The Hindu Idols

The Hindu Idols

Jīvera Dayā (Mercy to the Living Entities)Jīvera Dayā (Mercy to the Living Entities)
Vaiṣṇave Jāti-buddhi (Conceiving of Caste Distinctions in Vaiṣṇavas)Conceiving of Caste Distinctions in Vaiṣṇavas (Vaiṣṇave Jāti-buddhi)
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This thirty-two page English letter "The Hindu Idols" written in 1899 was in response to the Christian Tract Society of Calcutta who had previously published an article entitled, "Prof. Max Muller on Durgā", in which Kālī, Durgā and Śiva were slandered from an evangelistic viewpoint. Bhaktivinoda wrote an exhaustive response on the true identity of the personalities in question. He concludes by briefly mentioning Mahāprabhu and discusses the true Christian attitude of universal love, devoid of sectarian dogmatism, and discusses the nature of prema. It is interesting to note that, due to the academic nature of this letter, he signs off as ‘Kedarnatha Vidyavinoda’ rather than Bhaktivinoda. In 1901, he rewrote and summarised the same article for Dawn Magazine and renamed it, ‘On Durga, Siva and Kali in Their Exoteric Aspects: A Criticism on Max Muller’.

by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura


You have been denouncing our Kali, Durga and Siva for a long time, but a few only have ever cared to listen to you, as every body, even the commonest peasant of India, knows that you talk unusually much, and must talk in vain. Baffled in your attempt to rouse the public mind against idolatry, you have recently had recourse to Prof. Max Muller, who, you urge, says in his book called Anthropological Religion.

“There is such a decidedly non-Vedic spirit in the conception of Durga and her consort Siva that I feel inclined to trace it to some independent source…..I hold therefore that neither Durga nor Siva can be looked upon as natural developments, not even as mere corruptions, of Vedic deities.”

Now you have interested us in some degree for Prof. Max Muller was a great Sanskrit scholar and possibly committed no blunder. Let us, however, consult the Vedas with our own eyes, and see if they can say anything about the deities in question.


For the original conception of Durga, I beg to cite 3-27-9 Rigveda, which is as follows:

oṁ dhiyā cakre vareṇyo bhutānāṁ garbhamā dadhe
dakṣasya pitaraṁ tanā

“The daughter of Daksha embraces Agni (the fire) that exists in everything, that protects as a father, and that is adorable for its works.”

In Vedic times, the sacrificial altar was termed the daughter of Daksha. The fact that the sacrificial altar contains fire, or that the daughter of Daksha embraces Agni, is the very germ of the conception that Durga has for her consort Siva, who is none other than Agni (the Fire), the term Rudra having been applied to both. The Pauranik statement that Sati, the daughter of the king Daksha, owes its origin to the above Rik, being either an illustration of it, or an exposition of the inseparability of the altar from the fire, or of the means from the end.


As to the development of the sacrificial altar into Durga, I may say that there was a time in the annals of ancient India, when the Rishis had to put out their sacrificial fire. They then performed no rites and made no offerings to the Fire, but they seem to have preserved the altar, for it is said in the Vedas.

oṁ jyotiṣmatīm āditim dhārāyat-kṣitiṁ svarvatim
(1-136-3 Rigveda)

“This Altar is all-brilliant, all-perfect and good-looking, and is the way to Heaven.”

They therefore preserved the altar, before which they sat, and were absorbed in deep meditation. Now a revival took place. It was necessary that offerings should be made to the Fire. And the Rishis instead of kindling the fire again, placed upon the altar, upon the daughter of Daksha, and image to represent the fire and called it Habya-bahani, after the name of Agni, who was so called for his capacity of conveying the sacrificial offerings to the gods. This image is our Durga, her ten hands representing the ten directions of the altar. The existence of a number of minor deities with her also proves, without a shadow of doubt that Durga is a full representation of a Vedic Sacrifice. Her Saraswati is the knowledge of the Vedas incarnate. Her Lakshmi represents the wealth needed for the performance of a sacrifice. Kartika, the warrior preserves the sacrifice, while Ganesa begins it, his four hands representing the Hota, Ritwik, Purohita and the Yajamana respectively. And –

oṁ vipājasya śośucanā bādhasva dviṣo rakṣaso amīvāḥ (3-15-1 Rigveda)

(‘You, brilliant with your lustre, destroy our enemies, destroy such Rakshasas as are free from diseases.’)

Such Vedic mantras as this necessarily place the turbulent Asura, and a group of fierce animals under the subjugation of the great Goddess of Fire. Another very striking proof of Durga having been the Agni of the Vedas, is that when we worship her, we are to invoke her first by the following Psalm of the Sama-Veda.

oṁ a agna āyāhi vītaye gṛṇāno havyadātaye Ini hotā satsi barhiṣi

“Thou come, O Fire, for we welcome thee to receive these oblations, be seated on the spread-out Kusa, and welcome the gods on our behalf.”


