© 2015 by Ashley Mayers
 

Glossary of Hindu References

 

Hinduism, the world’s oldest continuously practiced religion, is an exceptionally diverse collection of philosophies and rituals practiced by over one billion people globally. There is no single institution and no single written text that defines the “rules” of Hinduism, and thus it varies widely in practice and belief across the world.

 

While there is a pantheon featuring a plethora of gods and goddesses with various regional names and stories, there are also numerous sects who worship Vishnu (Vaishnavism), Shiva (Shaivism), Shakti (Shaktism), and combinations / permutations of these major gods and goddesses, and their manifestations (including avatars), as representations of the one supreme being.

 

The vast and fascinating complexity of Hinduism cannot be captured in a short glossary, and it is not the author’s intent to do so. This glossary is meant to give the uninitiated reader some basic context for references throughout THE SITA CHRONICLES. Further research is recommended for those interested in digging deeper.

 

  1. Agni (uh-gnee) – “Fire” in Sanskrit, Agni is also the god of fire and the conveyor of sacrifices to the gods. It is Agni’s role in the Hindu pantheon that is invariably linked with the many rituals, both daily and for special occasions, that require a yajna, or sacred fire.

  2. Artha (ahr-tah) – One of the four aims of human life in Hindu philosophy, sometimes “meaning, sense or purpose,” artha generally focuses on the ‘means to live the life you want,’ including but not limited to wealth, career, and financial security. It can perhaps be thought of as “why you do work.”

  3. Asura/Asuri (ah-soo-ruh/ah-soo-ree) – Originally a term used to describe divine, powerful beings, good or bad, the term later came to represent primarily darker powered beings in Hinduism and is sometimes (but not always) synonymous with demons. Rakshasas are sometimes described as one type of Asura. Asuri is the feminine form of Asura.

  4. Avatar (ah-vuh-tahr) – In Hinduism, an avatar is a deliberate descent of a deity to Earth. The term is most commonly used to describe incarnations or manifestations of Vishnu, but has been used with other deities, including Shiva, Ganesh, and the major goddesses. The lists of avatars and consensus around them is dubious. Some sects believe that Shiva, as a formless entity, will never have an avatar, while others believe that Hanuman is an avatar of Shiva. The lists of Vishnu avatars range from ten to twenty-five avatars, and some characters in epics are referred to as “partial” avatars, such as Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, sometimes being considered “one-quarter Vishnu.” One major thematic element throughout THE SITA CHRONICLES explores what exactly it means (and doesn’t mean) to be an avatar.

  5. Ayodhya (ah-yoh-dyuh) – An ancient city located in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India that remains inhabited today, Ayodhya is considered to be the birthplace and ancient kingdom of Rama. In modern times, tragedy and controversy, fuelled by Hindu/Muslim animosity, have plagued the city after a violent uprising in 1992 that led to the destruction of the 16th c. Babri Mosque, which many people believed was built upon the site of Rama’s original temple.

  6. Bhoomi (boo-mee) – The embodiment/personification of “Mother Earth.” Bhoomi is referred to as the mother of Sita, and at the end of The Ramayana, when Sita’s suffering becomes unbearable, she returns to her “mother,” being swallowed by the earth.

  7. Bharata (Buh-rah-tuh) – One of Rama’s brothers, Bharata is considered to demonstrate extreme virtue in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

  8. Chiranjivi (chee-ruhn-jee-vee) – Seven immortals in Hinduism who remain on Earth to lead humans in various paths of righteousness. In this series, we have three: Vibhishana, Hanuman, and Parashurama.

  9. Devi/Deva (deh-vee/deh-vah) – “Heavenly” or “divine” beings in Hinduism, it can be synonymous with “god” or “deity” but primarily refers to powerful beings who are “good,” and can sometimes be contrasted with the “evil” Asura. However, the designations of “good” versus “evil” are far less clearly defined in Hinduism compared to Judeo-Christian religions, and so, for example, Kartikeya, the god of war, is still considered a Deva. In Hinduism, an Asura can ascend and become a Deva, with Vibhishana being a prime example, demonstrating that birthright is less important than actions on Earth to define one’s character and virtue.

