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Hinduism Classes of Beings
by
Danielle Feller

Introduction

Besides gods, men, and beasts, Hinduism, including its earlier phase Vedism, contains a whole array of semidivine beings. They appear most importantly in Vedic, epic, purāṇic, and Kāvya literature. There is no obvious hierarchy among the different groups, whose natures range from benevolent to frankly evil (with considerable fluctuation over time). Some classes are more prominent than others, but each has its own mythological history: in purāṇic genealogies their origin is frequently traced back to certain demiurges. In Hinduism these beings, though powerful, are usually not immortal—not any more than most of the gods themselves—and are hence subject to rebirth according to the nature of their deeds. They are supposed to live in different realms, on the earth but also in underground worlds or in heavenly abodes in the vicinity of the gods. However, they frequently flock together to witness important events and are then listed in copulative compounds, such as “heavenly musicians, nymphs, sages, ghouls, demons, serpents, genies.” These lists display considerable variation, but the more prominent among them, which we shall examine here, are the Nāgas and Garuḍas; Apsarases and Gandharvas; Yakṣas; various types of demons, especially Asuras and Rākṣasas; Ṛṣis; and finally Pitṛs, Pretas, and Bhūtas.

General Overviews

The works listed in this section provide vast panoramas of Indian Brahmanical religion and mythology. Given these books’ broad scope, the classes of beings necessarily form only a part of their concerns, yet they provide detailed and indispensable information. Most of them are pioneering studies, yet they are still relevant to modern research, as their reeditions show. Oldenberg 1988 and Keith 1998 deal with Vedic religion. Hillebrandt 1980–1981 and Macdonell 1974 with Vedic mythology, Hopkins 1974 with epic mythology, and Dimmitt and Buitenen 1978 with purāṇic mythology.

  • Dimmitt, Cornelia, and J. A. B. van Buitenen, eds. and trans. Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Purāṇas. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978.

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    This reader presents the English translation of some of the most famous purāṇic legends. Chapter 6, “Seers, Kings, and Supernaturals,” is of special interest to the present topic.

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  • Hillebrandt, Alfred. Vedic Mythology. 2 vols. Translated by Sreeramula Rajeswara Sarma. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980–1981.

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    First published in German (Breslau, 1891–1902), Hillebrand’s work is an interesting though somewhat partial description of Vedic mythology, its first volume being nearly entirely dedicated to soma. Volume 2 contains a lot on the Indra-Vṛtra myth, and some references are made to inferior demons.

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  • Hopkins, Edward Washburn. Epic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.

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    First published in Strassburg in 1915, the Hopkins survey remains one of the principal reference works in the field. Densely written, with a plethora of references (though obviously not to the critical editions of the epics). Hopkins’s classification of beings rather is curious, but his detailed table of contents helps circumvent the problem.

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  • Keith, Arthur Berriedale. The Religion and Philosophy of the Veda and Upanishads. 2 vols. Harvard Oriental Series 31–32. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1998.

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    A detailed description of Vedic religion. The portions dedicated to the various classes of beings are found in part 2, “The Gods and Demons of the Veda.” Originally published in 1925 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).

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  • Macdonell, Arthur Anthony. Vedic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.

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    First published in 1897 (Strassburg: Trübner), this book remains the main reference on Vedic mythology. Its bulk concerns the gods (including here Apsarases and Gandharvas), but a full section (4) is devoted to sages and another (6) to demons of various denominations. The work is invaluable for its exhaustive and precise textual references.

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  • Oldenberg, Hermann. The Religion of the Veda. Translated by Shridhar B. Shrotri. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988.

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    First published in German in 1894 as Die Religion des Veda, Oldenberg’s work contains a full exposition of the Vedic religion, including its cult and rituals. Chapters 1 and 2 are dedicated to the various classes of beings and to individual representatives of these.

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Reference Works

The works listed in this section are indispensable tools for scholars and students alike. Renou and Filliozat 1985 presents a survey of the whole of Indology. Macdonell and Keith 2007 and Veṭṭaṃmāṇi 1975, both indices of proper names and subjects, function in complementary ways: Macdonell and Keith 2007 deals with the Vedic period, whereas Vẹṭṭaṃmāṇi 1975 deals with the purāṇic and epic literature. Bunce 2000 focuses on the iconographical attributes of supernatural beings. Smith 1994 provides a broad theoretical reflection on Indian classification schemes.

  • Bunce, Fredrick W. An Encyclopaedia of Hindu Deities, Demi-Gods, Godlings, Demons, and Heroes: With Special Focus on Iconographic Attributes. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2000.

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    With its focus on iconographical attributes, this detailed list of classes of beings and individuals is of special interest to the student of Indian art. The textual references, on the other hand, are rather broad, referring to texts as a whole, not to precise passages.

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  • Macdonell, Arthur Anthony, and Arthur Berriedale Keith. Vedic Index of Names and Subjects. 2 vols. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2007.

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    First published in 1912 (Indian Texts Series; London: John Murray), this is a comprehensive survey of all proper names found in Vedic literature.

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  • Renou, Louis and Jean Filliozat. L’inde classique: Manuel des études indiennes. 2 vols. Paris: Librairie d’Amérique et d’Orient, 1985.

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    First published by Payot in 1947–1949, this remains the classical French reference work on all topics of Indology. Written in a concise style by two great masters of the field, it discusses various beings under two different rubrics: Vedism (section 656, sections 661–665) and Brahmanism (including early Hinduism, sections 1076–1093).

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  • Smith, Brian K. Classifying the Universe: The Ancient Indian Varṇa System and the Origins of Caste. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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    Though not directly concerned with semidivine classes of beings, Smith’s study provides a theoretical framework and a detailed analysis of the way the ancient Indians classified the gods, society, space, time, flora, and fauna.

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  • Vẹṭṭaṃmāṇi. Purāṇic Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Dictionary; With Special Reference to the Epic and Purāṇic Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975.

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    First published in Malayalam in 1964, Vẹṭṭaṃmāṇi’s encyclopedia develops in detail the stories related to the names it lists. The only drawback of this precious work is that it lacks a bibliography, hence the editions referred to and the references are sometimes hard to track down.

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Editions and Translations

The list of texts in this section should by no means be considered exhaustive. Indeed, classes of beings may appear in any sort of texts, concerning any topic, but with varying degrees of prominence. These works have been chosen for various reasons: the Rig Veda (the oldest extant Sanskrit text, a collection of hymns addressed to various gods) already knows many classes of divine beings and contains the germs of subsequently further developed myths that concern them. The Atharvaveda contains magic incantations and is of interest to our topic because some of these are supposed to ward off demons and evil spirits of various denominations. The Mahābhārata knows an impressive number of classes of semidivine beings who mostly figure in “peripheral” stories, which are excessively numerous in that text, but also frequently intervene in the main narrative and at times play a decisive role in it. The Rāmāyaṇa is famous for giving their lettres de noblesse to the Rākṣasas: from slinking demons of darkness, inflicting disease and pestilence, they have become the descendants of a Brahman seer. Both epics contribute greatly to the mythology of the Ṛṣis, the mythical sages, whose sagas they develop. The Kathāsaritsāgara is a picture of saṃsāra itself, with its whirlpool of characters migrating from existence to existence, thereby experiencing birth in diverse categories of beings. Other individual works—especially purāṇas and works of kāvya, or poetry—also concern certain classes of creatures, or individual representatives of these, and will be listed below in the relevant category.

