Rild enters the story on his way to assassinate the Buddha, but takes ill on the road. Sam nurses the man to health despite knowing him to be one of Kali's warriors—and while Rild may be an assassin, he's not a jerk, so he refuses to take the life of the man who saved his. He also can't return to his former life because Kali will totally kill him should he return a failure.
So he joins the ranks of the Buddhist monks and eventually obtains enlightenment to become a Buddha himself, taking the name Sugata. When Yama comes to put a death smack on Sam, Sugata fights the death god despite knowing he cannot win, sacrificing himself and becoming the first martyr for Sam's cause.
Overtime, Sugata's teachings and Sam's blend together, a small but important note in the novel's treatment on the theme of religion. More on that over in the "Themes" section, though.
Rild's story maintains many parallels to the Buddhist figure of Daku Angulimala. In Buddhist tradition, Angulimala was a thief and murdered. Generally such professions lead to a rather hefty build up of bad karma, but the Buddha saw a potential in Angulimala that no one else saw. He believed that this murderer could not only learn to repent from his old ways, but might even reach enlightenment in his current lifetime. Although the road of karmic comeuppances was difficult, Angulimala took up the teachings of the Buddha and lived a happy life. (Source)
Every epic fantasy tale needs a good betrayer character, and we get one with Lord Ganesha. Ganesha acts as an adviser of sorts to the gods, but all the while he's attempted to maintain his own power without risking his neck. When it looks like the gods might not defeat Nirriti, Ganesha exchanges strategic information in hopes of keeping his life and place of power in Nirriti's new world. He is killed by Jan Olvegg in the Battle of Khaipur.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati, and the god of beginnings and remover of obstacles. As you can imagine, this makes him an extremely popular deity, and he's worshipped by most Hindus, regardless of sect. The stories of how he got his elephant head and broke his poor tusk are particularly entertaining and well worth looking into. (Source)
Lord Agni is the god of fire and kind of Heaven's errand boy. When the gods need something done, Agni goes to do the deed—he's sent to kill Sam, helps mount the offensive against Hellwell, and becomes the new Shiva after Shiva v1.0 is murdered. Although Yama's friend, the two fight at the Battle of Keenset, and Yama reflects Agni's attack back at him, killing the god.
Agni is an important figure in Hindu mythology even if the persona is relegated to a minor role in the novel. In the Vedic tradition, Agni is the god of fire, sacrifice, and the messenger to the gods. His importance is due to the fact that sacrifices and offerings for the gods were immolated in fire. And let's not forget fire's practical applications of cooking, keeping people warm, and lighting up the night. As such, two hundred hymns of the Rig Veda are dedicated to Agni.
With that said, Brahamanic and later traditions in Hinduism saw Agni's role and popularity in the pantheon lessened. (Source)
Mara is the god of illusion and yet another of Heaven's errand boys. We first meet Mara when he tries to sneak into the Ratri's temple and investigate what Yama is up to. Later, Mara guards the dome of Heaven when Sam tries to make his daring escape, and also fights both Sam and Yama at the Battle of Keenset. Although he appears several times in the novel, we never learn much about him outside his actions, so the best we can say is that, like most trickster gods, he enjoys his illusions as a sport as much as a tool.
The Mara of mythology is still the master of illusions in Hinduism, but in Buddhism, he is represented as a tempter and the Evil One, plain and simple. In fact, it was Mara who attempted to seduce Buddha from the path of enlightenment with illusions of worldly pleasures while Buddha meditated beneath the Bodhi Tree. In this regard, Mara holds a lot of parallels to the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
All hail, Krishna, libertine god of sexiness. Actually, he's the god of music and dance, but of all Heaven's hedonistic hosts, Krishna is perhaps most likely to win at the chill-out triathlon. He spends most of the novel playing his flutes, hitting on heavenly beauties, and lounging about when he isn't doing the Dance of Lust. By the way, he does the Dance of Lust like it's nobody's business.
When Kali becomes Brahma, she begins a holy war on Accelerationism, a war Krishna refuses to be a part of. For his insolence, Brahma banishes Krishna from the Celestial City. Big mistake. Krishna eventually finds Sam and his compatriots, and for the price of a new, sexy body, joins Sam's side. Guess that when Krishna gets worked up, it's best just to get out of the way. He fights on Sam's side at the Battle of Khaipur.
Krishna was the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Though not the god of music and dance, he does play a mean flute. Also like his Lord of Light counterpart, Krishna had a voracious appetite for the opposite sex, taking over sixteen thousand wives. The mythological Krishna is a little more prone to action and acts of heroism, and he also plays an important role in the Bhagavad-Gita. (Source)
Sam's physician, Narada helps Sam obtain a resurrection machine from the Masters of Karma. During the Battle of Khaipur, Narada shows up to aid Sam with the same resurrection machine he stole all those years ago. All in all, a good guy to have in your corner.
Jan is one of the Firsts and the former captain of the Star of India, the ship that carried the Firsts away from Urath. Sam originally goes to Jan to obtain information about the current status of gods and his chances of getting a new body out of them. Jan reappears later in the novel after being captured by Nirriti and agrees to fight with the Black One as his lieutenant.
The head priests of the temples, the Masters of Karma control society by being the mediators of the gods' laws and by owning all the resurrection machines. Those the Masters see fit for entering better castes are given better bodies and places in society, while those the Masters deem unworthy can be resurrected into lower life forms, like dogs or water buffalo. In this way, the Masters keep themselves in the top tiers of society, above everyone but the gods.