  10. Dharma (dahr-muh) – One of the four aims of human life in Hindu philosophy, with many meanings, dharma is roughly translated as virtue, morality, righteousness, obligations, and correct conduct. The Hindu epics, The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, both demonstrate that there is often no single clear path to dharma, as various “right” paths often conflict and need to be prioritized, with each difficult choice producing complicated consequences and satisfying drama.

  11. Durga (door-guh) – The principle form of the goddess, also known as Shakti, and manifested physically as Parvati, wife of Shiva, and sometimes said to manifest as Lakshmi and Saraswati, in their roles as the primordial energy that animates and gives life to their divine husbands. Durga is the underlying creative, preservative, and destructive energy of the universe who exists as a formless entity always, and sometimes takes form, within the gods or goddesses, to fulfill tasks on behalf of the universe.

  12. Garuda (guh-roo-duh) – The “mount” of Lord Vishnu, Garuda is a large bird, sometimes a humanoid bird, who flies Lord Vishnu around. Sometimes represented as a large phoenix, eagle, or kite, Garuda also exists in Buddhist mythology.

  13. Hanuman (hahn-oo-mahn) – Rama’s right-hand man and a beloved star of The Ramayana, Hanuman is a Vanara, a monkey-like humanoid race who fought by Rama’s side in his attack against Ravana in Lanka. In The Ramayana, Hanuman uses his flying ability to track and eventually make contact with Sita while she is incarcerated by Ravana, but she refuses to go with him back to Rama. Various interpretations of this interaction range from it exemplifying Sita’s purity through her refusal to be in another man’s arms, even to be rescued, to a valid observation that had Sita agreed to go back to Rama with Hanuman, the entire war between Rama and Ravana might have been avoided. Hanuman is consistently referred to as one of the Chiranjivi, representing loyalty, courage and devotion.

  14. Harihara (hah-ree-hah-ruh) – A combined form of Shiva and Vishnu, Harihara is sometimes used to explain/describe the complementary nature of the two gods as aspects of one supreme being.

  15. Indrajit (ind-ruh-jeet) – Ravana’s son and a powerful sorcerer and warrior, Indrajit is the son of Ravana and his Rakshasa wife, Mandodari. Indrajit was said to be immortal because of his rituals, but in The Ramayana, Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, disrupts Indrajit’s rituals, thanks to intel from Vibhishana, and eventually kills him.

  16. Lakshmi (lahk-shmee) – The goddess of prosperity (material and spiritual), and the wife of Lord Vishnu, Lakshmi (or Laxmi), is one of the principal goddesses of the female trimurti or “trinity.” She is said to be the life force of Lord Vishnu and is worshipped during the major festival of Diwali every autumn. Sita is an avatar of Lakshmi.

  17. Gandharva (guhn-dhahr-vuh) – A term with various meanings, in this series, its use refers to the concept of “gandharva marriage” or “natural marriage by mutual consent.” While not typically considered a positive choice in traditional Hindu culture, gandharva marriage is referenced in The Mahabharata, the other great ancient Hindu epic that scholars believe was roughly contemporary with The Ramayana.

  18. Kaikesi (kai-keh-see) – The Rakshasa mother of Ravana, Vibhishana, Kumbhakarna and Surpanakha, Kaikesi was the second wife of Vishrava and is often credited with “seducing” the already-married rishi in an effort to produce the most powerful offspring on Earth.

  19. Kali Yuga (kuh-lee yoo-guh) – “The Age of Vice.” In some branches of Hindu belief, the world goes through four cyclical stages, Kali Yuga being the last. It is said that the demon, Kali, will bring apocalyptic strife and discord to the world, and that Vishnu will come to Earth in his tenth and final form, Lord Kalki, to rid the world of Kali’s scourge and bring humanity back to virtue. Kali Yuga’s themes are generally aligned with other apocalyptic scripture in other religions, such as the “End of Days,” beliefs in Christianity and Islam. Many people believe that the world is currently in Kali Yuga, and that the apocalypse will eventually give way to a new Satya Yuga, Age of Truth.

