Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Mythology and the Art of Story Telling

Mythology, surely an interesting concept, has often led us to believe several things, simply because we don't have certain answers. The reason why we all believe in mythological tales or consider believing them is because humans are curious and need to explain that which is incomprehensible. Almost every religion (each so complicated) attributes the creation of the world to their God or deity. That is why we have the Seven Day Story in the bible. In Hinduism, we have the holy trinity of Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva representing the cycle of creation - protection - and -destruction and renewal.

This is where the art of storytelling comes in. These mythological stories, so complellingly told and oft repeated form our impression of how things came to be. When in fact, most of us educated and scientific folks know that what we see today and how we see it, including the our planet and its creatures is a result of evolution, intelligent design, survival of the fittest and what have you.

Why is it then that we still find these stories fascinating? Why do we narrate them to children? Why do we go to places of worship? Somewhere we like to believe that there is a God (who knows, there actually may be one), that someone is watching over us and that the Earth was not formed due to years of evolution and other such dreary processes that are not as wonderful as the fantastic stories of creation that have done the rounds since time immemorial. 
Having said that, it is true that in moments of agony, pain, trauma 
and tragedy, 
we do look heavenwards. Also, when unexpected things or
miracles happen to us, we don't know who else to thank but God.

I personally don't know if there is a God or not. But I like to believe there is a superpower of
some sort. Someone we can pray or appeal to, someone we can thank and look up to. 
I don't find anything wrong with praying, but I do draw the line at excessive ritualism, idol worship and atrocities in the name of religion. 
In today's day 
and age, God is also 
custom fit for 
everyone. Each of us have 
a different 
concept of God and shares a personal relationship with Him/ Her.

At the end of the day, I feel there is just one God. Rama, Vishnu, Jesus, Allah, are just names or perhaps incarnations that may be fictitious for all we know. Nevertheless, mythological tales have always fascinated me. Here goes one I recently read on BBC's portal:


Brahma is the first god in the Hindu triumvirate, or trimurti. The triumvirate consists of three gods who are responsible for the creation, upkeep and destruction of the world. The other two gods are Vishnu and Shiva. Vishnu is the preserver of the universe, while Shiva's role is to destroy it in order to re-create. Brahma's job was the creation of the world and all its creatures. His name should not be confused with Brahman, who is the supreme God force present within all things.

Brahma has four heads and it is believed that from these heads came the four Vedas (the most ancient religious texts for Hindus). Some also believe that the caste system, or four varnas, came from different part of Brahma's body. He has four arms and is usually depicted with a beard. Brahma's consort is Saraswati, goddess of knowledge.

Why is Brahma not worshipped so much?
There are a number of stories in the Hindu mythology which point to why he is rarely worshipped. The first view is that Brahma created a woman in order to aid him with his job of creation. She was called Shatarupa. She was so beautiful that Brahma became infatuated with her, and gazed at her wherever she went. This caused her extreme embarrassment and Shatarupa tried to turn from his gaze.But in every direction she moved, Brahma sprouted a head until he had developed four. Finally, Shatarupa grew so frustrated that she jumped to try to avoid his gaze. Brahma, in his obsession, sprouted a fifth head on top of all.

It is also said in some sources that Shatarupa kept changing her form. She became every creature on earth to avoid Brahma. He however, changed his form to the male version of whatever she was and thus every animal community in the world was created. Lord Shiva then admonished Brahma for demonstrating behaviour of an incestuous nature and chopped off his fifth head for 'unholy' behaviour. Since Brahma had distracted his mind from the soul and towards the cravings of the flesh, Shiva's curse was that people should not worship Brahma. As a form of repentance, it is said that Brahma has been continually reciting the four Vedas since this time, one from each of his four heads.

A second view of why Brahma is not worshipped , and a more sympathetic one, is that Brahma's role as the creator is over. It is left to Vishnu to preserve the world and Shiva to continue its path of cosmic reincarnation.


Vishnu is the second god in the Hindu triumvirate (or Trimurti). His role is to return to the earth in troubled times and restore the balance of good and evil. So far, he has been reincarnated nine times, but Hindus believe that he will be reincarnated one last time close to the end of this world. He is particularly associated with light and especially with the Sun.

