ANANTA – A celestial snake

Ananta literally means “without end,” “infinite.” It was a descriptive term used of Vishnu and other gods. It was also used as a name of Vishnu’s serpent. Ananta was the giant serpent that floated upon the Milky Ocean and formed the bed for Vishnu as he slept during the involution…

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ANDHAK, ANDHAKA – An asura (demon)

  In one version of his birth Andhaka was a daitya (demon), born of Diti and KasSyapa. He had a thousand arms, a thousand heads, and thus two thousand eyes, hands, and feet (in another version, two thousand arms, two thousand legs). And even though he could see, it was…

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ARUNA – Charioteer of Surya

  Aruna’s story must begin with an account of how he became the charioteer of the sun god, Surya. Aruna’s father was the famous KasSyapa prajapati (grandfather of all creatures). Two of KasSyapa’s wives, Vinata and Kadru, pleased him so much that he granted each a boon. Kadru asked for…

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ATIBALA – Asamnyasin (world renouncer)

Yama took the form of a samnyasin and was the indirect cause for the death of Rama and Lakshmana. After Rama had killed Ravana in the Lanka war, the main reason for the incarnation of Vishnu as Rama was fulfilled. There needed to be a cause for Vishnu to return…

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BALI – A great monkey king

  Bali’s myth is nested within a number of interlocking myths. His part in the story of Rama and Sita is mostly negative, as Rama has to kill him. But this is because he has turned from the very practices that made him a great king. He had a divine…

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BHAGIRATHA – An ascetic king

  Bhagiratha’s story is part of the myth of the coming to earth of the Ganga (Ganges). These interlocking stories gave Bhagiratha a great royal lineage, with prior events in that lineage requiring him to do a thousand years of austerities (tapas) in order to ask Siva for a boon….

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BHAIRAVA – An attendant of Siva

  Bhairava (the terrible) is a popular Tantric deity of the type scholars like Wendy Doniger classify as hot, or nonorthodox. Once, overcome by pride, Brahma the creator insulted Siva. Out of the fire of Siva’s anger Bhairava was born. Instantly Bhairava rushed at Brahma and pinched off the fifth,…

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BHAIRAVI – A manifestation of Devi

  The Bhairavi is “the horrific one,” a “hot,” as scholars say, or nonorthodox, form of Devi and a counterpart of Bhairava. She was also one of a very ancient group of eight Ambas, or Matrices (moth­ers), who were non-Vedic and identified with the feminine energies of great gods (Brahmani…

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BHAKTI – A religious practice of worship

Most Hindu mythologies are built upon a logic of devotion (bhakti), connecting worship (puja), purity (shuddhi; sauca), morality (dharma), responsibility (karma), and austerities (tapas). Bhakti can be more than just “being religious,” since it can lead to liberation (moksha) from life’s addictions and even from the cycle of rebirth (samsara)….

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BHARADVAJA – A sage

  Bharadvaja was the son of Maharishi Atri. He lived thousands of years, years that he used for the study of the Vedas. He was a disciple of the great Valmiki. Many Vedic hymns are credited to Bharadvaja’s authorship. When Rama was beginning his exile, he went to Bharadvaja’s asrama…

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BHARATA – A brother of Rama

  There were five Bharatas in Hindu mythology: (1) the brother of Rama, (2) a par­tial incarnation of Vishnu who ruled for 27,000 years and whose land was called Bharata, (3) a king of Hima who reigned for 100,000 years and, according to one tale in the Bhagavata Purana, was…

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BHRIGU – A sage, son of Brahma

  There are many versions of Bhrigu’s birth. Depending on the account, Bhrigu was born as one of the maharishis or as a demon (asura). One account said that he was the son of Brahma, born of Agni at a sacrifice (Brahma-yajna) presided over by Varuna as the chief priest…

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BHUMI -The goddess of earth

  Bhumi (the earth) was a Puranic addition to the Hindu pantheon. There are a number of versions of her birth, and her children had so many different gods and demons as fathers that another myth had to provide a curse from Parvati to explain this flaw in her character….

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BRAHMA – A deva (god)

Brahma rose to importance in the late Vedic period of the Aranyakas and Upanishads, after the first Hindu triad declined—that of Surya, Indra, and Agni. Brahma’s temple at Pushkara was the beginning point for pilgrimages from the time of the two great epics. However, it turned out to be the…

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BRAHMAN – An early term; the Absolute

  The word brahman is more context-sensitive than most Sanskrit terms. It is neuter in gender and evolved into one of the most important concepts in Hindu theology and philosophy. For one school of Hinduism Brahman came to mean the Absolute as impersonal and formless—and should be capitalized in English….

