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Part of a series on
Hindu mythology

HinduSwastika
Sources

Vedas · Puranas

Vedic mythology

Rigveda · Samaveda · Yajurveda · Atharvaveda

Ramayana · Mahabharata

Hiranyagarbha · Swarga · Prthivi  · Patala

Vishnu · Trimurti · Brahma · Shiva · Saraswati · Lakshmi · Parvati · Ganesha · Murugan

Personalities of the Epics

Sapta Rishis · Bhrigu · Angira · Atri · Gautama · Kashyapa · Vashishta · Agastya · Pitrs · Bharata · Krishna · Kauravas · Pandavas · Rama · Sita · Lakshman · Hanuman


Hindu religious literature is the large body of traditional narratives 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 culture.

Sources

The four Vedas, notably the hymns of the Rigveda, contained allusions to many themes (see Rigvedic deities, Rigvedic rivers).

In the period of Classical Sanskrit, much material is preserved in the Sanskrit epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Besides theology 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 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. 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 treta 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). In total, there are 6 Yugas. These are the Satya Yuga (or Krita Yuga), the Treta Yuga, the Dvapara Yuga and finally the Kali Yuga.the other 2 are lost to history

The Bhagavata 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.

Vedic mythology

The roots of theology 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.

Epics

Rama and Hanuman fighting Ravana, an album painting on paper, c1820

Rama (right) seated on the shoulders of Hanuman, battles the demon-king Ravana, scene from Ramayana.

The two great Hindu Epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata tell the story of two specific incarnations of Vishnu (Rama and Krishna). These two works are known as Itihasa. The epics Mahabharata and Ramayana 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.

Cosmogony

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 was created by Brahma, the creator manifestation of the supreme soul. In the beginning, there was only Avyactha, or 'The unclear' . In this emptiness, Lord Vishnu, the preserver appeared in the form of a child, lying on the leaf of a banyan tree. As soon as he appeared in this form , his mind was filled with doubts about his identity. Then his questions were answered by an unmanned voice- the voice of the supreme soul, which is his true form. It asked him to meditate upon his soul, which he did, and a thousand petaled lotus emerged from his navel, in which, Brahma appeared. And it was Brahma who created the entire universe and all that is in it. Lord Siva (also known as Maheshwara) the destroyer God is also depicted to have come through Brahma, though he is not considered as a creation of Brahma, but as an equal of Lord vishnu and Brahma. The trio are popularly referred to as Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara. Brahma is considered as a mere medium for Siva's appearance in physical form. It is to be noted that these three, considered as the supreme trinity in Hinduism, are not three separate Gods, but three manifestations of the same Supreme soul, Brahman.

Wars

The weapons

Vishnu

An iconographic representation of the Sudarshana Chakra may be seen revolving above the index finger of the right hand of Vishnu herewith.

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 theology, 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 = 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 Deluge

Matsya painting

Incarnation of Vishnu as a Fish, from a devotional text.

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 theology is not only about Gods and men, but classifies a host of different kinds of celestial, ethereal and earthly beings.

Sapta Rishis

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).

Pitrs

The Pitara, or fathers, were the first humans. The word 'Pitara' comes from the word Pitri or Pita(In Hindi and Sanskrit) meaning Father. So it is about paternity and paternal relations, and ancestors.

Worlds

The Creation of the Cosmic Ocean and the Elements (detail), folio 3 from the Shiva Purana, c. 1828

The Creation of the Cosmic Ocean and the Elements, folio from the Shiva Purana, c. 1828.

Hindu theology defines fourteen worlds (not to be confused with planets) - seven higher worlds (heavens) and seven lower ones (underworlds). (The earth is considered the lowest of the seven higher worlds.) The higher worlds are the seven vyahrtis, viz. bhu, bhuvas, svar, mahas, janas, tapas, and satya (the world that is ruled by Brahma); and the lower ones (the "seven undreworlds" or paatalas) are atala, vitala, sutala, rasaataala, talatala, mahaatala, paatala.[citation needed]

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 a heaven and/or a hell, for how long, and in what capacity. Some versions of the theology state that good and bad deeds neutralize each other and the soul therefore is born 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, a state of absolute and eternal bliss.[citation needed]

Deities

File:Shiva parivar.jpg

There are many deities in Hinduism. At the top are the Trimurti: Shiva (the destroyer), Vishnu (the protector), and Brahma (the creator), and their wives (goddesses in their own right): Shakti (also known as Paarvathi, Ambika) 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 and Skanda or Kartikaya.

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.

Incarnations

Avatars

The ten avatars of Vishnu, (Clockwise, from Left upper corner) Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Vamana, Krishna, Kalki, Buddha, Parshurama, Rama and Narasimha, (in centre) Krishna

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 Bhagavatha Purana is the chronology of Vishnu's ten major incarnations (there are in total twenty six incarnations): Matsya (fish), Kurma (turtle), Varaha (boar), Narasimha (lion-faced human), Vamana (an ascetic in the form of a midget), Parasurama (a militant Brahmin), Rama, Krishna, Gautam Buddha(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. (Suryavansham)

Bharatavarsha

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.

See also

Further reading

External links

  • 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.


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