Tag Archives: Mythology

When Gods get crazily angry

In one of a brilliant harangue, British comedian Stephen Fry deplored the very notion of there being a god, or if at all him (for the sake of this piece we will deal with god as a masculine entity, as he is so often presumed) having any real sense or intelligence at all. On being asked, as to what he would say to the god in case he ever met, Fry’s response was brilliant, “Bone cancer and children! How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

Come to think of it, indeed on assessing the misery that surrounds us all the time, it does make it a little tough to believe that all this is part of an ‘intelligent design‘. And as Fry points out that indeed if there is a god, would he not be a heartless brute? What sort of face he would have to do things like such?

It was this wily face of god that was invoked by many in the aftermath of the recent heart-breaking gods1disaster in Nepal. As the crisis ballooned and reports streamed in of the horror of destruction, some ingenious souls were quick to blame the tragedy in Nepal on the ‘paganism’ pervasive there. According to a few of these gents, the Christian or the Jewish god up there was not too happy about the idolatry religious practices of the Nepalese (read Hindu). And so, decided to punish them with earthquake that caused mayhem all across. But don’t be sad, there is still a silver lining, as the Nepalese people can still had assuage the supreme being by walking down the road to perdition and seeking refuge from the very same god that had so brutally hammered them. Apparently, by a sprinkle of water on the head and repetition of his name, the same god that was so jealous, full of vengeance, and ready to hit with all spite, would turn into a benign shepherd, simply on being addressed as master.

That gets us to the central theme; of what is a god and can he be capable of human emotions like jealously, anger and murderous rage. Why does the Christian or the Jewish god (and even the Muslim Allah) lapse into such an inexplicable act, just because the people are not adhering to his words? What sort of fatherly god would kill and maim little children, just because they weren’t visiting his office or repeating his name? If there is indeed such a god, is he really fit enough to be called one?

god4Yet, in all fairness, the notion of a god who is murderous and not so benign is pretty common recurring theme since ancient times. Remember the Noah Ark? The floods to engulf all and destroy all were caused by none other than our dear Mr. God. The Biblical god, who created the world tirelessly in 6 days, was driven to destroy it because of the sin that abound. Though, even while killing all, he somehow wanted a sort of continuity thus made Noah build on a blueprint he supplied, and made him carry a gene pool of all animals and birds. Continue reading When Gods get crazily angry

How mythology is not a science, and why it should not be treated as one!

“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?”

 Rig Veda, 10:129-6

 Somewhere embedded deep inside the Rig Veda — which happens to be one of the important canonical texts of Hindu religion, the four Vedas — is Nasadiya Sukta, or what is known as the hymn of creation. Of unknown authorship, this hymn poses some very cryptic and incisive queries on the purpose of life and the very existence of an all-bearing god. There is an element of agnosticism, of query, of doubt. It starts in a rhetorical fashion, posing incisive queries questioning the singularity itself. And while numerous interpretations of the Sukta have highlighted the scientific temper and the inquisitive Indian mythology1temperament of the early sages who penned this and the very many hymns found elsewhere, the fact remains that Nasadiya Sukta is also a very humane and emotional query. For instance, when asked to believe in something, don’t we always begin with scepticism and doubt, it is only later when through understanding and acceptance that we move to the next level. Until then, we are atheists, sceptics, agnostics and so on.

In that way Nasadiya Sukta is most special, it accepts doubt and empiricism as part of the man’s spiritual and scientific journey. It encourages questioning the very fundamentals, even the existence of a supreme being or many is not taken for granted. It is in this sense, Hinduism differed from all else, you did not have to believe anything that your rational mind did not. Faith was not a mandatory imposition; that is, not believing in the trinity — Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh — did not make you any lesser of a Hindu, than say a temple priest who spent a lifetime propriating the very triad. And so the ancient Vedic Hindu was a questioning, open-minded, person, not a self-deluded proud oaf who saw Meru as the centre of the universe, denying everything else.

Much has changed in the journey from a Vedic Hindu performing a homa on a vedi in the ancient time, to the modern Hindu blogging and posting on the Vedas on FB and Twitter today. The progress of technology and evolution has left its mark on the religion itself. New gods have emerged, old have been dislodged, there have been numerous reformist movements from Arya Samaj to Theosophical Society, from Iskcon to Art of Living. Hinduism probably is the only religion in the world, where new deities keep emerging at different time, and all the time. Take the case of Sai Baba, there are numerous temples dedicated to him and many more are sprouting all the time. In fact, Shirdi which was the seat of Sai Baba has become a huge pilgrimage centre, with annual donations running in many millions. Faith is always good business in any religion.