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BRAHMANAS – A division of the Vedas; a collection of scriptures

  The Vedas came to be divided into the Rigveda (hymns), Brahmanas (commen­taries), Aranyakas (forest texts), and Upanishads (a treasury of mystical and devotional texts). The Satapathabrahmana was considered to be the oldest Brahmana. It was a great source of mantras, or incantations. The mythological point of view changed between…

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BRAHMANDA – A cosmogonic principle in the Rigveda

  Brahmanda, or the egg of Brahma (immensity), may have been the subject of an entire book describing a creation myth, the Brahmanda Purana. But it is no longer extant, existing only in fragments of other works. The description of the origin of the universe as a golden egg appeared…

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BRIHASPATI – A sage

Brihaspati was the teacher of the devas (gods). He was born of Angiras and Vasudha (or SSraddha). Angiras was the son of Brahma, the creator, who had lost his seed in the sacrificial fire at the sight of a celestial maiden. Sage Brihaspati was also identified with a celestial star…

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BUDDHA – A negative incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu

  In some accounts one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu was as the Buddha. Vishnu came to earth in order to delude those who already deserved punishment for their bad deeds (karma). Deceived by the Buddha’s false teachings, these indi­viduals renounced the Vedas and ceased to do their duty…

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CANCALAKSHMI – (1) A famous prostitute

  Once while the prostitute Cancalakshmi (“one with moving eyes”) was waiting in the night for her lover, she was attacked and killed by a leopard (or in another version, a tiger). Following her death both the attendants of Vishnu and Yama came to take her soul. They began to…

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CANCALAKSHMI – (2) A Vidhyadhara girl

Cancalakshmi, the celestial, was raped by the demon Ravana, while her mind was fixed in prayer. She was praying to the goddess Mahalakshmi. Cancalakshmi cursed Ravana, stating he would be killed by Lakshmi. In the course of time Lak- shmi was incarnated as Sita. Ravana abducted Sita, and Ravana was…

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CANDA AND MUNDA – Two asura (demon) brothers

  Canda and his young asura brother Munda allied with the great demons, SSumbha and NisSumbha. The latter two asura brothers had just returned from heaven after receiving a boon from Brahma that they could only be killed at the hands of a woman. After receiving this boon SSumbha and…

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CANDAKA – A hunter and an ardent devotee of Siva

While hunting in the forest one day Candaka saw a Siva temple in ruins. He reported the dilapidated condition of this temple to Simhaketu, the king of Panchala. After consulting the scriptures, Simhaketu allowed Candaka to install a (Siva linga, the phallic symbol of (Siva, and said Candaka could start…

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CANDIKA – A ferocious form of Parvati (or Durga

Candika was the furious aspect of the Goddess, having ten, eighteen, or twenty hands, each holding a weapon. Her vehicle was a lion, and she stood with her left foot on the corpse of the demon called Mahisha-asura and held his severed head aloft. From the bloody neck of the…

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CANDRA – The moon, a deva

  In the Vedic period Candra, the moon, and Soma, the entheogenic plant, were connected by associations (bandhus) in the early hymns. However, Candra was not one of the adityas with Surya (the sun), but was one of the eight Vasus with Vayu (the wind). By the Puranic period Candra’s…

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CANDRANGADA – A prince

Candrangada’s story has another myth nested within it of a curious gender trans­formation. The Puranic mythmakers did not portray a supreme god or goddess remedying the situation in this case, as they so often did. In fact, neither sages nor the divine mother (Parvati) seemed able to reverse this permanent…

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CATUR-MUKHA-LINGA – Four-faced emblem of Brahma

  After creation of the world, the five-headed Brahma was resting and thinking about the next creation when a beautiful woman appeared before him. Even though she was born of him, Brahma became attracted to her and let his passion go. For this sin one of his heads broke off….

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CATUR-VARNA (CATURVARNYAM) – The four (catur) castes (varna)

  The brahmin, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra castes originated from the body of Brahma, according to the Rigveda. The later purusha (cosmic man) myth posited their origin from the self-sacrifice of the “first man,” god creating by self-divi­sion. By the late Vedic period four castes, instead of three, and a…

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CIRANJIVI, CIRANJIVIS – Immortals

These were the seven beings who did not have to experience death. Hanuman was one among the ciranjivis. The other six chiranjivis were Asvatthama, Mahabali (Bali), Vyasa, Vibhishana, Kripa, and Parasu-Rama. Accordingly, they are all still alive in this creation and perhaps will be in all others.

