A Blog on Mythology and occasionally on Reality.

This is a Blog on Mythology, both Indian and World and especially the analysis of the myths.

In effect, the interpretation of the inherent Symbolism.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The myth of Adonis and Aphrodite

Front panel of sarcophagus with a myth of Aphrodite and Adonis.
Parian marble. Late 2nd century A.D., Mantua, Ducal Palace.
The Greek myth of Aphrodite and Adonis is an interesting myth of love, lust and rejection, peppered with revenge and jealousy. It’s a classic love saga with layers of symbolism. Let us first understand the birth of the main characters in the myth.

Aphrodite was born from the place where the genitals of Cronos were thrown after he was castrated by his son, Zeus. In art, Aphrodite is generally shown as a beautiful young woman standing on a scallop shell. Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of beauty, love and carnal pleasures. Though she was married to Hephaestus, she was known to be having affairs with many other gods, Ares, the god of war being one of them (Read “Aphrodite’s Infidelity”   http://utkarshspeak.blogspot.in/2013/05/aphrodites-infidelity.html ) and mortals like Adonis amongst others.
The birth of Adonis is a bit scandalous and different. It has many variations, but let’s refer to the most common version here. Adonis’s mother was the beautiful Myrrha, the daughter of King Cinyras. Myrrha’s mother would boast that Myrrha was the most beautiful of all and that her beauty surpassed that of even Aphrodite. This angered Aphrodite and she cursed Myrrha to fall in love with her own father, King Cinyras. Accordingly, Myrrha fell in love with her father, and without knowing what was at play, one night in the cover of darkness, Myrrha managed to seduce her father to sleep with her, after getting him drunk.

When the father discovered that he was tricked by his own daughter and that she was expecting his child, he chased her with a sword to kill her. The
Myrrh Tree
gods however took pity on the girl and changed her into a tree, better known as the myrrh tree, a tree which produces resin. Later, the goddess of birth enabled her to deliver a baby and Adonis, the baby was found near the myrrh tree. Aphrodite took pity on the baby and gave it to Persephone, the wife of Hades, the god of the underworld, managing to hide the baby from others, as it was a sinful birth out of incestuous relationship. Adonis was a child whose mother was also his sister and whose father was also his grandfather!

Baby Adonis grew up to be a very handsome man,
which made both Persephone and Aphrodite fall in love with him! Soon a fight broke up between the two as to who should keep the handsome young man. Zeus had to intervene, and it was decided that Adonis would spend one third of the year with Persephone, one third with Aphrodite and the remaining would be left on Adonis to decide. Adonis decided to spend the rest with Aphrodite, as he preferred to be on earth. However, Aphrodite was still not happy with the arrangement, as she wanted Adonis completely to herself. It is said that Aphrodite had seduced Adonis, into lazing around when at Hades, and enjoying him for the rest of the year, leaving Persephone fuming.

Venus and Adonis, 1794,
Antonio Canova (1757-1822),  *
Soon Adonis started spending more time with Aphrodite, however, popular versions say, that he wasn't quite in love with Aphrodite. Adonis loved hunting instead. Aphrodite had a premonition of hunting leading Adonis to some trouble. She kept warning him against hunting. She had an uncanny fear that some animal would want to take revenge on her by harming Adonis, especially lions, as she had cursed two lovers to become lions since she was upset with them over something (which is another story). To further dissuade him, she had warned not to challenge animals which charged back or came back at him, or were not scared of him.

Once, when Aphrodite left for some place, Adonis
The Death of Adonis,
by Giuseppe Mazzuoli, 1709
(Hermitage Museum)
charged into the forest for hunting. Soon he came across a wild boar, which had long tusks and started to chase it. The boar surprisingly could not be scared away and the hunt changed sides. The boar ended up chasing Adonis, and before long the boar plunged its tusks deep into his groin and killed him. Later it was found that the boar was no ordinary boar, but Ares, one of the lovers of Aphrodite, who was jealous of Adonis for taking so much of Aphrodite’s, attention and affection. Some versions say that it was Persephone, who had told Ares about the relationship, as she was jealous of Aphrodite! In a severely wounded state Adonis called out for Aphrodite, who turned back to the forest to find Adonis breathing his last.

