Hindu Beliefs in Shakespeare: Moon, Eclipse, Ghosts (Post No.4096)

Written by London Swaminathan


Date: 19 July 2017


Time uploaded in London- 17-11


Post No. 4096


Pictures shown here are taken from various sources such as Facebook friends, Books, Google and newspapers; thanks.

 

It is needless to say that Shakespeare was a great scholar, playwright and a poet. he must have read and heard about India a lot. He lived just 500 years ago and no wonder he knew about India and Hinduism; by that time lot of Europeans were travelling in different directions in search of wealth. We see several references to Hindu beliefs in his plays. Had he been an essayist he would have mentioned the sources; but he was only a playwright and his main aim was to satisfy the English audience.

I have been collecting such references from different sources; I have written about his reference to Nagaratna (Cobra gem) a few years ago. Now look at some more references about Moon, Eclipses and Ghosts.

Mr Crooke, in his book Popular Religion and Folk-Lore of Northern India, has an interesting note on the moon:

“The moon has several special functions in relation to disease. Roots and simples collected by moonlight are more efficacious”. This is quite Shakespearian for Jessica says,

 

“n such a night Medea gathered the enchanted herbs

That did renew old Aeson “(The Merchant of Venice)

And Laertes speaks of the poison ‘collected from all simples that have virtue under the moon’ (Hamlet) .

Also very common is the belief that any disease contracted by  a man under the waning moon tends to diminish. Patients are often told to look at the moon reflected in butter or milk or water, and the cure will be effected. This is mostly done in the case of leprosy and similar diseases.

“In spite of all these advantages there is very little special worship of the Moon. When an image is erected to him it is usually associated with that of the Sun God. Moon worship is most popular in Bengal and Behar.”

 

My comments

I have already written about Moon’s effect on mind, why Hindus worship moon, Nagaratna and Vedic hymns linking Plants and Moon. Western biologists have not yet found out what Hindus already knew. Soma is used to denote Moon, Soma herb and moon in astrology.

Eclipses in Shakespeare

Until today Hindus are the only race in the world who take eclipses seriously.  They knew the bad and good effects of the eclipses. Any prayer done during eclipse is 100 times more effective. Any food eaten during or just before the eclipse will have bad effects. Such beliefs and special rituals like propitiating the departed souls do not exist in any other religion. They put Dharba grass in all the cooked foods to save it from the radiation. The reason is that not all the eclipses are bad. But they want the same rules for all eclipses so that people will remember to follow them.

Eclipses are believed to be of evil omen. Gloucester summarises admirably the Hindu belief in passage in King Lear (1-2)

“These late eclipses in the sun and pointed no good to us… love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide; in cities mutinies; in countries discord; in palaces treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son and father”.

 

Shakespeare said more than what Hindu scriptures said about the eclipses. Hindus will eat no food which has remained in the house during an eclipse, and all the earthen vessels which are in the house must be broken. During an eclipse, all the household business is suspended and eating and drinking prohibited. Even sleeping is forbidden. They bathe before and after the eclipse; use the time for prayers. Orthodox Hindus stand in the water and recite Gayatri mantra. Bathing during eclipse also cleanses from sin.

 

People born under particular stars wear special talisman, i.e., a palm leaf written with mantra is worn on forehead.

Though Hindus knew what causes eclipses and they calculated precisely and forecast the date and time, they told the laymen some stories. Ignorant people cant understand  astronomical calculations. They told the laymen that two planets (shadows) Rahu and Ketu are demons or snakes and they devour sun and moon.

Ghosts in Shakespeare

Foreigners have a big confusion about Hindu beliefs in ghosts. All the foreigners described Hindus as devil worshippers. Ignorant people like Dr Caldwell called all the Nadar community members as devil worshippers. Other foreigners described 90 percent Hindus are devil worshippers. This is because of their ignorance; they could not differentiate between the Asuras, Rakshasas, departed souls, Brahmarakshas (Brahmin ghosts), demon planets Rahu and Ketu and the actual ghosts (of people who died unnaturally in murders, suicides, accidents); apart from these some tribal beliefs about forests caves and hills (they are like Bermuda Triangles) and anything that cant be explained were classified as mysterious ghosts. Foreign writers classified all these as devil worships. Such beliefs exists in all parts of the world and in all cultures. Atharva Veda described even bacteria and Viruses as demons because the laymen won’t understand. Eclipsing planets such as Rahu and Ketu were described as demons but not ghosts

 

In King Lear, Shakespeare says,

:Unsepulchred they roamed and shrieked, each wandering ghost”.