Thus while I find in Durga a faithful representation of what is essentially Vedic and exclusively Aryan, you, Reverend Gentlemen, allege that a great European scholar found her coming from a non-Aryan origin. If the study of the same text would really make students differ so weidely in their opinions, it were better for them to till the land than to indulge themselves in the idle dreams of yore, or rather the hopeless humbugs of a fictitious antiquity. But Prof Max Muller is no more. All hopes of his revising the Vedic texts and reversing, if possible, the fatal finding are over. In vain did he try to trace Durga to Ratri, Rodasi, or other Vedic deities, when the above single Rik would convince him of her having in Vedic times in the form of the sacrificial altar. He probably missed the Rik, and therein lost the chance of identifying Sati, the Pauranic daughter of Daksha that was married to Siva with the sacrificial altar or eh Vedic daughter of Daksha that embraced Agni. Therein he also lost the chance of identifying Siva with Agni. Thus failing to trace Durga and Siva to their proper origin, he contrived as it were to extricate himself of an intricate antiquity by saying, “If then Chandi was originally the Goddess of same savage mountaineers, the Brahmans might easily have grafted her on Durga, an epithet of Ratri,” an argument which vanished like the illusive figure in a phantasmagoria, as soon as we look into the different stages which the altar has successively passed through in its development.


The Puranas say that Sati, the daughter of Daksha, died on account of her husband Siva being insulted by her father, and that she was again born as Uma, the daughter of Himalaya, and married to Siva for the second time. Such sayings as these, which are generally put aside by the European scholars, as productions of a highly tropical imagination, are of the utmost importance to the purpose of the present research. For Sati being identified with the Vedic Altar, and Uma being identified with Sati, there can be no doubt about Durga having been exclusively a Vedic conception. But this can not be exhaustive, unless we determine first what the Pauranic sayings essentially are, whether fictitious or allegorical. They can not be fictions, for they deal with Daksha, the daughter of, Uma and Ambica, characters or conceptions that occur in the Vedas. They can not be real, for the identification of Uma with Sati necessarily involves a question of the transmigration of souls, and earnestly calls for something like positive proof as to the metem-psychosis of Sati into the person of Uma, which the Purana can not possibly adduce. They are therefore allegorical, or in other words, the Purana, in the case of Sati and Uma, as in many other cases, say one thing, but mean quite another. In saying that Sati, the daughter of Daksha, died on account of her husband being insulted by her father, they probably mean that when the Rishis put out their sacrificial fire, the altar fell fast into disuse. And in saying that Sati, the daughter of Daksha, was born again as Uma, the daughter of Himalaya, they probably mean that a revival of the Vedic sacrifices took place somewhere in the Northern Districts. The term Uma itself reflects a great light upon the subject, for it means no more of meditation:

umeti mātrā tapase niṣiddhā
paścādumākhyāṁ sumukhī jagāma

And no more of meditation probably implies a revival of sacrificial practices. And this revival, as we have already said, was not to rekindle the fire, but to make an image to represent the Fire. Nor this is all. The above tradition means “being forbidden by her mother to meditate, she was afterwards called Uma,” an instance of transferred epithet, which divested of the figure, shows that the Rishis were forbidden to meditate by a motherly spirit, whom they called Uma.


This image was not, however, abruptly made. Considerable time seems to have elapsed before Uma. The Spirit prohibiting meditation and enforcing sacrifice, could be personified in Durga. We see mention of Uma in Kena Upanishad as a splendid female being seen in the sky, whom the Rishis held to be Brahma or the Supreme Being, as will appear from the following extract.

sa tasminn evākāśe striyam ājagāma bahu-śobhamānāṁ umāṁ
haimavatīṁ täm sā brahmeti hovāca tato haiva vidāñcakāra brahmeti

“Then he came across a splendid female in the sky known as Uma Haimabati, and said that she was Brahma; therefore, he knew she was Brahma.”

Thus we see that Uma, though mere the sacrificial altar in her previous existence, was fast rising into a feminine godhead during the revival, being no longer the mere altar, but the altar and the fire combined, as is clearly shewn by the following extract from the Yajurveda.

eṣa te rudrabhāgaḥ saha svasāmbikayā taṁ juṣasva svāhā

‘Oh Rudra, enjoy this your share (of oblations) with your sister, Ambica.’

During the time of Yajurveda, Uma, originally the wife of, or an under-deity to, Rudra, was growing under the name of Ambica to be his sister, or rising to an equal importance, and partaking of the sacrificial offerings with the great God of Fire. Thus we see that the ‘terrible flames’ of Agni which prevented Prof. Max Muller from identifying Durga with Agni were, during the revival, fast changing into the sober lustre of Ambica, tender as a mother, loving as a girl, revealing as it were, the propriety of a feminine mediation between man and God. As to the definite form of Durga, the following Gayatri of the Taittariya Aranyaka has, in my humble opinion, contributed more than all the rest.

oṁ kātyāyanāya vidmahe kanyā kumārī dhīmahi Itanno durgāḥ pracodayāt

“We invoke Durga, whom Katyayana saw in the shape of an unmarried girl, who sends us understanding.”

With the import of the above Gayatri, there seem to have sprung two classes of worshippers, one worshipping unmarried girls, and the other worshipping an image of the same denomination.