Rig Veda

The Sanskrit text of the Rig Veda is found in the 1972 Pune edition (Müller 1972–1984), and van Nooten and Holland 1994 provides a transliterated version that will be useful for students. To date Geldner 1951–1957, a German translation, is the best translation of the entire text into a European language, and a new effort (also into German) has been undertaken by a group of eminent specialists of Vedic studies in Witzel and Gotō 2007. Doniger O’Flaherty 1983, an English translation of selected hymns, will provide the student with interesting samples of this text.

  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy, trans. The Rig Veda: An Anthology. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1983.

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    Doniger O’Flaherty’s book contains the English translation of selected hymns of the Rig Veda. This anthology, with its introduction, appendices, and index, will be of particular use to the student of Vedic literature and religion.

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  • Geldner, Karl Friedrich, ed. and trans. Der Rig-Veda: Aus dem Sanskrit ins Deutsche übersetzt und mit einem laufenden Kommentar versehen. Harvard Oriental Series 33–36. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951–1957.

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    With its extensive index, Geldner’s work remains the most accurate and widely accepted translation (into German) of the entire Rig Veda.

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  • Müller, F. Max, ed. Ṛgveda-Saṃhitā with the Commentary of Sāyaṇācārya. 5 vols. Pune, India: Vaidika Saṃśodhana Maṇḍala, 1972.

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    Edition of the Sanskrit text of the Rig Veda, including Sāyaṇa’s commentary, by a team of scholars from Pune.

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  • van Nooten, Barend A., and Gary B. Holland, eds. Rig Veda: A Metrically Restored Text with an Introduction and Notes. Harvard Oriental Series 50. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994.

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    Contains the transliterated text of the Rig Veda in its metrically restored form.

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  • Witzel, Michael, and Toshifumi Gotō, eds. Rig-Veda: Das heilige Wissen; Erster und zweiter Liederkreis. Frankfurt: Verlag der Weltreligionen, 2007.

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    A newer German translation of the Rig Veda. So far only the first and second books of the text have been translated by a team of scholars, with an extensive commentary, notes, and an index.

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Atharvaveda

The Atharvaveda contains few hymns used in the solemn ritual but many magical incantations for private use. Gaud 1990 provides the Sanskrit edition of the text and Griffith 1895–1896 the full English translation. Bloomfield 2010, a selection of hymns, will prove of use for students.

  • Gaud, Ramswaroop Sharma, ed. and trans. Atharva-Veda-Saṃhitā along with Sāyaṇabhāṣya with Hindi Translation. 8 vols. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Vidyabhawan, 1990.

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    Edition of the Sanskrit text of the Atharvaveda with Sāyaṇa’s commentary and a Hindi translation.

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  • Bloomfield, Maurice, trans. Hymns of the Atharva-Veda. Charleston, SC: Nabu, 2010.

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    First edited by F. Max Müller in Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1897) and reprinted in 1992 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass), Bloomfield’s work contains the translation of selected and representative hymns from the Atharvaveda that will be useful to students.

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  • Griffith, R. T. H., trans. The Hymns of the Atharvaveda. Vols. 1–2. Benares, India: Lazarus, 1895–1896.

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    The standard English translation of the entire text of the Atharvaveda with introduction, notes, and a concordance of the various recensions.

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Mahābhārata

The Mahābhārata, the great Sanskrit epic, recounts the deadly feud opposing two groups of cousins who are respectively incarnations of gods and of demons. This text contains many stories pertaining to various classes of beings: the beginning of Book 1 is especially relevant for Nāgas and Garuḍa. Stories concerning Rākṣasas abound in Books 1 and 3, whereas Ṛṣis will be found throughout. The text was critically edited between 1933 and 1966 by a team of Sanskrit scholars led by V. S. Sukthankar (Sukthankar 1933–1959). Buitenen 1973–1978 translates the first five books of the text as constituted by the critical edition. The continuation and completion of that translation has long been a desideratum, but other volumes are slow to follow. To date Fitzgerald 2004 has translated the Strī- and Śānti-parvans. Clay Sanskrit Library 2005–2009 is also a published translation of a certain amount of books by various scholars. To date the only complete English translation of the Mahābhārata (not based on the critical edition) is the so-called Ganguli-Roy translation (Ganguli 1972–1975), first published in 1883–1896 and reedited in 1972–1975. Biardeau 2002 (in French) is not really a translation but rather a summary combined with a commentary of the great epic.

  • Biardeau, Madeleine. Le Mahābhārata. 2 vols. Paris: Seuil, 2002.

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    The French specialist’s summum opus on the Sanskrit epic. In her blow-by-blow summary-cum-commentary on the great epic, she provides an insightful analysis of the various protagonists and of their roles in the story. Her masterful introduction helps situate the epic within the Brahmanical tradition and in opposition to Buddhism.

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  • Buitenen, J. A. B. van, ed. and trans. The Mahābhārata. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973–1978.

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    An excellent translation. The notes, introduction, and glossary help the novice find his or her way in the epic jungle while providing useful insights to the scholar. Volume 1: “The Book of the Beginning”; Volume 2: “The Book of the Assembly Hall,” “The Book of the Forest”; Volume 3: “The Book of Virāṭa,” “The Book of the Effort.”

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  • Clay Sanskrit Library. Mahābhārata. New York: New York University Press, 2005–2009.

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    Many authors contribute to this ongoing bilingual edition containing the transliterated Sanskrit text facing its English translation. So far the Mahābhārata has been translated up to Book 13.

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  • Fitzgerald, James L., ed. and trans. The Mahābhārata. Vol. 7, 11: The Book of the Women; 12: The Book of Peace, Part One. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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    This densely annotated volume is the first to be published in the continuation of J. A. B. van Buitenen’s translation of the Mahābhārata (Buitenen 1973–1978).

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  • Ganguli, Kisari Mohan, trans. The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa. 12 vols. 3d improved ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1972–1975.

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    The only complete English translation of the Sanskrit epic. Rendered in somewhat dated and pedantic English prose, it yet provides a faithful translation of the text, mainly based on the Bengal and Bombay editions. Originally published in Calcutta (1883–1896) by P. C. Roy.

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  • Sukthankar, V. S., et al., ed. The Mahābhārata: For the First Time Critically Edited. 19 vols. Pune, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1933–1959.

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    The critical edition of the Sanskrit text most commonly cited by the scholarly community, despite certain controversies. It usefully lists the variant readings in the notes and provides appendixes containing the longer discarded passages, thus providing the reader with a fuller reading than other noncritical editions.

