Chapter I

India, the home of Phallic Worship—Linga described—The Bull Nandi—Linga puja—Large and small Lingas—Antiquity of Linga-puja—Growth of the Hindu Pantheon—Siva, the Destroyer—Sacred Bulls—Shrine of Ek-Linga—Legend relating to rivers—The Churning of the sea—Variety of Forms of Siva—Deities of India—Origin of the Universe—Hindu Triad—Aum and O’M.—Jupiter Genitor—Attributes of Siva—Worship of Osiris—Identity of Egyptian, Grecian, and Indian deities—Hindoo Temples—Ceremonies.

<typo fv:small-caps>India, beyond all other countries on the face of the earth, is pre-eminently the home of the worship of the Phallus—the Linga puja; it has been so for ages and remains so still. This adoration is said to be one of the chief, if not the leading dogma of the Hindu religion, and there is scarcely a temple throughout the land which has not its Lingam, in many instances this symbol being the only form under which the deity of the sanctuary is worshipped.

Generally speaking, the Linga may be described as a smooth, round, black stone, apparently rising out of another stone, formed like an elongated saucer, though in reality sculptured from one block of basalt. The outline of this saucer-like stone, similar in form to what is called a jew’s harp, is called Argha or Yoni: the upright stone, the type of the virile organ, is the Linga. The whole thing bears the name of Lingioni. This representation of the union of the sexes, typifies the divine sacti, or active energy in union, the procreative generative power seen throughout nature; the earth being the primitive pudendum or yoni, which is fecundated by the solar heat, the sun—the primeval Lingam, to whose vivifying rays, men and animals, plants and the fruits of the earth owe their being and continued existence. Thus, according to the Hindus, the Linga is God and God is the Linga; the fecundator, the generator, the creator in fact.

Lingas are of all sizes and of various forms. Sometimes they are extremely minute, being then enclosed in small silver reliquaries, and worn as amulets or charms upon the breast or arm. At other times they are several inches in height, as in the domestic examples, and often have the bull Nandi carved either at the end of the yoni or at the side of the emblem. The Hindus say that the bull will intercept the evil which is continually emitted from the female sacti. Upon the erection of a new village, in setting up the Linga, they are careful to turn the spout of the yoni towards the jungle, and not upon the houses or roads, lest ill fortune should rest upon them. These Lingams are of a much larger size than those just mentioned, being generally two or three feet in height. Early in the morning around these emblems may be seen the girls of the neighbourhood who are anxious for husbands, sprinkling them with water from the Ganges; decking them with garlands of bilwa flowers; performing the mudra, or gesticulation with the fingers, and while rubbing themselves against the emblem, reciting the prescribed incantations, and entreating the deity to make them the fruitful mother of children.

This is what is called the Linga puja. During its performance the five lamps are lighted and the bell frequently rung to frighten away the evil demons.

Still larger Lingas than any yet mentioned are found in the temples, some of them immense—as high as forty feet and measuring twenty-five feet in circumference. These large emblems are, as a rule, Lingas only, not in conjunction with the Yoni. Colonel Sykes in his “Account of the Ellora Excavations,” (near Poonah, in the Bombay Presidency), speaking of the Bisma Kurm, says, “The first thing that meets the eye on entering the temple is the enormous hemispherical figure of the Ling (Lingam) at the end of the cave; it is always found on this scale in the arched Boodh excavations, and even at Tuneer, in a flat roofed cave, this emblem is forty-two feet in circumference, though its height is inconsiderable.”

How long this worship of the Lingam has prevailed in India it is impossible to say; it is positively known to have existed for at least 1500 years, and it is estimated that about two thirds of all the Hindu people, perhaps eighty millions of souls, practise it. The idols are often described as conspicuous everywhere, in all parts of British India from the Himalaya to Ceylon. We are told that throughout the whole tract of the Ganges, as far as Benares, in Bengal, the temples are commonly erected in a range of six, eight, or twelve on each side of a ghat leading to the river, and that at Kalna is a circular group of 108 temples, erected by a raja of Bardwan. Each of the temples in Bengal consists of a single chamber, of a square form, surmounted by a pyramidal centre. The area of each is very small, the linga of black or white marble occupying the centre. What race brought the Lingam worship into India is not known, but it seems to have come from the basin of the Lower Indus through Rajputana, about the beginning of the Christian era. At Ujjain it was particularly celebrated about the period of the Mohammedan invasion, but probably long before, and one particular Linga was named Vinda-swerna; from Vindu, drop, Swerna, gold. At present there is a four-faced lingam, sometimes three-faced or tri-murti; and tri-lingam is said to be the source of the name Telinga and Telingana, the country extending north of Madras to Ganjam, and west to Bellary and Beder. The four-faced lingam is called the Choumurti Mahadeva, such as may be seen in the caves of Ellora, and of common occurrence in other districts; and a famous shrine of ek-linga, or the one lingam is situated in a defile about six miles north of Udaipur, and has hills towering around it on all sides.

