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Glossary of Technical terms and Puranic persons mentioned

(The technical terms are italicised with phonetic spelling;

Names of persons are given with their non-phonetised popular spelling)


Aagamas: the secondary scriptures that deal with temple and all other ritualistic worship.

AagAmi karma: the aggregate of actions that one is yet to do.

abhisheka: ritualistic bathing of a deity in the form of an idol or image.

adharma: unrighteousness; the opposite of dharma; any action, thought or speech discordant with the soul’s natural urge to be one with the ultimate Supreme..

advaita: non-dual; philosophy which holds that in the Absolute Reality (Brahman or Atman) there is not the slightest element of duality.

Agastya: One of the greatest sages of yore. The anecdotes that reveal his spiritual and psychic powers are in every PurANa. Also considered to be the father of the Tamil language in the sense that the language and its grammar were divinely revealed to him.

agni: Fire; God of fire; one of the eight deities guarding the eight directions.

AhalyA: Sage Gautama’s loyal wife, who was, for once, disloyal. Was it a willing act of sin or was it a tragedy of circumstances? – is a perennial controversy. But AhalyA is listed as one among the five great chaste women of Hindu mythology.

ahamkAra: the ego; the feeling that this body and/or the mind within it is the Self.

AjAmila: A Brahmin who was ostracized by his caste because he married an outcaste and was so infatuated with her that he committed several misdeeds. However, when dying, he called to his side his son, Narayana, by name and was therefore redeemed by the Lord for taking His name!

Akrura: Krishna's paternal uncle and a great admirer-devotee of Lord Krishna

akshara: The imperishable, the immutable.

Alambana: prop

Alvars: Twelve vaishnava saints (3rd millenium B.C.E., to 10th century C.E.) are called Alvars. Their devotional poems in Tamil constitute the Divya Prabandhams (Divine Songs) considered equivalent to the Sanskrit Vedas.

Ambarisha: the great king in the ikshvAku dynasty, famous for his superlative devotion; His devotion withstood the wrath of even the fiercest sage, Durvasa.

anAtman, anAtmA: that which is not the Atman; that which is not the Ultimate Reality; non-Self.

aparA bhakti: lower level devotion; not devotion to the Supreme Reality.

aparA shakti: the Power that is not supreme; connotes PrakRti, which is secondary to the Ultimate Godhead, the parA shakti.

arcanA: sequence of successive offerings of flowers or their equivalent to the deity during ritualistic worship.

Arjuna: the great hero of the M.B., the middle one of the five Pandava princes; friend and disciple of Lord Krishna. Krishna became his charioteer in the great war and their friendly discourse at the start of the battle constitutes the bhagavad-gItA

artha: wealth & material happiness; the second of the four objectives (purushArthas) of human life.

Arti: the ritual of waving lights or lighted camphor before a deity or a holy person.

ASrama: hermitage of a holy person; (also) one of the four stages of human life.

Atman, AtmA; the ultimate Reality of Hindu philosophy – sometimes loosely used in the sense of the individual ‘soul’.

auM: The ultimate syllable which stands for Brahman itself, th one syllable with which every prayer, every arcanA and every chanting starts.

avatAr, avatAra: The descent of Godhead asz xa physical manifestation, a divine incarnation.

avidyA, ajnAna: primal ignorance, veiling the true nature of Brahman.

Balarama: son of Rohini. Elder brother of Lord Krishna.

Bhagavad-GitA: (B.G.): a part of the Bhishma-parva of the M.B. by Vyasa; the discourse between Arjuna and Krishna on the battlefield, teaching Arjuna the entire philosophy of Karma, Bhakti and JnAna.

BhAgavataM: (BhA.) The most important of the eighteen purANas written by Vyasa; excellent in the sublimity, fervour and comprehensiveness of the pattern of matchless devotion-cum-enlightenment that it inculcates in the reader.

bhajan: singing in chorus of prayers, hymns or names of God.

Bhakta: devotee.

Bhakti: devotion; worship of God or a holy person through personal love.

