the idol of Dushara in the temple of Al Deir but typically it is represented by a smooth, rounded stone which resembles some of the rounded, dome-shaped, baetyls that we find in Petra.

Shiva is also associated with the mountains his residence is supposed to be in the Kailash Mountain in the Himalayas, to the north of India, where he spends most of his time engaged in rigorous asceticism. His symbolic animal is a bull, named Nandi, which is commonly depicted kneeling in front of the Shiva Linga. Pictorial depictions of Shiva always show a crescent-shaped moon in his matted locks, much like the lunar crescent that appears on top of certain baetyls in Petra and on top of the Shiva Linga is present a coiled-up serpent, bearing a strong resemblance to the serpent monument of Petra. It is evident that Shiva and Dushara are symbolically identical, leaving little scope for doubt that Dushara must indeed be a representation of the Vedic deity Shiva.

[Right: Black stone Shiva Linga in the coils of a seven hooded serpent. Lepakshi, Andhra Pradesh, India, 16th century. Left: The 123 feet high statue of Shiva in Bhatkal, India, with snakes coiled around his neck and the crescent shaped Moon on his matted locks. At the foot of the statue is Shiva's vahana (carrier), Nandi the bull.]

The similarities, however, do not end here. The consort of Dushara was known to the Nabataeans as Al-Uzza or Al-lat. She was a goddess of power and a goddess of the people, and was symbolized by a lion.

Lions are present at many sites in Petra. At the Lion Triclinium in Petra there are two massive lions protecting the doorway. Lions are also seen at the Lion Monument in Petra, a public fountain, where refreshing water for the perspiring pilgrims would have sprouted from the water outlet at the mouth of the lion. At the Temple of the Winged Lions, a considerable amount of material has been found, including feline statuette fragments, which emphasize the 'feline' association of the mother goddess. The supreme mother goddess was also symbolically associated with vegetation, grains and prosperity, and was frequently depicted holding cereal stalks and fruits.

Not surprisingly, the lion is also associated with the consort of Shiva, known as Parvati, Durga or Shakti. As per the Puranic legends, when the entire humanity was threatened by the evil Mahisasura, the goddess Durga, invested with the combined spiritual energies of the Hindu Trinity -- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva -- and adorned with celestial weapons granted by the divine company of gods, rode her lion to battle this asura. The terrible battle raged over nine days, and on the tenth day Durga defeated and killed Mahisasura. Even now, the victory of Durga over the forces of darkness represented by Mahisasura, is one of the most widely celebrated religious festivals in India, known as Dussehra (or Dasha-Hara, Navratri, Vijaydashami) which is celebrated over a period of ten days.

[Above, left: Idol of Al-Uzza, found in the Temple of the Winged Lions Middle: One of the two reliefs of lion of the Lion Triclinium in Petra, Jordan Right: Durga on a Lion, slaying Mahisarura who has taken the form of a bull. Aihole temple complex, Karnataka, dating from the 6th century CE.]

There are indications that the Nabataeans, too, may have celebrated this ancient festival.

At Petra, an elaborate processional way leads from the center of the city to the temple of Al Deir. In front of the temple there is a massive, flat, courtyard, capable of accommodating thousands of people. This has led historians to suggest that the Al Deir temple may have been the site of large-scale ceremonies. It is possible that this was a celebration of Dussehra, since Al-Uzza was the 'goddess of the people' and Dussehra is the celebration of the victory of the goddess over the forces of evil.

It is not unlikely that the presiding god of the Nabataeans, Dushara, may have obtained his name from the festival Dussehra. The cult of Shiva-Shakti represented the sacred masculine and feminine principles, and the worship of Shiva has always been inextricably linked with the celebrations of the divine feminine. Even now in rural Bengal in India, the final day of celebration of Dussehra (Basanti Puja) is followed by an exuberant worship of Shiva. For these people, it remains the most important festival of their annual religious calendar.

It is unclear to historians whether all the representations of the female goddess found in Petra refer to Al-Uzza or to the Nabataean goddess triad of Al-Uzza, Al-lat and Manat. Although it is has been supposed that the consort of Dushara may be Al-Uzza, the depictions of Al-Uzza in other places of Arabia do not support such an association.

Al-Uzza (the 'Strong One') was the goddess of the morning and evening star. Isaac of Antioch referred to her as Kaukabta, 'the Star'. She was sometimes depicted riding a 'dolphin' and showing the way to sea-farers. She is, thus, the counterpart of the Indo-European goddess of dawn, Ostara, and the Vedic 'Usas'.

In the Rig Veda, there are around 20 hymns dedicated to the Usas, the goddess of dawn, who appears in the east every morning, resplendent in her golden light, riding a chariot drawn by glorious horses, dispelling the darkness, awakening men to action, and bestowing her bounty and riches on all and sundry.

