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LETTER XVI.

MY DEAR SIR,

I AM not surprised that you find it difficult to reconcile the enormous absurdity and horrible superstitions I mentioned in my last letter, with those sublime notions of the Deity implied in the account of the creation of the world, by the simple thought of the Self-existent Intelligence. But you must remember that the one is the belief of the philosopher, the other that of the multitude, and that even Lycurgus could do no more when he reformed Sparta, than to change the human victims offered to Diana upon its altars, into those severe flagellations, which often proved real sacrifices, and which were regarded as honourable in proportion to the blood spilt in the sight of the goddess.

I am not fond of the Hindu mythology, but I do not on the whole think worse of it than of that of the West, excepting indeed that its fictions have employed less elegant pens. When Apollo, crowned with light and surrounded by the Muses, wakes the golden lyre, and harmonizes heaven and earth; or Love and the Graces move in magic dance on the delicious shores of Pa

phos, we Westerns feel, as Akenside expresses

it,

"The form of beauty smiling at our heart."

But the graceful Crishna with his attendant nymphs moving in mystic unison with the Seasons, and the youthful Camdeo, tipping his arrows with the budding floweret, are images scarcely inferior in beauty, and have waked the poet's song as sweetly on the banks of Sona or Godavery as the triumphs of the ocean-born goddess on those of "smooth sliding Mincius."

However this be, I will endeavour to give you an intelligible account of the deities of Hin'dostan, premising that there are parts of their mythology over which the veil of mystery is, and ought to be spread.

The creation of the gods is supposed to be coeval with that of the world, and when the Supreme Intelligence called the universe into being, he delegated to the gods the creation of mankind, and the formation and government of all mundane objects. Brahma, the creating energy, with Vishnu the preserver, and Siva, the destroyer, were the greatest of the deities; and there is a mysterious fable concerning a great sacrifice offered up by the immortals in which Brahma was the oblation, and from his different members the different classes of mankind are said to have sprung. But leaving the

mysterious part of the mythology, which might perhaps be traced to an allegorical description of the operations of nature, I will name the principal gods whose images are now worshipped in India, from the mountains of Cashmeer to Cape Comorin; and as Brahma is usually named first, and the priesthood and religion are called after him, I shall begin with him accordingly.

Since the creation, Brahma, according to the vulgar mythology, has little concern with the affairs of men. But identified with Savitri, the sun, he is worshipped by the Brahmins in the Gayatri, which you are already acquainted with, as the most holy of texts, and indeed as itself deified and receiving oblations. One of the most important of Brahma's characters is that of the father of legislators, his ten sons being the promulgators of laws and science upon earth, and from himself the Vedas are supposed to have originally proceeded, although in later times, i. e. about 1400 years before Christ, they were collected and arranged by the philosopher and poet Vyasa. The laws bearing the name of Menu, sometimes called the son of Brahma, and the works of the other Rishis or holy persons, have also been re-written, or perhaps collected from oral tradition, long after the ages in which the sons of Brahma are said to have revealed them; but still they are all ascribed to

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the immediate offspring of the Creating Power. This character of Brahma agrees with what the Grecian poets say of Jupiter the father of Minos; whose wise and celebrated laws were promulgated in the same century in which Vyasa collected the Vedas.

Jupiter also, under the name of Anxur or Axur, was worshipped as the sun, and Brahma is identified with that deity. The common form under which Brahma is represented is that of a man with four heads*, when he is called Chaturmooki, and four hands, and it is remarkable that Jupiter with four heads was worshipped by the Lacedemonians; and the title of father of gods and men is equally applicable to Brahma and to Jupiter.

The wife or sacti of Brahma is Saraswatee; she is the patroness of learning and the arts, and is fréquently invoked with Genesa at the beginning of books. She is sometimes considered as the daughter, sometimes as the sister of Brahma; and, under her name of Brahmanee, is worshipped among the primeval mothers of the earth, of which there are eight, who are the wives of the eight regents of the world t. One

There is a mystical story of his having had five heads, one of which was cut off by Siva.

+ Indra, lord of the East; 2. Agni, of the South-East; S. Yama, of the South; 4. Nyruta, of the South-West; 5. Varuna, of the West; 6. Voyoova, god of wind, of the North-West; 7. Cuvera, of the North; 8. Iswara, of the North-East.

of the names of Seraswatee is Sach or Speech, and in one of the sacred books she is introduced describing herself, nearly in the words of the famous inscription on the statue of Isis-" I am all that has been, or shall be, &c." A goose, the emblem of watchfulness, is consecrated to Seraswatee, and she is often represented in painting and sculpture, borne by that bird, and playing on the vina or Indian lyre, of which the invention is ascribed to her. She is sometimes seen attendant upon Brahma, while he, seated on a lotus, is engaged in holy ceremonies, and holding in one hand the vedas, while with the other three he consecrates the sacrificial utensils.

Siva is the deity who appears to have been most extensively worshipped. In his attributes he sometimes agrees with Brahma, sometimes with Vishnu, and often with the Sun. His own double character of destroyer and reproducer, refers to the operations of nature, who annihilates nothing, but, in the apparent destruction of bodies, only changes the form under which their elements appear. His names are too numerous to be recounted at length, but his principal characters are Rudra, Iswara, and Mahadeo. Rudra he is cruel, and delights in sanguinary sacrifices; under the character of Iswara, he is absolute lord of all; but, by the name of Maha

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