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, August 31, 2010

Volcanoes in Mythology

Volcanoes have some similarities with Mountains in Mythology, except that these were mountains that were angry, disturbed or negative forces, since they led to destruction. But one still can’t ignore the creative thinking on the part of early thinkers. It is not surprising to see that the myths related to volcanoes are more defined in areas where there were volcanoes, just as there is hardly any reference of myths related to volcanoes in India (if there are, then I would like to know about them).

It is said that the word ‘volcano’ came from the island of Vulcano in the Mediterranean Sea. In Roman mythology, Vulcan was the blacksmith of gods who made tools and weapons for the gods. A volcano was considered to be the chimney of the blacksmith’s workshop. The hot lava erupting out of the volcano was when the blacksmith was making thunderbolts and weapons for the other gods.

As per Sumerian mythology, in the episode titled “Gilgamesh and Humbaba”, Mt. Mashu is supposed to have been located in a forest, which is ruled by Humbaba. Humbaba is depicted as a one-eyed demonic monster, with the powers of a storm and breath of fire – an apt personification of a volcano.

Hawaiian myths have a very interesting reference of mountains in the form of volcano which is also linked to creation myths. According to the Hawaiian myth, a volcano is nothing but the goddess Pele dancing a hula. Pele was considered to be a beautiful and a tempestuous goddess and was prone to anger. She could cause earthquakes by stamping her feet. In opposition to Pele was Kamapua’a, the pig-human demigod. While Pele represented fire and lava, Kamapua’a was associated with the sea and rain. When the two met in a battle/marriage, new land was formed as the waters of Kamapua’a cooled the glowing hot lava of Pele into new terra-firma. The union of opposites resulted in new creation.

The Red Indians, the Mexicans, the Japanese and the Chinese too had some very interesting myths around volcanoes.

Associated with volcanoes were sacrifices in volcanoes. When science had not reasoned with people on the cause of such ‘firing mountains’, people tried to appease the volcanoes by offering sacrifices. There are a number of instances of offerings in the above mentioned cultures, from benign to bizarre. There are records of offerings of rice, fruits, flowers to pigs and chicken to children and virgins. But some of these offerings are not to be seen as acts of wilful elimination, but more of the belief-system of the times. More on sacrifices later.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Symbolism of Mountains in Mythology.

It is said that in myths lie messages. So what have all the myths tried to tell us through the mountains? Mountains have provided refuge to truth-seekers, hermits, and even to ordinary men. With their beauty, mystery and transcendence, they can help lift our lives above the grime and dirt associated with the plains below.

High places have always been seen as a place for spiritual quest. Midway between the heaven and earth, mountains were a place where people like Moses could meet their god. Mountains are perceived to take you closer to the heavens. Let us analyse the symbolic value of the mountains more closely:

1.The movement upward: When our gaze moves up, it’s an expression of
elevation, a rise which is very positive

2.Highness: The height, at which a mountain stands, signifies the
difference in altitude, from where one observes it to where the mountain
is. This symbolises the majesty, steadiness, stability and superiority.

3.Every ascension symbolises a movement from the basic to beyond; a sense
of surpassing the ordinary to extra-ordinary. It embodies a movement of
going beyond the human condition. The struggle, the effort that takes
one to the highest peak is also mans achievement of the highest quality

4.A mountain seems away from the ground (of mortals) and seems to touch
the skies (heavens the abode of the gods). The top of the mountain seems
to ‘touch’ the heavens and is thus seen as the centre where the earth
meets the heaven.

5.The unreachable – The passage to the beyond may be possible or may not
be possible for the humans. But this highly valued ‘un-climbableness’ of
mountains symbolises the un-reachableness of the absolute – the absolute
virtue, power or immortality.

Till today to conquer a mountain is seen as a human and spiritual feat. When we are saddened by the transient nature of our earthly existence mountains through their sheer lasting quality can challenge us to look beyond ourselves and to hope for unending life.

