The Caste System (Brahmin and Kshatriya)


The Caste system is the social hierarchy in India. It is not limited to ancient India, it is still prevalent today. According to S. A Nigosian in World Religions, the caste system, “Is its (India) system of social stratification”(Nigosian 136).  Jati and Varna are classifications of the traditional Indian Society. Jati and Varna are two classifications that are very different, but both play a vital role in the life of a Hindu. The system of classification, Varna is a system that existed in the Vedic Society that divided the society into four classes Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (skilled traders, merchants), and Shudras (unskilled workers). (The Chalandalas or “untouchables” is not considered part of the Varna system) Varna literally translates to color, but the system has nothing to do with an individual’s skin color, but has everything to do with classifying individuals based on their characteristics and attributes. The Varna system was originally created to give structure to Indian society based on each individual’s qualities, not based on one’s birth right which is what it has developed into. Social order in Hindu society comes from Post- Vedic times, Jati system, or the sub-castes within each Varna, gives a sense of identity to each member of a specific Varna. A Jati is considered a community that has a particular profession. You used to be able to determine someone’s trade or profession by their surname, but because of the modern education system, and lack of discrimination by the state, the Jati system is currently quickly deteriorating.

The Caste System represents a division of labor based on birth right justified by moral and religious concepts. The Brahmins held the most power in Hindu society , they were priests, otherwise known as the spiritual and intellectual leaders of the society. “They devoted their time  to studying, teaching, performing sacrifices, and officiating religious services” (Nigosian 136). The second Varna in the social hierarchy are the Kshatriyas who are the rulers and warriors of the society. Their job was to “Protect, administer, and promote material welfare within the society” (Nigosian 136). The third in the social hierarchy are the Vaishyas who are the farmers, merchants, and traders who really contribute to the economy of India. The fourth and last of the Varnas are known as the Sudras who are laborers that supply the manual labor needed for the economic well-being of India. Later as the development of the caste system continued a fifth group was formed; although not officially considered a Varna, the Chalandalas or “untouchables” had status so low that they did not belong to a caste at all.

The justification of this “social stratification” is linked to the justification of Karma and Samsara. Karma refers to action, each person’s birth is directly related to the past karma from the previous life of that individual, birth into the Brahmin Varna is a result of good karma. “Those who’s conduct here has been good will quickly contain some good birth – birth as a Brahmin, birth as a kshatriya, or birth as a vaisya. But those who conduct here has been evil will quickly attain some evil birth – birth as a dog, birth as a pig, or birth as a chandala” (Chandogya Upanishad 5.10.7). According to this, Karma determines birth into a class, which in turn defines one’s social and religious status, which in turn describes one’s duties and obligations to that specific status. Samsara refers to the “wheel of life, the circle of constant rebirth” (Molloy 87). Hindus believe in reincarnation and that the Karma from one’s previous life leads to where that individual is placed into in society.

Origin of the Caste System:

The Caste System today is a result of the end of the Mughal era and the British colonial government in India. The Mughal empire was ruled by a Persianate Dynasty of Chagatai Turco-Mongol origin and was prominent throughout large areas of the Indian subcontinent. The end of this era caused there to be an increase of men who deemed themselves powerful and associated themselves with kings and priests. The British colonial government later continues this development in 1860 and 1920 by separating Indians into castes. They only allowed individuals in the upper castes to hold professions and trades of importance. In 1920 that policy changed and the colonial government started a policy that reserved a certain percentage of government jobs for the individuals in the lower castes. When India gained its independence in 1947 from the British Empire new policies were enforced that helped to improve the socioeconomic conditions of its lower caste population. In 1950 many affirmative actions initiatives were taken by the Supreme Court of India. Discrimination against the lower castes is now considered illegal in India under Article 15 of its constitution.


The word Brahmin translates to “Supreme Self” or the first of the gods. Brahmin is the highest Varna in Vedic Hinduism. The population of India that is considered a member of the Brahmin caste according to the article “The Joshua project” is about 60,481,000 people. That’s approximately 4.3 percent of the total Indian population. The Brahmin Varna consists of priests, and individuals of this specific Varna are separated into sub-castes called gotras. Because of the religious and cultural diversity Brahmins are divided into these sub- castes. Only some members are priests, other members have held professions as educators, law makers, scholars, doctors, writers, poets, land owners, and politicians. According to Nancy Auerbach in her book Living Hinduism the Brahmin is associated with Sanatana Dharma which was in early Hinduism and is a code of ethics, or a way of living in order to achieve “mosksha” a sense of liberation and enlightenment. As the developments of the caste system continues, Brahmins became an influential Varna in India and discriminated against the other lower castes.

Most Brahmins are located in the Northern states of India which includes Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, and small concentrations in the southern states which includes Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. This territorial division led to the creation of two groups among the Brahmin: the Panch Gour (northerners) and the Panch Dravida (Southerners). These two groups are separated by the central Indian Vindhya mountain range that almost bisects the country into two parts.

Brahmin came from the term Brahman, which is a magical force. The name Brahmin was given to the first trained priest who held a sacrifice. After the end of the Vedic period in 1000 BC, the term “Brahmin” became universally known as the term for all members of the priestly class. Around 900 BC the Brahmins were divided in to exogamous clans that restricted matrimonial choice and dictated ritual. This system is still intact today where it is frowned upon to marry someone of another caste. The Rig Veda is one of the most sacred Hindu scripture, and it contains the mythological origin of the Brahmin. The god Prajapati (Lord of beings) is identified with Brahma who is the creator in the Hindu trinity and was later sacrificed by his children. This sacrifice is said to have produced the universe and that the Brahmin originated from his mouth.

Traditionally the Brahmin are supposed to become priests, but in actuality they hold a wide variety of occupations. Many members practice agriculture, while others hold white collar jobs. The Brahmin are allowed to follow any profession, but no one except a Brahmin can become a priest. Members of this Varna tend to be strict vegetarians. It is a socio-spiritual obligation to feed Brahmin at ceremonies. Brahmin men have more freedom then Brahmin women. Men try to avoid alcohol and smoking whereas for women it is strictly forbidden. The socially acceptable age for marriage also varies between the sexes. Women can get married starting from as young as 18 whereas men get married at an older age. Marriages tend to be arranged by parents and monogamy is expected. Widows are not allowed to remarry whereas widowers are allowed to.  Although Brahmin women are second to men, they do hold a higher level of education than other women in Indian society.

Overall Brahmins hold a high status in Hindu society, and are considered to be smart and influential. They set the standard of social conduct and morality due to their leadership in society. Hindu priesthood  is dominated by Brahmins, but other castes due in fact  have “sacred specialists” but their status does not compare to that of a Brahmin.


 The term Kshatriya comes from kshatra which means authority and power. This authority and power is not based on successful leadership, but more on sovereignty over certain territories.  Kshatriya is the second Varna within the social hierarchy. The Brahmin and the Kshatriya make up the upper castes, 20 percent of India’s population is within this category. The Kshatriya constitutes the ruling and military elite, the warriors. Their purpose in the society is to fight as warriors during war and govern in time of peace. They had a duty to protect the citizens from harm, to ensure that each individual performed their prescribed duty and advanced spiritually in their specific Varna. In addition to that they are responsible for the protection of the political cosmic order (dharma). Kshatriyas initially achieved their status on merits of their aptitude (guna), conduct (karma), and nature (swabhava). As the caste system later developed, merit became irrelevant status became hereditary.

It is said that when Brahma was procreating, a “negative energy” emerged from him. The negative energy took the form of Rakshasas also known as devils who started to torture Brahma. Brahma asked Lord Vishnu for help, who later killed them. Lord Vishnu then explained to Brahma that  when positive energy is used, negative energy will also emerge. Because of this Lord Vishnu tells Brahma that a special race of humans should be created to protect the entire human race. The Rig Veda contains a different story of origin for the varnas. In this Hindu scripture, Brahmin originated from the mouth of Brahma, while Kshatriya originated from the arms.

The two primary roles of the Kshatriya Varna were to govern the land and to wage war, which led to professions as rulers and soldiers. The male children in Kshatriya were considered symbols of masculinity whereas the female child needed to be gentle and well behaved. Like Brahmin and the rest of the Varnas, men and women were not allowed to marry outside their specific Varna. Kshatriyas also hold a high status of power, second only to the Brahmin. They make sure everyone stays within their Varna.


Ellwood, Robert S., and Barbara A. McGraw. Many Peoples, Many Faiths: Women and Men in   the World Religions. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. Print.

“Kshatriyas.” New World Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change.  Boston: McGraw Hill Higher Education, 2008. Print.

Nigosian, S. A. World Religions: A Historical Approach. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000.      Print.

“People Groups.” : Joshua Project. Global Mapping International, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

V, Jayaram. Chandogya Upanishad. S.l.: Pure Life Vision, 2013. Print.

The first two stages of life

Jacqueline Verdin

Dr. Gowler

Religion 100Q

November 24, 2015

Hinduism: The first two stages of life

            The system of beliefs and ideas that exists in Hinduism, unlike many religions, is a very unique and diverse one. This is in part due to the multiplicity of ideas, beliefs, and practices that have through the years changed or evolved in order to fit the needs of different individuals. Within these, there exists the belief that the life of a person is comprised of four stages, of which only the first two will be further developed in this paper. These stages known as “ashramas” are brahmachari, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. To fully understand these, however, one must know how the belief of these stages was developed, why the stages are important, who follows the belief, and what practices make up the different stages.

To start, it is essential to be familiar with some of the central concepts of Hinduism such as rebirth, karma, samsara, and moksha. Within the religion, it is believed that everyone upon death is reborn or reincarnated into either a “lower” form such as an “animal, insect, and possibly even a plant”, or a “higher” form such as “superhuman beings and demigods” (Molloy 84). The thing then that determines one’s upward or downward mobility when reborn is karma, the “moral law of cause and effect” (Molloy 84). In other words, if a person performs good actions then he or she will be reborn into a higher form. As a result of this concept, people are encouraged to do good deeds, yet sooner or later, the everyday world of change and suffering leading to rebirth gets tiring, and people want to escape it (Molloy 85). This cycle is what is known as samsara. Now, to escape samsara is to attain moksha or “liberation”, which is the ultimate goal. Through the teaching of the Upanishads, more and more people were driven to attain liberation. In response to the growing popularity of moksha, the Brahmin orthodoxy around sixth century BCE “forged a compromise” in which the goals of life such as dharma, artha, kama, and moksha were to be attained in four different stages as we know them today (Rodrigues 89).