Now the Pauranic age began to dawn upon India, an age properly speaking of Comte’s positivism or human worship to follow the terrible revolution of a heart-rending Kurukshetra; an age of enjoyment, not of suffering, and age of love, not of hatred, on age of illustration, not of originality. it began to amplify the crude revelations of the Vedas, so as to suit all sections and communities of a diversified nationality; Ambica was shewn in different forms, now with four hands, bestowing upon man the four things, virtue, wealth, enjoyment and salvation; then with ten, representing the ten principal deities as Dasa-Dik-palas, the preservers of the ten directions beginning with Indra, the most brilliant of the Vedic gods. The priests invigorated themselves by surrounding her with a number of minor deities, representing the full establishment of the Vedic sacrifice; while the kingly class would keep aloof, should they not have heard that the same Ambica had made common cause with their heroic forefathers, and fought battles, when necessary, on their behalf. Such a Durga was worshipped for the first time by King Suratha of the lunar dynasty. Though a fertile brain, a splendid literature, a noble antecedent, and a good disposition, inundated the country with innumerable ways of the worship of Ambica, esoteric and exoteric, subjective and objective, rational and irrational, nothing could, in my humble opinion, make the nation ignore the true spirit of the revelation – as the term Ambica indicates – the necessity of a maternal agency for human deliverance.


Again Prof. Max Muller says, “One does not see yet how she would have become the representative of the highest divine wisdom.”

Could Prof Max Muller say otherwise, when it was his belief that Durga came from the non-Aryan origin? But as it has been shown that she represents Agni, it will be mere telling a thrice-told tale to go to establish a new god-head in her. Let us, however, cite a few instances to the effect.

Agni was known to the Rishis of the Vedas as medhabi (having medha or intelligence). Samaveda 1-2-10 says:-

oṁ ādit pratnasya retaso jyotiḥ paśyanti vāsaram Iparo yadidhyatī divi

“As this Agni shines in the sky, men see the sun, in whom the eternal Indra resides.”

Chhandogya Upanishad says,

asau vāva loko gautamāgnis tasyāditya eva samid
raśmayo dhūmo hararciś candramā aṅgārā nakṣatrāṇi visphuliṅgāḥ
parjjanyaḥ – pṛthivī – puruṣaḥ – yoṣā vāva gautamāgniriti

“O Goutama, the universal Agni has the Sun as His samit (fuel), the Rays as His smoke, the day as His brilliance, the moon as His charcoal, and the stars as His sparks. The cloud, the earth, the man, the woman, are all but manifestations of Him.”

Agni is, therefore, according to the Vedas, an intelligent Being that illumines the sun, in whom Indra, the principle of rain, or the commander of the clouds resides, and that is the Earth again – Her men and women. When Durga represents that Agni, it will be fair to deny Her being the highest divine wisdom conceivable. Agni was the most ancient of the Aryan gods. Scholars are of the opinion that such Vedic names of Agni as Yabishtha, Pramantha, Bharanyu and Ulka, were carried away by the Western Aryans, and worshipped as Hephaistos, Prometheus, and Pheroneus by the Greeks, as VuIcanus and Ignis by the Romans, and as Ogni the Sclavonians, for thousands of years. But when Buddha put out the sacrificial fire in India, the Greeks, the Romans, the Germans, all of them had to do the same under Christ.


Then come the several names of Durga such as Chandi, Chamunda, Parvati, Haimavati, Kirati, and Kapalini, which, it is said, have exhaustively proved Her having been originally the Goddess of non Aryan tribes, living in mountains, and subsisting upon very base professions. As regards Chandi, I may say that Durga is so called because she represents the fire. She is called Chamunda because of the Aryans having destroyed the two Asuras Chanda and Munda. It was characteristic with the Rishis of old to attribute an act of heroism or national glory to their presiding deity. We read in the Puranas,

yasmāc-caṇḍaṃ ca muṇḍaṃ ca gṛhītvā tvamupāgatā
cāmuṇḍeti tato loke khyātā devī bhaviṣyasi

“Since you have come after arresting Chanda and Munda, you shall therefore be known to the world as Chamunda.” The terms Parvati and Haimavati have been already explained by saying that the revival of the Vedic sacrifices took place somewhere in the northern districts. The Puranas too say that the saint named Katyayana) or more correctly Katya) who first saw Durga, had his hermitage in the Himalaya mountains. Next come Kirati and Kapalini. These are indeed very late tribes. How Durga came to be styled after them, is no doubt a matter of serious consideration. With the Hindus, however, the problem presents no unusual difficulty, but with others, its solution is next to impossibility. Durga is the representative of Agni (animal heads in her are to be seen all living beings. It was therefore that the Rishis saluted her avarūpinyai namaḥ (we salute that dost represent the living universe). Thus it was that the Rishis saw in Durga all mankind, they saw Kiratas and Kapalis even. They therefore saluted her kirātinyai namaḥ kapālinyai namah (We salute thee that hast Kiratas and Kapalis in thyself). To reveal the true spirit of Hindu idolatry, Reverend Gentlemen, I can assure you that if the Rishis were fortunate enough to have the English as their neighbours, as now-a-days have we, we should have another salutation of Durga in the Shastras, as “śvetaprativeśinyai namah,” meaning “We salute thee that dost represent our white neighbours.” Such were the Rishis of old, and such was the universal love and human worship they professed to ineuleate through the medium of idolatry. If Pro. Max Muller were aware of such other salutations of Durga as laṅkāyāṁ pāparākṣasai namaḥ (We salute thee that dost exist as the turbulent Rakshashi in Ceylon), or strecchadeśavāsinyai namah (we salute thee that dost reside in countrys beyond the Indus), he would have further bewildered the world by saying that Durga did originally belong to Ravana, or that Alexander the Great brought and left her in Indian for the Brahmans to ingrait her on the stem of some ancient Vedic deity, while to an impartial judge, they will simply prove to be expressions of an unbound love for God’s creation either at home or abroad.