Sadly, the Vedas to a large extent have now been relegated to the domain of the experts and the scholars, with newer texts taking their place. The Hindu theology can be broadly classified into three buckets:

  • Vedas & Brahmanas
  • Upanishads 
  • Puranas & the Epics

The four Vedas – Rig, Yajur, Attharva, Sama — primarily are a collation of hymns, rituals and prayers, propitiating the various Vedic deities (32 approximately), like Indra, Agni, Varun, Maruts, Prajapati. There’s much lesser storytelling in them, and whatever are there, the purpose is to present a reasoning for a certain ritual or sacrifice. For instance the tale of Apala in the Rig Veda provides a clue as to why certain rituals like the turmeric

Indian mythology3ceremony is performed during the nuptials. Thus, the tales are a sort of story to explain the science. There is a purpose, a well-thought objective. The sheer depth and complexity of the Vedas are tempered by such tales. Also, it is important to note that there is a lot more cultural and scientific material in the Vedas, through careful examination and interpretation, one can understand the nature of being, and the natural world that surrounds it. Indeed, there is theology and philosophy, but only to a limited extent. For instance, we get to know about how the world was created through Purusha Sukta and to an extent the Nasadiya Sukta. Matters like philosophy of religion is dealt with much greater emphasis in the subsequent works like the Upanishads.

So, broadly speaking Vedas are the scientific texts, Upanishads are the philosophical treatise, and by the time we reach the Puranas, all we are left with tales and myths. The Puranas are much later compositions and were written for a specific purpose to promote and endorse one deity over all else, thus in the Shiv Purana, you are told that Lord Shiva is ‘dev adi dev, mahadev’ (the super-duper god), the Vaishnav Purana would tell you about the Maha Vishnu, who creates a million universes with each breath lorded over by a smaller Vishnu in his own image. The Devi Purana, similarly pronounces the supreme-ness of the female deity. All this is done through prose stories, and almost every time the story of creation is reinvented with a new twist.

Meanwhile, the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana penned by Vyas and Valmiki respectively are Maha-Kavyas, great poems and work of fiction, like say Iliad and Odyssey. These are fantastical tales possibly of fantastical people and times, but then in lack of larger proof in terms of historical finding or artefact, they cannot really be considered as real.

Yet, since the epics are much a part of the religious ethos, the Hindus treat them Hindu mythology 2with much deference and respect. Considering that the two major Vishnu Avatars are at the core of each of this epic, raises the religious value of these works beyond comprehension. Little wonder, when the same epics were adopted on television the actors playing Rama and Krishna were treated like gods, and there are stories of how people would offer flowers and fruits to the TV when the episodes aired. In that particular timeslot the television set would turn into a temple of sorts. That is the power of belief.

Little wonder, the amazing tales told in the epics, or even the Puranas, are not fiction for many. There are numerous who believe them to be real, and so many scholars and researchers spend their lifetime looking for clues, meanings and physical markings of all the things and places etched out in them. This is a sort of retrofitting research, wherein you try and find the physical manifestation of a fictional object or thing. People give real world dates, 4000 BCE, 8000 BCE, 80000 BCE and so on. Ramayana came first, Mahabharata second, and so on.

Ravana_seizes_the_chariot_Puspaka_from_KuveraAnd this is essentially where the anomalies start, in the fascination and fastidiousness of proving the epics as historical contrivances, supposed scholars start building fancy hypotheses.  Thus, a Brahmastra in Arjun’s  quiver becomes an equivalent of an atomic missile, Ravan’s Pushpakvimana turns into an early age helicopter, Gandhari’s mechanism of having kids by raising 100 embryos in 100 earthen pots is like test-tube baby, replacement of Ganesha’s head with that of an elephant is surgical procedure, the Jambudweepa is another term of the ancient Pangea, the extreme slowness of Brahma’s time is actually time dilation, the Krishna’s precise and pinpointed Sudarshan Chakra is actually a cruise missile, and the list just goes on and on.

Looking from the prism of today, these scholars try to reinvent the past using the epics as the base. The core idea is to impress upon us that our lineage actually hails from a very scientific and advanced race. It is like reading Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues under the sea’ and deducing that the medieval man had a powerful nuclear submarine like Nautilus, or using HG Wells novel to claim the indisputable existence of a time machine. The lines between fact and fiction gets blurred.

