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Vedic Myths

Overview

This course will give a general overview of Vedic Myths, including its myths of creation, stories of its most important deities, epics, and general mythology contained in the Puranas and other important texts.

Course Objectives:

Educational objectives.

Students will learn details about the Vedic myths, and will use these to learn:

1) How these myths influence Vedic beliefs.
2) The continuity of these beliefs and
3) How these myths are used in developing various elements of Indian belief and practice, including astrology.

Required text:
Danielou, Alain, The Myths and Gods of India: The Classic Work on Hindu Polytheism from the Princeton Bollingen Series, Inner Traditions, Rochester, 1991, 512 pages. ISBN-10: 0892813547 ISBN-13: 978-0892813544

Additional texts will be provided by the instructor.

Recommended text:

Subramuniyaswami, Sivaya, Dancing with Siva: Hinduism’s Contemporary Catechism, Himalayan Academy Publications, Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii, 1997, 968 pages, ISBN-10: 0945497970 ISBN-13: 978-0945497974

Week one will serve as an Introduction to the major concepts and sects of Hinduism. This brief introduction will form the basis for the course and a foundation for understanding the myths of India.

Learning Objectives will be:

1) Expose the student to the major sects and components of Hindu thought as a foundation for Hindu mythology

2) Provide an outline for some of the primary myths of the Hindu system

First of all, it is important to identify Hinduism as a set of religions and beliefs rather than as set orthodox system of beliefs. The current division of sects dates back to the days of Adi Sankara, who organized the Smartist Sect of the Sanatana Dharma, the correct term for Hinduism (also known as the “eternal law”, the “eternal law”) into four primary sects [1] :

These are:

The Saiva Sect—These are worshippers of Shiva. Shiva is one of the representations of God as creator and destroyer. It is a devotional sect dedicated to the Agamic teachings of South India and Kashmir Shaivism in the extreme north of India. The dating of this group is open to question, but this group has the greatest potential for being connected with the Mohenjo-Daro civilization, as it stresses meditation and quiet, and there is some representations of individuals in apparent meditation in the seals from that civilization. Also, it is the closest of any of the sects to a natural religion, as Shiva has a very strong connection with animals, and one of his many names is Pasupati, or “lord of beasts”. Shiva is essentially considered to be the universe, the Great God, and one of the aphorisms in Indian Yoga is that “Jiva” (the individual soul) is “Shiva”(the universal soul). Essentially, humans are individual manifestations of the soul of Shiva, and this is the basis of Vedanta (see below) in which the human soul makes its way to the earth in an effort to learn or fulfill some desire, then finally, after awhile, returns to Shiva. A relatively minor deity in the Rig Veda (he starts gaining prominence in the later Yajur Veda), he is called Rudra, the howler. Religious beads called rudrakshas are attributed to Shiva. Shaiva groups are usually the ones involved in the most extreme forms of asceticism, such as forgoing food, or engaging in extreme penance for extended periods of time. Incidentally, although we shall discuss the concept of nakshatras (essentially, fixed star placements) later, it is interesting to note here that Shiva, despite being an ascetic, has a family, and his marriage to his wife Parvati is alleged to have occurred under the lunar mansion (fixed star) location in Leo (Simha) called Utttaraphalguni, and his son Kartikeya, is said to come from the nakshatra Krittika, (really the Pleiades, also referred to in Indian mythology as the place of the seven sages). [2] Kartikeya is also regarded by many as the ruler of astrology, and he is said to travel from planet to planet on his airship. (Since this deity is a representation of the logical mind, and is said to have wandered throughout the universe, this is a logical conclusion, given Hindu beliefs). [3] Within the Shaivite tradition, he fulfills the functions of Lord Brahma (who fell out of favor for lusting after his daughter, knowledge (Saraswati), but Kartikeya is a renunciant and therefore not subject to lust), and to an extent, Vishnu (see below) as Kartikeya is called in to fight the toughest forces of evil. [4]

The Vaishnava sect—This particular group of devotees, again with no agreed upon origin, swears allegiance to Vishnu, the pervader and preserver of the universe. Vishnu is considered to be the manifestation of divinity that allowed life to come to the world, by actually visiting creation instead of viewing it from afar. Generally, the most placid of the Vedic deities, stories abound about his patience and benevolence (one great sage Bhrigu kicks him to awaken him and when Vishnu awakens, he asks Bhrigu if the sage has hurt his foot). Incidentally, it is in the avatars that one sees a deliberate reference In keeping with the idea of Vishnu’s life preserving nature and his generosity and grace, he incarnates occasionally to save the world from disaster:

Meena Avatar- Vishnu through Ketu-This avatar showed itself as a huge fish that saved the world from destruction in a flood. This avatar represents Ketu’s ability to swim the spiritual seas and also represents Ketu’s ties with catastrophes that wipe things out—but that also give opportunities for spiritual growth.
Varaha Avatar—Vishnu through Rahu. This represents Vishnu as a huge boar who swallowed the earth to save it from destruction. The swallowing of the earth represents the need to take drastic, unorthodox action at times, but also shows how Rahu encompasses all the earth as the nature of desire, and how it can win the whole earth—for a time at least!

Kurma Avatar—Vishnu through Saturn. This avatar appeared when the world was created and needed to be lifted from the depths of the ocean. It, like Saturn, shows the need for foundation, and also addresses Saturn’s nature as a “drying” planet. Kurma avatar was conceived to provide a base for the earth and to allow the earth to be raised out of the sea so the gods could secure the elixir of immortality (the amrita) from the ocean. The most interesting thing about this incarnation is that as Saturn provides this major foundation for the churning of the elixir of immortality, it also sets the stage for the mischief of Rahu and Ketu exhibit in the Vedic chart, for without this activity, the Asura Rahu would never have attained immortality…but neither would the devas!

Narasimha Avatar- Vishnu through Mars—Many years ago, a demon was granted a boon that he could not be destroyed in day or night, inside or outside, by man or beast. Narasimha avatar appeared from a temple column near an entrance, at dusk, and was a lions head and paws on a man’s body. Mars rules accidents and sudden attacks. It also acts as a warrior to right wrongs. The sudden, catastrophic nature of Mars is revealed by this Avatar.

Vamana Avatar-Vishnu through Jupiter. In Indian religion, there is a perpetual battle between those who attain power and become like the Gods (technically called Devas) and the Devas themselves. In this case, a demon king, Bali, had gained power and the Gods were deposed from their high status. Now Bali was not evil…as a matter of fact he was quite a good ruler and the world prospered under his rule. What had happened was that his rule had distorted the balance of the universe that needed restoration. This avatar took the form of a boy or dwarf priest, who appeared before Bali and requested a boon / favor). Bali, being very honorable, told the small priest to take whatever he wished. The small priest asked for only enough land that he could cover in three steps. As soon as Bali consented to this, the boy/dwarf grew to enormous size—with one step, he covered the earth, with the next he covered the heavens, and was looking for a place to put his last step. Bali offered his own head. Although Bali lost everything, Vamana granted to Bali the status of being king of the Gods in the next cycle of creation. This illustrates the use of wile and non-violence to achieve ends, shows the graciousness of Jupiter towards his opponents (although delayed for a long while) and demonstrates Jupiter’s legalistic disposition and willingness to support the established order.

Parasurama Avatar-Vishnu through Venus. (Rama with a Battle Axe) . Parasurama was a Brahmin Priest with a war-like temperament who killed all of the warriors who lived in his time because they had killed his father. The story shows the passion and loyalty of Venus and its commitment to purification of corruption, sometimes at a considerable cost. There are other stories about Parasurama, including the rather interesting one in which his father requests that he kill his mother for thinking impure thoughts. He must also kill his brothers for refusing to honor their father’s wishes. With unquestioning loyalty, he fulfills his father’s request. His father then asks what Parasurama would like as a reward for granting his request. Parasurama asks that his family be brought back to life. Venus is charged with bringing the dead back to life, and is also the guru or teacher of the demons, or those who desire rapid spiritual progress. So Venus’ role in astrology is to control lust and desire not to provoke it. This also fits in with its rulership of the book of rituals or personal sacrifice, an habitually overlooked aspect of Venus.

Rama Avatara-Vishnu through the Sun. This is one of the better-known incarnations of Vishnu. Rama is a Prince, who along with his brother, Lakshmana, is exiled from his father’s kingdom because of his stepmother’s wish to have her son, Bharat, on the throne. In the epic book the Ramayana, Rama agrees to exile in the forest to honor his father’s pledge to Rama’s stepmother. He lived there with Lakshmana and his devoted wife Sita, until encountering the demon king (actually a powerful Brahmin priest who acquired great supernatural powers) Ravana, who through a series of events, kidnapped Sita, who is considered by some an analog for the earth. Rama had to fight to defeat Ravana (who had committed atrocities among many neighboring groups) and eventually reclaimed Sita and his kingship. Sadly, when Sita was reclaimed, even though she had declined Ravana’s advances, many accounts indicate that Rama’s subjects felt her to be unclean because of her presence in Ravana’s company, so Rama acceded to the wishes of his subjects and exiled her. (Some accounts do indicate that Rama and Sita lived to old age together, but this is a far less common account.) Rama is a hero’s hero—he honors his father’s wishes, defeats evil, saves the girl, and even stoically accepts his fate when his wife is forced away because he must fulfill his duty. The story, especially its conclusion, is about the triumph of duty over desire—a key theme in India and a key element in evaluating spiritual progress. (An interesting side note; Ravana was so powerful he had control over all of the nine planets and used them, turned upside down, as stepping stones to his throne. Saturn suggested that he turn them right side up so Ravana could see their discomfort when he walked on them. However, Saturn’s look has the power to destroy, so when Saturn was able to look at Ravana, Ravana became deranged and started to desire Sita, which was his undoing. Given, Ravana’s immense power, it is no wonder Vishnu needed to manifest through the most powerful graha, the Sun, to defeat Ravana. It represents the eternal light of the Sun, that dispels darkness and evil.)