Given that these goals are deemed to be worthy of pursuit, following the four stages of life provide a path of assistance to attain liberation. This is so because within them, there are in addition to “renouncing materialism and worldly pleasures”, aspects of marriage, social status, and material wealth, that are considered crucial in the path to attaining moksha (Fowler 25).Yet, in a modern India, fewer people actually go through all four, although it is expected. The primary reasons for this have to do with the concept of the caste system and gender. For example, because it is believed that each person has a role in society depending on their place in the caste system, “shudras” or unskilled workers do not have a role that allows them to go through the stages. In fact, a third of the Indian population is made up of the lower class that cannot afford a formal education. As such, it is usually the men who are born into a twice-born family that have both the support and financial means to participate in all four stages. In terms of gender, women are generally excluded from this religious practice while men are encouraged to engage in it. Additionally, men have the ability to choose whether or not they want to pursue any if not all of the stages. This element of choice then gives the followers of Hinduism an opportunity to choose the stage or stages that work for them and their religious and financial needs.

The first stage of life or the first asrama is called brahmacharin which translates to “progressing with Brahman” (Rodrigues 90). As such, this term “brahmacharin” references the period in which the student devotes himself entirely to gaining spiritual knowledge through studying Vedic teachings and learning discipline, which usually starts at the age of twelve and ends at fifteen or ideally twenty-five. During this time, the child is first exposed to “the properties of dharmic upbringing” through observing the acts of his family members, their moral sensibilities, and their performing of rituals (Rodrigues 89). In other words, the family is the spiritual teacher of the child until the moment of his upanayana, a traditional rite of passage called “samskara” that marks the child’s entrance into this first stage. This passage happens when the student is accepted by a guru who will start his formal Vedic education. At this point, a ceremony takes  place in which  the boy receives a “sacred thread” called “Yajñopaveetam’’ that symbolizes the start of his educational journey. Furthermore, this student stage also known as the sisya stage is how knowledge that can lead to liberation is transferred. Here, the student is required to leave home to live in seclusion with his guru. During this period, the student studies the Vedas and books like the Ramayana and the Mahabharta along with subjects such as science, philosophy, scriptures, and logic. The studying of all of these things in combination ensure that the student is well rounded and prepared to excel in not only his religious life but also in his  social life and in maintaining and raising his future family. In addition to such studies, the sisya must follow celibacy, which is a stage of abstaining from sexual activity and marriage. However, within this abstinence, the student is supposed to not allow for the secretion of semen. The reason for this is that “the spilling of semen is regarded as ritually polluting, while the retention of semen is believed to build up a purifying inner heat and confer great spiritual potency” (Rodrigues 90). Furthermore, because semen is what allows for the creation of a new life, it is looked down upon to engage in sexual activity prior to the second stage, where it is essential for have children. Looking back at the goals, all that he has learned in addition to following celibacy will help him attain dharma, which is righteousness. As such, after completing this formal education, the student may choose to continue his studies or to marry, which is that start of the second stage.

The second asrama called “grihastha”, is the householder stage. Within this period of time, the male will end his celibacy state and move forward to marrying, raising, and supporting the newly created family, which occurs after the formal education has been completed. This, however, is the case for only the wealthier families who could afford this education to begin with. As for the families who could not afford to send their children to study, they often have them start working at a young age. Marriage for them, or entrance into this second stage then happens only when they are considered old enough and have found a partner that suits them. It is important to note that because “Hindus have always felt it important to raise a family…despite immense poverty, a couple will continue to have many children” (Fowler 26). This willingness to have children despite hardships only emphasizes that importance that family has within the Hindu religion. Yet, while there is a disparity here caused by monetary aspects, both castes besides a small percentage participate in arranged marriages, in which it is expected that life be created. Unlike in the previous stage where the men had to refrain from pleasures such as allowing for the secretion of semen, in this stage it is encouraged to do so, because the creation of life is a very goal essential for the continuation of lines of belief. Additionally, this stage is set up to meet one of the life goals called kama, which is sensory pleasure. To further understand kama, it is in short, “the experience of pleasure or the fulfillment of desires, and particularly deals with love and sexual gratification” (Rodrigues 91). The performance of fulfilling such desires is in many ways beneficial to the well-being of the marriage. For example, the wife and husband as a result create a bond and an attraction towards each other that allows for them to enjoy each other’s company. Moving forward within the second stage grihastha, it is expected that all men within this stage work at a “trade or profession” to support the family but also to attain wealth, which is in Hinduism, “a necessary goal in life at some stage” (Fowler 27). Yet, this stage does not solely revolve around intercourse and money. Here, the men are expected to perform “cyclical rituals” to make sure that their children are learning the ways of righteousness that like said before, lead to liberation. In other words, this stage “supports and upholds dharma” (Rodrigues 91). Because this stage fulfills two of the life goals, one of them being pleasure, it is considered to be the best of the four, yet this is of course dependent on the individual himself.

While it is nearly impossible to learn and understand the entire Hindu religion, due to its complexity, age, and growth, it is possible to understand the general idea of some of the major concepts such as the stages of life. Like already stated, these different stages of life serve as a pathway to achieve liberation as well as goals such as dharma and kama. As such, following the four stages is encouraged and an essential part of Hinduism.

Works cited

Fowler, Jeaneane D. Hinduism: Beliefs and Practices. Brighton: Sussex Academic, 1997. Print.

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions: Tradition, Challenge, and Change. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2010. Print.


Rodrigues, Hillary. Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2006. Print.

Life of Gandhi

Alan Liu

Dr. Gowler

Religion 100Q

November 24, 2015

Life of Gandhi

            “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.” (Attenborough, 19) This is one of the most famous quotes wrote by Gandhi, a great activist and non-violence protestor in the modern century. Just exactly as Gandhi’s quote, a man need to be consist and keep doing the right things in order to do well in life. Many people know Gandhi for his later work, however, his life from childhood had also embrace the idea of insisting his own idea and share love to a bigger community, while keeping all the good habits from childhood for later life.

On October 2nd, 1869, Mohandas Gandhi was born in Porbandar, a coastal town in India. At a very young age, Gandhi already noticed the social rank differences between people. He found out that the son of “a jailer employed by the British” in his hometown earned about 20 rupees a month. (Gandhi 9) But Gandhi’s father, served as ruler of Porbandar, earned about 300 rupees a month. Gandhi was very surprised by the heavy work that man did on a daily base in order to keep that job, while earning only 10 percent of his dad. Based on later memories, Gandhi described this event as first time to see the real world, where everyone might not have been that equal after all. (John 25) Born in a rich and powerful family did not make him have any distance with ordinarily people, but actually helped him to have a much better understanding about the differences among people. He started to have more sympathy towards less powerful and fortunate people. Under the control of Great Britain, there were a huge number of religion conflicts and Gandhi has expressed a lot of reactions towards these conflicts. When Ganhi is 11, he heard a “white evangelist pour ‘abuse on Hindus and their gods’” in his school. (Gandhi, 8) Young Gandhi could not believe what he has heard and refused to have any further connection or communication with that white young man. Furthermore, Gandhi chose to not even go near him. Also, Gandhi was really angered when he heard that “a local Hindu converting to Christianity had been forced to eat beef and drink liquor”. (Gandhi, 10) Without too much understanding about Hinduism in his early age, Gandhi still deeply believed in religion freedom and encouraged everyone around him to not judge others’ religion views. Besides religion conflict, child marriage also was a huge event for young Gandhi. At 12 years old, Gandhi was married to Kastur, who he later had four children with. Tasting this tradition himself as a child, Gandhi learned a lot about this marriage, which he has no choice towards or even any understanding about marriage itself at that time. He did not like this kind of things that he has no control of. He had read “from cover to cover” books about conjugal love and child marriages in India. (Gandhi, 7) Although Gandhi did not understand too much about these sensitive topics, he noticed a lot about the distances and hostile created by child marriage from these books. His childhood experience actually made him become much closer towards the social conflict and prepared him as a person, who loved everyone and is willing to stand up for others.

Followed by his childhood in India is Gandhi’s education in Britain, where he learned more about power of insisting and the importance of sticking with his decisions. On the ship to England, lots of Indian and European passenger warned him that he could not survive without eating meat. They could not understand Gandhi’s choice at all and tried to make him change his diet so many times. They even said that Gandhi would die “in the Red Sea or in the Mediterranean Sea, and without question in the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel” if he did not consume any meat. (Ray, 55) But Gandhi stayed with his decisions and still hold his original believe. “Pray excuse me,’ he said, ‘I admit it is necessary to eat meat. But I cannot break my vow. Give me up as foolish or obstinate. A vow is a vow.” (Gandhi, 28) Gandhi deeply believed in vegetarian and he was not willing to give up this believe for anything, no matter how others disagree with him, or asking him to change. This became one of few believes that he insisted for life. Gandhi wanted to be the person he chose to be, not whom others wanted him to be. He did not want to be a powerful people who can easily influence others, but a person with inner firmness and an internal spirit with a specific goal that attract people to come towards him. On the road of being vegetarian Gandhi showed how insist he was towards goals he want to achieve, even at a very young age. Similar spirit and actions could be seen later in his non-violence protest in South Africa and India, where he had a lot of firmness towards what his believes are and did not back off until he reached his goal, the independence of India and equal treatment for all people. Another thing Gandhi learned in years at England is a better understanding about religion. This is the first time for Gandhi to read Bhagavad Gita and he chose Hinduism as the religion to follow for life. At the same time, he also had a much clearer view towards the Hindu-Muslim friendship and made some Muslim friend while he was at London. Despite the conflict happening back home, Gandhi kept a very good relationship with his friends. As he recalled later, this made him believe that he can actually work around the Hindu-Muslim conflicts, which was seen by others as impossible. He started to have a great sympathy towards believers for all religions and claimed that there is no dominate God, but preferred God by different people. This provides him with more understanding for dealing with later cross religion issues.

