YUVANASVA – A king who got pregnant

Yuvanasva was a king who had a hundred wives but no children. In the Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas Yuvanasva went into the forest to seek help from asce­tics. Yuvanasva found a group of brahmins who promised him sons if he did a special ritual sacrifice, the Indradaivata yaga. It involved collecting energy from their mantras in a jug of water as the rituals were performed each day. One day Yuvanasva was thirsty and made the mistake of drinking from the jug of water that was storing the mantras to bring … Continue reading

YOGA, YOGAS – A system of thought and practice

The word yoga is frequently used in Indian philosophy. It means “union” and con­notes uniting the individual self with the higher Self. The Bhagavad Gita defined yoga as “skillfulness in action” and “steadiness of mind.” Yoga as a system of Indian thought was founded by Patanjali, probably of the second century b.c.e. Around the time of the Bhagavad Gita Indian philosophers and theologians began to classify religious or spiritual experience according to three or four types, which they called ways (margas) or disciplines (yogas). Devotion (bhakti) appeared in both classifications … Continue reading

YAMA – A god

Yama came to be the god of death in later mythology, but he had wide range of roles in the earlier mythology. In the Rigveda Yama was one of the first pair. As such he was referred to as the first mortal (later being called the first human). His twin sister Yami wanted him as her partner, but he refused. Later mythology charged him with incest. In the earliest myth­ology he was the son of Vivasvat, an early solar deity. Later he was assimilated into Dharma, god of social order, … Continue reading

YAJNA – Ritual of sacrifice

Yajna or sacrifice was practiced from the earliest period of the Vedas. At first it referred to the external fire sacrifices and oblations that constituted the princi­ pal way in which Aryans related to their gods. Offerings were made to the fire (agni) of clarified butter (ghi or ghee), wood, spices, grains, soma (the ambrosia of immortality), and even animal sacrifices. Later sacrifices became vegetarian with the exception of Tantrics and Saktas. Yajna as internal sacrifice was articulated as early as the Upanishads by equating the external fire with the internal … Continue reading

VYASA – The most famous sage in Hindu mythology

Vyasa is more properly referred to as Veda Vyasa since the name was a common one, meaning “arranger,” or editor. Veda Vyasa was said to have edited the four Vedas and authored the Puranas and the Mahabharata. Accomplishing all that would require a human who lived several thousand years, so scholars do place the story of his achievements as those of one man in the area of mythology. Vyasa was born to the brahmin ascetic Parasara and Matsyagandhi, the fisher-woman. (See main entry under Satyavati.) Parasara married Matsyagandhi gandharva style … Continue reading

VRITRA – A mighty asura (demon)

In the Rigveda Vritra was a monster whose name meant the one who “held back,” “restrained,” or “enveloped.” Killing Vritra was Indra’s crowning moment. Vritra enveloped a celestial mountain and held back its waters, but Indra’s action released the waters, bring the fertilizing rains and prosperity to the Aryans, even providing soma for gods and men. He did this with his thunderbolt, implying that he was a nature god of rain and storm, but also a war god who brought victory and bounty. He accomplished his victory over Vritra by … Continue reading

VRINDAVANA – Home of Krishna

Vrindavana was both the mythical land of Krishna’s youth and an actual geo­graphic area between modern Delhi and Agra. Vrindavana’s meaning of “sacred basil grove” referred to the ancient forest that once graced that region. The mod­ern town lies on the western bank of the Yamuna River. (See main entry under Kalindi.) It was to Vrindavana that the cowherds of Gokula retreated when King Kamsa’s violence toward Krishna became too much for them to bear. It was in Vrindavana the Krishna and his older brother Balarama grew, played, teased, and … Continue reading

VISVAMITRA – A famous sage

Visvamitra was already important in the Rigveda as a sage and composer of many hymns in book (mandala) three. However, his lineage shifted with the sources so much that one later authority stated that he was the son of both King Kushika and King Gadhi. Visvamitra (universal friend) was able to raise himself from ksatriya caste to brahmin by his austerities (tapas). He was still, however, made to submit to his brahmin rival Vasishtha in later mythology to show the sub­mission of ks’atriyas to brahmins. This rivalry became so exaggerated … Continue reading

VISVAKARMAN, VISVAKARMA – The celestial architect

Visvakarman (omnificent) may originally have been an epithet for any powerful god, but it was used in the Rigveda most often for Indra and Surya. There are two Rigvedic hymns to Visvakarman praising him as the all-seeing god, the one who names the gods, and that one beyond the comprehension of mortals. He was said to be the sacrifice and the one to whom the sacrifice is given. The Nirukta added that Visvakarma, son of Bhuvana, held a sarva-medha (total sacrifice) offering something of everything and ending with himself. In … Continue reading