  20. Kali (kuh-lee) – Hinduism’s primary apocalyptic demon, not to be confused with the goddess of time, Kali (spelled the same in English but not in Sanskrit). It is sometimes said that Ravana is an incarnation and/or devotee of the demon, Kali.

  21. Kalki (kuhl-kee) – Lord Kalki, “Destroyer of Filth,” the tenth and final avatar of Vishnu, is believed to be the only avatar who has not already been on Earth. While references to Kalki are relatively conflicting, it is consistent in texts that Lord Kalki will come to Earth to defeat the demon, Kali, and restore balance and order, ushering in the next Satya Yuga, Age of Truth.

  22. Kama (kaah-muh) – One of the four aims of human life in Hindu philosophy, and most commonly associated with “Kama Sutra” in pop culture, kama can refer to a wide range of aesthetic and/or sensual pleasures that do not all have to do with sex. Passion, longing, desire, affection, emotional fulfillment and love are a few of the common meanings of the word.

  23. Kartikeya (kaahr-tee-kay-yuh) – The god of war and the son of Shiva and Parvati, Kartikeya is widely worshipped throughout Southeast Asia. Sometimes referred to as Murugan, the author gained her first experience with the eccentricities of Hindu ritual at the Batu caves in Malaysia during the Thaipusam festival, when she observed pilgrims completing the final stages of their many, many miles of painful, self-flagellating journeys. 

  24. Kumbhakarna (koom-bha-kahr-nuh) – The younger brother of Ravana and the older brother of Vibhishana, Kumbhakarna is outshined by his siblings in both virtue and iniquity. When Ravana received the boon of immortality from Brahma, Kumbhakarna misspoke and accidentally asked for “eternal sleep.” Ravana stepped in on his behalf and had his sentence reduced from “eternal sleep” to sleeping most of the time. In various references he is said to sleep for long periods of time, sometimes six months, sometimes longer. In The Ramayana, Kumbhakarna is also a complex character as he disagrees with Ravana’s actions, but chooses the dharmic path of supporting his family, placing duty above all else. He subsequently dies by Ravana’s side and praises Vibhishana for being right.

  25. Lakshmana (lahk-shmahn-uh) – The younger brother of Rama and an important character in The Ramayana, Lakshmana’s most important actions as it relates to this series are his support of Rama and Sita, and his attack on Surpanakha that left her permanently disfigured.

  26. Mandodari (muhn-doh-dree) – The wife of Ravana, Mandodari begs him to drop his obsession with Sita. In some depictions of The Ramayana, a Vanara general rapes her on the battlefield in an attempt to distract Ravana and his troops from their yajna, or ritual sacrifice, on the morning of the great battle. After Ravana’s death, Vibhishana marries Mandodari as a second wife (while maintaining Sarama as his first wife), and she continues to reign Lanka as his queen.

  27. Mantra (mahn-truh) – Words or sounds, often repetitive, that are used in prayer.

  28. Moksha (mohk-shuh) – One of the four aims of human life in Hindu philosophy, meaning release or liberation, moksha primarily refers to release from the reincarnation cycle of birth and death on Earth.

  29. Naraka (nah-rah-kuh) – In Hinduism, Naraka, or the underworld (somewhat similar to Christian purgatory) is a temporary place for expiation of sins to be endured between a soul’s mortal death and its return to Earth. There are many different forms of Naraka, each featuring colorful punishments that are related to a person’s sins, such as murderers being eaten alive by Rakshasas. As positive and negative actions do not “cancel each other out” in Hinduism, a soul can repent through their punishment in Naraka and enjoy the peace of Svarga, or a heavenly place, both before their return to Earth.

  30. Parashurama (pah-rah-shoo-rah-muh) – The sixth avatar of Vishnu, Parashurama is a famous devotee of Shiva. He is one of the seven immortals, or Chiranjivi, and some scripture has him returning to fame as the martial trainer of Lord Kalki, the tenth avatar of Vishnu.