The phonetic and symbolic associations between 'Uzza' and 'Usa' indicate that they are derived from the same source. Al-lat, on the other hand, was widely regarded as 'the Mother of the Gods', or 'Greatest of All'. She was the goddess of fertility and prosperity and was known from Arabia to Iran. It is more likely, therefore, that the consort of Dushara at Petra, symbolized by the lion, was Al-lat and not Al-Uzza. However, it has been observed by historians that Al-Uzza and Al-lat were used quite interchangeably by the Arabs, and sometimes one gained prominence over the other.

It is worth mentioning in this context, that the Hindu goddess of death and destruction -- Kali -- bears stark resemblances to the third goddess of the Nabataean triad -- Manat -- who is generally represented as the terrible, black goddess of death.

Certain rituals associated with Shiva-Durga worship can also be found reflected in the religious practices of the Nabataeans. The Nabataeans ritually made animal sacrifices to Dushara and Al-Uzza, at the 'High Place of Sacrifice' in Petra. The Suda Lexicon, which was compiled at the end of the 10th century, refers to older sources which have since been lost. It states: 'Theus Ares (Dushrara) this is the god Ares in Arabic Petra. They worship the god Ares and venerate him above all. His statue is an unworked square black stone. It is four foot high and two feet wide. It rests on a golden base. They make sacrifices to him and before him they anoint the blood of the sacrifice that is their anointment.' The practice of anointing the Shiva Linga with red vermilion powder (Kumkum) continues to this date in India.

It has also been noticed that most of the Djin blocks at Petra are located close to sources of running water, a fact which has left historians in a dilemma. However, such a peculiar alignment of Djin blocks can be easily explained once we remember that one of the most common practices of Shiva worship is to pour a kettle of water (or milk, curd, ghee, honey etc.) over the Shiva-Linga. This act is symbolic of the sacred river Ganges, which, after emanating from the toe of Vishnu, flows down the matted locks of Shiva. This is the reason why nearly every Shiva temple is also associated with a natural well or spring or a source of running water.

The worship of Shiva-Durga, the sacred masculine and feminine principles, is as old as time itself. The presence of sacred pillars and dolmens, the ancient snake cults, the symbolism of the trisula / trident, the crescent moon etc. found at various archaeological sites across the world suggests that the worship of Shiva-Shakti was one of the most deeply entrenched belief systems of the ancient wisdom traditions.

Among the ancient Semites, a pillar of stone was a sacred representation of a deity. In many texts, the ancient Hebrews are recorded setting up stones as monuments. Jacob set up a pillar and anointed it, in a manner starkly reminiscent of the Shiva worship rituals:

"And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had set up for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it." --Genesis 28 18-19

"And Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he talked with him, even a pillar of stone: and he poured a drink offering thereon, and he poured oil thereon." -- Genesis 35 14

Pillars and Dolmens (stones arranged one on top of another) also constituted an essential part of Druidical worship, among the Celts of ancient Britain and France. In the Irish Druids and Old Irish Religions (1894), James Bonwick mentions that the Irish venerated their lithic temples. They not only anointed them with oil or milk, but, down to a late period, they poured water on their sacred surface so that the draught might cure their diseases. Molly Grime, a rude stone figure, kept in Glentham church, was annually washed with water from Newell well. The 'cup symbol' -- observed on stones at Fermanagh, and in the west of Kerry -- may have confused scholars, but to anyone familiar with the symbolism of Shiva, it can be immediately recognized as the 'crescent moon' present on the matted locks of Shiva.

The geographical distribution of stone monuments extends from the extreme west of Europe to the extreme east of Asia, and from Scandinavia to Central Africa. In spite of centuries of destruction, stone monuments of every type abound in the British and Irish Islands, and some of the most remarkable structures in Europe are found there.

In France some 4000 dolmens are present. In Northern and Central Europe they occur in Belgium, Holland and in the northern plains of Germany. They have been found in large numbers in Denmark and the Danish Islands, and also in Sweden. 'Meteoric stones mounted on carved pedestals' have been found in the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire, and one such piece is, at present, on view at the Etruscan Museum in Vatican, Rome.

Although this ancient cult was worshipped in large parts of the world since time immemorial, there appears to have been a renewed westward thrust of this faith, soon after the conquests of Alexander, which invigorated the ancient land and maritime trade routes, popularly known as the Silk Route, which connected India and China with the western world.

Above: The ancient Silk Route

In 329 BC, Alexander established the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which became a major staging point in the Silk Route. In 323 BC, Alexander's successors, the Ptolemaic dynasty, took control of Egypt. They actively promoted trade with Mesopotamia, India, and East Africa through their Red Sea ports and over land. This was assisted by a number of intermediaries, especially the Nabataeans and other Arabs. Soon after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, regular communications and trade between India, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, China, the Middle East, Africa and Europe blossomed on an unprecedented scale.

