Hindu mythology

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Hindu mythology is a term used by modern scholarship for a large body of Indian literature that details the lives and times of legendary personalities, deities and divine incarnations on earth interspersed with often large sections of philosophical and ethical discourse. Despite connotations of fiction in common usage, the term myth, in theological and academic studies, does not necessarily imply that a narrative is untrue. The use of term mythology is a western construct applied primarily to non-Judeo-Christian religious literature. It is intellectually insincere to describe other religious literature as mythology while labeling the biblical literature as ‘legends’.

It must be noted that many of the topics that fall under the category of Hindu mythology are cherished beliefs of Hindus. All ancient religions contain stories that are accepted as literal truth by some, and as philosophical or allegorical insights by others. Thus, the biblical stories may be similarly construed as Jewish/ Christian mythology.

The mythological literature is intertwined with the ethos of ancient Vedic religion and Vedic civilization, and fundamentally constructed with Hindu systems of philosophy.

Contents

[edit] Definition and Misconception

Though they are often classified as 'Hindu' or 'Indian' 'mythology,' the label does not capture the centrality of religious and spiritual affiliations of the texts that ring true today for most Hindus. They are replete with long philosophical discourses and are often seen as sourcebooks for Hindu ethics and practice. It is also to be noted that historical evidence of many acts or places of Hindu narratives have been found, establishing them as historical facts. However, evidence is extremely limited and only allows for the possibility of myths being history.

[edit] Vedic mythology

Main article: Vedic mythology
See also: Indian mythology

The roots of mythology that evolved from classical Hinduism come from the times of the Vedic civilization, from the ancient Vedic religion.

The characters, theology, philosophy and stories that make up ancient Vedic myths are indelibly linked with Hindu beliefs. The Vedas are said to be 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] Sources

It is believed that the Hindu mythology dates back to around 7200 BC when the first hymns of the RigVeda were sung praising the elements of nature, namely, the air, the water, the thunder, the sun, the fire, etc. They found expression in early Vedic Gods, namely, Vayu, Varuna, Indra, Surya and Agni. According to modern scholars over a period of time several Vedic Gods were conceptualized. Over next several millennia, in the post-Vedic period, and during the period of the Puranas, the Gods were personified and assumed specific shapes and characteristics, with individual endowments.

Image:Ramayanbdg.jpg
Ancient Land Bridge
This was followed by the period of the epics, when the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were composed. It is believed that they capture and depict, to a large extent, historical events and happenings, and certain modern findings also seem to corroborate this, like the finding of an ancient bridge constructed between India and Sri Lanka. However, more archaelogical evidence is required to further substantiate the actual occurrence of the events around which the two epics are based.

The Puranas deal with stories that are "mythologically" older than the epics and are set in the "Kritha" or "Sathya" yuga, the first of the four great time periods said to compose what is called the Divya yuga lasting over 4,320,000 years.

The epics themselves are set in different "yugas" or periods of time in Hindu mythology. 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 Tretha yuga, while the Mahabharatha that describes the life and times of the Pandavas, occurs in the Dwapara yuga, a period in which Lord Krishna (the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu) took birth.

[edit] Epics

The most important of these are a 18 voluminous group of works known as the Puranas. The two great Hindu Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are other major works of Hindu mythology.

The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana are very much religious scriptures. Their stories are deeply embedded in Hindu philosophy and serve as parables and sources of devotion for Hindus.

[edit] Cosmology

Main article: Hindu cosmology

Hinduism presents a number of accounts pertaining to cosmology, and several explanations have been given as regards the origin of the universe. The most popular belief is that the universe emerged from Hiranyagarbha, meaning the golden womb. Hiranyagarbha floated around in water in the emptiness and the darkness of non-existence. Ultimately, this golden egg split and the cosmos was created. Swarga emerged from the golden upper part of the Hiranyagarbha, whereas Prithvi came out from the the silver coloured lower half part.

