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Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints

Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints

Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints

Item Code: IDJ500
Author: H. Daniel Smith & M. Narsimhachary
Publisher: Sundeep Prakasan, Delhi
Edition: 1997
ISBN: 8175740000
Pages: 308 (Illustrated throughout in Black & White)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 9.3" X 7.0"
weight of the book: 675 gms
Back of the Book

The 35 brief essays in this book provide glimpses of the variety that is most characteristic of Hinduism in urban south India today. By examining selected objects widely revered in contemporary Dravidian country gods, goddesses, historical figures, sacred plants and stones, the authors succeed at once in disclosing to attentive readers what in the South mirrors Hindu norms throughout India and what remains ineluctably local. Beyond that, distinctive details of worship provided here and what remains ineluctably local. Beyond that, distinctive details of worship provided here document subtly different nuances in beliefs and practices upheld even among the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada speakers within the region.

The authors bring to this volume the two quite different perspectives of "insider" and "outsider". As scholars, moreover, they bring to bear the testimony of history and literature, sociology and the arts. As long-time teachers they provide information and insights important for students to keep in mind while they become more familiar with Hindu traditions. Their expert integration into each essay of K.S. Ramu's line-drawings serves as an invitation to reader to follow them imaginatively into a vibrant and widely-shared symbol system in which it becomes possible to "see" those Hindu image-just as, perhaps, their votaries do as exquisitely meaningful representations of the divine.

The volume is instructively arranged with essays pertaining to conventional sectors of Hindu faith grouped together. Many readers may wish to read from beginning to end following the order of presentation. Yet most essays also stand as discrete entities.

M. NARASIMHACHARY is a Sanskrit scholar with particular interests in, among other things, the classical, literary works of Valmiki, Vyasa and Kalidasa, the teachings of the Sri Vaishnava Agamas, the traditions of the Visistadvaita school, and the philosophical theology of the 10th century figure, Yamunacarya. Prior to his appointment more than a decade ago as Professor and Head of the newly founded (1984) Department of Vaishnavism at the University of Madras, Dr. Chary taught at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur and at Vivekananda College in Madras. Dr. Chary's most often-cited works are his critical edition and study of Yamunacarya's Agamapramanya (Baroda, Gaekwad's Oriental Series 160, 1976) and Contribution of Yamuna to Visistadvaita (Prof. M. Rangacharya Memorial Trust, Madras, 1971).

H.DANIEL SMITH is perhaps best known in North America for his eleven documentary films on south Indian urban religious rites and celebrations, IMAGE INDIA: THE HINDU WAY (1969). Elsewhere, however, his most often-cited works have been his bibliographical studies of Pancaratra Agama texts in Sanskrit (Baroda, Gaekwad's Oriental Series 158 & 168, 1975 & 1980) and of works in English based on Valmiki's Ramayana (Syracuse, 1983 & Bombay, 1989). Prior to his retirement in 1993 after 35 years of teaching at Syracuse University (USA), Professor Smith specialized in undergraduate courses examining contemporary Hindu religious life. His research enabled him to visit India a number of times.


What is a good way for one who is unfamiliar with the tradition to learn more about Hinduism? To be sure, different people have their own opinions on this matter. To judge from the many textbooks and college-level courses, which serve as introductions to Hinduism, there is in fact no unanimity at all. Some evidently feel that it is useful to approach the diversity of Hinduism through a study of its historical development from earliest times to the present; according to that strategy it is important to begin with what is known about conditions in the so-called Indus Valley Period then move through the Vedic, Brahmanical, Upanishadic, the Epic and Puranic and Bhakti periods up to the Advent of Modernity until one reaches, at last, the complex Contemporary Scene. Others recommend an examination of selected specimens of Hindu literature, all the while seeking to appreciate the respective cultural contexts which gave voice to those utterances; consequently, readings, either in original languages or in translation, in their entirety or in judicious abridgements, are advanced in order to sample the Vedas, Brahmans, Upanisads, Smrti texts, Epics, Puranas, Bhakti hymns and reform tracts. Still others suggest the importance of acquiring a conceptual perspective as a helpful starting point since doctrines and values are at the heart of Hinduism; their emphasis is placed, then, on ideology as it derives from traditional notions about samsara, karma, varnasramadharma, purusartha, and the like. Yet others advise that Hinduism as way of life invites exploration of what believers are observed to do; accordingly, that enterprises concentrates on rituals and celebrations ranging from the most ordinary daily routines through the performance of life-cycle rites and domestic litanies to the formal, liturgical worship at shrines and in temples. A few advocate study of the great philosophical systems, and enjoin beginners to learn something of the presuppositions, constructs and distinctions inherent in schools of Yoga, perhaps also of Mimamsa and surely Vedanta interpretations as well as of Saiva Siddhanta and other expression of philosophical theology. Some turn to the testimony of monuments and masterpieces of the visual and performing arts, analyzing architecture, sculpture, painting and dance, drama and song as expressions of the creativity which is generated by faith.