Krishna—Vishnu through the Moon—Krishna is by far, the most popular incarnation of Vishnu. He is charming and delightful and even as a young child, shows signs of his divinity. There are many stories connected to Krishna, but I find two very telling. He has variety of Gopis –essentially water nymphs—with whom he plays and they all love him. Some conservative groups would say this is a metaphorical love; others report it as actual lovemaking. So Krishna, like the Moon in its myths, has many lovers (the lunar mansions are usually referred to as the Moon’s wives). He shows the ability to enjoy the world without attachment to it. Likewise, in the Mahabharata, the great epoch tale of war between clans in India, Krishna joins in the war, not as a fighter, but as a charioteer. He is the charioteer for Arjuna, whose name means “the shining mind”. Arjuna is a great warrior , but he has pangs of conscience about killing his relatives. And Krishna, as his guide who keeps the horses of his chariot (his wavering nature) under control, tells him he must fight! But the things that Krishna is telling Arjuna to fight are not people so much as desires. Because if he does not fight and kill these desires, they will block his path to spirituality and, even more importantly, to fulfilling his duty or obligation—and he must fulfill his destiny. This dialogue is contained in the Bhagavad Gita, a part of the Mahabharata, which is a condensation of the spiritual principles contained in Hinduism (also called the Sanatana Dharma, or the eternal or unchanging law). Some authorities interpret the Bhagavad Gita more literally, and this makes sense to them; but the Moon as one of the luminaries, guides the shining mind, almost like a mother would guide an errant child, as Krishna guides Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. The difference between Rama and Krishna is fascinating; one shows the way by doing (Rama); the other through discrimination (Krishna). Krishna is also more like us than the other avatars. He has fun, he fights, he plays pranks—he is the most human, apart from Buddha, of the Avatars, and he understands our human frailties. So, like the Moon, even as he changes, he guides.

Buddha Avatar—Vishnu’s incarnation through Mercury. This incarnation is very interesting, as most of us are at least somewhat aware of the life of Buddha. First of all, he is a verifiable historical figure. (Some would maintain that all the avatars are!) but Buddha has left a definite legacy. He founded a method to liberation, not a religion per se. He had been sheltered from the outside world as a young prince and only had beauty and youth around him when he was growing up; he wanted to see the world outside, and his father objected, but he determined to go anyway. He saw old age, disease and poverty. It was then that he started to question his life and he left his family to study with spiritual teachers. He studied with Indian Priests and their ornate rituals, but this did not satisfy him as he found the rituals too complicated for him to think about reality. When he went with the ascetics, who mortified their flesh, he found that this also distracted. So he went back to moderate eating and drinking. He then realized the nature of reality by sitting under a tree and meditating. He involved the ascetics, some of whom joined him. Brahmin India absorbed many of his ideas into the Hindu fabric…so much so that Buddhism is almost non-existent in its native country of India. It exists in Sri Lanka and throughout most of Southeast Asia as a wide spread religion, but was absorbed into Indian mainstream though. Buddhism is atheistic, in that it does not need a creator God to explain the creation of the world—the world works according to the rules of karma. So it is a very scientific religion, well suited to rationalistic civilizations in its purest form. One can readily see Mercury in this pattern as Mercury can see all dimensions of an argument and about reality. This rationalistic impulse can also treat religion as a concept, and spiritual liberation as an intellectual exercise, but it is also good for our perspective, as it helps us realize everything is transient, and passing.

This sect views deity as being an activist god, someone who comes down to earth to write wrongs. In this way, this God comes closer to the Christian conception of God, but he arrives on the earth more frequently. The most popular incarnation of God in this sect is Krishna, and the group known in the West as the Hare Krishnas come from this group.

The view of the soul is somewhat different from the Shaivites, in that the soul is viewed as separate from God, and not able to reform with God, because they are individually created souls. While the Shaivites dream of re-merging with God, the Vaishnavas dream of achieving liberation through attaining Vishnu’s blue heaven and bathing in the bliss of his company. [5]

Shaktism.is a system of worship dedicated to the divine mother, in all her aspects, from the benevolent and giving :Lakshmi to bloodthirsty Kali. The sect essentially believes in using a variety of techniques, such as mantra (sacred words), Tantra (sacred rituals), Yantra (sacred illustration and diagrams, yoga (physical and mental union with God through exercise and meditation) and puja (specific worship of the gods. This is the closest of all the traditions to the Western magical tradition, as devotees use these acts to open the kundalini—energy at the base of the spine that, when activated, can force union with God. The view of the soul, is, as in Shaivism, is that the soul can re-establish unity with Shiva or God—so the soul can be liberated. So, it is prevalently viewed as a Vedanta system as it advocates union with

God—not sitting in his company.

Smartist Sect

The name of the Sect derives from the fact that this is a ritualistic sect. Founded by Adi Sankaram, it is a universalist Hindu sect that welcomes all. Individuals can choose whichever gods (from a set of about 6) it wants to worship. So, the Ishta Devata the person wishes to worship will determine what one believes the soul will be. One could choose Vishnu as deity and have a dualistic (separate god and soul) belief system. The others would lean towards the non-dualistic belief system of the other deities.

What is the soul?

The conception of the soul in Hindu belief is really relevant in connection with God, or Brahman (otherwise known as the reality—the state in which all reality exists). The two principle beliefs are that we are connected to Brahman and have always been connected to Brahman, but simply have forgotten, either because of ignorance or desire, of our divine nature. This is called Advaita Vedanta, and is, as we saw above, practiced by Shaivites and Saktis. The motivation for the soul’s departure is open to speculation, but some theorize that the soul leaves to experience something in a more limited existence, under the illusion (Maya) that this will make them happy. When the soul attains a body, this triggers other desires because it is in a body. Eventually, over many, many lifetimes, the person gets tired of seeing the same things over and over again and starts wanting to return to Brahman. Either through many (millions) of lifetime or through advanced yogic practices, one ultimately returns to Brahman.
The Dvaita (dualistic) school believes that all souls are individual and self-contained, and they are always separate from God. This school often holds that all souls are all created at the same time, but they reincarnate into different shells in order to experience different types of existence. Beings on this earth are not yet worthy of being with God, so they must build up merit, either through, acts or devotion. Eventually these souls do enough good works, or repeat enough mantra or ritual enough acts to sit next to Vishnu in Heaven.

There is a belief held in India by some that those who lead evil lives are reincarnated as lesser beings—animals or trees—or that some get born into different cultures, but reincarnation is a central concept of belief in most Hindu belief systems. One notable—and extinct—sect called the Charvakas dated at approximately 600 BCE, although dates differ—see: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/3440/charvaka.html –were entirely materialistic and do not give any credence to an after life or reincarnation. Also, although not as extreme in their beliefs, Buddhism and Jainism, both of which originated on the Indian subcontinent, are atheistic in that there is no personal god to return to in their belief system.

Advaita is generally considered more difficult to practice as a belief system, because it the necessity of constantly remembering one is connected to the divine. Dvaita is a bit less intense from a personal perspective, although some groups connected with this school (specifically the Hare Krishna movement) require far more stringent behavior than most advaita schools. [6]

Most groups in India believe that Jyotisha, or Indian astrology, provides a way to read the patterns of past-life karma.

Both groups encourage renunciation or at the very least, moderation so the individual has fewer attachments to this world to bind him or her here. The principal idea is to cultivate non-attachment through Santosha or contentment with the world, and later, this will lead to less ambitions to fulfill that would interfere with one’s ambition to return to the reality, be it with form (Saguna Brahman—this usually means a certain God, like Vishnu, will represent Brahman, and the other version of the reality is Nirguna Brahmani, which, although it has a nature and a life, does not have a personality—and this can make Nirguna Brahman, and consequently, Advaita Vedanta, very difficult for the normal person without an abstract perspective on deity.

Textural References:

Reincarnation is mentioned in virtually every major Hindu text:

Here is a listing of the primary SRUTI (fully cognized and divinely provided texts) and
SMRTI (texts divinely inspired, but written by humans and subject to interpretation). One may make the distinction here of the division between laws and regulations

Srutis

Rig Veda – This is the oldest recognized text, dated from 1500 BCE to 6,000 BCE by various sources. 1028 hymns are dedicated to a wide range of gods, including Indra, Agni and Varuna. Lunar mansions are mentioned in this Veda.

Yajur Veda (Veda of Liturgy)—This is a priestly book, designed to provide instruction is the establishment of the proper set-up, timing and execution of ritual. There are some timing elements based on Soli-Lunar combinations.

Sama Veda—These are select hymns of the Rig Veda, placed in devotional settings. Some translations of the Bhagavad Gita refer to this as the highest Veda.

Atharva Veda—This is the Veda connected with spells, incantations and rituals for practical matters that affect most people. Astrology, especially nakshatras, are mentioned in this text.
The liturgical core of each of the Vedas are supplemented by commentaries on each text which all belong to the ? ruti cannon:

• Brahmanas
• Aranyakas
• Upanishads (these are the most commonly read by Westerners, and, in some regards, the easiest of these books to understand)

The literature of the schools, further amplifies the material associated with each of the four core traditions of Hinduism, but virually every tradition in Hinduism stresses final liberation or reunification with god (or Brahman).

Particular sections of the Bhagavata purana relating to the catur sloki and the concept of svayam bhagavan are considered ?ruti by some Vaishnava Vedantists , as is the Mahabharata (an Itihasa , or History) or at least the chapter within the Mahabharata known as the Bhagavad Gita .
Among South Indian Shaivites, a Tamil language text called the Tirukural is considered a Shruti text as well.

SMRTI’S

These texts date from around 500 BCE and are regarded as secondary in authority to the Shruti texts.