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Rāmāyaṇa

The second Sanskrit epic, the Rāmāyaṇa, tells of Rāma’s adventures and his great war against the archdemon Rāvaṇa. It is thus of special relevance to the topic of Rākṣasas: Rāma’s fights against individual representatives of the species are narrated in Books 1 and especially 3; Lankā, their beautiful capital, is described in Book 5; Book 6 narrates Rāma’s great war against them; finally, Book 7 tells their genealogy, making them the descendants of a Brahmanical seer. Many stories concerning Ṛṣis are found in Books 1 and 3 as well as 7. The Rāmāyaṇa was critically edited by a team of scholars led by Govindlal Hargovind Bhatt, in Baroda, between 1960 and 1975 (Bhatt 1960–1975). Goldman 1984–2009 translated the text as constituted by the critical edition up to Book 6 (only Book 7 remains to be done). Shastri 1969 provides a full English translation of a noncritical edition of the Rāmāyaṇa, and Biardeau and Porcher 1999 gives an excellent French translation of the whole epic based on southern manuscripts.

  • Bhatt, Govindlal Hargovind, ed. The Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa. 7 vols. Baroda, India: Oriental Institute, 1960–1975.

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    The critical edition of the Rāmāyaṇa most commonly referred to by scholars. Highly useful, since it contains all the variant readings of previous editions and appendixes providing the discarded passages.

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  • Biardeau, Madeleine, and Marie-Claude Porcher, eds. Le Rāmāyaṇa de Vālmīki. Paris: Gallimard, 1999.

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    Elegant and accurate French translation of a noncritical edition of Vālmīki’s work based on southern manuscripts. Each chapter is provided with an introductory “notice” and explanatory notes. The translation is followed by a useful index (répertoire), a bibliography, and a summary of the chapters.

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  • Goldman, Robert P., ed. The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki: An Epic of Ancient India. Vols. 1–6. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984–2009.

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    Goldman’s is much more than a translation. With their vast introductions, their scholarly annotations, detailed indexes and up-to-date bibliographies, these volumes represent the sum total of knowledge on the Rāmāyaṇa.

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  • Shastri, Hari Prasad, trans. The Rāmāyaṇa of Vālmīki. 2d ed. London: Shanti Sadan, 1969.

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    Contains the translation of the entire Rāmāyaṇa. Not based on the critical edition.

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Kathāsaritsāgara

This vast “ocean of rivers of stories” literally teems with characters of all descriptions. Most of them are human, but various groups of semidivine beings interact with them (nymphs, serpents, demons, genies, and so forth). The ocean depicts a fantasmagorical world where the mundane mingles with the supernatural and where the adventures of innumerable characters are sometimes followed over successive lives under various rebirths. Durgâprasâd and Parab 1915 provides the Sanskrit text of the Kathāsaritsāgara, whereas Tawney 1924–1928 and Balbir and Besnard 1997 contain, respectively, the English and French translations of the whole work.

  • Balbir, Nalini, and Mandrède Besnard, trans. Océan des rivières de contes. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.

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    Excellent French translation of Somadeva’s work. Each chapter is provided with an introductory “notice” and explanatory notes. The translation is followed by a very useful index (répertoire), a bibliography, and a summary of the chapters that will keep the reader from drowning in the turmoil of waves.

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  • Durgâprasâd, Pandit, and Kâsinâth Pândurang Parab, eds. The Kathāsaritsāgara of Somadevabhatta. 3rd ed. Revised by Wâsudev Laxman Shâstri Pansikar. Bombay: Nirnaya-Sagar, 1915.

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    Edition of the Sanskrit text preceded by a table of contents in Sanskrit.

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  • Tawney, C. H., trans. The Ocean of Story. 10 vols. London: C. J. Sawyer, 1924–1928.

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    English translation with a detailed table of contents and an index. Reedited in 1968 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass).

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Nāgas

The Nāgas are serpents of the cobra type but endowed with supernatural powers. Most notably, they can change their form at will. Their mother is Kadrū or Surasā, another name for the earth, and their father the sage Kaśyapa. They are sometimes called sarpa, pannaga, bhujaga, bhujaṃgama, all terms synonymous with Nāga. They are supposed to live in Bhogavatī, a subterranean city. The story of their origin and of their lineage is narrated in Book 1 of the Mahābhārata, which contains a long list of Nāga names as well as the adventures of individual Nāgas. Schmidt 1963 argues that they may already have appeared in Vedic literature, but mostly their origin is traced to the Mahābhārata. Vogel 2005 surveys all the legends pertaining to Nāgas and remarks that Book 1 of the Mahābhārata “is singularly rich in myths and sagas relating to the Nāgas” (p. 47). As soon as they were born, due to their great number and their virulent poison, the Nāgas were feared by the gods themselves, who schemed to reduce their numbers. Thus they were cursed by their own mother and nearly exterminated in Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. This Mahābhārata episode is examined in Winternitz 1991, Minkowski 1989, and Minkowski 1991. Subsequently, they were saved by the descendant of snake-woman and a sage, both named Jaratkāru, a tale studied in Schneider 1959. But the Nāgas are not only feared: as chthonic deities, also related to water, hence fertility, they can prove benevolent and are the object of a cult. Nāga worship in general, and of the snake-goddess Manasā in particular, is studied in Krishnan 1967 and Donaldson 1982.

  • Donaldson, Thomas. “Nāga Images and the Cult of Manasā in Orissan Art.” In Rūpa Pratirūpa: Alice Boner Commemoration Volume. Edited by Bettina Bäumer, 99–108. New Delhi: Biblia Impex, 1982.

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    Illustrated with twenty plates, this article studies the iconography of Nāga images found in Orissa from the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE testifying that their worship was widespread in that region. It highlights the importance of the snake-goddess Manasā, sometimes identified with Jaratkāru and represented with her son on her lap.

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  • Krishnan, Y. “The Nāga Cult in Indian Art and Literature.” Oriental Art, n.s. 13.3 (1967): 180–192.

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    A comprehensive survey of the Nāga cult all over India as attested by textual and plastic sources.

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  • Minkowski, Christopher Z. “Janamejaya’s Sattra and Ritual Structure.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109 (1989): 401–420.

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    In his analysis of Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice (sarpa-sattra), which figures in the frame story of the Mahābhārata, Minkowski comes to the conclusion that this particular sattra (sacrificial session) draws its origin from Vedic sacrifices as described in śrauta-sūtras and that the Mahābhārata’s embedding framing model is borrowed from the Vedic ritual.

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  • Minkowski, Christopher Z. “Snakes, Sattras, and the Mahābhārata.” In Essays on the Mahābhārata. Edited by Arvind Sharma, 384–400. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1991.

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    The author shows that the Mahābhārata snake sacrifice is also drawing on a tradition of sorcery (abhicara) and notes the many resemblances between the snakes and Kurus.

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  • Schmidt, Hanns-Peter. “Die Kobra im Ṛgveda.” Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der Indogermanischen Sprachen 78 (1963): 296–304.

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    Basing himself on certain elements of the serpent Vṛtra’s description, Schmidt comes to the conclusion that Indra’s arch enemy is actually a cobra, thus the precursor of the Nāgas.