In this volume we submit that to understand something essential about Hinduism one does well early on to gain some familiarity with the gods, goddesses, saints and supernaturals, which have been honored by the faithful over the generations. We are not so counsel this approach as the "only" or the "best" way. Anyone with any appreciation at all for the complex nature of living Hinduism knows that no one topic or methodology suffices adequately alone to prove the depths and scan the surfaces of all that currently flourishes-even in one limited area. Yet our venture in this book is to provide for our readers what we hope will be, at least, an avenue of access to the multifaceted nature of the traditional Hinduism to be found is south India today. And it is a procedure that makes good sense to us because consideration of selected figures and objects of adoration there at hand leads so effortlessly to other reflections pertinent to the larger subject beyond our limited scope. So, what we have done here is to use the idea of the holy in Hinduism in south India as a springboard for our readers to muse upon associated teachings and customs in the more massive tradition at large. We hope our procedure will persuade readers-whether non-Hindus or Hindus distanced for one reason or another from the tradition-to move on not only to more specialized but also to more broad-ranging studies in their on-going effort to learn more about things Hindu and Indian.

This is not the first time that the divinities of Hinduism have been utilized to initiate interested readers into the lore of the Hindu multitudes. In fact, this effort stands merely as the latest in a line of similar endeavors in English stretching back more than two centuries. Among the predecessors more or less Panchakarma-Hindu in their scope must be named E. Moor's, the Hindu Pantheon [1810], J. Dowson's A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology [1879], W. L. Wilkins' Hindu Mythology [1882], E.O. Martin's Gods of India[1913], P. Thomas' Epics, Myths and Legends of India [1948], A. Danielou's Hindu Polytheism[1964] and Prataditya Pal's Hindu Religion and Iconology [1981]. At the same time must be acknowledged the specifically south Indian focus of such works as T.A. Gopinatha Rao's Elements of Hindu Iconography [1914], W.T. Elmore's Dravidian Gods in Modern Hinduism [1915], H. Krishna Sastri's South Indian Images of Gods and Goddesses [1916], H. Whitehead's The Village Gods of South India [1916] and T.N. Srinivasan's Handbook of South Indian Images [1954]-to say nothing of G. Jouveau-Dubreuil's work in French and B. Zeigenbalg's work in German. These have all served to influence us in one way or another to highlight to such a degree as we do the visual aspects of the figure presented. To focus on what is "seen" of a divinity during darsana "by those who have eyes to see" is, clearly, a central thrust of our effort here. Indeed, a feature which we hope very much will set this survey of Hindu gods and goddesses, saints and supernatural apart from earlier studies is the repeated emphasis here on the impact, which representations of these figures have on "visually literate" Hindus. The reason for our emphasis on the visual aspects of the divine is really quite straightforward. In a populace where literacy in terms of reading and writing is not the norm, much of what gets transmitted from one generation to the next is accomplished by means of oral and visual modes of instruction. We believe it is a fact more common than is generally given credit by Indologists that complex theological teachings and subtle doctrinal norms get mediated to a "visually literate" public by means of highly developed yet widely shared pictographic and iconographic codes, that is, by an impressively popular heritage of visual signs and symbols. Moreover, this is a heritage that binds together groups of Hindus otherwise separated by language barriers and by dissimilar literary traditions. Clearly, statistics of so-called "literacy rates" do not always tell the whole truth about regional sophistication, cultural diffusion, and ideological integration-or about "visual literacy"!