The multiplicity of the Hindu idols has invariably led the western thinkers to the erroneous supposition of a multiplicity of Hindu gods, while it simply means the multiplicity of the ways of worship of one true God. Or in other words, although the idols appear to be numerous from an objective point of view, they are subjectively one and the same. Siva has been looked upon as a separate deity, but from what has already been said about Durga, it can fairly be asserted that Siva is no other than Durga in another form. Both are representatives of one universal Agni: the difference is that of the sex only, or of the twofold aspects of the Supreme Being, namely His Father-hood, and His Mother-hood, originally conceived by the Vedas un Rudra and Ambica, and subsequently personified by the Purans in Siva and Durga. Ignoring, however, these important things, and missing, as we have already noticed, 3-27 of Rigveda, the very key to the present research, Prof. Max Muller has rather laid an unusual stress upon the savage appearance of Siva, and the wild featured of his worship, and thereby held him to be a non Vedic deity. Even if Prof. Max Muller did not err, even if it were possible that a non Aryan Siva had found a place in the Aryan Temple, the existence of a Spirit presiding over the Vedic altar, and the final development of the same into Siva could not be possibly denied. The most reasonable conclusion would, in such a case, be that there were two different Sivas, one having been inseparably connected with Daksha’s daughter, and the other having come from a non Vedic origin. But this also seems to be far from the truth. The wild feature of Siva’s worship is simply due to the fact that during the Pauranic ages, the non Aryan tribes were allowed to worship the Aryan gods. It was at their hand that the worship of Siva, Durga and Kali, necessarily imbibed a wild character. The Brahmans or the Aryan conquerors, who now wished to love the conquered tribes, did not think it wise to interfere with their naïve method of worship, which must have been of an exoteric character. To make this argument sufficiently clear, I would request you, Reverend Gentlemen, to supposed that we, the conquered Hindus, have made an idol of Christ, the deity of our conquerors, and are worshipping it in our own way, i.e., with offerings of flowers, sandal, boiled rice etc, animal sacrifice not excepted. The probability is that thought you would not approve of it, you should not come to obstruct it for any earthly reason. This may explain the toleration of the Pauranic Brahmans, who were probably of opinion that it was enough that the Dasas came to worship at all, no matter if they would according to their own tastes and capacities. It was this that the great problem of converting a State religion into the religion of the people, could be solved by the Brahmans of India, and by them only, the problem presenting an unusual difficulty with the other State religionists of the world. It was about this time that the term Dasa, which meant in Vedic times a fierce dacoit, was being converted into a term as endearing as ever, and expressive of love and attachment of an unearthly character.


Although it has been seen in the light of Durga that Siva existed in Vedic times in the form of the sacrificial Fire, yet for two special reasons, I have thought it proper to trace him independently of Durga.
I. Besides the sacrificial Fire, Siva represents some other Vedic deities.
II. His savage look, such as the Ganges upon his undressed head, or a serpent in his neck, shows him to be rather a scientific god, than either mythological or non Aryan deity.

I. Apart from the idol, what does the term Siva signify? It signifies all good, a conception of the highest divinity, manifest according to the Shastras in eight different forms in Nature, such as the sky, the air, the fire, the sun etc. This conception is of course Pauranic. But when we see that such natural objects as the sun, the fire etc, are none but the most ancient Aryan gods, who were worshipped during he time of the Vedas, we can fairly assert that the Pauranic conception of Ashta-murti, or the eight forms in which Siva is manifest, is essentially Vedic. The probability is that the worship of the natural objects led the Rishis finally to the conception of a higher Being, of whom they were mere manifestations. This being was called Siva, a Spirit known and worshipped during the latter part of the Vedic period as Rudra. Far from being a non-Vedic deity, Siva appears therefore to be an improvement upon the system of polytheism ineuleated by the most ancient Vedas.
II. Again we read in the Vedas,

idaṁ vapur-nivacanaṁ janāsaścaranti yannadyas-tasthurāpaḥ

“Oh priests, the sun before you is highly adorable, for it is in him that water resides, and it is from him that the rivers flow.” 5-17-5 Rigveda. The Purans too say,

ādityāt jāyate vṛṣṭi vṛṣṭerannaṃ tataḥ prajāḥ

“The rain comes from the sun, which makes the crops grow, which men subsist upon.” It is no wonder then that Siva, who is in one of his forms, the sun himself, should have a river upon his head – head that has the ethereal sky as its undressed hair, for which Siva is called Byoma-kesa – head that has the fire or the flash of lightning, as its eyes. As regards Siva’s holding a serpent, I beg to refer to the Pauranic story that when the sea was churned, both nectar and poison came out; Siva gave the nectar to the god, and too the poison himself. Aryan as the story appears to be, it was probably conceived from the fact that the sun gives pure water, after reserving himself the salt-poison of the sea which he churns with his beams. If Prof. Max Muller would have judged Siva by the standard of the sun, he should have been convinced that every filth that is connected with Siva is but a mere exposition of the principle that all impurities of the Earth are reserved to taken up by the sun himself, while the purities only fall to the shares of humanity. When a person looks at the idol of Siva, with the above ideas in his mind, he can not reasonably say that the sight is revolting. Nor is it possible that a non Aryan idol might have accidentally been possessed of a countenance to elucidate so many observations of the Aryan scientists.