Lord Indra is the god of thunder. For most of the novel, he's fighting in the east, but he's called back by Brahma (er, Kali as Brahma) to fight in the Battle of Khaipur. During the battle, he goes turncoat and tries to kill Brahma… only to be killed by Yama.
Like Agni, Indra was the crème of the holy crop in the Vedic tradition. He was the god of thunder, war, and the strongest being in existence. But as Brahamanic and later traditions in Hinduism took form, Indra became a lowly weather god next to the new supreme beings, the Trimurti.
The god of the winds, Lord Vayu fights for the gods at the Battle of Keenset but is killed when Yama kamikazes the Garuda bird into the city.
Like Agni and Indra before him, Vayu was one of the supreme gods in Vedic traditions, but later incarnations of Hinduism gave him a deity downgrade, making him a simple god of natural phenomenon. Although often seen as a destructive god, he also hangs out with Vishnu and receives the more gentle title of "bearer of perfumes." (Source)
Rudra is a god and excellent archer. Rudra number one dies after making some snide comments about Kali—who rebuked his advances at an earlier time. Agni defends the honor of his friend's new bride and challenges Rudra to a duel, putting a divine whooping on the man. A lesser god is then given the position of Rudra, but he doesn't fair much better at the Battle of Keenset.
In mythology, Rudra was a god in Hinduism's Vedic tradition. He ruled over nature's more savage side, and his arrows fired disease. He later changed into Shiva, the god of destruction, and became seen as a more benevolent god.
A goddess of illusion, Maya visits Tak in the archives, wishing to know about Accelerationism. Tak's answer not only informs her on the subject, but us readers as well. What a lucky break.
The name Maya means "illusion" or "vision," and it can have a few possible origins. In Buddhist tradition, Queen Māyā of Sakya was the mother of Gautama Buddha. In some versions of the story, Maya was immaculately impregnated with the Buddha during a dream and died seven days after his birth from joy. (Source)
Lord Murugan demands a new body for the wedding celebration, but Sam kind of steals the body, sending the guy to hell in the process.
The god/goddess of thievery, it's unknown whether or not Helba is a man or a woman anymore, but either way, he/she agrees to help Sam steal a belt from the Museum of Heaven that amplifies his electrodirectional power.
Unfortunately, one of the two set off the alarm. Like Sam, Helba is hunted and killed in the streets of the Celestial City as part of Kali's wedding sacrifice.
A goddess with some relation to Sam, though no one can remember what exactly it is (Mother? Sister? Daughter? Cousin?). She flees the Celestial City after Sam's death and heads for the land of the witches.
In Hindu mythology, Parvati is the second wife of Shiva.
Also known as Lord Varuna the Just. Seeing the writing on the wall, Lord Varuna leaves the Celestial City before the Heavenly Purges begin. He only returns after the power of the gods has significantly weakened at the Battle of Khaipur.
In pre-Vedic mythology, Varuna was the supreme god, all powerful and all seeing. He was later supplanted by Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma, so his exit from the Celestial City could be Zelazny's sly wink to his eventual fading from the Hindu pantheon
Lakshmi the Lovely talks with Kubera in the Garden of the Lokapalas. Through their conversation, we get snippets of Kali's personality.
Lakshmi is the goddess of good fortune and beauty and a consort for Vishnu.
Goddess of river waters, fertility, and wealth (source), Tak briefly mentions Sarasvati and Ratri as rivals in the beauty department, and she performs the Dance of Delight at Yama and Kali's wedding party.
A mother goddess in Hindu mythology, Guari totally re-falls for Krishna after he plays the pipes at the wedding party.
A Rakasha. At the novel's beginning, Sam gambles with the demon to obtain a fighting force of Rakasha to aid him in his rekindled war against the gods.
A monk who invites Aram (the disguised Mara) into Ratri's temple, hoping his kindness will curry favor with his goddess.
Head of the order of Ratri.
Yama's serving man.
Sam's adviser when he was still Prince Siddhartha.
Owner of the hostel of the same name.
This sea captain tells Sam where to find Jan Olvegg and also gives him a few words-o-wisdom about the current state of the world. Mighty nice of the old seadog.
Narada uses hypnotic suggestion to convince this old man that he is Prince Siddhartha. When he appears before the Masters of Karma, they give him the new body they'd prepared for Sam, one with an epileptic brain.
This merchant of Alundil gave Sam the purple grove to teach his message in.
Four divine guardians that protect the Buddha in Yama's dream, each representing a point on the compass. They might be a reference to the Four Heavenly Kings in Buddhist tradition.
A real jerk of a rajah who taxes his citizens to figurative death before going to war and bringing them to their literal death. He loses his palace to Taraka in a bet while Taraka is housed in Sam's body. He then loses his life when Agni gives the palace an extreme makeover.
The Last of the Mothers of the Terrible Glow, a species native to the planet before the arrival of the Firsts. Being the last of her species, she sides with Sam during the Battle of Keenset. Extinction might as well come with a blaze of glory, we guess.
Only four gods found in the Battle of Keenset survive: Brahma (Kali), Mara, and these two guys, Bora and Tikan. After they help bear a defeated Sam and Yama from the battlefield to be punished, both quietly disappear into the background of the story.