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  • Schneider, Ulrich. “Die Geschichte von den beiden Jaratkāru.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd- und Ostasiens 3 (1959): 1–11.

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    Schneider analyzes the story of the two Jaratkārus (snake-lady and sage) and reaches the conclusion that the desire to have a similarly named wife on the part of the sage is a sign of women’s inferior status and a desire to erase their “otherness.”

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  • Vogel, Jean Phillipe. The Indian Serpent-Lore. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2005.

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    Containing a great number of plates and an index, Vogel’s survey is the most complete compendium on serpent lore, culled from the epics, Buddhist literature, fairy tales, and modern stories and cult. First published in 1926 (London: Probsthain).

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  • Winternitz, Moriz. “Das Schlangenopfer des Mahābhārata.” In Kleine Schriften, Vol. 1. Edited by Horst Brinkhaus, 373–385. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1991.

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    Winternitz makes a thorough analysis of the episode of the sarpa-sattra (snake sacrifice) that appears in the frame story of the Mahābhārata and of its origin from the Vedic ritual. First edition published in Kulturgeschichtliches aus der Tierwelt: Festschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde und Linguistik (Prague, 1904), pp. 68–80.

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Garuḍa

Originally designating an individual, the name Garuḍa is sometimes used in the plural to designate a class of supernatural, eagle-like birds whose feminine is garuḍī. Garuḍa, the “devourer,” is the son of the sage Kaśyapa and of Vinatā (probably an incarnation of the sky). The great bird—also called Suparṇa (“having a beautiful feather”)—first appears under these denominations in the Mahābhārata. However, his history in the form of an eagle is more ancient, as shown in Bloomfield 1896. The eagle had a ritual meaning: the great fire altar for the soma sacrifice used to be built in the form of that bird, whose function was to carry the sacrificer up to heaven (see Staal, et al. 1983). Garuḍa’s great exploit is the theft of the soma, narrated in Book 1 of the Mahābhārata, during which he strikes a friendship with the god Vishnu and accepts to serve as his vehicle. Gonda 1954 analyzes the relationship between the two divine figures. Subsequently, due to his allegiance to Vishnu, Garuḍa becomes an object of worship by himself, and his famous enmity with the snakes, which he devours, makes him the master of the antidote against snake poison. These aspects of his nature are seen in the purāṇa that bears his name, the Garuḍa Purāṇa (Bhattacharya 1964 and Shastri 1978). In Gupta times, as shown in Raven 1994, certain kings made Garuḍa their symbol, and in the early 21st century the great bird continues to enjoy popularity, as evidenced by the comic book version Garuda (Pai 1993) dedicated to his exploits.

  • Bhattacharya, Ramshankar, ed. Garudapuranam of Maharsi Vedavyâsa. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1964.

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    The Sanskrit text of the Garuḍa Purāṇa, with introduction, indexes, and textual criticism by Ramshankar Bhattacharya. Besides numerous other matter, this purana contains, on the one hand, treatises on medicine and mantras against snake poison (Book 1), and on the other hand, it contains long disquisitions on the afterlife and on death ceremonies (Book 2).

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  • Bloomfield, Maurice. “Contributions to the Interpretation of the Veda: I, The Legend of Soma and the Eagle.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 16 (1896): 1–24.

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    A sure value in matters of mythology, Bloomfield investigates the early Vedic history of the eagle’s symbolism, insisting on his identification with the gāyatrī meter.

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  • Gonda, Jan. Aspects of Early Viṣṇuism. Utrecht, The Netherlands: N. V. A. Oosthoek’s Uitgevers Mij, 1954.

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    This book dedicated to Vishnu analyzes the god in Section 1.13, “Emblems and Attributes,” among which is Garuḍa, and chapter 1.21, “Animals,” examines his connection with snakes, especially with Ananta or Śeṣa.

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  • Pai, Anant, ed. Garuda: Amar Chitra Katha. Vol. 547. Bombay: India Book House, 1993.

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    This title, dedicated to the birth and deeds of Garuḍa, is part of a very popular comic book series, Amar Chitra Katha. See descriptions online.

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  • Raven, Ellen M. Gupta Gold Coins with a Garuḍa-Banner. 2 vols. Gonda Indological Studies 1. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1994.

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    An interesting iconographical study of certain representations of Garuḍa showing how art sometimes influences literature.

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  • Shastri, J. L., ed. The Garuḍa Purāṇa. 3 vols. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology 12–14. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

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    Contains the English translation of the Garuḍa Purāṇa.

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  • Staal, Frits, C. V. Somayajipad, M. Itti Ravi Nambudiri, and Adelaide deMenil. Agni: The Vedic Ritual of the Fire Altar. 2 vols. Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities, 1983.

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    An impressive (1,500-page) two-volume account of a soma sacrifice organized by a group of scholars in Kerala in 1975. Contains a wealth of information on Vedic sacrifice in its introductory articles, plates, and indexes. It shows the construction of the eagle-shaped altar during that sacrifice. A film version also exists.

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The Theft of the Soma

The Nāgas and Garuḍa are natural enemies even though they are half brothers on their father’s side. They are thus linked by their birth and also by one tale in which they appear as the main protagonists: the theft of the soma-amṛta, or nectar of immortality. Book 1 of the Mahābhārata and the Suparṇākhyāna (Charpentier 1920–1922) relate the story of the feud that opposes them, as a result of which Garuḍa robs Indra of the nectar of immortality and brings it from heaven, becomes the god Vishnu’s vehicle, and finally obtains the Nāgas as his allotted food. Kuhn 1859 and Knipe 1966–1967 analyze this myth in a mainly comparative perspective; Mehta 1971 and Feller 2004 study its history from its Vedic antecedents onward. Dange 1969 reflects on the Mahābhārata’s version of the story, and Simson 1989–1990 applies a tightly knit astronomical interpretative paradigm on this narrative. The Nāgānanda (Skilton 2009), a Sanskrit play, invents in a Buddhist spirit a tale pertaining to the feud between Garuḍa and the Nāgas.

  • Charpentier, Jarl, ed. and trans. Suparṇākhyāna. In Die Suparṇasage: Untersuchungen zur altindischen Literatur und Sagengeschichte. Uppsala, Sweden: A.-B. Akademiska Bokhandeln, 1920–1922.

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    Charpentier edits and translates the Suparṇākhyāna, a text that presents its own version of the soma theft, written in pseudo-Vedic style, with some noteworthy divergences from the account found in Book 1 of the Mahābhārata.

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  • Dange, Sadashiv Ambadas. Legends in the Mahābhārata. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1969.

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    The myth of the soma theft is elaborately dealt with in chapter 1, but the reader will find other references to Nāgas scattered in the other chapters. The appendixes concerning Garuḍa and the Nāgas also contain valuable information.

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  • Feller, Danielle. The Sanskrit Epics’ Representation of Vedic Myths. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2004.

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    Also available online. In chapter 4 Feller traces the myth of the theft of the soma back to its Vedic antecedents (the eagle stealing the soma for Indra in the Rig Veda). She comments on the symbolical associations of the protagonists of the tale and reads it as a struggle for power.