However, the symbolism varies from culture to culture. In some cultures the ascension or trying to achieve the unachievable is considered as a violation. To set out to achieve this ascension in Tibetan or Hindu traditions is not seen as a good sign. It is a sign of arrogance and disrespect for the resident of the mountains, i.e. the Supreme Being, the God. But in the Chinese tradition, the climbing of a mountain is seen as a sacred journey.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mountains in Mythology.

Since time-immemorial, there has been an aura of mystery surrounding that of a mountain. It is visibly massive, evoking a sense of power and majesty, quite un-traversable by a layman. It is also a treasure trove, as in it, the mountains hold the source of rivers, rare plants and animals and layers of gold and silver.

But mythology does not have the trappings of science, so it takes the liberty of expressing mountains in its own way. Probably that is why a mountain is explained as an evidence of Earth's yearning for the Sky. For example, the ancient Egyptians showed the sky, Nut, as a female deity whose star-filled body arches over that of her consort, the earth. His desire is manifest in the way his body responds to hers, and an imposing mountain can remind us of this physical attraction.

While Egyptian mythology takes shelter in this artful expression, let us see how mythologies of different cultures have expressed mountains in their myths.

In Indian myths, mountains have always been regarded as holy beings, with its own sense of divinity. It is said that earlier mountains had wings and thus would keep flying here and there troubling and crushing creatures by sitting on them. Indra cut off the wings and made them stationary. The wings became clouds and till date they cling to the mountain tops, in a sense of celestial romance!

Indian mythology is replete with mountain gods all with their own myths and stories, like Himavan, Mainaka, Kailash, Vindhyas, etc. Of all, Mt. Meru has a special significance as it is considered to be a pivot to the three worlds around which all the heavenly bodies revolve. According to the epic Ramayana, all mountains are said to be created from the bones of the demons Madhu and Kaitabha who were killed by Vishnu.

In the Greek mythology, though there aren’t any mountain gods as such. Here the mountains were referred to as sacred places as they were regarded as “homes of gods”. Each and every mountain was said to have its own bearded god. Mountains were occasionally depicted in classical art as bearded old men rising up from behind their craggy peaks. Gaia is supposed to have created the mountains as ‘graceful haunts of the goddess Nymphai who dwell in the narrow valleys of the mountains.’

In the Egyptian system of writing mountains are depicted in the form of two peaks with a valley in between. Symbolically the mountain was an image of the universal mountain whose peaks were imagined to be holding the sky.

A number of other well known mythologies like the Judeo-Christian, Mayan, Sumerian, Chinese/Tibetan, and lesser known mythologies, like the Lithuanian, Romanian, Nordic, Bulgarian, Persian, etc. also have references to Mountains with a sense of awe and mysticism.

With some differences, nearly all the cultures have references of mountains in their mythology. Mountains are an integral part of every mythology. From the time when science had not given answers to natural phenomena’s to the times when mountains have become a part of landmark and subject of every child’s study, mountains continue to be a part and parcel of every culture and its lore. Its magnificence and its solidity and the resultant enormity makes it’s a subject of awe and mysticism which have been so well woven in mythology by the early thinkers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Raksha Bandhan – Festival of Rakhi.

There are many myths behind Raksha Bandhan. It began as a bond to take care of or protect against evil forces or perils of any kind. One of the first myths has its origin in the Vedic times, has a very different connotation from its later myths.

As per the Vedic myth Indra on behalf of the gods was waging a war against Vritra a very powerful demon. (The Indra-Vritra conflict has a very deep significance and symbolism, which is a topic by itself, but will skip for the present occasion). To avoid a defeat, against a very powerful adversary, Indra approached Brihaspati for a solution, who suggested wearing a sacred thread, powered by spells, on Sharavan Poornima (Full moon day of the month of Shravan). On this day, Indra’s wife Sachi tied this special thread, powered by mantra’s, which led to the victory of Indra in the battle. Later, Mahabharat has a reference of this myth as a story narrated by Lord Krishna to Yudhistira, when he had a similar plight.