This ek-lingam, or one phallus, is a cylindrical or conical stone; but there are others termed Seheslinga and Kot-Iswara, with a thousand or a million of phallic representations, all minutely carved on the monolithic emblem, having then much resemblance to the symbol of Bacchus whose orgies both in Egypt and Greece are the counterpart of those of the Hindu Baghes, so called from being clad in a tiger’s or leopard’s skin, as Bacchus had that of the panther for his covering. There is a very ancient temple to Kot-Iswara at the embouchure of the eastern arm of the Indus; and there are many to Seheslinga in the peninsula of Saurashtra. At the ancient Dholpur, now called Barolli, the shrine is dedicated to Gut-Iswara Mahadeva, with a lingam revolving in the yoni, the wonder of those who venture amongst its almost impervious and unfrequented woods to worship. It is said that very few Saiva followers of the south of India ever realize the lingam and the yoni as representations of the organs of the body, and when made to apprehend the fact they feel overpowered with shame that they should be worshipping such symbols.1)

The age assigned by the above writer to this particular kind of worship falls very far short of what has been stated by others, and appears most probable. It has been asserted that its history goes back two thousand years before the Christian era—that it was then, as it is now, in full force—that it witnessed the rise, decline, and fall of the idolatry of Egypt, and of the great Western Mythology of Greece and Rome. “And when we reflect,” says a modern writer, “on its antiquity, and on the fact that hitherto it has scarcely yielded in the slightest degree to the adverse influence of the Mohammedan race on the one hand, or to European dictation on the other; and that it exercises by its system of caste, a powerful control over the manners, customs, costumes, and social status of the entire Hindu community, it becomes a subject fraught with interest to every cultivated mind, and offers an affecting but curious example of the power of a hoary and terrible superstition in degrading and enslaving so large a portion of the human race.”2)

It can scarcely be questioned, theorise as writers may, that the origin of this worship is lost in antiquity; we seem able to trace it back to times when it was comparatively pure and simple—when it was the worship of one god only, the Brühm Atma, the “Breathing Soul,” a spiritual Supreme Being. As time passed, however, the primitive simplicity disappeared, and rites and ceremonies became complicated and numerous. The spiritual worship of the Deity gave place to the worship of a representative image of him—a block of stone called Phallus or Linga, representing the procreative power discerned in Nature. Even this was comparatively simple at first, but it soon spread itself out in a variety of directions, until an extensive Pantheon was formed and an elaborate ritual and worship organised. It is computed that this Pantheon contains little short of a million gods and demi-gods.

It is more particularly with the god Siva we shall have to do in stating facts which illustrate the subject of Phallic worship, for the Lingam or Phallus was the emblem under which he was specially worshipped. It certainly does seem remarkable, as Mr. Sellon remarked, that of the host of divinities above mentioned, Siva should be the god whom the Hindus have delighted to honour. “As the Destroyer, and one who revels in cruelty and bloodshed, this terrible deity, who has not inaptly been compared to the Moloch of Scripture, of all their divinities, suggests most our idea of the devil. It may therefore, be concluded that the most exalted notion of worship among the Hindus is a service of Fear. The Brahmins say the other gods are good and benevolent, and will not hurt their creatures, but that Siva is powerful and cruel, and that it is necessary to appease him.”

The attribute of destruction is found visibly depicted in the drawings and temples throughout Bengal. To destroy, according to the Vedantis of India, the Susis of Persia, and many philosophers of the European schools, is only to generate and reproduce in another form: hence the god of destruction is held in India to preside over generation; as a symbol of which he rides on a white bull.

The sacred bull, Nanda, has his altar attached to all the shrines of Iswara, as was that of Menes, or Apis to those of the Egyptian Osiris. He has occasionally his separate shrines, and there is one in the valley of Oodipoor, which has the reputation of being oracular as regards the seasons. The Bull was the steed of Iswara, and carried him to battle; he is often represented upon it with his consort Isa, at full speed. The Bull was offered to Mithras by the Persian, and opposed as it now appears to Hindu faith, formerly bled on the altars of the Sun-god, on which not only the Buld-dan (offering of the bull) was made, but human sacrifices. We do not learn that the Egyptian priesthood presented the kindred of Apis to Osiris, but as they were not prohibited from eating beef, they may have done so. The shrine of Ek-Linga is situated in a defile about six miles north of Oodipoor, the hills towering around on all sides are of the primitive formation, and their scarped summits are clustered with honeycombs. There are abundant small springs of water, which keep verdant numerous shrubs, the flowers of which are acceptable to the deity, especially the Kiner or Oleander, which grows in great luxuriance on the Aravulli. Groves of bamboo and mango were formerly common, according to tradition; but although it is deemed sacrilege to thin the groves of Bal, the bamboo has been nearly destroyed: there are, however, still many trees sacred to the deity scattered around. It would be difficult to convey a just idea of a temple so complicated in its details. It is of the form commonly styled pagoda, and, like all the ancient temples of Siva, its sikra, or pinnacle, is pyramidal. The various orders of Hindu sacred architecture are distinguished by the form of the sikra, which is the portion springing from and surmounting the perpendicular walls of the body of the temple. The sikra of those of Siva is invariably pyramidal, and its sides vary with the base, whether square or oblong. The apex is crowned with an ornamental figure, as a sphynx, an urn, a ball, or a lion, which is called the kulkis. When the sikra is but the frustrum of a pyramid, it is often surmounted by a row of lions, as at Biolli. The fane of Ek-Linga is of white marble and of ample dimensions. Under an open vaulted temple, supported by columns, and fronting the four-faced divinity, is the brazen bull Nanda, of the natural size: it is cast, and of excellent proportions. The figure is perfect, except where the shot or hammer of an infidel invader has penetrated its flank in search of treasure. Within the quadrangle are miniature shrines, containing some of the minor divinities.3)

