Jump to content

Introduction To Hindu Mythology

Recommended Posts


Vedic Gods

The Hindu pantheon developed over a considerable period of time. To answer the question "What do Hindus believe about the gods?" one must clarify which time period, as their emphasis on certain gods changed through the centuries. The earliest Hindu texts are the four Vedas, the Rig Veda being the oldest (1200 BC), containing 1028 hymns with more allusions to myths than full stories. Over one fourth of the Vedic hymns concern Indra, the king of heaven, the storm god who gained prominence by defeating the demon/dragon Vritra who was holding back rain from heaven, having imprisoned the cloud-cattle. Other important Vedic gods were Varuna, god of the ocean, Agni, god of fire, Surya, the sun god, and Yama, god of death.

By the time that the Mahabharata was written (300 BC - 300 AD), other gods who played only minor roles in the Vedas have become popular. Three gods in particular came to be known as the Trimurti: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Their fame grew during the Middle Ages when "stories of old" called the Puranas recorded their achievements and adventures in great detail. After the Trimurti became dominant, the Puranas relegated most of the older gods to the status of World Protectors, eight lords over each point on the compass.

Gods of the Trimurti

BRAHMA the creator (also known as Prajapati): After the act of creation, he has little prominence, often referred to as "grandfather," aloof, unaware or unconcerned about the consequences of his actions. In one story he rewards even demons for their asceticism, thus causing much grief to the other gods. Brahma is sometimes said to be self-created, or born from a lotus out of Vishnu's navel, or hatched from the cosmic egg. He is often depicted with four heads: as his daughter/consort Sarasvati tried to avoid his lustful gaze, other heads grew up in each direction she ran; when she ascended to heaven, a fifth head appeared, which Shiva cut off because of Brahma's incestuous lust.

VISHNU the preserver of cosmic order (dharma): Represented with blue skin and four arms, often sleeping on a coiled serpent floating on the ocean. He rides Garuda, the sacred bird (symbol of Indian airlines today). As Vishnu became more important over the centuries, his "history" became more complex. The Puranas developed the idea of Vishnu having appeared on earth in nine previous avatars (or incarnations) during the present Great Age (Mahayuga), with one still to come (note that the number of avatari varies in the Puranas, some listing as many as 22, others say they are innumerable). See the typical list of ten below.

SHIVA the destroyer: Also god of fertility, gained prominence by destroying the city of demons; in one version he waited 1000 years until the cities, which rotated in the air, were aligned, then pierced all three with one arrow. He became so powerful because the other gods gave him their divine energy, which he kept after the battle (story in the Mahabharata). Shiva appears with a blue neck, because he swallowed the poison from the serpent Vasuki, which would have polluted the world ocean. He also has three eyes, for one day his wife Parvati playfully covered two of his eyes and the universe fell into darkness; he created a third eye to restore light. This eye destroys by fire. Shiva wears a necklace of skulls as "lord of goblins." Dancing Shiva symbolizes the eternal movement of the cosmos, but also he dances to bring about the destruction of maya / illusion (i.e. this world) at the end of each kalpa (see great ages below).

Avatars of Vishnu

First, Vishnu appeared as a great fish named Matsya who gave aid to Manu (the Hindu Noah) in the great flood.

Next, he descended to earth as the tortoise Kurma, who rescued 14 of the best treasures of the previous world from the flood. He also supported the mountain from which the gods and demons churned the milk ocean. In the Vedas and in the Mahabharata, both these first figures are associated with Brahma, not Vishnu.

Varaha, the wild boar, who pushed mud up from the sea to create land.

Narasimha, the man-lion: he killed a demon who swore neither man nor animal could harm him. This was the last avatar during the first age.

Vamana, the dwarf: he tricked a demon-king who ruled the three worlds into agreeing to give him as much land as he could cover in three steps. He then grew to enormous size and encompassed the universe in three steps.

Parashurama: a brahmin, by his influence priests became the dominant caste over warriors. He appears in the Mahabharata but not as an avatar of Vishnu.

Rama, the hero of the Ramayana (the other great Hindu epic) was born to defeat the demon Ravana. He was the husband of Sita and extremely jealous of her. After she was kidnapped by the demon, he suspected that she'd been unfaithful, and sent her into exile for 15 years, carrying his two sons. In the role of his avatars, Vishnu took over Indra's earlier aspect of demon-slayer.

Krishna (the dark one): Kansa tried to kill all his mother's children but Krishna escaped, surviving an attack by three demons as a child. In his youth there are stories of amorous episodes with cowgirls (he had 16,000 wives and 180,000 sons). Finally he kills Kansa and many demons, hence called the "slayer of demons." Krishna appears as a major character in the Mahabharata, overseeing the great battle.

Buddha: the first avatar of Vishnu in the fourth or present age. This addition to the Vishnu myth was probably an attempt to subordinate popular Buddhism to the Hindu system. As Buddha, he deceives the enemies of the gods with lies, saying there are no gods, no endless cycle of lives, only peaceful sleep (nirvana), which actually is a distortion of Buddhist teaching.

Kalki: at the end of this age, Vishnu will appear again as the bringer of destruction on a white horse. He will purify the world of evil, and the endless cycle of ages will begin again (see below).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...