We, as Indians, are a community vested with traditional knowledge. Our history is marked deeply by tales, folklore and art. It is fair to suggest that along with our geographical and lingual configuration, our literary background is also very complex. Indian literature began as a means to guide men and women in their lives, but this concept seems to have diminished via a continuous cycle of misinterpretation and manipulation. I do not have the necessary tools and knowledge on this subject, nor it is my field of expertise. But it is something I accumulated from the books I’ve read, and conversations I had with teachers, elders and strangers.
Indian mythology has been around for as long as our own history. It has been our means to pass on knowledge, traditions, and philosophies. Chronologically, our holy texts are Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas.
Vedas are oral texts that were passed on from Rishis, to one common man to another. And since they were largely poetic- full of symbolism, proverbs and allegory- Upanishads came forward as an explanation of the abstract ideas and philosophies from the Vedas. Puranas, on the other hand, are the stories that emerged from these explanations.
There are way too many points under this header, but it will be nice to begin with something basic- is mythology real?
Well, there are ways in which it is, and in which it is not. Hinduism will be clearer to you if you are not very rigid about its expression. Vedas were composed by rishis as riddles, poems, rituals, and other mysterious forms. The intent was to make the reader work hard for the knowledge he/she was about to receive. Since they were passed on by word of mouth (our Holy Texts were written down only some thousands years ago), the mystery around it intensified. Allegories, metaphors, proverbs and other poetic devices were used to convey an underlying message. To say it in an artless manner, Hindu mythology is not literal.
A reason why the scientifically-inclined-generation either does not believe in mythology or is not convinced by it, is because it is larger than life. We have Raavan who had ten heads, Gods and Goddesses who have multiple arms and are carried by animals. Well, these are symbolic rather than literal. Raavan was an extremely knowledgeable man, who had read all academic scriptures, and was highly skilled in warfare, business, classical music and dance. He was known to have the ‘intellect of ten heads’, and hence the popular name Dashanan. Not ten heads, but the knowledge of ten heads.
But through folklore, plays and music, he is now pictured with ten actual heads. So basically if you dig deeper (through the layers of the extravagance) one can discover the underlying symbolism. With this example one can comprehend how mythological tales actually make sense.
There is another angle in our mythologies which is not very obvious. A major chunk of our mythology comes from conversations and other such oral communications. So they don’t intend to be real, but they intend to be true. It’s a matter of perspective. There are no rules, only stories. These stories don’t intend to give you tangible instructions to live by, but to open your mind and deepen your perception. You can find glimpses of this very concept scattered throughout our historic content.
We worship Gods, but we also have Asuras- some of who are also worshipped (Rahu and Ketu). When the elixir of life is to be achieved (Samundra Manthan), it is not possible without the corporation of both the Devas and the Asuras. Despite the negativity that comes with the words Devil and Raakshas, there is much respect and power that it has in our texts. Kauravas lose the battle of Dharma and go to heaven, while Pandavas win, rule the land of Dharma fairly for 36 years and find themselves in hell.
All these stories are a reflection of our own selves. Hinduism does not deny or despise the existence of evil, but it talks about the universal balance and how to channelize your good and evil sides to live a life of peace and harmony. Things start to shape-shift when you change your outlook towards all of it. What makes us different from all the communities is that we have knowledge systems- both tangible and intangible.
But all these assets are meaningless if we don’t have enough knowledge about it in order to accept or deny its credibility. One step towards this is to realize that mythology is not literal, and is more true than real. The larger concept is that is not a book of instructions, but lessons. When you stop reading the books upside down, knowledge shall come to you. That’s all!
Don’t read the book upside down, and when knowledge approaches you, let it enter.
An article on different aspects/stories of the Indian Mythology will appear every fortnight on the website.
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