By Johannes Henricus Scholten
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To this later period of Brahminism belongs also the alteration of the old epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, by which the heroes Rama and Krishna are represented as avatars, that is incarnations or human impersonations, of Vishnu. In this also there is evidently an effort to bring the deity, conceived as the abstract One, into closer union with man, an effort which is likewise visible in the later Yoga system of the Brahmins, in which, by the admission of Buddhistic elements, the visible world is recognized as real, the old rigid asceticism mitigated, Vishnu represented as the soul of the world, and immortality taught as a return of the individual soul to Brahma.
Fruitfulness and drought, the results of the Nile's overflowing and receding, are imaged in the myth of Osiris, Isis, and Typhon. The visible form under which the divine was worshiped in Egypt was the sacred animal, the bull Apis, dedicated to Osiris, the cow, dedicated to Isis, as symbols of agriculture; the bird Ibis, the crocodile, the dog Anubis, and other animals, whose physical characteristics impressed the as yet childish man, who saw in them the symbol, either of the beneficent power of nature which moved him to thankfulness, or of a destructive power which he dreaded and whose anger he sought to avert.
In the mythology of the people, Indra, god of light, aided by Vayu and Rudra, wages war with Vritra,—who, as god of the clouds, holds back the rain and the light,—and appears as opponent of the destructive Ahi. The other divinities also which appear in the Vedas are personified powers of nature,—the twin brothers Aswins (equites), or the first rays of the sun, Ushas the maiden, or the rosy dawn, Surya, Savitri, the god of the sun. Great significance is given in the Indian mythology to Agni, the god of fire, who burns the sacrifice in honor of the gods, who conveys the offerings and prayers of men to gods and their gifts to men, who gladdens the domestic hearth, lights up the darkness of night, drives away the evil spirits, the Ashuras and Rakshas, and purges of evil the souls of men.