Bhishma: the grandfather figure in the M.B.; respected and revered by everyone, friend and foe. An intense devotee, through intellectual conviction, of Lord Krishna. After the M.B. War, it was to him that Yudhishtira, at the instance of Lord Krishna, asked several questions on Hindu dharma and to him is due the elaborate expositions on the various subtleties and niceties of dharma that occupy a sizable portion of the great epic.

BrahmA: the Creator, the first of the classic Trinity: BrahmA, Vishnu and Shiva. Philosophically he is the first-born JIva.

brahmacAri: generally, one who is in the first of the four stages of life; traditionally, any brahmin bachelor who has been initiated into the vedas and is devoting his time to learning and austerity under the supervision of his guru.

Brahman: metaphysical term in the neuter gender denoting the Transcendental Absolute Supreme reality, the all-pervading principle of all that exists; to be clearly distinguished from the masculine gender word BrahmA, the Creator.

BrAhmaNa: Brahmin, one of the four varNas; (also) a section of the vedas.

BrahmasUtras: authoritative treatise of aphorisms on Vedanta; one of the three ultimate sources (prasthAna-traya)  of Hindu philosophy.

Cakras: Literally, wheels or circles; in the literature on Yoga, cakra is a mystical circle or location, usually six in number, of the human body, viz., at the pubis, in the umbilical region, at the pit of the stomach, in the heart, at the hollow between the frontal of the sinuses and the space between the eyebrows.

Cit-shakti: pure consciousness.

Dakshina-murti: The manifestation of Shiva as a youthful preceptor, trampling upon the demon of ignorance, facing the southern direction to ward off Spiritual Death from His devotees and confer on them Immortality. The hymn composed by Shankara on Dakshina-murti, known as dakshina-murti ashTakam is very famous..

darSan: seeing, paying a visit to a deity or a holy man; (also) silent transmission of spiritual experience to an audience or an individual.

Dasaratha: father of Lord Shri Rama. A king of the Ikshvaku dynasty, also known as the solar line of kings.

dharma: righteousness, duty, law, the inner characteristic of a thing without which it cannot be what it is; (also) the path which a man should follow in accordance with his nature (evolution) and station (Asrama) in life.

Dhruva: the boy-devotee who decided to seek redress, from the Lord Himself, for the insulting treatment he got from his stepmother. When he did see the Lord after a historiuc penance for five and a half months, he had already become the lodestar in the firmament of Bhakti. dhyAna: dynamic meditation and contemplation on the divine leading to enlightenment.

Draupadi: Panchali princess, wife of the five Pandavas, heroine of the M.B. and an admirer-devotee of Lord Krishna who performed miracle after miracle in her favour.

dvaita: dual; the dualistic philosophy which recognises an ultimate difference between the individual soul and God; the school of philosophy propagated by Madhwa.

Gajendra: the elephant king of yore who appealed to the Fountain of Godhead (and none less!) at his greatest crisis and got divine rescue.

Ganga: The Ganges; the deity associated with the river Ganges.

Garuda: the King of birds; born of KaSyapa and VinatA; the bitter enemy of serpents; the eternal carrier or vAhana of Lord VishNu and as such his most intimate devotee.

Gopis: the milkmaids of Brindavan; companions and staunch self-effacing devotees of Lord Krishna; the role-models of bhakti par excellence.

gRhastASrama: the second stage of life, namely the householder state of living.

guNas: three essences, qualities, stresses, tensions or tendencies of Nature, viz., satva, rajas and tamas.

Hanuman: the well-known devotee of Lord Rama; the hero, next only to Rama himself, of the Ramayana; has the form of a monkey. Considered as the foremost devotee of the Lord and to be worshipped as such as a God in his own right and as an ishTa-devatA (= favourite deity); the one deity worshipped and revered throughout the Hindu world without exception of caste or region or school of philosophy to which one adheres. (Also see Chapter 4).

Hiranyakashipu: father of Prahlada; the Asura King for whose destruction the Lord had to take the Narasimha avatara.

