ATRI – Son of Brahma

Brahma had six manasa-putras—sons created from his mind. Atri was one of them. The other five sons of Brahma are Marici, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, and Kratu. Another version of the manasa-putras increased the number to seven, or the seven sages (sapta-rishis). Atri married Anasuya, and they had three sons, Soma…

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BHAGAVATI – The goddess

Bhagavati (feminine form of “lord”) is another name for Devi, or Shakti; when it elevated the goddess to the role of the Supreme, it became a term used by her sect, the Saktas. In the Devi Bhagavata Purana the mother of the universe, Devi, taught Vishnu about the eternal reality…

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BHAGAVATA PURANA – A scripture

The Bhagavata Purana is a highly devotional scripture that articulated the views of tenth-century South India and of those worshippers of Krishna known as the Bhagavatas. It is quite large, even by Indian standards, containing 18,000 verses (slokas), in twelve books (skandhas) of 332 chapters. All the incarnations of Vishnu…

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BHAGAVAD GITA, BHAGAVADGITA – A scripture

The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord) is one of the most loved scriptures of India. It is pan-Indian, even though its central character, Arjuna, discovered that the driver of his war chariot, Krishna, was the supreme lord of the universe, Lord Vishnu. If this claim were taken literally and…

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BHAGA – A deva

Bhaga (inherited share) was a Vedic deity of wealth, power, and happiness. He was also, according to the Rigveda, one of the seven adityas. The other six are Mitra (friendship, comradeship), Aryaman (honor, or chivalry), Varuna (binder to tribal rules; “all-seeing”), Daksha (ritual skill, or rules of ritual), and Amsa…

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BHADRAKALI – An incarnation of Parvati

When SSiva learned of his wife Sati’s self-immolation in the sacrificial fire of her father Daksha, he loosened his matted hair in full anger. Out of this angry energy were born two attendants: Virabhadra and Bhadrakali. Bhadrakali was the angry energy of Parvati in a feminine form. Siva sent them…

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BHADRAKA – A sinful brahmin

Bhadraka had lead such an immoral life that some accounts say that he was out- casted. But one day he took a ritual bath for three days at Prayaga, during the month of Magha (a month in the Hindu calendar that falls in February or March). It had been said…

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BALI – A king of the asuras

Bali was present at so many times and places that the mythmakers had to employ one of their greatest discoveries, the various periods of the Manus (man- vantaras), a repeating of the cosmic ages each with its own “first man” (Manu). Thus the stories of Bali and his deva (god)…

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BALA – A demon (asura)

Bala lived in Atala (one of the seven hells), teaching ninety-six kinds of magic to trouble the devas (divinities). Out of one of his own yawns, he created three women with the power to entice whomever they wanted. These three women had an aphrodisiac called hataka. They gave hataka to…

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AYODHYA – A city

Ayodhya was the capital city of the kings of Ikshvaku. But it then became one of the seven most sacred cities in India because it was the birthplace of King Rama. Ayodhya was also where Rama ruled as king after he defeated Ravana. Ramanavami is the festival that is still…

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AURVA – A fierce sage

The Aurva myth was told only in the Mahabharata and portrayed a time of mutual killings between the ksatriyas and brahmins. It took some of the motifs of the Agni myth cycle, such as the submarine fire, and reshaped them, portray­ing the fiery priest Aurva, whose horse-headed descendants would consume…

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aSvins, aSvini-devas – The celestial Twins

Satya and Dasra were popularly called the Asvins (possessors of horses) and were the physicians of the devas (gods). Their father was the sun, Surya. They were proud warriors who drove their chariot across the sky, paired as driver and fighter. They were associated with the goddess of the dawn,…

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ASURA – Demons

The term asura is so ancient that it has a separate mythology among the Aryans’ cousins in ancient Persia. In the Avesta, the word ahura (asura, Sanskrit) was a positive term that meant the gods. But the ahura were mainly gods of agrarian values, and the greatest ahura was Varuna,…

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ASHTHAVAKRA – A sage

Sage Uddalaka’s daughter Sujata married his disciple Khagodara, and to them was born Ashthavakra. The word ashtha-avakra means “one with eight bends,” referring to his deformed body. There are two versions of how he acquired the eight bends. According to one version, once Khagodara was reciting holy mantras. Sujata sat…

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ARJUNA – A hero and warrior

Arjuna’s story was one of the best known in Hindu mythology, yet it is fully intelligible only if one is familiar with the many other stories related to it. It is nested in or overlaps with the story of the great Bharata war, the story of Krishna, the story of…

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ARISHTHA, ARISHTHAKA – A demon

Arishtha was the servant of Kamsa and was sent to Gokula in the form of an ox to kill Sri Krishna. The ox terrified the cowherds (gopis) as it tore up the hills and mountains around Vrindarvin. The youth Krishna faced and killed the ox, throwing it an incredible distance.…

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ARAYANNA – The heavenly swans (hamsa)

The arayanna were described as having a heavenly abode on Manasasaras, one of the Himalayas. Ara denoted royalty. The swans did not like rain, so they came to earth when it rained in their heavenly abode and returned as soon as rain began on earth. Their parentage was traced to…

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ARA – Daughter of the sage Sukra

Her story was a warning to kings who abused their power, who did not live by the rules of civility, or who harmed the family of a brahmin. A haughty young king named Danda ruled a large kingdom that extended to the Himalayas. One day on a hunting expedition King…

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APSARA – A celestial being

An apsara was a celestial damsel or nymph (devastri) found in Indra’s heaven, Devaloka. Apsaras were born at the Churning of the Milky Ocean. Another ver­sion, in the Manu Shastra, stated that these damsels were created along with the seven Manus. They were called wives of the gods and daughters…

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