Each of the 35 essays in this volume is accompanied by a line drawing, and in the majority of those 35 essays we attempt to point out what the iconography may mediate both at the level of ordinary identification and at the level of mystical accommodation to a believer already steeped in the lore of the faith. What has impressed us, and what we hope will strike the reader in turn, is the immediacy and eloquence even popular depictions of deities, saints and sacred objects have in terms of helping the "visually literate" to recollect a saving act, a model life, a gracious presence. We remain grateful to our collaborator, the late Madras artist K.S.Ramu, for providing the drawings which we utilize here as visual "reference texts". That he endeavored to make his renderings reflect both the style and symbolism of the widely disseminated "framing pictures" and "calendar prints" of Hindu gods, goddesses and saints available in the popular market only serves to make his contribution the more valuable to this project.

The 35 essays just mentioned are clustered into groups, as can be noted by quick reference to the table of Contents. However, the essays may be read independently of one another: there is really no beginning, middle, or ending in this volume despite its current lay-out. The reader is encouraged to start with whatever figures are of greatest interest. Cross references linking some essays to others will soon enough lead the casual reader informally to various sections of the collection. In recognition of this loosely-knit structure of the volume we have called it a Handbook, as it may be used for ready reference.

Let us explain the other elements of our title.

It has not been possible or practical for us to attempt coverage of all the gods, goddesses and saints known and celebrated in the Hindu tradition past and present-for obvious reasons-even in south India. By popular, then, we mean that we have selected those figures recognized and honored within fairly large, main line constituencies. Accordingly, we were able to ignore the remote and obscure. The further qualification Contemporary meant that we determined to focus on figures popular during the closing decades of the 20th century, even though those might include ancient deities and saints from earlier centuries.

Our conscious confinement to South India needs to be further noted. That move was influenced by the fact that our own experience of Hinduism has been chiefly (but not exclusively) there. Our observations there have served to persuade both of us that in contemporary south Indian Hindu traditions it is possible to observe manifestations of Hinduism that are unique, lively, and instructive. Those expressions have been too often passed over in surveys which have tried to stress in Hinduism Panchakarma-Indian homogeneity. We wanted instead to suggest to interested readers that while there is much in south Indian Hinduism that shows continuities with what prevails elsewhere in the subcontinent yet at the same time there are popular traditions in the contemporary Dravidian south that are characteristically region-specific.

Our choice of figures and phenomena for presentation by no means inventories all that currently flourishes in south India. While we have selected for our field of sampling the contemporary political states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala (this is to say, areas where Tamil, Telugu, Kannada-or Kanarese-and Malayalam languages, literatures and cultures dominate), we have opted for a selection of those regionally popular deities, devotees and devices which will constitute an exemplary rather than an exhaustive inventory. Another glance at the table of Contents testifies to the attempts we have made to present an even-handed treatment; we have devoted approximately equal attention to Siva-related and to Visnu-related examples. We are quite certain that we may still be faulted for what some may perceive to be an arithmetic imbalance.

Moreover, as scholars our perspective is necessarily scholastic and, beyond that, Sanskrit-perhaps too much so for many tastes and, more importantly, for the subject. But we opted to risk blame on that account rather than to take refuge in the safety of mute caution. There is so much that remains to be reported about south Indian religious life. We felt it important to make what small contribution we can. And, because we sense our own limitations, we invite future authors to surpass our efforts and improve what we have perforce left imperfectly done.

In closing, let us turn to some procedural decisions that were made during the execution of this volume. Four in particular deserve mention.

First, most transliterations of Indic words follow Sanskrit usage; a few reflect Tamil usage. Contextual considerations have on occasion forced some inconsistencies, especially in regard to proper names. At the same time, however, we have standardized the spellings of most place-names by following gazetteer guidelines published by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (if and when the place-names we cited were mentioned).