Ikshvaku: The first King who ruled on earth in the present Manvantara, known as Vaivasvta Manvantara. His dynasty of kings includes such great names as Bhagiratha, Dilipa and Rama.

ishTa-devatA: the God that suits one’s taste, temperament and tradition.

JaDabharata: the perfect sage who, for fear of getting into the clutches of attachment, would not even talk, would not protest or resist whatever anybody did or spoke to him..

Janaka: Sita’s father, in the Ramayana. The Upanishads speak, however, of a philosopher-king of the same name.

JaTAyu: the vulture-friend of Rama (and of King Dasaratha) in the Ramayana; by offering his very life in the cause of Rama, in a fight with Ravana, he attained mokshaM by dying on the lap of Lord Rama.

Kamsa: maternal uncle of Lord Krishna;he was killed by the latter in a duel for his tyranny. But as he was constantly thinking of the Lord even in his dreams, he was blessed with mokshaM.

King Bali: also known as mahAbali, grandson of the great devotee, Prahlada. By his spiritual prowess he became king of the three worlds. Later the Lord had to appear as a dwarf (vAmana-avatAra) and trick him into submission by his own promise

Lakshmana: brother of Lord Rama in the Ramayana; the descent (= avatAra) on earth of Adi-Sesha, the serpent-seat of Lord Vishnu in the world of Vaikuntha.

Lakshmi: the eternal consort of Lord Vishnu; the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.

Narada: the great divine devotee of the Lord, who perambulates all the three worlds with the Lord's name in his heart and on his lips, with a vINA in his hand, bringing comfort to all, through his famous but mysterious machinations, which always end in the success of virtue over vice; the apostle of nAma-sankIrtana (= recitation and singing of God's names) and the legendary author of the authoritative bhakti-sUtras. He is not only the divine messenger in the PurANas, but the friend, philosopher, guide and consoler of all - gods, humans and asuras alike - the intermediary between God and His creation.He places himself in the hands of God as a willing instrument for the service of man and prefers to enjoy the Divine play and company to becoming merged in Him for ever. To that extent he is gracious enough to retain a little ego to teach the other souls immersed in samsAra.

Panchali: another name for Draupadi, because she is the daughter of the King of Panchala.

Pandavas: The five sons of Pandu; the heroes of the epic M.B., much maligned by the Kauravas, the one hundred sons of Dhritarashtra.

Parasara: Father of Vyasa; author of one of the smRtis (moral codes) known as Parasara-smRti. Later in the 12th century, Shri Ramanuja named one of his disciples Parasara, who wrote the famous commentary on Vishnu-sahasra-nAma, known as the Parasara-bhatta-bhAshya.

parA-shakti: the Ultimate Godhead of Power; another name for pure spirit or pure Consciousness.

Parikshit: the Pandava emperor; grandson of Arjuna; son of Abhimanyu; to him was narrated the entire bhagavata story by Sage Suka and thus arose Vyasa's bhAgavata-PurANa..

Patanjali: A great seer of rare insight. The first exponent of the yoga system of Indian philosophy and the author of ‘yogasUtras’, the authoritative tone of which speaks of his genuine personal experience. Is probably different from the celebrated grammarian of the same name who lived in the 2nd century B.C.

Prahlada: the divine son of the undivine Hiranyakashipu whom the Gods and Asuras dreaded alike. Prahlada’s unshakable belief in the omnipresence of the Lord resulted in the Lord appearing from within a pillar, but appearing in such a form (half-man, half-lion) that it proved to be the end of Hiranyakashipu.

PrakRti: the one insentient origin of the universe; consists of the three guNas; has no power of independent actions, acts in the presence of the supreme parA-shakti.

prArabdha-karma: the aggregate of actions that begin to bear fruit the moment one is born.

purushArtha: the goal of man; there are four goals: dharma, artha, kAma and moksha.

Radha: the celebrated gopi (milkmaid) of Brindavan, beloved of Krishna, and the principal character in Jayadeva’s Gita-Govinda; in later times came to be worshippedas a goddess and an avatara of Lakshmi. Hindu literature and mythology are studded with stories of the mutual devotion and divine love of Radha with Krishna that we can no more think of one without the other. See 7.7.