The earliest Shakespeare in which Ghosts appear is Richard III. Richard is visited by the spirits of his victims in sleep.

In Hamlet, Horatio doubts the existence of ghosts that Barnardo and Marcellus claimed to have seen on two previous nights.

Horatio says that before Julius Caesar’s assassination,

“he sheeted dead

Did squeak and gibber in Roman streets”

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare says, Brutus saw the apparition of murdered Caesar. He wondered whether it was some god or angel or devil.

 

This is definitely Hindu way of questioning.

In Macbeth Banquo’s ghost plays an important role.

In short all the important plays of Shakespeare have ghosts.

Monier William’s Ignorance:—

Rev, E Osborn Martin adds the epithet “bloody” for all the Hindu gods and goddesses: Shiva, Kali, Avatars of Vishnu and Ganesh! They are described in the chapter ‘Demon and Devil worship in India’ in his book ‘The Gods of India’.

Ignorant Sir Monier Williams writes, “the people worshipping a milkman who was killed by a tiger and he became devil”.

Sangam Tamil literature said that the heroes were worshipped after their death. If a person dies in an attack by a tiger or any animal when he tried to save the general public, Tamils erect Hero Stone for him and worship. Even today all the countries in the world erect memorials for their leaders and the visiting foreign dignitary must lay a wreath there. When some accidents happen people go to the spots and lay wreaths or flower bunches and light candles etc. Poor Monier Williams and his colleagues such as Caldwells would have described them as devil worship!

 

All the ladies who sacrificed their lives to save their honour or in Satee are worshipped! Ignorant foreigners called those devil worship. But they themselves erect war memorials in every nook and corner and ask Kings and Queens to lay flower wreaths every year. we can call them Devil worshippers!!

 

Sir Alfred Ryall declared that “every mysterious, gruesome looking dell, cavern, steep pass and wild and desolate hill top or ridge in Central India has its Deo (god), never seen of man, but felt by those who visit the spot – by shepherds and herdsmen camping out far amid the melancholy worlds or by travellers along the lonely tracks…. The whereabouts of the spirits is sometimes marked by a heap of stones, sometimes by rags tied to bush, occasionally by chains suspended mystically from a cliff or a tree; or the spirit wanders around a huge banyan tree or a ruined temple.

 

Mr Bowtring, in his Eastern Experiences (1871), described the Spirit Houses found in the Mysore Forests – little sheds built over the white ant hills and dedicated to the wood demons.

Captain Forsyth, writing about Berar, mentions that when the Gonds fell the wood on a hill side, they leave a little clump of trees to serve as a refuge for the spirit whom they have dislodged.

Westerners also believed in haunted buildings; every year newspaper articles about haunted places appear during Halloween times.

Sangam  age Tamils also believed that spirits occupy all the hills, water sources and trees. It is in Sangam literature. Those who don’t study both Tamil and Sanskrit literature blabber more than others. Hindus believed in ghosts but they are different from good spirits.

Tags: Shakespeare, Hindu Beliefs, Ghosts, Moon ,Eclipse, devil worship

 

–Subham–

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. We find such beliefs in the works of Thomas Hardy too. Though they cannot be termed specifically Hindu, they were the beliefs and practices that were shared by rural communities before Christianity was forced on them. The Christians called them Pagan superstitions, but they persisted long in the life of the rural folk, even as they faced transformation in the wake of Industrial Revolution and the rise of city life. Especially in ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and The Return of the Native, these are employed to indicate the inscrutable nature of the world and the unpredictability of our lives, with the prevalence of so much of (undeserved) suffering and (unavoidable) evil which Hardy found hard to reconcile with the neat Christian conception of a benevolent God. Perhaps Hardy felt that Paganism which celebrated so many aspects of Nature and tried to interpret its various symbols and occurrences , or related life events to aspects observed in Nature ( such as a crow cawing at an important moment V) offered a better connect with Nature than organised Christianity.
    V.S.Naipaul has shown how such old Hindu beliefs still persist among people converted to Islam in Malaysia/ Indonesia.

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