Just here we may introduce a legend relating to Siva, which, if not of very great importance, is of some interest on account of its reported connection with one of our English rivers. The gods, after the creation, soon perceived that there were still many things wanting for the good of mankind, and more particularly on account of themselves. In their numerous wars with the giants, many of the gods being killed, they were informed by Vishnu that it was possible to procure a beverage, which would render them immortal. The task, however, was immense; for it consisted of throwing all the plants and trees of the universe, according to some, but, according to others, only those that grew on the sides of the White mountain or island, into the White sea; which was to be churned for a long time, in order to obtain the butter of immortality, or Amrit, the ambrosia of the western mythologists: and the old moon, which was already of Amrit, would serve as a leaven to predispose the whole mixture. The old moon was inert, and of little use; they wanted also intoxicating liquors to exhilarate themselves, and celestial nymphs for their own amusement. This churning took place in the Dwapar, or third age of the Manwantura of Chacshusa, which immediately preceded that of Noah. It lasted exactly twenty-nine years and five months, or 10,748 days, 12 hours, and 18 minutes. This is obviously the revolution of Saturn, which was in use amongst the inhabitants of the Isles in the Northern Ocean, who celebrated with great pomp, the entrance of that planet into Taurus, according to Plutarch.

It is declared in the Puranas, and acknowledged by everybody that this momentous transaction took place in the White Sea, called the Calas-odadhi or the caldron-like sea; from its being an inland one, and surrounded on all sides, or nearly so, by the land; from which circumstance it was compared to a pot or caldron. This sea was contiguous to the White Island on one side, for on account of its contiguity, the Amrit is said, in the Matsya-purana and others, to have been produced on, or near the White or silver mountain, called there also the mountain of Soma or Lunus. On the other side it bordered on Suvarn-a-dwipa, or Ireland: for we are told in the Vrihat-Catha, that there was a sea town in that country, called Calas-a-puri, from its being situated on the Calas-odad’hi, or sea like a Calasa or caldron. This caldron-like, or landlocked sea, is evidently the Irish sea. Into this Calasa, according to the Varaha-purana, the gods flung all the plants, and agreed to churn it. This they did, says our author, in Varunaleyam or Varunasyabyam, the abode, abyam, or st’han of Varuna, the god of the sea. His abode, to this day, is well known, and is in the very centre of that sea. The Manx and Irish mythologists, according to Col. Valancey, call Varuna, Mananan-Mac-Lir, Mananan, the son of the sea: and his abode, according to them, is in the Isle of Man, or Mannin, as it is called by the Irish bards. According to Gen. Valancey, it was called also Manand, which answers to the Monœda of Ptolemy.

After the gods had fixed on the most proper time for the churning of the sea of milk, they soon perceived that it would be impossible for them to accomplish this tremendous work, without the assistance of giants. They made peace accordingly with them, under the most solemn promise of sharing with them the fruit of their joint labours. The gods in general are represented as a weak race, but full of cunning and very crafty; the giants, on the contrary, are very strong, and generally without much guile. The gods of the Goths, and of the Greeks and Romans, did not bear a much better character. Even among Christians there are old legends, in which the devil is most egregiously taken in by holy men.

Having thus settled the conditions, they all went to work, and gathered all the trees and plants, and flung them into the caldron-like sea. They then brought the mountain of Mandara with infinite labour. It is said that this mountain is in the peninsula, near the sea shore, and to the north of Madras. They placed it in the middle of the caldron-like sea, which they used for a churn, and mount Mandara as a churning staff. The serpent Vasuci served them instead of a rope, and they twisted him round mount Mandara, and the giants were allowed to lay hold of the snake by the head: his fiery breath scorched the giants, and they became black: the unfortunate reptile suffered much; he complained, but in vain. Mount Mandara began to sink; but Vishnu, assuming the shape of a tortoise, placed himself under it. In the Scanda-purana chapter of the Sanata-cumara-Sanhita, in the 75th section, we have a minute account of the churning of the White sea by Vishnu, the gods and the giants: the latter had Bali at their head. After churning for five years the froth began to appear: and after three years more, Varuni or Sura, with her intoxicating liquors. The cow Camadhenu or Surabhi appeared after another year’s labour. According to the Brahman-da-purana, she was worshipped by the gods, and both gods and giants were highly pleased when they saw her.

