The rich variety of the mythology, despite its attraction for the student of the history of myths, renders the task of concise exposition one of peculiar difficulty. For the mythology of the present day available material is enormous: each part of the vast area of India has its own abundant store of myth and tradition, and to give detail for this period would be impossible. The same consideration applies with but slightly lessened force for the earlier epochs: the Veda, the epics, the Puranas, the literature of the Buddhists and of the Jains, each present data in lavish abundance. It has been necessary, therefore, to circumscribe narrowly the scope of the subject by restricting the treatment to that mythology which stands in close connexion with religion and which conveys to us a conception of the manner in which the Indian pictured to himself the origin of the world and of life, the destiny of the universe and of the souls of man, the gods and the evil spirits who supported or menaced his existence. Gods and demons were very present to the mind of the Indian then as they are today, and they are inextricably involved in innumerable stories of folk-lore, of fairy tale, and of speculation as to the origin of institutions and customs. The task of selecting such myths as will best illustrate the nature of the powers of good and evil is one in which we cannot hope for complete success; and the problem is rendered still more hard by the essential vagueness of many of the figures of Indian mythology: the mysticism of Indian conception tends ever to a pantheism alien to the clear-cut creations of the Hellenic imagination.
The difficult task of selecting suitable illustrations has been shared with the editor of this series, Dr. Louis H. Gray, of whose valuable assistance in this and other matters I desire to express my most sincere appreciation; and my friend Professor Charles R. Lanman, of Harvard University, has generously lent us valuable volumes from his private library. Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, with his wonted generosity and devotion to the cause of promoting the knowledge of Indian  art, not merely accorded permission for the reproduction of illustrations from his Rajput Paintings (published by the Oxford University Press), but placed at my disposal the resources of his admirable Visvakarma, a kindness for which I am deeply grateful. To the India Society and the Oxford University Press I am indebted for permission to reproduce illustrations from Lady Herringham's splendid copies of the Ajanta frescoes, published by the Press for the Society. Messrs. W. Griggs and Sons, of Hanover Street, Peckham, London, S. E., have been good enough to permit the reproduction of certain illustrations from their Journal of Indian Art; and I owe to the generosity of the India Office the photographs which Messrs. Griggs and Sons have made for me from negatives in the collection of that Department. Lieut.-Col. A. H. Milne, of Cults, Aber- deenshire, Scotland, kindly permitted the photographing of one of the pieces of his rich collection; the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Peabody Museum in Salem, Mass., have been no less generous than he; and Mrs. Louis H. Gray placed her expert knowledge at our service in seeing the volume through the press.
To my wife I owe thanks for help and criticism.
A. BERRIEDALE KEITH.
UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH,
22 September, 1916.
The wife of Siva, in her dread aspect, slays the Asura Mahisa. Standing in an attitude of triumph on the demon, who, as his name implies, is in the shape of a buffalo, she drags his soul (symbolized in human form) from him. From a Javanese lava sculpture, probably from Prambanan, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. See p. 118.
 THE earliest record of Indian mythology is contained in the Rgveda, or "Hymn Veda," a series of ten books of hymns celebrating the chief Vedic gods. The exact motives of the collection are uncertain, but it is clear that in large measure the hymns represent those used in the Soma sacrifice, which formed a most important part of the worship of the gods in the ritual of the subsequent period. It is now recognized that the religion and mythology contained in this collection are not primitive in character and that they represent the result of a long period of development of sacred poetry. Thus it is that the gods who form the subject of this poetry often appear obscure in character, though in the great majority of cases it is clear that the myths related of them refer to physical happenings. The date of the Rgveda is much disputed and admits of no definite determination; it may be doubted whether the oldest poetry contained in it is much earlier than 1200 B.C., but it is not probable that it was composed later than 800 B.C., even in its most recent portions.