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  • Knipe, David M. “The Heroic Theft: Myths from Ṛgveda IV and the Ancient Near East.” History of Religions 6 (1966–1967): 328–360.

    DOI: 10.1086/462550Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Knipe analyzes the story of the soma theft, highlighting penetratingly the symbolism pertaining to snakes, eagles, soma, and mountains and bringing about comparisons with other similar tales from various civilizations (Indo-European or not).

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  • Kuhn, Adalbert. Die Herabkunft des Feuers und des Göttertranks. Berlin: Dümmler, 1859.

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    Though old, Kuhn’s “descent of the fire and of the nectar of immortality” is broad in scope and will be of interest to the comparatist. As far as the Indian material is concerned, Kuhn mainly deals with the Veda but also touches on the epic developments of the soma theft.

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  • Mehta, Mahesh. “The Evolution of the Suparna Saga in the Mahābhārata.” Journal of the Oriental Institute of Baroda 21.1–2 (1971): 41–65.

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    Mehta’s essay examines the evolution of the “Suparṇa-story” through the ages, starting from the Rig Veda and following it up through all the subsequent literature: Brāhmaṇas, Suparnakhyana, Rāmāyaṇa, Kathāsaritsāgara, and Mahābhārata (noting variants between the recensions of certain texts).

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  • Simson, Georg von. “Remarks on the Suparṇa/Garuḍa Myth (Later Vedic Period).” Indologica Taurinensia 15–16 (1989–1990): 353–360.

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    Von Simson, following an “astronomical” type of interpretation, views the episodes of Indra first receiving and then being robbed of the soma as cyclical events in which Indra, as the alternately waxing and waning moon, alternately attains a position of superiority or inferiority.

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  • Skilton, Andrew, trans. How the Nāgas Were Pleased by Harṣa and The Shattered Thighs by Bhāsa. Clay Sanskrit Library. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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    Composed by Harṣa (7th century CE), the play titled How the Nāgas Were Pleased presents an interesting continuation of the same mythical motif. Out of compassion, a vidyādhara (bearer of knowledge) takes the place of Garuḍa’s next allotted Nāga victim, finally bringing about Garuḍa’s repentance from his evil ways.

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Apsarases and Gandharvas

We shall deal with these two classes of beings under one heading since they are often linked. Oberlies 2009 presents an appraisal of these two classes of beings. Apsarases are nymphs of exquisite beauty, whose origin is the water. As a class, the Gandharvas seem to derive from one single Gandharva known in the Rig Veda, Viśvāvasu. The Gandharvas are depicted as handsome youths specializing in music and dance. Both Apsarases and Gandharvas had a rather sinister reputation in Vedic times, being sometimes classified with demons. “Yet on the whole the extraordinary beauty and attractiveness of the apsarases and the musicality of the gandharvas pushed, over the course of time, their sinister nature into the background” (Oberlies 2009, p. 565). Dumézil 1929 presents the historically significant but now disputed thesis according to which the term “Gandharva” is etymologically linked with the Greek centaur. Hara 2001 examines the Apsarases’ duty to welcome to heaven heroes slain on the field of honor. The hosts of Gandharvas and Apsarases are said to be extremely numerous, yet certain individuals gained prominence. Among Apsarases, the most famous is certainly Urvaśī due to her ill-starred love for king Purūravas. The story is first told in the Ṛgveda-Samhita and in the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa (Eggeling 1963). Kālidāsa’s play Vikramorvaśīyam (How Urvaśī was won; Rao and Shulman 2009) provides a reworking of it. Interesting analyses of the story are provided by Kosambi 1962 and Doniger O’Flaherty 1980.

  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    Reedited in 1981 as Sexual Metaphors and Animal Symbols in Indian Mythology (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass). Doniger O’Flaherty provides an extended analysis of the myth of the mare goddess in Indo-European mythology. Urvaśī is one example of the divine consort mating with a human male.

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  • Dumézil, Georges. Le problème des centaures: Etude de mythologie comparée indo-européenne. Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Geuthner, 1929.

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    In chapter 3 of his comparative study, Dumézil examines the Indian data on Gandharvas. He accepts the identification of the Gandharvas with the centaurs and considers them as genies of the new year, a sort of sect consisting of initiates.

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  • Eggeling, Julius, trans. The Śatapatha-Brāhmaṇa: According to the Text of the Mādhyandina School. 5 vols. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1963.

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    First published in Sacred Books of the East (Oxford: Clarendon, 1885). The Śatapathabrāhmaṇa contains an interesting development of the story of Purūravas and Urvaśī, beginning in 11.5.1.

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  • Hara, Minoru. “Apsaras and Hero.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 29 (2001): 135–153.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1017507620702Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Hara examines two passages from the Nalopākhyāna and the Bhagavad Gita dealing with the heroes’ death on the battlefield, their welcome by Apsarases in Indra’s heaven, and their widows’ jealousy.

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  • Kosambi, D. D. Myth and Reality. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1962.

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    Chapter 2 provides a detailed analysis of the Purūravas-Urvaśī story in its different textual versions, examining its ritual dimension and its connection with the mother-goddess cult.

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  • Oberlies, Thomas. “Gandharvas and Apsarases.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, 565–570. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    An accurate overview of the history and development of Apsarases and Gandharvas providing references to Sanskrit literature from the Rig Veda onward. The article ends on a comparative note: the Apsarases are related to Greek nymphs and Avestic ahurānīs.

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  • Rajawade, V. K., ed. Ṛgveda-Samhita with the Commentary of Sāyaṇacarya. 5 vols. Pune, India: Vaidika Saṃśodhana Maṇḍala, 1972.

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    Edition of the Sanskrit text of the Rig Veda, including Sāyaṇa’s commentary, by a team of scholars from Pune. Hymn 10.95 contains the famous dialogue between the nymph Urvaśī and her lover Purūravas.

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  • Rao, Velcheru Narayana, and David Shulman, trans. How Urvaśī Was Won, by Kālidāsa. Clay Sanskrit Library 48. New York: New York University Press, 2009.

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    Contains the transliterated Sanskrit facing the English translation of Kālidāsa’s play, an edulcorated and happily ending version of the Purūravas-Urvaśī myth.

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Yakṣas

The Yakṣas and their females the Yakṣīs or Yakṣiṇīs are said to be the servants of Kubera, the god of riches. Sometimes called Guhyakas, the secret ones, they are mostly benevolent but can occasionally be classified among demons and reveal a more sinister nature. Closely associated with water, vegetation, fertility, and riches, they were widely worshipped in ancient India and played an important role in Buddhism and Jainism as well. Coomaraswamy 1993 examines the Yakṣas’ symbolical associations. The Yakṣīs, with their generous forms, have been an important decorative element in Indian art since Bharhut. Misra 1981 provides an overview of the cult and iconography of Yakṣas, while Sutherland 1991 reviews their association with other classes of supernatural beings and their development in the different Indian religions. Kessler 2009 presents a general survey of Yakṣas. Shulman 1996 analyses the Yakṣa’s questions in Book 3 of the Mahābhārata. A Yakṣa is the central character-cum-narrator of the Meghadūta, Kālidāsa’s acclaimed lyrical poem (Kale 1995).

  • Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. Yakṣas: Essays in the Water Cosmology. New ed. Edited by Paul Schroeder. Foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan. New Delhi: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, 1993.

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    Published in 1928 and 1931, Coomaraswamy’s monography is a detailed study of Yakṣas in Brahmanical and Buddhist literature, of their cult and shrines, and of their symbolism, especially their connection with the waters. With plates, bibliography, and index.

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  • Kale, M. R., ed. The Meghadūta of Kālidāsa. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

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    Text with Sanskrit commentary of Mallinātha, English translation, notes, appendices, and a map. The “cloud messenger” tells the story of an exiled and lovesick Yakṣa, who pines for his wife left behind in Alakā. He entrusts a monsoon cloud with a message for his beloved. Song 2 of the poem contains beautiful descriptions of Alakā, the city of Kubera and Yakṣas.

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  • Kessler, Anne. “Yakṣas and Yakṣiṇīs.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 1. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, 801–806. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    A survey of Yakṣas in Indian literature, their representation, their cult, and individuals, with references to Jainism and Buddhism.

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  • Misra, Ram Nath. Yaksha Cult and Iconography. New Delhi: Munshiran Manoharlal, 1981.

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    Provided with a great number of excellent plates, Misra provides a comprehensive work on Yakṣas, their literary history, their cult, and their iconographical development.

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  • Shulman, David. “The Yakṣa’s Questions.” In Untying the Knot: On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes. Edited by Galit Hasan-Rokem and David Dean Shulman, 151–167. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    Shulman analyzes the Upanishadic type of riddling questions that a Yakṣa—in fact Dharma in disguise—asks Yudhiṣṭhira at the end of Book 3 of the Mahābhārata, in order to test his knowledge, especially verbal, and his integrity. He compares this passage with a similar one in Book 12.

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  • Sutherland, Gail Hinich. The Disguises of the Demon: The Development of the Yakṣa in Hinduism and Buddhism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    Sutherland examines in detail the Yakṣas’ association with waters and other classes of beings, the trials they inflict on humans, and the various stories pertaining to them in the context of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Chapter 5 is dedicated to Yakṣīs and chapter 6 to the Meghadūta.

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Demons

Demons in ancient India come under various guises, sorts, and names. We shall examine the following categories: Vṛtra, Asuras (also called Daityas or Dānavas), Rākṣasas (with Piśācas and Yātudhānas), and Vetālas. As in the case of Yakṣas or Gandharvas, a certain ambivalence is sometimes seen in them, but as a rule they tend to be frankly evil. Some classes, especially the Asuras, are more prominent and powerful than others, but all of them are generally on the side of adharma, destroy sacrifices, tend to cannibalism, and possess supernatural powers.

Vṛtra

In the Rig Veda, the archdemon and archenemy of the gods, the manifestation of all evil and disorder, is the serpent (ahi) Vṛtra. He obstructs the mountain and keeps the waters (sometimes also cattle and the luminaries) imprisoned. Indra kills him and thus frees the waters. The demon Vṛtra is an individual, but when the name is used in the plural form it becomes a generic designation for fiends or enemies. Vṛtra’s Indo-European parallels are analyzed in Benveniste and Renou 1934, whereas Dumézil 1985, following the later, mainly epic versions of the myth, reads the murder of Vṛtra as a sin against the “second function” on the part of Indra. Brown 1942 and Brown 1965 read this story as a cosmogonic myth. Thomas 2006 analyzes its further developments in the context of the epic.

Asuras

Most scholars believe that originally the term “Asura” designated a class of gods, a position opposed in Hale 1986, according to which it meant something like “lord.” The Vedic conflict between Indra and certain Asuras is analyzed in Brown 1919. Over time the term came to designate a class of archdemons, the antigods par excellence. Doniger O’Flaherty 1976 shows that gods and demons are in permanent conflict with each other even though they are related. Also called Dānavas and Daityas (Rodrigues 2009), the Asuras (analyzed in popular etymology as a-sura, nongods) are the sons of Danu or Diti. Individual Asura kings time and again gain supremacy over the Devas, only to be smashed by various gods. These stories are narrated in Smith 2005, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, and the Devīmāhātmya (on the last, see Coburn 1991 and Berkson 1995).

  • Berkson, Carmel. The Divine and Demoniac: Mahiṣa’s Heroic Struggle with Durgā. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.

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    A detailed analysis of the myth of the slaying of the demon Mahiṣa by the goddess Durgā, with plates and appendixes, including comparative data.

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  • Brown, W. Norman. “Proselyting the Asuras (A Note on Rig Veda 10. 124).” Journal of the American Oriental Society 39 (1919): 100–103.

    DOI: 10.2307/592720Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brown discusses the identity of the Asura Pitṛ, or Father Asura. According to him, hymn 10.124 comes from a time “when the conflict between the Asuras and the Devas was clearly recognized” (p. 101) and Indra, as the Deva’s chief, invites the Asuras Agni, Soma and Varuṇa to come over to his side.

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  • Coburn, Thomas B. Encountering the Goddess: A Translation of the Devī-Māhātmya and a Study of Its Interpretation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    Contains the translation and analysis of the Devīmāhātmya (originally part of the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa), which tells the fight of the goddess with the buffalo demon Mahiṣāsura. Coburn also presents the various commentaries on the text and concludes with remarks on its relevance for present-day Indians.

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  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

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    Doniger O’Flaherty’s book analyzes in a lively way the different myths explaining how evil came into being and pertaining to the hostility between gods and demons. She underscores the fundamental ambivalence of Hindu mythology: the demons are not always evil, and the gods not necessarily good.

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  • Hale, Wash Edward. Ásura- in Early Vedic Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.

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    Hale first carefully reviews and criticizes the preceding scholars’ opinion on Asuras. Then he examines the term “asura” in the Veda along with related terms (rakṣas, dasyu, dāsa) and ahura in the Avesta.

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  • Rodrigues, Hillary P. “Asuras and Daityas.” In Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Vol. 1. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan, 469–478. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2009.

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    Rodrigues’s article is a dense overview of Asuras (including Iranian Ahura) and other classes of demons in Indian literature.

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  • Shastri, J. L., ed. Bhāgavata-Purāṇa. Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology Series 7–11. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

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    English translation of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, a Vaiṣṇava purāṇa. It tells of Vishnu’s many avatāras, or descents on earth, undertaken to destroy various Asuras who have gained dominion over the world. Book 10 is especially famous for narrating Krishna’s childhood adventures and his slaying of innumerable demons in disguise.

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  • Smith, David James, trans. The Birth of Kumāra: By Kālidāsa. Clay Sanskrit Library 5. New York: New York University Press, 2005.

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    Contains the transliterated Sanskrit text facing the English translation of one of Kālidāsa’s court poems, the Kumārasaṃbhava, or Birth of the young prince. It tells how the god Skanda had to come into being in order to destroy the demon Tāraka who had gained supremacy over the gods.