These include texts such:

The Laws of Manu (the oldest known Smrti),

The Ithihasas, which are the epic works like The Mahabharata and The Ramayana, and

The Puranas—These are at least twenty sets of books that cover areas like the creation of the universe, dissolutions and recreation of the universe, the genealogy of devas and sages, the birth of the human race, and the evolution of dynasties.

The Thirumantiram, a South Indian Tamil text, fits roughly as Smrti. (This text explains yoga practices such as those described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, but in much more detail.)
All of these texts contain astrological references (the Mahabharata contains references to activities begun under certain nakshatras, or lunar mansions and The Skanda Purana at 71,000 lines, three times larger than any other Purana, contains an extensive discussion of astrology), Most Puranas were though to be written long before they were actually written down and published in the Gupta dynasty between 300-500 CE.

A discussion of how these texts work into the overall view of the universe will be contained later in this course.

Development of Philosophy and Integration of Mythology in Vedic Astrology

A NOTE ON HISTORY: Although I will not delve into the history of Hinduism at this point, it is important to remember that, within the culture and religion itself, Hinduism is regarded as having no identified founder, and many of the theories of how this system of belief came into India are in contention currently. Given the similarity between some European beliefs, the Aryan invasion theory was developed in the 19th century, with virtually no archaeological evidence. More recent hypotheses about the Mohenjo-Daro civilization being the foundation for the development of Hinduism are not well-documented either and subject to dispute from various authorities, and research within this area will probably continue for some time. So neither theory at this time is satisfactory.

The gods and myths of India represent an enormous body of work, so this will not attempt to list them all, let alone analyze all of the implications of these myths. But we will attempt to cover to determine some appropriate links with Vedic Astrology or Jyotisha.

The basic theories of the development of Hindu Mythology tend to divide into those that argue that the Vedas prefigured everything that came after (this belief is based upon a reinterpretation of the dating of the Vedas that contrasts with Western scholarship) (see Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization and see Thompson, Richard,Vedic Cosmography and Cosmology, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, United States, 1989, 242 pages for a religious historical perspective on the dating of both the Vedas and other texts such as the Surya Siddhantha) ) and those that argue that the Vedas were imposed upon a pre-existing culture between 1200 BCE and 500 BCE that had more in common with Greek society (Danielou, Alain, The Myths and Gods of India, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 1991, 441 pages and McKenzie, Donald, India, Senate Publishing, London, England, 1995, 463 pages). There are valid arguments on all sides, but many recent authorities, both orthodox and unorthodox, have been pushing the origins of civilization in India, backwards, so it is not unreasonable to form earlier dates for many traditions and/or classical texts.

The Vedic texts, especially the Rig Veda, the Black and White Yajur Veda, and the Sama Veda are thought to be the original Vedic texts, joined relatively late by the Atharva Veda at about 500 BCE. The Atharva Veda contains the first references to Indian astrology that can be recognized in its current form. Was this an early interaction between Indian culture and foreign cultures, or was this an indigenous development? We don’t know, as details are lacking, and lack of astrology texts prevents an objective assessment of the use of this knowledge by the culture.

The Vedas were thought to have reflected a very ritualistic culture, in which propitiation of the gods (devas) played an important part in the life of the culture and people. It is also noteworthy that, as far back as the Rig Veda, astronomical references, particularly references to the fixed stars or nakshatras, are mentioned prominently, and this is the basis for some scholars dating these texts as far back as 8,000 years ago). The number of gods mentioned in the Rig Veda is astonishing, but the predominant deities seem to be the Rudra (who is considered by some to be a representation of Shiva); Agni, the god of the sacrifice, Surya, the Sun God, Varuna, the judge of the world, Ushas, goddess of the dawn, Ratri, goddess of the night, and Chandra, the Moon, identified with Soma, the sacred drink of the gods. Mitra was also there, as a deity that had strong identification with the Persian, Mithra, whose cult made its way into the middle east and later Rome. Indra, the chief of the gods—he apparently took over this position from Varuna-was a popular god who had traits in common with thunder gods in other societies, such as Greek Zeus and Norse Thor. (This was not uncommon. When Alexander invaded in the fourth century BCE, he and his soldiers were surprised to find Indian figures that shared attributes of Herakles and Dionysos—Krishna and Shiva. (Feuerstein at al. pp. 233-235.) Many parallels can be found between Hindu Gods and their Greek and Norse counterparts (MacKenzie, pp. 19-37) Ultimately, these myths provide a common ground for linking the planets with the Vedic deities.

The transition from the Vedas to the Upanishads around 600 BCE-400 BCE marked a shift from a ritualistic society to a more introspective one, and helped lay the foundation for Buddhism. The Upanishadic philosophy was not a popular form of mysticism, but probably helped lay the foundation for Buddhism and Jainism, which essentially refined even more the mystical concepts contained in the Upanishads.

The next important step in Hindu religious thought belongs to an earlier systematizer of religious principles, Badarayana (fifth century BCE), who developed a system of dualist thought and is the apparent creator of systematic theology which reconciled the mysticsm of the Upanishads with earlier religious thought contained in the Vedas, and built a system for interpreting the revealed knowledge of the Vedas and Upanishads. He laid the foundation for systematic thought for generations to come that allowed in variations into Hindu thought such as Nyaya (logic) and cosmology (Sankhya), among others. He also may have been one of the first individually identified thinkers who equated the attainment of Brahman—or unity with the reality, or god—as the ultimate goal of human life, although the thought is contained in earlier documents.

In the timeline of religious thought, some date the Ithihasas, or epic texts, as arriving between 500 BCE and 100 BCE. These texts, including the MahaBharata, the largest epic poem ever composed, were and remain a foundation for ethical conduct. The most important single part of this work though, is considered to be the Bhagavada Gita or Song of God, in which a sage eavesdrops on Krishna and Arjuna’s discussion about duty, desire and action (karma). The Gita systematizes into one short book, the entire essence of the philosophy of karma yoga, or the way by which one can achieve the highest spiritual state through his or her action in the world. It is an essential text for those who wish to understand the concept of yoga.

Another landmark achievement (estimated to have been written between 200 BCE and 400 CE) were the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Many scholars think that these Sutras are a condensation of earlier concepts contained in the Vedas, and later Indian religious texts.These works described, in detail, the benefits of meditation; meditation as the path to God-consciousness, but also, towards the end of the sutras, to the attainment of various siddhis or occult powers, one being knowing the past, present and future through meditation on the Sun. The Yoga Sutras are very short, but these have been used as a teaching tool (like the Bhagavad Gita) for close to 2,000 years.

Important thinkers like Nagarjuna developed critiques of Buddhist thinking and Vasubandhu defended Buddhist thought.

Ishvarikrishna (350 – 425) developed the school of Sankhya philosophy and essentially set up a system in which spirit interacts with matter, but is essentially independent of it. This is important in that spirit can manipulate matter, but does not have to be tied to it. While this can be seen as a reflection of Patanajali’s teachings, it is also a differentiation in that we are allowed to create our reality, but do not have to be tied to it, laying the foundation for the thought that liberation from matter can be achieved while one is alive.

These schools show systems of thought that are in no way incompatible with an astrological view of the world as contained in Indian astrology. The point at which an astrological system would be in most difficulty would be the development of the Buddhistic or Jainistic traditions, because these are unrelenting in their path to liberation, and there is some speculation that the traditions of the Brahmins, including astrology, suffered when Buddhism gained ascendancy, both during Ashoka’s reign and again around 200 CE, but these were not substantial eliminations of astrological practice. Books like the Arthasastra (written no later than 150 CE, and dated by some at 500 BCE), a political text, contain references to astrologers, and religious texts like the Grihya Sutras (estimated to have been written no earlier than 500 BCE) contain rituals for planetary propitiation.

The foundational religious texts of India—the Vedas—are said to be ruled by certain planets—The Rig Veda (the oldest spiritual text) is ruled by Jupiter; the Yajur Veda, which is a book of priestly rituals, is ruled by Venus, the Sama Veda, the book of hymns, is ruled by Mars, and the Atharva Veda, the most recent of the four, is ruled by Mercury. The books range from very lofty discourses on the nature of existence (the Rig Veda) to a book of practical magic—for lack of a better term—embodied in the Atharva Veda. In some ways, the assignations are very apt, as Jupiter rules philosophy, Venus rules courtesy, and charm and, by implication, appropriate.behavior. Appropriate behavior i.e. following the rules of praise, are at the heart of the Vedic rituals. Mars rules action and energy (praise and actual worship) and Mercury rules practical knowledge. Among the other planets, the Sun and Moo are the rulers of everything, but they do render divine light and knowledge to the world, while Saturn provides a foundation. Rahu rules unorthodox beliefs and Ketu gives direct spiritual access. There is also some astronomical information contained in the Rig Veda, that describes planetary placements to the nakshatras (or lunar mansions) described in Hindu Astrology. The Rig Veda describes planetary positions that are at least 6,000 years old. This is one of the arguments for setting the origins of Indian culture and Indian astrology as far back as some authorities do.

How to Understand Vedic Texts

There are six Angas or explanatory limbs, to the Vedas: the siksha and vyakarana of Panini, the chhandas of Pingalacharya, the nirukta of Yaksha, the Jyotisha of Garga (Garga is an ancient sage or teacher, and is sometimes referred to as the teacher of Parasara–see above for references to Parasara), and the Kalpas (srauta, grihya, dharma and sulba) belonging to the authorship of various rishis.

Siksha is knowledge of phonetics, dealing with pronunciation and accent. The text of the Vedas is arranged in various forms or Pathas. The pada-patha gives each word its separate form. The

Krama-patha connects the word in pairs.

Vyakarana is Sanskrit grammar. Panini’s books are most famous. Without knowledge of Vyakarana, it is said a person cannot understand the Vedas.

Chhandas is meter dealing with prosody.