  31. Parvati (pahr-vuh-tee) – The wife of Shiva and one of the three chief goddess of the female trimurti, or “trinity,” Parvati is the goddess of power, love, fertility, and devotion. She is also portrayed as Durga (the root form of creation, preservation and annihilation), Shakti (the cosmic energy that underlies all life in the universe), and “one thousand” other names/personas. In the Shaivism sect, Parvati is considered an inextricable force, without which, Shiva would cease to exist, for it is her life force that gives them both power and energy. Parvati is the benevolent form of Shiva’s wife, and the mother of their two sons, Ganesh and Kartikeya.

  32. Rakshasa (raahk-shuh-suh) – Shapeshifting demons in Hindu mythology, Rakshasas have been referred to with various characteristics throughout Hindu and Buddhist literature. Ravana, Vibhishana, Surpanakha and Kumbhakarna are Rakshasas in The Ramayana. Due to the varying (and often conflicting) representations of Rakshasas throughout the literature, this series has expanded on the mythological depictions with far greater detail than has been generally used in the past. While there has been a parallel drawn between some vampire representations and Rakshasas, they are not considered to be the same, in the mythology or in this series.

  33. Rama (raah-muh) – The main protagonist of The Ramayana, Rama is generally considered to be the seventh avatar of Vishnu. Often referred to as “the ideal king” and “the ideal husband,” despite the miserable ending of his wife, Rama is still a beloved character in modern Hinduism. The festival of Diwali, one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated by hundreds of millions of people every autumn, celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, as embodied by Rama’s triumph over Ravana.

  34. Ramayana, the (raah-mah-yuh-nuh) – One of the most well-known and beloved of the ancient Hindu Sanskrit epics, The Ramayana follows the many triumphs and tribulations of Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, and Sita, his wife and the avatar of Lakshmi. While the epic covers a range of stories and characters, the primary conflict centers around Rama’s battle with Ravana, the Rakshasa King of Lanka, after his capture and incarceration of Sita. While there are many versions of The Ramayana referenced across Southeast Asia including in India, Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and more, the most famous version is credited to the storyteller Valmiki. The Ramayana of Valmiki contains seven kandas or “books.” The seven book structure of THE SITA CHRONICLES is meant to be a nod to the original epic.

  35. Ravana (raah-vuh-nuh) – The main antagonist of The Ramayana, Ravana is the Rakshasa King of Lanka. He is said to be a devotee of Shiva, and to have received the “nectar of immortality” as a boon from Lord Brahma that allows him to withstand any injury from any creature, other than a human. Lord Vishnu comes to Earth as the human, Rama, to take advantage of this epic loophole.

  36. Rishi (rih-shee) – An inspired poet of Vedic hymns, sometimes referred to as “sages,” “saints,” or “seers,” who have unique knowledge of divine truths.

  37. Sanskrit (sahn-skrit) – The primary sacred language of Hinduism, it has many forms and can generally be compared to Latin’s role in disseminating and communicating literature, religion and secular education throughout Europe for the two millennia spanning the Roman Empire to the end of the 18th century AD.

  38. Sarama (sah-ruh-mah)– The first wife of Vibhishana, Sarama is the mother of their daughter, Trijata. Sarama is described as a Rakshasa of good character who is kind and helpful to Sita.

  39. Saraswati (sah-ruh-svuh-tee) – The goddess of knowledge, music, arts, learning and wisdom, Saraswati is the wife of Brahma, and one of the principal goddesses of the female trimurti or “trinity.”

  40. Sati (suh-tee) – An ancient Hindu funeral custom, widely despised and outlawed in modern society, in which a widow is burned alive on a funeral pyre with her husband or commits suicide shortly after his death.

  41. Satya Yuga (saht-yuh yoo-guh) – “The Age of Truth,” Satya Yuga is said to be the peaceful era that will return to Earth after Kali is vanquished and Kali Yuga is complete.

  42. Shakti (shuhk-tee) – The primordial cosmic energy of the universe and the personification of the “divine mother,” along with Durga. She is said to manifest on Earth as the embodiment of creative power and fertility. Some sects believe that Shakti is responsible for creation and the agent of all change, as it is her energy that animates everything in the universe, including the gods. In Shaktism and Shaivism, Shakti is worshipped as the female energy of the Supreme Being, as manifested as Parvati, wife of Shiva.