Kali next, Reverend Gentlemen, the dreaded Kali, whom you seem to fear as children fear darkness, You have no eyes to see, or rather have your eyes fixed upon the cross – eyes inflexible and partial, good for no rational use. Kali is Durga in another form, developed upon such philosophical principles as the maya of Vedanta, and the human sufferings of Buddha. Nor does her tongue present a non Aryan absurdity. You see Kali’s tongue ‘protruding from her mouth’; you see her one tongue only, but she has yet another. One of her tongues, as the Rigveda says: –

tvaṁ taṁ deva jihvayā paribādhasva duṣkṛtam |

marto yo no jighāṁsati || 6-16-32 Rigveda

“Yon God, remove with your tongue that mischief-making man, who wishes to kill us.”

(Originally said of Agni, the God of Fire), is for destroying our enemies; and the other, as the popular belief goes, is to be bitten by her as a sign of repentance for her treading under foot her husband, Siva the all good.


Kali is black, because we are in maya, illusion or darkness; four-handed, because we are in need of four things here – virtue, wealth, enjoyment and salvation. She is bloody, because we commit murderous crimes, and biting her own tongue, because we repent for our sins. She is humanity incarnate.

“A highly decorated personification of human cruelty” “a representation of slaughter by human violence:, as you call her, she I admit, ravaged the earth in the days of yore, but has ceased to do so long since Siva or conscience interfering. She therefore reveals to mankind the divine idea that however frightful destruction itself may appear, God will save his creation – an idea or assurance which, I am afraid, you evangelists can not possibly give to mankind.

For they bring into the world the sad tidings of the deliberate murder of a pious saint by the hand of assassins; they say that even piety is not a safe-guard in this world of demons; they demonstrate that to whomsoever the creation may belong, destruction has no rule – a doctrine at once revolting to the Cause of creation, and no less threatening to human existence. They probably mean to excite indignation. Indignation, a very noble mental faculty indeed, soon becomes polluted with regards to wrongs that can neither be punished, nor tolerated, and silently makes room for hatred. And this last predominating – farewell all hopes of reconciliation. No matter, we are all Christians, Reverend Gentlemen, we can shed one another’s blood never-the-less.


The sacrificial aspect of Kali has its origins in the Vedas. In the Vedic times all the offerings for gods were to be made to Agni, the God of Fire. Agni was supposed to have seven tongues, such as Kali, Karali, Manojaha etc, as will appear from the quotation below.

kālī karālī ca manojavā ca sulohitā yā ca sudhūmravarṇā |
sphuliṅginī viśvarucī ca devī lelāyamānā iti sapta jihvāḥ ||

The contemplative age that put out the Vedic sacrificial fire, must have been followed by an age of practical worship. This seems to have developed Kali, the red tongue of Agni, into a feminine god-head, to whom prayers could be made, and offerings presented.


Another very interesting aspect of Kali is that she represents Nature even before the dawn of creation.

āsīdidantamo bhūtamityādi manuḥ |

“At first it was all darkness etc, Manu.”

She also represents Nature in the most primeval state – ferocity ruling the universe, cruelty excelling, animals devouring their own offspring, the strong subsisting upon the weak, and men being cannibals, savage, brutal and naked – until Siva the divine light or intelligence comes, as Manu says,

tataḥ svayambhūr-bhagavān etc. prādurāsīt tamonudaḥ |

“Then the self-existent Being came and dispersed the darkness.”

This state of things was at first personified by the Vedic Rishis in Tari (the night), when it was all dark, wild animals abounded, men were unconscious in sleep, until the dawn came and saved all.


Now to the philosophical aspect of Kali, which attracts all sects of Hindu worshipers, diametrically opposite each other, and binds them together with ties of universal brother-hood.

Kali represents Prakriti or Nature, and Siva Purusha or God. The one upon the other is eh manifestation of the principle of Nature being emanated from God.

A Buddha sees in Her, human sufferings, which can only end in Siva the Nirvana. A Byasa thinks Her to be an emblem of the Jibatma coming in contact with Siva the Paramatma, and this representing a lively scene of human deliverance. A Sankara finds in Her, the Supreme Being with a coating of maya or illusion, which is only transient. While a Gouranga admires Her love and affection towards Her husband Siva, that made her give up all earthly concerns which maddened Her, as it were, in the prime of Her youth.


But far from studying these things properly, you have come forward with such an uncharitable remark against the Divine Mother as “She is the patron deity of dacoits, Thugs and murderers, and their several methods of reducing the population.”