The Silk Route transformed into a highway for the cultural, commercial, technological, philosophical and religious exchanges between far flung kingdoms. Buddhism spread from the northern part of India into the farthest reaches of China.

The Eastern Han emperor Mingdi is supposed to have sent a representative to India to discover more about this strange faith, and further missions returned bearing scriptures, and bringing with them Indian priests. Together with coveted merchandise, rock-cutting skills travelled eastwards along the Silk Road from India to China.

Hundreds of rock-cut caves with statues of Buddha were built between 450 and 525 CE. Among the most famous ones are the Longmen Grottoes in China's Henan province, a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. The Longmen grotto complex contains 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and over 100,000 Buddhist images collected over various Chinese dynasties.

The Yungang Grottoes near Datong in the province of Shanxi consists of 252 grottoes and more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes, mainly constructed in the period between 460-525 CE. Also on the Silk Road are the Mogao Caves in China's Gansu province. They are best known for their stunning and well-preserved Buddhist art that spans a period of 1,000 years from 366 CE onwards.

Left: Yungang Grottoes, Shanxi province, China Right: Longmen Grottoes, Henan province, China]

There was also a westward flow of Eastern wisdom along the Silk Route. The effect that this had on the flowering of Greek philosophy and sciences during this period has been grossly underestimated by modern historians. In the Preface to the Vishnu Purana, the translator Horace Hayman Wilson writes:

It is, therefore, quite possible that the ancient faith of Shiva-Shakti may also have migrated westwards along these ancient trade routes during this time. Besides, the Nabataeans, who were essentially a nomadic tribe that got rich by controlling the trade along the Silk Route, could not have suddenly acquired and mastered the technological and architectural sophistication necessary to execute the rock-cut monuments of Petra.

Achieving such a level of finesse and perfection in rock-cut architecture takes generations. Is it possible that, like the ancient cult of Shiva-Shakti, the technology for building these rock-cut monuments was also transferred along the Silk Route?

It may be no coincidence that around the same time that the rock-cut monuments of Petra were being executed, sometime during the 3rd - 2nd century BC, an incredible array of 31 rock-cut cave temples were being carved into the sheer vertical side of a gorge, near a waterfall-fed pool, located in the hills of the Sahyadri mountains in western India, at a place called Ajanta, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Ajanta is located 100 kilometers from the medieval town of Aurangabad ('City of Gates'), which is situated right on the ancient Silk Route, and was a flourishing commercial center since time immemorial. In the ancient times, however, Ajanta itself used to be on the Silk Route. Buddhist missionaries used to accompany traders on busy international trade routes through India and the merchants, in turn, funded or even commissioned elaborate cave temple complexes that also offered lodging for traveling traders.

Some of the more sumptuous temples included pillars, arches, and elaborate facades. Like Petra, the Ajanta caves had fallen out of use, and remained lost for centuries until 1819, when they were re-discovered by a British officer who was hunting a tiger in the region.

Above: Cave 9 at Ajanta, India. A Chaitya Gathering Hall meant for worship.

While in Petra only the exterior facade was decorated with sculptures, the cave temples at Ajanta are elaborately decorated, both outside and inside, with sculptures, paintings and murals, which are considered to be masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, and represent the most sophisticated rock-cut architecture of this period anywhere in the world. They mostly depict the Jataka tales that are stories of the Buddha's life in former existences as Bodhisattva. Many mythic elements from Hinduism are also depicted. Moreover, the interiors were designed to be functional, providing housing, worship halls, and even dining halls for the monks who lived there.

It is extremely improbable that two ancient cities located on the Silk Route, and worshipping deities that are culturally related, would happen to build some of the finest rock-cut temples of the world at around the same time, without having any cultural contact between them. Petra and Ajanta must be connected and since the rock-cut architecture of India represents the highest achievements of engineering and aesthetics of that period, it can be supposed that the Silk Route acted as a conduit for the westward transfer of the Shiva-Shakti cult and rock-cut architectural skills, across the Arabian Peninsula, during the 3rd - 2nd centuries BC. However, since Petra stood at the crossroads of the trade route between the east and the west, there has been an amalgamation of various influences in its architecture.

The Greco-Roman influence is apparent in the facades of many structures, which strengthened even further after the Roman occupation of Petra. Egyptian influences are also evident due to the presence of obelisks and funerary tombs throughout the city.

The Nabateans built a few other cities in the desert, one of which is the archaeological site of 'Shivta' built in the 1st century BC on the 'Perfume Road' between Petra to Gaza. Like Petra, Shivta too was abandoned by the 8th - 9th century CE, after the ascendancy of Islam.