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Rākṣasas

Macdonell 1974 shows that in Vedic literature the Rākṣasa or Rakṣas (in the feminine Rākṣasī), Yātudhāna or Yātu (literally, sorcerer, with whom it seems to be identical), Piśāca, and other similar goblins are all shown as purely evil beings, impious and hostile to sacrifice. The night-wandering, creepy demons of darkness gain somewhat in status in the Rāmāyaṇa (Bhatt 1960–1975), which gives a Brahmanical lineage to the main Rākṣasas, Rāvaṇa and his brothers. Goldman 2009 examines the popular figure of Kumbhakarṇa, Rāvaṇa’s giant, ever-sleeping brother. Rākṣasas are not absent from the Mahābhārata either, and Gitomer 1991 examines how Bhīma, one of the main heroes of the epic, bears some affinity to them. Goldman 1996 shows how these classes of beings could be taken as representatives of the “other” or “alien” by the composers of the epics. Even if as a class they represent adharma or disorder, certain individual demons can be virtuous devotees of God, as shown in Hiltebeitel 1989. Hara 1974 analyzes the Rākṣasa type of marriage.

  • Bhatt, Govindlal Hargovind, ed. The Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa. 7 vols. Baroda, India: Oriental Institute, 1960–1975.

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    Mainly concerned with the fight between Rāma and the arch-Rākṣasa Rāvaṇa, the Rāmāyaṇa is a real handbook on Rākṣasas. Book 7 especially provides a detailed account of their origin (Brahmans on their father’s side) and how Rāvaṇa gained his extraordinary power and dominion over Lankā.

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  • Gitomer, David L. “Rākṣasa Bhīma: Wolfbelly among Ogres and Brahmans in the Sanskrit Mahābhārata and the Veṇīsaṃhāra.” In Essays on the Mahābhārata. Edited by Arvind Sharma, 296–323. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1991.

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    Gitomer notes the resemblances between Bhīma and a Rākṣasa: his violent deeds, his strength, his wedding to a Rākṣasī, and his Rākṣasa son. Bhīma mediates between the two opposite groups, Brahmans and Rākṣasas, in the role of a good Rākṣasa who acts for the reestablishment of the world order.

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  • Goldman, Robert P. “Vālmīki and Vyāsa: Their Contribution to India’s Discourse on Ethnicity.” Journal of the Oriental Institute 46.1–2 (1996): 1–14.

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    Goldman reflects on the aristocratic elite as described by the epics’ authors and their often marked contempt toward different groups, whether it be tribals or more radically “other,” nonhuman creatures, such as Rākṣasas. The genocidal violence sometimes erupts in the form of snake or Rākṣasa sacrifices.

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  • Goldman, Robert P. “To Wake a Sleeping Giant: Vālmīki’s Accounts(s) of the Life and Death of Kumbhakarṇa.” In Epic Undertakings. Vol. 2. Edited by Robert P. Goldman and Muneo Tokunaga, 119–138. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2009.

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    Goldman examines the Rākṣasa Kumbhakarṇa’s extraordinary propensities to sleep, the varying explanations for his sleep propounded in the Rāmāyaṇa and in the Ramopākhyāna, as well as the commentators’ disquisitions on the topic.

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  • Hara, Minoru. “A Note on the Rākṣasa Form of Marriage.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 94.3 (1974): 296–306.

    DOI: 10.2307/600064Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This type of marriage, which consists in abducting the bride, is also called kṣātra marriage and is reserved for kṣatriyas, whose dharma is more cruel and allows for violence. Hara also touches upon other forms of marriage, like the Gandharva, Asura, and Piśāca types.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf, ed. Criminal Gods and Demon Devotees: Essays on the Guardians of Popular Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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    This is a collection of fifteen articles mainly dedicated to present-day popular manifestations of Hinduism, in which demons and gods are not always as evil or virtuous as we would expect.

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  • Macdonell, A. A. Vedic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.

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    In his survey of Vedic mythology, Macdonell dedicates section 70 to Rākṣasas, Yātudhānas, and Piśācas, with detailed textual references.

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Vetālas

The Vetālas (vampires or ghouls) would be a rather negligible class of demonic beings were it not that a famous collection of Sanskrit stories is named after them, the Vetālapañcaviṃśatikā (Emeneau 1934 and Renou 1963), or the twenty-five (tales) of the vampire, which form a part of Book 12 of the Kathāsaritsāgara. A Vetāla enters into a corpse, “possessing” it, and forces king Trivikramasena to answer his riddles presented in the form of twenty-five stories. The riddles pertain to dharma and reveal that Vetālas are not merely sinister ghouls but can also be knowers of dharma. Emeneau 1935 analyzes the history of this collection of stories.

  • Emeneau, M. B. Jambhaladatta’s Version of the Vetālapañcaviṃśati: A Critical Sanskrit Text in Transliteration with an Introduction and English Translation. American Oriental Series 4. New Haven, CT: American Oriental Society, 1934.

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    Sanskrit text in transliteration facing the English translation of Jambhaladatta’s prose version of the tales of the vampire.

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  • Emeneau, M. B. “A Story of Vikrama’s Birth and Accession.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 55.1 (1935): 59–88.

    DOI: 10.2307/594300Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emeneau studies the textual transmission and manuscript history of the stories of the vampire.

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  • Renou, Louis. Contes du vampire. Paris: Gallimard, 1963.

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    French translation of Somadeva’s version of the twenty-five tales of the vampire, amply annotated, with an introduction concerning the history of the text and of the genre.

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Ṛṣis

The Ṛṣis, seers or sages, were originally the authors of the hymns of the Rig Veda, which they are supposed to have “seen” in a supernatural way. Their vision is studied in Gonda 1963. Macdonell 1974 (cited under Rākṣasas), section 55D, notes that there is traditionally a list of seven Ṛṣis, identified with the seven stars of the constellation of the Great Bear, from the Śatapathabrāhmaṇa onward. But the list varies, and the names are not always the same. In fact there is a whole group, including subgroups, of these divine sages conceived as prototypical Brahmans and ascetics, as shown in Mitchiner 2000, a comprehensive survey of Ṛṣis in general. Certain individual Ṛṣis gain more importance than others. Viśvāmitra and Vasiṣtha’s quarrels form the subject matter of much of the beginning of the Rāmāyaṇa and are examined in Feller 2009. Vālmīki and Vyāsa, the Ṛṣi authors of the two Sanskrit epics, have received a certain amount of attention, for instance in Hiltebeitel 2001 and Hiltebeitel 2009. The famous Bhārgava theory concerning the way the descendants of the sage Bhṛgu were the redactors of certain parts of the Mahābhārata was first propounded in Sukthankar 1936 and was further developed in Goldman 1977. It was subsequently disputed, notably in Hiltebeitel 1999.

  • Feller, Danielle. “Kings and Ascetics in Indian Classical Literature: A Case-Study of King Daśaratha and the Ṛṣis in the Vālmīki-Rāmāyaṇa.” In Kings and Ascetics in Indian Classical Literature: International Seminar, 21–22 September 2007; Proceedings. Edited by Paola M. Rossi and Cinzia Pieruccini, 3–22. Quaderni di Acme 112. Milan: Cisalpin, 2009.