The second had to do with calendrical calculations and the corresponding citations we subsequently made in our essays to special seasons and holidays. A complex set of considerations determined what we finally decided to do. To begin with, there are at least two entirely different calendrical systems and no fewer than three different names for each month in the four language regions of south India. Among most Tamilians and Malayalis solar reckoning is followed for a twelve-month year, while among many Kannada and Telugu speaking folk and some others the year is calculated according to a lunar calendar (with solar reckoning. Consequently, in different regions of the "South India" we describe, the months in those two systems are of different durations (from 29 to 32, and occasionally more, days), and they commence at different times. Unlike some of their neighbors of the North-for example, those in Hindi-speaking areas-the people of Andhra pradesh and large parts of Karnataka and elsewhere throughout the south of India start their lunar month on the day following the new moon [Amavasya] rather than on the day following the full moon [Purnima]. That detail is likely to cause confusion among those familiar only with customs in certain parts of north India, not to mention those unfamiliar with lunar calculations in the first place. The phase of the moon has no effect, however, on the commencement of the months in most of Tamil Nadu and in parts of Kerala. Beyond these discrepancies, the New Year in south India is ushered in at three different times according to which system is followed. Furthermore, certain other distinctions, often quite subtle, may be noticed within the two systems as the result of what might be called sectarian conventions, for which reason Saivas and Smartas may celebrate a given holiday one day while their Vaisnava neighbors at the same place may observe it the next day. We have sought to minimize these various difficulties by referring primarily to the Amanta system, the one most prevalent in south India, and citing months consistently by their standardized Sanskrit names followed by their rough equivalents in the Western/Julian calendar in parentheses. To make our calculations more understandable to those conversant only with Tamil and Malayali reckoning, we have often followed our citations with their equivalents used in Tamil Nadu and in Kerala. As an expedient authority we have occasionally resorted to the Indian National Calendar and to the Tamil solar calendar (as rendered in the widely-respected calendar in English published annually for several decades now by Hoe & Co., Madras) in fixing elusive dates. We are quite certain that we have not solved all the problems for our readers but, as the vernacular Americanism goes, "we gave it our best shot."

The third procedural decision worth mentioning is that we resolved to limit our Suggestions for Further Study to a reasonable number of bibliographical references-an upper limit of three, surely not more than four, citations for each essay. The final sum of "108" should surely come as no surprise to readers of a volume dealing with the symbolic in Hindu religious life! The individuals whom we cite there comprise not so much a record of works we consulted in the preparation of this volume as a series of recommendations we make to interested readers. It is our hope that they will use those citations for identifying some of the authors whose research and writing bear usefully upon subjects treated in our essays. Our inventory is bound to be controversial, given the variety of concerns we did, indeed, touch upon in the essays and the rich resources available from which to draw. The responsibility was ours, then, to list what we considered might be the most useful, informative or accessible approaches for someone who, although highly motivated to learn more about Hinduism, is still relatively new to the study. We would be the first to admit that our registry is not exhaustive.

Finally, each of us has spent significant portions of our academic careers working with overseas Indians. We both have a special concern for their needs. So, in addition to whomever else may use this handbook profitably (college students as a collateral reading assigned in courses in anthropology, art history, Indian civilization or religious studies courses; "north India" specialists who may never have traveled south, who seek an "Introduction" to aspects of south Indian culture; cultural geographers, South Asian historians and the like; and other travelers and ordinary folk reading for enrichment), we hope we have offered here some small assistance to those increasing ranks of foreign-born Indians who are searching for their traditional root. Our thrust throughout has been to engage their welcome concerns.


1.Ganapati (or, Ganesa)3
Notes to Section One11
7.Manikkavacakar (9th century)52
8.Sankara (8th century)58
9.Ramalinga (b. 1823)64
Notes to Section Two72
10.Rama, Sita and Laksmana76
13.Krsna Venugopala92
14.Krsna Gitacarya96
15.Krsna with Rukmini and Satyabhama100
16.Krsna Guruvayurappan102
17.Ranganatha (at Srirangam)106
19.The Salagrama-Stone124
20.Nammalvar (8th century)132
21.Ramanuja (11th century)138
22.Madhva (early 14th century)143
23.Raghavendra (b. 1601)151
Notes to Section Three159
24.Devi Durga166
25.Devi Kali172
26.Devi Kamaksi176
27.Devi Laksmi181
28.Devi Mariyamman188
29.Devi Minaksi194
30.Devi Sarasvati200
Notes to Section Four206
34.The Nagas and Their Worship234
35.The Tulasi Plant (The Sacred Basil Plant)241
Notes to Section Five 247
Appendix: Hymns of Adoration251
Suggestions for Further Study293
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