The place where the drops of Adonis’s blood fell,
gave birth to beautiful red anemones, a flower found during the spring in the Mediterranean, and the rest of the blood flowed into a river, which today flows as the river Nahr Ibrahim in Lebanon, also known as the Adonis River.

Adonis, after his death went to the underworld, where he was greeted by Persephone. The very idea of Adonis being in the company of Persephone forever, made Aphrodite uneasy and she landed at the doors of the underworld, leading to another confrontation. Once again Zeus, had to intervene, and it was resolved that Adonis would now spend half year with each of them.

As mentioned earlier, the myth has layers of meaning. The story symbolises many things.

Adonis’s six month term can be seen in two ways. The first one is symbolic of man’s spending half his life with his mother and the other with his wife, the former being symbolised by Adonis being brought up by Persephone and the latter by Adonis spending his youth with Aphrodite. The other symbolism is the change in seasons. When Adonis spent time with Persephone, it was winter and when he came back to Aphrodite, he brought with him spring and summer, a time for love and romance, his relationship with Aphrodite. The struggle for Adonis was the perennial struggle for love (as life) and death. An important aspect of the myth was the death and resurrection of Adonis, which represented the perishing and the revival of the plants annually.

Adonis was the symbol of masculinity and good looks. Adonis, though born out of an incestuous relationship, which was out of jealousy of Aphrodite, ensured that Aphrodite, who brought disgrace to his mother, did not find love herself. Aphrodite was known for having many lovers, but never loved her own husband. Though she loved Adonis, Adonis loved hunting. The anemone flowers are a reminder to Aphrodite’s frustrated love. It is said, that the flowers, have a short span of life. No sooner they bloom, the wind pulls them down, as the flowers have weak and slender stems and cannot withstand slightest of the breeze! 

The theme of incest, though provoked by Aphrodite out of sheer jealousy, gets the disdain that the society understands or should. The incestuous relationship between the father and daughter, receives poetic justice, by Adonis avenging the trauma and pain that her mother underwent, in causing similar grief in Aphrodite, after his own death.

All in all an interesting Greek myth of tragic and unfulfilled love and lust.

* Aphrodite was referred to as Venus in Roman Mythology

Monday, September 29, 2014

Worship of Shakti

Victor Hugo is supposed to have said, “Woman is the most sublime ideal", and it is this sublimity that we celebrate during the Navratri, the ideal that a woman is. The principle of Shakti is invoked and the nation worships this feminine principle which is the driving force behind the world.

According to Devi Mahatmya, once upon a time, there was a demon, who had threatened the very existence of the universe. Due to the boons he had received during his numerous penances, he had become invincible; at least the gods couldn’t do much harm to him. All the gods got together and breathed their energies into a powerful ball of energy, which shaped to form the Shakti. This Shakti was responsible in eliminating the demon, after a waging a powerful war, where the demon took different shapes to elude the powerful force, but at the end die in her hands. The goddess came to be known as the Mahisasur-mardini, the slayer of the buffalo-demon, and the quintessential woman-power.

On earth, we commemorate this divine act of the goddess and celebrate, Navratri, Durga Puja, etc.

Durga slaying Mahisasura
The principle of Shakti cannot be undermined, rather, any god without its shakti is meaningless and a beautiful verse explains this as candid as शक्ति के बिना शिव भी शव के समान हैं, i.e. without Shakti, Shiv is like a dead-body. Shakti is the personification of the divine feminity, the creative powers of the earth. No god is complete without this principle of Shakti, and together they create a beautiful harmony of the union of the two principles, the purusha and prakriti, the union of which is the root of all creation on earth.  