After finished education in London and went back to India briefly, Gandhi chose to go to South Africa for work. Just after a couple days, he experienced racial discrimination again, but this time it was directly towards himself. After Gandhi brought a first class ticket for the train, the official denied Gandhi’s rights to sit in the first class. That official forced Gandhi to sit in the third class and called police to kick Gandhi off the train when he refused to do so. Although strongly disagreed with that official’s action, he chose to accept the fact and boarded on the third class next day. This event had a huge impact towards Gandhi’s later life because this is the first time for him to see the dark side of racial discrimination personally. Being treated with a different attitude and denied rights for so many times in South Africa, Gandhi used his past experiences and the power of insist to took one more step than he did in the past. He started to fight for race equality and freedom, not willing to give up even after being threat that he would end up in jail. The event that made Gandhi well known in many countries was the protest against the Transvaal Asiatic Registration. This act, approved on March 22, 1907, asked Indians and other Asians to re-register themselves at the local authority in order to prevent illegal. (Hardiman, 35) This was also the first time for Gandhi to develop and use the method of satyagraha, the famous method known later during the pursue of independence for India. Gandhi described the method used in the Transvaal Asiatic Registration protest as “the force generated by nonviolence is infinitely greater than the force of all the arms invented by man’s ingenuity”. (Attenborough, 55) Gandhi asked all Indian and Asian people to hold hands and stand together to protest this unequal treatment. This movement attracted a lot of local and global attention. While Gandhi gained a huge success from the movement, he became the prisoner of the British government. Gandhi went to the jail without any fear and experienced “not the slightest hesitation in entering the prisoner’s box”. (Gandhi, 128) Just like the dedication he had towards vegetarian in his early age, Gandhi would not give up his goals, race equality, and would sacrifice his life in order to achieve his goals. And he knew that these government official will not be able to stop him from doing what he is doing, to make South Africa a better country and to let everyone enjoy equal treatment.

After the success of South Africa, Gandhi moved back to India in 1915. After years of work and huge protests, like non-cooperation and the salt march, India finally gained its freedom on August 15, 1947. Gandhi used his non-violence protest and his teaching of religion to create a fairer and more equal world for India. Unfortunately, he was assassinated on January 30, 1948. Gandhi has done so many great things for his people, for India and South Africa, and for the whole world. Life of Gandhi was long and detailed, but everything started when he was a young passionate kid who love to insist on what he believes and understand the differences between people, treating them with peace and love. The idea of non-violence did not come up in one night, but it was a process of learning and trying. Just like the life of Gandhi, it was a process of collecting, trying, teaching, and honoring. Gandhi might be known as Bapu for what he has done for the independence of India, but instead, he should be known for insist the same idea from a kid to an old man, loving the world with what he has and fight for others with what he has. This is Gandhi, the person we look up to.


Works Cited

Hardiman, David. Gandhi in His Time and Ours: The Global Legacy of His Ideas. New York:

Columbia UP, 2003. Print.

Ray, Sibnarayan. Gandhi India and the World; an International Symposium. Philadelphia:

Temple UP, 1970. Print.

Gandhi, and Richard Attenborough. The Words of Gandhi. New York, NY: Newmarket, 1982.


Gandhi, Rajmohan. Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire. Berkeley: U of California,

  1. Print.

Gandhi, Mahatma, and Anthony J. Parel. Gandhi, Freedom and Self-rule. New Delhi: Vistaar

Publications, 2002. Print.

Gandhi, and John Dear. Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2002.


Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 2013. Print.


Caste System: Vaishyas, Sudras, and Untouchables

Sophia Lee

Dr. Gowler

Religion 100 Q

25 Wednesday 2015

Hindu Project: Caste System (Vaishyas, Sudras, and Untouchables)

The Hindu Caste system is based of lineage and occupation. It is divided into 4 distinct categories: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras. There are also the Untouchables whom are considered the “caste-less”. The Caste system greatly affects the life of many individual who live a society where the system is used, whether you’d be in one of the four castes or be an untouchable. This research essay will cover the origins and the lower half of the Castes including Vaishyas, Sudras, and the Untouchables.

In Hindu texts, Varna is understood as idealistic human callings. Varna can represent many things such as character, quality, nature, color, and class. There was no higher or lower Varna, originally people were assigned to do what they were most qualified for or what ever matched their personal characteristics (but later on people were assigned certain job based on birth) (Philosophy). Varna is not the origin of caste, but it did give the framework of thought to the Indian society. Ironically, Varna emerged from tolerance and trust and it did not promote cruel competition or rivalry, rather it promoted harmony and cooperation. “Though it may now have degenerated into an instrument of oppression and intolerance and tends to perpetuate inequality and develop the spirit of exclusiveness, these unfortunate effects were not the central motives of the varna system” (Jain).

There are people who think that castes largely correspond to race or physical type. Sir Herbert thinks that the nose is the primary feature in determining the different social ranks using the “average nasal index”. He didn’t mean that each caste had a distinctive physical feature, but he is implying that castes can be distinguished in this way to determine who is of higher and lower rank (Rao 4). “The biological theory claims that all existing things inherit three one of three categories or qualities. Varna means different shades of texture or color and represents mental temper. There are three Gunas:” (Deshpande) Sattava (white), Rajas (red), and Tamas (black). These three Gunas are also classified to have their own characteristics. Sattava are wise, intelligent, honest, good, and other positive things. Rajas have qualities such as passion, pride, and valor. Tamas are dull, stupid, not creative, and other negative things (Deshpande).

The religious theory states that according to the Rig Veda (ancient Hindu book) the Purush (primal man) destroyed himself to create a society where the different parts of his body represented the four Varnas. Brahmins came from his head, Kshatriyas came from his hands, Vaishyas came from his thighs, and Sudras came from his feet. Examples of what this represents are “Brahmans, who were derived from the head of Purush, are considered the intelligent and most powerful varna because of their wisdom and education and are a representation of the brain. In the same way, Kshatriyas, considered the warrior caste, were created by arms, which represent strength” (Deshpande). Another theory states that the Varnas came from the body organs of Brahma (creator of the world in Hinduism).

Historically, the caste system is believed to have begun with the arrival of the Aryans in India around 1500 BC. The Aryans contained the first mention and a background of the elements that make up the caste system. The Aryans came from southern Europe and northern Asia with fair skin that distinguished them from the native Indians. The Aryans completely ignored the cultures of the Indian people and conquered regions in the north. The Indians were forced to move down south where the mountains were (Deshpande).

The Vaishyas are third in the Caste System, otherwise known as the common people. According to Yanjur Veda “Vaisya among men…brutes from the belly. As they have been created from the storehouse of food (belly) so they are the food (or inteneded to be enjoyed by others). Therefore, they (Vaisyas) are more numerous than others (among men) because many gods were created” (Rao 54). Some also say that the Vaishyas are from the thighs of the Purush. The Bhagavad-Gita further supports the claim that “Agriculture, breeding cattle, trade, (this) is the natural duty of the Vaisyas” (59). The duty of the Vaishyas is sacrifice, giving gifts, agriculture, breeding, and trade. However, later the Sudras take over agriculture and breeding and the Vaishyas become traders, merchants, landowners, and money-lenders. They became strong economically because of their close relation to commerce. They also helped with the construction of public facilities such as hospitals and temples. The Vaishyas placed importance on artisan and technical education; merchants helped India industrialize and created major corporations that became economic powerhouses. The Vaishyas also focused on religious education, because they wanted to be “twice-born”. They shared dvjia status with the upper two castes, Brahmin and Kshatriya, which is being “twice-born”. They achieve their spiritual rebirth during the Upanayanam ceremony. Vaishyas played an important part of the society, but were still considered a part of the lower caste. They were not classified as high social class because of the two upper classes; this provoked hostile feelings towards the upper classes. They started to support anti-Brahmin sects such as Buddhism and Jainism, which are reformist religious beliefs (Vaishyas).

The Sudras are the lowest rank of the Caste System. They are normally artisans and laborers. A large portion of this caste is a product of the mating of an upper caste and an Untouchable or a Sudra. Ancient texts support the claim that Sudras exist to serve the other three castes. “The duty…That of a Sudra is the serving of twice-born, agriculture and cattle-breeding and trade, profession of artisans and court-bards” (Rao 61). It says in the Bhagavad-Gita that “And the natural duty of the Sudras, too, consists in service” (59) further supporting the claim that the Sudras are given a purpose of service. The Sudras are not as harshly discriminated against as the Untouchables, but they still deal with a lot of discrimination from the upper castes. The Sudras are not permitted the same rights and privileges as the three upper castes. For example, they do not have the same access to temples and they are prohibited from the public facilities that the upper castes commonly use. According to Yanjur Veda “Sudra among men… brutes from his feet. Therefore the Sudra… are dependent on other (castes). As no god was created from the feet, so the Sudra is not competent to perform sacrifice. As the Sudra… were created from the feet, so they live by exerting their feet” (54). They were also unable to be “twice-born”, so they couldn’t share the dvija status with the other three castes. Since, they weren’t able to be “twice-born” they weren’t able to part take in Upanayanam. Due to the inequality of the Caste System, many Sudras converted to egalitarian faiths such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Based on the Hindu law codes, the Untouchables were the product of a Brahmin mother and a Sudra father. However, this theory is not validated by historical facts. The Untouchables came into existence around the end of the Later Vedic Era. “During this era the Aryans, who have been mainly herders, advanced into upper and middle reaches of the Ganga basin and formed an agrarian society…There is a very close relationship between the establishment of Untouchability and the formation of agrarian society” (Kotani 11). This era was also a time when the Brahmins secured their position at the top of society with “their monopoly of the priesthood” (11). The Brahmins legitimized their position by emphasizing their purity. The Ksayriyas living in the upper and middle reaches of the Ganga basin, used the Brahmin’s ideology of purity to their advantage to create the Untouchables. “The existence of untouchables functioned to displace the dissatisfaction of the direct producers, vaisyas and sudras, with the varna-based society, this ensuring stable social order” (Kotani 11). Thus, the Untouchables were placed outside the Varna framework. They became targets of social discrimination and existed to do the impure (but needed) work in the Aryan society. Also, the Untouchables were prohibited to perform religious practices of the “twice-borns” (12). They lived in the outskirts of cities and villages, segregated from the rest of the community. Their material wealth was of the lowest standard, which led to many ill or crippled people. Some of the occupations that the Untouchables had include hunters, arrow makers, woodworkers, executioner, dead animal disposers, scavengers, and earth workers (13).

