Thursday, 11 October 2012

Hindu Mythology

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Hindu Mythology is a large body of traditional narratives related to Hinduism, notably as contained in Sanskrit literature, such as the Sanskrit epics and the Puranas. As such, it is a subset of Indian and Nepali culture. Rather than one consistent, monolithic structure, it is a range of diverse traditions, developed by different sects, people and philosophical schools, in different regions and at different times, which are not necessarily held by all Hindus to be literal accounts of historical events, but are taken to have deeper, often symbolic, meaning, and which have been given a complex range of interpretations.[1]



[edit] Sources

[edit] Vedas

The roots of mythology that evolved from classical Hinduism come from the times of the Vedic civilization, from the ancient Vedic religion. The four Vedas, notably the hymns of the Rigveda, contain allusions to many themes (see Rigvedic deities, Rigvedic rivers).
The characters, philosophy and stories that make up ancient Vedic myths are indelibly linked with Hindu beliefs. The Vedas are four in number, namely RigVeda, YajurVeda, SamaVeda, and the AtharvaVeda. Some of these texts mention mythological concepts and machines very much similar to modern day scientific theories and machines.

[edit] Itihasa and Puranas

Rama (right) seated on the shoulders of Hanuman, battles the demon-king Ravana, scene from Ramayana.
In the period of Classical Sanskrit, much material is preserved in the Sanskrit epics. Besides mythology proper, the voluminous epics also provide a wide range of information about ancient Indian society, philosophy, culture, religion, and ways of life. The two great Hindu Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata tell the story of two specific incarnations of Vishnu (Rama and Krishna). These two works are known as Itihasa. The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana serve as both religious scriptures and a rich source of philosophy and morality for a Hindu. The epics are divided into chapters and contain various short stories and moral situations, where the character takes a certain course of action in accordance with Hindu laws and codes of righteousness. The most famous of these chapters is the Bhagavad Gita (Sanskrit: The Celestial Song) in the Mahabharata, in which Lord Krishna explains the concepts of duty and righteousness to the hero Arjuna before the Battle of Kurukshetra. These stories are deeply embedded in Hindu philosophy and serve as parables and sources of devotion for Hindus. The Mahabharata is the world's longest epic in verse, running to more than 30,000 lines.
The epics themselves are set in different Yugas, or periods of time. The Ramayana, written by the poet Valmiki, describes the life and times of Lord Rama (the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu) and occurs in the Treta Yuga. The Mahabharata, describing the life and times of the Pandavas, occurs in the Dvapara Yuga, a period associated with Lord Krishna (the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu). In total, there are 4 Yugas. These are the Satya or Krita Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the Dvapara Yuga, and the Kali Yuga. The avatara concept, however, belongs to the Puranic times, well after the two great epics, though they often refer to pre-epic Yugas.
The Puranas deal with stories that are old and do not appear (or fleetingly appear) in the epics. They contain legends and stories about the origins of the world, and the lives and adventures of a wide variety of gods, goddesses, heroes, heroines, and mythological creatures (asuras, danavas, daityas, yakshas, rakshasas, gandharvas, apsaras, kinnaras, kimpurusas etc.). They contain traditions related to ancient kings, seers, incarnations of God (avatara) and legends about holy places and rivers. The Bhagavata Purana is probably the most read and popular of the Puranas. It chronicles the legends of the god Vishnu and his incarnations on earth.

[edit] Myths of the Origin of the World

The cosmogonic myths of the Hindus are peculiarly interesting, as we find in the Vedas and Brahmanas and Puranas almost every fiction familiar to primitive people side by side with the most abstract metaphysical speculations. We have the theory that earth grew from a being named Uttanapad (Muir v. 335). We find that Brahmanaspati "blew the gods forth from his mouth," and one of the gods, Tvashtri, the mechanic among the deities, is credited with having fashioned the earth and the heaven (Muir v. 354). The "Purusha Sukta," the 90th hymn of the tenth book of the Rig Veda, gives us the Indian version of the theory that all things were made out of the mangled limbs of Purusha, a magnified non-natural man, who was sacrificed by the gods. As this hymn gives an account of the origin of the castes (which elsewhere are scarcely recognized in the Rig Veda), it is sometimes regarded as a late addition. Not satisfied with this myth, the Hindus accounted for the origin of species in the following manner. A being named Purusha was alone in the world. He differentiated himself into two beings, husband and wife. The wife, regarding union with her producer as incest, fled from his embraces as Nemesis did from those of Zeus, and Rhea from Cronus, assuming various animal disguises. The husband pursued in the form of the male of each animal, and from these unions sprang the various species of beasts (SatapathaBrahmana, xiv. 4, 2; Muir i. 25). The myth of the cosmic egg from which all things were produced is also current in the Brahmanas. In the Puranas we find the legend of many successive creations and destructions of the world a myth of world-wide distribution.
As a rule, destruction by a deluge is the most favourite myth, but destructions by fire and wind and by the wrath of a god are also common. The idea that a boar, or a god in the shape of a boar, fished up a bit of earth, which subsequently became the world, out of the waters, is very well known to the Hindus. The tortoise from which all things sprang, in a myth of the Satapatha-Brahmana, reminds us of the Iroquois turtle. The Greek and Mangaian myth of the marriage of Heaven and Earth and its dissolution is found in the Aitareya-Brahmana (Haug's trans. ii. 308; Rig Veda, i. lxii.).
So much for the Indian cosmogonic myths, which are a collection of ideas familiar to primitive people, blended with sacerdotal theories and ritual mummeries. The philosophical theory of the origin of things, a hymn of remarkable stateliness, is in Rig Veda, x. 129.
There was neither non-existence nor existence then. There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?
There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day. That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.
Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning, with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that One arose through the power of heat.
Desire came upon that One in the beginning, that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bond of existence and non-existence.
Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers, there were powers. There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.
Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?
Whence this creation has arisen - perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not - the One who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only He knows or perhaps even He does not know.[2]