Nirukta is philology or etymology.

Jyotisha is astronomy and astrology. It deals with the movements of the heavenly bodies, planets, etc., and their influence in human affairs. It includes earthly signs like Nimhita (omens) and the ability to read different parts of the body (palmistry is the most commonly used, but there are others.) (See above.)
Kalpa is the method of ritual. The Srauta sutras (from the Yajur Veda see above) which explain the ritual of sacrifices belong to Kalpa. The Sulba Sutras, which treat of the measurements which are necessary for laying out the sacrificial areas, also belong to Kalpa. The Grihya Sutras which concern domestic life, and the Dharma Sutras which deal with ethics, customs and laws, also belong to kalpa.

There are many texts that explore the philosophy of Jyotish, but its basic philosophy is based on Sankhya (see above-some consider this the oldest system of philosophy in the word) [7] , a system of thought that categorizes states of existence between spirit and matter. This is as we saw above, the foundation for the decline of the soul into matter and its progress back to Brahman). Interestingly enough, Sankhya’s complementary discipline is Yoga, which is the process by which we merge again with the divine, while still retaining our identities, as above. Indian philosophy is heavily steeped in the belief in reincarnation, and the astrology chart is seen as an indicator of how far away from, or how close to reunion with God the soul is. (There are six darshans or viewpoints in Hinduism, set into three pairs—Nyaya (logic) and Vaisheshika (discrimination); Samkhya (categorization) and Yoga (Union) and Purva Mimamsa (religious and spiritual ritual) and Vedanta (or the elimination of boundaries between the divine and the human) This is certainly not the only use of Jyotisha, but ease of life is considered the result of past life actions, which lead to reward or suffering. The spiritual aspect to these life events depends on how we deal with the good and bad that life hands us—or that we hand ourselves! Also, the concept of the level of karma a person must face becomes important. Sankhya is considered to be ruled by the Moon (as will be discussed later) and the Moon is probably the most important heavenly body in Jyotisha–the Moon is our mind through which we sense and experience the world and the sensations that the Moon brings keep us reincarnating–and experiencing life in this world.

TYPES OF KARMA

Karma is divided into four primary categories: (1) sanchita, (2) prarabdha, (3) kriyamana, and (4) agama. Sanchita and prarabdha karma can be generally understood as the unchangeable fate or destiny of the individual, with kriyamana and agama karma reflecting the person’s free will or choice. The following is a basic description of each type of karma.

• Sanchita can be defined as one’s collective karma from all past incarnations. Sanchita basically means “heaped together” and reflects the collection of all karmas due to known and unknown actions of the past.

• Prarabdha karma is the specific karmic lessons that an individual is ready to experience in this lifetime. Thus, it is only a portion of the collective sanchita karma and may be experienced as a person’s destiny or fate in the present incarnation.

• Kriyamana karma is created by our current actions in this lifetime. It can be thought of as our free will or effort that we are exerting now. It is our daily behavior and personal actions. As the great Jyotishi, Swami Sri Yukteswar stated, “The first lesson on the spiritual path is to learn to behave”.
• Agama karmas are created by how we envision the future. They are the new actions that are contemplated as you plan your work as a result of personal insight.

Dates of the development of these ideas is very uncertain. There is certainly a wideThe difficulty we have in validating dates probably has its roots in two factors, one historical and one cultural—the historical part comes to a certain extent from the rise in Buddhism in India. Buddhism did not particularly welcome astrology (if the moderate path is the path, what need do we have of rituals or even an analysis of destiny—whatever astrology was practiced before 400 BCE is not in evidence), and we may have a cultural manifestation as well. Many Brahmins (who were the astrologers in ancient days) allegedly passed along this knowledge orally, and it may be that this knowledge was only written down in the late Hellenistic era—but this is speculation. However, many of the Puranas and other classical texts, are, to this day in India, transmitted orally even though classical texts are now written down The main point here is that, it is quite impossible at this point in time, to set an exact date.

It is impossible to tell whether the books written in the first 500 years of the current era are a reinvention of the Vedic system, a massive borrowing from Hellenistic astrology, or something else. Certain revered classics, like Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra place such a range of techniques together that the book has the feel of a compendium of knowledge, although it does possess a certain consistency. But these debates will rage on for many years.

Integration of the Soul with the Cosmos

The four aims or goals of Hindu life are: dharma (right action), artha (prosperity), kama (healthy desires), and moksha (spiritual liberation). These aims or goals are related to the twelve houses of the zodiac.

Some authorities believe that early Indian astrology was used for setting times for rituals or propitiate the gods of the Rig Veda (hence an integral part of the interaction of the soul and the cosmos) and that is was later used by kings (a king has karma to unfold!) and perhaps later used for other castes, and was used in both worldly and spiritual pursuits. Around the thirteenth century, worship of the Sun became an important part of Indian religion, and evidence of this practice can be seen at the Temple of Konark. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (one of the tools used to speed up evolution), from which one can know past, present and future through meditation on the Sun, and this seems to be an aphorism for astrology.
However, it is extremely important to realize that not all followers of Hinduism believe that the only way to integrate the soul with the cosmos is through astrology. Some groups actively abjure Jyotisha as being irrelevant or distracting to personal development and the process of liberation and that the relationship with the cosmos can be reflected more simply in the concept that the universe repeats itself at all levels.
As a culture, and as a religious tradition, the Sanatana Dharma has always striven to drive humans back to the Brahman from which they came (or to which they aspire.) It is linked directly and intimately to the release of the soul, and the mechanism for understanding this relationship, is really, in humanity’s connection with the universe.

________________________________________
[1] http://www.advaita-vedanta.org/avhp/sankara-life.html; Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya, Dancing with Siva,, pp. 19-29; http://www.hinduism.co.za/hindu_sects.htm
[2] Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya, Dancing with Siva,, p. 69, 785
[3] Viswanathan, Ed. Am I a Hindu? p. 116.
[4] Gomes, Gary “Mars, The Mighty Malefic” (attached)
[5] Source of planetary avatar placements: Parasara, Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra, pp. 1-10, explanations by author.
[6] Viswanathan, Ed. Am I a Hindu? Pp. 22-37, 72-76
[7] Viswanathan, Ed, pp. 67-69
References texts:
1. Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra (either the Santhanam or Sharma translations
are fine; the differences between the two are pretty minimal
Publisher: South Asia Books; 2nd edition (January 1, 1997)
Publisher: Ranjan Publications (1995), Delhi.
2. Burgess and Whitney, Translators, Surya Siddhantha (currently unavailable)
3. Danielou, Alain, Myths and Gods of India, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, USA.
4. Feuerstein, Kak and Frawley, In Search for the Cradle of Civilization, Motilal Banarsidss,India; New Ed edition (January 1, 1999), Delhi, India
5. Howland, John (Jarada Dasa), Hinduism, Vastu Sastra, Vedic Astrology and Gemology, Spiritual Guides, Krishna Culture, 2001, Houston, Texas, USA
6. Translators, Prabhavananda and Manchester, Frederick, Upanishads, Breath of the Eternal, Mentor Books, 1975, New York, New York.
7. Roebuck, Valerie, The Circle of Stars, Element Books, 1992, Rockport, MA, USA
8. Subramuniyaswami, Satguru Sivaya, Dancing with Siva, Himalayan Academy, 1993, Concord, California, USA.
9. Thirumoolar, Siddhar, Thirumandiram (Three-volume set), Babaji Books, 1993, volume 1, Quebec City, Canada
10. Thompson, Richard, Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1989, United States (no city or state provided)
11. Vishwanathan, Ed. Am I a Hindu?, Halo Books, San Francisco, California.
12. Waterstone, Richard, India, Duncan Baird Publishers, London, England
1. Read the Introduction andChapter 1 of Danielou.
Week 1 Discussion forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM
• How do the various sects of Hinduism differ? Please discuss. 300 words
• The major texts of Hinduism cover virtually thousands of years. Why do you think these texts kept on being written over time? 300 words
(Edited by Gary Gomes – original submission Monday, 6 April 2009, 10:15 AM)

Look at the major sects of Hinduism. Do you see any parallels with religions born in Europe or the Middle East? Select one Hindu sect and compare its basic belief set to that of one from the West,identifying at least five similarities and differences. No more than 500 words. (Since this is an open-ended assignment, please feel free to research outside of the course and to contact me for assistance.)

WEEK 2
Week 2 Overview
This week we will discuss the various creation myths and variants identified in Hindu Mythology. The student will become familiar with these myths and some of their deeper meanings.
This week will discuss various beliefs of Indian thought as to how the universe was created. This knowledge will allow the student to compare Hindu thought with other systems of thought.
Origins of the Universe
Hindu Cosmogony is one of the more interesting parts of Indian mythology, in that there are several different modes by which the universe is said to have been formed. Although the central theme of the creation seems to hold a fairly consistent cause, the mechanics of each system are somewhat different.

God as life giver:
One version of the origin of the world is fairly straightforward, and also very meaningful in terms of how Hindu religion views the universe.

First., a creator being (usually Brahma) is formed from the previous cycle of creation (the concept of a created and dissolving universe is a prevalent part of Indian cosmogony). The creator has a thought. Since this thought is very enjoyable and stimulating, another thought is generated. Finally, the creator thinks the biggest thought possible, and this is the creation of the world. Very pleased with the result of this thought, the creator decides to survey his work. But he notices that something is wrong. The world was not alive!