In the end the Caste System cannot exist without the role of each and every caste including the Untouchables. Mobility within the Caste System is rare and not likely to happen throughout one’s lifetime. Most people stay in the same caste their whole life and marry within their caste. It was rare to see an individual leave his or her caste to take on his or her own path. However, in contemporary society people are becoming more caste aware. Castes can interact more and it is more common to leave the occupations of one’s ancestors. This does not mean the discrimination and inequality doesn’t exist, there is still a long way left for equal rights and equal treatment. Many people are rising to support liberation movements for the Untouchables and the Sudras.




Work Cited

Deshpande, Manali S. History on the Indian Caste System and its Impact on India Today. San

Luis Obispo, 2010. digitalcommon.calpoly. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Jain, Pankaj. “The Caste System of Hindu Society”. Huffington Post. N.p. 20 April 2012. Web.

23 Nov. 2015. <

Kotani, H. Caste System, Untouchability and the Depressed. New Delhi: Ajay Kumar Jain for

Manohar Publishers and Distributors, 1997. Print.


“Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy. Hinduism: The Caste System, Reincarnation, and Karma”.

Philosophy Lander. N.p. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <


Rao, C. Hayavadana. Indian Caste System. New Delhi: J. Jetley, 1931. Print.

“Vaishyas”. Gurjari. N.p. n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <



According to a National Geographic article, Diwali and those who celebrate it are analogous to Christmas and Christians; Living Hinduisms by Nancy Auer Faulk additionally describes Diwali in New Delhi as “Christmas and the Fourth of July wrapped up in a single package.” For those unfamiliar with Diwali, this provides new insight into a significant event in Hindu culture that is recognized all over the world. Even in the U.S., a number of schools, groups and communities associated with Hinduism, and Indian organizations and businesses all become involved in this widely celebrated festival. In fact, even presidents and various politicians have voiced their warm sentiments towards those celebrating. Obama became the first president to light the traditional diyas (clay lamps) in 2009, making note of the festival by saying, “You celebrate life’s blessings – the triumph of knowledge over ignorance and good over evil. But Diwali is also a time for prayer and contemplation, to reflect on our obligations to help our fellow human beings, particularly the less fortunate.” (Hardikar “President Obama: Happy Diwali”) The widespread participation and observance of Diwali inspires deeper questioning into the origins and traditions of this celebrated festival.

The word Diwali originates from the Sanskrit word deepawali, where deep is translated to be light, while avali is translated to mean a row. Therefore, deepawali is translated to be a row of lights. According to the article “Diwali” featured on the National Geographic website, Indians light diyas outside of their homes to symbolize the light within that protects a person from spiritual darkness.

Diwali’s five days of celebration vary from year to year as it is assigned a date according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar and the position of the moon. This year Diwali began on November 9th; the date usually falls around October or November.

It is believed that the Diwali festival was “first celebrated as a harvest festival with the significance of being the last harvest before winter.” (“Diwali – Festival of Lights”) Although there are various legends featuring different characters attributed as being the inspiration for the widely popular Diwali festival, they all share the common theme of the victory of good over evil and therefore light over darkness. There are three legends in particular that are found to be most common among those who celebrate.

The most well known legend accepted as the origin for the Diwali celebration is rooted in the great Hindu epic of Ramayana. In this legend, the king of Dasharatha exiles his son Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, to live in the forest for fourteen years. Rama accepts this, and along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, goes to live in the wilderness. During this period, Sita is kidnapped by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, and she is taken away to his kingdom. Rama fights and kills Ravana, rescues Sita, and returns to Ayodhya following his exile period of fourteen years. Upon his return, the people of Ayodhya are so overjoyed to hear of his return that they light their houses with diyas, light firecrackers, and litter the city with decorations. People who believe this particular legend as the origin for the festival of Diwali celebrate it as the homecoming of Lord Rama.

Another common legend used to explain the celebration of Diwali comes from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, which features the story of five royal brothers: the Pandavas. In this legend, the Pandavas are defeated by the Kauravas while gambling. As a result of this defeat, the Pandavas are obligated to spend thirteen years in exile. Following this period of exile, the brothers return to their birthplace Hastinapura on “Kartik Amarashya,” which is known as the new moon day of the Kartik month (when Diwali is now celebrated). The Pandavas were loved by all of their people and diyas were lit everywhere to celebrate their return. Believers of this legend celebrate Diwali as the homecoming of the Pandava brothers.

Still others celebrate Diwali due to their belief in the story featuring Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity, rising up from the ocean. This legend is based in Hindu scripture that describes Devas, gods, and Asuras, demons, as being mortal at one time. However, they sought immortality and churned the ocean to find Amrita, the nectar of immortality. This is referenced in Hindu scriptures in an episode known as “Samudra mathan.” When the Devas and Asuras went to find Amrita in the ocean, the goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of the king of the ocean, arose and was immediately married to Lord Vishnu. Lakshmi is believed to have risen on the new moon day of the Kartik month, which is the day Diwali takes place. People who believe Diwali is rooted in this story celebrate Lakshmi’s birth and her marriage to Lord Vishnu.

These various interpretations of Diwali are also based on one’s location in India. North India follows the legend of Rama and his defeat of Ravana, while South India celebrates Diwali as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. Western India, however, believes Diwali “marks the day that Lord Krishnu, the Preserver, sent the demon king Bali to rule the netherworld.” (“Diwali – Festival of Lights”)

According to an article entitled “Diwali in History,” Diwali is not solely about decorations, fireworks, and lights celebrating the legends found in Hindu scriptures and epic poems; this article finds a deeper meaning and forms a comparison between the lighting of diyas and knowledge, saying that “lighting the lamp of knowledge within us means to understand and reflect upon the significant purpose of each of the five days of festivities and to bring these thoughts to our day to day lives.” These five days of Diwali, in order, are described or named as Dhanvantari Triodasi, Narak Chaturdasi, the Hindu New Year (the actual day of Diwali), the fourth day is characterized by Govardhana Pooja, and the fifth and final day is called Bhai teeka.

On the first day of Diwali, Dhanvantari Triodasi (also called Dhanwantari Triodasi and Dhan Theras), women clean their houses and shop for certain items such as gold and kitchen utensils, believing these actions will make them successful and bring them luck; Lakshmi is believed to visit the cleanest houses first. For Hindus on this day, the standard practice is to bathe and offer a dija featuring Prasad (literally translated to mean gracious gift), to Yama Raj, who is the God of Death. This offering is believed to be in exchange for Raj’s protection of them from untimely death. One legend associated with this exchange involves the story of King Hima and his new bride. It is said that King Hima’s horoscope foreshadowed his death by snakebite; in an attempt to save him, his wife prevented him from sleeping on that particular night and instead littered the entrance to his room with gold, lamps, and coins. She kept him from falling asleep by telling stories and singing, and when Yama Raj arrived as a serpent, he became distracted by the lamps and gold and listened to the wife’s storytelling instead. This day is therefore a celebration of both the saving of King Hima and his wife’s intelligence.

Narak Chaturdasi is the second day of Diwali; on this day, homes are decorated with diyas and rangolis are created on the floors of homes. Rangolis are patterns designed using rice, colored powders, sand, flower petals, or paint. They are usually placed in living rooms, courtyards, or any entryway of the house and are believed to welcome the goddess Lakshmi. In some homes, windows are also opened to let Lakshmi enter and bring wealth and success to the home. According to legend, this is the day Lord Krishna saved the world by conquering the demon Narakasur; therefore, on this day, believers of this particular legend are to bathe, cleansing the body, and rest in preparation for the further celebration of Diwali.

“Also on the third day, which is called ‘Lakshmi-puja,’ the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in the evening, after an all-day fast.” (Nigosian, World Religions: A Historical Approach) This is considered to be the main day of the festival and the Hindu New Year, involving families converging for Lakshmi puja followed by feasts and fireworks.

Following the Hindu New Year, friends and families exchange gifts and warm wishes for the new year to come, and Godvardhan Pooja is observed. Godvardhan Pooja is also referred to as Annakut Pooja, which means, “worshipping this pile of grains.” (Singh “Godvardhan Pooja 2015: Date, History, Legend, Significance and Celebration”). It is celebrated as a remembrance of Lord Krishna’s defeat over the Lord of Heaven, Indra. In this story, Lord Krishna tells the people of Vrindavan to stop worshipping Indra and instead worship the Godvardhan Mountain, which brings rain to the earth. Hindus have continued to worship Godvardhan to further this tradition. In some parts of India, Govardhan Poooja is celebrated by forming mounds of cow dung, which symbolize Mount Govardhan. These mounds are then decorated with items such as flowers and worshipped. Many also celebrate this day to commemorate King Bali (Mahabali), who was a benevolent Asura king. In some parts of India, this day is additionally known as Vishwarkarma Day, celebrating the birth of Lord Vishwakarma. Lord Vishwakarma is a Hindu God who, according to legend, constructed weapons used thousands of years ago. He remains a symbol of excellent craftsmanship and quality, with one of his creations being the capital of Lord Krishna.

The final day of Diwali is referred to as Bhai Tika and is a day dedicated to sisters. Brothers visit their sisters and husbands to ensure their happiness and well being. This tradition is rooted in the legend that features Yama Raj visiting his sister Yamuna on this particular day in the Vedic period. In this story, Yama gives his sister a Vardhan, or a boon (blessing), that anyone who also visits her on this day will be forgiven of all of his or her sins. This day, then, is a celebration of Yama Raj and his blessing upon his sister. This day is also know as Bhai fota for Bengalis; in their tradition, this day is has a reversed meaning as it is when the sister prays for her brother’s happiness and well being.

Although it is best known for its religious significance within Hinduism, Diwali is also recognized by other entities; “businesses in India recognize the day after Diwali as being the first day of the new financial year.” (“Diwali – Festival of Lights”) It also has significance for religions other than Hinduism, including Sikhism and Jainism. “In Jainism, it marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira in Oct. 15, 527 B.C. In Sikhism it marks the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru was freed from imprisonment.” (“Diwali – Festival of Lights”) One article even describes Diwali outside of India as being more than a Hindu festival and additionally being “a celebration of South Asian identities.” (Das “Diwali: The Biggest and Brightest Hindu Festival”)



Works Cited

Arthurs, Deborah. “Everything You Need to Know about Diwali.” Associated Newspapers Limited, 10 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Das, Subhamoy. “Diwali: The Biggest and Brightest Hindu Festival.” Religion & Spirituality. Advertising & Press Kit, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

“Diwali – Festival of Lights.” Diwali – Festival of Lights. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

“Diwali in History.” Diwali in History,History of Diwali,Myths of Dipawali Festival,Dipawali History. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Falk, Nancy Auer. Living Hinduisms: An Explorer’s Guide. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.