Rahugana: A King to whom JaDabharata gives the spiritual teaching in a most unexpected context.

rajas, rajo-guNa : as an abstract quality, the expansion outwards into activity and multiplicity; in a human being, the tendency to be attached to activity; rAjasik is used as the corresponding adjectival form in English.

Ranganatha: Name of the deity as worshipped in the famous temple of Srirangam

Ravana: The Brahmin-born Rakshasa king of Lanka, who brought destruction on himself by committing the one sin of carrying off Lord Rama’s consort, Sita. Since he met his end on the battlefield at the hands of the Lord Himself, he attained salvation (after one more birth).

Rg-veda : the first of the four vedas, the oldest of religious compositions.

sAdhanA: the practice of spiritual discipline.

sAdhu: a holy man

saguNa-brahman: Brahman with attributes; the Absolute conceived as Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the universe.

sahasranAma: the litany of the thousand (and eight) names of God.

samAdhi: the supreme goal of yogic effort; superconsciousness consequent on a total negation of the physical universe.

SAma-veda: the third of the four vedas, the most musical of them all.

samsAra: the cycle of births and deaths; (also) the course or circuit of worldly life.

Sanandana: one of the four sons born out of the mind of BrahmA the Creator; he renounced worldly life at birth.

Sanat-sujata: One of the four sons of BrahmA the Creator, born out of his sheer mental construct. Like his three other brothers, Sanaka, Sanandana and Sanatana, he also refused to lead a worldly life and chose a life of renunciation and illumination.

Samcita-karma: the entire aggregate of actions done in the past, including all previous lives – minus that portion which has already begun to giv e fruit in this life, technically called prArabdha-karma.

sankIrtana: singing, in chorus, or otherwise (of the Lord’s names and glories).

sannyAsa-ASrama: the fourth stage, if at all, of a person’s life and personality.

sannyAsi: a person in the fourth stage of man’s life;  such a person must have renounced all wealth and property, kith and kin.

Sat-cid-Ananda : literally, Being-Consciousness-Bliss; a term for the divine state, since spiritual knowing is being the Self and it is pure Bliss.

Satva, Satva-guNa: the tendency to spirituality, involving freedom from worldly passions and attachments; sAtvik is used as the corresponding adjectival form in English.

Shaiva: relating, belonging, devoted, consecrated to Shiva.

ShAstra: scientific, legal or canonical treatise.

Shiva: the third of the classical Trinity, the other two being BrahmA and Vishnu.

Shiva-linga: a symbol of Shiva, indicating his divine creative and dissolutive functions, made of stone or other materials, in the shape of an ellipsoid; a holy symbol worshipped with the noblest attitude of prayer and surrender. The word ‘linga’ has a root meaning – ‘that in which all beings are absorbed’.

Shloka: literally, a verse.

shraddhA: literally, deep interest or devotion; technically, supreme devotion to the work on hand.  See 9.8.

shravaNa: the act of listening to or hearing (names of God and His glories)

shRshTi: creation.

Shruti: that which is heard; a collective name for all the vedas. See 3.1.

Shuka: the great boy-sage, son of vyAsa, noted as the perfect specimen of one who has renounced both internally and externally; therefore referred to in all scriptural literature as a brahma-jnAni (= one who lives always in the full realisation of Brahman)

Siddha: literally, accomplishd, fulfilled, gained, acquired; technically, a semidivine being of great spiritual purity and perfection and said to possess the eight supernatural faculties; colloquially, anyone who has supernatural powers whether or not he has spiritual enlightenment.

Sisupala: the arch-enemy of Lord Krishna who finally met his end at the hands of the Lord and reached mokshaM.

smaraNa: the act of remembering (God and His glories).

smRti:  the law books, forming the secondary source for Hinduism, guiding all daily life and conduct, private and public, secular as well as religious. See 3.2.