[edit] Wars

[edit] The weapons

An iconographic representation of the Sudarshana Chakra may be seen revolving above the index finger of the right hand of Vishnu herewith.
Apart from the traditional human weapons like swords, daggers, spears, clubs, shields, bows, arrows and maces, and the weapons used by the gods (such as Indra's thunderbolt Vajrayudha), the texts mention the utilization of various divine weapons by various heroes, each associated with a certain god or deity. These weapons are most often gifted to semi-divine beings, human beings or the rakshasas by the gods, sometimes as a result of penance.
There are several weapons which were used by the gods of Hinduism, some of which are Agneyastra, Brahmastra, Chakram, Garudastra, Kaumodaki, Narayanastra, Pashupata, Shiva Dhanush, Sudarshana Chakra, Trishul, Vaishnavastra, Varunastra, and Vayavastra.
Some of these weapons are explicitly classified ( for example, the Shiva Dhanush is a bow, the Sudharshan Chakra is a discus and the Trishul is a trident), but many other weapons appear to be weapons specially blessed by the gods. For example, the Brahmastra, Agneyastra (Sanskrit: Astra = weapon, especially, one thrown at an opponent. Shastra are weapons used with hand and are not thrown) and the other astras appear to be single use weapons requiring an intricate knowledge of use, often depicted in art, literature and adapted filmography as divinely blessed arrows.
Sometimes the astra is descriptive of the function, or of the force of nature which it invokes. The Mahabharata cites instances when the Nagastra (Sanskrit: Nag=snake) was used, and thousands of snakes came pouring down from the skies on unsuspecting enemies. Similarly, the Agneyastra (Agni) is used for setting the enemy ablaze, as the Varunastra (Varuna) is used for extinguishing flames, or for invoking floods. Some weapons like the Brahmastra can only be used (lethally) against a single individual.
Apart from the astras, other instances of divine or mythological weaponry include armor (Kavacha), crowns and helmets, staffs and jewellery (Kundala).

[edit] The Deluge

Incarnation of Vishnu as a Fish, from a devotional text.
The story of a great flood is mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, particularly the Satapatha Brahmana.[3] It is compared to the accounts of the Deluge found in several religions and cultures. Manu was informed of the impending flood and was protected by the Matsya Avatar of Lord Vishnu, who had manifested himself in this form to rid the world of morally depraved human beings and protect the pious, as also all animals and plants.[4]
After the flood the Lord inspires the Manusmriti, largely based upon the Vedas, which details the moral code of conduct, of living and the division of society according to the caste system.[5][6]

[edit] The people of the epics

Hindu mythology is not only about Gods and men, but classifies a host of different kinds of spiritual, celestial, ethereal and earthly beings. Most of the names mentioned in the Hindu mythology are from Sanskrit language, which are based on personal attributes of the character. There are several such examples in the Hindu mythology. So the names may vary in different references and might bear more than one meanings or references.

[edit] Sapta Rishis

Lord Brahma, out of his thought, creates seven sages, or Sapta Rishis, to help him in his act of creation. Sapta Rishis (sapta means seven and rishis mean sages in Sanskrit). They are Kashyap, Bharadvaja, Atri, Gautama, Jamdagni, Vashista, and Vishvamitra. The other meaning of Saptarishis is the constellation of the Great Bear (Ursa Major).