By the way, in no manner do I imply that our great ancestors were some pastoral oafs. Indeed they were ahead of their times, inquisitive and used science as a tool. Anyone who has ever visited any Indus Valley Civilization’s ruin — even excepting Harappa & Mohenjo Daro (because they are far too superlative to not impress) — would immediately realise the scientific temperament of the ancient Indians, the town planning, the right-angled streets, the sewer system, the trade mechanism, etc. do provide a glimpse into the scientific past. Continue reading How mythology is not a science, and why it should not be treated as one!

Indian Myth-busters and their unmythological bullsh**t

It is said that people that are in a tearing hurry, are often people that are terribly mistaken. While, in India we have a set of individuals who like to take immense pride and thump their chest about the vitality and immortality of their culture (read Hindu), there is another set that is virulently trying to debunk everything about it (read Hindutva). In this battle of ego and posturing, truth often gets beaten about. So, at one end you have the proud constituents claiming the superiority of ancient science by referring to tales and stories, the opponents are eagerly taking pot-shots debunking any story or theory. In the hurry to come out with fancy headline that will attract eyeballs, like “Raving Loony Hindutva History“, people tend to debunk everything or anything.  To be honest, I really liked the titled, and am sure many would have been enticed to read it just because of it.

And so is the case of another gem of a story that promises to “Rani Padmini and four other Hindutva history myths exploded“. Wherein the author, Girish Shahane, take upon his shoulders the onerous duty of showing the way. He goes on to start with a sort of sermonising stoicism, “BJP’s misreading of history, however, is also underpinned by versions of history that circulate as truth within the mainstream.” And then in reverse chronological order lists five major “myths that have gained mainstream acceptance in India”.

Before I delve deeper into what my fellow journo brother listed, I wish to clarify a few things beforehand. First up, let’s define “myth” (and I know I go through this painful exercise so very often). Now Oxford Dictionary  beautifully describes it as: A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining a natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. Without even venturing into the domain of Joseph Campbell, where he artfully defined myths as “Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life”, we can safely conclude that myths are tales, stories and pretty fantastic.

Sadly, many educated (the uneducated can be excused) make the mistake of mixing falsity with myth. According to popular notion, myth means false, whereas actually myth means story (which could or could not be true). Thus, myths cannot be debunked, destroyed, exploded, blasted, thrown, jumped, sat, vomited (speaking of vomiting there is an interesting myth of a branch of Vedanta was revealed through vomiting — read about Taitriya Yajurveda). Myths are stories that have been far and widely accepted, they are not some ugly heirloom that needs to be smashed to smithereens. When you start with that “pehalwan” or wrestler mentality, you are bound to go wrong. Like our friend does, when he talks about myths that have gained mainstream acceptance, I mean, myths are myths because they have widespread acceptance, else they will not be so.

So, just like him I will list out his points, and see if there is any sense that can be made here.

1.  The Myth of Rani Padmini

The first one is the beautiful tale of the ever so-very beautiful queen of Chittorgarh, Rani Padmini or Padmavati. The story is pretty simple; she is supposedly a hell-of-a-looker, hearing tales of her beauty, Allauddin Khilji, attacks Chittor and asks her husband to Queen_Nagamati_talks_to_her_parrot,_Padmavat,_c1750surrender her (as part of harem) as part of settlement. Instead of doing so, the king of Mewar and her husband Ratan Singh makes a suicidal dash against his army, while, the queen and rest of Rajput ladies commit “jauhar” (stepping into fire, rather than risking their honour). The story is gleaned from an epic poem written in 1540 by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. And in a society where honour came before everything, the tale sort of became a sort of an answer to what should be done in similar situations. “Jauhar” or “Sati” was pretty common in Rajput society, and understandably so, considering they always bore the full-frontal attack of any invader making a foray into India. The story of Rani Padmini thus was meant to be an inspiring tale for the rest of the Rajput Princesses or ladies, as to what must be done, in case their husbands lost the battle.

Indeed, as the article points out, there are no real historical records of Rani Padmini, but then, that is pretty common isn’t it. Am sure, if Rani Padmini or even Rani Jodhabai would have known that their existence would be questioned epigraphically by writers centuries later, they would have surely made more efforts to that end. But then, since they did not, let’s not hold it against them. I mean for god’s sake, Christ also had no historicity associated with him, but then don’t we accept him as so.