One year after, the elephant Airavata made his appearance; and the next year a horse with seven heads. Three months after, the Apsaras with Rambha-Devi at their head. Chandra or Lunus, came one year after; then after three years more, was produced Cala-cuta, a most subtile poison, flowing in large quantities; and then Vishnu became black. It was of a fiery colour, and began to set fire to the three worlds. Mankind, being alarmed, began to call out, Ah! Ah! The earth, in great distress, with Vishnu, waited on Siva, craving his assistance. Siva swallowed up the poison which stuck in his throat, and caused a most intolerable heat, which parched his throat and body. His throat turned blue; from which circumstance he is worshipped under the name of Nilacanteswara, or the lord with the blue throat.

Siva, after swallowing the poison, as related, went to Himalaya, where he buried himself in the snow. There are many places of worship dedicated to Siva, under that title; but the original one is in the White Island. It is very doubtful if our ancestors knew anything of this churning, and of the deadly poison produced by it, and of a deity swallowing it up. “In that case,” says Major Wilford, “there was no such a place in the White Island. Yet I cannot resist the temptation; and I am inclined to believe it not altogether improbable, but that many of these idle legends originated in the west. If so, there might have been such a place; and it could not have been far from Camalo-dunum. The poison, which Siva drank up, is called in Sanscrit, Cala-cuta, or the black lump or mole, because it remained like a lump in Siva’s throat, which looked like a cuta, a peak, also a lump or mole. Cala-cuta in Welh is y-duman, or the black lump or mole, and this was, according to Ptolemy, the name of a river in England, now called the Blackwater, in Essex. It might have been supposed once, that the black stinking mud of marshes and fens, and more particularly that of the mosses, so baneful to living creatures, was produced in consequence of this churning; probably the emblem used to signify some dreadful convulsion of nature in those parts. That such a thing happened in the western ocean, is attested by tradition: and such was its violence, and the dreadful consequences which attended it, that they could not but suppose that it had destroyed entirely the Atlantis and left nothing in its place but mud. A deity is then introduced, putting a stop to the progress of this black and poisonous substance, ready, according to the Puranas, to overwhelm, not only the White Island, but the whole world also. The serpent Midgard, being at the bottom of the sea, like Ananta, and vomiting torrents of deadly poison, and surrounding the world like Seshanaga, is the subject of several fundamental legends in the mythology of the Goths: but absolutely unknown to the Greeks and Romans. This Cala-cuta, or black lump of poison, stuck in Siva’s throat, like the apple that Adam ate, and occasioned that protuberance, since called Adam’s apple or bit.”4)


We have already stated that Siva is usually deemed the third person of the Hindu triad, that he represents the destructive energy, and that he appears in such a variety of forms, and on so many occasions, that scarcely a step can be taken in any department whatever of eastern science, art, or subject of literature, without encountering him in some of his varied characters. The whole race of Hindoos, it seems, is divided into two classes, denoting the worship of Siva, or of Vishnu; Brahma, the first or creative power, having no worshippers or temples. These two classes are also called Saiva-bakht, and Vishnu-bakht. We have also had occasion to inform our readers that destruction being used in the sense of renovation, the character of Siva is that of the renovator, or recreator; associating him in character with Brahma, the producing or creative power. The variety of relations in which this and the other two members of the Hindu triad appear—whether they be introduced mythologically, metaphysically, or philosophically, has been exhibited as follows—all three are symbols of the sun, as he is typical of that great light, as the theologians express it, “whence all proceeded, and to which all must return.”

Brahma Power Creation Matter The Past Earth
Vishnu Wisdom Preservation Space The Present Water
Siva Justice Destruction Time The Future Fire

But these characters, or attributes, are not exclusively applicable to the three powers, as indicated above. They coalesce and participate, more or less in several. An attempt has been made to shew in what degree, more particularly, they represent their material forms of earth, water, and fire, thus:—

Brahma and Siva are Fire, in which Vishnu } does not participate, or participates but remotely.
Vishnu and Brahma are Earth, in which Siva
Siva and Vishnu are Water, in which Brahma

In his examination of the Vedas, or Indian Scriptures, Mr. Colebrooke gives the following description of the deities of India:

“The deities invoked appear, upon a cursory inspection of the Veda, to be as various as the authors of the prayers addressed to them: but according to the most ancient annotations on the Indian Scriptures, these various names of persons and things, are all resolvable into different titles of three deities, and ultimately of one God. The Nig’hanti, or Glossary of the Vedas (which is the first part of the Niructa), concludes with three lists of names of deities: the first comprising such as are deemed synonymous with Fire; the second with Air; and the third with the Sun. In the last part of the Niructa, which entirely relates to deities, it is twice asserted that there are but three gods, ’Tisra eva Devatah.’ The further inference, that these intend but one deity, is supported by many passages in the Veda; and is very clearly and concisely stated in the beginning of the index to the Rigveda, on the authority of the Niructa, and of the Veda itself.”