[edit] Pitrs

The Pitara, or fathers, were the first humans. The word 'Pitara' comes from the word Pitri or Pita(In Hindi and Sanskrit) meaning Father. So it is about paternity and paternal relations, and ancestors.

[edit] Worlds

The Creation of the Cosmic Ocean and the Elements, folio from the Shiva Purana, c. 1828.
Hindu mythology defines fourteen worlds (not to be confused with planets) – seven higher worlds (heavens) and seven lower ones (underworlds). (The earth is considered the lowest of the seven higher worlds.) The higher worlds are the seven vyahrtis, viz. bhu, bhuvas, svar, mahas, janas, tapas, and satya (the world that is ruled by Brahma); and the lower ones (the "seven underworlds" or paatalas) are atala, vitala, sutala, rasaataala, talatala, mahaatala, paatala.[citation needed]
All the worlds except the earth are used as temporary places of stay as follows: upon one's death on earth, the god of death (officially called 'Yama Dharma Raajaa' – Yama, the lord of justice) tallies the person's good/bad deeds while on earth and decides if the soul goes to a heaven and/or a hell, for how long, and in what capacity. Some versions of the mythology state that good and bad deeds neutralize each other and the soul therefore is born in either a heaven or a hell, but not both, whereas according to another school of thought, the good and bad deeds don't cancel out each other. In either case, the soul acquires a body as appropriate to the worlds it enters. At the end of the soul's time in those worlds, it returns to the earth (is reborn as a life form on the earth). It is considered that only from the earth, and only after a human life, can the soul reach supreme salvation, the state free from the cycle of birth and death, a state of absolute and eternal bliss.[citation needed]

[edit] Deities

An illustration of the family of Shiva, consisting of Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and Murugan
There are many deities in Hinduism. At the top of the Hindu philosophy is the formless, undefined Brahman, from whom/which come the different forms and deities, the foremost are the Tridevi and Trimurti . Tridevi comprises of Lakshmi , Goddess of wealth and prosperity, Saraswati , Goddess of knowledge and wisdom and Parvati , Goddess of power and courage and the Trimurti comprising of Vishnu , Brahma and Shiv .The children of the Trimurti are also devas, such as Ganesha and Skanda (or Kartikeya).
Brahma is considered the ruler of the highest of the heavens (the world called Sathya), so in one sense, Brahma is not beyond the fourteen worlds as Shiva and Vishnu are.
Some gods are associated with specific elements or functions: Indra (the king of gods, the god of thunder and lightning; he also rules the world of Swarga), Varuna (the god of the oceans), Agni (the god of fire), Kubera (the treasurer of the gods), Surya (the sun god), Vayu (the god of wind), and Soma (the moon god).
Swarga also has a set of famous heavenly dancers: Urvasi, Menaka, Rambha, and Tilottama (all female), whose job is to entertain the heavenly court, and upon orders from the heavenly kings, to distract people on the earth from accumulating too much good deeds so as to become a threat to the heavenly kings.
Other notable inhabitants of the heavens include the celestial sages, and Narada the messenger of the gods.
Yama (the god of death and justice) is said to live in Kailash along with his master Shiva. He rules the lower world of Naraka with a band of emissaries called the Yama doota (messengers of Yama), who bring the souls of dead persons to Yama for evaluation. Chitragupta is one of those lower level celestial beings who functions as the karmic accountant of all the actions of the human beings on earth.

[edit] Incarnations

The ten avatars of Vishnu, (Clockwise, from Left upper corner) Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Buddha, Parshurama, Rama and Narasimha, (in centre) Krishna
Several gods are believed to have had incarnations (Avatars). As the protector of life, one of the duties of Vishnu is to appear on the earth whenever a firm hand is required to set things right. The epic Bhagavatha Purana is the chronology of Vishnu's ten major incarnations (there are in total twenty six incarnations): Matsya (fish), Kurma (turtle), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (lion-faced human), Vamana (an ascetic in the form of a midget), Parasurama (a warrior Brahmin), Rama, Krishna, Gautam Buddha(later buddhists separated themselves from Hindus), Kalki (a predicted warrior on a white horse who would come in this yuga ) whose appearance also signals the beginning of the end of the epoch.

[edit] House of Ikshvaku

Ikshvaku was the son of Manu,the first mortal man, and founder of the Sun Dynasty. (Suryavansham)

[edit] Bharatavarsha

The first king to conquer all of the world was Bharata, son of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. All of this world, Vishwa, is named Bharatavarsha, or The Land of Bharata, or The Cherished Land.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

  • Clay Sanskrit Library publishes classical Indian literature, including the Mahabharata and Ramayana, with facing-page text and translation. Also offers searchable corpus and downloadable materials.
  • Sanskrit Documents Collection: Documents in ITX format of Upanishads, Stotras etc.

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