Brief History of Hindu Mythology
Feature Articles

Brief History of Hindu Mythology

November 18, 2021

By Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik – Author, Speaker, Illustrator, Mythologist

Hindu mythology is not static. It has changed over history. In the Rig Veda (1,500 BCE), we are introduced to Indra. He is a powerful celestial being who rides chariots and who defeats enemies like Vritra, Pani and Vala to secure stolen cows and release water. We don’t hear stories of devas and asuras fighting.

The idea of devas and asuras fighting comes in later Brahmana literature (1,000 BCE). In Brahmana literature, we also have the story of Manu saving a small fish from a big fish, and of Prajapati taking the form of a giant turtle and a giant boar, to help the earth float on flood waters.

In Mahabharata, for the first time, the concepts of Swarga and Naraka are elaborated and we are told there is something higher than the realm of the devas. In other words, beyond the world of abundance and the world of scarcity is a greater heaven based on contentment. These are the abodes of Shiva and Vishnu, elaborated in later Puranas.

When Mahabharata was finally written 2,000 years ago, Indra had lost his exalted position. He was seen as an insecure God who needed help from Shiva and Vishnu to save him. He was also shown bowing to the Buddha and the Tirthankaras. In Ramayana too, Indra adores Ram and needs his help to defeat Ravana.

When the Puranas emerged around 500 CE, that is, 1,500 years ago, we hear of asuras performing tapasyas to attain immortality. It is here we realise the birth of Tantric ideas. Humans think they can become more powerful than the Gods by practising special austerities. We learn of Rishis who can curse even Gods.

READ ALSO  Lakshmi’s Purana

We learn of asuras seeking immortality and being constantly told that death cannot be escaped. All things must die. It is in the Puranas that we are introduced to the idea of avatar, the idea of an immortal God taking mortal form on earth. Ram and Krishna are part of the list, but other characters are added such as Parashuram of Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Vedic fish, turtle, boar and dwarf.

The Puranas also speak of the importance of marriage. This comes as a direct contrast to the Buddhist and Jain ideas. In Buddhism and Jainism, the holiest of men attain the highest spiritual levels by abandoning wife, children and property. In Puranas, the Hindu Trinity was visualised as three couples. From 700 CE, we find stories as well as images of Durga and Kali everywhere. Tantra literature speaks of Shiva and Shakti having a conversation on the nature of reality.

With the rise of Bhakti movement from the 15th Century onwards, we find more stories of devotees of Gods, how they have the grace of God in their life. These are the Bhaktamala stories. This idea emerged in Tamil Nadu in 8th Century and spread North. Devotion, we are told, is the way to break the cycle of rebirths. Temple stories become increasingly popular.

Thus Hindu mythology has transformed from the Vedas, through the Brahmanas and the epics, to the Puranas and Bhakti literature. New stories are added over old ones. And we realise that mythology is not static. It changes over time.

READ ALSO  Balancing the Love Charger

[email protected]

ABOUT

Mysuru’s favorite and largest circulated English evening daily has kept the citizens of Mysuru informed and entertained since 1978. Over the past 41 years, Star of Mysore has been the newspaper that Mysureans reach for every evening to know about the happenings in Mysuru city. The newspaper has feature rich articles and dedicated pages targeted at readers across the demographic spectrum of Mysuru city. With a readership of over 2,50,000 Star of Mysore has been the best connection between it’s readers and their leaders; between advertisers and customers; between Mysuru and Mysureans.

CONTACT

Academy News Papers Private Limited, Publishers, Star of Mysore & Mysuru Mithra, 15-C, Industrial ‘A’ Layout, Bannimantap, Mysuru-570015. Phone no. – 0821 249 6520

To advertise on Star of Mysore, email us at

Online Edition: [email protected]
Print Editon: [email protected]
For News/Press Release: [email protected]