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CITRAKETU – A king who longed for a son

  This nested myth within a myth begins with a king and queen being granted a child; they then gain the blessing of becoming gandharvas (celestial musicians), but the story ends with the king cursed to become a demon. According to the Bhagavata Purana King Citraketu and his queen had…

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CITRALEKHA – Daughter of the demon Bana

This little story has great popular appeal. One even finds it alluded to or even added as a scene within modern Indian films or video serials. According to the Bhagavata Purana Chitralekha had an unusual ability to draw portraits. She drew one from an account of a dream that Usha,…

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CITRANGADA – (1)The third wife of Arjuna

  This myth is nested within several other myths within the Mahabharata. There was a devout worshipper of (Siva who has been promised a son but could not pro­duce one himself. His daughter, Princess Citrangada, succeeded in bearing a son by the hero Arjuna, who is given this reason for…

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CITRARATHA – Agandharva (celestial musician)

In the Mahabharata while the Pandavas were walking in the forest after killing the demons Hidimbha and Baka, they heard a sound in the river nearby of some­body taking a bath. Arjuna went to see who was taking a bath at night. He saw the gandharva king Citraratha and his…

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CITRASENA – A gandharva (celestial musician)

Citrasena had many roles in the Puranic and Epic literature. While flying overhead in his celestial chariot, Citrasena accidentally spat on the sage Galava, who complained to Krishna, who in turn vowed to kill Citrasena before sunset. The good old sage Narada telepathically learned of all this and told Citrasena….

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CUDALA – Aqueen and great scholar

  Queen Cudala’s accomplishment was placed long ago in the first Dvaparayuga of the seventh manvantara (world cycle). Perhaps that placement in an age of greater spiritual potential was why ksatriyas were able to achieve great powers (siddhis) without mention of a brahmin teacher and a woman could learn faster…

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CYAVANA – An asura (demon) sage

Cyavana was a son of the great teacher and priest of the demons, Bhrigu. Cyavana had become a great magician like his father, but he had grown old and blind. The Asvins, the Divine Twins, cured Cyavana of both his old age and blindness. After getting back his youth, Cyavana…

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DADHICI OR DADHICA – A sage

Dadhici had been made from the essence of the world by his father, the great ascetic Bhrigu. He too became an ascetic and engaged in severe tapas (austeri­ties). Indra became afraid that his position of Indrahood (as king of the gods) was threatened by a yogi with such power (siddhi)….

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DAKINIS – Class of women who are proficient in magic

  Women magicians were not given much of a role in nonsectarian Hindu mythol­ogy. The magicians known for their country and mentioned in the Mahabharataas the Kshudrakas were one exception. They came to the aid of Duryodhana and the Kauravas. Bhishma even had the Kshudrakas attack Arjuna. In another incar­nation…

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DAKSHA – A prajapati (creator or progenitor)

In the Rigveda (2:27:1) Daksha (ritual skill) was one of the six adityas, deities related so closely to Vedic sacrificial ritual that they may be called personifica­tions of its logic and method. During the Vedic period the six expanded to twelve, with Daksha always among the most important. Ritual skill…

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DALBHYA – A sage

This is an example of a myth about a priestly curse that explains the bad fortune of a king and a kingdom. Such a myth served as an advertisement of the powers (siddhis) of brahmins and their ability to bless or curse. This late story in the Vamana Purana referred…

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DASARATHA – A king, father of Sri Rama

To be so great a figure as to have a god born as one’s son, one must have a dis­tinguished lineage, excellent karma (based on what one had done in past lives), and a record of devotion and service to the gods. All of these elements were pro­vided in the…

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DATTATREYA – A sage

Dattatreya had wonderful parents: the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya. Dat­tatreya was an incarnation of Vishnu according to some Puranas. Why did Lord Vishnu incarnate as Dattatreya? The Brahmanda Purana traced the story back to a hermit named Ani-Mandavya who meditated under a vow of silence. In pursuit of…

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DEVAKULYA – Granddaughter of Sage Marici

Devakulya washed the feet of Vishnu, and she was reborn as the river goddess Ganga. This myth had to be reconciled with another origin myth about the Ganga: that the earthly Ganga came by the grace of Siva. The version featuring Devakulya in the Bhagavata Purana emphasized her merit for…

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