VAIKUNTHA – The abode of Vishnu

Vaikuntha was the celestial abode of Vishnu. Vaikuntha literally means the “place of no hindrance.” In the Puranas, it was located variously—in heaven (svarga), north of the heavenly mountains (Himalaya), even on Mount Meru (Mahameru), the axis of the earth. Most commonly Vaikuntha was located on the southern slopes of Mahameru. It had streets of gold, buildings of jewels, and was graced by the celestial Ganga. For some sources it was identical with Goloka, the heaven of Krishna.

VADHRIMATI – A princess mentioned in the Rigveda

Princess Vadhrimati was married to a hermaphrodite. With the blessings of the Asivin brothers she received a son named Hiranyahasta. The story came from a time when gods had sons with princesses. In a slightly different version Vadhrimati was married to a eunuch. Despondent that she could not have a child, Vadhrimati prayed to the Asivini-devas, the divine twins, the physicians of the devas (gods); they happily fulfilled her desire. Hiranyahasta grew up a sage, possibly even a brahmin, since he married thedaughter of sage Matarisvan. Another version said he … Continue reading

VAC – A goddess

Vac means “word” and “song,” as well as being the name of an early Vedic god­dess. Vac refers to both speech and speech-consciousness. Vac enters into the seers (rishis). A Rigvedic hymn to Vac stated that all actions and powers were grounded in speech. It was the primordial energy out of which all existence originated and in which it subsisted. At the same time it claimed that Vac extended beyond the heavens and the earth. This was an example of an associative process that the hymnists were using what were … Continue reading

USHAS – A goddess

In Vedic mythology Ushas was the goddess of dawn and the herald of all that was connected with the advent of the sun, Surya, supreme ruler of the heavens. She announced Surya, who brought along with her, light to make the pas­tures fertile, horses, chariots, wealth, and plenitude. The mighty sun god seemed unapproachable to the Vedic worshipper because of his formidable luminance; Surya could not be directly viewed by ordinary mortal eyes. Ushas was approach­able in the light of early morning devotion and would lead mortals to the all­powerful … Continue reading

TAPA – A god with five fathers

Tapa was a deva (god) who was born of the tapas (austerities) of five sages: Kasyapa, Vasishtha, Pranaka, Cyavana, and Trivarcas. Hence, he was also known by the name Panca-janya (one born of five). He can be said to be the per­sonification of tapas. However, the Mahabharata added that Tapa had his own sons: Purandara, Ushman, Prajapati Manu, Shambhu, and Avasathya—all obscure enough. To these sons were added the five urjaskaras, five sons of sac­rifice, and the his final son—Parishranta, the exhausted sun. Tapa’s mother was not mentioned.

TANTRA, TANTRISM – A religious sect or practice

Tantra has had many meanings: a class of literature (the Tantras), practices that are non-Vedic (tantrika), one of the religious sects of Hinduism. There is no sin­gle word in Sanskrit for Tantrism as a religious perspective, even though its addi­tions to the Hindu tradition make it quite distinctive. Tantrism can be seen in the point of view of Hindu mythology. It is a practical path, with techniques for acquiring magical or supernatural powers (siddhis). It is the entire cosmos as unified; there is no absolute division between pure and impure. … Continue reading

TAPAS – A concept

Tapas, a central term in Hindu mythology, literally means “heat.” It served as a metaphor for the heat generated in ascetic and esoteric practices. Austerities that generated tapas, often themselves called tapas, were not always ascetic in spirit. Most myths link tapas with powers (siddhis): one practiced tapas in order to gain siddhis. The demons (asuras) often quit any aspect of their practice that was ascetic (fasting, yoga, meditation, worship) as soon as they acquired the sid­dhi they sought (immortality, invincibility, and the like). Often Brahma, and sometimes Indra or … Continue reading

TRITA – A deva (god)

Trita was a Vedic god whose name meant “the third.” His main importance comes from sharing the same achievements with Indra. Some scholars say that he was Indra’s double, but a more likely interpretation is that Trita was already fading from prominence by the time of the Vedic hymns. That is, Trita repre­sented an earlier mythology. He was known in the earliest Avestan (Persian) mythology. Indra was given Trita’s heroic deeds: the slaying of the monsters Vri- tra, Vala, and Visvarupa, son of Tvashthri. One story in the Rigveda told … Continue reading

TVASHTHRI – God of craftsmanship

Tvashthri, literally the shaper, was the son of Kasiyapa and Aditi. Alain Danielou called him the personification of one of the six minor principles of Vedic culture: craftsmanship. The hymns in the Rigveda made him function something like later concepts such as sakti (divine energy) and life force (prana), except that Tvashthri was the very divine craftsman at work in the womb, forming the off­spring of all species, determining their beauty and strength. By the time of the Brahmanas Tvashthri had become the agent in crafting into being whatever was … Continue reading

TIRTHA-YATRA – A practice

A yatra was a pilgrimage, or visit, to a river crossing, or ford (tirtha). Thus the term tirtha-yatra came into usage. Over the centuries it came to mean a visit to any holy place, a pilgrimage to a sacred region (such as the plain where the Mahabharata battle was fought), to a temple city (such as Melkote), or to a river (such as the Ganga or the Yamuna). Some have seen in the practice the influence of Dravidian or Indus Valley ritualistic bathing and a continuation of early purification practices. … Continue reading