Hold it, I think, I have got a trifle carried away in my explanation of some concepts which only make good scripts, and just that. Did you like that? If you did, then let me pat my back, to say that I do write well. Don’t make that face; humility is not the domain of men! Such behaviour on our part is confidence, awareness and truth; however, if such behaviour was expressed by a woman, then they would be over-confidence, arrogance and brazenness! Whoever said, the world was equal, don’t believe her – aren’t there mountains and valleys on the same surface of the earth?

The earlier paragraph is a utopia painted with all the colours of the rainbow, and more. Those words of wisdom were only to make the women folk feel good and raise them to an altar after treating them like paanv-ki-jooti, for major part of the year and in more than 90% of our country. These occasional rhetoric of Shakti, etc. served well, to ensure that the women-folk got back to the grind, the fields, the kitchen and the beds to cater to all the needs of the man, and the society at large! And just in case a solitary one, did not, then there were means to bring them back to senses – kangaroo-courts, Khaps, stoning to death, rape and murder, naked-parade, etc. If nothing, it served its purpose well in others, who wouldn’t dream of any misdemeanour as inane as staring eye-to-eye with ones younger brother, leave alone any boy!

What a manly sense of achievement! First raise them to an altar, and then drag them to your beds. First talk them into such harmless divinity and them have them croon whatever you want. First offer them some rituals and then ensure that they perform ritually for you.

Dear Indians, let’s get off the high-horse of big talk, and take stalk. Except in a few homes and an even fewer Corporate, the woman is a second-class citizen, if one at all. Let’s not resort to such fancy concepts, if we don’t mean it. As a nation, we have failed our women, when one Nirbhaya takes place in Delhi and the other follows suit in Mumbai, Badaun, and just about everywhere else. If we still have to enact laws to catch hold of them legally, then we sure have failed as a society. If our politicians tell us what women should wear and what they should not, just to avoid getting raped, then such talk of Shakti is pure high-decibel talk and that’s it, and if such politicians who suffer from verbal diarrhoea too often, still move around freely in our society, then let’s take some blame for allowing the moronic retrogrades to move around freely.

A society, which feels proud to allow their men to behave like stray dogs and is not ashamed to ask the women to cover themselves, since the salivating strays cannot be controlled, then stop worshipping the feminine principle – it’s a sham, if not shame!

Ma Durga, my apologies for writing what I wrote, but sorry to tell you, that this is the truth, sordid but truth. The eulogies die a quiet death, even before you turn your back and are yourself reduced to left-over’s in rivers and ponds. I am rather appalled, that you are unable to control the terror that has been unleashed on your daughters by a certain segment of your own followers, especially when the victims had faith in you.
Image Courtesy – Taproot India’s campaign ‘Abused Sisters’
I dare you to show us that you care for the daughters of this country, and I further dare you to show the principle of Shakti that I so eloquently waxed, a few paragraphs back.

Or retire hurt……..

Monday, September 8, 2014

Japanese Ganesha

Last time we read about the female Ganesha. On the final day of Ganapati’s earthly visit, let us look at a ‘foreign’ Ganapati! Today, we will discuss the Japanese Ganapati, who is better known as Kangiten. Besides Kangiten, which means the God of Bliss, he is also called Shoten, i.e. a sacred god, or Binayaka (from Vinayaka), amongst other names.

It is interesting to note that according to the Japanese, Binayaka is the creator of obstacles, and that is why he needs to be propitiated, unlike the Indian Ganesha, who is the remover of obstacles, Vighnaharta. However, one (probably pre-puranic) version considers the Indian Ganesha to be a threshold deity, who had to be propitiated at thresholds, like borders of villages, etc. to ensure that the commuters were not harassed for anything. This was considered to be one of the main reasons why Ganesha was propitiated before beginning anything, from travel to events to rituals. This theory has now been overlooked in view of the more sanitised version of the modern day Ganesha, being worshiped first due to a boon by Lord Shiva!