In early texts, Vishnu is not included as one of the original seven solar gods (Adityas), but in later texts he is mentioned as leading them. From this time, Vishnu appears to have gained more prominence, and by the time of the Brahmanas (commentaries of the Vedas), he is regarded as the most important of all gods.

Two of Vishnu's incarnations, Rama and Krishna, are also the subject of the epic stories Ramayana and Mahabharata, respectively.

What does Vishnu look like?
Vishnu is represented with a human body, often with blue coloured skin and with four arms. His hands always carry four objects in them, representing the things he is responsible for. The conch: the sound this produces 'Om', represents the primeval sound of creation, the chakra, or discus: symbolises the mind, the lotus flower: an example of glorious existence and liberation, and the mace: represents mental and physical strength.

Vishnu has appeared in various incarnations nine times on this earth, with the tenth predicted. These are:

Matsya (fish) - Some Hindus believe that this is the similar to the biblical representation of Noah
Kurma (turtle) - Churning of the Ocean
Varaha (pig/boar) - In this avatar, Vishnu recovered the stolen Vedas
Narasimha (half lion, half man) - Vishnu managed to vanquish a demon who had gained immunity from attacks from man, beast or god
Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow) - In this story, the evil demon Bali had taken over the earth and had pushed all of the gods from the heavens as well. Vishnu took the form of a dwarf, who tricked Bali into giving him as much of Bali's empire as he could cover in three steps. Vishnu as Vamana grew so large that with one step he had covered the earth, with the second the heavens, thus returning the ownership to the gods.
Parasurama (fierce man/hunter) - Vishnu rids the earth of irreligious and sinful monarchs
Rama (greatest warrior/ideal man) - As Rama, he kills the demon King Ravana, who abducted his wife Sita
Krishna (mentally advanced man) - Krishna is the hero of the Mahabharata, an epic poem. He also delivered his famous message, known as the Baghavad Gita.
Buddha (the all knowing one) - Who appeared in the 5th century BCE. In some traditions, Balarama replaces Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu.
Kalki - Expected towards the end of this present age of decline, as a person on earth, seated on a white horse.

Vishnu in Hindu Mythology
The churning of the Milky Ocean is the story that explains how the gods finally defeated the demons and became immortal. In the story, Vishnu advised the other gods to churn the Milky Ocean in order to recover a number of lost treasures, including the elixir of immortality and Lakshmi, the goddess of success and wealth. Both of these items would enable the gods to defeat the demons who had taken taken over the universe.

Knowing the gods would be unable to churn the great ocean themselves, Vishnu struck a deal with the demons. He told them they would get a share of the treasures, including the elixir of immortality, if they helped to churn. They agreed. Vishnu told the gods and demons they should use Mount Madura as a churning stick, and the giant serpent, Vasuki, as a rope. Vishnu managed to persuade the demons to hold the head of the snake, which was spitting furiously, while the gods held the tail end. The serpent was then coiled around the mountain. Each side alternately pulled the rope then allowed it to relax, causing the mountain to rotate in the water.

Before they could regain the treasures however, there were many problems they had to face. As the gods and demons churned, the mountain began to sink into the soft sand bed of the sea. At the request of the gods, Vishnu incarnated as a turtle. He placed the mountain on his back to act as a foundation stone, thus allowing the churning to continue. When the elixir of immortality finally rose to the surface, the demons rushed to grab it. But Vishnu assumed the form of Mohini, a beautiful woman who captivated all the demons. By sleight of hand she changed the elixir for alcohol and returned the precious liquid to the gods.

The churning also brought Lakshmi forth from the ocean. She came as a beautiful woman standing on a lotus flower. Seeing all the gods before her, she chose the god she felt was most worthy of her. Vishnu and she have been inseperable since.


Shiva is the third god in the Hindu triumvirate. Shiva's role is to destroy the universe in order to re-create it. Hindus believe his powers of destruction and recreation are used even now to destroy the illusions and imperfections of this world, paving the way for beneficial change. According to Hindu belief, this destruction is not arbitrary, but constructive. Shiva is therefore seen as the source of both good and evil and is regarded as the one who combines many contradictory elements.