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    Feller analyzes the way a number of Ṛṣis surround king Daśaratha in the first book of the Rāmāyaṇa and shape, govern, and supervise various aspects of his life. She shows that these Ṛṣis, although officially Brahmans, subtly display shadings of other classes due to their diverse origins.

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  • Goldman, Robert P. Gods, Priests, and Warriors: The Bhṛgus of the Mahābhārata. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

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    Goldman develops Sukthankar’s theory and analyzes in depth many Mahābhārata legends pertaining to the Bhārgavas (the descendants of Bhṛgu), notoriously irascible, haughty, and susceptible sages whose hostility is often directed at the gods themselves.

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  • Gonda, Jan. The Vision of the Vedic Poets. The Hague: Mouton, 1963.

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    An exhaustive study of the Vedic term dhī, designating the type of vision by means of which the Ṛṣis “see” the hymns, and related terms. With an index of Sanskrit words and an index locorum.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. “Reconsidering Bhṛguization.” In Composing a Tradition: Concepts, Techniques, and Relationships: Proceedings of the First Dubrovnik International Conference on the Sanskrit Epics and Purāṇas, August 1997. Edited by Mary Brockington, Peter Schreiner, and Radoslav Katić, 155–168. Zagreb: Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, 1999.

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    According to Hiltebeitel, “there is nothing to suggest that the composing Brahmans were Bhārgavas” (p. 161), but “the Bhārgavas represent other Brahmans . . . they are champions of the cause of Brahmans” (p. 162).

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. Rethinking the Mahābhārata: A Reader’s Guide to the Education of the Dharma King. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

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    In Hiltebeitel’s many-faceted approach to the Mahābhārata chapters 2–4 and 8 concern certain Ṛṣis in general and in particular Vyāsa, the epic’s composer, and his ways of composing. Chapter 8 contains a beautiful reflection on the father-son relationship as evidenced in the story of Vyāsa and his son Śuka.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. “Authorial Paths through the Two Sanskrit Epics, via the Rāmopākhyāna.” In Epic Undertakings, Vol. 2. Edited by Robert P. Goldman and Muneo Tokunaga, 169–214. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2009.

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    Hiltebeitel analyzes the way the Ṛṣi composers of the two epics walk in and out of their own text. He also discusses the relevance of the seven great sages in the epics.

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  • Mitchiner, John E. Traditions of the Seven Ṛṣis. Corrected ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.

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    First published in 1982, this is the most complete study of the tradition of the seven Ṛṣis in Indian literature. Mitchiner examines the Ṛṣis’ situation on the earth and in the sky as the stars of Ursa Major. With index.

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  • Sukthankar, V. S. “Epic Studies VI: The Bhṛgus and the Bhārata; A Text-Historical Study.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 18 (1936): 1–76.

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    Sukthankar was the first to launch a theory according to which the Ṛṣis of the Bhārgava family, whose legends are numerous in the Mahābhārata, had at a certain stage taken over the composition of the Mahābhārata and interwoven their own “history” into the core of the epic text.

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Pitṛs, Pretas, and Bhūtas

The Pitṛs are the fathers, or first ancestors. In the Veda, as shown in Macdonell 1974, they are a class of immortals and dwell in the third heaven. They are worshipped and receive oblations like the gods. Their names overlap to some extent with those of the Ṛṣis. As destinations after death, the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (Narayana Prasad 2006) distinguishes the fathers’ path (pitṛyāna), reached by means of sacrifices and duties, from the gods’ path (devayāna). Subsequently, all the departed become Pitṛs and have to be fed at śrāddhas, after-death ceremonies, that allow them to stay in heaven (Sureshcandra 1940, Saindon 2000). The Pretas (literally, departed) are originally the newly dead who have not yet reached the status of Pitṛ. After a person’s death, his or her “Preta” body has to be constructed by means of offerings of food-balls, as shown in Filippi 1996. However, the Pretas are often described as a species of permanent ghosts who tend to associate with other demons and ghouls in ghastly places. Hopkins 1974, which lists their appearance in epic texts, remarks that they are low-down in the religious scale and are classified with Bhūtas and Piśācas. In Buddhism they become a class of beings (one of the possible rebirths), and a collection of Pali stories is dedicated to them, the Petavatthu (Gehman 1974). As for Bhūtas, they are rather indistinct ghosts, and over time the term “Bhūta” becomes interchangeable with “Preta” (Hopkins 1974).

  • Filippi, Gian Giuseppe. Mṛtyu: Concept of Death in Indian Traditions; Transformation of the Body and Funeral Rites. Translated by Antonio Rigopoulos. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1996.

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    Explains in detail the rites surrounding death, how the newly dead become Pretas, the journey they accomplish to the world of the fathers, and their ultimate transformation into Pitṛs.

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  • Gehman, H. S., trans. “Petavatthu: Stories of the Departed: Together with Excerpts from the Frame Stories from Dhammapala’s Commentary.” In The Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon, Part 4. Edited by I. B. Horner and N. A. Jayawickrama. London: Pali Text Society, 1974.

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    Contains the English translation of the Petavatthu, a Pali collection of stories related to Petas, a class or perpetually famished beings. These tales purport to illustrate what sins one should not commit under pain of becoming a Peta (or female Petī) after death.

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  • Hopkins, Edward Washburn. Epic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.

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    Hopkins surveys the epic occurrences of “Pretas, Pitṛs, and Bhūts [sic]” in sections 14–16, with a wealth of citations and textual references. First published in 1915 (Strassburg: Trübner).

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  • Macdonell, A. A. Vedic Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.

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    Macdonell examines the Vedic Pitṛs in detail in section 76. First published in 1897 (Strassburg: Trübner).

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  • Narayana Prasad, Muni, trans. Chāndogya Upaniṣad: With the Original Text in Sanskrit and Roman Transliteration. New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2006.

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    Translation with an extensive commentary by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad. In its so-called “doctrine of the five fires” (pañcāgnividyā; 5.10.1ff.), this Upanishad explains the path of the fathers and the path of the gods as two different destinations of the soul after death. The path of the fathers ultimately leads to rebirth and that of the gods to Brahman.

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  • Saindon, Marcelle. Cérémonies funéraires et postfunéraires en Inde: La tradition derrière les rites. Quebec: Presses de l’Université Laval, 2000.

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    A detailed examination of Indian death rites and their sacrificial dimension, from the Veda to modern Hinduism, with special emphasis on their importance for Pitṛs and Pretas.

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  • Sureshcandra, Babu. Le culte des ancêtres (pitṛ) dans l’Inde antique d’après les purāṇa. Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve, 1940.

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    This study (introduced by a chapter on the Pitṛs in the Veda) principally investigates the cult to the Manes (śrāddha) and the relation between the Pitṛs and the Devas as evidenced in the purāṇas.

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LAST MODIFIED: 03/02/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399318-0012

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