However, during later times, this became a bond between a brother and sister and the Indra myth was nearly forgotten. Some of the important myths are that of Yama and Yamuna. It is said that on this day, Yamuna had bestowed immortality on Yama by tying a sacred thread on Yama’s wrist. Yama, moved by this gesture, declared this day as sacred and since that day, it is said that brothers who get this sacred thread tied by their sisters, get the gift of immortality from them.

Another myth says, that once Draupadi had tied a strip of her garment to stop Krishna’s bleeding finger. So touched was Krishna by this gesture, that he announced that he was bound to her by a brother’s love and would be there for her whenever she needed him. Mahabharat relates a number of instances when Krishna came to the aid of Draupadi.

Another legend has it that on this day, Goddess Lakshmi got her consort, Lord Vishnu back with her, as a wish granted by the Mahabali, the demon king, on tying a rakhi on his wrist. Vishnu was guarding the kingdom of Mahabali, leaving his own home Vaikuntha. (Though this myth might sound slightly contradictory in terms of dates of Onam and Raksha Bandhan, it is advisable not to look for chronology in Roman calendar when it comes to Indian festivals!)

Besides mythology there are a number of historical references of Raksha Bandhan too. One of the most well known is the episode of Rani Karnawati sending a rakhi to King Humayun seeking his help and intervention during the invasion of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. There is also a mention of Alexander’s wife having tied a rakhi to Porus, due to which Porus avoids killing Alexander many a times during the battle between the two.

Besides, the day is also celebrated as Nariyal Poornima, when people living in the coastal areas offer nariyal (coconut) to Varuna, the god of seas as an act of propitiation.

The significance of the day has not lost out on people till date. Even today, we find sisters tying colourful and now designer rakhis on their brother’s wrist, and renewing the bond of the relationship annually.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Onam, a harvest festival of Kerala has its own mythology.

The main myth is that of King Mahabali. But before we get into the myth, let us know the king a little better. King Mahabali was the son of Veerochana and the grandson of Prahlad (Bhakt Prahlad is better known as the son of Hiranyakashyap who was killed by the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu). Mahabali, though an asura was an ardent worshipper of Lord Vishnu.

His popularity amongst the masses made the gods feel insecure, and so Lord Vishnu took the Vamana (dwarf) avatar and landed at the venue where Mahabali was conducting the Ashwamedha Yagya, to proclaim himself as the most powerful king of the three worlds. As part of protocol when Mahabali asked Vishnu if he required anything, Vishnu asked for three paces of land as measured by his own foot. Mahabali accepted and soon the dwarf grew in a size, big enough to take the earth in one step and the heavens in the second step. To live up to his word, Mahabali gave his head as there was no other place for Vishnu’s third step, which sent him to patala, the nether world.

Mahabali’s love for his subjects was so strong that he requested that he be allowed to visit his subjects once every year and that day is celebrated as Onam.

According to another legend, once a boat laden with food got stuck in the bend of a river. It took a wise man to feed a poor and famished family living in the bank of the river to get the boat back on its course. Since then, many feed the poor on the day of Onam.

Food is a very important aspect of the celebrations. There is a saying in Malayalam that "Kandam Vittu Onam Unnanam" which means, "One should have the Onam lunch even if one has to sell all his property to arrange for it.” That is the significance of the food as part of the celebrations!

Many see the myth as a classic conflict between the Arayans and Dravidians. Many versions have tried to bestow negative qualities on Mahabali, but the people were just not interested in the myths, and thus they died a natural death. Today, irrespective of religious allegiance, all of Kerala celebrates Onam. With all due respect to a just ruler and the infamous insecurity of the gods, Vishnu’s vamana avatar is known more for the great King Mahabali and for the first time, an asura is the hero of a myth!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Navroze Mubarak!

Parsi mythology originated in Persia. The Persian myths bear a very strong resemblance to the Vedic myths.

The earliest deities represented the universal cosmic forces of nature, both beneficial as well as fearful. It was a nature worshipping cult and often was part of its myths. In due course it evolved into a cosmic conflict between the good and evil.

