is the large body of mythology
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 mythology
The four Vedas, notably the hymns of the Rigveda, contain allusions to many mythological themes (see Rigvedic deities, Rigvedic rivers).
In the period of Classical Sanskrit, much mythological material is preserved in the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Besides mythology proper, the voluminous epics also provide a plethora of information about ancient Indian society, philosophy, culture, religion and ways of life.
The Puranas deal with stories that are "mythologically" older than the epics (Purana is Sanskrit for "ancient"). The date of the Puranic texts as preserved however mostly post-dates the epics, dating to the Early Middle Ages.
The epics themselves are set in different Yugas (epochs) 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 sat yuga, while the Mahabharatha that describes the life and times of the Pandavas, occurs in the Dwapara yuga, a period associated with Lord Krishna (the eighth avatar of Lord Vishnu).
The Bhagavatham (also referred to as Srimad Bhagavatham or Bhagavatha Purana) is probably the most read and popular of the puranas. It chronicles the story of the god Vishnu and his incarnations (avataars) on earth.
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.
The two great Hindu Epics
, the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata
tell the story of two specific incarnations of Vishnu (Rama
). These two works are known as Itihasa
. The epics Mahabharata
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 Lord's Song
) in the Mahabharata, in which Lord Krishna explains the concepts of duty and righteousness to the hero Arjuna before the climactic battle
. 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.
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 silver coloured lower half part.
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 believed to be used by the Gods of the Hindu mythology, 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 = divine weapon, especially, one thrown at an opponent) 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).
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.
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.
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 Bhrigu, Angira, Atri, Gautama, Kashyapa, Vashishta, and Agastya. The other meaning of Saptarishis is constellation of Great Bear (Ursa Major).
The Pitrs, or fathers, were the first humans. Pitrs comes from the word Pita(In Hindi and Sanskrit) or Father. So it is about paternity and paternal relations.
Hindu mythology defines fourteen worlds (not to be confused with planets) - seven higher worlds (heavens) and seven lower ones (hells). (The earth is considered the lowest of the seven higher worlds.) 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 heaven and/or 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 spends time 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 and the place beyond the fourteen worlds where the eternal god lives.
Gods and goddesses
There are many deities in Hinduism. At the top are the trimurti
(the destroyer), Vishnu
(the protector), and Brahma
(the creator), and their wives (goddesses in their own right): Shakti
(also known as Paarvathi, Ambicaa) the goddess of courage and power, Lakshmi
the goddess of all forms of wealth, and Saraswati
the goddess of learning. The children of the Trimurti are also devas
, such as Ganesha
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 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.
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 Bhagavatham
is the chronology of Vishnu's ten major incarnations (there are in total twenty six incarnations): Matsya
(lion-faced human), Vamana
(an ascetic in the form of a midget), Parasurama
(a militant Brahmin), Rama
(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.
House of Ikshvaku
Ikshvaku was the son of Manu,the first mortal man, and founder of the Sun Dynasty.
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.
- Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend (ISBN 0-500-51088-1) by Anna L. Dallapiccola
- 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
- 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.
- 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.