After citing several passages, Mr. Colebrooke continues:—“The deities are only three, whose places are the earth, the intermediate region, and heaven: [namely] Fire, Air, and the Sun. They are pronounced to be [deities] of the mysterious names severally; and (Prajapati) the lord of creatures is [the deity] of them collectively. The syllable O’m intends every deity: it belongs to (Paramasht’hi) him who dwells in the supreme abode; it pertains to (Brahma) the vast one; to (Deva) god; to (Ad’hyatma) the superintending soul. Other deities belonging to those several regions, are portions of the [three] gods; for they are variously named and described on account of their different operations, but [in fact] there is only one deity, the Great Soul (Mahanatma). He is called the Sun; for he is the soul of all beings; [and] that is declared by the Sage. [The Sun] ‘the soul of (jagat) what moves, and of (tast’hush) that which is fixed’; other deities are portions of him: and that is expressly declared by the Sage, ‘The wise call Fire, Indra, Mitra, and Varuna, etc.”

In the Manava Sastra or Institutes of Menu the origin of the Universe is thus unfolded: “It existed only in the first divine idea, yet unexpanded, as if involved in darkness, imperceptible, indefinable, undiscoverable by reason, and undiscovered by revelation, as if it were wholly immersed in sleep. Then the sole self-existing power, who had existed from eternity, shone forth in person, expanding his idea and dispelling the gloom. With a thought he first created the waters, and placed in them a productive seed: this seed became an egg, in which he was himself born in the shape of Brahma, the great forefather of all spirits. The waters are called Nara, because they were the production of Nara, or the spirit of God: and since they were his first Ayana, or place of motion, he was thence named Narayana, or moving in the waters. In that egg the great Power sat inactive a whole year of the Creator: at the close of which, by his thought alone, he caused the egg to divide itself, and from its two divisions framed the world.”

The name given by the Indians to their Supreme Deity, or Monad, is Brahm; and notwithstanding the appearance of materialism in all their sacred books, the Brahmans never admit they uphold such a doctrine, but invest their deities with the highest attributes. He is represented as the Vast One, self-existing, invisible, eternal, imperceptible, the only deity, the great soul, the over-ruling soul, the soul of all beings, and of whom all other deities are but portions. To him no sacrifices were ever offered; but he was adored in silent meditation. He triplicates himself into three persons or powers, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, and is designated by the word O’M or rather AUM.

This word O’M is a monosyllable of very profound import. It is supposed to be so holy and awful, like the name Jehovah of the Jews, as not to be guiltlessly pronounced, even by a priest. It must be contemplated, or recited mentally; and it then is said to excite many efficacious aspirations. This awful monosyllable is triliteral, and perhaps therefore better written AUM, for three Sanscrit letters do in fact compose it: but in composition A and U coalesce in O. The first letter is supposed to be symbolical of Brahma, the creative power of the Deity; the second of Vishnu, the preserver; and the last of Siva, the destroyer or renovator. As all the inferior deities of the Hindoos are avataras or manifestation of, and resolve themselves into those three superior powers, so those superior powers resolve themselves ultimately into Brahm, or the supreme being, of whom the sun is the most perfect and glorious murti, or image. A combination of the three symbolical letters forms, therefore, a hieroglyphical representation of the union of the three powers or attributes, and a word that, if uttered, would be nearly expressed by our letters A U M, or O O M, dwelling a little on each letter. A name of Parvati, the consort of Siva, is Uma or Ooma, and it is perhaps hence derivable; as well as Omkar, one of the most sacred places of pilgrimage in India, dedicated to the worship of this mysterious union.

In the Institutes of Menu, many verses occur denoting the importance of this monosyllable, and of a text of the Veda closely connected with it, called the Gayatri. Among those verses are the following:

Chap. ii, v. 74. “A Brahman beginning and ending a lecture on the Veda, must always pronounce to himself the syllable OM: for unless the syllable OM precede, his learning will slip away from him; and unless it follow, nothing will be long retained.” A commentator on this verse says, “As the leaf of the palasa is supported by a single pedicle, so is this universe upheld by the syllable OM, a symbol of the supreme Brahm.”

76. “Brahma milked out as it were, from the three Vedas the letter A, the letter U, and the letter M, which form by their coalition the triliteral monosyllable, together with three mysterious words, bhur, bhuva, and siver.” These words mean earth, sky, and heaven, and are called the vyahritis.