Hardikar, Aditi. “President Obama: “Happy Diwali”” The White House. The White House, 11 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

“History of Diwali.” History of Diwali. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015. <>.

“Know All the Legends behind the 5-day Celebrations of Diwali.” : Did You Know? Living Media India Limited, 7 Nov. 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Nigosian, S. A. World Religions: A Historical Approach. 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000. Print.

Singh, Archana. “Govardhan Pooja 2015: Date, History, Legend, Significance and Celebration.” White Planet Technologies Pvt. Ltd., 16 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.

Sukhadwala, Sejal. “What’s Eaten at Diwali?” N.p., 25 Oct. 2011. Web.

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Diwali Research Paper Link:

Diwali Blog Project

Ramayana (Chase)

Couldn’t get it to work on my account, so Mr. Bishop was kind enough to let me use his!

Chase Jackson

Religion 100Q

Dr. Gowler

24 November 2015


The Ramayana is an epic about the life of a man named Rama who was destined for greatness and had to overcome trials to deserve his glory (Lal 2). Though apart of one story portraying the adventures of Rama, the Ramayama was separated into seven books: Bala-kanda, Ayodhya-kanda, Aranya-kanda, Kishkindhya-kanda, Sundara-kanda, Yuddha-kanda, and Uttara-kanda. Each of these books tells a tale about a segment of Rama’s life from childhood to adulthood in order to allow readers to feel a connection with Rama. This connection felt by readers helped shape the morals of individuals as well as nations because they feel like Rama and his relationship with others are ideal and should be modeled after (Religion Facts 11). The life of Rama, in the book Ramayana, is a book of many tales that helped shape the Indian culture into what it is today.

The style in which Valmiki wrote the Ramayana and the way in which it was looked at made it a major book in the Indian culture regardless of its years. Though the date is not precisely known, ideologues have sought to date the original Ramayana script back at least 6,000 years (Lal 1). However, it was the way in which the Ramayana was written that made it so influential. “Ramayana belongs to a class of literature known in Sanskrit as kavya (poetry)” (Lal 1). Kavya is a classical Sanskirt poetry that used metaphors and similes as literary tools to create a specific emotional effect in readers causing them to feel linked to the story through lessons and relatable tales (Encyclopedia Britannica 1). Because of the connection people had to Valmiki’s story they began to share it with others around India until it spread to all of its regions (Lal 3). This vast spread, however, caused the original text to be translated into different languages causing different words, phrases, and interpretations to be mixed into the story (Lal 3). Though the stories became changed based on geographic location and mistranslation, the main points of the story remained, therefore uniting the Indian culture under a common book guiding them morally.

The characters of the Ramayana played a significant role in how the Hindu people viewed morality and how humans should be. For example, Rama, the main character of the story, was a man who was born with the essence of Vishnu within him (Molloy 96). Now, Vishnu was considered, “the preserver and protector of the universe” so Rama’s actions were considered similar to how Vishnu would act (Wangu 56). Therefore, Rama was portrayed as a character with a strong sense of unity with others, protection for his wife Sita, and epic strength. Sita, Rama’s wife, was considered the incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi as well, who was the wife and active energy of Vishnu (Knapp 211). With their relationship being seen as a divine match, Sita could be seen throughout the epic standing by Rama’s side, supporting him, and staying true to him regardless of the situation she was put into making that into the ideal actions of a Hindu woman (Knapp 211). Ravana on the other hand, portrays much of what a Hindu does not want to be. He is a ten-headed king of the demons who abducts Sita and is eventually defeated at the hands of Rama (Wilkins 322-323). The sheer fact that he is king of the demons and that he is the antagonist to the incarnate of the god Vishnu shows that he is someone not to be admired in the Hindu culture but someone to fight against becoming. There are also characters in the Ramayana story that are portrayed in a positive light for helping Rama. For example, Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, was by Rama’s side through every step of the adventure portraying the importance of loyalty in the Hindu culture. Also, Hanuman, a monkey ally of Rama’s, showed immense strength when trying to save Sita but was unable to get the job done (Marjonlien 9-10). This situation was a way of teaching Hindu readers that one must stick to their own fate and that Hanuman should have allowed Rama to rescue Sita in the first place. Though only seen as characters of an epic to most, the characters in Ramayana play a major role in teaching lessons about morality in the Hindu culture.

The first book of the Ramayana, the Bala Kanda, was written to narrate the birth and young life of Rama while displaying his destiny for glory implicitly (Marjonlien 1-2). Though much happened in his adult life, the details of his birth are just as important. Rama was born as a result of a fire sacrifice from his father Dasharatha and along with the unnaturalness of his birth, an essence of Vishnu was placed inside of him and his brothers as well (Marjonlien 2). From there, at the age of 16 a sage came into Rama’s father’s court and requested that Rama and his brother Lakshmana venture to destroy demons who were disturbing sacrificial rites (Marjonlien 2). With supernatural weapons and the essence of Vishnu protecting him, Rama and his brother defeated the demons with ease showing that Rama was destined for greatness and would achieve great things (Marjonlien 2). A short period after defeating the demons, Rama enters a contest that required him to wield an extremely heavy bow given to a king by the god Shiva with the reward of earning a most beautiful woman, Sita’s, hand in marriage (Marjonlien 3). So, being the epic man that he was, Rama strings and breaks the bow therefore earning the right to wed Sita (Marjonlien 3). As one can tell, the book respected Rama as a demigod-like character that could achieve even the most impossible feats.

The second book titled, Ayodhya Kanda, is a story emphasizing loyalty as Rama follows his father’s orders relentlessly regardless of the corruption behind them. This section of the story takes place after Rama and Sita have been married for 12 years and the king, Dasharatha, expresses his desire to crown Rama as king (Marjonlien 4). However, on the eve of his crowning, a woman named Kaykeyi demands that Rama is exiled and that her son Bharata is crowned king (Marjonlien 4). These demands stemmed from two “boons” that the king had owed her from long ago showing that the king is an honorable man who is able to keep a promise (Marjonlien 4). Rama, being respectful as well, honors his father’s request and leaves the city heading toward the forest with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshmana (Marjonlien 4). During Rama’s stay in the forest, the king dies and Bharata, who will soon be crowned king, refuses to stand by and prosper from his mother’s wicked schemes (Marjonlien 4). Bharata goes to the forest after Rama to ask if he can return but Rama refuses, as he wants to honor his father’s original request and not return until his exile period has ended (Marjonlien 4). In respect for Rama, who he is as a person, and the honorable decision he made, Bharata takes Rama’s sandals and places them on the throne as he rules in Rama’s place (Marjonlien 4). Rama’s willingness to follow his father’s orders truly emphasized that loyalty was a priority in the second book.

In the third book, the Aranya Kanda, Rama encounters his first dose of trouble as his strength is tested through tempting trials. At the start of the book, Rama and his brother Lakshmana resist temptation from a seductive woman as they setup their new lives in the Panchavati Forest (Marjonlien 5). After the woman is denied what she wants from the men, she immediately goes to kill Sita but is foiled as Lakshmana cuts off her nose and ears (Marjonlien 5). Hearing of this incident, the woman’s demon brother organizes an attack against Rama but, being the epic hero that he is, Rama annihilates the demon attack (Marjonlien 5). Him destroying the demon army showed his last bit of epic strength, emphasizing again that he a heroic man capable of destroying even armies. As news travels about Rama’s defeat of the demon, the demon king, Ravana, plans a detailed attack on Rama (Marjonlien 6). He plans on doing so by having a golden deer lure Rama and Lakshmana away from their home and then kidnapping Sita at the expense of Rama (Marjonlien 6). The way this plan was executed showed how mortal Rama truly was as he was convinced by his wife to chase after the deer regardless of the fact that he knew it was a distraction sent by a demon. This was placed in the story to show readers that even the greatest of heroes have weaknesses. Jatayu, a vulture, tried to rescue Sita from Ravana’s clutches and after being wounded in the process, tells Rama and his brother of the horrible news (Marjonlien 7). Rama’s willingness to do anything for Sita showed his love for her but became a weakness, as his strength could no longer help him in the situation he was in.

The fourth book, Kishkindha Kanda, revolves around Rama’s search for Sita and the allies he finds along the way. At the start of the book, Rama is found in the monkey citadel Kishkindha where he meets a future ally and brother to the king, Sugriva (Marjonlien 8). However, before their alliance may be set in stone, Sugriva requires that Rama helps him kill his older brother in order to take over his throne (Marjonlien 8). Though Sugriva does betray his family, Rama is doing what Krishna would approve of and doing what he must in order to survive. Sugriva then ignores his promise to Rama until the monkey Queen convinces him to abide by the promise that he had made (Marjonlien 8). From there, Sugriva sends search parties out to the corners of the earth in search for Sita and the southern party, led by a great monkey Hanuman, hears from a vulture that she was taken to Lanka (Marjonlien 8). Rama’s dedicated search for Sita showed his true love for her and his willingness to make allies for her sake in the fourth book.

The fifth book, Sundara Kanda, depicts the detailed and vivid accounts of Hanuman’s adventures. Hearing news of Sita being held in Lanka, Hanuman takes a leap across the ocean and explores the city, spying on Ravana in the process (Marjonlien 9). He then finds Sita in Ashoka Grove as she is threatened by Ravana to marry her, so Hanuman gives Sita Rama’s signet ring as a sign of good faith and offers to carry her back to Rama (Marjonlien 9). Sita responds and says that she wanted Rama to rescue her himself and avenge the insult of her abduction (Marjonlien 9). In frustration, Hanuman destroys the town of Lanka, gets captured and enemies set his tail set on fire, and then escapes from his bondage in order to relay the news of Sita’s safety back to Rama (Marjonlien 10). Hanuman is a valiant warrior but the Sundara Kanda truly shows how without a leader, the actions of a single man can be of less worth.