[edit] The wars

Main article: Wars of Hindu Mythology

[edit] The weapons

There are several weapons which were believed to be used by the Gods of the Hindu mythology, some of which are Agneyastra, Brahmastra, Chakram, Kaumodaki, Narayanastra, Pashupata, Shiva Dhanush, Sudarshan, Trishul, Vaishnavastra, Vajra, Varunastra, and Vayavastra. A particular weapon was generally associated with a particular God.

[edit] The Deluge

The story of a great flood is mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, particularly the Satapatha Brahmana. 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 Avatara 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.

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.

[edit] The Peoples of the Epics

Hindu mythology is not only about Gods and men, but classifies a host of different kinds of celestial, ethereal and earthly beings.

[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 means sages in Sanskrit). They are Bhrigu, Angira, Atri, Gautama, Kashyapa, Vashishta, and Agastya. The other meaning of Saptarishis is constellation of Great Bear (Ursa Major).

[edit] Pitrs

The Pitrs, or fathers, were the first humans.

[edit] Swarga

The concept of Swarga (heaven) is one of the concepts of Hindu mythology. Hinduism deems swarga a temporary place to enjoy the fruits of ones actions on earth, while Moksha is the supreme salvation a soul can aspire to. Swarga is inhabitated by the Devas (Gods), who are believed to be the children of Rishi Kashyapa and his wife Aditi, masters of the elements. Indra, the God of thunder and lightning, heads the Swarga and other devas residing there include Varuna (the God of the oceans), Agni (the God of fire), Kubera (the treasurer of the Gods), Yamaraja, or Dharma (the lord of righteousness (many a times misunderstood with the other word meaning "religion") and death), Surya (the sun God), Soma (the moon God), Bhumi (the Goddess earth), Ganga (the Goddess Ganges), and Kamadeva (the God of love). A parallel can be found in Slavic religion, Swarga is Heaven, and interestingly, the God Svarog is believed to reside there.

Other notable inhabitants of the Swarga include the celestial sages; a number of semi-Gods; Gandharvas; and apsarases like Urvasi and Menaka.

[edit] Naraka

Most of the Hindu traditions believe in the existence of Naraka (It is similar to the concept of temporary Hell). In Hinduism, there is no eternal damnation. Heaven and hell are just temporary places to work out the results of ones life on earth. Lord Yama rules the Naraka with a band of emissaries called the Yama duta, who bring the souls of dead persons to the Naraka, where they are made to suffer pains and punishment for the sins committed on the earth. Certain Hindu texts contain vivid descriptions of such sufferings. Chitragupta functions as the karmic accountant of all the actions of the human beings on earth, based on which dead persons are assigned the privilege of living in Swarga or consigned to Naraka to undergo pain and suffering to atone for their sins on the earth.

[edit] House of Ikshvaku

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

[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.

King Bharata's conquests are described to have stretched over all of modern India, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, as well as the ancient Gandhara region of Afghanistan. No account has been known to exceed these geographical boundaries.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  1. Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna L. Dallapiccola
  2. Ganesha: Ancient Tales for Modern times (ISBN 81-88234-15-X) for Children. Check the book out at http://www.a1books.com/cgi-bin/mktSearch?act=showDesc&ITEM_CODE=818823415X&WVSESSION_ID=386223192
  3. Benjamin Walker Hindu World: An Encyclopedic Survey of Hinduism, (Two Volumes), Allen & Unwin, London, 1968; Praeger, New York, 1968; Munshiram Manohar Lal, New Delhi, 1983; Harper Collins, New Delhi, 1985; Rupa, New Delhi, 2005, ISBN 81-291-0670-1.

[edit] External links

See this Moral Stories Blog for a collection of stories from Hindu Mythology.

  • 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.


Hinduism | Hindu mythology | Itihasa Image:Hindu swastika.svg
Female Deities: Gayatri | Saraswati | Lakshmi | Dakshayani | Parvati | Durga | Shakti | Kali | Sita | Devi | Radha | Mahavidya | more...
Male Deities: Brahma | Vishnu | Shiva | Rama | Krishna | Ganesha | Kartikeya | Hanuman | Lakshmana | Indra | Surya | more...
Texts: Vedas | Upanishads | Puranas | Ramayana | Mahabharata
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Hindu mythology

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