77. “From the three Vedas, also, the Lord of creatures incomprehensibly exalted, successively milked out the three measures of that ineffable text beginning with the word tad, and entitled Savitri or Gayatri.”

78. “A priest who shall know the Veda, and shall pronounce to himself, both morning and evening, that syllable, and that holy text, preceded by the three words, shall attain the sanctity which the Veda confers.”

79. “And a twice born man who shall a thousand times repeat those three (OM, the vyahritis, and the gayatri), apart from the multitude, shall be released in a month from a great offence, as a snake from his slough.”

80. “The priest, the soldier, and the merchant, who shall neglect this mysterious text, and fail to perform in due season his peculiar acts of piety, shall meet with contempt among the virtuous.”

81. “The great immutable words preceded by the triliteral syllable and followed by the gayatri, which consists of three measures, must be considered as the mouth or principal part of the Veda.”

82. “Whoever shall repeat, day by day, for three years, without negligence, that sacred text, shall hereafter approach the divine essence, move freely as air, and assume an ethereal form.”

83. “The triliteral monosyllable is an emblem of the Supreme, the suppressions of the breath with a mind fixed on God are the highest devotion; but nothing is more exalted than the gayatri.”

The suppression of the breath is thus performed by the priest: closing the left nostril with the two longest fingers of the right hand, he draws his breath through the right nostril; then closing that nostril likewise with his thumb, holds his breath while he meditates the text: he then raises both fingers off the left nostril, and emits the suppressed breath, having, during its suppression, repeated to himself the gayatri, the vyahritis, the triliteral monosyllable, and the sacred text of Brahm. By an ancient legislator it is said to imply the following meditation: “OM! earth! sky! heaven! mansion of the blessed! abode of truth!—We meditate on the adorable light of the resplendent Generator which governs our intellects: which is water, lustre, savour, immortal, faculty of thought, Brahm, earth, sky, heaven.” The words in italics are very nearly the gayatri.

Chap. vi., v. 70. “Even three suppressions of breath, made according to the divine rule, accompanied by the triliteral phrase (bhurbhuvaswah), and the triliteral syllable (OM), may be considered as the highest devotion of a Brahman.”

71. “For as the dross and impurities of metallic ores are consumed by fire, thus are the sinful acts of the human organ consumed by the suppression of breath, while the mystic words and the measures of the Gayatri are revolved in the mind.”

The extreme importance that the Hindoos attach to the gayatri, renders it a text of more curiosity than perhaps a general reader will be able to discover in the words themselves, in either their familiar or recondite meaning. It is, like the holy monosyllable, to be mentally revolved, never articulated. It is taught, as we have seen in the preceding extracts from the Menu, to the three first classes, that is, to the Brahman, or priesthood; to the Kshetriya, or soldier; and to the Vaisya, or merchant; but not to the Sudra, or labourer, nor to individuals of the three first named classes if rendered by vicious propensities unworthy of the ‘second birth,’ promised in the holiness of this mysterious regeneration. Fasting, ablution, prayer, alms-giving, and other commendable acts, are necessary preliminaries and accompaniments to initiation in the mysteries of this ‘ineffable text,’ which is done by the Guru, or spiritual preceptor, in a reverent and secret manner. In the Vedas the text occurs several times, and translations of it by different Sanscrit scholars are given, with many particulars of it and other mysterious points in the Hindoo Pantheon. “There is no doubt,” says the author of that work, “but that pious Brahmans would be very deeply shocked at hearing the gayatri denied by unholy articulation, even if expressed in the most respectful manner; and many would be distressed at knowing the characters, sound, and meaning, to be in the possession of persons out of the pale of sanctity. A gentleman on the western side of India, unaware of the result, began once to recite it audibly in the presence of a pious Pandit: the astonished priest stopped his ears, and hastened terrified from his presence.” In the frontispiece to that work, the character or symbol is given that would, if uttered, yield the sound of OM. The author says he once shewed it to a Brahman, who silently averted his face, evidently pained at what he unwillingly saw.


The Hindoo deities have vehicles assigned for the conveyance of themselves and wives. These are called vahan. The vahan of Siva is a bull, called Nandi. They have likewise peculiar symbols or attributes: those that more particularly designate Siva, his sakti, or anything connected with them are the Linga, or phallus, and the Trisula or Trident. The phallic emblem denotes his presiding over generation, reminding us of the Jupiter Genitor of western mythologists, with whom Sir William Jones identifies the Siva of the East.