The sixth book, the Yuddha Kanda, portrays an epic battle between Rama and Ravana. Upon receiving the news that Sita was safe, Rama heads to the coast with his monkey allies and Vibhishana, Ravana’s renegade brother (Marjonlien 12). Several monkeys stretch their bodies across the ocean to create a floating bridge leading to Lanka and as they reach the shore, a lengthy battle ensues (Marjonlien 12). After defeating Ravana and ending the battle, Rama finds Sita and has her undergo a test of fire in order to detect whether or not she had remained pure during her time spent in Ravana’s citadel (Marjonlien 13). After discovering her purity, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana head back to their home in Ayodhya where Rama had a coronation ceremony and the celebration of Dwali began (Marjonlien 14). Rama and Ravana’s battle was the main aspect of the sixth book but Sita’s loyalty to Rama influenced the Hindu culture significantly as well.

The seventh book, the Uttara Kanda, is regarded as a later addition from Valmiki where Rama’s incarnation comes to a conclusion. Rama, feeling suspicious of Sita’s purity to him, banishes her and his two unborn sons to the forest where she meets Valkimi (Marjonlien 15). Valkimi composes the Ramayana and teaches the boys to sing it so that one-day they could sing it to their father (Marjonlien 16). On this day, Rama feels remorse for sending his sons away and his incarnation ends, sending him to his celestial abode (Marjonlien 16). Valkimi fabricated the ending the Rama’s life well in the seventh and final book of the Ramayana.

One of the most influential epics in the Hindu culture, the Ramayana, had many lessons that molded the morals of the Hindu culture. The way in which the story was written made it relatable and more influential in the Hindu culture as it was easily spread across all of India. Characters in the epic represented different aspects of life such as different gods, demons, or traits all emphasizing morals important to the Hindu religion. All of the books within the Ramayana tell different parts of the same tale, each emphasizing the traits of loyalty, respect and staying true to one’s path in life. Overall, the Ramayana had a significant impact on the Hindu culture through lessons seen through the adventures of Rama.


Works Cited

“Kavya | Sanskrit Literature.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.        Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Knapp, Bettina Liebowitz. Women in Myth. Albany, NY: State U of New York, 1997. Print.

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My Research Paper

Trimūrti: Brahmā

            Throughout India, there has been a large variation of religions that people follow. While there are many cohesive religious systems, what makes Hinduism unique is that it is categorized as many Indian religious ways formed together to make one single religion. (Fisher, 73). In Hinduism, there have been three gods that are vital in the religious aspect life of Hinduism. These three gods, Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva, represent the three forces of creation, preservation, and destruction in Hinduism and when they are linked together, primarily in philosophy and art, they are often called the Trimūrti, which means “triple form.” Brahmā represents the god of creation, Vishnu represents the god of preservation, and Shiva represents the god of destruction and re-creation (Molloy, 95-96).

Brahmā represents creation in the universe and is considered the “personal aspect” of Brahmān, which is divine reality in Hinduism and Brahmā, has also been thought of as the biggest benefactor for the Brahmin caste. Brahmā is sitting on his throne, portrayed as a king with four faces and each facing in different directions. He also has eight arms, each holding symbols of power in Hinduism. A white goose also accompanies him (Molloy, 95-96). In some instances, Brahma has a very clear and known personality. He is troubled by religion, the diffusion of sacred knowledge, and power. It was around this time that Brahma created and conserved the concept of dharma, which is the task of doing one’s social duty, as a vital part in the procedure of creation, and the Vedas as well, which he shared with society. This gave Brahma the self-proclaimed title of “reciter of the Vedas.” In this view, it is stated that each of Brahma’s four heads represents each one of the Vedas (Bailey, 159).

The multitude of the mythology that is found in the Hindi epics and Puranas is about the three heads of the Trimūrti, Vishnu, Shiva, and Brahma, and the groups of gods that are linked to them. The trimūrti of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva first appear in these Indian texts in the Maitrī Upanisad, before they were even identified as the creator, preserver, and destroyer, where they are linked together with three three gunas. The three gunas, which can be used to identify the personality of somebody, are sattva, meaning pure, rajas, meaning emotional, and tamas, meaning dull (Coward, 127). In the Mahābhārata, Brahma and Vishnu are both often portrayed as the creator and preserver and Shiva, while not as often as Brahma and Vishnu, is still obviously noted as the destroyer in several of the myths. In the Puranas, we see the three heads of the Trimurti mentioned together quite often, which makes sense because we see their development as individual gods turn into the creation of one powerful divine ruler. In the Puranas, it also states that three gods of the trimūrti are connected with three Vedas as well (Bailey, 152-153). Vedas are the earliest form of Indian scriptures (Molloy, 79-80). Brahma is relevant to the Rg Veda, which is a composition of hymns, Vishnu is related to the Yajus Veda, which is a composition of ritual prayers, and Shiva is related to the Sama Veda, which are also hymns and ritual instructions.

Brahmā’s mythology is derived largely from that of the god Prajāpati in the Brāhmanas. In the Mahābhārata, it states that they are looked at as two names for the same deity, which is a divine or Supreme Being. The Brāhmanas states that Prajāpati is identified as the creator, while in the epics and Purānas; Brahmā takes over as the name for the main creator. In Sullivan’s article, we can see this when it states, “…in the following typical verse (12.121.55): ‘Brahmā Prajāpati the Grandfather was of old creator of all the worlds with their gods and asuras and rāksasas and humans and snakes; indeed, he is the maker of creatures” (Sullivan, 379).

The Brāhmanas, which is a collection of ancient Indian texts that gives detailed descriptions and rules about different Hindu ceremonies and rituals. For example, it states that Prajāpati can ejaculate into sacrificial fire in the place of an alternate offering. Strangely, Prajāpati can also create milk, clarified butter, and fire through “manipulating his own body by ‘rubbing’…” (Caldwell, 87). What also makes Prajāpati unique is that he has the characteristics of both genders (while still being identified as male). He can separate a female from his androgynous form and have sex with her. However, Prajāpati can also practice asceticism, which he uses in order to generate heat, from which his children are born. From this we can see how Prajāpati creates fire, wind, the sun and moon and the all of the gods and demons (who are his sons). He also creates men and animals and then the rest of the universe (Doniger, 1023).

In the epics and Purānas, when Brahmā is identified as the main creator, his main method to create is by using his mind; he can think of something and it begins to exist. Brahmā is called upon whenever somebody needs something to be created or to give power to a potential villain so that certain conflicts between people can happen. However, Brahma lets his influences impact what he creates. If Brahma is under the influence of a dark element, also known as tamas, he creates demons and when he is under the influence of goodness, known as sattva, he creates the gods. Brahma can also mutilate himself and create “sheep from his breast, cows from his stomach, horses from his feet, and grasses from his hairs” (Doniger, 1023-1024).

Brahmā isn’t as important as the other creator gods in mythology. His status isn’t equal to that of Vishnu or Shiva. However, Brahmā still appears in more myths than almost every other Hindu god, very often including Vishnu and Shiva, especially in the Puranas. One very popular myth is when Shiva appears before both Brahmā and Vishnu in the form of a flaming phallus and tells Brahmā that he will never again be worshipped in India because he was being punished for having wrongly declared that he saw the tip of the infinite pillar (Doniger, 1023). We can also see in the many versions of the “Submarine Mare” myth that Brahma plays a large role as well. In this myth, a giant fire was threatening the universe so “Brahma put the fire in the body of a mare with fiery ambrosia in her mouth and then put the mare in the ocean to be kept until the final flood” (Caldwell, 86). Another incident where the three gods of the Trimurti are classified together in a myth is when Prithu, an ancient Hindu king, was being sanctified as a king. The three gods of the Trimurti were each giving Prithu a gift at the celebration with Brahma giving him “an armour of Vedic incantations,” Vishnu giving him “the sudarśana discus, and Shiva giving him “a sword engraved with ten moons like marks.” Brahma’s gift intentionally was to relate to spiritual force, while Vishnu’s related to physical force and Shiva’s gift to fertility (the moon being a symbol of production) (Bailey, 157-158). Another example of the Trimurti functioning together develops in a description of the lingodbhava myth. In this scenario, Brahma is described approaching Vishnu, who was reclined on his snake couch with many servants to his beckon call and his great power was on display as Vishnu was personifying himself as a female. A quarrel brews between the two of them about who is more superior to the other. Eventually, Shiva appears “…in the form of a fiery lingam, a symbol of Shiva, whereby he proves his superiority over the other two gods because neither of them is able to find a beginning or an end to the lingam, which is also representing fertility (Bailey, 158). Besides these examples of myths, there is another reason for concluding that the three gods of the Trimurti are characterized together as one. Each of their vāhanas, which are beings, usually an animal or mythological creature, which are used as a mode of transportation, relate well to what each of the gods represent and stand for. Brahma is represented by a swan, or hamsa, which is also a symbol of wisdom, Vishnu has a Garuda, king of birds, which is portrayed as very warlike, and Shiva has Nandin the bull, which is the symbol of male fertility (Bailey, 158).

Brahma plays a very significant part of the Hindu Trinity of Trimurti. He has a very substantial role in ancient Hindu mythology because he created not only very important Hindu concepts, like the difference between good and evil, and had vital responsibilities for the Trimurti, but he is given credit for creating the universe and all of the living beings on the planet. Today, while he might not be recognized as the most important deity in India and even not as important as Vishnu or Shiva, he is still highly praised in many ancient Hindu texts, like the Mahābhārata, as the creator of everything.














Works Cited

Bailey, G. M.. “Trifunctional Elements in the Mythology of the Hindu Trimūrti”. Numen 26.2 (1979): 152–163.


Caldwell, Richard. Origin of the Gods A Psychoanalytic Study of Greek Theogonic Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. Print.


Coward, Harold. Scripture in the World Religions. Oxford: Oneworld, 2000. Print.


Doniger, Wendy. “Brahmā.” Encyclopedia of Religion. Ed. Lindsay Jones. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 1023-1024. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.


Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2011. Print.


Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. 6th ed. N.p.: McGraw-Hill, 2013. Print.


Sullivan, Bruce M. “The Religious Authority of the Mahabharata: Vyasa and Brahma in the Hindu Scriptural Tradition.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Vol. 62. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984. 377-401. JSTOR. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.