The earliest information about Persian mythology comes from Zoroastrianism's sacred book, the Zend-Avesta or Avesta. Much of the original Zend-Avesta was lost after Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 334 B.C. What survives is a set of writings gathered and arranged between A.D. 200 and 600.

The driving forces of Persian mythology were two powerful gods, sometimes presented as twin brothers. Ahura Mazda was the creator, a god of light, truth, and goodness. His enemy Ahriman, the spirit of darkness, lies, and evil, created only destructive things such as vermin, disease, and demons. The world was their battlefield. Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, was the supreme deity of Persian mythology. The Zoroastrians identified him with purifying fire and tended fires on towers as part of their worship.

The ancient Persian pantheon also included gods and goddesses associated with war, the sun, law and order, water and fertility, etc. There were also gods who appeared in the form of animals. However, Zoroaster reduced the role of these and other traditional deities and emphasized Ahura Mazda as supreme god, leading toward monotheism.

Persian mythology was amongst the first to include eschatological myths. Death in Persian mythology involved a journey into the afterlife. The soul of the dead person had to cross a bridge called Chinvat. Good souls found the bridge to be a wide and comfortable beam leading to heaven. For the wicked, it was a razor-sharp blade from which they fell headlong into hell.

Their myths spoke about the end of the world. The detail imagery is quite exquisite, but then that we will leave it for another day. Today on the occasion of the Parsi New Year, we talk of good things and leave the end of the world for an unknown future!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

30 days on Blogosphere.

Today my blog completes 30 days of non-controversial existence.

On turning one month old, I am feeling like a parent, whose child has been in this world for one month, and hasn’t cried as yet and nor has it laughed out loud! It has not made any major impact on its surroundings, though some people have taken note of its existence. Not bad altogether, eh?

I guess, I have miles to go before my child yells out – “Yo Dad, you belong!”

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Happy Independence Day!

Here’s wishing a very happy Independence Day to all my fellow Indians!

On this day of Independence, we bow our head in reverence to all who laid down their lives for us to enjoy this independence. But true to my blog, can we overlook the role that mythology has played in the Freedom movement? Before some of my readers think that I am taking this mythology-thing a bit too far, let me explain.

Indian myths have played a very important role in inspiring people during the freedom movement. It started way back in 1881, by Swami Dayanand Saraswati with his Cow Movement after he wrote his book Gokarunanidhi. This was done to impress upon the British to ban cow slaughter. During this movement, for the first time, printed images of a sacred cow, encompassing all gods and goddesses on its body, being about to be butchered by a demon, was released.

The movement soon gathered support and spread across the nation and in 1893; the country saw its first communal riots!

The success of this and with the printing industry making good usage of the religious iconography gave birth to the concept of Bharat Mata. Images of Ashtabhuja-devi (Mother goddess with eight hands) started to be used as Mother Nation. This gave rise to a number of mythical images getting interpolated with that of prominent freedom fighters of the day. Images of the goddess in chains and in tatters were used to invoke the patriotic sentiments with a religious zeal across the country.

The culmination of this came with Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novel, Anand Math. In this, the protagonist, Mohendra sees the goddess Kali as Bharat Mata. In her dishevelled nakedness, he sees the state of India under the foreign rule. To quote from Sri Aurobindo’s translation of Anand Math in 1909, “….today the whole country is a burial ground, therefore is the Mother garlanded with skulls. Her own god, she tramples under her feet. Alas my Mother!”

Finally, the famous “Vande Mataram” (Hail Motherland), which became the anthem during the freedom movement. As Sri Aurobindo said, that through Bankim Chandra the nation got the religion of patriotism, which united the country across caste and community and despite ideological differences.

See the all pervasive nature of Mythology?

Today is Naag Panchami.

Naag Panchami is celebrated on the 5th day of Shravan (as per the Hindu calendar; Shravan this year began on Tuesday, Aug 10th).

Long before the Aryans arrived in India, there lived a snake-worshipping Naga community, which in due course got assimilated in the Aryan community. The Indo-Aryan community in due course of time incorporated a number of their snake deities in what became the mainstream Hinduism.