“The Jupiter Marinus, or Neptune of the Romans, resembles Mahadeva (Siva) in his generative character; especially as the Hindoo god is the husband of Parvati, whose relation to the waters is evidently marked by her image being restored to them at the conclusion of the great festival, called Durgotsava. She is known to have attributes exactly similar to those of Venus Marina, whose birth from the sea-foam, and splendid rise from the couch in which she had been cradled, have offered so many charming subjects to ancient and modern artists.”5)

Another writer, Mr. Paterson, offers a passage descriptive of the character and attributes of Siva. “To Siva,” he says, “are given three eyes, probably to denote his view of the three divisions of time; the past, the present, and the future. A crescent on his forehead, pourtrays the measure of time by the phases of the moon; a serpent forms a necklace to denote the measure of time by years; a second necklace formed of human skulls marks the lapse and revolution of ages, and the extinction and succession of the generations of mankind. He holds a trident, to show that the great attributes are in him assembled and united; in another is a kind of rattle, shaped like an hour glass, and I am inclined to think that it was at first intended as such, since it agrees with the character of the deity; and a sand gheri is mentioned in the Sastra as a mode of measuring time. In the hieroglyphic of Maha Pralaya, or grand consummation of things, when time itself shall be no more, he is represented as trodden under foot by Mahakala, or eternity.”


A writer in the Edinburgh Review for February, 1811, says:—“The most ancient worship of which any trace is left in Hindustan, is that of Osiris or Bacchus, whose Indian names are Iswara and Baghesa. In him, and in the gods of his family, or lineage, we recognise the divinities adored by the ancient Egyptians. That Osiris and Bacchus were the same divinity, is attested by the unanimous suffrage of all the writers of antiquity. But the most ancient Bacchus was not celebrated as the god of wine, a character ascribed to that divinity in later times. The Egyptians assert that Osiris conquered India; and indeed his expedition to that region is the subject of the celebrated epic poem of Nonnus. We by no means contend for the reality of these expeditions; but it is an indisputable fact that the worship of Osiris, distinguished by the same attributes and emblems, has continued in India from the earliest ages to this day, under the appellation of Iswara. This, we think, may be completely proved by a comparative survey of both, before, as patron of the vine, he assumed in Europe a new character.

Osiris was adored in Egypt, and Bacchus in Greece, under the emblem of the Phallus. It is under the same emblem that he is still venerated in Hindustan; and Phalla is one of the names of Iswara in the dictionary of Amara Singha. The bull was sacred to him in Egypt. Plutarch assures us that several nations of Greece depict Bacchus with a bull’s head; and that when he is invoked by the women of Elis they pray him to hasten to their relief on the feet of a bull. In India he is often seen mounted on a bull; hence one of his Sanscrit names Vrishadwaja, signifying, whose ensign is a bull. Plutarch inform us that ‘Nilum patrem ac servatorem suæ regionis, ac defluxum Osiridis nominant.’ The Ganges in like manner is fabled by the Hindoos to flow from the tresses of Siva; hence another of his names, Gangadhara, the supporter of the Ganges. We conceive by the way, that Scaliger and Selden are mistaken in supposing that Siris, the Egyptian name of the Nile, is synonymous with Osiris. Siris seems to us the Sanscrit word Saras, a river in general, or the river, from its imputed superiority. Isis is the consort of Osiris; Isa that of Iswara, or Siva. The attributes of the goddesses might be shown to correspond as precisely as those of their lords.

“The attendants of Iswara resemble, in their frantic demeanour, the furious Bacchants of the god of Naxos. Many tribes of imaginary beings compose his train. The Pramatha, whose name denotes intoxication; and the Jacchi, from whom he derives the appellation of Jaccheo, or lord of the Jacchi, corrupted into Jacchus, by his western votaries. It is remarkable that many of the appellations by which the Greeks distinguish Bacchus, are also used by the Hindus; but instead of applying them to Baghesa himself, the latter refer them to his son, whilst both nations have their legends to account for them. Thus the Greeks name Bacchus, Dimeter, having two mothers; the Hindus call Scandha, the son of Baghesa, Divimatri, with the same signification. Pyrigenes, born from fire; and its equivalent in Sanscrit—Agnija, are respectively Greek and Indian appellatives of Bacchus and of Scandha. The title of Thriambus we are told by Diodorus, was assumed by the Greek Deity in his triumph after the conquest of India. Tryambo, in like-manner, is one of the most common appellations of the Indian Bacchus, but we are not aware of its signification.

“We believe we have done more than was requisite to prove the identity of the Egyptian, Grecian, and Indian Divinity; for our readers will remark that our proofs do not rest in this instance, on analogy of sounds, which may undoubtedly be fortuitous, but on that analogy, combined with the unity of the attributes denoted by those names, which it is impossible should be accidental.”

There are five kinds of temples among the Hindoos, one of which is dedicated exclusively to the linga, another to Jugunnathu, and another is appropriated to the images of any of the gods or goddesses. The first of these is called by the general name of Mundiru; the second Daool, and the third Yorubangala. The names of the other two are Punchu-rutnu, and Nuvu-rutnu, in which the images of different gods and goddesses are placed, according to the wish of the owner.

