Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Hindu Myths – Allegories?

Posted by desicontrarian on August 16, 2008

Hindu (puranic) myths have always been a favorite target for leftists, liberals and other modernists. For example, here (among others) is the story of King Bali, Vaamana/Trivikrama.

One of my rationalist “hindu” friends cites this as an example of cheating by The Lord. Is this what grandfather Prahlaada gets for such steadfast devotion, he asked me with barely-concealed contempt. And what wrong did Bali do, apart from legitimately asking for Indra’s throne? Of course this must be because Bali must have been a “Dravidian” king, and therefore called a demon. Just another instance of “Aryans”, suppressing (paathaaLa!) “Dravidians”. Hidden morality tale – This of course being the normal morality of the ancient hindus, what else can you expect from this civilization?

On the one hand, my friend ignores the innumerable number of times Prahlaada is saved from death and torture. He also would not give much thought to Prahlaada’s words to his demonic father Hiranyakashipu himself – “You are the greater devotee of VishNu. You think of him constantly, even more intensely than me!”. He also ignored my reference to Prahlaada’s shaapa to his grandson. Still, the accusation of unfair discrimination and cheating by VishNu remains to be addressed.

This has been one of the most difficult puzzles for me. I have recently come to the conclusion that all these myths are allegories. The dramatis personae in these dramas represent cosmic concepts, entities, and phenomena. I have not put together all the pieces of this particular puzzle.

I got a clue to this from this article in The Hindu. According to the author (Ms Patricia Norelli-Bachelet),

Vishnu’s famous three strides (to measure the universe) cannot be more revealing. The first `step’ is like a lion (Leo), according to the Veda; the second is a bull (Taurus); the third, and most revealing of all, is the Friend. This is the same Aquarius of Agastya’s birth, which is also known as the sign of the Friend. More conclusively, they are given in their correct backward moving order, and are Vishnu’s own zodiacal domains because of their quality of PRESERVATION (`Fixed’ in zodiacal terminology, stable, balancing). This is just one among many explicit references in the Rigveda to the tropical zodiac with the same symbols still in use throughout the world, except in India.

To further illustrate their universal reach, we find the very same images recorded in The Revelation of St John (Chapter 12, 7.), written on the Greek island, Patmos, around 70 AD (PNB, 1976). With respect to that same cosmic sea the visionary sees four `beasts’ therein: the first is a Lion, the second is a Calf, the third is a Man, and the fourth an Eagle. If the Eagle, the fourth sign, was left out of Vishnu’s measuring it is because this Eagle is Garuda, his own carrier. He begins his measuring from that point in the wheel, also known as Scorpio, and takes `three steps’. Scorpio, otherwise known as the zodiacal Eagle, would be the fourth in correct sequence, similar to John’s text.

VishNu is also Naraayana. The etymology of this word is interesting -> nara + aayana. Sanskrit is famous for its dhaathu system where several meanings flow from the same root. The dominant meaning given here is nara = water + aayana = unending. Another meaning that can be given is Space + Time! Again, Paada means both feet and quarter! So VishNu’s 3 paadas may be the quarters of the 3 zodiac signs during the retrogade motion of these constellations!

Looked at it this way (in the Rashomon spirit), this fragment of the story takes on a very different meaning. This part is not a morality play at all! This is a description of the movement of the Zodiac. The other remarkable is the parallel to a Christian puranic text! Again, it may indicate a common higher understanding among the great religions in remoter times.

To my regret, I don’t know Sanskrit, though I have a feel for its words. But this line of thought i.e. (puranic myth = allegory with a deeper truth) is worth a life-time of study, don’t you think?

Amusing fact: My friend was born in the 1st week of february. Can you guess his zodiac sign;-)

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2 Responses to “Hindu Myths – Allegories?”

  1. volksgrenadier said

    actually before narayana and nara were gods, they were human brahmans. ref :- Mahabharata by Kamala Subramanium.
    So maybe the partiality shown is a reference to the human origin of vishnu.

  2. desicontrarian said

    Valid input;-). But I find that “human origin”, “event that happened or did not happen” etc, will take us in a diversionary direction, when it comes to myths.

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