There are a number of myths associated with this day. Prominent among them is that of a farmer who accidentally killed a few young serpents while tilling his land. The serpent avenged the death by biting all the members of the farmer’s family, except the daughter who was a devotee of the snakes. Thanks to her devotion, all the members were brought back to life and since then, on the day of Naag Panchami, farmers don’t till their land.

Another myth in south celebrates the day as a bond between a brother and sister. As per the myth, a sister had asked her brother to get her Ketaki (Screwpine) flowers for the worship of the Naga. Unfortunately, the brother gets bitten by a snake when he goes to get the flower. The sister then propitiates the king of snakes and revives her brother. Since then, on this day, a brother visits the sister on this day and she in return rubs milk or ghee on the back, spine and the naval of her brother.

Finally, one more myth! During the samudra manthan (the churning of the ocean), Lord Shiva drank the poison (halahala) to save the earth. However, a few drops fell on the earth which was taken in by the snakes, and they still carry it with them! People propitiate the snakes as a thanksgiving for taking the poison and not allowing it to spread on earth. As per the texts, samudra manthan is supposed to have taken place in the month of Shravan.

There are many such myths, which are regional and all seem to have the same underlying principle and that is, snakes were worshipped by people more out of fear, especially so when the community was primarily agrarian.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday the 13th!!

All of us dread Friday 13th, many unknowingly!

Ever wondered as to what is about Friday 13th that makes one dread the very day? Well it has to do with both History as well as mythology (but, yes!).

As per Christian mythology, Friday has always been a bad day – Adam and Eve were banned from the Garden of Eden on Friday, the great flood began on Friday, the temple of Solomon was destroyed on Friday and of course, Jesus was crucified on Friday.

Historically, Friday during the pagan Rome was the day for executions. For the pre-Christian religions, Friday was the Sabbath – the day of worship, and thus when the Church came into existence, this got to be known as the Witches’ Sabbath! There are many other references of Friday being a bad day, but I will skip the long list.

Now for 13! According to the Norse (Scandinavian) mythology, God Odin was hosting a dinner at his home for 11 of his friends. Everyone was having fun, when Loki, the god of evil, came in uninvited, taking the total to 13! At his arrival and after a few fights, the god Balder tried to kick Loki out of the party and it ended up with the death of Balder. From then onwards the Norse believe that 13 at a dinner party will bring ill-luck.

Friday was known to be a bad day and besides the above there are many more references of 13 being an unlucky number, and when both come together, it is a sure case of an evil congregation! Thus the fear of Friday the 13th!

Trivia – Did you know that the fear of Friday the 13th is called paraskavedekatriaphobia, a word that is derived from the concatenation of the Greek words Παρασκευή, δεκατρείς, and φοβία, meaning Friday, thirteen, and phobia respectively!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Have you wondered why do we say – I am having a splitting headache?

According to Greek mythology, once Zeus heard that Metis would give birth to a child who would become the king of gods and would rival Zeus in wisdom and courage. To avoid competition, Zeus induced the pregnant Metis to his couch and tricked her to become small enough to swallow her up! This way, he had eliminated competition and had also the wisdom within him.

While walking down a lake one evening, Zeus had an unbearable headache. When he started howling in pain, Prometheus (another god who is supposed to have given mankind the art of fire) came to Zeus’s aid. With the help of his axe, he gave a splitting blow to Zeus’s head to release the goddess Athena, since then the goddess of wisdom and courage!

The imagery of splitting headache has stuck on since then!

While at it, the phrase chronic headache also has Greek origins. “Chronic” comes from the Greek god named, Chronos meaning “time”. When we talk about chronic headache we mean a re-occurring headache!

So next time you have a splitting or a chronic headache, feel good about its mythological origins!!

Before we wind up on headaches, the Chinese mythology refers to what is known as “Headache sutra” which is a Buddhist mantra which was recited by a Bodhisattva to chastise the Sun!

I am sure we don’t need such sutra’s, as our environment is enough to give us both splitting and chronic headaches!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Why should one have Chavanprash?