Shiva is known to have untamed passion, which leads him to extremes in behaviour. Sometimes he is an ascetic, abstaining from all wordly pleasures. At others he is a hedonist. It is Shiva's relationship with his wife, Parvati which brings him balance. Their union allows him to be an ascetic and a lover, but within the bounds of marriage.

What does Shiva look like?
In his representations as a man, Shiva always has a blue face and throat. Strictly speaking his body is white, but images often show him with a blue body too. Shiva is represented with the following features:

A third eye - The extra eye represents the wisdom and insight that Shiva has. It is also believed to be the source of his untamed energy. On one occasion, when Shiva was distracted in the midst of worship by the love god, Kama, Shiva opened his third eye in anger. Kama was consumed by the fire that poured forth, and only returned to life when Parvati intervened.
A cobra necklace - This signifies Shiva's power over the most dangerous creatures in the world. Some traditions also say that the snake represents Shiva's power of destruction and recreation. The snake sheds its skin to make way for new, smooth skin.
The Vibhuti - The vibhuti are three lines drawn horizontally across the forehead in white ash. They represent Shiva's all pervading nature, his superhuman power and wealth. Also, they cover up his powerful third eye.
The Trident (Trishul) - The three pronged trident represents the three functions of the Hindu triumvirate.
Even though Shiva is the destroyer, he is usually represented as smiling and tranquil.
In other representations Shiva is sometimes represented as half man, half woman. His figure is split half way down the body, one half showing his body and the second half that of Parvati’s. Shiva is also represented by Shiva linga. This is a phallic statue, representing the raw power of Shiva and his masculinity. Hindus believe it represents the seed of the universe, demonstrating Shiva's quality of re-creation.
Shiva in Hindu Mythology
Shiva's consort is Devi, the Mother-goddess. Devi has taken on many forms in the past, including Kali, the goddess of death, and Sati, the goddess of marital felicity. Her best known incarnation is Parvati, Shiva's eternal wife. Hindus believe Shiva and Parvati live in the Kailash mountains in the Himalayas.

Shiva is also regarded as the Lord of Dance. The rhythm of dance is a metaphor for the balance in the universe which Shiva is believed to hold so masterfully. His most important dance is the Tandav. This is the cosmic dance of death, which he performs at the end of an age, to destroy the universe. According to one Hindu legend, Shiva almost signalled the end of this universe by performing this dangerous dance before its time. This is the story:

One day, the father of the goddess Sati decided to hold a prayer ceremony. At this prayer ceremony, all the gods would be invited and offerings would be made to them. But Shiva had married Sati against the wishes of her father and so, he was not invited. Sati was deeply offended on behalf of her husband. In anger, Sati prayed intensely and jumped into the sacred fire that was burning on the day of the ceremony.

During this time, Shiva had been in the midst of deep meditation. But when Sati jumped into the fire, he awoke in great anger, realising what his wife had done. The story becomes less certain at this point, but it is believed that Shiva started the cosmic dance of death. The whole universe was about to be destroyed before it was time. The gods who were present at the prayer ceremony were very concerned. In order to pacify him, they scattered the ashes of Sati over him. This did the trick. He calmed down and did not complete the dance. But he went into meditation for many years, deeply upset over the death of his wife, ignoring all his godly duties.

It was not until Sati was reborn as Parvati that Shiva finally came out of meditation. Through her love and patience, she taught him about family life and the importance of moderation. Shiva and Parvati are held up as the perfect example of marital bliss by many Hindus, and one is rarely depicted without the other.


Anonymous said...

abe tujeh achanak se ye mythology attack kahan se ho gya!!! i havent read the whole article abhi..its too lamba...ill read it poora ghar se...and will have many commenst to make..there is a lot i disagree with..hee hee hee.


Agent Agony said...

i just asked for feedback on the new template, which u obviously didnt notice! charya!

Anonymous said...

ankhon ko chubta hai


Anonymous said...

upar trendy sexy ladkiyan aur neeche mata ki moorti..what a paradox!!


IR said...

hi nice blog and thanks for visiting mine,

why is hindu religion considered a "myth" and all other religions considered real ? are'nt all religions about faith?

Agent Agony said...

if you noticed, i also alluded to the bible as a collection of mythical tales.

pankajunk said...

kidhar marr gayi