2. The Myth of Prithviraj Chauhan

Prithviraj Chauhan was a brave and courageous Chandel ruler, in the 11th Century AD. Among his many exploits, the most defining was with Afghani invader Mohammed Ghori. He fought two battles with him, in the first one Ghori was defeated and at Chouhan’s mercy, who rather foolishly let him go. Ghori made good of the second chance, and returned with a much larger force, defeated Chauhan and then had him killed. Now this is history.

220px-Prithvi_Raj_Chauhan_(Edited)There was a poem composed by Chand Bardai, Prithviraj Raso, wherein the exploits of the king has been vastly exaggerated and he is shown as being blinded by Ghori, and based on a cryptic message from Chand which gives the detail of Ghori (Char bans, chaubis gaj, angul ashta praman, Tau par sultan hai, mat chuko Chauhan), Chauhan let flies an arrow and kills Ghori. Now this is fiction.

Sadly, our friend here is unable to distinguish between the two, and blames everyone including Amar Chitra Katha for his ignorance. I mean a person who believes and writes on history based on what he read as a kid in Amar Chitra Katha, must be kidding right? Apparently not.

3. The Myth of a Non-Violent India

The history of India, recorded and accepted, stretches thousands of years back. In all these very many centuries numerous empires came up and vanished, starting from the Maurayas, the Guptas, Cholas, Mughals, Marathas and so on. Yet, in all these years, there was never an invader on the lines of say Alexander or even say Genghis Khan from Indian soil. Yes, the Cholas and Chalukyas expanded their scope of influence in South Asia, but it was rarely of LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01the military type.

In fact, when our friend here talks about the invasion of Lanka by “Hindu” kings like Chola, he forgets about the first ever ‘invasion’ of Lanka by an Indian king, way back in 3rd Century BCE, when Ashoka sent his son Mahinda and daughter  Sanghamitta down south to propagate the idea of Dhamma. Today, Sri Lanka is a majoritan Buddhist country, because of the seeds that were laid by Ashoka and not anything else.

India had this unique ability to assimilate, so most of those who invaded India got entwined within it, and were subsequently assimilated. So, be it the Greeks (Seleucus Nicator’s daughter was married to Chandragupta Maurya), then came the Islamic invaders, the Mongols, the French, the Portuguese, the British and so on. Each of these were in somehow integrated within the big cultural-melting pot.

The biggest and most successful exports of India have been Buddhism and Yoga, not some swords or gunpowder. Even India’s freedom struggle inspired many countries and leaders; Gandhi was an inspiration from Martin Luther King to Barrack Obama. And am sure when Swami Vivekananda was speaking about a non-violent India, he was referring to such things.

4. The Myth of Sanskrit

While, indeed, the Sanskrit is not really the “mother of all”, but yet, it is certainly not too easy to debunk either. Sir William Jones, who proposed the commonality between Sanskrit and other European Language, did so as a hypothesis. His claim was based on linguistic similarities between Latin, Spanish and Sanskrit; this led him to believe that there was a Rigveda_MS2097common “proto Indian-European source” to all these languages.

Subsequently, there have been many claims and counter-claims to the same, and the theory has been yet to be conclusively proved. That should not stop us from celebrating the sheer depth and amazing spread of Sanskrit language. Today, the biggest universities across the world are offering courses on Sanskrit, and there are many researchers doing very interesting linguistic study of the same.

And while, we are talking about the antiquity of language, did you know that the written inscriptions found at Indus Valley Sites, called as Harappan Script are not yet deciphered. Now, if and when that is done, it will be a revelation.  But then since, there is no real hypothesis to prove there, not many seem to be interested about it.

5The Myth of a 5,000-year-old civilisation

Among the 5 myths that our friend busted here, this one, without an iota was the most silly and stupid one. But before we delve deeper into the mathematics of this claim, let’s first begin by defining what exactly is “civilisation”. Oxford defines it as, “the stage of human social development and organization which is considered advanced.” The level of development and organisation can be discerned by the level of infrastructure built. Thus, a village with mud huts is not really considered ‘civilised’, while an urban centre is.