Men say, Reverend Gentlemen, that gold, if trodden under foot, does not lose its value. If it is true, and if Hinduism has any truth in it, it is impossible for you to discredit it by any act of violence. But an act that does injustice to Hinduism, and speaks ill of any other religion too, as I will presently show, is by its nature subject to universal reproach.

You are no doubt profound thinkers, and have at last found out Durga to be the cause of Indian dacoitry and murders. Does it not behove you in the same manner to ascertain the cause of the wars, revolutions and massacres of the Christian world? You ascribe them to political motives. But what can politics be but religion in another form? Is it possible for a man to be one in religion, and another in politics? Do you mean to say that Robespierre was otherwise a good man, but only bound by political motives to send almost hourly presents to an incessant guillotine? Condemn if you like Robespierre and such others in the French Revolution, as mere non Christian demagogues, but in what way are you to account for the conduct of the clergy, 148 in number, who joined the Tiers Eta in the church of St. Louis, and upheld the cause of a fierce party, most of whom sought to distinguish themselves by public convulsions, or dacoities of the most fearful magnitude? Was not the great reinforcement headed again by such worthy personages as the Archbishops of Vienna and Bordeux? Were not these model peace-makers beginning the revolution with a redoubled vigour at a time, when as a popular tumult it might possibly cause to an end?

What was the origin of the famous ‘Rights of man’, that preached the universal equality of mankind, and pretended after all to save many at the sacrifice of a few, when it had the secret strength of destroying the whole? We see that no sooner the famous “Rights of man” was introduced in France than the Royal family had to be brought to the scaffold, the nobility to perish by thousands, and the exalted may again to rot around the walls of Moscow.

I therefore ask you, Reverend Gentlemen, if Durga is the cause of Indian murders, what, in your opinion, was the cause of the French Revolution, that horrible St. Bartholomew of one million of human souls at the very centre of the Christian world? You say ‘famine’. Was not India ever visited by severer famines than France in 1789? And yet how many revolutions has she recorded on that account? You say ‘the privileges of the upper classes.’ But what privileges did not the Brahmans of India enjoy in ancient times? Did any Sudra ever equal the mob of France drinking the blood of the French aristocracy? You say ‘taxation and oppression.’ But did not Louis XVI put a stop to all such grievances at the first out-break of the Revolution? It was indeed a great moment for the clergy to shew themselves, for they were called upon to pay taxes for the first time now. But they failed, they murmured. Another moment then followed, the National Assembly having confiscated the lands of the church to meet the exigencies of the State. For them sacrificing their own interests, the clergy now dispersed all over France, addressed the sons of ignorance to rise against their rulers, and as soon as the fearful body were in motion, followed them with loud shouts as it were, “Go on, friends, go on, the kingdom of Heaven is near at hand.”

Could not the clergy, who called themselves heavenly beings, sacrifice a few acres of land each to save a nation, when they were offered stipends instead of their land? They could, but they would not, because they loved themselves more than they loved their neighbours. Thus we see that it is neither famine, nor any other thing, but blind selfishness only that brings disorders into human society, brings dacoities in India and such sinful destructions in Christendom. But by denouncing Durga, as the patron deity of dacoits, you have necessarily propounded he theory of condemning the presiding deity of a nation for all its misdoings: I do not know whom you have spared. On the other hand, if you can show that you have spared Christ, it will highly cheer me, and make me gladly withdraw the remarks I have made from the history of the French Revolution, which humanity should better forget than recapitulate.


You say, “Thus also cane the holy zeal, righteous indignation of Musulman and Christian, and their iconoclastic practices become intelligible.”

And again, “O, for a thousand Bengali young men to rise up in their manhood and put down all idolatry, the curse of their nation.”

Is it, Reverend Gentlemen, that if the Government did not interfere, you should have broken down our idols, or favoured us with a grand St. Paul on the dilapidated house of Jagannath? Perhaps not, for you are our well-wishers. It is not perhaps your disappointment but our laxity that makes you invoke the spirit of Sultan Mamud, although it is a fact that the world is not going to see again what it saw of yore. Far from taking your remark in a hostile light, I rather regard you as a doctor wishing to cure the present diseased condition of our religions institutions. But should you be like a doctor, that, being unable to find out the read cause of a disease, make an immediate arrangement for vivisection?

As regards the thousand Bengali young men, to whom you have appealed, I regret to say that my humble self is one of them


To do you justice, Reverend Gentlemen, it is your light that has illumined what was dark. You educated me when I was young, and asked me even, if I were needy. You facilitated the study of the sacred books, where your tracts again made me dive into a little more than a Christian depth. It is your light then that discovers amid the mouldering heaps of our ancient shrines, a stupendous Monument, which thousands of summer suns rose in vain to heat, the blasts of foreign conquests strove in vain to shake, and the most violent of iconoclasts sought in vain to demolish; a grand Convention all-liberating but granting freedom only where it suits, all-embracing but sternly denouncing one that betrays, all-compliant except what does not comply with its unaccountable dogma of ‘God is every thing,’ and all-discussing, but avoiding anything sensational, and thus repelling by its keen foresight and sober judgment the cause of an impending revolution – a liberal Institution, showering on men honours and addresses when in the embryo, and continuing to do so until a few hundred years have elapsed after his death, solacing him in all the sad turmoils of this world, preparing him for the one to come, and resolutely intent to stand by him to the last – a Holy Temple, with an ocean of significance in it, now performing great sacrifices, now absorbed in deep meditation, now living in austere woods, now singing and shouting in the streets, now casting flowers to the straw and clay of its own making, directing, as it were, all its energies to reach a certain point of eternal rest; now calling an idol a father, a son, a brother, a friend; now calling another a mother, a daughter, a sister, developing, as it were. All earthly ties and affections in an unspeakable relationship with the supposed kin of man.