A few kilometers from Shivta is located the ancient, biblical city of 'Tel Sheva', an archaeological site in southern Israel, which derives its name from a nearby 'well' or 'water source'. The phonetic and symbolic similarities between these cities and 'Shiva' are obvious. In fact, the cult of Shiva-Shakti was widespread across the entire Middle East and West Asia, and penetrated deep into the farthest corners of Europe in the centuries before Christ.

The biblical kingdom of 'Sheba' (Hebrew: Sh'va) believed to be in present day Yemen, as well as the archaeological site of 'Shibham', (Sanskrit: Shivam) located in Yemen, hint at the fact that entire kingdoms and cities were named after this deity.

It is unfortunate that these symbolisms and associations have been either overlooked or ignored by historians till now. What is even more regrettable is the fact that the Shiva Linga, and, in fact, any Pillar or Dolmen cult, has been uniformly interpreted as a form of phallic worship, when the information from the ancient sources clearly specify that the 'pillar' represents the 'Cosmic Mountain', the symbolic axis-mundi of the cosmos, around which the heavens revolve. It is a powerful cosmic symbol, fusing the divine masculine and feminine principles, whose meaning was universally understood by the ancient cultures, but whose real import has been lost to us now.

Unless we begin to acknowledge the widespread presence of the Shiva-Shakti cult in large parts of the ancient world, and make a sincere attempt to understand the vast array of symbolisms associated with this ancient faith, we will continue to concoct a version of history that is illusory, fragmentary, and ultimately meaningless.

About the author: Bibhu Dev Misra is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and the Indian Institute of Management and has been working as an Information Technology consultant for more than 12 years, for various organizations across the world. He is also an independent researcher and writer on topics related to ancient civilizations, myths, symbols, religion and spirituality and has travelled to many places of historical, religious and architectural importance. His articles have appeared in various internet websites and magazines. He can be contacted at [email protected] and via his personal blog: http://bibhudev.blogspot.com

Indeed! And while one is contemplating the Shiva connection to Petra, one might also ponder why the Jews exiled to Babylon named their religious schools "Yeshivas." It's no coincidence. At the time of the exodus, the Jews called their Egyptian slave masters or taskmasters the 'naga,' (look up the word 'taskmaster' in any Strong's Concordance) which is a word that is pure Sanskrit and used since antiquity to denote India's most famous cult of serpent worshippers, a cult primarily devoted to the worship of Shiva.

Abraham's hometown of Ur in Chaldea, (Sumer) was dedicated to the Anunnaki lunar god, Nannar Sin. The name indicates that Ur's moon god represented the patriarchal god from the famous 'Sindh' region of ancient India. In the Sanskrit pronunounciation, the "dh" sound is sort of whispered. In Sumer the 'dh' was simply dropped and Sindh became Sin. The Sanskrit word 'Hindu' is based upon the older Dravidian word "Sindhu." Sumer's famous Lunar god, Nanner Sin, was undoubtedly a diety worshiped by the Sindhu, (i.e. Hindu's) as they began extending their territorial rule throughout the Near and Middle East.

In fact the very term 'Anunnaki', made famous by Zecharia Sitchin's ancient extraterrestrial hypothesis appears to have absolutely nothing to do with ancient astronaut theories. Anyone familiar with the Rig Veda knows who the tribe of Anu was. Anu was one of the five sons of the famous Vedic king named Yayati whose sons represented the five tribes of mankind in antiquity. Anu was one of the primary characters in the famous 'Battle of the ten kings' as told in the Rig Veda.

Anu and his followers lost that war and the Rig Veda records that "Of the Anus and Druhyus sixty thousand, six thousand and sixty six warriors were put to sleep." (RV VII.18, 11, 14) (An oh so familiar number, eh?) The bulk of the remainder of Anus tribe was driven out of India and declared a "fallen" race according to the religious dictates of the ancient Vedic Aryans. This tribe evidently migrated west and eventually established Sumer and even Egypt.

The Anunnaki were nothing more than exiled Aryans from India. Their kings and queens became deified "gods and goddesses" in the same manner that the Dali Lama, who is obviously very human, was declared a living god by the Buddhists.

Every single near and Middle Eastern god ever declared 'pagan' by Christian standards can be traced directly back to the Vedic Aryans of ancient India. For instance, the famous evil god of Canaan, Baal, is but a shortened version of the Hindu god, Balarama, and one and the same with the famous Egyptian god of evil, Seth.

Sumer represented the influx of the Lunar Aryan dynasties and their dedication to various avatars and attributes of Shiva, while Egypt became the primary focus of the Vedic Solar cults dedicated to Vishnu and all of his 1000 names.

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