As a remedy, he resorts to every ritual and sacrifice he can: Mantras and Yagnas (specific Vedic rituals) are tried, but to no avail. The universe stays dead. So, he decides to come down from the heavens and as soon as he sets foot on earth, the world comes to life. Now, the divine being is in a dilemma—he can’t leave because without his presence, life will cease to exist.
There is an obvious lesson here in that the divine is needed to provide life to the world—without the presence of the divine, there is no life.1 The logical implication of this is that the world would cease to live without the divine, so as the story goes,

Other Vedic Myths of Creation
You will see in this week’s reading that there are several creation myths contained in Indian thought.2
However, the most prevalent myths are the birth of the world through 1) an egg and 2) through the cosmic man. They are interesting in their diversity, as the Cosmic Egg creates a scenario in which the world is basically created through the a feminine principle, while the Maha Purusha (or great man) myth creates the world through a male primal being. Both are given relatively equal prevalence in Indian thought and give different dimensions to the idea of creation.

YUGAS
The time spans contained in Hindu thought are truly enormous in their duration;3but there have been recent writings of individuals like Sri Yukteswar who hold that the Yuga calculations were developed through a misunderstanding of the calculations to be used and that the period of each Yuga is of a much smaller duration than originally thought (1,000 times less than the traditional formula). 4
Even with this correction to the calculation, given the fact that one cycle of Yugas represents a very small portion of the life of Brahma (one minute per one entire cycle of Yugas for Brahma’s life).
The end of the cycle of creation (also called the Mahapralaya or great dissolution) is essentially eons of time from the actual creation, and there have been many races of humans who have lived and died throughout creation.

Brahma’s sin
There is an interesting phenomenon that one encounters in viewing Indian thought, and that it, despite his status as being one of the three most important deities in India, that Brahma has only one temple dedicated to him in all of India. Some speculate that, the reason for this is that he created his daughter, Saraswati, the Goddess of learning, and soon after started lusting after her. (This can be taken literally, or as an allegory for the pursuit of knowledge at all costs, and like many Indian myths, this can be taken at several different levels.) He lost one of his five heads through Shiva’s punishment for this sin. There may be other reasons for Brahma’s fall from favor, as he often granted power to the Devas’ enemies, the Asuras, as long as they practiced the proper rituals.

There are other possible reasons for this fall from grace, including the obvious one that the universe has been created, the god has fulfilled his function.

We will discuss other deities who were once very important to Indian thought, but have lost their status in the Hindu pantheon over time.

Week 2 Assignment:
Review the myths associated with Brahma in the reading materials. Discuss why you think Brahma is not worshipped extensively as a part of the Indian belief system. (No more than 500 words)

Assigned readings:
Read Chapter VI of Macgregor, at the following link:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml11.htm
Read Chapter 19 of Danielou.

Discussion:
1. Why do you think Indian thought has so many different concepts of creation? 200-300 words
2. The theory of the Yugas gives a rationale for earlier ages that were far better than the current age. Do you think it possible that such ages existed? Please explain your answer. 200-300 words

1Kriyananda, Goswami, Temple of Kriya Yoga Seminary Program, 1992-1994 edition.
2Danielou, Alain, The Myths and Gods of India, Chapter 19; http://www.harekrishnatemple.com/bhakta/chapter20.html
3http://www.harekrishnatemple.com/bhakta/chapter19.html
4Yuktesar, Swami Sri, The Holy Science.

WEEK 3
Week 3 Overview
This week will cover some of the mythology from the Vedas, particularly focusing on the wars between the gods (devas) and demons (asuras). The purpose of this week will be to discern the way that Hinduism distinguishes good from evil through its mythology.

Narrative:
The nature of good and evil appears to have evolved slowly in Indian thought. In the Vedas themselves, there appear to be few references to evil forces within the Rig Veda itself, and the later Vedas appear to be more committed to the appropriate procedures in ceremonny (the Yajur Veda) and praise of the divine (the Sama Veda). But the need for rituals starts to imply that natural forces can be detrimental (or at least need suasion to be non-damaging) and praise starts to imply a selection of some energies over others. By the time we get to the Atharva Veda, one finds blatant ceremonies for relief, methods to ensure good crops, love spells, protections, and so forth. Most of these are aimed against people, but some are aimed at demons, ghosts, and, of course, Asuras.

Asuras are technically, high spiritual beings. They are the children of the same father as the devas (the good, or sustaining, or forces of the universe) called Kashyap, who some sources identify as Brahma, or Purusha, the cosmic man from whom creation is made. The devas and the asuras (treated the same in the Rig Veda, but not thereafter) are children of different mothers, though–Aditi for the devas and Diti, for the Asuras. So, in keeping with the meaning of the names of their mothers, the devas are called adityas (literally, unbounded) and the asuras are dityas (or literally, unbounded). Although the etymological meaning of the terms is a bit obscure, one can thing of unbounded beings as being able to traverse where they wish, and bounded beings perhaps being bound to matter–but this is very speculative.
There were several wars with the Asuras fought by the Devas. One of the earliest dates back to when the Devas asked the Asuras for help with pulling the elixir of immortality out of the primordial ocean. In this story, which is fairly well-known, the asuras were basically finessed out of their share of the elixir by the Devas. except for Rahu, who was cut in two for his trouble and became the North and South Lunar node.
When we get to the incarnations of Vishnu and Shiva, there are several other important demonic-asuric battles (mostly reported in the Puranas). Interestingly enough, many of these confrontations have to do with the Asuras doing all the correct rituals and attaining more merit than the devas. Some examples are:
1) The Guru of the Asuras, Shukra (the planet Venus) hangs upside down for a thousand years worshipping Shiva, and is granted the boon from Shiva of bringing the dead back to life. He uses this mantra in the war againts the devas and the asuras gain the upper hand, until the devas plead with Shiva to stop Shukra, which he does by swallowing Shukra, who worshipping Shiva again, emerges from his semen. Eventually, the Gods learn the mantra through trickery, not merit, when Jupiter/Brihaspati sends his son to study with Shukra. But Brihaspati’s son is killed three times before he learns the secret.

2) An asura does sadhana to Brahma and is given invulnerability by Brahma. He is so powerful that no god alone, save a seven day old boy, can defeat him. Shiva, very reluctantly, spills his semen into the Ganges, gibing birth to Kartikeya, who when he is 7 days old, kills the demon.

3) The sequence of events is similar to how the asuras gain power above, but this time, it will take the combined might of the three major devas, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to defeat the beings. They combine their essences and create Durga, the demon-slaying Deva (similar in function, even so far as how she is depicted, to the archangel Michael). However, Durga encounters one very persistent asura and finds she needs to pull out her own essence–and this gives birth to Kali. Kali kills all the Asuras, but filled with bloodlust, she can’t stop her destructive path. Finally, Shiva lays himself down to stop her and succeeds in doing so.

There are several other asuric battles and contests, some of which occur in the stories of the incarnations of Vishnu, namely the stories involving the Narasimha, Vamana, Rama and Krishna avatars, which we will cover in the weeks to come.

Regardless of the frequency of these occurrences, the implication is that this battle is ongoing, representing a primordial battle not yet resolved.

References
Danielou, Alain, Myths and Gods of Hinduism, Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT. 1991
MacKenzie, Donald A., Indian Myth and Legend, http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml09.htm 1912.
Roebuck, Valerie J, The Circle of Stars, Vega Books/Element Books, Rockland, MA 1993.
Subramuniyaswami, Sivaya, Dancing with Shiva, Himalayan Academy, Kauai, Hawaii, 5th edition 1997.

Assignment:
Read: Danielou, Chapter 10; Chapter 24, pp. 297-300 (Kumara is another name for Kartikeya); Chapter 25; Chapter 21, pp. 258-264 (Durga).
MacGregor, Douglas, Chapter IV, at the following link: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml09.htm

Assignment:
Examine one of the conflicts between the Asuras and the Devas. What do you think is the lesson embodied by the conflict? Who do you think is in the right?
500 words maximum

Week 3 Discussion Forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM

Discussion question:

1. McGregor makes a great deal of the similarities between Indian and Nordic myths. Do you think there is a cultural link, or is it something else? Defend your opinion. 300 words

2. What do you think is the purpose of the Asuras? 200 words

Week 4
This week will focus on the myths around Vishnu and some of his avatars. The most important avatars (Krishna and Rama) will be covered next week. We will focus on the other 7 primary avatars this week.
We will be discussing the myths and their significance to astrology in particular, this week.

Vishnu and His Avatars
Vishnu is usually considered the most popular representation of divinity in India. According to Danielou (pp. 126-127), his name is derived from the term “vis” meaning to pervade. This means he is omnipresent, virtually everywhere, and, like the God in the myth of creation, he remains on the earth to maintain and preserve the world.

Interestingly enough, he is not viewed as a major deity until the time of the Puranas (cf. Danielou), at which time he starts to fulfill the function of many of the earlier Vedic deities, such as Brahma and Indra. We can speculate that perhaps Vishnu came to be a major deity because he is approachable and his worship as a preserving deity may have its roots in the need to scale back the number of deities in the Hindu religion to make these entities more amenable to mass understanding.

One of the most famous prayers to Vishnu is a mantra called the Vishnu Sahasranam http://www.stephen-knapp.com/sri_vishnu_sahasranam.htm –or the thousand names of Vishnu.
Please read through this mantra. You will see many, many names of Devas thoughout the mantra. This technique is said to have been developed by Adi Sankara http://hinduism.about.com/od/gurussaints/p/adishankara.htm , who was intent on universalizing the various sects of Hinduism under one central interpretational authority, while allowing different sects the privilege of worshipping the deity of their preference. Although there are significant groups in India who disagreed with Sankara’s approach, he did act as a unifying influence on the spiritual practices of many Indians who belong to the Smartist tradition (see week one). This approach essentially enables Vaishnavas (worshippers of Vishnu) to absorb Shiva and all of the other deities into their worship of Vishnu. Their are also similar mantras for other important deities, like Shiva, Durga, Lakshmi and so forth.

The reason I mention this first is that, among all the Hindu deities, Vishnu is considered to be the one who manifests on earth most often. The concept of an avatar has only one precise parallel in contemporary Western thought (though there are many parallels in Greek religion with all of Zeus’ and the other Olympian gods’ children.

