Ramayana and the Mahabharata

The crown jewels of Hindu mythology are its two grand epics, Ramayana and the Mahabharata. These reflect Vishnu’s incarnations as Rama and Krishna. Both epics are literary masterpieces containing a wealth of history, legend, philosophy, and ideology. They are post Vedic works considered smiriti or recollection rather than sruti or revelation.

The Ramayana was composed by Valmiki, a bandit turned saint and poet. Lord Brahma inspired him to write the Ramayana, a dramatic poem consisting of seven books divided into five hundred stanzas and 24,000 verses. It is believed to have been recorded about 500 BCE or earlier. The story is an intricate one with a large cast of characters including gods, demons, humans, super humans, animals, and birds who personify good, evil, or both. The well-developed characters act out their karma with elegance and might. The master plot containing intricate subplots takes many twists and turns and contains many diversions designed to keep its listeners riveted to every adventure and full anticipation up to the very end.

—Excerpt from On Hindusim, by Irina Gajjar

Read more from Irina at www.irinaspage.com.

 

The Legend of Ganesh/Ganpati

 

Several legends explain how Ganesh/Ganpati got an elephant’s head. The most popular one tells that his mother Parvati created him out of the sandalwood paste on her body and of the river Ganges. Then she told him to guard her bathroom while she bathed.

Lord Shiva, Parvati’s husband, had been away and when he returned he did not recognize his son and was angry at Ganesh for keeping him away from his wife. As a result, Shiva struck off Ganesh’s head.

Parvati became devastated. To comfort her, Shiva promised to restore Ganesh to life. He told his attendants to bring him the head of any sleeping being they found who was facing north. In a while, the attendants returned with an elephant head which Lord Shiva affixed to Ganesh.

Parvati was not consoled. She told Shiva that no one would respect her son with a big elephant head on his shoulders. So Lord Shiva promised that all worshippers would forever pray to Ganpati before praying to God and would invoke Ganpati’s blessings before beginning any important undertaking in life.

In this manner, Ganpati became the leader of the people, the lord of success, the remover of obstacles, and the destroyer of evil. He is honored in most Hindu homes and establishments and people celebrate him every year in a big ten-day-long festival held in August or September. True to Shiva’s word, Ganpati has become a part of every Hindu’s life.

 

You can read more from On Hinduism and other titles, by Irina Gajjar at www.irinaspage.com.

Hindu Myths and Legends

 

Hindu myths and legends illustrate Hinduism’s world vision in vibrant color. They portray worlds inhabited by people, by super people, by gods and demons, by legendary heroes and evil doers, by fantastic creatures endowed with extraordinary powers, and by great warriors wielding remarkable weapons.

These tales tell of places unbound by time or space, places that exist in our imagination, and places we can visit today. They tell of flight through the heavens. They discuss creation and destruction. They speak of God’s manifestations and God’s power. They bring laughter and tears and they thrill, frighten, comfort, and teach generation after generation of Hindus. Ancient stories told and retold never lose their fascination. They weave themselves into the fabric of Hindu life and take on new life when fresh miracles come about or when nature and science amaze us with feats that we once thought could not be performed outside of our imaginations.

Among the most intriguing narratives in Hindu mythology are the stories related to the ten avatars of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, in the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The term avatar is understood to mean incarnation or manifestation, but the actual translation from Sanskrit is “descent.”

People do not worship all the avatars and all are not human. Hindus adore Rama and Krishna above Vishnu’s other incarnations, but Vishnu came as a savior in all of them. Hinduism has consistently viewed Vishnu as the savior. While Brahma is the Creator who starts cosmics and Shiva is the Destroyer who ends them, Vishnu, the Preserver, is the one who strives to maintain cosmic order, intervening whenever needed. It is interesting to note that the order of the avatars’ appearance parallels the sequence of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Vishnu’s first descent is in the form of a fish, a creature of the water. Matsya saved a ship attempting to escape from a great flood and guided it to safety. The second avatar was in the body of Kurma, a tortoise who restored the nectar of immortality to the gods. The tortoise is a reptile, a life form that followed fish in the evolutionary sequence. Lord Vishnu incarnated for the third time in the body of a land animal, Varaha, the boar. Varaha saved the Earth from the demon who carried her to the bottom of the ocean. After a battle which lasted a thousand years, the boar rescued Earth and restored her to her rightful place in the universe.

Narasimha, the giant man lion, was Vishnu’s fourth descent and the last which took place in the Satya Yuga, the earliest age in Hindu cosmology. Narasimha symbolizes the emergence of mankind from the animal kingdom. Vishnu manifested in this form to save Prahlada from his father, a demon who was enraged by his son’s devotion to Vishnu. Narasimha destroyed the demon and made Prahlada ruler of the earth and the underworld.

The fifth, sixth, and seventh avatars of Vishnu take place in the second age known as the Treta Yuga, a period when man progressed from the stone age, to the iron age and then to a society ruled by kings. Thus, while Vishnu’s first four incarnations relate to struggles with demons and the forces of nature, the next three are about social and political struggles among men.

In His fifth incarnation, Vishnu appeared as Vamana, the dwarf who restored heavenly and earthly power to the gods and in his sixth, He appeared as Parashurama, Rama with an ax. His mission was to rid the world of evil and Parashurama went around the world twenty-one times killing bad kings and re-establishing the rule of the virtuous ones. Vishnu’s seventh incarnation was as Lord Rama, widely worshipped and glorified in the epic Ramayana.

Vishnu’s eighth avatar is as Lord Krishna who came to earth to preach the Bhagavad Gita. Krishna is probably the most deeply beloved of God’s avatars. His descent occurred in the third age known as the Dvapara Yuga. Vishnu’s ninth avatar, as Lord Buddha, the Enlightened One, took place in the fourth and current Yuga known as the Kali Yuga. Buddha preached a doctrine of reform that became Buddhism.

 

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