Sugriva: the dethroned king of the monkey kingdom in the Ramayana; befriended by Lord Rama and restored by him to kingship; he placed the might of all his kingdom at Rama's disposal against Ravana

svabhAva: inborn nature, temperament

svadharma: one’s own dharma or duty.

tamas, tamo-guNa: abstractly this implies movement downwards from spirit to matter; in a human being it is the tendency to evil, malice and ignorance; tAmasik is used as the corresponding adjectival form in English.

tulsI: a plant most sacred to the worship of Vishnu.

turIyAvasthA: the fourth state of consciousness; a super-conscious state where perception of physical reality vanishes.

Uddhava: cousin, admirer-devotee and confidant of Lord Krishna; the parting message that Krishna gives to him on the eve of His exit from the world is known as 'uddhava-gItA', built into 18 chapters of the eleventh skanda of the bhAgavata-PurANa.

Upamanyu: son of Arjuna; a great warrior and a devotee of Krishna.

upanishads: the third and last part of the Vedas, forming the basis of the entire Hindu philosophy; along with the B.G. and the Br.S. it forms the triad of  authoritative sources (prasthAna-traya) for Hindu philosophy.

vaishNava: relating, belonging, devoted or consecrated to Vishnu.

vaiSya: the third caste, engaged in trade, commerce and agriculture.

Vali: the elder brother of Sugriva; He committed the indiscretion of misunderstanding Sugriva’s conduct in his absence and turned him out of the family as well as the kingdom and persecuted him almost to death; was finally punished by Rama who shot a fatal arrow at him from behind a tree. This questionable means of punishment has been a standing controversy ever since, even though Vali himself acquitted Rama of any guilt or adharma.

Valmiki: the renowned author of the ancient Ramayana. He was earlier a highway robber but later by the circumstance and penance  of repetition of the name Rama for several hundreds of years (even though he could only repeat mara, mara, …) he was transformed into the enlightened Maharshi Valmiki.

VAna-prastha-Asrama: the third stage, if at all, of a person’s life and personality; traditionally, the stage where the householder (and maybe, the spouse also) retire to the forest and live in seclusion, austerity and prayer.

VAsanAs:  latent tendencies inherent in a human being resulting from the thoughts and actions in previous lives and governing those in the present life, unless overcome by discipline, penance and God’s Grace.

VedAnta: literally, end of the vedas; the main source for the intellectual interpretation of Hinduism.

Vedas: the oldest Hindu literary co mpositions; the primary source for Hinduism.

Vidura: the character in the M.B. who is depicted as the repository of wisdom; respected by one and all for his wisdom, though born of a lower caste; a great silent devotee of Lord Krishna.

vidyA: knowledge, learning;   opposite of avidyA which means Ignorance.

VishNu: the second of the classic Trinity, the other two being BrahmA and Shiv a.

viSishTAdvaita: the qualified non-dualistic philosophypropounded by the school of Ramanuja; it recognises the ultimate identity of the individual soul with Brahman but emphasizes the practicality of the difference.

Vyasa: The celebrated author and father figure not just in the story of the Maha-bharata, but in the entire cultural milieu of Hinduism. The prolific nature of his writings transcends, in quantum alone, not to speak of its qualitative impact, that of any writer in (probably) any language in the total history of mankind.  (also called Veda-vyAsa).

Yajna: act of worship or devotion; offering, oblation, sacrifice; special vedantic meaning given to it by the B.G. See 2.4.

Yajna-valkya: Reputed MahaRshi and Seer of the Upanishads. The famous teaching of Yajna-valkya to his wife Maitreyi, is found in Br.U.

Yajurveda: the second of the four vedas.

Yasoda: cow-herd queen and foster mother of Lord Krishna. She got several instances of the Godhood of the child Krishna but her affection and attachment were so intense that it turned into a motherly love of the divine in the form of the child.

Yoga: spiritual discipline.

Yudhishtira: The eldest of the Pandavas in the M.B.. Not only the true hero of the story, but the role model for all time for all souls wedded to dharma.

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