Vishnu: The Savior, the Preserver, and the Protector

Hinduism is one of the most ancient religions in the world, today practiced by nearly a billion people in the world. Originally called “Sanatana Dharma” by Hindus, Hinduism is characterized by beliefs in “samsara” (reincarnation), “karma” (all actions have consequences), “moksha” (freedom from the cycle of reincarnation), aspects including the “yogas” and “vedas” from literary works such as the Upanishads and the Vedas, and the concept of multiplicity, or the ideology that there are multiple gods that represent one divine being. There are some Hindus that don’t necessarily believe in the concept of multiplicity. Instead they simply pick one god to worship. However, many Hindus believe in the Trinity: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer). Vishnu, in particular, was seen as a prominent figure in Hinduism for many generations because of his unique nature and reincarnations, and thus continues to be worshipped today.

Vishnu symbolizes the preserver, the protector, and the sustainer of the world created by Brahma as well as the law of the Vedas. Compared to other deities, he was believed to have a very collected and benevolent nature with his “central character as guardian, protector and preserver of the world” (Dimmit and van Buitenen 64). Vishnu is portrayed with having blue skin and four arms, and as dressed with extensive jewelry, flower garlands, a wrapped skirt, and a large crown. In the four hands, Vishnu carries a conch shell, a “chakra” (a discus), a lotus flower, and a club-like mace. Vishnu is also believed to live in heaven known as “Vaikuntha and floats somewhere in the sky above the seven heavens” (Dimmit and van Buitenen 61). Vishnu is believed to sleep in a cosmic ocean of milk, the bed he sleeps on being his serpent Anantha-Sesha. This sleeping form of Vishnu is known as Narayana. Narayana’s consort Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and prosperity, massages his feet as he lies down on Anantha-Sesha. Lakshmi’s presence “balances his male intellect and spiritual sophistication with female physicality and passion” (Cummins et al. 79), essential to Vishnu and his performance. She repeatedly incarnated herself as consort to each of his avatars, for “Where he is, so is she” (Pattanaik 75). Vishnu’s vehicle is a loyal eagle named Garuda on which Vishnu travels. These unique characteristics of Vishnu are essential to his duty as the preserver and protector of the created world, helping him with “full control of time and space and subjective realities” according to Pattanaik (35). Not only did these defining aspects of Vishnu allow him to carry out his duties as the preserver, but his consecutive avatars allowed him to do so as well.

Throughout Vishnu’s continuing existence, Vishnu has reincarnated himself in order to carry out his duty of preserving and protecting the world as well as the law of the Vedas. In what is known as the “Dashavatar,” or the ten reincarnations of Vishnu (typically believed to be unique to Vishnu only), Hindus believe he has reincarnated himself already nine times and his tenth reincarnation is yet to come. Vishnu’s first avatar was a fish, known as Matsya Avatar. In this incarnation, Vishnu’s purpose is to save the Vedas as well as rescue a pious and devoted man as well as other creatures from an immense flood in order to ensure “the survival of life on Earth” (Cummins et al. 126), which is surprisingly similar to the story of Noah’s Ark. Through this avatar, it is evident how Vishnu symbolizes himself as a preserver and protector of the created world.

Vishnu’s next avatar was a turtle, known as Kurma. In this incarnation, Vishnu helps the gods, who were cursed by a sage named Durvasa for exhibiting pride because of wealth, fight against the demons. According to Pattanaik, Vishnu took on the form of Kurma to teach the lesson that “Wealth eludes the insecure” (59). Once again, through this avatar Vishnu’s role as a protector and preserver is evident as he protects the gods to help them regain and preserve their divine powers.

Vishnu takes on his third incarnation as a boar, known as Varaha, “at the request of the first ancestor of men” (Cummins et al. 135) when the demon Hiranyaksh sinks the earth goddess Bhu Devi to the bottom of the ocean and there is no land for humans to build their homes. According to Cummins et al., Indian hunters admired boars because of the animals’ strength, speed, and bravery, which is why Vishnu was believed to take on the form of Varaha to quickly track Bhu Devi, protect the earth once again, and to kill Hiranyaksh (135). Hiranyaksh’s brother, Hiranyakashipu, vows to avenge Hiranyaksh’s death by killing all Vishnu devotees and Vishnu himself. Ironically, however, Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada is a pious devotee of Vishnu. Vishnu, as a result, takes on the form of a lion, known as Narasimha and kills Hiranyakashipu to protect Prahlada and other pious devotees as well as preserve the world from wrathful demons such as Hiranyakashipu, once again carrying out his duty as the preserver and protector of the world.

The fifth avatar of Vishnu is known as Vamana or Trivikrama, which is Vishnu’s “first fully human avatar…who assumes the form of a dwarf…and initiated as a Brahmin youth” (Cummins et al. 151). As this avatar, Vishnu reclaims the earth, sky, and heavens in three enormous steps when King Bali exhibits arrogance to the gods. Vamana’s purpose was to teach that “Ignorance breeds insecurity and arrogance” (Pattanaik 91). Vishnu protects and preserves the earth and the Vedas once again by emphasizing the roles of each caste by expressing that “The Brahmin learns the veda; the ksatriya conquers earth; the vaisya wins wealth and prosperity; and the sudra gains happiness” (Dimmit and van Buitenen 82).

Vishnu took on the sixth incarnation as Parashurama, a Brahmin warrior who was characterized as carrying an axe. The purpose of this avatar was to “end the dominance of the Kshatriyas, the warrior caste, who had ‘taken to unrighteous ways’ and have become a burden on the earth” (Cummins et al. 159), once again completing Vishnu’s duty to preserve and protect the earth from unrighteousness.

Vishnu’s next incarnation is one of Hinduism’s most famous and prominent figures: Rama, “the greatest Kshatriya of all time, a model for all Hindu rulers” (Cummins et al. 162). Rama’s life story was described in the famous Hindu epic Ramayana, written by Valmiki between seventh and fourth centuries BCE. The purpose of taking the form of Rama was to get rid of the demon Ravana who pridefully was granted excessive power and who kidnapped Rama’s wife Sita. The moral taught by this avatar was to “Outgrow the beast to discover the divine” (Pattanaik 127), once again symbolizing Vishnu’s duty of preserving righteousness and faith in the supreme power. Even today, Rama is a well-worshipped figure in many temples, often depicted with his brother Lakshman, Sita, and his most loyal devotee Hanuman.

Vishnu’s eighth incarnation is also another one of Hinduism’s most famous and prominent heroes, known as Krishna. There are many Hindus who solely worship Krishna. Krishna is well known for his role in the famous epic Mahabharata as well as the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita where he emphasized the importance of “dharma,” or duty and action, bhakti (devotion), and he shows himself as Vishvarupa (full form of Vishnu) to Arjuna, expressing himself as the supreme and divine power. Vishnu is believed to have taken the form of Krishna, once again like Rama, to preserve righteousness and faith in the supreme power by killing his uncle Kamsa who was filled with excessive pride and power, and through his major role and teachings in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, as Pattanaik indicates that Krishna’s purpose was to teach the lesson, “Know the thought before the action” (157).

After Krishna’s death, the Kali Yuga, the last phase of the cycle of existence, entered. Hindus have held the belief that this is the age when everything would gradually disappeaer and then the world would end in total destruction. While Buddha is not recognized as much among many Hindus as an incarnation of Vishnu, some Hindus believe Vishnu took on the form of Buddha to preserve the Hindu religion from demons and enemies by teaching demons to devalue neither the Vedas nor the teachings of the true Hindu religion. Because of the Kali Yuga Age, Cummins et al. explain that “Buddha’s teachings are … seen as symptomatic of the widespread devolution of morality and wisdom that is inevitable in the Kali Yuga,” suggesting that “As the Buddha, Vishnu hastens the end of the world” (231).

Lastly, many Hindus still believe the final avatar of Vishnu, known as Kalki, is yet to come, when it is time to finally annihilate the world at the end of the Kali Yuga and “lead the world into the Satya Yuga, or Age of Truth” (Cummins et al. 235). Kalki is said to enter the world towards the end of the Kali Yuga, to be trained by Parashurama (the sixth avatar of Vishnu), and to defeat and wipeout all evil. According to Cummins et al., “Kalki’s purpose is to restore righteousness and wipe out all evils of the Kali Yuga…[and] He will usher in Satya Yuga, when ‘pure religious principles are observed and protected’ and having completed his appointed task, Kalki will return to his heavenly abode in Vaikuntha” (235). With this final avatar, Vishnu completes his duty of preserving and protecting the righteousness and faith of the world as well as the law of the Vedas.

While Vishnu was a prominent figure among Hindus due to his collected and gentle nature, his personal attributes and characteristics, and his reincarnations which all helped him in accomplishing his duty as the preserver and protector, the recognition of Vishnu’s prominence didn’t begin until post-Vedic Hinduism. Vishnu was first mentioned in the earliest scripture known as the Rig Veda, written somewhere between 1300 and 1000 BCE, but was only referenced to and seen as a minor deity compared to now minor deities such as Agni (god of fire) and Indra (god of lightning and thunder). He rose to prominence in post-Vedic Hinduism, along with Shiva, over the course of more than 500 years. According to Cummins et al., the initial worshipping of Vishnu took place in the Vedic manner around a sacrificial fire without a temple or an image of him, “The earliest known representations of Vishnu date to the first centuries CE,” and the first Vishnu temples date to around the fourth century CE (19). Vishnu “grew to be regarded as the source, goal, and sole deity of the universe by his devotees. He absorbed other deities into himself along the way” (Dimmitt and van Buitenen 64), which was lead up to Vishnu’s eminence among Hindus. Historically, it is assumed that Vishnu’s eminence rose from the general populace and spread to the aristocracy and the priestly orthodoxy (Cummins et al. 15).

In Hinduism, nearly all of the deities, including Vishnu, are worshipped and have been worshipped for generations in the same way. Typical worships include worshipping images or sculptures of the god’s feet and footprints, which is symbolic of the devotees’ respect and devotion to the god. Portrayals of Vishnu’s feet are known as “Vishnupadas.” The rest of Vishnu’s body is usually depicted surrounding the feet with attributes of Vishnu, including lotus flowers, a conch shell, a mace, and a chakra. Also, many devotees of Vishnu, particularly priests, apply marks in the shape of a U to their forehead. Such marks are known as “tilaks,” which are “believed to help focus mental energy, creating a third eye that offers intuition or insight” (Cummins et al. 257). Lastly, similar to other deities, paintings, sculptures, shrines, and ritual objects representing Vishnu are worshipped, and the ancient Vedic manner of worshipping him around a sacrificial fire continues to this day.