Both in its mythology and in its composition the Rgveda is clearly older than the other three Vedas, the Samaveda, the Yajurveda, and the Atharvaveda--the "Chant Veda," the "Formula Veda," and the "Veda of the Atharvan Priests"--and, in point of date, these three stand much on a level with the Brahmanas, or explanatory prose texts which are attached to or form part of them. In them are to be found many speculations of a more advanced kind than those of the Rgveda, yet at the same time the Atharvaveda contains a mass of popular religion which has been taken up and worked over by the same priestly classes to whose activity the other texts are due. It  must, therefore, be recognized that the Rgveda gives only an imperfect impression of Indian mythology and that, in a sense, it is the work of an aristocracy; but at the same time it is impossible to regard the Atharvaveda as a direct complement of the Rgveda and as giving the popular side of the Rgvedic religion. The Atharvaveda was probably not reduced to its present form much, if at all, earlier than 500 B.C., and the popular worship included in it is one which is at once separated by a considerable period in time from that of the Rgveda and is presented to us, not in its primitive form, but as it was taken up by the priests. The other Vedas and the Brahmanas may be referred roughly to a period which runs from 800 to 600 B.C. To the Brahmanas are attached, more or less closely, treatises called Aranyakas ("Silvan"), which were to be studied by oral tradition in the solitude of the forests, and Upanisads, treatises of definitely philosophical content, whose name is derived from the "session" of the pupils around their teacher. The oldest of these works probably date from before 500 B.C. On the other hand, the Sutras, or rules regarding the sacrifice both in its more elaborate and in its more domestic forms, and regulations concerning custom and law give incidental information as to the more popular side of religion.
The Sutras, at any rate, and possibly even the Brahmanas, in their later portions, are contemporaneous with the beginnings of the two great epics of India, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The first composition of these works as real epics, made up from ballads and other material, may be assigned to the fourth century B.C., and it is probable that the Ramayana was practically complete before the Christian era. In the case of the Mahabharatas, however, there is no doubt that the original heroic epic has been overwhelmed by a vast mass of religious, philosophical, and didactic matter, and that it was not practically complete before the sixth century A.D., though most of it probably may be dated in the period from 200 B.C. to 200 A.D. These works reveal, to an extent which cannot be  paralleled in the texts of the preceding periods, the religion of the warrior class and of the people generally. It cannot be assumed that the religion thus described is a later development, in point of time, than the Vedic religion, so far as the chief features of this religion are concerned; but much of the mythology is clearly a working over of the tales reported in the period of the Brahmanas, of which, in so far, the epic period is a legitimate successor.
The epic period is followed by that of the Puranas, which show undoubted signs of the development of the religion and mythology of the epics. No doubt the material in these texts is often old, and here and there narratives are preserved in a form anterior to that now seen in the Mahabharatas. Yet, on the whole, it is probable that no Purana antedates 600 A.D., and there is little doubt that portions of some of them are much later, falling within the last few centuries. Nor, indeed, is there any definite check to the continuance of this literature: at least two of the Puranas have no definite texts, and any author, without fear of positive contradiction, is at liberty to compose a poem in honour of a place of worship or of pilgrimage, and to call it a portion of either of these Puranas. This is the literature which, to the present day, contains the authoritative sacred texts of Hindu myth and worship. Yet it is essentially priestly and learned, and the popular religion which it embodies has been elaborated and confused, so that it is necessary, for a clear view of modern Hindu mythology, to supplement the account of the Puranas with records taken from the actual observation of the practices of modern India.
Besides the main stream of Hindu mythology there are important currents in the traditions of the Buddhists and the Jains. Buddhism has left but faint traces of its former glories in India itself; undoubtedly from about 500 B.C. to 700 A.D. it must be ranked among the greatest of Indian religions, and in the school of the Mahayana, or "Great Vehicle," it developed an elaborate mythology which displays marked original  features. In comparison with Buddhism Jainism has added little to the mythology of India, but in its own way it has developed many themes of Indian mythology, with the main doctrines of which it remains in much closer contact than does Buddhism.
The subject, therefore, divides itself, in accordance with the literary sources upon which any treatment must be based, into seven divisions :
I. The Period of the Rgveda (Chapters I and II) ;
II. The Period of the Brahmanas (Chapter III);
III. The Period of the Epics (Chapters IV and V);
IV. The Period of the Puranas (Chapter VI);
V. The Mythology of Buddhism (Chapter VII);
VI. The Mythology of Jainism (Chapter VIII) ;
VII. The Mythology of Modern India (Chapter IX).
Return to Keith Table of Contents
Return to Folklore and Mythology Page
Return to History Workshop Menu