The primary avataras of Vishnu are the following:

The Kurma Avatara–the incarnation of Vishnu as a turtle (in Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra this is considered Vishnu’s incarnation through Saturn)

The Matsya Avatara–the incarnation of Vishnu as a fish (in Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra, this is Vishnu’s incarnation through Ketu, the South Lunar Node)

The Varaha Avatara–the incarnation of Vishnu as a boar (in BPHS, this is Vishnu’s incarnation through Rahu, the North Lunar Node)

The Narasimha Avatar–the incarnation of Vishnu as a Lion-Man (in BPHS, this is Vishnu’s incarnation through Mars)

The Vamana Avatar–the incarnation oi Vishnu as a dwarf Brahmin priest (in BPHS, this is Vishnu’s incarnation through Jupiter)

The Parasurama Avatar–the incarnation of Vishnu as a warrior Brahmin priest (in BPHS, this is Vishnu’s incarnation through Venus)

The Rama Avatar–the incarnation of Vishnu as the perfect ruler (in BPHS, this is Vishnu’s incarnation through the Sun)

The Krishna Avatar–the incarnation of Vishnu as the perfect man, encompassing all before him (in Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra, this is the incarnation of Vishnu through the Moon)

The Buddha avatar–the incarnation of Vishnu as the perfect philosopher (in Brihat Parasara Hora Sastra, this is the incarnation of Vishnu through Mercury)

The Kalki avatar–(Yet to come) this is the incarnation of Vishnu as the perfect prophet, ushering in the end of the world. (There is no planetary assignation for Kalki-sometimes he is attributed to Mercury, as some orthodox Hindu groups do not accept Buddha as an avatar)

We’ll discuss Rama and Krishna when we discuss the Ramayana and Mahabharata, but there are a variety of myths that accompany the avatars.

KEEP IN MIND THE PLANETARY ASSIGNMENTS WHEN REVIEWING THESE SHORT SUMMARIES OF THE AVATARS. THESE STORIES MAY DIFFER IN SOME DETAIL FROM THE DANIELOU ACCOUNTS:

Matsya The Matsya Avatar is a part Noah and part Jonah and the whale. It tells the story of a fisherman who catches a very small fish caught by a local fisherman. The fish speaks and begs the fisherman to let him go and he will repay him later. A great disaster occurs and the sea swallows the earth. The fisherman is saved by the fish who has grown to an enormous size and keeps him alive until the waters recede.
Kurma The Kurma avatar essentially acts as the foundation of the world, and he figures prominently in the myth connected with extracting the elixir of immortality from the ocean of existence, and he supports the world while the devas and asuras mix the ocean. So he is integrally connected with setting up the foundation of the world and establishing the world as it exists.

Varaha Avatar This is yet another flood account, in which the earth was submerged under the ocean and the lord Vishnu recovered by taking the form of a boar and lifting it from the ocean floor.
Narasimha Narasimha avatar was formed to save the child (Prahlada) of a powerful Asura (Hiranyakasipu), who had arranged with Brahma that he could not be killed in day or night, outside or inside, by neither god, man nor animal, or by any weapon. He tormented his son, who worhipped Vishnu persistently. One day, Prahlada was praying reverently to Vishnu, when the Asura King told him to cease. After chanting for days, it was dusk (neither day nor night) and Hiranyakasipu threatened to kill Prahlada, on the threshold of the building (neither inside or outside), when Narasimha emerged from a pillar as a Lion Man (neither God, nor man, nor animal) who killed Hiranyakasipu with his claws (no weapon was used).

Vamana It had come to pass that an Asura called Bali had inherited the earth and the heavens not through treachery or deceit, but through exceedingly good merit and adherence to the prescribed rituals. He earned his power through exceeding the devas in meritorious behavior. The devas turned to Vishnu to help them restore his kingdom to the devas. Vishnu took the form of a dwarf priest to whom Bali had agreed to grant a boon. The priest only asked for three steps of land, to which Bali (against the advice of his teacher, Shukra) acceded. When ready to take the first step, he grew to enormous size and his foot covered the earth; at the next step, he covered the heavens. He had nowhere to place his third step and Bali offered his head. Touched by this, Vishnu said he would grant Bali dominion over the underworld, and that Bali would become Indra over the next cycle of creation.

Parasurama Parasurama is the violent son of the Brahmin priest Jamagdani. Jamagdani was Guru to a tribe of Asuras, very vicious people. The king was not content with the power and advice Jamagdani gave him, and sought his teacher’s wish fulfilling cow. When Jamagdani refused, the King killed him. Parasurama was away hunting when he arrived home and found his father dead. Very loyal to his father (he killed his mother and brothers at his father’s request, then was granted any boon he wished from his father. His wish was to bring his family back to life!) As vengeance and to purify the Kshatriyas, Parasurama killed the Kshatriya males race 21 times. All new Kshatriyas were offspring of Brahmin males and Kshatriya women.

Buddha Buddha was a prince who grew disillusioned when he found that disease, old age and suffering existed. He tried extreme measures (rituals and deprivation) to attain enlightenment, but gave up both paths, and finally found enlightenment by sitting under a tree. He advocated a path of detachment and moderation as the way to salvation. (Some orthodox Hindus claim that the Buddha incarnation was formed to mislead people so fewer individuals would attain enlightenment).

When you read through Danielou, in addition to the above, keep in mind what each Avatar was supposed to teach–and read the Chapter on the minor avatars to see which of the smaller roles of Vishnu’s incarnation are supposed to serve. These will form an important part of the discussions and assignment.

READ Danielou, Chapter 13-14 and
http://sasthamcotta.wordpress.com/2008/09/09/dashavatar-the-ten-incarnations-of-vishnu/
Can you see how the planets manifest through the incarnations of Vishnu? Pick two avatars and explain how you see the energy of the planet manifested through that avatar. Why do we have minor avatars do you think? 500 words maximum.

Week 4 discussion forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM

1. What do you think is the purpose of Vishnu re-appearing in so many incarnations on the earth? 300 words

2. Can you find any parallels between the Vedic avatars and Western myths? Give one example. 300 words

Week 5

Overview:

This week we will focus on one of the two most important Itihasas (epics) in Hindu Mythology.

The student will understand the major elements of triumph and tragedy in this story.

There are two major editions of the Ramayana; the more popular version of the Ramayana is attributed to Valmiki, who allegedly wrote the work. Valmiki’s story is interesting. He spent most of his life as a criminal, but that changed when he climbed a tree to escape some police following him after a robbery. He climbed a sacred tree, and stayed awake all night to avoid his pursuers, on a night sacred to Shiva, saying a mantra of protection that became a mantra of worship. After this experience, he was a devotee of Shiva and, from that point forward, was highly gifted and intelligent about all the Vedas and myths of India.

The other purported author is Tulsidasa, who had less of a legendary reputation than Valmiki. His version of the Ramayana, while maintaining similar details, is less unforgiving than Valmiki’s.

Outline of the Ramayana:

The Ramayana is the story of King Rama, considered to be the perfect ruler and most honorable man.
Rama is considered an incarnation of Vishnu, usually through the Sun, among the list of planetary avataras. Since Rama is an ideal king, and the Sun is king of the planets, this makes sense (as a matter of fact, Rama’s full name is Ramachandra, and Chandra is another name of the Moon, so he encompasses the qualities of both ruling planets.

The source of Rama’s misfortune comes from his father’s wife. One day, Rama’s father suffers from a headache, and promises his wife anything if she will cure it. She does and she says she wants her son placed first in line of succession, ahead of Rama.

Her son even feels this bargain is dishonorable, but Rama agrees to honor his father’s promise, and leaves for exile in the woods with his wife, Sita. and his brother, Lakshmana, both of whom are totally devoted to Rama. While in exile in the woods, Rama and Lakshmana are approached by a female Asura who desires either brother (Rama especially) to marry her. They ridicule her, leading her to attack and be wounded by Lakshmana. She begs her brother, Ravana, the demon king of Sri Lanka (according to some sources on the Ramayana, supposedly a much larger landmass than it is now) to make them pay for their offense. Ravana agrees, but on the way to chastise the brothers, encounters Sita. When he sees her, he decides he must have her and tricks her into leaving her protected area, and he abducts her. (There is one story told in which Ravana had grown so powerful, through rituals and appropriate behavior, he could walk on the feet of the planets to his throne. Saturn/Shani got the idea that the planets would look more uncomfortable if Ravana could walk on the planets’ heads–then Ravana could see their discomfort. This appealed to Ravana’s ego, and he agreed. But Saturn/Shani did this as a subterfuge–he wanted to be able to gaze upon Ravana, for he knew that whatever he (Saturn) looked at would be destroyed or deranged. It is said that, after Saturn looked at Ravana, that Ravana’s sister became interested in Rama and Lakshmana and Ravana felt he needed to possess Sita.)

This leads to a war between Rama and the Asuras. Rama enlists the aid of the monkeys (Sugriva, king) and Hanuman (general of the monkeys and like Bhima in The Mahabharata as we will see) a son of Vayu, the wind god, renowned for his great strength. The Asuras were known for their cruelty and many sided against them. Hanuman made his way to Sri Lanka and could have freed her, but she needed to be rescued by Rama.

Ravana was finally killed by Rama, and eventually returned to his homeland, where he was welcomed as king. However, because Sita spent so much time in Ravana’s captivity, there was gossip that her virtue was compromised. Rama had to agree to banish her, as a condition of becoming king, in the Valmiki version. In the Tulsidas version, she is allowed to live with Rama after passing a trial of purity.
There are additional sections to the Ramayana, but this is the basic story arc of the Ramayana.
As you can probably guess, there are many interpretations of the Ramayana that have developed over time. Many feminists, in India and around the world, have particularly focused on the story of the purity of Sita as a rallying point for discussions of gender bias and the position of women in society, and this is an important discussion. But it is not the intended lesson of the Ramayana, despite its contemporaneous appeal.