Interestingly, many of the ancient traditions and beliefs of the Hindu gods have been preserved and continue to be practiced among Hindus all over the world to this day. Vishnu continues to play a prominent role among Hindus as the preserver, protector, sustainer, and guardian of the earth, Hindu spiritual values, and the Vedic laws. Hindus will continue to worship and praise Vishnu’s unique attributes and reincarnations as well as preserve ancient Hindu practices as they await the coming of Kalki, Vishnu’s final reincarnation that will allow him to finally complete and accomplish his duties as a prominent figure among the Trinity.


Cummins, Joan, Doris Srinivasan, Leslie C. Orr, Cynthia Packert, and Neeraja Poddar. Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior. Ocean Township, NJ: Grantha, 2011. Print.

Dimmitt, Cornelia, and J. A. B. Van Buitenen. Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Purāṇas. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1978. Print.

Pattanaik, Devdutt. 7 Secrets of Vishnu. Chennai: Westland, 2011. Print.


The god Shiva is one of the most important figures in the Hindu belief. His name literally means “the auspicious one”, but his most common epithet is “the destroyer”.  He takes on many forms in Hindu scripture and is said to have 1008 names. One of the most common names for him is “Mahadeva”, meaning “great god”. Most commonly, he is seen as one third of the trimurti, the three holiest gods. He is one of the most complex and mysterious gods in the Hindu tradition because of his paradoxical nature.

Shiva is generally thought to have originated from Rudra, a god worshipped in the Indus Valley during the Vedic period. Rudra was a hunter and a storm god, and was very fierce in his ways. He was one of the main deities in the Vedic pantheon. Rudra’s father was the Lord of Beings and his mother was Usha, the Goddess of the Dawn. When he was born, he was not given a name, so he began to cry. He begged his father for a name and was granted “Rudra”, from the the word rud, meaning to weep or howl. Because of his tremendous powers as the storm god, “Rudra” is often translated as “the howler.” He was sometimes called “Shiva”, an adjective meaning “kind” as a euphemism. Gradually, the name Rudra became interchangeable with the name Shiva, and the modern Shiva was born.

Shiva has many titles and forms, and can be seen differently by every one of his worshippers. He is a part of the trimurti, a triad of the three most powerful Hindu gods. Brahma is “the creator”, Vishnu is “the preserver”, and Shiva is “the destroyer.” Together, they make up the cycle of the universe. While in Western thought, destruction is generally seen as a bad thing, “destruction in Hindu belief implies reproduction” (Iyengar). To Hindus, destruction is just a holy act necessary for new birth. It is often contested whether there is one member of the trimurti who is the most powerful. Some say it is Brahama, since he created the universe, and there are some legends that claim Vishnu to be the most powerful, but many argue it is Shiva, since he the power to destroy the universe. In one story, Brahman and Vishnu were arguing over which of them is the supreme god. Suddenly, a pillar of fire appeared before them. Brahman flew up to try and reach the top of the pillar, while Vishnu tunneled underground to find the base. When they met again, Brahman lied and told Vishnu that he had reached the top. Out of the pillar appeared Shiva, who reprimanded Brahman and declared himself to be the true god. This pillar symbolizes Shiva’s never-ending power and omnipresence in the universe. Some sects of Hinduism believe that Shiva himself is the Supreme Lord of reality, and he may be likened to Brahman.

One of Shiva’s other major titles is Nataraja, the god of dance. There are many icons of Shiva in his Nataraja form. He is usually depicted dancing alone inside a ring of flames, called a torana. This dance is the tândava. It is the angry dance of destruction that paves the way for creation. In depictions of this dance, he has four arms—one holds a damaru, or drum, that “emanates the creative energy of the universe”, while the another holds the flame of destruction (Cush). With the upper two arms, he offers abhaya, or protection, and he indicates salvation with the lower two. He stands with his left foot suspended while his right foot is standing on the demon of ignorance, Muyalaka. This is his dance of anger with which he has the power to destroy the universe. Shiva is also associated with the Lasya natana, a couples dance of peace and love. He performs this dance with his wife, Parvati. Both the tândava and the lasya natana make up “the cosmic dance of Shiva” (Williams).

One of Shiva’s unique characteristics is the fact that many of his forms and powers are paradoxical. He is known as the Mahayogi, an ascetic who dwells and meditates on Mount Kailasa, in the Himalayas. From there, he looks down upon all of humanity. In this form, he lives a celibate life and bears a beggar’s bowl made from a human skull. He holds the key to the highest spiritual knowledge and miracles. However, he is also the god of sexual energy and can represent fertility. He has a certain erotic quality and some of his forms are very suggestive. This is one of the reasons he is worshipped in the form of a lingam and yoni, which represent the male and female reproductive parts. He represents destruction, but also regeneration, and he has both male and female forms. Shiva is both feared and venerated, and he contains all opposites within him.

Though Shiva can take many forms, he has certain physical characteristics that remain consistent. His most iconic attribute is his third eye in the middle of his forehead. This eye is associated with his ascetic form and is used to look inward instead of outward. With it, he has the power to grant wisdom or to ultimately destroy. He famously incinerated Kāmadeva, the God of love. Kāmadeva had been trying to get Shiva to break his vow of chastity so that he would marry Parvati. He planted arrows of lust into Shiva’s heart while he was praying and when Shiva awoke, he opened his third eye and Kāmadeva was destroyed. Together, the three eyes of Shiva represent the sun, moon, and fire. Another unique mark of Shiva is his blue throat. He drank halāhala, a poison made when the gods and demons started to churn the ocean. To keep this poison from destroying humanity, Shiva drank it and held it in his throat, so that it would not reach his stomach, where three worlds dwell. Shiva is usually depicted wearing an animal skin and holding a trident, which represents the trimurti. He wears his hair in a matted bun, and it is said that the sacred river Ganges flows from his head. He also wears a cobra and sacred beads around his neck. The cobra represents Shiva’s dominance over the world’s most powerful animals. The beads are called rudrāska and represent “the eyes of Rudra” (Cush). The rudrāska is made from seeds and represents celibacy, since Shiva strung them together instead of letting them plant in the soil. In many paintings and icons, his bull Nandi stands behind him. Nandi serves as the gatekeeper and protector of Shiva and Parvati. Shiva is often also associated with evil spirits. He is said to be followed by a retinue of goblins and spirits, called ganas. They are uncivilized beings who are described as deformed. Whenever Shiva needed to exact revenge, he called upon an army of ganas to fight alongside him. He even named his son Ganesha, meaning “king of the ganas”.

Shaivism, the worship of Shiva, is a sect of Hinduism. Although it is a sect, Shaivism is actually a precursor to Hinduism. Shaivites hold the belief that Shiva is the supreme god and does not depend on the trimurti to complete the cycle of the universe. This sect formed over 8,000 years ago, to a time that even predates the Vedic time period. Shaivic cults have also come about in some parts of India. These groups stress certain attributes of Shiva. For example, some groups live in extreme asceticism or practice naga (snake) worship to appease him. Shiva worship is most common in southern India and in Kashmir, a city in the far north region of India.

Though Shiva is a central figure in Hindu art, he is rarely worshipped in this form. In most temples, he is worshipped in the form of a shivling, which consists of a linga and yoni. The sage Bhrighu cursed Shiva so that he could only be worshipped like this, instead of in his true form. This curse came about when Bhrigu tried to visit Shiva but was turned away by Nandi, the gatekeeper, because Shiva and Parvati wished to be left alone. Although the shivling does represent Shiva’s role as the god of fertility, it has more than sexual connotations. The word linga literally means “mark” or “characteristic” and it represents the “formless divine” (Pattanaik). Since the linga is just a simple shape, it may be interpreted to take any form. Since Shiva contains all forms, he cannot take just one. Lingas can also be used in the form of a small oval stone and carried in pockets or worn as necklaces. Sometimes, a mask is placed on the linga to make the form more accessible to worshippers. It can also represent the pillar of fire that Shiva emerged from when he claimed supremacy over the rest of the trimurti. Commonly, during worship, cow’s milk is poured over the shivling to release positive energy. This act symbolizes the bathing of Shiva and will result in good luck for the devotees. While this is the most common form Shiva is worshipped in, this is not the only one. Shiva can also be worshipped in his Nataraja form as the god of dance. Since this is less common, it is mostly found in temples dedicated specifically to Shiva. When worshipped alongside Parvati, he is seen as a family man. Together, they are the divine couple that Hindu men and women aspire to. As the great ascetic, or the Mahayogi, Shiva is called upon for strength during meditation. He is sometimes said to have five faces that represent five mantras. Depending on one’s needs or desires, devotees pray to a different one of Shiva’s faces. Shiva holds a special place in Hindu tradition because he is thought to be humankind’s first teacher. He taught through silent meditation and served as an example of how to achieve moksha. Some even believe that moksha is the real marriage of Shiva and Parvati, because it is when the two energies of universal consciousness and universal bliss will come together.

Shiva’s evolution can be seen in many works of Hindu literature. In the Vedas, he was referred to as Rudra. Many hymns in the Rig Veda are directed towards him, and he is seen as the protector of the Vedas. In the Puranas, Shiva emerges as a supreme god. The Shiva Purana is the supreme book of the Shaivites, and acts as a guide of worship.

Shiva is also at the center of many Hindu celebrations and holy days. Monday is considered to be the holy day of Shiva, and many unmarried women take part in the Solah Somvar Vrat, a fast dedicated to Shiva. Every Monday for sixteen weeks, a woman will fast and pray to Shiva for a good husband. This fast can be done anytime of the year. Shivatri is the main festival of Shiva, and takes place in January or February. On this day, Hindus observe a strict fast. Shiva lingas are bathed in milk, curd, ghee, and honey and offerings of fruit are left to Shiva. Devotees cover their bodies in ash to represent Shiva’s role as the Great Ascetic, and some bathe in the holy Ganges river. There is some discrepancy as to what event the Shivratri celebrates. One legend claims it be the the day that Shiva drank the poison to save mankind, while another claims it be the wedding day of Shiva and Parvati.

Hindus say that Shiva is “anand”, which means that he was neither found born or found dead. His power is endless and his wisdom is all-knowing. This mysticism is what has made Shiva such a revered and heavily worshipped god. His mystery and paradoxical nature only add to the idea of his power and omnipresence. Shiva was and continues to be one of the most central figures in Hinduism, and the devotion that he has inspired will continue to shape the history of Hinduism for centuries to come.


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