Once upon a time there was a sage by the name of Chavana. He was practicing penance near a pool in the dried river of Saraswati. A king passed by with his wives (yes wives!) and a daughter, Sukanya. Chavana was practising penance for a very long time, and ant-hills had formed all over him, with only two eyes gleaming out of the ant-hills. Curiosity got the better of Sukanya and she pierced them with a twig. Chavana’s penance was disturbed and he got angry. In his anger he cursed all of the king’s army to fall sick.

When the king learnt everything, he tried to appease the sage, but Chavana would hear nothing, unless Sukanya was married to him. The king had to relent and thus Sukanya was married to the old Chavana.

Ashwins, the twin gods saw the odd couple and advised Sukanya to leave the old Chavana and choose one of the two. But Sukanya would not leave her husband. So they suggested that they would make her old husband into young, but she would then have to select one out of the three.

So the three of them took a dip in the pool and out came all of them looking alike. Sukanya looked all three in their eyes and chose the young Chavana as her rightful husband.

It is after this myth of sage Chavana that the ayurvedic concoction Chavanprash, gets its name! So if you want to rejuvenate yourself and keep fit and young, don’t forget to have your daily dose of Chavanprash!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Symbolism in Mythology – Part 2

Staying with the subject of symbolism in Mythology, let us take another myth from the Sumerian Mythology and analyse the symbolism in the same.

Enki (a water god) pregnates Ninhursag (an earth goddess), who gives birth to Ninmu after nine days. Later when Enki sees Ninmu walking in the marshes, he pregnates her (his daughter), from the union of which was born, Nin-Kurra. Enki then pregnates Nin-kurra (his granddaughter) who then gives birth to Uttu. Before Enki could pregnate Uttu, Uttu asks him to get some vegetables out of the desert, which Enki does. Enki then pregnates Uttu (his great granddaughter).

We stop here to see the inherent symbolism, in this utterly scandalous myth. The repeated incest in the following degrees indicates irrigation of the same land, which was formerly a desert. Enki was also a water god and thus the significance of the union of water and earth. The nine days can be symbolic of 9 months or the sprouting of grains after nine days. The sexual symbolism which seems to be overdone is nothing but constant or repeated irrigation efforts of a desert / arid land, which gets cultivated and turns fertile.

Let us take the myth further. At one stage Ninhursaag removes Enki’s seed from Uttu’s womb and paces it in her own womb. This is symbolic of the process of replanting the sprouts from one spot of land to another. From this plantation comes out 8 different types of vegetables which are eaten up by Enki, himself, and he is diseased in eight parts of his body. Ninhursag then disappears which leads to drought everywhere. A fox them brings back Ninhursag, places Enki on its reproductive organ giving birth to eight deities who heal the eight diseased parts of Enki.

The second portion of the myth is replete with symbolism. Enki’s falling ill can be seen as over-irrigation leading to a condition of drought and overdoing of the sexual activity leading to sickness all over. The diseased parts and then the curable vegetation is symbolic of the role of medicines (or medicinal plants) as the function of death and birth – of sick cells and the birth of new cells.

The above symbolism is quite unique to Sumerian myths. By representing the forms of nature as anthropomorphic (having human like feelings) gods and telling stories about their mutual relations in terms of human psychology, the Sumerians were able to understand and accept the workings of the natural world in a manner that would have been impossible on a purely logical and descriptive basis. The devious ways of water as it is coaxed thru the irrigation channels and the manner in which it sinks into the thirsty earth, enables even us to understand a good deal about the concept of Enki as a water-god and god of wisdom and about his relation to fertility.

A scandalous myth seen thru the prism of symbolism, throws up an array of beautiful thought process of the times. Don’t you agree?

Symbolism in Mythology – Part 1

A myth is the integration of many (sometimes religious) symbols into a narrative form. Myths not only provide a comprehensive view of the world, but they also provide the tools for deciphering the world. Symbols act as a rallying point for meaning and through it the mind links together several meanings.