The discussion questions will focus on some of the above points in the Ramayana.

Week 5 discussion forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM

Discussion:

1. The tragedy of Rama’s life begins when Rama’s father makes a promise. Should Rama’s father have honored this promise? Should Rama have honored his father’s promise? (300 words)

2. One of the most controversial parts of the Ramayana is the assault on SIta’s purity and how it was resolved. What do you think is the purpose of this as a teaching tool (assuming that all stories such as this have a lesson to provide)? (300 words)
Edit | Delete | Reply
Read:

Danielou, Alain. pp. 172-175

Sacred Texts: Ramayana, Abridged, http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/dutt/rama02.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/dutt/rama06.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/dutt/rama08.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/dutt/rama10.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/dutt/rama11.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/dutt/rama12.htm

or read:

MacKenzie, Donald, Chapter 24-26, found at:

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml29.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml30.htm

http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml30.htm

Assignment:

1. What do you think is the CENTRAL IDEA or THEME of the Ramayana? What qualities do you think the authors wanted this story to support?

Week 6:
This week we will cover the myth surrounding Krishna. This will extend into the Maha Bharata, the longest epic work in history.

The student will gain an understanding of how the Mahabharata reflects all of the elements that mark the transition from a higher age to a lower age.

Krishna is considered one of the most important Vedic deities, and is certainly one of the most popular (if not THE most popular) representations of divinity. He is the avatar of Vishnu through the Moon.

Krishna’s birth:
There is a story that Prince Kansa (evil uncle of Krishna) had heard that his sister, Devaki, was to give birth to one who would kill him

See this link: http://www.sanatan.org/en/campaigns/KJ/birth.htm

When Devaki’s child was born, Kansa tried to kill a child who was with Devaki, unaware that Devaki’s child had been taken earlier to be exchanged for King Yashoda’s daughter. Krishna (so named by King

Yashoda’s wife) was this saved, and King Yashoda’s daughter was killed by Kansa.

Krishna did ultimately kill Kansa.

Krishna and the Gopis/ Krishna and the divine love of Radha

Krishna is relatively unique among the incarnations in that he had many lovers with whom he sported (called the Gopis) but one who he favored above all other, called Radha (the beloved).
http://www.dollsofindia.com/radhakrishna.htm

Krishna is considered the ultimate object of all love. From this perspective, how could he abstain from the love offered by devotees. The Moon is in charge of intoxicants–also Radha Krishna is an exact parallel of Lakshmi-Vishnu. So these two support each other.

He offers the devotee pleasure as an incentive for worship, as well as delight and ecstacy.
Krishna also has a brother called Balarama, who is said to love liquor. Some call him the ninth avatar of

Vishnu, and Buddha gets excluded from the list.
http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/balarama_balrama.htm
So we have two representations of divinity that represent ecstacy and intoxication–normally not considered good traits. But these are also considered among the fast paths to God. Although we have not yet covered Tantrism in detail, this is an almost Tantric/ Shakti way of looking at the later incarnations of Vishnu.

Krishna and Kaliya:

Krishna was a hero to many during his early life. One of the best known stories is of his fight with Kaliya, a multi-headed snake demon who poisoned the Yamuna river killing people who drank the river’s water and birds that flew over the river. Krishna dispatches this monster without effort and in a very playful way.

http://www.experiencefestival.com/a/Krishna_and_Kaliya/id/50383

Krishna and the Mahabharata:

Krishna’s most famous appearance is in the Mahabharata, a sprawling epoch with a storyline not wholly dissimilar from concepts like “Twilight of the Gods”.

At the start of the Mahabharata, a prince loses his kingdom through a rigged game of chance and war breaks out between two related families. The Kuravas and Pandavas (the king who was cheated Yudhisthira was on the side of the Pandavas) fought because the Kuruvas would not return the kingdom it had “won” after a thirteen year period of rule, as had been agreed.

Both sides had their choices of great warriors, but the Pandavas forfeited many great warriors, but chose Krishna to be on their side. Although Krishna would not fight, he served as Arjuna’s charioteer, giving him advice, guidance and revelatory knowledge. Krishna was in a pivotal position to provide support. Also, the Pandavas wisely knew that whatever side God was on would win.

The Mahabharata is approximately 224,000 stanzas in length, making it the longest epic poem, bar none. However, for many, the Bhagavad Gita contains the whole essence of the Sanatana Dharma in India.
In particular, Chapters 9, 10 and 11 of the Gita are pivotal transcendent experiences and are generally considered key sections of this section oi the Mahabharata.
http://www.dharmakshetra.com/literature/summary%20of%20mahabharata.html

The Death of Krishna

The death of Krishna occurred as the result of the Mahabarata war, through the curse of Gandhari, mother of Duryodhana, the blind king who was in very large part, responsible for the great war.
It is said that the death of Krishna marked the beginning of the Kali Yuga, or the great “dark age” in which we currenly find ourselves, at least in most current Hindu thought.
http://www.indianetzone.com/38/death_lord_krishna.htm

Assigned readings:
Read:
All the links in this week’s overview.
Danielou, Alain, pp. 175-180 (Chapter 12, Krishna and Balarama)
From, Sacred texts website:
Read: Bhagavad Gita, Chapters 10 http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbg/sbg15.htm and 11 http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbg/sbg16.htm
MacKenzie, Donald, Prelude to the Great Mahabharata War, http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml14.htm
The end of the great war: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/iml/iml24.htm

Assignment:

The tale of the Mahabharata, is really a great tragedy, signalling the end of an era, a kingdom, and a way of life. What is the hopeful part of this story?

No more than 500 words.

Week 6 discussion forum by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM

1. The Mahabharata is a huge epic, yet its best known part is the Bhagavad Gita. Discuss why this part of the epic seems so important. (no more than 300 words)

2. Among the many incarnations of Vishnu, Krishna and Balarama seem to have the most human foibles. Why do you think this is so? (200 words)

Week 7:

This week we will focus on Shiva and his family, as one system of belief in India.

The student will understand the roots of the worhship of Shiva in the most ancient parts of Hindu belief and how his myths inform the system of yoga.

ORIGINS OF SAIVISM (WORSHIP OF SHIVA)

The origins of Shiva himself are in some dispute.
Most sources seem to view Shaivism as an older religion than Vaishnavism. Shiva is called Rudra in the Vedas and is considered a God of Storms (perhaps not unlike the Norse Thor and the Greek Zeus), and is both a destroyer of life and its creator. The origins of the Shaivite cult (which thrives in South india and in Kashmir–on other words, the less central regions of India) can be discerned, according to some sources (Danielous, in particular) as predating the Vedas. Some authors (Feuerstein, Frawley and Kak and Subramuniyaswami) believe they have traced representations of Shiva back to pictures found in Mohenjo-Daro and Harrapan cultures, but this is hotly disputed by more skeptical authors and Eurocentric authors, such as Keay and others. Subramuniyaswami goes as far as to state that there is no time when the worship of Shiva has not existed.

In any event, Shaivism is a minoroity religion in Indian, although an extremely large one, ranking right after Vaishnavism.

The image of Shaivism, is however, tainted by some Indian authorities. Shiva is considered to be the deity who granted Shukracharya, Guru of the Asuras, the ability to restore the dead to life; he was the God to who Ravana, Rama’s great opponent (see week 5) prayed. He also granted boons to many demons/asuras, according to legend, and is the god of numerous demons, vampires, ghouls and evil spirits.

More contemporaneously, he is often considered Kali’s husband, and Kail was the Goddess who was worshipped by the murderous Thugee cult of the 19th century (more on them next week).

He also, in one of his earliest representations, portrayed as the destroyer of the great Yagna, (upon hearing of the suicide of his wife, Sati).

So, he is reviled by some worshippers, but acknowledged for his great strength, and for his fairness. He is also considered the God of yogis (and of those outside of caste) and is the god who looks over the animals (lord of beasts=pasupati); he rectifies karma, sometimes unpleasantly, as shown by his actions towards Shukra and how he answers Rama’s prayers to fight Ravana.

Shiva recognizes no caste himself, and his major activities are eithe sleep (diminishing the world) or sex (creating the world), sometimes accompanied by drink or inhaling cannabis.

There are several stories about the rivalry among the Gods-one of the most famous talks about a dispute as to who is the greatest god. While the debate progresses, a Shiva Lingam (representation of manhood) manifests among the disputatious Vishnu and Brahma. They decide to find the end of the lingam, but cannot find it. This is Shiva, and Shiva wins the dispute. He is associated, by some, with Jupiter, and others the Sun, and some others, Saturn.

SHIVA’S FAMILY:

Shiva, like some deities from other cultures, has a family, consisting of Parvati, his wife, Ganesha, his older son, and Subramuniya, his younger son, all of whom serve critical functions in the belief system of Shaivism.

PARVATI

The legend of Parvati is that she was born into a family and fell in love with Shiva. However, she was the reincarnation of Shiva’s original wife, Sati. Sati was born from a very high family who disapproved of her love of Shiva, as Shiva was considered undesirable, one who lived outside of society, who was not cultured, and who took intoxicants, as well. A huge sacrifice was planned by Sati’s father, but Shiva was not invited. Sati took offense to this and threw herself on the sacrificial fire. When Siva heard of this, he took a terrible revenge, ruining the sacrifice, decapitating Sati’s father, later replacing his head with a goat’s head, and carrying his wife’s dead body around the world, in terrible torment. Eventually, Vishnu intervened and caused Sati’s body to decompose, and where the parts of her body fell, are now considered sacred places in India. When Sati was reincarnated as Parvati, she meditated for many years alongside Shiva before she got his attention. They fell in love and their lovemaking ends up going on for days, when it occurs. She is sometimes associated with the Moon and Venus.
(We will examine Parvati more fully next week.)