  43. Shitala (shee-tah-luh) – Worshipped by many faiths, Shitala is the goddess of disease, with a historical emphasis on smallpox. She is worshipped in order to prevent the diseases.

  44. Shiva (shih-vuh) – One of the primary deities of Hinduism, and one of the trimurti, or “trinity” gods, Lord Shiva is considered to be “the Destroyer,” “the Transformer,” and “the Regenerator.” He is represented by hundreds, possibly thousands, of different epithets. He is often represented as conflicting personas: he can be “fierce” or “benevolent,” and he is portrayed as a “householder” with his wife, Parvati, and their sons, Ganesh and Kartikeya, but he is also portrayed as an ascetic yogi (chaste and focused on solitary prayer)–two lifestyles that are generally mutually exclusive. Shiva’s wife, Parvati (also referred to as Durga, Shakti and many other names), is considered to be his life force. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, Ravana is a follower of Shiva, and Shiva is said to have given him a divine sword with the stipulation that if he used his sword for unjust purposes, it would be returned to “the three-eyed one” (Shiva himself). Shiva is often considered to be “formless,” and it is common to worship him through the formless idol of a “lingam."

  45. Sita (see-tuh) – The main female protagonist of The Ramayana, Sita is Rama’s wife and an avatar of the goddess, Lakshmi. Often referred to as “the ideal wife” for her desire and ability to make the deepest personal sacrifices on behalf of her husband, Sita’s tragic suicidal ending is controversial in modern academic discussions of the ancient epics.

  46. Sugriva (soo-gree-vuh) – The King of the Vanaras, Sugriva’s support is crucial to Rama’s defeat of Ravana in The Ramayana. It is with Sugriva’s army that Rama attacks Lanka. Many discussions around historical validity of The Ramayana have centered around the assertion that Rama led Sugriva’s army over a formerly existing land bridge from mainland India to the island of Sri Lanka, as NASA images show that a series of lightly submerged sandbar islands do appear to have, at some point in the past, connected the two land masses.

  47. Surya (soo-ree-yuh) – The god of the sun and the father of Yama (and Yama’s twin sister, Yami). In The Ramayana, Surya is said to be the father of Sugriva, King of the Vanaras, however, that connection is not referenced in this series.

  48. Surpanakha (soor-puh-nuh-khuh) – The sister of Ravana, Vibhishana, and Kumbhakarna, Surpanakha is a primary female antagonist in The Ramayana. She is often considered the catalyst of the main events of The Ramayana (often taking the blame for Ravana). Surpanakha’s story is also complex, as one of her primary scenes in the epic is when she falls in love with Rama. When she is rejected and humiliated by Rama, she attacks Sita, and Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, permanently maims her by cutting off her nose with a divine weapon. Surpanakha’s hatred of Sita and her anger at Rama’s rejection is a driving force of her character’s antagonistic actions later in the story.

  49. Trijata (tree-jah-tuh) – The Rakshasa daughter of Vibhishana and Sarama, Trijata is generally portrayed as a friend and confidante of Sita.

  50. Trimurti (tree-moor-tee) – The “trinity” of Hindu gods: Brahma (“the Creator”), Vishnu (“the Preserver”), and Shiva (“the Destroyer” and “the Transformer”). Together, the trinity complements each other, representing a descriptive model of various aspects of life on Earth. A second trinity of Hindu goddesses complements the male one: Saraswati (goddess of knowledge; wife of Brahma), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth; wife of Vishnu), and Parvati (goddess of power and love; wife of Shiva).

  51. Valmiki (vahl-mih-kee) – The attributed author of The Ramayana, he is credited with inventing the poetic structure of epic Sanskrit literature. In Valmiki’s Ramayana, he is said to have taken Sita in after Rama banished her.

  52. Vanara (vaah-nuh-ruh) – An ancient race of non-human, intelligent primates, the Vanaras are supporters of Rama and his primary troops in his battle against Ravana. Sometimes referred to just as “monkeys” other times referred to as “half-man, half-monkeys,” the literature is not consistent in its depiction of Vanaras. Hanuman and Sugriva are the most famous Vanaras, from their important roles in The Ramayana.