According to an ancient Japanese text, Subako-Doji-Shoman-Kyo, the Binayakas were known to create serious obstacles for the ascetics who tried to devote their lives to religion and religious practices. According to the text, Binayaka was known to create loss of sleep in ascetics, appearing in different evil forms and naked figures, skulls and bones in the dreams of the ascetics. All these were considered to be different forms of Binayakas which tried to disturb them and create obstacles for those who were trying to follow the religious path.

Besides the above, other obstacles created by the Binayaka were, causing various types of diseases, like increase in body temperature and some minor ailments, arousing unlawful desires like sexual desires, love for widows, hunger for meat and wine, making them arrogant, etc. Propitiation of Binayaka was mainly to overcome such obstacles

The worship of the Indian Ganesha is supposed to
have traveled from India to China where it became part of the Buddhist pantheon and then traveled further to Japan, where it gained prominence, as Binayaka. The most important form of this deity is the dual-Binayaka or the Embracing Kangiten, where both male and female forms are seen embracing each other.

There are different legends to explain the embracing Binayaka’s. Let us look at some of them.

According to one legend, a 17th century monk by the name of Kozam Tanki, couldn’t attain the ultimate truth, in spite of severe austerities. He then started praying to Shoten and uttered his mantra 18000 times a day. He had a dream, where he found himself pouring oil over a statue. He then saw himself taking bath, purifying himself and entering into a chamber which was decorated with jewels, with an altar on which was placed an idol of the embracing deities. A female deity appeared there and explained to him the two embracing deities were none other than the sun-goddess and the god Isangi. Later the monk devoted his life in the worship of the embracing Binayaka’s.

Courtesy - Wikipedia
According to another version, the King of Marakeira had an odd habit of eating only beef and radish and that too in very large quantities. Soon the population of cattle diminished in the kingdom, and so he took to eating human flesh and reached a stage where he could not spare even dead bodies. Seeing this people were terrified, and together with the soldiers attacked the king who fled into the skies. In the absence of the king, there were calamities and epidemics which were the doings of the Binayaka. The people prayed to Kannon (Avalokiteswara, a Bodhisatva), the eleven-faced deity, to save them from the predicament. Kannon disguised as a female Binayaka, seduced the King and brought him to mend his ways and the embracing Binayakas are the representation of the King and Kannon.

Another version says that Daijizai-ten (Mahesvara) and his wife Uma had three thousand children, half of which were benevolent and were under the command of his son, Senanayaka (Kartikeya) and the other half were wicked under the command of Binayaka. The people were tired of the troubles by the Binayakas and prayed to Kannon, who then took the form of a woman and aroused the passion in Binayaka and convinced him to follow the righteous path.

A slight variation to the above says that Senanayaka was born as a female child and was an incarnation of Kannon. She managed to pacify the agitated mind of Binayaka by her pleasing habits. The two of them ultimately unite as a brother-sister couple to give rise to the twin Binayaka form.

One of the most famous temples of Kangiten is the temple of Hozan-ji in Japan. He is regarded as the protector of temples and amongst the offerings made to the deity are radishes and rice-wine (sake).

It is important to mention that there is a strong sexual-connotation to the embracing deity, even though we have seen in the last instant as the couple being brother-sister. This sexual connotation was during the tantric influence in Buddhism. However, with rise of the Confusion philosophy, the idols or the statues of the embracing Binayakas were kept behind closed doors or were kept under linga-kosa or phallic covers. The worship didn’t quite cease and it is said that women bow to such idols to seek blessings of children from them, while geishas seek the blessings of active flow of clients at their place!

Legends apart, an interesting metamorphosis of one of the most popular and favoured god of the Hindu pantheon.

NB. Some references have been taken from ‘Ganesha – The Remover of Obstacles’ by Shantilal Nagar.