The Mundiru is a double roofed building, the upper roof short and tapering. It contains only one room, in which is placed the image of the linga. It is ascended by steps. The floor is about three cubits by four. On the roof are placed three tridents. The building is of the Gothic order, as well as most of the other pyramidical temples of the Hindoos. Some of the temples of the linga contain two, three, or more rooms, arched over in the Gothic manner, with a porch in front for spectators. The rooms in which the image is not placed contain the things with which the ceremonies of worship are performed, the offerings, etc.

Some rich men as an act of merit, build one, and others, erect four, six, twelve, or more of these temples in one place. Some great landowners build a greater number, and employ Brahmins to perform the daily ceremonies. The relict of raja Tiluku-Chundru, of Burdwan, built one hundred and eight temples in one plain, and placed in them as many images of the linga, appointing eleven Brahmins, with other inferior servants, to perform the daily ceremonies before these images. She presented to these temples estates to the amount of the wages of these persons, the daily offerings, etc.

Many persons build flights of steps down the banks to the river side, for the benefit of persons coming to bathe, and very often also build a row of temples for the linga in front of these steps, two, four, or six on each side, and a roof supported by pillars immediately opposite the steps. At the present day, most of the persons who build these temples are the head-servants of Europeans, who appropriate a part of their fortunes to these acts of supposed merit. Near Serampore a rich Hindoo built twelve linga temples, and a flight of steps, and on the opposite side of the river, he built a house for his mistress, without any suspicion of the latter action spoiling the former.

Small square temples for the linga with flat roofs are erected in rows on the right and left before the houses of rich men, or before a college, or a consecrated pool of water, or before the descent to a flight of steps.

Very small temples like the Mundiru, two, three, or five cubits high only, and containing a linga about a foot in height, are to be seen at Benares.

Some persons build near the temples of the linga, a small house, open in front, for the accommodation of such persons who wish to die in sight of the river; and others build a temple, adjoining to that built for the linga, and dedicate it some other idol.

These temples of the linga are to be seen in great numbers on both sides of the Ganges, especially in the neighbourhood of Calcutta. The merit of building them near the river is greater than in the interior of the country, and if in a place of the river peculiarly sacred, the merit becomes the greater. The west side of the river is more sacred than the east.

The expense of one of these temples, if a single room, amounts to about two hundred rupees, and the wages and daily offerings to one linga amount to about three rupees per month. Some give the brahmin who officiates twelve anas, and others a rupee per month, with his food and clothes. Sometimes the offerings are given to him for his food, but in other cases they are presented to the brahmins of the village alternately, and the priest has money given him in their stead. These offerings consist of a pound of rice, a pint of milk, half an ounce of sugar, and two plantains. The quantity, however, is not prescribed, and other things are articled by some persons.

The daily ceremonies are:—In the morning the officiating brahmin, after bathing, goes into the temple and bows to Siva. He then anoints the image with clarified butter or boiled oil, after which, with water which has not been defiled by the touch of a shoodru, nor of a brahmin who has not bathed, he bathes the image by pouring water on it, and afterwards wipes it with a towel. He next grinds some white powder in water, and dipping the ends of his three fore-fingers in it, draws them across the linga, marking it as the worshippers of Siva mark their foreheads. Next he sits down before the image, and, shutting his eyes, meditates on the work he is commencing; then puts rice and doorva grass on the linga; next a flower on his own head, and then on top of the linga; then another flower on the linga; then others one by one, repeating incantations; then white powder, flowers, vilwu leaves, incense, meat-offerings, and a lamp before the linga; next some rice and a plantain; then he repeats the name of Siva, with some form of praise, and at last he prostrates himself before the image.

The ceremonies in the hands of a secular person, are discharged in a few minutes; if performed by a person who has sufficient leisure he spends an hour in them.

In the evening the officiating brahmin goes again to the temple, after washing his feet, etc., and prostrates himself at the door; then opening the door he places in the temple a lamp, and, as an evening oblation, presents to the image a little milk, some sweet-meats, fruit, etc., that is, such things as a Hindoo eats and drinks at those times when he does not eat his regular meals. The worship of the day closes with prostration to the image, when the brahmin locks the door and comes away.

At this temple on the 14th of the increase of the moon, in the month Phalgoonu, in the night, a festival in honour of Siva is kept. On this occasion the image is bathed four times, and four separate pujas performed during the night. Before the temple Siva’s worshippers dance, sing, and revel all night, amidst the horrid din of their music.

The occasion of this festival is thus related in the puranas:—A bird-catcher was detained in a wilderness in a dark night, and took refuge in a vilwu tree under which was an image of the linga. By shaking the boughs of the trees the leaves and drops of dew fell upon the image, with which Siva was so pleased, that he declared, that whoever should from that time perform the worship of the linga on that night, he should do an act of unbounded merit.


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1)
See the Indian Cyclopædia.
2)
Sellon.
3)
Tod’s Rajasth, vol. I., p. 515.
4)
See Asiatic Researches, Vol. II.
5)
Asiatic Researches, vol. I.