  53. Varuna (vuh-roo-nuh) – The god of water and the celestial ocean, Varuna was the original chief god of the Vedic pantheon and later appeared throughout Sanskrit literature, primarily as the ruler of the sea. He plays a secondary role in The Ramayana.

  54. Vibhishana (vee-bhee-shuh-nuh) – The youngest brother of Ravana, Vibhishana is an important ally of Rama in The Ramayana. In The Ramayana, Vibhishana attempts to convince Ravana to return Sita to Rama, but his efforts are not successful. He then joins Rama and provides important intel that leads to Ravana’s eventual defeat. Rama crowns Vibhishana the King of Lanka after Ravana is dead. Vibhishana’s role in The Ramayana is a complex one, as he betrays his family and his race in order to follow a path he considers to be more dharmic. Still, there is no perfect path towards dharma (righteousness), and so, he is also considered a traitor. Vibhishana is one of the Chiranjivi, one of the seven immortals of Hinduism, who are said to remain on Earth to this day to guide humans on the path of righteousness.

  55. Vishnu (vihsh-noo) – One of the primary deities of Hinduism, Lord Vishnu is considered to be “the Preserver of the Universe.” Lord Vishnu is one of the Trimurti, or “trinity” of Hindu gods, along with Brahma and Shiva. Together with his wife, Lakshmi (or Laxmi), who is considered his life force, Lord Vishnu is mentioned throughout numerous Sanskrit texts and is worshipped as the supreme being by the Vaishnava sect of Hindus. Rama is generally considered the seventh avatar of Vishnu among the Dashavatara (“ten avatars of Vishnu”). Some Hindu texts/sects refer to more avatars of Vishnu, including Mohini, a female avatar.

  56. Vishrava (vihsh-rah-vuh) – the father of Ravana, Vibhishana, Kumbhakarna and Surpanakha, he is described as a powerful rishi or “seer.” He is said to have left his wife, Kaikesi, the mother of the four Rakshasa children, to return to his first wife after he became unhappy with Ravana’s conduct.

  57. Yajna (yahg-nyuh) – “Sacrifice, devotion, worship, or offering,” it refers to any ritual done in front of a sacred fire, often with mantras.

  58. Yaksha/Yakshini (yahk-shuh / yahk-shee-nee) – A powerful nature spirit with shapeshifting abilities, generally considered to be the caretakers of Earth. The feminine form of a Yaksha is a Yakshini.

  59. Yama (yah-muh) – The god of death, lord of justice, and the gatekeeper of the underworld, Yama is one of several deities who participates in the management of the afterlife. The gatekeeper of Naraka (roughly Hindu “purgatory”), Yama is said to be one of the judges of human life/morality and “the first mortal to have died.”

 

Pronunciation Key:

Rather than using the international phonetic alphabet that is not commonly used by the average reader, these pronunciation notes use references to common sounds in American English, more similar to a foreign language guide for casual travelers.

 

Note that an “h” does not represent an aspiration in this transliteration, it is used to demonstrate various vowel sounds in English. Also note that the consonants have been simplified for an English speaker and do no fully represent the nuanced differences in the Sanskrit alphabet, such as aspirated v. non-aspirated consonants, that a native Hindi speaker would recognize.

 

Also note that prononciation of names of characters and deities varies widely across Southeast Asia. This prononciation guide was created with the help of a native Tamil speaker with university-level education in Sanskrit, and is intended to give a native English-speaker some sense of one form of accurate prononciation.

 

Ah – as in “car” and “hard”

Aah – hold “ah” as in “car” and “hard” longer

Uh – as in “under” and “bus”

Ih – as in “in” and “interest”

Eh – as in “extra” and “excellent”

Oh – as in “over” and “ornate”

Ee – as in “cheese” and “beast,” note that this does not indicate an elongation

Oo – as in “choose” and “I do,” note that this does not indicate an elongation

 

Big thanks to R. Srinivasan for expert review and oversight on prononciation and definitions.