GANESHA: The elephant-headed god is Shiva’s elder son. Parvati formed him out of clay when Shiva was in the wood’s meditating for a long time. When Shiva returned, he wanted to she Parvati, but Shiva would not let him pass. Angered, Shiva decapitated him. Parvati was very upset by this and asked Shiva to restore her son. He needed another head to do this, and some legends say Shiva asked Vishnu to do this; other legends say Shiva found the elephant head himself. When Shiva placed the head upon Ganesha, Parvati was mollified and accepted the new being as her son. Another story is told: Shiva and Parvati had a party to announce their new son to the gods. Sani (Saturn) was afraid to look at the child, for he destroyed everything he looked at. Parvati encouraged him to look, but when he did so, he destroyed the child’s head. Then the rush to replace the head occurred.

Ganesha having the elephant’s head, had a huge appetite, for both knowledge and food. He is typically given responsibility for approving every ritual that goes before the gods, after he had an altercation with Shukra (Venus), and his learning is supposed to be limitless. Many astrologers pray to Ganesha or seek his blessing prior to doing a reading and priests must pray to Ganesha prior to performing any ritual. He is sometimes associated with Ketu and Jupiter in astrology.

SKANDA, SUBRAMANYA, KARTIKEYA

All of the above are names for Shiva’s youngest son–essentially, he was born to kill a horrible demon that could only be killed by a seven day old infant or young boy of great power. Shiva was the only god whose seed was deemed powerful enough to do the job. Shiva was aroused by Kama (the god of desire) to ejaculate, but nobody could hold the seed-it burned through everything, until it was placed in the Ganges River (herself a Goddess, and a fertile receiver for the seed). Out of the foam, Skanda was born.
Skanda was raised by 6 woman called the Krittikas (who are now in the Pleiades/Pisces region of the sky). Skanda grew 6 heads to feed from each. Skanda did kill the demon and eventually settled into life with Shiva’s family, flying his flying ship and travelling all around the world.
He is often associated with the planet Mars, also called Mangala.

GANESHA AND SKANDA COMPETE FOR WIVES (RIDDHI-knowledge and SIDDHI-power)

When they came of marriageable age, GANESHA and SKANDA were told they needed to travel around the world in order to claim wives. It was to be a contest–whoever travelled around the world would win the contest and the wives.

Without a thought, Skanda immediately left to travel around the world. Ganesha seemed to be beaten before he started, as Skanda was much more energetic and much faster than pudgy Ganesha. Ganesha then surprised everyone by standing up and circling Shiva and Parvati. When he was done, he explained: “The entire universe is you, mother and father; you created everything, so by circling you, I have gone around the universe.”

Everyone congratulated Ganesha on his wisdom and he was awarded the two wives. When Skanda returned, he was shocked, but realized he had made a mistake, and left to meditate in the woods to contemplate his error–he had confused the material world for the real world, and needed intense sadhana and isolation to understand the root of his misconception.
There is more than the usual amount of reading this week.

Please read:

Danielou, Chapters 15-18, 24

1. Assignment. Read the above Chapters. Please describe why you think Siva is at once viewed with fear as the destroyer, but also reverence and even joy, according to the images and forms he takes. Discuss four of his images and/or forms (Chapter 16-17) and how these can be viewed positively or negatively. Do you think Siva was always intended to be part of a pantheon of gods? (500 words)
There is more than the usual amount of reading this week.

Week 7 Discussion Forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM

Discussion:

1. Refer to your reading (Danielou, Chapter 24, The Sons of Shiva); list five attributes each of Ganesha and of Skanda/Kumara and discuss why you think these gods are given these attributes, and what they tell their worshippers.
400-500 words

Week 8:

This week we will focus on the three primary goddesses of Hindu beliefs and their mythology, and see how it informs the complex sociological and societal relations that exist in India.

VEDIC REFERENCES TO THE GODDESSES
The goddess tradition in India does date back to the Vedic period, that much is certain. However, the idea of exclusionary Goddess worship in India, as proposed by some authorities, does not have much historical support. The Mohenjo-Daro and Harappan cultures appear to have male and female deities worshipped in equal rates. One of the more interesting aspects of Indian mythology is that, in terms of influence, male and female deities have somewhat equal weight, and often, they are called upon to save the world in the same way that their male counterparts are.

THE THREE (OR FOUR) MOST POPULAR FEMALE REPRESENTATIONS OF DIVINITY
SARASWATI, LAKSHMI, DURGA, and KALI are the best known representations of female divinity in India. Kali appears to be the most recent, but that appears to be the name only, as Kali-like female deities are as ancient as teh Vedas (Nritti, the Goddesss of Darkness) is one such deity.

SARASWATI is the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, and the arts, daughter of Brahma.

LAKSHMI is the goddess of wealth, health, and happiness, consort to Vishnu.

PARVATI is the goddess of the home and the family, loyal consort to Shiva.

DURGA is the goddess of strength, justice and victory–Durga is the combination of the energies of all three primary Gods (Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva)

KALI is the goddess of death, destruction and sometimes liberation. Her lover-husband is also Shiva.
Shiva (as you may have seen from the Danielou text) also sometimes manifests as half male, half female.
In addition to these goddesses, there are many, many village goddesses throughout India, some mainly local. Also, some additional goddesses are listed in Chapter 23 of Danielou.
The other most well-known Goddesses in India are called the ten Mahavidyas, or ten wisdom goddesses, all of whom have some immediate function and who can be called upon for assistance. These are listed specifically in Chapter 22 of Danielou.

The Goddesses specifically contain the shakti or energy of the gods, so they are said to grant wishes more easily than the Gods, overall. Paramahamsa Yogananda specifically stated in Autobiography of a Yogi that there was no boon the Goddess would not grant him, if he asked.
The Goddesses are an extremely important part of Hindu myth and belief, and are considered an integral part of spiritual development, especially for those who seek a more rapid path of spiritual development, such as Tantra.

Reading Assignment:

Danielou, Alain. Chapters 21, 22, 23

Written Assignment:

Write an essay on any of the Goddesses you read about and explain how she works with or complements at least one God and two other Goddesses. 500 words.

Week 8 Discussion forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM
Discussion:

1. Why do you think the Goddesses are associated with fast action or “the active principle”? Does this seem to contradict Western principles? (300 words)

2. What is the function, do you think, of the Ten Mahavidyas (no more than 200 words)

WEEK 9:

Other Gods of India

India has kept on adding Gods or worhipful entities to its manifestation of divinity as time has progressed. There was an addition of major deities as late as in the period from 1700 to 1900.

AYYAPPAN
This is probably the most significant major deity to have emerged in contemporary Indian thought. Ayyappan is a Tamil Nadu deity who was said to have come from a silver ship and his appearance is dated to the 18th century. Some 50 million devotees visit his temple every year.
AYAPPAN is said to have been the child of Vishnu (in his female Mohini form) and Vishnu, He is not considered to be an avatar, but is a being who is supposed to have descended, it appears, from a silvery craft in order to bring about peace among Hindu sects. He is a very powerful deity, (equivalent to Durga in strength) who has a very devout following in Southern India (he is not well-received in North India). Although he has a fair sized cult and has a shrine in many Hindu temples, his cult is in the process of growing, which, given Indian history, can take lifetimes to fulfill.
http://www.ayyappan-ldc.com/

NAKSHATRA DEITIES:
The Nakshatras have at least one deity assigned to each> Here is a list:
Ashwini – Ashwins
Bharani – Yama
Krittika – Agni
Rohini – Prajapati
Mrigashirsha – Soma
Ardra – Rudra
Punarvasu – Aditi
Pushyami – Brihaspati
Aslesha – Sarpa
Magha – Pitris
PurvaPhalguni – Bhaga
UttarPhalguni – Aryaman
Hasta – Savitar
Chitra – Twastar
Swati – Vayu
Vishaka – Indra-Agni
Anuradha – Mitra
Jyestha – Indra
Mula – Niriti
Purvashada – Apas
Uttarashada – Vishvadevas
Sravana – Vishnu
Dhanistha -Vasus
Satabhisha – Varuna
PurvaBhadra -Ekapat
UttaraBhadra – AhirBudhnya
Revati – Pushan

OTHER DEITIES
Danielou also references many Vedic and non-Vedic deities in his book. Some of these possess the functions of being forces of nature; others fulfill special functions like healing or ruling the night sky.

NOTE: Ayyappan is NOT mentioned at all in Danielou.

Week 9 Discussion forum
by Course Administrator – Tuesday, 27 November 2012, 12:05 PM

Discussion:

1. Read the Danielou work on the Nakshatras and the Moon. How do the deities of the nakshatras and the story of the Moon interact, do you think?
300 words maximum

2. Why do you think a deity like Ayyappan developed when he did? What historical factors (do some research) influenbced his birth, do you think?
300 words maximum

Assignment:
Read: http://www.ayyappan-ldc.com/
Danielou, Alain, Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
(pay particular attention to the end of Chapter 6, pp. 99-101 on Nakshatras and the Moon–this ties in very heavily with the Indian astrological tradition.)
Assignment: At least five Vedic deities and describe their main attributes and how you think they fit in with Indian beliefs.
500- 600 words maximum

Week 10:

Ayappan continued; summary:

Week 10:

This is the final assignment for this class, and will be your paper for the term’s end. There will be no assignment for Week 11.

Of all the myths we have discussed this term, please describe the one that has the most resonance or meaning for you personally. Two criteria apply:

1. Explain, in one paragraph, why the myth has the most resonance for you and

2. Explain, and reference, in the second paragraph, how it corresponds with other belief systems to which you have been exposed, either through study or through personal experience.
This is a very open-ended assignment and is designed to give you a wide range of choice in how you respond. I would ask that you do some research and cite references, however.

No more than 500 words.

This is the course’s end.

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