Human being is considered to be a symbol making animal. In this sense a cultural system is basically the nexus between the various ways of symbolising. This makes it important for a sociologist to identify symbolic elements in human activities. In myths we see symbols as means of communicating something significant. The communicative role of symbol is very important for studying religion and at times through it, mythology.

Mythology is a complex study of symbolism and each myth when shorn off its fantastic elements and magical texts gives a meaning or a conclusion which is so real and at times factual. The symbolism is inherent in each myth and it is for the reader to decipher that.

To illustrate my point, I intend to analyse a lesser known myth of the Kayopo tribe of the Red Indians taken from Claude Levi Strauss’s collection of the Kayopo tribe of the Red Indians.

An Indian takes his younger brother-in-law to catch parrots up a cliff; they quarrel and the boy is left stranded in the forest. He is there for several days and is rescued by a jaguar who is walking past carrying a bow and arrow. (It is important to mention here that these tales are set in the period when man and animals lived together and some of the animals had both human and superhuman qualities). The jaguar takes him home for a ‘cooked-dinner’, for it was only the jaguar who had the gift of fire and cooking at this stage.

The jaguar’s human (!) wife does not like the boy and the boy is eventually forced to murder her with the bow and arrow; he then runs back to his village, taking with him a piece of cooked meat. There he shows the villagers the jaguar’s lair from where they capture an ember and thus learn about fire and the art of cooking, but the jaguar becomes man’s enemy for the betrayal.

Shorn of fiction, the story is full of symbolism. It is symbolic of mans move towards culture (from a raw existence) by the discovery of domestic fire and cooking, the jaguar’s (i.e. the animals) move away from culture and becomes the embodiment of raw nature. Extending this to the Greek myth of Prometheus’s stealing of fire for man, man there had to pay for the gift of fire by the loss of automatic agriculture, and here he pays for it by the hostility of animal life in the jungle. At this stage I would also hazard another symbolism. Doesn’t it symbolise man’s inherent nature of not being trustworthy? But I would resist from getting into ethical symbolism of myths, which by itself could be a subject of controversial debate!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Myth of the Durva grass.

We have all seen a set of grass (better known as Durva) being offered to gods. Let me tell you a myth associated with it.

As per the myth, once Garuda (the eagle faced bird, also the carrier of Lord Vishnu) got some nectar from the moon for the Nagas (the serpent gods) as a price for releasing Garuda’s mother who was forcefully serving the serpents (why, is a different story). On seeing this, Indra tried to convince Garuda not to give it them, lest the Nagas become immortal.

Garuda was not agreeable to this as he had to get his mothers release, but suggested to Indra, that once he gave it to the Nagas, Indra could go and steal the nectar from them. Garuda placed the vessel on the grass and while the Nagas were bathing in the river, Indra stole the vessel.

The Nagas thinking that the nectar was on the grass, licked it, and the sharp spikes of the grass slit their tongues. Since then the serpents are said to have forked tongues and the grass which had touched the nectar is considered to be holy! That is the Durva grass.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A lesser known myth related to Draupadi.

All of us know the popular myth that it was Lord Krishna who came to the rescue of Draupadi when she was being disrobed by Dushhasana, after she was lost in the dice game, by Yudhishtir. The famous vastra-haran scene of tons of sarees unfolding from Draupadi’s body, till Dushhasana giving up the effort, is etched in everybody’s mind.

However, there seems to be a very different version of this aid to Draupadi.

It is said that the unfolding of sarees was not an act of Lord Krishna, but it was due to a boon by Sage Durvasa (yes, the famous sage better known for his curses!).

The myth says that once Sage Durvasa was taking a bath in the Ganga and suddenly his loin-cloth slipped away due to the gush of the water. It went off, down-stream in full view of the people, which embarrassed the sage to no end. Draupadi who was having a bath upstream noticed it. She immediately tore a strip from her garment and let it reach the sage, who immediately grabbed the strip. This saved the day for sage Durvasa.

The sage then gave a boon to Draupadi that her garment would increase on her body in case she ever needs it. The boon came to her aid, when Dushhasana was disrobing her!

[This is according to Shiv Purana (III.19.63-66)]