To do justice to us, Reverend Gentlemen, you are our superiors in all other respects, but in religion only our equals, and so are our Islam brothers. You said you profess a religion that excels all others, but such excellence as your religion boasts of, belonged to the Hindus long before the birth of Christ. The mysterious advent of Christ they had known of Krishna, His austere morals they had realised in Buddha. His devotion and persecution they had witnessed in Prahlad, while his mournful departure they had conceived in Sati. Like Krishna, He was born under the vigilant sword of a Kansa to Herod. Like that of Buddha, His public ministry was to be proceeded by a life of seclusion at an Urubilva in the walled retreat of Nazareth. Like Prahlad, he had to be brought before a gigantic daitya-meeting in the Sanhedrin, and persecuted there without mercy; and like Sati, He had to plead the purity and even superiority of poverty before an arrogant royalty, which could only end on a sensational tragedy.

Whether the evangelists borrowed these ideas from the Hindus to ingraft them eventually on one of the many sacrifices the Jews had made to the Romans, of there was really a Christ born, in whom so many conflicting ideas could have a harmonious existence, matters very little indeed. It is enough that the Hindus possess them in common with their western brothers in as much as one salutes the Four, can not but salute Christ, and one that reveres Christ, can by no means disregard the Four.

You boast of your martyrdom, Reverend Gentlemen, but read history, and you will see that our blood also fell upon our idols. You will see the Brahmans dying with their idols at their bosom at Somnath, Kanauj, and Benares. But our persecutors were very sincere indeed. Though they brought with them one true God, they were not free from the idea of a hostile Satan, which made them destroy everything that fell in their way. In India, however, in this land of Ekamebadwitiyam (one only, no second, nothing else), they soon gave up the inimical idea, and held (khair rahi o sear rahi mis allah he ta ala), that every thing either good or bad, is created by God alone. As soon as they got that idea, the Musulmans, in the shape of pious Fakirs, spread all over India, to preach this new doctrine from village to village, and from door to door, which they are doing till today.


The ideas of your religion are those of ours. Christ, as we have said, is but a combination of such of our ideas as the egotism of Krishna, the self-denial of Buddha, the devotion of Prahlad, and the self-sacrifice of Sati. But what avail of it, Reverend Gentlemen, these ideas are over. The world has sufficiently changed its phases not to require any longer characters which presuppose the existence of bitter antagonism in human society. Needless out-bursts at the non sacrificial age, ideals of their own times, extremes of human passions, such characteristics were calculated to do more mischief to mankind than good, and made at last the revival of the Vedic sacrifices imperative. The mysterious love and the indefatigable energy of Krishna could only instigate a fearful Kurukshetra. Of severe austerities, or the excessive spirituality of Buddha rendered the material existence of a man simply unbearable, and making life devoid of all its grace and poetry could only end in a desperate atheism of the most irreparable nature. The positive assertion of Prahlad could only end in a sectarian bigotry, and his self-sufficiency provoke the powerful, and make persecutors of them, otherwise not so cruel. The excessive devotion of Sati towards her husband disregarded by her father and her death persuaded myriads of Hindu females to burn themselves alive in their husband’s funeral pyres.

The same observations hold good for Christ too. The violent death of Christ was coveted by many of his followers. The religion of Christ was to all intents and purposes a sectarian belief, dividing mankind at the very outset into two unfriendly divisions, believers and non-believers. The absolutely stoic representation of the religion prevented the softer feelings of man from being properly cultivated. And lastly the intolerant spirit of Christianity itself seems to have led to the downfall of almost all the Roman empires on earth.

Though I admit it to be a high divine fanetion to have the oppressors punished by the oppressed, or the impure replaced by the pure, yet I must not ignore the will of the highest principle of Divinity which could make the oppressors and the oppressed, the impure and the pure, endure side by side in a harmonious existence.

It is universal love, a principle, which, in my humble opinion, was quite unknown to the incarnations of the non-sacrificial age. Now if it be alleged that Krishna gave us the universal love of Radha, I can only admit it with the remark that we did not acquire it for nothing, nay, we had to pay dear for it in the battle of Kurukshetra. So when we enquire into the cause of the modern idea of toleration in the Christian worls, the first and last thing that catches our sight is the series of sufferings the Christians were subject to, during the last two thousand years. So also when we trace the origin of the human worship to be inculcated by the Positive philosophy of France, we see and ocean of blood being sacrificed in the French Revolution to arrive at that happy end. Thus it is seen that the non sacrificial stage of human society sacrifices for itself, until it arrives at a point which some call toleration, some universal love, some human worship, and others the revival of the Vedic sacrifices. Man is not irreligious. He has the religion of sacrifice with him which he had been carrying along since the time of creation. Every attempt that has been made to arrest its progress, has ultimately proved a failure in all ages and soils.