Now, when we speak of the past, Indus Valley civilisation is considered to be a hallmark on Shiva_Pashupatithat front. So, dating “civilisation” should be as simple as dating an Indus Valley site. Mehrgarh (in modern day Pakistan) is considered to be one of the oldest ruins of Indus Valley. The date of the Neolithic site has been estimated by archaeologists to be around 6500 BCE. According to Wikipedia page; “It is assumed that early Mehrgarh residents lived in mud brick houses, stored their grain in granaries, fashioned tools with local copper ore, and lined their large basket containers with bitumen. They cultivated six-row barley, einkorn and emmer wheat, jujubes and dates, and herded sheep, goats and cattle. Residents of the later period (5500 BCE to 2600 BCE) put much effort into crafts, including flint knapping, tanning, bead production, and metal working. Mehrgarh is probably the earliest known centre of agriculture in South Asia.”

This would easily mean that the proof of Indian civilisation stretches as far back as 6500 BCE that would make it, close to 8500 years old. So, the 5000-year-old myth is not really a myth but is actually history.

In the end, the purpose of articles like these is not generate a healthy discussion or encourage deliberation, but to garner hits and eyeballs. If in that pursuit, sanity, rationality and truth has to be sacrificed, then so be it. That really is the travesty of such myth-busters, who know little but claim much. Guess, one must write an article with an interesting title like “Raving Loony Myth Busters” and then possibly they will stop. Or probably not.

 

 

 

Here is what they should not tell you about Hindu mythology

While I much respect and admire the kind of work Devdutt Pattanaik is doing in bring Indian mythology to the fore, he has written numerous books and spoken at various TedX events on the same, yet I am much disappointed by his latest post on qz.com, titled “Here is what they don’t tell you about feminism and sexuality in Hindu mythology”. It is a well-written piece on a well-read website, yet at the core of it, it makes a lot of errors not only in terms of judgements but also on inferences drawn from them. The very first words of the piece start with, “Hindu Mythology reveals”.  This can be a very dicey phrase to beginMahabharat1 with. You see, mythology by a simple definition is actually a story or a tale. And being one, it cannot really reveal anything; one can only make interpretations of it, to guess what the thought process was in that time when the same had been supposedly penned. Thus, as a corollary, etiological study of epics like Mahabharata or Ramayana are as prone to misinformation, as say an archaeological study is.

Coming to the primary premise of the said piece that talks about a very important issue of feminism and equality in ancient Indian times. The objective is much noble, but then, it starts of in a weird manner, stating that in the Mahabharata, there is an allusion of a time, where “men and women were free to go to anyone, until it became important to establish fatherhood.” Mahabharata is a vast epic that has much in it, like an ocean, where you can dive and find different gems every time. Hence, finding instances that support such inference is not really a surprise. Yet, in the phrase above, the allusion seems to be either on promiscuity or freedom to choose partners in ancient India.  Continue reading Here is what they should not tell you about Hindu mythology

In the name of Uncle Pai!

There is a tradition in India, any new venture or a project is kicked off at an auspicious time and more importantly at that very time, you invoke a deity or a person who is considered lucky and blessed. Usually, vighnaharta (the remover of obstacles) Ganapati is invoked at the onset, his blessings sought. “Shree Ganesh” is also considered a synonym for making a beginning.

While in all humility, I do seek the elephant-god and his benediction. At this juncture, there is another name that comes to mind and who is the fountainhead of all knowledge of my scriptures, mythology and history. Without his work, I don’t think my thoughts or my beliefs would have shaped such. He was the Guru for me and many more millions, whose lives he touched and shaped through his stories and tales. Anant Pai, or rather Uncle Pai, truly is the pole-star on the Indian skies, a guiding light to many through his simple Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle comics. He instilled values, beliefs, pride and most importantly Indianness into the very hearts of millions of children across this land, and even to this day, one merely has to pick up his book and feel inspired.

To this day, whenever I have to recall an anecdote of a historical character or story from folk-lore, I visualise the square panels from one of his books. Whatever little knowledge, that I have or do possess, it is but a blessing from Uncle Pai. There was never possibly a greater story-teller than him, or possibly never will.

And so, with all humility and dedication, I invoke the blessings of Uncle Pai on the day of start of Youmythology.com, a collective hub for mythology and more. His life, thoughts and work will always be an inspiration to pursue perfection, while being honest. Let his light shine bright on this work, which is but a small molecule in front of the mountain he fashioned. If it could be turned into a shloka, it would be something like ” Shree Uncle Pai Namah”. And so the journey begins. Wait and watch…