The principle of toleration, which has been developed into Positivism by the atheistic thinkers of the modern age, was, in all probability developed into Idolatry by a class of thinkers that had the facility of realising God in everything. Both are materially the very same principle, although differing widely from a spiritual point of view. That idolatry involves as much of human worship as positivism itself, is manifest in the following lines of the Markandeya Purana.

vidyāḥ samastāstava devi bhedāḥ |
striyaḥ samastāḥ sakalā jagatsu ||

“All the knowledges of the world are the manifestations. Thou art manifest in the daughters, wives, and mothers of mankind.”

The term Baishwanara, which is one of the appellations of the supreme Being, also reflects a great light upon the subject for it means all men. The theory of all men as God was propounded during the meditative period of the Upanishads. Idolators, with all their pretensions to realise Baishwanara in idols, must have looked to the root-meaning of the term, and practiced human worship on that solid and sound basis.

As to the theism in idolatry, allow me to say that if it be absurd that God is in an idol, it must be equally absurd that He is in heaven, for it is true that He is nowhere except in human consciousness; that heaven itself is a vague idea, or rather a fictitious locality, of which no one knows the boundaries; and that to provide God with such a tangible locality as the idol is to help the mind in the direction of concentration.


When in the face of these arguments, Reverend Gentlemen, you have called Durga a demoness and her worship man-degrading, and Kali herself a grinning ourang-outang, I feel inclined to trace your spirit to its proper origin. That a sectarian missionary like yourself will be inspired with such a spirit is very natural and reasonable. The religions founded upon principles the most antagonistic to those of the more ancient ones, had to gather followers at any cost, for it was obvious that an overwhelming numerical strength alone was what could give them a firm footing. They therefore could not afford to be very scrupulous as regards the means adopted to gain a point which was of vital importance to their propagation, nay to their very existence. They thus acquired a high missionary character, not unfrequently the most offensive, oppressive, violent, destructive and even sanguinary.

The same propensity remains with them today, not possibly because they are in imminent threats of a persecuting Rome, but probably because a great many of the former adherents are on the eve of defection. The same destructive spirit which once induced the violent Sultan to destroy the idol at Somnath, is now, under the influence of a so-called civilisation, threatening Durga, with all possible wats of destruction; and the same offensive spirit which caused the sacred fragments of Somnath to be placed at the palace gate of Ghazni, is abusing Kali with such unheard of terms of hatred and contempt as a grinning ourang-outang.


And what is the cause? Education refuses to be the cause of self-sufficiency; and purity, that of outrage. Is love or Prema the cause? Then what is its nature?

Love, like the bud of a flower, has only to expand, or like a gaseous substance to hate compression. Even when it concerns a particular object, it tends to become general. We see that the love of her child naturally begets in the mother a live for children as a class. We see that a man that loves his parents dearly, imbibes the most sacred ideas for the parents of others. Such being the natural cause of love, we are at a loss why the love of Christianity, far from creating a love or regard for other religions, invariably tends to destroy them in every conceivable way.

The truth, however, is that all non-sacrificial religions must fall, or if they should stand at all, must lean upon a semblance of Prema, i.e. universal love, which as far as I know, was for the first time preached by a young Brahman of Nuddea. No system of religion can attain to perfection without the principle of universal love. You have therefore imported the term Prema into your system, but the logic must be wonderful that could reconcile it with a creed that posits eternal damnation for a great majority of mankind. The preacher of Prema should hear in mind that though it prescribes no particular sacrifice to be offered to God, it is in reality the most sacrificial mood of the soul, requiring men to sacrifice at the very outset all their sectarian pride and to unite under one universal banner of Hari – the Spirit that neither promises heaven to come, nor threatens others with hell, but is above all earthly differences and dissentions., the intelligent Being whose very essence is love and delight.

The doctrine of universal love must therefore stand opposed to all sectarian ideas. A sectarian missionary preaching universal love is but a great inconsistency. The only love he can lay claim to is a morbid love of self, as has actually been shewn by him in his desire to gain his point by arguments not always most scrupulously fair.

It is often represented to us that Christianity is the only way to salvation. It can not however be ignored that the followers of Islam too affirmed that theirs was the only way. Had the Hindus the same selfish idea of religion, the struggle might have been very severe indeed, the position more trying, and the whole history of India considerably changed.

Yours fraternally,


(‘The Hindu Idols’ by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was written in 1899 was in response to the Christian Tract Society of Calcutta who had previously published an article entitled, “Prof. Max Muller on Durgā”, in which Kālī, Durgā and Śiva were slandered from an evangelistic viewpoint. There is a revised and shorter version of this article that was published later entitled ‘On Durga Siva and Kali in Their Exoteric Aspects: A Criticism on Max Muller’.

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Darśana-Śāstra (Philosophical Treatise) was written by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in 1895 for Sajjana-Toṣaṇi, Vol.7. Issue 1. In this short article, Bhaktivinoda discusses the link between the Six Darśanas of India and the philosophies of the Ancient Greeks. He also briefly discusses the origins of Egyptian mummification.

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